In our new staycation series, Nicola Brady picks her top city and country escapes in the Rebel County
When I think of Cork, I think of cliff top walks alongside colours so vivid they look like CGI.
I think of some of Ireland’s finest beaches — of white sand, hidden bays and dazzling water you can’t help but leap into, whatever the weather. I think of the time I bought mackerel straight from the fishing boats near Garretsown Beach, and cooked it up on the BBQ one long summer evening.
If I’m honest, food is at the forefront of most of my favourite Cork memories. How could it not be? This is the land of Michelin stars and food trucks, of spicy Gubbeen chorizo and piping-hot fish and chips.
And it’s set to get even better post-lockdown, with Cork City, Kinsale and Bandon all experimenting with pedestrianisation, to allow restaurants better facilitate socially-distanced dining.
The resulting Parisian atmosphere in the streets? That’s just a bonus.
Dunmore House (dunmorehousehotel.ie) in Clonakilty opened its doors last week. Like many others around the country, owner Carol Barrett spent time carefully gearing up to reopen after months of lockdown.
“I know there’s a bit of apprehension. But the excitement in Clonakilty is visible, almost tangible. The girls at reception couldn’t wait to see the faces they know come through the door. We are so looking forward to welcoming our guests back.”
1. Coastal secrets
There’s nothing quite like the magic of setting off on a kayak at dusk, ready to paddle as the light gently fades away and the night falls upon you. But you’re not just paddling in the dark for the sake of it — move your paddle through the water and you’ll see streams of sparkles and light beneath, as the oar disrupts the bioluminescence. ‘Magical’ doesn’t quite cover it. Be sure to go with a reputable guide. Jim Kennedy’s West Cork-based Atlantic Sea Kayaking is one option. €65pp; atlanticseakayaking.com
2. On yer bike
Did you find yourself dusting off the bike during lockdown? Don’t let that new-found hobby fade away now. Instead, set out on two wheels and cycle the Sheep’s Head Loop — a jaw-dropper that runs along meandering roads that weave through the jagged outcrop (choose from 48km or 67km). Be warned, though — there are a fair few hills involved… they don’t call the views breathtaking for nothing. Rent bikes from Cycle West Cork, who can deliver to your accommodation. €20 a day; cyclewestcork.com
3. Walk on the wild side
You couldn’t ask for a finer walk than the Old Head of Kinsale. The edge of the cliff is blanketed in tall grass and wild flowers that sway in the breeze, while the dazzling blue sea crashes against the rocks far below. It’s a relatively easy 6km loop — unfortunately, the private golf course means you can’t get right to the end of the Head (above), but it’s gorgeous nonetheless. Park at Garretstown Beach and start from there, and you might just spot one of the local food trucks on your return.
4. Future's bright
Taking a boat trip to the Fastnet Lighthouse or Cape Clear is always a great day out. But while the trips stopped during lockdown, Seamus Ó Drisceoil spent his time harvesting laminaria digitata seaweed, fuchsia and honeysuckle to make 3 Sq. Miles gin, in Ireland’s only island distillery. capecleardistillery.com
5. Did you know...
The Dursey Island Cable Car is not just the only cable car in Ireland, but the only one in Europe that goes over the sea. A 10-minute ride will whisk you over the water to the island, so keep an eye out for dolphins as you go. The cable car reopened on July 6, and masks are mandatory for all passengers. On the island, you can do a 14km walking loop (allow four hours for the full hike), or shorter strolls. durseyisland.ie
6. Markets & Michelin Stars
It’s impossible to talk about Cork without talking about food (and salivating as you do). Hit up Toons Bridge Dairy in West Cork, home of the best mozzarella, smoked scamorza and halloumi you could ask for — there’s a wood-fired pizza oven on site, too. Cork is also a land of brilliant farmers’ markets, where you can pick up all the best picnic bits — try Middleton on Saturdays. For a splurge, the county is home to four Michelin stars, one of which, Japanese restaurant Ichigo Ichie, is on every Irish foodie’s bucket list. toonsbridgedairy.com; ichigoichie.ie
7. Growlers of Beer
The Rebel County is known for spirits (hello, Jameson and Middleton), but its craft beer game is tasty too. Set on the site of a medieval monastery, the Franciscan Well Brewpub in Cork City boasts a newly revamped beer garden, wood-fired pizzeria and brewery on site. During lockdown, they delivered fresh growlers of beers and cocktails, as well as running virtual tastings, but they’re now getting set for a reopening this Monday. franwellbar.com
Three amazing stays
8. €€€ For a stylish and charming countryside getaway, you simply can’t beat Ballyvolane. Giant beds, antique roll-top baths and its very own artisan gin for sundowners — what more could you ask for? ballyvolanehouse.ie
9. €€ Overlooking Bantry Bay in Glengarriff, the Eccles Hotel is a charming spot with a spa and free bicycles to borrow. Summer rates are from €132, which is fairly reasonable for the area. eccleshotel.com
10. € Eagle Point Camping is set on its very own peninsula, spacious and perfect for water lovers. While it’s busy this summer, you might get lucky. eaglepointcamping.com
“Take it bit by bit, starting in East Cork... Youghal, and its beaches, across the way from the fabulous walks of Knockadoon. Come on doon, folks!” — Billy Lyons (@Corkbilly)
Next Saturday, we’re off to Clare. Let us know what you love about it at #IrelandUnlocks, tweeting @Indo_Travel_ or @indoweekend, or email email@example.com!
NB: See purecork.ie and discoverireland.ie for more. Opening dates, prices and offerings are all subject to public health guidelines and change.
Sign up for our free travel newsletter!
Like what you're reading? Subscribe to 'Travel Insider', our free travel newsletter written by award-winning Travel Editor, Pól Ó Conghaile.
It’s strawberries and southeastern sun. It’s opera and hurling with heart; a storied lighthouse and sandy beaches stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s rolling farmland, ghost stories on the Hook Peninsula, and wolfing down chips at Kilmore Quay.
I’ve explored a lost town in Kilkenny. I shot one of my favourite Irish photos there. I’ve eaten Michelin-star meals in two different restaurants, and walked into the earth to find one of Ireland’s darkest places. Each time, I could have been home in time for tea.