Ask Joan

Driving to Romania, exotic Madagascar and finding a villa in the sun with a pool

Piata Unirii Square and fountain with Palace of Parliament in the background, Bucharest, Romania Piata Unirii Square in Bucharest, Romania . . . a four-day drive from France. Photograph: Peter Adams/Getty

Piata Unirii Square and fountain with Palace of Parliament in the background, Bucharest, Romania Piata Unirii Square in Bucharest, Romania . . . a four-day drive from France. Photograph: Peter Adams/Getty

Sat, Jun 1, 2013, 01:00

Our family with two kids aged 10 and 13 are travelling to France by ferry and from there we are driving across Europe to Romania. Is there anything we should know in relation to car documentation required and any good tips that will help make our long journey easy and pleasant? We haven’t booked any accommodation as it’s very hard to predict the day and time we are reaching each country, but we intend to arrive in Bucharest within four days of getting off the ferry in France. AMB, Dublin


Your journey from France to Romania will cover more than 2,600km and four or five countries: France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Hungary. Without stops it will be about 30 hours in the car. It may be nice to plan the trip to have an overnight in each country.

If you have a GPS, make sure it is loaded with up-to-date maps for each country. Plan your route well in advance and print the pages. A useful website is viamichelin.com, which will give choices for your journey, such as all motorways, avoid tolls, cost of fuel and tolls.

The rac.co.uk is also very useful as it has a list of what you need for each country you travel through. Contact your insurance company to let them know you will be travelling through all these countries as you may need the insurance Green Card.

One way to cope with the long journeys is to get on the road very early each day, before the children have really woken up. You can break the back of the journey this way and have a nice long stop mid-morning to early afternoon and then do the next stage. A football or Frisbee is useful to have in the car for some exercise when you stop. Bring pillows and rugs for snuggling down. Tarom Romanian Airlines return to the Dublin-Bucharest route for the summer.

My husband and I would love to visit Madagascar this summer as we believe it has some very different species of plants and animals. Can you give us any tips on the best way to see this beautiful island? Would we need to take internal flights? TM, Dublin


Madagascar does have unusual flora and fauna. Many of which are not found anywhere else in the world. It is also a big island – 400km by 1,600km – with diverse environments and physical features, from rainforests to deserts, beaches and mountains.

You can fly to the capital Antananarivo from Paris with Air France, Air Madagascar or Corsair for about €900-€1,100 in the summer (you would have to add the cost of Ireland-Paris flights to this). A package tour may be better value and provide an opportunity to see more.Responsible Travel, based in the UK, has a variety of tours to Madagascar, with activities ranging from exploring the flora and fauna to trekking, rafting and hiking in the forests. They have an eco-friendly focus and you would get to see a lot. Prices are from £2,000, including flights, for about two weeks, responsibletravel.com.


We are a family of five children and two adults looking for a sun holiday. We’d like to spend a week or 10 days in Spain, Portugal or Italy, but don’t like scorching weather. W’d like to stay in a spacious apartment or a self-catering villa with a swimming pool. We are looking for somewhere beside a beach, a town and plenty of activities for the children. Do you have any suggestions? AN, Dublin

As you will probably travelling in July or August, the weather will be hot, and usually hottest in August. A villa with a pool is a great idea for cooling down and I’ve seen a lovely selection of properties on world-villa.co.uk with private pools.

Vintagetravel.co.uk have a nice selection with very good videos and pictures of all the properties. Irish company holidayhomesidirect.ie, have villas in France, Spain, Portugal and other EU countries. The Canary Islands are good value this year with villas sleeping up to eight under €2,000 in high season.

Availability for this summer is mixed, with Portugal showing fewer properties still available than Spain or Italy. Expect to pay €1,500 to €4,500 per week, and most of properties are Saturday to Saturday rentals.

Send your queries to jscales@irishtimes.com