Many senior travellers view independent travel with trepidation and so they are more likely to choose whistle-stop guided tours or cruises.
But my husband and I relish the marvellous surprises that materialise when travelling independently.
On a recent visit to Ireland, we stumbled across a wonderful treasure tucked away in the picturesque seaside town of Clonakilty in West Cork.
Our planned destination was Killarney and the Ring of Kerry but my navigation skills failed when weariness set in, so we decided to look for accommodation and continue our journey after a good night's sleep. And that's when we found O'Donovan's Hotel.
A traveller's haven steeped in history, this fifth-generation family hotel dates back to the 1800s and is now run by Dena, Therese and Tom, the great, great, great-grandchildren of the original owner, Denis O'Donovan, who died in 1866.
Famous people who have stayed at the O'Donovan include Michael Collins and Guglielmo Marconi.
Like an episode from Antiques Roadshow, the hotel abounds in historical treasures. A walk through the corridors is like visiting a museum and yet the family has managed to combine old-world charm and intimacy with modern amenities, including a liquor store, three bars, two restaurants, a beer garden and conference facilities.
The rooms are a delight - spotlessly clean, large, airy and quiet, with none of the austerity we experienced in London hotels. There was a choice of biscuits with your tea and coffee, as well as small bottles of toiletries. Delicious food is served in mountainous proportions.
The hospitality does not stop at the door. We were told: "You'll be comin' to the bar tonight, won't you? We'll be havin' the music!"
As lovers of Irish music we enthusiastically agreed, expecting to be entertained by two or three musicians. How wrong we were. This was to be a traditional session with fiddles, banjos, accordions, mandolins, guitars and the bodhran (Irish drum).
The bar filled with talent, until 16 gifted musicians had the pub alive and the patrons joining in with vibrant, toe-tapping folk songs.
Throughout the evening, the session leader seemed to rotate. Someone would start a tune and then others would join in if they knew it.
At intervals, solo performers with the voices of angels punctuated the session. There seemed to be no rehearsed sequence - the music just "happened" naturally.
We were later informed that The Teach Beag, a cottage-like building in the grounds of the hotel, is actually a small traditional Irish music pub that holds nightly sessions in the summer and has won many awards for the promotion of traditional Irish music. A CD of one of these sessions was available at the hotel for 10 euro ($13.50).
Without any hesitation, we decided to make O'Donovan's our base and to travel around the Ring of Beara instead of Kerry. It proved an excellent decision. Half in Kerry and half in Cork, the Ring of Beara has spectacular landscape and is a mystical place full of ancient charm.
Luckily this circuit of breathtaking scenery is still a fairly well-kept secret because tourist buses cannot traverse the steep, serpentine roads which, at times, morph into narrow ribbons set in glaciated valleys between banks of jagged rocks and dwarfed by rugged peaks.
It's a photographer's delight. During the exhilarating drive, places of desolate beauty gave way to swathes of green, while interesting archaeological sites were stumbled upon, and the vast blue Atlantic Ocean could be seen disappearing into the horizon many metres below.
When it was time to return to reality, we reluctantly left our lovely room and our new Irish friends with some wonderful future dinner party stories and a solemn vow to return.
O'Donovan's and the Ring of Beara is definitely not to be missed if you love pleasant surprises.
• For cheap fares from Heathrow to Dublin flying Ryan Air or Aer Lingus make sure you book online at least two months ahead of your intended travel date. The cost increases as you get closer to the date you wish to fly.
• After hiring a car, head down the N7 which becomes the N8 towards Cork. This is where we managed to get lost and finished up on the N71 which took us to Clonakilty.
• Bed and breakfast at O'Donovan's is 90 euro ($122) per night for two people. Dena, Tom and Therese provided us with maps and information about the Ring of Beara, as well as other local sights. Email: email@example.com or phone/fax (353)023 8833250.