October half-term is imminent but, as ever, the edge-of-the-seat anticipation of time off will be tempered by the presence of bloated holiday prices and fully booked flights. With travel companies such as Tui reporting that half-term holiday availability is “very limited” this year, securing a last-minute getaway is looking a little tricky – especially in destinations such as Turkey, the Canary Islands, the Balearics and mainland Spain, which Jet2holidays says are all in demand.
But look beyond the big half-term headliners and there are not just bookings, but bargains to be had…
The west coast of Ireland
Castles, abbeys, friaries, rugged beaches and some of the UK’s most eye-widening coastal scenery await visitors on the west coast of Ireland, and the 1,600-mile ribbon of coastal road known as the Wild Atlantic Way.
For less clement days, there is a long list of museums, from Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum and Irish Coffee Centre to Bunratty Folk Park, with its 26-acre recreated 19th-century village.
Direct flights from Stansted to Shannon are available from £105 with Ryanair in the next fortnight – providing a springboard for Co Clare, Limerick and Galway’s stunning Connemara coast – and B&B accommodation is on offer for less than £100 a night.
At Myles Creek Bar & Restaurant, in Kilkee, Co Clare, double rooms start at £52, including breakfast, while at Geoghegan’s Magpie Bar and B&B in Glin, Limerick, doubles are priced from £77 a night.
Alternatively, Irish Ferries offers no-fly trips to west Ireland, such as a family break to Moore Bay Holiday Homes, set on the Blue Flag beach of Kilkee, for up to five people, including return car ferry travel, from £18 per person per night.
For more: thewildatlanticway.com
The Italian Lakes
The word affordable and the Italian Lakes don’t always go hand in hand, but flights from Heathrow and Stansted to nearby Milan are available for less than £200 with both Ryanair and British Airways during half-term.
On Lake Garda, Loveholidays is offering a seven-night stay at the waterside Hotel Smeraldo in Sirmione, from £395 per person, including Ryanair flights from Manchester.
On Lake Maggiore, four nights at the Hotel Ristorante La Perla costs from £289pp, based on two adults and two children, with lastminute.com, departing from Gatwick on 22 October.
For travellers who want to experience something a little different, there are the lesser-known Italian lakes of Varese, Orta, Iseo and Idro. Between them, they flaunt Liberty-style villas, lakeside gardens and walking trails that lead through ancient woodlands and up to sites such as the Sacro Monte di Varese, which is one of nine 16th- and 17th-century religious structures that make up the Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy Unesco World Heritage site. Family accommodation on these under-the-radar lakes is available for as little as £412 for the week during half-term through booking.com.
For more: italia.it/en
Some travellers may feel cautious about visiting Morocco following the 8 September earthquake, but most of the country was unaffected and is still perfectly safe to visit, while local economies that rely on tourism are keen to see holidaymakers return.
Marrakech, with its spice and smoke-scented medina – which was partially affected by the disaster – is open for business and offers extraordinary value for money. A family meal among the snake charmers and henna artists of the Jemaa el-Fnaa main square market can cost as little as £3 per person.
Even luxury costs less in this rose-tinted city. The new, family-friendly boutique riad Izza, in Marrakech medina, has rooms from £140 a night including breakfast, transfers and a 45-minute massage in the hotel’s spa and hammam (neon.com/property/izza).
Beyond Marrakech lie the beach resorts of Essaouira and Agadir and the blue-hued village of Chefchaouen, all easily accessed from Marrakech airport (flights are available from £221 during half-term). A four night-stay at the five-star Atlas Essaouira costs from £489 per person, based on two adults and two children, including flights from Gatwick on 22 October via lastminute.com.
Alternatively, The Adventure People tour company is offering an eight-day Morocco Family Holiday trip, which travels round-trip from Marrakech, visiting Aroumd, Taroudant and Essaouira and including a stay at a traditional Berber home, from £406pp based on a 22 October departure, not including flights.
For more: visitmorocco.com/en
Athens and islands
Direct flights to popular Greek islands such as Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu, Zakynthos and Crete are hovering around the £500 mark during half-term. For those who have their hearts set on Greece, Athens is a more pocket-friendly alternative, where flights can be had for less than £200 in the last week of October and even less the following week.
In addition to seeing the Acropolis, visitors can explore the 16-hectare National Gardens and vast Ellinikon urban regeneration project, experience the sensory overload of the Central Market, and travel out to Sounion, on the south tip of the Attica Peninsula, to see the fifth-century Temple of Poseidon silhouetted against the backdrop of the Myrtoan Sea, via the gorgeous beach resorts of the Athens Riviera.
From the Athenian ports of Piraeus and Rafina, ferries also take passengers to the islands for as little as £50 return. Nearby options include Hydra, Spetses, Poros and Aegina.
Ionian Island Holidays is also offering some great-value deals to some of the lesser-known Greek islands, such as Lefkada (often called the “Caribbean of Greece”), and Paxos, which is one of the least commercial Greek islands.
A seven-night stay at the Rouda Village Apartments, which overlooks the beach at Mikros Gialos on Lefkada, costs £626pp, including flights and seven-day car hire, departing 22 October. On Paxos, a seven-night stay at the two-bedroom Villa Galeta near the beach of Kloni Gouli, is available for £622pp, including flights and car hire, also departing 22 October.
For more: visitgreece.gr
With direct flights from Stansted to Gothenburg starting at £99 at the end of the month, the south-western coast of Sweden is a good choice for a budget-friendly break.
Highlights of Gothenburg include the sprawling Botanical Garden, the 40-plus ride Liseberg theme park, and the historic Haga district with its timber houses, cobbled streets and fika (coffee and cake) spots.
Saltholmen ferry port is the springboard to the 20-plus islands of the Gothenburg archipelago, where days are filled with trail-walking, sea-kayaking and breezy beach walks.
October is peak lobster and crayfish season here and visitors can either tuck in to seafood specials in the many restaurants or head out on an organised seafood safari boat trip.
On the car-free island of Vrångö, double rooms are available at the sea-view, boathouse-style Kajkanten from £98 a night, kajkantenvrango.se.
For a long weekend, the harbourside Isbolaget hotel, on Donsö island, has rooms from £126, isbolaget.com.
For more: goteborg.com/en
Šibenik may be less well known than the likes of Dubrovnik and Split, but this red-roofed Adriatic city is just as worth a visit – plus, Tui reports that availability is reasonably good during half-term.
Having taken more than a century to build, Šibenik’s 15th-century Cathedral of St James is protected as a Unesco World Heritage Site, and elsewhere the city has a hilltop castle and a thriving gastronomic scene that includes the Michelin-starred restaurant Pelegrini.
The city is also the gateway to the Kornati Islands, an archipelago of more than 140 unpopulated islands that freckle 114 square miles of the Adriatic Sea, lending themselves to scenic boat trips.
Jet2 Holidays has a week’s self-catering in a one-bedroom apartment at the coastal Amadria Park Apartments Šibenik, which overlooks Zlarin island, from £714pp with flights from Manchester on 21 October.
For more: croatia.hr/en-gb
The Canaries might be nearing capacity during half-term, but things are a little quieter – but no less balmy – in this Atlantic Ocean archipelago, some 1,500km south of Tenerife.
This island nation basks in average daily temperatures of 30°C in October and has 10 islands to explore, with Boa Vista and Sal the most geared-up for tourism.
Getaways to Cape Verde tend to revolve around its beaches. In locations such as Santa Maria on Sal and Praia de Chaves and Santa Monica on Boa Vista, the stretches of sand are wedding-dress white and run on for miles at a time.
For families who like to do a bit of exploring, there are island cruises and 4×4 adventures that take in fishing villages, Sal’s salt pans, and the Buracona Lagoon, where a trick of the light makes it look as though a blue eye is staring out of the water.
Tui is reporting reasonable availability in Cape Verde for October half-term. An all-inclusive stay at the Sol Dunas Resort in Sal, with its three pools, waterslides and three restaurants, starts at £1,286pp, based on two adults and two children sharing a one-bedroom family room, with flights departing from Birmingham airport on 21 October.
For more: visit-caboverde.com