Get a taste of Northern Ireland treasures with a fun-filled break in Amargh

Get a taste of Northern Ireland treasures with a fun-filled break in Amargh

CHAMPAGNE, Parma ham and . . . Armagh Bramley apples. What do they all have in common?

They join the Cornish pasty and Melton Mowbray pork pie in an elite group of food and drink that have been awarded the PGI stamp of approval (Protected Geographical Indication).

The special status of the cooking apple is due to a unique microclimate which gives them a distinctive clean and slightly tart taste compared with those grown in other orchards.

So it’s little wonder that handcrafted cider has enjoyed a huge renaissance in the Northern Irish county over recent years.

Thirsty from our flight into Belfast, the first stop on our short tour of Armagh and Fermanagh is the Armagh Cider Company, less than an hour’s drive away.

Helen Troughton, whose family have been growing apples at their beautiful orchard outside Portadown since 1898, takes me and my dad, John, on a “blossom to bottle” tour.

What started as a single traditional dry variety has turned into a huge range of flavoured ciders, winter warmers and sparkling apple juices.

After seeing how the apples are pressed, fermented and bottled on the farm (and, most importantly, sampling the finished products) we enjoy a fabulous picnic of sandwiches, cakes and scones in the orchard.

It is provided by Time Out, a local family- run cafe.

We head on to Enniskillen, the county town of Fermanagh and once synonymous with the Remembrance Day IRA bombing of 1987.

It is a bustling, attractive and friendly market town lined with independent shops and queues snaking out from its many delis, cafes and restaurants.

Surrounded by Lough Erne, Enniskillen is Ireland’s only island town, meaning one of the best ways to explore is from the water.

We take a water taxi tour of the Fermanagh Lakelands with knowledgeable skipper Barry Flanaghan.

There are many islands and drumlins (oval-shaped hills) within Lough Erne but none more impressive than Devenish.

The 6th-century monastic site was founded by Saint Molaise. Despite being raided by Vikings and burned down in the 12th century, a round watchtower, church ruins and small cloister remain today.

The Erne Water Taxi returns you to Enniskillen Castle, which was built 600 years ago and now houses a museum.

It is also the meeting spot for the Enniskillen Taste Experience, a walking tour of the food and drink scene, set up by pub manager, Mark Adams.

The tapas-on-the-go tour lets you meet local producers and hear tidbits of history, while nibbling your way between the cafe, butcher’s and pub.

We head for Rebecca’s cafe in the Buttermarket — an impressive restored courtyard of arts and crafts galleries — for the best scones around.

There’s Stewart’s family-run butcher’s for top-notch sausages and Between The Bridges for great deli sandwiches.

We can’t believe that after filling up on so many treats, lunch is still to come.

The Firehouse is a great place for all the family, serving dishes including chicken wings, chargrilled meats and stonebaked pizza.

Wash it all down with a few pints at Blakes of the Hollow, a traditional Irish pub easily spotted by its distinctive red and black front, supposedly to let illiterate folk in Victorian times know it was a watering hole.

When you are finished tickling your taste buds around town, Enniskillen is a great jumping-off point to explore the area. Some parts of the county are unfortunate enough to get 200 days of rain a year.

But while we are there the weather is sunny and warm, so it’s the perfect time to head for Lough Neagh.

Britain’s largest inland lake is surrounded by trails along the shoreline and through woods and meadows.

The Oxford Island Nature Reserve and Discovery Centre is a hit with kids jumping off the jetty, paddle- boarders and jet-skiers.

Hidden labyrinth

Florence Court, a Georgian mansion and National Trust property, sits in the middle of lush parkland and thick woodland, perfect for a gentle stroll or long cycle.

And just down the road is Cuilcagh Mountain.

It has become something of a Mecca for walkers as its Boardwalk Trail — otherwise known as the Stairway to Heaven — takes you up to the viewing platform where you can marvel at the wild landscape.

While remarkable above ground, below the foothills lies a fascinating underworld.

The Marble Arch Caves formed more than 340million years ago but superstition and fear kept them in darkness until 1895, when two intrepid explorers arrived.

Today you can head into the hidden labyrinth on a guided walking tour.

But, spoiler alert, there isn’t any marble down there, just shiny limestone.

This exciting route takes you past bubbling subterranean rivers and winding passages which reveal incredible, delicate stalactites and other dramatic formations.

Emerging into daylight, there’s still plenty more of Northern Ireland we’d love to explore but time is unfortunately up.

As we headed back to Belfast, we had already started planning our return.

GO: Armagh

GETTING THERE: Aer Lingus has flights to Belfast from Heathrow, Manchester, Leeds Bradford, East Midlands, Newquay with fares from £88 return. See aerlingus.com.

STAYING THERE: Double rooms at The Enniskillen Hotel from £85per night. See enniskillenhotel.com.

MORE INFO: See ireland.com.


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