Welcome to the Midlands of Ireland which for me, like many visitors, was a place to stop over en route to somewhere else. Until I discovered Wineport Lodge Hotel. This luxury cedar-clad boutique hotel is a heavenly port of pampering, where each of the 29 rooms, all named after a wine or spirit, look out onto the shores of Lough Ree. As I settled into my room, poured a glass of chilled and complimentary Chablis, I knew instantly that one night was not going to be enough.Continue reading “Wineport Lodge Hotel, Ireland”
It’s not every day you meet a Leprechaun Whisperer. And I thought it would be hard to suppress cynical smirks when I did, but when Kevin Woods of Carlingford, County Louth shook my hand firmly, looked me in the eye and gave me one of those smiles which emitted instant kindness and warmth, I could only mirror this and show respect and openness back.Continue reading “It’s not every day you meet a Leprechaun Whisperer”
I had a call from a friend who was stuck in London during the worst of the snow, “You must know how to get me home without flying”, she said. “I need to be back in Dublin tomorrow and every airport in Europe seems to be closed”. Within minutes she was sorted. “ Catch the 9am train from London Euston direct to Holyhead with Virgin Trains, arrives four hours later, then onto 2pm Irish Ferries crossing to Dublin port, arriving just after 5pm. Hop in a cab or shuttle bus, and home and dry in time for tea” I said.
She booked it immediately online via Virgin Trains and Irish Ferries, with last minute rates of £55 sterling for the single train journey and £25 sterling for the one way crossing. She had a lot of work to do on the way, so upgraded to first class on the train, (£97 sterling). This is the best train upgrade around, in my view, with free food and drink the whole way. Enjoy smoked salmon and scrambled eggs as you lash through the Shires, bagels on the border and a glass of something lovely to strengthen the sea legs as you follow the North Wales coastline. With free WI-Fi and generous reclining seats, you won’t want to get off at all. Although to be honest, Virgin’s latest speedy trains are so comfortable, economy feels like first class compared to any of my memories of what was the journey from hell all those years ago when ‘budget’ meant the ‘bus’.
I got a text at 5.15pm from my friend – “just drifting past the South Wall. Best trip home ever. Will never fly again”. This I doubt, but every snow cloud has a silver lining. It’s hard to convince people about the joys of greener, slower travel, unless they actually experience it. You can bring as much luggage as you want, including bikes. You check it all in now, so no lugging it round the ship anymore. You don’t have to hide your make-up bottles either. Even Holyhead terminal is better these days. On a recent trip, a Donegal man who makes the trip six times a year told me, “It breaks my heart.In the old days we begged them for a new terminal and now it’s here, but it’s empty. It used to be a cattle market, dirty and full of drunks”. Sounds like a bad budget airline, I thought.
If you aren’t making a last minute booking, book a Sail and Rail package. This is possible using various methods. If you are travelling out of the UK, go through booking agency Raileasy, and remember to put your home station first, not just Euston, as you can get a through ticket from any station in UK. Do check if you are travelling direct to Dublin Port or Dun Laoghaire, as some services mean you have to change at Crewe or Chester stations. You can’t get a first class ticket on this package, but book well in advance with Virgin Trains (virgintrains.co.uk), and you can get a First Class Single for approx. £50 sterling, with great food and drink served all the way through Wales and England. Note, however, that this is a mid-week deal, and there is no food at weekend, so you are just paying for a bigger seat if travelling Saturdays or Sundays.
If you are travelling from Ireland to UK and want to get a good SailRail package, do this at Irish Rail, either by phone
+ 353 1 8366222 ( Mon to Fri 9-5), email email@example.com, or call in to one of the following Irish Rail stations: Athlone, Ballina, Cork, Drogheda, Claremorris, Dublin Connolly, Dundalk, Ennis, Galway, Killarney, Limerick, Limerick Junction, Longford, Mallow, Mullingar, Sligo, Thurles, Tralee, Tullamore, Waterford, Westport or Wexford.
Or you can do just as my friend did, and book online the night before, roll on, roll off, no bother. I’m not sure she really cares that her carbon footprint was at least half of flying, to be honest. But if she can see that travelling the greener way is a much better experience all round, then it’s a win win. Any other converts can check out all European rail routes with details of journey lengths, transits, and overnight accommodation, as well as green places to stay nearby, at the newly launched www.greentraveller.co.uk
An edited version of this article was fist published in The Irish Times, 16 January 2010
Sadly I can take no credit. Natural Retreats had already been working with Irish tourism experts, to work out the best way to expand into Ireland and maintain their ethos of sustainability at the same time. They started looking at Irish National Park sites, with a view to replicating their already successful English product. And then the credit crunch hit. But this didn’t stop them, realising there was still room for Irish development. The answer was not to build from scratch, but team up with Irish businesses which already had high quality, environmentally sensitive, self-catering accomodation, and which were willing to find new uses and marketing outlets for them. The result is Natural Retreats luxury villas at Parknasilla (as photographed here), County Kerry, Adare Manor, County Limerick, Castlemartyr Resort in County Cork, The K Club in County Kildare and Kilronan Castle Estate in County Roscommon.
I must admit, I was slightly disappointed when I heard that they hadn’t gone out on their own, and had teamed up with prestigious and pricey resorts. However, Kearney was quick to point out that it is a different world we are working in now, rightly saying “Sustainability is the single most important thing for us, and having access to beautiful areas like Parknasilla, for example, where there is already an excellent product, in a stunning location, which we could only dream of having access to, has been amazing!. There are endless activities here which allow visitors to interact with this stunning natural environment, as well as superb local produce to fill our hampers. This has meant we can all still do what we believe in, despite the challenges of this current economic climate”.
Natural Retreats’ empasis is always on local. At their new Irish sites, they have employed local site managers, for example, insisting they are people with excellent local knowledge, and a passion for the landscape, walking, riding, cycling etc. When they told their new partners that they wanted to provide food hampers, one of them voiced concern at not being able to get Yorkshire produce, not realising that when Natural Retreats say local, they really do mean local.
So, if you want to retreat into the luxurious arms of this new ethical ‘blow-in’, check it out for yourself. Because sustainability is not just about renewables and recycling, it is also about saving what we already have, especially the good stuff, and just making it better. If more businesses combined forces like this to fight the crunch, and create more ethical, sustainable products, we would have a lot more to write home about when we get there.
(Article first published in The Irish Times, 25th July 2009)