How boutique accommodation is openng up in Wicklow

Lisa Wilkinson

Lisa Wilkinson – Elbowroom Escape

Lisa Wilkinson is the owner and manager of Wicklow’s possibly best kept secret – the Elbowroom Escape; a series of peaceful cabins set amidst beautiful countryside and rolling hills and walks in the Glen of Imaal. Now open again after COVID the remote nature of the retreat with its individual cabins is very attractive to families and couples wishing to staycation and she is offering evening meals every night so once arrived, the visitors need only leave to enjoy the stunning scenery.

Lisa set up Elbowroom Escape four years ago. She was living in Dublin and running a number of businesses when she came across the old youth hostel in Ballintrae which was for sale. She had organised a retreat there many years ago and still had fond memories of the hostel and location. She jumped in the car and headed straight to the Glen of Imaal to negotiate with the owner whom she knew. There was already interest in the property, but they stayed in the garden until they had agreed a price for him to take it off the market. From there it took six months to renovate and she also had to sell her house to pay for the costs.

“Then there were all these ‘glen’ men who came to landscape and renovate the cabins. I was living on Pinterest to get ideas and designed my furniture which in turn was made by my partner Justin Thomas. We had our first group of visitors in December and they loved it. We knew we had got it right.”

Elbowroom Escape is now a multipurpose venue. There is a mountain lodge which sleeps up to 26 people with seven garden cabins. In its first four years of business it attracted groups, events, individuals and even boutique weddings. Lisa could name big names such as Diageo and Accenture as clients. “We’ve hosted adventure weekends, yoga retreats and outbound courses. Before COVID we had the Kildare ladies’ GAA team host a team building workshop with us.”

Before COVID every weekend was booked up until the end of September. Lisa remembers when it all stopped.

“It was the weekend of the schools’ closure. Everything just stopped. Everyone cancelled. It was very tough for us. Up until that point, over the past four years, we had reinvested all our profit back into the centre. We had building projects which included a huge outdoor kitchen with bbq and a pizza woodfired oven. We had hoped to actually make money this year.
“One thing we are so very grateful for is that 98% of our guests were happy to cancel and take credit for later in the year rather than asking for refunds. This was a life saver for us. Our bank account was going down all the time but at least we did not have to refund all the cancellations.”

It was a real rollercoaster for Lisa and the goodwill made a huge difference to her survival.

Now she is looking to reopen her space again and is feeling much more hopeful. One of the big advantages of Elbowroom Escape is the space, there is lots of it. All the cabins are isolated so there are not shared corridors as you might have in a hotel. “Last week we had some families arrive and you could literally see their shoulders relax as they stepped over the threshold.”

Lisa decided against the COVID yellow signs – there is enough space to warrant them redundant – but she has hand sanitizer everywhere. The staff are performing much more cleaning and they wear masks and visors. “But because we have a lot of space it is more relaxed.” Also, while both families and couples are arriving to enjoy the peace and quiet, Lisa keeps them separate. “Again we have enough space so it is easy to do this.”

There is an acre of grounds with the Elbowroom escape and the grounds back onto the West Wicklow Sugarloaf which is a very popular with guests. Lugnaquilla, the highest mountain outside of Kerry, is also on the doorstep.Food is also expanded for Lisa. There are many organic and original food producers in the locality including Castleruddery Organic Farms, Ridgeway Wagyu Beef farmers and Ballyhubbock sheep milk farm among others.

Originally Lisa offered bed and breakfast but now she has a seven day food menu. She started by offering a Friday night drive through wood fired pizza experience. The first night 60 people showed up and they ran out of food – giving their own pizza out to late comers who had not booked.

The menu is now seven nights and varies from Wagyu beef stroganoff to vegan burgers. It is not expensive with main meals costing E18.00.Lisa is so grateful to her local producers and supporters. Without their help the future of Elbowroom Escape would not have been so certain. “And the team – the team have been amazing.”

The Elbowroom Escape is located on the road between Blessington and Baltinglass and the website is the-elbowroomescape.com.

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