From paradise on Earth to sobering Krakow and onwards to Porto, the city that turned to drink -- our publisher finds ways to escape this pale excuse for a summer
£159 -- Krakow: 'Top Polish Hotel' w/Flights, Save 38%
Twenty years ago, amid the post-communist deprivation and chaos, visitors to Poland (I among them) used to get asked what on Earth they were doing there. Now, the question might just as well be, "Why wouldn’t you come?"
Designer bars on every city corner are part of the allure, along with some very artful new hotels, but many people will still be drawn to the country for a taste of -- often troubled, it’s true -- old Europe. And probably nowhere will you get a better sense of that bygone world than Krakow, a place The Guardian calls "Poland’s most beautiful city".
We have a rare mini-break deal to the 1,300-year-old city in our number one Top 20 slot this week. The hotel’s compelling enough -- ranked among the trendiest, most luxurious and all-round best hotels in Poland, according to TripAdvisor, and we’re featuring it at almost 40% off the usual rate -- but there’s also plenty in the ex-capital itself to keep you fascinated for much longer than the three days of our stay. The highly atmospheric Old Town, with the largest medieval square in Europe, is close to the Kossak Hotel, as is the 11th-century Wawel Castle.
Far more sobering than any of these sites, though, is another that draws many visitors: the remains of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, an hour away by bus from Krakow. This solemn, moving reminder of the turmoil rather than grandeur of European history is perhaps a necessary education for any visitor to Krakow and the stimulus for a little sigh when you leave: at least the Nazis didn’t win.
£540 & up -- Greek Islands Yacht Holidays, Save up to 40%
The widely admired tan I picked up on my jaunt to the Cyclades island of Sifnos a month ago might have all but faded in this pale British excuse for a summer, but still blazingly resplendent in my mind is what a paradise on Earth (car-crash economy or not) the Greek islands can be. What did frustrate me a little on Sifnos, though, was the thought of all the alluring little coves and harbours I could see on the map but could only reach by boat.
Well, witness, like a gift from the Greek Gods, another of my favourite deals from the latest Top 20. This really has to be the perfect way to see the islands: aboard a yacht, with a handful of other people, in the mellower tail-end of summer. With a reduction of up to 40% on the usual price, this is indeed beginning to look like a heavenly sign, and one I feel it could be foolish to ignore.
£75 -- Portugal: 'Leading Hotel of the World' w/Port Tour
Poor Porto. It seems destined to play second fiddle to Lisbon, but I’m glad about that because it means this very pleasing little city has far fewer tourists than the Portuguese capital. Porto’s own response has been to turn to drink: indeed, it’s one of those few places in the world that actually shares its name with one.
Porto’s enormous port production also explains its enduring connection with Britain, one of the strongest export markets for the beverage, but you can taste far more tantalising varieties of the tipple here than the (to my palate) sickly sweet dessert wine beloved of generations of suburban grannies. Try dry white port, for example, served chilled as an aperitif: it feels like a sophisticated little secret you’ve just been let in on.
And, speaking of sophistication, the 5-star "Leading Hotel of the World" we’ve found in Porto at a truly bargain rate seems like the perfect way to see the city -- complete with Port tour, of course.