Sent by Nicola Thomson
Based in Edinburgh
Hi, I'm Steph and I’m a personal travel expert based between Edinburgh and York. I arrange worldwide travel, tailor-made bespoke holidays and honeymoons, cruises, luxury trips and adventure travel experiences.
Having spent the last twenty-five years organizing and travelling extensively myself, I know how important it is for that long-anticipated holiday to be just right. I provide a fully personalised service from start to finish, taking your initial ideas for your trip, listening to and understanding what’s important to you, then using my skills, experience and expertise to create an itinerary which is tailored perfectly to meet your needs, saving you precious time and ensuring the whole experience is stress and hassle-free. I treat all my clients as VIPs and my aim is to ensure that every trip, for every customer, is perfect, every time.
It was my passion for travel that took us to live in Australia for seven years, giving us an incredible opportunity to explore this amazing country, before returning home to the UK four years ago. It was also my passion for travel that took me to one of the world’s largest travel agencies, as part of the leadership team. I’ve been successfully creating dream holidays for my clients for many years now, including European city breaks, Pacific Island honeymoons, African safaris, trekking in South America, skiing in Japan, adventure travel through India and South East Asia and cruising in Antarctica, the list goes on, but every one was a pleasure and a privilege to organize and I’m pleased to say, resulted in happy clients who went on to book with me time and again.
In addition to a wealth of expert knowledge, I have also personally travelled to: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Bali, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Borneo, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Dubai, USA, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, South Africa, The Gambia, Mauritius, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark as well as Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales.
I’m available to discuss your travel requirements at your convenience, and am happy to arrange evening or weekend appointments if that’s your preference. Whilst everything can easily be done by phone and email, if you’re local to Edinburgh or York it would be lovely to meet for a chat over coffee.
Please feel free to get in touch - I'd love to hear from you!
You can contact me on my Edinburgh number 0131 516 9550 or my York number 01904 360000. Both numbers will divert to me wherever I am.
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.
05 June 2018
Having fallen in love with South America after my trip to Brazil, I knew I’d be back, the only question was which country? With just a 10-day window, I wanted to keep travelling to a minimum, which leant itself perfectly to the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, followed by some down-time in Uruguay. Seductive Buenos Aires After an overnight flight direct from London, we arrived into Buenos Aires to sunshine, blue skies, and a very pleasant 23 degrees. The weather had never felt more welcome, having been stranded in Scotland just a week earlier due to heavy snow! With five days in the city, the choice of hotel was particularly important, we wanted somewhere with the space and facilities to relax and unwind as well as being well-located. Whilst the boutique hotels of funky Palermo would normally be my first choice, I opted for the larger Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau in the upmarket Recoleta area. It’s a beautiful hotel with wonderful, but understated service, and was perfect for getting around the city. After checking in, our first day was spent exploring the surrounding streets, stopping for lunch in a local café, and sampling the amazing ice cream that Argentina is famous for. Compared to Rio it felt remarkably safe, and with the wide tree-lined boulevards and beautiful architecture, was more reminiscent of Madrid or Paris. One thing I always recommend, is to start with a private tour in a new city. I had arranged a guide for clients in Buenos Aires earlier in the year, and they were so delighted with her, that I made sure to book Alejandra for a half-day walking tour on our second morning. Touring with a local is one of the best things you can do, by the time you’ve finished you feel like you know a little bit more about the city, the culture and its people and Alejandra was amazing. We learned so much, from culture and history to gaining insider tips on the best bars and restaurants. We took the local bus to major landmarks such as Plaza de Mayo and the Metropolitan Cathedral before walking to San Telmo, the real cultural heart of Buenos Aires. Here we wandered down alleys, past antique shops, parks and coffee shops and through the wonderful San Telmo food market. We stopped for coffee in Plaza Dorrego, an atmospheric square in the heart of San Telmo, ringed by old tango bars and cafes, where we watched couples dance Tango in the street – this was the Buenos Aires I had always imagined! From here, we took a bus to the famous La Boca area – the original port where immigrants arrived and built the brightly-coloured conventillos (tenement houses). It’s also home to Boca Juniors’ iconic football stadium where Diego Maradona played, and was a definite must-see. As our next day was Sunday, we returned to San Telmo for one of the biggest street markets in South America. The rest of our days were spent exploring - a visit to the Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Peron was laid to rest, wandering the parks and neighbourhoods, and finding great little cafes for lunch. Most evenings we went to Palermo for dinner, as there were so many fab restaurants here to choose from. For a city famous for its steak, we managed to find a significant amount of great seafood restaurants – mostly Peruvian, but truly fabulous. A highlight was Olaya in Palermo, which was seriously the best ceviche ever! We did, of course visit a steakhouse, and the meat was fabulous, but definitely more for the hardened carnivore! On our last night in Buenos Aires we visited a modern Argentinian restaurant La Crizia in Palermo, which was sublime. I enjoyed the steak here far more than the steakhouse as it wasn’t so big and had the most stunning scallop ceviche to start. It goes without saying that the wine was wonderful too and we also took a liking to Provoleta, a local fried cheese speciality served as a starter. Captivating Uruguay Without the style of Buenos Aires or the thrill of Rio, this tiny country is often overlooked, and in fact I only chose it as it was so close to Buenos Aires, but it is an absolute gem, and was definitely a highlight of our trip! A one-hour ferry ride from the port in Buenos Aires, brought us into Colonia Del Sacramento in Uruguay. Due to Uruguay’s scale, small population and good roads, and being one of the safest countries in South America, it’s a great place to hire a car and take a road trip. Before we set off, we had a wander around the town, which shouldn't be missed. Beautiful cobbled streets, shady squares with pavement cafes, and lovely water views - it’s like stepping into another world. After lunch we started our 4-hour drive to an area known for its beaches and outstanding natural beauty, often dubbed the Riviera of South America. We bypassed the city of Montevideo and the high-rise glitzy resort of Punta del Este before arriving at the tiny boho-chic resort of Jose Ignacio, which can only be described as heavenly! Our Posada was everything I had hoped. Barefoot luxury, with a relaxed beach-house feel, and a private balcony overlooking the ocean – my only regret is not staying longer … much longer! The resort itself is small so very easy to walk around. We sampled two of the best restaurants in the area, Juana and La Olada. Both were rustic in design and in a romantic garden setting – twinkling fairly lights, blazing barbecue fires, chilled music and simple but delicious food. We spent our few days there walking on the gorgeous beaches or relaxing by the pool, it was truly one of the most relaxing places I’ve ever been. Our last two nights were in Montevideo, a 2-hour drive from Jose Ignacio, and small enough to easily see in one day, so we took time to explore the different beaches on the way. We stopped in Punta Del Este, favourite hangout for Argentinian Celebrities, for lunch overlooking the ocean. In Montevideo, we stayed at the Hyatt Centro, a relatively new luxury hotel in the Los Pocitos area overlooking the beach and the 22km promenade of this small coastal city. Montevideo lacked the glitz and glam of other capital cities, but it has a certain charm, lovely beaches, and the people were warm and friendly. We spent our last day exploring the Old Town and City Centre and stopped in the Old Port Market to try one of the many fabulous restaurants for lunch. All in all, it was a wonderful trip. Buenos Aires was wonderful, as I always knew it would be, but Jose Ignacio was the absolute highlight of the trip. One thing for certain is I’ll be going back to Uruguay someday.
27 October 2017
South America has been high on my wish list for as long as I can remember, and having tailored many bespoke itineraries for my clients over the years, I knew there was only one place to start – Brazil! Rio – The Marvellous City We couldn’t see the whole of Brazil in 2 weeks, so decided to focus on the South for this trip. We spent five days at the lovely Miramar Hotel, Copacabana, and our first day touring with a local guide, a great way to get an understanding of a city and its people. The weather was grim on our first day, with grey skies and pouring rain, but despite this, I fell in love with Rio. We toured the city including the stunning cathedral, walked around quirky Santa Teresa, where we had coffee and my new favourite food pão de queijo (warm bread rolls filled with melted cheese) and ended with lunch at a local Brazilian restaurant where we tried the famous feijoada (meat and bean stew) and our first taste of the national (very potent) drink, cachaça. Fortunately, the weather picked up and we got to spend time on Copacabana Beach and see Rio at her best. Santa Teresa was a great spot at night, with live bands and crowds dancing Samba in the streets. We went up Corcovado to see the incredible Christ the Redeemer up close, and even took a trip with a local around Rocinha (do not do this on your own), the largest favela in Brazil, where we met the locals, wandered the alleys and had a superb lunch to finish off. Rio was every bit as spectacular as I had imagined, but the biggest surprise to me were the people, who couldn’t have been more warm, friendly and welcoming. Mighty Iguaçu (and a little bit of Argentina) With only two nights at Iguaçu Falls (the largest waterfall system in the world), I decided to max out the experience by staying at Belmond Das Cataratas, the only hotel in the Brazilian National Park. We arrived after a short flight from Rio to our stunning falls view room, but the real draw-card here (apart from the gorgeous hotel) is that you have access to the park and falls walkways before it opens to the public at 9am. We took a walk at 7am and had the place to ourselves – this was a huge highlight - the size and scale of this natural wonder up close and personal was truly breath-taking. We took a boat trip under the falls, which was exhilarating (if a little wet!) and another once in a lifetime experience. On our final day, we visited the Argentinian side of the falls, and spent the day walking the trails for different views and a chance to see the falls from every angle. Dinner at the hotel restaurants was spectacular (especially the Piranha Broth), with the thundering noise of the falls as the soundtrack, it was the perfect end to our trip to Iguaçu. Pit-stop in São Paulo Our next stop was Paraty on the Emerald Coast, but as we had to fly into São Paulo, I decided to have a local guide collect us at the airport and take us on a 5 hour city tour. I didn’t expect much of São Paulo, as I’ve always heard it described as a concrete jungle, so I was very pleasantly surprised, and in fact, loved it so much I regretted not staying for a couple of nights. It’s a very cosmopolitan city with funky bohemian neighbourhoods, amazing street art, very stylish shops and restaurants and a real feel of urban cool. It has the most amazing park in the centre which is the last remaining piece of Atlantic Rainforest in the city! As always, there has to be food involved, so our guide took us to the Municipal Market for lunch where we tried local specialities pastel de balcalhau (salt cod pasties) and the delicious sanduíche de mortadela (melted cheese and mountainous meat sandwich), before the scenic 5 hour drive onto Paraty. Pretty Paraty Paraty is a gorgeous colonial town on the coast – think cobbled streets, cute shops, wonderful restaurants and lively bars. We stayed in a stunning boutique pousada in the car-free, historical centre. This really is a place to relax, and that’s exactly what we did. We ate fabulous seafood in funky restaurants, and tried another Brazilian speciality moqueca (delicious seafood stew). By now, I had become familiar with Brazil’s national drink, the Caïpirinha, and spent chilled evenings listening to music in the square, sampling the different varieties - Pineapple Caïpirinha being my favourite. There are numerous boat trips to the outlying islands, but we opted to hire a boat and skipper for the day which was wonderful. We visited several gorgeous beaches, snorkelled and swam in a beautiful bay with turtles, and finished with a fantastic seafood lunch at a great little beach shack – the Calamari was the best I’ve ever tasted! After three days, we were apprehensive about leaving, as surely nowhere else could be as wonderful as Paraty – but the best was yet to come! Ilha Grande – Paradise Island Our 90 minute speedboat transfer from Paraty to Ilha Grande was not the relaxing experience I had hoped, the wind whipped up and it was a fairly bouncy ride! Suffice to say, when we landed at Ilha Grande, it was with a sense of relief that I set foot on the jetty! Regardless of how we arrived, nothing could have prepared me for the beauty of this place. An island without cars, or indeed roads, our beautiful pousada occupied a prime spot, and our room had dual aspect balconies with views towards the little beach and fishing village, as well as out to sea. This truly was paradise! We woke to the sound of the ocean and spent our days walking the tracks to deserted beaches, swimming and snorkelling off the jetty, and generally relaxing. Ilha Grande is a hidden gem, and it was with heavy hearts that we left after three days for our 4-hour road trip back to Rio. Rio – The Finale Having already stayed in Copacabana, I booked us into the Sofitel on Ipanema Beach for our last two days. I did love Copacabana in its own loud, brash, Brazilian way, but Ipanema was my favourite. We took a Samba lesson before visiting the fabulous Rio Scenario Samba Club in Lapa, which was an awesome night. The weather was fantastic, so we spent our last two days lying on the beach. There is no rest to be had on Rio’s beaches, as there is far too much going on! Crammed in like sardines, Bossa Nova music coming from every corner, people dancing or singing along, football and volleyball games everywhere you look, and beach sellers offering everything from Caïpirinhas and cheese skewers grilled on portable barbecues to bikinis! This is where you come to see Rio in its glory, where the vibe is carefree and the overriding feeling is one of fun! Brazil is intoxicating and addictive, and far exceeded my expectations and I just can’t wait to go back!
12 April 2017
I’ve had a love affair with South East Asia for 18 years now, but despite many visits, there are still a few countries that I haven’t seen. So, in March, I made my first trip to Cambodia on a 10-day solo tour. It was also a great chance for me to try out our fantastic local partners' products for myself. I always say that adventure travel doesn’t have to mean shared dorms and sweaty backpacks, so I tailored a bespoke itinerary covering the highlights of Cambodia, with some great tours and luxurious hotels along the way. Days 1-3: Phnom Penh Markets, mopeds and the mighty Mekong On arrival into Phnom Penh I was met by my guide and driver and driven through the midday heat (37 degrees) to the historic Raffles Hotel. It was everything I had imagined and more! Shattered after my journey, my first afternoon was spent relaxing by the lovely pool. Having spent many a first night in a new city feeling disorientated and wandering the streets for hours before settling on some random (often disappointing) restaurant to eat in, I decided this time would be different. So I booked a Vespa Adventures Tour and can honestly say it was the best first night I’ve ever had on a trip! My Vespa driver picked me up at 6pm and we zoomed off to our first stop and to meet the others on the tour. Drinks on the rooftop of the historic Foreign Correspondents Club overlooking the Mekong River as the sun set, were followed by our next stop at a street-side seafood restaurant where we shared benches with locals eating the most delicious steamed fish, squid, baby octopus and oysters. The food was stunning, but that was just a snack! Back on the Vespa's, we whizzed through the city to the Elephant Bar at Raffles for their famous Femme Fatale cocktail (invented for Jackie Kennedy when she visited). Our next stop was dinner at a Cambodian restaurant with band playing and anyone who wants to, getting up to sing! Typical Cambodian dishes of barbecued frogs’ legs, stir fried beef with red ants, fish curry and rice – all absolutely delicious! Then a final stop at a hidden bar for margaritas before dropping me back at my hotel. It was so much fun and a great introduction to the city – and the frogs’ legs were a highlight! With only one more full day in Phnom Penh I’d picked the key things I wanted to see. A morning wander around the city with a trip to the Russian market, before touring the Killing Fields and the S21 Genocide Museum. This was a sobering afternoon and wouldn't be for everyone, but I like to try and get under the skin of a country, and these tours were so worthwhile, and really helped me to understand Cambodia a little better, so I’m really glad I did. The evening started with a lovely sunset cruise down the Mekong before dinner at Romdeng, a wonderful Cambodian not-for-profit restaurant giving training and jobs to street kids. The food and service were fabulous, and I even tried the local specialty of deep fried tarantula – pretty tasty, and yes, I ate every bit! Days 3-6 R & R in Kep The next morning I said goodbye to Raffles and headed to the pretty coastal town of Kep, touring through Takeo province on the way, climbing the 390 steps to Phnom Chiso Pagoda, followed by a riverside lunch and a wonderful boat trip to Phnom Da Temple before arriving at the peaceful resort of Knai Bang Chatt, right by the sea. Dinner was spent with my toes in the sand, listening to the sound of the ocean – blissful! After a few days of relaxing by the pool, spa treatments and evenings dining by the ocean, I was ready to see some more. An incredible 6am yoga session on the end of the jetty set me up for the day, then a 30 minute boat trip took me to Rabbit Island, where I spent the day swimming, having massages on the beach with great food provided by a fab little beach shack. We ended the day with a visit to the famous Kep Crab Market, with crabs bought fresh from the ocean and steamed by one of the local ladies waiting with boiling pans of water. Tucking into the most delicious crabs ever using nothing but our hands, is one of those memories that will stay with me forever. Kep is such an unassuming little place, but together with my “barefoot luxury resort” it had stolen my heart, and truth be told, I didn’t want to leave. Days 6-10: Siem Reap Tuk-tuks and Temples Before my short flight from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap, we stopped off in lovely Kampot town for a wander, some lunch, and a tour around a Kampot Pepper Farm. After the peacefulness of Kep, arriving in Siem Reap, the busiest place I had visited yet, was quite a shock. I wandered around the vibrant night markets, then had a fab dinner in Sugar Palm restaurant before finally collapsing into my very comfortable bed at the fabulous Park Hyatt hotel. The next morning was my first trip to Angkor. I didn’t know how I would feel about this as I’m not a huge fan of ancient history so I didn’t want to get “templed out” however, I needn’t have worried. We spent 4 hours touring Angkor Thom, Bayon Temple, the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King. It was so spectacular; I could have happily spent more time at the temples. However, the heat was getting the better of me so I went back to town for a wander before relaxing by the pool. The following morning, I was collected at 5.00am to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. This was truly spectacular and well worth the early start. After exploring Angkor Wat, we visited Ta Prohm before having the afternoon to shop and relax. In the evening my guide took me to explore some local spots, and my favourite was Road 60 – empty highway by day, street food market by night. Sitting on plastic mats by the side of the road watching couples strolling, whole families on motorbikes and everyone enjoying the local delicacies on offer was just fantastic. I wandered the markets and shops of Siem Reap, zipped around by tuk-tuk and spent some time chilling by the pool to escape the heat of the day. A tour to the enormous Tonle Sap Lake (120km long) which included a boat trip on the lake itself, was a fantastic chance to see rural life and my final night’s entertainment was the wonderful Phare, Cambodian Circus, which is definitely one not to miss. Cambodia was a fascinating country to visit; genuinely warm people, fantastic food and wonderful experiences. It was a great trip and my first time to the country, but one thing I’m sure of, it won’t be my last. If you’d like to experience the delights of this amazing country, then please get in touch for your own bespoke itinerary.
Brisbane, Australia 02/05/2017
Fife, Scotland 06/09/2016