Based in Stevenage

Shara Smith

It's Nice To Meet You

Thank you for choosing to visit my travel page.

My name is Shara Smith and I am a Global Tour Operator.
Travel is a necessity and a luxury. We all travel, but we travel differently.

I'm here to offer you a unique travel service; I speak with all of my clients personally before offering you a quote, this is important so I can begin to build a picture of you and all of your travel requirements to be able to create your idea of 'perfect'. Once we've established, where, when and how, we can then proceed to the fun stage - designing and building your dream, bespoke trip!

I’m independent, so there are no hidden loyalties with suppliers. I work hard to find you the exact holiday that fits your requirements. I'm here to take care of the finer details so you don’t have to, I particularly focus on building your long haul and specialist Europe trips, this is where my niche sits.

Being a Tour Operator means I'm with you through the full cycle of your holiday - from searching and booking to your return home. I offer my clients a personal, 5-star bespoke service, giving you the full attention you deserve. I have thousands of destinations, accommodation, suppliers and flights available, nothing is too much trouble to arrange. Booking with me also means you'll be 100% financially protected by Travel Counsellors and ATOL, who are the very best in the industry.

I'm a qualified African specialist, I've reached country number 11 on this magical continent travelling as a solo female, so who better to arrange your special African adventure then someone who knows all the best tips, and local connections.

Many clients ask about how they can travel and perhaps feel a little easier about their Carbon Footprint. This later inspired me to qualify with the Travel Foundation, I can now design your holidays to include any 'sustainable travel' options you might require.

Whatever your personal preferences or special requests are I'm waiting to hear from you - you dream it, I find it.

My business is built on referrals and repeat business, so if you've had an outstanding service from me, why not tell someone you know about me today? Let me help you discover all this wonderful world has to offer.

Life's a journey • Live Boldly • Travel Differently
© Copyright

signature

Contact Me

Whatever your holiday needs I'm here to help you, so simply give me a call or send me an email with your contact details on and I can get things started for you:

Find me on social

My Videos

I'll be traveling right beside you, anytime you need me!

4/7/2021

When you're ready to travel again, I'll be here for you, for trips around the UK, and to distant shores. Shara

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.

Top tips for first time skiers

06 February 2020

If it’s your first time on a skiing holiday, you’re probably excited to get to the beautiful mountainous surroundings of your ski resort. There’s no feeling like heading out on the slopes to experience the thrill of the wind whirling past you as you glide across the powdery white snow. Skiing is an extreme sport, however, so before you go, check out our top tips for first-time skiers to make sure things go as smoothly as possible. Having sold ski over the past 2 years, I have only just come home from my first skiing experience. I absolutely loved it and understand the buzz only Skiing can bring you. I felt like Bambi on ice at the beginning, but seeing the progress and feeling my confidence grow over the week, I was so happy to say - I am now a skiier! Read on for some of my own personal tips. Please contact me for your own holiday as we all differ in our wants and needs. Invest in good ski gear Before you go make sure that you buy some good quality skiing gear. It might seem a little pricey at the time and there may be cheaper options available, but remember, it’s an investment. There’s nothing worse than being out on the slopes when you’re cold and wet, so it’s best to get a jacket and salopettes that are going to keep you warm and dry. Workout before you go to build up some fitness In the weeks before you go, try to get to the gym and build up your fitness levels. Skiing can be pretty exerting (it’s not all sliding downhill!) and your muscles will be given a hard workout, so it’s advisable to build up a tolerance for it. Save the pain of ‘ski legs’ and make the most of your time in resort! "Don’t underestimate the energy and level of fitness is takes to really enjoy your ski holiday. At altitude, everything is working harder to pump the oxygen around your system so give yourself and your family the best chance of enjoying the slopes for longer with a get ski fit programme available at most gyms." - Ski Centre Take a waterproof backpack Despite being surrounded by snow, when you’re out skiing you can get very warm and you might want to remove a couple of layers. Take a small backpack with you that you can pop them into. This will also be useful as you can pop a water bottle and some high protein snacks in there too to keep you fuelled throughout the day. Wear layers As your mum always used to tell you: “make sure you layer up when it’s cold outside” - and it’s no different with skiing. There are constant periods of activity and inactivity throughout the day and this, paired with the weather, will mean that you need to wear layers to allow you to adjust accordingly. Take some lessons before you go Your time in resort is special, and unfortunately limited, so it’s best to arrive with a few skills in your locker so that you can make the most of the excellent facilities you find there. In the UK, we now have a few dry ski slopes and indoor snow centres so get down to your local one even if its just for a few hours to cover the basics. Warm up before and cool down after skiing As with any physical exercise, it’s important to warm up before and cool down after you’ve skied to make sure that you stay injury free and feeling fresh for the next day. If you have the time, try to incorporate some stretches into your post skiing routine, especially focusing on your legs. Don’t ski alone When you first head out skiing, try to go with a friend - ideally someone with a little experience. This will allow you to ask for tips and will make sure you’ve got someone watching over you to keep you safe. Don’t overdo it on your first time A full day on the slopes is a long time so just remember it’s a marathon not a sprint. Don’t spend hours and hours on the snow on your first day skiing, because you can easily become exhausted and lose motivation, leaving you feeling worn-out come day two. Take things nice and easy and build yourself up. You will fall, so do it properly Falling in skiing is pretty much unavoidable, even for the most seasoned professionals, so you should do it safely to ensure you don’t get hurt. If you feel yourself falling, try to fall backwards to your left or right and don’t put your hands out to break your fall as you may jar your wrist. Don’t get disheartened by the occasional fall; as you get better they will become few and far between. Excitement is everywhere on a ski holiday You don’t just have to ski, as many resorts offer a whole host of other winter attractions and activities. Travel to St Moritz in Switzerland and wander through premium brand stores and boutiques at Via Serlas, Europe’s highest shopping street. Taste delicious treats at the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Stowe, Vermont; snowboard in France’s Alpine Chamonix resort or take a dip in the ‘onsen’ hot springs in Niseko – Japan’s number one ski resort. When night falls, there’s always a chance to let your hair down at one of the après parties… and skiers certainly know how to party! To book your first skiing holiday, me today and take advantage of a my personal service and exclusive benefits including full financial protection and a 24-hour duty office ready to assist you before, during and after your trip. Shara

Argentina - all in the name of research

21 October 2019

I arrived after our long flight and I was just excited to get to our hotel room and freshen up – well, once we arrived that went out the window! We stayed at The Gran Melia Iguazu in the National Park – the one and only hotel in the park! Incredible, from the outside, she’s camouflaged, designed to fit in amongst the jungle, but inside, she radiates luxury, sustainability, comfort, class, eco friendly and staff genuinely excel! As you enter you’ll catch your breath, the falls are there, in eyes view, I promise you, no other hotel in Iguazu Argentina will compare (I visited several). Another amazing perk of staying here – you’ll be able to walk upper and lower circuits from the hotel, 5 minutes and you’re there. Iguazu Falls are made of a huge series of large and small waterfalls (the amount really depends on water levels) that you can admire from an incredible array of viewpoints. There are so many, indeed, that you can easily spend 2 to 3 days visiting Iguazu Falls, especially if you decide to view them from both the Argentine and the Brazilian sides (which I wholeheartedly recommend). Iguazu Falls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and were named one of the Seven Wonders of Nature in 2011. They stretch for almost three km between the Argentine province of Misiones and Brazilian state of Paraná and they are the largest waterfall system in the world. Iguazu Falls are constantly changing, and that your experience there may change a lot depending on the year you visit, on the time of year you visit, and even on the day. Visit after some heavy rains, and some trails may be closed due to flooding, and some wooden paths even completely carried away by the water. Other times, there may be very little water. When I visited Iguazu Falls, the flow of water was nice and strong, but it hadn’t rain in a while, so I could walk all of the trails and paths to all the viewpoints. But, since there was a lot of water, I still got (pleasantly) sprayed by the mist. I’d dare say that any time is a good time to visit Iguazu Falls. If you manage to go at the very beginning of the dry season, you should be able to see the falls at their fullest. I visited in September – weather and falls were very pleasant. December to February is the rain season, but the other side of the coin is that you get to see the waterfalls in their full power. April to June is the dry season, and August and September are even drier and cooler. The Brazilian side is very panoramic, and you’ll get perfect close up photos of the giant waterfalls. You need to cross the border here, easily done by taxi (remember your passports). But the Argentine side of Iguazu Falls is honestly much more fun. You’re literally IN the waterfalls. Trails take you above them, below them, under them (if you do the boat ride), and you can see a lot of wildlife. The Upper Circuit is a shorter trail of less than one km that takes about one hour to complete. It has a wooden path that takes you to the top of the falls from where you can enjoy impressive views. The Lower Circuit is a longer trail that will take you up to 3 hours, with several viewpoints. This is the trail you need to walk to catch the boat to San Martin Island and the boat that goes right under the waterfalls. Once you have walked both circuits, you can go back to the train stop to get on the next train going to the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat). Once the train stops, just take the wooden trail that leads to the waterfalls for about 1.2 km (one way). Along the way, you’ll be able to spot lots of turtles and at times even crocodiles in the water. Make sure to factor in enough time to visit the Garganta del Diablo, as it seriously is the highlight of Iguazu Falls. Another trail you can take is the Macuco trail, which goes all the way to Arrechea Waterfall. It’s a nice nature walk that should take you around 3 hours in total and during which you can admire lots of wildlife, and which takes you to a lesser visited part of Iguazu National Park where you can even swim in a natural pool. Though the best views of Iguazu Falls are bound to be from the sky. Just a note to add to make up your own minds - Argentina has banned them a few years ago, in an attempt to reduce the level of noise which causes noise pollution and disturbs wildlife. They are still available from the Brazilian side. I stayed here for a week exploring, more tours outside of Iguazu before it was time for me to leave for the city – Buenos Aires. After I arrived, I felt a little sorry for myself, having missed the nature, the sounds and the views. I am after all more of a country girl then city. We drove to my hotel, a quick outfit change, and I decided, I would venture out and find some tango classes to make the most out of my stay. As night fell, I started to open my eyes to the beauty of the city and acknowledged just how safe I felt. I think this is important to point out, and the ease of hailing a cab or ordering an Uber. It had a slightly American but Colonial feel. I couldn’t describe it, but my tour the next day explained it perfectly and was an absolute delight. I booked the tour guide myself through my contacts, I ended up having a 10 hour private tour – I was utterly worn out. I had learnt and seen so much I couldn’t believe the history and am still attempting to process it all. I've met me match, my guide spoke more than I do. Anyway I digress, time waits for no one, off I went, more Tango! My next stop, Estancia staying with the Gauchos. I’m happy to name the place I stayed because they truly were magnificent - El Ombu de Areco. The care they put into their guests, staff and animals was very honourable. I had a large triple room and solo use of the rest of the house I was in. They have many day guests, but my advice is, stay for two nights if you ride. Seeing the horses gallop in early morning and each meal is amazing. Because I ride I had a very special ride rounding up the cattle, it was their spring so many babies to see here. I would say go just out of season though, it wouldn’t’ve been the same if there were lots of guests. I was also fortunate that one other rider over there spoke English - be prepared to use Google Translate or feel like you’re playing language charades! The owners speak English, but riders, not so much! A couple more nights back in the city (2 hours away), iconic Tango shows and then it was time to say Adiós and return home! All in the name of research.

Africa is where the heart is...

17 October 2019

So, you think you know Africa? That was me. I thought I knew. When you know what you don't know, you then realise, you knew nothing. I’ll let you into a secret, Africa is why I’m here right now, in this job, enjoying my life, feeling happy, healthy and traveling the globe. Might sound a little dramatic, but it’s the truth. I always worked in busy, reactive industries, eventually took their toll on me. I pressed pause in life. I had no forward plans at the time I gave up my employed job. I didn’t stop there either, I decided to sell my house, be a nomad and figure myself out perhaps for the first time ever, away from society - off the grid. That lead me to my first adventure - South Africa working with the big 5 on a Game Reserve in Sidbury (not far from Port Elizabeth). I arrived a stressed, slightly erratic British girl who had zero control over the day, no idea how to relax or turn it down a notch and to just enjoy the moment! Arriving and wondering what on earth I'd signed up for, for 6 weeks, the real adventure began. Why am I telling you all this? Because this here became my reason, my why, my game changer! You don't just visit Africa, you feel it. Living in the moment and opening my eyes for what felt like the first time. I lived out there for 4 months continuing my travels, I of course went for the animals, I mean doesn’t everyone? It’s all about the big five. But, I promise you this, when you return from Africa regardless of the country you decide to visit, you will talk about so much more than the big five So, you think you know Africa? Now traveling around 11 countries on this magical continent as a solo female, it became less about the big 5, more about, well everything you see around you! The birds, insects, landscape, stars, sunrises and sunsets, the people, the culture, languages, simplicity of life. We're very good at over complicating, erm, well, just about everything here in the western world. Someone once said to me, ‘the more we have, the more we want’… amen, isn’t that the truth. So, I started to learn that actually, to us looking from the outside at those that have 'nothing', seem to have everything. I've never felt less stuck/trapped at life, since. I realised very quickly out there everything can change to your life in a blink of an eye. By that, please don't think I mean for the people of Africa, that's another story, and not mine to tell. But for you and for me (I'm the proof), if you put the work in, you can make anything happen. No more victim attitude, no longer being employed or hell lets put it out there, staying in the dead end relationships! Yawn. Suddenly my whole life back home became clearer – what I wanted and who I wanted to be. The simple fact is, life should be lived, it's our choices and our own control over our lives that bring us right here to this moment. If you're unhappy, change it. I can hear it now you're already creating the reasons, the excuses that you 'can't'. I'll let you talk to yourselves about that, back to the story. There’s more to this story of course, but for the sake of characters left and your attention spans - I'll say my business was being born, every minute and day that past me by - I just didn't know it. Skipping forward some time, many countries and experiences later. Last December my adventures took me to Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar. I want to tell you more, but for now, I wanted to say that, I hadn’t seen nothing yet! This continent just keeps giving. I slept under the stars, in the wild... in a tent! Wondering what I'd let myself in for yet again - there's a theme here, I turned into such an impulsive person, or perhaps I always was, I just learnt to trust myself more. I'd wrongly assumed there would be armed guards, even a dart gun to hand, but no - completely wild - man vs the night. We had everything you could imagine outside the said tents, from Lions, Buffalo, Hyenas and I dread to think what else. It was exhilarating. Hyenas eyes looking at us the other side of our fire, circling us in the Serengeti, looking for food. The crazy human tourists testing boundaries certainly caught their attention, but as scavengers and wild animals, we were there for the taking. We might be top of the food chain, but we were fair game in their homes. There are more stories, but for another time... all you need to know is I lived to tell the tales. So, there’s a saying in Africa ‘for every season there’s a reason’, I went ‘out of season’, and I saw everything! The plains came alive, the soil was drenched in rain fall, the lions were the fattest I’d ever seen, babies being born everywhere I turned, life was relaxed and flourishing. No starvation, dry lands in sight. I even witnessed Wildebeest stroll past 3 lions who were laying down sleeping - so full they just wanted to keep sleeping. I saw very old Elephants who go down into the Ngorongoro Crater to ‘retire’ and be left in peace. Some of the longest tusks I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to Chobe in Botswana, so this was incredible! Like I say, I want to tell you so much more, but for now, please hold onto these words - you won’t remember the pennies you spent on these once in a lifetime experiences, but you’ll remember how it made you feel and everything shared with the people you love and all you saw. The best investment and education you give yourselves is to travel, especially to Africa. I hope when you visit you too will come home and think a little differently, be grateful for all you are and all you have. For more of me - you can also find me on Facebook and Instagram to see where my travels take me to next. @shara_travel_counsellor

Luxury, history and relaxation in the Channel Islands

16 October 2019

What a wonderful week spent working and exploring Guernsey and Herm. The Channel Islands are on our door step, with so much charm, history, sights and beautiful reasons to visit for your holiday. The second-largest of the Channel Islands, Guernsey is home to stunning beaches, spectacular coastal walks, hidden coves and beautiful countryside filled with wildflowers. Discover an 800-year-old fortress guarding the harbour, absorbing museums and the compact capital St Peter Port, often described as Europe's prettiest harbour town. I stayed at The Old Government House (Red Carnation Hotel), the only 5 star hotel on the island. I visited 8 other luxury hotels on the island and there was a common theme - outstanding service, boutique luxury rooms, fantastic location and stunning views! I loved the country feel whilst being so close to beautiful beaches. I had some of the most delicious food whilst here, be prepared for generous portions too. I loved the dog friendly approach throughout the islands, coming from someone who loves to travel with her 4 legged friends! Lots of character throughout the island, Guernsey and Herm should be on your bucket list, a great place to unwind, run a business, or perhaps even retire! I wanted to talk about my second favourite hotel which also happens to be a Red Carnation Hotel - The Duke of Richmond. For anyone familiar with Uniworld River Cruises - you'll know the classic boutique style j'adore! At The Duke of Richmond and The Old Government House Hotel & Spa, generous hospitality, exquisite dining and a warm welcome awaits. DOR has a wonderful modern, boutique African flare which really makes your eyes wonder in a favourable way! This property is 4 star unlike OGH, both very different but the star rating I can assure has no bearing on the property or service. Summertime is simply a beautiful time to visit, I felt like I was stepping back into old England, perhaps because I also watched the film 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' before I arrived. A film worth a watch... but even better would be a visit. I also got the local ferry across to Herm whilst I was there, only a 20 - 30 minute journey but well worth the visit, lovely walk around the Island and perhaps even Kayak in summer months. There are many history tours I recommend taking (throughout the Channel Islands but certainly Guernsey). There are German Bunkers still all around the island offering a unique step back in time. Some you can go inside, others are left to the imagination. We had a wonderful tour guide who I'd only be too happy to recommend to anyone visiting. Victor Hugo also is a rather iconic figure on Guernsey and holds a few tails or two. For those unsure of who Victor was, he wrote Les Miserables when he moved to the island. If you're interested in visiting any of the Channel Islands, do give me a call. Nothing is too much trouble to arrange from a charter flight to a ferry, everything is in reach and anything is possible. Do keep in mind the Channel Islands get booked up very quickly over term times, consider booking ahead or visiting out of season.

Iconic QM2 Cunard Transatlantic Ocean Liner

09 August 2019

You may remember that one lucky client got to come away with me on a free QM2 Cunard Cruise. If you didn’t apply this time, please remember to follow my social media and sign up to my offers (pop me your email address if you'd like to be on there) as this is where you can be in it to win it! We spent one night, two glorious days in NYC really fitting in as much as we could in the Big Apple during our weekend. ~QM2~ Speciality Dining In the Verandah, I have to say the food was incredible. Being my first experience of a speciality restaurant on Cunard, I hope they roll out the new menu and theme everywhere! Fantastic service and incredible food. The waiter introduces the different cuts of steak on a display board and explains each of them and how best to enjoy them (rare to well done). There are, of course, other options for those who are looking for something other than steak, but I must say that if you are looking for vegetarian or vegan options, the choices are extremely limited, and you will pay a supplement if you decide to order anything not on the menu. But for me, it was steak all the way. And I wasn’t disappointed…by far one for the best steaks I’ve ever eaten! Costing $19.50pp, there is one other speciality restaurant onboard which has a revolving menu featuring Italian, Indian, Asian, Mexican and American. This is a ‘pop up’ restaurant which is located in a dedicated section of the Kings Court Restaurant (buffet). Each evening a section is cordoned off and elegantly decorated to create a unique and relaxed fine dining experience. The five menus mean there is plenty of variety on offer should you wish to try something a little different. The Britannia Restaurant (Inclusive) If you don’t fancy a speciality, the main dining venue onboard is the Britannia Restaurant. Here you will find excellent service and delicious food. Dinner in the main dining room provided some of the most exquisite meals at sea and the quality of food and service provided exceeded anything I’d experienced before. Cunard is much more traditional in terms of dining and currently only provides set time dining: early (6pm) or late (8.30pm). If you want Freedom Dining, then you have no choice but to choose a Britannia Club balcony grade cabin or higher (or eat at specialities or the buffet each night). Honesty section... Indeed, there were signs that this differentiation just wasn’t working with some shows and seating clashes, but they tried to accommodate 7pm shows for the late diners. There is an exclusive Grills Lounge onboard, only accessible to those staying in Princess or Queens Grills suites. Having said this, it certainly didn’t impact my cruise in the slightest or deter from my overall enjoyment. The internet was fabulous but very expensive. If you don't need to work or have data, a digital detox can be a godsend – after all, worse things happen at sea, so all in all, not too much to moan about! Despite this, I was loving my time onboard and enjoying every aspect that I had encountered so far. My first voyage with Cunard, it was beyond exciting being able to explore this iconic ship. Whilst walking outside on the deck myself and Carole said we felt like we’d ‘gone back in time’. Afternoon tea onboard Queen Mary 2 I couldn’t leave the subject of food without mentioning afternoon tea. By far the best at sea, Cunard’s signature Afternoon Tea is an experience that you must try when onboard. From white gloved service, to perfectly fresh sandwiches, patisseries and scones, all set in the elegant Queens Room where classical music sets the scene perfectly – it really is a delight! We loved the little added indulgence with Godiva chocolates on our bed each evening. Think Godiva cakes, Godiva scones, Godiva chocolates and even Godiva ice cream, it was beyond heaven and every chocoholics dream! Starry delights Another fantastic experience onboard is Illuminations – a dedicated planetarium at sea! Illuminations hosts key guest speakers, cinema films and, of course, intergalactic space odysseys. Cunard provide several different planetarium shows, all of which are completely immersive. As you recline back looking up to the huge dome above you, you realise you’re in for a treat! Narrated by Sigourney Weaver (who I love!), our show was all about asteroids, how we monitor them, and how we could prevent a disastrous collision with Earth! These are one of the many things you can do when at sea and I highly recommend going. A dogs life Did you know you can take your pet pooch onboard? Only on certain voyages though. I loved visiting the dog walking area and kennels, which is another unique element of Queen Mary 2 that makes her so special. It was surprising how many dogs were onboard. When we disembarked at Southampton it was very strange standing in the terminal surrounded by dogs. I loved it! Naturally, our furry friends aren’t allowed to wander where they please, but the fact that this option is available is fantastic. From what I could see, your beloved dogs are well looked after and spoilt just as much as you are onboard. Although, if I took my Cavalier King Charles, I think I would spend the entire time in the kennels with her! The Commodore Club I realise I’ve mainly spoken about food here; here you can find the most incredible drinks and even a Cigar room on board. The show must go on… The dancing shows, dance lessons and general entertainment from staff was exceptional. As a dancer, to finally have the time to learn Tango with the incredible ‘taxi dancers’ was just amazing! Long may the lessons continue now I’m home. Not a bad word to say. We were also onboard during fashion week; some great lectures offered and shows put on for this week. Depending on the time you travel and where this is all adapted, don’t you love this about cruising? Queen Mary 2 is the most incredible ship and opportunity to sail out of New York on her on this iconic Transatlantic voyage. 7 nights at sea as you cross the Atlantic really does fly by but gives you full opportunity to explore this unique ocean liner and relax in complete luxury. I'm sure there isn’t another ship in the world to match her grandeur, atmosphere, history and charm. Cunard aren’t perfect… they do provide outstanding quality, incredible service and beautiful ships that really do give you a taste of the glory of ocean travel. That’s a wrap

Casa de Campo

11 June 2019

“Your Caribbean Dream - any way you want it.” Casa de Campo Welcome to paradise. I was invited to spend 7 nights here in La Romana, not something you would really want to say no to. But when I arrived, the realisation of just how much there was to see and do hit me. I come from a shooting background, English Sporting, this was one of the main attractions for myself and my guest, who just happened to be Victoria Knowles-Lacks, owner of The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club. We were staying in an Elite room with a balcony which overlooked one of their 3 golf courses - beautiful. All the five star touches you'd expect were there, from the VIP check-in we received on arrival, golf buggy hire included, décor, amenities, choice of pillows, maid as required, turn down service, 6 restaurants with all-inclusive but additional fine dining available. I would recommend this resort on an 'all inclusive' basis. As well as their stated restaurants, soft drinks, club wine amd local beer, you also have unlimited ranch riding, golf and a free 25 shot 'have a go' at clay pigeon shooting. A special mention to the ranch. We rode every single day and were very impressed at the standard of care for the horses and guests. LUXURY RESORT DETAILS: **Contact me for a preferential rated quotation** Hotel & Private Villas Casa de Campo Resort and Villas offers a range of hotel rooms to ensure you always stay in comfort and style while visiting the Dominican Republic. Choose from our original Superior Casita Rooms to be close to the courses or our spacious Elite Suites, for when you need a little extra space. Every room comes equipped with luxury amenities and features. For your convenience, our front desk is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to attend to your every need. Private Villas: Offering a delightful experience, one that starts with breakfast prepared for you, in the comfort of your own, private home. Daily maid services from 7:00 AM, personalized check-in, and welcome amenities. Additionally, all villas are provided with at least two complimentary 4-passenger golf carts for touring the resort so you can go anywhere in Casa de Campo. From a romantic getaway for two to a vacation with the whole family, our luxurious accommodations will truly become your home away from home. Golf At Casa de Campo Resort and Villas, golf isn’t just a pastime; it’s a way of life. With courses carved from the earth along the pristine Caribbean Sea – fringing the ocean, overlooking the Chavón River, and winding throughout our spectacular grounds, it’s no wonder this classic sport is so integrated in our daily life. From beginner to expert, each round offers a challenge whether it’s your first or 50th time playing. These spectacular Dominican Republic Golf courses include Teeth of the Dog, Dye Fore and The Links. State of the art Shooting The best year-round shooting facility in the Caribbean. For an authentic in-the-wild shooting experience, look no further than Casa de Campo. The shooting facilities include an onsite 245 acre Shooting Centre, with over 200 stations for trap, skeet and sporting clays and pigeon rings. Casa de Campo’s shooting centre also includes a 110 ft. tower that projects sporting clays—one of the largest in the world, as well as “Rancho Peligro”, a wild bird reserve outside of Casa de Campo where “Driven Shoots” take place. Casa de Campo’s shooting facilities are considered by many to be among the best in the world - to which, myself and Victoria would agree. Polo & Dude Ranch Casa de Campo Resort and Villas’ extensive equestrian centre is among the best in the Caribbean. And if you’ve never saddled-up before, our expert staff is on hand for lessons in English or Western-style riding and jumping, and even grooming techniques and rodeo stunts. Private guides are available for individual or group trail rides on two of our cattle ranches. Enjoy a leisurely ride through herds of water buffalo, lakes teeming with ducks and local fauna, sugar cane fields, and our on-site horse-breeding operation. The Equestrian and Polo are directed by Fernando Arata, originally from Argentina, a professional polo player with ample experience in the field. Beginners and experts alike can take advantage of equipment, group instruction, and personalized training. Guests can also hire ponies for stick and ball tournaments, a fantastic and entertaining activity for families. Regular polo matches are played from early November to the end of April for those simply content to cheer from the side-lines. Added Unique Touches Altos de Chavón is a place like no other—a replica 16th century Mediterranean village in the heart of the Dominican countryside. Meticulously designed by Dominican architect, Jose Antonio Caro, and Italian master designer and cinematographer, Roberto Coppa, every detail of Altos de Chavón was handcrafted by local artisans. Other sites include an archaeological museum, offering a glimpse into the fascinating history of the area, the St. Stanislaus Church, 5,000-seat amphitheatre, and sweeping views of the Chavón River and the Caribbean Sea. Private Marina & Beach The heart of Casa de Campo Resort and Villas’ ocean playground is the Marina—the vision of Gianfranco Fini and Piero Giacosa. Inspired by the quaint seaside villages that dot the Mediterranean coastline, the Marina is more than just a place to moor, it’s an entire community for sport fishermen, yachting enthusiasts, and landlubbers alike. At the heart of Casa de Campo is Minitas Beach, a private sanctuary that’s perfect for soaking up the sun or enjoying sports like snorkelling, kayaking, paddle boating, and so much more. And just beyond our shores, the secluded Catalina and Saona Islands await with even more hidden beaches and lush surroundings to explore. …and there’s more. From entertainment, spas, excursions, exceptional restaurants to choose from - you can even get married here. The St. Stanislaus Church or beach makes for the most amazing photos the Caribbean has to offer, you’ll look back on those moments and memories for the rest of your life. Casa de Campo is a place you’ll never forget! I know we won’t. Shara **Contact me for preferential rates and special requests** E: Shara.smith@travelcounsellors.com T: 01438 850 008 or 07572 610 274

Top Resorts for Golfers...

12 April 2019

With the start of golf’s biggest annual event, the Masters, I decided to pool together the knowledge and expertise of our Travel Counsellors and get their recommendations for the world’s top golfing resorts. If you want to play 18 holes in the day then retire to the lap of luxury in the evening, read on to find out where you could be enjoying your next golfing escapade. Pine Cliffs – Algarve, Portugal The multi-award-winning Pine Cliffs Hotel, a Luxury Collection Resort, promises an opulent stay for any discerning travellers heading to southern Portugal. Perched on a clifftop overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Pine Cliffs Hotel offers stunning views over the coast and immaculate resort grounds, with each of its 217 rooms and suites boasting a light and charming Mediterranean feel. Those who want to pull out their irons and putter can do so 200 feet above the golden sands and blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean on their immaculate nine-hole golf course. Built in a pinewood setting, with tree-lined fairways, the course gives its guests breath-taking views along the Algarvian coastline. There’s also the Pine Cliffs Golf Academy, offering tuition from a team of internationally-qualified PGA professionals with a combined experience of over 20 years of teaching. Angsana Laguna Phuket – Phuket, Thailand Set along the shores of Phuket’s Bang Tao Bay on the northwest of the island, Angsana Laguna Phuket is home to pristine beaches with warm white sand, 409 stylish guestrooms and suites and the exquisite Angsana Spa and Treehouse Kids’ Club, which is ideal for younger guests. Guests staying at the resort will have complimentary access to Laguna Golf Phuket - a newly-renovated, 18-hole course that will appeal to golfers of all abilities. Situated in the heart of Laguna Phuket Resort, you’ll have easy access with a free shuttle service between the course and hotel. Laguna Golf Phuket also features Southeast Asia’s first PGA-branded golf academy, offering a luxury holistic teaching environment led by experienced PGA instructors. Sandy Lane – Barbados Welcoming you the minute you arrive in Barbados, with airport concierge and transfers in an executive car, every stay at Sandy Lane comes with impeccable service. Luxurious accommodation is made up of 113 elegant rooms and an impressive five-bedroom villa, all boasting Italian marble floors, plantation-style furniture and spacious private verandas. If you want to relax, head to The Spa, with its 11 lavish treatment rooms serviced by highly-trained therapists. The hotel’s four restaurants celebrate wonderful flavours from around the world from European cuisine to Caribbean and Asian influences. Sandy Lane is also a top resort for golfers, not least because it played host to the wedding of Tiger Woods in 2004. Visitors can tee off on one of three world-renowned courses: The Old Nine, The Country Club and The Green Monkey – a Tom Fazio creation carved from an old stone quarry which is exclusive to Sandy Lane guests. Wherever you play, you’ll be served up enchanting views of Barbados’ Platinum Coast. Sandy Lane also offers a golfing package which includes several rounds of golf, an exclusive Sandy Lane gift and lunch for two at The Country Club or The Spa Café. “Barbados is my favourite holiday destination – we love that in bars, restaurants and beaches, locals and tourists mix together. People are so friendly wherever you go. “I’d recommend a tour of the island to see what each of the coastlines are like, and a trip to the Mount Gay rum factory is a must, too. Make sure you do the cocktail making class as well.” Fairmont Orchid – Hawaii, USA While known for its natural beauty, its sunny shores and its surfing, Hawaii is also a golfing paradise, with several world-class resorts, and one such resort is Fairmont Orchid. This majestic resort is located on the Kohala Coast and is set across 32 acres of lush tropical gardens, which contain cascading waterfalls, a white sand beach and a stunning lagoon. The resort offers 540 spacious guest rooms and luxury suites which draw on the warmth and serenity of Hawaii Island. Resort amenities include the award-winning Spa Without Walls, a 10,000-square-foot oceanfront pool, a year-round children’s program and a tennis pavilion. Alongside the Fairmont Orchid is the award-winning, 36-hole championship Francis H. I’i Brown Course, with two distinct complexes, each comprising of 18 holes. The South Course snakes through stark, rugged, a’a lava and provides a real challenge to the backdrop of spectacular mountain and ocean views. The North Course, on the other hand, is excellent for tournament play and is characterised by its rolling terrain and kiawe groves. A spicier mention too Fairmont in Marrakech where I've just returned from, stunning grounds and a holiday stay for all the family. InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa – Fiji Nestled amongst 35 acres of tropical gardens, InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa boasts 266 beautifully-appointed rooms, world-class dining, three swimming pools, a kid’s club and a wedding pavilion. It is also home to Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course, which hosts the annual PGA Fiji International. This 18-hole, par-72 course boasts up to five tee positions on each hole, providing an enjoyable challenge to players of all abilities. There’s also golf tuition from PGA professional players, with private and group lessons available. Styled in traditional South Pacific architecture, the clubhouse is the ultimate vantage point for breathtaking views across the golf course, coral reefs and surf breaks, and its open-air bar and restaurant is the perfect way to cap off a round. Food is a major part of most cultures and Fiji is no exception. The Flavours of Fiji cooking school offers market tours and cooking classes. Learn to make exotic curries, traditional sweets and homemade chutneys using fresh local produce, then take your newfound Fijian culinary skills home and cook a feast for your friends and family when you return home. And when you’re in the capital, Nadi, be sure to visit the largest Hindu temple in the southern hemisphere. With an estimated 30% of the local population being Hindu, the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple is an important place of worship for many. Dress modestly to ensure you can enter – long pants or long skirt and long-sleeved top are recommended for women and long pants for men. So, where do you want to visit next? Shara

Luxury in Morocco

08 April 2019

Marrakech, Morocco’s best-known city, has a life of its own. With its frenetic energy, the city is a constant hive of activity through a maze of bustling streets and lively squares. The famous Djemma el Fna square in the heart of Marrakech really comes to life as dusk falls, with musicians, dancers, acrobats and snake charmers all adding to the unique atmosphere. Escape to the labyrinth which forms the souks of the old medina and barter with the competitive locals for colourful carpets and fragrant spices, or simply relax in the welcome shade of the palm trees. My visit brought me to 4 very special unique hotels, each had their own unique personality and created a stir amongst its visitors. I will be breaking these down into two blogs. After arriving into Marrakech, our first stop for Lunch was La Sultana. La Sultana Marrakech 5 Stars Overlooking the Saadian Tombs, this is an opulent and authentic boutique hotel. Combining the tradition and history of five riads, this member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World provides some of the highest standards of accommodation and service in Morocco. Converted from homes, this stunning hotel embodies the tradition and style of authentic Marrakech. Talented chefs create a refined medley of international flavours in the restaurant, served in dining rooms around the pool or al fresco on the spacious roof terraces overlooking the city and the Atlas Mountains. An outdoor heated pool with jet stream fringed by terraces creates cool oases of relaxation. Panoramic rooftop garden terraces with shady corners, a bar, caidal tent and water misted solarium offer breath-taking vistas of Koutoubia Mosque and the Saadian Tombs. Each of the hotel’s elegant rooms and suites has a unique décor that perfectly reflects the intimate riad feel. Adorned with sculpted ceilings, unique pieces of antique furnishings and artwork, you can expect contemporary facilities such as a free minibar, iPod docks and free Wi-Fi throughout. Deluxe Prestige Rooms are simple, spacious and chic; for extra space, choose a Junior Suite, or a Suite which features a balcony. We then drove, approximately 3 hours along winding roads into the heart of the Atlas Mountains is nesting a most subtle pearl, Widiane Suites & Spa. A concentrate of essence and wellbeing to enrich your senses as you take in open views, fresh air and contrasting landscapes. Widiane Suites & Spa 5 Star Associating luxury and refinement, this masterpiece is the ideal retreat for nature lovers, where the time ceases to let you enjoy the celestial and charming site. A personal must is the speedboat to the restaurant called 'Thai'. You can even book a massage in their rather quirky huts with a view whilst you're waiting for your lunch, or perhaps you'd like to take a moment of tranquillity in the glass room which opens up to the most amazing view as a Yoga spot! I stayed here for two magical nights. The hotel is located on a lake. This family-friendly hotel is only 2.3 miles from Bine El Ouidane Dam, which is so impressive. I recommend seeing the Dam by air. This hotel features 2 restaurants, a marina and 2 outdoor pools. I tried my first Hammam here in their full-service spa, this was very hyped up, I know why. My skin after felt amazing. This is turning into a weekly routine, if you haven't had one before, make sure your first is in Morocco. I of course can’t not mention the infinity pool here and the surrounding views. I felt relaxed within minutes of arriving. Hotel has 31 rooms, all feature thoughtful touches such as bathrobes and slippers. I was blown away at the size of my room and balcony. This is bigger than my flat back home, as tempting as it was to stay, I was off on my next stop.

Luxury in Morocco Part 2

08 April 2019

Back to Marrakech... The Fairmont hotel awaits. You're 'wowed' from the moment you drive into the entrance gate of this hotel. The immaculate grounds, the elegant, classy touches throughout. The staff are worthy of a mention, they took the time to learn my name and remember it. Those are the caring touches that I certainly remember when I relayed my stay to friends, family and clients. The Fairmont Marrakech 5 Star Nestled in a natural landscape of 231 hectares of palm, olive and orange trees, lying in the shadow of the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains, Fairmont Royal Palm is the ultimate oasis of luxury, style and adventure, located only twenty minutes from the vibrant medina of Marrakech. The hotel features opulent guest rooms, suites and villas overlooking our 18-hole Golf Course and the Atlas Mountains. Indulge in one of their six eclectic restaurants and bars offering local and international cuisine, a 2,000 sqm swimming pool, and a 3,500 sqm spa offering the ultimate escape and relaxation. The Kids' Club promises little ones a world of discoveries and the Fitness Centre ensures you to remain fit while on the road. Whether you want a private getaway, family treat, business retreat, fine tuning your Golf swing, or exploring the wonders of Marrakesh, Fairmont Royal Palm promises to turn your Moments into Memories. I was dressed up as a bride whilst here, showcasing the incredible weddings that this hotel can offer. What a special day and memories made, I had to remind myself it wasn't real, I think even my family and friends back home were fooled! Have you ever stayed in a Palace before? No, well add this hotel to the top 10 hotels to stay or even visit on a week day. La Mamounia 5 star luxury Time is irrelevant at La Mamounia. Here the past blends with the present and days are punctuated by the sound of birdsongs, soothing Argon oil massages, and candlelight tete-a-tete dinners. Not, the tick of a clock. A favourite of the world’s elite since 1923, La Mamounia is where Winston Churchill escaped the pressures of war by painting the Atlas mountains from his suite, and where today’s international business moguls, sports stars, and artists mingle within Jacques Garcia designed interiors and under the shade of 700 year old olive groves grown for a Moroccan prince. Luxurious rooms not like anything you've experienced before... Just moments away from Jemaa el-Fnaa Square in Marrakesh, La Mamounia offers the sophisticated luxury and comfort of a five-star palace hotel. Boasting incredible views of the gardens, the Atlas Mountains and the Koutoubia Mosque, the rooms, suites and luxury suites boast all the elegance of a 5-star palace hotel, each with their own interpretation of the Moroccan art of living. La Mamounia’s villas are hidden away in the sumptuous gardens of this luxury palace hotel in Morocco. Just a few minutes from Marrakesh’s medina, three superb villas provide the perfect hideaway, offering the incredibly intimate feel of a private riad with all the benefits of a 5-star palace hotel’s services. Ideal for romantic getaways or family holidays. Enjoy eating in a different restaurant every day, as the mood takes you, at La Mamounia in Marrakesh. Choose from Le Marocain with its decidedly oriental feel, the more traditional Le Français or L’Italien and Le Pavillon by the pool: together, the restaurants offer a range of culinary specialities which is unique in Marrakesh. A perfectly balanced combination of flavours, combining delicious spices, Mediterranean sunshine and age-old tradition. I didn't want my 6 glorious days to end. But, I'm back and I'm full to the brim of passion and excitement offering you all a chance to experience the pleasure I did in this country full of heart, colours, stories, charm and beauty. Arabic, French and English are widely spoken throughout. Do let me know if this is just the experience you're looking for. I can add Helicopters, Hot Air Balloons or any other special requests you might have.

Affordable luxury – Five-star hotels without the price tag

12 November 2018

We all deserve a little bit of luxury in our lives, especially when it comes to a holiday. Luckily, now many resorts around the world offer high-end suites and services for a fraction of the price. We’ve put together a handy list of some of our favourite five-star abodes for three-star prices, so that you can holiday in style without a hefty bill at the end. Majestic Malacca Hotel, Malaysia What makes it 5*? Stunning Colonial architecture with a regal feel, and stunning views of the river from each and every room. The beds are wonderfully comfortable, rooms are designed with an open plan concept, and the service is attentive and personal. Every guest is also welcome to enjoy a 50-minute massage during their stay, too. Where is it? Malaka, Malaysia – a colourful and historical city with plenty to do and see. Make sure you visit the night market where you can try delicious street food, shop in the bazaars and maybe even catch some Chinese karaoke. How much? You can book a room here from just £98 per night. Akyra Thonglor, Bangkok, Thailand What makes it five-star? This gorgeous ex-apartment block was voted as one of The Independent’s Top 10 Hotels in Bangkok. With an envious location right in the centre of the action, you can expect plush interiors, spacious rooms and impeccable service to boot. Make sure you pay a visit to the pool bar to take in the spectacular views over the city. Where is it? Right in the middle of bustling Bangkok, a city with an electrifying atmosphere where you can combine a visit to vibrant Khoa San Road with trips to tranquil temples. How much? One night’s stay can be booked from £84. Grand Hotel Palazzo Livorno, Tuscany, Italy What makes it five-star? This palatial abode oozes luxury and style, with contemporary rooms and sumptuous furnishings throughout. Make the most of the spa with its saunas and Turkish baths or take a cooling dip in the shimmering rooftop swimming pool. Where is it? Gorgeous Tuscany – with its plentiful vineyards, rolling hills and lots of history and culture, there’s so much to explore in this picture-perfect region of Italy. How much? Rooms are available from £108 per night. Hotel Villa Real, Madrid What makes it five-star? This stunning hotel boasts traditional Spanish style rooms with marble bathrooms and luxurious large beds, and you also receive a champagne voucher on arrival to use at the bar. Make sure you try the hotel’s stylish restaurant East 47, for a taste of delicious modern Mediterranean cuisine. Where is it? The Spanish capital city of Madrid. You’ll never be at a loose end here, with art galleries, tapas restaurants and incredible architecture galore, this 24/7 city is beguiling and inspiring in equal measures. How much? A stay starts from £98 per night. Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur What makes it five-star? This glamorous colonial structure offers timelessly elegant suites, and an extensive spa to while the days away. There are extensive men’s services available too, including a decadent whisky lounge, gentlemen’s grooming and a tailoring and shoe shine service. Where is it? Central Kuala Lumpur with excellent access to transport links and just 30 minutes from the airport. Make sure you pay a visit to Starhill Gallery and Mid Valley Megamall during your stay. How much? Expect to pay from £79 per night. The Sarai resort and Spa, Cambodia What makes it five-star? The elegantly-appointed rooms and Moroccan-style swimming pool are second to none, while the healing spa is perfect for when you want to unwind. Make sure you try the cooking experience with the hotel’s chef to create your own Cambodian cuisine. Where is it? Siem Reap, Cambodia – home to the incredible Angkor Wat temples along with plenty of other historical and cultural sights. How much? Rates begin at just £79 per night. Ready for your five-star escape without the price tag? Get in touch with me to book your luxury getaway.

Fly privately with Air Partner for a winter family holiday to remember

31 October 2018

If you’re thinking of planning a family holiday this winter, it’s worth considering flying privately. It’s a hassle-free solution that ensures your next family holiday is extra-special. One of the main advantages is time-saving, as you can bypass busy airports and spend more time with your loved ones. Flexibility can transform your holiday and flying privately allows you to plan the timings and your departure airports to best suit you. I will work closely with Air Partner to create a bespoke getaway to suit your needs. Here are some of the ways we can help create an unforgettable family holiday this winter. Be the first on the slopes Flying privately to the slopes is a popular choice, as it has many benefits compared to flying on scheduled commercial services. You can avoid the busy airport hubs and access private airports that are smaller and often closer to the resorts. Arriving as little as 20 minutes before your flight departs means that you’ll spend less time travelling and be able to make the most of your time on the mountain. The flexibility also means you can plan your trip around your home schedule – you could plan a short ski trip for the weekend or depart straight after school to make the most of the school holidays. For a family ski trip this winter, we recommend Megèye in France. Just one hour from Annecy, this Alpine resort is ideal for a short break, with fantastic skiing, stunning views of its Mont Blanc backdrop and a family-friendly, pedestrianised medieval centre. Little ones will love Megèye’s open-air ice rink and horse-drawn sledges. Winter sunshine One of the best times to seek some sunshine is in winter when you can escape the cool climate of Britain and top up your tan on a beach. Head to faraway shores on a bespoke luxury winter sun getaway, where your time onboard your plane can be enjoyed in the peace and privacy of your own cabin, with customisable dining options. Relax with a book or make use of the onboard screens to keep the kids entertained. Dubai is a fantastic winter sun destination, with temperatures at that time of year hovering around the mid-twenties and only a three-hour time difference. There’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained from water parks and humongous shopping malls to an indoor ski slope and fantastic dining options. For the seven-hour flight from the United Kingdom, travel in a Gulfstream G500 – a long-range, large-cabin aircraft, considered one of the world’s best private jets. Take the whole family Are you looking to celebrate a special occasion with your extended family this winter? Your Travel Counsellor will work with Air Partner to create a memorable holiday for you. Flying privately allows you to easily transport a large number of guests to your chosen destination in style. It keeps everyone together and avoids the complication of guests arriving at different times, as well as giving you access to convenient local airports and allowing you to speed through security. You can even have access to a private lounge to kick off your special occasion in luxurious fashion. To take your celebration to the next level, you can personalise your flight experience for your guests, from selecting your favourite movies for everyone to watch to personalising your dining experience or even customising the aircraft with bespoke headrest covers and gifts. For the ultimate surprise, keep the destination a secret and enjoy the big reveal on arrival.

Sail the glorious Adriatic Sea from Dubrovnik to Split

27 September 2018

Dobro Dosli! Welcome to Croatia. Experience the old-world charm of Croatia on a sailing odyssey from Dubrovnik to Split. I spent days cruising around impressive coastlines, exploring lush national parks, wandering through medieval towns or rolling off the boat into warm, turquoise waters to swim. Contrast this emergence into Croatia's natural beauty with regular doses of the unique culture and tastes of the lively restaurant and bar scene, indulged in fresh seafood and regional wines while looking onto stunning coastal vistas. Sound like your idea of heaven? Read on! Why you'll love this trip... • What better way to see the historic towns, protected forests and stunning islands of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast than aboard a private yacht - it’s all aboard for a week in paradise • Set sail out of beautiful Dubrovnik. The World Heritage-listed walled city plays host to film crews every year • Wander the length of car-free Lopud in the idyllic Elafiti Islands • Discover the lush forests of Mljet, which are yet to be spoilt by mainstream tourism. • Visit Odysseus Cave where, according to legend, the king of Ithaca once found refuge after surviving a shipwreck • Once ruled by the Roman, Ventian and Austro-Hungarian empires, Korcula is a quiet escape full of vineyards, olive groves and tranquil coves • Cross the water from the island of Vis to Cave Bisevo’s blue grotto in a rowing boat We set sail this first afternoon, so I'd highly recommend you arrive a couple of days early into Dubrovnik to have time to explore. The undisputed jewel of the Dalmatian Coast, Dubrovnik is a beautiful white stone town surrounded entirely by city walls. Although it experienced devastation during the war in the early 1990s, the old town – with its tiled roofs and stone buildings – remains as charming as ever. Extensive restoration has taken place to return it to its original splendour, and even today repairs are still being undertaken. With the sparkling water of the Adriatic in the background, Dubrovnik is picturesque, full of character and can easily be covered on foot. After boarding the boat, we left the mainland shores and sail the open waters of the Adriatic to the hidden paradise of the Elafiti Islands. Elafiti Islands Elafiti is made up of three main islands: Kolocep – Known as the green island because of its 100 year old pine groves, carol-trees, olive groves and citrus trees. There are also two villages to explore – Donje Celo and Gornje Celo. Lopud – This island has spectacular parks and beaches and is one of the best developed touristic islands in the Dubrovnik area. The island is also home to several monasteries and ruins to explore. Sipan – This is the largest of the island group with a long history full of stories and legends and considered one of the jewels of the area. Mljet (Elafiti Islands to Mljet) Set sail for the picturesque island of Mljet. Legendary in ancient history as the idyllic island where the shipwrecked Odysseus lived for seven years, today the island is a haven of lush national park, forests and small villages. Since Greek sailors sought haven here from storms, filling up on fresh water from the springs, the island has been inhabited by Illyrians, Romans, Slavs and Avars. In the 13th century the island was given to the Benedictine order who built a monastery in the middle of one of the island's western lakes, Veliko Jezero. In 1410, Mljet was formally annexed to Dubrovnik. Why not explore karst valleys and catch your reflection in inky blue lakes on a guided tour through the national park. Wander beneath cool pine forests, through chasms and gorges, and discover ruins such as the remains of an Illyrian fortification, a Roman palace and a 5th-century church. In the evening perhaps try the local wine – the fields and vineyards that dot the island are the foundation of the local economy, with Mljet's villagers producing wine and olive oil as they have been for hundreds of years. Korcula (Mljet to Korcula) Sail north through the jewel-like waters towards Korcula. Sweep in past the round, defensive towers of Korcula Town via the Peljeski Channel. Natives of Korcula believe Marco Polo was born on the island. Whether or not this can be proved (the Venetians have a similar claim), Korcula is steeped in a long history and the islanders are proud owners of this little gem, smaller than Dubrovnik but no less precious to its inhabitants. Greeks settled in the 6th century BC (they called the island Black Korcula), but the town was also occupied by the Romans, the Slavs, and then the longest period of rule passed to the Venetians between 1420 and 1797. Even Napoleon was ruler for a while. As a result of all these influences, Korcula has a stunning Old Town – romantic and evocative. And what's more, there are plenty of warm beaches to relax on if that's more your speed. Vis (Korcula to Vis) We cruised to Vis, which is the furthest island from the mainland. Vis has retained its charm and laid-back lifestyle, and you can take an optional tour to learn about the island’s history – with it passing between Greek, Roman, Venetian, Napoleonic, Austrian and Italian hands. Visit nuclear fallout shelters, churches and vantage points with great views across the ocean. If the tide is low, visit the stunning blue grotto of Cave Bisevo. More recently, they filmed Mamma Mia 2 here. Watch the open-air cinema and go for a private tour of the island. Easily my favourite island! Hvar (Vis to Hvar) Voyage along the Neretvanski Channel away from mainland Central Dalmatia to the 'Queen of the Dalmatian Islands', Hvar. Settle in for an afternoon of beach-hopping, enjoying seafood fresh from the day's catch and kicking back with cocktails on the waterfront. Hvar has an air of Venice about it – wander around towns with wonderfully preserved Renaissance facades, hike past dramatic jagged limestone cliffs and slow your pace to enjoy the undulating farms, ancient olive groves and fields of rosemary and lavender. There’s an option to cross the island by car to Hvar Town, often known as the ‘San Trope of Croatia’. Although one of the most popular tourist islands, I would like to mention that there are a lot of young English tourists here when the sun goes down. Brac (Hvar to Brac) Sunny Brac is the largest island in central Dalmatia, set among steep cliffs and a distinctly Mediterranean landscape. Villagers have farmed wine, olive oil, figs and almonds in the difficult interior of this rock-strewn island for centuries, but it's the small, beach-side towns that draw the crowds. Brac's most famous export is the gleaming white stone mined from the island's quarries, cladding buildings as deep in antiquity as Diocletian's Palace in Split, and as far afield as the White House in Washington DC. Take a leisurely cruise along the coast, soaking up the sunshine and the scenery. Weigh anchor and go for a paddle in the aquamarine sea, or snorkel and spot sea anemones, crabs, sea urchins and small fish in the pristine waters. Some of the very best cocktails were consumed whilst singing and dancing to a local band here. Split (Brac to Split) Sail from island idyll to city wonderland and approach the palm-lined harbour of Split from its best side – framed by towering coastal mountains and the blue of the Adriatic. If Dubrovnik is considered the heart of Dalmatia, Split is certainly its soul. Situated on a small peninsula on the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea, it's the second largest city in Croatia. Explore the impressive ruins of Diocletian's Palace, Split's most imposing structure and indeed some of the most interesting ruins on the Adriatic coast. Diocletian (245-313 AD) was a Roman Emperor infamous for his cruel treatment of Christians in the 3rd century. He chose the peninsula at Split to build this huge palace for his retirement, near to the Roman settlement of Salona (Solin), the ruins of which can still be seen today. My personal advice is to stay here longer! Such a beautiful city very different from everywhere else. I recommend staying an additional two days at least. Croatia you exceeded all expectations!

My 18 night Cuban adventure...

21 September 2018

My trip broken down... Bienvenido a Cuba! Welcome to Cuba! I had organised a tour in Cuba. I felt, as a solo traveller, this was the best way to get around to seeing all the flavours and style Cuba had to offer. Arriving at the small warm airport, you soon become accustomed to the relaxed character of the Cubans. The luggage will arrive when they are ready, and not a moment sooner. It brought a smile to most of us waiting, and the sheer joy when you are reunited with your case! I got a taxi outside of the airport, I would normally pre-book my own, but I figure it’s all in the name of research! I wasn’t disappointed. A vintage car awaited me! It was around 11pm, but the excitement outweighed the tiredness – the Cuban salsa music playing from the speakers reminded me of the adventure that awaited me. I stayed at Nacional de Cuba for 2 nights on my own. Grand chandeliers deluge the sharp white walls with light and the tile floors glisten beneath my feet. Mahogany furnishings adorn the space and brass fixtures provide the final touches on the sense of time and space preserved here. My room was big, well maintained and history surrounded me. A national monument, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba is a beacon for Cuban history as well as culture. It is a widely celebrated fact that only Cubans work here. “We are 100 percent Cubana” Aeleen tells me. “The hotel holds the great values of our culture.” Yet the hotel did not have such beginnings. Opened as the National Hotel of Cuba on December 30, 1930, the hotel was built and operated by Americans as a hotel for American tourists. When the hotel first opened, no Cubans could stay here. The hotel was designed by the prestigious architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, which also designed such iconic buildings as Columbia University in New York City and the Boston Public Library. The hotel has a similar architectural design to The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida. Both hotels look nearly identical from the outside. The Hotel Nacional de Cuba boasts a long list of famous guests including Gary Cooper and Erroll Flynn in the 1930’s, Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, and Cantinflas, an actor from Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema in the 1940’s, and Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner and Walt Disney in the 1950’s. Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the hotel shifted its focus to accommodate friends of the revolution including Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Gaberiel García Márquez, author of Love in the Time of Cholera. In more recent years, as tourism has been off limits to most Americans, the hotel has hosted a wealth of diplomats and world leaders, including Vladmir Putin, President of Russia, Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former President of Iran, and Xi Jinping, President of China. Former President Jimmy Carter also stayed here, and US Secretary of State John Kerry paid a visit in August 2015 during his trip to reopen the Embassy. Official Tour... Day 1: Havana I met with my fellow travellers today. What a great bunch of humans to travel with! Another English male traveller, 4 Australians, 1 Swiss guy being the youngest in his early 20s, and me. Accommodation: Local standard guesthouse (1 night) Activities • Havana - Revolution museum • Havana - National Museum of Fine Arts • Havana - Tourist bus day pass Day 2: Havana Havana's history is as colourful as its cars and buildings. Today, we went on a guided tour of the Havana vieja. Havana remains one of the great colonial cities of the Americas. An air of faded glory comes through in the peeling paint of some of its grand old buildings. Narrow streets, spacious plazas and Spanish architecture make it a charm to explore on foot. Visit La Catedral San Cristobal de la Habana, the Palacio de los Marqueses de Aguas Claras and the Plaza de Armas. Also visit the Museo de la Revolucion, to learn about the history of the Cuban Revolution. Afterwards, we enjoyed some free time to further explore on our own. We ended up escaping the rain on a cruise around Outer-Havana in a pink convertible vintage American car. You had a lineup of cars to your choosing, 2 of our travellers were big vintage car enthusiasts and simply couldn’t choose one – they went on 2 or 3 rides during their stay. Alternatively, you could simply stroll along the Malecon or join the hundreds of locals lining up to eat a Coppelia ice-cream. Heavily subsidised by the government, a whole bowl will set you back about 10 cents. Accommodation: Another night in the same standard guesthouse. Activities • Havana - Camera Obscura entrance • Havana - Vintage American car tour • Havana - Ernest Hemingway tour • Havana - Cigar factory tour Day 3: Varadero to Cienfuegos A slight change of plan. We were hit but the tropical storm during my stay here. This just meant detours were necessary due to excessive flooding. To get to Cienfuegos we had to cross a bridge, a bridge that was currently under water. We agreed to stay one night in Varadero, great for me knowing this a generally the place my customers seek. Our guide explains it was once going to be Vegas before Las Vegas, Varadero was built by the Americans having the Mafia play their part in developing. Varadero stands at the vanguard of Cuba’s most important industry – tourism. As the largest resort in the Caribbean, it guards a huge, unsubtle and constantly evolving stash of hotels (over 60), shops, water activities and poolside entertainment; though its trump card is its beach, an uninterrupted 20km stretch of blond sand that is undoubtedly one of the Caribbean's best. But, while this large, tourist-friendly mega-resort may be essential to the Cuban economy, it offers little in the way of unique Cuban experiences. Most Varadero tourists buy their vacation packages overseas and are content to idle for a week or two enjoying the all-inclusiveness of their resort (and why not?). However, if you’re touring Cuba independently, and want to swap your backcountry rambling for some stress-free beach life, Varadero can provide a few nights of well-earned sloth after a dusty spell on the road. Accommodation: beautiful guesthouse, we felt spoilt at the size and comfort of this local house. Day 4: Cienfuegos to Trinidad On the way to Cienfuegos today, we all attempted to pick up some Spanish from our leader. We unfortunately didn’t make our first stop at the peaceful sandy arc of Playa Giron, which sits on the eastern side of the Bahia de Cochinos, better known as the Bay of Pigs. It was famously here that the CIA sponsored a failed invasion by exile forces in 1961. A reason to revisit and discover the story of the Cuban victory at the Museo Giron, which holds displays of various military equipment and photos of the men who fought here. It’s not just the history that’s the attraction here – with crystal clear Caribbean waters, a deep underwater wall, and an outstanding variety of coral and fish, it’s a haven for snorkelers. We travelled on to Cienfuegos, known affectionately as 'The Pearl of the South'. Part of the city's appeal lies in its colonial centre, which features wide Parisian-style boulevards and elegant colonnades. Drive along the peninsula to see Cienfuegos' architectural pride and joy, the Moroccan-influenced Palacio del Valle. Accommodation: Local guest house. Activities • Bay of Pigs - Visit and swim • Playa Giron - Museum Giron Entrance and Film • Informal Spanish lesson with leader • Cienfuegos - Visit to the Palacio del Valle Leave Cienfuegos and head north to the final resting place of Cuba’s most famous son. In Santa Clara (approximately 1 hour), we visited the Che Guevara mausoleum and memorial. Che's remains were brought here after they were found in a remote corner of Bolivia in 1997, where he was assassinated by the CIA-backed Bolivian army. The impressive bronze statue of Che bearing his rifle and learning about his incredible life sent shivers. Then it’s a short drive south, through the Topes de Collantes National Park to Trinidad, which sits on the scenic Caribbean coast (approximately 1.5 hours). For many visitors to Cuba, Trinidad is a standout destination. No other colonial city in Cuba is as well preserved, and the local residents are extremely friendly and festive. Trinidad is steeped in religion, including the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, which has connections to Voodoo. On an orientation walk today, see the former wealth generated by the sugar industry in the town's once-grand mansions, colourful public buildings, wrought iron grill-work and cobble-stoned streets. You can choose to party the night away at one of the town’s live music venues or why not take in a folklore show at one of the town's numerous open-air venues. We needed a good night sleep after our busy day! Accommodation: standard guesthouse Activities • Santa Clara - Visit to Che Guevara Mausoleum and Museum • Trinidad - Orientation walk • Trinidad - Live music venues entrance (varies depending on venue) • Trinidad - Santeria Priest Visit Day 5: Trinidad Today was a very important day indeed – my birthday! I was already excited about the fact I was sharing my day with some of the best humans and sights but, to top it off – today was our first group salsa lesson! I was surprised with the biggest cake I think my 33 years had ever seen, my group and locals sung to me - and then of course the breakfast rum arrived! For anyone who knows me, knows I love dancing – it’s at my core. Cuba has a hugely rich and varied dance and musical tradition that draws its roots from Africa and France. Many styles that have greatly influenced music worldwide originated in Cuba, such as Mambo, Cha-cha-cha, son and rumba. We danced, eat cake and drank rum straight - we were officially Cuban! As our trip unfolded we also had a chance to get a hands-on with the musical instruments like we were part of the local band. We also got to practice our local rhythms at a certain venue hidden within a cave! This is a must see to believe. Whilst here it’s a good opportunity to visit the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra los Bandidos and the Casa de los Mártires de Trinidad; both chronicle the struggles of the revolutionary period in the town's history. Accommodation: Standard guesthouse Activities • Trinidad - Disco in a cave • Trinidad - Museo Romantico - • Trinidad - Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra los Bandidos • Trinidad - Musical instrument lesson (guitar, double bass, tres, percussion - per hour) • Trinidad - Informal Salsa lesson Day 6: Trinidad Trinidad is a standout destination in its own right, but it's also the gateway to the Valle de los Ingenios, and a bike is a great way to explore the local area. Be warned however: Cuba's bicycles, like its cars, are vintage, which means a little bit of practicality may be sacrificed for the romantic element! There are also some great treks to be made in the nearby Sierra del Escambray mountains; maybe drive along the legendary twists and turns of the road to El Nicho, then hike to its beautiful waterfall. Playa Ancon is also close by – there’s plenty of opportunity for relaxing on its long, unspoilt beaches or snorkelling through the clear waters (just watch carefully for sea urchins, which can be a problem here). Accommodation: Standard guesthouse Activities • Trinidad - Trek to El Nicho Waterfall (taxi, entrance fee & guide) • Trinidad - Ancon beach shuttle bus • Trinidad - Bicycle rental (full day) Day 7: Camaguey We travelled through the centre of the country to Camaguey (approximately 5-6 hours). Despite its size, Cuba's third largest city has managed to retain much of its colonial heritage. Exploring the city's winding streets is half the fun. The city was planned in a deliberately confusing pattern to disorient any would-be assailants. As you walk through the city you may still see Tinajones – large clay pots used for collecting water. On your explorations, stop by the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad to see its baroque frescoes. Camaguey has a rich tradition of cultural and technological leadership within Cuba. It is the birthplace of poet laureate Nicolas Guillen and home of the Ballet de Camaguey. Cuba's first radio and television emissions were broadcast from Camaguey, and the country's first airport and commercial flights were planned and executed here. Accommodation: Standard guesthouse Activities • Camaguey - Orientation walk • Camaguey - Casa de la Trova Day 8: Camaguey What a laugh we had, we met at 10am to enjoy a tour of Camaguey by bicycle taxi. Except our young brave Swiss who decided to see just how hard it would be? Cycling is a popular form of transport in Cuba, and bicycle taxis are very common. In the confusing streets of Camaguey, it's a particularly good way to get around. On the tour, we visited a local market, parks, plazas and an art gallery. Each taxi carries two passengers. Camaguey's is a particularly busy and colourful market. There are separate areas for produce sold by the state and produce sold by farmers directly to the public. There are plenty of interesting tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs available. This is where the locals come to buy their food once their monthly food ration runs out. Accommodation: Standard guesthouse Activities • Camaguey - Bicycle taxi city tour • Camaguey - Ballet performance Day 9: Santiago de Cuba Head west along the Carretera Central to Santiago de Cuba with a stop in Bayamo. Today was the longest travel day of the trip. Santiago is the hottest place in Cuba – in terms of both temperature and the vibe of the city! Set between the indomitable Sierra Maestra mountain range and the azure Caribbean, this city's historical centre and colonial architecture retain a timeworn air ideal for photographers. Accommodation: Standard guesthouse Day 10: Santiago de Cuba We set off on a three-hour city tour of Santiago. We visited El Morro Castle, Ifigenia cemetery and the Moncada barracks and learn about the city’s rich history. For nearly a century, the city was the island's seat of power and it also played a vital role in the Revolution. The people of Santiago were the first to rise up in arms against government troops in 1956, and it was in Santiago on January 1st, 1959, that Fidel Castro declared the triumph of the Revolution. With a strong Afro-Cuban heritage it's no surprise that Santiago has a vibrant music scene and is seen as Cuba’s capital of music. It’s the home of son music, which is a mix of Spanish guitar and African percussion. Santiago's half million residents are proud of their cultural traditions, so you'll find many museums and cultural clubs around the city. The city is also famous for its energetic Carnaval celebrations and its lively Festival of Caribbean Culture. All this will entice the shyest, most left-footed dancer and the non-musically inclined to learn some more salsa moves or take a lesson in local music. Accommodation: Standard guesthouse Activities • Santiago de Cuba - half day city tour • Santiago de Cuba - Salsa lesson (1 hour) • Santiago de Cuba - La Gran Piedra Mountain (Entrance only) • Santiago - Use of a Hotel Pool • Santiago - Tropicana Cabaret Show Day 11: Baracoa A spectacular five-hour journey to Baracoa took us through the dry region surrounding Guantanamo, dotted with cacti and wiry goats, and then along the dramatic Atlantic coastline, before winding through verdant mountains to Baracoa. On the way, you will get the chance to visit the Mirador de Malones for a pretty good view of the Guantanamo Naval Base and surrounding bay. At present the base is not open to the public. Baracoa is set on a beautiful bay, this was the first colonial town, and it’s one of the most beautiful in Cuba. As one of Cuba’s major agricultural zones, Baracoa is a great place to try local foods. It’s one of the best places for chocolate, and street vendors and small restaurants offer local specialties like prawns in coconut sauce and banana-stuffed tamales. One particularly sought-after Baracoa specialty is the cucurucho, a sweet treat of coconut, sugar, and fruit wrapped in dried cone-shaped palm leaves. Accommodation: Standard guesthouse Activities • Guantanamo Bay - Viewpoint & Tower (Time & weather dependent) • Baracoa - Orientation walk Day 12: Baracoa The town was only accessible by sea until 1960, and even after a road linking Baracoa to Guantanamo was built, the settlement maintained a small-town colonial feel. Uncover its individuality as you wander along its beautiful malecon or ramble over various forts that were built to withstand pirate attacks. The Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion boasts a bust of the indigenous leader Hatuey, who was burned at the stake for refusing to accept the Spanish and their Catholicism. You might prefer to chill on a beach or get active with a hike to El Yunke, the famous table-top mountain sighted by Columbus during his first voyage to the island. Accommodation: Standard guesthouse Activities • Baracoa - Bar and nightclub entries • Baracoa - Duaba Finca tour • Baracoa - El Yunque waterfall hike • Baracoa - El Yunque mountain hike Day 13: Baracoa If I had the time and it perhaps was slightly cooler, I would have liked to of hiked through the rainforest to explore nearby caves and waterfalls. Instead, I visited Humboldt Nation Park, looking out for colourful parrots, lizards and hummingbirds. We then took a boat tour down a nearby river, spotting wildlife along the way, stopping at a working farm to learn about life on the land. I was suffering with a cold on this day, and the medicine worked wonders – rum, honey and sugar, but you must drink it straight! My salsa certainly improved shortly after when we stopped for lunch and had an impromptu dance! Accommodation: Standard guesthouse Activities • Baracoa - Yumari river tour • Baracoa - Humbolt park hike • Baracoa - Maguana beach (return taxi) • Baracoa - Duaba Finca river tour Day 14: Havana Today take a one-and-a-half-hour flight from Baracoa to Havana. Please note that it is not uncommon for these flights to be delayed. This was quite an experience, not for those who perhaps get nervous flying. Aircrafts are small and follow the relaxed Cuban fashion! After arriving back into the capital, we head to Plaza de la Revolución for our final taste of Cuban revolutionary history, and tapas! After our final Pina Colada, mojito and cuba libre, I want to say we danced the night away, but we had a final farewell to our well needed bed. What a fantastic end to our adventure. Accommodation: Standard guesthouse Activities • Havana - Revolution Square • Havana - Jose Marti Memorial Tower • Havana - Buena Vista Social Club Day 15 & 16: Havana I spent an additional 2 days getting lost in Havana, dancing, exploring and absorbing the beautiful happy go lucky vibes of the Cuban people! If you aren't sure where in Cuba is for you, that's why you have me! Please don't hesitate to contact me for your personal, bespoke quotation. Ciao! Shara

Tips -Travel to Cuba to experience the rhythmic Caribbean vibe

21 September 2018

From Cuba's historical streets of Havana to the pristine shores of the Caribbean, stroll through World Heritage cities, relive a fascinating colonial history and experience the rich heritage of music and dance that Cuba is renowned for. Dive into the incredible marine world and history of the Bay of Pigs, prepare to be wowed as you discover Baracoa’s mountainous surrounds, visit the birthplace of salsa and admire Trinidad’s unrivalled ambience on this two-week adventure. From historic cars to fragrant cigars, and with plenty of rum and rumba in between, this adventure will take you into the heart of all things Cuban. Why you'd love this trip… • Old-world charm, rich history, exciting nightlife - evocative Havana is like nowhere else on Earth. See the difference between city and coastal life on a guided walking tour of the old capital • Take inspiration from the locals and mix things up with a bicycle-taxi tour of the colonial city of Camaguey • Practice your Spanish in a language class, loll about on an unspoilt Caribbean beach or peddle through sugar plantations on a bicycle •After an informal salsa lesson, you'll be ready to hit the dance floor with the locals. With its vibrant music scene and Afro-Cuban roots, sultry Santiago de Cuba is a great place to bust out some moves • There's a lot more to the life of Che Guevara than what you'll learn from watching 'The Motorcycle Diaries'. Pay your respects to the famous revolutionary during an included visit to his mausoleum • Cuba is different, and that's a big part of its allure. Things don't always go according to plan, and many things don't work the same way as back home. Patience and good humour will go a long way in this beautiful destination. • As this trip covers a lot of land, you'll be spending quite a bit of time looking out of a bus window. Don’t forget your headphones! Tips... > UK Tourist card visa is a must for entry, but please check gov.uk website for up-to-date requirements. > CUC is the currency used within the tourist areas (another within the smaller poorer communities) > Internal flights aren’t recommended for nervous flyers due to the size of air craft and relaxed nature of the Cubans! Some air craft aren’t advised to get in either due to the maintenance. > Ladies, be prepared to be adored, please enjoy this rather than being offended. > Understand this is a 3rd world country. Poverty is taken fairly lightly by the Cubans, who are proud and generally don’t hassle you for money, instead they dance and enjoy life! > If somethings broken eg, a light bulb, don’t think they aren’t fixing this or appreciating your concern or dissatisfaction – they have to source a lightbulb, this can take – erm, months? Try and see the funny side. > I’ve had many people tell me they had bland meals here. I disagree. I had some exceptional food here. The banana chips and fish dishes were a firm favourite. Your hosts or guides will always recommend places should you be unsure where to choose. > Try staying in the local guest houses, just once along your travels. Please ensure this isn’t just any locals house! If you are considering a trip to Cuba, I can help choose the best location for you. Ciao for now! Shara

When and where to go on a family safari

15 July 2018

A safari is a great family adventure that needs careful planning and expert advice so that you and the kids can make the most of what is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. With some exceptions, wildlife viewing in Africa is best in the dry seasons, when animals are more visible due to sparser vegetation and tend to congregate around water sources. The main dry season in equatorial east Africa (including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) is June to October, with a second one lasting mid-December to mid-March. That said, it can rain at any time in east Africa and there is some merging of seasons. Southern Tanzania differs, with a wet season from November to May. The main dry season in sub-tropical southern Africa (which includes Botswana, Namibia and northern South Africa) lasts from April to October. In southern South Africa, especially the Cape, the drier summer period lasts from November to March. These general guidelines are subject to caveats. Some of the best-established regions can still offer fantastic game-viewing even in the rainy season. Also, with changing weather patterns and increasing meteorological unpredictability, being flexible about when you go on safari can pay off, allowing you to avoid peak-season prices at the same time as enjoying parks at their least busy. South Africa Big game viewing in South Africa – including within the iconic Kruger National Park with its rhinos, leopards, lions and elephants – is great all through the year but is at its very best from May to October. The Cape is best-visited from December to March but is also good in April, October and November. Kenya July to October and January and February are the top months to go on safari in Kenya, with March and June also good. If you come between August and October, you can see the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara, one of the world’s greatest safari areas. Tanzania January, February and July–October are the best times to take a safari in Tanzania, with March, June, November and December also good. From December to March, the wildebeest migration is focused on the short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti, with calving in late January and early February. Or from August to October, the creatures can be found in the northern Serengeti. Botswana This destination is best-visited from June to October, but May and November are also good. The main safari region is the glorious, game-rich Okavango Delta, explorable by a variety of means including 4X4, motorboat, canoe-like mokoro or horse-back. Alternatively, the rainy season from December to March is optimal for viewing game in the Kalahari ecosystem of the Central Kalahari and the Makgadikgadi Pans with its flamingo and zebra. Namibia Offering awe-inspiring desert wilderness, Namibia is best from April to October but also good in March and November. The Etosha National Park and the Caprivi region are top for game-viewing, while desert rhinos and desert elephants can be seen in the harsher Damaraland. Uganda Known for its mountain gorilla populations in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park on the northern slopes of the Virunga volcanoes, Uganda is best-visited in January, February and July–September, although March, June, October and December are also fine. Other primates you might spot in Uganda are chimpanzees in Kibale and Budongo forests and the Kyambura Gorge, while there’s big game to be seen in several spots.

How travelling changes you...

16 June 2018

Coming home feels like a complete contradiction. On the one hand it brings me joy to see my family and friends, hearing their voice and just being in their presence - especially my 4-legged best friend! On the other hand, it is completely overwhelming how little has changed. How little everything has changed but me. I’m no longer the sheltered, insecure and indecisive 33-year-old that left for my first solo adventure years ago. For starters the change I have experienced in the past year in particular runs much deeper than any number of months or years I have travelled. It’s in the way I look at things. It’s in the way I perceive my reality and that of others. It’s in the way I read, write, speak - even in my smile and joy for life. Change is often a scary thing when considered as a distant ideal or something you wish to achieve. But when you take a look back at how much change has occurred within yourself over a period of time, there could not possibly be a more comforting feeling. There is no greater feeling than having your bags packed and knowing you’re ready to go on your next adventure. There are few things in life that will impact you as much as traveling will. Something happens to us when we board a plane in one country and land in another—it’s almost as if our eyes open again for the first time. The excitement and life experiences that happen when you travel are unlike anything else. It’s hard to capture in words the moment when you see the sunset behind the Colosseum in Rome or when you finally can understand what someone is saying in another language. These moments are transformative; they take us out of our element and remind us of why we are here. Here are five reasons traveling will change your life. 1. You broaden your perspective. Nothing changes the way you view your own life experience like seeing the way other people live. Not only will you be more appreciative and thankful for the life you have, you’ll also have a new sense of wonder and empathy for other cultures and countries. Soak in the language, the lifestyle and what people in foreign countries value—you’ll realize it’s different everywhere in the world and it will undoubtedly make you evaluate your own values. 2. You learn to live in the moment. Whether you are seeing the canals of Venice for the first time or the mountains, sea and city in Western Cape, traveling teaches you to take in the moment of awe and make the most of it. Traveling is a feast for your eyes and it makes you stop and live in that second, minute and moment. I know every journey be it bus, train or plane you'll always catch me smiling looking up to the sky, showing my gratitude being able to experience that very moment. It’s hard to be thinking about your latest text message when you’re half way across the world visiting places you’ve never been to before and seeing spots you’ve only read about. Traveling teaches us to unplug, explore and discover new parts of ourselves. 3. You value experience over things. Once you’re hooked on traveling and understand its true power, you know that looking up at the Eiffel Tower or seeing the beaches in Thailand out-values any merchandise you could ever possibly purchase. Instead of buying a luxurious car, you invest in what’s more important to you—seeing places you haven’t been to yet and immersing yourself in new cultures. Travel doesn’t become something you do—it’s a way of life. 4. You learn to roll with things. Almost everyone has experienced a time when their flight was delayed or cancelled or they lost their luggage—and the beauty in this frustrating moment is that it teaches you to deal with it. The sooner you learn to roll with whatever challenges come your way, the sooner you’ll be carefree, happy to move onto your next new adventure. Learning how to be calm and not grow frustrated or upset when a flight is canceled or when dealing with the array of travel issues people face is probably one of the most valuable skills you can acquire that will not only apply to traveling, but the rest of your life. You quickly learn that you can handle most situations and that there really aren’t a lot of things worth getting upset about. 5. You are more open to different ways of life. No country or even city lives the same way. Countries have different cultures, and people have different beliefs, but when you travel, you see that no matter how different people are or the way they live, there is inherent goodness in most people. It’s the common thread that ties us all together. I look forward to my next adventures, for me I live to explore, for I don't seem to know how to holiday!?

What's HOT for summer 2018

11 May 2018

With summer fast approaching, it’s time to decide where your next adventure will take you. Although it’s a popular time of year to go away, there are plenty of destinations to go around and we have selected seven of the best. Whether you’re looking for non-stop adventure in New York, a luxurious escape to Dubai or an immersive tour of Thailand, discover a destination that will get you in the holiday mood. New York Experience summer sizzle in the Big Apple – it’s a great time of year to explore the city on foot or by open-top bus. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, then head to 843-acre green space Central Park, where you can pedal your way around the 6.1-mile cycling track or rent a boat and row on one of its lakes. Summer is the perfect opportunity to catch a baseball game, so head to Yankee Stadium to watch the Bronx Bombers play ball or make the trip to Citi Field to see the Mets strut their stuff. Thrill-seekers will love a trip to Coney Island with its old-school theme park, or you can try out Smorgasburg, Brooklyn’s weekly-open air food market with over 100 local food vendors. Thailand Thailand has it all, from picturesque sandy beaches surrounding remote and tranquil islands to the exhilarating pace of big city life. Head to Bangkok and ignite the senses as you look, smell and taste your way through the city’s many street food markets, or enjoy a fine dining experience on a Chao Phraya evening river cruise. For a more relaxing stay, head to the island of Koh Samui, known for its palm-fringed beaches, dense, mountain rainforest and luxury resorts and spas. There’s also the resort of Hua Hin on the Thai mainland, which is great for families. In addition to a host of child-friendly hotels, there’s Black Mountain Water Park with nine slides and a wave pool, and you can take the little ones along to the relaxed Cicada night market, with live performances and arts and crafts on offer. Dubai Although it’s their summer too, June to August is actually Dubai’s low season. There are usually various discounts available for travel to the emirate at this time of year, meaning you can enjoy incredible savings. Take a half-empty suitcase and pack your bags full of designer goods from the Dubai Mall – the world’s largest – or head up to the observation deck at the top of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. There’s also plenty to keep the kids entertained whether it’s balloon artists, puppet shows and pop-up theatres, or one of Dubai’s many thrilling theme parks such as IMG Worlds of Adventure and LEGOLAND Dubai. Make sure not to forget your sun cream, as temperatures frequently soar into the 40s and beyond during the summer months. Paphos Enjoy the delights of Cyprus with a trip to Paphos this summer. If you’re looking to top up your tan or splash around in the sea, visit the sandy Coral Bay or one of several secluded coves along Cyprus’ quiet western coast. Those who want to get a little more active can visit landmarks including 4th century BC necropolis the Tomb of Kings, Kato Paphos Archaeological Park, including a Roman villa and mosaics, and Paphos Castle, which has also been used as a prison and a warehouse in previous years. Family fun can be found at Ithaki Amusement Park and MiniGolf with its mini dodgems, play areas, bucking bronco and 18-hole crazy course. Crete Crete is Greece’s largest island and a popular tourist destination, filled with everything from historic sites to beautiful scenery. It’s also renowned for an amazing culinary scene with a great selection of local restaurants and flavoursome food to try. Sample dakos, the traditional Cretan take on bruschetta, and one of many kinds of cheese from the island which are used to make pies and complement salads. If you’re looking for a coastal retreat with a Caribbean vibe head to Vai beach, with its curving, golden sands against the backdrop of Europe’s natural palm grove. Or check out Elafonisi beach which serves up pink sand and crystal-clear waters. Walk down cobbled streets, dine in charming tavernas and meet friendly locals in Crete. Cancun Situated on the Yucatan Peninsula in an area of rich cultural heritage is Cancun in Mexico. Swim in the crystal-clear Caribbean Sea before stretching out on endless, sun-drenched white sand beaches. You can also visit a wealth of Mayan monuments and temples including one of the new Seven Wonders of The World Chichen Itza. It’s also a great destination to take the kids, with nearby Xcaret eco-archaeological park combining fun attractions like snorkelling and cave exploration with the history and fauna of the Mayan jungle. They will also love the fabulous wildlife encounters available to them such as swimming with marine turtles in their natural habitat off Akumal Bay

African Rain Journey's

06 May 2018

The Blue Train The Blue Train is regarded as one of the most luxurious trains in the world and offers a truly unique journey across South Africa from Cape Town to Pretoria (or in reverse). Aimed at creating a hotel on wheels experience, the Blue Train is a sumptuous choice for a pan-South Africa journey with beautifully crafted wood-lined suites. The Blue Train takes 27 hours to travel from Cape Town to Pretoria with an off-train excursion included at Matjiesfontein in the Karoo - a perfectly preserved Victorian settlement where you feel like you have truly stepped back in time. On the reverse journey from Pretoria to Cape Town the Blue Train stops at Kimberley - home of the diamond rush. The Blue Train can carry a maximum of 82 guests at one time but on occasions a shorter train is operated. The suites are either deluxe which have an en-suite shower room with marble tiles and gold taps or a luxury suite which are larger and have an en-suite bathroom. Your suite is luxuriously furnished with plush armchairs which convert into beds at night with a TV and telephone. During your journey you have the service of a dedicated butler who will be only too happy to cater for your every need. You certainly won't go hungry on the Blue Train either with brunch, afternoon tea and a four-course dinner on offer, paired with fine South African wines. When to go Cape Town is a year-round destination, with its driest months running from November through to February where skies are generally clear and the sun is shining. Temperatures range from 15°C to 35°C (59°F to 95°F). The winter months run from May to August when the weather is cooler, at around 7°C to 18°C (45°F to 65°F). The wettest month is June with around 93mm of rain falling and the odd thunderstorm making an appearance. Described as a five-star hotel on wheels, the Blue Train’s standard journey is between Cape Town and Pretoria and takes 27 hours traversing 1,600km and show-casing the diversity of South Africa’s landscapes. Stopping en route at the home of the diamond mining rush in Kimberley on the southbound journey or step back in time with an off-train excursion to Matjiesfontein when travelling north to Pretoria. Your night on the train will be in the lap of luxury with butler service and a gastronomic dinner themed around the golden age of rail travel. My top tip to really make the most of the journey and exquisite scenery that you pass through is to spend time in the observation car at the back of the train – a truly memorable experience! Rovos Rail Billing itself as the most luxurious train in the world, Rovos Rail offers a truly unique experience capturing the romance of a bygone era on a memorable rail journey across South Africa, or further afield to Victoria Falls, Namibia or Tanzania. Rovos Rail is the perfect way to travel in style across South Africa in wood-panelled carriages which have been refurbished to emulate the bygone era when train travel way king. As you step aboard the train you will be transported back in time for a journey which is rich in romance and grandeur. The most popular route is between Cape Town and Pretoria (and in reverse), a 1600-kilometre journey traversing the country. It really shows off the diversity of the country from the dramatic Cape, through the harsh Karoo environment to the jacaranda-lined streets of Pretoria. Off-train excursions are offered at Matjiesfontein in the Karoo, a perfectly preserved Victorian village and Kimberley, the home of diamond mining and the Big Hole - the world's largest man-made excavation site. If you are looking for a longer journey there is a meander from Pretoria to Victoria Falls as well as through Namibia. For a real no holds barred experience; all the way to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The Rovos Rail is one of the most luxurious trains imaginable and has many of the comforts that you would expect in a 5-star hotel with service to match. The train has 36 luxury suites and can carry a maximum of 72 guests at one time. The dining cars date back to pre-1940 and dinner is a formal affair with traditional food and South African wines served. The pullman and deluxe suites have an en suite shower room whilst the royal suites have en suite bathrooms complete with Victorian roll-top bath. There are a number of lounges including an observation carriage and smoking lounge. When to go Johannesburg remains fairly mild all year. Summer months run from November to March with average temperatures falling between 11°C and 25°C (52°F - 77°F), while in the winter months temperatures can fall to 4°C but generally lie at around 16°C (40°F - 60°F). The rainy season begins in October and continues through to April. Travellers interested in spending time in the area during the local events and festivals which characterize the culture there will probably find that autumn is the season to head to Johannesburg. For those looking for added wow factor, how about traversing Botswana on a two-night journey ending at one of the natural wonders of the world – Victoria Falls? Or for those with more time to spare (and an even healthier budget) there are longer trips through Namibia and up to Dar es Salaam – irregular in frequency, these are real once-in-a-lifetime trips all characterised by Rovos Rail’s famous luxury and flawless service!

Travel and be at one with nature

29 April 2018

Seeing the natural wonders of the world isn’t limited to backpacking treks and rough camping. There are many outstanding hotels and resorts that are tailored to giving you the luxury hotel experience, whilst also being at one with nature. Elephant Hills As the name suggests, a safari holiday at Elephant Hills gives you the chance to get up close to elephant herds at the local camp. You’ll bathe and feed the animals, giving you incredible access to these magnificent creatures. You’ll also enjoy comfortable full board accommodation, well suited to guests of all ages. Each safari lasts between two and four days, depending on your choice of itinerary. Choose the Rainforest Nature safari to explore the beautiful mangroves by speedboat and traditional junk boat or opt for a more sedate Family Jungle safari with educational walks. The most popular option is the Jungle Lake Safari, which includes a stay at a floating luxury tented camp – perfect for a romantic escape from the modern world. Giraffe Manor Set within 12 acres of private land in Nairobi, at the heart of a stunning forest, Giraffe Manor is a breath-taking boutique hotel that serves as an idyllic base for a luxury safari holiday. A true oasis of tranquillity, it’s furnished in a boutique style and provides every comfort, with just 10 rooms ensuring an intimate, peaceful ambience. The true highlight is the residential Rothschild Giraffe. You won’t have to try to get close, as the giraffe will come to you, often poking its head into the hotel in the hope of receiving a treat. It’s a unique experience and adds to the wonder of this gorgeous location. Gaya Island Resort This picturesque holiday resort, set amongst the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park in Borneo, is perfectly placed between a luscious rainforest and a fine sandy beach. Featuring only the finest amenities, you’ll relax and dine in true luxury as you soak in the spectacular views of your idyllic villa accommodation. The resort’s location makes it the ideal place to get back to nature, with several incredible wildlife species to discover. The rare Proboscis monkey is a highlight, with jungle trail tours tailored to spotting this beautiful primate. However also be on the lookout for flying squirrels, bearded pigs and more amongst the rainforest, while the island’s marine centre is home to sea turtles. Emirates Wolgan Valley Situated amongst the Greater Blue Mountains of Australia, the Emirates Wolgan Valley resort is made up of 40 breath-taking villas. Designed in Federation style, they all have a private pool and veranda, offering the ideal place to enjoy the stunning views of the wildlife and conservation reserve. Locally sourced products are brought together by acclaimed chefs to create authentic Australian menus, while the 1832 Heritage Homestead and Kitchen Garden is a lively hub of activity. You’ll be able to enjoy horse riding around the reserve or hop into a four-wheel drive vehicle for a wildlife expedition to see the distinct local species including wild kangaroo. The nearby glow worm tunnel on the Newnes Plateau also offers a chance to see these unique creatures in their natural environment. Grootbos Grootbos is a luxury eco-reserve tucked between the mountains, forest and sea of South Africa. Contemporary décor and features merge wonderfully with the outstanding natural beauty of the region, helping it win awards including being in top hotel lists for Tatler and Fodor’s. Each lodge and villa offer secluded comfort, designed to reflect the wonderful tones and atmosphere of this peaceful setting. Set off on tours of the wilderness to explore ancient forests, endangered plant and mammal species, or opt for the marine experiences including shark cage diving and whale watching. You can even enjoy a marine safari to see the ‘Big 5’: sharks, whales, dolphins, seals and penguins.

Tips for a more responsible holiday

29 April 2018

The world’s most treasured places are precious. We have a responsibility to help make sure they stay that way. Here are some tips on how you can ensure you have a positive impact on the people you meet and places you visit while also having a more enjoyable, authentic experience on your holiday. These tips have been compiled with the help of the sustainable tourism experts, the Travel Foundation. Buy Local Buying local means the money you spend on holiday stays in the local economy. Ask me to suggest excursions using local companies and guides. When you arrive, try to buy locally-made souvenirs and go to local bars, cafes and restaurants to eat local specialities (usually prepared with locally-grown fresh produce). I can advise you on what local treats to look out for at your chosen destination. Buy Green You can also use your consumer choices to show you care about the environment. Choose public transport where possible, and bring eco-friendly suntan cream, mosquito repellent and other toiletries with you – especially if you are going swimming or off the beaten track. Order sustainable fish dishes (check the MSC’s Good Fish Guide online) and avoid any souvenirs made from shells, coral or endangered species. Keep your footprint small We all do our bit at home to manage the amount of rubbish we produce, and our water and energy use. In other countries this is usually even more important. For instance, there may be very little access to freshwater, or no local recycling services. Remember the basics: take short showers rather than baths, reuse towels and bed linen, turn down/off heating and air-conditioning when not required, turn off all lights and appliances when you leave your room. Leave packaging from things you bought for your trip at home. Not only will it give you more space in your suitcase, you won’t be bringing your rubbish to somewhere which might not be able to recycle it. Consider using a reusable water bottle that can filter water, to avoid the build-up of empty plastic bottles. In some countries everything you buy seems to be put in a plastic bag – take your own reusable one to counter this! And it’s easy to say no to plastic drinking straws. Respect local culture, traditions and wildlife Do a little background reading before you go away or ask me for advice on how to dress and act appropriately for the place that you are visiting. Learning a few words of the local language (hello and thank you as a minimum) is always appreciated. It’s usually polite to ask permission before taking photographs of people. Be wary of excursions that involve animals in captivity or interaction with wild animals (such as elephant rides or swimming with dolphins). Ask me for advice or opt for wildlife tours with qualified guides where you can see animals in their natural habitats. Giving Back Many travellers would like to know if there’s something they can give out, instead of money, as a donation – for instance giving children pens for schools. If you would like to give back, consider donating to a local charity that is involved in social or conservation projects, or support the Travel Foundation, a charity with projects in many popular holiday destinations around the world. It's also reassuring to know that when you book with Travel Counsellors you are travelling with a company that actively supports and donates towards this charity too. Another way you can give back is to give feedback! Tell hotels and other businesses that you want them to operate sustainably and offer suggestions. If they know there is customer demand, they’ll respond much more quickly. Also, let me know the people and businesses you met who went the extra mile to look after the environment and support local communities – or if anything you experienced gave you cause for concern. Tailored Advice These tips will stand you in good stead wherever you travel. However, the best advice you can get will be specific to you – based on where you go and what you do. For instance, if you are travelling somewhere where water is particularly scarce (perhaps causing issues with local availability) I can give you ideas beyond the basics of opting to shower instead of bath. Perhaps choosing your accommodation will be particularly important, as visitors to some hotels consume many times more water than they would otherwise. Ask me about the issues that are particularly relevant to your holiday – I can give you advice on the right steps for a positive impact.

Zebra migration

24 April 2018

Chobe National Park, Botswana A population of zebras surprised biologists by making a more than 300-mile beeline across parts of Namibia and Botswana—the longest big-mammal migration ever documented in Africa. In the wilds of Africa, food and water come and go with the seasons, and animals follow. The Serengeti is the site of what most consider the most dramatic migration, with giant herds of millions of animals—some 750,000 zebras and 1.2 million wildebeests as well as gazelles and eland traveling from the Ngorongoro area in southern Tanzania to the Masai Mara in lower Kenya and returning as the rains dictate. But when it comes to the longest hike endpoint to endpoint, Africa has a new record holder. As reported, the migration, which has now been observed in consecutive years, isn't on the scale of what goes down on the Serengeti. It involves just a few thousand Burchell's zebras (Equus quagga). But the animals cover more than 300 miles (500 kilometres) in a straight-line, there and back, journeying across Namibia and Botswana. (In the Serengeti the animals meander more before circling back, so their feet touch more ground, but the distance between the zebras' two destinations is greater.) I wish this was something I knew about before I travelled across Botswana late December 2017. But this is another reason to visit Chobe National Park in Botswana all year round. I was blessed to see many new born babies throughout my time in Africa, some are inquisitive and get very close, much to their mothers’ distaste. The most remarkable feature of the Chobe National Park is its huge concentration of elephants. This park supports the largest surviving elephant population in the world, currently estimated to exceed 120,000. This population is dispersed throughout much of northern Botswana, as well as parts of north-western Zimbabwe. Let's plan your perfect memories today.

Clay Shooting tips for competitors looking to travel

21 April 2018

Some great shooting tips. More and more established grounds are offering fantastic safe, professional facilities in the UK and abroad. Shooting in Europe in particular is becoming more and more popular with UK shooters, though there are a number of things to consider and much planning and preparation is required. There are many precautions you need to take before and during your shooting holiday, alongside making sure you have the right shooting accessories and equipment. Ensure your chosen country accepts firearms. Ensure your airline accepts firearms. Leave plenty of time for check-in. Safely store your firearm and ammunition for the flight. Store your gun safely when at your destination. For a detailed description of next steps and how to book a holiday with your firearm, please contact me today.

Western Cape Tips

03 April 2018

In no particular order! 1) Trips on Table Mountain Aerial Cableway start at 8am and end as late as 9.30pm, but these times vary seasonally and are weather-dependent. Check on the day by calling the information line on +27 (0)21 424 8181. Be prepared that if you go up and the cable car shuts, you'll need to make your way down. If you haven't booked in advance, the tip is go on line get your ticket there and then it saves the queue! 2) Whale watching: For the best land-based whale watching in the world, try the Cape Overberg coast from Stony Point near Betty’s Bay, along the Kleinmond cliffs and at Onrus and Hermanus between June and November. 3) The best way to see Cape Town is by taking a guided, open-top bus trip that includes the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain and Camps Bay, among many other landmarks. Even the wineland tours! Just don't miss your bus home like I did. Blame the wine. 4) Langebaan on the West Coast has a tidal lagoon that attracts thousands of migratory birds and is also covered in flowers in spring (late August and September). 5) If you decide to hike up Table Mountain, go in a group and always let someone know which route you intend taking. As with Lions Head and Signal Hill - both well worth it if Table Mountain is a little too hard. 6) If you take the cableway to the top of Table Mountain, take a warm jacket because the weather is prone to change unexpectedly, with sudden drops in temperature common. 7) Beautiful as they are, Western Cape beaches sometimes have strong undertows, so always swim in designated areas, never swim alone, and listen to lifeguards’ instructions. It's not known as the Windy City for nothing! Be aware of the sun the wind is deceiving south the temperature. 8) Through interaction with humans, some baboons in the Cape have become opportunistic thieves and scavengers. Keep all food hidden and never feed these animals as they can be treacherous. 9) Download Uber. Unless it's a bus or tour that's all you should get into during your stay in SA. 10) Longstreet is known for the parties when dark. Stay safe by avoiding walking alone and take Ubers. Cape Town feels very safe, lots of families during the day and police presence. You'll fall madly in love with this mother city. My favourite place in the world. City, mountains, green and sea! If you're thinking of going, please contact me. I'm a Certified South African Specialist and have experience visiting too so can book you a safe, memorable trip - you won't want to leave! You're in safe hands! Shara

54 unique ways to show your love – one for each country in Africa.

03 April 2018

ALGERIA: Read a love poem written in French, one of the languages of Algeria ANGOLA: Give a back massage with palm oil, sourced in Angola BENIN: Listen to a bedtime story sung by Angelique Kidjo from Benin, a Grammy-Award winner BOTSWANA: Buy a piece of jewellery (maybe a ring?) with diamonds mined in Botswana BURKINA FASO: Serve a gluten-free sorghum beer, brewed in Burkina Faso BURUNDI: Bake heart shaped cookies with sugar exported from Burundi CAMEROON: Make a ceramic heart-shaped dish, with the clay found in the highlands in Cameroon CAPE VERDE: Drink Portuguese-style wine, made in the vineyards of Cape Verde CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Make a rich, vanilla-flavoured tapioca pudding for dessert, made from cassava imported from Central African Republic CHAD: Listen to a love ballad played on a kinde, a harp from Chad COMOROS: Delight in a triple-thick vanilla milkshake, flavoured with natural vanilla imported from the Comoros CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE: Learn to paint at the Poto Poto School of Painters in Brazzaville, Congo CONGO-KINSHASA: Watch the film When We Were Kings, about Mohammad Ali’s famous match against George Foreman in Kinshasa, known at the time as the famed “Rumble in the Jungle” COTE D’IVOIRE: Buy a gold mask to hang on the wall, from extensive collections crafted in Cote d’Ivoire DJIBOUTI: Get a hand-woven wool rug from Djibouti to keep your feet warm EGYPT: Purchase tickets to the Cairo International Film Festival EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Drink a cup of osang tea, grown organically in Equatorial Guinea ERITREA: Read My Father’s Daughter by Hannah Pool, a heart-warming book about an Eritrean girl adopted by a British family ETHIOPIA: Wake up to the smell of coffee, made with beans sourced from Ethiopia GABON: Obtain a stone sculpture of a woman’s face, items for which Gabon’s artisans are famous GAMBIA: Take a bird watching trip for two around MacCarthy Island, an ornithologically rich part of The Gambia. GHANA: Serve authentic Ghanaian dark chocolate, the birthplace of the cocoa bean GUINEA: Take a stroll down the streets of Conakry at sunset a happy couple with ocean in the background GUINEA-BASSAU: Pound away on a dried calabash, or gourd, which is used to make music in Guinea-Bissau KENYA: Try purple tea sourced from Kenya, a country considered by connoisseurs to be among the best tea producers in the world LESOTHO: Travel to the Oxbow, one of the only places in Africa to go skiing LIBERIA: Sing the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s Liberian Girl: “You know that you came, and you changed my world” LIBYA: Enjoy bazeen, an unsweetened cake made with barley flour and usually served with tomatoes and eggs MADAGASCAR: Purchase a blue sapphire gem, extracted from the sapphire mines of Madagascar MALAWI: Find a nyau mask, still used by the Chewa people for initiations and important events MALI: Plan a romantic dinner with a desert view in Timbuktu MAURITANIA: Hand make soft bed linens from the ultra-soft tie-dyed cotton fabric from free-trade cooperatives in Mauritania MAURITIUS: Have your hotel arrange a white linen and china dinner for two on the beach at sunset MOROCCO: Buy a token of love in one of Morocco’s many souks MOZAMBIQUE: Experiment with a marimba, a type of xylophone native to the country NAMIBIA: Express your inner child by sandboarding down the sand dunes NIGER: Wrap yourself and your lover with a traditional hand-woven wedding blanket in colourful patterns NIGERIA: Listen to the soulful rhythm of Zombie, one of Fela Kuti’s most acclaimed albums RWANDA: Perform the Intore, the most famous, traditional Rwandan dance for your loved one in private SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE: Savor Corallo Chocolate, voted by some to be amongst the world’s best organic chocolate SENEGAL: Give your valentine a sand painting, made from Senegalese volcanic sand, beach sand, and dune sand SEYCHELLES: Visit the white, sandy beaches on the island of Mahe, while indulging in the French-African creole culture SIERRA LEONE: Drink Star Beer, produced by the national brewer, Sierra Leone Breweries SOMALIA: Read Crossbones by Nuruddin Farrah, a novel about a family returning to Somalia SOUTH AFRICA: Uncork a rich, red Merlot from the Cape winelands, and give your lover a bouquet of protea flowers, the national flower of South Africa SUDAN: Read the poem The Trees Have Passed, by formerly imprisoned poet Mahjoub Sharif SOUTH SUDAN: Take a rafting expedition along the White Nile river and get a glimpse of wildlife along the untraveled section of the Nile SWAZILAND: Light your bedroom with the gentle and romantic glow from Swazi candles TANZANIA: Indulge in a konyagi, an indigenous, gin-like beverage TOGO: Hang a zota painting (which is made with scorched wood and smoke) made by Paul Ahyi, the designer of Togo’s flag TUNISIA: Visit a hammam, a traditional Tunisian public steam bath UGANDA: Take a romantic safari in one of Uganda’s many safari parks ZAMBIA: Wrap your gift in a tonga basket, which are woven by Tonga women, renowned for their weaving abilities ZIMBABWE: Propose to your loved one at Victoria Falls with a platinum engagement ring, with platinum exported from Zimbabwe

Uganda Part 2

05 April 2018

Local Villages; In two days I've had a baby and got married to a guy I'd only known for an hour (all pretend of course, I'm not a super woman). The locals demonstrated what you would need to do to prove you're ready to get married. I wanted to experience everything they had to offer. I prepared food (picking, peeling, grinding etc), cooked, looked after the children, made rugs (women need to have hand made eight), sold produce at market, learnt to balance basket of Yams on my head (didn't drop any), danced and got married to a very muscly handsome man (unfortunately it wasn't legally binding) then we partied! The children; I love the children of Africa. Polite, grateful, humble, hard-working, talented and beautiful, unspoilt souls. You'd learn so much from people here. Time, love and discipline are the main values. These children have many things to feel 'damaged' or hurt for but the simple fact is they are here in the now playing, being happy and treated like the normal children they are. Some see that they have nothing, but they'll show you that this is everything! Some come to Africa for a holiday, but you'll leave this life-changing journey, realising it's changed your life, heart and soul.

Top 5 Best Locations when Travelling to South Africa with Kids

05 April 2018

The pinnacle of cultural and natural experience can be found when venturing out to South Africa for a family holiday adventure. Representing a wonderful introduction for children and teenagers to the African continent, inviting cosmopolitan cities, accessible road networks and swift public transport allows for safe, straightforward travel through majestic landscapes and activity-rich locations. When taking children over the age of six, a safari holiday with game drives will likely be top of the itinerary. Well-equipped lodges welcome children with a range of child-friendly facilities, often including dedicated bush school programmes with experienced guides showing them the vast range of flora and fauna in a fun and friendly environment. Older children will relish the chance to camp out under the stars, where a 24/7 stay within the stripped back natural environment can often be the best way to introduce them to bush life without the need to go back indoors after game drives. Read further to discover our pick of the best locations to take children on safari or city-based holiday in South Africa, ensuring you arrive back with an abundance of excitable tales of this unique nation. Cape Town A decidedly family-friendly city at its heart, Cape Town’s coastal locale provides plenty to do for the entire family, making for a perfect twin-centre trip when combined with a safari adventure, or even as a city getaway due to the sheer amount of activities available. Peek out of your hotel window at the majestic cityscape dominated by the famous Table Mountain, purveying a melting pot of cultures and enticing excursions. This includes visits to children and toddler-friendly shores such as Camps Bay’s scenic palm-tree fringed setting complete with beachfront dining, before getting up close and personal with exotic marine life at the Two Oceans Aquarium, where kids can witness African penguins and popular shark feedings. Eastern Cape Providing a prime example of South Africa’s endlessly diverse terrain, the golden sands permeating the Eastern Cape coastline contrast with snow-peaked mountains and desert pockets as part of an endlessly intriguing destination. This is where you will find many of the best family-friendly safaris and private game lodges suitable for small children, with a wide range of choice when it comes to types of safari experience, accommodation, and expense. Outside of the safari experience, visit the largest city on the Sunshine Coast in Port Elizabeth, where you will find great beachside lodgings and connecting routes to all major South African city hubs. KwaZulu-Natal The temperate winter months of May through July outside of the hot and humid summer period is arguably the best time to visit KwaZulu-Natal. A raft of child-friendly accommodations including family hotels, guest houses, holiday apartments and holiday homes provides a domesticated base from which to explore a region containing a wealth of fun-filled traditional excursions for children. Visit Flag Farm Animal Farm just outside the city of Durban, where children can learn about South African farming first hand as they feed chickens and learn to milk a cow, while uShaka Marine World and an assortment of game reserves make-up a multi-faceted region. Gauteng The home of Johannesburg as the largest city in South Africa and a common first-entry point to the nation for travellers with the city's newly revamped airport, Gauteng contains a wealth of fascinating excursions alluding to the nation’s long-held historical significance. Older children and teens can observe exhibits detailing the story of apartheid at the Apartheid Museum, where the first-hand experience of segregation is poignantly outlined in the entry classification system to the museum. Further points of interest include the UNESCO-listed Cradle of Humankind site, where fossils dating back to the dawn of civilisation have been found among thousands of fossils. Limpopo and Mpumalanga Visiting Limpopo and Mpumalanga often entails a glimpse of its primary attraction, Kruger National Park. This expansive game reserve is one of the biggest in Africa, and is home to the much-lauded Big Five, with families having the rare opportunity to witness lions, elephants, cape buffalos, giraffes, black rhinos, cheetahs, and zebras, all within a natural habitat spanning an impressive 7,000 square acres. Full-service family lodges are available adjacent to the park, with a choice of either guided safari drives or self-drive excursions depending on ages of children, and select lodges offering mini on-site safari treks near the lodge area.

Uganda part 1

05 April 2018

Gorillas It was one of the hardest, steepest, beautiful mountains I've ever climbed after day three of not sleeping due to travelling. But, oh boy, what an incredible reward at the end seeing the Gorillas. I had a great group. There was a couple from the USA; it was the chap's 70th birthday that day. He was an inspiration and they put my fitness to shame. I'm told Uganda is a little tougher than Rwanda, which can reflect in the price in the permit. They were so playful and funny – everyone asked, 'But did you feel safe'? Yes, it was incredible how safe I felt. They were very clear what was and wasn't ok. They knew our guides too and made grunts to one another; the Rangers were some of the most amazing humans I've had the pleasure of meeting. My helpful porter Jennifer held my hand - even when I needed an extra hand up and down the mountain. OK, this was a lot, certainly more than the couple who were 70! I'm blaming it all on tiredness. All the porters are from local villages, on average they charge a minimum of 10 to 15 USD, but this goes a long way, and any extra is a good will gesture. So please say yes when offered. But, as always, more than the wildlife and nature in Africa - it's the gorgeous happy people, children were singing to us from their houses situated on the steep mountains. There were four young girls who had their paintings, stories and poems for sale. Little entrepreneurs with their 100USD request. If you remember, bring a tip for them, you'll make their month let alone day! You will leave your heart there and be asking 'when can I go back'? Contact me today to book your adventure. Shara

My customer stories

Sent by Peta Fowler

Shara had been so accommodating and helpful at a difficult time, I would highly recommend her and use her again in the future.

Sent by Olga Sipcenoka

Shara is absolutely fantastic. 10/10 Very helpful and very knowledgeable. I am devastated I didn’t meet her earlier! It’s such a pleasure to book a holiday now, no stress and no worries any money saved. What else you can wish for?

Sent by Michael Toft

We had a difficult holiday to arrange and Shara helped enormously!

Sent by Natalie Read

Shara was recommended to us by multiple people on Facebook. We gave her all the information about a trip to Australia we wanted to do, and I think we had it booked within a week! Shara was so prompt in sorting everything out and helping us with the travel itinerary where we weren't too sure. She was available with any questions we had and a pleasure to deal with. Would definitely book with her again

Sent by Joe & Liv Hughes

Firstly I want to thank Shara from Travel Counsellors for booking the tour for Joe and me and helping us to get a small discount. She offers amazing advice on all things travel related and is a qualified Africa specialist, so hit her up if you’re interested in a bespoke tour! Even better, she has recently started to offer more opportunities for sustainable travel – what more could you want?!

Sent by Sophia Fraser

Shara was wonderful, so helpful and patient, nothing was too much trouble. Highly recommend!

Sent by Fran Sundler

Recently returned from an amazing trip to South Africa arranged by Shara. As we were unfamiliar with our destination having someone arrange things who really knew the country was invaluable. Shara was helpful, professional, informative and nothing was ever too much trouble. The arrangements that she made were faultless and we felt that she had actually tailored everything to suit us perfectly - despite the fact that she had never met us! Have no hesitation in recommending.

Sent by Pauline Smith

Shara has booked two holidays now for my friends and I - one walking holiday with Inghams and we just booked our Croatian Sailing adventure with her too for Just You. Shara was very reasonable and came in at a better price than going direct, she already has our details so its just a case of saying 'yes go ahead'! I also know that as a nervous traveller, she takes care of me, booking my seats, printing paperwork and even checks us in! Shara, you will go far. You are very good at what you do, my thanks as always!

Sent by Babara Higgins

Need to book a holiday? Then look no further than Shara Smith at Travel Counsellors. I told Shara what I was looking for, she came back with a solo holiday for me with Just You, meaning I could travel in a group around Canada. It was incredible and credit to Shara understanding my needs. It was so easy and she even comes in with a better price than going direct and added service! She popped around to help with my Visas and then posted them for me too. Whatever you're looking for, Shara can sort it out for you and always with a smile ?? Just a lovely lady and nothing is too much trouble. Give her a go, you won't regret it.

Sent by Elaine & Ruth Pert

Shara Smith is a great Agent! As busy people, we gave her a task of finding us a cruises that covers a Friday to Monday and within a couple of hours came back to me with choices. She's now booked me 2 cruises and has been wonderful even with advising about the BA strike that was going to affect us. Thank you Shara you have been amazing and will have no hesitation booking with you again and again and certainly recommending you to others.

Sent by Sarita Gray

10/10 Shara's excellent and we ended up booking a holiday that we would probably never have considered left to our own devices...excited and cant wait to see how the whole thing unfolds. Thank you

Sent by Michaela Morris

10/10!

Sent by Margaret Fellows

What can I say. This fantastic lady helped me put together my dream holiday. Nothing was to much trouble, even though I changed my mind for my holiday destination after she'd put together a fantastic trip - and we started all over again. She is more than 'just someone' to contact. Nothing is to much trouble, she's passionate, knowledgeable, friendly, lovely to talk to and unflappable. Will I be using her services again...you bet I will! We all need a Shara in our lives. ??

Sent by Alison Ashman

Incredible! From a very vague brief, that we changed several times, Shara managed to put together an unforgettable trip. Her choice of hotels was perfect every time. Every little detail was taken care of, from check in to help with lost baggage, and the app helped us keep track of flight updates/ changes. She was so patient with us, and nothing was too much trouble. It gave me so much reassurance, knowing that we had support before and during the trip. I am very grateful for all she did- we have a lifetime of amazing memories from this holiday, and it wouldn't have happened without Shara.

Sent by Abigail Langridge

She's so attentive! When assisting a client with a complicated holiday, Shara knew all the questions to ask so that everything was covered. Her travel experience definitely shines through as she can personally recommend places. I highly recommend her to book all aspects of travel, including flights.

Sent by Jacqueline Cunningham

Shara Smith was truly amazing. She has been so attentive and responsive whilst booking our holiday and during our stay. She has been the best travel consultant we have ever used, and we have booked a number of holidays with Travel Counsellors over the years. We have exceptionally fortunate to have had Shara booking our holiday and would highly recommend her to anyone! 10/10

Sent by Glenn O'Grady

10/10 Shara has been excellent.

Sent by Sukeana Bartlett

We just want to say a Massive Thankyou to Shara Smith. We've never used a Travel Counsellor to book our holidays before, Shara's service levels were amazing from start to finish. The hotel was beautiful, the transfer service was spot on and we were right in the heart of everything. Even the fact that Shara responded to our questions whilst she was on her own holiday is fantastic. Anyone that wants the perfect holiday should look into using a Travel Counsellor - and we highly recommend Shara.

Sent by Anita Mohabeer

Shara is just amazing! She has such a passion for travel and finding the perfect holiday for you. We asked Shara to source us a holiday to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. We had asked for a specific area of the world but it wasn't working out and her advice was second to none. We now have a holiday of dreams booked and we cannot wait to get there in October. I had many requests and kept shifting the goal post, but this didn't deter her. Always really happy and has such a zest for life and travel. Thank you so much Shara you really are awesome!

Sent by Maria Isaeva

Shara's knowledge of the world, her bespoke service and travel knowledge is incredible. She takes the time to listen, understand and then creates a personalised experience that exceeds all expectations. She is attentive, very efficient and her positivity is infectious! If you're thinking of booking your honeymoon or the holiday of your dreams - get in touch with Shara, you won't be disappointed!

Sent by Ruth Goodmaker

Thank you Shara for finding the cruise for me. I just don't have the time and you were a great help and also thank you for the goodies you sent me in the post, a really nice touch.

Sent by Krystal Woodbridge

Shara really listened to what we were looking for for our perfect honeymoon. She got back to us very quickly and sent us a range of options in great detail. Because she had listened so intently, she found us the perfect match just in the first round of options! Booking it was a dream - all we needed to do was complete a simple form and Shara took care of the rest. Booking a holiday has never felt so easy, and all we need to do now is look forward to it!

Sent by Christopher Hardwicke

10/10 We haven’t booked our holiday yet but Shara has been amazing helping us set up our wedding gift registry and talking through possible honeymoon plans.

Sent by Sonia Bassey

I booked this travel on behalf the Mandela family and must say that Shara (Travel Counsellors) made this experience so easy and stress free!

Sent by Michaela Vaux

10/10

Sent by Katie Pierre

10/10

Sent by Nic & Dean

Where do I begin? I usually book my own holidays but during a busy time I wanted some reassurance and some help with the leg work! Shara took on board what I wanted and found me the best for my budget. However, the dreaded thing that we are all scared of happened. My flight was cancelled a matter of hours before I was due to fly. Thanks to Shara I was informed of this before I left for the airport. (Many weren’t that day and were hours in the airport.) Shara was understanding and kind and supportive in a situation that was totally out of her control. Despite the fact I was gutted and she couldn’t really change that, having a sympathetic, kind person at the end of the phone instead of a call centre that didn’t care meant the world. Booking through Shara means I am financially protected so thankfully Shara has informed me I will receive a full refund. And we hopped on the ferry and enjoyed a few nights in Paris instead of Barcelona! Shara continued to check in on us and ask if we needed advice or research doing on our behalves. If you want peace of mind then Shara is your girl. She can’t control the airlines but she personally won’t let you down!

Sent by Debra Hull

10/10 - Good communication and understanding of requests. Polite and knowledgeable

Sent by Nicola Hankin

Shara found exactly what I asked for within my budget! Cannot wait to get there!

Sent by Sarah Gledhill

I cannot express how much Shara helped us find our dream holiday. We changed our minds so often and were at a loss to find a holiday we really wanted and could afford. With time, patience and humour it was Shara who focused on what we really wanted and came up with the idea of Sri Lanka. Our perfect holiday is now booked and we can’t wait to be on a plane. She was always available to talk through ideas even on a Friday night and never rushed you. We can’t thank her enough!

Sent by Silas Zindel

Shara was so helpful and welcoming, thank you!

Sent by Jill Claridge

10/10

Sent by Anthony Pierre

10/10!

Sent by William Pateman

I usually plan my own holidays but as I have been so busy I thought I'd ask for Shara's help. From start to finish she was brilliant and nothing was too much to ask. Shara is very knowledgable and passionate about her job and made sure we got a lovely place to stay. She is kind and friendly and always a pleasure to chat to! Look forward to booking our next holiday with you, thanks!

Sent by Natalie Harris

An amazing lady who couldn't possibly do any more for her clients! Passionate about her job and loves what she does which reflects in her work! Cannot recommend her enough!