The weather in most of southern Europe is usually pretty mild even in winter, and by March can be positively sunny. Caravela Tours (tel: 0171-630 9223) offers two nights' b&b in three-star hotels in the centre of Lisbon for pounds 199 per person, based on two sharing, from 6 February to 17 March on TAP's new scheduled flights between Gatwick and Lisbon. A three-night package at the Hotel Bahia, in Cascais, about 20 miles outside Lisbon, combines a city break with a trip to the seaside. The cost of b&b accommodation, flights from Heathrow to Lisbon and transfer to Cascais is pounds 179, between 1 January and 12 April.
The favourite for European city breaks, Paris is particularly easy for anyone within reach of London's Waterloo station. Cresta Holidays (tel: 0870 161920) has three-night breaks there, via Eurostar, starting at pounds 142 per person, based on two sharing, in a one-star hotel 10 minutes from the Sacre Coeur. If you prefer more luxurious accommodation, the four- star Golden Tulip at the Porte de St-Cloud is pounds 171 per person; this includes a free Sunday night if you stay on Friday and Saturday nights. First- class rail travel is available for a supplement.
Once the millennium crowds have dispersed, you might want to consider a few days in Jerusalem. Superstar Holidays (tel: 0645 125847) has three- night breaks at various hotels in the city. Prices at the Jerusalem Tower, located close to the walls of the old city, start at pounds 299 for b&b accommodation, based on two sharing and including return flights to Tel Aviv. Transfers into the city must be arranged separately for an extra pounds 40. Departures are on scheduled El Al flights from Heathrow and Manchester; Stansted departures are pounds 20 cheaper.
Although it is a bit off the beaten track in terms of European cities, a break in the Icelandic capital can offer a different kind of holiday. Arctic Experience (tel: 01737 218800) offers two-night breaks from pounds 256, including return flights from Glasgow to Keflavik, transfers, and b&b accommodation in a guest-house, where facilities are shared; hotel accommodation with en suite facilities starts at pounds 267. Flights from London cost an extra pounds 21 per person. The day and a half that you will have to explore the place allows time to visit the geysers or the Blue Lagoon. But prepare for cold weather - temperatures could fall as low as -5C.
Like Reykjavik, Krakow is one of nine designated European Cities of Culture for the year 2000, and as part of this it will be hosting a series of artistic events throughout the year. For example, during the last weekend of February, the famous Cafe Europa, which has long been a meeting place for intellectuals, will be holding a series of discussions about art and culture.
Three-night breaks to Krakow between January and the end of March with Fregata Travel (tel: 0171-940 1700), including flights from Gatwick, transfers, and b&b accommodation, start at pounds 291 per person based on two sharing. This is for a room at the Hotel Dom Turysty, a simple hotel just off the main market square; a similar break at the Hotel Francuski, one of the best old hotels in Krakow, is pounds 413 per person, based on two sharing.
There is a lot to be said for staying in a hotel where you can pamper yourself, as a way of compensating for the cold outside. Perfect for this is the Hotel Gellert in Budapest, a wonderful art nouveau establishment overlooking the Danube, which is famous for its spa baths and a swimming- pool surrounded by beautiful columns. Until mid-March, Kirker Holidays (tel: 0171-231 3333) offers three nights' b&b, free use of the spa, scheduled flights and transfers for pounds 532 per person, based on two sharing.
If the idea of spa baths appeals, the Sultanahmet Hotel in Istanbul can offer an individual Turkish bath in your room. The hotel is a small one which has recently opened, and it is in the centre of the old city. Prices start at pounds 380 per person for three nights' b&b accommodation. This includes flights, transfers and a city tour. Contact Tapestry Holidays (tel: 0181-235 7777). See Short Break, page 7, for more information.
Now marketing itself as a short-haul destination, Dubai is about the closest place to home where hot weather can be guaranteed at this time of year. Three nights at the Hyatt Regency, a city- centre hotel with extensive facilities, between now and the end of March, costs pounds 480 if you book with the Online Travel Club (tel: 0870 887 0100; net: www.otctravel.co.uk). This includes flights from Heathrow to Dubai, and room-only accommodation. Transfers to and from the airport are extra.
Venice is worth visiting during the Carnival, which begins on 27 February and continues until 5 March; there are parties all over the city, masked balls and street entertainment that includes jugglers, fire-eaters and mime artists. The Grand Procession of the Gondolas takes place on the last day.
Citalia (tel: 0181-686 5533) has three-night breaks staying at the Hotel Kette, a three-star hotel in the city centre, from pounds 341 per person. This includes b&b accommodation and return flights from Stansted to Venice. Transfer into the city (about pounds 4 each way by water bus) costs extra.