The extraordinary otherworldly landscape of the region known simply as the Burren is difficult to describe. Carved by nature from bare carboniferous limestone, the view manages to be both desolate and beautiful. Sheets of rock jut and undulate in a kind of moonscape as far as you can see. Amid the rocks, delicate wildflowers somehow find enough dirt to thrive, and ferns curl gently around boulders, moss softens hard edges, orchids flower exotically, and violets brighten the landscape. With the flowers come butterflies that thrive on the rare flora. Even Burren animals are unusual: The pine marten (small weasels), stoat (ermine), and badger, all rare in the rest of Ireland, are common here.
The Burren began to get its strange and unforgettable appearance 300 million years ago when layers of shells and sediment were deposited under a tropical sea. Many millions of years later, those layers were exposed by erosion and poor prehistoric farming methods, and since then, it's all been battered by the Irish rain and winds, producing all that you see today. About 7,000 years ago, when this landscape was already very old indeed, humans first began to leave their mark here, in the form of Stone Age burial monuments, such as the famed Poulnabrone Dolmen and Gleninsheen wedge tomb.
Lisdoonvarna, on the western edge, is a charmingly old-fashioned spa town that has long been known for its natural mineral springs. Each summer, it draws thousands of people to bathe in its sulfuric streams, iron creeks, and iodine lakes.
One of the best ways to explore the Burren is to take the R480. Through a series of corkscrew turns, the road curves from Corofin through gorgeous scenery to Ballyvaughan, a delightful little village overlooking the blue waters of Galway Bay.