Our first stop is Doolin Cave. Doolin Cave is a family run attraction just outside the village of Doolin in the heart of the Burren, it is one of the best kept secrets of the Burren. The cave was discovered in the 1950s by Brian Varley and Mike Dickenson, two members of the Craven pot-holing club who were over from the UK to chart the caves of the Burren. They came across Doolin Cave or Pól an Ionáin (as it is known in the Irish language) by accident on a Whit Sunday morning. They noticed a stream disappearing under the edge of a cliff in the glacial valley where the cave is located and decided that would follow it. They undertook a knee-wrecking crawl and to their amazement they discovered one of the greatest natural wonders of the world hidden a quarter of a mile under-ground.
These two young men had just discovered the longest free hanging stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere. It is an astounding 23feet (7.3m) long and weighs an estimated 10 tonnes. In the 1990s the land was bought by John and Helen Browne, Doolin locals who decided to open this magnificent wonder to the eyes of the world. The Browne family opened the cave to the public in 2006, they are the guardians of the Great Stalactite ensuring that it is protected and looked after for the next generation.
If you have the spirit of an explorer within then you will love visiting this great geological wonder. On a fully guided tour you will be taken back in time over 350 million years to learn how the Burren landscape was formed from the beginning when it was a tropical sea, memories of high school geography lessons come flooding back! It gives you a great sense of how our world looked back then and makes you think of eras gone by and all the happenings in the world that this Great Stalactite has gone through and stayed hidden for in its limestone cathedral.
The cave tour will really whet your appetite to learn more about the Burren landscape and afterwards you can take a walk around the farmland nature trail. The nature trail takes a 1km looped walk around the outside of the cave setting with rare and miniature breeds of animals and native Burren Flora along the route. There are several key discovery points on the trial that will give you further insight to the Burren landscape and the animals and plants on the trail. If you are travelling with kids they will really enjoy interacting with the pygmy goats, Minnie and Vinnie and collecting eggs from the selection of free range hens on site. The state of the art visitor centre has a charming café that serves delightful dishes made using local produce; stone baked pizzas and delicious cakes and treats. Doolin Cave Pottery, handmade using glacial clay found inside Doolin Cave is available in the gift shop.
Hazel Mountain Chocolates
Our next stop is Hazel Mountain Chocolates. Described as ‘Irelands first stoneground bean to bar chocolate factory and chocolatier’, Hazel mountain chocolates is a dream come true for any chocolate lovers visiting the Burren. This charming Wild Atlantic Way attraction is a great place to visit if you are travelling with foodies. Take a guided chocolatour with a master chocolatier and watch the skilled workers grinding, melting and sculpting the delicious chocolate into wonderful creations with a tasting afterwards. All of the chocolates are handcrafted in little batches using all natural ingredients. Every chocolate creation, in the wonderfully rustic gift shop, has a little section telling you about the origins and other information about the chocolate helping you to select the perfect piece of indulgence or gift to bring home. The friendly and helpful staff are also on hand here to help you choose your perfect chocolate treat. Hazel mountain chocolates also has a farm to fork café serving handmade pastries and lunches made with local produce from the food producers of the Burren. For further information visit http://www.hazelmountainchocolate.com/
The Burren Perfumery
Sticking with an artisan vibe our next stop is the Burren Perfumery. The Burren Perfumery has been mixing and matching wonderful Burren scents into handmade cosmetics for 40 years, it has been described as the oldest working perfumery in Ireland. This beautiful Burren attraction will really make your nose tingle; it is certainly one of the most scentuous things to do and places to see on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. As you wander through the workshop and gift shop (nose tingling) you can watch an audio-visual presentation and chat with the friendly staff about the natural ingredients, skills and equipment they use to make these sumptuous smelling products. Their products include perfumes, hand and body creams, soaps and balms and if you go away and want more of that great smell you purchased or cannot stop smelling that one lovely product you tried they also have an online store. In the summer you can also spend time relaxing in their organic tea rooms that serve a range of delicious lunches and treats. To find out more visit www.burrenperfumery.com
The Burren Nature Sanctuary
We are getting back to nature for our next stop at the Burren Nature Sanctuary. Tucked nicely in the green fields of Kinvara the Burren Nature Sanctuary is an interpretive centre where you can learn about the flora and fauna of the Burren on a beautiful nature trail with friendly animals and beautiful Burren flora and maybe even a fairy or two. They even have their own turlough on the trail that empties twice a day demonstrating to visitors the science and geography behind the disappearing lakes of the Burren. This attraction in the heart of the Burren is perfect for families. It is a show case of the most unique landscape along Irelands Wild Atlantic Way. This attraction is suitable for families on both rainy days and good days with an indoor and outdoor playground and a café with indoor and outdoor seating. The Burren Nature sanctuary is a safe and secure setting to let the kids run and play while the parents to get some well-deserved rest and relaxation. In the café they provide delicious, happy, healthy, fresh food and have have a ‘no fryer, no fizzy pop policy’.
Woodland Craft Village at Aillwee
For our final stop we are going back in time in the Woodland Craft Village at Aillwee. Wind your way through native hazel, holly and ash trees to the picturesque setting of the Woodland Craft Village at Aillwee Cave at the foot of the Aillwee mountains in the Burren. During a workshop with talented craftsmen and women you will be taken back in time to learn for yourself how our ancestors survived in the wilderness and some of the techniques they used to make woodland crafts. This unique activity is ideal for adults and kids of all ages (the little and the big ones), it is a wonderful insight to how our ancestors lived long ago on the Wild Atlantic Way. By sharing in their preservation these talented craftspeople empower you to connect with the ancient skills of your ancestors.