Best of the Burren

As a solo traveler/driver in Ireland, I love to begin and end my visit in County Clare, mostly because of how easy arrival and departure is at Shannon Airport: no long lines at car rental desks and a customer service rep who leads you directly to your car across the road from the terminal and who waits until you’re safely underway on your journey. Sometimes you even get a wave good-by! Once I’m out on the N18 I have Ireland at my doorstep (I usually head south to Kerry or Cork), but I always reserve the last day or two for touring Clare, with some of these places among the best reasons to visit.

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As a major region on the Wild Atlantic Way, attractions in Clare include the Burren National Park, Aillwee Cave, Cliffs of Moher, Craggaunowen Bronze Age Project, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, UNESCO Geopark of The Burren, and the Burren Center. I’ve visited most, but my personal favorite, and one that no foodie should miss, is the Burren Smokehouse, located in the heart of Lisdoonvarna on the N67. Just off the Wild Atlantic Way, it’s also home to a Victorian spa complex and hosts the world-famous “Matchmaking Festival“ each September.

Since its founding in 1989 by Peter and Birgitta Hedin-Curtin, the Burren Smokehouse has grown, literally, to now include the original smokehouse, a visitor center with gourmet food market that showcases artisan food from Clare and beyond, “Taste the Atlantic—Salmon Experience,” and the Roadside Tavern with Burren Brewery. When I first visited more than 15 years ago, I remember sitting on small súgán (traditional rope) chairs with other tourists watching a short video detailing the salmon smoking progress. How things have changed! 

Visitors can still pop in to catch the video, learn about the unique smoking process, and have a look at the custom-designed kiln and smoke box, but over the years the Curtins have added a number of personal “experiences” ranging from smoked salmon tastings, a demonstration of the smoking process, and an interactive journey through time following the iconic King of Fish, the legendary Salmon of Knowledge. The very clever “Salmon Experience” is a fully interactive space where the story of Irish salmon is told from its place in Irish mythology and history up to the role salmon aquaculture plays in sustaining coastal communities in some of Ireland’s most remote rural locations. With wild salmon fishing restricted to certain days from May to late July, depending on the rivers, organic salmon fishing provides excellent fish for smoking. 

"Salmon Experience."

For my recent “experience,” Birgitta led me on a behind-the-scenes visit of the smokehouse itself, but you can also join Peter who’ll lead you to the Burren Brewery inside the Roadside Tavern next door. The tavern, in the Curtin family since 1893, is one of the oldest pubs in the Burren area. In 2011, Peter set up the brewery inside the tavern, producing three styles of beer: Burren Gold, a characterful lager, Burren Red, a spicy, slightly sweet ale, and Burren Black stout.  In 2022, Curtin turned over management of the gastro-pub to chef Peter Jackson, who has maintained its old-world atmosphere while offering a menu featuring the best of local, seasonal produce including Burren Smoked Salmon with New Potato Salad, Slow-cooked North Clare Beef Cheek with Champ, and St. Tola Goat Cheese Croquette. 

For complete details on “Meet the Makers, VIP Tour,” “Master Class in Salmon Smoking,” and other smokehouse offerings, visit the website here.


Serves 6

 The Burren Smokehouse smokes organic Irish salmon using both hot and cold smoking methods, flavoring some with spices, some with honey, whiskey and fennel, and another with honey, lemon, and pepper that’s used in this recipe for salmon chowder. (Alternately, use plain smoked salmon and add a pinch of lemon an pepper seasoning). Serve it with brown bread. You’ll find this recipe, courtesy of the smokehouse, in my soon-to-be released cookbook Delicious Ireland. 

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

3 medium leeks (white and light green parts only), rinsed and sliced

1 tablespoon minced garlic 

1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 celery stalk, chopped 

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups canned low-sodium vegetable broth

2 tablespoons tomato purée

2 cups milk

13 ounces Burren Hot Smoked Salmon with Honey, Lemon, and Pepper, flaked

1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, for garnish

1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks; cook for 2 minutes, or until soft but not browned. Add the garlic, potato, celery, salt, and pepper; stir to coat. Add the broth; simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

2. Stir in the tomato purée and milk. Return the soup to simmer, making sure not boil. Stir in the salmon. When heated through, gently stir in the cream.

3. To serve, ladle the chowder into shallow bowls; garnish with chives. Serve with brown bread.

 Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page also includes “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work, or to order a signed copy of any of her cookbooks, visit