Based in Hebden Bridge

Elaine Simpson

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It's Nice To Meet You

My name is Elaine Simpson: I live in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire with my husband, Rod Bailey, who is a retired fine art lecturer.

My passion is Australia - I’ve been a Tourism Australia Aussie Specialist for many years, visiting over 20 times; plus I’m a New Zealand Kiwi specialist and an expert in Round the World journeys.

My 40+ years travel experience started in university travel offices which gave me an unrivalled knowledge of airline and rail routes and off-the-beaten-track destinations, as a lot of the students and lecturers came from, or travelled to, some far-out places!

In 1989 I started my own travel agency for independent travellers and was presented to HRH the Prince of Wales having won a competition for start-up businesses in the Calderdale area. Late in June 2008 I closed that business down and joined Travel Counsellors - the best decision I have made in my career.

I’ve travelled widely throughout Australasia, North America, Asia, Europe, Mexico and South Africa; have specialist accreditations also for Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai etc, so I can offer a comparable service to all regions with the extensive and highly professional support of Travel Counsellors.

Despite travelling extensively, my own wish-list never gets any shorter: in the past few years I have spent most winters in Tenerife and have visited India, Morocco, Australia, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Barbados, Mexico, Thailand, New Orleans: and I’ll go anywhere else given half a chance!

When I’m not booking travel, or travelling, I love to draw and paint and many of my pictures are inspired by the people and places I have met and seen along the way. When travelling I like to get off the beaten track and try out new experiences with a combination of action and relaxation and that is the kind of trip I excel in arranging. Therefore, whatever your idea of a good time, talk to me about it and together we’ll find the perfect trip for you!

There’s a place in everyone’s life for a little self-indulgence and hedonism - we all need times to chill out - whether you find it in 5-star luxury or in a simple beach hut, I’ll go that extra mile to find the perfect place for you to relax and recharge your batteries.

Whatever your travel needs I’d be delighted to help and can either meet you or arrange it via email or phone- so distance is no object in more ways than one!

I look forward to hearing from you.

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I absolutely live and breathe travel and I love to write about my experiences! Please take a look through my posts - you might find your own holiday inspiration.

Victoria Road-trip 2019

27 March 2021

Day 1 We arrived at Melbourne Tullamarine airport early afternoon then travelled cross-country to the Great Ocean Road, stopping for a late lunch in Forrest, a popular mountain-biking area with a superb brewery and café. At the coast we stretched our legs with a walk down the 86 Gibsons Steps to view rock stacks from the beach; then viewed sunset over the 12 Apostles - a magical experience. On the way to our hotel in Port Campbell the guide entertained us with tales of past human dramas along this Shipwreck Coast Day 2 After breakfast we were driven to the site of Wildlife Wonders for a preview of the attraction which will open the following year: it is a fascinating walk through native bushland looking for local wildlife with the help of the owner’s spotting dogs. The drive from here to Queenscliff is beautiful with panoramic views as the road winds along cliff tops, up breathtaking headlands, down to the edge of surf beaches, across river estuaries and through lush rainforests; I can see why the Great Ocean Road is such a popular iconic drive. In Queenscliff we take a ride on the Q Train, a restaurant on a train that travels along the historic Bellarine railway: it’s a lovely restored train and dining on board would be a great unique experience. Our own dinner date is at the Queenscliff Brewhouse – great pub grub within an easy walk of our accommodation. Day 3 We board the Searoad ferry for an 8am sailing to Sorrento on the other side of Port Phillip Bay: a sumptuous breakfast is served to us and the hour passes very quickly. This is a great way to link the Great Ocean Road with the Mornington Peninsula missing out the industrial areas around Geelong. We drive to Peninsula Hot Springs, a popular outdoor natural spa resort, regrettably not enough time to experience any of the thermal pools but it looks great and I’d love to go back. Next stop is the Arthurs Seat Eagle: a cable car with superb views over the State Forest with its numerous walking tracks. Our lunch-stop is at Jackalope Hotel, a stylish, contemporary hotel set amongst the vinyards at Willow Creek: superb local produce and a sampling of their wines. Next we called at Moonlit Sanctuary, to meet some of the 50 Australian indigenous species that live there, I do love to meet a koala! At Phillip Island we go directly to the Grand Prix Circuit, which hosts stages of the World Superbike Championship, Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix and V8 Supercar Championship; where you can enjoy the thrill of go-karts or hot laps in a HSV Holden. A go-kart race is organised for us and we all set off! It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I came last: I am definitely not a speed-freak, but they very kindly waited patiently for me to finish. Finally the Penguin Parade: where thousands of little penguins return from hunting and feeding out at sea, to their burrows in the sand dunes. There is a walk, along boardwalks constructed so that their routes are not obstructed, to the viewing platform where we look down onto their route from the beach, we’re very close but everything possible is done to shield the birds, no sound and no lights; and they are oblivious to our presence. They are tiny, only about 10 inches tall, and they rush back, chattering amongst themselves, calling to their mate to meet up and return to their own nest. A wonderful experience recommended to anyone who loves wildlife. Day 4 Breakfast on the bus during the journey to Wilsons Promontory, the most southerly point of the Australian mainland and a pristine wilderness environment, with a limited range of accommodation: many visitors bring tents or campervans; we will be staying in lodges or safari tents at Tidal River. We are here to check-out the new 2-hour wildlife cruise operated by Pennicot Wilderness Journeys: first we are kitted out in full-length waterproofs to withstand the conditions and then we’re off onto the ocean. Two hours sounds like a long time, but it was fantastic; there was so much to see and the guides were so knowledgeable that it passed in no time. We had dolphins swimming alongside, saw seals sliding down a huge rock face into the water – having a ball, it looked like really good fun; and even though it’s wasn’t the season we saw 2 or 3 whales; and birds – so many; and we circumnavigated Skull Rock, its cave large enough to house the Sydney Opera House. This was brilliant – another fantastic experience! No shops or restaurants on The Prom so all our food has been brought with us and we have a picnic lunch before taking a bushwalk to Squeaky Beach with a local guide. Up and over a ridge, then down to the beach, where the sand so fine that it really does squeak as you walk over it. A great way to spend an afternoon in this fabulous environment. Later we have a BBQ dinner and walking there in the dusk from our cabin we encounter many wandering wombats, foraging around in the undergrowth, they are numerous here but rarely seen in the daytime. Day 5 I’ve loved our short time on Wilson’s Prom, but it’s time to head back towards the city today, and I get the co-pilot’s seat next to the driver and thoroughly enjoy the scenic drive on these exceptionally quiet roads, I’m told it can get a bit busier at weekends as Melbourne dwellers head out there for some R+R. Driving to the Dandenongs and lunch on Puffing Billy a vintage steam train that regularly operates through this beautiful woodland setting: it’s less than an our from the city so easily done as a day trip. The final leg – we drive into Melbourne and check into our hotel for the last night of a fantastic trip, and we actually have a couple of hours of free time! The day ends with a flight (if that’s the right word) on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel, similar to the London Eye: superb views and a great way to orientate with the layout of the city while enjoying a glass of champagne and canapes. Day 6 Our last morning: we will leave for the airport at lunchtime, but meanwhile we take the Hidden Secrets Laneways and Arcades tour. I’d highly recommend this city tour, it’s a walking tour so not for everyone, but you get to see nooks and crannies that are known only to locals, to hear stories about the people and historic buildings, and the fabulous street art that changes constantly: such a vibrant vibe here – this tour gave me a whole new view of the city. Victoria is the perfect place for a road trip – so much to see and do within a short distance of Melbourne.

Australia - Corroboree 2019

06 December 2020

Corroboree is a huge event run by Tourism Australia every two years, which brings together Aussie Specialist travel agents from around the World with Australian tourism operators for over 100 face to face appointments over 3 full-on days and in 2019 it was held in Perth, WA. I travelled from Manchester with Singapore Airlines along with other travel agents on great flights with good connections. In Perth met the other members of the group – the Wombats – who I would be travelling with throughout the stay in Perth and afterwards on the road trip in Victoria, none of whom I had met before but they turned out to be a good bunch! Before the appointments start each group has a one-day familiarisation tour of Perth: we were taken to Fremantle via a short stop at Cottesloe Beach, one of 19 beaches in Perth! First stop in Freo was the prison: a fascinating tour telling us how 10,000 prisoners were transported from the British Isles, some for trivial crimes such as stealing a loaf. On arrival their first job was to build their own prison – now a World Heritage listed building; we learned how they lived and died there and how the conditions changed during its 140 years – not much! It was really interesting and well worth a visit. Lunch was right on the seafront, at Bathers Beach House a popular spot with locals, then we were off on tour again, with Two Feet and a Heartbeat Walking tour, taking us around the town to experience its laid-back ambience and catch more glimpses of its convict history. We ended the tour with a visit to Little Creatures Brewery on Fishing Boat Harbour, for a private tour and tasting. it started here but now is a much bigger company with brewhouses in other parts of Australia and even one in London, close to Kings Cross. I was interested in what they had to say about the processes and different methods for different beers, then there was the tasting: all excellent and something there to each person’s taste. It’s a great place for a visit, just for a drink, or for a meal: there’s a great range of menu choices: a really buzzing place to spend some time. I like Fremantle: it’s small and much more relaxed than the city of Perth and only about 20 minutes down the road by car, half an hour by train or just under an hour by the public bus; you can even use the ferry down the Swan River and listen to the commentary en route. That evening we were transported to the ‘welcome’ event , held on the lawns of Sandalford Winery on the Swan River: a beautiful location, very popular for weddings and other celebrations. It was good to meet up with old friends and new whilst sampling the great food and wine on offer. The three days of appointments followed: in groups of 3 to meet each operator to learn what’s changed since the last time and what's new on the scene – 40 a day! Each lunchtime there was a sit-down lunch provided, with some speeches and entertainment - this is what the Aussie’s do so well: it is awesome managing to feed so many people in such a short space of time with absolutely superb food. One lunchtime I was able to meet an ex-client for a good catch-up: he emigrated several years ago with my help and his family still book with me when they go to visit him. It’s so good to stay in touch. Each evening dinner and entertainments are laid on for us: the first night was a beach barbeque with fire-eaters and fireworks in City Beach; the second a casual finger-food evening at Embargo, a great restaurant overlooking the Swan River, and the final night should have been held on the Great Lawn at the Crown Perth, but it actually rained – a rare event in Perth - so was quickly re-arranged into one of the ballrooms in this huge hospitality and entertainment complex. The following day we would be off to the airport very early for our flight to Melbourne so I didn’t stick around too long, it was tempting but I need my sleep these days! A very busy, exciting, enlightening and useful few days and now I'm ready to experience more of what Australia has to offer in person.

Corroboree Gold Coast - October 2017

09 July 2019

In October 2017 I travelled to Brisbane to attend Tourism Australia’s Corroboree held on the Gold Coast. I travelled with Singapore Airlines: their economy seats are comfortable with more space than other airlines: 9 seats across instead of 10. Good food plus an entertainment system with a huge range of films, TV, music and games to keep you occupied on a long flight. Both flights were 100% full but it was a good journey with 2 hours in Singapore to stretch the legs. We stayed at the Star Gold Coast, a huge hotel within walking distance of the conference centre and the beach and on the first day we enjoyed some of the attractions of the area. Gold Coast Watersports at Broadwater for adrenaline-filled jet-ski, parasailing or jet boating: great fun was had by all! Southport Yacht Club, with views over the marina, hosted our lunch. Then on to Skypoint, the tallest building at 230m above ground and with 360 degrees views from the beaches to the hinterland. Here one group climbed to the very top of the tower for even more stunning panoramas; the other group had cuddles with resident koala Sir David (guess who he’s named after!) and took part in a painting session with a local aboriginal guide; followed by a delicious afternoon tea with bubbles. The evening welcome function was on Surfers Paradise beach where we were met by 2 giant bouncing kangaroos who escorted us into the marquees for a didgeridoo performance and welcome to country speech from the local aboriginal elder. Food and drink flowed, and it was great meet new friends and catch up with old ones. Corroboree is run by Tourism Australia every 2 years and brings more than 100 Australian tourism companies to meet 300 Aussie specialist agents from around the world. The agents, in groups of 3, meet each company for 10 minutes to learn about their products. We have around 30 meetings each day for 3 days and its hard work, but enjoyable too. After the meetings each evening, we are taken to a different venue for dinner, to experience the local hospitality and socialise with our colleagues. One night was a circus-themed event with street food stalls at the Burleigh Brewing Co; another was finger food and inspiring conversation from the lifeguards at Northcliffe Surf Life Saving Club, and the final night was held on the Pavilion Lawn at the Star Hotel, a popular venue for local weddings.

The Big Easy - July 2018

22 June 2019

The Big Easy or NOLA: a short action-packed 4 days. Day 1 Jazz brunch at the Court of Two Sisters in a secret courtyard. Fabulous food and service accompanied by clarinet, banjo and double bass, a great start. Our city tour guide tells it’s fascinating history: French, Spanish, American with large doses of unwilling Africans, willing Irish and enthusiastic Italians; a huge port with all the diversity that brings. A city of women, owning property and voting here long before anywhere else. A city of two religions: Catholicism and Voodoo an exhilarating mix! Parks and public spaces; unique burial rites, film locations, iconic musicians, sculpture parks - this beautiful city offers so much! Cookery demo at New Orleans School of Cookery: Harriet, a highly entertaining, bubbly senior citizen, tells tales of cooking for her large family and how to fill ‘em up. No moderation here: the dishes are rich: full of butter, cream, fresh local produce & spices. Great food, very filling and flavourful but dangerous! Then sampling the famous beignets at Café du Monde as if I hadn’t eaten enough already! Dinner at Dave & Busters, an all-American diner/games arcade/sports bar, popular in the US and great for families or stag groups: super games and machines to experience with screens everywhere showing different sporting events. Day 2 We head into the swamp: expecting nasty smells and mosquitoes – but no! The swamp is all the rainfall of North America slowly draining into the Gulf of Mexico, as it’s constantly moving mosquitoes can’t breed and its sweet water: a nice surprise. Our boat captain is a real character with interesting stories about the region and curious facts and figures about the wildlife and plants in the area, a great morning tour. Next Oak Alley Plantation – its grand house set in beautiful gardens by the Mississippi River, has been maintained intact, complete with farm and slave quarters plus its glorious 300-year-old oak alley, stories of the owners and slaves are lovingly displayed. Houmas House Plantation is similar but different. Privately owned and lived in by the owner: he’s kept many of the original features and added pieces from the period and added quirky touches to the house and gardens like murals in the entrance featuring his beloved dogs. Guides are in period costume and character, telling some great stories, helping to keep the place alive. Dinner is in the grand dining room, a splendid setting with very good food and wines. The bar where the owner meets his friends, locals and visitors has a very convivial atmosphere with modern artwork inspired by the region’s history. A lovely place to visit. Day 3 At the New Orleans Voodoo Museum my roommate (also Elaine!) and I were treated to a fascinating introduction to what voodoo is, and is not, by the flamboyant curator Madame Cinnamon Black. The museum rooms are packed with incredible exhibits and artwork: Elaine said that there were lots of parallels to her African childhood memories. I’d highly recommend a trip to this museum: try to get there at opening time as the full introduction only happens for first and last entries. Then we start an essential part of any fam-trip - hotel inspections. Hoteliers want to show agents their properties in the hope of attracting our clients to stay there: today we have 5 hotels to see. Sheraton New Orleans is a huge hotel on Canal Street. Very popular for conventions, it has a great lobby area, large and airy with loads of seating, bar and coffee areas, local artwork; a popular meeting spot. Wyndham New Orleans in the French Quarter on Royal Street: a homely hotel in a great location, with a good local restaurant and bar, the place to stay if you want to be in the heart of it but have a tighter budget. Hyatt Centric French Quarter New Orleans 5 star luxury in the heart of the French Quarter, with balcony rooms overlooking Bourbon St, there’s no better location to watch all of the action, especially during Mardi Gras, but you need to book early and have deep pockets. A gorgeous traditional building with fabulous amenities and the most central location. Maison Dupuy Hotel is at the quieter, residential end of the Quarter. Well worth the walk: a lovely boutique hotel, very distinctive and unique, a fabulous café bar with Toulouse Lautrec-style murals, a beautiful internal courtyard/pool area and comfortable lobby area. Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, one of the oldest and grandest hotels, very traditional and elegant building, with beautiful rooms and public areas in a superb location. All are unique: well located, have comfortable, clean rooms and now I have a contact at each I can ensure that my clients get the best service, whichever they choose. We ride in cycle rickshaw convoy to the jetty for the jazz cruise on the paddle-steamer Natchez on the Mississippi River. I helped my Dad to run his jazz club MadForTrad for 10 years, so this was a bit nostalgic. The band plays on the top deck and it’s piped around the ship: we were booked for dinner, surprisingly good food, but in the noisy dining room it was impossible to hear the music, so it would be better to dine before or after boarding the cruise. Off the boat we headed off to Frenchman’s Street where every other building is a music joint, mixed with craft markets and unique little shops. The Spotted Cat Club was recommended but it was standing room only, so those with younger legs stayed on and a small select group (with tired feet) went to the Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta Hotel to watch an excellent band whilst seated and drinking rather expensive, but delicious, cocktails. Day 4 Starts with a Royal Carriages French Quarter Tour: we board our ‘surrey with a fringe on top’ and are driven through the maze of small streets that make up the French Quarter. It’s a lovely leisurely journey and our guide is full of interesting facts and stories about his hometown: pointing out the Cornstalk Fence Hotel, where Elvis stayed whilst filming. Fritzels Jazz Pub for great music; and an old blacksmith shop still without electricity. Most enjoyable and when we get back to Jackson Square, we reward Moonshine, the mule, with carrots, which he loves. Later I go to Mardi Gras World, studios where all the floats and paraphernalia for the Mardi Gras parades are designed and made. It’s fascinating learning about the methods used and how the krewe system works, it’s so much more than a parade. Bye bye NOLA – I’ll be back!

Cruise around the Canaries

20 April 2021

Our cruise from Santa Cruz de Tenerife took us to La Palma, Madeira, Morocco, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria and back to Tenerife, all in a week in December 2018. First stop was the island of San Miguel de La Palma – La Isla Bonita is well named - it is very pretty and unspoilt. Criss-crossed by hundreds of kilometres of marked paths it is a heaven for walker; it doesn’t have the mass-market attractions of the better-known Canary Islands but there are now direct flights from Europe so that could change in the future. Our local guide was quite passionate about the local traditions so hopefully they will make an effort to maintain its nature. It’s a very mountainous live volcanic island: the last eruption was in 1971 and there are regular small-ish earthquakes but there have been no fatalities ever. They say it’s not dangerous because it’s all about the thickness of the earth’s crust there: they get lots of warning and can move to safe areas in good time. We climbed the volcan San Antonio, enjoyed a typical Canarian lunch concluding with local bananas, then toured some stunning locations with fabulous panoramic views. We learned that the island has several natural springs which provide all the water needed for agriculture but that it is hard labour, the land here is too precipitous to use machines for planting or harvesting so everything is done manually, but the volcanic soil is so fertile and the climate so mild that they can produce 3 harvests of most crops every year. A fascinating place and very beautiful: I loved it. Next stop was Madeira which we last visited about 25 years ago and what a difference! Fabulous new roads have been built: tunnelling through mountains and spanning valleys – an awesome achievement which makes reaching all regions of the island so much easier and safer for visiting drivers: our earlier experience on the old roads was really scary. The only flat-ish land is on the coast, where most of the hotels are located; the weather is mild and sunny throughout the year and the rain falls mainly on the higher land, making it a great place for winter holidays Today we were driven up into the mountains by an expert: Ricardo from Mountain Expeditions and he took us to places on roads that we wouldn’t have dared to attempt ourselves. Madeira is very steep: all the agricultural produce and building materials have to be carried, mainly on the shoulders, they don’t even use donkeys and many of the dwellings don’t have roads, just footpaths, so they are largely hidden, a great advantage in the days of the Conquistadors, when the locals could hide from, and limit supplies to, the invaders. It’s a hard life but not a harsh one: the volcanic soil is fertile and the climate mild year-round, so food is easy to grow and there is plenty of water, which is channelled around the island in levadas to irrigate the terraced farmland: these make wonderful footpaths so it is popular with walkers. A beautiful island and certainly worth a return visit. The journey from Madeira to Morocco was long, so there was a day of relaxation on the ship and the following day our stop in Morocco took us to Agadir very early in the day. It’s quite a modern seaside resort with the ruins of the ancient fortress on the outskirts, we watched the sun come up from the fortress and then visited the market, but a bit too early for shopping. Next stop was Tourandant, an inland walled city which is a centre for buying and selling local produce from the outlying areas, the market here was amazing, buzzing with activity and crowded with mountains of beautiful fresh produce. En route we had enjoyed a typical Moroccan lunch in a Berber tented restaurant within a beautiful garden setting. This was an interesting day, but long, with a lot of coach travel and we were tired when we got back to the ship. Lanzarote, our next stop, was interesting too: it was my first visit to this volcanic island so we took a tour of the island. The café, theatre and lake within an old lava tube at Jameos del Aqua was fascinating and I’d love to see a performance there. Then we saw numerous examples of their peculiar form of agriculture: because there is so little water on the island and some serious winds they coax plants into life in some very strange ways. A tour of the lava fields followed with a demonstration of the incendiary nature of the gases released by the volcanoes, which was pretty dramatic! Sadly we didn’t get a chance to visit Puerto del Carmen, which looked really nice as we passed through, so I’ll just have to go back again! Our final stop was Las Palmas de Gran Canaria where we took a walking tour with Urban Adventures: just the two of us with a local guide who took us to breakfast like the locals – the best churros in town with leche leche coffee; then we strolled around town and along Las Canteras Beach – one of the best inner-city beaches I have seen anywhere, making it perfect for a city break – the best of both worlds! She told us lots of stories about people and customs, the best places to eat, drink, chat, dance with the locals and by chance we came upon a folklore group dancing, singing and playing in the main square – an unexpected pleasure, I could have watched all day. We picked up picnic supplies for lunch then were joined by another tourist for the afternoon walk: through residential areas, to the beaches the locals use, then back to town where we saw an international exhibition of Christmas sand sculptures: a lovely walk which gave us an alternative view of this great city: a memorable day with great company! Returning to Santa Cruz and our winter home on Tenerife we looked back on the week: it was a great way to see lots of new places in a short time without the need to unpack and pack each day; our cabin was well appointed with a balcony and all mod cons; the food and service in the main restaurant was good; but this was a ‘family’ cruise and the style didn’t really suit us, the buffet restaurant was too hectic with food to please kids; the entertainment to was generally loud and kid-centric, not to our taste except for one lone guitarist who we followed between venues. It was a Spanish cruise company and obviously popular with local families and it gave us the opportunity to visit other islands without having to travel far from home; so all-in-all a success.

Return to Thailand March 2018

19 April 2018

IIn March 2018 I was fortunate to travel to Thailand with 24 other Travel Counsellors. We flew with Emirates. The flights were great: ample leg-room, good food, wide range of complimentary drinks, superb entertainment system with films, TV, radio, music and games which kept me occupied for the whole journey. Arriving late, our first stop was the roof-top bar at the Centara Grand Ladprao where we all got to know each other – most had never met - but it didn’t take long to break the ice. Our guide, Anun, kept us fully informed about all things Thai on the trip to the river, he even sang the National Anthem, which, he said, is done every day at 8am by all Thai citizens! Boarding long-tail boats we cruised the Chao Prang River, viewing temples and other precincts before going through a lock into the klongs (canals) - it's another world, a peaceful residential area with small quirky dwellings, hanging gardens, small row-boats for transport, dogs sleeping on verandas and old men pottering about. Nothing like the hectic, noisy, hustle and bustle of the modern high-rise city. Returning to the main river we visited the Royal Barge Museum where there are richly decorated ceremonial barges built by past kings and then Wat Arun - the temple of Dawn, a beautiful spiritual site which dates from antiquity. That evening we went to Asiatique, an area of old riverside warehouses which has been re-invented as a huge night market with bars, restaurants, street-food stalls, and other entertainments including the Muay Thai boxing show. We explored the shops, then my little group sat with a beer to watch the world go by before enjoying street food –Pad Thai from a truck which was excellent and very cheap. Then it was the Muay Thai show - the first half is a choreographed dramatic history of the sport, followed by two demonstration bouts by young boxers. Back to the hotel for a final night-cap after a marvellous, action-packed day with a great bunch of people who were strangers yesterday and have quickly become friends. The next day we travelled south to Hua Hin, a seaside resort favoured by Thai royalty, where we stayed at the Centara Grand, formerly the 1920's Railway Hotel, very stylish and evocative of that era. The main building is surrounded by lovely mature gardens, with a separate area of villas with pools - a lovely hotel and very popular. We had a buffet dinner around the pool accompanied by Thai music and dancing, then later ventured out into the town. Someone managed to choose just about the wildest bar in the place - the Panama; fortunately I was designated the handbag attendant and was spared too much of the excitement! The third day was the best so far – our Thai cookery course. First we toured Hua Hin’s 100 year old market to buy the food and our guide Dominique introduced us to all kinds of familiar and unfamiliar foodstuffs, leading us through the sights, sounds and scents of this colourful place. At the cookery school the fun starts, we watched Dom make the curry paste and joined in with the bashing and grinding, then, after a demo of the right way to do it, we each made our own lunch: Penang Chicken curry, followed by Tom Yum soup with shrimp, both very yummy and surprisingly filling. Pudding is provided: jack fruit (tastes a bit like mango but rubberier) with two kinds of sticky rice. I really enjoyed this experience and I’ll be practicing the skills at home! We also visited another excellent beachside hotel; the Anantara Huan Hin and after a site inspection we are provided with a buffet dinner on the beach accompanied by gentle Thai percussion music – a beautiful location and very popular for weddings. We left for the 3-4-hour drive to Katchanburi, and boarded long-tail boats for transfer up the river to our hotel, the Resotel, quite a simple hotel but with all mod-cons. After checking in we travelled further up the river to the River Kwai Jungle Rafts – a very simple hotel built on rafts floating on the river, with no electricity or WIFI and small private bathrooms fed by unheated water. I had stayed here 14 years earlier and had loved it, one of the most relaxing places I ever stayed: swinging in a hammock with the river rushing past is very soothing. We were here to visit the Mon village – the inhabitants are exiles from Myanmar and live here while working in the riverside hotels. The village is built from bamboo and they have a school, temple, shop etc and maintain their traditional way of life. It is larger than on my last visit but still no electricity: everything that doesn’t grow here has to be transported by river so that limits what can be done. Previously they had elephants here but now only one remains: a middle-aged matron called Wendy, with a voracious appetite for bananas. We returned on bamboo rafts floating down the river, very peaceful and soothing, until half of the group jump into the river and, amid much hilarity, float along buoyed up by their life-jackets. After dinner there was a song and dance performance by the Mon Villagers theatre group which was fascinating. The next morning, we visited the Death Railway museum and walked down the Hell Fire Pass: a very moving experience. The numbers of people who died on constructing this stretch of railway line and the privations they suffered is truly awful. Our final hotel was the Centara Grand at Centralworld, right in the centre of Bangkok. The facilities here are excellent: superb roof-top bars and restaurants with some of the best views in the city, and always busy as they are very popular with locals as well as tourists. This evening we ventured out into Bangkok at night in a convoy of 11 tuk tuks: a slightly mad race, at times with police motor-cycle outriders and at one junction the police stopped all the traffic so that we could all go through together. I'm very impressed that Travel Counsellors’ tour partners in Thailand were able to arrange this for us! Our first stop was Chinatown where we ate in a local canteen – very busy, very noisy, very chaotic and pretty basic but the food was fresh and good. Then back into the tuk tuks for another race to Patpong night market for souvenir-hunting and serious people watching - an education in more ways than one! The last day was our last chance to see it, snap it, do it, ride it, eat it, buy it. Many of my new friends did just that but I did something that I have rarely done on my travels – sat by the pool and chilled out! It was lovely. Bye-bye Thailand, it’s been a real pleasure.

Top End of the Northern Territory, Australia November 2007

15 February 2018

In November 2007 I travelled to the top end of the Northern Territory en route to Perth for Corroboree with a group of Aussie specialist travel agents. We started with an overnight stay in Darwin, the smallest and most tropical of Australian cities, where we were taken on a city tour to acclimatise, ending the day with a spectacular sunset over the sea. Then we toured: first going to Litchfield NP, viewing amazing termite mounds, swimming at the beautiful Florence Falls, and visiting other great swimming spots. We then travelled on to Kakadu where we stayed overnight before viewing aboriginal art sites, cultural centre, gallery and walking in the fabulous countryside, the day was rounded off with sunset viewing at Yellow Waters Billabong – a magical experience. The following day we returned to Yellow Waters for a cruise to view the wildlife: after a friendly warning to keep all parts of the body inside the boat we set off and saw lots of crocodiles up close, and a huge variety and quantity of birdlife – abundant is too small a word! The best part of the trip for me was our trip the next day to the Tiwi Islands: we flew on small aircraft and had to be weighed to distribute the loads evenly! On arrival we were met by our guide Harry and his fellow islanders: the ladies showed us their face-painting – each person has his or her own design which is unique to them, like a signature; then a smoking ceremony was performed to welcome us to their country. We were then taken to the artists community studio where we met some of the artists and could buy examples of their work; some of which are highly-prized and are shipped all over the World to collectors. I loved the building which was covered on every surface with designs and artwork, and it was great to watch the artists working; I bought a T-shirt printed with flying fox designs and I still have it and still wear it 10 years on - excellent quality! Our picnic lunch was taken in the bush by a billabong and some of us took the opportunity to swim and cool down: this pool is fed by a cold-water spring and it is too cool for crocs – at least that is what we were told, and no-one did get eaten! After lunch we visited the school and church and learned about the WW2 history – these islands were the front-line during the Japanese bombing of Darwin and there were many tales of heroism by the local people. All too soon we had to fly back to Darwin after this memorable day with people who continue to live their traditional culture, although with selective input from the mainland: for instance, they are absolutely fanatical about Aussie Rules Football; and their sales of artwork bring in valuable resources to the community. I really enjoyed seeing the best of the Top End of Northern Territory and can heartily recommend it as a destination.

Swimming with Whale Sharks - June 2012

11 January 2018

In June 2012 I was one of a group of 21 who travelled to the Ningaloo Reef before attending the Australian Tourism Exchange in Perth as part of the Tourism Australia UK delegation. The Ningaloo Reef is Australia’s largest fringing coral reef, and in places is only 100 metres from the shore, making snorkelling from the beach an easy option: it also has a vast array of some of the world’s most iconic marine creatures, such as the largest fish in the sea - the whale shark. After a day in Perth, getting to know each other, experiencing the joys of the Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle and staying at Sullivan’s Hotel (a favourite with British visitors) we flew to Learmonth airport, close to Exmouth. Our stay was at Novotel Ningaloo, located on Sunrise Beach in Exmouth: the perfect location to explore the natural wonders of the Ningaloo Marine Park and Cape Range National Park, and with a great restaurant – Mantarays, which overlooks the marina. The first day we joined a whale shark discovery tour operated by Ocean Eco Adventures. From April to July the largest fish in the sea, the gentle giant, the whale-shark, is in this area, feeding on the plankton and heading north to their breeding ground. Not a lot is known about their life-cycle, so the tour company gathers information for scientific surveys, and have permission to take groups of swimmers into the water to swim with them and manta-rays. You need to be a strong swimmer to keep up and we were advised about the group discipline and hand signals, so as not to disturb the fish. I’m not a strong swimmer so I stayed on the boat while about half of the group kitted up and enjoyed the swim which was videoed by the group leader. However, I didn’t miss out: as I looked over the side a whale shark, with its mouth open wide to feed, swam towards the boat just below the surface and only dived down as it came very close; it was probably about 10-foot-long, an absolutely awesome sight. The swim-group told me later that I possibly got a better sighting than they did as the water on that day was quite murky. A fantastic experience and highly recommended, whether you can swim or not, A great day out with a superb lunch and other refreshments provided. The boat moves to other locations out of season: Coral Bay from July to October for humpbacks, turtles, dugongs and dolphins; and Dunsborough in the South West from December to March for dolphins and seals. The following day we travelled to Coral Bay to stay at the Ningaloo Reef Resort for two nights. Coral Bay is an interesting place: very simple and unspoilt and a favourite with Aussies holidaying in campers, caravans and cabins at the Bayview Resort next door to our hotel. On the way there we were taken on a safari tour of the Cape Ranges National Park, including viewing the turtle hatcheries (unoccupied at this time of year) and drift snorkelling at Turquoise Bay. The following day was a relaxed sailing experience aboard Sail Ningaloo's Shore Thing, a luxury live-aboard catamaran for a maximum of 10 guests; a beautiful vessel and I would have loved to stay longer. In the afternoon we boarded a glass-bottom boat from the beach for coral viewing and it was fascinating to see all the different shapes and colours of the coral and all the creatures that live amongst it. It was a really interesting few days in this beautiful, unspoilt part of Australia, an area that’s well worth including in any trip to Western Australia.

Puerto de la Cruz - the other side of Tenerife

31 March 2017

Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife – my second home. About 15 years ago we first visited Puerto for some relief from the relentless grey of the British winter. First a long weekend, then a week, then 10 days: each year it got longer and longer. Around 5 years ago we realised that, with Travel Counsellors fantastic technology and better broadband than at home in Cragg Vale, it’s just as easy for me to work there as it is in the UK and as my husband is retired there was nothing stopping us. So, we tested the water and rented an apartment with broadband for 3 months from February to April and realised within 10 days that it was going to work for us. We signed up for the apartment for the whole of this winter and we’ll be doing the same next. If you call me and get a ‘funny’ ringtone don’t worry, let me answer I’ll take your number and then I’ll call you back. I travel back to the UK every 6 weeks or so on business and I’m in the UK throughout the summer so if you want to meet me that’s still possible. Puerto is on the north coast of the island and much more traditionally Spanish than the custom-built resorts in the south. The geography of the island (a high mountain ridge runs from North-East to south-west, peaking at El Teide, the highest mountain in Spain) together with the prevailing winds from the west, mean that the north gets much more rain than the south and is very verdant, lush and green. It’s where most of the food is grown and it houses the Botanical Gardens where the conquistadors brought back plants from South America to acclimatise before taking them to the mainland. The south is more favoured by holidaymakers because it’s much sunnier and rain is less frequent, so if you’ve only got a week or two to soak up the sun that’s the place to be. However, it’s a bit of a desert outside of the resorts. We don’t mind a bit of rain (after all we live in the wettest part of the UK); we love the gardens, being able to walk every day and see something different in bloom each time; and the simple life in Puerto suits us. The town is very steep, every road leading down to the harbour, but there is a coastal strip which is very level, containing many of the best hotels and is wheelchair accessible so even the less physically able can enjoy a holiday here. It has great bus services too so you can get to the capital Santa Cruz, many of the outlying villages and right up to the El Teide cable-car very easily using the Titsa Ten+ bus pass So next time you visit the Canaries take a look at Puerto de la Cruz, I love it and I think you might too.

Blue Mountains and Beyond - April 2013

11 February 2017

8 Aussie specialists arrived very early in Sydney. We were whisked off by bus via the Coathanger - Sydney Harbour Bridge, raising a huge cheer from the group! In the Blue Mountains we travelled to Leura, a little village with interesting shops including Bygone Beauties Teapot Museum - the largest private collection of teapots in the world. There were over 3,500 spanning three centuries in a wonderfully packed curio shop which is also a tea-room. Their homemade Devonshire Tea was yummy! At Echo Point is Waradah Aboriginal Centre: an excellent show with explanations of weapons and artefacts, then a superb dance demonstration with audience participation: I make a fairly good emu I'm told! Lunch is at Lilianfels Resort & Spa: a great favourite with British visitors. In a heritage building overlooking the beautiful garden, each unique bedroom is cottage style and the whole house has a cosy, homely ambience. Adjoining is Echoes Boutique a small, beautifully intimate hotel: only 14 guest rooms all with fabulous views over the Jamieson Valley. It's a great place for that special holiday – honeymoons and anniversaries are understandably popular here. Next stop is Scenic World, one of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions. with Skyway – a huge cable-car that goes right across the valley offering amazing photo-opportunities. There are walks through the Jurassic rainforest, a cableway going right down into the valley plus the steepest railway in the Southern Hemisphere. This is seriously scary, too scary to get the camera out – kids love it! The Blue Mountains can be done as a day trip from Sydney, but I’d recommend staying over at least one night. After an action-packed first day in Australia we arrive at the Fairmont Resort: a family-friendly resort which is attached to a championship golf-course. Finally, a long, deep, satisfying sleep - I certainly need it after around 48 hours since I last awoke at home! Deeper into the Blue Mountains, in a secluded private valley is Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort. It is one of the most exclusive and luxurious hotels in Australia and proudly 100% carbon neutral with staff who are passionate about maintaining that balance. We are all impressed by the villas with private plunge pools which open up to the elements, the beautiful spa treatment rooms and the very elegant but understated public areas. All rates are fully inclusive and it’s such a fabulous, relaxing, beautiful place that it’s great value for people with busy, hectic lives to retreat, relax, recharge and revive. Beyond the Blue Mountains is Orange: a beautiful region which is enjoying a growing reputation for rare and exotic food and wine, thanks to its cool climate and rich volcanic soils. At Mandagery Creek Deer Farm we enjoyed a lovely lunch of local produce cooked by our hosts in their farm kitchen, accompanied by a variety of Philip Shaw wines grown on the highest vineyard in Australia and presented to us by Philip’s son Daniel who has purple hands from handling the grapes! It’s a real hands-on business! Before leaving we meet ‘the girls’ – some of the does from the herd including Stephanie, who was hand-reared and loves to be petted! Arriving after dark at the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo we check into our Zoofari accommodation: well-appointed canvas-sided lodges with under-floor heating! An alternative for families is Billabong Camp. I wake to the sound of lions roaring! Up early to hand-feed the giraffes and white rhino, then a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo where passionate and dedicated staff and volunteers do valuable work on captive breeding programmes to improve the chances for endangered species. The zoo covers a huge area: visitors can self-drive or hire golf buggies or bikes. Zoofari is a super experience that I’d be happy to recommend to visitors. We visit the Western Plains Cultural Centre – a purpose-built arts centre where I spend a happy hour looking at very varied exhibitions: light installations; portrait collages, botanical drawings and aboriginal artworks; on site too is a theatre plus a museum of Dubbo life. All very impressive - there’s more to Dubbo than I thought! Anzac Day and we’re off to the pub to play Two Up! Lunch at the Macquarie Inn – like in the UK, pub grub is great value, and this being a public holiday the place is buzzing! Out back the Two Up square is in action – this gambling game dates back to WW1 and is illegal every day other than Anzac Day, so they make the most of it. It’s loud, very good-natured and the Brits get a big cheer when 2 of our party take a turn as spinner. Back at the Zoo more treats await us – cheetahs, lions, Galapagos turtles (with a tiny baby just 4 inches long), Przewalski's horses, meerkats and more, followed by a nocturnal tour of the grounds. I often recommend clients to visit the Blue Mountains but hadn’t realised what great experiences lie beyond: Orange and Dubbo are places worth visiting, to see the real Australia and meet real Australians.

Kangaroo Island, South Australia - May 2015

30 December 2016

Kangaroo Island, Australia’s third largest island at around 155 kilometers long, lies off the South Australian coast south of Adelaide. It has only 4,000 inhabitants, most of whom are farmers, fishermen or otherwise occupied in food or beverage production and it’s a pristine environment with clean air, a few empty roads and a fabulous mix of farmland and wildlife. The ferry goes from Cape Jervis at the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula to Penneshaw and we have a nice calm crossing. The wildlife-spotting starts as soon as we land! On the drive to our hotel, our driver points out distinctive dark brown kangaroos grazing on the hillside, much darker than their cousins on the mainland. We are spending the first night at the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge in American River, right on the coast overlooking the sea and we have a lovely meal in their Reflections restaurant before retiring for the day. First full day on Kangaroo Island and we’re ready for adventure! Our guides from Kangaroo Island Wilderness Tours pick us up early and we split into 2 small groups, pile into the 4WDs and we have ourselves a convoy! After an interesting drive across the island often on dirt roads, spotting lots of wildlife along the way, our first stop is Seal Bay. You have to stay on the boardwalks over the dunes if you’re alone, but as we have a guide we can walk right onto the beach where the sea lions are basking. On the walk down we pass a mother and suckling cub right next to the path, totally unconcerned by our presence. On the beach, you’re not allowed to approach within 10 meters of the animals but if they approach you that’s OK! We all hold our breath when a very young pup passes within 3 meters of us and flops down into the sand for a nap. These sea lions spend 3 days out at sea hunting and feeding 24 hours a day without sleep so when they return to the beach for 3 days it’s no wonder that almost all they want to do is rest, although there is a bit of sporadic horseplay amongst the juveniles – just like teenagers! After creeping about at Seal Bay, so as not to disturb the inhabitants, we were ready for a bit of action and excitement. So off to Vivonne Bay to K.I. Outdoor Action: they have quad biking, kayaking, sandboarding and mountain-biking adventures for all ages and experience. My group is quad-biking and it’s fantastic: a great range of terrain and speeds, really exhilarating! K.I. Wilderness Tours have provided us with a home-cooked picnic lunch of chicken and salads accompanied by the local wine which we enjoy on the porch of Rustic Blue Art Gallery and Café, located out in the bush and surrounded by beautiful sculpture gardens with a bevy of resident kangaroos. The gallery closes for the winter while the owners, both artists, go motorcycle touring around the world. Well-fed and watered we travel to the center of the island, Parndana, to visit K.I. Wildlife Park; where orphaned and injured animals are cared for until they can be returned to the wild. We met 2 orphaned joeys: one very inquisitive but the other just burrowed down inside the blanket; then we met Chloe the Koala: so placid and more than happy to be cuddled by the whole group. There are kangaroos and wallabies of all kinds here, including 2 albino wallabies that couldn’t survive in the wild as they are blind; plus many more animals and birds that need a little help, some temporarily, some permanently. At the end of our first fabulous day on Kangaroo Island we are treated to drinks and nibbles watching the sunset at Seascape Lodge; a beautiful end to a superb day, thanks to Mandy and Paul, the owners. Day 2 on K.I. – more seals today at Admirals Arch, this is where they come to pup, so there are lots of oohs and aahs! This region has very rough seas and is renowned for its shipwrecks. We then travel a bit further along the coast to Remarkable Rocks – a natural rocky outcrop which has been shaped by the elements into remarkable shapes – very sculptural: think of a fusion of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, a great place. Today’s lunch is a gourmet picnic at a rest area in the bush and while our guides set the tables and start the BBQ we wander off to spot koalas in the trees; they’re quite difficult to see because their colouring camouflages them against the eucalypts, but once you get your eye in you see that there are loads of them hanging around, just chillin’. On to Hansons Bay Wildlife sanctuary spotting more wildlife – no cages, just animals in the wild in a protected environment: koalas, echindas, kangaroos and all kinds of other critters. Later we visit Southern Ocean Lodge: one of the most exclusive hotels in Australia, in a fabulous setting with all the rooms overlooking the sea, none can be seen from another and the décor is beautiful. Fabulous bar/lounge area, superb spa facilities and extraordinary dining options: it’s truly luxurious. Unfortunately, we can’t stay and are driven to our rather more modest but very nice, hotel for our last night in K.I. Day 3 and our last on K.I – a day filled with flavours, scents, and tastes. After a short walk at Pennington Bay we visit local artist Janine Mackintosh in her studio home where she creates lovely pictures from leaves and seeds that she finds in the bush; her husband Richard Glatz also shows us his etymology collection, which is quite fascinating. Next stop is Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery: seems like a small business but their products are exported worldwide. Then on to a secluded bushland clearing for another fantastic gourmet lunch cooked for us by our guide: it really is amazing what these guys can rustle up in the most unlikely of settings! Then an afternoon of delights: first stop The Islander winery to sample their range of wines. Then on to K.I. Pure a sheep farm which produces great cheeses and yogurts. Finally stop is at KIS for a gin-tasting! We couldn’t fit in the honey producers – had a plane to catch back to Adelaide! What wonderful place Kangaroo Island is!

Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia - April 2015

28 December 2016

Day 1 On our first day, we were picked up by Ben Neville from Off-Piste Tours, our local guide to this beautiful, unspoilt region, less than an hour’s drive south of Adelaide. First stop was for our second breakfast of the day, of freshly-baked artisan bread, superb local cheese, and a snifter of local wines overlooking a stunning beach totally empty but for a couple of locals walking the dog. A tour of the coast showed us miles of similarly unspoilt beaches and ended with an exhilarating drive along the beach at Silver Sands. This region is awash with wineries and our lunchtime stop was to be in McLaren Vale but en-route Ben took us to his family home to meet his Mum and sample their very own wine – a very creditable Shiraz. The house is an old buttery in a lovely location and the wine cellar has been converted from the original water tank, which was carved out of the rock. This area is so peaceful and rural, and yet within commuting distance of Adelaide - we’d seen so much already and it wasn’t yet lunchtime! Our lunchtime stop was at d’Arenburg wines in McLaren Vale, a winery established over 100 years ago, producing wines from a huge variety of grapes and still run by the grandson of the founder, Charlie Osborn. An introduction to the history of the winery was followed by a tasting of several varieties, sadly we didn’t have time to blend our own – a popular activity with visitors to the cellar door. Our picnic lunch, curries and breads produced for us by a local chef, was taken on the lawn outside the cellar door and very good it was too! After lunch, we travelled to Victor Harbour to take a Big Duck boat tour out to an island where seals bask and sea-birds nest. Crossing the harbour, we were joined by dolphins, which come very close to the boat, though no pictures I’m afraid as I was too excited watching them to take pictures. There was a small girl, about 5 years old, on board: She was making dolphin sounds and I swear they were coming to her calls, it was uncanny! Best dolphin boat experience ever! As if we hadn’t seen and done enough during our first day, our next stop was Waitpinga Farm for an exhilarating quad bike adventure. This is a working farm and we were met by the owner Kev and a sheep that thinks it’s a dog - it must have been hand-reared as it’s as demanding as a puppy! After kitting up we were led to our vehicles; being a wimp I was a bit scared but after a couple of turns around the paddock steering around obstacles and up and down inclines, we were off and it was great fun! We rode all over the farm, through all kinds of terrain and were very mucky when we got back, but we all enjoyed it. Not a game to play while wearing white though! We arrived at our accommodation for the night – Beach Huts at Middleton. These are not like British beach huts, more like chalets in a village setting with tennis courts and gardens, close to the beach and beautifully decorated with a living area, kitchen and bathroom. Each hut had its own private patio and was individually themed for a different region of Australia. The on-site Blues Restaurant served us a magnificent dinner and we all went to bed well fed and exhausted after a very long day. Day 2 On our second day, we travelled the short distance to Goolwa at the mouth of the mighty Murray River and from where we would canoe the Coorong – a protected wetland area with a chain of saltwater lagoons sheltered by dunes, stretching for 130 km. It was a very calm and sunny morning, a great day for paddling out to the dunes for morning tea and a walk in the sand. On the way back, we had a helpful shove from the current as the tide turned! There is a huge amount of wildlife here, especially birds as the lagoons provide shelter and food. After physical exercise there was a need to replace lost fluid, so the next stop was – a brewery! The Steam Exchange Brewery is a micro-brewery on the wharf at Goolwa. With a lovely sunny patio outside, it’s a great place to relax and the beers are good too! They also distil their own ‘Scotch’ and a dangerous liquor called ‘Moonshine’ only to be consumed in small quantities, responsibly and amongst friends! In the afternoon, we were catching the ferry to Kangaroo Island so, we drove to Cape Jervis for the Sealink crossing to Penneshaw, stopping only for fish and chips at the Flying Fish Café, on the beach at Port Elliot – a lovely location and excellent food. The Fleurieu Peninsula is a lovely, unspoilt area of South Australia and well worth spending some time here on the way to or from Kangaroo Island.

Corroboree 2015 - Adelaide, South Australia

28 December 2016

Every couple of years, the event of Corroboree is held by Tourism Australia, in a different city each time, for several hundred European travel agents to meet around 100 Australian tourism suppliers and learn all about what they offer to the travelling public. In 2015, it was held in Adelaide and I was chosen as one of the UK delegates: We travelled with Singapore Airlines, with a day seeing the sights of Singapore before travelling overnight to arrive in Adelaide on the morning of 25th April – Anzac Day – a huge day in Australian life. To keep us awake after such a long journey, we went straight into a treasure hunt around the city, made even more exciting and interesting by the Anzac Day parade, with marchers from all the armed forces and from all over Australia. Sadly, I don’t have any photos as my camera was in my stored luggage and my phone, after the epic journey, was totally flat; but I have some fabulous memories of people met and stories shared. We had been organised into groups, allocated a hotel and a name – we were the Kangaroos and our mascot Rolf was to go everywhere with us. We had a day before the main event started and a trip to the Barossa Valley had been organised – less than an hour’s drive from Adelaide. Brim full of wineries, some very familiar, some less so and we visited three (all in the cause of business, you understand) Firstly, Penfolds where we had an opportunity to blend our own wine with Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro grapes: mine was lovely and I named it The Perfection (Aussie wines often have ‘The’ in front of the name – The Grange, The Freedom, and so on, and it seemed an honourable tradition to follow!) Then, we called at Langmeils, a small winery which uses all the traditional methods. I had been here around 14 years before and had tasted and been able to afford to buy a bottle of The Freedom, which is made from an ancient vine. In the nature of things its yield is less as the years go by, but the quality gets better, so The Freedom is no longer on the tasting list and I couldn't even dream of buying a bottle this time! Last stop was Jacobs Creek, which is huge, and where we had a tour of the growing areas and the production process. They have a great visitor centre and regular tours and you can hire bikes to tour the area. A marvellous day out and not too squiffy at the end of it! Corroboree The main event of Corroboree is three days of meetings, catching up with old contacts and meeting new ones, learning about new products and initiatives, and generally being steeped in all things Oz. No pictures – I’m sure you really don’t want to see 100 tables with graphic displays. They’re long days and hard work but very rewarding and at the end of each day we are entertained and fed and watered in true Aussie style. The first night was at the iconic Adelaide Oval with finger food and pop-up music. The highlight of the night for me was a slightly scruffy youth in T-shirt and jeans leaping up on a platform, looking like a pub karaoke singer, then launching into Nessun Dorma – as good as Pavarotti! The second night was a silver service dinner by The Ghan train, which travels between Adelaide and Darwin and was in town between journeys. Three courses were served on the station platform next to the train, before we had a look at the facilities on the train itself; I was able to catch up with my Premier Aussie specialist mates there, which was great. The third and final night was at the Lion Hotel, a popular venue in North Adelaide. It’s a large, rambling pub with lots of interesting corners: acoustic music playing in one, a rock band playing in another, nooks and crannies to talk and say thanks and goodbyes to friends, and food of all kinds being served throughout. A superb, jammed-packed, few days in Adelaide - no time for jet-lag, I was moving too fast! Next stops: Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island with my Kangaroo family and Rolf.

Yorkshire with Great Rail Journeys

03 May 2021

I had heard good things about this company and I have some clients who really like to travel by rail, so when I heard about this short famtrip I wanted to experience their services; and despite living in Yorkshire I was successful and joined the group, most of whom had never been to God’s Own County. We each arrived separately in Harrogate where we stayed for 2 nights at the Holiday Inn a very good, central hotel, large enough to cater for groups. On the first day we travelled by rail to York where a local guide took us on a walking tour around part of the walls and provided lots of local and historical information including taking us through the older parts of the city, pointing out some of the haunted bits and the stories about them. Afterwards we had some free time to explore before travelling to Ingrow to board the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway to Oxenhope: I know this area well as it’s just over the hill from my home in Hebden Bridge, but the engineering museum was fascinating and I learnt a great deal more about the railway and the area. A visit to the Bronte Museum at Haworth Parsonage followed, with fascinating insights into the life and times of that famous family, followed by a wander around the quaint town with its unique shops. On the second day we travelled by coach to Whitby, a fishing village on the coast with reputedly the best fish & chips in Yorkshire (if not the World) at the Magpie Café on the dockside, then drove to Grosmont to board the North York Moors Railway. I was fascinated to hear about their annual event ‘The Railway in Wartime’ which draws crowds of enthusiasts in period dress to re-enact WW2 actions: you could combine this with a visit to Eden Camp, just down the road in Malton for a great themed weekend. After afternoon tea by the station in Pickering we were driven back to York for our homeward journeys. I was very impressed by the thorough and professional approach of the staff who accompanied us and would certainly recommend their services: the arrangements were spot on and the guides extremely well-prepared and knowledgeable. This company runs rail tours all around the world and I am satisfied that, wherever the tour undertaken that the same standards would apply.

Mex Factor

11 August 2016

I had been to Mexico before: around 11 years ago I toured Mexico City, Oaxaca and Tasca and visited many Mayan archaeological sites. This was a very different experience: travelling with a group of fellow Travel Counsellors and staying at or visiting six all-inclusive resorts operated my AM Resorts along the Caribbean coast close to Cancun. We flew with Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick, the flight takes around nine hours and I chose to upgrade to premium economy to experience the difference from standard economy. I do think that the additional space and comfort is well worth paying for on a flight of this length, especially on the return journey when travelling overnight. All of the resorts are beachfront, but each was very different: with a wide range of architectural styles from traditional hacienda-style to ultra-modern chic. Some are more suitable for families, others are adult-only, some would suit dedicated party-animals, and others favour the healthy life-style. What they all had in common is free wifi throughout and a consistently high quality of food and beverages with a wide range of outlets: typically with seven or eight unique restaurants to choose from, so it felt very much like ‘going out’ to dine; in addition there are a range of bars and cafés. All the resorts have multi swimming pools too, so you could choose the active areas or find a quiet corner to snooze or read, and the beach areas are well kept and patrolled. Each day there was a range of entertainments and activities on offer, for those who could drag themselves away from the sun-loungers: I learned to mix a mojito with tequila; completed the hydrotherapy circuit at one of the spas, which was lovely but left me limp as a rag doll; we had a cookery lesson, making ceviche with raw fish, limes, veggies and herbs – sounds strange but it was delicious; and had a mescal tasting, learning about the differences between different tequilas and mescal. There were very professional shows on offer: fire shows on the beach, gymnastic/circus shows and music of all kinds: those that we experienced were of a very high standard. For a supplement guests can book preferred ‘Club’ rooms which give them access to private pool areas, lounges and other privileges, such as the spa hydrotherapy circuit. The spa areas have a range of treatments and services available to all guests for additional cost. I was greatly impressed by the quality of the resorts we visited and learned more about the other resorts in the group which comprises Sunscape (family fun); Dreams and Now (5 star family resorts) , Secrets and Breathless (5 star adult-only) and Zoetry (2 very exclusive, top of the range, up-market boutique retreats). All have wedding facilties: ranging from a simple blessing on the beach right up to a traditional church wedding. The group also operates a ‘Sip, Savor & See’ programme, where guests at one resort can visit other resorts to try out the facilities there and as they have multiple resorts along the coast it’s relatively easy to do. I’d have no hesitation in recommending these resorts to anyone wanting a beach holiday or a special get-away, and I’ll be happy to help in choosing the right one: they are all very different in style so some guidance is needed. My only regret about my trip is that there was not enough time for us to visit any of the Yucatan historical sites. So I’m just going to have to go back!

Passage to India

17 October 2014

My first trip to India and well overdue. I thought I knew a bit about it, having booked lots of trips, but there is certainly no substitute for the real thing! Landing in Delhi during a state visit by the Chinese PM meant that many roads were closed partly because of demonstrations by Tibetan refugees and sympathizers: so my first impression was of traffic – crowded, chaotic, noisy, smelly and more than a bit scary, with bikes, mopeds, cows, goats, people, trucks, buses and cars weaving in and out without any obvious ‘rules of the road’. Taking 2 and a half hours for a 40 minute journey did have a positive side though: it gave me lots of time, in air-conditioned comfort, to drink in other impressions: vivid colours, street life, sign-painting done by hand, smiling children waving, makeshift shelters built from debris, laundry spread out to air: all fascinating and so very different from home. Next stop was Delhi railway station: not a pretty place, but huge and all human life is here! We board our train for the 6 hour journey to Amritsar, an opportunity to view the countryside, and fortunately we are travelling in the air-conditioned comfort of executive class, which includes food and drinks: this was quite interesting – with guess-work required to decide what we were actually eating, but not an unpleasant experience. Our stay in Amritsar was marvellous: we visited the Golden Temple, the holiest place of the Sikh religion, where all people of any faith or creed are welcomed, provided that they show respect by covering their heads and take off their shoes. The Golden Temple itself is in the centre of a lake surrounded by the white marble communal temple buildings and the faithful cross a bridge into the Golden Temple to pay their respects to the holy book which is kept there. Volunteers at the temple prepare and serve over 2000 meals every day to all comers, no-one need go hungry in Amritsar, and I was really impressed by this incredible inclusive community action. Another highlight was the Wagah border: the border-post on the road between India and Pakistan is closed at sundown each day, the flags are lowered and there is a fabulous, dramatic display of mock-warfare between the border guards who are dressed in very colourful ceremonial uniform: it’s a hugely popular community event, with lots of chanting, flag-waving and crowd-participation and whole families lining up in front of the gates and guards to get their photos taken. Like the Royal Horseguards in London, the border guards are chosen for their height and they are truly impressive – you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of them! Back in Delhi we toured both halves of the city: the beautifully manicured gardens, formal buildings and grand parks of New Delhi with its government institutions and affluence; followed by a rickshaw ride through the narrow streets and alleys of Old Delhi, and evidence of much a more hand-to-mouth existence and lively street-life; in the process we also learn quite a lot about the varied history of the city and the land itself. India truly is a land of great contrasts. We leave Delhi by road to travel to Agra: despite it being quite a modern fast road it’s not unusual to see an elephant or camel wandering along, or a cow munching on the central reservation, or the odd vehicle moving in the opposite direction to the rest of the traffic! We reach our destination: which is, of course, the Taj Mahal! So familiar, but so much more fabulous ‘in the flesh’ the Makrana marble glows and the semi-precious stones inlaid in the surface are breathtakingly beautiful. And the gardens surrounding it are so lovely: a gorgeous place to sit. In fact it’s much better on the outside: once you get inside it is so crowded that it’s not easy to contemplate the beauty surrounding you, just the elbows prodding you in the back! This evening there is another treat in store too – a saree lesson – our lovely guide Arti brings along a saree for each of us, and helps us to dress for a special dinner: mine is orange and it’s quite unbelievable how elegant it makes me feel. On the road from Agra to Jaipur we visit Fatehpur Sikri, the beautiful, deserted medieval city of Akbar the Great, with fabulous views over the surrounding countryside and including a monument to his favourite elephant and the biggest bed I’ve ever seen. We reach Jaipur and travel to the Amber Fort, where we should have been riding elephants to the fort, but due to a festival the elephants were on holiday so we were taken to where they are cared for, and were able to meet them and have a short ride. The ascent to the Amber Fort was by jeep instead and was accompanied by the theme to Indiana Jones, sung very loudly – Jaipur has that kind of effect on you! It’s been the location for countless films. The Amber Fort is amazing, up high on a hill with fortified walls stretching away onto the surrounding hillsides – I lost count of the number of palaces within the fort and the reasons for them all, but it was beautiful: one of the palaces was decorated by mirrors and silverwork; another covered in gorgeous frescos; another with filigree screens and overlooking a lake. A definite highlight of the trip. We flew from Jaipur to Mumbai: here the impressions of extremes, contrasts, and crowds is intensified: in Delhi the city is divided but in Mumbai rich and poor, ancient and modern, the haves and the have-nots live side by side and on top of each other: it is quite unsettling. But not, apparently, to locals: it is just the way things are. In Mumbai, due to a festival (or two?) we spent a ridiculous amount of time in traffic jams: but we were fortunate to visit ‘Hotel India’ – the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel – to see the rooms and suites and for tea: it is a lovely hotel and you can see why those with the resources would return time and time again. Immediately outside is the Gateway to India, which embodies the multi-cultural spirit of India; with its architectural influences from all the major belief systems that co-exist side by side here. I can see why some people love India passionately, and why others hate it with equal passion. Its extremes are not comfortable and one has to change the habits of a lifetime in order to bear some of them; but there is such a zest for life, an acceptance of differences and such strong community spirit and spirituality that it’s very seductive. I'll be back sometime: the food was wonderful and despite all the early warnings from kind friends I had not a sign of 'Delhi belly' or any other debilitating condition, and the standards of service in the hotels (4 & 5 star) was excellent.

All at Sea

11 October 2013

There comes a time, even for the most intrepid traveller, when the possibility of visiting multiple destinations whilst only having to pack/unpack once, become very tempting indeed. I, along with many of my regular clients, have reached that time when cruising offers that tempting opportunity; all that remains is to select the right cruise. This was my first experience of 'proper' cruising: previously I've cruised on very small ships with 120 passengers or less, and when this opportunity arose to sample cruising on a larger scale with a group of other travel agents I thought it was time to check it out. The Balmoral is the largest of Fred Olsen's fleet of four and their flagship, but has only 710 cabins. In today's world of mega cruisers this too is classed as a small ship so it was the next stage in my discovery of the pleasures of cruise. The journey to Southampton was difficult as it involved an overnight coach journey, not something I'd recommend to others: an overnight stay in London en route would be much better; but Fred Olson now have departures from many UK regional ports so it may not be a necessity. On joining the ship I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the cabin allocated: larger than many hotel rooms and with a balcony and sun bed. This is a mid-range cabin and there are lower grade cabins without balconies, with fixed windows or none at all, which are still quite generously sized and well-appointed and at a lower cost. There are also higher grade cabins with even more space inside and out and more amenities, and these are naturally at a higher cost. Unless you intend to spend all your waking hours in the public areas, don't need an open window when you sleep, or are really strapped for cash, its well worth paying the extra for a balcony cabin. The public areas inside the ship are extensive and comfortable, with something for everyone: a large cabaret lounge with professional entertainment every night after dinner, a homely pub with more low-key entertainers, such as a string trio playing chamber music, the observatory lounge with a small dance floor, the Lido lounge dance floor and gaming tables, a library, games room, boutiques with surprisingly moderate prices and loads of quiet seating areas to meet and chat with new-found friends. I was particularly impressed by the fabulous art displayed throughout the ship and which, it turns out, is the Olsen Family’s private art collection. There are three formal restaurants and passengers are allocated a table number and dining time: 6.30 or 8.30, for the duration of their journey. Dining is quite formal and on the evening of the Captain's dinner is black tie and evening dress: the only alternative is the more casual dining option of the Palms Café. On the outside decks there are two swimming pools, Jacuzzis, lots of sun beds and games areas which were well-used even on this trip to cooler Northern climes and I'm sure would be fabulous on the sunnier sailings. As my experience was a short one there was only one shore excursion in Holland to a windmill museum and Dutch life working village, which I found to be well organised, with buses picking up at the ship, and with knowledgeable local guides. Advice was also given about local transport and nearby attractions for those who did not want to go on the organised tours. The ship was going onward to Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Tallinn but my group left the ship for an overnight stay in Copenhagen before returning home: an interesting city, particularly around the harbour, and it would be a great place to spend a long weekend. Pros: Only pack and unpack once. Great itineraries. Excellent food. Moderate bar prices. Friendly and efficient crew. Spacious and comfortable cabins. Very good range of facilities. Cons: Average age of clientele is high. The formality of dining and the lack of variety in dining companions or timing would not suit some. Fred Olsen cruises go to many parts of the world: the Caribbean, trans-Atlantic and Round the World, the Canaries, Scandinavia and the Baltic: their Norwegian cruises are spectacular as the ships are small enough to get right up into the fjords: and I’d be happy to recommend any of their great itineraries.

Typically Tropical

31 August 2016

Barbados - the land of sun, sand, sea, music and rum punch: but that's not all! This was my first visit to the island. I didn't quite know what to expect and was very pleasantly surprised - there is so much more to be enjoyed here, something for all tastes! I was one of 10 Travel Counsellors who were fortunate to win a place on a week's educational trip to the island sponsored by British Airways, Elegant Hotels and the Barbados Tourist Board, and it certainly was an education! The first treat was that BA upgraded us to Club Class, a rare privilege and much appreciated, especially by those of us who had travelled overnight to get to Gatwick in time for the flight. As a consequence we were able to start the trip in style with introductions and champagne in the business lounge! Our first two nights were spent at Turtle Beach, a premium all-inclusive, all suite resort on the south coast just a short transfer from the airport; and named for the turtles that hatch their eggs on the adjoining beautiful sandy beach. A lively, family-friendly atmosphere, also popular for weddings; it has a fine range of facilities for families and couples and a choice of three restaurants, the main one being buffet style and holding regular theme nights with entertainment. The second two nights were at Crystal Cove, another premium all-inclusive on the west coast where the seas are calmer, and very different in style, more of a boutique feel. With three free-form pools, one of them with a swim-up bar, and water sports directly from the beach it feels more couple-oriented, although they too have great facilities for kids. Our meal in the restaurant was very good and the entertainment, a three piece girl band, was excellent and had all of us, including the serving and kitchen staff, dancing before the evening was out! There is a wider variety of room types here and it would be important to choose the right room: mine was garden-view and rather dark; the sea-view rooms were much lighter and preferable in my opinion. Our final three nights were at Tamarind a luxury hotel within easy reach of Holetown with its vast choice of dining options, they offer B&B or half board options and have a range of room-types around three pools, within lovely gardens and directly on a peaceful stretch of beach. Adjoining is The House: a very sophisticated five star boutique hotel, with fabulous and unique rooms and the option of dining and/or spa treatments in cabanas directly on the beach. Between the two hotels is Daphne's - a superb and highly-acclaimed restaurant that we were fortunate to experience on our last night in Barbados and which provides the catering for The House special dining. On our first morning we cut a record! The offer was to 'Be Rihanna!' but as few of us had any clue about any of her songs we opted for Typically Tropical and, after being plied with copious amounts of rum punch, recorded a fantastic version of 'Going to Barbados' - on a par with the original I can assure you! Hit Island Records? Giddy with the success of our recording debut, and as if we hadn't imbibed enough, our very next stop was Mount Gay Rum where, after a welcome rum punch, we heard all about its history (the first rum in the world) and were forced to taste the different categories, before a delicious lunch, accompanied by more rum punch! It was something of a relief to return to the hotel and collapse into the sun-beds before dressing for cocktails and dinner at a very special restaurant - Champers - overlooking the sea at St. Lawrence Gap. Before leaving the south coast we are taken to Silver Sands Beach, one of the best spots in Barbados for wind-surfing sports and the base for world-renowned, Brian Talma who instructed us in the basics of board-surfing and conch-blowing and then provided us with lunch - a beach cookout of that day's catch: a great place to chill-out. We are picked up from Crystal Cove for a 4x4 jeep safari of the island: travelling over local roads and tracks, viewing the island from little known viewpoints in the company of a knowledgeable local: a great way to get to know the island! It's left-hand drive and I want to come back and drive these roads for myself! Tonight's meal is at Oistins - the famous open-air fish fry, a great experience: good food accompanied by karaoke! Today, while our luggage is transferred to Tamarind, we are taken into Bridgetown to board a luxury catamaran for a day of snorkelling, swimming with turtles and generally hanging around in the crystal clear, calm Caribbean waters off the west coast of Barbados: all in the course of duty! A wonderful day. The day of the polo lesson! This was fab. We were very privileged to be hosted by the world class Apes Hill Polo Club and given a lesson in the rudiments of polo, the ponies and the instructors were very kind to us and I'm sure that they usually move at much higher speeds! After a wonderful lunch we toured their beautiful golf course which has some of the best views in Barbados. Our last full day in Barbados and we are taken to Harrisons Cave and travel deep underground to see the wonders of this fabulous cave system: then up into the forest canopy to fly through the trees on the aerial zip wire: exhilarating! Barbados is a great mix of the familiar, due to its long association with Britain, and the exotic, due to its roots in Africa; a mixture which is comfortable, exciting and seductive and I'd certainly recommend it for Brits of all tastes.

Marrakesh Express

28 May 2012

I’d never visited Morocco so offered a quick visit to Marrakesh with 12 other Travel Counsellors I jumped at the chance: the aim is familiarization with the city, plus hotel inspections so that we can recommend them to clients. Day 1 The flight to Marrakesh’s bright modern airport is only 3 hours, the drive into the city around half an hour and my first impressions were of a clean and verdant environment – with beds of flowering roses bordering the highway. After freshening up we were driven the short distance to the Medina – the old city - and began our walking tour through crazy chaotic traffic conditions: cars, mopeds, donkeys, horses, bikes, hand-carts, along colourful, noisy streets with a fascinating mix of trades – metal-workers, tyre-repair bays, carpet sellers, spice shops, cafes. But inside the gates of the Bahia Palace it’s an oasis of peace and tranquility: birdsong, flowers and the sound of water – our guide explained the Berber tradition to hide all evidence of wealth and success within the walls but to spare no expense with the decoration within. Most buildings have a plain wall facing outwards, with rooms facing inwards to a courtyard garden with a fountain – a peaceful cloister with the sounds of ‘God’s symphony’, many also have gardens and terraces on the roof: this proved to be the case with all the riads we visited within the old city. Day 2 On the drive into the Atlas Mountains (an hour+ from the city) we were told that the road has been much improved recently, but it’s still pretty challenging with tortuous bends overlooking deep ravines so I was glad we had a professional driver. Stunning scenery past Berber villages, some of which are still only accessible by foot, and a souk (every Tuesday) that has a donkey-park where locals pay a few dirhams to park their donkey whilst shopping or trading! We visited Kasbah Tamadot – located in beautiful valley with views of snow-capped mountains, a gorgeous spot to chill out; and later took tea at Kasbah Angour, a little closer to Marrakesh, a beautiful place with a very different style. Activities in the mountains include trekking, mountain-biking, horse, camel or donkey riding, guided trips to Berber villages and souks or just relaxing. Returning to Marrakesh we check into the wonderfully luxurious and quirky Riad La Sultana, where each room and suite is unique, individually decorated and furnished with animal themes. After a short relaxing dip in the hotel’s spa pool we walk into the maze of the old city to visit another hidden gem Les Jardins de la Medina, where we have dinner. Day 3 Bargain-hunting in the souk today: walking across the square with snake charmers and street performers to enter the maze of covered alleys and open squares that are a riot of colour and clamour, with goods of all descriptions displayed for sale – but no prices! Haggling is the norm and even if you’re not buying, watching the sparring is very entertaining and an experience not to be missed! After lunch at the legendary Hotel La Mamounia – reopened after extensive refurbishment, we have some free time and I choose the peace and tranquility of the hotel pool instead of returning to the hustle and bustle of the streets outside. Our final hotel inspection this evening is the Four Seasons – a very modern resort complex between the city and the airport. 3 days, 3 beds (including 1 at Gatwick airport) 10 fabulous hotels, 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 3 dinners, In the Medina we visited Riad Palais Sebban, Les Jardins de la Katoubia, Riad la Sultana, Les Jardins de La Medina, La Mamounia Outside the Medina we visited Es Saadi Hotel, Es Saadi Palace Hotel and Villas, Four Seasons Hotel In the Atlas Mountains we visited Kasbah Tamadot, Kasbah Angour The food is lovely – a mélange of sweet and spicy, vegetables and meat cooked to perfection – you must try a traditional Moroccan meal – starter of mixed mezzes followed by chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives, then flaky fried pastry with cream – we did, several times! Although this is a Muslim country it does not have strict alcohol laws and it is possible to have wine with meals and there are bars and nightclubs. I liked Marrakech – it’s a vibrant chaotic city but with lots of quiet, peaceful spaces and beautiful gardens: a great place for a short break or a longer holiday twinned with the Atlas Mountains or a beach resort.

Cyprus - the island of love

16 October 2010

Cyprus – the island of love – the birthplace of Aphrodite. By no means just a beach resort: with it’s colourful history it is a fascinating mix of cultures but with a strong and unique Cypriot character; and there are a wide range of attractions to tempt visitors of all kinds to the island. We stayed first at the Dome Beach Hotel in Makronissos, Ayia Napa, set on a promontory with 2 beaches and 2 pools it’s a lovely hotel, perfect for families and those who don’t want to be in the heart of Ayia Napa, which can be a wee bit loud with it’s youth-culture bars and clubs - which the youngsters in our group thought were fantastic. We also visited Protaras just down the road: also a lively place but for a slightly older age group – lots of great bars and restaurants; and the area has some excellent hotels and attractions. We enjoyed the Magic Dancing Waters show – a spectacular sound and light show; the Thalassa Marine Museum where archaeological finds and ancient artefacts are displayed alongside contemporary artworks by local artists inspired by their history. A visit to the Agia Napia monastery – right in the heart of the town, then dining al fresco at the famous fish harbour. Next stop was Larnaca to walk along the palm-fringed sea front and visit the church of St Lazarus: Cyprus was one of the first Christian enclaves, Lazarus ended his days there and the church is his final resting place. Travelling a short way up into the hills to Tochni to see some village houses that have been converted as holiday accommodation – I would have loved to stay and experience village life there, beautiful and simple and with walking tours, horse-riding and mountain biking on offer - quite a contrast with life on the coast such a short distance away. We also visited a small and exquisite spa hotel in one of the villages, where the most beautiful lunch was served in a small courtyard. Next stop Lemosos: we are staying at the excellent St. Raphael Hotel where we meet the local tourism officer and local hoteliers followed by dinner at a traditional taverna which got pretty lively as there was a hen party going on and all the locals were joining in with music and dancing. Jolly good fun! Next day we travel into the Troodos Mountains: stopping at Omodos, a pretty village where we taste the unique local bread and visit the Church of the Holy Cross, then wander through the narrow lanes where locals are selling crafts and souvenirs; Lambouris winery follows to sample the local wines accompanied by wonderful storytelling from the owner, then we check into the Forest Park Hotel in Platres, a heritage hotel set amongst the trees. Later we visit a tiny Byzantine church with medieval frescos – Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis, then walk through Kakopetria village for coffee at Myloi restaurant – which looks like something out of the Adams Family! Next day we visit Kourion archaeological site and the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite before visiting Vouni Panagia winery to see how the wines and local sweetmeats are produced and to sample them. After lunch we travel to Polis to visit the Baths of Aphrodite and then call at the Anassa Hotel – a very beautiful property providing luxury holidays in this unspoilt region, then on to Paphos to stay at the Almyra Hotel, another excellent hotel, on the seafront just a short walk from the harbour. On our last day we visit Agios Neofytos monastery – still a working monastery - where you can go into the caves carved from the rock by the saint to live and to worship in. Returning to Paphos we visit the Tombs of the Kings and the archaeological park of Pafos where huge numbers of the most wonderful mosaics have been excavated, which were brought to life by the ancient myths told to us by our guide, Mary. After lunch in a harbourside taverna and a quick trip around the fort we return to the hotel to enjoy a couple of hours of sunshine by the pool – the first chance we’ve had in a very hectic, eye-opening, and very enjoyable concentrated tour of Cyprus., courtesy of the Cyprus Tourism Organisation.

Magnificent Europe

29 August 2016

The Magnificent Europe cruise takes 15 days from Amsterdam to Budapest, we joined the ship for the last 5 days, travelling from Passau to Budapest. Day 1. Arrive in Salzburg and meet the cruise director, Christian, who explained that due to a problem in Germany the sailing schedule was 2 days behind: but they were making up time by the ship continuing sailing during the onshore tours and would soon be back on schedule. After a pleasant couple of hours in Salzburg this led to an hilarious and extended cross-country journey trying to find where the ship was moored, but find it we did and were welcomed on board the MS Amalyra by the captain and key crew members, then shown to our cabins. These cabins are the largest of their kind on the European rivers, with French balconies, very comfortable beds, TV/internet system, storage space and a tiny, but beautifully designed and equipped bathroom. During dinner in the restaurant we were encouraged to meet our fellow passengers: mainly Australians and Kiwis. The meal was exquisite, beautifully prepared and presented, 5 courses with plenty of choice; ample locally sourced wine and the most professional, but friendly, staff you could wish for. We were to learn over the next few days that this was par for the course and had to exercise extreme self-control in order to keep the weight gain to a minimum! Day2. Breakfast is just as lavish – whatever your taste it’s available: fruit, yogurt, cereals, bacon, eggs cooked to order, smoked salmon , cream cheese, cheeses, cooked meats, all manner of breads and pastries – unbelievable choice! Today we visit Melk Abbey – a Bendectine monastery for over 900 years, housing a school of 750 pupils and with some gorgeous artwork and artifacts. A typical Austrian lunch follows in a local hotel, then to Durnstein to sample local Wachau valley wine (and chocolate): this area is known for its superb whites such as Reisling and Gruner Veltliner. We’re taken on a tour of the ship: the bar lounge with resident pianist, Nikolay; there is also a quiet lounge; library; fitness suite; beauty salon; an open upper deck with sun loungers and Jacuzzi, and outside areas with tables and seating where you can enjoy watching the countryside slip by. One cabin is wheelchair accessible and there is a small lift between decks for disabled passengers. I’m very impressed – they seem to have thought of everything! Day 3. Vienna and a choice of touring this morning: I go to the Schonbrunn palace, with it’s beautiful gardens and state apartments; while others take a walking tour of Vienna. After lunch on the ship, Natalie suggested a bike ride ( the ship carries several bikes for passengers’ use) so we spent a happy couple of hours riding alongside the Danube, just stopping for a small beer in a local tavern. Tonight some go to a concert of the Vienna Residenz Orchestra at the famous Auersperg Palace dressed in all their finery! The rest of us with some of our fellow passengers went for a short walking tour to find a nice open-air bar and watch the world go by. Day 4. A relaxed morning cruising to Bratislava then we moor in the centre of town and take the city walking tour. We meet our wonderful guide Ludmilla, very knowledgable and informative but with some highly non-PC opinions which she voiced with relish! It was like being guided by Jo Brand. Bratislava is a lovely city: very popular with stag parties, which is wonderful because “ drinking lots of beer helps the local economy - but beware! - if you swim naked in the fountain you will be arrested!” Tonight it is the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party and Gala Dinner - more glorious food !! Day 5. Sailing through the night we arrive in Budapest around 9 for the very best views of this beautiful city. An informal walk around Pest in the morning, then in the afternoon a full city coach tour, including the Fishermans Bastion, Heroes Square and the Opera House ending with champagne and arias. I love this city – so photogenic! I will be back! Our last evening on board with a fabulous performance from a Hungarian Folklore troupe followed by a wonderful Hungarian dinner. Day 6. Leave very early having had a superb experience – we saw so much and only had to unpack once!

Whistle-Stop New Zealand!

31 August 2016

New Zealand – Aotearoa – the Land of the Long White Cloud, the youngest country on Earth, home to the Hobbits of Middle Earth and a hot-spot of geothermal activity… I’d been itching to get back there after visiting, far too briefly, in 2001 and I finally got a chance in September to go with a group of 12 other travel agents who soon became friends on the Air New Zealand economy flight to Auckland. In 8 days we were to travel throughout the country with a different bed every night. Our destinations were the Bay of Islands, Auckland, Waitomo Caves and Rororua in North Island followed by Christchurch, Mount Cook, Te Anau and Christchurch in South Island. It was an exhilarating and stimulating journey travelling by coach through a vast range of terrain. From islands dotted around an azure sea, through rolling green dairy country to harsh, unforgiving uplands of deer country and the permanently snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps - all stunningly beautiful in their own way. The weather too was varied - we had everything from 23 C down to 1 C and our planned trip to Milford Sound had to be abandoned because the road was closed by snow! There were so many highlights on this trip - sailing in a racing yacht on Auckland Harbour and being allowed to take the wheel; the view from the Observatory Restaurant at the top of the Sky Tower in Auckland whilst enjoying a delicious buffet meal; sailing around the Bay of Islands on the new overnight cruise-ship Ipiripi, a catamaran with only 30 cabins – all en-suite and with the most comfortable beds imaginable, with great food and lots of activities included plus very reasonable bar prices – highly recommended! Before leaving the Bay of Islands a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds gave us a fascinating insight into the history and culture of the Maori people. Then there were Waitomo Caves and the glow-worm grotto; Rotorua with its unique aroma and the constant reminder that the earth itself is a living organism. Here we continued to learn about Maori tradition, with a visit to Te Puia Thermal reserve where many young Maori learn their traditional arts and crafts and in the evening we attend a traditional Hangi feast and cultural performance – all highly enjoyable and far too brief! Flying to Christchurch and South Island we visited the Antartic Centre and experienced a snow storm, a ride in the Hagglund all-terrain vehicle and enjoyed the many exhibits. Christchurch is lovely – it was spring and the many gardens and parks were starting to put on their finery, and we had a little free time here just to enjoy it. The journey to Mount Cook via Lake Tekapo was fabulous, with the scenery becoming more stunning with every mile we covered. When we arrived the boat trip on Terminal Lake learning about the icebergs created by the Tasman glacier, the observatory and everything about our stay at Mount Cook make it a highlight for all. En route to Te Anau we visited the Gibston Valley winery and sampled their signature Pinot Noir and cheeses before checking out the original A.J.Hackett bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge and watching a few hardy souls take the plunge! The following day we learned that our planned trip to Milford Sound couldn’t go ahead because the road was closed, so we returned to Queenstown and a hastily substituted, and very enjoyable, lake cruise on the steamship T.S.S. Earnslaw to Walter Peak Sheep Station. The day ended on a high (literally) with a trip in the Gondola up to the Skyline Restaurant to enjoy a fabulous meal surrounded by the most stupendous views of Queenstown and the surrounding mountains. Our final morning found us taking a thrilling, hair-raising, exhilarating ride through the canyons of the Shotover River on a jetboat before changing and flying out of New Zealand to Los Angeles where we were to spend a night before returning to the UK. What a great trip and what a fabulous country – everyone should go - but take a bit more time over it than we did!

Melbourne, Yarra Valley & Gippsland June 2009

30 January 2017

In June 2009 I was fortunate to be chosen by Tourism Australia as one of the UK Premier Aussie specialist delegates to attend ATE – The Australian Tourism Exchange. It's a huge travel trade event held annually and that year, it was held in Melbourne. The event itself runs for three days and tourism buyers and sellers have around 100 meetings during that time, It’s a fantastic way for tourism professionals to learn about all that Australia has to offer. Before the event, our group was taken on a three-day familiarisation trip around Victoria, taking in Melbourne, the Yarra Valley and Walhalla in Gippsland. On our first day, we took a guided bike tour of Melbourne, passing by the Convention Centre where ATE would be held, through the university area and passing by the MCG and Rod Laver stadium. It was a great orientation tour of the city. Later, we took a helicopter tour over the city and surrounding area, which gave us a wider perspective and showed us how close many ‘country’ attractions are to the city. The day concluded with dinner in the private dining suite of the Park Hyatt, one of the best hotels in Melbourne and a welcome bed for the night. The next day our adventure began - after breakfast we travelled to Walhalla. Walhalla is an old gold-mining town which is being lovingly restored to its former glory by the owners of the Star Hotel, where we stayed the night. They have re-opened the steam train track and managed to locate and re-locate original buildings from many parts of Australia - the population is tiny but the civic pride is huge. Unfortunately, I missed the tour of the gold-mine as I was unwell and spent the rest of the stay in bed but by all accounts it was a fascinating tour and I must go back some time. The following day we travelled to the Yarra Valley where we were taken on a winery tour, including Domain Chandon, the home of Aussie champagne. We went for a tasting lunch, the pleasures of which were lost on me as I was still feeling crook! We toured the area, visiting a number of accommodations including Yering River Lodge and Chateau Yering before staying overnight at the Sebel. In the morning, before returning to Melbourne for the start of ATE, we watched the dawn come up from the basket of a hot-air balloon. The balloons are sponsored by the wineries in the region and ours were de Bertoli and Domain Chandon. It’s a lovely way to see the area, it's very quiet and peaceful up there looking down on the wildlife hopping around. It was a great start to the day and the conclusion of a fantastic little taster tour of some of what Victoria has to offer within easy reach of Melbourne.

Sunshine Coast and Fraser Island June 2009

02 February 2017

After winter in Melbourne for ATE [a travel industry event], a few of us decided to go to the Sunshine Coast for a few days – believing that the name might promise some guaranteed sunshine. How wrong we were! After the cool but mainly dry days in Victoria, we were to have almost constant rainfall and our guides were frequently frustrated by taking us to viewpoints that should have provided panoramic vistas only to gaze into inpenetrable cloud. Just goes to show, we Brits can take our own weather wherever we go! We stayed in Noosa for a couple of nights and on the day in between toured the hinterland, visiting beautiful quaint villages in the hinterland: Maleny and Montville, and Eumundi for the amazing market there, and calling at some great cellar doors and restaurants. This area is renowned for its food, drink, arts and culture and all within a short drive from the coast. Noosa itself has a fabulous beach and some great walks through its own National Park from the beach. At Noosaville, just a couple of miles away, you can take river cruises and excursions into the mangroves and across to Fraser Island via Rainbow Beach. Even without your own transport, you can get some very diverse experiences here. We next travelled to Fraser Island: the largest sand island in the world, which has some amazing tropical forests, wildlife and terrain. Only 4WD vehicles are allowed on the Island and a favourite sport for the locals and savvy tourists is watching self-drive visitors get bogged down in the sand! It’s definitely best to leave it to the experts and get a driver – either for a private tour or on one of the 4WD bus tours. It’s also well worth taking one of the sightseeing flights over the island - it's hard to imagine the size of the place until you’ve seen it from the air. Our bus tour took us all over the Island, including Lake Mackenzie which has lovely clear water plus the finest sand beaches – perfect for putting a shine on jewellery! They do say that a swim in its waters takes 10 years off your age – ha! After a fabulous stay on Fraser Island at Kingfisher Bay Resort, we watched the beautiful sunset whilst waiting for the ferry. The following day we travelled back to Brisbane to fly home to the UK and en route stopped at Australia Zoo. It was started by Steve Irwin and is now run by his family and hordes of enthusiastic wildlife warriors. Quite apart from the shows and visitor attractions, they do a huge amount of conservation work and run an animal hospital on-site, from small beginnings you really do now need a full day to get the most out of your visit. So, that was the Sunshine Coast – not much sunshine but lots of great experiences and so many more that we couldn’t fit into the few days we had.

Sailing in the Whitsundays

14 May 2009

One of my favourite Aussie experiences – sailing around the Whitsunday Islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast. There are 74 islands, some pristine and un-inhabited, a few resort islands, some tiny, some big enough to have their own airports: all are beautiful and it’s a joy to travel between them under sail. There are sailing craft of all sizes – you can choose the experience that takes your fancy. I love the tall ships: they're ideal for those who appreciate a relaxed and slower pace of life. We flew into Proserpine and stayed a night at a fabulous hotel overlooking the Coral Sea in Airlie Beach – swinging in my hammock, soothed by the sound of the waves, a glass of luscious Aussie red within reach – which I didn't get to drink – it was so relaxing that I woke at 3 am, still swinging gently, totally chilled-out, the wine untouched by my side! The following day we checked in for our 3 night tall ships adventure, the transfer to the marina took minutes; we boarded the ship and away we went! The ship takes about 30 passengers with a crew of 5: captain, bosun, mate(dive-master), cook and ship’s boy; cabins are small but comfortable; the food is delicious - 3 meals a day using fresh local produce plus snacks and unlimited tea and coffee. TDrinks are extra and prices are on a par with land prices. We soon get to know our ship-mates: German honeymooners, a lone Cornish backpacker, a Swiss widow and her daughter; an Irish couple on an extended retirement holiday; a local from Airlie Beach with a high pressure job who regularly comes on board with her ‘pirate’ partner – to chill-out and get away from the phone! A real mixture and all very casual and laid-back – no dressing for dinner on this ship! Unless you want to – one lady did change into some very elegant attire each night but I went three whole days with only a swimming costume, a pair of shorts and a sarong! During the 3 days we land on an uninhabited island for a bush walk with the crew pointing out local flora and fauna; we visit Whitehaven Beach for an afternoon of paddling and sun-baking (staying in the shade – that sun is fierce!); there is an evening beach barbeque with an awesome sunset; there are lots of opportunities for snorkelling and my husband, Rod, takes full advantage of them – so much so that one day we lose him – everyone else came back and he’s missing! Everyone is panicking slightly but I know he’s just floating around with the fishes - it’s stinger season with everyone in stinger suits so I tell them to look for the floater with the number 9 on it’s back – and there he is - oblivious to the consternation he’s caused, but very happy! I’m not a swimmer but I’m blissfully happy spending the time with my paints and before long I have lots of little sketches to remind me of the trip. For the PADI certified passengers the on-board dive-master guides them off to dive-sites in the vicinity. The great thing about travelling this way is that the crew can take the ship to a choice of sites dependent upon local conditions and go wherever necessary to get her into full sail – which is glorious – speeding silently through the waves with just the creak of ropes and the call of sea birds. On the fourth day we return to the marina and walk from there to the hotel – totally relaxed and very sorry to be back on land - but I’ll be back and next time I want to do the 6-night cruise! The range of sailing and boating experiences in the Whitsundays is huge – as well as a range of tall ship cruises; there are super-fast sailing catamarans, luxury launches, bare-boat charters – you name it, if it floats it can be done in the Whitsundays! We stayed in Airlie Beach on the mainland but there are hotels on Hamilton Island (which has it’s own airport with flights from Sydney and Brisbane); Hayman Island; Daydream Island; Long Island and South Molle Island – with a wide choice of price and standard. If Queensland is going to be included in your trip to Australia be sure to visit the beautiful Whitsundays – you won’t be sorry!

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Elaine has helped me with my travel plans for over 15 years and is an expert for Australian travel. Elaine is an excellent travel agent and has organized two family holidays to Australia for us - all impeccably arranged, top deals on flights and hotels, and excellent advice on tours and activities when Down Under. We are recommending Elaine to friends and colleagues without hesitation!

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Recently I made a month long trip to Australia and New Zealand. It entailed visits to a variety of places and much flying. Thanks to Elaine's thoughtful and meticulous planning everything went very well and without a single hitch. She not only very obviously 'knows her stuff' but she also went out of her way to provide a thorough and supportive service. She was at all points kind and helpful even when I was chopping and changing my plans. Previously Elaine has provided invaluable help in visiting South America and large bits of Europe. She continues to provide invaluable, well informed and always kindly help.

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I recently arrived home from a one month vaccation to Dubai, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand. I was a real novice when it came to booking such a long trip. My holiday was a joy from start to finish .This was made possible by Elaine who booked our flights, oranganised transfers and the booking of our hotels. Our trip was seamless I would strongly recommend Elaine's services to anyone.

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