Eastern Europe on a budget: bargains from Poland to Montenegro

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Poland’s peaks and forests

While Kraków remains Poland’s top destination, with Wrocław increasingly drawing attention as a hip alternative, the country’s vast countryside is a dream setting for a summer holiday.

Poland’s top destination, with Post Office Travel Money’s latest report, and prices are even lower away from the cities. The vast Masurian Lakes in the north-east can be reached via budget flights to Warsaw, Bydgoszcz or Gdańsk for under £100. Giżycko and Mikołajki are the main tourist bases, but the stunning design-led Hotel Galery69 near Olsztyn offers contemporary lakeside luxury from just £40 a night and from there the waters can be explored by bike, kayak or sailing boat.

Canoeing in the Masurian Lakes.

Canoeing in the Masurian Lakes. Photograph: Alamy

Those who prefer higher ground should head to the Tatras or Bieszczady mountains in Poland’s south-east, which could easily be combined with a stay in Kraków. Around Zakopane, at the foot of the Tatras, there are plenty of fairytale wooden cottages – loads on Airbnb – from £15 a night. It’s a popular ski resort, but in the summer there are 170 miles of marked and graded hiking trails that weave through the Tatra national park’s troughs and peaks.

Estonian island living

Päikese log cabin, on Saaremaa island, Estonia.

Päikese log cabin, on Saaremaa island, Estonia.

Estonia’s countryside is wild and unspoiled and on the north-west coast there are more than 1,500 islands of varying size to explore. Flights to Tallin start at around £70 and coach tickets from there to the largest island, Saaremaa, cost around £15. Home-brewed beer is the tipple of choice in this isolated region. On Saaremaa, there’s also a landmark medieval castle, windmills, springs, hiking trails and the Kaali meteorite crater field. Kuressaare is the Saare county capital and even the classy, modern Arensburg hotel in the centre of the old town offers double rooms from £40 a night.

On the island’s west coast, Päikese holiday home is a cosy log house with three double beds (and sauna) for €110 a night (three-night minimum). Meanwhile, the tiny island of Kihnu is a rare matriarchal community (the men are always off fishing). The only traffic on the near car-less island’s roads consists of local women driving old motorbikes with sidecars. Visitors can cycle in wild countryside, go on boat trips and enjoy traditional fare.

Cool Croatia’s calm side

Campsite Porto Sole, at Vrsar in Croatia.

Campsite Porto Sole, at Vrsar in Croatia.

Budget flights have played a huge role in Croatia’s growth as a destination, and now even more airline routes are opening up, with regional connections from the UK launching this spring, as well as a twice-weekly direct British Airways service from London to Pula starting in July from £48 one-way.

It’s cheap when you get there, too. According to Post Office Travel Money, even popular Dubrovnik is good value: a three-course meal for two with wine costs around £50, while a bottle of beer comes is just £2. While it’s easy to find cheap places to stay, such as Amoret Apartments right in the old town from £52 a night, Croatia’s other cities also have plenty of cool, cheap options, like the Goli and Bosi Design hostel in Split (doubles from £29) and the Swanky Mint hostel in Zagreb (dorm beds from £12), which has its own pool.

Much of Croatia’s tourism boom is down to the music festival explosion along the coast, but beyond the hotspots in Croatia’s more rural locations there are magical islands and peaceful beaches. Island hopping is easy and there’s a network of cheap ferries that run between them. Meanwhile, campsites like Camping Simuni on Pag and Campsite Porto Sole, Vrsar, are a really affordable way to enjoy high-season beach life in Croatia, with shady pitches right on the water from about €6 a night.

Cycling the Czech Republic

Mikulov, with its baroque castle, in the Czech Republic.

Mikulov, with its baroque castle, in the Czech Republic. Photograph: milangonda/Getty Images

The Czech Republic’s capital, Prague is still very cheap to visit, despite being a well-trodden mini-break destination. But the rest of the country is less well explored, despite boasting beautiful, untouched countryside and sleepy Bohemian towns and villages.

Booking.com

The south Moravian wine region is still considered “undiscovered” – Brno, Znojmo and Mikulov are the main towns, and the last of these has an impressive baroque castle. Accommodation in boltholes such as the rustic Templ hotel in Mikulov starts at £52 a night, while in Brno the hip Hostel Mitte is a great base for younger travellers, with dorm beds from €14.

Inn Travel runs a self-guided cycle tour from £870 for six nights. Cycling is one of the best ways to explore the Czech countryside: the 250-mile, centuries-old Greenways route – a corridor of various trails through rolling hills, rich forest and along the Dyje and Vitava rivers – can be followed from Prague to Vienna (where cyclists can join the Danube trail to Budapest).

Medieval Montenegro

Kotor hi res

Kotor. Photograph: Alamy

Montenegro has ancient forests, stunning mountains, beautiful beaches – and cheap flights. A Ryanair return in June to the capital, Podgorica, can cost as little as £80. Returns with easyJet to Tivat, the tourist hotspot on beautiful Bay of Kotor, cost from £150.

Kotor Town is a medieval city on a mountainous bay, dotted with 13th-century churches, museums and palaces. Here, even the chic four-star Hotel Hippocampus, in the heart of the old town, costs from just €95 a night, while i-escape offers a cosy, self-catered four-person apartment across the bay in Perast, the “prettiest village in Montenegro”, from £85 a night.

Hotel Hippocampus, in the medieval city of Kotor, Montenegro

Hotel Hippocampus, in the medieval city of Kotor, Montenegro.

For those who prefer packages, Responsible Travel offers a seven-day activity holiday – taking in beaches, rock pools and vineyards at Lake Skadar national park – from £495, as well as an eight-day self-guided cycle tour from lakes to olive groves, around the lake and the Bay of Kotor from £510, both excluding flights.

To find discount codes for easyJet, Thomas Cook and other leading travel providers, visit discountcode.theguardian.com


Author of Article

Will Coldwell

@will_coldwell

Sun 2 Apr 2017 07.00 BST

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