Travel desk: news, deals and holiday plans

Sat, Mar 1, 2014, 01:00

Online visas for Turkey
From April 10th, visitors to Turkey will no longer be able to purchase a visa at their point of arrival and will have to get an e-visa online before travelling.

The new digital visa will cost $20 and is a multiple entry visa valid for 180 days from the date of issue. Cruise passengers will not need one if they choose to stay on board or tour only the port town they dock in.

The digital visa can be obtained by filling out the online form at evisa.gov.tr.

Strictly business
Qatar Airways has announced the launch of its first daily all-business flight from Heathrow to Doha. The new service departs May 15th and will use an Airbus 319 with a 2-2 configuration – which means a total of 40 seats, about a third the amount of a regular flight. A return ticket on the inaugural flight will set you back £3,449 (€4,173). See qatarairways.com.

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Thai high
Nearly 63,000 Irish people visited Thailand in 2013, a 4.5 per cent increase on 2012 – and 2014 looks even more promising. The figures for January show an 18.5 per cent increase on January 2013, which augurs well for the remainder of the year, especially given the ongoing demonstrations in Bangkok, which have caused sporadic violence since last November.

TOP FIVE RESTAURANTS FOR CHELTENHAM
The Cheltenham Festival will see 30,000 Irish descend on the Gloucestershire town from March 11th-14th – and they’ll need some kind of solid sustenance to keep them going.

Le Champignon Sauvage
David Everitt-Matthias’s elegant French-inspired restaurant has been wowing critics for more than quarter of a century. Everitt-Matthias was voted the Good Food Guide’s chef of the year for 2014. Suffolk Road; tel 0044-1242573449; lechampignonsauvage.co.uk; four-course dinner, £69.

Lumière
One of the top restaurants in town, expertly serving modern British cuisine, with a particular emphasis on game and seafood. Try a local venison, served with butternut squash, quince, cavolo nero and chocolate. Clarence Parade; tel 0044-1242222200; lumiere.cc; nine-course tasting menu, £75.

Prithvi
Superb Indian cuisine matched by immaculate service and surroundings. The five-course taster menu is one of the most memorable meals you’ll have in town. Bath Road; tel 0044-1242226229; prithvirestaurant.com; mains about £14.

Red Pepper
A café, deli and bistro spread across three floors of a Regency building, the Red Pepper has something for everyone, from a tasty bangers-and-mash (£6.95) to monkfish tails marinated in Thai spices and a green curry sauce (£14.95). Regent Street; tel 0044-01242253900; redpeppercheltenham.co.uk.

Vanilla
This basement restaurant below the hair salon of the same is a favourite among locals. The early bird menu (two/three courses £10.95/£13.95) is excellent value (the steak and ale pie is especially good). A sign of its quality are the Michelin stickers plastered on the door. Cambray Place; vanillainc.co.uk; mains from £9-£16.

Reach for the star App
The world’s largest airline alliance has launched an Android app to provide travel services, benefits and membership information. Star Alliance currently has 28 members, including Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, SAS, United and Thai Airlines, and the app will allow users to browse the schedules of more than 21,900 daily flights to 1,328 airports in 195 countries. The app will also track the details of flights and provide information on more than 1,000 Star Alliance and member airline lounges available throughout the world.

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MICRO-GUIDE: BARCELONA
STAY Casa Fuster (Passeig de Gracia 132; hotelescenter.es; from €150) Modernist masterpiece with elegant rooms, they’re smallish, but the hotel’s location is superb.
EAT Mercat de la Boqueria (La Rambla 91; boqueria.info) Lunch spots in the middle of the city’s food market where you can eat very well.
DRINK Monvínic (Carrer de la Diputació 249; monvinic.com) The sommelier at elBullí once declared this wine bar “unmissable”.

Price drop
Hotel prices in France, Italy, Portugal, Turkey, Cyprus and Poland have dropped to their lowest since January 2011, according to the latest monthly price index by Trivago (trivago.ie). Based on the 23 most popular European countries on the hotel comparison website, prices have dropped on average 7 per cent since February 2013. Geneva has Europe’s most expensive standard double hotel rooms, with an average price per night of €222, followed by London (€171), Stockholm (€156) and Paris (€155). The most expensive hotel rooms in Ireland are in Donegal (€130), Dublin (€99) and Kilkenny (€91). The cheapest are in Limerick (€74).

Paddle Up
French river cruise company Croisi Europe has announced plans to add to its existing fleet of 30 ships by building the first overnight passenger vessel for the River Loire. The 96-passenger Loire Princesse will be a 90m long paddlewheeler with three decks. It will sail five- to seven-day cruises exploring the Pays de Loire region, including stops in Nantes, Saint-Lazare, Ancenis, Angers and Saumur. The vessel will launch in April 2015. Prices have not yet been announced; see croisieurope.travel for details.

The deals of the week
€449 Seven nights’ B&B at three-star Argana Hotel in Agadir, Morocco. Price includes flights, taxes, check-in luggage and transfers. Departs March 29th. See travelagent.ie


€1,499 Eight-day cruise along the Rhine in a category four Riverview Stateroom, beginning in Amsterdam, finishing in Basel. Flights not included. Departs March 23rd. See uniworld.ie


€3,126 14-night Tour & Stay trip to Sri Lanka. Includes seven nights of touring and seven nights at a beach resort. Price includes flights from Dublin, all taxes and charges. See slatterytravel.ie