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Fermanagh: From cycling on water to fine food and fabulous sights, it’s time to book a relaxing break in the picture-perfect lakelands

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The ancient monastic ruins on Devenish Island

The ancient monastic ruins on Devenish Island

John Toner hydrobiking on the River Erne

John Toner hydrobiking on the River Erne

Erne Water Taxi provides a fun and informative way to see Fermanagh's famous lough

Erne Water Taxi provides a fun and informative way to see Fermanagh's famous lough

The famous Marble Arch Caves on the western edge of Co Fermanagh are spectacular

The famous Marble Arch Caves on the western edge of Co Fermanagh are spectacular

The magical Manor House Hotel dates back to the 17th century

The magical Manor House Hotel dates back to the 17th century

The plush, modern rooms at the Manor House Hotel

The plush, modern rooms at the Manor House Hotel

Belleek Restaurant at the Manor House Hotel has held AA Rosettes for culinary excellence since 2011

Belleek Restaurant at the Manor House Hotel has held AA Rosettes for culinary excellence since 2011

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The ancient monastic ruins on Devenish Island

Drifting across a silent lough with the bright orange sun setting behind the ruins of an ancient monastery I felt like I had stepped into a postcard.

I wasn’t dreaming or hallucinating but was instead in beautiful Co Fermanagh where I was being taken on a water taxi tour of Lough Erne.

We had reached Devinish Island which is home to monastic ruins dating back to the 6th century.

With the sky glowing orange and purple behind the silhouette of a Celtic Cross it was hard not to be awestruck by the natural beauty of the place.

I was aboard the Erne Water Taxi with owner & tour guide Barry Flanagan who took me on a tour of Lower Lough Erne on his vessel, taxi-cum-boat the Island Discovery.

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Erne Water Taxi provides a fun and informative way to see Fermanagh's famous lough

Erne Water Taxi provides a fun and informative way to see Fermanagh's famous lough

Erne Water Taxi provides a fun and informative way to see Fermanagh's famous lough

My partner and I quietly soaked up Barry’s informative tour as we watched endless brilliant scenery float by having spent most of our day on the water.

Earlier we had spent an hour cycling on the River Erne around Enniskillen Island. Yes you read that correctly, cycling on water.

We had been down to check out the hydrobiking facilities offered on the river by the team at Erne Adventures.

A hydrobike is pretty much a bike on a float which you can use to pedal around in the water and it was a really unique way to see the famous island town of Enniskillen.

It’s a decent little workout taking you around the island and offers perspectives of the castle and the town you will definitely find nowhere else.

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John Toner hydrobiking on the River Erne

John Toner hydrobiking on the River Erne

John Toner hydrobiking on the River Erne

After all that pedalling we headed to the Firehouse Restaurant on Townhall Street in Enniskillen for some lunch.

The smart, unique spot in the middle of the town boasts everything from steaks and flatbreads to stone-baked pizzas and quirky cocktails.

My partner and I supped a few of their off-the-wall cocktails, including the Missionary’s Downfall and the Perfect Lady, before tucking into some wings, pork belly and flatbreads.

The pork belly was beautifully moist and tender while the garlic prawn flatbreads were delicious but the chicken wings were utterly incredible.

The crunchy, crispy coating was slathered in sweet, sticky and slightly spicy sauce and enveloped perfectly juicy flesh. Hands down the best hot-wings I’ve ever eaten and I have had more than a few.

After a busy day of eating, drinking and water sports my partner and I headed to our digs for the evening at the Manor House Country Hotel just outside Enniskillen on the shores of Lower Lough Erne.

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The magical Manor House Hotel dates back to the 17th century

The magical Manor House Hotel dates back to the 17th century

The magical Manor House Hotel dates back to the 17th century

As we had watched the sunset on the lough earlier in the day my partner joked it would have been the perfect setting for a proposal and when we arrived at the Manor House the feeling of a missed opportunity was compounded.

The palatial 17th century manor was decked out in golden glowing Christmas lights and it was hard not to think that this trip would indeed have been ideal to pop the question. Alas I had no ring.

Brushing off my marriage melancholy we checked-in to the stunning family-owned property in the Fermanagh Lakelands which was awarded AA Hotel of the year for Northern Ireland in 2017.

With elegant period features and refined rooms and suites the hotel feels like the set of Downton Abbey.

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The plush, modern rooms at the Manor House Hotel

The plush, modern rooms at the Manor House Hotel

The plush, modern rooms at the Manor House Hotel

The spa and fitness centre features boasts an indoor pool, steam room and a sauna as well as a hot tub and an outdoor pool.

The venue also has it’s own marina, a 9-hole golf course and a tennis court as well as an upscale restaurant and a ballroom.

After checking into our spacious room, which came with remote control floor-to-ceiling curtains and a TV overlooking the bathtub, it was time for dinner.

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Belleek Restaurant at the Manor House Hotel has held AA Rosettes for culinary excellence since 2011

Belleek Restaurant at the Manor House Hotel has held AA Rosettes for culinary excellence since 2011

Belleek Restaurant at the Manor House Hotel has held AA Rosettes for culinary excellence since 2011

The Belleek Restaurant at the hotel has retained its AA Rosettes for Culinary Excellence since 2011 and it’s easy to see why.

With breathtaking views over Lough Erne you can sit back, relax and enjoy fine cuisine made with fresh local produce as you take in Fermanagh’s beauty.

Their seafood is sourced from Strangford Lough and Donegal Bay while the beef comes from a nearby farm ad does the famous Fermanagh Black Bacon.

Keen to sample the local beef I had steak, preceded by scallops, with apple crumble and ice cream for afters washed down with a 2013 Familia Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon.

The rosettes are well deserved as the scallops were juicy and tender, an easy dish to get wrong, while the steak was perfectly medium rare and the crumble was a delight.

The next day my partner and I reluctantly checked out of the Manor House hotel to make our way back to Belfast but not before checking out the famous Marble Arch Caves on the western fringes of Fermanagh.

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The famous Marble Arch Caves on the western edge of Co Fermanagh are spectacular

The famous Marble Arch Caves on the western edge of Co Fermanagh are spectacular

The famous Marble Arch Caves on the western edge of Co Fermanagh are spectacular

The 11km long series of natural limestone caves is the longest known cave system of it’s kind in Northern Ireland and are named after the nearby Marble Arch, a natural limestone arch at the upstream end of Cladagh Glen under which the Cladagh River flows.

Our guided cave tour took us under and along the stunning underground warren of nooks, crannies, stalactites and stalagmites.

The walking tour was equal parts dazzling and informative as our tour guide illuminated, both literally and figuratively, the history of the natural wonder.

After taking in caves, plates and water-mobiles it was time to leave Fermanagh but as always with the lakeland county it was a case of au revoir but not goodbye.

FACTFILE: Enjoy a two night weekend stay (Fri – Sun) for two at the Manor House this month with breakfast and one three-course evening meal included, plus access to the leisure complex, for just £369. Check out www.manorhousecountryhotel.com


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