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Staycations off the beaten track: Five underrated Irish locations

If you always go where you always go, you’re missing out - here are some alternatives to the big tourist spots

Attractions in Co Laois: The Rock of Dunamase. Photograph: iStock

Attractions in Co Laois: The Rock of Dunamase. Photograph: iStock

 

Places such as Kerry, West Cork and Wexford have been welcoming staycationers since long before the much contested word was ever dreamed of, let alone mandated.

But if you always go where you always go, you’re missing out. There are umpteen alternatives around Ireland where the welcome is possibly warmer, the roads less clogged and the social distancing easier. The scenery is gorgeous too.

Now is the perfect time to steer clear of the beaten path and to make a break for one of Ireland’s – if not unsung then at least lower-key – destinations.

“This year is an opportunity to really get to know our own island,” agrees Michelle Maguire, chief executive of Ireland’s Blue Book, a marketing group that represents some of the country’s most beautiful hotels and country house accommodation.

“There are amazing hiking and walking trails throughout the island, so it might to fun to explore a region where you can really get away from it all. Do your research on an area and make a plan - with a back-up plan in case the weather is not the best. When you go off the beaten track you can find lesser known trails and really experience the peace and tranquillity of the country side. We live in a stunning country with amazing landscapes.”

1. Laois

Laois is a perfect example, with wonderful visitor attractions like Emo Court, a tree lover’s paradise, and the views from the Rock of , a ruined castle. Stay at the Heritage Hotel in Killenarden, an hour from Dublin which is offering a great “Fall into Autumn” overnight B&B package with prices starting from €99 pps mid week, including dinner.

Emo Court, Co Laois. Photograph: iStock
Emo Court, Co Laois. Photograph: iStock

Stay at the Stokes family’s handsome home, Castle Durrow, with glorious parkland walks and overnight stays from € 200 B&B per room. Or enjoy a splurge and opt for Ballyfin, from €600 B&B a night, to enjoy coarse fishing, clay shooting, horse riding and falconry.

2. Longford

In Longford, enjoy a touch of Downton at Viewmount House, a 17th century boutique country house on four acres of gorgeous gardens. Inside it’s all antiques and elegance, with B&B stays from €90 pps. Or enjoy fun in the forest with all the family at Center Parcs, stay for four nights in a three-bed lodge from around €579 in October, perfect for a family of six. Options for activities include water sports on Lough Ree and walks in Newcastle Wood, which has trails throughout its 325 hectares.

In Longford, options for activities include water sports on Lough Ree. Photograph: iStock
In Longford, options for activities include water sports on Lough Ree. Photograph: iStock

3. Westmeath

Wonderful Westmeath is home to Wineport Lodge, an alliterative treat in Athlone, with lawns flowing down to the lapping waters of Lough Ree. It’s something of a secret hideaway with just 29 rooms and suites and B&B rates from €85pps. Things to do in the county include a visit to Belvedere House and Gardens and a trip up the Hill of Uisneach, an ancient ceremonial site.

4. Cavan

You’re spoiled for walking choices in Cavan too, from the tracks and trails of the Cavan Burren Park and Killykeen Forest Park to hiking the 22km Cavan Way. There’s lovely accommodation too, including Virginia Park Lodge, an 18th-century hunting estate overlooking Lough Ramor. The former home of Lord Headfort has been taken over by Michelin starred chef by Richard Corrigan, so the food is fab. The property sits on 100 acres of parkland and forestry with scenic walkways and a nine-hole golf course, with prices from €183 per night.

Lough Ramor in Co Cavan. Photograph: iStock
Lough Ramor in Co Cavan. Photograph: iStock
Chef Richard Corrigan at Virginia Park Lodge, Virginia, Co Cavan. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times
Chef Richard Corrigan at Virginia Park Lodge, Virginia, Co Cavan. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

5. Sligo

Sligo is another staycation gem, with a mixture of crashing coastline, wild landscapes and quiet country roads. Catch up with friends at the Sligo Park, where a Ladies Night Away Reunion package includes two nights B&B, cocktails and dinner from €179pps. Or opt for Coopershill House, a Georgian mansion that is so hard to top that it has been home to no less than seven generations of the O’Hara family.

It offers a perfect blend of elegance and activity, including a Kayak Sligo package that combines a guided kayak tour of the islands, bays and forests of Lough Gill with two nights B&B and a four course dinner for two for €640.