The best and worst of France

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The Independent Travel
NEXT year we shall be running a series of features on 'The Best of France' which, among other things, will highlight the most interesting specialist travel companies.

If there are any outstanding self-catering companies or specialist operators - such as those offering walking or other activity holidays - please let us know. It would be interesting to hear all experiences, good as well as bad. (Operators are welcome to recommend themselves if they wish])

The writers of the most useful letters will receive an appropriate book or guide. Please write to Frank Barrett (Best of France), The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

How high is Europe?

WHICH is the highest mountain in Europe? In a caption to a photograph illustrating Robert Winder's feature on climbing (Independent Traveller, 14 November), we said it was Mont Blanc in France.

'As educated people you no doubt know that Mount Blanc is not the highest mountain in Europe,' writes J Rice of Sunderland. 'Why, then, did you perpetuate this myth?'

James Wood of Carlisle says the highest mountain in Europe is Mount Elbrus (5,633m), on the borders of Georgia and Russia in the Caucasus mountains. Dr A M Maciejewski of Coventry says that, according to his 1960 children's edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Caucasus mountains are a part of Europe.

While everyone can agree on the height of Mount Elbrus, the question of whether the mountain is in Europe is open to discussion. For example, the latest edition of the Philip's International Atlas - excellent value at pounds 17.99 - shows Europe's highest mountain as Mount Blanc. It lists Mount Elbrus as being in Asia (where it doesn't even rate as one of the continent's 10 biggest mountains).

Wine bar and wash

A SERIES of guides for travelling students is launched this month by Fodor's. The Berkeley guides are written by students from the University of California at Berkeley which, says the publicity blurb, 'has a reputation for being on the cutting edge of social, political and cultural trends'. It continues: 'These are not your average guidebooks - the writing and the attitude are young, off-beat and opinionated.'

A prominent note on the jackets tells you that the books are printed with soy-based inks on 100 per cent recycled paper containing 80 per cent 'post- consumer waste' (whatever that is).

The task of the guide writers was clearly hell. Chris Hallenbeck, one of the contributors to The Berkeley Guide to California 1993 (Fodor, pounds 8.99), wails: 'Real bread ceases to exist about 100 miles east of Los Angeles. So does coffee.'

In a missive from Las Vegas he writes: 'I'm surrounded by weirdos. Some guy with a hand puppet won't leave me alone, and another keeps insisting that the government is making test flights of captured UFOs.'

Despite occasionally being a bit too right-on for comfort, the books are full of useful information and advice.

When in San Francisco, for example, the guide advises you to take your dirty washing to the Brainwash Laundromat at 1122 Fulsom Street. 'Once the clothes are in the machine you can drink a beer or a glass of wine, relax over a pizza or sandwich and listen to some live music that happens four nights a week . . .'

Christmasless zone

A suggestion for escaping Christmas from Lorna Roberts of London: 'Provided you keep away from Jerusalem and Bethlehem for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Holy Land is the answer]

'I have found it quite disconcerting there to find no special magic to alert you to the day. Being on holiday and not calendar watching, Christmas Day has occasionally passed me by entirely.'

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