YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR PANEL OF EXPERTS

Babies and the Balearics make a good match

Our son is six months old and we have never been abroad as a family. We thought we would pick a "safe" choice for our first expedition and go to the Balearic Islands - but which one? What are the absolute essentials to take?

Joan Lloyd

Margate

Jill Crawshaw replies: The three Balearic Islands of Majorca, Menorca and Ibiza all have good family resorts, but for a first sortie with a young infant I'd probably pick Menorca. We did when our son was three months old.

The reasons? Menorca is more relaxed than Majorca or Ibiza. Most importantly, it is slightly cooler and breezier, the season doesn't really start until May and finishes in September. Do pick the cooler months - July and August are far more packed with schoolchildren on holiday.

The other great advantage of Menorca is the quantity of high-quality, self-catering villas and apartments. You'll find doing it yourself with bottles, jars, bedtimes, washing and all that easier in this type of accommodation than in hotels. Maids usually come in several times a week to do the chores, and will often do (paid) babysitting. If you choose a villa complex, you can often join a rota with other parents. If you want to go out and eat, you'll find children are welcome even in the evenings. Why not do as the locals do and give them a siesta in the afternoon heat so they can stay up late without getting grouchy?

It's also a big advantage that no resorts are more than about an hour from Menorca's airport; only 31 miles by nine, the island has about 100 sandy beaches and few large and noisy resorts. Those to avoid include S'Algar (where there is no beach); likewise at the sophisticated Fornells and Cala 'n Porter where there is a long walk uphill from the beach to the accommodation.

Some of the best family accommodation is in individual villas or complexes that are not attached to any resort. You'll need a self-drive hire car in this case. Some tour operators such as Meon Villas (tel: 01730 230370) include this in the holiday price; hiring independently you'll pay about pounds 75 for three days or pounds 120 a week. Make sure you pre-book a baby seat. Similarly, check with your operator that cots and high chairs are supplied and that they conform to British safety standards.

The first time we took our son to Menorca, we packed mountains of nappies, only to find that they were available and cheaper there. The same applies to food jars. But if your baby is on the bottle, take enough of your formula powder.

Keep clothes to a minimum and stick to cottons, but include cover-ups, sunhats or clip-on parasols. Here's a short check list: bottle equipment, three days' supply of nappies, initial jars, zinc and castor oil for rashes, carrycot, push chair, clip-on sunshade, bibs, vacuum flask, first aid kit and light clothing. Actually travelling with a small baby isn't difficult - at least you have the little brute under control. And he or she usually travels free.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

Guard against malaria in southern Africa

We are travelling to Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls area only), South Africa (Johannesburg and Kruger National Park) and Mauritius in August. What vaccinations should we have, what malaria drugs should we take, and what other health advice would you give us? Are there any side effects? We are travelling with our two children (aged 11 and eight). What is best for them?

Eleanor C Davison

London SW13

Dr Larry Goodyer replies: I think that Mauritius and South Africa would not present too many potential health problems and would be relatively safe for children. Vaccination recommendations would include typhoid, hepatitis A, tetanus and diphtheria. Also, make sure that your children are up-to-date on all their childhood vaccinations. There is no malaria in Mauritius or in urban areas of Johannesburg, although in more rural parts of South Africa, such as the Kruger, malaria is present and anti- malarials should be taken.

You should give careful consideration before taking your children to the Victoria Falls area in Zimbabwe where malaria is certainly a problem and you would be recommended to take mefloquine (Larium) as prophylaxis. Your children would also not yet have had their BCG, and tuberculosis is a potential risk. My advice to travelling with your children in general would be to pay particular attention to methods for avoiding being bitten by mosquitoes.

Refrain from letting them swim in fresh water because of the risk of bilharzia and be wary of contact with dogs in case of rabies. Diarrhoeal illness is the most likely problem and oral rehydration sachets are the best answer; perhaps experiment before you go to find what flavours and brands they will tolerate. Nomad Medical can give more specific advice on travelling with children.

Dr Larry Goodyer is a lecturer in clinical pharmacy at King's College, London. Contact the Nomad Travel Health Helpline (tel: 0891 633414; calls cost 50p per minute).

How to hunt down elusive self-catering

Please could you advise me how to find self-catering accommodation in Egypt? In particular I want to visit Alexandria. Could you also please advise dedicated self-caterers, now in our sixties, how generally to find out about self-catering accommodation not linked to luxury villas or fashionable city apartments?

Angela Morton

Brecon

The travel editor replies: Unfortunately you will find self-catering accommodation in Egypt quite hard to come by. The only forms of self-catering available tend to be either luxury villas, which are only rented monthly, or youth hostels (pounds 1-pounds 2 per night) which can often be fairly basic and difficult to get to.

Other than these, the only self- catering accommodation near to Alexandria would appear to be the Ida Beach Hotel (tel: 00 20 3 410 2818), on the coast between Alexandria and Marsa-Matruh. It's not ideal for sight-seeing in Alexandria - travel to and from town takes roughly 45 minutes by bus. The resort offers single rooms (pounds 52 per night) or double rooms (pounds 88) which is expensive compared to the hotels around Alexandria.

Apart from that, the only other self-catering accommodation in Egypt is to be found in Hurghada on the Red Sea, or Sharm-el-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsular. To book these hotels call Misr Travel (tel: 0171-255 1087) or for information about Egyptian accommodation call the Egyptian Tourist Board (tel: 0171-493 5283).

We hate planes and love trains. Can you help?

My husband and I hate aeroplanes and love trains. We would like to travel to Italy, Spain, France, Austria and elsewhere in Europe and we would like to know if there are holiday-providers who do all-inclusive holidays by train.

J Goodier

Manchester

The travel editor replies: One tour operator who may be able to help is Great Rail Journeys (tel: 01904 679969). Although they do not run any one holiday which passes through all the countries you mention, they do specialise in escorted group tours in Europe to particular regions, such as the Alps, Spain, France, and Scandinavia.

One, costing pounds 695 per person, is a nine-day tour travelling from London Waterloo through France and Switzerland. This price is based on half-board accommodation, and includes all excursions as well as a pass allowing unlimited travel on all Swiss trains.

An alternative would be to obtain an InterRail 26+ pass giving you freedom of the European network (around pounds 300 depending on how many countries you plan to visit), or alternatively, a Euro Domino pass, allowing a set number of days of travel (eg three) in any given month. For France three days costs pounds 119; for Italy it's pounds 99. You can make all your reservations in advance before leaving home. Passes and reservations can be booked through the Rail Europe Travel Centre, 179 Piccadilly, London W1V 0BA (tel: 08705 848848).

WRITE TO US

Have you got a question or problem? Whether you want to know the best place to go for a holiday or have a legal or medical concern, our panel of travel experts will be able to help. Unfortunately, we are only able to respond to published letters.

Write to: the Travel Editor, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Fax: 0171-293 2043. E-mail: sundaytravel@independent.co.uk

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