There's an almost encyclopaedic range of these mini-holidays: to cities as far apart as Helsinki and Hong Kong, Nice and New York; or activity breaks that vary from fungi forays in France to facials in Bangkok, riding a Harley-Davidson through Provence to ballooning over the Pyrenees. With some weekends there's a chance to snatch the last rays of summer sun; others offer a taste of the good life in chateaux, gites or auberges just across the Channel. Over the next two weeks, we select a sample of breaks which show that memorable holidays don't just happen in high summer.
DREAM MACHINES: Beloved of millionaires, Hell's Angels and late- developing tycoons, Harley-Davidson motorbikes can be hired as part of a package weekend in Provence, with itineraries, fuel, insurance, helmets and half-board accommodation provided, plus the assistance of a bilingual guide if necessary.
Among suggested routes: a 350km (220-mile), two-night itinerary in the Vaucluse via Uzes, Nimes, Avignon and Gordes costs Fr6,900 (about pounds 865) for the driver, and Fr3,900 ( pounds 490) for the passenger. A five-day Riviera journey of 850km (530 miles) across the Luberon, passing through Manosque, St Paul de Vence, Antibes, St Tropez and Aix en Provence costs Fr15,900 francs ( pounds 1,990) for the driver, Fr8,900 ( pounds 1,110) for the passenger. The last departure this year to Provence is 13 November, with more trips offered in 1995.
Eurovoyages: 010 33 1 4742 1428
CULTURE GAPS: A tempting range of cultural tours led by lecturers in art, architecture, history, archaeology and music for small groups are organised before Christmas by Martin Randall. October breaks include the four-night 'Art in Switzerland' tour, in which artists who were Swiss or lived in the country are amply represented, as are French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. The cost of pounds 785 includes half-board at the Hotel Zofingen, in the village of Zofingen, travel and admission.
A 3-night art tour of Madrid costs pounds 495, and is led by Simone Matthews, while a four-night tour of the early Christian and Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna and Renaissance works of art in Urbino, led by Dr Luca Leonicini, costs pounds 670. Topics in November include Toledo and Madrid and Early Renaissance Florence and Venice.
A variety of excursions, two trips to the opera and one to a concert are included in a five-night short break in November to Lisbon, which was declared this year's European Capital of Culture. The tour, with an expert guide and accommodation at the five-star Avenida Palace, costs pounds 790. The price includes flights and airport taxes, transfer to and from the hotel, breakfast throughout and dinner on three nights, tickets to two opera performances and one concert, all excursions and the services of a lecturer.
Martin Randall Travel: 081-742 3355
BATTLE LINES: Holts' Battlefield Tours, an operator specialising in military history, has a range of First and Second World War tours between October and Christmas. The Armistice Tour for 10-12 November ( pounds 219) includes half board at a three- star hotel in Lille, travel to Ypres to attend the Armistice Day ceremonies, the memorial service at St George's Memorial Church and the procession to the Menin Gate.
Fifty years on from some of the bitterest fighting of the Second World War, the Walcheren 50th Anniversary Tour - 30 October-2 November, pounds 335 with half-board at a three-star hotel in Flushing - goes to Holland, where the British and Canadian forces launched a successful amphibious assault on the island of Walcheren. It was this that enabled the Allied troops to use the port of Antwerp.
The 'British in the Bulge' 60th Anniversary Tour looks at the less well-known role of British troops in the Battle, which took place in atrocious weather which the tour, from 8- 11 December, is timed to replicate.
The cost of pounds 332 includes half- board at a three-star hotel in Liege.
Holts' Battlefield Tours: 0304-612248
PILGRIM WAY: Coaches collect passengers from Birmingham, Coventry and London to take them to Luton airport for a pilgrimage to Lourdes organised by St Peter's
Pilgrims. The programme continues to the end of October, and starts again in April. The pilgrimage includes conducted visits to the grotto and a slide presentation telling the story of Lourdes. Pilgrims take part in the Blessed Sacrament Procession, Mass, the Stations of the Cross and the Torchlight Procession.
Prices range from pounds 215- pounds 307, depending on dates and type of hotel chosen, and include coach transfers in the UK and France, hotels, all meals and escorted participation.
St Peter's Pilgrims: 081-698 3788
ON THE CARDS: On Reid Hotel's Bridge Breaks in Madeira, from mid- November to mid-December, professional tutors offer private coaching, with tournament and bridge drives every evening.
A day's golf tournament on the Palheiro course is also included - for light relief.
One of Europe's most venerable and least flashy hotels, Reid's has three restaurants, three swimming pools, tennis courts and a sub-tropical garden, on an island which is one big garden - with high standards of food and service, plus a slightly formal atmosphere. Four nights b&b and flights cost pounds 443.
Classic Collection: 0903-823088
OLIVE TOIL: An unusual break in Provence, based around the fruits of the olive tree, takes in the olive groves of Vaucluse for harvesting, a visit to an olive mill and a museum, an olive wood craftsman's studio, plus wine and cheese tasting.
Dates are from 1 November to 10 December, and with guests likely to be mainly French, a knowledge of the language would be useful. The price of Fr600 (about pounds 76) is for one night's accommodation in a chambre d'hote with meals, drinks and visits, but not travel, included.
Accueil en Provence Paysanne, Domaine le Puy du Maupas: 010 33 9046 4743
UP AND AWAY: Balloon trips over the Pyrenees and the National Park of Cadi Moixero and Aigues Tortes (the latter means tortuous waters, thus describing the wild landscape) offer a chance to spot chamois and rare herds of deer, species of birds and wild boar from the air.
There is considerable luxury, too, on terra firma at the family-run Hotel El Castell in Seu d'Urgell. The hotel, which is part of the Relais and Chateaux chain and serves a range of local Catalonian specialities, is on the site of a ruined castle which is situated in a lovely old town 16 minutes drive from the French border and Andorra, for duty-free shopping.
Other special interest breaks are also available at the hotel, from fishing and go-karting to Romanesque art in the Pyrenees.
The three-night breaks, including flights, car hire and breakfast, cost pounds 354. The ballooning (weather permitting) costs pounds 90, which includes the guide and insurance.
Mundi Color: 071-828 6021
HIGH DUCHY: As an addition to its short breaks to Luxembourg, Crystal Holidays offers a one-hour balloon flight over this small country, with a glass of champagne to celebrate the event and a certificate proving participation.
The basic price for a two-night break is from pounds 199 to the end of
November, pounds 195 in December, three nights from pounds 246 and pounds 239 respectively, to include flights from Stanstead (Heathrow pounds 10 extra),
hotel accommodation and buffet breakfast, and transfers between
airport and hotel. The hot-air balloon excursion costs pounds 149.
Crystal Holidays: 081-390 9900
TEE FOR TOUR: Golfing breaks galore in autumn and winter, mainly to Portugal, the Costa del Sol and northern France. But new to British Airways Holidays golf programme is three nights in Provence, based on the Hotel Montpellier Massane, a few minutes from the lovely university town of Montpellier. The hotel has its own 18-hole, par 72, 6,550-yard course built by Ronald Frean, with professionals from the Leadbetter Golf Academy. The break costs pounds 345- pounds 395 and includes flights, car hire, accommodation and discounted green fees of between pounds 18- pounds 23
per round, with pre-booked times.
BA Holidays also offers a break based at the Sofitel Pullman Country Club in Sophia Antipolis - described as a futuristic or factory village, according to taste - 16 minutes from Nice. Lots of activities at the hotel itself, including putting green and practice bays, with the nearest course at Valbonne and Mougins, 10 minutes away ( pounds 375- pounds 439).
Other French golfing trips from Longshot: two-night, self-drive breaks to Le Touquet from pounds 129, three-night air breaks Chantilly pounds 216.
British Airways Holidays: 0293 611311; Longshot: 0730 268621; Brittany Ferries (self-drive holidays): 01752 269926
NORMAN CONQUESTS: Seven to 10 miles per day walking through the wooded gorges and hidden hamlets beside the River Orne in France's Suisse Normande are included in the InnTravel weekend programme of independent walks. Accommodation is in local inns, to which luggage is transported each night. Picnic lunches en route are provided, and a taxi takes you back to your car at the end of the trip, which can be extended a night to explore more walks round the pretty village of Clecy. The price of pounds 155- pounds 162 for three nights includes the ferry crossing. Gentle three-night cycling weekends (17-22 miles per day) are also offered in Normandy for pounds 139- pounds 149.
InnTravel: 0653 628811
LE WEEKEND SPORTIF: A hectic programme of themed and activity breaks across the Channel, neatly wrapped into mini-packages by Stena Sealink Line, should appeal to horse riders, balloonists and cyclists as well as fitness addicts.
Three miles from St Omer, and fewer than 30 from Calais, the Chateau Tilques offers riding through the Audomarois Natural Park. The ferry crossing for car and passengers, one night's bed and breakfast accommodation and a two-hour ride costs pounds 113, pounds 41 for additional nights.
A cycling tour of Brittany staying at a Ferme Auberge guesthouse, with bicycle and detailed route maps provided, costs from pounds 222 for six nights' bed and breakfast, pounds 307 half-board, including the ferry crossing and supply of a bike.
Ballooning in the Loire Valley ( pounds 229 for one night, pounds 66 for additional nights) and special fitness breaks in Normandy (from pounds 108 for the first night, pounds 76 subsequent nights) are also available, all including the ferry crossing for passengers and car.
Stena Sealink Line: 0233 647033
SCOTTISH ANGLE: Fishing breaks are a feature of La Croix du Reh hotel in Limousin, run by a Scottish couple, the McLaughlins, in their attractive house with lovely gardens in a sleepy old village at the foot of the Millevaches plateau. Crafts are also covered - ceramics, porcelain decoration and woodwork - with the help of local experts. Prices are Fr280 (about pounds 35) per day, half- board (travel not included).
La Croix du Reh: 010 33 5569 7537
GERMAN ADVENT: A series of weekend shopping trips and festivals are offered by DER Travel at the end of November and the first two weekends in December.
There is a choice of destinations: Augsburg, where the historic town hall is transformed into a giant Advent calendar from where 'Christmas angels' perform for the spectators below; Nuremberg, where Germany's oldest and best-known Christmas market is held in the Old Town; the picture postcard medieval town of Rothenburg; and Munich, which stages one of the country's most extensive markets.
A three-night visit, with accommodation and breakfast and departures from London Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, costs from pounds 338.
DER Travel Service: 071-290 1111
RED SEA SOOTHER: Superstar Holidays offers a special anti-stress package at the Eilat Princess Hotel, Israel, either in a de-luxe double room or a suite, flying Club Class on El Al. The hotel has several restaurants and bars, tennis courts, jacuzzi, gymnasium, a beach, several swimming pools and waterfalls.
The price, from pounds 1,330 for four nights, includes meals, three Stretching and Relaxation Classes, two Oil, Salt and Mineral Massages, two Classical Massages, a Facial, Head and Scalp Massage, Reflexology Massage and Sauna Treatment, as well as fruit, vegetable or yoghurt cocktails.
Superstar Holidays: 071-437 9277
SPANISH FLIES: One of the most romantic European cities - perfect apart from its climate, which is the wettest in Spain - Santiago de Compostella has one of the greatest examples of Spanish Romanesque architecture in its 11th-century cathedral, which houses the ancient tomb of St James.
Santiago also has 40 other churches, student cellars, beautiful squares, and possibly the world's oldest hotel, the Parador Hostal de Los Reyes Catolicos. Founded as a hospital for pilgrims by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1499, Reyes Catolicos is now a great luxury hotel, but still feeds some pilgrims each day for free.
Mundi Color offers this as a weekend break, along with other Spanish cities such as Jerez, with its almost claustrophobic sherry culture, and the Moorish trio of Cordoba, Seville and Granada, or Alicante, Oviedo and Zaragossa. Three nights in Santiago cost pounds 257, or pounds 422 at the Reyes Catolicos, including b&b, direct Iberia flights from Gatwick and, as in all Mundi Color city packages, transfers by taxi or private car from and back to the airport (most operators leave out the return transfer).
Mundi Color: 071-828 6021
BALTIC BOOST: Scandinavian specialist Scantours combines Helsinki with the Baltic capitals on its four-night break costing pounds 420- pounds 500.
Two nights are spent in Helsinki, the clean, cool Finnish capital, the other in either Tallinn, Estonia's capital, or Latvia's capital, Riga, two Hanseatic walled cities, fascinating both for their old quarters of narrow streets, cafes and churches, and for the barbed wire leftovers of the more recent Communist regimes, which they have kept as symbolic monuments to their freedom.
No McDonalds or Benettons as yet, no great de-luxe facilities either, nor are the cities as yet geared up for highly organised tourism. Instead, the population is heartwarmingly friendly, delighted to welcome Western visitors.
No visa is required for Tallinn, but one may be needed for Riga and other Baltic cities. Scandinavian city weekends can also be arranged.
Scantours: 071-839 2927
INCLUSIVE LONERS: The independent-minded traveller, who wants flexibility of transport and time but demands quality accommodation and the benefits of inclusive rates, will find all these in the portfolio of the 27-year-old Time Off.
A total of 28 destinations includes several 'new' smaller cities. Among those ideal for autumn, Nice is a large, lively town in its own right and, at least after the summer hordes have left, it is possible to get out of it to visit the fantastic hinterland of 'villages perches', as well as Monaco or the western Riviera. Prices are around pounds 260 for a two-night b&b break in the two-star Plaisance, a traditional hotel in the centre, near the shopping district.
Visitors to Bordeaux can stay three nights for the price of two in the restored 19th-century Hotel Sainte Catherine in the pedestrianised city centre, pounds 229 b&b; or it can be combined with Paris, travelling by the high-speed TGV train (3 1/2 hours).
With its summer opera season over, Verona is now a more comfortable sightseeing option; two nights cost pounds 283 in the three-star Giulietta et Romeo. For those on a longer visit, Time Off can arrange car hire to explore the Veneto plains. All prices include flights, but not transfers.
Time Off: 071-235 8070
FARTHER FLINGS: Cresta Holidays offers more than 60 city breaks; as well as the hardy annuals Paris, Bruges and Madrid, it includes Istanbul and Cairo, New York and Boston. Two destinations that are not so widely found are Jerusalem, where a two-night stay between mid-November and mid-December costs pounds 304 b&b, excluding airport; and Toronto (for winter shopping) - two nights during same period from pounds 319.
Cresta Holidays: 061-927 7000
WARSAW WEEKENDS: More austere than Prague or Budapest,
rather more passionate and more tragic, Warsaw is one of the last of the Eastern European capitals to capture its share of Western tourists. The resumption of direct flights from London now makes weekends a possibility, as does the re-opening (by Mrs Thatcher) of the Hotel Bristol.
One of the few historic buildings not destroyed in the Second World War - it was more useful as the German military HQ - the 93-year-old hotel welcomed in its heyday Marlene Dietrich, Pablo Neruda, Marie Curie, Herman Goring and Picasso, to mention just a few. It was temporarily closed by the Communist regime in 1961 after a customer was knocked out when a WC cistern collapsed. Now it is restored.
Several tour operators include Warsaw in their programmes. Travelscene offers two nights at the Bristol for pounds 339, including flights; two nights in a two-star hotel, b&b costs pounds 269, with tickets to the Grand Theatre of Opera and Ballet from pounds 6.
The Travelscene range of cities also includes the other East European capitals, Spanish cities and, new this year, Heidelberg and Lausanne.
Travelscene: 081-427 4445
SOVEREIGN REMEDIES: Riga and Siena, Cordoba, Granada, Cracow and Toronto are some of the exciting additions to Sovereign's new programme (out on 13 October), which has increased from 30 to 39 cities. Marrakesh - where pre-
Christmas temperatures are ideal for sightseeing - is also included for the first time. There are 'extras' in the form of canal-bus tickets and metro passes on some of the packages, with free tours of Marrakesh, Istanbul, Warsaw, Cracow and Riga. Not all airport transfers are included.
Three nights b&b in a four-star hotel in Riga costs pounds 329- pounds 459; three nights b&b in a three-star hotel in Cracow costs from pounds 259. In Marrakesh three nights b&b in a two-star hotel costs pounds 275- pounds 345; while in Toronto, three nights in a two-star hotel, room only, costs from pounds 329.
Sovereign Cities: 0235 824383
THOMSON TWELVE: Special offers and 'extras' are highlighted in Thomson's new City Breaks brochure featuring 12 cities; Paris is the bestseller, followed by three Italian cities: Rome, Venice and Florence.
A free Seine cruise on a bateau mouche is the extra on all Thomson's Paris departures, which start at pounds 99 for two nights flying from Heathrow, though this is only available in January and early February, in what the company classifies as a '1T' hotel (more or less equivalent to one-star). In a slightly higher grade of city break, a three-night Paris trip in
November costs pounds 169 b&b.
Other city extras include a day pass with unlimited travel on Amsterdam's canal bus. In New York (three nights in a '3T' hotel, room only, pounds 389) there's the chance to pre-book a Broadway show and dinner, at pounds 75.
Thomson City Breaks: 0121 643 8798
SPECIAL AGENTS: A wide variety of short-break packages to Paris, Amsterdam and Belgian cities is available from specialists Paris Travel Service, Amsterdam Travel Service and Belgian Travel Service - including a fully escorted four-day Paris Coach Express Weekend, right up to Christmas. A Saturday morning Paris sightseeing tour and Sunday afternoon visit to Versailles is part of the tour, as is accommodation in a one- star hotel. The price is pounds 109, but this will of course increase if you choose a higher-grade hotel.
On the Dutch programme, weekends in Utrecht are available for the first time. A two-night stay at the four-star Scandic Crown Hotel, including return flights to Amsterdam and return rail transfer to Utrecht, costs from pounds 197 for two nights b&b.
Paris Travel Service: 0992 456000; Amsterdam Travel Service: 0992 456056; Belgian Travel Service: 0992 456156
PADS IN PARIS: Two flats in the heart of Paris offer luxury short breaks combined with the freedom of choice that only self-catering accommodation can provide.
La Garconniere, which roughly translates as 'the bachelor's pad', in the Marais, close to the Pompidou Centre, Picasso Museum and the Ile de la Cite, will sleep two; while a large four-bed flat near the Bastille Opera is the home of an opera singer and has a marble bathroom attached to the master bedroom.
Prices for the bachelor flat, including flights, cost from pounds 267 per person for three nights, pounds 323 for four nights; the Opera flat, with four people sharing, costs pounds 219 and pounds 260 each for three and four nights respectively.
International Chapters: 071-722 0722
PORTS NORTH: Budget breaks by sea combine a glimpse of northern cities with a Scandinavian Seaways two- night cruise to Esbjerg, Gothenburg and Hamburg, departing from Harwich or Newcastle. Prices, from pounds 59- pounds 85, include a cabin, breakfast and a sightseeing tour in each port.
There are cafes and bars, duty- free shopping, children's entertainment and, on some of the ships, cinema, sauna and casino. All the ships have a choice of restaurants, some serving the huge Scandinavian smorgasbord buffet.
On Scandinavian Seaways' longer city breaks there are interesting optional excursions: on the four-night Hamburg break ( pounds 141- pounds 179), passengers can take a trip to the historic city of Lubeck for pounds 14 ( pounds 36 if they wish to stay overnight there); from Copenhagen there is a chance to visit Oslo, and from Stockholm a two-day extension to Helsinki. On many of these breaks, it is also possible to cruise there and fly back.
Scandinavian Seaways: 0117 924 4723
57 VARIETIES: This is an offer from 57 French cities to spend two nights for the price of one from 1 November 1994 until 31 March 1995. Some even offer a free bed for children under 12 if sharing the room. Included on the list of cities are: Aix en Provence, Arles, Beauvais and Chartres, Grenoble and Rouen, Tours and Tourville.
Leaflet from: French Government Tourist Office, 178 Piccadilly, London W1V OAL. Enclose sae
FUN FERRIES: Short cruises from either Plymouth or Portsmouth to Santander allow passengers several hours in this elegant northern Spanish city, which has excellent shops and restaurants. But most of the fun is on board the Brittany Ferries ships, with bars, restaurants, duty-free shops, cinema, music and, on the MS Val de Loire, a swimming pool.
A two or three-night cruise in a four-berth cabin is available from pounds 79 per adult, pounds 69 for children aged 4-13 or senior citizen; the extra charge for use of a cabin for two people sharing comes to pounds 10 each.
Meals are not included, but food vouchers for pounds 30 each in October, and pounds 40 between November and March are. The cabins include shower and toilet.
Brittany Ferries: 01752 263388 (Plymouth) and 01706 751833 (Portsmouth)
NOT FORGETTING: Others with city programmes include:
British Airways Holidays
Jetset Tours (USA & Far East)
Magic of Italy/Magic of Spain
Stena Sealink Line
Brochures from travel agents.
DIY FRANCE: For those who prefer to travel independently, a number of useful guides can make life easier.
Logis de France: More than 4,000 family-run hotels, generally one and two-star, throughout France but none in Paris. The guide is available from the French Government Tourist Office, Publication Department, 178 Piccadilly, London W1Y 0AL ( pounds 8.60; or pounds 9.50 by post).
A selection of logis can be booked through 'Gtes de France', 178 Piccadilly, London W1Y 9BD; ask for free Logis Stop guide.
Cafe Couette: More than 500 addresses of bed-and-breakfast-type accommodation throughout France, including Paris. Price pounds 8.60 ( pounds 9.60 by post) from the French Government Tourist Office, as above.
Chambres d'Hotes: These are listed in the French Country Welcome 94, listing 14,000 b&b places. Available from 'Gtes de France' (as above), pounds 11.60; pounds 12.86 by post.
Chambres d'Hotes de Prestige: A special selection of the most charming and comfortable b&b accommodation; available from Gtes de France (as above) for pounds 9.90 ( pounds 10.85 by post).
Other useful guides include:
Hotels Relais du Silence: the guide to upmarket, off-the-beaten-track hotels in Europe; Chateaux et Hotels Independants: both free of charge from the French Government Tourist Office (as above), but enclose pounds 1 in stamps to cover postage.
NEXT WEEK: GOURMET, LUXURY AND SUNSHINE BREAKS
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