Have you ever visited a place and knew from the moment you landed that you’d have to visit again? Yes, that happened to me when I was 12 years old and traveled to New York City for the first time. Though it’s probably happened to me only a handful of times in my life so far, I experienced that feeling when I visited Ireland a few weeks back. Friends told me about the undeniable beauty of the country and how it would exceed my expectations. They were so right. I spent three short days in County Cork Ireland, and I can absolutely say that I will go back to Ireland. I was smitten from the get-go.
Not only was I fortunate to visit the Emerald Isle for a long weekend, but I was one of the ‘lucky’ passengers on WOW air’s inaugural flight to Cork! That was my first inaugural flight and my first time flying WOW. The Icelandic airline offers low fares to many cities and is always growing and expanding. WOW now flies from Newark through Reykjavik to Cork.
I, along with three other travel writers, received a warm welcome from WOW and the gang at Cork Airport including a reception with Irish coffee, cake!, and live music. I have to say; it was the warmest welcome I’ve ever received in any foreign country. Ireland and Iceland know how to do it right!
Three days in County Cork, Ireland weren’t enough, but you’ll see that our group covered a lot during our quick trip.
If you’re not familiar with Ireland, you might wonder where and what is Cork? The People’s Republic of Cork is the largest county on the island and covers much of the southwest corner. Cork boasts one colorful town after the next, so I did a lot of oohing and aahing. Our group saw picturesque seaside towns like Cobh, also the Titanic’s first stop, and Youghal, a Heritage town (one that’s been developed over centuries) and also the site of the storied Clock Gate Tower. Driving is the best way to see the country, although you don’t necessarily need a car in the towns and villages. Just bring comfy (waterproof) shoes.
Cork City is cosmopolitan yet maintains a small-town feel. It’s the second largest city in Ireland and situated on an island in the center of the River Lee. Cork City offers an array of fantastic restaurants, a host of hip coffee shops, museums, and galleries, and of course, this should come as no surprise – a slew of Irish pubs.
We checked into the lovely River Lee Hotel, and I had a city view of the river from my room. I didn’t get to try the spa or restaurant in the hotel, so maybe on the next trip.
Shortly after that, our food fest started at the Old English Market. This huge farmer’s market sells everything fresh – from meats to seafood to cheese and bread – and you can spot Cork locals milling about and shopping.
Upstairs, the Farm Gate Café is a Cork favorite, and I can understand why. I went with a simple chicken salad plate that was far from mundane. The dish came with beets, almonds, and fennel, so many little surprises one a single plate. It was the most colorful and flavorful chicken salad I’ve eaten to date, and probably my favorite meal of the weekend! My travel mates went with heartier dishes like seafood pies, mashed potatoes (unbelievably yummy), and Irish lamb stew.
After lunch, I wandered down a long, narrow alley that connects to the Old English Market, and there it was – the Mutton Lane Inn, also the oldest pub in Cork. How did I discover this tidbit of info? A salty gentleman happened to be standing outside the pub as I passed by and he told me so even before I asked. The pub got its name because, at one time, muttons were escorted through of the narrow alley on their way to the market. I stepped inside, but I did not have time to order a pint here. We were off on our next adventure, but, rest assured, one day I will go back to this dark, cozy bar and order myself a pint of Murphy’s. I am not even a beer drinker, but I can’t wait for that day.
I enjoyed several other fantastic meals in Cork, but I did not get to experience enough of the food in my two nights there! There’s so much to eat in this town. I ate blood pudding for the first time at Market Lane, and my steak at Isaac’s was perfectly cooked. I must return to Cork for the FOOD.
Just a short drive from Cork City is the world-renowned 15-th century Blarney Castle, also the home of the Blarney Stone, which supposedly grants the gift of gab to the kisser. No, (sorry to disappoint you) but I did not kiss the stone! It turns out that you have to lie down, grab bars, and then bend backward from dozens of feet in the air (and over an opening in the floor of the castle, no less), to reach the spot where the stone is located. So no, I was not crazy enough to do a kiss after hours of flying on no sleep. Sorry, Blarney. I blew a kiss, and that will have to do. And for the record, I think I’m chatty enough.
All kidding aside, although the stone is talked about, the real attraction here is the castle and gardens. Words and photos can’t begin to describe the acres of lush plantings, trees, and flowers. The rain came in time for our tour, and I didn’t mind one bit. The grounds are perfectly kept and worth an afternoon stroll, sunshine or not. If you’ve imagined Ireland to look like this, I’d say that photos don’t begin to capture the natural beauty, but at least it’s a start.
Even for someone who’s not a whiskey drinker, I found the Jameson Distillery tour fascinating. Who knew that so much labor goes into making whiskey? After the tour, I did a tasting and preferred Jameson over both Jack Daniels and scotch. Maybe, I’m Irish after all. 🙂 The restaurant was a pleasant surprise as well. Often tourist attractions serve overpriced, mediocre food, but not here. I enjoyed every ounce of my grilled salmon, and the other plates around the table looked equally delicious.
Charles Fort, a star-shaped fortress that overlooks Kinsale Harbor, is a short drive from the storybook town of Kinsale, and worth a stop. I couldn’t believe how photogenic the fort and its grounds are. Sure, it’s one of the largest military forts in Ireland, but it’s also an ideal setting for an event (party, wedding, or any celebration). There are no bad photos here. None. The photo below was not staged.
During a guided walking tour of Kinsale, it’s safe to say that I fell in love with this seaside town. Kinsale is overflowing with small shops, pubs, restaurants. Lots of locals were out enjoying the sunshine on a Sunday afternoon (it doesn’t always rain in Ireland).
We caught a bagpipe parade as it was passing, and spotted a cute kitty in downtown.
After the tour, we had a delicious lunch at The Spaniard, a notable spot with a restaurant and an adjoining bar. This place is a must if you ever go to Kinsale. I had a salad plate of fresh, local shrimp and crab (easy to find in Ireland, I might add), and paired my dish with a local cider.
After our time in Kinsale, we were off to, guess…. the spa! After traipsing around the Emerald Isle on little sleep, it was now time to be pampered at West Cork’s Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa Hotel, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. After my detox body wrap and a few hours of relaxation while staring at the Irish coast, I met up with our group for our last evening. We sipped cocktails followed by dinner with wine at a table overlooking the sea.
If you aren’t much of a traveler but dream of exploring international destinations, County Cork Ireland is a great place to start. You will feel welcome. You will feel safe. You will get caught up in the quaint villages and stunning coastline. You will be blown away by all the delicious food, and you will have an excellent time in the pubs. Probably, like me, you too will want to return to Ireland as soon as possible.
Many thanks to WOW air, Tourism Ireland, and Failte Ireland! for this trip. I traveled with awesome people. Members of our intimate group were from Ireland, Canada, and Iceland. Hence, I was the only American in the bunch!
For more info about County Cork Ireland visit Tourism Ireland.
Have you visited County Cork Ireland? Or anywhere in Ireland? I’d love to make note of your favorite places for my next trip.