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Islands & Seafood in Ireland’s Rugged Southwest

food set out on a blue picnic table

Biking through the hills and mountains of Cork and Kerry on the Trek Travel Ireland Bike Tour, you are never far from the sea. Even when you can’t see it, you can probably taste the salty ocean on your lips and even hear its rhythms in the accents of the locals.

You can certainly choose to eat the sea’s abundant produce in any of the restaurants in Kenmare or Killarney; the local seafood chowder, mussels, and oysters are unmissable when you’re in this part of the world. In fact, Ireland has seen a recent surge in food culture and farm-to-fork cuisine, and the southwest regions of Cork and Kerry are leading the charge. But nothing beats a hands-on experience.

It’s one thing to eat a really lovely plate of seafood, but having the opportunity to pull the lobster pots and pick mussels yourself, while listening to the stories of the local men and women for whom the ocean provides their livelihoods, really brings your understanding of the Atlantic Ocean closer to home. Your seafood dinner goes from delicious to unforgettable.

Though there are many islands along the jagged shores of Ireland, particularly in Kerry and West Cork, some islands are more famous than others. But it is actually some of the least-known islands that are the most fascinating ones – and the best part is that you’ll likely have such places to yourself. Though these half-forgotten islands and coastal inlets are always amazing places to visit, the best way to get a sense of these tiny island communities is through the eyes of locals who call the coasts of West Cork their home.

Aaron O Sullivan is one such person. Aaron grew up in the small coastal town of Bantry, in the remote and wild region of West Cork, with his two brothers. Each morning, he woke up to views through his bedroom window that looked out onto the sparkling waters of Bantry Bay. His childhood was spent fishing off the rocks with his brothers and the other local children, exploring the craggy shores and windswept hills, and playing the traditional Irish game of hurling.

Today, Aaron is a school-teacher. When he’s not teaching, he uses his summer off to indulge in his passion for the sea by taking visitors out onto Bantry Bay on his Whaly boats – small open-air powerboats perfect for exploring the tranquil waters of the bay. It’s the perfect finish to your Trek Travel Ireland Bike Tour. Imagine – having traversed this beautiful corner of Ireland, you’ll swap bike for boat, heading out onto the sea with local fisherman Aaron to explore one of his favorite places in West Cork. Landing on the shores of Whiddy Island, you’ll find a glass of Guinness and a seafood tasting right on the beach.

Bantry Bay Boat Tour with Trek Travel

Speaking to Aaron, it’s plain to see his passion for Bantry and its people, the history of the region, and the role the sea has played in his life and the lives of everyone else that calls this salty, windblown corner of Ireland their home. Aaron’s own grandparents grew up on Whiddy Island, and the 16th-century Reenananig Castle ruins that stand proud on the island were even built by his own ancestors, chieftain Donal Cam O’Sullivan Bere. His ties to the area run deep, and his knowledge of the history and people of the place is overflowing.

From Vikings to WWII Allied forces, Whiddy Island has a long history. Island visitors can wander the grounds of the now-abandoned castle of Aaron O Sullivan’s ancestors, as well as other historical sites, including a church, graveyard, and holy well.

In January of 1979, Whiddy Island was the scene of Ireland’s greatest maritime disaster when an oil tanker exploded in the bay. While the incident did cause an oil spill, happily marine life recovered within a few years and the bay now has the highest grade possible for water cleanliness, an amazing story of rejuvenation and sustainability.

Which brings us back to the food! Mussels thrive here in Bantry Bay and along Whiddy Island. They need the minerals that come with such clean water, in which they grow more quickly and therefore become a more viable enterprise for the local fishermen like Aaron. The clean water and sheltered bay has also led to the area being named Ireland’s only ocean blueway.

And just like that, Whiddy Island and and Bantry Bay have become an ecological success story and a paradise for man and fish alike. And sitting out on the island in August, sipping a pint of Guinness after a magnificent bike ride through the soaring Caha Mountains, you’ll be forgiven for never wanting to leave this magical place.

Top 5 Reasons to Take a Cycling Vacation in Ireland

Ireland is a mystical place that takes you away from everything you’re used to. In Ireland, you’ll find yourself surrounded by velvety pastures speckled with flocks of grazing sheep, by glacier-carved Glencar Valley and the peaks of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range, and by the local charm and warmth of traditional Irish pubs. The island’s breathtaking coastline extends for miles and miles, and the culinary scene is more than the fresh, local food – it’s about the tradition of sharing a meal over a good story. We love Ireland for hundreds of reasons, and here are our top 5 attractions we’ll share with you on our bike tour.



1. Stay at the Ard na Sidhe Country House

Built by Lady Gordon in 1913, this luxury country manor house is beautifully situated on the shores of Caragh Lake on the scenic Ring of Kerry. Graceful elegance is combined with the luxury of modern comforts, gorgeous grounds, a cozy lounge and plentiful pints. Trek Travel groups are welcomed like old friends year after year to this delightful hotel and it is a highlight of our Ireland vacation.

Stay in luxury at Ard na Sidhe Hotel on an Ireland Bike Tour with Trek Travel


2. Ride the Ring of Beara and Healy Pass

Pedal through the vast countryside along the Beara Peninsula, along the Atlantic Ocean coastline. Wild, and relatively unexplored, the Ring of Beara is less known to tourists than the Ring of Kerry. The winding roads with weathered stone walls, quiet bays, and the dramatic coastline will take your breath away. Take an optional stop in Castletownbere for lunch including some of the freshest seafood imaginable. Then, tackle Healy Pass, where the high country will lead you to rocky peaks and gorgeous lakes, offering spectacular views of the Bantry Bay.

Ride along Healy Pass on an Ireland Bike Tour


3. Tour with our friend Donal

The Irish have their own term for having fun—Craic. And our walking tour of Kenmare with our longtime friend Donal will be full of this particular variety of fun. Stroll through the historic village and then enjoy a fresh pint of Guinness in the pub afterward. His songs and stories will excite even the most seasoned traveler and connect you to Ireland’s most precious resource: its people.

Ireland Bike Tour
Ireland Bike Tour


4. Ride the Gap of Dunloe

The stunning views of Glencar Valley will lead you to the Gap of Dunloe, the most famous and picturesque pass in the Ring of Kerry. Enjoy lunch at the gourmet Heather Cafe before you ascend the pass by bike, or perhaps choose to take a “jaunty car” powered by sure-footed horses for an old-fashioned Irish experience. Either way, be sure to capture the unforgettable panorama of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks before enjoying a well-earned descent.

Ride the Gap of Dunloe on an Ireland Bike Tour
Ride the Gap of Dunloe on an Ireland Bike Tour

Experience the natural beauty of Ireland on an Ireland bike tour


5. Taste Irish Whiskey

The final evening of the trip would not be complete without a tasting of traditional Irish Whiskey, historically known as the ‘water of life’. Irish whiskey was once the most popular spirit in the world and has seen a major bump in popularity as the fastest growing spirit in the world every year since 1990. Our friend Colin will offer several varieties to taste and you’ll have the opportunity to finish your vacation as you savor the final sips and watch a slideshow of your trip photos with your guides.

Drink Guinness and Irish Whiskey on a Ireland Bike Tour
Drink Guinness and Irish Whiskey on a Ireland Bike Tour

Experience a bike tour in Ireland.

See Trip

A Rainy Day in Ireland

“You know it’s summer in Ireland when the rain gets warmer.”
– Hal Roach

We all know the feeling: putting on your kit with a wary eye on dark, distant clouds. But it’s my only day to ride this weekend. You take the gamble, gear up, feel like a champ as you roll down the block, and by the time you hit the stop sign? Fat, cold drops pelting your face and blurring your glasses. You pull on the rain jacket–because you made it this far–and suffer through your Sunday loop as mother nature gradually soaks your shoes, freezes your fingertips, sends trickles down your scalp and, my personal favorite, slaps a thick streak of road grime straight up your spine.

Or maybe instead you make a second cup of coffee and hit the garage to detail your drivetrain. Preparation for the next sunny day.

I’ve travelled with many tough, hard-working friends, guests, and even fellow guides who often seem to maintain the belief that rain and riding are highly incompatible. In a community of cyclists, where persevering through a good struggle is in our blood, I’m not sure how or why this rain aversion is quite so prevalent. We’ll ride up mountains, into fierce headwinds and through suffocating heat. And yet in my experience, rain seems to have a particular power to fizzle our spirits and drain our motivation to get in the saddle.

Of course, this isn’t to suggest an absence of legitimate safety considerations around wet-weather riding, and I’ll touch on those later on. I would also never claim that everyone is rain-phobic, as I’ve been pulled and inspired through many a soggy ride by the warmth and grit of my companions. Finally, I must state with greatest sincerity, we at Trek Travel embrace and celebrate all types of relationships with cycling. I can’t speak for your buddies back home, but I can assure you that your guides will never hassle over the decision to call it a shuttle and a hot cup of tea. When it comes to relaxing, we consider ourselves hard-earned professionals.

But when it comes to getting out in the elements, do we ever sell ourselves short? Are we sometimes missing out? As we enter the early, rainy spring cycling season I’m here to argue that sometimes we do, and so maybe, sometimes, we are.

It may be unsurprising to hear that I’ve spent the previous two summer seasons guiding our Ireland Explorer trip. This wasn’t because I love the rain (I actually grew up in the notoriously sunny Bend, Oregon). Rather, the experience and effects of this rainy exposure surprised me. Far from leaving me with post-torrential-downpour stress disorder, I believe that being forced to ride in rainy conditions for months at a time actually fostered a depth of connection, fondness of memory, and warmth of respect for the Irish landscape that is unparalleled among my cycling and travel experiences. That, and a passionate disregard for weather forecasts. And while perhaps not everyone would share my unique response to this particular rainy experience, I do believe there are some far-reaching and fairly universal truths to be had when it comes to the pleasures and rewards of overcoming a little natural challenge.
Beautiful rainbow on Trek Travel's Ireland Cycling Vacation
In fact, I think nature is a good place to start, with a quote from Victorian naturalist, artist and philanthropist John Ruskin: “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

Living modern, often urban and highly specialized lives, it’s easy to overlook the beauty in something so essential and life-giving as rain. Without an immediate, personal connection to its importance for the landscape, we relegate it to an inconvenience on our commute, something to be stared at through windows, and the spoiler of afternoon rides. But isn’t one of the great joys of cycling the opportunity to experience a landscape at a slower and more intimate pace? Certainly a huge reason to cycle new destinations is to explore and become acquainted with a new landscape.

To make an analogy, getting to know a place can be a lot like getting to know a person. Just as love and friendship grow deeper with time and experiences, riding in diverse weather acquaints us with the multi-faceted personality of a place. A rainy day brings out different colors in the sky, and not just different shades of gray, but purples and blues and pinks, or, in the case of Ireland, the green reflection of fields below. Filtered through a kaleidoscope of clouds, the light transforms even a familiar landscape into something completely fresh for discovery. Different colors, different moods, and my personal favorite, so many different smells! Always that sweet, familiar one, and then the tangle of unique, subtle contributions from the local flora and fauna.
Sheep and Donkey on Trek Travel's Ireland Bike Tour
But what about those days when the sky really actually is just gray? Or maybe it’s just that your feet are soaked, you’re riding into a headwind, and you couldn’t possibly care less about the yin and yang of Mother Nature? One word: rockstar.

We need the rain to provide a tough environment in which to feel totally and completely hardcore. It always feel good to get out on the bike–bluebird days included–but there’s something unique and necessary about a rainstorm to make you feel like the ninja you are. That extra something earning you respect from the locals.
Trek Travel Ireland Bike Tour
In fact, perhaps the power of contrast forms half the picture here, for consider now the ride in which the sky was actually gray, your feet were actually wet, and you felt slow, pathetic, and the opposite of ninja the entire time. In that case, how great does it feel to get home?! How much more delicious is your lunch? How much tastier is a beer at the end of the day, knowing you earned it? How much better is your entire day in general? It’s a level above. It’s not even a fair comparison. Perhaps my great love for Ireland actually has less to do with the rides themselves, and has mostly to do with the incredible joy and comfort to be found in returning from the elements for a scone and a cuppa. There are joys born of contrast that simply can’t be achieved in any other way. So capitalize on your mind’s incredible ability to quickly exclude discomfort from memory and reap the benefits of even a short excursion.
Enjoy lunch at the Heather Cafe on Trek Travel's Ireland Bike Tour
Easier said than done, right? So here are a few motivational ideas that might get you out the door. Whenever I feel my motivation starting down a slippery slope, the words of my great cycling mentor often spin through my mind: “There’s no such thing as bad weather! Just improper dress!” After all, you can float through space or the depths of the ocean if you’re in the right clothes. We have Gore-tex, Hipora, Hy-vent, E-vent, EtaProof, Nikwax’s fur-Analogy, MemBrain, Polartec, PreCip, and, you guessed it, H2No.
Trek Travel Ireland Bike Tour
If high-performance fabric isn’t enough to stir your desire to ride, another motivational tactic proved itself many times in Ireland.
Step One: Put on your riding clothes. If necessary, remind yourself that you’re not actually planning to ride.
Step Two: Throw back a shot of the roughest Irish whiskey you can find.
Step Three: Fake it till you make it.
Step Four: You’re probably already on your bike.
Enjoy Irish Whiskey on Trek Travel's Ireland Bike Tour
On that note, this is probably a good moment to quickly touch on safety practices. A lot has been written about wet-weather cycling, so instead of doubling the length of this article, I recommend a quick Google search. The top ten hits will cover just about every tip you need, including those about dressing for success in variable conditions. Remember that staying warm and comfortable can be as important for your safety as it is for your enjoyment of the ride!

I mentioned I dislike weather forecasts. This isn’t because I think they’re always wrong, as often they’re painfully accurate. The issue is how our lives are increasingly saturated by an overwhelming amount of information. Weather forecasts, of course, and also news reports, Facebook messages, calendar reminders, new downloads, blog posts, event invites, app updates, music releases, advertisements, and millions of other digital rabbit holes all happily guzzling our precious time and attention. It’s a tricky line to walk, that between the real benefits of the information age on one hand, and the potentially paralyzing mental inundation it creates on the other. Sometimes the little rectangle in my pocket feels like a ten-ton ball-and-chain.
Trek Travel Ireland Bike Tour
If nothing else, to set out into the rain is an act of reclamation. It’s an invitation for something unknown and unpredictable. Something that isn’t governed by an algorithm. It’s a celebration of our own spontaneity, in the face of minute-by-minute radar predictions available at our fingertips. It’s an acknowledgement that our physical experiences still really matter. In the rainy air, we can see the cloud of our own laugh, feel the water drip off our faces, and notice the enormous amount of heat our bodies generate against the cool, damp air. And above all, it’s an act of trusting ourselves. Trusting our ability to dress and plan and prepare. Trusting our own positive spirit. Trusting that we’ll figure things out if we run into a problem. Trusting that we know how to go out and be in the world and its many conditions, instead of hiding in our homes.

If it looks like the apocalypse has come, please do check for flash-flood warnings. But don’t obsess over that 30% chance of showers. Don’t scrutinize the radar images. Pull on your booties and high-vis slicker, put your cell phone in a baggy, give yourself a pep talk, and go do yourself a huge favor.
Trek Travel Ireland Bike Tour

Top 3 Hard Ciders for Fall

Summer has quickly turned to fall and the crisp air is here to stay. More than once we’ve caught ourselves day dreaming about foliage, apple orchards and pumpkin flavored treats as we are mesmerized by the falling leaves outside our window. But perhaps the thing we’re most eager to enjoy, the reason we anticipate the changing of the seasons, is hard cider.

Woodchuck Cider Vermont

The recent growth of cider is not a new sensation–prior to the days of prohibition, cider was America’s beverage of choice–but not many would have predicted the incredible growth hard cider has experienced in recent years. Quietly taking a backseat to the highly publicized craft beer and local food movements, American hard cider production tripled from 2011 to 2013, from 9.4 million gallons to 32 million gallons. According to TIME magazine, craft beer growth rose from 11.5 million barrels brewed to over 15 million barrels in that same time period, making hard cider the fastest-growing alcoholic beverage category in the U.S.

One of the reasons cider has taken off is due to the ease of production. The renaissance of cider in Europe came much earlier, so we turned to the experts at Stonewell Craft Cider in Ireland to tell us about the process from branch to bottle:
1. Washing and Sorting: When the apples arrive we wash and manually sort them, removing any which we consider over-ripe or damaged
2. Milling: Cider apples contain much less moisture than other apples so these apples are milled into much thicker chips.
3. Press and Fermenting: The milled apple is then moved to our press, from where the juice feeds straight into our fermentation tanks. Similarly to our milling process, each different apple variety is pressed and fermented separately.
4. Add the Yeast: We then add a naturally cultured champagne yeast which gives the cider such a distinguished “nose” and smoothness on the pallet. Depending on the temperature the juice will ferment in 4 to 8 weeks.
5. Taste Testing: Once the cider is fermented it is laid down to mature is flavor for a minimum of 3 months.
6. Add the Apple Juice: We take the ciders fermented from the different apple varieties and blend them together with fresh apple juice to replace the sugar, which has disappeared during fermentation, and restore the perfect level of sweetness in our finished product.
7. Filter, Pasteurize, Carbonate and Bottle: Our cider is now ready to be filtered, pasteurized, carbonated and bottled.
8. The Finished Product: It’s time to indulge!
Stonewell Hard Cider Process
Stonewell Medium Dry: Ireland
Our favorite cider is undoubtedly a bottle of Stonewell Medium Dry. The first cider on their production line, the Medium Dry blend consists of three ciders drawn from different apple varietals. The high content of eating apples provides the strong golden color, while the cider apples are higher in natural sugars and increase the alcohol content. The strong apple aroma, initial burst of flavor and smooth finish make this Stonewell’s most popular cider.

Woodchuck Amber: Vermont
The result of an experiment in a two-car garage back in 1991, Woodchuck Amber lead the way for all other U.S. ciders on the market. While other cideries experiment with ingredients to create one-of-a-kind flavors, the Woodchuck Amber recipe hasn’t changed in nearly 25 years. It’s traditional. It’s clean. And it boasts and big red apple flavor. For those of you looking to wow family and friends this Thanksgiving, give the turkey a sweet cider flavor with this Woodchuck Amber Can Turkey recipe!

Reverend Nat’s Revival: Oregon
In true Portland fashion, Rev. Nat West was a die-hard craft beer revolutionary. But the taste of his first homemade cider–the sweet, rich, tart, and nutty flavors–spurred his passion to search for superior ingredients and create ciders that no one else offers. His newest release, Revival, is a blend of Washington-grown apples and piloncillo (dark brown evaporated cane juice). Add in the complexity of two exotic yeast strains and the result is a distinct, yet subtly familiar cider with just the right amount of sweetness.
Reverend Nat's Hard Cider

Irish Storytelling

Cradled in the heart of Kenmare Bay, between the famous Ring of Kerry and the unspoiled Ring of Beara, the picturesque town of Kenmare is steeped in legends and rich in archaeological history. Renowned for Kenmare lace, respected for gourmet food and revered for breathtaking scenery, it is no wonder Kenmare has become a popular tourist destination.

As all places in Ireland do, this heritage town has both an Irish and English name. Neidín, meaning “Little Nest”, is the Irish name of the town which nestles between the MacGillicuddy Reeks to the north, the Caha mountains to the south, the rivers Roughty and Sheen to the east, and the broad expanse of the Atlantic Ocean to the west. But in the late 18th century, after word quickly spread that this was a little town of thieves and liars, landlord William Petty Fitzmaurice chose to rename the precious land that was gifted to him by Oliver Cromwell for painstakingly completing the mapping of Ireland.

There are two sides to every story. In Ireland, however, a new rendition is told with every pint. While locals will tell you the name Kenmare was chosen in honor of Lord Kenmare of the Brown family from Killarney, historians in favor of etymology make a connection to Ceann Mara, which translates to “Head of the Sea” in English. While there’s no saying which interpretation is accurate, one thing is for certain–the tradition of Irish folklore is alive and well.

Visit the heritage town of Kenmare on Trek Travel's Ireland Bike Tour
Meet an Irish seanchaí on Trek Travel's Ireland bicycle tour

A seanchaí (pronounced “shan-a-key”) is a knowledgeable person, usually a man, who has the gift of entertaining his listeners by relating stories with a captivating tone of voice, the use of colorful language, and with a most interesting turn of phrase. The story content is of any topic whatsoever but most often has an element of fun.

Long before the advent of television and radio, it was common in rural Ireland to visit one’s neighbors for a chat when the day’s work was done. This tradition was called “ag scoraíocht”(skur-eekt). One house in particular always emerged as the most popular to visit, and it became known as the “rambling house”. Encouraged by the gathering, it was to the rambling house that the seanchaí invariably came to draw them into the wonder of his story.

Enjoy a walking tour of Kenmare on Trek Travel's Ireland Cycling Vacation
Meet a local Irish storyteller on Trek Travel's Ireland Bike Tour

Despite the onslaught of modern social media, the use of the spoken word has been and still is cherished by the Irish. According to Donal Sleator, a retired primary school teacher, principal, storyteller and Kenmare native, language must be appealing and entertaining in order for others to learn. “We feel compelled to share our stories because of the deep, rich heritage of which we are aware. Whereas in the past stories were communicated through the medium of the Irish language, we now share a common language (English) with most visitors to our shores. Our stories today perhaps have less emphasis on fairies, leprechauns and the little people. Through pride of place, they dwell more on our history and on who we are.”


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What is the Difference?

Ultimate Luxury:

Savor some of the most spectacular, 5-star properties in the world. Exuding luxury and elegance, these one-of-a-kind accommodations offer the chance to rejuvenate at award-winning spas, dine at Michelin-starred restaurants, and more.


Enjoy luxurious accommodations handpicked for a refined experience. From signature spa treatments to delicious local cuisine, you’ll be more than provided for; you’ll be pampered.


These handpicked hotels provide relaxation and fun in a casual and comfortable environment. Delicious cuisine and great service mix perfectly for a memorable stay.


On select cycling vacations, you’ll stay at a mix of Explorer and Luxury hotels. Rest assured, no matter which hotel level you’re at, our trip designers carefully select every accommodation.

Activity Level

Level 1:

Road: 1-3 hours of riding. Up to 25 mi (40 km). Up to 1,000 ft (300 m).

Gravel: 1-3 hours of riding. Up to 20 mi (35 km). Up to 1,000 ft (300 m).

Hiking: 1-3 hours of hiking. Up to 5 mi (8 km). Up to 1,000 ft (300 m).

Level 2:

Road: 2-4 hours of riding. 20-35 mi (35-60 km). Up to 2,500 ft (750 m).

Gravel: 2-4 hours of riding. 15-30 mi (25-45 km). Up to 2,000 ft (300 m).

Hiking: 2-4 hours of hiking. 4-8 mi (6-12 km). Up to 1,500 ft (450 m).

Level 3:

Road: 3-5 hours of riding. 25-55 mi (40-85 km). Up to 4,500 ft (1,500 m).

Gravel: 3-5 hours of riding. 20-40 mi (35-60 km). Up to 3,000 ft (900 m).

Hiking: 3-5 hours of hiking. 6-10 mi (9-16 km). Up to 2,000 ft (600 m).

Level 4:

Road: 4+ hours of riding. 40-70 mi (60-110 km). Up to 8,000 ft (2,400 m).

Gravel: 4+ hours of riding. 30-50 mi (45-80 km). Up to 4,000 ft (1,200 m).

Hiking: 4+ hours of hiking. 7-15 mi (11-24 km). Up to 4,000 ft (1,200 m).

What are your trip styles?

Classic - Reserve:

Savor the finer things as you relax in luxurious 5-star accommodations and wine, dine, and ride in some of the most unforgettable destinations around the world.

Classic - Signature:

Explore beautiful destinations by bike, enjoy extra inclusions, savor delicious local cuisine, and enjoy the perfect mix of accommodations.

Classic - Discover:

Enjoy a casual cycling vacation with fantastic routes and comfortable accommodations.

Ride Camp:

Train like the pros in some of their favorite riding destinations.

Pro Race:

See the pros in action at the biggest cycling events of the year.

Cross Country:

Tackle an epic adventure that takes you point-to-point across mountains, countryside, and more.


Enjoy a bike tour on your schedule with just your chosen travel companions.

Single Occupancy

Sometimes it’s more convenient and comfortable to have your own room while on vacation. We understand and that’s why we offer a Single Occupancy option. The additional price guarantees a private room all to yourself