Travel Notes with Tom Breathnach: Could Skibbereen be the new Seattle?

Travel Notes with Tom Breathnach: Could Skibbereen be the new Seattle?

Could Macroom become the new Melbourne, or Skibbereen the new Seattle? Ever since some friends Monica Geller and Co. started sipping frappucinos in Central Perk circa 1995, Ireland’s coffee culture has trended into a mainstay of our daily grind.

While legends like Kafkas in Cork (remember them?) pioneered Ireland’s new-era coffee culture, over 20 years on our inspired, locavore cafe scene stacks up on any international level, drawing locals - and tourists in their wake.

But it takes more than epic latte art and fiddle leaf fig plants to draw the masses. Last week, husband-and-wife team Mikey Shinnick and Bernadette Doverman joined the slow-coffee movement by opening The Town Coffee Company in Mitchelstown. Both new to the hospitality sector, their journey began with a longtime pipe dream as organic as their ethos.

“I guess you could say we were originally coffee tourists,” says Mikey.

Coffee and food has always defined our travel experiences far more than landmarks or tourist attractions and we wanted to recreate that magic here at home

Their cafe now joins the default, rather than niche trend of supporting native roasters and businesses, with beans here from Three Fools Coffee from Cork City and a locally-fuelled menu by the regional community.

“Our concept was to create the best menu with the least suppliers,” adds Ber, “we wanted to max our quality and minimise our footprint.” As a result, almost everything served within the buzzing Lower Cork Street locale is local.

“We get our organic leaves and veggies from Purple Squirrel Farm in Doneraile, our bread from Chamberlains a few doors down and we even source our kombucha from HOLO in Youghal,” explainsays Ber. The result are earthy staples, from beans with Toonsbridge halloumi to vegan Buddha bowls.

“But scones and tea are massively popular too,” jokes Ber. Along with a sustainability effort where furniture is salvaged, cups are bio-degradable, and composting is de rigueur, they’re the latest example of how Ireland’s coffee scene can hold has a global pride of place.

And just two weeks in, trade’s taking off. “The reaction has been huge,” explainsays Mikey. “We already have a loyal following from kids to pensioners coming in to do their crosswords and are a looking forward to a big tourism surge with the Indiependence festival.”

For now, it’s time to support our local coffee shops who support local. And for the love of God, don't forget your keep-cup.

MONTENEGRO

One of the air routes I’m most excited this year is Ryanair’s new direct service from Dublin to … Podgorica.

The unsung capital of Montenegro, Podgorica may not roll off many Irish tongues, but with starter fares this month from €99 return (incl. baggage) it may be about to. The appeal will be access to Montenegro’s sparkling coastal resorts but also as an exciting gateway to the emerging destinations of Albania and North Macedonia. Summer in the Balkans, anyone?

Ryanair.com

ZOKU

Travelling for business, but fancy a little more pleasure? Then check out Zoku in Amsterdam, who hold ambitions to redefine hotel as we know them. Billed as home-office hybrids, Zoku guests enjoy the privacy of design-smart loft rooms along with access to slick co-working and meeting spaces.

Along with their Dutch hub, fresh Zokus are slated to open in both Copenhagen, Vienna, and Paris’ 19th arrondissement over the next year. Rooms from €130. livezoku.com

ST PATRICK’S DAY

St Patrick’s Day often sees our main cities and towns grab the headlines, so why not wet your shamrock in some more off-the-beaten-track pastures this year?

Some charming options include Dingle, where the town’s annual parade is led by a fife and drum band at 6am (not pm); quirky Kiltimagh in Co Mayo which hosts two week-long festivals of both Irish tradition and an bealoscailte (spoken mouth); while in Hook Head, you can enjoy a free lighthouse tour if your name is any acceptable derivative of Patrick (or Patricia).

Discoverireland.ie

VIRGIN CRUISES

Welcome to the world of adult cruising, Richard Branson-style, with the launch of the much-hyped Virgin Cruises this month. Aiming to take the cruise experience next level, Scarlet Lady’s 17 decks aspire to offer a boutique hotel on the seas with on oasis of calm — or revelry — for their passengers,depending on what they’re looking for. Amenities range from Michelin chef restaurants to drag-themed brunches, from tattoo parlours to a blow-dry bar. The first sailings start this summer from Miami to the Caribbean.

virginvoyages.com

WANDER WILD

Hello, spring equinox! An exciting new event for the 2020 calendar is the inaugural Wander Wild Festival which takes place in Killarney this month from March 27-29.

Celebrating all of the region’s natural wonders, the weekend sees an eclectic programme of activities in the town and beyond from photography exhibitions, kayak tours, live podcasts, food trails, and a guided night walk in the National Park.

Expect Instagram will go wild. wanderwildfestival.com

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