Lough Eske Castle in Donegal is the featured castle hotel for A Celtic Experience, my guided tour of Ireland. Learn more about the tour here.
Unlike many castle hotels in Ireland, Lough Eske Castle Hotel in Donegal doesn't offer a plethora of estate activities.
And that's not a bad thing. My stays at this Donegal castle hotel have been peaceful and unrushed. In fact, it is the most relaxing hotel stay I've ever experienced in Ireland.
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The Lough Eske Castle Hotel and Spa in Donegal
Located a short drive from Donegal town, Lough Eske Castle sits on the shore of the lake it is named for. After exiting the wide and fast N15, the country roads quickly narrow and slow; you are thrust into the countryside, roadways winding beside stone walls, the lough visible, then not, as you skirt, then enter, the forested demense.
The tree lined drive shields the castle until you are nearly directly in front of it and the first glimpse will take your breath away. The grand Elizabethan design topped with turreted towers is a dramatic introduction to Donegal's only 5-star hotel.
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Inside Lough Eske Castle Hotel
As you approach the stone portico a gentleman dressed the the deep green Donegal tweed of Lough Eske Castle steps out to welcome you. The doors open and you are swept back to a 20th century country mansion. In front of you a grand staircase, wood polished to a deep shine, rises to the first floor. On either side of the entry doors the public rooms, with fire crackling in the fireplace, invite you to sit, relax, and enjoy the luxury you've found yourself in.
It wasn't always this way….
It's hard to imagine, but just over a decade ago Lough Eske Castle was a ruin, the outer walls fighting a losing battle with trees that had been growing in the roofless shell since a fire in 1939.
The full restoration of Lough Eske Castle, completed in 2007, was guided by photos taken prior to the fire and took nearly two years to complete. As you explore the public rooms- from sitting rooms to billiards room, library to the highest turret- you will feel as though you have stepped back in time.
Lough Eske Castle Hotel Rooms
To reach your castle chambers you may climb those highly polished stairs, passing majestic framed portraits and antique furnishings, as my family did on our first visit.
Once in your room, however, you're surrounded by contemporary classics and the luxury you expect in a 5-star hotel, from comfortable seating and spacious bathroom, to a dreamy bed piled with fluffy pillows.
Our family room consisted of two inter-connected rooms, a double-double and a king, each with a large bathroom, seating area, and desk. The set up was perfect. It offered us all the privacy of our own space while keeping the kids close enough for us to not worry overnight.
Video extra: Tour of our Family Rooms at Lough Eske Castle Hotel
Or you may find yourself guided through the courtyard gardens, entering rooms at the rear of the estate, as I experienced on my return to the castle.
My room for the return visit was just as impressive. The large room held a dreamy king sized bed, spacious desk, table for two, couch, and large chest dresser.
The walk-in closet had plenty of room for my suitcases, and included robes and slippers for the spa.
The huge bathroom was nearly identical to our first stay, with a deep soaking tub, tiled shower, and vanity for two.
Video Extra: Tour My Room at Lough Eske Castle
Dining at Lough Eske Castle
You likely caught a glimpse of the Gallery Bar or one of its drawing rooms as you entered the castle to check in.
While the menu says ‘Bar Food' you'll find it a bit above your average pub grub. Though our choices of the Guinness Glazed Walsh Beef Burger and Fish & Chips served on a bed of pea puree weren't as exotic as the Braised Beef Croustade or Braised Wild Venison Shank, they were perfectly prepared and delicious.
Tip: Take the time to chat with your server. We learned so much from our server Brandon. Not only did he and his friends play in the castle ruins as children, his grandparents worked in the castle during its first incarnation before the fire. The majority of the staff at Lough Eske Castle are local to the area, many having returned after years away from the area.
Hoping for afternoon tea? You'll find it served in the drawing rooms daily from noon -5pm. Pre-booking is essential.
Cedars Grill is the more elegant, though still relaxed, dining experience at Lough Eske Castle. Leaving the girls in their room (happily enjoying room service from the Gallery Bar), Doug and I enjoyed dining à deux. Locally sourced, fresh Irish ingredients are prepared with imagination and a nod to Irish tradition. Meals can be ordered á la carte or from the 3 course Table D'Hote menu. We chose the 3 courses with shared tasting dessert and were delighted by the flavors and presentation of our meals.
Breakfast is served each morning in Cedars Grill. You'll find everything for a Full Irish- and then quite a bit more- in the lovely buffet. If you would prefer something made to order, a menu is available as well.
Relaxing at Lough Eske Castle
As I mentioned earlier, you'll not find a full book of estate activities at Lough Eske Castle Hotel. This is truly a place focused on rejuvenation and relaxation. For that, many people choose the award winning CARA Organic Beauty Spa. Built in the courtyard garden, the spa has a sense of peace surrounding it, a tranquil escape in an already calm environment.
For Doug and I, relaxation was found wandering the castle grounds. We carefully navigated forest paths left muddy by recent rains to discover the castle's high cross. Closer to the lake we were thankful for the raised wooden walkway that kept us from sinking into boggy ground.
Time seems to stand still at Lough Eske Castle. Though my two night stays ended all too quickly, the time spent at the castle felt like it passed slowly, and as we left it almost felt like it had all been a wonderful, refreshing dream.
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Nearby Sites to Visit
A few of our favorite day trips from Lough Eske Castle
Spend a few hours in nearby Donegal town. Tour Donegal Castle and buy a few souvenirs in the wonderful shops on ‘the Diamond'. If you're after Donegal tweed be sure to visit Magee of Donegal.
Its a quick 30 minutes from Donegal to Belleek in County Fermanagh. Visit the factory and showroom of the oldest Irish pottery company. Consider exploring a few of the treasures of Lower Lough Erne– including Boa Island and Castle Caldwell Forest.
The Slieve League Cliffs are 3x higher than the Cliffs of Moher. Though the drive will only take just over an hour, plan a full day for your exploration as stops along the coast are sure to draw you in.
Another full day trip that is well worth your time is a visit to Glenveagh National Park. Cars aren't allowed in the park, though a minibus is available to the castle and gardens. Even if you don't plan to do any serious hiking you'll want to wear good walking shoes to explore the miles of hilly garden pathways surrounding the castle.
[…] Lough Eske Castle, Adare Manor, Dromoland Castle, Ballynahinch Castle, and Clontarf Castle are only a few of the dozen castle hotels in Ireland. […]
[…] Lough Eske Castle Hotel – my eldest daughter recalls our stay here as ‘out of the way' and ‘really nice'. I remember it as one of the most relaxing hotel stays I've had in all of Ireland. Located just outside Donegal town, the castle was a shell just 10 years ago. Complete restoration of the public rooms resulted in a traditional feel, while the castle rooms are spacious and very welcoming. […]