Based in Crawley

Steve Finch

It's Nice To Meet You

I am Steve, based in Maidenbower, Crawley, West Sussex.

I’m well-travelled with first-hand experience of more than 70 countries and I still have the aching desire to see more! Being a resident of Crawley has its travel benefits, being on the 'doorstep' of Gatwick Airport. I've been resident here since 1980 and have over 29 years of travel knowledge gained at all levels as a tour operator and travel agent....preceding this, I worked with several airlines.

As well as having a good overall global travel knowledge, I also have extensive experience in providing holidays to Europe, U.K., the Far East, Australasia, and the Americas.

Absolutely everything I sell is 100% financially protected and I can arrange any type of holiday, in the U.K. and worldwide. A citybreak, an ocean or river cruise, flight only, escorted/unescorted tours, fly-drive, ski, family beach holiday, your honeymoon.... or a business trip.

With the award winning technology that Travel Counsellors provide and their access to more than 500 operators/suppliers I offer you honest, accurate and impartial advice for all of your travel plans. I will help you find the best holiday to meet your expectations and needs. Travel Counsellors are fully bonded and offer you the most comprehensive financial security that you should expect when booking a holiday. It is the best guarantee in the business.

Shopping online and running around the high street looking for holidays has already established itself as an unfulfilling, frustrating and time consuming experience...so let me do the hard work for you! In this age of internet transactional business, it is becoming more and more important to know who you are dealing with. You will always speak to me when you call. Personal service is guaranteed along with the assurance that you are being well looked after. I can be contactable at a time that suits you, 7 days a week.
My direct business phone number is 01293 737580.

'Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” -Benjamin Disraeli
So, remember, that you can email or phone me at your convenience... and I will be happy to help arrange your short break, or your dream trip!

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

Valencia, Spain

08 April 2020

A city that had been on my radar for quite a while. Valencia, actually, has it all...it truly ticks so many boxes! The city has been gently and beautifully crafted further after a disastrous flood in 1957. This is due to the original river, the Turia being rerouted to the south of the city due to the flood. As a result, the old river bed meanders through the city environs as the Jardin de Turia (Green river) with cycle paths, walkways, football pitches, event spaces, trees, lakes and fountains. It is several miles long, 600 feet wide on average and encompasses over 450 acres of parkland in all ...and at the Eastern end is Santiago Calatrava’s extraordinary biomorphic City of Arts and Sciences, completed in 1998. All of this is next to the city centre, it is simply marvellous.. Our first afternoon reconnaissance involved a fair bit of walking through this park and then dropping into the city for an early dinner(or late lunch). We were here at the same time as the build up to Las Fallas, a festival commemorating St Joseph, the carpenter, which involves the construction of stunning statues (ninots) and themed constructions from paper mache, wood and polystyrene up to 5 stories high in local districts all around the city. These are then burnt down on the final night of the 19th March. We had a city walking tour on the following day, visiting the cathedral and central market amongst many other areas. As part of Las Fallas, there is a backdrop of firecrackers being set off by children in particular, all around the place...and at 14.00 every day, the Mascletà, an explosive barrage of co-ordinated firecracker and fireworks displays, takes place in the Plaça de l'Ajuntament. It does sound like major explosions going off, even from several streets away! The city is quite compact and full of stunning architecture. My favourite building, as so far seen, is the Banco de Valencia building, situated at the end of the Carrer de les Barques (wide street which starts out from the Plaça de l'Ajuntament).This building is a representative of the Beaux-Arts style and resembles a cream cake at its summit... We also saw the quirky and 2nd narrowest building in Europe, La Estrecha, just 107 cm wide..it has one room on each floor. It has bar next door...which is bit wider! We took a day out for a bus trip south to El Parmar adjacent to La Albufera, a large wetland area and inland lagoon, 10 miles south of Valencia city. El Parmar is an unusual, simple town...with a population of 800 and 30 restaurants! They grow rice here...and this is the home of the renowned and much loved, paella. We indulged in Arroz negro (squid and rice) and paella three times overall whilst on our citybreak...two of our favourite dishes! The final day was on two wheels, cycling along the old river from east to west and back again and then beyond to cycle up the coast. All very straightforward , only one gear on the bike required, no hills in 23 miles of gentle cycling! All on cycle paths...we only crossed the road on cycle paths just a handful of times...just fabulous. Of all the citybreaks I have been on...Valencia rides very high indeed...I will definitely return.

Sirmione, Lake Garda : Italy

13 September 2019

My first visit to the southern part of Lake Garda in Italy. A short flight from London to Verona, with a 25 minute transfer to Sirmione, where we set up base for the duration. We stayed 3 km south of the centre, in Hotel Gardenia, very close to public transport links serving journeys eastwards to Peschiera del Garda and westwards to Desenzano. Sirmione centre is located on a narrow peninsula jutting out into the southern waters of Lake Garda. It is accessible by foot, bike and regular shuttle bus. Cars can access it too, but they are subject to queues etc. The main edifice there is the Rocca Scaligera, an imposing medieval castle overlooking the lake at the bridge crossing to northern section of the promontory. The views from the 13th centre castle are rather splendid. Once you get to the Rocca Scaligera, walking north, it becomes more pedestrian friendly. At the northern tip of Sirmione is Jamaica Beach, a rocky, low lying and popular swimming area. Adjacent to this is the Archaeological Site of Grotte di Catullo encompassing a 2000 year old Roman villa, a museum and olive trees. This area is renowned for thermal springs, a few of the hotels here have spas etc. Close by is the rather quaint church of San Pietro in Mavino (built in the 14th century), a very pretty location, it is adorned with frescoes and has a war memorial alongside it.. We took one of the lake ferries to see some of the other towns in the southern region of the lake (day pass Euro 23pp). Namely, on the west side; Salo and Gardone Rivera, on the east; Garda, Bardolino and Lazise. The towns are all so different and attractive in their own ways. Our favourite of the bunch was Lazise, a fortified trading port with a castle, and surrounded by city walls. Peschiera del Garda is also rather charming, it has also has a fortress and is located at the estuary to the Mincio river. It also is good launching point for ferries, buses and trains to the local area. During our stay we also visited a local vineyard, the Ca’ dei Frati, they are very welcoming and have lovely wines to try too. Verona is accessible by bus or bus/train from Sirmione. It is famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and its stunning and well preserved 1st century Roman amphitheatre, in which it still hosts concerts and opera performances. There are plenty of churches and piazzas in the city, and there are many bridges on which to cross the Adige river. The Ponte Pietra in the north is a good way to access the walk up to Castel San Pietro to be afforded beautiful views of the city. There is plenty of beautiful Bougainvillea to be seen everywhere! As ever, Italy comes up trumps, gastronomically too...the best pizzas, the best ice cream... and in beautiful surroundings of course.

Springtime skiing!

13 June 2019

We decided to slip in a week’s skiing to Livigno in Italy, as the snow conditions were still rather good despite it being a late Easter trip. We travelled via Innsbruck airport in Austria, being small and in a stunning location with a mountain backdrop, it is always a pleasure to fly through there. The road journey was good (2hr 50m) via Switzerland, ending as it did with the final approach into Livigno via the 3.3 Km long single-track Munt la Schera tunnel on the Swiss border. A very unusual long, straight, narrow tunnel through the mountains. Livigno is very pretty, it has a lot of traditional buildings and snakes along for around 7km end to end. Until the 1970s it was a farming village, and at times difficult to reach. However, it now has duty free status and thrives on tourism in winter and summer. The duty-free status there keeps the prices keener for dining out (average €65 for 3 persons with meal wine and dessert) and lift passes (a snip at £100 each). It has two ski mountains opposite each other...San Rocco and Mottolino. This gives skiers a good choice of piste according to sun's position etc! These mountains are linked up by free bus transport links. We stayed in a roomy rooftop apartment at Garni Francescato, centrally located, with your own kitchen facilities and only a short walk to the local supermarket. Having a ski locker room in its basement and a bus stop outside was very handy! Our favourite restaurant in Livigno was just across the road, the Ristorante Bellavista...great for schnitzels, pizzas and fine beer! The skiing was super despite it being mid-April...the best conditions I have encountered at that time of year in Europe. Mottolino was cooler in the morning, so San Rocco was better at that time of day but in the afternoon, definitely Mottelino. Plenty of red runs and blacks and good for learners too. And having paid for a private ski lesson for my daughter, she then tried snowboarding for the first time the following day and loved it! My favourite ski runs were Della Neve, black runs to Valfin Monte, and a lovely blue from the same point, Della Neve to Mottelino...with a bar/cafe at the end of it! Livigno is friendly, with a bit of ski commuting on busses, but very worthwhile. The two mountains make it very attractive for skiing at the season start and as well as mid-season! We had an early start back via Innsbruck. We had some cake at the airport and did some gorgeous Austrian food shopping at the airport supermarket! The weather flying home was crystal clear too......lovely views. A super break!

Belfast, Northern Ireland

09 November 2018

On our city break to Belfast we stayed very centrally, close to the railway and bus station. This afforded the opportunity to travel around the country with great ease using public transport. It is just 90 minutes by bus to Causeway Bay to see the extraordinary Giant's Causeway. Formed by volcanic activity 62 million years ago, there are 42,000 interlocking basalt columns, some as deep as 120 metres and some rising 25 metres. Most of these columns are hexagonal and seeing these on this beautiful, rugged coastline is very much worthwhile. We walked a fair bit, along to 'The Organ' and the 'Amphitheatre before setting off to Portballintrae via Runkerry Beach and to Dunluce Castle. From there we took a bus to Coleraine and then a 40-minute train to Londonderry for a fleeting visit, before returning to Belfast. A tour of Belfast City Hall the next morning, followed by a walk to the Titanic Quarter to see the Titanic Museum. It was my third visit to a Titanic Exhibition. This was the most thorough one in relation to the history of the construction of the ship in the dockyards at this location. Crumlin Road Gaol was on the agenda on our final day. A very interesting tour with stories of the Crum, a prison steeped in history (operating between 1845 and 1996). It was known as Europe's Alcatraz and carried out 17 executions whilst in operation. Belfast is very lively and friendly, with great restaurants and entertainment...it is well worth a visit!

Ontario, Canada Fly-drive

14 September 2018

Ontario, Canada - such friendly people in a lovely country. I have primarily been a bit of a winter visitor to Canada in the past, not in the guise of a wolf, but as a skier, in Jasper, Louise and Whistler etc. This was a little different! We started with a flight to Toronto, all went fine, and we picked up our rental car and set off eastwards to Cobourg for a night stop. Cobourg is rather quaint, and we were immediately embraced by the friendly side of Canada. They really like English accents here! From Cobourg we ventured east along the northern coast of Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence river via Kingston to stop at Gananoque. Gananoque, is small, pretty and in a quite fabulous location at the edge of the Thousand Islands National Park. They had a 'rib fest' on during our first evening there, where four North American rib companies were in competition to sell their ribs and pulled pork creations, with local bands playing as a backdrop. We took a three-hour cruise on the next, beautiful and cloudless day. The boat meandered into USA waters and passed over the wrecks of ancient warships and under bridges linking Canada and the USA. The islands are effectively the peaks of ancient pre-glacial mountains. We circumnavigated Boldt Island (on USA territory), the site of a family mansion built on a heart shaped island to celebrate the love that George Boldt had for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away in 1904 before it was fully completed, and it was left to the elements for many years before being restored. Note: If you do a stopping cruise/tour here, you will need your passports and a visa (ESTA) to enter the USA. The cruise was a 'must do' excursion. We then set off for Brockville. A hydroplane competition was on whilst we were there, so part of the waterfront was closed off. An interesting and cooling walk was through the disused 524-metre-long railway tunnel, which was Canada's first railway tunnel opened in 1860. It was built to aid the movement of timber from the Ottawa river valley to the shipping route of the St Lawrence river. As well as being a great respite from the heat on the day, the tunnel has a rather funky, light show and audio effects and music to amuse you. Really good effects! Next on the road to Cornwall, further up the St Lawrence river. This is again a very friendly town. We arrived for Canada day (01 July), it was a very hot 36 degrees and over 40 with the humidity. We had a little tour of the local prison, even though it was closed at the weekend. As I say, they are so friendly here! Don showed us around the Cornwall Community museum, again very interesting. We also visited Ault Park near Long Sault, which features buildings salvaged from the villages and communities which were sadly submerged by the construction of the St Lawrence Seaway in 1958. We arrived in the capital Ottawa, the day after Canada Day (01 July), which had been the hottest day on record there. It was still rather warm! We stayed in Hull, Gatineau (Quebec), a walk across the Alexandra Bridge from the centre of Ottawa (Ontario) itself a great location, as it turned out. The capital city of Canada has a population of 975,000 in a country of 38 million people, Ottawa is beautiful. A walking tour the next morning followed by a brief respite from the heat watching England win a penalty shootout (at last) in the World Cup on TV. We then went to the truly remarkable Mosaiculture at Jacques-Cartier Park, with 45 horticultural masterpieces. Mosaiculture is a form of topiary and art, with living bedding plants on elaborate metal frames. One of which, the Bird Tree, is 6 stories high and 18m wide, quite astonishing. We followed that by a very long walk the next day. Sights included the Peace Tower (the clock tower atop of the Canadian parliament, great views from up there), Rideau Hall (official residence of the Governor General) and Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica. It was a long drive north west to Pembroke, Ontario on the next day. We travelled via Pink Lake and then Norway Bay, a quaint riverside village in Quebec. A few local trips and walks were taken from Pembroke to the likes of Petawawa, the following day. The following day was a longest driving day, via the Algonquin Provincial Park with stops at various walking points along the way like Lookout trail, Hard lookout, Whiskey Falls and Ragged fall, Oxtongue. We stopped at Orillia for dinner before arriving in Barrie. The roads are so quiet here, it was a pleasure. There is a driving park fee to be paid at the park entrance of CAD$17. We had four nights in Barrie, with local walks, kayaking, and a side day trip to Collingwood on Georgian Bay, Lake Huron. We popped up to the Blue Mountain Village, a small ski resort in winter and a pretty summer resort too. It has a mini roller coaster, the Ridge Runner, which was fun too. A visit to the nearby Scenic caves followed. As well as the caves, there is the Thunderbird, Ontario’s longest twin zip line (2550 feet long and dropping 287 feet), we enjoyed that too. Our final two nights were at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. A pass can be obtained which gives you access to the main sightseeing trips there. The 'Hornblower' departs every 30 minutes or so, to alternate with the American 'Maid of the Mist' doing the same from the other (U.S.) side. 6 million cubic feet pass over the Horseshoe falls every minute, the spray from which makes you rather damp on the Hornblower. A plastic poncho is provided for this excursion and for the 'Journey behind the falls', where you can walk behind the falls and see it from another angle. At night, at 2200 during summer, there is a free firework display. Both the American and the Horseshoe falls are illuminated at night as well. Three miles up the road, another walk can be taken downstream of the falls where the waters crash along the gorge of the Niagara river - the White Water Walk. Our final day was back to Toronto airport with a trip en route past wineries and expensive homes to Niagara-on-the-Lake. A very pretty town, from which we could see Toronto City with the distinctive CN tower 51 km (32 miles) across the lake. A lovely trip, a beautiful country and did I say friendly? Yes very friendly.

California, Nevada and Arizona

10 January 2018

A very quick road trip! I started by flying from Gatwick to Las Vegas. On arrival we checked in at the Paris hotel on South Las Vegas Boulevard, with a quick visit to the Bellagio across the road with its lively fountain display. In this area, all the hotels, generally, have casinos within the locale, or adjacent to the hotel lobby. In the evening we went to downtown Vegas to the north of 'Paris' at Fremont St. This district features the more historical Golden Nugget Casino and indoor shopping arcade and for the lights alone, it is well worth the visit. A bustling area at night with all sorts of entertainers wandering around - singers, showgirls, and also in our case, the USA's second tallest man (7 foot 8 inches) for example! Fremont Street has a free hourly light show which is played on the arcade ceiling, backed with great acoustics. Green Day were the featured band for the evening that I was there. That was fine! Despite Las Vegas' fantasy feel, children are not so prevalent, as under 21 year olds are not permitted in the casinos as such. On the first full day in the USA, we set off for the west rim of the magnificent Grand Canyon, 125 miles drive east of Las Vegas. When reaching the area everyone has to park up and pay an entrance fee. This gives you access to a shuttle bus (hop on/hop off) which can take you to a ranch village and a couple of viewing areas, Eagle Point and Guano Point. Eagle Point has a stunning view of the Eagle Rock and access to the now famous skywalk, which opened in 2007. It is a 10-foot-wide, glass floored walkway that extends out 70 feet from the edge of the canyon and 4000 feet above the canyon floor. From this vantage point you can see birds flying beneath you! There are magnificent vistas here, it is just breath-taking. Our route back to Vegas was via the Hoover dam, at Lake Mead. A major feat of engineering, that opened in 1935. It was built to tame the Colorado river and control and supply irrigation to the local lands and cities and also to provide hydroelectric power for more than a million homes. The evening in Vegas ended with a visit to one of the twelve Cirque de Soleil shows showing in Vegas, Mystere - very, very impressive. We departed to Los Angeles on second day and arrived in Hollywood mid-afternoon. Checked out Hollywood Boulevard and Grauman's Chinese Theatre with its celebrity handprints, footprints, and autographs impressed in the concrete of the theatre's forecourt. There are over 2600 five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars embedded in the sidewalks in this district, the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I found Stan Laurel's star, so that was splendid! After this, we went to Long Beach to visit the Queen Mary. This ship is now a permanently docked floating hotel and tourist attraction. Built in the UK in 1930's this historic liner has Art Deco and wood panelling in abundance. After a night in Torrance, we set off for Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills for some morning 'window shopping'. However, there weren't any glaziers amongst Aston Martins and Ferraris, to be seen! This was followed by a long afternoon of travelling the 310 miles to Modesto for the night. The next day we went out to the beautiful Yosemite National Park. We stopped briefly in pretty Mariposa, a quaint mining town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada on our way through. Yosemite Valley is surrounded by towering 1000-metre-high granite peaks and hanging valleys including El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite falls, Bridalveil falls. For us, the route into the park, via El Portal Road was quiet, but it does get very busy at peak times. Fresh air, lovely walks and stunning vistas. Then back to Modesto for a thanksgiving dinner in a local restaurant. Next day we were on our way to Napa Valley, passing abeam of Stockton and Travis AFB before arriving in a slightly misty Napa Valley. We visited Jamieson Ranch Vineyards where five wine samples went down before 11am - very pleasant. Then to San Francisco, arriving there via the Oakland Bay bridge. I had not been to San Francisco for many years, but it took very little time to be reminded how special it is. Staying near Union square, I took the hilly two-mile walk to Fisherman's Wharf via Powell Street. The city just buzzes. Fisherman's Wharf has so much: shops, restaurants, a WW2 submarine, the USS Pampanito, and the now ubiquitous sea lions draped over Pier 39! I also popped along to Ghirardelli’s to get some local chocolate. From here you can look out over Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. In the evening, the Christmas tree in Union Square was illuminated for the first time this season. I viewed this from the 46th floor of the Hilton hotel as the sun went down...superb. The final day and a sightseeing tour including Twin Peaks, Sutro tower, Golden Gate park, Presidio, Aquatic Park Pier and the iconic and rather beautiful Golden Gate Bridge. The park is very pretty and very expansive. The bridge is over a mile long and can also be accessed by pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars. A fabulous, whistle-stop trip...it was lovely to return to the region after more than 22 years away.

Alpbach & Lech, Austria

19 September 2017

A two-centre holiday to the lovely fresh air and mountains of Austria. The first week commenced, in the ever so traditionally built, Austrian village of Alpbach in the Tyrol. The village is located 1000 m above sea level and just over an hour's drive east of Innsbruck and has won quite a few accolades for its sheer perfection. The local mayor there, a while back, forbade the construction of any new building in anything but traditional Austrian style. The result is houses with geraniums cascading down from every balcony, truly beautiful. Lush green grass, wildflowers and hills that are alive with the occasional sound of cow bells. We did a lot of walking here. The walking routes are well marked and promoted by the local tourist board. Guests staying there receive a free tourist card to avail of local bus transport and lift passes on the partially open (ski) lift system. Our lengthy walks included Inneralpbach, Wiederberger Horn (2128 m), Reith and lower down into the local valley, Rattenberg, Radfeld and Kramsach. The aforementioned pass also included free admission to the Augustine Museum, Rattenberg. You can see baroque fresco painting on the cupola from the floor of the church monastery and then clamber above it into the roof and see it from the other side before ascending the bell tower. As ever, the food here is gorgeous and the people are so very friendly. After a week in Alpbach we then travelled to Lech am Arlberg. Lech is a 75-minute drive to the west of Innsbruck. It is a more mountainous region located at 1450m A.M.S.L. A very different landscape, the mountains are refreshingly cooler than Alpbach. As before, Lech tourism also provide complimentary buses and lift passes on the summer lift system. It is clearly a massive area for skiing in the winter when fully operational. The walking here is a little harder at altitude and the scenery offers a spectacular contrast. Here the vistas are dominated by mountains, craggy rock faces, serene mountain lakes and crystal-clear rivers. The pasture, perhaps, is not so lush, however you still have the ubiquitous cows and there are also marmot and ibex to be seen. Our walks included Spullersee to Zug, circumnavigating the lake at Formarinsee on foot (rather steep in places), Tannegg to Kalbelesee via the quite stunning Korbersee lake, Rufikopf to Zurs (a hard walk walking through a mountain pass, many ibex here) and to the top of Kriegerhorn (2175m). The beauty of these walks is that, as with Alpbach, they are well marked and the variety of excursions means that there are always new sights to behold. By using the buses and lifts you can pick differing start/end points to make this happen. Lech is a larger village, very much centred on the skiing season. It has a lot of accommodation and a tremendous, expansive lift system but still is a very enjoyable destination for the summer months. We did not walk 500 miles but we managed 85 or so in the holiday! Overall, both locations are superb and have their virtues. Both are highly recommended.

Mykonos and Paros, Greece

05 July 2017

Located in the Greek Cyclades islands within the Aegean sea, Mykonos is the archetypal Greek island, covered in white stone washed buildings with blue framed windows and domes. Therefore, is it a very pretty island, hilly and rugged in places. Despite its small size, it still takes a while to navigate the island by road. Bear in mind that there are not many registered taxis here, so car rental may be an option for a few days.. if you want to check out the beautiful bays scattered around the island. Ano Mera is the main inland village of Mykonos and has the charming Panagia Tourliani Monastery, named after the patron saint of the island. This site was originally established on the site in the16th century. The delightful bell tower upon it, is again sterotypical of this lovely country. Note that is has limited opening hours. The villages plateia has a few restaurants scattered around it. I had a chance to briefly see Ornos, Elia and Platys Gialos beaches - they all look lovely. Mykonos town is a smart refined, traditional locale. It harbours a maze of tiny streets lined with little shops and churches, art galleries, boutiques, cafes, chic bars and restaurants. The streets are very easy to get lost in - that being the idea to confuse itinerant pirates in years gone by. The waterfront of 'Little Venice' has some great bars to witness the sunset and watch the world go by. The renowned 5 windmills (Kato Mili) are close by too. The Old Port is a short walk away. The new port, from which the cruise liners and local ferries depart, is 3 km north of the town. Look out for Petros the pink pelican whilst wandering around Mykonos town. Several ferry companies ply the route to Paros from Mykonos, the prices varying according to timings , speed etc. Sea cats and ferries operate and can take as little as 40 minutes to make the crossing. The turnaround times of these vessels is amazing, just 4 minutes in my experience: to unload the ship of vehicles and passengers and then load again and depart! We arrived at the larger island of Paros at the port of Parikia, the capital on the west coast. The Byzantine temple complex Panaya of Ekatontapiliani 'the Church of 100 doors' is very close by, this is worth a visit. The waterfront is quite lengthy here, it has plenty of restaurants, bars and nightlife. My favourite location on this island is Nauosa, in the North. It is pretty fishing port, with a lovely selection of restaurants portside there, perfect location for an evening al fresco meal. Like Mykonos there are very few taxis here, so do note that. However, the ones they do have, will be in situ at the Parikia port upon arrival! Overall both are beautiful, traditional Greek islands. I love the vibe here and as ever the seafood is as predominant and wonderful as ever. Mykonos has many boutique hotels and this makes it a little more exclusive than many Greek destinations in a way - however, there is a healthy market for those wanting nightlife too.

Krakow, Poland

05 May 2017

I had been to Krakow before, albeit briefly, 19 years ago for a friend's wedding. It is a major city, once the capital of Poland, located in the south of the country. We were very centrally located in a fine property just metres from the main market square, Rynek Glówny. Something that really strikes you is the sheer number of churches and religious buildings here. This is despite the many ravages that the city has been through. The market square is the site of the Cloth Hall, a Renaissance-era trading outpost, the Town Hall Tower and the imposing St. Mary’s Basilica - a huge 80 metre tall, 14th-century Gothic church. The interior of this church is rather impressive. As mentioned churches abound; another one that caught my eye was the Church of St. Joseph, across the Vistula River, a neo gothic structure, also with an 80 meter high tower. 90 minutes transfer by coach from Krakow is KL Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is a difficult, emotional experience due to the atrocities perpetrated there - man's misguided inhumanity to fellow man. Comprehension of the horrors committed at this place is not possible. Personally I feel that everyone on this planet should visit this site. History cannot be allowed to repeat itself. Even though it is easier said than done, I would suggest taking a longer tour if possible, as allowing time for reflection dwelling on aspects of the human spirit, is an important consideration. The fact that you can walk away from here, can only make you appreciate what you have in this world. Oskar Schindler's factory in Podgórze, just south of Krakow city centre now incorporates a museum, charting the history of Krakow under nazi occupation in World War Two. As with many tourist attractions in Krakow there is a maximum number of visitors per day allotted here, so be wary in the busier seasons. The museum is laid out in a very evocative way - it is well worth the visit. There are many other notable sites in Krakow affected in WW2, including Kazimierz, the orginal Jewish settlement in Krakow that was emptied when the nazi invaders relocated the inhabitants to a jewish ghetto across the river in Podgórze. Also across the river are Ghetto heroes square, Liban quarry a nazi labour camp, and KL (Konzentrationslager) Plaszów. On the final day we visited the 14th century Wawel Royal Castle - this has several ticketed areas to visit on a timed entry basis. Wawel hill is one km south of the central market square. The visits there can include Crown Treasury & Armoury; State Rooms; Royal Private Apartments etc. We did a lot of walking in Krakow and crossed the Vistula river every day! Further to the south of the city (3 km) is the prehistoric Krakus Mound (100 b.c.). From here you have a good view of Krakow to the North and of the Liban quarry on the other side. Liban quarry was a site for limestone excavation set up in 1873. It was taken over by the nazis in WW2 who turned it to a slave labour camp. In 1993 Steven Spielberg used the Liban quarry site for all of the scenes depicting the Plaszów concentration camp in the film 'Schindler's List'.. At Liban there are still a few film props mixed with the original site relics. A compact city with plenty of things to see locally. The salt mine at Wieliczka is another local excursion. As said above, I would recommend a visit for perhaps the wrong reasons. However, Krakow is such a very pretty city and merits a trip in its own right. It, quite simply, has to be seen.

Slovenia: Bled, Portoroz and Ljubljana

06 September 2016

My first time to the beautiful and ever so friendly, Slovenia. I flew to the capital's airport at Ljubljana and the airport is located between Bled and the capital itself. I woke up to stunning views over Lake Bled. The town of Bled is located at the eastern end of Lake Bled, a very picturesque area. The leisurely 6.5 km walk around the lake takes a couple of hours and takes in views of the Church on the island upon the lake, to which you can take a rowing boat or a pletna (shared vessel). Overlooking the lake on the North side is the 11th century Bled Castle. A steep walk will take you up to the castle with a museum, restaurant and commanding views of the lake! The lake is fairly shallow and is used by the Slovenian rowing teams. 4km north of Bled is the 1.6 km long Vintgar gorge. A short bus ride from Bled, the gorge is a pleasant walk alongside the Radovna River crossing numerous wooden bridges along the way. We chose to walk back over the hills to Bled, all very scenic. On our third day we drove to Lake Bohinj, a much larger lake in the Triglav national park. From the western end, Ukanc, we again set off on a long walk, this time to the Savica waterfall. This waterfall flows from the rock face above and cascades 78 metres into a rock pool. Lake Bohinj was nice for a paddle and swimmers enjoy it too. A small cruise boat can be taken from west to east and vice versa. The lake is just under 4.5km long. Leaving Bled we set off south for a beach stay in Portoroz. We drove via stops at Predjama Castle and Postojna Caves. Both areas fascinating for different reasons. Predjama is the largest cave castle on earth. This 13th century castle is built into the 123 meter cliff face rock face. The castle interweaves into the rock face in many places so that walls are natural or manmade. We also visited the caves underneath the castle, a few steps to climb here and there and a colony of resident bats lurk within. When your miner's helmet light is switched off it is truly pitch black withno light whatsoever. Then it was on to Postojna 9 km east of the castle. These caves are extraordinary with 20 km of passages within the Karst rock. You take an electric train into the inner caves, 3.5km in total by train and a 1.5km walk. Stalactites and stalagmites and underground halls abound. It has taken only two million years to create. Here you may also get the chance to see the cave dwelling blind salamander or olm as it is known. Portoroz is a bustling holiday resort located on part of the 43km of Slovenian coastline with views across the bay to Croatia and also further away to mainland Italy. We stayed in a hotel with sister properties sharing pool and spa facilities between them, very nice. Apart from a few villas and pensions most of the hotels here are of a superior category. The town of Piran is 3 km away (yet another few walks taken over the week). Piran is very pretty. Tartini Square is the central point, overlooked by the St Georges church showing the town's Venetian heritage. There are some lovely restaurants here. The town is small and does shut itself off to local vehicular traffic to a great degree. Car parking in the main is outside of the town, with a free shuttle bus service into the port area next to Tartini Square. We swam in the sea at Portoroz and also cycled to the local working salt pans of Strunjan and Secovlje nearby. We took a local bus from Portoroz to Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, 116 km, a less than two hour journey for our last three nights in the country. Ljubljana is just perfect - a compact gem of a city with its ever present castle dominating the skyline. Known as the city of dragons, it is pedestrianised, teeming with pretty thoroughfares and iconic bridges. Joze Plecnik designed many of the buildings and structures here in his Secessionist style. Cafes, bars and restaurants pervade the streets in the summer evenings. It is the European Green Capital of 2016 and it certainly feels that way. They even provide free electrically-powered vehicles known as Cavaliers to help those with walking disabilities. No, I did not use one! To the west of the city centre is a huge parkland area, Tivoli. The capital is only 20 km from the airport and 50 km from the aforementioned Bled, a great two-centre trip! I have been staggered by Slovenia. It is to many in the UK an unknown country and as yet an undiscovered jewel - the dragon of Ljubljana has certainly has slain this particular travel agent!

Cervinia, Italy

13 June 2016

So, back to Italy, to another ski area, Cervinia. After a 1 hour 30 transfer time from Turin, we arrived ...to take a gondola up to our hotel at 2600 metres, Lo Stembecco. It was our first time staying in a hotel effectively cut off from the main resort, 600 meters below. Once the lifts stop operating in the late afternoon you are there for the evening. No way up and no way down! The resorts has 38 runs in all, more aimed at intermediate/advanced skiing. Breuil-Cervinia is one of the highest resorts in the Alps, its cable car to Plateau Rosa at 3480 meters (11417 feet) makes a connection to more runs allowing one to ski into Zermatt, Switzerland. This season was a little different, a late start and a late finish in respect of snow fall. Whilst we were there, we had much more snow that one expects for springtime skiing! It was only on day four, that we did see the majestic Matterhorn in all of its glory presiding over the region. That all said...the snow quality for the skiing was fabulous, although blighted on occasion by poor visibility. Finishing the days skiing at such an altitude was so nice, no slush or heavy spring time snow to fight with at the lower levels. The hotel was basic however, the food and service there was fine. We had one full day of sunshine...it opened our eyes to a beautiful ski area dominated by the Matterhorn. The extensive view from Plateau Rosa was breath-taking..and not just because of the rarefied air! After 12 inches of snow on the final night, the skidoos we took for our early morning descent to the village for the transfer to Turin had to be dug out...a nice end to our trip nonetheless.

Croatia: Split , Brac and Zagreb

03 November 2015

Having sampled the delights of Southern Croatia last year, we decided to return to central Croatia for our summer holidays. Split is in Middle Dalmatia, located on the adriatic coast, just a short flight (2h.15m) from London. It is the second largest city in Croatia and is located on the Roman Palace of Diocletian. In fact some shops have glass floors where the palace can be seen beneath.... Riva is the main promenade with many restaurants, a very relaxed place to sit and watch the world go by in the evening. The Palace is just behind this, with a myriad selection of shops, restaurants and historical sights within the city walls. Marjan park, covered in pine forest with jogging trails is a pleasant scenic walk (and a hill climb), to the west of the city centre. We enjoyed a worthwhile day out to the medieval village of Trogir, a spetacular Greco-Roman influenced island with a fortress, palaces and churches in a very compact area. Split, as well as having an airport, is a major transport hub..with train and bus termini and its port connects to local islands and beyond. We boarded the ferry to Brac and spent a week there, staying just outside of the Northern port of Supetar. Brac is a hilly island with quite a few day trip options available by bus from Supetar. Bol, in the south of Brac island is pictured in many Croatia brochures, as it has the pictureque Zlatni Rat beach. The beach is a triangular shaped cape / peninsula with very different coastal influences on each edge of it...in its midst is tree cover. A rather busy beach during the summer! We also took at day trip to Milna, on the western side of Brac. A very pretty fishing village...and incredibly peaceful, even during the height of summer. Supertar, is also has loverly harbourfront, with some nice eateries scattered around its edge. After a week relaxing and swimming in various parts of Brac we then returned to Split on the ferry, walked across to the railway station and took a 6h 30 minute train to the capital, Zagreb in the North-West Of the country. A very scenic journey through hills and the countryside on a comfortable two carriage train. Zagreb was a very pleasant surprise, I loved it. The city has a lot of influences, evident from its 18th- and 19th-century Austro-Hungarian architecture. It has a gothic twin-spired Cathedral and various churches including the church of St Mark. The cafe-lined pedestrian Tkalciceva Street is a real treat. Originally the centre of Zagreb's founding industries centuries ago, this area with small streets and restaurants has a bohemian feel to it. It is a very compact city in many ways. The city in August was comparatively empty as the locals tend to hit the coast themselves at this time of year! Food and drink, exceptionally good value. As is often the way when I go abroad, I like to see a local football game when the situation arises. At Dinamo Zagreb, due to the slow processing of issuing tickets and a high level of security, it was a two hour queue to get in. This queuing is quite normal apparently, I did get to see some of the game! We availed of a nice day trip to Samobor, 20 km from Zagreb, a medieval village with 13th century castle ruins above it. Only 3 km from the border of Slovenia. Another hillwalk up from the castle along a rather precipitous path took us to a 14.5 metre viewing platform elevating us well above the forest canopy and surrounding countryside....fabulous views! Back down in the town, I indulged myself with a Tomislav beer and we all enjoyed the local speciality, Samoborske kremsnite, a custard pastry...very pleasant. On the final day, we again took to the water, swimming amongst swans and ducks in local lakes at the Jarun sports complex south of the Zagreb city centre I really enjoyed this trip. It is a beautiful country.

Luxembourg City & Vianden

05 September 2015

Luxembourg...what a lovely city and country break this is. My first, brief, visit to Luxembourg. I was flying there on Laker Airways in 1981 but the aircraft diverted to Brussels due to weather... so it was about time I got to see what I have missed! It is very much geared up for local tourism. a straightforward bus from the airport and some good healthy walking around the sights. We stayed in the business district, close to the airport (easily accessible). Walking from there into the city offered some superb views. Bock Casemates, the sturdy rock fortification overlooking the river Alzette was a worthwhile visit on day one. The 23 km of tunnels in this fortress housed soldiers and their horses, kitchens, ammunition stores and was used many times in acts of war and even as a bomb shelter in WW2...it is known as the Gibraltar of the North. From the galleries and cannon slots you get some great views of the Grund district of Luxembourg city. We enjoyed a visit to the Grand-Ducal palace (a 45 minute tour available during summer months), this the official residence of the Grand Duke and houses the ornate state rooms. Public transport in Luxembourg is fabulous value. We took at train up to Ettelbruck and then a bus to Vianden in North Eastern Luxembourg for a day trip. Vianden has a beautiful castle...a fine feudal residence from the Roman and Gothic era. The village beneath it is very picturesque. I could have stayed here a while... I would love to return to see more of the countryside and also the Moselle river area.

Lisbon & Cascais, Portugal

29 May 2015

Lisbon. A fantastic value destination at the moment. We stayed in a property close to Avenida da Liberdade which gave us a 25 minute walk downhill into Lisbon centre. Sat in the Praca do Comericio for late afternoon meal. The following day we took a bus to Belem Tower and then to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the concrete structure overlooking the Tagus river commemorating the Portuguese explorers and navigators. Back into the city and onto the rickety tram ride of the famous Number 28 tram. LIsbon is a hilly city and only the old trams can negotiate these steep inclines. We took the whole journey and then walked back! Lisbon castle, the Castelo de Sao Jorge, stands majestically above central Lisbon and was the ancient seat of power for Portugal for over 400 years. Great views from the castle over the Baixa district and the Rio Tejo (River Tagus). Adjacent to the castle is the 12th century Sé Cathedral and Alfama, the oldest district of Lisbon. It is a warren of narrow hilly streets and old houses. Alfama used to be the poorest area of the city but is now a more fashionable district with the same appeal. We also went along to the Parque das Nações district in which the Expo 1998 was held. Here you find shops, restaurants, nightlife, an oceanarium, cable car and the 17km long bridge the Ponte Vasco da Gama (this links Lisbon as a city to the east, across the river Tagus). A few days followed in Cascais, 25km west of Lisbon. This can be accessed by local train or car. The Boca do Inferno or Hell's Mouth is close to Cascais. It is a craggy cliff area honed originally from a small cave which has suffered a relentless battering from the Atlantic ocean...the cave has collapsed forming a small bay and natural arch. Cascais itself has some nice restaurants and promenade walks towards Estoril. Close by to Cascais and therefore to Lisbon, is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sintra. Castelo dos Mouros, the Pena National Palace and the Sintra National Palace are local attractions to Sintra, We checked out the long winding hill walk to the medieval Moorish Castle, Castelo dos Mouros. It affords a panoramic view from the top, looking down on Sintra, Lisbon and various estates and castles. Across the hills, is the famous Pena Palace. A worthwhile 'stroll'. Sintra was my favourite part of the trip. We had great weather too. There are abundant parks in Lisbon, with many monuments and statues etc. In evidence there are many empty buildings in the centre of the city, which makes it unusual for a capital...a place which seems to serve tourists better than the locals perhaps?

Luxor, Egypt

18 March 2015

As part of a group I arrived at Luxor in the middle of the night. Boarded the RA2 Nile cruise boat to sail overnight to arrive Denderah early morning. Woke up to clear skies as the sun rose, very peaceful and a lovely sense of tranquillity as we glided along. Visited Denderah temple in the morning. This temple dates back to more than 2000BC and is the site of the first ever recorded Zodiac. I love the open air Egyptian antiquities and seeing them in a nice dry heat of 35C was so wonderful, after 30 years away. In the afternoon I sat and swam on the sundeck of the RA2 ...cruising back up the Nile (heading South) towards Luxor again. The scenery was sublime. Local folk were calling from the banks of the river as we passed their villages. Cruising on the Nile as it flowed indolently past towns, villages, donkeys, oxen , minarets...was a rather special experience. Watched a cloudless sunset over the Nile and the hills around the Valley of the Kings as we approached Luxor again. A whirling dervish and a bellydancer made an appearance at dinner, I (rather easily) resisted the urge to join in! The following day I visited Karnak on the east bank of the Nile, a massive temple complex. Its many statues, obelisks and hieroglyphic carvings were expanded over a 2000 year period, during the reign of as many as 30 pharaohs. The hypostyle hall with its 134 columns is a marvel. A swift visit to the impressive Luxor temple followed. Two kilometres away from Karnak, the Luxor temple was originally linked by the avenue of the sphinxes, some of which are still to be seen. Both of these temples are truly magnificent. After this, we checked out from the Nile Cruise vessel for the Maritim Jolie Ville located slightly south on Kings Island adjacent to the Nile river. A lovely hotel with a superb infinity pool overlooking the River Nile. A very early departure the next morning was made for a very worthwhile balloon flight with local experts, Hod-Hod Soliman, over the Valley of the Kings. An early departure was required, before the temperatures picked up too much for the balloon flight. My last hot air balloon flight was over Hampshire... this was a little calmer and offered somewhat different vistas! Great views of Queen Hatshepsut's temple followed by flying over the 3400 year seated Colossi of Memnon.. Visited a market later in the day, always fascinating, taking in the sights, sounds and aromas as the locals ply their trade. This part of Egypt is currently very quiet overall, however, tourism is starting to recover again. I am so keen to take the family here at some stage. The routing back was via Cairo, and by sitting on the port side of the aircraft I was lucky to see the Bent Pyramid of Dahshur enroute and the Giza Pyramids on approach to Cairo. The pyramids of Giza near Cairo, Luxor's temples and the Valley of the Kings are so evocative of Egypt, they are must sees for everyone on the planet, given the chance...

Croatia (Dubrovnik), Montenegro & Bosnia Herzegovina

16 October 2014

First time to Croatia. Flights to Dubrovnik airport, adjacent to the pretty village of Cavtat. We stayed in Plat betwen Mlini and Cavtat. The day after arrival we took a local boat taxi to Cavtat (return fare £5pp). A nice harbour area with short walk across the peninsula to an even prettier one! The mausoleum at the top offers good views of the surrounding area above the headland. Cavtat is low lying and offers pretty coastline walks and also hilly walks if desired. Lovely restaurants. Dubrovnik, a 30 minute ferry ride from Plat (£8 return) is a stunning medieval walled city. The walls jut in and out, up and down for a 2 km walk offering great views as you circumnavigate the city. The Placa, an impressive limestone paved thoroughfare runs through the Northern part of the old town district. The Old Town is pedestrianised. One of the local dishes in this region is Black cuttlefish risotto, truly delicious! Being next to the sea, there is of course some lovely fresh fish to be had including sea bream and barracuda. The recent history here is still evident with a few artillery damaged abandoned hotels dotted around. These are relics from the war of independence when Yugoslavia split up and the countries therewithin became into being. Kupari in having a reasonable beach has nothing but shell impacted derelict hotels...I do hotel inspections as part of my job, these were a little different being well, below one star category. That all said, it is a refreshing change to visit a beautiful place such as Croatia, stunning coastlines and hilly backdrops pervade the daily views. Lokrum, is an island just a short ferry journey from Dubrovnik Old Town. It is a gloriously verdant, traffic free island with a small botanical garden, resident peacocks and some mini cliff jumps to enjoy! I did a couple of day trips, first of which was to Kotor in neighbouring Montenegro. The border is 25 minutes from Plat. Firstly a visit to Perast and the artificial island of Our Lady of Skrpjela, an island built by sinking ships full of concrete over a period of two centuries. The church on the island is bedecked inside with more than 2000 silver plaques. Onwards to Kotor, a place to me, even more impressive than Dubrovnik. A World Heritage Site with a Venetian influence and walls above the town 4.5 km long. Climbed the 265 meters to the top in 45 minutes in 30 degreee heat...water-a-plenty was required. The view from there overlooking the inland sea and the town is spectacular. My other day trip was to Bosnia Herzegovina, BiH, to Mostar. With this excursion you cross the borders a few times. Going North from Dubrovnik up the coast past the majestic Croatian islands and the walls of Ston you cross into BiH briefly at Neum (their only coastal resort) and then back into Croatia again. Then 40 minutes later,after driving past fields and fields of tangerines, re-entry into Bosnia Herzegovina again. First stop Pocitelj, a fortified town with a Medieval and Ottoman presence. It has a citadel, tower and mosque. Another climb to get the best views from the Citadel...fabulous. Then to Mostar, famed for its bridge, Stari Most, 27 meters high. Visited the 17th century Turkish House and then unexpectedly got the chance to climb the minaret in the local Koski Mehmed Pasa mosque, offering tremendous views over Mostar and the bridge. Quite a few chaps there gather some coins and notes from amazed spectators to make the jump off the bridge into the Neretva River. The little I saw of BiH is enough to make me want to see more one day. That applies to the Balkans region generally.

Stockholm, Sweden

08 August 2014

We took Air France flights to get to Stockholm; a great service and very comfortable. We arrived late in the evening at the main Arlanda airport, so we took a cab ride to our hotel in the North of the City, 25 minutes away. Firstly, getting around this city and its outskirts on public transport is pretty good value. Buying an SL travel card for 72 hours was approximately £20 - for this you get unlimited use of the local trains, T-Bana (underground), buses, trams and a couple of local ferries. On our first day we took a 20 minute train ride into the city on a lovely warm day, a walk through the city and across the bridge to Skeppsholmen and Kastelholmen. We could have taken a ferry to Slussen near the heart of the historic Gamla Stan in the old town district. However, we elected to walk there along the waterfront instead, passing by the Royal Palace along the way. Gamla Stan dates back to the 13th century with narrow cobbled streets and churches, Stockholm Cathedral, Nobel Museum, the Royal Palace and some colourful building facades in the little square, Stortorget. We took the ferry to Djurgården, a 10 minute journey, passing the Gröna Lund amusement park as we arrived. We then we boarded a tram to the east and then walked through the parkland and meadows there. It’s a very pretty recreation area for the locals. The following day we took the local bus north to Vaxholm, on the edge of the island archipelago. Vaxholm is a lovely small village with an island fortress accessible at certain times of the year (not when were there sadly.) From there we hitched a free lift on a car ferry to Rinde for a little walk there and across a bridge onto the neighbouring island of Skarpo. Our prime motive for Vaxholm was to take to cruise back into Stockholm city. This was a highlight. We travelled on an old steamer, Storskär, along the route stopping to pick other passengers from other small islands along the way. As we got closer to the city some rather large cruise liners dominated the skyline - you can get rather close to these massive vessels! We then availed of another tram back to Djurgården and up the TV Tower, Kaknästornet, affording great views of the local area. Our final morning was spent at Skansen, which is an open air museum with a traditional living history having workshops, olde shops set in the past with shopkeepers in period dress etc. They had workshops with baking, glass blowing, pottery and a zoo as well. Late afternoon we went to the Vasa Museum which was fabulous. The Vasa sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628, having completed less than a mile on the water. Not the best way to find out the vessel was top heavy! In 1961 it was brought up to the surface again and it has, subsequently, had extensive restoration. The Vasa museum has been built around this warship, it is a must visit attraction in Stockholm. Overall we found Stockholm a beautiful city with lovely friendly people and local public transport was very good value. Eating out and some attractions are fairly expensive. It has given me the urge to see more of Sweden!

Sestriere, Italy

29 April 2014

As a nice surprise, my wife treated us to a ski holiday at short notice! Sestriere was my first experience of skiing in Italy. Very friendly people, it was brilliant. A brief flight to Turin was followed by a short 100 minute road transfer to Sestriere. It is at the heart of the Milky Way (via Lattea) ski system with a total of 146 runs. Sestriere is positioned at 2035m above sea level. Over the mountain opposite, by gondola, is access to Sauze d'Oulx (just over an hour by road from Turin incidentally). From the top of the cable car at Fraiteve there are links to Sansicario leading to Cesana, Claviere and ultimately to Montgenevre in France. All are skiable from Sestriere system during the high season. The lift system here is fairly basic, there are still quite a few button/drag lifts (which I don't do if I can help it, I did not do so on this trip either). You can still get around the whole Via Lattea system on lifts and cable cars when the lower piste ski runs are all open. Our first ski morning started with some confused navigation, a short blue leading to a red turned out to be a short blue followed by a sobering choice of two black runs, one way to get your skiing feet back as it were! The spring skiing was great with lovely empty slopes. Some of the lower altitude runs were closed, however, there were plenty of pistes to enjoy on both sides of the mountain. My daughter, at the grand old age of 12 has now overtaken her parents with her skiing ability. We used to wait for her down the slopes, now she waits for us....well she waits for me actually! She did teach me how to parallel ski backwards though...and I can do so, to a fashion. You just never know when that will be useful! Sestriere has recent Olympic heritage too, with some Olympic downhill runs to try out here. I would say though that the 'black' runs here are not as severe as those in France for example. Sauze d'Oulx has some gorgeous narrower red forest runs, 29 and 2000 were very pleasant. We stayed at the Hotel Du Col, a family run property. Rooms are fairly basic, but functional, and it’s in an ideal location with superb ski in/ski out, expansive boot/ski room and very friendly hotel manager and lovely staff. The meals there were delicious. The lift passes were good value and the price of snacks/drinks on the slopes were better value than I have encountered in recent years. As I said before, this was my first taste of Italian hospitality on the slopes. I was really impressed and I will return!

Berlin, Germany

18 September 2013

Berlin is an old stamping ground for me. This was a trip I was very much looking forward to, having spent many a summer's day here in my childhood when the wall was in place. It was my fifteenth visit here and will not be my last. I arrived at Schonefeld airport on outskirts of South East Berlin, a 400 metre walk to the rail station (trolleys available, 1 euro). Here you can access local regional trains into the city which connect to S-Bahn and U-Bahn. I stayed in a lovely hotel in an area known as Museum Island. A river cruise to get one's bearings was very enjoyable as a starter. My trip included visits to Checkpoint Charlie Museum, East Side gallery, Fernseturm, Reichstag, Potsdam (cycling), Schloss Charlottenburg, Olympiastadion (for a Hertha Berlin football match), Siegessäule, Topographie des Terrors, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Mounte Mitte, Strandbad Wannsee (lakeside beach) ...and a lot more. I can offer a lot of tips should you choose to visit this beautiful city. The highlights amongst so many interesting points was a detailed tour of the Concentration Camp at Sachsenhausen (albeit having a rather horrific history, it merits respect and should be seen and acknowledged) and the special tour of the German parliament building. Seeing the Brandenburg Gate unfettered by the wall was wonderful. There are so many things to see and do here, some of these must be prebooked, otherwise you will waste a lot of time waiting, or in some cases not be able see them at all! I will have to go there again, there are some fabulous museums which will make a winter visit a good idea too! Such a lot to see. A city steeped in history but ever so cosmopolitan, with a fantastic travel network to help you around. Plus great food and drink and an eclectic nightlife. Berlin has a certain ambience that still really pervades today, even with the absence of the wall.

Tignes, French Alps

29 May 2013

Tignes is in the French Alps. It is a three hour coach transfer from Grenoble. This was my first visit to this lofty ski resort, we were looking for some traditional spring time skiing as is the norm in April. However, we had a massive deluge of snow. But when it was sunny it was fabulous! A big ski area with 129 ski runs, you can get passes for the adjacent Val d'Isere ski area to use in combination with The Tignes area (Espace Killy). However, in the six days we were there, we found the ski runs options plentiful. The ski area is topped with the Grand Motte Glacier which can be accessed by an underground funicular railway. It’s pretty impressive. You can easily navigate the lift system without the need for using the T-bars (which are a drag!), chairlifts proliferate and there are cable cars too. This is a high altitude resort with pistes to ski down from 3456m down to 1550m. My favourite runs were Genepy; a scenic blue run from the top where the funicular arrives, down to Val Claret, Cirse; a red coming from the same locale, with a wide piste and Grattulu; a blue run which is very pleasant when it has been manicured ....especially when you can see where you are going! Tignes at 2100m has plenty of eating establishments, including many pizzerias; there are quite a lot of restaurants dedicated to French cuisine too. Neighbouring Val Claret, although slightly smaller, has quite a few choices as well. Husky dog rides can be taken in the resort too. If the weather closes in, Tignes also has an indoor swimming pool, equipped with slides for the children. In the past, I have been lucky enough to experience La Plagne, Meribel, Valfrejus and Les Deux Alpes in the French Alps. I would have to say that Tignes is certainly on a par with the best of these overall.

Orlando, Florida - USA

23 January 2013

I’ve just returned from another fabulous trip to Orlando. I cannot believe this was my eighth visit to Florida...and there is still plenty to do. We flew with BA from Gatwick, which was as good as ever. We arrived at dusk, picked up a brand new rental car (Ford Focus) with all the trimmings and set off for our villa in Davenport (35 minutes from the airport and a 15 minute drive from Disneyworld). You need a few dollars for road tolls and I was caught out by an unmanned toll that took change only. Threats of a $100 fine were fortunately not realised, but I was fined a huge USD3.70 via my car rental company! On the plus side, the price of fuel is so much cheaper than the UK! We had a lovely day chilling at the villa on day one, then the first of many theme park visits. Disneyland was first. I'm glad I chose October to go to Florida, as ever it was a lot quieter than other times of the year. I also had daily access to information regarding the busy and not so busy days at the theme parks. It proved accurate, so I'm glad I used it! There were many highlights, especially the sunshine and warmth, how nice that was after a great British soggy summer! Rollercoaster bashing at Universal Studios and at Universal's Islands of Adventure was great. The Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, was, as they say, awesome! The Hulk, Revenge of the Mummy and Spiderman were fabulous too. Harry Potter's rides are tremendous. The main one, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is quite extraordinary. If you go, have a glass of Butterbeer too! It was great seeing my daughter venture onto some rides she had not been tall enough (or brave enough) to do before. We got pretty wet on some rides too! Toy Story was the best shoot 'em up game, great fun and very popular (fast passes are definitely needed). The Disney parks are still evolving too; Expedition Everest is an exhilarating surprise ride. An Airboat ride in Florida’s swamplands and a nice day out, south of Orlando, were also great. Krammer, the resident umbrella cockatoo there, was very chatty! The two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon were great and the lazy rivers were bliss. The only negatives were the price of car parking at the theme parks (a bit cheeky), and having to come home after just 15 nights there! A simply great destination that never fails to captivate.

Seefeld and Innsbruck, Austria

10 November 2012

Seefeld is a small Alpine village located in the Austrian Tyrol, 11 miles from Innsbruck. Located at 1150 metres, and previously home to the Winter Olympic cross country events, it has two ski jumps and a roller skiing (dry) Nordic cross country ski area. There are also many walking and cycling trails. This pretty village also has a public outdoor/indoor pool with slides. Gschwandtkopf, at the back of the village, proffered a 300 meter climb and getting to the top presents great views and a restaurant offering Weizenbeer and cake. The journey both up and down can be done by ski lift but we chose to walk back via Mosern, through hills and fields with a distinctive backdrop of cowbells. We visited Wildmoos See and Moserer See where we went cycling for the day. This was a little bit harder than envisaged due to the altitude but the beautiful scenery and a gorgeous “Kaese Spaetzle” at the Moserer Seestuben more than made up for it. We were also able to swim in the lovely lake. In Leutasch we spent a spectacular day out walking on a 3000 metre long suspended walkway through the Mountain Spirit Gorge Trail, popping sporadically across the border into Germany. There were some great vistas and a waterfall at one end. Near Leutasch, the Sommerrodelbahn provided a 1200 metre-long 'sledge' ride which both my daughter I were able to experience. We loved it! For a nice day trip we took the local train to Innsbruck affording great views from the carriage. From there we walked across the main bridge over the river up to the top of the Hungerberg. We were at 2100m and you can enjoy lovely views looking down on the city and to the Brenner Pass and beyond. There was even some glacial snow up there too. Having been to St Wolfgang, Salzburg, Hallstadt and the 'Sound of Music' country two years ago I was not going to be disappointed. Overall what is there not to love about Austria? Beautiful scenery, peace and quiet, fresh air, lovely people, great food and divine Dunkelweizenbeer!

Morocco: Mazagan, Casablanca & Marrakech

29 June 2012

The flight from Heathrow to Casablanca is surprisingly quick - less than 3 hours flying time to another continent! I was travelling with a group of fellow travel agents and the Moroccan National Tourist Office. After we arrived our first stop was Mazagan Beach Resort, a stunning five star property that opened in 2009. It is 100 km from Casablanca and has a courtesy airport transfer service from the airport. Restaurant food there was fantastic, traditional Moroccan cuisine as well as a huge selection of other culinary delights. We then popped to El Jadida, a local town seven kilometres away, which has a fortress and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The markets are as ever are a fascination here; watching the locals plying their trade in fish, fruit, vegetables, spices and live chickens along with a myriad of other items. Then it was cross country to Marrakech. Fairly desolate in places, the fields are seemingly well irrigated by open pipes suspended alongside the road. A three hour journey (with a flat tyre en route) and the building landscape colours turned to ochre as we got closer to Marrakech. The city embraces a large surrounding area, however the central part with the major hotels is still fairly compact (20-30 minute drive in some cases). There are many hotels all built in the local reddish ochre stone sourced from the local quarries, many in typical local style. There are many boutique hotels here too, so one can enjoy the sensory stimulation of the city before chilling out by the pool. I did just that at the Palm Plaza hotel...lovely. Marrakech is also home to over 500 riads, traditional courtyard centric accommodation. I visited one for dinner, La Sultana, which was sumptuous, opulent and tastefully furnished in Moroccan style. It provides accommodation with a rooftop restaurant serving superb food and great views! The impressive Koutoubia Mosque stands 69 metres high and is the dominant focal point in the city of Marrakech. It has similarities to, and was used as the model for the Giralda in Seville. Adjacent to Koutoubia is the famed Jemaa El Fna square, which during the day was reasonably quiet...but at night time it is bustling; alive, with street sellers, acrobats, dancers and snake charmers to name but a few. The souk and surrounding Medina borders on this square too. The souk is under cover in many areas and is a warren of workshops spilling out onto the narrow thoroughfare producing many artefacts such as metalwork, ceramics, leather and carpets for the local traders to sell. There is a so much hidden from view too, we had to watch out for the odd moped going past, on passages sometimes no wider than...a moped. A motorway links Marrakech to Casablanca, the largest city and business heart of Morocco and a 2.5 hour drive away from Marrakech. A white colonial city, it seemed rather busy with traffic whilst an underground train system is being constructed there (due by 2017). My visit to the city was brief but enough time to see another stunning edifice, the Hassan II mosque, which has the tallest minaret in the world standing a massive 210 metres high. Overall Marrakech is a must for anyone, a fabulous city I personally must revisit with more time in the future. Further to my return I now have really got the taste for Moroccan Baklava...an acquired taste, naughty but very nice!

Xcaret and Cancun, Mexico

09 December 2011

My first long haul holiday for 3 years. Started perfectly, with an on time departure on BA from Gatwick to Cancun. The in flight entertainment kept us occupied, my young daughter enjoying total control of her seatback TV. Arrived mid afternoon and took a pre-booked transfer down to Xcaret to stay at the Grand Occidental Hotel which is adjacent to the fabulous Xcaret eco park. The hotel, is very much a 4 star resort hotel located in lush vegetation with, 5 pools, 11 restaurants, and a small man made beach bay area. Scarlet Macaws fly in everyday to the hotel, and resident iguanas and coatis wander around which makes it a little different... The 'problem' with Mexico is the fabulous food, and being all inclusive this property stretched one's resolve to not tuck in to the highest degree. The hotel is located close to Xcaret and to Delphinius, a dolphin encounter experience. The Xcaret park provides discounted admission rates for those staying at the hotel. And you can walk there..a great day out, jumping into the undeground river is a fabulous little adventure for young and old alike. There are plenty of creatures to see: parrots, butterflies, jaguars, rays, sharks, turtles, to name a few. We did a side trip to Coba and Tulum, the coach tours were rather hefty pricewise at the time, so we elected to rent a car locally and do it ourselves, very straightforward. The roads are well signposted and the admission prices to these sites are low. As of October 2011 you can still climb the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan region, Coba's Nohoch Mul at 42 metres in height. It is steep and worth the effort, just watch your footing as you go! Up to Cancun for 7 nights on a stunning beach at the Grand Caribe Resort and Spa, again all inclusive, and again with superb food. It has 2 pools, kids entertainment (2 water slides and a Galleon to play on) and a gorgeous long stretch of toe-teasing sand. The 2 pre-bookable restaurants, Maria's and the Sunset Grill are a must. The former for great Mexican food, and an entrancing liquor coffee presentation...and the Sunset Grill for sumptuous steaks. Not so many animals to be seen here, however, we did have the chance to release turtle hatchlings into the sea...a thought provoking thing to to do...the big wide ocean beckoning for a 4 inch long turtle. The highlight was watching my daughter swim with dolphins. All in all a great holiday.

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Amazing service! This is the first time that I have used the services of Steve Finch from Travel Counsellors and it is a short trip. However, Steve has paid attention to detail, communicated often and has been very thorough. I will gladly tell everyone I know about the great experience I have had with Steve Finch and Travel Counsellors.

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Steve will possibly agree that I wasn't the easiest customer for him to deal with, I was booking my honeymoon and the whole thing was a surprise for my wife. I asked him to search several different destinations to try to get the best possible honeymoon without spending a small fortune. Steve made that possible. I will definitely use him again.

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