Exhausted after all the hustle and bustle of the festive season? Then it’s time to take a break in a place where you can unwind and recharge your batteries. The lush and tranquil landscapes of Strangford Lough, the largest sea lough in the British Isles, offer the perfect peaceful immersion in nature, history and culture, with many culinary delights to enjoy along the way.
Start your break with a drive down the peninsula along the lough shore, through the picturesque villages of Greyabbey and Kircubbin to the town of Portaferry, soaking up the gorgeous waterside views as you go. The small port town of Portaferry can trace its history back centuries and a walk around its streets and port area will take you past a sixteenth-century castle tower and many Georgian buildings. Portaferry is also the home of Exploris Aquarium, a must-see destination on any visit to the town.
Take the morning to tour the aquarium and discover Strangford Lough’s Viking heritage and varied marine life. Visit the seal colony and otter enclosure, get up close to small sharks and sea urchins and explore a sunken galleon. Afterwards, enjoy lunch at the Portaferry Hotel – a charming eighteenth-century coaching house located on the shorefront – and watch the boats and ferries come and go. The hotel serves up some of the best seafood in the area and is the perfect place to while away the afternoon.
Before leaving the town, be sure to pop up the road to Fiddler’s Green, one of the 10 pubs or restaurants in Northern Ireland that boasts a Game of Thrones® door. The intricately carved door shows the Kraken of House Greyjoy rising up, while the flayed man of treacherous House Bolton reigns above it. After the obligatory selfie, relax with a drink. You might also be entertained by local musicians who often gather in the pub for a session.
As evening approaches it will be time to take the ferry across the lough to Strangford for a Game of Thrones®-inspired overnight stay in the award-winning Cuan Guest Inn. The inn’s name comes from the Irish name for Strangford Lough, which was Loch Cuan.
The Cuan also has strong ties to Game of Thrones® as it was the accommodation for many of the cast members during the filming of Seasons 1 and 2 at nearby Castle Ward (Winterfell). The inn was given the first of the Doors of Thrones and, to celebrate, it created a unique beer called Hodoor.
The Cuan offers a number of ‘Thrones’ experiences, among which is the Game of Thrones® Banquet Menu, Bed & Winterfell Breakfast. This package offers the opportunity to be a Stark for the evening. Wrap yourself in an authentic Stark cloak and tuck into a feast that includes medieval pease porridge, cod cakes on buttery winter squash and honey roasted chicken, washed down with honey mead or Hodoor.
The experience continues in the morning when you will awake to a glorious Winterfell breakfast based on Catelyn’s request in the novel for “hot bread, butter, honey and blackberry preserves, a rasher of bacon and a soft boiled egg, a wedge of cheese and a pot of mint tea”.
With a hearty breakfast under your belt, you can start the leisurely journey home along the western shore of the lough. Time allowing, why not stop by Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen in Killinchy for a bread-making class (you’ll need to book in advance). Or join Tracey on a Northern Ireland Food tour that visits artisan producers in the area. It’s a great chance to discover local ingredients and producers, top-class restaurants and to taste some amazing food.
Discover more ideas for short breaks at www.discovernorthernireland.com
Other nearby attractions
Raise your spirits on a visit to this distillery in the village of Kircubbin. Dunville’s Irish Whiskey, Jawbox Gin, Echlinville Gin and Bán Poitín are all created here from barley grown and harvested from the distillery’s own fields. Enjoy a Tour & Tipple, which follows the distilling journey from ground to glass, visits the beautiful copper stills and includes two drinks of your choice in the bar. Alternatively stop by for afternoon tea accompanied by the award-winning spirits.
Be awed by the magnificent interiors and gardens of eighteenth-century Mount Stewart demesne, sitting on the shores of Strangford Lough. The seat of the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family, Marquesses of Londonderry, the house is steeped in history and its story is told in a fascinating guided tour. Afterwards, take a walk in the splendid gardens. Considered to be one of the best in the world, they include extensive woodlands and a series of stunning formal landscaped areas.
Take a tour of Castle Ward and discover why it is famed for its mixture of gothic and classical architectural styles. Then step into ‘Winterfell’ in the historic farmyard, where you can dress up as a Stark and have a go on the archery range, a replica of the one used in the HBO blockbuster Game of Thrones®. There are also walking and biking trails through the gorgeous grounds of the estate or you can just relax and enjoy some delicious food in the Stableyard Tea-room.