A trip to the 5-star Fota Resort doubles as a fantastic excuse to visit East Cork for Ian Mallon.
The only thing better than getting away with the wife and kids for the weekend is being able to dump them, no matter how briefly, for a bit of solitary bliss.
For one glorious moment, I pulled that off at the Amber Lounge in Fota Island Resort. Just as the eagerly awaited vessel of black gold arrived before me, however, all hell broke loose. First to arrive was the five-year-old, then the nine-year-old, quickly followed by the 11-year-old, and finally my darling wife. Within minutes the pint was surrounded by a flurry of Diet Cokes and a glass of Pinot something-or-other. 'Me' time had become 'We' time, just for a change. Solitary bliss had lasted all of five minutes.
However, it's hard to get mad in Fota Island Resort - the place works for families and couples, without compromising either. From the magnificent woodland grounds to the food, spa and golf, it's a jewel in East Cork's crown.
The Spa at Fota Resort
Guilty pleasures revolve around indulgence and relaxation, and Fota really ticks those boxes. My ideal day for this resort would see a game of golf on one of the magnificent championship golf courses, a soak in the sauna and a tipple at the bar. Of course, this is all just a pipe dream - thanks to a very opinionated, high-maintenance bunch of munchkins.
My wife indulged herself gloriously in the stunning spa treatment area, describing it as "one of the best yet", but the ultimate in guilt at Fota comes in the form of the Amber Bar and Fota Restaurant. Our culinary highlight? A plate of magnificent monkfish wrapped in chorizo - a surf and turf for the civilised connoisseur.
Don't rely solely on the resort for the food experience. Just across the road is the magnificent Bramley Lodge (bramleylodge.ie), which is a food lover's heaven in a truly wonderful setting. We also popped into Bramley on the way home to pick up some sensational readymade meals to cheer us up on our return.
Cheetah at Fota Wildlife Park
Whether you're on an idyllic romantic break or visiting with a gang of kids in tow, you've just got to get over to Fota Wildlife Park (fotawildlife.ie; €15/€9pp), where you can get close to the animals and observe Sumatran tigers, Indian rhino and cheetahs in all their glory. Family tickets start from €45.20 (bring a packed lunch, and don't forget the camera).
If you want to splash out, book a VIP family tour including two hours with a warden and the chance to feed penguins and ring-tailed lemurs for €150.
Make sure to hop into Cobh to see the Titanic Experience (titanicexperiencecobh.ie; €9.50/€5.50). Visitors are given boarding passes and brought through the moments leading up to the final embarkation on the most intriguing voyage of all time.
We've been to Fota before and stayed in the hotel. But beware, if you're staying around the golf course you have none of the hotel service entitlements you might get at other high-standard resorts. In fact, they don't want to know if you want a tipple or some food delivered - but hey, it just meant getting a bit of exercise.
Going to press, Fota Island Resort (fotaisland.ie) had B&B with dinner from €189 midweek and €258 at weekends. B&B with tickets to Fota Wildlife Park was on special from €224 midweek and €250 at weekends. Accommodation options aren't limited to the hotel, either. We stayed on a glorious golf lodge which looked out across last year's Irish Open venue. The resort is roughly 10 minutes from Cork city.
NB: All prices subject to availability/change.