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21 trips for 2021: An alternative bucket list to beat the crowds after Covid

Travel may feel far away now, but we will take holidays again, and they will feel all the more special. Nicola Brady has 21 bucket-list trips to take you far from the crowds and help plan the future escapes of a lifetime

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Mount Toubkal summit, Morocco

Mount Toubkal summit, Morocco

Crater Lake in Oregon. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

Crater Lake in Oregon. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

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Mount Toubkal summit, Morocco

If ever there was a time to dream about travel, it’s now.

We’ve made it through a catastrophically miserable year and a compromised Christmas, mostly from within our own walls. We deserve the hope of a holiday on the horizon. Of course, overseas trips may not happen soon, but the mere promise might just get us through the bleakness.

Nothing is certain. But I do think we’ll all be looking at travel with a different set of priorities. We’ll likely want to avoid the crowds — maybe seeking outdoor spaces rather than bustling cities, at least in the short-term. Travel agents I spoke to are seeing a huge increase in inquiries about group travel too, with small gatherings of friends and family looking to mark missed celebrations.

There are green shoots appearing, too. Travel agents and tour operators know that no one will book without security, so the good ones are offering low deposits along with Covid cover and more flexibility on cancellations. There’s never been a better time to book with a fully licensed and bonded Irish travel agent — if things go belly up again, they’re the ones chasing airlines for refunds, not you.

Travel agents like Tour America, Sunway and Topflight have Book with Confidence policies. Should Covid impact your holiday booking, subject to conditions, they’ll be flexible on changes and offer full refunds. We may not see people queuing up for January bargains, but if you see a deal with flexible terms, this could be the time to snap it up.

Whether you’re ready to plan a getaway, or simply looking for daydream material to stave off the blues, here’s some inspiration to get your travel juices flowing…

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Picu Urriellu, Picos de Europa, Asturias, Spain

Picu Urriellu, Picos de Europa, Asturias, Spain

Picu Urriellu, Picos de Europa, Asturias, Spain

1. Instead of Barcelona, try… ASTURIAS

How: It’s easy to forget, as we flock to the same cities time and again, just how versatile Spain is as a destination. Sure, we love the beaches and the buzz of places like Barcelona, but there is so much more that’s just begging to be explored. Take Asturias in the north, for example. This is an outdoorsy paradise, with landscapes that wouldn’t look out of place in a fairytale. In the eastern region, the Muniellos Biosphere Reserve is a forest-covered jaw-dropper that’s perfect for hiking. The mountain range of Picos de Europa rivals some of the best on the planet, combining sweet, almost Alpine scenes with killer peaks reachable via cable car. Plus, there are some great accommodation options in the form of hotels within old Modernist mansions. An added bonus? Irish visitors don’t need to have a PCR test for travel to Spain (at the time of publishing, that is…).

Details: Ryanair (ryanair.com) usually flies to Santander, though schedules are not currently live. Alternatively, fly to Madrid and on to Oviedo with Iberia (iberia.com). Find unique accommodation on casonasasturianas.com

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A gorilla in Rwanda

A gorilla in Rwanda

A gorilla in Rwanda

2. Instead of Kenya, try… RWANDA

How: Think safari, and you probably think of Kenya. But while the reserves there are beautiful, their popularity can hinder the experience. Instead, plan the trip of a lifetime to Rwanda. This is the ultimate wildlife holiday, between the Big Five in the national parks and the incredible volcanic jungles. But the real highlight? Mountain gorillas. This is one of the few places in the world where you can go gorilla trekking and see these heart-stopping creatures in real life. The experience is strictly monitored and the (admittedly pricey) trekking permit goes to protect this endangered species. It truly is an experience you will never forget.

Details: Aardvark Safaris has a seven-night trip, including permits, from €5,540pp; aardvarksafaris.co.uk

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Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando, Florida, USA

Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando, Florida, USA

Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando, Florida, USA

3. Instead of PortAventura, try… ORLANDO

How: You might think crowds in theme parks will be too much to handle, but the big names have been working hard to create as safe an environment as possible in our new world. If it’s always been on your wishlist, and we can travel safely, 2021 may be a better time to visit than you might think. At Universal, there are temperature checks, social distancing and mandatory face coverings, as well as a reduced daily park attendance. There’s also a virtual queuing system for some rides through its app, which saves you valuable time in the park. Plus, summer of 2021 will see the opening of the brand-new Jurassic World VelociCoaster ride, which catapults you more than 150ft in the air alongside a pack of raptors at speeds of up to 70mph. It’ll also be Florida’s tallest and fastest launch coaster. They spared no expense.

Details: Tour America has a week in Orlando from €459pp, based on two adults and two kids departing September 24; touramerica.ie; universalorlando.com

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Swedish Lapland

Swedish Lapland

Swedish Lapland

4. Instead of Iceland, try… SWEDISH LAPLAND

How: There’s something magical about the Nordic region. And while cheap flights have seen us flock to Iceland, it’s worth considering the alternatives that aren’t as well-trodden. Swedish Lapland is real bucket-list territory, with snow-covered landscapes, otherworldly wilderness and romantic fur-strewn places to sleep. This trip with 50 Degrees North and Adams & Butler includes a hot-air balloon ride over Lapland, dog sledding in the snow and an extraordinary stay in a floating cabin in the Arctic Bath, surely one of the most incredible hotels in the world.

Details: Adams & Butler has the four-night Swedish Aurora Glamping and Arctic Wellness trip from €3,500pp, but every trip is customisable; adamsandbutler.com

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Crater Lake in Oregon. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

Crater Lake in Oregon. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

Crater Lake in Oregon. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.


5. Instead of California, try… OREGON

How: If you’re skittish about getting out into the world again, an RV road trip is the perfect way to go. You’ll have your own space, with your own kitchen, and no need to change hotels every night. While the California coastal path is a gorgeous one, Oregon is a strong contender for its throne. With excellent vineyards, moody lava fields and mountains just begging to be hiked, this state is the perfect stomping ground for an RV. This trip takes in Crater Lake, the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River Gorge. Oh, and don’t miss Oregon classic Voodoo Doughnuts while you’re there, too (hello, maple bacon bar).

Details: The 10-night Wonders of Oregon trip costs from €1,599pp, including flights from Dublin; americansky.ie

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British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands

6. Instead of Barbados, try… THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS

How: If, like me, you’ve spent lockdown watching every season of Below Deck, you’ll have been dreaming about chartering a yacht in the Caribbean. But there’s a way of doing it that won’t cost the usual €100,000 for a week. Dream Yacht Charter allows you to charter by the cabin rather than the entire yacht, so you can get a glimpse of the good life without remortgaging your house. Doing so in the BVI is paradise, too — these islands are far more chilled out than the bigger hubs of Barbados and Jamaica. You’ll get to flit between amazing snorkelling spots, kayak around sea caves and paddleboard around tiny islands.

Details: Prices start from €1,085pp, based on two sharing a cabin, all-inclusive; dreamyachtcharter.com. Fly to Tortola via Antigua and London with British Airways; ba.com

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La Gomera, Canary Islands, Spain. Photograph: Bruno Dittrich

La Gomera, Canary Islands, Spain. Photograph: Bruno Dittrich

La Gomera, Canary Islands, Spain. Photograph: Bruno Dittrich

7. Instead of Tenerife or Lanzarote, try… LA GOMERA

How: In all likelihood, the Canary Islands are going to be one of the first places we can go on holiday. But instead of heading for the big hitters, why not consider one of the lesser known? La Gomera is a 40-minute ferry ride from Tenerife, and an absolutely gorgeous landscape to explore, with volcanic peaks, black sand beaches and ancient forests. With over 600km of hiking trails, this is an excellent spot for a walking holiday. So if you found yourself falling in love with hiking in 2020, bring those battered boots with you to the sun.

Details: Ryanair and Aer Lingus fly to Tenerife. The Parador de La Gomera starts at €100 per night; parador.es

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Uniworld River Cruise SS La Venezia. Photograph: Rainer Witzgall

Uniworld River Cruise SS La Venezia. Photograph: Rainer Witzgall

Uniworld River Cruise SS La Venezia. Photograph: Rainer Witzgall

8. Instead of a Mediterranean cruise, try… A RIVER CRUISE

How: Let’s face it — there’s more than a little trepidation around cruising at the moment. But it’s worth looking at what the future may hold. If you’re an avid cruise fan but a little anxious, a river cruise might be your perfect first step. Take Uniworld, for example: numbers tend to be lower (think an average capacity of 120 guests) with space for distancing, and there will be temperature checks, stringent cleaning, health screenings and flexibility, so you can change your plans up until 30 days before departure (until June 31, 2021). They’re also spraying the interiors with a non-toxic antimicrobial coating that kills bacteria and viruses. If you’re looking for a river cruise, Milan, Venice and the gems of Northern Italy is a great option, taking in some beautiful cities.

Details: A nine-night cruise starts from €2,999pp with Galway-based Fahy Travel; fahytravel.ie

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Horseshoe Bend National Park, Utah, USA. Photograph: Victoria Avvacumova

Horseshoe Bend National Park, Utah, USA. Photograph: Victoria Avvacumova

Horseshoe Bend National Park, Utah, USA. Photograph: Victoria Avvacumova

9. Instead of the Grand Canyon, try… UTAH

How: There are loads of bonuses to travelling as part of an organised tour. But if you don’t want to travel with strangers, tour company Trafalgar has the perfect solution. You can book select trips as a private group, meaning it’s just your bubble alongside the guide and driver. Its new tour Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks takes you through showstopping sights like Arches National Park and Moab, and weaves in plenty of outdoorsy pit stops, so you won’t just be driven around aimlessly. You’ll get to hike the incredible Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, surely two of the most Instagrammed sights in America, and the trip also includes a session with a renowned National Parks photographer, who’ll teach you how to capture the best snaps.

Details: The nine-night trip includes accommodation and some meals, from €3,115pp if taken as a regular tour, or €4,049pp for a group of 12-16; trafalgar.com

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Snowdonia National Park

Snowdonia National Park

Snowdonia National Park


10. Instead of the Scottish Highlands, try… SNOWDONIA

How: Do you often do a big trip as a gang, as a kind of “friend reunion”? If you’re trying to plot a way to do so safely next year, The Rocks at Plas Curig is the perfect option. A swish, five-star hostel in the Welsh village of Capel Curig, this spot is right in the heart of Snowdonia National Park (which celebrates its 70th birthday this year). After spending your days hiking these beautiful mountains, you can all come back to the hostel and chill out by the fire pit on the terrace, overlooking the Snowdon Horseshoe. The best part? You can hire this hostel out exclusively. It sleeps a total of 59 across 14 rooms, but the price can be reduced for smaller groups, so it’s worth getting in touch.

Details: Private hire from €2,138 per night. Holyhead is 50 minutes away, so get the ferry with Stena Line from €109, stenaline.ie; therockshostel.com

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The Rocks at Plas Curig, Snowdonia, Wales

The Rocks at Plas Curig, Snowdonia, Wales

The Rocks at Plas Curig, Snowdonia, Wales

11. Instead of Kilimanjaro, try… MOROCCO

How: A holiday needn’t be a fly-and-flop affair. If you want to take on a challenge and come back home glowing with that feeling of accomplishment (and boastfulness), then why not take on Morocco’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal? Get a bubble of your most outdoorsy friends together and set off on an adventure. This trip with Goko includes time in Marrakech as well as Essaouira, with three nights in the mountains. What’s fantastic is that this can all be booked as a private bespoke tour as well, and so long as at least two of you book, the starting price remains the same per person. A micro-bubble, if you will…

Details: The seven-night trip costs from €830pp, excluding flights; gokotravels.com

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Sailing at Phaselis in Antalya, Turkey

Sailing at Phaselis in Antalya, Turkey

Sailing at Phaselis in Antalya, Turkey


12. Instead of the Greek Islands, try… a gulet cruise in TURKEY

How: Singles have had a rough time during the pandemic. Add that to the fact that solo travellers are usually stuck with extra fees and supplements, and it all looks pretty grim. But the Antrim-based company Friendship Travel has the answer. This trip along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast takes place in a traditional wooden gulet and is for singles only, meaning there are only eight guests onboard. Expect lots of space, and almost everything happens al fresco — from sundowners at the bar to dinner on the deck.

Details: A seven-night cruise starts from €1,395pp, full board with flights; friendshiptravel.com

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Early morning in Tuscany. Photo: Deposit

Early morning in Tuscany. Photo: Deposit

Early morning in Tuscany. Photo: Deposit


13. Instead of Florence, try… A TUSCAN VILLA

How: If you want to get away for a reunion holiday with friends or family, a villa is possibly the best idea you could have. A villa in Tuscany? Even better. Il Molinaccio is a dreamily beautiful farmhouse in the heart of Chianti. Wonderfully private and surrounded by 64 acres, you’ll be free to stroll among the olive groves and lounge by the lavender bushes beside the infinity pool. A chef can be organised, or you can potter around the local markets and cook up a storm with the best produce you could possibly dream of. If you get away during chillier months, there’s a fireplace in the gorgeous living room. The villa sleeps up to 10.

Details: Il Molinaccio starts at €4,400 for a week; tuscanynowandmore.com. Fly to Pisa with Aer Lingus between March and October from €56 one way; aerlingus.com

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St Lucia

St Lucia

St Lucia


14. Instead of Sharm El Sheikh, try... ST LUCIA

How: If you’ve ever tried your hand at diving, you’ll know how important breathwork is when you’re under the surface. At Windjammer Landing, they’ve created an Underwater Breathwork Programme designed to create the best-possible diving experience. You’ll dive at sunrise, in the serene St Lucian waters. You can then spend the rest of your days making the most of other watersports, like windsurfing, kayaking and Hobie Cat sailing, all included in the rate. You can even head out for a sunset yoga session on a paddleboard, and put all your breathwork to good use (earning that sundowner in the process).

Details: Rates from €219 per night, all inclusive, with the Underwater Breathwork programme starting from €148; windjammer-landing.com. Fly to St Lucia via London with British Airways; ba.com, or book a package with Hayes & Jarvis; hayesandjarvis.ie

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Sunset on Santorini, in the Greek Cyclades

Sunset on Santorini, in the Greek Cyclades

Sunset on Santorini, in the Greek Cyclades

15. Instead of Corfu, try… SANTORINI

How: Over the past year, we’ve learned that nothing is guaranteed. But despite the months of flight and route cancellations, Aer Lingus has announced a new route to Santorini this summer. Ryanair will also be resuming its seasonal route, so the future is bright, blue-domed and filled with saganaki. We’ve no idea what next summer will look like, but come May the island might still be a little quieter than usual. So skip over before the crowds return, and do it in style in the private Villa Presidential, right on top of the cliffs. You can sip a chilled glass of white by the infinity pool, gaze out at the sea, and watch as the sun sets behind the islands. Bliss.

Details: Seven nights from €1,159pp in May, including flights and private transfers, based on 14 sharing; atlantictravel.ie

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Nicaragua Private Island. Photograph: Paul Massey

Nicaragua Private Island. Photograph: Paul Massey

Nicaragua Private Island. Photograph: Paul Massey

16. Instead of Brazil, try… NICARAGUA

How: Nothing screams “decadence” like a private island. But what about a private island on Lake Nicaragua? This paradisiacal isle is entirely yours, with accommodation split between the chic main house and the pavilion. There are managers on site for whatever you need, but otherwise the island is entirely yours. There’s a boat and driver, who can whisk you over to Granada, but you’ll likely spend your days exploring the islands, swimming and kayaking, and lounging by the infinity pool.

Details: Nicaragua Private Island sleeps eight and costs from €653 a night; welcomebeyond.com. Fly to Managua via Paris and Panama with KLM; klm.ie

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Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) on dune in Namibia. Photo: Martin Harvey / Getty Images.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) on dune in Namibia. Photo: Martin Harvey / Getty Images.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) on dune in Namibia. Photo: Martin Harvey / Getty Images.


17. Instead of South Africa, try… NAMIBIA

How: Namibia might not be on your radar. But if you’ve done the traditional safari and fancy seeing another side to Africa, this is a great addition to the holiday wishlist. The big draw? Magnificent sand dunes that sprawl vastly in bewildering patterns and peaks. There are some exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime hotel options, too. The newly refurbished Little Kulala from Wilderness Safaris opened last November, and offers unparallelled access to the incredible Sossusvlei dunes, as well as nature trails, fatbiking, quad biking and an Olympus photo hub, where you have the use of an Olympus camera. Each suite has an al fresco stargazing bed, which is an impossibly romantic touch, and the whole resort is run entirely on solar energy. Plus, it’s only an hour from Big Daddy, the largest sand dune in the Sossusvlei region. And how can you not love that name?

Details: Rates start at €531pp; wilderness-safaris.com. Mahlatini Luxury Travel has a four-night all-inclusive holiday to Little Kulala Camp from €3,550pp, including flights and transfers; mahlatini.com

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Little Kulala, Namibia Wilderness Safaris

Little Kulala, Namibia Wilderness Safaris

Little Kulala, Namibia Wilderness Safaris

18. Instead of Bali, try… THAILAND

How: It’s safe to say that a fair few of us are in need of a full health reset. After a year of anxiety, stress and a never-ending tidal wave of challenges, we’ve taken a bit of a beating. So a three-week wellness break in Thailand sounds like the ideal calibration to get us back to “normal”. Kamalaya, on the south coast of Koh Samui, offers a Wellbeing Sabbatical, combining a programme of yoga, mentoring, meditation and a whole rake of therapies, including tension-relief massage, Chi Nei Tsang and signature treatments. In between all of that, you can swim in the pool, take a Pilates class and eat nourishing, wholesome food.

Details: The 21-night Wellness Sabbatical costs from €8,888pp, but shorter packages are available from €2,476 for a week; healthandfitnesstravel.com

19. Instead of the Alps, try… ISERE

How: In the eastern part of France, Isère is a lesser-known spot that’s wildly rugged, and the perfect place for an adventure. The Vercors Massif is a dreamy destination for mountain biking and cycling, with rolling hills and valleys. A gorgeous route is the ViaVercors, a 55km cycle trail that leads you through five pretty villages, with the requisite boulangeries and patisseries that make cycling in France such a pleasure (you legally can’t cycle without at least one croissant in your system). You can even sleep overlooking the peaks in a gorgeous mountain tipi-style chalet, modelled after a wooden Finnish hut, at Ferme Rony.

Details: A week in a mountain tipi costs €490 for four people; fermerony.fr. Get the ferry to Cherbourg from €1,177 for six people with Irish Ferries; irishferries.com. See more at isere-tourism.com

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Seaplane transfers are common in the Maldives. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Seaplane transfers are common in the Maldives. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Seaplane transfers are common in the Maldives. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile


20. Instead of Mauritius, try… THE MALDIVES

How: Now is a great time to scoop up some travel bargains. But a bargain is useless if it’s not secure, which makes this Tropical Sky break to the Maldives a great deal. Flights are with Emirates, which is offering free Covid cover with every flight booking. The Maldives have been playing a blinder when it comes to Covid security, too — you’ll need to get tested before departure and you may be asked to take a test upon arrival, but once you’re given the all-clear you’ll be isolated in absolute paradise. The LUX* South Ari Atoll is on Dhidhoofinolhu Island, and as picture perfect as you could ever hope for. There are loads of restaurants to choose from, cinema screenings on the beach, and even over-the-sea treatment rooms in the spa, so you can watch the fish while you get a massage. It’s included in the January sale — if you book by January 31, you can save up to €1,400pp (for travel up to January 5, 2022).

Details: Seven nights all inclusive with flights and transfers from €2,899pp; tropicalsky.ie

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Versailles Gardens, France

Versailles Gardens, France

Versailles Gardens, France


21. Instead of Paris, try… VERSAILLES

How: Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle is set to open in March 2021, and will be the only hotel located within the grounds of the Versailles Palace. As such, you’ll get exclusive access to the grounds when no other visitors will be present, for the full Marie Antoinette experience. Guests will also have unrivalled insider access to secret rooms in the Versailles Palace, like Marie Antoinette’s private office, the library behind a hidden door and Louis XVI’s private dressing room. The hotel will be housed between three historic buildings, and there are only 14 suites, a signature Alain Ducasse restaurant and a Valmont spa. Pricey? Undoubtedly. But what an unbeatable experience. Just try to resist the urge to shout “Let them eat cake!” as you tuck into your daily afternoon tea.

Details: Suites from €1,700, including breakfast, minibar and afternoon tea; airelles.com

NB: All prices subject to change/availability and Covid-related travel restrictions. Always check cancellation policies and your travel insurance terms before booking.


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