Trick or Treaty The perfect mix of high-octane adventure and culinary delights makes a city break in Limerick unforgettable
Rivulets of sweat are streaming down my face as I take deep, laboured breaths to ward off rising waves of nausea. Bobbing violently from side to side, temples ringing, I resign myself to my fate — I am hungover, and I am in a kayak. This will not end well.
Regrets? I have none, because some 12 hours earlier I was dining out on craft beer and cocktails as well as the very best culinary delights Limerick City has to offer — more of that later.
Right now, I am slicing my oars, albeit timidly, through the rippling waters of the River Shannon. Eyes half shut, I offer up a silent prayer, ‘please don’t let me capsize’.
Ten minutes later, I am still afloat, the nausea has all but abated and I’ve stopped hyperventilating. Could it be that I am starting to enjoy myself? Propelling myself forward with the grace of an Olympian rower, I’m lazily drinking in the medieval castles and landmarks that moor Ireland’s longest river. Splashing our paddles into the fresh river water, our adventure plays out to the tune of our Nevsail Watersport’s tour guide, Neil, who condenses 800 years of heritage into easily digestible soundbites.
History aside, what’s the point of donning a life jacket if you can’t indulge in some highly competitive water sports with a group of complete strangers? A group of eight of us are out on the open water and we are duly split into teams. The goal is to dunk the ball into the powerboat where our tour guide resides.
Kayak polo was a first for me, and not even a hangover or a gaggle of primary-school-aged children on the opposing team could dampen my competitive spirit. Buoyed by our win, I navigate my way safely back to the pier full of feel-good endorphins, convinced the only way to truly appreciate the Treaty City is by water.
Once back on dry land we fuel up on the city’s best coffee at the Green Onion Cafe and dissect the foodie offerings we devoured the night before. And I obviously shortlist what pictures will make it to my Instagram; there is of course, a strict vetting process.
First up was our trip to Crew Brewing Company. An industrial style microbrewery and bar based on Limerick’s Thomas Street. An avid gin drinker, I switched up my goblet for a pint glass to sample the very best stouts, ales and pilsners on offer. Brewing their own beer on site and serving it directly from metal tanks behind the bar, the smell of sweet malt wraps around us like a welcome hug as we start with a tasting board.
On the taps tonight are Beyond the Pale, Eoghan’s Porter and Azacca Pale Ale. Each one more delicious than the last. From classics to the highly experimental, all brews are made in small batches with a focus on producing flavourful, quality, craft beer; this is an experience you won’t want to miss out on.
Just a hop, jump and a skip away is the award-winning CornStore Restaurant, a gem in the crown of Limerick’s foodie scene. Just a word of warning, you’ll want to wear elasticated trousers because you won’t want to leave a single morsel of this flavoursome food behind.
We chowed down on the melt-in-your-mouth cowboy steak, oven-roasted salmon and truffle mac n’ cheese. The cookie skillet was as expected, perfection on a plate. The endless cocktail menu may have also played a part in my hangover, but let me reiterate, I have no regrets.
This is the type of restaurant I’d queue around the block for. Everything from the ambience, aesthetics and attentive staff were on point. Fit to burst, we retreat to our digs, The Bedford Townhouse and Café boutique hotel. Situated on Limerick City’s Main street, you’re not going to get more central than this.
Nestling into the cloud-like bedding, even though I am experiencing peak food coma, I can appreciate the design details of this room. From the cushioned headboard, brass lamps and resplendent rainshower, this is what dreams are made of.
Sampling the speciality coffee and locally sourced brunch menu the next day is made all the more sweeter by the warm Limerick welcome we receive.
Next on the agenda is the city’s renowned Milk Market. I’m busily browsing handmade baskets while my other half samples cured salami and chorizo before picking up a slab or two of cheese. A mouth-watering goat’s cheese and black pudding sourdough ciabatta sees us through to our next stop, King John’s Castle. Situated in the heart of the medieval city, we are treated to interactive exhibitions that bring to life 800 years of sieges and warfare.
Stepping out into the cavernous outdoor courtyard, we meet a knight, just one of the lively characters afoot, who challenges us to do a duel. I just got my nails done so I pass, but an eager little boy steps up in my place. With so much on offer for the kids, let me just say, it’s also a dream spot for an Instagram hun like myself, with endless picturesque views ready to be captured on the highline of the castle’s boundary walls.
You’d probably think we had enough food, but you’d be wrong. Our final meal is at The SpitJack and it can only be described as transformative. Threading that fine line between high-end dining and gastro grub, every last dish is sensational. To start there’s a seafood board stacked with garlic and chilli prawn pil pil, salt and pepper calamari and Ballycotton fish cakes. The main event is the rotisserie pork belly porchetta. Seasoned for 48 hours, the three-hour roasted porchetta sells out fast, and we can see why. Against all odds, we make it to dessert.
So how exactly do you top off a culinary tour of Limerick City, you ask? Oh, just a spot of high-octane mountain biking. The next day we hit the track at Ballyhoura Trailriders, a 40-minute jaunt out of the city. Taking the beginners 5k track, I question my sanity several times as mud splatters my face and I come dangerously close to impaling myself on a jagged tree stump. Next time I will bring my stabilisers. It’s been some ride, Limerick, we’ll be back.
LIMERICK CITY FACTFILE
■ Denise Smith was a guest of Fáilte Ireland, whose Keep Discovering campaign is
encouraging Irish people to experience the joy of the many hidden gems that Ireland has to offer this autumn and beyond.
■ For more staycation inspiration, visit
discoverireland.ie or follow @discoverireland.ie and @irelandshiddenheartlands on Instagram.
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