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20 Best: Autumn escapes









Summer is over, but there's still a chance to catch some rays. Pol O Conghaile tracks down the best last-minute deals.

Take a trip to Thailand

November is the perfect time to visit Thailand. The rainy season is over, daytime temperatures rarely drop below 30 degrees and events such as the Loy Krathong festival -- where locals and tourists alike send small floats of cork or banana leaves down the rivers and canals -- are commonplace.

Amari Hotels is currently running special offers in Bangkok and Pattaya, on the north shores of the gulf of Thailand, a bolthole renowned for its pristine sandy beaches, watersports, diving and fishing.

Details: Kuoni (0044 130 674 7008/kuoni.co.uk) has three nights at the Amari Atrium Bangkok and four nights in Pattaya, including flights, from Dublin, from £1,185 (€1,360pps).

In another offer, Joe Walsh Tours (01-241-0800; joewalsh tours.ie) has nine nights in Krabi from €1,375pp.

Paradise in a parador

Fancy a holiday fit for a king? Paradores are historical buildings -- castles, palaces, monasteries and the like -- sensitively restored as hotels in Spain.

Map Travel is the official agent for paradores in Ireland, and it has an autumn special at a tasty-looking 10th-century property in Hondaribbia.

Overlooking the Atlantic just 20 miles from Biarritz, the parador was built for the King of Navarre and comes with all the thick stone walls, tapestries and suits of armour you'll need to feel like royalty.

Details: Map Travel (01-878 3111; maptravel.ie) has three nights in the Parador de Hondarribbia from €299pp, including flights but not airport taxes.

Cruise direct from Dublin

Irish holidaymakers have always been curious about cruising, but the fact that you can have to fly as far as Florida before boarding the ship doesn't exactly make it easy to try.

This autumn, why not skip the flying part by boarding the Ocean Countess in Dublin?

Joe Walsh has two trips on offer: one a 10-night cruise stopping in Spain, Portugal and Morocco; the other a 13-night option sailing to the Canary Islands and Madeira.

Prices are based on interior cabins and include all meals, a guest lecture programme and entertainment, though fuel surcharges and tips are extra.

Details: Joe Walsh Tours (01-241 0800; joewalshtours.ie) has the 10-day cruise from €699pp, departing October 2.

The Canaries cruise departs 12 October from €799pp inclusive.

City break on the Costa del Sol

Most people landing into Malaga Airport pause just long enough to collect their bags before transferring out to the resorts of the Costa del Sol.

Malaga has plenty to offer as a city break destination, however, and you won't want for sunshine either. Urban attractions range from a cool little Picasso museum to the tapas bars squirrelled away off Calle Marqués de Larios -- not to mention its gothic cathedral and old Arabic fortress, the Alcazaba.

Malaga is right on the coast, too, so you're never more than a short bus or taxi ride from the sand, sea and beachside restaurants.

Details: Ebookers (ebookers.ie) has seven nights in the three-star Apartamentos el Cenachero in Malaga from €360pp.

Flights depart Dublin on September 29.

Trip out on Turkey's Turquoise Coast

Sailing in a gullet, a traditional pinewood yacht, is one of the best ways to experience Turkey's Turquoise Coast -- a western Mediterranean stretch renowned for its sapphire seas.

Explore has an eight-day 'Blue Cruise' allowing plenty of time to swim, snorkel and sunbathe from the boat, with excursions to beaches, old harbours, sleepy villages and uninhabited islands.

Prices include 20 meals, transport and the services of a tour leader, driver and boat crew.

Elsewhere in Turkey, Wings Abroad has seven nights in Kusadasi from €314pp based on two sharing a one-bed apartment.

Details: Explore (1890 747 747; explore.co.uk) has this cruise from €970pp, including flights from London.

Wings Abroad (01-871 9444; wingsabroad.ie) departs from Dublin and Cork.

Fun in the sun in Fuerteventura

It may be a four-and-a-half hour flight to Fuerteventura, but you can be pretty sure there'll be sunshine at the end of it.

Lying just south of Lanzarote, this is one of the quieter Canary Islands, with charming villages, hulking volcanoes and a reputation for watersports. However, Fuerteventura remains best known for its beaches. Oasis Duna is a stone's throw from the island's new water park, in Corralejo.

Details: Sunway (01-288 6828; sunway.ie) has seven nights at the three-star Oasis Duna self-catering apartments from €419pp, departing September 24. If you fancy your own flights, HolidayHomesDirect.ie has a three-bed villa with pool from €540pw, sleeping six.

Five-star frolics in the Gulf

There's more to the Gulf of Arabia than Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Oman is the quiet kid on the block, a sultanate that doesn't blow its own trumpet but lets visitors discover its beaches, snorkel-friendly seas, mountains and rolling dunes for themselves.

Trailfinders has seven nights at the five-star Chedi Hotel in Muscat, including a free night, giving a total saving of €250pp. There's a late check out too (the return flight leaves at 11.40pm), so you can linger at the pool.

Details: Trailfinders (01-677 7888; trailfinders.ie) has this package from €1,249pp, valid for departures up to September 24.

Also this month, WeTravel2 (01-240 1788; wetravel2.com) has five nights at the Movenpick Jumeriah in Dubai for €930pp. It must be booked before September 26.

September sunshine in the UK

With the schools back in action, now's a perfect time for couples and families with pre-schoolers to take advantage of empty beaches and excellent price deals in the UK.

Granted, it ain't the Algarve, but Haven Holidays has three-night weekend breaks at a choice of holiday parks in mid-to-late September from just £99 (€113) for a family of six.

The self-catering properties are located on parks in north Wales and Norfolk, and include heated pools, entertainment programmes, and, in the case of Hafan Y Mor in Pwllheli, adventure golf, laser combat and climbing walls.

Details: Haven (0044 871 230 1900; haven.com) has these breaks in North Wales from £99 (€113) and Norfolk from £149 (€170). Pwllheli is less than an hour-and-a-half from Holyhead, and Norfolk is a 75-minute drive from Stanstead Airport.

Last-minute Majorca

September sees a step down in crowds around Majorca, but the temperatures are riding high, and you'll still find a bit of bustle around its popular resorts.

Going to press, Falcon had seven nights at the two-star Verdemar Apartments in Santa Ponsa from €289pp (with a pool and direct access to the sea), the three-star Nova apartments in Palma Nova from €546pp, and the Saturno Hotel and Hydropark in the slightly more laid-back resort of Alcudia from €764pp, all departing October 1.

If you're thinking further ahead, Falcon is also taking weekly instalments for summer holidays in 2012.

Details: Falcon Holidays (1850 946 164; falconholidays.ie).

Lounging in Lanzarote

The Canary Islands are a pretty good bet for sunshine at any time of year, but autumn arguably strikes the sweetest note, bridging the summer highs and winter cool-off.

Lanzarote is the first choice for many package holidaymakers, with a tempting mix of beaches, landscape and culture.

There's plenty of buzz at the coastal resorts too. The Hotel Beatriz has two saltwater swimming pools, a pool that's climate-controlled for kids, and a solarium, tennis court and mini-golf course.

Details: Panorama (01-514 0328; panoramaholidays.ie) has seven nights at the four-star Beatriz Playa in Matagorda, on a half-board basis, from €625pp departing October 8.

Escorted tours in Madeira

Looking for a package holiday with a difference? Madeira could be your man.

Located 600km off the coast of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean, the Portuguese island is at once European and unlike anything you'll find in Europe.

Wild mountain scenery, exquisite gardens, great walks and the friendly capital of Funchal are all pros -- the con is the relative lack of beaches.

The Travel Department has an escorted holiday including full-day east and west island tours, and a half-day city tour of Funchal, with fully qualified guides. Accommodation is four-star on a half-board basis.

Details: The Travel Department (01-637 1600; thetraveldepartment.ie) has this package from €689pp plus tax, departing Dublin on October 2.

Last-minute sun holidays

The number of package holidays on the market has plummeted in recent years, but late deals remain very much part of the process -- it's always worth checking tour operators' websites before you book.

Others, of course, make dynamic pricing the core of their business.

Try lowcostholidays.ie, for example, which is particularly strong on Spain, the Balearics, the Canaries and Portugal.

Going to press, we were quoted €180.59 for seven nights in October in the Costa del Sol.

Details: Going to press, latedeals.ie was quoting €203 as a lead-in rate for seven nights in Majorca (in three-star accommodation in Magaluf), departing from Belfast.

Catch the sun in Sharm El Sheikh

The Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh has had a torrid time of it lately. First, a spate of shark attacks claimed the life of one woman and injured four others last December. Then came Egypt's revolutionary political upheaval this spring.

Surprisingly, however, sales are holding up well -- Irish tour operators do not seem to be experiencing a drop off in sales vis-à-vis this time last year. In September, you can expect sandy beaches, temperatures in the high 20s and activities such as snorkelling, sailing and desert safaris at Sharm El Sheikh, in addition to the usual evening-time bustle.

Details: Direct Holidays (01-514 0341; directholidays.ie) has seven nights at the four-star Hilton Sharks Bay, Sharm el Sheikh, from €615pp departing September 28.

La Bella Italia

Italy can be baking hot in the summer months, a time when Italians traditionally flee the cities for the cooler air of the coast and mountains. Autumn is a much more pleasant time to travel, and Citalia by Travelmood has a range of offers to match.

In October, seven nights at the Villa Bianca Resort in Sicily start from €599pp, and seven nights at the Girasole in Sorrento from €499pp. Both are three-star accommodations, and one free night is included. Topflight also has a three-night wellness offer at Lake Garda, featuring several treatments, from €599pps.

Details: TravelMood (01-433 1023; travelmood.ie). Topflight's (01-240 1701; topflight.ie) offer is at the four-star Acquaviva del Garda & Spa Hotel, based on September and October departures.

Grand adventures in Gran Canaria

With peak summer temperatures subsiding, and the kids back at school, September is a super time for couples to bag a belated place in the sun.

Lastminute.com has several options in the Canaries, including a three-star at Maspalomas Gran Canaria, nicely situated near the local golf course, and a four-star at the Gloria Palace San Agustin (which boasts the largest thalasso-therapy centre in Europe).

Gran Canaria is the third-biggest of the Canary Islands, but throws up a huge variety of landscapes, from long, sandy beaches to verdant ravines.

Details: Lastminute.com has seven nights at the Maspalomas Gran Canaria from €559pp, and the San Agustin Gran Canaria from €732pp, both departing on September 17.

Cool Cuba

If you've ever dreamed of visiting Cuba, this autumn could finally be the time to don your Che Guevara T-shirt and hit the plane.

Tropical Sky has a seven- night offer based at the Sandals Royal Hicacos Hotel, an adult-only resort offering a spa, four swimming pools, Jacuzzi, Spanish lessons, dance classes and a selection of restaurants.

Best of all, it's on an all-inclusive basis, so you don't have to spend a cent on food if you don't want to.

It could be a comfy intro to a complex country.

Details: Tropical Sky (01-807 7996; tropicalsky.ie) has this all-inclusive package from €1,159pp, including flights from Dublin, for departures in September and October.

Seven nights for the price of six in the Maldives

If the Maldives are a once-in-a-lifetime destination, could this autumn finally be your time?

Trailfinders has seven nights for the price of six at the Vilu Reef Beach & Spa Resort available for select departures in October. The resort, located in the South Nilandhe Atoll, is pretty much your postcard vision of paradise, with lagoons, coconut trees, water villas and white sandy beaches.

Don't expect wild nightlife or awesome shopping. Do expect watersports, top-notch spa treatments and crystal-clear waters for snorkelling and diving. The rate is full-board, too.

Details: Trailfinders (01-677 7888; trailfinders.ie) has this special from €1,649pp for departure from Dublin on selected October dates.

Kick back in Cyprus

Cyprus lies at the crossroads of three continents, and there's much more than just sun and sand waiting for holidaymakers braving the four-and-a-half-hour flight to get there.

Prehistoric sites such as Choirokoitia or the Tombs of the Kings at Paphos, food that mixes up Greek and Middle Eastern influences and hiking trips on the Akamas Peninsula are just a taste of what's on offer. You could, of course, simply plonk yourself on the beach.

Concorde Travel has seven nights at the four-star Hotel Avanti in Paphos, with flights from Dublin to Larnaca.

Details: Concorde Travel (01-775 9300; concordetravel.ie) has this package from €599pps, departing from Dublin on October 2.

The pick of Portugal

Portugal has long been a sunny success for Irish holidaymakers, winning repeat business with its cheery mix of sandy beaches, whitewashed villages, seafood restaurants and friendly locals.

Prices start to drop around now, too, with ClickandGo.com offering basic self-catering for less than €350pp in the Algarve next month. But there's more to Portugal than the Algarve, as an even cheaper seven-night package to the Lisbon Coast attests. All flights are booked with Aer Lingus, so you'll have to pay extra for checked luggage, but airport transfers are included.

Details: ClickandGo.com has seven nights on the Lisbon Coast from €309pp, based on three-star accommodation departing October 1. Seven nights in Alvor cost from €329pp.

Over 50s sunshine in Spain

The Spanish government may have withdrawn its subsidies for the popular Over 50s holidays programme from Ireland, but that doesn’t mean travel agents have withdrawn the deals.

John Galligan has holidays starting this month at €299 for a week, selfcatering, in the neighbouring Algarve.

He also has a week in Benalmadena or Majorca full-board from €425 (a booking fee of €35pp applies). In Cork, Lee Travel is quoting an introductory offer for Over 50s including seven nights’ fullboard, flights, transfers and an excursion tour of the Catalan Coast and Barcelona, from €445pp.

Details: John Galligan Travel (01-207 6555; jgt.ie); Lee Travel (021 427 7111; leetravel.ie).

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