Your questions answered by our panel of travel experts

What is snowshoeing?

In France last year I heard about something called snowshoeing. Can you tell me exactly what it involves, and do any firms organise snowshoeing holidays?

J Smart

Hereford

Jill Crawshaw replies: Snowshoeing - on what the French call raquettes - is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to downhill skiing, for several reasons. It is much cheaper and simpler - you strap a pair of lightweight snowshoes which look like the heads of large tennis rackets on to your walking boots, take poles only for balance, and set off. No complicated techniques or tuition are necessary.

It also enables you to get off the beaten piste even more than cross- country skiing, which means you have a chance of tracking wildlife which normally vanishes with the first arrival of the clumpy boots brigade. Many people also consider snowshoeing more environmentally friendly, reducing damage to pastures caused by mechanical lifts and beaten-down pistes, a continuing controversy in the Alps.

Headwater Holidays (01606 48699) can arrange independent shoeing trips to Autrans on the Vercors plateau above Grenoble, home of the French Nordic Championship. The firm also has two special snowshoeing weeks starting on 17 January and 28 February, with equipment provided and the services of a guide.

The January departure costs pounds 397 for eight days including the car ferry crossing for car and passengers (pounds 579 by air), guiding on the 26 kilometres of trails around the region, equipment, and half-board at the Hotel de la Poste. The week in February costs pounds 479 by car, pounds 658 by air.

Inntravel (01653 628811) arranges a fascinating snowshoe journey through the Pyrenees; you start in Font Romeu, walk over the lakes of Bouillouse at 2,000 metres (these are cut off from car traffic in the winter), stay in the tiny resort of Les Angles and then walk through the forest to La Llagonne, tracking animals en route. The price of pounds 598 includes return flights to Toulouse, picnic lunches, seven nights half board en route, hire of equipment and the services of an English-speaking mountain guide. Departures are on 17 and 31 January.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

My boots are made for walking - but they're cracking

The leather is creasing and cracking on my walking boots. I usually brush mud off once the boots have dried - is this wrong? Don Walker, London

Clive Tully replies: If you can, you should remove the mud at the earliest possible opportunity. I always keep my eyes peeled for a stream or even a puddle at the end of a day's walk which I can slosh about in to get the worst of the mud off. You know why mud packs are so often used for skin care? It's because mud has good astringent qualities for sucking out natural oils. It does the same thing for dead cow skin as well.

Keeping your boots in a boiler room or heating cupboard isn't a very good idea, either, as any kind of artificially-induced drying is almost certain to damage the leather. The water soaked into the leather expands as it warms up and literally tears its fibrous structure apart from the inside because it can't vapourise and escape quickly enough. Cooked boots tend to lose their shape and get water-logged very quickly. As it is, the creasing and cracking on the uppers of your boots is an indication that the damage has already been done.

Even so, you should get some useful life out of them yet. Always wash the mud off your boots quickly and allow them to dry naturally. Putting them in a warm room is fine, but make sure they're away from any form of artificial heat, and preferably with some newspaper screwed up inside to help soak up excess moisture. Once they're dry, apply some shoe polish or a wax product such as G-Wax or Nikwax. Given the state of your boots, some extra loving care would be in order now - use Nikwax or Granger's leather conditioner.

Clive Tully is a leading commentator on clothing and equipment for walking, trekking and backpacking. He is editor of 'TrailWalk', a new online magazine devoted to the subject. The 'TrailWalk' website is at: www.trailwalk.com.

I want to go somewhere with healthy food

Whenever I travel I always come back feeling fat and ill because of the food. Now I want to go on holiday to the country with the healthiest food in the world. What are the options?

Bob Hayita

London

Dr Larry Goodyer replies: A healthy diet would include a great deal of fruits and vegetables for fibre, with very little red meat. Energy should come from carbohydrates such as pasta and rice, with the minimum of simple sugars being consumed. Fats should be of the polyunsaturated variety. Fish, especially oily fish, is said to be good for the heart.

It is hard to find any national diet that matches these requirements exactly. A Mediterranean diet is said to be very healthy, but a high intake of olive oil would cause weight gain.

In South-east Asia and southern India the high-fibre diet seems healthy, but coconut is used widely; it is fattening and contains extensive saturated fats. The most unhealthy diet is probably the Anglo/American one.

Do get this into perspective: a few weeks of a relatively unhealthy diet will do little harm if you eat reasonably well the rest of the year. Most exotic foods will cause weight gain if you overeat. One of my aims when travelling is to sample as wide a variety of foods as possible, while heeding the usual warnings about things that carry a higher risk of gut infections.

Dr Larry Goodyer is superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8, Tel: 0181 889 7014) which specialises in travellers' medical needs.

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