Even better than the real thing: Escapist holidays in Ireland

No holidays abroad this year? Recreate those exotic trips right here at home

The Birdbox, Donegal Treehouse

The Birdbox, Donegal Treehouse

 

We live in hope, and we also live on a small island, so it’s no surprise so many of us harbour dreams of that perfect getaway. Still, with foreign travel on the very long finger, let’s look a little closer to home. Ireland has some surprises up its pretty sleeves. Here’s some spots where, with a little stretch (and a lot of love from the weather gods) you could believe yourself truly transported. There may even be somewhere in your home county – full-on escapism right under your nose. Imaginations at the ready? Let’s go!

On Safari

Lakeside glamping in luxury yurts at Lough Mardal in Co Donegal
Lakeside glamping in luxury yurts at Lough Mardal in Co Donegal

You’re more likely to spot the local moggy than any big game, but check these places out for tents and treehouses. And though we agree they’re not quite the Maasai Mara, you’re not going to run into anything dangerous, and you certainly don’t need your malaria meds.

Lough Mardal, Co Donegal
Lakeside glamping in luxury yurts, with superking beds. Woodburning stoves can be turned up to 11 for the tropical feel, while the grass-roofed communal building has game lodge written all over it. Enjoy wild swimming and fishing on site – and it’s guaranteed crocodile-free. Pet friendly, from €120 per night for two, families from €170 per night. loughmardal.ie

See also: Go all Treetops (the Kenyan spot beloved of migratory royals) and book yourself a treehouse stay. Try the Tree Houses at Rivervalley Park, Co Wicklow. Sleeps up to six from €150 per night. rivervalleypark.ie; or check out Urban Tranquilatree on Airbnb. Sleeping two, it’s perched above Cork City, so you’ve plenty of wildlife to view. From €140 per night at airbnb.ie. Or head for the hills and discover The Birdbox, a treehouse in a thicket of mature oak and scots pine trees with views of the Glenveagh National Park, a short hop (or flutter?) from the Wild Atlantic Way €85, per night at airbnb.ie

In the Ozarks

Cabü, Co Cavan
Cabü, Co Cavan

Fair enough, we only came to know the Ozarks thanks to Netflix, but as crime levels in this picturesque part of Missouri seem on a par with the towns and villages of Midsomer, we may stick to armchair tourism – or head instead to Co Cavan.

Cabü, Co Cavan
Twenty-eight cabins, with combos of one to three bedrooms. Some are dog-friendly, all have woodburners. There’s an on-site store, a bar and communal area with grills and giant games. Meanwhile you can hire kayaks, boats and paddleboards down at the lake. Hot tubs and saunas? Yup, you’ve got them too. From €1,028 for three for four nights. cabu.ie

See also: Ard Nahoo Eco Retreat and Yoga School has more charming cabins in Co Leitrim, close to the river, lake and the village of Dromahair. From €330 for two nights including an organic welcome pack. ardnahoo.com

Feels like Ibiza

Cliff beach House
Cliff beach House

We’re not talking about the sweaty nightclub side of the famous Balearic spot, so picture instead the sleek contemporary retreats for which the island is also so well known. As Ibiza devotees will attest, the Aer Lingus flights go at stupid o’clock in the morning, whereas here you can head south after a lovely long lie-in.

Cliff Beach House, Co Waterford
Perched above Ardmore Bay, this fancy gaff has six bedrooms, all with floor-to-ceiling windows. Add plenty of group chill-out spots, sumptuous bathrooms, plus a patio for sundowners, and you’re in the right spot for all weathers. There’s even a grand piano – which isn’t exactly club beats, but you can still make beautiful music. From €2,500 to €4,000 per night, sleeps 12 (so that’s really €208 if you think about it). cliffbeachhouse.ie

See also: Anyone familiar with the evocatively named Marina Botafoc near Ibiza Old Town will know the lighthouse on The Point – a destination for many a hungover jogger. Go one better in Ireland and stay in a lighthouse with the Landmark Trust. Properties are all over Ireland, and while many are booked at this stage, there’s still availability at Donegal’s St John’s Point. From €430 for two nights, sleeps four. irishlandmark.com

Or get the real marina feel and stay at sea with the Classic Ciara Constantia, a three-berth 1933 former patrol ship moored in Galway. €160 per night at airbnb.ie

Long Haul

Eccles Glengariff
Eccles Glengariff

Looking for a tropical paradise? Fancy an Italian garden? Or want to turn Japanese with views of Mount Fuji? You may be surprised to find it all in one spot. But where? West Cork of course.

Eccles Hotel, Co Cork
Basking in the gulfstream, Glengariff has an extraordinary micro-climate, which means there’s nature in abundance. Discover the bamboo park, or take a boat over to Illnacullin (also known as Garnish Island). Here, the unique landscaping project carried out over 100 years ago includes Italian gardens, exotic tropical species, and a pretty temple framing the mountains that’s a deadringer for the famous Mount Fuji. Stay at the Eccles, an historic Glengariff watering hole that also has a very nice hot tub on the terrace. From €250 per room. eccleshotel.com

See also: Fans of exotic blooms will also love the Burren in Co Clare, where alpine and arctic plants grow side by side with more Mediterranean species. Plus, stepping out over the limestone pavements feels like (I imagine) walking on the moon – and you can’t get much more long-haul than that. Stay at Gregans Castle from €325 per night. gregans.ie

The Orient Express

Pullman Restaurant at Glenlo Abbey
Pullman Restaurant at Glenlo Abbey

Trainspot in style in Co Galway, where you can not only stay in a five-star hotel on the shores of Lough Corrib, you can also book a date with one of the stars of Murder on the Orient Express.

Glenlo Abbey, Co Galway
It’s already lovely to stay on the shores of Lough Corrib, but an added attraction at Glenlo Abbey is their two original carriages from the Orient Express. One of these, Leona, has taken in Istanbul, Monte Carlo and St Petersburg en route to Galway, and also played a starring role in the 1974 film Murder on the Orient Express, starring Lauren Bacall and Sean Connery. Rooms from €350, Pullman Dinner €63 for two courses. glenloabbeyhotel.ie

See also: The original Great Southern Hotel network was built to accommodate Irish rail travellers in luxury. There’s even something in the statute books that says a train must wait at Killarney station if the Earl is running late. Stay at the Killarney Great Southern from €249. greatsouthernkillarney.com

New York (or Cork?)

Mayson Hotel, Dublin
Mayson Hotel, Dublin

Looking for some Manhattan style? Waking up in the right surroundings can help you see even a familiar city all over again. Bagels for breakfast? Bloody Marys too.

The Mayson, Dublin
Quirky but chic rooms? Check. Rooftop terrace bar? Check. Hipster touches that don’t take themselves too seriously? Check. View of vaguely high rise buildings – yup, that too... The Mayson in Dublin’s Docklands maybe isn’t quite Stateside, but it has definitely got a not-quite-the-Dublin-we-know-and-love vibe. And that’s no bad thing if you’re looking for a change that’s right on your doorstep. From €150 pps including diner, breakfast and a glass of fizz on arrival. themayson.ie

See also: The Dean in Co Cork. Same mood as the Mayson (no surprise, same owners), prices from €179 room only. thedean.ie/cork

Out of this World

Bubble Domes at Finn Lough
Bubble Domes at Finn Lough

And finally, have a totally out-of-this-world experience at the Bubble Domes at Finn Lough in Co Fermanagh. Stay in brilliant bubble domes for the full forest and sky bathing experience. Adults only. Sleeps two, from £275 (€323) including hamper breakfast. finnlough.com

This article was edited on April 13th, 2021

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