Do you know anything about the villa rental market in Germany and Austria? Are there cheap, rustic old places of the sort you can find in France? How do we set about investigating this?
Mrs Gina Pugh
Jill Crawshaw replies: Although Germany offers high standards of self- catering accommodation, much of it is in bungalows and apartments. However, specialist Moswin Tours (0116 271 9922) does have a variety on offer and can tailor such holidays to most regions of the country, including the former East Germany.
The firm also offers rustic apartments in Bavaria's Oberammergau, Garmisch- Partenkirchen and Bischofswiesen, as well as trad- itionally styled log cabins near Creelinglen on the Romantic Road, farmhouse apartments in the Black Forest and holiday homes in the vineyards and forests of Thuringia.
Packages including air fares and car hire - with ferry fares if you want to take your own car - are also available.
Austria can offer rather more rustic self-catering based on traditional chalets, farmhouses and apartments in its mountain villages, though even here bed and breakfast at a farm is the more common form of accommodation.
Get hold of the Switzerland, Austria and Germany brochure from Interhome (0181 891 1294) which is valid for the whole year and includes ski resorts, as well as summer destinations.
The brochure details 730 properties in Austria and 790 in Germany (many of then modern); in Austria, the Tyrol and Salzburg are the most popular regions, and prices (with the increased strength of the pound) start at around pounds 40 per person per week, though most are quoted per property.
Inntravel (01653 628811) offers traditional self-catering holidays on working farms where you are invited (but not obligated) to help out if you wish, in the traditional regions of Switzerland and Austria.
The Austrian firm Pego (telephone in Austria: 0043 5552 65666) should be able to help you with properties in Austria (but no travel arrangements).
I am afraid that there is nothing similar to the Gites de France organisation, either in Germany or Austria.
8 Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, broadcaster, and writer.
WARNING: SWIMMING CAN MAKE YOU ILL
I have heard of cases of people who get ill after swimming in the sea. What kind of problems can arise from just swimming (as opposed to drinking)? How can we tell whether water is safe to swim in or not?
Elizabeth Hindly Barnsley
Dr Goodyer replies: Apart from the dangers of encounters with jelly fish, sea urchins, sharks and other marine animals, swimming in the sea is generally more healthy than swimming in fresh water.
There are relatively few diseases which are contracted by bathing in the sea, although ear infection has been shown to be more common among visitors to the Maldives and Fiji, probably as a result of frequent contact with the warm water around these islands. Various types of rashes are reported among sea swimmers, the most common appearing underneath swimming costumes due to the entrapment of various microscopic organisms.
There is a significant danger of contracting schistosomiasis (Bilharzia) if bathing in fresh water, including the Nile and Lake Malawi, in many parts of Africa. This also applies to limited areas of South America and Asia. The disease is caused by a small worm or fluke, whose larvae mature in certain fresh water snails. These larvae can penetrate the skin of bathers, which can sometimes be felt as a mild swimmers itch. The worm matures inside the body laying its eggs in the bladder or gastrointestinal tract. This causes blood loss from these areas resulting eventually in anaemia. The condition is often not diagnosed until the traveller returns home but is quite easily treated. Avoid swimming in fresh water in Africa.
A potential danger when swimming in almost any fresh water is that posed by leptospirosis (Weil's disease), transmitted by infected animals urinating in the water. It's also worth remembering that one of the major causes of death amongst holiday-makers is that of drowning.
8Dr Larry Goodyer is superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8, Tel: 0181-889 7014) which specialises in catering for travellers' medical needs.
WHO ORGANISES HOUSE EXCHANGES?
When we retire next year we would like to spend some time doing house exchanges, both in this country and abroad. Can you tell us how to go about it?
The travel editor replies: You could organise house exchanges privately, via the classified ads sections in newspapers and magazines. However, an easier and cheaper way of going about it is to enlist the help of one of the various house exchange agencies.
You subscribe to an agency's directory of homes which contains details of thousands of other members throughout the world. Details of your home appear in the directory along with your preferred destinations and dates, allowing subscribers to make direct contact with each other via the agency. Don't bother to subscribe to more than one as you'll find many pool their members details together to produce almost identical directories.
In addition to a directory, Latitudes Home Exchange are able to offer a custom matching service whereby they try to match your specific requirements. Details of your house are held in confidence but photos and information on any potential swaps are sent to you.
Expect to pay somewhere in the region of pounds 50 for an annual directory service or pounds 15 for a one-time custom matching fee; plus an extra pounds 100 to pounds 200 "exchange fee", depending on whether the exchange is national or international. If you change your mind, for any reason, before the exchange goes ahead, you should have your exchange fee refunded.
The agencies act purely as an introductory service, leaving the two sets of swappers to sort out the finer points of the exchange. At least one month's correspondence is recommended, not only to exchange information, photographs and other details, but also to build trust between the two groups.
All agencies provide help and advisory literature for clients on all manner of issues including car insurance - yes, you can swap cars as well.
Tim Secrett, of Latitudes Home Exchange, told me: "Problems are very rare, especially when people take simple precautions such as locking away valuables or cherished items. Most of our customers are responsible professionals who take great care of other peoples homes. Indeed, most of our feedback is 'thank you' letters from satisfied customers."
A good place to start your enquiries is the friendly Latitudes Home Exchange (tel. 01273 581793). Other agencies worth trying are Green Theme (tel. 01208 873123), Home Base Holidays (tel. 01332 291102) and Worldwide Home Exchange Club (tel. 0171 823 9937).