For a Derry good break, head north
Sometimes, after travelling half-way around the world, you find the best places almost on your own doorstep. I'm a fan of Kerry, but rarely thought of our northern coast in the same terms when it came to scenery.
What a mistake. The Derry and Antrim coasts are simply stunning and, best of all, they're not even a Kerry-style drive away from the capital.
Hearing good reports about it, I stayed a weekend in the Radisson Blu Roe Park, just outside the village of Limavady in Co Derry. It's a short drive from Derry city and is one of the few four-star bases from which to tour the delights of the Causeway coast.
The hotel is lovingly restored 18th century mansion set on 155 acres of parkland and a golf course (more of that later).
The courtyard area is a hive of activity, with one building devoted to a gym/pool spa and the other to the golf shop. The driving range is top notch, too, and a round of golf here is a steal at £25 (€28) midweek or £30 (€34) at the weekend, with deals available when staying over.
The driving range tees are fully automatic, and it's nice to see that a province that gave the world some brilliant golfers is encouraging a new generation. The on-site instructor, Sean Devenney (an ex-hurler, too), has a myriad of hi-tech equipment and children are especially welcome to take up the game.
The hotel has had a massive makeover, and it showed in our room. With its sash windows overlooking the lush parkland outside, you could be in an episode of Downton Abbey, but turn around and you've got two giant LCD TVs, a massive king-size-plus bed, living area and generous bathroom and wardrobe space.
Spas I can take or leave, but believe me, book yourself in here (and ask for Olivia). I've been to massage rooms the world over but never, and I honestly mean never, had such a good massage and facial. The therapist clearly loved her job but also liked people, giving lots of tips on day trips, restaurants and things to do in the area. If you ever needed to de-stress, go here.
The great thing about Roe Park is its location. Take a left turn and you'll be in the heart of Derry in under 20 minutes. Tramp along the historic walls and grab a bite to eat down by the riverside. We loved Danano's, a tasty and popular Italian on Clarendon Street, where you can bring your own wine or beer and not even pay corkage. The hotel is also a great base for the Antrim coast. A must-see is Benone Beach bordered by high clifftops from which you can see across to Derry or Coleraine.
Another short drive will bring you up to the Giant's Causeway (confession here: it was my first time seeing it, and it was worth the trip).
With cute villages, scenery that's a match for anywhere on the west coast, the only thing missing is Dublin-reg cars. So what's stopping you?