The Slieve Aughty Eco Centre – is a couple of hours drive West from Dublin – deep into the Galway countryside. It’s a unique destination with a range of charming eco accommodation and glamping options, an entirely organic restaurant, and a horse riding centre with facilities for lessons , hacking out and even riding holidays. We stayed in The Three Towers – Eco House where all the rooms are individually designed to make you feel at comfortable and at home. I loved all the natural materials used here – stone, marble, glass and wood everywhere and tasteful muted colours. There’s no TV in the rooms and the Wifi isn’t great – but there’s too much else to do to worry about that!
As well as the house there are other eco cottages in the grounds which offer more private accommodation for groups, and there’s even a tipi outside next to the the organic garden, which would be fun place to stay in the summer months. Kids will love staying in the quirky loft rooms of the cottages and climbing the ladders to bed – there is an awful lot here for families to enjoy.
The centre is part of Ecotourism Ireland – Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people” The centre provides a low impact, sustainable option set right in the heart of Ireland’s natural landscape. As a certified Ecotourism provider, a holiday at Slieve Aughty provides opportunities for families to explore the natural landscape of Ireland, eat home grown, fresh food, and sleep in comfort, all with a minimal carbon footprint and maximum opportunities to enjoy country living.
The centre is the brainchild of Esther and Hugo Zyderlaan who moved to Ireland from Holland in 1978 and they have created this destination from the rugged land they first purchased here. Esther has tended her Organic garden for over 35 years and it is certified by the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association. All of the salad greens and herbs used at the centre come from this garden, and in the summer there are berries and apples ready to make into desserts for the cafe and restaurant. Mushrooms are collected from the forest in season, and cheese and eggs are from local farms. There are even organic gardening workshops on offer.
The centre is used for all kinds of events and family parties and it is particularly popular for weddings. It has an outdoor pizza oven, which cooks home made pizzas every Friday, and there are outbuildings where children can enjoy craft workshops – another option to keep them busy. The cafe is open for day visitors and there is a fully licensed bar too.
There are 35 horses at the centre, suitable for children and adults, beginners and more experienced riders. Most are are Irish draft/blood crosses or Connemaras – the famous Irish grey ponies. There’s a steed to suit everyone, and in the countryside around are some very nice looking cross country jumps as well as a show jumping course made from natural elements like fallen trees. The cross country course covers about 25 acres and there are a number of different types to jumps to try. We came across Dead Man’s Jump which looked like man asleep on a fence with his wellies sticking out!
You can have a lesson here in the school or ride out hacking. Indeed you can even go cross country jumping and book a Cross Country Training Holiday here, to spend a week learning the skills to be confident jumping in the open – something I haven’t really seen elsewhere. The cross country course is also available for hire for riding clubs and pony clubs.
The countryside here really is made for exploring, and I enjoyed a ride through the Emerald Forest with Silvia from Italy, who was here for a residential horse riding holiday. The rocks and trees were dripping with bright green moss which gave the whole place a very magical feel – I would not have been surprised to see a leprechaun come around the corner at any minute.
The food here is fresh and wholesome, and I was particularly taken with the huge bowl of fresh salad leaves available at every meal. The home made wild garlic pesto also made a statement, if you are a fan of strong flavours! Sometimes there is even venison on the menu, after the deer in the woods have been culled in the winter. Any leftover fruit and vegetables are made into jams, preserves and pickles for the kitchen.
If you have small children with you, or simply believe in the little people, you must take time out to visit the Slieve Aughty Enchanted Forest. In a grove of native trees nearby, there is an estate of fairy homes where gnomes and trolls and witches live side by side. You can wind through the woodland and spot their various dwellings with your special map and even sprinkle some fairy dust. You can write down your wish and attach it to a wishing tree. It’s fun to read the wishes from the children who have been there before.
‘I wish for my Grandad to be happy in heaven,’
‘I wish for a transformer and a trampoline,’
‘I wish to grow up to be a lovely girl,’
‘I wish to play for Cork and be successful!’
It’s another quirky feature of this special place that will spark the imagination of the young or the young at heart.
The Slieve Aughty Centre is a great place to visit, full of eclectic items and individual style. It gives a chance to really get away from the stresses and strains of modern life and discover your inner Irish country self. Why not check out this Galway gem set in the heart of the Emerald Isle?