Every week, our publisher draws on his globetrotting experience to pick his favourite deals from the Top 20. This time he’s got his eye on an otherworldly Iceland break, bargain flights to Cologne and a stay in the rolling hills of southern Portugal
£399 -- Iceland Break w/Whales, Waterfalls & Blue Lagoon
They haven’t quite invented mass space tourism yet (although Richard Branson is hard at it) but in the meantime you might just have to settle for Iceland. Travel to the country was notoriously wallet-busting, until the 300,000 or so normally level-headed fisherfolk and heavy-metal-loving hipsters decided to entrust the nation’s wealth to the local banking community. An unexpected consequence of the collective virtual bankruptcy that followed was that a trip to Iceland began to look a lot more affordable. We’ve found a deal that is definitely so: for less than £400, you get not only flights and three nights’ accommodation for close to a price you might normally expect to pay for either, but also some cracking tours of this hypnotically interesting country. This is the land that partly inspired Tolkien in writing Lord of the Rings, and no wonder: you almost feel disappointed not to see trolls and suchlike popping up on its glacier-scored, still-bubbling volcanic landscape. One real-world creature you might see should give you a similar thrill, however: Whale-watching is on the itinerary for this tour.
£40 -- Fly to Cologne from London (Return)
We fought hard here in the Travelzoo office over whether to include Cologne in the Top 20. Speeches were given, tables were rapped as arguments were forcefully laid out and there was even the odd attempt to pull rank -- but eventually the sheer interest of the city as an alternative German destination, not to mention the laughably cheap fares we found, won out. Yes, Berlin has marvellous museums and cheap rent that makes it a locus for penny-pinching artists and other interesting types and, yes, it’s the home of that half-revolting/half-habit-inducing culinary hybrid known as the currywurst. But it’s also, courtesy of the allied bombers who reduced it almost to rubble during the Second World War, undeniably ugly at times. All right, Cologne was bombed, too, but it is a much older city than the capital and looks it. Start with the cathedral -- it’s one of the most recognised buildings in the world -- and visit the other Roman and medieval architectural gems clustered around the city centre. But you’ll also probably want to spend quite a bit of time in Cologne beer halls sipping Kölsch, the light and fruity local ale that exemplifies the effervescent approach to life attributed to many of the city’s inhabitants.
£139 -- Luxury Portugal Stay w/2-Michelin-Star Dinner
From otherworldly spots to simply beautiful ones, and Sintra, the location of our Portugal hotel stay with Michelin-starred dinner thrown in, is one of the most gorgeous spots I’ve seen on my travels. The price for this package might seem rather royal, but its original tally of twice that -- £278 -- would far more befit the crowned inhabitants whose dwellings from various centuries still dot this wooded enclave near Lisbon. You’re getting inherited privilege on the cheap here, in other words, including a meal from the Michelin-graced chef and Ferran Adrià disciple, Sergi Arola. The setting could well give you airs, too: all rolling wooded hills topped with crumbling Moorish palaces -- the entire area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another bonus? This retreat is only a short train ride away from Lisbon -- with its ancient quarter, cute 19th-century funicular railways and home-made tarts (cakes!) that are probably more addictive than the aforementioned currywurst, it’s one of the most enticing of all European capitals.