Waves, wind, super-fresh bursts of Atlantic sea air – all these things have shaped the wild and magical coastline along Ireland’s western seaboard from Donegal to Cork.
But as well as epic landscapes and untouched traditional culture, the Wild Atlantic Way offers some truly glorious gourmet delights that will make your journey even more enjoyable.
County Kerry – a taste of something sweet
Beautiful, wave-lashed, windswept Kerry. It’s a place with an exceptional coastal landscape sculpted by the elements. So you’d assume it’s a pretty good place to nab some excellent seafood, and you’d be right.
But this magical county also has something of a sweet tooth. And with prized dairy herds creating some of the creamiest dairy products you’ve ever tasted, it’s a match made in heaven.
The Dingle Peninsula, in particular, is rich with sugary treats. Here, you’ll find the wonderful Skelligs Chocolate Company overlooking St Finian’s Bay on the Ring of Kerry. To get a taste of how it’s made, pop in and have a tour.
Keep your eye out also for Dingle Fudge. This rich creamy sweet-treat has legions of fans thanks to its butterscotch, white coconut, chilli and cinnamon flavours.
Murphy’s Ice Cream is a must-visit in Dingle, and its popularity is reflected in the queues you’ll see every day outside the shop. Quite simply, you’d be mad to come to Kerry and miss having a lick!
Eat: The Garden Café, Dingle. Snuggle by the fire in winter, or relax in the walled garden in summer, and enjoy some fabulous fairy cakes, fresh fruit pavlova, or warming spice cake.
Visit: Skelligs Chocolate Company, St Finian’s Bay, Dingle Peninsula. You’d be hard pressed to find a more romantic location for a chocolate factory. Step in, breathe in the aroma and enjoy.
Enjoy: Dingle Food Festival (October)
2. Connemara – flavours of the land and sea
A landscape daubed with muted colours; mountains that sweep down to bogland, and deep traditions that hang heavily in the air – Connemara is something special, plus it has some truly incredible food on its table.
Look up among the hills, and you’ll see a little animal unique to the region. Feeding on herbs, heathers and grasses nourished by the rolling Atlantic mists, the Connemara Hill Lamb is famous for its special flavour. So unique is it that the use of those three words is protected under the European Protected Geographical Indication status. It may be a mouthful of an accolade, but you’ll know exactly why once you taste it.
And so to the sea. Unsurprisingly, Connemara’s close relationship with the Atlantic ocean means seafood is a big part of the food culture in Galway.
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Salmon is smoked at artisan smokehouses; mussels are reared in the clear waters of Killary Harbour; and there’s even a festival devoted to the truly delicious native Galway Bay oyster.
County Galway mini-guide
Eat: Oscar's Seafood Bistro, Galway city. Feast on a smorgasboard of all things fishy in this acclaimed Galway city locale, with dishes such as spicy popcorn shrimp and Clare Island salmon tartare.
Visit: Connemara Smokehouse Économusée, Ballyconneely. Learn all about the art of smoking fish at this visitor centre in the heart of Connemara.
Enjoy: Galway Food Festival (April); Connemara Mussel Festival (May); Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival (September)
3. West Cork – ties to the culinary capital
Anyone with a love of artisan food will quickly sense that in West Cork, things are done a bit differently. There are little delis tucked away in tiny villages, pubs with a seriously gastro edge, and artisan producers left, right and centre.
It's also where you’ll find exceptional cheeses. Most pubs and cafés will do a great cheesboard or Irish charcuterie plate at lunchtime, and the names to watch out for include Gubbeen, Durrus, Milleens and Carrigaline. Look out, too, for quirky additions such as the delicious Toonbridge Dairy Buffalo Mozzarella.
West Cork is also fast becoming known for eclectic delicacies, including smoked chicken from the Ummera Smokehouse, salamis from Gubbeen and Frank Krawczwyk, salmon from the Woodcock Smokery, and Camus Dexter beef from Clonakilty.
That’s not to mention incredible seafood, honey, herbs, dairy, craft beer and organic fare. Take it from us – West Cork takes its food seriously served with a side order of enjoyment.
West Cork mini-guide
Eat: The Fish Kitchen, Bantry. Graham Norton has been known to pop into this casual seafood restaurant in Bantry for its great fish dishes and relaxed atmosphere.
Visit: Hone your cookery skills around here. Try The Good Things Café and Cookery School in Durrus, or the tiny Island Cottage Cookery School on Heir/Hare Island, which can only be reached by boat.
Enjoy: A Taste of West Cork Food Festival (September)
A feast for good tastes
We’ve only scratched the surface of what tastes lie in store for you along the Wild Atlantic Way… believe us, there’s a whole lot more to devour here, including Organic Irish Dulse from Algaran in County Donegal, venison from Cooperhill Estate in County Sligo and Clare Island’s highly prized organic salmon to name but a few.
One things for sure, though: on the Wild Atlantic Way, you won’t go hungry!