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Delightful holidays to DIY FOR; Travel.

Byline: STEVE RICHES

Want a change from hotels and package deals?

Try renting a property in the sun and arranging your own flights. You could save a fortune, says STEVE RICHES...

Spain

Javea

A gem on the Costa Blanca between Alicante and Valencia, Javea offers white sands, smart shops in a labyrinth of cramped cobbled streets and rural inland delights such as Montgo National Park. It also happens to be the sunniest place in Spain and is home to 7,700 Brits.

WHAT'S TO DO?

If you can drag yourself away from the beach, caves and rocky coves, you won't go short of golf courses, craft markets, castles and churches. Historic Xativa, Altea and Denia are nearby and you can even hop on a ferry for a day in Ibiza. Theme park fiends will want to drive to Aqualandia and Terra Mitica.

WHERE TO EAT?

This region is the home of paella and the Montgo Restaurant in Jesus Pobre does it very well. Menu of the day, including wine and bread, PS8.

WHERE TO STAY?

In the village of Jesus Pobre, three miles from Javea, Holiday Lettings has the delightful finca (stone farmhouse) called Casa del Pato (casadelpato.co.uk) which has three bedrooms and its own swimming pool as well as a lovely garden.

AND THE COST?

PS550-PS950 per week. Nearest airport: Alicante. Flight price guide: PS59-PS249.

CONTACT: holidaylettings.co.uk

Greece

Crete

Europe's first civilisation and the birthplace of Greek top god Zeus is a tourist must, whether you long for soft sand and smooth pebbly beaches or want to step back in time and embrace both history and mythology.

WHAT'S TO DO?

Balos Lagoon and Falasarna are beaches to die for, Star Beach Water Park is heaven for kids, and clubbers can rock till they drop in the main towns of Heraklion, Hania and Rethymno. The Sasteria public observatory in Agios Stefanos is a peaceful and fascinating contrast. The night sky will never be the same.

WHERE TO EAT?

Real Cretan food is at bargain prices - a meal for two with wine is about PS20 at the busy little Gioma Taverna on the waterfront in Plakias. The stifado (beef and onion stew) is excellent.

WHERE TO STAY?

High on a hill in the village of Mirthios, overlooking the lovely bay of Plakias, is the one-bedroom AnnaView Apartment (annaview.com), which is on the books of Home Away. It has breathtaking views, is away from the crowds but still only a five-minute drive from the beach.

AND THE COST?

PS179-PS352 per week. Nearest airport: Heraklion.

Flight price guide: PS179-PS245.

CONTACT: homeaway.co.uk

Portugal

Carvoeiro

A beautiful part of the Algarve close to the best of the country's sandy beaches yet within half an hour of the spectacular and rather more peaceful inland hills of the Monchique area and cobbled streets of its town.

WHAT'S TO DO?

The shops, bars and nightlife of Albufeira and Portimao are nearby, but so too are numerous golf courses and the stunning theme parks of Aqualand, Zoomarine and Slide & Splash. The more adventurous types may want to go deep-sea fishing, kite-surfing or take a 4x4 safari.

WHERE TO EAT?

Top-class Portuguese food, such as monkfish kebab and lamb baked over wood, is served at Julio's (julios-restaurant.com)

Carvoeiro. About PS20 a head with wine.

WHERE TO STAY?

Algarve4me has No 11 Hibiscus Gardens (11hibiscusgardens.com), a luxury two-bedroom villa which is just a five-minute walk from the beach at Carvoeiro and has great views over the rest of the Algarve.

AND THE COST?

PS500-PS1,200 per week. Nearest airport: Faro. Flight price guide: PS59-PS215.

CONTACT: algarve4me.com

Italy

Cortona

Medieval hill towns don't get much better than this, looming large in the province of Arezzo in the rolling hills that link Tuscany and Umbria, th th t known as the Green Heart of Italy and one of the most delightful parts of the world.

WHAT'S TO DO?

Umbria's most famous towns of Perugia, Assisi and (my favourite) Gubbio are short drives away, and so too are the Tuscany favourites of Siena and Florence. This is an area for walking, exploring, eating, drinking and resting. There's not a club in sight.

WHERE TO EAT?

Smack in the middle of Cortona is La Grotta (trattorialagrotta.it), where you can sit in the square simply sipping limoncello or if you're hungry you can tuck into chianina steak and lemon cake. You'll pay about PS25 each.

WHERE TO STAY?

Casa Lavanda is a two-bedroom restored farmhouse set in its own gardens with a pool in the wine-producing hamlet of Pergo, just outside Cortona, rentable through Essentially Italy. You'll find it hard to move from there.

AND THE COST?

PS900-PS1,800 per week. Nearest airport: Florence Peretola.

Flight price guide: PS163-PS253.

CONTACT: essentiallyitaly.co.uk

France

Pezenas

In the heart of the Languedoc vineyards of southern France between Montpelier and Beziers, Pezenas is a medieval joy with a host of bars and chic shops as well as craft and antique outlets.

WHAT'S TO DO?

The sandy Mediterranean beaches are 13 miles away and even nearer are water sports and parks, horse riding and hiking and a score of museums and art galleries. Do try to take a trip to see the ancient walled town of Carcassonne, Aigues Mortes and the Millau Viaduct.

WHERE TO EAT?

Great regional food - especially duck - great value and a great wine list is to be had at L'Entre Pot (restaurantentrepots.com) in Pezenas. Three-course lunch is PS25.

WHERE TO STAY?

Le Caveau is a three-bedroom villa within a 35-acre estate with a garden, shared swimming pool and private river fishing, available through French Connections.

AND THE COST?

PS560-PS1,990 per week. Nearest airport: Montpelier.

Flight price guide: PS113-PS260.

CONTACT: frenchconnections.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

FRANCE: Pretty Pezenas is a joy

SPAIN: Javea has all the attractions

PORTUGAL: Go for Carvoeiro

GREECE: Crete is big on history

ITALY: Pergo is just perfect for relaxing
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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion, Column
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:May 12, 2013
Words:991
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