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Next weekend — Dec. 14-17County Mayo, Ireland: 30.53 pounds round tripFly Ryanair from London Luton to Knock.

The often-overlooked County Mayo region offers travelers a quiet holiday away from mainstream tourist locations.

Start in the village of Knock with a visit to the Knock Shrine. It is believed that, in 1879, 15 locals saw an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist beside the gable of the Church of St. John the Baptist. Most of Knock’s year-round visitors come on pilgrimage to the shrine, the late Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II included. The road to the shrine is lined with vendors peddling their uniquely decorated wares.

From there, head 20 miles west of Knock to the Ballintubber Abbey; this church has been in continuous use for almost 800 years. Built in 1216, it has survived fires and attacks, including one by Oliver Cromwell’s forces that dismantled the roof. Today it is an impressive site, having been completely restored in 1966. Discover the striking 13th-century windows on the right side of the nave. Inside, the visitor center tells the Abbey’s troubled history.

Now head south of Ballina to Foxford Woollen Mills Visitor Centre to tour the mill, founded in 1892 by a local nun to provide work for the famine-ravaged community. Here you can also visit the exhibition center, art gallery, heritage room, shop and restaurant. Visitors with extra time should drop into one of their craft workshops.

If you are of Irish descent and are interested in tracing your family tree, visit the Mayo North Heritage Centre. Its data bank includes indexes to church registers, school records, leases and wills. The adjacent museum houses displays of rural household items and farm machinery.

Next month — Jan. 12-14Ancona, Italy: 56.22 pounds round tripFly Ryanair from London Stansted to Ancona.

Start a visit to Ancona with a walk along the ferry docks. After pausing at the ruined church of San Agostina, stroll over to the 19th-century Teatro delle Muse, which has been re-opened after a complete restoration. From there, visit the regimented row of 13 water-spouting masks, the 16th-century Fontana del Calamo.

From there, head to Palazzo Ferretti to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale delle Marche, containing collections of Attic vases, Roman bronzes and Iron Age jewelry. Paintings to be found at Ancona’s Pinacoteca Civica found on the Palazzo Bosdari include Crivelli’s “Madonna and Child,” and Titian’s “Apparition of the Virgin.”

Standing high above the modern port city is the oldest part of town, home to Ancona’s most visible landmark, the medieval Cathedral of San Ciriaco. The interior includes a painted wooden roof in the form of an upturned boat and a soaring 12-sided cupola. In the crypt, you can see the remains of an ancient pagan temple.

For a side trip, travel northwest to the Renaissance city of Urbino for a visit to the twin-towered palace, which has been copied many times throughout Italy.

Airfare prices include estimated taxes and are courtesy of the Web site Prices were verified as of Monday afternoon when Stars and Stripes UK went to press. Deals are not guaranteed to be available; restrictions may apply.


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