Roam the Riviera If this month's Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix have given you the urge to visit the Cote d'Azur this summer, you can spend a few days exploring much of the region with one of Europe's best travel bargains. Operating from Nice, the Transports Alpes-Maritimes (TAM) runs bus services along the Riviera as far as Cannes to the west and Menton to the east, and inland to popular destinations such as Saint-Paul de Vence for just Euro1 (about HK$10) per trip. The most attractive route is along the magnificent Basse Corniche (below), from Nice to Menton, near the Italian border, via Villefranche-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat, Beaulieu, Cap Martin and Monte Carlo. The longest trip for your euro is to the perfume-producing town of Grasse, which is a 90-minute drive in clear traffic. Using these TAM routes, then, one person based in Nice could spend five days travelling to and from some of the most popular spots in the south of France for about HK$100. Buses for all routes depart from the Espace Massena in Nice several times an hour. For further details on TAM bus routes and a printable schedule, visit www.allaboutnice.com and click on the Trips out of Nice link. Japan on the cheap Until June 27, Cathay Pacific ( www.cathaypacific.com ) is offering round-trip, economy-class flights to Tokyo and Nagoya for HK$2,000 per person if two or more passengers fly together, and flights can be booked for departures leaving up to that date. When fuel surcharges are added, the cost comes to about HK$2,875, but this is still cheap for these cities. For a similar price you can buy a Japan Rail Pass which lets you travel all over the country on most trains for a week. As the Cathay Pacific tickets are also valid for up to seven days, this combination would make a cheap way to spend a week visiting Japan. Rail passes must be purchased before you arrive in Japan, and are available from JTB (HK), 7 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2734 9288. Or visit www.japanrailpass.net for full details of the various rail pass options. Beating the queues The prospect of arriving at London's Heathrow is looking even gloomier than usual this summer, what with the Olympic crowds and increasing mismanagement of immigration procedures by the UK Border Agency. The airport's operator, BAA, is offering a way around the queues for those with deep enough pockets by opening its VIP facilities - until recently only available to 'dignitaries and heads of state'. If you're flying into Heathrow, you'll be met at the aircraft (above centre) and driven to your personal lounge in Terminal 5 while your bags are collected and passport checked. (Departing Heathrow, you'll be driven from your lounge to the aircraft). According to BAA, its VIP lounges offer 'ultimate comfort', although there are no showers, and the promise of 'tea, coffee, biscuits and a small alcohol selection' sounds fairly meagre, especially when you consider that the Heathrow By Invitation service costs GBP1,800 (HK$22,500) per visit, for up to six people. If you do fancy skirting the masses, you can book at least 24 hours in advance at www.heathrowbyinvitation.com , but during the Olympic Games period (July 24 to September 12) reservations must be made 30 days in advance. BAA also reserves the right to cancel your booking if you're likely to be getting in the way of 'official state business'. New rooms Okinawa, Japan, is getting two new hotels, at opposite ends of the price scale. Already open is the Mercure Okinawa Naha (top left; www.accorhotels.com ), located in the main city in the south of the island. Discount opening rates will be available on the 260-room hotel's website until the end of next month. Sure to be Okinawa's best hotel by far when it opens on May 28 is the Ritz-Carlton Okinawa ( www.ritzcarlton.com ), located about 75 minutes' drive from Naha Airport. On an island that caters mainly to mid-market domestic travellers, a high-end international property like this has been a long time coming, and is a welcome addition. Dragonair flies to Okinawa four times a week. Deal of the week About the cheapest deal available this week is a package to Xiamen which starts at just HK$990 for two nights. If that sounds too good to be true, it's because you'll be staying at the cheap and cheerful Ibis Xiamen Kaiyuan ( www.ibishotel.com ), and there will, as always, be a few hundred dollars to add in airline fuel surcharges. A much better-value option is to spend an extra HK$700 and stay at Le Meridien (above left; www.starwoodhotels.com ). Flights are with Dragonair (which is advertising round-trip Xiamen flights for HK$860 online, but actually selling them for HK$1,598 with fuel surcharges added), and breakfast and travel insurance are included. For reservations, visit www. amextravel.com.hk or call 3121 3121 and quote package ID: L2012XMNM084.