mountains

Views, Views, Views in Trentino

If you want a real change in scenery from the Italy you're used to (I mean I could go to Tuscany 1000x and never get sick of it but change is good), then may I suggest the South Tyrolean region of Trentino Alto-Adige located in Italy's alps, also known as the Dolomites. Located in northeastern Italy, this region borders Austria and Switzerland and sometimes has you fooled that you're actually in those countries! Many people speak German and as a matter of fact all signage is in German, Italian & English. The food is even more like that of Austria (strudel, yum!) but don't worry, you will still be able to find a dish of pasta. 

The capital city of this region is Trento, which is a lovely, medieval town to visit. It is pretty small in terms of Italian cities go but it's friendly and those mountains are a lovely backdrop to your aperitivo. In the fall it's not too busy, but I would imagine that things pick up a bit in winter, seeing as how this is a perfect jumping off point to explore & ski the Dolomites. Trento is well connected by smaller airports and train stations, but the closest major airport is Venice. So the next time you take a trip to La Serenissima, consider venturing off into the mountains for a little taste of something different! Plus, Trento hardly makes it on the tourist map making your stay an authentic one which deserves brownie points in my book.

You don't need much time in Trento to be able to see it and experience what it has to offer so a night or two should be enough unless you're looking for some extra relaxation or plan to do some skiing. There are plenty of boutique hotels, B&Bs and inns to choose from, none of which will break the bank. Our hotel, B&B Luxury Heart of Trento even had a jacuzzi on the balcony incase you needed to soak some sore muscles after a day on the slopes or if you were just looking to relax with the mountains in the background (btw, spas in this town seem to be as abundant as espresso!) TIP: Don't miss the Funivia Trento-Sardagna, which is a cable car/gondola that brings you from the city center of Trento up to the hilltop town of Sardagna for some sweeping views of the city below and the mountains in the distance.  

The medieval city of Trento

The medieval city of Trento

A must-do if you're visiting Trento is to take a day trip to nearby Bolzano which is a lively town located about 45min to an hour north. Bolzano is even further into the mountains and only an hour south of the Austrian border making it feel more Austrian than Italian (just look around and admire all of the chalets...all that's missing are some yodellers!) TIP: Don't miss the Funivia Soprabolzano, which is a cable car/gondola that brings you from Bolzano way up into the mountains to the tiny little town of Soprabolzano. Grab a coffee and homemade strudel at Trattoria Babsi before heading out on the Renon railway for some amazing views of the Dolomites. 

The streets of Bolzano

The streets of Bolzano

The quaint town of Soprabolzano

The quaint town of Soprabolzano

And lastly, here are some food & drink reccos for your hungry bellies. Enjoy!

Trento

Enoteca Il Libertino for a casual dinner

Ai Tre Garofani for a more upscale, modern Italian dinner

Bar Pasi & Duomo 34 for aperitivo and people watching

Casa del Cioccolato & Casa del Caffe for the best coffee and pastry

Cafe de la Paix for craft beer and live music in a cozy setting

Birreria PedavenaForst for pretzels & beer in a German brewhaus

Bolzano

Pasticceria Hofer for gourmet coffee and pastry

Piazza delle Erbe for some market snacks 

Bar Caffe da Té for some liquid courage in a small, local's hole-in-the-wall before getting on the funivia 

Panificio Hackhofer for some authentic pretzels

The view of Trento from the top of the funivia ride 

The view of Trento from the top of the funivia ride 

A quick, fun ride for some breathtaking views

A quick, fun ride for some breathtaking views

Piazza Duomo in Trento

Piazza Duomo in Trento

View of the Dolomites from Soprabolzano

View of the Dolomites from Soprabolzano

The Renon Railway

The Renon Railway

Austria in Italy

Austria in Italy

The Funivia Soprabolzano gondola arriving in Soprabolzano

The Funivia Soprabolzano gondola arriving in Soprabolzano

The valley below (taken from the gondola)

The valley below (taken from the gondola)

The craggy Dolomites

The craggy Dolomites

Ireland Day 3: Beara Peninsula & Killarney

Day 3 of the Ireland Adventure is all about nature. I didn't know I could be that outdoorsy, but the great thing about traveling is that you can surprise yourself sometimes. On our 3rd day in the Emerald Isle we left Cork (read about it in my last post) and headed west towards County Kerry and discovered the natural beauty the area has to offer, which is some of the best in all of Ireland. I've heard many people say if there is only one part of Ireland you can visit, this would be the one. After seeing it, I can understand why. This is the Ireland on postcards.

BEARA PENINSULA

One of 4ish peninsulas in Southwest Ireland, the Beara Peninsula is the bit of land between Kenmare and Bantry that juts out into the Atlantic. It is where County Cork meets County Kerry.

SEE/DO

Ring of Beara - A scenic route along the coast of the Beara Peninsula offering stunning views and some of the prettiest nature around. This drive is a little less known and therefore less touristy than the famous Ring of Kerry on the neighboring Iveragh Peninsula. For this reason alone I recommend it, but it's also a good choice if you don't have a full day to dedicate to the Ring of Kerry or if you're like us traveling when daylight hours are limited and you want to see as much as possible before it gets dark.

NOTE: If you do decide to stick with the Ring of Kerry, beware that in summer months it can become extremely congested with tourist traffic from buses, cars, cyclists, etc. especially on the narrow parts. If you're going by car, consider starting later in the morning, giving the buses a head start. Check its website before you go to make sure you are driving in the right direction around the peninsula (clockwise or counterclockwise). It helps manage traffic flow and stress levels because 2-way traffic on some parts is a real tight fit, especially with large tourist buses. 

Healy Pass - The BEST part of the Ring of Beara and a highlight of our entire trip. It is a MUST whether you're short on time like we were or if you have all the time in the world. The Healy Pass (also known as R574 on the maps) is a road (barely) which runs North/South and intersects the Beara Peninsula cutting it down the middle. The drive brings you on windy narrow roads up through the sheep-speckled mountains where you actually have to brake for sheep crossing the road. There is everything from grassy hills and rocks to waterfalls and rainbows. It's truly beautiful, so much that it seems fake. Prepare to be in awe the entire drive! It takes under an hour, but make sure to factor in time for staring at the majestic views and for picture-taking. And for chatting with the sheep. If you're lucky, like us, you will be the only ones on the entire road (besides the sheep). It felt like we had this beautiful, undiscovered land all to ourselves. YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS THIS! 

Sheep-speckled mountains in Healy Pass, Beara Peninsula, Ireland
Sheep-speckled mountains in Healy Pass, Beara Peninsula, Ireland
Waterfalls everywhere in Healy Pass
Waterfalls everywhere in Healy Pass
Coming down from the mountains
Coming down from the mountains
Very photogenic sheep and a background that ain't so bad either
Very photogenic sheep and a background that ain't so bad either
The view never gets old
The view never gets old

EAT/DRINK

PF McCarthy's - A lovely traditional pub located in the quaint town of Kenmare, this place is a great place to stop for a bite and a pint at the end of the Ring of Beara drive. There's a warm fire going, local beers on tap, and a tasty menu with healthy (even vegetarian) options. The town of Kenmare is really cute (and small), which is perfect for stretching those legs after a long drive. NOTE: In the off-season there are not a lot of options for dining on the Beara Peninsula for lunch as many businesses close for the season, so plan accordingly. This is a great place to stop though, in or off-season. (14 Main St, Kenmare)

The Purple Heather Bistro - Also located in Kenmare, this restaurant is a good option for lunch if you're looking for sandwiches and soup or a salad rather than "pub grub." (Henry St, Kenmare)

KILLARNEY

This mid-size town is best known as the jumping off point for the Ring of Kerry but offers some fun pub life, cute shops and good restaurants. It has a true Irish feel and Christmastime is especially festive here.

SEE/DO

Killarney National Park - Located just outside town, this national park is a major highlight and must-see of the area due to its stunning mountains, lakes and woods. There are many viewing points to pull over along the way, but make sure you do not miss Ladies View, Muckross Lake and Torc Waterfall. The short walk through the woods to the Torc Waterfall is so incredibly green with leaves and moss and shamrocks, it's like something out of the Irish Spring soap commercials. The park is technically part of the Ring of Kerry circuit but is also easy to access from the Ring of Beara via the N71.

Ladies' View in Killarney National Park
Ladies' View in Killarney National Park
Walking through the woods
Walking through the woods
Approaching Torc Waterfall
Approaching Torc Waterfall
Looking for the 4-leaf variety
Looking for the 4-leaf variety
Torc Waterfall, this photo does not do it justice
Torc Waterfall, this photo does not do it justice

Ross Castle - Located on the Lough Leane lake in Killarney National Park, stands this old stone tower house. The grounds are exactly what you would picture of Irish countryside-- a castle situated on a lake with swans swimming about, surrounded by green land. The castle itself offers B&B accommodations for those looking for a unique experience.

Ross Castle grounds
Ross Castle grounds
A lovely Irish castle
A lovely Irish castle
One of the old towers
One of the old towers
Love the stone detail
Love the stone detail
The castle standing tall
The castle standing tall

Muckross Estate - Also located in Killarney National Park, this compound consists of the mansion of Muckross House, the farms, and the abbey all of which are situated on the edge of Muckross Lake. Entrance is by guided tour. For a really special experience, hire a jaunting car (horse-drawn carriage) to take you around the grounds.

Gap of Dunloe and Molls Gap - Located slightly outside of Killarney National Park, these passageways through the mountains are beautifully rugged and offer majestic views. Though in the summer they can get extremely crowded and backed up with traffic, especially the Gap of Dunloe, so plan accordingly.

EAT/DRINK

O'Connor's - A traditional, cozy little pub with live trad music nightly. Perfect for a pint by the fire. (7 High St)

Courtney's Bar - A fun pub with an impressive whiskey selection. Fills up for the live bands and is a lively late-night spot. (0 Plunkett St)

Treyvaud's - A good option if you're looking for variety and something other than the usual Irish stew. Food was good and the staff was very attentive. (62 High St)

Petit Delice - An adorable French bakery serving good croissants and espresso. A nice alternative to tea and scones. (42 High St)

STAY

Killarney Royal Hotel - Centrally located, this boutique hotel has simple, comfortable and clean accommodations. It is the sister hotel to the Hayfield Manor in Cork, where we also stayed. Rates from 100eur/nt. (College St)

Killarney Plaza Hotel - Located right on the edge of town and only a 5-minute walk to the action this grand hotel is also a good option. Rates from 90eur/nt. (Kenmare Pl)

If I had to pick, this was my favorite day of the vacation. Seeing the landscapes on the Beara Peninsula and in Killarney National Park was one of the most unique experiences I've had. In my opinion, there's no better way to enjoy Ireland! Next up will be the Dingle Peninsula and Limerick to wrap up the adventure. There's good stuff ahead so stay tuned!