As I roll along a narrow country road behind yet another country road being yet another tractor in no hurry, I take the chance to poke to my head out of the car window. Sprawling paddocks dip into a huge body of water and the grass is an impossible shade of green, like it has been touched up in Photoshop. Sheep turn their heads and walk towards me as if they are the welcoming party for the wild west of Ireland - it seems Irish hospitality knows no bounds.
West is best
The countryside of Ireland's southwest is a world apart from the country's urban landscapes. There are no shamrock or Guinness souvenirs forced on you. It is quiet and serene, dotted with the forgotten ruins of ancient buildings and a place of incredible natural beauty.
I start my road trip three hours west of Dublin in the town of Clifden, where the Sky Road offers amazing aerial views. Further south, through Galway, I blast out County Clare radio and laugh at the phrase, "Tanks a million" as I enjoy the more manicured scenery.
I follow the crowds to the Cliffs of Moher, viewing the awe-inspiring sight from afar, specks of people traverse the cliffs' edges oblivious to the sign: "Please do not go beyond this point".
Follow your move
Dingle, Ring of Kerry and Beara Peninsulas represent almost every type of Irish landscape. Many road signs are in Gaelic so I follow the smell of food and sea instead. Dingle Peninsula is barren and mountainous. At the top of Conor Pass, a lookout offers spectacular views of Brandon Bay and the fishing town of Dingle itself. Past this is the 5km long, sandy Inch beach.
Iveragh Peninsula, known as the Ring of Kerry, attracts tourists for its abundance of pine trees and wildlife. I find myself looking up in awe at a large waterfall in Killarney National Park, enjoying the smell of the forest, and wondering if I had made a wrong turn out of Ireland and into a wonderland instead. I continue on to discover beaches and coves, choosing to stay at a peaceful B&B with views of the ocean and spend the evening in a pub, getting to know the locals.
Wild at heart
Around the bend from the Ring of Kerry is Beara Peninsula - it's wild and isolated. Houses are scattered along the sides of mountains, reminiscent of the Italian Amalfi coast. Occasionally, a splash of colour emerges over a hill in the form of a country hamlet.
The peninsula offers a great taste of County Cork, but, further south, the region also boasts some of the best local food and the fiercest sporting competitions. I finish the tour at an unforgiving hurling match. I marvel at the incredible skill as the ball flies past the competitor's heads; they catch it on a flat bat and throw it with precision at the goal. The men play for honour, not money, and the crowd roars with pride.
Pub Crawl Southwest Ireland's best boozer
One of the best ways to see Ireland is to follow a trail of watering holes. The small-town pubs in the southwest offer serious cultural immersion - from O'Dowd's in Roundstone to Kelly's in Cobh. For good food, Busker Brownes in Galway and Jim Edwards in Kinsale are worth a stop.
A great young trio plays traditional Irish music at Brogan's in Ennis most evenings. The White House in Kinsale is also good for a live gig of a more modern flavour.
To avoid tourists, wonder into one of the more isolated pubs, such as the Blind Piper in Caherdaniel. The whole town converges on the pub in the evening and everyone knows each other. If you ignore the initial stares, grab a Guinness and strike up a conversation, a good night will ensure.