On a damp and blustery weekend, Fiona McEvoy and her family decide to retreat from the world and sample the tranquillity and hospitality that Fota Island Resort has to offer.
Having recently been announced as the hosting venue for the 2014 Irish Open Golf Championship – previously playing host to the Open in 2001 and 2002 – we were looking forward to the prospect of experiencing the five star treatment that awaits Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington and the host of top golfers expected to participate in the tournament in June.
Located just outside the tourist seaport town of Cobh in East Cork, on a sprawling 780 acre estate, the five-star Fota Island Resort is an oasis of tranquillity – described as a guest’s ‘private island’– and all within a stone’s throw of Cork city, at a mere eight miles outside of the city centre.
It was a dreary wintery day when we loaded up the car and took ourselves and our 15-month-old toddler to Fota – even the dark clouds above couldn’t dampen our spirits or enthusiasm.
A warm welcome
On arrival, we were both suitably impressed. A beautiful tree-lined driveway curves its way up to the hotel, setting the tone for what would turn out to be a magical family stay. The foyer of the hotel was very elegant, comprising a large curved, sweeping room with exposed dark beams, roaring fires and comfortable couches.
Upon hearing that we had been upgraded to a suite for the duration of our stay, we were delighted. It’s a little luxury that parents don’t often get to enjoy when staying in hotels. The suite in question – The Harrington – was large and decorated in a modern style. It featured a sizeable hallway with plenty of room for a buggy, and a spacious adjoining sitting room leading through to a beautifully presented bedroom.
Similarly, the spacious bathroom – which comprised a double-ended bath, complete with headrests, and a separate rainforest shower – was nicely decorated with muted colours and beautiful tiling. The cosy homely feel is very relaxing and provides the perfect environment for recuperating after a round of golf or an afternoon at the spa.
Boasting 123 contemporary en-suite rooms – including interconnecting and adjoining option for families – eight private penthouse suites and a number of two, three and four-bedroom self-catering lodges, there’s something for every budget at the resort, and all with views of the surrounding woodland or one of the resort’s three championship golf courses.
Our wonderfully curved corner suite looked out over the tree-lined driveway and a corner of one of the golf courses. This provided a lot of excitement for our little boy as he could wave at all the golfers in their golf buggies as they drove past.
Getting into the swim of things
After a wonderful amount of lounging about in our suite, we decided to head down to the spa and pool for a swim. Children are welcome in the pool between the hours of 9-11am and 4-6pm, which allows families time to enjoy the fun of splashing about while also accommodating guests seeking a more tranquil experience.
The pool’s well-presented changing rooms were spacious and had excellent baby changing facilities in both the men’s and women’s sections. The pool itself was superb, with beautiful panoramic vistas of the surrounding wooded countryside. Our little guy loved splashing about in the separate children’s pool – it wasn’t too busy which made for an even more enjoyable experience.
We also sampled the delights of Fota’s hydrotherapy suite, including the ‘walking river’, which involves walking through foot jets of warm water, small pebbles and counter current massage streams before moving on to cooler water with larger pebbles and micro bubbles to ease any aches and pains. It was divine and I highly recommend it for any tired mums and dads looking for some extra R&R.
Food for thought
That evening we decided to sample the culinary delights of the Amber Lounge, which proved to be a very relaxing experience. We found the staff to be very attentive and extremely helpful with our little man, securing a high chair and heating up a dinner we had pre-prepared for him – nothing was too much trouble. There were several other families dining in the lounge at the same time and all looked equally relaxed and happy, which added to the experience.
Deciding not to push our luck – it was almost our little one’s bed-time – we opted for main course only and were very glad we did, as the portions were very generous. My husband ordered the Oriental Pork Hot Pot, which looked and tasted gorgeous, while I opted for the Deep Fried Codling Fillet in Donavan Blonde Ale batter served with minted creamed peas, tartar sauce and caramelised lemon and shoe string frits. It was a generous fillet of fish and turned out to be as delicious as it sounded.
The next morning, after a delicious full Irish breakfast, I was delighted to get away to the spa on my own for some ‘me’ time. I had booked in for a ‘Serenity’ massage on the advice of the therapist –Alexandra – and it did not disappoint.
She began the treatment with a fabulous foot soak and cleanse. Then I moved over to the heated bed for one of the most relaxing and replenishing full body massages I have ever had. It began with a hot stone back and shoulder massage, followed by a foot and leg massage and a soothing foot mask. Just when I thought we must surely be done, it was completed with a very relaxing face and scalp massage.
I felt lighter and younger leaving the spa and my husband commented on how refreshed I looked on my return. While I had been enjoying my little corner of heaven, he had enjoyed a complimentary copy of The Irish Times and a nap while junior slept next door.
Lazing on a stormy afternoon
Now well rested we decided a bit of exploring was in order, and a trip to the nearby Fota Wildlife Park was top of our list. Unfortunately, it was not to be and we had to take a rain check when the weather took a turn for the worse. So, instead of venturing out we decided to relax and make the most of the hotel facilities.
In the search for indoor entertainment for our toddler, we came across a great children’s playroom in the lobby, the Cheetah Room, which provided an hour’s entertainment for our little lad. It was well stocked with a vast array of wooden toys to choose from, a play tent, balls and lots of little tables and chairs for toddlers. We then enjoyed a very peaceful lunch in the Amber Lounge and once again were very well looked after by the staff.
Service with a smile
On our second evening we opted for dinner at the resort’s signature restaurant – Fota Restaurant – which was a slightly more formal affair than the previous night but relaxing none the less.
As we had now come to expect at Fota, the waiting staff were superb. Our waitress, Encar, must get a special mention for all of the attention she gave to our little boy – at one point even offering to take him out to play in the foyer for us in case we wanted to eat in peace; thankfully he was no trouble so we didn’t need to avail of her kind offer.
For dinner we decided to opt for the table d’hôte menu. I sampled the Duck Liver Parfait to start, which proved light and delicious, while my husband enjoyed the Fota Caesar Salad. We both chose the same main course – Char-grilled Sirloin Steak, roast bone marrow stuffed with forest mushrooms, slow baked plum tomatoes and pont neuf with chop house butter – which was cooked to perfection. To accompany our meal we enjoyed a glass of Siete Cuchillos Malbec each, which complimented the steak perfectly.
We decided not to stay for dessert as our little man was tired. But the waitress very kindly offered to send the dessert and coffees to our room, which was a really lovely touch and very much appreciated once our boy was sleeping soundly.
On the car journey home, after breakfast the next morning, we couldn’t believe how quickly the time had gone. We hadn’t left the grounds of the resort and yet had only skimmed the surface of activities available to us on-site and in the surrounding areas.
The golf course, Fota Wildlife Park, the Titanic Experience in nearby Cobh and all that the city of Cork has to offer is just part of the reason the Fota Island Resort may just have to become a yearly fixture on our calendar of family outings.
Fota family getaways 2014
Fota Island Resort offers a number of packages throughout the year specifically aimed at families. Here is one of our favourites for Easter 2014.
- Easter Family Package
Enjoy a two-night stay including B&B and a three-course dinner in Fota Restaurant with the option of a connecting classic room for children, a special children’s buffet dinner and access to kids’ camp from €241 per room per night.
For more information and to book, visit fotaisland.ie