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'Check out the tapas bar run by two surfers': 6 up-and-coming holiday spots around Ireland, according to insiders

From Strandhill to the Copper Coast, here are the places to get off the beaten track in 2019.

Image: Shutterstock

THERE’S ONE PARTICULAR downside to visiting the best-known beautiful holiday destinations in the country: everyone else wants to be there too.

For optimal holiday enjoyment, you actually want the perfect combination of a spot that’s not too crowded but still has enough buzz, entertainment and action that will make for a fun or restful stay.

If that’s what you’re looking for this summer, these are the up-and-coming holiday spots that will have you booking up annual leave, according to some of the country’s most knowledgeable tourism experts. Plus exactly what you’ll want to get up to while you’re there.

Source: Shutterstock

1. Strandhill, Sligo

Strandhill has gotten its place on the map recently for two reasons: the beautiful beach and surf scene and Shell’s Cafe. Owner Jane Chambers is up to her eyes with their new restaurant about to open this month, Baker Boys, but took a few minutes to share her favourite spots that make this town one of the most up-and-coming areas in the country.

Chambers recommended dinner at Stoked, “a cool tapas bar over the Strand. It’s run by two surfers, Shane and Shane, and it strikes the perfect balance of casual feel with different food.” From there, head to The Dunes Tavern, which “has been taken over by two young guys as well, and they have brought a whole new energy to the pub scene.”

When you visit, book one of the new self-catering apartments at Cois Farraige. Chambers says, “My favourite is the middle floor with the balcony as even in the rain you can sit and enjoy a glass of wine while watching the sun set.” She pointed out that the proximity to the sea would even be great for families — you’ll skip packing up the car and can instead just walk to the beach with the kids.

The draw to Strandhill is the beach, and an extra special spot to relax is the Voya seaweed baths, right next door to Cois Farraige. Another relaxing element to Strandhill is Salt & Soul, the village’s new yoga studio. Once you’re limber and zen, take a walk on Cullenmore, “a lovely tidal bay that doesn’t get too busy,” says Chambers. “You often see the horses coming through and hear the bark of the seals in the early morning — a great spot when you want to escape the world.”

Source: Shutterstock

2. Ennistymon, Clare

Walking guide Peter Galvin, who runs Wonderful Ireland Walking Holidays, has made his way around most of the corners of this country, and spent the month of January in County Clare. He was particularly drawn to Ennistymon, which has a certain buzz about it, even in January. “It seems to be a place that attracts young people, and even attracts year-round visitors,” Galvin said.

For food, you’ll want to check out Pot Duggans, an award-winning and unexpected spot for food cooked by some of Ireland’s best chefs. On the last Sunday of every month, they host a meal at their long tables at the barn. The meals sell out quickly, but you can sign up to their mailing list to be the first notified of upcoming events.

If trout fishing happens to be on your bucket list, Lickeen Lake is only a short distance away. The large lake is set in the heart of the Burren and regularly stocked with brown trout, perfect for anglers looking for a getaway.

And for a relaxing spot to stay, book a room at the 18th-century Falls Hotel and Spa. You can punctuate your spa treatments with visits into the town to check out the art gallery scene, starting with the Courthouse Gallery and Studios, and coffee just along the coast in Dodi Cafe in Lahinch.

Source: Shutterstock

3. Eyeries, Cork

I’ve been taken with Eyeries since I visited from the States as a 14-year-old with my family — in February. If a quiet, seaside village can enchant you in February, it must be something special.

Galvin is equally enamoured with the peaceful area of the Beara Peninsula. “Cafferty’s Pub has a beautiful window at the back that’s positioned just perfectly to take in the summer sunset.”

Cindy’s Gems Cafe is a bit unexpected for such a small area, in that it offers ample outdoor seating and even has a selection of toys for children to play with while parents have a bite to eat. “It’s become the hub of the village, open all day,” says Galvin.

From Eyeries, there are extensive and well-sign-posted walking trails. “The Beara Way walking route is very scenic and has a couple of historic places of interest, with ruins and heritage buildings, flowers and fauna to learn about along the way.

Bring your running shoes for what would arguably be considered one of the most rural park runs in the country. Galvin explains, “People are actually going down from Dublin, staying overnight and taking the ferry from Castletownbere over to Bere Island to do the park run there.” Or if running on vacation isn’t quite your cup of tea, take a drive up the Beara Peninsula to Glengarriff. From there you can take a day trip boat ride out to Garnish Island, which Galvin says is like going to Italy, with perfectly manicured gardens that take advantage of the little micro climate created by the gulf stream to showcase a variety of exotic plants.

Source: Shutterstock

4. Inistioge, Kilkenny

Famous for being the setting for the filming of the Maeve Binchy book-turned-movie Circle of Friends, Inistioge in Kilkenny is another up-and-coming spot with an undiscovered vibe. Galvin says, “The village is set around this square, which has a lovely peacefulness to it.” A new walking trail along the River Norr has almost been completed, which will add another draw to the area.

While you’re in the area, visit Woodstock House and Gardens, which Galvin explains is “Like Powerscourt, but quieter and much less flashy.” There is the house and gardens as well as a cafe. For lunch or dinner, try The Woodstock Arms, right in the middle of the village. And if you’re looking for somewhere to rest your head, Cullintra House is known to offer a unique experience, set at a working farm with communal dinners of homemade food.

Source: Sean MacEntee

5. Glaslough, Monaghan

Founder and Managing Director of Irish Day Tours, Keith McDonnell, describes Glaslough as a quintessential Irish village, which can be increasingly difficult to find in our modern day and age. He told us, “I would highly recommend the local pub, the Coachhouse and Olde Bar, located in the heart of the village great for live music at the weekend and pints beside the original fire.” Serving pub grub and pints, you’ll also find live music every Saturday night and traditional Irish music every second Friday night.

Castle Leslie Estate is one of the anchors of the town, with fancy lodging, a pub and restaurant, horse riding and lots of walking trails throughout the beautiful grounds.

Exploring the village and surrounding area is one of the most refreshing and relaxing endeavours. Rent a bike from Paddy McQuaid’s bike hire, and you’ll find the local business owner will have just the right recommendation for your riding ability and interest. And then nibble the calories you’ve burned at the village chocolatier, Glaslough Chocolate Co, where chocolatier Trish Murphy-Thom will show you how she creates her delicacies.

Source: Shutterstock

6. The Copper Coast, Waterford

When it comes time to book a holiday here in Ireland, so many of us head straight for old standbys like Cork and Kerry. But the sunny southeast is often overlooked. Waterford’s Copper Coast runs between Dungarvan and Tramore and includes a stunning range of cliffs, caves, beaches and buzzy little towns.

McDonnell suggested exploring the coast by kayak, and Pure Adventure runs trips and tours with guides throughout the year. Geology nerds will find the Copper Coast UNESCO GeoPark a must-do. It’s a protected area on the Copper Coast that used to be an extensive old silver mine that is now filled with sand and protected as a geological treasure.

And if the weather cooperates, you’ll want to park it on one of the area’s blue-flag beaches. If you can brave the cold water, it’s also home to some of the best surfing in the country, and you can start with Bunmahon Surf School if you’ve always wanted to give it a go! When you’ve worked up an appetite, hit up Rack & Soul barbecue joint just off the beach in Tramore for delicious burgers or ribs.

More: ‘Zipline over the water’: 6 adventure destinations around Ireland where the whole family can run wild>

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Emily Westbrooks

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