“If it’s good enough for Pippa Middleton, it’s good enough for me” my Mum joked when I let her know I was whisking her on a midweek break to Eccles Hotel in beautiful Glengarriff, West Cork.
I was oblivious to the fact that the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister had attended a wedding in the hotel just a few weeks before, more excited about exploring one of Ireland’s most scenic drives and hopefully having time to return back to Gougane Barra, one of my favourite spots on earth.
West Cork has always been a special place for me, having spend most of my summer holidays when I was young down in Baltimore leaping of piers or sailing out to a small selection of Carbery’s One Hundred Isles.
I thought I knew this part of Ireland pretty well until we arrived in Glengarriff and i realised this is a part of my home county I had failed to explore. The view from Eccles Hotel upon check in was magical, the soft evening light reflecting on the bay.
The village itself, with just 800 inhabitants, has an unprecedented level of charm which has to be experienced to be believed. The town takes great pride in keeping all the shops, cafes and restaurants freshly painted in bright, cheerful colours while hanging flower baskets and perfectly planted flower beds lines the main street.
What makes Glengarriff stand out, in my eyes, is how the small village is a meeting point for rivers, forests, mountains and the Irish sea. Surrounded by hills of green, the water in the bay changes colour throughout the day, while a thick mist can be seen creeping in early each morning before the sun (if it makes an appearance) burns it off. The sea mist, combined with the peaceful and sleepy atmosphere of the village, create the most relaxed setting for an Irish escape.
It’s small enough that everyone knows everyone else – and the woman you served you in the local pharmacy may well be the same woman who comes to the hotel to give you your full body massage.
My Mum was on a mission to discover some secret treasures in the village and was delighted when a local directed her to Cromwell’s Bridge, a single derelict arch covered with foliage that dates back to the 17th century and stands over a river just outside the village.
A must visit part of Glengarriff is the famous Blue Pool, a secret harbour hidden behind a small woods right in the centre of town. Locals come here for late afternoon walks, for picnics and for swimming – regardless of the weather! Surrounded by lush and colourful vegetation, The blue Pool was formed where the river meets the sea, and complete with a small rapids and waterfall, it is a truly magical place.
One of the top day trips from Glengarriff, if you can find it in your heart to leave this beautiful spot, is to take the ferry out to Garnish Island. This unique garden island is world-renowned for its beautiful gardens and walks, and the large seal colony that lives nearby.
A sheltered harbour and the nearby gulf stream has resulted in a unique micro climate where exotic plants grow here that may not grow anywhere else in the British Isles. The ferry ride out there is always enjoyable and the area is renowned for its bird watching – with locals often spotting very rare species.
Once we had tired ourselves from a full day of adventures, we headed back to our room with a view at the Eccles Hotel and enjoyed what my Mum says was “one of the best meals she’s ever eaten”. I had to agree with her and couldn’t believe that a hotel I had never heard of before had some sort of wizard chef working behind the scenes to cook meat the almost impossible level of perfection where it melts in your mouth and transports you to a dream foodie world. All sourced locally, and complete with lots of fresh vegetables and a dreamy dessert – I would actually return to Eccles just for their dinner!
On our final morning we drove to nearby Gougane Barra, a church and lake that my friends must think I’m obsessed with as I visit it each time I’m home, always taking the exact same photo of the church reflecting perfectly on the lake – and enjoying every moment.
What many of my friends might not know is that Gougane Barra holds a special place in the heart. My Dad actually brought my Mum here the day they got married, a pre-honeymoon escape. Years before that, it was a favourite retreat for my Grandpa and even his father, dating back almost a hundred years, used to travel down to this lush, lakeside haven.
My mum and I ventured around to a side of the lake we don’t normally visit and discovered the prettiest Clapper Bridge – a bridge made out of large flat stones that pilgrims used to cross rivers on their pilgrimage from Cork city to St Finbar’s Oratory in Gougane Barra. To walk in their footsteps even just for a few kilometers, and to even try to imagine the hardship they encountered on these long and solitary journeys was an eye-opening experience.
It’s incredible the fun you can have and the amount of history you can learn about your own backyard if only you take the time to really open your eyes, ask questions and take it all in.
I thoroughly enjoyed my mini staycation in Glengarriff, be it sitting by the open fire each evening reading a book at Eccles Hotel, misty morning walks around the bay, or learning about the history of the area. While West Cork has always been one of my secret hideaways, and there are many beautiful towns and villages to discover, there’s just something special about Glengarriff.
WHERE TO STAY: My Mum and I stayed at Eccles Hotel, which has the most beautiful location overlooking the bay. I believe it has been recently renovated and there are lots of bright new rooms with great views. As mentioned, their main restaurant is well worth the visit alone, and they also have a small bar with bar food and offer spa treatments from Voya Spa. you can even get a seaweed wrap from locally sourced seaweed! Prices start from €90 per room this Autumn.