YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR PANEL OF EXPERTS

See in the new millennium on Mt Kilimanjaro

A booked holiday that was to take me to Mount Kilimanjaro over the Christmas and millennium period has been cancelled, so I'm looking for exciting alternatives. I'm 60 years old, fairly fit and a lone traveller. I would really like to travel in a small group and to try something I've never tried before. Can you help?

David Halliday

King's Lynn

The Travel Editor writes: If you still want to try for Kilimanjaro, there are plenty of opportunities. Ascents usually take about nine days, to ensure there's plenty of time for altitude acclimatisation. This means that the pace is at times rather leisurely, but at others tough - the final push to the summit has to be started at about midnight to make time for the descent the next day. Though you don't have to be young, you do have to be sprightly - able to walk at least 10-15 miles on three consecutive days. Tour operators suggest a training programme of at least three walks of this length weekly before you take the trip. Gane and Marshall (tel: 0181- 441 9592) is running small group climbs up Kilimanjaro's south face over the millennium period. The journey out to Kilimanjaro leaves on Christmas Eve from London and arrives at the rainforest base camp on Christmas Day. The summit is reached at dawn on 1 January. After the descent, you will take in a Masai village and a game drive before flying to Zanzibar and spending the remaining four days on the beach. You return to London on 15 January from Dar es Salaam. The price of this trip is pounds 3,150, which includes international flights and a range of full-board and half-board accommodation, but excludes air tax and visas.

If that looks too pricey, you could visit the Himalayas and trek for 10 days through the Kathmandu valley along the Koslu River instead. Naturetrek (tel: 01962 733051) offers a guided trip in the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, leaving on Christmas Eve and returning on 2 January. The cost of this holiday is pounds 1,295, including flights.

If you fancy getting on a horse you could try calling Inntravel (tel: 01653 629013) which offers group riding holidays on the Costa de la Luz in Andalucia over Christmas. One week full-board in the riding centre, including five days of riding, will cost about pounds 750 per person.

The enduring appeal of a gite in France

We used to holiday regularly in France, staying in self-catering cottages with Gites de France, but the firm now seems to have disappeared. Is there another you can recommend?

J Dodds

Tavistock

Jill Crawshaw writes: The Gites de France organisation was taken over at the end of 1997 by Brittany Ferries. The programme is now run in conjunction with its ferry routes between Portsmouth and St Malo and Caen, and Plymouth and Roscoff and Santander in Spain (for south-west France). The 1999 brochure, which contains details of 1,400 gites all over France can be obtained from some travel agents, or directly from Brittany Ferries (tel: 0990 143537).

A number of small specialist firms offer cottage, studio and apartment self-catering accommodation in France - these are often superior gites, as the trend on the British market these days is for very much more luxurious, or at least very well equipped properties.

The award-winning French specialist VFB Holidays (tel: 01242 240338), for example, offer some 350 cottages tucked away in some of the most unspoilt regions of France, the properties ranging from thatched cottages to Basque farmhouses and Alpine chalets.

All are rigorously inspected - I know this because I attended a number of such inspections myself (and made up my mind never to submit any home of mine to their eagle eyes). The properties are usually sold as a package with ferry fares and travel insurance.

Another specialist firm Lagrange (tel: 0171-371 6111) doesn't deal solely in self-catering holidays, but has a fair range in about 100 French resorts.

Can I also suggest that you send for a free copy of the Aito Directory (Association of Independent Tour Operators)? This lists 160 small, bonded independent tour operators such as Allez France, Dominique's Villas, Individual Travellers, Normandie Vacances, Vintage Travel and others which come up with some excellent properties. To get the brochure telephone 0181-607 9080.

The French Tourist Office at 178 Piccadilly, London W1V OAL, produces Traveller in France with a guide to self-catering and other operators. Phone 0891 244123; calls cost 60p a minute.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

Cotton is best for preventing prickly heat

My girlfriend has sensitive skin and suffers from prickly heat. Are there cures or preventative measures she can take? We are going to Spain this summer.

Mr K Hall

Leicester

Dr Larry Goodyer replies: Prickly heat is not, as most people believe, directly related to overexposure to the sun. In fact it arises due to the plugging up of the sweat ducts during hot weather. It occurs typically on the trunk and neck, but may also affect other parts such as the arms, or even scalp.

Exactly why the glands become blocked isn't known, but is probably the result of unevaporated sweat, which may be excessive in hot and humid conditions. The skin becomes inflamed, resulting in the prickly, itchy rash which is extremely uncomfortable and can disturb sleeping. The problem often resolves once people have been in the warm climate for some time.

Prickly heat can be prevented by trying to ensure that you keep clean and dry, helped by wearing cool, loose-fitting cotton clothing. A cool shower at the end of the day provides some relief. Take care to dry the skin thoroughly and perhaps use talcum powder.

If you do develop a mild case of prickly heat, then applying calamine preparations will relieve the itching. In more severe cases taking antihistamine tablets and applying hydrocortisone cream should help the itching and inflammation.

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).

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