Pól Ó Conghaile: Book Spain now or pay the price as visits soar
Reign of Spain
The Irish love affair with Spain continues, but early bookings are imperative this year, says our Travel Editor.
It's no secret that we love Spain.
Even so, 2016's visitor numbers look likely to be off the charts. Going to press, the Spanish Tourism Office in Dublin expects the CSO to confirm close to 1.5 million Irish visits last year - ahead of Portugal, France and Italy combined.
With Ryanair adding a new route to Vigo, Aer Lingus flying to Murcia and Iberia Express connecting Cork and Madrid in 2016, the growth looks set to continue, too. A recent ITAA survey found that 75pc of Irish travel agents expected Spain to be their most popular single destination of 2016.
In a way, it has always been thus. Spain is close to home, the weather is reliable, resorts like Benidorm and the Costa del Sol are now nostalgic family faves, and as holidaymakers, we love Spanish culture, food and conviviality.
Cities like Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid offer tantalising short breaks, the Camino grows more popular by the year, and that's not even starting on the Canaries or Balaerics. In compiling this week's Spanish Bucket List, we stuck to the mainland, but it could still have been double the size. Easily.
The top tip for 2016? Book early.
A recovering economy is one thing, but changing security situations in Tunisia and Egypt, concerns around Turkey, and legions of sports fans set to travel to Euro 2016 in France have seen holidaymakers flocking to this sure thing.
"Already, we are seeing large swathes of March and April closed out for sale and price increases are coming in daily," says one travel agent, John Galligan.
My advice? Book lesser-known spots, or get in ahead of the bounce.
What do you love about Spain?
Ireland's love affair with Spain is as passionate as ever, judging by our readers. When we asked for Spanish travel tips on Facebook, replies ranged from Granada's Alhambra Palace to a town few of us had heard of (see Juana's tip, below).
Aoibhinn O'Malley, Dublin: "Get to Seville for tapas, stay in the old town and enjoy sitting in a café in a square surrounded by orange trees..."
Juana Laucirica, Adelaide: "Villanova i la Getru on the coast south of Barcelona. Best beach town ever. Great history and magnificent fresh seafood, too... *drool*..."
Ollie Gargan, Cavan: "Inside Barcelona's Sagrada Familia cathedral. Get your tickets early - the queues are crazy... we arrived at 12 and had a three-hour wait, but it was still worth it!"
Spain: Deals of the week...
Costa del Sol: April could prove a sweet spot for early sun holidays this year, following on from the epic Easter holidays. John Galligan Travel (01 207-6555; jgt.ie) has seven-night, half-board packages for the over-50s from €499pp including flights, airport transfers and water and wine with meals. The price is based on an April 18 departure.
City breaks: ITAA member Corrib Travel has several Spanish city breaks on special this year, including three nights in Seville's four-star Vertice Sevilla from €380pp, departing May 7. A seven-night package to Almeria is priced from €507pp in June, while a four-night break in Madrid starts from €238pp in September. See corribtravel.ie and itaa.ie/offers for full details.
Costa Brava: The coastal strip just north of Barcelona is a brilliant alternative to the Costa del Sol - offering both a beach break and an amazing city within easy reach. J Barter Travel (021 485-1700; travelnet.ie) has flights plus seven nights at the four-star Rulette Santa Susanna from €293pp departing Dublin on May 25, and €331pp departing Cork on May 24.
For hotel deals in Spain, see hotels.independent.ie.
NB: All prices subject to availability.