One-of-a-kind views of spellbinding scenery. The stories of maritime towns and picture-book villages. Ancient castles steeped in historyand country inns full of character. The further we go into its enchanting landscapes, the deeper you’ll fall under Southern Ireland’s spell.
While we begin the day inDublin, saying hello to our tourguide and fellow travellers, wequickly say goodbye to the cityOne-of-a-kind views of spellbinding scenery. The stories of maritime towns and picture-book villages. Ancient castles steeped in historyand country inns full of character. The further we go into its enchanting landscapes, the deeper you’ll fall under Southern Ireland’s spell.and cross into Southern Ireland’sspectacular countryside. Andwe don’t have to go far beforewe’re in County Kildare. Itsjewel-like scenery, criss-crossedwith waterways, has been thebreeding ground for some ofthe world’s finest horses. So it’sonly right that our first stop isthe Irish National Stud, wherewe’re treated to a private tour,an exclusive jockey’s-eye-viewof the horses and the chanceto explore the fascinating museum.But this is a stable with asurprise up its sleeve – it’s alsohome to exquisite and muchcelebrated Japanese Gardens.The afternoon sees us swappagodas for the potager gardenat Galway’s Portumna Castle, agrand house with roots in the1600s. At this point, we’vereached the southwest cornerof Ireland and arrived in Ennis.The capital of County Clare is an11th century market town andthe place where we’ll lay ourheads for the night. But not beforetucking in to a three-coursewelcome dinner. (D)
Ennis’ character-filled avenuesare ideal for meandering. Buta walking tour really bringsto life the enthralling tales ofrebellions and riots, myths andmysteries that swirl around thesemedieval lanes. When we moveon to the UNESCO Geopark ofthe Burren and Cliffs of Moher,your imagination will really runwild. The best view of theseuntamed landscapes comes byboat, so we take to the water ona mini-cruise and marvel at thesheer scale of these awe-inspiring,700ft natural phenomena.The keen-eyed among us – orperhaps just those who packedbinoculars – may even spot aresident puffin.Back on dry land and on toKillarney, a chocolate-box townthat’s the gateway to the panoramicRing of Kerry. (B)
Edge-of-the-world seascapes.Rippling green lands studdedwith ancient forts. Throw inwelcoming villages that rubshoulders with mysterious ruinsand you have the beguiling Ringof Kerry. At the Skellig Experiencewe glimpse the lives ofearly Christian monks that brokebread here. In pretty-as-a-postcardPortmagee, we soak upthe sight of tiny boats bobbingbefore brightly coloured fishermen’shouses. And at StaigueFort we go back in time to300AD. Then it’s on to Sneem, avillage brimming with traditionalbuildings, restaurants and craftshops, known as the ‘Knot in theRing’. It’s an all-round romanticplace to end our day in whateverway you fancy. (B, D)
We’re at the mouth of KenmareBay, in the town founded by SirWilliam Petty in 1670, as themorning rays rise. Our first stopof the day is Molly Gallivan’s cottage.At first glance it seems tobe a rustic farmhouse in a ruralspot, frozen in time. But there’smore to it. 200 years ago, thisenterprising widow supportedher seven children by brewingillicit whiskey – and her homewas in fact a clandestine pub.That brings us to the medievaltown of Kinsale. Sea-and-sandviews,cosy pubs and brightly-hued houses make this apicturesque port of call – andour final stop today. (B)
The cobbled streets that curvearound this pretty bay are justbegging to be explored. So wespend the morning on a walkingtour of Kinsale. A local guidelets us in on the town’s secretsand maritime traditions, leadingus to the 800-year-old Churchof Saint Multose and the uniquestar-shaped Charles Fort.Just a hop, skip and jump awayis Cork, the county city. Ourwhirlwind tour takes in its mustseesights, before we departfor the coast and to Cobh – amaritime hub that’s played ahuge role in Irish culture. It wasthe departure point for thelast 123 passengers to boardthe Titanic and you’ll noticepoignant markers of this aroundthe town. It’s also home to theOld Midleton Distillery, wherewe see how this iconic whiskey iscrafted – and sample its smoothcharacter for ourselves. We geta final cultural fix as we absorbthe medieval charm of Kilkennybefore indulging in a final feast –fit for a king. (B, D)
The trip’s not over just yet.Before heading back to Dublin,we make time to stroll aroundKilkenny’s 12th century castleand the charismatic parklandthat unfolds around it. Our routeto the capital is just as scenic.Keep your camera poised as ourcoach climbs heather-clad hills and crosses fairytale glens thatcarpet the Wicklow Mountains.At the heart of that dramaticscenery is Avoca village, wherewe pay homage to an Irish institution– Ballykissangel. Pull up astool in Fitzgerald’s Pub, madefamous in the BBC TV series.Then pick up one final mementoof your travels at the WoollenMills. (B)