Bank holiday: Get away – or join the fun?
Next month, a bank holiday bonanza offers the chance of a unique, extended break. Sarah Barrell reveals how to make the most of it
Wednesday 23 March 2011
What's the attraction?
A month from now, a holiday anomaly occurs in the UK. Three events occur within the space of a fortnight to offer the chance for an extended break. Thanks to a late Easter, the Royal Wedding on 29 April and the May Day bank holiday, Brits working the standard week can enjoy an 11-day holiday and use up only three days' leave in the process.
If you haven't already made plans for this bank holiday bonanza – which starts on Good Friday (22 April) and ends on 2 May – don't panic. There are still plenty of packages, flights and hotel deals available. And if you'd prefer to stay put for all the pomp and circumstance, then London's hotels are also getting set for the party. Some of them aren't even charging a king's ransom for it.
Bargain holidays are available just across the Channel. The accommodation arm of Brittany Ferries, Holiday France Direct (0871 244 1245; www.holidayfrance direct.co.uk) is offering discounts on properties across the country during the period. For example, get 10 nights for the price of seven in the Western Loire, staying in a two-bedroom self-catering stone cottage, sleeping six. For stays starting on 23 April this property costs a total of £260. And once you book, the Brittany Ferry crossings are reasonably priced too: Portsmouth to Saint-Malo for two adults and two children (with a cabin) 23 April-3 May costs £354.
Pierre & Vacances (0870 0267 145; www.pv-holidays.com) has discounts across all its French properties for the holiday period. For example, a one-bedroom apartment sleeping up to five costs £617 (departing 22 April, departing 2 May), staying at Residence Le Green Beach, a new seaside resort in Normandy.
Hit the road
If you want to get the most out of the big break, how about a road trip? Wicked Campers (0808 234 8461; www.wickedcampers.co.uk) offers a range of converted small vans or space cruisers that accommodate two to three people, with a tent thrown in to sleep two more. The beds convert to sitting/table areas in the day, with a small kitchenette area at the back and an iPod dock. Wicked Campers is offering 12 days' round-trip campervan hire for £864 (for travel in the UK) or £936 (in Europe). There are collection depots in London, Dundee, Belfast and also Barcelona, Munich, Malaga, Amsterdam and on the Adriatic coast of Italy; availability at these sites is still reasonable during the period.
Can't face the Easter feast without the means to work it off? Then take a 10-day walking holiday from Bologna to Florence, with Inntravel (01653 617001; www.inntravel.co.uk). This self-guided break tours Italy's Via degli Dei (Route of the gods), following a series of drovers' roads and mule tracks through woods and broad, grassy ridges in the region's rugged peaks. Luggage is transferred ahead of you and accommodation is at traditional inns, with two nights in each city at either end of the trip. Departing 22 April, the cost is £1,195 per person, based on two sharing, including 10 nights' B&B accommodation, seven dinners, five picnics, luggage transfers, walking notes and maps. Flights can be arranged. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) currently has return flights from Stansted to Bologna for £183 per person for these dates.
Or how about a week in the saddle in Montana? Ranch Rider (01509 618811; www.ranchrider.com) is offering discounts on seven-night holidays at Lonesome Spur, a ranch with frills such as a hot tub and aromatherapy teepee. A special deal for the extended holiday: nine-night breaks (for the price of seven), departing 22 April cost £893 per person (with no single supplement), including full-board accommodation, activities and transfers. Flights are not included; Delta (0845 600 0950; www.delta.com), has returns for £653 from Heathrow to Billings via Denver, departing 22 April.
Ski Sunday... and bank holiday Monday
With alpine snow rather patchy this season, you might not have had your skiing fix yet – and those who have waited have been rewarded with plenty of fresh powder. Zenith Holidays (01737 852242; www.zenithholidays.co.uk) has Easter and bank holiday deals on self-drives to resorts such as Zermatt in Switzerland. Departing 22 April, returning 2 May, a self-catering break at the Haus Viktoria apartment (sleeps four) costs £2,850 total for four people, including Eurotunnel crossings.
Sir Elton John might be attending the royal party in London on 29 April, but the end-of-season festival at Ischgl, Austria ( www.ischgl.com) has become the biggest ski bash since 2008 when his piano was airlifted to the Top of the Mountain concert. This year, The Killers headline on 30 April. Ski Solutions (020- 7471 7700; www.skisolutions.com) offers a three-night stay at the four-star Hotel Elisabeth, Ischgl from 28 April - 1 May for £745 per person, including scheduled flights from Heathrow to Zurich with Swiss car hire (transfer time three hours) and half board based on two sharing. Alternatively, you can spend seven nights at the same hotel for £1,295 per person, or 10 nights for £1,775. The resort closes on 1 May.
Nowhere does Easter celebrations quite like Greece. The festival is a big blow-out for the Orthodox calendar, and this year the Orthodox and Western Christian calendars coincide. Head south to the sunny island of Rhodes where family feasts and church services fill Easter weekend, with parades through public squares and the handing out of bread and roses to the faithful. The website www.hotels.com is offering discounts at the new five-star Sheraton Rhodes, the first Sheraton in Greece, at the promotional rate of £1,064 per week, for a double room (from 23 April). Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) launches flights to the island on 13 April. Departing 23 April returning 2 May, returns from Stansted currently cost £249 per person. Flights from Liverpool are also available.
From next week, you can fly from the UK non-stop to Buenos Aires, bringing Argentina within easier reach for a short break. British Airways (0844 493 0787; www.ba.com) has flights from London Heathrow on 22 April, returning 2 May for £1,009 per person. www.hotels.com is also offering special rates on hotels in the city: 10 nights at the Park Elegance Unique Hotel from 22 April costs £674 for two people, including breakfast.
How can I watch the wedding up close?
Check into a hotel within easy each of the royal route to Westminster. Octopus Travel ( www.octopustravel.co.uk) has a list of accommodation still available that doesn't come with royally inflated rates, with double rooms from £165 per night, B&B (based on checking in at the three-star Rathbone Hotel, near Tottenham Court Road, on 28 or 29 April). Superbreak (0871 221 2717; www.superbreak.com) also has bargain hotel deals, including a three-night B&B stay at a three-star hotel in the Waterloo/Victoria area (addresses are released on booking), arriving on 28 April for £249 per person, including a London Eye ticket.
Best Scottish Tours (0131 208 2208; www.best-scottish-tours.co.uk) is offering a six-day small group tour of Scotland's royal castles, departing 24 April. See the turrets at Edinburgh, Stirling and Balmoral then visit St Andrews where William met his future wife, before travelling by train to London to check into a Westminster hotel. The cost is £1,500 per person including half-board, three-star hotel accommodation, guide, transport and entrance into attractions.
Get royal treatment at the capital's key attractions: Hampton Court Palace will host a show of courtly love based around Henry VIII's wooing of Jane Seymour, while visitors to the Chelsea Physic Garden can watch the wedding on big screens in London's oldest botanic gardens. A London Sightseeing Pass ( www.londonpass.com) admits holders to these and many more venues and, with priority access, to the front of the queue – visitors swipe their London Pass at the entrance, rather than having to queue for tickets. A one-day pass costs £43 for adults, £28 for children.
To get away from it all...
If you can take an additional week off work, Walks Worldwide (0845 301 4737; www.walksworldwide.com) has a new trip to the remote region of Mustang, in Nepal. "Forbidden Land" usually departs on set dates as a group trip but the company is setting up independent trips over the bank holiday/Easter period. This 11-night trek (19 days away) costs £1,690 per person, all-inclusive on the ground, and flights can be arranged (from around £700). In this mountainous enclave, culturally and geographically part of Tibet, you won't find screens broadcasting the wedding but you will find, in the tiny village of Kagbeni, a Yacdonalds, selling burgers made from local yak meat.
What Google will tell you...
Local residents may protest, but "Camp Royale is a stroke of genius," according to Joy Williams from National Express. Clapham Common will be transformed into a campsite for the weekend of the wedding ( www.camproyale.co.uk). National Express is running special coaches from 35 locations to the south London green space that is welcoming revellers who want to cheer on the couple but who don't have a royal fortune to spend on hotels. There will be free cups of tea, prizes for the most patriotically dressed tents and space for 10,000 people to camp (£82.90 per person for three nights).
What Google won't tell you... until now
If you insist on waving to the happy couple from the streets of London, and also want a break before resuming work, then there is one sure bet: after the ceremony in Westminster Abbey, walk across the river to Waterloo and board the next train to Southampton; this will get you to the Docks in good time to board Celebrity Eclipse, destination Cobh in Ireland – formerly known, appropriately, as Queenstown. The short cruise ends at 5.30am on Tuesday 3 May, giving you a good chance of being in the office by 9am ( www.rccl.com).
Who said that?
"A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than yours." – JB Priestley
"There are plenty of options around. Bookings are in line with what tour operators expected to see. Many people were unaware of the extended break available, so didn't book particularly early." – Derek Moore, chairman, Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO)
"As well as this being a great moment for national celebration, I think we also have to remember that this is two young people who love each other who have made this announcement, who are looking forward to their wedding, and we must give them plenty of space to think about the future and what they are about to do." – David Cameron, the Prime Minister.
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