British Airways strikes, volcanic ash clouds, economic gloom: it's been a rough year for the travel industry but for no-fly operators things are looking up.
Bookings for Eurotunnel (08448 797379; eurotunnel.com) rose 30 per cent during the ash crisis. There is still availability, though peak weekends in school holidays are busy. One-way fares currently cost about £150 per car. This can include up to nine passengers plus luggage. Travel off-peak and lead-in fares are from £44.
Eurostar (08432 186186; eurostar.com) carried an extra 110,000 people during the ash shutdowns, and have gained BA travellers stranded by the cabin-crew strikes. Advance bookings for the summer are up this year, but the cheapest return fares – £69 to Paris, Disneyland Resort Paris and Belgium, and £65 return to Calais or Lille – are still available on select journeys. A promotion encouraging travel on to the south of France has a special offer of £69 return to Avignon, Aix-en-Provence or Marseille to mark the introduction of Eurostar's trial code share with French railways (SNCF).
French Country Cottages (0845 268 1028; french-country-cottages.co.uk) is offering 15 per cent discounts on selected properties across France. Four-night short breaks in northern France start at £325, based on two sharing, including ferry crossings.
Keycamp (0844 406 0319; keycamp.co.uk) still has summer deals at European campsites, starting at just £685 per party of four, per week, including ferry crossings. "We've seen an increase in interest from people wanting to avoid cancelled flights," said Keycamp's Dave McKenna. "We've even had instances of customers booking both flights and ferry crossings to cover all eventualities."
The ever-growing network of high-speed trains brings wider Europe within reach. One specialist in this region, Inntravel (01653 617000; inntravel.co.uk), reports steady bookings for summer. It still has good availability in Swiss properties, including a discounted deal (savings of £75 per party) for a week's self-catering/walking in the Bernese Oberland. The price, £637 per person, is based on six sharing, and includes rail travel by Eurostar/TGV/regional rail via Paris and Lausanne (11 hours' journey time in total). Valid for departures between 3 July and 27 August.
Let the train take the strain all the way to the Italian Lakes. For those able to travel outside July and August there some excellent discounts across Italy, many of which are to be found at loveitaly.co.uk, the official website for the Association of British Travel Organisers to Italy. Make the journey part of the experience with Railbookers (020-3327 0869; railbookers.com), and travel through the Swiss Alps, with an overnight stay in Lausanne, then nine nights at the three-star Hotel Belvedere on Lake Garda for £786 per person, based on two sharing B&B accommodation, including train travel.
Since April, Holidaylettings.co.uk has seen hesitant international holiday home bookings, with a gradual rise in areas accessible without flying, notably France. The company still has good availability across Europe. For example, ferry across the Bay of Biscay to Santander, Spain, and spend a week in the penthouse apartment Sanxenxo in Galicia, near La Lanzada. Prices from £388, sleeps seven.
Ferries to Santander depart from Portsmouth or Plymouth with Brittany Ferries (0871 244 1400; Brittany-Ferries.co.uk). During July and August, most peak sailings are full, but off-peak (midweek or outside school holidays) there is still good availability. Peak summer sailings to Santander start at £675 return for a car and four people, including en-suite cabin accommodation. Journey time is 24 hours. Brittany Ferries is also offering 15 per cent off packages to Spanish villas and 25 per cent off French cottage holidays. To find out more about ferry destinations and operators, go to discoverferries.co.uk.
The cruise industry has proved hugely resilient in the face of the economic downturn, enjoying unprecedented growth over the past two years. The Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) has noted a rise in people taking the train to the point of their European cruise departure and an increase in passengers cruising out of the UK.
"Overall cruise lines have experienced good bookings," says Penny Guy from the PSA. "However, there are still limited opportunities – specific cruises on specific dates – at attractive prices." Go to discovercruises.co.uk for more information.
Not sure you want to commit to two weeks at sea? Test the waters with a cruise/hotel holiday, spending two nights among the Tall Ships at Antwerp, when 80 wind-driven vessels from 15 countries compete in a series of races, then two days on dry land exploring this buzzing Belgian city. Available through DFDS Seaways, from £229 per person, departs Newcastle 10 July (0871 882 0885; dfds.co.uk/tallships).
By rail, sea or road, summer destinations are closer than you think, and if you plan carefully, getting there can be half the fun.