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Life's a beach in sunny Sligo

Sunshine, sandy beaches, surfing -- a story from the sunkissed coasts of California or Australia? No, believe it or not, I recently enjoyed all three on a weekend in Sligo.

Most people will have heard of the burgeoning popularity of surfing on the west coast. What's less well known is that taking to the Atlantic is not just for hard-core surfers, but is ideal for beginners too.

Encouraged by our recent glorious weather, myself and my better half decided to try a lesson in the capable hands of Paul Buchannan and his team at Strandhill Surf School.

What was expected to be an afternoon of comedy falls into icy waters couldn't have been more different.

Our instructors had us cresting the waves in no time, and, although the water was chilly, you'd never know it in the top-notch wet suits that are supplied.

Surfing can leave your muscles a little sore though, which is why it was good we had the excellent Radisson Blu Hotel as our base, where the staff in the spa gently eased away lingering muscle aches.

Included in our package was a dinner at the hotel's superb Classiebawn Restaurant, where head chef Joe Sheridan and his team put on a feast far beyond normal hotel fare -- his seafood and steak dishes are guaranteed to send your taste buds into overdrive.

If the success of our surfing was a surprise, so were our next day's adventures, when we visited Lough Key Forest and Activity Park. There, nestled among the beautiful scenery of the lake and gardens, is a place called the Boda Borg Centre, where one is transported into a bizarre, but oddly addictive problem-solving world akin to the Crystal Maze of Channel 4 fame.

It's entirely possible to spend a whole day there puzzling your way through Boda Borg's 47 rooms and a full day's play is only €16.50.

We couldn't stay the day though, as we'd one more stop to make, to the Eagles Flying Bird Sanctuary, where spectacular birds of prey swoop and squawk to the amazement of visitors.

Like the surfing, it was something you wouldn't expect to find holidaying at home. But if our weekend away taught us one thing, it's that there's a lot more to see and do in this country than you might expect. And it's a lot easier on the pocket than going to somewhere like California or Australia, too.

For more information on activity breaks in the Sligo area see www.activitynorthwest.com, where prices start from just €165 per person sharing for a two-night stay at the Radisson Blu including breakfast, one night's dinner at the Classiebawn restaurant and a two-hour surfing lesson with Strandhill Surf School