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Europa rising Once the world’s most bombed hotel, the Europa in Belfast celebrated its 50th in style

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Europa Hotel in Belfast

Europa Hotel in Belfast

The Deer’s Head bar

The Deer’s Head bar

Sawers deli

Sawers deli

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Europa Hotel in Belfast

It’s a hotel I’ve stayed in several times while visiting Belfast as a reporter.

But then the world famous Europa has also been home to Trevor McDonald, Kate Adie, John Sergeant, half of Fleet Street and many of Dublin’s finest hacks, sometimes for weeks at a time as they covered the Troubles.

And then there were politicians and showbiz stars like Bill and Hillary Clinton, U2, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Bob Dylan, Lionel Ritchie, Victoria Beckham, Elvis Costello and countless others.

For most guests the Europa will always be known as the world’s most bombed hotel after being damaged by explosions during the Troubles no less than 33 times – amazingly with not one death.

Today the Europa is a modern, comfortable four-star beacon in a rising city that has left the violence behind.

My most recent visit was to help it celebrate its 50th anniversary at a glitzy birthday bash where we were greeted by the Hastings family who have invested tens of millions of euro in the hotel.

Not only did they organise a wonderful dinner based on old time favourites (Prawn Cocktail, Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska) but they also arranged a special showing of the multi-Oscar nominated movie Belfast at the Queens Film Theatre.

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The Deer’s Head bar

The Deer’s Head bar

The Deer’s Head bar

There was something special about seeing Kenneth Branagh’s acclaimed film in its home city the day it was released.

When violence erupted on the big screen, the eerie silence that descended on the cinema was palpable. This was something many people in the audience had lived through but had never forgotten.

But our visit was not just to help the Europa celebrate its milestone birthday but also, with the help of visitbelfast.com, to discover what this transformed city now has to offer visitors.

The following morning guests were whisked off by coach to the world famous Titanic Quarter to explore the city’s maritime history, including the museum and the Maritime Mile, taking in the dock, pump house and HMS Caroline.

A trip to the city’s unique St George’s Market followed where we were treated to live music and wraps from the Nomad Kitchen stall in this Victorian covered wonderland. The market is an institution for locals opening from Friday to Sunday and is particularly famous for its fish.

Next we hit the streets with the Taste and Tour company guide Caroline Wilson leading us on a whistlestop tour of some of Belfast’s gastronomic treasures, a circuit that normally takes four hours but which we squeezed in in half the time.

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We called into the amazing Sawers food emporium right in the city centre to see its astonishing array of delicacies including an incredible deli counter. They sell everything from caviar and local honey to Mexican sauces and claim, ‘If you can’t get it here, you can’t get it!’

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Sawers deli

Sawers deli

Sawers deli

Daisies Belfast was a hidden gem chocolatier where we tasted delicious hot chocolate and marvelled at the shop’s aroma.

After walking past famous pubs like The Garrick and Bittles Bar, we popped into the atmospheric Jailhouse pub converted from a real gaol which has retained its brick walls, beams, wooden floors and windows.

It is down a small alleyway called Joy’s Entry off the High Street and the friendly staff showed us how to make a “gimlet” cocktail of gin, fresh lime juice, 10 mls of sugar and “loads of ice.” Delicious!

Next stop was another restored pub and craft brewery, The Deer’s Head, incorporating the Bell Brewery, on Lower Garfield Street, which originally opened in 1885 and has a wonderful saloon. It’s famous for its great selection of pies and 19 different beers served on a tray.

We tried an IPA and a Rhubarb Sour. Determined to carry out further investigations, I had to be dragged out.

We saw some of the amazing street art near the famous Sunflower pub, which still has its Troubles-era steel cage at the front door, before sampling some of Mike’s Fancy Cheeses, a wonderfully named shop just round the corner in Little Donegall Street.

From there we headed by coach to East Belfast and the recently opened Banana Block, a former mill which has been turned into a cultural hub and events space with design studios, a café, bar, artisan food producers and even a record shop selling only vinyl, Sound Advice

And yes, there are even a few banana trees growing in the greenhouse centre amid 80 small businesses.

Nearby we also checked out C.S. Lewis Square commemorating the Belfast author with bronze sculptures from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Not quite done yet we headed to West Belfast and took in the James Connolly Museum and the Peace Wall.

Yes, Belfast has certainly come a long way and has so much to offer.

TRAVEL FACTFILE
LOCATION
See visitbelfast.com

■ For hotel rates and availability check out europahotelbelfast.com.
■ Taste and Tour offer food and drink tours and experiences in Northern Ireland including the Belfast Food Tour, Gin Jaunt, Whiskey Walk, City Cocktail Circuit and 5 Stop Brunch Tour, amongst others. Check out tasteandtour.co.uk/our-toursmolorum

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