Based in Desborough

Jackie Cook

It's Nice To Meet You

My name is Jackie Cook; I now live in Northamptonshire but have lived all over the UK and spent 8 years in France. I am married with one son who recently got married.

I have worked in the travel industry for 42 years. I have gained experience in different areas of the industry and have been very fortunate to have travelled extensively during that time. Living in France from the age of 12 gave me an opportunity which only later did I appreciate. I speak fluent French and started my interest in working in the travel industry. I joined Seaspeed Hovercarfts in Dover when I was 18 which then became Hoverspeed and this is where I met my husband who is from Dover.
The summers were great down at the Hoverport but not so much in the winter!

My next positions really became as I followed my husband with his job moves so in 1984 we moved to Peterborough and I joined Thomas Cook. Their training then was fabulous and soon became a travel agent for the first time. We then moved to Leicestershire and like my husband we joined Page and Moy where I stayed for 11 years until I moved to Travel Counsellors in March 2000

My favourite European city has always been Paris, and some recent holidays have been spent cruising on a canal boat in different parts of France. Ask me more about that; it’s a wonderful way to relax and meet the locals. We do also love the Greek islands and have visited many over the years. This year was Crete for the first time but we need to go again as it is a large island and we only saw a small part of it.

I have been fortunate in that the companies I have worked for have seen a benefit in allowing me to travel for educational purposes to countries I would never have expected to visit. These include Peru and the magical Machu Picchu, South Africa and Kenya on exciting safaris, the Caribbean, cruising (on ships as well as canal boats!), Thailand and Malaysia and many more. They even tried to teach me to dive in the Great Barrier Reef. (I did not pass but at least I completed the course!). The latest trip was to New Orleans, what an exciting city that is.

If I have not visited a destination you may be interested in, the Travel Counsellors message board will allow me to find out the answers to your questions. Someone will know.

When you call my number, it will be me who answers; this allows me to build up a rapport with my clients, who then return to me year after year for their holiday arrangements.

We have a 24 hour duty office who are there at the end of a phone line when there is a hurricane , a cancelled flight, companies going bust at the last minute, helping us with clients who become ill or need to get home quickly. This is such a benefit to have when something goes wrong, but also they keep us updated with latest visa and health requirements.

Please give me a try and I promise you will not be disappointed. I will offer to you the best possible professional service you could hope to receive.

I look forward to hearing from you,



Contact Me

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My Blog

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.

4 days in the Big Easy

31 July 2018

In the early part of last year, I won a trip to New Orleans with some fellow Travel Counsellors. I have had to wait nearly a year for this trip to come around, but it was well worth it. We found out just before we left that BA had kindly upgraded us all but half on the outbound and then the rest on the inbound, so I found myself in Club Class for the outbound journey. This was fabulous. The food and the attention from the crew were lovely and the 10-hour flight was over before I knew it. We were invited to visit New Orleans because BA has started this direct service to the city which now makes it a good alternative to Vegas or New York. Our group of 19 were split over two hotels which was a shame, but I was not disappointed with The Sheraton New Orleans where we stayed. The rooms were very large with beautiful views over the Mississippi. It is a very busy hotel but in a good location just on the edge of the French Quarter. On day one we had brunch at the Court of Two Sisters Restaurant in the French Quarter. This is a large restaurant with a beautiful tree-covered courtyard. The buffet offered the best food we had all week and with the sounds of a small jazz band playing background music. It was a lovely start to our New Orleans experience. Then it was our two-hour city tour which was a good insight to what the city has to offer. There are some beautiful parts to New Orleans. The guide was amusing and very knowledgeable. We had no lunch planned because of the late brunch and then the cookery class. We got to sample the food Harriet, from the New Orleans School of Cooking demonstrated for us. She again was hilarious and the food we sampled was true Louisiana cooking. After a quick wash and brush up at the hotel we joined the group at Dave and Busters. The least said about this place the better as the food was awful, the service even worse and it was just like a seaside arcade. Wednesday was a full day visiting outside of the city starting with a Swamp Tour. This boat took about 30 of us gently through the swamps, watching and feeding marshmallows to the alligators and turtles while listening to a hilarious local guy telling us all about what we were seeing. This was a highlight of the trip. We also visited two plantations which is like stepping back into the “Gone with the Wind” era. The staff at the first one, Oak Alley Plantation installed a TV in the restaurant, so we could watch the England vs. Croatia world cup football match while we ate our lunch. Disappointed we missed out on the final but it was a magical time and it was very generous of the staff to allow us to spend time watching it. On Thursday we spent the afternoon visiting hotels all situated in the French Quarter. They were all within walking distance, but the heat was getting to us by the last one. Our last night was spent on the Steamboat Natchez dinner cruise. This is a two-hour cruise and most of that time you are eating inside so you lose out on the views, but the food was better than most of these types of trip. Our flight was late in the evening on the Friday, so we had the day to ourselves. The hotel kindly allowed us to keep our rooms until 7pm which was a fabulous help. Four other TC’s and I decided to take advantage of the VIP ticket which allowed free entrance into the Mardi Gras World. This is where they build and make all the floats for the Mardi Gras celebrations in early spring. It was fascinating, and you could feel what it must be like to be in this wonderful city during that time. Our flight home was on time. I was in economy but having extra leg room seats allowed us to stretch your legs. The seats are very narrow because of the dinner tray and entertainment screen being stored in the arm rest. It is also noisy being next to the toilets. These fantastic four days opened my eyes to a fabulous city I had heard so much about and meeting these lovely southern state people was a joy.

City, beach and a jungle!

31 July 2018

I had not been to Bangkok and Hua Hin for more than 20 years so when I was invited to visit this destination again with 20 other Travel Counsellors, I had no hesitation in accepting the invitation. We flew from Manchester with Emirates via Dubai. The airline is very well equipped with the latest inflight entertainment showing films still being shown in the cinemas. We had a change in Dubai which gave us just enough time to change terminals and have a coffee without rushing or indeed, hanging around waiting for our next flight. We arrived into Bangkok airport at around 18:30 where Anun, our tour leader for the week from EXO Travel, was waiting for us. The bus journey to the hotel was about an hour. This could have taken 20 mins if the traffic was not so bad! This is something I had always remembered from Bangkok and it is no better now. Our first hotel was the Centara Grand at Central Plaza Ladprao. This is a lovely 5-star hotel with excellent facilities but more suited to business travellers than serious shoppers and tourists as it is a bit far out of the city centre. Our first day was a trip on the long tail boats through the canals of Bangkok. This is a good way of seeing the city and fun too. It’s best to wear trainers or flats, not kitten heels like me, as getting in and out of the boats is not easy! During the mornings excursion we saw the Royal Barges museum and the Temple Wat Arun. This temple resembles Angkor Wat and is incredible with detail of shells and colourful stones depicting flowers plants and animals on a white stone background. It is stunning. We then had time to return to the hotel to enjoy a hosted lunch and some time around the pool before getting ready for our evening excursion to the Muay Thai Boxing show. We had time to visit the Asiatique market by the river followed by a meal at our leisure. We then met up with the group to enter the theatre. This was not what I would have chosen to do and have to say a few were dropping off to sleep with the flight and busy day sight-seeing, catching up with us. I did not enjoy the show at all and would not recommend this to my clients. An early start on day three to drive to Hua Hin, a beach resort in the east of Thailand. This takes about 2.5 hours but again the first part is slow due to the traffic. We had a comfort break about half way and arrived around 12am where we had an hour’s presentation by Centara Hotels, our host and a tour of the hotel’s facilities before checking in to our room. We then had the afternoon to do as we pleased. The hotel is on a fabulous wide, white sandy beach. It also has three pools, one being a quiet one where we found some sunbeds and soaked up the lovely hot sunshine. That evening we had a hosted dinner around one of the pools with entertainment from local dancers. The highlight for me was the Thai Cooking Class we had the next morning. We were collected bright and early by the cookery school bus and taken to the Hua Hin produce market where we were given a tour explaining the different herbs vegetables and spices we would be using for our cookery lesson. We were then taken to a lovely Thai home where they run the classes. We started by crushing the spices and herbs to make our curry paste and then we made our way to the gas hobs where we cooked a lovely Penang Curry with Chicken. We also made a shrimp soup and a papaya salad. I loved this whole experience and would definitely recommend this to my clients. The ladies who ran the classes were lovely and so informative. That afternoon we had a little free time before visiting the Anantara Hua Hin and hosted dinner on the beach which was beautiful. Another early start to transfer to the River Kwai Resotel in Kanachanaburi. This is located close to the historical River Kwai Bridge and railway and is in the middle of nowhere. We checked into our cottages and then met for a lunch and then a visit to the Mon Village where the Mon people, who originate from Burma, now Myanmar, have settled and all work for the hotel River Kwai Jungle Rafts, floating hotel. We then returned to the hotel on bamboo rafts and some were brave and swam back. We had a pleasant dinner in the Resotel before retiring for the night. Next day was not on our itinerary but on our way back to Bangkok we spent some time at the River Kwai Bridge and walked along the Hellfire pass. This is where the allied prisoners of the Second World War and Asian labourers suffered and died while building the Burma-Thailand railways for the Japanese. This is a very sobering visit and can reduce you to tears seeing how badly these men were treated in horrific conditions. We arrived in Bangkok again at around 5pm in time to quickly shower and change to meet for our final excursion. This was a Tuk Tuk ride through the centre of Bangkok to Chinatown. 11 Tuk Tuks suddenly appeared outside our hotel and the drive to the restaurant was hilarious and exhilarating. The excursion should be tasting street food but as there were over 20 of us, we made our way to a dingy Chinese restaurant. The food was superb, the establishment was not! We were free to experience Patpong market and anything else we wanted to do before retiring for the night. We had some free time the next morning to do some last-minute shopping before being collected for the airport at around 4pm. Again, a very smooth flight home to arrive at Manchester in pouring rain so not so smooth journey back to the Midlands and home! A very memorable trip with lovely colleagues. I would like to thank Emirates for the flights, Centara Hotels for our lovely rooms and EXO Travel for the wonderful Anun who was exceptional with his knowledge and kindness towards us. I have never known toilets to be called "happy houses" but that's how I will refer to them from now on!

Mediterranean Cruise with Cunard

10 October 2017

This was a special holiday for us, not that we were celebrating anything in particular but we had always wanted to do a Mediterranean cruise one day instead of our usual holiday to Greece. We decided on the Queen Victoria because the itinerary suited us best. The booking process was straight forward and the glossy brochure they sent us with all the itinerary and excursions you can book was very useful. We also heard a few weeks before that once we arrived in Venice, our luggage would be transferred from the plane directly to the ship because the flight with BA had been chartered by Cunard. The check-in at the Venice cruise terminal was swift and, before long, we were on the ship and finding our way around. Our cabin was a mid-ship balcony cabin on 6 deck. I felt it was perfect. There was plenty of storage space and a king size bed with pillows I wanted to take home with me! The bathroom was normal for a cruise, with a very good shower. Unfortunately, the departure from Venice was not till after dark which was disappointing and we had to get to dinner. We had selected the late sitting at 8:30pm. Cunard do not have "anytime dining" but in fact I do like to eat at this time and the other guests on our table were a delight and if anything, made our cruise even more special. Wine is very expensive on the ship. They seem to turn a blind eye if you buy a bottle when you are on shore to consume in the cabin but otherwise they would charge a corkage fee if you took it to the table. The food was excellent. Plenty of choice and not once would I say my meal was disappointing. We went to every show after our meal. This was at 10:30pm which gave us plenty of time. Every show was superb and varied too. The ship is not exactly a party ship and once the late show had ended, almost everyone retired to their cabin. The destinations we visited on this cruise were: Kotor in Montenegro: a beautiful ancient town but the views, for possibly up to an hour before entering the Kotor port, were amazing. Very much like the Norwegian Fjords. Corfu Town: I have been here before for just for the day but it really has made us want to come back and stay longer. Cagliari Sardinia: An interesting town where we did a lot of walking including up to the ancient citadel. Naples: We have already been to Sorrento and Capri so decided we would stay in Naples. I was quite taken with this city. We decided with another couple from our dining table that we would visit the underground tunnels which were used during the Second World War. It took us 1.5hrs to find them but we did visit some interesting back streets of Naples and in fact I am pleased we got lost! Rome: We had never been to Rome and as it was my husband’s birthday too. We booked a tour via "Cruising Excursions" rather than Cunard. This was advertised as a luxury tour with just 8 of us in a mini-bus. This meant we were able to get much closer to all the sights and also had time for a delicious lunch. It was very good and worth every penny but still a lot cheaper than Cunard's excursions. Barcelona: I have been to Barcelona twice but every time felt I had missed everything I should have seen. We decided to book a Hop on/Hop off bus tour which costs about 27 euros. You could pick this up by where the cruise bus dropped you off. The bus took us to the Barcelona football ground, where we spend a couple of hours. We really had a lovely day. Ajaccio in Corsica: We were really looking forward to stopping here. Again, we just did our own thing. It is an attractive town with its old town and a modern part too. It has a lovely promenade and it does make you feel you are on the Cote D'Azur. We did have a very unfortunate situation with a restaurant owner who didn't like me complaining about his atrocious mussels. Please, never order mussels in Corsica! Apparently they have no idea how to cook them. I was told that by another restauranteur! Monte Carlo: This was my favourite stop. I am not sure why I love this place but I do and I have been here several times in the past. It just has something about it. All the glamour and glitz. My eyes are everywhere hoping to spot a celebrity. We decided to bite the bullet and have a coffee in the "Café De Paris" which at 6 euros each, was not the most expensive coffee we paid for during this holiday. We walked miles that day and we loved every minute. Our last stop was La Spezia: We decided not to book the excursion we were considering only because my husband and I couldn't agree on whether to visit Pisa, my husband’s choice or Florence, my choice. We did walk all the way up to the train station to see if we could get a train to Pisa but we had just missed one and the journey was longer than I thought at 1.5 hours so we gave it a miss and stayed in La Spezia. It is not a particularly remarkable city but it had a great market and some nice shops. It also has a pleasant new harbour with lovely yachts (not quite like those in the Monaco harbour!) We had four days at sea interspersed between the stops which were a nice break and very relaxing. The weather on the whole was good but we did have one day at sea when the deck was closed because of the wind and spray but as we had a balcony where it was lovely and sunny that day, we spent some time just reading. Our journey home came around far too quickly but it was straight forward and well organised by everyone concerned. We had a ball on this cruise and loved every minute.

The Beautiful Greek island of Lefkas

02 September 2016

"Kalimera Jackie". “Kalimera Nikos". The same pleasantries that had been exchanged every morning for the last fortnight. "Unfortunately we go home today!" I said. "But have you had a great time?" enquired our genial host, and therein lies the fundamental question at the end of everyone's holiday, no matter the duration or the destination. Well simply put - Levkas or Levkada as the locals would say, ticked every box. A beautiful island rich in olive groves, unchartered walks and a 'crisis-crossing' network of minor roads without signposts! Hire a car - £120 for three days - and take on the challenge of finding the monastery or the restored watermill, and if you fail don't worry, you'll find a welcoming taverna in every hillside hamlet! In fact 'worry' is the one thing that you won't do on Levkas. If you don't drive - don't worry - there is a perfectly good bus service and taxis are always on hand. If you don't feel adventurous - don't worry - there is more than enough to do in the cosmopolitan resort of Nidri where we stayed. Hire a small boat for 90 odd euros (including fuel) and explore the small islands - see where Jackie Onassis lived - or take lunch out on Megannisi, another of the Ionian Islands in this collective. Or simply hire a couple of sun beds with a parasol for 6 euros for the day and relax! If adventure is for you, take a trip down to Vasilki and jump on the ferry to the beautiful port of Fiskardo on Captain Correlli's island of Kefalonia. A great day out! Meanwhile - back in Nidri - time to sample a cocktail before dinner in the comfortable surroundings of the waterfront - nearly always accompanied by crisps and nuts 'compliments of the house'. Then select your restaurant for that romantic meal. Go 'through the card' and add your wine and it will cost you no more than £35 for a couple - you'll be eating like a king! Fresh fish, grilled prawns and all the traditional Greek dishes are yours wherever you choose to eat. We particularly liked "The Barrell", "El Greco" and "Roots" but we sampled many - only a side street taverna in Lefkada itself disappointed us, although those along the waterfront looked excellent! Incidentally, upmarket shopping can be found in Lefkada itself – ‘trinket' shops only in the resorts!

Dubai 12-16th September 2015

30 September 2015

Sponsored by Emirates, Arabian Adventures and Dubai Tourism I was very fortunate to be offered this trip to Dubai having already visited this destination 3 times before but with Dubai, the changes with the skyline changes so quickly, the last visit being 8 years before, it was important I returned to see the difference. We flew from Birmingham and we were delighted to learn we had all been upgraded to Emirates Airlines Business Class. Getting to know 10 other people you have never met is so much easier sitting in the business lounge sipping Champagne at 8am! Our flight was on time and was far too quick! The service was fabulous and so friendly too. We arrived in Dubai at around 19:15 and were met by Arabian Adventures and taken to the Hotel Ritz Carlton The Walk. This is close to the Marina which was just a building site the last time I was there. We checked into our individual rooms and once unpacked met for a quick drink down on the beach. This really is a fabulous location and although the hotel is classed as a boutique hotel and not that large, the hotel still has plenty of outdoor space and a fabulous private beach. Having come from the UK where the temperatures had dropped to below average for September, we were suddenly hit with temperatures of 38 degrees plus so quite difficult to adjust to. Obviously air conditioning is a must in all hotels. Our first full day we visited the hotels in the “One & Only” group and then “The Atlantis The Palm” for a site visit and lunch. After a fabulous buffet lunch hosted by Kyp Charalambours, sales director, we were offered our wrist bands to spend an afternoon in the Atlantis Waterpark. This park has unlimited access to all residents of Atlantis The Palm but non-residents can pay for a daily pass too. Our evening meal that night was hosted back at the Ritz Carlton by Luca and Natalya, from the sales department. This was in the newly opened restaurant on the beach which has a very casual atmosphere and fantastic food. Our next day was a busy day of Jumeirah hotel visits. I had stayed in one of the Madinat Jumeirah hotels, the Al Qasr in 2004 but it was lovely to see the property again and its sister hotels. There is another hotel being built alongside the Mina al Salam which is very noisy unfortunately, but it did not affect the other hotels. There is a water way all around the hotels so you can reach different parts of the Madinat (which also includes its own souk) by boat. We were all excited to read on our itinerary that we were having lunch at the Jumeirah Burj Al Arab. This is described as the most luxurious hotel in the world and I would not argue with that. Most people class this as a 6 star but as this rating does not actually exist, we have to accept it is the very best of a 5* The hotel has been built off shore and resembles a sailing boat. The interior is lavish but extremely tasteful. Everything you see is gold or gold leaf and the furnishings are very colourful. There is nothing the owners have not thought about with the design and the service; A beautiful hotel. We had lunch in the Al Iwan restaurant. It was buffet style and I had lobster for a starter! I was interested to hear that in the low season, anyone staying on half board at any of the Jumeirah Hotels can have a meal at the Burj at a small supplement. We then drove to the Palm and visited the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray. This hotel reminded me of a cruise ship because it includes a cinema and a music hall as well as numerous restaurants. I really liked this hotel and the decor for each restaurant was totally different but all had hand painted ceilings. We checked into our 2nd hotel, The Kempinski the Palm. This is an all suite hotel so we were given a 2 bedroom suite and I shared with my Travel Counsellor colleague, Helen. The suites are massif with a large fully equipped kitchen, a large lounge and dining area and 2 double size bedrooms with bathrooms. The decor of ours was gold and cream and was exactly my taste. Others I understand were silver. We had a long balcony which stretched across the back of the whole suite. Our view was out to sea to the west, rooms on the other side face the Palm This hotel is extremely good for families and has some suites of 4 bedrooms and a 5 bedroom Royal Villa. That evening we drove into downtown Dubai which is where the tallest building in the world is, the Burj Khalife. This is where the night life is. It is also where the fountain show is held every night, every half hour from 6pm. We were able to watch the show a couple of times from the 2 “The Address” hotels we were visiting and then had our evening meal, the Hotel Manzil and the Hotel Palace. It was a lovely evening and certainly the place to head for some nightlife. The next morning was something I had been so excited about since reading our itinerary first; a seaplane flight over Dubai. This is operated through Seawings and from the Dubai Creek Golf Club. We had an early start and arrived in good time to hear from the Seawings representative some information about where we would be flying over and a safety drill as you would hear on a normal flight. We were then driven down to the pontoon where we boarded the small 9 seater plane. It was thrilling to see all the sights of Dubai, including the Palm, the Burj al Arab and the newly reclaimed land to form The World from the air. I cannot imagine anywhere in the world which has a better view from the air because of Dubai’s incredible buildings and landscapes. It also helps you relate where the different areas of Dubai are located It lasted 40 minutes and it will be something I will always remember. We then visited the new Taj Dubai hotel and had lunch at the “Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding” (SMCCU). We were taken to an authentic Emirati House where they run programs for better understanding of how a true Emirati actually lives. We were offered authentic food, sat on cushions with the food all set out in the middle of the floor for us to help ourselves. It was delicious. Then a volunteer, in our case, a 19 year old college student dressed in all back with her head covered, sat and answered questions from us all. Apparently they don’t care what we ask, nothing is taboo. It was fascinating. We had one more hotel visit which was the Four Seasons Hotel. Mohammed, the sales director took us first into the Hendricks bar and offered us an unusual cocktail made with Gin and Tea served from a tea pot (cold!) It was certainly a G&T with a difference and was gorgeous. As we were leaving, he invited us to join him and his sales team to their reopening of their roof top bar. It stays closed during the summer months because it is too hot so that night was reopening for the winter months. He said he would send some cars to pick us up. We talked about it on the way back to the hotel because we were reluctant to have a late night as we were up early the next morning for our flight home but eventually we decided we would not get another opportunity and we would go for just ONE drink after our hosted meal at the Kempinski. We were collected at 10:20 and driven the 30 mins to the Four Seasons in beautiful Mercedes cars! The one drink became 3 and we eventually got to bed about 1:45am with our alarm clocks set for 4am! Catherine, our group leader was extending her stay in Dubai so was not flying with us but did escort us to the airport. We checked in in economy class and headed off to the wonderful Dubai Duty Free area. On passing through the gate to board our plane, our economy boarding cards were taken off us and replaced with business class! We were so thrilled. This made the lack of sleep and early start so much easier to bear! I had a fabulous time in Dubai and met some lovely people. Thank you to all involved who made this trip truly wonderful.

South Africa

26 March 2014

I was invited to visit South Africa with the tour operator African Pride. We were flying with Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow Terminal 3. We were given a tour of the Virgin lounge and waited for our flight in comfort and with a glass of champagne. Some of us were upgraded to Premium Economy. The flight was 12 hours overnight. We arrived at 11am the next morning. There is only a two hour difference in time so there is no jet lag. We were transferred to our first hotel a few miles east of Cape Town in an area known as the Winelands with rolling hills of vineyards and quaint towns. We first drove through the town of Stellenbosch which looked really pretty. The houses and shops lining the streets all have very attractive verandas. It is a university town so quite busy but it seems to be popular with visitors. A few days here would certainly add another dimension to an itinerary. Our overnight stay was in Franschhoek which is a smaller town near Stellenbosch. Our hotel for one night was a beautiful small boutique hotel called La Residence. We stayed in the villas which have their own small pools and gardens. The scenery was delightful and so quiet and relaxing. We were shown the rest of the hotel prior to our hosted diner with the management that evening. Our next day started with a beautiful breakfast and then we headed to Babylonstoren. This is a Cape Dutch farm with vineyards and orchards surrounded by the dramatic mountains of the Drakenstein Valley. It has an exceptionally well–preserved werf dating from 1690. A fruit and vegetable garden of botanical diversity supplies a remarkable restaurant. Guests staying at an exclusive farm hotel enjoy access to the entire farm, plus facilities like a spa and gym. We toured the gardens with the very passionate lady gardener and then had a wonderful lunch using some of the garden’s produce. That afternoon we had wine tasting at Steenberg Vineyards after visiting the small and unique hotel part of the property. We then checked into The Queen Victoria Hotel in Cape Town, our hotel for two nights. This is a lovely modern hotel on the waterfront. The rooms were very large and the food in the restaurant was excellent. We also visited the Cape Grace Hotel and V&A Waterfront. Whilst in Cape Town we visited a community based project organised by a non-profit making organisation called Uthando. We first visited a veterinary centre, then a garden designed and managed by local youths and finally a dance school. This organisation has made such a difference to the lives of local young people. We also made time to meet up with a South African based Travel Counsellor Gail, who kindly took four of us on a whirlwind tour of the coastline and a visit to the Boulders Penguin Colony which was fascinating. On Sunday morning we flew to Mpumalanga International Airport to reach our next destination in the Kruger National Park. We stayed two nights at Mala Mala private game reserve. There are three camps here; Mala Mala Main Camp, Sable Camp and Rattrays. Our first night was at Sable. These rooms overlook the Sand River. In drier periods, you can see many different species of animals from your balcony! Our second night was at Rattrays which has eight khayas, again overlooking the river. They each have luxurious decor, heated plunge pools and his and her beautiful bathrooms. Our last night was a complete contrast and a surprise! We drove to the southern part of the Kruger and stayed on a campsite. It was a bit of a comedown from the previous five nights in 5* hotels but it was a lot of fun and a good way to end such a wonderful trip. We did a further two game drives but unlike the private reserves, the vehicles are large lorry type vehicles where leaning out and open roofs are forbidden. The rangers are forced to stay on the track so viewing the animals was more difficult but the scenery is stunning. We returned to the UK tired but very happy to have spent such a wonderful week in such a varied and interesting country with people I would like to stay friends with for the rest of my life. In preparation for my trip, I decided to take Malaria tablets. I was advised to purchase them in Asda as this would be cheaper. I had no side effects whatsoever.

Marrakech in French style

10 July 2011

I was invited to attend a four day trip to Marrakech by the French travel operator "Club Med". I was very keen to visit this city but also to experience the Club Med concept, which I understood to be of a very high standard. We flew with Easyjet from Manchester and we were met by Club Med on our arrival. We then took a 30min transfer to our hotel Club Med La Palmeraie. My first impressions of the hotel were that it was very large; it has immense gardens and lovely waterways running in a criss-cross pattern around the hotel. My room was a ground floor room, tiled floors, a massive bed, a shower room, separate toilet and a terrace. My room was a little dark because of the trees outside the room, but this meant the room kept cool when the air-conditioning wasn't on. The restaurant had outdoor and indoor seating. It is very large with buffet style dining options; I was very impressed with the choice of food. It was all inclusive, but even so, the choice was amazing. There was a mixture of European and Moroccan cuisine - it was lovely and hot! The next day we had a tour of the hotel. We were shown the spa, all the different sports activities that are available including the gym and also the speciality restaurant. We also visited the other Club Med Hotel - Le Riad, which is at the other end of the grounds. This hotel is a five trident, the Club Med star rating equivalent to five star and I would describe it as more adult orientated. Families would stay in the Club Med La Palmeraie hotel as there is a lot more to keep children entertained. The rooms in the Riad are suites and each has their own gardens with sunbeds. The whole hotel had a very relaxing feel about it. That evening we enjoyed a very Moroccan meal at the El Kebir restaurant. I enjoyed the lamb tagine but found it just a bit too sweet for my tastes. The next day we took the free shuttle bus into the Medina, which was fifteen minutes away and visited the Club Med Medina hotel. This hotel is within the walls of Marrakech Medina and is perfectly positioned for visiting the old city. The rooms are Moroccan in style and are really pretty; I loved the style and the colours but they were quite small. As this is a city hotel there are no balconies. We had lunch at the L'Oliveraie restaurant in the hotel. The choice is not as extensive as at La Palmeraie, but it was still good and the main course is served to you rather than from the buffet which I prefer. There is mostly indoor seating but there were some areas to sit outside. There’s a beautiful swimming pool at this hotel and so quiet! That afternoon we had a tour of the Marrakech Medina. We were given a ride in a horse drawn carriage around the city and we visited some of the workshops in Marrakech. We watched workers embroidering and dyeing leather, making the traditional slippers you see in all the souks, other workers making the beautiful chandeliers and the intricate work that goes into the lanterns that Morocco is so famous for. The guide also showed us a tannery; we were offered a bunch of mint because the smell was appalling! We were then let loose in the souks! You do not pay the first price, you have to barter. Its fun and you should expect to pay no more than 30% of the original asking price. The atmosphere was electric and the sellers were cheerful and friendly. We returned the next evening and discovered that the main square comes alive at night. I didn't see any snake charmers, I am sure they were there but we headed for more shopping at the souks. I liked Marrakech but once inside the city walls there is nothing beautiful about it. You never see flowers or pretty balconies like you see in Greece but it has its charm and I found the more I saw of it the more I liked it. Outside the Medina walls, there are wide boulevards with pretty verges and beautiful street lamps so it is quite different. Three of us arranged a visit to true Riad, Riad 58 BLU; it was beautiful and would give you a totally different experience of Marrakech. We only ate in the hotels but I understand the cost of food and drink is comparable to the UK but drinks in the night clubs are extremely expensive so stag weekends be aware!

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