Portsalon Luxury Camping
From airport to bus stop, tourists to the Emerald Isle are bombarded with the oh-so-ubiquitous posters for the Wild Atlantic Way (hey – if you've got it, flaunt it). Arguably, nowhere encapsulates this picture postcard image of Ireland more than Donegal. A favourite holiday destination for the Irish themselves (always a testament to the enduring appeal of a place), County Donegal has some of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders in the entire country – it's a photographer's dream. See that rugged coastline with epic edge-of-the-world views? That's Malin Head, Ireland's most northernly tip in County Donegal. Or how about that death-defyingly narrow tightrope of a mountain precipice? That's One Man's Path on Slieve League on Donegal's western Atlantic coast. Or perhaps the art department opted for the golden sandy sweep yielding to tranquil azure waters, the whole scene hugged by the sheep-dotted, serpentine coastal road. Yep, you guessed it – north Donegal's very own Ballymastocker Bay at Lough Swilly. This was voted by those well-travelled people from The Observer as the second best beach on the entire planet, pipped to the post by some spot in the Seychelles. Well, as stunning as that Indian Ocean paradise undoubtedly is, there's a glampsite overlooking the lough that would make us think twice about where we'd rather spend our summer hols...
It's hard to believe that Portsalon Luxury Camping has only been up and running since Easter 2014. So slick is the experience of staying at this über-luxe Cashelpreaghan retreat, you'd think charming owners Helen and Sean were old hands at the glamping game. This 18 acre site on the Fanad Peninsula enjoys spectacular views of Lough Swilly, Mulroy Bay, Knockalla mountain and the Inishowen Peninsula to the east. The five yurts are perfectly positioned for the uninterrupted coastal vistas this selcuded site affords. All are immaculately presented, complete with wood-burning stove, king-sized beds and double futons sleeping up to six people. Each have their own firepit for both chillin' and grillin' – Helen and Sean kindly offers guests some of the lovely organic produce they grow, and free-range eggs are available daily... providing the girls feel like laying, of course – the pace of life here is pretty lazy after all.
Facilities put most hotels to shame with hot, wet-room showers, and flushing toilets housed in a separate building. There's a fully-equipped communal kitchen and dining area – more upscale B&B than the al fresco camping kitchens of most glampsites. The adjoining lounge and cosy reception area comes well-stocked with a selection of books and local info to flick through by the fireplace. It's a good job the sofas here are the big comfy kind you can sink into because deciding where to visit first may take some time.
Donegal's 1,235km coastline boasts 13 Blue Flag beaches – more than any other Irish county. The famous Ballymastocker is just a short stroll from the site. It's flat and vast and never feels overcrowded – brave the hairpin bends of the Knockalla coast road for a perspective of the neighbouring peninsulas. In contrast to this contemplative stretch of coastline, seven miles north takes you to Fanad Head, its lighthouse bearing the brunt of the Atlantic elements – a truly dramatic setting. Head inland and you'll continue to be wowed by Glenveagh National Park, Ireland's second largest.
Portsalon Golf Course is just a putt away if you fancy giving Rory McIlroy a run for his money. For a taste of Ireland's other national obsession, head to MacCumhail Park in Ballybofey to see Donegal's GAA football team in action. In case the green and gold flags adorning even the remotest of rural lamposts didn't give it away, GAA is serious business here. There are fewer atmospheres that can match this place in an All Ireland cup game. And whether or not the Tir Conaill Men walk away with the Sam Mcguire cup, we know one Donegal glampsite worthy of a trophy or two.
The yurts come furnished with king-size beds (including bedding), double sofa beds, and wood-burning stove. The toilet/shower building features mirrors, shaving points, hairdryers, and accessible wet room shower. A second building houses a fully-equipped kitchen (electric ovens/gas hobs/fridge freezer, all crockery/cutlery) and dining area; plus a lounge area with small library and wood-burning stove. Extra features include free Wi-Fi, lockable cabinets and secure electric charging points for phones/laptops etc. Campfire area and BBQ area next to each yurt. Workshops and courses available.
Tents, caravans, dogs – no. Groups by prior arrangement only and no overnight adult groups.
Donegal has 13 Blue Flag beaches, more than any Irish county. The 3-mile long sandy stretch of Ballymastocker Bay (just 1 mile from site) is one of the most spectacular, sweeping from Portsalon to the Knockalla coast road. Just 7 miles from the site to the north is the Fanad Head lighthouse, a great spot for whale watching. Nearby Ballyheirnan Bay is home to Adventure One Surf School (00353 87 628 5565) – all abilities welcome. Five Fingers Strand on the Inishowen Peninsula boasts some of the highest sand dunes in Europe – a great spot for some seaside solitude. While even further east, Kinnagoe Bay is a top spot for sea fishing, with the Armada shipwreck of La Trinidad Valencera a magnet for pollack, dogfish, bass and flounder. Donegal Bay Waterbus (00353 74 97 23666) runs 75-minute tours, departing from the pier in Donegal Town (around an hour's drive) – make sure the camera's charged for snaps of the seal colony and Bluestack Mountains. Glenveagh National Park is Ireland's second biggest. It's home to the country's largest herd of red deer and the formerly extinct golden eagle were reintroduced into the park in 2000.
Food & Drink
Complimentary organic fruit, veg and free-range eggs are available to guests in season. The well-equipped communal kitchen has everything you're likely to need, with the Dunleavy's XL convenience shop supplying a wide array of groceries, plus a deli, off licence, and takeaway pizzas at weekends. The Blueberry Café and Barnacle Restaurant (00353 74 915 9008) is a cracking wee eaterie which serves hearty Irish fayre. Sarah's Restaurant (00353 74 915 9135), overlooking Lough Swilly, is hard to beat for views. Warm up with a steaming hot pot of Mulroy Bay mussels after a day spent in the surf, then pop in next door to The Stores Olde Worlde Bar for a pint of Guinness in the fireside snug. You need to have at least one night of excess on your holiday, and Rathmullan House (00353 74 915 8188) is the perfect place to splurge. This early-19th century, 4 star country house hotel hosts The Cook & Gardener Restaurant. This is sophisticated cuisine celebrating the best of Irish produce, with the all ingredients either locally sourced or grown in Rathmullen's Walled Garden.
April – October.
5 yurts – each sleeping 2 adults, plus up to 4 children.
No availability showing at Portsalon Luxury Camping.
Follow the signs up the lane to the reception.
Bus Éireann runs buses to Letterkenny from throughout Ireland, including a regular service to and from Derry. Patrick Gallagher Coaches (00353 74 953 1107) runs a regular Letterkenny to Belfast service, while John McGinley Coaches (00353 74 913 5201) does a Dublin to Letterkenny run.
There are buses daily from Letterkenny to Portsalon. This is a new rural transport service with the following current times: 7.45am Portsalon to Letterkenny; 5.45pm Letterkenny (departs from outside ‘Mr Chippy’ on the Tesco roundabout) to Portsalon.
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