Wherever you go in Ireland there are people extolling the unique virtues of their particular patch of green, but the Burren is one of those places that non-natives continue to remember long after their visit has passed.
A wistful look comes into the eyes of those who’ve spent any time there as they try and explain its attractions. Some see it as a sort of verdant moonscape, it is certainly geographically unique as limestone landscapes are a rarity across the planet and in the Burren there is the added drama of the nearby Atlantic ocean.
There is a simple grandeur to the vast rugged expanse and perhaps it is the contrast of that wide vista with the explosion of colour in the view at your feet that gives this place it’s magic. The rainbow of flora and fauna are an extraordinary testament to mother nature’s tenacity and creativity. There are innumerable walks through this rich part of our natural heritage, from the casual stroll to the moderate and hearty. Indeed even those who are least mobile can be accommodated on car tracks through the Burren.
Better still if you have a guide to reveal the joys around you and no better person than Tony Kirby with an encyclopaedic and entertaining knowledge of the landscapes. He welcomes large and small parties and his book ‘The Burren & Aran Islands, a Walking Guide’ is worth checking out (www.heartofburrenwalks.com). Don’t be surprised if he concludes the walk with a heart-warming poem.
A hearty walk does require sustenance and there’s plenty to choose from in Co Clare. Not far from the conclusion of a hike on the Burren in Killinaboy you’ll find a familiar looking house. At least familiar if you’ve ever watched Father Ted, yes, the house is actually located here rather than on Craggy Island. Cheryl and her husband Pat McCormack welcome guests for afternoon tea (by appointment) and mixed with the homely baking are stories of the filming of the famed series. More formal meals can be found in Vaughan’s Anchor Inn on the Main Street in Liscannora, the wood panelled pub has a crackling fire and Denis Vaughan cooks the bounty of the sea with some panache.
Over in Lisdoonvarna you’ll find music and craic at The Roadside Tavern. Be warned though, if you meet the convivial proprietor Peter Curtin you might well settle there for your entire holiday, especially if you try his range of superb beers from his micro brewery. During the high season you’ll also find a menu that celebrates locality not least of which is the smoked salmon from just down the road in the Burren Smokehouse where Peter Curtin’s wife Brigitta makes the most beautiful smoked salmon. The Smokehouse has a deli and shop as well as demonstration area with tastings afterwards, ideal for a gang of friends away for the weekend.
Adventure and bracing winds can be found at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience. The landscape is as dramatic as you’ll find in Europe and even if the drama of the weather forces you indoors the impressively built centre has an interesting, walk-through experience (good for easily bored kids) and a cafe too.
Over in Ballyvaughan are the Ailwee Caves, ancient natural caverns, deep in the mountains, filled with chasms, glittering waterfalls and jewel-like stalactites and stalagmites. Entertainment continues at Christmas time when the caves become home to Santa and his elves. At the foot of the hill they’ve also created an impressive falconry where you can watch the birds of prey being trained and fed. This is a spectacular display of nature’s most elegant of creatures children of all ages will be enthralled as the birds of prey swoop over their heads.
Every holiday should include a smart night out and the Wild Honey Inn is all that and more. Chef Aidan Mc Grath has carved out a restrained style that reflects the locality through the seasons. The pub is a relaxed place, with polished wooden furniture, large windows, a great big welcoming fire and half-panelled, white painted walls. Simple dishes included velouté of smoked haddock potato and leeks with crisp duck egg ; or mussels poached in saffron and basil. Clever, simple, beautiful: no wonder he got the nod from the Michelin guide with a Bib Gourmande.
A stay in Lahinch is ideal for those with a surfing rack on their car – the waves on the strand are famed for the sport – but if you “could never figure out how your man stayed up on the surfboard after 14 pints of stout” there’s other entertainment and relaxation. Vaughan Lodge may well be the ideal place to rest your head, a four star country hotel who manage to beautifully balance excellence of service with a relaxed approach to their customers. But don’t miss their restaurant and elegant bar area where comfort and style meet. The bar has a comforting fireplace and there’s a luxurious club atmosphere where glasses of quality whiskey need to be swirled and tall tales unwound. Indeed tall tales, great craic and superb vittles seem to be the stock in trade in the Burren.
OUT AND ABOUT
Plan your journey through the Discover Ireland website www.discoverireland.ie/food
Take a walking tour of the Burren with Tony Kirby, Heart of Burren Walks.
Tony Kirby + 353 (0) 87 2925487
[PIC of TONY’s BOOK already emailed]
Father Ted’s Parochial House, Killinaboy.
Organic home produced afternoon tea. Children are €5, adults €10
Cheryl & Pat McCormack, + 353 (0) 65 7089187
Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience
+ 353 (065 7086145)
The Burren Centre, Kilfenora
+ 353 (0)65 7088030)
Ailwee Caves, Ballyvaughan
353 (0)65 7077036)
WHAT TO EAT
Vaughan’s Anchor Inn
Main Street, Liscannor
Chef Denis Vaughan was named Seafood Chef of the Year by the B I M Seafood Circle this year.
+ 353 (0) 65 7081548
Try Brigitta Curtin’s spiced and honey glazed salmon as well as the smoked trout and mackerel. Alternatively you can try it in Dean and Deluca in New York, the latest establishment to recognise the quality product.
+ 353 (0) 65 7074432
The Roadside Tavern & Burren Brewery Craft Beer
+ 353 (0) 65 707 4084
Wild Honey Inn
Chef Aidan Mc Grath holds the unique accolade of being the chef who landed the first pub in Ireland to attain a Bib Gourmand.
Kincora Road, Lisdoonvarna,
(065 7074300) http://wildhoneyinn.com/
Sundays between 11 am and 3 pm. Located on the land bank between the river and the canal, known as Between-the-Waters.
WHERE TO STAY
4 star modern designer country hotel, run by 4th generation hoteliers Michael and Maria Vaughan.
+ 353 (0) 65 7081111
A charming Georgian villa built in 1788 on the Burren coastline of County Clare.
Flaggy Shore, New Quay, Burren
+ 353 (0) 65 7078126)
New Market on Fergus
+ 353 (0) 61 368144
Bunratty Cookery School
Set in the historic village of Bunratty the school use produce from their own garden in small classes of ten or less.
Manderley House, Deerpark
(061 713500) www.bunrattycookeryschool.ie
Berry Lodge Cookery School & Guest House
From tailored individual courses with an overnight stay and private lessons to weekend breaks and even five week courses.
Annagh, Spanish Point, Miltown Malbay
+353 (0) 65 708 7022