It’s the undoubted lure of the landscape, along with the easy pace and rhythms of life, which draw the majority of visitors to Ireland. Once there, few are disappointed: the green, rain-hazed loughs and wild, bluff coastlines, the inspired talent for conversation and the place of music and language at the heart of Irish culture all conspire to ensure that the reality lives up to expectations. More surprising perhaps is just how much variety this very small land packs into its countryside. The limestone terraces of the stark, eerie Burren seem separated from the fertile farmlands of Tipperary by hundreds rather than tens of miles, and the harshly beautiful west coast, with its cliffs, coves and strands, looks as if it belongs in another country altogether from the rolling plains of the central cattle-rearing counties.
It’s a place to explore slowly, roaming through agricultural landscapes scattered with farmhouses, or along the endlessly indented coastline. Spectacular seascapes unfold from rocky headlands where the crash of the sea against the cliffs and myriad islands is often the only sound. It is perfect if you want space to walk, bike or (with a bit of bravado) swim, or if you want to fish, sail or spend a week on inland waterways. In the smaller towns, too, the pleasures are unhurried: evenings over a Guinness or two in the snug of a pub, listening to the chat around a blood-orange turf