A weekend in the wilds of Cork

It’s remote, it’s an island, and at times it feels tropical, but Fota Island is easy to get to and enjoy

Sat, May 11, 2013, 01:00

A weekend in our own private island – sounds like paradise. But we’re not sailing off to a remote atoll in the Caribbean – we’re heading to Fota Island Resort in Cork.

The weather is distinctly untropical, and we’ll be sharing our island with several other castaways, but we’re still looking forward to getting away from it all. And if island life proves too much to handle, and I find myself yelling, “I’m a journalist – get me out of here!”, well, Fota is only a few metres out to sea, and a short hop across the bridge will get us back to the mainland.

We music journos pride ourselves on blagging the best seats in the house or nabbing a backstage pass, but when it comes to our hotel room, we’re usually happy with a glorified cupboard to flop into after the aftershow party. We weren’t expecting palatial digs for our two-night stay – just your average luxury family room – but somehow I managed to get us upgraded to a fabulous penthouse suite, the sort that would nicely suit your average rock star.

Don’t get me wrong: the accommodation we were initially checked into was lovely: two adjoining rooms, for kids and grown-ups. But we just weren’t ready to let our three- and five-year-old boys have their own hotel room just yet – too much scope for redecorating with crayons, Play-Doh and light sabres.

So we asked the nice girl at reception if we could have a family room. Alas, they were all booked, but perhaps we’d like to look at a penthouse suite? Er, let me think about it.

One nanosecond later, we were ensconced in the magnificent Magnolia Suite: with a fab en suite tucked behind the big double bed; a sweeping sitting-room with floor-to-ceiling bay window looking out onto a private deck; big fireplace and chandeliers.

First stop was lunch at the Amber Lounge – chicken goujons and chips for the boys, plus a playpack to keep them entertained – and seafood chowder for Mummy and Daddy, plus a pint to get them relaxed. Then it was time to stretch our legs.

Fota means “fód te”, or warm soil, but at Easter the soil feels decidedly cold underfoot as we bravely venture out on one of the woodland walks.

Fota is a holiday trinity – three destinations in one. There’s the resort, with 123 rooms and eight private suites, plus self-catering lodges. It has three golf courses and a spa.

Then there’s Fota House, Gardens and Arboretum, formerly the home of the Smith-Barry family, who built this 70-room mansion in the 18th century, adding the arboretum in the 1840s. The island is sheltered, which allowed for the cultivation of exotic plants. Children can learn about nature on one of three walking trails around the gardens and arboretum, including a tree trail for kids under six.

Finally, there’s Fota Wildlife Park, which is celebrating its 30th birthday. It has plenty to celebrate, not least its part in preserving endangered species such as the cheetah. Make sure to be there at 3pm for the cheetah run. The cheetahs’ food zooms along a zipwire at around 65km/h, while the hungry cats zoom after it. It’s a marvellous display of speed and agility – you find yourself clapping when a cheetah catches up with its dinner.

We had dinner in the Fota Restaurant and did a bit of a double-take. It’s not much different in appearance to the Amber Lounge next door – I suppose we were hoping it might be a tad more elegant and exclusive-looking. Still, our fillet steak meal was mouthwatering, though I’d go easy on the house Chilean Merlot – we needed a long walk the next day to clear our heads.

The hydrotherapy pool is dotted with jets, sprays and currents to relax muscles, and a walking river to soothe calf muscles. With some hotel spas, you often wonder if they’ve drafted in the receptionist to give a massage, but Fota’s therapists know how to deliver a proper, therapeutic deep-tissue massage and not just a perfunctory rubdown. While you let the fingers do the walking, the children can be kept entertained at Fota’s Kids’ Camp, doing everything from swimming to golf to baking to treasure hunts.

When you’ve exhausted all the activities on Fota, you can take a short drive to Cobh to catch the Titanic Experience, built on the site of the original White Star Line office.

Fota has a family buffet dinner at the golf club where you sip aperitifs while the kids play games on the floor, supervised by staff members who really know how to engage with them.

The kids had dinner from the buffet and we ordered off the menu. By the time ours arrived, the kids had finished and were back on the floor playing with Play-Doh, leaving us to enjoy our dinner in peace. Now that’s paradise.

A stay at Fota Island Hotel & Spa with full Irish breakfast and free tickets to Fota Wildlife Park costs from €149 per room . F amily packages are from €263 per night for adjoining or interconnecting rooms and for two adults and up to three children which includes breakfast, tickets to the wildlife p ark, a film at a drive-in and tickets to Fota House

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