A bespoke tour of Ireland: Custom-made for a discerning traveler (or two!)

Bespoke…the very word conjures up images of the rich and famous standing in front of a mirror as they are measured for their custom-made suits and dresses.  It seems like anything that is custom-made for you must, by its very nature, be expensive and out of reach.

bespokeBut what if you were able to work with a travel professional who was an expert in her field to create for you that customized trip that would fulfill your dreams of seeing some places that have long been on your bucket list?  And what if you were picked up at the airport by an immaculately-clad driver who led you to a shiny black Mercedes to take you on an orientation tour of the city before ensuring that you were well taken care of at your hotel?   And what if this whole experience didn’t cost you nearly as much as you’re beginning to think as you read this?

Well, welcome to the world of bespoke travel – and we’re just back from another customized tour, this time created for us by world-renowned Kensington Tours.

It all began at the Dublin Airport last month when we were that couple being escorted to the Mercedes by the impeccable driver who then proceeded to not only drive us to our downtown hotel, but act as our guide.  An expert in Irish history, he was an amazing font of information that we capitalized on the next day as we explored Dublin on our own (after following his spot-on recommendation to dine at Trocadero that evening).

Our Irish drive parked outside Ashford Castle.
Our Irish drive parked outside Ashford Castle.

Although it had been the plan to have the same driver from the very beginning to the bitter end, our scheduled driver was ill and was replaced while we were still in Dublin by Kevin – and he was as wonderful as the first driver.  We were soon to find out that his extensive knowledge of Ireland and all things Irish, coupled with the fact that he seemed to know everyone in the country (and we do mean everyone), were designed to make this trip a flawless experience of a lifetime that will go down in our travel books as the only way to go!

While still in Dublin, Kevin took us on a half-day trip to Newgrange to visit the stone-age passage tomb that pre-dates the Egyptian pyramids.  Never hovering over us, he provided us with important clues to maximizing the experience and then left us to take advantage of the venue on our own with the expert guidance of the tour leader.  (One important tip he gave us was to buy an Irish Heritage card that would give us access to many heritage sites throughout the country for one small price.  No more buying tickets!).  This passage into ancient history is not to be missed while in Ireland!

Picking us up at 10 am the next morning, Kevin slightly modified our planned itinerary to improve our experience.  We are always open to suggestions from those who know better and we were not disappointed.  As a trio we reviewed each day’s itinerary in advance to ensure that what we experienced was not only the best of Ireland, but the things that were of most interest to us as individuals.  This attention to personalization is one of the things that we seek as discerning travelers who are focused on service and value.  And we received both.

The back garden at Hayfield Manor in Cork.
The back garden at Hayfield Manor in Cork.

Although we had chosen to book our own hotel in Dublin, we allowed Kensington’s Ireland specialist to select our deluxe accommodations for the rest of the trip.  We were not disappointed on this front either.  We spent the first night in Cork at Hayfield Manor, a wonderful property at the end of a tree-lined cul-de-sac bordering on the University of Cork.  The service at this highly-recommended hotel is outstanding, as is the dining.

We then spent two nights at Killarney Park Hotel in County Kerry, a surprisingly special place.  Purpose built as a hotel only 20 years ago, this property imbues you with the feeling that you’d been transported into a centuries-old country manor.  Its location downtown Killarney allowed us to spend a wonderful evening exploring the tiny streets, eating at a restaurant recommended to us by Kevin, and then spending an hour at a pub with a beer in hand humming along with the Irish singers.  It was reminiscent of our university days when Irish music was all the rage on Canadian university campuses.  But that was a long time ago!

The lounge at Killarney Park Hotel, County Kerry.
The lounge at Killarney Park Hotel, County Kerry.

Our last two nights on the road were spent at Ashford Castle.  What a wonderful experience.  To describe our experience at this castle would take an entire blog post – and we’ll do that next week, so come back if you want to know more about it.

Every moment of the trip was an experience to be remembered for a lifetime.  From our visit to Trinity College and the Book of Kells in Dublin, to Blarney Castle, the Irish pub night, the breathtaking Dingle peninsula, the monastery ruins, and everything in between, we couldn’t have asked for a better way to travel.

We have already begun to plan our next bespoke trip with Kensington.  Now all we have to do is decide if it will be South America, a safari in Africa or the Great Wall of China!  Stay tuned.

Now if you a few minutes, come along with us on our tour of Ireland.


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