As travel opens up and options expand again, the myriad charms of Ireland should put it at the top of your destination wish list, writes Julietta Jameson.
When it comes to reputation, there are few destinations that live up to the hype like Ireland. From its wild Atlantic coast to its sandy surf beaches, the island of Ireland exceeds preconceptions exponentially.
You may think you’re ready for the green landscapes, but you’ll be dazzled by the preternatural glow of rolling pastures and leafy forests. Brochures promise castles, cottages and cities burgeoning with history – but their real-life charms will take your breath away.
And then there’s that fabled welcome. Surely the legend of its exuberance is exaggerated, the sensible traveller might assume until they hit a traditional Irish music session in a pub in Galway and find the true meaning of the Gaelic word craic.
On top of all this, Ireland offers luxury, and not just of the five-star kind, though it’s got that in spades. Here, you’ll find the rarest of commodities in a busy world: time, space, nature and true hospitality, all wrapped up in one of the globe’s most ancient, enduring and unique cultures.
Luxury of space
Opportunities for immersing in nature abound. Mystical lakes and estuaries; dramatic, glacier-carved cliffs that shelter puffins; wide, deserted beaches; forests that shapeshift with the seasons; ambling rivers and well-marked country trails… all entice hikers, walkers, bikers, surfers and kayakers.
The Wild Atlantic Way is one of the world’s great scenic drives, with jaw-dropping vistas around every bend. Along the route, you’ll discover the dramatic limestone coast of The Burren. After a day hiking the otherworldly, glacially sculpted landscape full of rare plants and flowers, nestle by a peat fire at Gregan’s Castle Hotel.
After a good night’s sleep, rise early and feel nature’s might as you traverse the cinematic seascape along the windswept Cliffs of Moher, which tower over the rugged West Clare coast and offer views all the way to the Aran Islands.
Travel on to Northern Ireland for yet more of nature’s drama at the Giant’s Causeway. This promontory of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns is the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. Small wonder it has been declared a World Heritage Site.
Nearby, a stay at a serene luxury eco-lodge, The Salthouse Hotel rewards with mesmerising northern ocean views.
Ireland luxury accommodation
Thousands of castles dot Ireland’s landscape, many in a state of ruin, but many also converted into luxury stays.
In Dublin, Clontarf Castle is a modern development of a 12th-century Norman pile. At the legendary Dromoland Castle Hotel, in County Clare, suits of armour grace the halls and a falconer demonstrates the grace of the mighty bird of prey in the majestic grounds.
Not all upscale stays need be castles. In the heart Dublin, the legendary 1824 Shelbourne, Autograph Collection is among the world’s most exquisite city hotels. The Shelbourn’s list of distinguished guests includes Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, JFK, John Wayne, Rita Hayworth and Grace Kelly.
In Derry~Londonderry in Northern Ireland, Bishop’s Gate lies within the Cathedral Quarter, a sympathetic reimagining of a Grade B1-listed landmark as a sublime boutique lodging with every trimming.
Get back to nature in a Forest Bubble Dome at lakeside resort FinnLough in County Fermanagh. These fully-kitted, transparent cocoons allow you to stargaze at night and wake to the sun.
And for pampering with a Celtic touch, head to one of the island’s sublime spa resorts such as West Cork’s Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa with its vast seawater therapy pool area (an Irish first) and a blissful way to unwind.
Whatever your realm of interest, you’ll find ways to indulge it on the island of Ireland.
For the book-minded, there are plentiful riches of a proud literary tradition. In County Sligo, the gravesite of legendary poet WB Yeats lies in an atmospheric churchyard. In Dublin, the world’s most famous illuminated manuscript, the 800 AD Book of Kells is on display in Trinity College library.
History buffs continue to be spoiled for choice at the astonishing Newgrange stone-age tomb in the Ancient East, built more than 5,200 years ago. And in Belfast, the 20th century’s most famous ship is commemorated in the award-winning Titanic Belfast museum.
In a place where turf grows greener and lusher than most, golfers have in excess of 400 choices of not just good courses, but the world’s best – Royal County Down takes that honour. Play at one of four courses surrounding Tullamore in central Ireland alone (and drop into the local famous whiskey distillery). Or hit up venerable links with ocean views such as Royal Belfast, Ireland’s oldest.
And then there’s Dublin’s K Club, famously the home of the 2006 Ryder Cup. In 2027, this epic competition will be held on the grounds of Adare Manor in County Limerick.
A true taste of Ireland
Ireland’s famed tipples form a list of must-dos: a visit to the Guinness Storehouse and original Jameson Distillery in Dublin and a pint of Kilkenny in its eponymous city. Kilkenny is also home to the ruby red Smithwick’s, Ireland’s oldest ale.
But Ireland is also a foodie’s nirvana with incredible producers, growers and restaurants across the island. There is a culture of respect for Ireland’s climate among those in the food industry, which, in turn, diners can appreciate on the plate; a paddock-to-plate ethos pervades.
Find true destination dining in County Cavan, where ‘national treasure’ chef and father of modern Irish cuisine Neven Maguire runs the spectacular MacNean House and Restaurant and his namesake cooking school. It is an extraordinary experience, from the first bite to the upstairs BnB stay. Book well in advance.
Two-Michelin-starred Aimsir at the bucolic Cliff at Lyons country retreat in County Kildare celebrates foraging and the fruits of the surrounding fields and waterways. It’s an innovative culinary adventure and one of a number of Michelin-starred Irish restaurants.
But you’re also likely to have the best bangers and mash of your life at a pub; a sublime scone from a village bakery; or a bowl of wonderful porridge at a cute cafe. Not to mention the freshest of seafood chowder enjoyed by the ocean.
And then there’s a vast calendar of culinary events and festivals – you’ll never go hungry in Ireland, be it for food and drink, cultural enrichment or simple holiday happiness.
More information: Ireland.com.
Getting there: Australians can fly to Ireland via London and Darwin on Qantas, via Doha on Qatar, or via Dubai on Emirates.
Accommodation: Luxury stays in Ireland
This story was produced in partnership with Tourism Ireland and is a Signature Luxury Travel and Style exclusive.