Sent by Stephen Bellingham
Based in Dorchester
Looking for help with your business travel? Find out how I can help here
Hello, my name is Stephen Bellingham.
After leaving the army as a musician and travelling the world, I followed my passion. With nearly 30 years in travel, I have visited some amazing places and had the satisfaction of creating successful travel experiences for clients by paying attention to detail and going that extra mile. I became a Cruise Master with CLIA in 2015. I have also travelled extensively in the UK so can help with your UK holiday and have excellent COVID19 insurance Zoom meetings are available.
Originally based in Clevedon, Somerset but now in Dorchester, some clients prefer face to face meetings, others are happy to liaise by telephone or in today's environment Zoom. I am available at a time to suit you and often travel to visit my clients at home, as it's more convenient for them.
Whether it's an overnight stay in London or a luxury holiday of a lifetime, I find out what is important and ensure that I match your expectations and more. The feedback and referrals I receive from my clients verify this to be true.
My clients enjoy personalised itineraries; such as a city break, a European sun-break, ocean and river cruises, long-haul itineraries, or an escorted tour. I often 'tweak' trips to make them even more special.
I am a Rocky Mountaineer Specialist. Commodore status with Cunard giving me their highest training rating and also a CLIA Cruise Master, again the highest level of training with them.
Solo travellers use my services as they trust my judgment and feel safe in the knowledge that I am on hand, even whilst they are away.
Using a live airline reservation system is a great asset for booking flight itineraries to select seating, special requests, and last minute availability.
Experience in Saga’s ‘Travel by Design’ department and business travel for TV programs like ‘I’m A Celebrity’ and 'BBC Natural History’ including The Blue Planet means I offer a discreet and confidential service when required, to unusual and remote destinations alike.
As a self-employed Travel Counsellor, I offer a personal service as with any privately owned agency, whilst having the financial support of a large, global organisation. Every aspect of your holiday is financially covered by ATOL and the unique Travel Counsellors Financial Trust.
My passion for travel has taken me to most continents from walking tours to first-class rail, from camping throughout Alaska to cruising the Lei River in Guilin, China. I feel privileged to share this knowledge and experience with clients.
My latest adventures were to Porto, Lisbon, Dresden, Philippines, Malaysia, Borneo, and Ras al-Khaimah and Porto, please do have a read of my blogs!
Now I am also able to use my knowledge of the UK from the highlands and Islands of Scotland to Cornwall and Devon and my home county of Kent the garden of England and personal favorite being Northumbria
For the ideas and inspiration to when or wherever you might like, please give me a call or send an email - I look forward to hearing from you.
Explora Journeys is the new luxury lifestyle travel brand. Please ask me all about this amazing new experience.
Singapore's mascot the merlion on the Fullerton road pedestrian area Singapore
Is the Antarctic on your wish list? I have just completed some comprehensive training. Let me know if you are interested
This was the view from my hotel room on Kula Lupar totally amazing just had to keep looking. Want to know what hotel it is then give me a call
Excuse the music but enjoy the amazing scenery of the river trip I took in Bohol in the Philippines
Docking in Brooklyn on Queen Mary II after a brilliant transatlantic cruise
Did you know Virgin now do cruises or as they call them Voyages have a look and let me know what you think I see they have a very interesting Transatlantic?
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.
03 October 2022
St Lucia – what an extraordinary, beautiful island, and the most incredible holiday. There’s so much to tell you… After a comfortable flight – well worth the extra for the upgrade to ‘Premium Economy’ – our private taxi driver was our first experience of the friendly, helpful nature of the people on the island. Our first stop was in the capital, Castries. This is where the cruise ships call in, and if cruises started from St Lucia then the hotel I stayed in would be an ideal stop-over. A great location from which to explore the city – and offering amazing views across the city to the sea beyond – the Bel Jou hotel has a stunning hilltop location. A 3-star hotel (though it felt more like a 5-star) offers an all-inclusive, adults-only experience with amazing food cooked by excellent local chefs. On arrival we waited in a lovely, air-conditioned lounge, enjoying the complimentary rum punch whilst completing the formalities. We had a garden room - large and airy – and enjoyed the tranquility, as well as the two swimming pools and the terrace/rooftop restaurant with panoramic views. If you want to visit the city, the hotel provides a shuttle service up and down the hill. Market days are bustling – make sure the vendors know you are not from the cruise ship and pay in the local East Caribbean currency if you can. On our first full day on the island I had arranged for a treat – a taxi drive to the southwestern side of St Lucia for lunch at the Rabot Hotel Restaurant on the Hotel Chocolat Estate, Soufriere. Our very courteous and careful driver took us on the winding, hilly roads through extraordinarily lush, green scenery, stopping at viewpoints to enjoy views of the towns and fishing villages nestling at the bottom of the hills, with the blue expanse of the Caribbean Sea beyond. Close to the Hotel Chocolat Estate are the Diamond Botanical Gardens, home of the Diamond Waterfall and famous hot mineral bath springs. Here, many activities can be enjoyed including, I recall from my parents’ visit there a few years ago, Zip-Wiring through the rain forest! The setting of the restaurant at Rabot Hotel is truly magical. It was, honestly, quite surreal. Sitting in an elevated open-sided covered terrace, with the rain forest and cocoa plantation stretching ahead of you, the eye then meets the stunning sight of the twin peaks of the Pitons mountains. These are two mountainous, dormant volcanic ‘plugs’ rising majestically from the sea. Named ‘Petit Piton’ (743m high) and ‘Gros Piton’ (nearly 800m), the mountains and the surrounding area forms a UNESCO site. Later in the week we had the pleasure of viewing the Pitons from the sea and were told that there was at least as much of them beneath the water as above! The food at Rabot was also stunning – with a chocolate theme, of course. Irresistible! And, beneath the restaurant was the hotel’s infinity pool which added another magical element to this already extraordinary viewpoint. Then on to Body Holiday for the main part of our stay. I’d always thought I wouldn’t enjoy a beach-based holiday but how very wrong I was. This was something entirely different to that which I had imagined. From the moment we arrived to the minute we were waved goodbye by the highly attentive staff, the Body Holiday experience drew us in. Having expected a garden room without a view, we were delighted to be upgraded to an ocean view room – ‘delighted’ is an understatement when we were taken to the fourth floor and presented with what was described as ‘the room with the best view in the hotel.’ We actually spent the first few hours pinching ourselves! Body Holiday, founded in 1988, was a pioneering concept providing a world-class spa, luxury rooms (for most of the year it is also adults-only) and fine dining. It aims to provide a holiday focusing on the visitor’s well-being in every way. High on the hill is the impressive spa complex, next to two detached villas available for guests. A spa treatment each day is included in the all-inclusive rate, but the range of other activities is almost endless. This ranged from hiking and cycling trips off-site to beach volleyball, aqua fit in one of the excellent outdoor pools, tennis and golf, and numerous fitness classes, to mention but a few. Available too were more mindful activities such as yoga and meditation, and short informal talks from experts on various health-related topics. There was also, of course, the beach and sea activities – water-ski-ing, tubing (great fun!), sailing, kayaking, snorkelling and scuba to name but a few. Most of these activities were included, and for additional fees further adventures could be had such as training for the PADI scuba diving certificate. We paid for a boat trip to search for whales and dolphins – sadly, they chose not to reveal themselves, but the trip itself was a great experience as we saw the amazing coastline, right down to the Pitons mountains, and several interesting bays and harbours. Accompanied by shoals of flying fish leaping alongside the boat, we couldn’t really feel disappointed! And yet, for some the beauty of the place, the calm, the mind-freeing expanse of sea and the private beach, was all they needed. And this was absolutely fine, too. We fell between the two extremes and enjoyed several activities but mainly felt completely relaxed and loved wandering between the sea, pool and our favourite café, then back to our air-conditioned room to enjoy the fine views.
10 June 2022
I have just returned from an amazing new cruise experience with Virgin Voyages. The big question is how does it vary from other cruise lines? Well, here are my observations: 1) Adults only, so 18 plus. 2) You can pick your boarding and disembarkation time and even take your own luggage off if you prefer. 3) No dress code (they do have a Scarlet Night so encourage you to wear something scarlet, but not in any way compulsory). 4) Pick your restaurant and dining time to suit you. 5) All restaurants are included in the price, there are 7 main restaurants but a further 13 dining options to choose from, and no self-service buffets. The main restaurants are all individual such as Korean barbecue, Italian, British a-la-carte, Vegetarian/Vegan, and include one called ‘The Test Kitchen’ where unique, highly imaginative dishes are presented to intrigue and delight the tastebuds. The larger dining area, The Galley, is like a high-quality food court offering a vast range of options, all freshly prepared. The overall quality of the food and the service cannot be emphasised enough, in my opinion. 6) Live music and entertainment from highly talented artists can be found at various times and venues. The theatre offered several shows during our week’s cruise as did the nightclub theatre, with smaller entertainments in the several bars around the ship, ranging from solo singers and guitarists to the ship’s 3-piece band, a DJ and a magician! 7) No tipping - it is included - and the service from all staff is impeccable. 8) The bed is larger than a standard King size and can be converted to twin beds or a sofa during the day if you prefer. 9) Balcony furniture includes a hammock to swing or relax in. 10) There are cabin types to suit all, from an inside room to one with standard balcony or extra-large balcony (which I, personally, would recommend), through to what is called the ‘Rock Star’ accommodation for a real luxury experience.
08 October 2020
Dorset ofter is an overlooked county until you live in or near it but it's as lovely a county as Cornwall or even have a look at some of my photos. From Durdel daw Ringsstead Bay Weymouth and the Jurassic Coast. Many ancient Roman Ruines and hill forts and dwellings.
22 September 2020
Although I have travelled extensively throughout the UK, Dartmouth was a town I had never visited. It had been on my ‘wish list’ for a while, not least because of Greenway House, the summer home of Agatha Christie, which had always been a place I fancied exploring. So, with foreign travel temporarily suspended, we decided to head to Devon! We were very lucky to find a self-contained property to stay in, in a quiet village situated equidistant between Dartmouth and Brixham, with a lovely distant view of the sea from our little balcony. I was delighted to find that Greenway House was literally ‘up the road’ so this was first on our agenda. A National Trust property, we booked a visiting time and set off. Greenway is a late 18th century estate set on the River Dart – a beautiful setting enjoying views of parkland, woodland and the water. Having enjoyed a look around the house, whilst exploring the grounds we found the pathway down to the small landing area where ferries from Kingswear brought visitors directly to Greenway. Sitting here enjoying a coffee and the stunning view of the estuary was a real highlight. That evening we went down to Brixham. This fishing town features a busy port and harbour nestled below rows of colourful houses on the hillsides. We enjoyed a walk round the harbour and then traditional, fresh fish and chips – having to be careful to guard our supper from the eager gulls! Our final day was spent exploring Dartmouth. We parked at Kingswear and took one of the frequent passenger ferries for the 5-minute trip across to the centre of the town. There are 3 ferries making the trip – 2 carry cars and one is for foot passengers only. The ferry ride itself was fun and not too busy so with the requirement to wear masks as well it felt very safe. From the ferry we could see the historic Naval College and the old fortifications of Bayard’s Cove which we later explored on foot, as well as the Royal Avenue Gardens and the old historic town centre. We were certainly not disappointed with our UK break and found this part of Devon offered a great deal with its many attractions, stunning countryside and the outstanding beauty of the Dart Estuary.
01 May 2020
As we are in shut-down, I wanted to make the most of my time in between helping my clients to get home or re-book and book for next year’s travel. I thought I would do something I have meant to do for decades - write up my around the world trip from 1990 that started my amazing travel industry career. This was the only time in my life I have kept a diary! My first stop is perhaps not a city that you might consider, but my cousin was working at the British Embassy at the time. What a way to start, I thought: stay at the British Embassy in Washington DC! Sadly, a few days before I arrived the Duke of Edinburgh decided to visit, so for security reasons, I could no longer stay. So, I had to ‘rough it’ first with a Travelodge then a Youth Hostel! This did not detract from the experience and I still have the vivid memories of getting a local bus to see the Pentagon and watching the guide walk backwards to show us the highlights (he had to watch us to make sure we did not stray off the visitor route!). Washington DC is a fabulous city to visit, much like London in that it has lots of lovely green spaces, rivers, bold monuments, art galleries and free museums (including the Smithsonian, akin to our Natural History museum, and the Space Museum). Most interesting of all was the FBI building, and I also enjoyed the Library of Congress. Sadly, the White House was not open at the time of my visit.
07 January 2020
I have long wanted to visit Dresden and I was not disappointed. We arrived on the last day of the Christmas markets - my favourite was the very colourful Medieval-themed one in the palace old courtyard where we enjoyed local food and drink like Spätzle and Bratvurst. Perhaps the biggest surprise was finding a few ‘Medieval’ locals in a hot tub in the ‘altogether’! In the plaza outside the main church on the 23rd they held a vespers church service with full orchestra and choir which was beautiful. With a small Christmas market in the square this was the largest group of people we were to see in one place during the holiday. Returning to the square the following morning we were again surprised to find everything had been cleared and not a soul in sight! Next was to explore the old city with a local guide to find out all about Dresden’s fascinating history and also the good restaurant options. To finish Christmas Eve German style (as they celebrate on Christmas Eve) we had roast goose with breadcrumbed dumplings which was lovely. Christmas Day was a special treat with a visit to the mesmerising ballet, ‘The Nutcracker’, at the Dresden Opera House. The Opera House has to be one of the most beautiful in the world, rebuilt in its original 1841 form after it was virtually destroyed during the Second World War bombing. On Boxing Day we visited the main church, the Frauenkirche, looking to buy tickets for the evening concert there. Once inside we were lucky to be able to listen to the rehearsal for the concert - the most beautiful music in a truly beautiful venue. Next we ventured out to the fascinating Dresden Panometer which had a free shuttle bus from the city centre. This was an extraordinary 360 degree panoramic painting inside a disused gasometer, showing the city devastated by the bombing in 1945. A very interesting, intense and humbling experience. The city has a great network of trams, trains and buses which offer a regular and easy way to explore the city. We used public transport to see many of the sights such as the Military Museum with its blend of classical and modern architecture. Dresden is also a good city to see by foot, exploring the many museums, rebuilt churches, palaces, cellars and city walls. One of the things that sticks out, other than the fascinating history, was the friendliness of the locals. If you want somewhere a little less well-visited for a city break you can’t go far wrong with Dresden.
07 November 2019
Lisbon is a city I have long wanted to visit, and I was not at all disappointed, though there were a few surprises! The saying that Lisbon is built on seven hills may be an exaggeration for advertising purposes (in reality, our walking tour guide told us, it’s built on seven hillsides, which is not quite the same as seven hills!) but gosh, you will know it once you start exploring! With its steep cobbled streets, stairways and elevators, public lifts and funicular trams you won’t be in any doubt that you are travelling up and down hills! The city is very pretty with its buildings clad in colourful tiles, its many squares with their beautifully patterned mosaic floorings, numerous delightful gardens and green spaces with kiosks where you can sit and watch the world go by with your favourite drink or coffee. The spectacular views can be seen from several viewpoints on the hillsides. If you don’t fancy a climb on foot, take a tuk-tuk tour (around 40 Euros an hour) to reach the higher points, and also to see the sights and sounds that the trams and buses can’t access. My main surprise was that the iconic images I had of the city - the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrao dos Descobrimentos) and Tower of Belem (Torre de Belem) - are not located in the centre of the city as I had thought. They are in fact in Belem, a lovely suburb of Lisbon. Belem is a 20-30 minute tram or bus ride from Lisbon city - a 24-hour travel card, at around 6 Euros, gives you travel all day on most of the trams, buses and the Metro. Belem is well worth a visit for it boasts a wealth of historic and modern gems such as the Santa Maria de Belem Church, Jeronimo’s Monastery and the amazing new art museum, Museu Colecao Berardo. A highlight for me was a sunset yacht trip on the Rio Tejo (Tegus River) from Belem which lets you see the sights in one of the easiest and most pleasant ways. I loved the Time Out Food Hall - if a company is good it gets into the magazine but if it’s great it gets to sell its food in the hall! All the food was amazing - you order your meal, which is freshly cooked, and are given a buzzer to let you know when it’s ready. The only difficulty might be finding a seat - it’s so good, it’s busy all day! Located near the central station, and with regular food market stalls as well, the Time Out Food Hall is easy to get to and definitely worth a visit. Another favourite day out was to the Parque das Nacoes (Park of Nations) a modern and new part of the city built for the 1998 Expo, now described as ‘the centre for corporate Portugal’. Here you will find Europe’s longest bridge and second-largest aquarium; a cable car ride over the river bank allows you to see the modern sights in style. Parque das Nacoes is just two stops from the airport on the Metro and only half an hour’s Metro ride from the historic city - it makes for a great day’s outing for a contrast from the ancient centre. I discovered the delights of Vinho Verde (green wine) and the famous pastries (pastel de nata). People were queuing for hours to get these from well-known ‘tourist’ patisseries, but this wasn’t necessary - I took a walking tour and was shown by a local guide where to find the best spots for coffee, pastries, port and seafood…wonderful! I spent a week in Lisbon and would still happily return to explore it further - a great destination, and great value too.
12 June 2019
I knew that a transatlantic voyage from Southampton to New York on the iconic RMS Queen Mary II was going to be a special experience – but it was all and more than I could have ever expected. The Queen Mary is the world’s only purpose-built ocean liner, capable of navigating any high sea including the Atlantic Ocean. From the embarkation and departure from Southampton, marked by a lovely glass of champagne and music from the Jimi Hendrix tribute band ‘Purple Haze’, I knew I was in for a treat! I had wondered if the fact that we would not be stopping en route might mean I would get bored – how wrong I was! In fact, there were so many entertaining and fascinating activities to choose from that I had trouble deciding what to see and do each day and could have happily stayed on board for the return sailing. On arrival at your cabin – no matter what grade – you are welcomed by gifts of a bottle of bubbly, slippers, bathrobe and toiletries. Plenty of storage space for your luggage, a comfortable sofa, and, in my cabin, the delight of the enclosed balcony. So, what did I get up to? Well, I enjoyed 4 different sets of lectures; 2 visits to the Planetarium; viewings of 4 of the latest-release films…and that was just during the day time. In the evenings I saw 4 great shows, enjoyed listening to fine musicians such as a harpist, pianist, 3-piece jazz group, pop duet, Spanish guitarist and – my favourite – Big Band Night! That was fantastic! Then of course there was the amazing gourmet experience. I dined several times in the main Britannia Restaurant which offered freshly prepared food to order: a full breakfast menu, 3-course lunch and dinners. Needless to say, the evening dinners were exceptional, from lobster tails to beef Wellington and everything in-between! Each table has a dedicated waiter and our gentleman was brilliant. I was the only man at the table, with 7 ladies. When I joked with him that I always had to wait until last to be served, he remembered this and made a point of serving me first next time – reverting to professional protocol afterwards, of course. This was, however, so typical of the charm and personal service shown by the staff. The whole experience was overwhelmingly enjoyable and it’s difficult to pick highlights – but the Big Band concert was truly brilliant, as were the London and York Theatre lectures. And as for the food - our first night was exceptional in the ship’s specialty restaurant, The Veranda Steak House. The meal included a lobster cocktail, then a 5-knife menu with the chef showing us the different meats and the different cuts on offer for us to select from. My dessert was a rum baba (my first for decades) which was actually set alight before my very eyes – need I say more? There was a wealth of other high-quality eating places. The Kings Court buffet had a vast range of food from roast beef and tapioca to sushi. On different nights, part of this restaurant would be transformed to offer Italian or Asian menus, even an American Smoke House! The Golden Lion Pub served delicious traditional pub meals cooked to perfection. I also loved the excellent range of non-alcoholic cocktails such as you would not find in an ordinary pub. For a light snack, coffee or drink, often with live music, there was the Corinthian Lounge. For more great cocktails – the Commodore Club. And for a marvellous coffee, hot chocolate or afternoon tea there was the Sir Samuel, serving Godiva Chocolates – the relaxed atmosphere, waiter service and sea views was definitely worth the extra cost over and above the coffee offered elsewhere on the ship. A particular favourite for me was the Chartroom for drinks and excellent Jazz music before, during or after the evening’s entertainment. As if that wasn’t enough, I had other great venues and experiences to choose from: The Queen’s Room which is the largest ballroom at sea; The Spa – amazing luxury and relaxation; The Library – a quiet place to hang out and enjoy the sea views; The Gym, which I had to visit 4 or 5 times to try to keep up with my food consumption! Then there were many shops including a great book shop; a casino and nightclub; an internet centre; various deck and indoor board and card games. The deck space offered 2 pools (one was covered and heated so usable whatever the weather) and a jacuzzi, as well as the compulsory pool-side bar! This long list of things is just what I experienced – there was so much more! I will send some emails to my clients in due course to give them a full rundown – but this wonderful voyage of a lifetime offered something for everyone, whatever your taste in entertainment or dining. As a footnote, because I have achieved the highest training level for Cunard cruises, I was honoured to be invited to various cocktail parties and events with the Captain – these were excellent, particularly as the Captain was a great orator who delivered information and anecdotes with such style and humour.
20 March 2019
I had for a long time wanted to visit Porto. So, when Travel Counsellors asked me if I would like to represent them at the inauguration ceremony of Croisi Europe’s latest ship on the Douro I jumped at the chance! The weather was exceptionally good. Sitting at one of the many riverside cafes was just magical, with the port barges in front of me and the winding, steep cobbled streets behind. The Douro offers stunning scenery, seen best from one of its ever-increasingly popular river cruises, which must include a stay in the historic and beautiful Porto. The city has a history of being the starting point for exploring the globe and retains many positive links to the UK. You can easily see the city by tram or cable car and avoid the steep winding streets if you prefer. I greatly enjoyed taking a Sandeman port tour and tasting, and a boat trip to see not only the mouth of the Douro but also the various historic sites and all the city’s highly impressive, iconic bridges. Porto did not disappoint! The Croisi Europe hospitality was amazing. Although they have a set menu each day, the food is fresh, local and delicious. If nothing takes your fancy, the Chef will create an alternative just for you. And where else will you find that the ‘house wine’ included with your meal actually gives you a choice of 9 local wines! Language is not an issue either as all staff speak a minimum of English and French. When on my tour, our guide skilfully switched between both faultlessly, even though neither language was her native tongue! Even at the naming of the ship they used both French and English despite there being only a few English-speakers among the guests. As to the ship herself…with only 66 cabins over the three decks, the Amalia Rodgrigues is absolutely lovely. There is one mobility cabin and a lift between the main and lower deck provides easy access to the restaurant. The lower deck cabins are better than most I have experienced, offering 2 good-sized picture windows. Cabins on the other deck have sliding French windows which add the luxury of a balcony. The on-board service is impeccable, and nothing is too much trouble With the most positive of relationships in Europe, as a British person you will always be welcomed in Portugal. I can’t wait to return!
30 January 2019
I went to Krakow for Christmas, as a white Christmas is what I had hoped for, but it seemed it was not meant to be. With the world’s climate changing the temperature went up from minus 7 to plus 7 degrees in the time that the delightful drones over Gatwick were causing chaos, resulting in my flight being cancelled. Luckily, I know a good travel agent (!) who was able to book me a new flight the next day, so I only lost one night of my holiday. Sadly, however, in that 24 hours it rained, and the snow disappeared. All that said I had the most amazing time in this historic and beautiful city. It was very quiet, which suited me fine. Cars must have a permit to drive in the city and there is only one main road to cross. All you will be avoiding is a fairy-tale horse and carriage, Pope-mobile-style electric vehicles, trams or electric police cars. The Christmas Market was relatively small (I have most recently been to Berlin when you can’t move for them) but idyllic with local food and Gluhwein - but do avoid the hot beer! With Christmas trees and larger-than-life ornaments decorating each street corner it is delightful. Then the icing on the cake – on Christmas day we had the snow flurries I had craved which made it all just magical. You will never be hungry in Krakow as portions are always generous and the food delicious, from ham hock to local sausages and you just have to try one of the huge and glorious fruit-filled doughnuts! With various museums, and towers to climb, there is plenty to fill your days. I also visited the Wieliczka salt mines - who would think you could spend 3 hours below ground and not get bored! It was a fascinating trip, learning about the centuries of history behind the mines, and seeing the creative work of the miners who fashioned amazing statues and chandeliers in any free time they had. Don’t worry, there are lifts if you need them, and plenty of comfort stops and, of course, shops. Perhaps the most fascinating trip was to Auschwitz Birkenau. Not for the faint-hearted, but as my amazing guide said on the day of my visit: ‘this is not a tourist attraction, it is a memorial.’ For me, as someone who had lived only 15 minutes from Belsen for 6 years, it was an emotional and important reminder of the need to keep these memories alive and to ensure that the younger generations do not forget.
02 October 2018
This year 2018 I was lucky enough to make it to the level of Gold Travel Counsellor putting me with the top sellers of the 1700 of us worldwide. Our trip to Ras al-Khaimah is about the first place that none of my clients had heard of. Although closer to Dubai international airport than Dubai, it is a quieter Emirates closet to the desert and a fascinating place. From desert and falconry to warm sea and food let my pictures take you there. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton originally built as a palace which it was!
02 October 2018
On Friday I was lucky enough to be invited on Oceania’s Marina ship, sister ship to the Riviera. I wanted to see if Oceania lived up to its reputation of the best food at sea and I am pleased to say they did. Here are some shots of the restaurants and food. I also discovered a buffet where you don't serve yourself which means no bun fights and no cross contamination from others. I also found great art including a studio for everyone to learn about it along with a culinary school. With only 1250 guest and 400 staff you will be well looked after.
06 November 2017
Our first night was at the Traders Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. What a most amazing experience - I was very impressed with the hotel. As you will see from the photos, I had a twin Tower View room, which as it became dark changed, making for a very impressive view with the lights. The Bar on the 32nd floor, also let you enjoy the view in style. The next day we took a short walk to the shopping Mall, not to go shopping as such. They are only allowed to sell original brand names, nothing else. Also for those that are concerned about local facilities, the premier toilets on the ground floor come highly recommend - a strange but useful fact! Any questions about the toilet habits of the locals, please ask. We then took a tube ride, just a couple of stops to the centre of town, to enjoy a show around the cities largest and most historic Mosque. As you will see from the photo ladies were given red cloaks to wear. This was followed by a walking tour of the India and Chinese markets. We ate within the local Chinese Food Hall which was very clean, and provided good local food. It is worth pointing out that we found the metro to be amazingly quiet, clean, cheap and easy particularly considering it was rush hour. In the afternoon we visited the Majestic Hotel, which is a lovely city centre hotel with outside pool. Colonial in style with an old-fashioned library for afternoon tea. We were lucky enough to eat here - the local cuisine was lovely. Although it does not offer the same stunning view, the hotel is slightly more central, if you don't fancy the underground or a taxi ride. We then moved to the 5-star luxury Shangri-La City Centre in Kuala Lumpur. This is an oasis in the midst of the city and again I had a view of the old telephone tower, which is more obvious at night as you see in the photos. I can not do the main restaurant justice, if I describe it as a buffet, as the chefs are there on hand to cook your dish as requested. The hotel also offers other dining experiences including a French and Asian restaurant.
25 October 2017
Next we flew to Kota Kinabalu, where we were met by our fabulous, local agent EXO. The guide took us to the Mari Mari Cultural Village, which gives you a look as close as possible to authentic local life in rural Borneo in the long houses. We spent several, very enjoyable hours there. You can visit and stay in a genuine Longhouse if you have time to go bush and explore in more detail. You would however need to travel further afield. Malaysian Fam Trip - Rasa Ria, Borneo Our next two nights were at the amazing Shangri La Rasa Ria. Although 45 minutes from the city, we did not find it too much to travel there. It's a hotel I have used many times before, however I have to say I was even more impressed than I expected. We arrived just in time to have the daily complimentary pre-dinner drinks (wine, local cocktails and canapés). I normally recommend the quieter Ocean view rooms to my clients - we were lucky to be allocated these, and they are truly amazing. I shall be returning with my wife! These large rooms all have a dining-tables and chairs, mini-bar included, and on the balcony double hot tub baths with a big round day bed and wonderful sea views. The garden view rooms are smaller in size, however for those on a tighter budget still offer all the facilities of the Italian and Indian restaurants, Coffee shop and general shop. As there are no mini bars in these rooms, you can buy or bring your own to store within the room fridge. The hotel has a 3 km beautiful beach and offers a trek to see the sunrise above Mount Kota Kinabalu, along with wildlife bird treks. The old Orangutan Sanctuary will soon offer more of an adventure, nature park with zip wires, so it's a great place to take a few days to chill after an adventurous itinerary. We also visited the Gaya Island Resort, a 15-minute ride from the port of Kota Kinabalu, which offers an Eco Resort with it nature park and marine bay. Explored on foot, by boat or snorkelling in the clear blue sea, it offers a relaxing experience with nature. Our next adventure was to spend the day exploring the Mount Kota Kinabalu National Park along with the Poring Hot springs.Although it's personal taste, I found the hot springs were too commercial. They have been developed to allow locals to regularly use the Springs. The Canopy walks were a wonderful way to see the flora and forna. You can do a day trek to the Falls in the park, along with bird watching walks or overnight camping trips to the summit. Elite runners can make a return trip in under 3 hours. Do expect to do a fair bit of travelling to get to these places, if you do it as a day trip. Alternatively, what I would suggest is to incorporate it into a full itinerary taking you to Sabah to stay on a river for wildlife and bird watching, and finally to see the Orangutans. I have plenty of experience at collating this type of itinerary for two or three weeks, to suit your preferences. Our last night was spent at the Shangri La Tanjung Aru Hotel, which is 10 minutes from the city, airport and the islands. This is a popular resort hotel with locals with a small beach, mini water-park for children, lovely restaurants and regular boat trips to four different islands, which we explored. It can include Jungle trekking, a zip wire ride between two of the islands and an underwater walk. There's also the opportunity to both snorkel and learn to Scuba dive. The hotel also has a spa, young children's club and Club Lounge for the executive rooms.
05 April 2017
As my Philippine Airlines trip approached, I had a feeling of excitement of a new destination for me to explore, along with a sense of trepidation of what I would find. Armed with my Lonely Planet Guide I joined 49 others for a 14-hour direct flight. I was pleasantly surprised during my first introduction to Filipino food - the experience was far superior to many major airlines' offerings. Manila itself, is a big sprawl of a city with a mix of neighbourhoods, and as such it is impossible to see it all. However many a varied sightseeing and creative experience is to be had. From Colonial to modem skyscrapers, from shanty-town and old city fort to lustrous Malls. My first real experience was of a great colonial hotel, the Manila which is one of the smaller hotels in the city but with impeccable service and food. I just wish I could have stayed longer! Lunch was to be a sign of things to come - we were spoiled having someone who had just spent 3 years touring the 7000 plus islands, then writing a cookery book on all the best recipes from the different regions. Needless to say, I have a copy and will be sampling them at home. The next day the whole group split into three - ours went off to Cebu, where we stayed at a beach resort, taking a boat trip to explore the various islands and several snorkelling trips to see a plethora of colourful fish, giant clams and star fish. Next we were off again on a ferry from Cebu to Bohol, which was no different to any European fast ferry. A word of advice on this - to make sure you travel business class. It's not a big difference in price, however a lot more comfortable and was in fact empty. Bohol is amazing! A completely different feel to Manila and Cebu. In fact, it felt like a different world. Greener, cleaner and a really nice atmosphere to the place. From the cute and cuddly, shy Tarsier monkeys, who in reality are surprisingly small, to the beautiful Chocolate Hills. Although it was rainy when we visited, it gave the Hills a mystical feel, with their summits surrounded by wispy clouds. There are in excess of 1260 of these natural phenomenon so named as their grassy covering changes to a roasted chocolate brown colour in the dry season. Then we were off sky-biking. It's not for the faint-hearted, so only a few were brave enough. I went first so that I didn't have time to contemplate, and talk myself out of it. I was encouraged by the need to keep up with my 75 years plus Mum, who recently loved zip wiring in St Lucia! It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I was told to slow down, as I was peddling too quickly!! The pictures are proof of my bravery. We then had lunch on a strange boat with the Captain sitting in a little boat behind, pushing us along. The lush tropical forest and deep emerald green waters were beautiful. School holidays were on, so the local children were climbing and jumping from trees. What a memorable experience. To sum up the Philippines - they are a beautiful collection of over 7000 islands with happy, friendly people, who have English as their second language. I had not appreciated that English was taught as a second only to the local dialect, which makes it so easy to travel around. The food has many influences with lots of rice and fish (I didn’t see one potato), although pasta seems to be a popular and a trendy alternative in the hotel restaurants. It was always very clean and safe to eat there. The influences of Spanish-Filipino architecture, come from the three centuries of Spanish influence, thus the still prevalent Catholicism and colourful fiestas still shape local culture. The country suffered greatly during World War II. Along with memorials and museums, Jeepneys, the local transport still in use today are a reminder of the army jeeps left behind by the Americans. Who would I recommend the tropical islands of the Philippines to? Those who enjoy the outdoors in any shape or form. There is something for everyone from amazing beaches, to diving, snorkeling, hiking, trekking, canoeing, motor-biking and caving. As the world's second largest Archipeligo, there are literally thousands of unique mammals and birds, many only discovered literally within the last few years. Some of the National Parks have the infra-structure, others not. My advice is to plan and research wisely in advance, using expert knowledge.
15 July 2016
My five day trip on Carnival Vista to experience first-hand what makes their brand new ship so special, was as a result of an invitation from a fellow Travel Counsellor. We chose the Crete to Athens sector, which stopped at Rhodes, Kusadasi and finally Athens. Our initial impression was of a large ship designed for families. Once you get your bearings on board, it is really easy navigate your way around without getting lost. I did not truly appreciate the size of the ship, until another cruise ship that I thought was larger than ours, docked next to us - as I looked down on her, she was truly dwarfed by the Vista. The children are so busy with the three separate 'kids' clubs and activities, that I do not recall seeing many in the social areas, main or specialist restaurants. I guess they used the buffet and were just too busy! With our own private balcony and the facility to bring one bottle of wine on board, it was lovely to use the balcony for early morning peace and quiet as you slip into a new port, and an appetitive before dinner. The main restaurant offered popular dishes plus a daily local dish, and a 'what you have always wanted to try' dish. Each of the specialist restaurants we sampled served wonderful food, culminating in the sophisticated steak-house, Fahrenheit 555. There's a good variety and al fresco on warm evenings. It's worth noting that the Chef's Table, a dedicated 16-seat area hosted by one of the ship's master chefs, is so popular that it is already sold out before the cruise departs on most sailings. Of particular note is also the water park (the largest in the fleet), the IMAX theatre where we were transported to outer-space, and the Skyride, where you pedal on a monorail bike around the outside of the ship, which provides incredible views. Note to self, to remember to wear trainers or enclosed shoes, as no open towed footwear is permitted! You will never get bored on the upper deck - I almost wish we had more sea days to make the most of it. We were also truly entertained by the very professional evening show 'Flix'. My photos reflect what life on board is really like!
15 July 2016
I had always wanted to visit Athens and the Acropolis and thanks to a cruse I got to spend a day and night there. Although a busy and hot city, it was well worth it. We climbed the hill to the top of the Acropolis -you really must go early, late or in the middle of the day (when it is really too hot) or book with a tour to avoid having to queue for tickets. Once you are up there, the view is brilliant, surrounded by a busy metropolis. You forget when you see the pictures that there is a modem city just yards away from this amazing, ancient site. Everybody says the museum at the foot of the Acropolis is well worth the visit. To us, the air-conditioning alone was heaven. We were not disappointed by the original statues and artefacts and the way the museum is laid out. As they are still excavating underneath the museum, they have made it possible to view them working through glass. I would recommend a guided Tour, as they explain the most important pieces in the collections - there is a lot to take in. I would recommend taking a taxi rather than the local bus, if not participating in a pre-organised Tour. We did both, and found the bus took a long time, was busy and not particularly comfortable in the heat. With another 'must do' ticked off, we found an ice cold beer, lunch and three lovely American ladies (daughter, mother and grandmother) to swap travel stories with. Guess what? It was time to return to our luxurious Carnival Vista air conditioned cabin and relax. One of my favourite places was the 'adult only' Serenity where you can relax and enjoy 'time out' from everything else. If you would like to know more about cruising with Carnival, or any of the places we visited, please give me a call. I am happy to help you make a decision on whether this or another cruise line is for you.
15 July 2016
This is an island I have sent clients too many times, especially the 5-star Lindos Memories Hotel on the east coast. Its' ideal for those wishing to escape the busy resorts or wanting to have a quality experience, whilst also exploring the island with a car. It's a small hotel which as you can see from the photos is not packed, even on a day they were fully booked. I normally suggest half board, due to the a la carter waiter-service and location of the hotel. Although a 10 minute walk from Lindos itself, it is not a big town, which is busy during the day with coach tours and much lower key during the evenings - that's part of the charm. Our lunch was actually slightly cheaper than in Rhodes town itself. Freshly cooked as ordered, I felt it to be high quality and good value. Rhodes old town was a pleasant surprise. Although just 5 minutes’ walk from the cruise terminal, I found it quieter than expected and peaceful with leafy areas amongst the historic walls of the town. At 103 degrees, a cool beer went down very well at one of the local bars amongst the cobbled streets.
15 July 2016
I was pleased that the cruise line decided to include a stop in Kusadasi. It meant we were able to visit the ancient ruins of Ephesus 30km away. This ticked of one of my 'travel list to do' places. What an amazing site, and fortunate we picked the early departure trip, which resulted in a deserted Ephesus, before the crowds and heat were at their peak. Once the trade centre of the ancient world, a religious centre of the early Christianity and built in the 10th century BC, it is a vast, amazing spectacle. According to estimates it was the third largest city of Roman Asia Minor with a popular of 33.600 to 56,000 in the Roman period. It’s hard to understand why it was completely abandoned in the 15th Century - the legends, ruins giving an idea of its original splendour, and variety of occupants during the ages all add to why one must certainly visit at least once in their life-time. Back to Kusadasi, a pretty town in a gulf of blue Aegean Sea with many local restaurants, shopping opportunities and sandy beaches. A cold beer for us, and back to the Vista for a welcome swim and relax.
04 April 2016
With an 8am landing, we went straight to a Heritage Walking Tour and lunch within the Bastakiya quarter - a 19th-Century neighbourhood established by Iranian textile and pearl traders. It was a rare opportunity to meet Emiratis, ask plenty of questions and learn about their local heritage and traditions. On to the JA Ocean View just a few minutes’ walk from the Marina and JBR Walk. How fortunate to be there for the 3-D Art Festival. I took some persuading to sit on the pavement for photos, however it was well worth it. The Marina was one of our favourite places to stroll at dusk, watching the dinner cruises, and general activity. Our hotel visits revealed the diversity of accommodation from the luxurious Zabeel Saray for adults wanting pampering and ultimate cuisine to the family orientated Atlantis The Palm. There is literally something for everyone, so it is important to choose your location and hotel carefully. The outside of a property gives nothing away. Once entered the uniqueness, atmosphere and appeal to specific clientele unfolds. Dubai's top sights gave us plenty to choose from: * The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building with the world's highest viewing deck or perhaps a cocktail two floors below at At.Mosphere * An evening visit to the nearby, choreographed dancing Dubai Fountains * Enjoy an Abra crossing to the atmospheric Souks * Pick up a souvenir from the Antique Museum with a collection of Arabic lamps, fabrics and handicrafts spread amongst four warehouses * Afternoon tea at one of the world's most luxurious hotels, the Burj Al Arab with its distinctive sail-shape * Dubai Museum housed in the city's oldest surviving structure Al Fahidi Fort shows the amazing transformation from Bedouin Village to today's global centre of trade and tourism * Jumeirah Mosque - the only one in Dubai open to non-Muslims * Dubai Mall with 1200 stores and packed with fun diversions such as giant aquarium and under-water zoo, an indoor theme park, Olympic-sized ice rink and a genuine dinosaur skeleton * Keep cool at the Wild Wadi Water Park * Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates. Five ski runs, ice sculptures and live penguins give the family a break from the sun! There's also plenty of choice of reasonably priced restaurants * The Miracle Garden which is just that, with its thousands of flowers on display in the middle of the desert * Desert experience with camel riding, dune bashing, and sand boarding followed by a culinary evening under the stars. The Dubai infrastructure continually improves; currently with a very efficient metro service, trams, buses and the Dubai City Bus Tour. Even the taxis were a pleasant experience and reasonably priced. Dressed appropriately, we felt safe to travel around and found everyone most helpful. Many hotels also provide complementary transfers to sister hotels for their restaurants and beaches, and to the major Malls. Numerous nationalities live here side by side. This diversity provides for a multi-cultural culinary experience. If you a foodie, we recommend taking to the streets to sample the rich ethnic dishes and to observe the artisans at work. Purchase high quality herbs and spices (yes - we bought saffron and know how to tell whether it's the best). Lebanese and Arabic cakes and pastries including baklava particularly appealed to April, as they are made with less honey, and thus not quite as sweet as their Greek cousins. The buzzing evening social life of Dubai for tourists and ex-pats means the hot spots are popular and need booking well in advance. Alcohol consumption is permitted in the hotels and their related restaurants. They attract guests with Ladies Nights, complementary drinks, cocktails, and of course the local favourite of Friday brunch, which can be a long affair. Finally, a few days at the JA Palm Tree Court located south of Dubai. Just steps from a long sandy beach, and several swimming pools our large, luxurious room and balcony overlooked lush gardens with strolling peacocks. There were plenty of restaurants to choose from with very good and friendly service, horse riding and shooting range. We really didn't want to leave this peaceful haven to come back to reality! Dubai not only appeals to travellers seeking guaranteed sunshine, beaches, luxury hotels and world-class shopping. With its traditional souks, art galleries, and superb restaurants it has something for all. Dubai also makes for a worthwhile stopover destination en route to South Africa, the Far East and Australasia.
13 October 2014
Our short taxi trip took us to the Melia Hotel, primarily a business hotel. It proved to be a well-appointed hotel, with a good buffet breakfast and tranquil spa and pool area. The check-in staff were really helpful, providing a map and rail times for our proposed trip to the Cinque Terre National Park ‘The Five Lands’, an area reported in the guide books as popular with American and Australian tourists, which bizarrely it was. The trip took a couple of hours; however it was well worth it. On arrival it was confusing to establish the best order to visit the villages taking the local infrequent trains into consideration. The five villages are connected by the Sentiero Azzurro ("Azure Trail"). Our initial idea was to walk between a couple of the villages along the coastal paths, however the shorter sections were closed due to landslides. It is something to be taken into consideration as, apart from the trains, boats are the only other way to reach most of the villages. We headed for the furthest village Riomaggiore, a beautiful little village dating back to the 13th century. We took time there to roam around and to taste the local fish served in a cone at Il Pescato Cucinato. The calamari and anchovies served with a slice of lemon for €5 tasted even better than we had expected. Then it was on to the next town to sample a pancake and ice-cream made from local honey. We had hoped to take the coast path just 1km to Manarola. It is reputed to be the most romantic part of the coast path Via dell’ Amore (Lovers’ Lane) with wonderful views of the cliffs, vineyards and sea, however wasn’t open due to a rock fall. Excavated through rock, the footpath was created at the beginning of the 20th century for railroad workers to travel between the two towns, whilst the tunnel for the railway was being constructed. The legend says that the path became a meeting place for lovers from the two towns. It is not difficult to see why this area is so popular. It just oozes character. Beware of peak season though; it was busy enough in May! Colourful tower houses, small beaches, local produce shops and inviting restaurants all make for a wonderful relaxing day out. Each village is unique; one with a piazza right by the sea, another a small harbour with fishing boats, then a walk through vineyards high above the houses. Do be prepared to climb a fair few steps and explore the back streets between the houses, with their sea-washed walls and woodwork to make the most of your trip. Apparently the houses are all different bright colours so that the fishermen could easily identify their home whilst offshore, and ensure that their wives were still at home doing the housework! It was a lovely experience to look down on the villages from the terraces on the rugged steep landscape overlooking the sea. The views were amazing. Walking back to our hotel from the station we had not expected the tall houses of six or seven stories high, and on split levels to make the most of the space. There was so much to experience. We decided to eat locally and save the old medieval town for the next day. We had not known what to expect of Genoa, and were pleasantly surprised. It is a real Italian gem. Quoting Henry James, “the most winding, incoherent of cities, the most topographical ravel in the world”. It is Italy’s sixth largest city, and largest port. It is an intriguingly diverse city with daring architecture, evidence of a grander age with large palazzi squeezed into the dense medieval warren of the old town. Built in the 16th and 17th centuries by competing, wealthy merchant families many now house museums and galleries. We by far loved the old city between the two stations and the waterfront. It is described as dark and slightly menacing in the guide books, however it is full of local life, food shops in small cellar-like areas, workshops and local restaurants. Around the 13th and 14th centuries, four main families claimed as much area as possible marking out streets and squares to include churches. This meant new buildings had to be fitted in to each family’s area as best they could. The result remains today – narrow alleyways, with towering houses very close together. Moving on north and north-east are the more cosmopolitan shops, department stores and business areas. There’s still more to explore here however we were running out of time, so decided to take the Art-Noveau style lift up to the Casteletto for a panoramic view over the old town and the port. Genoa has a diverse choice of eateries, which range from reasonable trattorias to more upscale restaurants. Lunch is obviously a serious business with many places full of locals for an hour or two. We found a family-run trattoria down a narrow alleyway, serving three courses including wine for just €10 per person. Granted the tables were shared, however the food was delicious and we of course had pasta with Genoese pesto for our first course. The area and the region of Liguria is well-known for its pesto – we bought some at the local market and wished we had brought back more it was so good. There are many variations but this was definitely the best as was their ice-cream we also managed to fit in! Would we return – yes of course, there is still much to discover.
08 October 2014
Joining P&O’s cruise ship Ventura in Venice made a brilliant start to our week’s cruise. We initially explored the whole ship to discover our favourite places. With East booked, the restaurant for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea located and a tour of the Spa area we were set. Our mid-ship balcony cabin had fantastic views as we arrived early morning into ports. There were fridge and tea/coffee making facilities and a wonderful, attentive cabin steward who made a big effort on a special birthday. First port of call was the Mediterranean coastal town Kotor, Montenegro. Wow, what a view as we came into the Gulf. An early start by tender meant avoiding the intense heat of the day whilst climbing up to the Fortifications, 1350 uneven steps 4.5km above the city. Well-worth the effort for the view, however one does need to be fit and wearing appropriate footwear. We had noted a local bar before ascending. Returning for a cold beer was a well-earned reward. We then wandered around the town with its Venetian influences, surrounded by impressive medieval walls. An abundance of historic buildings, cafes and restaurants filled the narrow streets and squares. There are plenty of alternatives including boat trips to the two islands in the bay, a Hop on Hop off bus, beaches, Blue Cave and RIB adventure. It’s worth noting that the Tourist Office is just outside the walls, so you can get all the information and maps you need first off. On our fourth day we entered the harbour of Corfu Old Town located between two large defensive forts. As the northern most of the Ionian Islands, Corfu’s location between Greece and Italy made it an attractive proposition for invaders and for passing ships. Subsequently, the Venetians, British and French all left their mark, which can still be witnessed today. Corfu is one of the greenest, more traditional Greek Islands with fertile soil and mild weather. Agriculture and tourism are amongst its top earners. Olive oil is of good quality. A typical Corsican gift is Cumquat, the small orange that Marco Polo brought from China in the 13th century, sold as a liqueur or sweets. The first bonus was free Wi-Fi at the port. We knew it was good, as many of the crew were there! (You pay extra on the ship, and it isn’t always that great due to location.) Just a few minutes bus transfer takes you to Corfu Town – we actually shared a taxi for the same price which was much more comfortable. We explored the medieval town of cobblestone streets and alleyways. Meandering on we visited the Venetian-built Old Fortress, now a Unesco World Heritage site with its great views. Amazingly people turned away because there was a fee to enter. En route to find a coffee we passed the Money Museum; its collection is one of the most complete of its kind in the world. Strangely we also passed a museum of Asian Art. We stopped at a café along the French Arcades of Liston built by the French famous architect Lesseps; apparently a miniature of those in Rue de Rivoli, Paris. Amazingly cricket was being played on the Esplanade Green, a legacy to the 19th century British administration. Beware of flying cricket balls – not much health and safety. Our visit was complete with lunch at a restaurant, full of locals and the obligatory TV then on to a Greek pastry shop with over 1000 on offer including gluten and fat free. We were really spoiled for choice. A day at sea followed passing through the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily, 1.9 miles at its narrowest point! We joined a few other hardy travellers on the front deck. Mount Etna was in cloud so no pictures, however navigating the narrow passage and experiencing the strong tidal currents and force of the wind as the two seas met, was exhilarating. The Captain announced that normally they stand by at around 7 - 8 knots, however the tender needed 18 knots. It was quite exciting watching their boat speed up, curve about and the Pilot simply step off their boat onto Ventura. On day six we sailed into Civitavecchia the major cruise and ferry port 50 miles from Rome. We strolled around the town, beach and fishing areas, whilst many passengers made their way to Rome, either on organised trips or by rail from the town centre. If staying in town, viewing the giant statue of a Navy sailor kissing a nurse is a must – it’s called Unconditional Surrender and is reminiscent of a famous photo taken in Times Square at the end of World War 2. Our dinner companions had taken a Tuscan farmhouse tour and thoroughly recommended it. Another two girls on our table went to Rome and didn't make dinner. Be warned it is a very long day. In fact, two lads missed the ship’s departure and re-joined us 24 hours later in Corsica EUR300 lighter. Day seven took in the port of Ajaccio, the largest city in Corsica. The first fact we learned was that Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Med after Sicily, Sardinia and Cyprus. We had hoped to go to Porto, however it was not possible to go that far and travelling around is difficult without a car. We made the mistake of taking the mini-train. We saw quite a few of the key points however it wasn't a get on get off service, so it didn't offer flexibility. Ajaccio was incredibly busy with cars and people. Maison Bonaparte birthplace to Napoleon and the “Musee Fesch, with the second largest collection of Italian paintings in France are a possibility by foot. We decided to take the local bus out past the pine tree seafront to the Pointe de la Parata from where we could admire the Iles Sanguinaires located at the tip end of the gulf of Ajaccio. It proved an interesting walk with maquis covering the landscape – the heath typical of Corsica. Back on board we took lunch in the Bay Tree restaurant, followed by afternoon tea as it was my birthday (I was actually allowed a cream tea and a cake!) We found it to be very peaceful and much preferred it to the daily buffet – totally personal preference. That evening we had booked East to celebrate. It was a truly exotic dining experience with a great atmosphere, good service and tasty dishes. Our favourite bar was the Glass House – they offered a trio of sparkling rose wines so my evening was complete. Day eight - our suitcases had been left outside our rooms late the night before, so we had a very smooth early morning disembarkation in Genoa where we were spending the night. Our cruise had come to an end. On reflection we were pleased we had chosen the end of May. The weather was ideal and our ports of call not too crowded. We were very pleased with our balcony cabin, which proved a real bonus and in fact enjoyed our set dining experience, as we were with a lovely group, so had some interesting conversations during dinner each evening.
08 October 2014
Our couple of nights in Venice before our European cruise made a great difference to the enjoyment of our holiday. We learned a lot about the pros and cons depending on the particular client. Staying on the Lido proved good value and a new area for us both. We hadn't appreciated the ease of travelling by Vaporetto, and the fact that the frequent crossings run so regularly. Result! Our bed and breakfast accommodation was also a good choice. Our host provided a tasty breakfast, a map of Venice (which after two days looked very well-worn) and lots of great tips for a short trip! We really enjoyed the contrast of the hustle and bustle of Venice to the more tranquil Lido for our evening meals at the owner’s restaurant and a small family-run Pizzeria. Both were an excellent experience and a lot more reasonable than in central Venice. The nearby beach for a swim and chill out offered another bonus. We can imagine it gets quite busy at the height of the season, however at the end of May it was fine, albeit a bit chilly in the sea. Meandering around led us to some amazing places in the back streets of Venice, via the local gondola repair shop, stunning mask and costume shops for the masked balls and oh so many photo opportunities. Once we had negotiated our way across the hectic Rialto Bridge, we explored the right bank of the Grand Canal wandering through the Erberia (vegetable market) and Pescheria (fish) where local restaurants and locals shop. The next day it was off to the islands. Dotted around the lagoon they played an important part in Venetian history. Murano, perhaps the most well-known for its glass-making, still has much to offer. We disembarked on a later stop, thus avoiding the crowds. This gave us the opportunity to view in relative peace the quaint shops with exhibits from chandeliers to jewellery, local craftsmen at work, the rewarding Glass Museum and amazing Duomo di Murano Santi Maria e Donato with its Romanesque architecture. Do be careful though if purchasing that it is genuine Murano - it does take 15 years to become a master glass-blower and the results are unique! A short journey took us to Burano with its picturesque canals and coloured houses. Away from the main drag, we saw few tourists and enjoyed the beauty and tranquillity. Hand-made lace is still sold here, however can be expensive when compared to modern-day methods. Our final stop for the day was Torcello, a nature reserve with spectacular Byzantine mosaics in the seventh century Cathedral. In bygone days it was a very important island with a population around 20,000. Little remains with just over a dozen inhabitants, a couple of places to stay and a few restaurants. The Locando Cipriano still owned by the Cipriani family, has hosted many famous guests and it was here in 1948 that Ernest Hemingway wrote part of his novel Across the River and Through the Trees. A large proportion of visitors spend just a day visiting this unique city without staying overnight. Although we have both been before, we found a couple of nights did not even scratch the surface - we could quite happily have stayed a week. I guess we will be returning. On our final morning we took a leisurely trip along the whole of the Grand Canal to the Cruise Terminal - a great way to say Arrivederci Venezia!
17 February 2014
Our next and final stop was Essaouira, (pronounced ‘essa-weera’, or ‘es-Sweera’ in Arabic). It was a good drive by taxi from the Mountains (about 4 hours in all) however well worth it. Our chosen accommodation, the Riad Watier was located in the winding back streets of the old Medina accessed on foot. A porter showed us the way left and right through the maze of streets until we arrived to a welcome from JP (Jean-Gabriel) a charismatic Frenchman, who willingly shared his passion for his Riad, and Essaouria. In traditional style the Riad has four floors, opening up to two roof-top terraces where we took breakfast. On the ground floor the communal areas included a lovely quaint library, dining and living area with log fire and the central courtyard complete with fountain. Our rooms were located off the passageways off the inside courtyard. Perfect for peace and quiet, yet the Riads location means that you are close to restaurants, cafes, shopping and the harbour area. We had found another gem. Tastefully restored the seven suites and three Master Suites all reflect local craftsmanship and décor. The rooms are huge - we had a large living area, bedroom and bathroom and this was a standard room! We really appreciated the fresh roses, scented candles and amazing art that adorned the walls and rooms. JP showed us the duplex suites, for a family of four and pointed out some of the many works of art painted by his father. A truly personal touch. How to describe this coastal town - its natural bay, with a broad sandy beach extending south from the active fishing harbour, charmed us. We meandered around the harbour fortifications, taking in the great crashing Atlantic waves, passed fisherman tending their blue boats in the harbour and preceded along the beach past the daily football matches (a very important part of daily life, and you can join in!). We also saw surfers and numerous locals offering camel and horse rides. I am pleased to say the animals were all well looked after. The area is a huge attraction to windsurfers, due to the ‘alizee‘ (trade winds) much of the year, so has something to suit all of the family. Once Morocco’s main trade harbour, there are several influences here. The walls are similar to St Malo, the grid-system of streets of the Medina being designed and built by the Frenchman Cornut, and yet still the Moroccan narrow alleyways and long-forgotten Jewish quarter dominate. The Medina remains as an important part of daily local life, as it is to the inquisitive tourist. We found Essaouira great for shopping, with better prices than Marakech and whilst you are still greeted by those wanting to sell their wares it’s a less intense and a more pleasant experience. There are the usual spices, aromatic thuya wood carvings, locally woven carpets and Argan Oil products along with several art galleries and more local artists. The renowned Gnawa singing can be heard from local shops and houses as you pass – the annual music festival held here in June is one of the most popular in Africa. How many carpets? We found a brilliant, huge warehouse off the main streets and we weren’t particularly looking for carpets! Three rugs later, which incidentally wrap up well, we booked additional baggage on our easy Jet flight home! There was no difficulty finding restaurants to suit all tastes, serving local fish, over-looking the sea, with entertainment. Although Essaouira is not a huge town there certainly was plenty of choice, you just need to know which narrow street the restaurants are located in. The Riad was very helpful in recommending eateries at a range of prices. One of our favourites was a small local restaurant, with just a few dishes. It was very reasonable, good food and serving alcohol. We were sad to leave, however know that we will be back. There is just so much to experience, which we have not touched on. We realised that we still have much to discover in this land of mystic and steeped in its history. The Rif, the sands of the Western Sahara, Fez and the small villages of the north are all for another time. Weather-wise, the best time to visit Morocco is generally in the spring and early summer, between April and early June, or in autumn, between September and November, when the weather is warm and dry (and there aren't too many tourists around, either).
17 February 2014
Our trip up to the High Atlas Mountains was fantastic. The scenery is stunning with Toubkai the highest peak in North Africa looming above us, and being surrounded by the numerous local villages unchanged no doubt for hundreds of years. We were delighted with our choice of Douar Samra in an unspoilt Berber Village with serene views over the Imlil valley. Jule, the mule arrived with his brand spanking new seat to carry our luggage down the track to our home, a re-built Berber house, for the next few days. We paid extra for rooms with electricity, which we were pleased about as the days were warm and the evenings as we had expected, very cold. How great it was to have our own log fire lit for us, and hot water bottles in our beds! Our tasty evening meals cooked by Rashida in the main house were taken with other guests by candle-light – an unforgettable experience, exchanging tales and finding out the ‘must dos’. We enjoyed the terraces, watching daily life in the village, with children playing and the goats passing by, as it has always been. The night sky was amazing, clear skies with so many stars. I think the only thing that has changed is the fact that everyone has a mobile. Incidentally, whilst I wouldn't rely on Wi-Fi here which is actually a real bonus; the mobile phone connection is far superior due to their technology! A local taxi took us exploring for a couple of days, which included a planned tour of Kasbah Tamadot, Richard Branson’s 5 star oasis in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. With its 27 bedrooms and suites including nine luxury Berber Tents, some with plunge pools ... it is pure luxury. We loved the unique rooms often with private terrace and different areas to escape to around the Kasbah. The rooftop terrace and ‘special’ dining room is available for marriage proposal dinners. What better place, and it’s never been ‘no’ yet! We went on to explore and have lunch at the nearby village of Aremd (1900 metres) with its invigorating mountain air, reached by an unmade single road, or trekking with a local guide. The views were stunning. It’s all about rooftops in Morocco with amazing views from our lunch stop, looking down over the 1200 strong village in its remote location. A local guide took us back down the winding, undulating paths and rock carved steps to the dried up river-bed and awaiting taxi. Locals can do this in the dark, as they have done since they learned to walk. Our travels took us to the Ourika Valley, a popular stop for tours from Marrakech for lunch and walk to the nearby Setti Fatma Water Falls. Too touristy for us! We preferred the weekly Monday Berber Market in Tnine. Being the only westerners, we experienced the authentic way of Berber life. We still felt the need for a stop at a brilliant local pottery shop though for a few purchases. We continue to enjoy our new tagine – the vegetables are delicious! Many at Samra go there for the trekking and hiking; we were no exception. Several local licensed guides are available. We were assigned Hassan. His reputation preceded him (from our dinner companions). We embarked on a 6-hour walk through traditional Berber villages with stunning views, waterfalls, across rope bridges and beyond. We even reached the ice underfoot. We were fortunate to be taken for mint tea within a local house …it was very humbling and not at all touristy, so a wonderful part of our day. Hassan is an extremely experienced guide with good English. He is a mine of information and skilfully paces the walk according to the proficiency of the group. We were probably known as the slow English, in comparison to the fast Belgians who preceded us a few days before! His portfolio includes high and central Atlas treks of 21 days to maybe a less strenuous 4-day Berber village hike amidst the cool vegetation of juniper and pine trees, across deep gorges, gushing river streams and groves of cherry and walnut trees. To sum up our stay here, Jacqueline the owner has created a sustainable living of benefit to the local community, without exploiting or interrupting their traditional way of life. It is the perfect place to unwind, get back to nature and meet some very interesting people. Would we return, of course!
17 February 2014
We were attracted by the lovely Riads, colourful crafts and deep-rooted heritage, so different and yet so near to Europe across the Gibraltar Strait. Relatives joined us knowing they would have an adventure - a good test for the country too with a vegetarian and a celiac within our party. Choice of location and properties were based on wishing to experience the diversity of Morocco and its Riads, (traditional Moroccan houses or palaces with an internal courtyard), which were unique to their owners and reflected the local way of life. Within the same time zone and a 3½ hour early-morning flight from Gatwick, it is not surprising that we met many taking a 4-5 night break. There’s a new Bristol departure too for those in the South-West. Although the weather was not our priority we were lucky. We had sunny days (22 degrees in Essaouria) and cooler evenings. Temperatures did drop significantly in the High Atlas at night, which to be fair was what we expected. Arabic is the official language here; however we felt the need for a French dictionary to supplement our school-day French, as it was so widely spoken. Moroccan Dirhams must be purchased locally, with a limit to be taken home, so reliable debit/credit cards are a must along with cash for Guides, tours, taxis etc. It’s worth stopping at the Airport Exchange Kiosk on arrival - we got a good rate. Our first stop Marrakech was at the lovely Riad Assakina close to the Bahia Palace. A perfect location – within the city walls in the historic “Mellah”, the old Jewish Quarter of the Medina. Whilst within walking distance of Marrakech’s main attractions, the area was a little less crazy. Each day we returned to an oasis of calm and tranquillity. Greeted by Noelle with mint tea and pastries, we sat in one of the many communal areas. The sunny roof terrace was our favourite with Medina views and the snow-capped Atlas nearby. The sunset over the rooftops and storks flying into roost on neighbouring chimney-pots was another bonus. Our spacious and tastefully furbished, first floor rooms opened up onto the gallery over-looking the central courtyard complete with plunge pool, local artisan products and exotic plants. We received great hospitality and help from Noelle and Hashim, as the owners were away. Thank you Noelle for taking us to the china shop we couldn't find and Hasham for those informative evening chats – much appreciated and we have a little bit of Morocco at home to remind us of our fabulous trip! Many places reflect the history and culture, most inside the Medina walls. The immensity of the country’s past is reflected within the countless museums, palaces, mosques, tombs and ruins, often with opulent décor. We took a taxi (via the Tannery) to the Majorelle Garden. Yves Saint-Laurent owned and restored the botanical gardens to their former glory. His ashes are scattered here. The Islamic Art Museum within the grounds is also well worth a visit. Choose a hot day, to take advantage of the cooler temperature and shaded areas. From here a horse-drawn carriage (caleche) is a great way to get back to the Medina, to carry on exploring or stopping by at one of the excellent cafes or restaurants for a bite to eat. Initially it’s rather daunting visiting and getting lost in the winding labyrinth of the Souk area north of Jemaa el Fna Square. Slatted roof shades have replaced the original – they help keep off the sun and rain, at the same time giving an air of a timeless present. The main Souk area is divided by trade into areas like leather, lanterns, traditional clothing and woodwork, so we suggest separate visits. It’s good to take time to watch local artisans at work and stop to have a chat with them – it’s all part of the experience. Just don’t say you like something or ask the price unless you are intending to buy! Jemaa el Fna Square comes alive at dusk with snake charmers, fortune tellers, freshly squeezed orange stalls, sweet treats and food stalls, all vying for trade. We viewed it from a rooftop café watching the comings and goings before venturing to the Food Stall recommended by our Riad. We debated whether Marrakech is best visited first or last. I believe first, as there is so much to do and see, best experienced at the beginning, and then you can move on to somewhere more peaceful.
03 May 2013
My holiday in Cyprus. I stayed at an excellent Hotel Apartment in Pissouri, between Paphos and Limassol. It was my first time on the island. April, my wife has been keen for a long time to show me what Cyprus has to offer, as she had often visited, whilst working for Sunvil Holidays, an independent, specialist Tour Operator. Cyprus by far exceeded my expectations. Following our 4½ hour flight from Bristol, we hired a car from Paphos Airport. Our first impressions were good. During the 20 minute drive (on the left hand side of the road), a local showed us the way to the door-step of our accommodation. The owners of the property, George and Nikos were there to greet us and happy to provide a very tasty ‘snack’ at 10pm in the restaurant which over-looked Pissouri Village and the coast beyond … the Moussaka accompanied by local wine was divine! So, my discovery of this enchanting isle began. We covered several miles, had a variety of experiences and encountered many friendly locals. We felt Pissouri met our needs … a great location from which to explore the different regions. It offered a good selection of local tavernas, whilst not taken over by mass-market tourism. We visited the Paphos area in the south-west of the island initially. Roman Paphos was the island’s capital and the 3rd century mosaics here are reputedly the finest in the Mediterranean. There are two towns each with its own character; Ktima on the hill-side and Kato Paphos two kilometres down below by the harbour. The former is unchanged and completely Cypriot, whilst the latter is a continually growing beach resort with a good range of hotels, local restaurants and nightlife. We visited a few of the hotels, so that I can advise clients from first-hand experience. Fifteen minutes west we were beckoned by the small sandy coves and crystal clear sea of Naxos and Coral Bay - the best natural beaches of the area. It’s a casual, sea-side resort with sufficient local amenities within a short drive or bus trip away. There is a well-used, regular bus service, which connects Coral Bay with Ktima and the Kato Paphos hotels. Day tickets are currently EUR3. Next we were off to the Troodos Mountains in search of a cool breeze and the pine and cedar forests … surprisingly for the end of April temperatures ranged between 22 o and a high of 30o, which is apparently unusual for the end of April and more like June weather. I am finding this more and more with European destinations of late. This mountain area is very popular in the height of summer and during the winter months for skiing. We found it fairly quiet, which suited us. The area is ideal for walking trails, ancient churches and mountain monasteries. We experienced a diverse, often dramatic landscape with scenery, forests, colourful orange and lemon trees (the oranges are delicious!!) and an abundance of olive and almond groves. We chose to drive on to Kakopetria. The village is built on the bank of the river, with its old giant oak trees. We loved the old part with its traditional wooden-stone houses and their balconies often with river views. The town’s name which means bad stone, according to legend is named after a large stone. The tradition of newly-weds was to climb a particular rock, and apparently the stone came down from the mountain and killed a young couple during their wedding ceremony. During the next few days, we followed the Cyprus wine routes which guided us through local villages, taking in the small regional wineries each with their own unique setting and offering. The local wine museums and suggested locations throughout the itineraries made for exceptional days and great memories. We even found the ‘hidden’ Venetian bridges, part of the old camel trail and testimony to the Venetians rule. We were struck by the variations in the landscape: the absolute peace on the remote hillsides and in contrast the quiet valleys with the coolness from the shade of the Paphos Forest. In a nutshell, Cyprus has impressive hotels of a high standard, local family-run establishments and for those who prefer self-catering coastal villas with pools and village houses full of character, surrounded by local village life. You can be based in one location or I can suggest fly-drive itineraries allowing you to see the island at your own pace. Yes we will be back!!
19 October 2012
I had no idea what to expect from my trip to Kalkan never having visited a Turkish holiday resort. I found a small quite beautiful and friendly harbour village on Turkey’s southern coast. Everyone in Kalkan was friendly and focused on making our trip special. The wide array of restaurants served excellent, varied Mediterranean cuisine with good English being spoken by most. The hotel I stayed in the Asfyia, offered excellent service with a beautiful pool, bar and garden area. An excellent breakfast was enjoyed with a pool view. The bar offered very reasonably priced drinks from iced tea to cocktails. There are other hotels such as the Lykia and apartment’s which we visited. They offer a wonderful array of options to accommodate anyone from 5 star luxury to self-catering villas and Gullets. The sea temperature is like a warm bath and can be enjoyed from the shingle beach near the harbour or from one of the beach clubs which are wooden platforms to enter the sea from. Whilst there, we visited Kas another harbour town. During our half hour trip along the coast road there were great views and a few beautiful sandy beaches on route. No trip to Kalkan would be complete without a boat trip to visit the deserted beaches on it various islands or to snorkel amongst the fishes and for the ladies (or gentlemen) massage or spa treatments are readily available.
12 October 2011
Croatia – a place very close to our hearts! My wife and I met in Croatia five years ago on a hosted eight night trip. Treated like royalty we dined in some of the best restaurants Croatia has to offer. We explored the mainland from Dubrovnik in the south, drove up to Split and finally flew to Zagreb in the north, touring much of the Istrian Peninsula. We ended in Zagreb in a hotel where the English Football Team was expected the next day! We returned for an island holiday in September with a direct two and a half hour flight from Bristol into Split. An hour’s catamaran journey took us to the island of Brac, the third largest of Croatia’s Adriatic islands. Croatia in fact, has 1,244 islands of which fifty are inhabited. It was great to be back in Croatia. We loved Brac on first sight - a place for the discerning traveller without being a luxury destination with the related cost. The small boats bobbed around in the harbour, bars and cafés were at the water’s edge and the Adriatic Sea looked so inviting. Many were swimming during the late afternoon - we were tempted to join them then and there. Ideally situated our villa hotel was peaceful whilst being very close to a supermarket, bakery and the bustling harbour-front. It was tastefully decorated with lovely antiques and lush green plants. Our room was spacious, extremely clean and well furbished with air-conditioning, flat screen TV and en-suite bathroom. Outside was a terrace ideal for picnic lunches before relaxing in the tranquil garden with loungers under the willow and walnut trees. A perfect haven when it was too hot on the beach! The famous, V shaped Zlatri Rat beach (meaning Golden Cape) was either a twenty minute walk along the scenic, pine-clad walkway or a short boat or local train ride. We made the most of our one week’s stay. We hired a knowledgeable, local guide to take us to the Dragon’s Cave, a natural, cultural and spiritual monument inhabited in the 15th Century. Our four hour trip included a steep climb from Murvica – no mean feat in 30°C, but well worth the effort. We drove around the island starting with Pucisca, a town which grew in the 15th century when pirate attacks on the coast ceased. Waterfront stone houses contrast with the local peasant cottages above on the hillside. Home to the only European school specialising in stonemasonry, the influence of the local stone quarries can be seen throughout the island. There was so much to discover: local restaurants, small bays to swim in and ancient hillside villages to meander around. Our day trip to Hvar by local boat was another plus. Everyone can enjoy the ‘jet-set’ island - not just the rich and famous. Mediaeval stone houses flank the narrow cobbled hill-side streets, water-taxis take you to the islands, one with a sandy beach. A path zigzags up the hill to the Citadel, built by the Venetians in the 1550s. The view was stunning and walking back we found our favourite restaurant in a traditional, rustic house. Greeted by the chef in a traditional outfit, food is prepared as in small Dalmatian households and includes ‘grandma’s secret recipe and drunk figs! Our trip culminated wandering around the vibrant city of Split for a few hours. The Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace is a UNESCO listed monument. It’s four walls encompass a world apart, full of surprises - modern fashion shops, wonderful artwork, cafés and restaurants around every corner all blending with the ancient buildings. It’s a photographer’s delight! Our weather was unusually hot for the beginning of September at 30°C. Usually it’s around 23-25°C as is June. July and August tend to be the hottest with temperatures of 28-30°C. April, May and October usually are 17 - 20°C with the season starting mid-May and finishing at the end of September, beginning of October. Croatia is an amazing diverse, tourist destination with plenty of evidence of influences from a bygone era - important to the Romans, Venetians, Hungarians and Ottomans. They’ve all left their mark to add to the country’s heritage and culture. Not to forget the National Parks and opportunity to explore hideaway coves and small islands by motor-sailor cruises, yachts and ferries.
28 September 2011
Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia and the second largest city in Spain, is quoted as being the 16th most visited city in the world and 4th in Europe. We were amongst those visitors along with a couple of friends for a few nights in March 2011. My wife and I had been before, but to be honest one never tires of the city. It has so much to offer that you get a different perspective each time you visit. Our two bedroom apartment was on the first floor next to the Placa Catalunya and was both cost effective and convenient. It was well appointed with modern furnishings with a fully equipped kitchen. We were prepared for it to be noisy, however we didn’t hear a sound as the bedrooms faced into the interior courtyard, so slept better than at home! Maps in hand we started out by visiting one of the many restaurants with excellent reviews and weren’t disappointed. We found the small restaurant tucked down one of Barcelona’s side streets and once through the door were pleasantly surprised. The unusual dishes and brilliant service started our trip with four very satisfied customers. We purchased 2-day passes on the “Hop-On Hop-Off Tourist Bus” as they are colloquially known. You are provided with headsets so you can tune in to an informative review of the city with stops at all the major attractions. The cost was EUR30 per person and well worth it to get a good overview, however next time we will use public transport, as it will be more economical for what we will want to revisit. The diversity of Barcelona means that there is something to suit almost everyone. We met tourists who stay within the Gothic Quarter and had booked to see several concerts; others who liked the fact that they can sit on the beach and go shopping one day and take in Antoni Gaudi’s unique buildings and quirky architecture another. The Sagrada Familia had lengthy queues, so we returned really early the next morning! There was still a bit of a queue, however it was well worth the wait. It’s been under construction since 1882 and expected to be completed within the next 30 to 80 years! Our tour stopped at Poble Espanyol in Monjuic, an outdoor museum to represent the architecture in each region of Spain, created as a ‘mock’ village in 1929 for the International Exhibition. The research was immense with four architects and artists spending two years beforehand driving around Spain, visiting 1600 towns and villages. Every building is a copy of a real building. It was meant to be demolished after the event, however still stands today due to popular public demand. Artists and craftsmen show their crafts and sell their wares in the variety of shops. Activities include glass blowing, leatherwork, sampling Sangria and maybe stopping at one of the many restaurants and cafes for lunch or dinner. Whilst purchasing our tickets late one afternoon, we were concerned that it was only open until 4pm. To our amazement it’s 4am on a Friday and 5am on a Saturday! We found excellent local Tapas bars in the most unexpected places. A good sign is when no-one speaks English, the customers are all Spanish and pointing is the only way that you are going to get your dishes. Prompted by excellent reviews, we made reservations at a small, fairly expensive restaurant for the Saturday night as a treat. The ‘Surprise Menu’ of 7 dishes accompanied by their selection of appropriate wines was second to none. The dishes were out of this world and the service exemplarily. It was well worth a visit for a very special evening. We pre-booked a car and drove up to the mountain top monastery of Montserrat on the Sunday. It was about an hour away, so easy to get to, although do set out armed with a good map as it can be confusing getting in and out of Barcelona. You can also get a train, but we wanted to take our luggage and drive straight back to the airport. Situated on top of an unusual rock mountain, Montserrat receives thousands of visitors every year – many of them Catalan or Catholic pilgrims going to see the Black Madonna. There is a funicular at the Monastery which will take you to the highest point and several suggested area walks, even hiking overnight to watch the sunrise. Viva La Barcelona - we will return!
19 October 2012
For me one of the most exciting things during 2010 was attending the annual Luxury Travel Show in Cannes, South of France. It provides the opportunity to source authentic and unique luxury products, which reflect their destination naturally. A SAMPLE OF WHAT’S ON OFFER … Vancouver Island—Special Places savour the luxury, embrace the visual pleasures and welcome a pace of life they call Island time. Los Cauquenes Resort & Spa, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World - located ‘at the end of the world’ in Argentina with a front row seat of the stunning Beagle Channel. Intimate luxury camps located in some of the most beautiful wilderness regions of the world … life-changing journeys in Africa, the jungles and tiger country of India and fascinating adventures in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Bolivia. Join a boutique cruise for a once in a lifetime wilderness experience in the Amazon without sacrificing comfort. Lord Howe, encircled by the world’s southern-most coral reef. A sub-tropical ‘treasure island’ lost in time and a natural sanctuary in the South Pacific Ocean 700km NE of Sydney. Australian luxury lodges and camps – all unforgettable experiences in most inspiring, extraordinary locations.
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