Kathy Whitehead recommends Ireland
From Dublin to Waterford and Kenmare to Galway, the endless rolling hills are shrouded in emerald-green grass, while castles dot the landscape, making it all rather surreal.
Proud of their heritage, the Irish revel in their roots and their intrinsic Celtic mythology is evident around every corner.
The myriad of ruins date back hundreds of years and have the most profound effect on the imagination.
My favourite place
Within a few days of being in the country I lost count of the historical sites I saw, but two that really stood out were the Blarney and Bunratty castles.
More fort-like than anything else, Blarney Castle is particularly famous for its Blarney Stone. Legend states that if you lie on your back and kiss it while upside down, you will be blessed with the gift of the gab.
Dating back as far as AD1200, Blarney Castle stands in partial ruin, but the public can reach the Stone of Eloquence by means of a narrow spiral staircase carved out of rock.
Bunratty Castle, near Limerick, is a popular tourist haunt, although its multiple staircases, which are more akin to vertical tunnels, are not for the faint-hearted or the unfit.
The turrets afford breathtakingly beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and in times gone by, a sentry would have easily been able to peer over the tree tops, keeping watch for marauding clans on the war path.
For centuries, Bunratty Castle was on a rollercoaster of destruction and reconstruction as it was often the target of ongoing clan wars. The present structure, however, has proudly stood its ground since the 1400s.
But it was the staircases that intrigued me above all else and I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth the so-called gentry of the times survived these treacherous formations.
Known for their revelry, they would have had to navigate these narrow death-traps unaided after a night of feasting and celebration. One can only wonder how they did it.
Ireland is a modern and technologically advanced country, but its ability to preserve its heritage is commendable.
Ensuring ease of passage for all its visitors, Ireland has a network of signposts that are quite frankly enviable. No matter where you are, a sign will direct you – be it to a hiking trail, a hotel, a monument or a place of interest.
From Dublin to Kenmare, the Ring of Kerry to the Cliffs of Moher, Galway and Limerick and all the villages in between, this country is well-versed in welcoming tourists, making anyone’s holiday here as uncomplicated as possible.
As a holiday destination, Ireland comes highly recommended. B&Bs abound and public transport is a dream, making it easy for visitors to hop from one village to the next by bus. The other option is to hire a car and simply follow the quaint signposts.
Be prepared for miserable weather. Ireland is known for grey skies, rain and very little sunshine. Take warm clothes and be sure to pack that raincoat, or an umbrella at least.
Tourism is ingrained in the Irish, so visitors to this amazing country can rest assured that souvenirs are plentiful and such stores line the main streets in most villages, towns and cities.
Celtic memorabilia is plentiful, so too is everything stamped Ireland – from T-shirts and mugs to fridge magnets; you name it, you can probably find it.
Where to stay
I stayed at a number of hotels in the 10 days or so that I was there, but the two establishments that stood out were the Belfry Hotel in Waterford and the Blarney Castle Hotel in the village of Blarney.
Both hotels boasted old world charm and offer comfortable accommodation.