Late short breaks hard to find as farm epidemic stokes demand

Foot and mouth Easter special: Louisa Edwards suggests some great escapes this holiday

ALTHOUGH Windermere has reopened for boating, and hiking in a number of Forestry Commission forests in Scotland is no longer unthinkable, Easter holidaymakers are facing very restricted choices for a weekend away in Britain. So it is no surprise that they are heading to their nearest travel agent to see what is available further afield, only to find that most Easter short breaks are booked up and budget airlines are selling seats at prices you would hardly call a bargain. Here is our guide to the best breaks still available. Prices are per person, based on two sharing, unless otherwise stated.

Although Windermere has reopened for boating, and hiking in a number of Forestry Commission forests in Scotland is no longer unthinkable, Easter holidaymakers are facing very restricted choices for a weekend away in Britain. So it is no surprise that they are heading to their nearest travel agent to see what is available further afield, only to find that most Easter short breaks are booked up and budget airlines are selling seats at prices you would hardly call a bargain. Here is our guide to the best breaks still available. Prices are per person, based on two sharing, unless otherwise stated.

NORTHERN EUROPE

Special three and four-night Easter breaks to Paris are being offered by Paris Travel Service (tel: 0870 7275912). Three nights' b&b in a three-star hotel starts from £285, including return travel on Eurostar.

Arctic Experience (tel: 01737 214214; www.arctic-discover. co.uk) can organise a special action-packed Easter weekend in Iceland with hiking, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Prices start from £601, including return flights, transfers and b&b accommodation. Departs Thursday 12 April.

Visit Holland's famous Keukenhof tulip fields with Amsterdam Travel Service (tel: 0870 727 5916). A three-night stay costs £315, including return flights from Heathrow to Amsterdam with bmi british midland and b&b at the Eden Hotel in the centre of the city. The price includes a coach tour of the bulb fields and entrance to Keukenhof.

Enjoy a Champagne Easter weekend with Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours (tel: 01730 893344; www.arblasterandclarke.com) in France's Aube region for £399, based in the medieval city of Troyes. The price includes return travel on Le Shuttle, transfers, b&b accommodation and tastings.

Travel to Helsinki with Specialised Tours (tel: 01342 712785; www.specialisedtours.com) and stay in the Radisson SAS Plaza Hotel. Three nights cost £315, including return flights from Gatwick or Manchester on Friday 13 April and b&b accommodation. Transfers are not included but there is an airport bus direct to the hotel.

Chocoholics can spend Easter in Switzerland. Three nights' b&b in Interlaken costs £364 with Swiss Travel Service (tel: 0870 727 5910), including return flights with Swissair from Heathrow to Zurich, departing Good Friday morning and returning Easter Monday, and rail transfers.

Leisure Direction (tel: 0208 324 3030; www.leisuredirection.co.uk) is offering an Easter break at the three-star Chateau Montvillargene near Chantilly in France. The price is £154, based on four travelling together and staying in two en-suite rooms, including return crossings on Hoverspeed from Dover to Calais for a car and passengers and b&b accommodation. Departs 13 April.

Take advantage of Eurostar Holidays Direct (tel: 0870 167 6767; www.eurostar.co.uk) "buy one get one free" holidays this Easter. Book a two-night trip before 15 April and get a free day trip to Brussels or Lille, to be taken before 30 September. A two-night b&b break in Paris on 13 April is £183, or travel to Amsterdam or Bruges.

Fly to France for Easter in the Château de Versailles with Sofitel (tel: 020-8283 4570; www.sofitel.com). Arrive between 6 and 16 April and enjoy two nights' b&b and a guided tour. Travel is not included.

SOUTHERN EUROPE

Rejuvenate in Saturnia Spa, after a vigorous game of golf, at Lake Garda, Italy. Exclusive Italy (tel: 01892 619650; www.exclusiveworldwide.com) is offering a three-night b&b break at Palazzo Arzaga for £550, including return flights from Gatwick and car hire.

Rome in Easter is an option, with Sofitel (tel: 020-8283 4570; www.sofitel.com). Two nights' b&b at the Sofitel Roma, in the heart of the city costs £594 per person. You can extend the stay for £247 for two per night. Travel and transfers are not included.

Spend the weekend sailing off the Croatian coast, with Activity Holidays (tel: 01932 867418; www.activity-holidays.co.uk) departing on 13 April for up to one week. You will be sharing a yacht with a small group of sailors from beginners upwards (extra tuition is available). Prices start from £395, including return flights.

There is Easter availability with Bonaventure (tel: 020-8780 1311; www.bonaventure-holidays.com) for Majorca at £669, the Algarve at £678 and Marbella for £720, all with daytime departures on British Airways from Gatwick on 8 and 15 April 2001. Prices are based on seven nights' b&b accommodation, and include return flights and transfers.

Relax in San Vincenzo, Tuscany, over Easter, self-catering with Holiday Rentals (tel: 020-8743 5577; www.holiday-rentals.com). Four nights costs £66 per person, based on nine sharing this restored farmhouse with private beach. Or head down to Barcelona in Spain, and stay in a four-bedroom apartment, close to Las Ramblas. The price is £28.50 per person per night, based on four sharing. The properties are self-catering and travel is not included.

Thomson Breakaway (tel: 0870 606 1476; www.thomsonbreakaway.co.uk) has a short break on offer in Lisbon. A four-night stay costs £435 for travel between 1 and 16 April and includes return flights on British Airways and four-star b&b at the Sana Classic Reno. Transfers are not included.

Bridge City Breaks (tel: 01992 456204) is offering an Easter break in Barcelona. Choose from a selection of hotels from £499 for three nights. Return flights depart on Easter Friday from Heathrow or Gatwick. Transfers are not included.

A luxurious Easter is offered at the five-star Crowne Plaza Resort in Funchal, Madeira (tel: 00 800 8222 8222; www.crowneplaza.com). It's available for a special weekender price of £107 per room per night, on a b&b basis. British Airways (0845 77 333 77) has return flights to Funchal for £316. Transfers excluded.

FURTHER AFIELD

Head for Morocco for three nights' b&b with Moroccan Chapters (tel: 020-7722 0722; www.villa-rentals.com) in a traditional Moroccan villa, just 15 minutes from Marrakech. The villas come complete with marble bathrooms and swimming pool ­ and the services of a cook can be requested. Prices range from £1,815 for four people to £3,785 for eight. Transfers from Marrakech airport are available on payment of a supplement. Flights can be booked with Air Maroc but are not included.

Experience historical Jordan with Travelscene (tel: 0870 777 4445) on a three-night break at the three-star Hotel Firas Palace, Amman. The trip costs £414 and includes return flights with Air France from Heathrow and b&b accommodation. Valid for departures on 12 and 14 April.

The Leading Hotels of the World (tel: 020 7290 1000; www.lhw.com) offers an Easter break in Budapest, Hungary, at the Kempinksi Hotel Corvinus, close to theatres, museums, the opera house and the Danube. The price is £174 including two nights' b&b, a four-course dinner, a city tour and use of the pool and fitness centre. Travel is not included.

Take in the Beethoven Festival in Krakow, Poland. Sofitel (tel: 020-8283 4570; www.sofitel.com) is offering a two-night package between 12 and 17 April for £158. The price includes b&b accommodation, one dinner for two and tourist cards for free transport and entertainment. Travel is not included.

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