Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

A magical Eske-cape: a royal welcome awaits at five-star Lough Eske Castle

Lough Eske
Lough Eske

By Martin Breen

Who wouldn't want to live their own five-star fairy tale in a castle in Co Donegal.

Availing of Lough Eske Castle's fantastic two-night Midweek Gourmet Getaway deal I recently got to experience it for myself on what turned out to be some of the hottest days of the year so far.

After Friends actress Courteney Cox shared a picture on social media of her recent stay there with boyfriend, Johnny McDaid of Snow Patrol, I was eager to try the award-winning luxury hotel for myself.

And I can assure you that each and every guest is treated like a VIP so you don't just have to be in one of the world's biggest TV shows or rock bands to receive such service.

Located just outside Donegal town, the hotel is situated in 43 acres of forest woodland which hugs the shores of the beautiful Lough Eske.

The castle can trace its roots back to the O'Donnell clan (the founding fathers of Donegal apparently). Although the current castle was built in the 1860s, there has been one on the site back to the 1400s. A fire in 1939 gutted the building and it lay derelict for many years before being completely renovated and enhanced to create Lough Eske Castle which opened as a hotel in December 2007.

That is just a snippet of the hotel's history. It is worth taking the daily 11am historical walking tour of the grounds where you will learn lots of interesting facts about the site from the staff, who were the friendliest and most helpful I have ever experienced at any resort.

When you arrive at the hotel you will be immediately struck by its grandeur as it looks like something out of Downton Abbey. Stepping inside, its impressive lobby, huge portraits and sweeping staircase make you feel as if you are the king (or queen) of your very own castle.

While the building manages to retain the timeless allure of its gaelic heritage, it also incorporates all the mod-cons you expect from a five-star hotel. The bedrooms boast classic bespoke furnishings, the most comfortable four-poster beds and spacious marble bathrooms.

As there is such a vast expanse around the castle to explore on foot or on bike (the hotel has several for guests to borrow) you shouldn't feel too guilty about overindulging in the hotel.

Lough Eske Castle
Lough Eske Castle

The dining facilities and choices are all top class as you would expect. This place is real foodie heaven.

When I arrived I enjoyed a lovely lunch in the sun in the courtyard of the casual Gallery bar. As well as the usual pub classics they have a series of superb sharing platters. I would recommend the Gallery plater which includes mac and cheese fritters, crispy chicken poppers, fish cakes and pickled onion rings.

They also do a great pint of Guinness as does the hotel's other bar, The Father Browne Bar. It is named after Frank Browne, a Jesuit priest who was considered to be Ireland's most important photographer of the 20th century.

Often known as 'Father Browne of the Titanic', it was his obedience to his provincial's order to "get off that ship" that prevented him from travelling on the final part of the voyage and possibly saved his life. Disembarking at Cobh in Cork his photographs of the ship were published on front pages all around the world after the ship's sinking in 1912. More than 200 of the greatest images taken by him have been remastered and are displayed in the bar at Lough Eske Castle.

There is live entertainment regularly in the bar so you can spend your evenings having a drink or three in the bar listening to the music and checking out his extraordinary photographs.

For dinner, as part of my package, I dined in the fancier Cedars restaurant which is showcasing a new summer menu from its chefs (and brothers), Richard and Andrew McKee.

Lough Eske Castle afternoon tea
Lough Eske Castle afternoon tea

For starters we had the Donegal crab on toast, apple, avocado, gem and green goddess dressing and the caramelised onion and cheddar tart, shallot and walnut. Both were fantastic and set us up for the wonderful mains.

While I went for a perfectly-cooked Irish grass-fed fillet of beef with onion, mushroom, bacon, roast garlic and potato, my partner enjoyed Glin Valley Irish chicken with celeriac risotto, tipsy grapes and truffle. Again the food was flawless.

Even though we were stuffed we managed to squeeze in a white chocolate and lemon cheesecake with blueberry kombucha and honey oat which was undoubtedly the star of the show for us.

Breakfast is also served in Cedars with a selection of continental buffet, hot buffet and cooked to order dishes including some delicious eggs benedict.

The Gourmet Getaway package also includes afternoon tea for two which we enjoyed the following day. Dining in one of the castle's regal drawing rooms, it featured savoury delights such as dainty beef pastrami, pickled cucumber and horseradish focaccia sandwiches, and mouth-watering sweet treats such as Orange Blossom financiers, Hibiscus panna cotta, blackberry and violet gel, and traditional house made scones with Irish clotted cream and strawberry jam complemented by a tea of choice.

The highlight for me was a brie, walnut and caramelized pear mini bagel which truly was a taste sensation. This was the first time I had ever managed to finish all layers on an afternoon tea stand!

Lough Eske Castle courtyard room
Lough Eske Castle courtyard room

To walk off some of those calories we explored the surrounding area and the lough itself which is home to quite a few ducks and other wildlife. We also ventured into Donegal town which is 10 minutes away and has a great selection of shops, bars and restaurants as well as a craft village.

Further afield, and to work off even more of those extra calories, it is worth taking a drive (around an hour) to Slieve League which is one of the tallest sea cliffs in Europe. Three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher, the sight of the crags emerging from the steely blue of the Atlantic is truly amazing. Conquer the Pilgrim Path (it will take about 90 minutes) and you'll be rewarded with awe -inspiring views of the Atlantic Ocean, Sligo Mountains and Donegal Bay.

If you fancy something less strenuous there are a number of beaches within driving distance including the beautiful golden sweeping sands of Rossnowlagh.

On the return to Lough Eske Castle you can soothe those aches and pains with a visit to the hotel's Cara organic spa. Located in the castle's original Victorian glass house, you can take a dip in the infinity pool or Jacuzzi or chill out in the sauna or steam room. If you fancy a spot of pampering there are seven treatment rooms offering an array of deluxe massages, facials, pedicures, manicures and body treatments.

After my recent stay there it was easy to see why the hotel has won a string of awards in recent years including Weddings Online Castle Venue of the Year 2019, Luxury Wellness Spa and Luxury Countryside Spa at the World Luxury Spa Awards and was chosen as one of the top 10 hotels in Ireland in last year's Conde Nast Readers Awards.

And as thousands of you already know, it is easy to see why Donegal was named the Coolest Place on the Planet by National Geographic.

Lough Eske Castle spa
Lough Eske Castle spa

The Midweek Gourmet Getaway at Lough Eske includes:

  • Two nights' accommodation with full Irish breakfast each morning
  • A sumptuous three course dinner in Cedars Restaurant on one evening
  • Traditional Afternoon Tea for two people on one afternoon
  • Complimentary use of swimming pool and fitness room at the Spa
  • 20% discount on all spa treatments of 60 minutes or more
  • From €499 in a Courtyard Guestroom, midweek (Sunday - Thursday)

To book:

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