County Cork in Ireland holds many treasures.
At Ardmore on the coast, you can walk in the footsteps of medieval monks. A cylindrical stone tower – a much-needed sanctuary – stands guard over the site of an old monastery.
The Viking raiders are long gone, but when the wind moans through the ruins of the old cathedral, perhaps St Declan himself still wanders amongst the graves.
In need of some nourishment? Then you’re in luck, for nearby is the home of one of Ireland’s most celebrated cooks.
A pioneer of the Slow Food movement, Darina Allen is the creative force behind the Ballymaloe Cookery School which is based on the foundation of a sustainable food programme. You’ll love discovering the organic farm and gardens which stretch across forty hectares.
The kitchen potager, and herb and fruit gardens – my favourites – were inspired by the magnificent Villandry garden in the Loire valley.
And there are plenty of fresh eggs on hand and a happy home for those hard working chooks…
The gardens provide the freshest produce for the cooking programmes, whilst the Celtic maze and pleasure garden offer tranquil spaces to explore.
There’s a folly too…a tiny gothic house tucked away near the herbaceous borders, decorated with the shells from the mussels and scallops consumed in the kitchens on site. It seems nothing is wasted in this productive wonderland.
Maybe, like me, you won’t have time to participate in one of the daily cooking classes but there’s always time for coffee and a delicious slice of lemon tart from the café.
Given its strong principles, you might be fooled into thinking Ballmaloe is a serious place – their 12 week cookery course is of course – but I can asssue you this lovely part of Ireland is seriously quirky and a great boon for all the senses.
I’d love to go back one day… maybe I’ll see you there?