When I’m asked about my favourite place in Ireland, I always say Kerry. I know, I know, it’s a pretty obvious choice but I don’t care. Even though I’ve been to many “glamorous” destinations, I still count a trip to Dingle a couple of years ago as my most perfect getaway. Yep, it’s that magical.
So I jumped at the chance to head south again and review one of the Kingdom’s newly reopened hotels, the 5 star Dunloe Hotel, (yup, fancy!) The hotel is 5 miles outside of Killarney town and, being the non-driving, dependent-on-crapbag-public-transport type that I am, I was a bit worried I’d be cut off from the world (AKA Killarney’s nightlife) and have nothing to do. Big mistake!
Firstly, the hotel has the famous Gap of Dunloe on its doorstep (waking up to views from the hotel bedrooms across the rich green fields and imposing mountains is priceless) so it would be a shame not to visit this behemoth of Irish landscape, right?
Secondly, the hotel offers all sorts of excursions from canoeing in the river behind the property to day trips to Dingle (sigh) and other Kerry must-sees like the Torc waterfall and Muckross House, a gorgeously Victorian estate and gardens, so boredom doesn’t get a look-in. Last year we cycled around Killarney National Park (approx 10km) and, as well as the er buns of steel effect from cycling, the natural scenery was phenomenal so I couldn’t wait to get back there.
Anyway, back to The Gap. For those unfamiliar with this Irish treasure, the Gap of Dunloe is part of the Ring of Kerry, a scenic trail that covers some of the most visually appealing parts of the county starting from Killarney and covering areas like Sneem and Cahersiveen. The Ring hits some unmissable landmarks that are like an A-Z of any tourist wishlist for the county, like Torc waterfall, Ogham Stones, Muckross Abbey and the Gap of Dunloe.
The Gap of Dunloe is a loooong stretch of mountain pass that can be explored on foot, bike or on horse-drawn cart. I opted to walk it but, even though I walk about 3 miles a day, the journey isn’t for the faint-hearted. But – can’t stress this enough – it’s worth it for the idyllic countryside you see.
Bag of snacks in hand, we hiked past rich green fields full of sheep (lambs!) and saw rugged rocks and steep mountains and the five lakes that colour the journey. Along the way we passed rock climbers, enthusiastic cyclists and tourists getting a ride in horse-drawn carriages and, er, some Chinese tourists who took photos of the real life colleen (yours truly).
Parts of the Gap are rugged and wild, with huge rocks and mountains creating a barren-looking wilderness but it quickly turns into green fields with the occasional mountain goat making their presence known. More than anything, the landscape felt incredibly Irish and like something from another time. To ram that feeling home, there’s an authentic thatched cottage before you come to the start of the Gap and some ruins along the way so it’s easy to see why Irish-loving tourists adore this neck of the woods.
When the trek gets tough, the carrot dangling in front of you to keep your feet moving is the main viewing point. From here you can see across the Kerry countryside for miles and it definitely lives up to its reputation. The views are so naturally awe-inspiring it’s easy to feel a bit breathless by it all.
From here you can do a full circle and continue on to Killarney town or head for the lakes and hitch a boat ride but the walk was enough for unfit me so we trundled, somewhat euphorically, all the way back to the Dunloe (to collapse).
The satisfaction of having walked, oh, 14 miles, the fresh air, the incredible raw beauty of the countryside, all made me feel a cocktail of achievement, adrenaline and exhaustion. Even though my legs almost buckled at the sight of the hotel on the horizon on the way back, the dizzy sense of achievement has me thinking I just might get into this fitness lark. Might. Either way, my love affair with Kerry is well and truly back on track.
Bits ‘n pieces:
Stay: I stayed at the Dunloe Castle Hotel, a historic Killarney hotel that’s popular for weddings and country escapes. Go to www.thedunloe.com or call 064 6644111.
Cost: The Dunloe’s current offer is their ‘A Little Extra Luxury’ package which costs €229 per person sharing. Price includes a 2 night stay in a superior bedroom, a welcome bottle of house wine, a ticket for the Lily of Killarney cruise on the lakes of Killarney, full buffet breakfast and full access to the hotel’s leisure facilities.