Fab Fermanagh: To the manor born in Northern Ireland's lake country
You don't need to go overseas for lovely lakelands, says Catherine O'Mahony
You can say one thing for the Irish sun: elusive as it is, it knows how to make its presence felt.
Set the mood
As we pull up close to Enniskillen for a short break in the Fermanagh Lakelands, the clouds part and the world transforms. We've arrived at Lough Erne, Ireland's fourth-largest freshwater lake, and, bathed in the evening sunshine, it is a glittering expanse of delight.
Pristine white lake cruisers are lined up by a tranquil wooden jetty. Across the water are some of the 154 wooded islands that dot the surface of the Erne (the recently deceased Duke of Westminster spent his childhood living on one of them).
For newbies, Fermanagh's woodland and water beauty is a revelation - little wonder the 2013 G8 summit took place here (at the nearby Lough Erne Resort); there's even a small airport in the area.
Run by John O'Neill, the Manor House Country Hotel has oodles of charm, attentive staff and, best of all, a perfect location right on the lake. Dinner in the Belleek Restaurant was great (we had pork belly and sea bream, and the desserts were exquisite) and the Ulster fry in the morning did not disappoint.
If you feel like splurging £90/€102, rent a small cruiser from the jetty for the day from the adjacent Manor Marine (manormarine.com) - the day boats fit up to six people and no licence is required.
For a more sedate trip, don't miss the hotel's own informative and relaxing 'Lady of the Lake' cruise ride which sets off daily at 11.30am. Tickets are available at reception.
A dip in the Manor House Country Hotel's outdoor hot tub followed by cocktails in the piano bar are a good way to while away a lazy evening.
More active? Try the 7.5km Legnabrocky Trail (above) with a stunning boardwalk known as the 'Stairway to Heaven' (right). Allow several hours (walkni.com).
The Marble Arch Caves Geopark is a must, not only for the guided tour of the dramatic limestone caves (book in advance; adults cost £9.80/€11.15, children £6.70/€7.60) but for the magical woodland walk beside a stream that leads from steep wooden steps behind the visitors' centre. This is a very beautiful spot, just half an hour outside Enniskillen. See marblearchcavesgeopark.com
A £5/€5.70 admission fee (£3 for children) gets you into Enniskillen Castle (enniskillencastle.co.uk), a lovely site beside the River Erne that's home to the Fermanagh County Museum and the Inniskillings Museum. There's lots for adults and kids to see in nicely curated exhibits around a sunny courtyard, with a pretty view on to the riverbank and a top-notch, friendly little café.
Nearby, Headhunters Barber shop & Railway Museum (5 Darling Street) is also worth a look... it does exactly what it says on the tin.
The hotel is plush and comfortable but fixtures and fittings could do with some updating, especially in the bathrooms. WiFi is available but the signal was weak in bedrooms in particular. That meant no Netflix (though, depending on your view, that may be a blessed relief).
Get me there
We drove from Dublin to Enniskillen in just over two hours.
The Manor Country House Hotel (manorhousecountryhotel.com) has packages bundling B&B with dinner in the Belleek Restaurant from £164 to £232 (around €186 to €263) per night based on two people sharing a classic double room.
The hotel is a member of the newly launched Original Irish Hotels (see originalirishhotels.com for special offers). For more to see and do in the area, visit fermanaghlakelands.com and discovernorthernireland.com.
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