December can be an expensive month for most people, especially if you have birthdays to contend with right before Christmas! It’s my husband Michael’s birthday on the 5th of December, and when I asked him what he wanted this year he said he didn’t want ‘stuff’ anymore; he wants experiences and memories instead. Since moving house this year we’ve both become a lot more mindful about clutter and of making more mindful purchases, so I decided to look into taking him away on a surprise trip.
Two of our lovely friends moved over to Cork in Ireland this year, and we both had been meaning to get over there to see them… so I set about sorting a festive pre-Christmas visit there. I didn’t want to put upon them and their gorgeous baby daughter too much, so to compromise I booked us one night in a hotel in the city of Cork, followed by the second night at their house in Clonakilty. Cork is one of the foodie and music capitals of Europe, and as my husband is a bit of a foodie and I’m a musician, I knew we would love it!
I managed to keep it a secret until the day we left, I was so impressed with myself! Michael was excited (I think, as excited as the most chill and laid back person in the world can be!) and off we went. We only live around 10 minutes from Liverpool John Lennon airport, and the flight was scheduled to take 1hr 20m, but in reality was under an hour. We flew with Ryanair as they’re the only carrier that go to Ireland from Liverpool… I was a little nervous given the recent horror stories, and even pre-warned my work that I may get stranded in Ireland on Sunday night if they suddenly cancelled all the flights! I have absolutely zero complaints about the flights, though. I mean, it’s Ryanair, it’s basically a bus in the sky – but for such a short flight it really doesn’t matter! I booked us priority boarding and reserved seats as I figured having somewhere to put our baggage would matter, but decided that all the other extras did not.
Landing at Cork went smoothly, and began with the realisation that Cork Airport is basically a clone of Liverpool! This became a running theme throughout the weekend, spotting all of the similarities between Cork and Liverpool. Pretty much all Scousers are part Irish (we both are) and the way things are done and people speak over there is super similar. It felt homely!
We arrived at the Montenotte Hotel roughly 20 minutes after stepping off the plane thanks to a speedy cab, and we were instantly struck by the gorgeous decor. It looked divine all done up for Christmas! The staff were so lovely and couldn’t do enough to help us. We hadn’t booked any food as we were arriving at a slightly awkward time (9.30pm) and I wasn’t sure if we would eat in the airport, but upon looking at the menu whilst in the cab we decided to try our luck. Even though they were basically fully booked and they stopped serving at 9.45pm, they not only squeezed us in – they gave us the best table in the house with the best view! The Montenotte is on a hill overlooking the city of Cork, and it was beautiful and sparkly on a cold December night. The food was all locally sourced produce, and was absolutely delicious. I forgot to take photos of the room, but it was nice – we went for the basic double so it was just a nice double room, but the upgraded rooms look absolutely gorgeous!
Our friends had advised us that half a day in the city of Cork would suffice in terms of seeing it, as for them the attraction of County Cork is all in the surrounding countryside and beaches. Plus, it’s basically a clone of Liverpool. They weren’t wrong! My husband is a bit of a foodie, and so are our friends, so they recommended a beautiful little cafe called Orso for breakfast. It’s absolutely tiny, but we timed it perfectly as we managed to get a table no problems. Again, everything was locally sourced and organic – I had a fresh mint tea made with real mint leaves, delightful!
We had a little wander around the city centre. We mainly stayed around Oliver Plunkett Street, which houses all of Cork’s independent shops and boutiques. There were some nice cobbled streets and cute little arcades and alleyways, but my friend was right – after an hour or two we had kind of exhausted all there was to see. So, we hopped on the bus to Clonakilty.
Clonakilty is a town about an hour south of Cork city. It’s famous for its musical heritage, food and beauty. It really did not disappoint. After an hour of driving through rolling Irish countryside, we arrived into the town and – no joke – got stuck behind what was basically The Polar Express! We looked out of the window to see snow, elves and Christmas music blaring… the nearby model railway had put on a special Christmassy train for all of the residents and children of the town. This set the tone for the gorgeousness of the whole weekend!
Michael summed up our initial impressions of Clonakilty when he said “it’s like when we went to Disneyworld and they made stylised versions of countries in Epcot… this is what it’d look like if they did Ireland”. Clonakilty has to be seen to be believed. Cobbled streets, independent shops with painted fronts and Gaelic font signs, pastel coloured rows of Georgian houses and music absolutely EVERYWHERE. We had a mulled wine before heading back to our friends’ house, and within that time we saw a ukulele orchestra and people playing the banjo in the town square. There were fairylights and tables set out, children dressed as elves giving out free cookies as people queued under the fake snow for a ride on the Christmas train. Everyone was laughing and smiling and the mood was so festive and joyful!
After some food and a rest, we headed back out for drinks in the town. We happened upon my absolute favourite pub of the whole town… I mean, how is this even real?
There were four people in the pub, setting up their banjos, guitars and harmonicas ready to sing. This is just what happens in Clonakilty, people bring their instruments to pubs and everybody sings. Music is so highly important to everybody there! Within ten minutes we were sat with them joining in, providing percussion on bar stools and harmonising. I was in my element! We rounded off by singing a rousing rendition of Fairytale of New York, which absolutely made my day to sing it with Irish people, and continued our little bar crawl.
All of the pubs in Clonakilty have a similar vibe, and the locals are just so friendly and chatty you’re guaranteed great craic in every place. Even the chips we got at the end of the night were award winning and the best chips we’ve ever had, in the cleanest prettiest takeaway I’ve ever seen!
We had a full day on Sunday before flying back, so after a hearty (yep, you guessed it, locally sourced) breakfast we headed out to explore some of the nearby beaches. The sea mist at Inchydoney was heavy and there was a very Irish mizzle in the air, but being from the North of England we are completely used to it and it doesn’t put us off a good outdoor romp!
The rain started to pour at this point so we had to head back, making lots of vows to come back in the summer. We’ve seen our friends’ photographs of what Inchydoney looks like in the summer and it could pass for France, the water is so blue and the landscape so lush.
We had one final wander through the streets of Clonakilty so I could take some photos of my favourite buildings, and again we were completely and utterly gobsmacked at just how beautiful it is. We flew home later that night full of good food, music and friendship.
If you’re looking for a quaint town with the most Instagram-able doors, friendly locals, tonnes of history, gorgeous beaches and beautiful food then Clonakilty is your one!