Derry – a city break for history buffs

IMG_9396

“We didn’t know how bad we’d had it until we had peace,” said Chris Quigley as we took a detour. Chris was booked to take me to the airport. He convinced me to take a detour that would be worth it. The car slowed down and stopped atop Eskaheen View and I knew Chris was right. Derry spanned below me under a crystal blue December sky. The sun sparkled across River Foyle as it ribboned its way past Derry’s landmarks. From up here the city was breathtaking. Read on to find out why Derry is a city break for history buffs.

Derry is the Northern Irish city that came to the attention of the world on 5th October 1968. A single television camera captured police attacking a peaceful demonstration and broadcast it to the world. It was the first time the Unionist government’s abuse of power against a nationalist (mainly Catholic) working class community had been witnessed. This single incident changed the course of Northern Irish history. Support for the civil rights movement surged and some reforms by the government followed but the tide had turned. In January 1969 the first no go area was declared and the defiant slogan You Are Now Entering Free Derry appeared on a gable wall in the Bogside. Today, the wall is a tourist attraction, the community is in healing and Derry is indeed, free.

As with most cities that experience long periods of civil unrest Derry’s narrative hovers around the conflict. However, we’d do well to remember that this city has a history which predates the recent conflict. With 1500 years worth of stories to retell and the only completely intact 17th century city walls in all of Ireland it’s a place waiting to be discovered. Little wonder then it was the inaugural UK City of Culture in 2013. With a wild, rugged coastline, fine dining and a rich cultural heritage all under a flight time of one hour and 25 minutes we cannot afford to miss Derry.

IMG_2244.jpg Gorgeous Penthouse Room at City Hotel Derry

Where to stay: City Hotel Derry’s location is perfect for exploring, eating and drinking and is within a few minutes to the city walls, craft village and Peace Bridge. There is a bar and restaurant on the ground floor. The bar is open late and serves food until 11pm. 

Ship Quay Hotel: This grade 11 listed building has been converted to a boutique hotel with remarkable results. It’s perfectly located for exploring the city and also within walking distance from restaurants, bars and shopping. Their restaurant is exceptional and popular for Sunday brunch.

Foyle’s Hotel: Chef Brian McDermott has transformed this 1819 hotel to a 16 room modern boutique hotel like no other. Most rooms boast sea views over Lough Foyle. The hotel is located in Moville which is around 30 minutes drive from the centre of Derry.

IMG_9553 Bread and butter pudding at Ship Quay Hotel, Derry.

Where to eat and drink: Soda & Starch serves up a menu of Irish produce transformed into international dishes. You can experience Thai broth mussels with Guinness wheaten bread or slow roasted Moroccan lamb on flat bread. Soda & Starch is located within the Craft Village. It’s a perfect place for grabbing lunch during the day or an early evening meal.

Walled City Brewery: Walk across the Peace Bridge over River Foyle and arrive at the delightful Walled City Brewery. As the name suggests craft beer is brewed on the premises. The restaurant is slick and modern. The food is sumptuous. Wild boar terrine, turf-smoked salmon and spiced mulled pear with cheese are all on the menu as pintxos. Venison, slow braised beef cheeks and Donegal salmon mains are to die for. Pièce de résistance? Bourbon poached pears with ginger ice cream and pistachio brittle for dessert.

Browns Restaurant: There are two Browns restaurants in Derry: Browns Bonds Hill and Browns In Town. The latter is conveniently located within ten minutes of the city centre by cab. If I haven’t yet mentioned it – fish and sea food is exceptional in Derry. Browns serves a wonderful baked scallop and stuffed red mullet. Their Guinness bread served with Eglinton butter is simply worth crossing the city for. This is unmissable fine dining.

The Foyle Hotel Wine Bar & Eatery: Chef Brian McDermott’s Foyle Hotel offers what I can only describe as a wholesome dining experience. Its wine bar and eatery has won Georgina Campbell’s New Comer of the Year award and recommended as Best in Ireland McKenna’s Guides. Expect locally sourced mussels cooked in buttermilk, hearty venison cottage pie and apple crumble like no other. Utterly delicious local food.

White shop front with flower crowns and blue bicycle parked outside Craft Village, Derry

Things to do: City Tours offers insightful guided tours along the city walls. In just over an hour I learnt of Derry’s 1500 years of history from the sixth century through Bloody Sunday to the present day. As a huge fan of guided walking tours I couldn’t recommend this highly enough.

Craft Village: This delightful reconstructed 18th century street is home to artisan shops, local designers and plenty of places to eat and drink. It’s right in the heart of the town and a great place to shop for souvenirs and support local craftspeople. There is an array of craft boutiques ranging from Irish dancing supplies to hand-made crockery and cup cakes. What’s not to love?

Museum of Free Derry: Ireland’s civil rights movement is best understood at the Museum of Free Derry. The building stands precisely where the most pivotal moments occured.  The surrounding area is also home to murals painted by Bogside Artists and honour the struggle and subsequent peace that it achieved. The museum is run by volunteers who either lived through the conflict or descendants of ones who lost their lives.

Wild Atlantic Way: The drive along 2500 kilometres of a ferocious Atlantic coast was the highlight of my trip. Adventure seeker or not this rugged coastline will leave you breathless. Dotted with fishing villages, light houses, dramatic deep cliffs and pebbled beaches it’s the wild Ireland of your dreams.

I was a guest of Visit Derry and received complimentary first class travel on Stansted Express. Opinions expressed are all my own. For more information on Derry visit: www.visitderry.com

13 reasons to visit Lisbon in November

It’s happened; we’ve put the clocks back. The days are shorter, we have fewer hours of daylight and it’s officially winter. It also feels as though someone’s put the temperature back along with the clocks. As the mercury heads towards zero we inevitably start thinking about sunnier shores; who can blame us? Still, not everyone wants the long-haul. So where should we go for a little blue sky? How about the sunniest capital in Europe? Yep, Lisbon. Here are 13 reasons to visit Lisbon in November.

It’s the sunniest capital city in Europe

Let’s get this out of the way; Lisbon is Europe’s sunniest capital enjoying a staggering 2,799 hours of sunshine per year. This number of sunny hours beats all other capital cities on the continent. It also means you’re likely to catch some rays later in the year.

Low cost flights

There are a number of operators offering low cost flights to Lisbon from most UK airports. Depending on the time of year online travel operators offer deals from as little as £44 from London to Lisbon one-way.

Short flight time

With an average flight time of around two and a half hours trading off comfort for a no-frills journey won’t matter. You’ll arrive in less time than it takes to cross London during rush hour. Put your headphones on, get comfortable and enjoy the short journey.

Public transport is convenient and inexpensive

Lisbon airport is only seven kilometers from the city centre. Wherever you choose to stay the journey time is unlikely to be more than 25 minutes by Metro. Trains leave every few minutes but you may need to change lines.

Buy a Viva Viagem card which costs €0.50 from the ticket machines and top it up. Your single journey from the airport to the city centre costs just €1.40. Given that this is also quicker than taking a taxi it’s an easy decision to make. If you plan to use public transport for the rest of your stay a daily pass is just €6.30. It allows you to make unlimited journeys for 24 hours on all public transport including ferries, tram, funiculars and buses as well as the Metro.

IMG_5875

Trams

Lisbon’s trams are quite spectacular. I’ll never forget my first tram; think Laura Dern in Jurassic Park (2013) when she sees a dinosaur for the first time. Bear in mind that there are also modern trams in  the city. The classic Remodelados are mainly yellow and rattle and screech through the winding cobbled streets of Lisbon. Route E28 which crosses the Alfama district is the most scenic and a wonderful way to see Lisbon. The trams run from 6am to 10.30pm hourly. Latest time tables can be found here to Campo Ourique and here to Martim Moniz.

IMG_5899

Funiculars

Whilst Lisbon’s trams are icons of the city its funiculars are less well known. Lisbon was built on seven hills and the funiculars were introduced in the late 19th century to make them a little more manageable. There are three funiculars and one lift: Ascensor da Bica, Ascensor da Glória, Ascensor do Lavra and Elevador de Santa Justa.

For great views of the city, against the backdrop of River Tagus, Ascensor da Bica is considered the most picturesque ride. It climbs one of the steepest hills and crosses the quaint area of Bica district. Best of all, funiculars are part of the public transport network so the Viva Viagem card is accepted on them.

One of the world’s oldest cities

I was surprised to learn that Lisbon predates ancient cities like Rome, London and Paris by centuries. You can feel history seeping out of the cobbles when you walk on them; dramatic but true. Alfama is the oldest district first inhabited by fishermen and the poor. The Moorish Castle of São Jorge is found here as is Lisbon Cathedral. Take a walk amongst the old houses and new restaurants in Alfama and listen to the familiar sounds of the Fado filling up the evening.

Facetune_26-10-2018-22-31-38

Pastéis de nata

The Guardian ranked pastéis of Belém the 15th tastiest delicacy in the world. The 18th century Monastery of JeróNimos in the parish of Santa Maria de Belém is where it all began. A revolution in 1820 caused religious orders to be gradually shut down. In Belém, some monks started to sell pastéis at a nearby sugar refinery to bring in an income. When that monastery too was forced to close, in 1837, the recipe was sold to the refinery. They duly opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém in the same year. Their descendants still own the business. You really don’t want to miss this one. Lisbon bakes 10,000 pastéis a day.

IMG_5917

Street Cafes

We’ve established that this is the sunniest capital in Europe. So it would follow that al fresco dining is popular. From coffee shops serving Portuguese coffee to bakeries filled with every sin imaginable, Lisbon loves cafe life. Doors wide open to busy streets send the aroma of the sweetest treats wafting out. Lisbon’s streets are lined with cafes. You’ll be spoilt for choice with places to eat and drink whilst sight-seeing.

Fine Dining

If cafe culture doesn’t suit you’ll be pleased to know that the city has a growing reputation for fine dining. Suba restaurant at Verride Palacio Santa Catarina hotel, headed by Chef Bruno Carvalho, is a real gem. With an express Executive Menu for lunch time diners and a more extensive a la carte menu for the evening it’s a credit to Lisbon. Expect innovative cuisine such as cauliflower cappuccino mixed with traditional dishes such as goat stew all presented with Michelin-worthy flair.

IMG_5886

Street art

It’s remarkable how the city has embraced its street art and artists. Trams, funiculars, walls and shop fronts are often covered in artistic graffiti. However, instead of painting over, as most city authorities would, Lisbon has embraced its street art making it a unique meeting of past and present. It’s not uncommon  to find residential streets with historic buildings adorned with colourful street art.

321

Sleep in a palace

Lisbon has made a swift move from being a low-cost European city break to one of unparalleled luxury. Hotel Verride Palácio Santa Catarina, for example, has swept the board this year with luxury accolades ranging from inclusion in the Condé Naste Traveller Hot List, a nomination for the World Luxury Hotel Award and making the shortlist of Wallpaper magazine’s Urban Hotels awards. Visit in November and you’re more likely to get a chance at booking their Royal Suite which is an ethereal dream.

Roof Top 2

Rooftop bars with views

Given that this is a city built on seven hills the rooftops of Lisbon offer spectacular views over the city. Most hotels take advantage of this and offer rooftop bars to rival each other. Verride Palacio Santa Catarina hotel has the highest point with 360 degree views in the neighbourhood of Santa Catarina. Their Happy Hour on Thursdays and Fridays are legendary and attracts Lisbon’s hippest crowd. Never fear dipping temperatures as the bar here has a roof and outdoor heating.

 

 

I was a guest of Verride Palácio Hotel located at: Rua de Santa Catarina nº 1, 1200-401 Lisboa.