A Lakeside Haven of Pure Bliss
Driving through the massive gates at Harvey’s Point at Lough Eske I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Here I was up close and personal to the Blue Stack mountains, which today had little white snow caps on them. This unusual property celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 2014, having evolved from its rather humble beginnings as a modest guest house to an outstanding Country House Hotel, which is continuously on the receiving end of the top hospitality awards in Ireland. There are several modern buildings (all linked together at the central point of the Reception) comprises 64 bedrooms and is located on the gently lapping shores of Lough Eske; the lake appearing to envelope the buildings. It is an amazing feat of architecture to have such extensive buildings gelling together like a perfect jigsaw; the building housing most of the bedrooms is four stories high but appears much smaller as it sits snugly into the lakeland landscape. Unusual shapes are the main architectural theme with octagonal sections housing the main bar and restaurant spaces, which are the main focal points of the property.
The ethos of Harvey’s Point is that of a Swiss/Irish collaboration formed by the owners, brothers Jody and Marc Gysling and Marc’s wife Deirdre McGlone, who is the perfect hostess. This has to be the perfect combination in hospitality with Swiss expertise and perfection combined with our own Irish charm. Having arrived on a Wednesday in early March I was astounded by how many guests were there. They were over 80% full which says something about just how good Harvey’s Point is. There are usually two Concierges on hand to meet and greet and take your luggage to your room – a nice touch.
My room was on a grand scale with views over the lake. Again Swiss meticulous attention to detail was noted as all the fringes on the rugs were brushed in the same direction, rather like the grass at Augusta’s golf course. The bed had a really comfortable mattress and a selection of pillows which ensured that I wouldn’t be trashing around all night trying to get a good night’s sleep. The bathroom also deserves a mention. Here in Harvey’s Point it wasn’t just the superb Jacuzzi bath; the excellent shower; two sinks; a bidet; brand name toiletries (in this case Paul Costelloe) that made it special. Rather it was the mirror which appeared to smooth out the wrinkles. Not enough thought is given to lighting in bathrooms but this was first class. When you think you look good you feel good. A great start to my jaunt up in Donegal and obviously put me in high good humour.
The octagonal bar and lounge were again on the grand scale with the central bar acting like a magnet for those younger and livelier guests who wanted to enjoy a more cosmopolitan approach to their Aperitifs, whilst the quieter guests could enjoy a more private drink in the various nooks adjacent to the panoramic windows.
Cuisine: Dinner that evening was as good as you would get in any top class restaurant. Scallops to start, followed by perfectly cooked local venison were superb. Deirdre chatted to all the guests at some point during dinner, not rushing around doing a duty round but taking time to make it a personal and genuine greeting as many of the guests were regulars – always a good sign. Marc, who oversees the kitchens, was equally making sure that all the food being served was of the highest quality. One also has to mention Eileen and Nancy who have worked in the dining room since 1989 when they opened. Having loyal staff like this means that guests really feel very much at home and it is clear that the staff love Harvey’s Point as much as the owners and guests.
The following morning breakfast was as good as dinner the previous evening. Harvey, the resident hotel goose, was on the prowl waiting for his breakfast on the little pier nearby and again the sense of peace and tranquillity of the lake penetrated right throughout the room with early morning guests full of smiles. Before leaving I took a tour of the entire estate and I discovered yet another fabulous large room – the ballroom, where weekly cabarets and Sunday brunches are hosted. There are also two beauty rooms for those who want a little extra pampering. Lots more could be written about Harvey’s Point such as the Art Room with its wall to wall art painted by Marc & Jody’s late mother Isabel, or the wonderful pots of stunning Amaryllis adorning all the windowsills.
Lough Eske is a place where you can enjoy all kinds of sports and activities, such as hiking, golfing and angling. My own new hiking books got their first outing on a 6 hour hike across the Blue Stack Mountains (worn by my daughter!). Donegal Castle, once home of the O’Donnell Chieftans, is located in the heart of Donegal town and well worth a visit. More sedate activities include painting breaks and knitting workshops; although I am not sure whether I would make the grade at knitting. I also like the idea of going to a mid week Cabaret up there in the heart of rural Ireland.
Harvey’s Point is more than just a hotel and while the buildings are not that old it is making its own history. Here you have two Swiss men who came, saw, stayed and integrated with the local community. A break in Harvey’s Point is so much more than just any old holiday break. It is an opportunity to breathe in the pure Donegal air and renew the batteries. With the next generation of Swiss Irish already helping out I have no doubt that Harvey’s Point will still be at the top of their game in another 25 year’s time.