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Friday on our minds, and the world is waiting

From the English countryside to transatlantic shopping, the possibilities are endless. Kate Simon picks 10 great ways to take a break

1 The classic country cottage

1 The classic country cottage

It's the holiday equivalent of comfort food: an autumn break in a cosy country cottage just a short walk from the pub. With the school holidays over, the restriction of a minimum seven-day booking tends to be lifted, making it possible to hire a property just for the weekend. The past decade has seen a revolution in the self-catering market with a new wave of smart and stylish establishments with welcome hampers, dinner delivery service and babysitters.

Try Rural Retreats (01386 701177; www.ruralretreats.co.uk); The National Trust (0870 4584422; www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk), The Landmark Trust (01628 825925; www.landmarktrust.org.uk) and Stately Holiday Homes (01638 674749; www.statelyholidayhomes.co.uk) nationwide; Cawdor Cottages (01667 402402; www.cawdor.com) near Inverness; Bruern Holiday Cottages (01993 830415; www.bruern-holiday-cottages.co.uk) in the Cotswolds; Combermere Cottages (01948 662876; www.combermereabbey.co.uk) in Shropshire; Shoreline Cottages (0113-244 8410; www.shoreline-cottages.com) in Whitby on the north-east coast; Toad Hall Cottages (08700-777345; www.toadhallcottages.com) in Devon; Classic Cottages (01326 565555; www.classic.co.uk) and Helpful Holidays (01647 433593; www.helpfulholidays.com) in the West Country; and Adams and Butler ( www.irishluxury.com) in Ireland.

2 A hotel suite for two

Does self-catering sound too much like hard work? Book yourself into a hotel instead. Like the self-catering scene, a new generation of hotels has sprung up across the country bringing a fresh approach to an industry dogged by a lack of originality and snooty maitre d's.

Where to go? Well, there are many possibilities, but my favourites include: Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons (01844 278881; www.manoir.com), near Oxford, for fabulous food and opulent living; the Cotswold House Hotel (01386 840330; www.cotswoldhouse.com) in Chipping Campden, for urban cool in a rural setting; the Malmaison group ( www.malmaison.co.uk) and Alias Hotels ( www.aliashotels.co.uk) for a funky and fun atmosphere; and the Hotel du Vin ( www.hotelduvin.co.uk) for great wine lists and a touch of luxury. For more ideas see Alastair Sawday's excellent series Special Places To Stay: British Hotels, Inns and Other Places, price £14.99 ( www.sawdays.co.uk).

3 Adventures with the jet-set

Cash rich, time poor: what an awful phrase. But it does sum up the kind of people who might find a farther-flung weekend break appealing.

With Concorde gone, Kuoni (01306 747001; www.kuoni.co.uk) has stepped into the breach with its Private Jet Adventures. This is the stuff of City bonuses. But if you do have £8,469 to spare on a three-night break, Kuoni will drive you to Farnborough on Friday morning and fly you to Cairo or Marrakesh in a 12-seater jet, returning on Sunday evening in time to press a shirt for work. Carrier (01625 547010; www.carrier.co.uk) is offering a three-night safari at Sir Richard Branson's private lodge, Ulusaba, from £2,159 until 22 October. It's set on the edge of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, just one hour ahead of Britain, so you won't get jetlag. And Cambridge Beaches (01753 684810; www.cambridgebeaches.com) has organised a "Girls Getaway" to Bermuda this autumn, a three-night tour centring on spa activities. It costs from around £900 until 31 October.

Also try Abercrombie & Kent (0845 0700 612; www.abercrombiekent.co.uk), The Adventure Company (01420 541007; www.adventurecompany.co.uk), Explore (01252 760144; www.explore.co.uk), Original Travel (020-7978 7333; www.originaltravel.co.uk), Scott Dunn (020-8682 5040; www.scottdunn.com) and Greaves Travel (020-7487 9111).

4 Perfect pampering

"We leave the stones out overnight to charge with energy from the moon," a spa manager once told me. Yes, there's an awful lot of nonsense talked about in the rarified world of spas, but even the biggest cynic wouldn't deny that there are few more relaxing pursuits. This kind of R&R is big business and woe betide the luxury hotel that hasn't got a spa of its own. As a consequence, the array to choose from is bewildering.

The current stars are: The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (020-7838 9888; www.mandarinoriental.com) in London; C.side at Cowley Manor (01242 870900; www.cowleymanor.com) in Gloucestershire; The Cowshed at Babington House (01373 812266; www.babingtonhouse.co.uk) in Somerset; Whatley Manor (01666 822888; www.whatleymanor.co.uk) in Wiltshire; Westin Turnberry Resort (01655 331000; www.turnberry.co.uk) in Scotland; Sequoia Spa at The Grove (01923 807807; www.thegrove.co.uk) in Hertfordshire; and Serenity Spa at Seaham Hall (0191-516 1400; www.seaham-hall.com) in Northumberland. For more ideas, consult the Spa Directory by Suzanne Duckett (Carlton, £12.99).

5 The city slicker

With the rise of the no-frills airlines and online booking sites such as opodo.co.uk, do-it-yourself packages are very popular. Alternatively, operators offer a choice of bundling products or buying set packages. The whole of Europe and some of the cities on North America's east coast are at your feet.

For packages try Thomson (0870 165 0079; www.thomson.co.uk), Thomas Cook (0870 750 5711; www.thomascook.co.uk) and Mytravel (0870 238 7777; www.mytravel.co.uk). British Airways Holidays (0870 24 33 407; www.baholidays.com), Kirker Holidays (0870 112 3333; www.kirkerholidays.com) and Travelbag (0870 814 4441; www.travelbag.co.uk) offer various options. Or try Interhome (020-8891 1294; www.interhome.co.uk) which offers apartments in several cities - a good choice for families.

6 See it, buy it

Another favourite autumn pursuit: shopping. Gordon Brown may be attempting to keep our wallets zipped, but the shopping packages being offered this year tell a different story. Shopping packages this autumn include a one-night Metrosexual Package at Kimpton Hotels' Hotel Allegro in Chicago (001 866 672 6143; www.kimptonhotels.com) from $365 (£214), teaming up today's new man with a personal shopper for fashion consultations, dating etiquette and spa treatments. Back in Britain, a trip to Bicester Village may not seem so glamorous, but this shopping outlet specialises in bargains, plus you can make a weekend of it with a two-night b&b break at the nearby Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons (as above) from £295. Malmaison Edinburgh (0131- 468 5000; www.malmaison.com) is celebrating its 10th birthday by linking up guests with personal shoppers at Harvey Nichols and Cruise. Prices from £99 room only.

For more ideas contact the city break operators above.

7 A night at the opera

Autumn marks the beginning of the new opera and ballet seasons, heralding a host of special deals for trips to see performances across Europe. There are also specialist operators organising tours with expert lecturers on hand to give informed commentaries, not just for the performing arts but for places of historic and archaeological interest too. Among this autumn's deals is a chance to see more than 100 works by Monet, Turner and Whistler at the Grand Palais in Paris on a two-night break with VFB Holidays (01242 240310; www.vfbholidays.co.uk) from £149. JMB Travel (01905 830099; www.jmb-travel.co.uk) is offering opera weekends in Prague from £369. Spain at Heart (01373 814222; www.spainatheart.co.uk) is offering a two-night Picasso Package to Malaga from £159 and breaks to Seville to coincide with the flamenco festival in October, from £325. The Traveller (020-7436 9343; www.thetraveller2004.com) is offering a three-night trip to Libya's Roman coastal sites of Sabratha and Leptis Magna from £890. For more ideas contact Martin Randall Travel (020-8742 3355; www.martinrandall.com), Andante Travels (01722 713800; www.andantetravels.co.uk), The Ultimate Travel Company (020-7828 7778; www.theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk) and Travel for the Arts (020-8799 8350; www.travelforthearts.co.uk).

8 Table for two

This nation is obsessed with food and drink. Obesity levels are up, we all binge drink and as for the quality of our diet.... No wonder we have a remarkable appetite for gastronomic holidays.

Foodie deals this autumn include three nights in Normandy to coincide with the oyster season with VFB (as above) from £193. Inntravel (01653 617906; www.inntravel.co.uk) is leading a guided visit to Turin's Slow Food fair and Piemonte, from 21 to 25 October, for £689. Discover The World (01737 218810; www.discover-the-world.co.uk) is offering two-night Lobster Safaris in West Sweden from £678.

Cookery schools include: The Padstow Seafood School (01841 532700; www.rickstein.com) in Cornwall, Ballymaloe House (00 353 21 4652531; www.ballymaloe.ie) in Ireland, and Ecole de Cuisine at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons (as above). For more ideas contact Arblaster & Clarke (01730 893344; www.arblasterandclarke.com) and Tasting Places (020-7460 0077; www.tastingplaces.com).

9 The activity programme

For some of us, weekend breaks are about having a rest. But then there are some people who just can't keep still.

Learn to salsa in Barcelona on a two-night break with Inntravel (as above) from £335. Test out three courses in as many days on a golfing break to Spain with Barwell Leisure (020-8786 3000; www.barwell.co.uk) from £548. Get pedalling in Provence on a three-night break with Cycling for Softies (0161-248 8282; www.cycling-for-softies.co.uk) from £406.50. See the Northern Lights and take in some winter sports on a Lakes & Mountains Holidays (01329 844405; www.lakes-mountains.co.uk) three-night trip to Alberta from £448.

For more ideas contact Inntravel (as above), Freerein (01497 821356; www.free-rein.co.uk) and Saddle Skedaddle (0191-265 1110; www.skedaddle.co.uk).

10 The family affair

When I was a kid, the best prospects for an organised family holiday were Butlins or Pontins. Since then, the range has widened and today's facilities are likely to delight the whole family. Children's clubs are generally supervised by professionals and well stocked with toys and computer games as well as offering organised activities. Adults can take time out with spa facilities - and comfy sofas for curling up on with a good book. And in the evening, gourmet dinners are served while the little ones are being entertained or watched over.

The best include Luxury Family Hotels ( www.luxuryfamilyhotels.co.uk), featuring Woolley Grange in Wiltshire, Fowey Hall in Cornwall, Moonfleet Manor in Dorset and Ickworth House in Suffolk; Bedruthan Steps (01637 860555; www.bedruthanstepshotel.co.uk) and Sands Resort (01637 872864; www.sandsresort.co.uk) on the Cornish coast; Calcot Manor (01666 890391; www.calcotmanor.co.uk) in the Cotwolds; and Center Parcs ( www.centerparcs.co.uk) at Sherwood, Oasis Whinfell, Elveden and Longleat. Foxhills (01932 704500; www.foxhills.co.uk), in Surrey, is a good choice for sporting families with golf and tennis particular specialities.

For more ideas contact Center Parcs ( www.centerparcs.co.uk), Disneyland Resort Paris ( www.disneylandparis.co.uk) and consult websites mumsnet.com, babygoes2.com or quovadistravel.com

All prices are per person, based on two sharing, unless stated. Prices correct at time of going to press