TRAVEL / In time for a quick getaway: Still unsure where to go? Jill Crawshaw completes her choice of last-minute holidays with island surprises, rural hideaways and uncrowded beaches, some at bargain prices

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* Highlights a special deal.

GREAT ESCAPES

AZORES: Diverse volcanic scenery, a temperate climate and abundant vegetation, together with their remote mid-Atlantic location, ensure that the Azores have remained relatively untouched, with tourism in its infancy. The appeal of these islands is their gentleness, tranquillity and environment - Madeira without commercialisation. The nine islands each have a different character: Sao Miguel is the largest and most visited; Faial is where the cruise ships and yachts call in at the otherwise sleepy port of Horta. In the far west, tiny, remote Flores is, as its name suggests, covered with sub-tropical vegetation, with spectacular blue hydrangea hedgerows in summer.

Tailor-made holidays, with the best deals for those travelling during the week rather than weekends, cost: one week pounds 650; two weeks pounds 850, bed- and-breakfast. Sunvil: 081*68 4499

GREECE: Greek travel specialist Filoxenia warns that its Greek holidays are deliberately chosen to remote areas, so don't expect five-star international standard accommodation. But for those for whom remoteness is a pull, the holidays in the south-eastern Peloponnese, Argolis, the wild and untamed Mani and the lesser-known islands such as Kithira and Leros should appeal.

Sample prices: houses on the beach in Argolis from pounds 464 each for a week, pounds 785 for two weeks, four people sharing. One week b & b in Mr Angelou's old-fashioned and charming guesthouse in the olive groves of Leros for pounds 383 a week, pounds 465 for two weeks. (Some holiday prices do not include transfers). Filoxenia: 0422 375999

GALICIA: The idea behind Spain's 'rural tourism' is to offer travellers unconventional accommodation that brings them into contact not only with the surrounding landscape but also with its people. There are 60 such properties in Galicia in the north west, Spain's greenest and most isolated province, famous for its fjord-type rias, its shellfish, pilgrimages and the vast, white beaches with sand and space to spare, even at the height of summer.

The cheapest accommodation is often on farms where visitors can help on the land, costing around 2,000 pesetas (about pounds 10) a night. The most expensive are the pazos, manor houses which belonged to the nobility in the 17th and 18th centuries; the Casa Grande de Corniche, for example, five miles from Santiago de Compostela, comes with the original country kitchen, an outdoor swimming pool, a shaggy dog, a library of Galician books, the old stone granary, a Dali original, a collection of old chamber pots and a 170-year-old magnolia tree. It costs pounds 70 per room per night, for two persons. Galicia Rural Tourism: 010 34 81 542527/8; Spanish National Tourist Office: 071-499 0901

* FRENCH COTTAGES: Reductions of up to pounds 200 a week are available on some holiday cottages from VFB, the award-winning French specialist. These are largely traditional in character and in rural locations. They include a converted watermill sleeping 10 in Aquitaine, a house with room for eight and its own swimming pool in Provence, and a cottage for two in Normandy.

Sample savings on a two-week holiday for two adults and two children aged between 9 and 13: the brochure price of pounds 1,844 for two weeks in a detached three-bedroom house with a shared pool in a wooded valley near Vaison-la-Romaine in Provence has been reduced to pounds 1,444, a saving of pounds 400. All prices include car ferry and personal insurance. VFB Holidays: 0242 240310

MAJORCA: Majorca? Wouldn't dream of it] A typical reaction, yet Majorca is still one of the best holiday islands in the Mediterranean. It is big enough to absorb the concrete and plastic fun centres of Magaluf and Palma Nova, leaving mountain and coastal resorts such as Deya and Banalbufar to those seeking peace and isolation, even in high summer. But it is in the countryside - much of it quite stunning - where most of the local traditions and atmosphere have been retained; there are a number of small hotels which are full in spring and September, but have rooms to let in high summer.

Castaways offers a selection: at Sa Posada d'Aumallia in Felanitx, a week at an old period house costs pounds 690- pounds 610 b & b. In the village of Estellenchs, a week at the family- owned Hotel Maristel is pounds 395, while a week at the British favourite, the Hotel Es Moli in Deya, costs pounds 598. Fortnights work out much cheaper. Castaways: 0737 812255

GOZO: This honey-coloured rock, nine miles by six, just 20 minutes by ferry from Malta, is sturdily independent of its big sister and determined to keep its own character. The tiny capital, Victoria, though it looks like a fortress, has the air of an English market town of 40 years ago. Pride and care have gone into preserving the old farmhouses, converting many of them into hotels or villas with private pools and panoramic views across the landscape of prickly pears, drystone walls and domed churches.

Old farmhouse villas with pools (for a minimum of four people) cost pounds 427 per person, and four-star farmhouse hotels cost from pounds 550 b & b; both for two weeks, including flights and ferry transfers. Gozo Holidays: 0923 260919

LOFOTEN: Fishermen's cottages in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, inside the Arctic Circle, come complete with rowing boats and the company of puffins, cormorants, razorbills, guillemots, even eagles. The rust-coloured rorbu or cottages are simple but well equipped, and based at the hamlet of Mortsund. There's whale- watching and deep-sea fishing with the locals, as well as island hopping, but basically these holidays are for the self-sufficient. Price per week for a minimum of two adults, including flights, transfers and the cottage is pounds 639. Inntravel: 0653 628862

ICELAND: Long hours of daylight, volcanoes, glaciers and energetic activities are on offer this summer in Iceland from specialists Discover the World and Arctic Experience. A three-night escorted weekend break watching whales and dolphins, a trip by skidoo or snowmobile over Europe's largest ice cap, with a choice of hotel or guesthouse accommodation and including most meals, costs pounds 660 per person with Discover the World, while a holiday of similar length but this time on horseback costs pounds 580 with Arctic Experience.

A two-week escorted activity holiday, which includes a flight out to the Westmann Islands, with accommodation in a mixture of hostels, mountain huts, farms and school houses, all with full board, costs pounds 1,388, also with Arctic Experience.

Discover the World: 0697 748361; Arctic Experience: 0737 362321

BEACHCOMING

CYPRUS: Resorts in the officially unrecognised Northern Cyprus offer low-key pleasures, but costs are also low. A two-week stay in picturesque Kyrenia costs pounds 444, while two weeks in a pleasant fishing village just below the ruins of Kantara Castle and a few miles from the ruins of Salamis costs pounds 469, including three days' car hire. Two weeks self-catering along the huge Famagusta beach costs around pounds 399 per person, with four sharing. Metak: 071-935 6961

* LONG HAUL: Sizeable bargains can be found to tropical destinations, whose peak seasons and prices are from December to April; though low season can also bring overcast skies and high humidity. A 'Limited Editions' brochure with guaranteed prices from July to September offers a variety of discounts, special offers and free nights, free regional departures, child discounts and no single supplement - even bar credits.

Examples include a saving of up to pounds 163 on a Maldives holiday: 14 nights for pounds 699, with accommodation at the medium-class Ari Hotel with half board, and a dollars 100 bar credit. A 14-night beach holiday in Mombasa, Kenya, costs from pounds 599, or a combination of safari and beach pounds 749, a saving of pounds 100. There are also savings of pounds 100-pounds 280 on tours to India and Sri Lanka. Kuoni: 0306 740500

FORMENTERA: The best beaches in the Mediterranean are to be found on this little Balearic island, a bouncy hour's ferry or hydrofoil from Ibiza. Just one resort, Playa Mitjorn, has five miles of flat golden sand, with a few bodies at each end and no one in the middle.

There's a charming family beach at Cala Sahona, an old fishing village at Es Calo, a sporty beach at Es Pujols - the island's only resort - and, best of all, the endless sandy spit of Levant and Illetas. Flat salt pans, huge cacti, drystone walls and an eccentric little capital, San Francisco, make up the rest of the island. There are few packages, but independent holidaymakers have a choice of simple hotels, pensions and flats. Spanish National Tourist Office: 071-499 0901

* VILLAS: They come in all shapes and sizes, villas with character or traditional houses in the quiet resorts of Corfu, the Algarve, Javea and Moraira in Spain, the Vendee and Aquitaine in France - even villas with private pools in Florida. Good availabilities in August for two-week holidays, some with reductions, a lesser number for one week.

The Aristoula Village House in the heart of Aghios Stefanos in Corfu, 50 metres from the beach and 20 from the nearest taverna, has three bedrooms, a large veranda and sleeps five. The price - pounds 328-pounds 399 per person, a saving of pounds 100 - includes flights and taxi transfers. A two-bedroom villa with pool in Florida costs pounds 670 for two weeks with return flights to Fort Myers, or accommodation only for pounds 475. Something Special: 0992 552231

CORSICA: Anywhere the French go tends to fill up at the beginning of August and empty out at the end - and that includes Corsica. But specialist Corsican Places still has some last-minute holidays.

In the north, the most popular resort for British holidaymakers is Calvi, dominated by the Haute Ville, the great citadel and all that remains of the former Genoese stronghold. The Hotel Les Arbousiers can do a week's b&b for pounds 328. Bonifacio has a similar citadel, an extraordinary harbour, a Foreign Legion atmosphere - and some vacancies in villas with pools: pounds 694 for adults (including car hire), children under 12, pounds 652. Corsican Places: 0424 774366

BURGAU: In mid-August last year there were just three other people in the distance on one of the two-and-a-half mile long beaches round Burgau, an unsophisticated fishing village 10 miles from Portimao on the still unspoilt western tip of the Algarve. Many of the ingredients of the old, traditional Algarve remain; the boats drawn up on the cobbles almost in the centre of the tiny village, the acrid smoke of roasting sardines, the huddle of whitewashed and red pantiled cottages. There are no discos, nothing for teenagers, but it could be an answer for families looking for the simple life. And you won't find Burgau in the big tour operators' brochures.

For those willing to put together their own packages (there are frequent charter flights to Faro), there is room in the simple and clean Vistamar self-catering apartments, with pool and overlooking the beach, for pounds 275 a week in total in August and September, for an apartment sleeping six. Fares are extra. Vistamar (in Portugal): 010 351 82 69277; (in the UK): 0604 497 625

(Photographs omitted)

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