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Dip into the city of canals

It sometimes seems as if the only city-break bargains available to teachers involve weekends in BelgiumIin the February half-term. In fact that is not as bad a proposition as it might seem. Even when it's freezing, Ghent is more attractive than most other European cities.

But this summer, Crystal Cities is marking down three and four-night stays in some of its most popular destinations. Four-night breaks at the three-star Hotel Inntel in the centre of Amsterdam cost Pounds 259 - Pounds 50 less than the standard price - and include return scheduled flights and rail travel between the airport and city centre.

The three-star Hotel Alliance Saint-Germain in Paris is offering three nights for the price of two throughout August. The Pounds 209 cost includes BB and return travel by Eurostar.

Four-nights-for-the-price-of-three are also being offered at the four-star Westin City Centre hotel which is close to the White House in Washington DC. But as the reduced price tag is still Pounds 635, all but the wealthiest building-society-windfall recipients will pass up the opportunity to go Clinton-gawping.

Crystal Cities: 0181 241 5040

That Pounds 635 (without breakfast) might be better invested in a trans-Atlantic trip that you put together yourself. Flights Direct is booking return flights to Boston at Pounds 211 and Toronto at Pounds 228.

But Pounds 635 would also cover the cost of most late-availability Mediterranean holidays and still leave you with plenty of spending money. Despite warnings that everyone really would have to book early this summer to avoid disappointment (and recriminations from the children), some travel agents have almost blacked out their windows with "holidays for sale" cards. That's a pity for the travel clerks who are robbed of daylight but good news for those who refused to be stampeded into an early booking.

Lunn Poly is offering 14 nights' self-catering accommodation in Kavos, Corfu, for Pounds 396 (leaving Manchester on August 12). Thomson has a range of inexpensive seven-night apartment holidays involving flights from Manchester: Tenerife for Pounds 344 (August 12), Austria Pounds 299 (August 13) and Kos Pounds 373 (August 14). Airtours also has quite a wide selection of one-week apartment holidays on its books: Majorca Pounds 369 (from East Midlands, August 20), Menorca Pounds 369 (Manchester, August 21) and Rhodes Pounds 319 (from Teesside, August 25).

Flights Direct: 0990 101520. Thomson and Airtours: 0990 181818. Lunn Poly: contact local branch.

There has been much agitated stamping of green wellingtons this week over the National Trust's attempt to sell off farmland. But there is surely no chance that the trust would ever consider pawning its real jewels, even if the benefactors' wills allowed it.

Sissinghurst Castle Farm, which is situated in an idyllic corner of Kent, is a case in point. Its spacious Victorian farmhouse, which offers bed and breakfast accommodation for as little as Pounds 23.50 a night, is less than a minute's walk from the castle gardens created by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. Vita once said that, far from being an armchair gardener: "I have broken my back, my fingernails and sometimes my heart" in the Sissinghurst gardens. If you'd like to spend a day or two enjoying the fruits of her labours, telephone Mrs Pat Stearns on 01580-712885. The leaflet listing the trust's BB properties in England and Wales (prices start at Pounds 12. 50 per night) can be obtained by sending a stamped, addressed envelope to National Trust Bed and Breakfast, PO Box 39, Bromley, Kent BR1 3XL.

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