Travel Clinic

Your questions answered by our panel of travel experts, including a doctor and a lawyer
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The Independent Travel
We have children of one, four, 10 and 11, and don't much like beach holidays. Any ideas that will keep an energetic family stuck with school holidays happy, which won't break the bank, preferably abroad but no camping, please?

Gary Milton

Birmingham

Family specialist Sun Esprit (tel: 01252 616789) organises activity holidays in the Alps with an established childcare system to ensure some freedom for both parents and offspring. These holidays are based at Morzine on the French-Swiss border, with accommodation in a guesthouse run by qualified British staff - both nannies and cooks. Childen have two high teas each week, and on the other evenings they join their parents for a family meal which, for the adults, includes unlimited wine. There is also a child-minding service for one full day and three evenings a week. All this comes as part of the basic package which costs pounds 275 per adult, children under two cost pounds 52, the others at half price of pounds 137.50. Cross-Channel fares for car and passengers is included in these prices.

At extra cost, there is a nursery (9.30am-5pm) costing pounds 58 a week per child, a Junior Alpies Club for four-to-six-year-olds with picnics in the hills, treasure hunts, nature trails and crafts organised by a British nanny, and that too costs pounds 58 per child; and the Senior Alpies Club for 7-12-year-olds offers mountain biking, wall and rock climbing for pounds 98 a child. All these clubs operate for three days each week from 9.30am to 5pm.

In and around Morzine, there's a Parc des Sports with 13 tennis courts and Olympic-sized pool, waterslides and a children's pool. It also has one of France's largest indoor skating rinks. For the adventurous, hang- gliding, paracycling and whitewater rafting are available.

VFB's (tel: 01242 240310) action-packed Alpine Holidays are based on four centres Samoans, Les Deux-Alpes, La Clusaz and Morzine. Included in the package prices are "discover the mountains" excursions, plus unlimited access to the pool in Samoans and cable car to La Clusaz, as well as two teenage evenings, a barbecue party and two days of activities for the six-12-year-olds in their own Double A Team club. VFB also issues activity and discount tickets for reduced price passes on a choice of 25 activities including, rafting, climbing, riding, sailing, mountain biking and rollerblading. Accommodation can either be in self-catering flats or in hotels on a half-board basis. A family of four in a flat travelling by car, and including the ferry fare and insurances costs from pounds 532 per family per week in July and August, with pounds 25 extra for four-14-year-olds. Headwater Holidays (01606 48699) offers a wide range of specialised walking, cycling and boating holidays in France, the Balearic Islands and Italy, with comprehensive discounts for very young children; a discovery and adventure holiday based at Lake Annecy including full board, ferry fares and a vast range of activities would cost a family of six approximately pounds 1,700 a week in late August, more earlier in the month.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

TRAVELLING WITH CONVICTION

I heard about a case where a British citizen arriving in the United States was refused entry on the grounds that he had a criminal record in the UK. I am worried that this may apply to the son of a friend of mine who is travelling to America with his family this summer - last year he was fined in a minor fraud case. How can they know whether he might have problems? Does he have to tell the tour operator? Would the tour operator be responsible for bringing him home?

Josephine Halley

Sussex

Ian Skuse replies: For some years British travellers to the US have not required a visa under the Visa Waiver Programme. If you are a British passport holder and travelling for a holiday or on business for less than 90 days with a return ticket, then you will not require a visa. However, a visa is required if you have a criminal conviction.

Your friend's son would have to complete an application form for a visa and also obtain copies of the court records relating to his conviction and any criminal cases that are pending. He may also be asked to attend an interview at the embassy to decide whether a visa should be granted or refused.

US immigration officials have access to information regarding convictions in British courts, and I have seen examples where travellers have been turned back on arrival in the US when they knew what the traveller had kept secret. An application for a visa should be made in good time before departure and your travel agent or tour operator will usually help you. If you do not want to disclose your convictions to the travel agent or tour operator, then you can make the visa application yourself.

If it all goes wrong and you are refused entry to the US, then there is no guarantee that your tour operator will assist you. You might well have to pay for a scheduled flight home as well as losing your entire holiday.

Your friend's son should make sure he applies for a visa in good time.

Ian Skuse is a senior litigation partner with Piper Smith & Basham, which has specialised in advising the travel industry for 20 years (Tel: 0171 828 8685). CAN I GET TO BEIRUT BY BUS?

I am planning to travel to Beirut this summer to visit my sister. On no account will I take to the skies, however. Is it possible for me to get there and back by land? I only have a month to do the whole thing and obviously I don't want to be travelling all the time.

Keith Prout

London

The Travel Editor replies: You are looking at a lengthy trip. The land route will take you through Istanbul and Damascus but even if you travel flat out you are unlikely to do the trip in less than a week. In fact, considering the places along the way it would be a pity to spend less than two weeks over it.

For extended train journeys in Europe, you are best off buying the InterRail 26+ (assuming you are over 26) from travel agents. From the UK to Holland - where the card isn't valid - you can travel by bus, or boat with Scandinavian Seaways (0990 333000). The InterRail ticket costs around pounds 275, is valid for a month, and will enable you to travel through Holland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey to the Syrian border. Having arrived in Istanbul, however, you are advised to continue your trip by bus - these run direct into Syria (Aleppo or Damascus). From either of these cities are dozens of service-taxis running to Beirut.

Note that for the above route you'll need expensive transit visas for Romania, Bulgaria and Syria (double-entry if you are going back the same way).

An alternative would take you to Greece then on to Cyprus and Lebanon by ferry. In summer, several inexpensive ferries run weekly from Piraeus to Limassol in Cyprus, taking about 36 hours. From Limassol you should be able to catch an onward connection to Jounieh just north of Beirut.

Another possible route might be by boat from Greece to Port Said (Egypt), onwards to Jordan (through the Red Sea), then to Syria and Lebanon by bus or taxi.

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