I’ve been living in Ireland for 10 years and have been lucky enough to see much of the country in that time. Wicklow though? Being in north-east Tipperary, I always considered Wicklow to be a tricky county to get to. It’s not that far away; it’s just a bit… awkward. The last time I visited properly was in the summer of 2011.
Now I know that “awkwardness” was perceived - we actually had a very easy time getting there (via Kilkenny and Carlow) – and for all these years, this notion has held me back from something very special.
We had a wonderful visit to The Garden of Ireland, with great food, lots of quality family time and immersive nature.
A few months back, I was speaking with a friend and she told me about a campground in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow. She said it had a bit of everything – fun for adults and kids alike; cottages and places to pitch your tent or park your caravan and plenty of food or entertainment options. From evening “cinema” nights for the kids to a full-on water splash-park and laser tag course on-site, I was informed that Hidden Valley is a winning family destination.
We are a camping family, so we decided to try it out. We were offered a complimentary pitch for our tent and we also opted to reserve one of their glamping mini lodges (which sleeps up to five) for two nights (my parents are visiting from Canada so the cabin was for them).
We were blessed with great weather and I was impressed with the amenities on site, which included a camp kitchen for washing dishes and a restaurant which offers a variety of kid-friendly food (chicken goujons and pizza for every meal). All of this in one place is very handy if you just want to relax and enjoy the surroundings – which, with our tent situated right next to the river and the mountains looming up around us – were stunning.
We are generally happiest when doing more wild-style camping and Hidden Valley was very busy. But I’d happily return with our kids, if I knew for sure the weather would cooperate (next time I will let them try out the splash park!). Glamping mini lodges cost €240 for two nights; camping pitches start at €18 per night during the high season. For more information visit hiddenvalley.ie
The sun was shining during our stay at Hidden Valley, so instead of the splash park we opted for a beach visit.
Brittas Bay is a 20-minute drive from Rathdrum and is regularly touted as one of Ireland’s best blue-flag beach destinations. It didn’t disappoint!
White sand dunes and a sparkly blue Irish Sea were the order of the day. It was very windy – too windy to have a proper swim – but perfect weather for a bit of splashing and beach-combing. My eldest (architect in the making) designed a seashell-fortified sand castle resplendent with the large oyster shells that dot the beach.
On the way back to the car we had to stop for ice cream, of course. There are several food trucks located in the parking area, which are overpriced, but well-situated.
Camping with the kids was fun, but was it a holiday? Not really. It was a lot of work. Packing the car, unpacking the car, dealing with car sickness, making sure everyone was warm during the night, setting up and then setting down our eight-man tent. By the time the weekend was over, my husband and I were wrecked.
Luckily, we were offered a stay at The Wicklow Escape, a boutique eco-lodge in the heart of the west Wicklow mountains. And we were able to relax. We relaxed in their lounge with a glass of wine in front of the blazing wood stove.
We relaxed during the four-course dinner, which featured ingredients grown in their own garden as well as local cheeses and meat (the Wagyu steak was particularly good) and then we relaxed in the wooden outdoor hot tub, which is immersed in the forest and is heated by a wood fire. The hospitality, food and amenities we experienced were five-star without any stuffiness.
If you’re staying longer than overnight, there are hiking trails that can be accessed from your lodge room and the property, which is listed under Ireland’s prestigious Blue Book, can be rented out fully for family gatherings, small weddings or other private events.
Rooms from €120 per night (not including dinner). Visit thewicklowescape.com
Ever gone forest bathing? I recently did and there is nothing like going completely off-grid for a few hours to appreciate nature in a slightly different format. We hiked a portion of the Wicklow Way (which is a network of self-guided walking trails found throughout the county); ending at the stunning Powerscourt Waterfall and taking frequent stops for meditation and self-reflection.
My hike was guided by Mel McDermott of Galz Gone Wild (galzgonewild.com) and the forest bathing practice was led by Sarah Hourigan of Nature Therapy Ireland (naturetherapyireland.com). The hike was hosted by Innocent Ireland as part of their Big Rewild campaign, but you can book your own experience directly through their websites.
Glendalough, the eerily beautiful lake surrounded by the Wicklow Mountains, is where my husband asked me to marry him, many moons ago. I hadn’t returned since that fateful day and – honestly – I couldn’t believe the amount of traffic we had to deal with upon our return. I think the difference from when we visited in 2011 and when we visited a few weeks ago was the fact that, this time, it was a busy Saturday (mid-week visits will generally be quieter).
You will have to pay for parking (we parked in the upper car park, which cost €4) and this visit was decidedly not as magical as our first. We still really enjoyed ourselves, though. The views are breath-taking and my kids had lots of fun trying to skip stones on the water.
The nearby monastic city offers a unique glimpse into what life was like in ancient Ireland – this historic site was first founded in the 6th century AD.
The Glendalough Visitor Centre can arrange tours of the site. See glendalough.ie
The year we visited Glendalough and got engaged, we ended up stopping for a celebratory drink at The Meetings pub, which is located in the Avoca Valley.
The Meeting of the Waters is where the Avonmore and Beg Rivers meet to become the Avoca River and it is where the poet Thomas Moore wrote his poem of the same name. If you’re a nature lover, this spot is absolutely breath-taking and so worth a visit. It has stayed on my mind all these years and, while planning our family trip, I knew we would have to stop here.
There are boardwalk-style trails along the riverside and the pub is a fun spot for an afternoon tipple. They also make a lovely fry if you’re looking for a spot of breakfast in the morning (ours was extremely welcome after a chilly night camping!). They also have rooms above the pub if you’re looking for a picturesque, quiet stay.
For more info visit themeetings.ie
“This is the best breakfast in Wicklow,” the owner and chef of The Bay Café shouted over the clang of pots and pans. She wasn’t wrong - at least, not in my experience. I devoured my breakfast (The Classic ‘Shroom, €12) of toasted Sugarloaf Bakery sourdough, sautéed mushrooms, eggs, bacon and crumbly feta with a salad of fresh, local greens with great relish.
We also got their granola bowl (€8.50), which was nearly too pretty to eat. Their coffee game is equally strong.
My father ordered their full Irish (Bay Breakfast, €12) and was surprised by the intense flavour of the white pudding. I asked the chef about it and she flashed a smile. “That’s my own recipe; I have our local butcher make them.”
We were smart and arrived almost as soon as they opened (9am on a Saturday). The place was soon filled to the brim, so the general advice is to arrive early. Visit facebook.com/TheBayCafeBrittas facebook.com/TheBayCafeBrittas
Fellow Canadian transplant Jamie Lyon lives in Greystones and shared a few places that are special to her:
Favourite lake walk:
The Spink Walk at Glendalough – a 10km loop around the north side of the Glendalough Upper Lake.
Fatbike Adventures in Belmont – this company offers special “fatbikes”, which have fatter tyres than an average bike, making them ideal for off-road adventures. They have different trails to suit different fitness levels and also offer electric fatbike options (fatbikeadventures.ie)
Best kept secret:
Jamie also mentions that there is an alternative to the famous Bray to Greystones cliff walk –“Everyone knows the Bray/Greystones cliff walk… but there is an upper cliff walk - it is literally just higher up. You can drive to this little slip road and you walk up a cattle road and along the upper cliffs. Best part is, there is a coffee van up there! Brew with a view.”