As summer approaches, many of us are looking for ways to embrace travel in the form of scenic staycations that are light on the environment – yet heavy on memories! With that in mind, why not opt for a cycling trip through Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands? With greenways galore, the counties of Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and Laois provide the perfect backdrop for a leisurely and eco-friendly adventure for all the family to enjoy.
Your cycling adventure
The Old Rail Trail between Athlone and Mullingar is a 40km stretch of converted railway track providing the perfect cycling oasis for both experienced cyclists and casual riders alike. The mostly flat terrain and well-maintained path offers a relaxing yet stimulating ride through the countryside.
Following the historically significant route of the old Midlands Great Western Railway, the trail goes past restored station houses and picturesque stone arched bridges, connecting the Royal Canal in Mullingar to the River Shannon in Athlone.
Along the route, the Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park offers a vibrant recreational space where families can explore the playground and engage in interactive exhibits that showcase Irish culture and history. A detour to Belvedere House also provides an unmissable opportunity to wander through the lush gardens and experience a guided tour of the historic house which looks out towards Lough Ennell. For something a little lighter, a leisurely stroll along the scenic banks of the River Shannon will help you connect to the local flora and fauna.
There are so many sustainable accommodation choices available throughout the region, ranging from eco-lodges and glamping sites to charming bed and breakfasts. By using renewable energy sources, promoting recycling and offering locally-sourced organic meals, you can help save the planet as well as support the local economy by opting to stay at an eco-conscious option.
The Midlands Park Hotel in Portlaoise is a popular spot for couples and families; as an Eco Label Award, Green Hospitality Certified establishment, the hotel is leading the way when it comes down to responsible hospitality. Its central location makes it the perfect base too, with the charming town of Portlaoise on its doorstep.
Another great choice is the award-winning Ard Nahoo Eco Retreat in Dromahair, an eco-lodge that offers cozy accommodation with a key focus on wellness, while also showcasing their commitment to energy-efficient designs and sustainable practices.
For those wishing to try glamping, Pink Apple Orchard in Drumkeeran offers a one-of-a-kind glamping experience. This luxury retreat features custom-designed accommodation amidst an orchid of apple trees. Visitors can opt to stay in yurts, an enchanting hobbit house, a traditional teepee, or a cosy gypsy wagon.
As you navigate your way through the picturesque landscape of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, you are bound to come across a variety of sustainable eateries to tickle the taste buds through locally-sourced ingredients.
One such gem is The Fatted Calf in Athlone, who are dedicated to sourcing fresh, seasonal ingredients from nearby farmers and producers. For a more traditional Irish pub experience, pay a visit to Gertie Brown’s Bar & Bistro, also in Athlone. This family-run establishment prides itself on using sustainable, locally-sourced produce in their fare, while at the same time reducing waste at every opportunity.
History and culture
There are also countless historic and cultural sites dotted around this landscape that provide a window into the region’s rich history.
Some highlights include the ancient monastic site of Clonmacnoise, the impressive Birr Castle, and the glorious ruins of the Fore Abbey. By visiting these sites, you’ll be sure to gain a deeper appreciation for the region’s heritage while enjoying the stunning surroundings on two wheels!
A cycling staycation in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands is the perfect way to embrace sustainable travel while enjoying the region’s enchanting landscape, charming villages and rich history. If you’re searching for more staycation inspiration, why not take a trip to beautiful Connemara next?