Hidden gems: Going off-grid in Wicklow and Donegal with Brendan Courtney and Jennifer Rock

While some of us are still getting over the fact we won't be lounging pool side in a foreign land, fashion designer Brendan Courtney and founder of The Skin Nerd, Jennifer Rock, are reminding us that you can still enjoy sun, sea and Sangria right here in Ireland. In partnership with Volvo, Brendan and Jennifer reveal their hidden gems to IMAGE. Race you to the car!


"The last thing I want to do is get dressed up and go to a fancy restaurant when I’m on holiday," says Brendan Courtney, one half of women's label Lennon Courtney, which he designs and runs with long-time friend and stylist Sonya Lennon.

If this tidbit surprises you, let Brendan explain why. "That’s my idea of hell. In my line of work I host events all the time. I’m very grateful for my work – it’s wonderful – but I was saying this to somebody recently, if I was to organise my wedding, it would feel like a job."

That's why Brendan returns to his hidden gem in Co Wicklow time and time again. The Glenmalure Lodge, in the foothills of Lugnaquilla, is a renovated lodge house with 14 bedrooms offering bed and breakfast, a full bar and restaurant. It's a family run establishment with a variety of rooms to suit couples or families, with some overlooking the valley to Fananieren Mountain.

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"It's a gorgeous old lodge house that's been there hundreds of years," says Brendan. "It’s simple food, pints and trad and when I go I wear the same T-shirt and shorts for the weekend. I bring my flip-flops and my hiking boots and that’s it. It’s the simple things.

"We started going there about three years ago. We were hiking in Lugnaquilla with our little dog, Nancy Drew, not realising it’s a very extreme hike! Thinking we were brilliant, we came down and spotted this charming lodge house. Like the two Dubs that we are, my partner Adam and I were too shy to go in.

"A while later we met my sister, her husband and their kids for lunch there and discovered so much more about the place."

Read more: Dermot Bannon and Suzie Mc Adam reveal their hidden gems

Brendan was introduced to the beautiful lodge house that has now become his main staycation in Ireland, as well as an extra hidden gem deep in the woods: a horse cart converted into a sauna. "It’s called Bosca Beatha, run by Shirley. She doesn't take bookings, you have to just turn up. You can walk the Lug, the family who run The Glenmalure will drop you to the start of the hike. Hike your 15k from Glendalough over the Lug and back to Glenmalure, then you go down to the field and jump into the cold river and you have a sauna!"

Brendan has found his own little oasis just a little over an hour from Dublin. And terrier cross Nancy Drew is always invited.

 

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"It gives me such a kick to bring the dog and she’s really good, she’ll sleep when we go out, she’s a great little thing. Getting in the car with Adam and Nancy Drew is what a staycation is all about.

"Once you have great company, a sea view – which is easily accessible all over the country – Ireland is absolutely my favourite place in the world."

For Jennifer Rock, founder and CEO of The Skin Nerd, who is also an author and skin tutor, getting off the grid is exactly what she needs in a staycation.

"I adore Donegal. Outside of the big towns, it’s remote, rugged and raw. There are areas where I am unable to get phone reception so I am completely off-grid. This allows for a total wind down, and ironically, it’s when I become most creative," says Jennifer.

"The fresh, brisk air paired with the rocky scenery and the beach makes it my haven, where I have always gone and will always go to clear my head.

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"I’ve always loved travelling and going abroad – when it is safe to do so, of course – but having Donegal on our doorstep makes it special in its own way."

Jennifer's hidden gem in Donegal is a cosy JRR Tolkien-inspired 'hobbit hole' on Inch Island called The Library. "It’s small with exposed brick walls, a fireplace and books galore, hence the name. Being by the sea simultaneously energises and calms me. This is why I love Inch Island and why I love Donegal as a county."

The Library is a secluded getaway where there is no WIFI, with two beaches and a wildlife reserve just a short walk away.

"Being surrounded by the ocean is what I need to unwind and recharge and the often secluded beaches of Donegal mean I can walk for miles without coming across a single soul. They’re gorgeous and have a combination of rocks, stones and sand dunes.

"All I tend to do on holidays in Ireland is walk, cycle, sleep and eat – it's incredibly important to me to experience this simplicity in my life. To have a week or two to live at a slower pace, to enjoy the things in my life that I can sometimes take for granted."

Jennifer shares her hidden gem with her son, Matthew.

"I took Matthew to Donegal nine years in a row when he was small. It’s a region filled with memories for me: his first swim in the Atlantic, his first bike ride, festivals and treasure hunts. There’s something indescribably charming about eating local food. And I love fish! I prefer to cook food myself when I’m away, which many consider unorthodox, but it’s nice to not be rushed for once.

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"I will admit that feeding the skin may take a slight break while I take some time off. I can be a bit self-indulgent. If you can’t have sugar on holidays, when can you have it? The repercussions of these can be addressed afterwards!"


Brendan Courtney and Jennifer Rock are brand ambassadors for the Volvo XC40. Get inspired by their staycations by following #HiddenGem on social.

For your chance to win a Volvo XC60 for two weeks plus an epic two-night staycation for you and your family at the luxurious hidden gem, Cliff House Hotel in Waterford, follow Volvo's Instagram page for details on how to enter. 

Main photo of Brendan Courtney taken by Anthony Woods.

Photo of Jennifer Rock, supplied by Jennifer.

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