On the island of a hundred thousand welcomes, charming foodie folk are waiting to host you at their working farms, lakeside country houses, hip b&bs and slick city pads. Those seeking unique experiences will find something for everyone, from beekeeping in Northern Ireland to luxe retreats on the wind-swept Aran Islands. Though they range in style, size and location, all offer hearty home-cooked breakfasts, local cuisine and a warm dose of hospitality.
Embrace the elements on a wild island escape
Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites, Aran Islands
A stay on these wild and wind-swept islands is a true retreat. Inis Meáin restaurant’s limestone walls, minimalist interiors and ‘elemental eating’ menu reflects the rocky landscapes outside. Chef Ruairí de Blacam’s daily-changing dishes depend on what the island, garden and greenhouse yield that day but may include buttery lobster tail with aïoli and garden rocket, mackerel sashimi with XO sauce and lamb chop with salsa verde.
Guests can then choose to stay in one of the ‘remote refuge’ suites. Huge, wraparound windows offer panoramic views of the island, while luxury is catered to with super-king-sized beds on iroko wood frames, cashmere cushions and comfy robes and slippers.
Breakfast is brought to the door in a teak box – enjoy homemade bread, house-smoked fish and boiled eggs from the resident hens, little jars of Glenisk yogurt, fruit and juice.
A stay at Inis Meáin is meant to be a genuine escape, so exploration kits come as part of the package – set off on an adventure with your own ash walking stick, binoculars and baited fishing rod to catch dinner. You’ll even get a flask of comforting veggie soup to keep you warm.
Foodie weekend idea: Catch the ferry to Galway City to eat at cosy Kai café and restaurant, visit the Saturday market or join a whiskey trail with Galway Food Tours. Stay another night at artsy b&b The Stop to be rewarded with owners Russell and Emer’s home-cooked breakfasts packed with Irish produce.
Join A Taste of the Causeway Coast supper club at a seaside b&b
Blackrock House, Portrush, County Antrim
Nicola Neill has converted an Edwardian townhouse in Northern Ireland’s popular coastal town of Portrush into a luxury b&b. Welcome drinks and homemade whiskey cake greet guests when they arrive, and Nicola – who grew up nearby in Bushmills, home to the world’s first licensed whiskey distillery – has created a bountiful whiskey honesty bar. Embark on your own whiskey tasting by the fire or on the balcony with a view over Portrush’s twinkly West Bay.
King-sized beds, compact en-suite bathrooms and Edwardian wardrobes await in four light and bright rooms. It’s the little homely touches that really make a difference here – homemade fudge on bedside tables, warm hot water bottles under the covers in the evenings, and binoculars for peering at nearby Giant’s Causeway.
Breakfast is taken in the front room (there’s a fire for cold winter mornings). Try traditional fry up with Belfast tea, or pan-fried salmon and scrambled eggs with purple dulse seaweed. If you want to get out early doors, take a breakfast bap to the beach. This unique twist on the traditional Ulster fry piles poached eggs, bacon, basil oil-infused slow-roasted tomatoes, caramelised onion relish and fresh basil leaves into a mini Belfast bap.
Nicola and her team throw occasional supper clubs to showcase produce from local farms and smokehouses. Dishes on the menu might include smokehouse salmon on creamy white crab risotto, a trio of goat from Broughgammon Farm, and handmade Corndale Farm chorizo and gammon hock terrine.
Foodie weekend idea: Head into Portrush to Babushka Kitchen Café for fab Swedish coffee, homemade bakes and all-day brunch dishes (the sausage of the day might be spiked with wild garlic, ginger and chive, with a roasted red pepper sauce). Further along the Causeway Coastal Route, veer inland to Bushmills Distillery for an immersive tour and tasting. Local foodies flock to nearby Harry’s Shack, where you can enjoy fish and chips perched above Portstewart Strand beach before taking a post-lunch stroll along the shore.
Embark on a seafood boat trip and fly-fishing adventure at a lakeside retreat
Delphi Lodge, Connemara, County Galway
Book a stay at this atmospheric country house and take a few days to explore its 1,000-acre estate in the Connemara mountains. Guests can bond at communal dinners replete with local seafood and game, from Killary Bay lobster bisque with seafood quenelles and Cleggan Bay crab with herb mayo, to game consommé with foie gras and truffle ravioli, and pan-fried duck with spiced red cabbage.
Tuck into a hearty full Irish breakfast before departing on one of Delphi Lodge‘s intrepid seafood days in nearby fjord Killary Harbour. A boat picks you up from the end of Delphi’s private pier and whizzes you over to the fjord, visiting mussel and oyster farms along the way. Take a brisk, scenic walk to a traditional farm before climbing back onto the boat for fly fishing, a picnic lunch on a deserted island and a quick check of the lobster pots to hopefully bring some shellfish beauties back for dinner.
Foodie weekend idea: Drive back to Killary Harbour to join the Wild Atlantic Way and head north to Achill Island in County Mayo. Explore the island’s rugged mountain trails, sandy beaches and turquoise waters and enjoy fresh seafood at Bayside Bistro, a five-minute stroll from Keel Beach.
Make friends at a foodie house party and cookery course
Tannery Townhouse, Dungarvan, County Waterford
In-the-know foodies head to Dungarvan, on the coast of Ireland’s Ancient East, for a well-rounded break at this cookery school, boutique hotel and restaurant. In the latter’s airy, high-ceiling space, chef-owner Paul Flynn and his wife Máire serve seven-course tasting menus as well as à la carte dishes. Expect crab crème brûlée with pickled cucumber, local wood pigeon sausage, and grilled catch of the day with citrus, fennel and lobster arancini.
Book into one of the lively house parties, where Paul and Marie throw communal dinners in the homely front room (the January menu includes warm Gubbeen chorizo, melting ox cheek and bay-poached pear). After dinner, guests can sleep in simple, elegant bedrooms and feast on full Irish breakfasts in the morning, complete with black and white pudding.
Enjoy a day in the gleaming white cookery school – learn how to make Paul’s signature dishes such as seafood-packed bouillabaisse, cram in tricks that make a restaurant kitchen tick over smoothly, or discover how to use an Aga to create hearty stews and comforting bakes.
Foodie weekend idea: Drive up the coast to Waterford’s harvest festival when the streets come alive with stalls, restaurants put on produce-led supper clubs, and tents host demos from foodies including the GastroGays. Stop off at Seagull Bakery in nearby Tramore for a taste of Sarah Richard’s sweet treats – sticky vanilla buns, spiced apple Danishes and cinnamon swirls with glossy caramel coating. Work off the pastries on one of The Sea Gardener’s guided coastal walks, foraging for seaweed and learning how to cook with it on beaches.
Explore the island’s orchards and help out on the farm in a rural getaway
Ballyroney Cottage, County Down
Get a taste of rural life at this cosy b&b in Northern Ireland’s north-eastern County Down. Owners Vanessa and Russell are almost completely self-sufficient, and allow guests to take part in various farm activities. Try your hand at beekeeping, jam making, bread making and even goat milking, as well as foraging in the surrounding area. Put your feet up next to the wood burner in the homely retro living room before retiring to one of three rooms named after areas of the garden – Beehive, Peacock and Orchard. Each is brightened up with pastel dressers, vases of fresh flowers and floral bed spreads.
Reap the rewards of the previous day’s activities at breakfast, where gingham tablecloths are piled with jars of honey, fruit compote, eggs from the farm’s free-range hens, scones and soda bread, all grown or made on the small property.
Buy gifts to take away from the small farm shop, including orange, lemon and lime marmalade, damson jam and tomato and apple chutney, all in hand-labelled jars covered with patterned cloth.
This charming rural spot is all about top-class hospitality, and Vanessa and Russ can recommend plenty of local walks and haunts for hearty cooking and a pint (or two).
Foodie weekend idea: Drive inland to rural County Armagh, known for its tart green Bramley apples. Hop between cider houses to see how the drink is made before settling down for a picnic lunch and a pint beneath the apple trees. You can even join a Georgian banquet at Armagh Georgian Festival (27 November-1 December) – expect sharing food, merry music and plenty of cider in the grounds of a palace.
Potter around a foodie seaside town and stay in a family-run b&b
Castlewood House, Dingle, County Kerry
This family-run b&b sits on the shores of Dingle Bay, on the outskirts of the laid-back and friendly coastal town. Upon arrival, bag a sought-after armchair by the window in the snug living room to enjoy a slice of freshly baked cake and a tea from the station in the porch.
Each morning, owners Brian and Helen cook breakfast treats such as Dingle Bay kippers with scrambled eggs, fluffy pancakes with fruit compote, or ‘Helen’s breakfast treat’ – creamy porridge laced with Irish whiskey. The buffet includes juices, compotes and homemade nutmeg-infused bread and butter pudding.
There’s afternoon tea served in the front room on dainty tea stands and porcelain floral-patterned cups (make sure you try the Baileys chocolate mousse).
Foodie weekend idea: Pop into the pretty town of Dingle to pick up seaweed-speckled cheese from The Little Cheese Shop, and enjoy a dose of traditional fun, craft beers and live music at O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub. Or embark on an Dingle Original Gin tour here.