Warning of the week: Fine time in Monaco
"I was driving out of the Monte Carlo casino car park and heading for the A8 towards Nice," writes reader Richard Sharpe, "when I misread the road and went through a red light, thinking that it was not directed at me as I was heading to the left and not straight on.
"A policeman – who it seemed had been waiting for this to happen – pulled me over and demanded an on-the-spot fine of €150 in cash. He was extremely aggressive, would not listen to any protestations and told my wife and I that unless we paid the money immediately the car would be impounded and we would not be able to leave Monaco [the principality, pictured right, is independent of France]. While we were speaking to him he was joined by a supporting crew of two other policemen to add to the sense of intimidation.
"My wife was in tears as she handed over the money, which she got out from a conveniently positioned ATM that he had directed her to. He pocketed the cash but did issue a receipt and wrote down an address for any complaint. We have appealed against the fine, but not heard anything back yet. I don't have terribly high hopes.
"As a family we were, to say the least, a little shocked, if not traumatised and the policeman's behaviour and attitude contrasted so starkly with the helpful and accommodating manner of all those we had met as tourists throughout the day, the incident seemed darkly surreal. We left Monaco vowing never to go back – when we had, up until that point, been treated with nothing but courtesy and respect."
Mr Sharpe wonders: "Have you ever heard of such a steep fine for an offence that was comparatively minor and caused no problem for any other driver? Does this sound like a case of corruption to you, or do you think that's the going rate for a traffic offence in a millionaires' theme park?"
If you have had a similar experience, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bargain of the week: Cathar Country
With a fortnight to go, Explore (0845 013 1537; explore.co.uk) still has availability on its one-week "Footsteps of the Cathars" hiking holiday, departing on 30 May. The trip to south-west France takes in Carcassonne, the Gorges de la Frau, the spa town of Rennes les Bains, Peyrepertuse (a castle stretching 300m along a line of cliffs) and the Château de Quéribus – perched on a needle of rock. The price of £1,092 represents good value, since it includes scheduled flights between the UK and Toulouse. The big problem is: the flights are on BA from Heathrow, and therefore may be grounded.
The "land-only" price is £835. If you prefer to go it alone, the best destination for access is Carcassonne, which is served by Ryanair from Stansted, East Midlands, Leeds/Bradford and Prestwick. (Both prices include local transport and accommodation in a range of venues. )
Destination of the week: Magic in Méribel
How does a ski resort attract tourists in summer? One solution adopted by Méribel, close to the Italian border, is a "magic week" in the middle of the holidays, from 15 to 20 August.
Attractions this year include a free show featuring Marco Calendri, an Italian illusionist, a "fire-breathing fakir", and workshops to encourage amateurs to improve their skills: magic teachers will coach children on a four-day course for €50. At the end of the session, the students will perform a public show.
Méribel is also offering specialist weeks featuring mountain biking, wellness and astronomy. Discount rates on accommodation are widely available, with an apartment sleeping six from €448 per week. More details from Méribel Tourisme (00 33 4 79 00 50 00; meribel.net).
Close by, the Accrobranche "aerial rope course" through the trees includes a "Small Adventurer's" course that is designed for children as young as 3. More information from Parc Aventure (00 33 6 22 13 80 48; perso.wanadoo.fr/ parcaventure.
Tip of the week: Ski flights to Chambéry
For access to some of the finest ski resorts in the French Alps, Chambéry is better placed than the traditional gateways of Geneva and Lyon. The airport is also much more user-friendly than its larger rivals.
Flybe this week announced its winter programme of weekend flights to Chambéry, from Exeter, Southampton and Birmingham. Flights start shortly before Christmas and continue until the end of February 2011. Book at flybe.com.