Tripologist: Relax on the coast of Portugal

Four of us are travelling to England, then to Spain, in September, 2012, to do walking holidays in each country. We will have six days in between and I thought Portugal would be a great place to catch our breath. Any ideas for somewhere on the coast that isn't overrun with high-rise resorts, or villages where we can take time out? We won't be hiring a car, so trains and buses will be the go.

- L. Marks, Potts Point.

Portugal's cheap prices make it a favourite destination for the pale hordes of northern Europe and most of the desirable coastal bits are crowded. Nazare, on the central coast, has more character than most Portuguese coastal cities and in September the beach should be a bit quieter. Inland towns that might appeal include Sintra, pictured, which has lovely gardens and villas; Obidos, a well-preserved 13th-century village that was once the property of the Portuguese queens; and Evora, an architectural jewel box, dating to Roman times.

An alternative might be Arcachon, south-west of Bordeaux on France's Atlantic coast. The city sits on the Bassin d'Arcachon, formed by the encircling arm of Cap Ferret. There's a choice between surf beaches and the calm waters of the basin and the cuisine is based on seafood and influenced by its proximity to the Basque region.

Bordeaux by barge? Tres bon

Our group of three couples is planning to hire a penichette for a 12-day trip in the Bordeaux region in May. We are interested in visiting villages of note along a canal/river and sampling the region's food and wines. We would appreciate your suggestions as well as any do's and don'ts you have for such a trip.

- V. Black, Wodonga, VIC

This is one of the loveliest parts in all of France and a journey by penichette, which is a modern version of the traditional canal barge, is a glorious way to see it.

It's a journey to be savoured, so don't be too ambitious. You want to plan to motor for an average of three-to-four hours a day. Over 12 days, you could probably aim to cover a maximum of around 230 kilometres and remember that there are locks along the way.

You could either do a one-way journey or a return to base, although my preference would be for the one-way since it allows you to take in more scenery.

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There are five penichette bases between Bordeaux and Lattes, where the Rhone river meets the Mediterranean. Most of these bases are along the famous Canal du Midi, a World Heritage site and one of Europe's engineering marvels. My personal choice would be to start from Agen, which lies on the Garonne, then along the river Lot to take in Castelmoron, Villeneuve-sur-Lot and upstream as far as Lustrac, then back and along the Baise past Vianne, Nerac, Condom and finally to the penichette base at Valence-sur-Baise, a total of about 224 kilometres.

Some operators offer bikes as an option. This will expand your sightseeing possibilities, as well as allowing you to look French as you cycle back from the boulangerie in the morning with fresh baguettes tucked in your bag.

Colorado's mountain highs

My husband, two 18-year-old sons and I are hoping to go to either the US or Canada for a week's skiing. We are flexible with times from mid-December to mid-February. We are beginner-to-intermediate standard and want a location with lots to do apart from skiing. Do you think either Whistler/Lake Louise or Lake Tahoe would be good destinations, especially as we also want to combine it with a week in Hawaii?

- S. Leslie, St Ives.

What about Aspen in Colorado (aspensnowmass.com)? There's a lot to like about this skiing megastar, including four separate mountain resorts in close proximity to one another, huge elevation and more than seven metres of snowfall a year, more than 2000 hectares of skiable terrain and fantastic dining, nightlife and shopping. Access is also easy. Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, which has direct flights from Los Angeles, is about five kilometres from Aspen and 10 from Snowmass Village.

Finally, with the $A riding high against the US greenback, it's decent value. You'd probably want to start off on the novice-friendly slopes of Buttermilk and work up from there. Since all four skifields fall under the umbrella of one operation, one lift pass is all you need.

Both Hawaii and Aspen would fit into an itinerary with Los Angeles as the connecting port.

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