Fota Opportunity: Island resort fun for all the family in Cork
When I went on holiday this summer for six days I was staying just a few miles from Europe's top tourist attraction.
To be fair, I didn't realise this at the time and, in fact, I didn't even visit it - merely viewed it with mild curiosity from a distance as a few boats glided across the water towards it.
We were in Cobh and looking at Spike Island, which won the accolade of Europe's top tourist spot at the World Travel Awards last month.
I told my children that it was a former prison - and my four-year-old asked me was that where all the baddies went. Yes but not any more, I said. It seems that it's the smart tourists who are going there now.
Our base for the holiday was a three-bedroom lodge at Fota Island Resort which is roughly halfway between Cork and Cobh.
Fota is a great combination for a family that wants top-class self-catering with a bit of luxury on demand if needed.
The lodges are clean and well-equipped. The open-plan layout and tiled floor at ground level are perfect for the purpose.
A nice touch is that you open up at the back to a beautiful shared green space which runs behind all the lodges in your row.
The five-star hotel is a pleasant 10-minute stroll away with all the golf, spa and restaurant facilities.
There you can visit the upmarket Fota Restaurant or enjoy some pub grub at the Amber Lounge. On our first night, we went to Fota Restaurant - starting off the holiday after a long trip in a bit of style. The staff were very accommodating to our needs with the two young ones cutting up rough on occasion, and there was the flexibility to order from the children's menu from the Amber if required.
Throughout our stay at Fota, we were happy to spend most of our time at the lodges with the odd foray up to the hotel.
There's a swimming pool and play area for young children. But the biggest hit with my children, weather permitting, was the playpark beside the accommodation.
There are two climbing frames and various other rocking horses and assorted items all within view of your accommodation. There are also tennis courts and a football pitch.
Guests at the lodges can also use the dedicated children's clubs during school holidays and there are babysitting services.
An added attraction now is the Adventure Centre which despite our best efforts we couldn't find - and never got around to asking directions! Activities include an obstacle course, kayaking, SUPing (whatever that is) and bushcraft - or so I believe.
On other hand, if you want more relaxation than adventure, there's the spa with a hydrotherapy suite and thermal suite.
Fota is also synonymous with golf, and the clubhouse and course could easily double for a US Open venue to my untrained eye. But then again it has hosted the Irish Open on three occasions - the last time in 2014.
I didn't try the golf during the trip - I wouldn't inflict my atrocious abilities on such a fine course. I had a dander round though, however, and was suitably impressed.
A big attraction with Fota, of course, is the location between Cork and Cobh and it being within easy driving distance of both West and East Cork.
There's also Fota Island Wildlife Park right beside it. There's a discount for people staying at Fota Island for entry to the park. It was a great experience. The animals seemed happy and have a lot of space to move around. There's also a train and great picnic facilities, and a nice themed food area in the middle of the park that serves coffee and pizza.
As part of our stay, we thought we had to tick off Blarney Castle. One quibble is that they should have separate entry prices with a discount if you're not visiting the Stone - in our case this just wasn't feasible (I hadn't realised that the Stone is at the top of the castle!). It's a pity because the grounds themselves are beautiful - in particular the Rock Close. For lunch, we went to the Blarney Woollen Mills - definitely recommended and reasonably priced.
The weather was changeable to say the least during our stay - though mainly it veered from the extremes of torrential downpours to pleasant late summer sun.
We had a knack, though, of being in the car when it was raining heavily - only for the sun to break through the clouds on arrival at our destination.
On one dreary afternoon we went to Blackrock Castle which sits somewhat incongruously and unassumingly on the edge of a housing development.
Don't be fooled though. It's a great wee spot - the tour of the castle is fascinating, and from the tower you have a great view over Cork, its hinterland and the harbour.
It doubles as an observatory, and the guide gave us a stellar tour of the galaxy. The castle also has a lovely cafe/restaurant. I definitely recommend the gooey cakes.
Kinsale is always worth a trip. I was particularly impressed this time by the stained glass windows in St Multose Church of Ireland church. I also picked up a couple of books at Prim's Bookshop.
There's also a superb garden centre with a Meadows and Byrne concession.
Our itinerary for the last day was a relaxing day trip to Cork with a fantastic lunch in family-friendly restaurant Market Lane. We couldn't have been made to feel more welcome by the owner and will be back.
Overall, it was a feelgood holiday, and it's always a good sign when you're as happy to be in your accommodation or the resort as you are to be out and about.
I just need to make sure that next time I'm there, I check out Spike Island.
The award-winning, five-star Fota Island Resort is nestled at the heart of a peaceful island, surrounded by gorgeous scenery and mature woodlands just eight miles from Cork.
Lying in a 780-acre estate included in The Inventory of Outstanding Landscapes in Ireland, handsome gates mark the entrance to a combination of championship golf courses, five-star hotel and spa, residential lodges, and a world-class golf academy.
Prices for a two-bed Courtyard Lodge (sleeps two adults/two children) start from €255 for two nights. Contact 021 4883700; email firstname.lastname@example.org; fotaisland.ie.
Read more:Fota Island Resort: A welcome escape from the New Year's resolution-ers
Sunday Indo Living