Travel: Royal way to relax in Ireland

By Mike Yardley

Ireland's wild west region of Connemara is a magnet for travellers who revel in rugged, pristine wilderness and the whiff of adventure.

Stretching northwest of Galway, this enchanting district is a patchwork of Irish bogs, sprawling valleys, shimmering lakes, moody mountains and chocolate-box villages.

Located on the shores of Bertraghboy Bay, the utterly escapist fishing village of Roundstone is a little treasure. The narrow main street slides past quaint double-storey houses, tempting pubs and restaurants and an ever-increasing number of B&Bs.;

In the peak of summer, Roundstone is swamped with holidaymakers, so planning a trip here in the shoulder months will pay dividends.

This is the perfect place to relax, gaze dreamily across the bay to the Twelve Bens mountain range, watch the lobster boats bring in the day's catch, swim and explore the walking tracks.

From Roundstone, the circular coastal road connects you with Galway to the southeast and Clifden to the northwest. This is bogland, and the bumpy driving experience on the old road adds a sense of adventure.

Locals say the bog is haunted and are loathe to take the road at night.

Take the main road north to Kylemore Abbey, flush with magnificent scenery of verdant valleys, fertile pastoral land, classic stone fences, tranquil lakes and soaring mountain ranges. Sheltered by the slopes of the Twelve Bens, Kylemore Abbey was built in Gothic revival fantasy style, as a present from Manchester business tycoon Mitchell Henry to his wife, in the 19th century. They honeymooned in Connemara and adored the region. After the deaths of his wife and his daughter, Henry left the lakeside castle and it was put on the market.

During World War I, Benedictine nuns fled from Ypres in Belgium and sought refuge in Connemara. Henry's castle became an abbey and the nuns are still there. Kylemore Abbey is now an exclusive girls' boarding school. Visitors can gain partial access to the interior of the abbey and its grounds. A restaurant and craft shop sells the nuns' pottery.

Most of Connemara is in a 2000ha national park where there are many nature trails to explore on foot or on rental bikes. The national park visitors' centre is in Letterfrack, a few minutes from the abbey.

Old-world luxury

With a dazzling history stretching back to the 5th century, Dromoland Castle was the ancestral home of one of the few families of Gaelic royalty, direct descendants of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland. Splash out on an evening of luxury in this celebrated property, which features its own championship golf course and lake.

Each room enjoys its own personality, is loaded with amenities and offers grand views. Whether you're staying in-house or not, the award-winning Earl of Thomond Dining Room sets a high standard of culinary excellence.

The sprawling Dromoland Estate is an absolute delight to explore. The gardens, which are based on designs by Andre Le Notre, who also planned the gardens at Versailles, include a formal rose garden and a lily pond dating from 1812. The River Rine flows through the estate and the castle lake is great for trout fishing. Deer, pheasant and other wildlife roam the grounds. Within the estate, you can also enjoy golf, archery, boating, fishing, clay-pigeon shooting, tennis, walking, and mountain biking. The castle also boasts an indoor swimming pool, gym and top-line spa.

Seamlessly blending old-world elegance with contemporary luxuries, Dromoland's tradition of delivering impeccable, unobtrusive service is never compromised.

Guests can relax under the careful attention of the staff and enjoy a selection of gourmet fine dining and delicious wines; unwind slowly in the Castle's five-Star luxury Health Spa or indoor heated pool; or enjoy a good book beside a crackling evening fire.

Situated close to Shannon International Airport, and regarded as one of the top luxury hotels Ireland has to offer, Dromoland Castle Hotel Ireland is the ideal base from which to explore Limerick and Galway, the Shannon region, and Ireland's West Coast.

- Hamilton News

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