I was lucky to spend the first weekend of July in my beloved Connemara on the West of Ireland. It is a place of incredible beauty that never seizes to amaze me. I drove from Westport direction down to Leenane and the views were absolutely breathtaking. If you don’t mind spending a little bit longer on the road, I would recommend driving through the Doolough Valley instead, pull your car on the side of the road and enjoy the lakes and mountains around you.
Leenane is a lovely little village – busy during the summertime and very quiet in winter. During peak season it offers many different restaurants to choose from and I opted to have lunch in a small and homey Blackberry Café. This award-winning restaurant offers delicious food and fast and friendly service. I would highly recommend stopping there for a lunch!
I had a whole day of activities planned ahead of me and after the lunch I drove down a few minutes’ drive to the pier where the Killary Fjord Cruises start from. The cruise lasts for 90 minutes and it takes you down the Killary Fjord – the only fjord in Ireland. There is a really interesting audio commentary on pointing out places of interest along the way and you can either choose to sit outside or inside sheltered from the elements. I got lucky with the weather and opted to sit outside and even though I have seen the fjord many times, it was so different to see it from a boat. The staff on-board were friendly and helpful and many people seemed to enjoy the little restaurant/bar offering food and drinks. I can only imagine how lovely it would be sitting inside on a cold day sipping Irish coffee and watching the mountains pass by! I would highly recommend this experience, and sometimes you might be lucky and see the resident school of dolphins swimming alongside the boat!
After the cruise I checked in to the 3-star Leenane Hotel. The rooms either have a view of the fjord or mountains behind the hotel, so you can’t really go wrong either way! I got a lovely room looking over the fjord. The hotel is family-run and some might call it old-fashioned, but I loved the character of it and especially the lounge area with couches and a real fire. I changed into my walking gear and drove down to Letterfrack.
The Connemara National Park is located in Letterfrack around 20-25 minutes’ drive away. The visitor centre was just about to close when I got there, but I got some excellent advice regarding the different trails. There are three different trails up the Diamond Hill– Yellow, Blue and Red. Yellow would be suitable for families, blue for someone wishing to do an hour’s walk and red for people who don’t mind a bit of a challenge. I am extremely unfit (trust me, a flight of stairs practically kills me!) but I chose the Red trail anyway! The beginning of the trail was easy and really nice to walk on. The path is mostly made out of gravel and the wooden parts of the trail are a real joy to walk on! Soon after when the Blue trail changes into the Red one the path changes into steps made out of rocks and when you get closer to the top it gets a bit tricky. There was a period of around 10-minutes when I got tired and had to stop for a few times to catch my breath. It’s one of those mountains where there is a peak after another peak but after a 60-minute climb exactly, I was on the top of it. And the view that greeted me on the top made me forget about the climb completely – It was so worth it! The lady in the visitor centre said that getting on the top gives you a real sense of achievement and she could have not been more right with her words. You can see the ocean, some of the 12 Bens and even the Kylemore Abbey. I took my time enjoying the peace and quiet before I started the journey back down. It was easy going though I found it a bit painful for my poor chins. I was back at the car park 2 hours and 20 minutes after I had started the climb. What an experience!
Back in the hotel I enjoyed a lovely meal in the pub which was buzzing with atmosphere. I was surrounded by a group of Germans rooting for their football team! You can choose to either eat in the fine dining restaurant or in the pub, and I felt like after that hike I deserved some heartfelt pub grub! After the meal I took a glass of wine with me to the lounge area and excitedly watched the rest of the football match with other hotel guests. Mingling with other people during a hotel stay is not something I normally do, but the lounge in this hotel was so inviting and warm, that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I feel that most modern hotels cannot offer something like this, so I cherished the moment and felt really relaxed and cosy on my sinking armchair.
Breakfast the next morning was served in the fine dining restaurant (so I got to see it anyway), and it was really nice. They offered a wide selection of continental items and cooked warm breakfast from order. After breakfast I packed my bags, checked out and walked to the building next to the hotel that is a host to Soak – Connemara Seaweed baths. They are the only seaweed baths in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon that have real seawater pumped into the bath tubs. You can either choose from a room with two baths or a single room with a view! You first sit in a steam room for a few minutes and then soak up in the bath for a good 45-minutes or so. There is quiet music played on the background and the whole experience is so relaxing. Seaweed has been used in Ireland for a very long time, and its health benefits are widely known. My skin and hair felt so smooth after the bath. You finish up the whole experience with a 30-second cold shower, you’ll definitely feel wide awake and refreshed after it! The price is €25 per person and the Leenane Hotel guests get a generous discount. A great way to finish the Connemara experience!
After the seaweed bath I drove to Galway through Inagh Valley and its lovely lake and mountain views. After a few hours in Galway I drove back to Dublin feeling genuinely relaxed, well rested and ready for a work week ahead of me!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kati Lepisto is very passionate about the West of Ireland and especially the Wild Atlantic Way. She used to live in Galway City and knows it inside and out. She would be happy to help you with any inquiries regarding the West! You can email her directly at [email protected]