Discover Donegal this summer

Lough Eske Castle
Lough Eske Castle, Donegal

When the global pandemic brought the world to a standstill, tourism providers across the country dug deep to pivot and innovate so they could reopen safely. This week saw the phased reopening of our hospitality sector, and while Covid 19 has had a devastating impact on tourism, it also appears that Donegal’s world class wilderness is more appealing to visitors than ever before.

Donegal is a county made for social distancing, with vast and rugged landscapes and deserted beaches where adventures can be as sociable or solitary as you like. With over 1,134km of breathtaking coastal scenery, Donegal has one of the longest coastlines on the Wild Atlantic Way. The county also boasts 12 blue flag beaches – the most of any county in Ireland – many of which you will often have completely to yourself.

Donegal is also home to one of only three glacial fjords in Ireland: Lough Swilly. The best way to experience Lough Swilly is by boat and among the businesses reopening this week, was Eco Atlantic Adventures, run by Hugh Hunter: “We offer eco-friendly outdoor activities including kids’ kayaking camps, adult kayak tours, hill walking, rock climbing, coasteering, abseiling and morning beach bootcamps. We have kids kayak camps for aged 8+ running throughout the summer in Portsalon and Rathmullan. One of our most popular activities for adults and over 16’s is our guided kayak tours to the Seven Arches Caves in Portsalon, exploring hidden caves and beaches only accessible by kayak, while enjoying spectacular scenery and the rugged Donegal coastline.”

“We are slowly reopening and have taken measures to ensure the safety of all our customers” Hugh added. “All equipment is sterilised between sessions and sharing of equipment is prohibited. We’re delighted to be back on the water and to be able to bring the beauty of Lough Swilly to visitors once again.”

Portsalon Luxury Camping also reopened for the season this week and such is demand, that owners Helen and Sean Coll are already fully booked for July and August: “We are really pleased and relieved to  finally make a start to our 2020 season after an extended hibernation period” Helen said. “Every day of lockdown we have felt so very grateful for the luxury of our magnificent setting. We have been able to enjoy the stunning sunrises over Lough Swilly and have had plenty of time to ponder during long exhilarating walks up Cashel hill amongst the wild hillside goats and beautiful wildflowers. We have put lots of extra hours into our organic vegetable garden – food for the soul as well as the table!”

“Our business is faced with many challenges, but we have worked very hard to ensure that we are able to open in a safe way for ourselves and our guests. Our yurts offer the perfect holiday option – well spaced out with outdoor firepits and barbecue areas and close to incredible windswept beaches and hillside walks. Camping has always been a great way of enjoying the outdoors. In these days of media overwhelm and the greatest of societal challenges we have faced, camping gives a welcome respite – an opportunity to slow down, breathe deeply and forget your troubles for a while. Donegal offers the perfect chance to get a little bit closer to nature and enjoy the simpler things in life.”

“We have made a number of COVID-19 safety adjustments but essentially our site remains the same” Helen added. “Having removed many of our shared items like torches, games and hot-water bottles, we are asking our guests to come along a little more prepared than usual and to bring along a few more of their own creature comforts. We have introduced contactless check-in and check-out but have also brought in an outdoor twice daily meet and greet chat. Our cleaning protocols are detailed and precise and we have allocated individual bathrooms so that there is no need to share with others. Thankfully, social distancing is easy here and Donegal really does offer you the greatest of great escapes this year – no crowds, no sharing and no hassles.” 

A warm Donegal welcome also awaits in one of the county’s most iconic castles, Lough Eske. General Manger Donal Cox says there has been lots of interest from the domestic market looking to get away this summer: “Our team is thrilled to return to the castle and give each guest a warm Donegal welcome. We have implemented a health and safety programme ensuring our staff and guests’ health remains paramount. This includes social distancing measures throughout the hotel, training our team on an ongoing basis and adapting our cleaning programme to go above and beyond government guidelines. We have changed our operation to adapt to this new world, however our main objective continues to be our guest experience at the castle, ensuring they enjoy a well-deserved break away.  We miss our international guests and our Donegal diaspora, and we hope to welcome them all back to Lough Eske Castle when possible and wish them all well during this challenging time.”

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