£119 -- Barcelona: 3 Nights in Design Hotel from 6 Airports
Here’s a confession: I may be the UK publisher of Travelzoo, and live and breathe hotels for much of my waking existence, but I’m not always such a big fan of them. Why? Well, too many are too predictable, too safe, so frightened of offending Jo Public that they retreat into Blands-ville. The result is same-like, disappearing décor that, whatever its colour, always looks beige, furnishings that at most nod towards modernity with a shy flash of chrome and, worst of all, hotel art that commits the cardinal artistic sin of being deliberately boring.
Thankfully, I think the dominance of this kind of middle-of-the-road establishment could be on the wane. Its accommodation model seems somehow out of place in a world of broadband and ultra-cheap air travel, where we’re all a little bit more sophisticated. All of which suggests that the Vincci Bit, the hotel part of the very good deal in the No 1 spot in the Top 20 this week, could be a sign of the times. Most tellingly, the property has given much of its wall space over to a bunch of Barcelona artists, who have obliged with 2,000 square metres of lively, pulsating, graffiti-like murals that cleverly evoke the street art of this rambunctious city while simultaneously managing not to be ugly.
It’s all a very long way from gilt-framed daubs of dogs or horses or country cottages, to which we could raise a glass on the Vincci Bit’s roof terrace, next to the pool. It’s not often you get to experience the future of hostelry for £119 (including flights). I’d get booking, if I were you: I don’t think this deal will last long.
£135 - 'Perfect' 5-Star Provence Break w/Upgrade & Breakfast
Not that every hotel should strain to be hip. Hotels should be themselves, which is what Le Mas de Pierre, in the medieval Provence village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, does rather effortlessly. At £135 a room, this is a place for special occasions, but you’ll understand exactly what kind of a place it is when you realise it is going at only half the usual rate. Le Mas de Pierre is a 5-star, grand old chateau dipped, like a strawberry in chocolate sauce, deeply in luxury. A 2-Michelin-star chef presides over the restaurant; each room has a balcony or terrace overlooking a fragrant old olive garden; and there is, of course, a spa. A further big draw is the impossibly evocative location. The ancient hilltop village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence is famous for the artists and writers, such as Marc Chagall and Jacques Prévert, who lived there. It’s also famous for the tourists who come, accordingly, en masse. We’re publishing our Le Mas de Pierre deal at such a comparatively low rate because it’s in the off-season, but you’ll discover (as I did) if you go that that’s actually a really good thing.
£299 -- Iceland City Break w/Northern Lights Tour, Save £140
What’s the mysterious ingredient, apart from that whale of a saving, that makes this Iceland city break such a good deal? It’s the timing. I’ve been on several aurora borealis-"hunting" expeditions in northern climes and, believe me, it is an elusive beast. Standing around for hours stomping your feet in sub-zero weather, hoping to catch a green glimpse of this miracle of nature, soon loses its appeal. However, if you’ll forgive a rare diversion into astronomical physics, 2013 could apparently be the strongest year since the 1950s for nature’s greatest light show. We are deep within a so-called solar maximum period, you see, accompanied by feverish sunspot activity, ferocious energy discharges and spectacular accompanying disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field. Let there, in other words, be (northern) lights.