TRAVEL

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The Independent Travel
One of the best travel bargains of the year so far is "France for a fiver". For pounds 5 you can take a day trip by train and ship from Charing Cross or Waterloo station in London to Dover, where you board a Stena Line ship to Calais. Ideal, you may think, for a weekend jaunt from the capital before the offer expires in a month's time.

Yet things are not quite that straightforward. This deal resembles a 100-mile hurdle race rather than a day out. For the last month there have been no trains at all running at weekends between Charing Cross and Dover. So everyone has to get off at Ashford and catch a bus, which takes an hour to wend its way through Kentish villages to Dover Priory station.

Here, your problems are only just beginning. You have to catch a second bus to the ferry terminal, and then a third to take you to the boat itself. After a 90-minute sailing, you have to catch two further buses before you arrive in Calais proper. If you have any energy left after this marathon, you may wish to stock up at the supermarket, but bear in mind that the whole seven-hop journey awaits you in reverse. Careful with those duty- frees, now.

Anyone who attempts this journey may yearn for an easier trip, perhaps to Tahiti - just three hops from Britain. But before you book your holiday at this South Pacific paradise, be warned that: "To spend time on one of the central or southern Tuamotus, you must apply at a French embassy a year in advance." The reason is that this chain of exotic islands includes the Centre d'Experimentations du Pacifique, which is not the next great in leap in tourism after the Club Mediterranee - but a fancy name for France's nuclear test zone.

David Stanley, author of the new Tahiti-Polynesia Handbook goes on to explain why you would want to visit the area: "The waters of the Tuamotus are clean and fresh, with some of the best swimming and snorkelling in the South Pacific." But he does point out that, since the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985, non-French people are excluded from the main ports in the area.

The book concludes "We leave it up to the individual reader to decide whether he or she cares to visit Tahiti at this time."

Spain was off-limits for many people during the Franco regime, but since the return of democracy it has become the second most popular country in the world for tourists (since you ask, France is slightly ahead). In what I can only imagine is a bid to try to make up ground, Iberia is selling tickets at pre-democracy prices - for one day only.

On 1 April, between 8am and 8pm, the Spanish national airline is offering a London-Madrid return for just pounds 55, including tax. The only conditions are that you travel between 12 April and the end of May, and that you stay away at least one Saturday night. Call 0171-830 0011 or see your travel agent first thing on Monday morning, but you'll have to fight me for this truly foolish bargain.

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