INFORMATION DESK: YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR PANEL OF EXPERTS
I am 60 years old, and want to see the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. How is it best to fulfil this ambition?

Maggie Winter

Abingdon

Jill Crawshaw replies: You would probably find an inclusive deal with flights, b&b accommodation, and the option of a tour of Rome most convenient - although if you are going alone it will cost a bit more for the single- room supplement.

To avoid the worst queues, when there are already 500 people inside and the rather bossy guards are shouting for everyone to shut up, keep clear of the busiest periods: Lent, Easter, the August high season and Christmas. The best months are January, February, April (after Easter), October and November.

Thomson Breakaway (tel: 0181-210 4500) offers three-night packages from pounds 239-pounds 351, with single-room supplements of pounds 10-pounds 21 per night. It also offers pre-bookable sightseeing tours with a professional guide. The Vatican tour costs pounds 27. Other firms offering this kind of tour include Cresta Cities (tel: 0161-927 7000); Brief Encounters (tel: 0181-987 6108); and Time Off (tel: 0990 846 363).

But even with these tours you will face considerable queueing time. There are alternative options, but they are more expensive. Culture specialist Martin Randall Travel (tel: 0181-742 3355) offers access to private openings after hours. On a five-night "Connoisseur's Rome" visit, escorted by expert lecturers, Martin Randall's groups will have the place to themselves for around two hours. The tour also includes private visits to the Palazzo Doria Pamphili, the recently reopened Galleria Borghese, and, possibly, the 16th-century Villa Medici.

The price of the tour, which includes flights, hotel accommodation, most meals, trips and entrance fees, is pounds 1,090, with an additional pounds 110 single supplement.

Art-tour specialist Prospect Tours (tel: 0181-995 2163) arranges "tailor- made" tours to fit individual requirements, and can obtain "permessos" for visitors to be able to view without the crowds. The cost for, say, a three-night break, including flights, b&b accommodation in a three-star hotel, and private entrance (either early or late in the day) would cost around pounds 500.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster

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