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.
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.
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.