Lough Oughter in County Cavan. Ireland's Content Pool

Staring out onto Virginia’s vast Lough Ramor at the exact moment when the day is slowly giving way to night, I can’t help but feel like a character in a film. The thick and directionless mist that envelopes me conjures up images of some eerie horror film while the calm, still surface -  beautifully framed by the dense, wooded landscape - suggests a genre far more family-friendly.

However, I soon find myself slap-bang in the middle of a comedy when this collision of the scary and the serene gets interrupted by the animated roars of an elderly man, possibly hard of hearing, in that distinct Cavan drawl.

“365 lakes!” he informs a child who’s clearly unhappy by the fact that she’s being dragged away from the playground. “One for each day of the year!”

“I know, Granddad” she mumbles under her breath, clearly having been informed of County Cavan’s claim to fame on numerous occasions.

It’s hardly surprising that locals repeat this impressive feat time and time again - yet, in comparison to other Irish counties, the region's natural beauty is comparatively unsung. In fact, according to figures released by Fáilte Ireland last year, this Ulster county ranked just 18th out of 26 in terms of visitor numbers.

“Visitors to Cavan are often surprised by the experience on offer here,” Joanne Hayes from local tourism board, This is Cavan!, explains to me. “Because we're maybe not considered to be a 'traditional' tourism destination, visitors often don't expect the level of service, food quality and scenery that they are met with.

“Parts of Cavan are extraordinarily beautiful, and visitors can get that 'away from it all' feeling without having to travel too far.”

Seeing as characters in films are now at the forefront of my mind, I briefly stop at Virginia's Ramor Theatre - named after the lake that just captured my heart moments earlier. One of its most active collaborators is the celebrated actor Aaron Monaghan who recently wowed audiences as the titular character in Druid’s production of Richard III.

Having grown up in the county, this talented thespian is perfectly positioned to reveal some of her secrets ahead of my short visit.

“There’s too much to say about Cavan!” he jokes, his voice so mellifluous it could be bottled and sold as honey! “The way I used to feel about it was akin to the way Kavanagh used to write about the stony grey soil of Monaghan.

“Growing up, on certain days, I could only see the beauty in the rolling hills and the countless lakes; other days, I couldn’t wait to get away from their grip. Now, I can’t wait to get back - there’s a genuine, magnetic pull I feel that makes me want to be there as often as I can.”

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He continues: “There’s a wildness in the people, too - a glint in the eye. It’s the people that make Cavan what it is. There’s a laconic familiarity with everyone that’s almost downbeat.

“I think Elvis could walk through Cavan and no one would get too excited, but there’d be plenty of nods and winks and elbow nudges. I love that.”

Whether the ghost of the King of Rock ‘n Roll will ever saunter through the streets of Virginia or Kingscourt remains to be seen; however, the county has undoubtedly welcomed many artistic titans over the centuries.

“They say Gulliver’s Travels was penned while Jonathan Swift was visiting County Cavan,” poet, author and Cavan native Rebecca O’Connor informs me. “Gulliver was inspired by a local giant of a man by the name of John Doughty, who was so strong, he could carry a pony on his shoulders.”

Rebecca, along with her husband, artist Will Govan, are the founders and directors of The Moth - the acclaimed arts and literature magazine. In addition to retreats and prestigious competitions, they run a variety of workshops from their studios located in the centre of Cavan town, the next stop in my itinerary.

Wanting to be close to her parents, Rebecca, along with Will, moved from London to Milltown near Belturbet in north Cavan over 10 years ago. The beauty of rural Ireland, along with its “gentler pace of life”, continuously inspires the couple.

“I paint the landscape,” Will mentions, “the bewildering contours of the drumlins and the ever-changing light on the fields, rivers and lakes not only provide every shade of green but every colour on the spectrum.”

Rebecca, who recently released her debut novel, He Is Mine and I Have No Other, agrees: “There’s a sense of being enveloped by the landscape, of being saturated by it.”

This landscape is perfectly showcased in Farnham Estate, just west of Cavan town - my lodgings for the duration of my stay.  Standing tall in the middle of 1,300 acres of ancient forest and postcard-green meadows, this four-star hotel enjoys a superb reputation for those of us wanting to retreat into nature.

Refurbished and opened as a hotel in the summer of 2006, the original property dates back to 1664 when the first owners, the Waldrons, were forced to sell the estate to settle gambling debts. One step into the premises and you’ll soon realise that the odds of being the recipient of first-class treatment are good - very good!

Successfully marrying the past and the present, Farnham Estate offers a wealth of luxury rooms and suites. Beautifully decorated using a fusion of neutral and earthy tones, my suite's colour scheme perfectly mirrors the lush grounds outside while the furniture, both contemporary and antique, is straight out of the pages of a glossy magazine. I learn that the suite is named after Francis Johnson - a tip of the hat to the architect of Dublin’s GPO building who also carried out work on this property in the early nineteenth century.

That night, I dine in the hotel’s Cedar Rooms. As I enjoy one of their speciality, pre-dinner gin cocktails, a member of the staff reveals that the restaurant's name is a tribute to the estate’s oldest tree - the magnificent Cedar of Lebanon. Unsurprisingly, nature takes pride of place on the menu, created by the head chef, Daniel Willimont, who deftly incorporates seasonal and locally sourced ingredients into the inventive recipes.

The following morning, a relaxing massage in their award-winning spa awaits. Elegant and extensive, I’m told that this section of the hotel was designed by Heinz Schletterer whose impressive portfolio includes spas at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the Sandy Lane in Barbados and the Queen Mary cruise liner. The invigorating vistas that surround the indoor and outdoor pools excite me ahead of an afternoon on the lakes.

As I make my way to Cavan Adventure Centre near Butler’s Bridge, I’m reminded of the conversation I had with Rebecca O’Connor a day earlier.

“The ideal way to see the county is from the water,” she encouraged. “You’ll find large numbers of whooper swans wintering on the lakes. They’re gorgeous.”

Established in 2008, the family-run Cavan Adventure Centre is an excellent option for those wanting to follow Rebecca’s advice and explore the region by water whether by kayaks, canoes or boats.

“Our adventure centre sits proudly as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Geopark region,” company director Seán Thornton tells me as I squeeze into my lifejacket. “This means that it’s an area worthy of conservation and outstanding natural topography and beauty.

“Once we get onto the lake, you’ll understand for yourself!”

And so, Seán, whose cheery demeanor almost clears the dark, wintery clouds above, takes me on a guided tour of Lough Oughter, pointing out the array of wildlife that calls the region home - at least those hardy enough to brave the cold November conditions.

Our destination is Cloughoughter Castle -  a circular structure hidden on a small island. Nicknamed the Silent Stone Watchman, this beautiful, 12th-century Norman ruin is steeped in a history of conflict and violence - and a visit should be high on everyone’s itinerary.

That evening, I experience another family-run enterprise - this time in the form of People’s, a restaurant in Cavan’s town center, run by two cousins, Lubomir Kosturik and Daniel Kavecky. As I attack some slow-cooked beef cheek - a day on the lakes wreaks havoc with your appetite - I learn that the pair has previously worked in some of the finest restaurants in Ireland and Europe, together and separately. They credit their success to good, old-fashioned hard work, complemented by a large spoonful of passion.

My final day sees me visiting the Cavan County Museum, situated in the picturesque town of Ballyjamesduff. Across three floors of a former Saint Clare convent, there’s a wealth of exhibitions to delight in - especially for young people if the bonhomie of the school children boarding their bus home is anything to go by.

Curator and proud local woman Savina Donohoe informs me that the museum strives “to engage all different ages and all different audiences.”

She says: “We want to lift history off the pages so that everyone can re-live it and fully experience what it was like in the years gone by. Museums can often be passive experiences – here; you can look and touch and feel. We want to make visits as rewarding as possible.”

For Savina, the key to achieving this is “combining history with culture - all the various art forms such as storytelling, drama, concerts, and art exhibitions."

Aside from the excellent exhibitions detailing notable periods in Ireland’s checkered history including the medieval ages, Great Famine, and 1916 Rising; for me, the highlight is their tribute to World War One - notably the replica trenches.

Built to the specifications of the Irish Guards and used by the Royal Irish Fusiliers at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, this representation is over 350 meters long and includes frontline, communication, and support trenches. North of 6,000 sandbags were used in its construction, which occurred just five years ago and the attraction has, unsurprisingly, been a success ever since.

The construction of my final stop also took place in recent years but similar to the Cavan County Museum’s trenches; it celebrates our past and heritage. Run by former postwoman Sandra Coote, Crafts of Ireland is a delightful log cabin located in Knocknaveagh on the Cavan and Meath border.

Commanding stunning views of Oldcastle’s Lough Crew Hills, the space is a treasure chest of Irish history with sewing machines, spinning wheels, and antique circular sock knitting machines lining the walls.

“I was very fortunate to have grown up in a household in Longford where crafts were still practiced,” Sandra remembers as she serves tea and delicious homemade scones and bread. “My granny taught me how to use a sewing machine while my mum taught me how to knit and embroider.”

Throughout the year, Crafts of Ireland provides a wide variety of demonstrations and classes across many disciplines that were once so common in Irish households -  wool spinning, butter making, traditional bread making, crochet, embroidery, and knitting.

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Sandra explains that the studio welcomes a wide variety of participants, including clubs, community groups, schools, nursing homes - and even hen parties!

“It’s a space for anyone who’d like to learn a new craft or improve their skills,” she says. “I firmly believe in the importance of sharing our crafts with others – we’ve to pass on our skills otherwise we’ll lose what we’ve acquired.”

She adds: “For some, they might already be familiar with these traditions. For others, they might be discovering them for the first time.

“Either way, everyone will receive a warm welcome.”

Something that County Cavan offers to all of her visitors.

Visit thisiscavan.ie and farnhamestate.ie for additional information.