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For many, West Cork is Ireland's ultimate destination -- not quite as crowded with tourists as Kerry, yet every bit as charming. It shares with Kerry a photo-friendly craggy topography and jagged coastline. It's impossible to make good time on the roads here, as they tend to be narrow and sinuous, twisting along rivers, through valleys, around mountains, and passing through lovely small towns. Those willing to slow down and go with the flow are amply rewarded. You'll probably come across at least one puzzling rural intersection that's completely unsignposted, and have to slow down for a herd of sheep slowly making its way down a country lane. In places, the public route that hugs the coast narrows to just one lane and delivers heart-stopping views. Over time, you may even come to think of the roads here as one of West Cork's great pleasures.

Some of the most beautiful coastal scenery (and severe weather) is on the islands. Cape Clear, home to a bird-watching observatory, is also a well-known Gaeltacht: Both schoolchildren and adults come here to work on their Gaelic skills each summer. Dursey Island, off the tip of the Beara Peninsula, is accessible by cable car. Garinish Island in Glengarriff is the site of Ilnacullin, an elaborate Italianate garden.

West Cork is known for its enticing and colorful towns. A cluster of artists gives Ballydehob a creative flair. At the local butcher, colorful drawings of cattle, pigs, and chickens indicate what's available, and a mural on the outside wall of a pub depicts a caleigh. Other notable enclaves include the buzzy, seaside town of Skibbereen (meaning "Little Boat Harbor"), where impromptu traditional-music sessions are commonplace in its 22 pubs; the immaculate, flower-box-on-every-sill town of Clonakilty; the yachting town Schull; and Barleycove, a remote, wind-swept resort that's the last stop before Mizen Head and the sheer cliffs at the island's southernmost tip.