Warning of the week: The Rhineland
The weekend of 3-4 April will be a good time to avoid Strasbourg in eastern France and its nearby German neighbours, Kehl and Baden-Baden. The reason: Nato is due to hold a two-day summit astride the Rhine involving leaders from many of the alliance's 26 member states, including President Obama.
The presence of the new US president – plus numerous other politicians – will entail extra-tight security measures on both the French and German sides of the Rhine. The main meeting will take place at the Palais de la Musique et des Congrès in Strasbourg, with the "working dinner" on the night of 3 April at the Kurhaus Casino in Baden-Baden.
Destination of the week: Boulogne
Next Thursday, 12 February, sees the launch of a new link between Dover and the port of Boulogne. LD Lines (0844 576 8836; ldlines.com) will take over from the failed SpeedFerries operation, using a conventional freight and passenger ferry on the route. Initially there will be two daily departures each way, increasing to six a day from July.
Boulogne has plenty on offer, including an attractive Old Town, some first-rate fish restaurants (it is one of France's top ports for landing seafood) and the beaches of the Côte d'Opale (above, right). It is also the best gateway for anyone heading for Paris on the pretty route through Amiens from Calais.
To launch the new service, LD Lines has some very good introductory fares, starting at £24 each way for a car and up to four people.
The service will be operated by ships currently deployed on the Newhaven-Dieppe run. As a result of the "positioning" voyages needed, a brand-new route is being established: Dover to Dieppe. One-way fares start at £29.50 for a car plus four.
The lowest fares are on sale for the next week or so.
Bargain of the week: Gatwick to Middle Europe
Travellers heading to Munich, Vienna and Zurich can expect a formidable fares war this spring and summer as two low-cost airlines go head-to-head from Gatwick.
In December, Aer Lingus announced its first British base would be established at Gatwick in April 2009. The airline's chief executive, Dermot Mannion, promised flights to "top European business and leisure destinations at convenient times and competitive fares as part of a superior offering that sets us apart from our rivals". The route network includes three "sunshine" destinations: Nice, Malaga and Faro.
These are already served from Gatwick by various airlines, including easyJet.
Aer Lingus's schedule also features three middle-European destinations – Munich, Vienna (pictured) and Zurich – not served from the Sussex airport. But easyJet has just announced daily flights from Gatwick to the same German, Austrian and Swiss cities from 2 April.
Andrew McConnell, a spokesman for easyJet, said: "We have been analysing these new routes for a while, and see this is a great opportunity. These new routes fit into our business model by continuing to connect major European cities."
His comments are surprising, given the poor track record on these routes in the past. They have been tried by airlines such as British Airways and even easyJet itself, but dropped as unprofitable.
A more persuasive scenario is that easyJet, the biggest airline at Gatwick, does not want its position challenged by an upstart, and has decided to throw capacity into the market. Such "spoiler" operations by an incumbent no-frills airlines faced with new competition are nothing unusual – and, from the passengers' perspective, they can prove extremely useful, with fares forced down as the two rivals battle for market share.
Cheapest return fares in April are all with Aer Lingus: £43 to Zurich, £45 to Munich and £55 to Vienna.Reuse content