Get away from it all and drink in the natural beauty
When you live in Ireland, it's easy to take the beautiful landscapes and spectacular sunsets for granted. Then, one day you'll crest a hill and your breath will be taken away as yet another wondrous vista is revealed.
There's so much to see when you visit Ireland. The awe-inspiring west coast with its sea cliffs and crashing waves, or the snow-capped mountains in the south-west, or fabulously emerald fields.
A walking or cycling holiday in Ireland gets you out into that landscape, filling your lungs with the freshest air imaginable. After that last mile of an exhilarating day out, you'll relax with family and friends in front of a cosy turf fire, a refreshing fizz in hand, your appetite whetted ahead of a filling evening meal.
If it's the rugged outdoors you're after, it's hard to beat the wilds of Connemara in County Galway. Bounded on the one side by the majestic peaks of the Twelve Pins and the wild Atlantic on the other, it's not too difficult to imagine how J. R. R. Tolkien spent his holidays here as he wrote Lord of the Rings.
Undiscovered and magical
Lough Inagh Lodge located into a deep quiet valley, a lake at your feet, a mountain behind you.
You could easily imagine yourself as Bilbo Baggins and his friends trekking through the heathers and fens of Connemara as if it were the Shire.
It's not just the landscape that takes your breath away in Connemara. The culture here is worth a mention: pop into any local pub and you will encounter people speaking the Irish language and hear the other worldly sean nós singing.
An ideal base from which to explore this undiscovered country is the Lough Inagh Lodge, a large house with twelve beautifully appointed bed rooms all but dwarfed by the awe-inspiring landscaping in which it is set.
This Victorian-era fishing lodge is located on the shore of Lough Inagh, and is a must visit location for avid anglers everywhere. Fresh fish are prominent on the menu, as is the case with all the food on offer as local provenance is a core value. From the Lough Inagh Lodge you can enjoy some pony trekking, hill climbing or walking, as well as some challenging golf courses for the aspiring Shane Lowry.
Manor House Country Hotel near Enniskillen on the shores of Lough Erne.
Seek out the lakes of Ireland to experience a landscape straight from a fairytale. In Fermanagh, Lough Erne offers beautiful woodlands and mysterious islands. The Lough Erne waterway is still traversed by barges and pleasure boats, like it was a hundred years ago.
Not all of the country's magnificent landscape is above ground. Not far from Lough Erne is the Marble Arch Cave Geopark. Visitors are guided through a fascinating natural underworld of rivers, waterfalls, winding passages and lofty chambers while stunningly beautiful cave formations glisten all around.
Have an idle hour or weekend? Spend it in the idyllic Manor House Country Hotel. Located a ten-minute drive from the busy market town of Enniskillen - which has its own magnificent castle by the way - a stay here will help you recover from the day's walking, cycling or sailing. It has its own leisure club with indoor pool and hot tub and the restaurants overlooking the lake are a great venue for your evening's entertainment.
A world apart
Image 1: Garnish Island. Image 2: Dursley Island cable car.
A world apart from this, yet only less than a day's drive through some more of Ireland's stunning scenery, is the Beara Peninsula in West Cork. As you come over the top of the Healy Pass it feels like you are discovering an unknown country.
The Glengarriff Park Hotel is lucky to have the Beara Peninsula on its doorstep and makes for an ideal base to begin your adventure. There are walks on the peninsula which will challenge and invigorate you - and walks which are relaxing and mind-clearing. The charming villages of Allihies and Eyeries are the last villages before America, and the landscape is dotted with abandoned copper mines. Here is where novelist Daphne du Maurier set her Hungry Hills saga, based on the lives of the Puxley family.
Glengarriff Park Hotel, located in the heart of the beautiful village of Glengarriff.
Take the cable car to Dursey Island, which is inhabited by just a handful of families but visited by thousands every year, including whales and dolphins and exotic butterflies and birds found nowhere else in Ireland.
If you would like to continue island hopping then upon return to the town of Glengariff, book your ticket to Garnish Island, located in the towns sheltered harbour in Bantry Bay. Take the Garnish Island Ferry and on the way you will see a very tame seal colony on Seal Island.
Garnish island is world renowned for its gardens which are laid out in beautiful walks and is home to some rare and stunning specimen plants. For history buffs the Island also boasts a Martello tower, climb to the top for panoramic views of the inner harbour, castle area and the surrounding mountains from within the bay.
And as the sun sets in the evening you can enjoy a delicious dinner of the freshest seafood and bask in the glow of that magnificent view, just one of many which can be enjoyed on an island of a million spectacular vistas.
View from Healy Pass overlooking the Beara Peninsula.