The one bit of advice I would give anyone who wanted to take off for a few days is to plan everything you might want to do as much as possible before you set out. I know, being organized can take time , but, after finding myself on so many occasions in a beautiful city, town or countryside, and am asked the question, “well, what’s the plan?” and I don’t have a notion of what the place has to offer, where to eat, or what’s open, I can proudly say that planning one’s trip is the most effective way to pack it all in without stressing out.
Spending the summer in Ireland (my home) was the perfect time to plan trips to places I hadn’t visited in a long time. Wanting to take full advantage of every precious moment, I made sure to carefully plot my trip, finding out what we wanted to see, what times museums and historical sites were open, where the best places to eat were, etc. Yes, I’m sounding like an overly fastidious and annoying “square” but, I am here to tell you that my trip to County Kerry in the South West of Ireland will convince you to follow suit.
This trip was planned with my sister June, and of course my 2 children. June booked a hotel room for two nights about 5 miles outside the beautiful little harbor town of Dingle. What turned out to be her most ingenious contribution to our Trip Tik was a small back pack that contained a single-burner gas stove, plates, cups, along with a spatula and big serving spoon.
When she arrived home with this “gadget” I thought it was another of those things you buy when all excited about the idea of doing something different (like cooking outside in June’s case), but I played along as she enthusiastically pulled it out of the canvas bag and proceeded to show me all of the cool features while going on about how fun it would be to cook on the beach or mountain top!
This was all very well, but the reason she was showing ME this wilderness stove was because it was presumed that I would be the one in the apron and holding the spatula!
I think the only time I am a really good planner is when it comes to food, so with that in mind, I decided to get into the spirit of the idea of my kneeling over a stove on a possibly brisk irish beach. I visualized what would ultimately be a series of one-pot meals and packed accordingly. I decided that for the first day I could prep the vegetables I was going to use for the base of the dish and pack it in a plastic container. Other veggies would be packed for the following outdoor dinners or lunches, along with a slim chopping board and sharp knife.
Then there was no stopping me: I went on to pack lovely Maldon salt, pepper, chili flakes, curry powder, and fresh sprigs of rosemary from the garden. I washed little wine bottles and filled them with olive oil and white wine which I stored in one of the outside pockets of the bag, along with a big spoon, a spatula and tea cloths. I also packed enough meat, olives, mustard, grapes and wine for the next three days in a cooler. I knew one thing for sure: we wouldn’t starve!
We left for County Kerry in the afternoon (after a little delay trying to get June’s dog Suki our of the car!), with our sights on Conor Pass, the highest mountain pass in the country. Our final stop would be the little harbor town of Dingle which juts into the Atlantic ocean making it the westernmost point in Ireland. This narrow and winding road precariously hugs the edge of the mountain as it makes it’s way to Dingle. It is by far the most spectacular way to enter the town, albeit a little scary for an Acrophobian such as myself (Ok, maybe a little dramatic, but definitely scary).
As we twisted our way through the pass we stopped several times to take in the magnificent views of the ancient corrie lakes dotted among the ultra green and plunging glacier mountains. If we were true adventurers we could have parked our car and hiked up the mountain to Peddlers lake to marvel at its glass like surface, surrounding by corrie walls and ancient vegetation. Wearing flip-flops and dresses quelled that notion, but next time I will make sure to have my hiking boots and rain coat in the boot of the car.
We also stopped to let cars pass on this “one way” road. I am trying to depict how absolutely breathtaking this place is through my words and pictures, but am failing miserably. The only way to know is to experience it for yourself, and I hope you get the chance to do so someday.
On past Dingle we eventually found our hotel, which was located on a lovely country road flanked by more green and rocky mountains. The roads were lined with hedgerows awash in drooping red fuchsia flowers. At the bottoms of the hedges was sand, evidence of the ocean close by.
After we checked into our very modest hotel, it was time to find our picnic spot. It was getting a little late and shouts of hunger were going up. As we drove down the road heading for a beach June and I looked at each other and I know were thinking the same thing; “are we really going out into the countryside in the looming dusk with two cranky kids, and the now visible signs of misty rain?”
Since we didn’t have a clue about this particular area, funding that perfect spot was harder than we though. The beaches we found were either too rocky or had no shelter whatsoever. As we turned the car around from one little beach we noticed a field just above the strand. It looked like there was a path made by tractor wheels so we followed them and decided it was here or a restaurant!
We parked by a bank that sheltered us from the wind coming up from the sea and set the little stove in front of the car, which we parked on the bank as a second buffer. My son was mortified thinking we were trespassing, which we probably were! I told him to go explore on the beach and not to worry, which worked well enough. June pulled out the shopping bag and picnic blanket, and plunked herself down with the a bottle and wine opener.
We laughed so much at the whole scene. This was a first for us (besides actually camping). There we were in the darkening evening wearing coats and hats, and trying to figure out how to light our little stove, and all the while thinking we would pack the up whole lot up and dash off to a cozy warm restaurant. Then, magic happened.
When the stove began to glow and I poured olive oil in the pan adding my prepped onions, garlic, rosemary and thinly sliced fennel, the mood changed completely. The air filled with the sweet scent of cooking food and within minutes all of us were kneeling around the burner excited about dinner, and being out in the middle of nowhere with the sea on one side of us and the green and red of the countryside on the other.
We ate a lovely brothy pasta dish with fried salmon and artisanal sausages which we got fresh from Dingle on our way out of town a couple of hours earlier. It was washed down with an equally lovely Pinot Noir, while the talk was all about the miracles that could be worked with a cheap gas burner and a couple of sprigs of rosemary. We enjoyed a meal that we would have been hard-pressed to find in a good restaurant, and we did it for pennies.
The other thing that we couldn’t help noticing was how good everything tasted in the outdoors. Every mouthful felt like a gift of comfort and deliciousness. As we lounged against the car doors after dinner the kids pulled out a hula hoop and began winging it through the field like a giant frisbee. Food made them happy, and I knew this because June and I were happy for the same reason. We starting thinking about where we would end up this time tomorrow, what we would be eating, and if it could possibly turn out to be as much fun as we were having at this exact moment.
We packed up as the sky darkened and light rain began to fall; perfect timing.