Introducing Gougane Barra Forest Park
Gougane Barra is a truly magical part of inland County Cork. It's almost alpine in feel, with spectacular vistas of craggy mountains, silver streams and pine forests sweeping down to a mountain lake, the source of the River Lee. St Finbarre, the founder of Cork, established a monastery here in the 6th century. He had a hermitage on the island in Gougane Barra Lake (Lough an Ghugain), which is now approached by a short causeway. The small chapel on the island has fine stained-glass representations of obscure Celtic saints. A road runs through the park in a loop, but you're better off slowing down and walking the well-marked network of paths and nature trails through the forest.
The area cries out for a hostel, but the only place to air your hiking boots is the Gougane Barra Hotel There's an on-site restaurant (serving a hearty dinner for €42), a cafe and a pub next door. The hotel runs a summer theatre festival.