Ireland, The Emerald Isle
Ireland’s most south-westerly tip, The Dingle Peninsula, has a beautiful coastline hedgerows gleaming with Fuchsia and wild roses as well as dramatic scenery. This region still has its Gaelic culture with many people still speaking in their native tongue. The Peninsula has over 2000 archaeological sites, including the Bronze-Age Dunbeg Fort, impressively located on a sheer cliff promontory overlooking Dingle Bay. Nearby are peasant cottages preserved and restored from the mid-19th Century. The Conor Pass stretches across the Peninsula from Dingle to Brandon Bay. Travel around by car, bike or on foot and then stop off for tea and scones along the way. Take a windy walk on the beach or enjoy horse racing on the Strand at Inch. The town of Dingle has streets of brightly coloured houses, while the harbour is home to Fungi the dolphin, who after 25 years is still entertaining visitors today.
Head upwards to County Kerry and stop off on Banna Strand – a huge area of sandy beach warmed by the Gulf Stream. In the neighbouring County Clare, the graceful Victorian seaside town of Kilkee, with its glorious curved bay, is one of the most westerly resorts in Europe. A cliff top walk is a must for dramatic views of the crashing surf below, the cliff top itself is a steep and challenging hike. More adventurous swimmers can plunge into the natural rock-enclosed pools, the Pollock Holes, further out in the bay.
Dingle’s restaurants specialise in delicious fresh seafood, and there’s always a traditional Irish pub for the hearty grub. The Half Door has charming décor and fabulous food, while Out Of The Blue is a chic little fresh fish place on the harbour.Tig Áine in Ballyferriter, near the tip of the Peninsula, is a café and arts and crafts gallery selling homemade scones.
For a great stay try The Dingle Skelling Hotel, with amazing mountain views. Try the Seaweed Jelly Twist treatment using fresh seaweed from Kerry, at their wonderful Peninsula Spa. Dinner is provided by the hotel’s Coastguard Restaurant.
The Scottish Highlands
The scenery from Loch Ness to Skye looks like a landscape painting with a colour palette of soft blues and heathery purples. Explore deserted roads to find beauty on a grand scale, with lochs and mountains surrounded by splendid castles. The Highland hospitality, with its exceptional hotels and delicious food, adds to the magic.
Start at Loch Ness with the lodge. The legend of the Loch Ness Monster lives on, so take a boat trip from Clansman Harbour to try and get a glimpse of Nessie.
Head for Glen Affric for great walks and the nearby Kintail mountains, the lovely Loch Affric and the original Caledonian Forest. Travel onwards to Loch Torridon, via the enchanting town of Plockton on Loch Carron, with its palm trees and colourful houses. Take a boat trip from the harbour to go seal-watching while trawling the tiny islets of Plockton Bay. The Torridon Hotel, on Loch Torridon is a fantastic place to stay. Torridon Activities offers mountain guiding, rock climbing, gorge scrambling, glen walks, archery, clay-pigeon shooting and mountain biking – all organised and run by professional instructors.
Cross the Skye Bridge from Kyle Of Lochalsh and head for Loch Dunvegan On Skye. At Colbost sits the Three Chimneys Restaurant and Rooms in an original Crofter’s Cottage. With the stylish House Over-By next door it’s a haven for food lovers and anyone in search of luxurious isolation.
Visit Claigon, which has Skye’s coral beaches with pink sand washed by a turquoise sea. For fantastic food try vegetables from The Torridon Hotel’s garden accompanying dishes such as Black Isle lamb, while its home-grown fruits feature in a crumble. The Three Chimneys Restaurant has an array of delicious dishes. Loch Ness Lodge offers other dishes such as crab, breast of Gressingham duck and warm chocolate fondant with passion fruit and sorbet.
Enjoy the Highland welcome staying Loch Ness Lodge, an elegantly furnished retreat with perfect Loch views. The seven- room lodge is relatively new but it blends in lovely with the landscape. This is a five AA-star, award -winning bolthole with divine food.
The Torridon feels like a stately home. Take tea and shortbread by the fire or sip a warming dram, chosen from 350 whiskies. Spacious bedrooms with lovely views have an intimate feel with Molten Brown toiletries, homemade biscuits and whisky. They also have a lovely Inverewe Garden nearby. The House Over-By offers six spacious rooms. Enjoy bed, breakfast and exceptional food.
The Coast And Countryside Of Wales
Enjoy wild Wales from the peaks of the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia to the glorious beaches of the Lleyn Peninsula. Wales is full of unspoilt beauty, dotted with fine hotels and restaurants.
Start at the Brecon Beacons National Park at Peterstone Court, a Georgian country – house hotel, beneath a mountain with gardens sloping down to a rushing river. It’s the perfect area for enjoying many outdoor pursuits from walking to climbing. Or take a walk along the river bank with 1250 miles of public footpaths there’s lots to keep walkers happy.
Go through Powys to Lake Vrynwy, a vast stretch of water, originally a reservoir for the people of Liverpool. Stay at the Lake Vrynwy Hotel, offering splendid views, a good restaurant and a spa. You can hire a bike and cycle round the lake, or enjoy a peaceful walk on one of the trails.
Drive into Snowdonia through the breathtaking mountain scenery. Head to the Cambrian coast and the lovely town of Harlech and its vast sandy beach, which has great views of Harlech Castle. At the gateway to the Lleyn Peninsula, known as the Welsh Riviera, you can stop and visit Criccieth Castle.
From Porth Neigwl to the fishing village of Aberdaron, there are beaches galore, and you can walk along the well-marked coastal paths. For a great food, try a Panini at the Art Deco-Style beach café at Criccieth. Or have lunch on the lake-view terrace at the Lake Vrynwy Hotel.
At Peterstone Court, the hotel’s own farm just down the road provides all the meat and poultry on the menu. Peterstone Court is a comfortable and stylish retreat and has an excellent spa where you can rest your stiff muscles from walking. A spa break at the Vrynwy Hotel includes Champagne, a five-course dinner, bed and breakfast, use of the spa, a mud therapy treatment and a massage.
In Lleyn, Organig Parc is a collection of cottages set in 300 acres of farmland. Each cottage has a terrace looking over the farm’s own mountain river valley, lake, spring and ancient church. It combines the best comfort with eco design.