Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Daffodils and early blossom announce the end of winter, while just around the corner the Easter holidays are beckoning. How better to get in the swing for spring than with a short break? Rachelle Thackray asked a panel of experts to recommend 50 great getaways, including one or two longer holidays, to suit every personality and every pocket


This week's 50 Best panel comprised travel writer Cathy Packe; Sarah Miller, editor of Conde Nast Traveller magazine; Jennifer Cox, press officer for Lonely Planet publications; Jerry Bridge, founder of Bridge The World travel agency; Richard Stone, director of Short Breaks Direct; and Rhiannon Batten of The Independent's travel desk.








Offering understated luxury and fantastic views over Lake Windermere, it's not surprising that the likes of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman jet in for weekends at this 70-acre country estate. Owned by Phileas Fogg entrepreneur Roger McKechnie, all rooms are individually furnished, with CD players, videos and fax machines. There's even a theatre in an old barn, which doubles as a recording studio. Further details: The Samling at Dovenest, Ambleside Rd, Windermere (01539 431922); pounds 375 per couple per 24 hours, incl meals & drinks, based on a minimum of six couples sharing.



If there's one activity you always wanted to try but never got round to, spring is a good time to go for it. Keen on the horses? Then why not take the whole family on a special five-day riding course run by Acorn Activities, who specialise in action holidays around Britain. As well as learning how to mount, dismount and encourage the animal to move, you will be taught every aspect of equine care. If horses are not your thing, there is a choice of many other activities, from sailing to rally driving.

Further details: Acorn Activities (01432 830083); from pounds 250 per person.



Get back to nature with a whale- and dolphin-watching holiday on the Moray Firth. "The Scottish islands are heaven on a stick," enthuses Jennifer Cox. "You just go out on a boat into the mist. It's wonderful." You may also see seals if you take a cruise along the coast from Inverness, which can be reached by plane from Gatwick or Luton.

Further details: Moray Firth Cruises (01463 717900); Mar-Oct, 6 tours daily; pounds 10 for adults, pounds 5 for children (pounds 8 if booked in advance).



Queen Victoria slept in Briquebec's Hotel du Vieux Chateau, which is built into the ramparts of the town's 14th- century castle. You, too, can rest up here (pounds 81 a night), and sample the chateau's renowned restaurant. The main reason to visit, however, is the sprawling Saturday market, which gave its name to the term "bric-a-brac"; a further attraction is the Trappist monastery, which is open to the public. Briquebec is a mere 20 minutes' drive from Cherbourg. Further details: Hotel du Vieux Chateau (00 33 2 33 52 24 49); pounds 81 per night.



For a break with a difference, take an 11-day tour of this fascinating, windswept southern African country. Fly from Heathrow in the evening, and arrive at Windhoek the next morning, where you'll stay at the Kalahari Sands Hotel. Then begins a tour by light aircraft, taking in the massive sand dunes, the Wilderness camp, the Skeleton Coast and remote Damaraland. After that, it's on to the Etosha National Park for a safari expedition.

Further details: Southern Africa Travel (01904 692469); pounds 2,492 until 5 April.



Owner Olga Polizzi, sister of Rocco Forte, rebuilt a cluster of old houses and opened it as a luxury hotel last year. Ranged over three levels of ground, all rooms have sea views. Nearby attractions include a beach, the old fishing village, and a ferry service to Falmouth, 20 minutes away. Or you can stroll down to St Ives to see the new Tate Gallery. From London, take the train to St Austell from Paddington; lifts from the station can be arranged. Further details: Hotel Tresanton, 27 Lower Castle Road, St Mawes, Cornwall (01326 270055); from pounds 180 per room, family suites pounds 350.



For animal-mad kids, a farm holiday is ideal. Devon Farms lists 120 places offering B&B or self-catering. At this time of year there should be plenty of baby creatures to bewitch your own brood, providing a failsafe bribe when you drag them out on hearty hikes in the surrounding countryside. Many farmers allow you to accompany them on their rounds, milking and looking after the animals - and there's no obligation to do anything except watch.

Further details: Devon Farms (01404 841651); self-catering properties from pounds 140 a week.



The city's old Jewish Quarter is a fascinating place to view Berlin's transition to the modern-day. Jennifer Cox says it is one of her favourite places to people-watch. "At night, you push past Russian drug dealers, Polish soldiers and prostitutes in thigh-high boots. Silhouetted against that are the tortured artists spot-welding coathangers into abstract sculptures. There are also some really nihilistic bars; suddenly, from an installation, a 20-foot flame will shoot across the room. Nobody bats an eyelid, except you, trying to put out your singed eyebrows."

Further details: German Tourist Office (0891 600100).



If the fast-growing Belgo restaurant chain has given you a taste for all things Belgian, this three-day coach trip will make you an expert on the nation's beer. It includes stops in Ghent - where you can take a pub crawl with the town crier, no less - and Bruges, plus a visit to the Liefmans Brewery in Oudenaarde, famous for its fruit-flavoured brews. There's even a quick trip around a wine and beer warehouse in Calais so that you can stock up before returning to Dover. Further details: En Route (01303 261605); from pounds 129.



Those with time on their hands this Easter might try a 22-day trekking adventure in Vietnam, which takes in Hanoi, Cat Ba island and Ho Chi Minh, plus a night in a village homestay - a great way to meet locals. "This trip has so much to offer the more active traveller," says Jerry Bridge. "It's fast moving and harder than most, with some tough travelling, yet it is one of the most popular Vietnam adventures." Further details: Bridge the World (0171-911 0900); from pounds 860 per person.



Set on the edge of the New Forest, a few minutes' walk from the sea, this hotel recently came in the top 20 of a world poll conducted by Conde Nast. Facilities within its 75 acres include a nine-hole golf course, four tennis courts and a professional health spa with a sumptuous-sounding 18-metre ozone-treated lap pool. Martin and Brigitte Skan bought the property in 1966, and have expanded it from 12 to 53 rooms. Nearby places of interest include Winchester, Salisbury and the Isle of Wight, opposite, across the Solent.

Further details: Chewton Glen Hotel, Christchurch Rd, New Milton, Hampshire (01425 275341); rooms from pounds 230.



Spring is a good time to see the capital's Millennium Festival, during which more than 50 national institutions, including Lambeth Palace, Custom House and Horse Guards, will open to the public, or host special exhibitions. All venues are within a 10-minute walk of the Thames, at various points between Kew Gardens in the west, with an exhibition about the Millennium Seed Bank, to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, which has a display entitled "The Story of Time". County Hall has been turned into two hotels, so you can stay centrally and explore the river in both directions.

Further details: Millennium Festival (0171-665 1540; County Hall, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 (0171-902 1600); double rooms from pounds 59.95.



What better place to sup your Guinness than in the place where it all began? From April, the factory in Dublin will open seven days a week for tours of about an hour and a half. You'll see the museum, the cooperage with the old casks, and the advertising gallery (featuring the famous toucan and pelican), and learn all about the brewing process, from the moment the hops are picked. You also get a complimentary pint in the bar. Further details: St James's Gate, Dublin 8 (00 353 1 453 6700); Mon-Sat 9.30am-5pm, Sun till 4pm; adults pounds 5, under- 12s pounds 1 (groups of 20 or more should book ahead).



Learn something this Easter with a visit to the Somme and a chance to see first-hand the sites of the Great War. Stay at Peronne, an hour and a half's drive from Paris. Almost totally destroyed in the First World War, this fortified medieval city has been carefully rebuilt, and now features a special exhibition on its battle-torn history. Alternatively, go on to Amiens, which boasts the largest cathedral in France, and visit Jules Verne's house.

Further details: Motours (01892 677755); from pounds 55 per night, incl accommodation & crossing.



Long regarded as the jewel of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka - Buddha's Island - is an exotic alternative to the more well-trodden tourist trails of Thailand. An 18-day break with Explore Worldwide, starting on 25 March or 1 April, takes in everything from dense jungle to idyllic tropical coast, plus the fantastically named Temple of the Tooth at Kandy. There's also a chance to sunbathe on the beach at Beruwala.

Further details: Explore Worldwide (01252 760100); from pounds 890.



Home to the world-class Ailsa course, this is the perfect luxury retreat for golfers. There's also a spa, a 20-metre pool with views over the Firth of Clyde and the Ailsa Craig rock outcrop, and a helipad - which Bruce Willis has been known to use. On a clear day, you can see across from the estate to the mountains of Northern Ireland. To get there, fly from Stansted to Prestwick, which is 25 minutes' drive from the hotel; Glasgow Airport is 50 miles north.

Further details: Turnberry Hotel, Ayrshire, Scotland (01655 331000 or freephone 0800 282565); two-day packages, incl champagne, breakfast & use of spa, from pounds 77.50 per night.



The Clarks Village in Somerset is a retail outlet area with added attractions both in and outside the village. As well as the shops, there is a pottery where you can have a go at throwing clay, an artist's studio, and the Clarks Shoe Museum. At weekends, there are various street entertainments, and at the edge of the village is an open-air swimming pool. When you have finished shopping, take time out to visit some of Somerset's other attractions, such as Cheddar Gorge, the Wookey Hole caves, and Glastonbury, which are only down the road.

Further details: Clarks Village information line (01458 840064); Bear Inn (01458 442021) has doubles from pounds 58 per night.



For anyone with energy to burn, Paris offers real treats for clubbers. "If I was going to have the perfect evening, I'd go to two nightclubs," says Jennifer Cox. "One is Le Queen. It's a huge gay nightclub with the maddest-looking people. You go down into the basement where massive guys wander round in leopard-skin bikinis. It's very hi-energy. Then I'd go to Les Bains-Douches, which is the old Turkish steam baths. It's very, very hip; the Paris equivalent to Studio 54."

Further details: Le Queen, 102 av des Champs-Elysees, 8th (00 33 1 53 89 08 90) daily midnight till dawn, 100FF (except Mon, 50FF); Les Bains-Douches, 7 rue du Bourg- l'Abbe, 3rd (48 87 01 80) daily 11.30pm-6am, 100FF.



Watch out for falling confetti here in April - Middelburg is reputedly Holland's favourite town to get married in. It's a two-hour drive from Calais, via Belgium, and boasts a restored abbey dating back to 1127. You can take a horse-and-carriage tour of the old part of town, and cruise to Lake Veere along the canal. There's also a good flea market on the first Saturday of the month, from April onwards. On Trinity Sunday, visitors will witness a spectacular pageant: the battle between George and the Dragon. Or, if you prefer some serious relaxation, try the sub-tropical pool complex at nearby Domburg, on the coast. Further details: Motours (01892 677755); package, incl crossing & accommodation at Hotel de Nieuwe Doelen, from pounds 58 per night.



The desert regions of the States are a popular short-break destination. This 10-day tour of the highlights includes two days in the Grand Canyon National Park, a jeep ride with an Indian guide through the Navajo reservation in Monument Valley, and a hike through the amazing sandstone formations of Arches National Park. "We've noticed a dramatic increase in people wishing to experience the American wilderness. Canyon country in Arizona and Utah offers unparalleled sights of natural beauty, from the moment you look out over the Grand Canyon on the first day," says Jerry Bridge. Further details: Bridge the World (0171-911 0900); pounds 508 per person from Las Vegas, incl two nights' camping.



Dating back to the 11th century, Skibo has hosted the rich and famous, from King George to Rudyard Kipling. Now a holiday hideaway "fit for royalty", it has butlers on hand to greet you on arrival, and stipulates that guests can stay just once (whether one night or three weeks) before they must take out membership. The tariff includes all food, beverages and most sports - Skibo's 7,500 acres provide opportunities for shooting, falconry, archery, tennis and fishing. There's also a turn-of-the-century spa, an 18-hole golf course and Glenmorangie distillery nearby.

Further details: Skibo Castle, Dornoch, Sutherland, a 40-minute drive from Inverness (01862 894600); guest double pounds 550 per night, annual membership pounds 3,000.



If your children are good enough swimmers to cope with falling into a canal, there are 20,000 miles of waterways to explore in this country. Once major transport arteries, these routes are now popular places for narrowboats, cruisers or any other pleasure craft. Hire companies exist on all the main waterways: they teach you how to handle the boat before you set off - and then the pace of life is entirely up to you, whether you run around dealing with the locks, relax and watch the wildlife, or treat your boat as a floating hotel.

Further details: Drifters Narrow Boat Holidays (0345 626252); mid-range boat, for a family of four, approx pounds 600 for a week.



The 13th-century Maid's Head Hotel in the aptly named Tombland, Norfolk, inveigles willing Friday-night dinner guests into a novel evening's entertainment. In "Murder on the Menu", each participant takes on a persona and acts out a spine-tingling, suspenseful scenario. When you've had enough of role-playing, take a wander through the surrounding Norman cobbled streets, or up to Norwich Cathedral.

Further details: Maid's Head Hotel, Tombland, Norfolk (0500 002626); "Murder" sessions, on the last Friday of the month, cost pounds 22.50 per person for the meal, or pounds 35 incl bed & breakfast.



See Europe the luxurious way with what's billed as "the rail journey of a lifetime". After flying to Venice, you'll catch a water taxi to your hotel; from there, take the train through Innsbruck and up to the 6,000ft Arlberg Pass into Switzerland. Then retire to the piano bar for a nightcap before bedding down in your comfortable sleeper cabin. Next morning, you'll arrive in Paris and go on to Boulogne, from where you board the Seacat to Folkestone. The final stage of the journey to London is aboard a Pullman train, and includes a delicious cream tea.

Further details: Kirker Holidays (0171-231 3333); the whole package costs from pounds 1,020.



Spring is a big event in the Japanese capital, to the extent that office juniors are allegedly sent into the parks to get a "blossom update". The whole thing culminates in all-night parties held the city's various green spaces, which are fascinating to participate in. Lonely Planet's Jennifer Cox says: "They're obsessed with blossom - cherry, apple, plum. All the staff of companies go out and sit on a big rug, and each park is different." Ueno-Koen is particularly popular in early April.

Further details: Japanese Tourist Board (0171-734 9638); three-night stays around pounds 739 incl flights & accommodation in the first-class Hotel Tokyo.



This 12-bedroom guesthouse set in 45 acres belongs to Merv Griffin, the American entertainer and former host of TV's Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. He bought it two years ago after visiting the property to interview previous owner John Huston, who sold up in 1972. Refurbished, it opened to the public last year, and features a drawing room, library and restaurant. There's also a nine-hole golf course, mountain biking, fishing on the River Dunkellin, and the option of clay-pigeon shooting, as well as celebrity guest-spotting. The hotel is 19 miles south of Galway, just off the main Dublin road: guests fly in to Shannon Airport. Further details: St Clerans, Crauchwell, Co Galway (00 353 9184 6000); double rooms from pounds 130.



Forte Hotels has properties all over the country, and offers a range of deals that make a hotel break affordable by all. Posthouse Hotels let two children under 16 stay free and eat free from a special menu, as long as they have an adult with them who is booked in for dinner, bed and breakfast. Prices depend on what kind of break you take: the choice includes weekends, mid-week stays, four nights for the price of five, and special deals in London.

Further details: Forte Hotel information line (0345 404040).



If you can't make it for the summer eclipse, look out for Cornwall's other summer attraction: the "death-defying lunatics" who beat a track to Newquay. This rather seedy seaside resort is redeemed, according to Jennifer Cox, by "the most incredible surf", which provides the necessary component for Easter's many surfing competitions. If the weather's inclement, head down the road to the Carbis Bay Hotel, in St Ives, whose huge picture window is the perfect place for gazing out to sea with a pint in your hand.

Further details: Carbis Bay Hotel, St Ives (01736 795311); rooms from pounds 59 a night. Call Newquay tourist office (01637 871345) for details of competitions.



Take inspiration from the Monet exhibition, currently on show in London, and visit the artist's garden at Giverny. Vernon, which straddles the River Seine and is the closest town, is an hour's drive from Dieppe, and has all the usual attractions: a museum, shops and pleasant river walks. Stay at the Hotel Clarine, where the restaurant offers regional dishes plus home-made pastries.

Further details: Motours (01892 677755); one night in Hotel Clarine, including bed, breakfast and Channel crossing, from pounds 55 per person.



Take a fascinating step back in time with a self-drive "West Coast Wilderness" trip. Over six days you'll drive for about nine hours, taking in picturesque villages such as New Norfolk, Hamilton and Derwent Bridge and the ruins of Sarah Island, once Australia's most notorious penal colony. "During my twenties," recalls Jerry Bridge, "I hired a car in Australia called `Mr Roo', and we travelled around for eight months, at an average speed of 40mph! Self-drives have come a long way since then. This one I'm keen to try."

Further details: Bridge the World (0171-734 7447); from pounds 227 per person, incl five nights' accommodation & car hire, based on two sharing.



With magnificent views of Conwy Castle, this 300-year-old hotel includes more than a dozen cottages in 200 acres of garden and woodland. A hotel since 1982, it is now run by Historic House Hotels, who have equipped it with a gym, whirlpool, sauna, steam room and indoor swimming pool, as well as a beauty salon and tennis court. It's a popular haunt for Americans, Japanese and those who like a relaxed pace of life, but don't try to take children under eight. It's also near to Carnarvon, Harlech and the Swallow Falls at Betws Y Coed.

Further details: Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno (01492 584466); double rooms from pounds 130.



Never mind Disneyland Paris - our very own Alton Towers reopens for business after the winter holidays on 24 March, and is more than just a venue for an adrenaline-fuelled day out. Set in private grounds within the park, the Alton Towers Hotel is good value for money and particularly geared up for family groups. It lays on its own entertainment, and offers a range of facilities such as a swimming pool and jacuzzi.

Further details: Alton Towers Hotel (0990 204060); pounds 135 for a room for four with bed & breakfast, pounds 194 including park entry.



It's hard to imagine seeing all the sights of Norway in a day, but this specially designed package has a jolly good go. "You get up ridiculously early," explains Jennifer Cox, "and in the space of a very long day, you see every different sort of geographical feature." Catch the train, then a boat, and take a ride along the funicular railway into the mountains and past some spectacular waterfalls. "You come out onto a natural plateau, then you take a bus to the edge of a fjord." The whole trip takes about 14 hours, and is rounded off at the harbour in Bergen, with a large beer. Further details: Norway Tourist Board (0171-839 6255), Bergen Tourist Office (00 47 55321480); trip approx pounds 30.



For a European break with a difference, book yourself into this grande dame of hotels, recommended by Jennifer Cox as the ideal location in which to "pamper" yourself. With its thermal baths, huge domed ceilings, riverside position and terraced restaurant, it offers a spectacular introduction to Budapest. "After a mineral massage, go out and up to the castle in the old part of Budapest, then stop for coffee and cake," she says.

Further details: the Gellert, XI Szent Gellert ter 1 (00 36 1 185 2200); double rooms from around pounds 100 per night.



Experience another world by taking the train from Moscow as spring begins to blossom. There are several route options, ranging from a journey down through Mongolia to Beijing, to a short-break package on a second-class sleeper, which includes two nights' accommodation in the capital city and a "Russian buddy" to show you around. Jerry Bridge says, "the Trans- Siberian Express is the world's most legendary train journey, and offers a real insight into the changing cultures between Europe and Asia."

Further details: Trailfinders (0171-938 3939); the 11-night Moscow to Vladivostok trip costs pounds 790 per person.



Well-known chef Raymond Blanc founded this two Michelin-starred establishment 15 years ago. He has since expanded it to incorporate a new dining room and more accommodation; there are now seven suites and 32 rooms. In your spare time, wander around the gorgeous Japanese water gardens, or visit the renowned herb garden within the site's 27 acres.

Further details: Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Church Rd, Great Milton - two miles off the M40, just south of Oxford (01844 278881); from pounds 210 for a double or pounds 435 for a suite per night; the seven-course set menu costs pounds 72 per person.



The North of England Open Air Museum in Beamish, County Durham, is one of the finest museums of its kind in the country, re-creating life in the region in the last century. A new turn-of-the-century reconstruction of Barclays Bank will open this spring, alongside the drift mine, pit cottages, village school, railway station and farm. So far the facilities don't extend to a Victorian hotel, but Durham County Council publishes a very comprehensive book that lists accommodation in all price brackets, and Beamish is a great base from which to explore an underrated region.

Further details: Holiday Guide (0191-383 3354).



Summer is sizzling in Ibiza, but spring is pleasant. Enjoy a warm break strolling around Ibiza's old town port, with its cobbled streets and views of the sea. Hire a cheap apartment, and visit Las Salinas, a beach with its very own DJ and plenty of cafes. "The clubs aren't really happening at that time of year, but a lot of DJs live in Ibiza, and all the hippies will gather around the old town bars," explains Jennifer Cox. The island also has plenty of hilly landscape to explore.

Further details: Spanish tourist board (0171-486 8077).



Make the most of this year's bumper drop of snow with a long weekend in the French Alps. Les Brevieres maintains its village charm while benefiting from links to Tignes and one of the world's largest, best-kept ski areas. Tour guide Michael Morris will arrange every element of your stay, from flights and ski hire to passes and appartment accommodation, leaving you free to give the pistes a real bashing for a full four days.

Further details: Oasis Ski Tours (0171-610 1929); from pounds 250 per person, incl flights, transfer, three night's accommodation & a ski guide.



For wine-lovers, travelling the route from the South African Cape's winelands to historic Grahamstown is an ideal springtime break. "I love South African wine, and the chance to combine a tour of where the wine is from with stays in traditional Dutch homesteads a fantastic opportunity," says Jerry Bridge. Southern Africa Travel's fabulous 16-day self-drive tour takes in Bredasdorp and the Grootbos Nature Reserve on the way.

Further details: Southern Africa Travel (01904 692469); 16-day tour from pounds 1,715.



U2's Bono and The Edge opened this hotel three years ago in Temple Bar, an area that has subsequently undergone something of a renaissance. The hotel has 46 deluxe double rooms, three suites and a penthouse - for 1,450 Irish punts per night for the latter you get the use of the hot tub out on the balcony, with river views. Very much a place to spot film and pop stars jetting in and out, The Clarence seems to live up its claim to be "friendly, innovative and youthful" and "a home from home". There's even an in-house artist, Guggi. Further details: Clarence Hotel, 6-8 Wellington Quay, Dublin 2 (00 353 1 670 9000); rooms from pounds 160 per night.



If taking a carful of children to the Continent sounds just a little bit too stressful, why not camp - or caravan - in Britain? Haven Holidays offers a choice of 52 sites around the country, the biggest ones on the south coast; at Coombe Haven in St Leonards on Sea, for example. Choose from a chalet, tent or caravan. Holidays include activities designed to appeal to children of all ages, and some sites have Circus Clubs, complete with Big Tops. Since the tents have electricity, a fridge, and three bedrooms apiece, you are hardly likely to feel you have downshifted.

Further details: Haven Holidays (01442 230300); from pounds 130 a week.



This seaside town in Suffolk is home to a renowned music festival, and a step back to 1950s England. The area also offers excellent walking possibilities, with a fair sprinkling of restaurants and delicatessens offering refreshment after your exertions. When you've explored the fenland, spent your pennies on the slot machines and skimmed a few pebbles into the sea, take a trip to nearby Orfordness Castle.

Further details: Aldeburgh tourist office (01728 453637); Orfordness Castle (01394 450472), entry fee pounds 2.30 for adults, pounds 1.20 children.



Spring is, of course, the season to see Paris at its best. In addition to the marvellous walks, parks, streets and cafes, there are also a number of exhibitions on, including the Premier Vision, Paris Sur Mode, Emo and ITMA. City Breaks offers a choice of several hotels, and, for an added touch of luxury, allows you to pre-book your transfer from the Eurostar for pounds 40, with a friendly welcome from an English-speaking driver, who will hold up a banner bearing your name and ensure you start the break in style. Further details: City Breaks (0181-715 1122); packages from pounds 149 per person, with B&B accommodation and Eurostar tickets.



One of the best ways to see a country is to stay with its inhabitants. New Zealand is famed for its sheep, so why not go for an Antipodean farm holiday? "This is a great way for families with young children to get to know the real New Zealand. You stay on a farm or country home in Canterbury, eat with the family, and get involved with daily rural New Zealand life, such as milking and sheep shearing," says Jerry Bridge.

Further details: Bridge the World (0171-734 7447); half-board & farm activities from pounds 37 per person per night.



The Hebridean Princess, a former passenger ferry, has been plying routes around the west coast of Scotland for 10 years. Banish any memories of cross-Channel nightmares; a sail in her is the last word in luxury, with a passenger/staff ratio of 1:1. There's a choice of 12 itineraries, including a two-week trip to either Norway or the Isle of Man. Passengers, says a spokeswoman, are encouraged to go ashore twice a day to work off the gourmet meals. Sites to tempt you away from the boat include castles and gardens.

Further details: Hebridean Princess (01756 701338); from pounds 1,695 for one week.



A change is as good as a rest, and for families, renting a cottage in the British Isles can be as refreshing - and less hassle - than a holiday on the Continent. English Country Cottages, a company that manages more than 3,000 properties in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, offers short and long breaks. Occupants are expected to leave the cottage as they find it.

Further details: English Country Cottages (0870 585 1166); prices vary, but a week at a cottage in Oyster Haven, Co Cork, for example, costs pounds 272 for four, incl ferry crossing with car.



The 19th-century Chateau de Grande Romaine in Lesigny, 193 miles from Calais, was where Brazil's world-cup football team camped out last summer. Surrounded by 72 acres of woods and park, it has a swimming pool, mountain bikes, table tennis and access to horse riding and golf; it's also just minutes from both Paris and Disneyland, the theme park.

Further details: Motours (01892 677755); from pounds 69 a night, with the fourth night's B&B free all year round.



Visit Durbuy, allegedly the smallest town in the world, which dates back to the 11th century. Gorgeous cobbled streets nestle beside ancient stone facades and tree-lined hillsides, and, for golfers, there's the nearby Golf du Durbuy and Five Nations Golf Club. Stay at Le Clos des Recollets, a tiny 14-bedroomed hotel with delicious buffet breakfasts.

Further details: Motours (01892 677755); their special two-night break with a "gastronomique" menu, costs from pounds 64 per person per night including the price of the crossing.



This canal-lined city offers an alternative way to see in the spring - by lounging in steam baths alongside the local contingent of hardy old ladies. Situated in the outer suburbs, in the non-touristy area, the baths will lend you flip-flops, and you can hire towels. Says Jennifer Cox: "It's crude, nothing opulent about it at all, but you get these amazing old women sitting there in the spring sunshine, surrounded by billowing clouds of steam. Then you brave the plunge pool, and afterwards you go to the samovar and have strong, black tea."

Further details: Interchange (0181-681 3612); packages from pounds 345 a head based on two people sharing, incl flights & three nights' accommodation.