TRAVEL / Better late than never: There are still two million unsold holidays for 1994. This week and next, Jill Crawshaw tracks down bargains for last-minute bookers

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The Independent Culture
IT'S AUGUST tomorrow and you still haven't booked your holiday? Don't worry; you are not alone. There are nearly two million still available for 1994. Late booking need not mean inferior choices, either. Here and on our travel pages next week we offer a selection of Last Resorts . . . from cycling tours, Tuscan villa holidays and Caribbean cruises to special deals for families whose children tie them to the peak period. There are even some last-minute bargains and breaks available for those who can be a little more flexible, with more discounting a possibility as August progresses.

5 highlights discounts or special deals.

ON THE MOVE

CYCLING FOR SOFTIES: Holidaymakers can pedal their way to a choice of nine regions of France, in a programme designed to suit everyone from the super-fit to the super softie.

For the enthusiastic cyclist, 'Whizzes' offer a lot of sightseeing on a tight schedule: a week pedalling around the Rhone vineyards costs pounds 555 per person. 'Gentle Tourers' are for those wanting to meander from one overnight stop to the next - usually with a minimum of two nights at each hotel. They cost pounds 599 up to 3 September, pounds 574 to the end of the month.

The 'Super Softies' are based on small hotels from where holidaymakers take gentle bike forays into the surrounding countryside. One of these holidays, in Charente - as pleasantly uncrowded and unhurried as anywhere in France in midsummer - is based at a hotel in Roullet-St Estephe. The price until 3 September is pounds 622, pounds 604 for the rest of September. All prices include return flights, transfers, cycle hire and half board.

Cycling For Softies: 061 248 8282

POUSADAS: The neat white villas and sunbaked sands of the Algarve may be echoing to the accents of stockbroker Surrey, but further north, on the Costa Verde, those strange Portuguese sibilants predominate on its blustery beaches battered by Atlantic rollers. Much of what's lacking in the Algarve can be found here - scenery,

culture, cities and excellent food and wine.

But as the name 'Verde' suggests, the countryside is green, which means bring an umbrella. The chance of rain makes the region a better choice for touring rather than stay-put beach holidays, with gentle sightseeing, perhaps sampling at a port wine lodge by the Douro River, browsing through towns in the interior such as Guimaraes, Portugal's first capital, and Braga, its religious centre, or exploring the Minho, which for the Portuguese is still a rural idyll of woods, streams, pastures, vineyards, folklore and feast days.

The accommodation includes Pousadas - the state-owned, often historic hotels and manor houses, some still owned by the original families. One week's b & b including car hire and flights to either Lisbon or Oporto costs pounds 460, two weeks pounds 750. Sunvil: 081-568 4499

COASTAL STEAMERS: Throughout the long daylight months of Scandinavian summers, traditional coastal steamers sail up to Spitsbergen, only 600 miles from the North Pole. The mountains and fjords form the backdrop for arctic wildlife including reindeer, polar bears, seals and walruses, stopping off at tiny communities en route. These steamers are comfortable, but they are not luxury cruisers with full programmes of sport and entertainment. A 10-day voyage in August costs pounds 1,271, including return flights to Tromso, with full board on the ship and one night in a Tromso hotel. NSR Travel: 071-930 6666

RHINE CRUISES: There are reductions of pounds 400 on Rhine cruises sailing between Amsterdam and Basle on 'Classic Cruises', departing on 14 and 26 August, and 11 September. The itineraries include Strasbourg and Cologne, the wine village of Rudesheim, and the legendary Lorelei Rock. The week's cruise now costs pounds 599 inclusive of return flights, and full board on the Rhine Princess. Moswin Tours: 0533 719922

BY RAIL: French Railways are offering reductions of up to pounds 33 on all their 2nd-class 'Eurodomino' rail rovers during August and September; for adults, the three-day pass will be cut by pounds 11 to pounds 97, the five-day pass by pounds 17 to pounds 133, with the 10-day pass down by pounds 33 to pounds 189.

Eurodomino rail passes offer freedom of the rail network in any of 20 European countries, for any three, five or 10 days in a month. In France, there are other useful discount cards available; Eurodomino Youth for the under-26s, Carte Kiwi for under-16s and Carte Vermeil for Senior Citizens. French Railways information: 0891 515 477; bookings 0346 300 003

ON HORSEBACK: Reasonably competent riders can see France from about 9ft up, riding in the high Cerdagne in the Lot valley, or round the castles of the Cathars. For improvers, or even beginners, the Domaine Equestre in the Tarn

offers five half-day rides, 10 hour-long lessons, or a combination of both, with qualified instructors, staying in comfortable chambre d'hote accommodation with a swimming pool and country cooking. Albi, medieval Cordes and the Roquefort caves are within car reach. The price of pounds 576 a week includes flights, half-board accommodation and rides. Inntravel: 0653 628862

CARIBBEAN: There are summer bargains galore in the Caribbean where it is the low season; on a 14-night middle-of-the-range cruise aboard the Seabreeze, with eight ports of call in the east and west Caribbean, the new price of pounds 1,549 is a reduction of pounds 600, and includes flights and at least a double outside cabin.

There are some more unusual stops on Ocean Breeze's seven-night cruise, from the Dutch island of Aruba, which also takes in the Panama Canal, Cartagena, Curacao and San Blas island. The price of pounds 1,541 includes flights via Amsterdam, and includes two extra nights ashore in Aruba. Jetset (Dolphin Cruises): 061 236 8918

TREKKING: Worldwide trekking and walking specialists offer several unusual European itineraries, including eight- and 15-day guided walks through Greece's Pindhos Mountains, staying overnight in village inns. They take walkers through spectacular forests and mountains, with natural wonders such as the 'Towers of Papingo', Dragon Lake and magical rock formations. One week costs pounds 559, two pounds 749, which includes flights, accommodation mainly with half board, and guided walking. Sherpa Expeditions: 081-577 2717

SWEDISH ISLANDS: Swedish archipelago cruises on board the converted MS Vindbaden combine exploration with relaxation on an eight- night holiday. Flying to Stockholm and staying there for the first night and the last two, a maximum of 25 people at a time sail with skipper Bengt to small farming communities, with lunch provided on the island of Arholma in a farmer's kitchen, reached by horse and cart. The boat chugs through leafy narrow canals to country inns, where guests sample regional specialities. Departures are available during August, costing pounds 1,210 per person, including return flights, hotel accommodation, all meals and transfers. Scantours: 071-839 2927

SOUTH AMERICA: By way of discounted internal flights and excursions, and link-ups between Iberia and Viasa airlines, there are some excellent bargains available to a continent still relatively unknown to British holidaymakers, with opportunities to visit several centres.

Flying direct from London Heathrow to Caracas in Venezuela, the fare is pounds 450 return. An Air Pass entitles the traveller to four internal flights for pounds 96. A sample itinerary could be: London-

Caracas, Merida (for the Andes), Margarita Island (for the beaches), Caracas, London, for a total of pounds 546. Or fly direct to Caracas, and buy an excursion to Canaima Camp and Angel Falls for pounds 142, a total of pounds 592. Reservations direct from Iberia Group: 071-830 0011

FAMILY HOLIDAYS

CAMPING: With 'Le Camping' the supreme family budget holiday, it isn't surprising that August is peak month, with most sites filled, particularly those near the coast. Country sites, however, are often less crowded, have higher standards and there are fewer traffic jams to cope with on access and sightseeing excursions.

As an example, the camp at Caude-sur- Beuvron in the Loire valley, set among 2,000 acres of forest on the bank of the Loire, has a restaurant and swimming pool, and chateaux galore to visit, with both bikes and tandem for hire. Prices for arrival up to 13 August are pounds 645 for 14 nights ( pounds 415 for seven) and the same holiday plunges to pounds 275 for arrivals between 27 August and 10 September ( pounds 195 for a week), all prices including tent accommodation for up to four, plus Folkestone/Dunkirk ferry crossing for car and passengers. Motours: 0892 518555

In the South of France, French Country Camping specialises in smaller rural sites; 14 nights at Camping Clavet Loisirs at Castellane in Provence, on the site of a former lavender farm and only a few miles from the Gorge du Verdon, costs pounds 355 for four at the end of August. French Country Camping: 0923 261311

In Brittany, Canvas Holidays is offering reductions of pounds 70- pounds 90 on its mobile home and tent packages to Dol and Petrus. Canvas Holidays: 0383 621000

PARIS AND AMSTERDAM: Some excellent offers are available in August to Paris and Amsterdam by quality city operator Time Off, which packages its breaks loosely for the independently minded holidaymaker.

Travelling by Air UK from Stansted, parents can take one or two children under 12 free - as long as they share the adults' room. Sample prices: two nights in Paris at the Hotel Aris Mord (one-star) pounds 184 each, at the Hotel Aviatic (three- star) pounds 218. In Amsterdam, two nights at the Hotel Piet Hein (two-star) pounds 213, at the Hotel Pulitzer (four-star) pounds 297. Time Off: 071-235 8070

DENMARK: Car ferry packages combine 3-4 nights in a Danish farmhouse, helping with the animals and enjoying Danish rural life, with a visit to Denmark's Legoland, the miniature world of 33 million Lego bricks built into an English village, the Statue of Liberty, a Buddhist Temple and the Mount Rushmore presidents. Young children can also 'pan' for gold in the Wild West or ride the Monorail, while 8- to 13-year-olds take a supervised 'driving test' on electric cars.

As Scandinavia's school summer holidays end earlier than ours, resorts and beaches are left with room to spare, particularly towards the end of August when the weather can still be excellent.

A six-night holiday including two on board ship costs pounds 208 per adult, with a pounds 77 reduction for children from 4-16, and much larger reductions for the under-4s. The prices include the sea crossings in extremely comfortable ships, berths (but no meals), bed and breakfast at the farmhouse and an entry ticket, which includes all rides for each member of the family at Legoland.

Other self-catering, holiday village and hotel holidays in Norway and Sweden are also available. Scandinavian Seaways: 0753 676906

AUSTRIA: The Austrian Alpine villages, which during the snowy winter months are alive to the sound of ski boots, provide more gentle family holidays in summer, with special facilities for children. In Mayrhofen, a favourite British winter resort, Wuyppy the Clown and Ziller the Mountain Fairy organise different children's activities each day for 'Midgets' (aged 3-6), 'Mice' (7-10) and 'Bears' (10-14), including cable-car rides, pony trekking and whole adventure days.

Those over eight can join a one-week residential mountain climbing course, with highly trained instructors, guides and supervisors. In Mayrhofen, as in most winter resorts, there are family discount cards. Children up to the age of six travel free on all public transport, the 6-15s at half price. Eleven nights half-board at Hotel Landhaus costs pounds 600; 10 nights in Seefeld, another popular family resort, pounds 456. Thomson Lakes & Mountains Holidays (brochures from travel agents)

ACTIVITY: For active families, the French Alps offer a wide range of mountain biking, walking, rafting, caving, parascending, tennis and golf. Freedom Holidays offers an economic base for exploring the Alps from the mountain (and winter ski) resort of Chatel. No travel arrangements are included, but there's a choice of B & B for pounds 98 per person per week, half board for pounds 154, both at the Chalet Hotel Le Kitchen, or self-catering studio apartments from pounds 82 each, based on four people sharing. Freedom Holidays: 081-741 4471

A 'Vercors Multi-Activity' holiday at Autrans in the French Alps can include mountain biking, accompanied rambles, tennis, volleyball, archery plus unlimited use of trottinherbes - a type of scooter used on grassy slopes. Prices from pounds 318 per person for seven nights half-board in a family- run three-star hotel, including the ferry crossing. Headwater Holidays: 0606 486699

TUSCANY: Tuscany's summer lease continues to be special with the discerning British, so peak season rentals are by now hard to come by. But there is still some availability.

Vacanze in Italia now has 300 properties in its brochure, from traditional farmhouses to city apartments, Renaissance villas and medieval castles. Casa Berti, in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, has sensational views, accommodates four people for pounds 375 each for a week including flights, car hire and personal insurance. Vacanze in Italia: 07987 426

There are some vacancies too with Bridgewater's Toscana programme, some on the Tuscany coast, including farmhouses, villas with maids and apartments on working farms, with prices (without flights) from pounds 90 a week per person. Bridgewater's Toscana: 061 787 8587

SWAP: British holidaymakers are exchanging their homes in the UK for ones owned by fellow Britons in France. Other owners simply want to let their French homes without swapping. There is availability in August in Charente and the Dordogne regions of south-west France. A cottage for six near Limoges costs pounds 260 a week, an apartment in a 16th-century chateau facing the Charente near Poitiers pounds 320, and a farmhouse for four near Belves pounds 450. Chez Nous: 0484 684075

SWISS VILLAGE: Being a part of traditional Swiss family life in the Obergoms valley is one of the self-catering holidays offered by InnTravel. The wooden chalets are in tiny hamlets, simply furnished but with typically Swiss high standards of bathrooms and kitchens. The wide range of walking includes the mountain passes of Nufenen and Furka, and the Rhone Glacier.

The chalet costs pounds 250- pounds 307 a week for each of two adults, with a low add-on price for extra adults, and children under 14 staying free. These self-drive holidays include the ferry fares, though there is an air option. Add pounds 1 per adult, 50p per child for a local tax. Inntravel: 0653 628862

FERRY: There are considerable savings on last-minute self-drive, self-catering holidays offered by cross-Channel ferry companies. At Le Touquet, there's a pounds 172 saving on a two-week stay at the Pierre et Vacances Holiday Village. It has an outdoor pool, and many other sporting facilities. The new price of pounds 732 includes return car ferry crossing for two adults and two children and studio accommodation for two weeks. At Plomeur, on the south coast of Brittany, an apartment for six people in a small holiday village of 80 apartments costs pounds 572 per week, pounds 965 for two weeks (again including the ferry), representing a saving of pounds 64 a week, pounds 108 for two weeks. Stena Sealink: 0233 647033

FRENCH DEALS: About 30 tour operators, all ABTA bonded, are offering a one-stop booking service for late availability holidays in France - including villas, gites, tents and stop-offs at EuroDisney and other theme parks. Among the companies taking part are Allez France, Brittany Ferries, Crystal, Haven France and Vacances en Campagne. The service is not necessarily for those simply wanting cut-price bargains, but for those who want late availability and do not have the time to ring round dozens of French operators. Connect France: Freephone 0500 456645

INDEPENDENT TRAVELLERS

WORLD FLIGHTS: Specialist agencies for independent travellers offer a variety of fares and a few packages to worldwide destinations. STA's best August deals include Madrid for pounds 84 return, Singapore & Bangkok pounds 430; Brisbane pounds 765. Round the world: London, Delhi (then surface transport to Kathmandu), Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Los Angeles, New York and London for pounds 744. They also have cheap under-26 youth fares. STA: 071-937 9962. Campus Travel: 071-730 8111. Trailfinders: 071-938 3366

ADVICE: Flight bureaux don't sell seats or packages, but give free advice on special deals and last-minute getaways, from a wide range of companies. The Air Travel Advisory Bureau (ATAB) selection for August includes a week's package for a family of four to Florida, including car hire, from pounds 1,270; flights only to New York pounds 199; Thailand pounds 459; Australia pounds 690. Within Europe, flights to Cyprus from pounds 169, Tenerife from pounds 129 and Turkey pounds 129, all return. ATAB: 071-417 0700

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