Ask T+L: Reading Rural England, Tuscan Villa
q. We'd like to go on a literary tour of the English countryside. -- M.W., Denver, Colo.
a. If such sites as Virginia Woolf's Knole House, Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst, and D. H. Lawrence's hometown of Eastham are what you have in mind, consider a 12-day tour with Back-Roads, a New Jersey-based company that concentrates on U.K. travel. Back-Roads limits its group sizes to 11 and, blessedly, allows time for stops at antiquarian booksellers in Rochester and in Hay on Wye, the used-book capital of the world (800/274-8583; from $2,264 per person). Looking for Mr. Darcy?The British Connection offers a tour that focuses on locations associated with Jane Austen and Agatha Christie. The seven-day trip begins with a visit to Christie's Greenway House and continues on to Austen's Chawton Cottage in Alton; the historic shipyard in Portsmouth (immortalized in Mansfield Park); and Bath, where Northanger Abbey's naïve Catherine first lays eyes on her beloved Henry Tilney (800/420-2569; from $1,800 per person).
q. I need a top-notch hotel in Athens. -- A.R., Orlando, Fla.
a. We've always liked the Andromeda (22 Timoleontos Vassou St.; 30-1/643-7302, fax 30-1/646-6361; doubles from $285). Located right next to the U.S. Embassy and close to the new concert hall and Byzantine Museum, this fashionably spare hotel has 17 rooms and 13 suites. For something on a larger scale, with exceptional service, consider the 364-room Grande Bretagne (Constitution Square; 30-1/333-0000, fax 30-1/322-8034; doubles from $395); everyone from Winston Churchill to Sting has checked in. It's the best-situated hotel in Athens: near the Acropolis and just across from the National Gardens and Houses of Parliament. The sea-green marble lobby is the place to cool off on a hot Mediterranean afternoon.
q. My family is interested in renting a villa in Italy -- either on the coast or in Tuscany. Any suggestions?-- P.L., Lexington, Ky.
a.For everything from cottages to castles, contact the Parker Co. (800/280-2811 or 781/596-8282). It has a U.S. office for booking, and English-speaking agents in Italy make sure all goes well during your stay. Start by searching its Web site at www.theparkercompany.com; it's organized by province, with lots of pictures, prices, even information on such things as barbecue facilities. Perhaps Tuscany's medieval Villa Salvia, close to San Gimignano, with a swimming pool, and room for six, would do (from $2,500 per week). New York-based Villas and Apartments Abroad Ltd. (800/433-3020 or 212/759-1025) also has a good Web site: www.vaanyc.com. A beautiful three-bedroom house on the water in Portofino -- with frescoed ceilings, roof terrace, maid service, and a 20-foot wooden boat for exploring -- rents for $5,500 a week. Both companies publish catalogues.
q. I'm taking my father to Germany and would like to tour the wine region. -- J.H., Sacramento, Calif.
a. The 50-mile Deutsche Weinstrasse, or German Wine Road, from Bockenheim to Schweigen (near the French border) is an easy and beautiful drive. But if this is your first visit, you might consider Tauck Tours' comprehensive 14-day Romantic Germany itinerary. After a tasting, guests explore the Rhine wine country on a day cruise; drive through the Bergstrasse region (known for its Rieslings) the next day; and stay for two nights in the Black Forest (800/468-2825; from $3,640 per person; twice-monthly departures through October 2). For a more specialized trip, get in touch with the German Wine Academy. Once a year this nonprofit group runs a guided tour of the Rhine and Moselle river valleys; the six-day package includes private estate tastings, cellar tours, and evening lectures (212/896-3336; from $1,280 per person; this year, October 3-9). When planning your trip, check out the German Wine Information Bureau's Web site (www.germanwineusa.org) to obtain info on festival dates and to order free maps and the excellent Vintners to Visit guides.
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