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We wouldn’t normally come over to our flat in Calpe, Spain in January. But we’re here – and we’re surprised at how nice it is even though it’s the least popular time for tourists.
Why now? We have some late winter let tenants arriving in February and there have been a couple of jobs to attend to before we hand the apartment over to them. The jobs are almost finished and we’ve been making the most of being here.
Here are ten things that have pleased us:
*In the valleys and mountains behind the coast the almond trees are in blossom and they look really pretty. The blossom is a frothy pink colour.
*The sunsets across Calpe Bay have been stunning. They match – outdo! – sunsets across the Nile at this time of year.
*The gulls are standing by their nests on the Peñon, the craggy, scrub-covered rock (300 metres high) that towers out of the sea just behind the apartment. I deduce that the females have already produced their eggs among the rocks and the males are standing guard.
*There are very few tourists! It’s peaceful and quiet at this time of year.
*You get excellent service in restaurants – they are really glad to see you.
*The sun shines every day. In a sheltered spot, the sun is quite hot. If you want one, you can get a tan.
*There is never frosty weather here. A cold day is ten degrees warmer than a cold day
*You can go for lots of walks because you can’t use the hot weather as an excuse not to. The sunshine, plus cool breezes, mean it’s perfect walking weather.
*There are lots of bargains to be had in the shops, with genuine reductions of up to 50 per cent.
*You can explore Valencia, an easy trip from Calpe, or go further afield to somewhere like Granada – at this time of year overnight accommodation is cheap.
I have just written a piece for the next Holiday Villas magazine about how to really get one of those ‘free’ trips advertised by Ryanair. Here’s the gist of it:
Firstly, you need to get yourself a Visa Electron debit card. Then, you book and check in on line using this card. If you use any other debit card or credit card they will charge a £4 booking fee for each person checked in. If you use the Electron card, it really is free (sorry if this sounds like a puff for Electron cards. I don’t get commission!) If you put in the card details, the ‘cost’ will come up as £0.00!
OK. You’ve got the card from your bank. Are there any other snags you need to know about before you start the booking process? Well, yes, there is a problem but it’s not too weighty. Quite light, actually. If you check in on line to get your free flight, you are only allowed to take hand luggage with you – that’s just 10kg in a holdall or cabin trolley bag.
Can you travel that light? You probably can, though most people think they can’t. Remember that your villa or apartment will be equipped with a washing machine, towels, probably a hairdrier and possibly, toiletries. Books are often available, too (there are plenty in the flat I rent out, from Danielle Steele to Ian McEwan and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, plus DVDs and even Scrabble, if you get really desperate).
If you pack enough clothes for three or four days, it should be possible to wash and re-wear them without a problem all holiday. If you’re mad on clothes and like variety this will be a nuisance. But just remember that all those people who go off on gap year trips travel light, and they don’t have a terrible time because they happen to be wearing the same clothes a lot.
For the beach and pool you don’t need much: swimwear, shorts/sarongs, a top or two and light sandals or pumps. Then you need a sightseeing/day-out outfit or two, and a couple of evening things. If you intend to go walking, wear trainers or walking boots during the journey, or the first bit of it at least. Wear your heavier layers for travelling. Tie extra things – jumpers, shirts – around your waist. Put on all the jewellery you’re taking. You may look a bit, well, ridiculous but does that matter? There are no laws against it and you are beating the system. Anyway, once you’re through security you can stick them in your bag which should be expandable for this very reason.
Furthermore, if the villa or apartment does not provide books, you can buy them – after the security checks. You might have to leave them behind but remember, you’re still saving money.
How much money? If you take a suitcase, you won’t be able to check in on line and, apart from all the nuisance of the check in queue, you will have to pay £6 for your suitcase each way. And then they will clobber you for a £6 each way booking fee. So that free trip will then cost you, actually, £28 – £56 for two of you, rather than £0.00 with an electron card and a squashable cabin bag each.
Final tip: take your own food. In-flight grub, as I’m sure you all know, is a ridiculous price (though, unfortunately, you can’t take your own drinks but have to buy them after security at the airport or on board).
Della and her team in Bath are reporting buoyant feedback from villa and apartment owners booking space in Holiday Villas magazine and on www.villaseek.com. Bookings are looking good, despite – or perhaps because of – the financial downturn.
Many people seem to be turning their backs on expensive cruises, five star hotels and the like – too expensive in a recession. But in general they’re not abandoning their main holiday (as a report out today by PricewaterhouseCoopers makes clear). Instead they’re after better value – and flexibility. They are turning to villas and apartment.
Owners say they’re receiving more enquiries and, more importantly, firm bookings. And we’re upbeat, too, because we’ve always said that booking your holiday direct with the owner is the best way to get a fantastic holiday home at a brilliant price. There is no middle man to take a cut and you get to speak to the owners direct, which means more flexibility with dates and price. Sometimes an owner can fit a booking around a non weekend arrival – when cheap flights are more plentiful.
Also, increasingly, people are asking about things like washing machines, hair driers, books and toiletries. Well equipped villas and apartments can lead travellers to decide to take hand luggage only – because it’s checking in a suitcase that bumps up the cost of flying. Many owners will do their best to get in provisions like coffee and tea bags and even shampoo and soap so that their visitors can travel light.
Most of us are more savvy now about how to make sure the cheap flights advertised actually are cheap: no frills flights are at their cheapest – even free – if you check in on line and take only hand luggage.
We’ll be writing more about how to get the cheapest flights very soon.
*The survey for PricewaterhouseCoopers was carried out by ICM Research. For more information go to www.pwc.com
Here is a piece I have written for the Update pages of the next Holiday Villas magazine (to be published Oct 24). As many of you are concerned about the possible future collapse of more airlines, I thought it would be helpful to post it here now:
When you book your next villa or apartment holiday, make sure you choose your travel insurance carefully, tourism experts have advised, after the collapse of airline and charter company XL Leisure.
Many independent travellers who booked flights with XL discovered, too late, that their insurance policy did not cover airline failure. In some cases they had to dig deep to pay for expensive return tickets with other airlines at the end of their holidays.
If you book accommodation through Holiday Villas or www.villaseek.com, and then fix up your flight separately, we advise you to get cover for possible airline collapse.
Only a small number of companies offer this, although more are starting to do so. They include: the Post Office; Swiftcover; Karma Insurance, and International Passenger Protection Ltd (IPP). You may also be able to get an add-on policy through your existing insurer – it’s worth asking. Or, for about £4 internet insurer InsureFor offers a standalone policy for supplier failure to add on to an existing insurance you have with any other company.
If you pay for your flights by credit card you have some protection, though a refund will only kick in if your flight cost more than £100. Incidental costs will not be paid but the company should pick up the bill for getting you back to Britain.
Useful websites are: protectmyholiday.com; postoffice.co.uk; swiftcover.com; insurefor.com. Or you can find a list of travel insurance providers on the travel services page of villaseek.com.
Despite financial doom and gloom, it seems we’re still making sure we go on holiday. Hurrah! Good for the health; good for the soul.
Nick Ball, editor of a popular guide to Lanzarote, tells us that in the first half of this year, his particular Canary Island – he’s lived there six years – experienced a bumper increase in British visitors.
Nick tells us: “According to research recently released by AENA, the Spanish airport authority, tourist visits from the UK have, in fact, increased by a whopping 15.6% during the first half of this year, in comparison with the same period in 2007.
“The island received 509,755 British guests up until the end of this June (2008).
“Irish visitor numbers have increased, too – with 123,047 tourists from Eire travelling to Lanzarote over the same period.
“This is a rise of 5.4% on 2007 figures – and an indication of the island’s incredible popularity in the Republic – Lanzarote attracts more Irish visitors annually than any other destination in Spain.
“Other key markets, such as the Netherlands, Austria, Norway and Sweden, have also helped contribute to an overall increase in foreign visitor numbers of 5.6% during the first half of 2008. Germany is the only major market returning negative figures – down 13% to date on 2007.
“The Canary Island Tourist Board has also recently reported that the number of Spanish nationals visiting Lanzarote is on the rise, too – it’s gone up 3.7% during the first half of 2008.
“Collectively, these figures represent the best first half year performance that Lanzarote has enjoyed for many years – a trend which, if continued, will see the island break the one million British visitors barrier for the first time since 2003.”
You can find out more about the guide by going to: www.lanzaroteguidebook.com
Theoretically, the weather in the UK is at its best in July and August, which is why many people not tied by school holidays choose to go away at the end of the summer, in September and even October. There are big advantages to going away at this time – you don’t need me to tell you, but I will anyway: villas and apartments are cheaper after the peak summer season; the weather is more pleasant – you can actually go for walks and not be uncomfortably hot; the sea is at its warmest; and there are fewer people around, particularly little people.
If you decide to take an end of summer break, well here is a taster of some of the cultural events on offer in popular villa holiday spots:
29 Sept-5 Oct
This year’s Biarritz Festival is dedicated to Latin America. There’s a week of exhibitions, concerts and workshops as well as the film competition, in which respected directors hope for festival prizes.
Every month (but more pleasant when not during the heat of the summer)
OLD BOOK MARKET
On the first Sunday of each month, you can browse through old and rare books at the Place de l’Hotel de Ville. Birthplace of Emile Zola, the town has great charm and a strong literary tradition.
INTERNATIONAL GUITAR FESTIVAL
Guitar playing in all its guises at venues all over town. The festival features guitarists from around the world including Australia, Venezuela and the USA.
10 Sep-11 Oct
SEVILLE FLAMENCO FESTIVAL
What better place to see flamenco than in its birthplace city? Seville’s 15th biennial flamenco festival features world famous artists – dancers, singers and guitarists – performing all over the city, mainly in theatres, but some in the open-air.
Sant Sadurní d’Anoia
Catalunya’s main Cava-producing town celebrates by crowning its Cava Queen; a huge bicycle race; an art exhibition; lots of music and the annual Barcelona train ride: every Oct 12th, 1000 people from Barcelona board the Cava train, are met by carnival characters and treated to a tour of cellars, lunch and entertainment.
Abbadia San Salvatore
Local cooks compete to create the best Tuscan meals in the main square of this medieval town. If you’re lucky you get to sample some of the dishes, all based on local ingredients. The two day festival also features dancing and live music, arts and crafts exhibitions and antique stalls.
2nd week, Oct
San Giovanni Ilarione
The scent of chestnuts roasting permeates the air at this festival. The chestnuts are de-shelled in the main square where there is live music and parades.
INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL
Croatia International Music Festival features contemporary Croatian music from soloists, ensembles and guest musicians in various venues.
TASTE OF BARBADOS
Sample Barbadian dishes at venues all around the island during the Taste of Barbados Food Festival. There will be talks, tours of rum factories and sugar plantations and farmers’ markets amidst a party atmosphere.
ORLANDO BEER FESTIVAL
Orlando’s Universal CityWalk turns into one massive celebration of beer for one weekend in November. During the 8th Orlando beer festival, more than 150 beers will be featured. Plenty of food, live music and entertainment, too.
NATIVE AMERICAN CELEBRATION
This annual festival celebrates Native American Culture with dance performances, food and live entertainment, including various educational events put on by the White Buffalo Society.
Here’s an item I’ve used in the Update pages of the next issue of Holiday Villas, in the shops at the end of the month, and in the on-line magazine which should appear on Villaseek.com at around the same time: read it and it may just save you a few headaches when you’re travelling abroad!
Credit card crime committed using British-issued cards abroad shot up by 77 per cent last year. A staggering £207.6 million were stolen, says Apacs, the organisation representing debit and credit card companies.
Apacs advises us never to let our cards out of sight, as they could be ‘skimmed’ – that’s when a receptionist, or similar, swipes a card twice. The first swipe is to record the actual payment, the second is to record information from the magnetic strip. This latter is all a crook needs to make a counterfeit card. Though a false card will not contain a microchip, making it no good for chip-and-pin purchases, it could be used in places relying on signatures only and on-line, says Apacs.
Also watch out for: •An extra 0 added to a payment slip – altering, say, a €50 purchase to €500 •Double-charging – if a vendor says he or she has made a mistake and asks you to sign another slip, make sure you get proof of cancellation of the first payment •Any offers to convert your money into sterling at the time of purchase – not illegal but expensive.
Fortunately, card companies block payments if their systems suspect fraud. Their computers know, for instance, what you regularly spend and where you spend it, so if there’s a £500 payment made in a foreign country, you will be warned. This is great – unless you’re actually in the foreign country. If this is the case, your card could be blocked when you need it most.
To prevent this happening, especially if you don’t travel a lot, it’s best to let your card company know which country you are visiting and when. Also: take more than one card with you, as then you’ll have a backup.
I think it’s very clever the way Tom K has put Holiday Villas magazine on-line. It’s a pity that it’s tucked away in a blog entry (June 4th) but I believe it’s shortly to be made much more visible when Tom and Jason complete a new Villaseek front page.
I suppose the question arises: why print a magazine if you can read it on-line? Well, there are lots of reasons: for a start, there are still people who do not use the Internet. I know several elderly people who love to go on villa holidays but who have no idea what a URL is, and they’re really too old to learn. The phone has served them well up till now, so why change? they say. Then, there’s the scenario of being curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine or, indeed, a cup of cocoa with a magazine full of fantastic sounding places to go. Yes, using the laptop on the sofa is almost as good but not quite and most people (I assume anyway – are there any figures?) have desktop computers rather than laptops. I’ve spoken to lots of people who love the magazine and a few people who now only book their villa holidays on-line. So I think we’ve got all angles covered. Well done, Tom. When will the new Villaseek front page be ready?