Saturday, August 1, 2009

hidden ireland...

Just returned from a fabulous holiday in Ireland, County Kerry to be exact. We toured this beautiful and rugged southwest corner of the country, traveling along the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic for a little over a week. I can’t say we saw the sun much on this trip, but we discovered so many shining things while on the Emerald Isle!

Never have I met such amazing people when traveling- casual, comfortable, welcoming and fun. It was seven days of hikes through green rocky countryside finished with meals of the absolute freshest seafood I have ever eaten in my life (and coming from a coastal person, that is really saying something).

As an equestrian, I made sure to ride some of the sturdy Irish cobbs and draft horses while there- along beaches and down winding cliffs. Once we even rode straight through the middle of a town, past cafes and stunned shoppers, around a round-about, past an eighteen wheeler, and out to the beaches.

The trip had its share of sights, including stone circles (a’ la Stone Henge), castles, fishing villages full of lobster traps and brightly painted boats, stone cottages and bridges and fences, traditional Irish music, and Guinness of course! The final day was by far the most impressive, as we toured the great Blaskett Island, one of the last bastions of traditional Gaelic culture. The people of this island had a rich oral traditional and maintained their traditional way of life until the mid twentieth century, when the peat bog depletion forced them to move to the Irish mainland. A chartered boat delivered us to the island through rough seas, and left us to explore abandoned stone houses, overgrown hedgerows and fences that once held sheep and cattle, down tiny paths that wound around the rugged island. What a fascinating place.

Pictured below are (left to right, top row down) stone circles outside Kenmare, Lobster Traps in Port McGee, Cart Rides through the Gap of Dunloe, Great Blaskett Island, Dingle Bay, a Cottage on Great Blaskett, Dingle Horse Riding, a Tower Overlooking Dingle Bay, Placing Bets at the Dingle Races with less than professional-looking bookies.

A few spots to not miss if you ever make it to this part of the world:

The Lime Tree Restaurant, Kenmare, Ireland

An intimate “Double Award Winner” Michelin restaurant that serves fabulous seafood and local lamb set in an 1800’s building in the heart of quaint Kenmare.

Stop by the Park Hotel for drinks before or after dinner. While we didn’t get a chance to stay at the Park hotel, which overlooks the beautiful bay of Kenmare, it definitely seems to be the best hotel in the area.

I also recommend Out of the Blue in Dingle for seafood lovers- their slogan is “Meat eaters need not apply”, and you wont be disappointed.

And don’t miss Fenton’s in Dingle as well. While it may seem like a casual, ordinary seafood restaurant, the food was divine. “Crab Thumbs” as they call them (seemed to be just like stone crab claws to me) kept me thinking about Fenton’s for days.

Finally, if you want help planning your own vacation to Ireland, I have to recommend Hidden Ireland Tours, who planned our trip from top to bottom and didn’t disappoint at all. My good friend Binky organizes the trips and has fabulous contacts over there to get you to the most out of the way, unknown spots, the best local restaurants, the best sights and walks that you would never find on your own.

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