Your Ultimate Guide to Glendalough | co. Wicklow

Glendalough
If you ever spend some time in Ireland, chances are that you’ll get recommended a visit to Glendalough a fair few times. It took me the good part of a decade to finally set foot in the old Monastic City so you can imagine how many times I heard the whole Glendalough spiel. Well, now it’s my turn to lay it all on you! Glendalough is one of the most visited attractions in Ireland and for good cause, this natural wonder is positively ravishing. So what are you waiting for? I know I know, I get you, when you don’t drive, it can be a tad tricky (and as I found out even if you do have a car, getting there may come with its own set of hurdles) but fret not, after spending 4 days there, I’m here to help you make the most of your time and organise a hopefully all-round fuss-free trip to Glendalough, car or no car.

1. ABOUT GLENDALOUGH

Glendalough means in gaelic ‘valley of the two lakes’. The two lakes, the Lower Lake and the Upper Lake, were shaped as a result of the thaw following the Ice Age. You can find this awe-inspiring valley in county Wicklow (Dublin’s southern neighbour county). It is part of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, the biggest of the 6 national parks in Ireland.
Glendalough is famous worldwide for its grand Monastic City which you can still see in part today. The monastic settlement finds its origin back to the 6th century when Saint Kevin founded the place after falling in love with the beauty of the quiet valley.
For 600 years, the settlement flourished. You’ll have to imagine the place in its heyday, it comprised of farm buildings, guest houses, an infirmary and dwellings for the monks and the local population. The monks organised manuscript workshops and sold oak timber to the Vikings to build their fleet. It all came to an end after multiple raids carried out by the English and the final nail on the coffin came with Glendalough losing its ecclesiastical status to Dublin’s Diocese. It remained a local church and a place of pilgrimage for a while but soon enough the place fell in ruins. The monuments you see today mostly date from the 10th to the 12th century.

The site of Glendalough can be divided in 3 sections and this is what you will find in each of them:

The Lower Lake

This is where you will find the famous Monastic City. Coming from afar, the first thing you’ll probably see is Glendalough’s very recognisable Round Tower, standing tall at 30m. It is said to date back from the 10th century. The Monastic City has many other interesting features so keep an eye out for the grand archway, which has a unique design, St Kevin’s Church, also called ‘the Kitchen’ due to the shape of its chimney, the Priest’s House and the eerie Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. If like me, you enjoy a graveyard full of Celtic crosses, you won’t be disappointed.
Fan of Irish folklore, legends and stories? Locate St Kevin’s Cross and try to wrap your arms around the cross to make your fingertips touch. There, all your wishes will be granted… or that’s what they say! Also don’t miss the Deer Stone which is said to have magical powers. Indeed, legend has it that if you splash your face with the water collected in its hollow, you might just keep your looks forever.
Next to the Monastic City are the Visitor Centre, the Glendalough Hotel and the first car park. In the Visitor Centre, there’s an exhibition and an audio-visual show (there’s an entrance fee of €5). If you want to book a tour guide of the Monastic City, you’ll have to contact the centre first by phone or fax.
Further down is the Lower Lake which you can cross thanks to a boardwalk or simply walk along its sides on a pathway.

GlendaloughGlendalough

The Upper Lake

A good 20 minute walk through a beautiful oak woodland will take you from the Lower Lake to the Upper Lake. There, you will find the Information Centre where you can enquire about Glendalough’s hiking trails and the local flora and fauna. Guided walks are also available. If you are hiking, this is where all the trails start.
Outside, you will find the second car park with food stalls and restroom facilities.
At the bottom of the lake, there’s a makeshift beach and one of the site’s most fantastic view so don’t miss it!
Take the path on the left of the Lake and start your hike along the Poulanass River and Waterfall. On the right, walk through a rather enchanting pine forest for about an hour and you will get to the Miners Village. Keep an eye for Temple-Na-Skellig (the original site of St Kevin’s settlement) and Saint Kevin’s Cave, both of which can be seen on the opposite lakeshore.

Miners Village and Beyond

This was actually my favourite area in Glendalough. There’s something chillingly atmospheric about this village in ruins at the bottom of the valley. If you could go back in time to the 1850s, you’d see here a bustling mine. Lead, zinc and silver were mined by 2000 workers here and in the neighbour valley. Business lasted for a 100 years until the 1950s when the mines were eventually abandoned.
Today, only a few structures are left standing as well as an old piece of machinery. I’m not going to lie when you get here, you feel like you reached the entrance to the Mordor. The hill slopes are covered with discarded stones which feels like they’re about to tumble in a rockslide any minute. Stop for a bit and observe the unfazed, feral goats jump from one rock to another without a sweat. They’re amazing little creatures!
Further up the path, you can ascend along the river which flows into the Upper Lake. At the top, you will be met with the rolling views of the Glenealo Valley where a herd of sika deer generally gently graze. Turn around and here is the spectacular panorama over the Upper Lake.
Now with the Upper Lake in your back, you can either go straight ahead and explore the Glenealo Valley or take a left, cross the makeshift bridge over the river and hike uphill to get to the boardwalk. This will lead you to the Spinc, one of the most sought after scenic view of the region.

GlendaloughGlendaloughGlendalough

2. GETTING THERE

By Public Transport

This is where things get a bit tricky and probably why it took me so long to visit Glendalough. There’s only one private bus company that serves the route between Dublin and Glendalough. Moreover, St Kevin’s Bus provides only two round trips a day (every day). The first one leaves Dublin at 11.30am which gets to Glendalough at 12.50pm and the last bus back to Dublin leaves Glendalough at 4.30pm (check the Summer and Winter timetables here). It is great if you plan to stroll on flat ground around the two Lakes, enjoy the hotel’s terrace, maybe squeeze in a small hike. But it will leave you on a tight schedule if you attempt one of the more challenging hikes (the longest hike on the map is 4 hours). But I personally wouldn’t recommend it as it’s best to allow some extra time in case something unexpected happens during the hike. I’m afraid your best option is to find a nearby accommodation for the night if you intend on fully exploring Glendalough.
One thing to keep in mind if you travel with St Kevin’s bus company is it can get extremely busy during the weekends, holidays and high tourist season. I took the bus from Dublin on a Tuesday in late August and it was so packed people had to stand for a few stops until the company called on an extra bus. I’d advise you to get to the bus stop early so you can get in the front of the queue to get a seat. A return ticket from Dublin is €20 which can be purchased on board (click here for a full list of fares).

Now another option would be to take the train to Rathdrum from Dublin. The trip takes a little more than an hour. From there, the company Wicklow Way Bus can pick you up and drive you directly to Glendalough. Be sure to book with them in advance by phone or email and let them know how many people will be there (you don’t need to be a group) and what time you plan to be at Rathdrum Station. The great thing is that they are available 7 days a week!

Lastly, you can go on a day tour with a private company. I can’t personally comment because I’ve never tried any but recently Wild Wicklow Tours, a family-run business that tours Glendalough and other places in county Wicklow, has been voted the best travel experience in Ireland and 10th in the world by Tripadvisor. It sounds like a safe choice to me!

By Car

The journey by car from Dublin to Glendalough, travelling on the N11, will take you a little more than an hour (it’s well posted, so just follow the signs). That is if you avoid the weekends, bank holidays and school holidays. In high season, Glendalough can get horridly congested and queues to the parking lots can get out of hand. So better plan a trip midweek or in low season if you don’t want to waste precious time on the road instead of enjoying the fresh mountain air.
Glendalough has two parking lots available. The first one in the Lower Valley, next to the Visitor Centre, comes with an entrance fee of €4 on weekends, bank holidays, Holy Week, Easter Week and during the months of June, July and August. It is free otherwise and open 24/7. The second one, next to the Upper Lake, will cost €4 at all times. It opens from 8am to varying times in the evening depending on the season so do check the signs before leaving the car park.
If you want to avoid parking in Glendalough, you can do so in the closest village, Laragh. There’s a parking lot on the main road to Glendalough that will cost you €5 and is open on the weekends and bank holidays.
Little insider tip for you, if you manage to park near the Glendalough Woollen Mills in Laragh, there is a pleasant forest walk starting behind the mills. It’ll take you straight to Glendalough in about 15-20 minutes.
For more information on parking your car in Glendalough, click here.
GlendaloughGlendalough

3. BEST TIME TO VISIT

Glendalough is open all year round, 24/7 but as I mentioned before it can get busy during the weekends, bank holidays and school holidays. Not only the car parks will be congested at these times but you will find the Monastic City and generally the grounds surrounding the two lakes quite crowded at these times. However, you’ll probably find some peace and quiet on your hikes. In summary, a day in the middle of the week and in the low season would be ideal!

Ireland can be touch and go when it comes to the weather… to put it mildly. From my own experience, the most pleasant months are May, June and September, which is great news for you as they’re not quite in the high season bracket.
In terms of seasons, there’s beauty to be found in each and every one of them. Glendalough is bursting with interesting fauna and flora which come and go at different times of the year. The Summers are green and lush, the gorse and heather splash the valley with joyful yellow and purple flowers. Springs come with the bluebells in the oak woodland and the Autumns turn the trees rust and gold. I am not sure I would actually recommend Winters although I’m sure it’s equally beautiful especially as the Wicklow Mountains are often the first area to get hit with snow. But Ireland is pretty much one giant storm from November to March so please bear in mind the weather conditions can be quite drastic. Moreover, if you intend to hike, some of the pathway are boardwalks so it can get quite slippery up there with snow or rain conditions.

4. ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD

You’ll have guessed it by now, if you don’t own or rent a car, your best bet to explore the hiking trails of Glendalough at your leisure is to find an accommodation nearby.
You have several options. On the site of Glendalough, you’ll find a hotel, a hostel and a couple of B&Bs. The closest town is Laragh which is a good 20 minute walk away. There you’ll find a few bed and breakfasts, hotels and airbnbs. But don’t stray too far away if you’re strictly on foot as you’ll need some energy left to hike in Glendalough.
When I visited, I went for a place on Trooper Hill, which is 1.5 hour walk away. It wasn’t the easiest on my legs, especially as you can imagine, my accommodation was located on a steep hill so coming home was rather arduous.
Worth a mention, Laragh Village has a bike hire shop with some fancy e-bikes that will make your exploring a lot easier. It is located next to the hotel Lynhams of Laragh.

When it comes to food, I was told by my host that the Glendalough Hotel has a very nice restaurant and bar. On the parking lot next to the Upper Lake, you’ll find food stalls that sell coffee, ice-cream and the usual chipper fare. I had a veggie burger and chips and you’ll hear absolutely no complaint from me. I thought it was actually a decent portion for the price but then I live in Dublin so most of the time I find everything cheap elsewhere. If you’re looking for a healthier option, you’ll probably have to pack some  food with you. Laragh Village has a few eateries and the cafe/deli The Glendalough Green has a tasty selection of foods that would be great in a picnic. I’d definitely suggest you take plenty of water and snacks (or even a picnic) with you if you intend on hiking. The longest hike is 4 hour long which can be done between meals but you never know!

5. WHAT TO PACK AND WEAR

It’s true what they say about the Irish weather, it is wildly unpredictable. Don’t be surprised if blazing sunshine is immediately followed by thunder and sleet. So the key to dressing here is definitely layers. You’ll want to check the weather cast before leaving and pack a weather-appropriate jacket, good footwear (if it rains or snows, make sure they come with gripping soles as the boardwalks at the top can be slippery). Make sure the clothes you wear are comfortable and breathable (go for natural textiles but avoid jeans as they take too long to dry if you get soaked). If the sun’s out, take your sunglasses and a hat.

In your bag, you’ll need:
– your phone, fully-charged (save the mountain emergency number, 999 or 112)
– rainproof jacket
– flask of water
– snacks (or picnic depending on the length of your hike)
– a map of the trails (you can pick it up for 50 cents at the Information Office, the Visitor Centre or you can download it for free on your phone via this link)
– sunscreen if it’s sunny
– if you plan on going off-track in the neighbouring valleys, take a compass
For more information on hiking responsibly in the Irish mountains, click here.

GlendaloughGlendalough

6. HIKING TRAILS

There are 9 waymarked trails on site. They range from ‘easy’ to more arduous ‘hill walks’. The shortest walk (1km) takes 30 minute to complete while the longest (11km) can be completed in about 4 hours.
All of the trails start at the National Park Information Centre near Upper Lake. If you’re looking for a guided walk, they can be arranged in the centre. Displays of the trail map can be found next to Visitor Centre and the Information Centre (inside, you can buy a map for 50 cents -or download it here for free).
The easiest trails wrap around the two lakes while the most challenging ones will lead you to the Poulanass Waterfall, the Spinc and further in the neighbouring valleys (Lugduff, Glendasan and Glenealo Valley). Some of them link with county Wicklow’s big hiking trails like St Kevin’s Way or the Wicklow Way.

 

I hope this posts answers all your question and you feel ready to explore the Glendalough Valley. If you’re on Instagram, do tag me @theartofexploring, I would love to see your pictures! Let me know in the comments if you think I missed something and I’ll get back to you.

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Russborough House & Parklands | co. Wicklow

Russborough House
One golden afternoon in the late Autumn, I took the 65 bus to county Wicklow. I got off at the end of the line, in a town called Blessington. It wasn’t my first time here, actually. I had stayed here for a couple of days in the Avon Ri Lakeshore Resort a few years back. It is a group of self-catered townhouses on the shore of the Blessington Lakes. I have fond memories of the place and I would totally recommend it if you’re looking for a base to explore Wicklow or if you simply want an escape from the city. The lakes are the perfect setting for invigorating country walks.
Coincidentally, the Avon Ri is also the start of the Greenway Walk, where I was headed that morning. This is the trail that leads directly to Russborough House. This Irish Stately House had been on my list of places to see for a really long time. I had read that it was one of Ireland’s most beautiful houses and I was dying to see it for myself.
Greenway Walk
The Blessington Greenway trail is a pleasant one hour and half walk (one way) on flat, well-maintained paths. They follow first the shores of the lakes then they go through wild woodlands. Half-way through, I felt my shrivelled urban lungs expand and fill themselves with the crisp cold Autumn air of the morning. Dry leaves were crunching under my feet and the pine trees wrapped me with their musky silence.
At the end of the trail, a stoned arch marks the entrance to the Russborough demesne. It opens to a long avenue bordered with trees which leads directly to the 18th century house. Its 210 metre-long facade (the longest frontage in Ireland) embraces a phenomenal view of valleys, mountains, lakes and, of course, sheep.
I sat down on a bench to take it all in (and to recover from the previous long walk).
Revived by my surroundings, I then headed to the ticket office and booked a tour inside the house. The tour was to start in an hour which left me a bit of time to explore the house’s grounds.
Russborough House
The courtyard is home to many artisan and craft stalls: a blacksmith, a candle-maker, a woodturner and a ceramicist. There, you will find also Ireland’s Bird of Prey Centre and if you’re lucky you might catch a show of falconry. It was a bit late in the year so I wasn’t. I didn’t feel too lucky either when I found out that the walled gardens were closed that day.
Nonetheless, I continued my exploration, walked by the maze and stumbled upon one of the previous owners’ grave, the 4th Earl of Milltown and the Countess. I also found a fairy trail and admired Lady’s Island where a little red Japanese bridge spans over a delightful brook.
But time was a-ticking and I headed back to the gift shop where the tour was to start. A friendly lady with a mellifluous germanic accent took our small group in the first room of the house. The dining room.
Russborough House
There, the long mahogany table had been laid out with silver candle holders, gilded porcelain plates and tiny crystal glasses for the sherry. Our tour guide set the scene and depicted the lives of those who once called Russborough home. It all started with Jospeh Leeson, 1st Earl of Milltown who asked Richard Cassels to design and build the house in 1741. Richard Cassels was one of the most prolific architects in Ireland of the time. He was a master of the Palladian style of which Russborough is a fine example.
The estate stayed in the Leeson family until 1914. It passed in the hands of a couple more owners then was finally acquired by Lord and Lady Beit. They were looking for a place to house their vast art collection.
The couple resided here until their final days (Lord Alfred Beit: 1994, Lady Beit: 2005) but they opened part of the house to the public, in the late seventies.
The life of the Beits at Russborough was eventful, to say the least. They’ve gone through: 4 robberies (one of them was even labelled ‘the biggest art robbery in history’ at the time), 1 forced occupation by the old IRA, 1 fire and 1 ghost. But not everything was gloom and doom, the couple actually had mostly a happy life here. They were renowned socialites and received many illustrious guests. Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful, Jackie Kennedy, Fred Astaire and Coco Chanel to name a few.
Having noticed some books on the Mitford Sisters in the gift shop (I used to be obsessed with them!), I asked the tour lady if there was any connections with Russborough, could they have been guests here too?
To my absolute delight, she informed me that the sisters were actually cousins of Lady Clementine Beit!
Russborough House
Russborough House
Russborough House
While learning about the life of the Beits, we had moved from one room to another. We passed the boudoir, the entrance hall, the reception room and my favourite, the library. As it happens, the favourite of the lady of the house too! Lady Clementine was a “mad bibliophile and adored being surrounded by books“. I couldn’t have thought of a better place for that as the walls were covered in books and the sofa near the chimney looked ever so inviting.
One thing that really impressed me throughout the whole visit was the ceiling and the wall plasterwork. The flamboyantly rococo stucco work was a speciality of the Lafranchini Brothers and if you see some in a Palladian house in Ireland, chances are they worked on them.
Russborough House
Russborough House
Russborough House
We climbed the equally ornate staircase to access the second floor. There the rooms are more plain, the showstopper here is undoubtedly the mesmerising view from the bedroom. My eyes got lost on the horizon and I couldn’t help thinking about the person waking up to this, every morning. They must have felt the luckiest human in the world!

Looking for more Wicklow gardens to visit? Head to my Wicklow section 

Russborough House

RUSSBOROUGH HOUSE PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Russborough House & Parklands – website
Blessington
co. Wicklow
Ireland

Opening Hours
see website

Admission
General €12 / Concession €9 / Child €6 / Under 5 Free

Bus
65

BLESSINGTON GREENWAY WALK PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The trail starts at the Avon Ri Lakeshore Resort and ends at Russborough House. Distance one way is 6.5 km which takes about 1.5 hour to complete. The trail’s grade is easy.

Mount Usher Gardens | co. Wicklow

Mount Usher Gardens

Can you believe this picture was only taken a couple of weeks ago? That’s the magic of maple trees bringing you Autumn in the middle of Spring! The Mount Usher Gardens in county Wicklow have a beautiful maple walk and more than 5000 different varieties of trees, shrubs and plants in which you can happily wander.

I had been patiently waiting Spring this year to finally visit one of the most renowned gardens in Ireland. I had first heard of it thanks to Magda’s colourful post and as I’m ticking off my list of things to do in Wicklow, it started to feel slightly wrong that I hadn’t explored one of its star-gardens yet. An hour bus journey or so will take you to Ashford, a little town where the gardens are located. As you go through the car park, you’ll find yourself in a courtyard surrounded by charming little shops. Delicatessen, garden centre and clothes shop,… if you know Avoca you’ll be familiar with the aesthetic. They manage the garden, and in typical Avoca’s fashion, they graced the place with an inviting cafe with a gorgeous vista on the garden’s gazebo. I sat ‘front row seat’ near the window and ordered a peanut butter parfait and a pot of peppermint tea. While I enjoyed my dessert, I observed the rich life of the garden unfolding right before my eyes, insects going about their day and perfectly round robins perched on nearby branches staring right at me.
Mount Usher GardensMount Usher Gardens

At the entrance you’re presented with a map offering a choice of trails. The lady at the desk recommended that I follow the tree trail as they have some champion trees of Ireland and the UK. It was fun to try to guess the varieties according to the leaf shapes and have a close look at weirdly exotic trees from Iran or China. I would have never thought these could thrive on Irish soil. Wild garlic was covering the forest ground, filling it with its sharp fragrance.
But call me frivolous, I think I am more of a ‘flower girl’ than a tree-hugger because the area I enjoyed the most was the ‘Island’, a patch right next to the house where so many posies bloom in eye-catching bursts of colours. I was also lucky to catch the tail-end of the bluebell season. I don’t think there’s something that invites more to the reverie than a bluebell wood. Will you look at that purple blanket, don’t you want to dive in it?
Mount Usher GardensMount Usher GardensMount Usher GardensMount Usher Gardens

Mount Usher gardens were founded in 1868 by Edward pole and stayed in his family’s estate for a little more than a century. There’s an interesting philosophy behind the creation of this beautiful piece of land. The family was greatly influenced by William Robinson, a famous Irish gardener who reacted against the rigid approach of gardening of his time. He believed a garden should grow on nature’s term.
In the Eighties, Madeleine Jay, a garden lover, bought the property and took the Robinsonian style a step further by managing the property organically. A way of doing that is still carried on today by Avoca.

Mount Usher Gardens
The Walpole family’s pet cemetery Mount Usher Gardens

The Vartry River runs through the gardens and I think, instinctively, people tend to walk along it. It’s a pleasant walk, there are beautiful little cascades, suspension bridges and from time to time, a fish burst out of the water to catch a fly or a mosquito. But wander off the river path and you’ll find yourself inside a beautiful Irish oil painting.

Mount Usher Gardens

MOUNT USHER GARDENS’ PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Mount Usher Gardens – website
Ashford, co. Wicklow, Ireland

Opening Hours
10am-6pm (Mon-Sun, all year)

Admission
General €7.50 / Reduced €6.50 / Children under 16 €3.50 / Children under 4 Free

Bus
133 Bus Eireann (from Dublin)

Zwartbles Farm | co. Kilkenny

The weeks following the Paris Attacks, nothing seemed of importance anymore. Certainly not travel or my microadventures I usually like to write about here. One thing kept me sane though: reading about people’s kindness, about their humanity eclipsing the surrounding darkness. It reminded me then that I had met an extraordinary woman last year whom I hadn’t talked to you about yet and I promised myself I would write about her as soon as writing made sense again.
Zwartbles FarmZwartbles Farm

I was lucky to meet Suzanna during a blogging trip to Kilkenny last year. A handful of bloggers and I were invited to explore the county’s food and craft trails. Just as our journey was coming to an end, Suzanna very generously invited us all in her farm at the last minute. As our car pulled up in her courtyard, it felt like we had just entered the setting of an epic Victorian novel. The farm house looked like the cosiest place on Earth.

The woman of the hour, like an unwavering captain, gave us a brief introduction of her fleet and the work she does at the farm. After a few minutes, it became apparent to my untrained ear that there was a melodic American twang in her speech. Indeed, Suzanna was born in New York but she later moved to Ireland to manage the farm that has belonged to her family for generations. Against all odds, she invested in a few Zwartbles sheep whose black wool was rather unpopular. Undetered, Suzanna managed to get people on board with her project and she’s now famous for the beautiful dark blankets, rugs and yarn she produces from her herd.

Zwartbles FarmZwartbles Farm

She then led us in a tour of her property. First stop, the apple and pear orchard where crates full of produce awaited us. We were invited to pick some and this simple gesture filled me with glee, knowing that I would be able to cook with an ingredient that had freshly fallen from one of the happiest trees in Ireland. We also bonded with Bodacious, the cat shepherd which stunned Suzanna a bit as he’s not usually that friendly with strangers. They must have been some powerful cat ladies in our group!

It was then time to meet “Suzanna’s girls“. Here they come…
Zwartbles FarmZwartbles Farm
As soon as we stepped inside the Zwartbles pen, a wave of chocolatey fluffiness charged at us. I’m not going to lie, for a second I thought I was about to get trampled in a stampede. I had never witnessed such enthusiastic sheep behaviour, they jumped around us like excited puppies. Suzanna had a name for each one of them and the fact that she mentioned in passing that their meat tasted sweeter because of the apples they eat from the ground didn’t even make me shudder. She prides herself in giving her animals a good life and it showed, unequivocally so.
Zwartbles Farm

I could have photographed these little cuties all day, I actually was the last one to leave the pen while Suzanna was patiently waiting for me to close the gate. Unfortunately night was falling fast and in the dusk’s last breath, Suzanna quickly showed us her other pride and joy, a herd of Clun Forest sheep. Funnily enough, this breed stands on the opposite side of the personality spectrum. They’re rather frail and timid creatures, and in lieu of a friendly stampede, they felt more comfortable at a distance, observing us, their rabbit ears pointing towards the sky.

To my greatest joy, we also met some alpacas and discovered a rather amusing fact. They’re used on the farm to protect the animals from foxes. They’re actually very efficient guards as they’re able to knock the predators out with their fast side kicks. Who knew alpacas were ninjas in disguise?!

Zwartbles Farm
Zwartbles Farm
We then met the horses and had a wander through the kitchen garden where grew, to my surprise, grapes. Actual grapes in Ireland, isn’t that amazing?!

When it got to the point where we couldn’t see our own feet anymore, we followed Suzanna in her cosy kitchen for a cuppa and chats. Inside, she surprised us with lamb chops, sprigs of sage and a recipe of her own including all of the ingredients she had so kindly given to us that eve. I unfortunately couldn’t stay as I had a train to catch but one thing I’ll say is I felt energised and inspired by this meeting, I love how Suzanna went with her gut feeling and made the ‘black sheep’ happen in Ireland but above all I admire how she’s in tune with nature, working with it to place on her table and her customers the most beautiful produce.

I’ll end this post by warmly recommending you to follow her on Instagram / Facebook / Twitter if you haven’t done it already. I’ve never seen a business use social media in such fun and genuine way before. Every day, she involves her followers in the daily tasks of a farmer. From the birthing of a lamb to Bodacious, the cat shepherd, sleeping in the crockery, her and her companions will make you smile, sometimes several times a day; and lately, I’m sure you’ll agree, we all need that extra dose of cheerfulness.

More information on Zwartbles Farm and its shop on their website.

Killruddery Gardens | co. Wicklow

Killruddery GardensKillruddery Gardens
I was just writing my Irish Summer Checklist when I realised I had not shown you the beautiful Killruddery Gardens in Bray yet. I visited them 3 years ago and since then, every time the weather warms up, I’ve been meaning to come back to visit the house.
Last time, the weather was so gorgeous that it felt kind of wrong to spend any time indoors. Also I remember thinking back then that I really should start watching The Tudors since it’s one of the filming locations for the series and somehow, I haven’t watched one episode either. I don’t know who I am anymore. So once again, ‘Killruddery House’ finds its way onto my list of places to visit during the Summer, I’ve got a strong feeling it will happen this time but in the meantime, let’s have a look at the gardens, shall we?
Killruddery GardensKillruddery Gardens
Killruddery Gardens
Killruddery Gardens
There’s quite a bit to explore in Killruddery Gardens: formal gardens, maze-like topiary where you can hide, a mini forest , canals, a walled garden with vegetables and a farm. It’s just the perfect setting to wander aimlessly.
The day I was in, people were rushing around to get an evening banquet ready. Next to the long table, a whole hog was spinning on a giant skewer. I had only seen those in Asterix comics before so it was a bit of a shock! After I stopped my stomach from turning (hello I’m a wimpy vegetarian!), I had to admit that the whole thing fitted so well the spirit of the gardens, the oldest in Ireland that survived in its authentic 17th century form.
Killruddery GardensKillruddery Gardens
Killruddery GardensKillruddery Gardens
Killruddery Gardens
Killruddery Gardens

Did you know?

Killruddery was the film location for The Tudors, My Left Foot, Far and Away, Angela’s Ashes and Camelot

Are you in Ireland this Summer and wish to visit some gardens? Here are a few more I wrote about: Powerscourt Gardens | Altamont Gardens | Dublin’s Botanic Gardens

Killruddery Gardens
Practical Information

Killruddery House & Gardens – website
Southern Cross, Bray

Co. Wicklow

Opening Hours
9.30am – 6pm, every day (May – September)
9.30am – 6pm, weekends only (April & October)

Admission
Adults €6.50 / Concession €5.50 /Children under 12 €2 / Children under 4 Free (Gardens Only)
Adults €11 / Concession €9 / Children under 12 €3 / Children under 4 Free (Gardens + House*)

*Guided tours of the house start at 1pm, 2pm, 3pm & 4pm (July-Sep)

The farm market is on every Saturday, from 10am to 4pm

How to get there (from Dublin)
Take the Dart to Bray then the bus 84 or 184 outside the Dart station

 

Kilkenny Food & Craft Trails | co. Kilkenny

Abbey House b&b

Here is Day 2 of the blogger tour of Kilkenny I took part in at the end of the month of October. If you missed Day 1 and want to get caught up, you can find the summary of the day here.

After a cosy night at the Abbey House bed & breakfast, I woke up to a beautiful autumnal view outside my window. I packed my stuff and all of us went to Goatsbridge Farm for breakfast. We gathered around Mag & Ger’s table to hear the story of trout fishing in the region and how his father started the family business. The visit of which was our first stop of the day on the Kilkenny Food trail.

goatsbridge trout farm
goatsbridge trout farm
Goatsbridge Trout Farm

Ger gave us a tour of the farm, telling us all about trouts from egg to mature fish. We had a look at the different ponds where the fish hang out in what seems like a constant rush hour, swimming against the current.
Goatsbridge, as well as being a farm, is also a visitor centre and a shop where they sell their beautifully packaged trout products: trout caviar, fillets & pate. They even have a snazzy website with an online shop if you want to have a look and treat yourselves to some local fish delicacies.

Goatsbridge Trout Farm
Thomastown, co. Kilkenny
http://www.goatsbridgetrout.ie
Opening Hours: 9am-5.30pm (Mon-Sat)

karen morgan ceramics
karen morgan ceramics
Karen Morgan Porcelain

Next, we visited Karen Morgan’s studio & shop, where we admired her beautiful homeware collection. She makes these elegant flowy pieces, inspired by the movement of clay and water. Her jugs, cups and dishes have that whole Scandinavian minimalist vibe that is so pleasing to the eye. She also stocks in a couple of places around the county, and she has an online shop as well.

Karen Morgan Porcelain’s studio & shop
Market Street
Thomastown, co. Kilkenny
http://www.karenmorganporcelain.com/
Opening Hours: 10am-1pm/2pm-6pm (Tue-Sat)

jerpoint glass
Stoneyford
Jerpoint Glass

We then managed to squeeze a speedy visit at Jerpoint Glass Studio. There was no glass blowing demonstration unfortunately that morning but Roisin led us in the gallery and told us all about the story of Jerpoint glass. Back in the Sixties, her father went to Sweden to train as a master glass blower and then decided to come back in Ireland and set shop in a beautiful converted barn in Stoneyford, co. Kilkenny. You will find there today a gallery, a shop where they display their colourful creations and you can also attend glassblowing demos. Added bonus, the view outside the barn rolls out on miles and miles of a patchwork of fields. I couldn’t help snapping a quick picture on my way back to the car.

Jerpoint Glass
Stoneyford, co. Kilkenny
http://www.jerpointglass.com/
Opening Times

knockdrinna cheese farm
Knockdrinna Cheese Farm & Shop

At Knockdrinna Farm House, we discovered that Helen’s business started in her back kitchen where she decided to experiment with cheese making about 10 years ago. Fast forward to today, Knockdrinna Farm house holds a visitor centre, cheese making classes and a cute little shop-cum-café. You’ll find there cow, goat and sheep cheese and this month they released a nifty little thing, a combination of soft cheese and pesto, or relish, on top, that looks a bit like those fancy yogurts with jam on top (for my Irish readers, I think it is available in Supervalu). Helen generously gave us a little prototype pot and I can tell you one thing  it was such a success that it hardly had any time in the fridge.

Knockdrinna Cheese Farm, Shop & Café
Stoneyford, co. Kilkenny
http://www.knockdrinna.com
Summer Opening Hours: 9.30am-6pm (Mon-Sat) / 11am – 5pm (Sun)

feta & beetroot salad
Cafe Sol Bistro

For lunch, I was happy to be back at Cafe Sol Bistro where my feast took place the night before. I decided to go for a lighter option this time and picked the feta & beetroot salad, which was very tasty but also filling. Beetroots are my faves <3

Cafe Sol Bistro
Low Street
Thomastown, co. Kilkenny
http://www.restaurantskilkenny.com

thomastown school of food
francis nesbitt
Thomastown School of Food

After lunch, we went on the site of a former boys’ school in Thomastown. This is where the food education centre, the whole county has been raising money for the night before, will stand. Francis Nesbitt, the project coordinator, gave us a tour of the grounds and explained us where everything will be. Once the school is up and running, chef training and public cooking classes will be available. If I’m not mistaken, construction is supposed to start this month but they haven’t reached their target quite yet… Almost there, though! So if you want to give the little push they need, here is the link to donate.

zwartbles farm
zwartbles farm
Zwartbles Farm

And lastly, Suzanna kindly invited us over at her farm where she raises a cuddly fluffy breed of black sheep called Zwartbles. She sells yarn, rugs and blankets made of their unusual wool. What a tremendous place and what a freaking amazing woman. I felt like I had been propulsed inside one of those big countryside saga novels. I left truly inspired and I wish I had more time to roam around, pet the sheep (we were losing the light fast) and unfortunately, I had to catch the bus back to my urban surroundings. Sigh.

Zwartbles Farm
co. Kilkenny
http://www.zwartblesireland.com

I’d like to dedicate a whole post to some of these places so keep your eye out for that if you enjoyed these Kilkenny posts. Also, I wanted to apologise for the few phone pictures inserted in these, I had just opened an instagram account and sometimes forgot to take photos on my DSLR when taking instagrams. I hope you don’t find them too offensive.
A huge thank you again Dee, Susan, Mag, Ger and all the Kilkenny producers for this splendid introduction to Kilkenny. It was amazing to hear all your stories. And finally, I wanted to thank my fellow bloggers Elaine, Billy, Margaret, Janine, Sadhbh & Miriam for their awesome company.

(For transparency purposes, this is not a sponsored post, but accommodation & meals were kindly provided)

Savour Kilkenny Festival & #1000Feasts | co. Kilkenny

Kilkenny Day 1
Last month, I was super lucky to be invited along with a handful of Irish bloggers to a trip to discover the food and craft scene in Kilkenny. I had never been to the city, or the county for that matter before, my knowledge of Kilkenny city extended to ‘somewhere there is a castle‘ (which, in fairness, could apply to pretty much anywhere in Ireland) so this weekend ended up being the most perfect introduction one could dream of really. I have to say Kilkenny found a cosy warm little spot in my heart after two intense days of exploration and meeting the lovely people behind the local food and craft scene.
I thought I would reminisce with you what happened during those two days and I’m crossing my fingers that I manage to somewhat convey the warmth of this beautiful county through your screens.
Here is Day 1.

Kilkenny Day 1

On the first day, Dee from Green and Vibrant and Mag from a local trout farm welcomed our little group of bloggers in front of the castle (that castle!). The blogger tour was taking place as part of the #1000Feasts campaign (more on that later) and Kilkenny food festival Savour Kilkenny. After all the introductions were made, we had a little wander around the festival, smelling and sampling the best food of the county.
We then headed to listen to a talk on ‘War Stories from the Kitchen‘, an insight into the Irish restaurant business. It was an interesting peek behind the ‘kitchen curtain’.

Kilkenny Day 1
Wild mushroom gnocchi in the Bula bus #1000Feasts #kilkenny

Then all of a sudden, it was lunch time and we made our way to Billy Byrnes pub which shelters the Bula Bus in its backyard. A literal hidden gem.
The Bula Bus serves street food with foraged seasonal goods. I absolutely loved that take on the cuisine genre and the place oozes so much coolness, what with the double decker rescued from the Manchester public service and its street art makeover.
I had the wild mushroom gnocchi which were little mouthfuls of melting joy, accompanied with a side of sweet potato fries. The garlic sauce was so on point, it wasn’t even funny.

Kilkenny Day 1

Replete, we had a little mooch around the town. Kilkenny is quite the charmer what with the cute shop fronts and the river running in its heart.
I was looking forward to have a closer look around the castle and had my mind blown to find a breathtaking autumn wonderland within its walls.

Kilkenny Day 1
Kilkenny Day 1Kilkenny Day 1
Another surprise and a bit of a culture shock also awaited for me inside. The Irish Conker Championship was taking place that very day on the castle grounds. I had never heard of the practice before but I soon found out that it is actually a very popular game in Irish and English school playgrounds. I watched grownups hitting nuts on a thread for a while and felt that I may have missed out on something in my childhood.
Kilkenny Day 1
After this entertaining if not slightly surreal interlude, it was time to go back to Savour Kilkenny where we were to meet some of the new food producers on the county scene. I sampled some tasty cakes from Eadaoin’s Kitchen and chatted with the sparkly Joan from Joan and Bob’s Juicy Jams. Artist husband and wife have put their creativity into the business of jam-making, in every steps from the beautiful drawn label design to the surprising flavour combination. Can you think of something more decadent than putting Strawberry, Peach & Prosecco jam on your toasts for breakfast?
Kilkenny Day 1
The festival closed its doors and it was time for us to head to our accommodations to freshen up before dinner. I stayed in the Abbey House B&B, just next to the Jerpoint Abbey in Thomastown.
Dinner parties were hosted all over the county for the night of the #1000Feasts. The campaign had for goal to raise money for the building of a food hub in Thomastown. The place will serve as a school to train chefs but also provide education for healthy eating and growing with a community garden. This is an important project not only for the county but also for Ireland as a whole to improve and build upon their food destination status. The operation was a great success but the target has not been reached quite yet, so if you’re feeling generous, here is the link if you wish to donate for a great cause.

Kilkenny Day 1

My feast took place in a little cosy restaurant in Thomastown called Cafe Sol Bistro. For starter, I chose the plate of halloumi cheese and orange, the combination was actually incredible. I would have never thought of it! For the main, I had a courgette roast, it was as delicious as beautiful to look at. All the flavours came perfectly through without it being too seasoned or spicy. A mistake I found is often made with vegetarian dishes. I was really chuffed with my choice.

For the second part of the feast, we met again with Mag, she welcomed us into her home where we enjoyed a tasty slice of cake for dessert and lively chats. Her husband Ger even treated us to a little impromptu singing performance. And there it was, in the candle light glow, the infamous Irish hospitality which made the whole campaign a success and a night to remember for years and years to come.

 I will tell you all about day 2 next week so do come back for more awesome Kilkenny people and cute fluffy sheep – edit here is Day 2. Also do check out my fellow bloggers who were also present on the trip: Margaret, Janine, Elaine, Sadhbh and Billy.

Powerscourt Gardens | co. Wicklow

pegasus powerscourtiron garden gate

I visited Powerscourt Estate for the first time last year after a long and cold Irish winter that coincided with a long and dark season in my personal life. It was April and I was starting to wonder if it will be sunny ever again. It looked pretty bleak, it even snowed the week before.
But somehow, the miracle of Spring happened again and as sun rays pierced the thick clouds, I decided to finally visit that place I had heard so much about. Lonely Planet listed Powerscourt as one of the greatest houses and this year National Geographic voted it the third best garden in the world.
Pretty impressive, right? Those titles are definitely not unearned, the estate brought back some needed magic in my life. It made me realise that I have all those amazing places practically on my doorstep and I needed to start exploring, look for my Spring and stop waiting for it (which is a message I’m trying to convey through this blog, everyone’s backyard is worth exploring).

powerscourt housepowerscourt statues
powerscourt house + sugar loafjapanese garden
fountain powerscourt
iron chairspink azalea

Powerscourt Estate goes back as far as the 13th century and has been a work in progress over the years. Today, when you visit the estate, you’re met with an impressive mansion holding an array of shops that boast beautiful Irish design and craft within its walls. If you’re in the market for gifts, souvenirs and local delicacies to bring home, this is a brilliant place to shop as you have so much choice on hand. Not an Irish product but I was super excited to see that the shop Avoca stocks some of Rifle Paper Co‘s divine stationary.

On the first floor, you will find Tara’s Palace, one of the greatest doll’s house in the world, in the Childhood Museum. Click here to read about my visit there.

The terrace café is a lovely place to have a slice of cake (or two) as the views on the Wicklow Mountains are stunning. Outside you’ll be met with the beautiful Italian Gardens and a panoramic view over the estate. There is so much to explore: Japanese gardens, a pet cemetery, a walled garden, a greenhouse, the Pepperpot tower, a deerpark and the highest waterfall in Ireland.

french gardens
gilded garden gate
greenhouse
flower parterre
powerscourt house + mountains
wicklow mountains powerscourt

Did you know?: Stanley Kubrick filmed Barry Lyndon in Powerscourt House. Powerscourt has actually been used as a filming location many times, check out IMDB for the full list.

My favourite part was the walled garden, not surprisingly, and especially the gilded iron gates which reminded of pictures I saw of Versailles’s gates.
Although I’ve been to Powerscourt twice already, I’ve quite a bit left to explore. There’s the pet cemetery, it might sound weird but the stones’ epitaphs are said to be heart-warming (I kind of avoided it last time as my dog had recently passed away and I was worried to lose it); and also the waterfall and the deerpark.
This time, I’ll do a favour to myself and not wait for Spring to visit Powerscourt again.

powerscourt estate

Practical Information

Powerscourt Estate – website
Enniskerry
Co. Wicklow

Check out their website for the events programme

Opening Times: 9.30am – 5.30pm; During Winter, gardens close at dusk
Closed on December 25th & 26th

Admission Fee: Adults 8.50€ / Studens, OAP 5 € / Children < 16yo 3.50€ / Children <2yo Free

How to get there (from Dublin): Take the Dart to Bray then the Bus 185 (the departure stop is directly outside Bray Dart Station)

More information on the Waterfalls and Tara’s Palace, Museum of Childhood

Postcards from Courtown Harbour | co. Wexford

courtown harbour main st
Today will be a short but (hopefully) sweet post on a charming seaside town in the East of Ireland. This is Courtown Harbour, which I mentioned in my last post when Magda, her boyfriend and I visited the Seal Rescue Centre.  The purpose of the trip was seeing the baby seals so I didn’t get to see much of the town, but we did manage to squeeze a lunch in the Wishing Well. I had an open prawn sandwich which I thought was good, honest food, but I don’t think Magda was feeling her meal; I think it’s harder to win a foodie’s heart. I, on the other hand, could literally eat anything.
wishing well café
ice cream parlour
verbena house
On the way to the Seal Rescue Centre, we walked a bit along the shore and I was amazed how busy the beach was. I hadn’t expected it as it was the first time I ever heard of Courtown but it turns out it’s quite a popular holiday destination among the Irish. Courtown is next to Gorey train station which is reachable from Dublin by a 1h40min train journey. So that might explain that, other than the fact that it is actually quite cute, don’t you think? I’m definitely keeping that one for a possible week-end getaway next Summer.
courtown beach
souvenir shop + harbour
taravie hotel
courtown harbour

Seal Rescue Centre | co. Wexford

sea petalbaby seal

When I visited Wexford Lavender Farm with Magda and her boyfriend, they cleverly checked the stand in the café with all the leaflets of the surrounding attractions. They found one for the Seal Rescue Centre, located a few miles away from the farm. This looked too amazing to be missed, so we hit the Wexford road again and, in no time, got to the popular seaside town of Courtown (I’ll show you what the harbour looks like in a later post – edit: here is the post if you’re interested).

After a spot of lunch, we headed to the rescue centre and got a super-friendly welcome from the volunteers. We received a tour of the premises and got introduced to all the little seals on the mend. There were Anthony, Bubbles, Mr Yeat, Jenny (the master of the pool), the cutie pie Sea petal (look at her though in the first picture) and other pretties whose names escape me now. The centre was pretty busy as it takes care of all the seal pups in need all over the Republic of Ireland (and sometimes extends their help to Northern Ireland when their own centre is full). Amazed, we listened to the stories of how some of the seal pups ended up in the centre. One was found by a farmer in a middle of his field with no visible explanation as to how it ended there; or another apparently tired decided to jump on a passing boat and have a rest there.

Ireland counts among its seas 2 species of seals: the grey seal and the common seal (ironically the less common of the two). And if you ever encounter a baby seal washed ashore, the rescue centre has some steps for you to follow if you think it is in danger (you should never put it back to the sea).

seal pup in pondanthonythermometers for seal pupsseal rescue centre volunteersclose your eyes

After the introductions, we waited around for the seal pups’ afternoon snack. Volunteers follow three methods to feed their little patients, depending on their age. When they arrive to the centre, seal pups are sometimes as young as a few days and the volunteers have then act as substitute to their mother to help them survive. They will tube-feed the newborns with what they call a fish soup (blended fish). The method looks and sounds a bit traumatic, but the young seal learn to adapt quite quickly. The reason of the tube rather than a more reassuring-looking baby bottle is that the surface from where the seal pup breastfeeds from his mother is completely flat. Instinctively, they would never take a bottle’s teat. After several weeks (it takes much longer than breastfeeding as the fish soup is not as nutrient-packed as the mother seal’s milk), the volunteers will teach the pups how to feed on whole fish. During these 2 phases, the pups are being kept in kennels. Once they’re autonomous enough, they’re transfered to the pool.

feeding fish soup to seal pupsrescued seal pupcollage seal pups BWfeeding fish to seal pupsolder seal pupshousekeeping
                                                     -oh hey, fancy seeing you here!-

Top Tip: Plan your visit around the seal pups’ feeding times. The volunteers will explain and then demonstrate how they’re taking care of them.

It is important for the volunteers not to interact too much with the seals and keep them wild, especially as they’re in the pool stage, the goal is to release them to the sea as soon as they reach a healthy weight. The rescue centre has an amazing 80% success rate upon release.

If you’re ever in the area, I encourage you to pay a visit to the centre, the staff are so friendly and I think it’s good for the soul to be reminded that humans can also do awesome things for the environment. Plus, you’ll be doing a good deed as the centre relies on the prices of the tickets they sell as well as donations to function.

Word of warning, the cuteness overload may be too much to handle though.

seal rescue centre courtown

Practical Information

Seal Rescue Centre – website
Courtown Harbour

Gorey
Co. Wexford

Opening Hours: 10am – 6pm (Summer) / Phone in advance (Winter)

Admission: 4€ / <3 y0 Free / Family 12€

Feeding Times: 10 am / 12 pm / 4 pm