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Monday, 25 October 2010

Honeymoon in Ireland

Hampton HotelWe arrived on the Emerald Isle at almost midnight, rented a car, and attempted to find our hotel. We had a small setback due to the fact that the steering wheel was on the right, the gearshift on the left, and we had to drive on the left side of the road - we'll have to factor in some extra time to adjust the next time we travel to Ireland. After almost sideswiping an entire street of cars, we found Hampton Hotel, a boutique hotel in a nice neighborhood in Dublin. We were warmly welcomed and found our beautiful premium room definitely worthy of a honeymoon. It was a huge room with a king sized bed, sitting area, couch with a 50” wide-screen TV, LCD fireplace, and a large bathroom with rain shower and tub. This is a luxe property in Dublin boasting amenities like heated floors in the bathrooms and is decorated with modern art. We relaxed watching the fire dance and slept very well in our big comfy bed.

Hampton HotelWe woke late, happy that breakfast is served in the restaurant until 11:30 a.m. There is a trendy restaurant and bar downstairs where my new hubby had the full Irish breakfast (bacon, sausage, eggs, mushrooms, black and white pudding (another pork creation), potato patties, and grilled tomatoes) and I tried the definitely less fattening Irish porridge.

When it came to planning our day, the front desk person was extremely helpful in going over every possible option with us; she was also very enthusiastic about sharing her knowledge of the city, even though she’d probably done it thousands of times. From the hotel it was a 10 minute walk to St. Stevens Green, the park where all of Dublin seems to hang out on sunny summer afternoons like the one we (luckily) got. We explored Dublin’s pedestrian streets with their multitude of sidewalk café’s, pubs and shops. We walked around Trinity College, the Temple bar area, and O’Connell Street.

Dublin is the most multicultural city in Ireland and has a variety of culinary choices besides the standard pub fare you’ll find in many small towns. We decided to try a Lebanese restaurant called Byblos for an early dinner. We tried a vegetarian platter and a lamb dish, then went to a pub for a Guinness, served in traditional Irish style, unchilled but in a chilled glass. Eventually, we headed back to our hotel room to watch the World Cup on the sofa—very comfortable.

After another late breakfast, we headed across the country to Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara, the wild rough coast of Galway County. Most of the drive was highway, but after we passed Galway it turned into the narrow windy roads that Ireland is known for. The old castle is in a beautiful location perched next to a river and our Ballynahinch castleroom had a view over it as well as a door right onto the river, as if the whole area was our patio. It is an excellent river for fishing and we could watch fly fishers right from our window. It is such a peaceful, silent spot and the room was nicely decorated in antique style. The lobby had a roaring fire going when we arrived and it was much needed even though it was July! Ireland has so much mist, dampness and rain that it rarely feels warm, even in summer.

IMGP4882There is a very nice restaurant at the castle with views overlooking the river which serves a prix fixe 4-course meal for 60 euro. There is also a pub, which is what we chose. It was not typical pub food, but nicely plated quality meals prepared in the same kitchen as its more expensive sister restaurant. We had chicken with asparagus and homemade lamb sausages with potatoes. It was a very hearty, tasty meal.

The next morning we had breakfast in the lovely restaurant with a view. Ballynahinch has an extensive buffet with delicious fruit salad, homemade granola, breads, cheeses, croissants, jams, yogurt, and juices. Many castle hotels offer a breakfast buffet with a plated hot meal included, so we also chose items from the menu to be prepared by the chef, eggs for him and fresh fish for me. It is common in Ireland to have a huge breakfast, so we found ourselves skipping lunch every day.

IMGP4859Afterwards we went on a walk around the castle’s property with Noel, a guide who explained the castle’s storied history on a leisurely walk. A boat man came to row us out on a short ride to the ruins of a small fort on a tiny island in the middle of the lake. It had been owned by a famous ‘pirate queen’ Grace O’Malley and was built there to keep intruders out. It had a good view of all the surrounding hillsides, so they would at least have notice of an attack. It was very relaxing being on the lake. We then headed back to the hotel and borrowed Wellies and rain jackets from the hotel for our afternoon fly fishing lesson with Jonathan.

 

 

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We started in the labyrinth area learning how to cast on the wide lawn so we could practice as much as we wanted without getting the line caught in the bushes at the water’s edge. Then we went down to the river to try out our new skills. Jonathan was a great teacher and patiently untangled our lines from the brush when they got caught. The river is picture perfect for fly fishing – many people come here just to fish salmon. A light rain started in late afternoon and then we saw many trout and salmon jumping. We didn’t catch any, but we did have a great time learning—it was very meditative and relaxing as well as authentic and fun. We warmed ourselves by the fire and then headed back to our room. We ordered room service which was delivered on large wooden trays with starched linens and real silver and ate in our pretty room while enjoying the view.

IMGP4885After another lovely breakfast, we headed out to Roundstone village where the fishing boats are as colorful as the houses. Connemara is a place of wild, rugged beauty from the craggy cliffs of the seashore to the hills with sheep grazing in the lush green between rocks. We drove along the seashore and stopped at a beach with millions of little shells where the sand was just roughly pulverized shells, not good for barefoot walking, but excellent for beachcombing.

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We stopped for coffee in Clifden, the main town in the area with its brightly painted shops and then headed towards Kylemore Abbey just before it started to pour. We managed to capture a couple of pictures before running back to the car. We continued across to Ashford Castle just across the county line in Cong, co. Mayo.

IMGP4901Ashford Castle is a 13th century castle that really feels like you’re stepping back in time when you enter. We arrived at the large gated property where the smiling gate keeper let us in, not fazed by the rain. We drove through many acres of plush lawns and golf greens before crossing the old bridge just before the castle itself. The friendly staff greeted us and walked us through rooms filled with antiques. We had a nice room on the 2nd floor overlooking the lake and the old castle towers. Ashford Castle is surrounded by 300 acres of gardens as well and feels very expansive.

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There are two restaurants at the castle – the formal George V Dining Room with an award winning chef where a 4-course menu is 68 euro and jackets are required for men. Though the menu looked fabulous we chose to go to the bistro style Cullens Cottage for a lighter meal. The meal started with quite a variety of breads with flavored oils. I ordered the duck confit salad and my husband chose the salmon with mashed potatoes and strawberries which was delicious. The menu’s here are also planned by the head chef of the George V. There are also light meals and afternoon tea served in the drawing room during the day.

IMGP4907After our dinner we played backgammon on the large elegant board next to the bar while we listened to the live entertainment. There was a piano player and a personable singer taking requests for old standards. If you do stay here be sure to visit all the rooms near the lobby area, especially the one with walls filled with antique plates. There is also a hallway upstairs with pictures of famous people who’ve stayed here.

Breakfast was truly a feast. The buffet had 25 items and then from the menu I chose the light, airy pancakes served with berry compote and thick clotted cream—delicious.

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On our walk around the grounds we saw the School of Falconry, which Ashford Castle is known for. We didn’t participate, but did see a class in progress with the large hawks perched on the thick gloved hands of the students before flying off and coming back again. More than a sport, it was a traditional way to capture food brought to Europe and the British Isles from the Far East.

Ashford Castle is in the cute village of Cong with its rows of pastel houses with window boxes overflowing with flowers and the ruins of an old abbey. It is about 45 minutes north of Galway, our Sunday afternoon stop. Galway was very busy—its IMGP4968pedestrian streets were full of people popping in and out of shops and sitting at sidewalk café’s—I’m sure it helped that it was a sunny afternoon, but we were surprised how much was going on. There was a street market selling snacks and arts and crafts from Ireland as well as far flung places like India. Many street performers were trying to catch a crowd, even quite a few with little (or no) talent! There are several museums and cathedrals to see in Galway, too, if you have time to spend more than a few hours.

 

 

IMGP4971We continued to Cappabhaile House in Ballyvaughan, a small family-run hotel in the Burren. It was a meticulously clean and nicely decorated inn with flowers and plants everywhere. Our room had a view of wide farmland with a farmhouse in the distance. We had a sleigh bed and walls painted burnt orange.

This was the night of the final World Cup game and the innkeeper, Conor, helped us choose a place in town to see it, since that seemed more important than the food. We ended up at a standing room only pub and restaurant where with some luck and perseverance we managed to snag a table with a view of the large screen TV. The food was not great, but the air was filled with excitement as people cheered on their favorite team.

IMGP4974Breakfast was a huge meal with porridge or cereal as a first course and then a full Irish breakfast, an omelet, or a number of other options as the second. Conor recommended we drive back a few miles to see the ruins of Corcomroe Abbey before continuing down the beautiful coastal road to the Cliffs of Moher. Along the way we stopped at several lookouts where you could walk right to the edge of the cliffs and look back over terraced limestone hills. There is so much stone in these parts that everything seems to be made of it—from the houses to the ‘fences’ along property borders. We also saw some traditional thatched roofs of the area.

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IMGP5014We got to the Cliffs of Moher and realized why its Ireland’s #1 tourist site, while enjoying the fabulous views. It is dramatic and spectacular. As a visitor you’re allowed to go to the main overlook sites which are great, but have large concrete retaining walls (nice if you have kids). When we got to the last one, we saw almost everyone stepping over a very small barrier meant to keep people out and walking past a sign that says ‘No Entry, Private Property’ up one of the most beautiful trails anywhere right along the cliffs. We loved the views and being right at the edge and since there were hundreds of people over there it was hard to worry about any consequences. We also went to the top of the lookout tower which gets you slightly higher, but is also crowded and tough to get a good photo in, so is not a must-do activity.

 

 

 


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IMGP5048We continued our drive to Dromoland Castle where we’d be spending the night. Dromoland is a gorgeous rebuilt castle on manicured grounds between Ennis and Limerick. After a warm welcome we were shown to the Queen Anne Suite – the perfect honeymoon suite!

 


IMGP5056Decorated in shades of pale green, yellow, and white with chandeliers hanging in both the bedroom and the sitting room, thick draperies, and sumptuous linens – it was luxurious. Unlike the other castles that were older and more authentic (right down to the spiders in the bedrooms) this one was more modern as it was rebuilt in the 1800’s and then renovated in the 1960’s into a resort hotel. The bathroom was huge and done in polished marble; it even had a flat screen TV over the tub, so you could lay there and watch a movie if you liked (if you got tired of watching the two other flat screen TV’s in its other rooms). Other modern perks were a Bose stereo and ipod doc. Our view from tall windows over the golf course and lake along with its comfy couch and lounge chair meant we almost didn’t want to leave the room. But curiosity took over and we went out to explore.

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The castle is filled with antiques and large portraits and is said to look similar to how it did when it was privately owned. Downstairs there is a spa and a large whirlpool and in another building nearby is a huge, quiet swimming pool. A lush walled garden with an abundance of flowers is next door. The lake has boats you can borrow if you like and there is fishing, horse riding, tennis, golf, archery, carriage rides, two restaurants and a classy bar. In short, you don’t need to leave and probably won’t want to.

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We had dinner at the Earl of Thomond Restaurant which was a four-course extravaganza served by waiters in tuxes. I had fois gras to start, grapefruit sorbet, lamb with eggplant & pepper chutney and potatoes with sautéed onions. For dessert, I chose tiramisu and then petit fours were served with the coffee. Everything was delicious and presentation was top notch. There is also a less formal choice for dinner, the Fig Tree Restaurant which also serves lunch.

 

 

Breakfast was a large, gracious buffet along with a menu item— I tried the sole with lemon butter which was perfectly cooked. We relaxed in our grand room a little longer before checking out and heading toward the Ring of Kerry. We saw a deer bounding by as we were leaving the estate. It was a misty, rainy day, but it did clear by the time we got to Killarney where we walked around town, went to the cathedral and had hot chocolate in Skellig’s chocolate café. Killarney is where people typically begin the Ring of Kerry, with most taking on the northern route first; in fact tour buses are all required to go in that direction because the twisty narrow roads would not allow for two buses to pass each other and could lead to a precarious position.

IMGP5090We decided on the southern route first, as our cottage for the night was in Caherdaniel, along the southern coast. Shortly after leaving the town the road passes through the lush Killarney National Park with its bountiful walking paths. We stopped at a couple pull-off points and walked around a bit, but didn’t stay as long as we liked as it was early evening and we wanted to get to Picin Cottage before dusk. After passing through the low mountains, the road emerges at the coast and follows it past beaches and bluffs until a small, very easy to miss hand painted sign saying only ‘Picin’ emerges at a dirt road not much bigger than a driveway. We followed it up and saw the little cottage that we’d seen pictures of on the internet.


IMGP5104Amelia, one of the owners, gave us a warm welcome, offered us drinks, and showed us around. They had restored the cute 200 year-old cottage themselves and added their home through an addition, so there is a door connecting the cottage’s living/dining room to their kitchen. Everything has been done in style, especially the rustic yet elegant bathroom with its romantic clawfoot tub lit by candles. The decoration was eclectic— antiques next to modern light fixtures; a polished faucet adorns a handmade-looking sink; a stack of twigs and peat logs sit next to an old woodstove yet the upstairs bedroom has skylights overlooking the valley.


IMGP5110Amelia had the fire going when we got in and later I took a long, relaxing soak in the tub by candlelight in the warm bathroom. Climbing into the comfy bed covered with a pure white duvet afterwards lead to a good nights rest. For breakfast we had fruit salad, local organic eggs from a farm on the same road, smoked salmon, toast, yogurt and cereal served in our own dining room.


The cottage is charming, quiet, and romantic with friendly and hospitable owners. It was a great place to unwind on a honeymoon—we wished we’d stayed longer. The only problem we had was finding it!


IMGP5130The stretch of coastline on the western edge of the Ring of Kerry, just after you leave Picin Cottage, was the most dramatic part. All the way up the west coast we stopped continuously for fabulous views of farmland, the ocean, and its islands. The absolute best part was actually the Skellig Ring, where the roads get even thinner and no tour busses can fit, making it quieter and more authentic. We walked on wild beaches and coves and even managed to stop for a tasting at Skellig’s chocolate factory that has one of the best views I can imagine for any type of factory.

 

 


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The weather took a turn for the worse when the mist and clouds rolled in and much of the northern stretch was obscured, so we continued on to Castlemartyr Resort in Cork County for our last night in Ireland. Castlemartyr is a newly restored 17th century manor house which had been redone as a 5-star resort. Owned by the same group IMGP5178as Dromoland Castle, everything has been nicely finished and the mix of modern conveniences and stately, old-style have merged. In our king-bedded room there was a digital control panel for the lights and even the do not disturb sign. The bathroom was covered in black marble and had the best rain shower of the whole trip—it actually felt like being drenched by rain. A separate dressing room with a fridge, hotpot, and French press coffeemaker were nice touches.

 

 

IMGP5172After settling in, we headed for the fabulous infinity pool. With its three story high glass walls overlooking the gardens, lounge chairs, and a Jacuzzi, I could have spent hours here. There was also a sauna and eucalyptus steam room. The pool was the perfect place to relax and there were big fluffy robes in the rooms, so we were able to walk back and forth in them and shower in our own room. A walk around the property reveals ruins of an old castle from 1210, the golf course, and some beautiful white horses.

Cork is only 20 miles away and was chosen by Lonely Planet as one of the 10 best cities to visit in 2010; it was called “sophisticated, vibrant and diverse”. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore it since we spent so much time on the coast.

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For dinner we visited Castlemartyr’s restaurant where we had a delicious meal of scallops with vegetable tian, celeriac soup, sea bass with carrots and potatoes, and chocolate cake; if that wasn’t enough we were given petit fours and coffee.

In the morning, we had another excellent meal with a large buffet of scones, croissants, cheeses, meats, smoked fish, cereals and yogurt and an extensive menu to choose from. The sunny dining room was a great last stop before our drive up to Dublin airport for our flight home.

IMGP5161We were fortunate to stay in some of the best, most authentic places in Ireland and that really added to our experience. The juxtaposition of exploring Ireland’s rugged, wild landscapes, and staying in fairy-tale castles and hotels made for a honeymoon like no other.

©Christina Kay Bolton

 

Details:

Dublin: Hampton Hotel, http://www.hamptonhotel.ie/

Connemara: Ballynahinch Castle, http://www.ballynahinch-castle.com/

Ashford Castle, http://www.ashford.ie/index.php

Ballyvaughan: Cappabhaile House, http://www.cappabhaile.com/

Dromoland Castle, http://www.dromoland.ie/

Ring of Kerry: Picin Cottage, http://www.picincottage.com/Home.html

Castlemartyr Resort, http://www.castlemartyrresort.ie/

Published in in love
Wednesday, 01 September 2010

Honeymoon in Provence and Cote d'Azur

Our two-and-a-half-week honeymoon in Provence and Cote d’Azur afforded us with the time to really relax and experience life in France. It was the perfect antidote to the extremely stressful time before our do-it-yourself wedding, when everything had to be done all at once just before the event, as well as the typical stresses of two very different families meeting for the first time.

Published in in love
Saturday, 05 July 2008

Switzerland: A Second Honeymoon

A couple of decades ago, although it seems as if was more recent, say about 15 years, my girlfriend and I, newly married, honeymooned in Switzerland.  The placidity of the surroundings suited us just fine after the tumult needed to seal our lives together.  This past June we returned to the scene as empty-nesters on our first holiday without the children who were now grown up enough to attend colleges and use my credit card for an impressive variety of goods and services.

Published in in love

The telephone rang. “He proposed. We’re coming to Paris for our honeymoon. Wow, the most romantic place on earth! I’m counting on you to send me a list of all the wonderful places we can go see,” whispered my friend over the phone. Her betrothed must have been in the next room and she didn’t want him to hear what she was saying.
“Forget about
Paris,” I said. She asked what I meant: weren’t I feeling well? Did I not love Paris anymore? “Mount Saint Michel,” I said. “I’ll book you a hotel on Mount Saint Michel and you’ll thank me!”

Published in in love
Saturday, 01 July 2006

Honeymoon in Laos?

Close your eyes.  When you hear the word ‘honeymoon’, what do you think of?  Long walks along wind swept beaches, candle lit dinners overlooking a majestic blue ocean, some sort of tropical paradise, right?  How about a landlocked communist country in the middle of the monsoon season?  My fiancé was skeptical, but I managed to convince her. Despite (or because of) its geopolitical remoteness, Laos proved to be just as romantic as your standard honeymoon destination, if not more so.

 

Published in in love

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