One of the big advantages of choosing to travel by bicycle it the ease at which it allows you to stop and explore. Compared to our fellow visitors, who opt to explore from behind the wheel, being on a bike allows you to easily climb off, to check things out, or head down that narrow road simply because it happens to be there. With a coastline that weaves in and out past bays, beaches, small peninsulas, headlands and cliffs, Donegal has more than its fair share of hidden gems. Any of these can be discovered as part of a Donegal cycling holiday. With that in mind here are five hidden gems well worth exploring when cycling in Donegal.
1: St. John’s Point If you look at a map you might wonder why we are including this as a hidden gem. After all this peninsula sticks out in a rather obvious way – right into the heart of Donegal Bay. However, surprisingly few visitors choose to make the journey. It’s a beautiful cycle down the narrow road that brings you to the lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. On the way you will pass the delightful studio of traditional weaver Cindy Graham, and closer the end another delight – Coral Beach with its unusual pink tinted sand. We could easily say that the lighthouse, Cindy Graham’s Studio and Coral Beach are actually 3 hidden gems, but as they are all so close together and within easy cycling distance of each other we will simply lump them all together and call St. John’s Point one hidden gem with many parts.
2: Illannamarave The Irish name for this little harbour and beach Oileán na Marbh translates as “Island of the Dead”. Don’t let the name fool you though, this is an absolutely gorgeous spot. The small beach here is located close to Donegal Airport. “Beach” signs close to the Airport will direct you to Carrickfinn Beach – itself a beautiful stretch of pristine white sand, and well worth a visit in its own right. To reach Illannamarave, cycle past the airport with the runway on your left. At the end of the runway follow the narrow road to the left. At the end of this road, a real hidden gem awaits. Illannamarve is located close to the village of Annagry – one of the overnight stops on our Highlights of Donegal Bike Tour.
3: Granny Valley Many of our customers who have done the Highlights of Donegal Bike Tour, or the Backroads and Beyond cycling and walking tour will name the cycle down Granny Valley as one of the stand-out highlights of the trip. Once you have visited you will realise why. By the way the name has nothing to do with Grandmothers, it comes from the Irish word for a gravel covered area. A deserted mountain road leads through bog lands to the top of the valley where views open out to the beaches, bays and mountains beyond. The roads drops steeply (some cyclists would say scarily) through the valley right down to the coast and beautiful Maghera Beach with its powder-like sand and series of caves. A little further on is yet another gem -Assarancagh Waterfall. Again this could be at least 3 hidden gems, but just like St. John’s Point we are calling the area just one.
4: Crohy Head This headland is located west of the town of Dungloe close to the village of Maghery. It’s a wild and beautiful spot. A rollercoaster of a road leads out to the headland where views over the bay and the mountains in the distance are simply spectacular. With a bit of searching you might discover “The Breeches” – an unusual two-legged sea stack. It can be viewed by first finding the grassy lane that leads to the shore. Further along the road is the village of Maghery with it’s fine golden sandy beach. Crohy head may be a bit off the beaten track. But if you are doing our Highlights of Donegal Bike Tour it is possible to include it on the day you cycle from Glenties to Annagry. (we’ll include directions) It’s a tough cycle as the coastal road constantly winds it way over hills and dips. The rewards are magnificent though, and well worth every bit of the effort.
5: Loughros Point From close to the village of Ardara a narrow road leads along this beautiful peninsula. As you cycle further from the village more and more wonderful views open up. The road follows the narrow Loughros Beag Bay until it reaches a tiny slipway close to the end of the peninsula. For cyclists tired of the hills this roads is one of the less demanding in Donegal. If you fancy having a pretty beach all to yourself – tiny Trabawn on the north side of Loughros point might be just what you are after. If you happen to be around in the evening the sunsets here are magnificent. The setting sun adds wonderful warm colours to the surrounding hills as it sinks over the Atlantic Ocean.
We could go on an on about the hidden gems in the area, with so many beautiful tiny beaches and harbours, so many archaeological treasures, so many local crafts people producing their own individual gems we could be here for a long time. Rest assured though that a cycling holiday in Ireland will deliver a wealth of gems and memories to go along with them.