Amber Shrestha is a junior doctor, yoga teacher and Co Kerry native. Her family have a cottage on Valentia Island where Amber was photographed as part of the SS22 campaign for Irish designer Aoife McNamara. Here Amber shares her tips on what to do and where to stay on the island …
As one of Ireland’s most westerly points, Valentia Island is as rugged as it is pristine. Where else would you find rolling hills that give way to sheer cliffs or a subtropical garden that somehow escapes the harsh effects of the Atlantic swell? Valentia Island is one of my favourite places on earth and never fails to leave me feeling completely enchanted, exhilarated and in awe of nature.
Get there by bridge or by sea
Lying off the coast of the Iveragh Peninsula in the southwest of County Kerry, Valentia Island is easily accessible by both bridge and sea. During the summer months of the year, a car ferry runs from Renard point just outside Cahirciveen to Knightstown, the island’s unofficial capital. There is also a bridge from Portmagee to the west of the island crossing the Portmagee channel, which serves as a passage for boats coming to and from the Skellig Islands.
Cold-water therapy at Glanleam Bay
As any local will tell you, there’s just something in the water at Glanleam Beach. Perhaps it’s the mild effects of the Gulf stream which washes the shores of the bay with warm currents, and a prevalent south westerly wind resulting in a relatively tepid pool of water, or maybe it’s the turquoise hue of the water as it meets the fine grey sand of the bay. Whatever it is, a soak at this secluded beach overlooking Beginish Island will leave you feeling completely immersed in and connected with nature. It’s hard to believe that this pocket of serenity lies less than 2km from the stormy lighthouse-guarded channel.
Feel the true force of the Atlantic Ocean
The famed Valentia lighthouse sits on the north-western frontier of the island and is my favourite place to appreciate the full force of the Atlantic Ocean, as it relentlessly batters the surrounding rocks with harsh swell and strong winds. The drive down to the lighthouse is incredibly thrilling and theatrically wild, but warrants caution as the wind and wave patterns are known to be unpredictable.
Visit the subtropics of Glanleam House and Gardens
Valentia Island benefits from a mild micro-climate that makes it a botanical haven. As you drive along the north-western flank of the island you’re likely to spot wild rhododendrons, ethereal pink fuchsia, giant tree ferns and even the odd palm tree. By far the best place to appreciate the island’s lush and colourful flora is the subtropical gardens of Glanleam House.
Star Gaze in The Dark Sky Reserve
Valentia Island has one of the darkest and clearest night skies in the world and is one of only three Gold Tier Dark Sky Reserves (the others being the Aoraki Mackenzie in New Zealand and the NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia). This makes it one of the best stargazing locations in the world and sheds light on why the Iveragh Peninsula is dotted with so many stone-aged structures designed to track the cycles of the sun, moon and stars.
Walk Bray Head
The west of the island is dominated by Bray Head which offers a moderately challenging 4.8 km loop walk. The 30-minute walk to the end of the headland begins in the car park at Foilhommerum Bay and is best described as a gentle march rather than a hike, accessible to those with even a modest level of fitness. As you walk, you will enjoy unrivalled vistas of the Kerry Cliffs, Portmagee Channel and Skellig Islands as you approach the very edge of Ireland. The summit of Bray Head is marked by a two-storey signal tower dating back to 1815. Caution is required as you move beyond the signal tower where the ground crumbles away sooner than expected, to give way to breathtaking but severe cliffs and a panoramic vista of the neighbouring Dingle Peninsula and Blasket Islands. To complete the loop walk you will need to embark on a slightly more challenging one-hour hike over the ridge of the headland (hiking boots and a stomach for heights are a must for this part of the walk) but most people opt to return to the car park via the same path they came up. Bray head is my favourite place to watch the sunset on the island which is also one of the last sunsets on continental Europe.
Stay and Eat in Knightstown
Character meets warmth in Valentia’s Royal Hotel situated in the salt-swept town of Knightstown overlooking the Valentia Harbour. My favourite dish on the menu is the locally-sourced chowder with a side of fresh brown bread and my boyfriend, Dave, assures me that they serve one of the best pints of Guinness in Ireland; www.royalvalentia.ie.
Need to know:
Amber is photographed wearing Aoife McNamara’s 15-piece “Enchanted by Nature, In a Disenchanted World” collection, which is available from the Aoife Mc Namara Kildare Village pop-up store, open until April 24 and online from www.aoifemacnamara.com.
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