Calling all foodies: This county is a must-visit this summer
Armagh is fast becoming a gastronomic destination. Locally sourced produce, world-class cider and award-winning restaurants are all on the menu for the adventurous food lover.
Nestled by the southern shore of Lough Neagh, County Armagh is a place of undulating drumlins and sweeping forests. It was once an ancient capital and history is hewn into every tumbling ruin. Visitors come from far and wide to experience Armagh’s natural beauty and to walk in the footsteps of Irelands’ most famous mythical characters. St Patrick sited his first church in Armagh, and Navan Fort, or Emain Macha gave Armagh its name – Ard Macha.
A guided Armagh City Walking Tour will explore the rich history of the city. From pre-historic origins to an unmatched Georgian architecture, modern day Armagh is built against a rich backdrop of history, clearly visible through its historic buildings and open spaces. Tours take place every Wed- Sat at 11am and 1pm until 31 August and can be booked online www.visitarmagh.com/walkingtours.
Armagh has the friendly locals, breath-taking scenery and sense of magic visitors have come to expect from an Irish county. But what people might not anticipate, is the high level of gastronomy. The localities of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon have, quite rightly established themselves as the Food Heartland of Northern Ireland- and with good reason.
As the county dips from its highest point in the south, to the rolling lands that border the Lough, it forms a natural basket. A basket that boasts a cornucopia of local produce. From fine restaurants and exemplary orchards to small batch, handmade products, we celebrate an abundance of quality food and drink. This summer, locals and tourists alike should taste all that this county has to offer.
Pack a picnic
Pure, unspoilt lands and clean air foster fresh produce of unrivalled quality. There are a number of food artisans in Armagh creating truly delicious food. If you feel like stretching your legs and exploring the tranquil countryside why not follow the Saint Patrick’s Way: The Pilgrims’ Walk and pack a picnic of locally sourced goodies to enjoy along the way. This 82 mile signed walking route links the key sites relating to Saint Patrick and Christian Heritage between Armagh and Downpatrick, location of his first church and his burial place.
How do you like them apples?
Speaking of apples, County Armagh’s mild yet damp climate makes it the perfect place to grow quality fruit. It is this reputation that has led to Armagh being fondly referred to as the Orchard of Ireland. The crunchy Armagh Bramley apple joined the gourmet elite in 2012 when it was awarded special EU status. Sweet, juicy and crunchy apples find their way into world-class ciders and juices – not to mention home-cooked pies.
Fancy exploring Armagh’s long heritage of apple growing and meeting some local producers? Pop along to the Armagh Food & Cider Festival running from 20th to 23rd September. The focus of the festival is on small intimate events, in amazing spaces and with great atmosphere. Two such companies involved in apple juice and cider production are Long Meadow Cider and Armagh Cider Company. As part of the festival, you can enjoy a cidery tour, learning about apple growing and production and not to mention tasting the finished product!
Learn the art of foraging and preparing your own lunch with your findings. If art is your thing, enjoy an art class in an orchard, or learn to make and shake a cocktail at a Cocktail Mixology Workshop at Uluru Bar and Grill. If you prefer to sit back and relax and savour the food served to you, then the Harvest Supper at Armagh Cider Company, Orchard Murder Mystery Dinner or even a Bramley Apple Banquet in the beautiful settings of Crannagael House might be just the ticket.
For a quirky afternoon, relax in The Big Red Bus at Loughgall Country Park enjoying afternoon tea and the sounds of vintage 50s and 60s music and explorers will relish an Orchard Bus or Walking Tour which will show and explain the beauty of the orchards.
It stands to reason that an area so rich in natural ingredients is bound to have a thriving restaurant scene. Armagh has become a chef’s paradise. Farmers and artisanal producers have a great relationship with restaurants here, meaning everything that ends up on your plate is locally sourced. Some great restaurants you’ll happen upon by chance, some you’ll book by word-of-mouth recommendations. This daring spirit is all part and parcel of being an intrepid foodie.
4 Vicars is a restaurant equally committed to championing fresh, local produce, nestled opposite the Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh. Think seasonal dishes rustled together using ingredients plucked, harvested and reared from the surrounding verdant countryside. Think succulent duck, melt-in-the-mouth goat’s cheese and fresh-from-the-sea crab. 4 Vicars is open for both lunch and dinner – and you’ll want to stay for both.
Quails of Banbridge famous deli and food hall has won 27 Great Taste awards, for their glorious produce including 28-day aged Himalayan salt, aged bone-in rib, salt-aged flat iron steak and pork sausages.
For fine food in relaxed surrounds, head to Grouchos on The Square in Richhill. This is a wonderfully atmospheric pub smack bang in the centre of town. Head chef Mervyn Steenson has made the gastro pub a mecca for foodies by using the best local artisan producers.
Harnetts Oils are now in demand amongst foodies, restaurateurs and leading food shops as far afield as San Francisco and Chicago. Harnetts grow rapeseed and hemp for their multi-award winning oils at their ancestral home in Waringstown. Part of the secret of their success is down to the traditional methods they use to harvest and cold press the oils, crucial in producing their wonderful nutty taste.
If all of that has whet your appetite and you’re hungry to taste Armagh’s bounty for yourself, then hurry up and book your trip. For more details on where to eat, what to do and where to go check out visitarmagh.com