Travel- information desk: your questions answered by our panel of experts

Warsaw and other arias

Can you provide me with the name and address of a travel company which organises cultural trips to Eastern Europe? I am particularly interested in opera trips to Poland.

Max van der Schalk

Haslemere, Surrey

The Travel Editor replies: Travel For the Arts (tel: 0171-483 4466) is a company that offers a variety of cultural trips to destinations throughout Europe. There are two festival tours to Poland scheduled for July this year. These tours run consecutively and can be taken as an individual or combined package.

From 17-21 July there is a tour to the Mozart festival in Warsaw, featuring The Magic Flute, Mitridate and Ascanio in Alba at the Warsaw Chamber Opera House.

From 21-25 July, there is a tour to Cracow for the Cracow festival of opera and music. No itineraries or prices have been fixed for these tours as yet. However, last year's price for an eight-day opera tour of Poland was pounds 1,095 per person, including 4-star, half-board hotel accommodation, sightseeing tours, three nights at the opera, scheduled flights, taxes and transfers.

Fregata Travel (tel: 0171-451 7066) also offers opera tours in Eastern Europe. It has packages to Prague and Budapest. A three-night opera break to Prague in a three-star hotel starts from pounds 386 per person, including return flights, taxes, transfers, accommodation with breakfast, and one night's first-class tickets at the opera, with dinner.

Fregata can also arrange tailor-made tours to Poland; for example, organising opera tickets for you and adding the cost (approx pounds 20 per ticket) to a standard city break. A three-night city break in Warsaw starts from pounds 263 per person and includes return flights, transfers and three-star hotel accommodation with breakfast.

We would like to do an East or South Africa holiday, as far as possible under our own steam, with a mix of sightseeing and safaris. Which country should we head for?

Jill Masters


Jill Crawshaw replies: Two countries with great opportunities for fly- drives would seem to fit the bill perfectly. Namibia, which has English as its official language, has excellent roads, with almost no traffic away from the capital Windhoek (the country has a population of about one person per square mile, and usually that one person is you). Distances are long, but vehicles in Namibia are well cared for, driving is on the left and even gravel tracks are well maintained.

For sightseeing, Namibia has some of the finest and most varied landscapes in Africa: a mix of deserts, mountains, dunes and spectacular castles. In a fortnight you could take in Sossusvlei, with some of the world's highest dunes, leaving your own vehicle at a lodge and taking an arranged trip into the desert by 4WD. After that, head for the extraordinary African Heidelberg, called Swakopmund, and drive up the ravaged Atlantic Skeleton coast as far as the seal colony at Cape Cross.

Heading back east, you could visit Damaraland with its huge collection of rock paintings before exploring Etosha, one of Africa's largest game parks - even here you can drive yourself on Tarmac roads. On the way back to Windhoek, stop off at the cheetah sanctuary at Okenjimah Guest Farm.

If you're going independently, get a list of lodges or guest farms from the Namibia Tourist Board. The farms take up to half a dozen guests, they are friendly and informative, and the meals and welcome are huge. Namibia also has a number of excellent locally run and owned camp sites.

Sunvil Travel (0181-232 9777) organises nine itineraries between eight and 19 days in Namibia, which cost between pounds 1,310 and pounds 4,000, and include international flights, accommodation in lodges, guest farms, hotels and campsites, as well as car hire with full CDW insurance, route maps and directions.

The same firm offers four fly-drive itineraries to Zimbabwe - where roads and communications are also easy to manage for tourists wishing to travel independently - offering a magnificent combination of history, landscapes, ruins and wildlife. A typical two to three-week holiday, leaving from the capital Harare, could include the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, the Matobo Hills, where there's a mix of game lodges and rock art to view, and a visit to the World in a View - Cecil Rhodes's grave.

You can drive from there to Hwange National Park, where there is a choice of camps, lodges and safaris, and leave a few days for Victoria Falls before returning by internal flight to Harare. Nine to 19-day itineraries in Zimbabwe cost from pounds 2,048 to pounds 3,500.

Other firms offering tailor-made itineraries to Namibia and Zimbabwe include Africa Exclusive (01604 628979) and Abercrombie & Kent (0171-559 8788).

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

How to see Italy and learn the language

Could you please provide me with information on holidays in Italy combined with a language course?

Guy Hewlett


The Travel Editor replies: Euro-academy (tel: 0181-686 2363) offers a variety of courses in Italy: Florence, Siena, Rome and Milan. They can be straight language courses or combine language with cultural study, such as history of art, art, or cookery. A two-week intensive language course in Rome costs from pounds 435 per person and includes 30 lessons (45 minutes each with up to 12 in a class) and a single room in a private house, with breakfast. Activities include wine tastings, city visits and films. There is an optional History of Art course (pounds 16) twice a week, with free seminars on opera and cinema. International flights are not included.

Alternative Travel (tel: 01865 315678) offers one-week Italian courses in Tuscany. The course is set in a renovated 9th-century monastery and caters for all levels of student. The course combines language lessons, walking tours of the countryside, visits to Siena, and an exploration of Italian culture through evening lectures and excursions. A short multiple choice test at the beginning of the course will establish your ability and place you in a group of a similar level (no more than six people). All lessons are taught by Italians. The price for one week is pounds 1,350 per person and includes everything but international flights - all accommodation, tuition, meals, excursions, guides and transport.

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