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FOR WALKING BREAKS - 10 OF THE BEST

This is the just time to get out into the fresh air and enjoy the countryside - so why not take a walking break. Serious walker will find out everything they need to know from Irish Trails but, even if you just enjoy a gentle stroll, these places are beautiful destinations for a relaxing break.

Gougane Barra Hotel
Ballingeary Macroom Co Cork

Gougane Barra Hotel

Set in one of Ireland’s most peaceful and beautiful locations in Gougane Barra National Forest Park, Neil and Katy Lucey’s delightfully old-fashioned hotel overlooks Gougane Barra Lake, famous for its monastic settlements. Bike hire, fishing and rowing (for residents) are all available and it’s a popular base for walking holidays. Six walking trails within the park range from the gentle multi-access Slí Ghaorthaidh, a nature trail with 10 stops, to the strenuous Slí Sleibhe which takes 2½ hours and rewards energetic walkers with spectacular views. But it’s the warmth and hospitality of the Luceys and their staff that really makes this a special destination - and Katy’s excellent ingredients-led cooking (including a good breakfast) is worth travelling for.

 

Lough Inagh Lodge
Recess Co Galway

Lough Inagh Lodge

Maire O’Connor’s former sporting lodge on the shores of Lough Inagh makes a delightful and exceptionally comfortable small hotel, with a country house atmosphere. It’s a lovely base for touring Connemara, or just a place to stop for a bite to eat in the appealing bar, and it’s an ideal stay ideal for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts - there’s excellent fishing, and golf, pony trekking and garden visits are all available nearby. For serious walkers, Lough Inagh is on the 66km Western Way (Galway section A route); extending between Oughterard and Leenane at Killary Harbour. It’s ‘an alluring taster of the sumptuous wildness of Connemara’ and Lough Inagh Lodge is pet friendly, so ideal for walkers travelling with a dog.

 

Harvey’s Point Country Hotel
Lough Eske Co Donegal

Harvey’s Point Country Hotel

The rugged landscape of Donegal has a magnetic attraction for walkers and the beautiful Blue Stack Mountains have special charm. The Gysling family’s luxurious and famously well-managed lakeside hotel has a particular reputation for activity breaks, especially walking holidays for both independent walkers and groups, who can stay in a cabin at The Lodge instead of the main hotel. For serious walkers, the 65km Bluestack Way extends from nearby Donegal Town to Ardara and, although experienced guides are available, the hotel’s own walking booklet covers self-guided treks in the area, ranging from rambles in nearby Ardnamona Woods to climbing Banagher Hill. Midweek packages including packed lunches, a walking map and other extras, offer a unique break and good value.

 

Ardmore Country House
Kinnitty, Co Offaly

Ardmore Country House

Whether for a gentle stroll or a tough hike, the beautiful and unspoilt Slieve Bloom mountains are a favourite destination for walkers of all levels of experience and a stay at Christina Byrne’s handsome Victorian house promises to combine the best of outdoor activities with good food, craic and music in the evenings. Both guided and self guided walking breaks are available, with the Slieve Bloom Way, the Offaly Way and numerous looped walks in the Slieve Bloom Mountains to choose from, and Christina - a keen walker herself - provides everything that walkers need, including a drying room, walking poles, walking maps, packed lunches and hot flasks, Dinner is available in the village or at Kinnitty Castle - and sometimes traditional Irish music sessions too, to round off the evening before sinking into one of Christina’s comfy brass beds.

 

Londonderry Arms Hotel
Carnlough Co Antrim

Londonderry Arms Hotel

Originally a coaching inn, this traditional hotel was once owned by Sir Winston Churchill and has been in the caring hands of the O’Neill family since 1948. Many of the comfortably furnished bedrooms have sea views and this is a place where visitors enjoy dropping in for good home-made bar meals or a fireside afternoon tea - and many will also have a waking break in mind, along the Causeway Coastal Walk and perhaps the Moyle Way, through the Glens of Antrim. It’s a delightful place in a lovely village - and even those visitors who have no special interest in walking should allow time for a saunter around the little harbour.

 

Hylands Burren Hotel
Ballyvaughan Co Clare

Hylands Burren Hotel

Open fires in public areas create the welcoming atmosphere for which the Hylands Burren Hotel is famous - and the Quinn family, who are local with many years in business in Ballyvaughan village, provide the personal touch that only hands-on family management can bring. The hotel is full of character, with parts of the handsome building dating back to the 18th century, and serving good quality local food is a point of pride - Manager, David Quinn, is also responsible for the family's nearby Italian restaurant L'Arco. Activity breaks of all kinds are very popular in this fascinating area, especially in May when the unique flora of The Burren is at its best. Walking breaks taking in some or all of the 123km Burren Way walking route are offered, including a packed lunch and a Walking Map of the area and there are public transport links to some of the main centres on the route.

 

Seaview House Hotel
Ballylickey Co Cork

Seaview House Hotel

Famous for many years for the exceptional hospitality extended by former owner Kathleen O’Sullivan, a genuine welcome and personal supervision remain the hallmarks of this restful country house hotel overlooking Bantry Bay. It is now owned by Miss O’Sullivan’s nephew, Ronan, who is maintaining the much-loved traditional characteristics while also introducing subtle changes which will appeal to a new market seeking active holidays. Family antiques add warmth and character, and many rooms have sea views. Country house cooking is the style in the elegant restaurant where local produce, especially seafood, stars. Seaview House is a good base for walking the Sheep’s Head Way, an 88km trail which begins in Bantry and takes walkers around this the relatively quiet peninsula, with sweeping seascapes and glorious views across to the better known Beara and Mizen Peninsulas.

 

The Cuan Licensed Guest Inn
Strangford Co Down

The Cuan Licensed Guest Inn

Over a century old, Peter and Caroline McErlean’s immaculately-maintained village inn has lots of character, with open fires, cosy lounges and a homely bar. There’s plenty to explore, including National Trust properties nearby at Castle Ward and Mount Stewart (across Strangford Lough, by ferry) and it’s an ideal base for enjoying the Ulster Way in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - the Lecale Way section, between Strangford and the seaside resort of Newcastle, explores the heavily indented shoreline of County Down, a coast rich in history and wildlife. Hospitality and local food are the other trump cards here - Peter’s seasonal menus have a strong emphasis on local provenance and the cooking lets the top-rate produce do the talking: honest, simple and delicious. Game of Thrones fans may find themed meals here too - and one of the specially commissioned doors, made with fallen trees from The Dark Hedges.

 

Waterside Guesthouse
Graiguenamanagh Co Kilkenny

Waterside Guesthouse

In the heart of medieval Graiguenamanagh, an attractive 19th century stone warehouse on the River Barrow quayside makes an interesting setting for Brian and Brigid Roberts’s well-run guesthouse and restaurant. It’s a perfect base for easy river and canalside walking along the most scenic stretch of the Barrow Way, between Graiguenamanagh and St Mullins. Cycling, fishing and boating also bring active holidaymakers here - and Brian has bikes for hire and offers a highly organised collection and delivery service. Rooms all have views of the river and the beautiful old bridge, and there’s good home cooking in a very pleasant restaurant - and café tables out on the quay in summer.

 

Hanora’s Cottage
Nire Valley Co Waterford

Hanora’s

Although this gloriously remote country guesthouse is now a very substantial building, the spirit of the ancestral home around which it is built remains a strong presence. It’s run by Mary Wall and her son and daughter-in-law, Eoin and Judith, who are both Euro-Toques chefs, and it makes a spacious and wonderfully comfortable base for walking in this beautiful and unspoilt area. There are many walking options for different levels of ability in the Nire Valley and the Comeragh Mountains - mountain, low-level, forest and quiet country roads - and Hanora’s can provide a guided walking service, maps, packed lunch and walking sticks. And it’s a great place to come back to, offering excellent food in the restaurant - and the famous ‘Hanora’s breakfast’ next morning. 

 

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