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Enough about the dollar's piddling worth in Europe.

It's true that U.S. currency is devalued drastically in western Europe, where American travelers tend to gravitate. In a handful of central and eastern European nations, however, the State Department still allots employees a lower maximum per diem than it does for African countries such as Namibia. If you care less about jet set hotspots than about UNESCO World Heritage sites, medieval city cores, Old World customs and beautiful countryside, they're a smart choice for budget travelers, even in spring.

A number of these nations are newly joined European Union members, less frequented by tourists, where prices are still relatively low, even in Euros; others are not yet members. Airfare may not be exceptionally low, but once you're there, your dollar will go the furthest.

According to the State Department's per diem rates, the six cheapest countries in Europe, outside capital cities, are Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Estonia, Poland, and Romania, in that order. And by our calculations, fantastic bargains are still to be had in Turkey, though its per diems aren't as low. The per diems, listed below, are based on higher hotel rates than you'd pay if you're willing to settle for three-star accommodations, and the high-range prices reflect cost of goods in capital cities. They're still a good indicator of relative value if you keep in mind that the day rate in Namibia, as a point of comparison, is $165 to $217.

According to Mobissimo Travel (tel. 650/577-2306; www.mobissimo.com) and Euro-Hotels (no phone; www.euro-hotels.com), these are the cheapest air and accommodations rates in the capitals, for mid-week travel from New York in April (April 5 to 13). Keep in mind that hotel rates drop outside capital cities.

Country SD Per Diem RT Air to Capital Airline 3-Star Room
Greece $53-$339 $635 Air France $85
Bulgaria $87-$155 $595 United $90*
Hungary $93-$218 $672 KLM $68
Estonia $130-$196 $778 Delta $86
Poland $139-$194 $598 LOT $78
Romania $152-$228 $568 KLM/Northwest $63
Turkey $184-$233 $671 Turkish Airlines $35

We also found a number of good package deals to several of these destinations. The best are in Turkey. Through Pacha Tours (tel. 800/722-4288; www.pachatours,com), six nights in Istanbul, in three-star hotels, are $655 from New York, for travel until March 25. From April 1 to June 5, the cost rises to $960. Air taxes are an additional $80 to $130.

Pacha Tour's "Turkish Delight" trip is more expensive but an even better value: 14 days -- including meals, three- and four-star hotels, and ground transportation -- for $1,325, from New York, through March 31; $1,465 from Los Angeles. In April, the New York rate is $1,635; $1,845 from Los Angeles. The trip takes you through all the most important sites in Turkey, including Istanbul, Ankara, Cappadocia, Antalya, Pamukkala, Ephesus and Troy. The land-only option is $795 through March 31; $865 through the month of April.

From April 1 to April 26, Sophisticated Traveler (tel. 408/229-1950; www.affordablepoland.com) is promoting some decent air-hotel packages to major cities in Poland. The best deal for the money is the combined city tour of Warsaw, Krakow, and Gdansk: Nine nights (three in each city) are $1,189 from JFK; $1,205 from Boston, Newark, and Washington, D.C.; $1,225 from Chicago; and $1,375 from major West Coast cities.

For this Poland deal as well as the following, couples are eligible for a $50 refund for booking by February 5. All the Poland deals include full breakfast and hotel tax. Additional departure taxes and fees are high, ranging from $150 to $275. See the website for additional departure cities. (From the home page, click independent packages.)

For the same travel period, six nights in Krakow, at the three-star Hotel Regent, are $929 from New York JFK; $959 from Boston, Newark, and Washington, D.C.; $975 from Chicago; and $1,129 from major West Coast cities. Six nights in Warsaw, at the three-star Hotel Grand, are $979 from Boston, New York JFK, Newark, and Washington, D.C.; Chicago for $999; and San Francisco and Los Angeles for $1,149. All these packages come with land-only options. Warsaw land-only, for example is $371 for April travel.

Romatours (tel. 800/621-8687; www.romatours.com) is offering a number of land-only tours. If you can find your own way around the capital and countryside, it's cheapest to book your own trip. If you want more guidance than that, consider Romatour's "Best of Romania" trip: With three-star hotels, two meals a day, and ground transportation, a five-night package tour is $1,085 for travel in April. The trip takes you through major cities and the countryside, including almost half a dozen UNESCO World Heritage sites. Airfare is not included. See the website for further details.

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