Portfolio: Sample from T+E Magazine: Ireland Issue (Dec. 2013)


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Portfolio: Sample from T+E Magazine: Ireland Issue (Dec. 2013)

  1. 1. Ireland’s Northwest Ireland’s southwest has long been a tourist destination, with most visitors arriving in Dublin and making their way south to the cliffs and castles of Cork and County Kerry. According to Tourism Ireland, only 14 percent of Canadian travellers head to Ireland’s northwest region, as opposed to 53 percent heading to the southwest. But these often-overlooked northern regions have a lot to offer, including a feeling of exclusivity. You won’t find throngs of tourists; instead, vast lands and long stretches of road without even seeing another car. Nature here is big and brazen, with rough Atlantic waters, mountain ranges that rival Iceland’s landscapes, some of Europe’s tallest cliffs and a surprising amount of sunshine. There are tons of reasons to turn the car north and embark on a wild ride full of tight roads, big heights and laid-back beach towns with surf, sand and plenty of seaweed. Words and Photos by Stacey McLeod WILD ATLANTIC WAY:
  2. 2. County Sligo: Just a few hours from Dublin, this breezy (and sometimes downright gusty) seaside town is full of surprises. The first thing you’ll notice is Sligo’s artsy, laid-back way of life, and then it’s the surf culture. The stereotypical images of Ireland’s damp, mossy landscapes are smashed when you pop over to Strandhill and see all the palm trees, surfers, sandy beaches and sensational west coast sunsets. I was lucky to first meet Sligo on a sunny day, when the town really comes out to play. Surf, Seaweed & Seafood At sundown, Strandhill, a village in County Sligo with a beachfront strip, looks like a postcard, with pink skies bouncing off smooth sands, and the silhouettes of couples strolling barefoot along the low tide. But by day, the area’s bustling with surfers tackling Sligo’s wild waves. If the weather’s cooperating, try a stand-up paddleboarding lesson (but an afternoon of wind and rain forced us onto the river, which is also scenic). Shells Café is a bright and artsy little cafe and patio looking out onto the beach and the incredible sunsets. It’s owned by a creative young couple who moved to Sligo for its laid back way of life, and who whip up homemade dishes like their signature fish and chips and big, delicious desserts like cherry scones, lemon squares and carrot cake. Check out the attached shop for local crafts, cute gifts and a copy of their Surf Café Cookbook, with tips on foraging on the beach and “cooking, living and eating the Irish way.” (¤19,95)
  3. 3. Behind the cafe is the Strandhill Lodge and Suites, with rooms for two to three people and an apartment suite for families or those booking longer stays. It’s a short walk from the beach past a handful of little shops and pubs, and looks out onto the golf course. (Hotel golf packages are available.) There’s no shortage of seaweed in these parts, and it’s become an important export for local entrepreneurs. In Strandhill, it’s worth the splurge for a dip in the VOYA Seaweed Baths (located next to Shells Café) and also facing the beach, where you can detox your bod in healing seaweed baths said to soothe aches and pains and moisturize the body. They may look like a small spa but their products are highly sought after by high-end markets and even international hotels. Massage and facial combos are also available (a single bath and full body massage costs ¤90). Over in Mullaghmore Harbour sits a quaint and colourful little restaurant, Eithnas by the Sea. This family restaurant serves up heaping seafood platters full of lobster, mussels, clams, crabs and more—and baskets of dangerously-delicious homemade Irish bread. (Make sure to leave some room for your meal!) Eithna’s whole menu is full of home-cooked and hearty dishes, changing with the season and using ingredients she sources from local fishermen and farmers. But as bountiful as the seafood offerings are, it was her use Photos: Eithna’s by the Sea
  4. 4. of seaweed that left me stunned. The area’s known for carrageen seaweed (also known as “Irish moss”), a nutrient-packed seaweed that, when boiled, produces gelatin. It’s often drunk as a tea and used to thicken stews, but Eithna uses it to make desserts, including carrageen panna cotta and carrageen pudding. You’d never know you’re eating seaweed. On your way out, buy bags of carrageen seaweed to take home and little jars of homemade seaweed pesto. Shipwrecks With Sligo’s dramatic cliffs and wicked waves, it’s no wonder the area has a past full of shipwrecks and fateful voyages. In the 1500s, the doomed Spanish Armada fleet was one such wreck. The sea swallowed three ships and more than 1,000 men, and those lucky enough to survive were marched to Galway to be publicly hanged. The wreckage remains underwater today. Seatrails tours walk you though the Spanish Armada story along the rocky shores of the Streedagh Strand where the tragedy occurred. But the tour goes beyond shipwrecks to explore the fossils and rocks around you. What looks to be a simple rock is actually a preserved piece of Ireland’s past—as pointed out by tour guide and owner Auriel Robinson, a maritime archaeologist. Seatrails offers other coastal and heritage tours including walking, cycling, paddling or horseback riding.
  5. 5. County Donegal: Dramatic Cliffs & Dips with Dolphins Sligo’s beaches are a warm-up to the real wild Atlantic waves of the north in dramatic Donegal. If you want to feel small, stop by the Slieve League cliffs (Sliabh Liag) in Carrick, County Donegal. At nearly 2,000 feet, this massive shelf is one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe and twice the size of Ireland’s famous Cliffs of Moher. Accessible paths offer panoramic views and endless photo ops, and you can climb the rocky steps for higher views. (Just make sure you’re wearing good shoes.) When you’re over by the parking lot, check out the word “Éire” (the Gaelic name for Ireland) spelled out with stones in large letters on the cliff, a message to allied aircrafts during the Second World War, when the south of Ireland remained neutral. My favourite adventure wasn’t on top of the cliffs but rather, underneath them. I’ve always wanted to swim with dolphins, but I never thought I’d do it in Ireland. Sliabh Liag Boat Tours take guests aboard a small boat in Teelin Harbour (and get your sea legs—or the Gravol—ready). The boat cuts through crashing waves before stopping in a calmer cove where you can take the plunge and brave the frigid North Atlantic waters. Wetsuits are optional, but I definitely recommend wearing one. I went in with just a lifejacket and the waters were so frigid, I had to climb out before the rest of the group. Looking up at the sweeping
  6. 6. Slieve League cliffs towering above is an experience in itself, but when the dolphins start circling you, it takes the cake. Once back on land, warm up with a hot bowl of soup, big, warm soda biscuits with chutney and a cup of tea at Ti Linn Artisan Cafe, which also has a great little gift shop with handmade knits, Irish crafts and one-of-a-kind souvenirs. As far north as you can get in the Inishowen Peninsula (and Ireland in general) are the majestic cliffs of Malin Head. Back in the day, it was often the last place seen by Irish emigrants as they departed for America and where their loved ones would gather on the beach to see them off. It’s home to Banba’s Crown, Ireland’s most northern point, so as you can imagine, there’s a lot of wind. Our guide warned us not to wear “flappy jackets” and you’ll see why. A walk down the cliffs and back takes about an hour, and even with epic winds, it’s worth it for the colourful moss and heather-covered hills, incredible views and wild waves crashing against the boulders below. Cycle Inishowen also offers bike tours here (wind permitting). Northern Luxuries Down the road from Malin Head lies an unexpected luxury: Ireland’s most northerly pub, Farren’s Bar Slievebawn. After battling the Malin Head winds, tucking into the warm, wooden snugs for a creamy pint of Guinness feels like heaven. Fun fact: pints come with your name in the foam. At the time I was there, the longest name he’d written was “Tatiana.”
  7. 7. Donegal has several luxurious accommodations, but for a remote, romantic experience, splurge for a night at Harvey’s Point. The popular Irish resort is on the quiet Lough Eske, far from the tourist track, and in 2013 was voted Ireland’s top hotel by the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. (It’s the only Irish hotel in the top 25 hotels of Europe.) Modeled after Swiss hotels, the resort is owned and managed by Swiss-born Jody Gysling and full of classic Swiss style and service. (Their slogan is “Swiss made in Ireland.”) It’s very much a family affair; even the artwork lining the hallways is the work of Isobel Gysling, the mother of the owner. The premium deluxe suites are bigger than some apartments I’ve lived in, and full of elegant touches, from the massive soaking tubs to classical music playing as you enter your room. Even breakfast is served in the formal dining room under a massive chandelier. From there, on early mornings, you can pop out to the dock and meet the very vocal goose that waits for his own breakfast each morning. Afterwards, hit the area’s golf courses and hiking trails. Photo supplied by Harvey’s Point
  8. 8. N E X T Wild Atlantic Way Map Table of Contents