Q To stretch my holiday money, should I steer clear of the euro zone this summer?
Geoff Brown, Horsham
A Even though sterling has slumped against the euro in the past five years, the European single currency area isn't chronically expensive. Older readers may remember the peseta, drachma and escudo - respective currencies of Spain, Greece and Portugal. They were relatively cheap locations prior to euro notes and coins going into circulation in 2002, and are still good value.
At restaurants in Greece and Spain over the past year I have seen printed menus with the old prices rubbed out and newer, lower prices pencilled in. The aim is to attract more customers in the short term (from the next-door bar) and the long term (from rival nations). Since devaluation is not an option, the alternative is to cut prices.
I believe the real bargains in the euro zone are to be found at the extremes. Portugal is perennially excellent value - with €5 set lunches, €0.50 cups of coffee and a train ticket for the three-hour journey almost the entire length of the Algarve coast just €10. Oporto, in northern Portugal, is probably the Western European city that is cheaper than any other.
In south-eastern Europe, Greece is also formidable value - a great four-star hotel in the Greek capital or second city, Thessaloniki, can cost as little as €90 a night including a lavish breakfast.
For the very best value, forsake the euro area in favour of the Balkans - Serbia and Bulgaria particularly. My most recent room in central Belgrade cost the equivalent of £7 a night, while the same in central Sofia was £10. If a country uses the Cyrillic alphabet, the chances are you'll be able to live like a tsar.
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