Based in Didsbury

Sarah Freeman

It's Nice To Meet You

Hi! Thanks for taking the time to visit!

I live, breathe and sleep travel and as an independent Travel Counsellor I’d love to be able to share my passion and expertise with you. Whether you want a family, solo or group trip and are travelling for pleasure or business, I'm available daytime, evenings or weekends to offer advice and I'm just a phone call away.

I pride myself on providing outstanding customer service, will be with you every step and can offer access to 24/7 travel helpline support, ensuring you’ll enjoy a truly memorable holiday or business trip - and all at no extra cost.

I’ve been in the hospitality industry for over 20 years and have been lucky enough to work, live or holiday in nearly 85 countries, my wanderlust even took me to New York for 12 years!

I’ve travelled extensively throughout the US, Caribbean and Latin America, most European countries including Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia and Turkey, plus The Baltics and Russia. I’ve explored Jordan, UAE, Egypt, Israel and Morocco, Tanzania, Zanzibar and South Africa and fell in love with The Maldives, India, China, Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Australia.

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach stay or cruise, an adventurous multi country trip, a cultural or sporting city break, a UK staycation, or a more specialist ski, safari or diving holiday, I can help. I also specialise in tailor-made holidays for special occasions – so if you're looking to celebrate an important birthday or anniversary, want an amazing honeymoon or that once in a lifetime round the world trip, I'd love to help create the perfect trip for you.

As a personal Travel Counsellor, I take the stress out of travel planning – with all the options available today, it can get confusing, not to mention time consuming – who has time these days to spend hours comparing websites or sitting in a high-street store? That’s where I come in.

The buying power of Travel Counsellors allows almost unlimited possibilities and great value for money. I can offer everything on the high street or online but also have access to many other options – and as I’m impartial I can provide the perfect holiday to suit your needs and budget.

With ATOL and the Travel Counsellor’s Trust, you also have complete financial security with every pound you spend being 100% financially protected.

Ready to explore your next holiday destination or organise your next business trip? Simply call or send me an email and I’ll get right back to you!

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” – Ibn Battuta

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My Blog

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

Sunshine in Seville

24 April 2022

I just got back from a fabulous 5 days in Seville. If you're looking for a city break that has one of the best sunshine records in Europe, wonderful architecture, amazing food, great shopping and easy access to explore Andalucia...this is the place for you! The city has such a lovely warmth and charm, from the old Jewish district Santa Cruz to the lively and authentic Triana district home to flamenco dancers and matadors, just across the river and connected via the Bridge of Isabel II. With outstanding historical buildings from the Royal Palace (Real Alcazar) which is the oldest palace in Europe and has stunning interior filigree decoration and an amazing garden complex complete with maze, to the striking 104 metre tall The Giralda which is the present day bell tower of the Santa Maria de la Sede Cathedral. One of the most recognised attractions is the Plaza de Espana built for the 1929 World Exhibition with central pool and stunning ceramic tile benches that represent each region in Spain. Down by the river visit La Maestranza Bullring and the Torre del Oro (Gold Tower) which previously was an observation tower and prison and now houses a maritime museum. Then for something more contemporary, Metropol Parasol or "mushroom" as it’s known locally features a panoramic terrace offering amazing 360 degree views over the city. If you fancy a day trip from the city, coastal Cadiz with its lovely urban beach flanked by a traditional white pavilion and two ancient fortresses, the old Roman city of Cordoba with its wonderful labyrinth of streets filled with brightly coloured plant pots and the Mezquita-Catedral, The Great Mosque of Cordoba dating back to the 8th century, and Granada with its infamous Moorish Alhambra fortress complex are all well worth a visit.

Taking A Bite from the Big Apple

24 April 2022

New York, New York…so good they named it twice! I was fortunate enough to live here for 12 years and I’m actually writing this article from my hotel room as I’m visiting to see how the city is post Covid. New York is such a fantastic place to visit and there’s something for all the family. For this trip I was staying in Chelsea, it’s a great neighbourhood being very centrally located without being in the middle of the usual tourist traps. In terms of accommodation the city offers so many wonderful options, from 5 Star hotels with Michelin starred restaurants through to good value 3 Star chains. It’s critical to plan your trip in detail as the number of tourist attractions is mind boggling, from standard ones like the Empire State, Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, Times Square, Grand Central, Rockefeller Centre, Central Park, South Street Seaport, the 9/11 Museum & Memorial the list goes on and on. There are also a number of new attractions I’ve just visited that are also well worth adding to your hot list, Hudson Yards features The Edge (an amazing viewing platform) and the Vessel (a funky interactive sculpture), the extended Highline (an old elevated railway line that stretches down to 12th Street), Little Island (an urban park on the Hudson River), Summit One Vanderbilt (an interactive viewing experience) and The Colour Factory (perfect for Instagram moments). But one of the great things about New York is just simply exploring the neighbourhoods, from Soho and Little Italy, Chinatown to the Lower East Side, Meatpacking to Hell’s Kitchen, Brooklyn to the Upper East Side, part of the cities charm is how the city changes between blocks. I like to walk as much as I can, but the subway is easy to navigate or simply hop in a cab. Ready to explore?

Sri Lanka Multi Centre Tour

07 March 2022

Sri Lanka lies in the Indian Ocean just off the tip of India. With a fascinating albeit turbulent history, it’s a great destination whether you’re a beach lover, culture vulture or thrill seeker. I recently returned from a 12 day tour visiting some of the top tourist attractions. We flew from Manchester with Qatar Airways who we couldn’t fault and had to transfer at Doha, the airport is huge and immaculate given the recent investment for the upcoming World Cup. We arrived in the early morning and after having our PCR test, health form and vaccination certificates checked we headed to the arrivals hall. You can’t take Sri Lankan Rupees into the country, so the easiest thing is to change your money at one of the counters in arrivals hall (and then change any extra currency back at one of the lenders before you check in for your return flight). Given the expanse of the country it’s a good idea to hire a driver/guide for your trip, so we were welcomed by Roshan who would be with us for most of the trip and was invaluable and a true joy to be around. Our first stop was Negombo a bustling, fishing town on the west coast, close to the airport and ideal as a resting point before the start of any tour. We arrived early morning so we were staying at one of the JetWing properties for one night to rest after the overnight flight and acclimatize (Sri Lanka is 5.5 hours ahead of the UK). Leaving the next morning we headed to the northern Matale District and the village of Sigiriya, best known for its proximity to the magnificent ‘Lion Rock’ ancient fortress which rises 200 metres from the jungle and offers a breath-taking climb to the top. En-route we headed to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, an archaeological treasure trove with countless fascinating ruins. This was the second capital of Sri Lanka for three centuries, the kingdom of Great King Parakrambahu and is now a World Heritage site. It’s an expansive site and highlights include the Gal Viharaya which features three huge stone monoliths of the Lord Buddha, in a sitting, standing and reclining position. We were staying at the stunning Aliya Resort & Spa in Sigiriya for two nights, nestled in the middle of the countryside with wonderful views of the distant mountains. The hotel has a grand staircase entrance, jaw dropping infinity pool and was decorated with an elephant thematic, with one off paintings and sculptures. The next day it was an early start as I wanted to climb the rock fortress and to avoid the crowds and hot sun we wanted to be there for the opening at 6.30am. Considered the 8th wonder of the world, Sigiriya was built in 5AD by patricide King Kasyappa and at one time had 500 hand maidens living in the palace. Leading up to fortress you pass through landscaped gardens before starting your climb. There are over 1,000 steps and it’s not for the faint hearted, the metal staircase has open treads and is quite narrow in places but if you keep looking up when you get to the top the view is well worth it! On the summit are the remains of the ancient civilization including old bathing pools and even the King’s throne carved in rock, and then part way down you get to see the famous cave frescos which amazingly still retain their colour after all those years. Late morning we headed to Anuradhapura the 1st chronicled capital of ancient Ceylon and a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site due to the Bo Tree and the 2nd Century Ruwanvaliseya Temple, one of the world’s tallest monuments (100m tall, 77m wide and 300ft in diameter). It’s one of Sri Lanka’s premier ancient attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and really does live up to its reputation. The sheer scale of the site where all you can see for miles are giant white stupas in every direction was awesome. To enter any religious site in Sri Lanka you have to take off your shoes, our guide advised us to keep on our socks as the ground was absolutely scorching especially as we’re not used to walking around barefoot! We were lucky enough to be there for the local pilgrims chanting prayers and reciting mantras and giving offerings to the Bo Tree, you have never seen so many plates of fresh fruit and flowers. The sacred tree was planted in 288BC and legend says that this tree grew from a branch taken from the holy Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India under which Buddha became enlightened. For the afternoon, we decided to take a break from history and we went on safari in the Minneriya National Park – the jeep was a little rustic but the 3 hour trip was really fun. The driver/guide was ex military and had a real passion for wildlife, we saw over 60 elephants including calves and a huge pregnant female, plus mongoose, peacocks, crocodiles and too many birds to name.

Sri Lanka Multi Centre Tour - Part 2

07 March 2022

The next day we headed south to Kandy which is at an altitude of 500m and is the cultural centre of Sri Lanka. En-route we stopped at Dambulla Royal Cave Temple and Golden Temple. A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, this cave monastery consisting of 5 giant caves is the best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the top, there are paths but they are very steep before plateauing out. Standing on a rock mass at 350ft the series of caves were turned into a magnificent rock temple by King Valagambhau. The highlight was the 47ft long Buddha cut out from the rock, hundreds of deities on the walls and ceilings dating back to the 15th century and no less than 150 life size statues of gods. Truly impressive! After Dambulla we continued on to Kandy, the capital of the last Singhalese Kingdom and a relaxed hill station that was once captured by the British. The town is dominated by a huge lake and the royal palace complex which runs alongside. Security was very tight here and we had to go through scanners and show passports as it attracts a lot of important military and political leaders. Its home to the infamous Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (brought from India around 310 AD, the tooth is the symbol of Sri Lankan Kings and preciously guarded in a special shrine within the royal palace). The temple is stunning and adorned with intricate carvings of silver, gold and ivory, it attracts thousands of visitors every day and we timed it perfectly to watch the traditional drummers announce the opening of the shrine and devotees carry out a pooja ceremony. Our hotel for the next couple of days was the beautiful Amaya Hills Kandy, right at the top of one of the mountainous switchback roads it offered stunning views over Kandy and the surrounding area. The service here was unbeatable with a glorious welcome ceremony and amazing food. For our second day we decided to go shopping and I think my credit card wished I’d stayed by the pool. Kandy offers everything you can desire, we picked up beautiful wooden handicrafts and masks, the brightest batik work and gold jewellery adorned with sapphires (Sri Lanka is known to have the highest quality in the world). Our final destination was Kalutara, a 4 hour drive away and a major city sited just south of Colombo. It’s one of the most popular holiday resorts in Sri Lanka and is known for its picturesque beaches and historic buildings. Most of our time here was spent relaxing by one of the two pool at our gorgeous hotel, Anantara Kalutara and being waited on hand and foot. The grounds of the hotel are extensive with the lagoon on one side and the ocean on the other, there’s activities to do on site including a zip line, watersports and a giant chess set and the rooms were fabulous – ours was one of the largest rooms I’ve ever stayed overlooking the ocean and the secluded beach. We did enjoy one day trip out as I wanted to see a little more of the south coast. We started off driving to Galle, which is an old fortified city founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century and known for its fort, lighthouse, Dutch church and lovely boutique shops and restaurants. Then we headed off to pay a visit one of the local turtle sanctuaries where they protect the eggs and allow them to hatch before releasing the baby turtles into the sea. Turtles are caught by local fisherman to be sold for eating, so the sanctuaries pay the fishermen over the asking price, tend any injuries and then release the turtles back. Our final stop of the day was Ambalangoda, a small town famous for its ancient devil dancers and traditional wooden mask artisans. There’s a really cute little museum here, where the 5th generation owner takes you through the history of mask making and you can even have a little go at wood carving in one of their workshops. Then all too soon it was time to head back to Colombo Airport for our flight to the UK.

River Cruising Down The Rhine

29 September 2019

There are so many rivers in Europe to choose from, from the Danube and Volga to the Loire and the Elbe. Selecting which river to cruise on really depends on what type of destinations you’re looking to visit. We selected the Rhine, home of medieval towns, castles and wineries. This river is also critical to the European economy, moving over 500MM tonnes of coal, cars and other goods along its 766 miles, from its source in the Swiss Alps through Germany and the Netherlands to the North Sea. Our cruise was to take in some fascinating ports of call: Amsterdam: A cultural kaleidoscope that offers something for everyone. Dozens of excellent museums and historic buildings, a winding maze of canals and exciting nightlife. We enjoyed a narrated canal boat ride, passing beautiful merchant houses, Ann Frank House and ended up at the Gasson Diamond centre. The rest of the day we people watched in the red light district, visited museums featuring artwork by Van Gogh and Vermeer, saw beautiful churches like Westerkerk and marvelled at the scale of the Central Station. Arnhem: Set in wonderful countryside, while only small, the town has been well preserved and features lovely independent shops and quirky art installations. The Battle of Arnhem directed by Montgomery was part of Operation Market Garden in September 1944. Despite scores of British parachutists dropping into the town, the bridge of Arnhem was never captured and the troops suffered devastating losses. In the area museums tell the dramatic WWII stories and the town proudly displays flags to remember the valiant efforts of the British soldiers. After sombre moments, we moved onto Doorwerth Castle, a beautiful medieval castle with gardens and moat built in 1260, it’s worth an hour exploring. Dusseldorf: Today we joined a walking tour. Setting off from Rheinpark, we passed one of 26 museums, the Kunst Palast which has a fun sculpture of a Rhino, saw the rotund Town Hall and one of Wolfgang Kliege’s lovely sculptures. Next up we wandered around Altstadt (Old Town) nicknamed “the longest bar in the world” due to its hundreds of pubs, explored Hofgarten and then Ko-Bogen, featuring upscale shops in striking, modern architecture. Finally, we ambled back along the Rhein Promenade giving a great view of the Rhine Tower. Cologne: Infamous for its Cathedral, this bustling city offers over 100 art galleries, 12 Romanesque churches, multiple museums and a history that harkens back to the Romans. Cologne is also well known for two liquids, Kolsch (a local beer) and perfume. Cologne Cathedral or Kolner Dom is simply stunning with its 13th century Gothic interior and the golden “Shrine of the Three Magi” (1220). Street after street offered glimpses of lovely architecture, medieval alleyways, fun statues and of course pubs galore! Our tour touched on only a part of the city, but we enjoyed strolling through the Old Market, past the Town Hall and the old Roman road before ending up at the imposing cathedral. Koblenz: A 2,000 yr old city formed at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, the city was occupied by France during WWII and heavily bombed. First up was a visit to German Corner and the giant monument of German Emperor William I astride a 14m high horse. The statue was destroyed by US artillery but replaced by the German president. Next up we passed the Jewish Monument, the Ludwig Museum and St Castors Basilica, before walking through the historic old town and seeing the beautifully preserved Jesuit College and the Schangelbrunnen “spitting boy” Fountain (watch out you don’t get wet!). In the afternoon we took the cable car up to the imposing Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, 118m above the Rhine, the castle features extensive grounds, battlements and high walls. There is a museum on site but the best reason to visit is for the incredible panoramic views. Rhine Gorge: The top of the Rhine isn’t that pretty to be honest, think lots of industrial scenery and freight vessels. However, the Middle Rhine Valley (65km) is chocolate box pretty, think narrow gorges, imposing hillside fortresses, quaint villages and rambling vineyards. A UNESCO World Heritage site, on average there’s a castle every 1.5 miles, most being constructed to collect tolls from traders during the 12th century. Lots of castles suffered severe damage in 1689 by Louis XIV troops but were since restored, we especially loved Marksburg and Stolzenfels Castles. Rudesheim: This is one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever visited, renowned for its wine, vines have been cultivated here for two millennial! There’s a plethora of shops selling local wine and you can also visit the Asbach Distillery, plus don’t miss having the speciality coffee made with flaming brandy and whipped cream. The town’s made up of cute houses and cobbled streets and is also known for its Museum of Mechanical Instruments and Christmas market. Eltville am Rhein: Quite simply beautiful! Street upon street of timber framed houses in immaculate condition on cobbled streets leading down to the river. Known as the “City of Wine and Roses”, this was the perfect place to sample a few of the local specialities from dry Riesling through to sparkling wines. The Electoral Castle is one of the town’s highlights, erected in 1345 the castle was home to the archbishops of Mainz and features a well tended rose garden. Mainz: Our final stop, the city was a key stronghold for the Romans who recognised the potential of the surrounding region for growing vines and as a critical trade route. Mainz’s most famous resident is Johannes Gutenberg who combined several innovations to develop a printing press using movable type that made the written word available to everyone. There’s a fabulous museum that takes you through his techniques and displays samples of his priceless Latin Bibles. Across the square (that houses a fabulous daily local produce market), is the vast 12th century St. Martin’s Cathedral. A huge, red sandstone edifice, the original construction started in 975 and 45 archbishops are buried here. One thing not to miss is the Nail Men tower, a form of propaganda and fundraising for the forces in WWI, these wooden statues had nails driven into them creating works of art in exchange for donations. In the afternoon, we took advantage of the large pedestrianised shopping area and enjoyed a few hours spending our last Euro’s. The Rhine was amazing and certainly didn’t disappoint!

Is a River Cruise for Me?

29 September 2019

Cruising is now the fastest growing holiday sector in the UK and there’s a plethora of cruise ships and destinations to choose from, so I knew I wasn’t going to be spoilt for choice, it was more a case of how do I pick the right one for me. Given river cruising is the new comer and I’ve always been fascinated with castles and medieval cities, I plumped for a cruise down the infamous Rhine. There are a number of operators who offer tours, but I was enticed by Avalon’s full width sliding windows and the fact she offered an “Active Discovery” cruise so there were lots of great trips included as part of the price and in addition we could pre-pay for gratuities. My mum was coming along for the holiday, and cruising is perfect for multi-generational family holidays as it offers something for everyone, no matter what your age or interests. We flew to Amsterdam direct from the UK, a very quick flight and once you land it’s only a short taxi ride to the port. Once you get to the docks it’s a little confusing as there were a number of river cruise ships all docked but we finally spotted our ship and took our cases up the gangway. I think the first thing that struck us about the Avalon Panorama was her size, she was much bigger than expected, especially for only having 148 passengers on board and at no point during the course of the cruise did we ever feel crowded by people. In addition to two dining areas, there was a choice of three indoor/outdoor lounges and multiple areas to sit, we loved the expansive top deck the most with lots of chairs and loungers, a hot tub, giant chess and backgammon game plus a small pitch and putt area. Check in was quick, we enjoyed a complimentary drink while our room was prepped (if we hadn’t had booked our excursions there was an excursion desk where we could have sorted them) and then the staff brought our luggage down. The room was lovely, twin beds facing huge 12 ft windows, bedside cabinets, under bed storage for your luggage, a desk, full wardrobe, mini-bar, great sized bathroom with shower and a lovely settee and chair in front of the balcony. Later that afternoon once everyone was on board, we all met for a Welcome Drink, said hi to the crew including the captain and went through a mandatory safety briefing. Each evening thereafter, there would always be a Port Talk and Disembarkation Brief by the Cruise Director so you understood what was happening the next day, where to meet etc. As with all cruises all your meals are included, so get ready to indulge on a daily basis, full cooked breakfasts with a buffet fit for a king, multiple buffet options for your 4 course lunch and then al la carte 5 course dinners with waiter service. Plus if you were peckish in the afternoon, they also served cakes and hot drinks at 4pm to help you bridge the gap until dinner at 7pm. The nice thing was you also enjoyed wine, beer or soft drinks with your meals so it meant our bar tab was really very small at the end of the trip. It was also great to see that it wasn't fixed dining, so you could decide when to eat (between a couple of hours) and were free to sit at whichever table you wanted - so we ended up dining with different people each evening and made some wonderful friends from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I have to praise the staff on board, what a wonderful group of people from all over Europe, always friendly with a welcoming smile, nothing was too much trouble and they worked so hard. Some of the staff had some really interesting backgrounds , for example our waiter one evening was the Hungarian youth kayaking champion. Prior to the cruise Avalon give you access to a cruise personaliser (this isn’t as comprehensive as an ocean cruise) but allowed us to input our emergency contact details, gave us access to pre-select not only the included excursions and any optional excursions, gave us details on which dock the ship would be harboured at and also instructions of how to download the Avalon app (a nifty little app that gave you local maps for each port of call, attraction information and a ship finder). Every night in your room you also received a printed Daily Newsletter, this was brilliant as it gave full details as to what was happening the next day, what time the ship was sailing, meals times, excursion options etc. Our cruise was to take in some of the best ports of call, starting off in Amsterdam, next we’d visit Arnhem, followed by Dusseldorf, Cologne, Koblenz, Rhine Gorge, Rudesheim before disembarking in Mainz. See my next blog for some of the great sights we saw. The excursions were really well organised, at the start of the week we received lanyards and ear pieces and then every day collected a newly charged speaker unit so we could listen to the local guides. Walking sticks were on offer for anyone needing assistance as were giant umbrellas for any rainy days. It was nice that there were multiple tour options each day which meant that the group size was never larger than about 20 people, so it was conducive to making friends and logistically easy to enter all the various attractions. Disembarkation day was really smooth, while we had to be out of our rooms for 9am (as the ship was taking on new passengers for its return journey to Amsterdam), we were able to leave our cases on the ship and have another day exploring Mainz before the reception team arranged for a taxi to the airport for us. If you’re unsure about cruising, taking a river cruise is the perfect introduction to this popular type of holiday. Being able to unpack just once and yet be able to visit multiple destinations was fantastic, enjoying 5 star service and fine dining every day, being able to relax on board or go off ship and explore each port of call made the trip extremely flexible. I can’t recommend cruising enough, so much so I’m already researching where to go for 2020.

The Maldives.....Paradise Personified!

23 June 2019

The Maldives located in the Indian Ocean is an archipelago of over 1,000 coral islands grouped into 26 atolls, less than 2 metres above sea level. Historically known as a luxurious retreat for the rich and famous, given expansion of the airline network and resort offering, this beautiful part of the world is now available to discover for a whole range of visitors. Flying from the UK is easy with an Emirates regional departure to Dubai and then a quick layover to catch the direct flight to Male. Male is the entry point for everyone to catch their speed boat, domestic flight or seaplane to their island home. The Maldives are divided into North and South Male Atolls, so it’s important to understand where your island is located and how best to get there. I took a 35-minute speedboat to my first destination, the trio of Anantara resorts, Dhigu, Veli and Naladhu Private Island. Arriving after the hair blowing boat ride, you’re warmly greeted at the jetty and the first thing you notice is the sheer intensity of the colours, the bright white sand, the azure blue ocean, the striking greenery. Quickly whisked off to your room, you know immediately upon entering your beach villa that this is going to be a wonderful holiday. Dhigu offers 110 beach villas and the iconic over water suites and is targeted at families. The hub of the resort centres around Aqua Bar and the large infinity swimming pool with sandy walkways leading off through tropical jungle to your accommodation. The beach villas are ideal for 2 adults and 1 or 2 children, offering a private sun terrace and direct access to the beach with your own reserved sun loungers. The wow moment was opening the bathroom door and entering the luxurious garden courtyard which featured a giant outdoor bath and rain shower. If you’re after rest and relaxation, this resort is perfect. Despite 97% occupancy the resort felt extremely spacious and quiet, often I was lying on the beach and it was completely deserted. Anantara Veli is the hideaway adult only resort and is slightly smaller with 67 over water and ocean bungalows. A favourite for honeymoon couples, the island fringed by a turquoise lagoon and golden sands can’t help to inspire romance. The over water villas are located on a walkway to one end of the island, if you’re looking for a special treat, these are for you, with spacious terraces leading to your own steps into the ocean you really don’t need to leave your room. Out of all the resorts, Naladhu was my favourite. This small and exclusive private island is home to just 20 stunning houses all with private pools, 24 hour dedicated butler service, private dining and in-house spa service while still offering access to all the facilities at the sister resorts. The resorts dining facility, the Living Room is open 24/7, its ethos is that the resort is the guests’ home and as such they are able to access what they want, when they want. As most guests come to the island for privacy and relaxation, it’s common for guests to stay in their large and luxurious villas and therefore you really feel like you’re the only ones on the island. If guests want to explore, they can walk over the bridge to Veli but only Naladhu guests can gain access back to the island. The resorts offer 6 restaurants and 2 bars between them, while each offers a different menu, they all offer spectacular views and the finest dining you could wish for. I enjoyed a sumptuous 5 course dinner at Sea.Fire.Salt located at the water’s edge, with Asparagus Cappuccino as an amuse bouche and Maldivian Tuna Fillet on the menu you know this is going to be a great dining experience. The next night we decided to enjoy pre-dinner cocktails at Dhoni Bar and then to dine at Origami, a modern Japanese restaurant on Veli which provides live theatre with its teppanyaki kitchen. If you’re celebrating a special occasion the resorts “dining by design” program offers you a choice of unique and intimate dining experiences from torchlit beach side dinners with movie for 2 experience to an on the water private floating pontoon. If you’re not the type of person to just sunbathe for 6 hours a day, the resort offers a range of activities. Whether you’d like to try water-skiing, wake or knee boarding, take a snorkelling trip to look for turtles or sharks or sail off on a sunset cruise, enjoy a game of tennis, the gym or a meditation session, there’s something for everyone. Children don’t miss out either with the Dhoni club offering an exciting indoor and outdoor playspace while for under 3’s, babysitting services are available. One of the highlights at Dhigu is the spa, located over the water I can attest that the Signature Massage is 60 minutes of pure bliss. What sets these resorts apart are their service levels, Thomas the Resort Manager at Naladhu and his staff go above and beyond, whatever you want or need, however weird and wonderful, at whatever time of day, they will provide. With over nearly 40% of their guests being repeat customers and some guests returning for their 20th visit, you know they’re offering something special. After a blissful three days, unfortunately it was time to leave and head back to Male to catch the seaplane to our next destination.

The Maldives.....Perfect for Families Too

23 June 2019

Once you arrive in Male, the seaplane check in desks are right outside arrivals and the actual terminal is only a 10-minute drive away. You simply check in, drop your cases off and the next time you see them they’re in the room at your hotel. I’ve always wanted to experience a seaplane journey but wasn’t sure what to expect. Relaxing in the hotel's private lounge, I enjoyed some lovely refreshments and got the chance to use the complimentary wi-fi, then we were called to Gate 1 and quickly whisked on board. The planes seat around 15 people, it is a little cosy inside, with a very narrow aisle and your luggage is stacked at the back of the seats. Also don’t worry about the pilots being barefoot, that’s completely normal! Seaplanes are more expensive than speedboats, but I promise the views more than make up for that, it was like I was in the middle of a Yayoi Kusama painting, random paint splats of ice-cold blue, gold and green scattered amongst the vast expanse of ocean. Niyama is a much bigger resort. Spread over two islands interconnected by a wooden bridge, “Play” (aimed at surfers and families) and “Chill” (aimed at couples and larger families) offer a wealth of activities for all the family. Niyama is a much more active resort, with a daily calendar of activities ranging from aqua Zumba and beach volleyball, to coconut painting and bracelet making. With one of the largest water based offerings, you can gain your Padi qualification, go snorkelling, parasailing or jet skiing to name a few, plus it’s one of the only resorts in the Maldives with a surf school, the chance to try a Seabob and even the new craze; jet packing. There’s a 24/7 fitness centre on site, a games room with everything from Xbox stations, pool table and table tennis to a mini cinema and even a golf simulator (both for private hire). For children, the kids club is extensive, with a water zone, climbing wall, stage and trampoline etc. At USD $20-30++ per hour it’s not cheap but with children accepted from 12 months and babysitting also available, it offers a nice respite if mum and dad need some alone time. One of the strong points about Niyama is its restaurant offerings, they’ve been creative in developing unique environments. Epicure is an airy indoor restaurant that's perfect for a leisurely breakfast and then there's a fantastic outdoor beach restaurant called Dune that offers a wide-ranging menu at lunchtime. Fancy dining on elevated walkways in the rain forest? Try “Nest” with its eclectic Asian influenced menu, visit an African village setting at “Tribal” and enjoy a 72-day dry aged steak. How about dining offshore at the seafood restaurant “Edge” and then going 6m under water and having cocktails at Subsix. For late night drinks you can also relax in the rooftop lounge Fahrenheit which features live music and DJ's in the evenings. I was lucky to be spending 4 nights in a beach pool villa and I have to say I was thoroughly spoilt. A humongous main room with king sized bed, private deck and pool with direct beachfront access beautifully screened behind masses of vegetation. The outdoor bathroom once again was beyond words, Bali inspired with two outdoor showers, soaking tub and lovely amenities. There’s a huge array of accommodation on the islands, from water villas to beautiful two-bedroom pavilions. Larger families will love the 3-bedroom beach pool pavilion with secluded beach, two giant pools and spa treatment room. For large groups (up to 14 adults and 8 children), you can even rent The Crescent, 5 overwater secluded villas with their own walkway, private chef and 2 dedicated butlers plus a whole host of other benefits. With a whole host of celebrities and royalty known to frequent Niyama, you know you'll be in great company. I always knew that a trip to the Maldives was going to be special, but my preconceptions of this being for honeymooners only has been well and truly turned on its head. The Maldives is the perfect luxurious holiday destination for anyone, whether you like complete relaxation, fun packed days, crave seclusion or are part of a group, there’s an island and a resort to suit you perfectly.

Beer, Waffles & Fries Oh My!

05 November 2018

If you want a short break away in a picture postcard city, then Bruges has to come top of the list. The capital and largest city in West Flanders, Bruges is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and a 90-minute train ride away from Brussels Airport. The city centre is so picturesque, think cute winding streets, cobbles galore and a network of canals that criss-cross the city and give it its nickname of “Venice of the North”. The historic city centre claims the distinction of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can still see today why it was once one of the world’s greatest commercial cities. My accommodation was the beautiful 4 Star Grand Hotel Casselbergh, created from three historical residences known as “Cassellbergh”, “Zeven Torens” and “t’Fransch Schildt”, which were previously owned by local aristocracy. For the first day I’d booked a walking tour and was meeting in the main market square (Grote Markt) close to the iconic clock tower or the “Belfry of Bruges”. Originally housing the treasury and town’s archives, today you can climb the 366 steps up to the top (warning the staircase is narrow and steep) for wonderful views. Make sure to get there early though to miss the crowds. The main square is flanked by the Provincial Government Palace, the Historium and cafes selling all your traditional Belgium favourites like Flemish Stew. The Historium is a fun, interactive experience that takes you back to the golden age of Bruges through seven historically themed multi-media rooms. Wandering past the belfry you come to the old cloth halls, where market traders used to sell their wares, from here it’s easy to get lost as a lot of the winding roads all look the same with pretty, red brick coloured houses. One of the many interesting buildings is the Gruuthuse Museum, while currently being renovated (opens Spring 2019), this luxurious city palace houses an amazing collection of silver, furniture and sculpture. A few minutes round the bend you come to Sint-Janshospital, over 800 years old, the hospital used to be managed by monks and nuns who took care of the sick and poor. It’s definitely worth wandering around the complex and visiting the old dormitory and pharmacy. From churches, monasteries and abbeys the city has an amazing ecclesiastical heritage. Two of note well worth seeing are the Church of Our Lady and St. Saviours Cathedral. Crossing the canals, you come to a lovely little street called Wijngaardstraat with the old horse head fountain and some of the prettiest houses. Crossing the bridge you come to Beginhof, a walled community inhabited by the Order of St. Benedict nuns featuring a serene garden and white coloured houses. On the return pass by the masses of infamous swans chilling out by the canal side. Swans are revered in Bruges but the reason for their existence is subject to debate. The most gruesome tale is that of Pieter Lanchals, the right-hand man of Emperor Maximillian of Austria. The story goes that the emperor lost his wife in a hunting accident in Bruges and as such heavily taxed the city. On visiting the city years after he was taken captive and was forced to watch the beheading of his advisor, whose surname meant “long neck” in Old Dutch. He eventually was released but ordered the city to pay penance by decreeing they must always keep “long necks” in its canals. The city continues to honour this tradition and ensures the number never drops below 100. Looping back, it’s worth a quick visit to the De Halve Maan brewery, down a little alley there’s a glass window where you can see the beer pipes under the ground and you can taste the locally brewed Zot beer. A fun way to see the city is to take a horse and carriage ride (€50) or a boat trip (€8). I took to the water and enjoyed a leisurely 30-minute tour of the canals with a comedic Belgian captain. Bruges features a wealth of outdoor sculptures, some of the best I came across were by Rik Poot, created 1981 – 87, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” are simple yet striking bronze pieces in the museum quarter. Also not to be missed is “Skyscraper” (The Bruges Whale), a gigantic sculpture sited in the canal near the Jan van Eyck statue. Constructed from waste plastic collected from Hawaii beaches, US artists Jason Klimoski and Lesley Chang are trying to raise awareness of the universal problem of ocean pollution. Make sure to visit Burg Square if you love architecture. The buildings are in a wide variety of styles from Neo-Classicist to Renaissance and dating back to Gothic and the beautiful Town Hall or Stadhuis that was built in 1376. The square was one of the earliest inhabited areas of the city and also features the Old Civil Registry/Old Court House, the Palace of the Liberty of Bruges and the Basilica of the Holy Blood, my favourite building of all with its gorgeous golden statues and medallions of the Flanders Counts. Bruges features some of the best restaurants in Belgium and its fast food is also a cut above the rest. With lovely crispy fries, golden waffles available on every corner topped with fruit and cream or dripping with chocolate sauce, and arguably the best (and in some cases the strongest) tasting beer in Europe, not to mention the sumptuous chocolate shops selling everything from truffles to chocolate tools, it’s definitely not good if you are on a diet! For the final day we decided the explore the east side of the city. Our first stop was St. Anna’s Church, built in the 17th century, the architecture reflects its simple Gothic influence but surprisingly holds a wonderful Baroque interior with carved wooden panels and the largest single painting in Bruges – courtesy of past wealthy patron’s donations. Just round the corner you can stop at the Kant Museum (the lace centre is housed in the renovated old lace school) and the Folklore Museum (housed in a row of cute, whitewashed 17th-century dwellings, you can explore an old pharmacy and classroom and even see old costumes). We continued further east to our final destination. Close to the old city walls four windmills line the river bank. There used to be 29 mills in Bruges, the majority being grain mills. Sint-Janshuismolen is a hollow post wooden mill and was constructed on the orders of 26 bakers in 1770! If you pay €4, you can actually climb the steep steps and go inside to see the millstones and giant wooden cogs. Bruges you’ll be in my memories and on my waistline for a long time!

Spices and Slavery - Exploring Zanzibar

05 November 2018

Zanzibar or "Spice Island” is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania and located 25kms off the mainland in the Indian Ocean. The area is made up of the main island “Unguja” or Zanzibar, Pemba Island and lots of smaller islands. I was staying at the Zanzibar Serena Hotel, located in Stone Town about 15 minutes from the airport. The hotel has been lovingly transformed from an old colonial building and it’s got one of the best swimming pools in the town. For day one I booked a walking tour to understand a little more about the history of this World Heritage Site. First stop was Freddie Mercury’s place of birth and where he lived until age 7, unfortunately you can’t go inside but it was cool to see where this amazing musician got his start in life. Next up was the Old Fort (Arab Fort), it's mainly ruins with a couple of turrets but worth a quick visit as it’s also the site of the Zanzibar Film Festival. Close by is Forodhani Gardens, the site of the original port and behind is the House of Wonder, once owned by the Sultan and used for ceremonial duties while next door is the Sultan’s Palace, you can go inside and take a short, guided tour. Moving along the seafront you’ll pass the Customs House, used to collect customs duties from merchants and then the Old Dispensary which are now government offices. Across town the Central Market, trades all manner of products from spices and cloth to fruit and vegetables. The most interesting area were the meat and fish sections – while the stench of live butchering was not for those with weak stomachs, it was interesting to see the auctions taking place. The Slave Market and Cathedral are main tourist sites. The museum explains about the slave trade and its impact on the local people and culture of the island. Originally developed by the British, they later pushed for abolishment with Dr Livingstone being one of the key advocates. Outside in the grounds is a thought-provoking statue of oversized slaves in chains, you can also go down into the cellar and see the holding pens where slaves would have been held prior to sale. The Cathedral is built on the site of the market square where the tree stood which the slaves were tied to. The tour ended at Tipu Tip’s house, the famous Arab trader who built up a large empire in Eastern Congo on the back of slave trading. To lighten up my mood after all the deep and dark history, I took a stroll down Kenyatta Road and Gizenga Street to purchase some lovely handcrafted souvenirs. Zanzibar has such rich history that it seemed a shame to just lie on one of its stunning silver sand beaches for the duration of my holiday so I hired a local driver to explore the island's West coast. Our first stop was the Mtoni Palace Ruins located just north of Stone Town. The name which means “place by the river” is the oldest palace in Zanzibar and was built between 1828 and 1834 for Sultan Said. The palace is in ruins after a fire in 1914, but large walled areas still remain and a guide showed me photos and floor plans as to what the palace would have been like in its heyday. Up to 1,000 people would have been linked to the palace and the Sultan used the property to entertain VIPs. At the back of the palace is a large enclosed grassed area where the Sultan’s daughters would have taken pony rides and where peacocks and flamingos roamed. Circling this area were the Sultan’s bathhouse, aqueduct and outside lavatories. Close by are the Kibweni Palace Ruins, the building looked lovely but unfortunately, it’s now Presidential Offices so you’re not allowed to visit. Carrying on up the west coast you pass through Bububu, a fairly lively town, whose name is derived from the noise of the railway locomotives that ran between 1904 and 1929 covering the edge of the clove plantation to Stone Town. 20 minutes further up the coast close to Mangwapani (Arab Beach) is Coral Cave. After the British made slave trading illegal in 1845 with a treaty with Sultan Barghash, several slave traders were determined to keep their livelihood going in secret. The cave is a very deep, natural underground chamber, the entrance has been widened now for tourists to enter and handrail added to the steep stone carved steps. We took torches down as it was absolute pitch black at the bottom, my guide took me down through the slippery coral rock to the tunnel that led underground to the sea, so that the slaves could be secreted away without being seen. A few minutes away are the Slave Chambers, a man-made concrete prison where illegal slaves were held in same-sex pens with only small skylights to let in some light. You can still see the holes on the wall where their chains were attached. Both these places were chilling but fascinating to visit. We continued north passing Mikokotoni, a bustling fishing village with a market was in full swing selling fruit and vegetables. Our final stop was the idyllic Kendwa Beach which stretches for miles, offers pure golden sand and is extremely clean. There are your usual hawkers selling all manner of goods and the beach is lined by high-quality hotel complexes. Kendwa has become known as the place to come for the monthly Full Moon Parties. Just a word of warning, the beach is not accessible at high tide so make sure you get back to your location as otherwise you’ll be stuck trying to navigate the back roads or paying out $20 for a boat trip back. On my final day I visited Cheetah’s Rock located near to Kama Village. This once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done! Cheetah’s Rock is a rescue and conservation centre, in addition to meeting rescued wild animals, you also get in-depth information on their welfare, wildlife conservation and get an insight into the work the team are doing around the world helping to protect and conserve endangered species. What’s different about this centre is that you actually get up close and personal with the animals. Imagine hand feeding a 290lb male lion and hyena, sitting in a white lion’s enclosure as Savannah a 90lb lioness prowls around brushing your legs or sat in the enclosure with Maktoum and Sharqi, two Cheetah brothers as they showcase their hunting skills. None of the animals have been drugged, declawed or defanged – they have had hours of time spent with the team learning that with 100% positive reinforcement man and animal can get close without either party being stressed or come to harm.

Up Close & Personal on a Serengeti Safari

05 November 2018

There aren’t any direct flights from Manchester, so I flew with Emirates to Dubai and then onto Kilimanjaro. I’d pre-arranged transport and after a 70-minute drive reached Arusha – my home for one night. I stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton in the centre of town near the Clock Tower, which marks the spot halfway between Cairo and Cape Town. A good-sized town, Arusha’s Central Market is a hectic but interesting place to visit, here you can find unusual spices and foods or if you enjoy bargaining, visit the Masai Market. If you enjoy shopping, there are three main malls with food courts and entertainment. I would recommend visiting the Cultural Heritage Centre which is on the outskirts; there’s a host of curio shops here selling jewellery, antiques and local crafts. I was picked up at 8am to head out on the long drive to the Serengeti. I was pleased to see the Land Cruiser was robust with a raised ceiling for great game viewing and cushions on the seats to prepare for the rocky roads ahead. On the way you pass through small town after small town of ramshackle shops and ladies wearing the most beautiful and bright outfits you’ve ever seen. The first national park we hit was Lake Manyara known for its large flamingo population. We continued onwards, climbing steeply through rainforest and along bumpy roads up to the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. This national park has one of the highest density of animals in the world. The crater is a huge depression in the landscape and jaw-dropping to see. After a quick photo stop we continued to a picnic site and bumped into a giant marabou stork and watched a Belgium couple get dive bombed by a black kite! After lunch we continued around the crater, passing Masai tending to livestock and saw our first few game sightings – a group of zebras and a giraffe. Continuing along uneven terrain we finally reached the gates of Serengeti and entered for an amazing 4-hour game drive. From giant impala to warthogs, buffalo and elephants to crocodiles and baboons we were spoilt. The two best parts of the day were the hyena who were stopped in the road and the pride of lions we saw cooling off in the shade. The dirt tracks can be pretty precarious so expect to be bounced around but it’s all good fun – we actually ended up rescuing a pair of honeymooners whose jeep had broken its chassis and dropped them off at their lodge. I stayed at the Sopa Lodge with amazing views over the Serengeti plain – the rooms were large and comfortable, the restaurant served high-quality food and the staff could not have been more welcoming. After an early 7.30am start, the animal viewing started pretty much immediately with a herd of over 30 elephants passing by the vehicle. From there around the next bend we came across zebras and multiple types of antelope. We were out for a full 11 hours today so I hoped that we’d see a lot and the Serengeti didn’t disappoint. We were fortunate to see a lioness with four cubs resting under a bush, a group of 10 lions hanging out on a rock and then a couple of hours later we spotted a cheetah and her two cubs with a fresh kill. Next up were herds of water buffalo which can be fairly intimidating when staring right at you! We drove around various water holes and saw some amazing birdlife from the giant secretary to plovers, storks and a kori bustard to name a few. We also spotted groups of hippos wallowing in the mud – at one point there had to be well over 50. We saw a hyena chase a baboon and jackals, at least three types of monkeys including the velvet monkey, plus a ringed mongoose and tree hyrax. An unbelievable day today! Set off from the lodge and immediately came across two male lions and a short distance away the remains of a water buffalo carcass that was being attacked by vultures and a hyena. Next up was a herd of elephants that were busy breaking tree branches and surrounded the jeep as they walked across the road. We had a quiet spell as we drove around the vast plains but then the driver’s walkie-talkie blasted to life – he spun the jeep around and we got there just in time to see a leopard lounging in a tree before he took over after a group of gazelles. Then we had another call and raced over to a small river to watch a group of lions who headed our way and came within two feet of our vehicle! The rest of the day we saw plenty of other animals and birds including an eagle and watched c.400 water buffalo take ownership of the plain as they headed to a waterhole. In the afternoon we headed to the Ngorongoro Crater where I’d be spending one night. We stopped at a Masai village on route which was something I’ve been longing to do. After a $50 donation to the village, I was thrilled to watch a welcome dance and song by both the village, then I was taken around by the chief’s son, and he explained how the Masai live, showed me inside their huts, I met the children in the school house and then purchased some handmade souvenirs. The hotel was perched on the rim of the crater with amazing views down into the game viewing area and only 15 minutes from the descent road. The crater has a much different weather pattern than the Serengeti so heavy mist/cloud cover hangs over the area and makes the temperature very cool with a good chance of drizzle. The crater is home to an amazing collection of animals, that thrive with the great vegetation and constant access to fresh water. As soon as we entered the park we came across a family of baboons busy grooming one another, then close by we had to stop the jeep to allow what seemed like 1,000 water buffalo and wildebeest cross the road. While the variety of animals we saw in the crater didn’t seem to match the Serengeti, the sheer number of animals we came across was immense. From large dazzles or herds of Zebra, groups of roaming elephants and at least five different prides of lions (including a poor male who had been in a recent fight). The birdlife was amazing with pelicans, grey-crowned cranes and masses of flamingos. You won’t find giraffes actually in the crater itself, but we saw three amble across the rim way above us. The highlight of the day was spotting a black rhino and her baby, while too far away to take a decent photograph, just being able to see them in their natural habitat made my day. After a great final game drive, it was then time to head the three hours back to Arusha to rest up and get ready for the next part of my Africa adventure.

Chasing Ed Sheeran to Newcastle

15 July 2018

My favourite artist Ed Sheeran was playing in my home town, but I just wasn't quick enough to secure tickets, hence why I'm now at Stockport Station and in less than three hours I’ll be in the land of the Toons. Newcastle. One of the most iconic cities in the UK with its industrial heritage, scenic bridges and lively nightlife. I'd booked a three-day weekend – plenty of time to explore the sights and sample the infamous Geordie hospitality. My hotel, Hampton by the Hilton was literally across the street from the train station and while it’s 1970’s dreary façade was a little off putting, inside the friendly staff, clean and modern bedroom, 24/7 bar and help yourself breakfast made up for it. I’d brought along my mum for the trip and promised her an afternoon of shopping. What’s nice about the city is that everything is close by and very walkable – a quick 5-minute walk to Grey’s Monument and you were in the middle of shopping heaven. Whether you prefer the big high street retailers on Northumberland Street or in the Intu Centre at Eldon Square, the infamous Fenwick or the independents in Central Arcade or Grainger Market you’re spoilt for choice. Newcastle is known as a creative hub so make sure to look out for local street artists work. Check out Sean Henry’s “Man with Potential Selves” consisting of three bronze, 2.5m tall statues. Admire the region’s “Famous Faces” mural by miner turned artist Bob Olley and don’t miss “Nine Things To Do On A Bench” glass etchings on the back of various benches, a lovely collaboration between Cate Watkinson and Julia Darling. Being on holiday gives you license to dine out and the difficult part was deciding where to go. Newcastle offers every type and price range of dining option. Given it’s a university city there’s the usual plethora of fast food joints but also fine dining establishments. We dined at Jamie’s Italian, Mr Oliver’s franchise and then found a great hole in the wall Italian joint called Roberto’s La Dolce Vita. The décor was typical, and it needed a spruce of paint but what amazing food and service – huge portions (pizza’s like flying saucers!), fresh ingredients and quick service. After dinner, we hit the row of bars on Westgate Road/Collingwood. The area is made up of the usual UK big city chain pubs so don't expect anything unique but with a mix of lovely stone facades, outdoor seating, live music, fruity cocktails and hearty pub food you can’t go wrong: The Mile Castle – A Wetherspoon’s pub, in the imposing Grade II former National Savings Bank, download the app so you can order drinks from your table. The Waiting Rooms – a modern narrow style pub stretching nearly a whole block, eclectic seating, known for specialty gins and award-winning pies. The Union Rooms – with bars set over two floors this venue packs in a crowd with its Sky Sports offering. The Laundrette – a Manchester implant, think cocktails and carbs, more of a restaurant, you have to order food if you are drinking. Revolution Bar – another bank conversion, 30ft ceilings, marble pillars and leather banquettes with a lounge like atmosphere. On Sunday I’d booked a tour through Newcastle Gateshead Tourist Information with a local volunteer, meeting outside the JG Music Store. Brilliant value at £5 for a 90-minute walk with a wonderful narrative of the local history. My “avourite sights: Grainger/Grey Street Grey’s Monument – Grade I listed monument built in 1838 for Charles Grey, ex British Prime Minister who gave his name to Earl Grey tea! You can climb the 164 steps to the top on a guided tour but book early as slots sell out quick. Grainger Town – beautiful development of 1830’s classical buildings that are part of Newcastle’s Central Conservation Area. Built by Richard Grainger, the 450 buildings are mainly four storeys high and feature a mixture of turrets, domes and stone columns. Theatre Royal – designed by brothers John and Benjamin Green, the theatre opened in 1837 but was sadly ravaged by a major fire in 1899, now restored to its former glory the theatre hosts national British tours. Old Newcastle St Nicholas Cathedral – Over 900 years old, this Church of England place of worship is the seat of the Bishop of Newcastle, look inside at the wonderful craftsmanship of the alter carvings and stained-glass windows. Castle and Keep – Dating back to Roman times, the site has seen a turbulent past evolving from a timber fort to its current stone incarnation built by King Henry II. Today you can visit the Black Gate and Castle Keep, which have been lovingly restored and it’s a great place to learn about how the city got its name. Old City Walls – the defensive walls date back to the 13th century and helped secure the town from Scottish invasion, originally 2 miles long, large areas were demolished over time but check out the remains on the western side near Stowell Street. Bessie Surtees House – close to the quayside, this 16th century Jacobean merchant’s house holds the tale of requited love as high society Bessie climbed down from the first-floor window to elope with John Scott, a lowly coal merchant’s son who eventually became the Lord Chancellor of England. The Quayside Sage Gateshead - you can’t miss the imposing silver snail like structure that dominates the skyline and is one of the premier live music venues in the UK, offering a whole host of concerts, festivals and workshops. Millennium Bridge – the winning design from a council competition in 1996, is the world’s first and only tilting bridge. Spanning the River Tyne, the bridge allows pedestrians and cyclists access to the Gateshead’s Quays arts quarter. Make sure to get quayside for 12noon to see the bridge in action. Baltic Centre – a former flour mill, now a centre for contemporary art, featuring frequently changing exhibits from international and local artists alike. Don’t miss the 6th floor rooftop restaurant for amazing views. Sunday market – check out the artisan market selling all manner of tasty local treats and handcrafted goods. Highly recommend New Vintage Boutique where I picked up a lovely summer top. St James’s Park Football Stadium – home of Newcastle’s Premier League Football Team. The 52,000-seat stadium is only a 10 minute walk from the centre and as well as football matches, also hosts major international music acts and conferences. You can even don a hard hat and enjoy a rooftop tour! And as they say up north “seeya, gan canney fre noo!”

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I am just getting in touch to commend my Travel Counsellor, Sarah Freeman. We booked a family trip to Lanzarote with her over two years ago which in the meantime has been postponed twice and obviously got increasingly complicated with the changing testing rules etc. Throughout all of this Sarah has been brilliant, dealing with Ryan Air, which I know has been particularly trying, changing dates twice, getting us checked in and keeping on top of the changing rules and talking us through them, even helping with difficulties with the Spanish health forms. She has been absolutely incredible and we’ll certainly be using her again.

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As we have come to appreciate, Sarah has been so helpful. Sarah has pulled out all stops to enable me to get to Canada, for an emergency. She offered choices and informed me of all the requirements, i.e. hoops that I had to jump through, to get me abroad in an extremely stressful time.

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Sarah was nothing but fantastic throughout from start to finish. She kept us updated through Covid and even rang me the day before to wish us a happy holiday. Would definitely use Sarah Freeman from now on. 5 Star Rating!

Sent by Aryn Bryant

Recently returned from a bespoke 18 day adventure exploring Colombia. Sarah worked with us and her local partners collaboratively to ensure that the trip was exactly what we were looking for. The accommodations were thoughtfully selected to be unique and in terrific locales. Sarah and the local team kept on top of the evolving COVID restrictions and made real-time adjustments as necessary. Everyone on the team was easily accessible and highly communicative—we always felt exceedingly well taken care of. We are very excited to now be gearing up for our second “Sarah trip”, this time exploring Kenya and Tanzania!

Sent by Hazel Barnes

Sarah has once again been a huge help to me particularly with the current travel regulations, she also pointed me in the right direction to acquire a visa under special circumstances in order for me to travel. I expressed how anxious I was regarding traveling on my own and she made sure I had a connecting flight that was the best option for me putting me at ease! She's is a treasure!

Sent by Christopher Lord

Sarah helped me arrange a surprise romantic break away for my wife's birthday and we were not disappointed. The weekend was perfect, although the weather wasn't great we still had a beautiful cottage and the weather held out for the hot tub. The owners of the cottage were absolutely amazing too and couldn't do enough for us. Sarah, thank you so much, my wife and myself had the best weekend and well deserved break. The words don't do justice for the service you provide!

Sent by Michelle Webb

You have been an absolute legend, helping us with our recent trip to the Maldives, which got changed a few times due to the virus. But you made it happen, without any issues or hesitation. Getting us here was your number one priority and we can't thank you enough. Please take Sarah up on her amazing expertise and service. You won't regret it! Thank you for all that you've done for us

Sent by Suzanne Harrop

Was great to have someone do absolutely everything. I’m normally the travel organiser in our party but it was nice to sit back and someone else take the reigns.

Sent by Allie Foster

It's incredible how often you exceed expectations. This lady is amazing. Anyone looking for a holiday or a trip away needs to speak to Sarah. She will organise everything from start to finish and goes the extra mile.

Sent by Paul Wheeler

Sarah is a holiday lifesaver. Literally. With a week’s notice, she navigated all the COVID travel challenges to organise a holiday for me and my friends to Corfu to celebrate our pal’s marriage. Fantastic villa, ground transport, day on a boat and she even arranged a chef to come and cook us a celebratory meal. She was incredibly patient when it came to co-ordinating all our needs and worked round the clock to piece together a memorable break for us all. If you’re looking to go away, Sarah’s the person to make it happen.

Sent by Ella Worthington

HUGE thanks Sarah Freeman for sorting out 2 UK trips for me! Can't wait to go to Abersoch, the dogs will love the beach! And, my Dad is looking forward to his coach trip to the Lakes. HIGHLY recommend Sarah, she has been very patient, provided great service and pays attention to all the details (esp for my Dad who is travelling at the age of 80 years). So if you are looking for a trip in the UK or abroad why not check Sarah out as it is hassle free, you get the best value, all your requirements are met, COVID insurance is done and lots more!

Sent by Adam Martin

So this is long overdue.....but 100% worthy. We asked Sarah to arrange our honeymoon in South Africa....it was THE BEST holiday I have ever been on. Every little detail was arranged perfectly. Given that we stayed in 6 places and drove over 1500km the organisation was amazing. Every hotel we stayed at was ideal. The places she chose for us to go to were out of this world. Every place had its own amazing qualities whether it be the superb mountainous scenery, the whale watching on the coast in Hermanus or the Wine Tram in Franschhoek! Superb from start to finish. Couldn’t recommend Sarah services to anyone looking to arrange any travel whether it be at home in England or any exotic destination. Thank you so much Sarah.

Sent by Keith Wilson

Brilliant service and attention to detail is second to none.

Sent by Lynn Irving

Sarah was brilliant. Really looking forward to the Alaskan adventure she has arranged for us!

Sent by M Johnson

Sarah is simply brilliant. Over the last 12 months Sarah has taken time to get to know me and my family's holiday preferences and works incredibly hard (harder than any other travel professional I've bought holidays through before) to design holidays that meet those requirements. We had one problem on one holiday and despite time differences Sarah was always available and worked hard to solve the problem both whilst we were away and once we returned home. Couldn't ask for more!!

Sent by Lucy Atkinson

Sarah is helpful, responsive and really nice. I felt I could trust her with planning our family trip to the USA and we can't wait to go.

Sent by Terry Higgs

I would highly recommend Sarah. She is passionate about creating taylor fit experiences for your vacation. Hardworking and diligent about every detail.

Sent by David Walker

Delivered on the brief perfectly with sound advice and great ongoing service and contact - can't ask for more than that.

Sent by Kevin Thomas

Sarah became personally involved with our trip of a life time and made sure it all went smoothly. It was fantastic to see her build our trip, booking flights, hotels, transfers and additional activities. She worked with us throughout the planning and kept in contact with us throughout the trip. Sarah’s friendly and caring approach to ensuring the trip was built around us gave us that personal service. We would highly recommend Sarah to anyone planning a trip or a holiday. Where shall we go next Sarah?

Sent by Andrea Price

An amazing experience so far and I'm looking forward to my trip. I've never used a travel consultant before but after working with Sarah, I would use every time as the value added to the entire process is priceless. Any of my questions are answered immediately regardless of the time or day. Communication is second to none and the properties presented to me to choose from were all exactly to my request.

Sent by Nicola Briggs

Never used a travel counsellor before but I am very impressed with the service.

Sent by Kathryn Bistacchi

I could not rate Sarah highly enough, she has been incredibly patient with us and took on board everything we wanted for our upcoming trip and her advice has been second to none. I look forward to her now helping us to plan out our itinerary.

Sent by John O'Rourke

Sarah made me feel valued, worked around my business, did impeccable research and now we're looking forward to a stress free holiday.

Sent by Ian Burns

Thank you very much for helping with our company visit to the Business Excellence Forum along with some of our customers and their partners. The whole process was very clear and smooth. Past experience told us that co-ordinating everyone's accommodation was going to be time consuming. It was such a relief to be able to delegate the hotel bookings to you, all of the toing and froing with hotels was done on our behalf. We wouldn't hesitate to recommend you to anyone needing to organise business travel.

Sent by Jay Rooney

Sarah was exceptionally helpfully in assisting me with holiday arrangements to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. She asked all the right questions so she could narrow down the best accommodation to suit my family - and worked within my budget. I must admit it was a refreshing change from Travel Agents I have used in the past- who typically like to tell me what I want- as opposed to having a conversation to establish what’s important to us- and what’s not. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Sarah to others and will certainly be using her in the future. Fantastic job!

Sent by Gwen Henshaw

Just wanted to say that I am really impressed with how accurately our holiday reflected our brief! We needed somewhere that would be guaranteed sunshine (or as close to guaranteed as possible!), child-friendly, not too big and resort-like, with nice food, a separate area within our room for us to sit in the evening when the kids were in bed and flights that were short of a week because we had to make it back home for a family wedding. It wasn’t an easy check-list to fulfil! But you managed to hit the nail on the head!!! The Radisson Blu in Gran Canaria was exactly what we wanted and needed! We all had a great time; the kids in particular loved all the activities and we loved the beautiful accommodation. We have never used a travel counsellor before and I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to you and recommend to friends and family; even for more adventurous trips. It takes the faff out of the search for flights/accommodation etc. Thanks for arranging our lovely hassle-free hols! We will be back.

Sent by K Titmus

Sarah went out of her way to accommodate my needs checking multiple destinations and options. I can't recommend her services highly enough.

Sent by Frances Kemp

I just wanted to thank you personally for your service when booking our New York Hotel. This might be a new venture for you, but you are truly a natural. Let me start with why I have enjoyed working with Sarah. 1. She understands me and my travel requirements. 2. She understands the location – full knowledge of the city we booked in and a choice of locations 3. She understood our budget – she kept to our budget rather than trying to upsell us 4. She was just amazing!

Sent by Karen Christer

Sarah is ace! Her attention to detail and ability to find us exactly what we wanted within a few days was astounding.

Sent by Gina Campbell

Sarah has been amazing from start to finish - thank you so much for your hard work. Sarah listens to your requirements and looks at the detail so you don't have to - I just know that we as a family will have a fantastic break as all our requirements will be met as I totally trust Sarah and her recommendation - all we need to do is turn up and have a great time! Highly recommended - thank you so much!

Sent by Natalie Havery

10 star service. Super impressed!

Sent by Tracey Gee

Sarah was very professional and made choosing our next holiday very easy.

Sent by Kevin Thomas

Sarah has been fantastic giving us that personal touch and delivering us what will be a trip of a life time. Excellent service and attention to detail

Sent by Steven Clark

Sarah has been extremely helpful planning my Mexico City trip - helping me find a terrific hotel, booking exactly the tour itinerary I wanted, etc. - all with very quick responses and efficiency. Thanks for the great service!

Sent by Allie Baglowe

Recently decided to go to New York and Sarah made the process so easy and straightforward. Everything was thought about and she provided a great service. Would highly recommend her and have already recommended to friends and family.

Sent by Bailey Pepe

Sarah was absolutely incredible.

Sent by Rob Smith

Love the personal approach which beats high street agents by a mile. Excited for our holiday now

Sent by Hazel Barnes

We got in touch with Sarah to arrange a holiday of a lifetime for my half a century birthday. I messaged her first and explained what we were after and she arranged a call at our convenience to ask questions and get the gist of what we really wanted and didn’t want, then she went away and came back with some options and wow what brilliant options they were, completely what we had in mind! Bit spooky really! Lol The itinerary she put together is in great detail and orderly so we’ve booked and her support is continuous, I know if I think wish I would of thought of this, to do or that to try she will advise and help. The thing with Sarah is she’s such an experienced traveler and this is what she loves and she genuinely wants you to love your trip too. Get in touch with her and see for yourself it will be worth it!

Sent by Jane Miller

We recently went to Mallorca, out of season with elderly grandparents and teenagers. Sarah helped us find a hotel suitable for our differing needs and managed to keep everyone happy! We had a great time, it was even sunny!

Sent by David Christer

I would highly recommend Sarah and Travel Counsellors to anybody, for a very professional, speedy service. Excellent experience.

Sent by Kate Branagan

In all my many years of booking holidays, I have always done it myself with flights and hotels researched thoroughly. Taking up far too much of my time. As a control freak I was very wary of letting someone else loose with the reins. Well I needn't have worried. I gave you a very basic brief and you came up with a fantastic hotel and flights all within my budget. Thank you so much.

Sent by Jamie Boyd

Massive thank you for sorting out my February holiday so quickly and efficiently, it was literally one email from me with an idea on location on dates and you took care of the rest. Your service is ideal for those that are short on time and you've saved me hours of searching and online form filling which is much appreciated. I have already recommended your services to my contacts and will continue to do so, you'll also by my first choice for any holidays from here on.

Sent by Mark Brockett

Made everything so much easier for me. A great service, delivered with genuine warmth & professionalism

Sent by Jeanette Russell

Anyone looking for a tailor made holiday with that extra TLC, this is your lady. Sarah has provided us with a holiday to Florida with everything we wanted, and with her vast industry knowledge was able to go above and beyond. Sarah is already on with my next challenge #Cruises!

Sent by Nicky Waller

Great customer service! Handling a complaint in calm and efficient way - takes the stress out of it all! Thanks Sarah

Sent by Caroline Hounsell

Sarah is friendly, helpful and professional, she has found us a great holiday (within our budget)! I would wholeheartedly recommend her services.

Sent by Yvonne Braine

Sarah was great, process was quick and easy