The Tripologist: where to go in France?

Charmed: Saint-Flour in France's Auvergne region.
Charmed: Saint-Flour in France's Auvergne region. 

WE ARE INTERESTED IN TOURING SCOTLAND AND NORTHERN IRELAND IN OCTOBER/NOVEMBER THEN TRAVELLING TO CORK TO CATCH UP WITH FRIENDS. WE ARE THINKING OF TAKING THE FERRY FROM CAIRNRYAN TO BELFAST BUT WE ARE WONDERING WHETHER TO HIRE A CAR IN SCOTLAND AND DRIVE IT TO IRELAND OR HIRE ONE SEPARATELY THERE. ALSO, HOW BEST TO TRAVEL FROM CORK TO BARCELONA? THERE DOES NOT APPEAR TO BE A DIRECT FLIGHT.

-V. McCAULEY, CANBERRA

Getting from Cairnryan to Belfast takes just over two hours on the Stena Line ferry (stenaline.co.uk) and the price can be as low as £69 ($125) for two people and a vehicle depending on which of the daily services you use, but this might not be the best way to go. If you hire your vehicle from Scotland and return it in Cork, you'll pay a drop-off fee for the privilege of returning it in a different country, and it won't be cheap. You would pay less if you hire one vehicle for Scotland and another for Ireland. There are plenty of options for one-stop flights from Cork to Barcelona. Using Momondo (momondo.com.au), the best choice is a six-hour flight via London using Aer Lingus and British Airways, at a price of $230 a person.

Corcovado Hill, Rio de Janeiro.
Corcovado Hill, Rio de Janeiro. 

MY HUSBAND AND I LOVE FRANCE AND HAVE PREVIOUSLY SPENT TIME IN PARIS, THE LOIRE VALLEY AND PROVENCE. OUR NEXT VISIT WILL BE IN SEPTEMBER AND WE WOULD LIKE TO SPEND TIME IN TWO REGIONS WE HAVE YET TO VISIT. ANY SUGGESTIONS WHERE WE CAN EXPERIENCE VILLAGE LIFE, WITHIN REACH OF TRAINS?

-S. ANGELO, ABBOTSFORD

Just to the south of the departement of the Dordogne, the Lot is a part of France that has not yet been "discovered". This is rural France at its best, a mosaic of stout stone farmhouses, squat churches, dovecots, and the crumbling remnants of ancient bastides, fortified towns surrounded by ramparts. The characteristic feature of this landscape is the causses, dry limestone plateaux that are almost bare except for stunted oaks and maples. Only the river Lot, charging down from the peaks of the Massif Central to the east, rescues it from extreme poverty. The Lot is also a journey for the stomach, with foie gras, goat cheeses, truffles and cassoulet among its regional gastronomy.

Another region that carries a strong flavour of village France is the Auvergne. Tucked into the folds of the Massif Central west of Lyon, this is a country that sings - a quilt of peaks, valleys, wild rivers, mediaeval abbeys and small and perfectly formed villages. The region's splendours include Le Puy-en-Velay, a 12th century town that was once the starting point for one of France's major pilgrimage trails, the gorges of the Tuyere, 1000 hectares of lakes and valleys, one of which is home to the wildly romantic Castle of Alleuze, the Chataigneraie, a vast area of chestnut forests dotted with tiny villages, and Troncais, the most wonderful oak forest in Europe.

On a cautionary note, "village" France is not well served by rail and other transport links. If you want to make the most of these two regions you need to get behind the wheel, relying on local transport will limit your options.

MY WIFE AND I PICKED UP A 31-DAY PRINCESS CRUISE FROM LOS ANGELES TO RIO THIS CHRISTMAS. GETTING TO LOS ANGELES IS THE EASY PART, COMING BACK FROM RIO ON JANUARY 4 IS PROVING MORE DIFFICULT. IS THERE A CHEAP CRUISE FROM RIO TO FORT LAUDERDALE THEN TO LOS ANGELES AND BACK TO AUSTRALIA OR FLIGHTS TO EUROPE OR SOUTH AFRICA THEN BACK TO PERTH?

-P. DOMJAN, PORT MACQUARIE

The cheapest airfare I'm getting from Rio to Los Angeles on January 4 is just over $1000, using Hipmunk (hipmunk.com). This is a 17-hour flight with two stops using multiple airlines. It's highly unlikely you would find a cheap cruise that would dovetail with your requirements, and adding Europe or South Africa into your flight itinerary will add massively to the cost. Why not fly from Rio back to Sydney? Using Hipmunk once again, I'm getting a price of $US1772 ($1900) a person for a one-stop, 30-hour flight with Emirates via Dubai. This is probably your least expensive option at this time of the year. If you were to fly with Emirates from Sydney to Los Angeles in early December, take your cruise and then fly Rio-Sydney on January 4, the price each person would be $2876, according to emirates.com.

SEND US YOUR TRAVEL QUESTIONS

Include your name and suburb or town and send it to tripologist@fairfaxmedia.com.au. Questions appearing in print will be answered. All published questions will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.

CONVERSATION OVER TO YOU . . .

The question was: "Have travel apps for phones and tablets made you a more savvy traveller, or do you now spend too much time looking at the screen?"

K. Keep writes "My wife and I usually spend May and June travelling overseas and the iPhone and iPad make it a breeze. Usually we have no fixed itinerary. We make our travel, hotel or apartment reservations online as there is free Wi-Fi everywhere. We can stream the AFL live to watch our team play each week. Access to banking is so easy. We are in constant touch with family and friends via email. Another favourite app is Google Maps. Before we arrive in a new city and while having access to Wi-FI we enter our arrival point and where our accommodation is located. We are just so fortunate to have this wonderful technology."

From S. Anders: "I use a Sygic GPS system to find my way around and it's been a game changer. No more pulling over every five minutes in strange cities or on highways to check where I'm going, just follow the voice prompts. Stress-free travel in a pint-sized package."

M. Reddy writes: "The fact that I can cram guidebooks and maps and heaps of other material into a tablet device makes it gift from the travel gods, and there are heaps of other benefits as well, such as checking email and keeping in touch with friends and family."

Next question: Do you look for free Wi-Fi when you book a hotel room, or is it just an optional extra? Send response to tripologist@fairfaxmedia.com.au. The best response will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.

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