Wednesday 22 May 2019

Smart Travel: Four countries where your euro goes further right now

New horizons

Old Town in Warsaw, Poland
Old Town in Warsaw, Poland
Vineyards against mountains near Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
Bow Lake Panorama at the Icefield Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey

Nicola Brady

The euro exchange has hiked the price of UK and US holidays, but Nicola Brady has four alternatives where savvy travellers can get real bang for their buck.

Poland

Why: Poland is a destination that has skyrocketed in popularity over the last 10 years. And though prices in its more touristy areas have snuck up as well, it's still the perfect spot for a city break that's easy on the purse strings.

First off, getting there. The fact that there are so many options means that whether you're booking flights separately or opting for a package, Poland offers a fantastic bargain.

Ryanair alone flies into 11 Polish airports from Dublin, so low fares are practically a given. Fly at off-peak times, and you can snag a real bargain.

On the ground, you'll find your costs are a fraction of what you'd spend in other European destinations. In most cities, you can eat well at dinnertime for around 30 Zloty (roughly €7). My tip? Though the restaurants bordering the prettiest squares have the romantic appeal, the food often falls short. Head into the side streets for a cheaper (and tastier) meal.

A city like Krakow is the perfect short-break destination. It's small enough to feel like you've made a good dent in it, and it's easy to make your way around. You might want to avoid certain areas come the weekend if you're opposed to groups of stags, however. It's also a city with a tragic past, which you can learn more about at Auschwitz, which is an hour away. It's a harrowing excursion, but one which represents an important part of the region's history.

Another city worth a visit is Gdansk, which has a different vibe to the rest of the country. Right on the sea, with a rambling old town and bright building façades, it's also a prime hop-off point to the coast.

It's worth keeping an eye out for music festivals taking place over the summer - even with the cost of flights, the bargain tickets mean they can work out cheaper than festivals back home. In the cities, summertime means al fresco beers out on the town squares, and winter is all about one thing: Christmas markets.

How: Flights to Krakow start from €33.99 one-way with Ryanair, or €24.99 to Gdansk. Aer Lingus also flies to Warsaw (pictured). Clickandgo.com has a 3-night break in Krakow from €196pp departing April 21, including flights from Dublin.

See: clickandgo.com, ryanair.com, aerlingus.com

Turkey

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Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul's blue Mosque

Why: With just enough edge to feel exotic, but the convenience of being only a short flight away, Turkey is a prime destination for a budget holiday in the sun. It boasts over 8,000km of coastline with white sand beaches, rocky coves and bold blue waters.

Turkey has long been a cheaper alternative to other resorts in the Mediterranean. You'll find similar resorts and temperatures, but at prices that can be substantially lower. What helps is the Turkish lira. Right now, you're getting almost three lira to the euro, which is double what you would have gotten 10 years ago. There are countless options available when booking a break too, which keeps both the costs low, and your options open - you can explore the dizzying city of Istanbul (pictured), or stick to the coast for pure relaxation.

Though resorts like Kusadasi and Bodrum can cater overly to European tastes (i.e. chips with everything), Turkish cuisine is definitely a treat for the tastebuds. Think succulent köfte drizzled with yoghurt, pastries filled with feta cheese, and rich, sticky baklava for those with a sweet tooth.

Eating out won't batter the wallet either - a main meal in a decent restaurant will set you back between €7-9, with a glass of local wine costing around €3. It's a great destination to visit off-season too, with temperatures around 20C in April when you'll find the beaches less crowded.

There are countless spots for history buffs to check out - the ancient city of Ephesus is one of the best preserved in the world, and only 20km from Kusadasi. If you fancy picking up a bargain, then practice your haggling at one of the buzzing bazaars and pick up some spices, a leather bag or a traditional rug (if your suitcase can take the strain).

How: Sunway has 7 nights in the 4-star Sea Pearl Hotel in Kusadasi from €299pp, or 14 nights from €359pp. Both include flights from Dublin, based on travel in April.

See: sunway.ie

South Africa

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Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. Photo: Deposit

South Africa's wine country

Why: There are plenty of reasons to love South Africa. It's a destination that offers so much. You can spend days drifting between wineries, sampling the finest vintages on offer, grown in stunningly beautiful vineyards. That's before you get to the fast-paced cities, dramatic mountain ranges and blissful beaches.

The Garden Route has to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world, taking in a stretch of the south eastern coast and passing through rich vegetation, lakes and lagoons. And, of course, the safaris are second to none. If you opt for a fly-drive holiday, you can see a huge amount in a relatively short period. Booking with GoHop.ie, your car will come with a satnav preloaded with your itinerary.

There's also the currency to take into account. The South African rand is weak and has been for several years now. Back in 2006, you'd have gotten just over 7 Rand for a Euro, whereas now you can get around 13. The difference in climates also means that it's an ideal year-round destination.

The best time to visit Cape Town is between October and May, when the weather will be warm and dry. This period is the rainy season in Johannesburg, so you're better off there during our summer, when the climate is much more agreeable.

You'll also find restaurants offer exceptional value for money. A meal for two people in a mid-range restaurant will set you back less than €25 for three courses. And don't forget the local wines - yet another South African steal!

How: GoHop.ie has a 14-day self-drive package, taking in Cape Town, the Garden Route and a 'Big 5' safari. The package starts from €1,570pp and includes accommodation, car hire and four game drives. Flights are priced on application, but can start from as little as €444 in November with Ethiopian Airlines.

See: gohop.ie

Canada

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Bow Lake Panorama at the Icefield Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Alberta, Canada

Why: The US has always been one of our favourite holiday destinations. But right now, the dollar is far from in our favour. At the moment, we're only getting $1.12 to the euro, compared to almost $1.60 in 2008. Add in the cost of transatlantic flights, and suddenly the shopping bargains don't seem to translate to decent savings. Which is why Canada is a much more viable option.

The Canadian dollar is middling at the moment, at around C$1.40 to the Euro. While Canada itself isn't a cheap country, this exchange rate is much more workable. In terms of spending, the price for a domestic beer will be around C$4.50 (€3.20) a pint. In most restaurants you'll find entrées at around the $20 (€14) mark. Flights to Canada have multiplied greatly in recent years too, meaning you can bag some bargain fares. There are direct flights to Toronto with Aer Lingus and Air Canada Rouge, WestJet flies to St John's and Europe Airpost has launched direct summer flights to Halifax, Nova Scotia for summer.

Travel writer Jaillan Yehia relocated to Vancouver from London, and shares tips on her blog, SavoirThere.com. One of the biggest revelations for her was the joy of camping. Having never seen the appeal in Europe, she discovered "the scale of the scenery makes camping a real joy. It's a way to get out and explore, and to experience the Canadian wilderness in a way that you couldn't possibly do if you stayed in a hotel."

You'll find campsites all across the country, next to stunning lakes and mountains, lush forests and even by natural hot springs. A pitch will set you back just a few dollars a night, and you might even make some friends at the campfire.

It's worth checking Airbnb (airbnb.com) for overnights, too - there are some amazing properties across the country. In Toronto, for example, you can rent out huge, loft apartments for around €99 per night, or a private room for as little as €45. The bonus is your hosts, who will be the ultimate source of local bar and restaurant knowledge. You'll be a hip local in no time.

How: Aer Lingus flies direct to Toronto (from €239 one way), as does Air Transat (from €392 return). Topflight has a 5-night break in Vancouver from €875pp, for travel in May.

See: aerlingus.com, airtransat.ie, topflight.ie

Book the best value holidays on Independent Travel here.

NB: All prices subject to change/availability.

Read more:

Cheap & Cheerful Canaries 

Top 10: Trips to stretch your euro 

Irish Independent

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