Ireland’s captivating charm reveals itself layer by layer. During my recent trip, I peered over the edge of the Slieve League cliffs, which plunge 2,000 feet into the Atlantic; I marveled at the sky’s rose and pumpkin hues over Ashford Castle, which dates to the 13th century; and I visited a private home, inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, to view a contemporary Irish art collection. In Ireland, the prehistoric, the ancient and the modern collide and intertwine. A trip to the Emerald Isle, with its fairy-tale landscapes, is a fascinating journey through history and awe-inspiring vistas, accompanied by merry camaraderie and elegant luxury. Here are five experiences not to miss.
Enjoy pampering service at two newly transformed castle hotels
Although Ireland boasts hundreds of castles, few have interiors as magnificent as their façades. In the past few years, however, two have been brilliantly transformed into extraordinary properties that integrate 21st-century sophistication with centuries-old splendor. Ashford Castle, whose lakeside fortress dates to the 1200s, unveiled a stunning renovation in late 2015 that added a spectacular spa and reimagined the interiors with sumptuous furnishings, sparkling chandeliers and grand fireplaces. Adare Manor, a grand 19th-century estate with peaked roofs, cathedral ceilings and gothic windows with views over French gardens and the River Maigue, reopened in November of 2017. Years of renovations restored the original stained-glass windows and carvings, refurbished the elegant accommodations in a cream and champagne palette and added a new La Mer spa and Tom Fazio–designed golf course.
Related: Irish Castles: Indagare Matchmaker
See the exciting debuts that are revitalizing Dublin
One of Europe’s fastest-growing capitals, Dublin fuses tradition—exemplified in its elegant Georgian architecture—with a contemporary consciousness. The Book of Kells, displayed in Trinity College’s Library, is an essential introduction to the country’s rich heritage, but also worth a visit is the new EPIC museum, which portrays Irish emigration from 500 AD to present through interactive exhibits. New developments abound on the hotel scene as well: suites at The Shelbourne was recently refurbished by designer Guy Oliver, known for his work on London’s Connaught and Claridge’s, and the sophisticated Westbury is re-envisioning its rooms in keeping with the standard of its glamorous lobby and Art Deco–style bar.
Related: Top Tables Dublin
Discover the dramatic beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way
A one-hour flight from Dublin lies the northwest county of Donegal. This untouched region’s wild, breathtaking landscapes are perfect backdrops for outdoor pursuits and road trips down the 1,500-mile stretch known as the Wild Atlantic Way. Here, swaths of hillsides dotted with ruins and farmhouses sit alongside dramatic coastline. In this region, hikers traverse trails such as One Man Pass, which runs along the ridge of the Slieve League cliffs, while surfers ride challenging waves and divers explore shipwrecks offshore. The history and culture of this region is on display at Donegal’s Glencolmcille Folk Village, where rebuilt cottages capture how rural life has evolved over the centuries, and at Leo’s Tavern, a famed Donegal haunt that is owned by the singer Enya’s family. The most exquisite accommodation in the region is Rockhill House, a newly restored 18th-century estate overlooking gardens and sweeping countryside, which is available for exclusive use. The pièce de résistance is its gorgeous double-height foyer, crowned by a tiered crystal chandelier, as well as the orangerie carved into the rock of the foundation.
Related: The Top 10: Multigenerational Trips
Navigate the country aboard one of the world’s finest trains
Evoking railway expeditions of a bygone era, the new Belmond Grand Hibernian train transports passengers on multi-day journeys through Ireland with stops at such iconic sites as Blarney Castle, Waterford and Belfast. Riding the stylish 20-cabin sleeper train is a wonderful way to take in the vast country and its fascinating history.
Related: Why Go Now: Ireland
Meet the artisans who are preserving Ireland’s traditions
Everywhere we traveled, I was struck by the deep respect that the Irish have for their country’s history and their commitment to maintaining its culture, crafts and traditions. One day, we visited Donegal’s Ardara, a picturesque speck of a town, and the shop of Eddie Doherty, who tirelessly weaves fine tweeds on his loom, maintaining a handicraft in a field now increasingly mechanized. We watched as Martin, a shepherd, and his award-winning sheepdog, performed the age-old task of guiding his flock through the pasture; and in one of Ireland’s largest bogs, we met Ian, who carves magnificent sculptures out of the 5,000-year-old wood preserved within the marshland.
Related: Family Trip to Ireland and London
As Ireland revealed its dynamic heart throughout my journey, I was repeatedly confronted by the country’s interwoven past and present. Here, history is never forgotten. The country’s ancient natural beauty, artistry and resilience are always on display—a combination that resonates with visitors long after their journey draws to a close.
Inspired to visit Ireland? Contact Indagare today to work with a trip designer who will match you to the right hotels and plan an itinerary with guided touring and behind-the-scenes access.