Dingle: The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

Endings should be spectacular. And this one doesn’t disappoint. With the day signing off in a crimson sunset, I’ve driven to Slea Head on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula. In County Kerry, in the country’s southwest, this is where Europe runs out.

The finale is one of silvered sands and Atlantic swells…of cliffs and mountains and sheep-scattered fields colored paint-box green. The Blasket Islands loom out of the mist like ghost islands. The last farewell is the cry of seagulls on the western wind.

National Geographic Traveler once called the Dingle Peninsula “the most beautiful place on earth.”

For property buyers, beauty comes at a price—a small restored two-bedroom cottage with sea views can still fetch around 185,000 euro ($237,000). But although Kerry has less costly options, there is nowhere quite like Dingle.

Pointing into the Atlantic like a finger, it looks wild, feels wild. Even the hedgerows flanking the roads and little lanes known as boreens are untamed—throughout summer they become banners of brilliant color. I’ve never before seen such an extravagant explosion of scarlet fuchsias, orange montbretia, purple loosestrife, and yellow ragwort.

Road signs add to the notion that you’ve traveled beyond maps and time. Geill Sli—an instruction to yield at a junction. Trá—a signpost to a beach. Everybody speaks English, but the western half of the peninsula is a Gaeltacht area. Here the ancient language of Ireland survives and thrives.

People have lived here since prehistoric times. Meshed with walking trails, the peninsula is an archaeologists’ dreamscape of standing stones, ring forts and clusters of tiny beehive huts created from dry, unmortared stone.

Home to around 2,000 inhabitants, Dingle Town (An Daingean) is the largest settlement. Saturated in deep colors, its houses, pubs and shopfronts are so bright that it’s tempting to wear sunshades even at night.

Visitors flock here in summer for coastal activities such as dolphin-spotting and fishing, but the town doesn’t feel overbearingly touristy. Maybe it’s the wholefood cafes, the farmer’s market and the flyers for yoga and Tibetan meditation, but there’s an arty, new age feel—the kind of ambiance that attracts creative spirits.

In the current financial climate, it’s reassuring to see few empty shop premises. What’s more, unlike in many other parts of Ireland, there isn’t a glut of properties for sale. The least expensive I could see was a three-bedroom modern bungalow for 150,000 euro ($192,000). No sea views, but within walking distance of the town center.

The ceol (music) in pubs and elsewhere is as much for residents as visitors. Other Voices is an acclaimed Irish TV music series filmed every winter from a tiny Dingle Town church—the 200-year-old Church of St. James with a capacity of 85. International musicians who have made the pilgrimage to perform here for locals in the depths of winter include the late Amy Winehouse.

For most bands, it’s an escape from the pressures of celebrity—a chance to also enjoy hot whiskey, oysters, a roaring turf fire and impromptu sessions with local musicians in Dingle’s pubs. During summer, the church hosts weekly folk music concerts. (Tickets cost 12 euro, $15, from the music shop below the Blue Zone—a wine bar with Japanese salads and Friday night jazz sessions.)

I didn’t count them all, but 52 pubs are rumored to be crammed into the town’s seven main streets. For traditionalists, Dick Mack’s is still going strong—it’s one watering hole where Robert Mitchum drank while filming Ryan’s Daughter. Some scenes were filmed at nearby Inch Beach—a glorious three mile stretch of silver sand.

Dingle is incredibly hard to leave. It feels like my kind of place.

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