Q: We're traveling to two jazz festivals in Europe next summer, in The Hague, Holland, and Juan-les-Pins on the French Riviera. We would like to spend the week between them visiting a wine region and indulging in spa activities. We want deluxe hotel accommodations and to travel as stress-free as possible. Any ideas?
A: Evian, about 25 miles from Geneva on the French side of the lake, is the home of Royal Club Evian, a luxury hotel with a health and fitness spa. The hotel, which offers a full slate of spa treatments, is expensive; expect to pay more than $500 a night for two, including spa treatments. From Evian, you can explore the Swiss wine country near Geneva, famous for its chassalas and gamay grapes. Information: 011-33-4-50-26-85-00, www.royal-evian.com.
The spa town of Aix-les-Bains is even closer to the vineyards of the Rhone-Alpes region. The four-star Le Park Hotel is just a few steps from the town's famous thermal baths. Information: 011-33-4-79-34-19-19, www.aixlesbains.com/parkhotel.
You can take the train between the Netherlands and southern France, or you could fly, but you won't have the mobility to meander the wine roads unless you rent a car. Nice is about 800 miles from Amsterdam, but if you break up the trip by staying in the Rhone-Alpes region, it shouldn't be an onerous journey.
For general information, contact the French Government Tourist Office at 410-286-8310 or www.francetourism.com.
Q: My German uncle and his friends would like to hike for a week in the United States. They are looking for a package in which luggage is transported by vehicle and hikers walk from one town to another.
A: The inn-to-inn hiking tour, popular in Europe for some time, has been embraced more recently in the United States, specifically in New England and the West.These companies offer U.S. hiking trips with van support:
* The Wayfarers, which has been offering walking vacations in Europe since 1984, expanded in 1999 to the United States and New Zealand. Itineraries for six-day trips, which cost about $1,700 per person based on double occupancy, include the coast of Maine, the trails of New Mexico and the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Information: 1-800-249-4620, www.thewayfarers.com.
* Backroads (1-800-462-2848, www.backroads.com) offers six-day hiking trips to Vermont, Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Utah and Washington. Prices start at $998 per person, double.
* Timberline Adventures (1-800-417-2453, www.timbertours.com) offers 22 hiking itineraries throughout the West and in Alaska and Hawaii. Most trips are six days; average cost is about $1,400 per person, double.
* New England Hiking Holidays (1-800-869-0949, www.nehikingholidays.com) offers walking vacations in New England, the Blue Ridge, the Shenandoahs, five states in the West and Hawaii. It also offers trips to Europe and Canada. Walks in the United States range from three to seven days. Five-day trips start at about $1,000 per person, double.
Q: I am turning 30 in December and want to cruise the Greek Isles to celebrate. Do cruise lines go there at that time of year? I'm looking for something that won't break the bank.
A: Cruises of the Greek Isles tend to run to extremes: At one end there are the luxury cruises, such as Seabourne and Silversea, and at the other, economy lines such as Orient and Royal Olympic. Of the less expensive lines offering December cruises of the Greek Isles, I'd choose Renaissance Cruises. An 11-day vacation package, including round-trip air fare from New York, two nights' hotel in Athens, a five-day cruise from Athens to Crete, Rhodes, Kusadasi and Istanbul, and two nights' hotel in Istanbul, starts at $999, based on double occupancy. For an extra $280, you get five shore excursions. Information: Renaissance Cruises, 1-800-590-8863, www.renaissancecruises.com.
Many smaller ships and yachts also offer cruises of the Greek islands, but most operate June through October. For a list of companies that provide chartered yachts, contact the Greek National Tourist Organization, 212-421-5777.
I've waited long enough for this question to come my way (because it's a trip I'd like to make). So even though you haven't asked, here it is.
Q: I've heard that major sunspot activity will result in an incredible northern lights display in 2000 and 2001. Is there a place in North America where I can view this? Do tour groups offer aurora borealis trips?
A: Yes, 2000 and 2001 will be key years for viewing the aurora borealis because the solar flare cycle is at its peak. When Earth's magnetic field interacts with sunspot-enhanced solar winds, you get awesome displays of that great natural light show. For an almost sure thing, you'll have to travel to Fairbanks or Canada's Yukon, but there's a better-than-usual chance you'll be able to see the lights in northern Minnesota, Michigan, Maine or any other state that borders Canada. This past October, for example, a great sunspot erupted on Oct. 18 and, at 2 a.m. on Oct. 22, the aurora borealis was visible as far south as New York.
The best time to go is March or September. Tour groups offering northern lights trips include the Great Canadian Adventure Company (1-888-285-1676, www.adventures.ca), which offers several trips in Canada's Northwest Territories, and Alta-Can Tours (780-452-5187, www.altacan.ab.ca/winter/aurora.html), with a trip to Fort McMurray, north of Edmonton. Another option: Stay at the Chena Hot Springs Resort (1-800-478-4681, www.chenahotsprings.com), about 50 miles from Fairbanks. The resort has a cabin with full-length windows designed specifically for viewing the northern lights; aurora borealis-viewing tours into the nearby wilderness are conducted from the lodge.
Send queries by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), fax (202-334-1069) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071).