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NOT Paris in the Spring: Where Your Dollar Stretches Farther

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DaffodilParis in the springtime, most of us would agree, has become somewhat of a travel cliche by now.

And while Paris is indeed quite lovely at this time of year, it is also extremely expensive, considering the strength of the euro over the U.S. dollar.

But there are a number of other, lesser-known destinations that offer springtime travelers good deals.

Here is just a sampling of some alternatives you may want to consider:

BUDAPEST

If you’re looking for European culture, but fear that Paris could be too expensive for an extended stay, consider Hungary’s capital, Budapest. Now that Hungary is a member of the EU, travel there is a relative snap. And though it’s not as well known as nearby Prague, Budapest is generally less expensive than its Central European neighbor or the City of Light.

For example, rooms at the Paris Hilton start at 200 euros for advance purchase over the Internet, while a similar room at the Budapest Hilton is just 129 euros, compared to the mid-range Holiday Inn near the Paris Opera, which starts at 167 euros.

In addition, Budapest boasts the historic architecture, buzzing sidewalk cafes, and cosmopolitan atmosphere that Paris possesses. And while winters can be dismally cold and summers blazingly hot, many find springtime to be one of the best times to see the Hungarian capital.

For a healthy dose of nature in Hungary, try Margaret Island, a 19th-century park known as one of Budapest’s most popular. The Margaret Bridge was built across the Danube to the island in 1900, and features sculptures by Parisian tower-designer Gustave Eiffel.

One of Budapest’s larger public parks, Margaret Island, is sometimes called the “Lungs of Budapest.”

While development of hotels and shops has changed the island’s once-rustic charm, there’s still open space the size of downtown Budapest within the park’s confines. When exploring Margaret Island, be sure to keep your ears open for the hourly chimes of the Music Fountain.

For a more urban type of garden, check out the Jazz Garden, a restaurant/club featuring live jazz nearly every night of the week. Though it won’t satisfy your outdoorsy cravings, it might help satisfy your cultural ones. That said, there is an outdoor garden that hosts jazz combos of all sizes as the weather warms. For more, visit: http://www.jazzgarden.hu

MOROCCO

Many Americans still consider Morocco to be an incredibly exotic destination, but it’s surprisingly accessible.

In terms of getting there, Morocco is now fairly well served from Europe by low-cost carriers such as easyJet, Ryanair and Atlas Blue, which connect London and Marrakech. While Ryanair offers a one-way London-Marrakech ticket for 7 British pounds (about $13), prices normally hover in the $50-$75 range for one-way tickets on the cheapest direct carriers. Royal Air Maroc, Morocco’s flag carrier, has actually slashed prices on its London-Marrakech route in the face of such competition. Alternately, Royal Air Maroc will fly you roundtrip from JFK airport for just under $1000.

Here’s the best reason to head to Morocco in the springtime: it’s significantly less expensive. In Marrakech, about $150 per night will get you a single room at the Kenzi Semiramis Hotel, a resort-style hotel, while about $250 will get you a suite. A comparable boutique hotel in the heart of Paris with similar amenities, will likely run at least $300 per night, even before the summer high season.

The real reason to head to Morocco in the spring, though, is the temperature.

Even the hot, dusty interior at the edge of the Sahara is usually bearable in April, compared to soaring temperatures in August. And with spring comes the opening of hiking, climbing and bird watching adventures in the Atlas Mountains that were closed by winter rain and snow.

Serious outdoor enthusiasts may want to head to Jbel Toubkal, about 40 miles from Marrakech. This mountain is the highest in North Africa, and offers a number of moderate-to-strenuous hikes in the summer months, as well as some skiing in the winter. In the spring, there’s often an abundance of wild flowers, not to mention moderate temperatures along the trails.

AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam can be slightly cheaper than Paris. But there are other reasons why Amsterdam is a wonderful alternative to Paris. Like Paris, it is a center of European culture and history; however, many people don’t realize the veritable bouquet it offers visitors.

Did someone mention bouquet? Think tulips, and a wide variety of other incredibly beautiful flowers. Most of the top hotels in Paris actually fly their flowers in from Amsterdam. In April and May in Amsterdam, markets, public squares, and parks are full of the famous flowers. And if you’re really into Holland’s best known export, there are any number of tulip farms and festivals within easy day-trip distance from the city.

The Aalsmeer Flower Auction (or “Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer” in Dutch) is a perennial favorite for Dutch flower enthusiasts and reportedly the world’s largest flower market. Now, it is a flower market, but the “market”┬Ł doesn’t refer to visitors, but rather the flower merchants who help the Aalsmeer clear almost two billion euros each year. If you get caught up in the excitement and absolutely must buy flowers, there is a small tourist-oriented shop on the grounds that should satisfy your flower cravings. For more, visit the Aalsmeer website: www.vba.nl/nieuws.asp?MainMenu=Home

You also might consider an excursion to the gardens in Keukenhof, outside Amsterdam in the town of Lisse. Acres upon acres of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths greet the eye in Keukenhof, which each year opens in late March (Mar. 22nd this year) and closes sometime in May (the 20th this year). Tickets are 13 euros per adult and 6 euros per child, and parking is 5 euros. For more information, visit: www.keukenhof.nl

So, for spring travel, just remember: Paris in the spring is nice, but spending the season in Budapest, Amsterdam, or Morocco could be just as magical.

If you are thinking of traveling to Paris, don’t miss the Off-the-Brochure Travel Guide to Paris, France, here.

To check out the Off-the-Brochure Travel Guide to Amsterdam, click here.

It can really stretch your travel dollar to travel in a contrarian way, so check out Where August Is the Off Season.

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