The i-escape blog / Lucy Richardson

By Lucy Richardson, Editor

There’s no need to fork out the big bucks on a luxury holiday. Look in the right places and you’ll find smart and stylish stays that won’t cost the earth. It’s all about finding value.

Soaring holiday prices are a real blow to us travel nuts. A recent article from the Times told us that, these days, it’s not uncommon for rooms in luxe London hotels to go for over £1,000 per night – ludicrous! So does this mean we’ll be paying more to stay in worse hotels, or – god forbid – that we’ll have to stop going away?

Absolutely not! It’s all about looking for value. Find under-the-radar destinations that aren’t trending but should be, or choose small but stylish hotels that aren’t listed on major sites, and are therefore unknown by most. Try looking for destinations where the exchange rate is good or the cost of living is low, and find value in new things like unique experiences or great food. This way you’ll discover pockets of luxury that are, in fact, affordable.

But all that takes a lot of research, so we’ve done the hard work for you.

Algarve, Portugal

This year’s Post Office Holiday Money Report, which analysed the best value places to visit in 2024, highlighted the Algarve as Europe’s top destination. Unlike most of Western Europe, restaurant prices and hotel rooms remain good value here – half of the hotels in our collection offer stays for less than GBP 150 per night, and they’re stylish as ever. What’s more, it’s relatively easy to find budget flights to Faro, especially outside of peak months. If you choose the Western Algarve, explore the gnarled coastline by yacht, or go towards the Atlantic coast for upmarket surfer towns; if you choose the Eastern Algarve, pick the charming, working towns lining the Ria Formosa Natural Park, where island beaches have Caribbean good-looks and are easily accessible by low-cost ferries or boat taxis.

Stay at: Colegio Charm House

There are many affordable hotels in the Algarve, but for some good value luxury, we love Colegio Charm House. Situated in a former palace, this dazzling white villa has 20 gorgeous rooms, all tastefully furnished with collections of beautiful and unusual pieces. There’s a decked pool terrace, a rooftop lounge, and a restaurant that serves sustainable, seasonal produce. The hotel is situated in the centre of old Tavira, one of the Algarve’s most beguiling towns, home to a warren of cobbled alleys, piazzas and leafy avenues. The beaches of the Ria Formosa are a short ferry ride away. Rooms from GBP 161 per night.


Ok, the cost of getting to Vietnam is high, but the cost of living is low. The best meal I had here was at a tiny vendor in Hanoi which served freshly cooked pho (noodle and meat soup) at kiddie-sized tables and chairs on a street corner, and it cost me less than a pound. You can find some beautiful, upmarket hotels in Vietnam for very reasonable prices – far less than you’d pay for a run-of-the-mill hotel in Europe – which makes a luxury stay very affordable. Getting around by moped or taxi is cheap and easy – preload the Grab app before you go – and if you’re doing longer journeys, the country’s public transport system is efficient, plus there are low-cost internal flights with Vietjet. To really explore in style, check out the new Vietage train route, which whisks you between Da Nang and Quy Nhon in complete luxury (three-course meals, free-flowing drinks, complimentary massages) for a very competitive price tag.

Stay at: Dechiu Hotel

In the aforementioned Post Office report, Hoi An was named the best value destination in the world in 2024. The town’s attractive, Unesco-listed centre is a colourful jumble of merchant houses, tea shops and lantern-lit streets lining the banks of the Thu Bon River, which flows out to sea a few miles downriver. It’s here that you’ll find Dechiu Hotel, a stunning boutique haven on the beach, with nine individually decorated rooms styled with reclaimed-wood doors, carved furniture and handmade linens. The look is fresh and contemporary, which isn’t so easy to come by in Vietnamese hotels. Farm-harvested breakfasts are served at the onsite vegetarian-centric cafe, and bikes are available for pedalling into town. Rooms from GBP 68 per night.

Cape Town and Winelands

For us Europeans, the exchange rate in South Africa is currently the best it’s been in years. Flights are pricey (keep checking comparison websites to monitor prices, which fluctuate with demand), but once there, you’ll find great value for money, especially around Cape Town – which claimed the number two spot in the Post Office report. For getting around, Uber is much cheaper than local taxi companies. Eating out is particularly good value too, with the cost of an evening meal averaging GBP 11. Or, for an affordable high-end feast, you could head out to the Cape Winelands, home to some of the best restaurants and vineyards in the world. Here you can dine at the top places for less than GBP 40 per head, and there’s virtually no mark-up on wines. For the best all-round prices, we recommend going in October, which isn’t peak season but often sees good weather.

Stay at: Boschendal Farm Cottages

Boschendal is an elegant wine estate poised between the foodie towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, around 45 minutes from Cape Town.  As one of the oldest working farms in South Africa (founded in 1685), it has oodles of heritage and is renowned for its wonderful restaurants, deli, and picnic scene enjoyed on beautiful lawns. The 43 cottages (ranging from 1 to 5 bedrooms) are excellent value for such high standards, with fresh and homely interiors. Kitchens come with Le Creuset cookware, and you can stock up or pre-order produce at the Farm Shop – but you’ll want to do your fair share of eating out here too! Cottages from GBP 157 per night.


Italy might not have a reputation as an affordable destination, but head to the island off the tip of this boot-shaped country and you’ll notice that prices drop considerably. Hidden behind crumbling facades in Sicily’s romantic, ancient villages are small, boutique hotels where fashionable rooms showcase expert Italian style but cost far less than those fringing the Lakes or the Amalfi Coast. The cost of eating out will depend on where you choose, but with cannoli, gelato and crispy arancini to snack on throughout the day, you might not need three big meals. Try the street food at markets in Palermo, and don’t be afraid to order the cheaper wines on restaurant menus – Sicily is Italy’s largest wine region, so you can expect great tipples here.

Stay at: Lume

Set in the heart of ancient Siracusa, Lume is a 6-bedroom B&B run by creative Parisian and Italian cousins who have worked with major fashion brands. Value comes in the form of generous, individually themed rooms with antiques collected in Paris, plus excellent service, and a location among 2,500 years of architecture, framed by the Mediterranean. The surroundings are best viewed from the roof terrace, where breakfasts, evening Prosecco and aperitivi are served with sea views. Rooms from GBP 205 per night.

Sri Lanka

Thankfully, Sri Lanka’s turbulent years are behind them, but the still-recovering economy means you can get a lot for your pounds here. Serviced villas with housekeepers and cooks provide amazing value – choose a plush pool house by the sea and it might cost half the price of the airport hotel you overnighted at on the way here. Travelling by private chauffeured car is surprisingly cheap too; we spent little over GBP 100 for 10 days of driving along the south coast. Tuk-tuks are the best way to get around in the cities; train is a great long-distance option, and the journeys here are some of the world’s most spectacular. Best of all, those fabulous and flavoursome curries can cost as little as GBP 3 if you choose a local restaurant away from the tourist traps.

Stay at: Villa Don Hendrick

Harold and Raf, the friendly owners of Villa Don Hendrick, will treat you like kings at their blissful sanctuary near Tangalle. A tranquil tropical garden, where peacocks, birds, lizards, and monkeys roam, houses three private bungalows just for adults, with four-poster beds, rainfall showers and free soft drinks. You can cater for yourself in the well-equipped shared kitchen or have Harold cook you delicious dinners infused with Sri Lankan flavours – a recent guest claimed his food was “worthy of Michelin stars”, and we loved their papaya and vanilla jam so much we bought some to take home. Borrow a bicycle or grab a tuk-tuk into Tangalle and its palm-fringed beach, just 3km away.  Bungalows from GBP 107 per night.

Lisbon, Portugal

It’s not just southern Portugal that’s good value; the cities are surprisingly affordable too, having seen minimal rise in prices in recent years. Lisbon receives hundreds of budget flights from the continent – fly from London with Ryanair in May, for example, and you’ll be paying in the region of GBP 50pp (tip: fly mid-week if you can, it’s always cheaper). The accommodation here is ultra stylish – the Portuguese know a thing or two about design – so you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to chic hotels. And the food is pretty reasonable too – look for pratos do dia (menus of the day) for the best value meals, or snack on petiscos (small plates) served at hipster bars. The city is easily explorable on foot, but you can get a 24-hour ticket for unlimited public transport (including all buses, metro and those famous trams) for just EUR 6.80 – absolute steal!

Stay at: Baixa House

Set in a grand, 18th-century building with classic Portuguese tiling, the Baixa House apartments (sleeping 1-7) are super chic yet affordable. Each is light, airy and spacious, and many have elegant French windows overlooking the city. Being in self-catered accommodation means you can save on dining costs, and the excellent kitchens have all the kit plus basic ingredients. Better still, breakfast, homemade cake and daily cleaning are included in the price, which is unusual for city self-catering. When it comes to exploring, you’re bang in the heart of Lisbon, in the downtown Baixa district. Apartments from GBP 150 per night.