June Blake’s & Hunting Brook Gardens | co. Wicklow

Visiting gardens is just about my favourite thing to do. As soon as the weather warms up you’ll find me exploring a few ones, especially in county Wicklow. This county is chock-full of gorgeous gardens and it’s fairly accessible with transport from Dublin. I’ve made a good dent on my bucket list and while I ticked most of the big ones in this beautiful county, I had yet to visit any private gardens. Today, I’m sharing not one but two of these here.
Located just outside Blessington in West Wicklow, June Blake’s Garden and Hunting Brook Garden are only a couple of miles apart. They are owned by two siblings, but they couldn’t be any more different.

When you get to June Blake’s Garden, you first go through a grand avenue shaded by big majestic trees which opens to an open field view. Follow along the road until you reach the parking lot. You’ll see first June Blake’s stables which house two rooms that you can rent for the night.
How wonderful would it be to wake up here one morning?
As you make your way towards the garden, you’ll pass by the tea-room where you can pay the entrance charge. There’s a small menu of soups, cakes and scones. On the dresser, you’ll find a small selection of gifts to buy such as gardening books and prints.

June Blake’s Garden is small, it spreads over 3 acres but it’s jam-packed with flowers, dry grass and other plant delights. In the middle of it stands a charming little stone cottage. There’s also a reflective rectangle pool and lots of benches where you can sit and relax.
Inspect any plant borders and you get the feeling that June has made the best use of every inch of the garden’s soil. At first glance, the space looks a bit wild in a romantic English garden kind of way when they are left to do their own thing. But give it a second look and you’ll see that this is not the result of nature’s chance but of someone who knows how to work with nature’s timing and complimentary tones. The colours bounce off each other and different stalk heights fill the space in an eye-pleasing way. June Blake is the unequivocal maestro of this vibrant symphony.


I visited in the late Summer and the garden was dotted with beautiful autumnal jewel tones. Oranges, burgundy, marigold and purple. The star of the show might have just been the dahlia for me, they come in so many interesting shapes, from a star-like flower to a full jolly pompom. I was so happy to catch them in season. This flower is just so nostalgic to me. They remind me of my childhood Summers spent in my parents’ garden. I would admire my 80 year old neighbour’s garden through the fence. She was mad for dahlias and let me tell you, when her garden was filled with a thousand of them, it was a joyful sight!
I’d be curious to come back to June Blake’s garden at different times of the year and see how it wears the different seasons. Tulip season is said to be a stunner!

I did several laps of the garden with my camera in hand, high on all the smells and the constant buzzing of the bees. It was the perfect opportunity to crack out my 50mm lens! I then quickly stopped by the tea room to savour a wholesome vegetable soup with a slice of gluten-free rye bread.

Following that, I headed to Hunting Brook Gardens which is located a couple of miles away. It is owned by June Blake’s brother, Jimi and it is abundant with plants and flowers. Indeed, Jimi Blake owns one of Ireland’s largest private plant collections. He brings a lot of plants from his travels which you can follow on his Instagram. And if you like the look of his work, you might be interested to know that he’s releasing a gardening book ‘A Beautiful Obsession‘ in September.

Just as I entered the garden, I was greeted by Jimi’s dog, Doris, who requested a back scratch. Of course, I happily complied and as I let my eyes wander around me, I realised that this garden has a very different atmosphere. It has a certain jungle quality to it, it feels leafier and experimental with a soupçon of mystique. The focal point is a timber house which is Jimi’s home but it is also the space where he teaches his gardening classes. On the porch, you’ll find the plant sale section.
What’s extraordinary about this garden is the surprising mix of exotic plants and perennials. Banana leaves growing next to a purple baby breath? Totally normal in Hunting Brook Gardens!

I was in total awe with the plant border next to the garden entrance, where succulents and cactuses seem to be thriving. It’s not something you would often see outdoors in Ireland as they are generally confined to green houses.
At the back of the garden, there’s a path that will lead you to a magical little woodland nestled in a small valley. Through it flows a rocky mountain stream, Hunting Brook, that gave the gardens their name. The trail loops back through a meadow which offers stunning views over the Wicklow Mountains and the countryside’s patchwork of fields.

Want to explore more gardens in county Wicklow? Check out my posts on Mount Usher Gardens, Killruddery Gardens and Powerscourt Gardens.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

June Blake’s Garden – website
Tinode, Blessington
co. Wicklow

Hunting Brook Garden – website
Lamb Hill, Tinode, Blessington
co. Wicklow

Opening Hours
11am-5.30pm, Wed-Sun (From April to late September)
On Sundays, there’s a guided tour of June Blake’s garden at 2.30pm
You can book group tours at both of the gardens

Admission
General €6 / Children Free

Bus
65 (‘June Blake’s Garden’ stop / ‘Kilbride Antique Shop’ for Hunting Brook Garden)

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Poolbeg Peninsula | Dublin

If you lived in Dublin for a certain period of time, chances are that the landmark you associate the most with the city is the Poolbeg Chimneys. Not Temple Bar or the Ha’penny Bridge or even Trinity College, no, those candy-striped chimneys are our version of an Eiffel Tower. Pretty much from anywhere in the Dublin Bay, you can see their familiar silhouette sticking out on the horizon.
And if like me, you travel by boat, they are more than a landmark. They mean you made it home as they welcome you when you enter Dublin Port. For that reason, I was quite excited to do the Poolbeg Peninsula Walk as it meant I got to finally see these two ladies from up close!

There are several starting points to the Poolbeg Peninsula but the most scenic trail begins at the Irishtown entrance. As you follow the peninsula outline, the Dublin shore on your right extends from Sandymount Strand, with its front of colourful houses, to the recognisable port of Dún Laoghaire.
Looking out from the shore, you’d be forgiven to think the peninsula is an absolute wasteland, especially with the waste management facility looming over it. But don’t be too quick to judge as once you enter it, a treasure of fauna and flora opens to you. To be honest, it’s almost easy to forget that the city’s waste is being burnt a few steps away from you.
I was actually surprised to discover that the peninsula is home to a nature reserve, the Irishtown Nature Park. The reserve was born from an idea that seemed completely mad in the 1970s: turn a dump full of waste and rubble into a nature spot. Volunteers gathered forces to make it into the space it is today, a home to many birds, insects and plant species. Quite an inspiring story that gives me a bit of hope for the future!

As you are getting deeper into the trail, the iconic Poolbeg Chimneys are getting closer. They are part of what used to be a power station but they have been disused since the early 2000s.
Did you know that one was taller than the other? Only 40 centimetres mind you! They are one of the tallest structures in Ireland, at a little more than 200m. They gained international fame when they featured in U2‘s music video for Pride (In The Name of Love). In 2014, they became protected to everyone’s relief as they had been previously threatened with demolition.

At the end of the Peninsula trail, there are a couple of beaches which would have looked idyllic if not for the giant eye-sore of the waste management facility behind it.

Tip: If you’re into photography or are looking for a nice insta backdrop, this is a great spot for a little Summer shoot what with the beach grass and the Poolbeg chimneys in the background.

It takes about 2km to get to the beginning of the Great South Wall from the Irishtown’s trail entrance. If you’re short of time, you can skip the trail and come by car (or taxi). There’s a handy parking space at the bottom of the Great South Wall..

The Great South Wall is one of the longest sea walls in Europe. You’ll have to walk nearly 2km to get to the Poolbeg Lighthouse. Half way through is the Half Moon Swimming and Water Polo Club. The old-fashioned blue and white cabins sure look charming on the pier but why would anyone want to swim at this exact spot is beyond me! It is the Dublin Port’s entrance after all, which comes with its heavy traffic of ferries and boats.

Quick advice, do mind your step as the granite path is uneven and only come here on a good weather day, you don’t want to be swiped by an angry wave!

There has been a lighthouse at the end of the sea wall since it was built in the late 18th century. It was first powered by candle-light (the first of its genre, it is said) but the podgy red tower you see today was built in 1820.
Do you know why the Poolbeg Lighthouse is red? In maritime convention, red means port, which is the left side of a boat. And if you look towards Howth, you’ll spot North Bull Lighthouse which is green. And green is for starboard (right side). Now you know!

Fun fact: Poolbeg Lighthouse is nearly equidistant of the Dublin shore, Dún Laoghaire and Howth. That makes it a great spot to admire the Dublin bay!

If you’re looking to escape the city but you’re short on time, it is the walk for you. Once you step in the peninsula, it’s hard to believe you are still in Dublin. The sound of the swishing beach grass and the sea air would cure any city fatigue.

A side note, there’s a talk of a plan to redevelop the area into a residential quarter with high-rise apartment blocks. While Dublin desperately needs new accommodation to alleviate the housing crisis, I can’t help but worry about what it means for the peninsula and its nature reserve. If you haven’t been yet, I’d say hurry and go explore Poolbeg before it changes forever.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The Poolbeg trail is easy to tackle, it is mostly flat (just be careful on the sea wall as the ground is uneven and sometimes wet)
From the shoreline to the Poolbeg Lighthouse, it is about 4 km. Count about 2 hours to go to the lighthouse and back to the shoreline.

Bus
18 (Dromard Terrace, the last stop in Sandymount)

Belfast City Guide

To be honest with you, until last year I didn’t get Belfast. I probably would have gone as far to say I didn’t like it. I had been a couple of times and it just felt so… nondescript. I think like many people I came here expecting to see history with a big H. Instead, I was faced with another city centre with the same high street shops everywhere, the likes of you see pretty much everywhere in the UK.

But then last December I came back to check out the Christmas Market, the biggest in Ireland, and I received some great recommendations through Instagram and suddenly, it clicked. I started falling in love with Belfast. I think the trick is to definitely leave these expectations behind, yes there’s history but it won’t necessarily jump at you, you’ll need to dig a little. But the key is getting a good grasp of Belfast’s geography.
Belfast is the sum of its quarters, each with its own atmosphere and identity. Something that totally escaped me on my previous visits and therefore I ended up stuck in a loop around the City Hall (which is a beautiful building by the way so do make time for it, pictured above).

My favourite Belfast’s quarter on this trip was the Queen’s Quarter which is located in South Belfast. It is named after Queen’s University and I loved the laid-back, student-y vibe of the area!

Each quarter has its own specificity. In the city centre, you’ll find the Cathedral Quarter which feels like the city’s historical centre. Go West and you’ll reach the Gaeltacht Quarter. Look at the streets signs and shop fronts, they are both in English and Gaelic, and here you might hear Irish being spoken.
The Titanic Quarter, the new kid on the block, has emerged with the recent opening of the Titanic museum.
It’s worth planning your trip in advance so you can experience the best of Belfast’s multifaceted areas.

Click the button below to download the PDF version of this guide for free.

bittles bar belfast

SEE / DRINK

BITTLES BAR

Bittles Bar is a Belfast attraction in and of itself because of its impressive whisk(e)y collection and selection of beers and ciders. But what drew me in is undoubtedly the incongruous architecture of the building. Reminiscent of New York’s Flat Iron, the red-bricked facade looks certainly most intriguing. This traditional Victorian pub now stands next to the uber modern Victoria Square Shopping Centre, which makes for an interesting contrast.
I climbed to the top of the latter to check out the panoramic view out of the Dome but I found it all a bit underwhelming to be perfectly honest with you.

MUSGRAVE CHANNEL ROAD

Tip from Alex from The Full Shilling blog who kindly messaged me afterwards that the view from the rooftop bar of the Grand Central Hotel is way more impressive. I didn’t get the chance to check it out but I thought I’d pass the info along here!

SEE

COMMERCIAL COURT

Commercial Court is to Belfast what Temple Bar is to Dublin. Lined with traditional pubs and covered in cobbles, this charming alleyway see its fair share of night life and enthusiastic tourists. It certainly catches the eye with its fairy lights and other seasonal decorations. During the festive period, sparkly umbrellas were dangling over us. Come Summer, expect to see colourful pots of flowers adorning the walls. Step in the Duke of York to get a sense of music history as it is here that Snow Patrol played some of their first gigs. With regular live music shows, you might just catch the next big thing on the Northern Irish scene!

SHOP

To be honest with you, when it came to shopping in Belfast I was dead excited about the charity shops. You’ll find this city bountiful if like me you enjoy a bit of treasure hunting. Good areas for thrifting are the city centre, Botanic Avenue, Lisburn Road and Ormeau Road. My personal favourite shops were Oxfam Home on Dublin Road and Action Cancer on Lisburn Road.

EAT

I didn’t do it on purpose but all my food recommendations from my stay in Belfast are vegan. The definite highlight was this fry-up from Maggie Mays, a local greasy spoon chain that pretty much does breakfast all day. It’s the go-to place for hungover students and I can see why. It feels a bit like being at your Mam’s kitchen table. Meals are cheap as chips, filling and delicious, a full menu of topnotch comfort food! I had my first potato farl (or potato bread) and man, where has this slice of heaven been all my life?! I’m obsessed!
If you like Middle Eastern Cuisine, I recommend Falafel Eatery & Coffee House. The falafel had great taste and texture but I would have liked to see a better selection of veggie sides.
I was dying to try 387 Ormeau Road Cafe‘s vegan sausage roll but unfortunately it was so busy that I gave up and went for a Greggs’ one instead. It ended being quite tasty indeed!

SEE

BOTANIC GARDENS

Unsurprisingly, I was extremely excited to visit Belfast’s Botanic Gardens and they for sure didn’t disappoint. The reason is first, well, you know me, I never miss a chance to visit a public garden but secondly it is an important location in The Fall, a series I’m not soon to forget about. The gardens possess a few interesting features such as the Tropical Ravine House which had recently undergone a major renovation. The design is rather unique. Inside a Victorian building is nestled a sunken ravine full of tropical plants such as ferns, cinnamon and banana plants. This subterranean jungle can be admired from the overhanging balcony or you can straight walk through it.
My favourite part of the Botanic Gardens was undoubtedly the Palm House. It is one of the earliest examples of a glasshouse made of curved iron and glass. And if it looks familiar to you, it is because it was the work of Richard Turner, a Dublin iron founder who then went on to build the glasshouses of Dublin Botanic Gardens as well as Kew Gardens in London. Pretty impressive CV, right? The Palm House has a tropical wing and a cool wing. At the time of my visit, the latter was peppered with colourful tulips which was a jolly sight!
Handily, you’ll also find the Ulster Museum inside the Botanic Gardens walls.

COLLEGE PARK, BOTANIC AVENUE
FREE ADMISSION

st george's market belfast soap mystiques enchantments

SHOP / EAT

ST GEORGE’S MARKET

If you ever in Belfast on a weekend, definitely give St George’s Market a visit. This place is poppin’! There are so many great stalls to browse. Expect local produce, fish and meat, bric a brac, lots of different cuisine to sample, flowers, etc… And if it rains, don’t worry as the market is covered. It’s actually the last Victorian covered market left in Belfast. It’s been opened since 1890. I visited it on a Friday at lunch time. I made a beeline for the hot dog stall as I had heard through the grapevine that they had a vegan offering. And indeed they did! Great brioche bread and sausage but unfortunately lacking in the topping department. I didn’t leave the market empty-handed as I bought a divinely-fragrant soap from Mystique Enchantments and a bag of loose organic peppermint tea from Suki Tea.

12-20 EAST BRIDGE STREET

SEE

QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY

Located in South Belfast, Queen’s University gave its name to the quarter known as Queen’s Quarter. You’ll find it next to the Botanic Gardens. The pièce de résistance of the campus is the eye-catching Lanyon building, a tudor-revival quadrangle-shaped building with a magnificent courtyard in its heart. If I may say, I never seen a lawn so pristine-looking on a campus. If it had been my uni, that lawn would have been trampled in less time that it takes to say ‘free pot noodles’. Anyways, I was dead impressed and I can see why it is often said to be one of the most beautiful universities in the UK. You can book for a guided tour or grab a free map at the Welcome Centre to explore at your own pace.

UNIVERSITY ROAD

SEE / DO

BELFAST CASTLE

Belfast Castle is located in North Belfast, a good 30 min bus journey from the city centre. It is set on the Belfast Hills which you can see on the horizon throughout the city.
Rumour has it that they inspired Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as their outline looks like a sleeping giant.
Built in 1870 in the popular Scottish Baronial style, Belfast Castle catches the eye with its turrets, stepped gables, red features and spiral stone-staircase. Unfortunately it is mostly closed to the public as it now serves as a venue for weddings or other events. Nonetheless, a walk in its landscaped garden is a pleasant experience. The view over the city is spectacular. And the gardens are cat-themed which is rather charming. 9 cats are hidden in the design. Will you be able to find them? Cats are intertwined with the castle in an old legend that professes that the residents would only find luck as long as a white cat lives on the premises.
Belfast castle is also the starting point of Cave Hill hiking trails.

ANTRIM ROAD
FREE ADMISSION

STAY

I stayed in the Crescent Townhouse Hotel, located in the Queen’s Quarter. It’s a great base for exploring the area and there are so many food options literally on your doorstep. I could see Maggie Mays from my window! The staff was so accommodating and friendly. The room was cosy, the bathroom even had a claw foot bath! All in all, it was great value for money.
It’s worth noting that the hotel is located in a lively area so it can get noisy, especially on the weekends. If that bothers you, you might want to mention in your booking that you’re looking for a quiet room. With that being said, I stayed on a Thursday night, street side, and it was completely fine.

13 LOWER CRESCENT

It took a few tries but it’s safe to say that Belfast has now my heart. And there’s still so many good reasons to make another trip back soon. Heck I haven’t even touched on the fact that it is Game of Thrones country. Coinciding with the end of the series, an exhibition displaying the show’s props opened this year. It is on until September 1 2019.
The Titanic Museum is also a major attraction I would like to visit one day and for a good dose of history I’d like to see the Peace Wall as well as take part in a Black Cab Tour. Until next time, Belfast!

Click the button below to download the PDF version of this guide for free.

A Quick Guide to an Afternoon in Ghent

ghent belgium

On first impression, Ghent might look like a museum. Its medieval architecture has been incredibly well preserved through the ages. But take a closer look and you’ll see a lively university city with a modern attitude. Indeed the Belgian city is tackling head on concerns related with the climate crisis. They reduced their CO2 emissions by making the centre a car-free zone and encourage its residents to use bikes. You could say that Ghent is a cyclist haven, with the largest designated cyclist area in Europe (400 km of paths).
The city also recognises the detrimental effect the meat industry has on the environment and thus, is a self-proclaimed vegetarian capital. On Thursdays, they promote a meat-free day across work and school cafetarias. And you’d never be hard-pressed to find a vegetarian option as the city counts the world’s largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita.
Ghent as a vibrant and exciting city, is rapidly leaving the shadow cast by sister Bruges, which is only a 25 minute train journey away.
With a short afternoon to get acquainted with this charming place, I came back with this very snappy first-timer’s guide on how to spend a few hours in the Flemish city.

1. EXPLORE ST. BAVO’S CATHEDRAL

On Sint-Baafsplein stands bright and tall Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral. Step inside as it’s very much worth a look (and it’s free). First thing that hit me when I came in was the beautiful vaulted ceiling. On the ground, the rococo pulpit made of gilded wood and marble majestically dominates the space. Above is one impressive organ, with 600 pipes it is the biggest in the Benelux.
The cathedral’s ground floor is also the last resting place of all the bishops who officiated here. That makes a lot of people to fit in!
The cathedral was completed in 1559 but it actually stands on the old grounds of a 12th century church which you can still see the remains in the crypt. Down there, there’s also a collection of objects used during masses over the years such as vestments and liturgical bits and bobs.
But undoubtedly the pièce de résistance of the cathedral is ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb‘, a polyptych painted by the Van Eyck Brothers in 1459. Purposed to be the cathedral’s altarpiece, its fate was not as peaceful and it went through a real rollercoaster. As one of the most coveted paintings in the world, it went through 7 thefts and got nearly destroyed in a bombing orchestrated by the Nazis. Today it rests peacefully, albeit with a panel missing (one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in art theft) back where it belongs in this cathedral (you can admire it for a small entrance fee).

2. CLIMB THE BELFRY

Facing St. Bavo’s Cathedral is the Belfry. You can climb (or take a lift) to the top and admire the best views over the city of Ghent. With a height of 91m, it is the tallest belfry in Belgium. The gilded dragon that lives on its roof keeps an eye on the city and its residents. Completed in 1442, it served as a watchtower as well as a bell tower. It is today a recognised UNESCO World Heritage site.

3. CROSS ST. MICHAEL’S BRIDGE

While arguably one of the most photogenic spots in the city, St. Michael’s Bridge certainly offers a unique vantage point for your lens. Indeed it is here, and only here, where you can catch Ghent’s ‘Three Towers’ (St. Bavo’s Cathedral, the Belfry and St. Nicholas’ Church) in one shot. It also gives a most idyllic snapshot over the Leie River and the surrounding quays. As you walk along the railing, spot the bronze statue, it is St. Michael, the man himself.

4. LOUNGE ON THE QUAYS

The facing quays, Korenlei and Graslei, are the beating heart of the city. It is a lovely bustling area, a visual reminder that Ghent is also a student city. Here the students and tourists alike come to sit at cafe terraces or simply let their feet dangle off the river banks, watching the boats go by on the Leie. This is one of the oldest sites in Ghent as we can trace it back to the 5th century when it was the heart of Flanders’ wheat trade. The protected row of buildings on Graslei hails back to the Middle Ages. Among them, spot the Spijker, the oldest example of the iconic stepped gable style.

5. SAMPLE A CUBERDON

You’d have a hard time finding this funny-sounding sweet outside Belgium so while in Rome… Indeed it does not export very well as its conservation does not go past a couple of weeks. Some say that the cuberdon was born in Ghent during the 19th century (other argues that it was in Bruges) so you won’t be hard-pressed to spot these little red cones around the city.
Their shell is crusty while their heart goes gooey. Historically made with arabic gum and elderberry juice, nowadays a soapy raspberry flavour is preferred.
And if you want to sink your sweet teeth into history, get your pick’n’mix in Temmerman, the oldest confectionery shop in town. The shop was set up in the 19th century and has been in the same family over 8 generations. They started by selling gingerbread (quite fitting as the building looks like a cute gingerbread house) but their shelves now stock all kinds of traditional confectionary such as our cuberdons (or neuzekes, little noses in Flemish), mokken, knopkes or meulentrekkers.

6. VISIT GRAVENSTEEN CASTLE

Another major landmark in Ghent is Gravensteen, the last remaining medieval castle with a moat in Flanders. It was built at the end of the 12th century and served as a residence for the counts of Flanders. Later it went through several incarnations: a court, a prison, a mint, a cotton factory, … until it fell into disrepair. The people of Ghent wanted to see it destroyed as it had become a symbol of feudal oppression and the inquisition. It was instead restored and transformed into a museum open to the public in 1913.
The castle became then Ghent’s biggest attraction and you can still today visit the museum which houses a collection of medieval weapons and instruments of torture. Needless to say, the tour is not for the faint-hearted!

If you have time to sit down for a cuppa, Uit Steppe en Oase has a beautiful tea garden hidden in a courtyard. Just opposite stands Proof if you’re looking for something with a bit more kick in a seriously cool decor, perfect for people watching.

Should you feel pressed by time and want to have a fun and quick feel of the city, you can go on a horse cart, a tour boat or even rent your own boat to explore the canals at your own leisure. While these means of transport are crazy expensive in Bruges, they have remained affordable in Ghent… so far!

While I didn’t get to explore the Ghent’s restaurant scene, you can believe that I’ll be back to sample some vegetarian goodness. Also on my list, a wander through Patershol and Prinsenhof, two atmospheric quarters beyond the Gravensteen Castle. As you can see, another trip to Ghent needs to happen… and when it only takes a half an hour train journey from Brussels, there’s really no excuse!

Did you enjoy my Ghent guide? You might find my top of the best photo spots in Bruges useful

Two Exhibitions in Brussels You Need to See This Summer

I recently spent a few days in Brussels and was lucky to catch two excellent exhibitions.
They’re both on until the end of August so I thought I’d quickly give you a heads-up here in case one of you plan to spend some time in the Belgian capital this Summer.
Definitely pencil them in your diary!

intimate audrey exhibition brussels galeries de la reine

INTIMATE AUDREY (01/05/19 – 25/08/2019)

As the name of the exhibition suggests, we take a very close look at the life of Audrey Hepburn through an extensive collection of family photographs, correspondance and her clothes that look so tiny and frail on the various mannequins.
All these objects belong now to her son, Sean Ferrer, who put together this special event in honour of what would have been his mother’s 90th birthday. The location, Brussels, is not an accident as it is here that Audrey Hepburn was born.
It was amazing to see the places she grew up in Belgium and then in the Netherlands. As her life progresses, we see her passion for ballet and how it takes her to London where she makes her theatre debut. Then follows the iconic Hollywood moments we all know.
But my favourite part of the exhibition is the one dedicated to her time in Vaud, Switzerland where she bought a beautiful house covered in wisteria. There she opted for a slower-paced life where she spent her time gardening, making jams and entertaining friends and family. I loved the evocatively serene pictures of this season of her life. They were beautifully displayed around a delightfully fragrant apple blossom tree.

Espace Vanderborght – website
Rue de l’Ecuyer, 50
1000 Bruxelles
General €15 / Children & Senior €10
10 am-6 pm, Every day

villa empain bruxellesvilla empain bruxelles
FLAMBOYANT (28/03/19-24/08/19)

This exhibition takes place in the stunning Villa Empain. This Art Deco architectural masterpiece is located on the Brussels’ Embassy strip. You won’t miss it as it almost looks out of place, like it’s been kidnapped from the Miami seafront.
It used to be the HQ of a national TV channel but it has since been renovated to its original splendour.
A long, long time ago, I came here to take part in a kids’ show so it was fun to come back and revisit this iconic building with its 1930s spirit restored. It is now a cultural centre that regularly runs exhibitions. There’s also a rather attractive cafe on the ground floor.
Flamboyant invites us into a whimsical reconstitution of this villa’s heyday. Through 12 fictional rooms we travel through time and imagine the life of a sophisticated art collector. The rooms are moody and full of 1930s knick-knacks. Some impressive art adorn the heavily wallpapered room. In the red boudoir, you’ll find a Matisse and spot the Kandinsky in the swanky bedroom!
If you’re an art deco lover, you cannot miss this exhibition.

Boghossian Foundation – website
Villa Empain
Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, 67
1050 Bruxelles
General €10 / Senior €8 / Children €4
11am-6pm, from Tuesday to Sunday

Bruges’ Best Photo Spots

bruges Belgium brugge

Bruges is the ultimate photographers’ dream. At almost every corner, there’s a chance to uncover a picturesque little scene that will make you want to grab your camera. It is one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe and as such its historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. It is a treasure trove of Renaissance and gothic architecture.
I recently spent an afternoon in the ‘Venice of the North’ and these were the 5 most instagrammable spots I found, but of course there are many more. I’m only really scratching the surface with this post.

bruges belgium

Generally, my favourite thing to photograph was the cobbled streets, not one in particular but I especially loved the ones lined with rows of houses with crow-stepped gables, typical of Dutch and Belgian architecture.
The one pictured above is called Sint-Jakobstraat and it’s quite magical really. First you’re met with an old-looking well, next to it there’s this cute homeware shop ‘Serendipity’, doors and windows are painted in a vibrant blue and just behind the bend, you’ll be met quite unexpectedly with the majestic St James Church. Now onto the 5 best photo spots in Bruges.

bruges markt belgium
1. MARKT

Located in the heart of Bruges, Markt is the city’s main square. It is surrounded by colourful guild houses that have now all been converted to restaurants. There’s also the West Flanders Provincial Court, the Belfry and its courtyard called the Cloth Hall, the statues of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck who fought in the Flemish resistance, frietkotten (chipper stalls) and horse carts.
On Wednesdays, it is market day, a function the square has taken since 958.

bruges belgium
2. THE TOP OF THE BELFRY

This medieval bell tower was once an observation post to spot fires and other dangers but today, you can climb the 366 steps to access the best view of Bruges. At 83m (272 feet) high, the views over the city and around will take your breath away. I especially loved seeing all the colourful houses on Markt from above.
Please note that the staircase is really quite narrow so best keep the climb for off-peak times.

rozenhoedkaai bruges belgium
3. ROZENHOEDKAAI

This cinematic corner where the Groenerei and Dijver canals meet is one of the most photographed spots in Bruges. Rozenhoedkaai, meaning ‘Quay of the Rosary’, refers to a time where the rosary sellers would set up shop here, back in the 15th century. Before this quay was a port for salt traders who would come here to moor their ship and unload their merchandise.
Today, this is the starting point of many boat trips and a view that tourists from all over the world come to capture.

st bonifacius bruges belgium
4. BONIFACIUS BRIDGE

Located in the peaceful Arents courtyard, Bonifacius bridge is one romantic-looking little bridge. It spans over a murmuring canal lined with overhanging half-timbered houses with tudor-like windows. The scene couldn’t be more idyllic. Overlooking the bridge is Church of Our Lady which is the tallest building in Bruges.
Don’t let this bridge’s old-worldly charms fool you, it is actually one of the youngest bridges in the city as it only dates back to the early 20th century.

blinde ezelstraat bruges belgium
5. BLINDE EZEL-STRAAT

Blinde Ezel-straat, or ‘Blind Donkey Alley’, is the narrow street that joins Burg Square to the Fish Market. With your back to the Fish Market, you’ll see the gorgeous baroque archway that connects the City Hall to the Old Courthouse. Those types of bridges always evoke hushed secret meetings to me.
If you wonder where the name of this street comes from, there’s a legend attached to it. The story says that when people from Ghent came to steal Bruges’ dragon, they transported it on a cart pulled by a donkey. To stop their escape, the people from Bruges decided to blind the poor animal and this is where they rescued the dragon.
Another explanation, a bit more sensible this one, could stem from the name of the inn that once was located on this street. Its name, The Blind Donkey you might have guessed it, was a reference to the donkeys that were working at the treadmill of the malt house. It was custom to blindfold them so they don’t get bored.

 

A Day of Romance in Dublin

saint valentine's day dublin chez max dublin castle

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to come up with a walkable day itinerary of sweet little activities in Dublin to do with your boo, tailored for all you lovers out there (with map included at the end of this post). If you picked the Irish capital for a romantic getaway, I’d argue you’ve actually come to the right place. Not only does the city’s architecture lend itself perfectly for a romantic stroll but it’s also a city that inspired countless love stories, passionate (James Joyce and Nora Barnacle), hopeless (W.B. Yeats and Maud Gonne), tragic (Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford) or fictional (Guy and Girl in the Oscar-winner film, Once). And lastly, you might be surprised to learn that Dublin is one of the resting places of Valentine, saint patron of lovers. If that’s not a sign you should come to Dublin to celebrate your love, I don’t know what is!

whitefriar church dublin valentine's day

Start the day by a visit to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church on Aungier Street. You might wonder why I’m pointing you in the direction of a place of worship first thing in the morning on your fun-filled day together. Well here’s the surprising bit of trivia for you, good ole Saint Valentine is actually resting here. Well some of him…

FIND OUT HOW THE REMAINS OF SAINT VALENTINE ENDED UP IN THIS DUBLIN CHURCH

On Valentine’s Day, the box holding his remains is displayed on the church’s altar and couples flock here to have their rings blessed. If your love is unrequited, you can also write your wishes in the guestbook, just under Valentine statue’s benevolent gaze.
The church itself is quite an interesting place too, the moody dark byzantine architecture is quite unexpected in the Dublin’s landscape.

If you’re visiting on a Saturday or a Sunday, go to Whitefriar Grill, located just across the street for your first meal of the day. It is a bit of a weekend brunch institution in Dublin.

avoca shop dublin valentine's day

Then let’s do a spot of shopping! In keeping with Valentine’s gifting traditions, your first port of call is Parfumarija. This beautiful boutique, located in the Westbury mall, specialises in niche perfumery. This will make for the perfect opportunity to get close to each other while maybe picking a very special scent that will truly be unique to your partner.

From there, you can go to Avoca, the iconic Irish homeware shop on Suffolk Street. Every item there is pretty much a dream but their classic wool throws are a must-buy. Those cold February nights when you ‘Netflix and Chill‘ on the sofa will never be the same again.

national gallery of ireland valentine's day dublin

For a bit of balance, let’s make our next stop cultural. In the National Gallery of Ireland, you can see one of the most emotionally-charged encounters painted on canvas. Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs. Incidentally, it is also Ireland’s favourite painting. You can view it all day on Valentine’s Day. Click here for other viewing times (it is free).

The museum has a cute and bright cafe that serves good simple food if your bellies are grumbling at this point.

saint stephen's green dublin valentine's day

Afterwards you can head to Grafton Street. This pedestrian street is great for a bit of arm-in-arm window-shopping. February can be brutal in Ireland so stop by Bewley’s Cafe for a hot chocolate to warm-up.
Coming at the end of the street, you’ll spot the recognisable Fusiliers Arch that marks the entrance of St Stephen’s Green.
This for me is the most romantic place in Dublin city centre. More precisely the little stone bridge in the middle of the park. It gives a beautiful vista on the lake and its resident swans, the Victorian gazebo and the trees. You’ll see this is a popular spot, many people stop for selfies so give in to this little cheesy tradition and ask a stranger to take a picture of you two just there.

sophie's bar dean hotel valentine's day dublin

From there, you can walk to Harcourt Street where the Dean Hotel is located. On the top floor is the uber swanky Sophie’s, a bar and restaurant with 360° panoramic views over the fair city. This place is the perfect spot for romantic dates as it has cushy booths and rooftop views. Perfect place to snuggle up with a cocktail (or a mocktail) in hand. If you were to be tired and done for the day, the restaurant also serves attractive food and you can book a room in the beautifully designed Dean Hotel downstairs.

love lane temple bar valentine's day dublin

For those who are still full of beans and ready to hit the town, walk (15 min) or bus back to the city centre. Off Dame Street, there’s a secret courtyard which you can access from the passage under Brogan’s pub. There you’ll find the Love Lane, a charming art installation designed by artist Anna Doran. Inspect it while you’re waiting for your dinner reservation. On the pink wall, tiles are inscribed with love messages, lyrics and poems such as ‘you’re a smasher, 2 eggs and a rasher‘.

Once you’re done, head back out to Dame Street and right in front of you is the Dublin Castle entrance where stands a French bistro called Chez Max (pictured at the top of this post). There’s a reason why romance rhymes with France. This cosy little place serves an informal French fare with no airs but a lot of charm.

peter's pub dublin valentine's day

Finally what would be a trip to Ireland without a visit to the pub? And the perfect way to find romance in an Irish pub is to get comfy in a snug. Some period pubs still feature this private booth which historically was used for patrons who wanted to stay discrete such a policemen, priests, women and you guessed it, lovers. You’ll generally find them in Victorian pubs but check out @DublinSnugs‘s reviews on Instagram to pick one you like the look of.

Rainy Day Alternative
But what if it rains? That’s a valid concern, this is Dublin after all but do not fret, I have a relatively dry afternoon plan for you. Hop on the Vintage Tea Tours Bus at the CHQ. From the comfort of a double decker, you’ll tour the city and its attractions while enjoying afternoon tea. After the tour, head to the Stella, the most glamorous cinema in the city. You’ll love the comfort of their plush red sofas. You can order drinks and snacks from the comfort of your seats and they also have a fancy diner should you be peckish afterwards. Note that Slatterys, the pub two doors down, has a nice snug!

A Miraculous Sunny Day?
On the off chance that the sun shows its face, make the most of it and either head to Phoenix Park to hire a tandem to see the deer. Or even better, hike up Killiney Hill (coincidentally a film location for Once). The goosebump-inducing views over the Dublin Bay is as a romantic setting as they go (And if you were about to pop the question, I don’t think you’d find a better spot. Wink wink nudge nudge)

Best in Travel 2018

2018 was slow and quiet when it came to travel. For the past few years, I’ve kept my wanderlust locally. It feels like dreams of big adventures faraway are behind me. Give me a road trip around Dorset against backpacking in Vietnam any day. I don’t know if it’s my eco-consciousness weighing heavier or if it is a desire for simpler things that comes with age, but this year my travelling footprint has been kept on an even tighter leash. While 2017 brought me to new horizons, 2018’s explorations were strictly confined to the limits of my two ‘homes’, Ireland and Belgium.
And I’ve zero regret about that. I discovered some fantastic new places (to me) in Dublin but also gave a second chance to Belfast which had previously left me indifferent and saw it with complete different eyes!
Keep reading to find out my 5 favourite travel discoveries of 2018!

howth castle dublin ireland

HOWTH CASTLE DEMESNE (DUBLIN, IRELAND)

Back in June, during the rhododendron season, I went to Howth Castle for the very first time. The Howth peninsula located on the coastline of Dublin has always been one of my favourite haunts. This little seaside village has charm by the bucketload but up until recently I had no idea that the rows of trees at the back of the port were hiding the splendid Howth Castle Demesne.
My favourite part in the estate was the ancient rhododendron garden. The jungle of bright bushes of flowers and their tangled roots is not something you’d expect to find in Ireland. It certainly has quite an exotic look about it. At the top of the rhododendron hill is one of the most magnificent views you’ll find in Dublin. From the Ireland’s Eye to the Poolbeg Chimneys, Dublin felt it was completely mine from up there that afternoon.

Click here to read my post on Howth Castle.

june blake garden wicklow gardens ireland

TWO GARDENS IN WICKLOW (IRELAND)

In September, I didn’t want to let Summer go. Despite being the longest I’ve known since living in Ireland, it still wasn’t enough and I was feeling the Autumn anxiety settling in. Now, I think the best way to hold on to Summer a little longer is to visit a beautiful garden. So I visited two that day, in my favourite county: Wicklow.
They’re located just outside Blessington and they belong to two siblings: June Blake’s Garden and Jim’s Hunting Brook Gardens. They were absolutely delightful in very different ways. I was extremely happy to catch the dahlia season and see those glorious pompoms featured heavily in both gardens. This flower is so nostalgic to me and seeing all the beautifully jewel-toned varieties June and Jim picked for their gardens made the transition to Autumn just that little smoother.

14 henrietta street dublin museum ireland

14 HENRIETTA STREET (DUBLIN, IRELAND)

Last year saw the opening of a rather exciting new museum in Dublin. 14 Henrietta Street tells the story of tenement housing in the Irish capital city. I was so eager to see it that I booked a ticket for the museum’s pre-launch tours. Henrietta Street is one of the most beautiful streets here, it features in many English and Irish films as it makes for the perfect period drama set. I was really intrigued to finally see the inside of one of these tall Georgian houses that tower over this cinematic cobbled street. The restoration of 14 Henrietta Street is absolutely brilliant and it was edifying to learn about its many residents. The story the museum tells resonated with me as it echoes so acutely the devastating housing crisis Dublin is experiencing at the moment.

Click here to read my post on 14 Henrietta Street

ghent gand gent canal belgium belgie belgique

GHENT (BELGIUM)

Whenever I’m visiting home, I always make a point to explore something new (to me) whether it is a quarter in Brussels or a whole new city. This time, it was lovely Ghent in the Flanders region. I think it lives a bit in the shadow of Bruges, unjustly so as it really oozes pizzazz. I only spent a quick afternoon there in the Autumn and although the city is tiny, it definitely wasn’t enough time. I was truly mesmerised by the charmed life unfolding along the canals.

belfast cathedral quarter duke of york pub northern ireland

BELFAST (NORTHERN IRELAND, UNITED KINGDOM)

In December, I really embraced the festive spirit and visited lots of lovely Christmas markets. I was especially looking forward to checking out the Belfast one. It is the Rolls Royce of the Irish festive calendar, after all. Unfortunately the market was a bit of a let-down for me (it was so crowded that it became impossible to really enjoy what the stalls had to offer) but I discovered that I actually really like Belfast! It came as a complete surprise as I had previously visited the Northern Irish capital and it had always left me rather cold. But with a few recommendations sent by some of my very kind instagram subscribers, I felt the city finally opening itself to me. I can’t wait to go back and explore it on a warmer day!

 

For 2019, I hope to continue to keep my travels very locally. My heart does not long for exotic horizons at the minute. Ireland, Belgium and the UK sound just right for me. I do want to spend more time near the sea so I’d love to do some kind of road trip along the coastline in the South of England. I’m also toying with the idea of cycling the Waterford Greenway in Ireland in the Spring. Finally, as mentioned above, another trip up to Belfast will hopefully be on the cards! That’s the extent of my travel wishes for 2019 but I’m very conscious of the looming Brexit cloud and I’m really not sure how it will affect travelling to the UK from Ireland. Tell me, do you have any exciting trip(s) planned for 2019?

14 Henrietta Street | Dublin

14 Henrietta Street Museum

There’s a new museum in town and it’s a good one. It is also an important one in the context of Dublin’s current homelessness crisis. 14 Henrietta Street tells the story of housing in Dublin from the 1750s to the 1970s. In the span of these 200 years, number 14 saw its residents drastically change from when it was a wealthy family’s townhouse to a tenement dwelling accommodating up to a 100 people.
Now you can step in 14 Henrietta Street and listen to its walls talking.

The museum is located on Henrietta Street, the first Georgian street in Dublin. It’s an atmospheric cul-de-sac which you can find in the North inner city. The houses are uncharacteristically tall, the road is still covered in cobblestones and at the end, you’ll find King’s Inns, the oldest school of law in Ireland.
It’s one of my favourite streets in Dublin, it has a striking old-world charm and for that reason it features in many films and tv shows.

14 Henrietta Street Museum

The street was built by architect Luke Gardiner in the 1720s. The houses here were to welcome Dublin’s high society.
In 1748, 14 Henrietta Street was ready and Lord Viscount Molesworth moved in with his family. It’s in these Georgian times that the museum tour starts.
As soon as our group opens the front door we are met with the reconstructed grand staircase. It’s easy looking at it to imagine how this family would receive and entertain their guests here. At the top of the stairs, we admire the place’s original features as well as the view on the street from the first floor’s window. It’s almost hard to believe it’s late Summer, the towering houses on the opposite side of the street cast such a cold shadow in the room.
We walk in the music room which original purpose is given away by the delicate instruments carved in the ceiling’s plasterwork. As we go through the period rooms, we learn of the Molesworth’s fate.
Following the 1800 Act of Union which joined Ireland to the United Kingdom, Dublin’s aristocracy left the city en masse for London. This plunged the city in a deep economic crisis. Landlords had now on their hands these big beautiful townhouses that no one could afford and they decided to cut them in flats.
Thus was born the era of Dublin’s tenement housing.

14 Henrietta Street Museum

This radical change of pace of the house hits us in the face as we open the blue bedroom’s back door to the service stairs. Here starts the tenement part of the museum. The walls are crumbling, it’s cold, dark and dingy. Our tour guide Tracey tells us that some visitors who used to live here can still smell the disinfectant that covered the walls. It’s undetectable to me but the walls indeed still bear the bleach-laced paints of Raddle Red and Reckitt’s Blue.
In 1877, Thomas Vance bought number 14 and divided it in 17 flats with only 2 toilets available. By 1911, 100 people were living in these dwellings. The poorest families were squeezed in into single rooms. You’d typically find these lower-rent rooms in the basement and this is where the tour continues after we carefully go down the rickety stairs.
The room is dark but for a sliver of light coming from the street above. The furnishing is minimalistic: a metal bed, some enamel wash-bowls, a couple of chairs, clothes hanging and holes in the wall that pass as a hearth.
The scene is directly inspired by the work of social photographer John Cooke. Back in 1913, he documented the state of Dublin’s slums. His pictures served as a base for the Dublin Housing Inquiry upon which actions were to be taken to improve the living conditions of the poor. Unfortunately, World War I broke out and the issue was swept under the carpet.
On the walls of the basement flat, we are shown John Cooke’s photographs depicting these living conditions and it’s absolutely heart-wrenching. It’s hard to believe that once a family of 13 had slept right here.

The tour continues upstairs, in a room where vintage toys and prams are gathered in a corner. As black and white pictures of children playing on Henrietta street are projected on the wall, we listen to Peter Brannigan, a former resident. He tells us what it was like growing up here in the 1940s.
Nursery Rhymes appear on the door and some visitors start singing along, bringing in the room the ghosts of their own memories of a distant Dublin.

14 Henrietta Street Museum

Next door, we learn of the end of tenement living. Low-income families were moved to new flat blocks and suburban cottage houses. This process started in the 1930s and went on until the 1970s. Of course, it was a blessing for these families. It meant safer living conditions, more room and also new hobbies for the wives like gardening or cooking. But there was a price to pay, it was lonely. They felt like they lost their community they had been relying on every day. The cost of life was higher too as the suburb shops tended to be pricier.

14 Henrietta Street Museum

The tour ends in a colourful explosion of knick-knacks in the last room. This is the recreation of Mrs Lily Dowling’s flat which would have looked like a typical tenement flat in the 1960s. It’s a lovely surprise in contrast of the previous rooms that were looking a bit bare.
The room is partitioned in three: there’s a tiny galley kitchen, a living room with a bed, a piano, there’s even a telly, and finally a small bedroom. The floor linoleum and wallpaper are striking replicas of scraps that were found during the building’s renovation.
Some visitors are enchanted to see the kitchen stocked with staples from another era. Tracey passes a carbolic soap that we gather around to sniff. It has an unpleasant smell of petroleum to my non-Dubliner nose but it seems to delight the woman next to me. ‘You can still buy them on Thomas Street!’, she exclaims. Her nostalgia is contagious and I feel myself warming up to the weird pink soap smell.

14 Henrietta Street Museum14 Henrietta Street Museum

14 Henrietta Street lifts the veil off an unpleasant part of Dublin’s history but don’t be put off by the idea as I think you’ll find yourself uplifted by the tour. Yes, you’ll feel anger towards landlords whose greed seem to know no limits and the feeling is certainly amplified in the current housing climate. But what stays with you is the strong community spirit the people of Dublin demonstrate by the bucket load in the presence of adversity.

14 Henrietta Street Museum

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

14 Henrietta Street, Townhouse and Tenement Museum – website
14 Henrietta Street
Inns Quay

Dublin 1

Opening Hours
10am – 4pm, tours are on the hour with the last tour at 4pm (Wednesday – Saturday)
12pm-4pm (Sunday)
Closed on Monday and Tuesday
Booking your ticket online is advised. 

Admission
General €9 / Concessions €6 / Family €20

Bus
1, 4, 9, 11, 13, 16, 38, 38A, 40, 46A, 83, 122, 140

Luas
Dominick Street Stop or Broadstone Stop (Green Line)

Howth Castle | Dublin

Howth Castle

Up until recently, I had never heard of Howth Castle, despite going to Howth Village more times than I can remember. Judging from the reactions I had from some Dubliners, I was definitely not the only one oblivious to its presence. This 700 year old castle is literally hiding in plain sight on the peninsula of Howth.
You see, when you exit Howth Dart Station, you instinctively take a left, in the direction of the harbour. Next time go against your instinct and take a right until you reach the estate’s impressive stone gate entrance. It would be a shame to miss this estate, scene of a pirate legend and of one of the most famous monologues in Irish Literature.

Howth Castle

From the time you pass under the entrance gate, it’s a good 10 minute uphill walk until you see the castle. It’s an impressive sight.  Notice the layers of history in all the parts that were successively added to the structure through the ages.
There has been a Howth Castle since 1180 on the edge of Howth village but nothing is left from that original timber building. The oldest parts you can see today date back from the mid-15th century.

What’s fascinating is that the same family has been living here since 1180 thus making Howth Castle one of the oldest residential castles in Ireland, if not Europe. The Lawrence Family has been carrying all sorts of stories and traditions over 35 generations. One in particular involves a lady pirate, Grace O’Malley. Back in 1576, she wished to visit the castle but when she knocked on the doors, she found them shut tight. The Lawrence Family was too busy having dinner to receive her. Strongly offended, she orchestrated the kidnapping of the family’s young heir in retaliation. After much discussion, Grace and the Lawrence came to an agreement. She was to bring the boy safe home on the condition that the castle doors must always be open and that an extra seat must be set at the table for any unexpected guests. It is said that the family still honours their promise even to this day. Do you reckon I could show up tonight for a bite?

Howth Castle

If you’re interested to know more about the castle and the Lawrence family, you can take part to a tour between the months of April and September, on Sundays.
To be found also inside the castle is the National Transport Museum of Ireland as well as the cosiest cafe I ever did see. It is located in the courtyard. As soon as I stepped inside the Castle Cafe, I felt like I had been transported to someone’s private garden, albeit with a grandiose castle background. Little white cast iron tables and chairs are scattered on the lawn and there’s also seating available in the adorable conservatory. I heard they make scones everyday fresh out of their aga. It sounds absolutely heavenly, I’m dying to try them out with some yummy jam. They also serve afternoon tea in this idyllic setting.

Howth CastleHowth Castle

Outside the castle, you still have plenty to explore in the 250 acre gardens so hold on to your boots. First you’ll stumble upon the Deer Park Golf. At the time of my visit (early June), it was completely covered with buttercups which was ever so cheerful. I immediately had the urge to cross the field and walk towards the sea until I reached the park’s edge. Through the trees, I was surprised to see spreading in front of me Howth harbour and its tiny seafood restaurants. It’s a crazy thought, Howth Castle demesne had been here all along, only hidden by a handful of trees. I could see below the streets I had trodden, oblivious to the amazing treasure that was lying so close.
This sudden change of perspective made me feel a bit dizzy. What else have I not noticed around me? I had missed a bloody castle, after all!

Howth CastleHowth Castle

After spying on the village like a creepy puppet master for a while, I set off in the direction of the golf club’s bar. Near the parking lot, I watched a lone golfer practising his swing. Surely, he must have felt like the luckiest golfer alive facing the epic view over the peninsula’s entrance.

Behind the building is the start to the Rhododendron Walk. It goes through a forest of, you guessed it, rhododendrons. It looks so out of place, almost jungle-like, you would not necessarily expect to find a setting like this in Ireland.  The forest paths are covered with the trees’ exposed twisting roots, I felt like I had just been transported in the film Legend. I don’t think it would have totally surprise me to catch a glimpse of a unicorn in between the foliage.
Note that the rhododendron trees bloom from May to June so make sure to plan your visit around that time to experience the place to its full potential.

Howth Castle
At the start of the walk, you can go straight and climb steep steps that will lead you to the top of the Rhododendron hill. It might take a little effort but believe me the pay-off is worth every steps. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that there you will find one of the most stunning views in Dublin. In my opinion, it ranks as high as the view from Killiney Hill. It sweeps over Howth Castle, Howth Harbour and the Ireland’s Eye. You can even see the Poolbeg Chimneys on the left!

Click here to read my post on Killiney Hill

Howth CastleHowth Castle

Now if you’d rather not climb any steps, you can take the path on your right to explore the forest grounds. There you’ll find an impressive dolmen, the 2nd heaviest in Ireland. It’s nicknamed Aideen’s Grave after a young widow who died of a broken heart following her husband’s death at the battle of Gabhra (AD 184). Unfortunately as romantic as this legend sounds, it can’t be true as the stone was dated at least 300 years older than the historic battle.

Howth CastleHowth Castle

Another fictitious love story was set among these trees. Indeed, it is here that Leopold Bloom proposed to Molly in James Joyce’s Ulysses. This is the scene of the most recognisable monologue in the book. Amongst these striking trees, she said yes she will yes. Who wouldn’t really?

See also: Drimnagh Castle, if you’re looking to visit another castle in Dublin

Howth Castle

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Howth Castle – website 
Howth Demesne
co. Dublin

Opening Hours
Tours of the castle are available on Sunday afternoon from April to September, you can book your ticket here.

Admission
The demesne is free to roam while the entrance fee to the castle starts at €50

Dart
Howth Station