From whale-watching to visiting a Star Wars film location during a cycling trip, Ireland offers a clutch of touring holidays. Andrew Doherty looks at enriching experiences that take in the best of what’s on offer.
The coast of Ireland is beautiful and deadly in equal measure. In 1588, more than 20 ships of the Spanish Armada were wrecked on the 300 miles of jagged rocks between Antrim in the north and Kerry in the south.
These ancient cliffs are home to a plethora of sites of historical intrigue and natural wonders – from the 18th-century library of Mussenden Temple overlooking Downhill Strand beach to the verdant landscapes of the Ring of Kerry.
For Julian Appleyard, commercial director at Great Rail Journeys, the best way for clients to experience Ireland’s coast is on the operator’s 10-day Giant’s Causeway & Ireland’s North-West tour.
“For visiting coastal regions, Ireland has to be my favourite place to go,” says Appleyard. “Everyone thinks of the Giant’s Causeway as Ireland’s most spectacular coastal attraction, but my favourite is actually the Connemara coast.
“Looking inland, there are spectacular mountains and the coast itself is blessed with unpolluted sandy beaches and blue waters. It is a magical place, an area of desolate beauty, dotted with seaside hamlets.”
Clients will meet their guide in Dublin before taking in tours of the Guinness Storehouse and the Old Library of Trinity College. Next up is Belfast and a visit to the Crumlin Road Gaol and the Titanic Museum.
Coastal highlights include the interlocking volcanic basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway and Kylemore Abbey on the Connemara coast.
Book it: Great Rail Journeys offers the Giant’s Causeway & Ireland’s North-West tour from £1,610pp. Trip departs June 20 and September 5, 2018.
Peat fires, pints of stout and friendly locals make Donegal an idyllic spot for clients who want to experience a sense of travelling back in time. Visitors may hear the musical tones of locals speaking the ancient Gaelic language or take in a game of hurling, which has been played for more than 3,000 years.
As the most mountainous county in Ulster, Donegal is ideal for biking, says Patricia Doe, general manager, Wilderness Ireland. She adds that the operator’s Biking – Donegal From Cliffs to Coast tour allows customers to visit the cliffs at Slieve League, traverse the winding paths of Glenveagh national park and take in Malin Head, Ireland’s most northerly point and backdrop for Star Wars: Episode VIII.
“Unlike Scotland or England, the footpaths in Ireland are much less trodden, often running through private land open at the behest of the landowner,” explains Doe.
“That means to get the most out of a holiday here, it is necessary to use an experienced guide, which is something that we specialise in – along with a passion for the wild places of Ireland, of course.
“Just as film directors are often drawn to Ireland by its extraordinary variety of landscapes, at Wilderness Ireland we have noticed an increase in the number of ‘set-jetting’ customers on our holidays who are excited by the fact that the latest film in the Star Wars franchise was shot at Malin Head.”
Book it: Wilderness Ireland offers the tour from £1,663pp, including six nights’ B&B accommodation, a guide, transfers and ride support. Tours depart June 18, August 18 and September 1, 2018.
From tidal estuaries to ancient woodland, West Cork has a range of habitats that are home to guillemots, grey seals, dolphins and humpback whales.
Rosscarbery Bay is a particularly interesting spot, where in summer wild orchids cover sand dunes while kingfishers and otters feast on shellfish at low tide.
Tremaine Moore, special interests product manager at Saga, says that Ireland is one of the best whale watching destinations in Europe and recommends agents sell the operator’s Bird and Whale Watching in West Cork itinerary with expert host Calvin Jones.
“In addition to taking to the waters of the north-east Atlantic on a whale watching trip in search of dolphins, minke, humpback and fin whales, and basking sharks, there are plenty of birdwatching opportunities included too,” adds Moore.
“Calvin took me up to the headland to show me some of the best vantage points and within seconds of arriving I had spotted a chough (a member of the crow family) perched on a wall. I soon discovered that the area around the West Cork town of Rosscarbery is superb for seabirds with gannets, kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills galore.
“Calvin also organised a woodland and night-time walk to ensure I saw as many species as possible, and each day there are regular debriefings so you can share the birds and mammals seen with others.”
Book it: Saga’s Bird and Whale Watching in West Cork tour starts at £1,049pp (based on two sharing) with five nights at the Celtic Ross Hotel, flights, five wildlife excursions and
While most people associate Ireland with picturesque rural hamlets, homely guesthouses and rustic hotels, few realise that it also offers a clutch of luxury products.
And where better to experience this side of the Emerald Isle than on Insight Vacations’ eight-day Irish Elegance tour? Clients travel from Dublin before driving north along the Wild Atlantic Way – a road trip notable for its hidden beaches, colossal bays and buzzing cities.
Customers will experience a taste of luxury at the five-star Ashford Castle in County Mayo, which has recently been featured on BBC2’s Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby.
Here they will have the chance to take part in estate activities such as fishing, horse-riding and falconry, as well as a world-class gastronomic experience in the George V Dining Room.
Claire Hanney, head of travel experiences at Insight Vacations, says clients will also be treated to a specially selected Insight Experience.
“Travellers will have the opportunity to be led by a local expert and passionate guide on wooded paths along West Meadow Bay. However, the stay at Ashford Castle is the icing on the cake – there’s nowhere more grand in the Emerald Isle."
Book it: Insight Vacations sells the Irish Elegance tour from £2,275pp, including transfers, four dinners and the services of a travel director.
Clients who want to experience the true character of Ireland should look to HF Holidays’ Guided Walking at Kenmare tour.
With opportunities to explore the Kerry and Beara Ways as well as taking a boat trip to Garnish Island – which is renowned for its botanic gardens and defensive fort – history and nature buffs should be more than impressed.
Alison Brunsdon, European assistant product manager at HF Holidays, says: “We visit the magical Garnish Island via Seal Island and on to the protected nature reserve of Glengarriff with its multitude of wildlife, flora, fauna and fascinating legend of the ancient oak.
“One day, we walk into the beautiful village of Sneem and uncover the ancient history of this area with many stone circles scattered around the rolling hills of Gleninchaquin; another day we explore the Beara Peninsula before finishing in the old copper mining town of Allihies to discover its industrial heritage as well take in a welcome drink.”
Book it: HF Holidays offers seven nights’ half-board from £1,208pp with Heathrow flights included, based on a July 1, 2018 departure.