Arrive at Dublin Airport and drive to our hotel. A guided tour of Dublin will familiarize us with this ancient city and introduce us to its rich history. This evening we enjoy our first gourmet dinner which dispels any possible doubts about the talents of Ireland's great chefs.
This morning we head for the western coast, traveling through the counties of Kildare, Kilkenny and into Tipperary to our first stop, the Rock of Cashel. This site, perched high above the plains surrounding the River Suir, includes many extraordinary examples of Celtic art and medieval architecture. We will take the time for lunch in a charming nearby village before we head off to Blarney Castle where some of us will succumb to the promise of the "gift of gab" by kissing the famous stone. We continue our drive through quaint villages surrounded by rolling fields dotted with cows and sheep. We check into our hotel overlooking beautiful Bantry Bay, our base for the next two days while we explore southwestern Ireland.
After breakfast we drive through the gorgeous, wild landscape of the Beara Peninsula. Far less traveled by tourists than the Ring of Kerry, this peninsula is filled with colorful villages, beautiful stretches of sandy beaches and breathtaking vistas. We walk amongst castle ruins and along the shore, and then head back to our warm and inviting hotel for dinner and perhaps a pint at a singing pub.
Today we cross the River Kenmare to the brightly painted town of Kenmare, filled with charming shops and pubs. At the Heritage Centre we see the prehistoric Kenmare Stone Circle, which is the largest in southwestern Ireland. Traveling around the Ring of Kerry, we enjoy the views and arrive at our next destination, the beautiful Muckross House in Killarney National Park. A magnificent example of Tudor architecture, it boasts beautifully restored Victorian interiors. We take the time to explore its stunning gardens and enjoy the vistas from the lawn before driving further north to pass through Adare, Limerick and Ennis on our way to the charming town of Doolin. Here we arrive at a beautiful castle hotel on a hill with fabulous views of the Aran Islands. We enjoy a gourmet dinner in the castle's beautiful restaurant.
This morning we head out to visit the intriguing landscape of the Burren, the largest limestone area in Europe, covering over 300 square kilometers. Heading south, we walk along a path at the edge of the majestic 700-foot Cliffs of Moher and stop at the beach in Lahinch, Ireland's surfing capital. Passing through Lisdoonvarna, home of the famous Matchmaking Festival, we head north to spend time exploring the fascinating Neolithic stone tomb of the Poulnabrone Dolmen, dating from the 4th Century B.C., and the Aillwe Cave, one of the oldest cave formations in Ireland. Next we drive along the beautiful coast to Black Head, where unusual limestone expanses form a lunar-like landscape, an anomaly amidst the green Irish countryside. This area is rich in archaeological, botanical and geological importance. We return to our seaside castle for another gourmet dinner.
After departing Doolin, we visit the lively city of Galway, which was known in the 13th century as The City of Tribes because of the fourteen families who each tenuously held power here. The city teems with a small town vibe despite its size and has many wonderful shops filled with local handicrafts and friendly pubs. We will take time to explore the city and have lunch before we drive on to Sligo and visit the fascinating Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, Ireland's oldest and largest cemetery of megalithic tombs dating back over 6,000 years. Next we head to the region of Donegal and arrive at our lovely hotel in the village of Ardara. After dinner you can step into the pub and join in with the Irish musicians or practice your Irish jig.
On our last full day in Ireland we visit Glenveagh National Park, Ireland's largest and most beautiful park, which lies in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains. We will take a tour of its beautifully appointed castle and lovely gardens. We enjoy another gourmet dinner in Ardara.
In the morning we cross into Northern Ireland and make our way to Belfast, the capital city. After lunch we say our goodbyes to Ireland and board a ferry that takes us across the Irish Sea to Cairnryan, Scotland. Our Scottish guide welcomes us and takes us to our hotel in Glasgow where we relax before dinner.
After a sumptuous Scottish breakfast we travel along the "bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond," hearing stories of Rob Roy, the Robin Hood of the Highlands. We continue up to to drive along the west coast to see the stunningly beautiful "Harry Potter land". We stop at a distillery in the ruggedly charming town of Oban to learn the secret behind how we make Scotland's national drink "uisge-beatha" (whiskey), which literally translates "the water of life". Our scenic drive takes us through the spectacular area around Glencoe, where we will have time for a walk and hear the tragic tale of Clan warfare. We head back to Glasgow for the evening to dine and explore.
This morning we stop in the historic town of Stirling, where you can enjoy amazing views across the city towards the castle, while hearing the true story about Scotland's most famous son, Sir William Wallace, and Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. We continue on, passing Doune Castle where Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed. We travel through Fort William, at the base of mighty Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK, and see the most photographed (and most beautiful) castle in Scotland, Eilean Donan. Heading over the Skye Bridge, we spend our first night on the mystical Isle of Skye.
We spend a full day exploring the Isle of Skye, with its ruined castles and amazing scenery. We hear tales of Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite Rebellion against the backdrop of the jagged Cuillin Mountains, discover the scenic Island Capital of Portree, take a walk by its harbor, and sample some locally caught seafood. Our journey heads to the north of the island past the mysterious Trotternish Ridge with its spectacular cliffs and rock formations, including the Old Man of Storr. The "Winged Isle" is immersed in Celtic myths and legends. We hear about Selkies, the mischievous faeries, and even learn the secret of eternal youth! We spend a second night on this fascinating island.
This morning we head off the island to one of the most mysterious stretches of water on the planet, searching for the elusive Loch Ness monster. We make a stop at Urquhart Castle, a spectacular 13th century ruin (where most of the monster sightings take place). We explore the ruins and learn the history of the area. Our next stop is the atmospheric Culloden Battlefield, scene of the final defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite rebellion. What happened here changed life in the Highlands forever. We then journey through the Cairngorm National Park, through Perthshire and over the Forth Bridge, where we can enjoy fantastic views of one of Scotland's greatest engineering achievements, the Forth Rail Bridge. From there it's a short drive into Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, where we spend the next two nights.
Our last day in Scotland will be spent in its culturally rich capital city. We begin the day with a guided walking tour of the medieval Old Town and the Georgian "New Town." The stunning architecture in the center of the city classify it as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The afternoon is free to explore, visit a world-class museum or gallery, poke around the shopping districts in the West End and New Town, or sip some Scottish whiskey while enjoying one of the most beautiful cityscapes in the world. We regroup for a fabulous farewell dinner in the city.
After breakfast we head to the Edinburgh Airport for the return flight home.
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Europe Ireland Scotland Local Culture Cultural Journey Archeology/History
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