School holidays special: Money matters

Julian Knight on how to stretch your pound abroad
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The Independent Travel

With all the chatter about the collapsing euro and debt crises in Portugal, Greece, Spain and Ireland, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the bargains that were available in euro-land a couple of years ago are back on.

Think again. The euro may have collapsed in value against major world currencies such as the dollar, but against the pound it's only fallen back a little – mainly because our government finances are in as big a mess as theirs.

As a result, it's still quite pricey to head to many parts of the continent this summer. The latest edition of Which? Holiday contains a survey of the key costs for holidaymakers this summer in popular spots for British travellers in Europe. It looks at the costs of a basket of groceries, care hire, petrol, hotel stays and a restaurant meal for two with a bottle of plonk.

If you want cheap meals out and a less expensive place to lay your head, then the message is "head east". On average, Which? Holiday found that a meal for two with a bottle of wine in Poland cost £28.79, a third cheaper than in the UK. At the other end of the scale, Ireland, the worst affected by the credit crunch, was the costliest at an average of £54.40.

A night in a five-star hotel in Warsaw was a reasonable £81 compared with double that in London. However, Paris, never a bargain destination, is the most expensive for four-star hotels, coming in at an average of £163 per night compared with just £78 in Berlin.

Switzerland, which isn't in the euro but has a strong currency, comes out as the costliest place to live this summer. A basket of standard groceries, a bottle of house wine in a restaurant and stays in three- and five-star hotels cost more in Switzerland than anywhere else and for nearly everything else – apart from a litre of petrol – it is near the top of the price charts.

Even traditionally cheap spots, such as Portugal, are no longer budget beaters. Although supermarket food is cheaper than in Britain, a meal for two is almost 10 per cent more expensive in Lisbon than London. Likewise, a week's car hire will set you back a whopping £257.51 compared with just £173 in the UK.

In Turkey, car hire was the priciest out of all the countries surveyed at £305.10 (for a week) and a litre of unleaded petrol was a staggering £1.86. But the No 1 destination for Briton, Spain, came out well with three-, four- and five-star hotels all below UK costs: a litre of petrol cost £1.06 and a week's car hire was £151.28. Even a basket of groceries was cheaper by nearly 10 per cent compared with the UK.

I know where the money-conscious Brits will be booking holidays this year.