A romantic castle facade gives way to a magical stay

Located in northwest Ireland, Solis Lough Eske Castle offers guests a fairytale escape surrounded by beautiful landscapes, as Anna Smith discovered.

Situated by a mountain-flanked lake in northwest Ireland, Lough Eske Castle is a favourite for weddings, and it is evident why as we drove up its imposing path. A fairytale castle, it lies amidst vast grounds punctuated by charming outdoor areas perfect for celebrating alfresco. The castle traces its roots back to the late 1400s and the O’Donnell family, the founders of nearby Donegal town, so it’s pretty grand stuff.

200 Lough Eske BedroomBedrooms are spacious and well accommodated
Solis Lough Eske Castle

We’re lucky enough to arrive on an unusually hot and sunny day so the place looks terrific on approach. Like many of the 96 guest rooms, our garden suite is actually in a modern extension out the back, which is functional looking and quite different in style than its facade - hardly the full Irish castle experience. Still, inside it is tastefully decorated and spacious with a comfortable bed, large tiled bathroom, and living area. It is also short stroll from Cedars Grill restaurant, where we’re booked for dinner.

Cedars combines floor-to-ceiling garden views with cosy banquette-style seating: we opt for a corner booth lined in lemon velvet. As with the entire hotel, the staff are extremely friendly and efficient (not to mention all quite excited about this fantastic weather). Cedars’ set menu goes for €39 while mains on the à la carte start at around €19.

200 Lough Eske OutdoorsPack a pair of good hiking shoes
Solis Lough Eske Castle

From the second our teeth sink into our starters, we know it’s worth the price. The scallops are superb and only outdone by the sorbet we’re given before our main course, which is sprinkled with sparkly sherbet drops that recall favourite childhood sweets. What Cedars does particularly well is beef and my Irish rib-eye is cooked to perfection, albeit at 10oz far more than I can eat. While full, we force ourselves to order a sampler of various different puddings and they go down remarkably easily: the frozen Tyrconnell Irish coffee, complete with whiskey marshmallow, is a highlight (and I don’t even like coffee).

Breakfast the next morning is also plentiful: a large hot and cold buffet featuring fresh ingredients and an omelette chef waiting to take your order and make it in front of you.

200 Spa Solis PoolEnjoy an aromatherapy spa treatment
Solis Lough Eske Castle

Fittingly, the area around Lough Eske is the perfect setting for walking off a big meal or two. We take a hike into the Bluestack Mountains on the trail that starts just by the hotel’s exit. The scenery is stunning and the hotel has packed us a hearty lunch (there go our good intentions). Reception gives us a map but it is quite basic so we easily get lost: serious walkers should make sure they’re well briefed and equipped in advance. We opt for a five-hour hike, eventually finding the way back and returning just in time to ease our weary limbs at the hotel spa, Spa Solis. The 60-minute Real Aromatherapy Experience spa treatment, performed by a supremely professional staff, is super-relaxing – the perfect way to unwind after the long afternoon.

200 Drawing RoomHole up in the library on a rainy afternoon
Solis Lough Eske Castle

So, we know that Lough Eske is gorgeous in the sunshine but what of the Irish rain? We get our answer on day two, when it obligingly begins to tip it down. Turns out the castle’s library is the perfect place to snuggle into a comfortable armchair, browse through a vintage book and watch the rain through the window. With two weddings the same weekend as our stay, there were many arrivals and departures yet the place never felt overcrowded or loud. At the end of the night, we run into our airport transfer car reluctant but thoroughly satisfied: Lough Eske is definitely a welcoming retreat, rain or shine.

Solis Lough Eske Castle
Donegal Town, County Donegal, Ireland
Tel: +353 (0) 7497 25100.
Website: www.solislougheskecastle.ie
Price: Double rooms are from €185 per night, on B&B basis.

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