Desert Star: Morocco
Winter sun is just a 3.5-hour flight away in Morocco, says Thomas Breathnach.
Set the mood
It's midday at the oasis.
I've embarked on a high-noon hike along the foothills of the Atlas Mountains where I'm soon sheltered by a fantastical, lush refuge of palm trees, figs and pomegranates.
Come sunset, I'm dotted on the Atlantic seaboard, bracing the ocean for an evening surf as slick lounge beats reverb from the beach bar behind me.
Mountains for breakfast and surfing for supper? You could call this the Californication of North Africa, but it's still and very much, and very uniquely, Morocco.
This enchanting kingdom of medinas, riads and camel crossroads remains the seasoned sun-destination alternative for Irish holidaymakers.
And it could just promise the best winter escape there is, Inshallah.
Paradis Plage (paradisplage.com) sounds like a dream location from a French reality TV series - and in truth, it's not far off. Located outside the coastal village of Imi Ouaddar, the upscale beach resort offers yoga and surfing breaks to those seeking a Moroccan getaway - sans bustle. Super chic seafront suites are the icing on the cake.
Marrakech much? A weak dirham and the emergence of low-fare air routes has seen Morocco's most cosmopolitan city emerge as a hot alternative to the likes of Dubai and Istanbul (it has the advantage of being on GMT, too).
Now firmly trending with both the Hollywood and Ryanair jet-set, the city's manic Maghreb atmosphere is loaded with a bijoux box of highlights - from the pop-up boutiques of the Guéliz district to the nouvelle Moroccan cuisine at it-spot Latitude 31 (latitude31marrakech.com).
Looking to take the hassle out of the haggle? Souk merchants generally double an item’s value for novice bargain hunters; a good strategy is to offer one third of the first sum tabled before negotiating towards half the initial asking price.
Souk tricksters have a seasoned knack of pulling the rug from beneath tourists in Morocco. Watch out for gents (often claiming to be waiters from your hotel) who seek to guide you around gratis - and later demand payment. A friendly assertion that you know the area already should disarm most advances. Alternatively, speak Irish!
Get me there
Sunway (sunway.ie) offers seven-night self-catering packages to Morocco from €339pps with check-ins at Paradis Plage from €699pps.
For those travelling independently, Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies from Dublin to Marrakech direct from €70 return.
NB: The Department of Foreign Affairs advises Irish visitors to "exercise caution" in Morocco (this places it on a similar level with the likes of Turkey and Serbia).