Sofia Hotel Balkan, Bulgaria

Declared one of the cheapest European capitals for a holiday, Bulgarian capital Sofia (Greek for wisdom) is priceless when it comes to a getaway packed with history, culture and architecture. Populated by humans since 7000BC this ancient city perched on the Aegean, Adriatic and Black seas’ peninsula at the foot of Mount Vitosha is a stimulating amalgam of ancient Thracians, Roman, Ottoman and communist Russian influences.

The austere Stalinist buildings, the Turkish legacy of the Sofia Mineral Baths, the neo-baroque majesty of the Market Hall, and the Roman ruins of the Amphitheatre of Serdica display Sofia’s multicultural wealth. Nature, too, has been bountiful as strolls among the sprawling Borisova Gradina Park’s pines, hothouses, rosarium and fish lakes in autumn will reveal.

A stone’s throw away from the amphitheatre in central Sveta Nedelya square lies the classical Sofia Hotel Balkan built on an ancient Roman fortress. Sleep on the past in ornate suites at 10 per cent discounts, free breakfast and free Wi-Fi with the Suite Stay offer. In-house Stardust Restaurant’s shopska salata (veg-cheese salad) and banichka (pastry bun) will satisfy the hungry.

To satiate literary cravings venture into Slaveykov Square’s (named after father-son poets Petko and Pencho Slaveykov) countless bookstalls and wise up in this city named wisdom.

Junior suites from Dh638. Call (359)(2) 9816541 or email reservation@sofiabalkan.net.


Conrad Dubai

So what if the summer holidays are over? A weekend at the Conrad Dubai will make your family feel special again, with the Special Family Package. Share cavernous modern rooms with kids under 12, enjoy Dh100 credit per child, and free transportation to The Dubai Mall to utilise the 20 per cent discounts on tickets to Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, Dubai Ice Rink, Kidzania and Sega Republic through the concierge desk. King deluxe rooms from Dh1,140. Call 04 444 7444 or email Conrad.dubai_reservations@conradhotels.com


The Chedi Muscat

We’ve gotten wind of five-star Chedi’s Summer Breeze offer – just the excuse to spend more than a weekend enjoying Muscat’s powder-white beaches and silver souks. Stay two nights plus in their tasteful whitewashed rooms framed by palm fronds and pond-filled zen gardens to enjoy a three-course dinner for two, 30 per cent discounts on all treatments at the spa, complimentary Pilates and yoga group exercise classes and 20 per cent F&B discount to snack on refreshing Mediterranean bites and fresh juices as you wade in the spectacular pools. Rooms from Dh944, including daily buffet breakfast and discounts. Call 00968 2452 4400 or email reservation@chedimuscat.com.

Exciting escapes

Go mountain biking in Switzerland

Go offbeat and pedal into an exciting off-road holiday with the Hotel Eden Roc Ascona’s mountain biking weekend from September 30 to October 2. Speed through idyllic trails in the forests of Ticino in the Southern Alps led by World Champion Nino Schurter and teammate Martin Gujan. Starting with a technical introduction by the pros, stop for lunch in a local grotto restaurant, then end the day dining with the world-class athletes in the gorgeous Eden Roc hotel overlooking Lake Maggiore. Dh2,828 per person includes five-hour tour, half-board two-night stay and spa access. Book at www.edenroc.ch.

Travel book of the week

East of the West by Miroslav Penkov

This collection of short stories depict the fascinating duality of Bulgaria’s eastern and western influences as characters navigate post-communism, family and culture in absurd plots. Peppered with quirky humour and injected with a dose of emotion it’ll keep you riveted during your Balkan travels. Dh41 on Amazon.com.

Style on the go

MONITOR-Y GAINS Soak up Vitamin D without sun damage on your holidays wearing the Sunfriend Personal UV Monitor. With 11 customisable sensitivity settings, the waterproof silicone band’s UV index flashes LED lights when you cross the required sun exposure. Dh199, Virgin Megastore.

PASSPORT TO STORAGE Do away with easy-to-lose minuscule pen drives and store important holiday memories on WD My Passport Ultra. Transferring data three times quicker, it backs up pictures, videos etc. to cloud services and is password secured. Dh439 for 2TB, Emax.

FLIP-FLOP HITS These rubber sandals from Shipshib’s Dhow collection offer style, comfort, treads for grip, and a story to boot. Inspired by traditional wooden boats sailing the Arabian Gulf, its plush cotton mesh insole will see you sail through walking tours. Dh200, Level Shoes.