A fairytale castle is the perfect spot for an enchanting mid-week break, writes Grainne McGuinness.
Can there be another place in Ireland as under appreciated as Leitrim? I’m 34 and our trip to Lough Rynn last week was my first time ever setting foot in the county.
When I told people I was going there, the response from many was, “Really, why?” Some assumed it must be for a family occasion.
But we were going for a fun midweek break and Leitrim of the lakes delivered that in spades.
Unfortunately, this being Ireland, we arrived on a chilly afternoon, but not even a grey sky could take away from the beauty of the grounds and building of Lough Rynn Castle.
The castle, built in the early 1800s and surrounded by a 300 acre estate, was home to the infamous landlord, the third Lord Leitrim, ambushed and killed in 1878 after years of abuse towards his tenants.
Thankfully, since it opened as a hotel in 2006, the mock tudor manor house has become known for more positive reasons, including the wedding of Brian O’Driscoll and Amy Huberman in 2010.
We were warmly greeted and shown to a beautiful room overlooking gardens that fell away to the lake itself.
Two sports-mad philistines that we are, our only initial concern were that the room didn’t appear to have a TV - a catastrophe on a Champions League semi-final night.
But closer inspection revealed what looked like a gilt edged mirror set high over the mantelpiece was in fact a flat screen with all the football we could want available at a click.
However a trip to the Sandstone restaurant quickly made us forget all about Messi and company.
We were presented with a fabulous three course meal, as well as a foie gras mousse to tickle our tastebuds and coconut sorbet to cleanse our palates between starter and main.
There wasn’t a single part of the meal we were disappointed with, but the prize had to go to my starter.
Perfect roasted quail was accompanied by a quail Scotch egg, the egg still soft in the middle and wrapped in breaded white pudding.
Service with the meal was polished and friendly and we found the same to be true both mornings at breakfast, where a broad selection of fruit, yoghurts and cereals was followed by a hot breakfast of your choice.
The smoked salmon and scrambled eggs were a particular hit with my other half.
Lough Rynn boasts walled gardens and the aforementioned lake, as well as a library, bar and drawing room if you prefer indoor relaxation, so you could happily pass a day of total indolence without leaving the grounds.
There is also a new attraction for history buffs in the grounds of Lough Rynn itself. The Farnaught Lime Kiln is the latest addition to Leitrim’s heritage tourism trail.
The lime kiln, the only one of its kind in the region, has been brought back to its original state using local material and tradespeople. The restoration pays homage to Leitrim craftsmen of the past.
Co Leitrim has a number of geo-tourism sites under development that have been supported by the Border Uplands Project under the EU INTERREG IVA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.
As first-time visitors to the county we were keen to explore further, so we headed to Leitrim village for some outdoor activities.
Whether you prefer your adventures on water or land you are catered for in the pretty little village just a short drive from Lough Rynn.
We explored the area on electric bikes provided by Electric Bike Trails. If you haven’t tried an electric bike before, I urge you to do so immediately. They are an idle explorer’s dream.
If you want to bring home an impressive looking collection of holiday snaps with minimal effort, this is the way to do it.
You pedal these exactly as you would a push bike, but if you get lazy or are faced with a climb; you just push a button for a boost and glide along.
In less than two hours we covered miles of ground in a loop around Sheemore Hill. Thankfully the sun came out to allow us enjoy the scenery, and in the afternoon cycle we felt we barely scratched the surface.
Eileen and Maurice Gibbons who run Electric Bike Trails arrange bike rides ranging from short spins to full day treks, and can provide picnics for cyclists who want to make an outing of it.
They have electric bikes for adults and children, and also sidecars so those too small to pedal can still go along.
Water lovers are also well provided for in the village, with Leitrim Surf. The company specialises in stand up paddleboarding and does guided tours on the Shannon as well as surf lessons in Tullaghan, which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Probably the most notable feature about County Leitrim is that there are lakes and rivers around every corner, so Lee Guckian’s tours are a great way to explore the area from a different vantage point.
We had worked up big appetites during our day exploring Leitrim, and that evening headed to nearby Jamestown to dine in a small restaurant with a big reputation, simply called The Cottage.
Chef Sham Hanifa has brought an Asian influence to bear on fresh Irish produce, including some ingredients grown by the restaurant themselves in their polytunnel.
Sham is building a serious reputation in the culinary scene in Ireland, including taking the runner-up spot in this year’s 32 county chowder cook-off in Kinsale. Impressive stuff from a restaurant 50 miles from the nearest coastline.
The meal we were presented with was exquisite. Each dish was well thought out and perfectly prepared. My husband’s starter of duck involved the poultry prepared three ways.
A breast was perfectly cooked medium rare and sliced, alongside duck foie gras served with wine jelly and duck crackling.
Similarly, for my lamb main course, pink juicy chops in a rack of lamb would have been a delicious meal on their own, but a pan-fried lamb liver turned the meal into something very special.
We didn’t really need desserts after the meal, but couldn’t resist trying the Jack Daniels and Coke dessert. Presented in a large Coca Cola glass, whiskey-soaked layers of cake were served on a base of coke jelly and topped with cream.
Everything was beautifully presented and, with starters between €12-€15 and mains between €20-€25, the Cottage offers a fine dining experience at a very reasonable cost.
My first time in Leitrim ended with a promise to myself that it wouldn’t be my last. There was far too much to do and see for a two night break to be enough to do this lovely county justice.
For more e information on Leitrim go to www.leitrimtourism.com.
Contact Lee Guckian of Leitrim Surf at 086-3494013 or go to www.leitrimsurf.ie Contact Eileen Gibbons or Electric Bike Trails at 087-7386439 or go to http://www.electricbiketrails.com
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