What could be more romantic than blustery weather, a quiet bay and a bag of hot chips for two? If you don’t mind togging up, Dingle in west Kerry makes a perfect lovers’ retreat.
Take Castlewood House, a family-run B&B where most rooms overlook the sparkling Dingle Bay (keep an eye out for Fungie the local dolphin, who’s called this town home since 1984) and everyone gets a pillowy soft bed and jacuzzi bath. The bathrooms are so squeaky clean that you can’t help but try and keep them that way; never has a B&B room smelt this good either – soapy and floral, but subtly so.
Owners Helen and Brian are the pampering sort: freshly baked cake is available every afternoon in the living room, a space so comfortable and homely that we were close to wandering through in our pyjamas. The two golden armchairs by the window are eagerly sought after – settle yourself down and watch the hypnotic waters of Dingle Bay, a view that manages to be beautiful even in the rain.
There’s a neat little takeaway tea station in a corner of the porch, glowing candles throughout come evening and paintings by Irene Woods (Helen’s mum) lining the staircase. It’s considerate touches like these that have made Castlewood so successful – as well as our own glowing recommendation, TripAdvisor has crowned it best small hotel in Ireland three years running.
Just one more compliment – about the breakfast this time. Brian is in charge of a menu that wows with 17 cooked options, all of them included in your stay. Choose from fluffy pancakes with pretty fruit compote, Dingle kippers with scrambled egg or ‘Helen’s breakfast treat’ – a devilish bowl of porridge laced with your choice of Irish booze, brown sugar or cream. And as of spring 2017, those guests who prefer a lighter start to the day can choose Brian’s ‘cloud eggs’ (egg yolks nestled in fluffy egg white pillows).
In the unlikely event that you’re not quite full, there’s also a buffet table laid out with homemade bread and butter pudding (sugary crust, gooey centre, lots of lovely nutmeg) and exciting stewed fruits like pears in red wine and apricots in vanilla pod syrup. Plus you’ll probably get a visit from Helen or Brian while you eat, a pair so friendly and genuine that they’ll be on your Christmas card list by checkout.
Also new for 2017 is afternoon tea at Castlewood House, the menu for which Great Irish Bake Off winner Tracy Coyne designed… think scones, little lemon possets and a Bailey’s chocolate mousse, among other delights, for €25 per person. And yes, we will be trying it on our next visit.
Dingle itself is a five minute walk from Castlewood House; it begins at its harbour and zigzags through pretty, colourful streets that are home to seafood caffs and pubs with good, local dishes. So rich is Dingle’s food scene that it’s home to an annual food festival in October. Chowder keeps the town going – the best and creamiest bowl is at Out of the Blue – along with Dingle Original Gin (infused with fuchsia and bog myrtle) and Tom Crean’s lager, both of which are made in the town.
Enjoy a picnic from The Little Cheese Shop, where sharp, mineral seaweed cheese is the specialty; and choose Murphy’s homemade Dingle sea-salt ice cream for pudding – there are two parlours in town, one of which has little tables lit with jam-jar tea lights for when it’s just too cold to eat your cone outside.
The Global Village – perhaps Dingle’s most refined restaurant – is the place for a romantic tasting menu: it comes peppered with homegrown vegetables, local salamis, cheeses and, of course, seafood.
Sip a post-dinner stout (our favourite is rich, chocolatey Murphy’s) or Dingle G&T at utilitarian pub Foxy John’s (half bar, half hardware store), then head to John Benny’s, An Droichead Beag or The Courthouse for a memorable evening of traditional music, usually championed by the violin, bodhrán and accordion. Try and catch the melodic harmonies and fiddle-playing of young Niamh Varian-Barry, if you can.
As long as you don’t mind sporadic rain showers and the whip of the wind, it’s hard to imagine a better place than Dingle for a long weekend away. We’ve been three times in two years, and on every occasion the people (and dolphin) of this unique, beautiful town have greeted us with warmth and kindness. Dingle, we’ll see you next year.