Dropped in the briny Atlantic off the west coast of Ireland are the bleakly beautiful Aran Islands: Inishmaan, Inisheer, and Inishmore. Wildly seductive, they share a stark limestone landscape marked by a crosshatch of stone walls, ancient ruins, and windswept coastlines. On clear days the flinty terrain is painted in remarkable light. Other times, the elements throw tantrums, and storms rage across weather-beaten headlands.
Places of note: On Inishmaan, the award-winning Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites is the island’s best base, pairing innovative, locally focused cuisine with five sleekly designed suites, while the Inis Meáin Knitting Company also offers travelers a look at the factory’s handsome knitwear. On Inisheer, a five-minute walk from the pier, takes you to South Aran House, which has four rooms and a whitewashed cottage built in the 1800s, as well as an excellent restaurant and cooking school. Other Inisheer attractions include the Áras Éanna Arts Centre, Mairead Sharry’s delightful crafts shop Teas; seaweed-infused body treatments at Aran Seaweed Baths and Spa; and, once every other spring, the Drop Everything biennale. If you find yourself on Inishmore, stock up on local cheeses at Cáis Gabhair Árann outside Kilronan before checking into the stone manor that now houses Kilmurvey House. The prehistoric ruins of Dún Aonghasa are just a short trek away.
When to visit: April to October is best time to visit the islands.
How to get there: From Galway City on Ireland’s west coast it’s an hour’s drive to Ros a’ Mhíl, where Aran Island Ferries provides a year-round passenger service to all three islands, though not between them. For inter-island transport, your only option is Doolin Ferries, a family-run business that only operates between March and November. Flying is also an option: Aer Arann Islands’ fleet of light aircraft services the islands from its base at Inverin.