Sure, you can tour Ireland in luxury cars and coaches. You can golf, dive, surf and rock-climb your way around it, too. But what if you want something different, something extra special?
No problem. Why not start by taking to the skies? Nothing quite matches the scenic views offered by a hot-air balloon flight, and private launches can easily be arranged both in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Imagine pitching up at Trim Castle (a star location in Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning movie, Braveheart) and hearing the burner roar, before floating in silence over the Hill of Tara, or the passage tombs of Newgrange and Knowth. Or what about gliding above the standing stones and gold-toting hills of the Sperrin Mountains? Afterwards, you can celebrate with a glass of champagne...
If you’d prefer not to take to the skies yourself, you could always learn a thing or two from those who do it naturally. Falconry is said to be the oldest sport in the world, and there’s no more dramatic background against which to try it than Ashford Castle. Ireland’s first school of falconry uses Harris hawks for teaching, but also keeps a variety of eagles and owls.
On the road...
Perhaps you’d prefer to tour the country sitting down. Call Limerick’s Heritage Sports Cars, or Golden Oldies in Donegal, and you could soon find yourself whizzing around the Ring of Kerry or the Slieve League Peninsula in a Jaguar E-Type, a 1970s Triumph TR6 or a Ferrari Mondial.
Prefer something younger? Madder? No problem. Superdrive Motorsports in Craigavon, County Armagh, even offers a Junior Rally programme for budding daredevils aged 13-17, in 1200cc Vauxhall Novas… complete with roll cages.
Water, water everywhere...
As well as offering some of the world’s finest links golf courses (Old Head, Royal Portrush, Lahinch, anyone?), the sweeping dunes and golden beaches of Ireland’s Atlantic coast offer some exclusive beach-riding experiences, too.
Your group of horse riders could follow the Dingle Peninsula’s ancient Pilgrim's Route, before veering down to Ventry Harbour for an exhilarating gallop on the beach... or canter beneath the shadow of Croagh Patrick Mountain.
Finish up, as always, with superb local food, drink and banter in any number of fine dining restaurants nearby.
Don’t be limited by daylight, either. Atlantic Sea Kayaking is a brilliant little West Cork operation that specialises in sea-kayaking trips with a difference – exploring Cork city, kayaking for anglers and, best of all, seeking out bioluminescent plankton over the course of night-time paddles in the southwest.
It’s an astonishing phenomenon. The plankton glow greenly when disturbed, growing brighter the darker it gets. On a clear night, it feels like there are stars above and below.
So, you see, from mountain biking to coastal hikes, clay pigeon shooting to kite-surfing and chauffeur-driven tours to executive helicopter flights over Connemara and the Aran Islands, there are probably as many ways to experience Ireland’s landscape as reasons to visit it in the first place.