The Travel Desk: news, deals and holiday ideas

Paris to Barcelona, Marrakesh; a night in Valhalla and Lisbon for a day

Fionn Davenport

Fionn Davenport

Sat, Dec 14, 2013, 11:06

High-speed train between Paris and Barcelona


From December 15th, double-decker high-speed TGV trains will run from Paris Gare de Lyon to Figueres, Girona and Barcelona. Centre to centre will take six hours and 17 minutes, which seems a lot compared to flying, but not if you take in getting to the airport and all the queuing and waiting around that turns a 45-minute flight into a half-day saga. To kick off the service, tickets cost from €59 (if booked advance).

Lisbon for the day

December 15th marks the last day of Lisbon Architecture Triennale (, a symposium that brings together architects and designers to muse on what the cities of the future might look like. Besides the obvious sights (the Belém Tower, the Castelo São Jorge and the wonderful 15th-century Manueline Monastery of Jerónimos), it is worth taking a trip on the wooden tram No 28 (above), which rumbles and rattles its way through Lisbon’s prettiest streets. For traditional Portuguese grub, Solar dos Nunes (Rua dos Lusíadas 68-70; does meaty stews, excellent fish soup, and partridge cooked in a cataplana.

A night in valhalla

Nothing quite says Christmas like a huge dance party, and Amsterdam is obliging with the second edition of Valhalla (, on December 21st, at the RAI convention centre.

This mammoth space will host to some of Europe’s best electronic dance music, from Floorplan to German techno producer Tensnake, plus back-to-back sets by Eats Everything and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. It will also have a rock stage, a 1920s-style Cotton Club, and weird and wonderful circus acts. The party runs from 10.30pm-7am and tickets cost €49.50 online.

When it’s all over, don’t miss the masterpieces of the recently reopened Rijksmuseum (Jan Luykenstraat 1; or the harrowing tour of the Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht 267; Don’t bother with the disappointing and overlong tour at the Heineken Museum or the Tulip Market, which has the feel of a €2 shop on water.

Need a place to stay? Between Art & Kitsch (Ruysdaelkade 75-2; is a lovely B&B randomly but effectively decorated by its well-travelled owners. It has doubles from €85.

Get ready for Marrakesh

Of the nine new routes from Dublin that Ryanair announced a couple of weeks ago, the most exciting one for me is Marrakesh.

Finally, a direct route to Morocco’s most intoxicating city – the dusty alleys of the Medina, framed by mud-baked walls and protected from the sun by colourful awnings, seem to have changed not a jot in a thousand years, when Berber traders first began selling their wares on the Djemaa el-Fnaa, still Africa’s busiest square.

The city’s distinctive riads are the only option for accommodation – two I’d recommend are the five-room Riad Chi-Chi (; rooms from €90) and the Riad Bayti (; rooms from €70) in a converted wine merchant’s mansion.

And just in case you thought Marrakesh was all about demure traditions, just south of the town is Pacha Marrakesh (, which is just as impressive as the Ibiza original. Flights start in April 2014.

Your own birthday island
Brad Pitt turns 50 this month, and rumour has it that his beloved Angelina is going to give him the gift 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy would bite off her arm for: his own private island. But it’s not some lost atoll in the South Pacific or a sandy stretch in the Caribbean: she has her eyes on Petra, 11 acres of heart-shaped real estate in the middle of Lake Mahopac, about 80km north of New York city. The island has two properties on it – a cottage and a residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1950. The asking price is about €14.7 million, but when you’re in love, sure it’s cheap at twice the price.

Budget flights to Israel
In 2014, European skies will have one more low-cost airline. Israeli national carrier El Al has announced that its budget airline UP will run 50 flights a week into Israel from five cities: Berlin, Budapest, Kiev, Prague and Larnaca. Unlike other low-cost airlines, the start-up will offer a two-cabin product, with economy fares starting from €50 one-way. But the usual add-on costs will apply: passengers will have to pay extra for airport check-in, baggage, seat allocations, inflight entertainment and refreshments.

Slope off in January
Eager skiers should take a look at the January deals from Crystal Ski Holidays. Seven-night packages start at €399 for Soll, Austria; from €699 half-board in Les Arcs, France (based on four people sharing); and from €509 for half board at the Italian resort of Sauze D’Oulx. Europe’s cheapest ski resorts are in Andorra, where you can stay at three-star, self-catering accommodation in Arinsal from €315 for seven nights.

If you are keen to get away for a bit of pre-Christmas sunshine, Tropical Sky ( is offering seven nights at the Rosen Inn at Pointe Orlando in Florida from €569 a person, based on two adults and two children, including flights with US Airways. If you want self-catering, there is a four-bedroom house and car available in the Disney area from €629 a person. To book call 01-664 9999 or see

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