SECRET HOTELS

Ireland's County Donegal

The Green Gate

(Thorsten Futh)

The beauty of Ireland's jagged northern edge still feels delightfully quiet and undiscovered. Road signs are in Gaelic, and sheep--only sheep--wander the windswept beaches. An 87-mile drive along the coast from Ballyshannon up to Malin Head, Ireland's northernmost point, is short on your standard tourist activities. But 2,000-foot-tall sea cliffs and dozens of sweet inns make it worth the trip.

The Whins, Dunfanaghy

There's no better-situated B&B in County Donegal. The second-floor living and dining rooms overlook Horn Head peninsula and Sheephaven Bay. Killahoey Beach, a stretch of white sand that runs the length of the village of Dunfanaghy, is a 10-minute stroll over the dunes. Each of the Whins' four rooms is done in a different color scheme. The seascape room, with blue walls and bowls of shells, has views of both the gardens and the ocean. Proprietress Anne Marie Moore puts houseplants and dried flowers on every horizontal surface, giving the place the relaxed feel of a rustic getaway. 011-353/74-91-36-481, thewhins.com, from $38 per person.

The Green Gate, Ardara

Who knew a converted barn could be so romantic? Paul Chatenoud, for one. Twenty-two years ago, the native Parisian came to Donegal to finish writing a book on philosophy. He stayed and opened a B&B in 1995. Outside the town of Ardara ("tweed capital of the world"), the Green Gate is a thatched cottage on a seaside bluff. The four rooms have wood-beamed ceilings, pillowy beds, and thick comforters (the coastal wind is chilly). Before exploring the ocean caves nearby, guests begin the day with two dozen different types of homemade jam and marmalade, including Seville orange and wild blueberry. Chat up Paul over breakfast, if only to hear a French accent garnished with a Gaelic lilt. 011-353/74-95-41-546, thegreengate.eu, from $57 per person.

Coxtown Manor, Laghey

While visiting Ireland from Belgium in 1999, Eduard Dewael fell for the lush landscape around Donegal Town and, on a whim, bought an ivy-covered Georgian mansion, which he converted into a B&B. Coxtown Manor's 10 rooms come in two styles: The main house is full of antiques and marble fireplaces, while the recently renovated Coach House leans toward minimalism, with high-powered showers and Jacuzzi baths. Little touches go a long way: The eggs served at breakfast are gathered from chickens that roam outside, and beds are covered in soft sheets imported from Belgium. A popular gourmet restaurant in the main house specializes in local seafood. 011-353/74-97-34-575, coxtownmanor.com, from $95 per person.

Ardeen House, Ramelton

No sooner have you set down your suitcases and begun admiring the view of the River Lennon than Anne Campbell will politely knock and ask if you would like homemade raisin scones, strawberry jam, and a cup of tea--"just to get you to dinnertime." For more than 25 years, Anne and her husband, Bert, have been the owners of this three-room B&B on the outskirts of Ramelton, a village of Georgian stone houses on Lough Swilly, an inlet of the Atlantic. At night, with the windows open, all you can hear is the faint sound of lapping water. 011-353/74-91-51-243, ardeenhouse.com, from $44 per person.

Frewin House, Ramelton

It took Thomas Coyle, an antiques connoisseur, five years to restore this former Church of Ireland rectory. While parts of the home date to 1698, Thomas and his wife, Regina, have decorated with Victorian artifacts, like the period satiric political posters that line the library walls. They kept the rectory layout, which means that the house is filled with fun nooks and crannies. All four bedrooms get generous amounts of sunlight, but the larger Green Suite on the second floor also has a private library that overlooks the garden's purple and white wildflowers, rhododendrons, and daffodils. Breakfast items are sourced locally and often include fresh raspberries and organic sausage. 011-353/74-91-51-246, frewinhouse.com, from $76 per person.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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