Perched at the very edge of Europe, Ireland is a land apart. Almost impossibly romantic,
Its criss-crossed with fuchsia-filled hedges and ringed by towering sea cliffs.
Rambling through unspoilt countryside, there's time for contemplation in Ireland. Even better, tailor-made places exist specially for the job. If you manage to visit the likes of Clonmacnoise monastic ruins as the dying sun sinks beyond the sweep of the Shannon, you might contemplate on how this place helped shape the Christian world. Ireland is waiting to be discovered.
The individual character of towns and villages is a very special feature of Ireland - locally -owned pubs, cafes and shops make shopping an enriching experience. International names are available too - Waterford Crystal, Belleek China, Guinness or Bushmills Whiskey are renowned throughout the world. And even if you don't buy any souvenirs on your first visit, your memories will ensure that you still take home treasures.
Thanks to the moderating effect of the Atlantic Gulf Stream, Ireland's climate is relatively mild for its latitude, with a mean annual temperature of around 10°C. The temperature drops below freezing only intermittently during winter, and snow is scarce - perhaps one or two brief flurries a year. The coldest months are January and February, when daily temperatures range from 4° to 8°C, with 7°C the average. In summer, temperatures during the day are a comfortable 15° to 20°C.
One thing you can be sure of about Irish weather is how little you can be sure of. It may be shirtsleeves and sunglasses in February, but winter woollies in March and even during the summer.
And then there's the rain. Ireland receives a lot of rain, with certain areas getting a soaking as many as 270 days of the year. County Kerry is the worst affected. The southeast is the driest, enjoying a more continental climate.
In summer, from June to August, the days are reasonably warm and - most importantly - very long: at the height of summer you won't need to turn on lights until after 10pm. It is also peak tourist season, which means there are far more people just about everywhere but the most remote corners of the island.