48 Hours in Donegal and Fermanagh

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A few weeks ago, Michael and I hopped in the car on Friday night for a little excursion to County Donegal and County Fermanagh, neither of which either of us had spent any real time in – except at the basketball gym in Letterkenny, and that does not count. In fact, it counts so little I can’t even remember it!

So we left Friday evening and headed to the Lough Erne Hotel in County Fermanagh. I have to admit, we didn’t see much of County Fermanagh because we arrived when it was dark and left when it was completely fogged in. But the glimpses we caught through the fog of the Fermanagh lakes were stunning and we’re hoping to go back again when we can actually see something!

We arrived late, but their Catalina restaurant managed to squeeze us in and it was superb. Really excellent service and all local ingredients. In fact, the maitre’d told us exactly where our duck and venison were from and it was very nearby! That part was equally reassuring and a little too easy to visualize at the same time, but the food was superb.

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In the morning, shortly after sunrise, we realized we wouldn’t be seeing much else for at least a few hours. Michael was convinced the fog would lift in a few hours so we should get on the road to County Donegal. He was right, but I was a little annoyed we couldn’t see any of Fermanagh’s lakes district. Next time, next time.

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I suppose I should also mention at this point, that we did a lot more driving and a lot less activity than we were originally anticipating. Michael’s torn calf muscle meant he was just barely able to share in the driving, but couldn’t do some of the activities we had planned, like horse back riding on the beach or surfing. A huge bummer, obviously, but we had tons of amazing views throughout the weekend, so we didn’t feel like we were missing out. (He’s off the crutches now, we’re making progress!)

But here’s what we did do! When we left Lough Erne, we headed to the Slieve League Cliffs by way of Killybegs fishing village. Killybegs is one of the largest fishing villages in the country and I actually think the crab appetizer we had the night before was from there! By the time we got to Killybegs, the fog was lifting and by the time we made it to the cliffs, it was positively gorgeous out!

cliffs_county_donegal_ireland cliffs_slieve_league_donegal The Slieve League Cliffs are some of the highest in Europe, and the drive was very steep at the end! So steep Michael may have come off the injury list to drive us down from the cliffs because he wasn’t such a fan of my wimpy driving.

We stopped at a local cafe called Mrs. B’s in Killybegs for sandwiches to take to the cliffs (and wifi for Instagramming!) and ate them sitting at the picnic tables overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  slieve_league_cliffs_ireland slieve_league_cliffs_donegal_ireland

Aren’t they just incredible? If you are traveling with able-bodied people, you can hike a bit higher up the cliffs, although I find it hard to believe your view would get much better! Thank goodness you’re able to drive right up – although you have to hold your breath going down – it’s so steep!

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The other thing you have to know about this part of the country is there is NO cell phone service throughout most of County Donegal. It was refreshing to be cut off from our phones, but we really should invest in a paper map of the country!

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On the way back from the cliffs, we found our tiniest Irish post office while trying to figure out the way to our next destination.

county_donegal_drive_big Turns out the most direct way across County Donegal was through the Crocknamurrin Mountain Bog, which was yet another amazing view!  bog_view_ireland Our next destination brought us straight across Donegal to the Grianan of Aileach, which pleasantly surprised both of us. It’s a ring fort that is thought to have been built around 1700 BC. BC, for crying out loud! grianan_aileach_michael_crutches grianan_aileach_county_donegal grianan_aileach_county_donegal_03 grianan_aileach_county_donegal_02

You know what they had a good grasp of in 1700 BC? Serious 360 degree views.  emily_grianan_aileach_county_donegal You can walk in (even on crutches) and climb up the rings to the top to see the most incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean and Lough Swilly, and clouds and pastures. It’s incredible.

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You kind of feel like you’re on top of the world. So incredibly cool.

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Now, here’s a little intermission. I’m fairly certain The Counter in Letterkenny is one of the only places you can get our favorite posh-hipster coffee in the county. We were so happy to happen upon it – and they’re opening a sit-in cafe space next door in early 2015! We stopped for coffee before heading to the Castle Grove Hotel for the night and were both unreasonably excited about it.

Now, onto our second night in County Donegal.  castle_grove_hotel_county_donegal_ireland

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The Castle Grove Hotel is a little like stepping back in time. It’s one of those old country estate hotels you’ll find dotted across the country. The decor may not have changed too much in the last century, and you can’t help but imagine what life must have been like when it was just a single family’s home.  county_donegal_ireland_red_leaves county_donegal_hydrangeas

Michael needed to put his leg up and the light was too amazing not to take my camera out for a little stroll around the grounds. county_donegal_view_clouds county_donegal_tree county_donegal_cows_rainbow

We had a wonderful weekend, we only would have loved to stay a little longer. And hopefully next time, we’ll have all our working limbs and can do a few more active things while we’re there!

You can get great deals on hotels in the area (including the two we stayed in – just click on the hotel links above) through Expedia. Huge thanks to Expedia for having us along on this #ExpediaExplores adventure! As always, the opinions shared remain my own and you can follow along with that hash tag as bloggers explore the rest of the country!

Posted in Exploring Ireland, Travels, Truly Irish, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Dublin in Three Hours: Shopping in the Creative Quarter

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Happy new week, friends! And apologies for sort of falling off the map last week. And at the end of a few weeks in a row there. Usually the beginning of the weeks have more time for blogging, but this week I started with a bang – we had a little celebration for Delightful Dublin in a gallery downtown and I went through today mostly like a zombie – but a zombie on a high! It was a wonderful night and I’ll have photos to share later this week.

But! I do have something really fun to share with you today. One way to spend three hours in Dublin – with a little shopping in Dublin’s Creative Quarter. For some, this might sound like hell (ahem, I see you falling asleep there Dad!), but for others it might sound pretty darn good! I’m not the biggest shopper, but these are some of my favorite shops in Dublin and I could spend hours browsing.

I’m sharing the full itinerary for a really lovely Dublin afternoon over on Conde Nast Traveler.

Photo by Julie Matkin for Delightful Dublin. We’re running a fun promo later in the week if you still haven’t bought your copy!

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A Scaldy Model and an Autumn DIY Boutonniere

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I asked Michael to model for a DIY project I was shooting for Wedding Party a week and a half ago. He had been on crutches with a partially torn calf muscle and was not the happiest of models. Normally, he’s a pretty good sport with my requests (and he’s almost always a pretty good sport when he’s injured), but it’s a pretty big injury and even getting dressed up didn’t cheer him up right away.

But I actually like that I captured his ultra grumpy face – we’d call it scaldy here in Dublin – because he eventually warmed up to the photographer and I got a few smiles out of him. Funny enough, his grumpy face didn’t change when I suggested he pretend to be happy about walking down the aisle since he was modelling a boutonniere – but it did change when I showed him exactly how scaldy he was looking in the photos!

michael_boutonniere_wedding_party His scaldy face makes me smile, and so does his softer face. Not always the most willing model, but I think he’s the most handsome!

You can see the DIY autumn boutonniere instructions over on Wedding Party!

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What to Pack for a Trip to Ireland

what to wear on a trip to Ireland

My posts over on Conde Nast Traveler have started this week! Last week, I gave a huge run down on how to look and act and dress like a local in an Irish pub. This week, I’m giving you lots of packing tips for your next trip to Ireland – with tons of shopping options for autumn in Dublin.

Photo by Julie of me in the rain from one of my past Styled in Ireland posts. I very much hope to resurrect those in the coming months, they were very popular and I have some new Irish designers I’m hoping to showcase!

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The Tiniest Irish Post Office

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I’m still going through photos from my travels last week, but I thought we’d all get a kick out of this little sneak peek. How about the tiniest Irish post office you ever did see? Just inland from the cliffs at Slieve League in County Donegal (no photos will do those cliffs justice, but you’ll get some soon nonetheless!), there’s this tiny little post office.

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Post boxes aren’t uncommon here, but I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw that this one, attached to a fence around a sheep field, actually said Post Office at the top. Ha!

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On the Road around Ireland, Again and Still

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Since Wednesday, I’ve been on the road around Ireland. First to Waterford with my mother-in-law, and now to Donegal with Michael. And in case I wasn’t already completely brainwashed, these last few days have reaffirmed my awe of Ireland. The sea views, the green pastures, gah. It does not end.

We’ll be back in Dublin tomorrow and hopefully we’ll have more reliable internet (my only complaint about the countryside in Ireland!) so I can properly brainwash you with all my gorgeous green photos.

Happy weekend, friends!

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Irish Yogurt with Blackberry Jam

Irish blackberry jam yogurt

You know what Ireland has done to me? It has spoiled me for any dairy products – butter, milk, yogurt, all of it. And there’s something that happens when the dairy products are so delicious. Somehow it means you need less sugar in your life. Not when it comes to chocolate, though, but especially the case in yogurt. We really only eat plain, unflavored but delicious Irish yogurt now, but I like to spice up that plain yogurt myself with fruit, granola or nuts. Since it’s blackberry season in Ireland (and boy was it a good year for blackberries!), I’ve been mixing all my delicious Irish plain yogurt with homemade blackberry jam and it’s a completely addictive treat.

Irish blackberry yogurt made with jam A few times over the last weeks, my mother-in-law and I have been out picking blackberries in the sunshine. The first time we were real novices about it and we both ended up with lots of nettle stings. Apparently it’s also a good year for nettles – they are everywhere!

My mother-in-law made a few batches of blackberry jam and I watched. From what I can tell, the recipe goes like this: 2 kilos blackberries, one kilo sugar. Put the blackberries in a high-sided pot and mash them as you bring them to a slow boil, at which point add the sugar and slowly stir. When the sugar is dissolved, add the juice of a lemon and half an apple, grated. Boil and stir for ten minutes then transfer to sterilized jars. This made about four regular jam jars and I’m already mostly through one!

Irish blackberry jam yogurt It is beyond delicious spooned over plain yogurt – just the right combination of sweet and tangy.

If you aren’t in Ireland, I think Greek yogurt will give you a fraction of the same satisfaction, but really only if you mix it with homemade jam from berries you picked by the side of the sea. If you’re planning a visit to Ireland anytime soon, can stop into a grocery store and pick up a few little jars of Irish yogurt to try, and you’ll quickly be ruined for all other dairy products as well. You’ll just have to imagine the blackberry jam party!

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A New Gig – Contributor at Conde Nast Traveller

Emily Westbrooks contributor Conde Nast Traveler

Well, friends, this here was a giant pinch me moment. A few months ago, I was contacted by Conde Nast Traveler and asked to become a monthly contributor to their website. I actually sent my friend Anne an email to ask her if she thought it was spam! I just couldn’t quite believe it was true. But it was! We went back and forth all summer, working out a plan and today I start!

I’ll be writing six times each month, about Dublin, about our travels around the country and around Europe. When I’m home in Maine I’ll likely write about some great finds back in my home state, and sprinkled throughout I’ll be dishing out useful travel tips and tricks. I hope you’ll hop over every once in a while and read a few posts. They redesigned their site this summer and it’s gorgeous, but I may be biased already.

And to those of you who come here every day or week or even month, thank you for giving me a place to practice my craft. From China Village has been a blessing that has led to so many other blessings!

Posted in Dublin, Elsewhere, Exploring Ireland | 9 Comments

Uncommon Gift Ideas

uncommon gift ideas

My mom had a birthday last week, so when Uncommon Goods reached out and asked if I wanted to a little window shopping on their site, I was inspired to think about a few gifts my mom might like. Unfortunately, I had already put something in the mail to her (and it was very like one of these six options), otherwise I would have ordered one of these.

The older I get, the more I care about the origin of the things I’m buying, both for myself and for my family and friends. I was instantly impressed by Uncommon Goods’ commitment to their own employees (in their warehouse, their lowest paid workers make 50% over minimum wage), to the people around the world who make the products they sell, and to the environment. It’s nice to have a place where someone has already done the homework for you – both in curating a collection of useful and beautiful goods, but also in doing the background checks on the producers.

For more information on Uncommon Goods and some of their delightful handmade gifts, visit their website. Some of the jewellery on this page is just stunning, and you can have some of it customized here!

Now, for the gifts I window-shopped for my mom: 1. wooden wine glasses since she and my dad are always looking for safe glasses to bring on the boat / 2. flavored salt since she is the queen of condiments (Michael claims this has made me the princess of condiments) / 3. an agate necklace since she loves rocks / 4. or this necklace made from found stones (I sent her something just like this but made by an Irish artist with a stone from Ireland!) / 5. a maple leaf night light to accompany the tree night light that’s lived in our kitchen forever and ever / 6. an architectural desk organizer since she spends way too much time working hard at her desk!

Happy birthday again, Mom!

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A Podcast about Delightful Dublin on Irish Fireside

Happy Friday, friends! What a short week in the land of From China Village, but we’re ending it with a bang! This morning, I woke up to an email from my friend Corey at Irish Fireside to say that the podcast interview I did with him a few weeks ago was live. In it, I talk all about Delightful Dublin, our process for creating it, how Julie and I both fell in love with Dublin and lots of tips for getting the best out of my adopted city. Honestly, for the first time maybe ever I thought gosh, I don’t sound like a total goofball! 

So I hope you enjoy, and if you’re in the market for a Dublin trip, you can get your copy of Delightful Dublin right here. And make sure to visit Irish Fireside for tons of podcasts with Corey. Doesn’t he make you feel like you’re sitting by the fire? Thanks so much for having me to the Fireside, Corey!

See you back next week for even more fun news, Delightful Dublin and otherwise! Have a wonderful weekend!

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