For half-term sun and sand, try the desert

We are considering a trip with our children to the Mediterranean at the mid-autumn half-term, but are concerned about the weather. Will the resorts and attractions have closed by then?

Matthew Simon

Cardiff

Jill Crawshaw replies: In my own experience (even if not in brochure weather-charts!) you are right to be worried about both weather and facilities.

I have regularly tried to take my children away during this half-term - the third or fourth weeks of October - and hit down-pours in several Greek islands, Italy, the Balearic Islands, even the Aegean coast of Turkey. The autumn rains in these parts can be much more substantial than in England. Although you may be lucky and get sun in the Northern Mediterranean in the latter half of October, you'll find cafes, bars and watersports - particularly on the Costa Brava and Costa Dorada, Corfu, Halkidiki, the Italian Islands, Minorca and Ibiza - have already begun to shut up shop. Greek ferry services reduce to a minimum from October to April.

The general rule is to go as far south as possible. Crete is likely to be the warmest spot in Greece, while Cyprus usually stays sunny into November - pick Ayia Napa for beaches, Paphos for culture.

This could also be the time to try North Africa. In Tunisia, Hammamet and Sousse are the two liveliest off-season resorts, and you'll have an interesting choice of desert outings: this will be a far better time of the year to sample the fascinating two- to four-day desert tours in the Tozeur region (where the English Patient was shot) than in boiling mid-summer. The outing costs about pounds 80 to pounds 120 from most tour operators.

To be sure of guaranteed sunshine, head as far south as the Atlantic resort of Agadir in Morocco, which has little local flavour but is a springboard for visits to Taroudant and Marrakesh as well as the Atlas Mountains.

Your other safe weather bet is the Canary Islands. I'd recommend strange little Lanzarote for families. The attractions - including the volcanic Timanfaya National Park and Cesar Manrique lava bubble house - are open year round.

Jill Crawford is a travel expert, writer, and broadcaster.

When to catch the fall in all its splendour

I am planning to travel to North America to be a 'leaf-peeper' during the fall this year. I will be travelling in October or November, and would like to know the best way to organise this.

Naomi Williams

London

The Travel Editor replies: The optimum time to see the North American autumn foliage varies from year to year, but generally, you can catch the "fall" from mid-September to late October. You are likely to miss most of the colour if you travel after the end of October. Trees in northern states and provinces are the first to turn, with colour spreading gradually south; foliage in Quebec and Maine changes first, followed by Vermont, New York, Ottawa and Toronto (Niagara Falls). If you miss these places, it is worth remembering that Maryland and Virginia are just as colourful, well into late November.

Fall becomes something of an obsession among New Englanders, with "fall reports" on local radio and in newspapers; some regions even have toll- free "fall hotlines". Each area has its own fall festivities such as leaf walks, maple-tasting, hunting, fishing, etc.

Summers are generally short-lived in the areas that you are planning to travel to and by the end of September temperatures will have dropped markedly. However, it should still be sunny, dry and warmish, with an average temperature of around 18C during September and October - evenings will be much cooler, so a warm jacket is recommended.

Trailfinders (tel: 0171-937 5400) is currently offering a week's fly- drive in New England for pounds 323 per person, based on two sharing, for any time in October or September. UK tour operators to contact for detailed and up-to-date information about your destinations include Destination Quebec (tel: 0171- 233 8011), and Virgin Holidays (tel: 01293 617181) which offers a range of "fall packages". Its World of New England coach tour costs pounds 949 including accommodation and all transport for a week. An upmarket operator is New England Country Homes (tel: 01798 869020) which has autumn availability on house-flight-car packages. Properties include log-cabins and artists' studios.

New England is represented in this country by Discover New England. For the information pack (including fall details) send a cheque for pounds 2.50 to Discover New England Information, Vestry Road, Sevenoaks, Kent TN14 5XA (tel: 01732 742777).

High-flying babies may have trouble breathing

Is it safe to take very young babies on long-haul flights? I have heard that the physical trauma of flying may be one of the causes of cot death.

Amanda Smith

Canterbury

Dr Larry Goodyer replies: This all stems from a piece of research published in the British Medical Journal earlier in the year. The researchers had observed that two children admitted to their hospital had died from sudden infant death syndrome (cot death) some 40 hours after a long intercontinental flight. Even in a pressurised aircraft cabin the pressure of oxygen is much less than at sea level, equivalent to being at about 6,000 ft. It was thought that exposure to this lower level of oxygen could have contributed to the deaths of the children.

In order to test this theory a group of children about three months old were exposed to the levels of oxygen found in a pressurised air cabin and their breathing was monitored carefully. It was found that in some of the children respiration and the amount of oxygen in the blood fell. Unfortunately they could identify no particular factors that would determine whether or not a child would develop the problems. The overall conclusion was that a small proportion of children on intercontinental flights could be at a greater risk of breathing problems.

What then are the implications for worried parents such as yourself?

First, although an effect was shown on breathing in some children, this does not necessarily mean that they would be at a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome, this being just one possible factor in a still poorly understood problem. Second, British Airways has never had any reports of sudden infant death syndrome in-flight. It would certainly not be advisable to travel in the first week of the baby's life, until any potential medical problems have been identified. In the end it is a personal choice between the necessity of the journey and the as yet unquantified risk based on the current evidence from this single preliminary study.

Dr Larry Goodyer is the superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8; tel: 0181-889 7014). Contact the travel medicine helpline on 0891 633414 (calls cost 50p per minute).

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