THE sun is shining, the weather is warm, the school exams are over -- this is the time for us all to breathe again and to make the most of this year's Silly Season. We have never been more in need of rest and relaxation. So, this is time we must take to find ourselves again, to regenerate. We owe it to ourselves.
We have been overrun with cheap flights over the past few years, but all of the stress of airports and regulations can make those cheap flights very expensive in other ways.
Instead, get yourself out around your own country -- there are fantastic places to see and things to do. It is so much easier just to get in your own car, bundle in the family, and take off for West Cork or Kerry, Wexford or Donegal, Galway or Clare, or Dublin. We have so much up here in Dublin to do and visit -- and we are also beside the sea, with lots of beaches.
When I was a kid, we always took a house in Skerries. It was absolutely fantastic. It may have rained on occasion, but kids don't really take any notice of that sort of thing -- it's the adventure and fun of the sand and the water, the chips and the fishing boats. Nor do kids nowadays notice whether you are staying in a five-star or two-star hotel, their pleasures are still simple -- water, water, water, and running around with other kids.
I remember, too, great days out on the beach at Donabate where there is now the aptly named Waterside Hotel doing amazing midweek breaks -- two nights' B&B, plus a dinner, for €99 per person sharing (pps).
A great news story in the hospitality industry is that of Paul Diver, general manager of one of the north-west's great flagship hotels, the Sandhouse at Rossnowlagh, Donegal. He has signed a management contract to take over the hotel, and 50 jobs which had been under threat have been saved.
The Sandhouse stands proud, overlooking the vast expanse of Rossnowlagh beach and the wild Atlantic Ocean. It has just added the Glass Room restaurant to complement the existing Seashell restaurant.
The Sandhouse is offering two nights' luxury accommodation, one gourmet dinner, a spa treatment and a round of golf at just €249 pps.
There's more great news this summer: the takeover and reopening by the Dromoland Collection of the magnificent Castlemartyr Resort in East Cork. This place is so beautiful. The resort has two-night Family Fun packages for two adults and two children, including a pass to Fota Wildlife Park, for €570. It is also offering an introductory relaunch room rate of €79 pps.
East Cork is one of the less visited places in Ireland. Take a trip to the fantastic Garryvoe hotel on the beach in the little hamlet of Garryvoe, near Shanagarry: great food, beautiful rooms. The hotel has two-night/one dinner breaks from €145 pps.
Kinsale is my other favourite home from home. There are great places to stay, all doing great rates, including the Blue Haven hotel, the Carlton hotel & C spa. There are super guest houses too, including the Old Bank, the White House, Friar's Lodge and a lovely little B&B called Woodlands House. Out by the water at Clonakilty is Dunmore House hotel, which is a great family hotel.
Kerry, of course, is magic. There is so much to do and see around Killarney and the Ring of Kerry. The five-star Europe hotel and resort, with its Espa spa, is stunning. It offers all sorts of two-night packages with one evening meal from €285 pps, and fab spa deals.
Aghadoe Heights too is absolutely fantastic, as is Cahernane House hotel. Then there are the cosy, family-run Killeen House and the Killarney Royal. Carrig House, on subtropical gardens at Caragh Lake, is offering a two-night package with dinner on both evenings for €249 pps. The offer includes a choice of a round of golf at a local club, a one-hour "wellness" treatment, or horse riding on Rossbeigh beach, and you can stay a third night's B&B for free.
Brook Lane, a fab boutique hotel in Kenmare, has a similar offer, with two nights' B&B and two dinners at €229 pps, with a choice of horse riding, massage or a round of golf, and a third night's complimentary B&B.
The magnificent Parknasilla Resort has been totally revamped, and former general manager Jim Feeney has returned to assume control. It has self-catering houses too. Round the corner there is the Sneem hotel, where you can take a two-night midweek break for €149 pps.
Dingle is a fabulous spot. The streets are always colourful and buzzing. Indeed, you might be surprised to know that the Tripadvisor Travellers' Choice best bargain hotel and best hidden gem of Europe 2009 is the gorgeous Castlewood House in Dingle. The five-star guest house, overlooking the waters of Dingle Bay, is owned by young couple Helen and Brian Heaton. But then I told you all about Castlewood in my Little Black Book of Great Places to Stay & Eat in Ireland, way before Tripadvisor.
Helen and Brian purpose- built the house about four years ago. Each room is themed, and the whole place is straight out of an interiors magazine. The breakfast buffet has to be seen to be believed. Right next door to Castlewood is the equally brilliant Heaton's Guest House, run by Brian's parents, Cameron and Nuala.
In magical "away from it all" Co Clare, the Lodge at Doonbeg Golf Club is an amazing place with the most beautiful suites.
At Doolin there's the Ballinalacken Castle hotel, with four-poster beds and delicious food.
Dan Murphy, general manager of the Galway Bay hotel, is a man for whom the glass is always half full, he says.
There has been a great buzz in Galway following the Volvo Ocean Race, and Galway Race Week is coming up soon.
The Galway Bay has a terrific location, facing out over the sea. It has two nights' B&B/one dinner breaks from €149 pps, to include either a free round of golf, a free boat trip, or tickets for Trad on the Prom, music and dance -- a celebration of Galway culture.
At Oughterard there is the Ross Lake Country House, and further west is the fantastic Delphi Mountain Resort.
At Clonbur, close to Cong, there is Fairhill House Hotel, while up in Ballina there is the Downhill Hotel, where the Moylett family has been reeling in happy customers for years. Westport has the fab Westport Plaza, Knockranny House hotel and Ardmore Country House hotel.
Here in Dublin there are fantastic offers at gorgeous hotels such as the Shelbourne, the Dylan, the Clarence, the Radisson Blu at Golden Lane, and Fitzpatrick's Castle at Killiney. There are also top-of-the-range guesthouses, such as Harrington Hall in Harcourt Street and Aberdeen Lodge in Ballsbridge.
There are some fantastic offers around the country at the moment, so go and give yourself a break.
Lucinda O'Sullivan's 'Little Black Book of Great Places to Stay and Eat' is available from Eason's and all good book shops, €14.99