Follow Don Conroy to Ashford Castle, and other autumn escapes

Travel News: Warm waters and cool cocktails, a petting zoo and golden ducks

Warming up

How does a Thermal Village sound for chillier afternoons? Ballymena's Galgorm is a delicious retreat in 163 acres of parkland. The Thermal Village itself includes all sorts of steamy, hot and cool things to dunk yourself in, in between wafting around the manicured gardens in your towelling robe.

The Two Night Spa Retreat includes accommodation, breakfasts, one dinner, afternoon tea and one 60-minute spa treatment, from £700 for two people, for two nights.

Back in Time

Just outside Wexford town, the Ferrycarrig is one of those welcoming hotels that all the family can enjoy. Sitting on the Slaney Estuary, soak up the river view. If you fancy a dip, there's a fitness suite and pool. There's also an outdoor playground for the younger ones. Need more of a draw? Billed as Ireland's largest outdoor museum, the Irish National Heritage Park is on your doorstep (€6/€11,, including demonstrations, and lots to explore. Two nights, dinner, B&B from €340pps with the Autumn Escape packages.

Animal magic

Glamping in autumn? Seriously, get the facilities right, and it's just lovely. The Ardmore Glamping Pods include a double bed, sofa bed, loo, and somewhere (else) to sit. There's a fridge for your milk (or beer, or champagne) and they're fully heated and insulated. The pods sleep up to four, and come in at €150 per night. Larger pods have a shower too.


Add playgrounds, barbecues to rent, a go kart track, indoor play area, maze, and a mini zoo overlooking Whiting Bay on site (entry is €12.50) and you can truly wake up to the wonders of nature – whatever the weather.


The Rex in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) was famous as the spot where the world's press stayed during the Vietnam War. Their early evening briefings becoming known as the Five O'clock Follies – now it's a cocktail, served in its rooftop bar. Hotels become pieces of history in all sorts of ways. In the same vein, Belfast's Europa was once known as the world's most bombed hotel. Not to make light of it, it was targeted 33 times, while playing host to journalists including Kate Adie, Richard Ford and Trevor McDonald.

Since then, and like the Rex, it has glammed up, and now you'll be sleeping over in spots formerly graced by luminaries from Julia Roberts to Bob Dylan, Victoria Beckham to Bill Clinton (who booked 100 rooms for his entourage). Celebrating its 50th birthday, Golden Moments at the Europa includes chocolates, a cocktail, B&B and "an exclusive golden duck", which is something to put on the mantelpiece, rather than to eat. From £55pps.

Renew and refresh

I don't know if it's collective malaise, or if I'm just unusually stressed at the moment, but Kildare's Killashee Hotel's Midweek Moments package seemed to be speaking my language. Dinner, B&B, use of the leisure centre, and all those lovely grounds to explore are just €95 pps. Add on the Autumn Renewal Spa Package – with a selection of three 30-minute treatments, plus use of the hydrotherapy suite for €99 midweek.

People in glasshouses

You know what they say about glasshouses and throwing stones, but you'd be more likely to be lounging languidly in the newly done Glasshouse at Cork's Montenotte Hotel. Housed in what was once built for a merchant prince, the Montenotte now boasts a new art deco-inspired bar, all decked out with botanical themes, blue tiles and swathes of luxurious leather. Thirsty yet? The cocktails are likewise botanical-themed, of course. The Sunset Breakaway Package includes B&B, lunch and cocktails at the Glasshouse, from €295 per room. the

Creative time

Hands up who hasn't kept up their Covid-inspired creativity? For every newly minted artist, there's probably also a paintbox gathering dust somewhere. Reignite the passion, and bed down new good habits with Don Conroy (a former regular on RTÉ's The Den) as he leads a painting workshop in the salubrious surrounds of The Lodge at Ashford Castle. You don't have to be brilliant, or even halfway decent, and that makes it very relaxing indeed. From October 11th-13th, and from €400 a night, you get dinner, B&B and a full-day workshop with the man himself. Email, call +94 954 5400. Or simply stay from €380 B&B per room.