A luxurious road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

Spanning 2,500km of spectacular scenery, the Wild Atlantic Way twists and turns from County Donegal in the north to County Cork in the south. Tackle the Kinsale to Galway section over a long weekend, and you’ll be rewarded with outstanding sights and unique activities worth stopping for, as well as the opportunity to relax and recharge amid luxurious surroundings – whether that’s through fine-dining experiences, spa treatments or five-star accommodation.

A culinary adventure awaits in Cork

Arrive in bustling Cork and explore its arts and cultural attractions – from Crawford Gallery to the historic gaol – or enjoy the great outdoors as you wander Blarney Castle’s gardens or stroll through the attractive Fitzgerald Park. However you decide to spend your time here, you’ll want to work up an appetite before uncovering the city’s renowned restaurant scene.

Amid the boutiques and bars of ​​the fashionable Victorian Quarter, Greenes celebrates local organic produce with its contemporary Irish cuisine, or in the city centre, sit down to a tasting menu at the chic Glass Curtain. Then head to the starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way in Kinsale, a charming harbour-front town where the restaurants are renowned for their excellent use of the region’s sparkling fresh seafood. 

Coast and countryside collide

As you travel through County Kerry, swap your car for a horse-drawn carriage as you tour Killarney. Motor traffic is not permitted in this beautiful national park, so take the opportunity to enjoy a slower pace of life as you trot towards the 15th-century Ross Castle, which offers views of the surrounding lakes, or linger a little longer and hike one of the park’s two 800m mountains. For some outdoor pampering, make for Sneem Seaweed Baths and soak in a whisky barrel hot tub – the mineral-rich waters will leave you feeling refreshed and revitalised for the rest of your journey.

Back on the road, the rugged beauty of Dingle Peninsula awaits. Follow the 38km curricular Slea Head Drive past ancient stone forts and sandy beaches, before boarding a boat at Dingle Harbour to come face-to-face with the region’s resident bottlenose dolphins.

Next, take to the water in Limerick. The River Shannon runs through this city, so paddle out in a kayak or enjoy live music and drinks during an evening cruise. Just be sure to allow enough time on dry land to enjoy a seasonal dining experience at East Room, where locally foraged ingredients and house-grown produce find their way onto the plate at this handsome restaurant sitting in a grand Palladian-style house. Meanwhile, Oak Room at Adare Manor and The Mustard Seed in nearby Ballingarry are both highly acclaimed for their gourmet offerings.

Immerse yourself in diverse landscapes

One of Ireland’s most dramatic natural attractions, there are plenty of hiking opportunities among the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. Climb the 19th-century O'Brien's Tower to gaze out at the Aran Islands and watch surfers tackle the powerful Aileen’s Wave at the base of the cliffs. Tempted to take on the awesome Atlantic? Grab a wetsuit and head for one of the surf schools that dot the coast.

Then it’s on to Galway with its jam-packed calendar of events, from a renowned horse-racing meet and an international arts festival in July to September’s oyster celebrations. But whatever time of year you visit, the city’s restaurants – like the Michelin-starred Loam – are ready to welcome outdoor adventurers.

Continue onto Connemara National Park and join ponies and red deer as you follow the popular Diamond Hill Loop walking trail or join a canoe tour and explore Killary Harbour. Overlooked by the brooding Mweelrea mountain, Ireland’s only fjord stretches from the coast to Aasleagh Falls.

End your journey at Ashford Castle

From its mediaeval fortress to its beautifully preserved interiors, Ashford Castle is steeped in history and offers accommodation fit for a king or queen. But before you get too comfortable, there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy stand-out activities – such as admiring majestic hawks and falcons during a lesson in the ancient sport of falconry. Then there’s horse riding, archery, clay-shooting, a nine-hole golf course and the chance to catch wild salmon and trout with the help of a professional fishing guide.

Reflect on your journey over an indulgent afternoon tea in the elegant Connaught Room, immersed in the relaxation pool housed in an ornate bronze conservatory or as you move around the traditional Hamman. The spacious on-site spa will soon be complemented by the opening of Éalú, a state-of-the-art wellness retreat situated on the shores of Lough Corrib. 

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