Sometimes you find a place in the world that just calls to you; places that capture your heart and soul, and places where you leave a little bit of yourself behind. For me, one such place is Connemara on the west coast of Ireland.
Connemara is a rugged, wild, untamed place. It has breathtaking scenery of jagged mountains, wide open wilderness, magnificent lakes and quaint villages.
When my children were younger, we spent many holidays here, most often in September when summer is still hanging in there, but there are signs of autumn in the air.
At this time the beaches are quieter, most of the tourists have gone, the pubs are full of the colorful locals telling outlandish stories as only the Irish can do. But really, Connemara is an all year round holiday destination.
Big blue skies mirror magnificent lakes. The landscape is vast and undulating. The beauty is in the starkness of it all, the driving for hours through wilderness, when all you might encounter for miles and miles are sheep roaming the hills or the roads.
Despite the wilderness and isolation, there are lots of beautiful villages in Connemara, plenty of wonderful landmarks to visit, and a vast array of more outdoorsy things to do. Connemara National Park covers over 2000 hectares.
Kylemore Abbey, with its Gothic design, is a must-see location. Until 2010, the Abbey was a boarding school for girls. Angelica Houston was one of their famous former boarders. The school was first opened in 1923 by an order of Belgian nuns who fled to Ireland during the first World War. Today the Abbey is flourishing, with the nuns still living there, tending their walled garden, dating back to the 19th century.
Visitors can tour the garden and the abbey, where the nuns can often be heard singing. There is also an excellent shop, restaurant, and Gothic church in the grounds.
The coastal village of Roundstone with its busy harbor is another must-see, surrounded by magnificent mountains and seascapes, and home to many national and international artists.
The town of Clifden, known locally as the ‘capital’ of Connemara is a bustling, pretty town. Taking the upper Sky Road from Clifden in a circular 11km route is a captivating journey.
The white sandy beaches and clear water make for great photographs. My favorite is Lettergesh Beach, on the Tully-Leenane Road, near the village of Tullycross — a filming location of the John Wayne movie, The Quiet Man.
Just off the coast of Connemara is the idyllic island of Innisboffin, another paradise of gorgeous beaches, stunning scenery, cliffs, caves and sea stacks.
In Connemara, you can take your pick between outstanding hotels and charming thatched guest cottages for rent. Spend your vacation fishing, golfing, boating, biking, hiking, riding horses or scuba diving. There’s something for everyone.
Finally, I will mention two places special to me. The Renvyle Thatched Cottages at Tullycross village are truly charming, especially for children — and the 130 year-old Renvyle House Hotel situated on the shores of the Atlantic ocean on 200 acres of land is breathtaking.
Settling down by the big log fires in the evening is a perfect way to end a day travelling around Connemara.