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Castro's city awaits

Fifty one years after Fidel Castro's first revolutionary act, the city where it took place - Santiago - is to be linked with London. From 16 July, an Excel Airways flight will depart each Friday from Gatwick at 9am. Its first call is Cuba's main resort, Varadero, which is already served by numerous charter flights. But after a 40-minute refuelling stop the Boeing 767 continues to Santiago, Cuba's second city.

Santiago is even more attractive in its setting and architecture than Havana, and is also rich culturally and politically. In July 1953, Castro and another 125 young dissidents opposed to the dictator, Fulgencio Batista, launched an attack on the Moncada Barracks. It was a dismal failure, and Castro was imprisoned and later exiled for his part in it. But the assault sowed the seeds for the subsequent successful rebellion and earned Santiago the title "Hero City".

Fares are identical whether you fly to Varadero or Santiago, or indeed fly into the former and home from the latter. In economy, the summer price is £467 return; a premium economy seat costs £722; and business class is available at £962. You can book the new flight through Cubawelcome (020-7584 6092; www.cubawelcome.com).

Dubai gets cheaper

Competition on flights from the UK to the Middle East is intensifying. The latest contender on the route between London Heathrow and Abu Dhabi, Etihad, has set its fares about £100 below the prevailing levels for non-stop flights. Through the online agency www.travelocity.co.uk, the new airline is selling tickets for £221 return.

If you are heading further east, the same agent has flights on Etihad from Heathrow via Abu Dhabi to Bangkok for £295 return - also below the market rate.

The cheap flight to Abu Dhabi could be of interest to travellers to Dubai - the most popular Emirate is a 90-minute drive from Abu Dhabi. If you prefer to fly straight in, the website www.opodo.co.uk is selling non-stop Heathrow to Dubai flights on British Airways for £320.

From Midsummer's Day, the competition to Dubai gets even fiercer. Gulf Air is offering a same-plane service with a quick ground stop at Bahrain. Its overnight flight from Heathrow (GF8) will stop for an hour at Bahrain, before continuing (as flight GF1008) to Dubai.

The overall flight time will be eight hours 40 minutes - 100 minutes more than the non-stop services of BA and Emirates. Coming back, the corresponding service (GF1003/GF3) is a daytime departure.

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