When my sister and I decided to go to Ireland, we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to stay in a castle. Ireland has several castles that have been turned into hotels, and we chose to stay at Lough Eske in Donegal. We picked Lough Eske because its location on the North West side of the country gave us the opportunity to drive through Northern Ireland visiting historic sites and natural wonders on our way to Dublin. We loved Donegal, we loved Lough Eske, and we loved our self-guided driving tour of Northern Ireland. I don’t think we would change a single thing – except the sometimes rainy weather.
Speaking of the rainy weather – Donegal is notoriously rainy. They consider a day when it doesn’t start raining until 2pm to be a nice day! It was about 60-65 degrees, misty/drizzly/rainy, and windy while we were there the first few days of September. We were prepared. We packed our much loved Keen Coven Waterproof Hiking Boots, sweaters, and rain jackets. And honestly, the weather didn’t bother us at all since Donegal is so gorgeous.
Despite the at times challenging weather conditions, Donegal is stunning. The small town is situated between coastal cliffs, green valleys, and mountains. The green color of the land is the greenest most intense green I have ever seen. We loved just driving around enjoying the views!
Lough Eske was about a 3 ½ hour drive from the Dublin Airport, but it went by quickly. Just be prepared to drive through lots of roundabouts. Oh my goodness do the Irish love roundabouts! Also be aware that most rental cars at stick shift and they drive on the other side of the road. I know that might sound intimidating, but take comfort in the fact that we didn’t experience much traffic at all in Ireland. And a heads up that some tolls only accept Euros, but there are cashiers and you don’t need exact change.
We loved Lough Eske. The castle offers guest modern and luxurious accommodations. They have a pub, a fine dining restaurant, gardens, and a full spa. Our room was in a newer section of the hotel, that is attached to the castle, but not in the castle itself. It was large and had a modern European look.
We didn’t really spent much time in the room and opted to explore castle instead. The castle has several beautiful rooms for hanging out. What could be better than sipping a cocktail by the fire on a chilly night?
On our first day, we checked into our room at Lough Eske and then drove to the coast to watch the sunset. The locals told us that it is almost always cloudy at sunset so we were very lucky to have a nice sunset. We drove to the beach, but there was also a pub up on a cliff where we could have spent our time.
Once the sun had set we made our way back to the hotel for dinner. I had booked our room with daily breakfast and one dinner included, and the dinner was a multi-course feast! The food at Lough Eske was fantastic and it was a great deal to book a room with dinner included.
A kind waiter at the hotel recommended that we go to Slieve League, the highest cliffs in Europe, which is a short drive from Donegal. There is one very important thing to know. When you arrive you will see a parking lot, and then a gate. We thought that the gate meant that we had to park and walk the rest of the way. It looked like the cliffs were less than 500 yards away. We were so very wrong on all accounts. The cliffs were a 30-minute uphill hike away (I chose not to change into hiking boots since we couldn’t see how long the path was) and the gate is only there to keep the many sheep who graze in the area from running away. Trust me, open the gate, drive through it, close the gate so the sheep don’t escape, and then drive all the way up to Slieve League.
Slieve League is not as famous as the Cliffs of Moher, but the cliffs are nearly three times higher. It also wasn’t crowded at all. We weren’t ready for lunch yet, but there was a little truck selling lobster rolls.
After Slieve League we continued our drive up the coast to Ardara, a small town where we stopped at Nancy’s Bar for lunch and each had half orders of the Guinness Stew. Nancy’s Bar is a classic Irish pub with several connected rooms and a cozy atmosphere, it seemed to attract a mix of locals and tourists.
That night we had dinner at a great Indian restaurant called Chandpur. We picked the restaurant because it was ranked first on TripAdvisor out of all the restaurants in the town, and we wanted to mix things up a little after a couple meals of heavy Irish food. We got a table right away, we loved our meal, and it was easy to arrange for a taxi from the hotel to the restaurant and back so that we didn’t have to navigate the twisty turny roads in the dark.
After dinner, we went to the pub at the castle. They had live music and it was wonderful. That evening a pair of guitar players were singing a mix of Irish songs and American classics.
We spent a total of two nights and about a day and a half in Donegal, and we felt like that was just the right amount of time. Next week I will tell you all about our self-guided Game of Thrones Tour of Northern Ireland.