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Planning Retirement Online

Travel & Holidays in later life


Go by wheelchair direct from your accommodation onto the sandy beach. Many people have friends or relatives with mobility problems. The internet can help them find suitable holiday or short-break accommodation? 

Of course there are many grades of disability. Some folk are slow walkers who cope with a stick, but prefer to avoid stairs or steep inclines. Others may need full wheelchair help. 

Personally I qualify for a disabled driver's badge, and walk very slowly. Before flying from an airport with long access corridors, I phone the airline to arrange wheelchair assistance. It always works perfectly, gliding through passport controls without queuing.

Many hotel websites claim "disabled access" but don't go into details. It could mean nothing more than having a ramp beside the entrance steps into the premises, but then nothing is mentioned about the bedroom and bathroom facilities.

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For UK destinations, Livability Holidays   is Britain's largest provider of accessible holiday properties.

These are mainly self-catering units, ideal for families or friends who include one or more with special needs. 

Three hotels are also featured - at Minehead, Llandudno and the Vale of Glamorgan. Each of them runs a suitable minibus for optional trips.

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A few niche travel agencies focus on this problem. If you're looking for UK accommodation in hotels, guest houses or self-catering apartments, the Travel Quest website is ideal. It provides a list of accessible accommodation in the UK but also further afield.

For package holidays, the market leader is Accessible Travel & Leisure  which organises holidays worldwide for wheelchair users, slow walkers, mature travellers, their families and friends. 

The firm was founded in 1997 by three experienced travel professionals who found themselves disabled in later life. Every recommendation has been personally vetted to ensure that all the necessary facilities pass high standards. 

This very comprehensive website covers beach resorts in Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Tenerife and Lanzarote. It even features tours in Egypt and South Africa. If you want to browse further, just send for their 110-page brochure. 

Many other websites focus on a more limited range of destinations - often just a single property.

For instance, at Chania on the Greek island of Crete, the Eria Resort is specially designed for holidaymakers who find difficulty in getting around. A specially adapted minibus makes the included transfers from and to Chania airport, and is used for optional excursions. 

The season runs from April until the end of November. Daily rates are between 129 and 148 euros for double room and breakfast. Curiously, July and August are at the lower end of the price range.

At Palma Nova in Mallorca, the spacious Residencial Voranova complex is completely suited for wheelchair users and senior citizens, especially those who seek the winter-warmth months of October until May. 

Take a wheelchair into the sea at Sirens Resort Of the 305 studio type apartments with kitchenette, dining corner and spacious terrace, 60 are specially adapted with adjustable showers, mirrors, etc. Indoor and outdoor pools are fitted with a hoist. During summer, a 'beach wheelchair' is available for guests who want a dip in the sea.

Easy immersion in the sea is likewise featured in the Sirens Resort which offers five self-catering apartments specially designed for the physically challenged. Located near the tourist city of Loutraki in Greece - 90 minutes from Athens and its airport - guests can use a sea-ramp and sea-wheelchair to make swimming possible.

Finally, the 'Holidays for All' consortium is made up of a dozen member charities, including Grooms Holidays, in the special-needs sector of travel business. Click on the 'Help' link on the home page, and you can survey the services each can offer, with full website and address links. 

For instance, Enable Holidays features a range of packages to Mediterranean beaches and Florida, cruises, and city breaks in Barcelona and Prague. 

The Calvert Trust operates three centres in Northumberland, Devon and the Lake District which are the base for outdoor activities such as archery, canoeing and sailing, with a games area and a sports hall. 

                                                         Finally, here's inspiration:

Let's introduce Margaret Hides whom I've known since 1958, when we met in an off-beat corner of Greece. She and her husband were just returning from an overland trip to India and back. 

She had impaired mobility due to polio, and has needed a raised shoe since childhood. Over the years, the orthopaedic condition deteriorated with wear and tear, which was inevitable. 

As a travel journalist for many years with the Sunday Times and the Observer, she specialised in holiday stories to suit less mobile or disabled people. First she travelled with one stick; and Margaret Hides in Cyprus then managed with two sticks and a supporting arm. But then the condition deteriorated very rapidly, so that travel is now possible only with a wheelchair and a helper.

She says: "So much is still possible. Four years ago, I applied to the National Health, so it's an ordinary NH wheelchair. I'll still travel anywhere for holiday stories to suit less mobile or disabled people."

I met her again recently in Cyprus, where several companies specialise in providing holidays for the disabled. 

Margaret said: "They have coaches with lifting platforms. You can hire a disabled scooter for about 10 a day. Paphos is the best place, because the hotels are newer and more geared to accommodate disabled clients. There are lovely waterside tavernas with no steps, and no cobbles. And you watch the world go by, and the pelicans come..."


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