You might say that West Cork is like County Kerry without the crowds. Like Kerry, it’s got a photo-friendly craggy topography and jagged Atlantic coastline; and also as in Kerry, it’s impossible to make good time on the narrow, sinuous roads here, as they twist along rivers, through valleys, around mountains, and through lovely small towns. Those willing to slow down and go with the flow are amply rewarded. You’ll probably come across a few rural intersections that are completely lacking in signage, and end up slowing down for at least one herd of sheep ambling 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 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 West Cork’s islands. Cape Clear, home to a bird-watching observatory, is also a well-known Gaeltacht: Schoolchildren and adults alike 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.

The area is also 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.