Traveling in the "Garden of Ireland" County Wicklow and exploring the history, luxury and delightful surprises in store at Powerscourt
Known as the "Garden of Ireland" Wicklow is renowned for its lush green valleys and magnificent mountains. So when the opportunity arose to spend a couple of days in this beautiful eastern seaboard county, I naturally jumped at the chance.
With a country as small as ours, it should be impossible not to have explored every corner of it, but we are all guilty of letting life get in the way and I have to admit, that while I have obviously been to Wicklow before, I always seemed to be passing through – so this time I was looking forward to getting acquainted with it.
Our base for the trip was to be the stunning Powerscourt Hotel which has to be seen to believed. Located just 15 minutes from Dublin and on the outskirts of the picturesque village of Enniskerry, this hotel should be on everyone’s to-do list.
The front of the building, which although impressive, is just a façade for the jaw-dropping scenery at the back of the hotel, which we caught a glimpse of when checking in.
With manicured gardens, forests and emerald fields in the foreground, the vista is presided over by the majestic Sugar Loaf Mountains rising regally on the horizon – it is a sight for sore eyes, particularly for anyone who has just arrived from the city.
Read more: What's your Irish County? County Wicklow
We were greeted warmly with the offer of a glass of something cold and bubbly, but tempting as it was, a therapist was waiting to pummel my tired shoulders and give my facial features a bit of a lift, so we declined the offer and instead, headed for the luxurious spa where I would give myself over to an hour of pampering while my other half kept himself amused in the pool, sauna, steam room, and relaxation area.
There are twenty treatment rooms at the hotel and this, together with the quiet ambiance and low lighting, gives the illusion that you are the only person being treated to the wonderful luxury.
I opted for a head, neck and shoulder massage alongside an ESPA facial facelift –the whole effect proving to be so thoroughly relaxing and therapeutic that I almost nodded off. But having being delivered to the relaxation suite to ‘come to’ after my treatment, I lay on a heated bed and gazed, transfixed by the garden view laid out before me. I could have stayed there all evening, but there was plenty to see and do so after 30 minutes, reluctantly gathering my wits about me, I took my leave to further experience some of the hospitality of the hotel.
We had a table booked at the award-winning Sika restaurant and were looking forward to sampling some of the delights it had to offer. Again, making the most of the stunning view we were seated by the window and over the course of a couple of hours enjoyed a selection of delicious local seafood and grass-fed meats – followed by a naughtily indulgent dessert.
After a moonlit stroll in the gardens we headed off to our luxurious suite for a dreamless sleep and the following morning, we enjoyed breakfast in the sunshine on the terrace before donning our walking shoes and making our way to the world-renowned Powerscourt Gardens, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the country and recently voted third in the World’s Top Ten Gardens by National Geographic.
Covering almost 50 acres, the incredible venue is open to the public (tickets cost €10.50 per adult and a further €6 to visit the acclaimed waterfall). And with so much to see, it is possible to spend the entire day wandering around marveling at the different creations and eco-systems created by the accomplished horticultural team.
Designed originally in the mid-1700s, the gardens are a mix of pristine formal arrangements, wild and rambling walks, ornamental lakes and a variety of different themes including the Japanese Gardens, the Walled Gardens, the Italian Gardens, the Dolphin Pond and Pepperpot Tower.
There are also several cafes and restaurants on-site to keep energy levels topped up throughout your visit.
Lapping up the sunshine and the stunning surroundings, we spent several hours exploring before heading to the latest new venture in the park – Powerscourt Distillery.
Nestled in the shadow of the Wicklow mountains and boasting both a temperate climate and an abundance of pure spring water, Powerscourt seemed to be the perfect location to create whiskey and under the expert guidance of master distiller, Noel Sweeney, in June of last year, the first batch of what looks set to be an exciting new whiskey was born.
Production is continuing apace and while the new spirit is being aged (this can take between 3 and 20 years or even longer), Fercullen Irish whiskey (also created by Sweeney) is being sold at the venue and is very similar to how the new product, currently aging in bourbon, sherry, and wine casks, will taste.
The distillery building was formerly the old mill house of the Powerscourt estate. Lovingly restored and steeped in history, it is the perfect site for the distillery with an ancient water mill in its foundations and the original bell which was used to call workers from the fields still attached to its stone walls.
Open for tours from 9.45am (11.45 on Sunday) to 6pm, we were greeted enthusiastically by our guide, Caleb, who proved to be extremely knowledgeable and amenable as he took us through the building and explained the step-by-step process while we got a close up view of the various machines and beautifully polished stills involved in the whiskey-making process.
We were also taken to the maturation warehouse to see the thousands of barrels maturing in impressively high rows - and last but certainly not least we got to sample some of the Fercullen whiskey which gave us an idea of what to expect from the distillery in the future.
It was a very enlightening and fun tour and well worth the short walking detour from the hotel and the €35 entrance price.
While enjoying the beauty of the countryside, it’s important to remember the need to preserve its riches for the next generation and visitors to Powerscourt can also take a trip to the Cool Planet Experience which offers an interactive discovery of what climate change is all about – with immersion and gaming, the 75 minute tour includes darkroom tours with exciting innovations and solutions to help visitors understand how to embrace to solve the problems facing the earth.
There is so much to do on the Powerscourt estate that it is feasible to spend a few days here without seeing anything else in the vicinity. But determined to venture at least a little further, we spent the next couple of days exploring some of the beautiful countryside in this little corner of Ireland; including Bray Head which did wonders for blowing away the cobwebs as we enjoyed the fresh sea air and fantastic views and we also visited the wonderful Sally Gap deep in the Wicklow Mountains.
Over the course of the visit, we stopped at the German Military cemetery, Killruddery House and Gardens and Victor’s Way.
Although we packed a great deal into our three-day trip, I know we have only really scratched the surface as there is so much more to see. So while I waved goodbye to Wicklow, I know it will not be long before I return for a second helping.
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