“I make my own map to give to guests,” the concierge at Dromoland Castle Hotel quietly explains as he pulls a photocopied, hand-drawn map of the western part of Ireland from his pocket. We’ve rented a car to explore the countryside.

Ireland, a place I visit again and again for its Crayola-green colored hillsides and the instant brain-pleasing scent in what can only be described as crisp wet grass. I love it here. I feel at ease here. And it’s not because I can trace ancestral roots back — it’s my own personal period drama come alive whilst imbibing on beer and Irish comfort food (please pass the mashed peas). Every person is ready to share a piece of history over a pint and even the surliest of barkeeps comes around as discussions turn from touristy questions to genuine intrigue. 

cows grazing in western ireland
Courtesy of Deanne Kaczerski

I could have booked us a hotel in Dublin, most people’s first choice. This isn’t my first trip along the Wild Atlantic Way, but it is for my son who has yet to discover the Cliffs of Moher (huge Princess Bride fans, HMNIIMYKMFPTD) or any of the quaint towns that dot the coastal drive, like Doolin or Galway. “We aren’t driving too far north this trip, but we will drive up the coast some and then turn inward to explore more of the countryside,” which is exactly what I tell the concierge as he highlights places on the map we need to stop for photos, a drink and lunch, and a bit of light shopping.

do not drive off cliff sign in western ireland
Courtesy of Deanne Kaczerski

Ennistimon, our first stop, is a quaint country market town about 30 minutes northwest of Dromoland. Here, we got out to grab a coffee (it’s quite early still) and walked to The Cascades — a series of waterfalls just behind the main street. The air was crisp and the flecks of water popping from the rushing water stung our faces, but the force was outstanding and so we stayed for a few minutes and snapped some obligatory selfies before walking around. You’ll pass through Ennistimon on your way to the coast, so it’s almost an absolute must stop since it’s along the way. Oh, and be careful to not drive your car off the cliff. 

We arrived in Lahinch (an asterisked stop from our concierge) and parked the car along one of the many side roads studded with shops, bakeries, and bars, but we’re here for the beach. A true coastal town, houses are colorful and pop against the emerald backdrop which make it perfect for pictures. The waves in winter are also quite powerful, often surging above the rocks, so stay on the beach walk if you don’t want the ocean spray. Plan to stay at least for a meal. My son and I popped into Hugo’s (also a concierge recommendation), and to say we were delighted is a gross understatement. Try the sausage roll, try all of the pastries, try the sandwiches. Everything we ate was incredible. 

the cliffs of moher in clare county ireland
Courtesy of Deanne Kaczerski

If you’ve never been to the Cliffs of Moher, despite it being a tourist attraction, they are spectacular. Our concierge yet again came through. There’s an almost-blink-and-you’ve-missed-it turnoff along the way to take a private road up directly to the Cliffs. You’ll be on private property, and you’ll have to pay the farmer (who sits in a small outpost waiting for people) around $10 to park on his land, but you’ll avoid the main hub and have direct access to the Cliffs and the walkway around — his parking area is directly in the middle of the Cliffs of Moher, and in my opinion the best option depending on how much of the park you want to walk. A Unesco Global Geopark, this really is a breathtaking stop if you’re in the area. Plan to spend about two hours walking around. 

Leaving the Cliffs, we drive past Doonagore (and we snap a pic of the historic tower) on our way to Doolin. Here, our concierge recommends we pop into Gus O’Connors for traditional Irish pub fare — I ordered the fish and chips, while my son asked for the beef stew over mashed potatoes. We devoured every bite.

Shortly after leaving Doolin (about 15 minutes) we stop. Another spot on the map — The Burren. If you love the outdoors or the perfect Instagram photo, this is your place. Cautiously we hike to the edge (and even scale down some) to get a closer look at the ocean. You’ll be surprised at how much vegetation grows amongst the rocks and even more surprised to see some cows along the way. 

castle in ireland
Courtesy of Deanne Kaczerski

Back in the car, we drive north through Fanore and Ballyvaughn to see more of the coast then turn inland. Here, hidden amongst tall grass is a small-batch luxury perfumery aptly named: The Burren Perfumery. Face serums, perfume, and other skincare products are handmade using local ingredients in small batches. We take a tour of the gardens and various blending rooms, but stop in the cafe (two asterisks on the map) — The Tea Room, where we sampled pies, tea, and met (and fed) an adorable pup who was more than happy to take any samples we were willing to share.

Our drive back to Dromoland Castle was faster than anticipated — just under an hour. I called ahead to have dinner ordered (we were starving) and waiting for us in the main lounge by the fireplace which you can reserve (along with a strong G&T for me). The concierge truly made our trip incredible and most certainly created a core memory for my son whose byline you’ll likely see in years to come.

Featured image courtesy of Nils Nedel via Unsplash