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BIG tour operators are a bit like farmers, they're always finding something to moan about.

It could be the weather - a good summer in the UK often means they'll find it harder to sell packages to the Med.

It could be an increase in the price of oil which affects the cost of aviation fuel and cuts their profit margins, particularly on long-haul holidays.

And, of course, the perennial whinge is the political climate which may affect a traveller's willingness to get on an aeroplane in the first place.

I'm sure these are all valid complaints and certainly smaller companies do feel the pinch at every tremor in the market.

However, as with the farmer who's got a new Range Rover sitting outside his Georgian pile in thousands of set-aside acres in Sussex, it's difficult to get the hankie out.

I was at the Association of British Travel Agents' conference in Majorca last week and listened to several of the major tour operators moaning about the state of the package holiday market.

In the evening I was invited for cocktails aboard the private yacht of the owner of one of these (OK, it was the Swiss-Italian boss of Cosmos Holidays and Monarch Airlines).

The yacht had its own gym, white carpeting so thick you couldn't see your feet - which was lucky for me, because you had to take your shoes off and I had a huge hole in my sock - and gold taps in each en-suite bathroom. It cost pounds 40million.

To be fair, the owner wasn't around so I don't know if he was one of the whingers, and anyway Cosmos and Monarch Scheduled do a pretty good job at getting thousands of people away on good-value holidays every year.

However, even in these opulent surroundings there was one topic of conversation which was clearly scaring the silk pants off tour operators and travel agents.

It's the huge increase in the number of people booking their own cheap flights and hotels on the internet.

Everybody, it seems, is doing it. And while no-frills airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet are the major players in this new trend, there are dozens of smaller airlines jumping on the bandwagon (see the panel on the right).

Hotels offer good rates, particularly over weekends, and if you want to stay longer, there are loads of apartments and villas to let during off-peak winter months. Every week, Mirror Travel will be featuring two no-frills destinations to help you organise your own DIY short break.

Prices of flights and hotels vary, but they are generally cheaper in winter and spring - apart from the Christmas and Easter holiday periods. You'll have to arrange your own car parking at the UK airport - try the cheap deals offered by Holiday Extras (0870 844 4186/www.holidayextras. - and transfers to your hotel.

And, of course, there won't be a tour rep around to arrange any excursions for you. Also, remember that if you book a flight and hotel independently and anything goes wrong you will NOT be covered by the ABTA and ATOL bonding policies which most tour firms and travel agents have to belong to.

In other words, if the airline goes broke or the hotel closes down because the owner has run off with the chambermaid, you may not get your money back. That said, booking your own short break on the phone or internet can be fun and is surprisingly easy to do. In most cases you don't even have to wait for tickets to be sent in the post.

But make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully. book securely with your credit or debit card. Some airlines charge for payment by credit card.

Here are this week's two top destinations...


Where to book: Ryanair has daily services from Stansted. Flight time: 2hrs 20 minutes. Alghero airport is six miles from the town centre. A regular bus costs around 60p, a taxi around pounds 10.

Why here? Alghero is a proper Italian fishing town with plenty of old-world charm and bags of history. What's more, unlike many Italian resort towns it doesn't spend the winter hibernating - shops, restaurants and most hotels stay open year-round.

Alghero is a maze of cobbled, largely pedestrianised streets with interesting old buildings including a 16th-century cathedral. An evening stroll along the old town walls - the Bastioni - offers wonderful views of the sunset. Visit the Jewish palace of Palau Reial and the nearby Palazzo d'Albi.

You're unlikely to want to sit on the beach during the winter, but it's there for walking on nonetheless, a marvellous expanse of pure white sand which stretches for miles backed by pine trees.

Just outside town are the dramatic cliffs of Capo Caccia which you can reach either by boat (weather permitting) or bus. Here you'll find Neptune's Grotto, an impressive series of underground caves. Take your walking shoes - there are 650 steps to the bottom.

If you've hired a car, the charming riverside town of Bosa, about a 45-minute drive south of Alghero, is worth the trip. It has a small cathedral, cobbled streets, pretty squares, an ancient bridge and a marina with a pleasant beach just outside town.

About 30 miles north of Alghero on the island's northwestern tip is the town of Stintino, once a sleepy fishing village. Just up the road at La Pelosa is one of the most scenically beautiful beaches in the Med. The sea is such a bright shade of turquoise it almost hurts the eyes and the beach is as white as a newly-laundered sheet.

Where to eat: As a major working fishing port, the restaurants here are strong on seafood, particularly lobster (aragosta) and octopus. Try Le Lepanto, on the Via Carlo Alberto - the service is erratic, but the fish is the best in town. Next door, Il Pavone (the peacock), is nearly as good, but a lot cheaper. La Muraglia, on the Bastioni Marco Polo, has outdoor and indoor tables with great sea views. Just north of the old town along the Via Lido, the Luci de Golfe is a lively, family-friendly pizzeria.

Where to stay: Some of the beach hotels along the Lido close for the winter. However, in the old town there are some good options. Try the Hotel Villa Las Tronas (, the former summer residence of the Italian royal family which has been converted into a charming upmarket hotel. It's set just outside the town walls in a superb position on a headland overlooking Alghero Bay. Another good bet is the Hotel San Francesco, a converted 16th-century monastery in the centre of town.

More info: The Italian National Tourist Office 0207 408 1254/ Also try www.sardinia

Where to book: Easyjet has a daily service from Stansted. British Airways flies from Gatwick and Manchester. Flight time: 2hrs 20 minutes. Bologna's Gugliemo Marconi airport is four miles from the centre. A bus costs pounds 2, a taxi about pounds 10.

Why here? Bologna is one of Italy's most laid-back cities, with a fine university, squares lined with red-brick arcades and the huge San Petronio Basilica. The medieval palaces of Podesta and Communale house works of art, while the Pinacoteca Nazionale is one of the finest art galleries in Northern Italy.

Piazza Rossini, named after the composer who studied at the university here, has a library with some of his original scores and overlooking the square is the exquisite 15th century church San Giacomo Maggiore.

You can climb one of the two medieval towers at the entrance to the university quarter for a great view of the city and the surrounding countryside. Get your picture taken beside the Neptune Fountain in Piazza Maggiore before heading out into the breathtaking Tuscan countryside. Florence is only an hour away by train and makes for an easy day trip. Other interesting excursions include Ferrara, a delightful medieval town which features the famous Castello Estense, while Modena is worth a visit for its cobbled streets and fine cathedral.

Where to eat: Bologna is pasta paradise. They don't call Bologna La Grassa - the Fat One - for nothing, so don't come here if you're on a diet. Del Sole on Vicolo Ranocchi is the city's most famous osteria, while Pappagallo in the Piazza della Mercanzia is the place for real spaghetti bolognaise or ravioli. After dinner, stroll through the university quarter which is packed with bars and live music venues.

Where to stay: With rooms overlooking Piazza Maggiore, the Hotel dei Commmercianti ( bologna) is a good bet. The posh Hotel Orologio nearby (www.bologna is more luxurious and costly. For a cheaper, friendly option try the Hotel Rossini on Via Bibiena close to the cathedral.

More info: The Italian National Tourist Office 0207 408 1254/ Also try www.bologna


HERE is a list of airlines currently offering low-cost fares. Some are cheaper than others, but nowadays you can get surprisingly good deals on even established scheduled carriers such as British Airways, who have had to change their price structure to compete with the no-frills operators.

Easyjet 0870 600 0000/www.easy

European destinations: 29.

Internet discount: pounds 10 return.

Ryanair: 0871 246 0000/

European destinations: 66.

Internet discount: None.

Monarch Scheduled 0870 040 5040/

European destinations: Eight.

Internet discount: None.

Bmibaby 0870 264 2229/

European destinations: 23.

Internet discount: pounds 10 return.

Flybe 0870 567 6676/www.flybe

European destinations: 25.

Internet discount: pounds 10 return.

BMI British Midland 0870 607 0555/

European destinations: 30.

Internet discount: pounds 5 return.

British Airways 0870 850 9850/

European destinations: 86.

Internet discount: pounds 10 per booking.

MyTravelLite 08701 564 564/

European destinations: 12.

Internet discount: pounds 5 return.

HERE are some of the airlines now operating low-cost flight-only services out of UK airports:

Air Berlin 0870 738 8880/www.air

Flying from: Stansted.

Flying to: Berlin, Hanover, Nuremberg, Dortmund, Vienna.

Basiq Air 0207 365 4997/

Flying from: Stansted. Flying to: Amsterdam.

Air Slovakia 0207 436 9009 /

Flying from: Birmingham. Flying to: Bratislava.

Air Europa 0870 240 240 1501/

Flying from: Gatwick. Flying to: Palma, Majorca and Madrid.

Air Scotland 0141 848 4990/

Flying from: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle. Flying to: Alicante, Barcelona, the Canary Islands and Girona.

German Wings 0208 321 7255/

Flying from: Edinburgh and Stansted. Flying to: Cologne.

Helios Airways 0208 819 8819/

Flying from: Luton. Flying to: Paphos and Larnaca, Cyprus.

Jet2 0870 737 8282/

Flying from: Leeds-Bradford. Flying to: Alicante, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Faro, Geneva, Malaga, Milan, Nice, Palma and Prague.

Portugalia 0161 489 5049/

Flying from: Manchester. Flying to:

Lisbon and Oporto.

Volare 0800 032 0992/

Flying from: Luton. Flying to: Cagliari, Rimini and Venice.

VLM Airlines 0207 476 6677/

Flying from: London City and Manchester. Flying to: Antwerp, Brussels, Luxembourg and Rotterdam.

You could also try these sites for cheap flights:,,,,


DOME FRONT: Bologna's cathedral dominates the city's skyline; TOWER POWER: A ruined castle at Alghero in Sardinia; PASTA MASTERS: A market in Bologna - food capital of Italy
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 15, 2003
Next Article:Travel: Campsite holidays are Haven sent; NICOLA DONNAN HAS SOME FAMILY FUN.

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