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The Independent Culture
THERE ARE bargains galore in this, the most unpromising of holiday months. In northern Europe, ferry companies and tour operators package all kinds of themed minibreaks across the Channel - from wine, golf and gastronomy tours to shopping excursions and weekends in rural hideaways complete with that essential crackling log fire. It's still pleasant in the southern Med, though cooling off rapidly in the evenings. For guaranteed sizzling you have to look further afield, with the best price deals of the year available from now until - but not including - Christmas.

These are excellent weeks for sunbathing and sightseeing in Luxor in Egypt and Eilat in Israel, or you can ride the Atlantic rollers at Agadir, in Morocco. For real North African colour, though, you'll have to head off to Taroudant, Marrakesh and the High Atlas mountains.

Dubai, one of the Gulf states, has genuine character - creeks where dhows slip in and out of harbour; deserts with Jeep safaris and rousing camel races; souks with excellent bargains in gold, silver, carpets and spices; plus an abundance of modern city and beach hotels.

The winter weather is superb in Goa, the former Portuguese enclave in India with its 65 miles of palm-fringed beaches. The countryside is both eccentric and colourful - little white churches next to Hindu temples sprout from the paddy fields; crumbling colonial mansions and market stalls jostle for space in the towns. For a glimpse of a different, less gentle India, Rajasthan's annual camel fair at Pushkar is a heady, dusty mix of racing, bartering, music and pilgrimage.

Meanwhile, the Antipodes beckons. In Australia, the early flowers are blooming in New South Wales. Fares are at rock bottom before the Christmas peak.

Back in Europe, it's time for a weekend break before the deepest chill of winter sets in; new flights are opening up the Baltic cities of Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius, while in Spain Barcelona, Santiago de Compo-stella and Seville join Madrid in the city-break brochures.

For Channel-hoppers there are economical minitrips available now, so it's well worth raiding travel agents for brochures.


Morocco: return flights to Marra-kesh for around pounds 190, and Agadir about pounds 202, STA (0171-361 6262).

Dubai: holidays from about pounds 746, including flights and accommodation; one-day four-wheel drive desert driving course costs approximately pounds 60, both from Premier Holidays (01223 516516).

India: flights to Delhi around pounds 395, STA Worldwide (0171-361 6262).

Goa: all-inclusive holidays from about pounds 400 a week, pounds 485 for two weeks b&b in simple hotel from Thomson (0171-707 9000).

Australia: last-minute charter deals from pounds 399-pounds 499 return, from Austravel (0171-838 1011).

Baltic cities: flights to Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius cost about pounds 225 return from STA Europe (0171-361 6161), or about pounds 198 for under 26s.

Channel hoppers: bargain weekend breaks are available from Stena Line (01233 647033) and from Brittany Ferries (0990 360360).