Our travel editor rates the best day trips Cork has to offer

Our travel editor rates the best day trips Cork has to offer
The boat to Spike Island

Tourism marketing campaigns can often feel a little hokey. Sometimes I feel I’m not worthy of an Irish holiday if I don’t have access to a VW Combi camper, a surf-board and a group of rent-a-model friends straight from a craft beer commercial. 

But Fáilte Ireland seem to have got this effort right. Not quite a month since the launch of its Make a Break For It campaign, already the nation’s social media feeds are loaded with hash-tagged holiday snaps of everywhere from West Cork on fleek to Connemara looking like a Carrageen moss-rich Aegean. 

It seems we’re all lapping up the positive staycation sentiment and yes, we’re #makingabreakforit.

According to Fáilte Ireland research, notions to take a short break at home have bucked up in recent weeks with 60% of us now planning a trip in Ireland in the next six months. 

Meanwhile, over half of consumers who’ve booked short breaks have booked in just the last two weeks, while many Irish are looking to take an average of two breaks in Ireland during the remainder of 2020. It’s a promising outlook and highlights that as much as we’re lamenting the price of that three course lunch in Portugal, it seems we’re finally embracing our summer in Ireland fate.

To get into the spirit, this week I made a break for Ireland’s very own Alcatraz (Spike Island) which lies off Ireland’s very own San Francisco (that would be Cobh). Cobh often endures a bad rap as a destination (from Corkonians rather than foreigners), but after revisiting the town on last week’s sunburst Sunday, I’m officially calling it as Ireland’s most beautifully set town. Can you honestly think of anywhere more spectacular? 

Spike, an island I’ve seen a thousand times, but never visited, has also emerged to now become Cork’s top tourism attraction. And you can believe the hype.

Beyond the pretty boat ride, the island offered a gripping insight into 1300 years of its history — from being an ancient monastic settlement to a notorious prison site  — surreally juxtaposed by its stunning setting. Along its nature trail, views panned out before me from East Ferry to Roche’s Point as families rolled blankets on what must be some of the country’s most prime picnic territory. 

I honestly felt the recharge of a great escape as I returned to mainland. But technically, you couldn’t really call Cobh the mainland. I guess I’d basically just spent my Sunday island hopping.

Island Escape

During the summer season, tours of Spike Island leave hourly (10am-2pm) from Cobh’s Kennedy Pier, with the scenic crossing typically taking little more than 10 minutes. Visitors have the option of a 20 minute welcome tour and can otherwise self-explore the island’s history  — as well as its natural surrounds — for about three hours. Cobh can be a tricky parking spot, so arrive early so you literally don’t miss the boat. €20/€11 for tickets / family pass €49. spikeislandcork.ie

Sea Sandwiches

Paired with its heritage, it’s those destination food spots which are drawing visitors to Cobh these days. Located just across from Kennedy Pier, Seasalt is a café, deli and dreamy brunch bolthole run by Jacquie O’Dea and her husband Henry. They rustle-up their salads and sambos pretty snappily, making it a handy picnic go-to for Spike trips  — once you call ahead. My gluten-free toastie with slow roast brisket and horseradish mayo was delicious and came in thoughtful compostable packing. Good value for €8. seasalt.ie

Fota Stop

I’ve visited Fota Resort several times over the years but finally got to check-in for the first time to the East Cork staple of luxury this week. Staff here were stand-out friendly while dinner and breakfast at Amber Lounge hit the mark, too. My “double double” room was sink-in comfy - and featured a great bathroom  — though I felt my first floor view over looking a ground floor roof was a design flaw worth fixing. Surely nothing a lil’ astro-turf couldn’t fix? Rooms for August from €220 B&B. fotaisland.ie

Secret Garden

With the Make A Break For It campaign encouraging us all to explore somewhere new, I finally paid a visit to Nano Nagle Place, sequestered along Douglas Street in Cork City. Not yet opened three years, the site already jostles with Spike as the top rated Cork attraction on TripAdvisor. Cén Fath? The site features an excellent museum ode to Nano Nagle and yesteryear Cork, a wonderful Cook Island inspired café named Good Day Deli and gorgeous tranquility gardens. It all makes for a wonderful oasis to while away a morning on convent grounds - without any Whoopi Goldberg imposter syndrome. nanonagleplace.ie

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