Thursday 17 January 2019

Remembering our best holidays: Irish celebs recall their favourite trips

From Lake Garda to Vietnam, Ireland's famous faces remember their favourite holidays

Neven Maguire and his wife Amelda
Neven Maguire and his wife Amelda
Mary Kennedy
Dave Fanning
Derry and Sallyanne Clarke
Zoe Jordan
Camille O'Sullivan
Helen Steele
Oliver Callan
Sean O'Rourke
Yvonne Tiernan
Caroline Morahan
Anna Daly
Don O'Neill

From Neven Maguire in Lake Garda to Dave Fanning in the White House, our contributors recall their adventures overseas.

Neven Maguire, Chef and food writer

We had a memorable family holiday in Italy last year at Lake Garda.

Marty Whelan has always told me that it is an absolutely beautiful place; it was good advice. We loved it. I have always enjoyed Italy and have had great times filming there for RTE. There is so much quality food to enjoy and they have great food traditions.

During our few days, we drove around quite a lot to fabulous villages and towns; the scenery is fantastic. We spent a good part of a day taking a boat trip on the lake and the twins loved it.

We fell in love with one restaurant, Ristorante Alla Borsa. It is well known for pasta and in particular for tortellini. Amelda still remembers the tortellini as the best she had ever tasted. It is type of restaurant we love. The food is superb and it is very family friendly, a lovely atmosphere, very unpretentious. And on top of that, great value. Always a Cavanman!

Mary Kennedy, TV presenter

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Mary Kennedy

My trip to South Korea to visit my youngest, Lucy, in 2012 was an amazing experience on several different levels.

It was my first time in Asia and the atmosphere struck me as being gentle, considered, culturally rich, even in the garish neon lights of the cities like Daejon, Daegu and Seoul.

Lucy was living in a rural area and teaching in a small town. I would recommend visitors enjoy the sights and sounds of the big cities like Seoul, the colourful markets, ancient palaces, beautiful gardens, interesting museums and galleries and then make the effort to travel to smaller towns in the countryside and soak up the rural way of life.

I loved watching the farmers ploughing their fields, taking their animals to the markets, the diligent women selling vegetables and fish on the roadsides and the local people gathered in cafes and bars, laughing and chatting. An experience to be savoured.

If I was to pinpoint a drawback for me it was definitely the habit that Korean men have of spitting on the streets. Sorry, I just don't find it acceptable.

And the highlight was seeing my daughter as a competent young teacher, organising her life and immersing herself in such a rich and ancient culture.

Helen Steele, Fashion designer and painter

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Helen Steele

The best holiday for me was when my kids (who are now teens and older) were all small. My ex and I took them to the Maldives, where we wore no shoes of any kind for a week. We stayed in a beach hut and would swim and snorkel first thing every morning.

There was a pirate boat for the kids, which we joined them on, much to their embarrassment! We took a boat to a sandbank and snorkelled and had a picnic. After that, we went fishing and cooked our catch from earlier that day on the beach.

That trip sparked a love of snorkelling in my kids which led to a love of diving for us all. The three kids now have their PADI licence, and we dive as much as possible together. I still have the pictures of my babies on the beach and look back on those fond memories of when they were so small.

Time goes by way too fast.

Don O'Neill, Fashion designer

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Don O'Neill

It was the holiday of a lifetime that I had dreamed about since I was six years old and first saw the mystical citadel of Machu Picchu in a children's encyclopaedia. To celebrate 25 years together, Pascal and I decided to make that dream a reality.

On our first day we planned to climb Mount Machu Picchu. That day, thick clouds swirled through this rainforest high in the Andes, our first view of what should be the citadel was a thick grey wall of fog. "Never mind," said the guide, "this will soon clear."

Two and a half hours and 8,000 steps later, we had hiked the precarious trail to the summit at 3,064m to a view of more dense fog, the cloud tops way below us. We waited an hour but it started to rain, heavily! Disheartened we descended back down into the thick grey clouds. About half-way back, our guide stopped us at a clearing, saying "let's just wait here a while".

The clouds swirled before us, revealing at times glimpses of green. Suddenly the mist dissipated and the mystical citadel of Machu Picchu shimmered into view. We felt as though we were the first to discover a city that had been lost in time.

It was a magical experience; the feeling was beyond euphoric, gazing down on this truly spectacular, mind-boggling city, the dream of a lifetime come true.

Caroline Morahan, Actress and presenter

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Caroline Morahan

One of the most incredible memories I have of a holiday is from Costa Rica. We spent Christmas and New Year there a few years ago, travelling all along the south west coast.

There were so many highlights - the extraordinary beauty of the wildlife in the Manuel Antonio Nature Reserve, the beaches of Tamarindo, fresh lobster on the beach on Christmas Day. But the enduring memory I have is of a place inland: the cloud forests of Monteverde.

The experience was other-worldly. The walkways are a series of suspension bridges hung, in some cases, at the very top of the forest canopy. You feel like you're flying among the trees. The sense of peace and beauty was overwhelming. Just when I thought I couldn't be any more moved by the scene around me, I happened upon a meadow of orchids spread out all over the lower branches of a copse of trees. I had no idea that was how they grew naturally.

It was such an exquisite sight. The purity, the beauty; a privilege to behold.

Sean O'Rourke, Broadcaster

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Sean O'Rourke

It was the spring of 1994, when I got a phone call which I think every reporter would dream of getting. "Is your passport in order?"

Somebody was sick, so they needed a stand-in to go to South Africa for the first democratic elections. I was thrilled. The trip lasted nearly three weeks, and it was the best work assignment I ever had in my life. You knew you were in on history in the making.

We were based in Johannesburg, and I spent a couple of days in Durban. You got a real sense of excitement, and that change was in the air. And yet there was a certain element of danger. There were right-wing extremists who were seriously opposed to what was happening. One of the stories we covered concerned a bomb that went off close to Johannesburg. It killed the daughter of an Irish emigrant.

I actually got to meet FW de Klerk. When I say meet him, I got to do a doorstep with him, on a moving escalator in a huge shopping centre. It was really hard work; we were on the go all the time, but it was exhilarating. The sheer joy of people. It was one of those assignments that just stayed with me for the rest of my life.

Anna Daly, TV presenter

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Anna Daly

One of my best holiday memories was our honeymoon which was split between Vietnam and Malaysia. I'll never forget the colours and the smells you wake up to in the Nam Hai Four Seasons hotel in Hoi An, Vietnam. The hotel is located on a private beach, it's really special, with three infinity pools that cascade down through the entire resort and meet the sea. A real romantic paradise that made the perfect backdrop for a couple on honeymoon.

Venturing out to what's now a Unesco World Heritage Site, Hoi An, was such an adventure. With wooden houses and temples, colourful buildings, bustling food markets with the tastiest street food, art galleries, an abundance of skilled tailors and old town architecture, the warmth of the locals just meant every visit to this old town was totally unique.

Oliver Callan, Broadcaster

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Oliver Callan

There I was, waiting on a plate of eggs as my early morning flight to Paris was flashing 'Go to Gate'. Minor flicker of concern, but the eggs will be here soon. Twenty minutes in, still no eggs. Ha! I'm not a neurotic traveller, I can wait a few more minutes; this is Terminal 2 for goodness sake! So swanky and close to all the gates, isn't it?

'Boarding' now flashes on screen, I mildly panic and start following the signs, in a bother now having paid for eggs that are running later than Stormy Daniels' luggage. Jaysus, where's this gate bringing me to? Is that the security check-in for Terminal 1?

'Closing' is on the screen. Sweet mother of Monaghan. I have to walk all the way to Terminal 1's dreaded Pier D - I thought that was only for the Ryanair people who like to walk half-way to Manchester for their flights?

I gallop on the flat escalator thing - 'why is everyone in my way?' - and arrive at my gate. Except this gate is for Newcastle. My sleep-addled, breakfast-deficient mind had read the wrong number. This means I have to jog back to Terminal 2. All the way.

My knees are not good. When I get to the right gate, gasping, they're still queuing for a bus on to the runway. Hurray. Though relief is short-lived. This bus is for Amsterdam. I'm so late another flight is boarding. But, lovely Aer Lingus has a man in yellow waiting for me at the other end and they put me on the waiting Paris plane, oxter damp patches on my blue shirt and face flaming red. Morto.

Still, I meet my beloved in Paris later, and, from the roof of the Automobile Club, sipping Champagne overlooking Place du Concorde, the Seine and La Tour d'Eiffel, it turns out to be a weekend for the ages. And, I finally got the eggs.

Dave Fanning, 2FM presenter

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Dave Fanning

This year I went with my wife and daughter to the White House. I had done a lot of homework beforehand and it all worked out brilliantly. We had a tour, saw two helicopters taking off, apparently Trump travels in one and you don't know which one. I stood in the goal posts owned by Barron Trump, he had them put in near the Rose Garden; he was into the World Cup at the time. The best bit was getting a tour around Congress. It was brilliant; you got a real sense of something. We went out to the balcony on the Capitol building where Trump had his inauguration.

Yvonne Tiernan, host of The Couch

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Yvonne Tiernan

My worst holiday was when I was a child and my parents took my two older sisters and me to Blackpool. It seemed so exotic as it was, A, not in Ireland and, B, not in a caravan where the en suite consisted of a pink potty in the wardrobe our mother would pay us 5p to empty.

We went by boat and stayed in an ancient B&B with a giant staircase and I was thrilled. That was until my parents announced that the B&B provided babysitting facilities and they would be off ballroom dancing for the night. We said goodbye in the hallway and the front door closed. When we turned around, the manager had taken off his shirt to reveal a stained string vest.

Throwing his tea towel over his shoulder, he put us to work setting up the breakfast room and kitchen for the night. I was afraid he might eat me as his belly looked like he had eaten some previous guests. We were rewarded with a packet of beef crisps and an orange.

When our parents came home, we told them in detail what had happened but they just asked us did we enjoy ourselves and sure, at least we got a packet of crisps.

My best holidays are simply every summer on Inis Oirr where our kids have the freedom to cycle, swim and enjoy the simple things.

Zoe Jordan, Fashion designer

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Zoe Jordan

A few years ago I did an alpine adventure to La Grand Bellevue Hotel in Gstaad. Mountain resorts can be hard to reach, so we decided to turn it into part of the experience. We took the scenic snow train from Montreux to Gstaad, ascending the mountain in a glass-roofed train with an absolutely phenomenal view, made better by endless Champagne served by waiters in white tie!

Our base camp for the week was the contemporary-chic Le Grand Bellevue, a magical, century-old hotel in the heart of the village. Mornings were spent schussing down glorious slopes; the best are at 3000m because they're not too crowded and there's plenty of snow up there.

In the evening, we ate our way through multiple cheese-heavy Swiss dishes at Le Petit Chalet. They have an old-fashioned cow bell hanging in the restaurant and, fuelled by fresh air and probably a bit too much red wine, we began a ridiculous game of who could high kick it.

Juvenile as it may sound, it was hours and hours of fun! Fortunately, we had a wicked DJ in tow, so we hit the dance floor later and had the whole hotel joining in.

Camille O'Sullivan, Singer

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Camille O'Sullivan

Around eight years ago, I was working at the Sydney festival. I had been invited to LA, and on the way back to Australia, a really good friend of mine said, let's meet in the middle, in Malaysia, and go on holiday. He had just lost his partner, so was going for rejuvenation, as was I. He said, "look, I'll bring you to this tiny island". We got this rickety little plane and flew into Tiomain Island.

Sometimes you need these holidays to make you realise what it's like to be alive, and happy. He said: "I'm taking you to a place where you can't use your phone, there's no internet." I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I know it's good for me, but didn't know how I would deal with it.

We got in a tiny speedboat to this really isolated beach with four tiny little makeshift huts and a small building. We each had a room, no key, right by the sea. Every day we would go for a swim. Maybe because of what he was going through, my friend would say "be present in this moment. You're a great Irish chatterer, just learn to be silent". It was a really special time to share.

Derry Clarke, Restaurateur

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Derry and Sallyanne Clarke

The year we opened l'Ecrivain, Sallyanne and I went on a holiday to Portugal. We had spent all our money on the restaurant. We knew this would be the last time we would be able to go off willy-nilly as before with paid holidays from our respective jobs.

A friend offered his time-share in Praia de Rocha. It was a nice complex, but not what we as a young newly-married couple were expecting. It was for families, and we seemed to spend our time picking up and rescuing other people's children; it seemed that the children were running wild. It was not until we had our own children that we realised that this was normal.

The jacuzzi was off-limits to us as we saw little boys having a peeing competition unchecked. The pool was closed on different days because some child had left a whopping poop behind. One night Sallyanne offered my services as a chef in a restaurant that clearly could not cope with the amount of customers. I had been complaining that I missed "my kitchen" and my darling wife thought this was an opportunity to spend time in the kitchen, at the same time helping our fellow chef.

We had great fun; that meal was the best one we had all week. Another evening we decided to go for a swim in our birthday suits in the early hours of the morning. However, we locked ourselves out of our apartment and I had to cover my modesty with some plastic children's ball and brave it to the reception to get a spare key. We still laugh about it.

This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.

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