If you're like us, you've just returned from your summer holidays and you're counting down the days to your autumn escape?
For a short and sweet getaway you want direct flights at reasonable times. So here are our top short-haul destinations for the October Bank Holiday that are not London or Paris, and don't involve painful wake-up calls:
Magical Portugal: Lisbon (& Sintra) You'll be happy to know Lisbon stays wonderfully warm until mid-November, so expect to be able to explore the sights in your summer linens. Lisbon is a wonderful city for walking and losing yourself in without feeling overwhelmed, and great value for eating out (as reviewed by our friends in Cara). Don't miss Sintra - Portuguese for castle country and only a short driveaway from Lisbon - and immerse yourself in Portuguese history and amazing architecture; the place is magical.
Belgium: Mussels in Brussels It's known as boring EU HQ, but it's also home to magnificent buildings, fantastic fusion cuisine, the best mussels & chips in the world, mouth-watering chocolate, and the most amazing antiques stores. Oh, and everybody speaks English!
Denmark: Copenhagen Haven A jewel in all senses of the word! Whether you go for the architecture, the culture, the out-of-this-world cuisine, shopping for quirky design pieces, it's just perfect for a weekend getaway. The city centre is fairly walkable, but rent bikes or go on a river cruise - priceless. Not the most budgetty destination, but the people and services are fantastic, and everybody speaks English here, too.
French Fancy: The Loire Valley A stone's throw from Paris, this is countryside fabulousness and has the greatest number of castles per square mile in the world! There is nothing along the Loire that is not pretty. Nothing. The food is proper French fare, but on the lighter side, so you can indulge all you like and the only extra pounds you'll carry on your way back will be inside your suitcase. Go there to explore the beautiful, bountiful French countryside at its best, admire the majestic gardens and - to enjoy peace and quiet over some great wine without the Parisian rudeness.
To get most out of these gorgeous cities, we recommend the pretty New York Times / Taschen European weekend guides. With beautiful illustrations and tips on unique, hidden-away hangouts rather than your run-of-the-mill tourist haunts, these are the guides you want to take with you or download on your iPhone/iPad.
Travel Must-Haves The seasoned explorer travels light and never compromises in style. Here's a selection of accessories that will make your fellow passengers green with envy:
The holdall/weekend bag: we found this lovely one at Arnotts (?95).
The statement scarf - this one from Yumi at House of Fraser (around €17) happens to be travel-themed.
A statement - toiletry bag that will make even airport security smile (Home Candy, around €11).
And an unmistakable luggage tag - Marks & Spencer (?7).
Reading material - maybe pack your Kindle rather than the three big fat books you'll need to leave in the hotel room to make room for the newly-bought gifts and souvenirs?