Most Scenic Drive in the World? Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

 

This is a story about brilliant branding. It’s about Ireland, but it begins in Chile.

In the early ’90s one had to head to the far south of South America to sample the tasty, thick, snow-white fillets of a large, deep-water cod called the Patagonian toothfish.

No eatery in the U.S. wanted to serve a fish with that name. But when marketers came up with the alluring but meaningless name, “Chilean sea bass,” the fish was on its way to fame and glory and millions of eager mouths.

It’s the power of good branding.

Several years ago, when I first traveled a stretch of Ireland’s rugged west coast, I thrilled to its savage beauty, from The Cliffs of Moher (the most visited outdoor site in the country), The Burren, a dusky karst surface that looks like the maria of the moon; the Maumturk Mountains, where St. Patrick dashed away the snakes, and the bowed bays and bites of Westport and Galway. But it never occurred to me to continue traveling north or south, or that anything stitched these sights together in a cohesive way.

But then some marketing virtuoso came up with the connecting tissue, and The Wild Atlantic Way was born and let loose to the world. It’s a 1600-mile route, winding from Kinsale in County Cork in the south to Malin Head in Donegal in the far north, seamed with lighthouses, abbeys, cairns, stone circles and golf courses along the way.

Many destinations have a signature tour. Morocco has its Royal City Tour; Ethiopia its Historic Route; Spain the Camino de Santiago; Peru its Inca Trail; Scotland its Whiskey Trail; Egypt its Aswan to Luxor cruise. Now, Ireland has joined the club with an almost immediately iconic tour that weaves a rope of many spectacles.

Resistance is futile, so I find myself back in Ireland, this time to travel a northern section of the west coast along what is now officially The Wild Atlantic Way.

Dublin, the main gateway to Ireland, is on the east coast, so it is a bit of a haul to the other side, and I decide to break it up with a stop at a little lodge in County Mayo owned by a friend and his family… Ashford Castle.

The castle, on 350 acres along the shores of Lough Corrib and the River Cong, dates back eight centuries and was owned by the Guinness family for over 100 years. The Tollman family bought the castle in June 2013, and have since put some $75 million into restoration. It shows.

Walking through the vaulted entrance is like being swept into a palace inside a manor, inside a museum, in a castle. It is, one staffer boasts, “Europe’s first seven-star hotel.”

To get to my room I walk past a full suit of armor, with a rapier in one hand, a dagger in the other, looking as though he may step into battle at any moment, or just raise an arm, as in a hundred shows, from Abbott and Costello to Scooby Doo to Night at Museum. Above is a Belgian Val Saint Lambert chandelier, one of 130 hanging sprays that twinkle throughout. Then down a hall of fame (in some cases, shame), lined with pictures of guests past, Ronald Reagan, Brad Pitt, Fred Astaire, Barbara Streisand, John Travolta, Ted Kennedy, Tony Blair, Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson and John Wayne (he filmed The Quiet Man just down the road in the village Cong).

Pierce Brosnan got married here in 2001, and I send him an email (I took him rafting down the Colorado a few years back) boasting of coordinates, and he promptly emails back that he plans to return, as he will soon be making a film in Ireland.

My two-story bedroom is furnished with antiques, bespoke carpets, an Italian walnut bed, original artwork, a marble bathroom. I feel like a 13th-century king, except there are electronic blinds, USB chargers in the wall, and free Wi-Fi.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE on the Huffington Post

ashford castle

Richard Bangs

Richard Bangs has often been called the father of modern adventure travel, having spent decades as an explorer and communicator, pioneering “virtual expeditions” on the World Wide Web and leading first descents of 35 rivers around the world. At present he lives in Venice, Calif. Explorer Richard Bangs has spent 40 years as an explorer, leading first descents of 35 rivers around the globe, including the Yangtze in China and the Zambezi in Southern Africa. During that period he founded Sobek Expeditions, the first multi-national river running company and the pioneering outfitter for global active wilderness travel. Author and Producer Richard has published more than 1000 magazine articles, 19 books, a score of documentaries, several CD-ROMs, and all manner of digital media. He has lectured at the Smithsonian, the National Geographic Society, the Explorers Club and many other notable venues. He writes a semi-regular feature for HuffingtonPost.com, occasionally freelances for other print and online publications, and produces and hosts “Richard Bangs’ Adventures with Purpose, as seen on national public television.

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