ESCAPE TO THE ENCHANTMENT OF THE EMERALD ISLE
Haunting, verdant hills and a terrain expanding to meet the horizon greet you. Welcome to the Wild Atlantic Way of Southwestern Ireland, which showcases a raw beauty and stunning Mother Nature environs you’ll long treasure. With romantic coastlines and natural splendors, the Irish countryside conjures up tales of druids and leprechauns. This region of the Emerald Isle with the Ring of Kerry is a rainbow parfait of natural wonders and landscapes not-to-be missed, including heather-clad mountains and azure lakes. Jam-packed with drama, humor, rugged beauty and majestic history, Ireland is a Celtic mystery awaiting your discovery. The tiny country has a bountiful kaleidoscope of hidden treasures.
The brisk autumn panorama of Dingle or Loop Head Peninsula, for example, offers walkers or trekkers a breathtaking cliff walk with spectacular lush wildlife, history, geology and a rich tapestry of scenery. There are lighthouses galore, each with its own story to tell from days gone by. There are also pubs for a chat with locals. Oscar Wilde quipped the Irish are the “greatest talkers” since the ancient Greeks and you’ll experience some of that over a Guinness or Bushmills. Pub-hopping is an authentic way to imbibe since pubs are the significant pillar and pulse of Irish society. I cherished the divine, traditional cuisine of soda bread, prawns, Cooley lamb and Lough Neagh eels. Corned beef and cabbage, fresh oysters, hoppy beer and boxty (potato pancakes) round out the typical fare. You may also indulge in a gourmet tour, meeting artisan producers following an invigorating and exhilarating trek, round of golf, cycle adventure or equestrian hack. Order a pint of stout and indulge in the spectacular Atlantic views with a chance to spot a dolphin! Most first-time sojourners to the WAW are surprised at the number of Gaelic speakers, the story-telling traditions and charming pub theater offerings.
SKELLIG MICHAEL ISLAND
Movie buffs will want to include a tour to Skellig Michael Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Accessible only by boat, Skellig Island was selected by Director J.J. Abrams for filming the closing scene of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. Today it’s inhabited only by birds, but monks settled here over a millennium ago and the beehive huts they lived in are restored and can be toured with advance bookings (heads up for Episode VIII, which also has scenes in the WAW). County Kerry is aptly also one of only three Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserves in the world. For star gazers this is sublime. The beautiful band of the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, star clusters and nebulas are just some of the naked eye wonders to see without the aid of any astronomical equipment.
RING OF KERRY
Iveragh Peninsula, also known as the Ring of Kerry, is perhaps Ireland’s best known scenic drives complete with Staigue Fort, the quaint village of Sneem, and Derrynane, a former manor and present day museum. Ideal for historic tours and elegant accommodations is Parknasilla Resort and Spa. It features golf, tennis, cycling and equestrian activities with plenty of Celtic hospitality.
MUSIC AND MERRIMENT
The Irish welcome makes the WAW even more of an adventure, spectacular and memorable. Ceol Agus Craic means music and merriment (like the reel and the jig) and you’ll find each village and pub buzzes with its own brand of sounds.
PARKNASILLA RESORT AND SPA
For an authentic Irish pampering with rich hospitality, divine cuisine and sports galore, escape to one of the internationally-known resorts in the Ring of Kerry. I slipped away to Parknasilla to refresh my heart, mind and soul and discovered some of the finest gastronomy and most luxurious accommodations imaginable. Indulging in their stunning landscapes and views of Kenmare Bay, I surrounded myself with regal Mother Nature and service fit for Kings and Queens. Part of the Irish Country Hotels and just a couple of hours from Shannon, Parknasilla is a well-kept secret for duffers and those simply seeking the 4-star “R&R” they showcase. Courtyard lodges and woodland villas replete with impeccable amenities characterize the property – but my greatest passion was the Parknasilla Spa with surrounding natural beauty of woodlands, mountains and ocean. I shed years, buckets of stress and all worries as I imbibed in a variety of world-class treatments focused for relaxation and rejuvenation. The 500 lush acres showcase a myriad of resort activities as well…horse riding, kayaking, archery, fishing, boating, hiking and walking, and tennis are among the rich tapestry of offerings. Being an equestrian, I loved my early morning ride (or “hack” as the Irish say). But even a simple walk in the lovely woods on the scenic trails will open your heart and mind.
George Bernard Shaw described Parknasilla as "a place of long sea views and intricate walks between ferns and fuchsias, rock and rhododendron, to burnt out castles lost within the woods and along the various fingers of land that point south West into the warm Atlantic this place does not belong to any world that you or I have ever worked or lived in
...........it is a part of our dream world."
OLD GROUND HOTEL/B&B
Just down the road lies another charming, heavenly oasis showcasing the rich, twinkling hospitality, deja-vu ambience and an abundant Irish breakfast fare suitable even for James Joyce. Humble yet authentic, the quaint Old Ground Hotel/B&B is not to be missed if you want a slice of the region's kindness and cuisine. The welcoming kindness made me want to stay for weeks! I made more heartfelt friends in seconds than perhaps on any other journey.
Also in Ennis is a lovely window to the past. Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is one of Ireland’s top visitor attractions. A visit to the Castle, the most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland, and the captivating Folk Park, is a wonderful experience for all the family. Built in 1425, the majestic Castle was restored in 1954 to its former medieval splendor. It now contains mainly 15th and 16th century furnishings, tapestries and works of art, which capture the mood of the times. Marvel at the finest collection of medieval furniture in the country, which brings to life a vital part of the medieval past.
The rich tapestry of the area known as The Burren also includes the stunning Cliffs of Moher, a not to be missed day trip from Ennis.
This authentic hospitality and stunning landscape will linger in your heart and mind for years to come.
Jody Reed is formerly a writer at the White House and TV Consumer Reporter. A 17-year veteran travel writer, she is published regionally and nationally and is a member of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association.