Tuesday, 26 January 2016

FRANCE: a beginner's guide to skiing and chalets with Powder White in Val-d'Isère

looking down on the town of Val-d'Isère from a ski lift
l


I tried ice-skating once - I was terrible. Roller-blading pretty much had the same outcome. Which is probably why I've never considered taking to the slopes before. For someone who can just about walk in a straight line at the best of times, I had always assumed strapping two unnatural contraptions to my feet and asking me to propel myself down an incline, wouldn't bode well with my brain.

I was offered the chance to test out this theory in Val-d'Isère in the French Alps, with some of the best skiing instructors (New Generation Ski Schooland chalets (from Powder White) in these parts. One I grabbed with both gloved hands, as I figured I'd never make it to a ski resort on my own accord.

If I was ever going to discover a latent talent for careering down snowy mountains locked-on to long and narrow strips of plastic, it was going to be here, with the best of the best at my disposal.


Val-d'Isère at sundown

The location


Mention Val-d'Isère to people who know about skiing, and you'll be met with an approving nod and eyebrows raised in acknowledgement of your well-informed choice of resort. It's universally regarded as one of the world's finest, with both terrain and town making it so. There are pistes for everyone, from complete beginners to veteran slope-bombers.

Its season is long-stretching from the end of November into the first week of May, and linked to neighbouring Tignes, it makes up part of the Espace Killy ski area with a total of 300km of pistes and 94 lifts. Snow-sure slopes are the big draw, with snow machines ensuring there's always enough of the white stuff. Val d’Isère installed its first in 1986, adding another the year after. Now it has 650, covering 40 per cent of the skiable area.



A video of the serene and spectacular view coming down on the Solaise ski lift


They also have the Snow Factory, one of the biggest snow-making facilities in Europe, carved out of the solid rock beneath the Olympique lift. With six pumps, an array of industrial-sized filters and a huge man-made reservoir to feed its production, it can produce 1,000 cubic metres of snow per hour, which is about half a football stadium in just a few hours. 


You'll find Val d'Isère at the end of the Tarentaise valley, two and a bit hours from Geneva airport, and one and half from Chambéry, and the village itself is at an altitude of 1,850m.

We totally lucked out on the weather - two cloudless 'blue bird' days (down with the ski lingo) and outstanding views. The snow-covered slopes shimmer in the moonlight at night, with the clear black skies full of stars. And during the day, it looks something like this - dreamy.

the town of Val-d'Isère


The skiing - a beginner's experience


Firstly, a shout out to the fantastic service received at ski hire shop Snowberry, also voted the best ski shop in Europe. They completely replace their equipment each season, so the gear you hire will barely even be a year old. They carry over 120 different models of skis, covering all levels and disciplines - nowhere else comes close to offering that much choice.

They'll pick you up from your chalet and take you to the shop to rent your gear so you don't have to walk or queue for ages. And you can leave the equipment with them each night. Which is handy, as they're right next to the main lifts, bus stops and ski school meeting points.


top: Snowberry staff fitting my boots; myself and Rachel catching some rays
bottom: the whole crew at lunch; me and my ace instructor Danny

l

After my first morning of ski lessons on the first day, I was happy to put my hands up and admit I was no natural. I flew, but mostly on my backside.

But then the afternoon went a lot better. I still had 'the fear' going down two very tame bumps, but my instructor Danny from New Generation Ski School was exceptional at building up my confidence. Very much like when you first learn to ride a bike with stabilisers, Danny was skiing backwards (show off) in front of me until I'd built up enough courage to not bottle it and sit on my arse as soon as I picked up speed.


those views though..
Something eventually clicked and I sort of got it, getting down the whole run from top to bottom, without stopping, falling over or with Danny there, about five times in a row. Admittedly, it was still only a green run and one of the easiest at that, but you should have seen me that morning. 

On the second day, I sort of went back a few steps. We went onto a more challenging slope and I kept losing control at the turns and falling on my arse - again. 

There was one particular fall where I slid fast down the slope for a good 10 seconds before I came to a stop. Once I managed to right myself, I realised my camera (strapped across me) had caught the snow and was caked in it. PANIC. Then once we got to lunch, I realised my phone was no longer in my zipped pocket - it must have come out in one of my many epic falls, lost on the slopes. PANIC. 

We called it, and some kind soul answered who had found it. The screen was a bit smashed, but it still worked. And the camera eventually stopped showing me weird messages every time I switch it on. PANIC OVER.

Skiing cherry popped. Body a little bruised. Muscles sore and stiff. Raving until the small hours with the totally awesome Powder White and New Generation Ski School staff. I thoroughly enjoyed it all. 

Here's a little video of me not falling over, and being very pleased about that.



The restaurants & après-ski


Eating and drinking is my forté; whilst I was pretty appalling on the slopes, I knew I'd be good at this. 

The first course of lunch at La Grand Ourse (the big bear) was huge. I got their house salad, which roughly translated to a dish almost entirely made of cheese. Also with hefty cubes of Beaufort ham, walnuts, chicory, I reckon it had at least 250g of dairy in it. And I'm pretty sure I ate most of it.

When in the Alps, one must eat tartiflette and drink rosé, and then find it really difficult to move in a straight line, with or without skis. And so, mains was just that. A vessel of molten, bubbling Reblochon with potatoes, lardons and onions.

Lunch on another day was about as big as Paraguay. Milanese escalope with linguine at La Tete de Solaise high in the mountains. I was totally defeated. But bloody hell, it was great.

There's no fear of going hungry when skiing in Val-d'Isère. Restaurants and bars are dotted all over the place, serving portions enough for two to fuel you for the rest of the day on the slopes.

Or, you could slack off the afternoon entirely and head straight for some après-ski directly from lunch. Rock up in your gear, park the skis outside, and warm up with a glass of vin chaud, or three.

top: La Grand Ourse house salad; rosé and mountains; tartiflette
bottom: the gang; escalope with linguine La Tete de Solaise; one of many vin chaud rounds
l


The Powder White chalet 


The thing about Powder White which makes them stand out from the rest of the tour operators, is that they've made it their mission to un-package the traditional packaged ski holiday.

They want to bring the flexibility back to the booking experience, and they're the only UK specialist to offer chalet, hotel and apartment holidays on a non-packaged basis, meaning they can cater to a huge range of tastes and budgets. Anything from a short break with helicopter transfer and a five-star hotel in Courchevel (what I like to think would be me), to a local bus for a week's stay in a 2-star apartment in Avoriaz (what would actually be me).


We settled into The Marawi within minutes, what with it's peaceful location despite being right in the thick of things, and the roaring fire. The great thing about chalets, and the point skiing friends of mine would always harp on about, is that they can be fully catered. Which means lovely people, like the girls who looked after us below, are there to make you breakfast, lunch, dinner as well as afternoon tea.

my room, our lovely chalet hosts, and some of their great cooking and hospitality
l

And I'm not talking about just cracking open a packet of McVities and putting the kettle on. They actually make cakes and biscuits from scratch each day, and have them laid out for when you return from the slopes and you're starving, but it's not quite dinner time.

The food as a whole was a highlight of the chalet stay. As well as the beautiful space, we had delightful and incredibly professional young ladies making these great, unfussy, wholesome, home-cooked meals. From fry-ups and porridge in the morning, to beef bourguignon and slow-roast lamb shoulder with all the trimmings in the evening. Then there were the homemade cakes and desserts, as well as a cheese board each night if we could muster it.

Not to mention the welcome bubbles, unlimited house wine, and special fancy wines with evening meals. I'd also just like to mention these girls partied with us until 4am, then were up making us bacon and eggs by 7am, looking like they'd had a solid 9 hours sleep. Stamina applauded.

some of the terrific meals, cooked totally from scratch, by our chalet hosts

And so in summary, whilst I took to skiing like a whale takes to land, I'm thrilled I gave it a go and enjoyed every moment of doing so. Even if 80% of that was on my backside.

Full credit to my skiing instructor Danny and his infinite patience. These are the guys to go with if you haven't skied before.


Useful information


Powder White Chalets 

Powder White offers seven-nights at The Marwari Chalet, Val d’Isere from £549 per person based on eight people sharing. Based on a January 2016 departure.


snow pose
Powder White offers seven-nights at The Nokota Chalet, Val d’Isere from £649 per person based on eight people sharing. Based on a January 2016 departure.

Prices include seven-nights fully catered chalet board - hot cooked breakfast, afternoon tea, three-course dinner with select dinner wines and unlimited house wine. Powder White can arrange lift passes and ski lessons, along with guiding and in-chalet ski fitting prior to departure. 

Powder White Shuttle airport 
transfers cost from €65 one-way.

For bookings visit www.powderwhite.com or 
call +44 (0)20 8877 8888


Ski Hire


Snowberry – In chalet fitting and rental service in Val d’Isere


Ski Lessons


New Generation Ski School offers group ski lessons from €199 for five days (2x hours per day). 


Val-d'Isère App

This is pretty much the only thing you need on your phone while you're in Val-d'Isère. The app will tell you what's going on in town that you might want to get involved with, let you know the best restaurant tables are based on your preferences, provides high resolution 3D maps of all the slopes so you know what to expect before you get there, accommodation suggestions and booking functionality, the nearest open bar to you, and the rest. You'll find more information here.

Swiss Air 


There are over 60 weekly flights to Geneva from the UK and Ireland with Swiss International Air Lines. Fares start from £34 one-way. Fares are available and bookable online at www.swiss.com.


Val-d'Isère Tourism Board

www.valdisere.com

beautiful Val-d'Isère town
l








Disclaimer


Note: This trip was hosted by Powder White and the above sponsors as part of a media package - thank you to everyone involved for a truly wonderful and unique experience. I won't be forgetting my first time skiing any time soon..! 


All views remain my own.

Do take a look at the coverage from the rest of the fab group I was with - you can follow them here: Mollie, Laura, Zanna, Rachel, Jess and Emma.

Monday, 28 December 2015

NORTHERN IRELAND: A guide to eating and drinking in and around Belfast

a lot of sea foam at Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland - great fun
l




It's almost 2016. Even if you think eating is the last thing on your mind right now (if it is, don't worry - it will pass), allow me to divulge this tasty nugget of information: next year is Northern Ireland's Year of Food and Drink.

Each month will host a different theme of events across the region, ranging from celebrating the charms of a real Northern Irish breakfast throughout January, to paying homage to tasty things hauled from its wonderful waters in July, to all things bread and baking in September. Did somebody say black pudding potato bread (see St. George's Market below)?

This all roughly translates to: if you like your food and appreciate quality artisan culinary craft, get the heck over to Belfast and its surrounding areas and eat until you drop or have to leave, whichever comes first. 

I spent three nights over there with Discover Northern Ireland and Dee Tours of Ireland to experience what culinary delights this part of the world has to offer. There's a lot, so here's a little guide to get you going.

Where to eat in Belfast


Hannan Meats at James Street Bar & Grill


Peter Hannan is known as the Meat Merchant for a good reason - his life work is all about perfecting his award-winning products that include beef and lamb dry-aged in a Himalayan salt chamber - swoon. We were treated to three courses of endless Hannan meats at Belfast Bar and Grill, with the head chef using some innovative cooking techniques to show them off in all their glory.

Cured ox-cheeks were given the sous vide treatment then finished on the grill, sporting an incredible deep ruby colour and gorgeous texture. Then there were sugar pit-cooked beef ribs, and chateaubriand. There was probably enough to generously feed 20; we were but eight. Such is the generosity of the Belfast people, I quickly came to realise. 

Hannan's meats can be found in some of Northern Ireland's top restaurants, as well as further afield - top London chef Mark Hix is a huge fan himself, using the exclusive Glenarm Shorthorn steaks throughout his restaurant group. And Fortnum & Mason's have just got their hands on the goods too.

It's nice to know I don't have to cross the Irish Sea to sample those again.

hannanmeats.com
James Street Bar & Grill, 21 James St S, Belfast BT2 7GA

serious meat sweats at James St Bar & Grill in Belfast

OX Belfast


I'm a sucker for a good tasting menu, as long as it's without too much pretense. And as long as it's not fussy - I'm not a fan of fuss. OX Belfast is the place for a blinding one of these, and a faultless meal altogether. It might have been my favourite eat from the weekend.

The highlights from a great bunch: hay-baked celeriac with lardo, black trompettes and truffles - an earthy plate of foraged woodland delight; halibut with mussels, salsify and a sail of sea lettuce perched on top - of the sea, and very pretty; and Chateaubriand with foie gras, butternut squash and lovage. There were fitting wine pairings - a bright Rioja, Cotes du Rhone, a fruity Nero d’Avola - and we finished off by sauntering into the adjoining OX Cave for a very splendid spread of cheese, and a little more wine, at about 11.45pm. As one does.

The service was wonderful and the food showcased the great Northern Irish larder. OX Belfast is more than worthy of all its recent accolades, including a Michelin star. Not to mention the whole cast of Game of Thrones were on the table next to us (a lot of it is filmed in the surrounding areas), along with James Nesbitt - you might be able to spot him in the collage below.

Do not miss this restaurant when visiting Belfast.

oxbelfast.com
OX Belfast, 1 Oxford St, Belfast BT1 3LA

Michelin-starred tasting menu at Ox Belfast, alongside the cast of Game of Thrones



The Barking Dog


A pretty venue on Malone Road where Chef proprietor Michael O’Connor lets quality ingredients speak for themselves. I had a fish pie packed with fresh and flaking hunks, complete with boiled egg and fab mash. It went down barely touching the sides.

barkingdogbelfast.com
The Barking Dog, 33-35 Malone Rd, Belfast, Antrim BT9 6RU

street art by Danny Devenny, a prolific mural painter in Belfast
l

Where to drink in Belfast


"I'm not an alcoholic, I'm Irish," is a good way to justify one too many, and a phrase I heard more than once during my time in Northern Ireland. I might start using it.


The locals like a tipple - or five - and there are a lot of good places to enjoy them. We let a couple of experts - Phil and Caroline from Belfast Food Tours - show us their favourite haunts during their very good Pub and Bar Tour of Belfast.


Needless to say, it was a good evening.

The Spaniard


This place is very far up my street. If I had The Spaniard near where I live, I would be in it a lot.

It's a three story bar found in the Cathedral Quarter dripping from floor to ceiling in catholic paraphernalia, right down to the little crucifix shaped light-bulbs on the ceiling. It wouldn't be out of place as a set from Baz Luhrmann's Romeo & Juliet

Disciples of rum come to The Spaniard to worship - they are exceedingly good at that brooding classic, the Dark and Stormy. The best I've had, no question. Note: there's no confession box should you wish to rid yourself of any drunken-antics shame. 

thespaniardbar.com
The Spaniard, 3 Skipper St, Belfast, County Antrim BT1 2DZ

holier than thou scenes at The Spaniard in Belfast




Duke of York


To me, the Duke of York is the quintessential classic Irish boozer, or what I'd expect from one. Bolshy, well lit, full of good craic and with a big heart.

You'll find it nestled along a narrow cobbled alleyway in the historic Half Bap area, furnished with Belfast furniture and walls adorned with antique mirrors and artefacts from some of the city’s most famous hotels and buildings from bygone times.

It's a time warp, which is why it is so well loved, and busy. Step into this institution, enjoy a local whisky or creamy stout, and you'll be treated to a glimpse of Belfast's historical past. 

dukeofyorkbelfast.com
Duke of York, 7-11 Commercial Ct, Belfast BT1 2NB


classic Irish boozer found at the much loved The Duke of York in Belfast

The Dirty Onion


Traditional live music every night of the week in an outdoor setting is one of The Dirty Onion's big draws. It's in one of the city's oldest buildings, originally constructed around the 1750's as a warehouse, and reintroduced as a traditional public house with a modern twist.

It's got an industrial unfinished look about it - all part of the charm. We imbibed on some Dunville Irish whiskey shots to warm the cockles. It certainly did that.

thedirtyonion.com

The Dirty Onion, 3 Hill St, Belfast BT1 2LA

A.P.O.C


A.P.O.C - or Arranged Presence of Company, in case you were wondering - is a cocktail bar with a speakeasy feel inspired by early 20th century decor. This is the place to sip on wintry drinks by a roaring fireside.

We sampled the wild berries and grassy notes of Shortcross gin distilled at Rademon Estate, where they are proud to be Northern Ireland’s First Award Winning Craft Distillery. There's a lot of love that goes into Shortcross - they hand bottle, wax dip and sign each bottle.

apocbelfast.com

A.P.O.C., 1 Goose Entry, Belfast, BT1 1FP

tipples enjoyed at The Dirty Onion, APOC, and The Hudson





Sunflower


I didn't want to leave the Sunflower. We walked in and there was a table 'reserved for musicians' where a few guys were jamming with acoustic guitars and ukuleles. I sat down next to one of them and started tapping my feet to the traditional music. I was pretty close to getting up and doing a jig if I'm honest. 

Really great vibes, a place where once you find a nook to settle in, you could easily stay for hours.

facebook.com/sunflowerpublichouse
Sunflower Public House, Union St, Belfast, County Antrim BT1 2JG

fantastic traditional folk music being played around the
table 'reserved for musicians' at Sunflower in Belfast

l



Where to eat in Northern Ireland


Harry's Shack


Here's a do-not-miss for you. Harry's Shack in Portstewart. It's right on the sea; we were overlooking a frothing Atlantic Ocean raging under the watery winter sunshine while gorging on fresh fish and local beer. In the summer, surfers and sun tanners wander on up from the beach, bringing in the sand on their flip-flops. 

Jay Rayner, food critic at The Guardian, gave it a glowing review. People drive from far and wide to eat here. For those stationed in Belfast, the restaurant it's a doable 1 hour 15 minutes drive without traffic. Go for lunch, linger on the beach, check out the surrounding countryside - make a day of it.

Harry's Shack is a spruced up and expanded shed owned by the National Trust. Perhaps because of this, they don't currently have a license to sell alcohol, so it's bring your own. Which means an already surprisingly low restaurant bill ends up even lower than you might be anticipating.

The thing to have here is fish. Local boats bring in the daily haul from neighbouring ports. Expect the likes of buttermilk battered haddock with chips and mushy peas; hake with spiced potato and chorizo stew; plaice with bacon, cockles, fennel and mash; prawns in garlic butter; crab salads; Abernethy butter with sea salt and dulse (seaweed); fabulous sourdough; and the rest.

Harry's Shack is an ode to the simple but marvellous things in life, showcasing the great produce from both land and sea this part of the world has to offer. It is well worth the journey.

www.facebook.com/HarrysShack
Harry's Shack, 116 Strand Rd, Portstewart BT55 7PG

glorious feasting from local waters at Harry's Shack in Portstewart, Northern Ireland
l

The River Room, Galgorm


This is the 40-cover fine-dining restaurant at the splendid Galgorm Resort and Spa, set in 163 acres of parkland in the Antrim countryside, a mere 30 minutes north of Belfast. Head Chef Chris Rees tries to make sure all the produce is Irish, apart from a few unavoidable things like foie gras. The space overlooks the river and serene grounds, and plates exhibit both clarity of flavour and ideas. 

It's a place for a special occasion. It even has an adjoining gin bar with a menu so comprehensive, it's enough to send your head in a gin spin before you've even started drinking.

galgorm.com/river-room
Galgorm Resort and Spa, Galgorm, Co. Antrim BT42 1EA

tasting menu at The River Room in Galgorm Resort & Spa, Northern Ireland
l




What to do in Belfast


Food tour with Belfast Food Tours


I am the first to sing the praises of a good food tour. One of the best ways to explore the culinary scene of a new destination is under the expertise and guidance of a local who knows their food. That's why I'm a good guided food tour's biggest fan, and always try to find an expert to show me the ropes when I'm in a new city. 

And so, if you find yourself in Belfast, even for a fleeting visit, I urge you to make a tour with the enthusiastic and effervescent Caroline from Belfast Food Tours your top priority. It's so good, even the locals go on it.

You'll visit 8 different places, taste over 20 foods and drinks from Northern Ireland over the 4.5 hours, and it costs a mere £40.

Here are some of the stops and treats we sampled:

St George's Market


St George’s Market is one of Belfast’s oldest attractions. Built in the 1890's, it's been voted one of the best markets in the UK and Ireland, winning all sorts of awards and titles. This is the place to go on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday to get hold of a huge range of goodies, both edible and not. My favourite are the former, obviously.

St. George's Market in Belfast in full festive weekend swing
l







We ate and drank from the following, to name a few:

  • SD Bell & Co. Ltd - Ireland's oldest independent tea importer and coffee roaster, doing their thing for over 125 years
  • Ann's Pantry - award-winning spelt and black pudding potato bread and Irish soda farl - as good as that sounds
  • Alan Coffey fishmonger - oysters, fat prawns, scallops, all sorts
  • Hillstown Farmshop - meat farmers that also brew their own Irish stout which they feed to the cattle to produce a Kobe type beef - YES 
  • Mike's Fancy Cheese - 'Young Buck' is a blue cheese and Northern Ireland's first raw milk cheese. It was also this year's silver winner in the blue cheese category at the Irish Cheese Awards held in Dublin

visit-belfast.com/things-to-do/member/st-georges-market
East Bridge St, Belfast BT1 3NQ


loads of fantastic local artisan produce to be found in St. George's Market in Belfast
l




The Garrick Bar


Established in 1870, The Garrick is a multiple award-winning traditional pub in the heart of Belfast, and one of the oldest in the city. We took part in an 11am lock-in to drink McGraths Irish Black Stout, and eat a bowl of champ, before it opened for the punters.

Champ, if you don't know (I didn't) is an everyday wholesome Irish dish of mashed potatoes with chopped spring onions, butter and milk. Splendid it is too.

thegarrickbar.com
29 Chichester Street, Belfast BT1 4JB

Co Couture


Chocolatier Deirdre is responsible for the delightful Co Couture - a little boutique chocolate company full of everything you want to buy - Deirde’s own bars, filled couture chocolates, chocolate honeycomb, popcorn and hazelnuts, as well as Grenada chocolate bars and Willie’s chocolate bars too.

You can pop in for a cup of glorious hot chocolate to enjoy at one of the two tables, or to take with you. It was dreamy, topped with Deirdre's homemade marshmallow, and with a square of entirely irresistible squidgy brownie.

cocouture.co.uk
7 Chichester Street, Belfast BT1 4JA

clockwise from top left: very special hot chocolate from Co Couture; the effervescent Caroline from Belfast Food Tour; champ and black stout at The Garrick; more booze at The John Hewitt; David talking beans at Established; Deirdre from Co Couture
l

The John Hewitt


There's something special about this pub in that it's owned by The Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, who had always relied on grants and charity to fund its work. 

In the mid-nineties, the management decided to generate some of their own money by going into business, and doing so with this pub. Once overheads and wages are paid, every bit of profit goes back to the centre. A better place than any to give your beer money to.

This is an old-world pub offering real ales and gastropub fare, plus regular, live, traditional Irish music. Our ales were Cloughmore Heather Irish Pale Ale and Hilden Twisted Hop - good they were too.

thejohnhewitt.com
51 Donegall St, Belfast BT1 2FH


Established


You want to come here for brunch and specialist coffee served by lovely guys with full beards wearing aprons. We only stopped for a cup, but I could see some glorious plates of food flying past.

It's slick and minimalist and is just the place to settle a while with your Mac and a Chemex brew whilst enjoying a cauliflower hash brown with beet tzatziki, spring onion butter, greens, a fried egg and dukkah. I mean, how ideal does that scene sound?

facebook.com/establishedcoffee
54 Hill St, Belfast BT1 2LB

Coppi


Because we clearly hadn't eaten and drunk enough (!), the tour finished with a full on feast at Italian restaurant Coppi.

Highlights were more Peter Hannan meats (see earlier), specifically his beef salted in pink Himalayan salt caves. The duck ravioli was ace too. There was also roast hake, duck pizza, local scallops, Parmesan fries, and more prosecco than we probably needed.

Caroline had bought some of that glorious Young Buck blue cheese earlier on in St George's Market - she whipped it out at the end of the meal to enjoy with Passion Preserved watermelon rind pickle (INCREDIBLE) and hand-churned Abernethy butter and the whole thing was nothing short of a dream boat.

coppi.co.uk
Unit 2 Saint Anne's Square, Cathedral Quarter, Belfast BT1 2LR

this very good lunch at Coppi in Belfast wrapped up our food tour
l


Where to visit in Belfast and Northern Ireland


Titanic Belfast


To be given the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the men who built the world’s most famous ship, at the very site of its construction, is really very cool indeed. 


Now Northern Ireland's most visited attraction, the iconic six-floor building takes visitors though nine galleries, telling the story of the Titanic from her conception in the early 1900's, through to her construction and launch, to her famous maiden voyage, and to her tragic end.

If you liked the film, you'll probably really enjoy this as it gives everything much more context. Only after this visit did I truly appreciate what an incredible feat of engineering ship building was in that era. Fascinating stuff, and really nicely done with lots of videos, interactive bits, and even a ride. You'll need about one hour and a half there - don't miss it.

titanicbelfast.com
£17.00 per adult / £7.25 per child / £42 per family 

Giant's Causeway

Regular readers will know that after food and eating, my second greatest passion is the great outdoors, weather, nature, rocks, wildlife - all that jazz. Which is probably why I love taking photographs of landscapes (a shameless and tenuous plug for my photography website).

So when I found out the weekend would be lots of scoffing intercepted with a scenic coastal drive ending at Giant's Causeway, I was nothing short of thrilled.

That drive hugs the ocean and four looped routes link the towns Glenarm, Carnlough, Cushendall and Cushendun, allowing visitors to travel inland and explore the famous Glens of Antrim.

It's this part of the world where most of Game of Thrones is filmed too, so if you're a fan, you could do a set location pilgrimage. Alas, wasted on me - never watched an episode. But I can appreciate why Northern Ireland is so suited for it - parts of the landscape feel like it's been there forever.

mouth of Cushendun Cave, where Melissandra gives birth to the
shadow baby in Game of Thrones, Northern Ireland




Cushendun, Northern Ireland
l
Then there's Giant's Causeway. You've got the raging North Atlantic Ocean on one side, and dramatic cliff faces on the other. Then there are the world-famous basalt columns, about 40,000 of them all interlocking thanks to their striking hexagonal shape. The result of a volcanic eruption 50 million years ago, or the remnants of a sea crossing built by giants? You decide.

This is a place for bird-watching, hiking, breathing in that sea air, donning your geology hat, and exercising your photography skills.
 

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
a windy and sleety Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
l

It's also the place to get covered in frothed-up sea foam I mistakenly took for sleet when I was standing further away (see first video below).

I would also highly recommend going through the 'Windy Gap'. It's a narrow passage between the rocks that forces the air through  at a greater speed. We visited Giant's Causeway during Storm Clodagh, so it was windy anyway. 




Then we tried to walk through that gap, tried being the operative word. I've never experienced winds that strong. 60mph apparently; it was a struggle to stay upright. Plus there was very sharp sleet trying to slice my face open, also at 60mph - hence why I keep pulling my hood down. 

The video below got retweeted by a Northern Irish BBC weather presenter, and the actual Northern Ireland BBC Weather account. Famous.


Where to stay in Northern Ireland


Galgorm Resort & Spa


When I told people who know Northern Ireland we'd be spending a night at Galgorm Resort & Spa, I got a a lot of cooing in return.

It's the region's premier luxury hotel, and spa, just a 30 minute drive from Belfast.
Set within 163 acres of lush parkland with the lovely River Maine flowing through the estate, it's close to both Belfast airports and the stunning scenery of the North Antrim Coast. In otherwords, a great base from which to explore the region, then have a soak. 

galgorm.com
Galgorm Resort and Spa, Galgorm, Co. Antrim BT42 1EA

River Room at Galgorm Resort & Spa
l




Useful information


DEE TOURS OF IRELAND
deetoursireland.com
07812 739 683

BELFAST PUB AND BAR TOUR 
belfastfoodtour.com
£35 per person 

BELFAST FOOD TOUR 
belfastfoodtour.com
£40 per person 
Operates every Saturday and some Fridays and Sundays 
8 Destinations over 4.5 hours long 
Private and group tours are available on request for 12 or more

TITANIC BELFAST
titanicbelfast.com
£17.00 per adult / £7.25 per child / £42 per family 

GIANT'S CAUSEWAY
nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway
£9.00 per adult / £4.50 per child / £22 per family

GALGORM RESORT & SPA
galgorm.com
Superior Rooms start from £95 per room per night based on two people sharing

TOURISM IRELAND
ireland.com
Union St, Belfast, County Antrim BT1 2JG

Disclaimer


Note: Tourism Ireland kindly hosted this trip, including flights, as part of a media package - thank you to everyone involved for a truly wonderful and unique experience. 
 
A special note also goes out to Addison Lee Cabs who whisked me to the airport and also met me on arrival when I returned to London. Their free in-car wifi and charging stations are particularly handy when you forget to do all those important things before running out of the house.

Their loyalty service is also worth reading up on if you're a regular cab user - ClubLee gives some worthy discounts and exclusive offers.

All views remain my own.

our fab Belfast group
l

Do take a look at the coverage from the rest of our great group of fellow food and travel writers and bloggers (pictured above), from left to right: Giulia from Mondomulia, Karen from Lavender and Lovage, Hugh from Hugh's Food, Lucy from Food Goblin and Niamh from Eat Like a Girl.


Postcards from Northern Ireland


Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland


print button