Irish Road Tripping: Seaweed Baths, Rural Perfumeries and Plant-Based Castle Dinners

A drive across the Emerald Isle, shacking up at off-the-beaten-path castle resorts and dining at sweet vegan eateries in between spa appointments, is now one of our all-time favorite glam-casual adventures. Starting and ending in Dublin, with at least one pint of Guinness (it’s going vegan in 2017!) and a lot of drop-in yoga along the way, we winded through Sligo, Donegal and Galway on a wellness-themed trek.

Getting there

Ireland’s Aer Lingus started three new non-stop flights from the US in 2016: from Los Angeles, Hartford and Newark. It’s also launching a direct flight from Miami later in 2017. When returning home, a handy pre-clearance in Dublin and Shannon airports mean no customs lines at your home airport when you’re schlepping Duty Free goodies while sleepwalking.

Dublin

Set up camp at historic, glamorous Shelbourne or boutique and charming Brooks Hotel for centrally located digs. The Shelbourne is steps from Stephen’s Green park and massive (pedestrian-only) shopping thoroughfare Grafton Street, as well as vegan-friendly wine bar Peploe’s. Brooks is located on indie shop-lined Drury Street, as well as a five minute walk from vegetarian Cornucopia restaurant and 15 minutes from the Guinness Storehouse.

And speaking of the Storehouse, The Guinness Storehouse tour may have been around for ages, but is still wildly popular with visitors and a fair amount of locals. A post-tour pint at the top of the Gravity Bar with 360 degree views of the city below is the ultimate touristy indulgence.

Vegan dining in Dublin is easy peasy: Cornucopia is cute for casual lunch for dine-in or to go before hitting the road. If a slightly dressier three-course dinner is more your speed, Fallon & Byrne grocery has an upstairs bistro that serves a vegan menu (in addition to non-veg version) with items including a celeriac and apple salad and roasted cauliflower. After dinner, a night with the famed Literary Bar Crawl is a necessity. Over the course of three hours (and up to four Guinnesses if you have on at each stop) you can get what feels like an entire semester’s worth of Dublin history performed, often in first-person and from the perspective of historic figures like Oscar Wilde, by two locals who live and breathe Irish history.

Donegal

After a day or two of city living, hit the road three hours north to country castle Lough Eske (pronounced Lock Esk) for grounds and interiors so stunning you best swap out your American athleisure for something more befitting a 17th century castle. Lough Eske does a pan-European tasting menu with risotto, falafel and seasonal salads in their Cedar’s Grill restaurant, but the real star are the forest estate’s 43 acres of manicured gardens, walking paths and fireside nooks.

Sligo

A visit to Voya’s seaside spa for seaweed-based treatments is a necessary Irish wellness experience. The location alone, on the Atlantic coast and just over an hour from Lough Eske, is ridiculously romantic - stunning on a sunny day and so brooding and lush on a more likely rainy day.

Voya uses a number of different seaweeds, all hand-harvested, throughout their various spa treatments. The signature is their seaweed bath, during which you hop into a steamy claw-footed tub filled with local seaweeds that fill the bath with the weeds’ gel-like goo. Amazing for the skin, detoxifying and so relaxing, the seaweed baths leave you feeling as jelly-like the goo itself. More relaxed than is probably safe, stumble about 200 yards to the Drafthouse Gastro Pub, where they offer a number of vegan options for dinner and dessert that change each evening. On the way out of town, hitting the health-focused vegan and gluten-free eatery Sweet Beat Cafe in the center of Sligo town makes for a quick, nutrient-rich breakfast. This eatery has won national awards for its raw and cooked cuisine, so be sure to stock up a vegan version of the Full Irish (a traditional breakfast often featuring bacon, eggs, and sausage), bean and avocado spelt toasts.

Galway

Two hours south of Sligo, Galway is one of Ireland’s older cities and a key stop for some of the country’s coziest pubs. The best meal of our trip was here, at the non-vegan Kai restaurant. Don’t let the regular menu fool you - the vegan tasting menu is out.of.this.world. Just give them a 24 hour heads up to have it ready. It is way too much food, and yet we finished every bite. Everything is local and perfectly prepared and so creative.

Dromoland Castle

Dromoland is about an hour’s drive south, with a very (very) worthy pitstop being the Burren perfumery and tea shop. The Burren is a crazy section of Ireland that we can’t even begin to describe other than that it feels like you’re on the moon and we hope you’ve gotten used to driving on the other side of the road, because the unpaved ones leading here are not for novices.

Once you arrive, Dromoland Castle is even Castle-ier than Lough Eske. If Lough Eske is your Irish country castle escape for hiking, dressing up and late night drinks by the fire, Dromoland is your ‘which century am I in and I can’t believe this is a real place’ labyrinthine castle for old-school styled fine dining, great spa treatments and a maybe some late night ‘The Crown’ binge-watching with Guinness delivered in-room. Rooms vary greatly, and the corner suites that look out to the grounds on two sides are the ones to nab.