Ireland’s southwestern counties of Cork and Kerry contain some of Ireland's most iconic scenery from golden surf-pounded beaches and rugged peaks to misty lakes and green, sheep-flecked hillsides. There are ancient sites a-plenty to discover and, always, just around the corner, an unexpected view or a welcoming pub where you can sit and pass the time of day over a pint of Guinness with the locals.
Bathed by the Gulf Stream’s warmth, southern Ireland is often surprising. Glance up at the high peaks and you’ll want to put another layer on; follow the coast road and you’ll encounter palms and riotous sub-tropical vegetation. There’s an exquisite softness in the air, felt especially in the small fishing ports all along the Cork coast, but also an austere and forbidding remoteness if that’s what you are after, perhaps best experienced at the remarkable island monastery of Skellig Michael, a vertiginous rock eight miles out into the Atlantic Ocean upon whose summit are the extraordinarily atmospheric remains of an eight-century monastic community.
The exquisite beauty of County Kerry makes it one of Ireland's most popular destinations, and you’ll be hard pressed to find finer scenery than along the Ring of Kerry, where Lake Killarney, the Gap of Dunloe and an ever-changing coastline prove an irresistible draw, or along the Dingle Peninsula with its ancient Christian sites, sandy beaches and glimpses of a hard, unforgiving land. But it’s incredibly easy to escape the crowds and find an untrodden trail to discover.
The sharply indented coastline of Cork, especially along the Mizen Head, Sheep's Head and Beara Peninsulas, is utterly enchanting. Here you’ll find ancient stone circles, lush emerald-green farmland, charming small fishing ports and an abundance of fabulous places to eat fresh seafood – this part of the world is a gastronome’s delight. Ireland’s second city of Cork, with its plethora of food markets, atmospheric pubs and lively cultural scene, is also well worth a visit.
Inland, the rolling hills and heathery peaks of inland Cork, Tipperary and Limerick conceal plenty of surprises. Along with iconic attractions such as the Rock of Cashel and Blarney Castle are quiet country lanes, where you can watch the age-old game of road bowling, and serene country houses to stay and enjoy the finer aspects of Irish country life.