“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.
If you’re looking for the authentic Caribbean experience, I can recommend a visit to St Kitts, one half of the island federation of St Kitts and Nevis. The fields that once grew sugar cane are lush and undeveloped while the island capital of Basseterre has a laid back and slightly scruffy charm. Yet if you know where to look there are plenty of places to delight the stylish traveller. If you enjoy great design, delicious local food and places that are stylish without being stuffy, read on my recommendations on St Kitts.
Stylish shopping in St Kitts
The Gallery on the square
I loved The Gallery on the Square in Basseterre, where I was tempted by beautifully designed gifts by local artists. Set on the north side of Independence Square, you’ll easily spot it from the colourful paintwork and shutters. It’s one of the oldest houses on the square, and was owned by one family since it was built, until artist Rosey Cameron Smith bought it in 1978 and opened it as an art gallery.
Rosey is known for her large, colourful paintings with scenes from life on St Kitts, featuring the vervet monkeys, vibrant carnival figures and abstract views of the island. She’s brought together the work of many other artists; pottery by Dale Kelley, glass plaques by Calvin Delpeche and scarves by Kate Spencer, another well known St Kitts artist.
While the walls are covered with larger pieces, there are plenty of affordable watercolours, small prints, gift cards and glassware, to bring home a stylish souvenir of St Kitts. I couldn’t resist treating myself to a large, flowing scarf with abstract designs by Kate Spencer, which doubles up as a beach wrap.
Stylish places to stay on St Kitts
Caribbean hospitality at Rockhaven B&B
I loved the colourful Caribbean vibe at Rockhaven bed & breakfast, a private home with just two bedrooms set on the hill above Frigates Bay near Basseterre. The owner, Judith Blake showed me to my room, with an ornate carved wooden bed and cheerful flowery curtains and bedcover. Judith and her husband lived in Canada for many years and when they returned to spend time in St Kitts, Judith told me she wanted to create a vibrant Caribbean feel, choosing a bright pink for the sitting room, and sunshine yellow for her kitchen. With dark hardwood floors, rattan mats and colourful paintings on the wall it all works to make a harmonious whole that’s both elegant and homely.
I took breakfast on the covered terrace, with the breeze rustling through the palms and a view of the Atlantic breakers. My delicious fresh fruit salad and spicy eggs with a chappati were served on colourful painted china with madras checked mats using the yellow, red and green St Kitts check. Set on the top of a hill, Rockhaven bed and breakfast has beautiful views in both directions, although you will need a car to get around if you’re staying there, as there are no shops or restaurants close by. Rockhaven is ideal for independent travellers who want a stylish base to return to after a day out exploring St Kitts.
Colourful contemporary style in Basseterre – Ocean Terrace Inn
If you’re looking for a stylish hotel in Basseterre, I recommend Ocean Terrace Inn which has recently gone through a refurbishment and re-opened with spacious, contemporary style bedrooms. The hotel is set on the side of the hill looking towards the port with the green slopes of Mount Liamuiga beyond. On the lower level are the landscaped gardens and pool area with colourful shrubs and enticing pools and waterfalls with plenty of sun loungers. In the evening try the hotel’s Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant which is set just across the road and overlooks the waterfront. As the name suggests, they specialise in seafood such as grilled snapper or Mahi Mahi and I really enjoyed my lobster with a ginger and lemon butter sauce. Read my full review of Ocean Terrace Inn
Atmospheric plantation style at Ottleys’ Plantation Inn
For old style luxury, Ottley’s Plantation Inn was my favourite hotel on St Kitts and I stayed in one of the cottages set in immaculately tended gardens around the Great House. In my charming bedroom with dark wood furniture, flowered bedspread and plantation shutters I felt like a heroine in Gone with the wind and could throw open the shutters in the morning to look across the gardens towards the ocean. The property borders the rainforest and there are walks through the grounds where you can spot the vervet monkeys with a pretty little spa cabin tucked away in the trees. The inn feels very tranquil and private although you are just a short drive from Basseterre but you’ll need to hire a car or taxi for the days you want to go sightseeing around St Kitts.
Luxury on the beach – coming soon at Park Hyatt St Kitts
Look out for the new Park Hyatt Hotel that is opening in late 2016 on the south-east peninsula on one of the most beautiful beaches overlooking the sister island of Nevis. I had a look around the site when I was there and although it was far from complete I could see that this could be perfect for the stylish traveller looking for a luxurious hotel right on the beach in St Kitts.
Stylish Places to visit on St Kitts
The batik at Romney Manor and Caribelle Batik
I enjoyed visiting Romney Manor, the site of the plantation owner’s house for the nearby Wingfield Estate, which is also worth a look around to see the ruins of the old sugar plantation and rum distillery. Up on the hill above the estate are the lush gardens surrounding the manor with a majestic 400 year old Saman tree spreading its wide branches over the lawn.
Inside the manor house is Caribelle Batik, where I watched the ladies demonstrating how the batik is made, in a painstaking process of painting the wax design and dying the cloth many time in different colours. Outside the batik cloths were left to dry in the breeze in what must be the most photogenic washing line in the Caribbean. After taking a look in the shop, I relaxed with a fruit punch on the terrace looking down on the plantation just as the overseer would have done, to keep check on the activities of the sugar mill.
The canons at Brimstone Fortress
Our minibus wound up the narrow road through stone gateways just wide enough for one car, finally reaching the fortress at the top of Brimstone Hill. The fort is a UNESCO world heritage site which dates back to the 18th century when the English and French were fighting to control the sugar-rich islands of the Caribbean. There are plenty of different parts of the fort to see, but the best bit was climbing up to the stone citadel, where canons pointed in all directions, guarding the coastline with stunning views across the island.
Fairview Great House
This is an easy stop when you’re visiting the historic attractions of St Kitts as it’s on the same road as Romney Manor and Brimstone Fortress as you drive out of Basseterre. It’s an 18th century plantation house, where you can see the dining room table set with antique silver and the bedroom with the four poster bed where Prince Charles stayed when the house was a hotel. There are lovely botanic gardens too, surrounding the house with flowering plants and shady trees and they sometimes host rum tastings as part of a guided tour.
Stylish places to eat in St Kitts
The Gallery Cafe
For coffee and cakes in Basseterre: head to The Gallery Cafe on the north side of Independence Square. I loved this small cafe at the back of the art gallery featuring the work of local artists, that’s run by the painter Rosey Cameron Smith. Her daughter Leah bakes the cakes and cookies while her boyfriend fishes for the wahoo which is smoked and served on a bagel with a spinkling of paprika – utterly delicious.
There’s a charming garden at the back where you can sit in the shade with a glass of freshly pressed juice or a coffee, as if you’d just popped in to a friend’s house for a chat.
For an organic vegetarian lunch and fresh pressed juices: stop at Ital Creations on By Pass Road road near the airport. The food trailer is open throughout the day to buy a bottle of juice and sit in the shade eating a baked veggie wrap with salad and hummus. While your thick green Moringa smoothie is being prepared, wander around the small organic farm run by Judah Fari and his wife Yayah where they grow papaya and pineapple, salad plants and the medicinal herbs used to make bush teas and flavour their dishes.
The Kitchen at Belle Mont Farm
For an elegant lunch of small dishes: call in at Belle Mont farm, the luxurious hotel built on the slopes of Mount Liamuiga in the northern part of St Kitts. Parking your car, you’ll be taken up in the electric buggy that winds on a narrow path through the forest to The Kitchen where lunch is eaten in the open sided dining room with views down to the sea.
The menu is made up of small plates, each designed to be a taster of local produce from the 400 acre organic farm and from the sea. I tried the lobster salad, almost too pretty to eat with artfully strewn herbs and dots of passionfruit and sorrel sauce, and the tasty ginger, pumpkin and spinach soup. You may not leave full to bursting but your taste buds will be tingling.
For drinks and bites on the black volcanic beach: stop at Arthur’s that is also part of the Belle Mont Farm development. It’s a stylish beach bar that was only just open when I stopped by, but the setting was lovely, on a black volcanic beach where the fishermen pull up their boats. The menu is based on traditional beach bar dishes such as conch fritters, grilled lobster and Mahi Mahi rillettes for elegant but casual dining at lunchtime and in the evening.
For cocktails at sunset to a cool Reggae beat: you can’t beat Salt Plage for a drink as the sun goes down. This trendy beach bar is part of the Christophe Harbour development with a deck beside the water and a jetty that also has comfortable seating to snuggle up for a romantic evening a deux. They serve drinks and cocktails every evening as well as small plates of favourite dishes such as coconut shrimp, chicken wings and market fish with garlic butter and island herbs. There’s often a DJ or live reggae music which really adds to the atmosphere as the sun sets and the coloured lights on the jetty reflect in the water lapping below.
Reggae Beach Bar
For lobster and a beer on the beach: try Reggae Beach Bar on Cockleshell Beach which serves drinks and food all day and into the evening. It’s a great place to base yourself for a day on the beach with plenty of sun loungers for hire (although they may get crowded when there are a few cruise ships in port) and the watersports hire next door. This is a local’s favourite, where you can try all the typical seafood dishes such as conch chowder and grilled lobster, with the sand between your toes.
Boozie’s on the beach
For a beach bar to relax with friends: try Boozie’s on the beach at St Frigate’s Bay strip. “The Strip” is a favourite area for locals and visitors in the evening when all that bars along the beach are open for live music, food and drinks. The menu features well cooked hearty Caribbean favourites and there’s a sports bar atmosphere with flags and number plates that happy customers have sent from around the world. This is the place to crack open a bottle of Carib beer or order a ‘Ting with a sting’ and relax with friends.
Delicious street food on St Kitts
As you wander around Basseterre you’ll find plenty of street food vendors, especially at lunchtime when they cater to office workers and on a Friday and Saturday when the locals like to buy jerk chicken and pork or grilled fish to take home for dinner. It’s not always obvious what’s offer but be adventurous and ask the vendor to show you what’s cooking under the metal covers. You may find the traditional St Kitts favourites like salt fish and Johnny cakes or goat water, which sounds disgusting but is actually a tasty stew.
Stylish places to relax on St Kitts
If you need a place to unwind and relax for the day, try Palm Court Gardens which is a favourite for cruise guests in Basseterre. The gardens are beautifully kept, there’s an infinity pool with views over the bay and you can swing in a hammock and buy lunch and snacks in the small cafe. To add to the charms there’s a vintage Rolls Royce parked in the drive, a children’s playground if you have little ones and a workshop where they make beautiful shell jewellery and ornaments that are sold in the shop.
A cool rainforest walk on St Kitts
Over a third of St Kitts is covered with rainforest, especially on the slopes of Mount Liamuiga, which you can climb for an adventurous day trek. For something a bit gentler I went for a forest walk from the Wingfield Estate with expert guide O’Neil Mulraine who learned about the plants and wildlife from his grandfather. We took the easy forest trail alongside a trickling stream as O’Neil pointed out the different trees of the forest such as the African tulip with vibrant orange flowers that was often used for shade on plantations and a tree trunk with needle sharp spines that the monkeys will climb, but only if they are desperate! Overhead we could hear both the cries of the vervet monkeys and the shrieks of the people as they whizzed by on the zipline above our heads.
Begin and end your visit to St Kitts in style at YU Lounge
On my arrival at the airport I was treated to the VIP service that’s available through YU Lounge which can be booked individually or used by business class passengers for some airlines. As I walked down the steps of the plane a car was waiting to whisk me the short distance to the private YU Lounge terminal where I could relax while the staff took care of immigration formalities and retrieved my luggage. I lounged around on the rattan sofas while nibbling some delicious canapés and sipping a cooling drink, thinking that I could get used to the millionaire lifestyle!
While St Kitts has been an unspoiled corner of the Caribbean, there are plenty of new developments that are putting it on the map for the stylish traveller. The Christophe Harbour marina, new luxury Park Hyatt Hotel and Kittitian Hill organic farm and hotel that are all nearing completion will soon provide even more to enjoy for the stylish traveller. Perhaps it’s time to start planning your relaxed but stylish holiday in St Kitts?
Have you been to St Kitts and if so did you discover any stylish places to eat or stay?
Visitor Information for St Kitts
To plan your visit to St Kitts check out the tourism board website at www.stkittstourism.kn or follow their social media channels: Twitter @StKittsTourism | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | Pinterest |
British Airways flies to St Kitts from London Gatwick twice a week on Saturdays and Wednesdays with the flight going on to nearby Antigua. There are regular ferries every day to Nevis, with a journey time of 45 minutes from Basseterre, making it easy to plan a combined stay on both islands.
To start and end your holiday on St Kitts in style, the YU Lounge offers a private terminal at the airport. A private car will meet you from the plane and whisk you to the luxurious lounge where snacks and drinks are available. While you are waiting your luggage will be picked up and you’ll be cleared through security by the YU Lounge staff.
Thanks to St Kitts Tourism for hosting Heather’s visit to St Kitts.
Northern Ireland’s scenic Causeway Coast offers windswept golden beaches, ruined castles perched on rocky cliffs and of course what most visitors come to see, the Giant’s Causeway (or is it the Game of Thrones locations?) While I enjoyed all of these, what most impressed me most was the quality of the food. I found artisan producers creating new and interesting products and restaurants dedicated to using the best and freshest local ingredients. And the seafood, oh the seafood! So let me take you on a tour of some the restaurants and dishes I enjoyed in between visiting the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge and Mussenden Temple. In Northern Ireland’s 2016 Year of Food and Drink there’s plenty here to make your mouth water.
1. The best of Irish cooking at The Bushmills Inn
I loved eating my way through the menu at the Bushmills Inn where I stayed while exploring Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast. If you want to feel the warmth of Irish hospitality, not to mention the peat fire that burns summer and winter at the entrance, this is the place for you.
The hotel started as a coaching inn and the oldest part of the building that fronts the main road now houses the Gas Bar. Lit by gas lamps the bar has a traditional feel, with red walls and subdued lighting casting a rosy glow. It’s especially atmospheric on a Saturday or Wednesday night when they have an Irish band sitting in the corner, playing all the folk favourites.
Breakfast was served in the oldest part of the restaurant where I sat in one of the wooden booths and enjoyed the thick, juicy slices of Irish smoked salmon with scrambled eggs served on crested china plates.
I was even more impressed when I had dinner in the newer part of the restaurant which is glazed on one side, creating a lighter feel. The hotel is committed to using local produce and the suppliers are listed at the end of the menu, right down to the farm that produces the herbs. Having heard that the beef here was outstanding I chose the Braised Belted Beef with a mustard crust with vegetables and champ, which was meltingly soft having been cooked very slowly ‘sous vide’.
My friend’s Kerry Hill Lamb was also getting oohs and ahs of approval. The dishes were at once sophisticated yet totally Irish and beautifully presented. They have an Innkeeper’s Choice section of the menu that changes regularly and a decent vegetarian selection too. This is the place to treat yourself for a special dinner and a taste of traditional Irish cooking at it’s best.
The Bushmills Inn, 9 Dunluce Road, Bushmills. I ate: Braised Belted Galloway Beef £18.50 and Forest Berry creme brûlée £5.95
2. Seafood on the beach at Harry’s Shack
I’d heard so many great things about Harry’s Shack at Portstewart that I was determined to have lunch there and managed to fit it in between a visit to Mussenden temple and Dunluce castle. (I was on an excellent day tour run by Glenara Elite Travel) This is the sort of beach cafe you find on every other beach in Cornwall although a surprising rarity in Northern Ireland considering the number of unspoiled, golden beaches. I half expected to find Jamie Oliver popping in for lunch with the family.
The ‘Shack’ is an overgrown garden shed set just above the beach, with space to eat outside on picnic tables and plenty of light flooding in. I’d heard that the fish here was outstanding so was surprised that there were so many meaty crowd-pleasers: Beach burger and chips, chicken terrine, Irish chicken and mushroom pie. I certainly wasn’t complaining when my pan fried fish arrived with capers and cockles in a pool of buttery sauce with a bowl of mash to soak it up.
My friend’s fish and chips also looked very good, with the chips in the obligatory metal pail and mushy peas on the side. I was tempted by the cakes on the counter but settled on a single salted caramel macaron to have with my coffee. Harry’s shack is definitely a place I’d head back to. It manages to be both family friendly and please serious food lovers of all ages. Rustic beach style with simple food done very well. Why aren’t all restaurants like this?
Harry’s Shack, 118 Strand Road, Portstewart. We ate: Pan fried fish £15, Fish & Chips £11.
3. A honeycomb ice cream at Ballantoy Harbour
I’d probably have missed Ballantoy harbour, had I not visited as part of my tour with Glenara Elite Travel. It’s as picturesque a place as they come and was used as a Game of Thrones setting for the port of Pyke in the Iron Islands (OK, I admit I had to look that up). Because the road down to the harbour is steep and narrow you won’t find any larger coach parties down there, although I suspect it’s still packed in summer.
As we arrived in the late afternoon, the small tea room on the harbour was closing but we just managed to buy a locally made ice cream to eat at the golden hour. I chose honeycomb flavour which is a local favourite although not much to do with honey, but studded with the kind of burnt sugar honeycomb you find in a Crunchie bar. If you ever get to the Ballycastle Auld Lammas Fair this kind of honeycomb is a local speciality and sold along with Dulse seaweed (but not eaten together!)
4. A lively Saturday night at Ramore in Portrush
Ramore in Portrush is the foodie spot on the Causeway coast where you head for good food and good times at the weekend, a place to put on your high heels and have a laugh. The tall white building overlooks the harbour with the Coast Pizzaria on the ground floor and The Mermaid on the top floor with a sophisticated driftwood and deckchair stripe theme. Ramore has spread sideways to the Harbour Bar next door while the Neptune and Prawn serving Asian inspired dishes is just across the road. None of them is bookable except the Mermaid, which is where I found myself sitting at the cocktail bar for dinner on a Saturday night feeling like a fish out of water amidst the perfectly groomed hair and fashionably bright lipstick.
Things looked up once my Hendricks Southside cocktail with gin, cucumber, mint and elderflower arrived. At least I was in a great spot for people-watching as the cocktails were mixed and shaken before my eyes, expresso martinis decorated with a carefully placed coffee bean, mint and ice being crushed for the Mojitos.
By the time my starter of roast scallops with black pudding and curry cream arrived I was definitely converted. This could possibly be the prettiest dish I’d seen in a long while, with the richness of the scallops and sauce being offset by the sweet sharpness of the redcurrents scattered across the plate.
The roast hake was perfectly cooked, balanced on top of a broth with vegetables and new potatoes but I should have known better than to order the floating brandy snap for desert. Here I had to admit defeat and could only nibble bits of the plate size brandy snap, scrape off a taste of the four different ice creams beneath and try a little of each of the three sauces that came with it. The clatter of glasses and chatter of friends was overwhelming but perfect if you want to party on a Saturday night and probably a little calmer at other times.
Ramore Restaurants, The Harbour, Portrush. I ate in The Mermaid: my cocktail £6.95, starter £5.95, fish £14.95, desert £4.95
5. A drop of Bushmills Whiskey
Of course on the Causeway Coast it’s difficult to get by without a drop of whiskey from the famous Bushmills Whiskey Distillery in Bushmills where I was staying. I’d recommend doing the tour which gives an excellent insight into how the whiskey is made, even though you are walking through a not-particularly-attractive commercial production plant. The fun bit comes at the end when you get to taste a generous slug of the Bushmills whiskey which is included in your ticket. You can take your time sipping it in the cosy cafe area and buy your favourite in the shop, including a personalised bottle of the 12 year old which they sell exclusively at the distillery.
If you are interested in trying a few different whiskeys, you can have a mini tasting of 3 of the whiskeys (£7.50) and chat to the bar staff about the different flavours, or better still book for the tutored tasting which takes place every day at 3pm. You can book for this on its own (£15) or combine with a 2pm distillery tour (£20) and you get to sit at the table in the cafe next to the old copper still and taste your way through 5 of the finest whiskeys, (including the 21 year old which sells for over £100 per bottle).
One of the distillery staff will tell you about each whiskey which are different ages, but also matured in different oak casks that have contained bourbon whiskey, port or madeira, each taking a different flavour from the casks. My favourite was the Bushmills 16 year old with flavours of honey, almonds and vanilla matured on port casks (I looked that up from the tasting sheet but it was delicious). Be sure to arrange someone to drive you back to your hotel after the tasting or better still book in just down the road at the Bushmills Inn so you can walk (stagger?) back and spend the rest of the afternoon snoozing in front of the peat fire.
Bushmills Distillery Tour, 2 Distillery Road, Bushmills. Tour: Adults £7.50 including a taste of one whiskey |Tasting 3 whiskeys after the tour £7.50 | Tutored tasting of 5 whiskeys £15 or £20 including the tour (takes place daily at 3pm and must be booked in advance)
6. A fine Sunday lunch at The French Rooms in Bushmills
While visitors will enjoy the Irish charm of Bushmills Inn, it’s also fun to have a change from oak panelling and peat fires. Practically next door and in complete contrast is the light and airy French Rooms in Bushmills which I tried for Sunday lunch. With a gift shop and deli at the front and a cafe at the back it feels like you’ve stepped into a market for deceptively expensive brocante and vintage finds in Aix-en-Provence.
From the Sunday lunch menu I chose the roll of pork stuffed with apples and raisins, with prettily presented side dishes of carrots, peas with lettuce and both mashed and roast potatoes (always a choice of potatoes in Ireland). In between courses I discovered that there was a lovely, light conservatory room at the back, giving out to a charming courtyard garden.
There is a French connection to the area in the French Hugonots who settled here in the 17th century in search of religious freedom and brought with them their skills in the manufacture of linen, using locally grown flax. This is definitely a place I’d love to return to linger over a coffee with cakes or have a light lunch with a friend.
The French Rooms, 45 Main Street, Bushmills. Open Wednesday to Sunday We ate: Sunday lunch 2 courses £13.65 3 courses £16.65
7. Italian inspiration at Bartali Wine Bar at Portballintrae
On a quiet Sunday evening I ate at Bartali Wine bar overlooking the bay at Portballintrae which was just a short drive from Bushmills. The long whitewashed building with a slate roof looked as if it had been converted from an ancient barn or fisherman’s boathouse, but in fact was only built around 10 years ago. Inside the wooden booths, brick arches and Victorian fireplace might have been from an old pub, but there was also a young, trendy feel to the place, with an emphasis on local produce and craft ales.
The staff were friendly and knowledgeable and told me that this restaurant and its sister restaurants in Belfast are named after Italian champion cyclists, this being the namesake of Gino Bartali, the others being Coppi (named after Fausto Coppi) and il Pirata (named after Marco Pantani) which serve cichetti bar snacks and rustic Italian cuisine. I enjoyed my market fish; sea bream with cabbage, pancetta and gnocchi which had just the right blend of Irish and Italian. I’d recommend Bartalis for lunch after a walk on Portballintrae beach as well as a relaxed dinner and it has a family friendly conservatory too.
Bartali wine bar, 6B Seaport Avenue, Portballintrae. I ate: Market fish £13.50, Passionfruit Panacotta with white chocolate £4.50. They do a set menu 3 courses or 2 courses + glass of wine for £15
8. Meeting the goats at Broughgammon Farm
As I left Bushmills for my drive past the Glens of Antrim I stopped at Broughgammon Farm near Ballycastle. The family that runs the farm are friends and I was meeting up with Becky Cole, who with her husband Charlie has started a business to rear billy goats for meat which they sell at farmer’s markets around Ireland. They run butchery and cookery courses on the farm, have a small farm shop selling their meat and other local products and Becky also has a blog about seasonal living on the farm at Terriers and Tweeds.
Becky told me how they had found their niche after realising that most goats are reared for their milk and the billy goats are slaughtered at birth. For a sustainable approach they buy the male kids and rear them to make cabrito goat meat cuts and sell the famous ‘billyburgers’ at farmer’s markets and country shows, recently branching out into free range rose veal and wild game.
Becky took me to see the goats in their barn where they were full of fun and mischief, nibbling my hand and checking me out with an inquisitive gaze. There’s a whole scene of artisan food producers like Becky and Charlie in Northern Ireland which you can look out for at local markets and in farm shops and delis.
Broughgammon Farm, 50 Straid Road, Ballycastle, BT546NP. The farm shop is open Weds-Sun 10am-5pm closed 1-2 for lunch. Check out the meat boxes that can be delivered anywhere in the UK and the events calendar will tell you at which markets you can find the billy-burgers.
9. The Central Bar in Ballycastle
I’d already visited Ballycastle when I took the ferry across to Rathlin Island but decided to stop there again for lunch before driving down the Glens coast back to Belfast Airport. On a Monday lunchtime many of the shops and restaurants were closed but I settled into a table in front of the fire at The Central Bar, an attractive stone building on the main road through town.
Without looking at the menu I knew I had to order the seafood chowder which had been recommended by Caroline Redmond who runs food tours in Ballycastle. It was a delicious creamy soup with chunks of vegetables, fish and prawns from Mortons fishmonger down at the harbour. On the side were three different breads which are cooked on the premises; a treacle and fennel seed, Guiness wheaten bread and a tomato focaccia. The lunch was a real treat and all I needed to set me up for the drive along the Glens coastal route. The Central Bar uses fresh local ingredients cooked to order and there was something to please everyone from Italian pizza, local seafood, steaks, curry and chicken dishes.
Central Wine Bar, 12 Ann Street, Ballycastle. I ate: Seafood Chowder £9.95.
While you’re in Ballycastle
Ballycastle is one of the main towns on the Causeway Coast and there’s a thriving food scene going on here. I had plenty of recommendations although unfortunately when I visited on a Monday many were closed. Check out the following and let me know what you think;
Morton’s Fish and Chips – Look out for the kiosk beside the Ballycastle harbour which is renowned for the best fish and chips in the area. The family own their own fishing boats and also have a fishmonger selling the fresh fish next door so you can be sure that the fish is ultra-fresh and cooked to order. The locals travel miles to buy their fish and chips here and sit eating it with a view of the harbour. Open weekdays 3pm-8pm, weekends 12-9pm Freshly battered cod from £4.00
Ballycastle Food Markets – There’s a regular food market in Ballycastle where you’ll find plenty of different local artizan food producers. Check out the Naturally North Coast and Glens website for more details.
Caroline Redmond offers food tours in Ballycastle which visit many of the foodie stops mentioned. She also does walking tours of the Causeway coast so check out her Facebook page or contact her by email: [email protected] The Ballycastle walking food tours cost £25
Thyme and Co, 5 Quay Road, Ballycastle – a pretty and airy cafe that uses a lot of local produce. Perfect for breakfast, brunch or a light lunch of Mediterranean tarts and aromatic soups served with crusty breads. Open daily 8.30-4.30 Closed Sunday and Monday
Ursa Minor Bakehouse, 56 Castle Street, Ballycastle, is the place that everyone mentioned to me for bread and cakes and they have a small café too. They make their bread with organic ingredients using traditional methods and supply many local cafes such as Thyme and Co and Harry’s Shack.
The North Coast Smokehouse isn’t open to the public but look out for their smoked fish at markets and local cafes like Thyme and Co and their smoked sea salt at delis and food shops – I also saw it on sale at Belfast airport. Their website has details of stockists.
Causeway Coast Foodie Tours are run by Wendy Gallagher – you can take one of her 6 hour Coast and Country tours by coach to visit a range of different food producers along the Causeway Coast for tastings and food demonstrations. The tours start and end in Colraine and cost £55. Email: [email protected]
Cushendun and Cushendell as you drive down the Glens coast
On my drive south from Ballycastle I passed through the coastal villages of Cushendun and Cushendell. Unfortunately most places were closed on the Monday but I was recommended the following for a place to eat;
Cushendun is a pretty village is managed by the National Trust and has a long beach, picturesque old stone bridge and a shop where you could easily buy a picnic if the weather is fine. Mary McBrides (2 Main Street) is a tiny whitewashed bar right by the bridge and serves good lunches with a fish restaurant upstairs.
Cushendall is a larger village with several cafes and restaurants with the beach a short drive from the centre. I was recommended the fish restaurant above Jonny Joe’s bar – Upstairs @ Joes (23 Mill Street) where they also run a cookery school and Harry’s Restaurant (10-12 Mill Street) which is just across the road, both of which serve local fish and seafood.
10. Afternoon tea at the Glenarm Castle Tea Rooms
My final stop before I reluctantly returned to Belfast airport was the tea room at Glenarm castle which is just off the coastal road and makes a great refreshment stop. You can visit the tearooms even if you don’t want to visit the walled garden and they serve brunch, sandwiches and soup for lunch and tea and cakes. I just had time for a slice of Lady Grey and orange tea loaf washed down with raspberry fruit tea.
The tearoom looks as if it was once a garden building and is all painted wood and pine tables with pretty garden flowers on each table. I wish I’d had time to visit the walled garden which I could glimpse through the archway and just popped out to take a photo before continuing my drive, with the majestic glens and glacial valleys on one side and the sea on the other.
Glenarm Castle: Garden admission £5. I tried herbal tea £1.85 and cake £2.65. They serve a traditional afternoon tea for £10.95 per person.
A golden bonus from Broighter Gold
Everywhere I went I kept spotting bottles of Broighter Gold who produce cold pressed golden rapeseed oil on their farm at Limavady. They also sell a range of salad oils infused with flavours like basil, lemon and chilli and to celebrate Northern Ireland’s 2016 Year of Food and Drink have created a special edition that contains 23 carat flakes of gold for a bit of extra sparkle.
It’s fashionable to use olive oil with abandon in our cooking but this rapeseed oil made me stop and wonder why, when there are delicious and healthy local products like this that are part of our own farming landscape.
I loved my foodie tour of Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast exploring local artisan products, fabulous seafood and outstanding quality meat, all served up in huge portions with a healthy dollop of friendly Irish charm. I hope your mouth is watering too!
Have you any favourite foodie spots from Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast? Do leave me your recommendations in the comments
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. The hotel has a traditional Irish warmth with excellent food and friendly service and the peat fire is always burning to welcome you. If you’re lucky you may find your own country’s flag flying from the tower to greet you!
For guided tours 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.
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.
Caroline Redmond offers food tours in Ballycastle at North Coast Walking Tours and Wendy Gallagher runs Coast and Country food tours at Causeway Coast Foodie Tours. Thanks to both for their food recommendations.
Thanks to the Causeway and Glens Tourism Board for hosting my stay on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast.