Winter is setting in, but that doesn’t mean shutting yourself up at home and hibernating every weekend. From the comfort of your car, you can enjoy some of the best scenery the country has to offer along the 2,600km of the Wild Atlantic Way, with the added benefit of low season rates in hotels and guesthouses.
The selection of places to stay is as diverse as the landscape, from battened down lodges to slick heritage hotels, these 10 properties will provide a comfortable refuge from the untamed elements, in an unforgettable coastal setting.
Acton’s Hotel, Kinsale
Like any crusade worth its salt, the treasures of Ireland’s Atlantic coastline are best discovered after a good meal. There’s no better place to start the adventure than the county’s unofficial gourmet capital, and the Wild Atlantic Way’s southern trail-head. Acton’s Hotel hasn’t lost its edge since it first opened its doors in 1946.
In a prime location right on Kinsale’s harbour front, at the foot of this mariner’s town’s network of narrow cobbled lanes, the property is surrounded by galleries, cafés, old world shops and pubs, in a neighbourhood that has changed little over the centuries. Acton’s rooms are slickly furnished, many overlooking the harbour. Sidney’s Bar offers quality fare where visitors can sit in the garden lounge to take further advantage of those views. Rooms from €150.
Casey’s of Baltimore
Coast into Baltimore to savour the bay views, gourmet cooking and flavours of Casey’s home brewed craft beer. The comfortable, simply furnished 14 rooms are spread out across a number of buildings, most of which offer seascape panoramas. The terrace is the place to discover some of West Cork’s best indigenous produce, including mussels from the hotel’s own shellfish farm in Roarington Bay, all with a cerulean estuary backdrop.
The pub, which has served guests since the 1800s, sells the hotel’s own craft beer, such as the citrusy pale ale, Sherkin Lass, which has become a firm local favourite. Rooms from €110 B&B
Getting there from Kinsale: The drive west from Kinsale to Baltimore takes around two hours, if you manage to avoid the almost irresistible pull of West Cork's harbour villages like Courtmacsherry, Roscarbery and Clonakilty, and Glandore's mystical Drombeg's stone circle.
Eccles Hotel, Glengarriff
Glengarriff Harbour, Co Cork; eccleshotel.com
One of Ireland's first purpose built hotels, this old grande dame has welcomed its fair share of dignitaries and members of Ireland's literary revival movement to its pretty, secluded Bantry Bay setting in the town of Glengarriff over the past three centuries. It has a few tricks up its sleeve when it comes to good old fashioned hospitality.
Oversized sash windows capture and frame the coastline; enjoy the view from the comfort of a chair by one of the many warm glowing fires throughout the Victorian house. Bay view rooms are in highest demand, so book ahead. Glengarriff quietens after the hefty trunk season, making its seaside trails amongst subtropical flora and colourful pubs all the more pleasant.
Getting there from Baltimore: Fill up the tank for two hours driving in total, including detours. Head to Ireland's most south-westerly point at Mizen Head, and then cross its footbridge over a turbulent swell that leads to a signal station, before driving to the sandy sweep of Barley Cove. If time permits, head inland to Gougane Barra to visit diminutive Finbarr's oratory, which is perched in the shadows of a hillside on the side of a crystal clear lake. Rooms from €119 B&B.
Parknasilla Resort and Spa, Sneem
A landmark in Irish hospitality, this limestone edifice of Neo Classical Victorian architecture was constructed as a railway hotel to accommodate a growth in tourism in the 19th century. Today, it’s a self-contained resort with 500 acres of coastal playground, on an inlet with a commanding view of Kenmare Bay. Parknasilla is at its very best in autumn, when the subtropical gardens bear mesmerising shades of rust and coral.
Go midweek during school term time when a glorious calm descends on the resort. Rooms are exquisitely furnished, with a fusion of modern and empire design. If your budget permits, stay in the Princess Grace Suite, named after just one of its high profile guests, with its balcony overlooking the bay. Rooms from €309 B&B.
Getting there from Glengarriff: Leave early to take advantage of all that the off-radar Beara Peninsula has on offer; Ireland's only cable car to the desolately beautiful Dursey, the white sands of Ballydonegan beach, the unforgettable Healy Pass or a lunch break at Josie's Lakeview House.
Loop Head Lightkeeper’s House
If the idea of going off grid by the sea in a setting with polished walnut flooring, nostalgic furnishings and a wood burning stove is the stuff of (good) dreams, then this sturdy lightkeeper’s house at the furthest westerly corner of Co Clare is the place for you. It is just one great example of how the Irish Landmark Trust is preserving and renovating our heritage buildings by turning them into real living spaces to rent.
The place where Ireland's longest river meets the Atlantic, Loop Head, with 300 degree views from Dingle to the Cliffs of Moher, is an outdoor lover's utopia. There's also the full peninsula at your disposal, with its white knuckle coastal drives. Bring groceries and fresh water as this property is not attached to a mains supply. Keating's Restaurant and The Long Dock Pub nearby offer excellent local fare. From €460 for two nights.
Getting there from Sneem: Meandering along the well-trodden Ring of Kerry, if you can resist the magnetic lure of the Dingle Peninsula, head north across the River Shannon to the old and somewhat faded seaside Victorian resort of Kilkee to stock up on provisions or hearty lunch.
Galmont, Galway City
[ thegalmont.com ]
After a few days out in the wilds, a night or two in Ireland’s hippest city, with its burgeoning food and craft beer scene, will be a welcome change of pace. The Galmont (formerly Radisson Galway) has been recently spruced up and its rooms now offer high tech luxury, with Egyptian cotton and goose feather bedding, and many overlooking Galway Bay. Cooper’s Bar offers decent food with great views from its terrace, but for something extraordinary, it’s only a one-minute walk around the corner to Enda McEvoy’s Michelin Starred Loam restaurant.
The Galmont backs onto Eyre Square, the cornerstone of Galway’s Medieval Quarter, with its labyrinth of streets offering plenty more dining options and traditional music pubs. Rooms from €150 B&B
Getting there from Loop Head: Head northwest for three hours, taking in Co Clare's coast, passing the giant Cliffs of Moher. Take a break Kinvara, to visit Dunguire Castle that lies picture perfect on the edge of Galway Bay.
Pods, Inis Mór
Set off early to park the car at Rossaveal Ferry Port in Connemara (or Doolin in Co Clare), and connect with the elements in a one on one experience with the ocean on the ferry across to Inis Mór. Here you will find nine clocháns, beehive shaped huts constructed to replicate Irish monk's medieval living quarters, so that guests can also experience eutierria - the immersive connection those early pilgrims had with Earth.
Of course, those monks didn’t have warm shower units, ensuites and mini kitchens in their beehive huts which come as standard now on Inis Mór. But there is still something very spiritual about falling asleep to the sound of ocean hitting the sandy shores of Frenchman Beach just meters away. Six tigíns - larger, conventionally shaped units - are also available in the complex. Rent a four-person clochán from €125 per night, or a six-person tigín from €135 per night.
Getting there from Galway City: It's a one-hour drive to Rossaveal Ferry Port from the Galmont. A small parking fee applies. Ferries run twice daily from October-March, €25 return. Book 24 hours in advance from aranislandferries.com.
Ballynahinch Castle, Connemara
Arguably Ireland’s most beautifully positioned property sits at the foot of Connemara’s peaty mountains. A river runs around it and flows off to the Wild Atlantic coastline, which lies just a few kilometres away. Built in the 18th century, Ballynahinch Castle is a rambling, Neo-Gothic manor house full of nooks and crannies and large open fires, where staff members are on call to serve a pot of tea – or something stronger.
The 450 acre grounds are an angler's nirvana, and add to the property's cloistered comfort. A multi million euro renovation has updated the rooms and public area without any injury to its rustic charm. The alluring village of Roundstone (setting for the movie The Matchmaker in 1997) is a 10-minute drive away. Stay for two nights with one dinner from €285 per person sharing.
Getting there from Galway City: With a possible detour to Roundstone and its powder white Dog's Bay, take the one hour drive straight to Ballynahinch to make the most of this blissful retreat.
Belmullet Coastguard Station, Ballina
[ belmulletcgs.com ]
On the Wild Atlantic Way, but well off the beaten track is the stunning and remote Erris Head, where the local landscape is as untamed as the ocean that pounds against its shores. This coastguard’s house has kept an eye over troubled waters for more than 200 years. Sympathetically restored by local man Laurence Howard, the station is separated into two living quarters, offering a good standard of comfort with a solid fuel stove (turf and timber provided) and staggering views across Achill Island and Black Sod Bay.
The peninsula is a walker’s paradise, and the final resting place for the mythical Children of Lír. Head to the very tip of Erris to discover Blacksod Lighthouse, which played a pivotal role in the timing of D-Day in 1944, when a bad weather forecast from here led to the postponing of the invasion, averting a military disaster. The owner also provides beautifully appointed glamping pods by the shore. Rent the property for €250 for three nights, or €400 per week in autumn/winter. Pods cost €140 for two nights, €200 for three.
Getting there from Ballinahinch: Drive north for three hours, taking in Sky Road, Kylemore Abbey and Killary Fjord and passing Achill Island to the remote northwest Mayo.
Castle Grove Country House Hotel, Co Donegal
If you’re looking for a place to evoke a sense of the poet John Keat’s “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” as autumn draws to a close, then Castle Crove Country House has it by the harvest bucket load. Located on the northern territory of the Wild Atlantic Way, resting peacefully on the shores of Lough Swilly, this 17th century grand Georgian house has wide open fires and fresh produce from the 200 acre estate and walled orchard.
The house is stunningly restored, from its geometric tiles, crystal chandeliers, roaring fires and period shades in its public areas, to its 15 traditional style bedrooms. The one mile avenue to Castle Grove will be the last part of this Wild Atlantic journey. Special midweek offer €110 per person sharing for dinner, bed and breakfast.
Getting there from Belmullet: This part of the journey takes in Co Mayo's magnificent coastline and the unique form of Ben Bulben, in Yeat's Country.