Irish travel series offers some tempting trips for 2017
Jenny Lee meets Mairead Ronan, the new face of local travel series Getaways, and chats about travelling when pregnant, plunging into Iceland's Blue Lagoon and sampling the flavours and sights of Fermanagh and Donegal
JANUARY is traditionally the time of the year we start dreaming of far-flung destinations and booking holidays for the forthcoming year. Local travel series Getaways returns to our screens tonight with some inspiration and with a new presenter.
Mairead Ronan filmed the entire series while pregnant and while 'babymoons' are now a popular trend, the 36-year-old Dubliner had to be content with taking fellow-presenter Joe Lindsay to Las Vegas, Nevada for the first report in the six-part series, as they aimed to find out whether there's more to the city than gambling.
In the show, while Mairead takes a romantic gondola ride along a Venetian canal – in a hotel – Joe takes to the skies on a helicopter ride over the stunning Grand Canyon. They marvel at the neon museum, fine dine at the Bellagio, and a construction site lends itself to an unusual and high octane activity.
"I went to Las Vegas about 10 or 11 years ago for four wild days and to be honest I wasn't really looking forward to going there when I was six and a half months pregnant and not able to drink," Mairead tells me. "But it has changed so much and we truly saw the new side to Las Vegas.
"There are lots of hotels with no casinos at all but which are suited to families and there are great shows at night. J Lo performed when we were there and we went to see Cirque du Soleil. Joe and I also went to this brilliant park where we drove diggers. I thought I was going to go into labour from laughing, I had so much fun."
Mairead and Joe also took in the sights of Los Angeles. She is no stranger to the city of angels, as she has an aunt who lives there.
"It's great to have a direct flight now to LA. I would recommend Santa Monica for families and young couples. There are a lot of chic restaurants and cool nightclubs, as well as the beaches and a traditional pier with all the fun that offers."
Mairead, who can also be seen on our screens presenting RTE's Fittest Family, is currently on maternity leave from her job as producer of the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show on Today FM, after giving birth to baby Eliza three months ago.
A keen traveller, she describes Getaways as "her dream show". "Sometimes travel can be expensive. I got to go to places I always wanted to visit – like Iceland – that had been put on the long finger... and get paid to do it," says Mairead, whose favourite experience of the series was visiting the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in the south west of Iceland.
"I was there the same week Kim Kardashian was there – I missed her by a few days. I did that same pregnancy photo she did, but let's just say I look a little different in my photo," laughs Mairead, who warns travellers to pre-book their visit to the Blue Lagoon well in advance.
As well as featuring holiday destinations that can be reached directly from Ireland, Getaways also highlighting what great locations we have at home and Mairead was taken away by the beauty of the north west of Ireland.
In the first programme, Mairead is joined on screen by her nine-year-old son Dara, making his television debut, during a self-catering break in Co Fermanagh.
They stayed at the lakeside cottages of Rossharbour and the luxurious, yet novel, Finn Lough bubble domes.
"I'd never been to Fermanagh before and absolutely loved it. We got the most beautiful weather and myself and Dara were out on Lough Erne in a double kayak getting some freckles."
Seven and half months pregnant at this time, Mairead also took things easy with a food trail in Enniskillen, sampling bread, jams, ice cream and locally reared Kettyle beef, followed by a water taxi to Crom Estate to enjoy a picnic.
"I ate some gorgeous local produce and got even fatter," she laughs.
Mairead also took a road trip around the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal.
"I hadn't been since I was a kid. It was beautiful and everything I ate up there was delicious, especially the seafood. I had a stressful few weeks before my visit to Inishowen finishing my job on Today FM and Dara beginning a new year at school, but when I went up there all my stresses melted away. It has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It's truly gorgeous."
While travelling, Mairead's must-have item is her very own-designed FARO hairbrush. Inspired by her own "frizzy Irish hair" and her early morning 5am starts, together with business partner Debbie Lawless they brought the blow drying brushes to market last April.
"I've been working in radio for 12 years and done some TV shows. In my line of work you do spend a lot of time waiting to be picked. I wanted to do something that was just mine.
"The difference with this brush is it's coated with the same ceramic material used on GHS straighteners. The brush gets quite warm when you are blow drying your hair, so it gives a sleek, shiny finish. We've also put extra large vent holes so your hair dries that bit quicker too," she explains.
Mairead spent 10 months liasing with her manufacturers in China, changing the design of the handle and bristles of the brushes, which are available in Cara Pharamacy outlets in the Republic and at The Loop in Dublin airport.
She is also looking at extending the range in 2017 with further products, as well as hoping to film another series of Getaways. And top of her wish list is a short breaks to Belfast.
"I've never spent a night in Belfast. I've only been on day trips. I'd love to have a great meal and go to a bar or a gig."
While she admits she is "up for going anywhere", Mairead admits she would love to experience life on the ocean wave.
"I've never done a cruise and am curious to do one – whether I love or hate it – because I've heard so many mixed reports. I have family who loved it and a friend who hated it. I would love to do one to see what I think of it."
During the rest of this current series Joe and Mairead enjoy a Mediterranean beach break in Cyprus, explore Sligo, Cong in Co Mayo and visit the Tyrol region of Austria.
:: Getaways is broadcast on BBC One Northern Ireland tonight at 7.30pm and on RTE One on Thursday at 7pm.