Most beautiful view in the world! www.nissi-beach.com

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A moonlit swim at Nissi Beach in March! It was snowing back in Ireland!

Valva village in the Torrdos Mountains, Cyprus.

See you in Cyprus, X

🤩 I recently returned to Cyprus. It was as beautiful and special as ever. Twenty years before, I had touched down at Larnaca airport in the middle of the night. ‘Take me to the beach,’ I asked one of the many taxi drivers jostling for business. ‘In fact, take me to Nissi Beach,’ I added, remembering that my aunt and uncle had visited, and had described it as paradise. Cyprus had seemed like a good choice for a female solo traveller. With nice, sunny temperatures, it was a popular tourist destination. I’d be safe there, I thought. Safe and warm. But nothing could have prepared me for the magic of the island. With its warm hospitality, and beautiful scenery to offer, Cyprus has something for everyone.

The sea is warm enough to swim in, even in winter, and the island, which is steeped in history and rich tradition, boasts much more than sun and fabulous beaches. I recently went back to the Nissi Beach Hotel in Ayia Napa. Nothing much had changed and the hotel’s charm was as irresistible as ever. It sees many guests returning year after, and it’s not hard to see why. You literally walk down a short, pretty garden path to get to the white sandy beach, and soon you are immersed in a vivid blue, sparkling water, with rays of sunshine beaming down on you. If you prefer not to get your feet sandy however, the hotel has a large outdoor pool, and also a heated indoor pool. A family-friendly hotel, children are always welcome too. As Cyprus is a small island, it offers plenty of delightful excursions, all within driving distance, if you tire of the sun lounger.

An animal lover, I particularly loved the Achna donkey sanctuary, set up on the tranquil hills. It is a peaceful, happy place and also has a restaurant serving the most delicious traditional Cypriot food. I enjoyed tucking into my fresh Greek salad, overlooking a magnificent valley, listening to a mix of donkeys neighing, goats baying and lively local music. It was weird and wonderful and I thoroughly recommend it. I also went to see a swarm of bees, near Vavla village. It was exciting and slightly terrifying. No, it wasn’t exactly my best fashion moment dressed in white with my funny protective helmet on, but it was a worthwhile experience, something that one probably only ever does once. Afterwards I tasted the honey that the bees had made, and it was delicious. The lovely local girl, Georgia, who runs the bee centre is very passionate about the environment and gives tours to tourists. So if you wish to be a beekeeper for the day and enjoy making fun memories, check out www.ecophysiscy.com For food lovers, Cyprus is Heaven on Earth. As a vegetarian, I sometimes find it tricky eating abroad, but Cyprus has an abundance of fresh produce to offer. The fruit is out of this world, and I’m still dreaming about their oranges which can be seen growing all over the island! There is nothing tastier than an authentic Greek salad, and I enjoyed this in many restaurants. My most memorable meal though, was at ‘Our House’ in the delightful, tiny village of Vavla, run by the fabulous George and his wife Donna Marie. Apart from my salads, I enjoyed wild asparagus, poached eggs, halloumi cheese, freshly baked breads, and an array for vegetables including carrots cooked in homemade marmalade, brandy and brown sugar. My fish-loving friends, particularly enjoyed the popular Vassos fish Tavern, which is right beside the harbour at Ayia Napa. They raved about the calamari, prawns, mussels and sea bass, and there’s something quite splendid about eating right at the water’s edge. It is open 365 days of the year, and well worth a visit. www.vassosfishtavern.com

For a truly authentic Cypriot meal, try Ploumin tavern in Sotira village. With its olde worlde charm, it’s well worth visiting and the food will please even the fussiest of eaters. It opens at 6pm daily and is about a 15 minute drive from Ayia Napa. Larnaca town itself is a very pleasant place to while away a morning or afternoon. It’s clean and pretty and a welcome break from the sunbathing. It is home to two museums that are well worth visiting. I would certainly hire a car to get around the towns, and a trip up the mountains offers breath-taking scenery, and the freshest air imaginable. The roads are very good, and it’s a bonus that in Cyprus, they drive on the same side as the road as us!

One afternoon we enjoyed wine-tasting high above the Lefkara valley with stunning views of the rolling landscape. The winery is called Dafermou www.dafermouwinery.com and it’s a modern facility run by charming hosts, Yannis and Alexia. It’s a lovely place to chill out and enjoy some local wines. Cyprus has been producing wine for thousands of years, so no wonder they’re very good at it! Another day we visited Cyherbia Botanical Park, about a half an hour’s drive from Larnaca. With ten different herb gardens, a café, beautiful gift shop and a maze, this is a wonderful place to visit, and the owner’s mother-in-law is from Belfast! Here I stocked up on lots of lavender to bring home as a memento. So if you haven’t yet decided on this year’s family holiday, let me recommend this very special island. The kids will love it, as will you. The only problem is leaving – you just won’t want to!

There she goes... www.silversea.com

A home from home aboard Silver Whisper

We are sailing!

SEA OF LUXURY ‘If I won the lottery I’d go on a cruise.’ It’s just one of those clichéd sayings. Cruises are for the retired, those with no imagination and more money then sense, right? Well, no. Not if you’re a passenger with SilverSea, deservedly voted the world’s best small cruise liner by Conde Naste magazine. I recently took a cruise of a lifetime. In my dreams I’m still on the ship, and when I wake up I pine for the fact that I’m not still there, floating between countries on the magical intimately fabulous liner called Silver Whisper. All my life I’ve never been sure exactly where I was supposed to be. Stepping onboard the fabulous boat, I smiled to myself and thought ‘I am home!’

Of course, on hearing that most SilverSea passengers are repeat visitors, it’s not that unbelievable. What surprises me is why they bother getting off the ship at all. The amazing thing about SilverSea, which has a fleet of nine, is that you can hop on and off and design your own itinerary. I boarded the cruise in Funchal on the Portugese island of Madeira. Five days later I disembarked with a heavy heart and a slightly sore head (all drinks are complimentary on board!). One night, at the bar listening to jazz, a multi-millionairess, dripping in chunky gold jewellery, told me she had been on board for three months already. Rather than being sick with jealousy, I told her that one day I was going to do the same. And I really meant it. Being all-inclusive is a great idea, which means you can save in advance for the trip and pay before you go, so that you won’t receive a potential heart-stopping bill on disembarkation. Also, if you pay well in advance, by the time you go on the cruise, it will seem like all the food and drink really is for free, and tipping is strongly not encouraged nor expected. But be warned! While sipping mega strong cocktails in the sun by the pool, or in one of the jacuzzis, may seem an excellent idea at the time, if the sea becomes anyway choppy you may regret your actions! The Italian family owned six-star fleet offers complete luxury with attentive staff that are so well trained they surely all have degrees in first class hospitality. However sometimes I had to remind the enthusiastic waiters that I was well able to carry my dessert the short distance from the buffet to the dining table without assistance – I’m not that old and frail for goodness sake! Even the designated housekeeper to my luxurious ensuite cabin apologised when I arrived that the ice wasn’t quite ready for my champagne. A whole bottle of champagne at 11:am? Even I couldn’t drink that! I said I could wait a little while and took in the surroundings of my cabin. It had a lovely comfy double bed with a big mirrored dressing table and a separate sitting room, with stocked fridge, tv/video and binoculars, and a private balcony where I could sit out and watch the Canary Islands glide by. And so my holiday began.

Every day we stopped off at a different island. I got out at La Palma, for a quick walk along the prom but after that I didn’t get off the ship at all. There is so much to do onboard. You can have a few cocktails by the pool or enjoy coffee up on deck, relax in the spa, get your hair done looking out to sea or curl up in the library and read a book. You can also practise your swing in the driving range, or go on a guided walk. I declined the walk as it started at 7:30am. Sure I was only getting to bed at that stage! Anyway, with all those endless activities, why would I want to leave paradise, even for an hour or so? I savoured every moment of my cruise. I loved the entertainment and the dancing and I made friends with half the guests. Sometimes during the day I would wander around however and bump into nobody. Even though the ship was almost full, it always seemed so magically quiet. My fellow guests were conservative and charming, and there were no children on board. They’ll have to drag me off this liner kicking and screaming, I thought resolutely as the end of the cruise neared. Nevertheless I did retain my dignity and walked off the ship unescorted at the end. But I’ll be back time and time again.

So folks, if you’re planning a dream honeymoon book a SilverSea cruise, if you’re celebrating a wedding anniversary go on board the SilverSea. If you’re celebrating anything try the SilverSea cruise. And even if you’re not celebrating, sail with SilverSea anyway. You’ll have the time of your life!

www.silversea.com

Enjoying Tuscany... not my car (sadly).

Viva Italia!

Touring Tuscany.

Everybody says that once you go to Italy, you will return over and over again. Now I know why. After a recent visit to delightful Tuscany I fell head over heels in love with the area. What’s not to love about it? This part of the world has everything a tourist could want - great food, fabulous wines, sunny weather, to-die-for boutiques where you can buy Italian designer clothing at much cheaper prices, culture, and warm, friendly people. While most people are familiar with Pisa, we toured the less well-known Versilia and Lucca and found them to be an absolute delight. These regions are romantic, exciting, relaxing and refreshingly not too populated. Both Versilia and Lucca are steeped in history and also home to many impressive architectural buildings.

Versilia also boasts 20 km of magnificent sandy beaches from Torre del Lago Puccini, stretching as far as Vittoria Apuana (Forte dei Marmi) in the north. An extensive range of accommodation can be found in the area, from camping sites to small-run family hotels to luxury top market hotels. The are also offers an extensive range of top class restaurants offering healthy mouthwatering meals. And of course no visit to Italy is complete without a taste of its famous ice-creams! We flew from Dublin to Pisa with Ryanair and then drove approximately 40 minutes to the gorgeous town of Pietrasanta in Versilia. This town has many charming little boutique shops and tiny cafes dotted along the pedestrian streets as well as a majestic cathedral in the town centre. Our four-star hotel was right on the street and was a treat to stay in. It was called the Palazzo Guiscardo www.palazzoguiscardo.it and it’s an original Liberty style building that dates back to the 1800s. All the rooms have a different unique design and some have four poster beds. They also have outdoor terraces where you can sit outside in the evenings. The spacious bathrooms have been decked out in prestigious local marble, following the tradition of Pietrasanta town, home to many artists, sculptors and workshops. We actually visited one such marble workshop in the town and it was very exciting to see the sculptors hard at work.

The following day we visited Camaiore which is a fascinating little village, located at the bottom of a valley and surrounded by the northern Appenines. It was founded in Roman times and contains many artistic treasures such as the well-known Collegiate Church and Benedictine Abbey. We also visited the historical city of Viareggio – a city with its Art Deco buildings, port and Gran Caffe’ Margherita - a favourite haunt of renowned composer, Giacomo Puccini and his friends. Here we passed by Puccini’s impressive villa where he lived from 1921 and where he composed the opera “Turandot”. We then departed for Lucca, which is stunning walled town, with locals and tourists instead opting to travel on foot or by bike. Viewed from above, Lucca is a patchwork of terracotta roofs, broken up by a series of walled gardens and piazzas. It offers a timeless quality that tourists in search of old world Italy will certainly appreciate. Here we attended a small operatic concert in honour of Puccini. The next morning we transferred to Torre del Lago Puccini where we visited Puccini’s House. This is a worthwhile excursion as this house where he once lived is now a museum and it is also where Puccini is buried. Then we crossed a nearby lake via boat to Massarosa and then, by bus, we visited the nearby hills and the village of Bargecchia with its church that inspired the first act of “La Boheme”.

We were only in Italy for three nights but because we packed so much into our quick visit, the holiday seemed a lot longer. I would definitely recommend Versilia and Lucca as places to visit. They are easily accessible but will transport you to a different world. The only problem is you won’t want to come home!

Ryanair operates direct flights from Dublin Airport to Pisa. www.ryanair.com

Other useful websites: www.italiantourism.com

www.versilia.turismo.toscana.it and www.provincia.lucca.it

I met this friendly turtle in Italy. I'm not sure he was happy taking a selfie with me!

Great chatting to Paul Crettendun of Cathay Pacific @ The Morrisson Hotel, Dublin (June '19). Cathy Pacific now flies from Dublin to Hong Kong 4 times per week.

A very informative media reception at the Czech Embassy, Ballsbridge. The Czech Republic boasts the best medicinal spas in the world. Thanks to His Excellency, Petr Kynstetr for his warm hospitality.

One island... and a hotel full of secrets...

Striking a pose with my fellow travel bloggers at the Travelmedia awards at the Shelbourne Hotel. Always a fantastic night thanks to Michael Collins and Niamh Waters! #TMevents

Breaking news... Sardinia calling! Irish fans of the beautiful Italian island of Sardinia will be delighted to hear that Ryanair is operating direct flights from Dublin to Cagliari Airport this July and August 2019. A warm welcome awaits!

 

A man paddles a boat on the stunning Mediterranean island of Sardinia. Fly directly from Dublin (summer '19)tly

Aye, Captain!

Stena Line .... Connecting Europe. Stena now sails from Rosslare to Fishguard. www.stenaline.ie

All aboard!

‘Life doesn’t get much better than this,’ I thought as I swam in the lovely heated pool. I was staying in Wales, at the colourful Italian-style Portmeirion Village. Looking out across the mountains and the beach, the tranquillity and beauty of my surroundings was mesmerising. Earlier on I had zip lined across a quarry at the speed of 100 miles an hour. The day before I had been birdwatching in a speed boat. I’d barely had time to take a breath, such was the jam-packed itinerary. It was hard to believe I was just across the water from home. Thanks to the wonderful Stena Adventure super ferry, I enjoyed a most pleasant, seamless return journey from Dublin port to Holyhead. If you’re planning a family holiday this summer, this sure is the way to travel. Fill up the boot of your car, with no need to worry about baggage restrictions. Hey, you can even bring the dog! Now, I’m not usually into extreme sports but I teamed up with www.adventuretoursuk.com and the good people there convinced me to try the world’s biggest zip line. Um, why not? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But when I actually reached the quarry and saw the large turquoise lake that I was supposed to zoom across, panic set in. What if I fell in? Had anyone ever stalled on the zip line before? A million thoughts raced through my head. Was I mad? Should I make last minute calls to loved ones? In the end I decided to just go for it. The experience was so fast and exciting, and with the wind howling in my ears, I didn’t have time to dwell on what was happening. Afterwards, pumped with adrenalin, I was so happy to get to the bar and enjoy a well-deserved alcohol aperitive. When I came home my 10-year-old was jealous when I showed him the video. He wanted to know if there were any age restrictions. ‘Ten,’ I told him. His eyes lit up. So, it looks like we’ll be going again this summer en famille! At least I’ll know what to expect next time.

If you would like to visit yourself check out www.zipworld.co.uk Wales has a lot to offer holidaymakers seeking more than just a pool holiday. Teenagers will love all the fun activities such as the zip line, the water sports, the foraging – we met up with a hedge witch, forager and vegan cook called Jules Cooper and had lunch on a beautiful, windswept beach. Adults will love exploring the stunning castles of Wales, including the amazing 13th century Beaumaris Castle in Anglesey, which is an architect’s unfinished masterpiece, steeped in history. All the family will enjoy the lovely beaches, and Welsh culinary delights. One part of the trip I especially loved was the trip on powerboat that raced our group through the Menai Strait – a narrow stretch of water separating the island of Anglesey to Mainland Wales. On the boat trip we passed under the famous Menai Suspension bridge and the Britiannia Tubular bridge. This channel of water is known for its tricky currents, but luckily we were in the safe hands of brothers Christian and Charles Harris of www.ribride.co.uk and the charming skippers even took us dolphin watching around Puffin Island. Lovers of the sea, nature and wildlife will adore this excursion – but bring gloves, jackets and hats – it gets cold out on the water! There are places to stay in Wales to suit every budget, but it would be hard to top the Portmeirion Village with its aforementioned outdoor heated swimming pool. The picturesque, fantasy village is a photographer’s delight and is a joy to navigate on foot. Fans of The Prisoner TV series will recognise the setting! Day visitors can enjoy the village for a small entry fee; and the food in the hotel restaurant is to die for. The views across the bay alone, would make it well worth the reservation.

I wish my trip to Wales hadn’t been so short, but at least it means I have an excuse to return to explore further. I can especially imagine getting lost in nature in the magnificent region of Snowdonia. With its breath-taking mountains and bubbling streams, it reminds me so much of Ireland. And in fact, it doesn’t feel too far away at all, as the return ferry trip back is very pleasant – almost like a mini holiday itself. The ship has lots of bars and restaurants and even a VIP area, where for just £18 extra per person where you can relax in comfort and enjoy complimentary wine and food. See you at sea! www.stenaline.ie

And... relax. Trust me to find a heated pool in North Wales! It's at the stunning Italian-style village of Portmeirion. Fans of The Prisoner TV series will love it here.

Sped past this fabulous castle along the Menai Strait, Anglesey, Wales. Thanks to www.ripride.co.uk for the amazing power boat ride!

The wilds of Snowdonia... reminds me of Ireland.

Well now, this wasn't terrifying at all zip lining across a Welsh quarry at 100 miles an hour! www.adventuretoursuk.com (May '19)

Dine like royalty at the Bussaco Palace Hotel, Portugal! The food and company were fab!

Come to Coimbra! (My article from the Sunday World, 31st March 2019.)

 

Think about Europe’s most romantic cities. Paris? Venice? Coimbra? Yes, I did say Coimbra. You may not know about it, but two hours north of sunny Lisbon, set on the banks of the Mondego River, this very beautiful, very old university city, is a treat for lovers of all ages. The cobbled, winding streets, steeped in history, are a joy to navigate. Life feels unhurried here. We flew into Lisbon with Aer Lingus and then travelled by car to Coimbra. The weather was sunny but not too warm, and perfect for walking around. The city boasts a hugely impressive university with its stunning, baroque Joanina Library. Housing over 300,000 books, the library made me wish I’d studied at the university myself. It is, of course, a huge tourist draw, and a world heritage site. I found myself in awe of the university’s very own Botanical gardens. No wonder Portugal’s former Kings and Queens chose to live in this area. The university is actually built on the grounds of the former palace! The city has attracted poets and musicians for centuries but also has its own tragic love story involving the young, thirteenth century prince, Dom Pedro. When he fell for his Spanish mistress, Ines de Castro. Dom Pedro’s father, the King, was so incensed by this love affair that he organised to have poor Ines murdered. She was executed in the gardens of the palace, Quinta das Lagrimas, so that a marriage could not take place. This former palace has now been transformed into a luxury five-star hotel, and I wondered during my stay, if my room would be haunted by the soul of the tragic Ines. But no, I slept like a princess, and the next morning pulled back my curtains to enjoy a delightful view of the pool and the famous gardens. You too can live like royalty for a while if you choose this hotel, which also serves great cuisine. www.quintadaslagrimas.pt

If you’re just visiting Coimbra on day trip and wish to enjoy a romantic lunch, take it from me that the centrally-located Sapientia Hotel is a delightful spot, boasting a fabulous roof top area. I enjoyed a glass of bubbles in the sunshine while admiring the panoramic views. The following morning we said farewell to the university city and headed for the Bussaco Palace Hotel, which is a magnificent fairy tale palace, surrounded by stunning woodland. The building was erected between 1888 and 1912 as a holiday home for the last Portuguese Kings, and is the epitome of elegance and grandeur. After our ramble in the fabulous grounds, we dined like royalty in the luxury surroundings of the hotel dining room. Hiring a car is the best way to get around Central Portugal, especially if you venture to the mountains. It’s a lot cooler at the top of course, so take warm clothes. However the dip in temperature is made up for by the spectacular scenic views. On the 2nd night of our trip we stayed in a gorgeous rural hotel complete with sauna and outdoor pool, called Casas do Coro, in the historical village of Marialva. You really feel at the top of the world up here looking down on the valley. The sunsets are an added bonus.

The next morning saw us heading for Aveiro, known as the Portuguese Venice, thanks to its pretty water ways. There is nothing more romantic than a boat trip, so we hopped on board our little boat ‘moliceiro’ and enjoyed cruising the canals for a half an hour or so, enjoying the sights of the town and basking in the welcome sunshine. Later that evening, we headed to yet another hotel (the final sleepover of our trip), called Montebelo Vista Alegre Ilhavo Hotel. This is a 5-star modern hotel with amazing balconies overlooking the Boco river. This accommodation combines new and old with an unusual, unique charm. It is situated in a former porcelain factory, and has a chapel, a museum as well as a spa and indoor heated pool! Sadly our short trip was coming to an end, but no Portuguese holiday would be complete without a trip to the beach. So, on our last day we stopped off at the beautiful Santa Cruz beach with its huge stretch of white sand, for a lovely, refreshing walk. Then we rounded up our relaxing break with lunch at a delightful boutique hotel with spectacular views of the roaring Atlantic. This modern but rustic eco-friendly hotel, called Hotel Areias do Seixo certainly has the wow factor. With its infinity pool and beach-front location, it makes a perfect honeymoon spot. Just an hour or so from Lisbon, the friendly staff and great cuisine, has deservedly earned the hotel some fabulous guest reviews.

The centre of Portugal can be explored by car or indeed, by train. However, if you are looking for a personal guide, or even airport transfers I’d happily recommend Mr Jose Manuel Santos of www.madomistours.pt So, impress that special someone in your life by introducing them to the spectacular centre of Portugal. What are you waiting for?

www.centerofportugal.com

Cheers from the city of of Coimbra!

What a cool room! The Sapientia Hotel, in the heart of stunning Coimbra!

My sweet tooth couldn't resist! www.sapientiahotel.com

Finding Frankenstein... in Geneva!

Did you know that Frankenstein is 200 years old? Yes! Two centuries ago, the story of the world's most famous monster was read for the 1st time. Mary Shelley's story, 'Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus' was conceived and written in beautiful Geneva, and was published in January 1818 when Shelley visited her friend, Lord Byron. Here is a photo of myself and my college pal, Niav, when we took a road trip to Lake Geneva, a long time ago. This is just before we took a dip in the magnificent lake on a hot August afternoon. We saw no sign of the monster, but we did make friends withThumper, the rabbit!

www.geneva.com

 

You can't Trump Doonbeg!

It’s hard to beat the location. Doonbeg is at the edge of the world. Next stop is America. There’s nothing like watching the magnificent rollers crash onto the long, sandy white beach. It’s exhilarating. I’m lucky that my 2nd home is just a few kilometres from Doonbeg, and so I’m a regular visit to Mr Trump’s beautiful hotel overlooking one of the most spectacular, natural beaches of the world. It’s another world from Dublin’s busy city where I reside for most of the year. Sometimes I pop into the golf club for a meal, and the food is quite delicious and reasonably-priced; other times I just park nearby and go for a long, walk, enjoying the mesmerising Wild Atlantic sea. It’s not unusual to pass by a couple of horse riders, or come across some brave surfers… although don’t swim - the waves are too frantic and dangerous. If you want to swim there are lots of lovely safe beaches for swimming in Clare, like nearby Kilkee. A couple of times I have stayed at the hotel. As it is pricey during the summer, I usually just stay in the winter when I spot a bargain. In summer, it’s very popular with golfers and tourists.

There is nothing flashy about the Trump Hotel. It is very tasteful and blends in well with the raw beauty of the nearby beach. The staff are very pleasant, in particular Michael Keane, who is so friendly and goes out of his way to make you feel welcome. I have stayed both in the cottages, and at the hotel. The rooms are quite similar, but the cottages are bigger and have cooking and washing facilities. We didn’t use the kitchen at all but it might be handy for a family. The cottages and the rooms at the hotel have huge bathrooms with excellent power showers. Both times I had an excellent sleep. The disadvantage of the cottages is that they are a bit of a walk to the main hotel, and it often rains in the West of Ireland, although you can ring for shuttle service at any time. We hired bikes so we didn’t need the shuttle. The first time I stayed, the sun was splitting the stones in May and so it was nice to cycle around and get the fresh air. I recently stayed in January and it was very cold outside, although the rooms were toasty, and there was a nice log fire going in the main hall of the hotel. I also went for a sauna, which was fabulous. The first time I stayed in the Trump Hotel, I remembered the breakfast being fabulous with fresh smoothies and super choices. However the last time the restaurant was very busy and I didn’t think it was as good as I’d remembered. Also, there were no serviettes on our table which was disappointing in a 5-star hotel. I mentioned this in my feedback and the manager was most apologetic, so I imagine this was a once off.

Having stayed in many 5-star hotels in Ireland and abroad, I can honestly rate this one of the best. It has a very special atmosphere which sets it apart from other luxury hotels. Hopefully I will return again and again as I imagine it would be impossible to tire of this gem of a resort. And the sunrise over the dunes, is worth waking up for. www.trumphotels.com/Ireland

A very good morning to you too!

Gary enjoying the Trump Hotel... children always feel welcome here.

Remarkably calm on this January morning @Doonbeg.

Who holidays in Hull?

I do! This fun City is a great for a night out, or a weekend of shopping and sightseeing. You can party with the penguins by day, and by night lose yourself in a pub crawl of ancient watering holes. Hull is full of character and atmosphere, and the chatty inhabitants are probably the friendliest I’ve ever met. People literally start talking to you in the street!

I visited recently with a couple of female pals. I wasn’t sure what to expect but as Hull was the city of culture for 2017 my interest in the place was certainly piqued. We flew from Dublin to Birmingham, a nice short hop over the sea, and then drove up to Hull. The surrounding countryside is lovely along the way, rolling green fields and actually quite different from what I expected the north of England to be like.

Hull itself is steeped in history and is the third largest port in England after Liverpool and London. Sadly it suffered significant damage during World War 2 and many buildings had to be replaced. But there is still lots to see and do here. The city is on the very wide river, Humber, and we stayed in the Holiday Inn overlooking the pretty marina which was a nice view to wake up to in the mornings.

If you want to shop in Hull, the city has all the usual high street offerings including a massive Primark, but I decided to forego the shops and lose myself in a bit of local history instead. I ambled off to the Streetlife museum of transport where I found my mind wandering back in time as I got lost in all the sights, smells and sounds of the past. If you’re interested in history this is an absolute must-see and best of all, it’s free in for all the family. Also free is entrance to Ferens art gallery whose collection includes paintings and sculptures from medieval to modern times. Some of the art work is spectacular and this is a place where you can happily and peacefully pass a couple of hours and not even notice the time flying by.

Of course, no visit to Hull would be complete without a trip to the amazing aquarium, The Deep. The Deep is one of the world’s most spectacular aquariums, home to over 3,500 fish and Europe’s only pair of green sawfish. Watching the fish swim about is almost hypnotic and this most impressive attraction is proving very popular, even hosting a couple of marriage ceremonies in the past year! You could easily spend half a day here as The Deep has two restaurants, a large gift shop, and a penguin area which will entertain the kids and the big kid in you!  

When you’re feeling peckish, the cosmopolitan city of Hull has something to suit everyone’s palate. We dined one evening at the quaint, historic landmark, the Lion and Key pub which is to be found down a small cobbled street in the old town. It’s a traditional establishment serving good ales and generous food portions at reasonable prices. Another evening we ate at the upmarket 1884 near the marina which was impressive, full of diners (always a very positive sign) and had a great atmosphere. If you’re travelling to the North of England your best bet is to hire a car and combine this city break with exploring the nearby East Yorkshire countryside. Also worth a visit is the delightful town of Beverley which hosts many gorgeous boutiques selling designer clothes, and also boasts Beverley Minster, one of the country’s finest examples of medieval gothic architecture. You don’t have to travel too far from Ireland to experience all of this, and you’re guaranteed a holiday to remember.

www.visithullandeastyorkshire.com

www.thedeep.co.uk

 

Do you ever read a book that makes you want to visit the location? This delightful novel by Kerry Fisher is making me yearn for a trip to Corsica, the French island where the book is set. The book has fabulous descriptions of the island. It's about two best friends experiencing a mid-life crisis. Put it in your suitcase!

My son Gary enjoying his birthday treat 'Intercontinental, Dublin'.

Room service fit for a prince! Intercontinental, Dublin birthday treat!

Summer day at the Intercontinental Hotel, Dublin.

The Intercontinental, Dublin - see and be seen!

This hotel is local to me, and so I visit quite often for coffee, drinks, etc I also stay here a couple of times a year and look forward to it. The hotel was previously owned by the Four Seasons, and sometimes you notice the slight changes since it has been taken over. The staff, though pleasant, are not as well-trained, and there seems to be fewer of them. The parking charges for guests staying in the hotel, are too steep, especially when you are paying a lot to dine there.  also miss the reading room, which was quiet and lovely to read by the huge fire in the evenings. 

Having said that, this is still my favourite Dublin hotel. It is so near, I can walk to it. In my opinion, the staff are friendlier than in the equally luxurious Merrion Hotel (although you can't beat the Merrion for location!). The rooms are a decent size, and you're not tripping over your luggage. The pool is warm and the sauna and steamroom are always fabulously hot. There are plenty of fluffy white towels to use. However I do miss the iced face cloths the Four Seasons used to provide in the spa.

The biggest plus of this hotel is the soundproofing. I have stayed here many, many times and I've never been woken up by my neighbours or people talking in the corridors. As I sometimes check-in to finish a novel, I need complete peace and quiet, and in the Intercontinental, I get just that. A fabulous, comfortable sleep is always guaranteed, and that to me is priceless. 4.5/5 stars from me.

www.intercontinentaldublin.ie

A Stroke of good fortune!

Lose yourself in the World of Wedgwood!

Everyone’s mum and granny has at least one Wedgewood item at home, right? I know I have at least twice that number. I’m obsessed with the pieces! Josiah Wedgwood was a man way ahead of his time. Having survived smallpox in early childhood, the forward-thinking founder of Wedgwood Company was already a skilled potter by the age of nine, and served as an apprentice under his brother Thomas Wedgwood IV. Fascinated by science from youth, this diligent worker eventually became the most famous potter of all time.          

     When the wooden-legged Wedgwood founded his pottery factory more than two and a half centuries ago, he couldn’t possibly have foreseen that the same factory would be in operation today, still selling all over the world. Set among the rolling green fields of Staffordshire, it is still receiving commissions from members of the Royal family including Prince Charles and Camilla. The grandfather of the famous English naturalist, Charles Darwin, Wedgwood was born in Staffordshire in 1730. By 1763, he was receiving commissions from nobility such as Catherine the Great of Russia, and British Queen Charlotte. A canny entrepreneur, he sought permission from Queen Charlotte to name a pottery collection ‘Queen’s Ware’. She agreed and the royal stamp of approval ensured that his collection subsequently became one most coveted. Sadly the pottery industry has suffered a huge decline since the glory days but the Wedgwood Company has survived to tell the tale.

     Unlike many factories in grim northern industrial towns, Wedgwood in Stoke-On-Trent is set among hundreds of acres of glorious countryside. It is also home to a £10 million pound visitor centre and museum showcasing its priceless art. During the factory tour I experienced first-hand the highly-skilled employees mastering their craft and transforming pieces of clay into beautiful works of art to be sold in the likes of Harrods and similar department stores all around the world. A large outlet store on the premises tempts you to buy seconds from Wedgwood to Royal Doulton so if you‘re a fan of pottery and dinner sets, bring a car with a sizeable boot!

     Wedgwood has enjoyed worldwide popularity since its humble factory beginnings, especially in its native Britain and America, but surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, China is now the biggest importer of Wedgwood, followed closely by India. Brazil is also a significant customer.

     Even today, all raw materials for the factory are sourced in Britain itself. Some of the clay is from its home in Staffordshire, but most of it comes from Cornwall. The dedicated factory craftsmen and craftswomen, many of them long-standing, do the exact same work as the employees of yesteryear. The only difference between these folk and their predecessors is that today’s workers wear jeans underneath their overalls!

     The factory, which once employed 7,500 people now has just 140 staff members. It receives many special commissions from Saudi Arabia and Japan.  

     I cannot recommend the factory tour and the museum highly enough. There is also a very good tea rooms on site. Go there with all the family. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped right back in time!

NB. The factory opens from Mon – Fri, 10 am until 4pm. Last entry is 3pm. It is closed at the weekends.

www.worldofwedgwood.com

 

Find your inner child on the Isle of Wight!

Do you like my hat?

 

Chalky cliffs? Buckets and spades? Dripping ice-cream? If you’re already dreaming of a summer break without venturing too far from home, then the Isle of Wight may be your next port of call!   Often referred to as the ‘garden isle’, the alluring island was the perfect summer treat for Queen Victoria and her young family. ‘It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot’, the queen said of her former sea side home, the palatial Osborne House, set in magnificent gardens and overlooking the sea. If you visit in May, when the flowers are in full bloom, you are in for a treat. Fortunately, the afternoon I was there, the sun appeared and shone in all its glory. Do get a guided tour if you can!

The Isle of Wight, is these days, well-known for its annual music festival, but it’s not all rock and roll! In fact, it’s a perfect family destination, just a short ferry ride from Southampton port with the very efficient and comfortable Red Funnel Ferries. 

 

We stayed, en famille, on a campsite in Wroxall, called Appuldurcombe Gardens holiday park in a 2 bed, 2 bath luxury mobile home. With a heated pool, free wifi and within walking distance of shops/pubs and an adorable donkey sanctuary, this was the perfect place to rest our heads at night, following our time exploring the island.  

 

https://www.appuldurcombegardens.co.uk

 

We absolutely loved the Robin Hill Country Adventure Park. Our highlight was the alpine toboggan run and the fun train ride. It’s a perfect place for a spot of lunch outdoors, with plenty of space for a walk in the lovely grounds, all 80 acres of it! However, the absolute highlight of our island adventure was the Blackgang Chine, Britain’s oldest theme park. Located in Ventnor, it has spectacular views of the cliffs, and beaches below. The rides are thrilling for people of all ages, and the staff are friendly. It’s a definite must-do on your holidays. Enjoy!

 

Fun for all ages! The outdoor pool at the Appuldurcombe camping site.

Beautiful Armagh - orchard county!

The fabulous Four Vicars restaurant, Armagh.

Attention, cider lovers! Have you visited Armagh recently? This orchard county, is beautiful, green, and charming. It also boasts a tiny, yet intriguing city with two cathedrals, Catholic and Protestant, living together in harmony. Both are called St Patrick. Both are magnificent, looming over the town with its quirky cobbled streets, and friendly residents. Armagh has a special place in my heart. I was born there. The timing wasn’t great. I arrived during the height of the troubles, and in fact my mother’s maternity ward in Craigavon hospital was evacuated on the eve of July 12th due to a bomb scare. Unsurprisingly there were few tourists around milling around town back in that period of unrest. But things are different now. Restaurants offer international cuisine, cocktails, Prosecco, and of course, the popular, locally-produced Irish cider, made from freshly pressed apples. The county is thriving, and very much open for business. The annual festival is a must-visit for artisan food and cider lovers to sample the local hospitality! Or If you fancy your own private tour to see where the apples are grown, and watch how the cider is made and bottled, check out www.armaghcider.com

 

 My childhood memories bring me back to picking apples off the ground in my grandfather’s orchards. Like many of our neighbours, we were an apple family. I think the only dessert I ever had was apple tart! Local kids would come to the orchards every year for a couple of weeks to pick the apples properly, for pocket money. ‘They won’t do that now,’ an apple grower recently sighed, however, ‘so we get people in from Eastern Europe mostly.’  

 

Armagh is known for its orchards, however the days of just producing eating and cooking apples, are in the past. Now the industry is so much more than that. Pear cider, cider vinegar, sparkling apple juice and apple jam are just some of the varied citrus offerings.

 

The county isn’t far from Dublin, less than two hours’ easy driving. Or approximately an hour from Belfast. If you’re taking a day trip to the city, you absolutely must stop off at Gosford Forest Park which is fabulous woodland for the whole family to enjoy. I’d recommend at least an hour there, to get lost in nature, and enjoy its serenity, spot the red deer, and enjoy the new playground. Bring a picnic, but also a rain jacket just in case!

 

Armagh city, the oldest city in Ireland, with just 15,000 residents, is perfect for strolling around. A walk in the superb palace grounds is glorious on a sunny afternoon. The palace itself, now a government building, was the residence of former Archbishops of the Church of Ireland between 1770 and 1975. Public tours are available in the summer season. I recently popped into The Moody Boar Restaurant and Bistro, the former palace stables, for a delicious slice of apple pie (to revive my childhood taste buds!), after a walk in the Palace Demesne public park. Afterwards, I wandered through town, and paid a quick visit to the gorgeous Georgian library. Flicking through the guest book, I noticed messages from impressed visitors as far away as Canada, Holland, Germany, Korea, Japan and New Zealand! Gulliver’s Travels fans were especially enthralled, given that Jonathan Swift’s own manuscript from 1726 with his own handwritten corrections, is given pride of place in the collection of over 42,000 historical books.

 

 If you’re heading to Armagh, I’d recommend leaving early in the morning, to have the whole day there. If you’re heading to the upcoming food and cider festival however, leave the car at home, and indulge! There’s plenty of value in nearby accommodation, and if you’re hungry after all that cider tasting, why not try out the small, but fabulous 4 Vicars Restaurant, in a quaint Georgian-listed building, for a culinary treat. Booking is advised as this place is popular! www.armagh.co.uk

 

 

 

Blue Marlin, Ibiza

Chilling @ Blue Marlin

This was a couple of years ago, but I really liked the Blue Marlin beach club and restaurant in Ibiza. As it was May, it wasn't too hot or very busy. The beach is stony but the water was lovely and clean. I didn't get in as I didn't have my swimsuit, but other members of our party did, and enjoyed their dip! It was lovely to relax on the sunbeds and chill before sunset. The music at night was very good and had everyone on the dance floor. The food in the restaurant was a high standard, and I'm a fussy vegetarian. I set a chapter of my new book. Last Summer in Ibiza, in this romantic setting.   

Don Carlos Hotel, Marbella review

Heated pool, Don Carlos, Jan 2018.

This is a very relaxing hotel, about 20 minutes from Marbella. It's very clean and our room was warm and comfortable. We had a balcony which offered us stunning views of both the sea and mountains. There was a little noise from the busy road, so we kept the sliding door closed. We were there in January and the weather was mixed, so it was a joy to be able to swim in the outdoor heated pool. As it's out of season, there weren't many tourists besides ourselves, and my son seemed to be the only child staying in the hotel. There were a lot of conferences going on and it was busy during the day. The gardens are beautiful and lead you right down onto Nikki Beach. There are tennis courts and a spa, but there's a charge for both. We didn't use them as we were paying enough for the hotel. The breakfast was nice, with plenty of delicious fresh fruit on offer, but service was a little slow on some mornings. We didn't have dinner in the hotel but chose to dine in Elviria, a short distance away. Mr India serves fantastic food at a great price, and seems very popular. We loved the food. This is a 5 star hotel but I would probably rate it more as a 4 star. I preferred the Puente Romano and the Marbella Club which are more luxurious, but the Don Carlos suited our budget better on this trip! Would I come back here? Yes, definitely. The pool was definitely the highlight of our holiday.    

Healthy breakfast at the Don Carlos Hotel

Gary enjoying the blue skies at the Don Carlos Hotel, Marbella.

Fly Aer Lingus!

Hey, Captain Gary!

Flying Aer Lingus is always a treat. I worked in the company for six and a half years, starting as cabin crew and ending up in head office, editing the staff newspaper. I sometimes really miss the job as there was never a dull moment! I stayed in fabulous hotels from Paris to Zurich to Santa Monica and Boston! My son, Gary, is now 8 and on a recent trip to Malaga, he was thrilled to get into the cockpit for a look! The captain even gave him a loan of his cap for the photo! Maybe he'll consider becoming a pilot one day, and flying the skies like his mum once did! www.aerlingus.com

 

Worth heating the pool in winter Florida?

Bonding in the pool: Gary & I!

This villa is called Bear Lake villa and obviously it's overlooking a lake. This is Orlando in January and it was well worth getting the pool heated. It's so nice when you come back from the parks or the malls to be able to go for a quick dip. If you're a bird watcher, you can spend the whole day by the pool watching the wild birds and turkeys stop by the lake. It is fascinating.

Puente Romano Hotel, Aug BH weekend. Had the pool to myself with my bodyguard looking out for me :D

You never know who you'll run into... Lord Sugar, and my pal, Maria @puenteromano Marbella.

I'm a writer, a reader and a traveller.

I left school at 16 and jumped on a plane to Austria. While I was there I took a bus into Hungary and Czechoslavakia. By the time I was 20 I had visited 18 countries. Sometimes I ran out of money and slept in train stations with my rucksack as a pillow. I'm not all about 5 star experiences, although I do prefer them to youth hostels. Anyway I'm too old for youth hostels now, and wouldn't fancy listening to stangers snoring. I usually travel alone and write my books when abroad. Sometimes I take my boy, Gary. Interesting fact about me? I can pack a suitcase in about 5 minutes. I put this down to being a flight attendant for a number of years. I can also put my make-up on in about 30 seconds in the dark. I am the author of Mile High Guy, and Confessions of an Air Hostess. Thanks for stopping by!     

Apple picking in my birth county: Armagh!

Come fly with me! Green is my colour! I had to wear it a lot when I was an air hostess with Aer Lingus, the national Irish carrier!