You may have noticed that Easter – with its giddy promise of two Bank Holidays flanking the weekend – is almost upon us. Which has set us to thinking about what you can do with a full four days away from work. How far can you go? What can you see?
And then we began thinking – could you see two continents in one four-day spell? Not necessarily in the Easter break, but on a long weekend at any point in the year, where you eke out an extra 48 hours away from the office, and go wild and crazy at the thrill of it all.
The answer is that, with a bit of imagination and a willingness to put in the miles, yes, youcan pull off such an act of mini-Phileas Fogg-ness. Even without cheating.
Because, by “two continents in one four-day spell”, we don’t mean leaving your house in Britain (one continent) and flying to Dubai (two continents) for three days of sun. We mean dashing from a UK airport to somewhere beyond the borders of this sceptred isle (one continent), then going on to somewhere even further afield (two continents) – before speeding back home in time for that really crucial meeting on the Tuesday morning.
Easy? Not entirely. But possible? Absolutely…
Helsinki and New York
The idea of a deliberate “stopover” in the middle of a long-haul air journey has become increasingly popular of late. Finnair (0843 506 0498; finnair.com) is one of several airlines to make this a specific option for passengers, allowing them to break their odyssey with a pause in Helsinki – which can last for anything between five hours and five days. Which is more than enough time to facilitate a two-continent weekend.
Let’s take the third weekend of May as a theoretical window. You can catch a Finnair flight from Gatwick to Helsinki at 10.20 on the morning of Friday May 18, but not continue onward until the afternoon of Saturday May 19 – at which point you could board the 2.10pm Finnair service to John F. Kennedy International, landing in New York at 3.50pm local time.
Finnair’s booking system will also allow you to head home without going back through Finland, and if you really want to push the long weekend to its limits, you could hop onto the 6.30pm British Airways connection from JFK to Heathrow on the evening of Monday May 21 – which touches down at 6.30am on the Tuesday, in time for a bleary-eyed rush to work and a lot of coffee.
This package of flights currently costs from £694 a head (including checked baggage) – and would give you Friday night in Helsinki – plus Saturday night, the whole of Sunday and most of Monday in the Big Apple. Consider that the “two continents” box ticked.
Reykjavik and Boston
The Icelandic carrier Wow Air (01642 450 450; wowair.com) offers the same stopover option. Taking the same weekend two months from now as a start-point, you could fly from Gatwick to Keflavik airport on the morning of Friday May 18, at 11.40am, landing in Reykjavik at 1.55pm – and have a whole day in Iceland’s capital before leaping onto the 3.30pm Wow connection to Boston on the Saturday afternoon.
This lands in the USA at 5.35pm local time, giving you a full day to explore the Massachusetts state capital (long enough to stroll along the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail –thefreedomtrail.org – of 16 historic sites associated with the American Revolution) – before leaving again at 7pm on the Sunday evening.
The journey home won’t be the most comfortable, requiring a change back in Reykjavik (landing at 4.30am on the Monday morning, and catching an onward flight to Gatwick at 6.10am), but you will be back on British soil at 10.25am, giving you the rest of the day to snooze away the jetlag in the sanctuary of your own bedroom. This whole package of flights will set you back £505 per person.
Marseille and Tunis
The link between southern France and North Africa has always been a strong one – so why not do both in a long weekend? Marseille shows its affiliation with the continent across the Mediterranean on its central Rue d’Aubagne, where you can eat Tunisian fare at Restaurant Chez Yassine (8A Rue d’ Aubagne; 0033 9 8083 3913) – but with a decent dose of wanderlust, you could also jump to Tunisia to experience the real thing.
How? Well, you would need to shift this theoretical four-day weekend in May back by 24 hours to make the timings work – but you could begin on the morning of Saturday May 19, boarding the 7.19am Eurostar (0343 218 6186; eurostar.com) direct service from London to Marseille (from £68pp), which arrives in the Provence port at 2.47pm.
After an afternoon’s sightseeing and an evening’s merriment in a city which takes its nightlife seriously in its La Plaine district, you could head to the harbour on the morning of Sunday May 20 to board the 10am Corsica Linea (0825 888 088; corsicalinea.com) ferry to Tunis (from €121 a head). This is something of a slow boat to Africa, taking 22 hours to reach Tunisia, docking at 8am on the Monday morning. But this still gives you a day and a half in the capital (long enough, certainly, to take in the many treasures from the Carthaginian and Roman eras at the glorious National Bardo Museum; bardomuseum.tn) – before, on Tuesday May 22, you climb onto the 1.50pm flight to Heathrow (from £97) with Tunisair (020 3056 8998; tunisair.com), which lands at the reasonable hour of 4.55pm.
Malaga and Melilla
Caveats galore with this one. When is Spain not entirely Spain and Africa not entirely Africa? When it is the grey area of the Spanish exclaves which perch directly across the water on the North African landmass, kept separate from Morocco (which claims them both) by the small matters of history and red tape.
An excuse for a weekend between blurred border lines? Well, it’s feasible. The best way is to arrange a flight package with Iberia (020 3684 3774; iberia.com). Its booking engine will slot you onto the 8.35am British Airways departure from London City on Friday May 18, and onto a return flight with BA from Malaga to Heathrow on the evening of Monday May 21, taking off at a long-weekend-maximising time of 8.30pm.
In between, you can spend an afternoon in the superb Museo Picasso Malaga, which salutes the great surrealist in the city where he was born ( museopicassomalaga.org) – then leap the Mediterranean into Spanish North Africa.
You can fly to Melilla with Iberia at 9.20am on Saturday 19 May (the journey takes 50 minutes), enjoy the best part of two days on the beach at Playa de Horcas Coloradas, and be back on European Spanish soil via the 5.50pm Iberia flight to Malaga on Sunday May 20. These four flights combined should cost around £499 per person – including checked baggage.
Nicosia and Lefkosa
Even more caveats here. Cyprus is, of course, Europe’s most divided entity. Ever since the Turkish invasion in 1974, this Mediterranean outcrop has been sundered between the Republic of Cyprus in the lower half of the island and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – which only Turkey recognises – in the upper.
But is the “Green Line” between the two – which still has a heavy military presence in places – also a line in the sand between Europe and Asia? Realistically, in terms of geography, Cyprus is part of the latter – it is only 78 miles from Dipkarpaz (Rizokarpaso) on its Karpass Peninsula to Latakia on the Syrian coast. But the Republic of Cyprus is a member of the European Union. Two continents on one island? Does that make any sort of sense?
One way to find out is to spend a long weekend in its capital. Greek Cypriots call it Nicosia, Turkish Cypriots refer to it as Lefkosa. But whatever the name, the “border” runs right through it – and, since 2003, has been open.
Crossing is a simple process if you have a British passport – which means you could easily spend a couple of nights on either side of the political chasm. The three-star Centrum Hotel in the south (00357 22 456 444; centrumhotelcyprus.com) has double rooms from £69 a night. The Saray Hotel in the north (00971 56 672 2163) has doubles from £80 a night. EasyJet (0330 365 5000; easyjet.com) flies into Larnaca from Liverpool in May from £180 return.
When it comes to cities which straddle continents – but without the asterisk of a four-decade ceasefire and an awful lot of acrimony – there is but one Istanbul.
Turkey’s most famous city exists, of course, with its left foot in Europe, and its right in Asia, on the other side of the Bosphorus estuary. Two continents in one weekend? Indubitably.
Book a stay at the five-star Park Bosphorus Hotel (0090 212 377 88 88;cvkhotelsandresorts.com), which offers double rooms from £118 per night on the European bank of the river. And grab a cab to slip across the Bosphorus Bridge for a quick sojourn at the four-star Hotel Mercure Istanbul Altunizade (0090 216 333 0000;mercure.accorhotels.com), which has doubles from £52, in Asian-side Uskudar. British Airways (0344 493 0787; ba.com ) sells return flights to Istanbul from Heathrow in May from £208 a head.
Thingvellir National Park
Islands can be divided by geography as well as politics and bad blood. And if you have hopped to Iceland as part of a two-continent escape, you may find, once you arrive, that your work is already complete.
Not only do the Eurasian and North American continental plates meet in this realm of fire and snow, the rift valley runs precisely through Thingvellir National Park (thingvellir.is/english), a rugged wonderland 25 miles north-east of Reykjavik. Opt to hike here and you can go between continents on foot, in a tectonic sense. Icelandair (020 7874 1000; icelandair.com) offers return flights to Keflavik from Manchester in May from £196 (including checked baggage).
Cheating? OK, maybe just a little bit.