Delphi Resort: Zen, with a side of adventure
Short breaks in Ireland
Things didn't get off to an auspicious start. My friend was struck down by a nasty bug, and cried off coming, so I faced a weekend of wandering in the wild west toute seule.
Coming over all Pollyanna-ish, I focused on the positive: OK, I'd be alone for the duration, but what better opportunity to enjoy some real me-time? A solo run in search of Zen, if you will, with a side of adventure to add spice.
First stop en route to Delphi was Glengowla Mines, in Oughterard, Co Galway (glengowlamines.ie), owned by the Geoghegan family, who have restored and excavated it. My other half had advised this 'pit' stop, as, in addition to being a working farm and a show mine, Glengowla is the location for the award-winning TG4 series An Klondike, on which he'd worked, and the set for fictional gold rush town of Dominion Creek is still in situ.
The genial Johnny Caine gave me the tour. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the mine, its history and the array of minerals and artefacts found within. The marble mine shafts, which resemble something out of an Indiana Jones movie, have yielded many treasures; striated with veins of calcite and quartz, this mine, which was abandoned in 1865, is home to very rare, octahedral crystals of fluorite, while formations of lead and silver are dotted on the concave walls that still bear the marks of the long-dead miners' chisels.
Johnny, who himself is from Yorkshire mining stock, lights a candle daily in one of the chambers as a tribute to miners worldwide, past and present. Mine tour over, Johnny kindly showed me around the forge, the powder house and the film set, pointing out various wild flowers and a fox's den as we walked in the spring sunshine.
I could happily have spent several more hours being beguiled by Glengowla's charms - you can pan for 'gold', see a live sheep herding demo, peruse the many artefacts and mineral specimens, and view their seismograph, which is so sensitive, it picked up vibrations from a recent earthquake in Chile - but Delphi was calling.
Delphi Resort is near the Connemara village of Leenane, and situated in arguably the most spectacularly beautiful landscape in the country, positioned alongside Killary Fjord, and between the Sheeffry Hills and the mighty Mweelrea. The vivid colours of the west - green, purple, ochre, yellow, blue - never fail to stimulate the senses; it's a healing palette.
Delphi Resort blends beautifully with the rugged vista; the structure itself has shades of a hobbit house about it, with its undulating, organic curves. Inside, it's all stone, spalted wood and soft, earthy tones, and, as I walked the undulating corridor to my room, I felt the strain of the long drive begin to melt away.
Delphi offers a wide variety of accommodation, but I was going full-pamper-throttle, so my digs for the duration was a Laura Ashley-designed suite, with an enormous bed and an even bigger bath, which I promptly filled to the brim with bubbles and hopped in, glass of chilled vino in one hand, complimentary box of Marlene's Chocolate Haven chocs in the other. Bliss. After a leisurely dinner in the 814 Bar of luscious sea bass and more ice-cold wine, I headed to bed, sated and happy to dream of the adventures the morning might bring.
The next day, fortified by excellent eggs and strong coffee, I met TJ, my kayaking instructor, in the lobby, and set off for my maiden voyage. There is a skill in using your paddle correctly, and TJ was clear and patient in his instruction, but while I wasn't fast or graceful, I made a decent fist of it, and motored out across the fjord, increasing in confidence with every stroke - although TJ kindly gave me a tow when the wind whipped up and my aching arms were no longer equal to the task.
Local lore - possibly apocryphal - has it that 45-metre deep Killary Fjord, the only proper one in Ireland, served as an occasional temporary haven for U-boats and submarines during the war, although there are also tales of local fishermen throwing stones and eggs in anger at British naval vessels lurking in the inlet.
TJ told how the fjord is also part of the Famine Trail - the area around Delphi was badly affected, and a monument in nearby Doolough marks where many perished in the spring of 1849, having walked miles in horrendous conditions to be assessed for continuation of their 'outdoor relief', and then being forced to return from whence they came without having received any food or assistance. The terraces where potatoes were grown, away from the waterlogged land further down, are still visible on the sides of Killary Fjord.
Next up was zipwiring, and the affable Ian provided much-needed reassurance to cajole me over the swaying treetop bridges I had to cross to reach the zipwire's start point. I normally feel gawky and awkward doing anything remotely sporty, but Ian and TJ put me instantly at ease and inspired such confidence that I voluntarily traversed again the oh-so scary bridges to complete a second, utterly exhilarating whizz down the zipwire. I headed back to base with a massive grin, high on adrenaline and achievement.
It was soon pampering o'clock, so after a delicious soup and sambo in the resort's Wild Atlantic Cafe, I hit the spa for a steam and a sauna, followed by a 45-minute organic Voya seaweed bath. Heaven.
After a snooze and an hour's reading, it was time for dinner in the 814 Restaurant, which has a panoramic view of the fabulous outdoors. My day's exertions had left me decidedly peckish, so I tucked in with relish to a goat's cheese tartlet, followed by a moreish baked aubergine lasagne and a naughty side of chunky chips. I toddled back to my room, full as a tick and slid under the crisp white sheets into dreamland.
Next day, after an early morning walk along one of the many gorgeous tracks and a hearty breakfast, I sadly bade farewell to divine Delphi.
Once again, I broke the journey home in Oughterard, first stopping off at Sullivan's Country Grocer (facebook.com/sullivangrocer) to pick up some of their sublime sourdough bread, baked in-house - still warm from the oven! - then down the street to Vincent Coyne's Rocky Mountain High (091 557608) to purchase a folding camping stool for an upcoming trip. Vincent, who also runs a small campsite in Cornamona, is a fount of bushcraft knowledge - in the space of five minutes, he showed me three ways to make a fire with a few logs and a piece of wire - and is one of those rare people who, after a few minutes in their company, you feel like you've known them all your life. As he packed up my stool, my eyes picked out a framed Tolkien quote on the far wall; it read, "Not all who wander are lost".
The current rate for Delphi Resort is from €54pps B&B per night.
Lush, dramatic and spectacular, Delphi Resort is set in a truly unique part of the world, surrounded by some of Ireland's most beautiful and awe-inspiring scenery. Combining an indulgent spa, cosy four-star hotel and a range of dining experiences, it offers the finest fresh and local foods. Delphi Resort is designed to offer a welcoming pause from the world, and a fantastic base from which to explore the rugged beauty of the West of Ireland, try your hand at activities, with up to 20 to choose from, such as kayaking on Killary Fjord and the Zip 'n' Trek tree top adventure. There are adventures that family and friends can enjoy together or indulge in some relaxation in a picturesque setting at the Delphi Spa. For further details, contact: Delphi Resort, Leenane, Connemara, Co Galway, tel: (095) 42208, or see delphiresort.com.
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