The ns guide to self-indulgence - The short break

The bad news is that short breaks are hazardous to your health: according to Dr Walter Pasini of the World Health Organisation, the stress of a few days away can substantially increase your risk of a heart attack or a car crash. Unfortunately his answer to this problem is to take a long break - holiday for a month or two, he advises, so that the body can adjust to changes in climate and cuisine.

Yes, well, thanks, Walter. Back in the real world a short break can be a great refresher, but only if you take the right kind. There's a skill to this. Quite obviously, if you need to relax, tearing off to Paris or Florence on a bucket flight for a couple of packed days pounding the streets, queuing and plodding round art galleries is going to be tiring. You don't need a doctorate to see that. In fact, if you're tired already, most of the city breaks you see advertised are best avoided.

Plump instead for somewhere less demanding - enough to see to maintain interest, not so much as to be a burden - and a journey that's simple. No airport changes. No connections. That's why places you can reach by train are a plus, and why staying in Britain is often the best idea.

So, after half a lifetime of short-breaking, my tips are as follows. Head by train in January to snow-covered Bruges, with the scent of chocolate on cold air, for falling in love. Head to Bath for a wet weekend of window shopping, town walks and a good row! And the Cotswolds for long, woody walks and pub puddings. But our best short break ever was in Ravello, a quiet Italian hill town on the Amalfi coast. Go there in February or March when you're sick to death of winter and can afford only three or four days away. Drive a hair-raising road from Naples, then saunter about in a T-shirt, eat outside in the first warmth of the spring sun and paddle in the sea. It would cheer even the good Dr Pasini.

This article first appeared in the 12 July 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Were chimps the first socialists?