Sometimes we deny ourselves a short break for fear it’s too much hassle. Here’s how to escape to a haven that’s closer than you think.
Just a half hour drive from Belfast city, another world unfolds. Tranquil lapping loughs, picture perfect villages and atmospheric abbeys that are a tonic for city-sore eyes. This is the Ards and North Down area.
So close you can even cycle to it, this restful region offers 115 miles of scenic shoreline where you can sail, walk, soak up the sea air or feast on freshly caught seafood.
If you’ve had a busy week, here are five ways to revive your spirits without the hassle of a long journey to get there…
1. Take a tour of sunny seaside towns
Head east out of Belfast, and there are so many pretty towns and villages to explore.
Along the southern shores of Belfast Lough is Holywood, renowned for its many boutique shops and café scene, showcasing delicious coffees and cakes. En route on your way out of town is the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, which examines the life and lifestyles of the people of Northern Ireland across the years, as well as the means of transport they used.
From here it’s a short drive to explore the Castle gardens and Abbey in Bangor. Take a leisurely walk along the marina to acquaint yourself with the town, or stop for a spot of lunch. Afterwards, indulge in some culture by visiting North Down Museum.
If you head to the end of the Ards peninsula, you’ll reach Portaferry, a gorgeous fishing town situated by the Narrows, where the wild tidal torrent sweeps in and out between the Irish Sea and Strangford Lough.
2. Get up close to wild life
Wildlife thrives along the grassy banks of Strangford Lough, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and area of Special Scientific Interest, while 2000 marine species teem in its clear waters.
Twitchers, bring your binoculars – Strangford is home to 75 per cent of the world’s brent geese population, a small, dark, stubby-billed bird with an extraordinary migratory pattern.
Don’t miss Castle Espie Wetland Centre, home to Ireland’s largest collection of waders and migrant birds, including a noisy colony of Brent geese, or get a diver’s view of the marine life at Portaferry’s Exploris Aquarium.
Don’t forget to pack your walking boots. Ards and North Down’s network of coastal paths and lough sidewalks provides you with stunning views or even seals basking on the rocks!
3. Steep yourself in history
The history of this area stretches back as far as the Bronze Age, via the Vikings and the early Ulster Scots planters, to our World War: you can take in ruined castles, holy wells, Abbeys on Military forts.
Enjoy the Visitor Centre and herb garden at Grey Abbey, which was ruined during the invasion of Robert the Bruce, or learn about Ireland’s involvement in the Great War at the Somme Museum.
4. Sample the tastes of the countryside
Savour the region’s award winning restaurants. Local chefs have been inspired by the bountiful larder of this lush countryside to put together some wonderful flavours. Top of the menu is a daily catch of seafood. Don’t miss the Portavogie prawns, local lobsters or oysters. And the world- famous Comber potatoes: try a local speciality of buttery mash with spring onions. Wash it all down with a locally produced ale, gin or whiskey.
The best of the region’s flavours is on display at the monthly Comber Farmers Market, where you can also meet the growers and producers.
While there, take a foodie tour to sample food, learn how artisan dulse wheaten bread is made, and watch how whisky is produced at Echlinville Distillery.
5. Stay a while
Choose from a range of stunning places to stay: from rustic self-catering to cosy pubs and five star hotels.
For a list of the best places to eat and stay, pop in to Bangor Visitor Centre, which is located in a dramatic 17th century tower on the seafront.
If you’re closer to Strangford Lough, the Ards Visitor Information Centre in Newtownards can help. You can also pick up a unique handcrafted gift from Ards Crafts, located inside the visitor centre.
For more information on this idyllic spot that’s close to home, www.visitardsandnorthdown.com or call our Visitor Information