The trip of a daytime

No time to take a holiday? Can't afford to get away? Gve us a break - all it takes is 24 hours and £100. Our intrepid travellers show you how it can be done in five different ways

It began just like a proper holiday, with the word "cancelled", in bellicose red letters, flashing across the Stansted airport departure screens. And just because I and 100-odd other customers had only coughed up as little as £1.98 (plus £24.40 taxes) for our return trip to Frankfurt-Hahn, that didn't mean we were going to behave graciously as Ryanair's ground staff hunted for spaces on other flights. When the airport you're being flown into is 110km from the city it has the audacity to append to its name, a two-hour delay matters.

Frankfurt by air

Matthew Sweet takes a flying visit

It began just like a proper holiday, with the word "cancelled", in bellicose red letters, flashing across the Stansted airport departure screens. And just because I and 100-odd other customers had only coughed up as little as £1.98 (plus £24.40 taxes) for our return trip to Frankfurt-Hahn, that didn't mean we were going to behave graciously as Ryanair's ground staff hunted for spaces on other flights. When the airport you're being flown into is 110km from the city it has the audacity to append to its name, a two-hour delay matters.

Fortunately, when I finally landed, the coach-ride into town took me to within spitting distance of my accommodation: the Stay and Learn Residence, a well-scrubbed hostel above World of Sex, an upscale dildo boutique with a night-patrol of matronly tarts in Walmart mink. A bed in a five-person dorm costs under £15. Bring along four friends, and you eliminate the possibility of sleeping next to a peripatetic cleaver-murderer.

At the heart of Frankfurt's old town – a stretch of buildings lovingly faked to replace the medieval ones flattened by Allied bombing – is the Schirn Art Hall, where I began my holiday proper with a visit to Frankfurt's current hot draw: Drawing with Scissors, a major exhibition of Henri Matisse's cut-outs (until 2 March). La Perruche et la Sirene, his picture-book, Jazz, and the blue nudes are here, bright and fresh and utterly unspoilt by the thousand duff reproductions you've seen on birthday cards. I traded in the possibility of a restaurant dinner to buy the catalogue, but a substitute meal from three of the city's stand-up cafés – a glass of Glüwein, a rollmop herring sandwich and a chocolate pretzel the size of a sleeping boa constrictor, for under a fiver, persuaded me that I'd done the right thing.

Behind a glass door on Kleine Bockenheimerstrasse that looks like the entrance to a minor secretarial college is Der Jazzkeller, a celebrated dive run by a voluptuous 50-something with a severe black bun and a predilection for giving her customers a friendly squeeze on her way through the room. I took my place at the bar and ordered something frothy and unexpectedly potent, and by the time the proprietress had joined the band on the stage to belt out her brassy rendition of "Georgia on My Mind", I was nodding away like one of the Muppets. (The alcohol came in useful at 4am, when a new arrival crashed into the dorm and made a fair attempt to play "There's No Business Like Show Business" on the billy-cans in his rucksack.)

The next morning gave me three hours in town before the bus back to the airport departed, which were nicely filled by a breakfast of cappuccino and cakes at Wacker – one of those coffee-houses in which old men argue about things in the papers, which, because you can't understand what they're saying, sound thrillingly well-informed – and a stroll over to the south bank of the River Main to see an exhibition of doorhandles at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (free on Wednesdays). Gazing upon the fine curve of one example by Ludwig Wittgenstein would have made the perfect end to the holiday, had not the Ryanair mozzarella sandwich on the plane home probably been responsible for a less pleasant finale. Four hours later, in the comfort of my own house, the completeness of the experience was the only consolation for concluding my holiday with my elbows resting on the toilet bowl, and the contents of my stomach sluicing past my teeth.

Flight London Stansted to Frankfurt-Hahn, £26.38 return, Bus Frankfurt-Hahn to Frankfurt, £14.30 return Accommodation £14.95 Matisse exhibition £4.55, Matisse catalogue £15.60 Lunch £3.90 Jazz club admission £2.60 Beers £3.90 Breakfast £2.60 Entry to architecture museum £5.20 Water £1.95 Ryanair sandwich £3.50 Total £99.43

Electric Brae by car

Rose George has a moving experience

We produce poets, in these small isles, who can talk lyrically of our hills and dales, our peaks and glens. But they rarely bother with the roads that get us there. Italians have a Highway of the Sun, but the letters and numbers differentiating our driving arteries are softened only by the occasional colour of motorway service-station names, like Tibshelf (a cupboard for dormice), or Watford Gap, being neither in Watford nor a gap. So it's with pleasure that I arrive in a corner of south Ayrshire, after a five-hour drive from Leeds, to a small stretch of road with a name worth remembering. Heck, there's even a novel named after it. For this quarter-mile stretch, nine miles south of Ayr, overlooking the Firth of Forth, is Electric Brae. Brae meaning "hill" in these Scottish parts, and electric because it is. Or so people could only conclude, when they stopped their cars here and proceeded to roll uphill, as if by magic.

It seems an unprepossessing road. Tarmac, two lanes, normal. Except for the signs at either end warning of "stationary cars". No kidding: I turn the corner to find a large Asian family from Glasgow and the Midlands, in a three-strong convoy of BMWs, busily reversing up the hill to a blind corner, turning off the engine and rolling uphill, to a chorus of delighted exclamations. I am grumpy and cynical – especially after hours of Radio 1 – but this looks like fun, so I roll up and down three times, only stopping eventually to read the milestone in a little parking space, which reveals the electric truth. "Whilst there is a slope of one in 86 upwards from the bend [at Craigencroy Glen]," it illuminates, "the configuration of the land on either side of the road provides an optical illusion, making it look as if the slope is going the other way."

In olden days, it was thought that the brae contained some magnetic force, dragging cars – and any other object, as a bottle-wielding Brummie demonstrates – uphill. There isn't; but nor is there any apparent means of confounding the illusion: in a car, kneeling on the ground, lying on the Tarmac – I'd swear this road goes up, though I know it's going down. Nature is confounding my brain. Big questions – how my mind works, how the Earth works – go through my head. And all I had to do was take off the handbrake.

These days, says the lady in Ayr's tourist office, the conundrum that is the brae gets at least three enquiries a day in low season. It's enough to turn it into a continual traffic blackspot, though there is refreshingly little horn-beeping, and locals seem accustomed to zigzagging through electric tourists, stationed on each side of the road, in a gathering of flashing hazard lights.

Even so, perhaps these electric tourists should branch out a little. To Magnetic Hill on the Isle of Man, which has the same uphill effect, though locals swear it's "the little people" doing the pushing. (They're not to be underestimated: in Iceland, roads are built around boulders, so as not to disturb them unduly.) Florida has a Spook Hill, while Oregon a Vortex. But only Brazil's contribution can compete with Electric Brae in both the power of its illusion and the poetry of its name: Peanuts Street in Belo Horizonte, according to the Fortean Times, gets its name because Brazilians think that peanuts are aphrodisiacs. It's simple logic: both the road and the nuts make things rise. And not even the A719 can compete with that.

Petrol Ford Ka 1.3 litre, three tanks at £19.31, £21.50 and £20 Food and drink £17 Entrance to Electric Brae Free Accommodation (if staying overnight) The tourist office recommends Dunduff House, a country house B&B with a 650-acre estate. Open Jan-Nov, £35 for a single, £25pp for a double. Contact Mrs A Gemmell, tel: 01292 500 225,; for other options, visit Total £77.81 (without an overnight stay)

Reims by train

Christian Broughton's got a lot of bottle

There are no windows – except a skylight, which can't be opened as it's behind security bars – and the air is heavy with dust. There's a sink in the corner, but no toilet or shower. And the bed? Well, at least the sheets look clean. No, this is not the Crillon but the Hôtel D'Alsace, just across from Gare de l'Est. If you want to know how cheaply you can find a room in Paris, this is it: under £15 for a single room in a hotel above a sex shop.

Ordinarily, this kind of accommodation would be cause for considerable concern, but I'm not planning on hanging around. It's a little after 2.30pm, I've just arrived on the 10.23am Eurostar from Waterloo, and my next train (which leaves Gare de l'Est in 45 minutes) will take me to Reims for the evening. Then I'll be back here for a few hours' sleep before catching an early Eurostar to London. And, Reims being the home of champagne, I'll get a taste of luxury somewhere along the line.

Sadly, the line in question is not part of the high-speed TGV network, but the Reims train is not bad at all. Compared with the Eurostar, it's older and slower – the 260-ish miles from London to Paris take less than three hours, the extra 80 to Reims take an hour and a half. But the service is uncannily punctual, the seats bigger, the carriage emptier and the passengers quieter. All of which is perfect for watching the city fizzle out to be replaced by the dusky view across the hills of the world's most famous wine region.

Hold on, those hills are rolling beautifully, but I want to see vineyards. And I can't. So when, at Epernay, 25 minutes from Reims, I see the word MERCIER on the side of the label's headquarters, I finally feel I'm getting close. Given a little more time, the small town's big-name maisons, including Moët et Chandon, would have made for a pleasant stroll – and SNCF tickets let you break your journey. But when I get to Reims, I'm glad I didn't stop. It's a little before 5pm and I'd expected all the champagne houses to have finished the day's tasting tours. But one is still open, though, sadly, it's not Veuve Clicquot, Tattinger, Krugg or Lanson. It's Maxim's, where the famous Paris restaurant makes its house bubbly. Still, the tour covers the cellars, which were a chalk quarry in the second century; a video which, judging from the haircuts, also dates back some years; and a few glasses of fine fizz.

At 8.20pm, I take the last train back to Paris. From my £100, I have about £1 left. Which means I can take the Metro to the Seine, go for a stroll, and get the last (free) Metro back to the hotel. That sixth-floor room-with-no-view will feel better once I've cracked open the bottle of Veuve I picked up with my own money in Reims. But mostly I could do with rest. It's not so much the 7.16am departure that bothers me, it's having to contend with the Tube in the morning, when I'll no doubt be feeling less than bubbly. *

Total train fare £85 from Rail Europe, tel: 08705 848 848 Accommodation £14, Hôtel D'Alsace, tel: 00 33 1 40 37 75 41 Champagne tour £3 Metro £1 Total £103 (Oops)

Isle of Wright by boat

Johnny Davis hits the winter sails

"Holiday for £100?" said the editor. "Great," I said – and manfully plumped for the "boat" option. How hard can it be to go somewhere exciting on a boat? After all, we live on an island. Hmm. I'd forgotten that we live on an island surrounded by winter seas and out-of-season tourist spots. There were already severe flood warnings. Then it snowed.

So, I can't tell you about Alderney, Sark, Herm, Lundy, Steepholm, Flatholm, or Holy Island. They were closed for winter. I can tell you what it's like to go on a day trip to the Isle of Wight. The Isle of Wight was holiday home to Queen Victoria, it's where Jimi Hendrix set fire to his guitar for the last time and it hosts the annual Cowes Regatta. You can't argue with diversity of culture like that.

My travelling companion, Alice, and I headed for Lymington in Hampshire, enjoying a scenic ride through the New Forest on the way. May I recommend local station Ocean FM as good road music. Once the car was on-board, we opted to sit out on deck. Even the ferry staff weren't fool enough for that.

Docking at Yarmouth we were so dizzy with the attractions on offer – Dinosaur Island, Flamingo Park, steam train, Isle of Wight Extreme Sports and Waxwork Museum – that we drove blindly off into the island, got lost and finally had to pull over, calm down and forge some sort of plan. We headed for Needles Park, Alum Bay, as it seemed to meet all our tourist needs: creepy military installation and clifftop walks for Alice, funfair and souvenir shop for me. We went on the chairlift from the clifftop to the beach. A group of pre-teens behind us were swinging their chair in an attempt to make it go faster. It was terrifying. But it did give us the opportunity to admire the island's unusual rock strata.

Next, we headed up to the Old Battery, a fort constructed in 1862 as a defence against French invasion. It was deserted and looked like it was straight out of Dr Who. The only life was in the café, which sold an authentic 1940s pie, made from rationed foodstuffs.

We went down to the lookout point, only reachable by a claustrophobia-inducing, badly lit tunnel. We watched the foam crash on the rocks from the lookout post. You could see the Needles down below. We could have been the only people left alive in the world. Then we thought that maybe we were. We'd been locked in. Eventually, someone came and let us out.

We picked up the car and drove into Yarmouth, where we mooched around. We then walked down the boardwalk. The sun finally outweighed the wind and we sat at the end of the pier. It was kind of how you imagine you'll be when you're retired.

There are four pubs in Yarmouth. We opted for The Bugle, which made a big deal about serving local fish. Fortified by bracing British air, good food and more exercise than is right for a holiday, we headed back to the ferry. Travelling by sea in the British winter is a very, very cold thing to do. Thank heavens for Ocean FM.

Ferry £43.50 for car plus passengers, Snack £3.50 Chairlift £2 Old Battery admission £3 Snack £2.25 Evening meal at The Bugle £13 Total £67.25 (£91 for two)

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