This article originally appeared on Viva Manchester.
Whether you’re after a city break or want to see some amazing scenery, there’s no doubt the entire west coast of Ireland offers the best of both worlds.
Stretching 1,500 spectacular miles from Donegal to Cork, the Wild Atlantic Way is one of Europe’s great undiscovered secrets.
A short 50-minute flight from Manchester to Shannon with Ryanair and we were bang in the middle of this spectacular coastline.
Our three-day adventure began with a speedy service thanks to the airline, which now runs a twice-daily service from Manchester. Swiftly got through passport control (take note Manchester Airport!) and a private transfer saw me in the city of Limerick in less than 30 minutes after landing.
During the short drive, I couldn’t help but notice the drama of the landscape; it’s not too dissimilar to what you would expect to see in Scotland or Wales. This was my first experience of South West Ireland. It’s not like Dublin, nor Belfast; there’s a lot more history. We visited King John’s Castle to discover more.
King John’s Castle is a 13th-century fortification on ‘King’s Island’ in the heart of medieval Limerick city. The castle overlooks the majestic River Shannon offering wonderful panoramic views of the city beyond.
A relatively new exhibition brings to life over 800 years of King John’s Castle and Limerick city’s dramatic history all through touch-screen technology that connects visitors to tales of siege and warfare in the region.
Before we knew it it was already lunchtime. The Hook and Ladder came highly recommended and certainly lived up to expectations. Its menu will leave you wanting to order one of everything and you’ll still be tempted to buy something from the bakery on the way out. Not because the meals aren’t filling but because the cakes and pastries look so tempting.
I chose one of its famous gluten-free Buddha bowls, which was packed full of protein – spicy chicken, prawns and a shed load of veggies that were so colourful they had to be high in vitamins and minerals. The restaurant is also one of Ireland’s top 30 cookery schools, if you want to take some new skills home with you.
After a delicious lunch, it was then on to Lough Gur, where a local guide told us the folklore behind the 6,000 years of life in the Ballyhora region. The beautiful landscape is a natural home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna with plenty of historical landmarks, such as the Great Grange Stone Circle, Tempall Nua (a 15th-century church), Giant’s Grave, Carraig Aille (8th-century ring forts) and the lake front. Lough Gur is the only place in Ireland where you can see visible evidence of every age since Neolithic times. This place certainly has history!
After a day of sightseeing, we drove to our nearby accommodation for the night and for a fantastic dinner at The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge. The rooms here are quaint and traditionally Irish. Its nestled in the heart of the Golden Vale, overlooking the rustic village of Ballingarry.
The hotel sits within seven acres of manicured lawns, orchard and a working kitchen garden, making this eclectic, heritage hideaway the perfect venue for special occasions. On the doorstep to Adare, the restaurant is legendary with superb food and warm hospitality. All of us thought the food and service was impeccable and you couldn’t find fault with the place. It’s an absolute must!
In the morning, we took a short drive to Tarbet where we boarded a car-ferry to Killimer with Shannon Ferries. This allowed us to see more of the Wild Atlantic Way and so that we didn’t have to drive back the way we came over the headland. The ferry took less than 30 minutes to get from one side to the other.
After arriving at Killimer it was another short drive along Loop Head to visit one of the oldest lighthouses in the country. The first lighthouse was built in 1670 and the peninsula it sits on was recently voted as the best place to holiday in Ireland.
We stopped for lunch at Diamond Rocks Café in Kilkee. It has the best fish and chips and beautifully decadent chocolate cake, as well as a wide range of offerings within its in-house bakery and kitchen in this family-run café that’s right on the seafront.
After lunch we took a short walk along the Cliffs of Kilkee. We were lucky that the weather was great as we got to see the dramatic historical coastline in all its glory for some spectacular views.
After a brisk walk, we departed for Ennistymon, a delightful market town where we checked into the Falls Hotel to freshen up before a night on the tiles in Doolin, which is arguably the traditional music capital of Ireland.
Music, singing, dancing and storytelling have always formed the fabric of the community in Ireland. And that’s no different in this little village, which is internationally renowned for its music, with many famous faces playing here over the years. These have included the Russell Brothers – Micho, Gussie, and Pakie. This is great place to listen to a few tunes, dance and be merry.
Visit Gus O’Connor’s Pub for excellent traditional Irish music and get to know the locals. It has a strong selection of whiskies and ales and you will make friends with everyone and anyone. It’s great craic!
The next day we were up and out early following a traditional Irish breakfast. The Falls Hotel and Spa is in a unique location with the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark nearby, but first we went for a guided foraging walk along the seashore of Lahinch where we met Oonagh from Wild Kitchen / Barrtra Seafood.
We enjoyed our time outdoors in nature and learned a thing or two about salads, leaves, flowers and plants from land and seas, which are all grown using organic methods. This range of nutritious seasonal produce can be used in cooking dips, sauces and preserves, as well as cosmetics and beauty treatments, where seaweed has particularly important properties.
Oonagh is one of the founding members of The Burren Food Trail, which is more than just a listing of quality food establishments in the area – it aims to uncover for you the path your food takes from field to plate. The members of the Burren Food Trail are bound by their commitment to building a sustainable future for the region.
The Burren itself is a remarkable landscape of hills, valleys, plateaus, cliffs, beaches, caves and limestone pavement. Formed more than 300 million years ago, it has been carved into fantastic shapes through exposure to earth movements., rainwater and ice sheets.
It was time for lunch at Barrtra restaurant, close to where we were foraging, for a surprise menu of dishes using ingredients foraged from the land and seas that day. The food is exquisite, perhaps because we knew where the food had come from and maybe appreciating the ingredients a little more following our learnings from earlier on in the day.
Ryanair flies twice daily from Manchester to Shannon for as little as £9.00. The airline has recently increased the number of flights per week from four to six and has added new routes to Shannon from Liverpool, Bristol and Stansted making the Wild Atlantic Way more accessible to people in the UK.