Eli Orzessek finds the answers to your travel questions.

My three children and I will be in England in early December. Given it's leading into a six-week school holiday break, we plan to travel and maximise our time away. We would like to visit France and Italy. While we do plan to go to Paris and Rome, we would like to avoid the many other tourist traps of those countries, get off the beaten track and explore the real France and Italy. Do you have any recommendations?

We will be in France on Christmas Day. Any suggestions as to what we could do to celebrate the day?

Amanda

Sounds like it will be a family holiday to remember! I've asked my contact Kathy Twydle from Adventure Travel Wellington for a few tips on getting off the beaten track in France and Italy, and I've got a few suggestions of my own for Christmas Day. Kathy suggests booking a villa near a small village to relax and immerse yourselves in the local way of life.

Here are a couple of ideas for each location:

France: "Head to Brittany, a hilly peninsula in northwest France. Whether it's visiting the iconic Mont St-Michel, wandering around the walls of St Malo, or exploring the gorgeous villages on Belle Ile, there's so much to see and do. Don't forget to try the galettes — delicious savoury pancakes.

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"Hire a canal boat to cruise the famous Canal du Midi, the wine regions of Burgundy, the unique Camargue, and more. Boat holidays are a great way to explore France — you can have an adventure and learn how to negotiate the locks along the way."

Italy: "What about Puglia, the southern region forming the heel of Italy's 'boot'? It's known for its whitewashed hill towns, centuries-old farmland and Mediterranean coastline. The Trulli houses (Apulian dry stone huts with a conical roof) are worth visiting, and many are converted into accommodation for an authentic stay.

"Abruzzo in southern Italy is known for its slow-food movement — some of the best food in Italy is produced here, so it's a foodie's delight. Once you add in the stunning scenery, lovely medieval towns, walking in one of the National Parks and even the beautiful beaches, it's a region that will be hard to leave."

As for Christmas, I've done a bit of research about what you could get up to. If you're keen on a white Christmas, go to the mountains, there are plenty of charming chalets to rent, especially in the Alps.

However, it also looks like a magical time to be in Paris, with beautiful window displays and illuminated streets. There are ice skating rinks as well as free carousels. Last Christmas, the Charlety Stadium was transformed into a "snow park", with all sorts of winter sports. You could even spend the day at Disneyland Paris — I'm sure the kids would approve!

In France, family celebrations generally take place on Christmas Eve. If you want to go out for a festive meal, be sure to book well in advance. Head to a patisserie and grab a buches de Noel. This decadent chocolate log is a traditional Christmas treat.
Closer to your trip, check parisinfo.com.

Readers are welcome to send in suggestions.

Email your questions to askaway@nzherald.co.nz
Eli cannot answer all questions and can't correspond with readers.
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