"So you'll be riding the Ring of Kerry, right?" asked Mary at O'Sullivan's Rent-a-Bike in Killarney.

"No, I'm planning to go around the Beara Peninsula. Can you tell me anything about that?" I answered.

"I don't know anything about the Beara. Everyone does the Ring of Kerry," Mary said.

"That's why I'm doing the Ring of Beara," I answered.

"Good enough," said Mary, as she outfitted me with a bike, panniers, pump and lock for what would be an unforgettable week last July exploring verdant landscapes and pastel towns tucked away above the sea in southwest Ireland. And I did this trip for less than $45 a day.

Every summer, throngs descend on County Kerry to visit Killarney National Park and take a tour around the Iveragh Peninsula, called the Ring of Kerry because of the circular route. Tourism is big business as buses and rental cars ferry a stream of visitors to the quaint towns and numerous souvenir shops along the way. What many visitors do not realize, however, is that a similar peninsula stretches into the Atlantic just to the south. I'd heard that the Beara Peninsula was as beautiful as its neighbor to the north, with none of the crowds. I was out to investigate.

I had come to Ireland at the suggestion of a friend in Los Angeles who was taking time off from his law firm. Darius thought Dublin sounded like a good place to unwind, and because I had been laid off from a high-tech job, I decided to join him. When we got to the capital city, though, I couldn't get him to venture any farther.

Dublin was fine, but I wanted to get to the heart of the country, to experience more of what the Emerald Isle has to offer and view the panoramas for which it is so famous. After taking guided bike trips in France and Vermont, I knew there was no better way to feel the pulse of a place than on two wheels. This trip would be the first on my own.

Some research on the Internet quickly identified the ideal location; I wanted to keep to a leisurely pace, without too many hills. It had to be stunning yet off the beaten path. The Beara Peninsula seemed perfect. With bicycle rental just $12 per day and hostels about the same, the trip was definitely not going to break the bank. In fact, that less-than-$45-per-day figure included food and miscellaneous expenses.

Those wishing to stay in bed-and-breakfast lodgings could be almost as frugal, as the average cost was just $20 to $25 per person, double occupancy. And so many hostels and B&Bs dotted the route that reserving a place to stay was unnecessary.

To make the peninsula even more cycle friendly, the local tourist council created what is known as the Beara Way Cycle Route, maps of which can be purchased at the tourist information offices in Killarney, Kenmare and Glengarriff. Well-posted signs lead cyclists around the peninsula, often on smaller, less traveled roads. Instead of the sounds of automobiles, it was the bleating of sheep and goats that echoed across the hills, and farmers out walking their collies were always eager to stop for a chat.

Day 1: Uphill and down from Killarney to Lauragh

My first day on the road found me leaving Killarney and heading up through the spectacular Killarney National Park in a light drizzle. Luckily the rain stopped shortly after I entered the park and began my meandering ascent through the mountains. The landscape here is as green as one might expect in Ireland, and even though it is part of the Ring of Kerry route, goats greatly outnumbered tourists, or even people for that matter.

From the pass known as Moll's Gap, nearly the entire park was in view, with rocky green peaks on either side and a string of lakes below. A pack of bicycles waited outside the restaurant on top as their riders rested before the long descent down one side of the pass or the other.

A quick downhill to the east led me to Kenmare, another quaint but touristy town on the Ring of Kerry route. Just past it began the beautiful Beara Peninsula.

It did not take long before Beara Way signs led me off the highway and onto my first gloriously quiet side road, which rolled through the hills before ducking down to follow the coast. Before I reached my first destination, I stopped off at O'Sullivan's Pub for a bite to eat.

"Are you staying in Lauragh?" the proprietress asked. When I answered in the affirmative, she invited me to their annual festival honoring St. Kilian.

When I returned to the pub later that night, the place was packed, as was a barn out back, and the Guinness flowed freely. This was definitely a local event, with nary a tourist in sight. The town itself is limited to a post office, a fishing dock and the pub. Apparently everyone for miles around was in attendance. As a Californian, I felt honored when the keyboardist and singer in the barn kicked off his set with a Beach Boys tune.

Day 2: Pastel villages from Lauragh to Allihies