Alicante in Pictures 

It’s a beach life; soaking up the sun in Alicante.

I am still walking on sunshine after spending the weekend in Alicante. I was invited to spend 48 hours in this port city, which is located on Spain’s Costa Blanca, as part of a press trip organised by Aer Lingus. I had not been to Alicante before and so I was super excited to get to explore all that this city has to offer, from sandy beaches to unique culture as well as gourmet food and wine to a remarkable history and stunning architecture. Whilst I am writing a full travel review on my experience for Ulster Tatler, I fell so in love with Alicante, which offers everything you could want from a city break, that I just had to share a little video collage I made of my time there. I hope you enjoy it…

Aer Lingus fly from George Best Belfast City Airport directly to Alicante. For more information on flights visit: http://www.belfastcityairport.com

Animal Farm

Fun on the farm at Mount Panther

There seems to be a bit of a tradition in my destination choice when I’ve a day off work. On Bank Holiday Monday I made my way to another haven for animal lovers: Mount Panther Farm Park

As the sun made an unexpected appearance, myself, along with my sister Gail, bro-in-law Alan and their tiny human, left Belfast, and thousands and marathon runners behind, as we headed for Co Down. (Regular readers will by now realise ‘auntie Kellie’ is a regular gatecrasher on these family adventures, possibly because I have the same amusement level as my two year old niece.) 

Mount Panther is situated on the outskirts of Clough. I have passed the grounds many times, taking great joy whenever I glimpsed a herd of deer relaxing on the grounds, and whilst I was aware of the Mount Panther stately home which is the pinnacle of the estate, I had no idea of the family-run farm park which was recently opened on the grounds. 

When we arrived we followed the sign posts to the car park before making our way to the reception area. Once we paid our entrance fee, we were told what all experiences were available on the farm, before being given bags of food to feed the larger animals. 

Our first step was the petting farm where you could get upclose with a range of animals such as chicks, rabbits and, for the brave, snakes. There was also a majestic eagle and adorable ring tailed lemurs in the enclosures. 

From here we went to the next stage of farm which contained a large sandpit with plenty of buckets and spades as well as an indoor track for go karting. However, what was the best thing here, for me, was a beautiful, baby pygmy goat called Bambi. I was lucky enough to be able to hold it and I instantly fell in love; it was the sweetest wee thing and I was all for recreating The Goat Escape but the staff were to wise to my attempts to smuggle Bambi home. 

Bambi the Pygmy Goat

As we made our way to the outdoor enclosures of animals, we got out our bags of food and had a hilarious time feeding the animals, which included pigs, a donkey and pony, amazing llamas, lambs and even more pygmy goats (there was even one with a quiff that would have put Elvis to shame). The highlight of the trip for the tiny human, however, was the large outdoor play area which had everything from slides and a climbing frame to the very cool looking jumping pillow!

After a fun day filled with sunshine and furry friends it was soon time to head back to Belfast. I would recommend a visit to Mount Panther: it’s only about 40 minutes from Belfast, has super friendly staff that are happy to assist if you want to pet a chicken or cuddle a pygmy goat, and has plenty of space so you can easily see all the animals, even if it’s busy! 

Prices

  • Adults: £7.50
  • Child: £6.50

https://m.facebook.com/Mountpanther/

Posted: 4/5/2017

Super Furry Animals 

I love having a niece for many reasons, but today I discovered another one; she’s the perfect excuse to spend a Friday afternoon at Streamvale Farm, in Belfast. I finished work at lunchtime today and headed to meet my sister Gail and the tiny human. After something to eat,  we donned our coats and made for the farm.

I have never been to Streamvale Farm before and was looking for any excuse to go; if you think this is just a place for kids, think again. I love animals of all shapes and sizes and so as we made our way around the farm, and got to encounter piglets, peacocks, horses, roosters, cows, goats and donkeys, and got to pet chicks, puppies, and kits (or most commonly known as adorably cute tiny baby rabbits), I was completely in my element. I won’t lie, I think I had even more fun than the tiny human.

In addition to the animals, there are plenty of activities on daily throughout the Farm, from pony rides, barrel rides and tractor rides to watching Chase the resident farm dog complete the agility course in record speed; kids of all ages are sure to find something to keep them entertained.

As well as being a fun filled place for little ones, Streamvale Farm is the perfect place to escape from being an adult for a few hours. With furry animal cuddles aplenty, I am pretty sure I will be able to create another excuse so I can visit again soon.

Prices:

  • Infants under 3:  Free
  • Children aged 3-18: £6.60
  • Adults, 18 and over: £7.20

http://streamvale.com

Posted: 21/04/2017

Top of the Hill 

Parliament Buildings at Stormont Estate

I always like to try and get out and explore in some shape or form when I have a few days off, and so as it is Easter, it seemed the perfect time to visit one of the most famous buildings in Northern Ireland: Parliament Buildings at Stormont Estate. 

Although it was a public holiday and the building wasn’t open for tours, my family and I had a lovely walk around Stormont Estate which is much more than just the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly amd Executive. In addition to Parliament Buildings, it is also the location of several stautes, including the Reconciliation sculpture, which depicts a man and woman embracing across barbed wire and a 12ft bronze statue of Sir Edward Carson by L.S. Merrifield, to name a few. Additionally Stormont Estate features a number of walking/ running trails for all fitness levels, so whether you want a gentle walk or an all out park run to burn off those calorific Easter eggs, Stormont Estate, with its lush lawns and colourful bursts of flowers, offers a scenic setting to soak up the sights and sounds of the outdoors. 
Although we had to fit our visit in between rain showers, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to ‘The House on the Hill’, and whether you live in Northern Ireland or are simply just visiting, I definitely recommend checking it out; the tranquil sound of birdsong alone is enough to entice me back once the weather improves.

Posted: 17/04/2017

The statue of Sir Edward Carson

Little (and big) Burch at the House on the Hill

Queen of the Castle 

Last Friday I wined and dined in a castle… with a ghost! 

After a very hectic work week my husband, Keith, and I escaped the hustle and bustle of Belfast for the scenic haven of Ballygally Castle for a gourmet evening of wine pairings courtesy of Woodford Bourne. The weather was atrocious and so once we got parked we were delighted to find a cosy refuge inside. From thrones at reception to a stunningly handcrafted Game of Thrones door, the medieval spirit was very much alive. 

The Game of Thrones door located in Ballygally Castle.

After a quick freshen up we headed to the Woodford Bourne drinks reception. Our first tipple was Prosecco Conti d’Arco NV which was matched with a selection of delightful canapés including a chilli egg combo that was served in an eggshell, goat’s cheese and beetroot cones and pâté on toast. As we tucked in we spoke to Fiona Brown of Duffy Rafferty Communications, and Norman McBride, general manager of Ballygally Castle about the Castle’s friendly ghost, Lady Isabella, whose ‘ghost room’ is located in the tower of the original building. 

Keith and I at the Woodford Bourne drinks reception at Ballygally Castle. Picture courtesy of Duffy Rafferty Communications. 

After we had worked our way through the canapés, we were invited into the stunning Kintyre Ballroom for the next stage of our food and wine journey. This room is an exquisite setting which enjoys panoramic coastal views. After we were seated, we were poured a glass of Moreau Rose D’Anjou. The knowledgeable and incredibly humorous Denis Broderick, Wine & Food Development Consultant with Woodford Bourne NI, was tasked with introducing each wine on the night. With such charisma, he really made each offering come to life prior to us sampling it. To complement the Moreau Rose D’Anjou we were served a warm and velvety celeriac velouté accompanied with Broighter Gold truffle oil with crispy guanciale flat bread. The soup was served in a dainty cup and saucer and packed a serious punch of flavour. 
Next up was a fresh and crisp glass of Marques de Riscal Rueda paired with a gorgeous concoction of Lemon Sole stuffed with Portavogie prawn mousse with a spelt and wild garlic risotto. I was surprised by how much I loved this course; I lapped up every last morsel. 

Before our main dish, we were served a beautifully presented Shortcrust Gin Granita. This was sweet and refreshing, the perfect palate cleanser. 

Next up was the course I was most excited about: trio of local beef which included Carnbrooke Cannon Fillet, Hannon Pulled Brisket Suet Pudding and Jacobs Ladder paired with a glass of Château de la Ligne which is produced from local business man Terry Cross’ French vineyard. This course did not disappoint,  the meat was tender, succulent and flavoursome whilst the wine was rich and elegant; even my husband, who is not a red wine drinker, thoroughly enjoyed this selection. 

Although I was quite full after the main, I can’t say no to dessert and my tastebuds thanked me once they sampled the next offering: Coco, Avocado and Red Quinoa Parfait matched with a glass of Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro. This was pure decadence and I savoured every mouthful. 

As if that was not enough, we had one final course: Fivemiletown Goats Cheese mousse with port jelly served with a glass of Churchill’s Reserve Port. This was a dish of contradictions matching the savoury with the sweet and all though I could not finish mine, there was lots of empty plates around me. 

The mouth-watering selection of food from the gourmet evening at Ballygally Castle.

By this stage I really was fit to burst and so I jumped at the chance to work off some of the food with a walk to the ‘ghost room’. As we ascended the spiral staircase there was definitely a noticeable drop in the temperature. The room, which retains its original setting, tells the fate of Lady Isabella and how she became the resident ghost of the Castle. This really is a fascinating room, and whilst it certainly gave me goosebumps, I thoroughly recommend a visit if you are a guest in the Castle. 

Lady Isabella’s ‘ghost room’ in Ballygally Castle.

After a fabulous mix of fine wines and scrumptious food, mixed with a bit of history, it was time to call it a night. 
The next morning when we woke up, the weather had not improved much but we decided to explore the rest of the grounds before we headed back to Belfast. After a photo session on the Thrones, it was time for the outdoors. With luscious gardens, a delightful foot bridge, a small island and a rumbling river of its own, Ballygally boasts a setting that is truly picturesque and unique. 

Pretending I’m a Queen for the day.

After we checked out we couldn’t resist a walk along the beach opposite the Castle. Although it was raining, it was impossible not to feel happy when soaking up such a stunning setting. With views of Scotland, this really is one of Northern Ireland’s breathtaking scenic spots. 

Has we headed the 40 minutes back to Belfast, I was delighted with our discovery of such a gem on our doorstep. When life gets too much, this is definitely the perfect place to escape all your stresses and I for one cannot wait for a return visit. 

Above (picture courtesy of Keith Burch) and below: the beach located opposite Ballygally Castle.

Posted: 10/03/2017

By the Seaside 

Dunfanaghy town with Mount Errigal in the distance, as seen from Kilahoey Strand.

I love nothing more that a girly break with my sister Gail, however we haven’t managed to plan an adventure since we went to see Elf the Musical in Dublin two years ago. So, for Christmas, when I spotted a Groupon deal for Arnold’s Hotel in Dunfanaghy, Donegal, I snapped it up. 

We have been to Arnold’s before when I did a review for Ulster Tatler several years ago and both had such a great time we always said we would go back. With such a brilliant deal on offer, which included bed, breakfast and an evening meal, it seemed like the stars had aligned for us.

We opted for a one night stay and so on Saturday morning we left Belfast early to make the most of our adventure. The route to Dunfanaghy is very straightforward to navigate, although I have to say,  in all my days I have never encountered so many roundabouts; I was practically dizzy by the time we got there! However, before my head was completely spinning, I was delighted to see Arnold’s Hotel nestled on the main road through Dunfanaghy. 

Arnold’s Hotel

Once the car was parked (there is a car park behind the hotel as well as ample street parking out the front) it was time to check in and deposit our bags. The welcome at reception was friendly and professional and as we made our way to our room, the roaring fire in the lobby immediately reminded me why I had loved the hotel so much during my first visit.

I couldn’t have been happier with our room. I love the fact that parts of the hotel have been modernised but I adored that other elements retained a traditional charm; your room key, for example, is just that, an actual key. There is something comforting about that clunk of a lock turning to admit you to your new home for the night as opposed to the common beeping of electric locks we are all now so used to when travelling. Inside, our room was spacious, cosy and homely, however my absolute favourite thing about it was the stunning view of Kilahoey Strand, a Blue Flag beach that can be accessed opposite Arnold’s Hotel. 

The view from our room.

I literally could have looked at this view all day. However, the only thing better than looking at it through the window was to layer up and soak up the surroundings first hand and so it was to the beach for us.

We hit it very lucky with the weather and although it was chilly, the sun was out making it perfect walking weather. When we went exploring the tide was completely out and so we had a bit a trek to the water’s edge but it was really nice to stretch our legs after the two and a half hour long car journey. We weren’t the only ones to take advantage of the weather, there was a mixture of folk enjoying this stunning beach, from a young family flying a kite to several people out walking their dogs. 

The water’s edge at Kilahoey Strand.

Twinning – Gail (right) and me exploring Dunfanaghy.

Footsteps – evidence of our trek across the beach.

After several photos (the scenery is that beautiful, including an exceptional view of Mount Errigal) we decided to head back and see what else the town had to offer. As it was January a few shops were closed for holidays, however we had a brilliant time looking at the unique offerings in McAuliffe’s Craft Shop. With souvenirs in the bag we decided to pop into The Oyster Bar for a pint of the black stuff – when in Ireland, and all that. The bartender poured us a perfect pint and it was lovely to sit by the window and just watch the world go by.

Our pints of Guinness at The Oyster Bar.

After we had supped up, we made our way back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. Before our meal we thought we would enjoy an aperitif. We ordered two espresso martinis from the hotel’s Whiskey Fly Bar. As we were opting to sit in the lobby, our bartender invited us to go ahead and take a seat and offered to bring the cocktails to us when they were ready. When the cocktails arrived they looked that good that a fellow guest asked what they were so she could order one for herself.

As we finished our drinks, we made our way to the Seascapes Restaurant, which enjoys a classic and inviting decor. The waiting staff were very attentive throughout our meal, and were happy to offer recommendations, not only about the food but also what to do in the local area. The menu was extensive and we were both spoilt for choice, however after much deliberation we opted to share nachos for a starter and both selected the steaks with pepper sauce and chunky chips for main. Both dishes were wonderfully presented; the nachos, which were smothered in chilli beef and cheese packed just the right punch, whilst the steak oozed flavour and were perfectly complemented by the rich and tasty pepper sauce. We were positively fit to burst and had to say no to dessert but decided to finish our meal off with an Irish coffee each. Once again, they were excellently prepared and were the perfect conclusion to our dining experience. 

Our food and drink at Arnold’s Hotel.

As it was still early we decided to enjoy a nightcap by the fire in the lobby, which was pleasantly full with guests of the hotel, diners fron the restaurant and patrons of the Whiskey Fly Bar. After we we felt totally relaxed, not to mention spoilt,  it was time for bed. 
We awoke the next morning to a hint of red sky on the horizon and so it was time to fuel up with breakfast before heading out for a farewell wander on the beach. The hotel offered both a buffet of cereal, fruit, porridge and pastries as well as a hot breakfast menu. As we were both still quite full we opted for the mini Irish breakfast. It was just the right portion size and was full of flavour, the perfect start to the day. With tummies full it was time to blow the cobwebs away with a final walk down Kilahoey Strand. After a few more snap shots we headed back to the hotel to check out before hitting the road back to Belfast. 

A fond farewell to Dunfanaghy.

Although it has been two years since our last girly break, I can honestly say it was worth the wait. Dunfanaghy is a stunning location; as soon as you leave the car and breath in the sea air on arrival, you can instantly feel all your stresses fading away. Arnold’s Hotel is a wonderful base for a visit to this part of the world. The hotel is a family run establishment and you can tell that a lot of care goes into every aspect of Arnold’s. The staff are incredibly friendly and welcoming; the customer service couldn’t be faulted. With a traditional feel to the interior and exceptional views of the beach, as well as delicious food and drinks, a trip to Arnold’s eally does make you feel like you have escaped to another world. 

Posted: 31/01/2017

Welcome to Narnia 

The bronze sculpture of Aslan at CS Lewis Square.

In November, CS Lewis Square, which is built at the intersection between the Connswater and Comber Greenways, Belfast, officially opened. Last week my sister, the tiny human and myself made our way up the Holywood Road to check it out for ourselves. 

When we arrived it was a tad on the baltic side, however not to be deterred we wrapped up warm and went on the hunt for some the best loved characters from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The space, which can hold up to 2,000 people for public events, boasts seven permanent sculptures. The first we encountered was the playful, distinctive and carefully crafted Mr Tumnus. Other figures featured include Maugrim, Mr and Mrs Beaver and Jadis The White Witch, however for me the crowning jewel of this display is the dramatic and awesome three meter bronze installation of Aslan. I wasn’t the only one impressed as the tiny human was mesmerised by the gigantic Lion statue, continually pointing at it in delight. 

In addition to the wonderful sculptures, the new plaza also features 300 trees planted around the square along with new railway tracks, arches, paths and art. The CS Lewis Square is the perfect accompaniment to The Searcher, a bronze sculpture, which was created by Belfast artist Ross Wilson, which is also located a short walk away at the Holywood Arches. This sculpture totally captures the essence of the story created by CS Lewis. It represents Professor Digory Kirke, a character from the Chronicles of Narnia, as he gets up from his chair and opens the wardrobe door of Narnia. 

CS Lewis Square is a truly enchanting space that will captivate kids young and old. As well as being a fitting tribute to one of Belfast’s most famous sons, CS Lewis, it also celebrates the truly creative heart that beats in Belfast. If you live in the city or are a tourist, the square is definitely worth a visit.

The playful Mr Tumnus who welcomes guest to CS Lewis Square.

Posted: 5/1/2017