Direct flights from Cork are just one of Southampton’s many attractions, writes Joe Dermody.
Southampton is a little bit of heaven virtually on our doorstep. Easily accessible via direct flights, it really does have something for everyone.
This attractive port town has history walks, a stunning Titaninc museum, a wealth of theatres, a busy music and club scene, quality restaurants, a luxury harbour-side hotel and a cool craft brewery. It’s also home to a Premiership soccer club starring our own Shane Long.
With direct return flights out of Cork four days a week, it’s a great weekend break, one that will live long in memory for me and my wife. Mind you, so much of this beautiful city feels so gentrified, I should probably say my wife and I.
In any case, the pair of us saw all the magic strands of Southampton come together on a ‘walk and talk’ tour of the city’s extensive walls and vaults, built over centuries from about 1100AD onwards.
While many buildings fell under strategic German bombing in WWII, literally miles of the ancient walls survived. Our group’s guide, Godfrey Collyer, tells the city’s story with immense charm.
Also a wine connoisseur,Godfrey seems completely at home in the ancient vaults which have at different times over the centuries served as wine cellars, air raid shelters, and some of which would now seem primed to become chic apartments for the emerginggeneration of monied 30-somethings.
While in the beautifully preserved Tudor House & Garden, you’ll see a 1540s bronze cannon given to Southampton by Henry VIII, a gift to the city folk for their discretion on the king’s dalliances with the local comely ladies during his visits.
You also see a large church steeple which the German bombers used as their flight guide when dropping their missiles into the heart of the city’s most beautiful buildings.
The scars are still evident. Arguably even more poignant than the ancient stone battlements is one very plain red brick wall nestling in their shadows. Unremarkable to look at, each brick has a message etched into it by American GIs who were gathered along the wall awaiting the ship that would take them into the battle in Europe. Much of the scratching was done with upbeat humour, but how many of them survived isanyone’s guess.
Also in upbeat mood was a gang of well-got Swedes in their 50s who joined us on Godfrey’s walking tour. In from Malmo, the group does a city break at this time every year; they try to mix culture, a few beers and a sporting and/or music event.
One of the Malmo group is a Southampton FC fan. And, yes, he was around to see them narrowly lose to Nottingham Forest in the 1979 European Cup Final. And, no, they haven’t done anything since. A cracking group of lads, Malmo is definitely on my event horizon.
More immediately, Southampton, one helluva town. After all that walking, we can heartilyrecommend lunch at the Dancing Man Brewery. The brewery is housed in a 14th-century building known as The Wool House; at the time, Southampton was a world leading wool port. If you’re a fan of craft beers, try the tasting menu. Little tasters of Pilgrim’s Pale Ale, Jack O Diamonds, Fiddler’s Jig and Last Waltz.
The food, appropriately enough, is pub grub, good quality, tasty and reasonably priced. The Malmo lads also nipped into the Dancing Man for a quick snifter of craft beer before heading to their match.
While greater Southampton is quite substantial, the city itself is fairly compact. We mostly walked everywhere, so as to fully discover the place. We enjoyed a nice meal in The Vestry, a restaurant and bar in a renovated church.
We also really enjoyed the museum, Southampton’s Titanic Story, which has plenty of interactive gadgets to appeal to all ages. In one virtual reality display, my wife successfully steered the giant ship to the quayside. She’s a better driver than myself; enough said.
One or two parts of the inner city were not too well served by 1950s to 1970s rebuilding; overall though, this is a very attractive town centre with everything from high-quality shopping malls (John Lewis, M&S, Zara, Schuh etc) down to a melee of pound shops.
And you’d have to say that your money goes noticeably further than in Ireland; yet another reason to make this a great weekend break. Mind you, a lot of Irish people are already fully aware of the appeals of Southampton; the Aer Lingus flights were fully booked both ways.
The waterfront is both quiteattractive and industrial. This is a busy working port. One surprising sight is the giant multi-storey steel-girdered car park right in the heart of the harbour, with literally thousands of cars sitting there, many of them while their owners depart on some luxury cruise.
While dominant, this car park is the only industrial sight visible from our hotel. We can most definitely recommend the hotel. We stayed in the newly opened Southampton Harbour Hotel and Spa, located at the Ocean Village Marina.
Designed in the style of a luxury super-yacht, as you step out onto the expansive decking that surrounds the hotel, you get to gaze at rows and rows of leisure boats, giant luxury yachts parked there by billionaires who are off somewhere else, no doubt counting their money by some sandy oil field.
An astonishing sight to drool over. Just try to keep your head cool and your lower jaw from dropping too noticeably.
The inside of the 85-bedroom five-star hotel lives up to the folks parked on the marina. With its £25m (€28m) development cost, this striking glass-fronted building is already delivering on its owners’ ambitions for it to become an iconic milestone in the modernisation of Southampton.
It is just draw-droppingly beautiful. The rooms are spacious and luxurious. The indoor pool, sauna, steam room, hydrotherapy pool and relaxation areas are a holiday in themselves. on the ground floor, The hotel evenfeatures its own cinema for up to 21 people. With daily showings of the latest films and cult classics, alongside complimentary popcorn, just simply sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
This hotel is the latest addition to the elite group of chic coastal properties owned and managed by Harbour Hotels. When you look at the group’s catalogue of hotels, you can quickly tell these folks know a thing or two about living up to people’s expectations.
Or you could just go upstairs to the top floor’s ‘HarBAR on 6th’, a spectacular rooftop destination bar, kitchen and club – offering a skyline playground with year-round panoramic marina views.
During our weekend there, a wedding party was staying in the hotel. While we only saw them at breakfast, they had the look of a party who’d made the most of the hotel’s in-house live music, DJs, and cocktails quaffed while taking in the stunning maritime views.
The atmospheric bar’s expansive outdoor terrace features fire pits and a wood fired oven; there is even a retractable heated canopy. One evening, when we nipped up there for a night cap, the wedding party weren’t the only onesenjoying the relaxing deckside vibe. The hotel staff are fantastic, really welcoming, brimful of a positive energy that really does add deeply to the happy memories.
For any Irish group looking at Southampton as a potential party venue, you really are talking about a top-end luxury experience, and offering impressive value by Irish standards.
This liner-themed hotel willcertainly be in hot demand for the annual Southampton Boat Show in September, a platform for the world’s leading boat builders to pitch their wares to a highly motivated audience of 11,000 potential boat buyers; let’s be honest, I’m sure some of those are justgathered to drool over the super-yachts, stretching their necks to gaze longingly upon how the other half lives.
Regardless of which side of the cordon you’d be located, the high net worth or the high neck worth, it’s an experience that I’d have no hesitation in recommending.