From travel gadgets and gizmos to once-in-a-lifetime trips to Sri Lanka, Lapland and Indonesia, here's a travel fan's wishlist for Christmas 2018!
Afternoon tea, from €45pp
Afternoon tea is a true travel hack - all the atmosphere of a top hotel without the expense of an overnight stay... for a few hours. Book in for perfectly cut sandwiches and pinky-raising treats at Adare Manor from €55pp (or €25 for children). In Dublin, Vintage Tea Tours (above) offers afternoon tea with a city tour on a 1961 Routemaster bus from €45pp. Or how about a 1940s-themed speakeasy? Cahoots in London is themed like a disused Tube station; a 'Squiffy Picnic' has swing music, hampers stuffed with sarnies, picnic treats and a flask filled with cocktails. Gift cards from £46pp. adaremanor.com; vintageteatours.ie; cahoots-london.com.
Smartbox, from €29
Smartbox specialises in experience gifts and has launched in Ireland just in time for Christmas. Eighteen experience gift boxes range in price from €29 to €300, including dinners, spa treats, getaways and adventure experiences (there's even a helicopter ride in there). As the name suggests, they come in the form of a box, with a voucher to book your experience online or through the app. It feels a bit generic, but vouchers are valid for two years, with free and unlimited exchange. Pick one up at Debenhams or at smartbox.com.
A fabulous food tour, from €50pp
€50 or €60 sounds like a lot for a tour, but it's a sound investment. Trust me. A good food tour gives you two to three hours of walking, talking, guzzling and grazing - as well as a genuine look under a city's hood. Some of my favourite in Ireland include Ketty Quigley's Delicious Dublin (€60pp); Eveleen Coyle's Fab Food Trails (€60, or splash out on a Food Trail package including a suite and breakfast in The Westbury from €590); Sheena Dignam's Galway Food Tours (€50pp), and, in Belfast, Caroline Wilson's Taste & Tour - which also does a 'Gin Jaunt', with seven gins across five bars, from £63pp. deliciousdublintours.com; fabfoodtrails.ie; galwayfoodtours.com; tasteandtour.co.uk.
City Secrets, €14.95
Sick of tourist crowds? Want to get off grid? Jonglez Publishing specialises in 'local guides by local people' (full disclosure: this writer is the author of Secret Dublin). New to the stable is Secret Belfast: An Unusual Guide, by Kathy Curran and Lorenza Bacino, with inclusions ranging from stunning stained glass windows created by a little-known female artist to smugglers' caves beyond the city. Also new, and timely ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, is Soul of Tokyo: A Guide to 30 Exceptional Experiences. The guides are available in bookshops, on Amazon or at editionsjonglez.com.
Time travel in Marrakech, €300pp
Did you know Ryanair flies from Dublin to Marrakech? Book for off-season in April, when the weather is starting to warm up, and you could find yourself with flights to Morocco's Red City for less than €120 return. Book into Riad Star (above), the former home of jazz singer Josephine Baker, in the medina, from €130 per night, and you could spend Thursday through Sunday for less than €600 for two. A luxury option for a family or group is Le Jardin des Roses, a spanking villa outside the city walls sleeping up to eight from €3,360 (i.e. €457.50pp) for three nights with Mint Morocco. marrakech-riad.co.uk; mintmorocco.com.
Twixmas treats, from €115pp
Twixmas (the period between Christmas and New Year) is a twilight zone… so why not surprise someone with a hotel stay? Breaks between December 27 and 30 can be surprisingly affordable. Kilkenny's five-star Lyrath Estate has B&B from €115pp, including dinner. The Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Dublin is ideally located for festive shows and sales, with dinner, B&B and a Christmas cocktail from €150pp. In Galway, meanwhile, the Glenlo Abbey has two nights, afternoon tea and dinner in the Pullman Restaurant (above) from €339pp. lyrath.com; radissonblu.com/royalhotel-dublin; glenloabbeyhotel.ie.
Dublin Airport's VIP Terminal, €204pp
Sick of security queues? Did you know Dublin Airport has its very own 'VIP Terminal'? Yup, book with Platinum Services, and you can travel like a rock star… minus the private jet. Arrive via a special terminal entrance, get exclusive use of a private suite, and kick back and relax while staff check you (and your bags) in. After drinks and nibbles, proceed via a private security channel and chauffeur-driven BMW ride to your gate. Prices start from €204pp, but value increases once you start tacking people on - a couple costs €312, for instance, and a family bundle (2+2) is €380. platinumservices.dublinairport.com.
Soap sojourns, from €275pp
For soap fans, Cassidy Travel has two-night tours of Coronation Street and Emmerdale next year from €275pps. Packages include travel by coach and ferry on various dates from Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Wexford, Sligo or Letterkenny, two nights' B&B at the Holiday Inn Bolton, a guided studio tour of the external Coronation Street set, a location tour of Emmerdale, and a meet-and-greet with a Corrie cast member! You can book with a €50 deposit. cassidytravel.ie.
A trip to Tenerife, from €419pp
The price of peak-season Canary Island holidays is rising, though you can get around that with a January deal - TUI has seven nights all-inclusive at the three-star Catalonia Punta del Rey resort in Tenerife departing January 18 from €419pp. The price includes flights, transfers and 15kg luggage, as well as buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners… and some alcoholic drinks. tuiholidays.ie.
A one-night weekender, €419
Lots of parents have trouble finding the time to talk about a break, let alone take one. Cliff at Lyons Hotel and Country Retreat could have the solution. Just 30 minutes from Dublin, traffic-permitting, it's got a 'One Night Weekender' option on selected Friday and Saturday nights including B&B, dinner in the Orangery and a spa treatment ('Muscle Melt' back massage with a glass of bubbly, anyone?). Prices start from €419 for two sharing. cliffatlyons.ie
Glass igloo getaway, from €543
Sleep beneath the stars in a glass igloo? It's possible at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort (above) in Lapland, where a suite of thermal glass structures awaits, some 250km north of the Arctic Circle. Is it cheap? No, it is not. You need to fly there for starters (Finnair flies from Dublin to Helsinki, with onward connections to Ivalo) and small glass igloos start from an eye-watering €543 per night for two people in winter. Elsewhere, Sunway has a new, adults-only winter holiday experience at Santa's Igloos on the Arctic Circle. A two-night package starts from €2,399pp based on two sharing, including flights, a reindeer sleigh ride, husky farm experience, snowmobile safari and some meals. kakslauttanen.fi; sunway.ie; finnair.com.
Coral Triangle snorkelling, from €5,316
You don't have to be a diver to immerse yourself in the oceans. Snorkelling arguably feels freer, and the colour of coral is best experienced in daylight at shallower depths. UK specialist Dive Worldwide has a new live-aboard taking snorkellers to Indonesia's Coral Triangle next year. Sailing on the Pindito yacht with just 16 guests, you'll not only see the cast of Finding Nemo but could even get the chance to swim with mantas. The 11-day trip also includes visits to remote Indonesian villages. Prices from £4,655/€5,316pp including full-board and return flights from the UK, departing March 9. diveworldwide.com.
See Sri Lanka, from €1,725pp
Sri Lanka is the No. 1 country in the world to visit in 2019, according to Lonely Planet, and ITAA member Travalue.ie has a 10-day tour including flights with Turkish Airlines from €1,725pp. Departing March 7, an eight-day guided itinerary includes an elephant safari in Udawalawe National Park, visits to spice plantations and a tour of the Temple of the Tooth, before concluding in Unawatuna. You can tack on beach time, too. travalue.ie; itaa.ie/offers.
Rugby World Cup in Japan, €3,995pp
2019 looks like Ireland's best-ever shot at the Rugby World Cup (or, at least, breaking the hoodoo of a Quarter-Final). Alas, there's no cheap way to do the Land of the Rising Sun, unless of course some amazingly generous soul dishes it up as a Christmas pressie… Several Irish tour operators have packages to Japan. Tours with Stein Travel (steintravel.ie), for example, include two pool games from €5,095pp plus flight tax, and a Quarter-Final and Semi-Final option from €6,195pp plus flight tax. Rugby Travel Ireland (rugbytravelireland.com) has options ranging from a four-night flyer taking in Quarter-Final weekend (October 16-22) from €3,995pp, to a 32-night 'Sumo' whopper from €12,995pp. See also Killester Travel (rugbytravel.ie) and Club Travel (clubtravel.ie).
Read Pól Ó Conghaile's Rugby World Cup travel guide for Japan 2019.
Airline extras, from €25
They're not super-sexy, but airline vouchers are the Swiss Army knives of stocking fillers - the nudge to make entire holidays happen, or to nab an add-on like Priority Boarding or extra legroom. Aer Lingus and Ryanair start theirs from €25 (book online), and new routes for 2019 include Montreal and Minneapolis-St Paul (aerlingus.com), as well as Gothenburg from Dublin and Naples from Cork (ryanair.com). Ready for take-off?
Hotel heroes, from €50
Gift vouchers with Irelandhotels.com range from €50, offering the choice of hundreds of hotels around Ireland. Another option is Original Irish Hotels - the new collection of 60 privately owned hotels, from historic castles like Ballynahinch (above) to charming manor houses, luxury spa resorts and urban boutique hotels. Its vouchers start from €50 and keep for a year (originalirishhotels.com).
Blue Book boltholes, from €100
New members of Ireland's Blue Book for 2019 include Cahernane House (above) in Killarney, Ballyfin and The Hideaway - what is surely Ireland's most expensive tent. Overlooking Kenmare Bay at John Brennan's Dromquinna, it's yours for €350 a night… though couples' glamping starts from €150. Blue Book vouchers start from €100 (irelands-blue-book.ie) and they go surprisingly far off-season. Mount Juliet has B&B for two adults sharing, plus a round of golf on its Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course from €185 (total stay), for example.
Chip in for a Camino, from €20
Looking to help friends or family take their first step on (14) the Camino de Santiago? Tour operator Camino Ways offers gift vouchers for any value from €20 and up. caminoways.com
10pc free with Sunway, from €50
When shopping for vouchers, double-check whether you can use them in the January sales. Some tour operators also offer added incentives - Sunway, for example, adds 10pc to the value of your purchase. Spend €50 and you get a €55 voucher; spend €1,000 and you get €1,100, and so on. sunway.ie
The Light Phone: Lifestyle tech brand Soda now has a branch at Brown Thomas in Dublin, with gizmos including a credit card-sized 'second phone' that stores nine numbers and shares yours using a nano SIM. A neat option for emergencies, or getting (almost) off-grid… Prices from €136. brownthomas.com
All-in-one adapter: No need for last-minute Googling of plug and socket specs at your destination… an all-in-one adapter allows you to switch from three-prong to Continental or US in a jiffy. If it's a gift, don't scrimp. A good one is exactly the kind of treat we tend to deny ourselves on the road. currys.ie; compub.com
Headphone splitter: A lifesaver for those travelling with young kids, headphone splitters can start from as little as €10, enabling two people to watch (and hear) the same screen. You'll also need two pairs of headphones, of course.
Power bank: Mobile phone batteries can be so pathetic these days, extra power banks are essential. Base your choice on weight and the number of charges and USB ports you require. I've been happy enough with a JUKU Lume (from around €25 to €60; jukugear.com) but don't really have a favoured brand.
FeiyuTech SPG2: Fed up with shaky video footage from your travels? Gimbals are stabilising devices that effectively suspend your phone in a zero-gravity position. They look like selfie sticks on steroids, but the smooth images are a delight… this one starts from around €189. connscameras.ie; harveynorman.ie
NB: Prices given are lead-in rates, subject to availabilty.