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Budget Alternatives to Classic Destinations

madeira coastline sea portugalThe Fashionable Mediterranean Coast: French Riviera vs. Madeira, Portugal
Droves of tourists craving the exotic, European feel of the Cote d'Azur, which has attracted the rich and famous for decades, flock to this glamorous beach destination in the spring and summer months. Travelers would probably be less inclined to associate the glitz and glamour of the French Riviera with a Portuguese island, but Madeira, which has stunning mountains, beaches and sea cliffs, is slowly becoming another popular destination for the young and hip traveling set.

Madeira, a self-governing island of Portugal, has enjoyed a reputation as one of Europe's most affordable destinations for years. Madeira has less razzle-dazzle than the French Riviera, but you won't miss the thousands of tanning tourists and expensive resorts when you're mountain climbing, wine tasting or enjoying the year-round sunshine. Meanwhile, the French Riviera has distinctive high and low seasons, so if you visit when the weather is warm and sunny you'll deal with thick crowds and a thin wallet.

Air: A roundtrip flight from New York to Madeira runs from $800 to $1,350, depending on when you're flying. Fares are high in the summer months (this is when you'll find the $1,350 price tag), but fly in the winter or spring shoulder seasons and you'll enjoy cheap flights and pleasant temperatures in Madeira, which is mostly sunny and warm year-round. Fly from New York to Nice and you'll find similar fares -- around $1,200 in the summer and $700 in the off season. However, if you choose a cheaper flight to the French Riviera in the winter, you'll find many resorts and restaurants closed.

Exchange Rate: Both France and Portugal use the euro, so you'll find the same exchange rate in both (currently $1 to about 0.75 euros).

Accommodations: We found budget hotels in Cannes from $100 to $200 per night, while classier beachfront lodging can run as high as $400 to $900 per night in the summer. Even scarier, smaller seaside towns on the Riviera charge higher rates for hotel rooms. Stay oceanside in Madeira from $70 for a budget hotel and between $150 and $300 for upscale accommodations.

Food and Activities: Entrance to private beaches and use of lounge chairs on the Riviera may require a fee. Public beaches are available, but these may be more crowded. When it comes to dining, many budget travelers can't afford a splashy gourmet meal in the Riviera -- some of the trendier hotspots charge around $100 per person and usually require reservations well in advance in the high season -- but dinner at an upscale restaurant runs only about $30 on average in Madeira.

What's the Catch?: The French Riviera has a distinctive in-vogue vibe; beautiful people, stunning scenery and lots of skin come to mind when people speak of its trendy towns. You probably won't feel as fashionable telling your friends that you're vacationing in Madeira as you would if you were staying in Monte Carlo or Saint Tropez, and you'll have less of a chance to spot celebrities on the beaches and streets of Madeira (although we won't say it's never happened!).

jahorina ski lodge resort sarajevo bosnia winterEuropean Ski Trip: The Alps vs. Jahorina, Bosnia
Jahorina hosted some of the ski competitions in the 1984 Winter Olympics and boasts a ski scene cool and challenging enough to rival any Alps mountain. When the whole point of your trip is to set sail down an impressive mountain with ski poles tucked beneath your arms, why pay sky-high prices for Western European ski passes and lodging when you can get above-par ski action in Eastern Europe?

Food, lodging and ski passes are all significantly cheaper in Jahorina than in the Alps thanks to the more favorable exchange rate and less popular tourist infrastructure. And Bosnia still has that alluring European charm -- the 15th-century cobblestone streets in the nearby mountain town of Sarajevo are well worth exploring if you want a day away from the slopes.

Airfare: Fares to Bosnia won't be the cheapest part of your journey. You can get a roundtrip ticket from New York to Sarajevo, the nearest airport to Jahorina, for about $1,000. Winter fares to Western Europe will generally be a bit cheaper, around $600. But the money you'll save on hotels, meals and skiing will make up for the difference in airfare.

Exchange Rate: The Bosnian convertible mark is the local currency. Currently, $1 equals about 1.46 BAM -- so while the dollar will struggle against most Western European currencies, Bosnia's exchange rate actually boosts your spending power.

Accommodations: Mid-class hotels in Sarajevo cost from $35 per night. Compare this to slope-side hotels in the Alps, which can cost four times as much -- we found little lodging in the French Alps less than $150 per night, and many hotels and chalets charge well over $300.

Food and Activities: A day ski pass costs less than $25 in Jahorina, while skiing in the Alps can run $60 on average for an adult.

What's the Catch?: Since the end of the Bosnian War in 1995, the country has seen occasional political demonstrations and other minor signs of political unrest, and landmines still pose a threat in some regions (Jahorina is clear of landmines). Today, Bosnia can be a safe destination for the educated traveler; check the U.S. State Department Web site before your trip.

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    --written by Caroline Costello
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