We are interested in health farms and spa holidays abroad somewhere, but not of the very young and trendy type - something appealing to normal people who need a relaxing break. Nothing too Spartan, please!

Eric Snape

Brighton, Sussex

Jill Crawshaw replies: Both Erna Low (0171 584 2841) and Thermalia Travel (0171 483 1898) specialise in spa and health holidays, offering flights, accommodation, and selected treatments or activities included in the deal.

Their destinations range from France and Italy to Turkey and Thailand, and include several former eastern bloc countries, where spas are very much a way of life - although it's fair to say that some of the accommodation and public spas in that area lack the luxurious touch, and could well be too Spartan for your tastes.

From Erna Low I've selected Biovimer, the largest sea water therapy and fitness centre in Europe. It's in the Bale des Anges, easily accessible from Nice and Antibes, staying in apartments with views over the sea and the Cote d'Azur. Biovimer offers beauty treatments as well as thalassotherapy (sea weed packs, water massage, and so on), has traditional as well as diet cooking, and even two bars. The package costs pounds 760 for a week.

Still by the Mediterranean, the five-star Hotel Sidi San Juan at Alicante, although not a complete spa, offers beauty and relaxation programmes and has a racquet tennis club with six courts, and a nine-hole golf course nearby.

Going further afield, The Hydro, in South Africa's Stellenbosch, is not too trendy or medical, and attracts the 30-to- 40 age group. All kinds of treatments - reflexology, Tai Chi and Shiatsu are offered in the natural health programme. Stellenbosch itself is a highly picturesque old colonial Dutch city. At the price - a rather hefty pounds 1,130 - it would perhaps be worth considering a second week touring from Cape Town and along the Garden Route which would add only another pounds 250 or so to the cost, and would make the long journey worthwhile.

In Thermalia's programme, Abano Terme costs pounds 737 (for flights, full board and five treatments), and although Italy's spas can be heavy on the medical treatment, Abano is only 10 minutes from Padova, and an hour from Venice or Verona. You can also borrow bikes from your hotel, play golf nearby, or browse around the shops.

One of the Hungarian Spas with very modern facilities, the Danubius Hotel on the Margit island in the middle of the Danube, has a range of health and fitness programmes and costs pounds 606.

Budapest is a fascinating city, its prices still reasonable, but beware, its excellent restaurants and the delectable Hungarian cooking is based on goose fat, dumplings, pork, and some of the richest cakes you're ever likely to come across.

If you fancy a Turkish spa, Thermalia offers an interesting one - the five-star Hotel Thermal Colossale at Pamukkale, famous for its curative waters. It is near the much-photographed white travertine formations often known as "The Cotton Castle".

It's an attractive region, but would be too busy for my taste between July and early September, as tourist coaches pack the site. A week there costs pounds 665.

The most luxurious and relaxing of all the brochure offerings is the Privilege Resort and Spa on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin (pounds l,544 for 10 nights including flights), which also caters well for the 30-40 age group, but is very French oriented and probably only advisable if you speak good French.

8 Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer, and broadcaster.


My son is to spend six months travelling across Africa and although he has had a few injections, and is taking malaria tablets, I keep telling him that there are many more exotic diseases out there, for which it is impossible to be vaccinated. Am I right?

Maureen Mahoney

Guildford, Surrey

Dr Larry Goodyer replies: It is certainly true that not all tropical diseases can be vaccinated against, but this should not deter you from a holiday in Africa providing simple precautions are taken.

Bites from insects such as mosquitoes can cause a long list of tropical diseases, including malaria, sleeping sickness, Leishmaniasis, dengue, and river blindness. Malaria is the most important and it must be remembered that no anti-malarial tablet is 100 per cent effective. For the other insect-borne diseases the risks to travellers are usually low and fatality extremely rare.

Dengue is an increasing problem in many parts of the Third World, but is not as often encountered in Africa. The important message here is to follow closely the advice given regarding the avoidance of insect bites in order to minimise any possible risk.

The consumption of contaminated food or water can give rise to a variety of infections. Examples range from simple traveller's diarrhoea to giardia and dysentery. Again the risks can be reduced by taking precautions with food hygiene and drinking only safe or treated water.

There are a number of diseases contracted by direct contact with an organism. The most important in Africa is bilharzia, which I described last week. Wound infections and ulcers can be minimised by good wound care.

In many cases the symptoms of a tropical disease will not be apparent until after returning home. When seeking treatment, for up to a year later always mention where you have been.

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.

I wish to live and work in South Africa (Cape Town) but without the hassle of an official work or work seekers' permit. Is it possible to acquire a temporary holiday working visa?

C Marston


The Travel Editor replies: Sadly, South Africa doesn't issue any kind of working holiday visa. It's not possible legally to work your way around the country for a year, as for example it is in Australia. The only way that you are allowed to stay in the country and work is to have found work with a South African employer before arriving. You must show the South African Embassy in Britain a letter from your prospective employer to prove that they have advertised the job in South Africa, and that you are the most suitable applicant.

The only other option is to stay as a holidaymaker and find "under the counter" work, although this is illegal. But given the abundance of cheap labour in South Africa, you will not exactly be raking it in. Reckon on about pounds 20 a night in bars or restaurants, perhaps pounds 10 to pounds 15 a day in shops.

Tourist visas aren't required for citizens of most Commonwealth and EU counties, as long as you have an outbound ticket of some kind. All visitors are issued with a three-month tourist visa on arrival in South Africa. There is a 90-day extension on this (R450 at the Department of Home Affairs in Johannesburg or Cape Town, local authorities willing) possible at every three-month interval for up to a year. After this point it may become more difficult to extend.

Nationals who do need visas had better get them (free) from the South African Embassy in London (call 0171 930 4488) as they are not issued at the border.