Autumn travel: Where to go, where to stay and the best deals at home and abroad
Shoulder-season specials to get you dreaming of long haul, European and domestic travel
Portugal: the Algarve has dramatic cliffs and golden sandy beaches. Photograph: Getty
After an extraordinary summer, when conflicted travel agents dreamed of rain, while rushing to get the barbecue out and plan al fresco family adventures, what will the autumn bring? Typically September heralds the “shoulder season”, where, for those not afflicted by back-to-school deadlines, travel bargains beckon. So where is nice? Where is cheapest? What is most adventurous, or just plain lovely for off-peak travellers, and are there any clever ways that those tied to official holiday periods can enjoy inexpensive travel too?
According to Paul Hackett, chief executive and founder of travel company Click&Go, July was a very quiet month for family travel. Who would have wanted to leave such gorgeous sunshine, especially as parts of Europe were experiencing energy-sapping heatwaves? A change in the weather led to a rush of bookings, and August saw 36 per cent of family bookings for holidays abroad, made all in a rush for travel that same month.
Jump ahead to September, and this goes down to just 11 per cent. The same is true for October, unless you’re hoping to get away for the mid-term break. In that case, Hackett advises, forget about it – unless you’re one of those people who have booked about a year in advance.
Chasing the sun
With fewer people travelling, prices are obviously going to come down, so where is best to go? Shoulder season sun holidays offer better value, in terms of discounts, than city breaks which hold their value more consistently year-round – the exception being when there are major events (such as papal visits, marathons and festivals), then city prices soar.
A seven-night sun holiday in Lanzarote, including flights for two people, which will cost from around €419 in August, goes down to €319 in October. Compare this with three nights in Barcelona for two in August at €239, and €209 in October.
Clearly if you want to count your savings, head for the sun. The reason for this is that those hotels that want to stay open year-round will bring in exceptionally good rates to encourage bookings. Airlines too are discounting prices at this time of year as, even though routes may be cut over the late autumn/winter season, many services do continue. Hackett also adds that the better the hotel, the better the savings, so what more reason do you need to head for five star?
Of course, the closer it gets to winter, the less daylight hours and guaranteed sunshine are on offer. Cyprus, Madeira and the Canaries stay pretty good, but consider also a destination such as Malta, where you’ll find incredible layers of history to explore on the odd chilly day. Malta comes down in price in October, but by December, it’s practically being given away, and it is an extraordinary place to experience.
So what can you do if you’re itching to make the most of the short haul sun bargains out there, but can’t just take the kids out of school? One sneaky solution is to buy two holidays: one for you and your partner, and one for your own parents to thank them for minding the children while you’re away. Persuade everyone that this is a wonderful idea, and it’ll still work out less costly than a summer or mid-term break full family trip.
Going longer haul the prices don’t tend to discount at this time of year. In fact, you get better value in the summer months, when most holiday makers from Europe are happier to stay in their own continent. New routes, such as the Hainan Airlines direct flights from Dublin to Beijing offer new destinations for the adventurously minded.
And what about holidays at home? Autumn in Ireland is a great foodie time, with the Dingle Food Festival, A Taste of West Cork and the Galway Oyster Festival all tempting travellers. Fáilte Ireland’s Daragh Anglim says that the Ireland’s Ancient East and Wild Atlantic Way initiatives are focussed on driving tourism year-round, and it’s clear that while Irish sunshine is something to be savoured, so too are cosy afternoons by crackling open fires after bracing walks in some of the most gorgeous scenery imaginable.
According to Fáilte Ireland, 60 per cent of trips taken in Ireland in the shoulder season period are holiday trips, and more than two thirds of these are taken by those aged 34 and up. Most of these trips are short breaks, and, again, two thirds of travellers have no dependent children. Top destinations in Ireland at this time of year are Cork and Kerry followed by Dublin.
And what about people coming to Ireland from overseas in September and October? Most are from Europe, plus another third from Britain. Almost all have no dependent children, and Dublin is where they’re most likely to spend their time.
So, whether you’re planning brisk walks in the Irish countryside, explorations of Ireland’s Ancient East, looking for short-haul sun, or more long-distance adventures, start planning, and dreaming your shoulder season adventure here. Terms and conditions will apply to all the offers detailed below, so do check websites.
The Irish Landmark Trust
With properties from lighthouses to castles, gate lodges to mews buildings, The Irish Landmark Trust (irishlandmark.com) also provide a valuable cultural service. It restores historic buildings, bringing them back to vibrant life, then lets them out for all to enjoy. You won’t find TVs, and you may not get wifi, so you are guaranteed relaxation, and something very unique each time. The Fall in Love with Autumn offer gives you discounts at Inchiquinn House, Co Clare (€830, sleeps 10), and Tullymurry House, Co Down (€475, sleeps 8), if booked before September 14th for midweek or weekend breaks up to December 15th.
irishlandmark.com; 01 6704733, email: firstname.lastname@example.org quoting Autumn Special Offer.
Carlow Walking Festival
The Carlow Walking Festival, October 5th-7th, includes graded night time mountain hikes, kids’ trails, and routes for both beginners and advanced walkers. From the Blackstairs and Mount Leinster, to mindfulness walks in Clogrennan Walk, it’s a wonderful way to spend an autumn weekend. Throw in a visit to Carlow’s Visual Arts Centre (where Slovenian artist Marjetica Potrc will be exploring issues of shelter), plus a delicious lunch at Lennon’s, for the full Carlow experience. Stay at the lovely Lorum Old Rectory where two nights, two evening meals and two packed lunches are €240pps (lorum.com). Or try the Step House in Borris (stephousehotel.ie). where the September Blooms package includes an overnight stay, breakfast, a gardening tutorial with Cait Coady, the owner, and a dinner, plus a bottle of rosé on arrival. From €99pps.
While autumn is a great time to escape to the country, there’s also a lot to tempt in the city. Dublin plays host to the Fringe Festival (September 8th-23rd, fringefest.com) followed by the Theatre Festival (September 27th-October 18th dublintheatrefestival.com), with packed programmes to entertain, excite and provoke. The Merrion Hotel has a brilliant and excellent value pre-theatre menu during the Dublin Theatre Festival, where a meal in the delicious Garden Room starts at just €21.95 (thegardenroom.ie). Rooms in the Garden Wing are from €330 (merrionhotel.com). Looking further ahead in the calendar, The Grand Canal Hotel (grandcanalhotel.ie) has theatre packages, including room, pre-show supper, and theatre tickets to your choice of Bord Gáis Energy Theatre event, such as €319 for two for Shrek in October, and €258 for Les Miserables in December.
Autumn and food festivals go hand in hand in Ireland. From A Taste of West Cork (until September 16th, atasteofwestcork.com) to the world famous Galway Oyster Festival (September 28th- 30th, galwayoysterfestival.com) it’s a delicious time to develop new tastes, and rediscover these beautiful parts of the countryside. Explore West Cork from your base at the Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa in Clonakilty, where you can also check out their Seaside Sundays package, that gives you overnight accommodation including breakfast, plus fish and chips and a pint of Murphy’s (or a glass of wine) for supper, and spa access for €99pps (inchydoneyisland.com). After your oyster-eating in Galway, head out to Barna where the Twelve Hotel is offering the Gourmet Escape, with two nights’ accommodation, breakfast, plus one dinner, from €200pps (thetwelvehotel.ie).
If there’s one thing we’re not short of in Ireland, it’s big houses. One hundred years ago it may have been more common to burn them down, but we’ve since learned to fall back in love with them again, especially now that a great number have become delicious hotels, where you can live like a lord, at least for a day or two. The Blue Book is a great source of inspiration (irelands-blue-book.ie), with Blue Book special offers for autumn including Limerick’s lovely Mustard Seed, where a two-night break, including breakfast, dinner one night, plus tea and coffee on arrival, and a goodie bag on departure will cost from €199pps. In East Cork, Ballyvolane has added a tantalising Bed’n’Bertha package, named for their own very special Bertha’s Revenge Milk Gin. Two nights bed and breakfast, plus one dinner, and a bottle of Bertha’s starts at €520 per room (ballyvolanehouse.ie).
Birds of prey
With a history going back thousands of years, Falconry is an extraordinary experience. Once a way of surviving in the wilderness, it is the origin of many phrases in daily use: such as hoodwinked, under the thumb, and wrapped around your little finger. Today you can discover the magic of these magnificent birds, from their incredible eyesight, to the speed and grace with which they’ll alight on your gloved hand, and an autumn day makes the perfect moment. For the ultimate in luxury, Ballyfin in Co Laois, offers a hawk walk for guests, including a fascinating history of the birds, from €500 for a group, with bed and breakfast rates from €415 per room (ballyfin.com). Also available at Ashford Castle, Co Mayo for €90 per person (ashfordcastle.com/falconry.ie) and Dromoland Castle, Co Limerick for €70 per person (dromoland.ie).
A favourite shoulder season destination, the Algarve has dramatic cliffs, castles, diving spots, golden sandy beaches, and charming bars and restaurants. It also offers excellent value, from three stars and up. Budget Travel has seven nights in a studio apartment, with balcony at the three-star Mirachoro in Praia Da Rocha, including flights and a departure date of October 10th for just €178pps, including flights with Ryanair (budgettravel.ie). Or head up-market and for the five star Grande Real Santa Eulalia Resort Hotel in Albufeira, on a bed and breakfast basis with flights, for seven nights and direct flights with Aer Lingus, departing on October 19th, for €422pps with Click&Go (clickandgo.com).
Travel Department trips are great for those who like everything laid on, for solo travellers, and for those who are feeling social. With shoulder season departures for Tenerife throughout September and October, a seven night break, full board in a four star hotel costs from €679 including return flights out of Dublin, transfers and a range of guided excursions to choose from, including to Mount Teide (traveldepartment.ie).
Switzerland: Grand Tour
Go free and easy in Switzerland, with a Grand Tour itinerary that lets you drive your own (hire) car through the mountains, with stops along the way. The full Grand Tour, with eight overnight stays (plus breakfast) in Zürich, St Gallen, Davos, Lugano, Zermatt, Montreux, Gstaad and Lucerne, plus a VW Golf 5 to get you between your destinations costs from CHF1,322 (about €1,156) excluding flights. See slopes of vineyards at harvest time (and sample their wares), find cows being driven off the mountains to more sheltered slopes, and stop at some tantalising places to eat. You’ll also get maps, a guide, and coupons for dining and experiences en route. Shorter itineraries also available. Direct flights from Dublin to Zürich with Aer Lingus from €123 (aerlingus.com/myswitzerland.ie).
Autumn in France is wine time, and the unbelievably beautiful Les Sources de Caudalie, and the surrounding vineyards of family winery Château Smith Haute Lafitte, has to be one of the nicest spots to enjoy it. The In the Steps of the Wine Maker package includes two nights in a prestige room, meals, including one at the Michelin two-star la Grand Vigne, wine tastings and a workshop in the vineyards. From €1,600 for two, Wednesday-Sunday, between September 19th and October 31st. Dublin-Bordeaux on Aer Lingus from €90 return (aerlingus.com/sources-caudalie.com).
Steeped in history, and with amazing churches, little rocky coves, sandy beaches, fabulous castles and the whole history of the Knights Templar, Malta is a great pick for September and October. It gets a little chillier come November and December, and the days are shorter, but there’s much more to Malta than lying by the pool. With direct flights from Dublin, Budget Travel has seven nights in a one-bedroom apartment on a bed and breakfast basis for €396 per person, departing on September 18th (budgettravel.ie). Or wait until November, and get the four star Pergola at pretty Mellieha Bay for just €259, including flights with Click&Go. Mellieha Bay has a lovely beach, and is close to the ferry port to explore the island of Gozo. Go even fancier again at the five star Sliema Palace for €499 in November, also with Click&Go (clickandgo.com).
Europe long stay
Watching prices come down from September onwards could inspire some creative thinking in those who don’t have to spend all winter in Ireland.
The five star Grande Real Santa Eulalia Resort Hotel in Albufeira is just €422 pps for a week in October (see above), but it comes right down to €279 in November, again including flights (see clickandgo.com). Sunsearch Holidays has the Hostal El Nogal in Malaga for three weeks, departing on November 3rd, room only including flights for two adults at €480 per person (sunsearchhoildays.ie). Go for even longer with Budget Travel, where a search gives you two months in Lanzarote at the three star Diamar, overlooking Reducto beach, including flights for €2,312 per person, which is probably less than you could make for renting out your house. It’s also worth contacting hotels directly to ask for long -stay rates. You could also consider a house swap and, while the website and app for rentals of at least one month’s duration, Spot A Home (spotahome.com) is more city based, there are also some intriguing spots there, including Seville, Porto, Valencia and Barcelona.
US: Santa Monica
You’ll find Santa Monica oddly familiar, even if you’ve never visited before. That’s because the pretty town and its pier have had starring roles in film and TV from Charlie’s Angels to Iron Man, Star Trek to Forrest Gump. Temperatures are around the mid-20s, and there’s a laid-back atmosphere that’s a world away from LA’s east-coast cousin, New York. Uniquely for LA, you won’t need a car as Santa Monicans like to cycle, walk and rollerblade. Find great shops, amazing food, and use it as a base to explore further into the City of Angels. The Casa del Mar is one of only two hotels right on the beach, and has prices to match (from $550/€469, hotelcasadelmar.com), but you’ll find better value inland, and direct flights from Dublin to LAX in September start at approximately €500 round trip with Aer Lingus (aerlingus.ie/santamonica.com).
With average temperatures of 30 degrees during September and October, Queensland is an ultimate getaway for sun seekers, with added treats for those with a love of the great outdoors. Stay at the Lady Elliot Island Resort to explore wildlife, the lagoon and the Great Barrier Reef. It’s an eco-conscious resort, so you can assuage any residual air-miles guilt by taking in their dedicated Climate Change Trail and Tour around the island. Austravel has a five-day Rainforest and Reef Discovery package to Lady Elliot and Fraser Island from €1,000 based on two sharing. Price includes two nights at Lady Elliot Island in a Reef Unit with return internal flights, and two nights at Kingfisher Bay in a Resort Room with catamaran transfers. International flights not included (austravel.com).
Direct flights from Dublin make Qatar an interesting option for some shoulder season sunshine. Expect temperatures in the mid-20s, and with low humidity. The adventurous action is beyond the city, where you can take a desert safari, get up close and personal with camels, zip across the dunes in a 4x4, and stop off at Khor Al Adaid (the inland sea), right in the middle of the desert, where you can paddle board, kayak and get your moonlight thrills in the mangrove forest. Hayes and Jarvis has a four-night holiday to Qatar from €1,859, staying at the five star Banana Island Resort, Doha. Price includes return flights from Dublin with Qatar Airways and transfers (hayesandjarvis.ie).
Renowned as one of the best preserved cities in Morocco, Fez is the ideal short-haul destination with a long-haul flavour. Explore the medina, so dense and packed it’s the world’s largest car-free urban area, discover the markets, workshops, ancient ruins and a city alive with colour, noise and the smells of spices. Speaking of smells, they’ll give you mint to hold under your nose when you visit the Chouara Tannery, were leather is preserved and dyed. Afterwards, soak up some sweeter smells at the Givenchy Spa at the Hotel Sahrai, where rooms start at €189 per night (hotelsahrai.com). Fly via Paris or Rome.
With a new direct route from Dublin to Beijing with Hainan Airlines, at about €600 return (hainanairlines.com), it’s a good time to explore China’s famous city. Temperatures in September range from 15-26 degrees, dropping in October to highs of 19. Visit the Forbidden City, the Silk Market, and the Temple of Heaven, before setting off to walk the Great Wall. If you’re thinking that the sky is the limit for a trip of a lifetime, the Peninsula Beijing starts at €275 a night, for this all-suite hotel (peninsula.com).