A TRAVELLER'S CALENDAR: MARCH

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The Independent Culture
THIS month, most people are holding out until Easter for their therapeutic late winter sun. For those who really can't stand the British chill any longer, glorious days are to be had in the Caribbean and India - with glorious prices to match. Be warned, though, that reliable weather is still a gamble in the Med, and long-haul destinations can be wet - notably the Seychelles and Mauritius, where it can bucket down from November to April.

On the other side of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are a safer bet. There's not much to do but sizzle or dive, though there are plenty of islands to do it on - 200 are inhabited and 70 take in visitors. Laguna Beach, just 500 yards long and 165 wide, has a hotel with Italian and Chinese restaurants, swimming pool and fitness centre. Full Moon is another sophisticated island, with an excellent diving centre.

Among the more laid-back ("no shoe") islands, Ari Beach and Meerufenfushi offer basic thatched huts and unheated showers; Baros and Bandos are pleasant, middle-of-the-road hideaways; and Nakatachafushi is a pretty retreat for people who want large doses of each other's company. Island-hopping Greek- fashion isn't on, and even on Male, the main island, a little mosque, an Islamic library and a market more or less complete the sightseeing. A week on the Maldives can be combined with another in Sri Lanka, where jungle, ancient cities and temples, and cooler hill stations are the attractions.

For serious sightseeing, though, head for Egypt before the fiery 100F temperatures of summer arrive. Charters fly in cheaply to Luxor; overland treks take in the Sinai desert, St Catherine's Monastery, and the Red Sea diving centres at Sharm el Sheikh or Hurghada.

Further south, Ethiopia is one of Africa's most beautiful and culturally interesting destinations, with the 17th-century castles of Gondar, the rock-cut churches of Lalibela and the old Moorish walls and alleys of remote Harrar dominating the itinerary. In Ethiopia's National Parks, there are hippos and baboons, pelicans and fish-eagles; the waters of the Tisissat Falls plunge 140ft before launching the Blue Nile on its 1,000-mile journey to Khartoum.

City breaks in Europe are very popular at this time of year, but don't expect great weather. Economy is the main incentive, with pre-Easter prices still low on weekend deals to Prague, Berlin, Bruges and Budapest. Short breaks across the Atlantic are also an option; Montreal and Boston are newcomers to the itinerary.

BOOKING INFORMATION

Maldives: the biggest variety of charter flights and holidays is available from Kuoni (01306 743000), from pounds 624 a week half-board.

Egypt: one week b&b to Luxor with Thomson Holidays (0171-707 9000), pounds 299. New 15-day overland treks to the Sinai and Nubian Nile pounds 799, flights and some meals included, from Explore (01252 319448).

Ethiopia: 17 days b&b from pounds 1,895, also from Explore (number above).

City breaks: three nights b&b in Prague from pounds 326; Budapest pounds 291; Berlin pounds 359; Bruges pounds 239; Boston and Montreal pounds 399 (room only). All prices include flights, available from Time Off (0171-235 8070).

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