Our own Katie Daly just experienced our ‘Best of the West’ at the end of 2009. Read all about her trip below!
One of the many advantages of working in Irish Tourism is that I get to travel home on a regular basis to sample first hand new itineraries, routes and products in Ireland. Last October I traveled with my husband Liam to the West of Ireland to tour our “Best of the West” Self Drive program. The West of Ireland is filled with wonderful atmospheric towns and villages, stunning countryside and long stretches of amazing coastline. We stayed two nights in Mayo, two in Galway and two in Killarney. We hired a car but of course this tour is also available with a driver and guide. After a busy few months in New York it was simply the perfect escape………
Day 1: Shannon to Westport
There is something quite magical about arriving into Shannon Airport. (I usually fly in and out of Dublin Airport, being from the midlands). As the plane prepared to land, you could almost touch the green grass at your feet!! We picked up our bags, picked up the rental car, bundled up and headed north to Westport. The drive to Galway is very straight and direct, it took about 1 hour and 15 minutes and the traffic at that hour of the morning was okay. Another hour and a half brought us to Westport where we checked into the Wyatt Hotel. The location of this quaint Irish hotel is excellent, right in the heart of Westport, a truly unique and charming Irish town and a captivating blend of traditional and modern. We slept for a few hours and then strolled down the street that evening in search of a nice restaurant for dinner. We dined in a great new restaurant called “An Port Mor” and the food was second to none. After dinner we walked across the street to Matt Malloys pub and the trad session was in full swing. We came back to the Wyatt to get an early night only to discover another trad session at the Cobbler’s bar in the Wyatt. It was great to meet and chat with the locals……
Day 2: Westport to Pontoon
The next morning after a lovely Irish breakfast at the Wyatt we traveled north to Foxford in Mayo (about 40 minutes from Westport). The Pontoon Bridge Hotel is situated between the shores of Lough Cullen and Lough Conn (renowned trout & salmon lakes). The hotel boasts some of the finest breathtaking views as it is nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and surrounded by oak woods and forests. This was a dream escape -our own little retreat and the hustle and bustle and gridlock of New York City was but a distant memory. The hotel is run by the Geary family for the past 43 years and has 3 schools-cookery, fishing and landscape painting. We enjoyed dinner that night at the Twin Lakes Restaurant and enjoyed the ceoil and the craic at the Waterfront bar afterwards…..
Day 3: Pontoon to Galway
After breakfast at the Pontoon Bridge, we went for a short stroll on the grounds before we set off again. We traveled south to the area north of Galway called Connemara. The Connemara countryside, made famous by a number of well known movies – such as the John Wayne movie – “The Quiet Man”, and more recently “The Field” is a wild and beautiful region of mountains, lakes, streams undulating bog, unspoilt beaches and panoramic views. It is primarily a Gaelic- speaking region. We stopped to visit Kylemore Abbey, the only home of the Benedictine nuns in Ireland. The fascinating history of the Abbey is interpreted in detail in each room. (It was originally built by Mitchell Henry, M.P. for County Galway as a gift for his wife, who fell in love with the site overlooking Loch Na Coille Moire (the lake of the big wood) when they came here on their honeymoon in 1860s). The Gothic Church, set in the grounds of the Abbey, is the jewel in the crown of Kylemore. We availed of the nun’s excellent home cooking at the restaurant before we traveled south to Galway. (About 1.5 hours).
We arrived into Galway and checked into the Ardilaun Hotel. The hotel is about 1 mile from the city center, located in a quite, secluded area in Galway. I have stayed at the Ardilaun a number of times in the past few years and can now call it my home from home in Galway. We had a beautiful meal at the Camilaun Restaurant (never disappoints), before retiring for the evening.
Day 4: Galway
Before breakfast we went down to the leisure center for a swim…all this fine food comes at a price!!! We had planned on taking the ferry out to the Aran Islands but the weather wasn’t co operating so we decided to enjoy the day in the City instead! Galway City -City of the Tribes!! This medieval city has so much to offer-Music, pubs, restaurants, shops, theatres and most of all the Galway people. The Galway Arts Festival and the world renowned Galway Races take place in July. Highlights of our tour included Eyre Square, a very attractive town square, where a plaque stands to the memory of John F Kennedy, who was made a Freeman of the City shortly before his death in 1963, St. Nicholas’ Church, O’Brien’s Bridge and the Spanish Arch. We visited Lynches Castle one of the finest surviving town castles in Ireland dating from the early 15th century. It has decorative features found only in Southern Spain. We also stopped at Lynches Window-legend has it that the Mayor of Galway in the early 16th century hanged his own son, who had confessed to murdering a visiting Spaniard and hence comes the expression “Lynching!”
That night we had dinner at the lovely Malt House in the city before returning to the Ardilaun Hotel….
Day 5: Galway to Killarney
We got on the road early this morning and traveled along the Clare Coastline through Kinvara and Ballyvaughan and down to the Cliffs of Moher. It was a beautiful day (of course it never rains in Ireland!) and I was completely blown away by the whole experience. We parked the car and went into the Atlantic Edge Interpretative Centre first. The underground domed cave has 4 main themes that explore the different elements of the Cliffs – Ocean, Rock, Nature and Man. Then down to the Long Desk Restaurant café for a “cup of tea” before we set out for the Cliffs. The café has a fabulous panoramic view of the Cliffs. We walked along the Cliffs edge, they were frightening, fierce and magical all at the same time and should not be missed on a visit to this region.
We traveled south to Kilimer and took the ferry to Tarbert in the Kingdom of Kerry!! We traveled south through Tralee and onto Killarney (about 1.5 hours) where we checked into the Riverside Hotel. After a long and energetic day’s traveling we had a lovely meal at the Bacchus Restaurant at the hotel.
Day 6: Ring of Kerry
Two days in the southwest of Ireland is not enough!! Over breakfast we deliberated over which peninsula to tour-The Ring of Kerry, the Beara Peninsula or the Dingle Peninsula. We decided to tour the Ring of Kerry (or Iveragh Peninsula to give it its correct name). The spectacular beauty of this peninsula is beyond question and it is a natural centre for outdoor pursuits (golf, cycling, walking, riding and fishing). It has some of the finest beaches in Europe. But above all the Ring of Kerry provides an amazing insight into the ancient heritage of Ireland – to see the Iron Age Forts & Ogham Stones, Old Monasteries and a landscape carved out of rock by the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago. The length of the tour is about 100 miles and we spent the full day touring, stopping in little villages and towns as we traveled along.
That night we had dinner at the Laurels Restaurant and the Bantry Bay mussels were the best I have ever tasted!!!
Day 7: Depart
Depart from Shannon Airport……but I took a few extra days to travel back home to Co.Meath and spend some time with my family before traveling back to New York!!!
From $645.00 per person you can enjoy a Best of the West trip like Katie’s above.
Tags: Best of the West
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