THE BITTER TASTE OF THE SWEET LIFE
In this realm of moors and forests, it would be no great surprise to meet white-robed druids gathering mistletoe with their billhooks. The Irish landscapes bear witness to the country’s Celtic roots. Back in the hills, where thousands of cows graze, stand ancient megalithic monuments, steeped in mystery and seemingly without number. These immense stones, standing upright, superimposed, arranged in circles and spirals, were no doubt the scene of lost religious ceremonies. Like the Drombeg Cromlech, a stone circle also known as “the Druid’s Altar” in County Cork. Ireland’s Gaelic language may have declined down the centuries, but its Celtic music is alive and thriving. On Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17, the sound of bagpipes and bodhráns (small traditional drums) echoes in the streets.
The celebrations are as friendly and cheerful as the Irish themselves, who crowd the pubs to toast their patron saint. The tipple of choice is Guinness, the rich black stout that fuels every Irish evening with its distinctive flavor of roasted grain.
While conviviality reigns in the cities and villages, the countryside reveals nature in its purest state. Starting with the steep, rocky coasts: around the port town of Ardmore, the waves break dramatically against the cliffs, where hikers brave the squalls to explore the dizzying heights. Shielded from the ocean’s fury, but no less spectacular, Kenmare Bay stretches inland, sprinkled with islets where seals come to bask in the sun.
In Ireland’s beautiful southwest corner, Killarney and its lakes are overlooked by McGillycuddy’s Reeks, a mountain range whose jagged peaks have a wild majesty belying their modest altitude. With their gray stone walls, the castles and manors of Ireland fit perfectly into their surroundings. Like Lismore Castle, one of the finest, whose clusters of square crenellated towers rise from the banks of the Blackwater River. Behind their thick walls, some of these structures house immense, convoluted stills where visitors can discover another Irish tradition. The oldest distillery of them all is Old Bushmills, whose triple-distilled whiskey captures the flavor of Ireland: slightly bitter at first, then gradually revealing a delicate, refined intensity.
Hotel and restaurant on a river. Surrounded by purple heather-covered mountains, Kenmare is one of the spots in Ireland that the Irish themselves like best. Sheen Falls Lodge is not only perfectly placed for exploring the southwest, the Ring of Beara, Ring of Kerry and the famous Killarney Lakes, but it is also known for its piano-jazz ambience, its collection of old Irish whiskeys, and the dishes prepared with the salmon caught in the nearby river. There are unrivalled views of Kenmare Bay, the McGuillicuddy Reeks and cascading Sheen waterfalls. All of this, combined with outstanding Irish hospitality and Celtic legends, creates a sense of magic that pervades. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in the country. To arrive in this part of Ireland from Dublin, pass through the magical countryside of Wicklow, a county nestled between the sea and the mountains and boasting some of Ireland’s most stunning landscapes. Rosslare port is also very close to Marlfield House. It is in this unspoilt, yet easily accessible region that the Bowe family chose to create their gem of a hotel, a model of conviviality and elegance complete with a rose garden and woodland walks. Dining in the conservatory is delightful. Here, life is about enjoyment, don’t we call the Irish “the Latin people of the North”? ... Learn moreless
Restaurant and hotel in town. The Heritage town of Kenmare, in mystical Kerry, is home to this Victorian gem. Dating from 1897, the hotel enjoys a splendid location, with manicured gardens running to the lapping shores of Kenmare Bay. This is the Ireland of which you have always dreamed with its rugged coastal drives. Outdoor lovers will enjoy the many mountain and coastal walks in the area, championship golf links and fishing nearby. The SAMAS spa offers a wide range of personalised treatments. At the end of an idyllic day you can watch a classic in the hotel’s small private cinema, enjoying a very rare aged, peaty malt. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in a park. “Yesterday, I saw a most delightful place indeed, much beyond any place I have seen in Ireland – Ballyfin”. The observation by an aristocratic 18th century visitor is still there today. The 600 acre demesne is a place of tranquillity and great natural beauty. Created and refined over the past 400 years with its woodlands, lake, water features, grottos, follies and walled gardens, it provides an idyllic private world for guests to explore and enjoy a range of activities. At its centre is the late Georgian House which has been carefully and thoroughly restored to provide an exceptional level of comfort and luxury combined with all the facilities to be expected in a grand hotel. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant on the seafront. Cliff House Hotel is in a stunning location, overlooking Ardmore Bay. The hotel’s architecture is truly extraordinary as it has been built right onto the side of the cliff. The bar and outdoor terrace, the restaurant, spa and each guest room all enjoy exceptional views of the expansive bay. With direct access to the sea, the hotel offers numerous outdoor activities, such as ocean kayaking, surfing, whale watching, fishing and rock climbing. There are many beaches nearby and you can walk to St. Declan’s Well on the famous Cliff Walk. Lismore Castle and the Midleton Whiskey distillery are easy to reach from Ardmore. ... Learn moreless