The beautiful West Cork village has an air of France about it, discovers Conor Power.
BALTIMORE is one of those lively West Cork communities that manages to be chic and traditional at the same time. The weekend brings sailors, strollers, revellers, drinkers, thinkers, hikers, bikers and lunching ladies to its locale. During the rest of the week, it’s a working community, complete with its family of offshore islands.
Driving down into the pretty village, there’s a sense of anticipation as you catch tantalising glimpses of its sea life — the islands, the harbour, fishing boats, pleasure boats and the regular ferries. This is the tip of a peninsula at the tip of another peninsula… feeling far removed from the rest of the world.
As the road into the town narrows to the one-way system, the port is suddenly before you, overlooked by the central “square” that’s really like an extension of some of its main pubs and restaurants and all reassuringly overlooked from its lofty outcrop by Dún na Séad Castle.
In terms of village atmosphere, everything is pretty much concentrated on that small area onto which seemingly all onshore and offshore life seems to reflect, making it the perfect place to sit with one’s coffee, beer or ice-cream and watch the world go by.
A visit to Dún na Séad Castle is a good point to start. This 13th-century fortress has been impressively restored in recent years and its views make it a pleasure to visit. Stroll through the Great Hall and admire the tapestries, furnishings and artefacts. Oliver Cromwell and ancient McCarthys are among its former residents.
The harbour-front buzzes to a regular beat, with energy from the pier, the fishermen, and the French-owned Glenans Sailing Centre that has been a feature of Baltimore life for decades. Indeed, there is a distinctly French and Breton air about Baltimore.
Water is where it’s really at around here and there is a great choice. Sailing weekends allow you to learn something, while having enormous fun, as well as exploring the bay. A more serene exploration of the coastline is possible with kayaking. You can also do deepsea diving, and the nearby saltwater Lough Hyne affords calm conditions for a beginner’s course.
Get out to the islands. The nearest is Sherkin and the ferries to it are regular. It is a great place to spend the day doing some easy hiking, with its rolling hills and gorgeous, quiet beaches.
The renowned seafood platters and delicacies of the now-closed Chez Youen, owned by Breton émigré Youen Jacob, are available at “The Lookout”.
The family line is the same (run now by Youen Jnr) and it is part of an ensemble of services in one extensive block on the village square that includes “La Jolie Brise” pizzeria, The Waterfront Hotel and Jacob’s Bar.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the seafood platters that have become their signature dishes, but they cater for all tastes in a varied menu, complete with stunning views. The “Jolie Brise” is ideal for family appetites and budgets. Offering similar “al fresco” dining next door is Bushe’s Bar, while around the corner, The Algiers Inn also serves food and has a beer garden.
On Sherkin Island, there are two scenically-located choices within a five-minute stroll recently-revamped “Islander’s Rest” and the more intimate and traditional “Jolly Roger”. Both offer good-value, familyfriendly menu deals such as sandwich/soup or burger combinations for around €5.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Baltimore has a good choice of hotels for its size, with the legendary hospitality of Casey’s Hotel still going strong. You also have the Waterfront Hotel, as well as the Corner House, while on Sherkin the Islander’s Rest offers a modern level of comfort.
There are also a number of B&Bs and a hostel, as well as the nearby Rolf ’s Country House, with its popular restaurant. See www.baltimore.ie for deals on accommodation packages.
ANYTHING TO ADD
As a past recipient of unwanted pirate attacks circa 400 years ago, the town now runs a Pirate Festival while the numerous festivals throughout July, August and September include the Baltimore Regatta, the Storytelling Festival, the Sherkin Regatta and the Lough Hyne Experience.
OTHER USEFUL LINKS
www.atlanticseakayking.com — Highly recommended for exploring the coastline.
www.sherkinferry.com — Up-to-date ferry timetables and fare details.
www.sherkinisland.eu — smart tourist site about Sherkin Island.
www.aquaventures.ie — diving, boating.
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