Travel Insider: How the Burren is raising the bar for Irish tourism
Rocks n' Roll
Between a rock and a hard place, the Burren is blooming, says Ireland's Travel Journalist of the Year.
People often ask me how to get their towns and regions on the tourism map. What can they do to penetrate the media, boost social shares, and get on the visitor's radar? I've a pretty standard answer now. I suggest a short break in the Burren.
Not long ago, this karstic kingdom was known as a dramatic - but desolate - National Park. We marvelled at its moonscape, but mostly skirted past on our way to the Cliffs of Moher. Today, it's different. The Burren is known for its smokehouse, perfumery and chocolate factory. The Aillwee Caves has a brilliant Birds of Prey Centre. Adventure Burren is turning the rocks into a playground. Like Westport, Kinsale and Kilkenny, the community understands that visitors rarely travel for a hotel room. They deliver a destination.
This year, The Burren Food Trail was announced as the Irish winner of the 2015 EDEN (European Destination of Excellence) Award. This month, the area was voted the Restaurant Association of Ireland's Foodie Town 2015. As one of the judges, I was blown away at how the community had come together to turn this rugged place into a vision of fertility. In its way, it has been as spectacular a transformation as the May bloom of wild flowers.
This Bank Holiday weekend is an ideal time to visit. The Burren Food Fayre (burren.ie) is in full swing, and the Winterage Weekend (burrenwinterage.com) celebrates the ancient tradition of farmers herding their cattle upland for winter. You can even join herdsmen's walks - yet another story putting the Burren on the map.
In yet another gong for the Burren's mantelpiece, Gregans Castle (gregans.ie) has been named as Georgina Campbell's Hotel of the Year 2016. Simon and Freddie Haden's tone-perfect country house is "a quiet haven of discreet opulence, warm hospitality and caring service" as Georgina puts it.
The Blue Book bolthole has an autumn special bundling two nights' B&B with dinner on one evening and a half-day guided walk with sheep farmer Shane Connolly from €249pp.
Lisdoonvarna's Wild Honey Inn (wildhoneyinn.com) retained its Michelin Bib Gourmand this year. It has walking and dining packages including two nights' B&B, two dinners, two packed lunches and two guided walks with the brilliant Tony Kirby (heartofburrenwalks.com) from €260pp.
Meanwhile, Doolin's Sea View House (seaview-doolin.ie) won Best Irish Breakfast at the Irish Responsible Travel & Tourism Awards 2015 (Niall's Goat's Cheese Frittata with homemade tomato chutney and garden herbs will set you up for the day). It has B&B from €55pp.
NB: All prices subject to availability/change.