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Wish you were here: Four stars on their top holidays

From rubbing shoulders with celebs in Donegal to luxury trips in the Far East, four NI stars tell Una Brankin about their favourite holidays

Published 25/07/2015

Emma-Louise Johnston and husband Jonathan in Sydney
Emma-Louise Johnston and husband Jonathan in Sydney
Paul Clark
Paul Clark recalls family trips to Achill in Co Mayo as a young boy
Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford
The Giant’s Causeway, which Eamonn loves to visit when on holiday
Former Miss Northern Ireland Meagan Green enjoyed the trip of a lifetime to Toronto, Canada, in 2005

Whether it's escaping to a sun-drenched Caribbean island with powder white sand, setting sail on a luxury cruise or taking the kids to meet Mickey and Co at Disney's magic kingdom, everyone has their own idea of what makes the perfect holiday setting.

While most of us have experienced package getaways to the Spanish costas or the Greek islands, for some, spending their precious time off work lying on a sunbed, sangria in hand, is not their idea of fun.

Modern travel can take you to all four corners of the globe to fulfil any number of lifetime ambitions, from swimming with dolphins to learning to snorkel in the Red Sea, jet-skiing in the Pacific to limbo-dancing in the Caribbean or getting a helicopter's eye view of the Manhattan skyline - not to mention the current trend for yoga retreats.

When budget airlines landed, they opened up a whole new world of travel for all of us - city breaks to transatlantic shopping sprees are now more affordable than ever. Now, five-star hotels with infinity pools and liveried bellmen have become accessible to more than just the super rich.

Activity holidays, child-free hotels and bespoke travel to take you off the well-trodden tourist track are also a click away thanks to online travel stores. A credit card swipe and it's just packing and passports to worry about before you join the jet set.

While the world is now the traveller's oyster, some believe there is no place like home, choosing the rugged Co Donegal coastline, the glens of Antrim and the lakes of Co Fermanagh for a much-needed staycation at a cosy B&B that always has a warm welcome. And with tourists flocking to scenic Northern Ireland in their droves now to enjoy the Dark Hedges in Ballymoney or the legacy of the Titanic in Belfast as well as the countryside, we are spoilt for choice on the home holiday front.

We talk to some well-known Northern Ireland personalities who share their memories of their best holiday ever.

In a week's time, Paul Clark will be heading to his beloved Kilcar in Donegal, where the famous acting couple Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick have a holiday home. The UTV news anchor has headed west every summer since he fell in love with the wild Atlantic coastline as a child. Paul says:

The most memorable holiday of my youth was Achill Island in 1968, with my mum and dad and my two younger sisters and my brother, who was about three at the time. I was 14. The journey was part of the excitement - the long drive from Belfast to Dungannon, to Enniskillen, Sligo and Mayo.

Mum and dad - Ida (84) and Thompson (87) - just took a notion to go to Achill one year and they still do, every September. That particular year we went in July; you always remember past summers as hotter than they are now, but it was warm.

We stayed in a boarding house owned by some fishermen and we ate with them in the evenings. I recall having crab claws for the first time ever, boiled in salt water, and eating them out of the shells. I still love crab.

We went out on the fishing boats with our hosts to the oyster bays - the world was just opening up to me then and I was wide-eyed, taking it all in. I remember - with amusement - a shop owner across the road, asking me to give her the words of The Sash when she heard I was from Belfast. I was from a Catholic family but we lived in a mixed area, so I knew the words and gave them to her.

I've been back to Achill a few times. There was place on the island called Boley House, run by a family called McNamara, and when I was working as a DJ in RTE, from 1980 to 1983, I used to love doing personal appearances all over the country. On one occasion, the destination was Achill Island, and there was the Boley House, still standing, and still run by the McNamaras. It's true that nothing much changes on an island.

I was swept off my feet there, but not in the way you might think. I fell in love with the west of Ireland and the Atlantic shores of south-west Donegal still cry out to me every year. It's not as difficult to get to as Achill and it's closer to home. For me, it's the most beautiful place in the world. I love going away on aeroplanes but I also love coming home.

There's a phrase in Irish which translates as 'I live in Belfast but I am home in Donegal'. I go there to be the human being I was born to be, and I have Mum and Dad to thank for that. I wouldn't have the relationship I have with the west of Ireland if it wasn't for them.

We've been going to Kilcar in the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht part for the past 15 or 16 years. I'm not fluent, but languages and history were my best subjects at school, and I'm reasonably fluent in French. My wife and the boys don't speak Irish; they put up with me trying.

I get one or two breaks a year and I don't remember every having a bad one. This year I'm having a week off at home, then 10 or 11 days in Kilcar. If the weather's bad, it doesn't bother me. I love walking and if it rains, I get a wee bit wet. I don't expect Mediterranean weather.

We've been there at the same time as Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick on several occasions, but the nearest run-in I've had with them was one time on the very narrow road back from Muckross Head. There was only room for one car and this oncoming one pulled in to let me through, and as I got closer and gave the driver a wave of acknowledgment, I realised it was Matthew Broderick. He wouldn't know me from Adam, of course.

The locals regard him and his wife as members of the community and guard them closely against the Press - they won't tell them where they are. And they, in turn, always call in to the locals' houses when they land to say 'hi' and be neighbourly. They buy their food in the local shop and I remember Broderick's car had a Donegal registration - it wasn't a banger but it wasn't a hire car either, so they must keep it there.

I can't afford a house in Donegal; I'm an impecunious journalist, but we have access to a house of a local person and we have become part of the community, too. I love it. Believe me, it is home.

Having worked as a travel presenter for several years, Emma-Louise Johnston is fussy where she holidays. The freelance broadcaster and producer chose the beautiful southern tip of Italy this year, spending a week in May in a villa in the stunning resort of Borgo Egnazia in Puglia with husband Jonathan Crawford. As well as television presenting for GMTV and interviewing the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Kofi Annan, Emma-Louise co-hosted the BBC NI travel series Getaways, with Joe Lindsay. Emma-Louise says:

I was insanely lucky to be a travel presenter for several years with big Joe Lindsay, who is, undoubtedly, a brilliant travel companion. We travelled to places such as Barbados, Berlin, Toronto and Tenerife over the years, but my best holidays were within a couple of months of each other - one was here in Ireland; the other was the opposite side of the globe.

The first was in Carlingford in July 2007 and it was my hen weekend - although really it was just a brilliant break with my closest friends.

We got a smashing weekend - the sun shone from start to finish and what a weekend it was. We set off for our big drive on the Friday afternoon and arrived just over an hour later - bliss. Staying in self-catering apartments meant we could come and go as we pleased, which was excellent.

You are spoilt for restaurants in Carlingford and we were able to dine on crab claws, chowder, seabass and lobster all weekend - it was class. Sitting outside in the beer garden at the famous PJs pub on a sunny Friday evening with all your mates - a lovely glass of chilled white wine in hand, where the craic is immense, was just the best feeling.

We ate at the upmarket Ghan House hotel on the Saturday evening and had a private room, so were able to get glammed up and play all our own tunes on the iPod - it was so good. I laughed from start to finish and had one of the best weekends of my life.

My other favourite holiday was actually my honeymoon. We set off a few days after our wedding and our first port of call was Hong Kong. We arrived at the airport and were greeted by our chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce Phantom, which the hotel had sent. I was beside myself with excitement - I just can't do cool, calm and collected, and was jumping about like a Hicksville kid. We arrived at The Peninsula Hotel and were shown to our suite, where there was champagne, strawberries and chocolates and an insane variety of teas.

There was also a corner jacuzzi in one of the many rooms, where we were able to look out over the skyline for the Symphony of Lights (the largest permanent light show in the world, performed by the towers of Central District). It was all mind blowing - and this was just the start of our trip.

We had an amazing few days in Hong Kong then flew to Sydney and had a brilliant week there. We jetted out to New Zealand South Island, visiting the different vineyards, then travelled down the west coast stopping off at the sounds, and on down to Queenstown to go snowboarding, before flying back to Australia for diving off the Great Barrier Reef.

Last but not least was travelling on a private plane to heaven-on-earth - also known as Bloomfield, a luxury eco lodge in North Queensland, in the heart of the lush tropical Daintree Rainforest and on the shores of the Coral Sea.

As I say, I've been spoilt rotten when it comes to travel and know I'm so lucky. I'm so glad I did travel when I was younger because while some people still venture all over the globe with young kids, I'm just not that good and mostly holiday within Europe now. This year we went on holiday in May in the south of Italy. We rented a villa in the resort and the restaurant food was excellent - really luxurious, yet also brilliant for children. The staff were great with them and you never felt uncomfortable with kids there, even though it was kind of fancy surroundings.

It's one of the few places my husband and I said we'd return to. I think down the line, when our children are a bit older, we'll do a big trip to California because I have a load of relatives who live around San Francisco and it's where one of my favourite places in the world is - Yosemite National Park. And way down the line, when our children no longer want to holiday with us, I'd love to try South America.

If his wife hadn't barred him, Eamonn Holmes could have been taking a bit of a holiday in the Celebrity Big Brother house in August. A big fan of the reality show, the broadcasting legend was asked to become a housemate after he appeared in the house in January for a special task. But, apart from Ruth's disapproval, Eamonn's too busy, with "seven weeks of 20-hour days" ahead of him, presenting Sunrise on Monday to Thursday mornings from 6am on Sky News, and co-presenting This Morning, with Ruth, on ITV on Friday mornings. And with several working trips included in that time-frame, including Russia, Surrey-based Eamonn's a well-seasoned traveller - with a special fondness for his home turf. Eamonn says:

We used to go to Cushendall in the Glens for our summer holidays back in the mid-1960s. I remember going on this amazing journey along the coast road. We'd pack our tin buckets and spades and our new clothes from Woolworths, and check into the Thornlea Hotel for two weeks.

I've an incredible affinity with our coastline, especially the Giant's Causeway and its magical basalt stepping stones. I think it's something that everyone should see before they die. I like the Scottish coast and landscape, too.

We were driving from London to Stranraer to get the ferry over to Belfast for Christmas once, and this huge storm hit. We couldn't get across for three days and had a dog with us, but luckily the Turnberry hotel in Ayr took us in.

The top Scottish hotels really know how to lay on the luxury. The service was impeccable and the food was great. I tend to go for seafood on holiday because I don't cook it much at home. The Portuguese, in particular, do wonderful fish stews, monkfish and baked cod.

Wherever I go, I like my comforts and I need a television. From my years presenting the Holiday Show, I've seen all the culture I ever needed to see. Now I just want a good hotel where I can relax and read - not airport fiction; I prefer political and movie-star autobiographies and historical novels.

It's the actual travelling to these nice hotels that I don't like. I hate airports, planes and the whole security rigmarole. The longer I do it, the more I hate it. Going to the airport used to be part of the excitement of the holiday, and you got treated nicely. I'm on a plane most weeks and I've found myself turning down jobs because I can't stand going through airports.

I prefer sailing and love cruises, but Ruth can't go because she gets sea sickness. I don't want to spend the rest of my life going on the standard Mediterranean seaside holiday, but I don't really have a family that has the travel bug. I've even played gooseberry with my best friend and his wife on a cruise to Alaska, because nobody would come with me. We had a wonderful time - seeing icebergs and going on helicopter flights - but my best holiday ever would have to be Monument Valley, along the Arizona-Utah state line.

I love John Wayne and western films, so it was like stepping back into the landscape of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Searchers. Most things I've seen in life don't live up to my expectations, but Monument Valley really took my breath away. We camped out in the desert, rode horses and met Native American tribes. I'll never forget it.

I liked Cape Town and Marrakech, too. I went to Marrakesh in October once, when it wasn't as hot. The city was crazy, colourful and had a bit of a pong, in contrast to the clean, crisp air of the snow-capped Atlas mountains all around. Cape Town has stunning mountain views, too - Table Mountain. I remember seeing people in suits on Blouberg Beach, kicking off their shoes and throwing down their briefcases after a day at work. Amazing to watch.

Seeing the world is always high on the agenda beauty contestants, but former Miss Northern Ireland Meagan Green hasn't been abroad in six years, opting for staycations instead. Now one of the Alison Campbell Agency's top models, stunning Meagan is planning a trip with her boyfriend, Belfast Giants player Craig Peacock. She says:

As a child and teenager, I always got away on a family holiday every year. One in particular stands out - Toronto at Easter, 2005. It was the first time I had ever been to Canada and the memories I made and experiences I had were unforgettable.

It was the farthest I had ever travelled at that time. The excitement of going to Canada and the flight all added to the buzz of going somewhere new, although the long-haul flight with a grumpy older sister and a pesky younger brother was interesting to say the least. My poor parents.

My immediate impression was of how friendly, welcoming and hospitable everyone was. They loved our accents and they were so chatty, bubbly and genuinely pleasant, from arrival to departure.

They locals were so relaxed and easygoing, which added to our holiday mood. They were always eager to chat and find out all about us as a family. Where we were from, where we were visiting, where we should go, the places we should try, how long we were staying - they would always recommend the local hidden gems.

One thing that sticks out still to this day is the food. Being a farmer's daughter, I have a good, hearty appetite. As a family, we love to dine out, try new foods and experiences; and Toronto had all this and so much more.

The weather was ideal for travelling around and sight-seeing - warm, dry and sunny, something we aren't used to as family from Northern Ireland. Although it was very humid and warm in the city centre, when we were exploring and sight-seeing around the outskirts, the breeze kept us cool.

Visiting the Niagara Falls is still as clear in my memory as the day we spent there. We went on the boat tour to hear all the history and facts. It really is a breath-taking experience, for all ages, genders, families, couples, singles. Everyone was there for the same reason, to enjoy that wonderful spectacle of nature.

And I will always remember going to see my very first rodeo and my first Tim Horton's coffee and donut, and going up to the top of the CN Tower and having dinner in the revolving restaurant.

I would love to go back now and experience it all again from a different perspective. My other half, Craig Peacock, is half Canadian - his father is originally from Toronto so perhaps a family trip back could be on the cards.

Craig travelled to Toronto last summer with his Belfast Giants' teammates Adam Keefe and Andrew Dickson. His experiences were similar to mine, with a few exceptions. After hearing his stories and seeing his holiday snaps, I would like to go and experience a baseball game and a hockey game, and perhaps take a trip to a lake for some water sports.

Another once-in-a-lifetime trip for me was representing Northern Ireland at Miss World. I travelled to Bali in Indonesia for six weeks and it was the most incredible experience of my life. I honestly don't think anything will ever come close to it and I am so thankful I had the opportunity to go.

I still haven't experienced America, though. It's somewhere I have always wanted to travel to. From Disney in Florida to Las Vegas, to New York. America has so much to offer so it is definitely on the bucket list.

Belfast Telegraph

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