When we said to our colleagues that we were about to embark on RailTours Ireland excursion from Dublin to Donegal, we were promptly informed “not possible, Donegal doesn’t have a rail route.” Well now it does, with one small caveat.
Railtours Ireland have been operating for over 19 years escorting tourists and locals alike around this beautiful island. With over 40 first class tours on offer, Donegal was one area that was badly neglected, purely because its rail network is unfortunately non existent. However where there is a will, there’s a way.
As we experienced you can now avail of their excellent Three Day “Hills of Donegal” Tour, which includes all rail tickets, transfers, Belfast Hop On Off tour and admission to Titanic Belfast.
To top it all off you also get to enjoy two nights Bed & Breakfast, including dinner on both nights in Harvey’s Point Hotel, voted No.1 in Ireland on Trip Advisor for the past five years, and when you stay there you’ll realise why.
We kicked off our tour at 7.30am at Connolly station, from where we travelled first class along with our Railtours Ireland guide Jim Deegan. A mine of information, Jim gave a brief history of each county we passed through during our comfortable two hour journey to Belfast city centre.
From there we were whisked by private coach through the city’s historical landmarks, including the famous ‘Peace Wall’, before enjoying the Titanic Visitor Experience. After soaking up all the splendour of the SS Nomadic we finished with a light lunch overlooking Belfast harbour and the former Harland & Wolff shipyard.
Boarding the train once again, we then travelled further North along the spectacular North Atlantic Coastal route from Coleriane to Derry City.
There our coach and driver Kevin awaited us to guide us across the border through the hills of Donegal, onto the stunning Lough Eske where the sunshine had thankfully made a heavenly appearance for us at our final destination for the day, the stalwart of Irish hospitality that is Harvey’s Point.
If you have never been to this magical part of Ireland, named as the “Coolest Place on the Planet” by National Geographic this year, rectify it soon with one of these tours; no stress, no driving and you arrive feeling invigorated and ready to explore this one of a kind destination.
Harvey’s Point has so many selling points its hard to narrow it down; apart from some of the most well-appointed, palatial accommodation you can find in Ireland, views that are postcard perfect, food that is showcasing the best of what the Wild Atlantic Way has to offer, it is the staff here that made it one of the most memorable experiences we have ever encountered.
Donegal hospitality is legendary and between owners Deirdre McGlone, her husband Marc Gysling and General Manager, and all around Dapper Don, Noel Cunningham, they have it in spades.
No request is too much, everyone we encountered in the hotel beamed and was full of charm. They say “a warm smile is the universal language of kindness,” at Harveys Point this isn’t something that’s forced for the guests, it’s a family and a team who just love doing what they do.
Included in the tour is a three course dinner in Harvey’s on both nights, cooked by an award-winning team led by their talented Head Chef Chris McMenamin. We were treated to an array of decadent dishes that were sure to please even the fussiest of eaters.
Harvey’s Point have become quite famous for their entertainment and the Wednesday Caberet Show has people coming from far and wide to see some of the best acts perform while enjoying a dinner hosted by “Donegal Noel” himself.
After a peaceful nights sleep and a lovely soak in the double jacuzzi in our room we reluctantly left the idyllic surrounding of Lough Eske and made our way by coach to visit the resting place of W.B Yeats at Drumcliffe Church in Sligo, set among the striking backdrop of the Benbulben Mountains.
We stopped off for a traditional Irish lunch in Henry’s Bar & Restaurant on the way to Sligo town where they serve up some of the best carvery in the country. Bellies full we said goodbye to Sligo and boarded our final first class carriage of the trip and made our way back to Dublin just in time for dinner.
As avid car enthusiasts we have to admit we were slightly sceptical abut how much we would enjoy this trip, however after experiencing Railtours Ireland first hand, travelling through over 15 counties and making some great friends along the way we are completely converted, CarFree and CareFree is the way to go.
Not only is this a unique way of travelling and making new acquaintances but it gives you the opportunity to unwind, relax and enjoy the beautiful landscape we so often take for granted.
Prices for the three-day tour with all rail & transfers, dinner on both nights, including breakfast start from €799pp. For more information or to book visit Railtours Ireland.
Keith & Jules Mahon are the founders of TheTaste. We want TheTaste to be a culinary kaleidoscope to champion every taste, food, wine, cocktails, whiskey, etc. We are delighted to be part of such a creative and fast moving industry and are very passionate about sharing with you our unique journey around Ireland finding the best culinary hotspots.