Travel Insider: Your guide to the best winter sun holidays of 2015/16
Ireland's Travel Journalist of the Year
The world of winter sun holidays and the top destinations have changed hugely in 12 months, says Pól Ó Conghaile.
What a difference a year makes.
This time 12 months ago, many of us were considering winter escapes in Tunisia and the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. A tragic terrorist attack in one, and a suspected bomb on a plane departing the other (Sharm's airport is the third-busiest in Africa) have changed that utterly. It's a shocking thought.
Irish holidaymakers are a resilient bunch.
Despite incidents in the past, we have returned to Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt and, going to press, Sunway tells me that it has not seen any impact on bookings to Morocco as a result of events in Egypt. The DFA (dfa.ie/travel) advises Irish citizens to exercise caution in Morocco, but sales are brisk and it offers some of the season's best value.
Just 100km off the coast of Morocco, of course, lies Ireland's favourite winter hotspot. As sunseekers look for alternatives to North Africa, expect prices to rise in The Canaries this year - but you can bag a bargain ahead of the pack thanks to Nicola Brady's Top 30 winter sun breaks this week.
If deals are there, we've got them!
The Canaries aren't the only winter sun solution. A survey this week by the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) shows that Spain and Portugal are the top hotspots for Irish holidaymakers this winter - with the USA edging out Italy for third place. The upturn continues...
Deals of the week...
Fancy two weeks for the price of one in Lanzarote? Falcon Holidays (falconholidays.ie) has flights from Dublin and 14 nights at the three-star Cinco Plazas in Puerto Del Carmen from €549pp, departing November 29. The Canary Island boasts average temperatures of 21˚C in November. Nice...
Malta's temperatures hover between 13 and 17˚C through winter - offering a breezy alternative to the Algarve (and certainly an Irish December). Independent Travel (travel.independent.ie) has flights plus seven nights at the four-star Paradise Bay Hotel from just €208pp departing December 10.
Winter is a great time to walk or golf in Portugal's holiday hotspot, with temperatures ranging from 12-16˚C. Prices are good, too. Lowcostholidays.ie has three-star packages departing December 12 from just €129pp, while gohop.ie has four-star packages during the same month from €143pp.
Flying south for winter
November is the month when airlines swap summer for winter schedules, and this year's transition was full of good news for travellers. Aer Lingus added 250,000 extra seats, including direct flights from Dublin to Pisa, Murcia and Montpelier (pictured). It's also doubling capacity on winter flights from Cork to Tenerife, and has added to its Faro (Algarve), Malaga (Costa del Sol), Lanzarote and Alicante services.
Meanwhile, Ryanair fired the first salvos of its much-anticipated winter fare offensive, releasing a million seats for sale from €15.99 last week. Michael O'Leary has promised "the mother and father" of airfare wars in the months ahead - with airlines taking advantage of low fuel prices and improving economies to woo customers. Keep your eye on websites and social media for flash sales, special offers and other goodies.
"This is set to be the busiest winter season in Dublin Airport's 75-year history, with a great selection of ski, sun and city break destinations," says its managing director Vincent Harrison. Passenger numbers are up 15pc so far in 2015, so sometime around Christmas, expect it to announce its highest-ever annual figures.
NB: All prices subject to availability.