A TRAVELLER'S CALENDAR; APRIL

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Easter ushers in high prices this month, and wherever you go you will probably have to contend with the holiday crowds. The crisp spring weather in southern Europe makes this time of year ideal for walkers, sightseers and explorers, but it's still strictly paddling only in the chilly Mediterranean. In the Caribbean, it's the end of high season and the beginning of package-brochure "summer".

April is cherry blossom time in Japan. There are processions in ancient Kyoto, where the Buddhist pagodas, Shinto shrines, parks, gardens and nearby mountainsides shimmer with blossom. Lower fares, too, will encourage travellers beyond the capital and Kyoto, to the mountainous interior of rice paddies, volcanoes and old caravan towns. It's possible to stay in traditional inns once used by the Samurai and feudal lords, or in monasteries, to learn more of Japanese ways of life.

Easter Sunday is on 7 April this year, and celebrations are at their most spectacular in Andalusia, in Seville especially. Accommodation during Holy Week is at a premium in the city iself, and it's worth remembering that the solemn, fervent processions in the smaller Andalusian villages are sometimes more moving. Bullfights and balls, flamenco and revelry follow, with Seville's Feria, or Spring Fair, attracting the cream of Spanish society to the city.

In Greece and Cyprus (where the Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday falls a week later, on 14 April), you can capitalise on the celebrations and tours while also enjoying the spring flowers at their best; Crete and Cyprus are among the most hospitable islands.

For more cultivated floral displays, the bulbfields in Holland offer spectacular viewing throughout April to mid-May. Special weekend breaks are available through several tour operators.

For sun seekers, the Caribbean is an alluring destination. The weather is still superb, and prices plummet immediately after Easter. New charter flights have opened up the larger islands - the Dominican Republic, St Lucia, Barbados, Antigua and Jamaica - to holidaymakers who could previously afford nothing further west than the Canaries.

The largest of the Caribbean islands, Cuba combines excellent beaches (Varadero is the pop spot), with a blend of colonial, Marxist, and Afro- Caribbean culture. This is best experienced in the capital, Havana, in the old Spanish colonial port of Trinidad (now a national monument) and in Santiago at the eastern tip of the island - where the Festival de Caribe of African dancing and music takes place in April.

In Europe, there are ski bargains galore in April (and the chances of getting a suntan in the Alps are as good as in the Caribbean, since sunbathing is what most skiers do after lunch when the slopes turn slushy). Real downhill racers choose high resorts or those near glaciers for a long day's skiing: Zell am See, Kaprun and Obergurgl in Austria, Val Thorens, Val d'Isere and Tignes in France, and Zermatt and Saas Fee in Switzerland are among them.

BOOKING INFORMATION

Japan: return flights pounds 518 from STA Worldwide (0171-361 6262). The Nakasendo Trail - a new 14-day walking tour of rural Japan, led by English experts in Japanese culture - costs pounds 2,060 from Explore (01252 319448), including flights, simple accommodation and some meals.

Andalusia: April bargain charters to Malaga are available from Air Fares (0171-707 9000).

Cyprus: charters from pounds 199 (also from Air Fares, above).

The Caribbean: charters from pounds 409-pounds 439, also from Air Fares.

Holland: Time Off (0171-235 8070) offers a day trip to the tulip fields for pounds 28, based on a two- or three-night break in Amsterdam for pounds 196 b&b by air, pounds 124 by ferry.

Cuba: flights, tours and accommodation can be booked through Regent Holidays (0117 921 1711), from pounds 375 return from Stansted.

The Alps: most ski operators offer breaks in the high Alpine resorts; for example, return charter flight and one week in a catered chalet at Kaprun, Austria, is pounds 299 from Crystal Holidays (0181-399 5144).

A TRAVELLER'S CALENDAR

MAY

THIS IS the month when Europe is at its best; the landscapes are picturesque, the towns and cities pleasant and peaceful and hoteliers at their most welcoming. Hardy holidaymakers are beginning to swim in the Med, while the rains are moving in on long-haul destinations such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and much of Indo-China, Thailand and Hong Kong.

Mexico, though, is a good place to visit this month. It manages to miss most of Central America's soggy May days, the new charters bringing the bucket-and-spade brigade to its Pacific coast, where Puerto Vallarta is a more attractive choice than tired old Acapulco. The Caribbean coastal resort of Cancun has no Mexican atmosphere, but it's a convenient springboard for exploring the colonial and Mayan culture of Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Merida.

Nearer home, these are the best weeks for walkers, cyclists and explorers among the lakes and mountains of Austria and Switzerland. The first glimpses of edelweiss will delight flower-spotters, as Alpine meadows revert to spring green. In Austria, Salzburg and Innsbruck, or the tiny chocolate- box villages of Alpbach, Seefeld or Ehrwald, are picturesque bases for mountain walkers.

Switzerland's amazing network of railways and cable cars - including the Glacier Express from St Moritz, Davos and Zermatt, the Bernina Express from Chur, and the Jungfraujoch from Grindelwald - offer an easy route to the peaks, with special passes for visitors that go some way towards cushioning unfavourable exchange rates.

In the South of France, the Carmargue is a heaven for birdwatchers this month, with flamingos and hundreds of other migrants ruling the haunting marshes and lagoons. At the end of the month, gypsies arrive, too - on pilgrimage to Les Saintes-Maries-de- la-Mer, in honour of their patron saint, Sarah, who, according to legend, accompanied Saint Mary Jacobeus and Saint May Salome when they were washed ashore here during their exile. Religious processions out to sea take place on 24 and 25 May, but the sleepy town bursts into festivity for most of the preceding week. There's even more frenzied activity this month along the coast in Monaco, when the Grand Prix roars off on Sunday 19 May - the only motor race of the season that's as much fun for ordinary mortals as for experts and aficionados. You need to book hotels and stand seats early to watch the heroics, though many choose merely to cele- brate. Specialist tour firms can book tickets and accommodation.

BOOKING INFORMATION

Mexico: one-week flight and room-only packages from pounds 439 in Puerto Vallarta, available from Skytours (0171-707 9000).

Austria and Switzerland: package holidays in the lakes and mountains (with discounted rail passes) from Crystal Holidays (0181-399 5144) and Swiss Travel Service (01992 456123). One week's half-board on Lake Thun in Switzerland, for example, costs pounds 389. Return flights to Innsbruck pounds 244 (pounds 168 for under 26s) and Geneva or Zurich pounds 148, both from STA (0171-361 6161).

South of France: flights to Nice from pounds 142 with STA (0171-361 6161).

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