Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast must be one of the most scenic drives in the world, with a rugged, unspoiled coastline and a coastal road that runs within sight of the sea.
I reckon that you need at least three days to tour this lovely coastline. One day to see the Giant’s Causeway and the other attractions of the northern coastline. Another to taste a drop of whiskey at the famous Bushmills distillery and sleep it off at the Bushmills Inn (no driving required). On the final day you can drive down the stunning Glens coast between Ballycastle and Belfast. A perfect long weekend you might say!
The star of the coast – The Giant’s Causeway
So here’s the star of Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast; the Giant’s Causeway. Since the 1830s tourists have been coming here to see this wonder of nature, with hexagonal basalt columns, formed 66 million years ago when a lava flow cooled and cracked. Over time, the sea and weather eroded the columns into the iconic rock formations you see today.
Well that’s what the geologists will tell you! But of course the locals know that the Causeway was created by the giant Finn McCool, when he threw rocks into the sea to pick a fight with the Scottish giant who was taunting him from across the water. If you stand on the causeway you’ll see the chimneys of Finn McCool’s house rising from the cliff.
To tell me the stories of the causeway, I had an excellent local guide in Mark Rodgers who is part of the Purdy family that can trace their ancestry back to the survivors of the ship Girona, part of the Spanish Armada wrecked on the Causeway in 1588.
We passed the stone that marks when the Causeway became Ireland’s first World Heritage Site in 1986, while down the path we passed through the windy gap where a sudden gust of wind can easily blow your hat off. Mark pointed out the small harbour where local fisherman would pull up their boats during the summer salmon fishing season, but once tourists started arriving would row them around the headland to see the Great Sea Cave.
Before the 1960s when the National Trust took over the management of the Causeway, a few local families ran souvenir and tea shops for visitors alongside this path. Now all that has gone and the Causeway has been restored to its natural state, with a new National Trust Visitor Centre much further up the hill.
We passed what I would have taken for a puddle in the rock, which Mark explained was a well, fed by a natural spring. In the past ladies would stop to take a drink from the well, then would go and sit on the Causeway in the wishing chair, a natural seat in the rock, and wish for a husband. Of course for fun I took a seat but luckily I already have a wonderful husband so I didn’t need to wish for any other.
The pony and traps that once transported visitors down to the Causeway have been replaced by a mini bus (£1 each way) and we took it back up to the visitor centre again. It’s worth being aware that there is no charge to walk down to the Giant’s Causeway on the public right of way that leads through the arch by the car park. However, if you want to use the National Trust car park, see the exhibition in the visitor centre and use their facilities, the charge is £9 per adult, £4.50 per child, or £22 per family. As an alternative you can arrive by public transport or park in the car park by the small train that runs from Bushmills for £6.
So now we have visited the star attraction of Northern Ireland’s north coast, what else is there to see? Well a surprising amount as it turns out, especially if you have a car to get around. (Check out Alamo Car hire if you need a rental car)
So lets start at…..
Mussenden temple on the edge of the clifftop
You may have seen photos of Mussenden Temple, an elegant Palladian building perched on the edge of the cliff, which you can spot from Downhill beach below. It was actually a library and summer house for the great house of Downhill Demesne which is now only a shell, as it burnt down in 1851 and was subsequently dismantled in the 1940s.
The temple was built by the Earl Bishop Frederick Hervey in honour of his favourite niece, Frideswide Mussenden, and there was originally space to drive a horse and carriage around it. As it’s now perched precariously on the cliff edge, perhaps you should visit while you can, although it’s only open for special events like weddings.
The property is managed by the National Trust and from the car park you can walk through the walled garden and see the ice house and dovecote before exploring the ruins of the mansion and walking to the clifftop to photograph the temple.
A little further down the road is Hezlett House, which you can visit with the same ticket. This thatched 17th century cottage is furnished as it would have been a century ago, with store rooms under the roof beams and tiny bedrooms set behind the cosy parlour furnished in Victorian style.
Downhill Demesne and Hezlett House, near Castlerock. Open 10-5, every day in summer and some days in spring/ autumn. Adults £4.50 or free to National Trust members
A stop for the view over Whiterocks Beach
As you drive along the coast road there’s a viewpoint where you can stop overlooking Whiterocks beach with a sign that tells you about the coastal park. From here, enjoy the views towards the seaside town of Portrush, the rocky islands known as the Skerries and the limestone cliffs where kittiwakes and guillemots nest. I love the wide, windswept beaches and dramatic seascapes on this part of Northern Ireland’s coast and a little further on you’ll arrive at ….
Dunluce Castle perched on the cliff
Dunluce Castle looks as if it might just topple off the edge of the cliff and into the sea to the pounding waves below. But wait… apparently a bit of the manor house did fall off the the cliff in the 18th century and you can now see the hole with iron bars across it. Even if you don’t want to live life on the edge, the castle does make a great photograph, the ultimate picturesque ruin.
At the ticket office there’s an interesting display about the castle’s history and a video playing in the exhibition room opposite. The castle was the stronghold of the MacDonnells who were the leading family along the Antrim and Glens coast and it was the base for their power struggles with other Irish clans as well as the English crown. The splendid Jacobean manor house which you can see the shell of was built by Randall McDonnell in 1620 and was the lavish seat of the Earls of Antrim.
The curious part of the story is that on this windswept cliff top was a town which has been partly excavated. It was established in 1608 with the support of King James I to house Scottish settlers who were encouraged to come to establish greater support for the English crown. But by the 1680s the town had been abandoned. I can imagine how the clifftop location, might have been a little too exposed even for the hardy Scotts and Irish.
Where to stay – Bushmills Inn
If you want a base to explore Northern Ireland’s Causeway coast by car, I highly recommend the charming Bushmills Inn, where you can guarantee that a warm Irish welcome will await you. If you are coming from afar, they may even fly your country’s flag from the tower to greet you, as they have a flag room which contains the flags of every nation in the world.
Even if you don’t stay at Bushmills Inn, be sure to stop by in the evening for a drink in their Gas Bar which is lit by the soft glow of gas lamps and has live music on Saturdays and Wednesdays. There’s a peat fire burning every day at the reception where all the guests (including me) love to be photographed since it just embodies all that is warm and welcoming about an Irish bar.
The hotel started life in the 18th century as a coaching inn (that’s the part where you’ll find the Gas Bar) but they’ve since built an extension at the back, and now have 41 rooms. It’s difficult to tell where the old ends and the new begins, since the stonework and whitewashed walls run throughout. I had a luxurious four poster bed and a huge bathroom with roll-top bath overlooking the River Bush flowing behind the hotel, with the same pure water that’s used to make the Bushmills Whisky at the distillery just down the road. The restaurant is excellent too – the kind of place where you’d come for a special treat, and specialises in modern Irish dishes that use the best produce from farms and fisherman of the North Antrim coast.
The Bushmills Inn, 9 Dunluce Road, Bushmills.
Dark Hedges – a location for Games of Thrones
If you’re driving up through the area around Bushmills, you might want to take a detour to see one of the best known Game of Thrones filming locations in the area, known as Dark Hedges. The avenue of beech trees have an eery, twisted look and were used in Season 2 when Arya Stark travels down the King’s Road to escape from Kings Landing, dressed as a boy.
The trees were planted as the driveway for the Georgian Mansion of Georgehill House, which is now a hotel where you can stop for a coffee. Although it looks like a quiet country lane, it was difficult to get a decent photograph of the trees, for all the cars driving up and down and the people walking through – pesky tourists!
Fishing boats in Ballintoy harbour
Let’s continue our drive along the coastal road, but before you get to the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge, take a detour down the narrow, winding road that leads to Ballintoy Harbour, another Game of Thrones location. I caught it in the late afternoon when it was looking very pretty with a small boathouse at the harbour entrance and rugged rocks with the sea spray breaking over them. On the other side of the car park are some sea caves that are fun to explore and a small beach. Enjoy a wander then stop for a cake or an ice cream at the small cafe, before driving on to…
Carrick-A-Rede Rope bridge
Yikes, from all the photos I’d seen this looked like one scary rope bridge. I worried about whether I’d even be able to a take any photos at all – one false move and my iphone might be knocked from my hand and plunge into the sea below.
The original bridge was made by salmon fishermen, who used it to get across the gap between the headland and the small island so that they could get better access to the salmon that swam past here each summer to the rivers on the north coast. On the island you can see the shed of their small fishery which is open on certain days. Judging by the old photographs, the rope bridge was a lot more perilous in those days, with just a rope on one side to steady yourself. Those daring tightrope-walking fisherman thought nothing of balancing themselves and all their gear to cross over the bridge.
Well, back to these days and it’s really not that bad. You may need to queue to take your turn to cross the bridge with a warden monitoring progress and telling you when to go. “Don’t worry”, he quipped, “we haven’t lost anyone yet … this month”. When it’s your turn, you descend the wooden steps and then cross over, just don’t look down and in a couple of minutes you are across. Even though it was quite windy, the bridge was surprisingly stable. I had a little look around on the other side and then turned around to come back. The best views are to be had if you walk a bit further beyond the bridge and look back towards it where you can see people crossing.
Despite the National Trust ticket booth that blocks your path, you don’t need to pay to walk along the coastal path to the Carrick-A-Rede bridge. You only need to buy a ticket if you want to cross the bridge itself, so if it’s just the view you are after, walk boldly on through past the kiosk. Adults £5.90 to cross the bridge. Just a little further along the coast you’ll find…
Boats in Ballycastle harbour
Ballycastle is one of the larger towns on the Antrim coast, a market town with a harbour and proper high street with lots of shops, restaurants and bars. It’s also become something of a foodie hub for this part of the coast, with many great food producers based nearby and regular Farmer’s markets at the weekend. You can even do a walking food tour of Ballycastle with Caroline Redmond of North Coast Walking Tours. For more information on all the great foodie places check out my article: 10 fab Foodie stops on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast. If you have a bit more time to spare it’s worth taking a day to…..
Catch the ferry to Rathlin Island
From Ballycastle harbour, the ferry runs around every hour across the Sea of Moyle to Rathlin Island, which takes 25-45 mins depending on which ferry you catch. I was only on the island for half a day so unfortunately wasn’t able to take the RSPB bus to the western tip of the island to see the seabird centre and puffin nesting sites. I did spend an hour or so walking around the harbour where seals were basking in the sunshine outside the Breakwater studio which sold artwork and gifts. I wandered around the bay to take a look at the old Kelp store where seaweed was once burnt to make fertiliser, and if I’d had more time I’d have walked to see one of the lighthouses.
Rathlin Ferry from Ballycastle Harbour: Runs hourly, Adult £12 return, Child £6 return. Booking advisable in high season – can be booked online.
Driving to Torr Head on the Causeway Coast
From Ballycastle I spent my final day driving back to Belfast on what must be one of the most stunning coastal routes in the world, past the Glens of Antrim. The coastal route is well signposted but just outside Ballycastle you can take a detour off the main route along the cliffs by Torr Head. The road passed through open fields where sheep graze with the land dropping steeply down to the sea.
The views were so spectacular that I couldn’t resist stopping at every possible viewpoint to take photos, attracting the attention of a few friendly sheep. After a while I had to start lecturing myself; “this is the very last place I’ll stop” as I was in danger of running out of time to see anything else on the coast. Still I pressed on until I reached…
Cushenden on the Glens Coast
The pretty village of Cushenden, managed by the National Trust, has a perfectly placed carpark beside the old stone bridge, directly overlooking the beach. On a sunny day, this would be a wonderful place to have a walk on the beach with a picnic from the village shop or a stop for lunch at Mary McBride’s bar where they have a restaurant upstairs. There are two sad stories that you might hear associated with Cushenden, one involving a sailor who never came home and his sweetheart who died of a broken heart, the other involving a goat who is commemorated in a statue … but I’ll leave you to find out more when you visit. From here I drove on south towards….
Where Cushenden is a picture postcard kind of place, Cushendell is more of a real, working town, with shops and restaurants on the main street that you’ll drive through. The beach is another 10 minutes down the road with a separate parking area next to the golf club which is a good starting point for walks along the coast. There wasn’t too much to keep me here so I continued on the coastal road….
Driving past the Glens of Antrim
The drive between Cushendell and Glenarm and beyond was truly stunning, passing by the Glens of Antrim, with plenty of opportunities to detour off for woodland walks and waterfalls. The Glens are the deep valleys carved by glaciers millions of years ago, making for a spectacular drive with the sea on one side of the road and the slopes of the Glens rising steeply up on the other. Sadly, as my flight home was calling me, I didn’t have time for any waterfalls photos, but just enjoyed the drive and the scenery with a stop at …..
Glenarm Castle for afternoon tea
The tearoom at Glenarm castle was a perfect place to stop before heading back to Belfast Airport to drop off my hire car and fly home to Bristol. The castle is home to the Earls of Antrim and only occasionally open to the public, but there’s a lovely walled garden and a tea-room where you can go even if you’re not visiting the garden. Much as I’d have liked to explore the walled gardens, I just had time for a cup of tea and slice of home-made cake in the pretty tea room with a glimpse of the garden through the archway. From here it was on to Larne and the fast road back to Belfast International Airport.
It had been a most spectacular weekend driving along Northern Ireland’s Causeway and Glens coastline, and having my hire car enabled me to make the most of my long weekend to see as much as possible.
If you are planning a trip to Northern Ireland, check out Alamo Car Hire for a car rental that you can pick up at the airport and take the scenic route around Northern Ireland’s beautiful coastline.
More things to enjoy in Ireland
Visitor Information for visiting Ireland’s Causeway Coast
Heather stayed at The Bushmills Inn in Bushmills which is a luxury 4 star hotel that is close to all the major things to see such as The Giant’s Causeway and the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery.
My extremely knowledgeable guide for the Giant’s Causeway and other local attractions was Mark Rodgers of Dalriada Kingdom Tours who fed me with local tales of fishing families and mythical giants.
If you prefer to have a break from the driving, I recommend Glenara Elite Travel who operate tours in a comfortable mini-bus that enables you to easily see all the attractions of the Causeway Coast in one day. They run regular day tours that cost £35 per person.
This article was brought to you in partnership with Alamo Car Hire. Thanks to the Causeway and Glens Tourism Board for hosting my stay on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast.
Menorca is the smallest and calmest of the Balearic islands, a haven for lovers of understated luxury. It’s a place that doesn’t like to boast too much about its charms, but is full of history, fashion and great food. If you’re flying in to Menorca, or visiting on a cruise, why not take a day or so to explore Mahón, the elegant capital of the island. For those who enjoy mellow old buildings, stylish shopping and lazy seafood lunches by the port, here are the ingredients for your perfect day in Mahón.
A boat tour around the harbour
Start your day in Mahón with a relaxing 1 hour boat tour around the harbour, to dip into the naval history of the area. Because of the city’s deep harbour and strategic position in the Mediterranean, the British dominated the island for much of the 18th century and have especially left their stamp on Mahón. Buy your ticket at the kiosk at the bottom of the steps close to the cruise terminal and take your seat on the top deck for the best view, although you can retreat downstairs if it’s a bit too windy. As you pass the main sites of interest, there’s a commentary in several different languages including English.
Now if you ask me for every detail of the harbour history it’s a bit hazy as I was taking too many photos, but to start with we passed by some of the swanky villas where the wealthy folk of Mahón live. We passed the English Arsenal, painted red as was the custom for military buildings, and further on Quarantine Island with a hospital where those with infectious diseases were treated. I imagine that those who went in wondered whether they would ever emerge alive. Near the harbour entrance, the water got quite choppy as we passed briefly to the open sea. As soon as we turned around the water calmed again, and we returned past Cales Font, the pretty harbour of Es Castell which was the 18th century British garrison town.
The harbour boat tour is run by 2 main operators, the Yellow Catamaran and the Don Juan Catamaran which cost around €12 per adult (cheaper if you book online). Between them they run every half an hour throughout the day, selling drinks and snacks on board.
Elegant buildings overlook the harbour
Back on dry land, let’s climb up those white flights of steps to start to explore Mahón properly. As you near the top, look up to your right to see the elegant Art Nouveau facade of Casa Mercadel and up on your left there are plenty of viewpoints where you can have a drink with a view over the port. To your immediate left are two huge trees with roots like an elephant foot which are a well known landmark.
The elegant Casa Mercadel was one of the homes owned by a noble Menorcan family and was built in on the site of an ancient castle that overlooked the harbour, now housing a cultural centre.
A mid-morning snack at the fish market?
In Placa d’Espanya at the top of the steps, you’ll find the Mercat del Peix or fish market with all the lovely fresh fish on sale until 2pm (closed Sunday and Monday).
The bright red prawns and spiny lobster are used to make the lobster caldereta and other seafood dishes that you can order at restaurants along the seafront. Despite all the groups of tourists trooping through to take photos, the stall holders were very good humoured and relaxed.
Tapas with a glass of wine
Walking past the fish you’ll come around to the other side of the market with stalls selling tapas, snacks and drinks. If you’re ready for a mid-morning break, this is the place to grab a drink and a snack, sitting at one of the stools inside or tables outside in the courtyard. On a Saturday lunchtime the place was buzzing with locals meeting their friends for a glass of wine and a chat.
The tapas typically cost between €1 and €3 and you can just point at whatever takes your fancy. I loved all the glistening olives and the appetising slices of bread topped with onions, peppers and anchovies. There was also a stall selling tasty seafood croquettes so I had to try a few of those as well, including one that was black with squid ink.
A little further up the square next to the fish market is the Carmelite cloisters which has been converted to a covered market selling everything from fruit and veg to shoes and local food specialities. Worth knowing that there’s a public WC here as I didn’t find one anywhere else in the old town.
Dip into the history of Mahon at Ca n’Oliver
If you’d enjoy visiting historic houses, pay a visit to Centre d’Art I d’Historia Hernandez Sanz at Ca n’Oliver, a mansion which belonged to one of the most powerful families of Mahon in the 18th and 19th centuries. This gorgeous house now houses the Hernandez Sanz collection of artworks which are on display over several floors around the ornate wrought iron staircase with a painted fresco to impress you in the lobby.
The paintings, maps and displays give insights into the British legacy on Menorca as well as the Oliver family who made their money as merchants in the Mediterranean and supplied the military in Mahón. I especially enjoyed the painted ceilings with religious and classical scenes in many of the rooms, designed to show the wealth and taste of the family who lived here.
Centre d’Art I d’Historia Hernandez Sanz at Ca n’Oliver, Anuncivay Street 2. Open daily except Monday 10-1.30pm and on Thursday, Friday, Saturday also 6-8pm.
The Museum of Menorca in Mahon
Another fascinating place to visit is the Museum of Menorca in the old Franciscan monastery which was built in the baroque style at the end of the 17th century but confiscated in 1835. The Museum was closed for renovation when I visited but I was still able to see the beautifully preserved cloisters and visit an interesting exhibition about the Talayotic culture on Menorca explaining the background of some of the stone burial chambers and settlements I’d seen in different parts of the island.
Normally you can also see rooms which cover the history of Menorca from the earliest times, through the 18th century when the island was occupied variously by the English, French and Spanish, to the 20th century when the industries of shoe and jewellery making replaced shipbuilding.
Museum of Menorca, Avinguda Doctor Guardia, Open daily 10am – 2pm and some evenings. Closed Mondays. Normally €2.40 but free during renovation.
A leisurely lunch by the Port
By around 1.30 the shops and museums will be starting to close so it’s time to find somewhere to have a leisurely lunch. Of course there are plenty of bars and cafes in the old town but a great alternative is to walk back down to the main port area where you’ll find a string of bars and restaurants overlooking the marina.
Settle in to a table with a view of the harbour, so you can people-watch from behind your designer sunglasses and oggle a few of those expensive boats. Most restaurants have a well-priced set menu at lunchtime that includes 3 courses, wine and bread with both seafood and meat options. We really enjoyed La Minerva (Carrer Moll de Llevant, 87) which has a nice terrace and tried their Arroz, a cross between soup and risotto with rice and seafood in a rich sauce, which is what Menorcan families like to eat on a Sunday.
A wander around the old town streets
After lunch most of the shops will be shut until around 4.30pm, so it’s a good time to wander around the streets of the old town while they are less crowded and admire the mellow stone buildings. Turn your back on the fish market and walk up towards Placa de la Constitucia to see the Town Hall of Mahón with the clock presented by the English Governor, Richard Kane.
In the square is a bar called Boinder, named after the Menorcan term for the overhanging bay windows which you’ll see in many of the older houses around town. They are a legacy of the English, along with sash windows, door latches and highly polished brass door knockers. I have quite a collection of door-knocker photos!
From here follow Carrer Isabel II which runs parallel to the port and look out for the narrow passages between the houses that lead to viewpoints over the port. There are three that I found, the final one being at the end of the street where you’ll reach the Museum of Menorca.
The influence of the British on Mahon
On the right hand side as you walk up Carrer Isabel II is the impressive Governor’s Residence, which was adopted by British Governor Richard Kane in 1722 when he moved the island’s capital from Cuitadella to Mahón. Although Cuitadella had been the ancient capital of the island, he found it too inconvenient to travel back and forth from one end of the island to the other, since the English fleet was based in Mahon.
From the town hall, another interesting street to explore is Carrer de Sant Roc with some of the oldest houses owned by the noble families of Menorca leading to the gateway of Sant Roc which was once part of the city wall. The metal bands on the ground near the tower mark the line of where the city wall once stood. The gate overlooks a pleasant square, Plaça Bastio with café terraces and a children’s playground in the centre, so if you have children you’ll be able to sit with a drink and watch them play happily (at least that’s the theory).
A girl can never have too many shoes
Once the shops open later in the afternoon, it could be time do some souvenir shopping along the main shopping street of Carrer Hannover. Menorca has become a centre of quality shoe production and as we know a girl can never have too many shoes! The Avarca sandals that you’ll see in almost every shop were originally made with soles of old tyres but are now a high fashion item with many sparkly and colourful variations. Also look out for Pretty Ballerinas, a high fashion brand that is based on the island – their main shop is in the port area.
Don’t go home until you’ve tried the cheese!
You can’t go home without trying the traditional Mahón-Menorca cheese which has a protected designation so it can only be made with milk from the island. The taste varies depending on how long the cheese has been matured and you’ll tell the artizan cheeses by the wrinkles made by the cloths in which they are wrapped. Around town there are quite a few shops that will let you have a taste before you buy and one of the best is Autentic, a deli shop on Plaça de s’Esplanada which has a good range of cheese, sausages and other produce of Menorca such as honey and flavoured liqueurs.
Is it time for a drink yet?
At some point in the day you will want to taste some of the local gin which was another happy British introduction. In the past there were many distilleries on Menorca to keep the sailors satisfied, but now only Xoriguer remains. They have several shops around town but a good place to try their gin is in the main distillery on the harbourfront near the cruise terminal. Through the glass windows you can see the stills in operation and you are free to taste a range of the different gins and flavoured liqueurs that they produce and sell here.
The local way with gin is to mix it with fizzy lemonade to make a Pomada, deceptively refreshing in the summer and served in vaste quantities at all the fiestas on Menorca. You might want to try it as an aperitif in one of the bars once you’ve finished your shopping.
Dinner at Es Castells
Of course there are plenty of places to eat in Mahón, but for a change of scene why not take a 10 minute taxi ride to Es Castell where there are lots of restaurants around the pretty harbour of Cales Fonts. Take some time to look aound the town square which was once a parade ground, with the red painted military buildings, before settling into a table at whichever restaurant takes your fancy.
Time for bed at Hotel Artiem Capri
Having enjoyed the sunset and fresh seafood for dinner, a taxi will return you to your hotel in Mahón. I stayed at the very pleasant Hotel Capri close to Plaça de s’Esplanada and a 15 minute walk from the port. My room was spacious and modern and there is a lovely rooftop pool (which sadly I was too busy sightseeing to try out). The hotel is part of the Artiem Hotel group which has many excellent hotels around the island including the Hotel Artiem Audax in Cala Galdana where I also enjoyed staying.
Wherever you stay I hope you have a perfectly restful end to your perfect day in Mahón!
Hotel Artiem Capri, Caller San Esteban, 8, Mahón, Menorca.
Compare prices and book hotels in Mahón on my Hotels Booking page powered by Hotels Combined.
Have you visited Mahón or Menorca? What were your favourite Menorcan moments?
Visitor Information for Menorca and Mahon
If you need a guide to show you the sites of Mahon and Menorca, I can highly recommend Luis Amella of Menorca Guides
Thanks to Menorca Tourism for hosting my stay in Menorca, in a project in partnership with Spain Tourism, Menorca Tourism and Travelator Media
“I could lie here and look at those mountains for hours” said Guy, as he sank into the easy chair in the corner of our bedroom. From Mas Gorral, our villa in Costa Brava, we could look over the countryside to the Pyrenees, the rising sun lighting up the teracotta rooftiles and the mellow stone of the farmhouses in the distance. The small town of Pontos lay below us, with birds chirping and a view of the pine forest where we never did manage to go for a walk. These are the memories that you bring back from a holiday and turn over in your mind when it’s raining in Bristol!
We were staying at Mas Gorral through Charming Villas Catalonia, a company that specialises in luxury villas that are full of character, in the Costa Brava region of Catalunya. Richard and Sara who run the company are based nearby in Besalu and give the villas a personal touch, helping you choose the villa that suits your needs and are on hand to sort out any issues that arise.
I hope you enjoy the video below about Mas Gorral with Charming Villas Catalonia
Rustic Chic in our Costa Brava Villa
Our five bedroom villa, Mas Gorral was an old rambling farmhouse that easily accommodated our party of nine, made up of our family as well as Guy’s sister and family. I enjoyed imagining the history of this place, how rooms had been added to over the years, to suit the needs and ambitions of various owners. With everything built of local stone, bound together by ochre mortar, teracotta roof tiles and green creepers clothing the walls, it was difficult to tell what was original and what was modern.
Inside the theme was rustic chic, with mottled plaster walls left natural in places, in others painted creams and yellows. Exposed beams held up the ceiling with stone sinks in the kitchen and three bathrooms. Every room was huge, with imposing antique armoires and chests of drawers to match the scale of the house.
Quirky artwork and furnishings
From the eclectic furnishings I imagined that the owners had travelled far and wide; a black Chinese laquer cupboard, a carved Asian wooden chest and a large leather topped desk that wouldn’t be out of place in an English gentleman’s library. The quirky feel continued in the bold, colourful artworks – verging on the surreal, and inspired perhaps by Salvador Dali who was born just down the road in Figueres.
On the landing a larger-than-life lady in an aviator’s helmet, surrounded by startled cherubs; is she kissing one of them or trying eat it? The long legs of a woman diving into a hat were propped near the kitchen and in the dining room we are greeted by the back of a reclining woman with ripples of creamy flesh.
A bracing swim in the pool
On the green lawn below the house, our swimming pool overlooked the valley and the forest. Being from England we are determined to make the most of every ray of sunshine and the girls were dressed as if for the hottest of August days in skimpy tops, loose flowing skirts and strappy sandals. They lay on the sunloungers ignoring the tramontana wind but after a while were forced to retreat to a more sheltered spot on the upper terrace.
We gathered around the pool daring each other to go in. A toe dipped in the water told us it was not going to be warm, it was April after all! My son took a plunge and dive bombed in, splashing everyone else. Then the girls followed, surfacing from the cold water, eyes wide with the shock. A brisk couple of lengths and they ran back inside for a hot shower!
Lunch on the sunny terrace
In the entrance hall hung a row of straw hats, waiting to be borrowed for a snooze in the sun or a walk around the garden. Although it was only April, the sun shone for us and we took full advantage of the warmth for lunches al fresco on the sheltered terrace. Feeling the sun on your back in the springtime when there’s still blossom on the fruit trees and wildflowers in the fields is one of the pleasures of being in Costa Brava.
After a day of walking the town walls in Girona, a seaside jaunt to Cadaques or a Dali inspired visit to Figueres we’d return to Mas Gorral to loll around on the white cotton sofas in the barn-like sitting room. Our hire car from Auto Europe was despatched to the local supermarket to return with mountains of food and all the cousins decided what we would eat and cooked it together.
Time for dinner at the long table
Later books would be cleared from the long wooden table where the girls had been working on university assignments and the table was laid for dinner. During the day we’d tried the local specialities; dreamy ice cream from Rocambolesc in Girona, seafood tapas and local wine at Enoteca MF in Cadaques. But in the evening we’d fall back on our home-cooked favourites, chicken kebabs barbecued on the terrace or mountains of meatballs and pasta.
On our last evening, however we took inspiration from the staff at Enoteca MF in Cadaques who we saw peeling a huge pile of red shrimps which were pulverised to make a shrimp carpaccio. In our version it was seafood linguine but the cousins pitched in to peel all the prawns from the supermarket.
Wine and cards in front of the fire
After a candle-lit dinner around the huge table, the fire was lit to take away the evening chill and we sat around playing cards and drinking local wine. The house became a backdrop for family conversations, catching up on news, planning bright futures. The card games were fircely contested, but at the end it’s not about the winning or losing but about the time we spend together. With our children flying the nest to carve their own paths in the world, these memories of time spent together become ever more precious.
All too soon it was time to leave our lovely villa at Mas Gorral. The views over the garden are still there, the teracotta roofs of Pontas below the house and the snow capped Pyrenees in the distance, waiting for the next guest.
As we reluctantly handed back the keys to Richard and drove to the airport past fields of yellow rapeseed scattered with poppies, the sun on the terrace was still warm in our memory. We’d had a chance to catch up, to cook together and splash in the pool. We’d recharged and soaked up the sunshine and made some memories to take home. Isn’t that what holidays are all about?
Have you any favourite holidays memories of spending time with your family? I’d love to hear them in the comments.
More memories from Costa Brava
Plan your stay in Costa Brava
Thanks to Charming Villas Catalonia for providing our villa Mas Gorral near Figueres. Charming Villas specialise in luxury and character villas in Catalonia from rustic villas in the countryside to modern coastal villas. They have over 80 villas to choose from and as Richard and Sara who run the company are based locally they are able to help with planning your holiday and on hand to sort out any issues.
Mas Gorral has 5 double bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, plenty of living space, a terrace, large garden and swimming pool. You can rent Mas Gorral through Charming Villas with rental rates starting in May at €2500 per week, rising to €3750 per week in high season. As Mas Gorral is in a rural location, we recommend that you hire a car to get around.
Thanks to Auto Europe for providing our hire car for exploring Costa Brava. Auto Europe work with 20,000 car rental locations in 180 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, as well as North and South America.