Ask Joan: Your travel queries answered

A break in Budapest, painting and cooking in France or Italy and the Canaries for three weeks

 Take a cruise on Danube in Budapest

Take a cruise on Danube in Budapest

Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 11:38

Since retiring, I have taken over cooking duties at home and, as a sometime foodie, have been enjoying it very much. Meanwhile my (still working) wife has recently revived her interest in painting and drawing. We wondered if it would be possible to find an activity holiday which would allow us to combine both interests. Italy, France and Spain all appeal. – MR, Dublin

In a corner of southwest France in the Charente, Chateau L’Age Baston has been running cooking, art, walking, writing and French courses for over 20 years. It is not your usual type of holiday, with all guests sitting together for meals and taking part in the courses, more like staying with friends.

The cookery course is in French country-style cuisine and you can extend your repertoire with daily kitchen sessions and field trips to markets and producers. Your wife can enjoy painting with a tutor and the opportunity to capture the lovely area around the chateau. There is a special offer for booking up to the end of January of £950 (about €1,100) which includes accommodation, tuition, all meals and pick up from Bordeaux Airport. See lagebaston.com.

The region of Emilia Romagna is known as the bread basket of Italy, and a gastronomic area. Think Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Parma ham, balsamic vinegar, sun ripened tomatoes. Casa Appenino with mountain views, runs similar types of art holidays on a weekly basis. Cookery classes can be arranged and would involve rustic Italian food. Guests stay in the casa or in a self catering cottage on site. The prices are similar, about £950 (€1,100) per week, and include tuition, meals and accommodation, artholidaysinitaly.com.

Four of us have booked a long weekend with accommodation in Budapest for the last weekend in November. We would appreciate any suggestions you might have for things to do and places to see. All of us are foodies and would love to eat at least one meal in a really good restaurant. We will be staying at Boscolo Hotel. – HC, Dublin


Budapest is a lovely city and full of great things to do. The Christmas markets will begin on the 29th and will be nice to ramble round. The traditional painted Christmas egg ornaments are a perfect reminder of your trip.

The city is divided by the Danube with the castle sitting high on the Buda side of the river, over the Chain bridge.

Take a Danube cruise and see the city from the river. It will give you a good insight into the history of this major city of the Austro Hungarian empire.

There are many beautiful buildings to see from the river. There are also dinner cruises you can take at night.

Heroes’ Square at the end of Andrassy Boulevard, Budapest’s Grafton Street, is a monument to Hungary’s past. It is dominated by Roman style statues and open architecture. The Museum of Fine Art and the Hall of Art are on either side. Nearby is the House of Terror, a museum to the fascist and communist past.

The most famous restaurant in Budapest is Gundel’s, which is also one of the oldest in the city (gundel.hu). It serves traditional Hungarian food with a lot of old-fashioned style. There are also two Michelin-starred restaurants in Budapest, Onyx and Costes.

Make sure to have coffee and cake at Gerbeaud, sit outside and watch the world go by on Vorosmarty Square.


We are a couple in the “youth of old age” (our mid-50s). We would like three weeks of apartment living in January/February with warmth and light (and public transport, as we don’t wish to hire a car). Given this, the Canaries appear only obvious choice. Perhaps you could suggest a location or website we could consider in our quest? – SA, Dublin


The Canaries is the obvious place to go with nice weather and a good variety of accommodation. As I wrote previously, Steintravel.ie are selling three and four-week holidays to the Canaries for about €200pps per week with flights.

Ryanair and Aer Lingus fly to all the main islands. Apartments are good value from €300 per week (see booking.com, housetrip.com, rentalia.com, cotilloholidays.co.uk, and homeaway.com). All the islands have good public transport and it is easy enough to get around, though don’t book an apartment outside a town or resort.

Send your travel queries to Joan at jscales@irishtimes.com