£125 -- Central 5-Star Madrid City Break fr 4 UK Airports
One odd, and frankly embarrassing, travel experiences marks my memories of Madrid. I arrived in the city for the first time and found a busy cafe to sit in. It makes me feel more at home, cafe-sitting, but I obviously didn’t feel at home enough because I suddenly noticed that one of the two stylish women sitting at the next table was in fact from my home town! Except, it turned out, upon my surprised and possibly even joyous exclamation, that she wasn’t. Let’s not dwell upon this incident, except to observe that Madrid’s thrills soon distracted me. The city is less celebrated than Barcelona, say, but I preferred it to that tourist upstart. It feels like a more mature place, befitting the capital: you’ve got loads of interestingly gritty old architecture, almost frighteningly stylish bars and, for my money, the most entrancing art gallery in the world, the Prado. Speaking of money, with this discounted flights-and-hotel deal to the city, you’d quite possibly spend less money than if you boringly stayed at home.
£1799 -- 16-Nt Far East Cruise w/Singapore Stay & City Tours
I’ve never been on a cruise but more and more people are taking them. The sector is growing by something like 10% every year in the UK, according to industry sources, and the cruise operators are consequently trying to cater for every Tom, Dick and Harry who might conceivably walk up the gangway. Literally, in some cases: Nude cruises are among the odd themes I’ve come across. But these seem rather desperately attention-seeking and to miss the thrilling point of climbing on a big boat in the first place. And that’s to swagger across the oceans in style, get off at exotic-sounding places and then get back on again for a 5-course dinner at the captain’s table, including wine. All of which our fortnight-long shipboard jaunt promises. At a nicely discounted price, the cruise visits six cities in its sweeping tour of the Far East, but there’s so much to do onboard -- including an ice-skating rink, a shopping arcade and even a golf course -- you may forget to disembark.
£155 -- Boutique Hotel in Paris's Latin Quarter, Reg £437
I’ve been to around 30 countries at last count and yet my favourite place is still an eminently predictable one: Paris. Some visitors might complain of tetchy locals, ubiquitous dog doings and the expense but for me it still has the greatest mystique of any city in the world. And, even with the puny pound, it’s still not quite as pricey as London. Our deal snaffles you a room in a smart little hotel in the swank Saint Germain-des-Prés district for an incredible £437 off the rack rate -- that’s virtually a youth hostel! Saunter around the corner and you’ll find the legendary Café de Flore -- one-time haunt of the pint-sized womanising existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre and his long-suffering partner, Simone de Beauvoir. It’s now more likely to be populated by considerably larger American tourists but, interestingly, some genuine local bohemians linger on. Don’t neglect the centre of Paris, but nowadays the more adventurous tourist will find some of the most cutting edge, and truly Parisian, arts venues, cafes and affordable restaurants in the former proletarian outer quarters known as the 19th and 20th.
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