Ask Joan: Your holiday dilemmas solved

Going solo to North Korea, family resorts on Portugal’s Atlantic coast, spa hotels in the midlands

North Korean workers bow before  statues of the President Kim Il Sung and the General Secretary Kim Jung Il at the Mansudae Grand Monument in Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korean workers bow before statues of the President Kim Il Sung and the General Secretary Kim Jung Il at the Mansudae Grand Monument in Pyongyang, North Korea


I am travelling to Pyongyang in July and I am thinking of going via Dalian in China and then by rail. Can you please give me any further information I would require as I would be travelling on my own? – COL, Dublin

Finnair will begin services from Dublin to Beijing via Helsinki from the end of March and the prices are good, to Beijing from €912 and Dalian from €936. See

The flying times are good via this routing. There is no direct train from Dalian to North Korea, however, you can travel from Beijing or Dandong, the Chinese city on the Korean border, to take a train to Pyongyang.

Dandong is much closer to Dalian but the trip may be more straightforward starting from Beijing, since North Korean visas are generally issued there. It is possible to travel to DPRK as a lone traveller and you may find Koryo Tours helpful in making arrangements. They have been providing tours to DPRK since 1993. You will probably have to be accompanied by a Korean guide and driver. See

You may also find Ctrip, the Chinese travel agency, useful for planning your visit, making train or air bookings and hotel reservations. There is an English website,

I have booked flights for 15 nights for two adults and three children, ages 15, 14 and 11, to Lisbon for the first two weeks in July. I would like to know where to stay, by the coast. We need accommodation with a swimming pool and near nice restaurants. We are tired of campsites, I want a proper bed and a good night’s sleep. – CMK, Dublin.

About 35 kilometres north of Lisbon is the seaside town of Ericeira. It is a great place for surfing and there are a number of surf schools. There are plenty of lovely apartments and villas to rent both in resorts and in the quaint town. See and

Further north again in the province of Estremadura is a very traditional town, Nazaré, on the Silver coast. It is famous for its very surf waves and probably not recommended for beginners.

It is a traditional seaside fishing town with a lovely beach and a warren of little streets with restaurants and shops. It is a popular place in summer with its lovely long beach. You will see places to rent on and

My mam is celebrating her 80th birthday in September and my sister and I would like to take her to a nice hotel somewhere in the midlands, possibly to a hotel that offers spa treatments. – KN, Cork

Athlone is a nice lively town with good shopping and a nice variety of restaurants and things to do. The Sheraton Athlone is in the town centre and has the Sirana Spa, for pampering.

Two nights bed and breakfast with one dinner will cost from €139pps in spring. The hotel is busy at weekends. See

Carton House Estate is on beautiful grounds and you will feel that you are miles from everywhere here, yet it is close to the M4 motorway and the M50 interchange, so ideal for people coming from different parts of the country. There is a spa and swimming pool.

Two nights bed and breakfast and one dinner will cost from €260pps at weekends an d less from Sunday to Thursday. See

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