As Tom Jones almost sang, it's not unusual to want some time away from your family and friends. But the prospect of heading out into the great wide open as a soloist is daunting for many. Fear not: if you fancy a real break from the daily grind but are short on inspiration, read on ...
What's not to like about discovering the hidden gems and secret pockets of the city on your own? The best place to kickstart a weekend is in the newly opened Dawson Hotel & Spa at 35 Dawson Street (thedawson.ie, 01 677 4444).
Around the corner, you'll find the Little Museum of Dublin at 15 St Stephen's Green (01 661 1000, littlemuseum.ie). A relative newcomer, the Little Museum is making big waves with its eclectic collections and exhibits; right now, visitors can enjoy an exhibition of photos by American snapper Charles Cushman from 1950s and 1960s Dublin.
Elsewhere in the city centre, the Chester Beatty Library at Dublin Castle (cbl.ie, 01 407 0750) not only has great artistic treasures from across the world, it's also home to the brilliant Silk Road Café, as well as a roof terrace that affords visitors spectacular views of Dublin.
For those with a taste for the opulent, afternoon tea is a proper indulgence. Try two of the best at the Shelbourne Hotel, at 27 St Stephen's Green (marriott.com, 01 663 4500) or the Westin Hotel at College Green (thewestindublin.com, 01 645 1000). Those on a budget needn't miss out on a caffeine fix either, as Dublin is becoming increasingly packed with hip and buzzy cafes. With its famously relaxed vibes and Med-influenced brunches, Brother Hubbard on Capel Street (brotherhubbard.ie, 01 441 1112) is one of the newest kids on the block. And when it comes to providing irresistible cakes, Queen of Tarts on Cow's Lane (queenoftarts.ie, 01 663 4861) is still a firm favourite.
To truly make a weekend of it, take in a world-class show in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre (01 677 7999, bordgaisenergytheatre.ie) where 'Evita' and 'Fiddler on the Roof' make up February's bill. Over at the The Abbey on 26 Lower Abbey Street, (abbeytheatre.ie, 01 878 7222) John B Keane's unmissable masterpiece 'Sive' runs until April 12.
STEP TO IT
Walking festivals and events are a canny option for soloists. It's possible to get a chance to clear the head, or meet new people if you're feeling more sociable. The historic Cooley Peninsula hosts The Tain Walking Festival, from February 28 to March 2, (carling ford.ie). It's open to walkers of all ages and fitness levels and has a spectacular night walk. Elsewhere, the wilds of Galway – specifically, Inishbofin, Errisbeg and Innisnee – can be explored at one's own pace thanks to the Connemara Four Seasons Spring Walking Festival from March 15–17 (connemara4seasonswalkingfestival.com). The Clifden Station House Hotel (clifdenstationhouse.com, 095 21699) is offering special festival packages for the weekend that's in it and their spa will of course come in handy after a gruelling hike.
Folks with a creative bent can opt instead for a craft break and the buzzy city of Kilkenny is a great place to seek out inspiration. See the glass blowers in action at Jerpoint Glass in Kilkenny (jerpointglass.com, 056 772 4350), discover the secrets of a top ceramicist at Nicholas Mosse Pottery in nearby Bennettsbridge (nicholasmosse.com, 056 772 7505), and drop into renowned gold/silver smith Rudolph Heltzel in Patrick Street (rudolphhetzel.com). If that's not enough crafty action for one afternoon, the Craft Gallery opposite Kilkenny Castle is perfect for some retail therapy.
Over in Sligo, meanwhile, the Made In Sligo Craft Trail is a network of 15 gifted craftspeople – including furniture maker Fergal Spain, tailor Joseph Martin and photographer Ciaran McHugh – all of whom represent the best and brightest in local contemporary design and craft. Down in Kerry, the Kerry Craft Trail (discoverireland.ie/craft) offers a similarly one-stop-shop experience, featuring a wealth of exciting and established local talent.
MIND, BODY & SPIRIT
De-stressing, detoxing and re-energising is best done in a party of one; check out pampering breaks at the Boghill Centre in Kilfenora, Co Clare, a recuperative eco-retreat full of both relaxing and energising holistic activities, home-cooked vegetarian food and guided walks through the Burren (boghill.com, 065 707 4644).
The Burren is also the backdrop for Burren Yoga Holidays at Cappaghmore in Kinvara. Week-long and weekend retreats in yoga, mindfulness and mediation are scheduled regularly and most attendees come on their own to sample the yoga workouts, the scenery and the famous vegetarian cooking (burrenyoga.com, 091 637 680).
Near Westport in Co Mayo, the Cloona Health Retreat also offers week-long programmes with guided walks, yoga, sauna and massage (cloona.ie, 098 25251), while Ard Nahoo in Co Leitrim ( 071 913 4939, ardnahoo.com) can tailor-make a personal programme from a menu of delicious services, including their infrared sauna and one-on-one yoga classes.
Kilcoe Cottage in Ballydehob, West Cork (kilcoecottage.com) is a great place to brush up on culinary skills and enjoy a scenic breather. Not only is it the perfect location for long walks and aimless pottering on the beach, there are a number of cookery weekends also on offer.
If you've been inspired by the recent rash of 'Bake-Off' TV series, learn the basics under the tutelage of BBC baker Patrick Ryan at the Firehouse Bakery on Heir Island in Cork (thefirehouse.ie, 085 156 1984).
Back in the capital, and culinary novices will find that there's plenty to learn in one of Dublin's many cookery schools. The Donnybrook Fair Cookery School (donnybrookfair.ie/cookeryschool, 01 668 3556) offers day, evening and weekend classes with some of Irish cooking's leading lights, while over at Cooks' Academy on South William Street (cooksacademy. com, 01 611 1666), learn the basics of making everything from tapas to Thai. Over in Co Clare's Spanish Point, the charming Victorian home at Berry Lodge (065 708 7022, berrylodge.com) combines homely comfort and weekend-long cookery demonstrations, using only the best local ingredients.
Those who prefer to combine a relaxing break with something more robust can avail of the number of activity/fitness packages offered at spas across the land. At Brooklodge (Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow, brooklodge.com, 0402 36444) visitors can also try out the resort's Macreddin Fitness Circuit (ask at hotel reception for a map for a 30-minute circuit that can include squats, lunges and runs). Nearby, the Cushbawn Mountain is waiting to be tackled (walking to the top takes around three hours). Brooklodge also offers free bikes, helmets and maps to those who want to cycle the Wicklow trails.
Elsewhere, the Cliff House Hotel at Middle Ardmore in Co Waterford (024 87800, thecliffhousehotel.com) will be the location for a two-day workshop with a difference. Dr Mark Rowe hosts this residential event on March 27 and 28, designed to focus on one's emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing.
Fitness enthusiasts in Galway can make haste instead to Delphi Mountain Resort in Connemara (delphimountainresort.com, 095 42208) where a number of fitness weekends and bootcamps – designed by former Olympian David O'Loughlin – will be on offer throughout 2014.
For more solo break ideas, see discoverireland.ie