Condé Nast Traveler: Where Are You? Contest
Answer: Skellig Michael, Ireland
Winner: Madeline Burridge of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
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Ever contemplate the eremitic life? Sorry, you've arrived at this Skellig Michael, or Michael's Rock[island] a little late. Had you come before the thirteenth century, a thriving monastic community would have greeted you. But if you'd stayed, you would have been driven back to the mainland-as the monks were-by hirsute Vikings[foreign marauders].
"I don't know how it is, but throughout the country the men and the landscapes seem to be the same, one and the other seem ragged, ruined, and cheerful," a William Thackeray; The Irish Sketch Book[nineteenth-century novelist] observed. Who knows if he had the ocean rock in mind, but it is indeed ragged and ruined in a lushly forlorn kind of way. As for the nation's citizens, a newfound prosperity has made them cheerful for sure.
The jaggedness of the seven-hundred-foot peak suggests Bora Bora-like volcanic origins; in fact, the outcrop issues from the same sandstone geology that forms peninsulas on the continent eight miles to the east. The monks, who first arrived in the sixth century, lived in stone cells fit for bees, somehow cramming a church, two oratories, a graveyard, a hundred-gallon cistern, and terraces for growing vegetables high on these vertiginous slopes. Oh, and a guesthouse (friar-rock.com; doubles, one chicken; seaview, two chickens). That design feat explains why the ruins now appear on a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 1996[list of patrimonial treasures].
Seabirds flock here by the tens of thousands-how apropos that Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)[one species' Latin name] is a reference to its monklike plumage. The rock's mystical qualities prompted a Loreena McKennitt[Canadian singer] to title a folksy tune after its consonant-rich name, while a writer borrowed the moniker for his Skellig, David Almond[award-winning children's book], which is now in film production.
A Gulf Stream[powerful stream] keeps the climate temperate along these coastal waters, but if you'd like to Skellig Michael Boat Trips[boat] over for a tour of the lighthouses and ruins, sea conditions won't be right until next spring. There's plenty of lodgings on the mainland, and a ring cycle will keep you busy (it's not Wagnerian but rather a The Ring of Kerry[hundred-mile bike trail]. Rugged beauty attracts, of course, so don't be surprised to find this corner of the republic bustling with tourist buses. Perhaps you should stick to the The Kerry Way Walking Trail[130-mile walking trail] or hole up in the The Skellig Experience[exhibition center] devoted to the history of this bouldery claustral realm. You'll be on your way to the eremitic life after all.
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