DEPARTURES

Feet first

Get fit, meet the people and see the world in close-up while being gentle on the planet. That, at least in theory, is the advantage of walking and cycling holidays.

The Austrian National Tourist Office (0171-629 0461) has just published an excellent free Walking Guide - Austria. The 17 hikes include a foray into Italy using footpaths "with little regard to political frontiers".

In Greece, Jonathan and Myriam Peat run Athenogenes Walking Tours (00 301 361 4829), sticking as much as possible to ancient mule tracks for hikes in Crete, Samos and Lesbos. The price for each one-week tour is around £330, including half-board accommodation but excluding air fares to Greece. "We carry with us the expectation of encountering the unknown, the different and the things usually missed in the noise of modern life," says Mr Peat.

Spain seems the most popular European destination for hikers. Sherpa Expeditions (0181-577 2717) is organising a one-week trek in the northern part of Majorca, departing from Gatwick on 25 March. The price of £495 includes half-board accommodation in various locations around the Sierra de Tramontana. On the mainland, Alistair Sawday's Journeys (0117 9299921) is running three 16-day trips among the pueblos blancos in the mountains of Andalusia.These cost £1,035 plus air fares, and include a couple of days' cycling.

Bike Tours (01225 480130) offers two-wheeled trips all over the world, but its strangest holiday is probably the fortnight in Cuba, which culminates with a guided bike tour of Havana led by a lecturer from the city's university and 10 of his students. Places are still available for the 23 March departure, with other tours in November and March 1996, all priced at £1,085.

Mike Tissington of Edinburgh (0131-662 0250) is promoting 19-day cycling tours through Zimbabwe in July and August, costing around £850 plus air fares, and Let's Go Travel of Kenya (00 254 234 0331) has bike trips through the Maasai country, for around £100 per cyclist per day.

If these seem a bit serious, then Cycling for Softies (0161-248 8282) offers a selection of "Gentle Tourer" holidays in nine regions of France. The company also organises "Whizz" weeks around rural France which involve pedalling from six to 30 miles a day. A week in the Rhne in May costs £608 per person including scheduled flights from Heathrow to Lyon and half-board accommodation.

Should time or money restrict you to home ground, the Cotswold Cycling Co (01242 250642) has two-day breaks based in Cheltenham for £85 per person including B&B and bike hire. English Wanderer (01740 653169) offers mountain biking weekends on Dartmoor in April and May for £110 ( £18 more if you need to hire a bike and helmet). Secret Garden Cycle Tours (01732 367233), based at Tonbridge in Kent, has one-day rides at weekends for £17 (plus £8 if you need to hire a bike).

Health service

Along with road accidents, a frequent cause of ill-health abroad is "the microbiological nirvana that is the lunchtime buffet", according to Rob Ryan - author of the new Health Education Authority book, Stay Healthy Abroad (£7.99). Threats lurking in hotel dining rooms include "ice-cream that melted yesterday but has now been refrozen, salmonella- strewn mayonnaise and shellfish carefully nurtured near sewage outlets." Mr Ryan also tackles the complexities of what precautions to take against which diseases.

About a dozen British people die each year from malaria, and nearly 2,000 others become ill with the disease. The Department of Health has just instructed GPs to stop prescribing anti-malaria drugs, so travellers are now obliged to pay full market rates for prophylaxis. The Travellers' Health Line (0891 224100) is a premium-rate service giving up-to-date briefings on health precautions.

Carnival is nigh

Most of the world is celebrating carnival this weekend, leading up to Shrove Tuesday, but in Belgium festivities do not begin until next weekend. High point of the Ostend carnival is the Ball of the Dead Rat in the town's casino, which begins next Saturday at 9pm. The organisers promise the chance to join "the carnival fun of the merry continentals, from Holland, France, Germany and Belgium." Fancy dress or evening wear is mandatory.

Pole positions?

A new Polish National Tourist Office, 1st Floor, Remo House, 310 Regent Street (just north of Oxford Circus), London W1R 5AJ (0171-580 8811) officially opened for business this week. At the same time, the Japanese National Tourism Organisation has moved around the corner from Regent Street to Heathcote House, 20 Savile Row, London W1X 1AE (0171-734 9638).

The Icelandic Tourist Board is staying where it is, sharing premises with Icelandair (at 172 Tottenham Court Road, London W1P 9LG), but has acquired a dedicated telephone line: 0171-388 7550.

Late availability

Lunn Poly (01203 225888): 2 March, Gatwick-Faro, seven nights' self- catering, £134; 2 March, Manchester-Malta, seven nights' B&B, £189.

Winter Inn-Active (01653 628862): 4 March, seven-night skiing holiday based at Ustaoset in Norway, £559 including flights from Gatwick to Bergen and half-board accommodation.

Red Sea Plus (0171-355 1234): 5 March, Gatwick-Sharm El Sheikh (Egypt), seven nights' B&B, £299.

Austravel (0171-734 7755): 5 March, Gatwick-Brisbane, one-way, £199; 7 March, Gatwick-Sydney, one-way only, £199.

Cosmos (0161-480 5799): 6 March, Gatwick-Barbados, 14 nights' self-catering, £489.

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