Last Sunday’s Chic magazine in The Star newspaper featured a wonderful write up by Conor McCaffrey of his recent visit – including a stop at Westport House. Please click to download the PDF or read the transcript below.
GEARED UP FOR WESTPORT
Scenically perched on the Mayo Atlantic Coast, Westport prides itself as a coastal gem with an all-year-around welcome, writes Conor McCaffey.
Westport doesn’t pull up the shutters after bucket and spade season. As expected, high season is summer, with thousands passing through, to chill on blue flag beaches, brush up on local history or visit the islands around the spectacular Clew Bay. But on a recent visit, I discovered that Westport doesn’t really have much down-time – especially if you’re feeling slightly adventurous.If you prefer to unwind, you can zone out for the weekend in the luxury Westport Coast, Westport Plaza or Castlecourt Hotels, all with excellent spa facilities.Then again, you could go on adventure activities weekend and recuperate in style afterwards.I reckon the latter is the better option – there’s only so much saunas, aromatherapy, jacuzzis and steam rooms a person can take. OK, maybe some people will need a little more convincing. Westport has long led the way as a hotspot for outdoor activities – and if you visit www.destinationwestport.com, you can plan your weekend, choosing from watersports like kayaking, coasteering, paddle boarding, surfing, snorkelling and more. If you don’t fancy getting wet, you can try horse-riding, zip-wiring, zorbing, rock climbing, archery, for starters.
First up though, you need a base and the four star Westport Coast Hotel (westportcoasthotel.ie) gets a double thumbs-up for location alone. It’s Westport’s only waterford hotel – with magnificent views of Clew Bay and the iconic shadow of Croagh Patrick to the west. We weren’t quite adventurous enough to tackle The Reek this time, shoes or not but it’s not going anywhere and we’ll be back.
After an early morning drive from Dublin, including a near blow-out and a pitstop at a tyre centre in Mullingar, we refuelled in the hotel’s Coast Bar with comfort food of the gods – the creamy chowder with Guinness, brown bread, washed down with a pint of stout. The quality of the bar food proved an accurate indication that the top floor Waterfront Restaurant would be a winner as well. When we enjoyed a meal there later, it had a relaxed buzz including kids, families, young couples and a group of OAPs on tour, yet its menu was fine dining, with locally sourced dishes such as tian of West of Ireland crab, chive creme fraiche with apple and salmon and McCormack’s of Westport chicken liver pate. Our hotel room had some nice luxury touches including the beds with divine memory foam mattresses that’ll turn you against your own bed as soon as you get home. The hotel’s Spa Veda is another big draw, offering a pool, aromatherapy steam room, rock sauna, ice fountain and invigorating showers. Spa treatments are also available to non-guests – with regular special offers on facials, massages and eye treatments.
After an evening stint in the sauna, you might be tempted to sink into the bed with Netflix for company but you’d be missing out on Westport’s nightlife. With 50 pubs and restaurants for a population of 5,500, it’s a pretty good ratio.As anyone from Westport, or Mayo, for that matter to suggest a pub and nine out of ten will suggest Matt Molloy’s on Bridge Street (mattmolloy.ie) – owned by the legendary Chieftain’s flute player. It’s known as one of the best trad bars in the country – with impromptu sessions, gigs, album launches and fundraisers attracting Ireland’s best folks and trad musicians. There’s a real “get involved” feel though – within a few minutes of arriving we spot a few women taking off their high heels to dance and someone grabs a brush to attempt the brush dance, to roars and glasses raised all round.
We have an early start after Molloy’s but at least there isn’t too much to organise. Bay Bike Hire (clewbaybikehire.ie) operates a minibus shuttle service from your hotel, for a cycle along Mayo’s famous Great Western Greenway – with 42km of off road cycling and walking trails that pass through the quaint villages of Newport and Mulranny. You can also arrange a pick-up spot, so there’s no pressure to go the whole hog. After a cycle past streams, stone bridges and mountain views, its best to give Westport House and Gardens (westporthouse.ie) a full afternoon. The Sky Challenge high ropes course is a big draw for hens and stags, couples and school kids. It’s a three-level rope and obstacle course to test out your inner Tarzan or Jane, with sections rangign from “the postman’s walk” and “islands in the sky” to the self-explanatory “Heebie Jeebie”. Watch out for the kids as well – they’ll laugh and point if you let out any kind of nervous yelp.
Westport House itself is the town’s biggest attraction with 60 per cent of visitors saying it’s their main reason to visit. The Pirate Adventure Park on the grounds is there for a reason as well. Westport House dates back to 1500, when legendary Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley (Grainne Mhaol) reigned in one of her castles. The dungeons are open to the public to explore along with a film on her life as a history lesson. Aside from the tales of Grace, the house has centuries of history to pour over as one of Ireland’s most famous stately homes, owned by the Browne Family – direct descendants of the Pirate Queen.With 30 rooms on show, there’s a world of original artwork, artefacts and beautifully preserved snapshots into everyday life in a stately home in centuries past.Westport House also caters for corporate meetings, weddings and Downton Abbey-style Hen Parties with afternoon tea (€30pp)or evening buffet (€35pp) and even photo shoot packages (€10pp).
After soaking up Grace O’Malley’s story you may get a hankering to hit up the high seas but take it in baby steps.Clew Bay Bike Hire also runs daily sea kayaking trips from the bay and the early evening excursion is the real highlight of the weekend.Obviously this is the west of Ireland so you’re never far from a rain check, but we lucked out with one of the calmest evenings in months – with barely a ripple in the sea and mirror images of the setting sun and Croagh Patrick on the bay enough to take the sting out of having to drive back to Dublin.
But for an extra help in that department, there’s always a few hours left in the sauna and steam room at Westport Coast.
Check out www.destinationwestport.com for lots of idea on where to stay and what to do in the area.