50 of the best holiday hotspots for 2018: Kick start your year in travel!
From hiking in Iceland to pristine beaches in the Maldives, Emily Hourican and Andrea Smith pick 50 fab destinations for the year ahead...
Krakow’s medieval roofs and jagged steeples carve out a distinctive skyline, one full of charm and enchantment. Below, the broad Vistula river provides backdrop and context to Poland’s second largest city and former capital. In recent years, Krakow, happily, has moved away from the stag-weekend tourism that rather defined it for a time, and is noticeably moving to attract smarter independent travellers. The well-thumbed tourist track — the spectacular 13th Century Wawel Castle; Rynek Glown, Europe’s largest market square; the Unesco-listed Wieliczka Salt Mines — is certainly worth pursuing, but don’t neglect the delight of simply wandering through cobbled streets and under ancient archways. For good and reasonable packages, try clickandgo.com, otherwise, make up your own itinerary, perhaps starting with a stay at the five-star Hotel Stary (stary.hotel.com.pl) which has original vaulted ceilings — this was once a 14th Century tenement — and a spa with two fabulous swimming pools.
St Petersburg has been described as ‘Venice frozen in time’, and even though time, now, in Russia’s second city is marching on rather fast, it is still possible to soak up the feeling of history halted at an exquisite moment. Built by Peter The Great in 1703 as his ‘window on the world’, St Petersburg is that rare thing, a perfectly conceived and executed city. Travelescapes will take you on a conducted tour, linking by high-speed train to Moscow (itaa.ie/2017/11/30/russian-capitals), or go solo and discover the remarkable breadth of history here, from the Aurora warship that signalled the start of the Bolshevik Revolution, to the many reminders of the epic World War II Nazi siege. A visit to the Hermitage is a chance to see comparatively unknown wonders by Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso and Rembrandt, while the fantastically named Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and imposing facade of St Isaac’s Cathedral are definites. Russian cuisine is more hearty than elegant, but staples — including shchi (cabbage soup) and beef stroganoff — are more delicious than you might expect, especially if you go in winter. Try the luxurious Literary cafe (litcafe.su), where Pushkin last ate before heading off to the duel that would cost him his life in 1837, or Cafe Idiot (idiot-spb.com), named for Dostoevsky’s novel, where food is vegetarian and good.
If any American city can really be said to be undiscovered — or at least under-appreciated — it’s probably Philadelphia. Although now that Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) is starting a new service direct from Dublin from March 31, that can only change. America’s most historic city is steeped in the story of the founding of a nation, with Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and Congress Hall all within a square mile of each other. Stroll through the oldest continuously inhabited (and possibly most charming) street in America, Elfreth’s Alley, stop for a quick salute to Benjamin Franklin whose grave is at the Christ Church Burial Ground, then make for the excellent Philadelphia Museum of Art (philamuseum.org) where, from April, an exhibition of American Art 1910–1950 is well worth a visit; the only Rodin Museum outside France (rodinmuseum.org), and, if you wish, take in Grace Kelly’s childhood home on Henry Avenue. No tax on clothes here means shopping is practically a duty, while food runs the gamut from celeb restaurateur Stephen Starr’s empire, which includes an English pub, The Dandelion, alongside the modern Latin American Alma De Cuba (starr-restaurant.com), to the inevitable Philly cheesesteak — a long sandwich made from thinly sliced pieces of beef and melted cheese.
New York & Las Vegas
If you want to burn the candle at all ends, check out American Holidays New York-Las Vegas double-whammy of bright lights and big excitement (americanholidays.com). Start in the city that never sleeps then head for the one that probably doesn’t know what sleep is (or the other way round — whichever you prefer). From the cultural and competitive magnificence that is New York to the unashamed brash hedonism of Vegas, this is one way to take in the broad sweep of America, and leave yourself exhausted enough to stay home for quite some time.
With a population of just 130,000 (comparable with Limerick) and currently high on the list of top European destinations, Reykjavik is clearly punching well above its weight. It’s the combination of astonishing natural landscape — the sight of Mount Esja looming large over the city is both immensely picturesque and a call to go hiking and walking, while the country’s many geothermal lagoons offer the chance for some open-air, snow-covered soaking — and vibrant city life. Iceland’s image as a party town is helped along by its distinctly muso reputation, founded on stars such as Bjork, Sigur Ros and Of Monsters and Men, as well as the Sonar festival held each year. Even its Music Hall, The Harpa (en.harpa.is), on the waterfront manages to be cool and not cringy, with greatest hits catered for along with symphonic classics. Check out the vertiginous facade of Hallgrimskirkja church (hallgrimskirkja.is), have a drink at the Kaffebarinn (kaffibarinn.is) where Damon Albarn used to hang out back in the day, then grab a hot dog from Bæjarins near the harbour, which claims to do the best hot dogs in the world. For the best recommendations, including walking tours, check out iheartreykjavik.net.
There may be a distinct feeling of farewell around London these days as, with regret, it plans its departure from the EU, but all the more reason to go now and eat widely before all changes. Dining in London still rocks, showing influences from a dizzying array of trends and countries across the world. Start with local boy Robin Gill’s Dairy at Clapham (the-dairy.co.uk) for some highly sustainable, totally delicious dishes, make time for The Clove Club’s nine-course, no-choice tasting menu where chef Isaac McHale showcases his obsessively sourced ingredients, including hand-dived Orkney scallops and 21-day dry-aged-on-site Barbary duck. Do brunch at Caravan (caravanrestaurants.co.uk), behind King’s Cross — jalapeno cornbread with chipotle butter — and a boozy lunch at Fergus Henderson’s St. John’s (stjohnrestaurant.com). Karam Sethi’s Gymkhana will deliver you the best Indian in the city, and if after all that, you want the relative simplicity of a cocktail, make for The Blind Pig at The Social Eating House, Soho (socialeatinghouse.com) and order a coconut Gimlet. Dukes Hotel St James’s Place is a great place to base yourself. This is a find. Just a few minutes from Green Park tube and about a 5-10 min walk to Picadilly Circus. It’s luxurious yet has a warm, friendly atmosphere. Dukeshotel.com
Greek food is having something of a renaissance right now, partly thanks to a general trend towards exactly the kind of fresh, simple, natural ingredients that are the backbone of this cuisine — excellent olive oil, fish, cheeses, vegetables — and partly thanks to the fact that the best of Greek food is of the homemade, unfussy variety, now increasingly easy to find in local tavernas. One of the many joys of eating your way across Greece is discovering the subtle, and significant, ways in which food differs between the various regions. Cretan cuisine as compared with Macedonian, or that of the Aegean islands, for example. Here, it’s about the classics; youvetsi (beef stew with orzo), fassolatha (white bean soup), Spanakopita (spinach pie), done really, really well. As for Greek wines, red and white, more and more, they are being deservedly recognised; along with a rapidly-growing cocktail culture. For direct flights from Dublin to Corfu, Zakynthos, Crete, Rhodes and Kos as well as Athens, check out travelbroker.ie.
Italy’s style capital is increasingly encroaching on the foodie reputation of the rest of the country, and establishing itself as a place for gastronomes as well as fashion folk. Whether it’s the high-end dining of Michelin-starred restaurants — there are a whopping 58 in and around the city, including the gorgeous two-star Mudec in the Museo delle Culture, part of the Enrico Bartolini empire (enricobartolini.net) — the more homely range of trattorias or the growing authentic street food scene, Milan is making waves. Try sciatt (buckwheat fritters filled with casera cheese and served in a paper cone), farinata (traditional chickpea pancakes) focaccia di Recco (cheese-stuffed focaccia) and taroz (mashed potatoes and beans with cheese and butter) along with the more usual pizza, and washed down with one of the ever-growing number of Italian craft beers. You can book dedicated foodie weekends — check out Travalue.ie — or simply go, wander, and eat.
Whether it’s a traditional ryokan guesthouse (Airbnb’s latest booking craze) for melt-in-the-mouth hida beef washed down with home-brewed sake, or a Zen monastery temple guesthouse for vegetarian shojin ryori (‘Buddhist meat’) and locally foraged wild plants, Japan is firing on all foodie cylinders right now. Head for Tokyo and the Tsukiji Fish Market (tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm), where you can watch tuna being auctioned for sometimes crazy prices and try the freshest sushi in the world, then duck into a side street in the Ebisu district for Afuri (afuri.com), the city’s best ramen bar. In between the neon and flashing lights of Shinjuku, aim for the elegant Tsunahachi (tunahachi.co.jp), where they have been making tempura for over 90 years.
If you want to eat well but prefer the hands-off approach — ie, get someone else to do the leg-work, but trust that they will do it right – try an Insight Vacation tour. Whether it’s the wonders of Egypt, Italy, the USA or elsewhere, dining is always at the heart of what happens. There are plenty of dedicated food trips to choose from, including opportunities to dine with a local host/chef, but even those that don’t make food the frontline, go to lengths to ensure that what you eat is authentic and original. insightvacations.com
Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
You may not fancy the flight-time with tiny babies, but with toddlers and older children, the four-star Dreams Puerto Aventuras (classicresorts.ie or check itaa.ie/offers) in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico will be the answer to many prayers. Sixty minutes from Cancun Airport and set on a private beach, this has three swimming pools — including a natural saltwater pool and a separate adults-only pool — heated jacuzzi, indoor theatre, fitness centre, seven dining options, ranging from fancy to casual, five bars, an Explorer’s Club for little ones and teen activities programmes. Outside the complex, the Yucatan Peninsula has an abundance of tropical beaches, ancient Mayan ruins and glorious wildlife. Don’t miss the Unesco world heritage site of Chichen Itza or the magnificent Las Coloradas pink lakes, where the water is indeed a candy-coloured pink.
If your children are past the stage where the all-inclusive, multi-pool compound is the wisest and most stress-free option, and instead are now of an age to be adventurous and energetic, and if you are over the whole beach-is-best thing, try Austria (tuiholidays.ie), where Alpine pastures and snow-capped peaks alternate with glorious lakes and the odd glacier. Lake Achensee, Tyrol’s largest lake and possibly one of Austria’s most striking, will provide opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, water skiing, wakeboarding or simply boating. Taking a lift high up into the hills will offer amazing views (let them Instagram it if they must). Alternatively, stay in Mayrhofen or Kaprun if walking through dramatic Alpine scenery with occasional glimpses of glaciers is more your thing.
Perhaps more than anywhere else, France offers versatility. Partly this is to do with proximity — in particular, the delight of being able to take the car — and partly it’s the easy accessibility of the many different versions of the country. Whether it’s the cultural and commercial excess of Paris, explorations of beautiful old chateaux and historic towns, the relaxed joy of family camping holidays, or gastronomic tours taking in wonderful restaurants and vineyards, there is a France to suit every occasion. Brittany Ferries, sailing from Cork to Roscoff, pretty much takes the pain out of travelling, while adding glamour, in a way that flying, these days, most definitely does not. Save 15pc on sailings and accommodation if you book by February 6, 2018. brittanyferries.ie
This is one for the classicists among you, and anyone — everyone? — whose kids love a bit of dressing up, swaggering and general sword play. Taking in the many splendours of Rome, along with Florence and Venice, this 10-day guided tour of Italian cities created by Trafalgar will allow you to fully capture the life of the past, as well as admiring those bits of it that remain in the present. You will experience life as a Roman gladiator and learn the basics of sword-fighting, along with pizza-making (and eating…), and the chance to create your own Venetian Carnival mask. If you have ever heard the words “I’m bored…” while trying to enthuse your children about the past, this is how to present it. sunway.ie
If all you really want to do is kick back, relax and do only what you want, when you want, check out Solo Sicily (solosicily.com), a specialist villa operator with a range of gorgeous properties on the island for groups of various sizes. They will also arrange local chefs to do the cooking, should that be your idea of a holiday. The villas cover everything from very cute romantic retreats to beachfront beauties and magnificent aristocratic country estates. Le Dimore Dell’Etna, for example, can sleep up to 17, has a fenced-off pool (peace of mind!), tennis court, gym, sauna and children’s play area, while Mariuccia, for 10 people, has a child-friendly pool, games room and plenty of garden room. Various local tours and experiences, including cookery courses, street food tours, vineyard visits and adventure parks can also be booked through Solo Sicily.
The US is probably more associated with high-energy city trips than it is with romance, but think a little beyond the urban and there is so much on offer that manages to feel charmingly relaxed and off the beaten track. Try New England, that northeastern region made up of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. A rich collection of spectacular mountain terrain and pretty coastal towns, this offers food (lobster and clam bakes), culture (take a walking tour of Boston’s Freedom Trail), history (Salem, famous for its 17th Century witch trials, is still pretty creepy) and the opportunity to actually visit some of the places that exist in all of our imaginations: Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, Ogunquit. Go in autumn — topflight.ie does an excellent 10-day guided tour — for glorious colours and autumnal smells, and a distinctly Ali MacGraw-and-Ryan-O’Neal-in-Love Story feel.
In the heart of northern Italy, Lake Garda is picture-perfect for a short-hop romantic getaway. The lake itself, ringed with dramatic mountains, is a blue wonder, while around and about it is the evidence of a rich and turbulent history, picked out in ancient castles and medieval harbours. There is plenty of la Dolce Vita to be found strolling through charming cobbled streets or drifting pleasantly on the lake itself. Walk the hills of Malcesine, wander the promenade of Limone or take a day trip to Verona and visit that shrine of lovers, Juliet’s house (totally fake, of course, but no less delightful for that). Climb the towers of Malcesine, Torri del Benaco and Sirmione for beautiful views across the lake, then back down for long lunches and fine dinners. Food and wine here are both unique tributes to the local specialities, including citrus fruit, particularly lemons, a very delicate olive oil, and the wines of Bardolino and Lugana. If you want someone to do the spade-work for you, leaving you free to gaze and wonder, try tuiholidays.ie.
This is romance of the picture-postcard variety. Made up of over 1,000 idyllic islands, the Maldives is home to stunning lagoons, beautiful white sand beaches and truly dazzling underwater coral gardens. If diving is your thing — or if you think it could be — this is pure heaven. The Maldives is home to three-quarters of the world’s reef fish, so the chances of a major sighting are significant. Lose yourself in a spectacular underwater world, then emerge for air, a plate of exotic fruit — mangoes, pineapples, papayas and coconuts grow in abundance — and perhaps a cocktail before dinner (locals prefer tea, but you are on holidays…). Fish and seafood are both excellent here, treated with delicacy and imagination in local dishes including spicy fish curries and soups. There are spas, luxury hotels and seamless service galore — try hayesandjarvis.ie for great suggestions — but really, nothing tops what nature has produced here: the extraordinary lucidity of the air and riot of colour.
Forget Ayia Napa, which is easily avoided, and instead focus on the wonderful rest of this Mediterranean island. Mythology has it that Aphrodite, Ancient Greece’s goddess of love was born in Cyprus, emerging from the sea at Paphos, a lively west-coast city that was one of the European Capitals of Culture last year. Frankly, that should be enough for any happy couple, but if you need a little more encouragement, the beaches — Aphrodite beach included — are gloriously sandy with crystal clear water, while inland is the impressive Troodos mountain range. Limassol, southern Cyprus’s main port, is a bustling, multicultural centre, with an elegant old quarter with a dinky food market, surrounded by tavernas and bars, and an equally dinky medieval castle, with a surprisingly well-equipped museum. Larnaca is sleepier and more relaxed, with a palm-tree-fringed salt lake close by. Food shows influences from Middle-Eastern, Italian and South Asian cooking, all bumping up a local cuisine that is really starting to find its feet. Pyxida Nicosia (pyxidafishtavern.com), in a converted 1930s house in central Nicosia, close to the Cyprus Museum, is the place to go for fish — its excellent reputation means it is always crowded, so book in advance, while Seven St Georges (cyprus.com/seven-st-georges-tavern.html) is the place for meze, and traditional Greek music.
If you are prepared to go far and prefer your romance of the rugged, natural variety, head for New Zealand’s South Island. The landscape is so extraordinarily lush and unspoiled, with night skies filled with thousands of the brightest stars, wild beaches, mountain climbs and hot springs, that you cannot but sink into the wonder around you. As well as outdoor activities — go horse-riding, take a balloon ride — there is plenty of town-based fun too. Drink Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough, try the best venison you’ll eat in Kaikoura, visit the glorious Botanic gardens in Christchurch (ccc.govt.nz/parks-and-gardens/christchurch-botanic-gardens), or trek out to Annandale (annandale.com), a 4,000-acre working farm, an hour or so from Christchurch. You can stay as well as visit, in one of four elegant retreats; Seascape, with its cowhide rugs and cashmere throws, has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a private bay.
Ireland: Home Holidays
For a food-focused Irish holiday right now, Galway is the place to go. Two Michelin stars in a city this size is pretty impressive, and more than backed up with a full range of really excellent local restaurants. JP McMahon’s Aniar (aniarrestaurant.ie) made the prestigious international La Liste 2017, a compendium of 1,000 outstanding restaurants from around Europe, and JP is well connected to a network of the best chefs around the world, some of whom come to do residencies at Aniar, including Portuguese chef Alexandre Silva from Lisbon restaurant Loco. Then there is Loam (loamgalway.com), also with a star, where Enda McEvoy creates modern ambitious cooking that is thoroughly rooted in tradition, seasonally driven and highly sustainable. Elsewhere, David and Jessica Murphy’s Kai (kaicaferestaurant.com) is a delight, providing food that is simple but excellent, while Dela Restaurant (dela.ie) is another — brunch here is increasingly an institution. If you want a curated experience, Galway Food Tours (galwayfoodtours.com) has various fascinating foodie options, taking in both restaurants and suppliers.
It was a great year for The National Gallery (nationalgallery.ie), which properly re-opened after a six-year refurbishment — the newly renovated Shaw Room with its four huge windows is a must-see — attracting one million visitors, and staging a remarkable Vermeer exhibition. And 2018 is looking just as promising. Between Paris and Pont Aven: Roderic O’Conor & the Moderns, from July 18 to October 28, is the first museum show in over 30 years to focus on the painted and graphic work of wonderful Irish artist Roderic O’Conor. Then there’s the EPIC Museum of Emigration (epicchq.com), the world’s first fully digital museum, dedicated to Ireland’s experience of emigration, which opened in May 2016, and has been nominated, along with the National Gallery, for the annual European Museum of the Year Award (EMYA). The very exciting new Ulysses Centre won’t open until 2019, but expect there to be fine cultural fallout from this ambitious new project. No wonder Dublin now ranks at No 10 of must-see cities in National Geographic’s Traveler magazine. discoverireland.ie
Last year was the best yet for tourism, greatly helped along by the many inventive ways in which the country is showcasing its many cultural, sporting and natural wonders. One such is the Waterford Greenway, used by a quarter of a million people since it opened last year. This is a beautiful 46km off-road trail that runs along an old railway line between Waterford and Dungarvan, and is perfect for cycling, walking or running, for people of all ages and abilities. Along the way, you can pause to admire the gardens at Mount Congreve, the Durrow and Kilmacthomas viaducts, the brick-lined Ballyvoyle Tunnel, and many stretches of gorgeous coastal scenery. See deisegreenway.com and irelandsancienteast.com.
There is no ignoring or denying the Stars Wars effect — trips to the Skelligs are more popular with every passing month, and that’s even before The Last Jedi effect really kicks in — and much as the cultural purists among us may wish it weren’t so, it is time to embrace the reality. If you want to visit this most spectacular and enchanted of spots, go now. Expect a couple of Star Wars fanatics searching out Luke Skywalker among the beehive huts, but equally, accept that not even this can detract from an experience that is as close to other-worldy as you will get. Some 12km southwest of Valentia Island, up a 1,000-year-old stairway to the monastic settlement at the top, surrounded by screaming gannets and gulls, this is a trip like no other. wildatlanticway.com
Cliffs of Moher
For the fourth year in a row, Ireland has been named as Best Destination: Europe at the annual Travel Weekly Readers Choice Awards — go us! — and the clinchers, apparently, are Skellig Michael, the Guinness Storehouse and the Cliffs of Moher. And so, if you have not yet been, now is the moment to stand on the edge of the world and stare out across the wild Atlantic ocean, breathing deep what must be Europe’s cleanest air. Go as early as you can, before the crowds descend, then detour across the Burren to Aidan McGrath and Kate Sweeney’s Wild Honey Inn (wildhoneyinn.com), recently awarded a well-deserved Michelin star. cliffsofmoher.ie
There’s a huge buzz about the April launch of the world’s largest cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas, which has seven unique neighbourhoods, 20 dining options and room for 6,780 guests. Now that Aer Lingus is flying to Miami all year round, why not embark from there on a seven-day Western Caribbean cruise aboard the new Royal Caribbean ship? It calls to Roatun, Honduras, where you can dive in the second-largest coral reef in the world, and on to Puerto Costa Maya in Mexico, which has fascinating Mayan ruins to explore. You can drive your own mini submarine in Cozumel, Mexico, and see baby sea turtles being hatched in Nassau, Bahamas. Back on board, you can tackle Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea with a 10-storey plunge, and unwind in the Bionic Bar, where drinks are served by robot bartenders. AmericanHolidays.com
Thomson Cruises became Marella Cruises in 2017, and its newest and largest ship, Marella Explorer, will launch from May 2018. Irish customers can fly to Palma, Majorca, to join the seven-night cruise, which calls to Corsica, France and Spain. You can visit Rome, a city packed with historical wonder, artistic splendour and culinary temptation, while docking in St Raphael gives you easy access to A-list favourite Saint-Tropez. This upmarket slice of the French Riviera is a hotspot for the world’s elite, packed with expensive boutiques, smart restaurants and luxury yachts. The Marella Explorer has 10 restaurants and 10 bars, and you can experience ultimate relaxation in the onboard spa, a partnership with the renowned Champneys — its first spa at sea. Tuiholidays.ie
Travellers seeking to encounter diverse cultures will relish their time on Uniworld’s 19-day Portraits of Eastern Europe river cruise, which sails from Prague to Bucharest. Guests will spend 14 nights on the stunning S.S. Beatrice, plus two nights at a hotel in Prague and two in Bucharest. There’ll be so much to take in along the way as stop-off points include Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Romania, and Serbia. You’ll sail past quaint villages and great cities on the Danube, visiting baroque abbeys and medieval cathedrals, tasting fine wines and encountering new cultures. Formerly the River Beatrice, the S.S. Beatrice will launch in spring 2018 after an extensive bow-to-stern renovation, and its fresh, sleek look includes a graceful bow, redesigned lounge and an elegant grand staircase. Uniworld.com
If you fancy cruising further afield, why not take a 10-day Southeast Asia cruise that includes a two-night stay at the five-star Copthorne Waterfront Hotel. You’ll fly there from Dublin, and spend 10 nights aboard the luxury Sapphire Princess from Princess Cruises. The ship has a casino and an open-air poolside amphitheatre for watching feature films, concerts and live football games. The first stop is the Indonesian island of Bali with its warm, welcoming people, and then on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s energetic capital of contrasts. When you disembark in Penang, you can lose yourself in the energetic and colourful streets that showcase an amazing street art scene, modern cafes and fun-filled bars. When the ship stops in Phuket, you can check out Khoa Sok National Park, which provides an unforgettable jungle experience, complete with the majestic spectacle of elephants, if you’re lucky. Topflight.ie
Norwegian Bliss, the newest luxury liner from Norwegian Cruise Lines, has an actual racetrack on board, but don’t worry, the noise won’t drive you mad if you’re lounging by the pool as the electric cars run silently. Sunway has a seven-day Alaska highlights cruise departing in September, which will set sail from Seattle. You’ll fly there on the new direct Aer Lingus flight from Dublin and spend two nights there pre-cruise. On your days on land, you can take the reins of a dogsled in Juneau, go for a catamaran ride in Ketchikan, and enjoy a ride on the White Pass and Yukon route narrow-gauge railroad in Skagway. Back on board, get ready for amazing views from a stunning 180-degree indoor observation lounge of dolphins playing and massive ice chunks calving into the sea. You can also chill out in the ship’s own aqua park and six infinity hot tubs. Sunway.ie
New Destinations for 2018
Kaohsiung is a port city in south-west Taiwan that is fast emerging as a hot new destination. KLM flies to Taipei from Dublin, and then it’s a local flight or train to Kaohsiung. Its focal point is the Love River, which has walking paths and cafes along its banks, and the Lotus Pond, lined with colourful temples. Foodies will love the Liuhe night market, as it’s bustling with vendors serving tasty treats. Kaohsiung is home to many skyscrapers, and those with a head for heights will love the new 88m ‘Eye of the Mountain’ skywalk in Xiaogang Shan Recreation Area, from which the Taiwan Strait can be viewed. Culture is alive and kicking in Kaohsiung, where a massive arts centre and 100,000sqm cultural and music complex adorn the balmy harbourfront. KLM.com
If you’re hoping to discover a different side of Europe in 2018, why not consider Slovenia? Situated between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, it’s a country of astounding natural beauty and cultural wealth. Interest in the country has been piqued of late thanks to its most famous export, US First Lady Melania Trump. She is credited with boosting visitor numbers to her hometown of Sevnica, despite rarely returning since she left in her late teens. If you visit, you can enjoy a cake, honey and even a trout dish all named after the former model, and there’s a “Melania” tour that will guide visitors around. The Travel Department is offering a five-night break in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, which includes visiting the incredible Postojna Caves and picturesque towns of Piran and Koper. You’ll head into the Slovenian Alps to the country’s largest lake, Lake Bohinj, as well as seeing the famous Lake Bled. TravelDepartment.ie
We tend to think of Peruvian Inca ruins in terms of Machu Picchu, but the spotlight is beginning to fall on the fascinating and larger site of Choquequirao, which sits 3000m above sea level. While now abandoned, Choquequirao was a thriving settlement during the 15th and 16th centuries, filled with mansions and ceremonial areas dedicated to the Incan sun god. The Peruvian government plans to turn it into a major tourist attraction, and has already approved controversial plans to put in the country’s first tramway to bring visitors to the Incan site, as well as a cable car. At present, it is reached by a two-day hike from outside Cusco and has only about a dozen visitors daily. If you’re up for the challenge and are unfazed by difficult terrain, it’s one to put on the list before the crowds descend. Choquequiraotrek.com
Many people will have passed through Guayaquil en route to the Galapagos islands, but enhancements to the tropical port city are enticing travellers to stick around a bit longer. Founded in the 1530s, Ecuador’s largest city and main port has been boosted by a new international airport, and urban renewal projects along the River Guayas promenade and in the historic neighbourhood of Las Penas with its colourful houses. See the city from above from the La Perla ferris wheel, which is located in Malecon 2000, the city’s revitalised riverfront promenade, which plays host to galleries, playgrounds, gardens and two museums. It’s next to Santa Ana Hill, and you can climb 465 steps to the top to be rewarded with sweeping views over the city. Stay at the new Hotel del Parque, a restored 19th Century colonial complex on the seven-acre Parque Historico Guayaquil, where you can explore a wildlife sanctuary and a former cacao plantation. Hoteldelparque.com; Guayaquilesmidestino.com
Armenia is a rich and resilient landlocked country, which boasts an ancient history longer than that of most other European countries, and we won’t hold its input into the Kardashians’ DNA against it. Few nations have histories as complex and as laced with tragedy as Armenia, which has fallen within the orbit of a number of cultural influences and empires. Considered the home of Christianity, it’s a popular destination for culture and history, and visitors tend to be charmed by the beautiful landscape and friendly locals. Travel Escapes is offering an eight-day tour called Armenia: The Cradle of Christianity, which takes in temples dating back to the 1st Century and the site where, according to the Bible, Noah’s ark landed. Departing in May, you’ll be based in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, where you can visit the Matenadaran Museum, Garni Temple and Geghard Cave, Khor Virap, Sanahin and Noravank monasteries. You’ll also go brandy-tasting, which is another thing Armenia is famous for producing. TravelEscapes.ie
Dubai has been described as a glamorous playground, and you can expect a riot of colours, experiences and scents to assail your senses while there. It unapologetically embraces the high-end with its designer stores and amazing accommodation options, like the Burj Al Arab, the most luxurious hotel in the world, or the newly-opened Bulgari Resort. Shopping malls have jaw-dropping entertainment experiences in them, from massive aquariums to indoor ski resorts, and the spectacular Dubai Fountain performances occur daily on the 30-acre Burj Khalifa Lake. You can take helicopter and hot air balloon rides over the city, but the skies might become more crowded now that autonomous flying taxis in Dubai have completed their first test flight. Check out the gold and spice souks, and although the city has been known to offer everything from caviar pizza to gold-topped burgers, rest assured that you can also enjoy authentic Emirati cultural meals. Emirates.com
Portugal recently won World’s Leading Destination at the World Travel Awards, the first time that a European country has been awarded this distinction. Singer Madonna clearly realised it was in vogue as she moved to the Portuguese capital Lisbon earlier in the year when her son, David Banda, joined the Benfica football team youth academy. Portugal is an innovative, reinvented country that combines cosmopolitanism, history, tradition, sun, nature and gastronomy. Why not learn to kitesurf in Lisbon? The city also offers electric bike tours to make it easy to get around, or on the Algarve you could embark on a full-day jeep safari or take a caves and dolphin-watching cruise from Albufeira. Or maybe take a trip to Paiva Walkways and Alvarenga village from Porto, where you can escape the city and connect with nature in Arouca Geopark. From there, you can follow a wooden walkway on a 8km trail alongside the River Paiva. VisitPortugal.com
Canada will be big in 2018, buoyed by an increased number of air connections from Ireland. Many will be tempted by a rail adventure to the Canadian Rockies aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, taking in the stunning mountain towns of Banff and Lake Louise, with a trip to the Columbia Icefields and a helicopter tour through the soaring peaks of the Rockies. Silver and Gold Leaf service on board this unique train ensures a rail experience like no other in the world. Then there’s Niagara Falls in Ontario, of course, the dramatic effect of which will never leave you. If you’re lucky and the weather permits, you can take a helicopter ride over them. Cassidy Travel’s new Canada brochure contains seven-night packages with the option of seamlessly adding on an Alaskan cruise to your adventure, complete with orca whale-spotting, sledding with huskies and stunning glacial scenery. CassidyTravel.ie
There is so much to do in Germany’s oldest and most famous university town that you’ll have trouble packing it all in. Considered to be one of the country’s most enchanting cities, your first stop should be the evocative half-ruined Heidelberg Castle on the hilltop, which draws 11.8m visitors annually. History buffs will want to check out Heidelberg’s Thingstatte, one of the amphitheatres Joseph Goebbels had built in 1934 as part of his mission to indoctrinate the entire German population during the Nazi regime. And from Heidelberg, you can take a train on a day trip to Nuremberg, where the trials took place of 22 major Nazi criminals. On a lighter note, the quirky and fun sweet shop, Heidelberger Zuckerladen, has become a cult place to visit. It has all the delicious treats you can possibly imagine, and you might even win a treat at the till if owner Herr Brecht’s dice rolls your way. Heidelberg.de
You’ll never get bored in the Cote d’Azur, or French Riviera, which has 115km of coastline and beaches, 18 golf courses, 14 ski resorts and 3,000 restaurants. A word of warning though, you may develop serious yachting envy along the way. Take a Grenham Travel four-night package or else a flight to Nice and base yourself there, as you can easily take day trips to Cannes, Antibes/Juan-les-Pins, Saint-Tropez and Monaco. At 2km long, the latter is tiny, but perfectly formed. Take the bus tour and disembark at the Prince’s Palace, which offers stunning views of the principality below. The Cote d’Azur has long attracted artists, and the Renoir museum in Cagnes-sur-Mer is a little gem. Set in Renoir’s family home, this museum offers a very personal view into the late artist and his life, and some of the more poignant items on display include his wooden wheelchair and easel. GrenhamTravel.ie
There’s a great buzz about Sacramento these days thanks to the film Lady Bird, starring our own Saoirse Ronan, being filmed there. Writer Greta Gerwig described the movie as a love letter to her hometown, which is California’s capital and one of its most historic cities. While there, you can check out the golden Tower Bridge, Sacramento’s most recognisable landmark, or hang out in McKinley Rose Garden, where more than 1,200 rose bushes line the path, both of which feature in the film. Admire the large-scale murals and colourful paintings throughout Sacramento, and visit Sutter’s Fort, which holds public tours and events that harken back to the days of the Gold Rush era. Visitors love the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery, an outdoor museum recording California history and filled with beautiful statues, dramatic markers and lush gardens. VisitCalifornia.com
If you’re looking for something different, the ethnically diverse Laos presents a complete contrast to Western culture, offering Asian traditions and culture with complete authenticity. You can see hundreds of saffron-robed Buddhist monks silently walking down cobbled roads in the peaceful Luang Prabang every morning in a call to alms, or share a seat on a tuk-tuk with a chicken. Make sure to check out the night market on Sisavangvong Road, where you can pick up handicrafts and sample the tasty street food. Laos is untainted by mass tourism and there is something for everyone there. Adventure seekers can lose themselves in underground river caves, foodies can spice up their lives with a local cooking class and culture enthusiasts can explore ancient temples. The town of Luang Prabang is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and you can take a river cruise there to see how the locals live and work. Hayesandjarvis.ie
Now that Aer Lingus is launching a direct flight from the Emerald Isle to the Emerald City, there’s no excuse not to give Seattle a whirl. The city that spawned grunge rock heroes like Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Fleet Foxes is second only to New York City for offering the most live music performances in the US. Seattle’s burgeoning cafe culture is also an attraction in itself, with the first Starbucks, commonly called the ‘Original Starbucks’, taking up residence at Pike Place Market in 1971. Foodies will be in their element as Seattle is also a hub for experimental chefs, and its iconic Space Needle is getting a rotating, glass-bottomed restaurant. The city has a kooky, arty side too, such as the Seattle Pinball Museum dedicated to antique pinball machines that you can still play. And for Instagram fans, locals say the water taxi offers the best views of the Seattle skyline. AerLingus.com
Described as “a world in one country”, South Africa’s attractions are innumerable, but stunning Cape Town, the famous Garden Route and a safari are all bucket list items for the travel-lover. These are all enhanced by the glorious climate. A trip to South Africa is perfect if you want a bit of winter sun on your cold Irish bones, as December to February are the warmest months. Unmissable attractions include the cable car ride to Table Mountain, which offers 360-degree breathtaking views of Cape Town, and a trip to check out the adorable colony of African penguins on Boulders Beach. Before you depart Ireland, make sure you pre-book a trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 19 years. You can hike in the dramatic Drakensberg Mountains if you’re the active type, and wine buffs will adore discovering the myriad vineyards from Stellenbosch to Franschhoek. ClassicResorts.ie
It takes the best part of a day to get to the Tanjong Jara Resort, situated on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, an hour’s drive from Kuala Terengganu Airport. It’s worth every minute of the long trip though as Tanjong Jara is designed to reflect the grandeur of 17th Century Malay palaces, and the first thing that strikes you about it is its tranquillity and stillness. Its philosophy is based on the Malay concept of Sucimurni, which emphasises purity of spirit, health and well-being through enlivening the five senses. Activities include candlelit dinners served on the beach, Indera Deria yoga, also on the beach, batik painting, hill-walking and talks on herbs and flowers. Venturing outside, there are plenty of activities on offer locally, including golf, river cruises and exploring traditional Malay villages. You can also visit the morning market to see what’s on offer with the resort’s chef, who also offers cookery lessons. QatarAirways.com, TanjongJaraResort.com
Horse-ride the Camino
While walking and cycling the Camino de Santiago is very popular, did you know you can also do it on horseback? Horses have been associated with the Iberian Peninsula for thousands of years, and the Andalusian or Pura Raza Espanola is renowned for its intelligence, sensitivity and docility, which makes it a perfect horse for riding the Camino. Experiencing the pilgrimage by horse allows you an elevated viewpoint to appreciate the magnificent scenery along the way, while also enabling you to cover more ground. You’ll travel approximately 30km a day, which is six to eight hours of riding. You can choose from the Camino Frances — the French Way — crossing the Portuguese/Spanish border on the Camino Portugues or riding to the ‘End of the World’ on the Camino Finisterre. As these trips are all-inclusive, you’ll get to experience some of the finest local and freshly-prepared cuisine along the way in family-run restaurants. FollowtheCamino.com; tourspain.es
Namibia in Africa is ranked as one of the safest countries in the world to travel to, and is extremely family-friendly and suitable for all interest groups. Luxury Gold is offering an amazing adventure-of-a-lifetime trip, where you will arrive in Windhoek and transfer to Naankuse Lodge. Naankuse runs several crucial projects to improve the health and well-being of the ancient, yet marginalised, San Bushmen of Namibia, provides a second chance to orphaned, injured and/or conflict animals and works to prevent land degradation. You’ll watch lions, leopards, wild dogs, baboons, caracals and cheetahs as they are fed by its expert guides. Other highlights of the trip include an excursion to Sossusvlei where you will experience some of the highest sand dunes in the world, a trip to view the rock engravings by theBushmen tribe in Twyfelfontein, and taking part in cheetah and leopard safaris in Okonjima. LuxuryGoldVacations.com
If you’re aged between 18 and 35, Contiki has the Mexican adventure of a lifetime for you. On its Mexican Grande excursion, you’ll zip across the country in air-conditioned coaches and vans and immerse yourself in adventure activities, water sports, cultural sites, an unbelievable variety of food, and a sizzling nightlife. Take a walking tour of Guanajuato, a city famous for its silver-mining history, visit the Hidalgo Market, tour the pyramids of Teotihuacan and jam to a mariachi band in Guadalajara. It’ll be thirsty work, so check out a tequila distillery in Tequila and taste the end results, and go on to visit Coyoacan, birthplace of Frida Kahlo. You’ll also see the Ceborocu volcano and soak up some sun in Cancun. If you’ve any energy left, optional extras on this trip include an extreme zipline adventure, a surfing safari and a Maya encounter. Contiki.com
For the ultimate outdoor adventure, a three-week trip across the Australian outback will blow your mind. Trailfinders is offering the Ultimate Wildlife & Outback excursion that will see you driving across the country and enjoying a series of epic adventures. You’ll pick your car up at Cape Jervis to catch the ferry across to Kangaroo Island, where you’ll see Australia’s third largest sea-lion colony at Seal Bay. Highlights include a trip to the iconic Uluru (Ayers Rock) and learning about Aboriginal culture. The holiday includes a three-day escorted coach tour into Kakadu National Park, where you can see the Aboriginal rock art at Nourlangie Rock and join a fascinating cruise on the Yellow Water Billabong. You’ll also travel to Arnhem Land and learn about the hunting, food-gathering and bush skills that are needed for survival in this extensive wilderness. Trailfinders.ie
Rainforest hikes, white-water rapids and ziplining are among the activities on offer in the Central American jewel of Costa Rica. You won’t know where to begin when choosing between exploring rainforests, descending into bat-filled caves or ascending misty volcanic peaks, but to bring yourself down from all that adrenaline, travellers are equally encouraged to take part in wellness practices. These include earthing, forest bathing, silent retreats, mud baths and thermal mineral hot springs therapy — there are 72 hot springs in Costa Rica. Despite being less than two-thirds the size of Ireland, Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse and exciting countries on the planet, with half a million species, rugged mountains and volcanoes. Many lodges are located in remote areas, but the superb wildlife viewing makes the journey worthwhile. Experts Nuevo Mundo can guide you to the right adventure. NuevoMundo.ie
My favourite holiday
I was introduced to Jumby Bay by one of my favourite hoteliers, Michael Bonsor, GM at Rosewood London. Jumby Bay is a private 300-acre island in one of the most peaceful and undisturbed locations in the Caribbean, just two miles off the coast of Antigua. The island has 52 private homes yet retains an unpretentious back-to-nature feeling. I adored the quietness. There are no cars and the pure white sandy beaches are virtually empty. Clear turquoise water, swaying palm trees, unique tropical flowers — it’s magic. What initially concerned me became one of the key factors of my chill out... all suites are keyless, undoubtedly a unique experience! Also, the all-inclusive price on food and champagne only adds to the feeling of a long private house party. Peace and quiet in paradise.
Celia Holman Lee
The first time I stepped off the plane in Nice and we went to Cannes, nine or 10 years ago, I just fell in love with the place. Going to St Tropez as well; I just love that vibe down there — I really enjoyed it from a point of view of the lifestyle, the scenery, the culture, the history. I love the history of the place, all the old movies that were made there, Brigitte Bardot’s famous appearances in the area. The Cote d’Azur would be one of my favourite spots. I love old movies, and I read a lot of biographies, so I could relate to it in a sense because I had read an awful lot about all that. And it did not disappoint.
Choosing the best trip of my life is really hard as I’ve just come off a year of living in Japan, which was pretty life-changing, and I love travelling and seeing the world in general. But one summer in Italy when I was a child stands out, road tripping with my grandparents and getting to see all different parts of the country. My mother’s side of the family are from a town called Casalattico which is between Naples and Rome, high up in the mountains and it was the first time I really came to understand where I had come from. We started off in Naples, drove down the Amalfi coast all the way to Calabria and then back up to Casalattico. There’s a gorgeous pizzeria in the town piazza that has incredible views of the mountains, it feels like you’re as high as the clouds. My grandad bumped into people he grew up with; there’s always a funny story to hear. I try to go back as often as possible and just spend time there; it always feels so familiar to me.
They say your wedding day is the best day of your life; well for me it was followed by the best holiday... our honeymoon. We went to LA and San Francisco. As huge movie fans it was great to visit Hollywood. We did all the touristy things. It was arranged for us to attend a taping of Ellen. Her entire team were so welcoming and Ellen and her wife Portia showed us around. We were then shown to this huge locked door. When it was opened we walked through — on to the set of Central Perk from our favourite TV show, Friends. That was a real highlight. San Francisco was wonderful too. More like a small New York than we expected. On our way home, Derek Mooney had arranged a suite in our favourite London hotel, The Bloomsbury. It was the perfect ending to our best holiday ever.
I was taken to Africa when I was seven. It was a big deal as no one went on holidays abroad in the 1980s. My sister used to work for British Airways and we got discounted flights. I felt very special as my parents took me, and I’m one of six. It was an amazing trip with safaris and train journeys across Kenya. But the most memorable thing was sitting eight hours in the smoking section of the plane and having horrendous flight sickness. I had my hair braided and never knew what sunburn was until that trip.
One of the most pleasurable and inexpensive trips I’ve been on is a trip I took four years ago, which I’ve gone on every year since, to Bergen in Norway. I go in January. I had heard about this train journey called the Bergen line, which is six-and-a-half hours long from Oslo. I’m not a train spotter, but I love being on train journeys. It’s a great opportunity to meet people if you’re in the mood to talk. If I’m not in the mood to talk, I’m quite capable of looking out the window for six hours. January is a great time to go. It’s the quietest and the most picturesque time of the year. The one thing you must do is sit on the left-hand side. All the scenery is on that side. There is a documentary on Netflix where they filmed the view from the window; an example of slow TV.
I’m a big believer in the staycation. Ireland is stunning and my husband John and I try our best to see and enjoy as much of it as we can in our downtime. One of our favourite spots would be Brandon Bay and the Dingle Peninsula and we try to visit at least once a year. However, our most memorable holiday has to be our recent honeymoon to Myanmar. The people were extremely warm and generous. We flew to the country’s largest city, Yangon, where we opted for some sightseeing, fine dining and explored the hustle and bustle. It wasn’t until we ventured on to Bagan and Inle Lake that we really got a feel for the country. We travelled by boat, motorbike, push bike and hot air balloon, and really soaked up the incredible beauty of the place. After all the exploring, we finished with a few days on a deserted beach in Ngapali with the whitest sand I’ve ever seen.
Aengus Mac Grianna
The trip that made the most impact on me was going to Montserrat in 1995 — because of the Irish connection on the island. There were an awful lot of Irish indentured slaves, people who were brought over from Cromwellian times, who inter-married with the African slaves — that Irish connection stayed on the island. They still have a mixture of half-Caribbean half-Irish accents. It made a huge impression on me. There’s places like St Patrick’s, Kinsale, Cork Hill, I even passed a house that had the name an Gleann Mhor, even with the seimhiu and the fada. The thing that impacted me most was going up on to Soufriere Hills, a dormant volcano which still had lots of sulphur blowing out the top, and standing on the edge and looking into the crater. Three months later, the island was devastated when the volcano erupted.
Sicily this year was our best trip. My niece was telling me about this hotel on the Cap of Taormina in Sicily that is like a Bond villain’s lair — Ata Capotaormina. I was immediately hooked. This hotel is built into the cliff edge. On our first morning in the hotel, we had to walk down through tunnels in the cliff to get to the pebble beach. As you walk through the tunnel, all you can hear is the glorious sound of the sea, and the smell of fresh sea salt hits you. This beach overlooks the Unesco world heritage site of Isola Bella. The other side of the exterior of the hotel has an infinity pool that overlooks Mount Etna. We were all blown away — even the nonchalant teenagers looked impressed. Beautiful memories to treasure.
Landing in the Maldives is enough to make even a hardened cynic’s jaw drop in wide-eyed wonder. Each mini island boasts a postcard-esque paradise that blurs the lines of reality — and my honeymoon hotspots, Amilla Fushi, Reethi Rah and Velaa private island, were no different. From the moment we touched down, we were aware that something very special was about to happen, not least because we were greeted by bands of merry men wherever we went. Concierges or ‘Private Butlers’ as they are called in the Maldives, promptly swoop in and usher you from luxury private yacht to room with seasoned precision. There may not have been a cloud in the sky during our time in the Maldives, but we floated away on our own private cloud nine.
It sounds peculiar, but I took off on my own up the west coast, what is now called the Wild Atlantic Way, to write a book for Methuen in the 1980s. It was really quite amazing, A, to be totally alone, and B, to have no plan whatsoever. I’ve been to very exciting places — the South Pacific was amazing; I’ve been to Thailand, New Zealand, all amazing. But going up the west coast of Ireland was a surprise, and a thing of independence. It was very nice to do it alone, and not to have a plan at all. I might be at an amazing holy well up in Clare, and I would paint that, but I didn’t make a plan to go to it, I just came across it. I do remember loving all the guest houses that I stayed in. Being on my own and going down for breakfast was quite extraordinary. I had up until then children to mind, husband, all this breakfasting with family. So it was a crowded life. So then to be on my own in a guest house, being served breakfast, and then the day ahead, I had no idea what I’d draw, or come across, or write, it was a dream.
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