Leonie Corcoran guides you to the best stops out west.
I have a special gra for Ballynahinch Castle. It was the base for myself and my partner Shane’s first attempt at a romantic weekend away. There were blustery hikes up the Twelve Bens, walks along the Clifden Railway Line, a first-time visit to the Benedictine monastery and walled gardens of Kylemore Abbey, and sips of Bertha’s Revenge gin watching the light change over the glaciated Inagh Valley.
We cycled to Shane’s “favourite beach in all the world” – Dog’s Bay – stripped down and ran into the Atlantic, because nothing says romance like goosebumps. We warmed up in O’Dowd’s in the nearby village of Roundstone, where I was introduced to the idea of oysters and Guinness. There were even evenings of fine dining at the hotel and late-night catch-ups by the fire. And over the two days, there was stumbling awkwardness and ill-advised over-ordering of dessert wine. I was to blame for neither. Obviously.
Kylemore Abbey, a Benedictine monastery on the grounds of Kylemore Castle in Connemara, Ireland
Three years on, and on our most recent trip west, we based ourselves in Connemara’s capital, Clifden. Colourful shopfronts, traditional music, Aran knits and linen tea cloths galore – every tourist’s dream. And with the success of the Wild Atlantic Way marketing, many of them are here, though it is noticeably quieter from November to February. Thanks to, or despite, its popularity, Clifden still feels like a bustling market town, and you could stay for days without running out of places to eat. Try Connemara smoked salmon in Mannion’s or pop across to Guy’s Bar for crab and coriander cakes or homemade pizza.
DK Connemara oysters
There’s an abundance of places to stay. Right in town, there’s Sheila Griffin’s Sea Mist House B&B, and Julia and Paddy Foyle offer 16 rooms in the former harbour master’s residence, The Quay House. Expect flamboyant textiles, flourishes of colour and a fine breakfast to fuel your outdoor explorations. Regardless of the size of your breakfast, Connemara is ideal for electric bikes. We rented two from All Things Connemara on Market Street and looped the Sky Road before heading towards Connemara National Park.
The Quay House, Clifden
We couldn’t pass by Paddy Coyne’s in Tullycross without a stop. Outside Letterfrack, we detoured down a bumpy road (you’ll appreciate the electric bikes) to David Keane at DK Connemara Oysters on Ballinakill Bay for a tour and tasting (€25pp). Across the bay, you’ll see the pink-painted Rosleague Manor Hotel, and if you’re in the area after March, stay a night to experience a sense of Connemara calm mingled with the risk of divilment you can only find in an Irish country hotel.
Back on the road, we aimed for Killary Fjord, where we got so comfortable, we nabbed the last room in town and enjoyed a seaweed bath in Leenane Hotel before looping back the next day. Easy pedalling, a contorted coastline, patchy fields with crumbling dry-stone walls and peat-dark lakes… I think we’ve gotten better at this romance game.
This article originally appeared in the December issue of IMAGE. The Volume 1 (January/February) 2020 issue of IMAGE Magazine is on sale now.
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