Trip idea: flavours of the heartlands

Enniskillen taste experience, County Fermanagh
Driving Driving
354 Kilometres
3 days

Uncover delicious culinary treasures in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands from the northern lakelands to loughs of the River Shannon

Lose the crowds and follow your taste buds on an adventure through Ireland's unspoilt heartlands. This is a delightfully off-the-beaten-track part of the island that takes in the lakelands of Cavan and Fermanagh, the loveliest corners of emerald green Leitrim, and along the mighty River Shannon to Athlone and Lough Derg. Meet the passionate food and drinks producers and culinary creators who are making the Hidden Heartlands one of the most exciting destinations for food on the island. 

Flavours of the heartlands

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A taste of the Lakelands

Work up an appetite crossing an intriguing landscape of 365 lakes and subterranean rivers, before feasting on some of the finest food in the land.

A driving 45 mins
Corleggy chesse

Sample the character(s) of Cavan

Start your tour of Cavan and Fermanagh’s lakelands as you mean to continue: sampling signature local flavours, courtesy of The Oak Room Restaurant, where chef Norbert Neylon brings a modern touch to traditional produce such as herb-crusted Cavan lamb. Relax at McCaul’s Bar with a taster from a menu of 60 Irish whiskies, paired with Aine's Hand Made Chocolates and Belturbet’s raw-milk trilogy of Corleggy cheese. Alternatively, stock up on Corleggy at Saturday morning’s Cavan's Farmers Market, where you can pick up more local cheeses, preserves, and delicious home-baked goods.

If you have more time:

Relish refined tradition (think bacon & cabbage terrine with baby leek cream) at charming restaurant-with-rooms, The Olde Post Inn

B driving 25 mins
Marble Arch Caves

Cruise control at Marble Arch Caves

Besides its subterranean boat cruises, Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark hosts guided walks through Cavan and Fermanagh’s most intriguing landscapes. Catch a Geopark Gourmet Tour of the caves and adjacent Cavan Burren Park, with lunch at Neven Maguire's lauded MacNean House & Restaurant in nearby Blacklion. Or create your own foodie itinerary: a short hop from the Geopark visitor centre, Tully Mill Restaurant in Florence Court estate serves weekend treats such as Silverhill duck with black cherry sauce. 

If you have more time:

Book a themed class at The Neven Maguire Cookery School to meet Ireland's most amenable chef, cookery author and champion of local produce. 

C driving 25 mins
Blakes of the Hollow

Enniskillen: the apple of the Lough Erne isles

Perched on an island midway between upper and lower Lough Erne, Enniskillen is a popular hub for watersports, fishing and boating. It also boasts the 600-year-old Enniskillen Castle, the charming Buttermarket crafts village and exquisite Victorian pub Blakes of the Hollow, immortalised by writer John McGahern as “one of the happiest and most beautiful bars in the whole of Ireland”. Sink a perfect pint at its white marble counter, catch a gourmet theme night in the vaulted Café Merlot or join Blakes’ manager Mark Edwards in a delicious jaunt with his Enniskillen Taste Experiences tours. Highlights include O’Doherty’s Black Bacon butty on local sourdough, creative fine-dining from Great British Menu’s Glen Wheeler in 28 Darling Street, and local Inishmacsaint beer

If you have more time:

Overnight in your choice of castle or coachhouse at Belle Isle Estate in nearby Lisbellaw, and dine on locally sourced Baron’s Court venison or pheasant terrine in the estate’s bistro and bar.

Catalina restaurant

Lock down at Lough Erne Resort

Never mind the 36-hole golf course, Thai Spa and spectacular lough-side setting: chef Noel McMeel’s assured yet creative treatment of lovingly sourced local produce, such as dry-aged Sperrin Mountain venison at Catalina Restaurant, makes the 5-star Lough Erne Resort simply unmissable. Make time to visit the nearby Boatyard Distillery, Fermanagh’s first (legal!) distillery in over 130 years, and taste its organic farm-to-bottle Boatyard Gin produced from wheat grown on the farm and flavoured with Sweet Gale foraged from the family bog.

If you have more time:

Continue up Lough Erne’s shore to Belleek Pottery Museum to dine on Belleek tableware with tranquil River Erne views. 

County Leitrim

Mouthwatering treasures of Lovely Leitrim

Explore Ireland’s least-populated, most unspoilt county and discover why it’s home to some of the island’s most eclectic producers and culinary creatives

E driving 55 mins
The Courthouse

Natural bounty on Lough Melvin’s shores

Lough Melvin in north Leitrim is angling heaven, with plentiful trout and often salmon too. Also mere miles from the seashore, the menu at The Courthouse in Kinlough is shellfish heavy, featuring Mullaghmore lobster, mussels and cockles, crab and sea urchins handled with skilful simplicity by Sardinian chef Piero Melis. South of Lough Melvin, Rossinver’s Organic Centre is Ireland's leading organic horticultural educational hub. Tour the gardens for inspiration on growing your own food, book a class or catch a seasonal celebration such as the Taste Leitrim Harvest Feast.

St George's Terrace

Kick back in Carrick-on-Shannon

Carrick-on-Shannon town has contemporary culture and historic heritage, high-adrenaline thrills, laidback waterways and lively nightlife – and some exceptional eating for all appetites. Try The Oarsman for elevated pub fare such as organic quail reared locally in Fenagh by Tiina Laas; the Buffalo Boy steakhouse and whiskey bar for a protein fix; or The Barrelstore for pizza and local Carrig Brewing beersSt George's Terrace is an elegant river-view setting for a local Gunpowder gin cocktail followed by inventive classically influenced cooking (chef Dave Fitzgibbon shares his secrets at cookery classes). Or detour to The Cottage Restaurant in Jamestown for Malaysian-born chef Shamzuri Hanifa’s fusion twist on meticulously sourced and homegrown produce. 

If you have more time:

Head to Mohill to indulge in afternoon tea at Lough Rynn Castle Estate, set with 300 acres of idyllic natural beauty. 

Athlone Castle

The generous heart of the land

Maybe it's something in the water? Follow the sweep of the Shannon to discover how breaking bread and sharing a drop can bring people together

G driving 70 mins
Sean's Bar

Historic hospitality in Athlone

Named after Luain, a 10th century innkeeper who manned an ancient ford in the mighty Shannon, the central Irish town of Athlone has kept those traditions of hospitality alive. That inn is now Sean’s Bar, one of Ireland’s oldest and just the sawdust-floored, turf-fired spot to savour a blended whiskey dedicated to Luain himself. It’s tucked beside Athlone Castle, a 12th-century Norman stronghold, in the medieval Left Bank, a hub of great places to eat. Try the Left Bank Bistro for a baked ham and farmhouse cheddar sandwich; Kin Khao Thai for a fine curry; or Lowe & Co organic grocery store to browse local treats such as Feighery’s Farm beetroot and apple juice. Across the river, Thyme Restaurant is an ode to Midlands producers (think free-range pork belly from their neighbours at Horan’s Pork Shop, with smoked black pudding, turnip and apple) while vegetarians are surprisingly well fed at The Fatted Calf, with dishes such as fermented barley risotto with salt-baked celeriac. 

If you have more time:

Discover the heritage of Midlands whiskey at Tullamore D.E.W. and Kilbeggan distilleries, either under your own speed or with Midlands Whiskey Experiences.

H driving 45 mins
Cáis na Tíre

Picnic paradise at Nenagh

The hinterlands of Nenagh market town are a walker’s paradise, from the dramatic Silvermine Mountains to Lough Derg’s gentle shoreline and Portumna Forest Park. Friday's Nenagh Country Market and Saturday’s Nenagh Farmers' Market are good starting points for packing a picnic. Nadur Health Shop stocks the wonderful Riot Rye sourdough, while Country Choice Delicatessen and Café is a trove of gourmet treasures such as local farmhouse sheep’s milk, Cais na Tire. Owners Peter and Mary Ward follow Slow Food principles (Good, Clean, Fair) and their food celebrates the seasons and their friends and family who produce it. Alternatively, book into Brocka on the Water near Kilgarvan Quay for home-style cooking, or The Derg Inn in picturesque Terryglass for decent pub grub. Nearby, Brookfield Farm’s open days offer a behind-the-scenes introduction to Ailbhe Gerrard’s wildflower honey and hand-dipped beeswax candles; while Hidden Ireland's Ashley Park House is fly fishing heaven.

If you have more time:

Explore Cloughjordan Ecovillage, a hub for sustainable living and Community Supported Agriculture and home to Riot Rye Bakehouse & Bread School, as well as the Sheelagh na Gig bookshop and café.

Wilde Irish Chocolates

Lap up the flavours of southern Lough Derg

The cluster of villages at the southerly tip of Lough Derg are fertile ground for delicious experiences. After a Saturday evening Lough Derg Gin Cruise from Ballina Quay, the Killaloe Farmers Market is a perfect way to spend a Sunday morning. During the week, The Wooden Spoon café is as beloved for its healthy lunches as it is for its indulgent home-baked goodies. A  20-minute spin away in Scarriff, Irish Seed Savers Association is a must for gardeners and horticulturists with 20 acres of beautiful organic seed gardens, heritage orchards and native woodland trails. Drop in to browse, catch a workshop or an open day when they fire up the cobb oven. August’s Scariff Harbour Festival often host events at the East Clare Community Co-Op Gardens, where you’ll find the plant-based Garden Café and a friendly welcome year-round.

If you have more time:

Sample complimentary tasters of over 80 flavours of Wilde Irish Chocolate in its Tuamgraney factory

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