Beguiling Bergamo

 

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grace-hedgleyBy Grace Hedgley

ryanair-aircraft-(2)Bergamo, the birthplace of Donizetti and home of Lorenzo Lotto, is a stunning little city in the Lombardy region of Italy; it lies about 40 km northeast of Milan and 30 km from the lakes Como and Iseo. To the north of the city are the foothills of the Bergamo Alps.
With a population of around 120,000, Bergamo is the fourth-largest city in region.

Bergamo is well connected to several cities in Europe and the Mediterranean through Il Caravaggio International Airport, the third-busiest airport in Italy with 10.5 million passengers in 2015, and the highly impressive A4 Motorway that crosses the axis between Milan, Verona, and Venice.

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Citta Alta

Ryanair’s new flight from Belfast international airport gives you the opportunity to explore this wonderful part of Italy.
Flights leave on a Wednesday and Saturday. www.ryanair.com. I checked the Ryanair site (end Nov) and found return flights in middle January for an amazing £40-00.

 

Getting to the City

Getting to the city from the airport is really simple and very cheap. The Airport bus, is No 1 and it runs from outside Bergamo airport to Bergamo train station situated in Piazza Marconi.
It then proceeds to the lower town, then onto the Funicular station and then up to the upper town ‘Città Alta’. The 20 minute journey is great value at €1.20 approx. Tickets are available at the airport.

Local specialties

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Polenta e Osei

Local specialties to try include casonsei; fresh pasta filled with salami, roast meat, garlic, parsley and Grana cheese and served with melted butter, pancetta and sage. For those with a sweeter tooth try the Polenta e Osei, a sweet polenta cake with a chocolate bird on top. Local wines, polenta, pasta and cheese what’s not to love?

The two cities

Bergamo is divided into two parts; the lower city, Citta Bassa, and the upper city, Citta Alta. They are connected by a delightful funicular railway, which affords spectacular views as you ascend to the heights of Citta Alta.

img_2573At the top Caffe della Funicolare is a fine little café with a terrace where you can get a birds eye view of the city below.

 

Explore the medieval streets of Citta Alta.

The main street leads to Piazza Vecchia, the beautiful heart of the city, has one of Italy’s most ancient libraries along with the 52 meter-high tower, which can be climbed using the many steps or if you prefer there is a lift.
Citta Alta has a host of places to visit so be sure to look out for the treasures in Piazza Duomo, while the Museums in Piazza della Cittadella will give you a great overview of this city’s history, science and art treasures.

After visiting the Venetian walls, the main squares of Piazza Vecchia and Piazza Duomo with its Basilica, Baptistery and Cathedral, you will be ready for lunch.

This is a very important meal in Italy, as locals tend to spend the whole afternoon eating and chatting. One place I can recommend for traditional food is Da Mimmo (www.ristorantemimmo.com) this wonderful space has been a restaurant for nearly 60 years and it provides fine, locally sourced, traditional food at very reasonable prices. Excellent service, like most places I found in Bergamo, it was discreet but friendly. There are two connected dining rooms beautifully decorated, spacious and airy. You can read all about the history of Da Mimmo and it’s owners, it’s obvious they put their heart and soul into what they do.

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Dining room of the Hotel San Marco

My first night in Bergamo I stayed at the Hotel Excelsior San Marco. In an excellent location facing an elegant square in the lower town, the hotel is a few steps away from the funicular that goes to the historical Upper Town inside the Medieval Walls.
With a twin room from €90-00 per night it is superbly located and well priced for a city hotel. www.hotelsanmarco.com

 

img_281615181240_1139040892859510_4889737000275915676_nFor dinner I chose to eat at Mille Storie e Sapori.

Italian food with a twist in a warm and friendly setting with excellent local wines. Buzzing contemporary atmosphere  for a truly authentic Italian meal.

 

Province of Bergamo

I was in Bergamo for only a short while as I had some exploring to do in the region. My first trip took me to Sarnico this charming town lies on the edge of lake Iseo and is full of little winding streets and local shopping opportunities.

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4 star Cocca Hotel in Predore,

 

During the summer months this beautiful town turns into a hub for visitors to the lake and surrounding countryside.
I then checked into the 4 star Cocca Hotel in Predore, a few km from Sarnico.

Set on the shores of Lake Iseo, it offers relaxation and comfort in a sophisticated environment with a superb Royal Thai Spa. See www.coccahotel.com.

Predore has wonderful views of the lake and Monte Isola, the largest lake island in Europe. While the locally made Riva launches may be out of your price range, you can still take the ferry to explore Lake Iseo.

Ski Country
lizzola_%e2%80%a2_%e2%80%a2_visit_bergamoThe beauty of the ski resorts in Bergamo province is that nearly all are no more than an hour by car from Bergamo. Indeed local school children go skiing as part of their PE programmes from the age of three!

The Bergamask Mountains, which climb directly from the Po valley and reach altitudes of up to three thousand metres, offer summer and winter holiday opportunities.

The 130 downhill pistes are almost all concentrated in the two main valleys that cross the great mountain barrier – Val Brembana and Val Seriana.

The pistes offer almost 400 kilometres of snow; 45 are rated easy, 64 are intermediate, and expert skiers have 21 more difficult slopes on which to test their skills.

There are approximately 70 ski lifts, and everywhere there are quality facilities and services together with cross-country ski trails, toboggan and sled runs, ice-skating rinks and extremely modern snow parks. In fact everything you need for a holiday of sport and fun.

The Ski season opens on the 8th December 2016.

The most well-known ski resort is Foppolo in Valle Brembana. It is surrounded by other ski resorts all located in the upper valley: Carona, San Simone, Piazzatorre, Valtorta Piani di Bobbio, Oltre il Colle Zambla.

The top resort in Valle Seriana is Monte Pora, which has developed over the last few decades; then Lizzola, in a setting of rugged peaks, Spiazzi di Gromo and the Presolana Pass, a “historic” Lombardy ski resort, where at the beginning of the last century people started skiing down the hills watched by bemused mountain inhabitants.

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Hotel Milano Presolana

If you are considering a holiday to the region then look no further than: wwwPresolanaholidays.com, where great offers include short breaks, with ski passes, accommodation and return transfers to Bergamo Airport.

When in the area I stayed at the 4 star Hotel Milano in Castione della Presolana, located in the heart of the Bergamask Dolomites, this stunning mountain resort offers the opportunity to chill out, relax and enjoy good food in the most beautiful surroundings.

 

 

Agriturismo

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Agriturismo Ferdy in Lenna

The Bergamo region is not just about skiing and cities, there is a very big movement in the travel industry and that is towards Agriturismo.
A fine example of this is the unique Agriturismo Ferdy in Lenna.
Their farm philosophy is based on the breeding of traditional animals, which have always lived in the region. They also provide wonderful eco friendly accommodation to a very high standard, prices from as little as €60 per night. Agriturismo Ferdy offers its guests many activities including cheese making, horse riding, working with animals, exploring on foot and cycling trails. If that all seems like too much hard work then you might want to consider their wellness centre where they only use Agriturismo Ferdy products such as essential oils, all produced in Val d’Inferno. See www.agriturismoferdy.com/

 

Also worth visiting:

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The medieval village of Clusone

The medieval village of Clusone is beautifully situated. The frescos in the Disciplini Oratory date back to the Middle Age, while the complex astronomical clock is still working in its original state. It has astonished visitors for four hundred years!

Cornello dei Tasso is a fascinating village once the home town of the Tasso Family who established a private mail company which monopolised all postal services in Europe from the 14th century.

They say that San Pellegrino is “the gem of the Brembana Valley”, The art nouveau palaces, the Casino, the historical spa with the thermal baths, the San Pellegrino mineral water, renowned all over the world and there’s so much more to discover when you get there.

Why not treat yourself ?
A choice of packages can be tailor made for you by QC Terme San Pellegrino to celebrate your hen or stag night, birthday, anniversary or any special moment. www.qctermesanpellegrino.it

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SHARPEN YOUR SKILLS ON A CULINARY LEARNING JOURNEY IN NORTHERN IRELAND

manor-house-country-hotelNorthern Ireland’s beef, lamb, game, seafood, dairy produce, fruit and vegetables are among the best in the world, and the region is gaining renown for the reputation of its local producers.  With award-winning contemporary city restaurants in Belfast and Derry~Londonderry, enticing sea-front restaurants along the Causeway Coastal Route, snug seafood bars at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, luxury hotels to dine in in the heart of the Fermanagh Lakelands, and hearty pub grub in beautiful rural spots – we have it all!
Not only can you experience Northern Ireland’s tantalising good food at one of our award-wining eateries but you can also learn how to make equally delicious dishes at home by participating in a course at one of Northern Ireland’s cookery schools.

Rachel Quigg, Destination & PR Officer, Tourism Northern Ireland is encouraging people to learn something new this month:

“No ‘foodie’ should leave our shores without exercising their culinary skills and using our local produce at one of Northern Ireland’s cookery schools. Spread across the region the cookery schools all have their individual specialities from seafood caught metres away from where it will be prepared to classes in traditional home baking.

This month is ‘Legacy & Learn to’ in the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink and we encourage everyone to stay somewhere beautiful, learn something new and eat something amazing,” added Rachel.

PLACES TO VISIT

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Belle Isle Cookery School

Belle Isle Cookery School

Belle Isle School of Cookery, Lisbellaw, Enniskillen

The ultimate destination for food lovers. Discover the delights of creating modern cuisine in a foodie’s paradise. You will be introduced to some of Ireland’s most innovative and exciting ideas, in a relaxed atmosphere, with expert tuition from head tutor Joe Kelly and his team, using top-quality seasonal Irish produce. Their hands-on courses and demonstrations will ensure that you leave with the confidence to cook with style and flair in your own home.

Situated on the northern tip of Upper Lough Erne, Belle Isle is a 470-acre estate spread over eight picturesque islands. Inhabited since the 12th century, the estate offers a wide range of attractive self-catering accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. The Hamilton Wing sleeps 16 over 8 bedrooms which can be booked individually or in its entity to include the Abercorn Wing.

Mourne Seafood Cookery School, Kilkeel, Co. Down

Kilkeel is the “Seafood Capital of the Mountains of Mourne”. Whichever way you travel to Kilkeel you will enjoy stunning scenery “where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea”.

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Mourne Seafood Cookery School

The Mourne Seafood Cookery School is an award winning state of the art cookery school located in the Nautilus Centre, with panoramic views of Kilkeel harbour. You will find the freshest fish and seafood in the home of Northern Ireland’s largest fishing fleet. For those seafood lovers this is an ideal way to learn more about what to look for when buying, handling and cooking seafood. It is aimed to be a fun, relaxed, learning experience. An exciting range of new cookery classes has been added to whet your appetite. Our renowned chefs will be on hand to give their expertise and answer any questions you may have.

The cookery school tries to source as much of the ingredients from local producers such as: dry cured bacon from Cunningham Butchers, Mourne Oyster Stout brewed at the Whitewater Brewery, seafood supplied by Mourne Seafoods etc.

Extend your trip by staying at the luxurious Slieve Donard Resort and Spa, Newcastle or the Kilmorey Arms Hotel in Kilkeel.
http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Mourne-Seafood-Cookery-School-Kilkeel-Newry-P16475

 

james-street-south-cookeryJames Street South Cookery School, Belfast

The cookery school at James Street South opened its doors in 2011. Situated on the top floor of the newly renovated building also housing the Bar + Grill and private dining facilities, the Cookery School offers a purpose built interactive space. Whether it’s a private group booking, or one of the scheduled events they are certain they can offer something to entice. From effortless entertaining, to knife skills, or even sushi and cocktails, the aim is that you enjoy yourself, learn some new skills and leave filled with confidence in the kitchen.

Stay in the nearby Europa or Jury’s Hotel in Belfast, located a short walk from the cookery school and bustling city centre.

http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/James-Street-South-Cookery-School-Belfast-P25984

 

Belfast Cookery School, Belfast

16741_cathedral_quarterThe Mourne Seafood Bars in Belfast and Dundrum are known the length and breadth of the country and beyond for providing fresh, local, no nonsense, and affordable seafood. It was from this ethos and passion for food that the Belfast Cookery School was born. An award winning, fully purposed cookery school based in the heart of Belfast’s city centre in close proximity to a wide range of pubs, clubs and hotels, convenient to public transportation routes and on-street parking. All their Chefs are carefully chosen and are considered experts in their chosen cuisine.  They have a wide variety of classes to accommodate all tastes and skill levels; so if you consider yourself a culinary genius or are donning on an apron for the first time you’re in good hands.

http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Belfast-Cookery-School-Belfast-P23415

 

orchard-acre-farmOrchard Acre Farm, Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh

About ten minutes from Enniskillen this small holding is run by Hugh, Teresa and family since 1989. They are both from a proud tradition of farming; together they have created Fermanagh’s only eco-tourism farm. The focal point on the small farm is the award-winning eco-barn. It is surrounded by the kitchen garden, creating private relaxed place, that is bathed in daylight and is a multi-functional and a fully wheel chair accessible building. They run a programme of farmhouse and modern cookery classes, Irish craft courses and foodie events. They offer bespoke events and activities for individuals, families, community groups,

 

 

Find out more about the Year of Food and Drink 2016 celebrations: https://www.discovernorthernireland.com/yearoffoodanddrink2016/

NH Collection Open Two New Hotels In Barcelona and Madrid

rc_nh_collection-gran-hotel-calderon_275_medNH Collection, the NH Hotel Group brand for the upper-upscale segment

The NH Collection brand represents a new class of amazing hotels, with an elegant and subtle style.
This is a category of hotels within the upper-upscale segment, located in unique and emblematic buildings, both historic and contemporary, in the best locations in the main capitals of the world.

All NH Collection properties have been designed to give even the most demanding customers an extraordinary experience, based on the senses, which will go far beyond what they expect from their stay. These hotels have been carefully designed for guests who wish to get the most out of their stay, with excellent levels of comfort and the best facilities, as well as a wide and bespoke range of products and services.

About NH Hotel Group

NH Hotel Group (www.nhhotelgroup.com) is a consolidated multinational operator and one of the world’s leading urban hotel groups. The Company operates close to 400 hotels with almost 60,000 rooms in 30 countries across Europe, America, Africa and Asia, including top city destinations such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Bogota, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Milan, Munich, New York, Rome and Vienna.

 NH Hotel Group’s most exclusive brand, NH Collection, continues to expand its presence in major cities around the world with the opening of two unique five-star hotels in the two most important cities in Spain: NH Collection Gran Hotel Calderón, in Barcelona, and NH Collection Suecia, in Madrid.

With the addition of these new properties, NH Hotel Group consolidates the presence of its upper-upscale brand in Spain, where it has 22 of the 67 NH Collection hotels that the company operates throughout the world.
Another 8 properties will be added globally between 2016 and 2018, across Mexico, Chile, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Spain.

As is usual for the brand, both hotels are located in landmark buildings in the city centre, and combine careful attention to detail, exceptional services, unique spaces, the latest technologies and an excellent gastronomic offering. These two launches are another demonstration of the Group continuing to invest in and develop distinctive, high quality accommodation in major cities around the world.

The opening ceremonies were led by public representatives of both cities: the mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, opened NH Collection Suecia, and the Counselor of Business and Knowledge of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Jordi Baiget, did so for NH Collection Gran Hotel Calderón.



rsp_nh_calderon_215_med-2f_nh_calderon_190_medsp_nh_calderon_019_med-1NH Collection Gran Hotel Calderón

Located on the Rambla de Catalunya, the central and vibrant promenade that crosses the heart of Barcelona, NH Collection Gran Hotel Calderón has been transformed into one of the city’s most iconic five star hotels, becoming the flagship for the brand and the company in Catalonia.

After thorough refurbishment, the hotel’s interior design pays tribute to avant-garde Barcelona without forfeiting innovation and new technologies, epitomised by a 56 m2 LED video wall in the lobby, which is unique in the city. To its 255 rooms (163 Superior, 63 Premium, and 14 Junior Suites) the hotel has added 10 rooms for events and meetings, with a total of 700 m2 and capacity for 350 people, together with a spectacular terrace with pool and solarium, and magnificent views over the city, which make it perfect for outdoor events.

The gastronomic offering brings together chef Andrea Tumbarello (4 Repsol Suns) and the Don Giovanni Restaurant, which offers the best of Italian cuisine along with creations based on seasonal produce that combine exotic ingredients and classic dishes.

rp_nh_collection-suecia_002_med rc_nh_collection-suecia_046_med rt_nh_collection-suecia_037_med-1 b_nh_collection-suecia_039_med-1NH Collection Suecia

The historic Hotel Suecia, that played host to figures like Ernesto Che Guevara and Ernest Hemingway, who lived there for long periods, has been reborn, after complete renovation, as a five star NH Collection hotel, the third for the brand in Madrid. With 123 rooms (76 Superior, 33 Premium and 11 Junior Suites), the company has chosen Scandinavian inspired stylish and cosy décor for this hotel, from interior designers Lázaro Rosa-Violán and Mercedes Isasa.

Together they have achieved a pleasant feeling of warmth in all its spaces by using fine woods for walls, floors and furnishings, and by playing with natural and artificial light.

The location of NH Collection Suecia is one step away from the main tourist attractions of Spain’s capital, and particularly what is known as the “Art Walk”, a route along which there are more than a dozen world-class museums and art galleries, including the Prado Museum, the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum of Contemporary Art.

NH’s commitment to high quality cuisine and culinary trends is expressed in the Casa Suecia restaurant, the new gastronomic offering that the Catalan Lluis Canadell has brought to Madrid. Traditional Mediterranean dishes with an international nod are perfect for matching with signature cocktails in the speakeasy accessed through the restaurant toilets, harking back to the days of Prohibition.

Madrid and Barcelona from above

v_nh_collection-suecia_011_medBoth NH Collection Gran Hotel Calderón and NH Collection Suecia have magnificent terraces from which guests can enjoy the best views of Madrid and Barcelona. The five-star Madrid hotel boasts one of the most striking terraces in the capital with 150 square metres of floor space and an elevated private area of 40 metres. NH Collection Gran Hotel Calderón’s terrace is also unique in Barcelona, offering a spectacular 360° view of the city, with a pool and solarium.

All rooms in both hotels are at the Company’s usual standard, featuring NH’s well-known Brilliant Basics, including mattresses designed exclusively for the chain, showers with rain effect, Nespresso coffee machines and tea machines, 46’’ LED TVs, high-speed Wi-Fi and easy accessibility, among other exclusive features that seek to ensure an memorable experience.

-ENDS-

48 Hours in Galway City

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Galway’s Latin Quarter

Galway City is a thriving, bohemian, cultural city on the western coast of Ireland.

Along with being a popular seaside destination with beautiful beaches and long winding promenade, it also has a buzzing cosmopolitan city centre.

 

The city is a joy to explore with its labyrinthine cobbled streets, colourful shop facades and busy café/ bar culture.
The city is also well known for its many festivals throughout the year with huge crowds gathering for the annual Galway Arts Festival, Races and numerous other events.

You Have to walk !

Galway walking tours

Galway walking tours

For me there is only one way to walk in Galway and that is with probably one of the best tour guides I have ever been with, Brian Nolan from www.Galwaywalks.com.
Brian is a mind of information, his head is jam packed with knowledge and a master of knowledge.

He knows everyone and everyone one who is anybody in Galway knows him. He can open doors you never though could be opened and on top of that he is a brilliant guide too.

My tour took me to the Spanish Arch called ‘The Claddagh’ where the River Corrib meets Galway Bay.

Galway later became a walled town in the year 1232 after the territory was captured by the Anglo Normans lead by Richard De Burgo.

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The Amazing Brian Nolan

We walked along by the town walls, some sections of which can be seen today near the Spanish Arch.

Brian explained to us Galway’s strategic coastal location as a natural harbour and how successful the people were who traded with both Portugal and Spain.

A trip to the Claddagh cottage really sets the scene for Galway, a small peat fire and that beautiful smell that hugs Galway like a blanket, oh if only they could bottle it. After the

Claddagh cottage we were off  to salthill where we watched the brave people who were swimming every day in the sea down at the famous diving boards and the kick wall.

Take the Promenade and Kick the Wall

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Salthill Promenade

The Kick Wall is a tradition where you kick the wall on completing Ireland’s longest promenade.
Across the road from the Kick wall plate is a tranquil and serene garden called the circle of life.
The Circle of Life national organ donor commemorative garden is located in the beautifully sited seafront Quincentennial Park in Salthill overlooking Galway Bay.

the garden reflects the spirit of giving, the enduring legacy which defines the lives of organ donors.

It is a special place of thanksgiving and commemoration, and through its mix of imagery, symbolism and sentiment, engenders feelings of positive transformation, healing and hope.

The garden was developed by Strange Boat Donor Foundation in partnership with Galway City Council and was formally opened on May 6th, 2014.

Please take the time to img_5261visit this very special place.

After my walk through theCircle of Life Garden I was off to the infamous O’Connors Bar in Salthill. With over £1,000,000 worth or antiques this amazing place is worth a visit. Check out ww.oconnorsbar.com. Note it only open in the evening.

If the over 150 pubs in Galway can’t satisfy you, you can call into the Galway City Museum or the National Aquarium which will fill a wet afternoon.

On any day the Glaway buskers will be out in force and they will serenade you as you tread the cobbled streets hopefully of to McDonaghs fish and chip shop http://www.mcdonaghs.net/

McDonaghs have been feeding Galway for years and as they own a fish shop it seemed insane not to open a fish and chip shop in the town too. They have and its amazing.

Eating in Galway is a delight.

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PAPA RICH Street Food

Galway is blessed with some of the beast eating-houses in Ireland. Everywhere I ate was great. Blakes Bar is definitely worth a visit. The décor is beautiful and service is great and so is the food. It is however a little overpriced.

But for me and they win my “do not miss” award is the newly opened PAPA RICH street food Bar located in Daly’s Place.

You must not miss this food it is simply amazing. Malaysian street food, wonderful tastes of the orient served quickly beautifully and delicious. If you do nothing at all in Galway you must visit here.

Asian food at its best.

 

Walking

After this fine eating you will need somewhere to walk so you can head off to the beautiful Kylemore Abbey or Ashford Castle.

And it was indeed Ashford Castle that I called into for a spot of lunch. The magnificent five star Ashford Castle is set in 350 acres, on the picturesque shores of Lough Corrib.
Dating back to 1228, the castle now enters a new chapter in its history, as part of The Red

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Prince of Wales Bar in Ashford Castle

Carnation Hotel Collection. With 82 spectacular rooms, suites and the Hideaway Cottage, a wealth of activities and plenty of thoughtful touches, guests will enjoy acclaimed Irish hospitality on a grand scale. The castle has recently had a multi million pound facelift and when you spend any amount of time here its not hard to understand why it has some of the accolades listed below:

  1. 1 BEST RESORT HOTEL IN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND IRELAND
By Travel + Leisure ‘World’s Best’ Awards 2016
  2. 5 IN THE TOP RESORTS IN EUROPE 
By Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards 2016
  • IRELAND’S BEST HOTEL SPA
By World Spa Awards 2016

IRELAND’S BEST FIVE STAR HOTEL
By Keelings Gold Medal Awards 2016 read some of its

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Nightlife

img_5253Galway is traditional music, its everywhere and there is so much to choose from. There are also late clubs for the younger ones or simply soaking up the craic in the city streets. The Latin Quarter is the place to be at night and just walk down the street to hear which pubs have music. Most will have something going on.

Galway is an amazing city and one to which I shall return.

 

“King of Cool” of the London pub scene, is set to bring his success home.

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King of Cool, Dezzi McCausland

Dungannon man Dezzi McCausland is expanding his London empire at McQueen bar in Shoreditch by opening a chic new outdoor space.

Dubbed the “Club King” and “King of Cool” Dezzi has been extremely successful and has a string of amazing clubs in London, including the celeb-haunt Kingly Club in Soho which he has now sold and his latest venture McQueen Bar in Shoreditch.

This 39-year-old King of Cool says he is also keen to expand his empire to Belfast.

Now this is good news for travel and tourism in Ireland. Dezzi moved to London when he was 19 and took over the running of The Kingly club in Soho at only 24 yrs of age, which was no mean feat for a young lad from Dungannon.

Just across the road from his award winning bar and restaurant, McQueen Outdoor aims to cater for cocktail goers and champagne sippers alike, just in time for the summer.

Dezzi says this latest venture is already attracting well known clients, “Shoreditch is a fashionable area of London and outdoor spaces are also in demand, so expanding McQueen to cater for this trend was a no brainer.

“We’ve only just opened and already we’ve had events hosted by Gary Lineker and for the legendary film director Ridley Scott.

The McQueen bar in Shoreditch was actually used for some key scenes in the 2013 movie starring Brad Pitt ‘The Counsellor’.

“With McQueen Outdoor we want to cater for those who enjoy drinking and dining alfresco but without skimping on quality or service and that’s what I think we’ve achieved.”

mcqueen-shotThe terrace is on the site of an old carpark and the exposed brick echoes that of the original McQueen bar, which won a gong at this year’s prestigious London Club & Bar Awards, being described as a ‘fresh yet timeless concept’.

Keeping it local, work by Belfast based graffiti artist, Visual Waste , dons the walls with portraits and quotes from the screen legend Steve McQueen.

This contrasts with white quilted leather sofas, black chesterfield walls and a plush bar area to give the outdoor space an industrial chic vibe.

Best friends from the age of 5 with the man behind Belfast’s very own Muddlers Club, Gareth McCaughey, Mr McCausland wants to bring the authentic appeal of Belfast’s food scene to London, “I visit home regularly and I am continually impressed with how much the capital is changing and I am now keen to expand into Belfast.

“It’s hard somewhere the size of London to find something different but I’ve been inspired by the Belfast charm and wanted to mix it with the swag of London’s Shoreditch to produce, hopefully, another area we can win awards in.”

The cocktail bar menu is varied and the well-stocked champagne bar shows there’s something for all price ranges to attract city slickers and celebrities alike.

There’s also a grill with everything from chicken wings to cheeseboards and not forgetting olives to accompany your perfect serve from the bar.

The next few months will also see Dezzi and his team open the new ‘Restaurant @ McQueen’s’ and the launch of an American-style pool room ‘The Cooler’ in early 2017.

Commenting on McQueens Barbara McQueen said  ‘Steve would have really dug this place’  and visit London said ‘A lesson in cool’

 

HEAD OVER HEELS IN ST. LUCIA

This week we have a new writer on the team.
Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of QI, the BBC programme compared by Stephen Fry.
He is the author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books.
Adam has kindly offered to supply some of his experiences of some beautiful and excotic destinations and this is his first offering for us.

 

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Two Pitons, Copyright “Saint Lucia Tourist Board”

 

St Lucia is steeped in history after it was fought over and colonised by the English and the French. These days America adds her custom to this heady mix of influences. Aboriginal traits also persist with the Arawak tradition of carving out the bark of a gommier tree to use as a canoe dating as far back as 200AD.

 

St. Lucians are a sociable lot descending on each other as neighbours over the Christmas period, They even repaint their house as an act of hospitality. Interiors are typically white while the exterior tend to be brightly coloured.

 

I decided to work my way up the island by road and by boat.

More than anywhere St. Lucia is best visited by being on the move. The thing to do is to change hotels every few days. For all its beauty and fecundity, the island can be quite restrictive especially if you want to stretch a leg as the beaches are small and the hillsides are steep.
Each cove (which the French called anse) is a hideaway and hotels vie to offer the most romantic setting.
St. Lucia wins the award for ‘Honeymoon island of the Caribbean’ year after year.

 

 

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Courtesy of Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort

I descended steeply down from hills still stricken with their trees deracinated from the storm. Starting from the international airport in the south I reached the Viceroy Sugar Beach (www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/sugarbeach). This American hotel has surely secured the choice location of the island.

It’s between the famous twin peaks of Gros and Petit Piton These upright, precipitous mountains reach over two thousand feet in height and are the consequence of an historic earthquake balancing its neighbouring sea with equal depth. They gave me a sense of being grounded with their majestic presence dwarfing all below. I needed to see them panoramically. From the sea as well as the land. At different angles they alternate between one being a pyramid and the other a multi-faceted shape.

 

At the hotel the Guyanese imported white sand works perfectly and the ‘New English’ style of the villas’ all-white interiors reinforced a sense of light, purity and space. Off to the Tet Nature Trail for a delightful wander amongst all the wonder of such a fertile island. Providence has given her pineapples, mangos, papaya, bananas, guava and plums to name a few. Sometimes they’re even growing all side by side. It’s so amazing to see all these fruits as real vegetation rather than wrapped produce. For me almonds, coffee and chocolate are the most exciting of all.

 

Onwards and upwards I went past two quaint looking fishing villages. At one, called Canaries, I watched chickens crossing the street and local laundry being transported on ladies’ heads and then washed in the stream in which the children splashed, sprayed and swam.

 

The next village along is Anse La Raye. Across the island there are specific weekly fixtures. On Friday there is a ‘Fish Friday’ evening where cooked versions of the fresh catch is offered up from the stalls specially set up along the main street beside the seafront at Anse la Reye. You can then follow it up with a ‘Jump Up’ street party in Gros Islet and then, the next day, there is ‘Fish Saturday’ in Dennery.

 

Onto Capella Marigot Bay (www.capellahotels.com/saintlucia)

This hotel’s location couldn’t be more idyllic as it overlooks its marina. Here I got a strong sense of the nautical character of St. Lucia as I looked around at premier yachts berthed from all over the world. The bay is known as ‘hurricane hole’ from its position on the west side of the island. It’s surrounded by mountains and experiences minimal tidal changes.
Yachties tinker with their equipment and there’s a serenity in this secluded and secure haven.

Copyright St James’s Morgan Bay

Copyright St James’s Morgan Bay

A serenity reflected in the philosophy of the hotel.

 

As I moved up the island the vegetation changes and the sand gets whiter. Next came St. James’s Morgan Bay (www.morganbayresort.com).
The rooms have double balconies and it is beautifully set within the sound of lapping waves and has views of the sea offering stunning sunsets.

It’s for those preferring organised entertainment. There’s a spoiling range of six restaurants and always somewhere open to eat.
Le Jardin is for the fine diners while the Bamboo has fabulous seafood salads.  Marigot Bay kindly lent me a sailing catamaran and off I went after one lesson. How liberating! And with their rescue service how reassuring!

 

 

garden-room-cap-maisonNext and on past Castries the capital and onto Cap Maison (www.capmaison.com). This classy boutique villa resort has a Mediterranean feel. Spanish meets Moroccan. Walking beneath crenellated roofs, past trickling fountains, under vaulted brick corridors and through inner courtyards with birds twittering, I half expected to be responding to peeling church bells. It is located on the northernmost tip in Cap Estate, a highly exclusive area.

 

I took a trip to Pigeon Island. It is like a miniature version of the Pitons with her two humped hills. It was joined up to the mainland in the 1960s by a causeway that is now a picturesque tree-lined avenue. It’s the best spot for snorkeling and is great for hiking as I climbed up the proudly kept nature reserve to its natural look out point.

 

I returned back down the Atlantic coast to the accompaniment of the brightest rainbow I had ever witnessed. A magnificent send off to such a colourful island. The calm after the Matthew storm!

 

ST LUCIA FACT BOX

the-holiday-placeAdam travelled courtesy of The Holiday Place. The Holiday Place is offering holidays to St Lucia from from £719 per person, saving up to £500 per person.
Including flights and accommodation on a bed & breakfast basis.
To book call 020 7644 1770 or visit http://holidayplace.co.uk/holiday/caribbean-and-costa-rica/st-lucia
The Holiday Place has been creating award-winning experiences for over 30 years’. Their holidays range from luxurious to adventurous and cater for all budgets and requirements.
Adam is grateful also to Gatwick Express (www.gatwickexpress.com) and St Lucia Tourist Board (www.saintluciauk.org)

 

Cognac: The Liquor of the Gods

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The town of Cognac and the capital of cognac production, has great historical significance with the Chateau des Valois (now the property of Maison Otard) being the birthplace of King François I. So visitors to Cognac can enjoy both a touch of history alongside a cognac journey when they visit, experiencing either the Kings Way (with a trail through the tiny streets of the old town) or the Belle Epoque route (highlighting the 19th century urban development).
En route, visitors will encounter the Charente River, the gardens of the town hall, the museums, the Récollet Convent and the François I Square.
Cognac was an important trading port for salt and local wine distribution long before the discovery of the double distillation process that produced the famous drink however it is now synonymous with the eponymous spirit of course.

There is a local saying, all cognac is brandy but not all brandies are cognac. 
Cognac, termed “the liquor of the gods” by Victor Hugo, owes its character to the warm, humid climate in this part of Western France. Otard, Camus, Hennessy, Martell, Rémy- Martin, Meukow and Courvoisier can all be found here and each offers guided tours of their cellars and vineyards.
The vineyards of Cognac constitute the 2nd largest area of production in France after Bordeaux and cover an area of 80,000 hectares.
It would be heresy to leave Cognac without a visit to a cellar for a tasting!
94aaf0dd-7efc-44c5-9177-e14ff6353f4dTours of Martell, the oldest Cognac House – Launched in 1715, Martell celebrated its 300th anniversary last year with various new experiences for the public including a celebration of the art and  history of the brand. This theme is continued in 2016 with an exceptional opportunity to delve into the company archives as well as have a tasting of the exclusive tercentenary cognac.

Alternatively, there’s the Martell Discovery Tour where visitors walk around their historic cellars followed by a tasting of Martell VSOP or the gourmet version, the Martell Prestige Tour with a Cordon Bleu tasting included.

 

New tours at Hennessy – In May 2016, Hennessy opened a new series of tours that are unique in Cognac.
Following in the footsteps of eight generations of the Hennessy family and the Fillioux family of Master Blenders, visitors are immersed in
an elegant, creative universe designed in stylish contemporary colours. Based on the stages of the cognac production process, this new journey plays with the senses, creating surprises and evoking emotions.

Visitors go behind the scenes and learn all the secrets of this multi-faceted and firmly contemporary brand.  All tours start with a solar-powered boat trip on the River Charente to understand its significance to the growth of the brand before returning to the Hennessy warehouse.

 

  • The Signature tour includes the complete circuit of the Maison Hennessy followed by a tasting of the VS and VSOP varieties
  • The X.O.Symbole tour adds a particular emphasis on the 1870 creation of XO, its different aromas and ways of tasting
  • The Exception tour offers the basic circuit followed by a visit to the Paradise warehouse where the eau-de-vie that is used in certain varieties is aged.
  • 262232d9-a7ea-4a72-b9f1-766693fe2648The tasting at the termination of the tour includes XO and Paradise cognacs accompanied by savouries created by David Fransoret himself, Chef of the Château de Bagnolet and owner of Maison Hennessy
  • Lastly there is the Hennessy à la carte programme that includes a vineyard trip, visit of the Peu Distillery, coopers (barrel makers) and a tasting designed to better understand the process of ageing and the art of assembling an eau-de-vie.

 

 

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Where to rest your head|

Le François Premier  enjoys a great location in the centre of town and is housed in a Napoleon III building.  Completely renovated in 2012, Le Francois Premier has just 21 rooms and 4 suites, decorated with a contemp:rary feel inspired by the local colours of Cognac. Rooms start at €165 for a double, subject to change.
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Le Ligaro in Jarnac is so named after the owners youngest three children – Liam (LI), Gabrielle (GA) and Rose Anna (RO).  Located within an historic building, the rooms are renowned for their comfortable beds, restful interiors and luxurious touches. Rates, which are subject to change, start at around €139 per room per night rising to €169 for the unique Tower Room. Round in shape, this unique accommodation is built in a stone tower that is part of the old town walls of Jarnac and enjoys a garden view with a private entrance.
0faf25ca-6b13-4f83-b5f3-fd99756f1f2bQuais des Pontis is located on the site of a former factory on the banks of the Charente. Offering a variety of accommodation options from gorgeously appointed Romany-styled caravans (€89), to a romantic cabin on the river (€95) to a suite in a gite (€120) there’s something here to suit every taste (rates subject to change).
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Where to dine:
  • Le restaurant du Château in Jarnac is the gastronomic hub of Le Ligaro hotel, just a few steps away. Flavoursome and delicious unpretentious food is served in convivial surroundings under the toque of young chef, Ludovic Merle who comes from a family of restaurateurs.

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  • La Ribaudière in Bourg-Charente near to Cognac on the banks of the Charente is a stunning contemporary-styled Michelin starred restaurant, run by chef Thierry Verrat with his son Julien. Chef Verrat sees himself as an ambassador through his recipes of the very best produce that the area and indeed France has to offer.
  • Conserverie Fleuriet in Rouillac is based in a restored house and gardens where Françoise has dedicated her life to her passion for gardening and cooking resulting in delicious vinegars, preserves and soups with copious useful recipes to boot. Try her vinegar with a baseline of Pineau des Charentes.
  • La Cognathèque in Cognac has a tasting workshop which lasts about two and a half hours where you can learn about the history of cognac, how it is made, the grape varietes etc. The shop had the largest selection of cognacs in the world (400 cognacs and 50 Pineaux des Charentes).
  • L’Epicerie de la Ribaudière in Bourg-Charente is conveniently situated opposite Thierry Verrat’s restaurant and sells a selection of local produce sourced by the chef.
    Time to shop:
    u=27ec26b9f83e4568087043d80&id=60217118fe&e=2521129983″ target=”_blank” class=””>Conserverie Fleuriet in Rouillac is based in a restored house and gardens where Françoise has dedicated her life to her passion for gardening and cooking resulting in delicious vinegars, preserves and soups with copious useful recipes to boot. Try her vinegar with a baseline of Pineau des Charentes.
  • La Cognathèque in Cognac has a tasting workshop which lasts about two and a half hours where you can learn about the history of cognac, how it is made, the grape varietes etc. The shop had the largest selection of cognacs in the world (400 cognacs and 50 Pineaux des Charentes). 
  • L’Epicerie de la Ribaudière in Bourg-Charente is conveniently situated opposite Thierry Verrat’s restaurant and sells a selection of local produce sourced by the chef.

 

How to Spend Your time 

The Musee des Arts du Cognac’ is the perfect place to understand the world of cognac with its history and humble beginnings through its development to one of the world’s most recognised alcoholic beverages.

The Espace Découverte en Pays du Cognac Country  is a very useful stopping point for visitors wishing to have an interactive look at the area and its attractions before actually physically visiting them. Emphasis is placed on the River Charente and its role in the development of the cognac business.

Visiting a cognac house:  Most houses have tours such as Hennessy, Martell, Otard, Courvoisier, Rémy Martin and Meukow…Camus even allows visitors to learn how to make cognac in a special workshop.

Photo-credits: Francoise Roch / Destination Poitou-Charentes / Martinelli  / Sue Lowry / Region_ALPC / Julia Hasse / Stéphane CHARBEAU / Christophe Mariot / Quais des Pontis / Le restaurant du Château / Conserverie Fleuriet / Saison d’ Or & Co

SLOW BOAT TO CHILL

copy-of-copy-of-aw-dundas003-2With boats travelling at a maximum speed of 4mph and over 3,000 miles of navigable peaceful inland waterways to explore across Britain, canal boat holidays really are the fastest way to slow down.

From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, canal boat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home and base to explore.

Drifters Waterway Holidays (drifters.co.uk, tel 0844 984 0322) offers over 580 boats for hire from 45 locations across England, Scotland and Wales.  2017 hire prices start at £442 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £680 for a week.

 

Here are Drifters’ Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2017:

  1. Take the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ at Hatton…next Spring, a brand new eight-berth narrowboat will be joining the Drifters’ fleet on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston, in the heart of the canal network.  The 69ft long ‘Blackdown’, which is being built in the hire boat base’s dry dock over the winter, will have three bedrooms (with either two single berths or a fixed double), plus two bathrooms and a saloon area with a dining area that can be made up into a double bed.  On a week’s break, boaters can cruise the popular Warwickshire Ring, which takes 52 hours, passes through 93 locks and includes sections of the Coventry, Oxford, Grand Union and Birmingham & Fazeley Canals, plus the Hatton Flight of 21 locks, also known as ‘The Stairway to Heaven’.  ****2017 prices on ‘Blackdown’ start at £812 for a short break, £1,160 for a week.  Price includes diesel, gas, cancellation protection, car parking, tuition, bed linen, buoyancy aids and first pet.  Second pet is charged at £25.

 

  1. Go shooting star-gazing in the Breacon Beacons…isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views and some of the darkest night skies in Britain, perfect for star-gazing.  Watch out for the Lyrids Meteor Shower predicted for 22-23 April, the Eta Aquarids 6-7 May, the Delta Aquarids 28-29 July, Perseids 12-13 August, Draconids 7 Octobeavoncliffe-aqueduct-1234_img0066hr1r and the Orionids 21-22 October.  On a short break from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, boaters can cruise lock-free to Llangynidr and back, passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle, and the village of Govilon, with its popular Lion Inn.  On a week’s holiday, continue on to the Georgian town of Brecon, passing through Talybont-on-Usk with walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn.  ****2017 canal boat hire prices from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Goytre Wharf start at £589 for a short break on a boat for four people, £899 for a week.  Prices include damage waiver, gas, parking, tuition, towels, bedding and first pet.  Fuel is extra, circa £10-15 per day.  A fuel deposit of £50 is taken for short breaks, £90 for a week’s hire.

 

  1. Celebrate 80 years of The Hobbit with a journey through Tolkein country…published 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim, the popularity of J R R Tolkein’s ‘The Hobbit’ endures, not least amongst the canal boat community where dozens of boats bear the names of Tolkein created characters.  Tolkein spent much of his childhood exploring the village of Sarehole (now Hall Green), Moseley Bog, the Malvern Hills, and nearby Bromsgrove, Alcester and Alvechurch.  From Drifters’ canal boat holiday base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Alvechurch, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through some of the landscapes that inspired Tolkein’s masterpiece.  On a short break, travel lock-free to the village of Lapworth and back.  On a week’s holiday, cruise the Stourport Ring, including a section of the River Severn and the cathedral City of Worcester. ****2017 short break prices on a boat for four start at £520, weekly hire from £800.  Prices include damage waiver, gas, parking, tuition, towels, bedding and first pet.  Fuel is extra, circa £10-15 per day.  A fuel deposit of £50 is taken for short breaks, £90 for a week’s hire.

 

  1. Visit the land of castles & float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’…from Drifters’ base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct can be reached on a short break.  Standing at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible structure consists of a cast iron trough supported on iron arched ribs, carried on 19 hollow pillars.  Each span is 16-metres wide.  With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the valley below, canal boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth.  From Chirk, home to the National Trust’s 900-year old Chirk Castle, canal boat holiday-makers can head west to travel across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and then on to the pretty town of Llangollen, with its fascinating Steam Railway and Horsehoe Falls. The journey covers eight miles with no locks, making it nice and easy for beginners. ****2017 short break prices from Chirk start at £669 on a boat for four people, £729 for a week.  Price includes damage waiver, tuition, gas, bedlinen, towels and parking.  Pets are extra, charged at £30 each.  Cancellation Protection costs between £40 and £75, depending on the holiday cost.  Diesel is charged on return based on amount used, circa £10-15 per day.

 

  1. crt_1426-sowerby183Explore 428 million years of history at Dudley Tunnel…from our Tardebigge base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it’s an eight-hour (three-lock) journey to the Black Country Living Museum, where there’s now a connecting bridge to the Dudley Canal Tunnel & Limestone Mines.   Here visitors can explore the Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust’s award-winning new visitor centre and board a trip boat to explore the spectacular limestone tunnels under Castle Hill, which date back 428 million years to the Silurian age. ****2017 short break prices on a boat for four from Tardebigge start at £455, or £685 for a week.  Price includes boat hire, damage waiver, gas, car parking, tuition, buoyancy aids, bed linen, towels and first pet.  Second pet is charged at £25 for a short break, £35 for a week.  Fuel is extra – a £50 fuel deposit is payable for a short break, £90 for a week.

 

  1. Enjoy stunning Peak District views on the Macclesfield Canal…on a week’s break from our Peak District base on the Trent & Mersey Canal, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel along the beautiful Green Flag awarded Macclesfield Canal.  Skirting the edge of the Peak District, and passing through the small towns of Congleton, Macclesfield and Marple, this 26-mile long waterway is dotted with Victorian mills and warehouses.  Making Whaley Bridge the turning point, the journey, which travels 80 miles through 26 locks, can be done with around five hours cruising each day.  ***2017 weekly breaks from Drifters’ Peak District base currently start at £1,099 on a boat for four people.  Price includes damage waiver, tuition, gas, bedlinen, towels and parking.  Pets are extra, charged at £30 each, and diesel used is charged for on return, circa £10-15 per day.

 

  1. ponty_wide_with_boatsBumble along to Brighouse for Pennine Walks…on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to Brighouse and Shepley Bridge and back along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation.  Famous for its Brighouse and Rastick Brass Band, historic Brighouse offers glorious Pennines walks, food and craft markets, a variety of places to eat and independent shops. Travelling on to Shepley Bridge with its waterside Ship Inn, boaters pass through the village of Mirfield, with medieval stocks and ducking stool, plus Dumb Steeple, thought to have been a landmark to guide travellers on their way across the moor.  The journey travels 22 miles through 32 locks and takes around 16 hours.  ***2017 short break prices from Sowerby Bridge start at £415 for a boat for two people.  Prices include damage waiver, pre-holiday information, comprehensive instruction, fuel, gas, parking, buoyancy aids, bed linen and first pet.  Second pet is charged at £25.

 

  1. Visit beautiful Bath afloat…on a short break from Drifters’ base at Hilperton near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, boaters can travel along the scenic Kennet & Avon Canal, reaching Bath Top Lock in six hours, with just one lock to pass through – a journey perfect for narrowboat holiday beginners.  Along the way, boaters pass through the historic town of Bradford on Avon, with its mesmerising medieval Tithe Barn and choice of independent shops and restaurants.  From moorings at Syndey Wharf, just below Bath Top Lock, it’s a 15-minute walk into the centre of Bath, a World Heritage Status City famous for its stunning Georgian architecture and fascinating Roman Baths. ****2017 canal boat hire prices from Drifters’ Hilperton base start at £589 for a short break on a boat for four people.  Prices include damage waiver, gas, parking, tuition, towels, bedding and first pet.  Fuel is extra, circa £10-15 per day.  A fuel deposit of £50 is taken for short breaks, £90 for a week’s hire.

 

  1. Go ghost hunting at the Palace of Linlithgow…From Drifters’ base at Falkirk, at the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals, on a short break (three or four nights) narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Linlithgow and back.  The journey starts with trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, which uses the same power it takes to boil eight kettles to smoothly lift boats 100ft from the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal above.  Once at Linlithgow, boaters can visit the 12th-century Palace of Linlithgow to hunt the ruins for the ghost of Mary Queen of Scots’ mother and enjoy a meal at the award-winning Four Marys pub. ****2017 short break prices from Drifters’ base at Falkirk start at £520 on a boat for four people.  Prices include a £50 compulsory non-refundable damage waiver, tuition, linen, gas, car parking, buoyancy aids and VAT.  Fuel is extra, circa £15 per day.  A fuel deposit of £50 is taken for short breaks, £90 for a week’s hire.

 

  1. Potter along to the ‘chocolate box’ pretty village of Stoke Bruerne…on a week’s break from Drifters’ base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise gently through the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire countryside to the canalside village of Stoke Bruerne, taking in a number of delightful villages with traditional pubs along the way, and journeying through the 2,813-metre long Blisworth Tunnel, the third longest on the network.  Once in Stoke Bruerne, visitors can enjoy a choice of canalside pubs and eateries, woodland walks and browsing the intriguing waterway history collections at the Canal Museum.  The round-trip travels 60 miles, passing through 44 locks and takes around 38 hours. ****2017 prices from Stockton start at £860 for a week on a boat for four people.  Price includes boat hire, damage waiver, gas, car parking, tuition, buoyancy aids, bed linen, towels and first pet.  Second pet is £25 for a short break, £35 for a week.  Fuel is extra – a £50 deposit is taken for a short break, £90 for a week.

Aer Lingus’ Inaugural Flight from Dublin to Hartford Takes Off

Aer Lingus Cabin Crew at the gate reception to celebrate Aer Lingus’ inaugural flight to Hartford Connecticut which took to the skies this week from Dublin airport.

Aer Lingus Cabin Crew at the gate reception to celebrate Aer Lingus’ inaugural flight to Hartford Connecticut which took to the skies this week from Dublin airport.

New transatlantic service creates access to New England from Ireland, 
the UK and Continental Europe

 

Aer Lingus’ inaugural flight EI131 to Hartford, Connecticut took off on a Boeing 757, named St. Brendan, registration EI-LBT, this week from Dublin airport at 2.40pm.

The airline now offers a year-round service from Dublin direct to Hartford, Connecticut, in the heart of New England. Aer Lingus is the national airline of Ireland, founded in 1936. It is Ireland’s only 4-Star airline having received a 4-Star rating from Skytrax, the international air transport rating organisation, in July 2016. Aer Lingus now joins a select group of only 40 airlines worldwide that also boast a 4-Star guest experience and is the only 4-Star airline connecting Ireland and North America.

Aer Lingus operate 62 aircraft on routes to destinations in the UK, Europe and North America and carry 12 million customers per annum.

Their primary mission is ‘To Connect Ireland to The World’ by providing customers with convenience, choice, comfort, value and seamless transfer options – making Aer Lingus the smart choice. We serve a combination of leisure and business travellers with a quality core product that can be augmented through benefit driven a la carte paid options.

Aer Lingus serves central airport locations, enhancing connectivity options for our passengers. Our home base is Dublin Airport. Our guests can choose from ten North American destinations with more than 100 onward connections across the U.S and Canada, available with our partner airlines.

Dublin Airport is the only major airport in Europe to offer U.S preclearance, which enables passengers to save time on arrival in the U.S by completing all the necessary immigration and customs checks prior to departure.

The new Aer Lingus service not only creates a direct connection between Connecticut and Ireland, it further establishes Dublin as the natural transatlantic gateway to Europe for those travelling from North America.

Via Dublin, North American travellers can avail of onward connections to 28 UK and European airports including London, Madrid, Barcelona, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Paris, Bristol and Berlin, plus many more.

Hartford is the capital of Connecticut and is often referred to as the ‘insurance capital of the world’. Housing many insurance company headquarters, insurance remains the region’s major industry. Hartford and the Connecticut region are also popular as tourist destinations with many interesting visitor attractions.

Hartford is home to the Mark Twain House where the author wrote his most famous works. Close by in Newhaven, Connecticut is Yale University – one of the most prestigious American, Ivy League universities.

The Hartford launch is the third of three new Aer Lingus transatlantic routes to commence this year, marking the single largest expansion of Aer Lingus’ transatlantic network since the airline commenced transatlantic flying in 1958.

A direct new service to Los Angeles, California began in May and on 1st September a new daily service commenced from Dublin to Newark, New Jersey.

The growth plan underpins Aer Lingus’ successful strategy of expanding its Dublin Airport base into a major European transatlantic gateway. The convenience of U.S Customs and Border Protection services at Dublin has enhanced the continued growth of Aer Lingus’ Dublin operation as a connecting gateway. Three new transatlantic aircraft have joined the Aer Lingus fleet this year and as previously announced two new Airbus A330s will be delivered in 2017.

Stephen Kavanagh, Chief Executive Officer, Aer Lingus, said: “We are delighted to commence a direct service between our Dublin gateway and Bradley International Airport, Hartford and to offer a convenient connecting service from major cities across Britain and Europe. Whether travelling for business or pleasure we aim to deliver the quality service and competitive prices that have earned us our Skytrax 4-Star airline status. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all the state representatives, business and community leaders who have supported Aer Lingus to date and we look forward to making this route a success for all involved.”

Vincent Harrison, Dublin Airport Managing Director said: “We are delighted to welcome Aer Lingus’ new service to Hartford, which adds another North American destination to the airline’s extensive Dublin Airport route network. Hartford is the sixth new transatlantic route that Aer Lingus has launched at Dublin over the past five years and we look forward to continuing to work closely with them to promote this new service.”

Services available to customers on transatlantic flights include Pre-clearance U.S. immigration and customs at Dublin and Shannon airports, connections to onward destinations in the U.S. with airline partners, hi-speed internet access, an extensive in-flight entertainment selection, gourmet meals including premium economy options and award winning cabin service.

Fares from Dublin to Hartford start from €219 each way for travel between November 2016 and March 2017.

For more information and to book flights to Hartford, visit www.aerlingus.com 

Charente-Maritime – The Great Chefs larder

IMG_3180The Charente-Maritime area of France can really be described as a chef’s dream kitchen with a cupboard full of specialist ingredients. Situated in the heart of the French Atlantic coast, the Charente-Maritime destination is the premier tourist destination in France for French travellers.

The Charente-Maritime offers the visitor a lovely choice of coastal destinations such as Royan or the Ile de Ré, city breaks to Saintes or La Rochelle and beautiful countryside such as the Marais Poitevin or Cognac Country.

Charente-Maritime has more wellness centres (six) than any other French ‘department’ and a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites.  It is a gastronomic destination of note – oysters, mussels, sea salt, pineau des Charentes, and is easily accessible by road, rail or air from the UK.

It boasts a Mediterranean climate of around 300 sunshine days a year as well as a whole host of events taking place throughout the year. For more information visit www.france-atlantic.com

Here in Ireland we have many amazing chefs and local producers and as all the ‘greats’ will tell you the best way to produce fantastic dishes is the equality of the ingredients you make them with.

And its to this area of France I go, to list some amazing food. It’s not just a great place to get good food but it’s a fantastic place to stay too. Famed for the oysters grown off the shores of this area on France’s Atlantic Coastline, there’s also salt, sea urchins and potatoes from the Ile de Ré, saffron from the Marais-Poitevin and the “hens with the golden eggs” from Marans, among many other gourmet delights.

The excellence of the products from this region has lead to a number of official certifications:

  • 2 AOC (appellation d’origine controlee) Cognac and  Pineau des Charentes 
  • 2 AOP (appellation d’origine protégée) Butter Charentes-Poitou, potatoes of Ré
  • 2 IGP (indication geographique protegée) Wine from Pays Charentais and oysters from Marennes Oléron 
  • Label Rouge (red label) for the moules de filières (mussels)

My good friends at the Charente-Maritime tourist board have picked some highlights for you:
3da77405-9408-4c5d-badd-3b5ae5740e23Treasures from the Atlantic – The varied oysters of the Charente-Maritime each have a unique flavour no matter the variety – ‘affinée en claire’ or ‘pleine mer’.

This is due in no small part due to the diversity of the cultivators who devotedly nurture these shellfish to maturity, intent on retaining the very best flavours.

Their taste is very delicate and perfumed due to the exceptional cultivation in a unique ecosystem only found on Oléron Island and in the Marennes basin, where the fresh waters of the Seudre River meets the sea.

This dedication shown by the farmers of Marennes Oléron has led to them being awarded the ‘Label Rouge’ (Red Label) for the ‘fine claire verte’ variety.  Bestowed in 1989, these oysters are the only ones in France to have been given this honour.

 

For those who want to learn more about oyster cultivation, then head for the unmissable Oyster City. In parts fun and educational, visitors will find out everything they’ve ever wanted to know about the oyster, how to open them, how to prepare them and finally, how to eat them.

c41ac15b-a295-45ea-b7eb-50eb160362e5I am maybe not wrong when I say many people in Ireland do not eat Urchins, but I can assure you they are a delicious seafood and widely underrated.

The production of sea urchins has taken place in La Flotte on the Ile de Ré since 2006.

These creatures Sea are used as a bio-indicator of the presence of clean, clear water as without it, they would not survive.   Fortunately, the water quality on the island is exceptional and its so good for the urchins that only eat a certain type of seaweed which is found here all year round.

The methods used to raise them were started by Pierre Le Gall in 1980. The exceptional well-being of the animals means that a top quality product is available all year round.

 

 

4667f00f-99ac-4f27-ac7a-09e5c3930166The Hens with the Golden Eggs –

The Maran Egg is also known as the ‘extra red egg’ because of the deep red-brown colour of the shell.  The egg is typically large (70 grams as a minimum) from a regional hen, also prized for its tasty meat at the entrance to the Marais Poitevin. Locally known as the ‘hens with the golden eggs’, they lay between 230 – 240 a year.

 

Not only are the eggs attractive, they are also delicious and especially good when boiled rather than used in an omelette.  The Marans hens are the result of crossing a black hen of the Vendée with hens from the UK brought over by English sailors towards the end of the Middle Ages.

There was a second cross in the nineteenth century when a Chinese hen, a particularly effective layer called a Langshan, was imported in 1876. This new variety of bird was introduced to the world in 1914 at a national exhibition held in La Rochelle and was called the ‘country hen’.

 

Les Cagouilles or Petits Gris

44fa73be-c87c-4aa0-a274-53bb8b1af62bIf there is one dish that some people find difficult to eat it’s the snail. In Charente Maritime they have a special word for snails Les Cagouilles or Petits Gris.  They are bred between April and September and used in various ways.  Snail caviar, which originated from this area, looks like little balls of white pearls and now graces the tables of France’s elite restaurants.

Jean–Philippe Rousseau and his two associates from Mons is renowned as one of the top producers.  Charente – Maritime is the premier department in France for snail breeding – also known as heliculture – and there is even a brotherhood of snail producers.  400 tons are produced each year.  In France as a whole, 45,000 tons of snails are eaten every year.

 

 

 

72488575-c1f1-454b-a500-4a93d5dd55ceSpicy Saffron – If salt is king in Charente-Maritime, saffron is not far behind it with the production of this spicy plant having taken place for during the last twenty years.

Saffron is grown between Marennes and Surgères it’s manually harvested in October and November.   Saffron sets the taste-buds going – especially in Indian, Spanish or North African dishes – but it is also good in a butter sauce on mussels, with prawns, pasta or otherwise in crème brulée or butter biscuits.

 

 

The King of Salt

7d36131a-6f68-479d-b60c-300a34ccb18eIt was the monks that first worked the salt beds of the Ile de Ré and Oléron.  From the Middle ages to the nineteenth century, salt provided prosperity for the area.  The Ile de Ré was the powerhouse of production having more than a thousand salt workers and 25,000 tons of salt harvested annually. 20% of the island was taken up with this activity.

 

Today, the industry is enjoying a revival with around a hundred young workers proud to be in an environmentally friendly and long-standing business.  The sea salt is collected between June and September and the fleur de sel (that pure top layer) is prized in French kitchens for its unique flavour.

Either fine or in rock form, salt from the islands are often flavoured with thyme, basil or fennel.  With varying meteorological conditions these days (you can’t harvest when it rains), production is between 1000 and 2,500 tons a year.

 

8042707a-f1ac-483f-98f5-6d5570ad9385Samphire

Samphire is very fashionable at the moment, a popularity that has spread far beyond the borders of the Charente-Maritime where is grows on the salty marshes.

It is also found along the side of the oyster beds and grows for four months in summer in salty, dry conditions.

It is a plant rich in minerals and thus very good for the health. It can be eaten raw – particularly good in salads, pickled like gherkins or cooked and served with meat or fish.

 

 

Photo credit thanks to:  Alison Boissard CMT / Oursin © PhotoPin / Stéphane Morand / Ile d’Oléron / Salicorne © PhotoPin /