Michelle Chenery reports from Ireland on Lough Eske Castle, a Solis Hotel and SpaClosely associated with the founding fathers of Donegal town, Lough Eske Castle is situated in 43 acres (17 hectares) of woodland, just 5km away from Donegal town itself, hugging the shores of Lough Eske with the Bluestack mountains in the background. A fire in 1939 left nothing but a shell of a building, but it was eventually rebuilt in 2007 maintaining the original footprint of the castle. Every detail of the fittings is true to archived images. This new/old castle is the only 5-star hotel in Donegal.
I flew into Knock airport on an Aer Lingus flight, then the 135km drive was a joy because of the impressive scenery along the whole route, much of it away from the main roads along the top of the coastal cliffs.
Receiving nothing less than a massive warm Irish welcome upon arrival, I had been greeted by 3 members of staff by the time I had reached reception to check in.
My room was located in the main castle building with a view over the gardens. There are 96 guestrooms including a 2-bedroom Presidential Suite, 7 Garden suites, 14 Courtyard rooms, 8 Solis junior suites and 65 deluxe guestrooms, all with flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi access, desk with high speed internet access, voicemail, safe, complimentary water and hospitality tray, personal bar and 24hr room service.
F&B facilities comprise Cedars Grill Restaurant, The Gallery Bar with quite a selection of whiskies on show as well as a good pint of Guinness and with food available from the Bistro menu. The Lobby Lounge and the Oak Bar.
A focal point of the property is the Spa Solis, which offers a fitness centre, thermal suite, relaxation area and a 17m swimming pool.
The meetings and banqueting space amounts to a total of 6,500sqft, including three ballrooms and two Glencare suites. These can accommodate events for up to 60 theatre style and can be subdivided to smaller spaces and boardroom style.
Access to a terrace is available from two of the ballrooms and from the exclusive networking area for all the meeting rooms. The ballrooms individually cater for 85 classroom style. Combined, they can seat 400 theatre style. The pre function area is able to welcome 150 for a cocktail reception.
Prior to dining at Cedars, drinks can be arranged in the Library. I enjoyed a dinner of contemporary cuisine from a menu inspired by fresh local produce. I had salmon that had been smoked on the premises. Other items on the menu included pan-fried hake and char grilled Irish sirloin, but whatever a guest chose, the portions were big and hearty. There was really no room for dessert, but who could resist Baileys cheesecake, lemon tart and vanilla ice cream when placed in front of you? And then I was in the Gallery bar to be tempted by an array of cocktails, and whiskies.
Breakfast in Cedars is equally fulfilling, with a buffet serving a full Irish as well as fruit, cereal and continental offerings, the chef on hand to cook eggs any way you like them.
With an invited group, I found myself in the castle grounds for teambuilding activities courtesy of Adventure Donegal. We attempted to cross an expanse of grass on nothing but discs, all of different sizes. Next we were challenged to do some construction work. With nothing but three poles and some rope the objective was to build a free-standing structure to hold at least three people for a set length of time. We nearly completed this one, only the structure wasn’t quite as free standing as it should have been. Our next challenge was to cope with water, guttering, a ball and a lot of running sideways whilst trying to avoid coming in contact with other members of the team. A few wet sleeves and legs later and there was yet other tests involving codes and numbers, and then hand and eye co-ordination and eggs, some boiled, some not. Yes there was one messy moment due to misjudgement as to how far we could throw and catch. Further tests related to target shooting and then a survival challenge, keeping a victim of hypothermia warm within an allotted time.
Back at the hotel there was the total relaxation of treatment at Spa Solis. Situated in the castle garden, Spa Solis is a haven of peace, its sandstone and wood construction in keeping with the beauty of the surroundings. I filled out a customer card which enabled the attendants to choose the most suitable oils for a back massage. I was left feeling so relaxed that I could have happily stayed there for ever. But I had to take my leave of the spa, but armed with recommendations for treatment for any future aches and pains.
Evening drinks in the secluded Oak Bar included instruction on how to pour a perfect pint of Guinness. Immediately alongside is the Oak Room that can seat 30 for a banquet. Decorated with photographs of local life and with stone floors and thick leather chairs, it was a delightful environment for our evening meal. Where we had to choose between crispy pork belly with 3 chutneys or slow-cooked Donegal beef and fondant potato. For dessert I had no hesitation in opting for chocolate and pecan tart, coconut ice cream and pineapple chutney. It was very, very good.
The next morning I had the chance to see the head chef filleting and preparing the fish and then seeing it cured in the smoking shed. I was also able to sample the results.
Groups have a wide choice of activities at Lough Eske. They range from weaving, tours of the historic castle and grounds, hiking in the Bluestake Mountains, catching and smoking your own fish, cycling, archery and target shooting as well as a long list of team building activities. Off site there is golf, riding, a drive around Donegal Bay and for the more adventurous a Seafari on a 12-seater all-weather rigid inflatable, surfing, whale and dolphin watching.
In a short time, in a small area, you can feel you have had weeks of fascinating experiences.
For full details and prices, contact Lough Eske Castle, Lough Eske, Donegal Town, Co. Donegal, Ireland
Phone:+353 74 972 5100
or visit http://www.solishotels.com/lougheskecastle/default-en.html
To view more images from the trip please check out our facebook album