Joining the dots on Europe's new routes

This summer, 100 new flights to Europe are launched from UK airports. So what awaits beyond the arrivals gate? Simon Calder reports from the rising stars
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The Independent Travel

One hundred entirely new "city pairs" – that is what The Independent Traveller has found between the UK and Europe when the airlines' new summer schedules begin tomorrow. Not all the new routes will start immediately, but among them are some rising stars:destinations with more than one link from Britain. These are the "desirable dozen" for summer 2008, the places that Britain's aviation industry is so confident you will want to visit, that airlines are pumping them full of new flights. But why would you want to go...?

Alghero
North-west Sardinia is, arguably, the most blissful place you can reach within two hours' flying time from East Midlands airport. Naturally, there is the unqualified joy of arriving in Italy – with all that implies for sheer quality of life. Next, the jagged shoreline combines with an athletic-looking coastal range running south from Alghero to provide breathtaking vistas. Best of all, architecturally this corner of Italy's second-largest island (after Sicily) provides a spectacular cross-section of the centuries.
From East Midlands (30 March) and Liverpool (1 April), on Ryanair

Biarritz
Any airport from which you can comfortably walk to the beach has appeal – particularly when the shoreline in question is a serrated sweep of the Côte des Basques. France's last ritzy resort before the Spanish border has welcomed the rich and glamorous for a couple of centuries, and possesses a civic sense of style. Yet it has other dimensions besides: as a historic fishing port and the gateway to France's dramatic and fascinating Basque Country.
From Birmingham (1 July) on Ryanair; from Bristol (23 April) and Gatwick (4 July) on easyJet

Bremen
Never mind Art Deco; in this handsome Hanseatic port, you can appreciate Art Decaf. The man who invented decaffeinated coffee invested some of his millions in a single, short street that comprises the finest concoction of Art Nouveau this side of the Belgian border: Botcherstrasse. A few steps away from here, in the old market place, you can admire the Rathaus (City Hall), then explore the Schnoor district. Schnoor means "string", and refers to the way that medieval fishermen's cottages are strung along tiny lanes. At the many good fish restaurants, eel is a speciality.
From Manchester (1 April) and Edinburgh (2 April), on Ryanair

Frankfurt
Were it not Continental Europe's financial centre, and Lufthansa's global hub, Frankfurt would probably get a better press as a tourist destination. The Old Town has the enticing 18th-century sandstone pile known as Café Hauptwache. Close by is the Museum of Modern Art, and across the river some of Germany's best restaurants.
From Bristol (30 March) to Frankfurt-Main on Lufthansa; from Edinburgh (1 April) to Frankfurt-Hahn on Ryanair

Gdansk
The former free city of Danzig could become the surprise summer hit for British holidaymakers. With its restored medieval core, and more recent role in the downfall of communism, Gdansk makes a fascinating city break. But it is also a gateway to the Polish Riviera, which is lined with 19th-century hotels – all ready to welcome UK visitors with rates far lower than on the Mediterranean.
From Birmingham (1 July) on Ryanair; from Cardiff and East Midlands (both 1 April) on Bmibaby

Girona
For many, Girona is merely an airport with a bus waiting outside for the hour-long ride to Barcelona. But the nearby city of Girona, bisected by the river Onyar, is a gem. It has an atmospheric historic core, and a well-preserved Jewish quarter. From the city walls, you can look north to the Pyrenees; to the east, there are hill-towns to explore and the coves of the Costa Brava.
From Birmingham, Newquay (both 1 April) and Manchester (2 April) , all on Ryanair

Marseille
France's oldest city embraces you as soon as you step from the airport bus – or, if you have the time and money, the train. The colours of Provence – terracotta, wheat, honey and a wash of duck-egg blue – are immediately seductive, as is the sense that all the good things of the Mediterranean are concentrated in Marseille's magnificent sprawl; the cacophony and humanity come free. It is a city that overslept and got up in a bit of a rush, yet whose soul outshines any scruffiness.
From Edinburgh (31 March), Manchester (2 April), Birmingham (1 May), Prestwick (3 May) and Bournemouth (4 May), all on Ryanair

Nantes
For some sports fans, Nantes was put on the map last year because its Stade de la Beaujoire was one of the venues for the Rugby World Cup. Connoisseurs of elegant cities, Loire gastronomy and Breton heritage already knew that Nantes was worth a mass invasion by weekending Brits. Its history is chequered, due to its leading role in the slave trade. To conjure up the city's maritime past, visit the Ile Feydeau, an enclave of 18th-century mansions. Then drink to it all in La Cigale, Nantes' most celebrated brasserie, decorated from top to toe with Art Nouveau tiles, mosaics and painted panels.
From Liverpool (1 April) and Bournemouth (3 April), both on Ryanair

Nice
France's fifth-largest city, dubbed the "Big Olive", has thrived since Stelios launched it as the first Mediterranean destination for easyJet in 1996. The airport is on the edge of town, close to the western end of the Promenade des Anglais. To wander along to the beautiful port is to peel back the centuries, from Art Deco and Belle Epoque to Roman. It is a city of gardens, of light, of art. Oh, and superb food: if Nice feels Italian, that's because it was part of Sardinia until 1860 when a referendum of doubtful probity ceded it to France.
From Belfast International (1 April) on Aer Lingus, and Jersey (24 May) on Flybe

Pisa
The great thing about Galileo Galilei – the airport at Pisa, not the astronomer – is that it's Europe's handiest gateway. You can walk to the city's central station in under half an hour, and another 15 minutes gets you to the leaning tower. If you stay here, rather than being bussed in for a couple of hours, you will appreciate the modest charms of this small university city with a touristic icon attached. Pisa is also the fast track for graceful Lucca to the north, the resorts and islands to the west, and the sublime landscapes of Tuscany to the south and east.
From Birmingham (2 April), Bournemouth and Edinburgh (both 15 April), all on Ryanair

Rennes
The closest you will find to big-city life in Brittany is its modern capital. Rennes is big enough to have Brittany's only Métro (a modest one-line affair), plus the impressive Breton parliament and half-timbered houses on Place St-Anne. It is also splendidly located for exploring the region, from the north coast to the south of the Breton peninsula, and inland to Le Mans and the chateaux of the Loire.
From Edinburgh (3 May) and Newcastle (24 May), on Flybe

Reus
Another Ryanair version of "Barcelona", though the journey to the Catalan capital is not easy. This small, tidy town will not detain you for long, but it provides an excellent gateway to inland Catalonia. Ruminate among the wonderful Roman ruins in nearby Tarragona; take a slow train through the pretty hills to sleepy Lleida and perhaps venture up into the Pyrenees; or simply follow the package tourists in their thousands for the uncomplicated joys of the Costa Daurada at Cambrils and Salou, with the added bonus of Port Aventura.
From Birmingham (18 June) and Prestwick (1 April), both Ryanair

FORGET THE PLANE: LET THE BOAT TAKE THE STRAIN

Compared with the surge in new flights to Europe this summer, innovations from Britain by ferry and rail are modest – but offer some interesting new options for people who prefer not to fly.

Norfolkline (0870 870 10 20; www.norfolkline.com), which has built a thriving business connecting Dover with Dunkirk, is boosting capacity for the summer by "stretching" its three ships. They are being converted to carry 1,000 passengers, an increase of nearly 30 per cent.

SeaFrance (0871 22 22 500; www.seafrance.com) is retiring its slower vessels, Manet and Renoir, with a single high-performance ferry. The ship should be in service for the summer season following a refit.

On the western Channel, Brittany Ferries (08705 360 360; www.brittanyferries.co.uk) is introducing a new £85m ferry on the Plymouth-Roscoff route.

To Northern Ireland, Stena Line (08705 70 70 70; www.stenaline.co.uk) services from Scotland will be accelerated thanks to a new development on land – in the shape of Stena Line's new VT4 Terminal in Belfast, which is due to open on 7 May; it should cut journey times and provide easier access to Ulster's M2 motorway.

Finally on the ferries, the Lymington-to-Yarmouth car ferry link serving the west of the Isle of Wight will benefit from two new ships. Wight Light and White Sky should enter service in July. A third new ship, Wight Sun, is scheduled to enter service in 2009.

On Britain's only high-speed rail line, Eurostar (08705 186 186; www.eurostar.com) has declined to extend its summer route network beyond the usual Brussels, Paris, Avignon and Marne-la-Vallée. But this last destination, serving Disneyland Paris, will benefit from 33,000 extra seats and more convenient schedules during the school summer holidays. Tickets are now on sale for a new midday departure on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from London St Pancras to Marne-la-Vallée.

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