Barleycove Beach is a vast expanse of pristine sand with a fine view out toward the Mizen Head cliffs; despite the trailer park and holiday homes on the far side of the dunes, large parts of the beach never seem to get crowded. Take R591 to Goleen, and follow signs for Mizen Head. There is a public parking lot at the Barleycove Hotel.
Inchydoney Beach, on Clonakilty Bay, is famous for both its gorgeous beach and the salubrious Inchydoney Lodge & Spa (tel. 023/883-3143) that specializes in thalasso (seawater) treatments. These hydrotherapy baths are meant to do pretty much everything from lowering your blood pressure, to relieving pain and breaking down cellulite. Treatments range from micro bubble jet color light therapy (rebalances the chakras, don't you know) to a green tea and fucus algae detox. Oh, and if you've ever wanted to bathe in chocolate cream, this is the place to do it. Most treatments cost €40 for 20 minutes. For more information, visit www.inchydoneyisland.com.
The Mizen Head, Sheep's Head, and Beara peninsulas offer fine roads for cycling, with great scenery and few cars. The Beara Peninsula is the most spectacular; the other two are less likely to be crowded with tourists during peak season. The loop around Mizen Head, starting in Skibbereen, is a good 2- to 3-day trip, and a loop around the Beara Peninsula from Bantry, Glengarriff, or Kenmare takes at least 3 days at a casual pace.
In Skibbereen, 18- and 21-speed bicycles can be rented from Roycroft Cycles (tel. 028/21235; email@example.com); expect to pay around €70 per week, depending on the season. If you call ahead, you can reserve a lightweight mountain bike with toe clips at no extra cost.
Cape Clear Island is the prime birding spot in West Cork, and one of the best places in Europe to watch seabirds (see the box "Southern Exposure: An Excursion to Cape Clear Island"). The best time for seabirds is July to September, and October is the busiest month for migratory passerines (and for bird-watchers, who flock to the island). There is a bird observatory at the North Harbour, with a warden in residence from March to November, and accommodations for bird-watchers; to arrange a stay, write to Kieran Grace, 84 Dorney Court, Shankill, County Dublin. Ciarán and Mary O'Driscoll (tel. 028/39153 or 087/268-0760; www.capeclearisland.eu), who operate a B&B on the island, also run boat trips for bird-watchers and have a keen eye for vagrants and rarities.
The Baltimore Diving Centre, Baltimore, County Cork (tel. 028/20300; www.baltimorediving.com), provides equipment and boats to certified divers for exploring the many shipwrecks, reefs, and caves in this region. The cost starts at around €30 per dive if you bring your own gear, or €50 with hired equipment (plus €24 for a guide). Various 2-hour to 15-day certified PADI courses are available for all levels of experience.
The West Cork coast is known for its many shipwrecks, making this one of the best places in Ireland for wreck fishing. Mark and Trish Gannon of Courtmacsherry Sea Angling Centre, Woodpoint House, Courtmacsherry (tel. 023/46427; www.courtmacsherryangling.ie), offer packages that include bed-and-breakfast in their idyllic stone farmhouse and a day's sea angling aboard one of their two Aquastar fishing boats. A day's fishing costs around €60 per person (€70 if you want to go out to a wreck). They also run dolphin- and whale- watching excursions for €35 per person, or €100 per hour for groups of up to 12.
With hundreds of islands, numerous inviting inlets, and a plethora of sea caves, the coast of West Cork is a sea kayaker's paradise. Lough Ine offers warm, still waters for beginners, a tidal rapid for the intrepid, and access to a nearby headland riddled with caves that demand exploration. In Skibbereen, Atlantic Sea Kayaking (tel. 028/21058; www.atlanticseakayaking.com) specializes in guided trips around Galley Head in Clonakilty and Mizen Head. They also run family kayaking excursions, 2-day sea kayaking trips, and 1- to 5-day courses for those of varying levels of ability.
Sail Cork (East Hill, Cobh, tel.021/4811237; www.sailcork.com) was founded in 1974 and runs courses on just about every aspect of sailing, yachting, and power boating, for all levels and ages. The variety is huge, but they include a half-day children's course on dinghy sailing (€25), a 1-day adult beginners course in power boating (€58), all the way up to weeklong trips for competent crew (mostly around €725). The course list on the website is exhaustive, so this should be your first port of call for details.
Weeklong courses and equipment rental are available at the Oysterhaven Activity Centre near Kinsale. There is a sheltered beach in Courtmacsherry where beginners can get started and another nearby beach that's good for wave jumping.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.