10 sporting breaks
Reasons to raise a cheer
Cheltenham Gold Cup festival meeting takes place in March. Photograph: Getty
Head to Brazil for the Football World Cup mid-June to mid-July. Photograph: Getty
Munster’s Paul O’Connell playing in last year’s Heineken Cup in Paris; this year’s final takes place in Cardiff in May. Phograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images)
Not just a horse-won town
It’s easy to forget during the Cheltenham festival (March 11th-14th) that during the rest of the year this is a pretty genteel burg best known for its Regency terraces and its easy access to the Cotswolds. But when it’s overrun by 200,000 race fans (including 8,000 Irish punters), not many are concerned with visiting the town’s finest Regency building, the Pittville Pump Room (pittvillepumproom.org.uk), testament to Cheltenham’s origins as a spa town.
Gold Cup, March 14th, including flights to Birmingham, transfers and tickets, from €389; abbeytravel.ie
Have a ball in Paris
Ireland kick off against France at the Stade de France at 6pm on Saturday March 15th, but it’s just an added reason to visit one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It’s hard not to enjoy Paris, and everybody has their favourite experiences: rent a bike, have an aperitif under the arcades of the Place des Vosges and walk in the Tuileries Gardens.
Two and three night packages including flights, hotel, tickets and transfers from €445 and €525; 747travel.ie
Turf surf in the Bluegrass state
America’s second-oldest and most prestigious horse race, the Kentucky Derby (May 3rd), is the dominant event of Louisville’s calendar. There’s a museum in town is devoted to equine sports. You can also tour stud farms, visit antebellum (pre-Civil War) mansions (owned by people who owned horses) and visit the Equus Run Vineyards, where thoroughbreds graze next to the vines.
Flights to Louisville via New York, Philadelphia or Washington DC from €745. Kentucky Derby packages – including three nights’ accommodation and grandstand seating and transfers around €1,400, sportstravel.com
Elegant squares, 19th-century cafes, top-class museums and a reputation for innovation that ranges from Fiat to slow food, Turin may be Italy’s fourth-largest city but it’s refreshingly free of the tourists that overrun the likes of Rome or Milan. The city will see a 60,000 bump on May 14th, for the UEFA Europa League final, but most of them will be there for the football.
Flights from €50; ryanair.com
European club football’s showpiece game, the UEFA Champions League final (May 24th), couldn’t have chosen a more attractive stage than the Portuguese capital, which is cultured, wonderfully shabby and affordable – much like Barcelona used to be. Fans will celebrate and commiserate in the Alfama district, the city’s most most beautiful neighbourhood.
aerlingus.com, flights from €59; ryanair.com, from €35
Cardiff’s two most prominent landmarks are the castle and the Millennium Stadium, which will host the Heineken Cup Final on May 24th. The stadium is in the middle of the city, which is small enough to get around on foot.
Flights on either side of game day from €140 each way; aerlingus.com
Nuts about Brazil
You don’t need the World Cup, from June 12th-July 13th, to have a reason to visit Brazil. All trips start in Rio, but you’ll have a wide choice of where to go from there. Brazil is huge: use domestic flights for long-haul (the TAM Brazil airpass is good value; tam.com) and buses for shorter distances.
Flights from €1,965 return; budgetair.ie
On the Tour trail
You can watch the Tour de France (July 5th-27th) go by anywhere along the route, but there’s also the option of a cycling holiday that climbs the cols on the same day as the riders. Your peloton rides about 100km a day before finding a spot to watch the pros do it at a speed you barely thought possible.
Week-long package including accommodation, transfers and support during rides, from £850 (€1,025); alpinechaingang.co.uk
Royal Liverpool Golf Club Hoylake, a 12-mile train ride from Liverpool centre, is hosting the Open Championship from July 17th-20th. Much maligned Merseyside is actually brilliant – Liverpool is surprisingly handsome (in parts) and the Wirral, where the gold club is, has some great galleries and museums.
Flights from €51 each way, ryanair.com; packages, including tickets to final day, bus and ferry fares, from €299, midlandtravel.ie
Glens and eagles
Golf’s most partisan biannual throwdown, the Ryder Cup, couldn’t have picked a more pleasant location than Gleneagles (September 26th-28th). Perthshire has a bit of Scottish magic for everyone, from bleak moor to rich forest, from snaking loch to perfect village. Gleneagles is 20 miles southwest of Perth, home to Scone Palace where Macbeth and Robert the Bruce were crowned.
Five-night package with five-star hotel, four-day ticket and transfers, €2,675; sportsbreaks.ie