TRAVEL: Prizes for beachcombers

It's not too late for beach addicts to book a summer break. Jill Crawshaw begins a series on last-minute options
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The Independent Culture
AROUND SPAIN'S RUGGED ROCKS

Saved by its sheer ruggedness from overdevelopment, the northern stretch of the Costa Brava has the most picturesque and charming resorts of the whole of Spain's Mediterranean coast. Between Sa Riera and Calella de la Palafrugell, the shore is indented with a clutch of little sandy bays, rocky coves, and resorts such as Aigua Blava, Tamariu, Llafranch, Calella and the delightful little village of Sa Riera itself. There is a rich hinterland of medieval hilltop villages, such as Pals or Peraltallada, the old Roman port of Ampurias, and Salvador Dali's Cadaques and Port Lligat.

Thomson Air Fares offers flights to Gerona, which itself is worth at least an overnight stop, from pounds 175 return, and car hire costs around pounds 120 a week; for independent travellers, Spanish Harbour Holidays and Individual Travellers Spain all offer a wide range of accommodation in this charming region.

Thomson Air Fares 0171-707 9000; Spanish Harbour Holidays 0117-986 9777; Individual Travellers Spain 01798 869416

THE SANDS OF CORSICA

While much of the French population descends on Corsica at the beginning of August, and disappears just as rapidly at the end of the month, specialist Voyages Ilena offers British holidaymakers a selection of villas on the beach or nearby. They're not cheap in high season - Corsica is a sophisticated and unpackaged island - but the prices do include flights, plus car hire with unlimited mileage to explore the island's mountainous interior, eccentric little Bonifacio and Napoleon's museum at Ajaccio.

If you want to be right on the beach, Casa Joel at Isolella is a two- bedroomed house with steps directly down to the sand from the garden. Two weeks for two people costs pounds 2,200, and one or two children can join the party at pounds 195 each.

Four hundred metres above the beach at Palombaggia, south of Porto Vecchio, the Funtana Marina apartments cost pounds 2,190 for a couple, children pounds 195. For a taste of more traditional Corsica, a hillside village house in Farinole, which lies two miles from the coast, costs pounds 1,805 for a couple, with extra holidaymakers at pounds 195 each, though steep stairs and a roof terrace make this unsuitable for children.

Voyages Ilena 0171-924 4440

HAVANA NICE DAY

Great beaches and low costs in the off-peak Caribbean summer season have encouraged specialist operator Regent Holidays to offer return flights to Cuba for just pounds 445 in August, and pounds 415 in September - which also includes one return domestic flight within the island itself. The firm can arrange accommodation for about pounds 30 a night for two people, though at Varadero, where most sun-and-sand addicts head, prices are considerably higher. A fortnight's all-inclusive holiday in August at the Club Amigo Bucanero, at Santiago on the south coast, costs pounds 770. It's a pity, though, to stick to the beach entirely. Why not use the free domestic flight for trips to the capital, Havana, or to the World Heritage town of Trinidad?

Regent Holidays 0117 921 1711

THE OTHER ATLANTIC ISLE

While the garden isle of Madeira is not known for its beaches, little sister Porto Santo has one of the best in the Atlantic islands - five miles long, golden and uncluttered. For those looking for a holiday at a slower pace, Cadogan Travel has rooms there; a week's holiday in August at the beachside Luamar Aparthotel costs pounds 481 each b&b, with flights. The company can also combine a stay on the island with a few nights on the busier and more mountainous Madeira.

Cadogan Travel 01703 332661

A PIECE OF CAIQUE

A new Greek adventure trip from Explore Worldwide, on board a traditional wooden caique (sailing vessel), steers clear of busy tourist resorts. Instead, it takes in secluded beaches and bays on uninhabited and unspoilt private islands in the Saronic Gulf, off the eastern Peloponnese. Among them are Spetsopoula, Dokos and Angistri, as well as the better-known Poros, Hydra and Aegina. Exploring Byzantine and classical ruins, old monasteries and villages on the Adriatic coast is also on the agenda, as well as nine days of snorkelling and swimming. The cost of the cruise on the Seatrek is pounds 439, which includes flights and b&b accommodation on the boat.

Explore Worldwide 01252 319448

CHIC AND CHEERFUL FLORIDA

Art Deco South Beach, the mecca for young trendsetters in Miami Beach, Florida, has recently been added to the Funway holiday programme of American short breaks. Once dying of old age, the 10 blocks of Ocean Drive are a parade of art galleries, chic restaurants, nightclubs, bleached surfies and models, plus television crews trying to capture the mood of the Nineties. Funway offers small "boutique" properties, including the Cavalier and Leslie Hotels, their interiors designed by Barbara Hulanicki of Biba fame. Holidays are from two to seven nights, and the shorter breaks must include a Saturday night. Car rental can be arranged from pounds 3 a day. Two-night breaks which include flights and accommodation (but no meals) cost from pounds 458 in September, pounds 564 in July and August; much more economical are four nights from pounds 468 and pounds 569, and seven nights from pounds 525 and pounds 629 respectively.

Funway 0181-466 0222

BANGKOK, THE MALDIVES AND MEXICO

Several summer offers to faraway destinations are listed in the latest "Limited Edition" brochure from Kuoni. They include an eight-night holiday to Penang, staying at the Feringhi Beach Hotel on a room-only basis, for pounds 499 in August - a saving of pounds 170 - and a 14-night multi-centre holiday to Bangkok, Penang and Singapore for just pounds 699. A week's half-board holiday in the Maldives costs pounds 629.

Heading west, pounds 529 will buy you a week in Mexico's Cancun, a resort with little or no atmosphere but within relatively easy reach of the great Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza, and Merida, the capital of Yucatan. These are no-frills packages, using basic or medium-grade accommodation out of season; frequently, there are no meals included in the prices. However, many packaged offers are priced lower than the return air fares alone.

Kuoni 01306 740888; "Limited Editions" brochures are also available from travel agents

THE CANARIES FOR A SONG

The most relaxed and uncommercial of the Canary islands - the second largest, Fuerteventura - is blessed with the best beaches. These vast, flat stretches - lonely and desolate in places, even in midsummer - are a magnet for windsurfers, with rolling dunes reminiscent of the Sahara. Resorts on Fuerteventura are small and low-key, the best being at Caleta des Fustes, where Thomson Summer Sun Holidays offers high-season self- catering bungalows and apartments for pounds 412 per person for 14 nights, dropping to pounds 346 from 9 September. Car hire on the island is reasonably priced, starting at pounds 55 for three days - probably long enough to explore adequately the interior, a contrasting jumble of fertile palm-studded slopes, atmospheric volcanic valleys, sleepy little towns, whitewashed churches and old windmills.

Thomson Summer Sun 0171-707 9000

NO RAIN IN SPAIN

Short breaks to the costas are rare in high season, but Spanish specialist Mundicolor offers three nights at the luxury five-star Andalucian-style Hotel Puente Romano, on a sandy beach two miles west of a cleaned-up Marbella, costing pounds 478 for b&b and return flights. There is just enough time to pack in some activity - a free round of golf is included in the price, as is entrance to the casino, and use of the sauna and gym at the tennis centre run by former Wimbledon champion Manolo Santana, in the hotel.

Mundicolor 0171-828 6021

THAI BREAKERS

The best time to visit the east coast of Thailand is May to September (the wettest months are October to December), with temperatures ranging from the mid 70s to the mid 90s. Covered by jungle, coconut plantations and white beaches, the island of Ko Chang, not far from the Thai/Cambodian border, is one of the 52 islands that form a National Park. This, one of the destinations available through Asia World Travel, isn't exactly Robinson Crusoe territory - but it's certainly a place for escapists; there is little else on the island apart from a few small hotels, beachside restaurants and a watersports centre. A 10-day holiday here, including flights and accommodation, costs pounds 671. The island can also be combined with other Far East cities, tours and islands.

Asia World Travel 01932 820050

NEXT WEEK: last-minute breaks with children

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