The place to go for insanely tasty seafood is Kinsale, which grew up around its historic fishing port. Now the southerly starting point of the exalted Wild Atlantic Way tourism trail, this is a charming seafront town of brightly coloured shopfronts, overflowing flowerbeds and heavenly harbour views. The local golf club, Old Head Golf Links, has to be seen to be believed – sitting atop rugged cliffs at the tip of a diamond-shaped peninsula that juts out into the surrounding ocean.
Recently named the best town in Ireland and the UK at the 2017 Urbanism Awards, Clonakilty has a population that truly cares about keeping their town beautiful. After winning the overall national Tidy Towns Competition in 1999, they have gained a whole host of awards since for their dedicated efforts at keeping the local environment looking its best. A few kilometres outside of town, you will find the Blue Flag-certified beach of Inchydoney, one of the most picturesque in the whole country.
Although technically a village, Glandore should definitely be included on a visit along the West Cork coastline. The yachting harbour of the same name stretches inland for approximately three miles (4.8 kilometres), with two islands at its mouth named Adam and Eve. The village is centred around a pier built in the early 19th century, with sailing and whale watching as some of the main activities on offer. There are two Norman castles in the vicinity, as well as a pleasant walking route to the megalithic Drombeg Stone Circle nearby.
With a ferry port serving the Roaring Water Bay – famous for its oysters – and many of the islands known as Carbery’s Hundred Isles, Baltimore gets its name from the Irish Baile an Tí Mhóir, meaning ‘town of the big house’. The big house referred to is a 13th-century castle overlooking the harbour, destroyed several times throughout its history but always rebuilt. Baltimore and the islands off its coast are legendary, but not thought to be the origin of the name of the US city. It’s believed that Baltimore, Maryland, is named after the second Lord Baltimore of the Irish House of Lords, who colonised the area.
Schull is the principal village on the peninsula that ends in Mizen Head – Ireland’s most southerly point, and a site chosen as a filming location for the newest Star Wars movies due to its almost mythical beauty. Mount Gabriel presides to the north of the town, meaning it possesses that rare combination of both sea and mountain views. Full of quirky shops and welcoming restaurants, and with a harbour that looks out towards the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) region of Cape Clear Island and the Atlantic Ocean, Schull is truly a little slice of heaven.
The town of Bantry can be found at the inner point of Bantry Bay, one of the southwest’s longest inlets at approximately 20 miles (32.1 kilometres) in length. Flanked by a rainbow of coloured buildings, its large town square is the venue of the weekly Bantry Food Market, described as ‘one of the most vibrant markets in West Cork’ by Discover Ireland. Other recommended activities here include taking a day trip to the bay’s Whiddy Island – a refuge for flamboyant plants, such as fuchsia, because of its Gulf Stream climate.
Situated on the Ring of Beara route along the Beara Peninsula, the gorgeous village of Glengarriff is referred to as ‘the natural meeting place’ because of its plentiful outdoor attractions. It takes its name from the Irish ‘the rugged glen’ – no doubt a reference to the peninsula’s sandstone Caha Mountains. Glengarriff Forest is now a major nature reserve full of paths, picnic areas and lookout points, while Garnish Island in Glengarriff Harbour is home to a famous Italian garden designed by British landscape designer Harold Peto.