Tuesday 17 July 2018

Dreamy days in Donegal: A five-star retreat from the fast pace of life

Looking to whisk your sweetheart off for a romantic getaway? What could be more charming than a luxurious stay in a centuries old castle in Donegal...

Lough Eske castle
Lough Eske castle
Gillian at Lough Eske Castle
Gillian explores the grounds of Lough Eske Castle
Lough Eske Castle, bedroom
Lough Eske Castle, Donegal

Gillian Tsoi

Stepping into the grand lobby of the luxurious Lough Eske Castle Hotel feels like being transported back in time — on entering the 600-year-old castle, you’re greeted by a sweeping staircase, enormous portraits, a grand piano and the smell of rich mahogany...

Situated on a secluded lakeside estate, the multi award-winning five-star hotel is the perfect hideaway from the fast pace of city life — or an ideal location for a chilled-out couple’s retreat.

Originally built in the 1400s for the O’Donnell clan (the founding fathers of Donegal, I’m told), the castle has been beautifully restored and was voted one of the top-three luxury hotels in Ireland by Conde Nast last year.

And it’s easy to see why — its guest rooms somehow manage to retain the nostalgic allure of the castle’s Gaelic heritage, while incorporating all the mod-cons of a top-class hotel — the underfloor heating in the spacious marble bathrooms, classic bespoke furnishings, four-poster beds and fluffy robes made us feel like royalty throughout our stay.

Speaking of heritage, anyone looking to find out more about the castle’s past can avail of the historical walking tours provided by the knowledgeable staff, who, by the way, were always genuinely welcoming and friendly during our time there.

Eats

Foodies will be in culinary heaven at Lough Eske — choose from more casual dining in The Gallery Bar, or a fancier affair in the contemporary-style Cedars Grill, where the melt-in-your-mouth scallops (with orange and saffron) were to die for. 

Gillian at Lough Eske Castle
Gillian at Lough Eske Castle

And with so many people hopping on the non-meat-eating bandwagon in recent times, it’s important to note that vegetarians are very well catered for: even the breakfast menu had a tempting full vegetarian option, which included crunchy falafel, perfectly runny poached eggs and baked beans.

After fuelling up on said breakfast one morning, we took to the picturesque castle grounds to follow the wooded trails around the lake. Canopied by tall, majestic trees with beautiful views of the water, there are various walking and cycling trails in the surrounds of the castle, with complimentary bike hire available at reception.

Golf, fishing and horseback riding on the beach are also all easily accessible from the estate for the more active, outdoorsy guests.

Meanwhile, just a short drive from the hotel is Rossnowlagh Beach: a Blue Flag beach boasting three kilometres of soft, golden sand and breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s renowned for its impressive waves, making it popular with surfers and other water-sport enthusiasts.

Lough Eske Castle, bedroom
Lough Eske Castle, bedroom

Overlooking Rossnowlagh beach, you can find the Smugglers Creek Inn — a rustic cliff-top pub that’s a favourite with the locals. Visiting the inn one blustery afternoon, we settled in beside the cosy open fire and ordered from the hearty menu — think fresh garlic mussels, creamy seafood chowder and rich chocolate pudding for dessert. The ultimate comfort food on a rainy day in Ulster.  

Speaking of pubs, for anyone looking for a good night out, Donegal town is also just a short drive (about 10 minutes) from Lough Eske Castle, where you can find bustling bars with regular trad sessions and live music.

Guilty Pleasures

That being said, it would be possible to enjoy a stay at Lough Eske without ever leaving the estate, with its well-stocked library, pool table, chess board, or for those looking for a spot of rest and relaxation, the hotel's Spa Solis. Located in the original Glass House of the castle, staff at the spa had me feeling like a queen with their lush range of deluxe massages, facials and body treatments.

On my visit, I indulged in an hour-long uplifting Ayurvedic massage, which involved the warming scent of ginger wafting around the therapy room as the masseuse worked on my tense shoulders with her expert deep-tissue kneading — the ultimate tension-releasing treat.

After this, I peeled myself off the treatment bed and made full use of the thermal suite, which is housed in a pretty conservatory, with its ice fountain, sauna, steam room, tropical showers and infinity pool. Chilling out here, while watching the rain beat down outside was absolute bliss!

Donegal — located on the incredible Wild Atlantic Way — isn’t known for its mild climes, but visitors need not be deterred by this. Be sure to pack your rain gear and a good pair of walking shoes and be well-prepared to enjoy all of the sights and delights that this magical corner of Ireland has to offer!

For prices and more information, see solishotels.com or call 074 972-5100.

Read more:

A Circuit of Donegal: 12 great reasons to visit The Forgotten County

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