Travel around the coast of the lake and visit the Chateau de Chillon, on one side of which there is a precipitous underwater chasm where bodies were disposed of in the old days. This is a castle worth visiting if only to see the grimness of the appalling dungeons.
See those narrow slits in the rock where unfortunates were forced into and sealed up, only to be brought up in the evenings for the entertainment of the Duke and his guests. Tied to large vertical columns of wood which held up the roof while the guests tried to put out their eyes, many terrified prisoners twisted their heads away, - testimony of which are the scorch marks in the wood. But can we in the judgemental twentieth century point the finger at medieval cruelty? Remember Melei and Auschwitz and Bosnia and…..
Château de Chillon
Avenue de Chillon 21
Phone +41 21 966 89 10
Not far from Leysin is Gruyere, a medieval walled town with no traffic famous for its cheese and well worth going to for the castle. Inside, there is that indefinable fustiness of very old wood. Twisted ageless vines grow from the courtyard and entwine themselves around pillars as they stretch upwards. There is a permanence about this castle which appears to have grown from the rock on which it is built.
Outside in the cobbled street, sit and relax at one of the discreet little cafes. And if you must buy a souvenir, buy a Swiss chalet music box or a Swiss Army knife with a multitude of accessories ... as I did for my son, who promptly sliced himself open with it.
Gruyere lies north-east of Leysin in the canton of Fribourg.
Not too far away are Les Diablerets, the Little Devils, a range of peaks where even in high summer, snow obstinately refuses to melt. At ten thousand feet and reached by a chain of three cable cars, it is cold, and the sudden change in altitude can cause dizziness.
An interesting tunnel through a huge captive ice glacier leads to the restaurant (with exorbitant prices) from the cable car station. The ice here is so old that there are arrows pointing out different times in history. A very thin black line in the ice from the eighteen hundreds bears witness to the eruption and extinction of Krakatoa, the volcano which destroyed itself with the biggest explosion of recent times.
If you fancy an adventure on the high seas, take a trip out to Cape Clear Island. These are waters haunted by the ghosts of pirates from the sixteen hundreds, principal among them O’Mahony whose clan ravaged vessels along this coastline. The sad remains of his castle sit grimly at the water’s edge of Hare Island while he paid the ultimate price for piracy in Cork Gaol.
Cape Clear Island is beyond the jurisdiction of the mainland as far as road tax and traffic regulations go. The result of this is a motley assortment of noisy vehicles in various stages of decay but still driving. Those that have succumbed to the inevitable lie around the island. These silent testimonies to abandonment are the most appalling eyesores on an island that is one of the most beautiful
on the south west coast.
Cape Clear lies just 8 miles off the West Cork mainland and can be reached by a 45 minutes boat journey from Schull.
O’Reagen’s pub is worth a visit. Dark, dingy and a toilet that is only to be used in desperation. But they do a great pint of Guinness. Slowly pulled, watched carefully, topped up - it’s a work of art. This is a tiny bar to be comfortable in. Other customers come in and greet you. “Hwarya?” or “Hwzitgoin?” Like old friends and by the end of the night they are.
If you’re feeling hungry, get some fresh hake or John Dory from the boats in the harbour, stuffed with lemons, limes and local butter. Wrapped in the Irish Times, soaked in spring water and twenty minutes on the barbecue, they’re served with soda bread from the village and spuds freshly dug from over the road. A veritable feast.
The Sheep's Head peninsula lies about 6 miles west of Bantry.
Bantry House sits on a hill at the edge of Bantry looking across the bay. One of the best preserved in Ireland, it provides an hour or two of cultural heritage on a grand scale.
Mosaics on the floor culled from Pompeii provide a classical reference which is further developed by the marble Ionic pillars. Much of the furnishing is English but there are examples of Irish workmanship. Evidence of the Grand Tour is everywhere. An ivory chess set from China, a ginger jar from Japan or a French prayer stool.
The gardens continue the classical theme with a formal design of dwarf hedging and velvet lawns at the front of the house while an Oriental theme permeates the estate at the rear. And Bantry itself is a most pleasant town.
Tel: +353 27 50047
Mizen Head is west of Schull and is Ireland’s most south-westerly point. To reach the visitor centre (built in 1905) walk over the chasm on the famous arched bridge.
There are plenty of boat trips ranging from a 10 minute one from Baltimore to Sheare Island, or a two and a half hour one out to the Fastnet Lighthouse. Nine miles out in the Atlantic, this lonely outpost has warned approaching shipping for over a hundred years but since 1989 is fully automatic.
From Schull, travel west down the bog road which takes you to Mizen Head.
There are several planned walks which have been mapped out in a delightful little visitors’ guide. These range from a two mile walk over fields and fences among disgruntled ewes to a ring fort, to a five hour one across the rocky hillside of Mount Gabriel which broods menacingly over the landscape with its twin radar domes.
In and around Schull
Down at the harbour a modern stainless steel and glass building sells freshly caught fish (hake, plaice, sole, turbot, John Dory, etc) at a third of the price in supermarkets. They also serve fish and chips from five o’clock every evening.
A Sunday market flourishes on the foreshore, selling mainly crafts, plants and food. Breads of every kind fill baskets beside cheeses of every flavour. Especially good are the local blue cheeses made from goats’ milk. And of course the famous Durrus cheese from the town of the same name a few miles up the road.
It’s not signposted and its existence is denied by the locals, but this impossibly large beach is the most beautiful strand in Ireland and no-one else seems to know about it. The water is warm and the sand hot, while cattle graze the fringe of grass on the sand dunes. A little graveyard sits uneasily on the weather-worn shore.
The town of Clifden, famous for the first Trans-Atlantic flight having landed there, is a thriving cosmopolitan town with new apartments being built and the pubs and restaurants full.
The old railway station has been carefully incorporated into apartment blocks next to the station hotel. Remnants of the old platform have been kept as part of the walkway, and the old lines, sleepers and signal switches are embedded into the pedestrian area. The locomotive shed and stationmaster’s house are part of the development and even the new block of shops has been sensitively dealt with in the design process. The whole effect works well with vernacular references to the railway, which played a significant part in Clifden’s development.
The area has walks for all abilities in the Connemara National Park.
Going to Clifden is worth it, not only because of the town, but the actual journey is so spectacular with the barren rock landscape surrounded by drowned peat hags fringed with reeds.
To be transported back in time, visit the Villa Oplontis, once home to Nero’s second wife before he kicked her to death in A.D. 65. Take the train to the next stop past Pompeii – Torre Annunziata, a seedy suburb of the Neapolitan conurbation once famous for its black velvet sand beaches, now infamous for its contribution to the crime columns of the local papers. A hand – written scrawl in the ticket office of the station advises directions to villa, including, “…and if you survive the crossing of the main road, continue along …”
It is a strange site to visit, all sound is blanked out in spite of its proximity to the road. Only birdsong is heard in the gardens of this well – preserved ruin. Here are decorations on the walls far superior to Pompeii, with clever illusionist motifs of rows of columns in perspective and tiny detailed paintings of birds feeding. Little imagination is needed to re – create life in this villa, the buildings of which alone cover an area of over a hectare.
Because it is such an undervisited site, it is a delight to ramble through this extensive villa and listen to the whispers of breezes through the leaves of the lemon trees where the ancient atmosphere of relaxation and contemplation linger on in spite of its violent owner.
At the Torre Annunziata rail stop outside Naples.
There are those, guide books included, who sneer unjustifiably at the local cuisine, but to be fair the restaurant of Don Alfonso in Sant Agata should be sampled. But take care, rated in the top five restaurants in Italy with three Michelin stars does not come cheap!
Especially with such dishes as a souffle of marrow with mozzarella and anchovy sauce, pheasant with pistachio nuts, or bream cooked inside lemon leaves. All the produce comes from the family’s organic farm. It is possible to stay in one of his five apartments where he will also cook breakfast. Take out a mortgage first!
The road from Sorrento to Amalfi hugs the cliff as it curves around vertical rock faces with the tail of the bus swinging out over the edge and bringing visions of the Afterlife to those passengers sitting on the right hand side. Be thankful that this observation is from a large air-conditioned, soft-sprung, reclining seat in the front of a Mercedes coach and not from the small hire car that is between this coach and another in front.
Coach drivers consider it a matter of pride to be as close as possible to everything including the cliff edge. Every corner is blasted peremptorily by the wind-horn and coaches give way to nothing. It is small consolation that the casual manner of the driver comes from driving this coastline several times a day and that he sleeps soundly in his bed at night.
The final plunge into Amalfi some ninety minutes later leaves the traveller in a melee of coaches parking, baffled tourists and drivers arguing.
South of Sorrento
It’s easy to find, we’re told. Not far past the rugby club and the golf club. Six miles past to be exact and lost in a labyrinth of roads that get narrower. Suddenly the spa emerges. Brand new and boasting everything possible to improve the female form. Mudbath. Seaweed bath. Hydrotherapy. Seamist Therapy. Presso Therapy. Algo Therapy. Balneotherapy. And wait for it, Thallasotherapy. There must be some awful ugly women in Ireland to need all that.
My wife emerged radiant an hour later from her Seaweed Bath having enjoyed sharing it with a variety of whelks, weeds and winkles. And do you know that this place is so booked up there’s no chance of any of those therapies or baths for at least a week?
My wife swears blind about how much good it does the skin and how it removes the toxins from the system and…
Westport, Co Mayo
Tel: 00 353 982 8899
John Joe, the friendly grocer tells us that lots of famous people have houses round Louisburgh and Westport as retreats from the hurly-burly of high pressure life. Did we not see Mick Hucknal from Simply Red there in front of us at the check-out? A grand lad (with his spending power, I bet he is a grand lad). And Miles Kinston from the Irish Times? And yer man who owns Ryan Air? And Madonna? And … The list goes on.
We feel rather poor as we load the supplies into the dusty Toyota that sits shyly among the brand new four-by-fours, the shiny Mercs, the sleek BMWs. These belong, not to the rich and famous, but to the shopkeepers.
John Joe waxes lyrical and looks prosperous, but pleads poverty claiming that it is the farmers with their grants and subsidies and tax exemptions who are the nouveau riche. To tell the truth, there’s no sign of poverty, which is good to see in a land so long barren.
Most of the wells and springs in Ireland that were venerated by the Celts, were taken over by the Church and became Holy Wells. One such is St. Kieran’s, just outside the village of Carna. It’s a sad wet place, ferns dripping and brambles ready to snag the unwary. But up here is a cross to St. Kieran. He is supposed to have stayed here on his way to the Aran Islands to convert the heathen. The water from his well is supposed to cure problems with the sight.
The hotel has the established look and feel of an Edwardian mansion with its rich mahogany furnishings, soft luxurious carpets and the most attentive staff. In fact it was built only eight years ago and so benefits from all the modern technology necessary for guests’ comfort.
The rooms are spacious, each furnished with a safe and supplied with complimentary bathrobes and slippers. The bathrooms are a delight with huge soft towels and Gilchrist and Soames bath products – it is the epitome of luxury.
Our room looked out to Croagh Patrick and beyond to the ocean’s silver of Clew Bay.
In the morning, laze breakfast away over the second pot of tea or coffee after the fluffy poached eggs on slivers of toast or the grilled Dover sole or the creamed porridge with cinnamon…
Afterwards, sit in the foyer and read the morning papers while the world passes gently by. The foyer is one that immediately welcomes - there is a comfortable atmosphere with relaxing seating and lighting – a pleasant setting to do the crossword in the Irish Times - the easy one.
There’s a great scenic drive from Westport, out through Louisburgh down to Leenane. The mountains shoulder each other aside above the black moorland bog pools while tiny cascades tumble over boulders worn smooth with time, their waters stained rich with peat.
All around the area are huge beaches, the Silver Strand being one of the best. These are strands to wander along at the water’s edge and feel the winds drifting in from warm ocean currents born in the tropics.
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