Hemel Hempstead, Herts
A.Yes, there is a lot of excellent travel-related software about, and it is getting better all the time. To start with, get Dorling Kindersley's Eyewitness World Atlas (pounds 19.99, 0780 8744400), which allows you to view the world through a huge variety of maps, images and 3D graphics. If you are connected to the Internet, it also has website links to every country in the world. If your computer has a DVD-ROM drive, go one stage further and get the new deluxe edition, which uses DVD technology to add extra features such as a truly stunning virtual reality flight over the globe, allowing you to "land" wherever you want (the deluxe edition costs pounds 29.99).
Another excellent atlas is Microsoft's Encarta Interactive World Atlas 2000 (pounds 29.99, 0345 002000). This latest edition is astonishingly detailed, with 1.8 million place names, and more than 7,000 images, videos and audio clips.
However, if you can bring yourself to fork out pounds 69.99, you can go the whole hog and buy the full Encarta Encyclopaedia Deluxe, which includes a lot of the material on the Atlas, plus a vast amount more information. The only niggle I have with these Microsoft products is that a lot of the images and audio-clips are held on separate disks, so you frequently have to swap them over in mid-surf.
For younger children, Dorling Kindersley produce My Amazing World Explorer 2.0 (pounds 19.99, 0780 8744400). Aimed at four- to nine-year-olds, this takes the form of a series of interactive games and quizzes, as kids journey round the world by plane or boat collecting stickers, sending postcards and, hopefully, absorbing information. Equally educational and fun is My Amazing British Isles Explorer (also DK, pounds 19.99), themed in the same way.
Probably the most comprehensive way to explore mainland Britain on your computer, is with Eye2eye Britain (pounds 39.99, 01223 293886), which includes more than 10,000 images of over 3,000 places in England, Scotland and Wales, along with detailed maps and suggested itineraries.
For specialist titles, several good ones are produced by Interactive Ideas (0181-805 1000). America, America (pounds 14.99) takes you across the USA, from the bright lights of the cities to the Grand Canyon and the National Parks. Mysterious Egypt (pounds 34.99) includes a superb virtual cruise down the Nile. The Oceans (pounds 34.99) lets you explore the Great Barrier Reef and other dive sites of the world.
Q.We are two couples which each have a child of six years old, and we're hoping to rent a villa together in Greece for our summer holiday. I have been to Greece many times, but never before with children. I would welcome any ideas on where we could go. We would prefer to be near the sea and on an island, rather than the mainland. None of us are too keen on being among lots of other holidaymakers, and our budget isn't huge.
L J Calvert
A.Villas on Greek islands not overrun with tourists in the summer holidays are, I'm afraid, very rare these days. They do exist, but they can be pricey. I can, however, point you towards several good tour operators who specialise in the Greek Islands and sometimes have some alluring deals to offer.
Laskarina Holidays (01629 824881) is a company beloved of people who want to stay on the lesser-known islands. Skopelos, for example, is a smallish island in the Sporades chain up in the northern Aegean. You could rent the three-bedroom Villa Milos, on a hillside overlooking Skopelos town, for pounds 495 for each adult and pounds 475 per child in July or August, including your flights from Gatwick. The drawback is that there is no pool, but the sea is only 10 minutes' walk away.
Another idea would be to stay on ruggedly beautiful Kalymnos to the south- east, within sight of Turkey's Bodrum peninsula. If each couple rented a one-bedroom pad in Maria Apartments (again from Laskarina), it would cost pounds 465 per adult and pounds 445 per child, with the same inclusions as above. The small complex has a shared pool as well as its own mini-market and snack bar. A path leads down to a shingle beach, but the nearest proper sand is three kilometres away at Arginondas Cove, where there are some good, very cheap tavernas.
My other suggestion is to try western Crete. So long as you avoid major resorts such as Rethymnon and Aghios Nikolaos - which I feel sure would not be your cup of retsina - it is possible to have a relatively secluded holiday, even in high season. The leading specialist tour operator is Simply Crete (0181-541 8801), which has an extensive selection of villas and apartments with and without pools, and a brochure that deserves good marks for candour. A week at the delightful Lefteris Villas on the Akrotiri peninsula near Stavros Beach, and with a shared pool, would cost pounds 554 per adult and pounds 524 per child, which includes flights.
Other specialist companies you could try include Greek Island Club (0181- 232 9780, upmarket and expensive, but they have some superb villas), Simply Simon Holidays (0171-373 1933), Sunvil (0181-568 4499) and The Travel Club of Upminster (01708 22500).
If the prices quoted here all seem a bit stiff, remember that the cost of living in Greece is relatively low at the moment. You will find that all six of you can eat a good meal in a taverna for about pounds 35-40, including a couple of bottles of local wine. The other thing I can tell you confidently, since you have not been to Greece with children before, is that you can be guaranteed the warmest of welcomes wherever you go. Greeks - men and women, old and young - love kids and welcome families.Reuse content