The county tourism committee in Laois laments that so many tourists drive straight through the county bound for west-coast destinations. The upshot is for intrepid travellers with car hire in County Laois, who have free reign to explore this lush and deserted countryside.
Abbeyleix estate town is one of Laois' highlights, known for its period architecture and churches. Durrow is another noteworthy town with a castle and spate of Georgian architecture. Stradbally and Portarlington are also worth stopping by, and local bed and breakfasts frame the perfect countryside escape.
For drivers, one of the biggest draws in the region is the Slieve Bloom Mountains. They hulk over the central plains halfway between Dublin and Galway. Roadside stops enable cycling, hiking and bird-watching expeditions. Foxes, wild goats and fallow deer also roam the hillsides.
County Laois is the perfect follow-up to a few days spent in Dublin or Galway. The pace of life is a bit slower here, and the pubs in these small estate towns serve up some of the most authentic Irish fare on the market. The nightlife is subdued, but venues hosting traditional music and storytelling are easy to find.
Rustic charms aside, County Laois has its share of five-star hotels. The Heritage Golf and Spa Resort is in Killenard, and it maintains a full suite of sport facilities, restaurants and entertainment venues. In Portlaoise, the recently renovated Killeshin Hotel is a four-star property with convenient access to the N8, N7 and M7 motorways.
Despite the remote atmosphere, County Laois is only an hour from Dublin by hire car. You can also interrupt the train trip between Galway and Dublin with a night or two in County Laois.