Tour Lough Neagh this summer

If you’re starting to plan your summer holidays, now you can tour Lough Neagh at your leisure with a range of guided tours!

Steeped in history, heritage, folklore, fauna and culture, Lough Neagh provides the backdrop for this unique range of one day tours which depart from Belfast.

  • Lough Neagh Crosskeys Flyer Tour, Co Antrim

Visitors will be transported from Belfast aboard the ‘Crosskeys Flyer’ to enjoy a traditional evening of music and craic in Ireland’s oldest thatched pub and where they can purchase one of the best tasting pints of Guinness in the north. The stone built cottage was once a coaching stop on the route between Belfast and Derry~Londonderry and dates back to 1654.

  • Lough Neagh Shane’s Castle Tour, Co Antrim

More recently acclaimed as a location for Game of Thrones filming, visit the ancient ruins of Shane’s Castle and hear the stories of the family Banshee. Inspect the mysterious black face on the rock which must remain in place to protect the continuation of the O’Neill dynasty. And enjoy indulgent afternoon tea in the old railway café!

  • Lough Neagh Craic ‘n Food & Drink Tour, Co Antrim and Co Londonderry

A sampling of Lough Neagh Eel accompanied by stories from an eel fisherman whose family have been fishing on the Lough since the Flight of the Earls in 1607 starts the tour which ends with toe tapping traditional Irish music in Ireland’s oldest thatched pub – The Crosskeys Inn. There is a visit to Northern Ireland’s only buffalo farm at Ballyriff and a stop off at a pub made famous by much loved local poet, Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney on the Lough Neagh Craic ‘n Food & Drink Tour.

  •  Lough Neagh Wilderness Tour, Co Armagh

For those who wonder what rural life was like before technology took over, this one day tour transports visitors into the wilderness to provide an insight into how the ancestors of Lough Neagh lived and survived! The ultimate adventurer’s day out, Lough Neagh Wilderness Tour offers visitors an opportunity to build a shelter and a chance to canoe on Lough Neagh with only the resident swans for company.

  • Lough Neagh Rams Island Tour, Co Antrim

A short boat journey to Ram’s Island where visitors can explore a round tower from the remains of a 1,000 year old Celtic monastic settlement and the ruins of the O’Neill family’s 19thcentury summer house on this unique Lough Neagh Rams Island Tour.

  •  Lough Neagh Heartland Food & Drink Tour, Co Armagh and Co Tyrone

Foodies will enjoy the first stop on the Lough Neagh Heartland Food & Drink Tour, at award winning Harnett’s Oils. The cold-pressed rapeseed and hemp oils are made from crops grown on the family run farm. At the next stop visitors can sample Long Meadow Cider and take in a tour of the orchard.  At Crannagael House, a grade two listed Georgian house, a delicious buffet showcasing the produce on the tour will be provided. The last stop is at a real gem of a pub in Moy which has been in the Tomney family for 300 years.

To book a place, log on to www.loughneaghtours.com

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Rathlin Island Food Tour

Last year I went on a walking food tour of Ballycastle which was hosted by Caroline Redmond from North Coast Walking Tours.

North Coast Tours runs food tours of towns and villages around the Causeway Coastal Route, including Ballycastle, Rathlin Island and Bushmills.

I was blown away by the quality of the food but also by Caroline, whose passion and enthusiasm for local produce was undeniable. You can read all about my experience here: https://belfasttravels.com/2016/05/26/ballycastle-food-tour/

So when I saw that Caroline was running extra food tours of Rathlin Island during the recent Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival, I jumped at the chance and booked Barry and I on a tour (and of course, Niamh, who was just a small bump during the Ballycastle one!)

We met in Ballycastle and boarded the ferry to make the short journey across to Rathlin Island where we met Caroline and our fellow foodies.


Caroline explained what was in store before we made our first stop at Watershed Café. Our first dish of the day was a mix of the old v the new- a mini fry, yes, but with a difference!

Not just any old bacon and eggs, but goat bacon from Broughgammon Farm (based in Ballycastle) and quail eggs from Ballinteer Farm (based in Macosquin.) This was served with soda bread to make for a great breakfast!


The second course was then a picnic! Normally the picnic is in the old Kelp store but unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side so had to eat inside. But that certainly didn’t take away from the selection of food and drink on offer. Local produce galore!

We tried Glens of Antrim Ales (including Rathlin Red), Dart Mountain cheese, Genesis Crafty wheaten bread and more. All that was missing in this picnic was the sun​!

Once we’d finished our local picnic, we made our way to the pub! At McCuaigs bar we had a bowl of vegetable soup.

Tasting homemade and fresh, we all enjoyed the warming broth in the island’s friendly pub.

Finally we headed to the newly re-opened guesthouse, Manor House, overlooking the harbour. There, we tried the kelp we had heard so much about, tasting a kelp pancake with kelp butter. I really loved this dish and the seaweed worked so well in a savoury crepe- something different!

We stayed on the island for another hour or so before catching the ferry back to Ballycastle.

The tour was fantastic because not only did we get to try out Rathlin Island/ NI produce, but we got to see and hear about Rathlin, which I had never visited before.

Once again, Caroline was the perfect host- friendly, knowledgeable and most of all, a real champion of all things local!

 

Destination Delicious- Browns Restaurants

At the recent Tourism NI ‘Year of Food and Drink Awards’, Derry /Londonderry was named as ‘Destination Delicious’.  (Another name for the area!)

The Award recognises the city’s reputation for excellent local produce and eateries, and last week I was lucky to join fellow bloggers and media in trying out exactly what the area has to offer.

We left Belfast and made our way to Browns in Town (23 Strand Road) where there was a fantastic showcase of Destination Delicious food and drink producers. I chatted with, and tried samples from, the likes of Brendan Gallagher meats, Donnybrewer Butter, Kee Fruits, Northbound Brewery, Quiet Man Whiskey and Dart Mountain Cheese.

I particularly loved the cheese so I had to find out where I could buy it in Belfast- Sawers Deli in College Street, by the way!

It was then time to head to Browns in Town’s sister restaurant, Browns Restaurant & Champagne Lounge (1 Bond’s Hill) where we were first treated to a live cooking demo by chef Ian Orr.

Ian has created a bespoke menu in celebration of ‘Destination Delicious’ and it was this very menu we were about to tuck in to.

For the first course we shared a selection of homemade breads served with the Donnybrewer butter we had just sampled at Browns in Town. The rich and creamy butter is churned in a traditional batch churn at the company’s Eglinton farm. The breads were  swiftly followed by a fantastic dish consisting of Loughview Farm Egg with Errigal Bay Scallop and Pomegrante.

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Sticking with seafood, it was time for the third course- Donegal Prime Crab with Apple and Cucumber. The crab tasted incredible paired with the apple jelly and was served with Lapostolle Chardonny.

The final course before the dessert was my favourite, Beef Cheek from Brendan Gallagher with Northbound Beer and Kee Fruit Mixed Beetroot. That beef! It just fell apart at the touch- delicious. This was served with Tomero Malbec supplied by R&R Wines and Kolsch style Lager from Northbound Brewery.

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The final course was Rhubarb Parfait with Long Meadow Cider, which looked as beautiful as it tasted! Loved the presentation! This was matched with dessert wine, Sichel Sauternes.

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We then boarded the bus and made our way to Ardtara Country House in Maghera. This boutique hotel is owned by the Browns Group and has previously been named as one of the best places to stay in Northern Ireland. Here we had a nightcap of tea/coffee and dulce de leche shortbread bites.

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We arrived back to Belfast at midnight after what was a fantastic evening celebrating the best of the best food and drink in Destination Delicious!

Browns is a restaurant group which prides itself on using the freshest, local produce. No wonder it was named the ‘Best Restaurant in Co Derry’ for the eighth year running at the Irish Restaurant Awards just days after our visit! Well done guys!

 

 

 

 

Finn Lough Bubble Dome

A few weeks ago Barry and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary! How fast has that been?

At the beginning of 2016 I started to see lots of articles online about the new “bubble domes” at Finn Lough Resort in Fermanagh and I was blown away- how incredible did these enchanting snow globe-like rooms look?!

I decided to look into them and saw that it was £195 B&B for one night so I knew, at that price, I was only going to book it for something special, rather than just a night away from Belfast.

So way back on 6th January I booked a night in a bubble dome for our first anniversary at the end of July. (We only had to pay £50 deposit in January and then pay the remaining £145 upon check out.)

So after a long 7 month wait, we headed down to Fermanagh on Sat 30th July. The resort is situated in Aghnablaney, only a few minutes from Pettigo (so at one point we saw a sign saying “You are now entering Donegal” and thought we were lost!) But we made our way there and checked in at the reception where we jumped on a golf buggy and were driven to our bubble dome.

The accommodation itself is one large see-through dome, complete with four poster bed, coffee machine and a small table and chairs, as well as two smaller areas which are the entrance and the bathroom (yes, the shower and toilet aren’t see-through! Phew!).

There are lovely little extras such as robes and slippers, bottled water, homemade traybakes, as well as both heating and air-conditioning.

That evening we explored the extensive grounds of Finn Lough and made our way along some of the woodland trails. We then went back and relaxed for the night as the sky darkened and the beautiful stars appeared! There is no TV or Wifi so it was a good chance to “get back to nature” without being distracted!

The next morning we made our way up to the resort’s restaurant to have our breakfast which was included in the price- 2 full fries! They were tasty and didn’t feel greasy. (The waitress explained to us how, with the resort having a polytunnel, they grow as many organic vegetables as they can so the food felt very fresh.)

Friends and family have asked me if people can look in at you but each dome has its own private area, which is gated off, and looks onto forest ground rather than open space! Never once did I feel exposed (maybe if the bathroom was out in the open!) and I really loved lying in bed looking at the trees and stars. It was incredible to see.

It was a really different but great way to celebrate sticking each other for one year!

Bubble Dome

Barry in the bubble dome

Four poster bed

View of the sky from the bed


 Grounds at Finn Lough

Lying in bed looking up!

Fry the next morning

 


Dinner at Malmaison Hotel Belfast

Last week Barry celebrated his birthday and we booked in to the Malmaison Hotel in Belfast for dinner.

The boutique venue, situated in Victoria Street, is home to a 60-seater brasserie popular with locals as well as tourists staying in the hotel.

When we arrived we were shown to our table by Colm who attended to us the whole night.

The a la carte menu has a good mix of starters, ranging from £3.50 (Italian olives), up to £12.50 for the pan roasted sea scallops. Some of the other dishes included corn-fed chicken terrine (£7.50), classic prawn cocktail (£9) and fillet steak tartare (£10).

To begin Barry selected the tempura of calamari and prawns, while I picked the fougasse with garlic butter (a soft and spongy flat bread), big enough for us to share with just the right amount of juicy garlic butter.

For mains we could have selected from two menus; ‘Grille’ featuring dishes such as Black Agus grain fed Ribeye steak and grilled fresh sea trout, and the ‘Mains’ with dishes which included Ibérico pork cutlet and lobster risotto.

We decided to share two dishes from the Grille menu, as Colm has recommended the Mal Burger (£16.50) and I also really wanted to try the Chickpea, lentil and bean burger (£14).

The Mal Burger is served with sweet cured bacon, Gruyére cheese and burger relish, while the Bean Burger comes with roasted red pepper, spiced yoghurt and pommes frites. What a great choice!

Despite the fact they were a little messy to cut in half, we both really enjoyed getting to taste them both. My favourite was the chickpea, lentil and bean burger!

Finally we were shown the dessert menu and Barry decided to just opt for a coffee. When I saw they had light raspberry cheesecake, I couldn’t resist. The cheesecake came served in a type of cosmopolitan cocktail glass. It felt richer and thicker than the name might suggest (which I actually prefer!) but I managed to finish it all off!

Earlier that evening Colm had asked us why were out and I told him it was Barry’s birthday. To our surprise, along with Barry’s coffee, came a lovely selection of petit four with a “Happy Birthday” message! I thought it was a very thoughtful touch and one which reinforced the excellent service we had received from our waiter all night.

All in all, we had a very enjoyable experience. The venue felt intimate and Colm was very knowledgeable about the food and Malmaison’s own wine.

Thanks to Malmaison for a great night out for the birthday boy!

 

 

Hastings Hotels- Euro Spa Escape

I don’t need to tell you that the Euros are currently taking place! If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy the football and the buzz it’s been generating. But for many, the thought of another 90 minutes on the pitch is just too much to take!

That’s why Hastings Hotels have put together something for the “football widows”! Their Euro Spa Escape is a spa package running until the 10th July for those who want to, as the name suggests, escape the football madness!

I booked the day off work on Monday and headed to the beautiful Culloden Hotel in Holywood to get pampered in luxury.

There are 2 packages available- the Premiership package and the Championship Package. The first includes your choice of two spa treatments, lasting 25 minutes each.

The treatments you can choose from are Hot Stone Back Massage, Boutique Facial, Salt and Oil Scrub, Oriental Scalp Massage and a Mini pedicure or manicure. You then get full use of the spa facilities and to finish it off, a nice glass of bubbly!

The second package includes all of this, as well as full afternoon tea- my favourite!

I arrived just before 11am on Monday and filled out a quick consultation form, before making my way into get changed into the complimentary robe and slippers. I met my therapist (also called Sarah) and we talked through the available treatments. I decided to go for the Oriental Head Massage followed by the Boutique Facial. Boy, was I in for a treat!

For the next hour I lay and relaxed while getting my gorgeous treatments. The scalp massage was great for relieving tension and stress, working on my scalp right down into my neck and shoulders.

The facial then used a combination of ESPA Skincare products to really make my skin fresh and glowing. These included Optimal Skin ProCleanser, Hydrating Floral SpaFresh toner, Replenishing Face Treatment oil, Optimal Skin ProSerum, 24-Hour Moisturiser, Bio-Active Eye Cleanser and Lift & Firm Eye Moisturiser. As you see, lots of care and attention was given!

After the most calming treatments, I then went into a relaxation room where I was able to just lie back in an adjustable bed, take it all in and enjoy refreshing flavoured water! I have to say, it was actually lovely to do very little!

I then got changed into my swimming gear and headed to the Spa’s deck-level swimming pool and Jacuzzi where I spent the next half an hour or so. It was lovely to be able to use the spa facilities without having to rush on after the treatment.

Finally after I got changed I went to the Health Club’s Zest Juice Bar. As I was driving, I didn’t have a glass of fizz but was treated to a scrumptious berry smoothie and sat drinking it beside the pool!

Overall, I was there for about 2.5 hours and came away smiling. The whole experience was truly relaxing and the price is fantastic- £69 for the Premiership package and £89 for the Package which includes afternoon tea. I know in some places you would spend £69 alone for one treatment so the offer is brilliant!

As I said, it’s only on while the Euros last- so get in quick!

(The Euro Spa Escape is available at the Culloden and the Slieve Donard in Newcastle.)

The Spa at Culloden

Relaxation Room

Post-treatment relaxation

Swimming Pool

Smoothie by the pool

 

 

 

 

Barberstown Castle, Kildare

A few weeks ago Barry and I spent the weekend in County Kildare in a beautiful 13th Century Castle! (It’s not every day you stay in a castle!)

The hotel, Barberstown Castle, is nestled in 20 acres of gardens and was built as a fortress to protect the people of Barberstown from the attack of Ui Faelain, who tried to burn the town back in 1310.

Since 1288 Barberstown Castle has had 37 owners including one Eric Clapton! Yes, the singer owned it from 1979 until 1987. Now that’s a story!

In fact, each room is named after one of the previous owners and we were in Room 34 (“Sir John Fanning”) after the owner in 1288. The Castle was first converted into a hotel in the early 1970s.

We had a massive bedroom, complete with four poster bed and a seating area so we felt extremely comfortable during our stay. The room came with little perks such as branded bottled water and dressing gown and slippers. We were even able to order room service every time we wanted tea/coffee at no extra cost.

One highlight was the five course dinner, priced at €55 per person. To begin with we had an amuse bouche to stimulate the appetite and then I selected the free range egg served with grilled leek, onion soubise and black truffle, followed by chargrilled Irish Beef fillet, celeraic, ox tongue with onion and red wine.

For my fourth course I selected the “Mexique” dark chocolate, kumquat jelly, cocoa biscuit and Tonka chocolate sauce, and finished off with petit fours served with tea and coffee. For me, the dinner was exquisite- every course was bursting with flavour and I couldn’t fault a thing. A real treat.

Below are just some of the highlights of our brilliant stay. Check it out if you want a bit of luxury for a special weekend away!

Barberstown Castle- our bedroom

Four poster bed

Sir John Fanning- owner of the castle in 1288

Barberstown Castle


Castle grounds

Breakfast selection

Breakfast

Lounge with grand piano

Amuse bouche

Free range egg served with grilled leek, onion soubise and black truffle

Chargrilled Irish Beef fillet, celeraic, ox tongue with onion and red wine

“Mexique” dark chocolate, kumquat jelly, cocoa biscuit and Tonka chocolate sauce