Under the stars
Where glamping sites in Ireland are concerned, you can’t go far wrong with a trip to Laois. When Aideen Kate arrived for her weekend stay at the family-run glampsite Glamping Under The Stars in Portlaoise, she was delighted to find her glamping pod decked out with a mini front garden and crackling campfire.
“My boyfriend David and I drove down the hour from Dublin and when we got there, we met the owner Kyra. There are all these little hobbit houses spread out across a huge field, they’re basically like little hotel rooms with ensuites in them,” says Aideen.
“They’re only newly built and so lovely," she says.
The pair kicked off their weekend of adventure and relaxation with a trip to the local Ballykilcavan Brewery, which has been family-run since 1639.
“We met the owner David and he brought us on this amazing tour. It’s on his family’s farm, acres and acres of land. I’m not a big beer drinker myself, but I learned so much – we saw all the machines and how it’s made and had a little tasting at the end,” Aideen recalls.
“That evening, we settled into our glamping room and got ready for dinner at Mac’s Abbeyleix. The food was great, I had prawn Pil Pil – if that’s on a menu I am getting it – then had a gorge steak and chips and veg. I was so stuffed I couldn’t have dessert!” she says.
“We had an early night – we were wrecked – and the next morning we went to the kitchen for our breakfast. The stainless steel chef’s kitchen had everything we needed. Plates, chopping boards, all the bits. We brought breakfast ingredients and cooked our own breakfast. Well, David cooked breakfast, I didn’t really!” she jokes.
Into the wild
Aideen and David headed for an immersive foraging experience with Wild Food Mary to reconnect with nature and learn about local ingredients.
“Foraging is not something I would’ve ever thought to do, so I was a bit nervous as to how it was going to go. But we met Mary and straight away she was so lovely. She’s a proper Irish Mammy, and her house was amazing. We sat at her island in her kitchen and she gave us cake! She picks from her garden and makes her food from it – she was making elderflower cordial when we were there, it was unreal,” Aideen says.
“I’m a real foodie and so is David, so it was great. We walked around her garden for an hour or two and she was just picking things out of the ground and telling us their names and how to use them. We picked raspberries and strawberries, too. It was so lovely,” Aideen recalls.
Aideen visited the renowned Stradbally Fayre café and food hall after foraging and enjoyed a light lunch before continuing on with her packed schedule of activities.
“We were so full after foraging all day we didn’t have room for much more!” she jokes.
Fires, food and fun
Exploring more of the surrounding area was a priority for Aideen, so she headed for a brisk one-hour hike through the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
“The hike we chose was very manageable, I don’t think I could’ve done a four-hour one, but there’s something for everyone,” she says.
Back at the glamping area, the pair prepared their own dinner and made the most of the evening outdoors.
“In front of each of the glamping pods there’s a garden and a fire and table and chairs so you can sit out and make s’mores and just enjoy being outside,” she says.
Cosy and calming
Aideen and David headed out the next morning on an invigorating walk to the ruins of the Rock of Dunamase, overlooking the valley of the O’Moores in Portlaoise.
“It was overcast when we visited, but the views were still great, and I hear on a sunny day they can be amazing,” she says.
As someone who says she will “give anything a go,” Aideen hopped on horseback for a riding trail through the Laois hills with Fossey Mountain Springs Ranch.
“This was by far my favourite activity. The whole thing is done up Western style, like an American ranch. They had the swinging western doors, American flags – it felt like I was in the States, not in Laois at all!” says Aideen.
“They really, really looked after their horses, they were so passionate about them, just by chatting to the people that owned it I felt safe – they knew exactly which horses would suit us based on their auras and how calm they were,” she says.
“We had someone guiding the horses with us, and we did a trail. It felt really safe, we learned so much about the horses,” says Aideen.
Aideen says she was pleasantly surprised by the array of activities to do around Laois, and says she hopes to return to the glamping pods, maybe next time with her friends.
“I hadn’t a clue how much there was to do in Laois. I think everyone knows Laois for Electric Picnic, but there’s so much more to do,” she says.
“I think the glamping experience would be great with a big group. I would love to go back there with a group of girls for a weekend, that would be so much fun."