Ed Leahy gets you dreaming...
While 2012 was not a great year for the Ireland football team, the summer in Poland provided tens of thousands of Irish folk with a fantastic sporting holiday to remember, while the Olympic Games proved to be a very fruitful trip for Irish athletes and the holidaymakers who travelled across to London to support them. So what's in store for Ireland's sports-mad travellers in 2013? Well here are 10 ideas to help you make that choice.
Cycle a Tour de France Stage
Cycling holidays are an always-popular summer excursion, with the continental mainland providing world-class resorts and trails throughout the highlands and lowlands of Europe. But for the hardcore cyclist, why not do as the professionals do and spend a day taking on a gruelling stage of the world's most famous cycle race, the Tour de France? This year's 130km-Etape takes place on Sunday July 7, from Annecy to Annecy Semnoz, finishing with a very tough 11-kilometre climb with a nasty 8.3% gradient. Entering the Etape does come with a stark warning, however, as a certain pace must be maintained throughout or else you will be swept up by the Broom Wagon, which picks up stragglers along the route. The same route is followed in the Tour two weeks later as the penultimate stage in this year's race.
The Lions Down Under
Every four years, the cream of the crop from these islands put old rivalries aside and join forces for the British and Irish Lions Tour to the southern hemisphere. This summer the Lions return to Australia with Test matches in three of the best cities in Oz. There should be a large Irish contingent in the Lions squad and the travelling Irish, combined with the Australian-Irish Diaspora, will make this a trip to remember. The opening Test takes place on June 22 in the sunshine city of Brisbane in Queensland, followed by a trip south to Melbourne on June 29 and finishing in Sydney on July 6. And with a week in between each match, there will be plenty of time to explore these excellent cities and the surrounding coastlines. It's winter in Australia at that time of year and while Melbourne will be cold, the nightlife will be far from it. Sunshine is only a short flight north to Queensland on the excellent internal flight systems.
Soccer in Stockholm
The great thing about a disappointing football tournament is that the next qualifying campaign is only a stone's throw away. So as the memories of Poland dissipate, the Road to Rio looms large in the very vivid imagination of the Irish football fan. The qualifying stage is still in its infancy so it's time to get back out and support the Boys in Green in March, and it so happens that the match is being played in one of Europe's prettiest cities, Stockholm. Take a couple of days either side of the match and take in the sights and sounds of the Swedish capital. And if you can't make it in March, there is always the 'friendly' international at Wembley Stadium against the 'Old Enemy' in May.
Golfing the Ryder Cup Venue
The Ryder Cup returns to Europe in 2014 and takes place in the home of golf, Scotland. So what better way to prepare for the ever-entertaining event than to play the PGA Centenary Course in Gleneagles where Rory, Tiger et al will be strutting their stuff 12 months later. A golfing holiday in Scotland could last the entire summer, such is the quality of championship tracks dotted around the country. Gleneagles is located in the Perthshire region and is located midway between the spectacular and scenic Loch Lomond and the historical beauty of St Andrews, while Edinburgh is just an hour away by car. The scenery on offer while driving between the many golfing destinations throughout will prove almost as rewarding as the golfing itself.
St Patrick's Day in Rome
Rugby fans who cannot make the trip to the southern hemisphere to cheer on the Lions can take a short break to Rome to cheer on Ireland in the Six Nations in March. The game conveniently coincides with St Patrick's Day, so huge numbers are expected to travel to the Eternal City, where Ireland will be playing their first Six Nations game at the magnificent Stadio Olympico. While the rugby will account for one of the weekend days, enjoy the rest of the long weekend exploring the beauty and majesty that Rome, its buildings, monuments, squares and statues has to offer. And then there's the food…
Surfing on Ireland's Atlantic Coast
Surfers travel the world in search of great waves, throughout Europe along the west coast of France, Portugal, England and the Canary Islands, and further afield to the famous breaks off the California coast, Australia or Hawaii. However, there's no need to leave the Emerald Isle for a surfing holiday. Just head west to experience some of the best sets to be found rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean. Beginners can take advantage of the calmer waters throughout the summer months, while experienced boardriders enjoy year-round action thanks to the modern wetsuits that allow you to stay in the icy waters throughout the winter months. Aside from the ocean escapades, a surfing holiday will prove to be one of the most social that you can experience. Lahinch, Doolin, Achill, Strandhill, Easky, Bundoran, Rossnowlagh, Carrownisky, Doonbeg, Inch or Inchydoney, it's all out there. So what's stopping you?
A Grand (National) Trip to Liverpool
The world's most famous horse race, the Grand National, takes place at Liverpool's Aintree Racecourse every April. The sporting world will stop at 4:15pm on Saturday April 6 to tune in in awe as the 40 horses and jockeys attempt to conquer the course, which takes them twice around the track with some of the most daunting national hunt jumps to negotiate en route. The Chair, Becher's Brook, the Water Jump, the fence names are legendary in horseracing terms, and if they look big and daunting on television, wait until you see them up close as you stand dwarfed beneath the Aintree fences. The Grand National meeting lasts three days and makes for a great city break in one of our nearest neighbours, Liverpool. The city is easily accessible with great sea and air options, and, post-horseracing, there is a wild and wonderful Beatles and football-influenced city to explore. The nightlife is just as daunting as those Aintree jumps; in a good way, of course.
Ashes in Australia
One for the purists, this biennial battle played out between Australia and its former colonial master England over five Test matches is spread out over two months. It is cricket, of course, and lovers of the game throughout the world marvel at this age-old encounter, where the only prize on offer is the ashes of a burnt cricket ball, kept safe in an urn no bigger than an egg-timer. This year's event takes place at the end of the year as summertime hits Australia, with the opening match at Brisbane's Gabba on November 21. Adelaide (December 5) hosts the second test, followed by the WACA Third Test in Perth on December 13, before the Christmas and New Year celebrations arrive at Melbourne's iconic MCG and Sydney's SCG respectively. A once in a lifetime trip for a cricket fan, and perhaps there will be Irish involvement with England's very own Dubliner Eoin Morgan set to make the squad, at least.
Tennis in Paris
With the first Grand Slam of the season already completed Down Under, the next major tennis event takes place just over an hour from Ireland by air and is played under the early summer skies of Paris' Roland Garros in May. The event is the only grand slam played on the slower clay courts and results in some epic points played out to the delight of the sophisticated Parisian crowd. The event itself, however, is far from exclusive and very accessible compared to England's equivalent at Wimbledon, as tickets are available from high street department stores. The open-air stadium proves for a perfect Parisian afternoon, and once the tennis is over, the world's best city is waiting to be discovered.
Marathon in Mont St Michel
Not everyone's cup of tea, but active holidays have never been so popular and marathon running in foreign cities is one of the best ways to get to explore a new destination. The New York marathon is one of the most popular, while other excellent options include Berlin, Athens and London, while closer to home, the Connemara marathon is one of the most scenic, as the route incorporates the spectacular Twelve Pins along the 26-mile track. But how about a coastal run along the north coast of France where the Le Mont St Michel marathon takes place along the Normandy and Brittany coast, finishing up at the majestic monastery, which is set away from the coast surrounded by water? And the unique thing about this marathon route is that you can see the finish from the start line. That may or may not be a good thing for the lonesome marathon runner. I'll let you decide.