In these travelogues, we like taking you down the road less traveled, to places not so crowded.
But not always.
Our own life of travel takes us to the hotspots too. Nonetheless, we tend to steer you a little differently.
Often, that just means giving some common-sense advice: as now, as regards the Ring of Kerry: possibly THE hotspot on Ireland’s tourist itinerary…
and for good reason.
It is an incredible journey: a 110-mile drive around county Kerry’s Iveragh Peninsular, incorporating towns, history, food, and spectacular views and walks — By the way, the driving route is mirrored by the Kerry Way, a nine-day walking trail, (that can be segmented as preferred).
Back to the drive, and that advice: the Irish Tourism Board requests that you go in counterclockwise direction, so that’s how the tour buses go. My advice is simple: go the other way. Take the road less traveled and don't get stuck behind the buses.
It’s a long day with all the stops, so an early start helps.
This account starts from Kenmare. An impossibly lovely town, and an obvious base. The Brook Lane Hotel will host you in spectacular fashion. More advice: take a short walk down to the river there, to a restaurant called No. 35, and try the pork belly spring rolls.
From there, on the clockwise route, you drive west, along the coast of Kenmare Bay before arriving at Sneem, and the 4-star Sneem Hotel, which is set up to give you the best of everything. The setting, the service, the décor… are all nearly as good as the views from the terrace.
When we came here recently – the first time for my son – he was impressed, but as a typical teenager, not overly so. The staggering ocean vistas were appreciated, along with the rolling sheep-studded hills and the shimmering lakes, but they weren’t wowed at.
When we got to the westernmost edge of the Ring, at Portmagee, we took a boat out to Skellig Michael island… described by the writer George Bernard Shaw as An 'incredible, impossible, mad place'.
William got off the boat, and a short way up the rock staircase, he looked up, and his jaw dropped open. Hey, I know this place, he said.
This is the planet of Ahch-To.
My wife and I looked at each other, puzzled, and she said, No, this is the island of Skellig Michael. William rolled eyes at us, ignorant adults that we were, and said, … from Star Wars. The Last Jedi. This is the planet Luke Skywalker lived on.
Sure enough, it was.
If you’ve seen The Last Jedi, you’ll have a sense of this otherworldly location: the many many steep steps up to the monastery, the impossibly green grass, the insanely high cliffs, and the wild Atlantic waves.
After Skellig Michael, we were thoroughly engrossed, by the stone fort at Cahergal, by the impossibly pretty waterfall at Kells Bay House and Gardens, and by the town of Glenbeigh, on the Carragh Lake.
Sunset watching is recommended from various spots around there. I suggest watching from Rossbeigh Beach: a short walk from the very comfy Driftwood B&B, which has the full electronic suite, en suite. That means TV, WI, USB, all on hand in your room.
We’re almost done with our clockwise round trip. I’ve literally flown through it. There is SO much else to see and do. But it’s such a popular drive, it seems superfluous to describe what’s been described so extensively.
That said, no tour of the Ring is complete without stopping in Killarney, the eastern-most of the towns here, and by far its most popular starting point.
It’s said that the Ring of Kerry starts and ends at Killarney, which sits on the shore of the expansive Lake Leane, and is within the 26000 acre Killarney National Park … which is, through the year, an enchanting green woodland, a burst of fragrant color, a shower of red and gold, and a snow-filled wonderland.
Despite my preference for out-of-the-way places, I think Killarney is the jewel in the Ring: its most exquisite site… and I’m not alone. Killarney is Ireland’s number one tourist mecca.
Crowds throng the streets during its many festivals, it’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, and its sporting events … which include the Irish Open Golf Championship and the Killarney Races, held at what is the most scenic and romantic track I’ve ever been to.If, like me, you fancy a bit of a punt, the racing season is May through August… when fashion and style come out to play, and the racing is fast and hard.
Race day style is mirrored everyday by Killarney itself – in its immaculate streets and sidewalks, its spick-and-span shop fronts, that look like works of art, its manicured gardens, and its gorgeous gothic-spired St Mary’s Cathedral.
The clip-clop of hooves is a familiar sound. Horse-drawn carriages, called ‘jaunting cars’ are a unique feature here, adding to what is the epitome of Irish country elegance.
Knowing how I love the ‘swank’ of Killarney, my wife Maria treated the two of us to a night at the Killarney Park Hotel.
Note: this isn’t your everyday B&B. But we think a 5-star Killarney experience should be on the bucket list – for those of us who only live once. So she splashed out, booked us into a deluxe suite, thus placing us into flawless care of the concierge and his staff.
Tea was al fresco petit fours on the terrace on the Garden Bar. Beer was a Huggard Irish Pale Ale. Dinner was melt-in-the-mouth venison, and lake-caught trout in The Park Restaurant, wine was Ortonese, Sangiovese (a lovely Merlot from Puglia, Italy) and dessert … we both couldn’t resist the Mexican chocolate ganache… after which we cocooned ourselves in the lap of luxury and woke to the sumptuous 5-star breakfast.
Sure, it cost us an arm and a leg, but that expense is long forgotten, while the incredible memory lingers.
For the more practically-minded, the Killarney Riverside Hotel feels like 5-star, and you’re in the same stunning part of the world. Speaking of which, Ross Castle, within walking distance of the Riverside Hotel, is another elegant monument on the Killarney skyline.
For a more homey feel, book in at the adorable Fuchsia Guest House, where Erica and Patrick will accommodate you in fine Killarney style.
Being major attractions, Killarney, Kenmare, and the Ring of Kerry can be easily reached, via Kerry Airport, Bus Eireann, Irish Rail, or by following the road signs from Cork, Limerick, Galway or even Dublin. The coach tours are booked through travel agents, and cars can be rented here.
If you do nothing else in Ireland, come to Kerry, and Killarney.