County Cork in five glorious sights

by Emma.Sturgess

Beautiful beaches, stunning cliff walks and some fine traditional food are among the highlights of a visit to Cork, one of Ireland’s real beauty spots

Tripe and drisheen at the English Market, Cork
There may be prettier sources of protein but when you see frills of tripe and drisheen, the smooth blood sausage, you know you’re in Cork. Food has been bought and sold on the site of the English Market since 1788 and the current building, refurbished after fires in the 1980s, retains plenty of atmosphere. Old-fashioned offal and buttered eggs (preserved by rubbing with butter while they’re still warm) are a much-loved part of the furniture, as is the FarmGate Cafe, the restaurant up on the balcony. It’s the perfect place to get your bearings and try some cooked-from-the-heart dishes using produce from the stalls below - but be prepared to queue. Back downstairs, less traditional stalls offer great bread, olives and continental curiosities, and Mr Bell’s is still a favourite source of Asian ingredients, though local supermarkets have long since caught up with demand. 
 
Bobbing boats in Kinsale harbour
Kinsale has a strong cultural life, more rugby than you can shake a mouthguard at and forts agogo, but it wouldn’t be the same without the boats. On the Bandon river estuary, Kinsale is both commercial port and pleasure ground, and in summer it can feel like more visitors have arrived by water than by road, despite the town’s proximity to Cork city. Not everyone enjoys the company of the 'yachties', but the summer population boosts the foodie culture that’s led to Kinsale being declared the gourmet capital of Ireland. That might be going a bit far, but there’s plenty of fresh fish and seafood about, and one of the best places to try it is the Fishy Fishy Cafe, where they know the fishermen by name and you can eat outside, looking out over the water.  
 
The lighthouse at Ballycotton Bay
East Cork doesn’t have the headline-grabbing beauty of the far southwest, but Ballycotton is a spectacular surprise at the end of a long drive coastwards. The cliff path from this quietly likeable old fishing village extends to Ballytrasna, five miles away but you don’t need to walk that far for fantastic views to the lighthouse, set in perfect coastal style on a small green island. The walk is rough in windy weather but you can descend into a tiny cove for a bit of shelter. Back up high, it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise, with 300 species using the habitat. Once a year, there’s another inspiring sight: hordes of wiry runners battling with a classic road race distance in the Ballycotton 10. If you see an athlete in the pub, buy them a pint. 
 
Mizen Head
Ireland’s most southwesterly point has a dramatic history and a great deal of natural presence. Wandering the visitor centre should really be regarded as a chance to learn all about the fog signal station, the Fastnet rock and Guglielmo Marconi’s attempts to send a radio signal across the Atlantic. You might also be looking forward to a spot of dolphin and seabird-watching. But anyone in trepidation about heights, crashing waves, huge rocks or a combination of all three will have only one thing on their mind: the bridge. Finished in 1910, it connects the island to the mainland 150 ft above sea level and can be, plainly, terrifying. Still, there’s a great view if you make it.   
 
Inchydoney beach
The traditional Christmas morning swim might be excessive but when the sun shines, Inchydoney beach has the blue-and-gold allure of warmer coastal spots. A fat band of pale sand hugs the island, which is connected via a causeway to the mainland, and its Blue Cross status reassures those who fancy dipping a toe – or a surf board – into the water. The poshest way to enjoy the sea is from a balcony at the Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa, recently refurbished and stuffed full of plush, contemporary soft furnishings. It seems a shame to get wet while avoiding the beach, but the thalassotherapy pool is a potentially warmer prospect.   
 

Emma.Sturgess

Give or take the odd stint in restaurant kitchens, I've been a food and travel writer all my working life. I love the thrill of taking off for Las Vegas or peering into the shiniest shop windows in Lyon, but for me there's no place like the UK, and in particular the North's grand cities. I write for The Guardian and Food and Travel Magazine and contribute to many guides and books. 

Covering Liverpool lifestyle, arts and ents stories for the commuter newspaper Metro's North West edition gave me a chance to reaquaint myself with the grown-up side of a city I knew from childhood visits. As a kid, the greatest thrill of a trip to Liverpool was the chance to see Fred the TV weatherman's huge map floating in the Albert Dock like a bizarre waterlily. Now I live close enough to go anytime and am tall enough to see the bigger picture, it's the scale of the place - the sweeping Mersey vista, towering Anglican cathedral and rewarding clamber to the Georgian terraces - that's the real draw. Add the possibility of acquiring a decent flat white - a fairly recent phenomenon - and it all falls wonderfully into place.

My Liverpool

Where I always grab a coffee: Bold Street Coffee strikes a pleasant balance between self-conscious cool (there’s vinyl and turntables behind the bar) and an inclusive vibe. They take their hot drinks seriously.

My favourite dining spot: For sheer mind-boggling, multisensory genius, Marc Wilkinson’s Michelin-starred restaurant Fraiche is a short cab ride over to Oxton, and worth every tick of the meter.

Best place for people watching: Take a seat on Church Street and watch the world and his wife pass by.

Where to be seen: Prop up the curvy blue-lit bar at San Carlo and you’re likely to be sandwiched between celebrities.

Most breathtaking view: The Panoramic restaurant, on the 34th floor of Beetham’s West Tower, has extraordinary views all the way to Wales. It’s glorious at night.

My favourite stroll: Liverpool’s waterfront never seems to be quite finished, but a walk around the Albert Dock, particularly the riverside path, offers historical perspective and cobweb-clearing in one.

The best spot for peace and quiet: St James’ Garden is a sunken green space in the quarry whose stone built much of the city centre. It used to be a cemetery – don’t trip over the gravestones.

Where I’d go on a date: To see something at the Everyman theatre. Shakespeare or a visiting comedian? Depends on the date.

The best shopping opportunities: The Liverpool ONE development keeps attracting interesting new tenants, but for shiny geegaws, don’t forget Chinatown. 

Don’t leave without: Humming a bit of The Beatles.