Gweedore. Just take a moment to roll that word around your tongue. It’s a word worthy of folk-tales and enchanted forests – mystical, J.K.Rowling territory. A place, and a setting, worthy of Gweedore Court Hotel – or, as it’s also known, An Chúirt (you’ll have to ask someone else for the correct pronunciation I’m afraid!). A hotel as satisfying as the comfiest duvet on a crisp winter’s day, or that first summer sip of chilled-to-perfection Chablis.
The hotel, with its 70 bedrooms, sits in the palm of Donegal on the shore of the Clady River - the raw beauty of Mount Errigal beyond adding a rather awe-inspiring intensity to the landscape. It is a setting of undulating romanticism, its peaks and troughs as unpredictable as its weather.
What was equally as impossible to predict were the characters and stories of An Chúirt’s staff - their smiles and welcome more than making up for any Irish drizzle or downpour. They regaled local stories starring Fred Astaire and Enya, and divulged accounts of Charles Dickens’ stay on-site that would have got the nineteenth-century gossip columnists writhing with glee. These stories had me enraptured for so long that it was hours before I made my way upstairs to my spacious suite. Sleigh bed, perfectly plumped pillows, beautiful furniture - the room’s drama an interior designer’s determination to match nature’s own performance. The staff had even left me a box of chocolates. There was nothing not to love.
Thankfully, said chocolates didn’t spoil my appetite. And thank goodness for that, as a rich, heart-warming Sunday lunch accompanied by a well-recommended glass of red was awaiting me in the Duck Restaurant. An intimate but in no way intimidating dining room, with a mouth-watering view of the river and mountains beyond.
I could only succumb to nature’s temptation. So, after devouring every morsel, including a delectably calorie-laden dessert (chosen from a menu that reflects the best of the season’s fresh local produce), I dug out my well-worn trainers, slung on my rucksack, and ventured into the wild.
For those who adore nature, and for those city-lovers who are willing to be converted, then you are utterly spoilt for choice. Picture towering pine forests, ancient buildings patiently waiting to be explored, meandering country lanes, villages full of character (and characters - the folk of Donegal are never ones to subtly blend into the background!). For guests wanting to feel the bracing sea air and the sand between your toes then Magheragallon, Port Arthur and Carrickfinn are some of the most popular, and most charming, beaches.
One of the most scenic islands off the Donegal Coast is Gola Island which, along with Tory Island (the largest island in the Falcarragh region), feature high up on the list of recommended beauty spots. Combine your visit with a trip to Bunbeg, Europe’s smallest harbour (you know what they say about good things coming in small packages), and you’re in for a treat of a day.
If you’re wanting to get the most out of your golf clubs, then Gweedore’s course is just a ten minute drive from the hotel, with plenty more options in easy reach.
After a walk that left my lungs feeling like they’d had their very own massage (as a Londoner fresh-air is hard to come by), it was back to the hotel for a chat with the delightful manager of the PJD Bar who introduced me to their fine selection of spirits. If you like your gin, you’re in the right place.
And it wasn’t just me chattering away with the staff. As the sun disappeared and the bar began to buzz, staff and guests merged into one merry hum– and this, I loved. So much laughter, menus perused, drinks stirred, and that ever-so-satisfying glass-to-glass clinking. The perfect location for a good old Irish ‘craic’. This is a happy hotel – its staff are happy, which makes its guests happy. And I love this too.
I opted for room service that night, perhaps, rather selfishly, wanting to steal some of this still Donegal dusk for myself. Admire the beauty alone, from my bedroom window overlooking the river, with an Irish lamb shank and a glass of wine for company. I could write an entire paragraph about the gravy – but don’t worry, I won’t. Suffice to say, it was up there with the best gravy I’ve ever tasted (sorry Mother). The meat was succulent and tender and the puffy garlic roast potatoes cooked to perfection.
A tranquil, undisturbed evening was followed by a tranquil, undisturbed night’s rest. No clattering of house-keepers outside my door, no lift-pinging or the ring of a mobile in my neighbour’s room. An Chúirt has none of this. It promises relaxation and escapism, and that is what you get.
I’m a breakfast lover (correction: a general food lover, but a good breakfast comes pretty high up on my list of priorities) and I was unfortunately disappointed by the breakfast. The service was impeccable, but the choice of food left in the buffet by the time I ventured downstairs was less impressive, and the room seemed to have lost some of the allure of the previous evening.
Heading into the foyer to lounge in one of the big, comfy chairs ahead of my massage treatment, I noticed that the toilets there needed a bit of a revamp too – a few little cracks in an otherwise polished hotel.
My breakfast disappointment was soon pummelled away by the hands of a brilliant masseuse. The hotel’s Earagail Health Club is award-winning for a reason. This was an hour of luxury, and I enjoyed every second. For those wanting to put in hard work of their own, then there’s a hydrotherapy jet pool, 20m swimming pool, separate children’s pool, sauna, steam room, jacuzzi – and as Donegal’s largest health and fitness club, even the most athletic amongst you won’t be disappointed with the gym equipment.
I may have stayed here for just a few days, but in those few days I hit the reset button without even realising. I ate well, I slept well. I walked and I laughed. I relaxed and I admired.
And I very much hope to come back once again, find a sunny spot on the terrace, and enjoy that first summer sip of chilled-to-perfection Chablis.
To find out more or book a room: