From beach breaks to bear spotting, here are ideas for trips to inspire without breaking the bank. Plus, top tips for cutting costs on trips.
Hike hut-to-hut on Austria’s Eagle’s Way
In 1829, the German poet Goethe arrived in Tirol. Perhaps he was gazing at the gorgeous Nordkette mountain, backdrop to the city of Innsbruck, when he scribbled: “Here, finally, I have found a place of quiet – a place of peace the likes of which I could have only wished for.”
Almost 200 years later, the Austrian region is still renowned for that tranquillity. The Eagle’s Way, or Adlerweg in German, runs the length of Tirol – stretching 256 miles in total. It’s broken into 24 stages between Kitzbühel in the east, via Innsbruck, to St Anton in the west.
There are a further nine stages (not connected to the first 24) between the Venediger mountains and the 3,798m Großglockner, Austria’s highest peak, in East Tirol. Highlights include the first three sections from St Johann to Kufstein, which take you past the Schleier waterfall, the glimmering Hintersteiner lake and through the spear-headed Wilder Kaiser mountains.
For a longer holiday, start in Innsbruck and head west to St Anton, taking high, wild trails out to the loose paths and scree slopes of the Eppzirler Scharte, and later to views of Germany’s high point, the Zugspitze, and Valluga, which looks out over Arlberg.
The huts are high quality – wide sloped roofs, wooden beams and scenic terraces. The food is criminally underrated, too.
Order Käsespätzle, Austria’s godly answer to mac and cheese, topped with crispy onions, for a carb boost. A bed costs €15-35 a night, with discounted prices if you join the Austrian Alpine Club.
Book in advance – this is a well-organised nation of hikers. tyrol.com
Become a bear ambassador in the Central Apennines
Marsican brown bears and wolves roam the mountainous grasslands and ancient beech forests of the Central Apennines, in the heart of Italy, just 90 minutes from Rome.
It’s here, surrounded by limestone peaks, that Rewilding Europe is working to create wildlife corridors linking two national parks – Abruzzo, Molise and Lazio, and Majella – to the Sirente-Velino Regional Park, with the ultimate aim of extending the range and abundance of bears (and other wildlife) within the parks – as well as bringing new economic opportunities to local communities.
The environmental charity runs a volunteer programme (1 February-15 December), which allows biodiversity enthusiasts to become “bear ambassadors”, staying at one of three scenic communes – Ortona dei Marsi, Gioia dei Marsi or Pettorano sul Gizio – where historic architecture is surrounded by lush greenery. Volunteers live together in guest houses (for €300 a month) and work with the local team to set up camera traps, track local wildlife and work with local communities on coexistence actions – doing anything from building electric fences to pruning fruit trees.
It’s not only bears and wolves you might see in the hills. Look up and you could spot a golden eagle or griffon vulture circling the skies. The mountains and lush vegetation also hide glistening rivers, caves and canyons, and the open hillsides support Apennine chamois, red deer and wild boars, making for world-class wildlife watching. After work? It’s not hard to find good local wine in the Apennines, either. Saluti. rewilding-apennines.com
London to Istanbul by train
Few trains are more storied than the Orient Express, which began carrying passengers from Paris to Istanbul – dinner jackets, bow ties and all – back in 1883. The train has always been first-class only; the carriages all opulent wood panelling and lavish furnishings. Of course, the route also provided the setting for Hercule Poirot’s most famous case.
Today, the train lives on as the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which runs from London to Istanbul once a year. It costs a small fortune for a ticket, but there is a far cheaper way to take the same route – as long as you’re flexible on that wooden panelling.
Start with the Eurostar from London to Paris. Then catch the Nightjet sleeper to Munich, and, after sampling a beer hall or strolling the Englischer Garten, jump on another Nightjet train to Budapest. When you’ve soaked in the baths and recovered from the ruin bars (typically in dilapidated buildings), take the EuroNight Ister on to Bucharest, then finish the route on the Bosphorus Express, a 19-hour train from the Romanian capital to Istanbul, stepping out to the Golden Horn.
All the same city stops, from about £175 – a fraction of the whopping £19,145 for the Orient Express – and you won’t get in trouble for wearing jeans in the dining car.
Surf, sun and sand Tangier, Morocco
In north-western Morocco, on a bay of the strait of Gibraltar, Tangier has spent its lifetime bending to suit the needs of an everchanging world. Over the centuries, the port city has been all of the following: a Phoenician trading port, a Roman settlement, an international zone, a transport hub and a bohemian colony.
A short ferry ride from Tarifa in Spain, the “door to Africa”, has welcomed all kinds: soldiers, spies, diplomats, addicts, artists and writers. Author Paul Bowles lived here for 53 years, and American beat writers Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs spent time here in the 1950s and 60s. The latter penned most of Naked Lunch in the city – a chaotic story of drug addiction, sex and explicit behaviour.
After much investment, today’s Tangier is far from Burrough’s lurid depictions. Brothels and pharmacies have been replaced with boutique hotels. Yet it still feels like a Moroccan city with a chaotic medina and ancient buildings, but with a more European outlook than, say, Marrakech.
Days here are usually spent slurping mint tea and hopping between cafes. Café Baba, popularised by visits from the Rolling Stones and Anthony Bourdain, is a solid starting point. Then there’s Café Tingis on historic Petit Socco square. Not forgetting the adorable café inside the grand, red and white-fronted Cinéma Rif.
You don’t tend to go to Morocco to get boozy, but there are a few nightclubs and quirky drinking spots in Tangier. Number One is among them; the cosy, unassuming bar, its walls hidden by posters and artwork, pumps out rock, blues and jazz until late. For top-notch sunsets, head to Cape Spartel overlooking the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
Kicking back on Tangier’s sandy shores is great, too. Achakar beach is the best of them, while the Caves of Hercules further down are also worth a look. Surfers often prefer Taghazout and Tamraght, though Tangier’s Sidi Kacem can have decent swells.
Tangier isn’t short of well-priced places to stay either. Dar Sultan, a colourful guesthouse in the historic quarter has doubles from €120; La Maison de Tanger, a small hotel with Moroccan decor and an oasis-like pool, has doubles from €80.
El Palmar, Spain
People are always looking for the next somewhere. That land of milk and honey promising good swells, sun, quiet beaches and buzzy-but-not-too-raucous nightlife. Ericeira in Portugal was that place until recently inundated with digital nomads. But modern travel waits for no one, so it’s on to the next.
This time people are heading to El Palmar on Spain’s Costa de la Luz. As with any surf spot worth its weight in sand, El Palmar looks, to the untrained eye, like nothing more than a dusty road and a few low-rise buildings. There’s a reason it’s Andalucía’s surf capital, though.
It has a wide beach that’s nearly five miles long, beginner-friendly waves and surf camps galore. A-Frame Oasis serves pre- and post-surf snacks, chiefly avocado toast, smoothie bowls and kombucha. In contrast, La Torre is a cracking spot for a Spanish dinner: the croquetas and local tuna are superb. The nights in El Palmar are low-key lively. Beach bars, such as Chiringuito Gran Baba, spill with attractive twenty-somethings grooving to Khruangbin. Above, the skies melt from blue to purple and orange.
Drivers have a lot of pull in this neck of the woods, too (public transport isn’t good), especially if they’re happy to ferry people to unspoilt beaches, such as Bolonia and Playa de Faro. Better still, if they’re prepared to shuttle folk to the windsurfing hotspot of Tarifa.
Kampaoh is a lovely little campsite off the beach. It has fully-kitted-out bell and triangular tents (from €59 for two). The guesthouse Hostal El Alférez is also a good choice (doubles from £75). Another option is to stay at Conil de La Frontera. The whitewashed beach town has more accommodation options, lively bars (La Luna) and affordable restaurants (El Tascon de La Prensa).
Biarritz was once among France’s most popular summer getaways for the glitterati, counting Queen Victoria and Coco Chanel as visitors, before it fell out of favour. The former fishing village got a new lease of life because of a chance visit from the Hollywood screenwriter Peter Viertel in 1956. Viertel was in town working on the film adaptation of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises when he first surfed its gnarly waves. Fast forward a few decades, and Biarritz was well on its way to becoming Europe’s surf capital.
Architectural gems – Casino Barrière and Hôtel du Palais – remind visitors of the glory days. In contrast, clothes shops such as
Fadead Vintage and vegan cafes such as Le Palm please a new wave of Gen Z and millennial visitors. Along La Grande Plage, the town’s main beach, people relax in deckchairs with bottles of vino. In front of them, surfers tear through the Atlantic Ocean waves.
Non-surf-related activities include visits to the Biarritz landmark Virgin on the Rock, while food lovers go for the fresh seafood at Marloe Biarritz or tapas at Le Bar Jean. People take sunsets seriously here. The best places to enjoy a sundown tipple are the buzzy Eden Rock Café, or the cliff-top favourite Etxola Bibi, where the views over Plage de la Côte des Basques are knockout. And there’s usually a beach party kicking off somewhere.
Hotels can cost a pretty penny in summer, but there are some charming, affordable accommodation options. Joyu Surf Shack
in Bidart, about 10 minutes away, is popular with the it-crowd (doubles from £80 and dorm beds from less than £35). Elsewhere, L’escale Surf Hostel is a home-away-from-home style hostel in nearby Guéthary (dorm beds from £35).
Home to one of the oldest universities in Spain – at which one in three local residents is said to study in or work for – this Andalucian city is full of history, exquisite architecture and cheap eats. The most obvious stop for visitors is the Alhambra, the sprawling palace and fortress complex built by the Moors.
Set aside at least a few hours to explore the finery of Nasrid Palaces, the gardens at Generalife, the fortifications at Alcazaba, and the Renaissance-style Palace of Charles V. It is one of the most popular monuments in Spain and gets busy, so book in advance online at the official site; cheaper tickets are available for European ticket card holders, or for visits to particular areas at night.
Nearby, walk around the hilltop Albaicín neighbourhood, the city’s old quarters, where there are viewpoints over Granada. You can also get a bus up to the Sacromonte district, home to the city’s Roma community, which is famed for its caves; at night, these turn into bars and host flamenco shows.
Besides its architecture and history, there’s another big draw for visitors to Granada: most tapas bars here will bring you food free of charge with a drink order (a tradition that locals are now rallying to save). The Los Diamantes and La Esquinita de Javi (there are several) are favourites, and Pedro Antonio de Alarcón street is a student haunt, with plenty of pubs and bars.
Hostelworld lists low-cost rooms in the centre of Granada at Itinere Rooms (from £35) and Toc Hostel Granada (from £48), among others.
Stroll by the seaside, get lost among winding medieval streets and experience the Portuguese capital’s nightlife, which was recently named the best-value location for a European city break. The yellow Tram 28 takes people through some of the major sights and neighbourhoods; it’s also worth walking around the hilly Alfama district, the oldest in the city, to discover views of Lisbon and stop by the Castelo de São Jorge, an ancient hilltop castle. For more modern culture, visit the National Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology.
For pastéis de nata try the famous Pastéis de Belém bakery, known as the birthplace of the pastry. Nearby there’s the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a palatial monastery, and Belém Tower on the seafront, where you can stroll and relax along the promenade. At sunset, find one of the miradouros (viewpoints) dotted across the city; a friend loves Alfama’s Miradouro de Santa Luzia.
The Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodré districts are known for their nightlife; elsewhere, an old mansion turned hangout spot Casa Independente has emerged as a favourite nightclub, and as a coffee spot in the day. For day trips, the beachy resort town of Cascais, and Sintra, a picturesque village at the foothill of the mountains, are less than an hour away by train.
Judging from the results of the Hoscars (the Oscars of the hostel world), the city is home to some of the world’s best budget accommodation: Goodmorning Hostel, Lost Inn Lisbon (from €35) and Yes! Lisbon (from €63) have made the list.
The Croatian capital is the perfect “pocket size” city, says Ivana Shiell of the country’s tourist board. It’s walkable and is said to have the highest number of museums per square metre in Europe. Stroll around the narrow cobblestone streets of the historic upper town: in summer, there are regular open-air concerts and stalls, and every year for 10 days in July (12-23 this year), the Courtyards festival opens up some of the area’s palatial buildings to the public.
Year round, there’s the landmark Zagreb cathedral and the much loved Museum of Broken Relationships, which was set up by two artists – and exes – as an ode to all the strange and funny objects left behind after breakups. Other quirky offerings include the Cannabis Museum, which opened last year and is boldly placed opposite the city’s police headquarters, as well as the Chocolate Museum, and the Croatian Museum of Naive Art. Browse street art and vintage shops at Martićeva Street, nab a gableci (cut-price lunch) at eateries around the Dolac farmer’s market, and take a nature break at Maksimir park.
The restaurants, bars and nightclubs on Tkalčićeva Street attract locals and tourists; get an ice-cream and coffee there in the day, and drinks in the evenings. Croatia’s most popular attraction, the emerald-green lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice lakes national park, is a two-hour drive from the city. Buses to the park run from Zagreb daily, and some hostels, such as the Chillout Hostel (from €35 a night), arrange day trips for guests.
(Article source: The Guardian)