Top 10 things to do in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands

As life for many of us gets busier and noisier, the idea of kicking back and connecting with nature is an appealing one. Leave behind the traffic and the targets and tap into the relaxed rhythm of Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. Here are our top 10 suggestions to find peace and quiet.

1. Blue sky thinking

Explore the blueways, the beguiling waterways of Ireland. The Shannon Blueway offers a network of multi-activity recreational trails that provide scenic routes into the heart of the country by canoe, bike or on foot. This new development at Acres Lake includes an iconic floating boardwalk around the lake to extend the walking and cycling trails into Drumshanbo, connecting it to Leitrim village. Rejuvenate with a day trip to the Shannon Blueway, choosing from a range of providers and activities. Book a guided paddle with either Adventure Gently, ideal for novice paddlers, or Leitrim Surf Company which thrills with stand-up paddleboards.

Walking trail overlooking Ballina/Killaloe, Co Tipperary Walking trail overlooking Ballina/Killaloe, Co Tipperary

2. Walk this way

Soak up the scenery around Lough Derg by doing the Lough Derg Way, a 64km route that starts at the tourist office behind the Hunt Museum in Limerick city and follows the Shannon and its canals to the lake port of Dromineer on Lough Derg. Pass through Clonlara, Co. Clare, with its charming shops and pubs, O'Briensbridge, and Killaloe, once home of the 11th century High King of Ireland, Brian Boru. Killaloe is a heritage town, and many walkers linger at St. Flannan's Cathedral. The terrain consists mainly of canal and riverside paths and country roads. If you're feeling fit, you can complete the walk quickly enough; for those who prefer a more relaxed pace, it can be split over several days.

3. Longing for Longford

Longford is a great place for outdoor sporting activities, from canoeing and kayaking to more leisurely canal cruising, as well as coarse and game angling across the lakes, rivers and canals. The Royal Canal Way is a 90-mile walking and cycling corridor from Dublin to Longford, and the Clondra-Longford 16km addition is a stunning off-road trail that meanders alongside the canal offering you views of rural pastureland. For those more interested in the history and heritage of the area, the Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre is a must-visit. The centre interprets an Iron Age bog road built in the year 148 B.C. across the boglands of Longford, close to the River Shannon. The oak road is the largest of its kind to have been uncovered in Europe and is on permanent display.

4. Cruise control

Taking to the water on a cruise is the perfect antidote to stressful lifestyles. The Shannon short break offering from Emerald Star will suit those looking for a few days' getaway. Allow three to five nights for a return trip from Carrick-on-Shannon to Lanesboro in Longford. Take in the ruins of Carrick castle; move onto Roosky, Co. Roscommon with its walks and angling; and try the inviting restaurants and pubs of Tarmonbarry on the Roscommon/Longford border. Shannon Culture Holidays at Quigley's Marina on the shores of Lough Ree also hires out self-drive cruisers, with a minimum three-night stay. Quigley's Marina works in conjunction with Locaboat Holidays, where a canal-style boat, a 'Penichette', can be hired.

One relaxing cruising option is to make your way to Athlone, 45 minutes away, and overnight to visit the castle, have a tipple in Sean's Bar, said to be the oldest in Ireland, dine in some of the great local restaurants including The Left Bank Bistro and Kin Khao and enjoy the art at the Luan gallery. Day two could include Clonmacnoise and Shannonbridge where Luker's bar and restaurant is a popular choice. Round off by crossing part of Lough Ree to Lecarrow village, Co. Roscommon, with its lovely harbour, restaurant and pub. It's also not far from the abandoned medieval town of Rindoon.

5. On yer bike

The Old Rail Trail is a 40km cycle through the midlands, connecting Athlone with Mullingar and passing through the town of Moate where Dún na Sí heritage park is worth visiting. Start in Mullingar and follow the path as it snakes along the canal to the head of the greenway. The route will take you along a converted stretch of the former great western railway and through farmland. Pass under arched bridges, through a tunnel and past serene countryside all the way to Athlone.

Old Rail Trail Old Rail Trail

6. Get on a roll on a Segway

While at Lough Key Forest and Activity Park, try out a Segway for something more novel. This two-wheeled, battery powered personal transporter is easy to use and a quirky way of getting around. You lean slightly in the direction that you want to go and your Segway will take you there. Woodland Segway says its 'Rockingham Roll' is its most popular Segway experience. It's a 30-minute Segway glide on the Rockingham Lawn at Lough Key Forest and Activity Park.

Segways in Lough Key Forest Park, Co Roscommon Segways in Lough Key Forest Park, Co Roscommon

7. Peruse the past at a castle

Portumna Castle and Demesne was gutted by fire in 1826 but conservation work is ongoing, and the castle is an imposing example of Irish architecture of the early 17th century. It was built before 1618 by Richard deBurgo and the ground floor is open to the public. Here you'll find an exhibition on the history and restoration of the building and the deBurgo family. Take in the Irish Workhouse Centre and Portumna Forest Park which you can explore on foot or by hiring bikes. If you haven't tried 'glamping' – glamorous camping – Pod Umna is the place to do it, with the feel of a woodland setting in a central location.

8. Get up on your high horse

Always liked the idea of horse-riding but never got around to it? Where better than Roscommon Equestrian Centre between Roscommon town and Lanesboro, near Lough Ree at the foot of the Slieve Bawn mountain. Lessons are provided to beginners up to advanced riders and the area has several scenic trekking and hacking routes. Other options for horse-riding include the Lough Derg Equestrian Centre, the Athlone Equestrian Centre or Clare's An Sibin Riding Centre where you can go horseback riding on Celtic trails through Galway or Clare.

Horse Riding with An Sibh Horse Riding Centre Horse Riding with An Sibh Horse Riding Centre
Horse-riding, An Sibin Riding Centre, Co Clare Horse-riding, An Sibin Riding Centre, Co Clare

9. Mine of information

The Arigna Mining Experience centre was developed to preserve the heritage of the Arigna Valley, Co. Roscommon. The centre provides an insight into coalmining life from the 1700s until closure in 1990. During the underground tour, visitors experience what it was like to work in some of the narrowest coal seams in the western world. The tour takes 45 minutes and brings visitors to the coalface, where the methods used to extract coal are demonstrated.

Arigna Mine Experience, Roscommon Arigna Mine Experience, Co Roscommon

10. Lunch in a lakeside pub

A stay in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands is all about lingering over lunch, ideally in a lakeside pub. You'll be spoilt for choice with The Barge, Leitrim village; The Derg Inn and Paddy's Bar, both in Terryglass; and Larkins of Garrykennedy. The burgers in Skelly's pub, Ballymahon, Longford, come highly recommended too.

And one for luck...

11. Go On, Go on

Afternoon tea is a real indulgence and there are some delectable options around Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. Among the go-to destinations are: Lough Rynn Castle in Mohill, Leitrim, where it's served daily from 12 noon to 6pm at €18 per person, with a Prosecco upgrade at €24. Kilronan Castle in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, is another luxe setting for afternoon tea – so bask in the history, sip on some fancy nibbles, and enjoy the ridiculous luxury.

Top 11 delicious eats

Unspoilt scenery complemented by innovative food producers, award-winning restaurants, creative cafés, diverse markets and great festivals – they're key ingredients for the taste of success in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. At a time when provenance has become a key consideration for diners, many restaurants around Ireland's Hidden Heartlands source their produce a very short distance from their doorstep.

Many farmers have diversified into making cheese and other dairy products and take a real pride in their small enterprises. Farmers' markets can be found throughout the region, and food festivals and initiatives are becoming more popular. Whether you're a consummate carnivore or a vegan, you'll find something in the foodie delights in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. Here are our top 11 foodie experiences.

1. A Taste of Lough Derg

Immerse yourself in A Taste of Lough Derg, now in its fifth year. A summer series on the shores of Lough Derg in Tipperary, Clare and Galway, with events taking place around the lake, it kicks off in June and runs until September. The line-up includes paddle picnics; a tour of a farm that produces award-winning cheese made from sheep's milk; taste and make chocolate sessions; a mindful breadmaking session on a farm; guided foraging for edible flowers, herbs and salads; orchard tasting events; and garden visits. It's a great way to spend a couple of hours – and all the food is gorgeous.

2. Fine dining in Killaloe

For fine dining aficionados, Wood & Bell is well worth a stop. Former Ireland international rugby player Keith Wood has opened a restaurant in his native Killaloe, Co. Clare. Upstairs at Wood & Bell offers a French-inspired menu, with fruit, vegetables and herbs primarily sourced from their own gardens. There's also a café that does breakfast, brunch and lunch for something a little less haute-cuisine downstairs.

3. Sourced fresh

Set in a Victorian red-brick building with views of the Shannon, St George's Terrace, Co. Leitrim, has intimate dining rooms, a bar area for cocktails and a cookery school. The former bank premises is owned by Siobhan Smyth who is restaurant manager and her business partner, chef, Dave Fitzgibbon, a native of Carrick. The emphasis is on using the finest freshest local and Irish produce to create a modern Irish menu with French influences.

Alternatively, check out The Oarsman in Carrick-on-Shannon, an Irish Gastro Pub of the Year and a real find. One could ask is it pub in a restaurant or a restaurant in a pub, such is the quality and flavours of the fare. The owners, brothers Conor and Ronan Maher, have created a hidden gem of a gastro pub which is a must visit for lunch or dinner.

4. Wake up and smell the coffee

For coffee fans, The Old Barracks in Birdhill, Co. Tipperary is an over-18s coffee bar that does roastery tours, Irish coffee demos, Irish coffee-making classes and Baileys lattes. The owners import directly from specialty coffee-grade farms and roast in Birdhill.

5. Keep it country

Country Choice in Nenagh comprises a renowned delicatessen and café established by Peter and Mary Ward in 1982. It's all about celebrating artisan food producers and sourcing the best natural ingredients. Peter can usually be found on the premises, with a friendly chat for customers.

Peter Ward, Country Choice, Nenagh, Co Tipperary Peter Ward, Country Choice, Nenagh, Co Tipperary

6. Get busy as a bee

Ailbhe Gerrard is an innovative farmer, working at Brookfield Farm, on the shores of Lough Derg, and specialising in artisan food. She produces wild flower honey, beeswax candles and lamb. She has introduced hive share options where you can choose from one-eighth of a hive to an entire hive. Walks through 11 acres of wild flowers with honey tasting and yoga are all part of the fun on this standout farm. And pro-tip: ask to taste the apple juice.

7. Dine like a lord... or a lady

Viewmount House is a 17th century manor at Dublin Road, Longford, and it's a must visit when in the county. Ingredients are locally sourced when possible, with seasonally changing menus. Expect to see dry-aged beef and artisan organic cheese among the delectable dishes on the mouth-watering menus. For more casual dining in Longford, The Nine Arches, Ballymahon, P.S. Red in Lanesboro and Purple Onion in charming Tarmonbarry, Co. Roscommon – also an art gallery – are among the highlights.

8. Farm fresh

It's a phrase that's bandied about but in the case of a Roscommon farm family enterprise, it rings very true. Liam and Justina Gavin of Drumanilra Farm left the UK in 2012 to farm in Boyle, Co. Roscommon. They now run an award-winning day-time restaurant, The Drumanilra Farm Kitchen, in Boyle with every dish containing an ingredient from their organic mixed farm which is 10 minutes' drive away. All the Dexter beef, pork, lamb and salad leaves are produced on the farm. They also serve organic chicken, Angus beef and other seasonal ingredients.

Burger served at The Drumanilra Farm Kitchen Burger served at The Drumanilra Farm Kitchen
Ribs served at The Drumanilra Farm Kitchen Ribs served at The Drumanilra Farm Kitchen

9. Offaly good

The Thatch restaurant and bar, Crinkle, Birr, Co. Offaly has developed its own Ireland's Hidden Heartlands menu, using local seasonal produce. One of the oldest pubs in South Offaly, the premises has been in the same family for approximately 200 years. You might even catch a gig, and if not, Birr has plenty to see including Birr Castle gardens and science centre.

10. Celebrity chef

Enjoy planning ahead for culinary experiences? Then don't miss award-winning chef Neven Maguire's McNean House, Restaurant and Cookery School, Blacklion, Cavan. As one of Ireland's best-loved chefs, the restaurant books up fast but keep a beady eye on for cancellations – as this is a restaurant you won't want to leave in a hurry!

11. Go 'Wilde' about chocolate

Go 'wilde' about chocolate as chocoholics will want a taste of Wilde Irish Chocolates in Tuamgraney, Co. Clare. Over 80 chocolates are handmade in the small artisan factory. There's an open plan production area where you can see the chocolates being made and packed. You can taste what's in production and make suggestions. We're salivating just thinking about it.

Chocolate delights from Wilde Irish Chocolates Chocolate delights from Wilde Irish Chocolates
Handmade Chocolates from Wilde Irish Chocolates Handmade Chocolates from Wilde Irish Chocolates

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