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A trip to Northern Ireland off the beaten track

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The Giant's Causeway is a major tourist attraction in Northern Ireland.

The Giant's Causeway is a major tourist attraction in Northern Ireland.

Brian Morrison/Tourism Ireland


In the countryside and in the cityA trip to Northern Ireland off the beaten track

The region of the United Kingdom has long been in the media due to conflict. Today, this land is emerging as an unexpected destination for those looking to avoid heat waves and mass tourism.

Emmanuel Koisi

In recent years, Northern Ireland has experienced heat waves that are easily tolerated by those oppressed by extreme temperatures in continental Europe. For a few days, in September 2023, it soared to 27°C during the day and did not fall below 15°C at night. Therefore, this area of ​​the United Kingdom benefits from the interest in temperate climate destinations because, in our latitudes, every summer heat wave is intense. This destination also has the advantage of being exempt from mass tourism. Apart from the Giant's Causeway, a site that features an extraordinary volcanic formation against a backdrop of spectacular cliffs (on a clear day). This curiosity attracts many visitors to the northern coast where the temperature does not exceed 26 degrees Celsius.

Rain and little sun

In May 2024, under cloudy skies, the afternoon thermometer shows a maximum of 16°C. Rain is part of the island's charm; The sun's rays are numbered. A wanderer in the green, hilly Northern Irish countryside encounters mainly sheep, and sometimes donkeys, grazing among flocks of yellow-flowered gorse. The roads are lined with charming houses surrounded by their gardens. To say that gardening is a collective passion is an understatement. In the past few days, National Garden Week from May 1 to 7 and World Bare Garden Day on May 6, two events have captivated nature lovers.

Cattle at Glenshane Farm.

Cattle at Glenshane Farm.

The lush gardens of the rich

At Glenarm Castle, a stunning 17th-century building that housed the 15th Earl of Antrim and his family, May 6 is dedicated to its annual Tulip Festival. A stunning labyrinthine garden worthy of “Alice in Wonderland” is a work of art open to the public at the heart of a 647-hectare forest estate on the north-east coast. From a promontory, we admire flowers, black cows (Dexter breed), a salmon farm and the Scottish coast in the distance. This estate, like many others, earns part of its income from tours and rentals for weddings.

The gardens of Glenarm Castle, home of the 15th Earl of Antrim and his family.

The gardens of Glenarm Castle, home of the 15th Earl of Antrim and his family.

Arthur Ward/Tourism Ireland

We had the pleasure of visiting the gardens of Brook Hall Estate, spread over “only” 37 hectares in the west of Northern Ireland, close to the Irish border. The property, which has been in the hands of a family for six generations, is part of sustainable development: hundreds of yellow willows serve as fodder for ruminants. These produce methane. Below, the river crosses the town of Londonderry… also called Derry!

Influence of “Derry Girls”.

Londonderry is the official name of Northern Ireland's second most populous city (just over 85,000 inhabitants). Separatists who reject British sovereignty call it Derry, removing the reference to the capital of the United Kingdom. Schematically, pro-Irish Separatists (Catholics) reside on the right bank and pro-British Unionists (Protestants) on the left. In 2011, the Peace Bridge was built to bring the two opposing communities together.

In Londonderry / Derry, made popular by Netflix

In Londonderry / Derry, a fresco representing the main characters of the series “Derry Girls” made popular by Netflix.

Emmanuel Koisi

The Northern Irish conflict (1968 – 1998: over 3,500 dead) marked the city's history. Frescoes in the houses of the Bogside, an enclave Catholic district, bear witness to resistance “against occupation”. It was there on January 30, 1972 that 14 demonstrators were shot dead by the British Army. The band U2 commemorated the bloody event with their song “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. More recently, the late 1990s airing of “Derry Girls” (2018-2022) on Netflix popularized the city as a new tourist destination. In the city center, visitors' photos stand in front of a wall representing the five heroes of the humorous fiction.

In Belfast, the marathon breaks down segregation

Quite a symbol: in Belfast, marathon runners pass through Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods separated by walls.

Quite a symbol: in Belfast, marathon runners pass through Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods separated by walls.

Emmanuel Koisi

100km east of Londonderry/Derry, Belfast is also enjoying renewed interest from holidaymakers. Although communal tensions are still high, terrorism is a part of history. Even today, communities live in neighborhoods separated by 3.50m walls, with doors locked at night. Last Sunday (May 9, 2024), they were open for a special event: the marathon. The streets were cordoned off. Police patrolled the city center to celebrate the sport. 5,500 people ran 42,195 km and 12,500 participated in the relay race. The crowd was celebrating. She declared her support for the runners. The meeting was formed in 1982 amid conflict. In 2024, runners of all faiths cross barricaded neighborhoods. The act has a symbolic value: the marathon breaks down segregation.

The Room 2 202 is a hotel that opened its doors in October. It features a half-pop, half-cosy decor. Its bar attracts young people from Belfast.

32-36 Queen Street, Belfast

The excellence of Irish meat has not been compromised. is the specialty of James Street, A tastefully decorated restaurant in Belfast city centre. Good selection of wine.

The Killeavy Castle grounds Runs a comfortable hotel and its restaurant is worth a detour. The peaceful setting is as bucolic as can be. 12 Ballintemple Road, Killeavy

Travel was contributed by Tourism Northern Ireland to write this article.

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