Holidaymakers with a conscience can enjoy staycations that won’t cost the Earth, writes Catherine Murphy
Think eco holidays are just about yoga retreats and the bare necessities of life? Think again.
You can enjoy staycations that are green and stylish. You can be carbon conscious and have adventures. You can indulge in ‘farm to fork’ foodie weekends and immerse the children in beautiful natural surroundings.
Irish tourism is going green as more holiday providers implement practices that are kind to the planet. Here are some eco destinations we dream of visiting when Irish tourism reopens.
Where: Breac House, Horn Head, Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal
What: Listed in Geo Saison magazine’s Top 50 beautiful hotels in Europe, Breac House is the epitome of bespoke green style. The modern retreat overlooks Sheephaven Bay and is a stone’s throw from Trá Mór strand and the Sliabh Liag cliffs.
Dubliners Cathrine Burke and Niall Campbell have a long association with Donegal and were determined to create a sense of place, using local makers, craftspeople and materials. Breac House also offers eco standards that come with a Sustainable Travel Ireland certification. Lockdown couples in search of a child-free break will be relieved to hear this is an adults-only destination.
Guests can enjoy a seaweed bath and wood-fired sauna-a-deux followed by Sliabh Liag gin distilled using seaweed.
Essentials: breac.house; €295 B&B per room per night (two-night minimum stay).
Where: Nire Valley Eco Camp, Ballymacarbry, Co Waterford
What: Phrases like ‘bedroom in the meadow’ and ‘be in the view’ make us want to go there. As does the idea of five eco cabins on a 7.5 acre site – just think of all that space. Owner Ruth Collins was involved in selling properties in Chelsea before she and partner Paul Deegan decided to return to Ireland. Here they have created a wholly sustainable project with solar power, biogas heating and constructed wetlands to process waste and sustainable building materials.
Families can enjoy kayaking along the Copper Coast and Suir blueway or cycling the greenway. “This area is under-explored,” says Ruth. “But we have mountains and sea, rivers and meadows. The coastal route between Dungarvan and Tramore is one of the most stunning you’ll see.”
Essentials: nirevalleyecocamp.com; one-night stay for a family of four in high season, €176 per cabin including home-made breakfast (minimum two-night stay).
Like that? Try this: Neasa Clissman offers traditional horse-drawn caravans and donkey walking tours in Wicklow; see
Where: The Falls Hotel & Spa, Ennistymon, Co Clare
What: The hotel has just been awarded carbon-neutral status from GREENmark, an impressive milestone for a large hotel.
In the course of five years, the hotel – in the Burren and next to the river Inagh – went from having a heavy carbon-footprint to none at all thanks to the McCarthy family owners and their green team. They decided to harness the river’s power with a €1.3m hydroelectric turbine that now provides at least 70pc of the hotel’s energy needs (100pc when the river is in full flow). “We’re in an area of natural beauty” says Michael McCarthy. “It’s common sense to want to protect and conserve that area.”
Essentials: fallshotel.ie; A three-night family staycation with one dinner, from €550.
Like that? Try these: Five-star Ashford Castle, Mayo/Galway; Killarney Park Hotel, Co Kerry; Kinlay House Hostel, Galway city.
Where: The Inside Trek, Northern Ireland
What: Ex-lawyer Andrew Magowan and friend Michael Laverty bring an eco ethos to their hiking and trekking company. They will collect guests from points around the country and can kit you out with hiking equipment, including boots and backpacks from ethical brands. Guests can enjoy hikes of up to 10 hours throughout Northern Ireland with experiences like ‘Hills vs Mountains’ and ‘NI Hiking Highlights’.
“If you care about the land you walk on – as most hikers do – I think you have a responsibility to care for that land and the people on it,” says Andrew. While they don’t offer accommodation, they do recommend eco stays such as the Salt House hotel in Ballycastle and Killeavy Castle Estate in Newry, which has a thorough eco policy and is near hiking routes in the western Mournes.
Essentials: theinsidetrek.com; half-day hikes from €55pp, full days from €95.
Where: Clifden Eco Beach Camping & Caravanning Park, Co Galway
What: Semi-wild camping on a private beach, fishing, relaxing, the simple life; these are what bring guests back to Kris Acton’s eco camping site year after year – it’s the only carbon-neutral camping and caravanning place in the country.
“It’s the simplicity of the place that people love,” he says. “Guests arrive stressed out and within two days they’re like totally different people. There’s so much to do on the beach – we’re next to a blueway space, an area of special conservation for blue nose dolphins, and we’re home to a unique Machair coastal habitat – you don’t need to leave the site to enjoy your holiday. It’s the simplicity of it and the absence of noise that people love.”
Kris and his team offer pick-ups from bus stations, bike packages to explore the area and tent rentals so guests can travel light.
Essentials: clifdenecocamping.ie; pitch for two adults and two children, €28-€32 a night. Pets welcome.
Like that? Try this: Pure Camping, Loop Head, Co Clare
Where: The Wicklow Escape, Donard, Co Wicklow
What: Owner Lisa Wilkinson recently rebranded her boutique woodland lodge and now focuses on fine dining experiences. She hasn’t gone the eco-certification route but instead offers a zero-waste and eco-product policy. She has permaculture and kitchen gardens and uses local providers to source food including Ridgeway Wagyu beef farm, Castleruddery organic farm and Ballyhubbock sheep farm.
The Wicklow Escape is proof that eco can be fun and it is a good option for weddings and group getaways, it having a gin bar, wood-fired hot tub and hammock-lined pathways. If you over-indulge on food, you can walk it off with hikes through secluded terrain in the nearby Glen of Imaal.
Essentials: thewicklowescape.com; two-night stay including three fine dining experiences from €493pp.
Where: The Dolphin Eco Hotel, Inishbofin, Co Galway
What: Running an eco hotel on a remote island takes dedication and organisation but Pat Coyne and his sister Cathy have managed both since 2006. The effort is clearly worth it. Dolphin Hotel is a big favourite with outdoors fans who want to go on bird-watching tours, hiking, snorkelling and scuba diving. This tiny island is one of the few places in Ireland where the distinctive cry of the corncrake can still be heard.
Situated on the Cloonamore looped walk with views of Mayo and the Connemara Coast, the hotel is run on solar power “which works efficiently and doesn’t cost me a cent,” says Pat. They use as much locally sourced food as possible and Pat is involved in island and nature initiatives.
Essentials: dolphinhotel.ie; A three-night package (B&B, one dinner), €259pps, includes pick-up/drop off from ferry.
Like that? Try this: Clare Island yoga retreat at macallafarm.ie