Carissa Casey discovers a foodie paradise in west Wicklow, newly added to the Blue Book and perfect for a romantic retreat.
Short breaks in Ireland off-season can be tricky. The days are short, the weather may or may not comply and places of interest are rarely on their A game. So a destination has to have something to offer, other than a luxurious bed. The Wicklow Escape, about a mile or two outside the village of Donard, offers a truly unique experience. Billed as a ‘mountain lodge for foodies’, it effortlessly blends a Scandi vibe with the best of Irish hospitality, and the food is beyond delicious.
The star of the whole show is unseen. Danni Barry is an award winning chef and she’s responsible for an incredible menu of primarily local produce, much of it coming from the venue’s own kitchen garden.
On first arrival, The Wicklow Escape, tucked against the side of a local road, looks like a well preserved traditional country cottage surrounded by forest. The magic begins when you step inside. The interior walls of the cottage have been knocked through to create the Long Hall. This serves as both the sitting and dining area, with plump and comfy armchairs surrounding a wood stove at one end, and a series of wooden tables set beside each other along the length of the room, in the manner of a great banqueting hall. The decor is cosy minimalist, in that Danish Hygge style, with white walls and an emphasis on natural textures.
It’s taken less than 40 minutes to get here from the M50 (in pretty disgusting weather and traffic), yet it feels as if we’ve been transported to another world. Given the non-stop shivering rain, those cosy armchairs by the fire were our first stop. The Wicklow Escape is the brainchild of Lisa Wilkinson who initially ran it as a base for yoga retreats. Over the years she created a luxurious yet environmentally-friendly haven, quite unique in Irish hospitality.
Surrounded by woodland, it’s an ideal base for those interested in a healthy outdoor break but don’t want to skimp on the finer things in life. Aside from a fabulous feast at the end of each day and a pretty spectacular breakfast, there’s a wood fired hot tub and a treatment area offering massages, facials and reflexology.
And yes, it’s a very romantic spot for couples. The bedrooms are in wooden cabins and surprisingly spacious. The window doors open directly onto a gravel path and the kitchen garden. The beds are gigantic and the bed linen pristine soft.
The shower is fed by a private spring, the toiletries are from Wicklow-based Mise and super soft robes are provided. For those who want to hole up against the world, a selection of lovely gourmet snacks and coffee/tea facilities are at hand.
We have a date with the outdoor hot tub which is a short walk through the garden and surrounded by trees. It too is fed by a natural spring and heated via a wood burner, which is excellent condition because wow, that water was hot. There are cold showers at hand which I made a vague attempt to use but actually just sitting in the cold air between dips was enough for me.
The highlight of the stay, of course, was dinner. I’d hardly describe myself as a foodie (I’m not even sure what it means) but this was a taste extravaganza. The menu varies by season, what produce is available and, presumably, by whatever feeds chef Danni Barry’s muse. Our dinner was spectacular and came paired with the most divine wines.
To whet your appetite, we started with a potato and fennel seed bread with curry butter, paired with a Sicilian Pet Nat. For those that don’t know (I didn’t) Pet Nat is an abbreviation for pétillant naturel, a French term which means naturally sparkling. The wine has been described as a wilder version of champagne. Regardless, it was delicious and the curry butter was also new to me.
The fella claims not to like fish (something to do with their eyes) but he polished off the pine-smoked trout and I helped him out with the turbot and langoustine. Each came with their own wine pairing.
I’m not a fan of venison but Danni Barry’s offering changed my mind. It came with Jerusalem artichoke and bramble vinegar. We finished with a caramel tart and gingerbread. I even sampled the sherry the tart was paired with and it was fabulous. If this all sounds like way too much food, it wasn’t. The servings provide a delicious taste explosion but don’t over fill so I found room for all of it, but then I usually do when iit comes to food.
And so to bed because, frankly, after that meal, neither of us were fit for anything else.
The next day the weather had cleared and it was beautiful to wake up with that feeling that we were miles from nowhere and nothing to do only relax. True to form, though, I wasn’t going to pass up brunch,
a concept I particularly liked. I love my lie-ins which are too often rudely interrupted by a hotel breakfast when we’re away from home. With tea and coffee making facilities at hand, it was so much more civilised
to pitch up for brunch mid- morning. (For early risers, there is an option for a continental breakfast delivered to your room prior to brunch.)
Not surprisingly despite the five course meal of the previous night, I managed to tuck away a fabulous granola followed by pancakes.
There are various options for stays at the Wicklow Escape. Top of the list comes a two night stay where dinner on the first night is a forest inspired menu, followed by the banquet on the second night.
And while it’s perfect for a love getaway, I’d be happy to go back with some girlfriends for a pampering treat with the odd healthy walk thrown in. Whoever you go with, it will be a memorable experience. WW