Ireland’s northwestern counties offer rugged green scenery, religious history, Stone Age sites and cutting-edge health centers. Stay at an organic farm, visit pagan and Christian spiritual centers, and indulge in holistic spas in this beautiful country of friendly people. Smoking is now banned in pubs, so you can enjoy a pint of Guinness and some music in clean air.
Historic: Step back into old Ireland on windswept Tory Island where the locals (population 175) still speak Gaelic and eke out a living fishing or painting “primitive” art. Tory’s elected king, Patsy Dan Rodgers, regales visitors with songs in the pub of the Tory Hotel. The island is also a seal and seabird sanctuary.
Natural: Hiking in the bracing sea air along dizzying drop-offs into the Atlantic at Slieve League, Europe’s highest cliffs.
Ancient: Presiding over boggy farmland near Ardara, the spectacular Kilclooney dolmen is expertly engineered with three stone slabs supporting a 20-foot capstone.
Eat and sleep: Not far from Slieve League, Donegal Organic Farm rents three flats attached to the farmhouse (run with hydroelectric energy).
Historic: Make a pilgrimage to Tobernalt Well, a shrine to the Virgin Mary and a healing place since ancient and early Christian times.
Holistic: The health benefits of Irish kelp await at Strandhill’s Celtic Seaweed Baths. Soak in a warm tub of fresh, sustainably harvested kelp strands, which infuse the water with skin-revitalizing minerals.
Eat and sleep: Get a taste of country luxury at Temple House, a Georgian mansion with a 13th-century Knights Templar castle. The Percevals, who have lived here since 1665, run their guesthouse using natural amenities and serve unforgettable organic meals.
Sacred: At Croagh Patrick, the mountain where St. Patrick fasted and battled Ireland’s demons, thousands of pilgrims make a steep, rocky annual hike to the summit–some in bare feet.
Culinary: Dine elegantly at Westport’s Ardmore Country House, where the chef serves seasonal meats and salmon as well as produce from local, organic farmers.
Holistic: Built as a contemporary mountain lodge using local stone and storm-felled timber, the luxurious Delphi Mountain Resort and Spa combines outdoor adventures such as kayaking and hill walking with yoga, tai chi and meditation. Choose from more than 30 treatments in the candlelit treatment rooms designed like beehive monk’s cells.
Religious: The celebrated monastery of Clonmacnoise (in County Offaly) was founded in 545 AD by St. Ciaran and was a medieval learning center. Today it’s home to the ruins of nine churches, a cathedral, two round towers and many beautifully carved crosses.
Holistic: Don’t miss Temple Country House and Health Spa‘s Naturalmoor Massage, which uses warmed peat to loosen muscles. The brand-new spa facility and 250-year-old house (in County Westmeath) are set amid acres of rolling hills.