As the region’s biggest town (though that’s not saying much), the seaside town of Clifden (An Clochán) has an enviable location at the edge of the blue waters of Clifden Bay, where miles of curving, sandy beaches skirt the rugged coastline. It’s an attractive Victorian town with colorful shop fronts and church steeples thrusting skyward, well provided with restaurants, shops, hotels, and pubs, and thus it makes a handy base for exploring the area. Still, it’s also quite touristy. If you prefer a quieter location, seek out one of the many smaller towns and villages in the area, such as the small fishing port of Roundstone (Cloch na Rón) ★ on the south coast about 24km (15 miles) away, which also has all the essentials: pristine beaches, comfortable guesthouses, good restaurants, shops, and more than its share of natural charm. North of Clifden, the little community of Letterfrack (Leitir Fraic) sits at the edge of Connemara National Park, close to the extraordinary Gothic Kylemore Abbey. The tiny village, founded by Quakers, has a handful of pubs and B&Bs in a glorious natural setting. It’s near the bright white sands of Glassillaun Beach and Lettergesh, where horses raced across the sand in the film The Quiet Man. North and east of Letterfrack, on the shore of Killary Fiord, Leenane (Leenaun) is the starting point for a number of excellent scenic hikes.
The Best Smell in Ireland?
“There is no fireside like your own fireside.”
You don’t have to stay for long in Ireland to get used to the strong, smoky, slightly sweet smell of burning turf—dried bricks of peat taken from bogs. There are plenty who don’t care for this quintessentially Irish smell, and for sure it can be quite overpowering. But for the rest of us, there’s nothing else like it. In fact, if there’s another smell so instantly redolent of this land—of cozy evenings by smoky hearths, of tales told and faraway friends—well, we’ve yet to find it.
Fully a third of the Connemara countryside is classified as bog, and these stark and beautiful boglands—formed over 2,500 years ago—have long been an important source of fuel. (During the Iron Age the Celts also found other use for the bogs, using them to store perishable foods such as butter.) Although no longer the lifeline it once was, cutting and drying turf is still an integral part of the rhythm of the seasons in Connemara.
Cutting requires a special tool, a spade called a slane, which slices the turf into bricks about 46cm (18 in.) long. The bricks are first spread out flat to dry, and then stacked in pyramids for further drying.
You can always tell when turf is burning in a home’s fireplace—the smoke coming out of the chimney is blue and heavily scented. Regrettably the bricks are a little too bulky to make good souvenirs, but you may find turf-scented incense and candles in craft stores.
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.