I recently returned from a Northern Ireland Backroads trip and I can’t say enough wonderful things about Backroads and this experience. If you are looking for something different, something active, and not just lounging on a beach, then a Backroads vacation just might be the answer.
We spent the first three days were with Tourism Ireland and the walking portion of the trip. We started in Belfast and stayed at the Culloden Estate and Spa. I would rate it a 4-star. My room was adequate but far from spectacular. I did a site inspection and the common areas were very nice, including the grounds which were lovely. Belfast has a history that is so interesting you just soak it up. I learned so much about this politically-charged city and it’s troubles with the British empire. For the most part, I thought of Ireland as basically a pub grub sort of destination, but I had some of the most amazing meals. We dined at James Street South in Belfast, one of the trendier restaurants and it was a culinary treat – I highly recommend it.
Leaving Belfast we had one of the most scenic drives along the Antrim Coast Road where we joined another private guide to visit and hike/walk some of Ireland’s best loved attractions: the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Giant’s Causeway, and the Grianan of Aileach. We then headed for the Donegal region, where we stayed the next two nights at the Rathmullan House, a beautiful old country house surrounded by gardens that open out to the Atlantic inlet of Lough Swilly. The rooms were charming and each had their own unique style. The staff were very accommodating and friendly. The in-house restaurant was another culinary delight. (The only issue any of us had was that the water is a dark yellow-greenish color which is very hard to adjust to and VERY noticeable. They say that it is perfectly clean – but in that area of Ireland, as it comes off the bog, it turns that color.) The next day we hiked/walked throughout the Glenveagh National Park & Castle and then to a private home along the coast which now has become quite a tourist spot due to its Japanese Gardens.
Next we headed to Ashford Castle in Cong, County Mayo for 2 nights. This is where the Backroads biking part of the trip began. What a perfect place to cycle… along country roads with beautiful scenery, cows, sheep, horses, flowers and greenery everywhere… not to mention that your cycling around a CASTLE! Not once was I afraid that I was going to be run over by a car – like in LA! We were offered different biking options (shorter or longer) and you were completely supported by a van to assist – if any assistance was needed. If you’re too tired and want to stop – get on the van! If you want to go back and have a spa treatment – get on the van! There’s no pressure to do anything you don’t want to do.
While staying at Ashford Castle there are optional activities to choose from, which are not included in the trip price. I opted to go horseback riding around the castle grounds. That’s a tough one to recommend after two days of biking – so be prepared! Ashford Castle was beautiful, a 5-star retreat. The meals at the George V were amazing. Three and a half hours to dine for dinner is not uncommon. You can choose anything on the menu as it is all included, except alcohol.
The last day Backroads shuttled us to Shannon airport where you are on your own. I opted to spend a few days in London on my own.
Personal Recommendations: For a Backroads vacation, if the destination is far from home, I highly suggest you go in a day early. Getting over that first day of jet lag especially for an active vacation is a must in my opinion. The first day would have been a total waste otherwise. If time and funds permit, extend a day or two after so that you can just unwind, shop and do what YOU want without a schedule.