Hygge is the new cool. Sooo, obvs you’re doing it too, aren’t you? Here’s my post on enjoying hygge in…. Carlow. If hygge is life’s simple pleasures; good food, appreciating nature and indulging in plenty of what makes you happy, and you can do all of this just under two hours from Dublin, Why is everyone not doing it? Read on and I’ll fill you in!
Carlow may not seem like the most obvious destination for a weekend retreat when everyone raves about the breath taking scenery of the Wild Atlantic Way and the raw, beauty of the Northern coastline but hear me out. Carlow is a gem all on its own.
In all my years of living in this country I had never been to Carlow until 2016 and now I have been three times in the space of 12 months! Partly because of a certain delicious tapas restaurant, ok mainly because of that tapas restaurant but this past weekend, my ‘explore Carlow’ hat was on and it was such a fun trip I couldn’t wait to share it with you.
Airbnb has an abundance of hipster, ‘notions’ accommodation options these days. From castles to lighthouses, turrets to townhouses, barns, cottages and penthouses galore. So when I was faffing about on their site I was only looking for converted buildings or at least something a little unusual that showed a host had gone to the trouble of making your stay enjoyable. If you fancy checking it out for yourself, here’s a discount code, on me. http://www.airbnb.ie/c/ciaram1243
Please give a round of applause for our Airbnb host, Breda. Her keen interior designer eye and attention to detail made this beautifully converted stone barn a home from home option. Sold. I couldn’t wait to book our Carlow barn conversion for a chilled weekend of food, wine, walks, wine and photos. Oh and the rugby match, so more wine.
Carlow is a handy 1hr and 40 mins or so from Dublin and if you take the ‘sneaky, scenic N81 via Blessington route’ you are rewarded with stunning sunsets as you drive south. Our weekend was off to a great start. Hygge begins now!
Our host met us in the village of Ballon because where we were actually staying was a further 10 minutes drive out into the dark wilderness of the countryside.
Check out the photos below of this gorgeous, cosy, converted barn on a working farm. Complete with bunnies in the field next door. The fire was lighting and freshly made warm scones were waiting. The freezing cold temperatures outside were not going to dampen our spirits.
Up early on Saturday morning to explore what Carlow has to offer. A short drive to Altamont Gardens for a stroll around the landscaped gardens, riverside walks and along the snowdrop lined lanes. Breathe in that fresh air and if you want to warm up there is even a little café tucked into the garden centre area. With heaters. Much needed heaters.
The house wasn’t open for visitors and looked pretty delapitated, to be honest but that certainly didn’t detract from its haunting beauty.
So many little bird houses dotted around the outbuildings and tree lined avenues encouraged a flurry of winged activity as you passed by.
I’m not in the slightest bit green fingered. I did not inherit that gene from my father, unfortunately, but I can appreciate a beautifully cared for garden. The many varieties of mature trees really help you to feel insignificant and the babbling little river, complete with diving ducks, evokes nothing but inner peace. At only €2 for the carpark fee, it’s a small price to pay for mindfulness.
We then checked out Trip Advisor’s ‘top 10 things to do in Carlow’ and, little-known fact, the area has a high density of prehistoric remains. Who knew? We drove past Brownshill Dolmen and stopped off for a lookie. I always think the capstones on large dolmens are pretty darn impressive. How the devil did they lift these 100 ton capstones up onto the tomb? How? No cranes, no nothin’. Mad engineering skills! This portal dolmen is the largest of its kind in Europe. And I read somewhere that they think human sacrifices took place there. Grim.
Rightio, off we go, after all that history a lunch stop at The Forge restaurant is in order. Our afternoon was then spent watching the first match of the Six Nations rugby tournament. You may choose to spend your Saturday exploring some of the other top 10 locations on the Trip Advisor list. I, unfortunately, cannot help you there because we were in the pub watching the game for the afternoon. Bad blogger move, I know. But this was my hygge so you can’t judge!
So, enough faffing, let me tell you about the capital reason I have returned to Carlow three times in the past twelve months. Mimosa Tapas Bar, Carlow Town.
This spot is rated the #1 restaurant in Carlow on Trip Advisor. I hip, hip, hurray heartily agree. The chilled, Mediterranean vibe and décor are complimented by the soothing tones of Latin strings.
Perfect for chats and Saturday night dates. I do dislike, however, that you can’t book for tables of two. That, Mimosa, is a complete downer. It means you can’t really tell at what time you’ll be eating. We arrived about 7:45pm to be told we would be called around 9:30pm and we headed to The Med Bar around the corner to wine, I mean while away the time. I was fully prepared since this wasn’t my first rodeo here, but my boyfriend was not expecting the delay. Around 9:40pm I reckoned that it was time to check out the table situation and since our stomachs were practically eating themselves we popped back in and were seated by 10pm.
It was a little late to be eating by Irish standards, to be fair. BUT, the food is delish and worth the wait! We ordered 3 tapas plates each and a portion of patatas bravas and tapenade to share. So. Much. Food!
They have a fish, meat and veggie menu with at least five plates on each. Perfect for sharing or, inhaling all by yourself. NO judgement from me. The wine selection in Mimosa is good and a Malbec always goes down well. I do love the food here and would highly, HIGHLY recommend it to any visitors to Carlow.
Tummies full we rolled out the door and off to our barn in the wilderness.
Slivers of pale, winter sunshine filtered through the skylight in the barn when we woke on a frosty Sunday morning and we availed of the breakfast treats our host had left for us. She thought of everything!
Sundays are made for road trips and we headed to Mount Leinster. Cautious on the icy morning roads we found a convenient viewpoint half way up the hillside at Nine Stones and on such a clear, sunny day we were rewarded with a view of the patchwork quilt style landscape rolling out below the Blackstairs Mountains. AND it would also seem that this area is perfect for hang gliders to launch from. I have never seen a glider close up and now I have such conflicting FOMO!
I am envious that the glider guy is able to soar, birdlike in the air and sweep along the air currents far above this stunning countryside. However, I am also terrified at the very thought of hurtling down a hillside hoping the updraft takes me and I don’t snot myself. And then, once up there, that a strong gust of wind doesn’t decide to dash my helpless body against a local tree or mountain top. Divided!
I was also pretty jealous that the glider guy (What is the proper word for people who hand glide? Because I am sure glider guy is not it!) looked like a human butterfly with his body tucked into the chrysalis-like body stocking. Amazing.
The fun wasn’t over. We took a drive along Ireland’s version of Death Road up to the foot of Mount Leinster. Seriously, the drop was a little harrowing.
Here is where the plans for the day differed slightly. I thought we were going to take a few photos, wander up to one of the foothills before heading off to find somewhere that served scones and tea or some sort of cake. I was wrong.
We instead trekked up to the summit of Mount Leinster. Just, casually ambling up all 794 metres of it. No sporty, outdoor gear on apart from the ever ready hiking boots, which I was very glad of.
To be honest it was a rewarding 50 minute climb to the summit. With the bonus of getting to experience all the weathers in one afternoon. All of them. Sun and wind at the bottom of the climb, foggy drifts of cloud as we reached the top. Freezing, falling shards of ice and snow and hailstones on our descent. Ah, Ireland. You have it all!
I can blame my lack of fitness on the fact that I hadn’t done any form of exercise in the week prior to this, or that the climb was ‘quite steep’ towards the end. When I say ‘quite steep’, I mean, you know steepish. I needed a few breath breaks disguised as photo opportunities. I ignored the many families with small kids gallivanting up and down the route and also the woman who was CARRYING her small child. I could just about get myself up there, let alone be responsible for a small child. Respect to that woman. I’m sure, locals run up and down this in no time but this was, and correct me if I’m wrong friends, the highest peak I have climbed. So I was a little slow. ‘Unimpressive’ I hear you scoff. Hush up. I already mentioned in my Wicklow post that I am no hiker, so the fact that so many of my weekends seem to include traipsing up and down some hill or mountain or other should not fool you. I have no idea what I’m doing!
Finally, upon making it down to the waiting car park and blasting the heat to defrost our soaked jeans we decided to get some comfort food in the Step House Hotel in Borris.
Creamy, piping hot tomato soup was just what my chilly body needed. If you recall, I thought we were going for scones a good two hours earlier. So this was a good compromise. Climb every mountain first, then eat all the culinary treats.
So much to pack into a weekend and plenty more we didn’t get to do, I can certainly suggest you put Carlow on your weekend escapes list. Don’t forget to follow the link above for a discount onyour own airbnb weekend and let me know in the comments what your hygge getaway is!