Here's good news for all you Halley's comet watchers. You won't have to fly to the South Seas for a clear view of this celestial wonder. California Natural History Tours is doing trips out of LAX as well as to the Southern California desert and Baja. Clear skies. No lights. The cheapest flight ($129) is aboard a 727 (this is a two-hour flight with return to LAX). Other outings range from a two-day, one-night camp-out ($125) in the Joshua Tree area to a five-day trip to Loreto ($750 plus air) that includes accommodations at Hotel El Presidente, meals, etc. These trips (all with naturalist/astronomers) continue into April. There'll also be wildflower viewing. Contact California Natural History Tours, P.O. Box 3709, Beverly Hills 90212, or telephone (213) 274-3025.
If there is one destination on the other side of the Atlantic that will hold its own this year, Britain probably will. Americans feel secure with their distant cousins. Even with all that recent business of the gun-toting cops at Heathrow Airport. This is the word from ex-insurance broker Ralph R. Davis, who kicked off Country Inn Tours 11 years ago. Just don't be misled by his company's name. This isn't one of those hurry up back--on--the--bus--operations. Instead, Davis' flocks slumber in traditional inns, manor houses and country hotels in England, Scotland and Wales, spending three nights (instead of one) at each of seven destinations. Pack and relax, says Davis. The cost for three weeks comes to $2,400, including some meals, afternoon teas. A 50-passenger bus carries only 20 to 30 passengers (none of that business of feeling like you've been tossed into a Mixmaster). What it doesn't include is the air fare. So this is not a cheap trip. But if traveling at a relaxing pace is your style, contact Davis c/o Country Inn Tours, 2930 Camino Diablo, Walnut Creek, Calif. 94596, or telephone (415) 932-1391.
Davis also does garden tours of England, Holland and France as well as summer and fall foliage trips to New England. Once again, three nights at each destination. While it's inexcuseably early to mention this, one of his hottest items is Christmas in New England with a visit to the Trapp Family Lodge at Stowe, Vt. A peaceful, old-fashioned time. See your travel agent or contact Davis c/o Country Inn Tours.
If you're one of those travelers who considers France a second home, you'll get a boot out of a newsletter published by a couple of Francophiles in Charlottesville, Va. And, boy, are these guys opinionated! Example: They name the "best" hotel in France (Les Pres d'Eugenie at Eugenie les Bains), the two "best" restaurants in Paris (Taillevent and the Crillon) as well as Paris' "most over-rated restaurant" (Tour d'Argent). The best inexpensive hotel in Paris, according to these spirited sleuths, is Hotel des Saint-Teres.
The publishers base these and other decisions on information they picked up on a two-year tour of France. Said they spent $100,000 on restaurants and hotels doing their research. They have also introduced a restaurant rating system which they claim is "more timely than Michelin and more reliable than Gault Millau." The publishers say they grade restaurants according to "five crucial categories"--cuisine, decor, service, wine list, value. The gentlemen are Daniel Friedman, a graduate of Oxford, and Terence Sieg, winner of accolades from the Columbia School of Journalism. The newsletter, begun in 1984 and devoted exclusively to French travel, also gives details about the "worst of France." Write to Friedman and Sieg, c/o La Belle France, 1835 University Circle, Charlottesville, Va. 22903.
"Rent a dream home on the north shore of St. Thomas in Mahogany Bay (U.S. Virgin Islands) . . . one of the most breathtaking views you may ever experience . . . sleeps 10, seven baths . . . you'll be met at the airport." This is a property--one of hundreds--that's listed in the 120-page "Hideaways International," a guide that's aimed at "anyone tired of mass tours and packaged vacations." Tells about yachts, villas and apartments (for rent or exchange) in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Europe and the United States, including Hawaii. Prices begin at about $400 a week (this for a studio apartment at the Mexican resort of Cancun) and run into the thousands of greenbacks. The guide is issued three times a year for members of Hideaways who are eligible for "travel planning services, low air fares, discounts on car rentals and a toll-free hot line for advice on vacation home renting." Details from Hideaways International, P.O. Box 1459, Concord, Mass. 01742.