I often get asked what my favourite place in the world is. Nearly every time I return form my travels, my friends ask, "So, what was your favourite place this time?" After 47 countries and a over 5 years of life overseas, I'm still unable to answer this question.
While questions about my travels abroad seem to fly in, I can't say the same about Ireland. In fact, this question has never been asked of me in Ireland, and I fear it's because I have neglected to explore this incredible country for the past decade.
I initially thought the answer to this question would be Skellig Michael in Co. Kerry, a tiny uninhabited island about 7 kilometers off the South West Coast and home to thousands of wild Puffins, Seagulls and Gannets. A true nature lovers paradise that I had the opportunity to visit 2 years ago and can still remember the spectacular views as our small boat pulled up to the rocky outcrop.
I soon changed my mind though, as childhood memories of summers spent in Baltimore, West Cork, came flooding back to me. Baltimore is a small fishing village, located about an hour or so from Cork city I the South West of Ireland.
Historically, it is most famous for 'The Sack of Baltimore', a devastating event in 1631 when this tiny, peaceful village was attacked by Barbary Pirates from North Africa, who captured over 100 locals and turned them into slaves.
Present day Baltimore, however, is the most magical of places and a few days spent there will make even the most seasoned traveler fall head over heels in love with Ireland.
Sometimes I wonder why more people don't visit this sleepy village, with its stunning views across the harbour, its abundance of spectacular coastal walks and wildlife, its rich cultural history and all that incredible fresh seafood on offer daily. Then I remember that's kind of what makes it so special.
Sometimes I want to tell everyone about it, and let it be known that the walk to the beacon is 10 times better than a walk around the Cliffs of Moher. That a pint of Guinness outside Bushes pub on a sunny afternoon would beat any pint poured in The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. That a trip out to Sherkin or Cape Clear Island on the ferry would beat any luxury overpriced cruise you were thinking of booking. I have to hold back, though. I have to keep our pocket of heaven a secret.
I spent many of my summers as a child down in Baltimore and have such great memories of the sites, the sounds and, most of all, the people. Day trips on the boat out to Horse Island or Shelley Beach, taking part in the 'Heir Island Olympics' or learning how to sail with the wonderful Baltimore Sailing Club.
My sister and I became the excellent swimmers we are today thanks to our summers in Baltimore. We risked life and limb jumping off the pier in search of a one pound coin my Dad would throw in for us, pushing us to swim meters below the surface in search of silver treasure. One pound could buy a lot of penny sweets back in the day.
As I grew older, my trips to Baltimore became less frequent, as the lure of foreign countries and cheap Ryanair flight drew me away from Ireland. However, each time I return as an adult, with both friends and family, I seem to fall in love all over again.
Nothing beats a pizza from La Jolie Brise. Nothing beats pints outside Bushes Pub. Nothing beats sitting on the cliffs by the Beacon and watching the sunset, with not a worry in the world.
Travel Tip: If you are planning a trip to this little pocket of heaven, try to go during Whale Watching season, which starts in September. While you can see a huge variety of wild life, such as huge pods of dolphins and basking sharks, year round, October through November is the time to go if you want to set your eyes upon a huge humpback whale breaching outside of Baltimore Harbour. A sight you will surely never forget.