Launching a new hospitality business in a worldwide pandemic is a tough call. But that’s exactly what Donegal duo Aoife McDonnell and Johanna Sonneveldt are doing today.
The plucky pair set up ‘Atlantic Way Experience’ to run top-end tours which offer visitors a ‘special connection’ to Ireland. They’ve done their fair share of travelling themselves and say it’s finding that special connection which makes a trip memorable.
“We want visitors to connect to the land and the people of Ireland, with distinctively Irish experiences,” explains Aoife. A former All-Ireland winning captain herself, she says one of their signature journeys introduces visitors to Gaelic games.
“There’s a growing interest in Gaelic games, and it’s not just coming from Irish Diaspora. Conall from Normal People definitely gave this a boost but the trend was already there! So we’ve designed “The Ultimate Gaelic Games Journey” which gives visitors a genuine taste of the world of Gaelic sports.”
Highlights include a private tour of Croke Park, and a homestay experience with a GAA club family in Donegal. “From this unique base in Donegal you will train, take part in interactive workshops, and attend matches. You will also engage in cultural activities with locals and visit the must-sees on the Wild Atlantic Way.”
Her business partner Johanna Sonneveldt says Atlantic Way Experience is all about authenticity – giving people a slice of real Irish lives. She says they’ve also designed a special Irish trad music trip for fans of our distinctive folk music culture.
“Visitors can learn how to make a bodhran, play it, sing along, or dance with the locals at a céilí.” Johanna says this special trip also includes, story-telling sessions, fiddle tours, visits to the hometowns of Enya, Clannad and Altan…. and most importantly taking part in Ireland’s famous trad music sessions!”
Johanna grew up in Buenos Aires, got a Degree in Hotel Management and since then has worked internationally in the hotel and travel industry. “I spent years in Sydney crafting customised travel packages for VIP Music bands, touring mainly around Australia & New Zealand.
Her passion for travel and playing field Hockey took her to over 30 countries in 6 continents over the last 18 years. “I’ve lived in Mexico, France, USA, Australia and now I’m lucky to be able to call Ireland my home.”
Aoife and Johanna say their tours are very personal. “We limit the numbers to ensure that we look after everyone’s needs. With Covid 19 hitting our lives, small numbers are better because safety is our top priority. We also provide a self-drive option on all our journeys or alternatively, we can make any of our tours private.”
They predict that Ireland will be one of the best places in the world to travel in the Covid aftermath. “It’s rural, rugged and splendid, and the Irish landscapes have something for everyone,” says Aoife.
Aoife and Johanna offer a wide range of 7-14 day tours focussing on small groups and a unique luxury experience. The 5- star Journeys cater for a maximum of 8 people, and 4-star just 16 people. Unique experiences include; Private tours at the Giant’s Causeway led by legendary storyteller, Mark Rodgers, exclusive access to the original Fisherman’s cottage at Carrick-A-Rede, 5* dining on the original carriages of the Pullman Orient Express train, rock climbing with world-renowned adventurer, Iain Miller and we have our very own global artist, Liz Doherty, facilitating our original trad music tours. Tailor-made and golf tours include personalised itineraries and luxury travel options like helicopters.
In addition, they offer educational packages for language students and teachers.