Sunday 25 September 2016

Lough Eske Castle: Bliss was it to be in dreamy Donegal

Short breaks in Ireland

Elle Gordon

Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30

The Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal, one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe.
The Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal, one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe.

Elle Gordon checks into a five-star hotel on the banks of Donegal's Lough Eske.

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I love mini-breaks. I've made a conscious effort to make time for them over the years as studies or job commitments have thus far meant I've haven't yet run away on the emigration train.  Instead, I've tried to use my time here well, and explore some of the places our beautiful little isle has to offer.

But as I made my way to Co Donegal for what promised to be a particularly sumptuous few days in the luxurious surroundings of Lough Eske Castle, I really didn't know what to expect from the county itself.

Aside from a time when I fell asleep on the bus home to Cavan and woke up in Donegal (yes, this happened) I realised that I knew very little about the favourite holiday destination of Sarah Jessica Parker. If its allure was enough to take Carrie … I mean Sarah Jessica, beyond New York City to the more secluded Donegal, then I had to see what all the fuss was about.

I arrived at Lough Eske Castle, an exquisitely restored 17th-Century structure which can trace its roots back to the O'Donnell clan, the founding fathers of Donegal. Happy anticipation was building as we made our way up the long avenue. I was immediately struck by its grandeur. Avid Downton Abbey fan that I am, I half expected to see Carson pop his head around the door at any minute.

Once checked in, I surveyed my lavish surroundings, an ensuite room, with a huge four-poster bed, and pillows that had that heavenly 'I'm part pillow, part marshmallow' look. I gazed at them longingly, their squishy selves beckoning me for a snooze, but I decided there were more important things I needed to do. Namely, get to the pool.

Lough Eske's facilities did not disappoint. The pool is located in the castle gardens in a refurbished glass house, which gives it an exquisite light and airy feel. I did laps to my heart's content, and then sizzled in the little steam room for a few minutes, already feeling myself starting to unwind.

Dinner that evening was in The Gallery Bar. It has a beautiful mahogany interior and buzzy atmosphere. This was a midweek evening and it was thriving, which just added to the waves of general wellbeing washing over me at this point.

My meal was delicious smoked salmon on brown bread washed down with a glass of prosecco. As we had an early start the next day, it was time for bed.

I woke up bright and early the next day feeling refreshed. Most noticeably there was not a sound, no traffic, no horns honking, just me enveloped in a luxurious little cocoon of quiet and duvet. Tasty breakfast gorged, I was feeling pretty positive about the day ahead and was not disappointed.

Sometimes I can experience travel guilt when I visit a place and leave feeling like I haven't properly seen the area. Thanks to 'Gallagher Chauffeur Travel' this did not happen.

In the few hours we had with the fabulous Marie, we learnt so much more than I can fit in here, but I will endeavour to give you the highlights. Marie and Michael Gallagher specialised in wedding cars but expanded into tours when their natural passion for the area's heritage and their unsurpassable local knowledge meant it was a perfect fit.

After a tour of the castle and its beautiful grounds, we were on the road. We passed through Killybegs fishing port to an area called Fintra, nicknamed Kodak corner. It was truly breathtaking, with its rugged landscape and ocean as far as the eye could see. Another photo stop was in Muckcross Head our eyes feasting on more spectacular scenery; but at this stage the group were keen to stretch the legs.

This took us to Slieve League Cliffs. Located here is 'One Man's Pass' which is a 350m walk up the cliffs; be warned, it is steep. Those of us who had come prepared in hiking boots rambled up as far as they could go, and then, following a final ogle and a few more snap-happy opportunities, we continued our tour.

We stopped off in Glencolmcille Folk Village, which is a must-see. It consists of several cottages, each furnished in a style from 1700, 1800 and 1900, and it gave a great insight into what life was like in the area all those years ago. There is also a little gift shop with gift ideas such as whiskey marmalade. I wasn't brave enough, but perhaps you might be.

A seafood lunch (I recommend the chowder and prawn sandwhich) was gobbled in Nancy's, a pub in Ardara which has been owned by the McHugh family for over seven generations. Following a quick nip around Donegal town, which is only a stone's throw from the castle and has all the ameneties you might need, we headed back.

The next few hours passed in the same heavenly bliss as before. An entertaining cocktail class (alternatively they also offer whiskey tasting should that tickle your fancy) preceded a mouth-wateringly delicious meal in the elegant Cedars Grill restaurant. I opted for a steak, and the general theme of eating and exclaiming 'it's superb' continued. The desserts were to die for. Any shred of discipline I might have had evaporated in favour of many chocolatey filled spoons.

The next day we were treated to a fly-fishing lesson on Lough Eske. The friendly staff from Inland Fisheries Ireland, with their laugh-a-minute attitude meant I hardly even noticed just how hopeless or cold I was. My dreams of a photo beaming with my prize catch have been shelved until my next visit -practice makes perfect I'm sure.

We arrived back to the castle ready for the spa. The Spa Solis is a little haven that looks out on the castle gardens. It boasts a thermal suite with Jacuzzi and sauna, perfect for unwinding post treatment. I opted for a back neck and shoulder massage, any aches a delightful past tense.

Truly mellowed, it was time for our final treat - afternoon tea in the Castle's Green Room. Having eaten our fill of dainty sandwiches, freshly baked scones, and miniature deserts, it was time to leave. Everything about my time here, the castle with its picturesque location, friendly staff and delicious food, and Donegal with its exquisite scenery, meant I would have happily stayed another week.

Getting  there

Mid-Week Tranquillity Package -

Stay two nights during the week between Sunday and Thursday with full Irish breakfast each morning; a sumptuous 4-course meal for two on an evening of your choice in Cedars Restaurant; afternoon tea for two; complimentary use of the pool and fitness suite; 20pc discount off all spa treatments of 60 minutes or more.

From €549 per couple for 2 nights.

To make a booking, please contact the reservation team on

074-9725100 or email:reservations.lougheske@solishotels.com

Web: http://www.solishotels.com/lougheskecastle/

Traditional Afternoon Tea €26.50

Sparkling Afternoon Tea €36.50 Champagne Afternoon Tea €56.50

Lough Eske Castle, A Solís Hotel & Spa, Donegal Town, Co Donegal

Gallagher Chauffeur Travel

0874176600 Email: gallaghercabsmm@hotmail.com

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