COUNTRY walks rarely offer the escaping urban dweller the depth of peace and repose to be found along the well developed trails on the Tipperary side of the Galtee Mountains.
A family enjoying an active, outdoor break of even a few nights in this healing place will return to the daily 9-to-5 puffed full of energy and enthusiasm, and a spirit recharged by simple pleasures.
A first-time visitor to the Aherlow House Hotel & Lodges, I very quickly understood why so many tourists refer to it as an obligatory stop for anyone visiting Ireland. The hotel is a breathtaking, lush (and surprisingly affordable) gem. The approach roads create an equally strong first impression. Rich woodlands await the visitor from the second you leave the busy neighbouring town of Cahir or Tipperary, depending on your angle of approach, and enter the Glen of Aherlow, arrested by the calming speed bumps of smaller towns like Bansha or Galbally. When you reach calm crossroads such as Mourne Abbey or Lisvernane, urban cares are already a distant memory.
We stayed in one of the Aherlow House lodges, a spacious three-bedroom affair with an open plan living space ideal for a breakaway family holiday. As it happens, we invited a friend and still found it very roomy, even with six of us enjoying the warmth of the log fire for a night-cap at the end of each thoroughly enjoyable day.
The lodges come with every mod con, flat screen TV, DVDs, washing machine, fridge and more kitchen tools than we’re normally accustomed to on weekend staycations. The lodge’s rooms are elegant, spacious, spotlessly clean, and the master bedroom even has a balcony that overlooks low-lying woodlands. The grounds are landscaped and charming.
A mild rain falls before we head up to the hotel for food, but as we exit the front door of our lodge, we see our host strolling towards us carrying four umbrellas, which we are invited to use for the duration of our stay. She also gives us discardable plastic capes for our walks the next day. Do we feel welcome? Yes. Cared for? Yes, every need is seen to and all done without any sense of being overwhelmed or suffocated.
As you might expect from a hotel that is a favourite for quality weddings, conferences and banquets, the food is really excellent. On our first night, we opt to stay in the bar, whose reasonably priced menu is available from 12 noon to 9.30pm. Our various selections of steak, salad, pasta and fish dishes all go down a treat, as do the hot ports for the adults and the teenagers’ hot chocolates. We dined in the stylish restaurant on our second night; the experience is truly magnificent, and will live long in the memory.
The hotel’s Winter package offers a good insight into the quite astonishing value on offer here. For €129 per person sharing, Aherlow House offers two nights accommodation, with full Irish breakfast each morning, dinner on one evening in the Treetop Restaurant, a hot toddy each, and a warm picnic (full of warming food and drink) to take with you when exploring the area.
Armed with our plastic capes and walking shoes, we began our first morning with a woodland walk at the foothills of the Galtees. You can choose from a well sign-posted selection of walks, each of which offers a likely duration and some guidance on what you’ll encounter. We opted for a walk of a little over an hour.
The local tourist information office has a wealth of printed matter on local heritage attractions, churches, angling, swimming, golf and caravan and camping sites.
We opted for an hour of horse riding at the Hilcrest Riding Centre, where the trail hit the right balance for the novices and the slightly more adventurous members of the group. For the four of us who participated — a well earned hour off for the mothers! — the activity came to around €56.
Returning to the hotel, we also visited Mandy Parslow’s neighbouring pottery studio. Well worth a visit, the stylish clay items there have their own unique charm. If you offer Mandy enough notice, she may conduct pottery workshops with groups.
I have been in Tipperary many times, but never had the good fortune to veer onto this particular road before. The charm of the people we met and the really incredible quality and value on offer at the Aherlow House Hotel certainly mean that I will be returning in the very near future. The Lodges are remarkable, and the first thing that struck me is that they’d make an ideal venue for a getaway with a group of friends and/or family. We go on group outings of that kind at least once a year, but we’ve always paid a lot more for a far lower quality.
It’s hard to do justice to the quality of food and service offered by the people at Aherlow House, who really make the break feel like a holiday. To put it in context, on the second night there, I enjoyed an Irish Whiskey unlike any I’ve tasted before. I wish I’d ordered it on my first night, but then again it certainly won’t be my last.