Destination Donegal: Making a point at TripAdvisor's top hotel in Ireland
Short breaks in Ireland
TripAdvisor's No.1 ranked Irish hotel offers a special welcome on the shores of Donegal's Lough Eske, says Frank Coughlan.
Set the mood
There's just something about leaving the stresses of everyday life (bosses, children, dogs) behind and gliding up the gears as the motorway opens up ahead of you.
On this occasion, it's the M3 on a Friday afternoon. The SatNav is primed to tell us when we're within decent distance of Harvey's Point, the four-star hotel judged Ireland's best by TripAdvisor now for four years running.
Sitting with a certain majesty and discreetness on the shores of south Donegal's tranquil Lough Eske, it's a family establishment which has grown in scale and reputation as if by stealth.
The welcome is effusive but authentic rather than invasive or cloying. I like it already. Our roomy suite is lit by a setting sun that's twinkling on the lake outside.
You couldn't make it up.
I'm a man of simple tastes, but I couldn't resist the Twisted Irish Breakfast starter for dinner in the hotel's Lakeside restaurant: white pudding, spiced sausage, quail egg… and bacon ice-cream. Bacon ice-cream! All wrong really, but so, so right.
My compliments to the chef, not only for his cheeky talent but his sense of humour too. The hotel's renowned Wine Experience - tastings tutored by a respected connoisseur and the restaurant manager - was not something that I had the opportunity to be guilty about (worse luck), but it does come highly recommended. You've been told.
Harvey's Point is worth every one of its four stars, but its bar menu prices could compete very favourably with your uppity local. Mains come in at around €15 or under, and decent wine by the glass is competitively pitched.
And while you might come for the nosh or a tipple, chances are you'll stay for the music of Martin Jonathan. Normally the sight of an entertainer hauling his amps is my cue to retire. But not this time.
The historically curious could do worse than visit the medieval Franciscan Abbey on the shores of the bay in nearby Donegal town. What bloody tales are secreted away in its ruins. Amazing what's under your nose when you look!
If Donegal sold itself with the same sort of brash self-belief that both West Cork and Kerry do, there would be traffic jams into the place every weekend.
But the truth is that even an afternoon leisurely motoring along the county's zig-zaggy share of the Wid Atlantic Way will open a world of breathtaking beauty, both coastal and inland. Rugged and bleakly magnificent, it is still Ireland's best kept secret.
There are a number of options when driving from the east, but the most obvious and direct - through Fermanagh - can be a bumpy irritation. Lough Erne, tracking your journey starboard, has a myriad of inviting pitstops, however.
Get me there
Driving to South Donegal isn't the long-haul it used to be, and we were pleasantly surprised to have parked a little over three hours after setting out from Dublin on the M50.
Two nights' B&B with one dinner at Harvey's Point (074 972-2208; harveyspoint.com) starts from €105pps per night. It also offers weekend getaways including two nights' B&B with dinner from €299pps.
For more, see govisitdonegal.com or Uncover Donegal on Facebook.