Ardtara Country House sits close to the epicentre of things to see and do in Northern Ireland with many of the most tempting sites just a day trip away. Whether you are looking for a shopping trip or an active holiday, either are possible at Ardtara …
The historic ruins of Mussenden Temple, Downhill and Benone beaches and the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, celebrating the life and literature of the poet and Nobel Laureate, are some of the accessible attractions a short drive from Ardtara Country House. A mere 45 minutes from both Belfast and Derry, the hotel is perfectly situated to fulfil your Northern Irish bucket list – being as close to historic cities as it is to impressive coastal views. After a hearty breakfast which includes treats such as organic porridge with whiskey, cream and honey, or smoked salmon with free-range scrambled eggs, there are several recommended scenic drives. All guests receive a free tipsheet on what to see with satnav/GPS settings for easy directions to and from the hotel.
Here’s the top sites to see during a post-lockdown break:
The Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO world heritage site and magnificent natural wonder, where fact meets fiction. It comprises some 40,000 hexagonal columns of basalt that were formed millions of years ago due to volcanic activity. In Irish myth the causeway was created by two giants – Finn McCool (also called Fionn Mac Cumhaill) tore up the coastline trying to reach Scottish giant Benandonner.
Of course, there are other sites to see along this stretch of stunning coastline. The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is a thin wire and rope bridge spanning the chasm between the island of Carrick-a-Rede and the mainland cliffs. At 20 metres long and 30 metres above the churning sea below, the bridge is perfectly safe but not for the faint of heart. On this stretch of the coastline, Bushmills Distillery and Carrickfergus Castle are also worth a visit.
Belfast and Titanic Centre
When restrictions lift, one of Belfast’s oldest and most endearing attractions is the award-winning St George’s Market (built between 1890 and 1896). At the weekend it hosts a craft and antiques market, in addition to a thriving food scene. The ambiance is upbeat with entertainment provided by a range of local bands and musicians who play while visitors browse the stalls or enjoy a coffee. It’s a good place to start before taking in the impressive Titanic Quarter, where the iconic Titanic Centre takes pride of place. As for shopping, the Victoria Centre is a one-stop destination; the offering of boutiques and bargains will satisfy any retail cravings. Fashionistas will definitely be impressed with Flannels which is a recent opening. It takes in the entire top floor of the former House of Fraser store and is dedicated to designer shopping.
City of Derry
Derry is the best example of a European walled city remaining virtually unchanged since it was built in the 17th century. You can walk on the top of its walls and look down into the Bogside, itself the scene of modern Irish history, where colourful murals offer a snapshot of “The Troubles”. For more ancient history, visit the Tower Museum to see the remnants of Spanish Armada ships sunk off the coast in their desperate attempt to sail home after disaster. Or visit the neo-Gothic wonder that is the iconic Guildhall, situated on a picturesque square that’s perfect for a stroll. Another postcard perfect backdrop is the Craft Village – one of the city’s hidden jewels – this reconstruction of an 18th-century street hosts art exhibitions, and is home to numerous coffee shops and restaurants.
Lough Neagh, a haven for wildlife, captivates visitors with its solitude, scenery and secluded bays. Activities are plentiful and include birdwatching hives, wildflower meadows, woodland footpaths and plenty of picnic and play areas. Boating on Lough Neagh is also accessible to all as are two secluded islands steeped in history. Coney Island, which inspired the Van Morrison song, is owned by the National Trust and has a rich history spanning many centuries, with evidence of human occupation dating back 8,000 years BC. It’s one of the most westerly outposts of the Normans during their occupation of Ireland from the 12th century. Anglers of course are drawn to Lough Neagh. Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney produced a collection of poems A Lough Neagh Sequence celebrating the eel fishermen of the lough and their traditional techniques.
Sperrin Mountains Tours and Hikes
Rugged and unspoiled, the Sperrin Mountains are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There is a choice of four primary scenic driving routes around and through the mountains as well as a myriad of marked hiking trails up and down valleys or over the crests of mountains. Sights include the megalithic Beaghmore Stone Circles, tombs and standing stones plus more “modern”18th-century castles often perched on and near the picturesque rivers Roe, Moyola and Bann. En route to or from the Sperrins stop off in the market town of Magherafelt just a 15 minute drive from Ardtara.
Houses and Gardens
Northern Ireland is full of wonderful National Trust properties and their impressive gardens. The most famous is probably the neo-classical Mount Stewart, the home of Lord Castlereagh. The demesne comprises over five miles of walking trails through a magical landscape of woodlands, set within the iconic rolling drumlin landscape of east Co Down. For horticulturists the Arts and Crafts garden with a special rose garden is always enchanting. For antiquarians a visit to the neighbouring village of Greyabbey is a must: there are more antiques shops here than any other town or village in Northern Ireland.
After a day trip return to the comfort and cuisine of Ardtara. The downstairs drawing room and bar are perfect for lingering over a pre-dinner drink, while the hunting-themed Clark restaurant is where the chef patron’s menus will leave you sated and sighing with contentment. Then retire to bed in one of the nine bedrooms overlooking the gardens, decorated in heather tones, with airy bathrooms, original (working) fireplaces and modern amenities. A sound sleep is assured in such a tranquil setting.
Ardtara Country House is a member of Ireland’s Blue Book, a collection of Irish Country House hotels, Manor houses, castles and restaurants. Located throughout the island of Ireland these charming and stylish hideaways are the perfect choice for your 2021 staycation. To find out more about Ardtara Country House and current offers visit: www.ardtara.com.
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