Dr Latitude: Ravishing Riviera looks good by rail

My husband and I will have about four days in Provence next April after spending a week in the Dordogne region. We would like to stay in the Haute Provence region (probably in Vaison La Romaine, 47km north of Avignon), but would also like to experience something of the French Riviera. Is there a great train trip we could do for a day that would follow the coastline along the French Riviera? - Danielle Kelly

The only really coast-hugging section of SNCF's (Societe Nationale des Chemins de fer Francais, or French National Railway Company; www.sncf.com/indexe.htm) routes in Provence is between St Raphael and Monte Carlo, about a 100km trip and well worth doing.

Actually, the line does extend north beyond Monte Carlo for about 15km to the Italian border. There is also a 60km section that runs mostly along the coast between Marseille and Toulon in the south but this is not as scenic.

It's a three-hour trip from Avignon to St Raphael, and then another 1 hours along the coast to Monte Carlo. Trains making more stops will take a bit longer - check first. You will probably have to change trains in Nice.

Tickets from Avignon all the way to Monte Carlo cost from $77 to $101 one way.

The scenery is varied and often beautiful, but the real treat begins when the route hits the Cote d'Azur.

You may not want to do all this in a day from Avignon, but an overnight stay somewhere along the Cote d'Azur would make it worthwhile. Cannes, Antibes, Juan les Pins, Nice, Beaulieu sur Mer are all gorgeous. What a shame you only have four days.

I've spent at least 200 hours researching a group tour on the internet for a trip in the school holidays. I want the trip to include lodging directly on Australia's Great Barrier Reef with snorkelling right there (no need to be shuttled elsewhere) and then travel to the centre to experience Uluru in a truly indigenous way. I want the tour to be a really colourful, intimate, personalised, funky, bohemian adventure. I don't want slick anything. Most claim their tours are this but they still seem the standard fare. I'm praying you have a few ideas. - Ricky Silbersher

In choosing a guided tour, you need to keep in mind that any travel experience is what you make it.

It will have a great deal to do with who else is on the tour, how you hit it off with them, their attitudes and your attitude along the way. It can be luck of the draw. No two people will experience the same tour in exactly the same way.

You should probably look for a younger group tour, perhaps one that's a little off-the-wall, active and culturally sensitive. There is no tour available that specifically takes in just the Great Barrier Reef and then Uluru and the Red Centre.

If visiting the reef is your only desire in Queensland, then you should head to either Cairns, Mission Beach, Townsville or Port Douglas and join a snorkelling day tour once you're there.

There is no accommodation as such on the Great Barrier Reef itself - it is a World Heritage protected area - but there are multiday live-aboard tours for particularly passionate divers.

Cairns would make a good base for you because it is young and vibrant and has a multitude (more than 600) of backpacker accommodation and affordable tours on offer, whether you're going out to the reef, visiting Cape Tribulation and the Daintree or riding the Kuranda Scenic Railway or Skyrail.

Day snorkelling trips cost about $130, including lunch and snorkelling gear. Remember that generally the outer reefs are the most pristine. On the Wallaby (www.onthewallaby.com) has day/overnight tours ($115/$195) in the Atherton Tablelands which include cycling, hiking and canoeing.

Several dive companies will take you helmet diving: you walk on a submerged platform with a hose attached to your helmet so you can breath ($160).

Why not try the Minjin Jungle Swing in Smithfield? This involves being strapped into a harness suspended by stainless steel cables and swinging from 40m at 100km/h ($50; www.ajhackett.com.au).

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory is included on the Unesco World Heritage list. To really appreciate the area and its sacred sites, including Uluru and the Olgas, and to gain a true insight into the significance of the rock through the eyes of the traditional owners, try Anangu Tours (www.anangutours.com.au).

It is owned and operated by the Anangu from the Mutitjulu community, and the tours they offer are the ultimate cultural experience at Uluru and will give you a greater insight into Aboriginal culture.

A visit to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre is also a must.

Cave Hill Safari (www.aboriginalaustralia.com.au) offers cultural tours to the Cave Hill Aboriginal community, just over the South Australian border ($282).

The nearest accommodation to Uluru is in Yulara. Cramped dorm beds at the Outback Pioneer Lodge (www.ayersrockresort.com.au) are $42 but Alice Springs offers a greater range.

Multiday camping safaris to the rock from here often include stops at Kings Canyon, Palm Valley and the West MacDonnells. Try Mulga's Adventures (www.mulgas.com.au), Wildway (www.wildway.com.au) and Wayoutback (www.wayoutback.com.au).

- NZ Herald

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