If you view the Go Visit Donegal website, it states: “What makes a visit to Donegal special isn’t just its raw beauty…It is something more complicated, something deeper…” Well, who am I to argue?
It would be easy to state the obvious. You know – Donegal, in Northwest Ireland is really stunning, the food is to die for, the views are epic…blah blah blah. All of that is true, but it somehow doesn’t cover the heart and soul of the place. In one weekend, it will leave you feeling revitalised and alive.
In an effort to avoid the easy route, I am going to give you my Top 10 Must Do’s when in Donegal, Ireland. Skip any of these at the detriment to your personal wellbeing and general enlightenment.
- Rest your head at Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa
If you do nothing else during your time in Donegal, do this. The Solis Hotel is your first port of call to guarantee a slice of absolute luxury. A short stroll through the courtyard to eye up the unique sculpture art will lead you to the garden suites – the epitome of opulence. Decked out with a working fireplace, a walk-in rain shower, heated floors and a bed to evoke sweet dreams, the rooms are the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring or just a day of lounging. Either way, it will be hard to go back home to your ordinary bed, with your ordinary pillow and your not-so-fancy low-pressured shower.
- Climb the cliffs of Sliabh Liag
Otherwise known as Slieve League Cliffs, this mountain range on the Atlantic coast of Donegal stands at 601 metres, making it some of the highest sea cliffs on all of Ireland. So the stats are impressive, right? Well the view takes it to a whole new level. You can only drive but so far, then it’s time to double-knot your laces and get walking. If you go on a clear sunny day, the sunlight and shadows will make for picture-perfect memories. As you go further, look out for sheep, blue seas and the metaphorical road to enlightenment. It’s about as close as you can get.
- Eat Irish meat
The truth is, it really doesn’t matter what meat you eat. It’s all exceptional. If you’re partial to steak and like it cooked just so (who doesn’t?), a must visit is the Cedars Grill restaurant in Lough Eske Castle. With a menu designed using locally sourced, quality products, the restaurant takes great pride in using only Irish ingredients in all of dishes wherever possible. It’s the grill menu you’ll want to focus on. With Hereford beef that has been dry aged for 28 days and lamb rump from Kettyle Meats just up the road in Fermanagh, the Cedars chefs excel at cooking the finest meat in the most delicious way. From rib-eyes to traditional Irish stews, this is not the time to go veggie.
- Explore Lough Eske
Nature really is something. A few hours spent strolling around this lake, nestled near the famous Blue Stack Mountains, will remind you who you are and your place on this crazy planet. That might sound over the top, but serenity has a funny way of sneaking up on you. When you hear nothing but silence and you see nothing but rippling clear water, it’s hard not to take a moment and reflect. Take a detour and end up deep in the Ardnamona Wood, overrun with rhododendrons and just try your hardest not to feel ever so slightly spiritual.
- Get massaged by a pro
In fact, don’t stop at a massage. Enter into total luxury by spending the day lounging in the thermal waters, slowly breathing in aromatherapies by the sauna or drinking herbal tea in the relaxation conservatory. Spa Solís is an escape to a world of well-deserved pampering, situated right in the Lough Eske Castle garden. Whether you’re after volcanic thermal stones or a cyro time freeze facial, you will be met with perfect peacefulness and a time to unwind, even though all your stresses already seem like a world away.
- Drive the open roads
It might sound silly, but there is something to be said for getting in a car and driving without purpose or direction. The Donegal roads are wide and long and offer impressive views of the surrounding mountains and waters. Leave the radio off and the satnav at home and listen instead to your internal monologue, while soaking in lasting sights and memories from every angle of every window.
- Get a Guinness moustache
Well you can’t make it all the way to Ireland and not. Guinness is an important part of the culture all over the island and Donegal is no exception. Stop in at The Rusty Mackerel pub on the way back down from Slieve League and enjoy a pint in the sunshine. You won’t come across many other humans, but surely that’s only part of the appeal. Well that and the coffee-esque bitterness of a deep brown pint.
- Drink Irish wine
You don’t have to partake in a Guinness to feel like you’re part of the culture. You can, in fact, sample a surprisingly delicious Irish wine for an altogether different sort of drinking affair. Lusca, which is Gaelic for lusk (meaning vault or cave), began producing wine in 2002 on its very own Irish vineyard. With wine grapes ranging from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Dunkelfelder and Schoenburger, you can sit back and enjoy a few or many sips on artisanal wine uniqueness.
- Breathe in the sea air
One of Ireland’s best blue flag surfing beaches, Rossnowlagh Beach is located about eight kilometers south of Donegal Town. With soft, golden sand and exceptional views, Rossnowlagh is a must visit if you love to look out and see nothing but water. Whether you’re a pro or an amateur, surfing should be on the agenda, as the awards show. However, the beach is also a perfect place to walk, swim, sail or just let time slowly slip away.
- Indulge in Ireland’s best seafood
After a day or two of beach activities, you will need to restore lost energy. Go to Smuggler’s Creek Inn for a taste of Irish seafood. If the hake and mussels don’t make you smile, the view of the sea certainly will. Of course, you can’t leave Donegal without eating Donegal Bay Oysters. Take the oyster experience to a whole new level by having them doused with a special tarragon vinegar a la The Gallery Bar at Lough Eske Castle. Follow the herb-laced shellfish with a steaming bowl of Donegal Seafood Chowder served with homemade soda bread – about as Irish as you can get.
- Do nothing
It may sound trite or like we’re trying to be a bit too clever, but sometimes to be truly good to yourself, you have to do nothing. Donegal offers you the perfect surroundings for this. Whether sitting in the tranquil gardens of Lough Eske Castle or staring at the sea from a cliff-side bench, the Irish county is about as good a place as any to take a moment or a few to relax, reflect and rejuvenate. If your visit to Donegal will teach you one thing, it’s the importance of doing good by doing nothing – a mantra we can certainly get on board with.
For more information on Donegal and its surroundings, view the Go Visit Donegal website.
For more information on Lough Eske Castle Hotel, visit its website.