Travelers can save by staying put in Iberia

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NEW YORK -- On the bus, off it, reboard. Check in and unpack, repack and check out. These are routines familiar to any veteran of European tours.

Now, tour operators to Portugal are offering an alternative -- settling in and absorbing the country at leisure.

Home Away from Home, an extended resort stay from Skyline Travel of Huntington, N.Y., places clients at select properties on Portugal's Algarve coast for four weeks or more (shorter stays also are available).

The area's famed beaches notwithstanding, nearby sightseeing opportunities include not only Lisbon but Evora, Sagres and Silves. Golf, tennis, sailing and nightlife abound.

Carvoeiro, on the sandy coast of Portugal's Algarve province.Wintering on the warm and relatively inexpensive Iberian seashore as heating bills soar at home can actually save U.S. travelers money, said Liberal Lopes, president of Skyline.

"We're trying to bring our product to the attention of the travel agent because it's a good value," Lopes said.

Skyline pays 12.5% commission on the packages.

Apartments at resorts such as the Sao Rafael in Albufeira and the Jardim do Vau, Praia da Rocha, range from tourist class to four-star, Lopes said.

Air fare and four weeks in a studio at the beachfront Sao Rafael (with maid service) is priced from $945.

Repeat business is strong, said Lopes, who eschews direct booking.

"We get over 95% of our business from agents," he said. "We'd never bite the hands that feed us."

Leisure is key to the single-stay Discover Portugal tour from Collette Vacations, said Melissa Snape, director of product development at the Pawtucket, R.I., company.

"Our Discover series of tours are a response to agent feedback that their clients are looking for more leisurely programs," she said, adding that repeat visitors, in particular, indicated they want longer city-center stays to more fully explore locales only glimpsed on previous tours.

"Discover Portugal really enables people to see Lisbon in a new light, especially cultural components such as museums," Snape said.

Not limited to Lisbon, the five-night program also visits the coastal towns of Estoril, Nazare and Cascais; the walled town of Obidos, and the Catholic pilgrimage center, Fatima.

The land-only tour is priced from $649 per person, double, including nine meals and accommodations at Lisbon's Hotel Altis or Alfa Lisboa.

For more information on Skyline Travel's Home Away from Home plans, call (800) 423-9090; e-mail [email protected], or visit www.skylinetravel.com.

For more information on Collette Tours' Discover Portugal tour, call (888) 344-5578 or visit www.collettevacations.com.

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