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Traveling through Ireland – a Semi-Solo Tale

Awakening my inner (Irish) adventurer

By Holly Rosen Fink, GoGirlfriend Contributor

Traveling is a gift. I feel this every time I venture outside my home and into a new place. There is always a new adventure to be had, a moment to capture on camera and freeze-frame in my mind. My inner adventurer is awakened, as is the journal-keeping part of me. I take notes, I use social media and I record video. Whether I’m traveling alone, with a partner or with my children, I make every travel experience unique and powerful.

My recent semi-solo trip to Ireland was no exception. As I’ve written here several times, I’m a firm believer that travel time is crucial for me as a mother. Travel allows me to more easily tap into those rare, special moments in time…without having to worry about anyone else.

Touring as a group

solo travel in a group formatTraveling as part of a packaged tour, I wasn’t truly solo but an adult traveling with other adults, meeting new friends while taking in Ireland’s unbelievable scenery without interruption. I was traveling with Insight Vacations on their 8-day “Irish Elegance” tour, which took about 20 of us to southern Ireland through Dublin, Killarney, Galway and Ashford Castle.

To be honest, it was my first packaged tour and I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. Would I enjoy such a full agenda? How would it feel not booking my hotels and restaurants? Would I be part of a herd or get a dose of the local flavor?

Well, my answer to all of those questions is generally a positive one. With native Irish guides, Mike and Eugene, we were introduced to a side of Ireland I wouldn’t have been able to find on my own.

When travels transforms you

Ireland's Cliffs of MoherThe sign of a true journey is one that sends you home transformed, and Insight did just that. Mike and Eugene taught us not only the history of the land through wonderful story telling and by taking us to some of the best scenery in the country, but they introduced us to the people, food, culture and its combined beauty. We stopped for homemade flapjacks (as Mike called them) and other energizing refreshments and “flourishes”, ordered Irish coffee and learned how to pour Guinness and drink it like native Irish folk. I was also able to nurture new friendships and share my new experiences with others on the tour.

Insight Vacations introduced me to some great hotels, from budget to deluxe, throughout Ireland. Here’s a selection to keep in mind for your next Irish adventure.

Irish hotels I fell in love with

In Killarney, we stayed at Killarney Plaza, a charming hotel in the town center. The rooms are spacious, tasteful and quiet. I tend to be that traveler who relishes time in my room, and I couldn’t wait to return with a view of the quaint, walkable town at the end of a busy day and crawl into my cozy bed.

iconic Irish countrysidesIn Limerick, we stayed at the Castle Oaks Hotel, a Georgian manor house set on 26 acres of gardens and the banks of the River Shannon. The hotel’s décor is classic and my room was decorated with antiques, classical paintings, armoires and a chaise lounge on which I rested while working on my laptop. I loved taking a restorative and meditative stroll along the river near the grounds before dinner.

Our visit at Ashford Castle was exquisite. A member of the Leading Hotels of the World, the hotel was an experience like none other I’ve ever had. The castle dates back to 1228 but recently completed a $75 million renovation that has restored it to its original vigor with chandeliers, masterpieces of art, lush furniture, canopy beds and stunning grounds to explore. The rooms resemble royal staterooms and the service is so excellent that it was hard not to feel like a member of the royal family during my stay.

Exploring the Irish countryside

Everywhere we went in Ireland, we drove through green, glistening countryside. Ireland is more than just a spectacle – it has heart. Here are some of the places we explored and the moments that stand out in my memory:

  • In Kilkenny, we discovered the art of hurling and ventured to St. Patrick’s Rock of Cashel, a medieval monument, where I was enchanted by this seemingly large mound of limestone primed with ancient fortifications.
  • In the Ring of Kerry we ogled at towering cliffs, lush lake lands and strolled through quaint villages. As we rode through towns like Sneem and Waterville, we were introduced to sculptures – like the one of Charlie Chaplin who used to vacation in Waterville, and the piece of art dedicated to the people of Sneem by the State of Israel. We also stopped for my favorite “flourish”, a homemade flapjack.
  • We boarded a horse and carriage ride in Killarney, which took us though its beautiful National Park, passing by a 15th century castle and majestic cathedral. Killarney remains a special memory for as it’s where I went pubbing and spent time drinking Guinness with the locals.
  • I lost my heart in Dingle, where we witnessed gorgeous coastal scenery and soaked up the views of the Cliffs of Moher. It was there that I picked up a hat to keep my hair from blowing all over the place and now have many special photos wearing it.
  • falconry at Ashford castleAt Ashford Castle, we partook in its falconry school experience, went on a lengthy bike ride around the property’s woodlands and rode a boat around the castle. It was on that boat that we were introduced to Martin, aged 85, who serenaded us while playing accordion. He told us great stories about appearing with John Wayne in “The Quiet Man” many years ago. The film was actually shot in the town of Cong, where the castle lies and is shown every night in the Castle’s screening room.
  • In Dublin, we had private tours at Trinity College and the Guinness Brewery. Locals, making the info more unique and meaningful, led both tours. At the brewery, which is apparently one of the top tourist attractions in Europe, I tried my hand at pouring myself a pint of Guinness, and believe it or not, there’s a skill to the craft.

Where we ate in Ireland

O’Connells Restaurant in Donbybrook, Dublin is a great introduction to Irish cuisine with is local farm to table philosophy. From starters such as Silver Darling North Atlantic Herrings marinated in Limerick Mustard Sauce and Deviled Granstown Free-Range Eggs from Co Laois and Charcoal Oven Roasted Breast of Irish Chicken and Braised Shank of Irish Lamb as a main course. The ambiance is lively, warm and authentically Irish.

beautiful Killarney in Ireland's southIn Killarney, we enjoyed a unique culinary experience at the 19th Green Guest House, where the owners, John and Freda, cooked dinner before our eyes, making traditional Irish dishes like Irish Mutton Broth with Garden Vegetables and Pearl Barley with Wild Rosemary, Irish Tea Cake.

The Cornstore  Restaurant in Limerick is a trendy restaurant with an innovative menu that offers everything from quinoa, pomegranate & feta salad and gorgeous mains such as baked salmon and oven roast native hake.

Our meal at the Ashford Castle’s George V Dining Room was exquisite, akin to a Michelin starred venue, but we also noshed on a delicious meal at their more casual Cullens at the Cottage with delicious starters such as cold smoked haddock, filet of hake in beer batter, mushy peas and honeycomb ice cream.

As a result of traveling on my own with Insight Vacations, I was able to experience Ireland in a meaningful way. With kids in tow, the views would have been just as beautiful, but the ability to stop and linger was priceless and those moments were longer. I was able to truly take it all in and I mean it when I say that I came home with a renewed spirit – along with beautiful memories, new friends and so much to be grateful for. Ireland helped me to see things within myself that I hadn’t seen before. Whether it was because I had 8 full days to appreciate my time there or because I was experiencing something new, Ireland, a place I had been before, truly came to life and the adventure was transformative.

If you’re interested in taking a similar tour, Insight Vacations is offering its Irish Elegance (Country Road Vacation) starting April 18th, 2016.

Ever been to Ireland? What did you love about it? Drop a comment below or connect with the GoGirlfriend community on Facebook or Twitter.

About Holly Rosen Fink

Holly Rosen Fink ~ @HollyChroniclesHolly Rosen Fink ~ @HollyChronicles

Holly Rosen Fink is a Marketing, Communications, Public Relations, Branding and Social Media expert with over 15 years’ experience increasing brand awareness and sales at leading publishing houses and media companies. She is the founder of theculturemom.com and is a current contributor to This Girl Travels, Ciao Bambino, Family Vacation Critic, The Broad Side, BlogHer and Women & Hollywood.

Last year she edited Come Closer: How Tourism is Shaping the Future of Nations and associate produced the off-off-Broadway hit The Best of Everything and the NYC production of Listen to Your Mother

Disclosure: Holly was a guest of Insight Vacations but all opinions are her own.

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