Looking for off-radar romance this Valentine’s Day? Here’s where to take your sweetheart off the beaten track in Ireland…
Clandeboye, Co Down
If you want a romantic break that’s far, far away from any other people, you can’t go wrong with Helen’s Tower. Deep in the forest of the Clandeboye Estate, this four-storey tower is like a fortress of cosiness, with antique furniture, fairytale turrets and fireplaces galore.
While the living room is gorgeously comfy, it’s the reading room upstairs that ups the ante, romance-wise. The ceilings and walls are carved from glossy wood, and brass plaques are engraved with poetry by Tennyson, Kipling and Robert Browning, inspired by the building itself — Richard Monckton Milnes described it as a “love-enchanted tower”.
Details: From €337 for two nights; irishlandmark.com
Haddington House, Dún Laoghaire
With blush-pink walls, slick marble tables and velvet on practically every surface, the Parlour bar in Haddington House is the perfect place to squirrel yourselves away with a cocktail. It’s romantic and old-school, all at the same time — it feels like the kind of spot where you could enjoy an Old Fashioned with Don Draper (or whoever you’re having yourself). The cocktail menu changes with the seasons, but the Raspberry Sour is a suitably amorous tipple, with whiskey, sherry, Guinness, sugar and raspberry purée.
Details: Rooms from €140; haddingtonhouse.ie
National Gallery, Dublin
It’s one of the most romantic paintings in the world, and you can only see it for two hours a week. Capturing the final meeting of two doomed lovers, Hellelil and Hildebrand, ‘The Meeting on the Turret Stairs’ is a watercolour by Frederic William Burton that’s so delicate, its cabinet is only opened twice a week in the National Gallery (Thursdays at 11.30am and Sundays at 2pm). Get there toward the end of the hour and the crowds will have dissipated somewhat.
Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim
You could easily walk past Costello Chapel in Carrick-on-Shannon and not even notice it was there. The second-smallest chapel in the world (just 16ftx12ft), it was built by Edward Costello in honour of his wife, who died in 1877. Said to be a monument to their love, it’s also their final resting place — their caskets are protected by a thick pane of glass, but you can still see them if you shine a torch down. Afterwards, make up for the fact you took your love to see two coffins by going to the nearby Oarsman gastropub for Killary mussels and pork belly.
Details: costellomemorialchapel.com; theoarsman.com
Belleek, Co Fermanagh
The 18th-century Keenaghan Cottage looks like something out of a storybook, with a thatched roof, thick white walls and flower baskets hanging by the doorway. Inside, it’s the epitome of charm, with a deep love seat by the fire and faux-fur blankets you can snuggle up under. But it’s not all twee — there’s a smart TV and Wi-Fi, just in case you run out of sweet nothings to whisper to each other. Even better, you can bring your dog along.
Details: From €285 a night; keenaghancottage.com
Clifden, Co Galway
Set right on the beach overlooking the Atlantic, the outdoor seaweed tubs at Clifden Eco Beach are big enough for two, so you can soak together as you look out at the sea. Heated by wood burners and filled with freshly harvested seaweed, the afternoon sessions coincide with the sunset, so you can bring your own bottle of bubbles and toast as the sky turns pink.
Details: €65 for two; clifdenecocamping.ie
Dunsany Estate, Co Meath
When Patrick Kavanagh wrote the poem Bluebells for Love, it’s said that his words were inspired by a walk he took through Dunsany Estate with his love, Hilda Moriarty (incidentally, Raglan Road was also written for her, as an attempt to win her affection). The Dunsany Estate covers a sprawling 1,600 acres of land that’s in the process of being rewilded. It’s usually private, but you can gain exclusive access to the estate if you stay at The Station House Hotel and book the ‘Wellness in the Wild’ package, which includes a two-hour hike, dinner, breakfast, and a picnic for your trek. Read our Station House Hotel review here.
Details: Package from €330; stationhousehotel.ie
Glasson, Co Westmeath
There are loads of rooms at Glasson Lakehouse, but you can also book its onsite cabin for a dose of privacy with the handiness of the hotel nearby. And it’s a doozy — there’s a wood-burning stove, a giant squishy bed and floor-to-ceiling windows for views of Lough Ree. But the real standout is the outdoor copper bath set on the terrace, where you can share a soak and a bottle of bubbles. Read our Glasson Lakehouse hotel review here.
Details: From €290 per night B&B with three-night minimum stay; glassonlakehouse.ie
Rathmines, Co Dublin
The Stella Cinema turned 100 this year, and watching a film in this beautiful art-deco theatre is always a special experience. If you want to really make it special, book one of the beds at the front, so you can cuddle up as a soppy movie plays. However, if you value a bit of personal space, the couches or armchairs are just as enjoyable. Head for a tipple beforehand in the cocktail lounge, a gorgeous 1920s-style room with thick velvet drapes and a glass atrium.
Details: Bed from €38 for two; stellacinemas.ie
Lough Ouler, Co Wicklow
It’s not a hike for the faint-hearted, but the views of Lough Ouler are more than worth it. This corrie lake is found between Laragh and the Sally Gap, and is in the shape of a perfect heart. The hike is 8.5km and a serious trek, so it’s not one for bad-weather days or the less athletically inclined (ie don’t spring the idea on a partner who loathes hiking). But if you’re up for it, it’s a hell of a romantic spot.
Old Head, Co Mayo
Take a stroll along the beach at Old Head and you’ll be met with one of the best views in the country. There’s a wide curve of sand in the bay, crystal-clear water and the peak of Croagh Patrick rising up in the background. Walk even further along the coastline, up over the headland and along the bouncy, boggy grass on top, and you’ll find another tiny bay, sheltered by giant rocks. Whether you want to take a quick dip in the nip when you get there is up to you... If you want to warm up afterwards, there’s a little sauna overlooking the bay back at the car park, with a coffee truck to boot.
Details: Shared sauna €10pp; thewildatlanticsauna.ie
Gleniff, Co Sligo
The tale of Diarmuid and Gráinne is one of the great Irish love stories (even though it involves mass drugging and love spells). You can see the cave in which Diarmuid and Gráinne hid from Fionn Mac Cumhaill when you walk the Gleniff Horseshoe in North Sligo. The loop is around 10km and gives you great views of the mountains as well as the cave high on the slopes. But don’t try to get to the cave itself — not only is access through private land, it’s a very dangerous climb.
Burtown House, Co Kildare
February sees the first shoots of spring start to poke up from the earth, and that puts us all in better form. So head to Burtown House and Gardens, where the snowdrops will be starting to bloom. There’s also a sundial garden, woodland and a walled kitchen garden too, so there’ll be plenty of other botanical sights to accompany a stroll. Afterwards, have lunch in the restaurant, where most of the produce is grown on the estate — think French onion soup or mushroom risotto with garden herbs.
The Burren, Co Clare
Perfume is a classic Valentine’s gift, but you can go one better at The Burren Perfumery and make your own in a blending workshop. On this Introduction to Perfume Making workshop, you’ll get to create your own bespoke, signature scent inspired by the landscape and natural flora of the Burren. To complete the classic duo of romantic gifts, head to the nearby Hazel Mountain Chocolate factory to pick up a box, along with a hot chocolate for the road.
Details: Workshops in March, dates TBC; €120pp. burrenperfumery.com; hazelmountainchocolate.com
Bushmills, Co Antrim
When the weather is wild, there’s no place like Bushmills Inn. The peat fires are smouldering, the whiskey is flowing, and the gas lamps make everyone look like a movie star. The best seats are either the snug or the inglenook built into the fireplace, but if you venture further afield, you’ll also find little hiding spots around the place, from the secret library to the reading hut stacked with books and a fire in the loft space.
Details: Rooms from €171; bushmillsinn.com
Ness Country Park, Co Derry
Cascading over moss-covered rocks and falling into a calm, still lake, the waterfall at Ness Country Park is the kind of place where you’re almost disappointed if you don’t see a couple frolicking in the water. To top it off, it was once voted one of the most romantic places in the UK by Mills & Boon, who really know their stuff when it comes to bodice-ripping. The walk itself is less than 3km, so it makes for an easy stroll through the woodland.
Davagh Forest Park, Co Tyrone
There are many romantic quotes about the stars, which means you’ll have your pick of them while you contemplate the heavens at the OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains. The park is open all year round, and it offers night walks, where you can learn about the stars with a local storyteller. You can keep the theme going in the nearby Sperrinview Glamping, where the pods have windows right by the bed so you can gaze up at the sky as you snuggle under the duvet.
Details: Pods from €120; sperrinviewglamping.com;
Kingscourt, Co Cavan
Nothing says romance quite like a castle, especially one with four-poster beds and claw-foot bathtubs. Cabra Castle has a history that dates back to 1699, and the current building is filled with little nooks and crannies where you can get some privacy, from chintzy drawing rooms to bars warmed by open fires.
Details: Rooms from €220; cabracastle.com
Uno Mas, Dublin
Forget sharing a bicycle made for two. Real love means splitting the giant, salt-aged Delmonico steak in Uno Mas, with crispy beef-dripping spuds and a silky Bordelaise sauce.This tiny restaurant (read Katy McGuinness’s Uno Mas review here) is perfect date-night fodder, with cosy tables, an excellent wine list and cocktail specials scribbled on a chalk board. Go hungry so you can work your way through the ‘para picar’ to start, with padrón peppers, seared squid and jamón croquetas. Fittingly, the remains of St Valentine are just over the road, in Whitefriar Street Church — every Valentine’s Day, his reliquary is moved to the high altar.
Kilronan Castle, Co Leitrim
It may not sound particularly enticing to head into a private chamber and cover each other in mud, but trust me, it’s worth it. The Rasul mud chamber in Kilronan Castle’s spa is a traditional Arabian cleansing ritual where you let both the steam and the detoxifying mud exfoliate the heck out of you. It’s worth adding on the thermal suite package too, so you can make use of the steam rooms, saunas and hot tubs while you’re at it.
Details: From €50pp; kilronancastle.ie
NB: Prices subject to change/availability