Thursday, November 5, 2009



Back in the good old days, middle of the last century, the Atlantic Pond, close to the main GAA stadium, was a handy destination for car-less families seeking relief from the heat of the city and many a picnic of sandwiches and tea was enjoyed on its green grassy banks.

The pond deteriorated after that but in recent years, the City Council have done much to restore it. The birds are back and enjoying life on the clean water and there are paths around the lake and besides you have the long walks on the Marina close at hand.

The birds aren’t quite as plentiful as they are in the Lough but today’s visit indicated that this pleasant spot is attracting families once again and quite a few walkers and runners.

for more info on Cork's public parks, some in city centre, check out my reviews at


The Lough (lake) has long been a favourite haunt of Cork strollers and I joined them today. The outer path must be close to a mile long and is favoured by joggers and others on reasonably serious exercise missions.

Many car loads of kids have been brought to the urban lake which has attracted a big variety of wild birds over the years, mainly swans and ducks. The kids and the adults love to feed the birds but, after a recent bout of disease, the City Council has notices up telling people not to feed the traditional bread, asking that the likes of lettuce and cabbage be provided instead.

The birds once again seem to be thriving and the Lough continues to draw the children of the city. Back in the middle of the previous century, it was a favourite spot to go skating in winter but global warming has put an end to that.

for more info on Cork's public parks, some in city centre, check out my reviews at

Saturday, September 19, 2009



Where I stayed and ate go to:

My (admittedly dated) Michelin Green Guide for Ireland leaves the North West of Mayo blank! Nothing out there? Maybe the Michelin man missed out but you don't have to.

We drove out of Ballina the other morning and headed for Killala. The most noticeable thing about Killala is the absence of telephone and electricity poles. These services were put underground in the 80s when a period TV series (The Year of the French) was filmed there.

Then on to Ballycastle, heading for Belderrig. On that road, you can see some spectacular coastal scenery (top), including large cliffs, the best known of which is Downpatrick Head near Ballycastle.

The Ceidhe Fields (above right) gives you a tour of a prehistoric farm found in the bog (the first known cultivated fields in Europe). Very interesting. Just opposite the car park is a protected viewing point for the cliffs.

When you come to the small village of Belderrig, take a right turn in towards the pier. Not much activity there nowadays as the fishing is no longer profitable. Neither does it make sense to endure back-breaking work to extract peat from the bog (left) when you can get heating oil cheaper.

Old habits are dying. And maybe the community is going the same way. It doesn't look that way on the surface. If you take a trip along the side roads here, you will see some substantial houses, some new ones and some renovated. The place looks well but most of these are summer homes for former residents or their descendants. There are no young people left. Indeed no children there now. The national school closed last June when the final three pupils graduated and headed for the secondary school at Lacken Cross, a stepping stone away from the area.

Back then to Belmullet and Blacksod Bay. The Mullet peninsula is worth a trip. On the way back we made a detour at Barnatra, taking the coast road via Inver and Pollathomais (below) and then back to the main road.

Autumn colours, including the red heather, made for a picturesque view on the bogs, the streams and the mountains (where the sunshine and shadows played hide and seek). All lovely for the visitor but it doesn’t put bread on the table for the locals.

Our other day in the West saw us take the road from Ballina over towards Bangor in Erris and then down to Achill Island. You could spend a day discovering the scenery (below) on the island but, if you are short of time, then do the well signposted Atlantic Drive. It is a short but spectacular trip, lovely on a good day but even more exciting when the winds blows and the rain lashes in!

Where I stayed and ate go to:

To further fill that blank in the Michelin guide you could go to which will give you details on many sites including: Ballintubber Abbey, Ballintubber, Claremorris; Céide Fields Visitor Centre, Ballycastle, County Mayo; Clew Bay Heritage Centre, The Quay, Westport; Teach Na Miosa, Croagh Patrick, Westport; Belcarra Eviction Cottage, Belcarra, Castlebar; Fr. Peyton Memorial Centre, Attymass, Ballina; Foxford Woollen Mills, Foxford; Ionad Deirbhile Heritage Centre , Eachleim, Blacksod; Kiltimagh Museum, Old Railway Station, Kiltimagh; Knock Folk Museum, Knock Shrine Grounds, Knock; Mayo Abbey, Mayo Abbey Village, Claremorris; Mayo North Heritage Centre, Enniscoe, Ballina; Michael Davitt Museum, Straide; Partry House, Partry.

Nevin Mountain and Lough Cullin above.
Where I stayed and ate go to:

Monday, July 6, 2009


The Pomerol Gite and Thezac Sunflowers

Royan beach (above) and Meschers Sunset (opposite Talmont)

Beach at St Georges

Ferry leaves Royan for Pnte du Grave

Three parts to this day, starting with trip to beach at St Georges for a swim in the sea, a walk and a rest on the beach.
Part two was back at the gite. Lunch consisted of a salad and a beer; that was followed by a dip in the pool and a spell to read and relax.
Five in the afternoon, we hit the road to Royan and walked across the main sea front to take a look at a couple of smaller beaches on the western side. Then back to the town for a light meal in Chez Meme, one of a string of sea front eateries. A couple of pizzas (9+9.5), 50cl of wine (5.50), two desserts (5.50 & 6.50) filled the belly. Service was excellent and friendly and the food wasn’t bad either! Sun still belting down strongly as we reach the gite at close to 9.00pm.

Hot today, somewhere in the high 30s here (later, we get confirmation that it reached over 40). First call is to the market at Saintes. Buy mussels for lunch and also fresh cod for dinner.
After lunch head to nearby Pisany for a Brocante Fair. It is the 25th such event but the stalls, though many, are small and the quality poor and we leave after half hour or so. We had come across one of these in this area a few years back and really enjoyed it. But there was to be no repeat this time.
Heat (40 degrees plus) is getting to us and, aside from a couple of dips in the pool and the odd short spell in the sun , we spend much of the second part of the afternoon in the cool of the gite.
Read quite a bit today of The Client by John Grisham, a thriller. It is not too bad, much better than the two thrillers I read earlier on this trip: The Blue Zone (by Andrew Gross ) and the dire Final Detail (by Harlan Coben).
Looking forward now to the cod with tomatoes and also to the Confederations Cup final from South Africa between Brazil and the USA. - Both turned out to be very enjoyable!!

Another easy day in the hot sun. After breakfast headed off to St Georges for a spell on the beach. Bought a few bits in the town and back to the gite for lunch. Later checked the sales in Saintes but the big department store had no air-con. Headed outside for an ice cream and later a drink at a bar before driving back to base and a read and a dip or two in the pool.

The heat wave continues: more beach and pool, generally taking it easy, though made final trip to local vineyard to stock up. Sunflowers are now blooming.

Surprised to find La Foret closed on this Tuesday evening; headed down to Talmont to La Promontoire but that too was closed. Lesson: check before you go, as many restaurants close for both Monday and Tuesday, others for just one of those days.
La Kaz, another establishment in Talmont, was open; we got a table there and soon the place was packed, putting pressure on the two serving, though our flamboyant fellow didn’t show it. They did their best but service was slow. Nothing great on the menu here so settled for a lovely pizza (11.50). Also enjoyed my dessert of Poire belle Helene and the wine which cost €5 for a 50cl carafe.
People were expecting a thunderstorm and there was a little nervousness when one or two of the sheltering sunshades began to rattle in the wind. But nothing, only a few heavy drops, followed and there was a beautiful sunset on sea and cornfields as we drove inland to the gite.

Change of month but no change in the weather, temperatures still in the high 30s, pool temperature at 28 in morning. Mainly the same course of action: read, pool, beach, pool. Tough going.
Still enough action to work up an appetite and the best place to satisfy that in these parts is La Foret. Have myself a Pineau Rose aperitif while studying the huge menu. We settle for the Medallions de Merlu (hake), cooked in a court bouillon, and served with various vegetables, including tomatoes, the plate further enhanced with four or five split (large) prawns. This dish cost €24.00 and was worth every penny.
Desserts were described on the bill as Tarte Au Citron and Tiramisu but, believe me, were much more than that. Both were gorgeous though I think the Advisor’s Tarte was the better choice. Finished off with an espresso (1.80, much cheaper than the 3.50 Jacques outrageously charge).
A good end to a good day.

The expected thunderstorms hit the area in the early hours of this morning; we weren’t really in the bird’s eye bit but the thunder rumbled on for a while. The morning was cloudy but soon the temperatures rose again and this day followed much the same pattern as recently: beach, stroll, ice cream and back to pool.
Last night in France for this trip so we head off to Le Cottage to support the Irish-French couple that run it. While waiting, we are served with a lovely smoked salmon mousse which goes well with the brown bread. The main course for me is local lamb with seasonal vegetables; done to a T, easy to eat as was the advisor's filet of beef. Dessert was deliceux de fraises, also gorgeous.

Close on 600 km to Roscof, so we pump the tyres to support the wine haul and also make a few stops on the motorway. One of the best is Aire de Vendee. I got a triple chicken sandwich here (3 slices of ordinary bread), a bottle of Coca Cola and a dessert yoghurt (with spoon and serviette) for 5.90.
Bits and pieces of fruit, travel sweets, more coke, kept us going. We didn't need much by the time we boarded which was a pity as le Flora was open! But we tried the self service. They had a range of hot dishes for around the 8 euro mark, also loads of salads, desserts, drinks etc.

Two Canneloni, two desserts, plus two small bottles (25 cl) of wine cost €27.65. The food was adequate (nothing special) but overall the value was decent.

But some more wine, mainly from the Languedoc on board. It is a smooth crossing and we arrive back in Cork bang on schedule at 10.30am Saturday.


In the village of Thezac (Charente, France), the 11th century church towers over the houses and the surrounding cornfields and vineyards and the bells ring out the hour (though not by night). When the house lights go out, it is dark.
Pigeons coo (and coo), birds of prey glide and dive, rabbits run in the garden (until the cat catches one), hares are regularly seen and there are deer in the vicinity.
The friendly and courteous people rise early and work hard in the vineyards, the cornfields, the fields of sun flowers and maize and in their vegetable gardens. The village has no shops but just over 3 kms away in Pisany you’ll find a small supermarket and a baker.
Thezac is in the middle of nowhere but close to many attractive places such as Saintes, Royan, Talmont and Mornac (two of the prettiest villages in France – official), the beaches, and the motorway if you want to go further (Bordeaux, for example).
Ken and Nicky Roberts ( have worked hard to restore the farm buildings of Au Milieu Des Vignes over the last six years or so and the completed project is a credit to them.
Three gites stand together (each with its private terrace c/w with barbecue and sun loungers) and a fine sized swimming poor (a bonus in hot weather) is shared, as is a large garden. The thickness of the walls of the converted barns means that the gites are cool inside, another bonus when temperatures rise.
The gites are marketed as romantic hideaways for couples (no kids, no pets) and that is exactly what they are. When you have enough of the holiday hustle in Royan, enough of the beaches, enough of driving, you can quickly retreat to Thezac, a dip in the pool and let the world go away.