Counties Kerry and Cork, in the very south of Ireland, are routinely listed as the most beautiful parts of a country famous for magnificent scenery. There’s great produce too, from delicious raw milk cheeses to great fruit and veg and some special craft beers. The highlight of this region is the five southern peninsulas: beautiful Dingle, Iveragh with the popular Ring of Kerry, haunting Beara, and the smaller Sheep’s Head and Mizen. Heading northeast from Mizen there’s a very different landscape of peaceful bays called the Haven Coast, until you reach Old Head of Kinsale and the eastern starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way. The whole of southern Ireland is a beautiful remote, but accessible, area of winding roads, high mountain passes, moss-covered fairy forests, stone circles and stunning coastal views, just perfect for a weeklong road trip. Here are some of my favourite bits.
Stay Sheen Falls Lodge (Co. Kerry)
The corner suite of this elegant property, ideally located between the Ring of Kerry & Beara Peninsula, has gorgeous views of a rustic stone bridge, tumbling little falls and the River Sheen. Indulge in a great bottle of wine and something classic from room service to make the most of it.
Eat Artisanal Cheese (Co. Cork)
Famous for green pastures and generous rainfall, Ireland has more cattle than people; and lush West Cork is home to the renaissance of Irish artisan cheesemaking. Look out for names like Milleens, Gubbeen and Durrus on local menus and visit Durrus for tastings and to see the cheesemaking.
Coastal Drive Slea Head Loop (Co. Kerry)
Drive this 52km loop at the end of Dingle Peninsula to see the wonderful patchwork of stonewall-enclosed green fields clinging to rugged cliffs, spectacular views to the Blaskett Islands and striking roadside crucifix. Tea and scones beside the fire at the tiny Teac Couminole teahouse is a treat.
Passes Conor and Healy (Co. Kerry & Cork)
The peninsulas’ interiors are as impressive as their coasts. Dramatic Conor Pass crosses Dingle’s mountainous spine with views all the way to Galway on a clear day. The building of Healy Pass across Beara’s wild interior joined counties Cork and Kerry and provided much-needed work during the 19th century famine.
Monastic History Timoleague Friary (Co. Cork)
Wander through the extensive remains of this 14th century Franciscan friary, ponder the lives of Ireland’s early monastic communities and enjoy the views over Courtmacsherry Bay. Monk’s Lane in the nearby village is a good spot for a Guinness and a bite to eat afterwards.