Ask Lonely Planet: Hot spots still open in winter

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Take in the Italian Lake District by boat. Photo / Getty Images
Take in the Italian Lake District by boat. Photo / Getty Images

My husband and I have booked a small walking tour around Tuscany with a few days in the lake district of Como and Maggiore. Due to its added charm, it was recommended that we stay at Lake Lugano and make day trips to the Italian lakes. We would be interested to receive your advice about how to make the most of our time in this beautiful region. - Jennifer Glausiuss

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

Handily situated between Italy's Lago Maggiore and Lago di Como, the lush mountain-rimmed lake of Lugano is an excellent place to base yourselves. Lugano itself is the largest city in the Swiss canton of Ticino, and an important banking centre.

Suits aside, it's a vivacious city with chic boutiques, bars and pavement cafes huddling in the spaghetti maze of cobbled streets. With classic Alpine looks and Italian-style living, it's the Switzerland that Heidi never mentioned.

Much of the lake can be seen by boats operated by the Società Navigazione del Lago di Lugano. If you want to visit several places, you can buy a one, three or seven day pass for SFr43, SFr58 and SFr73 respectively. Boats sail year round but are more frequent from late March to late October. During this time some boats go as far as Ponte Tresa, so you could go one way by boat and return to Lugano via scenic train ride.

Another good option is the money-saving Lugano Regional Pass that covers travel on Lago do Lugano and regional public transport, including the funicular railways scaling vertiginous Monte Brè and Monte San Salvatore, and half-price travel around Locarno and Lago Maggiore.

Lago di Como is accessible by train or bus, but a hire car will reward with some of the finest driving in Europe. Set among the snow-covered Rhaetian Alps and hemmed in on both sides by steep, wooded hills, the lake is the most spectacular and least visited of the three major lakes.

Shaped like an upside-down letter Y, its winding shoreline is scattered with villages, including delightful Bellagio, with its waterfront of bobbing boats, and maze of steep stone staircases.

I am planning to visit China at the beginning of December and have heard that Beijing and Northern China can drop to -20C during this time. Are the Great Wall and other tourist attractions still open during winter? - Meg Stairmand

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

Beijing can be glacial in winter with the mercury indeed dipping as low as -20C and northerly winds cutting like a knife through bean curd. Arid spring - March to April - is okay, although huge sand clouds sweep into town and static electricity zaps without impunity.

From May onwards, temperatures climb and a scorching sun roasts Beijing in summer (reaching over 40C), with heavy rainstorms crashing down late in the season. Arguably the best time to visit is September to early November, when the temperature is fresh, the skies often blue, and fewer tourists line up for the city's attractions.

Come December there will be fewer tourists, still. Fear not though - almost of all of Beijing's attractions will be open, although some will close early. Just be sure to wrap up nice and warm.

The Great Wall of China wriggles haphazardly from its scattered Manchurian remains in Liaoning province, to wind-scoured rubble in the Gobi desert, and faint traces in the unforgiving sands of Xinjiang. The most renowned and robust sections undulate over the peaks and hills of Beijing municipality.

When selecting a tour to the Great Wall, check that it goes where you want to go. Tours to Badaling, the most touristed area of the wall, are often combined with trips to the Ming Tombs.

So if you don't want to visit them, choose another tour or go by public transport. Equally appealing but less overrun are Mutianyu, Simatai and Jinshanling.

Ringed by a 52m-wide moat at the very heart of Beijing, the Forbidden City is China's largest and best-preserved complex of ancient buildings.

In addition to the Great Wall and Forbidden City, mandatory activities include a trip to the gargantuan Summer Palace and glittering Buddhist Lama Temple, and getting lost in the city's leafy, medieval hutong (narrow alleyways).

- NZ Herald

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