Sent by Steven Boyer
Based in Poole
Hello, my name is Mags. Welcome to my website at Travel Counsellors.
I’m proud to say I am now into my 17th year of running my own personal service for my clients at Travel Counsellors. I’m also lucky to be celebrating 24 years in the travel industry this coming June. In recent years, I’ve been fortunate to do guest interviews on BBC Radio Solent talking about travel issues, and I also write a monthly travel article for a local magazine.
So, travel is not only my expertise but my absolute passion; not only for myself, but for all my clients also.
They know their holiday enquiry is sitting on my desk, and it’ll be only me dealing with it, finding them the best holiday I can both in value, and tailor-made to suit them perfectly. And a lot of those clients kindly write in and tell me what they think of the booking experience, so their comments are on this website also.
But the relationship with my client doesn’t finish at the booking stage; I am there in the background making sure everything runs smoothly from the booking to the actual holiday, and home again. They become more like friends, so I regularly receive quick emails and texts while they are away, telling me how the trip is going - which makes the whole process is more enjoyable, and personal.
Travel Counsellors work differently to most other travel agencies, which is why the company has enjoyed the huge success it does. This is backed by our unique financial protection, which protects our client’s money, and gives them the confidence to trust us. We are global, and multi-award winning, and our technology and buying power is second to none. All this helps me find the holiday that’s just perfect for you!
Tell me what you would like to do and I will see what memorable holiday we can build around a budget that suits you.
I’ve travelled widely, specifically in Australia, Far East, USA, Canada, South Africa and Europe - I’ve experienced, or have sold most holiday experiences from cruising to tailor made. We offer a unique Honeymoon Registry Service. Weddings abroad are also popular now - we have a department at our head office that deals solely with this.
Growing trends are singles holidays for the solo traveller, and special interest holidays - such as painting, and mature gap year travelling. River cruising is also growing fast. So is adventure touring - there's a whole plethora of touring companies now - I'd guide you to find the one that's best suited for you, and the kind of holiday you want.
So as you see - together we can build the holiday of your dreams.
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.
18 February 2021
One thing I've always been lucky about is spending most of my life living in beautiful costal holiday areas. And I grew up on the border of Devon and Cornwall - so I consider both are my home counties, due to family ties and childhood memories. And I can tell you that both are amazing places to holiday, even for a few days. I know most people say - but we don't have consistent weather in the UK!! Ok, so it isn't easy to predict - but let's face it - we are British and used to that. And in this year of difficulties and restrictions - why not make this a year to explore our own islands. England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales - there is SO much on offer. And I thought I'd do a quick blog on the home counties of my childhood. It doesn't matter which coast you stay on in Devon and Cornwall - you can get around both counties quite easily. But do be careful how far up that coastline of North Cornwall and North Devon you stay if you don't like to drive too far on day trips, because they are much further up from somewhere at the bottom end of Cornwall, like Penzance. It all depends on which part of Devon and Cornwall you want to reach from here, especially if you only have a few days. I spent a lovely few days in a cottage on the North Cornwall coast near Bude one October - and we had 4 lovely days sightseeing on the sunny balmy days , and getting cosy in our 18th century rented cottage on the one wet day. Very relaxing. We even visited in Padstow, home of Rick Stein’s fish restaurants, plus Port Issac where Doc Marin is filmed, and Tintagel Castle home of King Arthur. We also drank some nice wine, read books, and watched DVD’s. One tip : if staying in an original flagstone-floor cottage in the shoulder seasons, do take throws with you for warmth as those stone floors can be chilly. My first love is South Devon and that side of Cornwall, because you can travel over the Tamar Bridge at Plymouth and be anywhere in Cornwall in a few hours. Ideal for day trips – like the Eden Project, or the lovely city of Truro. And again I spent 3 nights in a rented cottage in the hills above Looe, in Cornwall one April. Cream teas, and Cornish Pasties were high on my list of culinary delights to reminisce over. Plus the local bus to nearby Polperro was worth taking. These two Cornish fishing resorts are only 30 minutes’ drive from Plymouth for shopping days out. Tip: We used to slip down to Looe and Polperro for a summer evening drink when I was a teenager, so that shows how close these are, yet world’s apart. Why not start your West Country adventure around here – and if you need any help in securing somewhere or help and advice, do drop me a message.
28 June 2019
People are living longer – and travelling for longer. The older travelling public of today are nothing like they were 20 or more years ago. We are all growing older in a different way, and at a different speed to previous generations. And the travel industry is now starting to wake up to this fact, and offering more holidays geared to older clients. However, these are clients who are still fairly young at heart, and adventurous, despite maybe having to make some considerations, like a few walking difficulties, mobility issues, and having to read the small print on a larger font. They say 70 is the new 50 and so on – whether you believe it depends on the state of your health and mobility, your bank balance perhaps, and your mental attitude. More importantly, they say the aging population in the UK, is remaining much younger and fitter for a greater number of years. And the term over 50 is such a wide sweep, certainly in terms of health, and lifestyle. One huge inconsistency is with travel insurance – the cost can escalate a lot once you are over those 70 plus benchmarks. But that doesn’t stop people wanting to travel. Hopefully that will change in time, with more and more people living longer and healthier so it becomes the norm to base it on health not just age. Personally, I think it’s more to do with retaining, or maintaining a sense of adventure than a bank balance to want to travel, and there are many who have the means to spread their wings, but equally so, there are many more on a restricted income. You don’t have to travel the world in luxury, cruise non-stop, or winter elsewhere to take advantage of the free time, and a zest to keep exploring. Plus, you can do it in the UK as well as abroad – all that’s needed is to retain a sense of curiosity and a wiliness to explore. You can do that exploring in Calcutta, Cape Town, or in the Cotswolds. There are deals around and a way to see places! So, it is heartening to realise there are tour operators out there who cater for the needs of the silver generation – and the days of settling for the sedate coach holidays are gone – unless that’s what you want. I went to an awards ceremony in London recently, where the very best in travel for the over 50s was celebrated. Being over a certain age, doesn’t mean your travel plans need to be boring. Not when some of your contemporaries are bungee jumping in New Zealand, or trekking in the Andes, or just strolling around London. There are now a growing number of specialist Assessible Tour Companies making travel for people easier with disabilities - and making it more accessible for everyone. I am increasingly having requests for wheelchair assistance at airports, sharps boxes for clients with Diabetes, hiring of mobility scooters in resort. We are used to taking a remit and making sure hotels are on the flat, a ground floor room request put on the booking, and dietary requests. It’s the little things – that aren’t so little when it makes the difference between a pleasant stay, and a nightmare.
07 June 2019
Anyone on my Facebook pages recently, couldn’t fail to notice that I'd spent a couple of nights on board the new Celebrity Edge, when she docked in Southampton for her European viewing by all the travel agents fortunate to tour her. Along with 80 of my Travel Counsellor colleagues, I spent 2 nights on board, as she did a short cruise around the Solent. Celebrity Cruises and Travel Counsellors have a close relationship – we love their cruise ships – and more importantly, so do our clients. And this beautiful ship is amazing. It’s innovative, trendy and takes cruising to a new level. It’s like being on a luxury hotel at sea, with style and vibe. If you’ve not cruised before, think of this as an alternative to a land-based package for special occasions like a honeymoon, or an anniversary. And if you are already a passionate cruiser – think of this a step to the future. Comfortable, spacious, and classy. Some of the features we tried were: Our Edge stateroom with its infinity balcony, and floor to ceiling window. The main dining room – split into 4 different restaurants The Garden of Eden – unique and spanning 3 stories – with glass fronted views of the sea The Roof Top Garden - stunning outdoor space with activities early to late and beyond The Magic Carpet – a floating dinning and bar area, suspended from the side of the ship The Retreat – exclusive area for Suite guests with pool, hot tubs, and elegant restaurant. Specialty restaurants – including Fine Cut Steakhouse, Luminae, Le Grand Bistro. There are so many little areas to sit, so many hideaway corners, this is a ship to be savoured, not just used as a vessel on route. And we all had our favourite ways of doing that once we'd toured all the cabin types on board. For some it was an early morning cuppa sat in the sunshine of our stateroom behind the glass windows of the infinity balcony; Followed by breakfast and lunch in the self-service restaurant The Ocean View Café. Some of my colleagues took classes, went to the state of the art gym, or used the running track, some of us relaxed in the Garden of Eden – admiring the space and views. Others went to The Spa, or chilled in the Retreat. And in the evening after dinner, we saw the show in the Theatre and had fun at the Silent Disco. And finished the night at The Club. So many choices. Celebrity Edge is now in Europe for her first summer season, based there and offering a choice of Mediterranean itineraries. Next Spring, the exciting news, is the countdown is for Celebrity Apex – the second ship in this class, who will be based in Southampton for a short season. Thank you, Celebrity Cruises, for hosting our visit on your wonderful new ship – she raises the bar in cruising. I thoroughly enjoyed my couple of days on board her – and can’t wait to sell her this summer, and already taking bookings for her sister ship Apex for 2020. Cruising is all about looking ahead and discovering new horizons – these beauties help us do that.
01 June 2019
Recently, I spoke about my recent trip down to South Africa and the few days spent in Cape Town – a city I absolutely loved. From there, it was a hire car and a road trip from the Western Cape to the Garden Route, as far as Port Elizabeth Airport, where the car was returned. At the end came a two-day safari - which we booked to include the 90 minutes return transfer from the airport. October turned out to be a good time to visit because it’s the South African spring, a bit changeable weather wise, but not so hot as during the high season from December. The scenery is amazing, and the flowers along the route are beautiful, especially the Protea, the national flower - the South African’s are very proud of their flowers and fauna, and their weather. We drove in easy stages. Cape Town to Franschhoek in the wine region was only around 90 mins. This is a pretty little town full of eateries, and good quality gift shops, and art galleries. It’s nestled in the wine valleys with mountains overlooking it, and has some lovely guest houses, and is home to the Franschhoek Wine Tram – with various routes and choices up amongst the wineries. I would recommend this, because it's not only good value, but good fun looking around the various wineries. The drive from Franschhoek to Hermanus was stunning – be it up amongst hilly winding roads. Hermanus is a lovely coastal town and is a popular tourist destination due to whale watching from September to December. A cliff path stretched from one side of town to the other, going past our charming guest house, and gave wonderful views of the sea and the whales, but also the flora and fauna again. This is a blessed land for nature. With a quick one-night stop in Swellendam, a nice country town, we arrived in the Plettenberg Bay area. We stayed here a few days in a couple of vastly different hotels. One in the treetops, which would be ideal as a luxurious honeymoon retreat with walkways and lodges sets out privately and affording the most glorious views. All are private, some with their own small infinity pool and all with floor to ceiling windows, so you could overlook the treetops and greenery from your bed. This was quiet luxury, a real retreat holiday. The other property was more budget, laid back, with a hippy vibe, and right on the beach. The thing about this area, are the various resorts and hotel grades along the route which are ideal to visit and stay in – the choice is yours and your budget. My first impressions of the Game Reserve we visited at the end of the holiday, were initially confusing – not having been to one before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But by the time we left two days later, I didn’t want to leave. It was an amazing experience, breath-taking and a memory I’ll always treasure. I didn't realise quite how vast they are - and this one had about four different resort camps within it, all different, and all about 30 mins drive away from each other in a jeep. And that journey was peppered with sights of wildlife as you drove around. We were lucky enough to see the Big Five – nearly that is, if you count seeing a Cheetah up close instead of a Leopard. Cheetah’s are more common in this reserve area. The staff at the Lodge and in the reserve are so passionate about what they do, about not changing their footprint in the reserve, and protecting the wildlife they have – and making steps in looking after their environment. And they all genuinely love what they do here. There are many different routes to fly into South Africa and many itineraries to see and experience what you want. I will go back one day! And love putting together itineraries there.
21 May 2019
A lovely colleague of mine is doing the: 100 days of Gratitude Challenge. And it got me thinking about gratitude, and how the media focuses on the negative within travel. Such as the events that go wrong around the world and make the news. Our Duty Office will naturally pick up on this as soon as anything breaks, and we are contacted about any clients that might be involved in an issue or incident. Recent news such as the fire that partially destroyed the Notre Dame in Paris. The terrible explosions in Colombo and Negombo in Sri Lanka. The devastating loss of live. And by right they should be reported. While there will always be things that go horribly wrong around the world – in my profession, we do have a lot to be grateful for, both personally and professionally. Therefore, less highlighted are the multitude of holidays and travelling trips we put together, that thankfully don’t make the headlines. The ordinary trips that are the stuff of dreams and full of gratitude and go unreported. Trips like the annual family holiday that are the highlight of someone’s year. The romantic break that enhances, or makes, a relationship. The honeymoon that clients will always treasure. City breaks that cements friendships. The cruise that marks a retirement. The adventure holiday that fulfils a personal dream. Every trip has a story. One thing I’m grateful for is not only my own travels – which brings wonderful memories – and sometimes new friends. But all the special hopes and dreams I am lucky to experience along with my clients – by helping them achieve it. I have clients who will be celebrating 50 years of marriage along with their whole family on a special anniversary cruise this July. A young couple currently away on a 30th birthday surprise trip to Lanzarote – their Facebook pictures are fabulous. Other clients who did a special 50th birthday celebration trip to Iceland earlier this year to see the Northern Lights. A client along with her son and daughter-in-law celebrating her 60th this summer with a short visit to Paris, somewhere she has never been. There’s a local client doing a trip to Australia later this year to catch up with relatives and friends. And the client spending his 80th birthday at his favourite hotel in the Canaries. A small group of girlfriends who will be celebrating another 60th in Dubrovnik in June. A client thoughtfully taking two elderly relatives away for a much-needed cottage break in North Cornwall in late May, tailored around their physical needs. Yes, every trip tells a story – that is important to them and make up the fabric of ordinary lives and celebrations. The list goes on. There are people whose jobs are vitally more important than mine; who save lives, shape young minds, help people in distress. But I’m so grateful to do my small service in helping people make their dream trips. And for that I am very thankful, and grateful very day.
11 December 2018
Sitting on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town on a sunny October day, relaxing over a meal with a glass of Pinotage (the South African red wine I’d grown to like) was perfect. It’s warm and pleasantly sunny down here in the Southern Hemisphere – so I was enjoying every moment of their spring time. South Africa and the Garden route have long been a dream of mine to visit, and finally it came true. After years of putting holidays together here for my clients, this autumn I flew on a BA flight to Cape Town, via Johannesburg. Cape Town is a large, sprawling cosmopolitan city overlooked by Table Mountain. Locals call it `their mountain’ looking over the city and protecting them. This is the new South Africa. I’m sure as with most places in the world, inequality still exists, but the people we saw and dealt with on our trip where happy and smiling. And genuinely pleased to see us. The seems to be a real movement towards Eco-Tourisms here also – concerns over not changing the footprint. Good to see. If you visit Cape Town, stay near the waterfront. It’s hip, busy and certainly happening here, making it a safe place to wonder about, day and evening, along with lots of other tourists. It’s a great vibe – being full of cafes, restaurants, shops, even chains like H&M – which are known to us Brits. Live music and buskers made the atmosphere fun. Surprisingly though, Cape Town is on the Atlantic Ocean, so the sea is not as warm as you’d think. We booked a two-day hop-on-hop-off bus around the city and suburbs – it’s good value and an easy way to see the city, plus we learnt about the history of the area as well. It went along Long Street one of the oldest streets in the city – quirky and bohemian with its balconied colonial look, full of small boutiques, bookshops and a haven for backpackers. It stopped at the base of Table Mountain with views out over the city. We went out to Camps Bay, which I loved. This is a busy resort with a fabulous white sandy beach. Next day the bus took us to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens – nestling at the foot of Table Mountain. There are many day trips radiating out from Cape Town, and some we did some to Robben island, and we drove out to Cape Point and did a visit to Boulders Beach to see the penguins. No visit to Cape Town is complete without going up the cable car to the top of Table Mountains for the views. You can visit the wine region for the day from Cape Town – but we chose to stay a couple of nights there as part of our ongoing trip. I’d heard many comments on safety before visiting Cape Town, and South Africa generally, and can only say from my recent experience that I never personally felt uneasy or insecure there. But, like any other city or foreign country, you should always take reasonable safety precautions when out and about. And when driving – which we did along the N2 costal highway. South Africa has a lot going for us Brits. The great weather during our Autumn and winter, fresh good quality food and produce, lots of fabulous wine due to the wineries here. It’s only 1-2 hours’ time difference, they drive on the same side of the road, everyone speaks English and when I went, the pound was good value against the rand. No wonder it’s now a popular country to visit. I’ll tell you about my trip along the Garden Route next time.
26 September 2018
I’ve been back and forth to Ireland recently, and visited both Dublin in the Irish Republic, and Belfast in Northern Ireland. They aren’t called the Emerald Isles for nothing, as both cities are traditional, and based on a river. And brimming with Irish hospitality. Dublin has long been a popular for a city break. It’s a busy city either side of the River Liffey, famous for its literary heritage, and places like Trinity College on O’Connell Street, which holds the Book of Kells. Tourists come from all over the world to view this and the grounds of this famous grey stoned University. Writers such as Oscar Wilde and James Joyce were born here. If you are visiting Oscar’s Wilde’s house in Merrion Square and fancy a stroll, then a short ten-minute walk away is an interesting statue of the author inside nearby Merrion Park. It’s worth a visit. Dublin is famous for Guinness – either in liquid form, or in a hearty Guinness and Beef pie. The Temple Bar area is a huge tourist draw, full of colourful restaurants, Irish pubs, and bars – most with live music. The atmosphere is friendly as people merrily spill from one bar to another. Even in the rain, you could feel the atmosphere and the infectious vibe in the street. I found it quite expensive during my visit, as the pound was weak against the Euro, but you get a warm welcome. There are flights from many UK airports – we flew from Southampton with Flybe – and it’s an easy shuttle into the city centre from the airport. Belfast by contrast is now starting to become popular on the tourist map, and with good reason. It’s well worth considering for a short break. A city full of proud ship building and industrial history, sitting at the month of the River Lagan. I found it pleasant to walk around with handsome Edwardian and Victorian buildings gracing the leafy streets in the centre. A lot of growth and regeneration has happened here, and, it’s a modern city. Belfast’s main legacy is the large and imposing Titanic Belfast, the huge aluminium museum which is based on a ship’s hull and stands in the renovated dockland area. The ship was built here in the early 1900’s by Harland and Wolff, and the Titanic Quarter contains their drawing offices as well as the Titanic slipway. This is worth seeing, and again is full of visitors from around the world. There’s a good hop off and hop on bus service that covers this area along with other historic parts of the city. A ride from outside of the Titanic Building into town centre told of the proud heritage of Rope Making, and other trades in this sea port. It has its own literary greats born in this city. Game of Thrones is shot here at the Belfast Studios. And it’s a city of arts, and culture – Belfast’s annual culture night is in September, when all the bars are thrown open with a genuine Irish welcome. It’s in the UK of course, so no need to change currency, although you will be given Irish pound notes. Again, there are regular flights around the UK, and from Southampton. What I liked about both cities were the people. North or South - they were warm and friendly and made you welcome. I could see why Irish hospitality is well known!
26 September 2018
This was the Thailand we’d all imagined, and after leaving Bangkok a couple of days earlier, our group of 14 on this volunteering holiday were now sitting in an open sided truck with luggage piled between us – as we left the small town of Surin behind. Hanging on as our vehicle moved between the busy streets, negotiating the many carts, bikes, and cars milling around us, before heading deeper into rural Thailand, near the Cambodian border, and our home stay for the next four days. We were doing some community work in the area, and helping with preserving the elephants, and their way of life living freely around the villages with their mahouts, their trainer/owners, and their families. This is South East Asia and it’s very hot. We’d gone from sub-zero temperatures back in the UK, to 30 degrees plus and all its humidity. It is not only hot here, it’s dusty, noisy, and thoroughly exhilarating. So alive and bursting with colour and movement. The rural area we were heading to would be so different with small villages in the quiet countryside, moving at its own timeless, steady pace of life, elephants grazing in their backyards. People worked in the fields, farming chilies, bamboo cane and paddy fields. A few days later, we were privileged to do the daily walk with these majestic creatures and their Mahouts down to the river, a tributary of the mighty Mekong, that eventually wound its way to Vietnam. Elephants love to cool and play in the in that heat, so did we. I’d been to Thailand before and stayed in beautiful hotels. I’d experienced candle lit spas with their quiet luxury, wonderful cuisine, leisurely boat trips on the Andaman Sea, sailing up to James Bond territory. This was different. Thailand is well trodden on the tourist trail, and not everyone wants to go volunteering, so whether you are staying in 5-star luxury on a fly and flop holiday with exquisite service, or are back-packing around on a budget, it’s still an experience you won’t forget. The land of smiles, with beautiful beaches, many islands, exciting bustling cites, lovely hotels, night markets, and spiritual temples. It’s full of culture, history, wonderful cuisine, great weather, and easy to get around with a multitude of flight choices to get there in the first place. Be warned, it’s not just another beach holiday, it’s an experience that gets deep into your soul You can mix and match, having some relaxation and luxury, with travelling around coastal resorts, and seeing the real country. It can give you the holiday you want. Do start off in Bangkok - the city is fascinating and full of history - plus it's noisy, exuberant and full of confusion. But don't think that this is all there is to Thailand - the rest of the country is different. It’s like chalk and cheese. Our trip was hot and uncomfortable at times, but there’s something about South East Asia that stirs the senses. It was an adventure. Make your own dream trip, tailored to your wishes. You won’t be disappointed, you’ll be rewarded tenfold. And want to go again and again. Next month I’ll tell you about Cambodia.
26 September 2018
Part of my trip to South East Asia this year was on to the kingdom of Cambodia. Now popular on the tourist trail, it’s a country with a rich and violent history – yet is full of amazing smiling and genuinely friendly people. Its poverty is still felt today – yet the smiles that greet you are genuine, and the welcome warm. We stayed in Siem Reap, a large sprawling city near Angkor Wat and now popular with tourists. It’s bustling with bars, restaurants, night markets and great street food. Its party centre Pub Street is the same as any other large tourist centre in Asia, with nightclubs, neon lit stalls, cheap massage stands, and a mecca for the holiday makers milling about and looking for a fun night out and a good time. We were there to volunteer at a local charity school and stayed in a little hotel with a much-needed swimming pool on the outskirts. But most tourists visit Siem Reap, and twin it with Phnom Penh, the capital, or go on to nearby Thailand. There is plenty to see and experience, including a floating village and school. Each morning, after breakfast, a line of Tuk Tuk’s would be waiting for us outside our hotel. In Cambodia these Tuk Tuk’s are built onto the back of a small motorbike and is a brilliant and cheap way to travel around, although when zipping around the main traffic of Siem Reap – you hang on and hope for the best. And close your eyes at times. Driving in Cambodia is not for the faint hearted, due to frequent pot holes in the roads, the dust, no traffic lights, and sheer volume of the bikes, cars, and every other kind of vehicle that seem to be coming at you from all angles. Cheap it is, exhilarating and fun it may be, but at times, it’s uncomfortable and certainly dusty. One morning we were up before dawn and took the Tuk Tuk in the dark to the magnificent ruins and temples at Angkor Wat – some 30 mins ride away. People were already setting up their roadside stalls as we drove along – they work long hours here. This massive stone temple complex built during the Khmer Empire, is one of the truly awe-inspiring sights in this world, and on most people’s bucket list to see. It is stunning, both in its size and sheer majesty and the incredible detail depicted throughout. We were fortunate and managed to arrive in time to see the sun rise above the main temple – during what must be a magical moment as the rosy glow spread and daylight arrived. Hotels are all grades and prices, but I would advise having one with a pool as it’s very hot and humid here. The water is balmy and blissfully refreshing at the end of a long hot day. The food too, is simply amazing with local dishes like Fish Amok or Chicken Amok – both a delicate curry, and Beef Lok Lak – complete with jasmine rice. If you are planning to visit South East Asia – then I recommend fitting in Cambodia. It’s somewhere I would love to visit again one day.
17 September 2018
People are living longer – and travelling for longer. The older travelling public of today, are nothing like they were 20 or more years ago. We are all growing older in a different way, and at a different speed to previous generations. And the travel industry is now starting to wake up to this fact, and offering more holidays geared to older clients. However, these are clients who are still fairly young at heart, and adventurous, despite maybe having to make some considerations, like a few walking difficulties, mobility issues, and having to read the small print on a larger font. They say 70 is the new 50 and so on – whether you believe it depends on the state of your health and mobility, your bank balance perhaps, and your mental attitude. More importantly, they say the aging population in the UK is remaining much younger and fitter for a greater number of years. And the term over 50 is such a wide sweep, certainly in terms of health, and lifestyle. One huge inconsistency is with travel insurance – the cost can escalate a lot once you are over those 70 plus benchmarks. But that doesn’t stop people wanting to travel. Hopefully that will change in time, with more and more people living longer and healthier so it becomes the norm to base it on health not just age. Personally, I think it’s more to do with retaining, or maintaining a sense of adventure than a bank balance to want to travel, and there are many who have the means to spread their wings, but equally so, there are many more on a restricted income. But you don’t have to travel the world in luxury, cruise non-stop, or winter elsewhere to take advantage of the free time, and a zest to keep exploring. Plus, you can do it in the UK as well as abroad – all that’s needed is to retain a sense of curiosity and a wiliness to explore. You can do that exploring in Calcutta, Cape Town, or in the Cotswolds. There are deals around and a way to see places! So therefore, it is heartening to realise there are tour operators out there who cater for the needs of the silver generation – and the days of settling for the sedate coach holidays are gone – unless that’s what you want. I went to an awards ceremony in London recently, where the very best in travel for the over 50’s was celebrated. Being over a certain age, doesn’t mean your travel plans need to be boring. Not when some of your contemporaries are bungee jumping in New Zealand, or trekking in the Andes, or just strolling around London. There are now a growing number of specialist assessible tour companies making travel for people easier with disabilities - and making it more accessible for everyone. I am increasingly having requests for wheelchair assistance at airports, sharps boxes for clients with Diabetes, hiring of mobility scooters in resort. We are used to taking a remit and making sure hotels are on the flat, a ground floor room request put on the booking, and dietary requests. It’s the little things – that aren’t so little when it makes the difference between a pleasant stay, and a nightmare.
14 September 2018
I was lucky to visit this beautiful coastal part of Liguria in Italy only last year in June. A holiday memory that will stay vividly with me forever. Italy is a wonderful country to visit and to experience, but this part of the coastline is somewhere special. Collectively known as the five villages – the name Cinque Terre in Italian mean the five lands – they all cling precariously to the cliffs along this area just up the coast from the city of La Spezia. This beautiful region is still relatively unknown to British tourists but is full of other nationalities who have discovered it such as Americans, Germans, Canadians and Australians. To get there, we flew to Pisa and caught the train up to La Spezia only about an hour away. We then hopped on the local train service, the 5 Terre Express, which connects the five villages of the Cinque Terre region, taking only minutes between each one. So, it’s easy to get there and move around on local transport. A warning though, for those who have walking difficulties – the whole area is extremely hilly - hence the views everywhere. Each village has its own personality, its own level of gradient and towering around and above each are these steep terraces of practically vertical lush green hillsides where they have somehow managed to devise a way to grow grapes and harvest them in an amazing engineering feat. Boats ply between them all, and these days, tourism is also a major industry. From La Sepzia in the South, the villages are in order along the coast: Riomaggiore is where we stayed. Steeply hilly, busy and noisy with a bustling waterfront. Manarola is the next village and is quieter, and popular for those on the hiking trails. Corniglia is the only one not on the water, it’s a bus ride, or long walk to the top of the cliff. Vernazza has a pretty waterfront square with the church on the edge and a marina. Monterosso al Mare is bigger than the others. More of a resort with two big sandy beaches. Our rented apartment, in the heart of hilly Riomaggiore, had a huge terrace with wonderful views towards the sea, and the colourful houses of this lively village just tumbled all around us. The resort is bustling and vibrant with both tourists and locals and lots of eateries. At night, everyone gathers at vantage points within the village, and at the rocky water’s edge to watch the fiery sunset. Picnics of pizza, wine and bottles of the local Limoncino were quite common as they perched waiting, dining al fresco and celebrating the end of another glorious day with their companions. This is hiking country and all five villages are close enough to hike between over a matter of hours, but some require more fitness levels than others. The views they give are breath taking along the coast. Cinque Terre is now a National Park and is a UNESCO Heritage site, so you need a pass to hike between some of the towns. Unfortunately for me, the easiest two trails are closed due to heavy rock fall. Some of the longer ones went up high, way up into the hills but I managed to go up far enough to see and photograph those glorious views. Naturally, I took far too many photos. But everything was so vivid to the senses, you felt you wanted to capture it. Now if I could only bottle that!
12 September 2018
One of the bigger growths in travel terms in recent year is the world of cruising. And one of the reasons is the sheer volume of cruise lines and the new ships they are constantly adding to their fleets, plus the variety of destinations, and the class, size and ambience of each cruise ship. Another popular trend on this are the shorter 2-4 days’ cruises, very often over a weekend that are now on the market. These short cruises are ideal as a taster if you’ve never cruised before or want to try a new ship. Also, the weekend cruise is brilliant for a just that – a weekend away, and for celebrations. But, a little touch of caution - it must be said that the weekend cruise, has a different atmosphere to full length one of a week or more, and the cliental can be very different also. Recently, some colleagues and I wanted to try a weekend cruise for a variety of reasons. Our various commitments had meant we were restricted to around a couple of nights. But to be honest, it was mainly an excuse for us all of us to get together, especially as it was a birthday celebration. Our chosen 2-night cruise sailed from Southampton, which is ideal meeting place for people like us in the Southern region. And so, central! We picked the P&O’s recent flagship, Britannia because a few of us hadn’t yet sampled sailing on her – for myself, being based in the south, it was a good way to look at her - I have regular cruise clients, and for those clients, Southampton is a huge port that is conveniently nearby, and offers a good choice of lengths and destinations. Sailing from Southampton also means the price you pay is all on the cruise itself, and not partly on the ever-rising airfares needed now for some fly-cruises. It makes a difference in the overall price. There is a well-known TV personality who does some very good adverts for P&O on their cruises and does a radio advert for the actual cruise we went on – to Bruges. And everything he says is true. Good food on board, spa facilities, great evening shows and entertainment, and the ease of doing the day trip once docked in Belgium. This was a free bus transfer from the port to nearby Blankenberg, and then a quick return train journey into Bruges. You can grab the best part of a day, or half a day doing a quick visit to this lovely town. In our case, a long and relaxing lunch because of inclement weather, followed by a bit of swift shopping. Bear in mind these cruises are crowded and full of party revellers also – but the ship is large enough to escape that – and if you want an excuse for a weekend away – then this is a good alternative to flying to a European city, with all the hassle that airports bring these days. All in all, it’s good value, Southampton is so close, the cabins were comfortable, and we had a great time. Happy Sailing.
06 September 2018
Seagulls always remind me of my home area of Devon and Cornwall. So, having them wake me in the mornings as they wheeled noisily around the harbour and over my holiday cottage, was a bit like going down memory lane. I was in the coastal resort of Looe, just into Cornwall – but far enough into the county to feel you were on holiday. I was enjoying a short, relaxing break here, back to my childhood: staying in a little white terraced cottage in West Looe, half way up a steep hill – the position perhaps not so suitable for less mobile tourists, but great for keeping fit. And good for working off the inches gained by visiting the local pasty shops, and trying the cream teas that are everywhere! Looe is always popular and busy with tourists, and people return here year on year, and while there may be other better-known resorts around Cornwall - this lovely little fishing town is worth visiting, and easy to get too. It has plenty of atmosphere - and is full of pubs, restaurants, and lots of gift shops. The little harbour with its fishing boats is pleasant to the eye, and the sandy beach is great for kids. It’s big enough to spend a few days here, and there are plenty of good coastal walks. Accommodation is plentiful and varied, from rented cottages and apartments, guest houses and hotels, to nearby caravan and camping parks. You can even get here from London and further by National Rail, and Looe Station is quite central – the resort is served by a small branch line from Liskeard. it's straightforward to drive too - but see the note on parking below. Polperro, is Looe’s near neighbour, and is another small fishing resort, with a pretty harbour and lots of tourists again. Parking can be difficult in both resorts, so pick your times to go, and perhaps walk into the centres. But if you are a coastal walker – the whole area is paradise. If you want to go further and see more of Cornwall and all it offers, then it's an easy couple of hours drive to most places. From Falmouth, down to Penzance, and St Ives, from The Eden Project over to Newquay and further up the Atlantic coast– or over to Bodmin Moor. Plymouth is also close by if you wanted to pop up to a big city for shopping, and the history of the famous Hoe. All Cornish coastal resorts can be packed with tourists, and even in early April both Looe and Polperro, were busy with lots of people around. The roads around can be congested later in the season, so I thought I’d beat the more hectic crowds and enjoy this early break. Luckily the weather was perfect also. And on my last afternoon in Looe, relaxing in the early April sunshine on the quayside, it amused me to see a big seagull cheekily perched on top of the post in front of me which had a sign on it clearly stating: Do not feed the Seagulls – they are vicious. That made me smile, but I suppose a Cornish fishing harbour and seagulls do go together - a bit like scones and clotted cream do.
05 September 2018
Marrakech is an assault on the senses – but in a good way. Everywhere there are vibrant colours, the people are friendly, the food is amazing and fresh, and the sights fascinating. If you want a short trip that is exciting, exotic, entertaining, and full of experiences outside of anything European, then do try a weekend in this interesting city. This is North Africa at its best and so easy to get to with direct 3-hour flight from various airports the UK. I recently visited and stayed in a 4-star hotel which was well placed for getting around. Complementary afternoon mint tea served in the foyer, and the excellent and reasonable spa on the premises, made this a comfortable place to stay. Our tour guide Helen made the holiday special by giving us the real authentic flavour of this fascinating city. We toured the Medina and the souks, which were chaotic and fascinating. We were amazed by stalls with their huge barrels of spices and nuts outside. Individual sellers on narrow corners selling pastries, or big square trays of peanut brittle and sesame bars. The many fruit stalls bursting with colours. The shoe souks, where you could see the shoes and bags being made as you passed, the smell of leather following you tantalizingly. Beautifully crafted glass lanterns, and earthenware tagines in all hues and sizes. Plus, pashminas, cushions, drapes, clothing and souvenirs. And in amongst these narrowed, crowded passageways, there are people on small motorbikes everywhere - zipping in around the tourists and locals alike. We found a hidden garden – a haven deep in the busy Souks. We looked at green blues and white tiles that adorn some of the Palaces, Mosques, and Riads we passed. And ate in authentic local restaurants, that were excellent value for money – we also tried delicious tagine dishes, and couscous which was so light, fluffy and aromatic. Followed by delicious Moroccan pastries. We dinned exquisitely one night in a beautiful Riad in the city, and another night at a cheap and cheerful tarpaulin covered cafe on Jemaa el-Fna Square, full of tourists and locals, and atmosphere. It turned out Helen works for Complete Tours, which is Travel Counsellors’ destination tour guide for Morocco. We work together, with our experience, and Complete Tours’ local expertise to tailor make a trip that is individual and special to you. Excursions to the Atlas Mountains and meeting ethnic Berber tribes. Or you can visit Essaouira on the coast for the day, which is cosmopolitan and relaxed, and a nice contrast to Marrakech for a few hours. Or try it as a second centre. Both Marrakech and Morocco itself, are vibrant, exotic, and are easy to get too for either a short, or prolonged visit. It’s good value, and there are some interesting itineraries to extend your visit. Be greeted with bright smiles of welcome – Mrehba. And leave knowing you want to come back to discover more.
05 September 2018
Ever thought of a few days in Majorca in mid to late October? Neither had I – until I tried it. And it turned out to be a relaxing few days away. I even went sunbathing and swimming. And getting there? I don’t often make enough use of my local airports, near where I live in the south. So the idea was to keep is easy and stress-free because it was a short break. The flight from Southampton was with Flybe. I’d never flown from Southampton before, so was keen to give this a go also. It’s a great little airport with two restaurants, money exchange, etc and is easy to get to by train or by car. There is also a Premier Inn next door. Flybe was also a first for me and it was a good flight! Because this is a smaller plane with no seat back TV's the captain kept us updated throughout the journey. Easy to forget that touch in the modern era of huge planes and long-haul travel. I’d booked a private transfer from Palma Airport, which was such a speedy way to get to the resort - Portals Nous, and a small boutique hotel in a quiet residential area. The 3-star Costa Portals Hotel turned out to be much better than I thought it would be, modern and clean. They say your holiday hangs on the room you have - and mine was a pleasant surprise. I was given a top (4th) floor double room - no balcony but a window that opened with a good view of the villas around - hilly residential area. And it had a lovely big bathroom with a walk-in shower! Portals Nous it has to be said, is mainly hilly. And while the hotel pool was tempting, the coastline beckoned and there was a beautiful little cove about 5 minutes’ walk away. There’s a steep hill to climb back afterwards, so the area is not suitable for those who may be less mobile. But the walks were worth it. Majorca is dotted with coves and beaches fringed by green trees, and wonderful coastal scenery, so a day spent sunbathing and swimming, and taking costal walks is relaxing. I loved relaxing by the water's edge, with just the murmur of voices and the lapping of the sea for company. It was very peaceful - with the odd sea bird swimming by. And children playing in the sea. It would be ideal to spend a month here chilling, swimming and walking. I even found a trendy bar literally at the sea's edge, with big white sail canopies, and a platform to dive off, and for those visiting on a boat to tie up too. It was quite easy to lose an afternoon here, with a San Miguel or two, and snacks from the bar. Later, it was time to negotiate that hill and hit happy hour at the hotel and maybe a Sangria. That evening, a nice cooked meal in a restaurant at the nearby village resort was a perfect way to round off the day. It was even warm enough to sit outside to eat in short sleeves – such a bonus. Next day I sat up on a headland overlooking the main Portals Nous beach and Marina, just loving the coastline here. Later on, I found the main Marina at Puerto Portals - very posh. Lots of restaurants and shops. Great for day or evening. Majorca in mid-October has been an eye opener. I've never thought of coming so late in the past - thinking it would been end of season. Too empty, or the weather not good! Instead it’s been relaxing with plenty of people around. The weather has been nicely warm. People are on the beaches and in the sea. I enjoyed a good, budget, short break in a beautiful area.
05 September 2018
That year, I was fortunate to spend Christmas and New Year in Japan. This is something I’ve done many times in the past because I visit family there, but this time I was lucky to be given a surprise visit for a few days to Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. Whenever I put together the perfect itinerary for Japan with my clients, it’s usually Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, with maybe Yokohama, or maybe a visit to Nikko, which I visited years ago. It all depends on the time the clients have there, and their interests. I have my favourites, but that may not be the same as my clients of course. But Kyoto would appeal to everyone, I think, as a second centre to Tokyo, or Osaka. I liked the city, both the modern, and especially the ancient city. And it’s so easy to get too with minimum fuss. And there so much to visit. Although Japan adopts a lot of western cultures, and at the end of year there are Christmas lights, festive music, and decorations everywhere, it’s not a Christian country so they don’t celebrate it. It’s a normal working day there. New Year is important and a holiday time as most Japanese have a few days off work - so because we were in Kyoto during that holiday period, it was particularly colourful with many Japanese tourists wearing their national and historic Kimono's to visit the shrines and pay homage. We celebrated Christmas in our own way, and on Boxing Day we boarded a high-speed bullet train at Tokyo station, and travelled to Kyoto in just over a couple of hours, again a new experience for me. The trains in Japan are efficient anyway, but this was an amazing way to speed from one major city to another – in comfort and up to speeds of 200 miles per hour, with a glimpse of the snow caped Mount Fuji standing against the skyline as we shot past. Kyoto is a large city, part new and part historical and is famous for its numerous well-preserved Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. Many of these are on the World Heritage list and are priceless historically. And is always extremely busy with foreign as well as local tourists, especially in the spring during cherry blossom, or in the summer. Or at the New Year period. There is so much to see apart from the many Temples and Shrines: impressive gardens, the old Imperial Palace, the Philosophers Walk, which runs alongside the canal banked by cherry trees in Spring. In winter it was quieter, but still interesting. Gion is the most traditional district in Kyoto, where young women still train to be Geisha. The streets of Gion are lined by restaurants, tea houses, and old wooden mercantile houses, which makes it worth visiting for the culture, and for interesting places to eat. The narrow back streets are a rabbit warren of lanterns, and aromas, and dozens of small family owned restaurants. There is no hustling as in other parts of the world. Japan is a fascinating mixture of the ancient and modern – from ages old tradition and up to date technology – and is a country now popular with UK tourists. This year - in 2018 - Japan is really popular with my clients, and with many people now wishing to discover this interesting country. I've been visiting it since 2004 - and will no doubt do so again. And again.
05 September 2018
I was fortunate to came back from a truly memorable visit to the beautiful Caribbean island of Jamaica a couple of years ago, as a guest of the Sandals Holiday Group. Jamaica is a beautiful island, very green, with lovely beaches, so laid back, and of course is the land of reggae and Bob Marley, so his music is everywhere. And so easy to get too, with regular direct flights from the UK. It was memorable because we were fortunate enough to be staying at the Sandals Ochi Beach Resort and experiencing first-hand what they can offer our clients - which of course is excellent service and a lovely resort. But memorable also because we were caught up in the impending path of Hurricane Matthew in September 2016, one of the worse tropical storms to hit the Caribbean for years. We went from sunshine when we first arrived to very stormy weather, which caused a lot of debris around the coastline, despite in the it being downgraded and thankfully missing Jamaica head on in the end. On the Monday the island was on full alert with many businesses closed all day after the storms and subsequent flooding hit Kingston, and this lasted to Tuesday night/Wednesday morning when it was eventually downgraded to a tropical storm. Then the clean-up could begin. Sandals themselves were amazing, and management team had daily briefing for guests to explain what was happening and giving them updates. Some guests were evacuated to the emergency rooms in the main building as a precaution. We were being housed up in the butler suites, so this is where we would have spent the storm, once the hotel was on lockdown, in our rooms with emergency food rations. All the beachfront activities, and facilities were shut down. And boarding was put up outside the public areas in the hotel. Despite that, all the Sandals staff were cheerful and helpful. You felt nothing was too much trouble. Luckily on the Wednesday it was a safe enough to start the clean-up and open the hotel fully again. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to experience all the Sandals and Beaches properties on Jamaica as we were meant too, as it wasn't deemed safe to move around. But we were all impressed by the diligent care and attention the management gave to the guest's safety. So grateful thanks to them for trying to keep their guests happy, while keeping them safe. I certainly have no hesitation in sending guests there in the future. We managed to squeeze in visits to the Sandals Resorts in the Montego Bay area - en route to the airport. I loved the two bigger resort properties here; Sandals Montego Bay and Sandals Royal Caribbean because they were right on the powdery white beach. With luscious green palm trees edging along the coastline, what more could you want? Sandals say they are set apart from everyone else because they include more luxury, quality and choice. I’d agree with that. They are also ideal also for groups of couples who belong to sports clubs, like golf, diving and fitness groups because they offer a generous free room with six booked. Apart from Jamaica they are in Antigua, Barbados, St Lucia, Bahamas and Grenada. Spoilt for choice!
05 September 2018
The views of the River Thames and its many bridges were spread below us. It was one of those occasions when you couldn’t stop taking photos and spying famous landmarks during the 360 degree panoramic journey. They say it’s the view you’ll never forget. So where was I? Actually, in a capsule on the Coca Cola London Eye, one of the few places in the capital where you can enjoy such a view. London is an amazing city for a short break any time of the year, with so much to do and see. So why not grab a bird’s eye view of the city while there. I travel to London regularly, mainly through business and training events, but rarely have time to indulge in something like this huge observation wheel which is an icon of modern London. You almost take it for granted on the river side, and the glimpses you have when coming into Waterloo on the train. It’s not until you actually stand under it, that you realise how big it is. Apparently, the circumference would take 2,120 Cola Bottles laid around it! It’s just five minutes’ walk from Waterloo station so ideally placed for people from the south. Straight off the train, and you’re practically there. Be warned though, the queues are horrendously long at peak times, so booking your time slot in advance before you arrive in London is essential. But in early February, although there were plenty of people milling about and queuing, getting on board was fairly straight forward. The really lengthy queues were inside – in the ticket section of the County Hall. With Easter and other holidays, and half terms coming up at this time of year, it’s popular not just with families and foreign tourists, but everyone. And for special occasions. There are many options with the London Eye ticket, so purchase the one that is right for you: Standard. Fast Track. Champagne Experience. Friends and Family Private Capsules, etc. One thing I found is that when booking online (or on site) is it pays to consider what else you plan to do while in the city. And plan ahead. Because upgrading your ticket to include other attractions saves money. And it makes sense to book everything together as one combined ticket, rather than paying for each attraction individually. These saver tickets cover: Madam Tussauds. The London Dungeon. Shrek’s Adventure. Sea Life Aquarium. It is worth the money and as I looked down on the Thames on this pale wintery, sunny morning all the famous landmarks were displayed below me. Whichever direction you looked, everything was familiar. Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament. Buckingham Palace – skirted by Green Park. The Post Office Tower, and below us on the embankment, the famous Savoy Hotel. This side of the river, the South Bank and the Festival Hall – and St Paul’s in the distance. And towering above all, one of the newer additions to London’s landmarks, The Shard – who’s observation deck on the 72nd floor, has been the highest viewing point in London since 2013. Who would have thought that a giant Ferris Wheel, sprawling the south bank would become such a famous landmark? A relic of the Millennium, it has deservedly become one of those must do’s when visiting London, and with a little forward planning you can make the most of this and a few other attractions if you take your family on a visit to London this year.
27 August 2015
I recently visited two of my favourite Northern European cites in Belgium. In midsummer Bruges is heaving with tourists. So is the capital Brussels – but then of course, so is every other city in Europe. But not everyone can travel out of the high season, so despite the crowds it was good to note on my recent short trip to Belgium that everything was still good quality and good value for money. And the weather was sunny also! People throng to see the historical sites of both cities, and to try the delights of Belgium beer, the famous chocolate shops and the amazing waffles. Be warned there are waffle stalls everywhere in the town centers, especially in Brussels, and they are delicious on the taste buds, but must be horrendously bad on the hips as these are seriously rich concoctions piled high with billowing froths of cream, chocolate sauce, fruit and other goodies. And the waffle dough is made freshly on site, so the delicious aromas everywhere are enticing. Both cities are easy to get too – the easiest probably doing as I did - on the Eurostar from St Pancras in London, which goes direct to Brussels Midi in just over 2 hours. Bruges is around one hour further on nearer to the coast and Ostend. One thing to note is that your Eurostar ticket gives you a continuous rail journey on from Brussels to anywhere in Belgium. It’s not a big country and the rail network is pretty comprehensive. The Grand-Place in Brussels – the central square is worth a visit (one stop further on from Midi) it’s compact, and very beautiful with its Gothic architecture and historical Guildhalls skirting the main square, and home to the famous flower carpet festival every 2 years in summer – the next one is 12 -16 August 2016. And Brussels is home to the equally famous Manneken Pis– the bronze statue of the small boy peeing intro a fountain. The area and streets around the Grand-Place is also packed with little cafes selling Leffe Beer made famous by the monks, and bowls of Moules and Frites. We spent an enjoyable afternoon wandering around the centre and back streets in the sunshine, before boarding the train again to Bruges. There is a left luggage section at Brussels Midi station complex to be able to do this - Five Euros for a locker. Although be warned - it has to be coins, not notes. We stayed at a nice tourist graded hotel in Bruges, which was on the outskirts and in a quiet residential area - this was a pleasant 15-20 flat walk into the centre - so it meant you escaped the crowds and noise at night. The rooms were a bit dated, but hotel had a nice sunny little bar in the entrance, and up on the first floor they served a continental buffet breakfast each morning until 10am, which was plentiful and freshly replenished. The other advantage we found of staying here, was the ease of a short taxi ride away to the train station. While Bruges is also about its food and drink it is a beautiful town with its cobbled streets and many canals, very prosperous, clean and equally full of tourists. Try May, June or September if you can for a more leisurely, less crowded visit. The churches and the art galleries are amazing. Horse drawn carriages clip clop around the cobblestone streets carrying tourists. River boat tours seem continuous in high season around the canals - relaxing and good value for eight Euros. Which brings me to Bruges most famous citizen – a golden Labrador called Fidel. Who sleeps on a pillow hanging out of a 2nd floor gabled window sill of a riverside hotel - lazily oblivious to his fame, or the many boat loads of tourists who stop to take his photograph. Bruges is famous for its lace making; its chocolate, its many varieties of beer, and Belgium frites with mayonnaise. This UNESCO world heritage city, is bustling around the Markt (market square) with tourists of all nationalities, but turn a corner, and many smaller and picturesque squares are a few yards away, full of flowers and flower pots. There are wonderful back streets that are quieter, and seem a million miles away from the more touristy areas. And because it’s flat, the locals ride bikes everywhere; the town is full of interesting architecture, little cafes spilling out onto the streets, and alleyways with buildings dating back to the 12th century. I really enjoyed my visit, and it was so easy to travel around on the train, and with Eurostar, while there is a scanner and security checks - it still made it such a change to all the rules and regulations of air travel. One last thing to note - there is a city tax, that is paid per person per night to the hotel reception on checking out - again this is getting more common in European cities now.
04 July 2012
I took a local flight from Bournemouth recently for this one week break in the sun - which was really needed in this summer of 2012! The convenience of this early regional departure meant we were in plenty of time for a late lunch at our resort hotel, and we enjoyed relaxing on the terrace with a freshly prepared Greek salad, washed down by a glass of chilled local beer, while taking in our sunny surroundings. I'd been to Corfu some years before and loved the island, for it is truly beautiful with it's green sweeps of lush hillsides, millions of olive tress, and tall Cyprus trees dotted about on the landscape - and all against a vivid backdrop of blue sea and sky. May, for me, is a lovely month to visit with a multitiude of late spring flowers everywhere and swathes of yellow broome growing across the hills. This and the long daylight hours, make up for slighly chilly seas for swimming. I picked a different area to visit on this trip - so we stayed in San Stefanos in the the top north-west tip of Corfu, one of a trio of resorts nestling there that are awash with true Corfiot hospitality, and family run businesses. These popular resorts have everything a tourist could want for a relaxing break in the sun, enjoying all Greece has to offer. For how could you not enjoy the wonderful scenery, good food, the relaxation, and such friendly locals? I found a delightful area, and would definitely be happy to go back to San Stefanos again. It's a nice resort with a good sized sandy beach, and a host of tavernas, supermarkets, gift shops, a cocktail bar or two, and plenty of varied accommodation. We stayed at the Tereza Hotel, a family run concern which must be one of the nicest I've stayed in anywhere in Greece. It’s a sheer delight, situated partly up a hillside with spectacular views. It's well kept, clean, the main buildings are a pretty rose hue, and the surrounding gardens are full of bright flowers and climbing bougainvillea. Two brothers run the hotel with their families, but their parents are also very much involved, with Dad with cleaning the pool at night, and Mum amongst other things, tending to the gardens. The family host regular quiz nights, a BBQ, Greek nights, plus offer reasonably good priced menus both lunch times, and evenings. But the main feature is the lovely oval pool, and the wide terrace with those amazing views out over the sea, and what better way to spend an evening than relaxing over a drink, watching the wonderful sunsets. We hired a car one day, and were delighted to be given a small white jeep, and did a tour down to Corfu Town, via Paleokastritsa, the well known beauty spot in Corfu. But first we visited Arillas, the next resort to San Stefanos and just a short hop up the coast, which has it’s own local brewery and is bringing much needed custom to the area. This same brewery is supplying some Corfu Beer to the UK for the start of the Olympics in July. This resort also has a good sprinkling of tavernas, shops, and an excellent tourist information office, and a small stone jetty, perfect for some fishing. Agios Georgiou's further around the bay, offers a wide sweep of sand and promenade, shops, hotels and accommodation. This seems a well established resort. It’s not just the beauty of Corfu that brings so many visitors to this particular area that I stayed in. Nor is it due to local delicacies like Greek yogurt and local honey, as nice as it is. Or, even the wide selection of local dishes on offer in all the tavernas. I think it's due to the friendliness of the local families who live and work here, because everyone stops to chat, and to offer friendship. And within a short time you feel part of their community. It's like one large family. And that's true Greek hospitality. So, it’s no wonder people come back.
16 March 2010
I've been to the Costa Del Sol a few times in the past, but twice for short breaks in recent years, and neither trip was a traditional sun and sand holiday. Marbella - The first occasion was a couple of years ago at the end of November - Travel Counsellors held their 2008 Conference there, hosted by the Costa Del Sol Tourist Board. And I was lucky enough to stay at the plush 5 star Gran Melia Don Pepe, in the sophisticated resort of Marbella. The hotel was grand with great facilities, and a spacious pool area. The Golden Mile and the nearby area boast the glamorous jet set, and many Brits enjoying an extended winter break in the sun. The conference was a huge success, as usual, and we all enjoyed a few days of glorious weather in our free time. We enjoyed sightseeing, flamenco dancing, walks along the promenade and wonderful Spanish hospitality. Mijas - This previous experience prompted me to return, which I did recently with a family group for a few days, during an early spring break this year. This time we went to Mijas Pueblo, one of the white hilled villages of Andalucía. And stayed at the lovely TRH Mijas Hotel. It rained most of the time, but we did get glimpses of blue skies and sunshine amongst the clouds. And the views from this elevated position down towards Fuengirola and the coast are spectacular. This is an area to relax in, as well as sightseeing, and we did plenty of that in our comfortable hotel. The Mijas hotel has a good spa, Jacuzzi and sauna, and a big lounge/terrace bar with those fantastic views. In summer there are terraces out in the front, which will be wonderful to relax. It's a peaceful oasis within a short distance to all that the Costa Del Sol offers. It's has a perfect location, being close to the centre of the resort, and the bus down to the coast, which stops literally outside the hotel. It's the best of both worlds - you are away from the main commercial hub of the Costa Del Sol, yet only a short (and reasonably priced) bus ride away from it. The whole Costa Del Sol area is ideal for short breaks, given that most regional airports have regular flights to Malaga. But there is so much more to the Costa del Sol, and you can easily spend much longer here. Mijas is full of little shops, tapas bars, restaurants, and the most amazing views - see my pictures. And it's so pretty, and suitable for both short breaks and longer stays. The transport system is excellent - the regular bus service for runs from not only from Mijas to Fuengirola, but from there back and forth along the coast. There is also a small train service which runs from Malaga Airport as far as Fuengirola, and a bus service from there to Marbella and Puerto Banus. Further afield it's easy to make day trips to Gibraltar, Granada, and Rhonda. Meanwhile, don't overlook Malaga, the region's capital city, that most of us just pass through to the airport. It's also a city worth seeing, and on the previous trip, we'd visited the Picasso Museum, and the Alcazaba, which is the Moorish fortress with great views of the city and the port. There are many tapas bars, and good shopping. A place I would recommend. I've been back and forth to the Costa Del Sol over the years, and during one family holiday a long time ago stayed in Nerja, further up the coast during one blistering hot and humid July. Nerja is very popular with the British, but still retains a typically Spanish feel. The nearby caves are well worth a visit. The Costa Del Sol is extremely busy in summer with the lure of it's beautiful beaches, and the promise of many hours of sunshine. It's still popular, but much more leisurely, in the winter and shoulder seasons, so whatever you are looking for in your holiday, you have plenty to choose from here. It's an all year round holiday destination. So why not explore it, and see it's different sides. Adiós! And enjoy!
18 October 2008
I'd sold Egypt, and the Red Sea many time, but have never visited myself. So, I was keen to find out about an area that was becoming extremely popular with my clients. This May I had the chance to do so, and went to Taba, and then on to Eilat in Israel. This proved to be a great contrast between two nearby resort areas. My first surprise was how far Taba airport is out in the desert, about an hour from the resort itself. Therefore, you need to arrange your transfers before you leave the UK, if you don't want a possible long wait at the airport before a taxi can come out to fetch you. Also, our bus waited in line with others at the airport checkpoint, before starting in convoy for the resort. We always had an armed guard on board, if we went outside of a resort area, so security is tight. It didn't detract anything from the trip though, because it is well documented about Egyptian security, so I knew about it before I went. One thing to remember about Taba is that it is a man made resort which is mostly hotel based. But what a choice of hotels. Everything is close together, and most hotels offer a dine around service, complete with shuttle transfer. The quality of the hotels were good. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency - a beautiful 5 star property on the beach front. With beautiful landscaped gardens. For a more traditional feel, try the El Wekala Resort, which is next to the shopping centre. Taba has a golf course, the shopping centre and many excursions, so for some sunshine, and a relaxing beach holiday is ideal. And, yes, and the weather was very hot, but dry. You need plenty of water with you, and a hat. We did a fair bit while there. One day we went down to Nuweiba where we visited a bedouin camp and rode camels (not for me) and one afternoon we had a Red Sea boat trip, which was relaxing. Then we did another excursion to ride quad bikes out in the hot, arid desert. I didn't think I'd like this, but it proved to be fun. You can also do boat trips to Aquabar and Petra in Jordan from here, and various trips to Eilat, with all it has to offer. This part of the Red Sea is fairly low key and quiet, which was in direct contrast to it's near neighbour Eilat. A surprise was that there are a couple of hotels practically on the Egyptian side of the border itself. One of them, the 5 star Movernpick was a lovely resort hotel. Beautifully landscaped again. From here you could walk the few minutes to the border, and spend an evening in Eilat if you wished. The frontier crossing was the most stressful part of the trip. Lots of red tape and terse questions, which given the area, was expected. But Eilat itself, is only about a 20min drive from the border, so it was all pretty straight forward. Eilat is a sprawling city by the sea, with many well established hotels, and is busy. So, it was intitially a shock to come from quiet, laid back Taba, to bustling Eilat. We stayed at the Royal Beach Hotel, which had great views of the beach and resort. We were also there during the Sabbath, so that was interesting to see the dietary restrictions, and way of life of Jewish holidaymakers. The buffet food in the hotels was fantastic, especially the salads. The night markets, and shopping were good also. Because the wine is local, it was reasonable compared to being very expensive in Taba. My favourite excursion was to the Dolphin Reef one afternoon, where we saw these fantastic creatures swimming around us. It also had a nice beach resort built into the complex. The trip to the Dead Sea and Masla came a close second. So, a trip of many contrasts. And one which I would recommend. The Red Sea is HOT at the moment with UK visitors, and the resorts all vary tremendously. I look forward to hearing from you if you decide to visit this interesting part of the world, whether for a relaxing beach, and diving holiday, or for some sightseeing.
14 November 2008
Japan is a fascinating country. And one I've been too around 4 times. However, I've not visited as a tourist, but stayed with family. So, I have to admit I know little about staying in the hotels, or arranging excursions. I've not travelled widely all over Japan. But I've been to Tokyo many times, to Yokohama, and up to Nikko (World Heritage site just north of Tokyo) and many times up and down the Chiba Peninsula. All of them on public transport. So, I've been lucky to get glimpses of the Japan that few tourists see. However, there are many experiences I can share with you if this is a country you're planning to visit. I've been there at Christmas time, but mostly in the middle of their very hot, humid summers. Firstly, transport is excellent. There is a train system which runs efficiently from both the airport terminals in Narita. Efficient is a good word to use about being in Japan, as everything runs on time, and is good value. The railways, buses, and taxis. Taxis are clean, the drivers dressed smartly with white gloves, and the doors open electronically for you as you get in. The larger rail and subway stations are big, very busy, and have lots of cafes, shops, food stalls in them. You'll see traditional Noodle Bars full of business men on their way home, next too fast food places more familiar to us in the west. Many station names are in English as well as Japanese, especially in stations nearer to the bigger cities and towns. However, English is a not a common language. Japan is also very Americanised, so expect to see lots of pictures of US TV shows. They also love basketball here. Karaoke, however, is popular everywhere. Tokyo is a huge, sprawling city with many different areas to visit. All of them accessible on the comprehensive subway system. There is a circle line that goes all the way around Tokyo, called the Yamanote Line. Some of the areas: . Ginza Street is one of the most photographed images of Tokyo. . The Emperor's Royal Palace with it's gardens and gate houses which are walking distance from Tokyo Station. . The main temple at Asakusa - Senso-Ji Temple. . The 2 big Marenouchi Buildings - large shopping mall and department stores, in the Marunouchi office district. . Shibuya and Harajuku - teen oriented fashionable shopping districts - young people are very fashion conscious in Japan. . The harbour area and river trips over to Odaiba Seaside Park - a big outside leisure area with entertainment, shops and restaurants. . Tokyo Tower - Tokyo's Eiffel Tower look alike. Not that attractive when close too! . Prince Hotel at the Sunshine City complex - 60 floors up is a conservatory bar, which has huge picture windows on 3 sides. This offers wonderful views of Tokyo, especially at night. Yokohama - is further around Tokyo Bay, can be reached by bus, or train from Tokyo, and is worth a visit. Especially to see it's harbour front, and it's China Town. Disney Resort and Disney Sea - are also a short distance from Tokyo by train. It takes around 20 mins on the Keio Line out from the main Tokyo Station. Get off at Maihama. From there you can walk to the Disney Resort, or catch a Disney train around to Disney Sea. Aim to do one park per day. Disney Sea is partially good during summertime. The seasons - In April you may be lucky to catch the cherry blossom, which is out in profusion for a short time. June and early July is the rainy season, and it can rain! In summer you'll catch a host of summer firework festivals, each town and district have their own, and many people wear their summer kimonos during these celebrations. Winter is cold, but usually with blue skies. At Christmas they do have wonderful festive lights everywhere, but it's not celebrated here, and the 25 December is a normal working day. Most people have a 5 day break over the New Year period, which is a important family time. I hope I've given you a glimpse of Japan. It is a country of many things, and if you do travel there, I hope you see some of the unique sides to it which I've been lucky to see. Give me a call, if you want any further information. Sayonara!
30 October 2008
One country I need no excuse to talk about is Canada. I've always been fascinated by it's vastness, and I've been a Canada Specialist for some years now. I've also been extremely lucky to have visited it three times. So far, that is! I say on my web page, that Canada is a wonderful destination for any type of holiday - and this is true. The majority of my enquires tend to be for holidays to the Rockies. They are everyone's first image of Canada. While there are many other wonderful parts of this vast country to see and experience, the Rockies are where most visitors want to head to first. I've been to Western Canada twice, both to British Columbia and Alberta, and have been on the Rocky Mountaineer a couple of times. This part of Canada has always been popular with British visitors, and it's not difficult to understand why. It has great cities, like Vancouver, and Calgary. Plus breathtaking scenery, with resorts like Banff, and Lake Louise. One of my favourite memories, is standing on the water's edge at Lake Louse early one bright autumn morning, and marvelling at the reflection of the mountains in the lake. And the colours! I have so many other images. Catching the first sight of Mount Robson viewed from the Rocky Mountaineer, the centre of Whistler with it's red maple trees, soft rain in Vancouver, a glimpse of a moose on the edge of the highway and the Icefields Parkway on the way to Jasper. No Visit is complete without venturing to Tim Horton's for a coffee and Tim Bits - boxes of tiny doughnuts in a variety of flavours. Both times we flew into Calgary, and made our way via Banff to Jasper, and then caught the Rocky Mountaineer to Vancouver. We tried both the red leaf and gold leaf. The service is excellent in both, but for a trip of a lifetime, it has to be the gold leaf with it's viewing dome, and waiter service meals. I've also been to the Eastern Seaboard, to Toronto, a city I fell in love with immediately. We took a boat ride out into the harbour, visited the CN tower, and walked over the glass floor at the top. The shopping is good, and a good rival to New York, and it's one of the bigger film venues in North America. We took a side trip down to Niagara Falls. Had a helicopter ride over the falls. We had lunch in the sky tower - with it's amazing views of both side of the falls; America and Canada. Finally, no visit to Niagara would be complete without a ride on the Maid of the Mist. The wineries are also worth viewing on the way back to Toronto. The ice wine, is typical of this region. Surprisingly, within a short drive you can be out of the city, and in the Muskoka region, and the Algonquin Park. This region if full of lakes, and is absolutely beautiful. We tried canoeing - quite an experience ! One thing people don't realise is that this region is a good alternative to New England to see the autumn leaves in the fall. The colours are as vibrant, and the scenery is magnificent. You can also stay in lodges on the edge of the many lakes. From here we made our way up to Ottawa, Canada's capital. A lovely city, with it's rich culture and heritage, and vibrant student life. The native Canadian history is strong around here, and we visited several museums which gave us a taste of this. Finally we flew to Montreal, a cosmopolitan city in Quebec, which is hip, trendy, and full of parks, pavement cafes and festivals. But there is still so much I'd still like to see. The Atlantic coastline, the Yukon, the Northern Territories. Place like Churchill in Northern Manitoba to see the Polar bears and the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, to see the highest tides in the world. Canada is easy to visit and get around. The flights to Toronto and Montréal are only 7-9 hours. Newfoundland less. Vancouver around 11 hours. The roads are easy to drive on, the train services are good. The people are friendly. What can I say - do try it, and I'm sure like me you'll want to go back. Again and again.
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