Pack your doggy bags! It's four-legged vacation time

Restrictions on taking pets on holiday are to be relaxed. Simon Calder offers a ruff guide

Rabies, we have always been told, begins at Calais. Indeed, one of the scare stories that gained greatest traction while the Channel Tunnel was being dug was that packs of rabid rats would use the bore as an invasion route to spread the fatal disease across Britain.

Those fears proved groundless – and yesterday the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, announced that the "outdated rules which have caused hardship to generations of pets and pet owners" would be overhauled. From the start of next year, the UK will broadly adopt the much more relaxed EU pet movement scheme, greatly easing the burden in time and cost that owners of dogs, cats and – yes – ferrets must currently bear.

The demand for six months to elapse between a rabies jab and an overseas trip has been reduced to 21 days. Blood tests – the value of which has long been disputed – are no longer required.

The new rules will extend beyond Europe to parts of the world deemed safe, such as Australasia and North America, allowing labradors easily to visit Labrador. Locations where rabies is still prevalent, such as parts of Asia and South America, will be subject to much tougher regulations.

Pet owners yearning to explore Europe are not the only people to be celebrating a tangible case of animal liberation – the outbound travel industry will also rejoice. At present only 100,000 British travellers jump through the legal hoops necessary to bring a pet home to the UK after a holiday abroad. The new rules are likely dramatically to increase the number and frequency of families taking dogs beyond Barking and cats further than Purfleet to the Continent.

But where to go, and where to avoid? This pet's guide offers four-legged getaways to the four corners of Europe.



Paris, France

The French capital is the idea location for poodles and other breeds – easy to reach, and one of the most canine-minded cities in Europe (as the trottoirs often testify). Chiens are welcome on and around the Seine, with restaurateurs rarely turning up their noses at dogs who dine. Paris even has a dog boutique, called Moustaches (which translates as "whiskers"), selling everything from jewel-encrusted dog bowls to gemstoned collars.

Ostend, Belgium

Fresh fish constitutes feline heaven, and there is no need for the cat lover to venture further than this fine old town and Belgium's leading port, in terms of the quantity of fish landed. After lunch, you can hop on the train for a 15-minute ride to Bruges – where, it is said, no fewer than 58 cat-friendly hotels await you and your feline friend.



Rottweil, Germany

The original home of the controversial Rottweiler breed has a dramatic location in south-west Germany: a medieval town in a thickly wooded valley – exactly the kind of territory that a big, powerful dog needs to mark out. Then it is your turn for enjoyment – at the convivial Café Schädle, serving the robust local wine.



Geilo, Norway

The ideal winter escape for an active hound could be to run with the huskies that take tourists sledging around this appealing ski resort. But given the intense yelping that accompanies the performance, you may well find that after all the shouting you sound a touch husky yourself.



Lisbon, Portugal

Pet-friendly hotels are a relatively rare breed – and airport hotels where dogs are welcome, even more so. But the Holiday Inn Express at Lisbon Airport encourages canine customers, charging their owners an extra €20 for the privilege. The city centre is a 15-minute ride away, by dog-friendly bus.



Cap Ferret, France

Unlike the more glamorous Riviera location of Cap Ferrat, this isolated headland comprises perfect territory to let your ferret run free to burrow holes in the sand-dunes that extend exquisitely along the coast. It is, however, disappointing that the nearby campsite Lège-Cap-Ferret does not allow pets.



Dubrovnik, Croatia

Out of every 102 residents of the beautiful Croatian coast, approximately 101 Dalmatians are dog-lovers. As the "Pearl of the Adriatic" comprises an attractive walled city, plus an expansive woodland sprawl, for a dog and its owner this is the perfect spot.



Húsavík, Iceland

The raw and spectacular north coast of Iceland has a remarkable range of attraction for days when it is raining cats and dogs – including Phallological Museum. In Iceland, the local dog treat is a whale penis; indeed, that was how the proprietor started his collection of male organs. Besides the specimens on display, he may have a few spares out the back.



Amsterdam

As with small children, so with pets: the canal network that adds such allure to this graceful city comprises a constant danger. And even if your dog is the kind who loves to splash about, he may – like a number of young British humans – inadvertently pick up something nasty.



Anywhere in Greece

Imminent bankruptcy is not the problem for pet owners, so much as the long and arduous overland journey – and it appears to have a large population of stray cats who may take a (literally) unhealthy interest in visiting British felines.



Hamelin, Germany

To those who have not yet become acquainted with the rodent world, rats are surprisingly popular and easily domesticated. But it's better not to tempt fate by transporting an animal to the town that, legend has it, experienced a highly successful rodent eradication scheme. For you, Roland, the tour is over.

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