Travel Trio: 3 Exotic and Surprisingly Affordable Escapes
Sintra, Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images
Looking for a warm retreat that’s as beautiful as it is budget friendly? We’ve rounded up three that offer unique culture, cuisine, and stunning views — without the travel sticker shock.
Saint Klement, Croatia
With its shops, restaurants, bars, al fresco markets, and lively high-season scene, Hvar is possibly the best known of Croatia’s islands. A 50-minute boat from the elegantly idyllic town of Split on the mainland — the Adriatic country’s ferry hub to the islands — will take you there. Spend a night or two, then grab the five-minute speed boat to Saint Klement, the small, car-free isle just offshore located in the Paklinski archipelago, a protected marine reserve. Here, you will find one of the planet’s most quixotically lovely escapes, Palmizana. Owned by the Meneghellos, an Italian family who bought the property in the 1800s, and still run by them today, the original villa, perched on a hill overlooking a postcard-worthy cove, now serves as the restaurant. Surrounded by an idiosyncratic assortment of bungalows and cottages, all of it wrapped in an exotic tropical garden that the family planted more than a hundred years ago, imported peacocks wander the grounds. Home to a huge art collection, paintings and sculptures are everywhere, even hanging in the trees; the mother of its current chatelaine, Romina Meneghello, having revamped the property as an art hotel.
You’re a short walk from isolated coves that are all yours — pack books and a picnic — as well as a handful of little bars and dining rooms scattered around the island. The food at Palmizana is terrific, and the terrace gets buzzy in the evening as it welcomes hotel guests, boaters moored in the marina just over the hill and guests from the yachts that dock in the cove. Lodging at Palmizana spans two-bedroom villas, from 400 euros to single rooms, which are all yours for just 140 euros a night.
Getting There: Connect via London (2.5 hours/EasyJet) or Frankfurt (1.4 hours/Croatia Airlines or Lufthansa) on inexpensive, direct flights to Split.
With the Canadian dollar at .70 to the euro, Lisbon is an unbelievable bargain compared with the Continent’s other capitals, which cost two or three times as much to enjoy. As historically beautiful as anywhere else in Europe, the city overflows with stunning, meticulously preserved architecture and even the sidewalks are gorgeous, layered in intricate tile mosaics. Sitting high above the shoreline, it offers sweeping views in almost every direction. A wine bar on every corner, you’ll be amazed at the absurdly generous 10-ounce pours of local vino, for six euros a glass, and wonderful little boîtes serving delicious pasta for under 10 euros. Wonderful for walking, the city’s shopfronts are a charming mix of old and new — a centuries-old candlemaker next to a buzzy modern bistro next to a traditional boîte serving a selection of Portuguese port, amber to deep cassis. In design-savvy Lisbon, cool hotels and Airbnbs abound, for around 100 euros a night, and you can spend days exploring its myriad historical sites — check out Tours by Locals — and wonderful boutiques, including Casa Cubista, owned by Canadians. A serious food town, in the evenings, there’s a wide array of excellent restaurants, simple to high end, followed by forays to Lisbon’s famous fado bars. Nearby side trips include the coast’s many terrific beach towns or a jaunt to enchanting Madeira, the small island offshore that’s home to the legendary Reid’s Palace, the Orient Express property now under the Belmont umbrella where George Bernard Shaw learned to tango and Winston Churchill wrote his memoirs.
Even if you don’t stay there — it costs the Earth — it’s marvellous for a splurge lunch — or a glass of the island’s namesake wine (dry versions like Sercial and Verdelho are served chilled; sweeter varieties sipped warm like cognac) while taking in the views of the cerulean Mediterranean.
Getting There: TAP Air Portugal offers direct, seven-hour flights out of Toronto and Montreal.
Blending centuries-old North African culture with sophistication, this stylish Morrocon city is a blast of glam exotism. With the dazzling craftsmanship of the Marrakechis and a world-famous souk jammed with boundless treasures, design-loving European expats have flocked in for decades, adding a deluge of restaurants bars, shops and hotels to this fabled destination’s already ample pleasures. With a surplus of traditional homes and villas known as riads, transformed into small hotels, keeping costs down, you can find a very chic place to stay for $150 or $200 a night, or book from the limitless options on Airbnb, where you can score a riad, all to yourself, for $125/night. Shopping is among Marrakech’s main attractions. Book the city’s best guide, Mustapha Chouquir, to tour you through the vast marketplace in the walled-in Medina at the centre of town. His very reasonable fee is offset by the time and money he saves you, getting you to what you want to buy — Berber carpets, elaborately tasseled curtain tiebacks, colourful leather poufs, wrought iron lanterns, the list goes on and on — and handling the bargaining for you. Mustapha’s historic and cultural tours are just as informed. At night, dining ranges from the hugely atmospheric main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, which transforms into a huge open-air food court at sundown, to an infinite selection of ultra-fabulous restaurants including the classic Dar Yacout, designed by Bill Willis who invented bohemian chic doing the homes of YSL and the Gettys back in the 1960s, to Bo-Zin, a sexy supper club that morphs into a dance party, to Azar, a gilded Lebanese dining room with an evening belly dancing show; dancers wearing crowns of lit candles. Exhausted from all the shopping, book an afternoon at Bains de Marrakech, a classic hammam, for a two-hour steam and scrub with massage, followed by a dip in the courtyard pool, for just $100. For a comprehensive overview of this magical city, have a look at this Zoomer magazine feature.
Getting There: Connect through Europe on 1 to 4-hour flights out of Paris, London, Madrid, Lisbon, and more, for as little as $200 rtn.
A version of this story was published on Feb. 17, 2023