If Ireland is one big scenic drive, then the famed Ring of Kerry is the portion most sought out for its singular beauty. Though a secret no longer, there are plenty of views to go around. Beginning and ending in Killarney, a breathtaking succession of gray-blue land- and seascapes unfolds along what is less glamourously known as N70 and N71, a 110-mile coastal-hugging road that follows the dips and bumps of the Iveragh Peninsula, providing some of Ireland’s most extravagant scenery. Make one little detour, and you are in unchartered terrain with nary a tour bus to be seen—only traffic jams of the four-legged kind. Offshore the craggy outlines of the mystic Skellig Islands are visible. The steep barren slopes of Skellig Michael are the site of monastic cells dating back to the 7th century; cruises will bring visitors in close, but landings are not permitted.
Avoid the high-season tour bus congestion of Killarney and use tiny, picturesque Kenmare as your base. This 19th-century market town is made all the more delightful by the presence of Packie’s, a cozy bistro-style place whose menu is known far and wide for both the simple (Irish stew, rack of lamb) and the imaginative (gratin of crab and prawns or the daily blackboard special).
Later you can check into the Park Hotel Kenmare, one of Ireland’s most exquisite country-house hotels. Built in 1897, the stern, gray stone house has become known for many things: its splendid eclectic collection of antiques, original paintings, and tapestries; a smiling no-task-is-too-small staff that perfects the irresistible combination of impeccable efficiency with Irish friendliness; a warm, welcoming atmosphere; a renowned restaurant serving Irish-Continental cuisine; and an adjoining 18-hole golf course with breathtaking views. The aforementioned gorgeous scenery has long made this corner of southwest Ireland one of the country’s most alluring.
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