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Indulge your wild side at Fota Island in Cork

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Fota Island

Fota Island

Fota Island

Watching a graceful herd of giraffes elegantly stroll around an island in the Rebel County is not something I ever imagined I'd see.

Yet there I was, just outside Cork City, watching these magnificent creatures wander around freely without a care in the world - they had some neck.

I wasn't hallucinating but had in fact paid a visit to Fota Island Wildlife Park, a short drive from Cork City, which boasts a remarkable array of exotic creatures including cheetahs, tigers, spider monkeys, red pandas and of course giraffes, among many others.

The non-profit, 100-acre facility is one of Ireland's largest visitor attractions with an annual attendance of almost 500,000 and it's clear to see why.

The park is geared towards families and education and as my partner and I wandered around you could see the imagination of various groups of children being ignited by weird and wonderful animals before them.

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 Fota Island Resort, Co Cork

Fota Island Resort, Co Cork

Fota Island Resort, Co Cork

We are lucky enough to be expectant parents and it was easy to imagine ourselves bringing our child to Fota Island when they evolve from bump into baby.

After completing a circuit of the entire facility my pregnant partner was feeling the pace so we headed to our hotel, the five star luxury Fota Island Resort next door.

Surrounded by lush golf greens, water features and scenic views of the surrounding countryside, Fota Island Resort oozes quality and charm.

Walking into one of the hotel's 123 luxurious en-suite rooms is, as the website puts it, a memorable occasion.

My partner and I were lucky enough to have a deluxe room complete with its own private balcony overlooking the aforementioned tree-lined golf greens surrounding the hotel.

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 Fota Island Resort, Co Cork

Fota Island Resort, Co Cork

Fota Island Resort, Co Cork

The views are matched by the spacious and elegant interior which comes complete with plush carpet, a huge king-size bed, cosy furnishings and high-tech features such as smart TVs and a mini-fridge.

In an incredibly lovely touch the hotel manager had also left us a welcome card, some chocolate desserts, a bowl of fresh fruit and a teddy for our incoming bundle of joy.

We were both very moved by the gesture and I clutched the toy dog as we continued to explore the massive room.

The spacious, modern en suite bathrooms provided luxury and style in equal measure with walk-in shower rooms and high-end complimentary toiletries, handy for me having forgot to pack my shampoo. We both got ourselves rested and spruced up for dinner having worked up an appetite watching those cavorting giraffes earlier.

The spacious Fota Restaurant on the ground floor is the resort's main dining venue with an extensive à la carte dinner menu inspired by the regional and seasonal produce.

The contemporary, elegant restaurant was bathed in the natural red glow of the setting sun as we sat down to dinner, another quite memorable experience.

The menu boasts an array of classic and modern dishes with everything from scallops and warm black pudding to locally sourced steaks, monkfish blanquette and a Cork pork and duck cassoulet.

I eventually plumped for the organic chilli and seafood spaghetti served with prawns and mussels in a tomato sauce and sourdough crisps. The delicately made sourdough crisps were incredible and beautifully complemented the hearty and delicious pasta dish.

The main was followed by what was one of the very best chocolate fondant desserts I have ever had.

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 Food at Fota Island Resort, Co Cork

Food at Fota Island Resort, Co Cork

Food at Fota Island Resort, Co Cork

Served with a dollop of hazelnut ice cream I nearly melted into my chair whilst eating it, truly divine.

All the animal excitement and fine dining had us both tuckered out and after a fabulous night's sleep we were up and raring to go the following day for a visit to the ominously named Spike Island in the middle of Cork Harbour.

Over the past 1,300 years the island has been a remote monastery, a fortress and for a time the world's largest prison.

Today visitors take a short ferry trip from the charming seaside town of Cobh, famously the last port of call for the Titanic, to the island and are able to take in museums, exhibitions and scenic island walks.

As you step foot on and walk around the blustery but beautiful dollop of land in the Celtic Sea it's impossible not to feel surrounded by the history of the place.

It has a somewhat magical quality to it, you can almost see and hear the monks, prisoners and soldiers who once occupied the island and can well imagine the great ship Titanic passing nearby the island as it made its ill-fated way out into the Atlantic.

A wonderful experience.

Having never visited Cork before, I was struck by how different that it felt to other parts of Ireland, maybe it was the giraffes or the prison island, but it genuinely felt as though I had stepped into a completely different world and I cannot wait to return.

Travel factfile

Stay longer and save - 2 days save 10%, 3 days save 15% & 4 days save 20% - rates from €189 per room per night B&B. For more info, visit www.fotaisland.ie

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