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Home and Away!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

With a Spring in our step and the days getting longer we are all beginning to look for a nice getaway from our humdrum routines!

Award winning travel journalist Pól Ó Conghaile has the low-down on all the best breaks home and away that won't break the bank!!

Pól reveals his top destination picks for fabulous and affordable trips across Ireland and Europe!

Pól Ó Conghaile


Pól O Conghaile is an award-winning journalist and author.
Based in Dublin, he has written for Conde Nast, Observer/Guardian, all major Irish broadsheets, Cara Magazine and The Globe and Mail, amongst other publications. Pól specialises in travel and features, contributes widely to national radio and TV, and was voted Irish Travel Journalist of the Year in 2003, 2004 and 2008.


Pól is the author of That's My Baby! (Poolbeg; €12.99) and Bar Secrets Dublin (Shopping Secrets; €7.99). In 2009, he was the updating writer on Concierge.com's Dublin guide, and worked on the 'Day in the Life' series with the Irish Independent. In 2005, he co-founded and edited the online travel magazine, explore.ie.

As well as his published work, Pól is a regular contributor to shows on RTE Radio One, Today FM, 2FM, Newstalk FM and TV3. With travel experience that has taken him from Emo to Ethiopia, he also works with several high-profile public and private clients, and is available as a commentator, consultant and copywriter.
In 2008, Pól travelled to Mozambique with photographer and filmaker Kim Haughton. Their short film, 'The Stolen Generation', documents the lives of a family who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, and won Best Documentary at the inaugral Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival.
Breaks at Home

Wicklow

Attractions:

Ireland's Garden county is coming into bloom, and there's no better time to see it than May, when the visitors are still at a trickle.


Glendalough

Glendalough is the site of St. Kevin's Monastery and roundtower. Steeped in history and with beautiful hikes and trails this is a great day trip, especially around this time of year before the tourist buses arrive.

Avondale House

Charles Stewart Parnell used to live here so they have a museum in the house were you can see some of his possessions and some beautiful artefacts from the era.


Powerscourt Estate

Home to the Ritz Carlton, two 18-hole golf courses, a smorgasbord of shops (including Avoca cafe), a garden centre and of course the house and gardens themselves. The waterfall (€5/€3.50) is a couple of kilometres drive away, and has a pretty good playground. Details: Tel: (01) 204-6000, www.powerscourt.ie

The Wicklow Way

The Wicklow Mountains are one of Ireland's wonders. This is the flagship trail, a 132km self-guided route stretching from Marlay Park in Dublin to Clonegal in Carlow. The full thing takes 7 days, but you can do sections in a day, or even 3-4 days, depending on your time and ability.

The 18km stretch from Knockree to Roundwood is arguably the most beautiful, taking in Lough Tay (the Guinness estate), above Powerscourt Waterfall, and over Djouce Mountain. Its scenery is to die for, and of course it's free.

Wicklow Gaol

Wicklow Gaol (0404 61599; wicklowshistoricgaol.com; €7.50/€4.25) is the town's most forbidding building. Tours are conducted by Matron Mary Morris, in costume, and the cells themselves harbour many revelations - including prisoners' original graffiti. Ghost Hunters International spent two nights in the Gaol, and apparently found it the best place they've ever been...

Kippure Estate

Activity Centres - Wicklow is full of them.
Kippure Estate with lots of adventure activities for children and grown-ups.

Glendalough Equestrian Centre (0404 45569; glendaloughadventure.ie) in Annamoe has pony treks from €20


Other Attractions:

Avoca, where Ballykissangel was filmed, is like a picture-postcard village (and also home to the original Avoca Handweavers, where you can see the wool being hand-woven). The entrance to Trooperstown Forest, where there are huge boulders strewn like stepping stones across the Avonmore River.

Where to stay

Brook Lodge Wells & Spa (0402 36444; brooklodge.com) has B&B from €50pp. That's a pretty good price for the property.

Hidden Valley Holiday Park (086 727-2872; irelandholidaypark.com) has a unit (tent/caravan) plus two adults and two children from €30 per night. Kayaking and cycling tours start at €35pp.

Sligo

Attractions:

Carrowmore Cemetery

From Heritage Ireland: "This is the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Ireland and is also among the country's oldest, with monuments ranging from five and a half thousand to six and a half thousand years old. A restored cottage houses an exhibition relating to the site." Entry is €3/€1.

Surfing Strandhill

Enniscrone, Easkey and Strandhill (closest to the city) are the best surf spots and beaches for kicking around on. For schools, check Enniscrone (www.seventhwavesurfschool.com) and Strandhill (www.strandhillsurfschool.com) for prices etc. Usually around €30 for a lesson with all the gear. Mullaghmore was famously where the biggest waves ever surfed in Ireland rolled in from the Atlantic, and featured in the movie, Waveriders.

Other highlights

From Queen Meave's Cairn (atop Knocknarea) to Colmcille's monastic settlement at Drumcliff, Sligo is big on historical heritage too. There's also Ben Bulben, Yeats Country, and of course the town of Sligo itself - a great spot for a mosey. Pop into the Model Arts Centre if you're about!

Where to Stay

Sligo Park Hotel (sligoparkhotel.com), 4-star, with 2 B&B +1D for €238 for two people. Based on a booking from May 21-23 (weekend).

Clarion Hotel Sligo (clarionhotelsligo.com) has 2B&B +1D from €109pps midweek, and from €149pp at weekends.


Breaks Away

Costa del Sol, Spain

Millions of holidaymakers descend upon the strip every year, making it one of Europe's most popular sun resorts. But it's not all about high-rise towers and Nightclubs in Torremolinos. There's lots else besides.

Hot Spots:

Malaga

The city doesn't have the reputation of Barcelona or Madrid, but is ripe for discovery. Take an evening stroll along the Calle Marqués de Larios (grab an ice-cream and watch the street performers), graze at the tapas bars, and don't miss the Museo Picasso. Picasso was born here, and the Palacio de Buenavista has a collection of over two hundred of his works. It's small, but perfectly formed (and kids are given a workbook to take around)

Hit the Beach

The sea is shallow and the sand greyish-brown along much of the Costa del Sol, but each resort has its own character. Torre's beaches, stitched together by the new Paseo Maritimo, are wider and longer than most. The beaches of Benalmadena are broken up into rockier coves and, of course, the further you drive, the less crowded they become. Our favourite was in Nerja, about 45kms east of Malaga.

Daytrips

The pick of the litter are Ronda (home to Spain's oldest bullring and the amazing El Tajo gorge), Mijas (quaint white village), and Puerto Banus (for the Ferraris and the facelifts).


Other Attractions:

Fuengirola Zoo

(Avda Camilo José Cela; €15.90/€10.90). Given its location in the centre of a resort is always a concern, but it's actually a wonderful example of what can only be termed a "boutique" zoo. The enclosures aim to recreate a tropical rainforest, the foliage is cultivated for maximum shade, and impressive close-ups of tigers, chimps, gorillas, crocodiles, flamingos and creepycrawlies sustained us all the way to a small, but nevertheless impressive, playground.

Choosing your resort

Worth mentioning - Torremolinos has a heady reputation for partying, Fuengirola mixes up a family-friendly element with some lively bars and nightclubs, Nerja is a little more remote and less in your face, and Marbella of course, is the most well-to-do of the Costa's resorts. It leads onto the out-and-out bling of Puerto Banus.


The Prices

Visitors to Spain will know that it is, of course, a child-friendly country. Kids stay up late, families often eat out together, and the prices knock spots out of what many travellers will be used to at home (tapas dishes start at €2). Along the Costa, this goes double.

The activity parks

The volume of tourism here means attractions like Sea Life (sealifeeurope.
com; €13.75/€10.50), Tivoli World (tivoli.es; €6) - a whopper of an amusement park outside Benalmadena and Aqualand (aqualand.es; €22.50/€16.50) really are the best you'll find on a package holiday.

Getting There

Aer Lingus & Ryanair fly to Malaga.


Package Deals

Panorama (panoramaholidays.ie) has 3-star apartments in Torremolinos from €430pp dep. May 29.

Holidaysonline.ie has the same date (7 nights) from €388pp, ex Cork.


Summer Events around the country

Ceol Agus Craic As Donegal Comes to Meeting House Square

Sunday 16th May, 2010

1,000 Free Nights To Be Won

People all over the Capital are being invited to fall in love with Donegal and embrace their inner Donegal person on Sunday 16th May, 2010. From 12noon to 6pm, Dublin's Meeting House Square will be taken over by the descendents of the O'Donnell Clan for a special one day event - the 'Donegal Live Exhibition'.

On the day visitors can win 1,000 free nights accommodation from Donegal hotels, 1,000 free return trips to Donegal and free airline seats, package holiday deals and much more.

Craic agus ceol is guaranteed as people can expect to participate in and enjoy Irish dancing, set dancing and ceili dancing on the day. A top line up of Donegal entertainers will perform on the main stage in meeting house square.

For further information see www.donegallive.ie or www.discoverireland.ie/northwest

Other Events this summer:

. Féile na Tuaithe, Co, Mayo (May 22-23) at the Museum of Country Life in Mayo
. The Flat Lake Festival in Co. Monaghan (June 4-6) with a cracking line up - Crystal Swing and Lily Allen!
. Dublin Docklands Maritime Festival (June 4-7) with the tall ships
. Cork Midsummer Festival (June 12-27)
. Street Performance World Championships (Dublin & Cork, June)


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