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If seafood chowder that tastes like the ocean sounds appealing to you, there’s a good chance you might like Connemara. If towns with names like Letterfrack and Oughterard naturally roll off of your tongue, there’s a good chance you might like Connemara. If simple lochs, empty pastures, misty coastlines, forgotten castles and hills just meant for climbing sound like they may do anything for you at all, there’s a really good possibility you just might like Connemara. Don’t tell anyone about it though: it’s better when there’s nobody here.
A bog-strewn peninsula with seemingly more sheep and lochs than people, the Connemara region may just very well be the best place in Ireland. Renowned for it’s outdoor adventure options and “can’t stop taking photographs” panoramas, Connemara is exactly the type of place where bad thoughts go to die.
Most easily accessible via a daytrip from Galway, the Vagabond’s advice is to skip the guided day tour of the region and create a base of operations from a hidden and forested castle.
That’s right. A castle.
There are a number of castles in the Connemara region that have been refurbished and restored as medium-high end guest lodging, and shockingly the castles make up the majority of the lodging in the central Connemara region. There are of course hostels available in nearby Clifden, Westport, and Galway, but to really do Connemara properly you may as well go all in and base yourself from a castle.
My personal favorite is Ballynahinch Castle, which is located exactly 10 minutes from Clifden and about 180 years from reality. It’s the type of place where the day’s options feel like they should either be to go on a foxhunt or go out and conquer someone. A classic sportsman’s retreat (trophy fish adorn the pub and hallways) that is exquisitely maintained and staffed, the riverside setting and wooded estate are simply incomparable.
Lacking any legal means of actually conquering someone, the better decision is to go out and conquer one of the myriad hiking trails that run through the region, such as in 3000 hectare Connemara National Park, the Maumturk Mountains, or one of the famously photographed 12 Bens. If your favorite hiking partner is absolute silence, then this may just be the spot for you.
More than just hiking trails and regal castles, Connemara is chock full of other adventures such as driving the real life postcard that is Sky Road outside of Clifden, or perhaps checking in on the Benedictine nuns at lakefront Kylemore Abbey. Arguably the region’s most well known visitor attraction, the gardens and interior of the abbey are rumored to be immaculate, although I cannot personally say because I decided I would rather spend my money on…
THE BEST FOOD IN THE WORLD.
While it thought it could hide forever, I am totally going to blow it’s cover and let everyone know that the best food in the world has been holed up at a little establishment in the town of Letterfrack called the Connemara Bread Basket. Fine photography and recipe books line the windowsills by the crackling fire, and the two chefs who run the place literally cook and bake the food in plain view of the comfortable seating and soon to be gastronomically astonished customers. Wedged right between Kylemore Abbey and the entrance to Connemara National Park, there is simply no excuse for calling in at the Connemera Bread Basket for at least a chocolate flake covered hot chocolate and a bulging slice of apple pie. Seriously. Just do it.
If the panoramic landscapes, jovial people, numerous outdoor adventure opportunities (you can even scuba dive with Scuba Dive West), or the colored rows of homes of Clifden town don’t convince you to head to Connemara, if nothing else just do it for the food.
And the castles of course.