Destinations that pack value

Travel in budget mode doesn't necessarily involve nights in shared dorms, fast food and backpacks. Minimum requirements are a comfortable room with an en suite bathroom, an occasional meal splurge, cocktails in cool places and wine with dinner. Here are the picks - countries where travel on a budget comes naturally, and that offer the possibility of revelation as well as relaxation.


Whether it's deep and meaningful that sets your wheels spinning or just cheap and reliable sunshine with a Mediterranean accent, Turkey is intensely satisfying. In Istanbul, ancient and modern, East and West, Christianity and Islam interweave, creating a layered city of intense character. The cultural cross-currents extend to wider Turkey, which offers Byzantine palaces, crusader castles, the cave dwellings of Cappadocia, some of the finest mosques of the Islamic world and ruins from the time of the Old Testament. The food is wonderful, the coast sublime, the trekking is some of the best in the Med and you can whirl like a dervish in the discos of Bodrum. The coast, in particular, is a delight - bleached cliffs with fishing villages tucked away in tiny coves, the scent of pine and wild thyme mingled with the sea air, glorious beaches and enough archaeology to make your feet ache.


Cambodia is as cheap and satisfying as only south-east Asia can be. For the entire post-Khmer Rouge period, Angkor has been the single fact that draws most visitors to Cambodia. Siem Reap, the base camp for visits to the vast temple complex, has developed into a raffish but likeable town where you can live like royalty on $50 a day. Those in search of Cambodia sunny side up are turning towards the coast, which is luscious, serene, decorated with islands and silver-sand beaches and dotted with crumbling French villas. For the moment, it's tailor-made for the budget-conscious traveller for whom a gecko on the bedroom wall brings more joy than the thread count on the bed linen.


Cairo and other big cities remain eruptive, but these are not what bring visitors to Egypt. In the Valley of the Kings, at Karnak and Abu Simbel, the upheavals that have wreaked havoc in the big cities of the north might as well be on another planet. The only sign that anything is amiss in the rest of the country is the lack of tourists. But there has never been a better time to visit Upper Egypt. From the cheapest Nile cruise aboard a felucca to ultra deluxe hotels and tours, there are bargains, and red carpet treatment. Best bet is to avoid Cairo and fly to Luxor, which has direct flights from several European cities, explore the temples and tombs and take a boat for the trip down river to Aswan.


Go native. Eschew aircon and hot showers, learn to love cassava, rice and fish, smile abundantly and you can live in Fiji for little more than your transport costs. However, for those not born to it, this is a tall order. The answer is flashpacking. Flashpackers make do without minibars and fluffy white towels, without abandoning the essential creature comforts. The place to do it is the Yasawas, the string of six main islands and their numerous satellite islets off the north-west coast of Viti Levu, where small-scale, family-operated guesthouses and lodges thrive.



Hived off from the southern rump of Serbia in 2006, snack-sized Montenegro seems to owe its origins to fairytale. In Montenegro, you can lie on a beach with snow-capped mountains as a backdrop, dine on figs and olives with air-dried ham at a waterfront cafe and sleep in a former Byzantine monastery plastered to the side of a cliff. Montenegro's coastline is a miraculous strip of beaches interspersed with the occasional jewel, such as the walled, sea-girt city of Budva, which invites comparisons with Dubrovnik. Montenegro is either mountains or water. Its glorious 280-kilometre coastline rises swiftly into a rocky, rucked hinterland of steep mountains and valleys, well furnished with lakes and swiftly flowing rivers. Use the coastline as a base and make day forays inland. Among the treasures is Lake Skadar, with a handful of mediaeval monasteries set on its tiny islands.


Poland specialises in poignancy and surprise. Poignancy because of a history saturated with scalding nightmares, and surprise because this is a country that testifies to the resilience of the human spirit - and more. Baroque palaces, forest-trimmed lakes, cafes crowded with hipsters and everywhere flowers, bookshops and Chopin - this is not quite what you expect of a country that also counts Auschwitz among its prime attractions. In the former royal city of Krakow, the old city walls encircle a one-kilometre teardrop crammed with medieval churches and market squares that date back to the Middle Ages. A two-hour drive to the south, Zakopane is one of the unsung treasures of European travel.