Monthly Archives: October 2011

Seaside getaways: Aberaeron’s Harbourmaster

You might not associate Wales with posh getaways and I’m sure I’ll be cursed for even putting this up, given the turn of recent events in the Rugby World Cup. But sporting ails aside, I think everyone can use a quick, romantic getaway now and again, and Wales is somewhere you might not have thought of for great food, great wine and beautiful surroundings. One better, it’s relatively inexpensive.

Sea view from the Harbourmaster Hotel

Harbourmaster sea view. Photo: IrishJaunt

The minute we pulled up outside the Harbourmaster Hotel in Aberaeron, West Wales, I knew I was going to love this place. Delightfully boutiquey and painted a delicate shade of boat blue, the entirety of the Harbourmaster calls upon a maritime theme, but gently – no tawdry buoys tacked up on walls with faux port hole windows here. Inside, it’s all bright tones – maroons, blues and sea greens – while each room is completely unique, right down to the bathtubs (I lucked out with an antique freestanding tub), terraces and bedding.

Harbourmaster Hotel

Harbourmaster Hotel. Photo: IrishJaunt

Aberaeron, which is situated along Cardigan Bay on the west coast of Wales, is a sweet, posh little town with a strong boating history (no surprise there, given the amount of water that flows near and through this place). Tipsy little fishing boats teeter next to more impressive shiny yachts in the modest but well-stocked marina, over which the Harbourmaster proudly looks.

Each of the hotel’s rooms are named for a different boat that once made anchor in Aberaeron’s little port, and many of these boats, we learned on a short walking tour through the pastel-painted town, were actually built here. This ship-building tradition explains the town’s lovely affinity for colour – pinks, maroons, navies and greens stand side-by-side, brightening up each Georgian house along the simple streets and once calling fishermen home from the water.

Aberaeron Marina

Aberaeron marina. Photo: IrishJaunt

Back at the Harbourmaster, dinner is a relaxed but delicious affair, but that’s not to do down the food. Oh, the glorious food. Everything served in the hotel’s restaurant is sourced within a few kilometres of town, including the shellfish. Oysters the size of oranges arrived on a perfect platter as my starter, followed by a half lobster served with a delicate yet delicious side of gourmet chips.

Huge fresh oysters.

Huge fresh oysters. Photo: IrishJaunt

Afterwards, retiring to the bar was no chore – it seemed everyone in town was there to sample locally produced ales, including the delicious Snowdonia Ale from Purple Moose Brewery just a few km up the road, as well as a wine list to rival the best restaurants in London. And with 17 by the glass to choose from – I opted for the spicy Man ‘O’ War Shiraz from New Zealand, while my friend tasted the laid-back Argentine Valle Perdido Malbec – you could really be there all night.

Double rooms at the Harbourmaster won’t set you back more than €150 per night, while the three-course evening set menu at £30 (€35) a pop is well worth it. This is a perfect little romantic getaway that can easily be done in a weekend from many places in Ireland, and makes for a nice change of pace without having to spend a pretty penny or venture too far afield. Nearby, several golf courses, as well as pony trekking, cheese tasting and boutique shopping in several local villages make for any sort of activity you could want.

Getting to Aberaeron from Ireland isn’t as difficult as you might think. Perhaps the easiest way is to take a short hop flight into Bristol from Dublin or Cork (Dublin being the cheaper option) and then hire a car for the scenic 2 hr 45 min drive to the coast.

Alternately, several fast ferry companies, such as Irish Ferries, offer regular service from either Dublin to Holyhead or Rosslare to Pembroke, including very reasonable €79 fares for vehicle crossing, which would allow you the freedom to drive yourself directly to Aberaeron, no fuss, no muss.

Dublin in Pictures – A #FriFotos Montage

For those of you that don’t know the ultimate pain and wonder that is Twitter, there is a weekly conversation of sorts called #FriFotos. Started by Jonathan Epstein (@EpsteinsTravels), Twitter users from all over the world come together to share their photos on a given theme (usually announced the Tuesday prior), using the hashtag #FriFotos to follow and share together. You can read more about the rules of #FriFotos here.

Photo by Jerry "Woody"

Photo: Jerry "Woody"

This week’s theme happens to be CAPITALS, which could easily be interpreted in a variety of ways. But we’re taking the chance today to celebrate our beautiful Irish capital city, Dublin.

The many photos you see here are a collection of those we’ve taken ourselves and many we’ve found shared through Creative Commons licenses on Flickr. God bless the talented photographers who chose to photograph Dublin’s fair city and share them so generously. To find out more about each photographer, click on the photo. You can also hover over each to find out where it was taken.

Dublin by night

Photo: Martin Abegglen

Irish National Botanical Gardens

Photo: IrishJaunt

Dublin castle

Photo: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo

Dublin chimneys

Photo: IrishJaunt

Dublin Luas tram

Photo: Flickr/LenDog64

Drumcondra in autumn

Photo: IrishJaunt

Dublin Docklands & Customs House at sunset

Photo: William Murphy

The Temple Bar, Dublin

Photo: IrishJaunt

Dublin spire at sunset

Photo: William Murphy

Dublin Horse Show at the RDS

Photo: IrishJaunt

Black and white bench

Photo: UggBoy♥UggGirl [ PHOTO // WORLD // TRAVEL

Reflections of Westmoreland Street

Photo: Stephen Heron

Sunset over the River Liffey

Photo: Daniel Flower

Kilmainham Gaol

Photo: Tony Hisgett

Revellers outside Doheny & Nesbitt

Photo: Chris Sansenbach

Temple Bar

Photo: Flickr/Seba Sofariu

Drunken tourists

Photo: Flickr/LenDog64

The Great Court, Trinity College

Photo: Steve Cadman

Phoenix Park in autumn

Photo: Flickr/RedCraig

Grafton Street

Photo: Beatrice Tiberi

Morning in Rathmines

Photo: Peter Brown

The Brazen Head

Photo: Adrian Purser

Croke Park

Photo: Sean MacEntee

Prepping for Paddy’s 2012

It’s that time of year… okay, no it’s not that time of year again. St. Patrick’s Day is not, in fact, just around the corner. It is 6 months away. What does this mean? It means it’s time for you to start planning. Do you think I’m crazy? Well, maybe I am, but it’s never too early to start getting your trip together if you’re planning to come to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day.

Photo: William Murphy/Flickr

Photo: William Murphy/Flickr

Contrary to very popular urban myth, St. Patrick’s Day has not always been a drinking holiday in Ireland. For years, nay, centuries, it was a simple, quiet church festival that nobody ever heard of. In the ’80s, some smart people (aka the local tourism boards) started vamping it up, and by “vamping it up”, I mean “letting a few locals make up a few less-than-worthy papier maché leprechauns and let kids ride down the streets of Dublin in red wagons.”

Nevermind, today, St. Patrick’s Festival is a huge weeklong affair across Ireland, with many of the festivities centred in Dublin and branching out into the surrounding communities. It’s the type of festival that every non-Irish person wants to see sometime in their lives and every Irish person wants to avoid for their entire lives.

But all kidding aside – I am being serious when I say that you should start planning now. Hotels, especially, book up very quickly for St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, especially in Dublin. Prices go up during that week and flights can also book out. It’s Ireland’s busiest week of the year, hands down.

So we here at IrishJaunt have decided to give you a little one up on the competition with this handy guide for getting down and dirty spending St. Patrick’s Day 2012 in Ireland.

 Accommodation for St. Patrick’s Day 2012

Hotels

You’ll want to book your hotel now. It’s the first thing you should do, because no matter how many hotels and hostels there are in Dublin (and believe me, there are plenty), they will still all be booked out when you get around to actually booking this thing in February. Do it now.  Here are a few options for every budget:

The Clarence
6-8 Wellington Quay
+353 (0)1 407 0800
theclarence.ie
What could be more Irish than a hotel owned by Ireland’s own Bono and The Edge of U2 fame? Beyond its rock-star owners, the Clarence is actually a gorgeous hotel with traditional mahogany interior and simple yet modern decor, if you’re in the mood to splash out a bit. It’s also got a great location, right along the quays (that’s pronounced “keys”) on the River Liffey, and it’s not far from the St. Patrick’s Day parade route, which goes right through Dublin City Centre. Deluxe king rooms from €205 for St. Patrick’s Day 2012.

Jury’s Inn
Christchurch Place
+353 (0)1 454 0000
jurysinns.com
I always recommend this sweet little hotel, The Harding Hotel, to people who want a nicer option but don’t have a ton of money to throw around. Unfortunately, they are already booked out for St. Patrick’s Day 2012. See what I mean? A decent alternative is the Jury’s Inn. Albeit a chain (at least it’s an Irish one, okay?), Jury’s is always reliable, clean and offers a decent breakfast. Their Dublin Christchurch location is also handy for the city centre and is located quite near to the usual parade route, as well as overlooking the beautiful spires of Christchurch Cathedral.

Hostels
I would love to recommend to you what I consider to be the two best hostels in Dublin (based on vast experience) – Litton Lane Hostel and the Times Hostel. Alas, both of them are already booked out for St. Patrick’s Day 2012. Congrats, you’ve already missed the boat! What I can do is point you toward a very handy search of Dublin hostels with availability for St. Patrick’s Day 2012 courtesy of Hostelworld.com. Again, I strongly urge you to make your booking immediately, because these will go and they will go soon.

Flights for St. Patrick’s Day 2012

If you are coming from outside of Ireland, you also need to book a flight. Flights will be a little easier, but not much. You really will want to book them straight away. Within the next month or two, at least, so that you don’t end up either a) looking at a list of totally full flight schedules and crying into your mop-water expat Irish pub Guinness or b) paying out the wazoo for a last-minute ticket and not being able to afford real pints of Guinness while you’re here.

I personally cannot recommend Aer Lingus enough. They are the national carrier of Ireland. I know a lot of Irish people bemoan Aer Lingus. It is actually rather en vogue in Ireland to give out constantly about the state of Aer Lingus and how awful they are.

I respectfully disagree. I have never had a bad experience with them. They’ve never lost my luggage. They’ve never changed my flights. Their seats are comfy. They offer lovely Irish tea after dinner and well, when you’re an awe-struck tourist or a homesick paddy, it’s those sweet Aer Lingus flight attendants with their lovely Irish accents that just make you feel so welcome. (I swear, I am not being paid by Aer Lingus for this post).

From North America, it’s fairly easy to fly with Aer Lingus, as they are now partnered with Jet Blue to connect to a bunch of U.S. cities via Chicago O’Hare, New York JFK and LAX, among others. They also run fairly decent fares to Ireland from both North America and around Europe, and they have some nice packaged holidays in their Vacation Store, in case you want to bundle your hotel, flight and maybe even a car hire together in one go.

If you’re unsure or just want to consider other options, here is a handy map of all airlines that fly to Dublin, courtesy of the Dublin Airport Authority.

What Wales has to offer

Welsh Flag at Port Meirion

I’ll admit it. When I first got invited to go to Wales for a week, I figured it was going to be just like Ireland, only more British. I can honestly say now I was wrong. Sure, Wales has a strong Celtic influence. And yes, Wales is a part of Great Britain. But neither of those two things really define Wales. It is a small country (just over 3 million) with a lot of paradoxes that make exploring here a pleasure.

A few things about Wales weren’t a surprise. You know them well. Let’s start with the castles. You go to Wales expecting to see castles and you see plenty. There are more than 600 castles in Wales, hundreds of which are still standing in one form or another. Many were built by the Normans on old Roman fort sites – designed to squash the local Welsh population.

Wales also has an incredibly beautiful coastline, arguably the most beautiful in Britain. And while that wasn’t a surprise, the beauty of the Irish Sea along the Welsh coast certainly made me look twice – it has a calm and peace about it that you rarely get on the Irish side.

Other things about Wales came as a perfect surprise. The food here is incredible, largely because most of the food served and eaten here is actually grown and produced in Wales. Where does that even happen anymore? Apparently in Wales. Restaurants and hotels around the country are pretty much operating within a 7-mile radius, meaning they source all the ingredients they serve from within seven miles of their own location – pretty impressive when I considered the number of gourmet meals I ate. Venison, oysters, black beef, fresh cod and chips, dozens of different cheeses, baked goods… that’s not even to mention the amazing different beers and ales I sampled, all produced in Wales.

Wales also surprised me with its culture, and I’m not talking about classical music or arts, although there’s plenty of that (just check out the National Museum, which houses the largest collection of French Impressionist paintings outside of Paris. Another surprise!). What was truly wonderful, though, were the Welsh people. Warm and friendly, fiercely proud of their Welshness yet left wing and liberal, terribly concerned with keeping it local – everywhere I went I received warm welcomes and the hope that I would love and understand Wales as much as they did.

On my final day wandering around Cardiff, I walked by City Hall and noticed, for the first time in a week of travelling north to south through Wales, the Union Jack was flying. Everywhere I’d been across Wales, the Welsh flag flew, with its prominent green and white backing the bright red dragon, as an emblem of a country that is more its own than British. Is Wales a part of Britain? Of course. Inexorably.

But it is also a truly unique place of the type that is, more and more, ceasing to exist in the world.