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Published: Saturday, 11/1/2008

Readers ask for travel advice

Today, it's all about the Bs: beer, Braunschweig, and Bonaparte.

And about a very special hotel, a hiking tour, and a question about a German city we've never ever been to.

Let's start with the beer.

Tim and Liz from Temperance are planning a European trip where they want to combine some long-distance hiking with some serious beer tasting.

As they lived in Bavaria many years ago, Germany is their first choice, but they're open to other suggestions. They are both fit, would like to hike about 10 miles a day - "hills no problem" - and have a preference for comfy digs and help moving luggage. Their stay will be 7 to 10 days.

After we recovered from the apparent beer/Temperance disconnect, our initial instinct was to recommend one of Britain's dozen National Trails.

We know, from personal experience, that they are all extremely well documented and waymarked with conveniently spaced accommodations along the route. Luggage transfer is available either through specialized companies or local taxi service.

Also, with the UK's increasing emphasis on "real ale" and micro-brews, there'd be no shortage of suds to try out at the end of a long day's hike.

When we posed the same question to some German ex-pats, however, they immediately went with Tim and Liz's first choice: Germany. They suggested the Bayerischer Wald (Bavarian Forest) region described in the Real Guide as "brilliant hiking country with well-marked paths of varying length and difficulty throughout the region."

It's an area that has literally hundreds of small breweries.

Two long distance possibilities stand out: the rather tough Nordliche Hauptwanderlinie from Furth im Wald to the Dreisselberg mountain that could be accomplished within the allotted time frame, and a shorter southern hike which traverses the lower hills of the Forest region near the Danube Valley going from Rattenberg to Kaltneck, which takes about five days.

Next up, Braunschweig, Germany. K.P will be visiting there and wants some ideas about what to do and see. She's also considering trips to Copenhagen, Berlin, and the Christmas market in Nuremburg.

Even though Braunschweig is one of Germany's oldest cities, it doesn't get much tourist attention In fact, it's often ignored in the guide books. Severely damaged in World War II, post-war planners apparently didn't do the best job of putting it back together again or combining new construction with old.

However, there are medieval squares, guild houses, and a 12th century cathedral plus enough museums, galleries, and other cultural offerings to keep any visitor busy.

To really see prime examples of early German architecture, K.P. should go to the nearby small towns of Wolfenbuttel and Celle, which both escaped the war pretty well unscathed. With a surfeit of half-timbered houses, old town squares, dazzling moated castles, and magnificent churches, it is medieval Germany come strikingly to life.

Both towns also have Christmas markets that might be preferable to the overcrowded Nuremburg scene.

Berlin, Bremen, and Hamburg are all within easy reach by train, but we'd leave faraway Copenhagen for another trip.

Finally, we're giving a four-thumbs-up recommendation to Bonaparte. No, not Napoleon, but the Auberge and Restaurant Bonaparte in Montreal.

We stayed there on our recent Canadian visit, and it was one of the best small hotels we've ever come across. What puts the Bonaparte (www.Bonaparte.com) at the top of our list isn't necessarily its superb location on the edge of Montreal's Old Town, the charm and refinements of its 30 rooms, or even the presence of a properly starred restaurant.

No, the icing on this hotel's "gateau" was the extraordinary efficiency, attitude, and plain "joie de vivre" that emanated from the hotel's front desk trio of Benjamin, Ann-Marie, and Michael. Nothing was too much effort, and their smiles were patently heartfelt.

The French have a word for it: "sympathique" or simply "sympa." And that's something not for sale at any price.



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