Saturday, 27 June 2015

Spotlight on Killarney: TRAVEL REVIEW

The mercury was on the rise as I rolled my suitcase across Heuston Station. Even at that early hour, it was swarming with people; regularly glancing at timetable information as trains arrived and departed on the other side of the glass doors, emitting screeches and smoke as they did so. With barely contained excitement, I waited for the details of my voyage to appear in glowing red glory.

Aha! 11;00am to Cork, change at Mallow, platform 4. With the turn of my heel and the scan of my ticket, I began my journey to Killarney.

It's not an exaggeration to say when experienced in the right moment, under the right conditions, Ireland is one of the best holiday destinations in the world. This sentiment doesn't arise from a sense of national pride, but from the fact that for a little country, we pack a heck of a punch. Urban adventures? Check. Tourist traps that admittedly, when you're a tourist, you love? Check. Beautiful beaches, panoramic parks and fabulous food? Triple check - and that's in the capital alone. Venture beyond the pale and the delights you will soon discover will create a love affair that can span the decades.

It was many moons ago when I was last in Killarney - I fuzzily remember a childhood Christmas spent there, with queries about how Santa was going to get our presents into a hotel room and a "card" from the big guy himself, who's handwriting was suspiciously similar to my Mum's.

This trip however, did not involve the Gleneagle Hotel or freezing temperatures outside. A three day mini-break with the other half, our home for our stay was the Dromhall Hotel.  Like a modern castle with it's touches of gothic influence off-set by cheerful pastel paint, the four star hotel has been run by the Randles family since the 60s. It was the perfect place for us. The staff were extremely helpful and friendly and the rooms were luxuriously kitted out. Apart from a pizza in Kanye's - the hotel's on-site bar and bistro - we didn't consume any of our fare at the hotel. However, the menu at Kanye's is an appealing one, with traditional roast dinners and more modern meals on offer. Our gourmet Hawaiian pizza was a delicious fill-gap after hours of traveling.

One particularly nice touch we noted involved wine glasses - after a slightly boozy dinner in the town our first night there, we proceeded to bring back a bottle to our room along with some glasses from the bar downstairs. After our room had been serviced the next day, housekeeping had provided two sparkling new glasses in case we wanted to enjoy the rest of our bottle upon our return.

It is this eye to detail that so often separates one high-class accommodation from the other - I couldn't recommend Dromhall highly enough to anybody wishing to explore the beauty of Killarney.

Which, is what we set out to do soon after our pizza. Only a five minute walk from the town, we made our way around the assembled horse and carts that greet you before the junction to bring you into town and happily ambled around, gathering our bearings and eyeing up places for dinner.

For that night, we chose to dine at Treyvauds on the High Street in the town. Chancing our arm, we were lucky enough to walk in without a reservation and be seated - something I would not encourage you to do, as to miss out on the food would be a disappointment.

The boy went for the Kenmare Smoked Salmon to start while I chose the Pan Seared Chicken Bruschetta. It's not an understatement to say the last time I had bruschetta this good was in Rome. The palate pleasing continued with the mains - Pork Belly with an Asian twist for himself and Baked Salmon for me, who's lovely pink flesh flaked with the most gentle touch of my fork and was made even more delicious by it's parmesan and tomato crust. While I can't comment on the cheese board that rounded off the courses (dried meats are more my thing), judging by the fact we waddled out into the warm night air, slightly tipsy and very well fed, it's easy to classify the experience as a success. Although it was the most priciest dinner of our stay, it was worth it.

Day One - I Want To Ride My Bicycle
Refreshed and rejuvenated with only the mildest of hangovers, the heat of the morning quietly assured us that the overhead clouds would disperse by lunch - just in time for a biking adventure around Killarney National Park.

But before that, there was breakfast. After spotting a Parisian style bakery during our ramblings the night previous on High Street, we decided to break our fast there. Unfortunately, it would've been better breaking it somewhere else. 

Despite the charming decor and attention to detail with the furnishings - heavy wood, polished tables and stools, rustic decoration features and quirky farmesque items on display - the cafe was less impressive with its food. The pasta in the salad was overcooked, the accompanying honey mustard sauce was of disturbing colour and thickness with an equally disturbing taste and despite a cookie dough brownie looking like it could save it all, it was overcooked and dry. Oh, and the coffee? Not. Good. 

A little disappointed, the less than impressive experience was soon forgotten with peals of glorious sunshine breaking above our heads as we made our way back up the street to rent our bikes. There are plenty of places in Killarney town that rent bikes for the day (very reasonably too - it shouldn't cost more than 15 euro) and the transport method truly is the best way to explore the area. We went with the simply titled "Rent a Bike" at Market Cross (just beside Easons) although Flesk Bikes which is nearer to the National Park, looked like it had a promising choice of rentals. Open March-November, 7 days a week, you can contact the lovely owner of Rent A Bike on 0877654555 or 0873984018.

Now, before I go any further about the bike adventure, a few facts need to be established. I only learned how to ride a bike about three months ago. I had been on a bike precisely two times before the Killarney adventure. The first time, the other half patiently taught a 24-year-old woman how to pedal and balance. The second time resulted in me peddling myself into a wall after I got freaked out by traffic, and getting a nice bruise on my cheek in the process. 

So, although it is entirely possible for regular people who have average experience with a bike to cycle from the town up to the park, we chose the safer option of pushing ours until we reached a cycle path nearer the park - about a 15 minute walk away. 

Despite falling into a nettle bush, nearly careening headfirst over my handlebars and more falls and skids than is acceptable to admit, cycling around the park was the highlight of our trip. In the near distance I could hear the lap of Muckross Lake; across my shoulders and face, the sun beat down in beautiful perfection. The crisp air filled my nostrils while a gentle breeze brushed my cheeks as I picked up momentum. Travelling along, I thought to myself that this was the closest to flying I might ever get.

The park is fantastic for cycling in; there are plenty of wide paths for novices like me, plus some grittier trails for the more experienced. A lot of the paths are one way and directions aren't very well sign-posted in some areas, if you're following a particular route like we were, so make sure to have a map with you (usually given out free with your rental). Two other things; you can't actually rent bikes inside the park, so make sure you have one with you before you enter and two, I highly recommend picking up some juices from Nourish in the town to bring with you for your journey. Their Matcha Tea Juice is delicious and amazingly refreshing. 

We passed by Colleenbawn Rock and over Bricin Bridge before making a pitstop at Dinis Cottage for some much needed water and sugar. We then made our way to the Meeting of the Water and over the Old Weir Bridge before journeying up to Torc Waterfall - which is really worth the trip to witness its natural beauty and for a sup of it's clarifying water. 

Starting off at midday, we arrived at Muckross House and Gardens just after 5pm. The park closes at 6pm so there wasn't much on offer in the way of refreshments, but the grounds are really beautiful an deserve closer attention than what we gave them in a slightly hungry and tired state (at least for me). 

Following a painful hot shower with a bar of Dettol soap to clean out the mountain of scratches, grazes and cuts I got for my 20k+ expedition, we decided that large amounts of meat were needed for dinner that night. Enter, The Smokehouse

First off, if they open one of these in Dublin, I can say goodbye to ever wearing a bikini again. Also located on High Street in the town, the place looks very hip and cool from the outside - and crucially, delivers with its food. Brought upstairs, we were placed in a booth conducted of old bus seats with a sturdy table in between and presented with a menu that made me want to order, well, everything. 

I settled on Crispy Glazed Chicken Wings for starters while himself went for the Fishcake and we ordered some bread and dips to keep us going. It's a testament to how much I adore him that I willingly offered him to try one of my wings, they were THAT good. 

For mains, we both went for 12oz Medium-Rare Rib-Eyes Steak, which came with salad, a baked potato and sour cream, and onion rings. I simply could not finish all of mine, but the meat was cooked to perfection, tender in the mouth and perfectly seasoned. To describe The Smokehouse in one sentence, "high-quality ingredients cooked with care" would sum it up. What could be more delicious? And the damage to the wallet wasn't too bad - about 80 euro with a bottle of white wine. 

There were no desserts on offer that night (although normally there are), so we made our way instead to Murphy's ice-cream shop. Those from Dublin and Dingle will be familiar with the classic and unusual offerings of this modern institution. Very reasonably priced, well-crafted and imaginative ice-cream. Their Dingle Gin and Dingle Sea Salt Vanilla flavours are must try's. 

Day Two - Leisurely Discovery 
In order to balance the disappointment that was breakfast on the first day, we had one essential criteria for day two - somewhere that served good coffee. Ask and ye shall receive and our salvation was found in Underground - decent coffee, extensive tea menu and a nice mix of hearty and light breakfast options. 

As it was our last day in Killarney, we decided to potter around and take in the locale. There are a few great art galleries around the town; often on side-streets off the beaten track that are worth discovering. Dermot McCarthy has a wide-variety of original work, two of whose pieces made their way into my bag home as presents for people. 

We also made our way to Ross Castle - there's a lovely walking route that provides some fantastic views of the nearby mountains, which were being gently enveloped in mist that day. 

As one journeys around Killarney, you constantly experience the sensation of having fallen into a storybook, such is the natural beauty of the area. The castle itself offers guided tours and the accompanying lake provides tours and opportunities to rent boats and fishing gear (salmon and trout) but as were pushed for time, we had to settle for an amble around and a bit of picture taking. 

Ross Castle 

We did however hop on the back of a jaunting car to make our way back to town. We cut a deal, 15 euro for the pair of us which was slightly steep for the experience itself but lets be honest, you're paying so you can say you did it. Enjoyable, but missable (mainly because you can give the horses a little nuzzle in the town which is the best bit). 

After working up an appetite, we wandered into the gem that is The Laurels for a bit of lunch. You couldn't get a more traditional Irish pub if you tried - lots of stools kitsch, and horse racing on in the background. We opted for Seafood Chowder with Homemade Bread and the fish was fresh and plentiful. Slightly creamier than I normally like, I devoured all mine before himself had even finished (an unusual event in itself). 

We once again returned to Nourish to get some more fantastic raw juices and provisions for the train journey home (Brie and Bacon on Toasted Ciabatta and a Chicken Caesar salad) and with a touch of melancholy to be leaving this magical world behind, journeyed back to Dublin. 

Three days and two nights was perfect for us, but you could easily spend another night or two and not be bored - between local trips to Dingle Peninusula, the Ring of Kerry and many more fantastic eateries to try, it's not difficult to see why the town draws thousands of tourists, year after year. 

Until I return to the golden county (which I most definitely will), I'll retain a little bit of its treasure in my perfect memories. 

Mucho Love,

Vicky xoxo 

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