Who needs the hassle of flying? Deirdre Reynolds enjoys the ease of a staycation at the Clanree Hotel in Co Donegal.
WHEN it comes stress-free holidays, for me, it’s all about staycation, staycation, staycation. Forget searching for the passport, wrestling with your belt at security and battling jet lag; just throw a change of clothes into the boot of the car and off you go.
As kids on our summer holidays, we never went anywhere you couldn’t drive to within three hours.
And despite travelling the globe in the meantime, I’ve always had a soft spot for holidaying at home.
So it was one drizzly Saturday morning recently that our very modern ‘family of two’ swapped boarding passes for the border county of Donegal on staycation.
Go (North) west
Despite the fact that we live on an island just 275 kilometres wide and 486 kilometres long, getting lost is still a distinct possibility for city slickers who dig out the passport to brave a few days ‘down the country’.
But there’s no fear of getting lost as you leave the Big Smoke behind for the comfort of The Clanree in Letterkenny.
In fact, the four-star hotel is one of the first things you see as you cruise into Donegal’s Cathedral Town. Spanning 236 clicks cross-country, we took the N2 all the way from the capital, splashing around on €70 on fuel to get there and back.
Even though there was really no need for a sat nav, my gadget-obsessed other half insisted on leaving ‘Mrs Google’ on full blast for the three-hour journey.
Needless to say, by the time we got there, I was just about ready for the unwinding spa treatment I was booked in for.
Check-in, chill out
Having arrived uncharacteristically early, our room wasn’t quite ready yet, but one of the hotel’s friendly receptionists let us check in anyway and magicked our bags upstairs while we slunk off to McGettigan’s Pub for a pre-treatment tipple.
The international hotel and bar chain took over the running of the property back in 2013.
And its world-famous blend of above-par pub grub, perfectly-pulled pints and laid-back surrounds is clearly proving popular with both locals and visitors alike.
Now normally, getting trapped in a country hotel with a cacophonous wedding party would be my worst nightmare.
But I wasn’t too bothered when a crowd of scrubbed-up guys and girls piled into the pub shortly after our arrival.
With 120 en-suite bedrooms and a function room that can hold up to 600 people, the sprawling establishment is big enough to cater for both revellers and relaxers — so we said ‘I Do’ to another drink.
Relax to the max
Just above the swimming pool on the first floor, you’ll find the cosy-but-chic Fuchsia Beauty Salon tucked away behind the fitness centre.
As more of a beauty junkie than a gym junkie, I was only too happy to breeze past the treadmill for a spot of pampering instead.
After chatting with proprietor Margaret Rose McFadden, I plumped for the classic pick-me-up facial (€30), which more than lived up to the name — transforming my skin from fatigued to fabulous in 60 minutes; while himself went for the more manly neck and back massage (€30), and also gave it the thumbs up.
As well as facials and massages, Margaret offers a whole range of beauty services including waxing, spray-tanning and make-up application.
And with prices starting from just €6 for a lip wax, there’s no excuse not to look your best in the North West.
Check out the full treatment menu at www.clanreehotel.com/fuchsia-beauty.
Wine and dine
Getting spoiled is hungry work so we booked in for a slap-up meal at the hotel’s Aileach Restaurant that night. The elegant restaurant gets its name from the Grianan of Aileach, an ancient stone fort in Inishowen, about an hour away.
After gorging on all three courses, coincidentally, I rather resembled a ring fort around the middle too.
Both herbivores, we were a bit disappointed to find just one vegetarian main on the menu, compared to seven meat and fish dishes.
Happily, chef Keith Logue had us eating our words with an impossibly creamy vegetable risotto. Bookended by a faultless goat’s cheese starter and shared selection of ice-cream, it was well worth the three-hour drive.
Hungover wedding guests mostly stuck to tradition by going for the full Irish at breakfast the next morning.
From healthy porridge to fresh pancakes though, there was lots of offer for non sausage lovers too
Climb every mountain
After a sound night’s sleep in a bed you could park a bus in, we decided to lace up to explore the stunning Donegal countryside. Between mystical Mount Errigal, Lough Derg’s timeless pilgrimage and wind-swept Malin Head, it’s little wonder that the border county is considered something of a trekker’s paradise.
Still stuffed from brekkie, we settled on a lazy Sunday stroll through spectacular Glenveagh National Park — a picture-postcard swathe of undulating mountains, glistening lakes and Tolkienesque forests.
Despite despite dark clouds dangling dangerously overhead, we ambled the 3.5 kilometres from the visitor centre to the jewel in the crown of Ireland’s second largest national park, Glenveagh Castle and Gardens.
Clocking up another few thousand steps on the pedometer on the way back to the car, I was pretty pleased with myself.
Until we stopped off at Errigal, that is, and saw muddied climbers twice our age sprinting back down.
Next time, I’ll bring the hiking boots. Honest.
Once a small market town, Letterkenny has certainly hung onto its ‘shop ’til you drop’ credentials over the years.
With numerous retail parks and shopping centres, all the high street heroes such as Penneys, Heatons and Marks and Sparks are present and correct. But there are lots of independent fashion boutiques and coffee shops to discover in Donegal’s commercial hub too.
Don’t forget to hang onto a few quid for accommodation.
Although with austerity-busting packages starting from €65 per person, The Clanree won’t put too much of a dent in your credit card anyhow.
You can escape to the Forgotten County for two nights bed and breakfast, a three-course evening meal and full use of the leisure facilities for just €109 per person this autumn. Throw in free late check-out and complimentary WiFi, and it’s practically a done deal! clanreehotel.com
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