January is normally the month when we dream of escaping the dark skies and chill of winter and plan that sun-soaked holiday, city break or long-haul adventure.
But there is nothing normal about this January. With lockdown extended, a strict 5km limit on Irish journeys, and foreign travel limited to essential trips only, we're all feeling the need to get away - even if it's only in our imaginations. With that in mind, our travel experts Catherine Murphy and Andrea Smith have compiled 30 great trips to put on your bucket list.
Staycations are top of the list, and will no doubt soar in popularity this summer as the safest option for travellers, but there are also plenty of adventures further afield. We may not be able to travel now, but when our case numbers fall, the vaccine is rolled out, and restrictions lift, there will still be a whole world of places waiting for us to explore.
1. Eco camping in Co Wicklow
Set in private woodland between Laragh and Rathdrum in Co Wicklow, Ed Ledesma’s Tipi Adventures offers wilderness experiences for all ages. Stay in a Nordic tipi or sleep in the trees, suspended in a hammock or tent (hammock camping from €40pp) being swayed to sleep after a day of natural living. There’s a strong educational emphasis with family back-to-nature camps, bushcraft, firecraft and camp cooking skills. There’s no running water or electricity so prepare to go wild; tipiadventures.ie.
Other top spots for eco camping: Nire Valley Eco Camp in Waterford, Clifden Eco Beach in Connemara and Pure Camping for glamping and yoga in Clare. CM
2. Beach luxe in Waterford
The acclaimed Cliff House Hotel opened its bespoke beach house last autumn. Think contemporary Irish style, baby grand piano and architectural excellence. Set above Ardmore Bay, the beach house has six ensuite bedrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows. Walk the beach below, explore nearby Lismore or treat yourself to a masterclass in seafood cookery from Dublin’s Cliff House restaurant master chef Sean Smith. The Beach House costs from €4,000 a night. See cliffbeachhouse.ie.
Other top spots for luxury lodging: Lake Lodge at Lough Eske, Donegal, Hideaway Cottage at Ashford Castle, Mayo. CM
3. On your (mountain) bike in Dublin
Situated in Dublin 18 on the Dublin/Wicklow border, Glencullen Adventure Park (GAP) is a gravity bike park with everything from intermediate to expert and pro trails. There are no beginner trails so the mountain bikers in your family need to have some previous experience. GAP runs great courses for kids, has an uplift service (van rides back up the hill), along with six new trails and a skills area ready to explore. One regular visitor to GAP is Catriona Brady (pictured above on the trail), a commercial airline pilot who developed a passion for mountain biking and now does her own YouTube MTB tutorials.
Other options: Go old school at Knockree Hostel or stay at nearby Coolakay B&B; thegap.ie. CM
4. Giant Experiences in Northern Ireland
Many of us have visited the Giant’s Causeway without ever really engaging with the nature of this volcanic place. Now, the National Trust (UK) has introduced a series of Giant Experience Tours focusing on the geology, oceanography, flora, fauna and conservation of the area. Expect Viking folklore tales and stories of fire and ice.
Afterwards, stay at The Salthouse, a new luxury eco hotel in Ballycastle. Its eco lodges are powered by the hotel’s own wind and solar power; visitnorthernireland.com. CM
5. Rural adventure in the hidden heartlands
Forget island-hopping around the Caribbean, Cavan is said to have 365 lakes with little islands dotted around, perfect for a day’s canoeing in this Unesco World Heritage geopark region. Book in with ruraladventure.ie and paddle out to Clough Oughter castle, a mysterious castle ruin on a tiny island in Lough Oughter. You can also paddle to cabin accommodation in Killykeen Forest Park.
Since 2021 is all about getting outdoors into healthy, wide-open spaces, you could also cycle part of the 480km Kingfisher Trail which covers the border counties, including Cavan; discoverireland.ie. CM
6. Dublin Can Be Heaven...
Create your own foodie tour in Dublin City post lockdown, taking in The Wine Pair on Clanbrassil Street, a new neighbourhood wine bar serving organic and biodynamic wines on tap, and on to Rialto, fast becoming a foodie hotspot with The Circular, Daphne’s and The Bakery By The Cupcake Bloke. Then to the city centre, with Glas on Chatham Street, and Loose Cannon on Drury Street, recently voted one of Condé Nast’s favourite spots in the world for luscious toasties and good wines. Finish it all off with drinks and bed in the newly refurbished Clarence Hotel; visitdublin.com. CM
7. Captivated by Cork and Kerry
Some of us like to be guided on softer adventures around Ireland which is where operators like The Travel Department come in. Its four-day guided group holiday through Cork and Kerry includes a visit to Bantry House for art and garden lovers, Cobh to explore the Titanic story, the Ring of Kerry and a boat trip to Garnish Island, home to exotic and subtropical plants thanks to its microclimate, with seal watching along the way. Hotels are in central Cork and Killarney. There’s a visit to Killarney Brewing Company and Midleton distillery too; traveldepartment.com. CM
8. Scaling Donegal’s heights
Iain Miller’s Unique Ascent company specialises in adventures on Donegal’s spectacular mountains and coastline, including family packages. His youngest son Luke is proof that young children can conquer peaks. Our photograph shows him ascending the 750m Sturral Ridge in December 2020, aged seven, but his first ascent of the vertiginous ridge was completed when he was just five years old.
Iain offers a range of adventure activities and also offers accommodation at Lilodge next to his base in Falcarragh. The two-bed house costs €60 a night, great for families on a budget; uniqueascent.ie. CM
9. Dark skies at Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park, Mayo
Set up base at one of our favourite family hotels, Mulranny Park, then get stuck into exploring Ireland’s newest national park. Wild Nephin Ballycroy offers walks for all levels with views to Achill Island, Europe’s largest Atlantic bog and Claggan mountain boardwalk from where you can see the bog meeting the sea. The park is also Ireland’s first international Dark Sky Park, perfect for summer time star-gazing. See discoverireland.com; mulrannyparkhotel.ie. CM
10. Coastal canyoning in co Wexford
You could while away the days on lovely Curracloe beach or you could explore Wexford’s hidden bays and coastline in a far more active and adventurous way. Coastal canyoning (or coasteering) involves scrambling and traversing rocks to jump into the sea and the place to do it post lockdown is the Hook Peninsula with new eco adventure company Hook Head Adventures; hookheadadventures.ie
Base yourself at Baginbun Lodge in Fethard-on-Sea and get ready to indulge in some “adventure therapy”. Hook Head Adventures also offers sea cave kayaking trips and family kayak mini tours. CM
11. Go wild in Connemara
Michelle Casey and Henry Wilkinson from WILD will take you on trekking and camping expeditions, providing most of the necessary kit and teaching survival skills as they go. Their two-day trip could be ideal as parent and (teenage) child away time. Since you’ll be walking 10km a day and carrying up to 15kg on your back, a moderate level of fitness is necessary; wildfullstop.com. CM
12. Paddle the Ring of Kerry
Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) at night in Kerry’s “gold tier” dark sky reserve must be heaven for paddling fans. Ed Lacey and Oona Tibbetts also offer week-long paddling retreats around Kenmare Bay, exploring the Iveragh Peninsula and the dramatic landscapes of the Ring of Kerry by day and staying in luxe hotels by night. For absolute beginners, their half-day SUP-fari is the perfect introduction to this low-impact sport; wildsuptours.com. CM
13. Forest living in Fermanagh
If you are tempted by the thought of sleeping in a forest surrounded by ancient woodland, head to Finn Lough in Fermanagh. Its transparent bubble domes sleep two adults, and you can have a romantic night gazing at the stars from your four-poster bed. There’s an ensuite bathroom, coffee machine and daily breakfast is provided. Premium bubble domes come with a free-standing stone bath looking out into the forest; finnlough.com. AS
14. Be in the Knowe in NI
Enjoy bracing sea air, learn about local heritage and catch your own breakfast with the Catch and Sea experience in Portstewart, Co Antrim. You’ll fillet fish, lift lobster pots and feed seabirds on this two-and-a-half hour outing which focuses on “our place on a plate”. For accommodation, try glamping at Black Knowe in Ballycastle. A 30-minute drive from Portstewart and close to the Dark Hedges, it offers ocean views from farmland pods; further.space; discovernorthernireland.com. CM
15. Lighthouse-loving in Mayo
Hollywood actor Matt Damon yearns to become an Irish lighthouse keeper, and if the idea appeals to you too, book a stay at Clare Island Lighthouse. Open from April 2 to September 26, it stands at the entrance to Clew Bay in Mayo and has six guest rooms. Reading material, games, sustenance and a piano is provided, and you’ll enjoy magnificent sea views and an inspiring, natural environment. You can also hang out in Westport, the nearest large town; clareislandlighthouse.com. AS
16. Embrace your eco side in Clare
Gregans Castle Hotel in Ballyvaughan in the Burren is a founding member of the Burren Ecotourism Network which was recently named as “best community tourism project” in Lonely Planet’s Best In Travel 2021. The hotel, owned by Simon Haden and Frederieke McMurray, is also a member of greenhospitality.ie and Ireland’s Blue Book, among others. Foodies will enjoy this luxury gourmet retreat; think Aran Island monkfish, Burren truffle, east Clare venison and plenty of other locally sourced foods. The hotel’s philosophy is comprehensively green; it offers free electric car charging for guests and diners, bottles its own water from a private mountain spring, operates a Leave No Trace policy and uses wind-generated energy; gregans.ie. CM
Dream destination for 2021?
“I’d love to go to the island of Paros in Greece as a family this year and hire a villa again, which we’ve done for a few years. There are maybe 14 to 16 of us Keyeses, and it’s lovely because it’s all very relaxed. We’ve always gone for a place with a pool so there’s somewhere to congregate during the day. It’s good fun going to the market or local fish place and all cooking dinner together in the evening, and once or twice we’ve eaten out in local places.
“I’d also love to go on a city break to Heidelberg in Germany, because I’ve read such lovely things about it. It’s meant to be one of these very cute, twee German towns and it’s a student town so there’s a lot going on there. I feel like Germany isn’t celebrated enough for its beauty. We passed through a lot of German villages on a cruise a couple of years ago and they were like villages from fairytales. They were very Hansel-and-Gretel-looking and I believe Heidelberg is the same.”
Best holiday ever?
“Myself, Himself and our friend Eileen went to Rajasthan about 14 years ago, pictured above, and we took the Golden Temple express train from Amritsar. It was amazing being in a carriage with people who were cooking choi, and looking out the window at the bright colours of Rajasthan. You could see women in the most incredibly vivid, vibrant colours working in the fields, and I often think about it and wish I could go back.” AS
17. The Sound of Salzburg
The 100th anniversary of the Salzburg Festival was curtailed in 2020 due to Covid and as a result, the centenary celebration has been extended to 2021. Under the artistic directorship of Cecilia Bartoli, 168 opera, concert and drama performances will take place between July 17 and August 31. The festival plans to kick off with an opening event in the historic centre of Salzburg; salzburgerfestspiele.at. CM
18. Light the flamenco flame in Andalusia
Andalusia will offer free Covid insurance cover to all visitors throughout 2021 which is one good reason to plan a trip there. Another is contemporary flamenco dancer Eduardo Guerrero who hails from Cadiz. His work brings a highly modern and creative twist to traditional flamenco and as his surname suggests, he’s a flamenco warrior, often dancing for one-and-a-half hours straight. Stay at the ultra modern Parador de Cadiz and soak up this cultured city’s maritime history; eduardo-guerrero.com. CM
19. Foodie adventures in the Appenines
Castel di Sangro in Italy’s Abruzzo region is little-known to Irish visitors but should be on every gourmand’s travel list. Chef Niko Romito’s three-Michelin-star Casadonna has been voted Italy’s best restaurant for five years in a row, a massive achievement for a self-taught chef. Visitors can also enjoy affordable dishes at Niko’s ALT academy, ski or hike in nearby Roccaraso, explore tiny villages like Pescocostanzo and stay at the charming Il Lavatoio hotel; nikoromito.com. CM
20. Wedded bliss on Santorini
Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair have launched services to the Greek island of Santorini for summer 2021 and it’s screaming honeymoon at us. From orange sunset skies, clear blue waters and white houses to lava cave hotels with private plunge pools, this Aegean escape also offers up cliffside dining, black sand beaches, rocky viewpoints and tiny islets. We simply want to book a second honeymoon stay; aerlingus.com; ryanair.com. CM
21. Pod in Paphos
Why not hire a private villa and fill it with the people you love, pod style? Deluxe Villa Dionsos in Paphos, Cyprus, sleeps 10 people and has a pool, satellite TV, DVD player, barbecue, table tennis, open fireplace and dining-table. Located above Coral Bay, in a secluded, quiet position, it’s surrounded by trees and has views of the sea. It’s also close to the stunning Peyia Sea Caves; holidayhomesdirect.ie/15287. AS
22. Get cosy in St Moritz
Old ski gondolas don’t die; they get placed on 3,000m Swiss peaks so that holidaymakers can enjoy them. Situated next to the Piz Nair railway summit station above St Moritz, the Tiny House Gondel is one of many hotel rooms dotted throughout Switzerland as part of the Million Stars Hotel programme which allows guests to experience nature in exclusive locations meant for two. From your tiny mountain bolthole, go hiking in summer and skiing or snowshoeing in winter; tinyhousegondel.com; myswitzerland.com. CM
23. Tree-mendous Swedish Lapland
Anyone remember Dermot Bannon’s ecstatic reaction to the Treehotel in Swedish Lapland? You’ll be similarly enthused by its seven themed treehouses, which include a giant bird’s nest, a mirrored cube and a UFO. Supermodel Kate Moss stayed in the dragonfly treehouse, overlooking the pine forest. There’s an outdoor sauna and the surrounding area is the perfect place to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights; treehotel.se. AS
24. Get educated in Edinburgh
Head to Edinburgh to check out the Lonely Planet award-winning Invisible Cities tours, which are given by people who have experienced homelessness and know the streets intimately. Paul will give you a walking tour of the vibrant cultural worlds of Leith and Shore. Angus’s tour takes you on a journey through the centuries down the Royal Mile. If you like themes of crime and punishment, Sonny’s tour is filled with tales of Edinburgh’s murders, gangsters and prisoners; invisible-cities.org. AS
25. On the road in the Balkans
Motorbike sales jumped in Ireland during lockdown, now it’s time to get those bikes on the road. Irish company Overlanders specialises in guided worldwide bike tours and transporting bikes for self-guided trips. One of its most adventurous 2021 tours is to Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia in the Balkans. It also looks like being its most popular with stunning locations and experiences on offer; overlanders.ie. CM
Dream destination for 2021?
"Send some green light my way and I'll be off to the Algarve again like a shot. Almost guaranteed sunshine every day, a very friendly place and only two hours or so in a plane. We've been going there every year since 1990 - except 2020 - and I want to see Hugo Simäo, our friendly taxi driver who has literally become a family friend, or Adelino and Paulo at Almancil's best restaurant, Alambique, for some wafer-thin carpaccio. Or sunset cocktails at Izzy's on Garrao Beach, to be continued at my favourite outdoor bar, the Irish-owned The Cheeky Pup. Take me!"
Your best holiday ever?
"We had a brilliant holiday in Sorrento at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria. The terrace area is like something out of a movie, overlooking the Bay of Naples, and many an afternoon was spent with a bowl of fresh olives and something to wash them down. We went to Pompeii, which was fascinating, and to the breathtaking island of Capri. Stunning.
"The city we rediscovered just last year was London. What a great place. Restaurants, shopping, pretending to not really want to do the museums but loving them all the same, and a buzz on every corner of every street. We stayed in a brilliant hotel on Leicester Square, which was near everything, and my wife Ger and I also had a romantic dinner in Langan's Brasserie in Mayfair - the scene of our engagement in the '80s. Yes, the spark was still there…" AS
26. Bask in the British Virgin Islands
Boost the safety of any international travel by visiting islands with low Covid rates and strong policies in place. You’ll be reassured by the British Virgin Islands, which has comprehensive entry protocols, including Covid testing and four days of quarantine. Those who enjoy sailing will be in their element in the Caribbean archipelago. It also has a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, a diverse culinary landscape and some of the world’s best snorkelling and diving; bvitourism.com. AS
27. Be free in Belize
Belize is a Caribbean trip that’s really suited to families as it’s affordable and safe, as well as being small and easy to navigate. The kids will love exploring caves, climbing ruins and watching for birds and wildlife, especially growler monkeys and sea turtles. Adventurers will adore cave-tubing at Nohoch Che’en Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve, and they’ll be dying to zipline across the jungle canopy at Mayflower Bocawina National Park; travelbelize.org. AS
28. ’Gone swimming’ in exotic Oman
Push your wild swimming boundaries with daily six kilometre swims in the warm waters of Oman’s fjords. Take time to enjoy the exotic Musandam peninsula with views from the isthmus which separates the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman. Swim with dolphins, if you’re lucky, during guided tours with a full safety escort. A good level of fitness and open water swimming experience are necessary for this trip; swimtrek.com. CM
29. Nestle under Niue’s stars
Couples who want to smooch under the stars should travel to the Pacific island of Niue, the world’s first whole country to become a dark sky nation. One of the largest raised coral atolls on earth, Niue’s dark interior provides spectacular views of the night sky. Viewing sites that are currently used for whale-watching and accessing the sea are already established on the island; niueisland.com. AS
30. Making tracks to Colorado
Train company Rocky Mountaineer’s commitment to sustainability focuses on protecting the areas through which it travels. It’s launching a Rockies to the Red Rocks route this summer, which will take travellers on a luxury two-day rail journey between Denver, Colorado, and Moab, Utah, with an overnight stay in Glenwood Springs. You’ll enjoy onboard storytelling and regional cuisine in the train’s glass-dome coaches, and be dazzled by dramatic vistas in this extraordinary landscape; rockymountaineer.com. AS