Ireland, Europe’s eye grabbing western sentinel, offers a myriad and ever growing number of reasons for the visitor to set foot, put one foot in front of the other, and at the end of the day put the feet up.The island of 32 counties and countless scenic wonders is a place that offers a chance to renew and draw breath, literally and metaphorically, in an ever more breathless world.
I’ve written before about the special quality of Irish air. You notice it the moment you arrive on the island. You certainly notice it in the spring and early summer, a time of particular green lushness, and the avian dawn chorus that invites you into each unfolding day.
Actually, you notice it any time of year. By virtue of its geographic location Ireland can rely pretty much all year round on nature’s version of air conditioning, that being primarily the Atlantic Gulf Stream air currents that replace and refresh the air mass over the island with welcome regularity.
This is especially so on the Atlantic coastline, and along the now famed Wild Atlantic Way, where just about every fresh air activity you can think of - from walking, cycling and boating, to hiking, all manner of water sports, and even world class surfing - are available to the visitor.
And all of these activities can be undertaken to varying physical degrees.
With particular regard to cycling, the Westport to Achill Island cycle route in County Mayo is a moderate, single day - or indeed multiple day - adventure on wheels for all ages. Similar greenways can be found in Waterford, Limerick and Belfast.
And at the end of a full day’s activity, be it on a bike, on foot, in a boat, there is Irish hospitality which, as all who have experienced it will attest, is second to none.
If you cast an eye over one of those satellite images of Ireland you will notice how the island is a kind of fortress. Its main mountain ranges hug the coastline, most especially in the Northwest, West and Southwest.
But the east coast, too, has significant hill country, not least with the Wicklow Mountains and the Mournes in County Down.
And because these ranges stand as natural ramparts against the Atlantic and the Irish Sea you will, from their slopes and summits, fully understand the intimate relationship that Irish land has with its surrounding seas.
They meet, and if the weather is vigorous, they face off. Mountain and sea present a perfect combination for those who enjoy coastal walks.
The Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coast in County Antrim are clear standouts in this category. On the Wild Atlantic Way, which extends south from Donegal and curves around the ocean fringes of Kerry and West Cork, there are spectacular places to explore at walking speed such as the stunning Beara, Dingle and Inishowen peninsulas.
These landmarks and landscapes bear familiar names. But try this one: In Ireland’s Ancient East there is the Copper Coast Geopark, a breathtaking shoreline of cliffs, coves and sea stacks on the County Waterford coast. The name comes from the copper mining that once prospered here.
And here, over vast stretches of geological time, volcanoes, oceans, deserts and ice sheets combined to create a coastline that invites the visitor to consider, well, the vast stretch of geological time - and all in a day - or two or three.
Which is a reminder that the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks in County Kerry, Ireland’s highest mountain range, were once as high as the Himalayas. Again, with the passing of vast stretches of geological time, the Reeks present a less precipitous option to the present day hill walker or the more challenge- oriented climber.
Not to be outdone by the big name ranges there are other uplands that invite a somewhat less strenuous visitor footfall. They include the Slieve Blooms in counties Laois and Offaly, and the Comeragh Mountains in the aforementioned Waterford.
Here, a stretch known as the Coumshingaun has been described by the Irish Times as “the best demanding short hike in Ireland.”
Now, all activities don’t have to be on foot or in a saddle. Imagine a moonlit journey across the waters of West Cork. Well, Atlantic Sea Kayaking offers sea level exploration in wild honeysuckle-scented air and otherworldly bioluminescence, and all with the knowledge that you will be treading lightly on the environment.
Treading lightly on a golf course is always good advice - as is swing easy and keep your eye on the ball.
The world hardly needs reminding that Ireland is a golfing paradise. But here's a little reminding anyway. From Royal Portrush, to Portmarnock, to Lahinch and Ballybunion, and to what quite a few golfers consider to be the world's most outstanding course, Old Head in County Cork, the island is a must play destination for golfers of all abilities.
Ireland is also home to another golfing bucket list standout: the oh-so-relaxing 19th holes.
So contemplate enjoying the air, the views, the exercise, the satisfaction drawn from worthwhile and healthy excursions on an island that has its unrivaled welcome mat rolled out all months of the year. Yes, you’re already breathing easier before the journey even starts.
For more information on visiting Ireland see www.ireland.com