A flat with a view, please

We would like to spend two to three weeks in Venice, Rome and Florence with our son and my mother. We would prefer to stay in a flat as near the centre as possible which we think would be fun and cheaper than staying in hotels.

M Lindsay


Jill Crawshaw replies: Although I've never rented an apartment in Italy, I have in Paris and many other cities and agree that it's much more fun, forcing you to visit not just the usual attractions of the city but also markets, delicatessens and mad small eateries. It can also be much cheaper, though prices do shoot up in peak season. Check the brochures carefully - some include bedlinen and towels while others don't, and occasionally there is compulsory maid service for which you have to pay extra.

Several companies offer self-catering villas and apartments in major cities. Interhome (0181 891 1294) has a wide choice, including a three- bedroom apartment 10 minutes walk from the centre of Rome with a washing machine and central heating. The price is pounds 540-pounds 640 per week for the apartment only; as with many of these rentals, neither flights nor transfers are included. The same firm also offers self-catering accommodation in Venice; a house built in the year 1300 with a view of the canals, near shops and restaurants costs from pounds 637 a week.

Individual Travellers (01798 869485) also has apartments in each of the cities you mention. The Villa Lorenzo in Rome is minutes from the Borghese Gardens, is furnished with antiques and paintings, and can sleep up to seven persons. Here the rent for one week is pounds 1,455, pounds 2730 for a fortnight, and there's a hefty refundable breakage deposit.

In Venice again, a large third floor apartment in a 10th century building rebuilt in the 15th century from International Chapters (0171 722 0722) is an easy walk to the Rialto and the Accademia and costs pounds 680 a week. The firm has a good selection of properties in the other Italian cities you mention.

One of the most interesting apartments in Rome is 26 Piazza di Spagna (on the Spanish Steps) let by Landmark Trust, the conservation charity that rescues and restores old buildings. Keats worked and died in the house on the floor below, which is identical in layout and preserved in a style he would recognise. With a view of the world's grandest outdoor staircase, there are a couple of snags. Although there is no motor traffic there is noise at night, particularly in peak season when the whole world seems to gather on the steps. Also you need to reserve it well in advance as the house quickly gets booked up. The flat sleeps four and costs pounds 1,134 a week in summer. Full details are available frcm the Landmark Handbook, price pounds 8.50 (refundable against booking). Telephone 01626 825925.

Finally, if you win the lottery, get in touch with Venetian Apartments (0181 878 1130) which also offers Florence, where they rent out the Via Dell'Orioulo. This is a luxury penthouse right in the centre with views on to the Duomo. It is in a palazzo building with two terraces and offers just about every comfort you could ask for. It costs pounds 2,250 a week but if you can stay for four weeks it works out cheaper.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

Is hepatitis a big risk?

What is the difference between hepatitis A and B? What's the point of being vaccinated against one of them but not the other? Does it depend on which country I go to, which of the two I am most likely to catch?

Mary Hayita


Dr Larry Goodyer replies: While hepatitis A and hepatitis B are both viral infections of the liver, they are very different in their seriousness and the way that they can be contracted.

Hepatitis A is usually caught from consuming contaminated food and water, so presents a potential health hazard for travellers to certain destinations. Although the disease can be quite incapacitating for several weeks, there is little chance of any permanent liver damage. Hepatitis A is even milder in children, and some individuals carry immunity having come into contact with the virus during childhood. Vaccination is offered to travellers visiting a variety of destinations, although not all carry the same risk: there is a greater chance of contracting hepatitis A in India than countries such as Turkey.

Hepatitis B is usually contracted by coming into contact with infected blood, other body fluids, or via sex with a carrier, much in the same way that Aids is transmitted. Those most at risk would be health workers, though any hospital treatment involving invasive procedures such as injections, infusions, or surgery might also present a risk. The disease carries a higher chance of chronic liver damage than hepatitis A and is considered more serious. Travellers from the UK are not routinely offered vaccination. However, the longer one is away, the more likely it becomes that hospital treatment might be needed. Those planning visits of more than a few months to countries with poor facilities may consider obtaining vaccination.

Dr 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.

My mother has just been diagnosed as having ovarian cancer and is receiving chemotherapy until November. My brother has recently married and is now living in the USA. My mother wises to visit him in the new year. What can she do about travel insurance?

R Atherton


Ian Skuse replies: Most travel insurance policies require the consumer to advise of any current medical treatment or tests which have taken place during the 6 or 12 months prior to the policy starting. In view of your mother's illness and treatment, it will certainly be necessary for her to advise the insurer to see whether they are prepared to cover her. The insurer is likely to be concerned about medical costs arising from her condition which might be needed in America, and which they may wish to exclude from the cover.

With the high cost of treatment and medication in America, it is important that either insurance be put in place or you are aware of the potential costs that you might have to meet if treatment is needed during the trip.

I would suggest that you contact the insurers to see whether they are prepared to arrange cover in view of the special circumstances of this case. I know of one insurer called Free Spirit who have medically trained staff who may be able to help, although most main-stream travel insurers will help with individual cases but are likely to ask for detailed medical advice before deciding whether to agree to the insurance and also the level of premium.

Ian Skuse is the senior litigation partner with Piper Smith & Basham, which has specialised in advising the travel industry for over 20 years (tel: 0171-828 8685).

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