With the slightest hint of spring in the air we can all be coaxed from that winter hibernation and out into the world as it blooms.
Spring is a great time for travel, so whether it’s catching some sun, mountain hiking or delving into some history and culture – or even some last-minute snow action – here are a few ideas to get you digging out your passport. These are the cheapest places to travel in spring.
Where better to sweat out the last vestiges of winter than a city with more than a hundred spas? Each has its own particular style, from sixteenth-century Ottoman – the best is Rudas, with a beautiful octagonal pool under a glass dome and a rooftop heated pool with a wonderful view of the Danube – to exquisite art nouveau, such as Gellert.
No visit to Budapest would be complete without stopping at neo-baroque Széchenyi, the largest of the city’s spas, where you’ll see locals combining a hot bath with a game of chess.
A ticket can cost as little as €10, and a 20-minute massage around €15. Cooling down after a steamy soak by sampling one of the many delicious craft beers on offer in the capital will only set you back around €1.50.
Afterwards, go for coffee and calorie-rich Dobos torta (Hungarian sponge cake). Accommodation isn’t as good value as it used to be, but you can still find great deals out of town and public transport for getting into the centre is excellent.
2. For end-of-season skiing: the French Alps
Skiing is never cheap, but if you hold out towards the end of the season in Europe, and choose somewhere high up and relatively snow-sure, you can grab a bargain.
Val d’Isère, Val Thorens, Les Arcs and La Plagne, with their high-altitude positions, are the resorts to watch, and if you book last minute it’s possible to get a week’s chalet deal for around €475. Deals often include flights, transfers, breakfast and dinner (with as much wine as you can quaff before the coffee arrives), plus afternoon tea and cake waiting for you for when you return tired and aching after a day on the slopes.
3. For a tropical escape: Guatemala
Tropical rainforest, brooding volcanoes, mountains and lakes and abundant wildlife – what’s not to like about Guatemala? Plus, there’s ancient Maya sites steeped in mysticism, graceful colonial architecture and colourful markets.
Visit the tremendous Maya city at Tikal deep in the rainforest, or more remote sites tucked away in the jungle, where howler monkeys and toucans will likely form a rowdy soundtrack. Lake Atitlán, flanked by volcanoes, is stunning and a must-see, as is picture-postcard Antigua with its colourful colonial-era buildings.
If you want to learn something on your trip, Spanish classes are the cheapest in Central America, and travel between places on the chicken buses costs little (just don’t expect to get anywhere fast, or on time). Meals, often featuring beans and tortillas can cost as little as $3, and street food is even cheaper.
4. For music: New Orleans, USA
New Orleans is considered to be the birthplace of jazz. Indeed it’s impossible to spend any time there without drumming your fingers to the beat, or shakin’ your stuff. And much of it can be heard for next to nothing, whether it’s from enthusiastic street buskers or impromptu jam sessions in moody bars.
There’s also great brass music – traditional or energetic, raucous mixes of funk, reggae, hip-hop and R&B.
You can hear thumping talent every night of the week in clubs such as the Spotted Cat and gritty BJ’s Lounge, and world greats at Snug Harbor for as little as $15.
Spring is a fantastic time to head to the city – it’s T-shirt weather but also before the often-stifling heat of summer. Just watch out for accommodation price surges during Jazz Fest at the end of April.
5. For a beach break: Morocco’s west coast
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.
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).
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.
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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