Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

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The Independent Online

I'm reeling in shock. Wanting to make the most of the glorious weather, my squeeze and I decided to take time out from our eco-renovations and treat ourselves to a mini-break. Now, his idea of holiday heaven involves a 3am cheap flight to an unseen destination for a week, plus all you can eat and drink - an unspeakable suggestion that I vetoed immediately.

Instead, I sold him on the idea of a cheapo eco-friendly trip to the Isles of Scilly. We would eschew gas-guzzling flights for a relaxing five-hour train ride to Penzance and a three-hour ferry journey, staying in modest seafront hostelries along the way. What's not to like?

How was I to know that this cheap'n'cheerful break would prove so ruinously expensive that he has forbidden me from organising any more trips?

It started off so well. The train was punctual. In Penzance, we stayed at Jean Shrimpton's much-lauded hotel, The Abbey. While I could see that it was lovely, crammed with pretty objets and furnished in a comfy, chintzy, country-house style, I grew up in houses like that and have been trying to escape them ever since. I also had to face a personal hate - carpets in the bathrooms. Call me Howard Hughes, but imagine the germs, especially around the loo. Euuuh.

The restaurant next door (well-reviewed) made my spirits sink further. Windowless and with oppressive blood-red walls and matching shag-pile carpet, it was like a Persuaders! set. We fled to the pub, which served delicious local food.

A night at The Abbey, in an ordinary room, with a nice breakfast, cost £175. The price, as I kept being reminded, of a week in Greece, with flights.

From there, we sailed to the Isles of Scilly, famous for glorious gardens and being Harold Wilson's holiday home. I hoped they might be Britain's answer to Martha's Vineyard, and while different, they are pretty and unspoilt. Our hotel in Hells Bay, on Bryher, was glorious, full of local art and with big terraces overlooking the bay. Our meal was awful, but at least the food was local and home-made (and the loos were flushed with collected rainwater: impressive). It was heaven but wildly overpriced.

After one night there we returned to Penzance where we stayed at a mid-range hotel on the front. A small, ordinary room (breakfast of stewed prunes and tinned grapefruit included) set us back £150. Altogether, our cheap'n'cheerful mini-break cost just over £1,000. Hardly value for money when my squeeze informs me that a pal has just paid £500 for 14 nights in a five-star hotel in Mexico.

How can we persuade anyone to holiday at home when standards are generally so low, the food so awful, and everything, including trains, ferries, food and hotels, so ruinously expensive?

jstephenson@independent.co.uk

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