Cork has an abundance of fantastic places to eat and drink, and great farmers’ markets to visit; it’s a haven for artisan food producers and micro-brewers, and there’s the Jameson whiskey distillery in Midleton. It is also Ireland’s largest and most diverse county in terms of scenery.

Upstairs at the English Market in Cork, Kay Harte’s Farmgate Café is a lunchtime gem – it’s an ideal spot from which to soak up the busy market atmosphere. They use lots of produce from stalls downstairs to make traditional, good-value dishes, such as corned beef with mustard and parsley sauce, €14, and tripe and onions with optional drisheen (a sort of black pudding), €10.50.

Café Paradiso in Cork City is Ireland’s best vegetarian restaurant. It has just been refurbished following last year’s floods and looks better than ever. The food is consistently extravagant and delicious. Starters include ravioli of kale and Toonsbridge buffalo ricotta with smoked pepperonata and fried capers, €12, and mains such as sweet chilli-glazed tofu with Asian greens in a coconut and lemongrass broth, €23. A couple of lovely rooms upstairs mean you can stay, too.

Les Gourmandises, also in Cork City, is operated by husband and wife Pat and Soizic Kiely. Pat worked in many UK Michelin-starred restaurants before coming home to Cork. He gives local ingredients the French touch in dishes such as braised O’Flynn’s lamb shoulder with pommes fondant and rosemary jus. Sunday lunch is great, too. Two courses, €38.50; three, €45.  

Whenever I visit Kinsale, I pop into Fishy Fishy for lunch or an early supper – it’s a real institution, owned by Martin Shanahan, who presents an Irish TV cookery programme. Everything is caught in the Irish Sea and landed in Kinsale – oysters, crab, John Dory, cod – and the restaurant’s bright and airy with a large outside terrace. Try the seafood chowder, from €5.95, or deep-fried haddock and chips, €18.95.

In Midleton, east Cork, Farmgate Restaurant and Country Store is owned by Kay Harte’s sister, Maróg O’Brien. The shop sells homemade confectionery and deli items, and leads into the main dining room – it’s stylishly rustic with whitewashed stone walls, antique pine furniture and really good art and sculptures. The food is simple, traditional and locally sourced. Try the roast free-range chicken with thyme and onion stuffing, €20, on the evening menu, or grilled turbot with hollandaise sauce, €26-8, depending on the local catch’s price.

Cork’s English Market is the finest food market in the country. Even if you’re not buying fish, check out the enormous array of seafood on display at Kay O’Connell Fish Stall – owner Pat enjoys the banter with his customers (he even entertained the Queen when she dropped in recently.) Go to Iago for perfect cheeses, charcuterie and freshly made pasta. The owners mature many of the large selection of cheeses themselves.

There are two great farmers’ markets east of the city, at Mahon Point (Thursdays) and Midleton (Saturdays) – where you can meet the local artisan producers and grab a bite. Watch out for Rupert and Lydia Hugh-Jones’s organic vegetables, the Gubbeen Smokehouse salamis and cured meats, and Green Saffron Curries – Arun Kapil imports spices from his cousin’s spice plantations in India and blends them into readymade spice mixes.  

Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery School is a huge inspiration. You don’t have to do a course – you could just visit the gardens, which have the most impressive vegetable patch in the county as well as traditional-breed pigs and exotic varieties of duck and hen. Saturday Pizza was launched a couple of years ago by Darina’s son-in-law Philip. Try one of his takeaway wood-fired pizzas loaded up with Ballymaloe-grown ingredients, from €6. Afternoon classes from €70; short courses from €115.

Andrew Malcolm, expert forager, leads expeditions from our restaurant, O’Brien Chop House in Lismore, into the woods and along the sea shore to collect wild mushrooms, edible flowers and herbs, which chef Robbie Krawczyk uses to make lunch. We also run butchery courses with Robbie’s dad, Frank. €99pp, including lunch.  

Rock Cottage is a magical place – it’s a pretty, slate-covered house in a stunning coastal setting not far from Schull, in deepest west Cork. Owner Barbara Klotzer is the perfect host, offering wonderful cooking and warm hospitality. It’s an ideal spot for exploring the gorgeous west Cork coast. Doubles from €70, b&b.

Ballyvolane House is our beautiful 18th-century house near Fermoy, north of Cork city. It’s more Downton Abbey-style house party than swanky posh hotel; it has just six bedrooms and communal dinners featuring a 4-course set menu are always a high point, with most ingredients grown or reared on the estate farm and gardens. Woodland walks and salmon fishing are just some of the activities on offer, and there’s a crackling log fire to keep you warm. Doubles from €85, b&b; four-course dinner €55pp.

The article 'Insider’s guide to County Cork' was published in partnership with BBC Olive magazine.