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Image Daily: Festive Food & Wine Wishlist
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  • By
    Aoife Carrigy
  • Published
    Image Daily
    November 2013
One of this writer's Christmas Gift Wishlist:
A voucher for Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites so I could go back and recreate one of the best short breaks I’ve ever had. And maybe I could go towards the end of their season and they’d let me stay on and write that novel I always thought I’d get around to. It’d be the perfect spot for it, what with all that windswept wilderness on your doorstep, and the food is pretty darn spot on too. (I could do island lobster and fresh spuds on a daily basis, no problem!)

Darina Allen’s Blog: One of my favourite places to stay anywhere in the world...
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I'm sure you could count the number of restaurants in Ireland easily on one hand that offer sea urchins on the menu - Ballymaloe features them occasionally when they come up from West Cork. I adore sea urchins but rarely get the opportunity to feast on them so I was thrilled to bits to see them right on the top of the the dinner menu at Inis Mean suites on the Aran island with the proviso (order 24 hours ahead).

The restaurant with just five rooms owned by Ruari and Marie Therese de Blacam and is one of the hottest foodie addresses in Ireland right now. We love it for a ton of reasons not least that dinner starts with a little bowl of freshly picked periwinkles. How about that - not everyone's cup of tea but it gave me a oops in my tummie - what ever turns you on!

I'm an enthusiastic forager both on land and in the woods and on the sea shore but I've never known how to find sea urchins so I ordered them for the following night on the proviso that I could come with Ruari when he was collecting them. What an experience, we wound our way down to the seashore along the narrow botharins until we came to Tra Teacht. From there we scrambled over jagged boulders, limestone karst, round algae covered stones, slippery seaweed and fossils until we came to some rockpools exposed only during the spring tides a couple of times a year. Ruari waded in in his wellies and prized them out of their little nests with a chisel. I kept thinking how the little sea urchins were quietly conjugating in their natural habitat one moment and seconds later they were my dinner!

So how do you go about eating a sea urchin? Well, pick it up, hold it firmly with the mouth upwards, tap around in a circle with the bowl of a teaspoon until you have cracked enough of the hard shell to lift out the ? and made a opening large enough to scoop out the contents. Inside there will be five pieces of orange coral and other gunge all of which is delicious. Some people like to squeeze in a couple of drops of lemon juice but I love the fresh briny tasting coral on it's own.

We sat on the seashore watching the pollock jumping, feasting on sea urchins and the Morrocan chickpea stew in the picnic which had been delivered to our bedroom earlier in cute littleThermos flasks with a spoon tucked inside the lid. (Just what I need for my travel survival kit).

Later we went fishing with Turlough, Ruari's Dad, we were totally hopeless but he caught 10 or 15 mackerel, four and five at a time, I also love fresh mackerel so Ruari prepared sashimi with a ginger and sesame marinade and some spring onions, it was brilliantly good , in fact it was one of the most memorable things I've eaten all year.

Everyone speaks Irish on Inis Mean, the least visited of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. It can be reached by plane or ferry and is truly a world apart with one of my favourite places to stay anywhere in the world. An Idyll on Inis Meáin
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It’s no wonder that artists, writers, and naturalists have been drawn to the Aran Islands for centuries; the dramatic landscape—with its craggy shores, rich cultural life, and bird-watching opportunities—keeps them coming back.

Just three miles long, Inis Meáin is the middle of the three Aran Islands, located off the coast of west Ireland. Native son Ruairí de Blacam (a chef), joined by wife Marie-Thérèse (a fashion designer from Cork), created Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites as a way to share their love of the island’s natural beauty and sturdy local food. Ruairí's uncle Shane (of Dublin-based architecture firm de Blacam &Meagher) designed the low-slung, stacked-stone building, and Ruairí and Marie-Thérèse took charge of the interiors. The restaurant is adjoined by four rooms and an apartment suite. The de Blacams want you to savour every bit of Inis...
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Few things in life beat a wish which actually comes true. This time last year I wrote a New Year’s wishlist, which included a mission to visit more of our stunning islands. First, a trip to Cape Clear made me smile and celebrate our natural heritage, but a trip later in the year to Inis Meáin, one of the least visited of the Aran Islands, actually made me cry. In the same way that a fine work of art makes me cry, or a stunning piece of writing, or just an overwhelmingly kind gesture. I experienced all of this on Inis Meain, staying at Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites, a place where I felt all my travel writing Christmases had come at once.

Inis Meáin is a place of solace and reflection and Inis Meáin Suites has been designed with this in mind. As the only hotel here, it could have made a big splash, but instead its architect opted for a native limestone façade, with just enough glass to reflect the soft, luminescent blue sky, creating a long, low-lying building which segues seamlessly into the matching limestone terrace. This is just one of hundreds of hard-won terraces, so characteristic of the Aran Islands, stretching out in every direction like veins across a body.

Indeed, Inis Meáin Suites plays the role of a central artery on the island, providing tourism income which is sustainable in a sumptuous, seductive and yet sensitive way. Sustainability is core for its owners, Ruairí and Marie-Thérèse de Blacam. Ruairí is chef in his own restaurant, where the food has already won endless accolades from the gastro press. Before dinner, he showed me his impressive fields of vegetables, free range chickens, cow and piglets. As we walk past one barren field after another, all enclosed by the famous stone walls, I realised it’s not long ago in the island’s history that this land was considered impossible to cultivate. However, the local people created soil from sand and seaweed and, having grown up on the island, Ruairí seems to have inherited some of this determination to create life and sustenance out of the rock.

How far this island has come, with developments like the hotel’s water harvesting system which enables the use of grey and rainwater, helping in the creation of salads, herbs, cabbage, spinach and spuds. Later in the restaurant, his inspiration seeps through every mouthful of his food too, as we watch him produce lobster salad, monkfish and dry aged sirloin from his open plan kitchen, chatting with the guests as he merrily chops, sears and simmers.

The de Blacams want you to savour every bit of Inis Meáin, so even though you have the luxuries of an enormous whiter than white bed, chilled champagne, white robes and alpaca throws, the call of the land is too great. They leave bikes outside each suite, as well as swimming towels and a fishing rod. I managed to avail of all three and, along with my hiking boots, was able to reach the less accessible coves and cliffs, allowing me to live every moment here. I even caught some Pollock off the pier, which Ruairí prepared as a starter later – not just thrown in a pan, but sashimi style, sprinkled with sesame seeds, ginger and a bowl of wasabi sauce.

Walking is the only way to truly imbibe the wild, desolate and totally intoxicating beauty of Inis Meáin. The de Blacam breakfast is strategically generous, so that you can pack the leftover boiled eggs, salami, cheese and homemade bread into your bag for a good long walk. Don’t miss the wilder south west side of the island which took me a good four hours, as I navigated my way across the mad, craggy, limestone cliffs, constantly stopping to try and get my head around these unique and awe inspiring seascapes.

This is a pricey getaway, with suites €250 per night and a minimum 2 night stay. But if I could pick one ethical travel treat as a voucher for someone this Christmas this, without doubt, is my top tip. Because although I generally adore the solace of islands when travelling alone, Inis Meáin evokes such poetry and passion, offers such mystery and magnificence, that it is just one of those special places which begs to be shared with someone you love. A sparkling gem of Irish hospitality nationally and...
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Inis Meáin is the least frequented of the Aran Islands. But it typifies that which is truly the spirit of these unique islands. Psychologically, the islands feel far away even for us nestled away in Galway but they are very easily accessed from Rossaveal by boat and also very uniquely by airplane from Inverin – the flight being a mere eight minutes from Connemara airport. It is wonderful to experience both ways of getting to the islands as you can have different perspectives of scale. The flight is stunning and as you approach the airstrip, you really get a sense of place and time on these islands that are an exercise in anthropology and climatic diversity.

I had not been to the islands for years but the draw of the award- winning Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites was too great. Ruairí and Marie-Therese de Blacam have created a stunning restaurant with four large suites attached. The building itself was designed by architects Blacam and Meagher and was directly inspired by the surrounding area. It is a monument in contemporary stone and sits in tandem with the local stonewalling. The build is much publicised for its unique aesthetic and design consciousness. It exists as a contemporary build with a total embodiment of all that is around it, from wool throws on the bed, Irish pottery, periwinkles to start with as an amuse bouche before dinner and fishing rods and bikes left outside for your amusement. This place presents something totally fresh but with the greatest respect for everything that it has come from. This is what makes Inis Meáin suites stand alone as a sparkling gem of contemporary Irish hospitality both nationally and internationally.

The rooms are simple and yet luxurious with a view that would take your breath away. Egyptian cotton sheets in white with grey tweed furnishings and dark wood lend a simple tone that allows the space itself to shine. Breakfast in the morning is dropped off to the porch of the suite, homemade granola, fruit compote, traditional soda bread, jams and fresh boiled eggs from the house chickens. Breakfast can then be eaten on the expanse of windowsill that is an unending table in and of itself. You are then well set up for the day’s activities; a detailed list of what to do is laid out charmingly and amusingly by the owners in an almost ‘things to do’ on the island. A walk to Synge’s chair on the precipice of the cliff past the writer’s house is a sublime and head clearing adventure, cycling all the lanes of the island, an afternoon in the local pub with a toasted sandwich and a glass of Guinness followed by a visit to the multi generational traditional knitters in a nearby house, a swim at the deserted beaches, and without fail a trip to Inis Meáin knit wear factory shop.

It seems all that these people do is spot on and done with such integrity. Inis Meáin knitwear supplies stores all over the world. Its commitment again to the local product is combined with an element of luxury that positions their products in stores as renowned as Bloomingdales in New York. The store itself is an old barn but houses a most extraordinarily diverse collection of knitwear. With bargain baskets galore, this is a chance to get your hands on some wonderful bargains and great finds. You can spend hours here looking at the old black and white photos and trying on endless combinations of knits and working up your appetite for dinner.

The simple stone dining room is really one of the most appealing restaurant rooms in Ireland. Large old black and white photos of the islanders subtly break up the room. The dark wooden huge windowsill again dominates and frames the landscape as if it were a photograph, light exists everywhere, it is almost like eating outside such is the openness of the space. Ruairí cooks in open plan in the centre of the room. The menu is simple; bearing in mind that all food has to be shipped or flown in, that alone is a huge achievement. There is naturally a strong element of seafood with the crab and lobsters caught daily by the local fishermen in their currachs. The vegetables come from their own garden and arrive simply buttered and seasoned, as they should be. There is cooking – here the ingredients are allowed to shine. You leave having had wonderful attentive service by Marie-Therese who fills you in on the local island activities and anecdotes, which further enhances this unparalleled dining experience.

After three days of blistering sun we leave revived and restored.Happy in the knowledge that we didn’t have to fly hours to have an exceptional holiday, knowing we were supporting a local community and staying with people who work to enhance not exploit as they create an exceptional time for their guests. This is eco tourism at its best and most integral. The Aran Islands are a stunning destination and if you haven’tbeen for a while, visit them again. The local community could do with slightly more tourism and coupled with that, you will have some breathtaking peace and beauty.

Hoosta Magazine Online: An unforgettable holiday blend of tradition and modernity...
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It is an island in the middle of the ocean, a wonderful garden, a permanent show. Away from the Mediterranean heat, Inis Meáin (Middle Island) is developing its own concept of charming tourism. An immersion in the Irish land of the design hotel Inis Meáin Suites.

Less touristy than its neighbors, with only 187 inhabitants, Inis Meáin Island is located in the center of the middle island of the Aran Islands, off Galway on the west coast of Ireland, and sees the birth of a unique and original place. A restaurant and four suites are based in the Irish landscape through limestone materials used. Glass, wood, stone, slate are combined to result a sober and refined style. With its large windows, the restaurant that serves delicious local cuisine offers a breathtaking view on one of the three steps out of Europe described by the poet Seamus Heaney. This secret Ireland, land of narrow paths, and these men were fishermen and farmers who managed to tame the elements combine in a setting moon glistening in the rain. The precious hotel Inis Meáin Suites. offers an unforgettable holiday blend of tradition and modernity.

Focus Online (DE): Wo die Landschaft die Zimmer schmuckt
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Stein und Geröll bestimmen das Bild auf den Aran-Inseln. Auch das eines außergewöhnlichen Bed & Breakfasts, das „die Landschaft in die Zimmer holen will“.

„Wir sind das Gegenteil eines Spa“, sagt Marie-Thérèse de Blacam, „die Landschaft soll in den Raum reflektieren und umgekehrt das Design des Raumes zur Landschaft passen.“ Gemeint sind ihre drei Suiten mit Blick auf die Steinlandschaft und Weite von Inis Meáin, so der gälische Name. Jene Insel, gut 20 Kilometer vor der Westküste Irlands gelegen, gerade mal fünf Kilometer lang und drei Kilometer breit, ist die mittlere der drei Aran Islands – und so abgeschieden von der Welt, als lägen sie im Dornröschenschlaf. Gerade einmal 200 Bewohner leben auf dem Eiland, sie treffen sich meist im einzigen Pub. Doch seit zwei Jahren gibt es eine Alternative, die nicht nur Einheimische anlockt: das Bed & Breakfast von Marie-Thérèse.

Gerade ist ein Fernsehteam aus den USA auf der Insel unterwegs, originelle Motive sind gefragt. Im Haus des Schriftstellers John Millington Synge, der auf Meáin fünf Sommer lang verbrachte und eine tiefe Liebe für das Leben und die Sprache der Aran-Bewohner entwickelte, waren sie bereits. Die ovalförmige Burganlage von Dún Chonchúir und die Kirche von Mary Immaculate mit ihren eindrucksvollen Fenstern sind ebenfalls schon im Kasten. Jetzt steht der musikalische Teil an, im Pub, das bis auf den letzten Platz gefüllt ist. John Millington Synge zeigt mit seiner Fiddle, der Violine, Steve mit der Tin Whistle, der Metallflöte, und Conor mit seiner Bodhran-Trommel ein großes Repertoire. Das Publikum ist begeistert.

Auch Ruarí, Marie-Thérèses Mann, bahnt sich einen Weg zum Tresen. Er ist gelernter Koch und Mitbegründer von „Inis Meáin Suites B&B“ – endlich hat er Feierabend. „Die Letzten sind gerade gegangen“, erzählt er erschöpft und nimmt einen kräftigen Schluck vom frisch gezapften Guinness. Eine Gruppe Einheimischer habe den 50. Geburtstag eines Freundes gefeiert und mit alten Liedern ausklingen lassen. Ein schöner Beweis dafür, dass das Restaurant nach anfänglichem Misstrauen nun auch bei den Inselbewohnern immer besser ankommt.

Vor allem Familien, deren Kinder im Sommer vom Festland zu Besuch kommen, bestellen meist einen großen Tisch zum Wiedersehen, berichtet Ruarí. Er selbst ist auf Ines Meáin aufgewachsen, hat dann seine Kochkünste in einem Düsseldorfer Restaurant gelernt und ist im Anschluss viel herumgereist. Für den Vertrieb des heimischen Modelabels Knitwear Store, das hochwertige Wollprodukte wie Pullover, Schals, Mützen und vieles mehr in alle Welt vertreibt, hat er zahlreiche Hotels an unterschiedlichen Orten kennengelernt. Doch es zog ihn zurück in die abgeschiedene Heimat.

„Irgendwann wurde der Wunsch, etwas Eigenes aufzubauen, immer größer“, berichtet der sympathische Ire in rheinisch gefärbtem Deutsch. Etwas Besonderes sollte es werden, darin waren sich Ruarí und seine Frau einig. Auch wenn sich die aus dem fernen Cork stammende lebenslustige Marie-Thérèse sich erst mal an Land und Leute auf der Insel gewöhnen musste. Was die Architektur des Hauses anging, so schwebte ihnen ein Stil vor, der zur heimischen Natur passt und zugleich Designansprüche erfüllt. Ein exklusives Hotel, das ihnen ermöglicht, in diesem besonderen Fleckchen Erde gemeinsam heimisch zu werden. Ein befreundeter Architekt half bei der Konzeption der „Inis Meáin Suites B&B“.