Take off for an Eid weekend on a budget

With the upcoming Eid-Al-Fitr holidays offering the chance of a getaway here's a look at budget deals that still offer luxury

The summer holidays are almost at an end, and all you workaholics who haven’t managed to getaway for some summer fun have the upcoming Eid break beckoning with promises of island adventures and romantic escapes.

Athens, Greece

Although Greece may seem like the other end of Europe, the flight time between UAE and Athens is a mere five hours (even less on return).

Offering the perfect amalgamation of a rich cultural heritage and modern comforts, Athens is an art aficionado’s paradise, with the numerous historical museums providing an apt home for the many ancient treasures that once epitomised the essence of Greece – least of them being the majestic Acropolis.

While this bustling metropolis has kept pace with the 21st century, it is heartbreaking to see that the ancient architecture has well and truly taken a backseat, with only a choice few institutions preserving their ancient legacy in an era of mass marketing.

So, it is with a sigh of relief when one drinks in areas such as Plaka, where old meets the new as you discover the many treasures that Athens promises.

We recommend the majestic structure of the 130-year-old Hotel Grande Bretagne, symbolising the perfect marriage of two eras.

Occupying a prestigious block of the city’s Constitution Square and offering views of the ancient Acropolis, the hotel is as much legendary, as it is majestic.

Ideally located on Syntagma Square ¬–overlooking the Parliament in one direction and the Acropolis in the other –the Hotel Grande Bretagne is the city’s most legendary lodging.

Functioning as the royal guesthouse in the mid-19th century for King Otto and Queen Amalia, the hotel first opened its doors to receive visitors in 1874.

With time, the Hotel Grande Bretagne has accumulated a rich history that dates back over a century of social and political power plays.

Surviving a war with Turkey, two Balkan Wars, two World Wars and numerous other catastrophic events, the Grand Old Dame (as the hotel is fondly known) has stood by, entertaining crowned kings and princes, heads of state, prime ministers and ministers, business tycoons, and prominent names in literature and arts, to name just few.

Jaipur, India

If history fascinates you and ancient architecture delights you, then you simply can’t go wrong with a visit to the Rajasthani city of Jaipur.

Presenting a perfect amalgamation of the old and new, walking the urban grid of this pink city transports you back into an era where royalty ruled the city from their laps of luxury, cocooned in their palatial complexes.

Head to the city’s palace quarter, which beholds the mesmerising sprawling palace complex of the Hawa Mahal, with its formal gardens and a glittering lake.

Other must-see attractions include Nahargarh Fort, which was the residence of the King Sawai Jai Singh II, the observatory, Jantar Mantar and the Amber Fort.

The good thing about Jaipur is being spoilt for choice with so many palaces now having been converted into guesthouses and hotels to make money in the modern-era.

Our pick is the stunning Raj Mahal Palace Hotel Jaipur. Who says that living the high life of royalties comes with a price?

This ideal retreat is perfect for those looking for a bit of cultural heritage without digging deep into their pockets.

This romantic retreat was originally built in 1729 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur for his favourite queen, but nearly a decade later the palace was also playing host to VIP’s such as Queen Elizabeth, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, Mussolini’s daughter, Princess Katherine and the King of Greece – to name but few.

Set amidst 15 acres of well-maintained lawns, the Raj Mahal Palace was converted into a hotel in 1979 and has spacious, elegant suites with high ceilings, chandeliers and period furniture, paintings and antiques reminiscent of the royal past.

Pangkor Laut, Straits of Malacca, Malaysia

Hungry for a real island adventure? Then a room at Pangkor Laut has your name on it.

This privately owned island is located three miles off the West Coast of Malaysia in the Straits of Malacca and situated here is the internationally acclaimed Pangkor Laut Resort.

Although the island stretches across 300 acres, only a fraction has been developed to house the resort and its estates. The rest is covered by lush and unspoiled two million-year-old rainforest, with coves of beautiful beaches surrounded by an emerald green sea.

There are 148 Malaysian-style luxury villas in the main Pangkor Laut Resort and eight magnificent estates in a nearby, secluded cove. As the island is only accessible to the guests of the resort and estates, it makes the perfect private holiday or a honeymoon getaway.

The resort offers a wide range of facilities and activities, including the award-winning Spa Village, one that extols the healing cultures of the region and offers an abundance of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Thai practices.

Bentota, Sri Lanka

As the war ended in Sri Lanka in 2009, its government immediately started investing in the country’s tourism sector.

Over the last two years, this tropical nation is fast emerging as a top draw with Asian expats. According to the Middle East office of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), regional travel to the island nation increased by 106 per cent in Q1 2010, in the immediate aftermath.

Rajiv Vats, General Manager, UAE and Oman, Kanoo Holidays told Emirates 24|7 earlier: “Sri Lanka is a safe bet with tourists... plus, it’s affordable with those who have a recession fatigue still hanging over them.”

With budget carrier flydubai’s convenient flights to Colombo, now’s the time to grab that eid bargain.

We highly recommend to forgo the tourist hotspots and make this eid break one where the surf, sea and sand beckon in all its glory.

Bentota, located on the southwest tip of the island is a top draw, with Vivanta by Taj being the ideal luxury getaway on the cheap.

In fact, Dnata Holidays is offering a special package for the entire month of September, with return economy class flights, a three-night stay in a Superior Charm Room, daily breakfast and return airport transfers, all starting at Dh2,550 per person.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, literally translating to new city, offers the perfect retreat from the daily hustle bustle of Dubai.

Located 700km from Bangkok, the city has a has a 700-year-old heritage that dates back to 1296 when King Meng Rai founded his Lanna (a million rice fields) Kingdom on this region’s very soil.

As a deeply religious man, King Rai is the reason why the city is home to hundreds of Buddhist temples, of which the Wat Chiang Man is the oldest and perhaps the most important for keeping the cultural heritage alive through the peace-loving monks who live in the shelter of this holy shrine.

Daily jungle tours from Chiang Mai are a must for those who aren’t afraid to opt for a physical activity on their holidays.

Trekking through the province’s Northern Highlands will bring you face to face with the Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Akha, Yao and the Meo tribes.

And if you are really lucky, then a glimpse into their culture-rich ceremonies will prove to be the highlight of your stay.

We highly recommend the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi as your ideal Chiang Mai destination. The sprawling 60-acres property probably needs a week on its own to explore its many hidden treasures, with architecture that will delight those with a flair for creativity.

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