As summer makes shapes and scattered days of sunshine roll in, a staycation in our beautiful little country feels all the more tempting. That said, there are some parts of Ireland which shine even when the sun is refusing to make an appearance. The Burren, our very own UNESCO jewel, is one such place and in recent years has blossomed into a food tourism destination all of it’s own.
The breath-taking scenery in County Clare isn’t the only thing worth taking in on a trip to the Banner county, with an abundance of delicious eateries, stunning hotels and quaint bars to keep you well fed and entertained. Just a 2 hour drive from Dublin, why wouldn’t you hop in the car to explore these Western gems?
Sheedy’s Country House Hotel
Whiskey and Bailey’s in your porridge? Um yes. If you have a big day of exploring planned, you need to fuel up appropriately at brekkie – whether it’s boozy porridge or a perfectly cooked Full Irish employing locally sourced sausages and black pudding. Sheedy’s Country House holds 2 AA Rosettes for culinary excellence and serves deliciously simple Irish breakfast, which handily is open to non-residents as well as guests.
Hazel Mountain Chocolate Cafe
If, like me, you feel breakfast should be a sweet start to the day, Hazel Mountain Chocolate Café needs to be on the top of your list for your visit to the Banner County. A bean to bar chocolate factory and café, Hazel Mountain has at it’s helm owner Kasha Connolly, who is also the brains behind the delectable cookbook The Burren Wild Baker.
Needless to say the chocolatey creations on offer are as out of this world as the Cliffs of Moher on a sunny day, but interesting savoury options also include a cacao black pudding toastie – ideal breakfast fare, plus the café serves a seriously tempting range of gluten and dairy free baked goods too. Start your day with a slice of saintly indulgence and undo all your good work with a mug of some of the finest hot chocolate on this Isle. Bliss. And don’t forget to stock up on their bespoke truffles to gift to friends. Wink.
The Copper Pot Artisan Bakery, Liscannor
Run by the former owners of the renowned Sea Salt Café in Doolin, Fabiola and Adam, The Copper Pot is a fantastic recent addition to the Clare Café scene and for the cake fiends among us, it is a must visit. Here you will find patisserie creations which wouldn’t look out of place in a Parisian Boulangerie window, rustic artisan breads and scones in every delicious combination going.
The Copper Pot is the kind of place you pop into for breakfast and end up leaving laden down with baked beauties for later in the day – ideal for building a picnic basket, but we’ll get back to that. The cherry on top of this gem? They serve Anam Coffee, locally (and lovingly) roasted locally in Kilfenora by Brian O’Briain.
The Larder Deli
Ballyvaughan’s Larder Deli is a true local hero, showcasing some of the fantastic produce crafted all over The Burren region as well as a seriously impressive selection of sourdough breads made by local man Pino Mele. From Sprouted Grain to Spelt, pick these up on a Saturday if you can.
They also serve hearty salad plates – think Lentil and St. Tola or Carrot and Sesame Seed – and lunch here will keep you going and put a smile on your face. Top Tip: don’t leave without sampling their homemade Burren pork and apple sausage rolls – deliciousness all wrapped up in golden puff.
Ballyvaughan Farmers’ Market on Saturdays
A hub comprising some of the most talented and dedicated artisan producers in the region, Ballyvaughan Farmers’ Market is an ideal spot to pick up some goodies to take on a gourmet picnic. Each Saturday from May to October,between the hours of 10am and 2pm, visitors can expect to find a wonderful range of hand-crafted foods such as preserves, jellies and honey as well as the finest local produce from treasures from the Atlantic to artisan cheese.
The Burren Smokehouse
If you’re taking my advice and braving the elements to take lunch with a view on the Cliffs of Moher, a pitstop to The Burren Smokehouse means you can pick up some of their incredible wood-fire smoked salmon and mackerel to add to the bread you picked up in the Copper Pot. Birgita Hedin-Curtin and her husband Peter are not unlike Burren Food royalty, and their contribution to the artisan movement here is immense. You can also take a class in smoking your own fish here, if you should like your salmon with a side of knowledge.
The Wild Honey Inn
A Michelin Bib Gourmand holder and recently named Best Restaurant in Munster 2017 at the RAI awards, The Wild Honey Inn is worth a dedicated trip to Clare, but beware, this is a petite eatery with just a handful of tables, so booking ahead is a must.
If you manage to get a table, expect to be rewarded with rustic dishes composed of the best ingredients The Burren has to offer. The menu is crafted by chef-owner Aidan McGrath, who runs the celebrated restaurant with his partner Kate Sweeney, and is dotted with showcases of ‘Ireland’s Natural Larder’, locally sourced from the land and sea.
Vaughans Anchor Inn
With some of the finest Wild Atlantic Way seafood on their doorstep, lovely Liscannor is home to some of the country’s best crab and lobster, so Vaughan’s Anchor Inn is a must on your Clare bucket list. Vaughan’s is a relaxed family-run spot serving lunch and dinner in a casual, unpretentious setting and their menu is very much anchored in local seafood.
Head Chef Denis Vaughan’s impressive surf and turf offerings include temptations such as Butter Poached Liscannor Lobster with Slow Cooked Crispy Pork Belly and Sautéed Scallops, Homemade Black Pudding & Crab Finger. Equally ,those wishing to stick to Liscannor’s finest sea bounty can enjoy a simple but stunning seafood platter with Galway Bay oysters, Liscannor crab claws and whole prawns.
The Burren Storehouse
The Burren Storehouse is run by the aforementioned royalty of The Burren food scene, the Curtins, and is a micro-brewery cum casual eatery where the emphasis is entirely placed on outstanding produce treated with respect. Wood-fired pizzas, craft beer and utterly cool vibes, this is a casual eatery where they are far from casual about creating crave-worthy food.
Burren lamb gets the charcoal treatment, oysters served are the delicious petite specimens from the nearby Flaggy Shore and platters of various delights from around the region abound. You may be sitting on a picnic bench, but you will feast like a king here.
O’Lochlainn’s Whiskey Bar
If sipping on Irish whiskey in an old man style den is your idea of the perfect night out (guilty!), O’Lochlainn’s in Ballyvaughan is the perfect watering hole for you. If it was good enough for one of Hollywood’s biggest names, Stephen Spielberg, then it is surely good enough to earn a spot on your list of must-visits. Expect tin whistles, fiddles and one of the most extensive collections of uisce beatha on this fine isle, with 300 bottles on display.
You mightn’t expect to find one of the coolest new spots in Ireland in the wilds of Ennistymon but Pot Duggans would take you by surprise. A new venture from Bodytonic, the lovely people behind the likes of The Big Grill Fest and Eatyard, Pot Duggans will serve a range of carefully selected craft beers and bespoke cocktails like the West Clare Julep and The Michael Collins.
If the sun is shining on beautiful county Clare, the Pot Duggans beer garden is likely to be the place to see and be seen and will be home to markets, trad sessions and talks to accompany your drinks, as well as classic bar snacks like cheese toasties, Tayto and the legendary Club Milk. Definitely one to watch.
There are few venues in Ireland quite as evocative of a fairy-tale as Dromoland Castle, and if your trip to Clare is a celebratory one, a stay here is the perfect way to spoil your loved one. Steeped in history and the former residence of Brian Boru’s ancestors, the Kings of Thomond, five star Dromoland is fit for royalty. Expect plush furnishings, roaring fireplaces, four poster beds and stand-alone baths to indulge your inner royal.
The Earl of Thomond Restaurant, archery and falconry classes, romantic boat trips on the lake, one of the finest parkland golf courses in the country and a state of the art spa mean you may not want to explore beyond the gates of this opulent 400 acre hideaway – but a night here is one you will never forget.
A culinary destination hotel that seems to fly under the radar, Gregan’s Castle is an elegant Blue Book property which seamlessly blends contemporary decor with classic charm. Add to that the fact that Gregan’s Castle is home to RAI 2017 Best Hotel Restaurant in Ireland under the watchful eye of the talented David Hurley (and formerly The Greenhouse’s Mickael Viljanen) and you are on to a guaranteed winning getaway.
The Armada Hotel
It would be a shame to be tucked away from the sheer beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way on your trip, so why not wake up to views across the sea in The Armada Hotel? Sea view rooms are just a stone’s throw from the water offer unrivaled views and king size beds to gaze out across the ocean from in style. The Tranquility Suites at the Armada also offer free-standing baths looking out at the waves crashing in….bliss.