The Dunowen Experience: West Cork bolthole a hit for group getaways
Short breaks in Ireland
Getting a group of family or friends together? This West Cork gem should top the charts, says our travel editor.
Set the Mood
A great song needs a great hook. Ditto a great country getaway.
Dunowen House has that: a short drive outside Clonakilty, for 30 years it was home to Noel Redding, bass player with The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Redding was a West Cork legend, banging out gigs until his death in 2003 (I once saw him in De Barra's), and his home has now been refurbished by Kela and Stephen Hodgins as an exclusive self-catering stay. Rock memorabilia abounds but, to the couple's credit, that soon fades to afterthought.
Cosy stoves, understated tweeds and muted heritage tones frame luxurious beds, ensuites with rain showers, breakout spaces and a kitchen clearly built for use (there are two kettles and a decent fridge, for starters).
It all adds up to a well-specced escape you aren't afraid to lounge around in. Check out any time you like, but you may never want to leave.
Two of Dunowen's six bedrooms have stand-alone baths, so serial soakers should bags one of those. Heading out for dinner? Ask Kela to light the stove so it's nice and toasty when you return. Smaller group? Consider Orchard Cottage, a three-bed house set within the walled garden.
An appetite is the first thing to pack for West Cork (stock up on local goodies at Clonakilty's classy SuperValu). Our best meal was at Pilgrim's (023 883 1796, pilgrims.ie; mains from €20), a Rosscarbery restaurant where nibbles and small and larger plates blossomed like wildflowers on rustic tables.
Highlights were oysters with sorrel and rhubarb ice (above), oak-smoked baby potatoes and a Macroom buffalo ricotta ice-cream perfectly cut with espresso and salted honeycomb.
Mains lacked the same finesse, I felt, but I'd return in a jiffy and service was gorgeous. They even called to say we'd left behind a little woollen hat.
It's a grand country, if only we could roof it.
You'll hear that refrain all over Ireland but, on this trip, we found ourselves in a magical little microclimate. As a fug hung over Clonakilty, we swam under blazing blue skies (with wetsuits... magic has its limits) at Red Strand, near Galley Head, and the gorgeous Sands Cove.
Named for Captain George Sandes, who built Dunowen House in the late 1700s, this stony little enclave is just a five-minute walk away, set between cliffs and dotted with pink lollipops of sea thrift.
Music buff? You'll be in heaven here. We spent an evening poring over rock 'n' roll auction catalogues; posters range from The Jimi Hendrix Experience to Redding's solo gigs and framed covers of Hot Press (with his name written in biro by the local newsagent), and visitors are said to have included David Bowie, Donovan and Paul McCartney.
Fittingly, Redding's ashes have been scattered in the garden.
Phone signals are patchy in these parts - good for switching off, not so much for booking restaurants/taxis (there is decent Wi-Fi, however).
A better stereo wouldn't go astray, and house guitars were missing strings, though that did spare everyone my take on Foxy Lady.
Get me there
Set in Ardfield, 10km from Clonakilty, Dunowen House (023 886 9099; dunowenhouse.ie) sleeps up to 18 guests across six rooms (combine Orchard Cottage with your booking and up to 23 can stay).
It costs from €750 per night (minimum two-night stay) on a self-catering basis, with weekly rates ranging from €3,200 to €4,000.
The house is rented on an exclusive basis, with towels, linen, a welcome pack and logs for fires included. Catering can be booked from €30pp for dinner parties (food only). It also does intimate weddings.