Picturesque. Full of nature. Traditionally Irish.
Last week, I headed down to West Cork with my family for a few days of forests, mountains and a lot of sea views. Although I live in Ireland, I haven’t traveled enough around the Emerald Isle in my adult years so this was a great experience for me to learn more about the country I like to call home.
TRAVEL & ACCOMMODATION DETAILS
The trip down to Cork took about 4 hours by car, taking the main motorway with a short stop into Dunmanway, for a light bite and to see the village from where my great-grandmother came from. We stayed at Cooragurteen Stone Cottage in Ballydehob, Co. Cork, with picturesque views of the mountains and surrounding hills & fields. The cottage featured four bedrooms, two with en suites, a TV and sofa lounge area upstairs, with a dining/living room and kitchen downstairs, which also featured the usual utilities. My room was actually a 2-bed bedroom, double and single beds, with a large wardrobe, vanity dresser and a window at both the front & back. The double bed was very comfy and spacious, the room was well aerated and heated, and I had plenty of space for myself during the few days. The kitchen was modern, with all essentials stocked – the host even left us home-baked scones & jam! The dining area was comfy enough, as were the couches, and had it been cold enough we would have availed of the fireplace. The decently sized bathroom I shared with my aunt had a power shower. Overall the cottage was lovely accommodation, albeit a few minor cons; there is no WiFi or internet connection, there is only one communal bathroom (upstairs there is only one en suite for two bedrooms), and the upstairs couch only fits 2-3 people (which isn’t ideal as the house can sleep eight!).
You can book Cooragurteen Stone Cottage via Booking.com
RECOMMENDATIONS – SIGHTSEEING
My family love a good beach swim in the Irish Sea, so if you’re after big waves then head to Barleycove Beach. We came here on our first evening, where both my Dad and my Aunt had great swims. The waves were big enough to use a waterboard on, and the low tide only began about 7.30pm. For the end of summer, the water wasn’t too cold either! If a more leisurely and calm is what tickles your fancy, then Ballyrisode Beach is the spot to go. A sandy beach, there’s very little current here but enough depth in the water for a good swim and dive. We came here early in the morning, which at 10am may seem like it’d be a cold swim…and it sure was! But my gosh was it lovely!
Another day we reached the peak of three mountains; Mount Gabriel, Seefin Mountain and Sheep’s Head. The views from atop these peaks were stunning, though an overcast day, you could see so much and so far across the West Cork area. The walks to the top though is long, so if you’re an avid hiker do remember your water, good footwear and watch out for the sheep that roam the country roads.
That same day, we visited Garinish Island, which you can access from Glengarriff Harbour. The island has great history to it; the gardens within were designed by Harold Peto for the owners John & Violet Bryce in 1910. The couple lived here privately but following his parents’ deaths, in 1953 son Roland Bryce bequeathed the island to Ireland. Since it was handed over to the nation, it has been beautifully upkept, and is a hotspot for visitors. Here you can visit the Walled Garden that’s full of flowers and plants, as well as structures including the clock tower, Grecian temple, the Martello Tower that dates back to 1805, and an Italian casita & gardens. The Bryce House is now a museum, through which tours walk and learn about the owners. Getting to Garinish Island and visiting the gardens will cost €15 per adult (€10 for the ferry, €5 for admission to Ilnacullin – cash only). On the way, you’ll pass by ‘Seal Island’, a group of rocks that are inhabited by a seal colony, who are very used to the boats passing by, and are very photogenic too.
Further top sightseeing attractions are Brow Head and Mizen Head. The former is the most southerly point on mainland Ireland, the latter the most south-westerly point – though for many this isn’t common knowledge. Brow Head has amazing views, which was part of a chain of towers during British Rule in 1804 to give warning of French invasion. Also a former mining area, ruins of the mines and miners’ housing are still evident around Brow Head. 3.8 km east of this point is Mizen Head, more well-known for its stunning cliff scenery and seascapes. Located at the extremity of the Kilmore Peninsula, you can access the tip via the rebuilt footbridge, crossing over the deep chasm to visit the old signal station, weather station and lighthouse. The original footbridge was built in 1908 but taken down only a year later; rebuilding then began in 2009 and completed two years later, officially opened by now An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in 2011. There is an admission fee of €7.50 per adult. The views from Mizen Head are truly amazing, and while walking over the footbridge we spotted a small colony of seals! Later we headed to a little harbour village called Crookhaven, for a light bite aand a good rest after all the walking and sightseeing.
On our travels we also drove through villages Schull (in which the local hypermarket is to Ballydehob), Dunmanway, Glengarriff, Goleen, Leap and Bantry Town, and many country side & back roads all of which had great views (below). On our way back up to Dublin we did stop into Clonakilty too, and at my request, we visited the Michael Collins House museum. This was a great historical experience, and with my family heritage & history, I found this both poignant but very important.
RECOMMENDATIONS – DINING
We only dined out two evenings, but the restaurants we visited were definitely noteworthy. The first was Vincent Coughlan’s Bar & Restaurant, Ballydehob. This was a lovely restaurant in the heart of the village in which we were staying. Their menus included plenty of Irish seafood offerings from smoked salmon, fish cakes, chowder and crab claws, to local dishes like Durrus cheese, Skeaghanore duck and Cameron Bakery bread, and of course the classic Fish & Chips! Here, I ordered a three-course dinner: Irish Smoked Salmon to start, Catch of the Day Fish & Chips (Hake) to follow as main, and Tarte of the Day (Pear) to finish – each dish was tasty, well presented and generously portioned. The meal here was very enjoyable, everything tasted fresh and flavoursome, and the staff was exceptionally friendly. We had a great laugh here, and left with content, full tummies, and slightly flushed cheeks! (Full blog review coming soon)
For our other meal in West Cork, we headed to The Fish Kitchen, Bantry. This is the #1 restaurant to visit in Bantry (after researching on TripAdvisor) – and it’s so popular you must book in advance! An intimate dining room above their fishmongers, we had an amazing food experience here and my gosh am I glad I came across this restaurant. It really is a fishy-fish kind of eatery, with a variety of daily specials too. Using local and national ingredients, their evening menu includes numerous Irish seafood favourites, from oysters and mussels to Irish crab and smoked salmon, as well an assortment of fish mains including haddock, cod, sea bass, salmon, tuna, and when available, lobster. Here I opted for another three-course dinner: Dingle Crabmeat Salad to start, Seared Tuna (Daily Special) to follow as main, and Baileys & Maltesers Cheesecake to finish. The first two dishes were absolutely stunning, and the tuna absolutely won me over, the dessert was tasty but fell a bit short following such an exceptional starter & main. Overall though, this meal was exquisite and we all left with big smiles and fond memories of our dinner at The Fish Kitchen. (Full blog review coming soon)
Images © Nirina Plunkett