A family group, including two boys, is hiring a farmhouse for two weeks near Sarlat in the Dordogne region of France in June. Can you recommend any walking trails nearby and any attractions in the area to visit?
Nestled at the bottom of a sheltered valley and enclosed by hills, Sarlat-la-Caneda is one of the most attractive medieval towns in France and a maze of cobbled alleyways, unexpected cul-de-sacs, snaking lanes and wonderful architecture. Sarlat makes an excellent base for exploring the prehistoric sites of the Vezere Valley and the Perigord Noir, although you'll need your own wheels.
Don't miss the Lascaux Caves, where you'll see the most extraordinary prehistoric paintings. There are also a number of caves near the village of Les Eyzies. The kids might enjoy Le Thot, a prehistoric museum and animal park.
There are also a number of hill-top and cliff-top chateaux in the region well worth a visit. Chateau de Castelnaud offers a superb panorama of the Dordogne, and the boys will no doubt get a kick out of the museum of medieval warfare here. From the dramatic Chateau de Beynac, there is a steep trail to the centre of the village of Beynac-et-Cazenac.
As for other walking trails, the countryside around here is criss-crossed by dozens of sentiers balises (marked walking paths). The best and biggest are the sentiers de grande randonnee, long-distance footpaths marked by red-and-white-striped track indicators. The GR6 passes straight through Sarlat and continues through numerous villages, ruins and some stunning terrain. Shorter day-hike trails are known as sentiers de petites randonnees or sentiers de pays. You'll find maps and route guides at the local tourist office.
What day trips are there from Amsterdam that can be easily reached by bus or train? I'm interested in museums and architecture and would like to visit the tulip fields if possible.
There are a number of excellent day trips from Amsterdam, some taking in cities and art and others cheese and tulips. The lovely 17th-century heart of Haarlem is less than 20 minutes away. At one time this city was more important in the art world than Amsterdam, so it's no surprise that it possesses one of the country's finest assemblies of Dutch paintings, at the Frans Hals Museum. There are also some great antique shops, pretty bridges and winding alleys. There are up to six train services an hour to Haarlem (about $8).
Utrecht is the Netherlands' oldest city and one of its most picturesque. The French Gothic cathedral, with its 50 melodious bells, towers above the town as the tallest cathedral in the country. The beautiful and vibrant old-world city is ringed by striking canal wharves dating back to the 13th century. The city comes alive in summer with a jazz festival, then a film festival in September. Utrecht is 30 minutes away by train and services run five times an hour (about $15).
Leiden, Rembrandt's birthplace, is an easy-going university town with several first-class museums (though only one Rembrandt) and the world's oldest botanical gardens, the Hortus Botanicus. There are six trains an hour to Leiden (about $18, 45 minutes).
To really dose up on tulips, you should go to the Keukenhof Flower Gardens from March to May when bulbs erupt into a riot of colour. This, the world's largest bulb-flower garden, attracts 800,000 visitors during just eight weeks each year. Unfortunately, the 2009 season closed on May 21. The gardens are in Lisse between Haarlem and Leiden and can be reached by bus from either town.
Train, plane or car?
My husband and I will be in Girona, Spain, in July and we need to get to Bordeaux. Can you advise the best means of transport? We intend leaving Girona on July 9 and need to be in Bordeaux by July 10.
There are daily trains travelling from Girona via Narbonne to Toulouse, where you change for a train to Bordeaux. The trip takes eight or nine hours, including waiting for changes, and costs about $190. Some trains require a change at Perpignan.
This would be the best way to get to Bordeaux as it's interesting and relaxing. Trains really are part of the pleasure of travelling in Europe.
You could drive and be there in about six hours. This would give you the chance to stop wherever you fancy along the way, but the temptation to wander off the main autoroute and into quaint Pyrenean villages might be just too much to bear, making you late for your date. Catching a plane would involve making your way to Barcelona (75 minutes by train) first. For information on train times and fares, go to www.raileurope.com. The French rail website is at www.voyages-sncf.com and the Spanish rail website is at www.renfe.es.
Afternoon in Berlin
My husband and I are taking a cruise that calls into Warnemunde, three hours from Berlin (we dock at 6am). A friend is meeting us for the day in Berlin. Could you help us plan an afternoon in Berlin, including a good place for lunch?
First take the S-Bahn train to Rostock. It's a 20-minute trip (about $3.20) and services are frequent. From Rostock the train trip takes at least three hours and services run about every half hour (about $75). For more information, go to the Deutsche Bahn website at www.bahn.de.
While you wait for your friend, explore the Brandenburg Gate area, where you'll see the Reichstag, the Wall Victims Memorial and the Holocaust Memorial. Once you've met up, catch a bus along the lovely tree-lined Unter den Linden, a restored relic of prewar Berlin.
At the end of Unter den Linden is Museumsinsel (Museums Island), where you'll find the Pergamon Museum, containing a feast of Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman antiquities. Next to this is the Alte Nationalgalerie, which houses 19th-century European sculpture and painting, and the Bodesmuseum, which houses sculpture, Byzantine art and painting from the Middle Ages to the 19th century.
From here it's a short walk to Hackescher Markt, a complex of shops and apartments around courtyards and a major attraction of 21st-century Berlin. This is where you'll find somewhere to enjoy lunch - the cafes and restaurants around here are great.
The Daniel Libeskind-designed building that's the Jewish Museum is as much an attraction as the Jewish-German history collection within. It can be reached by U-Bahn, but you might want to catch a taxi to save time and energy. After that it will be time for your friend to head back to Prague and for you to return to Warnemunde.
Europe on a budget
We are taking our two (older) teenagers to Europe for six weeks. We will be staying in budget accommodation and making our own meals. What should we budget for per day, and what is the most economical way to get around?
Budgeting for a six-week, multi-country holiday is no easy task and Europe is an expensive place to visit. The good news is in most countries you can use the euro, which makes things easier.
You can expect to pay about $360 a day for the four of you; this would cover budget accommodation such as hostels, transport, admission fees, incidentals and food to cook.
Trains are the most efficient and comfortable way to get around. For information on rail travel, go to www.raileurope.com.