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Travel Guide: Southwestern Ireland
Seeing Ireland Painlessly & Less Expensively
Everyone likes to go to Ireland. It's so lovely. However, there's that large word "everyone." When I go to Ireland I like to go where tourists are at a minimum. And I have my special likes as well good home cooked, preferably organic, a cozy cottage, a small rental car and my own two feet -- in order to explore where most of the tourists don't bother to go -- because it is too much work, or not in the standard guidebook.
Deciding Where to Go
If you are like me, start by looking at the itinerary of bus tours (see Ireland in 10 days for only $$$) to note the places you'd think about avoiding. You may be able to live without standing in a line with 100 others waiting to kiss the Blarney Stone. Even though you've heard the Cliffs of Mohr are stupendous, you don't have to share them with everyone who is touring Ireland.
The first thing to do is to decide what places can you not live without? You've seen photos, looked at the online travelogues, read books you have some general idea. Most people find the eastern part of the country more beautiful, and figure they have to go to Dublin, since that's where they arrive. Right? Wrong!
Here's an overview:
If you avoid the major, major tourist destinations - the ones that are on every bus tour itinerary, you'll have a more relaxing time. This is especially true if you are able to travel in September, while the weather is still nice and most of the tourists have gone home. You can still avoid the long lines and lots of company if you plan your days so that you can arrive at popular places, such as the Cliffs of Mohr, early in the morning. Most of the tours get going at a moderate hour, and don't arrive at the destination spots until about 10 am. Take a look at one way to plan your trip along with relevant tips
You don't have to fly into Dublin.
If you fly into Shannon its often cheaper (even though you may stop in Dublin). There is less traffic to deal with as you learn how to drive on the left side of the road. And you are very close to countless B&B's. You can comfortably arrive in mid-morning and by late afternoon be well on the way to where you are going.
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And then there are bed and breakfasts. I haven't met a B&B that I didn't like. The owners of the B&B will know the best hiking trails around them.
We like cottages the best. We enjoy savoring the uniqueness of each, the owner's (and past visitors') reading tastes, the comments left in the guest book by previous visitors. We enjoy being on our own steam, not having to dress for breakfast, not bothering our friends if we choose to stay up late reading or (god forbid) watching TV. Mostly, we really enjoy the feeling of coming home after each outing.
Here's our particular technique for finding a great cottage. And we've really batted 100% on location. To our way of thinking, its location, location, location - and we like locations with little traffic, quietness, and a great view. Here's how we find them. (link to organizing)
Restaurants? The days of terrible food in Ireland are on their way out. We found great food - both simple and gourmet in many locations. As may be expected, the more popular the area, the better the food. In the pubs we found that fish chowders with excellent, without exception. Fish and chips, the Irish standard, with vinegar & salt rather than catsup, and a pint of ale, were always great.
With a few exceptions, we ate at home both for simplicity, economy and comfort. We bought groceries in the local markets, always found fresh bread and dairy products. There were good butchers, and we usually found good fresh vegetables.
A few tips about cooking:
We feel that the ideal vacation structure, anywhere, is to have a cottage for a home base and then determinedly tour the area within 30 or so square miles. Check out every little road. Here's where the 1:50,000 maps come in handy so you can explore your own backyard. We feel that trying to cover the entire country in a week or two brings exhaustion and to some degree, an inability to recall what you've seen. Even if you are certain you'll never be able to return, you'll get more from a rich close exploration of one area rather than a hasty rush through the whole.
Irish single-land roads are narrow. Hint: two small tour buses cannot pass each other. The smallest are single lane, period. You can explore a goodly amount in the morning, and reserve your afternoons for hiking (also on the detail maps). Make a point of taking the tiniest roads over the tops of passes. The views are incomparable.
Every area has walks. You'll find them on your detail maps. Your landlady will know. And the local tourist information offices (without exception, very helpful) will know.
A Tour of Western Ireland
Here is one great choice - one focuses entirely on the south and south west. Allow 2 1/2 weeks.
Have a great trip!