Fresh Eire Blog
Toulouse is the capital of the French department of Haute-Garonne and of the region of Occitanie. The city is on the banks of the River Garonne and it is the fourth-largest city in France after Paris, Lyon and Marseille, with a half a million inhabitants. A city with unique architecture made of pinkish terracotta bricks, which earned it the nickname la Ville Rose ("the Pink City"), Toulouse counts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Canal du Midi (designated in 1996, and shared with other cities), and the Basilique St. Sernin, the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe, designated in 1998 because of its significance to the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.
Toulouse is the European capital of the aeronautic and spatial industry with Airbus headquarterd in the city. Thanks to its large population of students, Toulouse has been selected as the most dynamic French city in 2009 according to L’Express newspaper. For amateurs, there is nothing better than to end a game of rugby by enjoying local gastronomy, specifically the famous cassoulet.
La Cour des Consuls 5*
On the centuries-old rue des Couteliers, surrounded by old streets full of bars, restaurants and antique dealers, this hotel is a 10-minute walk from the Place du Capitole, Toulouse’s famous central square. La Cour des Consuls occupies two 18th-century townhouses that have been converted into sophisticated accommodation. The professional service and fine-dining restaurant make it one of the top luxury places to go for a weekend break in Toulouse and an ideal pre or post bike tour destination. Their spa particularly is an enticing feature.
Ours Blanc Wilson 4*
Entirely renovated in 2014, the hotel Ours Blanc Wilson has become emblematic with its Art-Deco facade and its round shape that forms the link between Place Wilson and Place Victor Hugo. The hotel enjoys a central location in the heart of Toulouse, near cinemas, department stores, theatres, museums, and restaurants. The elegantly decorated rooms are surprisingly quiet for such a centra location and the hotel provides a relaxing atmosphere throughout.
Hôtel Albert 1er 3*
Located in the very heart of Toulouse, the Hotel Albert 1er is located only a few minutes from the famous Place du Capitole and other important attractions. This classy and environmentally-friendly hotel has received the European eco-label and is proud to offer a rich breakfast composed of biological and local products.
Le Pavé des Minimes
Located in the neighbourhood of Claude Nougaro, Le Pavé des Minimes welcomes you in a charming and typical “Toulousaine” manner. Here you can taste gourmet and authentic cuisine, made from fresh products, where the focus is on home made dishes. The restaurant team offers a menu adapted seasonally by the chef, along with desserts delicately flavoured with local ingredients.
Located behind the University du Capitole, Restaurant Michel Sarran offers one of the highest quality dining experiences possible in Toulouse. Unless you know where to look for it, you may not pay attention to this gorgeous and luxurious restaurant. And that would be a pity. A top-class welcome is guaranteed to guests where the focus is on the food experience, guaranteed by one of France's top Chefs. Advance Booking is necessary.
Au Pois Gourmand
Nestled in a splendid 19th century building, Au Pois Gourmand boasts one of the best terraces on the banks of the river La Garonne. Its romantic, splendid setting, coupled with an emphasis on gourmet French cuisine, is highly recomended.
Bibent - Christian Constant
This place, opened in 1861, is one of the oldest brasseries in Toulouse and is rich in history. Located on the Place du Capitole, Bibent offers a splendid neo-baroque setting and a warm atmosphere that is completed by numerous gastronomic specialities, all concocted from fresh and seasonal products.
La Place du Capitole
The seat of the municipal government since the 12th century, this neoclassical masterpiece displays its majestic brick and stone façade on the unmistakable Place du Capitole. Enlarged, transformed, embellished in every era, the scenery inscribed on the walls of the Capitole building itself tells the great moments of Toulouse's history: from the Cathar episode to the creation of the floral Games, from the Counts of Toulouse to the city's headquarters. Famous for its state rooms, the Salle des Illustres are unmissable. Here you will learn about Henri Martin, Jean-Paul Laurens, Paul Gervais and many other artists who have painted or carved the decor of these rooms. Lovers of lyrical art will appreciate the famous opera house in Toulouse also located here.
Le Couvent des Jacobins
Founded by the Order of Dominicans, le Couvent des Jacobins is a jewel of medieval art in the heart of the city. The church, where the relics of St. Thomas Aquinas rest, will fascinate with its double nave with its painted decoration, its magnificent stained glass windows and its surprising palm-shaped vault. Entering the serene cloister, and through the convent symbolizing the Garden of Eden, the former refectory, the chapter house and the chapel of Saint Antonin (whose painted decors, beautifully restored) it is possible to while away many hours at this fascinating attraction.
Since 1995, the Bemberg Foundation has been installed in the superb hotel of Assézat, jewel of the Renaissance. Created by Argentinean patron Georges Bemberg, it offers an artistic journey of the West from the end of the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The first floor is organized in salons of Renaissance and XVIIIth century where furniture and objets d'art mingle, reviving the interiors of time. The second floor is devoted to impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Do not miss the room dedicated to Pierre Bonnard, exceptional for his 35 paintings.
Basilique Saint Sernin
On the roads to Santiago de Compostela, the Basilique Saint Sernin, a masterpiece of Romanesque art, is a UNESCO world heritage site. Built in honor of Saint Saturnin (or Sernin), first bishop of Toulouse, its construction took from the 11th to the 13th century. Wander around the building and admire the elegant features, staggered from the chapels to the octagonal bell tower, characteristic of Toulouse architecture. Inside, 5 ample vaulted aisles converge towards the choir and the canopy of gilded wood and marble. Access the crypts and the tour of the holy bodies, treasure of relics which testifies to the prestigious past of this pilgrimage church.
Located near the old visible rampart Armand Duportal Boulevard, this garden surprises by its exoticism. A few steps from the administrative centre and the congress centre, its environment is conducive to meditation and rest. Labelled as a remarkable garden, it is the synthesis of the existing gardens in Kyoto, built between the XIVth and the XVIth century. It contains all the characteristic elements: a staging of the mineral world, the vegetable world and the aquatic world, decorated with typical elements such as the surrounding wall, bridges, lanterns and the tea pavilion.
Yesterday I saw a most delightful place indeed, much beyond any place I have seen in Ireland – Ballyfin
- Lady Kildare, 1759
For centuries the enchanting beauties of Ballyfin have been admired by visitors like Lady Kildare from Carton House in the adjoining county. Set at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in the centre of Ireland, it is a place of history and romance, of tranquillity and great natural beauty. Stone walls enclose 600 acres of parkland, a lake and ancient woods, delightful garden buildings, follies and grottoes abound. Ballyfin is steeped in Irish history and the site has long been admired as the most lavish regency mansion in Ireland, the work of the great Irish architects Sirs Richard (1767–1849) and William Morrison (1794–1838).
Over the last decade the magnificent estate has been painstakingly restored to become a small hotel like no other. Indeed, after eight years of restoration aiming at returning Ballyfin as closely as possible to how it functioned when it was built, the estate re-opened in May 2011 as a 5 star country house hotel. It offers the very best of Irish hospitality in the most beautiful surroundings imaginable. Ballyfin is the perfect place for a break from the stresses of the modern world and provides discretion and privacy like few other destinations.
Its comfort lends itself to family celebrations, its magnificent grandeur makes it perfect for weddings while its unparalleled seclusion and privacy makes it an ideal setting for business retreats. Hence why we recommend at least a two night stay at Ballyfin at the end of any Bespoke Ireland trip before returning home, and is the ideal property for those discerning guests who expect exclusive use.
Hotel & Country Estate.
Founded in 1228 by the Anglo-Norman de Burgo family to be their principal stronghold, the original Castle of Cong remained ruled for some 350 years before Queen Elizabeth I recertified the Castle as a British fortress in 1589. Ownership then turned to the Oranmore and Browne family in 1715, who first named it Ashford Castle. They were responsible for the building of a French château at the centre part of the Castle.
Later, in 1852, Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness purchased Ashford and extended the estate to 26,000 acres, building new roads and planting thousands of trees and adding two large Victorian style extensions. The estate and Castle then passed to his son Lord Ardilaun in 1868; who welcomed the Prince of Wales in 1905, for which the George V Dining Room and Prince of Wales Bar were built to celebrate. In 1915 Ashford was retained by the Iveagh Trust on behalf of the Guinness family until it was leased by Noel Huggard in 1939. Huggard established the Castle as a first class hotel renowned for the provision of its country pursuits. As a hotel it changed hands many times, notably in 1970 by renowned hotelier John Mulcahy who developed the golf course, and in 1985 by a group of Irish American investors. In 2008 the hotel was bought by local entrepreneur Gerry Barrett.
Since 2013, Ashford Castle is part of Red Carnation Hotel Collection and has been lovingly restored to fully reflect the Castle’s extensive history and Irish heritage. Ashford Castle was voted in 2015 the Best Hotel in the World, by Virtuoso.
The Quiet Man
The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and directed by the legendary John Ford, is a 1951 romantic love story. The Quiet Man was filmed in and around the village of Cong, Co Mayo including much of the grounds of Ashford Castle. The film received a total of seven Academy Award nominations and won two Oscars. Guests can visit many of the film locations including The Quiet Man Cottage Museum and Pat Cohen’s Bar, complete with replica of the interiors featured in the film. Alternatively, guests can sit back and rekindle The Quiet Man experience in the Castle’s luxurious cinema.
Ireland’s School of Falconry
Ireland’s School of Falconry was founded in 1999 and is the oldest established Falconry School in Ireland. Home to the largest and most diverse collection of Harris hawks, it offers guests the chance to fly hawks around the spectacular Ashford Castle grounds and woodlands. Six instructors are on hand all year round to introduce guests to the 20 Harris hawks a species renowned for its’ easy-going temperament and unusually sociable nature, one Eurasian eagle owl and four falcons who all call the Falconry School their home. A hawk walk is highly recommended.
Grace O’Malley (Granuaile)
An icon of 16th Century Ireland
The Pale had been established in Ireland in 1488. English rule was mostly confined to that area. Elsewhere the country was ruled by Anglo Irish Lords and Gaelic Chieftains who lived in castles. Some of them got embroiled in English conflicts beyond these shores which had repercussions here; others were busy enough feuding and fighting among themselves.
The ordinary people, as always, struggled on in the hope of better days and survived on oatmeal, milk, butter, watercress and wild herbs. They valued animals for their skin, wool and milk rather than for their meat. The only language they knew was Irish (Gaelic), their only law was administrated by the local Chieftain through his breitheamh and their souls were in the hands of friars. Some Chieftains and their families also spoke Latin which was essential for trading with foreigners. One of these Chieftains was Owen O’Malley whose comparatively small territory on the shores of Clew Bay, Co Mayo was surrounded to the north and east by MacWilliam Burke of Mayo and to the south by O’Flaherty.
The year was 1530. Ferdinand Magellan’s Portuguese ship had made history and circumnavigated the world. Construction of the Basilica of St. Peters had recently begun, Martin Luther was preparing to break with Rome. In England, Henry VIII was about to be bewitched by the charms of Anne Boleyn. And on the west coast of Ireland, pounded by the Atlantic gales, was born Grace O’Malley, also known as Granuaile*, destined to become an outstanding woman of courage and adventure.
The environment she grew up in was dominated by fishing and trading. Survival meant sailing to distant shores to trade for silks, wines and spices in return for wool, linen and hides. Grace loved the sea and soon learned to navigate . When she married an O’Flaherty, she became a tough fighter and leader and often led raids on other ships. After the death of her husband she proved to be a stout defender in fights both against other clans and against the English who were now determined to extend their rule across the country.
She returned to her native Clare Island castle and made a name for herself as a seafarer, trader and pirate. Piracy was rife in those days and foreign ships were considered fair game. She married Richard Burke and lived with him at his castle at Rockfleet until his death. She was friendly with the two great Ulster chieftains O’Neill and O’Donnell. This was viewed with suspicion by the English who greatly feared their growing power and influence.
English rule in the area was in the control of Sir Richard Bingham, governor of Connaught. He was ruthless and unfair and Grace fell foul of him. Her livestock was confiscated, her son murdered, another thrown in prison. So she bravely set sail for London to seek an audience with Queen Elizabeth I to plead for her son’s release and the return of her property. Her boldness was rewarded and her request granted. She returned to Rockfleet in triumph.
During her final years she heard of the defeat of her old allies in the Battle of Kinsale. It must have saddened her to realise that she was among the last of the Chieftains and that her death marked the end of a significant era in Ireland’s history.
*Grace O’Malley is popularly called Granuaile. The story goes that she tried to sneak aboard her father’s ship which was about to set off on a voyage, and cut off her hair so as to look like a boy. This caused great amusement when she was discovered and her father is supposed to have laughingly called her Granuaile (the Irish word maol means 'bald').
Reproduced by kind permission of Greenleaf Publications Ltd.
To learn more about the Irish Pirate Queen, and to see some of her ruined castles from your saddle, take one of our Connemara Castle & Manor, or Burren, Aran Islands and Connemara bike tour. #pedalon
5 Blockbuster Châteaux
Here is a non exhaustive list of the top châteaux in the surroundings of Bordeaux. We have chosen not to rank them because each of them produce premium-quality wine and its taste would be more or less appreciated in conjunction with your preferences.
Château Latour is one of the most famous and prestigious vineyards in France and, indeed, the world. It was ranked First Growth under the 1855 Bordeaux Classification, which by the time (and still today) aimed to rank the production of the several thousand different Châteaux in Bordeaux’s region and hence awarding a unique prestige mark. The wines of Château Latour are the result of centuries of work and improvement with a constant quest of excellence.
Château Margaux is one of the rare Châteaux which received the honorary distinction of First Growth. Despite its recent unstable history, rocked to the rhythm of the ownership changes, the fact remains that it is a wine of rare exception. Indeed, right from the beginning, their wines were considered as some of the very best in the world. Over the centuries, the Château did not change its recipe for success, it still relies on two major features, that is to say a unique terroir and a continued and unwavering dedication to the work at every stage.
This Château, with the arrival of Philippe de Rothschild, earned its prestigious reputation. Philippe de Rothschild was a true precursor, he indeed spearheaded the construction of a museum open to the public on the Château’ site. Moreover, every year, since 1945, the design of the label for the Château Mouton-Rothschild has been entrusted to some of the most famous artists in the world such as Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali or Andy Warhol just to name a few. In 1973, the Château finally achieved the prestigious reward of being ranked First Growth in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification. The Château was almost entirely renovated and its facilities were upgraded in order to remain at the cutting edge of exquisite wine production. Even if the Château has, in its rank, Specialists with a high calibre they still rely on an ancestral know-how which has been magnified over the generations.
The Château Haut-Brion is a leading institution in the wine industry. It is located only a few miles away from the city centre of Bordeaux and is an unmissable stage of your trip!
As for the other Château mentioned, Haut-Brion is part of the restricted circle of the First Growth in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification. Over the generations, the wine production was in the hands of irrepressible enthusiasts who had no other purpose than endlessly seek the creation of the ultimate taste. Tasting the wine from the Château Haut-Brion will guide you through different levels each with their own idiosyncrasies regarding taste; a subtle yet sophisticated bouquet of savours.
Once again the name Lynch refers to a family who was at the source of a classified Growth wine. What is more surprising are the Irish roots of this family who ran away from the anti-catholic repression and found a welcoming land in Bordeaux. Even if the Château Lynch-Bages does not benefit from the highest ranking in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification (Fifth Growth), it is still a prestigious institution which will not disappoint the most demanding of palates. Thanks to its special character combining power and finesse as well as its consistent quality, Lynch-Bages manages to find a place among the greatest in the famous wine-making town of Pauillac.