European Autumn tips

Autumn has arrived in Europe and cheaper holiday deals are opening up during the shoulder season. 

Here are a few suggested European destinations that you should be able to consider without battling the crowds and breaking the bank – especially if you avoid the Euro countries.

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic – a picturesque walled city, with attractions galore and remarkably reasonable prices. The nearest airport is probably Prague and a bus or train trip to Cesky Kromlov takes about three hours.  Attractions that caught our eye included the massive Ceský Krumlov Castle — the biggest in Eastern Europe; the striking church of St. Vitus which can trace its origins back to the 13th century; several museums; and the view from Mount Klet on the city’s fringe. There are plenty of budget hotels.

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Sofia, Bulgaria – regularly rated as Europe’s most affordable capital, Sofia can be a base for visits to the Black Sea. Although more and more people discover the city each year, it is  still known for cheap accommodation, food and public transport; exquisite Ottoman churches, buzzing nightlife; pretty city parks and budget flights from the UK.

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Athens, Greece – it’s amazing that one of the world’s great destinations should remain such a  travel bargain. Like most of Greece, the capital city is eager to attract travellers, especially during the off-season. There is so much to see and do at Athens – and most of it is particularly well-priced. We always recommend the Pan Hotel, which provides excellent accommodation in the heart of Athens at an attractive price.

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Ljubljana, Slovenia – also no longer a hidden jewell, this picture-postcard, affordable city sits beneath a backdrop of snow-capped Alps, close to the stunning beauty of Lake Bled. Ljubljana has a compact and beautiful Old Town area, free of traffic and complete with a beautiful castle, stunning medieval architecture, a winding river and a host of restaurants and coffee shops. Scenic trains link the city with the Austrian and Bavarian Alps, neighbouring Italy and the Balkan countries. We found budget accommodation in the Old Town.

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Brasov, Romania – another beauty for the penny-wise, this quaint town is set in the heart of Transylvania and boasts colourful houses, charming cafés and a fascinating mixture of history and local legend. Romania remains one of Europe’s cheapest destinations, so just about everything here is attractively-priced.

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Belgrade, Serbia – with relatively well priced accommodation and cheap attractions, public transport, food and beer, Belgrade is also known as a bargain destination. The city is easy to navigate on foot and many attractions are free.

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Tenerife, Spain – although Spain is a Euro country and not generally considered a cheap destination, Tenerife is in the Canary Islands and is generally well priced at this time of year. Delivering a blend of Spanish culture and African sun, Tenerife is one of the darlings of international travel – and is fast becoming an international hotspot. It is the biggest of the seven Canary Islands and its many features include stunning beaches, abundant wildlife and astonishing volcanic rock formations.

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Naples, southern Italy – also a Euro country, but a vibrant city of art, history and awesome food. Naples is one of the least expensive Italian destinations and has a rawness and gritty beauty all its own. We love the city’s narrow, busy streets and find it a warts-and-all snapshot of Italian passion and colour. 

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Edinburgh, Scotland – the UK doesn’t usually make our lists of reasonably-priced cities, but we fell in love with this awesome city at first sight – and its charming cobblestone streets, storybook castle and spectacular views are even more attractive than usual amid the leafy hues of Autumn. If you don’t mind cooling temperatures and are prepared to do a bit of research to keep the price down, this beautiful Scottish city could be an enticing Autumn destination. 

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Aix-en-Provence, France – The South of France may be on our list for a visit we’re planning in 2021. And, during initial research, we’ve been astonished to discover that Provence currently offers good value for an Autumn break. Temperatures are still quite warm in this beautiful region and the area is also keen to attract visitors in the off-season. We’re yet to test it, but this part of France looks both beautiful at the moment and financially attractive.

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram at @memorable_destination; @memorable_travels;  @memorable_ hotels and @ww_australia.

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One-way airfares: the dilemma

As more countries crack down on illegal immigration, one-way airfares are becoming a big talking point.

Many travellers were accustomed to flying into countries on a one-way ticket, then buying  a fare for the next leg of their journey later.

Often they needed to show an itinerary or proof of funds in the bank before they were allowed in.

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However one-way fares, increasingly, have come under scrutiny as countries move to prevent people ‘over-staying’.

There have been reports of some airlines refusing to board people with one way tickets to certain countries – and of customs refusing entry on arrival.

This has particularly affected Travel Influencers and digital nomads who are often flown from country to country for years at a time.

A entire industry had grown up offering cheap one-way airfares primarily for these people.

But, as countries cracked down, there were many stories of nomads side-stepping regulations by buying online refundable return tickets — and seeking a refund of the cost as soon as they passed through immigration.

No matter how you look at this practice, in essence, it is misleading – and we wouldn’t do it.

And. it ’s a similar situation with websites like onewayfly.com which appear to charge a fee for renting travellers a return ticket.

We gather that the websites later seek a refund on the ticket.

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Tips: another app that lists airfares

We’ve been getting questions about ‘I Know the Pilot’, another online service for saving money on airline bookings.

This is a notification service which says it is based in Melbourne, Australia –  and can operate either as an app on your mobile device; or as an email alert system; or a website. The service is also on several social media channels.

It draws your attention to airfare sales – and leaves the booking to you.  The service shows flight prices and dates on which the sales apply.

‘I Know the Pilot’ offers a list of partner booking sites. However, if you wish, there’s nothing to stop you going straight to the website of the airline said to be offering the deals.

But are the sales found by ‘I Know the Pilot’ really cheap?  I must stress that we are yet to use the service, but many of the offers do look attractive indeed.

For example, the App recently drew attention to return flights being offered by Air Asia between Sydney and Hong Kong next March – from $463.

The flights left Sydney on March 18 and Hong Kong on March 26.  However, it also clearly stated that 20 kilogram of checked baggage would add an additional $90.31 and seat selection carried a $34.12 fee.  This took the total price to at least $587.

In the same alert, ‘I Know the Pilot’ drew attention to return flights with Qantas on the same days for a total of $501, including baggage.

Even that sounded like a remarkably good price on that particular route. Despite checking 26 other online booking sites, we couldn’t find a deal to match it. 

So it seems the proof of ‘I Know the Pilot’ may be in the booking.

If we try it, we will let you know.

Meanwhile, registering for the email alerts doesn’t cost you a cent.

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Six favourite destinations

People often ask about our favourite travel destinations.

And although such things are extremely subjective, we don’t hesitate to nominate our six favourite destinations. Here’s a summary:

  1.   Italy

From the glorious lakes of Lombardy; to the north-eastern romance of Venice; the splendour of Tuscany and Florence; the majesty of Rome; the excitement of Naples; and the beauty of the Amalfi, Capri and the Italian riveriera, we simply cannot go past Italy. For us, it’s a no-brainer.

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And our favourite of this wonderland: the largely unspoilt Lattari Mountain villages of Tramonti.

See our report on one particular village

2.      Austrian and Bavarian Alps

For sheer scenic beauty, these areas cannot be beaten. The memories will never leave you.

Again, our favourite location: Schafberg mountain, in the Austrian state of Salzburg.

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Situated within the Salzkammergut Mountains of the Northern Limestone Alps, the Schafberg rises above pristine and magnificent Wolfgangsee Lake.

3.      United Kingdom

Our love of cultural experiences in small village communities, makes the UK a special destination for us. 

We’ve spend time at the villages of Denham, in the county of Buckinghamshire; at Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire; at Kings Cliffe in Northhamptonshire; and at Painswick in Gloucestershire.

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As well as these village experiences, we are particularly fond of the Gower area of southern Wales; Dorset and the city of Bath in Somerset.

And, of course, London never leaves your soul.

See why we keep returning to the Capital of capitals.

4.      Catalonia

Sit in a tavern or coffee shop in a mountain village and watch the Mediterranean shimmer on some of the world’s finest beaches.

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Body clocks are wound a little slower in this lovely part of Spain, where culture, food and wine are the foundations of a wonderful lifestyle.

See our report of a village stay in Catalonia.

5.      Greece

Wander across the hillsides of Crete; watch the famous sunsets at Santorini; stand beneath the Acropolis; or explore ancient Delphi at Mount Parnassus – and you will never be the same again.

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And, did we mention the food?

6.      Slovenia

This tiny Central European country has a lot going for it: from the medieval charm of Ljubljana, to the Adriatic coast at Piran and stunning Lake Bled – surely one of the most beautiful places on earth.

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Interesting tool for finding well-priced flights

We’ve been hearing a lot about the AirWander website for finding well-priced international airfares.

This site is for travellers who want to include stopovers in international flights.

Stopovers tend to be particularly attractive to people who are not necessarily on a tight schedule.

The principle is simple: you take a round-trip itinerary and split it into multiple bookings with multiple tickets.

And then you add a stopover, which is a break of more than 24 hours between your origin and your destination.

This allows you to visit two or more locations on your journey at a cost that can be similar to the original point-to-point round-trip.

We’ve heard of travellers adding a stopover and saving money, although Australia’s isolation makes us sceptical.

Type a proposed destination into AirWander and it offers possible stopover locations and fares. Then fiddle with cities and dates in a bid to get the lowest fare.

When doing your sums, costs such as accommodation at the stopover site obviously need to be taken into account.

AirWander then refers you to third-party booking websites, in the same way as sites like Skyscanner and Momondo.

And, of course, there is always some connection risks – such as flight delays and missing luggage – with buying separate tickets from separate airlines.

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In a blink, here’s the future of travel safety

We tasted the future of travel during our latest European trip after encountering expanded eye-scanning systems at international airports.

It’s all part of Biometric E-gate changes being introduced or trialled at some airports around the globe.

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Thanks to the Apple iPhone, most people seem comfortable with fingerprint identification – and we’d come across this technology at US border checks for many years. 

But, in the past year, we noticed a variety of other biometric screening systems appearing at some airports in Europe and the UK, to verify the identity of travellers.

The systems we encountered seemed to work hand-in-hand with boarding passes and passport checks by airlines themselves, but some of the trials have apparently tested whether scanning could replace such traditional systems altogether.

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At the same time, iris scanning is appearing at more and more airport security lines – sometimes on a voluntary basis as an alternative to lengthy passport-checking queues.

From our experience, the use of biometric systems seems a fairly unobtrusive extension of automation at airports.  Things do seem to move faster, which is always a big plus.

Logically, the scans should also help improve security.

The downsides?

Like every new system, there are hiccups. We came across scanners that didn’t work and others that were confusing to use.

And, we heard the occasional grumble among fellow travellers about data security and privacy.

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However, that aside, it looks like biometrics is the way airports and possibly even airlines are moving, with the aim of improving and speeding-up the experience for travellers.

Now, if only they could find a way to replace the ancient airport baggage carousel!

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Travel tip: carefully select an arrival airport

Travel is personal. 

For example, we try to avoid all-inclusive offers – opting instead to forge our own travel paths, which we believe gives us flexibility and competitive costs.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we try never to pay anyone for doing anything that we could just as easily do ourselves.

And, of all the tricks we’ve learned for keeping travel expenses down, one of the best tips involves careful airport selection – especially if you are flying into Europe.

In choosing an airline, we also take care to also select an arrival airport with both lower taxes, fees and operating costs, where the savings are therefore usually passed to travellers.

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Heathrow Airport, London

For example, if  possible, we avoid Heathrow airport in London, sometimes described as one of the most expensive airports to fly into.

Instead, we’ve flown into London Gatwick and to Manchester – as well making Athens, Rome and Berlin our European entry point –  from where you can usually get plenty of low-cost fares to the UK.

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Athens airport

Colleagues also recommend Warsaw, Dublin and even Moscow.

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Berlin Tegel airport

We use websites like Skyscanner and Clever Layover to carefully compare airline prices at various European airports – and work it out from there. 

It isn’t always feasible; is usually not the fastest option; and sometimes the savings can be small. 

But, over the years, we’ve found that every saving, regardless of the size, is important in an overall travel budget.

Of course, the same benefits – or more – can sometimes be achieved by flying into one of the less-costly airports and then completing your journey by a transport network like GoOpti – or by coach or train.

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Moscow airport

You can also reduce costs by spending a little time to make wise accommodation choices.

Although it is not always the case, accepting accommodation in the heart of popular cities often brings a hefty pricetag. 

For example, last year we were back in Venice, Italy, for a brief one-day stay en-route to Central Europe.

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Venice

Rather than arrange accommodation near the gorgeous Venician canals for one night, we decided instead to stay on the mainland at Venice Mestre – a 10 minute train trip from the beautiful waterways. 

Good quality accommodation at Venice Mestre  – in this case The Plaza Hotel – was about one-third the price of the equivalent on the island.

And, we were also only a few Euros from the Marco Polo airport by local AVTO bus.

We enjoy using public transport, so this proved a smart option for us.

This saved a substantial amount of money for spending later – and gave us a good quality of accommodation only two train stops from the heart of the beautiful Italian city.

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