Ireland's County Kerry draws you like one of those hypnotic gypsies on the boardwalk: seductively, under the radar, without your girlfriend knowing.
But this southwesterly stretch of the Emerald Isle definitely has a pulse, the draw being its silky green pastures punctuated by ancient castles, black-and-white cows, pulsating pubs, and dry humour. Yes, that's humour with a "u."
Fly into Shannon Airport in County Clare and take a taxi or limousine from there to your B&B. If you want to really get away from the crowds, journey clear out to Tarbert and Glin, about an hour and a half southwest of the airport.
On the way to Tarbert, stop at the 15th century Bunratty Castle for a real medievel rush including a costumed banquet replete with harpists and kilted piper. Even if your cabbie just stops to let you snap photos, it's not to be missed. The trip to Bunratty will run you about €22.
Journeying on, your car will whiz by gentle rolling hills and bright yellow farm houses. As you glide into Tarbert, you'll see a striking castle to your left along with a charming row of pubs and shops. Tip to the ladies: don't wander into a pub alone on a Sunday or you'll draw the attention of a roomful of lads!
Recommended lodging is one of the lovely, pastoral B&Bs that dot the landscape. A top choice is the Knights Haven on Glin Road in Tarbert. This Georgian farmhouse run by the O'Donovans will give you Yanks the true Irish experience, from its location on the Shannon Estuary to its homey accommodations. One of the best parts of traveling in Ireland (or the UK) is the attention to detail at breakfast. Here, a beautiful antique-appointed front dining room with ample views of cows, kids and sailboats entices. Just €35.00 per night for a double room, with breakfast, per person.
While in Western Ireland, don't forget a day trip or two. Not to be missed are the Cliffs of Moher, on the Southwestern stretch of Clare's Burren region. You'll be wise to just rent a car and spend the day driving there (about two hours north of Tarbert). Your hosts will gladly recommend taxi services in the area, or simply ask when you get into Shannon.
- Bring some sneakers. You'll want to trek all over Western Ireland. The Shannon is lovely, and moreover, you'll stumble across numerous castles or at least the rubble of some.
- Drink some Guinness. If you haven't tried it before, this is the place to do it: it's now brewed in London, but was introduced in the mid-18th century in Dublin. You'll fall in love with this dark stout.
- Don't take yourself too seriously. Everyone has a sense of humour in Ireland, and when they tease you, that's when you know you're welcome.
- Fly directly into Shannon for about $750 RT. A good deal, and you'll live without the hassle of layovers and pushy New Yorkers at JFK. If you want, though, you might find a cheaper deal laying over in the Big Apple. Play around on Expedia or Kayak. You might also find a cheaper direct flight into Heathrow. Aer Lingus is a terrific choice, but also seek out low-cost European carriers such as Ryanair. Please note that many smaller carriers fly out of Stansed or Luton.