Packaged for the quick sell: Holiday operators have slashed their prices and travellers are spoilt for choice. Frank Barrett presents a guide to the best deals

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The Independent Travel
WHEN you go to a fruit and vegetable market half-an-hour before it closes, there are normally plenty of bargains for the asking. If the stall-holder doesn't sell his ripe tomatoes and peaches before he packs up for the day, he will never sell them - so he may as well get what he can for them. He makes an offer you can't refuse.

The same principle applies to the holiday business this week. With the main school holiday period starting today, it's crunch time for the tour operators. If they haven't sold their holidays by now, they never will, so prices have tumbled.

Certainly there are some rotten tomatoes and bruised peaches waiting for buyers - but there are also lots of good quality holidays at absurdly low prices. Don't necessarily buy the cheapest - seek out the holiday that you really want.

If you are looking for the pounds 49 and pounds 59 seat-only fares to Malaga, Palma and the rest, these are the main suppliers: Avro 081-544 1444; Meridian Tours 071-493 4312; Owners Abroad 081-514 4000; Portland 071-388 5111; Thomson 081-200 8733; Unijet 0444 458181.

PICK OF THE BARGAINS

Belle Air Holidays (081-785 3266). Hotel and self-catering holidays in Malta: seven-night self-catering package from Manchester to St Julian's, Malta, pounds 211 per person (based on four sharing).

Belle France (0892 890885). Cycling holidays in the Auvergne, Sologne, Brittany and the Loire: an eight-night self-drive holiday to the Auvergne costs pounds 389 per person including ferry crossing.

Bladon Lines (081-785 2200). Seven-nights' half board at the Beach Hotel Valinco near Propriano in Corsica from pounds 299 to pounds 499 including return flights: weekly watersports packages for windsurfing, waterskiing and sailing available from pounds 35 per person.

CV Travel (071-581 0851). Holidays to Corfu, Majorca, Portugal and southern Tuscany: a villa sleeping seven with a private pool, close to Puerto Pollensa, available for a week for pounds 700.

Cadogan Travel (0703 332661). Hotel holidays in Gibraltar, Spain and Tunisia. Seven-night, bed-and-breakfast holiday to Gibraltar, from Gatwick, from pounds 351 per person including car hire.

Caribbean Connection (0244 341131). Two weeks, room only, at the Buccaneer Bay hotel, Barbados for pounds 669 per person: departures on 10, 17, 24 and 31 August.

Catalan Villas (0823 400 515). Villas and apartments on the Costa Brava: poolside apartment sleeping up to six people at Aiguablava from pounds 525 per week per property.

Citalia (081-686 0677). Seat-only deals to Milan, Naples, Nice, Pisa and Verona: prices from pounds 69 to pounds 189 return.

Dominique's Villas (071-738 8772). Self-catering properties in the Dordogne, Lot and Provence: a house in the Dordogne sleeping six people with private pool reduced from pounds 2,350 to pounds 1,800 for two weeks: price includes short return ferry crossing for a car.

Explore Worldwide (0252 319448). Two weeks' walking in Spain's Sierra Nevada mountains: pounds 480 including return flights from Gatwick and bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

La France des Villages (0449 737664) Some houses with pools available in the Lot valley, also smaller cottages in Burgundy. Several houses in Asturias and Galicia: discounts of between 25 and 30 per cent.

French Country Holidays (071-371 7286). Properties available include an apartment in owner's house in Vezenobres in Provence: price reduced from pounds 455 to pounds 399 per week.

Hartland Holidays (081-905 5252). 23 July, Gatwick to the Algarve, seven nights' self-catering in three-bedroom villa with pool near San Raphael, pounds 379 (six sharing) including car hire; 25 July, Gatwick to Malta, 14 nights' self-catering in St Paul's Bay, pounds 299 four sharing).

Hotels in Spain (071-938 3792). Two-star hotel 15km outside Barcelona with accommodation available during Olympic Games: pounds 46 per person per night including breakfast.

Jetset (061 953 0920). Round trip to Australia via the East: London via Bangkok to Hong Kong, three nights at Wharvey Hotel, Hong Kong to Perth, Sydney to Singapore, three nights at Sea View Hotel, Singapore to London. All flights on Qantas, all transfers included. Price, pounds 1,183.

Just France (0225 446328). French gites: for example, seven nights' self-catering in villa with walled garden near Erdeven in Brittany, pounds 575 including return ferry crossing from Dover to Calais for a car and up to five passengers.

Meon Villas (0730 268411). Properties in France, Corsica, Majorca, Ibiza and the Algarve. A house in the Dordogne sleeping six, for example, costs pounds 589 for a week.

Mundi Color (071-834 3492). Seven nights' half-board at the Hotel Es Port in Majorca's Puerto Soller from pounds 401 per person including return scheduled flights and transfers.

Novotours (0732 780499). 21 July Gatwick to Crete, seven nights' self-catering, pounds 199.

Olympic Holidays (071-359 3500/3511). Pensions and apartments in Greece and Cyprus: for example, a seven-night pension holiday from Gatwick to Corfu from pounds 229 (14 nights pounds 249); Manchester to Crete, seven-night pension holiday, pounds 289.

Panorama Holidays (0273 206531). Holidays to Ibiza and Tunisia: seven night half-board packages to Tunisia from pounds 185.

Passage to South America (071-602 9889). Thirteen-night package to Brazil for pounds 935 including bed-and-breakfast accommodation in a five-star hotel in Olinda near Recife.

Portland Holidays (071-388 5111). 21 July Gatwick or Luton to Ibiza, 14 nights' half-board, pounds 249.

Sandpiper (0932 868658). Self-drive camping holidays in west France: 14 nights in Carnac for two adults and three children for pounds 499 including return ferry crossing for car and passengers.

Simply Travel (081-995 3883). Holidays to Crete, Turkey and Corsica: seven- night self-catering packages to Crete, for example, start at pounds 219.

Something Special (0992 552231). Holidays to the Algarve, Corfu and the Costa Blanca: a three-bedroom villa in the Algarve sleeping six costs from pounds 295 per person (based on six sharing) including free car hire and return air travel.

Spanish Harbour Holidays (0272 373759). Self-catering properties - apartments and villas with pools - on the Costa Brava in the Aiguablava, Begur and Palafrugell area. Apartments sleeping from four to eight people from pounds 250 per week; villas with pool sleeping eight people from pounds 800 per week.

Starvillas (0223 311990). 'Huge' peak season discounts on villa and apartment holidays to the Costa Brava, Costa Blanca, Menorca, the Algarve and Greek islands. A villa on the Algarve sleeping eight is now available for pounds 372 per person for 14 nights, including return flight from Gatwick, a saving of pounds 73 per person on the normal price.

Sunspot (071-378 8111). Holidays to Malta, Gozo and Tunisia: a seven-night half-board holiday from Bristol to Malta with accommodation at the Cartwheel hotel in St Paul's Bay costs pounds 299 - children under 12 travel free of charge.

Sunvil Holidays (081-568 4499). Holidays to Cyprus, Skiathos, Andros, West Crete, Lemnos, Parga and Corfu: self-catering village houses in Paphos area of Cyprus for two weeks, pounds 489 per person (based on four sharing) including car hire.

Sunvista Holidays (0985 217373). Self-catering properties in France: for example, a bungalow at Locmariaquer in southern Brittany sleeping up to eight people is available for pounds 660, a saving of pounds 200 on the brochure price.

Trailfinders (071-937 5400). Return flights from Gatwick to Miami until 30 September, pounds 385; until 15 September, Manchester to Toronto, pounds 305.

Travelscene (081-427 4445). Weekend break packages available to Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Florence, Vienna, Rome, Bruges and Euro Disney: two-night flight inclusive packages to Paris from Gatwick, for example, from pounds 109, four-night packages to Venice from Manchester from pounds 269.

Any weekend in July or August Gatwick to Paris, two nights' bed and breakfast in a suite at the George V, pounds 454 including taxi transfer, Saturday evening dinner served in the suite, entrance to Paris museums and a bateau mouche day Seine cruise.

Turkish Delight (081-891 5901). Packages from Gatwick, Manchester and Bristol to Kalkan, Patara, Turunc, Gumusluk, Kadikalesi and Kas: seven nights' bed and breakfast to the Pension Melisa in Kas costs pounds 274 (14 nights, pounds 309).

Twickers World (081-892 7606). Whale watching in Scotland, safaris in Iceland, Greenland, Costa Rica, Galapagos, Egypt and the Red Sea, and Eilat. A seven-night bed-and-breakfast package to the Luxor Hilton costs pounds 339.

Ultimate Holidays (0279 755527). 6 August Gatwick or Manchester to Orlando, seven nights, room only, pounds 399 including car hire (price based on four sharing).

Unijet (0444 451515). Self-catering packages to Tenerife and Crete: a seven- night package to Los Cristianos, Tenerife costs from pounds 265 with flights from Stansted, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester or Leeds/Bradford.

WST Charters (071-938 4362). Seven-night packages to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem from pounds 315.

Meanwhile, back home in the UK . . .

If you prefer to stay nearer home this summer, the main self-catering specialists all report availability - even normally heavily booked properties such as those owned by the Landmark Trust (0628 825925) and National Trust Holiday Cottages (Cornwall office 0208 73880) have vacancies for August. English Country Cottages (0328 851155) which has more than 2,000 cottages and houses throughout England, has widespread availability and is offering discounts for places available through late cancellation.

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