Ireland’s notoriously “soft” weather makes the fields gloriously golden, but it also makes the ground soggy for would-be campers seeking to experience nature in dramatic landscapes off the beaten path. Leave it to Irish ingenuity and hospitality to adapt the camping experience with refined yurts, pods, and safari tents outfitted with duvet-covered beds, antique furniture, and woodstoves.
Since the economic crash, savvy entrepreneurs have seen new demand for nature experiences away from the tourist trail. They’ve set boutique camping sites in secluded spots where permanent structures might be out of place, with access to outdoor adventures and on-site enticements like a wine bar, marina, or pub. Although you won’t get a hot Irish breakfast, there are plenty of rainbow sightings and other photo opportunities.
No on knows posh indulgence like Dromquinna Manor owner John Brennan, also a partner in the five-star Park Hotel Kenmare with brother Francis. So it’s no surprise that the safari tents on the 40-acre property fronting Kenmare Bay have reading lamps, plush towels, a welcome basket of snacks, and custom “wilderness beds” crafted from fallen logs and topped with goose down comforters.
Guests enjoy horseback riding from Dromquinna Stables and cruising the bay to the seal colony aboard Seafari, which departs right at the pier. The food is upscale, too, with croissants and cappuccino in the shop for breakfast, wine and artisan cheese for afternoon noshing, and the Boathouse Wine Bar and Bistro offering tapas and grilled pizza along the waterfront. “There’s a massive appetite for something different,” says Brennan. “This type of camping attracts couples and families who want to be in nature but don’t want to slumber on the ground in a sleeping bag.” (From $165)
Situated in Ireland’s midlands north of Kilbeggan, Boutique Camping is part upscale camping site. The 100-acre property is the creation of owner Adrian Murphy, who transformed the rolling farmland by installing roads and walking trails, planting more than 200,000 trees with clearings for the yurts and shepherd’s huts, building two shared kitchens and an eating deck, and carefully placing works of art to encourage discovery.
A circle of standing stones carved with Celtic symbols tops a two-tiered mound; a group of totem poles overlooks the pond; druids and mythical figures emerge from massive tree trunks. Iron beds, woodstoves, and the dreamy effect of candles set the night scene. “I’ll never be done adding to the property,” says Murphy. “I wouldn’t have any fun then.” (From $128)
Glamping and Guinness
After a day of boating, fishing, or hiking, what could be more satisfying than a pint of ale in an atmospheric pub while listening to a traditional music session? At Battlebridge Caravan and Camping Park near Leitrim, 100 miles northwest of Dublin, the pub is right on site.
When Joe and Eilish Beirne took over the family’s Battlebridge Pub along the Shannon River, they developed a marina and campsites but soon realized people wanted even more conveniences and pampering. They added carnival-style tents with wooden beds, chandeliers, and linen service, plus four wooden pods that look like upside-down boat hulls and a deck overlooking the river. You can rent a boat for a day or book a weeklong camping-boating package. (From $230 for two nights)
It takes 45 minutes on a small ferry to get to Cape Clear Island, one of Ireland’s most remote inhabited islands, off the south coast of West Cork. Guests walk over the hill to Chleire Haven, where eight canvas yurts (and tepees) cling to the edge of a 30-foot bluff overlooking South Harbor. They feature stunning Atlantic views, comfortable beds, gas stoves, cooking utensils, and solar-powered lighting.
Co-owners Dave Calvert and Sally Davies recommend weeklong stays to take in the nearby heritage museum and bird observatory, go kayaking or whale watching, and check out a 5,000-year-old burial chamber entered through a tunnel passage. Off-island adventures include a cruise to Fastnet Rock to explore a century-old granite lighthouse. (From $105)
This article, written by Kathleen M. Mangan, appeared in the February/March 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler. There’s a lot you can’t get online: To see all we have to offer, subscribe to get the print edition for just $10 a year or download a digital copy to your iPad.