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Top Holiday Destinations in 2017

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Dublin airport has just celebrated it’s best ever year in 2016 and there are lots of new routes announced from Dublin, Cork and Shannon. It seems Irish airports are set for another bumper year.  So where are the top holiday destinations in 2017?

It looks like firm favourites, Spain and Portugal will remain the most popular short haul holiday destinations. Every other month we are hearing about new routes to the USA so American holidays will probably be the next biggest crowd pleaser. Short break enthusiasts will welcome the 9 weekly flights to Iceland and if you haven’t visited Athens or Amsterdam yet, 2017 might well be the year to do it. Cruise holidays are gearing up for another year of growth and the 14 weekly flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as the new daily Qatar airways service from Dublin to Doha, ensures long haul holidays will be easily accessible. Here are my picks for holiday hot spots in 2017!

Spain

Ireland’s favourite holiday destination never disappoints. Culture vultures or party animals enjoy the numerous choices for city breaks and beach holidays. Why not combine both though? The Costa Dorada looks like it could be the big winner this year. There are flights from Dublin, Shannon, Cork and Knock serving Reus, Girona or Barcelona and Sunway and Falcon Holidays both offer package deals to Salou and Cambrils. The combination of the iconic city of Barcelona and the opening of Ferrari World at the already popular Port Aventura theme park, make it an ideal choice for all the family.

Top holiday destinations in 2017

Portugal

Another Irish favourite, the Algarve has almost fifty flights per week from Irish airports, in the peak Summer months. Aer Lingus have added a new service to Porto, and Lisbon is already a popular city break destination. It looks like lots Irish holiday makers will be flocking to Portugal in their droves in 2017.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Algarve

Italy

Lakes, mountains, cities and beaches, Italy has something to offer all holiday makers. Lake Garda is becoming more and more popular with families as there are numerous self catering and camping options. The Amalfi Coast is always a popular honeymoon destination and the islands will attract couples looking for an upmarket holiday. Sunway have introduced a direct flight to Sardinia for 2017 which should keep the beach enthusiasts happy, and the growing trend for authentic experiences will ensure that Irish numbers to the region of Puglia should continue to grow.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Sardinia

Greece

Always great value for money and appealing to the masses, the Greek islands should have many Irish visitors in 2017. There are direct flights to Zakynthos, Corfu, Crete, Rhodes and Kos with Falcon Holidays and flights to Athens with Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Aegean airlines. This should ensure Athens will be a popular city break destination but also allow easier access to the sought after islands of Santorini and Mykonos.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Santorini

USA

Flights to the States have grown to unprecedented levels. New routes to from Aer Lingus to Hartford and Miami and extra flights to Los Angeles, Orlando and New York, should translate into a bumper year for Irish tourists to the USA. The addition of low cost flights with Norwegian Air from Cork to Boston and New York, as well as WOW air flights via Iceland, should ensure lots of good deals for Irish holidaymakers. San Francisco is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the iconic ‘summer of love’ with a year of events and festivals in 2017. And would you believe Elvis is dead 40 years this year… sure makes me feel old! Why not pay tribute to the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ by visiting Memphis during ‘Elvis Week’, between 11th and 19th August. See American Sky for details.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Universal Studios

Mexico

Mexico is one of our most popular long haul destinations. Falcon Holidays are offering direct flights from Dublin for those looking for a two week holiday in the summer months. Many choose to fly via America and combine with a city break in New York or Vegas. I think Mexico will continue to be as popular with Irish holidaymakers in 2017.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Mexico

Iceland

WOW air introduced flights to Reykjavik in 2015 which proved to be a resounding success. People chased the Northern lights and swam in the Blue Lagoon, with lots of positive reviews. So much so that WOW have decided to increase flights from Dublin and add on a service from Cork. It looks like Iceland will remain popular in 2017 for weekend breaks and as a holiday destination.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Chase the Northern Lights in Iceland

Cruises

One of the fastest growing sectors in the travel industry is set for another bumper year. The competition has never been greater. Most major cruise lines have dedicated Irish websites now and many travel agents and tour operators have dedicated cruise departments. Free all inclusive drinks packages, half price kids offers and even free flights, will I am sure, entice Irish holidaymakers to cruise in 2017. New destinations like Cuba will make it easier for visitors to visit Havana without paying the increasing accommodation costs. River cruises are also proving popular for discerning clients. For those who don’t want to fly there are even cruises operating directly from Ireland in 2017.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
American cruise lines are now docking in Cuba.

Croatia

For those looking for somewhere a little different but still close to home, Croatia will be a top choice. The stunning city of Dubrovnik has always been a favourite but now there are flights to Split and Pula with Aer Lingus, as well as Zadar with RyanairFalcon Holidays have also announced package holidays to Croatia and specialists Croatia Tours continue to offer a wide choice of package holidays to the region.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Dubrovnik

Middle East and beyond

With two direct daily flights to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi and now a new daily service to Doha with Qatar airlines, getting to Asia, Africa and Australia has never been easier. No lengthy lay overs in Heathrow and prices should reduce too!

Top holiday destinations in 2017
Dubai

South Africa

Ethiopian airlines‘ Dreamliner aircraft made many news reports when they offered cheap direct flights from Dublin to Los Angeles this year. They have now added extra connections from their hub in Addis Ababa to South Africa. This means that flights from Dublin to Cape Town should be easily accessible and hopefully well priced too.

Top holiday destinations in 2017
South African safari

They are my thoughts on the top holiday destinations in 2017 but please comment below if you have any more to add 🙂

 

Sarah

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Living like Royalty at the Hotel du Palais

Hotel du Palais

I stared at the menu thinking I was loosing my mind – there were no prices… I looked around the dining room at the Hotel du Palais and wondered, was this how the other half lived?

 

I knew it was going to be expensive, a Michelin star restaurant in one of France’s best hotels, but I wanted to know how expensive. Should I order the lobster a la plancha  or play it safe and go with the thick cut prime beef? It was only when I raised my concerns with my husband Cormac, he told me there were prices on his menu. The penny dropped – the hotel did not just look old world, it actually was. I know many might think this was sexist, but not me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for equal rights, female presidents and empowered first ladies. This however wasn’t meant to be offensive; on the contrary, it was quite romantic. In a world where so much revolves around money, where price takes precedence over quality, it was refreshing to see that chivalry was alive and well in the Hotel du Palais.


From the moment we drove through the gates and entered the lavish grounds, I knew this stay was going to be something special. Perched at the edge of the town facing the ‘Grand Plage’ in Biarritz the location is perfect. The outdoor pool and snack bar have stunning sea views and once I entered the hotel, the lavish furnishings transported me back in time. I envisaged balls, long gowns, parasols, horse and carriages and old fashioned romance. After it was given by Napoleon to his wife, it became their summer residence in 1855. Kings, queens, presidents and celebrities stayed here and now I was going to join them.

Our room or should I say rooms were probably the largest I have stayed in. We had two massive interconnecting rooms with amazing seaviews, complete with marble bathrooms, dressing rooms and large living areas. They managed to blend modern facilities with old world charm perfectly. In fact this is true all over the hotel, the large indoor swimming pool manages to look like an old roman bath forum, yet has a very modern feel. Incidentally the kids loved the pool and could use it from 10 -12 and 5 -7 each day.

hotel du palais

The town of Biarritz has a fantastic beach right beside the hotel, perfect for surfing, swimming or strolling. There are lots of cafés along the seafront, which are the perfect place to watch the world go by. Don’t miss the daily food market and the many tapas bars located beside it. The town is crammed with specialist boutiques, art galleries and trendy surf shops. I loved that there were no large department stores here. I picked up some great bargains in Morgan and overall I thought it was a great place to shop.

hotel du palais

I also liked that there are not hundreds of things to do in Biarritz. Sometimes city breaks can be exhausting trying to scratch everything off tripadvisor’s top ten things to do list. I walked along the beach towards the Le Rocher de la Vierge, where a statue of Mary stands on a small peninsula that juts out to sea. With the waves crashing against the rocks it was quite dramatic. I also paid a quick visit to the indoor market but decided against climbing the 242 steps to the top of the lighthouse!  Of course you can also pop into the nearby towns of St Jean de Luz or Bayonne. We had just completed a week long road trip where we visited BilbaoLa Rioja and San Sebastian, so we decided to stay put.

We also loved the hotel so much we didn’t want to just use it as a base, but instead we made the hotel the destination. We decided we would splash out and dine in the hotel’s Michelin star restaurant, La Villa Eugénie. We enjoyed some aperitifs in the bar where a pianist played beautifully. Cocktails were €18 but were served with substantial hors d’oeuvres. In fact they were so substantial we really didn’t need a starter. I couldn’t resist the crispy langoustines with mango sauce though, and they were ample for sharing. I was surprised overall at how large the portions were, especially for a Michelin star restaurant. The service and food was outstanding. They catered so well for children too and have a separate kids menu, complete with prices! Mine chose the pasta with tomato sauce €16 and a hamburger and French fries €22. It was my daughter Alex’s 6th birthday and they brought out a plate with ‘bonne anniversaire’ written in gold icing, a lighted candle and some tasty chocolates, all complimentary of course.

This summed up my stay at the Hotel du Palais, The lavish surroundings and impeccable service really made me feel like I was somewhere special. I was somewhere special , it was Napoleon’s summer house and I felt like an invited guest. Yes it is expensive and it is not for everyone, but for a luxury weekend, a special occasion, it is a hotel experience that is worth every penny.

 

For more details and enquiries visit their website.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

Destinations

Top 10 Indian Ocean Holidays for 2017

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The Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Zanzibar.  Some of the world’s most stunning destinations are all so close together. Check out my top 10 Indian Ocean holidays and tick one off your bucket list!

 

Expect breath-taking beaches, underwater paradises and year round shine. All of the islands are competing for the luxury market, honeymoons and special occasion holidays. The result is deluxe hotels, supreme service and unforgettable experiences available throughout. The islands of the Indian Ocean don’t only offer sun and sand, there are also cultural experiences waiting to be discovered. And for those who want a little more adventure, why not combine with South Africa, Tanzania or Dubai. But which islands to choose and where to stay? Here are my top 10 Indian Ocean holidays…

Maldives

Maldives are the islands associated with barefoot luxury, over water bungalows and incredible diving and snorkeling. There are almost  twelve hundred islands but only 200 are inhabited and of those 200, only 105 are island resorts. Hotels in the Maldives are breaking the boundaries here with underwater restaurants, outdoor showers, and water villas with glass floors so you can see the tropical fish at any time. Some resorts offer private islands for honeymooners so you can literally have an island all to yourself.  These luxuries can come with a hefty price tag but more and more hotels are offering all-inclusive packages so once you arrive, you will need no spending money. If you are looking for some action at the beginning or end of your trip, combine this with a few days in Dubai.

Top 10 indian ocean holidays

Where to stay:

 

Best value: 4* Ellaidhoo Maldives by Cinnamon, All-Inclusive basis

Set on its own private island, accessible by speed boat, need I say more? With picture perfect beaches, a fitness centre and activities on site, everything you need is right here. As this is all-inclusive you can enjoy sundowners every evening from your own water bungalow. Prices from only €1549 for seven nights, including flights, accommodation on an all-inclusive basis and speed boat transfers.  Click here for more details:

 

Blow the budget: 5* Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, B&B basis.

Spread across two islands this is one of the world’s best luxury resorts. This is home to the famous under water restaurant, Ithaa, which features on almost every travel bucket list. There are 11 other restaurants here including celebrity chef dining and a teppanyaki restaurant served on the beach, the choice is superb. If you stay between the 20th of April and the 30th of September you receive FREE upgrade to Half Board!  All villas come with outdoor shower and some have their own private plunge pool. Prices from €2759 for seven nights, including flights, sea plane transfers and accommodation on a B&B basis.  Click here for more details:

 

Mauritius

Five star hotels on white sandy beaches with year round sunshine. Sounds perfect! However Mauritius offers so much more. Whale watching, waterfalls and water-sports, fine dining to creole cooking, Mauritius is an island of contrasts. Paradise beach resort one minute and deep in the jungle the next. Mauritius is renowned for great wildlife and sports enthusiasts will love it’s selection of golf courses. The combination of European, Asian and African influence has created a truly cosmopolitan feel and a island full of culture.

Top 10 indian ocean holidays

Where to stay:

 

Great value: 5* Maritim Resort & Spa, All Inclusive basis

Set between 60 acres of tropical gardens, on a magnificent beach, between the capital, Port Louis and the tourist centre of Grand-Baie, the location of the Maritim Resort and Spa is perfect! There is an infinity pool, plenty of on site activities and a wide selection of watersports available. As it is an all-inclusive resort, meals and drinks are included in the price, you even have your own stocked minibar included in the price. Prices from €1609 for seven nights, including flights, hotel on an all-inclusive basis and transfers. Click here for more details:

 

Blow the budget: 5* Maradiva Villas Resort & Spa, Half Board basis

Set amongst 27 acres of gardens with stunning seaviews, the Maradiva Resort and Spa is paradise personified. Villas have their own private pool and come with a butler service. The luxury spa offers a choice of treatments, a hydrotherapy pool and there is a fitness centre with yoga and aqua yoga. Watersports are plentiful as are the dining options. Prices from €2239 for seven nights including flights, transfers and villa on a half board basis. Click here for more details:

 

Seychelles

Another archipelago of 115 islands, the Seychelles is a top honeymoon destination. Unlike the Maldives, you will find jungle terrain and small cove beaches amongst picture perfect stretches of white sand. Go island hopping, try some scuba diving or witness their giant tortoises. If you fancy a change of scene, Victoria, the capital has a great choice of bars and restaurants and a bustling indoor market.

Top 10 indian ocean holidays

Where to stay:

 

Best value: 4* Avani Seychelles Barbarons Resort & Spa, B&B Basis

This quiet relaxing resort is located on a great beach on the west coast of Mahe. There is a choice of restaurants, a wide selection of watersports, a relaxing spa and fitness centre with yoga classes. Families will enjoy the on site kids club from age 4 – 12 years. Prices from €1319 for seven nights, including flights, accommodation on a B&B basis and transfers. Click here for more details: 

 

Blow the budget: 5* Banyan Tree, Seychelles B&B basis

Secluded villas with your own private pool and sun terrace, this is the perfect romantic getaway. Situated on a stunning beach with a freeform infinity pool, luxury spa and fine dining, it doesn’t get much better than this. Prices from €2569 for seven nights, for flights, villa on a B&B basis and transfers. Click here for more details:

 

Sri Lanka

Another island of contrasts, Sri Lanka’s coast is full of tropical white sandy beaches while inland there are tea plantations and rolling hills. Home to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Sri Lanka’s culture and traditions are worth a trip alone. Sri Lanka is an ideal two centre holiday. Visit the world’s only elephant orphanage, the capital Colombo and the world heritage sites before relaxing in one of the five star luxury beach resorts. You can also combine Sri Lanka with the Maldives, only an hour’s flight away, its the perfect Indian Ocean combination.

Top 10 indian ocean holidays

Where to stay?

 

Best value: 4* Club Hotel Dolphin Waikkal, All-Inclusive basis

This modern resort is ideally located on the west coast, beside a sandy beach. The large swimming pool and on site activities make it a great choice for families too. Highly rated on tripadvisor and with all meals and drinks included, this hotel is hard to beat for value. Prices from €1089 for seven nights, including flights, transfers and hotel on an all-inclusive basis. Click here for more details:

 

Blow the budget: 5* Jetwing Lighthouse Galle, B&B basis

Sri Lanka’s leading spa resort and one of the small luxury hotels of the world, this is the ultimate place to stay in Sri Lanka. It is situated on a pristine white sandy beach with stunning sea views and mixes modern decor with classic styles. The service, food and facilities are first class. Prices from €1349 for seven nights including flights, hotel on a B&B basis and transfers. Click here for more details:

 

Zanzibar

One of my favourite holidays,  I combined a safari in Tanzania with a week in Zanzibar.  It’s slow paced relaxed vibe is just what I needed after an action packed safari. Complete with unspoilt white sandy beaches and warm waters, many choose to relax here and rarely leave their hotel. Those who do will find a capital, Stone Town, full of character and charm and a jungle interior waiting to be explored. The plantations are famous for spices, in fact it is often referred to as the ‘spice island’ and if you look closely you may spot the red colobus monkeys that roam freely here.

Top 10 indian ocean holidays

Where to stay?

 

Best value: 5* Dream of Zanzibar Resort, All-Inclusive basis

This luxury beach front property has five restaurants and three bars so there are plenty of places to enjoy the all-inclusive facilities. There is a watersports centre, multisports court and gym if you need to work off those extra calories! If you just want to chill out an relax there are two pools, a luxury spa and of course there’s the stunning beach. With prices from €1439 including flights, all-inclusive accommodation and transfers, for seven nights, this is exceptional value for a 5* resort. Click here for more details:

 

Blow the budget: 5* The Residence Zanzibar, Half Board Basis

This elegant hotel is located on one of the island’s best beaches. It’s modern decor mixed with traditional themes make it the idyllic choice on the island. The resort has sixty six villas, each with a private pool, stunning sea views, private gardens and a personal butler. There are thirty two hectares of gardens, pool, fitness centre, spa and a selection of watersports available. With prices from €1619 including flights, villa on a half board basis and transfers, for seven nights, this is not as expensive as you would expect for such a luxurious hotel. Click here for more details:

 

Prices are correct at the time of issue but are subject to change. This post was sponsored by Tropical Sky but all views, as always, are my own 🙂
Sarah
Family HolidaysTravel

Family Holiday to the Algarve, 20th July, 2 adults & 2 children, 1 week, €1547!

Family holiday to the Algarve

Take the kids on a family holiday to the Algarve. Check out this super deal to the popular Eirasol apartments for only €1547 in July.

 

Spend time on some of Europe’s best beaches, explore the old towns or enjoy the cosmopolitan marinas – the Algarve ticks all boxes. Take the kids to one of the many waterparks or explore the fantastic Zoomarine, complete with animal shows and a splash park. I have chosen the resort of Albufeira, which is one of the most popular resorts on the Algarve.  The old town is full of character with pedestrianised streets packed with al fresco bars and local restaurants. The new town has many modern bars, shops and restaurants, Albufeira offers something for everyone. There are long sandy beaches between both towns and plenty of options to chill out and relax or enjoy the Atlantic surf.

Family holiday to the Algarve

You will be staying at the popular Eirasol apartments which are within easy reach of all that Albufeira has to offer. Highly rated on tripadvisor and awarded a certificate of excellence, this is amazing value for a last minute break away. Fly from Dublin on the 20th of July and enjoy a seven night stay for €1547 based on 2 adults and 2 children sharing.

 

Click here for more details:

 

All prices are correct at the time of issue but are subject to change.   

 

Sarah

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Family Holidays

Lapland is on Sale Now

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Lapland is without a doubt one of the best trips you can do with your kids, I can not recommend it highly enough! Lapland is on sale now, book it before its too late!

The magic starts at the airport. You are greeted by representatives in costume when suddenly you see that the destination on the check-in desk is the North Pole. The magic never stops! A winter wonderland covered in snow is enough for most kids, but meeting the ‘real’ Santa Claus, is sensory overload!

A trip to see Santa in Lapland by The Travel Expert

You can choose a one night sleepover trip or the two night Sleighbell Spectacular trip. I was lucky to be able to go on the two night trip two years ago with my children. Prices start at €899 per adult and €799 for children from Dublin and Cork for the one night trips and €1259 per adult and €1059 per child for two nights. I loved the two night Sleighbell Spectacular and I would say beg, borrow or steal to do it! I stayed in a luxury log cabin and had a winter wonderland experience. Enjoy a snowmobile ride through the forest, husky and reindeer rides, a trip to Santa’s command centre and a trip to Santa’s village! All activities, food and arctic clothing are included in the price. You really only need spending money for souvenirs. With memories that will last a lifetime and possibly go on for generations, they really are priceless. For more information on my trip to Lapland, you can read my blog here.

 

Click here for more details or email me for personal quotations.

 

Sarah

 

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A Short Break in San Sebastian

San Sebastian

San Sebastian was stop number three on our tour of the Basque Country and the place I was looking forward to the most. There are more Michelin starred restaurants per square metre than ANY other city in the world, it is the city where Spanish royals spent their summers and it is home to one of Spain’s best beaches. Needless to say my expectations were very high….

 

We arrived late the in afternoon and went straight for the old town to try some of the tasty food we had heard so much about. Although home to 16 michelin stars, it was the 200 pintxos bars that I was looking forward to the most! Pintxos (pronounced ‘Pintoes’) are a tradition in San Sebastian, small bite size food portions, traditionally served with local wine or cider. Or to put it another way – the Basque country’s version of tapas! In the old town there were dozens of places to choose from, each one packed. San Sebastian was buzzing, it was chic and stylish, with an old town full of character. It was everything I had hoped it would be.

We had our kids with us so bar hopping wasn’t ideal, but we did our best! There is no need to worry about children not liking the food as EVERY pinxtos bar has steak on the menu. Speaking of menus most locals order from a menu and don’t take the food on the bar. Of course its fresher but I’m also told you will also get better quality from the menu too. Children’s menus are not prevalent so although prices seem reasonable, when you end up paying for four adults – maybe not so much… We enjoyed a tasty meal and some nice Rioja but decided on a early night as we had an action packed next day planned!

We decided to opt for the local tourist train. It was handy with the kids and gave us a good idea of the layout of the city and where the highlights were. San Sebastian is a beautiful city. Buildings, side streets, alleyways, everywhere I looked I had to get the camera out. It is opulent and easy to understand why it is the holiday resort of Spain’s elite. Having the benefits of city living but with an amazing beach right on your doorstep, it’s the cliché – it offers the best of both worlds! Although you could easily compare it to Paris or Prague in terms of beauty, it is so small that you can easily see everything in a couple of days.


We started with a walk along La Concha beach. It didn’t take long to realise why it is one of the world’s best urban beaches. There is not a shell or stone in sight and the water is crystal clear. It was November when we visited and I was tempted to get in for a swim! A leisurely forty minute walk will bring you to the famous sculpture, El Peine del Viento (Comb of the Wind). With the waves crashing against the rocks, it’s the perfect picture spot!

There is an a funicular railway to Monte Igueldo close by which offers great views of San Sebastián, as well as an old amusement park. In fact there are several places to enjoy the view in San Sebastian. Monte Urgull where the statue of Christ watches over the old town, is another favourite. This is the only place where you will see the city’s three beaches and is home to La Mota Castle and San Telmo Museum. In the summer time a boat trip to Santa Clara Island is also worth a trip. Home to the only south facing beach in the Basque Country as well as a forest with picnic tables and a great view of the city.


After all the sightseeing it was time for the highlight of my trip, a pintxos tour of San Sebastian. We started at the Bretxa market. This is where all the top chefs source their produce, this set the tone perfectly. I have no doubt we had THE best tour guide, Eskerne Falcon, from Discover San Sebastián. Her bubbly personality and perfect English won us over, even before we tasted the food! She immediately made the kids at ease, asked them what food they liked and assured them that they would enjoy some tasty pintxos!

Our first port of call was Bernardo Etxea where we tried octopus, fried green peppers and a delicious shrimp brochette, accompanied by local cider and white wine from the area. Eskerne, ever the professional, had also ordered plenty of Jamon Iberico, in case we wanted to play it safe! We were told this particular Jamon Iberico was from small black pigs that eat only acorns – the benefits of a good diet were evident, it was the best Jamon Iberico I have ever tasted.

We moved on to Bar La Cepa. Open since 1948, it is practically an institution in San Sebastian. We had mouthwatering anchovies as well as Gavilla (ham and cheese toasties) for the kids.  Our last stop was Gandarias. Ranked as one of San Sebastian’s top restaurants on TripAdvisor, it was packed with locals and tourists alike. We tried the local desert, Torrija. I liked it but unfortunately the cinnamon wasn’t a big hit with the kids. That was no trouble to Eskerne, she took us to San Sebastian’s best ice cream parlour instead, Oiartzun. Needless to say this was a big hit! If pintxos are not your thing, the lobster and sirloin at Lanziego is supposed to be excellent, but I guess I’ll just have to come back to make sure…

I’m not sure if it was the copious amounts of wine or food, or both, but it was time for a rest. We paid a visit to the aquarium, just a few minutes walk from the harbour, to let the kids have some much needed play time. It’s not the best aquarium I have ever visited, but it was exactly what was needed after a morning full of adult entertainment. We had just enough time for a quick visit to Spain’s largest Zara store. We simply had to avail of the 20% savings – sure it would be rude not to…

San Sebastian is everything you want in a city and more. It is ideal for a short break, yet offers so much that you will want to stay longer. It is stylish, full of character and has some of the best dining options in the world. Go discover San Sebastian.

 

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Sarah

The Travel Expert 
 
Holidays in Ireland

Christmas time at the Connacht Hotel, Galway

Connacht hotel

We had the pleasure of spending an overnight in the Connacht Hotel in Galway recently. Our annual Santa visit took us to the Aillwee Cave this year so we decided to overnight in Galway the night before.

 

We set off on Saturday from Dublin and were there within 2 hours. The rooms were bright, modern and very spacious. Although we were only staying for one night, there was a separate living area with a kitchen which was ideal for a longer stay. WiFi is fast and free too! We dropped the bags, decided to have a quick wander around Galway and avail of the hotel’s facilities in the evening.

Connacht Hotel

The centre of Galway city is a 25 minute walk or €10 in a taxi so if you don’t fancy driving, it is easily accessible. Once you arrive in Eyre Square the lights are dazzling. Christmas market stalls are everywhere and the atmosphere is terrific. Many are happily shopping for Christmas decorations and gifts while others enjoy the hot food or mulled wine. We decided to do all of the above! The fun fair had some great rides including a large ferris wheel as well as some money making stalls like ‘ how to knock the elf off the shelf’. My kids were intrigued but despite watching for 15 minutes, not one person managed to do it! As the light fades the Christmas lights are even more impressive. Shop Street is pretty cool at any time of the year but at Christmas time it is magical.

Connacht Hotel

After a thoroughly enjoyable few hours we went back to the hotel for a ‘promised’ swim.   The swimming pool at the Connacht Hotel is fantastic. There are jacuzzis, swim lanes and ample room for adults and children to swim. Incidentally the hotel attracts many sports groups. The Treviso Rugby team were staying there when we were there, suffice to say it is very well equipped for sports enthusiasts. Not only is the 20 metre swimming pool impressive but they have fantastic fitness and exercise studios ( 40 classes each week) and a 24 hour gym.

Connacht Hotel

The family facilities at the Connacht Hotel are excellent. There is a wide selection of activities at various times during the day. From arts and crafts to talent shows, Wii games to movies, there is plenty to keep the kids happy. The Friendly Fellows kids club opens until 10pm and there was a movie on from 8 while we were there. It’s a great option for kids who don’t necessarily want games or arts and crafts, but just want to chill out and watch a movie. There is a play area for younger kids but parents need to be present.

Connacht Hotel

We dined in the hotel that evening and this was another welcome surprise. If you book a package including an evening meal, the menu is very extensive. Not a buffet in sight (my pet hate at dinner time!). Everything is included in the cost, with the exception of the 10oz sirlion steak which carries a €6 supplement. I went for the chicken curry while my husband had the beer battered cod and chips, both were really tasty. You can eat in the bar or restaurant and both have a great lively atmosphere. If you want a quiet romantic meal for two, go elsewhere! Live music started at 10pm but an Irish take on Garth Brooks wouldn’t be my choice, so we opted for an early night. Breakfast was excellent, lots of choice, pancakes to Irish pudding, we checked out quite content!

Connacht Hotel

The Connacht is a great choice for a family vacation at Christmas or any time. They have large family rooms and apartments on site, a host of activities for kids and a great family fun atmosphere. For prices and availability on the Connacht hotel click here.

 

Like holidays in Ireland? See more here.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

Holidays in Ireland

Santa at Aillwee Cave

Santa at Ailwee Cave

As many of you may know, we visited Lapland a few years ago and since then we have found it really difficult to find a Santa experience in Ireland to get excited about. Was Santa at Aillwee Cave going to be any different?

 

Last years experience in Dublin was pretty poor, I won’t name the place but suffice to say I came away promising myself we would do something better this year. I decided to ask my readers on Facebook for recommendations and to my surprise, ‘Santa at Aillwee Cave’ was mentioned numerous times. I didn’t even know they had a Santa Experience! I read some reviews and liked the cave idea and decided to give Santa at Aillwee Cave a try. We decided to make a weekend of it so we booked an over-night stay in the Connacht Hotel in Galway and booked the Santa Experience for 11.30am the following day. It was perfect. We arrived in Galway and enjoyed a few hours at the Christmas markets, had a swim in the hotel pool, a leisurely meal and set off for Aillwee the following morning. It is only a 50 minute drive from the Connacht Hotel and we arrived in plenty of time.

We were greeted by happy elves who gave the kids their own book on Santa at Aillwee Cave, while discretely placing a sticker on their coats with their name on it. Mums and Dads are not overlooked either and we received a Christmas Bauble embossed with ‘Christmas 2016 at Aillwee Cave’. There was complementary tea, coffee, hot punch and minced pies, a lovely touch. There were merry go rounds and waltzers for kids to play in before or after the visit, also free of charge.  Jack Frost and Mrs Claus were in constant view and ready for pictures and a chat. Everywhere they went it seemed the elves, Mrs Claus and Jack Frost knew their names – a simple sticker worked wonders! My daughter got her face painted and we had time to catch the puppet show too, so getting there early was a good idea!

 

#facepainting at #aillweecaves at #christmastime #santa #santaclaus #christmas #christmassy #santavisit #familytime #familytravel

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Twinkle the Head Elf called out the names of the kids who Santa wanted to see, and off we went. Each visit is divided into a small group and we set off deep into the cave in single file. The acoustics in the cave made for a great rendition of jingle bells and set the tone perfectly. We searched for some clues before arriving at Santa’s workshop, only to discover he was asleep. Luckily we had a group of children who were only too delighted to wake him up! The setting was magical. Santa’s Finnish accent and the rows of presents behind him added to the authenticity. The children were seated in two benches in front of Santa while the adults stood behind. Siblings were called up to stand beside Santa while he recounted their achievements throughout the year. My son. Luke, was a little nervous, but when Santa calls your name, you have to go! It was amazing to see Santa complimenting him on his sports achievements and when Santa’s farewell words were ‘ May the force be with you’ – I could see the magic in his eyes. How did Santa know he was a Star Wars fan? He also knew what my daughter Alex favourite toys were and told her that she needed to start cycling her bicycle! Santa then presented them with toys, and even these were a step up from the usual cheap ‘tat’ that we have been given on previous Santa visits.

Santa at Aillwee Cave

Listening to Santa’s unique words to all the boys and girls was fantastic. No standard lines about how good they had been all year. The personal touch in Aillwee Cave was evident throughout, especially during the visit with Santa. We collected our souvenir photo, which incidentally was the only thing that you had to pay for. In fact you could take the picture yourself and not buy one at all. This was really refreshing. I have been to many Santa visits and you always end up spending a fortune on extras, in Aillwee everything is included in the price.

Santa at Aillwee Cave

Once the visit was over, we decided to pay a quick visit to the Christmas shop and post our letters in Santa’s post box. We were just in time to catch the 1.00pm ‘Birds of Prey’ show, also included in the price! They have two shows per day so try to time your visit with one of them as they worth staying for. The kids loved seeing the hawk, vultures and falcon perform and there is a selection of birds available to view on site afterwards.

Santa at Aillwee Cave

Santa at Aillwee Cave is special with personal touches that the kids will not forget. Make a weekend of it, you may not have many left! Believe me it is worth the drive, even if you do have to listen to Christmas songs the whole way home 😉

Click here for more information on our visit to Santa at Aillwee Cave.

 

Like holidays in Ireland? See more here.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert
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Discovering There Is More To Rioja Than Wine…

Discovering Rioja

La Rioja was the biggest surprise on my tour of Northern Spain. So many Irish holidaymakers travel to Spanish cities and coastal resorts, but rarely to the countryside. I visited Chianti in Tuscany many times and loved it. Was there more to Rioja than wine?

 

After spending 48 hours in Bilbao, we took the short one hour drive to La Rioja. This was our second stop on our road trip through the Basque Country. It wasn’t long before the landscape changed. Although Rioja is one of Spain’s smallest regions, it is also one of the most diverse. We were surrounded by colourful vineyards, rolling hills, snow capped mountains and pretty villages.

It was late October and the autumnal leaves were a kaleidoscope of colours.  We stopped in the old towns of Haro, Cellórigo and Sajazarra and I was genuinely struck at how beautiful this region was. Sajazarra is home to a 14th century castle and a 12th century church, which we literally stumbled upon. The town is filled with ancient walls and quaint bodegas offering wine tasting. I was in heaven.

We stayed in the fabulous Teatrisso hotelin the pretty town of Cuzcurrita del Rio Tíron. Once a 16th century farmhouse, it was a theatre, a cinema and home to the Italian army during the war. It lay empty until 2011 when an enterprising couple, Laura and Jose decided to make it their home. When we arrived we were greeted by Laura, who personally showed us around her hotel, I was immediately captivated. If only the thick stone walls could talk, I was sure there would be some stories to tell. The restoration is superb and the modern furnishings seem to fit in perfectly.

Our rooms were stunning and equipped with quirky but attractive furniture. We were guests in their house but with all the comforts of a five star hotel. They even have an ‘honest bar’ where you help yourself and write down what drinks you have had. Prices were extremely good too!

Discovering Rioja

We went for a stroll around the village which didn’t take long. It is typical of many of the villages in La Rioja, picture perfect, but small. We ate in the only restaurant open in town, Asadoraker. Another family run business with home cooked food and nice wine – just what we wanted.

The next day we decided to try some wine tasting. Laura kindly booked us into the local bodega, Bohedal, and off we went. Bohedal is a small family run winery producing 100,000 bottles of wine each year. They offer a tour of their wine cellar as well as wine tasting. The personal attention was fantastic and I can honestly say I learned so much in our tasting session. I found myself smelling the chocolate, leather and pepper aromas and by the end of our wine tasting I could tell the difference between Romanian, American and French oak barrels. I was seriously impressed!

They even got the kids involved. Alex and Luke we allowed taste various grape juices while we tasted the wine! Depending on the time of year you visit, children can help crush or pick the grapes. They can also paint their own wine labels and cork their own bottles. They offer many seasonal experiences too, from Mothers and Fathers day treats to cookery classes.

Discovering Rioja
All good things must come to an end though and our time in La Rioja was over. What we saw was just a sample of what the region has to offer on a quick over night stop, and I loved it. There is so much to do here, I would suggest staying at least a week and exploring the region entirely. L

a Rioja is known for its old towns, wineries and culinary delights but it offers so much more. You can walk the Camino de Santigao, go skiing in Valdezcaray, play golf at Rioja Alta Golf Cub or even try hot air ballooning over the vineyards! I am also told the towns of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Logroño are ‘must see’ towns. I guess l’ll just have to come back!

 

Read about our next stop on our tour of the Basque Country –  San Sebastian 🍴

 

Like city breaks? Check out more destination reviews and travel deals by clicking here.

 

Sarah

 

The Travel Expert

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