Tuesday 24 April 2018

Go find Italy in Ireland

Irish road trips inspired by Italy

Ireland and Italy are very different places, but if you look hard enough you can see some similarities. Go find little bits of Italy in Ireland with these Italy-inspired road trips.

There’s a very special relationship between Italians and Irish, a mutual respect for each other’s differences, in many ways we complement each other perfectly. That’s why Ireland remains a hugely popular travel destination for Italians and why Italy is a perennial haven for Irish seeking sun and culture. Still though, if you can’t actually get to Italy, you can make the most of the Irish summer and live a bit of ‘la bella vita’ on the ‘auld sod’.

Venetian canals, Blessington Lake, drive time: 2 hours 39 mins from Dublin

Ireland’s network of navigable canals has, in recent years experienced a resurgence. Once a forgotten dumping ground for shopping trollies, local waterway enthusiasts along with Waterways Ireland have seen these 18th century feats of engineering restored to their former glory and the potential for recreation and tourism is huge. Connecting Dublin in the east to the river Shannon in the west and Northern Ireland, the middle of Ireland is criss-crossed with canal waterways that make a great route for a day trip. The navigable canals are the Barrow Navigation, the Erne System, the Grand Canal, the Lower Bann, the Royal Canal, the Shannon-Erne Waterway and the Shannon Navigation and there are 18 derelict canals in towns such as Athlone, Kilkenny, Newry and Strabane.

These waterways are undiscovered gems and completely underused, walks along the many inland waterways in the summer offer a relaxing family day out. From Dublin head out west along the Grand canal, through Lucan and Celbridge, Newbridge and where the canal meets the Liffey at Ballymore Eustace and Blessington lakes, where you can stop for a picnic in the wilds of Wicklow and a world away from the city. The Royal canal will take you out through Clonskeagh, Leixlip as far as Mullingar. There the waterway is linked to Lough Ennell, an angler’s paradise, but a wonderful secluded spot for a family day out.

Tuscany compares to Connemara, drive time: 2 hours 26 mins from Dublin

They say that Tuscany represents all the best of Italy in one place. History, culture, natural beauty, food and wine, it’s a world famous holiday destination and a unique place. Ireland’s Connemara can rival Tuscany in almost every respect, it is a unique destination that can hold its head up with any global destination, certainly in terms of natural beauty. Galway is now a mere 2 hours and 26 minutes’ drive from Dublin on the M6 it’s feasible to do a round trip in one day. However, stopping overnight will allow you to get the best out of the rugged coastline of Connemara. Oysters and Guinness watching the sun set in the west along the Galway coast is an unforgettable experience.

Volcanic Ireland – Giant’s Causeway, drive time: 3 hours from Dublin

Italy of course has three of Europe’s biggest and most active volcanoes in Vesuvius, Mt. Etna and Stromboli. Ireland, has had its fair share of volcanic activity throughout history, but, thankfully, all its volcanoes are extinct. You can find these dead giants in places such as Slieve Gullion in Co Armagh, Lambay Island in Dublin, Loch Na Fooey in Co Galway, and Croghan Hill in Co Offaly.

However, the best example of evidence of volcanic activity in Ireland is the Giant’s Causeway on the Antrim Coast. It is exactly a 3 hour drive from Dublin to the Giants Causeway, so an overnight stay is recommended, but not to be missed, the Antrim coast is one of Ireland's most unique and stunning day trips. Croghan Hill in the Bog of Allen in Co. Offally is another extinct volcano and can be reached in about an hour and 35 minutes from Dublin. At only 234 metres it is a gentle climb accessible to the whole family, but because the surrounding bog is so flat it has stunning panoramic views.

Greek ruins – Portico at Kenure House, Rush drive time: 1 hour 13 mins from Dublin city centre

The Portico on the grounds of Kenure House in Rush are just all that remains of a once grand estate. In 1964 Colonel R. H. Fenwick-Palmer, the last of the Palmers to live in the house, abandoned the house, unable to meet costs of maintenance sold the house to their Irish Land Commission. The Portico is all that remains, standing alone on the land against the dramatic Dublin sky, it has an eerie presence much like the Ancient Greek ruins at Agrigento in Sicily.

Life’s a beach – Inchydoney, drive time: 1 hour from Cork, Portmarnock: 34 mins from Dublin

Trip Advisor has Inchydoney beach in Clonakilty, Cork as the country’s best. West Cork was once a ‘divil’ to get to, but these days you can reach Inchydoney from Dublin in 3 hours 28 minutes on the M8, it’s just an hour from Cork city. Inchydoney is an island long connected to the mainland by two causeways, there are two beaches, each either side of the Virgin Mary headland. For something closer to the capital, Portmarnock beach is only 34 minutes’ drive form Dublin city centre and gets into Trip Advisors’ top 10 beaches in tenth place. Nicknamed the Velvet Strand because of its beautiful fine sand it really is something special if the sun comes out.

Clonfert Cathedral, Galway drive time: 1 hour 51 mins from Dublin

The carved doorway on Clonfert Cathedral in Galway is the considered the finest example of the hiberno-romanesque style.  The earliest part of the church was built in 1180 but the romanesque elements including the doorway arch, windows chancel arch and sacristy were inserted in the 15th century.

Prickly heat at the Botanic Gardens – drive time: 9 mins from Dublin city centre

If you’re yearning for the sweltering heat of a Sicilian summer but you’ve no chance of getting away, get to the cactus house at the National Botanic Gardens. The original Cactus House is undergoing restauration, but the current collection of prickly cactuses still impressive enough and with a constant temperature of 26 C it’s about as close as you can get to the semi-desert landscape found at the very heel of Italy as you can get in Hibernia (land of winter).

Viva Verdi

The Opera Theatre Company brings its production of Verdi’s tragic masterpiece Rigoletto, one of the greatest operas of all time, on tour throughout Ireland May 15th to 30th. The opera is directed by Selina Cartmell, in a newly commissioned contemporary translation by playwright Marina Carr and can be seen in Wexford, Dundalk, Navan, Dublin, Letterkenny, Kilkenny and Limerick.

Gelato at Dun Laoghaire, drive time: 29 mins from Dublin city centre

In the height of summer, the Italians emerge in the relative cool of the evening to take in the sunset and refresh themselves with ice cream. What they’re really doing is promenading, all the family dressed up in their finery, immaculately turned out and watching people watching them. The closest you can get to this tradition is walking the peer in Dun Laoghaire with a Teddy’s Raspberry ripple ice cream.

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