Based in Keswick

Melissa Coleman

Looking for help with your business travel? Find out how I can help here

It's Nice To Meet You

Just imagine the horror on my Mum’s face when, at the innocent age of 7, I announced to all and sundry that “I want to be a new age traveller”. Shortly followed by the proclamation that actually, “I don’t care as long as I can just travel anywhere I like!”

Who would have known that over 30 years later I would have travelled around the world twice, visited over 80 countries, spent three summer’s teaching sailing and water sports abroad and forged a career in marketing and accountancy. After volunteering in a South African township for six months, I made the biggest decision of my life so far - to transform my life of travel into a productive future of inspiring, planning and creating holidays and breaks away for other people.

Having lived in the Stratford upon Avon area and Evesham for most of my life, I have incredible support from friends, family and clients throughout Warwickshire and the neighbouring counties as well as worldwide. Since July 2020, I now have idyllic Keswick to call home and have created a beautiful network of friends up here who share similar passions and interests and definitely keep me fit and active!

I love being ‘the one to call’ for advice, top tips and inspiration for all travel requirements – no matter what type of trip it is! I am a member of local sports clubs and have built foundations as a trusted advisor and partner for my peers not only for their personal holidays but their business travel as well.

Whether you are considering a leisure break; a long weekend in London, honeymoon to Mauritius, family safari to Africa – or just know that you want to plan a getaway; I will support you all the way to make sure every last detail of your holiday is perfect. In fact, I will likely end up knowing more about your preferences than you do yourself!

If you're looking for advice and an agency partner for your business travel, my services are second to none, and your hassles and stresses from this will vanish immediately. I will source hotels, flights and conference centres as required at highly competitive prices, all management information can be discussed and sent as regularly as required.

My passion is travel and I would love to share my knowledge and expertise with you – so please follow me on my social media channels and give me a call / send an email so we can begin planning your next journey.

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

Around the world via your tastebuds

14 April 2020

Now that staying home is the new going out, we’re looking for more ways to broaden our horizons, create memories and spend quality time together. We’re finding it’s a great opportunity to relive our past adventures (and whet our appetite for new ones) by cooking our favourite foods from around the world. Here’s a selection of our recommended foodie destinations, and cookbooks to match, until we can grab our passports and hop on a plane once again. 1. Spain's Basque Country; Spinach and goat’s cheese croquetas Northern Spain's Basque Country has a lot to be proud of: a dramatic coastline with sleepy fishing villages and some of the best waves in Europe, a lush mountainous interior unique to the country, and the two captivating cities of Bilbao, a cultural and architectural powerhouse, and San Sebastián, which is home to a dizzying number of Michelin-starred restaurants. This region packs bold flavours into its dishes, and you’ll often find large hunks of T-bone steak, grilled fish and sweet peppers on rather rustic menus, contrasted with lavish spreads of pintxos (small, tapas-style snacks). Make sure you call in at a sagardotegi (traditional cider house), where you fill your glass with local cider straight from the barrel, while tucking into plates of salt-cod omelettes. Yummy croquetas are a staple of any pintxos menu, and José Pizarro’s version from his book Basque: Spanish Recipes from San Sebastián and Beyond can be adapted to suit whatever you have in the fridge, such as ham or mushrooms (as long as you keep them suitably cheesey). 2. Iran; Iranian herb fritters Iran is both a treasure chest of ancient Persian history and a conflation of Eastern and Western cultures thanks to its central location on the Silk Road trade route. And that’s not to mention its varied landscapes of snow-capped mountains and vast deserts, as well as some of the most beautiful architecture on the planet, including the elegant turquoise-tiled domes of Imam Square, Ali Ibn Hamza Mausoleum’s glass-encrusted halls and Nasir al-Mulk Mosque’s mesmerising kaleidoscopic stained-glass windows. Middle Eastern cooking is a vegetarian’s playground: zingy salads, moreish dips and freshly baked bread all take centre stage on the dining table, and the Silk Road brought cuisine all across the world straight to the country’s doorstep, resulting in a surprising fusion of flavours for the modern plate. Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple is a fantastic place to start for recreating dishes of the Middle East. 3. Lisbon; Portuguese custard tarts Lisbon’s terracotta-roofed houses, river views and narrow winding streets of trundling yellow trams, terrace bars and colourful murals, create a charming backdrop to Portugal’s excellent food scene. You’ll find everything from Michelin-starred fine dining to tiny patio restaurants serving small dishes to hip converted warehouses showcasing the latest food trends. Pasteis de nata tarts are icons of Lisbon - tourists and locals alike devour their buttery pastry and creamy custard fillings by the thousand every day. There’s plenty of debate around where the best in the city are found. Pastéis de Belém, with its beautiful tiles, frequently tops most tourist lists, but Rebecca Seal, in her book Lisbon, recommends Manteigaria, in the Chiado area. The bonus of this local hotspot is watching the masters craft the pastries behind the counter while you sip on an espresso. 4. Bangkok; Thai hot and sour soup Bangkok’s street-food scene is world famous, and any visitor to Thailand’s capital knows the first port of call should be to one of the city’s many bustling markets to fill their bellies ahead of a day of exploring glittering golden temples, air-conditioned mega malls and cool rooftop bars. Yaowarat, or Chinatown, was the first street-food market, and usually features high on any Bangkok to-do list for a delicious, and often bewildering, experience. You’ll come across favourites like pad thai, chicken satay and fiercely fiery soups, as well as a whole load of more unusual offerings like fried duck beaks, crispy ants and scorpion skewers. Once you’re back home, Leela Punyaratabandh’s cookbook, Bangkok, includes the city’s top eats for you to recreate in your own kitchen (minus the bugs). And the great thing about Thai cooking is that a lot of the ingredients can be replaced if you’re finding them tricky to source: try ginger instead of galangal and dried versions of the herbs instead of fresh. Or put in an order at an online supermarket and stock up. 5. Italy; handmade tagliatelle pasta Everyone has a favourite holiday memory from Italy, whether it’s sipping Aperol on a stately Venetian piazza, exploring Tuscany’s medieval hilltop towns, or paddling the glittering azure waters of Sardinia. But there’s one thing we can all agree on - it’s almost impossible to recreate that perfect plate of pasta from your trip in your own kitchen. Chef Evan Funke is looking to change that in his book American Sfoglino, using little more than a rolling pin and a select few ingredients. Expect step-by-step techniques for honing your sfoglia (pasta sheet) skills, as well as range of sauces and broths to bring your Italian noodles to life. 6. Ghana; lamb cutlets with spicy peanut sauce Ghana may currently be flying under your travel radar, but if this little West African country’s food is anything to go by, it should go straight to the top of your bucket list. As well as Portuguese influences and unique music style, hiplife - a combination of hip hop and Ghanaian culture; it has a stunning array of natural scenery, including golden-sand beaches and Kakum National Park. The park's canopy walkway floats 30 metres above the rainforest floor, which is home to forest elephants, leopards and over 600 species of butterfly. Ghanaian food is a relaxed affair - think fresh fish and seafood, hearty salads and spices that infuse every dish with flavour - well suited to home-cooked meals for the whole family. “For too long Africans have kept this incredible food a greedy secret", says Zoe Adjonyoh in her book Zoe's Ghana Kitchen, and her peanut stew recipe was one of the first she shared with Londoners from the tiny stall she set up in her front garden in 2010. Peanut sauce is a staple of Ghanian cooking and can be paired with any combination of meat, seafood or vegetable - plantains or yams should be your first port of call, though, for a truly authentic experience.

Classic Cuba with sumptuous sands to relax at the end

27 April 2020

Having recently returned from Cuba, we can say there is a lot more that the country can offer other than the glorious sandy beaches and antique cars. The streets of the cities are vibrant and colourful with unique architecture. Venturing out of the cities, we experienced some amazing scenery – in Trinidad we walked in a tropical rainforest with waterfalls and lakes to swim in; we did a horse-riding tour in the valleys of Viñales, walked to some pretty amazing view points and experienced live music; visited coffee and tobacco plantations and had the chance to talk to local people who gave us some real-life accounts of what it is like to live in Cuba. The whole experience of travelling around Cuba was pretty unique – we would definitely suggest researching locations and transport in advance. A lot of people we met during our trip to Cuba had arrived in the country without accommodation, or transport arranged – although from conversations it seemed that it is fairly easy to find accommodation on the day, that didn’t seem to be the case with transport. We were really lucky to have all our transfers booked in advance and never had an issue getting to places. We would definitely recommend to other visitors to get booked in advance in advance saving time and worry. We stayed in Casas Particulares - these are like local guesthouses. The Cuban government allows residents to rent the spare rooms in their homes for extra income which allowed us to get a more local experience. Staying in the Casas was great – all of these offered more than we expected; the facilities were good, the hosts were friendly and genuinely put effort towards making our stay special. Cuban food and restaurants – although quite limited in terms of choice and variety, we found the food tasty. The Cuban menu comprises of meat mainly (fish, chicken, pork, beef), rice with beans and banana chips which is very traditional. There were slight variations to this with some restaurants offering dishes like lobster, pizza and pasta. We found eating out relatively cheap – we were purposely going out to less touristy places as prices at these were much lower for food without compromising the quality. Highlights of the trip Viñales – a green valley surrounded by mountains with fantastic scenery and loads of opportunities to explore on foot. Viñales is popular for its tobacco farms, sugar plantations, cigar making and rum production, which we experienced first-hand on a day long horse-riding tour. Trinidad – a picturesque colonial town that somehow feels frozen in time. Its streets are lined with cobbles and full of life. Unlike Havana, which seems a lot more advanced compared to Viñales and Trinidad, here the streets are full of horse carts, bicycles, tricycles with additional seats attached at the back, mopeds, Lada cars and other classical cars. The experience of walking around these streets is truly unique. Old Havana, which is the historic city centre, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is full of beautiful old architecture and classic cars. We visited the museum of revolution which was one of the highlights and also did the Buena Vista Social Club show which was truly memorable. Cayo Santa Maria – this is an island off Cuba's north central coast, linked to the mainland by just over 40 kilometres dry link. This was ideal for taking in the sun, generally not doing much and enjoying the sparkling blue water. To explore Cuban culture, we would recommend going outside the resort as this was a planned tourist development where employees were bused in. If you are looking for a stress-free tropical break, this place would be ideal though. General comments – Cuba was very safe to travel around and even at night we felt safe walking around. It is fairly easy to get money from money exchange bureaus, however, make sure you have your passport with you. We purchased internet cards in Viñales which should have lasted us for our stay in Viñales and Trinidad, however connectivity was pretty much non-existent, so we stopped trying at the end. Havana and the resort were good for internet connectivity. Again, you need your passport to purchase an internet card. Essentially, everywhere you go, it is advisable to have your passport or another form of ID just in case. Lastly, having water, hand sanitiser and wipes at any one time when out and about is not a bad idea, too. There is a lot of advice available online and loads of travel guides / blogs which are worth reading before your journey to Cuba. With all the above said, we would definitely visit again and explore different parts of the island!

An Irish road trip

08 April 2020

A couple of years ago, I took a road trip around the Emerald Isle. Along with my friend Jeanie, we hired a car from Dublin airport and spent a week touring the country. Luckily for us, we had amazing weather, mostly sunny with only a small amount of rain. We arrived late one evening and picked up our car, Mickey the Micra, and headed to our hostel in Dublin. The next morning, we jumped on a hop on, hop off bus to see the sights stopping at places such as the Guinness Factory and Trinity College. That afternoon, we took Mickey and headed south to Rosslare, a beach town in the south east corner of Ireland. Having found our little B&B, we dropped off our things before heading out to paddle in the sea! Luckily, there were more options for dinner – a whole variety of pubs to choose from. Standard dinner options in Ireland do revolve around pubs which tend to be more social places than just drinking establishments. The next morning and we were on the road again, heading along the green south, through the city of Cork and stopping at Blarney Castle. Here we had the obligatory photo op kissing the Blarney Stone, giving us the gift of the gab, but also explored the whole castle and the grounds. Our day finished in Killarney, staying at the lovely Peacock Farm Hotel, set up a hill away from the main town with a lovely view down to Killarney Lake and with peacocks on site. Day 4 was always going to be one of the most scenic. From Killarney, we drove around the Dingle Peninsula, taking in the views and stopping to admire the craggy cliffs, sandy beaches, green fields and blue seas. There are many ruins to stop and explore when not admiring the views including the Gallarus Oratory, an early Christian church. We could have spent so long there, the sun was shining and there are numerous viewpoints to stop at on the coastal road. However, we had other places to be, so once we’d done the loop, we headed north crossing the Shannon River on the Kilrush ferry and headed up the coast to the Burren to visit the Cliffs of Moher. These cliffs are usually shrouded in fog, but for us we had clear blue skies and perfect views. That evening, we spent the night in Doolin, a small town a few miles north of the cliffs. Doolin was to be the only place where we spent more than one night, as the next day we took a ferry over to the nearby Aran Islands. Although there are three islands, we were headed for the main islands, Inishmore. Once again we were greeted with immaculately green fields, blue skies, ruins and beautiful coastline. As we left Mickey on the mainland, we hired bicycles and cycled round the island. It was a beautiful day and not too many hills to deal with! With all that fresh air and exercise we were inevitably tired and Jeanie managed to leave her camera on the island in the toilets by the ferry terminal. After a long chat with the ferry company and many phone calls back and forth to Inishmore the camera was located and was set to be returned on the first ferry back the next morning. The next morning, we headed back to the docks in Doolin in order to pick up the camera, before moving on towards Northern Ireland. We made a brief stop en route at Knock, where there is a church popular with Roman Catholic pilgrims as it is claimed there was an apparition of the Virgin Mary back in the 1870’s. We carried on towards Northern Ireland, crossing the border at Londonderry/Derry. Neither Jeanie nor I were sure what to expect at the border but we practically missed it and the only reason we knew we were in the Northern part of the country was because the speed limits switched from kph to mph. With Mickey’s speedo in kph it made for some guesswork of speeds. We arrived in Portstewart on the Antrim coast that evening, with time to sit on the beach and watch the sunset. Day 7 was spent driving the spectacular Antrim Coast from Portstewart round to Belfast. Our main stopping point for the day was at the Giants Causeway. Legend says that Irish giant Fionn was arguing with Scottish giant Benandonner. The Scot crossed the causeway to see Fionn, but Fionn had disguised himself as a baby. Benandonner saw the size of the “baby” and was so terrified by its size he didn’t want to meet the father and fled back to Scotland ripping up the causeway as he went. This leads to the different height columns of rock seen today. We also stopped at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, 20 m long and at a height of 30m above the rocks below. Although the rope bridge is perfectly safe, on a windy day it can feel a little precarious and so National Trust sell certificates stating that you crossed the bridge! We carried on along the Coast Road before arriving in Belfast in the early afternoon. Our final day in Ireland, we spent the morning in Belfast on a hop on hop off bus. The bus took us to all the major sites such as Stormont, the Titanic Quarter and the murals of both Shanklin Road and Crumlin Roads. We then took Mickey, headed back South across the border to the land of kph speed limits and back down to Dublin airport to leave the car and fly on to Edinburgh where we were spending a few days before heading home. Although it sounds like we spent a lot of time driving, it’s worth remembering that due to the size of Ireland, the journeys didn’t last that long so we were usually on the road for no more than a few hours leaving plenty of time to explore upon arrival. Dinner could be found a lot of the time in pubs, where the standard of food was pretty good and sometimes accompanied by live music or entertainment. With one week, we had enough time to complete a loop around the coast. With longer we could have explored inland as well, but any less time and we would have been very rushed. All in all a weeks’ road trip around Ireland is an amazing trip with stunning scenery and really friendly people.

Australia - Where the Wild Things Are

14 April 2020

Egg-laying mammals, marsupials with a kick and birds in abundance: here’s why in Australasia, the wildlife truly is in a league of its own. A natural selection Australia’s rich array of (often weird and wonderful) wildlife makes it one of the most fascinating places you can ever hope to visit if you have a soft spot for nature. Is it any wonder that exploring these unique landscapes was a catalyst for Darwin’s theory of evolution via natural selection? Kangaroos and koalas are, of course, the wildlife A-list here. But there are countless other animals in Oz that deserve attention, too. Here, we put the spotlight on a few of our favourite places to see Australian nature in all its unique glory. Roo's Company Gorgeous Kangaroo Island, a few hours from Adelaide, is the third-largest island in Australia – and a whopping one-third of its area is given over to nature reserves. That means you can meet a wealth of creatures great and small here. Of course, the island’s namesake is one of the major attractions. You can spot the local subspecies of kangaroos hopping around Flinders Chase National Park, but these bouncing beasts are far from the only stars worth chasing here. Stay patient and you might be rewarded with glimpses of spiky echidnas or bizarre duck-billed platypuses – two of the island’s shyer residents, and both unusual in being egg-laying mammals. Easier to spot are your friendly neighbourhood koalas, which number in the tens of thousands. More of a bird person? The pelicans and little penguins in Kingscote are waiting for you. However, our favourite Kangaroo Island wildlife adventure – and it’s up against some stiff competition – has to be hanging out with sea lions in Seal Bay. With the guidance of a ranger you can walk right through the midst of the colony. We enthusiastically give our seal of approval! Marine Magnificence Hop on a ferry in eastern Brisbane and you can be on North Stradbroke Island – or Straddie, as the locals call it – in just over an hour and a half. And why would you want to get there? Well, discovering the fascinating culture of the Quandamooka people, indigenous to the island, is one good reason. Hitting the miles of stunning beach is another. Or you might want to take advantage of the outstanding opportunities for bush walks and wildlife-watching trips. On Straddie, you’ve got a high chance of seeing kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, tortoises and kookaburras, as well as a rainbow of other bird species. And the action isn’t contained to the island - what’s going on in the water is every bit as exciting. Point Lookout offers the perfect place for watching humpback whales, which migrate through these eastern waters between May and early November. And to the west, in Moreton Bay, you can see rare dugong, as well as green, leatherback and hawksbill turtles. Are you a dolphin lover? You needn’t step off dry land to see your favourite animals up close, as they gather near to Amity Point’s jetties in the evenings. However, if you do like underwater adventures, the island is full of great scuba instructors who’ll be happy to introduce you to the local manta rays. Party with Penguins Phillip Island’s penguin parade is one of the best-loved day trips (or rather, night trips) from Melbourne. The aptly named little penguin is the world’s smallest penguin species. As the sun begins to set each evening, these adorable guys and gals begin their nightly journey up the sand on Phillip Island’s Summerland Beach. The vast crowds of penguins and their comical way of moving combine to make this seem one of the oddest spectacles in nature. But in fact, the penguins are just making their way home from work. After a day spent fishing at sea, there’s only one way to get back to their burrow inland: waddle. You’ll get a wonderful view of this incredibly cute parade from the seating area on the beach. New Zealand Means Nature While we’re on the subject of Southern Hemisphere nature, it would be remiss of us not to mention New Zealand. Though much more compact than its gigantic neighbour, this country manages to pack in more than its fair share of wildlife wonders too. You can find chubby, flightless kiwi birds in the wild in many different wooded areas here, such as stunning Rainbow Springs Nature Park in Roturua. In addition to kiwis, the country is home to many other charismatic species, many of them only found here. Being dazzled by the magical light of glow worms in atmospheric limestone caves in locations like Dunedin is a quintessential NZ experience. And jaw-droppingly huge gatherings of animals can be found in the open air, too. A vast royal albatross colony, also in Dunedin, gives you a rare chance to see these unique birds on land – they spend most of their lives at sea. Want to befriend a bottle-nose dolphin or come face-to-face with a fur seal? Well, in the Bay of Islands – as famous for its amazing wildlife as for its dreamlike beauty – you can see these creatures and many more in their natural habitat. In short, if you don’t leave New Zealand harbouring secret dreams of landing a job as a zoologist, you didn’t do it right.

Explorations along the Silk Road

30 October 2019

Hannah is a very good friend of mine and we have shared many an exhilarating adventure! This write up is of her exciting explorations with James along the Silk Road through Uzbekistan and then later on to Tajikistan. The Silk Road was a network of trade routes connecting the East and the West for 3000 years until the 18th century. It allowed goods to be bought and sold, especially the lucrative silk after which the route takes is name. China had a monopoly on silk but it was heavily desired in Europe so in return the West would sell horses, ivory, furs and jade to the Chinese. The overland Silk Road stretched from Xian to Istanbul, a distance of 4000 miles, however maritime routes included Indonesia, India, the Arabian Peninsula and ended in Venice. The route began to decline after Vasco de Gama discovered a route around the Cape of Good Hope as sea travel was faster. Due to the Silk Road, many cities flourished during this time, such as Xian (China), Kashgar (China), Bukhara (Uzbekistan) and Merv (Turkmenistan). UNESCO have now designated a large part of the route as a World Heritage Site. Why am I telling you this? Well, due to a large part of Central Asia opening up over the last few years, I am taking my first visit to the region. As it would take the average caravan 240 days to traverse the route, I am obviously not doing the full route. Instead, focusing on two countries in the region. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. After arriving in Tashkent, our first priority was to head out! Many of the main streets were wide avenues but with not many cars on them, possibly because it was Sunday. After about 10 mins walking, we stumbled onto a square with a couple of statues of astronauts on it and we quickly realised this was the entrance to the Kosmonavtlar metro station. Tashkent metro is known to have stations in a similar vein to those in Moscow i.e. incredibly elaborate and photo worthy, but we wouldn’t be going down into the station just yet. We carried on to Amir Temur Square. Temur is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest military leaders, especially in Uzbekistan where he was largely based and had his capital city. In the centre of the square is a large statue of the man himself, backed by the Soviet-style Hotel Uzbekistan. It really is something to behold, but what that something is we are not quite sure. It is a beige coloured, rounded building with bars in front of all the windows. We headed towards the train station. En route, we found a small restaurant where we stopped for lunch. They spoke no English, we spoke no Uzbek and basically no Russian but, thanks to a picture menu, we managed to order ourselves two dumpling soup dishes, bread and chai for lunch. This was also our first view of Uzbek bread. Usually circular in shape, every region has different bread made of different dough types, with different designs embedded into it. From here, we carried on to the Railway Museum, home to many old soviet locomotives which could be clambered on and into. By this point, it was time to investigate the metro stations. From the main Tashkent train station metro, we headed to Chorsu, home to the country’s most famous bazaar. Under a green domed roof, you can buy all sorts of food inside the market as well as other everyday essentials. Whilst returning to the hotel, we got off at Kosmonavtlar station, widely regarded as the best decorated metro station. Shades of blue and portraits of various astronauts kept us occupied for a while whilst we tried to identify them. The station also seemed to be a popular stop for tour groups and guides. Until about a year ago, you were not permitted to take photos on the metro or of the stations, but thanks to the current President’s mission to relax the country, clicking away is now perfectly allowed. And all of this costs the pair of us less than 25p per journey. Bargain! Two years ago when I first started planning for this trip, Khiva was very inaccessible. No train station, no bus station. The closest of each was located in Urgench, some 35km away. However, in those two years the train line has been extended to Khiva and a brand new station built along with a new train line across the desert to Bukhara, saving on a 7-8 hour bumpy taxi ride. The line is also in the process of being electrified for use by the high speed trains but for now we had to settle for old Soviet trains. By morning, we were in the middle of the desert – sand as far as we could see. It was another 3 hours until we arrived in Khiva, where conveniently the new station is only a short walk from the east gate of Ichon Kala – the name given to the walled inner city of Khiva and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside are numerous medressa’s, Islamic schools now used as museums, and minarets. First; to the Islom-Hoja Minaret. At 57m tall, it is the highest minaret in Khiva, built only in 1910. To get to the top, we had to climb approximately 120 steps, up a spiral staircase where the steps were steep and uneven, to the top. From the small observation point at the top, we could see over the whole of Ichon Kala, down to the train station and so far to the south, we reckon it would have been Turkmenistan. Bukhara is often dubbed as Central Asia’s holiest city, with over 140 protected buildings, many of which have stood for centuries. The city used to consist of a network of canals and stone pools, where stagnant water meant that plague was a common problem. The majority of these have long since disappeared with just Lyabi Hauz remaining at the centre of the city. We arrived in Bukhara after the 6 hour train journey, the majority of which was through desert as we skirted around the Turkmenistan border. Numerous Medressa’s and a small bazaar to explore, we started by visiting Lyabi Hauz, which now is surrounded on three sides by cafes and also has plastic camels in tribute to the caravans that used to plough the Silk Road. The next was spectacular, with the Mir-i-Arab Medessa and Kalon Minaret which was built in 1127. When Chinggis Khan was ransacking his way through the region, it is said he was so dumbfounded by the beauty of the minaret that he spared it from being destroyed. For our final wander, we headed to the infamous Ark, built around the 5th century, which is now largely a museum, with a series of exhibits, as well as a mosque. Simply stunning and the perfect place to end an incredible journey in Central Asia.

5 reasons to visit Portugal

06 April 2020

5 Reasons I Love Portugal! I just can't get enough of Portugal after having visited a handful of times in the last couple of years - and here are my highlights which are sure to tempt you to visit! 1. It’s at the helm of seafaring history During the Age of Discovery, from the 15th to the 17th centuries, Portuguese sailors were the first to discover and map the coasts of Africa, Canada, Asia and Brazil. Many of the country’s monuments were built in honour of both the period and homegrown explorers such as Vasco da Gama, who was the first European to reach India. Stand before Lisbon’s Monument to the Discoveries and you’ll be at the very spot that these voyages began. 2. Wherever you go, you’re surrounded by beauty No matter where your travels take you in Portugal, beauty surrounds you. Inland is the stunning Douro Valley, where terraced vineyards have been producing wine for more than 2,000 years. Further south, step into a landscape straight out of the pages of a fairy tale in Sintra, dotted with turreted castles and carpeted by forest. The real showstopper is the country’s dramatic coastline. When Vasco da Gama left the Belém district of Lisbon on his voyages of discovery, he didn’t know what he might find. Standing on the Atlantic cliffs at Cascais or Cabo da Roca, you’ll experience a similar sense of wonder. 3. Sensational cities boast Latin influences Portugal’s lively and vibrant cities are a joy to explore. You don’t have to look too closely to see that they take their influences more from South America than Europe. Cosmopolitan capital Lisbon sits on seven hills and tumbles down to the banks of the River Tagus. Admire the Manueline architecture of its Jerónimos Monastery, which symbolises the country’s power and wealth during the Age of Discovery. Second city Oporto boasts historic districts seemingly untouched by time and is famed for the production of port wine and numerous cellars hosting tastings – cheers! 4. There’s even more to see on its islands The Portuguese archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores lie to the west of the country and both offer a diverse range of attractions. Madeira is a living botanical garden, whose tropical climate and volcanic soil encourage almost anything to grow, hence its moniker ‘the floating garden’. On the largest of the nine islands of the Azores, São Miguel, breathtaking sights take many forms. On land, gaze at the incredible twin lakes, Sete Cidades, carved deep into a volcanic crater, and in the waters that surround you whale sightings are common. Due to the archipelago’s location, it’s a point of passage for more than a third of the world’s population of whales and dolphins throughout the year. 5. Delicious fresh ingredients are always on the menu Sardines plucked fresh from the sea, salt cod, crispy suckling pig and slow-cooked wild boar stew are the kind of rustic dishes found on the menu in Portugal. As you eat, clink glasses of Vinho Verde – a young, crisp unoaked wine usually consumed shortly after bottling. And if you’ve a sweet tooth, thank the monks of the Jerónimos Monastery, who are said to have invented pastéis de nata. These little custard tarts with a crispy, flaking pastry case and a sweet, creamy filling sprinkled with cinnamon really are heavenly.

Albergue life along the Camino Frances - part two

21 October 2019

It’s pitch black outside, making the effort to actually extricate one’s body from the sleeping bag one of the biggest challenges of the day. Very much still half asleep, it genuinely feels an impossible thought to place one foot in front of the other, continuously, until the next valid resting destination. With just 6km until the next village and a potential ‘cafe con leche‘ (coffee with milk) stop driving us ever onwards, it’s time for a deep breath, poles outstretched - and Ultreïa (go forth with courage)! Sometimes it’s simply impossible to have managed to wash and then actually dry ones clothes the previous night. The cool evenings are not conducive to laundry drying, which inevitably means the following day your pack becomes somewhat of a clothesline... strategically placed socks, leggings and undies will dry quickly once the sun rises, but this does require a degree of indifference to the fact that you are indeed showing your smalls to the world. I’ve seen Y-fronts on hedges, socks strapped to walking poles and sports bras on backpacks - there is no shame: this is The Way. The glorious site of another village looming! This promises much needed shade, cafe con leche, perhaps a delicious pastry as a cheeky little reward for reaching that point as well as a unique sello (stamp) in your pilgrims passport. The half crumbling, terracotta-roofed building with rustic doors hold so many memories; have seen so many things, of that I am certain. Locals; with their weathered, smiling faces, linger in the streets, chatting in an unintelligible regional language - well, to those with an ignorant ear anyway. Everyone so keen to wish a peregrino ‘buen camino’ (good walking) as we pass on by, perhaps boosting each tiny village economy by a euro or two throughout the day. Storks settle down in their humongous nests atop the ancient bell towers throughout each village along The Way. In the town square a fountain spouts a deliciously refreshing splash as the water hits the hot stone paved floor, reminding and tempting you to refill your bottle and rehydrate your body. Something which is critical to staying healthy for these weeks of walking westwards whilst the sun beats down relentlessly on the left hand side of your body ... Bizarrely, food is of very little importance throughout the day. It’s almost like our bodies already have enough reserves to burn off without the requirement for extra calories! Having said this, as soon as I stop walking I am ravenous immediately; as if I haven’t actually eaten for a week. Sadly, as aforementioned, the food along the Camino Frances is proving to be somewhat of a disappointment, with the staple food group being carbohydrates. Primarily white bread and patatas (chips). Alongside this you may find an exciting inclusion of ensalada mixta (mixed salad) but other than that, pretty much anything of the deep fried variety. The end of the walking day is nigh as we slope in to the albergue booked for this evening. Having assessed each toilet stop, food source and surface under foot along The Way, I am now also a connoisseur of rating establishments based on their WC amenities; basically the fundamentals of soap, toilet paper, a toilet seat and hand towels. Including the albergues, I am quite appalled by the lack of soap throughout and also the lack of use of the soap which is provided! After a concerted effort over the weeks, I can tell you that the best tortilla (Spanish omelette) is to be found at Meson de la Tortilla in Pamplona and that when considering the surface you walk on; if you have any possible means to avoid walking on tarmac, I’d strongly suggest you take it - even if it’s scuffing along the edge of the verge until the track changes course to grit and sand. The balls of your feet will thank you dearly! That really sums up a typical day on Camino Frances, from dawn until dusk. If there are 4 things I’d recommend someone to take with them along The Way it’d be to make sure they have good earplugs (eg silicone flexible ones), carry at least one pole (great support for balance as well as knees on descents and hauling yourself up the hills!), have a multi USB adaptor (as generally there are limited plug outlets so this means more than just one lead can be plugged in simultaneously) and to have items in either colour coded dry bags or clear / freezer bags makes life so much easier for locating items! Something you might fancy experiencing? Then what are you waiting for? May you learn Spanish fast, And Spaniards speak slow. May the storm clouds pass, For a buen Camino!

Albergue life along the Camino Frances - part one

21 October 2019

Finally by 4pm and after 32km of undulating track, sun bleached fields and a multitude of weather conditions, we reach the much longed for village where we hope to find beds available for the night. Oh what a welcome you can (generally) expect - a glass of water, a lucky dip in the sweeties, Camino credentials stamped, a nice warm smile and (dorm) room key produced. Exhausted, weary, aching and parched we really just need two things: to sit down - and drink a delicious Spanish ‘caña’ (beer). Despite the desire to ban such liquid gold from one’s diet in order to maximise health benefits of walking such distances, it truly is the reward straight from the gods which one simply cannot deprive oneself of. Fact. 7kg pack grounded for the day. Bunk bed located. Hot shower sourced. Clothes wash done and hanging out amongst the rows of other freshly washed linens in the airless courtyard. Next; time to locate a decidedly delightful eating establishment preferably without having to walk too many more steps and ideally to have the offering inclusive of vegetables - a food type which is conspicuous by its absence along The Way. This, is the routine of the Camino Frances. Having spoken with a large number of people along The Way, with varying backgrounds and from a plethora of homelands, I now feel qualified to state that each and every person walking these 790+km have their own, very unique reasons for being here. Whether it be a longing for closure of something, time to reflect on the life of someone or simply trying to ‘figure it all out’; the honesty and openness with which everyone chats is truly a beautiful thing. I have never felt so comfortable to ‘just be me’. With all the best intentions for a small, quick meal, snappy chat and early bedtime; sometimes it’s just inevitable that one gets carried away with beverage in hand and stories a flowing ... suddenly it’s one minute to curfew and an imminent dash is required in order to not be locked out for the night. Most ‘albergue‘s’ (hostels) lock their doors at 10pm - presumably because most ‘peregrinos’ (pilgrims) are well tucked up by then as they’ll be up at the crack of dawn to begin their day. More often than not, this is entirely my preference as sleep is one of my top 3 priorities in life, however every now and then it seems I can be led astray by inspirational conversation, life lesson sharing and immense laughter which I would never want to jeopardise by going to bed too early. We can sleep when we’re dead, right? The phrase ‘things that go bump in the night’ has entirely been redeveloped on this journey! Snorting, sneezing, rustling, rummaging, farting and faffing; these are just some thoughts of what these aforementioned noises actually are and which you might well hear throughout the night if you were unfortunate enough to not own a pair of earplugs. By going to bed by 9pm, you have the upmost advantage towards a solid, well deserved sleep through to 6am ... when alarm clocks explode, rustling begins and the switches are flipped to startle you with such bright light spilling out from above the bunks. And so on to another day of walking in this incredible part of the world, on a journey like no other.

Experiencing Naadam Festival in Khatgal

03 April 2020

Thank you to my wonderful friend and customer Lesley, who has written an amusing a true account of such wonderful times in Mongolia, where he explored the central, southern and northern regions and were lucky enough to visit the local Naadam Festival in the village of Khatgal. And so we arrive at Lake Khosvgol, this incredible huge fresh water lake. Apparently it contains up to 2% of the worlds fresh water and is the second largest lake in Asia, the largest I assume is Lake Baikal which legend has it is joined underground to our Lake Khosvgol. Khatgal, at the tip of the Lake is our venue for Nadaam, the annual national festival which involves the three "manly" sports. Well girls are allowed to participate in two out of three, archery and horse racing, but wrestling still remains the domain of the men. The clothing for wrestling is unusual to say the least. A skimpy bolero type jacket which is open at the front tied with a string across an ample chest, open supposedly because in days gone by when the jackets were closed in front a woman (or two) competed and won. So now it is boobs on display just to be sure. So that is the top half, the bottom is a pair of speedo type trunks in matching colours and to finish this off a very fancy pair of leather boots. It could be almost porno but somehow it isn't, I guess because you check out the faces and realise you would not dare suggest such a thing to these large strong men. There are no weight restrictions, anyone can challenge anyone else. There will be three or four bouts going on at the same time with volunteers holding the pointed hats of the wrestlers and occasionally giving them a big whack on the bum if they are doing no more than hanging on. The winner breaks into a wonderful dance round the spirit flags looking rather like a bird getting ready to take off. For me the exciting thing is the horse racing. The races are run over anything up to 30kms, the jockeys are the youngest of boys and girls as the lighter the rider the better. Some jockeys are as young as 7 and no, they don't wear helmets and often have no more than a small horse blanket tied on the horse with string as a saddle. To our western eyes the horses look skinny and ill fed but if they can go full tilt for 30 kms then they must be OK. There are about five races over the two days, for one year olds, two year olds and so forth up to five year olds which is the most important race and all the spectators want to be as close to that winning horse as possible, it is deemed good luck for the dust (there is plenty) to get all over you and then when the horse is being walked slowly to cool down everyone rushes over to get some sweat from it and rubs it on their hair. Yes I did! The Nadaam festival is a sort of Mongolian version of a country fair. The dignitaries sit chattering in a tent proudly wearing all their medals, small kids roam wild, young boys and girls try their hand at popping the balloons with darts to win a bar of chocolate. Almost everyone has a horse attached to them, sometimes just with a tether draped over their arm, a bit like a handbag, sometimes they are lolling on horseback while watching the wrestling, sometimes they are trotting through the crowds and trying to control the rather spirited horses, toddlers under foot, grannies wandering around looking for grandpa, everyone in their very smartest deels and matching hats. In the brightest of colours, neon pink, bright turquoise, bright pale blue, a feast for the eyes. Couples in matching outfits. Fancy saddles on the horses. Behind the four wheel drives are horses tethered to trees with families picnicking around their hooves. Someone falls off a horse and the Mongolian method of treatment is to sit the unconscious rider up and give them a good shake! No stabilising the spine and neck here! But it seems to work! Well there is no hospital and no ambulance so it has to! Our lodging for these two nights is at an Eco lodge on the far banks of the Lake. It is our favourite so far. The peace and beauty of this place cannot be bettered. We are amongst the pine trees, wild flowers abound, the waves lapping at the shore and bleached driftwood forming sculptures on the beach, a yak or two in the garden along with the requisite horses and oh yes a full moon rising over the trees. Total magic. We have a bonfire that night around which we all sing silly songs although the Mongolians sing wonderfully tuneful folk songs which put our Hokey Kokey to shame. A brilliant last night.

Our 26 night cruise to the Black Sea

30 April 2020

It wasn't our first time experiencing a cruise and would no doubt not be the last, however it was the first time we had departed from Southampton to sail so close to the Needles at the western tip of the Isle of Wight. We were on our for a few days at sea to reach the Spanish port of Almeria and boy was it nice to set foot on land again! A week had already passed since being in UK waters and what a different view we had - Malta was visible from one library window and Sicily the other. We were approaching the Greek port town of Gythion in the southern Peloponessos. Such wonderful fish restaurants and some great ouzeries here apparently - we just had a nice mooch around then headed to the most important and interesting place to visit in the vicinity - Diros Caves. This underground system of waterways ifs fascinating to explore by boat; who knew there was an underground lake here? It was then time to take the ships tender back to our floating hotel for our evening meal. Waking up in Pireaus (the main port of Athens) was quite phenomenal and we had an exciting day ahead, starting with the Acropolis Museum (top tip - definitely book tickets online beforehand to avoid long queues).We hear bad press on Lord Elgin, wander the Evzones outside the tomb of the Unknown Soldier then back through the National Gardens with time for some yummy gelato as our reward before returning to the ship. Unfortunately upon reaching Mytilene it was too windy to make the it to land meaning we had an impromptu sea day and had to entertain ourselves onboard. Luckily there is always so much to do, however we chose to relax with a jigsaw in the spacious library whilst sailing through the Sea of Marmaris and past Gallipoli. We will look forward to seeing it in day light next week though! When we were approaching Istanbul, the wind was so strong that we ended up being late into port and I must admit it was a little bit of precarious entrance to docking ... Finally secured, we made our way to Topaki Palace; a museum subject to more colourful stories than most of the world's museums put together. Onward to the famous Hagia Sophia which is the former Greek Orthodox Christian cathedral ... later an Ottoman mosque ... and now a museum. Quite the history! The Blue Mosque, the Cisterns, the Hippodrome, Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar were all explored - you could spend an age here. We were to depart at 9pm which made for a magical evening with grandstand view of the lights and sights of the city. At Bourgas we enjoyed an hour or so exploring shops, cafes and churches throughout the town then we were on to Yalta which we absolutely loved. This town is very much 'St Petersburg of the Sea' but with the addition of a stunning mountainous backdrop. We visited the cathedral and market - which was a bit of an eye opener selling kittens in birdcages amongst other animals ... We watched a boxing match which was taking place along the front, amongst folk who were calmly playing a game of chess on the sea wall, not far from the spot from which the Russian Royal family escaped the Revolution. Oh now, Odessa and what a beautiful city this is. In fact, the dock area appears to be the in place for locals to see and be seen, in amongst the upmarket shops and hotels. We opened our curtains to the view of the Potemkin Steps, setting us up famously for a day of exploration beginning at the cathedral. An incredible building built in 1804 with immense history as you can no doubt imagine. The whole cathedral area is wonderful; with high class shops, craft markets and the Boulevards, leading to infamous Mother in Law's Bridge which is covered in padlocks symbolising loves who want to lock their hearts together forever. Quite aptly, we were followed onto the bridge by a bridal party! After lunch onboard again, we had a full afternoon in the town, wandering Shevshenko Park and the monument of the Unknown Sailor, also complete with bridal parties galore. For the absolute contrast, we arrived next in Constanta to be greeted with museum doors closing on us for the Mosaic Museum (we did finally gain entrance) and a wonderfully ornate casino building near the lighthouse on the front. Our cruise route took us back round to Istanbul and Dardanelles in the daylight which was great. Our intention was to rise early for the Istanbul sail through but were woken by a tattoo on the ships horn as we sailed under the Bosphorus Bridge – scattering boats between Asia and the Golden Horn; a larger version of Venice, perhaps. Samos is one of the greenest islands in the Aegean sea. It is the birthplace of Gods, philosophers, mathematicians, historians and many personalities, which shaped our current way of being. This is all a little ironic given the pantomime of a performance we watched as a local ferry appeared to leave several cars behind on the quayside as it departed 30 minutes earlier than advertised! We had a lovely little explore of the town; wandered past the shops, churches and parks then enjoyed local ice cream as our reward. We were then to depart and make our way across the beautiful Mediterranean Sea to Malta, where we arrived so early I was fortunate enough to catch a picture of the sunrise over Valletta. Like most of Malta, Valletta has been strongly influenced by a variety of cultures and nationalities. Most significant was the impact of the Knights from the Order of St John who were given ownership of the city in 1530. The British also had a significant impact, one that can still be seen today. We enjoyed our visit to the cathedral and saw the palace and gardens from outside. Passing the stray-cat feeding stations we then went up to the battery – at Upper Barrakka Gardens you can enjoy fabulous views across the harbour and if you time it right, be there for the midday gun salute; the ‘Saluting Battery’. Perhaps best enjoyed with an ice cream! We then found ourselves heading towards our final stop on this magnificent cruise, all too quickly 26 days were nearly over. Despite appearances on approaching from the sea, Alicante was extremely pleasant. We managed to pick up a few holiday gifts and were quite surprised at such delightful palm lined streets and blue-flag beaches which this town offers so close by. Why on earth you’d want to go to Benidorm over staying here, goodness only knows!

A long weekend in Russia

08 April 2020

A long weekend in Russia? Really, I hear you say. Yes, really! If you want beautiful cities, exquisite palaces and stunning art, then Russia really is the place to go. Yes, the visa is long winded and tedious, but once there, you’ll be glad you went through the hassle. Given said hassle, you need to think about how long you want to go for. I opted for a 5 day trip, mainly in St Petersburg but also with time in Moscow. St Petersburg is definitely a gentler introduction to Russia, with more English spoken and a more tourist friendly atmosphere. Taking into account a 4hr flight from London and a 2hr time difference, you have less than half a day on your first day. However, if you plan your trip for summer, then the long, light nights definitely are an advantage. Being July when we were there, it didn’t really get dark until gone 1am and then rose soon after. We spent most of the remainder of our first day exploring the centre of St Petersburg and finding our bearings. From the square outside the famous Hermitage art gallery, we wandered over the many bridges of St Petersburg, across to Vasileostrovskaya island, then on to Peter and Paul Fortress. Stopping here for dinner, we then crossed another bridge to the Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood. Walking down to and along the famous Nevsky Prospekt Street, before heading back to our hotel to collapse in our beds. On our first full day, we headed down to St Isaac’s Cathedral, climbing the tower for bird’s eye views of the city. From up here, you get an idea of just how many canals and rivers there are and why the city is referred to as the “Venice of the North”. Then it was back to the intricate Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood, but this time it was open and we were able to go inside. I can safely say that whilst I don’t know what I was expecting, I was not expecting that. The entire inside is made of mosaics. All the walls, the ceiling and even a large part of the floor. It was phenomenal. One of the best ways to see the city is from the canals and there are plenty of boat trips available to help with this - pick your boat carefully here. We had pre-booked tickets for the Mariinsky ballet which was to be at the Mariinsky theatre. It was a lovely cultural experience and one I would certainly recommend. Once the ballet had finished it was still light and only about 10.30pm so we went in search of dinner and a drink or two. Every night in summer at 1.30am, all the major bridges of St Petersburg are raised to let ships in and out and for some reason this seems to be a major tourist attraction with a party atmosphere by the river banks. Just ensure that you are on the right side of the bridges before they lift as they don’t go back down until 5.30am! The next day, we took a day trip to just outside the city and the amazing summer palace of St Peterhof. This was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The amount of gold statues in the impressive fountains glittering in the sunlight should have made us realise there’d be more inside. The first room you come to is the ballroom and here the entire room is made of gold. Walls, ceilings, pillars, window frames; sensational! Sadly no photos are allowed. Many of the other rooms, whilst not quite as golden, were also a sight to behold. The Palace is a 30 min hydrofoil journey from the Hermitage and upon returning here, were somewhat disappointing that our timings did not allow us to enter on this occasion. The following day, it was time to see how good our ability was to understand Russian train tickets. We had booked the 1.30pm fast Sapsan train to Moscow, but the tickets were purely in Russian so there was always an element of doubt! Happily, we had the right train and we even, with a bit of guesswork, managed to find our reserved seats. The train ran to time, was clean and comfortable, much like many other longer distance trains in Europe. We reached top speeds of just over 200kmph and so made the 440 mile journey in a little over 3.5 hours. Once in Moscow it was the little issue of getting to our hotel using a metro system that had no English. Luckily, the metro stations are so extravagant you don’t mind stopping for an extra 5 minutes in order to match up symbols and find your station. Both cities have reliable, fast, safe metro systems with the only difference being the lack of English in Moscow. All lines are colour coded though so it’s only once on the platform and deciding which direction to catch a train that is becomes an issue! For us, the main attractions were Red Square and the Kremlin. For this reason, we knew that approximately 24 hours would be sufficient. On the first evening, we spent time seeing Red Square by night. My personal highlight was finally get up close to St Basil’s Cathedral with its multitude of colours and looking almost like a cake decoration. Being further south than St Petersburg, the sun set earlier around 11.00pm. With our final day in Russia, we headed down to the Kremlin avoiding the ridiculously long queues to the Lenin Mausoleum. Our first stop was to the Armoury – a very interesting museum with weapons, outfits, jewellery and much more including a display of Fabergé Eggs. The audio guide is highly recommended as it gives a much deeper insight into the displays. Once out of the Armoury, it was into the main part of the Kremlin – Cathedral Square. There are 3 separate churches within the Kremlin, each one different but beautiful. Assumption Cathedral was the burial site of the patriarchs, Archangel Cathedral was the site of many coronations whilst Annunciation Cathedral was used as an actual church. Finally, within the Kremlin were the Tsar Bell Tower and Bell. After all this walking we decided to head back into the Red Square and see the inside of St Basil’s. The church is actually 8 separate chapels all linked together, with St Basil’s being just one of them – the last one to be built. Downstairs is a museum whilst upstairs are the actual chapels. After a late lunch, we finished off our trip with a visit to the Contemporary History Museum. Charting more recent history than the majority of other displays we had seen, the only downside was the lack of English description. As we neared the end and hit WWII the museum got a lot more interesting but we had to rush a little as it was time to head to the airport. Our little sojourn in Russia, with its extravagant palaces and beautiful churches, had come to end and left us wanting much more.

How about Christmas in Antarctica?

30 April 2020

AN UNFORGETTABLE ADVENTURE Just You Tour Manager Caroline Godfrey spent Christmas on an Antarctica cruise – here’s what she had to say about it. "Our group of 18 people flew out to Santiago. On arrival in Santiago we had a tour of the city and a Welcome Dinner in the evening when we started to get to know each other. The following day we took a flight to Punta Arenas where we toured the city and visited the second most visited cemetery in South America, which was fascinating, we also made a stop at an amazing viewpoint where we could see our ship in the distance. THE ADVENTURE BEGINS Our ship, The MS Roald Amundsen, was a hybrid powered ship and very modern. Passengers loved the onboard Science Centre with its microscopes, books and exhibits. The cabins were big, with a seating area (even the standard cabins) and the Explorer Lounge and Bar on deck 10 was a lovely place to relax. We spent a lot of time there as a group relaxing, playing games and chatting about the experiences of the day. What made the ship extra special was the knowledgeable expedition staff, who were always on hand to educate the guests. Every day was a different experience. As this is an Expedition the itinerary will depend on the weather conditions. One day you might be doing a landing and seeing penguins, another day you may be cruising through icebergs on the zodiac. Whatever the day or the experience it will stay with you forever. AMAZING WILDLIFE We experienced our first landing at Yankee Harbour. In groups of around 15, we boarded the zodiac boats, our Expedition Group was called ‘The Cape Petrels’ after a type of bird. At Yankee Harbour, we saw gentoo penguins for the first time and we were given an in-depth briefing beforehand about how to land and the protocol around these magnificent animals. It was an incredible experience to see them in the wild just doing their own thing. It was funny to watch the male penguins show off in front of the females by bring stones back to their nests – the female penguins were completely unimpressed! We then headed to Brown Bluff and the scenery was stunning. We saw more gentoo penguins and some Adélie penguins too. We went out on the zodiacs and cruised beside the icebergs, where we saw seals and birds, it was the most stunning and overwhelming feeling. I found the whole experience of being completely at one with nature quite spiritual. I went with the expectation that the most exciting thing would be the wildlife, however for me, the most amazing moment was the ice cruising. It is hard to put into words just how amazing it was and the photos don’t come close to doing it justice. I had to pinch myself the first time I saw them! After dinner one night, we sailed alongside the longest iceberg in the world – it was 159km long! EVEN MORE INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCES We then headed to Damoy Point, where some of the group decided to do the optional snowshoeing experience. It was snowing as we did it and although it was tiring, it was completely worth it. One to tick off the bucket list! Some of the group camped out that evening and loved it. There was also an opportunity to take a dip in the icy cold water. Three of the group decided to give it a go and they received a certificate afterwards – it was something they will never forget! The excitement of actually being in Antarctica was magical and everyone said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Whilst cruising we saw several humpback and minke whales and we even got a visit from Father Christmas on Christmas Eve! My advice? Take the plunge and just do it! You’re never on your own, unless you want to be of course. You’ll end up with lots of new friends and will create memories with a group of like-minded people. Travelling is about sharing!" CAROLINE’S TOP TIPS • Make sure you take plenty of indoor clothing and not just outdoor clothing • Do a little bit of research before you go • Eagerly anticipate it – it will be everything you imagine and more

Lanzarote. A Volcanic Gem with Something for Everyone

15 November 2018

Our Heartfelt Thanks to Melissa What a fantastic holiday! And we would never have found it without Melissa. All we knew was we wanted to go to the Canary Islands in August. We didn’t even know which of the islands to go to. Initially, we just asked Melissa to help us find a villa suitable for two adults in need of a break, plus three water-mad teenagers and their three friends. Not only did she find us the most fabulous accommodation, she looked after absolutely everything from booking flights and transfers to checking us in online and coming round with our boarding passes. First Impressions Having never been there before, we really didn’t know what to expect. First of all, Arrecife airport is right on the coast and, looking out of the plane window, it honestly feels as though you are about to land in the sea. One word of warning, if you are looking for pretty scenery and luxuriant, vibrant green foliage, Lanzarote is not the place. The landscape is dramatic and striking – but far more lunar than lush. Bursts of palm trees, cactus and aloe vera stand out against a sea of black, volcanic soil and a backdrop of dormant volcanoes (although you can still feel the intense heat below the surface at Timanfaya National Park). Lanzarote is also very breezy, which makes the temperature seem much more comfortable but beware of sunburn – it really is hotter than you think. Las Caletas Village, Costa Teguise The best holiday accommodation ever! Villa Coral at Las Caletas Village on the outskirts of Costa Teguise is about 15 minutes from the airport so transfers were quick and easy. We asked for somewhere with a pool, close to a waterpark and with access to a beach and watersports. This villa was absolutely spot on. It was very luxurious and, unlike many rental villas, had plenty of space, comfy sofas, quality loungers, crockery and cutlery for a party of 8. The kitchen was very well equipped for a large group and there was even a small utility room with washing machine. They had thought of everything, including a barbecue and all the tools. Even the washing powder was provided, along with a welcome pack of wine, water and fruit. Private Pool The best thing about this villa, without a doubt, was the private pool in the small but very well-planned garden. Perfect for a group of boisterous teenagers even if the water was a bit chilly. Pool floats, toys, and even a small inflatable dinghy had been left, presumably by other holidaymakers. As grass doesn’t grow in Lanzarote (much like our own grass this summer), the garden was covered in astroturf. It might sound a bit odd but we loved it. It looked lush and green and was soft on your feet. We are seriously thinking about putting it in our own garden. Costa Teguise The villa was around a 30-minute walk from the centre of town. There is a lovely seaside walk along a large part of the coast along here that takes you past a string of beaches. It’s paved and perfect for walking and cycling. So much nicer than walking along the main road, although you miss out a few shops along the way. The town of Costa Teguise is lovely, centred around the Pueblo Marinero, a walled area of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. Most open from lunchtime onwards but the whole place really comes alive as the sun goes down, with market stalls and street sellers, music and food everywhere you look. Make sure you explore all the little side streets, inside and beyond the Pueblo Marinero. We discovered a lovely little cake shop (called ‘The Cake Shop’) that did delicious breakfasts and brunches – and the best cafe con leche of the holiday. Local Specialities Something that you see all over Lanzarote is the aloe vera plant and the island produces a whole range of aloe products, with specialist shops dotted all over. We bought various lotions and potions to try and keep our suntans going for a bit longer. They seem to be doing a good job – you can still tell that we’ve been away and it’s mid-September. Another local speciality is cactus jam. Hmmm. We bought some at Teguise market and it looked lovely but it didn’t really taste of anything. Just sweet. Teguise Market Not to be confused with Costa Teguise, Teguise is in the centre of the island and used to be the island’s capital. It hosts a big market every Sunday with stalls crammed into every nook and cranny, selling everything from clothes and jewellery to local produce and freshly-squeezed juices (just what the doctor ordered after traipsing up and down the quaint, narrow alleyways). Needless to say, we got lost but, in doing so, discovered a fabulous cheese shop and a beautiful, shady courtyard serving drinks and tapas. No menu, just mixed tapas of the house, take it or leave it. We never did find out the name of it, or the cheese shop, unfortunately. Aquapark Costa Teguise Reviews of Aquapark Costa Teguise focus very much on the fact that it’s a bit past its best. So we went along, not expecting very much, and were pleasantly surprised – and with teenagers in tow, that is never guaranteed. They were old enough to go on anything they wanted to and we didn’t need to supervise. They had a whale of a time while we mooched about, sat in the shade and took a quick dip whenever we felt like it. Again, the water was chilly but it was fine once you were in. There seemed to be plenty to do for children of all ages and the food was better than average for this type of venue. Queues were long at lunchtime but what else would you expect? Timanfaya National Park We drove around the edge of the National Park on our way to Playa Blanca. We fully intended to book an excursion to see the park properly, go on a camel ride and watch the geothermal experiments – but we ran out of holiday. It is a spectacular place and I wish we’d seen El Golfo, a lurid green lake at the edge of the park. It’s on the list of places to go next time we visit Lanzarote. Would we go again? Yes, please! We loved the people, the place, and our villa was the best we’ve ever stayed in. There was so much more to do in Lanzarote but we just didn’t have time to do it all. We would definitely explore more of the island on another visit, probably on a guided tour but you can just as easily hire a car and drive yourself. Holidays with teenagers (and their friends) can be a minefield but Lanzarote lived up to everyone’s expectations. When can we go again?

Creature comforts – exploring the UK

06 September 2018

YYou don’t always have to take a flight to get the break you need. Did you know there were so many spots in the UK to have an incredible family experience? Not just the beautiful beaches of our stunning coastlines, how about a short trip to visit some fascinating animals incorporating a few days away too? Whether they chirp, road or splash, discover whereabouts in the UK your favourite creatures hang out and I’ll put some appropriate accommodation together for you to match up with an incredible all-round trip. LEMURS AT THE WELSH MOUNTAIN ZOO Conwy, North Wales You can get within metres of two species of lemurs – red-fronted and ring-tailed – who settled into their new home having arrived from Edinburgh and Belfast recently. Enter the walk-through enclosure – the first of its kind in North Wales! PENGUINS AT ZSL LONDON ZOO Regent’s Park, London A colony of super cute Humboldt penguins are loving life at Penguin Beach – their very own South American inspired exhibit. View them in the large underwater pool, penguin nursery and chic incubation unit and pool. The feeding time spectacle shouldn’t be missed! If that isn’t enough, you can meet them too (supplement). GORILLAS AT BRISTOL ZOO Clifton, Bristol Seven western lowland gorillas from Cameroon have set up home here. This group of endangered species includes Silverback Jock, four females and two babies. Observe them munching on specially made biscuits. JAPANESE SPIDER CRAP AT SEA LIFE BRIGHTON Brighton, Sussex The star of the show in The Claws exhibit is the Japanese spider crab – the largest anthropod in the world its legs can reach up to 12 ft across! You’ll pinch yourself when you get up close to the predators LIONS Africa Alive! Kessingland, Suffolk Experience the plains of the world's second largest continent as you come face to face (kind of) with the king of the jungle. See lions from the Lookout Lodge or watch them roam around in their den. GREEN SAWFISH The Deep, Hull With 2.5 million litres of water and 87 tonnes of salt, the Endless Ocean exhibit is impressive. As well as sharks, rays and turtles, a highlight is spotting green sawfish - the only place in the UK where you can see them. The endangered species and its pals get fed during the daily dive shows at 2pm, for your information. SHARKS Blue Planet Aquarium, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire Boasting one of Europe's largest collections of sharks, you'll spot sand tigers (the big one is 3.2 metres long!), zebra, lemon, nurse, black tips and white tips from the moving walkway through a 70-metre underwater tunnel. ELEPHANTS Blackpool Zoo, Blackpool, Lancashire Multimillion-pound Project Elephant includes one of the UK's biggest indoor elephant facilities built across three acres of land. New this year, it houses a breeding herd of Asian elephants in their paddock plus a sanded area, bathing pool and landscaped field. GIANT PANDA Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh The only giant pandas in the UK are based here, having been on loan from China for the last 10 years Female Tian Tian and male Yuang Guang wander around in separate but identical enclosures. You might see them get weighed if you're there in the morning. OWLS Scottish Owl Centre, Whitburn, West Lothian You'd be wise to visit this country park if you're an owl n! There are more than 100 feathered friends from 40 species and it has the largest collection of trained owls in the world, from the brown wood owl to the Eurasian eagle owl; you'll have a hoot! -------------------------------------- If you'd like help putting together some travel plans to incorporate one or more of these fascinating places, then just contact me to get things started. Not your cup of tea? Then let me know and I can start putting some options together which are more up your street and we can go from there. Email: melissa.coleman@travelcounsellors.com Tel: 07738 466 670 / 01386 897 830

My ultimate bucket list

04 September 2018

When Sarah got back from her latest round the world adventure that I'd had the pleasure of putting together, I asked her if there were still many places left on her 'bucket list' or if she'd pretty much exhausted them. Despite responding that perhaps I was just as bad, she put together a little list of things that she still hadn't managed to complete but were on the horizon for the next few years, and could I help with. Grand Canyon 'A helicopter tour of that marvellous red rock in Arizona. How cool would that be? I'm scared of heights and flying but I'd be wowed by the beauty, so it would also be a real challenge.' Australia 'Desperate to visit Oz. We tend to go to New Zealand to see family and don't stop off at Australia because after travelling for 28 hours those extra few hours really are the straw that breaks the camel's back. I'd love to go to the Whitsunday Islands and see the Great Barrier Reef. And everyone who's been to Sydney tell me they love it so much they want to move there because it's so magical!' A vineyard tour in France 'My favourite red wine is Chateauneuf-du-Pape so I'd start with a visit to the Rhone region where those grapes are grown. That would be combining two of my favourite things - fine wine and France ... what's not to love?' West coast of America road trip 'In a Winnebago with the future family; we'd start in LA and drive all the way down to San Francisco, stopping at Santa Barbara, Carmel, Monterey - I'd love to do that route, and perhaps it's one that can wait until we have kids.' Do a skydive 'I know that's a bit of a strange one, but again, as I'm terrified of heights, I'd relish the test. I want to beat my fear of flying and the thought of jumping out of a tiny metal box is absolutely mad, but I'd like to muster up the courage to do it.' ---------------------------------------- If you have adventures and dream on your bucket list, why not send them across to me so we can make THE ULTIMATE list to share with the world? Anonymously, of course!

Puffin watch

28 June 2018

Have you ever considered visiting Shetland Isles, Scotland? I have just had some avid explorers return from this tree-less region, having had an incredible holiday tracking the beautiful puffin and visiting historical sites throughout the islands. Britain's most northerly point provides a haven for thousands of seabirds, overlooking the North Sea. Although native to the Atlantic Ocean, these unmistakable birds with their black and white under-parts, distinctive heads and brightly coloured bills, can be found on the northern tip of Unst. There are seven main puffin colonies in Shetland and your most likely to spot then from April to mid-August, particularly at Hermaness Nature Reserve. Travel by hire car or on an organized trip is by far the best way to get around up here - and having your own car means you can then go at your own speed too. For a dramatic sight, visit just before sunset where these fascinating creatures sit looking out to sea. If you're there during chick rearing season (June-early August), you might spot adults bringing beaks full of fish to feed their young too. An absolutely amazing couple of weeks, highly recommended and definitely worth a return visit and these islands really do offer something quite extraordinary. The biggest shock on returning to England - was quite how many trees we have surround us here! Will definitely be heading back there in the future some more puffin watching.

Ship wrecks to dive for across the planet

28 June 2018

Shipwrecks are important discoveries. Over countless centuries, there have been many ships that have fallen prey to accidents – natural as well as caused by human interference. I have had the pleasure of putting together some incredible itineraries for an avid traveller, who has been wanting to incorporate these into her plans when she explores the world, to find some of the precious maritime treasures that have been lying at the ocean’s floor. Dimitrios - Valtaki Beach, Greece Visible from the roadside, the former freight ship's past is mysterious - no one quite knows how it got there back in 1981; some say it was torched to get rid of evidence of illegal cigarette smuggling, others claim it was just abandoned by its owners then swept loose before beaching. Either way, it makes a striking landmark and is sure worth an explore! SS Maheno - Fraser Island, Australia The most famous of the areas shipwrecks, this once well-known trans-Tasman liner was Japan-bound when it met a stormy end here in 1935 after hitting a cyclone. She's had quite a life - originally crossing back and forth across the Tasman Sea, she was then called into service as a hospital ship in 1905 then called across to the UK to serve the wounded European soldiers. It's a shame she has now been left rusting and forgotten. Sweepstakes - Lake Huron, North America Often described as the world's most beautiful shipwreck, the haunting hull of this 19th century Canadian schooner remains in just 20 feet of water. It sank in 1885 and is a captivating wreck, visited by divers and boat passengers regularly. Unfortunately, we're not able to actually go inside the wreck, but simply being able to get up close is rather amazing! Giannis D - Sha'ab Abu Nuhas, Red Sea A spectacular site underneath this treacherous reef, Giannis D is one of four wrecks in close proximity. Sha'ab Abu Nuhas Reef has brought passing ships more than their fair share of bad luck - but offering some spectacular wreck diving for us! Sunk in 1983, the Japanese freighter is also often visited by snorkellers. Bád Eddie - Bunbeg, County Durham Although part of the beach's landscape since the early 70's, the fishing vessel was only made famous when it appeared in Bono's music video for 'In a lifetime' in 1985. Pictures of the boat with Mount Errigal in the background have become one of the most famous images of the west Donegal Gaeltacht. There have been calls to replace this iconic wreck with a monument as the vessel's exposure to the elements has left it in a dangerous state. There's no time like the present - visit it now! So there it is - my account of just a handful of wrecks throughout the world which I'd recommend adding to your 'bucket list', should you have any interest at all in such beautiful, decaying objects.

A honeymoon Orient Express route through Europe

28 June 2018

When I was asked to put together my good friend’s honeymoon, I was ecstatic - what an honour - and all the way from Australia as well! When they asked for me to use the Orient Express route as inspiration, I loved it even more - what a great challenge - and I always like piecing a travel-jigsaw together! It didn't all go according to plan; one of the trains was delayed which created a knock-on effect, but overall, they were delighted and had an incredible time exploring the delights of Europe, by rail, from Paris to Vienna, then across to Budapest, onwards to Bucharest before then hopping a flight to Istanbul for a luxurious final few nights at the Sura Hagia Sofia. Here's what they had to say about it: Which was your favourite, and would you go back? Istanbul was our favourite city. It's rare to get somewhere that you've read about and dreamed of, and have it live up to your expectations. Istanbul possibly exceeded them - the people are friendly, the food delicious, the cobbled alleys so picturesque! I'd love to spend more time in Turkey based on my short stay in Istanbul! Did the trains work out as a convenient way to travel and were the connections good overall? The trains are a great way to get around if you're not in a hurry. It's nice to be able to enjoy the journey and scenery as well as the destination. Quick tip for anyone else doing the trip - there is no restaurant car between Budapest and Romania, so bring plenty of water and food on the train with you! Would you recommend the journey you took or make any changes? Bucharest was our least favourite place on the trip, though we did a food-based walking tour which was fun! Still nice to visit, but I'd recommend only a couple of days. What was your favourite food throughout Europe? I'm lactose intolerant, so luckily the hotel in Austria has lactose free milk and yoghurt for breakfast, and I had a lactose free ice cream at a park! All the food we had in Istanbul was delicious. What's one thing you would recommend doing whilst there? We loved the Moulin Rouge (and the dinner we had there!) The show was fun and energetic, and I loved every minute of it. I wasn't expecting the acrobats that came out between dances, but they were fantastic too. And everyone should treat themselves to a Turkish bath in Istanbul. We went at the hotel and it was so good. So there it is - what a fantastic trip they had and what a way to travel! If you'd like any other details on this or want to put your very own Orient Express-style journey together, then just ask me and we can start.

Italy - Amore Mio!

28 June 2018

Did you know Italy is made up of 20 regions and 6 islands? It's also home to an impressive 40 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is the fourth most visited country on the planet and the average Italian drinks more than 26 gallons of wine each year. What more inspiration do you need to visit this incredible country? Paris is synonymous with love and romance, but of course, it's not everyone's cup of tea. Ranking so high in the most desired dating destination for 2018, Italy really must be on your list for visiting - if not this year, then start making plans for the future! Perhaps it's those dreamy nights wandering past the Trevi Fountain or taking a gondola through the enchanting city of Venice, or simply a meal for two overlooking beautiful Lake Como. Whatever tickles your fancy, Italy will offer it and all you need to do is start exploring.

A multi-generational Californian Road Trip

28 September 2017

California has more national parks than any other state in USA, is the only state that has hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics and did you know that in 2015, it surpassed France to become sixth-largest economy in the world? This fascinating state has so much to offer - from a romantic trip for two, an adventure based expedition or even a multi-generational summer holiday; it really has got it all. Here's what one family had to say about their two week road trip this summer, when they took to the road in an SUV and a Mustang Convertible, naturally. San Francisco: The baseball game was fantastic and we’d recommend it to anyone for a taste of the USA! As a tip, I’d say do buy the cheapest tickets as once we were inside the arena, it did seem that you could move seats without any problem once the game was underway. Also, don’t rush to get there on time – it was half empty when the game started and full by the time we left. The Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf Hotel we stayed at was fine, clean and safe but no personal service. I wouldn’t suggest staying in Fisherman’s Wharf particularly - stay around Union Square, in the Italian district or in the Chinese district. We took a city tour on Hornblower Classic Cable Cars and could hugely recommend it if you’re there for a short time. Whipped through all the districts, drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, through the parks, saw the hippies at Haight Ashbury, the Victorian houses, dramatic descent down Nob Hill, along the seafront all in 2 hours with great commentary from amusing hosts. Half Moon Bay: We drove down the coast from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay. There seems to be two parts to that town – the charming Main Street which is slightly inland but leads to a lovely beach, and then a great harbour area about two miles away. I’d recommend a day spent mooching and lunching in Main Street then an evening spent at The Oceano Hotel at Half Moon Bay Harbor. There are several charming bars and restaurants around the harbour for supper. Move on the next day, down the beautiful coast road (Highway 1) until you see signs for La Honda. This is a town up in the mountains and if you head for this area then on to the Redwood Basin it’s a fabulous drive that takes about 3 hours through beautiful scenery, giant Redwoods, through mountain passes and creek roads. Head for Boulder Creek which is a fabulous old fashioned town that looks like something from a western movie and even has a Sherriff’s Office on the high street. Stay the night around here, either in the town or there seems to be lots of camping/hiking/lodge sort of places around. Carmel by the Sea: There’s a great walk to know about that shows you the beautiful shoreline, fabulous houses and architecture and the Mission. If you head down toward the beach, there’s a road off to the left called Scenic Road (appropriately). Probably about 2 miles in a loop back to the town centre. We found a fantastic roof top bar with great food, good service and fires to sit around, called Vesuvio in the centre of Carmel. The highlight for us on this part of the trip was the Bull Riding Event at Salinas which Melissa managed to track down for us. FANTASTIC! We’d recommend it to anyone, if dates tie up. Great atmosphere, great Margaritas, great people watching and crazy sport. We also thoroughly enjoys A.W. Shucks seafood, oysters, great service, buzzy bar with top atmosphere. Santa Barbara: The Harbor View Inn was perfectly positioned for strolling along the beach road, with the pier 5 minutes in one direction and the harbour 5 minutes in the other. There’s an electric trolley that you can hop onto for 50 cents that takes you from the beach up State Street (the main street in the city). There's the courthouse and clock tower (ask the trolley driver when to get off) which was interesting, beautiful and take the lift up the clock tower for an incredible view of the whole city. State Street is busy and buzzy, full of high street names but nowhere near as charming as the Funk Zone which is an area about 4 blocks square, just off Main Street and full of independent bars and restaurants - the Lark is a great bar with inside/outside dining and worth finding. The best ice cream in California is to be had at McConnells in Main Street. Get a water taxi from the harbour across to the pier. Then rent a bike and cycle along the beach road. Next time I'd avoid driving the coast road through LA, however we passed some great looking places and would have happily stayed a night or two in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and best of all, Laguna Beach. San Diego: A MASSIVE city made up of several different districts. We stayed in Pacific Beach and I think in hindsight we might have opted for La Jolla, which was very upmarket, safe, charming with a beach full of seals and sea lions you could swim with, fantastic top end restaurants on the cliff to watch the sunset from and loads of very fancy shops. Pacific Beach where we stayed was lovely - the beach was incredible and we rented body boards; the sea was a perfect temperature, white sand, no big drop away so perfect for holiday makers and the beach was packed with them! More a surfer area than sophistication here. Our hotel, Pacific Terrace, was fantastic – in a great position but most of all really great staff who couldn’t do enough for us to make our stay perfect. Then there seemed to be more of a hippy beach at Ocean then a really posh area on Comodoro Island with a swanky old fashioned hotel. We didn’t have time to get to the Gaslight District which apparently is buzzing with bars and clubs but if we were there for longer I would definitely have visited that area plus done a city tour, visited the world famous zoo, had brunch or cocktails at the Comodoro Island Hotel. There was a long pier opposite our hotel and it looked like you could rent large beach huts along it that you could sleep in – that looked fun. In hindsight, we should have had a night less in Carmel and a night more in San Diego, or extended both slightly and made more of a comfortable route for that last leg of the journey. However, a thoroughly enjoyable trip which we would recommend for others to enjoy - what an amazing place! TOP TIPS: - Arrive at Pier 39 by 8am, get coffee and freshly baked pastries from the amazing Boudins bakery on the pier then sit and watch the sea lions before the crowds appear - There are very few taxis around, everyone uses Uber so download the app before you go - San Diego airport is tiny so don’t expect shopping or dining of any high standard

Animals, adventure and absolute bliss in Borneo

21 September 2017

Borneo, the third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea, is made up of three countries – Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. It had been a long time coming – dreams of orangutans and tropical rainforests had consumed my mind as a teenager so when my friend suggested we ‘just get on with it’, I literally leapt at the chance! How to decide where on earth to explore when you have just two weeks and an absolute lust to see every square inch? Due to an overwhelming area for which we may well need several weeks to explore plus the element of visa requirements, we eliminated Indonesia from our research, were quick to cross off Brunei and sadly were unable to stretch our time to reach the Western Malaysian province of Sarawak too as logistically it would have consumed just too many of our limited days. So, we had finally narrowed it down to the Eastern Malaysian state of Sabah – even just this small-by-comparison area would be quite a rush! Upon arrival in Kota Kinabalu, we had a brief overnight stop before a very early flight across to Sandakan, famed for the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and Sun Bear Conservation Centre. After all these years, I finally set eyes on the beautiful creatures and Kings of the trees which are renowned in these dense forests; orangutans. We moved on to take a river cruise along the typically brown Kinabatangan River which offered such incredible opportunities for animal spotting! The river snakes through Sabah’s lowlands for 560km to reach Sulu Sea. Close up with the pygmy elephants on the river bank, tracking the Silver Leaf Monkeys swinging from branch to branch as the region reveals a mosaic of riparian forest alongside Oxbow Lake and mangroves a plenty. Making our way further south and inland, we arrive deep in the rainforest of Danum Valley and the wonderful yet sympathetically built 4* Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Armed with leech socks, we took many a guided trip and full day hike out into the (relatively) undisturbed lowland of pristine, virgin forest - one of the last strongholds of undisturbed tropical flora and fauna in the world. This area of 438 square kilometres cannot be covered in one trip, but being eager for early starts and staying out even in the most torrential of (typical rainforest) downpours, we definitely made the most of our time there. Groups of macaques eyed us calmly and majestic hornbills soared through the tree tops above as we made our way up to Coffin Cliff. Perfect views creeping into sight across the canopy and tales of indigenous people who once called this home. From Lahad Datu we flew back to Kota Kinabalu where we prepared to conquer the island’s highest peak, Mount Kinabalu at 4,095m. Despite the steps and roped-lines which have been created to assist hikers, this adventure was certainly epic and one not to be underestimated. Whether completed in 2 days/1 night or extended to 3 days and 2 nights, arriving at the summit to witness the spectacular sunrise means leaving base camp in the middle of the night – a wholly unnatural feat whereby your entire being just wants to snuggle up and go back to sleep. We made it – and all in one piece too! Now for some well-deserved R & R... Just a 30 minute boat trip off Kota Kinabalu, Gaya Island forms part of the Tunka Abdul Rahman National Park. This really was the perfect place to relax after such a hard slog of a hike, so spending three nights there felt simply blissful. The beachfront resort truly does blend harmoniously with the natural environment. Our beautiful villa hung delightfully over the translucent ocean with which we dangled our feet and cooled off after a hard day lying on our veranda. Kayaking, snorkelling and relaxing were the order of each day followed by a severe overindulgence in each of the top-class restaurants in the resort, until our mountain-fit bodies were all but a distant memory. What a wonderful way to end an utterly diverse, adventurous and incredible holiday. TOP TIP: Try to resist temptation to fit too much into your trip! If you can extend to three weeks then perfect, otherwise I would seriously recommend researching which region might tick the most boxes for you and concentrate on that area; whether it be Malaysia, Brunei or Indonesia then Sabah or Sarawak, this rugged and wild island will certainly not disappoint.

Notes from the Isles of Scilly

26 July 2017

A wonderful account by my latest travellers to spend 11 special days on the Isles of Scilly in June: We drove to Exeter and boarded the Skybus (with 12 other passengers and a black Labrador) to St. Mary's. We were collected and taken to the Star Castle Hotel where we sat on the sunny ramparts for a light lunch and bottle of delicious Champagne, courtesy of our very special travel consultant. After quickly unpacking, we ventured down into Hughtown to explore. A very gentle town with its own small selection of galleries, shops, pubs, beaches and quay. So many choices, for what is a must in Scilly, boat trips. We decided to visit Tresco (an enjoyable 20 minute sail) as we definitely wanted to spend time in the magnificent Abbey Gardens, which did not disappoint. We were then able to walk around the rest of the island before sailing back later in the day. Our next decision was how to get to know our island of St. Mary's a little better. Hire a golf buggy, sadly not as we did not bring our driving licences! Cycling, it's many years since we ventured on the roads with bikes so maybe not. A round island bus tour, day trippers off the Scillonian have just beaten us to it, full up! Ok let's walk the coastal path, there is a breeze today, ideal conditions. We discovered several amazing pre bronze age burial sites, approximately 4000 years old. Fascinating. Went into local craft shops and galleries, the whole time we were very close to the sea and we easily came across several cafe/restaurant/tea shops to revive us with delightful choices. Always a pleasure, a quick drink before dinner on our way back to the hotel. Another day happily spent. Next, a trip to the more southern island of St. Agnes. Time stands still. They have the smallest school in British Isles, a church with beautiful stained glass, the bumpiest cricket pitch and a camp site right on the water's edge. We took a 2 hour boat trip to Annet to spot sea birds, a huge variation, which included many delightful puffins and even Peregrine Falcons. Gig racing is a very popular sport here, for the very fit, and we were lucky enough to see a Friday night race from St. Mary's to St. Agnes. A very special day, on the rare low tide, we were able to walk across from Tresco to Bryher. Tractors transport barbeques, picnic tables, flags and stalls which are set up on the sand bar for a real festival atmosphere. A prosecco and gin bar, lobster and crab stall, paella and live music. Within an hour everything and every person had retreated back to one island or the other, as if nothing has happened. Quite a magical experience. Our trip to St. Martin's was a very relaxed day, walking around the cliff path to the famous daymark, visiting Polreath cafe for delicious refreshment in their delightful garden, wandering into a gallery and jewellers and enjoying a paddle in the very shallow waters before, at the end of the day, sailing back to St. Mary's. On a cooler, wetter day the museum is well worth time spent, crammed full of historic information, artefacts and multiple shipwreck stories. Altogether, the Isles of Scilly are beautiful and unique. A most enjoyable destination for very laid back exploration. Time to leave, off to St. Mary's tiny airport and amazingly greeted at check in, 'You must be Stephen and Lynda'. A very different feel to Heathrow!

Back to basics - Canadian honeymoon

26 July 2017

Four weeks is an incredible amount of time to have for a honeymoon! So, Laura and James decided to really make the most of it and combine driving, camping, sightseeing and exploring taking in the wonders of Vancouver, Whistler, Vancouver Island, Inside Passage, the fabulous train Journey from Prince Rupert to Jasper and the ice-fields parkway from Jasper to Banff. Here's a bit from them: - Would you recommend Canada as a honeymoon destination? Decided to go to west coast Canada as the Rocky Mountains was on my ‘bucket list’. We both love nature & seeing wildlife so it seemed the perfect match. Canada isn’t the most common place for a honeymoon but it was perfect for us, we are not sitting-on-the-beach types, we enjoy walking, exploring and travelling around and we certainly did that! - What did you make of the people and country - did you get to see much wildlife? The people were lovely, the scenery, and country is absolutely beautiful. We saw Black bears in the wild in Tofino (Vancouver Island), another black bear walking around Jasper town and Elk absolutely everywhere. But one of the highlights in terms of wildlife was seeing a Moose with a baby at Moose Lake. - Where would you recommend avoiding or not going to for those wanting to visit? During our journey, we travelled over land by train on a two day trip from Prince Rupert to Jasper, although the scenery was fantastic the trip took an age. We knew we were travelling at least 8 hours per day by train but these days turned into 15 hours, the tracks are single track and freight is King so our train would be pulled to a side so that freight could pass, this was a little frustrating, however it was a great experience. - What was the highlight of the holiday for you? Jasper was a definite highlight, we did an amazing free walking tour with a really knowledgeable guide, we even got to see wild black bears in the centre of town, there was always lots to do and the Alberta park rangers were everywhere to give you lots of information. One evening we stumbled across a rodeo, shared a few beers with the locals and ate Poutine whilst watching the entertainment. Jasper was a great hub to go and visit lots of other sites, including Miette Hot springs, and Maligne lake where we did a walk and stumbled across a moose and calf feeding. Jasper is a destination that we would go back and visit again. - Overall rating for your wonderful honeymoon? 10/10 AMAZING!!

A Baltic State ... in a Baltic Winter!

26 July 2017

Before parenthood, Becky and Rob visited a lot of countries throughout the world and having their two beautiful sons hasn't deterred them in the slightest! Their eldest son Archie (3), has been on many an adventure, not least to explore some of Europe's finest cities. This latest journey was with Archie and his little brother Harris (18m) to experience - what better place for a February break than Lithuania's fascinating capital, Vilnius? Despite the 'Baltic' warnings of temperatures dropping to below freezing for most of their time, Becky, Rob and their children were excited to go out exploring in the depths of winter - when few tourists venture out and the city could be explored minus the summer's hustle and bustle. Upon their return, they were kind enough to work with me to put together a bit of an 'interview' on how they found the city - in general and with two young children. Here's what they thoughts: Where have you just been and have you been there before? We've just been to Vilnius in Lithuania for the first time with our two young boys. How would you rate it out of 10 as an all-round destination? 6/10 And out of all the European cities you have visited, how does this one compare? Quite similar to other Eastern European cities. It seemed more spread out than some and the Old Town was difficult to distinguish from other areas. Was there enough for the children? If so, what did you do altogether as family activities? The Akropolis Centre (10 minute taxi ride from city centre) was good for the children as it has an ice rink and large soft play area. It also has a good range of shops. In the centre there is the castle and funicular railway which was unfortunately closed for refurbishment during our visit, but would have been great! How would you rate The Artis Hotel, which you stayed in for 4 nights (quality/standard/location)? We were really pleased with the accommodation. The room was huge and the pool was a hit with the boys. Breakfast included a good range of food (both hot and cold options). Any extra tips or recommendations for others who may want to visit? A day trip to Trakai is a must. There you will find a fantastic castle in the middle of a lake! It looks incredible - most of the rooms are open to be explored and contain some great exhibits. --------------------------------------------------- Thanks to Becky and Rob for their account of Vilnius and some top tips for where to head to when you visit. Don't forget - if you need any more ideas, just ask!

A three night city break in Tallinn, Estonia

26 July 2017

It was early April when we arrived in Tallinn, Estonia's picture perfect capital city. We'd disembarked from our flight with Ryanair at Tallinn's lovely little airport. Situated only 4km from the centre, it was remarkable to think that this cute airport was the largest in Europe when it was built in 1936. Our good impression of Estonia only got better as we arrived at the splendid Palace Hotel, our base for the next three days. Located across the street from Freedom Square and on the edge of this fine walled medieval city. For those of us used to the hustle and bustle of other European cities, Tallinn is an absolute gem. The old town, with its cobbled streets and grand squares is almost entirely devoid of traffic and people. This makes a stroll around its narrow streets and alleyways a real pleasure. Be sure to pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes as the cobbles are everywhere in old town! Museums, churches, cafes and restaurants abound with culture and cuisine to suit every taste. With so much on offer, it's easy to exhaust yourself so we made sure we had plenty of café stops - for research purposes, naturally. Climbing the narrow spiral staircase to the top of Oleviste church tower is a must - with its commanding views over the whole of Tallinn. When the spire was added in 1500 it was then the world's tallest building. There are many sights outside of the city walls of old town and easily reached by taxi or on foot if you prefer. The Seaplane Harbour Museum is worth a visit as are the historic ships moored on its quayside. The walk there from the old town takes you beside the shore of the Baltic Sea. Along the way you happen upon the crumbling Patarei Prison Museum. The prison was in use until 2004 and even when the museum isn't open you can still peer through the broken windows into the cells. The decay and sense of despair is acute as you walk past the high walls, razor wire and watchtowers. Perhaps not to everyone's taste but fascinating nonetheless. Three days in Tallinn is probably just enough to enjoy all this quaint city has to offer. And if you go in early spring as we did, you should have reasonable weather without the crowds that flock here in July & August. Thank you Estonia for providing us with such a delightful city break and the warmest of welcomes. We'll be sure to return soon.

Exploring Barcelona in March

26 July 2017

Despite the two-hour flight delay due to air strikes, we managed to arrive at Barcelona El-Prat airport in perfect time to take our transfer to the wonderfully located Hotel Balmes and wander off down Las Ramblas for a spot of vino y tapas in one of Plaça Reial’s delightful restaurants which settled us in a treat. We continued planning our few days away. Early March and the weather isn’t supposed to be hot yet, so a comfortable 14°C was a perfectly acceptable daytime temperature for us to be frantically marching around this fascinating city - until we managed to slow ourselves down, relax into the beautiful Spanish pace and admire our surroundings, properly. Where better to begin than with one of the most famous buildings in the world. Scaffolding and all, this magnificent Roman Catholic Church designed by Antoni Gaudí has left many a tourist with their jaw dropped wide open – and we were no different. Construction commenced on Barcelona's Sagrada Familia in 1882, progression was slow due to funding and was then disrupted altogether by the Spanish Civil War. Gaudí’s sudden death in 1926 left the building only a quarter complete and it would be more than 80 years later that it even reached the half way point. Gothic is combined with Art Nouveau to make it simply exquisite – a must see for all who visit this fascinating city. Although we enjoyed viewing one of Gaudí’s most fascinating buildings, La Pedrera (Casa Milà), en route, I would definitely recommend heading back at night to explore the rooftop sculpture park! Views down the street and across the top of the city … you may even be able to see one of his most spectacular buildings – Casa Batlló (also part of the UNSECO World Heritage Site) which looks like a jewel inside and out. Taking the subway across to the other side of the city, we arrived at Carmel Hill, home to the artistic and creative Guell Park – quite possibly one of the most intriguing urban parks in the world, a modernist masterpiece. Gaudí planned and directed the construction of the park for 4 years from 1900 with the intention of it becoming a residential park for sixty family residences. The centrepiece is the intended covered market, a majestic forest of immense columns with its roof forming a vast terrace with a view of the city. It must be one of Gaudí’s most playful and colourful works, completely let loose his imagination to create this area. Another day and another subway journey then cross to the metro – this time to Castell de Montjuïc atop the hill of the same name. It has an interesting history that by its very nature as a fort is full of battles, architectural renovations and politics. At some point in the future it would be nice to think the city council will better educate tourists here by informing about the struggle Catalonia has had over the centuries and how one modest citadel played centre stage to it all. The Teleferico de Barcelona and cable car plus funicular journey was a marvellous way to descend to Port Vell with beautiful views across the Mediterranean Sea. Port Vell was the perfect place to relax with a delightful glass of wine and a selection of nibbles overlooking the looming sea mist fast approaching this renovated harbour area. For our final day, we returned to some of our favourite vino y tapas bars and explored the beautiful Gothic Quarter. Once a Roman village, this is the centre of the old part of the city of Barcelona stretching from La Rambla to Via Laietana and from the Mediterranean seafront to Ronda de Sant Pere. The fabulous mix of old and new brings people from all over the world to explore the narrow, winding streets which create the labyrinth which is key to this Gothic Quarter. Just remember to look up and around so as not to miss some of the best bits! Wander back up to La Rambla and be careful not to miss the arched walkway through to the hidden feeding halls of Mercat de la Boqueria. Resist overindulging at the first stalls, keep moving and enjoy a reward of local beer and perhaps a seafood platter further down the line – it’s simply too good to miss! The incredible contrast between colours and activity is mind blowing. These markets are perfect for discovering why Mediterranean cuisine is internationally known for its ingredients; the best products from Catalonia in one place – fruit, vegetables, fish and seafood and tapas bars. Try El Quim to name but one. Whether you have two nights or two weeks, you will not be lost for thing to see, do, eat or drink so book your trip, grab a guide book and go exploring one of the finest cities in the world. TOP TIPS: - Stay in Eixample area for great hotels at much better prices than on Las Ramblas and still within walking distance to most sites. - Visit Castell de Montjuïc after 3pm on a Sunday and you can get in free!

Top 5 ski resorts for guaranteed snow!

26 July 2017

It’s not too late to get booking your ski break for 2017 – the season is in full swing. Here’s my top five locations and resorts which won’t disappoint. 1. Val d’Isère-Tignes, France With slopes up to 3,456m and the largest artificial snow-making plant in Europe these two contrasting yet linked resorts boast a giant ski area with 300km of pistes. Val d’Isère is dominated by chalets and 4-5* hotels whereas Tignes is primarily full of apartments and a few hotels with a series of purpose-built ski stations at varying altitudes. Glaciers aside, the incredible altitudes of slopes generally ensures this as a snow-sure destination – and in any case, Val has the largest artificial snowmaking plant in Europe which could fill an Olympic size swimming pool in 30 minutes! 2. Verbier, Switzerland Offering a top lift at 3,300m, you can imagine the powder buffs that this resort attracts. Snow cover is pretty much guaranteed at altitude and this helps Verbier keep its title of ‘Freeride Capital of the Alps’. Lower slopes can suffer if snow fall is low, but with 400km of linked pistes to explore, I would highly recommend buying the 4 Valleys lift pass. 3. Lech, Austria An upmarket village in the Voralberg region with slopes up to 2,450m. The region shares a lift pass and a link with neighbouring St Anton – however Lech boasts superior snow cover and has the highest average annual snowfall of any resort in Europe! The North-facing slopes and snow guns help keep the 185km of runs in good condition throughout the season. 4. Whistler, British Columbia 3,300 skiable hectares to explore, slope altitude up to 2,285m and rain commonly falling as powder snow around the top lifts – it’s no wonder this is the most popular ski resort in North America for British visitors. The maritime climate can provide harsh and changeable weather, but with the two central areas of Whistler Village and Blackcomb offering gondola access to the mountains, you will be able to warm up and head back out as you wish. 5. Val Thorens, France The highest village ski resort in Europe sits at 2,300m with the highest lift travelling to 3,230m; the top point of the whole 600km Trois Vallées ski area. Being so high up ensures decent snow conditions from late November until early May. Don’t miss out on this year’s ski season – contact me to discuss hitting the slopes for your next holiday.

A honeymoon in Iceland

26 July 2017

I was delighted to be asked to put together an exciting and exploratory honeymoon to beautiful Iceland for my good friends Jen and Ric. Five days of romantic times, driving in snow and seeing the Northern Lights – here’s what they thought: - Where did you go on your honeymoon and have you been there before? We’ve just been to incredible Iceland – never been before but it’s been on the ‘bucket list’ for a very long time! - How would you rate it out of 10 as an all-round destination and as a honeymoon destination? 9/10 definitely! What a magical place, despite the snow flurries and crazy February temperatures, it really was such an adventure which was just what we asked for. - Is there anything you wished you could have seen/visited or done which you didn’t have time for? We would have loved to have stayed longer to explore the north and east of the island but unfortunately time just didn’t allow, this time. If we went again, we would like to visit in the summer to get more of a feel for the colours and landscape – the day before our arrival it snowed more than it had done since 1937! We would explore closer to Vik to see the waterfalls there and perhaps fly east, and add about 10 days to our trip! - What was your favourite food/restaurant or bar there? There were lots of really nice places in Reykjavik to eat and drink. We also really liked Kaffi Krus in Selfoss. My favourite eatery was a little, simple and slightly scruffy cafe in Hveragerdi called Gottis og Maeran – delicious ice cream! - Would you go back? Absolutely! I think it’s already planned in my head, so watch this space - Melissa I'll be in touch!

Top 5 travel wish list holidays for families in 2017

26 July 2017

Sometimes it’s just not enough to stay at home for the holidays. Perhaps you’ve been saving or even just waiting for that list of inspirational ideas to appear in front of you before taking the plunge and taking your family abroad. Have a read of my top 5 favourite ideas for you and let’s whet your appetite: 1. The ultimate city break - Rome, Italy Where to go: Rome for its history, culinary masterpieces and memory making. A place where children are adored, babies are fussed over and it’s short-haul! Teens will be equally as happy wander the Eternal City While you could spend weeks here, Rome is also perfect if you have only a short time for a break. This capital of ancient history, fantastic cuisine, and stunning beauty will please even the grumpiest of adolescents. It’s possible to coordinate with the school curriculum, meaning trips to the Vatican or the Colosseum will seem like an investment in your child’s academic future - with breaks for gelato and Roman pizza or even a side trip to Naples! 2. Cultural and culinary delights - India Where to go: India for a spot of culture, wildlife and culinary adventure in Kerala. Best for children aged 8-14 In two weeks, you could visit tea farms, wildlife sanctuaries and even take a cruise of the Keralan backwaters. A visit to the oldest European settlement in India will be the icing on the cake of exploring Kerala. The cherry is to add three nights at the end for some well-deserved R & R before returning home. 3. A wild adventure in the west - California, USA Where to go: California – Yellowstone and Sequoia National Parks are best for toddlers and upwards (some activities are age dependent) With 59 national parks to choose from and spanning 27 states, your family will have plenty to explore. My favourite for families is Sequoia, for its easy access and fantastically tall trees. A trip to Yellowstone is a must and one of the best places to camp in the US. Please try to avoid confrontation with a bear to enjoy some of the park’s 300 geysers! These enchant visitors of all ages – Old Faithful, the most famous, comes by its name honestly: it erupts 17 times each day, so you won’t miss it. The park offers a Junior Ranger programme, with guides for children ages four and older as a great way to navigate the park safely together. 4. Sun in the UAE - Dubai Where to go: Dubai – a family destination for children of every age! It’s not all about the sunshine – yes its average daily winter temperature is 25°C and there’s hardly any rain, but what about the seven plus theme parks which range from Legoland to IMG Worlds of Adventure? So, between lounging by the pool and soaking up the sun, you can wear out thrill-seeking children with a tour of the best of the new roller coasters, attractions themed around popular films. As always in Dubai, nothing will be done by half: Legoland’s water park features a half-million-gallon wave pool, and Legoland’s Dragon roller coaster is designed to reach speeds of 60km per hour. 5. A jungle safari - Costa Rica Where to go: Costa Rica is the ultimate destination for children of school-age to most appreciate the variety here. The best time to visit is during the dry season, from December to April There has never been a better time to visit Costa Rica – take advantage of the regular flights to reach the country regularly topping lists of the ‘world's happiest countries’. Costa Rica crams a rich variety of wildlife adventures into one conveniently small geographical package; there will be something for everyone in your family. While parents crane into the canopy for sloths, monkeys and macaws, children will be rummaging at ground level for poison-arrow frogs and other bizarre mini beasts. Zip-lining and river-rafting opportunities provide an adrenalin rush for thrill-seeking family members – although parents may prefer to steam gently in the natural hot springs of the volcano slopes...

My weekend in Kraków

26 July 2017

With easy flights, a complex history and modern feel, Krakow is not just about stag weekends – it makes a simple yet sophisticated city break option. For far too long Krakow has had something of a reputation for attracting crowds of soon-to-be-married gentlemen on stag weekends, but it really does deserve better. Poland’s second city and former capital is upstanding and architecturally fine: the showpiece Wawel Castle has undergone major restoration since the country gained independence in 1918, while Rynek Glowny, supposedly Europe’s largest medieval city square, is truly an incredible feat. During the Second World War, the Nazis made Krakow their home. While the rest of Poland was bombed, the old city was preserved. In their 70th year of liberation, the Auschwitz concentration camps make for an uncomfortable but worthwhile visit, for which you should put aside the best part of a day. The main site is about an hour from the city and is a lasting reminder of the Nazis’ depravity, the sheer scale of their extermination programme, and the lasting impact of the genocide on Poland’s population. Fortunately, Poland today is a happier place. So when you go, relive memories - painful, yet necessary, and take the chance to wander through a city that merits a better history than it has endured. An idea of what you to do with your days: Day One On arrival, make for the main square and St Mary’s Cathedral. Inside, wander around this stunning building and marvel at the overall highlight; the pentaptych altarpiece. With an absurd number of bars and ‘beer-houses’, try the Pijalnia Wodki i Piwa first – a 24-hour bar serving quince and plum vodkas within the newspaper covered walls. For more local atmosphere and cuisine, make your way across to Pod Aniolami restaurant where you really should try the wild boar with juniper berries whilst sitting in the 13th century cellar. Day Two On your first full day here, head to Wawel Hill, which has seat of Polish kings for over 500 years. The Royal Castle here is a magnificent Renaissance construction housing state rooms and private royal apartments with some of Poland’s most treasured works of art, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, on display. Whilst up there, take a peek into Wawel Cathedral with its ice-cream scoop domes or one of the permanent exhibitions which are on-site. Taking lunch in Krakow’s Jewish quarter will show another side to this city. With a ‘make hummus not war’ attitude, visiting Hamsa is a relaxing experience offering mezze platters, full mains or their traditional ‘laffa’ bread. The area of Kazimierz is home to the Old Synagogue – a striking example of the buildings that survived the war. Making sure you have time in between to wander the streets and take in the wonderful atmosphere, cross the Vistula to Oskar Schindler’s factory which is just past the MOCAK contemporary art gallery. Although this museum may be unsettling, you will come away with a better sense of Poland’s situation in the Second World War. It would be wrong to come all this way and not visit the famed chocolate shop of Krakowska Manufaktura Czekolady. It's an extraordinary display of cakes and hot drinks to warm you up after a full day out. Although the restaurants around the main square have beautiful views, I feel that they are somewhat overpriced and food is not always reliable. If you are happy to walk 10 minutes south to Pod Baranem restaurant, you will be pleasantly surprised at the slick service and delicious food on offer. Day Three The Nazis renamed the small town of Oswiecim, 44 miles west of Krakow, as Auschwitz in their Germanisation programme of Poland. Here, they established a series of concentration camps, where at least 1.3 million people were deported. Today, visitors can see the original brick barracks at the Auschwitz I camp, and the bleak, terrible expanse of Birkenau. Displays include mounds of shoes belonging to the prisoners and 40kg of glasses, collected as plunder. Independent visitors must reserve tickets in advance to guarantee access. You may find it easier to book a tour, so we can discuss the options for you – including coach travel and guide. A lovely last evening might be spent tasting some of the local beer then dining at Albertina Restaurant & Wine – Polish cuisine with a Mediterranean twist! Also, Albertina can boast Poland's only ‘Enomatic system’ of self-service wine dispensers, with a superb range of 32 wines to buy by the glass. Just make sure you can get up for your flight tomorrow! My top tip for travel in Krakow? Watch your step! The streets are shared by cars, trams and buses, and jaywalking is an offence. Enjoy your trip!

5 Best Easy Hikes with Great Rewards

26 July 2017

There are few things better than a long, tough hike - except maybe a short, easy hike that puts you in the thick of the wild in a hurry. Short hikes are ideal for those people who say they don’t like to hike - your grandmother, your new significant other, maybe even you. And who knows, once those non-hikers get out on the trail, they may want more. With a love of easy hikes to gorgeous landscapes in mind, I put together this list of the best little walks with great rewards: 1. Rifugio Bonatti, Courmayeur, Italy Distance: 7 miles (11.3 kilometres) one-way from Courmayeur Great reward: European comfort in the shadows of the wild Mont Blanc massif Get stuck in: Tucked at the foot of the hulking white mass of 15,776-foot (4,809-metre) Mont Blanc, the village of Courmayeur is more laid-back than the extreme-sport-minded French town of Chamonix on the other side. It has a long history of mountaineering, including the second oldest mountain guide association in the world. In 1850 the Società delle Guide di Courmayeur was established - you may like to visit their extensive climbing museum in town. The valley also boasts one of the best hut systems in the Alps, including the gem of Rifugio Bonatti. With a sweeping view of glaciers, and the peaks of the sharp ridge of the 13,806-foot (4,208-metre) Grandes Jorasses, the rifugio is more mountain hotel than hut, serving up Italian delicacies and aperitifs from a full bar. While the hike from town takes in about 2,800 feet (853 metres) of vertical gain, a sip of espresso or fernet, an Italian spirit, at the hut will certainly ease the pain (or you can get a shuttle ride up the valley and cut the hike down to about an hour and 900 vertical feet/274 metres). 2. Imja Tse (Island Peak), Nepal Distance: 35 to 40 miles (56.3 to 64.4 kilometres) Great reward: A Himalayan peak that non-climbers have a good shot at summiting Get stuck in: This is no easy hike. It’s a mountaineering trip up a 20,305-foot (6,189-metre) peak in the Himalayas that requires the proper equipment and experience - but it is the most climbed peak in the Himalayas and a summit that strong hikers aided by guides have a good chance to stand atop, without all the dangers and commitment of famed 26,247-foot (8,000-metre) summits like Everest or Annapurna. The trek begins on the Everest Base Camp route, before heading off to a string of high mountain villages and base camp. From the top, you can gaze out across the range, including an impressive view of Lhotse, with Everest hidden right behind it (after you have summited you can head to Everest Base Camp as well). Climbing the peak is also a boost to the people of Nepal, especially those in this region who were devastated by the earthquakes of 2015 and need tourists to return to continue rebuilding. 3. Gleninchaquin, County Kerry, Ireland Distance: 2 - 4 miles (3.2 to 6.4 kilometres) Great reward: An easy romp that puts you in the heart of the wild Irish countryside Get stuck in: The magical valley of Gleninchaquin Park, which the end of the last ice age left exposed 70,000 years ago, makes you feel as if you have wandered back into Gaelic legend. No wonder, meadows here attracted nomadic people like the wandering Fianna who set up camp then left remains in cooking areas. This is a private park and there are working farms and sheep grazing within it, so the bucolic history here is as much a part of the hike as the green, open spaces, still lakes, waterfalls, and grassy hillsides. Several short hikes take in this area, from a short jaunt around the farm to an off-trail scamper on the high country. 4. Hooker Valley Track, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand Distance: 3 miles (4.8 kilometres) round-trip Great reward: Rain forest opens up into big views of New Zealand’s Southern Alps and stops at a glacial lake Get stuck in: It’s tough to find another hike this short that takes in so much: In just three miles (4.8 kilometers) the Hooker Track serves up rain forest, suspension foot bridges over a rushing river, sweeping views of the island nation’s largest peaks, glaciers, and the milky blue waters of lake. With 12,218-foot (3,724-metre) Mount Cook lording over it, this national park typifies the stark contrasts of the South Pacific, where glaciers climb up steep, heavily forested peaks almost straight from the sea and unhinged storms can close things down at any time. But all you need is an afternoon stroll on the Hooker Track, which begins at the visitor centre and ends up at a lake at the foot of the glacier that often holds calved chunks of ice floating on it. In between, it’s a tromp through the strewn boulders of the moraine and open country and stops at viewpoints that give a sense of the massive scope of the Southern Hemisphere’s most impressive set of peaks. 5. Les Dentelles de Montmirail, Gigondas, France Distance: 4 miles (6.4 kilometres) Great reward: A glass of one of the Rhone Valley’s best wines in the middle of a hike to soaring limestone fins Get stuck in: While it may be a bit longer than other hikes on this list, there’s one big difference here - the incentive of wine en route. And not just any wine. Gigondas is one of the best wine regions in the Rhone Valley – the name roughly means “the happy place”, as ancient Roman soliders would relax with the wine from the vines here. The vineyards drape the forested, limestone hills of the Montmirail and the town of Gigondas offers up samples of the wine at caves right in the main square. The real treat is up above the town where the limestone fins of Les Dentelles rise up above the surrounding hills. Les Dentelles draws climbers from around the world, and the trail runs right along the base of them. It’s a stiff hike to reach them, but it's tempered by easy strolling along some of the vineyards and the reward of a glass of wine and meal. The route starts just outside of town—you can shorten it and just hike up to admire Les Dentelles from Gigondas or lengthen it by hopping on the larger GR de Pays de Montmirail trail system and trekking to neighbouring towns.

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10/10 - Melissa is brilliant and helpful. We have used her for both business trips and personal holidays. Recently we had to change a few itinerary details last minute and with Melissa on hand, it was so stress-free!

Sent by Laura Herrity

10/10 - Melissa has been absolutely amazing. Answering all our questions quickly and helping us decide on our holiday!

Sent by Shaun Capel

Great friendly services & makes sure all questions/queries are responded to quickly!

Sent by Lesley Shapcott

10/10 - We trust Melissa completely to gives good advice and holiday choices with expertise. We know we can rely on her to support us in choosing a holiday. It takes away any worry knowing Melissa is there.

Sent by Janice Street

10/10 - Having used travel counsellors before COVID-19 lockdowns, I am more than happy to use the service again. Many times I have travelled on my own and to know somebody else 'has your back' and is available to help, if needed, before during and after the holiday is brilliant.

Sent by Jonathan Coleman

10/10 - Always very helpful and thorough!

Sent by Philip Ashton

10/10 - Nothing is too much trouble. If she doesn't know something she always finds out and returns a call. Very knowledgeable and a very nice person too!

Sent by Louisa Heyworth

10/10 - Melissa was so patient with us and provided us so many options and really useful advice on destinations (particularly the time of year we are travelling for our honeymoon). Couldn't speak more highly of her. Super way to book and plan a holiday (stress free...perfect if you are planning a wedding).

Sent by Tracey Taylor

10/10 - Melissa has been fab re booking our honeymoon after we had to cancel our wedding! Always replied promptly and kept us informed .

Sent by Diane Neath

10/10 - Melissa is very professional and efficient and always responds to any queries very quickly.

Sent by Geoff Gardner

Melissa has been very good, particularly over re-arranging our planned honeymoon [due to COVID-19]. Thank you!

Sent by Amy Woods

10/10 - Melissa has been amazingly helpful and organised - both with reorganising our honeymoon and booking us somewhere to go in England this summer. We would recommend her services time and time again! No pressure at all and it’s been nice to sit back and have someone else lead knowing we’re in safe hands!

Sent by Michelle Webley

10/10 - Mel Coleman is absolutely superb. Nothing is too much trouble and she’s always on hand to help quickly. Highly recommended!

Sent by Sarah Heydon

10/10 - From start of booking to the end went very smoothly and Melissa is always happy to answer any questions or help in any way she can.

Sent by Clare Kenny

10/10 - Thank you Melissa for all you have organised [for us around Ireland]!

Sent by Rosemary Logan

I'm very lucky that the marvellous Melissa Coleman Travel Counsellor booked a birthday holiday for me to enjoy in Fuerteventura before life became curtailed for us all. It looks a little like I visited the moon and holidays may feel as remote as the moon for the moment, but hopefully it won't be long until we can think about planning future trips.

Sent by Rob Slatter

I have booked numerous holidays over last 3 1/2 years with her and all have been excellent. However, you only really know the true value of communication, customer service and organisation when you have a problem ... We’d booked with Flybe to Berlin and obviously this was cancelled due to the failure of the airline. Melissa offered us other flights (sadly none worked for us) other destinations (but the dreaded coronavirus has made us cautious) and thus arranged a full refund with no hassle or bitterness. It’s exactly why we will book our next holiday via her - total trust. Thank you!

Sent by Bryan Carson

10/10 - Melissa is a superb TC who exhumes professionalism and personal care and consideration. I have already recommended her to friends and colleagues.

Sent by Amanda Butteriss

10/10 - So great to have Melissa arranging our plans and I'm already spreading the word!

Sent by Sharyn Lindores

Absolutely crazy times right now in the world. Melissa was made to be a travel agent so we know we and everyone else are in the best hands.

Sent by Ken Riley

10/10 - Excellent service. Attention to detail. Could not be better.

Sent by Rachel Brackenridge

I just wanted to email and say thank you for organising a fantastic holiday for us all. The chalet was brilliant and catered for the 12 of us really easily. The chalet hosts were lovely and the food was to a really high standard. We all had a thoroughly good time and I know the consensus was that you had done a brilliant job in finding us that level of quality holiday. All in all, a brilliant experience.

Sent by Anne Rothwell

10/10 - Nothing is ever too much for Melissa. She is always prepared to answer any queries that we may have quickly sorts out any problems that crop up.

Sent by Michelle Webley

10/10 - Recommended without question. Always brilliant!

Sent by Marg Bland

10/10 - Melissa did a great job of finding exactly what we wanted in a short time frame. I’d have no hesitation using her again or recommending her to other people!

Sent by Hannah Simmons

10/10 - Love this chica!

Sent by Mike Howard

10/10 - Recommended to Melissa from friends who have used her for several holidays. Not disappointed ! Extremely professional in every way and have already recommended her to some of my other friends. I will continue to call her to arrange future trips.

Sent by Karen Bradshaw

10/10 - Melissa is an absolute star, she is my go to now every time we book a holiday. We have recommended her to our family and friends with absolute confidence.

Sent by David Moore

We were very impressed by the organisation throughout, right from being met at Dusseldorf airport on the way out to there even being a Riviera representative there on the way back to show us where to check in. The ship and crew were excellent, coach tours well-organised and the Cruise Director very clear and efficient with all announcements in addition to being a real comedian! Thanks again: we will definitely be travelling with Riviera in future, using Melissa Coleman of Travel Counsellors as our agent as this time.

Sent by Mathew Clamp

10/10 - Fantastic Service and very knowledgeable!!

Sent by Joanne Haverson

10/10 - Locations and accommodation always outstanding!

Sent by Sue O'Sullivan

We asked for a reasonable priced holiday and that’s what got; good value for money and the beach that was in walking distance from the hotel was delightful. There was also a free land train we could use. We had a lovely break and will definitely use your fantastic services again! Loved your contact texts and especially the welcome home card and gift!

Sent by Sue O'Sullivan

We had a lovely holiday, your arrangements made everything run smoothly. The transfers and all the info you provided was second to none! The hotel was quirky but spotlessly clean; the staff were working like troopers from morning to night and were faultless. Thank you!

Sent by Lesley Shane

10/10 - Melissa is so very helpful, friendly and efficient ..we knew pretty much what we wanted but asked her to interact a couple of times with the tour company we wanted to use in India. She locked in a sales price for us and followed it all up. I highly recommend Melissa for all and any of your travel needs. She will do just a tiny bit or all of it, whatever you need. Thanks yet again Melissa.

Sent by Philip Ashton

10/10 - Every detail we asked for Melissa delivered. A stunning holiday very well organised for us. She also guided and reassured us about the unknowns we had. She included personal touches that made it all the better. A professional and likeable lady.

Sent by Amanda Bennett

10/10 - We were impressed that Melissa could work so quickly to find us an alternative holiday after we had concerns about our original holiday booked through another travel company. Absolutely chuffed when she came back to us - and it was within budget!

Sent by Lynda Coleman

10/10 - We recommend Melissa's expert knowledge, caring help with choices and passion for travel to everyone we know.

Sent by Rahul Krishnamoorthy

Would recommend [Melissa] to all friends travelling with family/big groups, such a simple, hassle-free way to sort travel plans! Almost all of my single friends book online themselves as they prefer hostels but I think they'd love Melissa's services - competitive, quick and limitless expertise.

Sent by Kevin Cornwall

Melissa has helped us find our dream honeymoon suggesting resorts we wouldn’t have found without her. A very professional and helpful service, we would recommend her without hesitation.

Sent by Sheetal Murthy

Melissa has helped us plan our holiday in Majorca. Being new parents struggling to find the time to find and plan a holiday that suits us as a family has always been a struggle. Melissa has taken away all of that hassle and has made our holiday planning totally stress free and we are now looking forward to the holiday.

Sent by Peter Nicholls

Had a good flight, accommodation is great and we have found a good bistro. Been to Monte today and on the toboggan; a bit hairy when you go round corners at speed sideways, but survived unscathed. Will be happy to tell you all about it sometime. In the meantime thanks for a first class job.

Sent by Sam Eggleton

She’s brilliant! What ever you want she can do!

Sent by Christine Bartle

Thank you so much for finding us the perfect weekend away. Flights were good times, transfer was professional, hotel was ideally situated, and the city [Krakow] was so buzzing and fascinating. There was so much to see too. Even Ryanair was on time!! Thank you again and obviously I let Kev and Nicola know about you and you've found them a honeymoon which was perfect!

Sent by Lesley Shapcott

10/10 - Excellent service finding what we wanted. Very approachable with all sorts of queries. Thank you Melissa!

Sent by Sue O'Sullivan

10/10 - Fast, professional and fantastic service, kept us updated throughout the whole painless process! Will definitely use again, highly recommended.

Sent by Jane Evans

10/10 - Melissa offers a first class service. Although our trip has yet to take place, we are confident it will be great as we’ve used Melissa twice before with great success.

Sent by Christine Rogers

10/10 - Always helpful and very efficient. Thank you.

Sent by Sarah Coleman

10/10 - Melissa was born to do this job! She’s fantastic and a credit to Travel Counsellors.

Sent by Tracy Fairston

10/10 - Melissa is very helpful, I am totally useless with bookings etc and could not live without her now!

Sent by Karen Bradshaw

10/10 - Melissa is an absolute star, she is always at the other end of the internet, she has organised our holidays to the finest details, we have just booked our second trip and looking forward to her arranging our 3rd!

Sent by Michael Dunn

10/10 - Extremely friendly and personal service from Melissa Coleman, very patient and co-operative in arranging our trip exactly as we wished it to be.

Sent by Kevin Cornwall

10/10 - Melissa has done a fantastic job in finding us the perfect honeymoon destination which we would not have found without her assistance.

Sent by Mary Brotherton

10/10 - Very caring and professional. Highly recommend Melissa.

Sent by Janice Smith

10/10 - Definitely recommend Melissa. She is a great help and sorts everything out for you. Brilliant service!

Sent by Ken Riley

What a fantastic hotel and we had a terrific holiday! The food was a credit to them (Bahia del Duque) and I would say second to none. Thank you very much for the recommendation and we will definitely be in touch with you next time we are thinking of holidays!

Sent by Pamela McMahon

10/10 - Thanks Mel for all your ideas and support booking the tour, appreciate it!

Sent by Sarah Heydon

10/10 - Melissa is very accommodating she takes all of your wishes and wants into account and comes up with some lovely properties.

Sent by Michelle Webley

10/10 - Melissa is always friendly, knowledgeable and super efficient. Highly recommended!

Sent by Nicola Clamp

10/10 - Really responsive, approachable and worked hard to get the best deal for us. Looking forward to utilising her advice in the run up to our dream holiday.

Sent by Sam Eggleton

10/10 - Melissa is brilliant!

Sent by Sandra Furness

10/10 - Melissa recently arranged a long weekend for us and a group of friends in Krakow. Her help and knowledge was invaluable. Great Service!

Sent by Sue Miles

10/10 - Very friendly, efficient and knowledgeable and she provided suggestions and quotes for 4 city breaks for a party of 8 to choose from very quickly.

Sent by Ian Thompson

10/10 - Friendly, personal and very quick service. Very impressive.

Sent by Laura Hibbard

10/10 - Absolutely great service, will use again and again.

Sent by Elizabeth Moore

It was a very easy process to make the booking and it was handled with care. All questions we had were handled satisfactorily.

Sent by Peter Nicholls

10/10 - Melissa, you went to no end of trouble. Only nasty spot was when we thought we were going to have to, fly from Gatwick at dawn! All rectified and sorted - looking forward to our trip!

Sent by Gemma Dale

10/10 - Melissa did a fantastic job in finding our ski holiday. She provided multiple options on budget for us to choose from and refreshing new ideas which we hadn’t considered before. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending her to friends and family, she couldn’t do any more for you. Thank you so much Mel, we cannot wait for our holiday!

Sent by Elizabeth Gardner

10/10 - Melissa understands your needs and does her best to accommodate them. She also adds a personal service so that you feel confident and well looked after.

Sent by Anne Rothwell

10/10 - Working with Melissa to book our holiday was the best experience I have had with regards to travel arrangements.

Sent by Chris Nightingale

10/10 - The score absolutely represents everything you have done for us so thank you once again.

Sent by Lesley Shane

10/10 - Melissa is always very helpful with my travel plans. I like to do quite a lot of planning myself, it being part of the adventure for me, and Melissa fills in all the important stuff, comes up with great suggestions, finds nice hotels and reminds me about the boring things like visas! It is a pleasure to work with her. She doesn't pressure me and puts everything together in a perfect package for me, thanks Melissa!

Sent by Norma Barber

10/10 - Melissa made everything so easy from booking flights to paying securely. She is a delightful young woman and I certainly will recommend her services to friends and family.

Sent by Debbie Glover

10/10 - Melissa has offered us an excellent service, we are very pleased with the holiday we have ultimately booked.

Sent by Stephen Lamb

10/10 - Nothing too much trouble, great options provided!

Sent by Lynda Coultas

10/10 - Melissa seemed to have knowledge of all the places we wanted to go and with that experience it has made the planning fun. She worked hard on finding the right hotels, and amending the itinerary to suit our plans, many times, but nothing was too much trouble.

Sent by Tracy Fairston

10/10 - I have always found Melissa very helpful full of great suggestions and always there if I have any problems or questions she is there from start to finish. I wouldn’t consider a holiday now without Melissa.

Sent by Karen Bradshaw

10/10 - First time we have booked our holiday through an advisor, totally recommend Melisa, she has been so helpful in helping us build our perfect holiday.

Sent by Lesley Shapcott

10/10 - Melissa was extremely helpful in finding us appropriate accommodation and allaying fears about travelling.

Sent by Tim Roberts

10/10 - Friendly and efficient service again from my wonderful Travel Counsellor Melissa!

Sent by Sarah Fisher

I don't need to imagine how good it feels to deal with Melissa, as I already have her as my own, personal Travel Counsellor! She has totally taken the stress out of travelling with a tot organising a perfect destination, hotel, cot, transfers with car seats and doing all the research into toddler friendly day trips! This has resulted in the most perfect family holiday for us all. Couldn't recommend her highly enough; and if you're wondering, it is NOT, I repeat NOT more expensive to book through Melissa - you just get more for your money as she has so much travel experience and is dedicated to making sure you have the trip of the lifetime! Thanks for a wonderful holiday, Melissa!

Sent by Serena Lamley-Crowe

I would certainly recommend Melissa, the service I received was professional and very efficient. Everything we wanted for our holiday and more has been sorted. Being able to have contact outside of a normal working hours is great for busy people, and nothing was too much trouble.

Sent by Jenny Hart

10/10 - Excellent. Very good ideas for our honeymoon. Very friendly and professional advisor. Thank you!

Sent by Ben Fisher

Very impressed with the service Melissa offered. She came back with a quote very quickly which provided a range of options to suit my budget. What is lovely is the time she took to ask all of the right questions to ensure I ended up with exactly the trip I wanted. Wouldn't hesitate to recommend Melissa to family and friends and I will definitely use her services again in the future.

Sent by Pamela Wimmer

10/10 - Melissa has been extremely patient with all my changes and has come up trumps with what looks like a fabulous trip in Norway. Thank you Melissa!

Sent by Claire Davis

10/10 - Sean and myself are very pleased with all your patience, support and fact finding relating to the booking of our vacation to Malta next year, and we would like to award you a score of 10 for all your efforts. We also look forward to your valuable support and experience leading up to the travel date. Excellent customer service!

Sent by Betsy Stone

10/10 - Melissa provided a thorough itinerary that was exactly responsive to my request. I am delighted with her recommendations and can hardly wait for the trip!

Sent by Noelle Douglas

10/10 - I wouldn't just recommend Melissa Coleman to my friends, I would actively encourage them to use her! Melissa's expertise and her ability to tailor in my circumstances a family holiday to our specific requirements has been great. Melissa was attentive and active in listening to my needs and responded accordingly. I'm very pleased and will now doubt plague Melissa for many years to come on future holidays.

Sent by Diane Burman

10/10 - Melissa was a breath of fresh air. She made booking our excursions very easy and simple. I would definitely use Melissa again and would not hesitate to recommend her to friends and family. Melissa was extremely happy and very patient and extremely professional.

Sent by Maureen Woodcock

10/10 - Melissa quickly sorted our chosen holiday and remained in contact regularly throughout.

Sent by Jackie Huggins

10/10 - Fantastic turnaround to urgent and non urgent requests and worries. Thank you Melissa.

Sent by Chris Woodcock

10/10 - Melissa really put herself out to get us a holiday at the Hotel Illa D'Or in Majorca even though at first sight the hotel was fully booked for the dates we wanted. Even though on holiday herself, Melissa maintained daily contact with us and the hotel to get us our holiday arranged for alternative dates close to 'our special day'. Travel insurance was arranged very quickly with the minimum of fuss. Great job Mel.

Sent by Jon Coleman

10/10 - To me, the idea of a Travel Counsellor is to take the hassle and time out of choosing and deciding where to go; that was entirely the case for me, and I was elated when Melissa sourced several suitable options, within budget and just spot on for our special break away! I was thrilled to be able to book with her and just know it will be a fantastic holiday.

Sent by Valerie Latham

10/10 - Melissa is so attentive and listen to all your needs. This is the second time I have used Melissa. I have recommended her to lots of friends that have also used her.

Sent by Amy Coleman

10/10 - Very fast and helpful service, thank you!

Sent by Charlie Mann

Melissa was extremely helpful and very pleasant to deal with!

Sent by Sarah Heydon

10/10 - Melissa was very helpful when helping me to find a night away for me and my husbands anniversary.

Sent by Jennifer Henry

10/10 - From my initial enquiry, through to the booking process, Melissa has been extremely helpful. She has responded to any questions quickly and extremely efficiently and I am very impressed with the whole experience. I would definitely recommend her to friends or family wishing to have a bespoke holiday.

Sent by Andrew Lawson

10/10 - In spite of our last-minute decision to take a holiday, Melissa helped us to choose an appropriate destination, and handled all the arrangements brilliantly! Thanks to her, everything went like clockwork, and now we have returned refreshed and exhilarated by an excellent week away.

Sent by Christine Rogers

10/10 - Excellent, friendly, quick service; have already recommended to friends and work colleagues. Thank you!

Sent by Mary Vaterlaus

10/10 - Melissa has provided excellent details of choices that matched my needs and offered ease in booking. This will be my first holiday with Travel Counsellors so I'm looking forward to it!

Sent by Steve Wortley

10/10 - Melissa has been great in sorting out our trip to South Africa next year. Listening carefully to our requirements and helping us to decide on the most appropriate choices has been invaluable. I don’t think we are the easiest of customers often being a little indecisive but Melissa has great patience and understanding and we eventually got there. Looking forward now to what should be a fabulous trip made so much easier having it all arranged for us. Thank you.

Sent by Flossie Hunt

10/10 - I was recommended Melissa's assistance through a friend, I was not to be disappointed! She provided fantastic service whist helping me plan a surprise trip to Berlin. Melissa was there from the beginning and throughout, constantly sending me ideas and being patient when I was forever changing my mind on hotels, making sure I found the perfect place! Melissa's service was quick and efficient and was always fast to respond when I needed her. This meant we could really enjoy our city break with no stress as she sorted the whole thing for us. I would highly recommend her services to anyone looking for a great travel agent! I will definitely be using Melissa's services for future trips!

Sent by Karen Joseph

We have a big birthday celebration coming up next year and asked Melissa to help us plan a trip to Australia, via relatives in Malaysia, then hopping over to Sydney, staying somewhere near the GBR and flying home from Sydney. I couldn't even begin to work out all the various parts of that myself. Then we added an extra person and she had to start all over again! She has been so helpful - and endlessly cheerful and patient. So much so that she's now planning this summer's holiday to the Canaries. Thank you Melissa. We can't wait.

Sent by Amy Aggiss

10/10 - Melissa thoroughly understood our brief and came back to us promptly with a range of options to capture our different desires for our holiday. She is a strong communicator and a delight to correspond with both by phone and email and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend her to anyone needing hassle-free holiday advice, support and organisation - the one-stop tailored holiday shop

Sent by Sarah Mann

Thank you for organising my amazing trip to Australia. With a tight timescale, Mel managed to fit all my wishes into the three weeks, starting in Cairns and ending up in Sydney. All the trips I went on were out of this world and would not hesitate to recommend them; from sailing around the Whitsundays, a sunset snorkelling excursion on the Great Barrier Reef to 4WD tour around Fraser Island. Mel researched each trip, transport and accommodation choice to find the best option for me. I had an incredible time, which was only made possible by Mel’s comprehensive research and knowledge of Australia. She made the planning and travelling stress free! There is not one part of the trip I would change, I just wish I could have spent longer out there! Thank you for an unforgettable trip! I’m already saving for next year!

Sent by Ruth Henslow

10/10 - I wanted to book a much needed holiday for this winter Jan/Feb, but I’m so busy with work from September to December I don’t have time to sort it all out myself. So I turned to Melissa! From my original plan A to Papua, which I’ve put on the back burner for a future year for various reasons (though I will definitely be working with Melissa on that one again in the future as she was coming up with the most amazing options!) to plan B that has also been put off due to a volcanic eruption just before booking! To hurriedly trying to sort out plan C to Thailand before it got too late! Melissa has worked with me through all of this! I’m very specific about the types of places I want to go on my trips, and Melissa has been very friendly and helpful in working with me to create my perfect plan and get all booked! I’m really looking forward to running away on this trip at the end of January.

Sent by Maria Haslam

10/10 - I've already recommended her to family and will definitely be sharing her details with my wider circle of friends. I've found the whole process fantastic. From the initial fact-finding call (unlike other, larger companies, Melissa actually listened to our requirements and preferences) to the final paperwork - everything was super easy! Extra touches like checking in on our behalf and access to the VIP lounge made all the difference to making it feel special. It really has made a refreshing change to book a holiday with someone who goes the extra mile to show you they care about your experience. I feel relaxed even before boarding a flight! Thank you!

Sent by Ruth Henslow

10/10 - I’m very specific about what type of places I want on my holidays and travels, and Melissa has been very friendly and helpful, and worked with me to make my trip plans perfect.

Sent by Bruce Hammersley

10/10 - Great on detail and savvy travel planning.

Sent by Laura Hibbard

10/10 - Absolutely great service and care as usual. Will be back again before too long!

Sent by Tracy Fairston

Melissa answered all my questions quickly and easily and fulfilled all my requirements, I would recommended her to anyone and use her myself again every time.

Sent by Mary Brotherton

Melissa did a fantastic job organising our trip to South Africa for our 30th Wedding anniversary and birthday celebrations. She helped us work out what we wanted to do and what we didn't and came up with a great itinerary which went like clockwork. People have asked what was our highlight. We loved it all and would definitely go again and most definitely use Melissa, she really cares about the people she is working for and her knowledge of South Africa was invaluable to us and made everything special.

Sent by Becky Slatter

We have just booked a multi-destination holiday to Canada and Cuba. Melissa has provided a fantastic personal and professional service in the past with a trip to Lithuania and she has worked tirelessly to put together what we hope to be an amazing trip next year! Thank you Melissa.

Sent by Sarah Mann

Thank you for organising my amazing trip to Australia. With a tight timescale, Melissa managed to fit all my wishes into the three weeks, starting in Cairns and ending up in Sydney. All the trips I went on were out of this world and would not hesitate to recommend them; from sailing around the Whitsundays, a sunset snorkelling excursion on the Great Barrier Reef to 4WD tour around Fraser Island. Melissa researched each trip, transport and accommodation choice to find the best option for me. I had an incredible time, which was only made possible by Melissa’s comprehensive research and knowledge of Australia. She made the planning and travelling stress free! There is not one part of the trip I would change, I just wish I could have spent longer out there! Thank you for an unforgettable trip! I’m already saving for next year!

Sent by Kerry McGinn

Fantastic personal service. Melissa went the extra mile to find the trip we were looking for, making sure we knew all the fine detail such as place to see and visit that were near our destination. Would not hesitate to use her service again and would recommend it to anyone looking for that personal touch.

Sent by Isy Peterkin

Wow! Well I had a month to travelling and within a week of departure Melissa managed to pull together an amazing South American trip. I would not have been able to do half of what has been planned. Stress free, seamless organisation, everything arranged: flights, hotels, airport transfers, city tours and group adventure tours. Melissa allayed my pre travel nerves and stayed in touch to check I had arrived at my destination. An absolutely fantastic personal service, I am not normally one to write reviews but without hesitation I would recommend Melissa if you are planning a trip / wanting to go away and don't know where to start. Thank you in advance for what is already proving to be a fabulous South American adventure.

Sent by Jane Evans

Fantastic service from Melissa. The first time we have let someone else take the strain of the planning and it was one of our better decisions. A week in London to celebrate my 50th birthday including accommodation, travel and trips was all handled professionally. Nice touches like a welcome letter on arrival, bubbles brought to the room and a card through our door for our return home at the end of a fabulous week!

Sent by Craig McKee

Melissa helped us organise our summer holiday around Europe on P&O Cruises. The whole process was extremely easy with Melissa doing everything for us; she was great. While on the cruise I proposed to my girlfriend and Melissa helped me plan the whole thing from speaking to the cruise company to booking a lovely afternoon tea for us in Venice. I could not recommend Melissa's services highly enough! Thank you so much!

Sent by Andy Smith

We have used several companies over the years to organise specific itineraries for us and Melissa's speed, attention to detail and excellent communication is up there with the best of them. Would not hesitate in recommending Melissa for your travel needs!

Sent by Jackie Huggins

What a wonderful service from Melissa. She has within hours sorted out a late summer holiday for myself and my daughter before she goes off to university. Checked my son's flight details for his year abroad in the USA. She is also helping my plan a holiday of a life time next January starting with 2 weeks in Florida, 1 week in St Lucia. She is always very helpful, enthusiastic and very prompt at replying to all emails/phone calls. I cannot recommend her highly enough. Thank you Melissa.

Sent by Andy Smith

Absolutely great service from Melissa, she has just sorted a family trip to the US for us for next year. Melissa listened carefully to our ideas, key places we want to visit and the type of accommodation we like. She then sorted the whole lot out in very quick time including different options and additional ideas for us to consider. We are now all booked up and we can relax knowing it is all sorted.

Sent by Tim Roberts

10/10 - As always, a seamless service from Melissa. She really does take the stress out of all my travel bookings.

Sent by Janice Smith

10/10 - Melissa has been amazing and always responds so quickly with information. I have already recommended her to friends who also think she is wonderful. I will continue to use Melissa whenever I am thinking of travelling.

Sent by Lesley Shane

10/10 - Melissa is always wonderfully knowledgeable, helpful, and efficient. She really knows her stuff so it is a pleasure to have her helping with our trip plans.

Sent by Leanne Graham

10/10 - I will definitely be in touch with Melissa for my future adventures!

Sent by Leanne Graham

10/10 - Melissa was a fantastic help in sorting out the correct insurance cover for my upcoming trip, thank you!

Sent by Isabelle Peterkin

10/10 - If the scale went above 10 - I'd use it!

Sent by Sean Davis

10/10 - Thank you for assisting us with putting this together and your continued support throughout. The accommodation was great and the food was amazing, which meant we slightly over consumed but then that is what holidays are for!

Sent by Georgia Daly

10/10 - I felt very comfortable booking my holiday with Melissa, she provided the best service I have ever had from a travel agent and with very reasonable prices. I trust our holiday is going to be fantastic all thanks to Melissa. I have handed all of her business cards to family and friends, and I'm sure we will be booking many more holidays in the future with her. Thank you again!

Sent by Jacqueline Huggins

10/10 - Melissa has been a God send for my family's holidays and for my son who is going to study abroad in the USA. She has coordinated our plans and been very reassuring as to flight bookings and all the administration that goes with travelling these days. I would recommend her personal, friendly and prompt service to everyone who wants hassle free travel.

Sent by Becky Slatter

10/10 - This is the second booking we've now made through Melissa and I'm sure it won't be the last. A great personal and professional service.

Sent by Lucy Williams

10/10 - Great communication and always willing to help and support where possible

Sent by Georgia Daly

10/10 - There are not enough superlatives to describe the service Melissa provides! I would like to say a big thank you from myself and my family for helping us to book our trip. She has the patience of a saint, as our trip was not the easiest to organise with many alterations being made throughout. I am grateful for the quick response she provided with any query and she is always happy to help.

Sent by Georgia Daly

10/10 - I felt very comfortable booking my holiday with Melissa, she provided the best service I have ever had from a travel agent and with very reasonable prices. I trust our holiday is going to be fantastic all thanks to Melissa. I have handed all of her business cards to family and friends, and I'm sure we will be booking many more holidays in the future with her. Thank you again!

Sent by Sarah Mann

10/10 - Melissa was extremely patient and looked into all options for me!

Sent by Christina Short

10/10 - Melissa is very knowledgeable and knows how to put an itinerary together; would definitely recommend her to anyone looking for help planning a holiday!

Sent by Kevin Latham

10/10 - Melissa was very helpful and sorted several option for us to choose from. She will always answer your email what ever time you send them.

Sent by Tim Roberts

The hotel was in a great location with taxis close by plus great shopping and restaurants a short stroll away. The staff were lovely and my TC Melissa secured an upgrade too! Facilities, room and breakfast were just perfect. Very pleased with Hotel Balmes in Barcelona!

Sent by Lesley Shane

10/10 - I would give Melissa at twenty if possible! I have known Melissa for about three years now, she was the "manager" on a tour to Mongolia and was excellent in that position too. Melissa helped us at every stage of planning our trip to Vietnam, we had a general idea of what we wanted and she made really good suggestions as to flights, timing, hotels and tours for us. She was speedy and prompt in her responses to our myriad questions but never tried to take over our ideas. She was the helping hand we needed and much appreciated, we wish her well in this new venture. She will excel I am sure, Thank you Melissa.

Sent by Mary Brotherton

10/10 - Melissa has made the whole booking experience so easy. We feel she goes above and beyond to make the holiday what we wanted it to be. I am sure we will have a great time.

Sent by David Hopkins

10/10 - Melissa, took all the pain out of sorting out a family holiday to Lapland - I would highly recommend her.

Sent by Janice Smith

10/10 - Very prompt and responding. Very helpful.

Sent by Steve Coleman

10/10 - Excellent, attentive & efficient service.

Sent by Samantha Eggleton

10/10 - Best service I've had in a long time!!

Sent by Kerry French

10/10 - Melissa was very helpful and found me a break that matched all of my requirements; giving me a number of options to look at.

Sent by Anthony Stein

10/10 - Melissa was extremely helpful and thorough throughout and always kept me informed of progress. Great customer service!

Sent by Ngaire Gordon

10/10 - I've already been recommending her to people!

Sent by Ric Hart

10/10 - Excellent. Very good ideas for our honeymoon. Very friendly and professional advisor. Thank you!

Sent by Sarah Fisher

Very impressed with the service Melissa offered. She came back with a quote very quickly which provided a range of options to suit my budget. What is lovely is the time she took to ask all of the right questions to ensure I ended up with exactly the trip I wanted. Wouldn't hesitate to recommend Melissa to family and friends and I will definitely use her services again in the future.

Sent by Sean Davis

Claire and myself are very pleased with all your patience, support and fact finding relating to the booking of our vacation to Malta next year, and we would like to award you a score of 10 for all your efforts. We also look forward to your valuable support and experience leading up to the travel date. Excellent customer service!

Sent by Serena Lamley-Crowe

I would certainly recommend Melissa, the service I received was professional and very efficient. Everything we wanted for our holiday and more has been sorted. Being able to have contact outside of a normal working hours is great for busy people, and nothing was too much trouble.

Sent by Donna Jenkins

Melissa has been extremely patient with all my changes and has come up trumps with what looks like a fabulous trip in Norway. Thank you Melissa!