We Are interested in touring Spain, staying if possible in the Paradors, but we've heard they are difficult to get into. Our travel agent has no information - can you give us some?
Jill Crawshaw replies: You are right in assuming that the 84 Paradors can be difficult to get into if you arrive on spec, and for the more popular areas you really need to book in advance. The two most sought after are the Parador de Granada in the gardens of the Alhambra, which has only 30 rooms - the whole world wants to stay there - and the Parador Los Reyes Catolicos at Santiago de Compostela, a former hospital and refuge for pilgrims, founded by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and considered the world's oldest hotel.
Even today 10 pilgrims each day can claim a free meal - though not in the sumptuous dining room of what is now a five-star hotel.
If you want to book ahead from the UK, Keytel (0171-402 8182) are the official British agents (they also act for the Pousadas of Portugal); prices range from about pounds 32 a night per person sharing a double room for B&B, with the average around pounds 45, while at Granada the cost is about pounds 85 per person and pounds 70 at Santiago. To these prices you have to add seven per cent IVA - the Spanish VAT.
If you want half board, the Paradors usually have regional specialities on their menus, and it will cost you around pounds 16 to pounds 20 for a three-course meal.
The central reservation address in Spain is: Paradores, Central de Reservas, Requena 3, 28013 Madrid.
On an inclusive basis, the Hertfordshire-based Unicorn Holidays (01582 834400) will tailor holidays staying in Paradors for you. A couple of examples: a four-night break with two nights at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, and two at the cliff-top Parador at Nerja costs pounds 583 per person with two sharing; a seven-night holiday which includes accommodation in the walled city of Avila in a converted 15th century Parador, in an ancient Parador at Jarandilla de las Vera in the Gredos Mountains and in a castle at Oropesa and Toledo costs pounds 612. Both prices are per person, between April and June, and include scheduled flights from Heathrow, car hire and accommodation with breakfast.
To explain the Parador system; they are the Spanish state-funded and run hotels, founded in 1926 to provide hotel accommodation in areas where it would not be profitable for private initiative to do so - thus they are often off the beaten track in places well worth exploring. A secondary motive for setting up the Paradors was to save and restore ancient monuments, hospices, palaces and convents - so that a trip using Paradors can be a journey through time and history.
Among the more ancient buildings I can recommend are the Alarcon at Cuenca, Dayona in Pontevedra, Chinchon in Madrid, the San Marcos at Leon, the Parador Gil Blas at Santillana and Santo Domingo de la Calzada in Rioja.
Some Paradors are modern, but comfortable, including the superbly located one in Segovia, the fairly hideous-looking Salamanca Parador, and the new Parador de Ronda, converted from a Town Hall overlooking the famous gorge.
Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF HOLIDAYING IN A HOT CLIMATE?
We Are going on a walking trip in the Grand Canyon region of the United States and I would be interested to hear your opinion about the threat posed to our health by the heat. We know about keeping out of direct sun, but how much water should we carry? And what kind of clothes are really best - a few or a lot?
Dr Larry Goodyer replies: There are certainly potential problems which can be caused by overheating. One of the most serious is heat stroke, where the body's normal cooling mechanisms fail to cope. The time from the initial symptoms of failure to sweat, high body temperature and confusion, to a life threatening situation, can sometimes be only a matter of hours. Heat exhaustion is most often due to an inadequate fluid intake - the first signs are thirst and discomfort - and this can also lead to heat stroke. Another cause of heat exhaustion is seen in longer-term travellers to hot climates where there has been insufficient salt intake to replace that lost in the sweat.
Problems can arise when a lot of strenuous activity occurs too soon in the heat of the day, so take things easy at first.
There are a few rules to follow to avoid any potential problems on your visit to the Grand Canyon. As you quite rightly point out, an adequate water supply is very important. The daily requirement for fluid intake in an adult is 2-3 litres, which can rise to 10 litres (17.5 pints) in very hot conditions if undertaking strenuous activity. It is difficult to estimate exactly how much you will require, but if you are out for the entire day make sure that you can top up your supply. In addition it is important to drink past the point of quenching thirst.
On the subject of clothes, choose items which are light and loose fitting. White cotton clothing would be the most suitable and wear a wide-rimmed hat when out in the sun.
Generally you will have less difficulty if you are fit and healthy and not overweight. Avoid alcohol and consider any chronic medical conditions. Those visiting hot countries for long periods of time should attempt to increase the amount of salt in their diet.
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' needs.
HAVE A BALL
WITH PAINT WARS
A Friend of mine was telling me about a crazy activity in which people run around forests firing paint balls at each other. I wonder if you could supply me with any more information about this?
The Travel Editor replies: Believe it or not this is a fast-growing, popular activity, and the only centre in the London area where you can have a go at it is Mayhem Paintball in Ongar, Essex (Tel: 01708 688517).
Ideally, you will come down in a large group of about 20 people. If you are in a smaller group you can certainly participate, though you will have to join in with other people.
It is best to wear old clothes, as you will be creeping along the bottom of ditches a lot of the time, as well as spraying paint all over each other (though the paint is vegetable-based and will wash out).
Everybody is issued with pot-pouches (ie. ammunition-belts) and overalls, and, most importantly, thermal double- glazed goggles that don't fog up as you begin to perspire.
You will also be given a paint-gun and undergo training on how to use it. You will be issued with as many paint balls as you would like - the average is about 500 per person.
The action takes place over a pretty large site which includes "urban" elements - that is to say, farmyard buildings - as well as woodland and even a crashed aeroplane.
I won't bother explaining the rules of the game here but, basically, there are teams, with referees, and the objective is to hit each other with as much paint as you possibly can. By the way, don't worry about the trees - the paint will all have mysteriously gone by the following morning.
You will need to put aside an entire day, and afterwards there are separate showers and washing facilities for the boys and the girls.
The cost? You should expect to spend up to around pounds 40 per person for the day. This price would include a pick-up service from a Central Line underground station and 500 paint balls.