When it comes to Tunisia, the conversation has moved on from safety to recovery for tourism, and a renewed appreciation of why the country is such a compelling destination. Travel warnings have been dropped and travellers are once again tuning in to North Africa’s most compact package. This year prices will remain tempting to lure travellers back, and lower crowds will mean that those who do come will get a more rewarding experience whether they stay in cosmopolitan Tunis, head for Saharan Star Wars sets or explore the Roman remains that dot the north of the country.
Seasonal charters from European airports to Djerba can be an excellent-value gateway into Tunisia.
Currency fluctuations mean that for certain Hers South Africa is more affordable than it has been for many years.Instead og just rejoicing in the undercooked rand, consider what South Africa offers value-seeking travellers at any time. How about fantastically accessible wildlife watching for all budgets, bargain public (and traveller-friendly) transport and free entry to many of the country’s museums? Most visitors will find something to please their budget, whether it’s a cheap-and-cheerful Cape Town seaside cafe or an affordable safari campsite.
Come in South Africa’s shoulder seasons (February, March, September and October) for the best combination of low crowds and comfortable weather.
For all the upscale new openings in China’s most famous coastal city, Shanghai remains reassuringly affordable for budget travellers. No-nonsense dorms start at -less than US$10, and the pleasing pricing continues through budget and mid¬ range hotels until you hit the less-than-friendly international big names and trendy boutique accommodation. It’s a similar story when eating out: characterful street-treats for a dollar, and big portions in popular restaurants for little more. Best of all, walking the city’s safe and buzzing streets is the best way to take the pulse of this fast-changing metropolis.
SmartShanghai is a great place to keep pace with new happenings in this ever-changing city.
It feels like we’ve heard this one before: `Beautiful, undeveloped tropical paradise seeks underfunded travellers for discreet liaison. Applicants must enjoy no-nonsense budget buses and simple, idyllic beach hut accommodation (fales), owned by local families, who tend to throw in diriner. So as with so many places before it, we’d say get to Samoa soon. Best visited by jumping off from New Zealand or Australia, these islands are one of the best travel deals in the Pacific.
The markets of Apia, Samoa’s capital and largest town, offer a great introduction to everyday life. Maketi Fou, the biggest, is the place to come for souvenir hunting and Samoan street food.
While many budget-traveller favourites have grown up and got proper jobs running overpriced resorts, Bali never stopped delivering the goods. In fact, while backpacker-friendly beachside bungalows and other affordable digs still abound, with reasonable costs for food and transport thrown in. Bali is also pretty stonking value for mid-range adventurers who delight in air conditioning, distinctive Balinese style and a large range of quality places to stay. And of course, Balinese spa treatments are rightly famous, and cheaper than in many other places.
Bali’s international popularity is evidenced by the large number of winter flights from Russian cities — offering the unlikely combination of a snowy Trans-Siberian journey and a week on a Balinese beach.
Ben Fogle looks wistful as he recalls his time in the Azores. “It’s Europe but with a twist” he says, bundled up in a cafe in West London, clutching an extra-strong cappuccino. “Some people say they find islands imprisoning, but not me. I find them liberating. The isolation of the Azores is a big part of why I find them so special.”
One of the reasons Ben loves visiting the Portuguese archipelago is to train for a 5,000km charity swim from New York to England this year. ‘The water is rather like Cornwall in summer.” But as he chats about his experiences on the nine islands, 1,500km west of Lisbon, that’s probably the only link that reminds him of home. “You’ve got endless ocean there – that’s what is so extraordinary about the Azores, you’ve got deep ocean all around. There’s every chance a mighty sperm whale will swim past you.
“It’s definitely not a mass market kind of place, or for those who just want sun and beach,” he says. They are easy to get to, though. From Gatwick there’s a nonstop flight that’s less than four hours to Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel between Easter and October every Saturday lunchtime. At other times of year it’s only a slightly longer journey with a change of planes in Lisbon.
Discover Portugal’s outstanding scenery in regal style on board The Spirit of Chartwell, also known as the ‘Royal Barge’ because it was the ship used by HM The Queen during the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames. Since then, the vessel has been transformed into an intimate river cruise ship, chartered exclusively for small groups of Titan travellers on leisurely journeys along the incredible River Douro.
Cruising between the coastal city of Porto and the Spanish border, you’ll enjoy included visits to historic towns, monasteries and palaces along the way, as well as a full day’s tour to Salamanca in Spain. Your holiday experience will be enhanced by folk shows, cooking demonstrations and talks by Titan’s guest lecturer.
You’ll also enjoy two nights in the country’s vibrant capital, Lisbon, and on select autumn departure dates there is the chance to spend a special day celebrating the grape harvest with the local people.
With all flights and excursions included, it’s easy to see why Titan was named Best Cruise Agent at the Cruise International Awards 2015.
Titan’s VIP Home Departure Service® ensures a relaxed and stress-free start to your travels, taking you from your front door to the airport and home again after your cruise in total comfort.
When Calouste Gulbenkian, an unashamedly rich Armenian oil tycoon, died in 1955, he bequeathed one of the world’s greatest private art collections to Portugal, which had been his home since WW II.
Art Nouveau jewelry and objets by Gulbenkian’s friend Rene Lalique are some of the highlights of this remarkable collection of more than 6,000 pieces amassed during fifty years of astute and passionate collecting.
Many of these spectacular works were purchased from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg in the 1920s, when the Soviet Union needed hard currency. The collection spans the period from 2700 B.C Egypt to the early 20th century and represents Gulbenkian’s wide interests and deep pockets.
Star works by Ghirlandaio, Rembrandt, Renoir, and Manet are displayed cheek by jowl with countless exquisite objects that captivated this connoisseur’s eye—including illuminated medieval manuscripts, ancient Greek coins, and Middle Eastern carpets.
Lord Byron had already seen his fair share of the Continent when he wrote to his mother from Sintra, calling it “perhaps the most delightful [village] in Europe.”
Today the same cool, gentle climate and garden setting that made this a favorite summer residence for the Portuguese kings for more than 500 years provides city dwellers and tourists an idyllic respite from the heat and hustle of Lisbon.
Commanding the highest peak are the dramatic 8th-century ruins of a Moorish citadel, the Castelo dos Mouros, with a heavenly view to the sea.
Stay in a castle of your own at the Palacio de Seteais, a dreamy 18th-century palace built by the Dutch consul to Portugal that looks down across vineyards and orange groves to the sea mist.
Common areas and some of the older guest rooms are graced with antiques; gold leaf and crystal chandeliers anchor ballroom-high ceilings. The name Seteais refers to the seven sighs said to have been the reaction to a peace treaty signed here during the Napoleonic wars—a reaction shared by many guests today, enthralled by the palace’s spell.
With a subtropical climate warmed by the Gulf Stream, this volcanic outcrop off the coast of Africa is Portugal’s own floating garden. The early 15th-century discovery of Madeira by Prince Henry the Navigator launched Portugal’s golden age.
It was “discovered” again by the vacationing winter- weary British in the 19th century, Anglo loyalty became almost legendary, so taken were terrain terraced and farmed by gentle people; the dark, sweet wine—and “days of perpetual June.”
Dramatic peaks and a crisscross network of signposted walking paths encourage forays into the verdant countryside. A longtime favorite hike follows the old levadas—a manmade web of irrigation channels that carried water from the mountaintops down through the farms to the fields and villages below.
The 36-by 14-mile island (70 percent is national park) packs more into its chaotic terrain than most areas five times its size. A corkscrew drive into the dramatic interior up and over its razorback spine, the Serra de Agua, is a white-knuckle thriller, with rewarding views of Pico Ruivo— at 6,109 feet, Madeira’s highest mountain.
The distinguished Reid’s Palace is the undisputed queen of Funchal, Madeira’s capital, created to accommodate every visiting aristocrat’s need since opening in 1891. High on a promontory that commands a sweeping panorama of the harbor city and the craggy, verdant mountains beyond, Reid’s is enveloped in acre upon flowering acre of tended gardens, a fragrant riot of flowers, palms, and birds of paradise.
Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, and countless other dignitaries and celebrities have made this tum-of-the-century hotel the roosting spot of choice. The hotel’s Les Faunes restaurant is considered the best on the island, and late-afternoon high tea—like most things at this Mediterranean villa—is something of an island institution.
Wrapped in a Moorish wall, the tiny whitewashed village of Obidos was deemed so lovely that it became a queen’s dowry. In 1282 King Dinis presented Queen Isabel with the fief as a wedding present, and for the next 600 years, every Portuguese monarch would do the same, perpetuating its name, Casa das Rainhas, the House of Queens.
Obidos is a museum of a town, a national monument so picturesque it can convince any visitor—and they are legion—that he or she can be a great photographer. The town features ramparts built by the Moors as crenellated battlements, which are almost 3/5 of a mile in circumference, and a stroll along the wide walkway at the top provides spectacular views of Obidos and the countryside beyond.
The imposing 15th-century castle was built as a fortress, and converted into a royal palace in the 16th century. Now one wing has been transformed into a nine-room pousada, and you can be a knight for a night in one of Portugal’s most atmospheric hotels.
The baronial hall is filled with suits of armor, and one can imagine the visiting queens of the past and their royal retinues. The restaurant serves food for a more plebeian palate, but you can feast on the views alone, and best of all, overnight guests have the town to themselves before the tour buses arrive and after they depart.
Three thousand feet below the hilltop town of Marvao spreads the Alentejo heartland of Portugal. Huddled within fortified 13th-century ramparts, Marvao is one of the country’s most charming castle towns, with a population of just 300. It is intimate enough for you to quickly absorb its strong medieval character and small-town quaintness.
Check into the cozy Pousada de Santa Maria. It doesn’t pretend to have the landmark grandeur or imposing facade of other pousadas, and that is much of its charm. It has been converted from adjoining 18th-century village houses, with red-tile floors, beamed ceilings, and stone fireplaces decorated with azulejo tiles.
Spectacular views from the restaurant over the distant mountains to Spain, nearly 4 miles away, explain why Marvao was such a vital piece in the military chess game played out over the centuries between Spain and Portugal. This enchanting castle-inn is a good place to be alone with your thoughts and “look down on the eagles,” as one Portuguese poet put it.
Each age has left its trace on Evora. Today it is protected as a national treasure. A panoply of mansions and palaces whose architecture ranges from medieval to the local Gothic-to-Renaissance transitional style called Manueline to the Renaissance, Evora is especially evocative when floodlit at night. Although it has been compared to Florence and Seville, the town is wonderfully Portuguese, with Moorish overtones in its pierced balconies, attractive whitewashed homes, and cool tiled patios.
When the Moors were ousted in the 12th century after 450 fruitful years in residence, Evora became a favored destination of the kings of Portugal and flourished as a center of learning and the arts in the 15th and 16th centuries, after which it lapsed into obscurity.
The core of the Old City within the medieval walls contains most of the places of interest, including the Gothic cathedral and the 16th-century Church of dos Loios, dedicated to Sao Joao and famous for its azulejos, the traditional hand-painted blue-and-white tiles of Portugal.
Adjacent to the church, and next to the ruins of a 2nd-century Roman temple dedicated to Diana, is a former 15th- century baronial mansion (later the Convent of dos Ldios) that is now the Pousada dos Loios.
Following in the footsteps of the monks who offered hospitality to many a passing monarch, it is now one of Portugal’s more luxurious state-owned inns. The former refectory serves as the dining room, but hope for pleasant weather, when meals can be enjoyed in the vaulted cloister.
Of the forty-six government-owned pousadas (inns) scattered throughout the Portuguese countryside, the Rainha Santa Isabel, luxuriously housed in a historically significant edifice, is one of the most highly rated.
Sensitively integrated into this hill town’s 13th- century Estremoz castle (largely rebuilt in the 18th century, following a fire), the pousada was originally the home of King Dinis and his wife, the sainted Queen Isabel.
Vasco da Gama came here in 1498 to accept gifts from King Manuel for the ruler of Calcutta before sailing for India. The views that entranced Portuguese royalty remain, and visitors will find museum-quality antiques and tapestries and grandiose public areas with 22-foot ceilings, monumental staircases, wide marble corridors, and massive furniture.
The banquet hall is cavernous, warmed up by an attentive staff and the promise of an excellent meal of regional specialties, accompanied by offerings from the pousada’s well-known wine cellar. Rugs from nearby Arraiolos and canopied four-poster beds lavishly decorate the thirty guest rooms. The room where Saint Isabel died in 1336 escaped the fire and is now a small chapel open to the public.