Is This Ireland's Best Kept Secret?

05/10/2017 13:46

"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 part of Ireland's most scenic drive, the Wild Atlantic Way.

I thought I knew this part of Ireland pretty well until we arrived in Glengarriff and I quickly realised this is a part of my home county I have failed to explore. The view from our hotel upon check in was magical, the soft evening light reflecting on the bay.

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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.

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.

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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 here just for the 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.

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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.

While West Cork has always been a popular holiday destination for many years, and there are many beautiful towns and villages to discover in the area, there's just something special about Glengarriff and you won't discover what it is until you visit for yourself.

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