Interesting food, a comfortable bed and a leisure centre can be found in many hotels around the country, but it’s unusual to find them all together in a guesthouse. But then, Pat and Ronnie Fitzgibbon’s Harbour House on the Maharees Peninsula is no ordinary guesthouse.
North of Castlegregory, The Maharees Peninsula is famous for its long sandy beaches and clean water, making it popular for family holidays and activity breaks, and there is a group of islands off the peninsula, known simply as “The Maharees”. Activities offered in the area (bookable through Castlegregory Visitor Centre, 066 713 9422) include walking, golf, horseriding, cycling, fishing, windsurfing and, especially, diving (see below).
Located four miles along the coast outside Castlegregory, the drive to Harbour House is out by the sea and through the sand dunes, along small boreens, and the house is practically at the end of the road that leads to Scraggane Pier. Even on a wild day the setting is magnificent, the grey slate roof blending perfectly with the angry grey Atlantic across the road.
Inside, however, it’s a haven of peace and tranquillity. You may be welcomed by name and given a tour of the facilities – the small bar ('Fitz's'), the lounge and a terrific bright and airy upstairs attic sitting room that runs the length of the house, with a nautical blue-and-white theme. Comfortable sofas with huge cushions invite you to relax, perhaps just to gaze out and marvel at the views of the Maharees.
While not huge, bedrooms are comfortable, with good beds, and many have a great view out to sea - but no in-room televisions, to encourage guests to mix (there’s one in the bar and the small lounge).
There’s a play area for children, who are made very welcome, and the leisure centre has an indoor heated swimming pool, sauna and gym. This is an unusual amenity for a guesthouse, but the Waterworld dive centre is located here - they run diving courses at Scraggane Pier and their leisure centre provides complementary indoor facilities - where other guests can also enjoy a morning swim, or lazing away the time before dinner.
Packed lunches can be made for guests and are especially popular wih walkers doing the Dingle Way.
The restaurant is open to non-residents and it would be wise to reserve a table. It's a large slightly curved room, with a sweep of big windows overlooking the Maharees Islands to the west so there's plenty of natural light on a summer evening – and a view from nearly all of the smartly set up white-clothed tables; in good weather food is sometimes served on a terrace (although it can be quite windy).
Excellent undersea photos and various nautical and seafood items decorate the room, and a lobster tank flags the focus of the restaurant - many of the fresh ingredients are landed at Scraggane Pier.
An informative menu includes children’s options and a good selection of wine at reasonable prices. Seafood and non-seafood starters are allocated a full page each, with seafood on offer including oysters, lobster, and mixed seafood dishes as well as a wide range of fish; both origin and preparation of all dishes is described, including the different ways that steaks may be cooked.
To start, you might choose prawns kataifi - fresh king prawns wrapped in shredded kataifi pastry and coconut shards with avocado, mango, chilli, lime salsa and caper aioli. Fish mains include a seafood platter with a taste of prawns, mussels, crab claws and baked plaice fillet, or perhaps you might choose sea bass in the crispest batter served on a bed of ratatouille or a seafood platter from the night’s specials.
The seafood platter is served with brown bread and potatoes as well as including a wide range of seafood – it will satisfy the hungriest seafood lovers. Lobsters can be selected from the tank at reception and specials will generally be seafood dishes too - there may be only one or several, depending on the catch of the day.
Meat lovers have plenty of choice too, with sirloin or T-bone steak, homemade beefburger or honey-roasted duck among the offerings. Daily specials are listed on a small blackboard that’s brought to the table.
Popular desserts – banoffi pie, pavlova or cheesecake, for example – are scrumptious.
Friendly staff are knowledgeable about the menu and ingredients and proprietor Pat Fitzgibbon is very present in the dining room at all times, and provides helpful guidance through the seafood platter.
Although prices initially seem quite dear, the quality is generally high and it should be good value.