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Drink of the week: Minimum ages for alcohol in popular destinations

Drink of the week: Minimum ages for alcohol in popular destinations

Teenagers with something to celebrate should head for Italy. The country's State Tourist Office in London told The Independent that "young Italians can handle their drink" and, accordingly, there is no legal limit about when one can start drinking alcohol.

In France, Holland and Turkey, the minimum age is just 16 years. Germany gives the nod to drinking at 16, too, so long as an adult is present - otherwise the age rises to 18.

Switzerland operates a two-tier policy, with 16- or 17-year-olds able to drink beer or wine, but only those 18 or over allowed spirits.

Eighteen is the drinking age in Australia, Ireland, Spain and Tunisia. Observation does not suggest that this minimum is scrupulously enforced in all those countries.

Across in America, there are draconian laws against teenage drinking. These vary from one state to another. The usual age is 21, but to be allowed in, it is the law in some states that everyone who appears to be under 30 has to be able to prove their age.

Foreign visitors who could pass for under 30 will need to carry a passport to secure a drink, in case they are "carded" (asked for ID). Cheeringly, this very event happened to me this week at the Republican Club in Cumberland, Maryland (the only place in town to drink). Or perhaps the eyesight of those in the Grand Old Party, as the Republicans are officially known, is fading.

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Warning of the week: Road alerts in Italy and Spain

The usual Sunday driving ban on trucks in Italy, in force from 7am to midnight, has been extended to the same times on Saturdays through the summer. This applies until 9 September.

While the lorry prohibition is excellent news for weekend drivers, it will have the effect of squeezing even more traffic on to the roads on the other days (and into the brief space between midnight on Saturday and 7am on Sunday). The times immediately before and after the bans are likely to be particularly tense times to drive in a country that many British motorists already find challenging.

There are two other lorry-free days planned for Italian roads during the summer: Friday 28 July, between 4pm and midnight; and Tuesday 15 August between 7am and midnight.

Anyone thinking of taking a car to Spain should heed the latest Foreign Office bulletin about a change in law:

"It has become a legal requirement to carry two red warning triangles to be placed, in the event of an accident or breakdown, in front of and behind the vehicle. Failure to comply may result in the imposition of a spot fine of up to 15,000 pesetas [around £600]. This requirement is in addition to the need for drivers to carry a spare wheel and full set of spare bulbs plus the tools to change them."

The FO also reminds motorists to beware of highway robbers who target foreign visitors on the motorways by indicating a mechanical problem, then robbing victims when they pull on to the hard shoulder.

Bargain of the week: Brazil on the cheap

Seven hundred and seven pounds buys you the freedom of South America's largest country - but only if you fly out in the next 13 days. The leading Brazilian airline, Varig, is selling seats from London Heathrow to Rio or Sao Paulo for £407, through South American Experience (020-7976 5511). Book at least three days in advance, and go by 21 July.

The same airline has an unlimited-travel air-pass within Brazil for a ridiculous £10 a day - 30 days of flights for £300. Combine the two tickets, and you can explore the Amazon, the falls of Iguacu and the beaches of Bahia for a total of £707.

For some winter warmth, you could opt to wait for some specials to Salvador - the city that is the gateway to Brazil's best beaches.

A low-season fare on TAP Air Portugal through Journey Latin America (020-8747 3108) currently runs at £517 return from Heathrow to Salvador, but the agency is hopeful that there will be some deals as cheap as £364 - the lowest level they hit this year.

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