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Overseas holidays

Bulgarian capital is best value for money

Bulgaria-bound travellers flying through Sofia Airport can look forward to the best value in the world, new cost-comparison figures reveal. The Bulgarian capital offered the cheapest trip abroad among 49 world cities for holidaymakers wanting a one-night stay in a four-star hotel with meal and cocktails for two. This is according to statistics from TripAdvisor.

Many holidaymakers can fly from South-East England airports this summer. Visitors looking for transfers from Sofia Airport won't have to break the bank either. There is a shuttle bus service that connects the first terminal with the city centre and the largest residential area of Lyulin. You can be shuttled from the airport to your hotel for a fixed rate of three euros (£2.55).

A Sofia one-night stay for two people cost £104. Second cheapest destination was Hanoi in Vietnam (£115), followed by Warsaw in Poland (£123), Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt (£125.45) and Budapest in Hungary (£127). A similar stay in the most costly location surveyed - Oslo in Norway - was as high as £381. TripAdvisor spokesman Angus Struthers said the list shows that Asia is the most affordable continent, while Europe is the most expensive. But he added that some European cities, such as Sofia, Warsaw and Budapest, are increasingly bucking this trend.

Copyright © Press Association 2013

Apple appeal pairs Madeira festivals

Like your apples and cider under the September Portuguese sun?

Then two Madeira festivals separated by just 26.7 miles (43km) and six days could form the core of your autumn holiday. Travellers flying through Madeira Airport - with easy bus transfers available both to and around the island's capital of Funchal - can enjoy the Apple Festival (Festa do Pero) - Ponta do Pargo - from September 14-15.

Then the following weekend it's the Mostra da Sidra (Apple Cider Festival) - Santo da Serra - from September 21-22. Festa do Pêro is a rural occasion in the quaint village of Ponta do Pargo. Here farmers from many nearby regions congregate and transform the apple harvest into a vibrant party, including a traditional street parade, exhibition, shops and cider tasting.

The aromatic quality of the famous apples in this area was so strong that ships on the high seas bound for Madeira were able to detect the perfume and some ancient writers have referred to it. Santo da Serra marks the established way of making cider during the Apple Cider Festival. Cider is a much loved beverage in Madeira, made from many types of apples across the region, including those made in Camacha, Santo da Serra, and Machico e Prazeres. The festival includes an exhibition of apple varieties and other related products. There will be a small parade and great entertainment with tourists getting the opportunity to savour cider sampling, press demonstrations, music and traditional food.

Copyright © Press Association 2013

Airports open up Philippines beaches

The Philippines' dozen international airports are opening up enchanting opportunities for holidaymakers eager to sample the republic's heavenly deserted beaches. It would take you the best part of two decades to visit a different Philippines island every day. Travel experts are tipping the previously low-key resort to become a major beach-holiday destination - and it's never been easier for tourists to access.

There are 12 international airports and more than 20 leading and minor domestic airports serving the country. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport - also known as Manila International Airport - is the main global gateway into the republic and its capital. It is easy to get transfers, with a well-stocked and reliable supply of buses an important mode of public transport. The Philippines is becoming particularly popular among serious diving holidaymakers, who enjoy incredible underwater life, unspoilt coral gardens with rainbow-bright fish, green sea turtles and dugong aquatic mammals.

In Bicol you can swim with the world's biggest fish, the whale shark, or go deep-sea fishing in one of the oceans' deepest trenches, not far from Siargao's hidden island gem. Palawan's archipelago boasts palm-fringed white-powder beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters and natural lagoons for wild swimming on Miniloc Island - all protected by UNESCO. Bacuit Bay is like Vietnam's Halong Bay, but without the tourists. Two new resorts are Ariara Island and El Nido Pangulasian Island, a private-island destination with palm-thatched villas, a spa, its own dive centre, and heart-melting sea views.

Copyright © Press Association 2013

Airport passengers head for Seychelles

Airport passengers are increasingly voting the Seychelles island paradise a tourism favourite… with their feet. The number of holidaymakers visiting the Indian Ocean archipelago jumped by a better-than-expected 15% in the first four months of this year. Seychelles' tourism minister claims this figure could further improve - thanks to increased investment from the Gulf.

The Seychelles now expects 2013 tourist numbers to be 10% higher than last year overall, when it attracted 208,000 visitors. Tourism directly and indirectly represents more than 60% of the national economy, which was worth 1.01 billion dollars in terms of gross domestic product in 2011, according to the World Bank. Minister of Tourism and Culture Alain St Ange told Reuters Europe remains its biggest tourism market. Seychelles is renowned for having some of the planet's finest, pristine and un-crowded beaches.

Some are bracketed by age-old granite boulders. Others offer powder-soft sands, turquoise waters and sublime chances for swimming, snorkelling or pure self-indulgence. The islands transfer you to proud national monuments, beautiful Creole houses, artists' studios, national reserves and marine parks, as well as breathtaking natural wonders above and beneath the waves. Various excursions will acquaint you with the pleasures of glass-bottom boating and watersports. There are guided nature tours where holidaymakers can enjoy the rarest species of flora and fauna. Seychelles also affords mellow nightlife with restaurants, casinos, and bars.

Copyright © Press Association 2013

New Zealand ready for Hobbit influx

New Zealand is ready for a surge in visitors who are keen to experience the land of The Hobbit.

The country is investing at least $50 million in tourism promotions linked to the latest film in the mega successful Lord of the Rings franchise. Various special tours are being offered to fans of The Hobbit who want to get closer to the mythical land, which was so memorably represented on the big screen by New Zealand's stunning landscape. And there is more good news for excited passengers who are boarding their airport transfers for a trip of a lifetime – the film sets from The Hobbit have been made permanent for visitors to see in their full glory.

After concluding the first trilogy, director Peter Jackson was happy for the sets to be demolished, not realising the huge interest that would ensue from visitors all around the world. Tourism New Zealand says more than 226,000 people have travelled to the country to see the place where their beloved characters came to life since the Lord of the Rings fever first took hold. And this time around, fans will be pleased to learn Russell Alexander – the owner of the farm that stands in for Hobbiton – has convinced Jackson to contribute money to make the sets permanent. So the country is now really geared up to make it an extra special stay for film fans, who can get hold of a Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook to help them plan their visits to other key locations either on their own or with one of the many tour groups. In Wellington, where Jackson's film studio is based, there are tours on offer that visit between seven and 25 filming locations.

Copyright © Press Association 2013