Easy Over on Inishbofin

A northwestern island retreat is a great place to recharge, amidst all the comforts of home

By Maeve Tynan

Inishbofin, an island about 6 miles off the coast of Connemara, is a getaway popular with Irish folks who want to escape the newfound strains of modern living. A rugged, rocky outpost crisscrossed with stonewalls and undulating hills, Inishbofin is remote enough to feel secluded and utterly quiet. But the island also has all the amenities needed for visitors who like comfort – including a luxury spa set to open this September.

Inishbofin (Inis Bo Finne) is about 5 miles long and just two miles wide, making it a bit larger than its two nearby sister islands Inishlyon (Inis Laiglean) and Inishark (Inis Airc). The island is inhabited year-round by 200 souls, mainly fisherman, farmers and people who run local B&B's and hotels. Visitors enter through a harbor guarded by the ruins of a Cromwellian fortress and behold a landscape of gently rolling green hills (there's plenty of grass and vegetation here, unlike the Aran Islands, where heavy winds will sweep off anything that's not nailed down).

harbor of inishbofin Different world
The lead attractions here are extreme quiet and great ocean views all around. According to Tony Conneely, manager of the Days' Inishbofin House Hotel (owned by the local Day family - no relation to the large hotel chain), It's a great place to completely "de-stress." I come from just five miles inland, and even to me it seems like a different world.

Visitors like to hike the island or tour it on bicycles (available at the harbor pier for reasonable rates). Most of Inishbofin is ringed with beaches that are safe for swimming, though the island's north end features some spectacular cliffs that can be covered in a two-hour circular walk starting in town. If you want to take a long, lazy break from your hiking or biking, The Gallery Restaurant and B&B on the east side of the island provides a nice coffee cum lunch menu that's sure to perk you right up. Inishbofin is not exactly a secret. Like many remote locales, it is now becoming more fashionable with creative, arty types who frequent it, seeking inspiration and a chance to recharge their batteries. The sheep on irish island Inishbofin Arts Festival in May is a testament to the growing interest in arts and culture on the island. There's also an outdoor market every Wednesday from 9:30 to 12:00 at the East End, which sells organically grown vegetables, fresh herbs, homebaking, fresh fish when available, and free range eggs. And the main town has a heritage museum and souvenir shop. For outdoorsmen, sea angling (call 095 45865 for info) and wind-surfing are available.

Though most visitors come in summer, Mr. Conneely says that winter is a good time to visit for those who like real solitude and dramatic weather conditions, with lots of dramatic seascapes everywhere.

Most accommodations are tucked in around the main harbor. On a recent visit, we tried out the Inishbofin House Hotel, which re-opened just this past July 1st after a major renovation. Although there seemed to be some initial teething problems (service was a bit slow), it was very pleasant overall and our stay was a great bargain for a fairly upscale accomodation. A two-night stay with breakfast and one dinner worked out to a total of about 180 Euros per person. The hotel's "Marine Spa," so named because it's on the beach and has seaweed baths, opens in September (www.dayshotel.ie). There are plenty of other accommodations, including several self-catering cottages on the east side of the island (get more info at www.inishbofin.com).

To get to Inishbofin, head from Galway to Clifden via Maam Cross on the N 59 for approximately 8km. Follow N 59 north past Clifden, until you reach Streamstown. Follow signs to the left for the road to Cleggan, a small town which is really just a few pubs strung together by a number of houses. The Inishbofin ferry departs Cleggan three times daily, charging 15 Euros for a round trip ticket.

Maeve Tynan lives in Limerick

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