It’s Ireland’s forgotten county. Hugging t he northwest corner of the Wild Atlantic Way, completely devoid of motorway or train access, regularly splashed with all four seasons in a single day (heck, even the same hour), Donegal doesn’t exactly make it easy for visitors. But that’s entirely the point.
This is a dreamlike landscape, wild and remote. It’s the kind of place where you might spot a golden eagle soaring above Glenveagh National Park, or hear Irish spoken as a native tongue in the Gaeltacht around Gweedore and Glencolmeille.
Driving Donegal’s peninsulas, your phone reception flickers in and out of reach, and there’s a constant risk of crashing into the scenery. At the end oft he Slieve League Peninsula, there is a sickle-shaped strand cut into the cliffs at Malin Beg. The roads wind like ribbons and suddenly run out at Silver Strand. No mobile coverage. Often no people. Next parish? Boston.
Donegal has just a single five-star hotel — the gorgeous, sandstone castle that forms the heart of Solis Lough Eske and its spa. Just next door, set beneath the Blue Stack Mountains, you’ll find Harvey’s Point — Ireland’s top-rated hotel on TripAdvisor for t he past four years.
Rathmullan House, on the Fanad Peninsula, is a member of Ireland’s Blue Book collection of unique properties, and halfway along t he spit of land leading to St John’s Point near Killybegs, you’ll find Castle Murray House, once named among the world’s most romantic hotels.
Donegal’s weather-nibbled coast is spotted with sea stacks, Blue Flag beaches and offshore islands that reward the intrepid. Gola is renowned for its rock-climbing and abseiling. Tory Island has its own ‘king’, Patsy Dan Rodgers, who welcomes visitors off the ferries with a heart felt failte romhat (welcome).
Horn Head, a driving, walking or cycling loop from Dunfanaghy in the north-west of the county, squeezes the 1,600-mile Wild At Way into a 4.5-mile nutshell. Surfing beaches ranging from Magheroarty to Ballyhiernan Bay would be jam-packed around resort towns further south. Here, they feel undiscovered.
It’s not a complete wilderness, of course. Flight s are available from Stansted (until March2017), Liverpool and Glasgow to City of Derry airport, a 20-minute drive from the border, or from Glasgow and Dublin to Donegal Airport, a speck of runway on the coast at Carrickfinn.
Prices are cheaper than traditional honeypots such as Dublin and Kerry, and green shoots am sprouting in its food-and-drink scene — Kinnegar farmhouse beers and food champions Harry’s Bar & Restaurant in Bridge End should certainly be on your to-do list.
Last summer, scenes for Star Wars: Episode VIII were filmed on the Inishowen Peninsula too, leading to the surreal sight oft he Millennium Falcon on Malin Head. From forgotten county to a galaxy far, far away…this year looks like being quite a year for Donegal.