Travel Editor’s blog: The wonders of Greece

The Greek islands, of course, are perhaps the main attraction for so many of us; beautiful, blue waters, whitewashed buildings with cascades of brilliant bougainvillea, fresh seafood. The best known probably are Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu and Crete, where Kefalogianni hails from. But there are thousands of them in all, about 300 of them inhabited.


IMF and Greece: Institutional Monstrous Failure

In a chapter of their new book, The Body Economic, academics David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu calculate the toll austerity has taken on the health of ordinary Greeks. Their assessment is sobering: an HIV epidemic; medics unable to afford gloves, gowns and wipes, and spiralling suicides. Last week the IMF admitted it had been too sanguine about the devastation austerity would wreak on Greece – and that some of the measures forced on Athens in return for its emergency loans had been wrong. Put bluntly, the social crisis catalogued by Stuckler and Basu needn’t have been so devastating, and fewer Greeks need have died.

Looking at the first of the three austerity packages the IMF and Europe imposed on Greece, the report admits that the troika’s optimism over how the economy would react to austerity was disastrously wrong. It was forecast that Greece’s annual income, its GDP, would by last year be down only 5.5% from its 2009 level; the reality was a drop of more than three times that. Unemployment in 2012 was anticipated to be 15% of the workforce; it turned out to be 25%. Amid epochal crisis, Greeks wouldn’t have avoided economic and social dislocation – but the policies thrust on them heightened the suffering. The troika underestimated the impact that cuts and tax rises would have on the economy; it failed to foresee the consequent collapse in business confidence, and the further ruination of the loans extended by Greek banks.

Early on in the crisis, this paper argued for a rapid writedown or even default on the debt owed by the Greek state coupled with measures to insulate European banks from the shockwaves that would immediately follow. Instead, Greece was lent money to keep repaying the interest on its loans to banks and hedge funds, even while its people starved. Now the Fund concedes that early debt-restructuring would have been best – but says that it “had been ruled out by the euro area” by officials and politicians who were not up to the job of crisis management. As this weekend’s game of blame tennis between the European commission and the Fund illustrates, the troika is as dysfunctional in 2013 as it was in 2010. Meanwhile, Greece is sticking to the austerity course, for which its reward is the sixth straight year of recession.

It is time the troika learned some lessons from the Greek debacle. First, a clearer division of labour needs to be established between Europe and the Fund. Second, the IMF should publish evaluations of how the other euro debt crises were handled. Third, it is time the Fund devised a legitimate process for countries to declare bankruptcy. Finally, the euro group needs to reverse its austerity policy and encourage fiscal stimulus. The mess made of Greece must never be repeated.


The Crafty Traveller: The top places to grab a red-hot summer holiday bargain

07:48 EST, 9 June 2013


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07:48 EST, 9 June 2013

Still haven’t booked a holiday for this summer? You may well be after somewhere that is not only a sure-fire bet for warm, sunny days, but also offers great value for money.

With the pound weaker against the euro and other European currencies than last summer, day-to-day costs for British travellers are generally higher than a year ago. But if you know where to go and who to turn to, you can still find bargain breaks….

Good value: You can dine out cheaply at lovely Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus

Good value: You can dine out cheaply at lovely Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus

CYPRUS

Bookings nosedived after the country’s financial crisis in March. While they have recovered to some degree, companies such as Cyprus specialist Cyplon Holidays (0800 050 9632, cyplon.co.uk) report that they have more unsold holidays than in previous years. The best deals, says Cyplon, are in Paphos. And check out the late-deals section on thomson.co.uk, which flags up hundreds of Cyprus holidays with big savings.

Turkish North Cyprus has been unaffected by the financial crisis. I was there last month and was astonished at how cheap most things were. At Niazi’s, the best restaurant in the lovely resort of Kyrenia, a ‘full kebab’ meal, including a vast spread of mezes and endless grilled meats, will set you back just £15. Contact Anatolian Sky (0844 273 0689, anatoliansky.co.uk) for packages.

TURKEY

Holidays in the big resorts can be cheap but not necessarily cheerful. For charm as well as value, Cachet Travel (020 8847 8700, cachet-travel.co.uk) suggests heading off the beaten track to the rugged Datca peninsula, or to Faralya, a sleepy hamlet a short ride in a dolmus bus from Oludeniz, Turkey’s most photogenic beach.

Beach bargain: The Algarve is Europe's cheapest destination this year according to the Post Office

Beach bargain: The Algarve is Europe’s cheapest destination this year according to the Post Office

GREECE

Ionian and Aegean Island Holidays (020 8459 0777, ionianislandholidays.com) says Greek hoteliers and villa owners are being more proactive in offering deals. It has a host of packages in June with up to 40 per cent off. The best deals are to Skopelos and Cephalonia.

If you’re into watersports, consider one of Mark Warner’s four Greek resorts (0844 273 7397, markwarner.co.uk). Sailing, windsurfing and childcare are included in rates, with savings of up to £350 per person in June.

PORTUGAL

According to the Post Office’s latest Holiday Costs Barometer – which compares the price of common purchases such as a meal, drinks and sun cream – the Algarve is Europe’s cheapest destination this year. Thomas Cook (thomascook.com) sells packages in all price brackets to the main resorts. Portugal specialist The Villa Agency (01273 747811, thevillaagency.co.uk) picks out Vale de Parra, Praia da Luz and the villages behind the coast for inexpensive places to eat – and says its villas inland are cheaper.

Last-minute deals: The Costa Blanca has a surfeit of villas, so prices are keen

Last-minute deals: The Costa Blanca has a surfeit of villas, so prices are keen

SPAIN

For a villa holiday, the Costas offer better value than the Balearics, and while rentals in the Canaries are affordable in summer, flights are usually dearer than to the Spanish mainland.

The Costa Blanca has a surfeit of villas, so prices are keen – at James Villa Holidays (0800 074 0122, jamesvillas.co.uk), I’m looking at last-minute deals under £600 a week for a substantial villa with pool. Cheap villas and cottages can be found on the northern Spanish coasts, though few have pools.

Casas Cantabricas (01223 328721, casas.co.uk) is offering ten per cent off self-catering places in Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia in June and July.

FRANCE

Getting to France can be far cheaper than other overseas destinations: well under £100 return for a car and passengers on the Dover-Calais route. And no country does camping as well as France. Indigo sites (campingindigo.com) are beautiful, back-to-nature affairs. Canvas Holidays (0845 268 0827, canvasholidays.co.uk) is also offering packages from under £300 for a week in June in a pre-erected tent, including ferry. However, you need to drive south to be assured of the sun.