Travel: Information Desk - Your questions answered by our panel of experts

Tunnel phobia won't stop us celebrating

Four of us would like to celebrate a 60th birthday by travelling somewhere special in October for one week. The problem is, one of us has a phobia about tunnels and flying. Can you recommend somewhere that would be unusual and not break the bank?

Jeremy Vevers


The travel editor replies: The alternatives are, presumably, to stay in Britain or to go somewhere by boat, are they not?

By boat, the obvious destinations are France and Belgium; the less obvious are Ireland, Spain, Germany, Norway - probably in that order.

To start with, the easiest option would be to rent a gite - a small holiday cottage - in Brittany or Normandy. Just take your car on the ferry from Portsmouth to one of the ports of northern France. Brittany Ferries (tel:0990 360360) offers packages of gite-plus-ferry crossings. Prices in October start from pounds 189 for a home for a week, including crossings for four people. Call and ask for a brochure.

For something seriously nice, even a 16th-century farmhouse with six bedrooms, close to delightful towns such as Concarneau and Quimper, would only cost pounds 473 for a week, including crossings. If you enjoy long (24 hour-plus) crossings on comfortable ferries, a more unusual self- drive might be to northern Spain with P&O Lines. Bridge Travel (tel: 01992 456045) offers ferry-crossing packages to Bilbao from Portsmouth, plus hotel accommodation in the smart and classy beach-resort town of San Sebastian. A package including seven nights' hotel accommodation (and a cabin on the long ferry crossings) would cost pounds 694 per couple, not per person.

Crossing over to Hamburg, in northern Germany, is another unusual though not particularly cheap option - you can book packages including crossings and hotel accommodation through Scandinavian Seaways (tel: 0990 333222).

Otherwise, try Norway - Color Line (tel: 0191-2961313) has self-drive packages which operate out of Newcastle. You can stay in a self-catering chalet, though the weather will be none too good. Prices, including ferry crossings, are from around pounds 300 per person for a week.

Finally - for the tunnel phobic in your midst - it is worth mentioning that, if you cross the Channel by Eurostar (tel: 0990 186186) at night, you can hardly tell that you have entered the tunnel at all. Taking the Eurostar would open up all kinds of possibilities in continental Europe.

Watch for blooming nuisances

Apart from cutting our feet on razor-shells, are there any other health hazards waiting to entrap the unwary on British beaches?

Henry Walker


Dr Larry Goodyer replies: The biggest worry for sea bathers in the UK is the level of pollution, reported as very high on some beaches. Of obvious concern is the presence of sewage, because swallowing sea water then presents a considerable risk to health.

A more general problem in heavily polluted water is caused by organisms known as algal bloom, sometimes found on the shore line in a messy substance called mucilage, suspended in the water. Contact with this can cause quite severe skin irritation.

Bathers sometimes complain of rashes or irritation around the edges or underneath costumes. This can be due to drying salt or small fragments of jellyfish or crustaceans. It is always a good idea to shower in fresh water after swimming in the sea.

With the usual UK climate, it is easy to forget about possible sunburn. Children in particular are in danger and even waterproof sunscreens need to be regularly reapplied.

Dr Larry Goodyer is the superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8; tel: 0181-889 7014). Contact the travel medicine helpline on 0891 633414 (calls cost 50p per minute). For a family trip through France - follow the bison We are driving down to the South of France with two children aged one and four. We would rather not drive the whole journey on motorways. Can you advise on the route and some places to stay that are not too expensive. Margaret Barker Portsmouth

Jill Crawshaw replies: Send for a Bison Fute (it means "crafty bison") map, which gives advice on picturesque and quiet routes through France. You can request one from French Information (tel: 0891 244123). The map is free but the call costs 50p per minute. I would also get a Logis de France guide and map, which costs pounds 11.90, or pounds 12.90 by post, from the French Travel Centre, 178 Piccadilly, London W1V 0AL. The Logis is a network of 3,700 small, privately run, reasonably priced hotels, most of which have family rooms for Ff50 (about pounds 5). Prices for a room with a cot or an extra bed range from Ff227 to Ff323 (pounds 23 to pounds 33). These hotels tend to be situated in rural locations and pleasant towns throughout France, and reflect the French lifestyle - including serving local traditional cooking. As a complete contrast, 200 Formula One hotels (the no-frills, modern, almost service-free pitstops) offer budget rooms which include a double bed and a bunk bed - you presumably have a travel cot for the baby - and cost between Ff119 and Ff149 (pounds 1 2 to pounds 15). You can get a list of these from French Information (details above). I would personally head fast down the A26 as far as Reims, rather than dawdling through the fairly industrial north or going via Paris. But if you do choose to do the latter, take the newly opened section of the A16 autoroute between Calais and Paris. It links a number of attractive little Cote d'Opale resorts, costs about pounds 12 in motorway tolls and offers a much more attractive and calmer route to the capital. Similarly, south of Paris, there is another recently opened 110km stretch of the D39 motorway between Dole and Bourg-en-Bresse, which offers a detour from the dreaded A6 between Paris and Lyon. Incidentally, take the telephone number with you for pre-journey road details (tel: 08 3668 1077, Ff2.23, or 25p, a minute when phoning in France). Or tune into the radio Autoroute-Info 107.7FM for traffic conditions while you are en route. If you do use the motorway routes, it would pay to get hold of details on Relais Centres (again, contact France Information). These operate until September in service stations, aiming to keep kids entertained with clowns and bouncy castles. Some even pro vide nappies. Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

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