The Southwest is a walker’s and photographer’s paradise.
Fairy-tale-like Adare in County Limerick is known as “Ireland’s
prettiest village,” with thatched-roof homes, craft shops and
woolen stores. In County Cork, the fishing port of Bantry is the
gateway to Sheep’s Head Peninsula, where rugged sea-view trails
wind past ancient stone walls. Bere Island, a quiet place with
grazing sheep, a lonely lighthouse, panoramic views and cozy
Kitty’s Cafe, is accessible by ferry from Castletownbere. Only 30
people live in Eyeries, where brightly painted houses overlook the
“This is the place that God created for himself but at the last
minute decided to give it to us,” bragged resident Connie Murphy,
as we strolled along the shore.
Killarney has more hotel beds than anywhere in Ireland, except
Dublin. Still, it maintains a small-village feel with cracking pubs
like O’Connor’s, where you can mingle with the locals and hear a
traditional music session. At Killarney National Park, walking
trails circle Muckross Lake, cross mossy forests, climb to
cascading waterfalls and lead to Dimi’s, an old boathouse operating
as a tranquil cafe.
Cliffs of Moher
Before my first visit to Ireland, I had visions of sheep grazing
on green hillsides, ivy-covered stone walls and thatched-roof
cottages. Ireland’s West matches that picture to perfection.
But there’s more to do than enjoy the views. Galway, Ireland’s
fastest-growing city, packs in fun and vibrancy in a youthful
Galway is also a good base for touring Connemara, the pastoral,
Irish-speaking countryside between Lough Corrib and the Atlantic’s
Kylemore Abbey is a must-see. The 19th-century castle has walled
gardens, a Gothic cathedral and a teahouse with traditional Irish
In the Shannon/County Clare region, the Cliffs of Moher rise
dramatically 700 feet above the ocean.
Bunratty Castle, a medieval fortress with dungeons, towers and
spiral stairwells, merits a visit as well. Its Folk Park is
touristy, but the reconstructed cottages and artifacts give a good
feel for 19th-century Ireland.
Since Bunratty is just six miles from Shannon Airport, the
castle’s medieval feast and dinner show is a great way to spend a
final evening in Ireland. The show is a bit kitschy, but it’s still
great fun. And when the lovely red-haired lass sang “When Irish
Eyes Are Smiling,” she brought tears to our eyes. Or maybe we were
just sad to leave.
|Where to stay|
The G, Galway: Uber-hip five-star boutique hotel. www.theghotel.ie
Ashford Castle, County Mayo: This lakeside estate was built in 1228
as a monastery. It has fairy-tale towers, suits of armor, terraced
gardens, spiral stairways and a popular bar called The Dungeon. www.ashford.ie
Bunratty Castle: www.shannonheritage.com/attractions ($19
Cliffs of Moher: www.cliffsofmoher.ie ($5 entry)
Kylemore Abbey: www.kylemoreabbey.com ($15 entry)
Gary Murphy President, Brendan Worldwide Vacations, On
Q: What is it about Ireland that makes it
special for tourists?
A: Even though it’s a small country
geographically, it offers a diverse terrain ... What it allows a
tourist to do is one day stay in a modern five-star hotel and the
next a B&B on a dairy farm, a castle constructed in the 1100s
or a Victorian home.
Q: What is the philosophy behind Brendan’s
approach to tours in Ireland?
A: All our tours are designed to bring clients
close to the culture so that they can have a visual and
We take clients on a whiskey tasting where they get a certificate
as an official whiskey taster from the factory. At the Waterford
Crystal factory, we take guests to see the cutting room and cut
crystal on the Behind the Ropes tour.
We were the first company to do tours to B&Bs in Ireland and
the first to go to Northern Ireland.
Q: Is Ireland a popular destination for
travelers from the West?
A: Yes. In fact, California is the number-one
producer of visitors to Ireland.
Q: Why Ireland as opposed to the rest of
A: You feel welcome wherever you go. The Irish
love Americans, and at Brendan, of all the areas we sell, we get
the most repeat visitors to Ireland.
By David Wishart
There are many reasons to visit the old country of Scotland,
finding your ancestors being a good start. Then there are the
rugged castles, beautiful lochs and the stirring sight of a piper
on the battlements of Edinburgh Castle.
If that’s not enough, what about golf and whisky? Even if your
clients don’t play the great game, it’s worth going to the elegant
Turnberry just to see the sunset view over the golf courses, the
sea and Isle of Arran. Turnberry, being an easy drive from Glasgow
airport, is a good place to start. Golfers and spa-lovers might
want to proceed to luxurious Cameron House, on the famed Loch
Lomond, where a fine new course, the Carrick, awaits, then drop in
at equally plush Gleneagles, site of the Ryder Cup in 2014.
Afterward, visitors can head into the Highlands, where there’s golf
and more, not to mention most of Scotland’s 40 distilleries all of
them happy to see visitors.
The Highlands of Scotland are also oozing with wonderful country
house hotels specializing in a warm welcome, chefs who source local
ingredients, such as salmon and beef, and cozy bars. Take the
Minmore House Hotel, near the whisky capital of Dufftown. The
elegant rooms look out on relaxing pastoral scenes, the main rooms
have log fires, furniture you want to take home with you and staff
whose enthusiasm is amazing. They even found a kilt for a Japanese
tourist who liked it so much he slept in it.
Minmore House, runner-up for Scottish Hotel of the Year, serves
memorable dinners in a red-walled and candlelit dining room, while
the wood-paneled bar has more than 100 whiskies. For good measure,
the night air wafts down from the Glenlivet distillery 200 yards
away. This is truly a place where you can sleep tight. Dufftown has
a heady charm, while it’s not far to the Queen’s castle at Balmoral
and Braemar with its Highland Games.
The other side of Scotland, the Western Isles, which are all of
two hours’ drive away, offers cruises with the Majestic Line, two
former fishing boats doing coastal cruising. The handsome,
12-passenger vessels visit islands such as Arran, Mull, Iona, Jura
and Islay. The boats also serve fresh seafood and allow clients to
get close to nature, wildlife and the locals. Trips are three or
six days with itineraries from Oban or Holy Loch, the latter where
U.S. Navy submarines used to be based.
Also in the west, and 87 miles from Glasgow, clients can catch
their own lunch fresh from the waters of Loch Awe at Ardanaiseig, a
stylish 16-bedroom country house hotel. The hotel has a Hook ‘n’
Cook offering, which gives guests the opportunity to do some
fishing followed by lunch on the lawn featuring the morning’s
The Majestic Line:www.themajesticline.co.uk
Scotland National Tourist Board: www.visitscotland.com
Wales is great for almost any outdoor pursuit walking, whitewater
rafting, pony trekking, wind-surfing, hang-gliding, quad biking,
mountain biking, climbing, canoeing and kayaking. Then there is the
750 miles of coastline with some of the loveliest beaches in
Europe. Looking ahead to 2010, the Ryder Cup comes to Wales, and in
the meantime, there are more than 200 golf courses to enjoy.
Ironmen will find plenty of challenges around Snowdonia in the
north, where the first conquerors of Everest trained, while the
Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains in the south are used by the
elite military SAS. Historically, Wales has a turbulent past, as
the more than 640 castles testify. Some are magnificent, such as
the 13th-century Caerphilly Castle, one of the largest in
The country’s industrial heritage is almost as impressive. The
town of Blaenavon is a World Heritage Site, its ironworks
recounting the development of iron and steel. Big Pit provides
insights into the mining experience. Visitors are outfitted with
helmets and lamps and, with former miners as guides, plunge 300
feet underground in a cage for a tour of the workings. It’s such a
good attraction it was chosen Museum of the Year. Cultural events
abound, including the famous Hay Festival of Literature, the
Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod and the Brecon Jazz
Festival. Rugby is huge here, as are male voice choirs, and
visitors will see (and hear) evidence of both in friendly pubs.
Two stimulating attractions are Cardiff’s Techniquest, a
hands-on, fun introduction to a host of scientific principles, and
the Center for Alternative Technology, near Machynlleth, a small
community that promotes a green lifestyle by living with a range of
sustainable technologies such as solar heating, wind and water
power. Cardiff, two hours from London by train, is a good place to
start your visit. Its range of hotels includes a handsome Hilton
used by the Society of American Travel Writers at its convention.
Farther north, standing in 200 acres of its own parkland near
Llandudno, is Bodysgallen Hall, a luxurious country house with
spectacular views of Snowdonia and Conwy Castle.
Bodysgallen Hall: www.bodysgallen.com
Q & A
Grainne Gallen, founding director
Go Ireland Activity Holidays
Q: What is Go Ireland?
A: Go Ireland specializes in hiking/walking,
biking and cultural vacations in Ireland. Since 1994, we’ve been
leading active, off-the-beaten-path, small-group adventures,
escorted by award-winning guides. One of our directors, Sean
O’Sullivan, is Ireland’s leading expert on walking, having founded
the Kerry Way -- Ireland’s premier walking route -- over 30 years
ago. He trained our guides and wrote the notes and maps
accompanying our tours.
Q: What’s the demographic of your clients?
A: The average age is 35-65 years, but we’ve
had children as young as 12. Travelers in their 80s have completed
Q: What parts of Ireland are covered?
A: We are based in Kerry in the southwest, and
our tours are focused in Kerry, Clare, Connemara, Aran Islands and
Donegal. They offer the best of the Atlantic Ocean, national parks
and inland routes. We offer clients a side of Ireland that few
Q: What fitness/experience level is
A: We have tours to suit all. Walks are graded
from easy to moderate with detailed descriptions, so itineraries
can be chosen according to one’s fitness level.
Q: What else do travel agents need to know?
A: Our guided tours run from April to October,
and we offer 10 percent commission.
Chapter One One of Dublin’s best, in the basement of the Dublin
Writers Museum the former Jameson (Whiskey) family home.
(chapteronerestaurant.com) Roly’s Bistro Traditional yet modern
cuisine in an informal setting. (rolysbistro.ie)
Brazen Head Dating to 1198, Ireland’s oldest pub is good for
live music and atmosphere. (brazenhead.com)
Red, County Mayo a modern gem at the Gannon Hotel in Ballinrobe.
Kings Head, Galway This 17th-century pub was named when the
building was rewarded to Richard Gunning for executing King Charles
1. Within are medieval fireplaces, ancient stone walls, and massive
hewn beams. (www.thekingshead.ie)
O’Connors Seafood, Bantry The hottest spot in town.
Mustard Seed, Adare A pretty restaurant/country inn in a
Victorian home surrounded by flower and vegetable gardens