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“We have the best fishing, the best golf, best water sports, the finest food, and absolutely no crowds," says Alan, the owner of the grand Mount Falcon Estate, on the banks of the River Moy in Mayo.
The Wild Atlantic Way – which stretches from the tip of Malin Head in County Donegal to the quaint seaside town of Kinsale in County Cork - is extremely easy to access when driving from Dublin.
While the infinite beauty of the west of Ireland could take a lifetime to explore, my expedition has brought me and my travelling party to the southern seaside counties of Sligo and Mayo, where we're due to get the best sampling of what this ancient corner of Europe has on offer.
Strandhill, County Sligo, Ireland.
I’m starting off in Strandhill; a tiny town so darling and delightful it makes you want to stay here and start a life. With a picturesque main street that empties out onto the vast sandy coast, the town is lined with artisanal restaurants, classic pubs, seaside spas, and even friendly surf shops.
“There isn’t just surfing in Ireland, there’s some of the best surfing in the world here,” says Tom Hickey, my surf instructor from Perfect Day Surfing School. “Strandhill, Mullaghmore Head, and Easky are really world class [surfing] spots, where swells can reach up to 3 metres,” he tells me.
Luckily as he says this I’m already wearing the full steamer wetsuit he has rented me so he didn’t see me shame myself.
After surviving what can only be termed a torrid surf lesson on the angry Sligo coast, I quickly duck into Voya Spa to continue my sea therapy with something a little calmer - their signature seaweed bath. It's a centuries-old coastal Irish tradition brought to life in a beautiful modern setting.
There’s some of the best surfing in the world on the Wild Atlantic Way.
“You’re going to really like this. It’s much easier than surfing,” the receptionist at Voya says to me with a smile.
She was right, the tension and stress disappeared from my body almost immediately. And after 30 more minutes of soaking I’m brand new. The warm bath water extracts the natural, silky, gelatinous qualities from the freshly harvested seaweed from just out the front door.
What’s more, Voya Spa sells all sorts of seaweed-based health and beauty products, including a seaweed kit so you can have the same experience at home.
The warm bath water extracts the natural, silky, gelatinous qualities from the freshly harvested seaweed from just out the front door and it really is one of the most luxurious experiences you can have.
Seaweed at Voya in Strandhill is harvested just off the coast.
Mammy Johnstons lays claim to the best gelato in the world.
If you aren't yet sold on Strandhill, the little gelato shop called Mammy Johnstons might be the real clincher. Here they lay claim to the prestigious title of the world’s best gelato.
“It's not us saying it either,” the owner, who studied his craft in Bologna, tells me. “We've won best gelato in Italy for three years running.”
Saying farewell to Strandhill is not easy, but with a coastline that stretches more than 2,500 kilometres there’s still so much more to see. Is there anything more idyllic than traversing this landscape on horseback? If so, I’d love to hear it.
“What level of rider are you?” asks Ursula from Island View Riding Stables in Monygold.
“Well, I ride the train, almost daily,” I joke to hide my trepidation. Soon after, I’m handed a furry four-legged tank named Delores. Ursula and her team are professionals, as are their animals, comfortable with city slickers like myself. Under their guidance, I find it easy bouncing down the beautiful Sligo coastline with the majestic Benbulbin Mountain flanking me in the distance.