Luxury Weekend in Dublin by Alan Douglas
We all know Dublin has become the go-to place for a luxury weekends away….and especially for the stag and hen-do party brigade. They have made the place their own, and while their spending is a great boost to the city’s economy, they’re not necessarily welcomed by some others who just want to soak up the atmosphere and individual character of the place without having to witness the exuberant and occasionally outrageous activities of the brides and grooms-to-be.
One of the attractions of Dublin is its smart and efficient airport which is a great hub with the added benefit for transit passengers who can clear US Immigration there before flying the Atlantic and enjoy walking straight into the States without having to stand in line waiting to face the grim-faced Homeland Security officers. If you’re doing the big jump across the pond, it’s well worth taking a couple of days’ stopover in the Emerald Isle and you don’t have to stick to Dublin’s fair city. Go beyond the city boundary and you’ll find delightful countryside with villages and towns brimming with personality and locals with a ready smile and an abundance of craic.
I found myself there to drive the new Suzuki Swift Sport, the livelier version of the hugely successful Japanese supermini hatchback and not only did the Suzuki people plot a fantastic driving route round the Wicklow mountains, south of the city, but they also booked some track time at the demanding Mondello Park racetrack. It is Ireland’s only international motorsport venue in County Kildare about 30 miles west of Dublin city centre and has hosted superbike, truck, kart, rallycross and Formula Three championships as well as car and motorcycle track days where adventurous owners can take their cars and bikes onto the track….at their own risk.
Along with a group of other enthusiastic motoring journalists we had a great time throwing the hot hatches round the track under the watchful eye of trained instructors although when there were a few spots of rain, things got a bit lively as the track became greasy and slippery. The car was great fun living up to its name as a sporty version of its tamer ‘ordinary’ version with lighter, sharper and quicker responses which returns great fun for the driver.
But if the track experience was good, the drive on the open roads around the countryside was even better. We headed south through the Wicklow Gap, a stunning landscape around a deep valley and at just short of 2000 feet is one of the highest mountain passes with a tarmac road in Ireland. On clear days, I’m told it’s possible to look across the Irish Sea and view the mountains of Snowdonia in Wales but it was a bit overcast when I was there with hints of drizzle so the view was a bit limited.
It’s a stunning drive and also very popular with cyclists who don’t seem put off by the demanding climbs, and hikers on the St Kevins Way, a long distance waymarked walking route which passes through on its way from Hollywood to historic Glendalough. An unmissable rest stop here is the Wicklow Heather, one of Irelnad’s hidden gems, a lovely tearoom, restaurant and bar in the village of Laragh and less than an hour from the hustle and bustle of Dublin City. It’s a family run business and I have to say they serve the most sensational scones with cream and jam.
While you’re there you must take a look at the Writers’ Room, which is part of the restaurant where the walls are lined with a huge collection of the works of Irish authors. Enclosed securely in locked glass cabinets are amazing first editions of the work of some of the most famous Irish writers including one devoted to Oscar Wilde containing a copy of The Importance of Being Earnest from 1899 and The Ballad of Reading Gaol from a year earlier.
There’s a prized first edition of Ulysses printed in Paris in 1922 – one of only 750 on handmade paper. Further along the wall in another cabinet is a first edition of the iconic horror novel Dracula from1897 by Dublin born Bram Stoker. It’s a breathtaking collection with other works by W B Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. The cultural boost helped us on the way to our overnight halt at the five-star Druids Glen Hotel Country Club and Golf Resort in 400 acres of rolling countryside, between the Wicklow Mountains and the Irish Sea.
The area is affectionately known as “The Garden of Ireland” with its magnificent mountains, long sandy beaches, rivers, lakes and forests and Druids is popular for family holidays, weekend getaways or active breaks with plenty of golf on the doorstep. The two courses have played host to the Irish Open for four consecutive years as well as the prestigious Seve Trophy and many of the golfing greats have been tested on the fairways and greens. A hearty dinner and a splendid full Irish breakfast was just perfect to set me up for the second leg of my Irish excursion.
Some of the picturesque towns and villages looked familiar and later I discovered why. The area has been popular for years with film makers and films such as “Excalibur”, “Michael Collins” and “Braveheart” along with a host of TV series including “Ballykissangel” and “Glenroe” were filmed around Wicklow.
One of the most stunning parts is the 17 mile long R759 road that runs south-east to north-west through the Sally Gap in the Wicklow Mountains. It is a fabulous road and because it cuts across country avoiding the congested M50 to Dublin, it is used by many locals…..but is best avoided in the winter as it’s often made impassable by snow and ice.
The rest of the year it is a delight with fast, flowing surfaces and a beautiful landscape on which to feast your eyes. At the end of my short adventure into the Irish countryside, there was only one thing left to do …..and that was to down a fine welcome pint of Guinness with the locals.
Broadcaster & Car Journalist