The Gift of Travel: Eight great trips to give the travel fan in your life
From biking adventures to city breaks and football hotels, Pól Ó Conghaile has eight great stocking fillers for Christmas.
1. Adare Manor's Grand Finale
Could Adare Manor (above) become Ireland's Augusta?
The five-star resort, which JP McManus and family acquired for a reported €30 million earlier this year, is shortly to close for an 18-month refurbishment.
The result, subject to planning permission, is set to be the single biggest upgrade and enhancement of its facilities in 25 years. A new bedroom wing of 40 rooms, a spanking great ballroom and improvements to the 840-acre estate are all on the cards... and given that this is where JP hosted his charity Pro-Ams, you might expect the golf course will get some TLC too.
A Grand Finale package including one night's luxurious accommodation, a slap-up breakfast, a candlelit dinner for two and a complimentary upgrade to a deluxe manor room is available until the hotel's expected closure in January.
Details: The Grand Finale package is available at Adare Manor (adaremanor.com) from Sundays through Thursdays to January 14, from €270 per night.
2. Los Angeles
LA needs little introduction. A sprawling, trendsetting city ranging from the beaches of Venice to the Hollywood hills, caked in sunshine, home to some of the best restaurants and foodie haunts on the west coast, it's a stunner.
Getting there has been an issue, but Ethiopian Airlines is flying direct from Dublin since summer and Aer Lingus resumes its own direct flights next May. One of a trio of new transatlantic routes introduced since IAG's takeover of the airline (Newark, NJ, and Hartford, Connecticut, are the others), this puts starstruck visitors just one sleep away from the City of Angels.
Highlights? Try the behind-the-scenes studio tours, hundreds of miles of scenic biking and hiking trails, delicious tacos and the Space Shuttle Endeavour (at the California Science Centre).
Details: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies from Dublin to Los Angeles from €329 each way from May 2016. See also ethiopianairlines.com, which has round-trip fares from €457pp.
3. Mountain bike the Dolomites
Cycling is the new golf, doncha know?
That was one of the propositions put forward at the recent World Travel Market in London, anyway. And what better way to see the Dolomites in Italy than from the saddle of a mountain bike?
Amplify Travel has adventure holidays ranging from photography trips to group Grand Prix and Rugby 7s tours. Its Dolomites Mountain Bike trip is a seven-day rollercoaster through mountain passes and lush valleys, with a stonking great four-course dinner waiting at the end of every day.
The Dolomites, or Italian Alps, are best known for skiing but sunny days and starry nights make a perfect summer playground for bikers.
Details: Cycle the Dolomites is available from Amplify Travel (amplifytravel.com) from €1,099pp, including flights, bikes and guides next June.
4. Harmony of the Seas
Think cruising is all about zombie buffet-grazers, handycam-toting has-beens and boring cabaret entertainment? Think again.
Harmony of the Seas, the third of Royal Caribbean's gargantuan Oasis class of ships, is scheduled for launch in spring 2016. Currently under construction at the STX France shipyard, Harmony will be both larger (227,700 gross tonnes) and carry more passengers (5,479) than its sister ships.
By now we're used to game-changing features on new cruise launches, and this one won't disappoint - with waterslides, robotic bartenders, a handcrafted carousel, zip lines, rock-climbing and larger staterooms all on the cards. Two cruises out of Southampton in May will be the first chance for Irish passengers to experience the ship ahead of her inaugural sailing to Barcelona.
Details: Four-night sailings from Southampton are available departing May 22 from €699pp. See royalcaribbean.ie.
5. London Calling
Who needs an excuse to visit London? You do, of course - and Christmas is it. The UK capital is one of the world's great city breaks, a whirling mash-up of old favourites and new openings that wins with every visit.
New arrivals this winter include the Coin Laundry (coinlaundry.co.uk) at Exmouth Market, a slinky mix of 70s and here and now set to pimp up classics like Chicken Kiev and Cauliflower Cheese steak (generous lashings of SodaStream are also promised).
Fatty Crab (fattycrab.com) is also coming to Soho, offering finger-lickin' Malaysian-inspired treats like Nasi Lamak (chicken curry with coconut rice and slow poached egg), and their signature Dungeness crab with chilli sauce.
I'm hungry just thinking about it.
Anytime is a good time to visit London, but if you make it for New Year's, check out the fireworks at midnight at the London Eye (accompanied by the soundtrack of Big Ben). Can't say sweeter than that.
Details: CityJet (cityjet.com) flies from Dublin and Cork to London City Airport, the only London airport actually within the city confines. See also visitlondon.com and London.gov.uk/nye for further info.
6. Surf's up!
Always wanted to improve your surfing chops, but can never seem to find the time? Surfholidays.com is an Irish tour operator that does exactly what it says on the tin, hooking holidaymakers up with surf schools alongside some of the juiciest waves and beaches you could shake a board at.
Lanzarote is one example - the Canary Island may be best-known for its Irish bars and volcanic landscapes, but it throws up some amazing waves too. Hooking up with Surf Holidays Lanzarote is a sure-fire way to take your skills to the next level, combined with surf house accommodation in Famara town. With roof top BBQ facilities, packages start from €320pp (excluding flights).
Other options? Try Taghazout, a 20-minute drive from Agadir and the surf capital of Morocco. Not a bad alternative to an Irish winter. Surfholidays.com has seven nights full-board in Morocco, plus six days of surf lessons, six yoga classes, airport transfers and board hire from €580pp (flights excluded).
Details: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies to Agadir. Ryanair (Ryanair.com) and Aer Lingus fly from Dublin to Lanzarote.
7. Six Nations: France v Ireland
The Rugby World Cup was just a warm-up, wasn't it?
Sod the All Blacks and their terrifying brand of total rugby… everybody knows the greatest championship on earth is the Six Nations.
Ireland travel to Paris in a quest for their third Championship in a row, and who knows what kind of French team will take the field under new coach, Guy Noves. A couple of eye-openers at Gare du Nord before the short train ride to the game could set you right up for the start of a very beautiful friendship.
The match takes place on Valentine's Weekend so the ladies might want to travel too and do some shopping, take in the Eiffel Tower's new glass floor as well as the hip Haut Marais. Another possibility is the hour-long 2CV tour of the city's landmarks (2cvparistour.com; €70).
Details: Ryanair (ryanair.com), Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) and CityJet (cityjet.com) fly from Dublin to Paris. Club Travel (clubtravel.ie) has two-night rugby packages departing Friday, February 12 (including) match tickets from €519pp plus tax.
8. Manchester Magic
Some are hailing the current Manchester United team as the most boring of all time, but the same certainly can't be said for its home city.
Manchester is one of Lonely Planet's Top 10 cities to visit in 2016, thanks to its new role as "a dynamo of British culture" and "an art attack" of revamps and openings including the Whitworth gallery, HOME (another multi-art form centre) and the pantheon-like Central Library, the travel bible says.
Soccer fans can find some spark off the pitch at Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville's Hotel Football - a soccer-themed four-star that lets you eat, drink and sleep the beautiful game right next to Old Trafford. The hotel comes complete with its own rooftop five-a-side pitch, named 'Heaven', on the 12th floor.
Don't miss Pitch to Pixel: The World of Football Gaming, either. Free to visit at the National Football Museum (yes, such a thing exists), check it out to see how retro games compare to the modern giants, motion-capture suits worn by Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero in the latest FIFA 16 adverts, and a 'headers' game that takes your photo at the moment of contact. Goooooaaaaal!
Details: Rooms at the Hotel Football (hotelfootball.com) are available from around £71/€99 in January. See also visitmanchester.com.
NB: All prices subject to availability/change.