Ever Wanted To Visit Unspoilt Ireland? Here's How Cheap & Easy It Is!
I spend a lot of time from spring through to late autumn (very cold and very late autumn!) to-ing and fro-ing to the west coast of Ireland leading yoga retreats and teaching kitesurfing, surfing, SUPing…basically anything that involves water and/or yoga! People often ask if all the travel can become a drag…and I can honestly say it’s never once felt like this. Why? If you have to ask, you’ve definitely never seen the windswept wild grass, or the perpetual rolls of waves crashing into the scarred western coastline.
You’ve definitely never been to a real Irish pub that’s as big as your living room, but somehow fits twenty-plus locals with room to tilt a pint. And you’ve definitely never hiked to the top of Croagh Patrick and counted all 365 of the Clew Bay Islands - the old stomping ground of Grace O’Malley, a 16th Century pirate queen - that form a panorama you’ll never be able to properly capture on your iPhone. (It’s been tried, trust me!)
So how in the name of St Patrick and several saints do I get there?!
Firstly: cut that sacrilegious chat! Secondly: easy! You fly.
Knock Airport, Mayo is one of the most ridiculously tiny airports with the most ridiculous number of connecting airports. Return flights cost in the region of £25-£30 and arrive in under an hour from the UK. Yep. That’s literally cheaper and quicker than a train to Wales. Or a bus to London. (Or probably a coffee on a train in London…)
Do they have cars in Ireland?
Yes. Despite all postcard-based evidence to the contrary, Irish people don’t travel by horse and cart. Here’s where it gets even better, though. Knock has an array of rental car companies - Europcar, Hertz, Avis, all the big boys of rental town are there. So how much are you looking at? Try £15 for a long weekend. Yep.
If driving isn’t your bag, you can always get a bus from the airport to Westport or one of the nearby towns. though given this is going to cost more than half the price of car rental, well…
Ok, right. Now you’re there. You have wheels and ditched your questionable notions of the locals. What’s the plan? This is where I’m slightly biased…
Get to the BigStyle Atlantic Lodge.
Seriously though - go! Sat on its own little hill, the BigStyle Atlantic Lodge has the most incredibly uninterrupted panoramic views of the wild western coastline. Out to sea you’ll spot formidable Clare Island, inland you can pick out the little chapel at the very top of Croagh Patrick. In front of all of this and framed by the rolling fields of Mayo, however, you have one of the best flatwater kitesurfing spots in Europe! For those who are kiting rookies, that means glassy flat, waist-deep water with rarely a single other kiter to cross lines with. No tidal considerations, no reefs or rocks and - best of all - no sand when you pack your kite away! But what if you start feeling a bit bored of flat water? Then all you have to do is walk 50 metres to the Atlantic Ocean and you have waves for days! This means whatever the wind direction, you’re safe to kite. And given the fact you’re on the doorstep of the Atlantic without anything to get in its forceful way, the wind will rarely let you down.
The BigStyle Atlantic Lodge is where you want to be for whatever watersport carry-on you’re into. They’ve got SUPs, surfboards, wetsuits and every last bit of kiting gear you could possibly need. They’re also all trained, experienced instructors…which helps when you’re strapping yourself to a kite the size of a car!
If you fancy something more social than a hotel room and a solo or group kite lesson, head over to the BigStyle website to see what events are scheduled – literally every weekend there’s something going on; from yoga retreats to adventure weekends, workout weeks to surf weekends…the list goes on! You can even get in touch to book a tailor-made stag, hen-do or private party. It definitely beats painting the pavements of Birmingham with your half-digested kebab. (Sorry, Birmingham – I had to pick somewhere!)
Where can I kip after peeling off my wetsuit at the end of a long day?
These guys have done their research – turns out people tend to need to sleep! That’s why the BigStyle lodge boasts 15 en-suite bedrooms for whatever your needs and level of luxury - dorms, twins, doubles, family rooms… you name it. Add to that the incredible social room, complete with wood stove, armchairs, couches and a fully equipped kitchen. Then there’s the yoga and gym room and, to top it off, a genuine no-holds-barred Irish pub. There’s even talk of a pizza oven and hot tubs being installed…!
I want to do a bit more exploring after my weekend in the lodge…what’s good?
Good question. In the immediate vicinity of the lodge, you have the opportunity to jump on a ferry out to the underexplored Clare Island and Inishturk. The road that winds its way down the west coast – aptly named The Wild Atlantic Way – will drop you almost immediately into the charming town of Westport; boasting the infamous live music watering hole Matt Molloy’s. Further down the road you’ll arrive at the breathtakingly rugged beauty of Connemara National Park. Onwards still, and here comes Galway City – a chance to enjoy the bright lights of a real, grown-up west-of-Ireland city. Once your hangover has cleared, get back on the road and head on to the stunning Cliffs of Moher. Cross on through the surf town of Lahinch and you can make up for your Galway sins with a day or two’s volunteering at Moy Hill Community Farm – an inspiring project set up by ex-professional surfer Fergal Smith. If you’re a seasoned surfer - this area has some of the best waves Ireland has to offer - be sure to check out White Strand beach, Spanish Point, Aileens and Rileys! It’s up to you how far you south you want to continue…just be sure to drop into us on the way back up again for a farewell!
So when can we expect you?!