Ready, steady, travel: 10 holiday deals for European hotspots this summer and autumn

After 16 months of dreaming, we can finally start thinking about actual departures.

e all love staycations, and Ireland is a beaut, but with non-essential international travel set to resume from Monday, July 19, the chance to feel the proper warmth of the sun on our shoulders, to enjoy a scoop of gelato on a beach or to see much-loved friends and family overseas again feels tantalisingly close.

There are caveats, of course. We’ll be packing our new EU Digital Covid Certificates along with our regular passports — showing proof of vaccination, recovery from Covid-19 or negative test results — and we’ll need to keep bang up to date with ever-changing restrictions both in Ireland and at our destinations (reopen.europa.eu is a good website and app for that). The expertise and protection offered by travel agents could be more important than ever, too.

So, who is booking and enquiring? At the moment, it’s mainly people who are fully vaccinated and travelling without kids, says Paul Hackett of clickandgo.com. People are ready to treat themselves after a long, hard year, he adds. “The overall spend is up… there’s a marked uptick in higher-quality accommodation. A lot of people have been saving money during the pandemic, and they haven’t taken holidays. They want to treat themselves.”

It’s the same story at Sunway, which has noticed more than a 20pc increase in spend, despite prices being mainly cheaper than 2019. September and October are popular for its customers, though as the vaccination numbers are rising, so too are the last-minute summer bookings, it says.

“The top hotspots in demand are Mediterranean beach destinations like Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and the Canary Islands,” says Mary Denton, CEO at Sunway. “Cruising is also making its long-awaited comeback, with huge demand for late autumn and 2022.”

Of course, the numbers of people travelling are unlikely to rocket back overnight. The dark cloud of the Delta variant is hanging over us, uncertainty continues to prevail, and with a minefield of traffic lights, testing and other restrictions to consider, many of us will have to “relearn” how to travel — from figuring out the new airport journey to double-checking T&Cs, cancellation and flexibility policies, and travel insurance. But despite all the obstacles, it may finally be time to start dreaming once more.

1. Lake Garda

Lake Garda

Can you imagine anything sweeter than Lake Garda right now? Sipping on a frosty glass of prosecco as you gaze out at the blindingly bright waters, pottering between pretty towns and eating your body weight in pasta? If fly-and-flop holidays aren’t your bag, you’ll be pleased to know that guided tours are back on the agenda. On a fully guided Explore Lake Garda trip from TD Active this autumn, you’ll be based in the lakeside town of Torbole, and explore the region with cycling tours and hikes, with a good dash of vineyard wine tasting to boot. Heaven.

Details: Package from €1,369pp, departing September 15; tdactiveholidays.com

2. Malta

Valletta, Malta

With an enviably quick vaccination rollout making it the first EU country to achieve herd immunity, the pretty island of Malta has looked appealing for a while now. And it’s a dreamy destination for your first break, particularly if you prefer a dash of exploration. You can snorkel or dive in the crystal-clear waters, walk the prehistoric temples or ancient fortresses, or spy on the luxurious superyachts in the marina. Bear in mind that Malta (visitmalta.com) currently permits only fully vaccinated tourists to visit.

Details: Click & Go has seven nights in the four-star Il Palazzin hotel from €367pp, departing October 4; clickandgo.com

3. Lanzarote

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A service staff member awaits guests on Lanzarote

A service staff member awaits guests on Lanzarote

Where would we be without Lanzarote? It’s one of our most popular destinations for a trip, and it’s safe to say that more than a few people have missed it over the last year. While there is plenty to see on the island if you fancy it, this is also the place to go if you want to spend a solid week flopped on a sun lounger, with a good book and a cocktail by your side. The Aqua Suites Boutique Hotel comes highly recommended from Atlantic Travel, with fantastic family rates for the summer — Atlantic Travel’s Emma McHugh says she’s “never seen such great prices for this property”.

Details:
Seven nights’ B&B from €435pp, departing July 25; atlantictravel.ie

4. France

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Château Lez Eaux Campsite, France

Château Lez Eaux Campsite, France

Château Lez Eaux Campsite, France

With all the faff around airport regulations, taking the ferry is an increasingly attractive option. That’s not to say it’s free of restrictions, of course — but the thought of packing your car rather than a gaggle of cabin-sized suitcases is certainly appealing. For a family holiday, a French campsite is always a winner. A week filled with fresh baguettes and croissants, a steady stream of local rosé and a swimming pool. What more could you want?

Details: Eurocamp currently has six nights in a safari tent in the Château Lez Eaux Campsite from €690 for four, from August 23; eurocamp.ie. Irish Ferries has a corresponding Dublin-Cherbourg crossing with an inside cabin from €936; irishferries.com

5. Croatia

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Dubrovnik in Croatia

Dubrovnik in Croatia

Whether you want an action-packed week spent island-hopping or a relaxing break where you can simply unwind, Croatia is the perfect reintroduction to the world. And if you’re a water baby, you’ll be in paradise, whether that means regular dips in the sea or full-on scuba adventures beneath the crystal-clear waters. But don’t neglect the island’s interior — there’s great hiking to be had on Croatia’s mountains and lakes, and the native wine is excellent, so try to include a vineyard tour (or two).

Details: TUI Holidays has seven nights’ half-board in Hotel Splendid, from €682pp, departing October 10; tuiholidays.ie

6. The Algarve

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Vale d’Oliveiras Quinta Resort in Carvoeiro, Algarve, Portugal

Vale d’Oliveiras Quinta Resort in Carvoeiro, Algarve, Portugal

Vale d’Oliveiras Quinta Resort in Carvoeiro, Algarve, Portugal

It’s an Irish favourite for a reason. And who among us hasn’t dreamt of the Algarve over the last year… of cold beers for a euro, freshly cooked fish plucked straight from the sea, and beaches where you can dry off in the sun post-swim, rather than huddling under a Dryrobe.

Details: If you’re after a family holiday this summer, Stein Travel has a great deal at the five-star Vale d’Oliveiras Quinta Resort in Carvoeiro. You’ll get seven nights for a family of four for €2,200, departing August 10; steintravel.ie

7. Mallorca

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Discover the beautiful city of Palma de Mallorca by bicycle and drink in the cultural delights like a visit to the stunning La Seu Cathedral

Discover the beautiful city of Palma de Mallorca by bicycle and drink in the cultural delights like a visit to the stunning La Seu Cathedral

It may have had a bit of a reputation in the past as a party island, but Mallorca is so much more than just the nightclubs and beach bars — there are dazzlingly pretty coves with turquoise waters and an excellent food scene. Avoid the beach resorts of Magaluf and Santa Ponsa and instead stick to the beautiful city of Palma, with its excellent galleries and enchanting city squares.

Details: Cassidy Travel has a week in the Melia Palma Bay from €544pp, departing October 12; cassidytravel.ie

8. Santorini

Santorini, Greece

For a proper departure from whatever corner of Ireland you’ve been squirrelled away in, you can’t beat Greece. Take a stroll around the blindingly blue domes of Santorini, and you’ll feel like you’re on another planet. This year, both Ryanair and Aer Lingus are flying direct to the picture-perfect island, so there should be plenty of availability. Visit at the tail end of the summer (or start of autumn) and you might just catch a bargain, too.

Details:
Holidays with Aer Lingus currently has seven nights in Santorini, including flights and accommodation at the three-star Ancient Thera Studios aparthotel from €483pp, departing August 25; holidayswithaerlingus.com

9. Cyprus

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A secluded swimming cove in Western Cyprus. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

A secluded swimming cove in Western Cyprus. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

For a family holiday, Cyprus is always a winner. With soft, sandy beaches, warm waters and a reassuring amount of sunshine, the coastal resorts on the island keep everyone entertained. It’s a great spot for dining out, too — the staff in Cypriot restaurants tend to dote on kids, and the prices won’t break the holiday budget, either.

Details: Abbey Travel has a week in the four-star Club Coral View in Pegeia near Paphos from €367pp, based on two adults and two children sharing a one-bedroom apartment, departing August 23; abbeytravel.ie

10. Crete

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Agios Nikolaos, Crete. Photo: Deposit

Agios Nikolaos, Crete. Photo: Deposit

The biggest of all the Greek Islands, Crete is a treasure trove of gorgeous beaches for holidaymakers, whether you want a wide, sandy stretch for sunbathing or a secret little cove to enjoy all by yourself. It’s well worth hiring a car if you want to properly explore the coastline — after all, there are over a thousand kilometres of it.

Details: Sunway has a 10-night break in the four-star Theartemis Palace Hotel including breakfast, from €780pp, departing October 8; sunway.ie

NB: All prices subject to availability and change. Check restrictions carefully before making any bookings. See gov.ie and dfa.ie/travel for further advice and updates.