TRAVEL: YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR PANEL OF EXPERTS

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The Independent Travel
Mountain fun for young rock climbers

We are an active family of modest means looking for a reasonably priced holiday abroad - we are not beach fans. Our children are aged eight and 13. Can you help?

M Potter

Birmingham

Jill Crawshaw replies: Several companies offer family holidays in the mountains, most of them self-drive which gives you mobility and cuts costs.

In the French Alpine resorts of Les Deux Alpes, La Clusaz, Samoens and Morzine, French specialist VFB (tel: 01242 240332) runs adrenaline-pumping self-catering apartment holidays and half-board stays in small hotels. A self-catering week in Les Deux Alpes, for example, would cost pounds 266 per adult, with children aged four to 16 charged just pounds 25 each. These prices include the Channel crossing for car and passengers, accommodation and insurance.

A large number of activities are available in the resort, from canoeing and mountain-biking to hiking, in-line skating and summer tobogganing, which must be paid for separately - some of these activities are only available for 14-year-olds and older. A family rafting trip, for example, costs about pounds 12.50, mountain-biking pounds 7 for half a day, about the same as two hours' in-line skating.

Another company, Sun Esprit (tel: 01252 616789), also offers activities for all ages in the French Alps - with a lot of help with the kids, including nannies for babies and clubs for the slightly older children, leaving parents to enjoy their freedom.

A big plus is that you get three evenings baby-sitting free, and (though this doesn't apply in your case) British nannies look after the small ones on three days for an extra pounds 68. There's even an "Alpies Club" for those aged four to six for the same price, while kids up to 12 can have fun on well-supervised mountain-biking excursions and even try rock-climbing - don't worry, experts instruct and watch them. The basic price to, say, Morzine, staying in a Pension, is pounds 379 each for adults, half-price for the two- to 17-year- olds, under twos pounds 60, again including the Channel crossing and some meals with wine.

I don't know how much walking your children can take, but Pyrenees Adventures (tel: 01433 621498) is repeating its successful formula of Family Adventure Weeks during the summer school holidays. You stay in a well-restored ancient farmhouse in the Pays Basque, near a village called Saint Martin; you'll be able to raft down the river Gave d'Oloron, use mountain bikes and even have a go at Pelote, a version of boules.

A half-day's horse riding costs about pounds 8.50, while a day rafting with picnic lunch will set you back pounds 22 each, pounds 17.50 for children. The week's holiday is priced between pounds 445 and pounds 495 for adults, pounds 335-pounds 370 for children, plus an extra pounds 165 each for Eurostar and TGV rail.

I also suggest that you contact the Austrian Tourist office (tel: 0171- 629 0461) as, like most countries offering winter skiing, it has a lot of excellent accommodation in the mountains from luxury hotels to quite small pensions and private homes, with swimming pools in most of the larger villages, and all the activities you could possibly ask for - including some very fattening food.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

Motorail takes the stress out of road travel

We are planning a trip this summer which will take in Vienna, the Czech Republic and Berlin. We would like, perhaps, to do one leg of the trip by putting the car on the train but can't find any information about it except for trips to France and Italy. We recollect about five or six years ago going by motorail to Salzburg from Brussels and feel sure it must still be possible. How can we find out about the motorail network, prices and booking?

Erica and Roy Eden

Devon

The Travel Editor replies: Rail Europe (tel: 0990-848848) have services from Calais to many destinations around France with connections into Italy and Spain. Outside France, German Rail (tel: 0171-317 0919) is the best number to contact for European rail travel.

Prices can be high but once you have allowed for all the costs of motoring, it becomes more a question of personal preference rather than price, especially when you consider the cost of the stress and boredom of several hours spent on the road.

There is no longer a service from Brussels to Salzburg but, for example, a ticket from either Cologne or Munich to Salzburg would be from pounds 258 one way for a two-berth cabin with car.

Frequent passenger trains link Berlin with Vienna and the Czech Republic, however, there are no direct motorail links between the three destinations. The distances between these three destinations seem too short to warrant service. From Berlin you can travel by motorail to Salzburg and Villach (Austria), while Siofok in Hungary is the closest you are going to get to the Czech Republic (pounds 362 one way, in a two-berth cabin and car).

Perhaps it would be best to leave you car in Berlin and make the journey by train as a passenger, or alternatively make the journey by car as the distances you want to cover are short.

If you are willing to forgo motor travel altogether, the most cost effective passenger rail fare is the three-zone, one-month Interail ticket at pounds 309 (pounds 229 for those under 26). This covers travel from the UK to France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria.

Key books to read include Thomas Cook's variety of useful publications: the European Timetable (a new edition is coming out at the end of May, price pounds 8.99; tel: 01733 503571), the New Rail Map of Europe (pounds 6.70), and On the Rails Around Europe (pounds 14.70). The last of these does not give information about motorail but is very useful for practical rail travel advice and planning your itineraries.

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