By Mary-Jane O’Regan

A Winter getaway may be not what you are thinking of right now, knee deep in wrapping paper and possibly short on time and temper, however, I can assure you that you will leave the Garryvoe Hotel feeling relaxed and refreshed.

Nothing warms your cockles like tucking into a big, hearty meal, while the elements rage outside. ’Tis the season for comfort food, and the Garryvoe Hotel excels at it. I recently headed there for a Winter break to enjoy one of their theme nights, which occur regularly. The beauty of a theme night in Winter is that essentially you don’t have to leave the hotel. Mind you, at the risk of sounding like your granny, nothing makes you appreciate the roar of a fire like a good stomp around the Winter seaside.

Here is a hotel just perfect for a Winter sojourn, with an original library bar, cosy nooks and crannies and, of course, a hefty supply of whiskey for hot toddies. You check in and just kick back and relax for your time spent on one of the most beautiful locations in Ireland, don’t just believe me, the property itself is multi-award-winning and they are specialists in functions and weddings, boasting an amazing ballroom and restaurant.

The Location

Garryvoe Beach is located just off the road from Ladysbridge to Shanagarry in Cork. It is a mixed pebble beach and a great destination for families. It offers an unspoilt, sandy 5km beach, with incomparably beautiful views of Ballycotton Bay and its lighthouse. The area itself just has the hotel and a small local shop, but in nearby Shanagarry there is shopping and a café, as well as the famous Ballymaloe, home of the iconic Allen family and the birthplace of the best relish in Ireland. Its windows offer views of waves crashing ashore, while you relax, cosy up in a boutique bedroom, or sip on a hot port. As you would expect, the seafood is exceptional but more on that later.

The Property

Well, where do I start for this? From the outside the hotel looks lovely and not out of place in the scenic beach area. Step inside the lobby and the first thing that has always got me upon entering is the warmth of the greeting. The staff are all long-term employees and know the area and their business well, something I often find lacking in hotel chains.

It’s an independent hotel, so the interior, which was refurbished recently, is quite something. The Library bar has a collection of books and a sense of calm for a G&T that I have yet to experience elsewhere. The rooms are all decorated to a high standard with plenty of plugs – this may seem like a crazy statement but two females sharing a room with a need for phone chargers, hair tongs and music players can often mean a terse stay.

We had a sea view room, which overlooked the beach and got to enjoy a beautiful sunrise and sunset. The balcony in the room was perfect for selfies and the WiFi is super-fast for the Insta-moments. The shower was spacious and the lighting good in the bathroom, with a nice big mirror for makeup application. The bed was, no word of a lie, like sleeping on a cloud. One of the things I admired was the plain white crisp bed linen, with no comforters or cushions. The first thing I always do is remove them from the bed when I am staying in a hotel; I love nothing more than hotel bed sheets.

The Hospitality

The four-star family hotel is magical to anyone that enters. You go there as a guest and leave as a friend, always vowing to return. I am not known for my cheesy reviews but honestly, I felt sad checking out. Each member of staff we met there was so intent on making our stay memorable. We had a good laugh at breakfast with Ronan, a young student, who was able to give us some recommendations for a good spot for a bag of chips for Ballycotton, which our next destination was. The team are more than willing to help you with any local questions to about what to do and where to go. They are heavily involved with the locality, so they know everything that goes on there.

The Food

Locally sourced, fresh produce was to be honest what I was expecting and believe me when I tell you that is what we got. From the themed night meal to breakfast, each mouthful was delectable and with no unnecessary frills. I say this because I am quite an ordinary eater. I like good food cooked and presented well but I don’t see the need to overcomplicate it. I suppose really, I don’t like to guess at what is coming out at me, but rather feel secure that a sirloin of beef is just that, with not bone marrow or belly busting accompaniments.

The nature of the dining for this night was a fantastic idea. The food came on large sharing platters and one person at the table was elected to carve the beef, and they donned an apron and it was very jovial indeed. The side dishes were cooked perfectly, and with a great selection. I am all too familiar with soggy spuds and limp veg and I can tell you hotels are dire for this. Perhaps it is the fact that the restaurant Samphire is successful as a fine dining establishment for the ordinary eater or the fact that the chefs are just incredible. Either way, I had no complaints about anything.

Honey roast carrots, tender asparagus and potato gratin, all served hot with lashings of gravy. In all honesty I am possibly doing the meal a disservice with my description, but it is the best roast beef I have ever eaten in my life. Pink and tender, it was just perfection. There was nothing mediocre or carvery-like about this roast. Not for the faint-hearted, this one was a serious belt-loosening main that left me feeling wholly satisfied. I felt like a Roman at a feast.

Desert was to die for. There was nothing standard about the selection with warm churros and sticky meringue, homemade vanilla ice-cream to accompany with fruit tartlets and lemon posset. All the desserts and coulis are made in-house, therefore wonderfully rustic with exquisite presentation.

All my fellow diners seemed to enjoy the evening as much as we did. The idea that the food is served to the table to share makes the experience more social and fun. Everyone there has come in groups of four or more and the information on the wine was delivered in a casual, yet informative way, with a heckler from Australia among one group, who had quite the knowledge of wine. Afterwards, some of us retired to the gorgeous Library bar, which is warm, welcoming, and serves a great selection of spirits and beers.

The Wine

The wines were quite simply amazing. I have researched each of them after tasting and I have to say they were easy to drink and resulted in zero hangover, despite the volume served. I treat wine like perfume and examine it in a similar way, from the top to the middle and then the base or finishing point. Reading my wine review may cause you to believe that there was eating and drinking in it, but they were so flavoursome and enchanting that they deserve a whole section. I am not a wine expert by any stretch of the imagination and after this experience I will be far more open to trying different wines. I tend to be an aimless ordering type of person, who always opts for the safe wines, which is possibly why I have never met one I didn’t like!

The White

A big walloping wave of disappointment hit me when I didn’t recognise the type of wine that was on the list – I am a Sauv Blanc girl – but grudgingly, I had a glass. Finca Montepedroso Verdejo 2017 Rueda, Spain, was the listed wine and luckily for me it is one loved by SB drinkers in general. Clean, aromatic ensemble, with high intensity. The notes of apricot, peach, fennel, green almond shell, aniseed, fresh fruits – lychee, grapefruit, green apple – show up. Recalls to fresh cut hay, and light smoke touches. For me I felt the apricot peachy notes were perfect to accompany the starter. It was light and refreshing but with a nice bit a bite.

The Red

Alejandro Fernandez Dehesa la Granja 2011 Castilla y Leon, Spain. Garnet red in colour with good, intense aromas of leather and liquorice and hints of spice and stewed black fruits. This wine twirled well and looked to be the perfect partner to our beefy main. The palate is ripe and meaty, with round tannins and a lengthy finish. Black pepper, nutmeg and cherry liqueur notes make for a complex nose. For me the cherry was the most prominent. The palate is very smooth and has a good overall balance, leaving your sense with an impression of bursting fruity smoothness. A long and multi-faceted finish, filled with clove and other sweet spices, coconut and a salivating salty caramel feel. Now, if that doesn’t make you want to try that red, I have not done my job properly.

Andrew Quady Elysium Black Muscat 2016 Madera, California.  Dessert wine is something I rarely order and never have at home, so imagine my delight at tasting this beauty.

This wine opens with aromas of honeyed plums and dried peaches and a supple, fruity, sweet, medium-to-full body and crisp, spiced pear and honeycomb finish, this is a suitable companion to many sweet courses, including the ones on the menu. Black Muscat, another underappreciated Muscat variety, is known in Europe as a table grape variety.  When well ripened, it attains a rose-like aroma and lychee like flavour.  I found it most similar in taste to a cassis and would have loved to try it with something fizzy, like a good Cava to see it’s other uses. Next time that is on the list!

The Breakfast

There was a wedding on the same night as our stay in Garryvoe, so service at breakfast was busy but very efficiently handled. The usual suspects were available for continental with a selection of breads, fruits pastries, cereals and yoghurt. The juices were fresh and plentiful with a pancake machine for the kids to self-serve their own pancakes, which proved very popular. The breads and preserves were great quality with local honey fresh from a honeycomb.  I indulged in a full Irish, with a perfectly cooked egg and some outstanding sausages. Sausages, in my humble opinion, are the real test in a hotel. I loved that the main part is cooked to order and not a buffet. The coffee was great too and helped wake me up after a late night.

There is an amazing leisure centre in the hotel too with a gorgeous pool and gym, so even if the weather isn’t the best or you are travelling with kids or a fitness fanatic you can let off some steam. Have you got a few days of leave left? Take a Monday off and book a Sunday night break. You can be sure the long weekend means you’ll be relaxed before you even check in.

Garryvoe Hotel
Ballycotton Bay, East Cork
021 464 6718