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Camping in Tollymore Forest

Camping in Tollymore Forest

Summer in Ireland… it’s a fleeting experience, isn’t it? The warm months whisper past us before we can even remember what was to feel the comforting heat of the sun and the gentle lap of waves at our bare feet. Though the season is brief, we Irish have know to appreciate every drop of sunshine while we can, revelling in the joy of back-to-back sunny days, outdoor picnics and endless adventures.

There are so many wee pleasures to have during summer but of on my absolute favourites is camping. Sleeping outside isn’t for everyone but for me it’s one of life’s real luxuries to fall asleep under the stars. It might require a bit of forward planning (and hardy expectations) but when you get that rare weekend jackpot of sunny AND dry weather, well there’s no better place to be than the mountains!

It was about a month ago when we struck weather gold and packed up our car with (definitely too many) camping supplies. We hadn’t any real idea of where we were headed but we drove out of the city and towards the Mourne Mountains knowing we would be able to find a perfect camping spot up there.

We decided to go a little off-grid and try wild camping in an attempt to savour the most of the Irish wilderness. I can completely understand the appeal of campsite comforts (especially when you have kiddos to keep clean!) but I love that feeling of being a little bit cut off from the world. We aren’t too knowledgeable about the best wild camping spots so I just googled a few recommended spots and found this really useful website.

We decided to head for the Spinkewee River since it looked like the easiest for rookies. It was a few kilometres walk from the Trassey carpark where we had dropped off the car which meant we had to cull a few things we could live without for a night (a duvet being one of them!). Once we were packed up like pair of wee camels, we trotted off in search of the river, stopping only a few dozen times to catch our breath and swap packs!

We hiked along a country path which soon brought in to Tollymore forest. Old stone steps took us over gateways, passed ancient burial grounds and alongside towering piles of felled logs. We eventually found the river and set up camp and began collecting firewood to start dinner.

We tend to get ingredients for a one pot dinner and this recipe always does the trick. After dinner we ate s’mores, listened to some music and chatted until the fire started to die and the wind picked up.

The next morning we woke to the sound of rustling leaves and the river flowing near our tent. Andrew prepared some scrambled egg for breakfast while I went to wash my teeth down my the stream. It was such a beautiful morning; the blue skies promised a sunny day ahead and the breeze was just enough to keep us cool.

We went for a quick hike up the neighbouring mountain after breakfast and came across an abandoned farmhouse that had the best views towards the mountains. We took a detour down through a field, said “hello” to a few sheep and dipped back in to the forest canopy to visit some of the waterfalls along the Spinkwee River.

The Tollymore forest is such a treasure trove for any outdoor enthusiast. There’s mountain biking trails, hiking trails, historical buildings and rivers peppered with the most gorgeous waterfalls. After we’d finished our small hike we started the even bigger hike back to the car. It was a warm day and poor Andrew quickly regretted wearing his jeans – another rookie error!

The walk was beautiful though; we had blue skies above and nature hugging us at every turn. We had to stop for a few breaks but it didn’t matter, we were happy to soak in as much of that sunshine and mountain air as we possible could. After all, the season is brief and each summer joy is to be cherished.

Winter Escape to Zell am Zee: 5 Tips for Planning a Couple’s Ski Trip

Winter Escape to Zell am Zee: 5 Tips for Planning a Couple’s Ski Trip

My first morning in Zell am See went a little like this: the sunlight filtering in through the curtains woke me up early and the cool alpine air coming from the open window made me burrow myself in to the duvet for just a minute more. Braving the cold, I opened the door to the balcony with a cup of tea clasped in my hands to keep me warm. The mountains towered above me and I wondered at how quiet it was. When I listened a little harder I started to make out the sounds of the mountain; snow falling off the trees, the sounds of skis on the virgin snow as early risers were taking on the first slope of the day and the mountain streams making their way to the lake below.

I watched the mist from the lake slowly snake it’s way up the valley towards us. I looked up to the sky to see if more snow was to come but all I could see were blue skies with the snow glistening in the sunshine and I thought to myself: now this is a winter escape!

Andrew and I had been planning on going on a ski trip to Austria since our first one in France with another couple two years ago. We both love the mountains but after failing to gather friends to go away on a group trip (the older we get the more difficult it is to get people to commit to dates which is wholly depressing but completely understandable of course), we wondered if we could go on our own and still have the same kind of fun. Ski trips are usually associated with a big group of people, lots of après-ski shenanigans and racing down the slopes so I was a bit apprehensive about going away as a couple; would we have as much fun on our own??

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. We had a blast as we have done on every holiday we’ve taken together but this one felt really special. Everything felt so much more relaxed because we were able to move at our own pace. We could take as many slopes as we liked (or as little), we weren’t having to constantly wait for others to join us at the gondolas or spend hours deliberating about what side of the mountain to hit next. We were super-competitive and downloaded apps to record speeds and distances of the day which we argued at length about over beers in the afternoon. It completely changed my attitude to a ski holiday and I will never hesitate to book another for just the two of us again, it might just be the best way to ski!

If you have ever contemplated taking a winter break with your partner to the mountains, then I urge you, to DO IT. After all, where else would you go with the person who makes you feel on top of the world?

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5 Tips for Planning a Couple’s Ski Trip

1 Make it FUN

Andrew and I are fairly competitive and on the first day of our trip we downloaded the Snoww app which tracks all your data from your day on the mountain e.g. top speeds, distances, runs, altitudes. After every run we would check our speeds on the gondola taking us back up the mountain, teasing the slowest of the pair and wondering how much distance we would cover that day. It forced us to be a bit braver which made it so much more fun but it also allowed us to keep track of each other when we got lost or wanted to check where the other was too. Would definitely recommend downloading it, especially the more competitive couples!

2 Pick a romantic destination

We had toyed around with a few destinations but once I saw pictures of Zell am See I knew we had to go. The town sits on the edge of Lake Zell with the Austrian Alps circling above. At night, the town is a dream to walk around with narrow streets lit up with lights and music in the air, perfect for strolling hand in hand after a day on the slopes. During the day there’s a beautiful walk to take down by the lake to take in the mountains around you that will make you feel truly tiny! If you decide to visit Zell am See, I’d recommend a walk by the river before the sun goes down followed by a dinner at Deins & Meins. Once your belly is full, walk through the snow to The Gin House to finish the night with some cocktails and a good game of Stump.

3 Give each other space

While cruising down the slopes together was really good craic, there were times when one of us had more energy than the other (usually Andrew having more energy!) and so it was nice to be able to go off on our own and do own thing for a bit. One of my favourite parts of the day was heading back to the Daxer Hotel, having a bit of cake with my tea on the balcony and then heading down to the sauna for an hour on my own – bliss!

4 Plan a Day Trip

While I enjoyed every single moment on those mountains, I was ready to come back down to earth and explore a bit of the area around us. Luckily our flight home from Salzburg (very handily about an hour and a half from Zell am See) was in the evening so it meant we had most of the day to explore the city before the holiday ended. We got the train from Zell am See which was an incredible way to see the countryside; I sat with my nose to the window while Andrew slept! The snow was falling thick and fast when we arrived so we hopped in a taxi to the Old Town to have brunch at Café Tomaselli where Mozart apparently drank his coffee! It was beautiful and I inhaled as many pastries as possible before we wrapped up again and headed towards the Hohensalzburg Fortress. We took the funicular up to the fortress where we had views over the city which was a complete winter wonderland. The snow continued to fall as we walked through the streets of the Old Town and back to the train station to pick up our bags and head home. It was a really romantic way to end the trip and relax a little before heading back to the grind of normal life at home.

5 Be Patient & Considerate

Of course this tip is relevant for couples no matter where they’re going but specifically to choosing a ski destination, you should be considerate of your partner’s abilities and whether they board or ski before making a decision. We chose Zell am See because it offered a diverse range of options for both boarders and skiers (Andrew boards and I ski) which meant that we both felt challenged and never bored. We’re both intermediates which made it easier too but sometimes one partner might be a bit more advanced than the other so you should take this in to consideration too.

We were really happy with Zell am See and felt like there were enough black/expert runs to satisfy us on the days when our confidence was up and we wanted to push ourselves. It was an advantage that we were on the same experience level because we knew what slopes we were capable of and when one of us needed a bit more encouraging the other would be the cheerleader which saved many an argument!