Q: I recently stayed at an agriturismo in Italy and would love to have a similar experience closer to home. Any suggestions? —Greg Stahl, Mesa, Ariz.
A: “American growers are taking a cue from their European counterparts by letting you experience the country life. Feather Down Farm Days (512/524-1817; featherdown.com) has three working farms in New York and Illinois where you can stay overnight and help tend the garden or gather eggs. Three Shepherds Farm offers a three-day cheese-making course in Warren, Vermont. In the Shenandoah Valley, sustainability guru Joel Salatin leads Intensive Discovery Seminars—where you’ll learn about raising poultry and eco-friendly farming—at Polyface Farm.” —T+L special correspondent Shane Mitchell
Q: My husband and I are interested in going on a cruise in Alaska this fall. What are our best options? —Liz Baton, Huntsville, Ala.
A: The Silver Shadow from Silversea Cruises (7 days from $4,097 per person, double) calls at three historic ports, including Skagway and Juneau—ideal for a first visit. A new wildlife-minded excursion from Celebrity Cruises (celebritycruises.com; 7 days from $719 per person, double) sails round-trip from Seattle and through Tracy Arm, a fjord with hundreds of harbor seals. For a small-ship experience (51 to 69 cabins), Cruise West (cruisewest.com; 7 days from $4,199 per person, double) recently introduced Alaska’s Inside Passage, which traverses narrow inlets to Wrangell, a fishing town with ancient rock carvings. Even more ships will enter Alaskan waters next year: Disney Cruise Line and Oceania Cruises announced one- and two-week itineraries starting in spring 2011.
Q: When comparing flights to Europe online, I’ve come across variations in taxes and fees even when the total ticket costs are nearly equivalent. Why is that? —Jeff Weinstein, Dayton, Ohio
A: It’s simply a matter of presentation—some sites bundle certain taxes and fees with the base price up front, while others do so later at the time of booking. This explains why you might find, for example, a trip to Geneva on United Airlines that’s $505 for the ticket, plus $379 in taxes and fees, for a total of $884, while the same route on Delta may be $770, plus $130 in taxes and fees, for a total of $900. There are nearly 100 different fees that can figure into ticket costs—many are stable, but others fluctuate and can really add up: individual airports charge fees for their own upkeep, governments can charge taxes for international departures and arrivals, and booking entities often tack on extra charges for booking by phone or flying multiple air carriers.
Q: Can you recommend weeklong guided biking tours through the Pyrenees? —Amy Chang, Fort Lee, N.J.
A: Cycling Classics ($795 per person; through mid-October) has a five-day program that allows you to acclimate 1,200 to 6,500 feet each day. More-experienced cyclists may opt for the outfitter’s 10-day Crossing the Pyrenees (from $2,000 per person), which spans 500 miles, from Biarritz to Collioure, along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Meanwhile, the challenging 10-day Pyrenees Sea to Sea trip from Trek Travel ($5,395 per person, starting September 1) features daily rides that average more than 60 miles and 7,000-plus vertical feet through French Basque foothills and remote Spanish towns.