Melanie Mullan visited Mayo this month and fell in love.
It's a long road to Mayo when Friday evening traffic is involved but, thanks to Spotify's ?Songs to Sing in the Shower? playlist, driving from Dublin to Mulranny Park Hotel is only painful on the vocal cords - and my companion. Six dulcet hours later, our drive is rewarded with cosy, welcoming beds, equally comfy robes and waking up the following morning to blue skies overlooking Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick. An ideal welcome to The West.
A ?Bridge to Bay? collaboration between Mulranny Park's head chef Chamila Mananwatta and Limerick Strand Hotel's executive chef Tom Flavin is why we're there. Both chefs are dedicated to showcasing the quality of the produce that both Mayo and Limerick have to offer - something that can sometimes be overshadowed by neighbouring culinary counties - and championed their beliefs through a nine-course tasting menu at each hotel over two weekends. This weekend was about Limerick produce, but it gave us an opportunity to explore the Gourmet Greenway - a project devised by the hotel to discover Mayo's finest food from the land and sea.
Saturday morning started with a trip to Croagh Patrick Seafoods to meet one of the many local suppliers. Pauric Gannon has been in the oyster farming business for 20 years, taking on the trade after years of beef farming. As we walked the Clew Bay shores, he explained the laborious ins-and-outs of oyster farming, a process that can take up to four years to come to fruition. Following a quick hunt for clams and before sending us on our merry way, Pauric filled us with freshly steamed mussels and wild Clew Bay oysters - a rare treat for oyster lovers!
With blue skies in tow, we head for Achill Island - a must see when located so close. The coastal route allows for regular stop-offs to embrace the magnificent scenery, although I still found the urge to abandon the car on occasion. A trip to Achill Sea Salt, another producer that is part of the evening's menu, leaves us inspired by the O?Malley family and the story behind their business. After a stroll on Keel beach, it's time to return to the hotel for the main event, but not before enjoying some downtime in the hotel's pool and sauna.
Nine courses, mainly using produce local to Limerick Strand Hotel (Claremorris's Velvet Cloud sheep milk made a guest appearance), including Skeaghanore Farm duck breast, leg bon bon with carrot, smoked butternut squash and Ballyhoura white beech mushroom, with a selection of perfectly matched wines to accompany make for a cracking ending to our day.
Although blue skies aren't always guaranteed, the delicious food, great people and some of the finest scenery Ireland has to offer had this Cork girl completely smitten with Mayo.