You may remember a few weeks ago I highlighted the staycation concept. I thought that the theme should continue, and to that end I found myself in the maiden city quite recently.
Monday, 18 June 2012
Derry/Londonderry is in the news at the moment as it is soon to be the UK City of Culture so I thought it would be a good time to re-visit the area. During the stay I followed in the footsteps of former US President Bill Clinton and discovered how a local hotel is a mecca for the descendants of WW2 US Marines.
First, however, to the city itself. The area within the walls is compact, it doesn't take long to walk around to see the views and find your bearings, however, the heritage trail available from the Tourist Office will give you a head start. If you've never visited the city before (or even if you have!) it's always good to get the inside information from someone in the know, and one of the city's best assets is tour guide Martin McCrossan. He has built up his business extensively since I first met him a couple of years ago to include walking, taxi and minibus tours. It is easy to spot that he lives and breathes the city and has shown it off to tourists, celebrities and politicians from around the world.
Also within the city walls, The Tower Museum tells the story of the city's history, from its geological formation millions of years ago, right up to the present day, covering everything from the Plantation, through to the Siege of Derry and the city's troubled political past. The museum also houses the Armada Shipwreck exhibition which deals with the recovery of La Trinidad Valencera which was shipwrecked off the coast of Donegal in 1588.
Nearby, you will come across the Nerve Centre, you will definitely hear it before you see it. Seen as a centre for the arts in the city, it is described as a cultural factory for the creation of new music, film, video, animation and digital media and is the region's premier live music venue.
The city is also home to some great pubs, restaurants and a wide variety of shops - all within, or close to, the city walls.
Whilst the area has a number of accommodation options, we decided to stay at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel, which is just a few minutes drive from the city centre.
On arriving we soon discovered that the hotel has had its fair share of famous visitors, including Bill & Hilary Clinton and many other high profile Americans politicians. Actors Will Ferrell and Jason Donovan head the entertainment contingent.
The primary reason for the American interest is that Beech Hill and its 32 acres of grounds were used as a base for 750 US Marines during World War 2. It was called "Base One Europe" and wandering around the forest trails in the grounds before dinner, it was easy to see why the marines used it. It feels a world away from the city a couple of miles up the road.
The hotel recently inherited thousands of former top-secret US documents relating to the Marines and their time at Beech Hill, and plans are now in place for a permanent exhibition to mark the history.
Speaking of dinner, the meal we enjoyed was stunning. All meals are prepared from locally sourced ingredients including organic vegetables grown in the hotel's vegetable garden and sustainable fish caught nearby. The restaurant has a calm, unrushed atmosphere which is continued throughout the hotel.
In fact, you get the feeling you are visiting someone's home...albeit a very grand home! Our room even had a four-poster bed....no doubt a room that some of the famous visitors have frequented.
Our recent visit allowed us to get a taste of the city and the country in one trip - you can see what's on offer for yourself at derryvisitor.com