ISLAND DESTINATIONS - TEN OF THE BEST
If you have a bit of time available and enjoy a quieter break then why not make the most of the late summer and head off to a special island destination for a few days? It could make for a really memorable holiday.
The Manor House
Rathlin Island Co Antrim, BT54 6RT
A ferry from Ballycastle will take you to Rathlin Island, which is Northern Ireland's largest offshore island and located six miles off the Antrim coast. Renowned especially for bird watching, Rathlin is eight miles long and less than one mile wide and, with a population of under 100 and very few cars, it has an away-from-it-all atmosphere that is now becoming rare. It appeals to people who like to get up close and personal with nature, offering an opportunity to explore the special features of an island in a wild location; but that doesn’t mean forgoing creature comforts and, at the end of the day - when the last ferry has left for Ballycastle - a few lucky folk can repair to a room at The Manor House. Now owned by the National Trust, this attractive, slightly spartan, late Georgian gentleman's house overlooking Church Bay offers accommodation - and good food too, for both residents and day visitors. Magic.
The Dolphin Hotel & Restaurant
Inishbofin Co Galway
Weather permitting, the boat leaves Cleggan Pier for Inishbofin Island several times daily all year – and it is a pilgrimage that many fans of life on this unspoilt island make as often as possible. Known for its wonderful walking (three looped walks, all with stunning scenery), diving, sea angling, beautiful beaches, wildlife - and great traditional music in the evenings – Inishbofin is also blessed with a good choice of places to stay and eat. Many regular visitors head for The Dolphin, which siblings Pat and Catherine Coyne have run since 2000, first as a restaurant and now as an environmentally friendly small hotel. People love the big, bright bedrooms (some with private sundeck), the sea and mountain views, and the way the building links with outdoor spaces. And everyone – including casual visitors - loves Catherine’s great food, which combines her own organic vegetables and herbs with local meats and seafood, in menus that change throughout the day.
Man of Aran Cottages
Kilmurvey Inis Mor Aran Islands Co Galway
A four mile mini-bus or cycle ride from Kilronan harbour, this B&B on the largest of the Aran islands is right beside the sea and Kilmurvey beach, surrounded by wild flowers. Despite its fame - this is where the film Man of Aran was made - Joe and Maura Wolfe make visiting their home a genuine and personal experience. Joe has managed to make a productive garden in this exposed location, so their meals include his organically grown vegetables (even artichokes and asparagus), salads, nasturtium flowers and young nettle leaves as well as Maura’s home-made soups, stews and freshly-baked bread and cakes. Benches in the garden have stunning views across the sea towards the mountains, a lovely spot to sit and sip a drink on fine summer evenings. The three little bedrooms are basic but full of quaint, cottagey charm and they’re very comfortable. And next morning’s ‘full-Irish’ will include Joe’s beautifully sweet home-grown cherry tomatoes if you are lucky.
Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites
Inis Meáin, Aran Islands, Co Galway
The Aran Islands fascinate many travellers to Ireland and, while Inis Mor is the most popular destination, quieter pleasures are to be found on the smaller middle island, Inis Meáin, where the old traditions are stronger. Here, Ruairi and Marie-Thérèse de Blacam’s modern restaurant and suites has attracted much well-earned praise – not only for Ruairi’s magnificent food, but also for the simplicity of the accommodation (where books, bicycles and fishing rods are provided instead of television), and the way that the long, low cut-stone building blends into the surrounding limestone landscape and is true to the spirit of the island. Ruairi cooks superbly, using ingredients that are mainly sourced on the island – and, increasingly, home produced. Eventually the couple aim to source everything here, and they already have a growing collection of livestock as well as raising a wide range of crops. If you seek peace and quiet amid terraced limestone and traditional culture, this is the place for you.
Lusty Beg Island
Boa Island Kesh Co Fermanagh BT93 8AD
Lusty Beg Island is located off the main Kesh - Belleek road and (unless you arrive by boat) a little ferry takes you over to the island. It’s an unusual place and worth a visit, if only to call into the pleasant waterside pub for a drink, a cup of tea or an informal bite to eat. However, you could stay much longer as accommodation is available in lodges, chalets and a motel, all spread relatively inconspicuously around the wooded island. Conferences, corporate entertaining and management training are specialities, and all sorts of activity breaks are offered. There’s a leisure centre with swimming pool, sauna, tennis and pool table, and there’s also a football pitch, canoes, bike hire, archery, clay pigeon shooting, and equestrian & fly fishing nearby. Visiting boats are welcome and there is likely to be music on Saturday nights. Bar food is available daily in summer, probably weekends only off season - phone ahead for details and also to confirm days and times of barbecues and other theme nights.
South Aran House & Fisherman's Cottage Restaurant
Inishere Inis Oirr Aran Islands Co Galway
Inis Oirr, the smallest and most easterly of the Aran Islands is a tranquil place, perfect for quiet contemplation and relaxed walks and swimming in crystal clear waters. At the south end of the island and a 5 minute walk along the sea from the pier, you arrive at Maria and Enda Conneely’s Fisherman’s Cottage, a lovely white and blue cottage with half door, set among interesting herb and flower gardens. There’s a bright dining room and conservatory with lovely views of the bay, where Slow Food members Enda and Maria serve local organically produced foods and freshly caught fish. Accommodation is offered (for adults only) in South Aran House, which is a few minutes walk from Fishermans Cottage Restaurant - torches are provided. The panoramic sea view takes in neighbouring Inis Meain and the four double rooms are simply but comfortably furnished in black and white, with underfloor heating, hair dryers, free WiFi and neat ensuite shower and toilet. There is a communal lounge/TV room, where complimentary snacks and tea/coffee facilities are provided. Ample breakfasts are served in Fishermans Cottage and, as Enda and Maria are attentive hosts, this is a lovely place to stay - island accommodation with touches of luxury. Cookery and Irish/English language classes are sometimes scheduled here.
Inishbofin House Hotel & Marine Spa
Inishbofin Island Co Galway
Ferries to Inishbofin run regularly from Cleggan and the Day family's hotel on Inishbofin pier is the first port of call for many visitors to the island. Overlooking the inner harbour, it has been transformed into a large luxury hotel in recent years. The wonderful John Behan sculpture representing the legend of the white cow 'Bofin,' which was in the old house, has found a new home here, in a large bright high-roofed entrance lobby and lounge with Spanish tiles and cherrywood finish. A long bar with polished wooden floors is smart and stylish and, like the dining room on two levels, has great views to the sea and mountains. On the first floor a truly lovely library/lounge with balconies off it is totally constructed in glass so there is a panoramic view of sea, harbour and mountains. Bedrooms are luxurious for an island hotel; restful in pale greens and cream, with bucket chairs, flat screen TV and balconies, all have bath and shower; audio visual equipment and broadband is available too. Popular for family holidays in high season, it is a more romantic destination at quieter times and, with a spa and beauty salon, the hotel is also in demand for weddings.
Sherkin Island Baltimore Co Cork
Sherkin Island is easily accessed by ferries from the bustling fishing port of Baltimore, just a short distance away, and it is a popular destination for day visitors. Within easy walking distance of the pier and pubs, yet in a quiet position facing south above Horseshoe Bay, you will find Joe and Fiona Aston’s beautifully located B&B, which offers an authentic island experience and is open for most of the year. Although small, it is well laid out, with a pretty sheltered garden that not only pleases the eye but also supplies organic vegetables for the table, and there’s a comfortable sitting room with lots of books and games. The three en suite bedrooms are all simply but comfortably furnished with good quality beds and linen, and tea and coffee making facilities. As well as a hearty breakfast, Fiona cooks dinner for guests - fresh fish, local meat, and soups and salads feature and, of course, also seasonal vegetables from the kitchen garden. And this is a B&B with a difference, as Fiona offers various therapies to guests and Joe has a 45’ schooner, the Anna M, which he uses to take guests out on fishing/sight-seeing trips of Roaring Water Bay, mainly for dolphin and whale-watching.
Waterford Castle Hotel & Golf Resort
The Island Ballinakill , Waterford Co Waterford
On the outskirts of Waterford City, just off the Dunmore East road, a discreet sign will lead you to the private ferry that brings guests across to this beautiful old hotel, which dates back to the 16th century and is situated on its own 310 acre wooded island (complete with 18-hole golf course). This romantic and quietly luxurious hotel combines the elegance of earlier times with modern comfort, service and convenience - and the location is uniquely serene; its quietness (and the golf facility for off-duty relaxation) makes the castle equally suitable for small conferences and business meetings, or romantic getaways – and it is perfect for small weddings. All guest rooms have been refurbished recently and, although they inevitably vary in size and outlook (and may have some of the little quirks that are typical of old buildings), all are very comfortably furnished in a luxurious country house style, and discreet, well-trained staff look after guests magnificently. And, with gifted Euro-Toque chef Michael Quinn in the kitchen, you may be sure of excellent food – both dinner and breakfast are served in the atmospheric dark panelled Munster Room restaurant.
Belle Isle Castle
Belle Isle Estate Lisbellaw Co Fermanagh BT94 5HG
Magically situated on one of eleven islands on Upper Lough Erne that are owned by the Duke of Abercorn, the original castle dates back to 1680 and has mid-19th century additions, including a courtyard and coach house which have been converted to make appealing self-catering accommodation which is especially useful for guests attending small weddings at the castle, or visiting the cookery school. [Cookery School: Tel 028 6638 7231; www.irishcookeryschool.com] The castle itself has a delightfully exclusive away-from-it-all country house atmosphere and is impressively furnished with antiques, striking paintings and dramatic colour schemes (the work of the internationally renowned interior designer, David Hicks); in addition to the eight romantic bedrooms, which all have their special character, guests have use of a magnificent drawing room and also the Grand Hall, complete with minstrels’ gallery, where dinner is served. Visitors will find many wonderful things to do in this idyllically beautiful area - fishing is an obvious first choice but there are also golf courses nearby, field sports can be arranged and there are historic houses and gardens to visit.
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