Firmnag: From cycling on the water to fine dining and spectacular views, it’s time to book a relaxing break in the picture-perfect Lakelands

With the orange sun shining behind the ruins of an ancient monastery, I felt as though I had stepped into a postcard.

Not dreaming or hallucinating, but instead in beautiful Co Fermanagh where I was being taken on a water taxi tour of Lough Erne.

We had arrived at Devinish Island which is home to monastic ruins dating back to the 6th century.

With orange and purple glowing in the sky behind the silhouette of a Celtic cross, it was hard not to be taken aback by the natural beauty of the place.

I boarded the Erne Water Taxi with owner and tour guide Barry Flanagan, who took me on a tour of Lower Lough Erne on his ship, the taxi-cum-boat The Island Discovery.


Erne Water Taxi offers a fun and informative way to see Fermanagh’s famous Loaf

My partner and I quietly soaked up Barrie’s informative tour as we spent most of our day on the water watching the endlessly spectacular scenery float by.

Earlier we had spent an hour cycling the Erne River around Enniskillen Island. Yes, you read that right, cycling on water.

We went downstairs to check out the hydrobiking facilities offered on the river by the team at Erne Adventures.

A hydrobike is a bike on a float that you can use to pedal around in the water and it was a unique way to see the famous island town of Enniskillen.

It’s a nice little workout that takes you around the island and provides views of the castle and city that you definitely won’t find anywhere else.


John Toner Hydrobiking on the River Ernis

After all that pedaling we went to the Firehouse restaurant on Townhall Street in Enniskillen for some lunch.

The smart, unique location in the heart of the city boasts everything from steaks and flatbreads to stone-baked pizza and quirky cocktails.

My partner and I drank some of their off-the-wall cocktails, including the Missionary Downfall and The Perfect Lady, before tucking into some wings, pork belly, and flatbreads.

The pork belly was beautifully moist and tender while the garlic prawn flatbreads were delicious but the chicken wings were completely unreliable.

The crunchy, crunchy coating was wrapped in a sweet, sticky and slightly tangy sauce and completely covered with juicy flesh. Jot down the best hot-wings I’ve ever eaten and I have more than a few.

After a busy day of eating, drinking and water sports, my partner and I headed for our digs for the evening at the Manor House Country Hotel just outside Enniskillen on the shores of Lower Lough Erne.


The Magical Manor House Hotel dates back to the 17th century

As we watched the sunset over the Lough earlier in the day, my partner joked that it would be the perfect setting for a proposal and that the feeling of a missed opportunity was amplified when we arrived at the Manor House.

The 17th-century palatial manor was decorated with golden Christmas lights and it was not hard to think that the visit would have been ideal for actually raising questions. I wish I didn’t have a ring.

Taking away the sadness of my wedding we checked in at the stunning family-owned property in Fermanagh Lakelands, which was awarded the AA Hotel of the Year for Northern Ireland in 2017.

With elegant period amenities and sophisticated rooms and suites, this hotel feels like the set of Downton Abbey.


Luxurious, modern rooms at Manor House Hotel

The spa and fitness center features an indoor pool, steam room, and a sauna, as well as a hot tub and an outdoor pool.

The venue has its own marina, a 9-hole golf course, and a tennis court, as well as an upscale restaurant and a ballroom.

After checking into our spacious room, which came with remote control floor-to-ceiling curtains and a TV with bathtub views, it was time for dinner.


The Manor House Hotel’s Belek Restaurant has held the AA Rosette for Culinary Excellence since 2011

The hotel’s Belek restaurant has retained its AA rosette for culinary excellence since 2011 and it’s easy to see why.

With breathtaking views of Lough Erne you can sit back, relax and enjoy fine cuisine made with fresh local produce as you take in the beauty of Fermanagh.

Their seafood is sourced from Strangford Lough and Donegal Bay, while the beef comes from a nearby farm advertising the famous Firmnag Black Bacon.

Eager to sample the local beef, I had steak, before scallops, with apple crumble and ice cream washed down with the 2013 Familia Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon.

The rosettes are well deserved because the scallops were juicy and tender, an easy dish to go wrong, while the steak was perfectly medium rare and the crumble a delight.

The next day my partner and I reluctantly checked out of the Manor House Hotel on our way to Belfast, but not before checking out the famous Marble Arch Caves on the western side of Farmanagh.


The famous Marble Arch Caves on the western side of Co Fermanagh are spectacular

The 11 km long chain of natural limestone caves is the longest known cave system of its kind in Northern Ireland and is named after the nearby Marble Arch, a natural limestone arch at the upstream end of Claddagh Glen Below which flows the Cladag River.

Our guided cave tour took us down and along a stunning underground warren of nooks, crannies, stalactites and stalagmites.

The walking tour was equal parts dazzling and informative as our tour guide illuminated the history of the natural wonder, literally and figuratively.

After taking the caves, plates and water-mobiles, it was time to leave Farmanagh, but as usual with Lakeland County it was a matter of au rivoir, but not goodbye.

fact File: Enjoy a two-night weekend stay (Fri – Sun) at the Manor House this month, with breakfast and a three-course evening meal included, plus admission to the leisure complex, for just £369. check out