Deal of the Day: 26% off island hideway in Azores

September 15th, 2014

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Holiday Details: Get 26% off a week’s stay on the lush Azorean island of São Miguel. Quinta dos Curubas has a small chapel and fruit orchards, and offers stunning views over the bay of Vila Franca do Campo, which is ideal for swimming and regular whale watching, diving and boat excursions.

Price: £606 per person (saving £213 pp) based on two sharing, including seven nights self-catering, return flights from London Gatwick and transfers.

Departure Date: 18 October 2014

Book with: Sunvil Discovery

Valencia: how well do you know Spain’s third city?

September 5th, 2014

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By Mark Hodson

Many people have visited Spain’s two-big-hitting cities Madrid and Barcelona, but what of its third? Some might struggle even to name it, and fewer still will have actually explored Valencia.

I recently spent a fortnight with my family staying in a village called Massalfassar about eight miles north of Valencia. It was staggeringly hot – reaching 42ºC on one torpid afternoon – but we did manage to prise ourselves away from the swimming pool to explore the city and the surrounding region.

Valencia is widely known (in Spain, at least) as home to the paella, and hosts a couple of colourful festivals: Las Fallas in the spring and Tomatina in August, which involves manic tomato throwing and is actually held in the nearby village of Buñol. For many years it wasn’t a place troubled by excessive numbers of tourists, but that has changed.

In 1957, the river that ran through the centre of Valencia, the Turia, flooded spectacularly, killing at least 81 people. The government decided to divert the river to the south and – faced with an unsightly dried-up river bed snaking through the centre – decided to turn it into gardens.

It took several decades to complete the project but now you can join the locals as they walk, skate, cycle and jog along six miles of beautifully landscaped gardens, pathways, fountains and playgrounds. The ancient bridges across the river remain, along with some new ones, several of which were designed by the Valencia-born contemporary architect Santiago Calatrava.

Calatrava was also commissioned to design the City of Arts and Sciences, a collection of cutting-edge museums that stands at one end of the Turia Gardens. This provides a new focal point to the city, a counter point to the elegant old town, which lies to the north-west.

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To orient ourselves we took a cycle tour with Solution Bike which is based in the old town. Despite the heat, Valencia is a great city for cycling – it’s very flat, has a large network of dedicated bike paths and it’s not long before you find yourselves in the Turia Gardens away from all motorised traffic.

Like all visitors, we stopped to gawp at the futuristic structures of the City of Arts and Sciences, though our guide Alvaro was keen to point out that one of the buildings was already missing all of its white tiles. Pointing at a huge wall of grey concrete he said: “They just fell off and nobody knows if the city will have enough money to put them back up again. Like all of Spain, we’re broke.”

Valencia certainly rode the wave of prosperity for the last couple of decades of the 20th Century. It played host to the America’s Cup, for which an expensive new marina was built, and the Spanish Grand Prix was held on a track around the docks (though this has since gone back to arch-rival Barcelona). Its taxpayers are still picking up the bill.

We cycled to the marina and found it a little lifeless, despite the fact it is still home to the America’s Cup teams. A few super yachts were moored up, but some of the buildings were starting to look a bit tatty. A flagship modernist building was empty. Alvaro pointed to the tiles above our heads and pulled a face. “Best not stay under here, just in case,” he said.

It was only a short ride to the beach which was much busier. Valencia is lucky enough to boast a long wide sandy beach lined with seafood restaurants and cafes. Though there are finer beaches a few miles down the coast, you wouldn’t complain if you had to spend an afternoon there.

With our bearings in place, we returned to the city on several occasions, both in the daytime and at night. Eating out was a highlight. One day we whet our appetites by wandering around the food stalls of the Central Market – a high-ceilinged modernista building – before lunching at La Pilareta, a tiled tapas bar in the old town that is so famed for its mussels that it has buckets under the bar where you are encouraged to throw your shells. These mussels are not like the big flabby mejillones found elsewhere in Spain, but a smaller and tastier local variety known as clochinas. Served in a plain broth of lemon and garlic, they are superb.

On another day we ate at Bar Cantina La Lonja Del Pescado, an atmospheric seafood restaurant in the docks. This is not some tarted up dockland area, but a working dock, so it’s fairly gritty. The food was sensational though, particularly the spaghetti with seafood pictured below.

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We spent one long hot day at the City of Arts and Sciences, which contains a science museum, an IMAX cinema and Europe’s biggest aquarium. The science museum was particularly impressive with endless buttons to press and games to play, while the movie about outer space we saw at the IMAX was entertaining, if not quite as technologically impressive as the architecture suggested.

The aquarium, Oceanogràfic, was busy with families looking to escape the heat outside and it would take a particularly jaded palette not to be wowed by the sharks, walruses, beluga whales and sea lions. I had my doubts about watching a show of performing dolphins, but I was outvoted by the rest of the family, and it turned out to be a highlight of the day.

Although Valencia remains an eccentric destination for a two-week summer holiday, it would certainly make an outstanding place for a city break in spring or autumn. There is plenty to see in two or three days, the food is sensational and the weather is reliably sunny, and if you don’t have kids in tow, you can explore the hip bars and cafes of the Ruzafa district close to the train station. Next time, maybe.

Find out more from the tourist board.

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P.S. It’s claimed the building pictured below in Valencia’s old town is the narrowest in Europe at just 109cm. The mind boggles.

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Deal of the Day: 30% off last-minute luxury Turkey villa

August 15th, 2014

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Holiday details: Simpson Travel has a last-minute deal on the stylish luxury Villa Lavaya (sleeps 10) in Kalkan, Turkey, which is ideal for a large family or group of friends. The property has five bedrooms, private infinity pool, Jacuzzi and outdoor terrace and is close to Kalamar Beach Club.

Price: £703 per person (was £1,005 pp) based on 10 sharing for a week, including flights from London Gatwick and car hire (two air-conditioned cars for a party of 10). Higher prices are available if fewer people stay.

Departure date: 25 August 2014.

Book with: Simpson Travel.

Deal of the Day: 7 nights for 6 in Tenerife

August 14th, 2014

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Holiday details: Prestige Holidays are offering seven nights for the price of six at the Grand Hotel Bahia Del Duque Resort in Tenerife. Enjoy the spa, which includes Thalassotherapy, a garden café restaurant, spa suites, five Thai treatment rooms, hairdresser and gym. Alternatively resort is just a three minutes’ walk from a shopping centre and 10-15 minutes by car to five golf courses.

Price: £1161 per person (a saving of £361 pp) for a garden view room on a half-board basis including flights from London Gatwick and private transfers in resort.

Date: departing 25 September 2014.

Book with: Prestige Holidays or call 01425 480400.

Deal of the Day: 35% off September sun in Turkey

August 13th, 2014

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Holiday details: Save nearly 35% on a week-long stay at the Asfiya Hotel in Kalkan, Turkey. Guests can enjoy access to the nearby beach club where they will find a restaurant, sun-loungers, umbrellas and Turkish day-beds overlooking the water front. Further to this is a freshwater pool as well as a Wellness & Spa Centre that offers a range of holistic therapies.

Price: from £569 per person (a saving of £293 pp) based on two adults sharing on a bed and breakfast basis and includes scheduled return flights from London Gatwick.

Date: departing 30 August 2014.

Book with: Anatolian Sky or call 0844 273 3586.

Deal of the Day: 48% off five-star Mauritius retreat

August 12th, 2014

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Holiday details: save 48% on a week-long stay at the five-star Constance Belle Mare Plage, Mauritius. Enjoy the seven resort restaurants, spa, swimming pool and activities available including scuba-diving, water-skiing and kite surfing.

Price: from £1,199 per person (a saving of £1,125 pp) based on two adults sharing a room on half-board basis and include scheduled return flights with Air Mauritius from London Heathrow.

Date: departures between 1 and 15 September 2014. 

Book with: Tropical Sky or call 0843 249 5361.

 

Deal of the Day: £1,000 off luxury Ibiza villa

August 11th, 2014

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Holiday details: rent out Escandell on The Balearic island of Ibiza. This four bedroom, three bathroom rural hideaway sleeping seven has its own private pool, table tennis, landscaped, tiered garden with lawn, citrus and olive trees, covered dining terrace and sun terrace.

Price: £1995 per rental (a saving of £1000). Return UK flights and car hire are extra, but these can be arranged on request.

Date: departing 31 August 2014.

Book with: Vintage Travel or call 01954 261431. 

Deal of the Day: 60% discount on PGL summer camps for kids

August 8th, 2014

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Holiday details: PGL have discounted their remaining summer camps, with reductions of up to 60%. Teenagers aged 13-16 can get a head start – in safety – and learn to drive a real car on private roads in Shropshire or in Lincolnshire,  with plenty of activities mixed in too – from abseiling to zip wire thrills at this 65-acre estate.

Price: £258 per person (a saving of £387 pp) including accommodation, all meals, activities, equipment, instruction and supervision from dawn to (after) dusk. (Other activities and camps are also available at different prices for different age groups aswell).

Date: holiday starting on 16 August 2014.

Book with: PGL or call 0844 371 2424.

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