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The Irish poet W.B. Yeats once wrote: “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
For many of us, that means the joys of travel. Last month Ireland became the first country in Europe to open up to fully vaccinated British travellers – without the need to take tests or to self-isolate.
And with that, the time is right to experience off-grid Ireland, with its rich history steeped in folklore and mythology – and there are plenty to choose from. Places where locals, or those ‘in the know’, choose to visit, from fishing villages to remote islands, quiet mountains and empty beaches.
Here’s where to go, and where you should stay, if you’re looking for an incredible Irish escape.
1. Dalkey Island
Long before Matt Damon described his Dalkey quarantine as “like a fairytale”, the ‘Amalfi Coast of Ireland’ has been a coveted spot, and the most affluent suburb of Dublin. The handsome Irish coastal village is the perfect escape from the capital (around 30 minutes away) and has been home to writers and artists such as George Bernard Shaw, Bono and Maeve Binchy. Stroll further along to the next village, Killiney, if only just to gasp at the sublime celebrity cribs looking out to the big blue.
Dalkey Island is so close to Dublin, but it remains a peaceful place that feels far removed from the fair city. Pack a picnic and jump on the short boat ride from Coliemore Harbour to get there. The island has an interesting history that can be traced back 6,000 years, some of which is still evident in its ancient church and sturdy Martello Tower. If you’re lucky, you’ll see wild goats, rabbits and seals.
Where to stay
A mere 10-minute drive from Dalkey is the beautiful townhouse Haddington House in Dun Laoghaire. It’s an ideal place to stay due to its coastal location and proximity to both Dalkey and Dublin – you get the best of city and coast. If you’d prefer a city stay with all the trimmings then book one of the luxurious new rooms at The Westbury in Dublin, and take the 35-minute DART ride to Dalkey.
2. Dunmore East
While some parts of Cork and Kerry can be overrun with tourists, this little coastal spot in the Munster province has maintained its original local flavour. Make your way to Dunmore East by taking the Copper Coast Drive from Rosslare in Wexford, Dungarvan or Waterford. Spy the thatched, chalk-white cottages and follow the road down to the tiny, sandy beach. Try the Dunmore East Cliff Walk which hugs the coast – on a clear day, there are unbeatable views of Hook Head Lighthouse. And, if you’re around for a while, do the whole 100 miles of this spirit-reviving coastal road trip.
Where to stay
For a local cottage stay book Butterfly Cottage, a gorgeous thatched property directly across from the beach, run by the owners of the stylish family-friendly hotel The Strand Inn.
3. Coumshingaun Lake, The Comeraghs
A skip and a hop from spectacular Mahon Falls (262ft high), the Coumshingaun Lough Loop is a somewhat challenging walk that takes around four hours. The reward is peering down onto the beautiful lake, with the patchwork of green counties stretched out ahead. Don’t miss the ‘magic road’, where cars have been known to roll uphill. Rumour has it fairies are responsible: it’s said the magical Tuatha de Danann (Ireland’s fairy-folk) were the first to arrive on the Emerald Isle. Not to upset the wee folk, but it’s most likely an optical illusion.
Where to stay
There are many authentic local Irish guesthouses nearby such as Hanora’s Cottage Guesthouse in the blissful Nire Valley, or base yourself in Waterford (a 40-minute drive) and experience a small luxury castle stay at Waterford Castle.
4. Inisheer, Aran Islands
Out of the islands that comprise the Aran trio, look no further than Inisheer – or Inis Oírr – for the ultimate in remote escapes. The smallest of the Aran Islands has just over 260 Irish-speaking residents. Take the ferry from Galway (no cars are allowed) and envelope yourself in wild beauty: jagged cliffsides, windswept shorelines, a spectrum of green for miles. Listen to locals chatter in their native tongue as you loop the island on a bike. And go soon before Martin McDonagh’s new film starring Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisheer, is released.
Where to stay
For a more down-to-earth experience on Inisheer, go wild at Rua Camping. Or, if glamping appeals more, make your base on Inis Mor instead as there are more accommodation options such as Arran Islands Glamping and Camping which is set facing the sugar-like sands and see-through waters on Frenchman’s Beach.
5. The Mourne Mountains
Seeking a digital detox after the last 18-months? Then, head for the Mourne Mountains in County Down. The Silent Valley is exactly what it says it is on the tin – a vast, soundless reservoir with no maddening din. Breathe deeply and amble along the Mourne Wall, there are few distractions, just the healing natural landscape; after all, it’s one of the places that inspired CS Lewis’s Narnia.
Where to stay
For a natural retreat, stargaze at Willowtree, an adults-only glamping site at the foot of the Mourne Mountains. Located beside the sea, you can see where the mountains and water meet. Stay in a Molly tent and tune into the wilderness sounds; they also run yoga retreats throughout the year.