‘How long are ya home for?”
This is a question visitors to Ireland often hear. Whether you have Irish roots or simply want to experience the beauty of the Emerald Isle, this country of 100,000 welcomes is a travel destination calling visitors back again and again.
Binky Oswalt of Mobile, Alabama and owner of Hidden Ireland Tours fell in love with Ireland and opened her ‘soft adventure’ travel company in 1989. Having spent time as a retail travel agent, she saw a niche that needed filling and capitalized on it with the help of guide Con Moriarty. She has customized tours of the Emerald Isle for many groups and individuals during the past 22 years.
Oswalt says her tours are ideal for those who don’t want to travel with a big group. So often when planning a vacation the thought of a tour conjures images of a large group taking a motor coach from one tourist trap to the next with little time for independent exploration. Wake up calls with mandatory ‘luggage outside your door’ times take some of the pleasure out of experiencing a new place. Hidden Ireland Tours is the antithesis of such traditional journeys.
Focusing predominantly on the West Coast of Ireland, the tours allow travelers to visit some of Ireland’s most scenic locations and experience the rich culture. Kerry, Cork, Galway and Donegal are just a few of the places Hidden Ireland Tours features. Several specialty tours are also offered such as the Irish Painting Tour, Irish Country Living Tour and the Irish Cooking Tour. This gastronomic adventure begins at the world renowned Balleymaloe International Cookery School. Don’t see your favorite Irish destination? No problem, Hidden Ireland will gladly create a tour to suit your desires.
What makes Hidden Ireland Tours unique is their tours are customized to meet the desires of the clients. As a result clients return year after year who know the value of the private, guided tours. Whether taking a walking, rock-climbing or Irish Heritage tour; Oswalt and Moriarty will create the trip of your dreams – not a travel company’s dreams. As Oswalt says, “Every tour we do is new and different.”
One popular tour is the 7-day Kerry Walking Tour. Guide and adventurer Con Moriarty, who grew up in the Gap of Dunloe, takes visitors through this mountainous region full of lakes, rugged coastlines and teeming valleys. Day hikes of Killarney National Park, the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula are tailored to meet the walking levels of the group. Evenings can be spent enjoying local restaurants or in a pub sipping a pint and listening to traditional Irish music in the charming base towns and villages along the way. As the website declares, “It is a place where the power of nature is evident everywhere and overlaying this natural history is one of the richest stories of human history in the world.”
Although located in Mobile, Alabama, Oswalt has worked with clients from all over the U.S. and the world. The Internet has increased Hidden Ireland’s clientele as savvy travelers find Oswalt’s website and recognize the value of her services.
A typical tour is for a small group that is not necessarily looking for a cut-rate journey. An average 7-night tour of Kerry with accommodations in guest houses for 4-6 people is about $3000 per person. However, pricing depends upon group size, desired accommodations, time of year and land arrangements. The ‘soft-adventure’ tours are intended to take travelers out of their comfort zone without forsaking the comforts of a nice vacation.
When asked what makes Ireland such an extraordinary destination, Oswalt doesn’t hesitate; “it’s a combination of the physical beauty, the vibrant culture and the history. But it’s the people – they’ll remember the people.”
It is never too early to begin planning your adventure. Hidden Ireland Tours run year round, but March through October is the ‘busy season.’ Whether a small group, a family or a couple looking to design a guided trip, Hidden Ireland Tours is a unique way to explore Erin’s beauty.