After one too many bouts of self delusion – “put it on the credit card and it’s free” – the one or two trips a year to pricier hotels or spas had to come to an end. It was always beyond my means.
I still wanted a break away, and in gorgeous Ireland. But hotel stays and eating out costs a small fortune. The other option, self-catering, doesn’t sound instantly attractive. The whole point of going away is so precisely to get away from domesticity. Who wants to cook and clean?
Still, much as I love living in the city, a rural escape was desperately needed and self-catering the only affordable option. With a few quiet weeks in work, it was a good time to flee. And I soon discovered we could have a great holiday, eat like kings, and spend far less than I expected.
I scouted around for a few self-catering places in Wicklow so we wouldn’t have to spend hours driving and stumbled across Granabeg, a lovingly restored cottage in the middle of the Wicklow Gap. A short walk uphill leads to isolated terrain where you can see the Blessington Lakes, while a short walk downhill has you on St. Kevin’s Way, or on the road to Glendalough where you can eat in The Tea House Restaurant.
Granabeg costs €180 for five nights and can sleep four-six people. There were two of us so we only had to spend €18 for each night. Big thick walls and an efficient but cosy wood burning stove kept us warm, and it was very comfortable and welcoming inside. It quickly felt like home.
Eating and Drinking
We were able to eat very well without spending a fortune. There’s three requirements: you don’t want to spend the days cooking, you don’t want to bring a lot of food you won’t eat, and you want to really enjoy the food. Oh, and it can’t all be junk or you won’t come home feeling refreshed.
A trip to Aldi for some quality and value basics, supplemented by a trip to Marks and Spencer for quite a lot of sumptous, restaurant-quality meals and delectable treats, and we spent a grand total of €150 for breakfast, lunch, dinner, many snacks, plus a few bottles of wine from each. That’s significantly cheaper than what you’d pay for two adults eating out three times a day for five days.
With the self-catering option, the food was consistently better and much more enjoyable. Aldi triumphed for breakfast: Irish with producers from local producers, fruit and yogurt with porridge, omelettes, or cereal and fruit. Aldi was also great for cheeses, yogurts, chocolate, the small amount of vegetables we cooked, and fruit.
We had one lunch in the Hollywood Inn, a mezze platter from M&S (€6.99) as a picnic lunch by Claravale’s Avonmore River near Rathdrum, a big pot of soup for two days which we made in Dublin and brought in a container, and some of M&S’s perfect pre-packed salads on special offer.
For dinners: a Chargrilled veg pizza from M&S, the M&S dine in for two offer, and a delicious ten-minute chicken and veg stirfry using Jimmy’s Satay sauce and mostly Aldi ingredients. Particularly noteworthy, however, was the M&S Crispy marinated half chicken with vegetables, pancakes, and a sweet chilli sauce, on offer for just €5.
Okay, ignoring the very discretionary spa trip, this six full day and five night trip was a steal. Accommodation, food and eight bottles of wine, fuel, and many pints of Guinness in Tutty’s pub and over the road in the Hollywood Inn for a pricey lunch (more on that tomorrow) brought it to about €450 between two people. If we’d skipped the pubs and taxi home, we still would have a great time and it would have cost about €370, and I could have cut that down further if I was willing to make a few sacrifices.
Self catering benefits
We spent very little time cooking and the massive dishwasher made it very easy to keep the place clean. I felt so much freer and more comfortable than I could in a hotel room. With the extra money we saved, we splashed out on massages at the Brooklodge Hotel, where you can buy a one-hour treatment and get a half-hour treatment free.
I’m now sold on self-catering. You can have a wonderful break away, control your holiday in a way you just can’t do in a hotel, have your own space, and live easy, happy and cheap for the guts of a week on very little money. If you’re thinking of an Easter holiday, I’d highly recommend this option
Have you tried self-catering, and have you discovered any gems?