We are unsure what is more impressive: the beautiful six-acre Victorian walled garden or the first glorious views of Kylemore Abbey itself. The former can be found at the end of a calm, rustic walk and offer an array of ordered, manicured flower and vegetable beds neatly lined up against the background of Connemara mountains. The latter is – and there really is no other word for it – stunning, with its high-reaching Gothic architecture and its associated Gothic Church, which was built by Mitchell Henry in memory of his wife, Margaret. Fear not if you’re peckish or tired after visiting one or both of these visitor attractions – the Kylemore Kitchen is on hand to provide sustenance and rest!
Let’s hear it for this family-run restaurant that has recently celebrated its 30th birthday. Located on Clifden’s main thoroughfare, and housed in a turn-of-the-century building, Mitchell’s has two floors with open fires on each. When we visited on a bright late autumn day, it was quiet, but the room was as warm as the reception we received. The menu is mostly fish-oriented (which makes perfect sense, considering the town’s proximity to the coast: our starter of seafood chowder was intensely flavoursome, while the house fish pie was enough to last us well into the evening. What about those grilled oysters, steamed mussels, smoked fish board and the seafood platter? No problem – we’ll be back for those soon enough.
If it isn’t possible to prise money out of your account to stay at this beautiful luxury, award-winning castle hotel (set in a secluded 700-acre estate of walks, woodlands and rivers), then the least you can do is call in for dinner at one of the hotel’s two options. The first is the Fisherman’s Pub & Ranji Room (6pm-9pm), which showcases Connemara-sourced produce in a casual/informal setting that evokes Olde Worlde environments. The second is the Owenmore Restaurant (6.30pm-9.30pm), which has an elegant if relaxed atmosphere that mirrors the refined food on offer. Alongside the food, the views from the Owenmore across the impressive salmon river are as mindful as they are majestic. When it gets too dark to see anything outside, cast your gaze inward at the room’s (mostly Irish) art collection, which includes works by Jack Yeats, Gerard Dillon, and Louis le Brocquay. One word: sumptuous.
Quite the perfect retreat for a few days in the West, Lough Inagh Lodge snuggles into the mountainous landscape (Mam Turks and Twelve Bens) that envelops it. Originally a fishing lodge (of which there are reminders dotted throughout), there are 13 decent-sized rooms here, several of which are finished to a deluxe standard. We stayed in one of the latter (the Patrick Kavanagh Room) and can testify to its high standard, while the two reading rooms (complete with open fires) and dining area are warm, welcoming and incredibly soothing. The lodge closes mid-December and reopens mid-March (just in time for St Patrick’s Day week/weekend).
A very smart if compact coffee shop as well as the stockist of numerous house-roasted coffee beans (skillfully chosen from sustainable growers and roasted in small batches to meticulous profiles), 12 Pins’ founder (John T Nagle) and staff have the authority to state that good coffee isn’t good enough – it has to be great. Factor in additional fare such as a refreshing cup of tea (everything from China Jasmine to Organic Rooibos) and the temptation of chocolate (why ever not?), and you have a restorative treat just waiting for you, your family and friends. NB: a recently opened 12 Pins shop can also be found at Quay House, Letterfrack Pier.
Overlooking Roundstone harbour with widescreen views of Roundstone Bay and the Twelve Bens mountain range, O’Dowd’s is the stop-off spot you need to pay attention to when you’re in this neck of the luxuriant woods. The establishment has been run by the O’Dowd family for almost 120 years, while the bar section has been on the premises since 1840 (making it, it is generally believed, to be the oldest pub in Connemara). Latterly, it is the splendid seafood restaurant that has been making it just as worth your while to call in. Open all year round (except for Christmas Day, which seems more than fair!) from 5pm-9.30pm, it is advisable to call ahead to reserve a table, especially during summer and holiday periods. The associated café, meanwhile, offers moreish snacks/coffees/teas, and is open during the winter months at the owner’s discretion (it re-opens fully from March to October).
Located eight kilometres northeast of Clifden, and several kilometres from Letterfrack, Cottage Handcrafts is a family-operated business that started in 1975. While the cottage itself is the epitome of the words ‘quaint’ and ‘charming’, its wares are up-to-the-minute displays of the best of Irish design and craftsmanship. From traditional Aran sweaters and modern capes to handmade pottery and the renowned Connemara marble – as well as local artwork and crafts – this little shop has a big heart and deserves a swing by.
Powers, Main Street, Oughterard
You might too easily zip through Oughterard’s Main Street but it’s unlikely you’ll miss Powers, with its burgundy red door, whitewashed walls exterior and traditionally thatched roof. Following a decade of unoccupancy (from 2004-2014), since reopening the pub has been subjected to nothing but praise from residents and visitors alike. The Guinness (and Guinness Zero, if you’re driving) is smooth and creamy, while the food offerings are generous as much as they are tasty. The atmosphere? This is a real traditional Irish pub full of authenticity. Go see and experience.
48 Hours in Connemara
By Tony Clayton Lea
My travel writing is published in numerous print and online publications, including Cara (the award-winning Aer Lingus in-flight magazine, of which I have twice been editor), Business Post Magazine, and The Taste.ie, Ireland’s leading food/travel website.