Sent by Graham Hearnden
Hatfield 5/19/2021 4:53:00 PM
Based in Liverpool
Hello and thanks for taking the time to visit.
I'm Ian, based in Liverpool as your personal travel agent, I will ensure that every aspect of your holiday experience will be catered for, hassle free and enjoyable throughout. I gain great pleasure from ensuring my customers return with stories and memories that they will treasure for a lifetime.
I have had a passion for travel all my life, having visited most continents, including most of Europe and having lived and worked abroad in beautiful Thailand, where I have specialist travel knowledge, as I do with Namibia and South Africa, both of which I have travelled extensively. I still have a number of travel destinations to tick off my wish list and I try to combine my love of travel with some travel writing to document these adventures with pride. Travel continues to enrich my life and I love to share this passion with others.
As a Travel Counsellor, you are my number one priority. My business is making sure the whole travel experience is an enjoyable one from the very start of the process until you arrive safely back at home. I will always go the extra mile to ensure that your expectations are exceeded so each and every holiday is a truly happy memory and you can be safe in the knowledge that everything you book through me is 100% financially protected.
As my priority, my business runs around your needs, and as such I am available at whatever time suits you. Simply give me a call or drop me an e-mail and I will respond to you as soon as possible to discuss your requirements and your holiday can begin. I can help with large group bookings, weddings, honeymoons and cruises, as well as tailor-made holidays to your exact requirements. Whether it is a short UK break, an all-inclusive beach escape, a European city break or a round the world trip of a lifetime, I can cater to your needs.
Ask me about our honeymoon gift registry service, a fantastic and modern way to let your guests contribute to the honeymoon of your dreams. Best of all, I do all of the hard work for you so you can focus on your big day! Or if you are planning on getting married abroad, let me take the stress away from you with our fabulous wedding services. I can deal with everything from the legalities, travel, accommodation for all guests, to the colour scheme.
I will provide you with the customer service that you deserve.
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.
14 November 2018
Our drive from Hermanus to Oudtshoorn was the longest of the trip so far at around four hours, but once more it was a drive filled with stunning scenery, particularly crossing a number of mountain ranges as we headed further inland. Oudtshoorn itself is particularly famous for ostriches and these are visible from the outskirts of the town and throughout, but I would be lying if I said that these were the main reason for our visit, as we had primarily decided on this destination due to the chance to meet one of my favourite animals - the meerkat! The town itself is nothing to really write home about, although like many in South Africa there were still some beautiful views to be had of the mountains surrounding it. While our hotel, the Hlangana Lodge, was an oasis of calm and beauty with stunning gardens. It felt like an Eden at the heart of a more urban location. However, it was for the meerkats that we came and it was fully worth the trip, not to mention the exceptionally early rise, where we had to meet our guide, the owner of Meerkat Adventures, at 5.15am. It was still dark while we parked up at the nearby farmland and the coffee and tea was handed out to waken our senses as the sun began to rise, washing the horizon in a beautiful array of orange and purple. The expert knowledge of the guides meant that they knew exactly where the meerkats had gone to bed in their sprawling burrow the night before, so we were able to plant our deck chairs mere yards away from where they were expected to rise. Indeed, his extensive studying of this particular family had allowed this group of notoriously shy animals to become habitualised to human presence, so they would not run for the hills on seeing our morning-weary faces. A tense wait ensued as we eagerly waited for our first glimpse of these intensely cute creatures before Jo eventually spotted the first one rise to keep lookout and to check whether it was safe for the rest of them to come out. I have to admit the noise I made upon seeing it was not my most masculine of moments but I make no apologies as these really are some of the most gorgeous of animals, so hypnotic in their behaviour. Sure enough as the guide had said, another one followed, then another, then another, until there were nine little meerkats popping their heads above the parapet and surveying their kingdom. To say it was a highlight would do it an injustice for me as it was one of the most incredible things I have ever been privy to, and worth the trip to Oudtshoorn for alone. It is certainly an experience I have etched on my mind and one I would always recommend to all of my customers who venture even close to this area; such was the powerful impact it had on me. It is something that needs pre-booking but add it to your bucket-list now, it will not be something you would ever regret I promise you that. Our inland journey was spellbinding but now we had our eyes on the coast, and the Indian Ocean at that, where we set our GPS for Plettenberg Bay and hit the road once more.
14 November 2018
With our Winelands hangovers subsiding we set off on the next leg of our journey, back down towards the coast and the town of Hermanus. World famous for whale watching, and land-based whale watching at that, we were excited to see what it had to offer. The drive itself was picturesque, just over an hour and via some beautiful mountain passes, we arrived at our guesthouse right on the harbour, the Auberge Burgundy. It was in a prime spot a stone's throw from the shore where the whales were due to come out and play, putting on a show for those watching on land. The room was absolutely huge but once more, we had designs on not spending too much time there at all. Indeed, almost straight away we headed out to explore the seafront and see what all the fuss was about. To our surprise within mere seconds we had spotted our first whale, a Southern Right Whale splashing playfully less than 100 metres from where we stood. It was a breath-taking sight and was only a sign of things to come. During certain times of the year these whales flock in their thousands to this area "on holiday" to warmer waters, bringing whole families including younger whales on their vacation too. It has changed Hermanus undoubtedly for the better, with tourism booming during these periods, allowing a huge array of bars, restaurants and shops to open supported by the rise in footfall. We found several delightful places to eat and a particular favourite, Char'd, which lured us in with some outstanding cocktails. Try the Espresso martini for a real pick me up! The most stunning however is Bientang's Cave, built as the name would suggest into a cave on the shore and with views of the sea you could only dream of. It is important to note that it is only open at lunchtime and can get extremely busy as you can imagine, but it is well worth persevering. Indeed, while we tucked into a light lunch the whales only a few yards away and clearly visible with the naked eye, put on a live cabaret performance, breaching and splashing with unending regularity. It was incredible and one of the true highlights of our whole trip. Bewitched by these amazing creatures we got up nice and early the following day to head out on the water via a local charter company in an attempt to see them at even closer quarters. Southern Right Charters come highly recommended as one of the best locally and they did not let us down. The friendly guide gave us a vast amount of information as we sailed out on their comfortable yacht and their expert knowledge took us right to the heart of the whale's environment. We were able to witness sights that took our breath away. Huge Southern Right whales, often in twos and threes, playfully splashing and breaching yards from our boat, thankfully unnerved by our presence. It was a magical experience to witness such majestic creatures so close up, able to observe their graceful beauty in their own backyard. Our two nights in Hermanus simply flew by, yet the memories will live with us forever. If you are visiting the area then it is simply a must do, bucket-list worthy experience. Yet onwards we must go, with the longer inland drive to Oudtshoorn next on the agenda.
14 November 2018
The drive from Oudtshoorn to Plettenberg Bay was relatively serene but probably my favourite drive of the whole trip, with ever changing scenery and every kind of terrain you could imagine crammed into the journey of just over two hours in total. On arrival we found our guesthouse to be a little off the beaten track, down a small and curious dirt road and just set back from the main town of Plettenberg Bay itself. The guesthouse, Lairds Lodge and Country Estate, was without exaggeration, one of the best places I have ever had the pleasure of staying. The estate was a stunning, gated country lodge with beautiful gardens and scenery all around. The peaceful air only punctuated by the sound of local birds tweeting their way through the sunny days. Inside the lobby was a well-stoked fireplace and grandiose décor throughout. Coupled with the incredible personal service we were given throughout, we truly felt like royalty and our room reflected this. It was a huge private suite with an outstanding outside space and beautiful view. The free-standing bath was another wonderful touch. We even had our own family of monkeys who would come to visit and we spent much of our time there keeping an eye out for them. Alas however we were not here purely to enjoy the hotel facilities and we kept up our busy schedule with a morning visit to the amazing Knysna Elephant Park, handily located just over the road from our accommodation. The park is home to orphaned and unwanted elephants who have formed their own rag-tag herd to roam in the huge acres available to them here. It is an uplifting place to visit to say the least and they offer a number of elephant experiences that you can get involved in, with all money going back into their fantastic project. They even have a lodge where you can stay that overlooks the elephant sleeping quarters. An incredible view but I'm not too sure how much sleep you would get with the snoring of these mammoth animals! We opted to do the morning elephant walk with a picnic where we got to walk alongside these gentle giants as they took their morning walk out into the park before we stopped for breakfast with a view from a delicious picnic basket. It was another life-affirming experience, one of countless we seemed to be having on this honeymoon. Walking with our elephants, you felt a deep connection with the animal and despite a slight sense of trepidation as to the size and power they had within them, the feeling was overwhelmingly of calm and wonder at their majestic nature. From these huge beasts we then took a step down in size to those with wings at the wonderful Birds of Eden Park. A wondrous place filled with all manner of colourful birds, all rescued from around the world. From walking side by side with a flamingo to a full-on chat with a tropical parakeet, this place was a surprisingly fabulous way to spend the afternoon. My expectations were not that high having spent the morning up close with an elephant but this is certainly somewhere I would highly recommend. With another amazing few days under our belt and the main event of our Eastern Cape safari on the horizon, we spent our final day relaxing on the vast white sand of the local beach and a dip in the Indian Ocean, as well around our hotel pool. Next up was Pumba Game Reserve, we simply couldn't wait.
14 November 2018
So the final drive was another four hour effort but we set off nice and early in order to ensure we would arrive at our private game reserve, Pumba, just as check in was open so that we would not miss a second. Sure enough the arrival was interesting in itself, a slow drive along a dirt road as we began to spot the first few animals in their natural habitat until we pulled up alongside the imposing lobby of the water lodge ready to check in. Pumba Game Reserve is one of the most highly rated safari destinations in the world, let alone in South Africa and from check-in we could see why. Our room was truly magnificent, maintaining an eco-friendly environment so as not to disturb the animal's natural habitat yet with all of the luxuries of a true five-star hotel, including a gigantic balcony overlooking the lake complete with our own private plunge pool. It was an amazing start to the part of the trip we were most looking forward to. For those of you who have never done a safari, the days are well scheduled, with an early rise for a morning game drive, free time during the day to indulge and enjoy the facilities or kick back and relax, before the evening game drive takes you into the night. All intertwined with a vast selection of food and drink between each activity. Its hard not to get lost in the decadence and luxury of it all but the animals are what each and every guest comes to see. One of the good things about Pumba was that the ranger who takes you out on each game drive is the same throughout, so you get to know each other pretty well, and crucially they know what animals you have seen and have yet to see. The cars are kept sparsely occupied so everyone has a fantastic view and these guys are experts in tracking and tracing the countless animals in such a huge open expanse. We managed to see so many from elephants, hippos, cheetahs, rhinos, warthogs, zebra, giraffes, wildebeest and lions. Indeed Pumba has one of the few families of White Lion in its park, so seeing the pride of bright white felines, including the bundle of cuteness that were the cubs, truly sticks in the memory. The nature of the reserve allows the rangers to get up close and personal with the animals in the vehicles and we had more than one occasion where lions were on the hunt and ran within touching distance of us at real pace. A heart-stopping moment and one that is frozen in my mind as much as my muscles were frozen at the time of the incident. The three nights we spent here were the most incredible way to finish our honeymoon, a honeymoon that we could not have asked for more from. We are a couple who relish a little adventure and something a different to the norm. This trip ticked all of those boxes and more as something we will talk about for years and years to come. If you have never been on a safari, even if wildlife is not your usual thing, I can only urge you to try it if you can. The whole experience is one that will change your attitude and enrich your life for the better.
13 November 2018
For our recent honeymoon we took the adventure of a lifetime by exploring South Africa and the famous Garden Route specifically. The trip was so jam-packed with memories that I have decided to split the trip into several different blogs to allow me to focus on each individual area. Let me begin... Our honeymoon began in the incredible city of Cape Town, a place I had long wanted to visit and certainly a place that did not disappoint. From the moment you arrive you can't fail to be impressed with the stunning horizon, with the imposing Table Mountain overlooking the city and the bay, creating picture postcards sights from every vantage point. The atmosphere is very welcoming, and the locals could not have been keener to show off their city with pride, and they are rightly proud. We checked in to the delightful Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel, located just a few minutes from the most famous tourist area in the city, the fabulous V&A Waterfront. Although walkable distance the hotel does offer a handy shuttle service there and back every 30 minutes until late which we took advantage of when possible. The hotel itself was excellent and the rooms generous in space and amenities, not that we spent much time there with so much to see and do outside of its walls. Having familiarised ourselves with the waterfront and indulging in some memorable cocktails and delicious steaks on the first evening a good night's sleep was in order ahead of a packed schedule of events. This began with a city tour that culminated in a trip to the top of Table Mountain via the cable car route. Although hiking to the top is possible, we decided that our travel-weary legs may not survive and opted for the more lung-friendly option. It is something I would recommend pre-booking as the queues for tickets can get quite large at various times during the day, but it is certainly worth it. The views on the way up were simply breath-taking, allowing you to see the city in all its formidable glory. The weather in Cape Town can be quite changeable and as we reached the summit the clouds descended, covering these views. Arguably this made the summit all the more stunning, as though you are within the clouds themselves and making the cold beer at the mountain café that little bit more special. The following day we took a trip further afield to Cape Point, the Southernmost tip of Africa and another amazing place to visit. The National Park surrounding it is truly beautiful while the mild hike to the lighthouse well worth the effort. The highlight for me though was our sojourn to Boulder's Beach, home of a huge colony of African Penguins who were absolutely wonderful. I'm a big lover of wildlife so to see penguins in the wild was a real moment that I will remember for the rest of my life, they are amazing creatures with such individual personalities that make for fascinating watching. Another highlight was our trip to Robben Island, home to Nelson Mandela for over 20 years of his time behind bars and a really touching place to visit. I would again recommend pre-booking the tours as they can get exceptionally busy, but they are well-worth your time, with a half day tour following the ferry journey led by former political prisoners held there. This allows you to hear first-hand exactly how horrific things were for there and from our guide, Sparks, we understood how giving these tours are a cathartic experience for them. Although a sombre mood is obviously the prevailing one, a lesson of hope also comes from the spirit and bravery of those held there. In our four nights we managed to fit so much in and barely had time to draw breath. Outside of these excursions there is a plethora of bars, cafés and an incredible array of outstanding restaurants to sample any number of cuisines. The V&A Waterfront alone could cover all your needs, but we also ventured a little further out to a wonderful African restaurant called Marco's. Authentic food couple with memorable entertainment made for an excellent evening. This all comes with the current favourable Sterling to Rand exchange rate which means these slap-up meals can be purchased for a relative pittance by normal standards, so there has never been a better time to visit South Africa. I was entranced by Cape Town and will hopefully return one day, I feel we have unfinished business there with so much more to experience, yet the honeymoon must go on, to the Winelands we go.
13 November 2018
Having picked up our car from Cape Town we began the drive around an hour outside of the city to the Winelands where we would be staying for two nights. Stellenbosch is the larger of the Winelands towns, being a University town, and a little livelier, but there are also towns such as Paarl that you can stay. We opted for Franschhoek, knowing that we prefer the sleepier, quainter village feel, and we were delighted that we did. On arrival you feel the sleepy, frozen in time atmosphere. The charming architecture on either side of the quiet, village streets contrast with the imposing mountains that surround them. We checked into our guesthouse, the amazing Maison Chablis, and were immediately struck by the incredible level of care and service that this family run hotel offered us. It felt in keeping with the town, where you genuinely feel like you have stepped back in time, there is an undertone of Deep South hospitality about the place, added to by the almost colonial style buildings that are everywhere. This could easily be the French Quarter in New Orleans minus the electric atmosphere and party vibe. That's not to say there is not a wonderful atmosphere in the air here, there is, just a far more laid back one, very welcome after the relative hustle and bustle of Cape Town. Of course, the main event was the wine, and it is on every corner. We opted to take the Wine Tram along one of the many coloured tramlines to visit a few of the estates and sample their delectable liquid delights, free from the shackles of a car. Initially the various options seemed a little overwhelming, as you could pick any number of routes. It is worth speaking to those who know best at your guesthouse or at the tram ticket office for advice, to ensure you pick the most appropriate route for you and do so in advance so that you are able to pre-book any additional services you may wish. We decided to pre-book a picnic at one of the estates and it proved to be a real highlight. The tram takes you along several local estates where you pay a small fee at each to sample an array of wines, with about an hour at each estate. Then you simply hop back on and head to the next one. It is a great social event and we got chatting to some other tourists as the wine flowed but were able to get a little privacy for our romantic picnic and stunning it was too! We managed about 4 or 5 estates (the memory is a little hazy) before heading back to our guesthouse to recover before dinner. Food was another theme of our time in Franschhoek, with one meal a standout, Foliage restaurant on the main street in the village. This was another thing to pre-book as it is a popular restaurant, but it was one of the nicest meals I have ever had. It is fine dining, so maybe not for everyone but the menu changes daily based on what the chef finds (yes...finds!) that day on his foraging trips. Some of the flavours were pretty out there but each plate was like a work of art and we couldn't believe the value we got from a 4-course set menu with drinks for under £30pp! Definitely a must visit if you ever stay in Franschhoek. It was with a heavy heart and a mild hangover that we departed, and once again I felt like I could have stayed much longer, but we packed our bags and headed for our next destination on the coast, Hermanus.
08 June 2018
Madeira is a hugely popular destination for many UK travellers seeking some sunshine on an island filled with lush greenery, bohemian bars and cafes as well as crystal seas lapping onto sandy beaches. This popularity may not appeal to everyone, so why not take a trip to Porto Santo instead? Part of the archipelago that includes Madeira, Porto Santo is one long beach which extents to a bit of island off it. Along its nine kilometres of soft white sands, you’ll find just a handful of hotels and restaurants, making Porto Santo one of the last ‘undiscovered’ resorts in Europe. If you are looking for that desert island escape and don't want to fly long haul, then this is certainly one for your list. The unspoilt island of paradise also offers plenty of activities for those who like a more active escape. A rugged interior makes it perfect for long walks or hiking, while there are also opportunities to enjoy horse riding, a world class golf course and game fishing. For those interested in history, the island’s capital, Vila Baleira, offers an intriguing touch of it once being the home of Christopher Columbus. While not the liveliest place on earth there are still a good number of bars, cafes and restaurants to indulge yourself in and a decent range of hotels to suit all tastes and budgets. Although the island does have its own airport, the most convenient option for many visitors is a flight into Madeira and a ferry over from there. If you are truly craving a little more nightlife, you could easily twin Porto Santo with sometime spent staying on it's more famous and busier neighbour Madeira, before you kick back and relax on your own piece of short-haul paradise.
08 June 2018
The UAE have long been a growing market in the travel industry. Dubai is the headline maker and Abu Dhabi isn’t far behind, with their imposing and decadent hotels, man-made beaches and super-fast developments. However, their neighbour Oman can offer a very different and amazingly beautiful side to the Emirate States. The variation Oman can offer is its true unique selling point, with huge contrasts throughout the country especially in comparison to the other Emirates which, while stunning in their own way, cannot offer some of the natural beauty found in Oman. The first place to visit is undoubtedly the historic capital, Muscat. It is very different in style to other Emirate cities, whose striking skyscrapers dominate the landscape, Muscat instead offers a return to tradition and understated elegance. Thankfully, the government have strict building laws in place to ensure everything meets a certain criterion, so the city won’t be losing its historic charm anytime soon! The Chedi Muscat offers a romantic and stylish beachfront sanctuary for your stay but there are plenty of other hotels to suit your requirements. Desert adventures are also a big attraction, with several desert camps available to stay in. Here you can sample camel treks and stargaze at the unobscured galaxies above or indulge in more high-octane pursuits such as 4x4 adventures or kite surfing. Whether it is the high-octane activities or the more relaxed form of tourism, it would be a shame not to experience a couple of nights in the desert while you have the opportunity. It is something that will be an everlasting memory I promise, as you cannot convey how strangely peaceful it feels to be so isolated. It’s a fantastic reminder of how big this world truly is! Not a fan of the desert life? Then head to Salalah, the lush green capital of the Southern province, awash with fruit plantations and the aroma of frankincense that has been produced there for centuries. It is also a fantastic centre for wildlife, from oryx to humpback and blue whales, it is a far cry from the arid sands further north and a complete contrast to what you would have experienced elsewhere in the Emirates. This kind of natural beauty simply cannot be replicated so you feel a world away from your desert camp or the decadence of Dubai. Obviously, you could visit these destinations individually and Muscat is a fantastic option for a more indulgent city break. However, I would recommend an itinerary that takes in all these options together. I am sure that the variation and beauty will astound you, so make your next trip to the UAE a special one with a visit to the astounding Emirate of Oman.
08 June 2018
Think of Florida and no doubt Mickey Mouse and Co along with thrill rides, water parks and huge crowds are the things that most come to mind. While Orlando certainly has a lot to offer and is an unbeatable entertainment destination, there is so much more to Florida than theme parks and cartoon characters if you are willing to don your adventure cap and hit the road. The Florida Keys are a string of tropical islands stretching out off the Southern tip of Florida towards the Caribbean. Once home to Ernest Hemmingway they are awash with sunshine, views, rum and a chilled out, hip atmosphere. I would recommend visiting on a road trip, as it is the only way to truly experience the views and breath-taking scenery. The drive from Miami to Key West is worth the journey alone, taking in 110 miles over 42 bridges on the famous overseas highway. It is one of the great American road trips and is most definitely bucket list material! Hire a convertible, drop the top down, turn the volume up and take in some incredible sights. There are several stops you can stay at along the way, or you could base yourself at a particular Key and explore from there. Personally, I would prefer to do a couple of nights at each, but it would depend on your personal preference and who you are travelling with, whether it be as a couple, with friends or as a family. Key West is obviously one of the most popular places to stay with such history and culture, a blend of US, Cuban and Bahamian. Showing a different side to Florida the Conch Republic is also known for its Key Lime Pie, pirates, water sports and live music – lots of live music! Duval Street on Key West is particularly famed for its Jazz, Cuban and Salsa music on a mile long stretch of vibrant bars. Pop in and grab a cocktail to watch the famed sunsets on the Florida Keys for a truly memorable experience. There are also family resorts on the keys so don't be afraid to take your younger ones along to experience what this amazing place has to offer. It may offer you some well-earned time out after the fun filled, non-stop action of Orlando and the kids will love it I promise. Take a break from the norm and make memories to last a lifetime in this unique destination.
08 June 2018
The capital and largest city in Slovenia, you would be forgiven for not believing those facts while taking a stroll around this gorgeously quaint city. Filled with sprawling green spaces and cobbled narrow streets, back alley bars and underground cafes, this still feels like a step back in time despite its capital city status. I first visited around 15 years ago and fell in love with the place. With car traffic restricted in the city’s centre, only pedestrians and cyclists can enjoy the views over the glistening Ljubljanica River that flows through its heart, giving a real air of peace and tranquillity. Flanked throughout by stunning architecture and guarded by the historic castle overlooking the city, there is an undeniable charm about Ljubljana. The peaceful nature of the streets just provides a sense of awe that I have not experienced in many other places. That does not diminish its capacity for a lively night however, with endless bars and a wide variety of clubs making it a perfectly viable destination for those who enjoy the nightlife element to a city break. I recall enjoying a particularly hazy bar crawl one evening that started my penchant for a White Russian cocktail having been recommended it by a fantastic local bartender. I didn't feel so grateful the following day, but it only added to my love of this wonderful city when I look back. Amazingly, Ljubljana can also be used as a base to indulge in some winter sports, with ski resorts within easy reach for day trips, or in the summer, head out to one of Slovenia’s many beaches, with 40km of crisp sand sprawled across the Adriatic coastline, or the beautiful Lake Bled. What more could you want? With its move into the Eurozone Ljubljana is now a little more expensive than it used to be but that is not to say it does not provide fantastic value for money and there are a multitude of options to get there. It is also easily combinable with a beach holiday or perhaps twin it with Croatia and the Plitvice National Park? However you decide to visit I implore you to do so. You will not regret it.
08 May 2018
The Jamaican Tourist Board invited me to visit their fascinating island at the heart of the Caribbean recently and boy was I glad about it. This is a place I had been planning on visiting for quite some time and with a packed itinerary we managed to see plenty to make me want to go back again someday. Flying Club World with British Airways into Kingston was the perfect start to the trip, with spacious bays, fabulous on-board entertainment and top-quality service we arrived fresh despite the nine-hour journey. Bags collected in no time at all, there was a short trip through immigration and before we knew it we were on our way to our first host hotel in Ocho Rios, on the north coast of the island. This was a trip that in previous years may have taken far longer, but with the new North-South highway having been completed, those flying in to Kingston rather than Montego Bay can easily get to resorts such as Ocho Rios without too much hassle whatsoever. Our welcome at this all-inclusive hotel was as warm as I have ever experienced, and we were checked in without fuss, something that was very welcome after a day of travelling. Equally welcome were the spacious and beautifully appointed rooms, with fantastic views and a fully stocked mini-bar to enjoy at leisure, including an array of spirits with their own optics! The hotel had everything you could wish for, whether staying as a couple or a family, with a huge array of culinary options and entertainment throughout the complex, we were looked after from start to finish. I even tried my hand at the onsite Flow-Rider (surfing simulator) and jetpack out on the Caribbean Sea. There were some mixed results to say the least due to my lack of balance, but it was great fun and the staff made the whole experience as simple and fun as possible. We also visited some other hotels in the area such as Couples San Souci - a perfect destination for wellness enthusiasts, Jamaica Inn - ideal for those who prefer a more boutique style of property and Sandals Ochi Beach - a fantastic Sandals example of ultra-all-inclusive luxury with everything included for your indulgence. Of course, despite needing to see as many hotels as possible to advise my customers on the right places for them to stay I also needed to try my hand at some of the local attractions and activities, all in the interests of research of course. In Ocho Rios there are plenty of options and they are all located conveniently close together so it’s possible to do them all in one day if you wished to, and we did just that. Starting our day in the best possible way by swimming with some amazing sea creatures at Dolphin Cove. I loved this place and the fact that the dolphins are not captive there, they come and go as they please out to sea and back, but return most mornings too be fed and play with their human friends, makes it all the more enjoyable. There was even an opportunity to have a shark experience with a nurse shark, but despite this being very safe, I let other people enjoy this on my behalf. I'm kind like that you see! This was followed by a trip up to Mystic Mountain. Named after some famous Bob Marley lyrics this amazing attraction has so much to offer. The main attraction is the sky explorer, a chair lift taking you 700 feet up to the top of the mountain with amazing views over the jungle below and the ocean to one side. Once up there they have some wonderful things to do, including their hummingbird garden where you can see the Jamaican national bird - the doctor bird, in its natural habitat, or swim in the infinity pool with stunning views. We opted for the slightly more adventurous bobsled down the mountain - honouring the iconic Jamaican bobsleigh team. It was great fun and perfectly safe as you control your own speed throughout. I would recommend it to anyone who visits. After taking the chair lift back down the mountain we paid a visit to the legendary Dunns River Falls, an incredible tiered waterfall which you can climb, ably and helpfully assisted by your effervescent guides who keep your energy levels up with their unique and lively entertainment as you go. Definitely one to do if you are in the area with such natural beauty coupled with local charm. Although it can look quite challenging at times they cater for all ages and abilities so please do not be put off. Let them know and they will look after you throughout, whatever your requirements. After those packed few days we moved on towards our second host hotel, the Melia Braco Village in Rio Bueno, halfway between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. This was a truly gorgeous hotel that I loved for its relaxed vibe and beautiful feel. Laid out like a village with stunning colonial buildings you could easily feel like you are in the deep south with the architecture. The large rooms boasting huge balconies with rocking chairs overlooking the ocean only add to the ambience, as you can easily drift away and lose hours just lounging around listening to the waves lap up against the shore. Another all-inclusive hotel that leaves you wanting for nothing the food here was equally resplendent, with the famous steakhouse a particular highlight for a meat lover such as myself, but the Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant running a close second. The hotel also has huge grounds where a stroll can take you into anything from a death defying trampoline section or climbing wall to a stunning wedding area, where brides and grooms to be can prepare to tie the knot in style. In fact, the bridal room is so fantastic I would not be surprised if a few grooms were left standing nervously while their brides spent a little too long enjoying its surroundings! Around this resort area we also managed to check out the amazing Hyatt Ziva and Zilara resorts - excellent high-end hotels for families or adults only for that extra slice of luxury, as well as the Royal White Sands and Royalton Blue Waters resorts - gorgeous hotels with amazing facilities and impeccable rooms. I would especially recommend the swim up suites at the Royalton Blue Waters - one of the most beautiful rooms I have been a privileged to witness and one they needed to drag me out of. We also managed to squeeze in a look around Rose Hall - an old plantation great house that has gone down in folklore due to its former inhabitants. Most notable, was former overseer philandering murderer Annie Palmer, immortalized in the song "the ballad of Annie Palmer" by Jonny Cash. It is an interesting tour that provides an insight into the unbelievable and often a little chilling history of the building. The building itself looks incredible too, with wonderful views across to the bay, so something for everyone, even if you don't fancy the ghostly happenings too much. Finally, what visit to Jamaica is complete without a little Reggae? And what is Reggae without Bob Marley? We visited the Bob Marley Museum and the great man's former home in the heart of Kingston just before we departed. No pictures are allowed here on the orders of his family and that only adds to the feeling of genuine privilege you get from being so close to a true legend and icon. The tours are hugely informative and very entertaining but be prepared to bring your best singing voice to the party as there will be plenty of beats for you to get warbling too. Overall, I can honestly say that Jamaica has something for everyone, and we only saw a small section of what this Caribbean behemoth has to offer. Whether you want to kick back, relax and over indulge or you want to explore, discover and soak in the culture you can do as little or as much as you please. For those of you thinking of paying Jamaica a visit I have some fantastic insight into some of the island's top hotels and so much more, so please do not hesitate to give me a call to discuss your needs should you be looking to spend some time in "the home of alright"
29 January 2018
Many people see a holiday as a time to relax, switch off your mind and soak up the sun away from the travails of day to day life and these types of holidays are fantastic. However, there is an increasing trend in experiencing more in a holiday, adding a sense of independent adventure and seeing worth in the journey as well as the destination. This is where a 'road trip' becomes the perfect escape and with their ever-growing popularity, I will take a look at a few ideas to inspire you for your next four-wheeled (or two-wheeled) escapade. Route 66 (USA): The daddy of them all is the only place I can rightfully begin, with the legendary US road that has become folklore for road trippers covering 2400 miles in total. Traditionally beginning on the East Coast in Chicago and finishing in Santa Monica in the West on the Pacific Coast there are countless ways to take this trip. Whether you do it in a convertible, a Harley Davidson or a pickup truck you can take as long as you like with numerous stop off points along the way. Enjoy the vineyards and rivers of Illinois, the behemoth city of St Louis, Missouri, cruise through the rolling wheat fields of the Great Plains, taking in the true Midwestern American countryside of Kansas, visit Amarillo, Texas, so you really will know the way there and marvel at the Grand Canyon as you pass through. Sandwich all of this with regular stops at roadside diners, local attractions and mix up your stay with nights in motels or a little more luxury in cities and towns along the way. There are so many options, all of which will leave you with wonderful memories of your true American Road Trip. The Garden Route (South Africa): The jewel of South African road trips is the famous Garden Route which stretches from Cape Town on the South West Coast along the southern tip and towards Port Elizabeth. This is a trip I have long had on my bucket list and I have booked it for our honeymoon this October. To say I am excited is an understatement. There are so many beautiful views, amazing attractions and exciting adventures on this route it would be impossible to list them all. There is definitely something for everyone though, whether you are a thrill seeker looking for adrenaline fuelled action on a white water raft, or a wildlife lover looking to see some amazing creatures at the world famous Hermanus with a huge population of whales. Or how about combine the two with some shark cage diving? Along the way you can visit the amazing Cape Town and all that it has to offer, overindulge in the wine lands of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and even finish with a safari stay at a game lodge on the Eastern Cape as we plan on doing. Every day can be different on your trip along the Garden Route so pack your sense of adventure and be prepared to be amazed. The Overseas Highway: Think of Florida and no doubt Mickey Mouse and co., along with thrill rides, water parks and huge crowds are the things that most come to mind. While Orlando certainly has a lot to offer and is an unbeatable entertainment destination, there is so much more to Florida than theme parks and cartoon characters. The Florida Keys are a string of tropical islands stretching out off the southern tip of Florida towards the Caribbean. Once home to Ernest Hemmingway, they are awash with sunshine, views, rum and a chilled out, hip atmosphere and the amazing Overseas Highway. Not the longest road trip in the world but certainly one of the most picturesque. The drive from Miami to Key West is worth the journey alone, taking in 110 miles over 42 bridges on the famous overseas highway. It is one of the great American road trips and is definitely bucket list material! Hire a convertible, drop the top down, turn the volume up and take in some incredible views. Showing a different side to Florida the Conch Republic is also known for its key lime pie, pirates, water sports and live music – lots of live music! Duval Street on Key West is particularly famed for its Jazz, Cuban and Salsa music on a mile long stretch of vibrant bars. Pop in and grab a cocktail to watch the famed sunsets on the Florida Keys, you won’t regret it. This trip is a much more leisurely affair, staying a couple of nights at a time along the way, after all, you'll need to sleep off that rum punch on the beach before you get back behind the wheel. Whatever kind of road trip you are looking for, there is undoubtedly one to suit. Though they can seem a logistical minefield for planning, I have great experience and personal recommendations when doing so to inspire you further. Give me a call to start planning your next road-based exploit and create memories to last a lifetime.
04 September 2017
Italy has long been seen as one of the world’s most romantic nations, so it is no surprise to find that it is also one of the most popular destinations to both get married in, and visit for a honeymoon. As a Travel Counsellor, I am able to help organise both the wedding abroad and the honeymoon itself, so I have great experience in understanding what makes this beautiful country so popular. The food, wine, culture, terrain and even the language itself provide a stunning backdrop for the most romantic of retreats for any couple. Italy has so much variation to offer travelers that the hardest part in my experience is deciding on where to go. From the soaring, spectacular Amalfi Coast to the rolling, vineyard-blanketed hills of Tuscany. Perhaps you would prefer to be inspired by the culture and history in the Eternal City, Rome, or the meandering waterways of Venice? Maybe it is the glistening Lakes and golden sand beaches of Sardinia that evoke your passion, but in any case, Italy really does have everything to melt even the least romantic of hearts. So with so much on offer, where do you start with planning your honeymoon there? I have booked a number of trips there for my clients, and personally, I believe that Italy is a fantastic destination for a multi-centre trip. Whether you opt for a self-drive option, which is relatively inexpensive and easy to navigate, allowing you that extra freedom to manage your own trip, or whether you use the excellent public transport available. There are a number of specific twin or multi-centre trips that I would particularly recommend. One such perfect marriage is that of the Amalfi Coast and a stay in the nation’s capital, Rome. This allows the perfect balance of stunning scenery, coastal sunshine and the fascinating history, culture and unrivaled splendor of one of the world’s most amazing cities. If you are not the kind of couple who would like the more fast-paced city side of a honeymoon then why not combine a trip to Sardinia, with all of its breath-taking scenery, with a visit to Lake Como. I guarantee a feast for the senses, and the unending gratitude of your loved one when you are sipping wine overlooking these magnificent destinations. One recent honeymoon I booked was for a client who was getting married not far from Perugia. They wanted to do a 10-day tour of Italy, by hiring a car and seeing as much as possible in the timeframe, without spending day after day on the road, while still balancing a cultural look at the cities with a more luxurious side of their honeymoon. Complex itineraries like these are what I personally revel in, allowing me to get researching, tweaking, changing and conversing with the client until I know everything is perfect for their trip. Eventually, we planned a route that included a luxurious spa hotel outside of Perugia to start their honeymoon, with days staying in Rome, Bologna, Florence, and Venice, bookended by another luxury spa hotel so they maintained a perfect balance of action and relaxation. I love being able to manage these tailor made trips, and even found a number of restaurants and activities to recommend and book for them along the way (unbeknownst to his wife to be). By booking these special additions, a champagne meal overlooking Florence and a river cruise at night along the Tiber, I hope their honeymoon becomes that more memorable, as their satisfaction means I have done my job well. Of course, any possibility is open to the honeymooner, they may prefer a shorter, mini-moon, focusing on one particular Romantic destination, and in this aspect, you are spoilt for choice in Italy. Some of the most traditional romantic images are set in history as quintessentially Italian. Of course, Venice, with its water-lined streets, and operatic gondola rides, simply exudes romance in every sense. With many direct flights from regional airports it is also extremely accessible, and with shorter breaks, budgets need not be stretched. This is not to say planning will be any less exacting, making sure the of the perfect hotel, specially requested rooms, and additional suggestions and touches are all part of the experience no matter the length or size of the booking. Rome as well is a perfect place to spend a long weekend or beyond, with as little or as much to do as you desire. History, culture, food, and wine are a perfect combination to melt any heart. How about those who want to find something a little bit different? Something not so well trodden, but still, with the capacity to create a million memories, Italy has plenty to offer there also. One area I could suggest as such are the towns along Liguria’s coastline. Many have the same kind of scenery you would expect from places like the Amalfi Coast and the Cinque Terre, but most of the non-Cinque Terre towns aren’t nearly as visited as those on the Amalfi (at least by non-Italians). Although the water you’d be lazily staring at isn’t technically the Mediterranean (it’s the Ligurian Sea), you’re not likely to notice. In fact, if you’ve ever looked into taking a Mediterranean cruise, you may recall the name Portofino – it’s a popular port of call, and like some of the Amalfi Coast towns, more of a high-end vacation spot. Nearby towns like Santa Margherita Ligure, Portovenere, and Rapallo are other towns you might want to consider as a seaside base for your Italian honeymoon, the list is seemingly endless. Italy is a perfect honeymoon destination in anyone’s language, let alone the language of love, and there are simply countless combinations and opportunities to make memories to last a lifetime without breaking the bank. Whatever your budget, planning is the key to ensuring you spend every second of your trip soaking up the splendor of this amazing country. As a Travel Counsellor I have the knowledge and experience to do the hard work for you, so you merely need to pop the cork, the champagne will already be on the ice.
04 September 2017
Honeymoons are a huge part of the wedding experience in the modern world, with so many options to choose from and destinations to research, where would your dream destination be? As a Travel Counsellor, I am able to build the perfect honeymoon for you, whether it is a secluded break in the Lake District or a multi-centered trip taking in a number of resorts, I am able to take care of every last detail, giving you more time to focus on the wedding. There are many popular honeymoon destinations, and Thailand is certainly one of those, ever popular for so many reasons, it could prove the perfect romantic retreat for you and your new spouse. I’ll be the first to admit I am slightly biased when it comes to Thailand having lived there for a year while teaching English. Whenever I have inquiries for Thailand I gush with praise and nostalgia at the time I spent in one of the world’s most beautiful countries. For me, it is a destination that has everything, from lush golden beaches, tropical forests, bustling cities with shopping and entertainment to die for and a culture of unending hospitality, it is no wonder it is known as the “land of smiles”. With prices so reasonable, even those on a fairly tight budget are able to opt for the more luxurious hotels and resorts without too much concern, while expenses there are often astoundingly cheap. Scrumptious meals and delicious drinks will barely make a dent in your purse or wallet. For honeymooners, the traditional options would be to opt for a stay at one of the many luxury resorts in the islands towards the South of Thailand. Koh Samui, in particular, is one that couples tend to gravitate towards. There are so many beautiful beaches, outstanding hotels and thriving nightlife that you could happily stay here for the duration and be more than content. For a more thriving, lively option, Phuket is also hugely popular. Though the main hub of Patong may not be to everyone’s tastes it is a huge island with so much to offer visitors, and with some romantic hideaways nestled away from the hive of activity that is Patong there is no reason to be put off by it, you could dip in and out as much or as little as you like. Failing that, staying far away from Patong is also a very common choice, with plenty of gorgeous resorts nestled in the hills, along the coast and beyond. From Phuket you can also access Koh Phi Phi, the island made famous by Leo Di Caprio in “The Beach”, and overnight stays are available there for one night of secluded romance in your own personal paradise. Koh Tao is growing in popularity too, mainly with the younger crowd and is known as a diver’s paradise, which gives you some idea of the beauty found along its coast. (Though for the really adventurous couples why not try an underwater wedding? The city I used to call home, Trang, holds the largest underwater wedding festival in the world!) However, there are literally hundreds of islands along the shores of this fascinating place, and plenty of ways to see them without compromising on luxury or quality. One personal hidden gem that I truly fell in love with while staying in Thailand is a small island on the Andaman coast called Koh Muk, which translates as “Pearl Island”. With a couple of hotels, including an infinity pool looking out on the glistening blue ocean, it really feels like an undiscovered piece of paradise. Within the island there is a cave, known as the Emerald Cave, only accessible by boat, where after being led through the pitch black swim by a guide you emerge into a glorious cove beach, completely surrounded on all sides by rocks. The color of the sea gives it the unique name and it truly feels like a complete escape from reality, perfect for two newlyweds. Outside of these traditional and off the beaten track venues, there are the endless city possibilities that Thailand has to offer, for the more active honeymooners. Clearly, Bangkok needs no introduction, a city that has everything and truly has to be seen to be believed at times. I accept that this may not be a city everyone would enjoy but I always tell my clients it would be a shame not to spend at least a couple of days in the Bangkok bubble. It can be easily combined with most trips without impinging on price, and even the most luxurious hotels there offer a very reasonable rate. Further North is the gem of Chang Mai. A more traditional Thai city, known for its culture and natural beauty, complete with magnificent wildlife, most notably elephants. This is a city that lovers can truly appreciate. It feels almost like a step back in time in certain aspects, and with so much to see and do, I would certainly put this high on any more active honeymooner’s wish list. I could list the potential destinations in Thailand but this piece would be never-ending, as there are far too many to contemplate. I would personally opt for at least two destinations while there, as it would be a shame not to see more of such a fabulous country. Perhaps a week of secluded romance coupled with a week of city and adventure? Whatever your desires from your honeymoon, be it active, lively, secluded, adventurous or luxurious, Thailand has it all, and it can all be done without hurting your bank balance. As a Travel Counsellor (and former Thai resident!) I have the inside track and contacts available to build your perfect honeymoon, there, or indeed anywhere for that matter. For me though, a piece of my heart will always remain in Thailand, so why not share this wonderful, special place with the one you love?
04 September 2017
Times have certainly changed since the days when a stag or hen party meant a gathering of likeminded friends in a local pub or a night on the town. These days stag and hen parties are just as much a part of the wedding as the reception itself, and for many, this means planning them in the same meticulous manner. This has led to stag and hen parties becoming big business indeed. Specialist stag and hen companies exist in the UK and beyond, taking the pressure of the best man and maid of honour, whose traditional role involved the planning of such a night or event. Indeed, where previously a night on the tiles was the standard, these days it generally stretches to at least a weekend and often beyond. Personally, I have been on stags recently that have gone on upwards of a week! The low-cost airline industry has certainly revolutionised the way we look at the options available, with flights to Europe’s most popular destinations often a similar price or even cheaper to that of a train ticket to some of the UK’s most happening cities. The planning of such a trip can prove overwhelming, dealing with the tricky issue of gathering the finances to book large groups on flights, and the thorny problem of booking the group into a hotel adds to this. Some hotels point blank refuse to accept large groups, especially when they become aware of the reason for the booking, seeing it as less of a boost to their business and more of a potential problem in dealing with the high spirits and tomfoolery that inevitably follows. So with a minefield of options available and often a huge array of people involved where do you start with this now crucial aspect of the wedding? As a Travel Counsellor I have great experience in this area in both at home and abroad. We have contacts and contracts with UK and foreign hotels and airlines, allowing us to make the booking as smooth as possible from start to finish. With a specialist group department available we know the best places to book, and can even ensure excursions and activities can be booked ahead of time, so your itinerary can be as vague or detailed as you wish, hangover dependent! Knowing that you only ever have one point of contact in the Travel Counsellor also provides peace of mind, no call centres to deal with, just a friendly voice at the other end of the phone able to deal with your queries at a time to suit you, before, during and after the trip. One additional benefit is negating the need to be the bad guy, calling up your friends and acquaintances due to pay money for the trip can be a daunting task, but in an official capacity as the organising travel agent this is done for you. So you can concentrate on packing your bags and planning the pranks… So with the hard work and organisation delegated where are the most popular destinations to go? Well the variation in this sense is huge. Looking locally the UK has a huge number of options, from city breaks to London, Manchester, Liverpool and beyond, to more adventure style weekends incorporating activities such as paintballing, quad biking and clay pigeon shooting. For a more serene option, many hen weekends opt to look at spa retreats, with itineraries built around your needs and desires. Pampering, yoga sessions and a weekend of relaxation are often the choice for the more discerning customer. Though there is no reason why you cannot combine a lively city break with a day of pampering. Take to the town one day and soothe those aching hangovers the next day in the comfort of a robe and slippers, there really is no limit to your possibilities. There is also a growing market in spa retreats abroad with many specialist hotels available. So why not move your yoga class to the beach and top up your tan while you perfect your lotus pose? Staying on foreign soil, the most popular stag and hen trips these days are often city breaks abroad. With low-cost airlines flying to the most popular destinations in Europe, you could be off to Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Barcelona, Krakow, Prague or Dubrovnik, no doubt with a list of “don’ts” from your betrothed in hand. Or then there is the more elaborate parties going further afield; Las Vegas, Mexico or Thailand perhaps? No doubt inspired by films such as the Hangover, these too are viable party destinations for a stag or hen party. With the world being so small comparatively in modern times anything is possible, if you can dream it, we can do it! These trips can be arranged around your needs, your desired budget and your timeframe. Wherever you have your eyes on, at home or abroad, the stress of the organisation no longer needs to be a part of it. No matter the party size or budget, as a Travel Counsellor I know how important a stag and hen party can be to those involved. I take pride in ensuring everything runs smoothly from start to finish and will go the extra mile to make it a special trip, just don’t hold me responsible for the hangover…
04 September 2017
When discussing honeymoon destinations you cannot ignore the quintessential destination for many couples, that of the Caribbean. Encompassing a wide variation in culture, style and geography, the Caribbean remains consistent in providing a luxurious, sun-kissed and unerringly romantic destination no matter where you choose to stay. Seclusion, tranquility, sultry nights tempered by cool ocean breezes, the Caribbean defines romance and honeymoons. The Caribbean and honeymoons amplify one another; each makes the other better, it did not invent the honeymoon but has perfected the concept. So where else could I start than the classic Caribbean destination, Jamaica? It is true what they say that when you have visited this Caribbean gem you understand that there is no place quite like it. The air appears filled with reggae-flavoured romance and it is no wonder that couples flock to this island in their droves. That’s not to say that you can’t find the seclusion and tranquillity many desire from a honeymoon, making this an ideal place to visit for couples who like to mix the romance with some livelier nights out and activities. There are plenty of secluded places to hideaway if you so desire, such as some of Sandal’s amazing ultra-all-inclusive resorts, where every whim and desire will be catered to and included in the price. This is reassuring for the wallet or purse, making it easier to budget and couples are never disappointed by what Sandals can offer. Jamaican culture and hospitality makes the island extra special, the Jamaican people are friendly, cheerful, and very fun to be around. You’ll experience Jamaica’s amazing music and so much more from such a rich culture should you venture outside of your chosen resort, it will only add to your honeymoon memories and the experience you will cherish forever. In terms of keeping things within a more restrictive budget, the Dominican Republic has some of the best priced all-inclusive resorts in all of the Caribbean, which is why it is one of the most frequented islands for couples worldwide. The beaches are white sand, beautiful, with tons of palm tree lined beaches, turquoise ocean waters, and national parks. Focus is on water sports, eating, drinking, pool bars, meeting others, night life, and shopping. Like Jamaica it is a fun place to visit, and always offers something for everyone, including being one of the few islands in the Caribbean where you have the opportunity to swim with dolphins. This is a beautiful experience that many couples see as a highlight of their trip. The main language is Spanish, but English is widely spoken so it is a perfect destination for us Brits. Should you choose this island for your trip, one of my absolute favourite hotels in the Dominican Republic is Zoetry Punta Agua. A luxury property that has more included than any other all-inclusive hotel on the island, they even include horseback riding. The rooms are all lovely suites, and the deluxe oceanfront rooms have plunge pools. Great for couples seeking fun, luxury and adventure. Part of A&M resorts, the Zoetry brand hotel encompasses their “Unlimited Privileges” concept, where your every whim will be met. A&M are a fabulous hotelier who also have other hotels on the Dominican Republic, such as their Dreams Punta Cana and Dreams Palm Beach resorts, which are equally adept at providing a stunning setting for any honeymoon. They also work closely with Travel Counsellors meaning I can secure exclusive rates and amazing added value should you wish to bask in the luxury they can provide. For something slightly different in a destination, you may not have considered Belize, perhaps not even heard of it. However, it is growing as a tourist destination and in terms of being idyllic, tranquil and romantically isolated, almost unsurpassed. If you are looking for a destination that offers breathtaking natural attractions and the excitement of discovering “Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret”, then Belize is the ideal Caribbean destination for you. Located between Mexico and Guatemala on the Caribbean coast of Central America, Belize is one of the few remaining places on earth that remains true to its history and natural beauty. You can expect to find a variety of exciting eco-adventure activities everywhere you turn including the longest barrier reef in the hemisphere. With hundreds of islands there are endless options for fantastic snorkeling and diving, along with being the home to the “Great Blue Hole”. Located about 70 kilometres off the coast of Belize, the “Great Blue Hole” is a diver’s paradise and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Originally the Blue Hole was a limestone cave that started to form about 150,000 years ago. Gradually the water level rose as the glacial period ended and the caves were flooded and its roof collapsed, thus forming this unique hole. Surrounding the coastlines is a lush, tropical rainforest with dozens of species of birds along with exotic and tropical flora and fauna. Take in the beauty of Mayan history with ancient sites both excavated and jungle covered scattered about. The beauty of Belize combined with the cultural heritage of the warm Belizean people, makes for a truly unique Honeymoon location. However, If visions of azure waters, warm breezes and powder-soft sand are dancing through your head, why not make these dreams reality with a Bahamas honeymoon? This island nation is home to hundreds of resorts catering to newlyweds; from private island luxury to secluded waterfront villas and an upscale all-inclusive resort, the Bahamas again encapsulate a classic Caribbean honeymoon destination. As a Travel Counsellor I can help you decide on the best place for your needs, to make sure everything is perfect, but I also like to suggest unique experiences, and the Bahamas can certainly offer that. It is probably the only place on earth where you can swim with pigs! Visitors to the islands are happily embracing the unique and special experience of swimming with the pigs on the uninhabited island of Big Major Cay, which is home to these special creatures and affectionately called “Pig Beach”. It is unknown how the pigs originally came to live on Big Major Cay, as they aren’t native and the island itself is uninhabited. Popular lore suggests that the pigs were dropped off by a group of sailors who wanted to come back and cook them, or that there was a nearby shipwreck and the pigs swam to safety. However it was that they came to be, there are now approximately 20 pigs and piglets surviving easily on Big Major Cay, partly because the island is blessed with three freshwater springs, and partly due to the generosity of visiting Bahamians and tourists. It is certainly something I would love to do and I could personally arrange this for any couple visiting, as I could with any excursion or special request, right down to restaurant reservations. Such is my desire to create the perfect honeymoon, having a Travel Counsellor is more than just a travel agent, more than even a concierge. We treat our clients as friends and want them to create the special memories they deserve. The Caribbean would certainly provide the requisite luxury, romance, sun-drenched ambience and infinite memories for any couple.
09 June 2017
Barcelona is renowned for many things with culture high on the agenda, but with my recent visit I would be lying if I said that I partook in much of what this stunning city has to offer. This was because the reason for travelling there was as part of a group of twenty plus gentlemen involved in a stag party. While it may not be the type of travelling I am used to I can safely say that this city is perfect for such a venture, offering sunshine, music, beers and a warm welcome from the locals. Staying at the Barcelona B-Hotel on the Plaza Espana there was some sense of trepidation as to how a large group of exuberant males would be greeted. They were aware that we were on a stag do and so I knew there would be no major issue but a frosty reception is always a possibility when things get a little rowdy. Firstly, the hotel itself was fantastic. A great location with easy metro access, plenty of local amenities and a stunning rooftop pool with glorious views overlooking the city. The rooms were modern and spacious and excellent value for a half-term trip. However, for me it was the staff who made the experience so wonderful. They not only welcomed us despite the excitable nature of such a large group, often slightly inebriated at best but got involved with the fun and really made the atmosphere such a joy. From the unbelievably helpful reception staff who showed great patience with a complicated check in, as well as ordering countless taxis and providing endless advice, to the amazing pool bar staff who really provided a near infinite supply of cold beers and smiles. They put all of us at ease and allowed us to enjoy our 4 nights there in a completely relaxed environment, and that was crucial in making the trip such a success. In terms of the city itself, the bars and locals were equally welcoming in Las Ramblas. Somehow such a large group of us only managed to lose one mobile phone between us for the entire duration which is quite some achievement. I would love to give you more details on exactly where we went and what we saw but unfortunately the memories are extremely hazy indeed, hazy but happy! In one moment of clarity a few of us did manage to visit the Nou Camp, home of Barcelona FC. The whole setup there is quite something, a well oiled machine with constant tours, bars, restaurants and a sea of memorabilia and replica shirts on sale. The tour itself is well worth a visit though for those interested in football. As part of it access to the stadium and as close to the pitch as you could get without touching the grass were the highlights for me, including a frosty Estrella in a delightful café overlooking the pitch itself. The history and stature of the club can be felt from one look at the vast array of trophies in the museum, shimmering with a backdrop of replays of their past glories on huge televisions. It is quite the experience and one I would definitely recommend. Organising these large group trips can be a difficult business with many hotels refusing to take single sex parties of that size, but I cannot suggest Barcelona and the B-Hotel in particular enough for this type of holiday. The city lends itself perfectly to the perfect balance between city break and beach holiday, ideal for a large group of fun and sun seekers! If you have a stag or hen do on the horizon, wherever you want to go or whatever you want to do, give me a call and let me take the stress away from you. I will make sure the hotel is perfect for your occasion, much like ours was. I can promise you fantastic times, just not necessarily the memories.
17 May 2017
Marrakech is always somewhere that has fascinated and intimidated me in equal measure. I love the idea of exploring different cultures that put me out of my comfort zone, but a holiday should also allow some time to reset, relax and unwind. As much as I looked forward to exploring this historic city, I also doubted whether I would be able to find the time to relax in a place where the pace of life is unwaveringly hectic. My expectations would be proven quite wrong, but arriving into the city did little to dilute them. Hustle and bustle of people milling around in all directions, on all forms of transport from motorbikes to donkeys, were prevalent everywhere. As we arrived at our riad on the outskirts of the ancient medina in the old town our hearts were racing. However, to our delight, the riad was a haven of tranquility in a world of unrelenting chaos. Riad 58 Blu is a beautiful property with a stunning courtyard, where nothing but the sound of birds tweeting echoes in the air. We had a fantastic, spacious suite in which to bed down and having a base such as this allowed us to take stock and unwind from whatever exploration had taken place that day. The roof terrace too was a perfect place to start the day with a traditional Moroccan breakfast, while the staff were what gave the riad a home away from home feel. They literally could not do enough for you and gave excellent local advice and recommendations. Marrakech itself is split primarily into two areas, the old town, where the medina is located, and the new town. As you would expect they offer exactly what their names suggest, with the new town boasting more modern areas, shops, restaurants and boutiques, while the old town has the souks and markets with a far more traditional feel. They are both very accessible to each other so basing yourself in either would be fine, but I enjoyed the daily walk into the souks where you really feel a part of the ancestral Morocco. The highlight of the old town and medina for me is certainly the main square, the Djemaa El Fna, or square of the dead owing to a rather brutal history of executions there. With the famous landmark of the Koutoubia Mosque towering over the square on one side, it really feels like stepping back in time. During the day a series of market stalls and entertainers including snake charmers and Arabic storytellers create a crescendo of noise that billows through the warm air. While at night, the place seems to have a life of its own, gathering crowds amongst musicians and entertainers, battling for their share of the limelight amongst the catcalls of yet more traders. The restaurants dotted around the square all tend to have balconies and terraces, so having dinner or a Moroccan mint tea while people watching can make hours seem like minutes. While this can be quite an intimidating atmosphere to some for the most part everyone is polite and respectful. They may hawk their wares at you quite vociferously, but a polite decline usually results in a thank you and they move on. I will admit, the semi-constant refusal to engage in this activity can get quite tiring, but it is at these points you can beat a hasty retreat to a café or back to your riad for some stolen peace. Another option to escape the furore of the city is to visit some of the countryside nearby. We took a day out with a very reasonably priced local guide to escape to the Atlas mountains where we made our way up to a beautiful waterfall, ably assisted by one of the local Berber guides. The walk was a little more energetic than I had initially thought, so make sure you wear some decent trainers for this one, but it is certainly worth the visit. Again, it feels like a world away from the commotion of the medina as the fresh water from the melted snow-caps gushes refreshingly down into the river. In four days alone we managed to squeeze so much into our trip to Marrakech, which seems apt given how much this city seems to want to cram in on a daily basis, never stopping for breath. Visiting the souks, the Atlas mountains, riding camels, a desert oasis, the Jardins Majorelle - curated by Yves Saint-Laurent, and so much more. Yet there are still things we didn't even get the chance to consider. Marrakech doesn't even just have to be a city break in the style we opted for. With a number of luxury hotels located on the outskirts of the city, you could easily spend your time relaxing there and soaking up the almost year round sunshine, or just dipping into the city when you wish. I was hugely impressed with what Marrakech had to offer, with such variations to suit every holiday style, need and budget. You may get lost there, but I don't think you'll mind...
09 March 2017
Having lived in Thailand for a long period of time, I feel as well placed as anyone to offer a few of my top tips for making the most out of any trip there. Although these tips could essentially be applied to pretty much anywhere in the world, I know how valuable they can be in one of my favourite places on the planet - Thailand. Tip 1 - Learn some of the language: The Thai language may sound pretty complicated to our Western ears, but when it boils down to learning it there are only a few basics that you would need to know. It is a tonal language with 5 different tones, so one word alone can mean 5 different things. One amusing example being "suay" which can mean both beautiful or bad luck, so be careful with your chat up lines! This may seem overwhelming, but even if you get the tone wrong, which I did for the majority of my efforts over there, everyone will understand from the context. Indeed, this may well even save you money as Thai shops have been known to have two price bands for tourists and locals. As soon as the shops heard me ask "tao aray?" which means "how much?" they ensured I paid the local price. It is a bit sneaky on the shop's part but once you bluff your way through with some simple phrases you will see how far it can get you and really improves the experience. Tip 2 – Immerse yourself in the culture If you follow the first tip then you are already halfway there, but Thailand has some cultural habits and traditions to be aware of and ideally involve yourself in. From the "wai" greeting which is performed at different levels depending on whom you are greeting (a monk being the most respected and therefore the highest) to the "krap" and "kah" ending to a sentence for men and women. There are so many to understand, with many localised traditions in various regions. When you dip your toe into these you really see a new side to Thailand and enjoy a more rounded experience of the country. Tip 3 – Try all the food This could be a tip for life in general, and I am certainly guilty of not following this at times on my travels. Thailand has some surprising delicacies (and some horrendous ones!) but they all form memories you will look back on and smile about. I never thought I would actually enjoy the intoxicating crunch of a deep fried scorpion before I lived there, nor gag on the pungent odour of a fermented duck egg. I am happy I will never have to taste the latter again, but just the thought of it evokes some great memories for me. There are also the classic Thai dishes that should take no convincing to try. My favourite is Paad Ka Pow Gai, a spicy chicken dish fried with basil. However, it can pack a punch so remember your Thai phrases from tip one. "Mai Pet" may sound like Geordie slang but it means "not spicy" and could save those of you with delicate stomachs some serious issues. Tip 4 – Get off the beaten track Thailand has some wonderful tourist destinations with some truly fabulous resorts. It is also excellent value considering how far your money can go out there. Regardless of your reasons for visiting, I implore you to spend at least a day or two visiting some of the lesser known areas, the hidden gems and forgotten islands. For those hedonists amongst you I would recommend avoiding the full moon party and heading instead to Haad Yuan. Only one beach along from Haad Rin yet it houses a place called Eden that any reveller would be loathe to leave! There are so many stunning islands to choose from in the Andaman Sea alone and I have a few personal favourites that I have written another blog about, or I am happy to chat to you should you want some ideas. Failing that speak to locals, ask around or just see where the wind takes you. Thai's are exceptionally friendly and fiercely proud of their country so will happily give you the inside track on local gems. Believe me it will all be worth it when you feel like an entire beach on a paradise island is all yours and yours alone. Tip 5 - Relax - "Mai pen rai" Thailand has its very own attitude to life, which means life moves at a very leisurely pace, things are not always done in the most competent fashion in our minds, but to them, "Mai pen rai". Mai pen rai sums up life in Thailand and the attitude there in general. There are lots of different opinions on the direct translation, but mai pen rai literally means “No worries” or “It’s nothing.” The expression can also be used as “You’re welcome” after someone says “Thanks”. It generally sums up their attitude that whatever happens doesn't really matter, and at one time was even inscribed on their bank notes. You will enjoy your trip exponentially more if you adopt this local attitude as well. The next time the waiter gets the order wrong, your bus breaks down, or you step in a pile of water buffalo poo – don’t freak out as you would at home, just smile and say “mai pen rai“.
23 November 2016
Last weekend saw nearly 1500 Travel Counsellors descend on Manchester for our annual conference and once again it did not disappoint! Hosted at the old GMEX to give you an idea of the scale of the event, it was a weekend to inspire, reward and catch up with fellow Travel Counsellors to share stories and advice. All of which serve to show what a very special company this is. As a company we all share the same ethos, to care for our customers more than anyone else. To come together as one big family at this time every year creates a fantastic atmosphere that leaves every TC able to return to their homes refreshed and ready to bring the highest levels of customer service to all of their clients. This year we were treated to some fantastic entertainment all presented by our friend Vernon Kay. Jack Whitehall pushed the boundaries with his usual edgy comedy, while Ronan Keating had many of us dreaming of our youth in the 90's. The real stars were the guest speakers, including Dame Kelly Holmes, who relived the determination it took her to reach her career pinnacle even when many had written her off aged 34. Nadia Clarke also told us her special story. A young girl who has not left disability get in the way of her dreams. With the help of one of my fellow Travel Counsellors she has been able to visit many of the destinations some people would have deemed impossible. A true inspiration, it was also touching to see our company arrange a surprise trip to India for Nadia as a thank you for her contribution to the event. Her smile will live long in the memory for me. Our very own head office staff also gave us some insight into what the future holds for our company. As ever, we are ahead of the curve with technology and care for customers and our developments in the next few months will be no different. New improvements on the MyTC app mean that it will be even easier for you to enjoy the benefits of booking with a Travel Counsellor at your fingertips! I was also able to meet and greet some of the hundreds of suppliers who attended our event. They are always fantastic to speak to as they share our ethos of customer care focus and always go above and beyond to ensure our customers are treated like kings and queens, this is why we work with them. Being an independent agency we are also able to shop around with all of our fantastic suppliers to ensure we get the best deal, and importantly, the perfect holiday for you. The weekend really lifted me ahead of what promises to be another busy year for me and the company and I have never been more determined to make every customer feel as special as they are to me, as I treat every holiday I book as if it is my own. So give me a call today and see for yourself. And as if it wasn't a fantastic weekend already, I also got engaged to my now fiancée, the beautiful Joanne. I even enlisted the help of an owl to bring the ring, so I really can book any kind of flight.
24 May 2016
Cruising is one of the fastest growing markets in the travel industry and is something I have learned a great deal more about in recent years, determined to make sure my customers have all of the information they need to choose the right cruise, and importantly, the right cruise line, for them. While on our US trip we were staying in New Orleans, one of the home ports for hugely popular cruise line Carnival, so it was with no hesitation that I booked us on a four night cruise to Cozumel in Mexico on board the Carnival Triumph. Arriving at the port we had already completed our online check in and been given a time slot to embark, a process that was very smooth and extremely well managed. We were on board in no time at all and greeted with a tasty cocktail within seconds of our arrival, it was a sign of things to come. The ship itself is huge and having had a recent refit, looks in stunning condition. After getting our bearings we found our cabin and were delighted to find our luggage arrive shortly afterwards, again, a product of the well organised Carnival system. We were met with a bottle of champagne and a welcome basket of fruit, a bonus of being VIP customers of Carnival - something I insist on for all of my customers at no extra cost. In addition this also gives you access to priority debarkation which is a huge timesaver, so if a cruise is something you are considering, I will make the experience a VIP one for you! The cabin was spacious and having opted for a balcony cabin, we had a sumptuous view of the ocean throughout our stay on board. Of course, many people are happy with an inside cabin given that they spend very little time there but I always feel that if it is possible a view of the outside world brings an extra bit of magic to the cruise. I could spend hours staring out to see, spotting flying fish or dolphins on the Gulf of Mexico or just contemplating the vastness of the world with a cocktail in my hand! We quickly got planning our shore excursion for our day in Cozumel having perused the detailed document containing a plethora of options available to everyone on board. We opted for a cultural visit to the ruins in Tulum on the mainland followed by a swim in a jungle lagoon and lunch cooked in a Mayan village, more on that later. The facilities on board are too plentiful to detail but suffice to say there are more than enough bars, restaurants and entertainment to keep you occupied. We spent much time in the casino, as well as watching live music or stand-up comedy, even pub quizzes as we floated merrily towards Mexico down the Mississippi and into the Gulf, all the while with belly's full of tasty cuisine and a refreshing cocktail in hand. We opted to take up the Cheers Beverage Program on board which worked out as great value if you are planning on having a few drinks on board. Our shore excursion in Cozumel was executed with military precision, getting us off the boat early as ours was a full day tour, and our guide Angel was one of the most knowledgeable and passionate people I have ever encountered. He made the day such a fantastic experience, giving us historical context and interesting facts about the ruins, while the swim in an isolated and beautiful jungle lagoon is an experience we will never forget. It felt a world away from the bustling tourist hotspots of Cozumel and Cancun, with a small group of us in a remote part of the jungle, a place we only accessed by a short canoe ride, sweeping past turtles in crystal clear waters. Truly a unique and remarkable place, it felt untouched by commercial tourism and a huge credit to Carnival for putting on such a fantastic excursion. While this was only a four night cruise I was blown away by the service levels and facilities that Carnival had to offer and would love to experience more cruises in future. Carnival offer routes in the Caribbean and now even in Europe with their brand new ship, the Carnival Vista, so you don't have to travel across the globe to experience it first-hand. This was just another facet of an outstanding trip but gave us a taste of life on board a Carnival ship, something that has left me hungry for more. The ship's name says it all - Triumph!
24 May 2016
New Orleans. The city needs no introduction. An iconic and historic city that has long been on my bucket list for so many reasons and one that absolutely exceeded my expectations in every possible way on our visit. We had six nights in New Orleans on this trip, 3 nights either side of a 4 night Carnival cruise sandwiched in between and we managed to see so many aspects of this fascinating place in such a short space of time. I had always wanted to visit New Orleans, having studied American history in part of my history degree I knew much of its significance but did not quite understand the indelible impression and power it has as a city, I certainly do now. The city has so much about it that cannot really be accurately conveyed in mere words, it has a certain magic that cannot be quantified, and I would implore you to visit there to understand why for yourself. From the moment we arrived there is an atmosphere of electricity running through the air. There was spine tingling feeling as we passed by the historic cemeteries with their traditional over ground burials, surrounded by French and creole houses, with their ornate balconies and wooden porches straight out of a Hollywood set from so many films I have seen. From morning until night there is always something happening. Parades of street musicians and all manner of performers in the French Quarter where we, like most visitors, were based adorn every corner. Even our hotel, the absolutely outstanding Bourbon Orleans Hotel, has a fascinating history and is known as one of the most haunted buildings in the quarter, already infamous for its voodoo past. The night's out speak for themselves and I am sure you are all aware of Bourbon Street, as I was. Not that it quite prepared me for the sights, sounds and atmosphere that buzzes throughout the place. Locals also sing the praises of Frenchmen Street, on the outskirts of the French Quarter for it's sleek bars, restaurants and live jazz. Even if you are not a fan of jazz you can't help but tap your feet to the almost constant music echoing around, and there is more to the live music than purely jazz, as we found out in many local watering holes. One particular piano bar offered us all manner of musical genres from some very talented locals who would give any request a try (often with unbelievable success!) for a few dollars. One amazing thing about New Orleans is the nightlife is in no way restricted by age. I saw people of all ages and walks of life shaking their hips on the dance floors and unlike some other places famed for their nightlife this is the norm, everyone and anyone is welcomed with open arms! Once you had shaken off the hangover with a tasty breakfast (try the Po Boys with spicy sausage and bacon...) there was a world more available to discover and experience. We managed to squeeze in a tour of the city, taking in some of it's 300 year history, how it coped in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and some celebrity house spotting. (John Goodman was a highlight for me). There was also a voodoo and cemetery tour where we got to see some of the more infamous graves accumulated over the years and the history of the over ground burial rituals. Another bizarre celebrity spot on this tour was the tomb of Nicholas Cage (fear not he still lives on) who wants to be buried in the same cemetery as renowned voodoo queen Marie Laveau. He has paid for the privilege and has a frankly garish pyramid tomb complete with an inscription from his film "National Treasure". Only in America... One evening was taken up on the world famous Steamboat Nachez, one of only 3 working steamboats currently in use and include3d live jazz from Grammy award winners and a 3 course dinner on board. All the while chugging merrily down the imposing Mississippi, it is an experience not to be missed and highly recommended. With my interest in history growing by the day we also took an afternoon out to visit a slave plantation, called Laura. It was a captivating few hours, and really worthwhile. It was obviously heart wrenching hearing some of the stories and knowing what went on there, but the place also had a strange beauty, while stories of hope and triumph kept the mood beyond complete melancholy. One of the major highlights for me was the morning we spent exploring the Cajun swamp on board an airboat. This was truly an experience I will never forget and went way beyond my expectations. Setting off on a small airboat (there is an option of a larger one but trust me the smaller boat is worth the extra!) we swept our way through the swamp at high speeds with the wind rushing through our hair. Stopping regularly our knowledgeable captain found us some gators to feed as well as some gorgeous raccoons, all kinds of species of turtle and even a baby gator that I got to hold despite my trepidation. The whole day felt like we had gone back in time to a prehistoric period of history, a world away from the bustle and buzz of the city of New Orleans itself, yet only half an hour away from it. That is one of the beauties of this truly remarkable city, it has so much to offer in such a small, walkable and centralised area, but also complete contrasts, culture and adventures only a short transfer away. You could forget you were in such a cosmopolitan place in just a short drive, but equally, the city itself has a magical atmosphere that will capture your heart from the moment you arrive and make you never want to leave. The people are characters who are fiercely proud of their roots and culture and rightly so, I totally fell in love with this place and can categorically class it as one of my favourite cities on earth without hesitation. If you are considering visiting then please get in touch and I will share with you my passion and experience of this place. It is unique in everything from culture, history, cuisine and style. Trust me, once you've been there you will know, and you too will struggle to find the words to describe this magical place. It has that je ne sais quoi, Creole style...
24 May 2016
I have to be honest, although much of the USA has been on my "hit list" for quite some time, Dallas was not a priority in this part of the world. However, having been invited to the wedding of a friend in the city, we decided it was a great excuse for a big US trip and Dallas was the first port of call. Arriving in Dallas Fort Worth airport we were greeted with traditional Southern hospitality, a true American welcome and this was prevalent throughout our time in Dallas, the people are fantastic. We only had five short days in Dallas, and with one day taken up by the wedding itself, (and the day after with a likely hangover!) we had limited time to squeeze everything in. The first thing that strikes you about Dallas is the stunning skyline, iconic and breath-taking, modern and gargantuan, it summed up Dallas perfectly. In our short time there we visited the Texas Book Depository, now known as the "sixth floor museum" and infamous from the JFK assassination. The tour was informative and enlightening in many ways, with so much detail and thought gone into such a sensitive and still fairly recent event. We also took a trip to the ball game, watching the Texas Rangers against the California Angels. A great day out with so much to see and do, even without seeing a ball being pitched or hit if you so desired. American sports seem to cater for everything and everyone, with so much food, drink, shopping and outside entertainment on throughout the match, you could spend the entirety of the game looming from one thing to the next without ever sitting at your allotted seat! We also took a trip to Six Flags Over Texas, one of the largest theme parks in the USA and certainly one of the best I have ever visited. Open seasonally, we struck lucky by visiting on one of the opening days of the summer season, on a quite bleak and overcast day, that throughout threatened to pour with rain without ever doing so. The combination of these factors allowed us to have pretty much free reign at the park, which was unusually quiet. This meant absolutely zero queues and the hardest part of the day was fathoming which ride to go on next in the energy sapping humidity. Six Flags have a great reputation as a brand for the biggest and best rollercoasters and should you ever have an opportunity to visit any of their parks I would highly recommend them for thrill seekers. The Texas Giant was imposingly huge even by US standards and the Mr Freeze ride is still a blur to me, but happy one! Everything comes big as standard in the USA and Texas even more so. In this sense the food is no different, from delicious Tex-Mex to improbably large steaks, we sampled it all, and it was a treat for the senses. Nick and Sam's steakhouse in particular sticks out as a fantastic steak and all around experience. An upmarket steakhouse it had all manner of options to tantalize your taste buds. The steak melted in your mouth and we left feeling a few stone heavier, always a good sign of a great meal! Our short time in Texas was a fantastic experience and I now look at the place with a different perspective to previously. I wasn't sure what to expect but what I left with were some great memories of a true American city and the fabulous people within it, for they truly make it what it is.
08 April 2016
I had visited Paphos around a decade ago and was eager to discover how the place had changed in the proceeded years when I visited with my partner recently. The city, the third largest in Cyprus, is named as the European Capital of Culture for 2017 and it certainly did not disappoint. We arrived at the beginning of the holiday season which generally starts in April but with it also coinciding with the school Easter holidays this year the destination was still thriving and buzzing with people enjoying the fantastic weather for that time of year. We stayed for a week and most days were cloudless, beautiful sunny days with temperatures reaching around 25 degrees, perfect for an early Spring escape. Staying at the amazing Asimina Suites Hotel by Constantinou Bros we couldn't have asked for a better hotel. From the moment we arrived the staff were welcoming, attentive and friendly. Checking in away from the usual hubbub of the reception desk we were whisked to the VIP bar for champagne and canapés while they took our details before showing us to our luxuriously appointed one bedroom suite. Spacious does not do this room justice, with plenty of room for even the most discerning client. Including a separate living area, huge bathroom and facilities including a mini bar and expresso machine you could easily spend much of your time relaxing in such opulent surroundings. The balcony boasted a beautiful view over the pool to the blue waters of the beach and bay, perfect for watching the glorious sunset on a nightly basis. What stood out for me from this hotel was the staff and service levels, providing the most welcoming atmosphere and adding the small touches that really make for a relaxing break such as the small pillows provided to give you extra comfort on your chosen sunbed, and no drink or amount of drinks was ever too much for the staff - despite me making full use of this!! The hotel is an adults only hotel, so provides a tranquil environment for those wishing for a peaceful escape. However, the company also has a variety of other hotels including the Athena Beach Hotel, located only a few minutes away, that provides the same high class service and facilities but with families in mind. So whether you are with the kids or not you are assured a fantastic trip if you stay with them. Outside of the accommodation Paphos itself has a rich culture and fascinating history with plenty to see and do. We took a visit to Aphrodite's rock, where legend has it, the Goddess of Love and Beauty emerged from the water. Indeed, Paphos actually means "Passion" and stems from a legend of the sculptor who fell in love with his statue, whom Aphrodite granted life to. They subsequently had a son, and named him Paphos. We also saw ancient ruins at Kourion and tasted a sumptuous Greek mezze at a local Taverna in one of the many traditional villages in the mountains of Cyprus, within easy reachable distance from Paphos. Indeed, its location and the size of Cyprus means that so many excursions and day trips are available and reachable for any visitors, so you can explore to your heart's content, whether that is through car hire, public transport or a bookable trip. Paphos is also split into two notable areas, the "Old Town" which houses a lovely traditional market, and the harbour, a picturesque area comprising of many bars, cafes and restaurants with beautiful views out to sea. A plethora of entertainment options await you here, including all manner of boat trips and mine cruises, along with all kinds of watersports. From jet skis, parasailing, scuba diving and snorkelling, you can find it all here and along the coast of Paphos. I had an absolutely fantastic return to Paphos and I would gladly recommend Cyprus to anyone whether they are going as a family, or a couple looking for a quiet sunshine escape. There is so much to see and do here, and I have the inside track so if you are looking to pay a visit please give me a call. I know I won't be leaving it another decade until I return...
24 May 2016
Namibia is a place I had only ever dreamed of visiting, and I was lucky enough to do so this year. It did not fail to amaze me in every possible way. Bordering South Africa to the North West, Namibia encompasses many different ecosystems and huge expanses of unending road, providing unbelievable views and memories that will last a lifetime. It possesses some of the most stunning landscapes in Africa, and a trip through the country is one of the great road adventures. We stayed for just over two weeks and managed to fit a huge amount into our itinerary without it feeling overburdened, though there is still so much we could not reach, such as the gargantuan Fish River Canyon in the south of the country. Landing in Windhoek, the capital city, you could be forgiven for thinking you had arrived in a town, such is the nature of the place. Yet this is where the majority of the country's population live with it being one of the most sparsely populated places on Earth. Its vast area means you can go for a long time without seeing signs of life, other than the diverse species of animals roaming wild and free as you make your journey. We hired a robust 4x4 vehicle from Asco car hire located in the capital and this is something I would definitely recommend. The company were fantastic and the car a saviour on some of the less travelled roads. Even the main roads are occasionally slightly bumpy and gravelled, so it is important you have a reliable and strong car to see you through these, with the knowledge that they will send backup if you get into difficulty there is also peace of mind afforded. From there we made a six hour drive north to Etosha National Park, staying at a beautiful lodge right on the edge of the nature reserve. This is a national park taking up the land mass of Germany, and containing a huge array of wildlife to add to those you casually see roaming the roadside, such as warthogs, monkeys and giraffes along with countless species of gemsbok and antelope. The guided safaris from this lodge were outstanding and we saw lions (eating a giraffe!) from mere metres away, an experience I will never forget, as well as a close encounter with my favourite, a hyena and a herd of elephants. Leaving such a beautiful place is made all the easier knowing that the remainder of the journey would be equally sublime, with even the long drives, (and some of them are quite a distance) becoming a huge part of the experience. Stopping regularly to take in the surroundings and unimaginable views as the terrain regularly changed were the small yet significant memories that I will most treasure. Beyond Etosha the wildlife remains thriving, with a visit to the oldest desert in the world, the Namib Desert. Vast as everything appears to be in Namibia, it spans the length of the coast on the west of the country. This is an area also known as the skeleton coast for the eerie shipwrecks that punctuate it's ever growing beaches, created by strong Atlantic winds and difficult currents. We also took in the Kalahari Desert, home to the ever popular meerkats and an astoundingly different yet equally beautiful landscape to that of the Namib Desert. That is not to say our stay in Namibia was entirely rural and nature based. A well planned trip can also take in some of the towns that are dotted around, all showcasing different aspects of Namibia and its fascinating history. Our chosen stop off was the increasingly popular Swakopmund, perfectly positioned on the cusp of the Namib Desert and right on the coastline. Apparently a favourite holiday, quaint and beautiful architecture marry perfectly with a seaside town feel for a break away from the African expanse, helped by a cool coastal breeze. This was the perfect mid-road-trip recovery spot. Staying in a gorgeous new hotel, the Strand Hotel, ideally positioned on the beach, we enjoyed the facilities and chance to relax amongst the relatively active journey thus far. A couple of notable highlights were the restaurants we ate at, including possibly the only restaurant in the world located in a lighthouse, and a truly spectacular eatery at the end of a jetty built over 100 years ago, where the food and views were equally breath-taking. Relaxing it may have been but thrill seekers need not worry, as the adventure did not stop in Swakopmund. Taking a quad bike rally along the huge sand dunes of the Namib was another unbelievable experience, culminating in an adrenaline pumping sand boarding ride down some huge dunes. Away from the high octane thrills, we also took a catamaran tour of the nearby Walvis Bay, home to flamingos, pelicans (one of whom took quite a liking to me!) and over 100,000 seals in their natural sand bay colony. It was a sight to truly behold, aided by a glass of fizz and some locally sourced oysters for a great value excursion. We managed to squeeze so much into our two weeks in Namibia that I simply couldn't do the country justice with my meagre words, such is its beauty, diversity and power. The nature, adventure and people all form part of one of the greatest experiences of my life and something I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone, as you will create memories beyond any picture perfect postcard. If Namibia is somewhere you have been considering my advice is to buckle up for adventure, you will not regret visiting this unbelievable place. Give me a call to discuss your plans as I have expert inside knowledge you will struggle to find anywhere else and start your African odyssey today.
01 July 2015
I recently spent five days in Gran Canaria on an educational trip. For those of you not in the travel trade this involved the tourist board of Gran Canaria showing some travel representatives showing us what the island has to offer, and boy does it have some wonderful options. Many locals call Gran Canaria a miniature continent in one island, such is its vast juxtapositions in terrain and scenery, having seen the island in its entirety and can understand why. Fluctuating between lush, golden sandy beaches, rocky desert, green oasis and domineering mountains there really is so many different angles to see this stunning island. With year round sunshine visitors can expect a warm welcome in more ways than one, with the locals always pleased to welcome tourists to an island of which they are rightly proud. We stayed in one of the more recent resort developments is Maspalomas and it was a delightful area in which to be based. Right on the coast with a gorgeous beach only yards from the hotel the views were panoramic and took in the daunting mountain the dominates the centre of the island, with views over the desert-like sand dunes that line the beach on that area of coast. There are a number of popular resorts in which you could stay on the island and many are found over this side, with new developments, luxury hotels and beyond are found, as well as the more traditional English holiday destination of Playa Las Ingles, which roughly translates as "Beach of the English." Further inland the terrain becomes more mountainous and secluded, but there are still some lovely places to stay, including some tranquil hotels so isolated that they almost become their own modern oasis in a warm desert, gently cooled by the trade winds that give the Canary islands their unique micro-climate. Incidentally, this micro-climate also allows it to be the only place in Europe able to grow coffee, at a plantation and vineyard we visited for lunch and wine tasting. The hosts were truly wonderful and this place had a magical quality that if you visit the island, you simply must experience. There is still plenty of entertainment including camel parks, theme parks and a number of truly stunning golf resorts. One such being the Sheraton, found around 10 minutes drive from Maspalomas it is situation on the side of a hill providing truly jaw dropping views on all sides. The golf course at times opens up to look like a scene from Jurassic Park with its lush green, tropical vegetation while their top floor sunset terrace, complete with infinity pool and Balinese beds built to watch the sunset take shape behind the mountains, glistening off the coastal waters took my breath away. I was already aware how stunning the Canary Islands were having visited the others before but in terms of travel I had never consider Las Palmas as a true city break destination until now. Despite being lesser known than more traditional Spanish city break destinations such as Barcelona I would not hesitate in recommending it for my customers having seen what it has to offer. Steeped in history going back centuries to the days of Christopher Columbus the city is built with cobbled streets and stunning colonial architecture, giving it a fascinating charm despite the more modern amenities also available for tourists, with a number of beautiful hotels, restaurants and countless shopping streets. On top of this it has one of the most glorious beaches I have witnessed in a long time right on its doorstep, Las Canteras beach is a visual treat with golden sands and blue waters, with the added bonus of their being a natural reef a few hundred yards from the shore, meaning waves break there and do not reach the sands, giving it a calm, lagoon-like quality and additional peace of mind for those with children. There are simply too many reasons to list as to why Gran Canaria is such an ideal destination for families, couples, adventurers and beyond but I shall certainly recall this trip with great fondness. The island has so much to offer people of all ages and interests and I will not hesitate to recommend them to my customers. Having the inside track on the best places to stay, eat and see, I know my customers will fall for this island the same way I did...
24 May 2016
I had never visited Hamburg before this action packed weekend. It was something I had aspired to do for quite some time and having a friend now living out there for work reasons this seemed as good an excuse as any to discover what one of the largest cities in Europe had to offer. It is strange to think that this city is indeed one of Europe's largest, you wouldn't believe it to be so leaving the relatively small but efficient airport and peering on the quaint local architecture. It certainly doesn't suggest a thriving metropolis but do not be fooled by the façade. Hamburg has many sides and though I tried my best to see as much of this as possible during my 3 days there I am certain there is still much to discover. Culturally Hamburg has a fantastic, varied and fascinating history. Signs of this a prevalent throughout the city and especially as the banks of the river Elbe, the aquatic behemoth that has been central to the history and growth of the German hub. There are wonderful gothic buildings intertwined with more modern, quintessentially German architecture. For me however, the real joy of Hamburg was the people, the atmosphere and the ever surprising shift in this ideology from street to street. We were staying in the St Pauli district of Hamburg, not far from one of it's most famous haunts, the notorious Reeperbahn. This area struck me as similar in vibe to Berlin, with many underground, hip bars filled with all manner of people from all walks of life, all of whom were welcoming it must be noted. These bars were almost hidden from the outside, with every more cryptic entrances giving way to glorious internal décor and a vast supply of original, quirky cocktails and drinks. The same could be said of many clubs that held a similar camouflaged veneer only to reveal a fantastic atmosphere within. Yet only streets away was the Reeperbahn, the notorious red light district and packed with many tourist like clubs and bars, far removed from the underground, understated concept of the bars only metres away, with their brash neon signs and enthusiastic promotional workers beckoning you inside. This could just as easily be a concrete bound Magaluf such was its brazen ways. That is not to say this was a criticism, it was enjoyable as an experience but more fascinating given the contrast between there and much of the rest of the city. It is also useful to bare in mind that this is all possible due to the radically left wing attitudes of the locals in the St Pauli area. I learned quickly how proud they are of their community and use this as positive force in all areas of life. The local football team of the same name often have pro-immigration and equal rights marches before home games and if you get the chance to visit a match while you are there I would implore you to do so. the atmosphere is fantastic as well as extremely welcoming at a ridiculously cheap price, especially in comparison to our much vaunted Premier League. I saw many sides to Hamburg in my short stay there but all of them were fantastic in their own way. It is a city that you could visit many times and still be surprised by some of its facets. However, at the heart of all of these are the people. They drive the atmosphere and make the city what it is, building on a wonderful history to a thriving future.
13 May 2015
I was lucky enough to live and work in Thailand for around a year and during that time I fell completely in love with the country. It's people, culture, beauty and the some of its undiscovered gems made it an amazing place to reside. Undiscovered gem is almost literal in the case of the island of Koh Muk. It means "Pearl Island" in Thai and it certainly lives up to its billing. Located a short long boat ride from where I lived in Trang, the tranquil golden sandy beaches and glistening blue sea are a miniature paradise and I visited there on a number of occasions. Set amongst a small group of islands including the equally beautiful Koh Kradan it is home to a small but varied selection of accommodation from inexpensive but comfortable tents set back into the forest, to a more luxurious resort with an infinity pool looking out onto the beach and the pristine sea that laps up against it. With Thailand being so reasonable however, even this resort is well within most budgets, with almost incomparable value for money. It is beyond the resorts that make this island so special however, with eye-catching natural beauty surrounding your senses. None more so than the real gem within Koh Muk, the Emerald Cave, or Morakot Cave. Innocently covered and surrounded by rocks on all sides, only accessible by longboat, this uninviting looking cavern holds an alluring secret. Once at the cave, your local guide will lead you into the cave with an ominous looking rope to hold onto, swimmingly blindly into the darkness it becomes clear why this is necessary. As the winding black cavity continues into an ever darker tunnel your heart races while your grip on the rope, your lifeline increases. Then from nowhere the sunshine rays spray through the shadows and light up your eyes. The cave reveals its secret in sparkling glory, an enclosed inland beach with its own natural skylight through the sharp imposing rocks. The water reaches the beach in almost apologetic fashion, unable or unwilling to tarnish this natural wonder. The sea is a beautiful emerald green within the cove, hence the name, and were it not for a lack of any available food and water within there it would be easy to stay indefinitely. As you head back through the pitch black cave you begin to wonder what other secrets this vast and inspiring country holds, and there are many. This is just one of many astoundingly beautiful discoveries I made while in Thailand, and I feel I have a great knowledge of the area that many other travel agents would not have due to my experience living there. So if this has inspired you to seek adventure in the land of smiles then I would be only too happy to help, but expect me to be jealous!
13 November 2014
It was unseasonably warm for October when I travelled to Krakow for a long weekend of exploration, merriment and culture, and the sun was clearly shining on me with my choice of destination too. I fell totally in love with Krakow from the moment I arrived in the city. Beautiful architecture, wonderful people and amazing history combined with a modern, vibrant city nightlife made for a truly amazing few days. I had heard many things about Krakow from various sources prior to travel, all with glowing reports but from vastly different standpoints. The "culture vultures" told of everything the city had to offer, recommending the most important places to visit in my short time there. The more hedonistic amongst my friends had tips for bars and nightclubs I simply had to see, so it was with great excitement I arrived myself, hopefully striking some semblance of balance between the two. Those who had been to sample the history and culture spoke in nostalgic terms about the tales and stories of this famous old town, and there is a vast history stretching back to the middle ages. Despite the heritage of Krakow, it remains remarkably compact, and the city can be seen comfortably on foot, from the central Old Market Square which is a hive of seemingly endless activity, to the historic Jew Quarter, which houses the Schindler Factory amongst other things. Despite the glorious weather and this compact nature, I opted to see the city with a guided Segway tour from a tour guide found just off the square and via Google. This was not due to a pre-disposition to laziness (which I candidly admit to!) but more for the adventurous nature and sheer joy of whizzing around anywhere on a Segway. If you have never used one, many cities in Europe offer guided tours on them and they really do add an edge to proceedings. Certainly I would highly recommend the tour of Krakow, which was interesting and fun in equal measure. My guide, Adam, was a history teacher and had a frankly encyclopedic knowledge of the city in which he lived. Some stories were fascinating, such as why the bugle sound that can be heard four times a day from the clock tower is abruptly cut out before it finishes. This was to commemorate the moment the bugle player was shot in the neck with an arrow by invaded Mongol forces part way through his warning trumpeting. Without such insight from Adam I would never have questioned it, yet every time I heard it for the remainder of my stay it raised a smile. Filled with culture I stepped out into the night ready to see the other side of Krakow, the scene I had heard so much about. The place is literally teeming with bars, from the more tourist-centric bars surrounding the square, with beautiful views of the clock tower and cloth hall, lit up majestically in the night sky, to the more underground, hip bars of the Jewish Quarter and everywhere in between. In each I was greeted by friendly staff and charming local, eager to help me improve my embarrassing attempts at Polish. I always try to speak a few phrases wherever I go yet Polish was a real struggle, much to the amusement of many I spoke to. The bar scene is literally too vast and eclectic to give any detail on. Winding restaurant stairs lead to backstreet, basement bars. Dark, un-welcoming alleys lead to impossibly addictive, cascading nightclubs. The disparity between the medieval, cultural city and the modern, yet unfeasibly cool side of its personality is what really struck me about Krakow, and in my visit I barely touched the sides. It has something to offer everyone, and I can see why its popularity has soared. I had some of the most amazing nights out there and still feel like there was so much more I had missed and so desperately wanted to see. While spending days wandering through its historic, winding streets was such an enriching, relaxing experience I would happily repeat it ad infinitum. It strikes a balance between culture and cool that most cities can never reach, with perhaps Berlin the only comparison I can think of, but even that didn't hold the unidentified magic Krakow held for me. I will definitely be coming back to this truly impressive city as I left part of my heart there, if I'm honest, it can stay there, so I can keep coming back to look for it...
24 May 2016
Having never visited Turkey before it was with some sense of excitement and an element of trepidation that we boarded our flight to Bodrum in the Southwest of Turkey. I had some concept of Turkey as being somewhat of a dated holiday destination, overloaded with tourist traps, and I was to be proven very much wrong with this trip. Although there was certainly some aspects of this that were true, the overall experience was overwhelmingly positive and I would happily recommend visiting Turkey to anyone. From the moment we stepped off the plane the sunshine and heat were glorious and welcoming, a sign of things to come with the people of Turkey. They were gracious, polite and exceptionally hospitable from our taxi from the airport to all of the staff we encountered and beyond. Their pride for their country was blindingly evident and they would stop at nothing to ensure that your experience was a wonderful one. With this kind of hospitality it makes it impossible not to be engulfed in the love of the country which the residents hold so dear. With this as a foundation the trip was fantastic. The hotel facilities were excellent and the plethora of activities and excursions were so vast that it was almost overwhelming. I particularly enjoyed the cruise along the Aegean Sea coast, taking in some spectacular coastlines and glisteningly inviting blue waters, even more so given the unyielding sunshine that was a feature throughout our week there. There were plenty of opportunities for more high octane adventure as well, with watersports and adventure options into the Turkish hills. Being more of a water baby I remained closer to the coast though a trip to one of Europe's largest waterparks allowed me to trade saltwater for the chlorinated variety briefly, most of which was as fast flowing as my adrenaline down some amazing and thrilling slides. The food and nightlife was also a delight, with a huge array of options wherever we visited. Traditional Turkish food was a particular favourite, including one such restaurant where we were adorned with Turkish hats and waistcoats and taught a dance as our food was brought out. This culminated in the slightly embarrassingly drunk attempt on our parts to break the Turkish cooking pot as instructed in order to 'release' our food. It took more than a few hazy swipes before it was free, whilst the Turkish waiter showed us how it should be done with a nonchalant flick of his experienced wrist, breaking the pot in an instant. Again,, this camaraderie and welcoming nature only added to the whole experience. In years to come I may not recall what I ate that day but I will certainly remember the waiter, the dance and the outfits. To me, that is what makes a holiday special, truly heartwarming memories and people you shared them with. In this case, the country and the people of Turkey were truly inspirational and I for one cannot wait to return one day soon.
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