In recent years we have seen a noticeable shift in thinking, not only from accommodation providers, but from tourists seeking Eco Friendly Holidays in Ireland, looking to lower their carbon footprint and this sustainable travel movement has piqued my interest as well as the growing desire amongst many families to seek a restful retreat whereby we can connect with nature and enjoy all the benefits of healthy living.
With this in mind and the fact that I always love to find something unique that suits our sense of adventure, I was thrilled when we were offered to stay in The Slieve Aughty Centre for a few nights in order to write this review. It is a welcome respite from the daily activities, school runs, matches, schedules, appointments, homework, internet, tablets never mind their busy social lives!
Nestled in 2,000 acres of state owned forestry in County Galway, minutes from the main Portumna to Loughrea Road, The Slieve Aughty Centre is the perfect place for those looking to combine eco-friendly with luxury leading the way in Eco Friendly Holidays Ireland.
Family Friendly Accommodation
The purpose built sustainable boutique-style hotel is beautifully decorated and offers elegant comfort in their 9 large rooms, 7 of which have access to the shared balcony with stunning views of the forest, gardens and fields as well as eco lodges, glamping and camping options.
The family room we stayed in was the largest family room I have stayed in to date and had a large double and three more single beds spaced out across the room with plenty of storage and even room for a cot and a seating area. In keeping with their Eco ethos and policies, there are no televisions in the rooms and Wi-Fi access is only available in public areas. This did not bother us in the slightest as we were rarely in the room but always drawn outdoors even into the late evenings. They have a coffee/tea station in the bar which all guests are welcome to use throughout the day as they do not have this facility in the room.
The eco lodges themselves have a real enchanted fairy tale feel as a result of the quaint cosy décor, ladders, stoves and loft spaces. Each have their own outside eating area as well as kitchen and seating area indoors. The Chalet De Florence can accommodate a family of six as it has a double cosy room in the loft, and two sets of bunk beds in the room downstairs with room for a cot also.
The huts offer a cosy glamping experience and are suitable for families of three and four and again they have a Hansel and Gretel feel. The playground hut is just off the playground and could be magical if you have a little toddler that likes to play all day. Each of the huts have a small kitchenette area and again outside seating.
If you have your own tent they have an area for campers and also while we were there, they were very open to campers pitching up in other areas like the organic kitchen garden and the formal garden area.
For campers, while they do not offer electrical sites their toilet and shower facilities were superb as I often used them while we chilled for hours outdoors.
Family Friendly Activities
You can get a real sense that this is a family run centre and that a lot of thought and effort has been put into welcoming families. Everything from the playground, games room to the arts and craft room offer a rustic, natural and traditional feel. The arts rooms is exquisitely equipped with a huge array of materials and crafts to inspire. It is housed in an old farm building and the décor has maintained this feel. There have an open garage with outdoor kiddie tractors, carts, trailers and buggies where Thomas spent most of his days moving from one item to the next. All the play areas are housed around the main stables where all day long the daily duties of this working farm took place so I found myself sitting, reading my book on the wooden veranda, pausing to watch the world go by as the children moved through these activities at their ease. Now that’s what I call a retreat.
The Slieve Aughty Centre is also an award winning equestrian centre and horses are an integral part of daily life. On our first morning the children enjoyed a pony ride down to the enchanted forest. As if the pony ride was not excitement enough, they stopped at the enchanted forest along the way. All levels of riders are catered for and because our children were beginners they were guided so it is very safe.
The Enchanted Forest is the reason I first discovered the Slieve Aughty Centre as many of our followers spoke of this magical woodlands with the most detailed and beautiful fairy trail in such natural landscape. This is no man made fairy village but definitely an original habitats with historic origins. It was truly magical. Lonán was so in awe she barely came down from our arms. Even Thomas was quite taken and loved the discovery and playful element of it all. Alongside the fairies live witches, trolls and gnomes as well streams, wishing trees and much much more. Before we departed that day each of the kids received an Enchanted Forest Pack including a forest map, wishing tree hanger and fairy dust so we could make our wishes and blow our fairy dust along the way. You can visit the centre and enjoy this activity as a daily guest on its own for €5 per person and €10 for a pony ride to the gate.
For lunch we enjoyed a picnic, but again, this was no ordinary picnic. The Three Towers Organic Restaurant prepared a most delightful gluten free picnic packed full of organic produce and plenty of goodness from the organic kitchen garden. Our donkey companion, John Willy, then took us on a stroll along another woodland trail through the forest and to the donkey picnic field so we could enjoy our picnic deep in the countryside yet only a 30 minute walk from the centre. You can go back at this stage or follow some more trails through the forest with the maps provided depending on what suits you best. The food was delicious and so much so that the children devoured some very healthy ingredients that I am sure would normally think twice about. This activity was probably the highlight of our summer as the children really enjoyed walking with the donkey and I must say I adored the peace of it all.
Other activities on site included cycling, nature trails and walking trails but to be honest we were so chilled at this stage that we were happy to sit back and just enjoy the centre for the remainder of our stay. Walkers can enjoy glorious trails right from the front door. You can wander up and down to the enchanted forest and through the organic kitchen gardens as much as you want. We did this a few more times over the stay when the children became restless as you would never tire of the enchanted forest and each time we visited we always seemed to discover something new.
Family Friendly Activities Nearby
While there is plenty to keep us occupied in the centre we did head out to explore further once or twice. Portumna was only a 20 mins drive, there was a small shop and petrol station approx. 5 mins drive away and Loughrea town is about a 15 mins drive. The lake in Loughrea is very popular for swimming on a warm day and Turoe Pet Farm is about a 20 mins drive away. Turoe Pet Farm boosts Europe’s largest indoor bouncy castle and my two older ones adored it. It is exceptionally clean as open farms go and plenty to do both inside and out even working as a rainy day activity with the bouncy castle alone. Each child received a bag of animal food on arrival so they could feed the animals as they go and the animals were well trained to spot that bag a mile away, making his way to it delighting the children. Furthermore they offer plenty of gluten free hot meals for kids.
The Irish Workhouse Centre, Heritage Council Winner 2017, 2018 & 2019, is located in Portunmna which we had planned to visit but we were just two busy chilling out at the centre and decided to leave it for another trip. However, if you do have time it is meant to be good for the older kids.
Dining at Slieve Aughty Centre
The Three Towers Organic Restaurant is one of two organic certified restaurants in Ireland and the only one in the west of Ireland. They use certified organic ingredients and a special effort is made to ensure the use of local suppliers, as well as ingredients from their own certified organic garden. With creativity and a passion for organic food, their aim is to offer delicious, healthy meals using only natural and organic ingredients.
Both breakfast and evening meal is buffet style with plenty of choice and the gluten free porridge in the morning was so delicious that I finally converted Saoirse to a porridge eater after 11 years. Each morning I enjoyed avocado and fresh tomatoes from the garden with gorgeous local cheese and it made a welcome change to the usual fry up that is offered in hotels. The children enjoyed eggs and organic chocolate spread on toast.
Lucky for us we were staying on a Friday night which is Pizza Night at The Three Towers Restaurant. A wide array of pizza toppings were laid out around the outdoor pizza oven and we each were provided with a pizza base (including gluten free) so we could make our own pizza ready to cook in the stone oven. This was my favourite night as the children loved it. The atmosphere was so relaxing yet party like in the outdoor seating area and the pizzas were delicious. Locals, guests and team members of the Slieve Aughty Centre spread out to enjoy the feast in a friendly relaxed setting where friends and strangers chatted amicably. We stayed here for the evening enjoying a few glasses of wine and craft beers as the children pottered about. The restaurant was full this evening and it is only a testimony to their fabulous food and setting as most were locals who are lucky enough to have such a wonderful experience on their own doorstep. For those of you with a large appetite you will be please to know that you can go up for seconds however very few required it. The pizza night costs €12 per adult and €6 per child and it will be a long time before I see value like this again.
On our first day we stopped in Portumna on the way to Slieve Aughty and enjoyed an Indian in Modena Restaurant in the town itself. It had excellent choices for Coeliacs and a lovely kids menu. While Thomas opted for a burger, Saoirse and Lonán enjoyed a gorgeous Indian curry. As Indian food fans both Craig and I loved it and could thoroughly recommend it.
On another day, when we visited Loughrea, we popped into Maggie May’s for a bite to eat. They have seating downstairs in the bar or restaurant style seating upstairs. I must say it was a very relaxed option for a bite to eat with plenty of lovely choices for the kids. Most importantly our food didn’t disappoint.
Downsides is one of my normal blog headings but this time I struggled to find one. All I can say is that is it’s really a holiday for those who enjoy the outdoors and a laid back feel. Children potter amongst the activities provided and make their own fun and if you are looking for fast food you won’t find it here (even though we have one fussy eater and got on fine).
The honesty shop and honesty book in the bar, where you write in what you helped yourself to, provides an idea for how they perceive their patrons. We were not customers, patrons or even your usual guests but rather “a family visitor” if there is such a term. It’s a magical place to holiday with kids, surrounded by picturesque views and wandering wildlife, where gazing at the stars around the fire pit is as stressful as it gets.
As a certified Ecotourism provider, its green credentials include: More than 1 acre of vegetables and fruits are sourced on the property, grown without pesticide or herbicide, additional fruits and vegetables, cheese and free-range eggs are locally sourced and organic (when possible), more than 90% of purchased products are certified organic, food waste is composted, the main building is a beautiful example of functional, comfortable sustainability in practice with lots of windows for natural lighting, low flow taps and toilets, efficient lighting features, puraflo peat filtration wastewater system, and eco-foam insulation, biomass burning boiler for heating, the centre uses only 24 wheelie bins per year and plans to decrease waste generation annually, eco-friendly cleaners are used for all cleaning and clothes washing, washing is air dried 95% of the time, rainwater is collected for use in the stables and garden and wastewater is treated with a natural puraflo peat moss treatment system.
So as you can see from the above efforts long before eco-tourism and reducing our carbon footprint became trendy, The Slieve Aughty Centre were leading the way in Eco Friendly Holidays in Ireland and today are prime example for us all. This place is certainly people, nature, community and environment before profit without scrimping on any of the luxury and standards that we all desire from a family holiday.To find out more click here!