With film-worthy scenery and heavenly spa escapes, Donegal is a break to remember
“Overawed by our closeness to the water, I can hardly contain myself when we are ushered to our room — so large it could fit my entire former U15 camogie team comfortably.”
Burrowing into the marshmallow-like bodies of my two guides, Bruce and Tommy, I brace myself against the blustery headwinds of Malin Head when my heart rate suddenly quickens and, (TMI incoming), saliva begins to pool in my mouth.
Inspecting the docile creatures that hum contentedly beside me, I vow that I will not vomit into their impossibly fluffy coats — morning sickness will not be my defining memory of the Wild Alpaca Way.
Dreamed up by John McGonagle, his wife Patricia and their three sons Danny, Aidan and Sean, I cannot think of a better way to take in the rugged, rolling hillsides of Malin’s rocky coastline — a resplendent vista that captured the imagination of Hollywood and beyond when it was chosen as a shooting location for Star Wars: The Last Jedi in 2016.
If you are in the market for a stroll with a difference, the Wild Alpaca Way is located on Donegal’s Knockamany Bens, which towers above the Inishowen peninsula. The terrain is otherworldly beautiful, and it’s my guides that make this 45-minute ramble all the more enjoyable.
Like an excitable child, I eagerly take the reins and fall into sync with my four-legged friends. With each step, my sickness abates, and I find myself marvelling at how the 23-strong herd navigate the sloping hillsides with ease.
Friendly, gentle and curious creatures, they make fast friends with the children in our group, who break into gleeful laughter each time their guides nuzzle close.
Slowing at one of the many idyllic lookouts, we take in the Atlantic Ocean that crashes onto the sand-strewn beach below, leaving a flurry of white sea foam in its wake.
Bruce and Tommy usher me on — both are rocking that boyband grown-out fringe vibe while I silently wish I had made more of an effort with my own mane.
Clearly professionals when it comes to posing for the camera, I don’t need a second take to capture the view and their sweet, adorable faces — which explains why they are such a hit with so many wedding parties who want to book their services to add a little something extra to their day.
Selfies in the bag, it’s feeding time. Palms outstretched, we feed our cute companions, who devour their treats after a hard day’s work.
John tells us: “Each alpaca has their own personality but honestly they are really chilled-out animals. Anyone who comes here falls in love with them.”
It’s not hard to see why. With different routes to cater to every walker’s ability, babies, pensioners and beyond are welcomed.
And the good news is you won’t have to part with a week’s wage to walk with your own alpaca. A single admission ticket costs €20, while a family ticket costs €45 for two adults and up to three children.
Once back in the car, we make the 30-minute journey down winding country roads back to our base, Redcastle Hotel. Overlooking Lough Foyle on the picturesque Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal, the four-star waterfront retreat is lit up by a blazing horizon of pink and orange hues when we plug into an electric charge point in the car park.
Overawed by our closeness to the water, I can hardly contain myself when we are ushered to our room — so large it could fit my entire former U15 camogie team comfortably.
A single pane of glass rises from the floor to the ceiling, making for the most exquisite panoramic views of the inky waters below.
Each room in the golf and spa hotel has undergone a complete refurbishment, and the results are obvious. With over half a million euro already spent, the decor takes inspiration from Lough Foyle with earthly colours and watercolour textures taking centre stage.
Peeling myself from the downy comfort of our mammoth bed, I can’t pass up the opportunity to sample the culinary delights that Gordon Smyth, the hotel’s executive head chef and his team have to offer.
The Edge Restaurant is the only two AA rosette restaurant in Inishowen and they pride themselves on including local fresh produce on their menu.
My partner opts for a melt-in-your-mouth steak, while I can’t resist the catch of the day. Above the ambience and the first-class Donegal hospitality, it almost feels like we are sitting on the edge of the world as gentle lapping water licks the shores below.
The next morning, I wake up to an endless body of shimmering blue water and the sun spilling through our window.
To celebrate my birthday, I opt for breakfast in bed — a full Irish breakfast has never tasted this good; testament to this is that it’s the first breakfast that has not ended up at the bottom of a toilet in weeks. My twin babies must be fans.
But wait, there’s more — you’ve guessed it: the spa. I’m in my first trimester, which means I’m very limited in what treatments I can have but the team could not be more accommodating. They create a bespoke foot and head massage, and I truly transcend to a different plane of existence.
Sean tries out the Mud Rasul treatment, whereby he slathers up in skin-loving mud, acts out a scene from Predator and then retreats to a steam room. In a nutshell, mud, steam and heat are used to cleanse and relax the skin, body and mind and more importantly, release toxins and remove impurities through the skin.
We float to the relaxation room and don’t speak for an hour, instead embracing the blissful silence.
Golfers are also in for a treat on the hotel’s private nine-hole parkland golf course, where they can enjoy some of the most breath-taking views in the world on a course which contours around Lough Foyle.
In terms of local attractions, there are beaches, and family activities including Doagh Famine Village, Inish Adventures, Wild Ireland, Glendowen Studio, Moville Pottery and Malin Head.
Not even morning, afternoon and night-time sickness could dampen this stay.
We can’t wait to come back as a family of four.
INISHOWEN, CO DONEGAL See redcastlehoteldonegal.com ■ Denise stayed at Redcastle Oceanfront, Golf & Spa Hotel on the Inishowen Peninsula. ■ Tickets for the Wild Alpaca Way are available from wildalpacaway.com and follow @wildalpacaway on Instagram or Facebook. ■ Activities include the nearby Inish Adventures which offers kayaking, archery and gorge walking (see inishadventures.com).
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