These nine Portuguese islands in the mid-Atlantic are so far undiscovered by mainstream tourism. Yet this summer, the first non-stop flights from London have been introduced, so it will surely only be a matter of time before the impact of more visitors is felt. For now, though, the islands retain the atmosphere of a bygone age, and yet offer comfortable places to stay and lots to do.
The islands (linked by ferry in summer) are breathtakingly beautiful; volcanic peaks, caverns and craters, lakes and lush vegetation. Despite the long coastline this is not really a seaside resort, unless the idea of lying on black, volcanic sand appeals. But there are some magnificent walks, and other attractions include whale-watching trips and the lovely renaissance architecture of Angra do Heroismo on the island of Terceira. Sunvil (020-8758 4722; www.sunvil.co.uk) has one-week holidays on the island of Sao Miguel, departing 9 August, with flights from Gatwick, bed and breakfast accommodation and airport transfers, for £594.
The most remote of the main islands of the Outer Hebrides, Barra boasts white-sand beaches and peat-coated hills, as well as waters where dolphins play - all within an island eight miles long and five miles wide.
Scotia Travel (0141-305 5050; www.scotiatravel.com) offers an excellent package deal this summer for £269 per person. You fly from Glasgow to the beach on the island's east side; get two nights accommodation, with dinner and breakfast, at one of the island's three hotels; sail back to the mainland by ferry to Oban; and take the train back from there to Glasgow.
Barra tourist information: 01871 810336; www.visithebrides.com.
This small Central American country packs a vast amount in: dramatic scenery, superb beaches and diverse wildlife. There are rainforests, national parks and deserted beaches.
Exodus (0870 240 5550; www.exodus.co.uk) has a 15-night trip starting on 6 August for £1,040, excluding flights. Trailfinders (0845 058 5858; www.trailfinders.co.uk) currently has flights from Gatwick to San Jose, Costa Rica with Delta Airlines via Atlanta for £767.
With its islands, beaches, glorious medieval settlements and ancient remains this southern region of Croatia is summer-holiday heaven. Holiday Options (0870 013 0450; www.holidayoptions.co.uk) is offering a week at the attractive resort of Tucepi in the Makarska Riviera area for £535, half-board departing on 27 August. The price includes flights to Split from Gatwick and transfers to the Hotel Alga, almost on the beach and close to Mount Biokovo, the highest mountain on the shores of the Med.
Croatian tourist office: 020-8563 7979; www.croatia.hr.
Spectacular views, superb architecture and that brooding castle perched on a precipitous crag - this is a city of unique visual drama. Before the rest of the world arrives at the Scottish capital for the annual Festival (starting on 14 August) you'll enjoy fairly empty galleries, museums and restaurants. And you'll also be able to find a bed. The latest hot hotel is Number 10 Hotel Apartments in Gloucester Place (0131-225 2720; www.hotelnumberten.com), with 17 suites oozing Chinese antiques, soft furnishings and rich colours. Doubles start at £180 per night including breakfast. For style on more of a budget, try the elegant, family-friendly Kildonan Lodge at Craigmillar Park (0131-667 2793; www.kildonanlodgehotel.co.uk) with doubles from £90 per night.
Edinburgh tourist information centre: 3 Princes Street; 0845 2255 121; www.edinburgh.org
About 2.5m British visitors fly to Faro every summer, but most of them bypass the city. Shame: the region's gateway has lots to recommend it, including an attractive historic centre, a picturesque harbour (with corresponding excellent fish restaurants), an extensive beach and loads of atmosphere.
You can fly from many UK airports on a range of charters and scheduled flights; airlines include British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com); TAP, the Portuguese national airline (0870 607 2024; www.tap-airportugal.co.uk); Monarch (08700 405040; www.flymonarch.com); and bmibaby (0870 264 2229; www.bmibaby.com). At this time of year fares are likely to be in the region of £250 return.
The Eva Hotel at Avenida de Republica 1 (00 351 28 900 1000) overlooks the harbour and has double rooms from €140 (£100), including breakfast.
Faro tourist office: Rua da Misericordia 8-12 00 351 289 803 604; www.visitalgarve.pt
Good-value holidays to this bright sliver of west Africa are offered by The Gambia Experience (0845 330 4567; www.gambia.co.uk). A week in August staying in an apartment at the very comfortable Bungalow Beach Hotel just off Kotu Beach costs £538 per adult and £475 per child bed and breakfast, including flights from Gatwick to Banjul.
HADRIAN'S WALL PATH
The newest of England's national trails runs 84 miles coast to coast from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway, tracing the Roman military frontier built AD122. Along the way you'll see ancient turrets, forts, milecastles and earthworks. The best direction to walk the wall is east to west, the route of the official guidebooks. In summer, the AD122 shuttle bus is in operation, connecting the path with nearby towns and villages.
Hadrian's Wall Information Line: 01434 322002, or visit the National Trails website www.nationaltrail.co.uk. Independent walking holidays along the trail are organised by Contours (017684 80451; www.contours.co.uk) from £240, which includes five nights' accommodation, maps, information packs and luggage transfers.
easyCruiseOne is a floating hotel, based at Nice, that plies the Med between St-Tropez and Portofino (from £127 for a double cabin, excluding meals). Every Thursday the boat moors at Imperia, 20 miles east of the attractive Italian resort of San Remo. easyCruise: 0906 292 9000; www.easycruise.com
Sleep under canvas in this land of gentle mountains and shimmering lakes on the eastern edge of France. Canvas Holidays (01383 629 000; www.canvasholidays.co.uk) is offering cheap camping breaks in the region. A 12-night trip, for instance, at the Domaine de Chalain site near the bustling town of Lons le Saunier costs £767 for a family of two adults and up to four children setting out on* *16 August. The price includes the return car ferry from Dover to Calais plus use of a fully-equipped tent. The camp site, on the edge of Lac de Chalain, has two swimming pools, a sauna and cinema.
For the best harbour - and food - in Ireland - head for this appealing little town of winding streets and Georgian houses. Those in the know stay at the chic Blue Haven (00 353 21 477 2209; www.bluehavenkinsale.com), where doubles cost from €150 (£107) per night including breakfast. Kinsale is 20 minutes' drive from Cork airport, served by a swarm of low-cost airlines from across the UK - including Aer Arann (0800 587 23 24; www.aerarann.com) from Birmingham and Air Wales (0870 777 3131; www.airwales.co.uk) from Plymouth. Alternatively take the Swansea Cork Ferries service (01792 456116; swanseacorkferries.com), which currently offers mid-week returns from £319 for a car and up to six adults (children count as half an adult).
Kinsale tourist information: 00 353 21 477 2234; www.kinsale.ie.
Switzerland's most attractive city combines a beautiful lakeside location and alpine scenery with museums, galleries and a summer festival for those who want to enjoy some culture (11 August-18 September; 00 41 41 226 44 80; www.lucernefestival.ch).
Most of the concerts are held at the KKL, a stunning glass building which appears to rise up out of the lake. Boats depart from the quayside nearby to other towns and villages around the lake, and there are plenty of walking trails, including several up the Pilatus and Burgenstock mountains.
Crystal (0870 888 0252; www.crystallakes.co.uk) offers a week's half-board from £647, flying from Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Heathrow and Manchester.
Villa Select (01789-764909; www.villaselect.com) still has several properties available to rent on the largest of the Balearic islands, some with last-minute discounts. Ca Na Copea, for instance, is a beautifully refurbished old house close to the town of Pollensa. It sleeps eight and has an attractive garden with swimming pool. A week's summer rental costs £2,395, or only £1,595 starting 23 July.
"Cut off on three sides by the sea, and the fourth by British Rail" used to be how this big county was dismissed, but Norfolk has a great deal to offer holidaymakers: wide, sandy beaches like Holkham; the Broads; marshes and dunes that are ideal for bird-watching.
The Great Escape Holiday Company (01485 518717; www.thegreatescapeholiday.co.uk) has cottages sleeping four people from £445 per week.
Tourist information: www.visitnorfolk.co.uk; 01603 222 846
This part of Florida is heaven if you want plenty of activities within easy reach: theme parks are everywhere. Virgin Holidays (0871 222 1203; www.virginholidays.co.uk) has a seven-night package, with flights from Gatwick or Manchester, room-only accommodation and car, from £1,237.
It's not too late to find a rural haven in Provence. Among the properties still available from VFB (01242 240363; www.vfbholidays.co.uk) is a beautifully converted 18th-century barn about five miles east of Barjols in the Haut Var, an area off the beaten tourist track. The cottage sleeps five and costs £690 for a week including a return ferry crossing to Calais.
One of the most stirring sights anywhere in the world is the graceful eruption from the Plains of Abraham of North America's only walled city. Don't just take our word for it: Charles Dickens described Quebec City's "giddy heights, its citadel suspended... its picturesque steep streets and frowning gateways".
This year, Quebec City is linked direct from the UK for the first time, with flights on Thomas Cook Airlines. Return tickets are sold through the tour operator Canadian Affair (020-7616 9184; www.canadianaffair.com) and cost from £500 during the summer.
Quebec tourist office: 08705 561 705; www.quebec4u.co.uk
An appealing village and beach resort in the Dutch province of Zeeland, Renesse makes a good base from which to explore The Netherlands. Delft, The Hague and Efteling theme park are all within easy reach, as is the port of Rotterdam. Hoseasons (01502 502588; www.hoseasons.co.uk) still has some space at the pleasant Klein Poelland development, a holiday village of comfortable properties each with its own garden. A week in a two-bedroom detached house costs £800 during August. Return P&O ferry services (08705 980 333; www.poferries.com) for the 11-hour trip between Hull and Rotterdam cost in the region of £590 for a family of four with a car.
The wild west of Wales features an intercontinental hub for avian life. Skomer Island sees puffins shuttling to Spain and Portugal, Manx shearwaters setting off on the long haul to Brazil and Argentina, other seabirds aiming for North America. For mere humans, the offshore adventure starts with a short-haul open boat that ferries daytrippers across from the cove of St Martin's Haven, buried in the far south-west of Pembrokeshire, to Skomer Island.
Dale Sailing (01646 603 110; www.dale-sailing.co.uk) runs a ferry daily except Monday. Tickets cost £14 return, £6 of which goes to help with the conservation effort.
Try out one of the lovely beach resorts, like Hammamet and Monastir, which offer an excellent choice of accommodation. Hammamet, in the middle of the main coastal strip, is a good location as it is within day-trip distance of the Roman remains at Carthage, and the historic towns of Kairouan and Sousse with their exotic markets.
Wigmore Holidays (020-7836 4999; www.aspectsoftunisia.co.uk) offers a week-long holiday in four-star accommodation in Hammamet on a half-board basis, departing from Heathrow on 29 July, for £599.
The inland area wedged between Tuscany and Rome is still less populated and less expensive than Tuscany but with just as many attractions. The main towns are Perugia and Assisi. The rest of the region is rural, a mixture of hills, valleys and small villages, with Lake Trasimeno near the Tuscan border. The nearest airports are Rome and Pisa, which are well-served by cheap airlines.
Leisure Direction (0870 442 8955; www.leisuredirection.co.uk) has a selection of self-catering accommodation sleeping four from £301 for a week, excluding travel.
Bulgaria was a touristic joke for decades. But now even its third-largest city of Varna, well-located halfway down the long Black Sea coast, and with its own airport, is a good choice for the quality of the beach and watersports on offer.
Balkan Holidays (0845 130 1114; www.balkanholidays.co.uk) has one-week holidays from £454 per person, including breakfast, at the resort of Golden Sands, about 30 miles from the airport. This is for a 31 August departure and includes flights from Gatwick.
Compared with other more rugged areas of the Lake District, Lake Windermere presents a soft and pretty outlook. Lakelovers (015394-88855; www.lakelovers.co.uk) has a light "peak season" demand, and can usually help you track down B&Bs.
Don't bother trying to pronounce this; the initials are the airport code for the equally unpronounceable sherry-producing town of Jerez (he-ETH), the gateway to the Costa de la Luz. Less developed than Spain's other costas, this coast has some lovely unspoilt beaches and golf courses.
Ryanair (0906 270 5656; www.ryanair.com) flies daily from Stansted to Jerez.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
The world's first national park was established in 1872. Today it is a wonderland of wildlife (elk, bison, bear and more) and wilderness sprawling across the volcanic plateaux of northwest Wyoming. United Vacations (0870 606 2222; www.unitedvacations.co.uk) offers a fly-drive family holiday to Montana and Wyoming that takes in the park and departs on 17 August for 14 nights. The price of £4,278 for a family of four (two adults and two children under 12) includes return flights from London to Jackson Hole, returning from Billings; a week at Grant Village in Yellowstone National Park; five nights at the Wagon Wheel at Jackson Hole; and two nights at the Sheraton Billings, close to the site of the Little Bighorn battlefield.
Zante, also known as Zakynthos, is the most southerly of the Ionian islands, to the west of the Greek mainland. The island is a combination of lively, often raucous, resorts on the south coast, and beautiful countryside and unspoilt villages further north.
Olympic Holidays (0870 429 4141; www.olympicholidays.co.uk) has packages departing from a number of regional airports. A seven-night self-catering package departing from Gatwick in late July will cost £319.
All the holidays and independent arrangements featured here were available at the prices stated, for holidays some time in the second half of July and August, at the time of going to press. As the main school holidays approach, prices are likely to change quickly. Some holiday prices come down, but most are likely to increase in price - and, of course, some will soon sell out
Pori Jazz, Finland 6-24 July
Celebrating its 40th anniversary, this features talent ranging from jazz veterans to up-and-coming artists. Venues include an open-air arena, clubs and concert halls, and the riverside Jazzstreet provides entertainment around the clock. 00 358 2 6262 200; www.porijazz.fi
Galway Arts Festival Until 24 July
100,000 people are expected to converge on Ireland's west coast for debates, comedy, theatre, dance, music and street events. 00 353 91 566 577; www.galwayartsfestival.com
Avignon, France Until 27 July
With at least one premiere every day, this is one of France's top arts events. This year's guest curator is the Belgian artist and playwright Jan Fabre. The fringe festival runs until 30 July. 00 33 4 9027 6650; www.festival-avignon.com
Benicassim, Spain 4-7 August
This small town on the Costa Azahar is home to the famously multi-cultural International Festival. It features a variety of music from all over the world as well as a short film festival, theatre and dance performances and fashion shows.
00 34 964 300 962; www.fiberfib.com
Sziget, Hungary 10-17 August
Now 13 years old, and held on Obuda island in the Danube, the Sziget festival ranges from pop, rock, jazz, dance and world music. There are also theatre, art and literary events.
00 36 1 365 1600; www.sziget.hu
Dubrovnik, Croatia Until 25 August
Drama, ballet, opera, concerts and poetry readings are performed at more than 50 venues throughout the city.
00 385 2032 6100; www.dubrovnik-festival.hr
Verona Opera, Italy until 31 August
Five different operas - La Gioconda, Turandot, Nabucco, Aida and La Bohome - will be performed in the magnificent amphitheatre during the annual opera festival.
00 39 045 800 51 51; www.arena.it
Salzburg, Austria 25 July- 31 August
This very large, very expensive and very "cultural" contribution to the festival season is held in Mozart's picturesque hometown of Salzburg. There are 16 venues throughout the city offering visitors a chance to experience high-class opera, drama, classical music, dance and theatre.
Venice International Film Festival, Italy
31 August-10 September
Around 60 films from around the globe will be screened in two weeks on Venice's Lido. The focus this year will be Lasse Hallstrom's production of Casanova starring Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller, although there will also be low-budget and independent features on offer.
00 39 041521 8711; www.labiennale.orgReuse content