If you thought there was only one ‘Grand Tour’ in the world, Wicklow and Kildare have got news for you
Hear ‘Grand Tour’ and automatically you imagine all sorts of Northern Europe’s aristocracy heading south for a holiday of cultural immersion.
Well, it’s got a twin – and you’ll find it in the east of Ireland.
Ireland is famous for its remote and dramatic beauty, but you don’t have to travel far to find it. Ireland’s Grand Tour takes in counties Wicklow and Kildare, right on Dublin’s doorstep, and offers the visitor a staggeringly wide variety of views, pastimes and sights. Think of it as Ireland in a nutshell.
And in this part of the world, mother nature is the grand master.
An east feast
Rugged mountains, waterfalls, grand estates, horse-covered plains, lively towns, they’re all a part of the Grand Tour which can easily be driven in a day. This side of Ireland, the eastern side, is more delicate than the west, and the weather tends to be gentler and drier, making it ideal for walkers and cyclists.
Ireland’s Grand Tour is made up of smaller routes arranged loosely around themes – gardens, pilgrims, great houses – there’s something for just about everyone. At 200 miles (340km) the whole Grand Tour is ideal for drivers, but cyclists and walkers will find plenty for them too.
Sugar and Spice
The coastal tour, for example, is particularly good for keen cyclists because it offers both variety and challenge. It takes in a stretch of coastline before looping inland and up to the Sugar Loaf Mountain. The route is 79 miles (126km) – perfectly achievable on a long summer day – and swoops past Brittas Bay, a blue flag beach ideal for a cooling dip. Once inland the route takes you through the Vale of Avoca where two rivers meet in a cluster of woods – surely one of the prettiest spots in Ireland. Wild swimmers should also try a bracing dip in the peaty waters of Lough Tay (aka Guinness Lake) in the mountains.
Taking any of the routes by car will leave you plenty of time to stop and take in the sights. This part of Ireland is dotted with the great houses of the aristocracy. Kilruddery is a jewel of an Elizabethan revival house; Castletown is the oldest and grandest Palladian-style house in Ireland; Powerscourt is justly famous for its gardens, as is Mount Usher.
St Fiachra's Gardens at the National Stud, Kildare
Horses for courses
History lives on in Ireland, as you can see from the horse breeding and training that still makes Kildare a global equestrian hotspot. The National Stud offers visitors the chance to find out about why Ireland is so good at breeding winners, thanks to the museum, and others can simply enjoy the beauty of the gardens, including the Japanese Gardens.
The Grand Tour can also take the visitor back to when Ireland was a beacon of learning in the early Christian world. The monastic settlement of Glendalough is not only a magical place, but renowned walking writer Christopher Somerville says the hike through Glendalough and the Glenealo Valley is his favourite in all of Ireland.
Finding inspiration on Ireland’s Grand Tour? Something tells us he won’t be the last.