Hello I’m Grainne McGarvey and welcome to my column which spots local hidden gems from the world of beauty, health, fashion, tourism and hospitality. I will have my ear to the ground (quite literally) to keep you up to date about the new or interesting products and services from our neck of the woods. If you know one – get in touch on twitter @grainnemcgarvey or at www.pulseprni.com
G Spots! Hidden Gems in the North West
There is nothing better than being a tourist in your own country, so when I got the opportunity to enjoy a few free days in Derry, of course I jumped at the chance.
Don’t get me wrong, I spend a lot of time with clients in the Maiden City; in fact I’ll be presenting the Big Video Challenge this week for CultureTECH (@culturetechfest), which has returned for the third consecutive year. However there is always a difference when you work in a place, to when you get time to switch off and soak up the atmosphere.
Setting off on a Monday morning, when I would usually be in work already put me in a better mood, and as I’m a city dweller, getting the train always makes me feel like I’m going on an adventure. The train is a lot slower than driving, but since Michael Palin called it one of the best scenic train rides ever, I knew it would be worth the time delay. As I had a European friend with me, I naturally fell into tour guide mode and he was happy to sit back and enjoy the view.
Two things I noticed very quickly about Derry – the people are very friendly and most things are within walking distance – good job as we had booked a walking tour and I didn’t want to be hiking too far. When it comes to walking tours there really is no better company than Martin McCrossan’s (@CityToursDerry). It’s incredibly good value and our friendly, knowledgeable guide gave us enough info about the history and pointed out additional locations to explore at our leisure. What struck me was the fact that there was such a mix of nationalities– Norwegian, American, and German were part of our merry band – good to see that the Derry international marketing machine is working!
I’m always ready for food, especially after an hour or so walking, so we made a pit-stop in Cafe Del Mondo, in the quaint Craft Village – just off Shipquay Street (www.derrycraftvillage.com). The diverse menu is worth a try, but definitely best to sample it if you have time for a leisurely afternoon, as urgency does not seem to be on the menu. If you want an alternative, one of my favourite coffee spots, Synge & Byrne (@SyngeandByrne) opens this week in the Foyleside Centre, so if you like good coffee with a delicious sourdough sandwich; this is the place to go.
The most surprising and memorable part of the trip was our stay at the Everglades Hotel (@Evergladeshotel). I have considered the hotel on previous trips to Derry, but I got it into my head that is was a bit too far outside the main buzz of the city walls, so always opted for a closer alternative. Granted it is a short ride in a taxi, but as soon as I put my foot inside the door, I was kicking myself that I hadn’t discovered it sooner. The newly refurbished reception area is an oasis of calm away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Welcoming staff, a bright and airy bar and dining area makes the Everglades the perfect location for a business trip, romantic weekend away or a catch-up with the girls. From what I’ve seen the special offers and dining suggestions cover off all eventualities – the afternoon tea selection was something I’ll definitely be back to try with my mum. Although we made alternative plans for dinner, we did enjoy breakfast the next day. Local suppliers are well represented including White’s porridge (whiskey optional!), Armagh apple juice, Hannon meats…the list was endless. Being part of the Hastings Group, I knew we would get quality, but it was the small touches by the team that made our stay extra special. The Everglades has won me over and I’ve already been checking out my diary to plan my next stay.
In my eyes no trip to Derry is complete without a meander over the Peace Bridge. I’ve been back and forward many times – my last memory was presenting a video for the NI Tourist Board and being so cold that my hand was frozen to the microphone. Not so today. The sun was shining and the view down the Foyle and across to the Guildhall really was magical – so said my rather romantic European friend!
Being named City of Culture is undoubtedly a big responsibility for any city, and last year Derry’s light shone bright to the world. I guess the big question I wanted answered was – one year on would it still be able to carry on the legacy? In my opinion it has met the challenge and embraced the opportunity, and indeed us, with open arms.
Feeling inspired? Check out www.visitderry.com for what’s happening in 2014.