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- A Traveler Recommendation:
This place is a piece of heaven. As a local man said, Inis Meain is a sacred place. It is unlike anywhere I have ever visited – the limestone landscape, the utter peace, the views across Galway Bay and into the Atlantic, the huge sky and shifting light, the sea pounding the tiny island and bursting through “puffing holes” like geysers. The spirit and tranquility of the island are reflected in the suites, whose architecture blends in with the stonescape of the island. One of the owners' relatives is a renowned architect, and an islander himself, and he has created a stunning, sympathetic and unique building – when you finally spot it. Our welcome started at the airstrip, when Ruiari picked us up from the 9-passenger plane which had taken us on the seven minute journey from Connemara airport. As he drove us up to the suites, along stoney lanes and gently uphill, he tried to point out the building to us, but to my eye at least, it was only when we had pulled into the gate that I saw it. It has been built with such an astonishingly strong understanding of the qualities of the landscape and light that it blends in almost to the point of invisibility. Yet when you do see it, it is a striking and beautiful building in its own right. There are currently just three suites, all on a level with the 20-seater restaurant at one end of the building, and the owners' house at the other. Each suite has a private courtyard where you can sit outside in the sun, sheltered from the breeze, and read the books about the island provided in the suite. The courtyard also houses two bicycles for navigating the island, and a map of the island is provided with sites such as ancient hill forts, churches, clifftop walks and Synge's Chair marked on it. The entrance hall into the suite contains two fishing rods, and the owners are happy to suggest the best fishing spots and times, as well as to cook any catch you may land. As we walked into the large sitting room area, Ruari and Marie-Therese had left a little note of welcome on top of two glasses of sparkling elderflower, but our attention was grabbed – and our breath taken away – by the long window running the full length of the huge room, with the most stunning view northwards over the island and across Galway Bay to Connemara. A vase of wild flowers at each end of the deep wooden ledge running the length of the window was another lovely touch of welcome. The room was huge, with a sitting area at one end and the sleeping area and en-suite at the other, and had been designed for the occupants to get the most out of the island. There is no TV, no radio, no distractions of modern-day life in that sense. Each morning we sat at a wooden bench at the window, eating breakfast while watching the world go past. Which it did very slowly. Occasionally we would see a donkey wander down the road, occasionally a man would be driving a single cow from one stone field to another, one time by moped with a dog chasing along. The few students attending the Irish language summer school would walk across our panorama in the distance. And then there was nothing except the rocks and flowers and birds and butterflies, the sky and clouds and sea and mountains in the distance. The rooms are decorated with natural materials in a way which reflects the barren beauty of the island, and yet they are wonderfully comfortable and luxurious. A range of wooden cupboards opposite a length of the window houses tea, coffee, cutlery, china, kettle, microwave, etc, as well as a safe – though the island has no crime whatsoever – and baskets of toiletries. A fridge concealed within the cupboards includes the stock items such as wine, beer, spirits, mixers, mineral water, sodas and champagne, along with cheeses, cold meats, Ortiz fish and Green and Blacks chocolate. A small jug of fresh milk, and pots of butter and preserves, along with bottles of chilled island water in the fridge are another part of the personal touch of the suites. The freezer section has some meals in it from the restaurant, so if you feel you wish to indulge in splendid isolation, you can take your dinner in the room as well. Breakfast – a feast of muesli, fresh fruits, yoghurt, meats, cheese, fresh bread and scones – is delivered on a tray to the ante-room to your suite, so breakfast can be enjoyed in one of the huge soft bathrobes while taking in the scenery. The comfortable sofa has a throw and cushions on it from the Inis Meain knitting company – another family concern of the de Blacams – and is another place to sit and read about the island. The walls and ceiling reflect the feeling of the stone of the island, with unobtrusive lights on two parallel cables running the length of the room. The minimal decor is complemented by a few huge grainy pictures of Aran life from the not too distant past, though it looks like centuries ago. A king-size wooden bed with soft white linen, again with throws and cushions from the knitting company in soft natural hues, faces the window at the far end of the suite. The en-suite shower room has a large, powerful shower, where the water will be either pure Atlantic rainwater captured in tanks on the island or from the wind-powered desalination plant on the south side of Inis Meain. At every turn within the room, everything has been designed, decorated and provided with comfort and excellence aforethought, though always with the character of the island and surroundings as an essential part of the overall mix. The restaurant is only open for dinner, though Ruiari and Marie-Therese are happy to make up a packed lunch. We went on a long walk one day to the south of the island and along the cliffs – seeing only two people the whole time – and had the most fantastic lunch of fresh crab salad with roasted vegetables. They had even packed pesto dressing for the green salad, some bottles of water and a large bar of chocolate. By far the best “packed lunch” I had ever had. As for the restaurant… If you have lobster here, nothing will ever match up to it. Ruari was previously a chef in a leading Dublin restaurant, but has the extra advantage not just of great skill but also fabulous produce. He grows many of the salad leaves, vegetables and edible flowers he uses in his cooking in a garden at the bottom of the limestone pavement outside the restaurant. The potatoes are freshly dug each day and come from another of the islanders. Lobsters are landed on the small pier each morning, and the fish come from local fisherman. The small kitchen is open on to the restaurant, and Ruari chats with the customers to make sure everything is as it should be. Marie-Therese is front of house, and is the most lovely and welcoming of hostesses. She has an amazing gift of being warm and generous, but never overly attentive or intrusive. Inis Meain is the middle in size of the three Aran Islands but by far the quietest. There are about 150 people living there permanently, and it hasn't had the influx of tourism of the other two islands in the group. The islanders are quietly friendly, always with a greeting and perhaps a blessing in Irish as you walk past along the road. It is said that the Irish poet and playwright John Synge discovered his muse on Inis Meain, and there's little doubt that almost a century on from his death he would still recognise the island and its life. The island has retained its unique peace and The Inis Meain Restaurant and Suites is part of that peace.