FORTY EIGHT HOURS IN COUNTY GALWAY
It was just after the last of the lock-downs, the sun was shining, it was Pride weekend, the leaving cert was just finished and Galway City was heaving with people. In fact, from the car regs and various social media platforms, the whole of Dublin seemed to be in Galway. So when you’re trying to escape Dublin by going West and the whole city is rammed, the only thing for it is to make the best out of the rest of the county and escape to the country.
WHERE TO STAY IN GALWAY
But first things first and the age-old question Where to stay in Co. Galway? For me, this was easily resolved as I was invited to stay at the Galway Harbour hotel. It has the most central location right by, you guessed it, the Galway harbour! It offers car parking (quite important if you’ve driven cross country) but is a 5-minute walk away from the main streets so it’s that little bit quieter and you’ll get a really good night sleep. It’s a family hotel full of life but it’s not party central, basically, it has a lovely buzz to it which was precisely what I was after. The food is good, the menu is quite typical of hotels across the country but each dish I tried was well executed and the provenance of the ingredients was as local as possible. A special mention for the bowl of mussels, they were as good as any I’ve had in fancy restaurants.
The Galway Harbour hotel is the sister hotel the Glenlo Abbey Hotel in which I stayed a few years ago and which I absolutely adore. They offer different experiences for different budgets but the common thread is the care and warmth of the teams that work in each hotel. You go there and you feel minded. All that to say I think the Galway Harbour hotel is a great option for when you want to stay in Galway.
WHAT TO DO IN GALWAY
But now that you’ve somewhere to stay, What should you do in Co. Galway? To me, the answer to that one is simple. Get driving, pack a swimsuit, a warm towel, a thermos of strong tea, heck even pack a dryrobe and get driving. Galway is one of the larger counties in Ireland, in fact, it’s pretty huge and if you want to experience a good chunk of it, wheels will be best. So whether you’re behind the wheel or need a driver, get driving. Connemara is there for your to discover. The weather isn’t always great (Galway sideways rain, anyone?) but the scenery remains dramatic and you will find yourself catching your breath again and again at the beauty of it all.
Follow the coast road from Mayo to Clare. Do the Sky road from Clifden. Stop at Omey Beach and if the tide is out, drive on the beach to the island. Driving on the sand is so fun, if not exactly a good thing for your car. Take a beat at one of the many many small beaches along the coast and weather permitting take a dip in the ocean. It’s surprisingly warm and unsurprisingly cleansing and life-giving. Go to Kylemore Abbey and take in the walled gardens.
The Sky road starts in Clifden but you can also catch it from Oughterard where you can stop at McGeough’s butchers and buy their beautiful air-dried meats. The lamb is a particular favourite and it has made me wonder many a time why lamb charcuterie isn’t actually a thing. It deserves to be.
If the weather is fine, be random and go catch the sunset from the terrace of a pub facing the bay in Kinvara.
WHERE TO EAT IN GALWAY
Now that we’ve sorted you out with what to do, you must be starving, so What should you eat in Co. Galway? I’m so glad you asked. There are so very many options and they’re all fun and delicious and some might even teach you a thing or two.
Whether you’ve been driving around or pounding the hike trails you can find up and down the coast, I recommend reviving yourself over afternoon tea in Ballynahinch Castle or Renvyle House.
If you’re intent on eating in Galway city, my go-to person for recommendations is Cathal McBride. I greatly enjoy eating with Cathal, firstly because he’s a good friend and forever delightful company but also because, despite the fact that our taste buds are a fair bit different, I trust that he knows quality when he tastes it. So hit him up and tell him I sent you!
But now for some real talk, let’s go over the food and the rings I ate around Galway on that glorious sunshiny weekend driving up and down the country.
One of the days, I picked Cathal up from his manor and we drove up to Connemara. We had two possibly three places we wanted to try. We headed up to Killary Fjord for lunch with the most grandiose view. We would have taken a stroll but Townie over here had to stop every 5 minutes and admire the view and bother the sheep. Those are valid activities no matter how hard your Cathal laughs at you.
Anyway, between the scenery, local ingredients, beautifully seasoned empanadas, generous smoked salmon portion and interesting (read delicious) pickles with said salmon, and the general buzz of the hikers, bikers and insta luvvies, you won’t go far wrong with a pit stop at the Misunderstood Heron. Side note, the sandwich (a roast chicken affair) left me underwhelmed and my recommendation is very much towards the empanadas which I found absolutely magic (black pudding in mine on the day).
Once you’ve eaten all the savouries, it’s time for a bit of sweetness and for that, I urge you to take the scenic route back down to Cleggan and its pretty but working harbour and have a cuppa and a slice of cake at the Sea Hare. They are better known for their tamarind sauce and their fresh seafood feasts, but I was utterly charmed by their old-style loaf cakes. I’m a woman of simple pleasures and I hope you will join me in delighting at their sweet menu.
If you have more time (or more stomach) stop in Builin Blasta for possibly the best cinnamon rolls in the country. The head to Pota Cafe for delish food as gaeilge!
All of the above covers Connemara and that’s wonderful but there is a place close to my heart in East Galway, a much ignored part of the county. There is a village called Abbey nearly bang in between Portumna and Loughrea. It belongs to the parish of Abbey-Dunary (those are not words I ever thought I would write, but in the name of Cheese, I thee salute). Not far, just up the road really, is the village of Killimor, also known as Kylemore.
This protracted paragraph to let you know that between Kylemore and Abbey, you will find Kylemore Farmhouse, where Teresa Roche will welcome you warmly. You can go there for the full farm experience, which will include chatting to some cows (they’re such good listeners) and learning about the cheese made in the farmhouse. The cheese is only made through the summer month as it only uses summer milk so you won’t get the full experience at all times of the year but, you can still visit one of the better stocked farmhouse shops in the country and talk with some of the most passionate food producers I’ve come across. Food wise, this is also a really special spot. The toasties are not just any toasties, they are made with real good bread and use the house cheese. The cheese and charcuterie board has featured in my dreams many a time since my visit and the coffee is beautiful. If you’re lucky you’ll even meet Buttons and get a wee lick. On occasions, Teresa also runs afternoon tea in the Farmhouse which is the most glorious old house. Basically, I have been waxing lyricals about the place ever since I visited. You can read more about their cheese on their website and if you’ve not tasted it yet, make it your business to do so. But more importantly, go visit. I’ve sent a few people that way this summer and they all “raved about it. Be next.