Monday, June 6, 2016
Morning comes early in Clifden for us today. Paddy and Julia (Quay House proprietors) have graciously agreed to serve breakfast to us a bit early today since we need to leave to catch a flight. We say goodbye to the resident pugs and begin the hour drive to the small Connemara airport.
With expert driving and navigation (!) we easily arrive at the airport by 9:15 in plenty of time for our 10:00 flight. No need for lines or security here – just step up, get weighed and climb aboard.
This morning we are heading to Inis Meain – the middle island of the three Aran Islands off the coast in Galway Bay. We chose Inis Meain due to its very small size and very limited population and popularity. The other 2 islands certainly are not large, but do get a fair amount of “day trippers” from the mainlaind. Not our style.
Somehow I discovered the Inis Meain Inn and Suites online and it looks like it just may be our cup of tea. The “hotel” is small (5 suites), remote, luxurious, beautiful and all about the locally-sourced food. What could go wrong? I have chosen to make the 7 minute flight instead of the hour long ferry mostly because I read online that the ferry crossing can be very rough (and we were expecting to have some kind of “weather”). The tradeoff is that the flight is aboard a teeny-tiny plane that can also make your stomach do loop-de-loops!
We are two of the four passengers flying to Inis Meain today. There is a quick safety video and we are off. We have flown on several tiny planes before in the Carribean, but I will admit, I was a bit nervous before takeoff.
The flight is clear and beautiful – not scary at all. 7 minutes later and we are on the ground at Inis Meain, our driver from the Suites is waiting and we are whisked off to our accommodations for the next couple of nights.
Inis Meain Inn and Suites was created by a young couple – Marie-Therese and Ruari Balcam “with the aim of enabling their guests to best experience their unique island location.” Their tagline is: “An elemental travel experience.” This begins immediately when you see the structure that Ruari built that blends right into the stark landscape. (Ruari grew up here and is therefore allowed to own property.)
This really is the only place to stay here on the island and also the only restaurant. Supposedly there is another hotel and restaurant but it may or may not be open at any given time. Oh – and there is, of course, one pub on island. We are shown to our suite by the lovely Marie-Therese. She explains a bit about the island and how to explore and then we are given an opportunity to look around.
We are provided with bicycles, an island map, binoculars, water bottles, and a backpack filled with two thermoses of “chunky broth” and homemade foccacia because once you get out exploring, you don’t know how long you may be gone.
There are two “suggested” hikes and we decide that since the weather is so nice we should take the “bird in hand” and go on the long (3-hour) one around the southwest coast. There really isn’t any heavy duty navigation because there is only one main road (and a couple of minor ones). You can’t take any shortcuts because there are miles and miles of rock walls separating the land into little corrals. We take off. (warning – lots of pics!)
The first and most stiking feature of the island is the patchwork of its rock walls. The island is literally covered with miles of walls. The absolute origin of the walls is basically unknown. The handmade fences have existed for thousands of years. According to one source, “Once a series of barren rocky outcrops on the edge of the Atlantic, its inhabitants have over thousands of years, created life where there previously was none, making things grow out of the rocks by developing a unique farming technique where dirt dug from cracks in the rock are combined with composted seaweed. Today, the islands are impossibly green with low stone walls dividing the farming fields, segregating livestock, and keeping the thin layer of soil from blowing away.” One cannot help but to imagine laying these walls rock by rock – an unfathomable amount of human labor.
Our hike takes us on the main road at first and then our to the impossibly rocky coast where we clamber up and down and are stunned at the sheer beauty.
The sheer rock wall drop offs are breathtaking. We have a closer look:
Finding a scenic place for a picnic lunch is not a problem. The restaurant has supplied us each with a thermos of a delicious black bean/carrot stew and homemade foccacia with grilled onions. We eat it up.
When we make our way around the SouthWest corner we encounter more crashing waves and several blowholes. Both of us try to get a good look and both of us get drenched by a rogue wave! (Rich hangs on to the camera throughout!)
We leave our rock offering to the sea:
The main road comes back to the coast and we were instructed to take it to get back “home.” Supposedly it doesn’t matter where or if you turn off – All roads lead to Rome. Fortunately, this one passes by the one and only pub on the island. Of course, we make a stop.
One the way back home I make a new friend:
After such an incredible day, the only thing left that could be better is dinner. Ruari is a seasoned and accomplished chef and strives to provide only the best and freshest ingredients. There is a set menu of 4 courses for dinner (changes every night). The evening unfolds for 8 lucky diners (of which we are 2).
Dinner begins with an Elderflower/Prosecco aperitif and proceeds with a wonderful German dry Riesling.
The food is, indeed some of the most flavorful and freshest we have had. It is all beautifully presented and most dishes are scattered with wild greens or flower petals from the area.
We kind of roll our eyes when a big bowl of roasted potatoes is placed on our table. Then we taste them… omg. These local spuds are unlike any potatoes I have ever tried. THEN, when you put the fresh Irish butter on them, they become sublime. (I have never eaten this much butter in my entire life!) We are told they are prepared every night because the guests wouldn’t have it any other way.
We will have one more day/night here and already can’t believe we are so lucky to be in this magical place. In fact, most of the other (few) guests have been remarking that they have been waiting forever to finally snag a room here! The Inn is already fully booked for the entire 2016 season. Who knew? I think we just got lucky…