Ancient Roman spa deals? Our publisher investigates
£69 -- England's 'Oldest Hotel' w/Dinner & Fizz, Reg £145
OK, so there’s possibly a bit of poetic licence in the Old Hall Hotel, Buxton's claim to be the oldest hotel in England. As our eagle-eyed subeditor Rory pointed out, not a few hotels in this country lay claim to such a title. Such as? Well, the Old (I’m noticing a theme here) Bell Hotel, in the Cotswolds, trumpets the virtues of its "old-fashioned" service -- and we’re talking really crusty, given that it's said to have been serving guests since 1220. For its part, the Best Western Rose and Crown, in Colchester, Essex raises the stakes by calling itself the oldest hotel in the oldest recorded English town.
But the Old Hall’s claims are far bolder. The Romans, on arriving in chilly Britannica a couple of millennia ago, may have built a bath house over the hot spring that runs beneath the current hotel, it says. And that ancient amenity would probably have included lodgings, as well, you see (plus, who knows, all sorts of wild and woolly spa treatments that someone should revive -- they'd make a killing). The Old Hall has yet more history on its side. Winding the clock forward a bit, poor Mary Queen of Scots was banged up here in the 16th century, when she scratched forlornly on the window pane: "Buxton, whose warm waters have made thy name famous, perchance I shall visit thee no more-Farewell." Don’t follow her example, folks, or you may get a fine, but you could emulate the author Daniel Defoe, a guest of the hotel in the 18th century, and pen something in the guest book along the lines of his paean to Old Hall as "a very special place".
Look, as a trained historian, I have to point out that all these claims to be Britain’s oldest hotel are a bit wobbly given that we only really came up with the hotel concept a few centuries ago. But use your imagination! You can afford to when you’re getting a deal (yes, back to that ) like this one, offering more than 50% off accommodation at such an atmospheric place. Now, if only we could discover that the Romans were offering spa deals, as well -- that really would be exciting.
£49 -- Dubrovnik 4-Star Break w/Meals & Upgrade, 55% Off
Here’s another tale, this time about the healing powers of tourism. Travel deal or no, you wouldn’t have wanted to visit Dubrovnik a couple of decades ago. The gorgeous little red-roofed city, perched at the tip of an isthmus poking into the Adriatic, was on the receiving end of Yugoslav Army mortars that slaughtered hundreds of its citizens and smashed more than half the ancient buildings within its historic walled town.
The population’s defiance is partly reflected in the extraordinary rebuilding job it did on this most-visited of Croatian cities just 10 years on. If you go, you can compare that historically faithful restoration with a chart close to the city gate showing where all those rockets hit.
But Dubrovnik isn’t really a sombre place, just an interesting one. Its beauty and its beaches attract serious -- too serious -- crowds in the high season, though, so the discerning fan of winding cobbled streets and medieval window work might prefer to come about now, when we’ve found a hotel offer to the "jewel of the Adriatic" that had even us hardened deal hunters reaching for our credit cards.
Do walk along the 2km-long city walls for a seagull’s eye view of what to do next. A visit to one of the world’s oldest pharmacies should be among your plans, where you can buy lotions and potions based on ancient recipes. For a sundowner, climb up to the 11th-century Fortress Lovrijenac -- the 12-metre-thick seaward-facing walls remind us of a certain continuity in resisting invasion.
£899 -- Alaska Fly/Cruise w/Hubbard Glacier Visit, Save £400
And, last, a whopper saving on a cruise with some whopper sights. No, not big burgers but the 100-km-long, 90-metre high, surging, melting, swelling block of turquoise polar ice known as the Hubbard Glacier. A cruise ship must be the most affordable way to see this, one of nature’s most extraordinary sights, but at the price we’ve found it’s virtually a steal.
Hush now: make your way up to the chopper pad and, if everyone’s silent, you’ll be able to hear the sound of the glacier "carving" -- the muted roar as a huge slice of ice breaks away from the mother berg and slides into the gelid sea. Bon voyage.