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Three great summer destinations: Portugal, New Zealand and Vietnam

March Break is officially in our rear view mirror. Ditto for Easter. So it’s time to plan for your summer vacation then, right?
If you’re looking for a trip to the U.S., you’re likely in for sticker shock at your nearest bank. The loonie is still hovering around 80 cents U.S., and I recently paid something like $130 Canadian for a hundred dollars in U.S. greenbacks.

With that in mind, here are a few out-of-town spots you might not have thought about.

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AUCKLAND
My nephew recently booked a flight from Toronto to Auckland, New Zealand for $1,600. That’s not cheap, but it’s not bad. And New Zealand is a truly fantastic destination. It’s also cheaper in June or July as it’s during their winter, or what they call winter. The South Island will be cold and snowy in July, but Auckland temperatures should be around 13 or 14 Celsius, with warmer temps further north. I found a room at the gleaming Sofitel Hotel on the harbour in Auckland for $201 Canadian a night in July, and a Best Western downtown for $89 Cdn. a night. Try a day trip or an overnight stay on nearby Waiheke Island, where there are glorious olive orchards and fantastic wineries. Peacock Sky is a hilltop winery run by a fellow from England and a woman from Montreal. They met at the Holiday Inn next to Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre many years ago and fell in love, and now operate a cool winery in one of the world’s most varied and beautiful countries.

VIETNAM
Flights to Asia aren’t cheap, but I found some the other day on one of the major Internet travel providers for about $1,600 Canadian. That’s a lot, I know, but once you’re in Hanoi or Saigon (or Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, for that matter) you can usually get amazing deals. I stayed a couple years ago at the Metropole in Hanoi, a handsome old property where the likes of Somerset Maugham and Jane Fonda used to hang out. It’s a fabulous hotel, and I saw rooms in July the other day for about $200 a night. That’s half what you might pay for a night in New York City, so if you were to stay for five nights you’d probably make up most of the difference in the air fare between the two destinations. I found other properties with five stars for $150 a night. Then there’s the food; marvellously flavourful and dirt cheap. If you go to Asia for a week or 10 days, you’ll probably spend the same or less than what you would for a vacation of that length in a major U.S. city. So it’s worth thinking about.

The town of Velas on the Azorean island of Sao Jorge.

The town of Velas on the Azorean island of Sao Jorge.

PORTUGAL
I’d never been until last week, when I had three nights in Lisbon and four in the Azores. I loved both destinations. And found them cheaper than I expected. You can get good, clean hotel rooms in Lisbon for less than $100 a night. I found rooms for July for $145 a night at the Mundial, which is a busy tourist hotel that has a fantastic rooftop patio. You’ll likely pay less than a dollar for a fine cup of espresso, and a decent bottle of wine can be had for $5 Cdn. The really good stuff is about $10 and up. And restaurants are quite reasonable. I spoke with a guy on my back from the Azores to Toronto the other day and he had paid just $475 for return tickets to Lisbon during March break for he and his family. I fell in love with the mountain and oceanfront scenery in the Azores, which is only a five or six hour flight and just three time zones from Toronto. You can get rooms at decent hotels for less than $100 a night. Or splurge at the wonderful Terra Nostra Garden Hotel in the town of Furnas on lovely Sao Miguel, which sits in the crater of an old volcano and has the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. Rooms in July are from about $200 a night.

THIS AND THAT

Ireland Tourism is hoping to attract 10 million visitors by the year 2025. Ireland last year received 7.6 million visitors, so they’re looking for a sizeable increase …There’s a new Ritz Carlton coming to Melbourne, Australia, and it’ll be the tallest hotel project in the country. The 250-room Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne will be the centrepiece of an urban mixed-use project in the central business district that will include residential apartments and shopping. The hotel rooms will be on levels 64 to 77, with “dramatic views from all sides.” Construction will start next year.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Maarten Heilbron 7 April 2015, 5:01 pm

    After spending a few glorious days in Lisbon last summer (a late afternoon Sangria on the patio at Lost in Esplanada and custard tarts at Pasteis de Belem were highlights) we went to the Alentejo wine region, which with towns like Evora and Monsaraz is well worth the trip. Although not quite as inexpensive as Lisbon, we did have some spectacular meals at wineries (Herdade do Esporao and Herded dos Grous) and stayed at a converted monastery (a pousada) in Beja. We plan to go back soon.

  • Mary 31 July 2015, 3:13 am

    Where would you recommend we stay in the Azores?

    • jimbyers 5 August 2015, 2:44 pm

      I loved Sao Jorge. Furnas is a cool town in Sao Miguel. Terra Nostra is a fine hotel but expensive. I referenced a couple of other places in my story so you can look at those, too. Have fun!

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