Cork is Ireland’s second city and we celebrated our first wedding anniversary with a stay at one of its top hotels, Fota Island Resort and an outing to the beautiful Fota wildlife park.
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Our Own Private island
Alas it’s not as it sounds. This is merely the billing of one of Corks top hotels, the Fota Island Resort and leisure centre. Cork is made up of a series of interconnecting islands and one of these happens to be Fota Island. The entire island encloses the hotel and its vast grounds, and the neighbouring wildlife park. So to call it private; nice gimmick but you are sharing it with a few hundred people and a vast selection of animals.
It is located 16km outside the city so it’s best you have your own wheels if you wish to visit. The hotel was all luxury and style. From the grand gates opening to its castle like gatehouse, to the full kilometre long drive through woodlands and the prerequisite golf course (that every Irish country hotel must have), one suspects a lavish treat. My alter egos career in the hospitality industry means there are some hidden perks to be drawn, such as preferential hospitality rates, if you ask. It represented a few hundred euros in my pocket (or as it turned out in the bar tills), and a stay in one of the areas finest 5 stars.
The reception area was exuberant and we received a welcome that was unexpected, professional and knowledgeable but with oodles of personality. It made it all the more impressive. We marvelled at the panelled ceilings, and chandeliers and the massive wooden table that filled the reception space. Our room 223 was on the second floor and it maintained the consistent theme of being modern yet luxurious and sizeable.
We ventured down to the hotel bar for a meal and were happy to settle for some soups, and a plate of calamari (one of our gastronomic weaknesses) to share. It lived up to its surroundings.
We had allowed ourselves to be distracted by the wonderful town of Cahir on our routine trip from Dublin and so we only arrived in the early evening. With our hunger temporarily curbed we took a stroll through the grounds. They really are a credit to the gardeners. From the fountains at the hotel entrance a pergola runs down to a water feature with sculpted animals and a gazebo. It’s such a passive stroll to take and within minutes you can be lost in paths surrounded by dense forest.
We took the evening to acquaint ourselves with our hotel room and enjoy its luxuries. The weather also took a turn Irish, the skies breaking ahead of the promised Storm Ali. We opted to enjoy dinner outside the hotel that evening, having noticed a restaurant on the approach to the island, but on searching it was now closed. So we choose to take the drive down to the coastal town of Cobh, where Titanic made its last stop on its doomed voyage.
It was only an 8km drive, but my suggestion to anyone planning this trip, at night, on the precipice of a storm, is DON’T. The road was narrow and bendy (as most Irish roads) but the visibility was poor. But hey we made it to Cobh obviously. And back.
Being a stormy Monday in September we found our options were more limited than we would have hoped. We settled on the Quays Restaurant on Westbourne Place, and secured parking outside for which we were grateful in the rain. Inside it appears as a place that would be endearing on a summer day with a terrace overlooking the sea. Right now though that same sea was bashing the walls along the strand and the punters had stayed away for the night. As we sat down for dinner in the empty restaurant, we questioned our choice.
We shouldn’t have. We both selected the baked duck breast, with redcurrant jus, rosemary potatoes and vegetables. It was perfect and all it missed was a bottle of wine to wash it all down. Driving has its merits and its disadvantages. But I didn’t let it take away from the tender duck, nor the sticky toffee pudding that followed.
The drive back was interesting to say the least. The weather hadn’t let up and the dark was dense. As aforementioned Cork consists of a series of islands with Cobh located on the imaginative Great Island. It’s linked to Fota Island by a bridge, and it literally was a stab in the dark to make the turn on to it. I blindly turned and found myself facing the bridge wall and the river not the road, but I was able to readjust. Cobh has already had its incidents with deep water and those departing the place, and I was happy not to join that memorial list.
We kept the night a quiet one and headed straight for our bed after our return. We awoke early (for me) and the breakfast provided a great start to the day. It was simply excellent, with a great variety. It was buffet in style, except for a chef cooking individual eggs to your fancy. Best thing about Irish breakfast; it keeps you going for hours after.
Fota Wildlife Park
The concierge informed us that they could offer us concession tickets with 20% off admission to Fota Wildlife Park. The park usually costs €16.50 for an adult. The park is open from 10-6 daily and a €3 car parking charge is enforced, but this gives you entrance to Fota House, arboretum and gardens. We choose not to visit the house.
Fota Wildlife Park is not a conventional zoo. Many of the animals are allowed to run free and they seem all the happier for it. Needless to say this doesn’t apply to the larger and more dangerous animals. I’ve come here a number of times over my life and the Park never fails to impress. The grounds are beautiful centred around a lake with over 100 acres of paths and woodland.
On a previous visit a pelican took a fancy to my ex and chased after her. Ah good memories.
Sorry where was I. The joy is in seeing animals behave more naturally. Kangaroos bounce around the paths or lie in the heath, completely unphased by human presence. All manner of birds walk between your feet from indigenous ducks to the exotic.
But the most entertaining, are those who share most of our DNA traits. The irresistibly cute Ring-Tailed Lemurs swing in trees above your head. It has become a widespread secret that they love raisins and they are easily enticed down from their perches. On this occasion they were happily mozying around our feet.
Perhaps the most affectionate animal moment I have seen in my life was provided by the Lemurs. A female was nursing a baby and they were attracting a lot of attention from passing people. What was presumably the proud father noticed this, and stepped in front of the mum, put his chest out with pride, before sitting down beside the two and putting his arm around the mum. Cue a collective awwww from the onlookers, and a simultaneous melting of hearts.
As always the meerkats were magnificent and we were treated to a super cute fight between two very playful ones.
Afternoon in Cork
We spent quite a few hours strolling the grounds of the Wildlife Park, before deciding to finish the afternoon in Cork city. We found a convenient car park at Q-park Grand Parade, but it wasn’t cheap at €3 per hour. I really wanted to see the English Market, which has housed stalls in Cork for over 230 years. I couldn’t wait to see the sights and smells of this covered market, and I did as soon as we walked into the fish market section. Well certainly the smell. The market is beautiful to stroll around from its design to the colours of the different stalls. We didn’t buy anything and we briefly considered eating at the upstairs cafe, but that Irish breakfast was still doing its work.
Beata and I then took different paths; for her we were on Oliver Plunkett Street right in the heart of Corks best high street shopping; and I had always wanted to visit the interior of the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church. I’ve always enjoyed how unique this church looks. It dates from the 19th century and apparently took 58 years to build. It has a very unusual steeple that dominates the skyline on the banks of the River Lee. This was my opportunity to finally take a look inside, but alas it didn’t live up to the exterior.
We met back up on Oliver Plunkett Street outside the delightfully Tudoresque Winthrop Arcade, where we finally decided it was time to lunch. A fifteen minute walking debate saw us finally settle for street food like Rocket Man on Princes St. The sandwiches were fit for a Princes. Oh that’s princess isn’t it. Anyway we had two wonderful Ham hock sandwiches, a delicious side salad, and some awful organic cola that tasted like lemonade. Best to avoid that. But they serve some great stews also and have street side benches to snack and people watch.
We were heading back to the car when the Dulce Bun House suddenly appeared and its natural charms drew us in. They serve these super little buns that the make in store, but even better mini-pancakes smothered in hot nutella. We left with a bag of these, two coffees and some inevitable weight gain.
It took some time to make our way through Cork in its rush hour, and we wiled the evening away relaxing in our room. We had noble intentions to dine in the hotels restaurant but we ruined our appetite earlier so settled once more for the comfortable bar surroundings. So our anniversary meal consisted of a charcutrie and cheese board, some more calamari (yum), and chips. This is where the hotel got back most of my savings on the room rate, the Chablis we were drinking was €45 a bottle and Prosecco was €12 a glass. I won’t say how much we had, but when we got the bill the following morning, alcohol made up a good percentage of it.
We would spend the final day of our Cork trip exploring two of Cork County and Ireland’s most colourful towns, Cobh and Kinsale.
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