One of my favourite things to do is travel and, of late, my ventures have been somewhat scarce, so when opportunity does knock, I like to be ready with my toothbrush packed. This post features a very local trip but when there is a suitcase to be packed, a hotel check-in and meals in new spaces, I still think it constitutes travel blogging. And if you have never been, you may learn enough about West Kerry to contemplate a little trip of your own.
Dingle was the destination for this short but sweet overnight stay-cation. If you have never had the pleasure of visiting, it is a town with a distinctly bohemian vibe. Almost all businesses are independent, lots are artisan, and it has a paradoxical sense of being a bustling yet laid back town. Artists come for the peace to create and the landscape to inspire. Chefs appear to want to allow the fruits of land and sea to take centre stage, making restaurants feel more about the food than the business model (not unfortunately the case everywhere). Musicians know they can just drop into a local licensed premise and simply start to play, soon to be accompanied by some collective foot-tapping, while writers can find both solitude and inspiration in this bi-lingual hamlet that has a lyrical soul.
Dingle is a small town, with 38 pubs, that doesn’t take itself too seriously (potentially related observations!). But it is clear that this is a town that is making the most of its assets. As a tourist town, it extends a welcome filled with genuine warmth. The art of conversation is celebrated in many languages, but mostly with dry local wit and buckets of sarcasm. Despite its remoteness, there are ways in which Dingle is contemporary and multicultural. In other ways it is a slice of an Ireland of yore, where tradition is valued and heritage preserved.
I know this part of the world quite well so if tour guides and museums are your thing, this will be the wrong type of travel article for you. But if you like slow drives through stunning landscape, great food, local products and understated luxury then I just might have some tips for you.
I started my day in Tralee, in perfect driving weather. There was a chill in the air but pretty clear skies. I popped some music on the radio and followed the twists and turns of the road, high up over the ever-stunning Conor Pass. The narrow roads with steep drops may see hearts occasionally leaping into mouths but the views are a very worthy reward. Have a look…..
Eventually, the road descends towards the sea, and before you know it you will be looking for parking and nourishment in the town. On a Monday lunchtime, I was lucky to find both with ease. Usually I research where I will eat in advance but this was a trip without a plan and so I just worked on instinct. It was a good move. I had one of the best lunches in a long time in the very welcoming Goat Street Social. It is a small space, channelling an industrial chic look. The menu is a compact mixture of some salads, a variety of hot dishes and a couple of sandwiches. There were a couple of specials on a chalkboard and I ordered one of these – haddock in a sesame and garlic tempura with sweet chilli and coriander mayo. This was served on a bed of wilted spinach with a side of skinny fries. It was exceptional!!!!!
Happily sated, I took a little stroll, shopped for some locally produced candles and a new book, before grabbing a coffee from Bean in Dingle. This very cool cafe has some great cakes to accompany some quality coffee, and the vibe is as much Williamsburg or Shoreditch as it is Dingle. And then it was back on the road….
I have been lucky in life to have seen a lot of the world…. not as much as I would like…. but quite a lot nonetheless. I am not sure where I have been or could dream to go that would rival Slea Head when the skies are blue. The landscape is both welcoming and threatening. The sea sparkling and foreboding. The locals warm and weathered. The charm is in the contradictions. Again I will let the pictures do the talking….
By late afternoon it was time to return to town and check into our lodgings for the night, the highly rated Castlewood House. It is an antique-filled, small hotel with a big heart. The rooms are spacious and each one is individually styled (this wasn’t my first visit). It is full of little touches that make a stay feel special – a buck’s fizz on arrival, Lily O’Brien’s chocolate treats in the room, complimentary tea and scones served during the afternoon from vintage china and a takeaway coffee for the long drive home. The justifiably award winning breakfast has more choices than most dinner menus and the accompanying buffet stands out from the norm. For example, my fruit bowl had plums poached in a honey syrup and apples stewed with cinnamon. There was desiccated coconut, almonds, banana chips and chia seeds to sprinkle on top. All this was before a made to order Eggs Benedict for me and fluffy pancakes with berries and maple syrup for my slightly ginger travel companion. It’s easy to see why Castlewood House is continuously winning awards.
Based on several recommendations we dined at the Global Village, where food is presented with a nod to fine dining. The early bird is great value, but after that this place is definitely at the upper end of affordable. We were early birds!! The confidence and competence of the kitchen shone through, the staff were friendly and efficient and there was an impressive drinks selection. The menu had a good balance of land and sea, not always the case in this maritime town, and the food was definitely Instagram worthy. Having read and heard so much about this place over the last number of years, my slightly anti-climactic sensation was perhaps inevitable, but it was still a lovely meal. Definitely worth a try in Dingle.
Finally, even those who are teetotal are unlikely to leave Dingle without checking out some local watering holes and here is where humour, charm and local colour are most abundant. There was the cheeky local barman in Foxy Johns, who allowed the German tourist to sample two beers before choosing, but warned him that was his lot “because it’s not a feckin icecream parlour we’re running“. Dick Macs had a man handcrafting products out of leather behind the bar, beside the barman who smugly informed the French couple that there was wine “both red and white”. And finally, in my new favourite pub (which feels like a farmhouse living room) Kennedy’s, we encountered a charming local girl who regaled us with the impassioned tale of how her very conservative parents sent her to an all girls convent, a boarding school in another part of the country, in an effort to get her to change her mind about her sexuality. Scary thing was this was since the year 2000!!!! It was also a bit like sending sand to the desert!!! But all ended well, she clearly emerged no less gay but her parents adjusted to this reality with time. Although it sounds like granny needs a little more time.
So all in all, the verdict is that you should definitely find a place for Dingle on your travel itinerary. And maybe try and stay a little longer than me.