If you’re looking for sunshine and culture, Morocco’s Atlantic coast ticks all the boxes. Stay in laidback, breezy Essaouira and amble along the old narrow streets in the medina or potter around the souks, occasionally ducking into the city’s many art galleries.
Spend an afternoon in the bustling port and watch the day’s catch being brought in, before rewarding yourself with a cheap, fresh fish dinner as the sun goes down. If you want to surf, the little fishing village of Taghazout is the place to go, with plenty of shops that rent out, sell and repair boards. Plus there’s tuition available from Surf Maroc.
Surfers in Taghazout © swuerfel/Shutterstock
Timişoara was where mass protests kick-started the 1989 revolution that brought down Nicolae Ceauşescu and his totalitarian regime – but if you associate it with the austere, grey concrete of the communist era, think again. The city is a charming and lively mix of Habsburg buildings that pack a real architectural punch and pretty parks and squares, with the tree-lined Bega canal bisecting the old and new towns.
In spring the city sheds its winter coat, and vibrant music, theatre and opera scenes all come alive – with affordable prices, too (seats for at the National Opera can cost as little as €10).
Union Square © Martina Pellecchia/Shutterstock
7. For outdoor adventures: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA
Extending to more than half a million acres, this national park in North Carolina and Tennessee is gorgeous, with wildlife aplenty and an abundance of outdoor activities to enjoy – from hiking scenic mountain and lush forest trails to horse riding, fishing and cycling. What’s more, entrance is entirely free.
Spring is a great time to visit. By mid-April, the weather is more stable and wildflowers are on show everywhere, little purple butterflies flitting among them. The warmer weather of late spring also means it’s an ideal time to camp, and overnights stays will only set you back between $14 and $23. Just watch out for inquisitive black bears!
8. For street food: Vietnam
However you choose to eat it – perched on small plastic chairs at the side of the road, on the back of a motorbike, or even just on the go – street food up and down the country is utterly delicious, bursting with fragrant green herbs and fresh produce. It’s also incredibly cheap.
Whether it’s a simple bahn mi (Vietnam’s take on a sandwich) or something more complex, each mouthful sings with flavour, the perfect balance of salt and sweet, with top notes of zingy citrus – sometimes with a fiery chilli blast or a soothing hum.
Sample a Hanoi speciality, bun cha (vermicelli with barbecued pork, dipping sauce and carrot and green papaya pickle) in the warren-like alleys of the old quarter. Or try cau lau (delectable soup with fat noodles and meat or seafood) in charming Hoi An on the coast. Here you can eat royally for around $1 and the seafood will knock your socks off.
© Sabino Parente/Shutterstock
9. For the Med and mountains: Albania
Albania isn’t on most beach bums’ radar, but it should be. There’s plenty of empty sand to lay down your towel along its gorgeous coastline, and because there’s little or no resort development for the most part, there are lower prices all round.
Visit in late spring and you’ll sidestep the searing temperatures that blast the beaches in summer and miss the harsh chill of winter in the mountains.
The Dinaric Alps in the north are fantastic hiking country. Known as the “Accursed Mountains”, they are anything but: lush forested valleys make way for dizzying rugged peaks interspersed with small villages.
You can eat out well on a budget, too: a delicious tavë kosi (lamb baked with eggs and yoghurt) costs just roughly €3.50.
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Top image © TB studio/Shutterstock