Something to declare: RAF St Mawgan; airport upgrades; driving through France
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Saturday 23 July 2005
Destination of the week: RAF St Mawgan
The travelling public is becoming accustomed to the idea that air force bases can be gateways to attractive locations. Beauvais in northern France is the cheap option for Paris, while Hahn and Baden-Baden in western Germany open up the Moselle and Rhine valleys, respectively. And Cornwall's main RAF station is enjoying its best summer yet for civil aviation.
St Mawgan's is an important base for Atlantic operations by the RAF, but it also doubles for civilian purposes as Newquay (and triples as "Cornwall International Airport").
The existing services from Stansted on Ryanair (0906 270 5656; www.ryanair.com) and from Gatwick and Plymouth on Air Southwest (0870 241 8202; www.airsouthwest.com) are augmented this summer by links from Manchester, Leeds/Bradford, Bristol and Dublin on Air Southwest; and from Birmingham and Durham Tees Valley on BMI (0870 60 70 555; www.flybmi.com).
Monarch Scheduled (08700 40 50 40; www.flymonarch.com) will fly from Newquay to Malaga from November; it is also flying to the Spanish resort from Aberdeen and Blackpool.
Bargain of the week: airport upgrades
For anyone who loathes trying to sleep in close proximity to complete strangers on overnight flights, paying for an "instant upgrade" at the airport has some appeal.
You would imagine that it would appeal to the airlines, too, since they earn extra cash by filling empty business-class seats. But two of the carriers that used to offer the prospect, TAP of Portugal and Malaysia Airlines, have adopted normal airline practice: you have to pay the difference between the economy fare paid and the full business fare.
One welcome exception is Sri Lankan Airlines (020-8538 2001; www.srilankan.aero), which offers space-available upgrades to the Maldives or Colombo at Heathrow airport for £520 each way. With economy fares typically around £700 return, this offers only a modest saving on the return business-class fare of around £1,900.
But many travellers will want to upgrade only on the outbound, overnight flight - not the inbound, daytime flight. And a total of around £1,220 for business-out, economy-home, looks a good price.
Warning of the week: driving through France
About one million British families are expected to head south through France during the next eight days. Next weekend, 30-31 July, is likely to be the busiest - and most dangerous - on the French autoroute system.
Few British motorists are aware of some key legal differences in the event of a breakdown. Anyone who breaks down on the motorway in France can be rescued only by the police, not a breakdown company. You must call the police on one of the emergency phones, situated every 2km along the motorway. And before many garages in France will touch your car, they will demand to see the vehicle log book (registration certificate).
THE ROAD TO CONSTANTINOPLE
The 400-mile road journey across northern Greece, from the Adriatic port of Igoumenitsa to Kipi on the border of Turkey, used to take a good 12 hours. But the opening this month of a key stretch of the Egnatia motorway will help to reduce the trip to a target time of seven hours.
The Romans had the right idea about traversing the Greek mainland, although it has taken two millennia for their vision to be properly exploited. Around 130BC, the Via Egnatia (left) was built as an important military highway linking Rome with Constantinople (now Istanbul).
Today, the ancient thoroughfare has been superseded by a new four-lane superhighway across northern Greece. The latest stretch to open links Asprovalta and Strimonas in the Greek province of Macedonia. Work on the Egnatia motorway began a decade ago, mirroring the ancient route. It covers more than 400 miles across the difficult terrain of the Pindus mountain range, with 1,650 bridges and 30 miles of tunnels.
One aim of the multi-billion euro project - half funded by the EU - is to encourage tourism to the less visited parts of northern Greece. There are officially 270 sites of historical interest along the route.
For British travellers, the new road is accessible via Igoumenitsa, which has links from Italian ports such as Bari, Brindisi and Ancona. For drivers heading overland to Turkey and beyond, it presents a more appealing option than the drive through the Balkans.
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