Tuesday, October 19, 2010

No Corking Cork City!

Over the past decade Cork city has made considerable progress towards shaking its second city status as Dublin's little sister. As the city's confidence grows, so too does tourist confidence in it. Cork is fast building a reputation as an attractive mini-break location, earning itself a coveted pin on the tourist map of European city destinations.

The long term strategic planning of Cork City Council, notably based on recommendations made in the landmark Land Use and Transportation Study (1978), have made Cork a much more economically vibrant and tourist friendly location. Major pedestrianisation and redesign have transformed the city centre into an impressive shopping district and social hub, home to an increasing selection of gourmet restaurants and a diverse and lively nightlife scene. Cosy pubs and cafes nestle between trendy bars and music venues along the well kept side lanes that lead off Patrick street. The city also boasts larger venues, most notably the wonderful Cork Opera House, that regularly host high profile concerts and theatrical productions. A number of tourist attractions, such as the English market, Shandon Tower and the UCC campus-one of the oldest in Ireland-with its renowned Glucksman gallery, also provide an incentive to visitors.

Further contributing to Cork's elevation has been its designation in 2005 as the European Capital of Culture. This title, awarded on an annual basis by the European Union, brings with it a remunerative opportunity to generate significant social, cultural and economic benefits. This opportunity was embraced by Corkonians, who used their year of cultural events and celebration to buff the city's image and raise its international profile.

The buzz induced by the 2005 spotlight did not leave Cork with the European Capital of Culture title. Rather the city continued to develop its image, positioning itself as a lively and dynamic location, rich in spirit and cultural assets, including a wide range of arts and entertainment festivals. The largest of these are the upcoming Guinness Cork Jazz Festival and the Corona Cork Film Festival.

The city's heightened visibility and appeal has been recognised by the authors of the Lonely Planet, who, in their recent publication Best of Travel 2010, have named Cork as one of the top ten cities in the world to visit this year. Praising the city, the guide states: ‘Cork is at the top of its game right now: sophisticated, vibrant and diverse, while still retaining its friendliness, relaxed charm and quick-fire wit.’

The book’s editor remarks: ‘Cork has been in Dublin’s shadows for far too long, it has emerged as a fantastic destination in its own right with great restaurants, galleries, bars and shops as well as stunning scenery on its doorstep.’

Indeed Cork city is a threshold to some of the most beautiful landscapes and seaside towns in Ireland. Bantry, Blarney, Kinsale, Schull, Crosshaven, Cobh and Fota-to name but a few-are all popular with both Irish and foreign visitors. With recent improvements to road and rail, as well as the addition of a new terminal at Cork airport, the city is now even better positioned to facilitate tourist traffic to the greater Cork area.

With international lights shining on Cork the city is blossoming. 2010 is the year to visit, or revisit as the case may be. And there is no better time to do this than the upcoming October bank holiday weekend (22nd - 25th ), during which the annual Guinness Cork Jazz Festival takes place.

The festival is one of the social highlights of the Cork calender year, the city's atmosphere and charm peaking as the jazz beat leaks out onto the streets. A jewel in the crown of Cork city, the festival has grown from strength to strength over the years to become one of Ireland's largest cultural events, as well as an internationally celebrated fixture on the jazz calender. With music lovers flocking from all over the globe to mingle with the industry's leading jazz musicians and attend the festival's usual array of first-rate concerts and workshops, the city tend to fill up quickly . Early booking is advised.

 If jazz is not your thing then perhaps film is. Another great time to visit Cork is during the Corona Cork Film Festival, taking place this year between the 7th and 15th November. Now in its 55th year, the festival has grown in size and reputation to become one of Ireland's leading film events. With an eclectic programme of big budget movies, independent productions, world cinema, documentary and short art house film there is something on screen for everyone.
 With two of its most popular festivals still to come this year, Cork city refuses to forfeit itself to seasonal blues. One measure of a city's success as a tourist destination is its ability to attract visitors year round, rather than on a purely seasonal basis. Cork is proving itself on this ground. And on so many others too.

Ireland's second (but by no means least...) city has exploded onto the tourist scene with the vivaciousness and celebration of a champagne toast. For now at least there appears to be no corking it. To Cork!

This Article was published in the Trnity News Oct 2010. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hvar, Queen of the Dalmatian coast

Last, but certainly not least, in our series on the Dalmatian coast is the up-market island of Hvar. This island is one of the most popular destinations in the Adriatic and can get extremely busy between the months of May and September, particularly in August when thousands of Italians flock here.  The medieval old town, rocky beaches  and vibrant nightlife appeal to both a young backpacker crows as well as well-off yacht owners and cruise-liner passengers.  

An original attraction to the island was its low cost, however as Hvar becomes more and more popular the prices continue to rise.  Having returned to Hvar myself after 7 years I can confirm that prices are indeed rocketing.  A number of five star hotels have popped up on the left side of the old town during my absence, forming a sort of resort quarter.  The island is well aware of its increasing exclusivity and restaurants and bars are marketing themselves in this direction.

 There are still cheap, affordable establishments to be found, bu a word of warning...... always check the menu and price list before entering.  Marianero is a good local restaurant, situated on a small square above the port on the left side of the town.  The food in Hvar is typical of that elsewhere in Coratia, with simple dishes of local seafood and grilled meats featuring on nearly all menus.  If yo fancy a break from this diet then there is a fabulous Japanese restaurant on the main pier where the ferry docks.  Small portions at high prices, but a nice change for the taste buds.  Watch out when ordering wine here as it can be very expensive.  

The highlight of Hvar for me is its nightlife.  Our landlady, Marija told us on arrival that Hvar is the Ibiza of Croatia.  While it certainly does not boast the mega clubs, flashing lights and intense music of the Spanish party island, it is undoubtedly the hot spot of nightlife in Dalmatia.  Sitting on the square at night provides a perfect people watching opportunity and a good chance to mingle with fellow holiday-makers.  There are many great bars along the port and if you go to the left of the main square there are plenty of bars the can accommodate large groups on the side streets.  When I was last in Hvar the focus of the late night partying was the nightclub 'up the steps', which took the form of a decrepit concrete amphitheatre with a caged pool in the centre.  The staunchness and grime of the venue was its charm.  Revisiting the club on my return I found a stylish, up-market empty venue with expensive drinks and flash furnishings.  It was mid September, so perhaps I had just missed the season....
An addition to the nightlife scene over the past few years is beach parties.  Boats filled with young and lively passengers head to nearby beaches in the middle of the night for some waterside partying.  Unfortunately I never managed to get myself on one... next time :)

Other features of Hvar include its castle, which perches at the top of the old town and offers a fantastic view down onto the port. There is a small admission fee into the castle, which houses a little museum, and unusually for many, allows you to explore its dungeons.  

Along with Dubrovnik, Korcula and Mljet, Hvar is a must do on a tour of the Dalmatian coast.  As with these other locations, if you are on a budget then just hop of the ferry and your accommodation will find you.  If you can afford to then there are lots of luxury hotels to relax in-the main benefit of these being that you can sprawl out by a pool, rather than on a rough, rocky shore!  

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lake island of Mlhet

Continuing on our tour of Croatia's Dalmatian Coast is the beautiful Adriatic island of Mljet.  The island's two lakes form the centre of a national park that is almost completely ringed by a well kept cycle path, which most tourists pedal along in order to take in the beautiful views of the sea lakes.  

Bicycles can be rented from the small port at the bottom of the ihill.  We were impressed with the quality of the bikes we were given and paid about €17 to hire them for 3 hours, although I think this was for a daily rate.  The cycle around the lakes is very quiet, with few vehicles using the ring.  It is not terribly strenuous, although getting up the hill to the start of the national park is a challenge.  As you cycle around the lakes you encounter small clusters of houses and cafes, where you can stop to rest and enjoy the view.  The restaurants along the lake are family run and pleasantly rustic, often with pets and naked toddlers running through them.  It is scenes like this that make me smile and yearn for island living.  

More expensive bars and restaurants can be found at the marina, where there is a small hub of activity.  The island is much quieter compared to Korcula or Dubrovnik, and so is often visited as a day trip from either.  We took a tourist boat from Lumbarda in Korcula for €30 pp, not including entrance fee to the national park at approximately €8 pp.    The journey was 2 hrs each way. If you don't want to make the trip in one day then there are plenty of accommodation options in Mljet, includ=ing the usual local rooms, as well as small hotels.  

Whatever way you decide to visit Mljet it is definitely worth it.  It is a stunning island that should not be overlooked on your visit to Croatia.  

Dublin Zoo-Must Do

Sun rises on Dublin zoo

Last week I had the pleasure of being one of a handful of bloggers invited to visit Dublin Zoo before the arrival of visitors for the day.  The 'behind the scenes' morning was cool and crisp, perfectly quiet but for the occasional  screech or bellow of wild animals.  Being there early in the morning really brought the incredible amount of upkeep and work that the animals need into perspective.  The zookeepers all presented as incredibly hard-working and devoted people, who knew their animals as well as if they were close family.  Some keepers were even able to trace the hereditary  line of their 'pets' back further than I could my own Granny's!  

We got to watch the zoo keepers feeding breakfast to the animals, including this grumpy orangutan, who showed his ingratitude at the earlier than usual start by hurling a rock at us bloggers!  

Arriving as we did with breakfast helped us to get closer than usual to the animals. This tiger in particular was happy to parade in front of the spotlight for the sake of his stomach.  

If anything he got a little too close.... Ahhhhh!

This was my first visit to the Dublin zoo in about ten years so I found myself in a good position to really appreciate the many changes that have taken place there.  And there has been many.  Dublin zoo has developed from a previously rather mediocre park to a world-class standard sanctuary.  The housing of the animals has improved ten-fold, as has the layout and design of the park itself.   The zoo is run in the spirit of conservation and education, rather than of spectacle, with the animals coming first, and visitors second.   Ironically the relegation of the visitor actually works to heighten their experience.  I left the zoo in high spirits, knowing and appreciating the level of care that the animals enjoy at their Irish home.  

All in all the zoo is a great day out, in particular for young families, like the one shown below :)  It is a fantastic place to both educate and entertain kids. Unlike many attractions, that suffer from the Been There Done That badge, the zoo can be revisited time and time again throughout the year to check in on the animals' development, new arrivals and the many positive changes taking place at the park.  An annual family pass is available and is well worth the money, particularly if you are living near to the Phoenix park.  

For more information on Dublin zoo, its projects, events and inhabitants Click here.


Related Posts with Thumbnails