Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, is a county I’ve only visited once before so I was excited to explore more on this trip. The lovely Jess (The Gap Year Guru) came along with me and we ate, drank and adventured our way around the county. In this post I’m going to tell you all about my stay at Lough Erne Resort and Spa, my visit to Florence Court and my attempt at hiking the Stairway to Heaven Fermanagh (I have to specify the Fermanagh bit because it turns out there are quite a few hikes nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven).
Exploring Fermanagh – Stairway to Heaven, Florence Court & Lough Erne
Stairway to Heaven Fermanagh
The Cuilcagh Boardwalk, or the Stairway to Heaven Ireland as it’s known, is something you’ve probably seen photos of online. It’s extremely photogenic, a photographer’s dream. There’s nothing but rolling hills, bogland and sheep as far as the eye can see.
The hike is pretty chill for the most part, meandering along that striking boardwalk we’ve all seen in the photos, until you start the steep ascent to the 666 m/ 2185 ft summit, that’s where the stairway bit really kicks in.
What the Instagram photos don’t tell you is that the beginning of the hike (a few kms in fact) is a gravel road, so make sure you wear decent footwear with good grip and support. The carpark, about 1km past the Marble Arch Caves entrance, is run by a local farmer. It costs £5 per car. He also sells bottles of water.
There’s no set closing time, just usually when the last car leaves. There are two parts to the carpark, the second part is a lot further a long, cutting off about a kilometre or so of the walk, so if you arrived later or don’t want to push yourself too much then I recommend the second carpark.
Make sure you pack a raincoat, it is Ireland after all. And make sure you pack snacks and water to keep you going along the way. Oh and dogs are not allowed, so don’t bring your pet. There are no toilets along the way so don’t drink TOO much. As far as I know, the nearest bathrooms are at the Marble Arch Caves and Florence Court (see more info below).
So how long is the Stairway to Heaven? Well, obviously, long the hike takes depends on your fitness level and how many photos you like to take. Most people seem to conquer the Cuilcagh Legnabrocky trail in 2.5-4 hours round trip.
You can read more about the trail and download maps etc – HERE.
Upon recommendation from the lovely folks at Lough Erne, Jess and I decided to visit Florence Court. I did not realise how beautiful it would be and just how many hours it was possible to while away there. We had only allotted a couple of hours but we could have happily spent the day there.
The staff were all incredibly friendly and helpful. They managed to squeeze us in for a very quick tour of the house which was stunning. The house tours fill up super quick so make sure to book in advance. There’s a children’s tour of Florence Court House where the staff dress up and it’s pretty much guaranteed to keep the kids entertained.
The house itself is from the 18th century. In 1955 Florence Court went up in flames and the water pumped onto the fire seriously damaged the interiors. The ceiling in the dining room is original and spectacular. It was saved from water damage by a couple of quick thinking builders drilling holes in the ceiling to allow the water to drain without damaging the plaster-work too much.
There’s a courtyard full of beautiful flowers where The Coach House shop and The Stables cafe, which serves giant cake slices, can be found. If you fancy stretching your legs there are several different walks around the grounds. My favourite part of Florence Court was the walled gardens. Jess and I had lunch in the walled gardens and strolled through floral archways, taking a tonne of photos along the way.
They have a vegetable patch in the garden and the produce is sold at the visitor centre, where you can also buy bunches of flowers from the gardens and other souvenirs. It costs £9.90 per adult and £4.95 per child including the guided house tour, or £5.85 per adult and £2.93 per child for entrance to the gardens and park only. If you have National Trust membership then entrance is free. Individual annual National Trust membership is £69.
You can read more about Florence Court, Fermanagh – HERE.
Lough Erne Resort and Spa
When Jess and I arrived at the five star Lough Erne Resort, awarded hotel of the year in 2017, we were expecting great things. The grounds of the resort are vast and sprawling, 600 acres across a peninsula, including a golf course, the Lough Erne lodges and the main Lough Erne resort building. The staff are endlessly helpful and not in an overbearing sort of way.
Our lodge was basically a mini castle, or at least the turret part of a castle. It had unobstructed views of the lake which was particularly stunning at sunset. The lodge had its own kitchen, sitting/dining room, two bathrooms and two bedrooms (one of each upstairs and downstairs). The beds were so comfortable that Jess essentially had to drag me out of bed.
The golf course surrounds the resort and there is a walkway that goes through it if you want to stretch your legs. Lough Erne Resort also offers boat trips around the lake. The breakfast at Lough Erne is a combination of buffet and a la carte. The breakfast room is in the same area as the famous Catalina restaurant. The Blaney Bar serves hearty pub food with an Asian twist and tasty cocktails. If the weather is good grab a table outside for a lovely view across the lake.
If you enjoy fine dining then make sure you get a table at the 3 AA rosette Catalina restaurant where Noel McMeel is the head chef. This fine dining experience is uniquely Northern Irish, using local ingredients such as Broighter Gold rapseed oil, wherever possible. Jess and I had dinner there on our final night in Lough Erne Resort. The portions are decent in comparison to my previous fine dining experiences.
There were plenty of vegetarian options too! The garlic oil with the curry bread as an appetiser was absolutely incredible. We were absolutely stuffed but we had to have dessert. The rhubarb souffle came highly recommended and Jess assures me it was as delicious as everyone guaranteed. I had the chocolate delice and it was divine.
If you need to relax and unwind Lough Erne Resort has an indoor pool and spa, the Thai spa, with specialist Thai therapists. The spa also includes a crystal aroma steam room, light therapy sauna and tropical rain shower. They use and sell Elemis and ESPA products in the Thai spa. Hotel guests can enjoy the pool, sauna and steam room at their leisure.
Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to try the afternoon tea during my stay at Lough Erne, Fermanagh but it comes highly recommended. Overall I had a lovely stay at Lough Erne Resort and would happily recommend it. There is a summer offer on at the moment where room prices start from £155 per night which includes a bottle of wine and some sweet treats.
You can read more about the Lough Erne Resort and/or book a room – HERE.
*Lough Erne Resort provided myself and Jess with a complimentary stay. However, all opinions are, as always, my own.*
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