Thursday 22 February 2018

Niamh Horan in Donegal: 'That kind of beauty can't be captured on any iPhone'

Check in: Lough Eske Castle

The restored 17th-century castle on the shores of Lough Eske is just 6km from Donegal Town
The restored 17th-century castle on the shores of Lough Eske is just 6km from Donegal Town
Afternoon tea at Lough Eske Castle
Lough Eske Castle, Donegal
Niamh and the joys of summer
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

What place can take your breath away before you even arrive? How about a little slice of emerald paradise in Ireland's crown - Donegal?

You may be surprised to hear that the airfield at Carrickfinn has been voted one of the top five scenic airports in the world to fly into.

After being voted the world's coolest destination to visit in 2017 by National Geographic Traveller, the wild rugged coastline with luminescent blue seas is, according to travellers, the second most scenic view from above.

But then sometimes it takes someone else to tell you how much you should appreciate what's on your own doorstep. And in the comments section completed by well-travelled visitors, we are told how "you will not see anything like it anywhere else on earth".

Niamh and the joys of summer
Niamh and the joys of summer

The simplicity of the airport makes it even more special - but more on that later.

Another spectacle in the sky that was taking people's breath away en route to Lough Eske Castle was none other than Daniel O'Donnell. As the singer peered out the window from his seat (after all this time he never gets bored of the view), a few female passengers had their eyes firmly fixed on a different kind of magic.

You'd have to wonder how the local hero feels about hearing his own music over the speakers each time he lands in the little airport near his home town.

If you are treating someone to a special weekend away and want the full luxury experience it's worth booking the hotel car to pick you up from the small airport and whisk you to your destination in style. It's a little extra but it's worth it.

Michael Gallagher and his wife Marie run a luxury car service that allows you to take in the breath-taking beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way in comfort, but their interpersonal skills - knowing when to interject with some local history and commentary and knowing when to let you sit back and enjoy the view - is what they have mastered since teaming up with Lough Eske Castle a decade ago.

The five-star resort is set in secluded surroundings and has become known as an escape for Irish and international celebrities (although they are very protective of their guests). The local well-to-do clientele can regularly be seen flying in on helicopters for a spot of lunch before zipping home again.

Afternoon tea at Lough Eske Castle
Afternoon tea at Lough Eske Castle

The attraction is undeniable. For what spells magic romance like a 17th century castle? Tucked in the middle of woodlands, the exquisitely- restored venue with its traditional stone facade, blends the original setting with country-style comfort and modern luxury.

It's difficult to do but they've managed to get the balance just right between old world and new.

You can choose from a range of contemporary garden suites to the charm of the courtyard rooms - converted from stables - but to go all out for your loved one, the elegance and luxury of presidential castle suites, with private access to the castle tower, should do it.

The pool and spa area sits in the footprint of the original Victorian Glass House and an aqua green and gold mosaic colour theme flows throughout.

An ice fountain, sauna, steam room, sanarium, tropical showers, and infinity pool are on hand to keep you feeling indulged and relaxed before you retire for a spot of lunch (you can work it off in their fitness centre afterwards if you're that way inclined - but you can pound any old treadmill back home so I would strongly recommend getting out for a walk in the local surrounds.)

I'm fortunate to have experienced massages at the hands of therapists all over the world, from the Far East to luxury resorts in the Maldives, and I can safely say I was treated to one of the most relaxing here. Therapists incorporate some slow pedal work, lightly raising and lowering the table as they massage your body to ensure you're floating out of the spa on a cloud by the time their work is done.

Lough Eske castle
Lough Eske castle

Without doubt what sets this venue apart, however, is the dining experience. I should have known we were in for a treat when we sat down to the 'bar' menu for freshly caught fish that was on a par with some of Dublin's more upmarket restaurants so by the time we arrived for our evening meal at Cedars restaurant we knew we were in for something really special. To start we had the scallops of passion fruit before moving on to a main course of a fillet of Angus beef with bearnaise sauce, all paired with a nice rioja from the well-stocked cellar at Lough Eske Castle.

Dessert was a chocolate ball on which hot chocolate was poured until it exploded into a mound of melting praline ice-cream. Say no more. For tea and cake, the Blueberry tea rooms is a must to visit in the local town before you head home.

What struck me most about my trip was that it offered what money can't buy - an easy way to experience that elusive mindfulness that there is so much talk of today. Whether it's walking the perimeter under an umbrella feeling a sort of stillness in the beating rain or seeing something special in a dark day - the silver water, the yellow rushes, the black rocks like stepping stones across the lake - that kind of beauty can't be captured on any iPhone.

There's also nothing like putting away the gadgets and staring into an open fire to still your mind before bedtime. The flight home was an experience in itself. Forget the madness of busy airports.

The time it takes to get from the front door to the airport bar is approximately 10 seconds, where you can have some wine and chocolate cake before walking for another 20 seconds through security to the steps of your aeroplane.

And for that stress-free experience alone Carrickfinn deserves to be number one in the top five airport destinations in the world.

Get there

Mid-Week Tranquillity Package: Stay two nights between Sunday and Thursday with full Irish breakfasts each morning; a sumptuous four-course meal on an evening of your choice in Cedars Restaurant; afternoon tea; complimentary use of the pool and fitness suite; 20pc discount off all spa treatments of 60 minutes or more.

From €549 per couple for two nights. To make a booking, contact the reservation team on 074-9725100 or email


Donegal Chauffeur Travel: 0874176600/

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