Just 25 minutes from Cork city and located at the gateway to The Wild Atlantic Way, Kinsale is one of Ireland’s most picturesque harbour towns. Here’s where to stay, shop, dine and visit according to residents …
A quintessential Irish harbour town, Kinsale is the beating heart of Cork come the summer months. The colourful streets, the buzz of tourists, the beautiful landscape, and the hum of the harbour all combine to create a superb summer holiday experience. And then there is the food. Known as Ireland’s gourmet capital, Kinsale has been wining and dining visitors since The Good Food Circle was formed in 1976. Kinsale’s culinary star may have dimmed slightly in later years, but more recently, it is burning brighter than ever before. Here’s where to stay and dine should you be lucky enough to find yourself in Kinsale this summer – or indeed, autumn, winter or spring.
WHERE TO STAY
Giles Norman Gallery & Townhouse
Offering contemporary comfort in a classic Georgian building, the unique guestrooms at this Townhouse are an extension of Giles Norman’s photographic studio. There are five luxurious suite options – The Studio, The Ireland Suite, The Kinsale, The Atlantic and The West Cork – all with waterfront view and styled in the timeless Giles Norman aesthetic, with the photographer’s evocative images decorating the walls. Guests can avail of “five walks with your camera” itineraries, selected by the photographer himself. The gorgeous top floor studio suite was once Norman’s own darkroom. Room rates start from €165 to €260 per night; www.gilesnormantownhouse.com.
Blue Haven Hotel
This boutique hotel dates back to the 1800s and is located on the site of the town’s former fish and meat markets. The property now comprises several restaurant and dining concepts on-site from a Moet Champagne terrace to its award-winning Rare restaurant (more on that below). Each of the hotel’s 16 bedrooms have a nautical twist to the décor. Off-season room rates are from €65 and in high season they cost from €90; www.bluehavenkinsale.com.
The Other 43
This luxurious two-bedroom apartment on Pier Road beside the harbour is a great base for those who like the option of self-catering and comes with a fully equipped kitchen, spacious living room, two bathrooms and a great terrace overlooking the beachfront. With a private entrance, and lots of thoughtful extras (champagne, chocolates, cookies …) it’s ideal for families or longer stays; www.kinsaleharbourhome.ie.
Two Kinsale residents share their Little Black Books:
Giles Norman, photographer
For coffee: Wild & Tame have premises in Kinsale and then a horse box just outside the town on the way to the Dock Beach – they serve the most tasty cinnamon buns at the weekend. The Post House coffee shop has a lovely outdoor courtyard and it is dog-friendly. And if you’re visiting Kinsale on a Wednesday, there’s a local market where Red Strand Coffee has a stall (from its red van) serving delicious coffee.
For dining: I recommend OHK Café for breakfast or brunch. It has a very cool aesthetic and serves a delicious brunch menu – my favourite is the Turkish eggs flatbread. Lunch at the Bulman, followed by a pint on the pier wall of the Bulman is especially recommended; you can’t beat its view of Kinsale, especially at sunset. For drinks in the evening The Sherry Bar at Prim’s Bookshop is new, while The Tap Tavern has been in the same family for the past four generations and everyone enjoys having a chat with the bar’s proprietor, Mary O’Neill, who has been pouring pints for more than 50 years. For dinner it has to be The Black Pig wine bar. They have an incredible wine list and their tapas-style menu, sourced from local suppliers, never disappoints.
To visit: Take the Scilly walk from Kinsale town to Charles Fort, and then return back via the High Road – this loop walk will offer you the best views of both the town and the coastline, and you’ll pass some great watering holes along the way from the Spaniard to the Bulman.
Don’t leave without a visit to Giles’ gallery where his recent collections inspired by Donegal as well as Dingle and the Blasket Islands (pictured) are currently on sale; www.gilesnorman.com.
Lucy Hagerty, founder and perfumer of La Bougie
For swimming: Early morning or late evening, try the Dock beach beside Castle Park (the Dock pub next door has some of the best pints in Kinsale). Further afield Garrettstown beach is a favourite. En route, make sure to stop by destination interiors shop Chalk & Easel and Wild Restaurant in the nearby village of Ballinspittle.
For shopping: You’ll always find fabulous bags at Kinsale Leather, gifts at Boland’s (which stocks the full La Bougie range) and Kinari – my favourite boutique outside of Dublin. It has an excellent range of clothing and lingerie with a brilliant bra fitting service.
For drinks and dinner: The Tap Tavern for pints (a traditional Kinsale favourite which never seems to change) and on to St Francis Provisions or The Black Pig – both of which need booking well in advance. Not forgetting The Supper Club for amazing cocktails and a great dinner afterwards.
Visit: La Bougie workshop at Barrack Hill, which is open on weekdays, where you can pick up a fragrance or candle as a holiday souvenir or a gift for someone at home. One of our bestselling scented candles is Sage & Bitter Orange, which is inspired by summers I spend at my other home in Poppi, Tuscany, and has classic cologne notes of geranium, juniper and orange blossom; www.labougie.com.
For more places to dine in Kinsale, follow food editor Ciara McQuillan’s recommendations …
Rare is the newest kid on the Kinsale fine dining block at the wonderful Blue Haven Hotel, smack bang in the centre of the town. Chef Meeran’s cooking is a wonderful example of quality Irish ingredients working seamlessly with cuisines of all persuasions. Each course is a revelation and carefully considered in every aspect. I was blown away by a recent dish of ‘meen kozha’, inspired by a Chettinad dish of deep-fried fish patties. In Rare, local Kinsale courgette flowers are stuffed with minced fish, garlic, ginger, and lime leaves before being dipped in a tempura batter, fried and served with a beetroot chutney. The team at Rare are going from strength to strength serving exquisite food that represents the best of modern Ireland. www.rare1784.ie
The Black Pig
No one has ever needed a reason to visit Kinsale, but in case you felt you did, The Black Pig wine bar is it. With more awards than you can shake a stick at, there is a choice of over 250 wines by the bottle with over 100 by the glass with 80 organic, biodynamic and natural wines. In their own words “We are not wine snobs; The Black Pig is just a simple place where good friends can relax, eat and drink good food and good wine and create memories for many years to come”. Add to that the Korean dressed oysters, excellent panko monkfish and a swoon worthy cheese plate and this really is the wine bar of dreams. If given a choice, the garden room is as pretty as a picture. www.theblackpigwinebar.com
St Francis Provisions
St Francis Provisions started the summer season well with a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin guide, confirming its place as one of Kinsale’s foremost restaurants, despite its relative youth. It’s very much a restaurant of its time offering a series of expertly crafted small plates in a relaxed and convivial setting. Go for the smoked potatoes with aioli, and stay for the excellent wine. Not up for a full blown meal? SFP serve a lovely selection of nibbles with wine from 5pm. Sitting outside, the people watching opportunities in the busy thoroughfare are endless and you will well and truly feel like you are on holiday.
Other dining options well worth checking out includes brunch at the sunny and fun O’Herlihys Kinsale, a steaming bowl of chowder after an invigorating walk to The Bulman, as mentioned above. A decadent dinner with views over the harbour at Man Friday, Michelin star dining at Bastion and Max’s Seafood Restaurant, for, well, anything really. Finally, for a lunch worth lingering over, the excellent Fishy Fishy is one of the few actual restaurants that open for lunch so you are assured a buzzy ambiance along with the excellent food and an indulgent lunch time cocktail. The patio is where to sit on a sunny day.