Gourmet banquets for Game of Thrones holidays in Belfast, Northern Ireland
If you're interested in falconry, following a forest trail on foot or on horseback, catching and cooking your feast of fresh fish or fowl, then, my friend, you should book your trip to Ireland any time between November and February. Of course, archery and clay pigeon shooting are available all year round throughout Ireland, and if you're angling for fresh fish, you'll find something challenging and fun at any time of the year. Have a look at fishinginireland.info for a glimpse of the angler’s scene if you’ve no restriction on when you can come here.
For winter holidays, November first marks the beginning of the season for game hunting. Game hunting doesn't include large animals like deer, boars or ostriches as those animals are farmed for the food market. For the same reason it often doesn't mean geese or ducks. But these months are when farmers, estate managers and wildlife protectors have settled on as the best time to keep stocks of pheasant, partridge and other birds on the preservation lists at sustainable levels. Grouse shooting starts earlier (in August) and runs till the end of November, so you'll need experienced local spotters to keep your hunting trip kosher.
As with most tracts of land managed by country life enthusiasts, there are differing rules from county to county, but generally, wildlife preserves where migratory birds are protected from hunting are well sign-posted so you can't easily chance onto them, and the slack in the bye-laws is taken up by the voluntary organizations charged with allowing endangered breeds of birds nest relatively undisturbed.
But you could plan your fly-drive holiday to include hikes across the Glens of Antrim, where the epic drama is filmed, take in a morning's falconry or a session with one of the registered gun clubs for game. There are some country hotels with kitchens equipped for hunting parties if you're not easily able to pluck, gut and prepare your catch for cooking. But that kind of facility would have to be flagged well in advance and may affect the overall accommodation cost, so you'd need to discuss it before making the hotel booking.
If you're going as a mixed group of shooters and spouses interested in completely different hikes across the countryside, you could be looking at a different range of accommodation. Again, you've to travel to a registered gun club, as they can rent you the guns and the various permits associated with using them. But when your group of friends are dab hands at catching and cooking, there's a range of self-catering accommodation that may suit your budget more. Have a look at gunsonpegs.com for comprehensive information on the variety of shooting ranges and trails throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland as a starting point. Or have a look at the Hidden Ireland network for some of the larger estates that include summer fishing.
Fine dining in Belfast
When you’d rather just see the Game of Thrones locations as an introduction to the joys that Ulster holidays offer as a matter of course, then simply pack your rain gear as well as your glad rags.
Your fly-drive vacation can offer a mixture of country and urban delights, alternating between rugged coastal walks, gently undulating green hills and spectacular lakes by day and sophisticated cultural pleasures at night.
From Belfast International Airport travel north to Ballymoney (scenes from the Dothraki Sea were filmed here) or south to the Mourne Mountains (where the entrance to Vaes Dothrak was shot). It’s only 50 miles in either direction so you could opt to stay in Belfast for the nightlife and see the film locations for healthy treks or cycles. You get to balance out your break between a food and fine wines trip and working off the calories during the day.
City break holiday-makers, staying for two or three nights should check out a few of the top restaurants that are popular here:
James Street South and its sister restaurant Hadski are the brainchild of chef Niall McKenna. The older of the two, James Street South (called after the street you’ll find it in) is an intimate restaurant for a date night. It’s glamorous, discreet, the service is superb and the food is delicious. It’s got a celebrity chef edge to the décor and presentation and is definitely somewhere to go when you’re trying to impress your date.
The Fourth Wall in St Anne’s Square has equally great food: dramatic presentations of gloriously tasty food, a great wine list and it serves cocktails too. It’s right beside a lovely theatre called the Mac, so it could be an ideal combination of a meal and a show for drama fans. But its theatrical connections aren’t limited to its proximity to the Mac. The night we were there we were treated to a floor show by Lady Portia, who MC’d an evening of glitzy razzmatazz that included some very hot jazz sung by stunning performers.
For lunch or daytime snacks check out Co Couture, (about 10 minutes’ walk from City Hall), which is a chocolate company that serves hot chocolate drinks to have in, or handmade solid chocolates to take away. Co Couture’s sweets are for adults, they’re exquisite balls of high quality chocolate or squares of wonderful fudge that are too good to waste on children. If you must bring them, your little boys will be charmed by the experience of the arched doorway into the shop (it’s sort of hobbity), the table and chairs will delight a little girl (they’re a cross between Philippe Starck and a grown-up size version of Bratz or Barbie accessories). You could have a chocolate-themed holiday in Ireland and you'll find some of our best-quality chocolatiers here.
Another choice for lunch or to stock up on high-end groceries for a self-catering break has to be Sawers. It’s got goat’s cheese with relishes that you could eat in one sitting. There are proper Turkish Delights, squares of delicately flavoured jellies dusted with icing sugar. It’s got the makings of a haute cuisine supper that you can just throw together to impress a dinner guest (black or multi-coloured pasta, depending on your plates, and ready-made sauces you simply have to heat up). Prepare to be dazzled.