I am interested in doing a cookery holiday abroad, but they all seem incredibly expensive.
Jill Crawshaw replies: Some of the most economical cookery holidays abroad are self-drive weekends just across the channel in Normandy and Belgium.
Inntravel's (tel: 01653 628811) series of "cook around France" three- night breaks take place in traditional auberges, with the emphasis on getting behind the scenes of a hotel kitchen, and a certain amount of hands-on practice combined with appreciation and enjoyment of food. Two afternoons during the weekend are spent on the course.
At the 300-year-old Auberge du Val au Cesne, 37 miles from Dieppe, you can learn to make the chef and owner's rillettes de saumon and tarte tatin. At another auberge, Le Manoir d'Acherie, you join prize-winning Bernard Cahu and pick up the secrets of classic Normandy meat dishes. Or you might prefer a weekend at the Hotel de France et des Fuchsias in the fishing port St Vaast, 20 miles from Cherbourg, to tackle fish dishes, visiting local caves for Calvados sampling and oyster farms for tastings. The three- night breaks cost between pounds 178-pounds 236, which includes the channel crossing for car and passengers, three nights half board and the course itself; they are dependent on a minimum of either 2 or 4 participants depending on the course.
Still in Normandy, staying this time at the Chateau La Cheneviere near Bayeux, you can take three-, four- or six-day courses focusing on the preparation of fish and seafood, savoury dishes and pastries from Chef Claude Esprabens. On the first morning, students are instructed in choosing fresh fish and watching top Parisian restaurant chefs outbidding each other at fish auctions.
Other visits include the Bayeux market, a Calvados distillery, a Camembert cheese producer and Mont St Michel. A diploma is awarded at the end of the course, which costs from pounds 245 (accommodation, food and drink, but no transport included). Information from La Cheneviere (tel: 0033 231 512525) or in the UK from Powder Byrne (tel: 0181 871 3300).
The Belgian Travel Service's (tel: 01992 456156) two-night cookery break is based near Ypres, with tuition by Andre Goosens. Guests are expected to prepare a four-course dinner with Andre's help, each course made from local produce, and preceded by a local beer or gin. The pounds 199 self-drive break includes two nights' half board and the channel crossing.
Several firms offer more costly cooking courses in Italy including Arblaster and Clarke (tel: 01730 89 3344) and Orient Express (tel: 0181 568 8366) at Venice's Cipriani Hotel. Simply Tuscany and Umbria (tel: 0181 995 8277) organise Italian cookery weeks in Umbria, their most unusual offering being "vegetarian cookery weeks" at the country house Montali in the Umbrian Hills, overlooking Lake Trasimeno. These holidays are expensive at pounds 1,055, though they do include flights, full board with wine and daily tuition.
Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.
WHAT'S THE TOUGHEST WALK IN THE WORLD?
I am a passionate walker but hate anything resembling a cliff face. What is the highest mountain that ordinary walkers can safely climb, without having to resort to mountaineering equipment and without exposing themselves to all the risks associated with that sport?
The Travel Editor replies: If you are interested in scaling great heights without becoming a mountaineer, then your best option is probably Mount Kilimanjaro on the Kenya-Tanzania border, which at 5,896 metres is by far the tallest mountain in Africa. Basically there is a walkers' trail all the way to the top, and it takes about five days to get up to the main summit at Kibo (having entered through the Park Gate, where the national park area begins).
On the way up you'll pass through forest, rolling savannah and - towards the top - gigantic, stony scree slopes. Needless to say, views from the mountain over the vast steppe of the Maasai Mara are quite phenomenal. There are regular huts and shelters on the way up Kilimanjaro where walkers can spend the night.
The walk, particularly the last stage, is not quite a picnic however. Kilimanjaro may not involve mountaineering or rock climbing but it cannot be considered entirely risk-free either. Once you get much beyond 4,000 metres the problem of altitude sickness is likely to arise - leading to nausea, headache, fever and sleeplessness in varying degrees. Not everyone will suffer from these problems, but if you do there is no better solution than to return to lower levels as quickly as possible. Emergency oxygen is kept at the higher level huts but if you insist on pushing for the summit when your body is warning you not to, you run the risk of complications such as water on the lungs or brain which can very quickly lead to death.
Although there is no knowing who will be most susceptible to altitude sickness, one way to reduce the risk is to ascend very slowly, perhaps spending two nights at each stage instead of one.
I'M WORRIED ABOUT WORMS
I am interested in going somewhere exotic but have always been afraid of the possibility of catching worms. Could you please tell me if it really is as bad as it sounds? How do people catch it? What is the cure?
Dr Larry Goodyer replies: If by "exotic" you mean tropical regions, I don't think that worm infestation should be particularly high on the list of concerns for the average tourist. However, in developing countries where sanitation may be poor there can increased risk of such problems, particularly if living rough or visiting rural areas. The main problem for travellers is that one is often relying on others to cook food, which can be a source of gut parasites if it is not properly prepared.
There are a variety of worm parasites that can live and multiply in the human intestinal tract, some of which are just as likely to be contracted in the UK. The various infestations which can be contracted overseas are unlikely to cause problems until some time after returning home. Tape worms are caught by eating undercooked meat and round worms from contaminated food. Hookworms can be picked up from the ground if walking in bare feet.
The symptoms can vary quite a bit depending on the type of worm. In the case of tape worms there may be few symptoms until segments are noticed in the stools, although if left untreated some serious complications can result. Hookworms can cause anaemia if not treated, and one form passed on from dogs causes a rash as it moves under the surface of the skin, going under the alarming name of "creeping eruptions".
However, these problems are rare in the average tourist and are easily treated with modern drugs. Simple precautions such as good food and water hygiene and avoiding walking around in bare feet will minimise any risk.
Dr Larry Goodyer is superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8, tel: 0181-889 7014) which specialises in catering for travellers' medical needs.Reuse content