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AS MIDSUMMER approaches, the long days and short nights make the northern hemisphere a real alternative to long-haul - and considerably cheaper. In Scandinavia, the midnight sun opens up the great outdoors to nature enthusiasts, while in Britain and northern France the beach holiday is the best way to enjoy the sun before high-summer hordes arrive. In Normandy, there's still room on the fashionable broadwalks of Deauville and Trouville and in the harbour cafes of Honfleur, and the light is at its clearest in the artist's favourite, Etretat. Over the border in Brittany you can still stroll in peace around the walls of St Malo, find space on the fine sands of Dinard, feast on buckets of oysters at Cancale, potter around the sparkling little resorts of Saint Briac, Le Val-Andre and Perros Guirec, or join one of the sailing schools now in full swing on the more protected south-westerly beaches of Carnac and Benodet.

If you're looking for some of the qualities of the Caribbean, but closer to home, the startling tur-quoise waters, white beaches and clear blue skies of the Scilly Isles are a realistic alternative. There are 140 of them in their westerly archipelago (though only six are inhabited), and you can have a glorious beach or even a whole island to yourself before July and August. Hugh Town on the main island of St Mary's is almost busy by Scilly standards, with about 25 shops and restaurants and a nine-hole golf course. Then there's semi-tropical Tresco, where exotic plants run riot in the famous Abbey Gardens. From these islands, boat trips leave regularly for St Martin (where you'll find the best sands), St Agnes (prehistoric sites) and Bishops Rock, where you can watch seals basking in the sun and puffins bobbing on the waves.

June brings short nights and long, bright days for sightseeing in the far north and Scandinavia. This is the month for renting log cabins in Sweden, Finland and Norway, tracking elk in the forest, and fishing or canoeing in the lakes and fjords - or from the decks of Norway's traditional hurtigruten steamers. Carry-ing post as well as passengers, the boats ply their way around 1,000 miles of rugged coast, calling at 35 little ports on their 11-day round trip from Bergen to the Arctic Circle.

In Iceland, June is the month for whale watching and wildlife spotting. Adventure firms organise skidoo and snowmobile expeditions over Europe's largest ice-cap, as well as riding, walking and four-wheel-drive tours on Iceland's glaciers and volcanoes.

For families, this is bargain month for self-drive camping packages, as travel firms try to lengthen the season beyond the school holidays. France is the traditional campers' favourite, but if by June the pound is still sick against the franc, look out in the brochures for Italian sites (assuming the exchange rate there remains much more friendly).


Northern France: a huge choice of cottage and hotel holidays, as well as weekend breaks, is available from Brittany Ferries (01752 269926 for brochures, 01705 827701 for bookings) and Stena Line (01233 211010 for brochures, 01233 647047 for reservations). Golfing and self-catering packages by car are available from pounds 121 a week from Brittany Direct Holidays (0181- 641 6060).

Scilly Isles: the ferry to St Mary's from Penzance costs pounds 65-pounds 70 return, flying from Land's End or St Just about pounds 85. For accommodation information contact the Isles of Scilly Tourist Board (01720 422 536).

Scandinavia: the return fare to Stockholm is pounds 168, to Oslo pounds 156: both from STA (0171-3616161). Self-drive log-cabin packages are available from Scandinavian Sea-ways (01255 241 234) for approximately pounds 260 per week, with two nights on board ship.

Iceland: a Midnight Sun Whale Festival holiday costs from pounds 670 for a three-night weekend from Artic Experience (01737 218800). Return flights to Reykavik cost pounds 319 with STA (0171-361 6161).

Camping: French & Italian Country Camping (01923 261311).



WITH THE Mediterranean holiday season about to move into top gear, this is the month to look to places well off the beaten track. Long-haul prices are at their most alluring, but you're likely to hit high humidity, torrential rain and even typhoons in places such as Hong Kong and northern India (where the monsoon season lasts until early October). There's torrential rain, too, in Kenya and Koh Samui, and 110F furnace-like heat in the Middle East.

Bali, in Indonesia, by contrast, is at its most delightful from July to October. While the Australians tend to crowd out Kuta and Sanur, the natural and cultural highlights of the rest of the island will cast a spell over even the most blase traveller.

Nearer home, island hoppers should aim to get to the Greek islands before the Meltemi winds strike in August - there are enchanting hideaways for those prepared to go the distance. It's usually a long and complicated journey to Kythera, a little-known Ionian dot that still has the simple and basic ingredients of the ideal Hellenophile's island: blue-domed chapels on lonely promontories, white cubist houses tucked into the hillsides, an ancient capital in the mountains, and a harbour where the fishermen still have priority.

In the Dodecanese, there's sleepy Halki (falling into disrepair until international projects rescued its waterfront houses), while even tinier Lipsi has some of the best beaches in the Aegean for those prepared to seek them out. Amorgos, Kastellorizon, Folegand-los, Iraklia and Serifos, too, are off the mass package beat.

On Europe's Atlantic beaches in July, breezes and clouds can whip up the waves - but these coasts offer plenty of variety for holidaymakers. In northern Spain the Costa Verda is a revelation, with sweeps of fine yellow sand around Llanes and craggy stretches at Cabo Penas, with prehistoric caves, medieval hilltop towns and the stupendous National Park of the Picos de Europa to explore if the weather turns grizzly.

Northern Spain is where they drink cider instead of wine, eat beans instead of paella and sing soulful laments instead of fierce flamenco. There's plenty of passion, though, from 7 July in Pamplona, where the bull-running Festival of San Fermin tests the nerves of the brave. The flow of pilgrims pouring into Santiago de Compostela peaks on 25 July for the day of St James the Apostle; his body, according to legend, was buried here after his martyrdom.

Across the Atlantic in Canada, bucking broncos kick the summer into touch at the annual Calgary stampede, and in the Rockies there are activities galore until after Fall, with fishing, camping, canoeing, boating, rafting and mountain biking based around Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise. The easy way to explore is aboard the "Rocky Mountaineer", a locomotive with comfortable observation cars that look out on snowcapped peaks, glaciers, forests, rivers and waterfalls during the 600-mile journey from Jasper to Vancouver.


Greek Islands: flights only to larger islands (with onward travel by ferry) are available from Air Fares (0171-707 9000). Campus Travel (0171- 730 2101) has a large range of Greek Island fares for under 26-year-olds.

Northern Spain: prices of ferries and packages to the Atlantic coast of Spain are available from Brittany Ferries (ring 01752 269926 for brochures, 01705 827701 for bookings). For fly-drives and city breaks, contact Mundi Color (0171-828 6021) and Secret Spain (01449 737664); a two-week holiday, staying in farmhouses and cottages, start at around pounds 239 each, including car hire.

Bali: return fares from pounds 742 with STA Worldwide (0171-361 6262).

Canada: information about activity and Rocky Mountain adventures from Visit Canada Centre (0181-875 1523). Return flights to Calgary from pounds 552 with STA Worldwide (0171-361 6262).