The majesty of the Mourne mountains; those lofty granite heights, where avid walkers and mountain bikers can satisfy their inner adventurer, overlook verdant valleys and the wide blue expanse of the Irish Sea.
Less than two hours from central Dublin, the Mourne region encapsulates the city of Newry, and the towns and villages of Castlewellan, Kilkeel, Downpatrick, Newcastle, Killyleagh, Ardglass and the Ring of Gullion, as well as three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The region is characterised by its invitation to all to Embrace a Giant Spirit. That spirit is manifested in the natural warmth and welcome of the people there; their adventurous and creative spirit; it’s big, bold food and drink scene, and the green, blue and granite landscape that wraps it all together.
Savour Visit Mourne is the food and drink tourism brand showcasing local authentic food and drink businesses and creating brilliant visitor experiences, each with their own fascinating story.
Returning from a recent visit, I’ve become smitten with Mourne’s beauty and its incredible food and drink. I packed in five of the Savour Visit Mourne experiences and made for a truly memorable visit.
From Poitín to coastal foraging, chocolate making and afternoon tea to fine dining in a secret location, these are food and drink experiences that are as much about where they are as what they are.
Killeavy Castle Estate – Eco Tour and Tasting
Killeavy Castle is a 200-year-old Grade A listed castle set in 350 acres of landscaped gardens, woodlands, walled gardens and working farm. The original castle has been lovingly restored with incredible attention to detail. Four opulent bedrooms can accommodate up to eight guests with private dining room, drawing room, and a circular library. If renting a castle is your dream, this is where you can live it out!
Away from the castle is a modern and luxurious hotel, spa and restaurant. Rooms are designed around three botanical themes offering views of walled gardens and sweeping vistas of Slieve Gullion below.
This year, the hotel achieved 91% self-sufficiency from within the grounds of the estate, and the design ethos is integrated with an authentic principle of sustainability in that everything must have at least two uses.
The forestry is being regenerated to include more native trees increasing forestry health and biodiversity. By 2024, Killeavy Castle Estate will be carbon neutral, carbon positive by 2027.
There is an onsite farm shop open to the public year-round selling excess produce from the estate, including house cured meats, fresh vegetables and preserves, as well as the best of local Mourne produce from within a 20-mile radius of Killeavy.
Guests are invited to experience the working farm and gardens if they wish, gaining a unique insight into year-round food production: early morning vegetable picking, seasonal sheep shearing, or learn about curing and smoking meats.
Killeavy is looking to the history of castle estates for inspiration of how to provide a superior taste of Mourne hospitality in the most sustainable way possible. It’s not the easy thing to do for sure, so the commitment is to be commended. This is a luxury hotel constantly asking itself: how can we do more and do better?
Killeavy Castle Estate is a beautiful wedding venue with capacity for 180 guests. The modern wing of the hotel has 45 guest bedrooms. The restaurant and bistro bar, (presided over by Executive Chef Darragh Dooley), on site garden café, Elemis spa and farm shop are open to the public and guests.
Book in for an Eco Tour and Tasting, especially designed for Savour Visit Mourne, to hear the story of Killeavy’s commitment to sustainability and regeneration, finishing with a tasting menu showcasing the estates produce.
Whitewater Brewery, Castlewellan – Wee Brew School
Whitewater Brewery was established in 1996 by Kerry and Bernard Sloane on the grounds of the old family farm. Over 26 years, the brewery has grown organically, scaling up and winning awards along the way. Whitewater’s Russian Imperial Stout is the only beer to ever win the Golden Fork at the Great Taste Awards.
There are eight-ish beers in the core range, including Ewe Rebel and Maggie’s Leap IPAs, Hen Cock & Pigeon red ale, Belfast Black Irish stout, and Belfast lager. Their intrepid spirit for brewing means seasonal flavoured beers, such as Whitewater’s Honey and Root Ginger beer, and collaborations with local distilleries to barrel aged beers, ensuring always something new to taste.
The impressive purpose-built brewing facility in Castlewellan includes the Whitewater Brewery Wee Beer School where visitors can enjoy a day-long experience at the brewery. Learn to make your own beer, (lager, ale or stout); the process of making beer, and how to can and label it. Using leftover brewers’ yeast, make dough for lunchtime wood fired pizzas.
With only four participants at a time, there is ample opportunity to learn from award-winning brewers, ask questions, and get the most from this unique experience. A behind the scenes tour of the brewhouse, a sample tasting of 6 award-winning Whitewater Brewery beers, a certificate and t-shirt, lunch, refreshments and a gift bag of five beers and a Whitewater branded pint glass are included.
Crawford’s Rock – Seaweed Foraging
Seas The Day, Michelle Wilson proclaims! Michelle’s enthusiasm for all things seaweed is all consuming; you cannot help but be swept up in it all!
Crawford’s Rock produces a range of seaweed products from the edible kind to the beautifying kind. Award winning seaweed seasonings, tea and chocolate flavoured with hand collected seaweeds and supplements are just some of the many ways that Crawford’s Rock encourages us to consume more of Ireland’s natural seaweeds.
Harvested from coastal locations that have been in the care of Michelle and husband Ray’s families for generations, there is a deep understanding of the nature of seaweeds and coastlines which ensures seaweeds are collected in a sustainable way. There is much to learn, and Michelle is the perfect guide for one of their popular Foraging Tours.
I experienced the Day at the Beach tour incorporating a beach forage of many different seaweeds, how to harvest and how to use them in many ways. Then a sumptuous feast of fresh fish, shellfish and seaweeds is served on the beach, and afterwards an exhilarating dip in the briny waters for the ultimate Vitamin Sea experience. Afterwards, warm up with a cup of award-winning seaweed tea.
Other tour experiences are available. Book online; www.crawfordsrockseaweed.co.uk
Neary Nógs, Kilkeel – Master Craft Chocolate Experience (Family Friendly)
Neary Nógs is Northern Ireland’s first bean-to-bar chocolate maker founded by Dorothy and Shane Neary. It began with a batch of chocolate fudge from Dorothy’s mother’s recipe for a fundraiser, but soon after the hobby turned into a busy fledging business.
Today, Neary Nógs is located inside a reimagined and beautifully rustic former grain shed with views out towards Carlingford Lough. As a bean-to-bar chocolate maker, Neary Nógs take pride in sourcing ethically traded cocoa beans from cocoa producing nations around the world. They sort, roast, winnow and conch the beans into liquid chocolate, pour, age for weeks or months, then melt, temper and mould into exquisite chocolate bars, truffles and more.
The Master Craft Chocolate Experience guides visitors through the whole journey of chocolate from bean to bar and includes a tutored tasting of different chocolates to explore the spectrum of flavour notes, texture, and aroma.
Armed with your new appreciation for chocolate, peruse the selections of handmade chocolates for sale, including a new Oat White Chocolate made using locally grown oats, chocolate tea and coffee alternatives and luxurious hot chocolate.
Look out for exciting adults-only chocolate and spirits pairing experiences, too! Book online.
Mourne Larder – Secret Dining Experience by Chef Paul Cunningham
This incredible 8-course dining experience with drinks is brought to you by chef Paul Cunningham who drastically rethought his career during Covid lockdowns to embark on a new culinary adventure, Mourne Larder.
Mourne Larder is a celebration of place where landscape and food meld together in perfect harmony. The dinners are a literal moveable feast – there is no fixed location, and every dinner is held at a different, unique venue. Diners are asked to take a little leap of faith; arrive at a collection point and be whisked away to a secret location.
Our secret location was Carrick Cottage Café, a reimagined traditional Irish cottage perched above the Irish Sea near Annalong. During the day it’s a café with glamping pods and a coffee dock making it the perfect stop off point for walkers and cyclists.
The venue for each Mourne Larder event changes every time, so you’ll never know where you’ll be until you get there. The food that Paul is creating is outrageously good – simple, traditional ingredients local to Mourne delivered with fine dining finesse to create an otherworldly dining experience that is hard to match.
Paul takes your tastebuds on a journey from forest to field, to sea and shore; this was one of the best dining experiences I have had in a long time. It’s the sum of all its parts, and it is magical and memorable because of it.
Follow Mourne Larder on Eventbrite for updates on new events.
Carrick Cottage Café: www.carrickcottagecafe.co.uk
Other Activities for Savour Visit Mourne
- Family Friendly
Castlescreen Farm – Become a Showring Superstar
Meet a native Dexter Irish cow on a regenerative, laughter-filled farm with the Tumelty family. Start the day with tea and homemade Bannock, learn how to become a champion Dexter cow handler by preparing a Dexter for the show and end with a miniature show with rosettes awarded for the winners.
Mourne Food Adventures – Nana’s No Bake Wild Fifteens Workshop and Afternoon Tea
Join local chef Eithne Kinsella in her home to learn how to make a Northern Ireland speciality, Fifteens, according to a unique family recipe that includes foraged ingredients, such as wildflowers and herbs.
Booking required, phone +44 (0) 77 6633 2299
- The “Spirits” of Mourne
Shortcross Distillery Tours
Makers of award-winning whiskey and gin, Shortcross offer four different distillery experiences. Learn about the production methods and ingredients used to create their signature spirits, enjoy tastings, and take time out to relax and enjoy Shortcross spirits at their in-house cocktail bar.
Tours from £24.50 – £49.95 per person. Book online: www.rademonestatedistillery.com/tours/shortcross-gin-and-whiskey-distillery-tour
Killowen Distillery Tours
Visit this small batch artisan distillery in the heart of Mourne that specialises in whiskey, gin and poitín, Ireland’s original firewater! The tour includes fascinating insights into the local culture and location of this beautiful part of the Mournes, tastings and maybe some traditional music too.
In addition to distillery tours, look out for some intriguing tasting collaborations, such as with Neary Nógs chocolate makers, because, if you didn’t know it already, whiskey and chocolate make excellent bedfellows.
- Where to Stay
I overnighted at Hillyard House Hotel in Castlewellan, a 20-bedroom boutique hotel that has been beautifully renovated to a high standard while preserving its character.
The hotel is ideally located for exploring the Mourne region, and with Castlewellan Forest Trail, Mourne Mountain walking and mountain biking trails right on its doorstep, it the perfect spot to unwind after a day of high-octane adventuring!
Bed and Breakfast rates start from £110 per night. The breakfast is a delicious and tantalising showcase of superb location producers and suppliers. Hard to pick what to have!
Find out more about food and drink experiences available in Mourne, visit: https://www.visitmournemountains.co.uk/things-to-do/experience-food-and-drink
WRITTEN BY: KATE RYAN – FLAVOUR.IE