Short Breaks: Down to the Mediterranean with a bump

A break in Cyprus is just what pregnant Elizabeth Heathcote needs. But is it worth the risk?

Call me naive but it never occurred to me that taking a holiday while I was pregnant would be an issue. I wasn't proposing to go anywhere disease-ridden after all - just a couple of weeks in package-tour Cyprus, which in May is the perfect temperature for the Spacehopper formerly known as a woman.

Call me naive but it never occurred to me that taking a holiday while I was pregnant would be an issue. I wasn't proposing to go anywhere disease-ridden after all - just a couple of weeks in package-tour Cyprus, which in May is the perfect temperature for the Spacehopper formerly known as a woman.

My mother's gasps should have warned me. "You're never going to fly!"

"It's not far ..."

"My God! What do you want? A suntan or a baby?"

I would be 26 weeks pregnant when I headed out. The books say this is a great time to travel, between the miscarriage-prone first three months and the whale-like last three, but a seed of anxiety had been planted. I tried to laugh it off with friends, but instead of chuckling along they hummed and haaed and asked if I'd thought about Cornwall. So I rang Dr Richard Dawood, travel specialist at Fleet Street Clinic and master of making things possible.

"The answer is that, yes, of course you can travel but you have to ask yourself, is it sensible?" he says. "What if things go wrong? What sort of local medical care is there? I used to be very cavalier before I had my own family but now ..." He pauses. "How old are you?"

Thirty-nine, I tell him

"Hmm, not many more chances. It's up to you, of course, but ideally you would have gone before 24 weeks. If you deliver now the baby could survive, but only with intensive care."

We are talking Cyprus, I point out.

"Hmm, well there's the British Military Hospital and I doubt they'd turn away a Brit in trouble ... just make sure you get the blessing of your obstetrician, good insurance and have a plan in case things go wrong."

I consider cancelling. But the same friends now tell me that would be absurd. I get on the internet and discover that a) Cypriot women regularly give birth without incident in Cypriot hospitals and b) the biggest danger to my and the baby's health is pre-eclampsia, a blood-pressure condition of which I have no symptoms. Obviously there is no hope of getting my obstetrician's blessing (who on the NHS has ever seen an obstetrician?) but I have a scan that shows my risk of early labour is less than 1 per cent. I also pay several visits to my GP who patiently repeats that yes, I am still fit to travel. I track down an insurer prepared to take me on (the Post Office) and buy a Braun blood-pressure monitor (perfect for alarmists, £69).

And so it is that by the time I've packed my hospital notes and boarded the plane, I am shattered. Total delight then to discover that having informed Britannia of my condition, I have been allocated a special-needs seat (extra legroom!). Even more delight when we arrive at the Anassa, a five-star spa in an idyllic setting near the small village of Polis. If ever there is a time to throw money at holiday accommodation, pregnancy is it. I have never felt less sociable, less capable of dealing with minor irritations or more in need of a cushioned sun-bed high enough to roll off. The Anassa, reputed to be the best hotel in Cyprus, fits the bill nicely - a sanctuary of marbled luxury with the added benefit of a mum-to-be pamper package at the spa (£75).

I spend day one being massaged, exfoliated, and having my feet seen to (miraculously they know I can't reach them) and day two lying by the pool. I speak only once, when the bleary-eyed mother of a newborn is moved to approach me. "I wish I'd come on holiday when I was at your stage," she says with feeling, "but my doctor warned me off." I say I know how she feels and nod off.

Our budget doesn't stretch to 10 days of this so we move on to the Almyra in Paphos. Recently revamped into Habitat-catalogue grooviness, the Almyra (the old Paphos Beach Hotel) is perfect. We have a bungalow on the seafront (I emphasise again, money is well spent on this holiday) with a private lawn and daybeds with real mattresses. Pool and breakfast are a short stroll through the gardens and the general hospital just streets away. Finally I relax.

We hire a car. Paphos houses the island's most spectacular sites (Tombs of the Kings, the Mosaics) but we go in search of undeveloped Cyprus. We start at Nicosia - the last divided city in the world - and head for the border. The UN checkpoint here is the easiest place to cross to the Turkish north of the island, albeit on foot only. The border is basically open now but still it is eerie to skirt the bullet-pocked Ledra Palace Hotel in no man's land, and plain weird to move as abruptly from a full-on modern city to crumbling back-streets lined with Escort MK1s and artisans working on their doorsteps. We eat cheap kebabs and stroll round an empty market that seems to specialise in bargain pashminas. As we cross back over, my headscarf and bump draw the attention of a Republican soldier who pulls us out of the queue. Does he suspect me of being a health tourist from the other side, intent on scrounging a bed on the sparkling maternity wards of the south? I'm not waiting to find out. I wave my British passport and pass by with first-world immunity.

We explore the remote beaches of the extreme west. The march of the time-shares is relentless, but if you are prepared to go off-road, you can still find vast stretches of undeveloped beach, a shambolic taverna here and there, nothing but goats to jostle for a spot (Lara Beach and north). We drive back through the Troodos mountains, developed into semi-Alpine tweeness in the guidebook east but truly remote in the west. We pass for miles along wooded valleys without spotting another soul, sometimes along the rough tracks that make this such stunning hiking country.

My partner laughs about how they tell you to drive down roads like this to induce labour, and only realises too late what he has done. We cover the last 20km at 5km an hour.

Installed back on my day bed, the baby kicking happily, I realise I haven't checked my blood pressure for days. I don't bother to get up.

Travelling for two

Contrary to popular myth, flying does not increase your chance of miscarriage, but do not travel on an unpressurised aircraft (the little ones) because oxygen levels are too low. Each airline has a different limit on how late they will carry you and some may require a doctor's letter, so check in advance. There is no danger - they just don't want to have to divert if you go into labour. Pregnant women have an increased risk of deep-vein thrombosis. Wear flight socks (Scholl, £14.99, chemists) and move around regularly.

Think very carefully about exotic destinations. It is possible to have some vaccinations when you are pregnant but do you really want to? Especially avoid malarial areas. Strong mosquito repellants are off the menu and although some malaria pills are safe, none offer complete protection. Pregnant women receive four times as many mosquito bites as other people, and your immune system will be compromised. Malaria, like most tropical diseases, is dangerous for your unborn child.

Bear in mind that lots of everyday medicines, such as antihistamines, insect repellents and aspirin, should not be used.

Use very high factor sunscreen. Pregnant skin is prone to patchy darkening (chloasma) which is exacerbated by exposure to the sun. Not a good look.

Be extra careful about food. Remember you are more vulnerable to bugs, and the consequences are more serious. And lay off the feta.

Pregnancies can and do go wrong. Check out the standard of health facilities in advance, don't stray too far from a hospital and always carry your notes. Do not even think about travelling without health insurance. Most high street insurers will not touch pregnant women. Try the Post Office (0800-169 9999).

GIVE ME THE FACTS

How to get there

Elizabeth Heathcote travelled as a guest of Abercrombie & Kent (0845-0700 612; www.abercrombiekent.co.uk). Seven nights at the Anassa, in a studio suite costs from £1,680 per person, based on two sharing. Seven nights at the Almyra, staying in a garden view room, costs from £895 per person, based on two sharing. Both prices include return flights from London, transfers and b&b accommodation.

For more information

Cyprus Tourist Board (020-7569 8800; www.visitcyprus.org.cy).

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