Despite being one of the most in demand items of 2020, it’s still hard to get excited about hand sanitiser. But the Boatyard Distillery in County Fermanagh has done its best to beautify the cleaning product set to become as much of a holiday staple as a bucket and spade.

Like many producers of spirits, they switched to creating the product early in the pandemic, taking the noble decision to supply hospitals and care homes in Enniskillen with 10,000 litres free of charge.

At one point, sanitiser became the Boatyard’s mainstay; they’ve bottled 83,000 litres to date. But now, founder Joe McGirr and his team are looking forward to resuming production of their award-winning gin and vodka, supplying supermarket chains like Waitrose, right through to swanky hotels such as London’s Savoy.

On July 3, bars, restaurants, hotels and attractions reopened in Northern Ireland, and after more than 100 days of rumbling behind closed doors, the Boatyard’s gleaming copper stills are once again welcoming public tours.

When I arrive at the marina on the banks of Lough Erne, visitor ‘bubbles’ are huddled around wooden sherry barrels (used as casks to age the Boatyard’s Old Tom Gin), spread comfortably throughout the room.

Of course, tours have been tweaked in line with new regulations: numbers have been reduced from 25 to eight; surfaces are cleaned between sessions; and there’s no more touching and sniffing of botanicals. But enthusiasm and dry humour counter any sterility, meaning safety has not been at the expense of fun.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to contain yourself from hugging me,” jests our jovial, teddy bear of a compere, Stanley. And when we’re allowed to enter the prized gin production parlour, where shiny, bulbous machinery could be a fit for Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, he reassures us there’s so much alcohol in the atmosphere, any traces of Covid would be obliterated. “Spray tonic and you could inhale a cocktail,” he boasts.

Scents of Italian juniper berries, Amalfi lemons and peppery sweet gale (foraged from the less sexy surrounds of Irish bogs) fill the air, along with a sense of optimism. Although delayed by the pandemic, there are plans to convert a waterside warehouse into a glass-fronted tasting area and cocktail bar, serviced by a water taxi dropping guests at the jetty – once the vessel has been given a ‘social distancing-friendly’ refit.

Inevitably, business has suffered during the hiatus, but Joe agrees the only option to look is ahead. Presented with a view of emerald hills seeping into smooth, cloud-reflecting waters, that’s not too hard to do.

A similar scene greets me at the Finn Lough resort, a 25-minute drive away. With a collection of standalone suites and lodges spread along the water, and bubble domes occupying their own forest niche, it’s a natural fit for a remote, secluded retreat.

Complying with the new normal has demanded some compromises. High touch points, such as cushions and bed throws, have been removed from rooms; crockery is wrapped in tissue paper and meals are more regimented – breakfast is ordered from a menu online and delivered to rooms in a wicker hamper.

Hospitality and service, however, remains the same. If anything, staff are more attentive than ever – albeit from a distance.

A transparent, plastic igloo erected by air pressure, my bubble dome is irresistibly cosy; a mood shaped by a bathtub, four-poster bed and Otis Redding spinning on a portable turntable.

Dinner is another novelty – it feels special to dine in the company of others, listening to the hushed voices of strangers and the clatter of cutlery.

Fine-dining tasting menus have been swapped for a stripped back selection of pizzas, burgers and tasting bowls. Nevertheless, every dish is freshly prepared and homemade.

The greatest post-lockdown treat, however, is delivered by Finn Lough’s forest spa. Connected by a woodland trail, five sensory areas include a floatation room, saunas and a hot tub. The two-hour journey is limited to two people at a time, making Finn Lough one of the few properties eligible to reopen its spa.

A ladder leads from the steaming Finnish sauna into Lough Erne. The first few steps are undeniably difficult and clunky, but grappling slippery stones with bare feet delivers a reassuring sense of connectivity. Perhaps it’s simply down to the invigorating cold air, but every nerve in my body is alert, finally stirred from a long, deep sleep.

A short drive from Finn Loch, the Marble Arch Caves Geopark is a highlight attraction in Fermanagh. Operating with smaller groups, tours of the limestone caves have reopened, and a new guided interpretation above ground is being offered.

We weave through a lost world of ancient ferns, wet ash woodland and tea-stained waterfalls tumbling over bedding planes carved by the ice age. Similar temperate rainforests can be found in Greenland and once covered most of Ireland.

It's hoped lockdown will have given people a renewed respect and appreciation for the wild world.

For now, one thing’s for certain: from fascinating plants to chef-cooked meals, as doors slowly open and we start to explore, every detail of rediscovery is a joy.

How to plan your trip

Stay in a bubble dome at Finn Lough ( ; +44 (0)28 683 80360) from £245 per night based on two people sharing, including breakfast. Stays in the catered suites start from £120 per night (two sharing), including breakfast and mountain bike hire.

A 90-minute tour costs £45pp at the Boatyard Distillery (, including cocktails and a bottle of 70cl Double Gin to take home.

A 75-minute guided tour of Cladagh Glen Walk costs £5.50. Visit