The best getaways might be closer to home than you think. Thomas Breathnach showcases some of the top holiday destinations our province has to offer
Munster is going green. All across the province, the hospitality and tourism sector is echoing both local and tourist demand for a more sustainable way of holidaying, eating out or simply having the craic.
Some of these businesses are pioneers in the field, others are aligning themselves more with consumer needs. But whether it’s sustainable oyster shucking in the Burren or chomping on a blaa along the Waterford Greenway, Munster is embracing its roots, heritage and environment as it emerges as a budding beacon of Irish ecotourism.
Flying the banner green, nowhere in Ireland has pioneered sustainable tourism like the Burren in Co Clare. The region may be synonymous with its barren, Karst landscape, but amid its clints and grikes spins a network of imaginative small businesses all on the same recyclable page when it comes to fostering a seriously sustainable ethos.
The positive spin-off? Over 1,000 people are now employed in the Burren’s Ecotourism community.
Eat: Linnane’s Lobster Bar in New Quay specialises in fresh off-the-trawler local seafood with family-harvested clams a favourite. In Lisdoonvarna, the Roadside Tavern has just bagged the Georgina Campbell gong for the best pub in Ireland and features a gastro-menu brimming with salmon delights from the neighbouring Burren Smokehouse.
Got a grá for dessert? Café Linnalla, set along the Flaggy Shore, is a real-life Irish gelateria with creamy creations made with milk from the family’s very own herd.
Play: There’s such a vibrant culture of eco-sensitivity in the Burren — even the iconic Father Ted house is set on an organic farm. For activities, both Irish Herbal Roots and Wild Kitchen offer foraging walks around local coasts and hedgerows encouraging participants to eat local and, yes, ditch the rest.
To experience the region at a zippier pace, E-Whizz in Kilfenora offer guided or self-guided electric bike tours across the region, while Flaggy Shore Oysters in New Quay offer ingeniously fun ‘shuck-off’ tasting experiences.
Stay: Along the coast, Hotel Doolin is Ireland’s only carbon-neutral hotel; a feat achieved by a forensic policy effort from harvesting rain-water to wooden ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs.
In Ennistymon, the Falls Hotel runs on hydroelectricity, along while the heavenly Gregans Castle Hotel in Ballyvaughan prides itself on environmental sensitivity — hence its own herb and vegetable garden. For an alternative stay, Burren Glamping offers overnights in a vintage truck parked in the unplugged backdrop of a free-range pork farm.
Ten years ago, East Cork didn’t resonate as a tourism brand. But today, thanks to exceptional local produce, a heaving restaurant scene and a collective eco-consciousness spearheaded by Ballymaloe, the region is proudly simmering as Ireland’s slow-food capital.
And Midleton, East Cork’s newly branded heartbeat, is where you’ll experience its greatest flavour.
Eat: Farmgate is Midleton’s original pioneer of local provenance, with next-generation eateries like Sage truly stamping the term ‘local’ with their signature 12-mile menu. Today the town appears to have more dining options per capita than Manhattan with excellent options including Ferrit & Lee and Surf & Turf.
Hidden haunt Monty’s (tucked away in a courtyard in Roxboro mews) is a popular local café with staples from Rostellan hot chocolate to cheese feast sambos with Tim O’s cheddar, Ballinrostig organic nettle cheese, and Toonsbridge scamorza on Arbutus sourdough.
Play: Midleton’s Farmers Market is East Cork’s culinary crossroads where you can fill your hemp tote bag with everything from earthy kerr pinks to vegetarian Ethiopian street-food from Emye.
You can also enjoy a gorgeous coastal walk from the Choctaw monument to Ballyannon Woods before treating yourself to a tipple at the Jameson Experience, knowing that your whiskey is made with a fusion of renewable energy and 100% local barley.
Stay: Ballymaloe Farm Cottages are quaintly-appointed rustic boltholes which allow you to either avail of East Cork’s regional restaurant scene or rustle up your own creations back at base.
Scenically tucked between Midleton and Ballycotton, Inch Hideaway is a eco-friendly campsite offering an eclectic collection of yurts and wagons with resident sow Doris acting as the on-site food waste management officer.
The Déise took a scenic abandoned rail trail, put a cycle lane on it and in the process took its tourism fortunes up multiple gears. Today, the Waterford Greenway, which stretches 45km from Waterford City to Dungarvan has seen the local economy flourish; sustaining a new fleet of pop-up businesses as well as myriad cafés and restaurants sating famished cyclists.
So successful is its concept, the model is now being planned across the border in East Cork with the newly-planned MY Greenway route from Midleton to Youghal, set to lay tracks next year.
Eat: Dungarvan is peppered with fantastic local-food purveyors from the gastropub gem of Merrys to pet-friendly 360 Cookhouse.
To stay hydrated — 30 participating businesses in Dungarvan allow you to re-fill your own water bottle pro bono, while the town also runs the Conscious Cup Campaign, with participating cafés offering discounts if you use your own cup.
Play: There are a plethora of bike-hire options along the Greenway, with shuttle bus options available for those who wish to peddle one way. As part of Tourism Ireland’s Taste the Island campaign, Food The Waterford Way is also a new countywide initiative where you can embark on local food trails — like tapas nights in Dungarvan, which includes stop-offs in local eateries like Interlude and The Moorings.
Looking for a spa treatment with an eco-edge? Sólás na Mara just down the road in An Rinn offer luxury seaweed baths using locally collected seaweed.
Stay: Where better to stay than in one of the pioneers of Ireland’s slow food movement? The Tannery is not just one of Ireland’s most acclaimed restaurants but, it also offers charming townhouse B&B accommodation with an expectedly delicious local breakfast.
What could connect you with nature even more than a greenway? Why, a blueway, that’s what.
Launched this summer, Suir Blueway offers 53kms of walking, cycling and kayaking trails from Cahir to Carrick-on-Suir.
Expect castles, kingfishers, and rapids en route and with South Tipp being home to Ireland’s bountiful orchard country, this is a go-slow backdrop of golden-delicious proportions.
Eat: Looking for the perfect full Irish? New off the skillet is the Tipperary Breakfast Champions initiative, a collab of a dozen hotels and cafés countywide who include at least five ingredients from the Tipperary Food Producers Network. Brunches at Hickey’s of Clonmel, one of the oldest bakeries in the country, offer the perfect taster.
Given the season that’s in it, don’t forget to pick up one of their legendary barmbracks.
Play: To experience the Blueway at your own pace, you can embark on a glorious kayak tour with outfitters like Pure Adventure, or to explore on two wheels, Blueway Bike Hire offers rentals out of Carrick-on-Suir.
There are also particularly gorgeous walks in the area, particularly from Cahir Castle to the romantic folly of the Swiss Cottage. The region also offers a catalogue of local food tour experiences, from a taste of beekeeping in Galtee Honey Farm to Long Ways Ciders in Carrick-on-Suir for cider brewing tips.
Stay: Set between the Comeragh Mountains and the River Suir, Hotel Minella in Clonmel places a focus on local ingredients, with menus tempting with such fare as deep-fried wedge of Tipperary brie, prime Tipperary sirloin, and local apple pie.
To get in touch with local produce even more, The Apple Farm in Cahir is one of Ireland’s finest campsites, sitting on a real-life orchard with its own artisanal produce shop.
Few regions in Ireland conjure up a more untouched piece of seascape like the Skellig Coast with the region offering a very unplugged pitstop along the buzzing Ring of Kerry.
Play: Waterville’s wonderful Sea Synergy is a marine awareness and activity centre which aims to educate its visitors on the region’s marine wildlife and heritage with a fun range of activities from sea safaris to snorkelling.
If the sea air whets your appetite, the centre also offers guided seashore walks which culminate in Wild Atlantic Tasters platters featuring local coastal treats.
For a different flavour of the coast, Atlantic Irish Seawood offer foraging workshops of the area where you can snack on kelp fresh off the rocks before returning for a seaweed-inspired lunch, lashed down with fruit kefirs and kombuchas.
Eat & Stay: Spanning over five generations, The Smuggler Inn in Waterville is a 200-year-old farmhouse turned sustainability-savvy accommodation and restaurant.
You can hunker down in a spectacular Skellig Coast setting, while cometh the dining hour, Chef Henry Hunt curates a sublime menu of sustainable seafood and local ingredients.
There’s a greener state of mind beaming over Shannonside this year. The city has just been announced as a European Green Leaf City for 2020, an accolade based on a range of eco-criteria, from waste management to noise pollution.
Great green spaces help too: the city’s People’s Park was awarded a green flag this year, which recognises parks across the continent managed in an environmentally friendly fashion. And green spaces equal green thinking. Limerick’s also home to a start-up called EcoStraws, which creates a range of reusable staples from cups to bottles.
Eat: Limerick brings seriously great food to the table. Seasonally-inspired Copia Green eatery in Castletroy aims to use 75% organic Irish produce with goals to become a zero-waste business.
In menu terms, vegan burgers or zucchini, as well as apple and walnut love muffins keep the crowds coming. Elsewhere, dream lunches switch from organic lamb meatballs at Canteen, vegetarian delights at Grove Kitchen, while the Urban Coop, selling organic produce from local famers, makes you wish your hotel had a kitchenette.
Play: For a zero-carbon emission day out, Get Wests offer kayaking tours of Limerick City, navigating iconic sites along the Shannon like King John’s Castle.
The Limerick Civic Trust host walking tours through the city’s most history-rich districts from the Georgian Quarter, while food lovers can join Teacht Linn tours, which savour the best of Limerick’s vibey Milk Market.
Stay: Limerick Strand Hotel are taking measures to reduce their carbon footprint from boasting a kitchen which supports 40 local businesses to staffing duty managers who conduct energy walks (switching off any unused devices).
For a boutique retreat, No. 1 Pery Square features its own kitchen garden, while its Voya Spa uses all organic products.
With travel attitudes increasingly evolving towards a more eco-sensitive adjective, there’s a new wave of businesses both reacting to and inspiring the green trend across Munster.
Raquel Noboa is a hospitality consultant based in the Burren whose company, 50 Shades Greener, advises businesses on how to develop a sustainable green strategy.
“I work with clients on a range of angles, but my speciality is the reduction of utilities, which not only helps reduce business costs but also their carbon footprint,” she explains.
But change goes beyond balancing spreadsheets. Noboa is herself an environmental advocate who’s constantly curating initiatives for the hospitality sector.
She is currently behind the #saucychallenge which is encouraging businesses to reconsider their use of individually wrapped packages for sauces.
“They might sound trivial, but sachets cause 1.6m single-use plastics per day in Ireland alone. Already 128 businesses have made the switch. Small steps make a difference and they’re a visible sign to customers than your business cares.”