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According to a recent report from leading marine industry body British Marine, domestic holidays in England that incorporate boating or watersports are some of the most popular tourism experiences.
Over 75% of Great Britain’s boating tourism experiences take place in England and in 2014, over 4 million holidays involving an on the water activity were recorded, representing a 9% share of the total English tourism market.
The research, conducted in conjunction with VisitEngland, shows that in England, more domestic holidays involved an activity such as sailing, watersports, canal boating and sightseeing trips that included a passenger boat trip than activities such as visiting a museum or historic house or castle:
· 2,260,000 went on a sightseeing trip, including passenger boat trips, contributing £744m to the UK economy
· 1,011,000 took part in a manual watersport, such as kayaking, spending £315m
· 967,000 went on a canal boat trip, spending £336m
· 391,000 went sailing, spending over £123m
· 110,000 took part in a motorised watersport, such as jet-skiing, spending £33m
This market is driven by the boating haven of the South West, which hosts over a third of all English boating tourism holidays, with canal boating in the Midlands, sailing on the Suffolk coast and sightseeing boat trips on the Thames all being named as popular boating tourism destinations and activities.
Alastair Wilson, Senior Researcher at British Marine commented: “It’s fantastic to see that the findings from the “Domestic Boating Tourism Market in Great Britain” report are so positive for boating tourism in England. We are continuing to see our members within the sector experience positive growth for their business. It is great to be able to celebrate these fantastic findings during VisitEngland’s English Tourism Week.”
According to new research released today, 3.2m UK adults participated in one or more of 12 boating activities in 2015. This accounts for 6.5% of the total adult population in the UK. In light of the poor weather conditions and an overall downward trend experienced across recreational sports last year, boating outperformed many of its counterparts observing only a minimal decline of 0.6 percentage points in UK participation (compared to 7.1% in 2014). This is in contrast to the higher declines reported by other sports.
In particular canoeing, which remained the most popular boating activity in 2015 (2.9% of UK adults), is only bettered by two other sports when it comes to the biggest increase in participation in recent years.
The research also found that participation in any watersports activity, in addition to the 12 core boating activities, including hobbies such as sea angling, leisure subaqua diving and coasteering, stood at 12.4m (25.2% of UK adults) in 2015. This is a slight decline of 1.6 percentage points (compared to 26.8% and 13.1m in 2014), however still remains higher than the 2011 pre-Olympics figure.
The Watersports Participation Survey is conducted annually by a consortium of leading marine bodies including British Marine, Royal Yachting Association (RYA), Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), British Canoeing (BC) and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas).
Popular activities: the most popular boating activities stayed much the same in 2015 with canoeing welcoming 1.4m UK participants and motor boating/cruising and small sail boat activities remaining the second most popular, both with 0.9% of the population (421,000 and 418,000 respectively).
Other activities which fared well in 2015 included canal boating, the use of personal watercraft and yacht racing, which all maintained steady participation figures (379,000, 171,000 and 94,000 UK adults respectively). Surfing, bodyboarding and paddleboarding saw a combined 996,000 UK participants (2.0% of the UK population), a rise of 0.6 percentage points on the previous year (from 711,000 and 1.4% in 2014).
Frequency: 2015 saw a continued steady rise in the frequency of boating participation since 2013. During this time, participation of the 12 boating activities in the UK has risen from just below five times, to close to six times. In addition, UK participation in any watersport activity has also seen an increase over the last four years from roughly eight times to 10.
Boat ownership: boat ownership has stayed stable, with an average of 1.1m boats, including 530,642 canoes and kayaks and 178,433 small sailing boats, owned by households in the UK in 2013-15. Since 2010 there has been a rise in craft being kept in the UK rather than abroad and in 2015 this peaked with 95% of boats being kept in the UK.
In addition, although a third of participants were the owner of the craft, the most popular way to take to the water in 2015 was on a friend or family member’s boat (41.4% of participants).
Inland vs. coastal: in previous years the difference between inland and coastal participation of any boating activity has stood equal at 50% each, but 2015 saw a slight shift towards more people taking to the UK’s lakes, canals and rivers (53% inland, compared to 47% coastal participation).
Importance of the weather: historically there has been a strong correlation between the temperature and activity rate. With 2014 recorded as the hottest year on average since 1910, whereas 2015 saw a drop in sunshine hours and average temperature, the slight decrease of participation in 2015 can be somewhat understood by this relationship.
This correlation is particularly evident when studying activities outside of the 12 boating activities which reported some of the biggest decreases in participation. This included a decline of 1.8 percentage points in leisure time at the beach and a fall of 0.6 percentage points in participation of outdoor swimming in 2015.
Howard Pridding, Chief Executive of British Marine, said: “Between 2013 and 2014, boating and watersports took place in the context of some of the UK’s best weather of the last decade. In light of this, it is encouraging that in 2015, despite milder conditions, levels of boating participation have remained steady.
“The forthcoming months offer tremendous opportunities to encourage more people to get out on the water. By building on the exposure that the 2016 Olympics & Paralympics and the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series brings to our industry, more people will be able to take the chance to safely enjoy the rich experiences that being on the water can provide.”
Hannah Mills, 2012 Olympic Silver Medallist sailor and returning competitor to the 2016 Olympics, advocates her support for increasing boating participation: “You don’t need to be rich and you don’t need to have the sea on your doorstop. There are little reservoirs and lakes and you don’t need your own boat. You can just go along, pay a small bit of money, jump in a boat and have a go. It’s a very accessible sport but I don’t think people really realise that.”
Take the rugged beauty of Land's End, where passage in anything but fair weather could be the end of even the most experience mariner.
Or closer to home there's Mizen Head in West Cork, notorious for the more than 80 known wrecks below the surface.
Motor Boats Monthly has more on the story HERE.
According to This Is Cornwall, groups representing water users argue that marine protection plans "would have severe knock-on effects on those who rely on the south west's coastline for employment and leisure".
Alana Murphy of the Royal Yachting Association said: "A lot of the small inshore areas proposed as conservation zones coincide with estuaries and bays that are used by sailors for mooring, or for laying buoys for racing. We are concerned we could lose important sailing areas."
Companies involved in offshore renewable energy have voiced their concerns on the impact of marine reserved on their development, while the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations added that the scale of proposed fishing reserves was too great, and could potentially push commercial fishermen "to other areas which will then get overfished".
As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the UK's Wildlife Trusts have expressed dismay that plans to establish Marine Conservation Zones in the Irish Sea and elsewhere have been shelved till at least next year after pressure from fishermen, boaters and other groups.
#INLAND WATERWAYS - A new study on the River Barrow and its environs recommends the development of "activity hubs, tourist trails and new angling and boat facilities", The Irish Times reports.
Waterways Ireland and Fáilte Ireland commissioned the Barrow Corridor Recreational, Tourism and Commercial Identification Survey to find ways to exploit the area's "undeveloped potential" for tourism.
The survey covered the river itself as well as its estuary and the Barrow branch of the Grand Canal. Its findings pointed to a number of areas where development is already being actioned, such as in boating and cruising, nature and wildlife, and angling.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan, who launched the study in Carlow yesterday, hailed the co-operation of the agencies and county councils involved.
The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.
We count down the top five most popular boating stories on afloat.ie over the Christmas
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Ireland's longest-running hospitality accolades, the Georgina Campbell Awards are completely independent. Unlike most other award schemes, they are not commercially driven and in no way affiliated with trade associations or marketing groups; there is no charge to establishments for recommendation or any element of the awards process. It is this independence which has earned them special respect in the industry, and public trust. In yet another challenging year for the hospitality sector, accolades from a respected independent guide are not only a source of encouragement - and very good for winners' business - but also set a benchmark for others in the industry who are determined to achieve a similar level of excellence. Although most closely associated with good food, the Guide's accommodation recommendations are equally respected, and it should be noted that the Guide does not support unregistered accommodation; only Approved (Failte Ireland) accommodation is considered for recommendation.
Every year Georgina Campbell and her team of experienced assessors comb the country's hotels, country houses, guesthouses, restaurants, pubs and cafés, seeking out the best consumer experiences for readers of The Guide ('the glovebox bible') and, increasingly, for followers of the very successful website, www.ireland-guide.com. A new printed Guide, to accompany the website, is planned; meanwhile, Ms Campbell emphasised that "We have maintained our rigorous programme of anonymous assessment visits throughout the season as usual and, with 'the harvest in', the reports are gradually going through directly to the website, Ireland-guide.com. As always, we've kept a sharp eye out for those exceptional establishments which are right on top of their game and going the extra mile for customers – and we have found a surprising number of new establishments worthy of recommendation this year."
Commenting on the Awards, Georgina Campbell said, "The economic crisis is really biting now and the twin pressures, of non-functioning banks and unrelenting consumer demand for unrealistically low prices, are driving many viable long-established businesses to the wall. But at least the hospitality industry – and its vital underpinning foundation, agriculture - is now being given the credit that is long overdue, and it's predicted that 'tourism and food' will be key to renewed growth. And the crisis has acted as a catalyst, separating the many who have opted for the 'race to the bottom' from the (relatively) few who have chosen the hard road of sticking to their principles of quality, and making superhuman efforts to give their customers real value at a fair price. They – and the farmers, fishermen, growers and artisan producers who supply their kitchens – represent the best of Irish hospitality, and its future, and they are the giants of the hospitality industry who are represented here today. These awards are not just a random selection of outstanding establishments; as a group they are of the highest calibre, and offer a snapshot of the very best of hospitality across the country, demonstrating its strengths and showing how good food and hospitality can lead the way forward to a better future for all."
Top award winners on the day included: Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Recess Co Galway (Hotel of the Year); Restaurant FortyOne at Residence Dublin (Restaurant of the Year); Aidan McGrath Wild Honey Inn Lisdoonvarna Co Clare (Chef of the Year); Mary Ann's Bar & Restaurant Castletownshend Co Cork (Pub of the Year); and Neven Maguire MacNean House & Restaurant Blacklion Co Cavan (Georgina Campbell Award, for special contribution to Irish hospitality).
Commenting further on this year's Awards, Georgina said; "The exceptional establishments here today represent many dozens of like-minded businesses – and, to reflect the changing trends in Irish hospitality, we have added some new categories this year. Mid-range dining is becoming increasingly relevant, as we can all afford less treat nights out; our awards reflect that with, among others, the upgrading of the Casual Dining Award and introduction of a Café of the Year award. Noticing signs of slipping standards – mainly due to cutbacks and staff shortages - some new 'back to basics' awards (Good Housekeeping; Good Cooking; Outstanding Service) emphasise the importance of getting the simple things right, and the very highest calibre award winners have been selected to set a benchmark for excellence in these important areas, while Sunday Lunch of the Year recognises the special significance of family outings and events like birthdays and anniversaries in these cash-strapped times. But pundits who have been predicting the demise of fining dining lately will see that, not only is it far from finished, it is still developing - and our Restaurant of the Year is a perfect example of the new, more relaxed style."
Georgina Campbell Guides are grateful to Bord Bia, sponsors of the "Just Ask!" Restaurant of the Year Award, who kindly hosted the event. Thanks also to Failte Ireland for their support, and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, sponsors of the BIM Seafood Circle Awards (due to be presented separately).
GEORGINA CAMPBELL AWARDS 2012 - CITATIONS
We have introduced several very fundamental new awards this year - Good Cooking, Good Housekeeping and Outstanding Service. The recession threatens to undermine basic standards in many establishments currently struggling with cutbacks, so it's a good time to remind ourselves of the difference that it can make to do simple things well. It can be difficult, especially when short-staffed, but it may not actually cost money at all - and pays enormous dividends, as customers quickly sense the difference when the basics are right, and can't wait to go back. This year's winners have never compromised on quality in any area of their business, and they value simplicity: a useful benchmark by any standards.
GEORGINA CAMPBELL AWARD 2012
Neven Maguire MacNean House & Restaurant Blacklion Co Cavan
A recently introduced award, in recognition of the special contribution made by exceptional individuals in Irish hospitality
Awards like this are usually associated with people of 'mature years' who have given a lifetime to Irish hospitality. Well, this year's winner started very young! He was working alongside his mother, Vera, in their restaurant kitchen from the age of twelve – and he was still a teenager, fresh out of catering college, when I first visited this (now very famous) restaurant for the Sunday Press in 1993.
The young man in question is, of course, Neven Maguire and it was an all-family affair, with his father, the late Joe Maguire, heading up front of house – and, although much bigger now (and employing dozens of people locally), one of Neven's great achievements is to have retained that sense of family and community. Never tempted to move to the bright lights, he made the world beat a path to his door instead, making the little border town of Blacklion one of Ireland's hottest culinary destinations. Way ahead of the trend for 'local and seasonal', Neven sought out the freshest and best in the immediate area and took pride in shouting about it – suppliers like the local Thornhill Duck became national names as a result – and, equally, he has always been quick to credit the contribution made by other family members, notably his wife Amelda, and 'the team'. And, despite his commitment to the restaurant, popularity as a TV chef and author of best-selling cookbooks (and, most recently, a cookery app), he has always been incredibly generous with his time too, as a celebrity supporter of food and charity events all over Ireland and beyond, including work for Bóthar.
This year's completion of an impressive extension that provides more rooms and spacious new reception and bar space to complement the restaurant is a turning point for MacNean House, making it the perfect time to look back and see what a remarkable journey it has been for Neven, to date – extraordinary to think that he is still just a young married man, with all of his own family life ahead of him. It's extraordinary too, especially in the depths of recession, that this restaurant in the far north of Co Cavan, is fully booked for months ahead. Always worth trying though - cancellations do occur!
HOTEL OF THE YEAR 2012
Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Recess Co Galway
A winter visit to our Hotel of the Year confirmed all of our previous good feelings about this wonderful place, and set the benchmark against which the season's visits were judged – in fact, surprisingly, all of the hotels we stayed in on our first chilly trip of the year (to a blustery West of Ireland) compared very favourably with later season experiences throughout the country. It was the end of January and, ominously perhaps, the last night before the hotel's annual closure. But – in sharp contrast to comparable end of season experiences in recent weeks - not for one moment was there the slightest sense of an hotel in wind-down mode. The fires burned just as brightly as usual, furniture gleamed, fresh flowers rose perkily from their vases, rooms were warm and welcoming, dinner was as interesting, beautifully cooked and leisurely as ever, breakfast was the usual sumptuous feast of all the good things that a person might need to set them up for several days – and the friendly staff chatted away as if the last thing on their minds was the 4-week holiday that would begin when we'd all checked out. This is a wonderful place; the perfect Irish country hotel it is a cosy and characterful haven set against a ruggedly handsome landscape. It's the real Ireland that we're all hoping for when we go for a break - and it reminded me of the famous words of the great Hilary Rubinstein (founding editor of the Good Hotel Guide): 'A good hotel is where the guest comes first'. Enough said.
RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2012
Restaurant FortyOne at Residence 41 St Stephen's Green Dublin 2
Although the new smart-casual dining is an interesting emerging trend, anyone who doubts that fine dining is alive and well should visit our Restaurant of the Year. This year's shortlist proves yet again that many of the country's most creative chefs are continuing to produce sublime classical food in the fine dining style. Most leading restaurants are well-established, and many have held this award before, but it is always a particular pleasure to welcome a new star. And, hidden behind a handsome creeper-clad façade, this glamorous destination is right in the heart of Dublin's most fashionable dining district. Once a private home and more recently destined to be exclusively a private members' club, Dublin's lucky diners probably have the recession to thank for the fact that this fine dining restaurant is open to non-members. Beautiful and opulent, the interior marries old with new, and tables in the three first floor dining rooms – one with enviable views over St Stephen's Green - are set with starched linen cloths, sparkling glasses and silverware. Such opulent surroundings deserve exquisite food and diners here will not be disappointed by the cooking of the Euro-Toques Head Chef, formerly of Thorntons across the Green, where he was head chef for the man many cite as Ireland's greatest chef, Kevin Thornton. His menus feature a thrilling roll call of seasonal Irish produce balanced with the cleverest and tastiest of accompaniments beautifully presented. The setting and the calibre of food could make this fine dining experience hushed and formal, but perfectly pitched service make it a more relaxed and contemporary affair, with a friendliness and warmth that creates a hip and intimate dining space. This is a special place delivering exceptional food in exceptional surroundings. Versatile and stylish, it's the ideal setting for everything from a business lunch to a special occasion or romantic date.
CHEF OF THE YEAR 2012
Aidan McGrath Wild Honey Inn Lisdoonvarna Co Clare
Interesting developments are taking place in that other-worldly place inhabited by top chefs, many of whom have thrown in the towel when it comes to cheffy extravagances (think foams and smokes). Many are taking the fashionable foraging route (a scenic diversion), and an especially interesting minority are answering the call of a discerning dining public who want really good casual food without all the fuss of fine dining, by bringing their classical skills into play in relaxed surroundings – and at accessible prices. Our Chef of the Year is one of those classically trained chefs who can surprise and delight first-time visitors to his family-run pub with the depth of flavour and superb cooking that lifts even the simplest of dishes - such as smoked salmon (Burren Smokehouse, naturally), fish & chips, a seafood soup or just a homemade burger - into the memorable category. Although there's much more to it than that, of course - "Modern Bistro Style' is what Chef calls it – nothing but the best is allowed in or out of this kitchen, and this superb, simple yet deeply flavoursome food is all served in the characterful bar. Along with a couple of other outstanding food businesses nearby, this lovely inn has really changed the image of this town – and it's not only worth a detour now, but a foodie destination of choice.
PUB OF THE YEAR 2012
Mary Ann's Bar & Restaurant Castletownshend Co Cork
The decision to ban the term 'gastropub' generated acres of publicity for a UK food guide a few weeks ago – interesting, we thought, as we've never allowed it (unless it's the actual name of a business, over which we have no control); it's unpleasant and over-used – and, like the ubiquitous 'eatery', is not in the Guide's vocabulary. But we're all in favour of pubs that do great food, of course – and many of our best had been doing just this for many years before the unfortunate term 'gastropub' saw the light of day. It's not all about the food of course – character, friendliness, comfort, a sense of community, all those things are part of what makes a great pub – but good food is the main focus for all of our Star Pubs, including our Pub of the Year, which (like the owners themselves) simply oozes with character and warmth, and the food is traditional Irish seafood cooking at its best: only gorgeous! A must-visit destination for everyone heading to the South-West, whether by land or sea...
"JUST ASK" RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR AWARD 2012 sponsored by Bord Bia
Farmgate Café English Market Cork
"Just Ask!" is a public awareness campaign that aims to encourage consumers when eating out to look for information on where the food (particularly meat) on their plate comes from, and encourages chefs to provide this information on their menus. The programme supports both large and smaller artisan suppliers, encouraging both Irish diners and visitors from abroad to support restaurants that are in turn supporting their suppliers. The Bord Bia "Just Ask!" Restaurant of the Year Award has been chosen from the year's winners selected for our monthly e-zine.
Since opening in 1994 – well before most restaurateurs in Ireland thought it might be popular or profitable to focus on local produce and traditional dishes – Kay Harte's café above the English Market has epitomised everything that is best about simple, wholesome, fresh Irish food that has travelled as short a distance as possible to reach the plates of their happy customers. Farmgate Café only uses beef, lamb, chicken, eggs and vegetables produced in Ireland and, as virtually all ingredients are purchased from the market downstairs daily, or from other trusted suppliers nearby, it doesn't come much fresher or more local than this. Traditional, seasonal, regional, even 'forgotten' foods are at the core of the Farmgate ethos, forming a visible link between the menu and the wonderful array of produce downstairs. "And", explains Kay, "Against the backdrop of a bustling market, freshly shucked oysters are brought straight to the dining room table from the fish stall downstairs (it is worth the wait!). Cork cheese-makers deliver directly to the market and the café. Our meat, locally reared, comes from trusted craft butchers in the market. Our honey is from West Cork, and our salad leaves come from two organic farms also in West Cork. Embracing a simple, strongly regional and uncomplicated menu, our food is locally produced, then cooked and presented simply." It simply doesn't get clearer or more genuine than that: Farmgate Café sums up all that Just Ask is about – and then some.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR 2012
Ballyfin Ballyfin Demesne Co Laois
This is always one of our most hotly-contested wards – by which I mean that the 'short list' is anything but - and how could it be otherwise when the establishments under consideration are all fresh and new and full of enthusiasm? It's mainly the closures that have been hitting the news in recent times, of course, but a surprising thing about the last couple of years is the number of openings there have been.
There's never been anything like this one though, even in the height of the boom. When word started to circulate about the imminent opening last spring, words like 'mad' and 'doomed' were bandied about. But, as the General Manager said when we visited, "There is always a place for excellence". And how right she was. There's nothing more uplifting in a time of endless cutbacks to find a place where money was not the primary motivator and - while the owners might not wish to say that money was no object – the point of the project was to bring a beautiful period property back to the way it was in its prime, and to do it right. Over an eight year period no effort was spared in order to achieve this, and the results are breathtaking. Although still a work in progress (outside, at least), it is simply exquisite and everyone who visits the place is bowled over. It offers discreet luxury, wonderful food – and, believe it or not, good value too. Just do the sums!
OUTSTANDING SERVICE AWARD 2012 (NEW AWARD)
Chapter One Restaurant Dublin
There has been plenty of hype about star chefs in recent years but, without the support of a good front of house team, the work done in the kitchen is doomed to disappoint – and the same applies to establishments offering accommodation, where teamwork is essential to success. In their excitement to establish their dream business, many newcomers to hospitality overlook the importance of staff training and good management – and a disappointing number of long-established businesses, worn down perhaps by several years of cutting costs, seem to have forgotten the essentials of good service that underpin every truly successful establishment.
Our Restaurant of the Year way back in 2001 remains an excellent example of best practice in every area. Naturally enough, the food attracts most recognition - and why not, when the chef-patron Ross Lewis (a former Euro-Toques Commissioner General) is held in such esteem that he was invited to cook the State Banquet given on the occasion of Queen Elisabeth's historic visit to Ireland; a hymn to quality Irish produce, it was received with acclaim. But the co-proprietor of Chapter One is front of house manager, Martin Corbett, and there has always been an equal emphasis on service. An exceptional team includes restaurant manager Declan Maxwell and sommelier Edward Jolliffe, who joined in 2010, and, from the moment of greeting at the door (where returning guests are invariably addressed by name), superb service from friendly, enthusiastic and well-informed staff, who deftly anticipate every diner's needs, ensures that the kitchen team's exquisite modern Irish cooking will be enjoyed at its best. Throughout the recession, this restaurant has always remained busy – and it is easy to see why.
GOOD HOUSEKEEPING AWARD 2012 (NEW AWARD)
Ballymaloe House Shanagarry Co Cork
Almost three years into the recession, the budgetary pressures that establishments are experiencing is really beginning to show on premises of all types and sizes, with lack of maintenance and refurbishment, and simply sloppy housekeeping, letting the side down. Scuffed paintwork and torn wallpaper mar formerly smart corridors, cracked tiles and mildew spoil trendy bathrooms, where things often don't work because the plumbing is more stylish than functional; in one B&B (not recommended!) we even found an old pair of socks languishing in a layer of dust under the bed. And just don't start me on tatty menus and sticky tables. A national action plan is definitely needed when it comes to routine maintenance and housekeeping. So, how wonderful it is to visit those places – and there are many - where all is pristine and welcoming. One of our most enjoyable stays this year was (surprise, surprise) in East Cork. As usual, we noted with pleasure the low key comfort of our room – nothing flashy, simply furnished with exactly the right amount of furniture in exactly the right place for all our needs, well placed lighting, timeless bathroom fittings, everything immaculately clean and maintained. On checking out, I remarked on the soothing simplicity of the room and, especially, the beautiful curtains. "Ah yes," said Hazel with a smile, "They are lovely aren't they –– it's a Sybil Connolly design from about forty years ago; we bought the fabric when the contents of her house were sold, so they're doing pretty well." That means they've been up for well over twenty years - probably re-lined at some stage, but in perfect condition. That says a great deal about the housekeeping at Ballymaloe!
GOOD COOKING AWARD 2012 (NEW AWARD)
Ballymaloe House Shanagarry Co Cork
It may seem strange for something as basic as a Good Cooking Award to go to an establishment that has been festooned with awards for every aspect of its business over many years – but that is just the point. On our travels this year we have experienced too many disappointing meals and, if they are to stay in business and improve, those responsible for serving up unimaginative, badly cooked meals based on cheap ingredients, would do well to consider the reasons for the success of our most-admired country house. From the very beginning, in 1964, the Ballymaloe ethos was to serve simple, carefully cooked meals using the good seasonal ingredients of their own farm and the surrounding area; to this day, the same principles apply and I defy anyone to find a better meal anywhere – and, thankfully, Darina's equally famous cookery school nearby continues to spread the philosophy far and wide. I remember Myrtle Allen appearing as a guest judge on the RTE programme The Restaurant once; having been presented with the usual rather over-ambitious meal, she considered carefully before giving her verdict: "I thought the carrots were very tasty", she said. A lesson to us all, perhaps!
NATURAL FOOD AWARD (NEW CRITERIA)
Peter & Mary Ward Country Choice Nenagh Co Tipperary
The Guide has always championed the best of Irish produce. It's the philosophy behind our food recommendations and the Natural Food Award has emphasised this for many years, by specifically celebrating establishments that create a meeting point between the best and freshest local produce and the consumer. The original aim was to recognise specifically "an individual or team, driven by a total commitment to using the very best of fresh, seasonal and mainly local foods – and preparing them simply and with style, to showcase their natural goodness and the quality produce of the locality". This year we've decided to extend the criteria to include food products, producers and retailers as well, along the lines of entries in our regional food tourism guide, Ireland for Food Lovers. And where better to begin than with an establishment – coffee shop, retailer and artisan producer - that celebrates the simple good foods of the locality in simple words "Meats, milk, cream, eggs, butter and flour: The economy of Tipperary is agricultural and we intend to demonstrate this with a finished product of tantalising smells and tastes." And how. Nothing but the best is ever acceptable here and, while Peter (a TASTE Council member and former chairman by the way) is the hunter gatherer of the partnership - and also the public face of this iconic business, in the original premises in Nenagh, at Limerick's newly refurbished Milk Market and at many food events around Ireland and abroad – Mary is the backroom girl, busying herself (along with other family members) with making the thousand or so Christmas puddings and many thousands of jars of jam and other treats that are made and sold in the shop each year...Nobody knows more about natural food than the Wards of Nenagh - what a team!
ATMOSPHERIC RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2012
The Olde Post Inn Cloverhill Co Cavan
Irish diners place a high premium on atmosphere – often rating it even above the quality of food when choosing where to eat out – but our next award-winner, although certainly atmospheric, has much more to it than that. As everyone familiar with past winners of our Atmospheric category will know, we seek out establishments that offer very high standards all round, with great atmosphere as the icing on the cake. This year's winner was actually nominated in several categories and is regularly praised for its outstanding food and 'value for money' – for which we have no category, as all of our award winners are expected to deliver value for money as matter of course. But what you get from this leading Euro-Toques chef is excellent classical cooking based (as it always has been) on seasonal local ingredients, also caring service from local staff, a lovely cosy ambience – and a comfortable place to stay as well. A magic combination that keeps 'em coming back for more – so much so, in fact, that extra space was needed and this characterful old building has been greatly extended recently; but the changes have been so subtly achieved that it's surprisingly difficult to work out where the old and new now meet. The extension has made for a much more comfortable dining environment, but nothing has been lost along the way and the atmospheric vibes that have always been a USP at this delightful spot are still working the same old magic.
SUNDAY LUNCH OF THE YEAR AWARD 2012 (NEW AWARD)
"VM" Restaurant Viewmount House Longford
Everywhere we have travelled this year the story has been the same: while leisure business may be up and down according to variables such as shock-horror economic stories and fluctuating currency exchanges, which affect visitors' decisions to travel, the special family occasions - events like birthdays and anniversaries, weddings and even funerals – still go on regardless and have kept many a restaurant in business. Likewise, although spending on the big nights out may be down, Sunday Lunch is back with a vengeance for family get-togethers. But forget about the carvery lunch of old, what we're seeing more of now is a seriously classy outing, where the venue is chosen with care so that family members of all ages can get together in lovely surroundings and relax around the table to enjoy the very best of food at a more reasonable price than is usual at dinner. Some of the best meals we have had this year were Sunday lunches – and not only does this new award recognise the special significance of family outings in these cash-strapped times, but our winner demonstrates how it can be done with great style and no compromise in quality, in terms of the food, cooking, surroundings or service, making it a benchmark award. It is one of those exceptional restaurants where any meal is a real treat - suppliers are credited with pride and the cooking, by Euro-Toques chef Gary O'Hanlon, is outstanding, with all the little niceties observed. So any visit this delightful restaurant is sure to be a memorable experience – and guests should make sure to allow time to enjoy a stroll around the beautiful gardens too.
BUSINESS HOTEL OF THE YEAR 2012
The BrookLodge & Wells Spa Macreddin Co Wicklow
Food tourism and agriculture may be the hot white hopes for recessionary Ireland, but many of our best establishments are identifying other equally attractive niche markets and, along with several other categories in these awards, business tourism is a key one.
Former winners of this award have been hotels offering outstanding facilities for conferences and business guests, along with varying attributes that make the venue especially attractive, including a scenic or especially convenient location, great food and ancillary leisure activities for delegates. But this year's winner not only has all of those – a beautiful rural location, excellent business and conference amenities and back up services, loads of down time activities (challenging or relaxing, as required), and a stunning food offering – they also have an extra ace up their sleeves, in the form of a Green-Meet programme. This hotel is renowned for its innovative and ethically-inspired approach to food and hospitality, and they have rightly identified that 'hosting an environmentally responsible meeting is an important statement about your company'. To the hosts this all comes naturally – they have been doing it for years, and full details are given on their website; to most customers it will come as a refreshing new idea, a rewarding way of giving added value to their event, or any business stay. A great contributor to the business and conference market in Ireland, this an especially worthy winner of the Business Hotel of the Year Award.
WINE AWARD OF THE YEAR 2012
No. 1 Pery Square Limerick
This is the only category of our awards for which we invite applications – interested establishments are asked to submit their wine lists for consideration, and they are then judged together with other aspects of the wine experience. In relation to this year's award, both the restaurant wine list and the wine service during dinner impressed during this establishment's annual assessment visit - and it is obvious that there is a particular focus on interesting customers in wine that goes well beyond the usual restaurant experience. There's an attractive little wine shop in the hotel, for example, where the wines sold include carefully sourced bottles from small independent winemakers, and there's a range of wine hampers etc for gifts. Diners can buy wine here for their meal in the restaurant (corkage €10, champagne €15), and the shop is also used for private dining, wine tasting evenings and wine classes. Importantly, all of this relates well to the overall offering of the hotel and restaurant, and the head chef is closely involved with the wine experience as well as the (excellent) food. Prices are reasonable and every aspect of the wine experience here encourages customers to be more adventurous in their choices - all round it's a great asset to the city and a rewarding place for any wine lover to stay or dine.
HOST OF THE YEAR 2012
Mary O'Connor Derrynane Hotel Caherdaniel Co Kerry
We have perhaps got a little paranoid about how others see us of late, but each time a visitor satisfaction survey is published the results are the same, with Ireland's wonderful scenery (still impressive, despite our best efforts over the last decade) and the warmth and friendliness of the people coming up trumps every time. There was some slippage in the boom years, when visitors were not always welcomed by people who knew the area they were visiting well, and staff in the larger establishments were often too busy to give the individual attention that makes a stay memorable. But hospitality really does come naturally to the Irish and, among the owner-run properties particularly, we have many, many outstanding hosts who would be eligible for this important award in any given year. A warm and caring host-manager can transform what might otherwise be a very ordinary hotel into a place with real heart, where every guest feels at home. This special person keeps a close eye on every aspect of management, not only ensuring the comfort and enjoyment of a disparate range of guests on site, but also introducing them to all of the best things the surrounding area has to offer - in this case very good things indeed, with a silver-sanded beach at the bottom of the garden and the whole of the Ring of Kerry to explore. And, not only is nothing is too much trouble to ensure that guests are happy, but the staff are happy too and there's a great sense of teamwork - making it a place that departing guests want to return to as soon as possible. No mean feat!
ETHNIC RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR 2012 NEW CRITERIA
Cava Spanish Restaurant & Tapas Bar Galway
There has been an 'Ethnic Restaurant' category in our awards since their inception in the early '90s and, until now, the title has been interpreted as 'oriental'. But a lot has changed in Irish dining and, in addition to a surge of new oriental restaurants (many of them excellent), authentic cuisines from all over the world are now well represented here, including a range of European traditions. So we decided to open up the criteria, to include all restaurants that truly represent any specific culture – and this year's winner is an excellent example of the authenticity we admire, having brought a true taste of the Iberian peninsula to Galway city. "Not a bull or toreador poster to be seen - but the menu is in the Spanish language, with English sub-titles; the wine list covers the Spanish spectrum, offering about 80 well chosen bottles; and the cooking is innovative, displaying the knowledge and expertise of a passionate owner chef." Treats include an all day tapas menu that takes one on a 50-dish tour of Spanish cuisine in miniature and, in the evening, there are suggested pairings for Tapas & Sherry and Tapas & Wine. [Next door, a northern European counterpart, the critically acclaimed Aniar, has recently been opened to some acclaim by the same team.]
CASUAL DINING AWARD 2012 NEW CRITERIA
The Salty Dog Hotel & Bistro Bangor Co Down
The leading restaurants in major cities, and their chefs, tend to take the limelight at awards and, while the size of the population means more top rank establishments to choose from, excellence is no respecter of location – or style. We introduced the Casual Dining Award a couple of years ago, to highlight the quality of smaller establishments, especially those serving outstanding daytime food. This year we have extended the concept to cover two categories – Café of the Year and this important Casual Dining Award, for more ambitious establishments.
With the growing popularity of informal dining, there's a trend for classically trained chefs to make a well-considered move from fine dining to more relaxed – and wallet-friendly - dining situations where there is greater spontaneity and a sense of fun. Such a chef brings a multitude of skills - and, importantly, a lifelong commitment to using the freshest and best of in-season local produce – to a very different environment, where casual daytime meals are usually served as well as more structured lunch and/or dinner menus. This demands greater flexibility - and, while quality is paramount, the style is informal and accessible. With an emphasis on fine cooking rather than fine dining, the dining experience is very relaxed, and the creative menus offered throughout the day promise treats with every mouthful. With just such a chef at the helm, backed up by great front of house staff and pleasing surroundings, this pleasing harbourside establishment is the Casual Dining destination par excellence.
CAFÉ OF THE YEAR 2012 (NEW AWARD for small cafés & tea rooms)
Builín Blasta Café Spiddal Co Galway
A partner to the casual dining award that we introduced last year, we wanted to give recognition to the best of those valuable all-day operations – usually small and owner-run – which not only lift the visitor's spirits in a flash, but also the reputation of any town or village lucky enough to be its chosen location. Our main aim was to seek out good simple cooking based on quality ingredients - and especially the home baking that can be the highlight of a day out; a genre favoured by recession, the numbers are growing nicely. Visitors to Connemara will find an excellent example in a simple café-cum-bakery at a craft and design centre at Spiddal, where New Zealander owner-chef, Jamie Peaker, has made the small café-bakery Builin Blasta (The Tasty Loaf), a magnet for discerning foodies. The café offers a lovely range of all-day food and everything is delicious, with some nice original touches. Tea is made with real leaf tea and baking is a genuine forte here; as well as excellent quality homemade breads and cakes, there's a selection of House chutneys, jams and dressings for sale...one for the sat nav.
GREEN IRELAND HOSPITALITY AWARD 2012
Coopershill House Riverstown Co Sligo
The question of ecological damage caused by tourism has been taxing many a mind of late, and we at GCGuides are no exceptions. When requesting factual data from recommended establishments we ask about environmental accreditation and any initiatives being undertaken by individual properties. This tells us that many establishments are taking active measures to reduce environmental damage, some achieving national recognition with the Green Hospitality Awards scheme (now including restaurants and festivals), and some have received official EU recognition of standards being met. Our own Green Ireland Hospitality Award recognises outstanding environmental efforts made by recommended establishments, and is open to all categories in The Guide.
How many places can you think of where you could glance out of your bedroom window in the morning and spot red squirrels dashing across the lawn? And then watch them again from your breakfast table, as they enjoy theirs? A rare experience, and one that sums up the environmental good health of this magical place which, in 2009, became the first luxury property in the UK or Ireland to achieve the EU Flower environmental Award. A 500 acre estate of woodland and pasture supplies much of their food (including the venison recently selected for an Irish Food Writers' Guild Award), they compost vegetable waste and use sustainably produced firewood. Explaining that they were 'environmental centuries before it became fashionable', the owners say they are " most fortunate to live in a 235 year old building that was built in an age of self sufficiency and designed with enormous windows for light, to be heated with bio-fuels and to use the rain that falls on her roof". Just so, but they have built on that good fortune with great care and – while it in no way detracts from guest comfort – the environmental programme in place at this beautiful property is extremely thorough.
PET FRIENDLY HOTEL OF THE YEAR 2012 NEW AWARD
Hotel Dunloe Castle Killarney Co Kerry
Innovation is the name of the game at the moment, with everyone trying to find new ways to attract business. There are many interesting ideas coming up but, as a country, we're missing a trick when it comes to pet friendliness. We lag way behind our UK neighbours in this – a market which we claim to be trying every which way to win over; if you google an area in Britain looking for somewhere to stay, chances are that pet friendly options will pop straight up. In my native Cornwall, contented dogs bring their owners into the pub after country walks – and the county's beaches are officially listed online as dog-friendly or (equally importantly) dog-free. But many establishments here have quietly welcomed dogs for years, and maybe we're seeing the light as it's been very noticeable this year that a growing number are now taking up the opportunities in this market – including, interestingly, some 5* star hotels. And why not, if you want to persuade holidaymakers to choose to by-pass the airport...An excellent example is this luxurious Kerry hotel where, having developed very family friendly accommodation and activities in recent years, they have now turned their attention to the family pet. For a nominal charge per night, this newly pet-friendly hotel offers a choice of luxurious kennels or a dog friendly guest room where you will find a food and water bowl with floor mat, special pet treats and pet beds and (a very practical idea) "a doggy throw, to cover the sofa with, should that be your pet's preferred sleeping place!" With 20 acres of grounds and gardens (clean-up bags provided), it's emphatically a five star destination for dogs – the only trouble is likely to be persuading them to hop in the car when it's time to leave.
FAMILY FRIENDLY HOTEL OF THE YEAR 2012
Westport Woods Hotel Westport Co Mayo
Family-friendliness is increasingly important in Irish hospitality as more people prefer to choose the simplicity, relaxation and - if chosen wisely - better value, that airport-free home holidays offer. Our Family-Friendly award is more highly valued each year, as times change; we look for the places that cater especially well for families by providing the range of services and activities for varying ages and interests that make for a stress-free break. With their leisure centres and other all-weather activities, the best family-friendly hotels are a very good option indeed. And, from the moment guests enter the bright reception area of this eco-friendly, activity-focused 1960s hotel in the scenic North-West, it's obvious that there's someone who cares at the helm. Décor isn't especially impressive, but attentive and genuinely interested staff are the great strength of this hotel - and the affable, hands-on owner manager seems to be everywhere, and is equally happy enthusing guests about the area's historical sights as fixing the hotel's wood pellet burner, or leading toddler guests round on ponies at his nearby riding stables. Also well known for its special interest breaks, this hotel win hands down as a family-friendly destination: the simple bonus of providing a complimentary "go!kids!" Club to entertain all ages from little ones to teens at arts and crafts, pony riding and disco-dancing while parents enjoy adult time makes it an effortless (and extremely reasonable) getaway for families.
TASTE OF THE WATERWAYS AWARD 2012
The Cottage Restaurant Jamestown Co Leitrim
Since 1999 GCGuides has produced an independent guide to the best places to eat & drink along Ireland's waterways and, three years ago, we decided to introduce a Taste of the Waterways Award. It brings an unusual element to the Guide's selection, highlighting lovely and lesser-known watery parts of Ireland that are a joy to explore – and many pubs and restaurants of great character along the way. Carrick-on-Shannon is an attractive riverside town and, easily accessible from both the northern and southern counties, it's an understandably popular destination for short breaks. There's a good choice of places to eat and drink in the town, of course (including a former Taste of the Waterways award winning pub) but, whether visiting by land or by boat, it's well worth taking the time to venture further, as there are some treats in store. One not to be missed is just a couple of miles outside Carrick, in the pretty village of Jamestown, where you will find this cheerful white-washed restaurant with bright red paintwork, window boxes and hanging baskets – and the delicious modern European and Asian food created by well known local chef-patron, Shamzuri Mohid Hanifa. Both the village itself and this charming restaurant sum up all that is best about visiting the waterways and, although it's about half a mile from berthing at the quay, it's a pleasant walk through the village - pavement all the way and past two particularly enticing pubs, for a visit in each direction, perhaps...
HIDEAWAY OF THE YEAR 2012
The Mill Restaurant Dunfanaghy Co Donegal
Everyone loves the idea of a hideaway, and this is one of our most popular awards. Whether it's the establishments itself which offers that sense of privacy and seclusion, or its location, there is something very appealing about a place that you can disappear to and escape everyday pressures. This year's winner is in a stunningly beautiful area, yet it's a county that surprisingly few visitors reach (especially from the Dublin area); it has been in business for some years and has many repeat guests who would go nowhere else, yet it will be new to many. Beautifully located, in a special area of conservation, it was home to a well known painter - grandfather of one of the present owners – and is now a restaurant with rooms. It's one of the Guide's favourite annual destinations, not only for the excellent food (which is reason enough to visit) but also the discreet service, comfort, character and cosy ambience. We're loathe to shout about it to tell the truth, but it is a really lovely hideaway.
COUNTRY HOUSE OF THE YEAR 2012
Clonalis House Castlerea Co Roscommon
It's great that we have a Taoiseach from the North-West, it really raises the profile of a fantastic part of the country that – except for a few key destinations, such as Westport – tend to be underrated. It's always been a favourite area of ours, though, and deserves to be 'discovered'. Think about this for starters... imagine waking up in a four-poster bed in a fabulous 45-room Victorian Italianate mansion that stands on the land that has been the home of the O'Conors, Kings of Connacht, for 1,500 years...wander down for breakfast and then explore the house – there's even a small museum, and amazing heirlooms include a copy of the last Brehon Law judgment (handed down about 1580), and Carolan's Harp. In the evening, after a good home cooked dinner, you can chat over a nightcap beside a log fire in the cosy book-lined library, before heading back up to one of those beautiful bedrooms. Despite the grandeur, anybody can all do this at Clonalis House, where the warmly hospitable owners, Pyers and Marguerite O'Conor-Nash make sure there's a homely atmosphere to welcome every guest – it's the Irish country house at its best, well placed for exploring the West - and handy to Ireland West Airport at Knock, too. Magic.
GUESTHOUSE OF THE YEAR 2012
Ariel House Ballsbridge Dublin 4
Competing with cut price hotels is no joke for the owners of guesthouses and B&Bs and, with its high profile 'temporary' hotels offering below-cost accommodation, Ballsbridge must be just about the worst place to be located if you need to charge a fair price to maintain standards. But, amazingly, some outstanding guesthouses are managing to do just that, and the reason has to be that discerning guests value the hands-on personal management and superior service that they offer: Afternoon Tea (and an 'honesty bar') and the daily newspapers beside the fire in the elegant Residents' Drawing Room; antique furnishings combined with modern comforts in the rooms; immaculate housekeeping. Operated under the joint direction of managers, Jennie McKeown (a daughter of the house) and Deirdre McDonald (who both are professionally trained young hoteliers - and it shows), this well-run establishment is effectively a small hotel and it is a lovely place to stay - offering a very different experience to the cut-price hotels nearby.
B&B OF THE YEAR 2012
Powersfield House Dungarvan Co Waterford
What makes a great B&B? The best are lovely, friendly places to stay, with comfort, good food and interested hosts who anticipate their guests' needs yet give them space – and who enjoy nothing better than helping their guests to explore the surrounding area. If that area is West Waterford then you're in for a treat, both in the area itself – which remains one of Ireland's most unspoilt gems - and for the pleasure of staying at Edmund and Eunice Power's fine house on the edge of Dungarvan, which has all the attributes listed above, and then some.
FARMHOUSE OF THE YEAR 2012
Coolanowle Country House Ballickmoyler Co Carlow
For many people – especially families who live in cities – an Irish farm stay is just about the most idyllic holiday imaginable. And you won't do better than this one, which combines an organic farm, lovely B&B (with hotel-standard rooms - and self catering accommodation too, where pets are allowed), meals based on their own meats, fruit and vegetables, online produce sales, holistic treatments, even a fantastic open day with all sorts of activities – is there nothing they've overlooked at this impeccably maintained and hospitable family farm?
IRISH BREAKFAST AWARDS 2012
It's the small owner-run places that visitors like best when they visit Ireland, as they love the personal touch and local knowledge that you only get with hands-on owner management and small scale. By contrast, the Irish generally have a preference for hotels – but a stay with any of the next five award winners could change all that!
NATIONAL WINNER: Ballymaloe House Shanagarry Co Cork
Hotel Breakfast: Salty Dog Hotel & Bistro Bangor Co Down
Hotel breakfasts are often the least enjoyable part of a stay – not so at a growing number of 'breakfast aware' hotels, including this pleasing waterside spot where each day's series of interesting menus begins with a very good breakfast. The offering includes lashings of fresh juice, good breads, really gorgeous toast and marmalade and - among the cooked items – tiptop rashers and that must-have when visiting the North, potato bread. And, best of all, a can-do attitude which really sets you up for the day.
Country House Breakfast: Ballymaloe House Shanagarry Co Cork
Country houses often make a speciality of breakfast, and this year's winners in this category are probably responsible for establishing a lot of the best breakfast traditions that we now enjoy around the country. And this year's visit confirmed that nothing has slipped over the years; 'delicious everything' is what you can expect, it's all as fresh and interesting as ever. Highlights for us included a mixture of back and streaky bacon (and what bacon! So crispy, so tasty), naturally smoked kippers, those wonderful breads, fantastic butter and preserves. So many lovely treats and all the more enjoyable served by charming staff in a dining room set up with cheerful blue and white cloths.
Guesthouse Breakfast: Ariel House Ballsbridge Dublin 4
Great hospitality and outstanding breakfasts go hand in hand, so it is not surprising that the first meal of the day should be a treat at this welcoming and well-run guesthouse. Breakfast is a lavish affair here, catering for diverse appetites, and it's a most pleasant experience altogether with attentive staff, fresh flowers on white linen table cloths, clematis trailing outside the window... As well as a fresh buffet selection and a carefully cooked full Irish fry, thoughtful options that mark this guesthouse out include a 'Veggie Fry-up' and 'breakfast in a bag' for early departures.
B&B Breakfast: Powersfield House Dungarvan Co Waterford
The wise B&B owner makes a big deal out of breakfast these days – and, although there are plenty of other reasons people love staying at this one, the delicious and sociable way that each day begins is a big draw (perhaps not surprisingly, as the owner is a caterer – and a teacher at The Tannery Cookery School, nearby). There's no menu, no big buffet, just cooked to order, in-season foods, many of them from their own garden – and eggs from the hens scratching happily outside. Simply delicious!
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