Thursday 14 December 2017

Best bar none - how former Irish prison became top tourist attraction in Europe

Spike Island has been transformed into a tourist attraction. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
Spike Island has been transformed into a tourist attraction. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

Mary McDonnell

Cork's Spike Island has won the 'Oscars' of the travel industry and been crowned Europe's leading tourist attraction of 2017.

The 104-acre former prison site in Cork harbour beat famed destinations such as Buckingham Palace in London, the Acropolis in Athens, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris to claim the prize at the World Travel Awards in St Petersburg, Russia, on Saturday night.

Cork County Council and Fáilte Ireland invested more than €6.5m into the former monastery, fortress and prison to create the award-winning visitor attraction, which reopened in June 2016.

The island, which is accessed by boat from Cobh, served as a monastery in the 6th Century.

In the early 1800s a fortress was constructed to protect the island from western Europe.

The fortress became a prison under British rule in the 19th Century before it was handed over to the Irish State in 1938 - one of the last areas to be handed back after Independence.

Spike Island has been transformed into a tourist attraction. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
Spike Island has been transformed into a tourist attraction. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

It served as a prison again from 1985 to 2004.

Fortress Spike Island wasn't the only Irish winner at this year's awards.

Sandymount Hotel, in Dublin, was named Europe's leading green hotel and Dublin's Convention Centre was named Europe's leading conference centre.

Portugal was voted as Europe's leading destination with Turismo de Portugal scooping the prize for Europe's leading tourist board. Meanwhile, the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira was hailed Europe's leading island destination.

Spike Island has been transformed into a tourist attraction. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
Spike Island has been transformed into a tourist attraction. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

The Ciragan Palace Kempinski hotel in Istanbul was also celebrating.

The former Ottoman Palace, now a five-star hotel, was presented with the trophy for Europe's leading hotel.

Geneva, in Switzerland, picked up the title of Europe's leading city break destination, while St Petersburg picked up the award for Europe's leading city destination.

Winners from the event will go forward to complete in the World Travel Awards grand final.

Irish Independent

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