We said goodbye to a successful 2019 tour season with a grand finale at the start of November - our ‘Castles & Classics’ VIP tour of Ireland. 7 days of delightful travel along the Wild Atlantic Way culminating in a blissful stay at Ashford Castle, the best hotel in the world!
On a crisp, bright Autumn morning we set off from Dublin (all our tours begin and end there, and pre and post-tour we help Tour Guests see Dublin on their own) with a fun group of 12 eager travellers, several of whom have travelled with us before and others who were new to our ‘Essential Ireland’ travel Philosophy of tiny groups, VIP style and incredible Irish experiences.
At the helm was our Chief Guide and co-founder, Stephen McPhilemy. Danny was at the wheel, steering us safely to our first stop - magical Dingle, while Stephen’s wife Rubia provided elegant hospitality in between historical anecdotes and sing-alongs!
At Essential Ireland Tours we take pride in helping our Tour-Guests avoid the huge tourists hordes that can sometimes overwhelm in Ireland, and this tour excelled in that.
We had 3 super relaxing days in Dingle, staying in Milltown House - our very own waterfront Manor on Dingle Bay, intimately getting to know this charming town, its characters, the fine pubs, the music and of course the gourmet food. Flying Golden Eagles, hawks and Owls at our very own school of Falconry was a major highlight, as was the traditional ‘Essential Ireland banquet’ (served on every tour) and this time cooked by the talented Martin Bealin, owner of Dingle’s renowned ‘Global Village’ restaurant.
Killarney proved to a delightful surprise for our guests, as we knew it would. ‘Essential Ireland’ is a big fan of this wonderful town. There is simply so much to do, and enjoy! We based ourselves in the Killarney Plaza Hotel on Main Street. Our tours offer a one night stay in Killarney, so we focused on the National Park on our doorstep, toured Muckross House and had fun jaunting car ride through woods and lakeside to the Muckross Abbey, where Stephen provided an animated guided tour of the ruins and introduced guests to the jaw-dropping ancient Yew tree, a must see. Thirsts for knowledge quenched, guests then had the evening free to enjoy the vibrant shopping, pub and restaurant scene.
The sun shone at the Cliffs of Moher, so majestic. It set the scene for the evening in beautiful Dromoland Castle. As we slowly drove up the entrance road, it really was a sight to behold. The hospitality at Irish Castle hotels is consistently excellent and once checked-in, our group of 12 disappeared off to explore Victorian walled gardens, hydro-pools, hallowed halls, lakeside walks, the golf course, elegant dining rooms and of course the historic oval cocktail bar. Such a fun stay.
A visit to Ashford will always be highlight of everyone’s Irish holiday, however after 20 years of tour-guiding experience, Stephen knew that the incredible beauty of Connemara and the setting of Kylemore Abbey would make this a day to live permanently in the memories of all aboard. The weather gods were in our favour again, and the scenic drive through this remote part of Galway and Mayo, one of Europe’s last true wildernesses, was immensely enjoyable and relaxing. We toured Kylemore Abbey in depth and then headed to Cong (tidy town winner & location of the Hollywood classic, ’the Quiet Man’) to maximise our time at Ashford Castle, voted “the best hotel in the world”! It didn’t disappoint, never does. It was such a pleasure to share this Irish travel experience with our cherished Tour-Guests. In years to come when we cross paths we will talk about it and smile.
We were still smiling and talking about it next day when we said our goodbye toasts and sang our songs of farewell in the Guinness Storehouse back in Dublin's fair city.
“Lets drink and be merry, all grief to refrain, for we may or may never all meet here again”