Over the bank holiday weekend, VIP’s Staff Editor Niamh Devereux decided that she wanted to try a staycation with a difference. The Wild Atlantic Way, a tourism trail on Ireland’s stunning west coast, became popular following the success of The Gathering in 2013, and it’s not difficult to see why. With absolutely breathtaking scenery, the route encompasses seven counties and is truly a one-of-a-kind adventure. Here’s how VIP fared, and where we stayed along the way…
Early on Saturday morning, I travelled up to Donegal from Dublin to get the trip underway. Firstly, I should mention that I opted to travel the west coast in a slightly more, eh, daring way: via motorbike. I’m no James Dean, though, I was just the backseat passenger, but it’s an incredible way to get around – and you can still fit luggage on the side, which was an obvious initial concern!
As I was making my way to the top of the country, I wanted to kick off the WAW experience by going to the most northernly point – Malin Head. Located on the Inishowen Peninsula, it’s no wonder this landscape caught the eye of Star Wars film scouts. The view from the top is just sea for as far as the eye can see (try say that three times at speed!), and it’s incredibly peaceful.
After sitting atop the very tip, Banba’s Crown (named after a mythical goddess of Ireland), and listening the crashing waves, I decided to call into the nearby ‘Farren’s Bar’, pitched as Ireland’s most Northerly Pub, for a cold beer in its sun-soaked garden. God bless the Leaving Cert weather eh? Farren’s is full of charming locals, who will happily point out any other spots worth visiting along the way.
As the evening approached, it was time to check in to Lough Eske, a restored 17th-century castle that is so picturesque, it’s like stepping into a postcard. After a long day on the bike, it was incredible to indulge in the luxury of the five-star hotel, which has a rich history dating back to the 1400s. I walked around the lovely gardens, visited the adjacent lake and dined in the Cedar’s Grill restaurant; top tip, order the Inver Bay Scallops! I also stopped by Spa Solís for a soothing back massage, and left feeling ready for the next leg of the trip.
Another early start, and this time the GPS destination was set for Sligo. Mullaghmore Head, to be precise. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this landscape, as I wasn’t entirely familiar with it (geography was never my best subject in school…) – but trust me, it’s one of Ireland’s hidden gems.
Under the glaring sun (seriously, I couldn’t have been luckier with the weather), I took in panoramic views of the Sliabh Liag Cliffs and Classiebawn Castle with huge rock formation Belbulben in the background. The coolest part of Mullaghmore is its ‘Prowlers’ – waves like no other with swells said to be up to 100ft. I was told that they’re even more impressive in the winter months, so I’ll just have to make a return visit. Next up, I made my way to the Connemara Loop, which was – to be frank – outrageously beautiful. Majestic mountains, mist covered lakes, quaint villages; it sounds like a fairytale, right? Well… it kind of is.
With all the hustle and busy of city living, it was pretty incredible to be surrounded by such tranquility, and to step back in time to an untouched era. I could have stayed for, eh, life, but time was ticking on, so I peeled myself away to travel to the last location of the day: Aghadoe Heights in Killarney. Located on the northern hills of the Co Kerry tourist town, overlooking Lough Leane and the MacGillicuddy Reeks, the view from my room was in a word, breathtaking.
It was one I could never tire of staring at, and peeling back the curtains and being greeted with such a stunning sight was the most surreal way to start the day. The muscles were aching after spending the day on the road, and the luxury hotel’s thermal suite left me fresh and rejuvenated. A glass of vino was in order afterwards, and Aghadoe’s The Heights Lounge & Piano Bar was the perfect setting. Utter bliss.
I awoke feeling pretty sad that it was the last day of my WAW sightseeing – five days is probably more realistic to fit everything in. That said, my final day was probably my favourite. After an incredible breakfast in Aghadoe (Brioche French toast with walnut honey and fresh fruit, so delicious), it was time to drive through the Ring of Kerry. Words, nor photos, do this justice, it’s simply an experience you have to do yourself. The best way to describe the sights is mesmerising; with every turn, more beautiful views pop up – and just as you think you’ve reached peak beauty, the next sight outdoes the last.
Quite simply, it’s chicken soup for the soul. I ended up going off the beaten track, but that just made the journey more interesting. Travelling by bike, you can go on minor roads that cut through the hills, notably the Ballaghisheen Pass between Killorglin and Waterville or the Ballaghbeama Gap from Glenbeigh to Gearha Bridge. By the way, speaking of the Star Wars crew in Donegal; it would be a sin to miss out on Skellig Michael, where filming took place for The Force Awakens. The view is out of this world (or galaxy, if you excuse the pun…). My final resting place was to be in the Imperial Hotel, Cork city’s most central hotel, which is about one minute away from the main shopping street, with plenty of great bars and pubs – not to forget Blarney Castle and Cork City Gaol.
I felt extremely spoiled when I realised I’d be staying in the Penthouse – and what a treat it was! Utter luxury, with a gorgeous balcony overlooking the city, and even the option to have a barbecue! Instead, I visited The Pembroke restaurant for dinner in the hotel, and I have one nugget of advice if you’re thinking of staying here: get the chocolate fondant for dessert. To. Die. For! The stay was rounded up with a visit to the Escape Spa, which is one of the nicest spas I’ve ever been to. I had a hydrating facial and dry float, and afterwards I relaxed with champagne in the gorgeous tranquility room – the perfect end to the perfect trip.
For more information on the Wild Atlantic Way, the official site wildatlanticway.com is all you need – it has recommendations, maps, stories; the lot. Happy travels!