England for teenagers, cooking in Spain

Bath, Bristol and Oxford, Saumur to Barcelona and cooking paella

We are hoping for some advice on how to go about planning a holiday in England for a family with two teenagers for two weeks in June. We would like to stay self-catering in two historic cities, such as Bath and Oxford, but wondering would there be easy access to activities to suit our children. Shopping, and a theme park/outdoor adventure centre would be of interest. We're planning to travel to the UK by ferry, taking our car.
– PR, Kildare

England is a surprisingly good destination for families with teenagers as there are many things to keep them occupied. Consider Alton Towers with Irish Ferries or Celtic Horizon Tours. Both companies have good value family packages. See irishferries.com, celtichorizontours.com.

Bath is a lovely city and a good base for exploring the surrounding countryside. Places like the Cheddar Gorge, Longleat Safari Park and Stonehenge are worth visiting. The town's website site is visitbath.co.uk, where there is a list of self-catering accommodation.

The city of Bristol has lots of interesting things to see including the Planetarium, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, historic ships, the science museum and walks like the slave history trail. See visitbristol.co.uk.

Another option for this area is to hire a narrow boat to explore the Kennet and Avon Canal which runs from Bath to Reading. Find boating holidays on canalrivertrust.org.uk.


Oxford is a bustling city with many attractions, not least of which are the dreaming spires and 39 colleges dotted around. A visit to one or two might be of interest. See oxfordcity.co.uk.

Send your queries to jscales@irishtimes.com

We are two adults and two kids going to the Loire Valley, near Saumur, on holidays and would we like to take a side trip to Barcelona for a few days. The problem is that when I go on to the SNCF website for train schedules I can't get anything on getting from Saumur to Barcelona. I would appreciate it very much if you had any suggestions that might help me track some hard info down.
– RC, Dublin.

It would be quite a journey from Saumur by rail to Barcelona, but it can be done, and will take most of a day. It will mean a bit of searching and planning and the rail timetables and fares are usually only loaded into the computer systems from one to three months in advance.

You would use French rail services to the nearest border town then swap over to Spanish services. Perpignan is a good routing, with fewer changes.

voyages.sncf.com and renfe.com will the main sites to use.

Orléans is the mainline station in the area you are staying and you may have to connect there from the local train service. Last year Deutsche Bahn, the German railway service, opened an office in Ireland and they can sell tickets on all major rail services in Europe, see the website, bahn.ie or call them on 01-855 5841. See also raileurope.com and Seat61. com.

Send your queries to jscales@irishtimes.com

My partner and I would like to do a course on Spanish cooking in Spain in September. We’d be grateful for any advice or suggestions. - PS, Dublin

Have a look at these two companies for cooking courses in Spain: A Taste of Spain and The Spanish Thyme Traveller. A Taste of Spain has been around for quite a few years and runs cooking classes in all the major cities of Spain, such as Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, San Sebastian, Cadiz and Marbella from €145 per day. The classes run most of the year and usually involve trips to the market to shop for local ingredients. They also have food tours of the Spanish regions. See a tasteofspain.com.

The Spanish Thyme Traveller has among its tours a cooking holiday that focuses on one of Spain's signature dishes, paella. Based in Valencia, over three days you will discover the secrets of paella, explore Valencia, visit the rice growing region and a bodega.The course is available in September for €650 pps. Details from thespanishthymetraveller.com.

Send your queries to jscales@irishtimes.com