Q&A: Make the right moves for the white stuff

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered
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The Independent Travel

Send your family travel questions to S F Robinson, The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall,London E14 9RSOr crusoe@independent.co.uk

Q. I am a single parent and would like to take my nine-year-old daughter skiing during the February half term, possibly to Switzerland, France or Italy, but would also consider somewhere else. I don't want to spend a fortune, but would like it to be somewhere quite social, where we can both meet people.

C West, Surrey

A.A good initial source of information is the Ski Club of Great Britain (020-8410 2000, www.skiclub.co.uk), the largest club for British skiers and snowboarders. You don't have to be a member to obtain general information, such as its comprehensive family travel fact sheet, which lists family-friendly resorts, tour operators and travel tips which are particularly useful for parents taking their children away skiing for the first time.

The club has representatives in 41 resorts throughout Europe and North America offering a support network for members and prospective members. If you pack your daughter off to ski school ­ the best way for her to mingle with children of her own age ­ and find yourself at a loose end, the reps can advise on club ski activities (generally free for intermediate skiers) and social events. Membership can be arranged on the spot, so you don't have to commit to anything before you go; the annual cost is £48 per person or £69 per family and includes quarterly copies of the club magazine, discounts on travel, accommodation, ski schools and equipment. If you and your daughter can already ski, the club runs family ski holidays several times a year. There are two during February half term, one to Kitzbühel (Austria) and one to La Plagne (France). A week's skiing costs £725 per adult and £625 per child, including return flights, transfers, half-board accommodation and ski club leaders.

Alternatively, arrange your holiday through a specialist such as Ski Famille (01223 363777, www.skifamille.co.uk) which offers accommodation in the Portes du Soleil ski area, in the northern French Alps. One benefit of going with a family travel specialist is that the company should be better equipped to provide a more personalised service, so they should be able to match you up with families similar to yourselves. Availability is already limited for the half-term period, however, and that goes for whoever you travel with, so you need to start planning as soon as possible.

Ski Famille has a twin room in a chalet in Les Gets (near Morzine) over half term for £578 per adult, £521 per child. This includes full-board accommodation, childcare (on and off the slopes) and either return Dover-Calais ferry crossing (for car and passengers) or transfers from Geneva, the nearest airport. Another, larger family ski specialist, is Ski Esprit (01252 618 300, www.esprit-holidays.co.uk).

Like accommodation, flights during February half term are also selling out quickly. Flying with one of the low-cost airlines is worth considering. For example, easyJet (0870 6000 000, www.easyjet.com) offers regular flights to ski hubs such as Geneva and Zürich; Buzz (0870 240 7070, www.buzzaway.com) goes to Lyon and Chambéry; and Go (0870 60 76543, www.go-fly.com) heads to Lyon and Munich.Fares vary enormously, but the more flexible you are about your dates and times of travel, the easier it will be to get cheap flightst.

If you are planning to arrange your travel and accommodation independently, a good source is The Good Skiing and Snowboarding Guide 2002 (Which, £15.99). The guide offers information on family-friendly resorts in 23 countries worldwide, recommends tour operators and also includes a token for half-price membership for the Ski Club of Great Britain.

Q.We are a family of four (three children, aged four, nine and 11). We have been searching in vain for a hotel in Northern Spain near San Sebastián for a short break this October or November. Our budget is not a major consideration, but we would like somewhere with a bit of character/history. Could you make some suggestions?

S Somerville, Oxford

A.If your budget is not too tight, consider staying at a Parador. These state-run top-notch Spanish hotels are usually located in restored or converted castles, monasteries or even historic monuments dotted in 85 locations all over the country. You could try the Parador de Hondarribia (00 34 943 645 500), on the French border about 25km from San Sebastián. It is a castle built by the Navarrese king, Sancho Abarca, with foundations dating back to the 10th century. A double room costs from £91 per night. If this one doesn't appeal, there are five more paradores just inland to the south of San Sebastián and several more as you head west along the coast towards Santander. You can book online at www.parador.es, or by phone to the bilingual booking service in Spain (00 34 915 166 666), or through their representative in the UK, Keytel International, 402 Edgware Road, London W2 1ED (020-7616 0300, e-mail: paradors@keytel.co.uk), which sometimes has the best deals. .

According to the Spanish Tourist Office in London (09063 640630, www.tourspain.co.uk) there is no UK based agent representing rural homestays/farm accommodation. But you can contact the central reservations office for the País Vasco region in Spain (00 34 946 201 188). Local tourist offices in Spain can provide listings.

Alternatively there are various websites such as www.paisvascoturismo.net and www.encomix.es/nekazal offering information about these kinds of properties with prices and direct contacts plus pictures, maps and general information.

The accommodation specialist Hotels Abroad (01689 882500, www.hotelsabroad.com) can book rooms on your behalf. It offers several options in the País Vasco region. One, located midway between San Sebastián and Bilbao, is a B&B in a converted mountain house with terraces made out of billiard tables and support beams made out of railway sleepers. A twin room is £36 including breakfast.

Mundi Color (020-7828 6021) is just one of a number of Spanish specialists offering packages in and around San Sebastián, and the Spanish Tourist Office can provide further listings for tour operators dealing with this area of Spain.

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