From budget breaks in Bodrum to direct flights to Canada, Travel Writer of the Year Pól Ó Conghaile picks his top overseas destinations for 2014.
The American Hero: Toronto
There’s more to Toronto than Mayor Rob Ford, you know. Canada’s biggest city is more accessible than ever this year thanks to direct flights from Aer Lingus kicking off in April, and a new connection (via St. John’s, Newfoundland) by WestJet.
All should combine to make it easier (and cheaper) to visit. Toronto’s hipster hotspots (Queen Street West, Ossington et al) leave a more lasting impression than big hits like the CN Tower — although the Edgewalk (pictured) is pretty awesome, even if it does cost $175/€115. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada has just opened too, with highlights including a 96m moving walkway in a see-through shark tunnel. Details: Budgetair (budgetair.ie) has flights plus five nights at a three-star hotel from €746pp, based on travel from Dublin on May 29.
The Summer Roast: Turkey
Turkey was an up-andcoming destination for years in the Irish market. Now, with the arrival of specialist operator Wings Abroad, direct Aer Lingus flights and thousands of packages by traditional tour operators like Sunway, Falcon and (until recently) Thomas Cook, it’s gone up to a whole new level.
Last year ITAA members reported Turkey as the destination that offered the best value for money — beating Spain and the Canary Islands.
If you don’t fancy a beach break in Bodrum or Kusadasi, Turkish Airlines also fly direct to Istanbul.
Details: Wings Abroad (wingsabroad.ie) had flights plus seven nights at the 3-star Golden Day Wings from €389pp departing Cork in May. Seven nights on a self-catering basis at the Pine Club in Kusadasi costs €1,179pp.
The Northern Star: Norway
There’s no dodging the fact that Norway is a mind, body and spirit-crushingly expensive place to visit. The trouble is, it’s also home to some of the most mind, body and spirit-affirming natural phenomena in Western Europe.
Think of the fjords, the Svalbard archipelago, or the Northern Lights, tipped by NASA for a spectacular showing this year thanks to a peaking solar cycle. The aurora borealis are best viewed in the north — by flying direct from Dublin to Tromso with SAS, for example. If anything’s worth the expense, it’s these.
Another option is to join one of the Hurtigruten ships that take people and supplies from Bergen to Kirkenes, inside the Arctic Circle. By way of a tip, Irish company Project Travel (project-travel.ie) has a two-forone special on many Hurtigruten voyages this February, so a quick call could ease the Norwegian expense. Details: Hurtigruten (hurtigruten.com) has seven nights on board and one night in the Snow Hotel in Kirkenes from €1,278pp. Flights extra.
The Sun Holiday: Lanzarote
There’s a reason more than 200,000 Irish people jet out to Lanzarote every year.
Actually, scrap that. There are several reasons: the Canary Island boasts year-round sunshine, has a decent mix of white and black sandy beaches (Papagayo is my favourite), and there’s some fascinating history and geography to explore on an apparently barren island — from César Manrique’s curvaceous architecture to the volcanic grandeur of Timanfaya National Park.
As a base, Puerto Calero is a quieter alternative to Puerto del Carmen and Playa Blanco (if quiet is what you’re looking for), and I recently found a superb little bodega in La Geria. It’s called El Chupadero. Details: HolidaysOnline.ie has flights plus seven nights in February from €339pp. Prices rise in peak times, but are always affordable thanks to lots of access.
The Italian Job: Sicily
The Greek Islands are hotly tipped to make a return in 2014, but they’re not the only rocks in the Med. Both Ryanair (Comiso) and Aer Lingus (Cantania) fly direct from Ireland to Sicily, putting holidaymakers within 3½ hours of golden beaches, Roman ruins, mouth-watering pizza and the hulking active volcano, Mount Etna.
Sicily is home to Italy’s largest opera house (the Teatro Massimo), some fab diving and snorkelling, the Valley of Temples (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and, of course, offers a blast of dyed-in-the-wool southern Italian city life in Palermo.
Details: Topflight (topflight.ie) has lead-in prices for flights with seven nights in Giardini Naxos and Letojanni (both near Taormina) from €680pp.
The Foodie Frolic: Florida
Think Florida is all about theme parks? Think again. 2014 is the year of foodie fun in the Sunshine State, with over 200 food festivals scheduled to take place.
Food lovers can experience everything from a Stone Crab Festival in Key Largo to a four-day Lobster extravaganza in Panama City Beach and a Strawberry Festival in Plant City — all celebrating tasty (and rather unheralded) traditional Floridian food. If you find yourself craving a taste of home in Downtown Disney, drop into Raglan Road, whose menu was designed by chef partner, Kevin Dundon. Details: Sunway (sunway.ie) has seven nights in Orlando Universal Resort from €642pp in September. Tour America and American Holidays also do deals.
The Cool Cruise: Disney Dream
Cruising can be very family-friendly holiday… providing you pick the right ship. Generally speaking, Disney, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian (NCL) are best-equipped for families with kids, but just in case, check the reviews and ship descriptions on cruisecritic.co.uk before handing over that deposit.
For teens, check Royal Caribbean cruises — its gargantuan Oasis of the Seas relocates to Europe this autumn, with a seven-night cruise from Barcelona to Rotterdam starting from €959pp based on two sharing (flights extra). For younger kids, it’s hard to look past Disney, and in particular the three-year-old Disney Dream.
This palace-at-sea carries 2,500 passengers and, as you can imagine, is bursting with characters, kids’ clubs, Aquaduck watercoasters and Disney-themed stage shows (with some adult-only pools and restaurants for sanity). American Holidays has seven nights in Orlando with a three-night cruise from €979pp in September.
Details: royalcaribbean.ie; americanholidays.com.
The Sports Break: Ericeira & Peniche, Portugal
Few sports fans will be able to take their eyes off Brazil in the coming years, with the World Cup this summer followed by the Olympics in 2016. The trouble is, given the long-haul flights and popularity, few will be able to afford it either.
All is not lost! Closer to home, Portugal is one of Lonely Planet’s Best Value destinations for 2014, with the influential guide citing “a superb place to surf without having to fork out the airfare to the sport’s traditional heartlands”, as well as budget-friendly resorts like Albufeira in the Algarve, and cheap trams and coffee treats in Lisbon.
Irish company surfholidays.com provides tailormade holidays mixing surf lessons with accommodation near some of Europe’s best breaks, and two of its top locations are in Portugal — just north of Lisbon at Ericeira and Peniche. Throw in flights, lessons and seaside meals, and you’ll still have change from an airfare to Brazil.
Details: Surfholidays.com has a week’s surf lessons (two lessons per day) and dorm accommodation from €425pp in April. Flights extra.
The Bucket List: South Africa
Thinking of a once-in-a-lifetime trip in 2014? South Africa could tick the boxes, simply because it has so many boxes to tick — a beautiful city in Cape Town, tonnes of safari options and grape-grazing in the Cape Winelands for starters. The size of France and Spain combined, South Africa varies from Atlantic surf to the subtropical coast of KwaZulu-Natal, from the World Design Capital of Cape Town to the gritty, sprawling and gutsy Jo’burg. It’s a fascinating place to visit.
Details: Travel Department (traveldepartment.ie) has a 14-night tour of Cape Town, the Garden Route and Kruger National Park from €2,399pp, based on September 15th departures from Cork. Flights, excursions and coach transfers included.
The Island Escape: Rhodes
Aer Lingus continues its direct flights to Corfu this year, but Falcon Holidays have stolen some of its thunder with the introduction of Holiday Village Rhodes, recently voted one of TripAdvisor’s Top 25 hotels for families, to its programme.
Rhodes is the largest of Greece’s Dodecanese Islands, with a culture and history as varied as its beaches, crystal-clear seas and buzzy nightlife. It’s more family-friendly than many Greek Islands, and Falcon rates the Holiday Village as five-star, with loads of pool fun, sports, kids’ clubs and its own water park. The resort centre of Kolymbia is nearby, and the beach is 300m if you fancy a change of scenery.
Details: Falcon Holidays (falconholidays.ie) had seven nights all-inclusive at the Holiday Village Rhodes from €3,149 for a family of four in May.
NB: Details correct going to press, but prices subject to availability.
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