The great Irish long weekend: the west

The Burren is deceptive. Just when you think it’s all rocks it springs to life with a magnificent carpet of wild flowers

 

The Burren is deceptive. Just when you think it’s all rocks it springs to life with a magnificent carpet of wild flowers. Similarly, just when you think there isn’t a sinner around, you realise that actually the place is a hive of activity, including some of the most innovative tourism initiatives around. A word of warning – it can get busy over bank holiday weekends.


What to do
Food lovers will quickly realise they are in artisan producer heaven, a fact cemented by the Burren Food Series of food-related activities each week from April to October (burrenecotourism.com/food). Events include everything from kayaking your way to a gourmet picnic on the Finnavarra Peninsula, to enjoying a leisurely afternoon tea at Burren Fine Wine & Foods, with a guided stroll afterwards. There’s a Wild Food Walk with Wild Kitchen (wildkitchen.ie), which lasts about three hours and covers all the wild edibles to be foraged in woodlands, meadows, hedgerows and along the seashore.

Visit the Burren Perfumery and Floral Centre (burrenperfumery.com) in Carron for a free presentation on its work, wander the herb and flower gardens and browse the perfumes, creams, balms and soaps – all natural, organic and hand made – in the shop. In summer its rose-covered tea rooms make delicious lunches and cakes.

Immerse yourself in the magic of the hidden Burren with the Burren Experience (mullaghmore-burren.com), guided walks led by Marie McGauran, who has lived all her life in the shadow of the Burren’s Mullaghmore Mountain, and who leads nature and heritage walks in the Burren National Park, starting from Corofin.

If you’ve been enjoying quaffing Linalla ice cream from your local Tesco, visit it at home, in the Linalla Cafe (linnallaicecream.com) at New Quay. Take a tour of the farm, see the shorthorns that produce the cream or just lap up the end result overlooking Galway Bay.

Once you’ve had your fill of hiking the Burren, cheat a little with the hire of an electric bike from E-Whizz (e-whizz.com) which can set you up with a vehicle that gives you all the fun of freewheeling but with a little extra oomph to get you up hills. Head off on your own or sign up for one of its 10 guided tours including a visit to award-winning Caher Bridge Garden, near Fanore, open to visitors by appointment.

Alternatively, combine a guided cycle with a sea kayaking tour from North Clare Sea Kayaking Tours (northclareseakayaking.com) in Doolin or take a pony trek through the Burren with a four-hour ride from Mountainview Trekking (mountainviewtrekking.com), near Lisdoonvarna, packed lunch included.

No visit to the Burren would be complete without a trip to the mighty Cliffs of Moher, though, if the last time you visited was back in the days when you could ramble up to the edge, you’ll be in for a bit of a surprise (cliffsofmoher.ie).

Alternatively, if you’re fit and an experienced walker, see it as part of the new 20km coastal walking trail from Liscannor and Hags Head in the south, along by the Cliffs of Moher, to Doolin in the north, with spectacular views over Aill na Searrach – the giant Aileens wave beloved by daredevil surfers – the Aran Islands and Galway Bay.

If you’re bringing the kids, and indeed, even if you’re not, you might prefer to take things easier with a visit to the Burren Birds of Prey Centre at Ailwee Cave (aillweecave.ie). The complex has 40 birds including sea eagles, harris hawks, vultures and falcons, with displays twice daily.

And don’t miss the cave itself. Discovered by a farmer who’s dog ran down a rabbit hole, it includes remains of now-extinct brown bears, just in case you’re wondering why all the Ailwee signage features a bear.

 

WHERE TO STAY Mount Vernon, a Georgian villa between Ballyvaughan and Kinvara, is the former summer home of Lady Gregory, with a menu specialising in fish caught fresh each day. Opens April, garden rooms B&B from €95 pps. mountvernon.ie. Logues Lodge, a pub and guesthouse on the main street in Ballyvaughan has special offers such as three nights’ B&B and one evening meal from €292 for a double, from April to June. logueslodge.ie. Award-winning Gregan’s Castle in Ballyvaughan has two-night B&B breaks including dinner and a guided walk of the Burren from €249 pps. gregans.ie.

WHERE TO EAT The Stonecutter’s Kitchen in Doolin is famous for its local produce. The Roadside Tavern gastropub in Lisdoonvarna is owned by the same family that brings you the Burren Smokehouse, so you know the food’s good. Linnane’s Lobster Bar, New Quay, is great for fresh seafood, and Kilshanny House, Kilshanny Village, specialises in Burren Béilíní, gourmet snacks using only ingredients that are wild, local, seasonal and sustainable.

WHERE TO DRINK O’Lochlainn’s whiskey bar in Ballyvaughan. When you’ve only got three days, you want a place where time stands still.

DON’T MISS Flaggy Shore at New Quay, a little the worse for storm damage but still liable to “catch the heart off guard and blow it open”, as the late Séamus Heaney put it.

DON’T SAY “Excuse me, could you take a picture of me beside my mini-dolmen?” The locals are exhausted dismantling them.

west

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