Treasures of Ireland | ©thepalladiantraveler.comJust minutes after our jaunting car ride through Killarney National Park, Big Mike, our larger-than-life tour director, charged with shepherding the “band of merry media” — 18 intrepid travel writers and photographers invited by Insight Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its Treasures of Ireland journey — lures us back onto the motor coach with small, ribbon-wrapped boxes.

“Inside is a sample of artisan chocolates made right here in Killarney,” Big Mike informs us as we nestle into our business-class legroom seats. He adds, “It’s what Insight calls a ‘flourish,’ little tokens doled out during a journey by the tour director to his or her guests.” He concludes, “Consider this little ‘flourish’ the sugar rush just before the adrenaline rush that awaits you.”

Treasures of Ireland | ©thepalladiantraveler.comAnd, what awaits us is a 179 km-long drive around the curvaceous Ring of Kerry, the 57th most scenic drive in the world, according to National Geographic’s prestigious Top 101 list. The Ring of Kerry, a true jewel along the Wild Atlantic Way, is heaven on earth and must-see on anyone’s visit to the Emerald Isle.

One piece of chocolate already consumed, we make the first of many planned photo-op stops as Eugene, our pilot — aka, The Quiet Man — brings the sleek Mercedes coach to a halt up in Aghadoe Heights for a panoramic view of Killarney National Park, its lakes and islands, and Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest peak, at 1,038m, inside the Macgillycuddy Reeks mountain range.

Treasures of Ireland | ©thepalladiantraveler.com

Treasures of Ireland | ©thepalladiantraveler.comTraveling counter-clockwise like all motor coaches are obliged to do when circumnavigating the Ring of Kerry (passenger cars travel clockwise), we head down the winding and narrow N70.

Passing through the town of Killorglin — famous for its annual Puck Fair, the oldest gathering festival in Ireland at 400+ years, where a male mountain goat is crowned king and rules from up on high in a suspended cage for three, long raucous days — we come to an anonymous overlook in the bogs, stop and get out to stretch our legs and soak in the natural beauty.

Treasures of Ireland | ©thepalladiantraveler.comA group of Irish Travellers  (Gypsies), along with their itinerant livestock, have set up a makeshift open-air market showcasing their local, handmade products, including the iconic St. Brigid’s Cross, named after Ireland’s female patron saint.

According to Big Mike, “St. Brigid’s Cross is as much a symbol of the Emerald Isle as the shamrock and harp.” He adds, “We place them in our homes to keep all inside safe.”

I take Big Mike’s explanation to heart and buy two of the hand-woven crosses from the roadside vendor who nods his approval and plays a little ditty on his squeezebox.

Treasures of Ireland | ©thepalladiantraveler.comPulling up just short of Cahersiveen, the main town on the Iveragh Peninsula and the birthplace of Daniel O’Connell, The Liberator, a 19th century politician who paved the way for Ireland’s independence from Great Britain, Eugene brings the Insight motor coach to a full stop at a large parking lot fronting the Thatched Cottage Restaurant in Stransend.

“Time for another ‘flourish’,” Big Mike announces, as we gather up our gear and head inside the rest stop. “You’re about to taste Ireland’s signature late-morning and late-afternoon snack,” Mike adds, smacking his lips, “piping-hot scones and a cup of tea, or coffee or, if you prefer, a shot of Jameson.”

I order a strong coffee, well, the strongest the Thatched Cottage can muster, slice my freshly baked scone in half, and smother both sides in Kerrygold butter and homemade raspberry jam. Quicker than you can say, “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” my scone’s a goner. Mmm…mmm…mmm!

Treasures of Ireland | ©thepalladiantraveler.comRugged and untamed, just the way The Almighty intended, the Ring of Kerry is one of Ireland’s most beautiful regions. Around every bend in the road a new panorama comes into view just a bit more fantastic than the previous, like Ballinskelligs Bay, where we take five and stroll around the beach at Waterville, a seaside village where Charlie Chaplin and his large family vacationed for many a summer. In his honor, a statue of the Little Tramp looks out to sea and the town hosts the annual Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival.

Treasures of Ireland | ©thepalladiantraveler.comHandling the controls like a F1 Grand Prix pilot, Eugene steers the Insight motor coach through all the twists and turns with ease, as if the Ring of Kerry was just another mundane straightaway.

Passing by Catherdaniel, we head through the Coomakista Pass, where the views out over Kenmore Bay to the Scariff and Deenish Islands are just sublime, and then down into Sneem, a colorful little village known affectionately as “the Knot in the Ring of Kerry,” where we make a pit stop for lunch.

Treasures of Ireland | ©thepalladiantraveler.comTransitioning off the N70 and onto the N71, we bid our final farewells to the incomparable Ring of Kerry and make our way back to Killarney and the Plaza Hotel, our base camp for the past two days.

Along the way, Eugene makes one final photo-op stop at a picturesque spot made famous by Queen Victoria of England: Ladies View. As Big Mike explains, “During a royal visit to Co. Kerry by Queen V back in 1861, her ladies-in-waiting were brought to this very spot and were immediately awestruck by the stunning panorama. Ergo, Ladies View.”

TREASURES OF IRELAND: In the heart of picturesque Killarney National Park is postcard-perfect Ladies View. A regular Insight Vacations' stop along the world-famous Ring of Kerry, Ladies View was so named after Queen Victoria of England's ladies-in-waiting, who were taken to this very spot during a royal visit back in 1861 and were immediately awestruck by the stunning panorama.

For complete information on Insight’s 100+ premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, including the Treasures of Ireland, where there are plenty of photo ops for both ladies and gentlemen, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.

See you soon around the 19th Green where, pardon the golf vernacular, we’ll learn how to drive for show and cook for dough.

©The Palladian Traveler

Borsalino w/ props SMALL | ©Tom Palladio Images

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Written by The Palladian Traveler

Tom traded his hometown St. Louis Cardinals' baseball cap in the United States for a Borsalino and he now hangs his "capello" in the Puglia region of southeastern Italy. A veteran print and broadcast journalist, with well-worn passports that have got him into and out of 50 countries and counting, Tom fell in love with the "Bel Paese" years ago. As he notes, "I'm inspired by the beauty I find in all things that are very, very old, and reliving history, or at least meandering along cobblestone streets that were laid down over a thousand years ago and just looking up and marveling at what occupies the space still today, really gets my 'Vespa' running." Tom has a good eye behind the lens and is a graphic storyteller, but he'll let you decide as he keeps his camera batteries fully charged and the posts flowing from his creative hideaway in the hills overlooking Ostuni. You can also follow his dispatches along the cobblestone via TravelingBoy.com.

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