Thursday 10 August 2017

Staycation in Donegal & the Wild Atlantic Way

Last year when I told people I was going to Donegal for my honeymoon, they kind of laughed at me thinking it wasn't 'very exotic'. Having travelled extensively in our 20s the only thing Mr. FFID and I wanted to do was spend time together in our favourite place in the world: Ireland.
We spent the most idyllic week in a cottage outside Ardara and fell in love with this part of the country.

So naturally we decided to go back again this year to celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary: same time, same place and same kind of digital detox (I decided to bring my camera though). In the last year Donegal received an unbelievable amount of international press features, including being ranked no 1 in 'The Cool list 17' by National Geographic Traveller. It makes my honeymoon sound much cooler; Portland and Aarhus which I also visited in the last year were on that list too, does that make me a cool traveller?

Anyway, in Donegal I feel like a tourist all over again and experience Ireland like I imagined it before moving here. The weather is very unpredictable, you see more sheep than human beings at times and people are very chatty. Dublin somehow seems very far away, especially when staying in a traditional cottage in the middle of the hills.

This time, Mr. FFID and I got to see more of Donegal thanks to my fellow Fáilte food champion Chris Molloy who drove us for a day along the Wild Atlantic Way. I got to catch up one evening with Mandy, my Donegal friend who was my housemate/classmate during the Ballymaloe course and she made sure I went back to Dublin with a box full of food products such as Donegal Rapeseed Oil, beers from Donegal Brewing Company  and Active Irish Honey. Believe it or not, I also bumped into one of my customers who was on my food tour the previous week, such a small world!

Anyhow, because sharing is caring I'm spreading some Donegal love today with a list of some food & drink spots I tried out as well as the great sites we've seen on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Are you ready for a wee trip to Donegal? Here you go:

Places to eat and drink

Florence Food Co, 63 Upper Main Street, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal 

Florence Food Co is a modern café decorated tastefully. We ended up visiting twice, once for coffee and the next morning for breakfast. They serve 3FE coffee, Clement and Pekoe teas and the food is decent and reasonably priced. I ordered a SynerChi kombucha of course, a product from Donegal I buy regularly in Dublin.

The Cottage Bar, 49 Upper Main Street, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal

You can't miss the white and green facade, the cottage bar is a quirky pub and even though we only stopped there for a quick drink I really liked it. There's crockery hanging from the ceiling, it's old and cosy inside. The perfect little pub to enjoy a bottle or two of Kinnegar beer.

The Lemon Tree, 32-34 Courtyard Shopping Centre, Lower Main Street, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal

As the Michelin Guide UK tweeted last June the Lemon Tree is 'a real family affair' It has been ran by the Molloy family for many years with several family members involved in the business. The Lemon Tree recently moved to a bigger location and Mr. FFID and I visited for dinner as I wanted to try the food of my friend, chef Chris Molloy. The restaurant is spacious and modern and it was buzzing on a weekday with a mix of clientele including couples in their early twenties on a romantic date to families probably celebrating a special occasion. Chris is a supporter of local producers and uses Donegal produce superbly: from Kinnegar beer brown bread to beautiful turf-smoked salmon from Haven Smokehouse, vegetables from Ballyholey farm to Noone's Donegal reared chicken; he even has a wall filled with pictures of his suppliers in the restaurant. It's certainly a great spot for modern Irish cuisine using the best of Donegal produce, make sure to visit if you're in the area!

Nancy's Barn, Main St, Ballyliffin, Clonmany, Co. Donegal

Do you like a good seafood chowder? Then you might want to try the one from Nancy's Barn in Ballyliffin. Kieran Duey and his team were awarded 1st prize in the seafood category at the World Chowder Championships in Rhode Island this year. This little café was crammed at lunch time in the the middle of the week, I guess winning such a title is the best kind of publicity you could wish for. The chowder was really good, flavourful, fresh, meaty with delicious chorizo in it and served with good homemade soda bread. 

We stopped at Simple Simons for lunch last year and for coffee this year before catching up the bus to Dublin. It's a great food shop/café with lots of organic products. One thing I loved about this place is the delicious breads and pastries.


A lovely view with picnic tables.

A impressive stone fort which dates back to 1700 BC, located on top of a hill from which you can enjoy impressive views.

Here you can visit Fort Dunree military museum to learn about the protective role of the fort over the history.

Even though the weather wasn't nice, the scenery going down the windy road to the Gap of Mamore was just amazing, I had one of these 'Wow, Ireland is beautiful!" moments...

After our lunch at Nancy's Barn we briefly stopped at Pollan Bay and the sun made an appearance, the colour of the sea was unreal.

Malin Head was probably the highlight that day; Ireland's most northerly point is an incredible spot from which you can enjoy the most beautiful scenic views. I'm not sure if it's the Star Wars or the Wild Atlantic Way effect (probably a combination of both) but it was very busy with tourists. Also, I've never experienced such strong winds!

So that's it for Donegal, I hope you enjoyed the virtual road trip. One piece of advice, a car is mandatory if you want to fully explore what the county has to offer.

I have the feeling Donegal is only going to get busier, between the next Star Wars movie coming out in December and the current supplement in the 'National Geographic Traveller' featuring Donegal and the Wild Atlantic Way the 'Forgotten County' might have to be renamed...

Disclaimer: This is a fully independent/unsponsored post