“We can’t travel now, but…”
t’s one of my taglines of 2020. That, and “You’re on mute!”
Yes, we know. Not only can we not travel overseas, or beyond county lines, but, as I write in Level 5 lockdown, we can’t even go beyond 5km of our homes. And it’s pants!
Christmas is coming, however… and with it a step-down to Level 3.
Normally, I recoil at the C-word and its all-in commercialism, but this year I’ll take any excuse to bring the spirit of travel back into my life. And here’s a clear opportunity to indulge a bit of wanderlust. If we can’t visit other places, well then, let’s find ways to support our beaten-up tourism, hospitality and retail friends by bringing them to us.
“How about a cake from the country they visited or will travel to?” was one reply when I took the thought to Twitter (thank you, @TatjanaKS).
It snowballed from there. It could be a simple photo of a favourite place, a homemade jam or artisan chocolate bar, or online cookery course with a local flavour. It could, of course, be a future trip — yes, please! — but also a gift card towards stays or shopping trips (Belfast’s City Centre Gift Card, for one, has around 160 businesses signed up). Trust me, the travel fan in your life will be thankful… and you might enjoy the distraction, too.
Here are 20 ideas to get you started.
1. Poster children
“Ireland is the gift that keeps on giving,” says Roger O’Reilly of Ireland Posters. It’s also the inspiration for his Kilkenny-based poster business, which celebrates our natural and cultural heritage in the style of vintage railway posters. Each poster is based on Roger’s own drawings and sketches, from the Cliff Walk overlooking Greystones, Co Wicklow, to surfers under the Cliffs of Moher. Other collections include the birds of Ireland, Irish pubs and Ireland’s lighthouses. Poster sizes range from A4 to A2, with delivery taking one to two days nationally. The artist signs them, too.
Where to get it: irelandposters.ie; from €35
2. Vouch for future trips
Vouchers came into their own this year, with both Ireland’s Blue Book and Original Irish Hotels reporting jumps in sales as we sought to take staycations and support a beleaguered tourism industry. Fifty euro is generally the lead-in, and they don’t have to be used on overnight stays — think afternoon teas, spa treatments or lunches, too. The Irish Hotels Federation has a new Go Anywhere gift card, while the Press Up Group’s card is valid in 50 venues, including the new Mayson Hotel in Dublin and the upcoming Dean in Cork. Gift cards are now legally valid for five years and can usually be posted in presentation boxes or downloaded online (for last-minute shoppers).
Where to get it: irelands-blue-book.ie; originalirishhotels.com; pressup.ie; irelandhotels.com
3. Ireland’s rock stars
Anything beyond county lines feels like a galaxy far, far away these days. Ireland’s Skellig Islands remained shut through 2020, but an imaginative journey is possible with a new photography book from Peter Cox, The Skelligs: Islands on the Edge of the World. The 128-page collection features both widescreen drama and close-up detail, with full-page images accompanied by descriptive text on the facing page. From sixth-century monks to the latest Star Wars trilogy, the Skelligs have quite the story to tell — aptly, images include unique photos of the islands under the stars.
Where to get it: petercox.ie; €29.95
4. Splendid isolation
Escaping the crowds is likely to be a travel theme for some time — why not go the whole hog on an off-grid expedition with adventure.ie? Trips include a group tour north of the Arctic Circle, winter skills training in Norway, and a ski adventure across three countries in March. Carving up five days on a back-country circuit through Finland, Norway and Sweden, the ski trip involves travelling hut to hut across Arctic tundra, past hanging glaciers and across frozen lakes… so fitness is important. There’s a bucket-list price tag, natch — the expedition fee is €2,990pp with flights and insurance. Skis, specialist gear and a training day in Wicklow are included.
Where to get it: adventure.ie
5. Christmas cocktail kits
Give your class friends that going-out feeling while staying in with a Brown Bag cocktail kit from Barna’s Twelve Hotel. The cocktail selection is curated weekly and includes tipples like a Gorse Flower Margarita, The Twelve Old Fashioned and classic espresso martinis. Starting from €16, the cocktails serve two and come vacuum-packed with instructions on how to serve them. If they like that, there’s also a new monthly cocktail club with subscription boxes (€90 per month).
Where to get it: thetwelvehotel.ie; from €16
6. Accidentally Wes Anderson
Filmmaker Wes Anderson (The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore, et al) may be an acquired taste, but those who acquire that taste acquire it hard. A new coffee-table book by Wally Koval, based on his popular Instagram account, features Anderson-esque sites, buildings and landmarks full of faded grandeur, sugary pop-pastel colours and irresistible symmetry — from Japan’s Kappa Bridge to a “Picture Perfect Courthouse” in Santa Barbara, California. Travel and transport are central themes in many of Anderson’s movies, and this stocking filler was authorised by the filmmaker, too. In the independent spirit of man and book, order from an Irish bookshop rather than Amazon.
Where to get it: gutterbookshop.com; from €29.75
7. Nama-stay in Co Mayo
January is the month to get back in shape (that may apply tenfold this year) and Westport’s Knockranny House Hotel has a restorative weekend of yoga from the 22nd to the 24th available, from €205pp. It includes two nights’ B&B with dinner, a wellness talk and two yoga classes. Carrie Cann of the hotel’s Spa Salveo and Derrick Dark of The Yoga Root will get you moving freely, we’re told, “leaving guests feeling more supple and at ease on the journey home”. Boom!
Where to get it: knockrannyhousehotel.ie
8. Chocolate heaven
You subscribe to Netflix for TV and Spotify for music, so why not a chocolatier for your treats? Bean and Goose in Co Wexford has a Tasting Club, with members receiving two premium, handmade bars a month — a one-off creation, and a core favourite. The artisan makers specialise in mixing up the best chocolate with seasonal ingredients that can be foraged or grown locally (think dried apples, elderflower and cardamom, or spicy hazelnuts). Subscriptions start from €16 a month or €45 for three, which gift recipients can then decide for themselves whether to renew.
Where to get it: beanandgoose.ie; visitwexford.ie
9. Adopt a reptile
Looking for an alternative Christmas gift to surprise the kids? The National Reptile Zoo in Kilkenny has been caring for its animals behind closed doors this year and needs help to look after the Red Listed animals in the months ahead. For €35, you can adopt one of their scaly residents for a year — money that goes towards food and care of your chosen animal, be it a manacled cobra, dwarf caiman or rhinoceros iguana. In return, you get an adoption certificate, fact sheet, two postcards, 20pc discount on admission and your name on the wall of adoptees.
Where to get it: nationalreptilezoo.ie
10. A little luxury
Overseas holidays feel as far away as outer space, but it won’t always be so. Tour operator TUI has launched TUI Blue — a hotel product aimed at holidaymakers aged 16-plus, families, and those “interested in culture and authentic experiences” — offering handpicked properties complete with a handy app allowing you to reserve spots in restaurants, loungers on the beach or places in fitness classes. Greece, Turkey, Spain and Thailand are available to book to April 2022. Or if you must stay at home, why not splurge on something special, like the InterContinental Dublin’s two-night Christmas package (from €790pp)?
Where to get it: tuiholidays.ie (deposits from €75pp); intercontinentaldublin.ie
11. Sweet dreams
Fans of the Cliff group of hotels — whose properties include the Cliff House in Co Waterford, Cliff Townhouse in Dublin and the Cliff at Lyons in Co Kildare — will know they’ve been branching out into retail in recent years. The curated Cliff Home collection ranges from festive foods by its chefs to bathrobes, toiletries and a Sweetest Dreams hamper including Moon + Mellow PJs, a Cliff eye mask, chamomile tea, its own body balm and lavender salts, and a dream journal, from €260.
Where to get it: cliffhome.ie
12. Yell for leather
Tipperary’s Killenure Dexter Beef doesn’t just do gourmet beef and charcuterie — it also has artisan Dexter leather goods for travel fans. In true nose-to-tail fashion, they include passport holders and bag tags, wash bags for toiletries, and journal covers… perfect for planning your next adventure. Each product has a unique registration number echoing the traceability numbers of the cattle in the Dundrum herd, too. “We can tell you the diet of your wallet!”
Where to get it: killenure.ie; from €199
13. Scents of place
Nothing evokes memories and moods like a sniff. Recapture reveries of a favourite place with a local perfume, lotion or eau de toilette (try The Burren Perfumery in Co Clare, with lotions from €26), home seaweed bath (Voya in Strandhill, Co Sligo, has Lazy Days boxes from €22) or scented candles that bring the atmosphere of travel into your home. Canvas to Candle is a Galway-based business whose candles (from €10) capture the scent of places and experiences: a Christmas stroll by Portumna Castle, for example, or Tuscany in a Tin, which leads with spicy top notes of cinnamon, blending with a “sweet heart note” of raspberry and base notes of tobacco and oakmoss.
Where to get it: burrenperfumery.com; canvastocandle.com; voya.ie
14. Raise the camping stakes
Self-catering stays and campervans were the stories of summer. While raiding your savings for a brand-new vehicle might be a tad niche (a Renault Trafic, for example, could set you back €52,000), basic second-hand vans start from less than €10,000. Happy Campers in Wexford does conversions, turning standard VW Transporters into campervans, from €10,495 for a two-berth, low-roof Weekender to €17,995. Or perhaps rent first with a company like Lazy Days (from €90 a day in the winter season). Still too pricey? OK, then. Try Martin Dorey’s new book, Take the Slow Road (£20), featuring inspirational journeys around Ireland by camper and motorhome.
Where to get it: happycampers.ie; lazydays.ie; martindorey.com
15. Sail away
Sailing Ireland, based in Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford, specialises in sailing instruction for adults. Bookings are open for 2021, and you can choose from taster days around the Saltee Islands (a two-day, live-aboard course including accommodation and use of sailing gear starts from €295pp) or ISA Competent Crew, Day Skipper, Coastal Skipper, Yachtmaster or ICC courses. Christmas gift vouchers are also available from €50, and those who book two places get the third half price.
Where to get it: sailingireland.ie
16. Grin and bear it
It seems likely that wilderness breaks and self-drive holidays may recover before city breaks, so why not plot a future trip for Canada? It combines the best of both, and American Holidays has several open-country itineraries and gift vouchers available. An eight-day, self-drive adventure in the Rockies starts from €1,759pp from June 2021, for example (later dates can be booked too), while a once-off Great Bear Nature Tour ranges from Vancouver to the Great Bear Rainforest for grizzly-bear and wildlife watching (pictured main, p69). It costs from €5,489pp next September… so they’d better like bears.
Where to get it: americanholidays.com
17. From Clare to here
Got a favourite county, a place you return to on home holidays? Why not send a taste to your loved one by focusing on local goods. In Co Clare, for instance, Doolin-based Irish Crafts Online delivers products from local producers like The Moher Soap Co or artists like Rowena Sheen and Gary Collins. Moher Cottage does everything from gift boxes to soap and local fudge, while Wild Kitchen has hampers from €70, including items like Haw Ketchup, local Guru Tea and seaweed crackers. St Tola has a Clare’s Finest Cheese selection from €30, and there are local accommodation options, too — Treacys West County and Oakwood hotels have 20pc off summer 2021 staycations, secured by a deposit of €21. That’s just for starters… in a single county.
Where to get it: irishcraftsonline.com; wildkitchen.ie; mohercottage.com; st-tola.ie
18. Go wild in Galway
2020 mightn’t have been the most auspicious year to open a new adventure park, but Wildlands went ahead and did it anyway in Moycullen this August. It’s got vouchers available for all the family, including zip ’n’ trek for adults, and climbing walls and bushcraft for juniors. It’s a sister property to Delphi Adventure Resort, and branded fleeces and jackets will be available as winter gifts, too. Continuing the Galway theme, check thisisgalway.ie for a list of great independent retailers selling through online stores… from McCambridge’s hampers to Ór Jewellery.
Where to get it: wildlands.ie; thisisgalway.ie
19. Give the gift of adventure
Experiences often make better gifts than objects. Kerry Climbing (pictured left) has vouchers for future adventures, and new #HikeEatSleep packages include a guided climb of Carrantuohill (a great way to bag a mega-memory and support a small business). Toning down the adrenaline, readers based in Northern Ireland could consider a National Trust membership, which starts from £78/€86 a year for a single-parent family, or £126/€139 for a two-parent family, and gives not just free entry to parks like Mount Stewart or Florence Court but helps protect sites for future generations, too.
Where to get it: kerryclimbing.ie; nationaltrust.org.uk
20. An academy of cheese
Thinking outside the box? Skip cheesy jumpers and cracker jokes for the real deal with a voucher for an online Academy of Cheese course. Avril Molloy’s Irish School of Cheese offers the chance to learn about (and taste) 25 of Europe’s most iconic cheeses — she trained as a cheesemonger with Sheridans Cheesemongers and has gone on to become the first Academy of Cheese training partner in Ireland. Cheese courses can be suited to everyone, from casual cheese nerds right up to food professionals. It has the makings of a
great evening in.
Where to get it: irishschoolofcheese.ie; the course price is €220, with cheese delivered to you
NB: All prices subject to availability and change.