Sent by Andrew Sindall
Based in Hornchurch
My name is May - your single point of contact for all your holiday and travel needs. I’m here to take the stress, worry and hassle out of booking your next trip.
I specialise in tailor-made itineraries, Honeymoons, Weddings abroad, groups & luxury travel. I also provide travel arrangements for Corporate Travellers in small-medium size businesses.
I have over 30 years’ experience in the travel industry & have travelled extensively, as I believe it’s important to see the resorts and destinations I offer first hand.
Want to know where to go for your trip of a lifetime? Or wondering how best to spend your time in the country of your choice? Just click on My Travel Diaries above where you’ll find helpful guides just like you’d expect in the holiday brochures – but, I have been there personally and can advise from experience.
Alongside ATOL protection which covers air holiday packages and charter flights, we operate our own unique, independent Financial Trust which protects every other element of your booking including low cost airlines, scheduled flights, accommodation and car hire. So, even in the event of an operator failure, you'll never lose a penny. I know how important it is to book with someone you trust and have peace of mind that your hard-earned money is safe from websites that go bust!
Whether it's an overnight stay in London, a luxury holiday of a lifetime or another tick off the bucket list, I find out what is important to you and ensure that I match your expectations and more. But don’t take my word for it. Click on Testimonials above to hear how I’ve helped many other delighted customers on their journey.
I would say that selling dreams must be the best job in the world!
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.
02 June 2021
I’m launching a travel show, available to download as a podcast, and I’d like you to be the first to hear it! Follow the link in the comments below, choose your podcast platform and MAKE SURE YOU CLICK ‘FOLLOW’ because one follower will win a very cool prize on launch day. I’ll have more details soon but get following right now! In comments: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1750890
31 March 2021
Who knew we had the Garden of Eden right here in our own backyard just 90 minutes by train from London? In the very heart of Southern England, you’ll find an ancient forest, an oasis cradled in the middle of Hampshire which measures approx. 566 sq. metres. From Lush green meadows to deep open woods and heathland – the New Forest has been shaped by man & animal since the end of the ice age 11,000 years ago. Today deer, ponies and cattle continue to roam free in its ancient heaths and woodland. Clear rivers and shady groves provide tranquillity and a car-free haven for walking, cycling and horse riding. The New Forest became a national park in 2005 and was once a royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror. It covers an area of 566 square kilometres and is made up of vast tracts of unspoilt woodland, heathland and river valleys. Take a stroll around the quaint traditional villages of Beaulieu, Brockenhurst, Burley and Lyndhurst, explore the dusty antique shops or enjoy a pint of locally brewed cider or beer in one of the many straw thatched roof pubs. Discover the cobbled streets of the small Towns & Villages or take a stroll along the Coastline of the New Forest. Food is another reason to visit the New Forest, since it’s rich in traditional country pubs, cosy tea rooms, fine restaurants and top-quality local produce. Quality is assured by the New Forest Marque, a sign that the highest standards of animal welfare, production and sourcing have been applied to any locally produced foodstuffs carrying its name. New Forest specialities include venison, cider, sausages, honey, beef, pork, mushrooms, fresh crabs and sole and many of the Forest’s restaurants, hotels and cafés offer menus featuring local food. The New Forest has been a holiday destination here in the UK throughout the ages and there’s a wide selection of accommodation to suit all styles and budgets. Luxury & country house hotels, self-catering holiday cottages, bed & breakfasts, camping and caravan sites and holiday parks all set against the majestic backdrop of the New Forest. As you admire the timeless scenery it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular holiday beauty spot. Each season provides a change of scene from the rich deep colours of spring and summer to the seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness in autumn. Pull on your walking boots and take a hike through the lush countryside & woodlands, hire a bike & enjoy one of the many off-road cycling routes or simply relax & rejuvenate in one of the area’s award-winning spas.
02 April 2021
You can fly, drive or take the train to Disneyland Paris. We decided to take the train (as our 2yr old grandson loves buses & trains) so arrived directly in the park & took advantage of the baggage transfer so on arrival we could hit the ground running and enjoy the parks straight away. Our luggage was taken from the train to the hotel directly & we just collected on arrival when we checked in later in the day. There’s lots of pf accommodation options to suit all budgets & tastes. We opted to stay at the 4* Disney’s Newport Bay Club which is located overlooking Lake Disney & a 15mins walk to the Parks (although always felt longer when your 2yr old grandson wants to walk every where & refuses to go in his pushchair). Disneyland Paris has 2 parks - the Disneyland Park (like the Parisian Magic Kingdom) and the Studios - both are fabulous with lots going on and are suitable for all age groups. If you’re character spotting and autograph hunting, Toy Story Land and the Marvel characters are located at the Studios along with other attractions and rides. Your favourite Disney princesses, Mickey, Minnie and friends are all in the Disneyland Park. A programme advised of the times and locations of the character meet and greets and the parade. At most attractions there is information estimating the queuing time, if it was too long, we went back later. There is also the Fast pass service you can pre-purchase on some rides which books you a time to return and ride. Most of the rides’ queues are undercover as Disneyland Paris is in Europe with European winter weather being the same as the UK! Make sure you don’t miss character parade through Disneyland in the late afternoon, it gets very busy with tourists sitting on the pavements lining the streets for a glimpse of their favourite characters dancing to popular Disney theme tunes. Plus, there’s a nighttime spectacular show centred around Sleeping Beauty’s castle with music, fireworks, laser shows and projected images onto the castle. To guarantee meeting the characters I’d highly recommend pre-booking at least one Character Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner as characters change at different venues. All the main characters stopped at our table & took time to make a fuss of our grandson & were happy to have pictures taken with us. We all agreed we will return but next time we’ll stay at Christmas & stay at the Disneyland Hotel!
02 July 2019
Bridebook.co.uk 2019 wedding report revealed that the average spend on UK wedding is £14,674.00, so it's no wonder that savvy couples are looking to get married abroad in order to have that 'wedding of their dreams'. Consider the reasoning behind this idea:- 1. The Destination The pull of exotic backdrops is too enticing for Brits to resist, making this the number one reason for sunshine weddings. 2. The Weather The chances of a rainy day in paradise are slim compared to the probability offered by stereotypical British weather. When planning their big day, this is a risk a lot of brides aren’t willing to take. 3. A Tight-Knit Circle of Friends and Family A factor that most people found appealing about getting hitched abroad was the fact that it would only involve their close family and friends, and they wouldn’t have to deal with (or pay for) entertaining a large wedding party. 4. That Perfect Beach Wedding It sounds so irresistible: the gentle sea breeze, the clear blue sky and golden sands as the backdrop. This is wedding a lot of brides envision, and it simply wouldn’t be the same on the English coast. 5. The Planning A large portion of brides and grooms found planning a wedding abroad easier than planning one at home. This is because a lot of overseas venues organise packages with most necessities included, taking the stress and worry out of the couple's hands. 6. Less Traditional Couples that aren’t looking for a traditional wedding find themselves drawn towards a ceremony abroad, as it offers plenty of possibilities for quirky and interesting options that tie into other cultures and traditions. 7. Unique Experiences There is greater opportunity when getting married abroad to do something special and unique that is not necessarily available at home. From underwater vows to safari weddings, the list is near endless. 8. Recreating First Holidays A lot of couples are heading abroad to give their weddings additional sentimental value by revisiting the destinations they spent their first holiday together as a couple. Recreating those cherished memories as a married couple can make a wedding that little bit more special. 9. Budget On average, weddings in UK in 2019 cost £14,674.00 whereas reports show that weddings abroad are usually more around the £6,500 mark – and that's a good reason enough reason for most. 10. Timescales Weddings abroad can have a much quicker turnaround time. As most of the finer details are dealt with by package providers, eager brides and grooms don’t have to wait about as long.
02 July 2019
An intimate, unspoiled paradise just 21 miles long and 12 miles wide, Grenada is one of the most alluring destinations in the world. Known as the ‘Spice Island’, this Caribbean gem is truly exotic, with fragrant crops of nutmeg, cacao, cinnamon and ginger plantations, a lush landscape, soft volcanic sand beaches, well preserved reefs and vibrant island culture. For those seeking a destination that encompasses jaw-dropping scenery, adventures above and below the water as well as a warm and friendly welcome from the locals, there is no better destination than Grenada. Home to some of the best beaches in the Caribbean with water so blue and clear that coral formations can be spotted from the air, Grenada’s volcanic origin has created a landscape of great beauty and variety, with rainforests, a 13-acre crater lake, cascading cliffs and hot springs. There are 30 or more dive sites including, reefs, wrecks and walls most within 15-20 minutes from the beach coastline. Stroll along Grand Anse beach for sun basking days (the most popular beach on the island, due to its two-and-a-half-mile stretch of soft, white sand). Pop into ‘Umbrella’s Beach Bar’ for sumptuous snacks, chilled beers and colourful cocktails. Take an adventure through Grand Etang National Park and spot wild monkeys and exotic birds in the tropical rainforest or stroll around the capital St George with its vibrant streets, lively markets and spicy aromas. You have a huge choice of accommodation options. Choose from apartments, villas and guesthouses to budget 3* hotels, deluxe 4* & luxury 5* resorts – something to suit everyone’s budget and requirements. We chose the 5* adult-only Sandals La Source which is located directly on Pink Gin beach 5 mins transfer from the airport (but no disturbing noises from overhead aircraft as they arrive and depart on the other side of the airport). With a choice of 10 gourmet restaurants, 6 bars offering unlimited premium spirits, Robert Mondavi wines and Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, you can understand why I had trouble leaving this little bit of paradise! Grenada enjoys a hot, tropical climate all year round, tempered by cooling trade winds, with an average high of 29°C to 30°C. The driest months are typically January to May. From June to December the rain usually falls in brief showers.
25 September 2018
Whilst in Jamaica visiting the Sandals resorts I also visited the Beaches Resorts in Negril & Ocho Rios. Beaches Resorts offer most of the same luxuries as Sandals Resorts but are family-friendly with many extras for the kids and family accommodation that sleeps up to 12. The have an exclusive partnership with Sesame Street so you can arrange character breakfasts and bedtime stories with one of the characters plus you will see the Sesame Street characters milling around the resort at different times of the day and they also have a Character Street Parade and stage shows. All nannies and Kids Camp staffers at Beaches Resorts are members of the International Nanny Association, America's oldest and largest in-home child care association. To become accredited, each nanny must meet the minimum requirement of 2,000 hours of child-care services. Additionally, nannies have been trained in safety, nutrition and child development. There are kid’s clubs for five different age levels. Both Beaches Resorts each have X-Box game rooms and get games earlier than the public to test them out. There is a Sesame Street Character parade twice a week with photo ops (including the character ‘Julia’ a sweet and curious 4-year-old with autism). For an extra fee your child can learn to be a DJ in the Scratch DJ class. Good for most ages and you get to take your record home! Plus, water slides, ice-cream machine and a whole host of kid’s activities to keep them happy – what’s not to like? Beaches is the first resort company in the world to complete the rigorous IBCCES training and Autism Certification! They offer families with children with autism and other special needs specialized service, engaging activities and custom dining options so that all families may enjoy a memorable holiday experience. Beaches resorts are located in: OCHO RIOS Located on Jamaica’s North Coast, Ocho Rios lays claim to an incredible variety of natural and manmade wonders. Characterised by luxuriant greenery, mountains that soar down to meet stunning beaches, plus the world famous, Dunn’s River Falls, Ocho Rios is alive with an energy all its own! NEGRIL The ultimate family beach resort! Imagine seven miles of silky white sand coupled with five miles of cliffs dotted with authentic watering holes and eating establishments. Envision all this overlooking the most marvellous turquoise ocean, along with some of the most spectacular sunsets you’re ever likely to witness, we’re sure you will never want to leave. There is also a Beaches resort located in Turks & Caicos. So, if you want the perfect family holiday then look no further than a Beaches Resort.
25 September 2018
Cemented as the most popular Central American country for Brits, it’s easy to see the appeal of eco-haven Costa Rica. This tiny nation is devoted to ‘Pura Vida’ (best translated as ‘full of life’ – you can even get the T-shirt). English is widely spoken, US dollars are commonly accepted, and the country feels safe and welcoming – in 1948 Costa Rica disbanded its army and put the money into education and healthcare. Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world according to the 2016 Happy Planet Index which looks at wellbeing, life expectancy and ecological footprint. (The UK came 34th!) Similar in size to Denmark this narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between Nicaragua and Panama, has created a carnival of bio-diversity. You can drive between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts in three hours, and in a week go from exploring the rainforest to admiring volcanoes to surfing off golden beaches. Costa Rica has something for everyone; abundant wildlife from turtles and sloths to crocodiles and the national rainbow-coloured quetzal bird (that I was lucky enough to see) plus crimson-fronted parakeets and over 50 species of hummingbird. There are more species of birds in Costa Rica than in the whole of Europe. You’ll find 129 volcanoes, thermal springs, ziplining, coffee plantation tours, surfing, white-water rafting, horse-riding, cycling and abseiling down waterfalls to name but a few things for your ‘to do’ list/‘once in a lifetime’ list. There’s lots of gallo pinto (rice and beans), but also ample supplies of fresh fish and luscious tropical fruits which makes dining out a daily adventure. Costa Rica has also seen a rapid rise in the craft brewing industry. Over a quarter of the land is protected and green thinking is a reality: recycling bins are everywhere and hotels are genuinely committed to sustainability. There’s also a ban on swimming with dolphins and whales. Wherever you look, this is a destination where nature comes first. Best time to go? – well that depends on what you want to experience…….
25 September 2018
I was fortunate enough to be invited to the charming Caribbean island of Jamaica with Sandals & Beaches Resorts. I was able to explore the resorts, as well as several sumptuous rooms and suites, sample diverse cuisine in gourmet restaurants and even manage to have one (or two) of their exotic cocktails! You have a choice of two airports to fly into, Kingston or Montego Bay from the UK and with the new motorway finally completed from Kingston, all resorts are more accessible from the south of the island. Jamaica is the liveliest, most captivating and authentic island in the Caribbean – and among the most beautiful too. It has the hotels, beaches, culture, shopping, history, art and of course its reggae music. The best time to visit is between Nov – mid December to mid-April (this is the driest and hottest time of the year). However, prices are high, so you may want to consider May-June when hotel prices reduce, and the weather doesn’t change that much. June is the official start of hurricane season, but it just tends to be hot and muggy in Jamaica. September-October is when the rains historically appear. Sandals Resorts are adults only all-inclusive resorts for 'couples in love' and no two Sandals Resorts are the same which is why it’s very important for me to discuss with you exactly what sort of experience you’re looking for to ensure I match the right resort to your needs. Jamaica maybe one Island but there’s nine Sandals Resorts to choose from. It’s helpful for me to go on these trips because when my customers ask about that destination/hotel/resort, I can offer independent and honest advice about what to do and where to visit. At Sandals Resorts you'll enjoy: - • 5star global gourmet cuisine, with up to 16 restaurants per resort. • Premium Spirits - 24/7, always unlimited at Piano bars, pubs, night clubs, beach bars and even swim-up pool bars. • Unlimited pours of six types of Robert Mondavi Wine and unlimited refills of Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee. • Nightly entertainment ranging from parties on the beach to Piano bars, from night clubs to island music at beachside watering holes and romantic firepits. • Unlimited land including instructors including, day/night tennis, beach volleyball, billiards, table tennis, lawn chess, squash, fitness centres and classes plus much more. • Unlimited water sports including snorkelling, wake boarding/water-skiing, paddle boarding, tubing, kayaking, windsurfing, plus unlimited Scuba diving for certified divers. • Unlimited Golf with complimentary rounds of golf & green fees at the 18-hole Sandals Golf & Country set atop scenic bluffs. Tips, taxes and airport transfers are always included.
10 April 2017
If you’ve been to Thailand and think you’ve ‘done’ Asia – think again, because until you’ve visited Cambodia you really haven’t experienced Asia at all! Over the decades, the Cambodians have experienced poverty and political instability through the genocide of Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge but modern Cambodia is a delightful country with plenty to offer tourists. This is due in no small part to the jungle-choked ruins of Angkor Wat built in the 12th century, ancient capital of the Khmer Empire and the world's largest single religious monument. Only a handful of the 1,000-plus temples have been cleared of forest, while the rest remain so mysteriously cloaked in vines they are often used in backdrops for Hollywood films. But despite having the unofficial eighth wonder of the world in its backyard, Cambodia’s real treasure are its people. We stayed at the tranquil 5* Shinta Mani Resort which is a newly renovated boutique property centrally located in the leafy French Quarter of Siem Reap, 5 kilometres from the amazing iconic Angkor Wat Temples. We flew from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville (55mins), a peninsula ringed by pretty whiteish-sand beaches and surrounded by a smattering of attractive islands, we stayed at the 4* beachfront Tamu Hotel. A 4hr drive from Sihanoukville to Koh Kong through the Cambodian countryside we arrived at our riverside location for our 30 mins’ boat transfer upstream to the 4* boutique 4Rivers Floating lodge. Situated in the heart of the protected rainforest of the Cardamom Mountains and only accessible by boat, this unique ecolodge with 12 safari-style tents all erected on floating platforms is the ideal place to be at one with nature. We then drove onto Phnom Penh, through mountain ranges & green rice paddy fields. Cambodia’s busy capital, sits at the junction of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers. We stayed at the 5* Raffles Le Royal, located in the heart of Phnom Penh. Lots of activities on offer in Cambodia: Night time food market, where I (not we) tasted red ants ((it was that or Tarantula)! A tour of Tonlé Sap River with transportation by Tuk Tuk & boat. A Bicycle sunset tour of Angkor Park followed by a Dragon Boat ride. An early rise at 4am to view sunrise over Angkor Wat with our private guide, followed by temple tours of Angkor Thom & Bayon temple with its 54 towers decorated with more than 200 enigmatic smiling faces. Followed by a visit to Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider) temple. Shopped for $4 silk pashminas & $3 tourist T-shirts at the local night markets. At 4Rivers we visited waterfalls, saw fire-flies twinkling like Christmas lights in the trees and went kayaking on the river. In Phnom Penh, we took self-guided tours of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (also called S21) which was a secret centre of a network of nearly 200 prisons where people were tortured by the Khmer Rouge. Between 12,000 and 20,000 people were imprisoned here and there are only 12 confirmed survivors. Plus, a visit to Choung Ek Memorial site (The Killing Fields) located 45mins (15kms) outside of Phnom Penh. Both S21 & Choung Ek were extremely evocative and yes at times my emotions got the better of me. I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ this part of my trip but it really helped me understand something of the horror of living under the Khmer Rouge and I found it all a very moving experience. Dining in Cambodia was very reasonable and the cuisine is influenced by a variety of countries. French, Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai plus local Khmer dishes. Rice and fish play big roles because of the abundance of both due to the Mekong and the Tonlé Sap Rivers. We tried the local dish ‘Fish Amok’ on several occasions (steamed fish in coconut cream) which could be found for around $3USD and was delicious. This is a fresh fruit nation and you’ll find fruits on offer you’ve never even heard of, let alone tasted. The Cambodian brewed beer 'Angkor' can be purchased from 50 cents a glass to 6 USD (depending where you buy it). Most popular time to go is between November and February, with the peak season falling between late December and mid-Jan. There’s little rain and it isn't uncomfortably hot. However, Angkor Wat and the Cambodian islands can be very busy over this period. Late October to early December or early February to end of March are also good times to consider as there’s a chance of rain, but the payoff will be in slightly reduced numbers of tourists and lower room rates. I recommend a minimum of a 2 week stay visiting different locations. Even as it develops, Cambodia remains an authentic adventure. Cambodians have a saying – ‘SAME SAME, BUT DIFFERENT’ which sums up Cambodia perfectly, it’s like its Asian neighbours but oh so very, very different! My Top Tips is to book a personal guide at Angkor Wat as the guide will know all the best places for you to take great memorable pictures. Our guide was Piseth Cham Roeun of www.cambodiatoursguide.com
30 January 2017
We wanted somewhere hot & tropical to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary & chose the lovely island of Barbados for an 8 night trip. We flew Business class return on a nonstop flight with British Airways which took approximately 9hrs flying time. Barbados is an eastern Caribbean island and an independent British Commonwealth nation. It’s a relatively small island at only 166 sq. miles. Around the island are beaches, botanical gardens, the Harrison’s Cave formation, and 17th-century plantation houses like St. Nicholas Abbey. Local traditions include afternoon tea and cricket, the national sport. We chose to stay at the newly refurbished 4* ‘Waves Hotel & Spa’ on the West Coast (where you really do get the best sunsets). On arrival, you’re greeted with a beautiful vista of the Caribbean Sea in the distance. The hotel is modern & uses light driftwood & pastel coloured glass in its decor using a pallet of sandy creams & beige mixed with blues & greens of the sea – it’s a very relaxing combination. The main part of the hotel with reception, accommodations, the main restaurant, coffee shop & bar are on the ocean side of the street and another part of the hotel with spa rooms, the SPA itself & the a la carte restaurant is situated across the road. We chose to stay in a SPA room as we like peace & quiet and this area of the hotel is also ‘Adult only’ - We weren’t disappointed. Our room was bright & airy with a comfy bed & large shower (big enough for 6 but don’t hold me to that). On our first morning, we had breakfast and had no problem at 9.30am finding a sunbed by the spa pool. Our room rate also included 2x 30min spa treatment which was very good & I upgraded one of mine to an hour for a small additional cost. The hotel only offers All Inclusive and has a choice of 2 restaurants – main restaurant ‘Seascape’ & the Asian fusion a la carte ‘Shiso’. The hotels also have a lovely coffee shop open for light lunches & afternoon tea offering specialty coffees & teas and yummy cup cakes (all included in the AI package). There is one main bar next to ‘Seascape’ that serves a selection of branded drinks as well as local and another bar in the Shiso Restaurant. There is nightly entertainment aimed at adults, such as saxophonist, singers & live bands. There was another lap pool & day beds next to reception but most people used the sunbeds on the beach so the beach was always quite busy. The hotel offers complimentary water sports including water ski and tube riding which my husband & I did and we’ve never laughed so hard for so long. Who knew being towed behind a speedboat in a blown up inner tube could be so much fun! Mick also had a go at paddle boarding but sadly didn’t even get off his knees! The hotels offer a ‘dine around’ program whereby you can dine at other Elegant Resorts in the company portfolio and they do offer a complimentary boat shuttle to Tamarind, Colony Beach & Crystal Cove. However, you do need to make a dinner reservation if you plan to dine at any of the other hotels and if you are dining at one that doesn’t offer the AII Inclusive meal basis you will be required to pay a supplement. The hotel is a great new addition to Barbados and will appeal to those that prefer a smaller, boutique style property with personal service. It is predominantly British clientele and most of the guests appeared to be in their mid 30’s-60’s. I would not hesitate to recommend this hotel to clients ensuring the right room type is matched to their requirements.
29 January 2017
The ferry between Malta & Gozo takes just 30 minutes and runs at regular intervals throughout the day. Costing just €5 per person it’s really easy to do a twin centre. The name Gozo means “Joy” and the charm is apparent from the moment you arrive. It’s greener, more rural and smaller than Malta and prettier too. Life on Gozo moves at a leisurely pace. The rhythms dictated by the seasons, fishing and agriculture. Gozo is steeped in myth. It comes complete with historical sites, forts and amazing panoramas. We stayed at the 5* Ta’ Cenc Hotel and Spa in Sannat which was delightful & even in October the weather was so nice we managed to get a couple of hours by the pool. Again I was really surprised at the cost of meals in restaurants – 30 Euros for a 3 course meal from a set menu at the hotel. The next day we took a trip to the “Azure Window” which is an impressive natural arch standing 20 metres high. The inland sea here is where we took a boat trip. The water was a pure cobalt blue and so clear. Gozo is a great place to dive & snorkel and there are many dive trips which run around this area. We then moved on to Victoria, the capital of Gozo. A visit to the Citadel gives you 360 degree views of the island. What an amazing way to appreciate everything this beautiful island has to offer. En route we stopped at the famed Salt Pans & the Ggantija Temples in Xaghra - These are the oldest freestanding structures in the world and potentially Gozo’s single most marketable landmark. Excavated from 1816-1820, the complex comprises of 2 Neolithic temples dating from the third millennium BC (c.3500BC) – 7,000 years ago. After a long day of sightseeing, I decided to see the journey back to the hotel by Bike! Not sure how to fit I thought I was as I didn’t quite make it but it was great to cycle along the quiet streets & see locals using the historic well-preserved public wash place called Ghajn Bendu. An arched shelter was built over the springs for the convenience of people washing their clothes. A very old irrigation system made up from stone gutters constantly brings water from a spring situated in the Ta' Kercem part of the valley. The highlight of the trip to Gozo was touring the Island by Quad bike which I’ve never done before and found it a bit of a heavy beast to maneuver as I volunteered to drive but I did get up to 60kms on the back roads of Gozo. I would have no hesitation in recommending Valetta as a perfect city break but if you have more time then extra time in Gozo will give you the perfect combination to see just what the Maltese Islands has to offer.
29 January 2017
I travelled to Malta with 9 other TC colleagues after being invited to visit Malta & Gozo courtesy of Malta Tourism UK. We flew from Gatwick directly to Malta with Easyjet with a flying time of 3hrs 15mins. There are also regional departures of other UK airports such as Luton, Heathrow, Manchester, Bristol & Birmingham. Malta's climate is typical of the Mediterranean and is strongly influenced by the sea. The Maltese Islands have a pleasantly sunny climate with a daily average of around 12 hours sunshine in summer going down to 5 to 6 hours in mid-winter. Summers are hot, dry and very sunny. Day-time temperatures in summer are often mitigated by cooling sea breezes, Spring and autumn are cooler, and Winters are mild. Annual rainfall is low, averaging 568mm a year. Bathing in the sea is quite possible well into the ‘winter' months, and the peak beach season can last until mid- to late October. Malta lies virtually at the centre of the Mediterranean, 93kms south of Sicily & 288kms north of Africa. There are 6 islands in the Maltese archipelago but only 3 are inhabited, Malta, Gozo & Camino. They may be small islands but between them, they offer over 7000 years’ worth of history. Malta is the largest island and offers everything from ancient treasures, golden sandy beaches, buzzing nightlife and has managed to retain its heritage & culture. Valletta is Malta’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage City was named after its founder the respected Grand Master of the Order of St. John, Jean Parisot de la Valette. Started in 1566, Valletta was completed, with its impressive bastions, forts, and cathedral, in the astonishingly short time of 15 years, even more, remarkable is considering the fact that mechanical tools did not exist at the time and the whole city was built entirely by hand. Valletta is abundantly rich in sites to see and explore, intriguing historical buildings around every corner: votive statues, niches, fountains and coats of arms high up on parapets. Narrow side streets are full of tiny quaint shops and cafés, while Valletta's main streets are lined with larger international branded shops for fashion, music, jewellery and much more. St John's co-Cathedral & museum are definitely not to be missed, this elaborately adorned church is home to world famous artistic masterpieces by Caravaggio and Mattia Preti. Apart from beautiful Baroque churches, other places of interest include the various grandmaster auberges, piazzas & museums. Don’t miss the synchronised fountain, dancing to live music in the Palace Square at certain times of the day and maybe take in lunch at Café Cordina which is over 175yrs old and located on the old Palazzo near the fountains. We also visited Mdina which is an ancient walled city with an amazing mix of medieval & and baroque architecture. The history of the Mdina can be traced back to more than 4,000 years and is also known as the ‘Silent City’. It was Malta’s first capital during the time of the Knights of Malta & also a colonial settlement in Imperial Rome. On the way to the Mdina we visited a glass blowing factory & showroom where you can purchase Mdina glass made into a beautiful rainbow coloured jewellery, vases & other home décor objects. The ‘three cities’ (Vittoriosa, Senglea & Cospicua) is well worth a visit which we toured with ‘Rolling Geeks’ – a self-drive, electric car with pre-programmed GPS & narrative (it was like having our very own Tour Guide in the car). It was a lot of fun and very easy to navigate with winding streets. With breath taking views from Gardjola Gardens the tour also took us to awe-inspiring churches, traditional piazzas, and architectural riches ending in the Grand Harbour Marina with its trendy waterfront lines with cafes & restaurants. If you're visiting Malta with children you'll enjoy a visit to Popeye's Village in Mellieha where the original film with Robin Williams was shot complete with a backdrop in 1980. The countryside of Malta is dotted with medieval towers, wayside chapels and the oldest known human structures in the world, the Islands have rightly been described as an open-air museum. Malta’s other big draw is its coastline. It’s pretty rugged, with rocky coves mixed in with a few sandy spots. The biggest swathe of sand is at Mellieha Bay, while resorts like Qawra and Bugibba have flat rocks and platforms for stretching out in the sun. Sliema, on the east coast, is a former fishing village that’s now better known for its stylish restaurants and wine bars. Wander north along the promenade and you’ll hit St Julian’s, an upmarket town with a decent helping of bars and clubs. Over the past few years, Malta has experienced a definite and positive shift towards greater cultural acceptance of LGBTIQ in all aspects of life. This, together with recent changes in legislation introduced by the government, saw the Maltese Islands rise to first place on the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Europe Index in 2016. I was surprised at how reasonably priced the meals & drinks were in Malta, a cocktail costs around €5, a glass of beer from €2 and main courses in a restaurant from approx. €6-7 and the portions are generous. Traditional Maltese food is rustic and based on the seasons. Look out for Lampuki Pie (fish pie), Rabbit Stew, Bragioli (beef olives), Kapunata, (Maltese version of ratatouille), and widow's soup, which includes a small round of Gbejniet (sheep or goat's cheese). A trip to the Marsaxlokk fish market on Sunday morning will show you just how varied the fish catch is in Maltese waters. I saw a local restaurant offering freshly caught seabass lunch for €10. For such a small island, Malta packs a lot in. You’ve got beaches, chic harbour towns, and enough centuries-old sights to keep you busy for weeks. It’s a real up-and-comer on the clubbing scene, too, and has a calendar that’s crammed with carnivals, festivals, and parties. My top tip for anyone visiting Malta would be to twin their stay with a few days in Gozo which we also visited and you can read all about in another blog you’ll find on my website blog.
29 January 2017
I flew by private jet from Farnborough to Salzburg with 29 of the group which took 2hrs 30mins. The Executive terminal was opened in 2006 but still looks space age and brand new. There are 3 private lounges plus a VIP lounge upstairs where we were hosted. I organised head rests, napkins & baggage tags for the journey to highlight the theme of the trip. On board there was an open bar & a light cold meal served on china tableware. There are also commercial flights that operate from other UK main airports to Salzburg and an excellent 1hr 30mins train service from Munich past green fields, forests and pretty little villages & towns. Salzburg is an Austrian city on the border of Germany, with views of the Eastern Alps. The city is divided by the Salzach River, with medieval and baroque buildings of the pedestrian Altstadt (Old City) on its left bank, facing the 19th-century Neustadt (New City) on its right. The Altstadt birthplace of famed composer Mozart is preserved as a museum displaying his childhood instruments. After being met at the steps of the plane on arrival & fast tracked through immigration we arrived at the Luxury 5* Sacher Hotel, Salzburg in 15mins. The hotel was opened 150yrs ago and is very traditional in décor, beside the river Salzach & is famous for the chocolate cake ‘Sache Torte’ – which I was assured is calorie free (hmmm). A 2mins walk from the hotel & a 5mins walk through the beautiful Mirabelle Gardens, featured in the film ‘The Sound of Music’ we enjoyed sparkling Austrian wine & canapes laden with Austrian cheeses & meats whilst being serenaded by a violinist in the very grand Marble Hall with its high painted ceilings, crystal chandeliers and huge timber framed windows that overlooked the famous steps from the Do Re Mi scene of Sound of Music. Our visit coincided with the Rupert Kirtag festival so Austrians were dressed in their local folk costumes, ladies & girls in pastel dirndl dresses & aprons with men & boys in their lederhosen. Which really added to the already great atmosphere of the weekend. That night, we dined on a gourmet 3-course meal including Weiner Schnitzel & Sacher Torte in the traditional Austrian style wood paneled Zirbelzimmer Restaurant at the Sacher Hotel. The next day we drove south towards the Tauern Mountains to the riverside town of Hallein & visited one of the world’s oldest salt mines daring back 2500yrs. Changed into miners overalls & started our decent by a ‘train’ into the heart of the Durmburg Mountain where we all (old & young) laughed & shrieked as we slid down 2 miner’s slides & then took an eerie & peaceful raft across a lake of brine amongst the stalactite & stalagmites. We continued by road to the northern shore of the Wolfgangsee at the foot of the Schafberg Mountain where we sailed for 1hr 30mins along the river with vistas of beautiful mountains & valleys as we dined on freshly caught fish from the river & freshly made apple strudel & washed it down with a few glasses of cold Austrian beer. Such a lovely way to spend an afternoon. In the evening we were driven to nearby Sollheim in the countryside to the 300yr old baroque jewel - Restaurant Pfefferschiff which has 1-Michilin star award where I had the most amazing, memorable food I’ve ever had anywhere in the world with excellent service. Our host was presented with a birthday cake in which he managed to blow out all 70 candles that sat precariously atop the cake! Salzburg is one of Europe’s loveliest, walkable cities, with its cobbled streets, ornate shop signs, historical St Peters Church & abbey, Mozart museum, a variety of clothing, chocolate & jewellery shops. Salzburg is a destination for all seasons and a perfect weekend getaway. I fell in love with it and I’m sure you will too.
19 February 2017
We joined my niece, her new husband and their children on a ‘Familymoon’ aboard the brand new Carnival Vista. Which measures 1055 ft. in length and has the capacity to carry 3,956 passengers. After flying with Easyjet from Gatwick to Barcelona, we spent the night before the cruise at the 5* Eurostars Marina Hotel in Barcelona in order to meet up with the rest of the party. Carnival Vista ship is geared towards families with its own water-park complete with water slides and chutes, kids clubs, adult-only section and lots of entertainment and activities for the whole family. Carnival is all about bringing the indoors to the outdoors so you’ll find lots of activities out on deck day and night including; The SkyRide which is a twin-track suspended bike course and very scary but evidently lots of fun if you’re under 20! We really enjoyed the Cinema under the stars with the family as we wrapped up in fluffy blankets & ate popcorn. They even have an IMAX theatre as well as an indoor theatre with great entertainment and a disco under the stars. The cruise offers 3 dining options: Early/Late (reserved seating) where you’ll be seated at the same table every night and have the same waiting staff. Your Time Dining (eat anytime during early and late dining times). Or you can eat in one of the A La Carte restaurants for an additional fee such as the Steak restaurant/JiJi Asian, Bonsai Sushi and Cucina del Capitano - reservations required. You’ll be served a 3-course meal wherever you dine. There’s also the choice of Seafood Shack and 24hr Pizza parlor. For lunch there’s additional dining outlets such as Guys Burgers (they make thousands during the cruise and were so tasty), Serenity’s complimentary chopped salad station and a BBQ joint which we only discovered the day before the end of the cruise. Blue Iguana Cantina and not forgetting the 24hr self-serve ice-cream machines (which I think was the kids' favourite part of the cruise!) Carnival Vista has 4 cabin categories; Inside, Ocean View, Balcony & Suite – we had a Balcony cabin. Carnival Vista has added two new types of rooms to the mix: Family Harbor is a special area reserved for families and features a private 24-hour lounge and concierge service including breakfast buffet for family convenience (which is where my niece and her family stayed). Plus Havana staterooms and suites are located just off the Havana Bar & Pool and feature a unique tropical decor, while Havana Cabanas add a patio with hammock chair! Our 10-night cruise started in Barcelona and stopped in Marseille, Rome, Livorno (Florence), Naples, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Sicily, and Sardinia plus 3 days at sea. You can either book excursions with Carnival before you depart or on-board at the excursion desk. There are also other Operators that offer excursions that are bookable in UK or of course you can do your own thing when you arrive at your destination. You don’t even have to get off the ship if you don’t want to - we didn’t, when the ship docked for Rome and Florence we stayed onboard and had the pick of the sunbeds and the restaurants/bars were all still open on-board. My Top Tips - Allow plenty of time to get from Barcelona city to the Port, it took us 45mins to drive 3.9kms as there were 4 other ships in dock at the same time. Carnival doesn’t include transfers from your arrival port to the destination centre so you will need to either get a taxi/walk or purchase a shuttle ticket that Carnival operate (unless you’ve booked an excursion). So make sure you factor in these extra costs so they don’t become an unexpected expense.
12 April 2017
When my niece Lisa announced, she was getting married in July and wanted her hen party to be in Miami in June and asked her best friend and I to organise it all for her – I nearly fainted with excitement! There were 4 of us in the party (she had an afternoon tea as well for everyone else at a swanky London hotel later in June); My niece Lisa, her best friend and I all travelled from UK and my other niece (Bride2be's sister) flew in from Grand Cayman where she lives. Lisa only knew the dates of the Hen weekend and that it was going to be Miami but no other details. Imagine her surprise when we rocked up at Heathrow to fly Upper Class with Virgin Atlantic! Champagne and giggles all round, merrily pushing buttons, reclining seats to the flat bed position and back again, toasting each other across the aisles, plumping up cushions and sampling the goodies in the complimentary toiletry bag. On arrival, we met up with my other niece who had patiently been waiting for nearly 2hrs and a quick whisper in the cabbie’s ear of our destination along with the address on a piece of paper (which will self-destruct in 10 seconds,,,) and my niece Lisa trying to overhear what I was saying. I even had to fill out my niece’s arrival card into USA card which required the address of the hotel (despite weeks of my niece trying to trip us all up in revealing where we were staying),we managed to keep it a secret from her until we actually pulled up outside the amazing ‘W’ SOUTH BEACH HOTEL! I’ve never seen my niece speechless before and it was priceless. Check-in was so swift and efficient and within minutes of walking through the hotel front door we were shown to our OASIS OCEAN VIEW SUITE on the 19th floor which measured a huge 1151 Square Feet plus a 220 square-foot of balcony across the lounge and bedroom with spectacular ocean and beach views. The room even had a fully equipped kitchen with washer/dryer and a ginormous American fridge with a chilled bottle of champagne waiting for us. 3 television sets, a Bose Surround Sound CD/DVD player, separate bedroom and media room featuring a pull-out sofa bed plus 1½ bathrooms. The first night we took a 10mins taxi to a newly opened Asian Fusion restaurant called NaiYaRa that was recommended to me by a client which didn’t disappoint. Cool cocktails, great menu, lively atmosphere and fish tacos to die for. The next day we shopped till we dropped at Dolphin Mall which was a 30mins taxi ride away back near Miami Airport and between us, visited every single one of the 240 retail outlets. Brand names at discounted prices – bargain of the day was a Calvin Klein bag reduced to less than $20USD! I left the Bride2be and her best friend still in a shopping frenzy but searching for the last bargain down Lincoln Road which is wall to wall shops and al fresco eateries. My other niece and I decorated the room fit for a Hen and awaited Lisa’s arrival. That night we played a few girly hen games and gave the Bride2be lots of gifts and then all hurriedly rushed to shower and get changed for our big night out at Juvia roof top restaurant with a vertical garden which serves an eclectic mix of food in an unparalleled setting with panoramic views of the city. A little over priced but lots of fun, good service and very lively. Thumbs up to my friends at Miami CVB in UK who recommended it! I managed to organise VIP access to the exclusive Wall Lounge Nightclub – we felt equally famous as we breezed past the 20+ people in the queue as we gave our names and the rope of hope was picked up for us as we were ushered in by the burly gate keeper. I couldn’t understand any of the music or lyrics and we only stayed an hour after buying 4 drinks at $20 a pop! But it’s where the beautiful people go to be seen so we just had to be there! After a few more drinks in the Hotel bar which was heaving and had a great atmosphere we took ourselves one by one off to bed with the last hen standing returning back at 4am. After a groggy start, we found a great bistro for breakfast 5 mins walk from the hotel in South Beach and then I headed off to Lincoln Road to do a last-minute bit of shopping and the other hens had a walk on Miami beach and then retired to the pool to nurse sore heads and have a lunch of fries, Margaritas & Mojitos!! Our weekend came to an end all to soon when we had to say our goodbyes at Miami airport later that day as my niece flew back to Cayman and we flew back in Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic back to Heathrow. I slept like a baby in my flat bed dressed in PJs courtesy of Virgin Atlantic with the sights and sounds of South Beach, Miami dancing in my head – Oh what a fantastic endless hen weekend we had!
23 January 2014
We flew directly from Bangkok to Koh Samui with Bangkok airlines in just over an hour. Koh Samui is Thailand’s second most popular island destination and located in the Gulf of Thailand roughly 700 km. south of Bangkok. Samui is the third largest island in Thailand and the largest in an archipelago of more than 80 islands that includes the Ang Thong National Marine Park, which is a day trip from Koh Samui. The best time to visit Koh Samui is Feb-June and the wettest months are between Sep-Dec. Samui was once home to a small community of fisherman & coconut farmers. There weren’t even any roads on the island until the early 1970’s. But once foreign visitors discovered this island with lush tropical forest, palm fringed golden sand beaches surrounded by aquamarine water, tourism quickly followed. Today the beaches of Chaweng and Lamai are bustling beach towns with fabulous beach resorts, internationally acclaimed restaurants, and world-class nightclubs. Another popular destination is the sleepy village of Bo Phut on the island’s north shore. The traditional centre of the resort is known as the ‘Fisherman’s Village’ and is host to an array of restaurants, bars and boutiques. Compared to Lamai or Chaweng, the Fisherman’s Village is quiet in the extreme, the resort is also devoid of the more salacious types of bars found in Chaweng & Lamai, making it popular with families. To the northeast of Bo Phut a small peninsular juts out into the Gulf of Thailand, and it's here that you'll find several of Koh Samui’s most exclusive hotels, including the romantic Tongsai Bay and exclusive Six Senses Samui. The quiet location ensures little disturbance on and around their beaches (which are all but private), but also the convenience of a short 5-10 minute hop to Bo Phut, the airport and Chaweng. • Taxis –50baht (£1.00) for the shortest journey & remember to barter & agree on the price before setting off. • Songtaews - Red pickup trucks with benches in the back serve as ‘buses’ around the island, travelling fixed routes and allowing passengers to get on and off at will. It’s easy to flag one down; in fact, they actively solicit passengers. • Bicycles - many resorts offer complimentary bicycles, although they can be hired for no more than a hundred baht a day. Make sure to wear a helmet and ride cautiously, there are many potholes and cars don’t give bicycles the right of way. • Motorbike - Anywhere from 100-1000 baht, depending on the size of the bike, and can be rented in any beach town. Be aware that helmets are required by law and wearing closed toes shoes is common sense. • Car rental – Drive on the same side of road as UK. The winding, single lane roads don’t allow for much speeding and traffic is rare (except Chaweng). But you can often hire your own driver and taxi for the day for the same price as a day’s self-car rental. The island’s most iconic attraction is the ‘Big Buddha’ which can be found on the northeaster peninsula, plus there are waterfalls and regular dive trips to Ang Thong and Koh Tao. Thai Cookery classes are popular along with yoga instruction, Muay Thai training, scuba diving, and golf. For the ultimate night out, take the short crossing to neighbouring Koh Phangan for the famous (or infamous) monthly Full Moon Party. Plus of course there’s shopping, from boutique local designer shops to market stalls and you can even get yourself measured for a winter coat, trousers-suit, 2x dresses & tops tailor-made for around £300. Or just sunbathe and enjoy daily beach spa treatments from £2.00. From street food to seaside dining, Samui features outstanding cuisine that’s available nearly 24 hours a day. We regularly ate at Dae Tong De Samui Seafood restaurant with its beachfront location, great prices and wonderful service (The best ever Thai green curry at £4). Yin & Yan in Fisherman’s village was also excellent – they display the days catch on counters outside the restaurant. Bangrak French bakery for fresh breakfast croissants & sweet buns. Not forgetting there’s always the street stalls for Thai pancakes, savoury crepes, breaded chicken & seafood & yes…. deep fried crunchy insects too! The island offers a perfect holiday for families, couples and singles alike as there’s so much to see and do and offers great value for money with affordable dining & accommodation from simple beach cottages to 5* hotels.
22 January 2014
We flew from Heathrow to Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur on Christmas day aboard the new A380 with Malaysian Airlines but there are non-stop services also available. There’s 2 airports in Bangkok; Suvarnabhumi for international flights and Don Muang for domestic flights, 40-50mins away by taxi. The weather in Thailand is generally marked by three seasons, rainy season (Jul-Oct), hot season (Mar-Jun), and cool season (Nov-Feb), though the climate is generally pleasant year round. The southern, coastal region of Thailand really has only two seasons – rainy season and dry season. Fortunately, for those planning a beach holiday, Thailand’s two coasts have slightly different rainy seasons, allowing visitors to find sunny beaches nearly all year round. We spent 3 nights at 5* Eastin Grand Hotel, in the Sathorn district. Brilliant location and a very impressive hotel featuring 390 rooms and suites that enjoy stunning views of the majestic Chao Praya River or Bangkok’s imposing skyline. Hotel offers an outside infinity pool & bar on the 14th floor, fitness centre, complimentary Wi-Fi throughout hotel and is unique in being the only hotel in Bangkok with its own direct access to the BTS Sky Train system at Surasak Station. It took 50 mins to get from the airport to the hotel using the train with just 2 simple changes en route. The things that stood out for me at this hotel were:- • Good choice and well stocked buffet breakfast • USB connector outlet in room safe so you could charge your tablet/phone during the day whilst you were out. • All power sockets were multi-national so UK 3pin/US or EU 2 pin could be plugged in without the need for an adapter. We also visited the stylish 5* Siam Hotel for dinner and site inspection and was bowled over by this boutique hotel. It enjoys a riverside location in the Historic district and offers 38 spacious suites and is uniquely THE ONLY HOTEL in Bangkok that offers Pool Villas. Every room is catered for by a personal butler, upon request, and complimentary Wi-Fi is available property-wide. There’s no wonder it’s won so many awards including most recently, Best City Hotel 2013 -Tatler Magazine. A perfect choice for my discerning clients and honeymooners. Taxis are mostly metered but Bangkok is highly congested. However, Bangkok has a sky-train system and all the trains are clean, efficient, have A/C and do not allow eating or drinking on board. The carriages are wide and the Thai people very courteous so no jostling for a seat. Trains are very cheap and easy to buy tickets as you obtain your change from a manned counter then put the coins into the machine for the ticket. Tuk Tuks were also a fun way to get around; there are over 10,000 of them in Bangkok alone. They can nip in and out of traffic getting you to your final destination quicker than a taxi, but do check the price before you get in and barter to get a better rate. We pre-booked in UK, a full day tour to Kanchanaburi (Bridge on River Kwai) from 0645 to1730 which stopped off at an Orchid farm & Floating Market en-route & was one of the best tours I’ve ever done. I’ll never forget quietly walking across the bridge where so much sadness took place to hear the sound of children’s voices singing from the Temple on the opposite side of the river. A visit to Bangkok wouldn’t be complete without a night time visit to Pat Pong Market. Meander past the Racy Bars, restaurants & shops jotted along this street & barter like there’s no tomorrow at the market stalls. There’s also day/night river cruises plus over 485 temples to visit in Bangkok alone & 27,000 in the whole of Thailand. Food: Restaurants abound and you’ll be spoilt for choice, some you need to make reservations at before you leave the UK (we did at all 3); • Chon Thai Restaurant at the Siam Hotel for authentic Thai Cuisine with the highest service levels. • 7Spoons was a mixture of Thai meets Med, simple but edgy food in a modern bare-walled restaurant. • Il Bolognese - by far the best Italian outside of Rome, everything about our meal was perfect from the greeting to the farewell by the owner and everything in between. What a fun bustling city and 3 nights was only a taster. A great stop over to the Thai islands where there’s frequent hourly flights or on the way to Australia/New Zealand.
03 June 2013
We flew from Heathrow via Los Angeles with Air New Zealand and Air Pacific who in June will be re-branding to ‘Fiji Airways’. You can also get there via Hong Kong/South Korea and it’s only 3-4 hours from New Zealand and Australia, so a perfect stop over point. Fiji enjoys a mild tropical climate averaging 31c (88F) during the summer months of November to April and 29c (84f) during the winter months of May to October. Fiji comprises of 333 islands of which approximately a third are inhabited. I stayed overnight in several different hotels on different islands and visited an additional five. Outrigger on the Lagoon is a luxury beach front resort on Viti Levu Island featuring 254 rooms, a large outdoor swimming pool, Bebe day spa, plus seven restaurants and bars. Set amongst 40 acres of palm trees and tropical gardens, modern air-conditioned rooms and thatched bungalows with the award winning restaurant ‘Ivi’. Yasawa Island Resort is an exclusive retreat on one of the most remote and unspoiled islands of Fiji. There are 18 luxury thatched bungalows all with amazing ocean views and a few steps from a pristine white beach. Access to the island is by small charter aircraft and arrival is on a grass runway. Food, service and facilities were all outstanding at this resort – perfect for weddings, honeymooners, couples, friends and even families. Jean Michel Cousteau Resort is an eco-friendly resort set amongst a coconut plantation with over 17 acres of lush tropical landscape with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean. The waters are peaceful and perfect for families to go snorkelling, diving, kayaking and swimming. Facilities at the resort include four swimming pools, a restaurant, bar, day spa, PADI dive centre, children's program, non-motorised sports and an onsite Marine Biologist. There are 25 individual bures and villas built using local materials to create a traditional Fijian bure with thatched roofs. This is a chilled resort with plenty to entertain the kids and adults with an eco-conscience. Namale Resort & Spa is an hour’s flight from Nadi offering peaceful seclusion, romance and luxury. There are only 19 bures and private villas set in 525 acres of majestic coconut palms, private beaches and tropical rainforest with cascading waterfalls. Lomani is Fijian for love and at the Lomani Island Resort you will be sure to fall in love with this idyllic island paradise. It is an ‘adults only’ beachfront boutique resort nestled between towering coconut trees and pristine four mile white sand beach. Offering 12 suites and 5 beachfront bures – all with views of the crystal clear waters of the ocean – Heaven! Castaway Island is an island resort surrounded by a palm fringed white sand beach, and stunning turquoise waters. Offering 66 individual thatched traditional Fijian style bungalows with a choice of Beach front, Ocean View or Island setting and home to popular Aussie ‘celebrity’ chef Lance Seeto who opened the world’s first Fijian-Asian restaurant on Castaway called 1808. I fell in love with this resort and am planning to go back. Tadrai Island Resort definitely has the WOW factor – only 5 individual thatched Bures, outdoor and indoor showers, private plunge pool, all-inclusive meal plan and wonderful food from the head chef Vanessa- perfect for honeymooners and couples looking for seclusion and romance. There are many things to do locally. This is one of the best places I’ve ever snorkelled, I can only but imagine what the diving is like, it’s not called the ‘Soft Coral Capital of the World’ for nothing. There’s also, surfing, game fishing, golf, kayaking, rafting, parasailing, local village trips and spa treatments. You can shop for Fijian inspired designer T-shirts or colourful ‘Bula’ shirts, Fijian replica war clubs, ‘cannibal forks’, Fijian combs and carved Tanoa bowls from which the national drink ‘Cava’ is drank from. There are also traditional ‘Sulu’ for men and women with 100 ways to wear it. Plus rare black pearl jewellery and fresh water pearls – a perfect keepsake or gift. Restaurants are almost limitless; every meal was wonderful throughout my stay. Many resorts have a relationship with neighbouring villages that will allow you to sample traditional Fijian fare during village tours, including ‘lovo’ (an underground oven of hot rocks with foods wrapped in banana leaves – yummy!) What sets Fiji apart from any other destination in the world is its people. I’ve never met such friendly, smiling, genuinely nice people anywhere else in the world. I would definitely recommend that you attend a traditional ‘Cava’ Ceremony and fire walking ceremony and whatever you do -‘island hop!’
08 July 2012
Journey: Non-stop British Airways from Gatwick with a 12 hour flying time. Other airlines also offer the route on a non-stop & indirect basis. Weather: Mauritius has 2 seasons; Summer from Oct-April (their cyclone season is in during the month of February) with & Winter May-Sep. Mauritius enjoys an average year round temperature of 32 degrees. My accommodation: 5* Long Beach Hotel on the East Coast of Mauritius. A brand new hotel which opened April 2011 on the longest stretch of beach in Mauritius. Something completely different for Mauritius as its Uber trendy, with spacious airy rooms. The main feature of the hotel is an urban-style piazza with surrounding restaurants, shops & bars. This is where the evening entertainment takes place with Sega dancers, local dance troupes, bands and the weekly Managers cocktail party. It’s a great place for parents to have a drink and watch their children play safely in the centrally located Piazza Square in the evening and during the day there is a children’s club & pool. The resort also has a large spa and hamman for adults. There are 255 rooms at the resort with different 2 categories arranged in 3 ‘crescents’. Every room has a view of the ocean but the cost of the room depends on the actual location on the resort. The chic contemporary designs blend together with open-air & indoor living. Rooms feature a 42’’ LCD flat-screen TV, IPod docking stations, digital clocks, radios, electronic room safes, hairdryers, A/C and international direct telephone. Bathrooms have twin basins, a separate shower, bath & WC. The children have their own specially designed bathroom in the Family rooms. Free Wi-Fi everywhere at the resort even on the beach! Tipping in Mauritius is not compulsory unlike other countries, and do not have a fixed percentage tipping policy. It's not uncommon to leave a small tip to your room maid at the end of your stay but many hotels operate a ‘common tip box’ policy. What to do locally: • Miles of soft golden sand beaches for sunbathing. • Mauritius is a paradise for deep sea fishing. The ocean is 70 metres deep one kilometre away from the coast. Huge fishes like the Blue Marlin roam the seas and hunt around the island from November to April, and often until May • There are three 18 hole Golf Courses & five 9 hole courses the most popular being one on its own tropical island. All have instructors & offer private tuition, golf balls, clubs and caddies can be hired. • Mauritius has an enviable reputation for textiles production, namely T-shirts & knitwear. Leading brands of shirts, trousers, suits, dresses, suits for women, shorts or swimwear are sold at unbeatable prices. Basketwork, embroidery, pottery, gem stones, spices, tea and rum can all be found at reasonable prices including Duty Free shopping. • Balaclava Ruins a few metres away from Baie aux Tortues, which 17th century sailors named after the many tortoises in the area, can be found the ruins of the old Balaclava estate. • Pamplemousses Botanical Garden • St Louis the Capital city • Safari adventures & Lion encounter at Casela Nature & Leisure Park • Horse-riding • Snorkelling & scuba diving • Giant Tortoises and crocodiles at Riviere des Anguilles Transportation: Depending on where you stay there are local buses but timetables rarely exist and some stops are merely a pole in the ground. Taxis are expensive so either hire a car & driver for the day that will take you around the island and show you the sights & tell you of its history from an islander’s perspective. Book and organised Excursion or hire a car for a few days, but be careful at as the police are very strict on speeding. Food: Fresh fish & seafood in abundance. Creole flavours due to the French influence and also Portuguese as they discovered the island back in 1507. Venturing further afield: Mauritius is a great destination to combine with South Africa or Dubai. My view: A French-based Creole is the everyday language in Mauritius. Yet almost everyone speaks French and English. Mauritius is great for families, couples or friends. Top tip: Make sure you stay on the right part of the island for your holiday. Each coast offers something different in the form of climate, scenery, types of beaches & remoteness so think about what type of experience you want from your holiday in Mauritius to ensure I help you choose the right resort & location.
08 July 2012
Destination: Marrakech, Morocco – May 2011 Journey: Flying time approx. 3hrs 25 minutes flight, based on a non-stop service from UK. Transfer time from airport to city centre approximately 20mins Weather: Temperatures can reach high 30s in the summer months & much cooler in the winter months of Dec-Feb with approx temps of around 19c. May and September are the best times to visit. Although there are a few festivals during July & August you might not want to miss;- Fantasia - horse-riding spectacle that includes hundreds of charging horsemen (and women) wearing traditional clothing. Takes places outside the city walls near Bab Jdid during the evenings. Arts Festival – takes place in July with snake charmers, fire-swallowers, dancers, fortune tellers from all over Morocco & parts of Asia & Europe. Takes place in the 16th century ruins Badi Palace & the main town square (Djemmaa el Fna). Imilchil Marriage Feast – Takes place after harvest so August/September in Imilchil in the Atlas Mountains. A traditional Berber marriage festival where up to 40 couples get married. A great way to embrace the Berber culture & experience the music, dance & food My accommodation: I chose to stay in a two centre, firstly a RIAD which is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden, pool or courtyard these generally have 3-8 rooms available. I stayed at the authentic RIAD AMIRIS which has a central location in the old town 3-5 mins walk from Djemma el Fna (depending on how many times you stop to look in the myriad of shops & stalls along the way!). The Riad has 6 air-conditioned guestrooms located on the ground and 1st floor and has been lovingly restored by its French owners Fabienne & Michel, after months of meticulous work done by Marrakech artisans it is now one of the nicest Riads in Marrakech. As soon as you walk through the door of this timeless place, you are welcomed to the evocative perfumed air that emits from the oil burner that transports you to a peaceful, relaxing sanctuary that holds more than a hint of mystery. The breakfast consisted of freshly made bread rolls, cakes and Moroccan pancakes with homemade jams & marmalades, coffee/tea which was more than adequate. Secondly a HOTEL which are larger in size to a traditional Riad and have more facilities. Choose from 3*- 5* Hotels located throughout the city and the Palmeraia area (15mins tax ride from the Medina). I stayed at the Club Med Palmeraie which was based on an All Inclusive meal basis. Predominantly French guests with a high standard of service and food in restaurants & bars, nightly entertainment and comfortable modern rooms. Excellent for families as they have a children’s club & pool. I also visited the luxurious 5* La Mamounia situated within the Median walls, a favourite with celebrities & royals. It received a major upgrade in 2009 and offers timeless elegance and traditional decor. There are 136 rooms, 71 suites and 3 riads within the grounds. All rooms have A/C & have bathrobes, LCD satellite TV, mini-bar, in-room safe & terrace/balcony. Facilities include and indoor & a huge outdoor pool, spa, hamman, tennis, gym & 4 restaurants including 2 Michelin Star chefs, 5 bars/lounges. To sit in the tranquil gardens with its manicured lawns and aromatic rose bushes with a cocktail in my hand was divine and I didn’t want to leave. What to do locally: Shopping in the Souks of the Medina. Hot air balloons rides. Camel rides in the Palmeraie. Quad biking in the lush green oasis of the Marrakech Palmeraie. Traditional Moroccan cooking class. Tagine cookery class in Marrakech. City tour. Tour of Marrakech Medina, Palaces & Tombs. Trekking in the Atlas Mountains. Food: Tagines are the local popular dish, meats & spices baked/steamed in a conical dish. If you eat in the Djemaa Square you will find numerous food stalls cooking local delicacies of fish, meat & poultry cooked with Moroccan spices. We tried 6-7 dishes at a total cost of £10 each. There is seating at tables plus the menus have pictures of the dishes so you can just point and order! My view: Great weekend destination for couples & friends looking for a culture infused destination and as a twin centre combined with a beach resort in Morocco. Top tip: Barter for any goods you want to purchase as it’s a way of life plus it’s a lot of fun!
23 March 2011
Journey: Dubrovnik is an up and coming destination becoming rapidly popular for weekend breaks as it’s reachable in only 2hrs 40 minutes, based on a non-stop service. A number of cruise companies also include a scheduled stop in their itineraries. Weather: Temperatures can reach mid 30s in the summer months & slightly cooler April to June and September to November, which I think are best for sightseeing as you avoid the crowds. My accommodation: There are a number of accommodations to choose from including apartments, bed & breakfasts and 3* to 5* hotels. I stayed at Villa Busovina, run by Rastko and his wife. It’s a traditional 200-year-old villa with five large guest rooms set upon a hilltop with panoramic sea and city views and a ten-minute walk to the main entrance gate of the city. What to do locally: Join guided walking tours of the Old City with an English speaking guide between May and Oct, along with boat trips to the surrounding islands and coast. For panoramic views of Old Town Dubrovnik, take the cable car to the top of Mount Srd. Dubrovnik is a ‘walking city’ but there are hundreds of steps to this city so it’s not for those who are unfit or have walking difficulties. There are a number of boat rides you can do from two hours to full day tours on leisurely schooners to private yachts. There’s also a ten-minute ferry ride to the nearby island of Lokrum (Island of Love). I had a very pleasant two hours sailing the Adriatic seeing the Old City & its wall from a very different perspective of the sea. You can purchase tickets on the day from the many sightseeing counters in the old harbour or visit the Tourist Information Centre in front of the Pile Gate. Lots of shopping opportunities are on offer, including Old Puca - a road full of jewellery shops with mainly locally crafted silver filigree and coral pieces. Local delicacies such as olive oil and delicious wines, to canned fruit and sweet nuts form the bustling market in Gunduliceva Square. Food: As a coastal city, you will find most restaurants serve fresh seafood and Italian inspired dishes. I ate at the same restaurant twice as it was so good – Revelin Club, which has panoramic harbour views. I found prices for drinks and meals similar to the UK. There are a couple of very welcome cafes and bars along the city wall, the most well known being Buzza Bar, perched on the edge of a cliff with steps into the clear Adriatic sea for those who fancy a dip in between drinks. Venturing further afield: Dubrovnik is a great jumping off point, hire a car and explore the rest of Croatia’s islands, like Mijet with its stunning salt water lakes, Hvar (Croatia’s French Riviera) or drive to Split (approx 4hrs). Rastko highly recommended the island of Lopud too. My view: Dubrovnik offers you a combination of beach and city holiday. The city stands on the wonderfully warm Adriatic sea and whilst the beaches are pebbly rather than sandy, there are plenty of sun loungers to laze around on. A coastal town which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with a jigsaw of piazzas, palaces, cafes, monasteries and fountains. Wander through historic, winding streets and you’ll stumble across picture perfect restaurants and beautiful boutiques. The city suffered a lot of damage from bombings during the civil war in the 90’s, but has been largely reconstructed. Maps are displayed around the town showing which buildings suffered damage, but they have been renovated to such a high standard the buildings all blend in and it’s hard to tell which is old or new. I entered the Old Town by the Pile Gate and walked along the top of the surrounding city walls which date back to the Middle Ages. It took me three hours and I still never walked all the way around, but did have stunning vistas of the coast and Dubrovnik Old Town. What to consider: There is an embargo imposed on building work of any kind (unless it’s an emergency repair) during the summer season, which is lifted the 2nd October when all hell breaks loose in the City with everyone organising their repairs and renovations before winter arrives. I discovered this when I was awoken at 7am on the day I flew home by the sound of hammering from neighbours restoring a terrace!
17 August 2009
This was a 21st birthday celebration for my stepson Chris and his girlfriend Rachel, along with my husband for 4 nights, staying at the 4* Embassy Suites Hotel in downtown Manhattan. An all-suite hotel with separate bedroom and living room area and offers complimentary daily breakfast and nightly Managers cocktail reception. We flew into JFK airport with a taxi transfer time of 50 minutes Chris and Rachel went off to do their own exploring of the ‘must see’ sights like Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Rockafeller Centre, Carnegie Hall, Central Park, Radio City Music hall etc. Whilst my husband and I went in search of new sights to see. This wasn’t our first trip to New York so we wanted to experience things we missed out last time around. Like these lesser known gems. This included the Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Station. This unmarked archway, located in front of the Oyster Bar & Restaurant, possesses a mystifying acoustic property: when two people stand at diagonal arches and whisper, they can hear each other's voices "telegraphed" from across the way. So be careful what you say! The Berlin Wall Remnants in Paley Park is nestled in a small Midtown plaza at 520 Madison Avenue and is an unexpected piece of history. Five sections of the Berlin Wall, in total measuring 12 feet high and 20 feet long, have been on display here since 1990. Our first time visit to Ellis Island was very moving. Opened on January 1, 1892, Ellis Island became the nation's premier federal immigration station. In operation until 1954, the station processed over 12 million immigrant steamship passengers, including the UK. It's also worth mentioning that as of July 2009 visitors can now walk the 354 steps up to the 'crown' of the Statue of Liberty but reservations must be made in advance. We visited Ground Zero to witness the progress of the World Trade Centre rebuilding efforts. The base of the new Number One World Trade Centre ‘The Freedom Tower’ has been laid and measured 105 ft above street level and is due for completion in 2012. The whole 16 acre site which includes a Memorial and Museum is due to be fully completed mid 2013. We also rented bikes in Central Park. Beware - the brakes are located using the pedals not the handbrakes! There are designated cycle lanes around the perimeter of the park and it's not as flat as you think! Eating out in New York is a delight and every type of food is available to meet even the most discerning palate. We dined at 2 new restaurants a tried and tested one. We spent our first night at The Rodeo bar (27th st & 3rd Av), where you can eat the best cheese burger with grilled onions ever whilst you listen to live music (country, alt-country, rockabilly, and bluegrass) that rocks the joint. There is a real ‘road-house’ feel to this place. The 2nd night we had dinner with friends at Jordan’s Steak House in Grand Central Station, where we opted for the 3 course Prix-fixe menu a for a mere $35, which included a smoked Salmon appetiser, Filet Mignon Entrée and cheese cake dessert. Expect a bottle of wine to be in the region of $25 upwards. It is in a lovely location where you can watch the commuters arriving / departing Grand Central Station. We chose an old favourite for Chris’s birthday – The Garage in Greenwich Village, which offers an international menu and live jazz music. Tip: Ask for a table downstairs and make dinner reservations to avoid disappointment. Time for shopping on the last day, my favourite haunts are Century 21 - four floors of designer clothes, perfume & homeware plus a separate building for shoes (if you like a bargain but hate chaos this is not the place for you). Burlington Coat Factory is less chaotic and you’ll find great bargains here but like TJ Maxx & Filenes basement, a disappointment if they don’t have your size as they don’t hold stock, but do have regular deliveries. There’s always Macy’s or Bloomingdales for great choice. Visit ‘Customer Services’ on arrival with photo ID to collect a 10-11% savings card on purchases. A quick subway ride back to the hotel which is the quickest and cheapest way to get around Manhattan and a mad panic to pack those last minute purchases and we’re in a taxi to Newark Airport which takes 25 minutes. Do pre-arrange a return transfer as a taxi will cost approximately $80 plus toll and tip.
13 August 2009
This was a surprise 50th birthday holiday for my husband Mick. We flew with British Airways from the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport to Memphis via Dallas and spent 2 nights at the historical 5* Peabody Hotel. After breakfast I took a taxi to Gracelands for the ‘Graceland Elvis Entourage VIP Tour’, an audio-guided tour of Graceland Mansion and grounds, Elvis' two custom airplanes, Automobile Museum, Elvis in Hollywood Exhibit, Private Presley Exhibit, '68 Special Exhibit and a special VIP only Exhibit at Graceland Manson which lasted 4hrs in total. We then caught a free shuttle to Sun Studios where Elvis cut his first demo in 1953. The guided tour takes you through the actual recording studio where you hear tapes of other musicians signed by Sun Studios like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis along with a museum full of memorabilia from famous recording artists. These tours last approximately 1 hour and this was my husband’s favourite part of the holiday. We jumped back on the free shuttle to Beale Streat ‘home of the Blues’. Measuring almost 2 miles long, this street is full of blues clubs, restaurants and bars. As it was a Sunday afternoon it was pretty quiet but there were a couple of live bands playing – we sat in a beer garden and listened to the ‘Lousiana Mojo Queen Band & Ms Zeno’ (who, if I shut my eyes, sounded just like Tina Turner). It’s a very different place at night and at the weekends – loud and busy, bars are so packed people spill out onto the street. We got back to the Peabody Hotel in time to see the famous ‘Peabody Ducks’ march from the lobby fountain back to their penthouse quarters. It was a very early start the next day as we took a 4 hour flight from Memphis to Las Vegas and stayed 3 nights at the 5* Caesars Palace on the strip. You either love this place or you hate it. Crowded streets, neon lights, some of the largest hotels in the world can be found here. Mick found it quite overwhelming at first but grew to like it after a few hours. We dined with friends (who had flown secretly to Las Vegas for 5 nights from the UK) in the revolving restaurant at the top of the Stratosphere Hotel and had a fabulous meal with great service and of course 360 degrees of amazing views. It was a late night but an early start with a flight over the Grand Canyon (best time to see it is at sunrise). This was followed by shopping at the Premium discount outlet mall. The next day the husbands were packed off for a half day bus tour of ‘Hoover Dam’ which they loved, whilst the girls went shopping at the Fashion Mall on the strip! That night I saw one of the amazing Cirque de Soliel shows (there are 6 to choose from) I purchased tickets 6 months in advance whilst in UK. Watched the free ‘Water & light show’ at the Bellagio fountains and fitted in a little late night gambling and won $50. It was another early start for a 4.5 hour flight to Miami and a 25 minute taxi ride, staying for 2 nights at the very chic 5* Setai Hotel. A luxurious Ocean Front resort offering 130 rooms & suites, set in an oasis of pools and tropical gardens that lead down to a gorgeous stretch of white South Beach sands. I booked a one bedroom suite in The Tower with amazing views over South Beach & exquisitely furnished spacious rooms. This is a top class hotel with service to match. Miami is such a cosmopolitan city with kerb side bistros and cafes, chic bars, an historical Art Deco area with lots to see and do and perfect for a weekend trip or longer with friends, family or partners. Finally, I can fully unpack my suitcase on the last leg of the holiday; I booked an outside cabin with balcony on the 7 night Western Caribbean cruise aboard the new Ruby Princess sailing from Fort Lauderdale to Mexico, Jamaica, Bahamas and Grand Cayman. Last surprise for my husband - 4 of his friends and their partners joined us for celebratory drinks on the pool deck as the ship set sail on the glistening blue ocean, to the sounds of a calypso band and the clink of cocktail glasses. Hmmm… how am I going to top this for his 60th??
14 August 2009
My birthday weekend treat started the minute I stepped aboard the Eurostar train at St Pancras station. I was very impressed with the ease and speed of check-in which can be done up to 30 minutes before departure. Before I knew it, I was sitting in my very comfortable seat being offered a choice of hot or cold breakfast with tea / coffee. There are 3 classes to choose from: Standard, Leisure Select & Business Premier and they have dedicated carriages for each. With reserved seating and comfortable seats the journey slipped past very quickly. I had to change trains and platforms at Brussels to connect with a regional train to Bruges. The whole journey from St Pancreas to Bruges took approximately 3hrs 20mins. The railway station at Bruges is 15 minutes from the town centre and taxis are in abundance at the front entrance of the station. I stayed for 2 nights at the 4* De Tuilerieen Hotel which is housed in a noble residence with authentic character dating back to 15th century and embellished by traditional interiors. Situated next to the beautiful Den Dijver canal, the hotel features 45 elegant rooms, a cosy bar with open fireplace and candles, sauna, covered heated swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and steam bath. I indulged myself in the morning with the champagne breakfast buffet on offer and then stepped outside the main doors to find myself in the very heart of this pretty and charming city. Bruges is sometimes called the Venice of the north with its maze of waterways and romantic bridges. Sightseeing is plentiful and is mostly done on foot. This UNESCO World Heritage site has more than 50 bridges, with Peerdenbrug being the most ancient. For something more unusual head to the Barge Bridge linking the Bargeplein at the edge of the city with the Minnewater Park, asymmetrical and painted a vibrant red, the bridge is shaped like a reptile. Climb the 366 stairs to the top of Bruges belfry for an outstanding view; visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood (40F) to see where it is thought to be the final resting place of Christ's blood; wander the grounds of the Beguine's Convent (famously painted by Winston Churchill) which features a group of houses built around a little garden planted with poplar trees and is still inhabited by Benedictine sisters. I was lucky enough to hear the choir singing in the Church when I visited on Sunday morning. Join a 45 minute guided tour of ‘The Half Moon’ brewery and sample a glass of its brew included at the end of the tour and take one of the many boat rides on offer to see the canals from a different perspective. I purchased lots of Belgium chocolate from the huge choice of gaily coloured chocolate shops that adorn the streets and also purchased some beautiful Belgium lace from one of the many lace shops. Despite its petite size, there's plenty of nightlife on offer in Bruges. Pick up a free copy of Agenda Brugge from the tourist office for a list of evening events. I took a horse drawn carriage ride from the main square to a wonderful restaurant for dinner called 'T Oud Kanthuys which offered a varied menu at good prices. The food was excellent as was the service. An excellent journey from Bruges to London St Pancras with an easy connection at Brussels and a hot dinner on board Eurostar plus copious amounts of complimentary champagne (I think one of my party had let on it was my birthday). I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend trip to Bruges - the medieval capital of Europe and only a train ride away!
14 August 2009
This trip was a 60th birthday present for our friend Bob. We flew from Gatwick on the non stop service with Virgin Atlantic to Havana, with a flying time of 9hrs 40mins. This is one of my favourite destinations in the Caribbean as it’s still relatively unspoilt. Step back in time as you disembark the plane at Havana and walk through the arrivals Hall, the smell of aromatic cigar smoke assaults your senses. Even the police smoke cigars on duty in Cuba! It was a 30 minute transfer from Havana Airport to the 5* Saratoga Hotel where we stayed for 2 nights. It is located in Old Havana across the street from the Capitol Building, Grand Teatro and in front of Fraternity Park. This beautifully restored colonial building with its wrought iron balconies and neo-classical façade dates back to the 1930’s, offering 96 rooms and suites across 7 floors all with modern amenities. The interior is modern and cosmopolitan in design with a bar and restaurant. The rooftop swimming pool also has a bar/restaurant and boasts amazing views of Havana. We ate at a local Palada (small, family-run, private-owned restaurant) called Dona Carmela, a bit like eating in the garden of a favourite aunt with her pet cat purring at your feet. La Guarida is my favourite Palada and it’s hard to describe why, you just have to experience its eclectic mix of furniture and walls adorned with an assortment of paintings, prints and ornaments to understand. The food is superb with a varied menu choice coupled with great service. We took a 3 hour morning City Tour, which gave us the chance to get our bearings and see the major sights in Havana. We walked around the old town to a lesser-known hidden gem called ‘Camera Obscura’ on the corner of Plaza Vieja, where we gasped in delight at a magical invention by Leonardo De Vinci. For $2 CUC each we took a tour in the Grand Teatro adorned with stone and marble statues and plush faded red velvet seats and drapes. Simply Red played a concert here on a hot balmy evening in 2005 with proceeds donated for the ongoing renovations planned for the theatre. Onto the Revolution Museum, where the guards take their duties very seriously and where Mick made the mistake of stepping on the grass to get a closer look at a military vehicle, and was duly reprimanded! Music plays a big part in Cuban culture - it pours out of windows and doorways and often small groups of musicians set up their instruments and start a jamming session in the square or park in the middle of the day. This charming city feels like it has been frozen in time with its vintage cars and Baroque-style buildings. Some of the once grandiose buildings, built during the city's more prosperous times, lie in disrepair, but still adds to the charm of the city. We then took a scenic 3-hour drive from Havana to Varadero, a peninsula on the northern coast of Cuba with 12 kilometres of white sand beaches. We stayed at the 5* Iberostar Varadero on an all-inclusive meal basis. This modern but grand beach front resort offers 386 rooms and suites spread over 11 buildings offering a good choice of restaurants and bars plus a spa, evening entertainment and a children’s club. There are quite a few sightseeing options available; swimming with dolphins, catamaran cruises to neighbouring islands, Nature & Eco tours and day trips to Cienfuegos & Trinidad and scuba diving. Plus an open top double-decker bus operates frequently from Varadero Beaches to Varadero town, which is worth an afternoon visit to its craft market. Because of the import restraints levied on Cuba there are not many souvenirs to purchase except Havana Club Rum and Cuban cigars where you can make big savings compared to UK prices. Images of Che Guevara the famous revolutionist are everywhere so T-shirts, hats and other tourist souvenirs can be purchased anywhere in Cuba. I love Cuba for its culture, history, beaches, architecture, people (and rum), but how much longer it will remain ‘unspoilt’ now that Fidel Castro has handed over the Presidency to his brother Raul remains to be seen. I urge you to visit sooner rather than later.
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