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: like now, about 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 Peninsula, 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 – I was astounded by the staggering ocean vistas, along with the rolling sheep-studded hills and the shimmering lakes.
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'.
We got off the boat, and a short way up the rock staircase, I looked up, and simply could not believe my eyes. I knew this place, but not only as a little Irish island...
This is the planet of Ahch-To.
My parents had no idea that we were walking on the very planet that Luke Skywalker called home in The Last Jedi of Star Wars.
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 nice walk from the very comfy Hotel Ard na Sidhe, on the shores of Killarney's beautiful Caragh Lake, which is surrounded by acres of Victorian-style gardens.
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.
A night at the Killarney Park Hotel is an incredible experience you simply cannot resist. You'll be wishing you could stay another night ... or two.
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. This time we decided to spare no expense and chose the deluxe suite to enjoy our stay to the max.
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 wine from Puglia, Italy) and dessert … the exotic Mexican chocolate ganache… after which it was time to retreat to our rooms and wake 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 Old Weir Lodge, where the relaxed atmosphere and Irish hospitality are sure to make your stay a memorable one.
Being major attractions, Killarney, Kenmare, and the Ring of Kerry can easily be 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.