County Donegal Road Trip: Day 1
Dinner at Danny Minnie's near GweedoreWe arrived in Donegal from Dublin on a Friday evening and drove straight to dinner at Danny Minnie's, a highly rated restaurant not far from Donegal Airport. The exterior of the pub was ivy covered and quaint. We passed through the red door into a rustic interior. We were seated in the living room for a drink and canapes. We passed hunting prizes mounted on the wall on the way to the dining room. The meal was well prepared and delicious.
Our meal at Danny Minnie's featured:
- grilled goat's cheese with roasted peppers on tomato and fennel bread.
- duck liver pate, toasted brioche and red currant port sauce.
- chicken breast with saffron, lemon, and asparagus risotto.
- baked salmon with basil cream sauce.
- two kinds of potatoes and vegetables.
Where to Stay in DonegalDuring our weekend road trip to Donegal, we stayed in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) part of the county at An Chiurt Hotel. The classic breakfast room looked out onto a lovely river and meadow. We stepped outside after breakfast to get a closer look. Gorgeous! We did find one unusual feature at the An Chiurt Hotel: an animatronic cowboy sitting in a display window. I wonder what stories he could tell. Before turning in for the night, we decided to take a quick closer look at the Donegal landscape surrounding the hotel. An iron fence stood open and beckoned us closer. We picked our way down a gentle slope to the edge of the river and were rewarded with striking views of Mt. Errigal in the distance. Gnarled trees stood as sentinels along the river bank.
County Donegal Road Trip: Day 2
The Western Coast of DonegalDonegal is known for pristine beaches so we drove from Gweedore to the western coast. We pulled over in Dungloe and admired a makeshift pier. We pressed on to the beach at Narin. We walked out onto the silky sand. We kicked off our shoes and approached the water. The sea in this remote corner of Donegal was crystal clear. We were amazed by the ripples in the sand just below the surface. The sound of the wind and waves was incredibly peaceful.
Ardara TownWe drove on to Ardara, the tweed capital of Donegal. We soon saw why this was the case. There were sheep everywhere in a pasture around the town. We popped into Sheila's Coffee 'n Cream near the tourism office to refuel. We sat outside and once again saw a large tractor blaze by. We quickly turned our attention to our plate which was loaded with apple pie and fresh cream. A strong cappuccino completed the picture. We walked a bit further into Ardara Town after our snack past a spooky cemetery. We finished our whistle-stop tour of Ardara with a look at Triona, a lovely shop known for tweeds and other knits. The selection and quality was quite good here. However, I didn't end up buying anything as it was hard to get in the mood to try on warm tweed blazers when the sun was shining and air was summery and warm; a gorgeous Spring day in Donegal.
Ardara BeachDefinitely take advantage of local tourist offices to discover places to visit in Donegal. The tourism office in Ardara told us about a beautiful beach not far outside of town. We followed a very narrow winding road which seemed to be headed toward the end of the world. We arrived on the beach and were impressed by the black craggy formations. Colorful lichen clung to the surfaces creating rich textures. We looked out past the rocks to the deep blue water beyond. We noticed small shells firmly embedded in the stone. We sat back on a tall rock formation away from the water that was protected a bit from the wind and set up a picnic lunch for ourselves.
In the distance we could see the only other two people on this Donegal beach and what seemed to be a farm beyond. I hiked over to the farm, climbed a grassy hill and stood face to face with a cow and her calf. Papa was standing watch nearby. I headed back to the edge of the hill and made my way back to the beach below. I picked my way carefully through the rocks. I splashed through a small stream tumbling down the hill. I stopped to appreciate the colorful wildflowers nestled in the rocks before heading back to the car to continue our 3 day Donegal road trip to our next destination. The next part of the drive featured rolling hills that seemed to go on for miles. We stopped at a rest area to take a picture. I made the mistake of climbing over the rock wall to stand in the grassy field. The grass was covering a rather thick oily goo...I retreated behind the safety of the rock wall to admire the view before moving on.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Donegal's neighbor, County Sligo, is also worth a visit. Take a road trip in Sligo inspired by the poetry of W.B. Yeats or find out why Sligo is for foodies.
Slieve League CliffsWe drove on to Slieve League, also known as Sliabh Liag in Irish, the premier natural attraction in this part of Donegal. In my opinion, Slieve League Cliffs ranks among the best places to visit in Donegal...period. We spotted a mama sheep and her lamb outside the fence by the side of the road. We parked our car and walked along the railing to have a look at the cliffs. Slieve League is even more impressive but much less well-known than the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. We practically had the place to ourselves. We planned to take a bit of a hike around Slieve League but first things first...ice cream! After enjoying our cone, we set off along a steep path up the rocks. We caught a glimpse of the desk and chair rock formation. We continued our ascent battling vigorous winds. After declaring victory at the top and drinking in the sweeping views, we made our way back down to the parking area and drove on our way.
KillybegsAfter our stop at Slieve League, we wound our way down narrow rocky roads towards Killybegs. A lonely stranded vessel caught our eye. I loved the long-haired sheep that we found hanging out at the side of the road. We soon found ourselves in town and took a brief walk around the Killybegs harbour. The sunshine and blue skies really made the colored vessels pop from the background. We noted something bobbing in the water and stopped to take a closer look. We were delighted to find a playful seal waving at us. It appeared for just a moment and then dove deep and out of sight giving us our cue to move on and continue our Donegal road trip.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Did you know that Donegal neighbors Northern Ireland? In an hour or so, you can drive from Donegal Town to Northern Ireland to explore all the cool things to do in Derry.
Donegal TownWe ended the day's drive in Donegal Town. Old castles and church structures stood out among the newer buildings. We stopped at the Olde Castle Bar for a small glass of beer (since I was driving!) and a bite to eat.
County Donegal Road Trip: Day 3
Glenveagh National Park and Glenveagh CastleWe set off early on Sunday by car for Glenveagh National Park. We drove past Mt Errigal which somehow seemed less imposing up close. We pulled off at a view point to look into the valley below. We soon arrived at the national park and walked through a long trellised tunnel to the entrance. We had limited time to spend here and thus splurged on a ride to the castle. We piled into a van with a group of German tourists and drove past an idyllic lake. We were dropped in front of the door at Glenveagh Castle.
Our tour of the premises wasn't scheduled to start for an hour so we took the time to explore the extensive gardens. I particularly liked the colorful blooms. We passed into an area close to Glenveagh Castle itself. We even discovered the gardener's cottage tucked away in a corner. The house and gardens were set against a more windswept and barren hilly terrain. The grounds of Glenveagh Castle are like a bit of an oasis. We admired Glenveagh Castle from an elevated vantage point. We walked down close to the lake and admired the castle from below. There was even a pool (no longer in use) that practically spills out into the lake. Traditional Italian gardens with Roman inspired statues were tucked away in the forest surrounding the building.
By now our tour was about to begin. We peeked into a fine greenhouse before meeting our guide to lead us through the castle. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside. Highlights included: a deer motif, entry hallway lined with hundreds of seashells hand-glued to the wall, and a lovely music room with a classic harp. After our tour, we took a final look at the lake and then headed back to the car to continue our road trip to the north coast of Donegal.
Dunfanaghy Town and BeachThe final stop of our 3 day weekend in Donegal was at Dunfanaghy. After our extensive tour of Glenveagh Castle and surrounding gardens, we decided that some nourishment was in order. We spotted a decadent chocolate cake at Muck n Muffins. We ordered coffee, a sandwich, and a slice of cake to share. Re-energized, we sought out the nearby beach. We were impressed with the variety of beaches in Donegal. We'd previously seen the quiet, rippling beach at Narin and the rocky and windswept beach near Ardara. The beach near Dunfanaghy featured impressive sand dunes. We slipped off our shoes and walked through the sand toward the water. The waves lapped vigorously against the shore. We splashed into the cold water and looked back at the dunes one last time. We jumped back into the car and made haste toward the airport and our flight back to Dublin.
Thanks again to the Donegal Airport, Flybe (airline operating flights between Dublin and Donegal at the time of our trip). and the An Chiurt Hotel for the prize we won at the Dublin Holiday World show in January and for giving us the chance to explore the highlights of Donegal in 3 short days. We couldn't have asked for a better weekend getaway!