A romantic weekend break in Cork (by my standards)
What even is a romantic weekend break? Is it a break where you spend the entire time gazing into one another's eyes? Must you have a bath together? Do you have to tell each other that you love each other non-stop? Will there be gifts? Do you dress up for dinner? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then our Cork trip was not the most romantic weekend break – but it was pretty nice anyway, and I thought it was worth sharing.
We took a little trip to Cork not that long ago, but I really like it there. So when the Metropole Hotel got in touch (not the Hotel itself – duh, inanimate object, but its PR team) and invited us down for a little last-minute weekend break, I jumped at the chance. Okay, fine, so I didn't jump exactly; I scurried around trying to find a dogsitter and nagged Stephen into getting off work early on the Friday, and then I said a big, fat yes.
In the name of full disclosure – and when do I ever give you anything less? – I will admit that my hopes were not super high for the Metropole. It's a three-star hotel that is celebrating its 120th birthday this year, which gave me the impression that it would be pretty grim. I was imagining a crumbling facade, very chintzy interiors and the smell of secondhand shop. (I have a very vivid imagination, don't you know.)
I'm delighted to report – I like it when I can be complimentary about things I've been given as gifts because I have manners – that I was so very pleasantly surprised! So surprised, in fact, that I find it hard to think of the Metropole as "just" a three-star hotel. I've stayed in plenty of five-stars that weren't half as nice.
It helped, for starters, that we were staying in the Lady Lavery Suite, a gorgeous big room with an adjoining lounge area (which was small, holding two armchairs and a cabinet) and big bathroom – but it wasn't just the room that gave me such a positive impression of the Metropole.
The staff – none of whom, incidentally, knew who I was (if you know what I mean; they hadn't been warned that a blogger was coming!), because they each asked our room number after we'd said hi / eaten – were beyond polite and friendly, and so welcoming. The woman serving breakfast was pottering around, tidying tables around us, and did that gorgeous Cork thing (or, rather, not-Dublin thing) of chatting away: "Are you here just for the weekend? Are you going to go out and about today?" So cute!
As it happened, we did go out and about for the day, exploring places we hadn't seen before, including:
The English Market
I'd heard so much about The English Market, I thought it was going to be a delightful paradise of hippie foodie fare and crafts. Instead, there was a lot of meat. An awful lot of meat! The 18th-century covered market is worth seeing, and an awful lot of what's sold is local and organic, but we weren't really in the market for perishables so we didn't stay long.
Despite the fact that, 99% of the time, I'm to be found in leggings and runners, I've retained a serious interest in fashion from my Irish Times days and I love exploring beautiful boutiques. Olori is stunning – worth checking out even if (like me) you have neither the finances nor the inclination to be indulging in high-end clobber.
The Bookshelf Coffee House
We sheltered from a serious rain shower in The Bookshelf, supping on Chemex-brewed coffee and chowing on cashew and cranberry protein balls (an odd combo but it really worked). It's the kind of cafe that, if I lived in Cork, I can easily imagine spending a lot of time in.
Fishbar at Electric
Yes, we are incredibly boring, so we went back to Fishbar for dinner. We had an incredible feast of haddock tacos, salt and pepper calamari, seared tuna (above), potted crab and leafy greens, all washed down with a delicious G&T. (Does gin go with fish? I have no idea.)
Idaho was the site of yet another shelter-from-the-rain scenario; we had black coffees and nut slices, and both were very, very good.
On Sunday we toddled across the city to Elizabeth Fort, a 17th-century fort whose own history is like a microcosm of Ireland's – English occupation, black and tans, civil war, hangings, a famine kitchen and, after independence, a Garda barracks. We availed of the free tour, which was well worth the time (around 45 minutes).
Filter Espresso & Brew Bar
We popped into Filter on our way back from the Fort for a caffeinated pick-me-up and weren't disappointed. Simply put: really good coffee.
We then rudely brought our Filter coffee into Huckleberry's (which also does coffee) and bought ourselves a white chocolate doughnut filled with caramel (or, rather, partially filled; it came with a syringe so you did the last bit of filling yourself, which was a novel, if a little messy, idea). As doughnuts go, it was up there with some of the best I've had.