Based in Emsworth

Suzanna Pinder

It's Nice To Meet You

Growing up with wanderlust parents, I love everything travel and can often be found with my head in a travel book, watching one of my favourite travel vlogs, recalling past adventures or inspiring others about travel!

As a Travel Counsellor I can offer any type of break; a UK staycation to recharge batteries, a cobble stomping European city break, a sunny beach hop and flop, a family ski chalet, a spectacular northern lights cruise, a heavenly honeymoon, a six month itinerary meandering the must see wonders of the world - the options are endless and I can create the perfect trip for you. If you already know what you want to do, great!, but if not I hope you will be inspired by my travel accounts and tips.

I handle every enquiry individually, discussing requirements, likes, dislikes and budget. Booking with me you will receive full ATOL bonding and 100% financial protection for your peace of mind so you can concentrate on the important things in life, such as enjoying your holiday! I am competitive on price with direct supplier relationships, although do not necessarily strive to beat online prices with my service being more quality driven.

Working from home near Emsworth I can give you my undivided attention, be available outside 9-5 and happy to meet face to face at a convenient location and time to suit. I build on word of mouth recommendation, only achievable due to my high level of service and commitment to every customer.

Having spent 15 years working in the travel industry creating bespoke holidays for a tailormade tour operator, followed by yacht charter company, I have sent clients on a wide variety of exciting adventures. I am an outdoorsy type, enjoying sailing, cycling, hiking, skiing and exploring new destinations, but I equally enjoy the thrill of getting lost in a new city or enjoying a good book on a desert island. I have travelled much of the World but it seems with every new place I visit, there’s another ten I want to visit! Areas I have explored include much of Europe, America, Canada, Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia and Asia.

Why spend hours scouring the internet and traipsing the high street to find the perfect travel arrangements when I can take away the hassle and stress, doing all the legwork and putting together a bespoke itinerary to suit you. I pride myself on going the extra mile, so wherever and whatever you would like to do next, get in touch and let’s talk travel!

“To Travel is to Live” – Hans Christian Andersen

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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.

Highlands and Islands

04 November 2020

With 2020 ‘the year of the staycation’ we decided to embrace a Scottish autumnal roadtrip and hiring a small campervan, headed north! Arriving to the Cairngorms we navigated the 90 mile ‘Snow Roads’ traversing the 2 highest roads in the UK, the Cairnwell and Lecht Passes, and with (responsible) wild camping accepted in Scotland, spent our first night outside Balmoral Castle. Autumn in The Highlands is magical, with the deep valleys vibrantly clad in reds and browns, crystal clear thundering rivers and charming highland villages, such as Ballater where shops proudly display their Royally Appointed plaques. Home to over 50 whisky distilleries, the neighbouring Spey Valley has a distinctive aroma in parts and whilst many distilleries were sadly closed, we were able to pop into the Glenlivet distillery for a ‘sniff test’ (covid rules banned alcohol consumption onsite) and recommendation to visit the nearby Abelour Larder, where we stocked up on delicious local produce. Following a night camped on the shores of Loch Ness, we struck north to the ‘North Coast 500’, the 516 mile route from Inverness around Scotland’s north and west coasts to the infamous Bealach na Bà. I would recommend driving the route anticlockwise, as whilst the east coast offers interesting sights, such as Dunrobin Castle, Whaligoe Steps and of course, John O’Groats, I felt the most impressive scenery was from Dunnet Bay onwards. Also, do not be afraid to stray from the official route, for example we very much enjoyed watching the Atlantic salmon jumping upstream at the Falls of Shin. Twisting along the north coast, the road reveals never-ending fabulous beaches including Bettyhill, known as one of the best surfing spots in the UK and Ceannabeinne where some entrepreneurial locals have set up a fabulous zip line across the bay. There are also many delightful hamlets, which if looking for accommodation, I would suggest to stay rather than the larger towns. We particularly liked Dunnet Bay and Tongue, under the watchful eye of Castle Varrich. Smoo Cave at Durness is fun, accessing via steep paths carved into the hillside and revealing an exciting thundering waterfall inside. Nearby is the slightly hidden John Lennon memorial garden, paying tribute to the song ‘In My Life’ following his childhood holidays in this remote corner. As the road turns to head down the west coast, be prepared for epic Scottish spectacularness! Weaving around stunning lochs and magnificent coastline, the route passes through pine clad valleys and remote lunar landscape, dominated by steep hills and Munros. Primarily twisting single track road, there is no rushing and a good job, as the scenery is simply breathtaking. Camping overnight at Blairmore we were in prime position for the 9 mile round walk to Sandwood Bay. Often named one of the best beaches in the UK, Sandwood is only accessible by foot and having set out at first light, we had this incredible beach completely to ourselves for our bacon sarnies and thermos tea – glorious! A split second decision to turn down the narrow B869 around the Assynt peninsular made for one of the best 24 hours of our trip. Through stunning wild country, the single track darts in and out of the coast, over steep climbs, through gaps in rock narrow enough to make you breath in and dotted with lone crofts and tiny settlements, it is a remarkable drive. Overnighting at the stunning Achmelvich Bay, we enjoyed a stroll along the golden sand and around the headland to admire the crystal azure water, before a fine feast of fish and chips watching the sun set over the Outer Hebrides. The following morning we called into the nearby Lochinver Larder and can confirm their pies are worth the awards! Whilst only the UK’s third highest road, the Bealach na Bà is billed as the scariest to drive. Single lane for most part, the road winds steeply to the summit, offering fabulous views across Rassay and Skye. Descending the other side reveals hairpin bends with exciting drop offs and we were pleased to be tackling the pass early, before it got busy. One of Scotland’s largest islands and accessible by bridge, Skye has an interesting landscape, with the Cuillin Ridge said to offer some of the finest mountaineering in the UK. The jagged mountains are spectacular backdrop to the mighty sea cliffs spouting waterfalls. We enjoyed the southwest of the island most, slightly off the beaten tourist trail and home to the Talisker distillery, tucked away on Loch Harport. Described by a well known guidebook ‘Scotland’s most famous glen is also one of its grandest and – in bad weather – its grimmest’ we unfortunately arrived to Glen Coe in torrential rain and whilst calling it ‘grim’ might be a little unfair, I don’t think we saw it at its best! We decided hiking to the Lost Valley (or Hidden Valley, depending who you speak to) would sadly have to wait until another visit, but did enjoy many fabulous waterfalls. Whilst we were primarily visiting Scotland for the natural beauty and wilderness, we were pleasantly surprised by some of the smaller towns, particularly Ullapool and Oban. Both based around pretty harbours and offering fabulous seafood shacks, we feasted on some of the best seafood ever! Ullapool’s West Coast Delicatessen is also worth a visit, particularly for their highland cheese selection. Oban interestingly houses one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries, hemmed in by water, rock and town, but still offering a large range of whisky and following a brief tour, we were given wee drams straight from the barrel! We loved the freedom of exploring by camper and the amazing ‘off grid’ wilderness. Our van was 6m and I would recommend the smallest vehicle you are comfortable in, as whilst possible to bypass the narrower roads, these were the parts we enjoyed most and would not have been keen tackling some areas in anything much larger. If camping is not your thing, there are many fabulous hotels and B&B’s, from cosy crofts to Scottish castles and we did treat ourselves to a night at the Stonefield Castle Hotel, set in beautiful woodland gardens on the banks of Loch Fyne. We also indulged in lunch at The Torridon, featured in the BBC series ‘Amazing Hotels’, offering relaxed luxury with fabulous hotel grounds leading down to Loch Torridon, a resident herd of adorable highland cattle and outstanding locally sourced food. A fabulous trip and I am already planning our next highland adventure, to include the Outer Hebrides.

On The Piste In Poland

19 February 2020

Having skied a number of times in The Alps and Canada, I will admit that Poland was not particularly on my radar for skiing. However, always up for a new adventure I was intrigued at a friends suggestion to give it go for a girls ski break. Flying into Krakow, we were to be basing ourselves in Zakopane, a lovely traditional town a couple of hours from the airport. Once we had broken free from Krakow’s suburbs, we had a lovely drive through countryside, crossing large farming plateaus with pretty hamlets and small towns dotted about, framed by the backdrop of the Tatrus Mountains. Reaching the mountains, the road gently climbed through some delightful villages with the odd ski slope appearing here and there, before arriving to the grand Polish tourist hub, Zakopane. Zakopane is a largish town, centred around the long pedestrian street, Krupowki. Oozing alpine charm, had it not been for the Polish signs one could easily be mistaken for being in a pretty Alpine resort such as Megeve or Kitzbuehel. Offering a wide variety of shops, street vendors and eateries, Krupowki was bustling with Polish tourists pulling children along snow covered cobbles on sleighs. Quickly noticing we could not detect many ‘other’ languages, we soon discovered English was not quite as widely spoken as we had anticipated. However, no problem, the locals were friendly and there was nothing a lot of smiling, a bit of pointing, plenty of of ‘dziekuje’ (thank you!) and if all else failed, Google Translate could not help with! With plenty of bars and restaurants offering excellent value, we were pleased to be staying in a self-catered apartment. Whilst there were cuisines on offer to cover every taste, we were keen to try the local fayre and had some wonderful plates of locally smoked cheese, pierogi (stuffed dough dumplings), potato pancakes with goulash, steamy soups, tender lamb, fabulous steak and amazing cheesecake – who knew the Polish were known for their cheesecake! Very proud of their local produce, we also enjoyed sampling the regional tipples, with the vodka and Zakopane version of espresso martinis particularly recommended. Many of the restaurants also had enthusiastic traditional bands playing, creating great atmosphere. Zakopane offers plenty of non-ski activities in addition to great shopping, including an aquapark, ice skating and horse drawn sleigh rides around town. Had we more time, we would have liked to try the local horse sleigh ride through the forest to a feast of sausages and warming vodka tipples around a campfire – it came highly recommend! For our first day of skiing we chose Polana Szymoszkowa, one of Zakopane’s closest ski hills. All set up for easy ski rental, we were soon holders of everything required and set off to rediscover our ski legs on the gentle blues, quickly progressing to the intermediate red. A perfect place to learn and improve skiing, the pistes are very wide, with plenty of space and a relatively challenging but safe red for intermediates and adventurous beginners. On our second day we visited the larger ski area of Bialka, roughly 45 minutes from Zakopane. Heavy overnight snow fall made for slow progress and despite it taking nearly two hours before we had arrived and purchased our lift passes, we were pleased to have made the effort. Aside from being a larger ski area, the runs at Bialka are longer and there are more reds for intermediate skiers. We had fantastic fresh snow and discovered some lovely paths down through the trees, with a light lunch of pork neck and vodka tea – well, when in Poland! Another attraction in Bialka is the thermal pool and so after finding somewhere to store our skis, we were soon wallowing around in the gloriously warm mineral rich waters. Swimming outside in a steaming pool whilst watching people ski by floodlight is good, but it doesn’t get much better than easing tired ski legs relaxing on an in-pool bubbling bed under the stars, with a mulled vodka apple in hand! There are a number of ski areas around Zakopane and Bialka, such as Jurgow, Harenda, Rusin and Kluszkowce. In our experience Jurgow seemed to offer the most challenging terrain, with a few blues, mainly reds and the odd black run. With taxis abundant and very reasonable, it is great to be able to try a new ski area each day. Also, most of the larger slopes have snow cannons, so no matter the weather, there will always be snow somewhere. In comparison to skiing in The Alps, Poland is fantastic value, at less than £10 per day for ski, boot and helmet hire, roughly £12 per day for a lift pass and typically under £15 for a delicious 2 course meal with wine. It is less than half the price of some of the larger Alpine resorts. Getting around is easy too, with plenty of taxi ranks dotted about and restaurant/shop staff more than happy to assist calling for a taxi. Our trip to Bialka (a 45 minute journey) was only £25 one-way, including generous tip. Exactly where you base yourself depends on how much skiing you plan to do, with Zakopane a great location due to the pretty town and various off-piste activities, whilst Bialka offers a much larger ski area, but less charm and non-ski interests. Whilst it is easy to travel between the various towns and resorts, it would also be quite feasible to have a multi-centre holiday, with say a couple of days in Zakopane to enjoy the town and beginners slopes, before moving on to Bialka for a few days skiing the larger area and ending your holiday with a day or two exploring Krakow (see my blog ‘A Christmasy Krakow’). I have since been asked by a number of people whether I would recommend skiing in Poland… Having started skiing myself as a beginner in some of the larger European ski resorts, paying for premium lift passes covering miles of ski area when I have only skied a small fraction, learning in a smaller ski area such as Zakopane or Bilka makes complete sense. It is perfect for beginners looking for nice wide gentle slopes, with more challenging reds and the odd black to progress to, but nothing too intimidatingly long or steep. It is also a great place for families wanting a to ski without breaking the bank! Zakopane is a fabulous well kept Polish secret, offering plenty to do on and off the slopes and with predominantly Polish locals and tourists, it is wonderful to immerse oneself in the Polish culture, making for quite an adventure. A great trip and certainly fun to have tried somewhere ‘different’!

A Christmassy Krakow

18 December 2019

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Krakow is filled with a delightful mix of architecture old and new, wonderful medieval towers, quintessential European squares and a varied history. Visiting in early December, we felt as though we had walked into a fairytail entering Rynek Glowny, the Old Town main square. One of the largest squares in Europe, the old buildings and churches had a light dusting of snow, there were beautiful horsedrawn carriages clip clopping along the cobbles and twinkling Christmas market in full swing – a magical scene. Krakow is a small city and whilst there is a good tram and bus system along the main routes, it is a city for exploring the back streets. We walked everywhere, although for anyone short on time or after easier exploration, there’s an abundance of electric buggies whizzing around on tours or simply transferring tourists between main sights. On our first night we did a ‘Food on Foot Tour’ to not only experience Polish cuisine and culture, but to also gain hints and tips from a local to maximise our time in Krakow. A progressive supper, we started in a wonderful cellar bar just off the main square, steeped in satirical theatrical history and packed with locals. Over our beer and ‘oscypek’, a salty smoked sheeps cheese snack from the Tatra Mountains, our guide Mateusz introduced himself and our jam-packed itinerary for the evening ahead. Moving on to a popular self-service restaurant we sampled a variety of traditional ’zupy’ (soup) including zurek (rye), ogorkowa (pickle) and borsch (betroot). For the main course we worked up an appetite walking to Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter, for pierogi (dumplings), golabki (meat stuffed cabbage) and placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes) washed down with a Polish IPA, before ending the evening in a local bar for sernik (cheesecake) and bison vodka! Mateusz was excellent, enthusiastically explaining about local food, culture and history behind the independently operated bars and restaurants, plus gave us many top suggestions for places to visit during the rest of our stay. Despite our tummies still full from the previous evening, the next morning we headed to a farmers market recommended by Mateusz, Stary Kleparz, a 15 minute walk north of the Old Town. Full of delicious fruit, vegetables, cheese, bread, honey and sausages, the market was bustling with locals and offered prices less than half of the main tourist markets. We had a wonderful time sampling various treats and left with a rucksack brimming with local goodies! Another locals spot we were keen to try was Kielbaski Pod Hala Targowa, an old communist van on the side of a main road offering late night BBQ sausages, as it was sold to us! With absolutely no glamour and after having queued for 20 minutes (it is popular!), we were given a delicious sausage, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, with a white roll and mustard. If you like rustic, quirky and don’t mind jostling with the locals, it is a fun experience! We felt we could not visit Krakow without including a visit to Auschwitz and despite fair prior knowledge, nothing can prepare to seeing the torture and living conditions prisoners were subjected to. On an informative guided tour we were walked around the extremely well preserved Auschwitz I, with no sombre sight spared. After a short break we were taken to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which although mainly demolished by the Nazis in an attempt to destroy evidence of the camp, the open area gave realisation to the vastness and there is enough still standing to catch a glimpse of the brutality of the camp. Despite the sombre theme, I would highly recommend a visit to Auschwitz and something that will remain with me for many years to come. We combined our trip to Auschwitz with The Wieliczka Salt Mine, one of the world’s oldest salt mines dating back to the 13th century. Descending 800 steps deep down, we were led through a labyrinth of corridors, admiring the intricate salt sculptures and displays telling the story about the myths and history of the mine. Highlights at roughly 100 metres underground included the amazingly colourful 9m deep saline lake and Chapel of St Kinga, a huge 11 metre high space adorned with grand staircase, altar, magnificent chandeliers and sculptures, all intricately carved out of salt. Fortunately, at the end of our 2.5 hour tour and despite jokes about having to tackle the infamous 800 steps back up to ground level, we were packed like sardines into miners lifts and transported back to the surface in a mere 11 seconds! On our last day in Krakow we undertook a bracing walk around the city, starting at Warwel Hill, home to the beautiful Warwel Castle with its mixture of medieval, renaissance and baroque architecture and mythical Smok Wawelski (Wawel Dragon), who breaths real fire every few minutes – very exiting! Crossing the river via the Kladka Ojca Bernatka (Father Bernatek Footbridge), adorned with acrobats and offering delightful views along the Vistula River, we entered Podgorze. Once a city in its own right and former wartime Jewish Ghetto, Podgorze is home to the historic Apteka pod Orlem (Pharmacy Under the Eagle), Plac Bohaterow (Ghetto Heroes Square) and Schindlers Factory. This fairly run down area holds much history and is an interesting contrast to the ‘nice’ Old Town of Krakow. On our way back through Kazimierz (Jewish Quarter) and having been on our feet all day, we had to try one of the last local dishes on our list, Zapiekanki, a delicious baguette pizza which did not disappoint! With reputation as a cheap destination, providing you stay away from the glitzy restaurants and bars of the main square, it is indeed good value for money with an amazing choice of bars and restaurants. Krakow also offers a variety of accommodation from hostels through to hotels and apartments. We chose an apartment right in the heart of the old town, which was a great base allowing us to easily pop back during the day and central to all attractions. Visiting in December was lovely, with the city beautifully adorned in twinkling Christmas lights and a delightful festive bustle around the Christmas market. However, it was very cold and as a city ideal for walking, if not prepared to wrap up and brace the elements, perhaps a spring or summer visit might be better suited. I would highly recommend Krakow as 3/4 day break. A beautiful city with a varied and interesting history, friendly locals, delicious food and good vodka!

Slinging Around Singapore

29 August 2019

Singapore is a real melting pot of culture, history, innovation, business and tourism. Many people will visit as a stopover on their way to/from another far flung destination, as we did, although it also makes a great holiday destination in its own right, as a city break or mixing a couple of days touring the city with a few days at one the nearby holiday destinations such as Sentosa or Batam Island. Singapore’s tropical climate makes for a year round destination, with average temperature mid to high 20’s. We visited in March and whilst we had a couple of showers, they were short and sharp and no bother. If you were planning to spend a bit of time on the beach, probably best to avoid November to January, typically the wettest months. The city is fairly compact and very easy to get around on foot or using the easily navigable Mass Rapid Transit (MRT). As we only took a couple of MRT journeys, we just paid as we went. However, if you are planning to use it a lot, a pre-paid card is a good idea. The MRT stations are all spotlessly clean, often involving mini-shopping malls and eateries and best of all, air-conditioned and a joy to escape the humid city for a few minutes! With only a couple of days in Singapore and keen to cover as much as we could, for our first day we booked a ‘Total Singapore Tour’ with Urban Adventures, involving a morning of cycling and afternoon of eating. After a briefing from our guide Rene, we were soon touring the streets of Singapore on two wheels, following his various hand gestures pointing out the sights. I appreciate cycling around a major city may not be everyone’s cup of tea, although we were 99% on quiet lanes, footpaths and pavements, with plenty of stops to learn about the area and have a rest! The city is also very flat and so even for novices, cycling is a great way to cover ground quickly. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour, learning about the history of Singapore from a simple fishing village to today's bustling metropolis, about Sir Stamford Raffles influence in the early 1800’s and how modern day Singaporeans comfortably live in such a built up area by making use of every outdoor space and compact living. We saw school children being taught in open parks under the shade of trees, high rise blocks with balconies bursting with colour and gardens on the roofs. Our cycling adventure gave us a great orientation of the city, visiting Kampong Glam, the historic district where the Malays and Arabs settled, Bussorah Street, also known as Little Istanbul, Marina Bay to view the flashy modern construction, the reclaimed land along Beach Road and various downtown Quays. After a quick break, allowing just enough time for us to dash back to our hotel for a refreshing swim, we met Rene again in Chinatown for the second part of our tour, the ‘Eating Adventure’. Following an informative tour of Chinatown, we set up camp in one of the hawker markets and chatted to our fellow tourers whilst our waiter (Rene!) bustled back and forth with various interesting and delicious delights, talking us through each dish and telling amusing tales of the various food vendors. To give our stomachs a rest and work up an appetite for round 2, we continued our tour to the Singapore City Gallery, where Rene supplied yet more interesting talk about Singapore, using a wonderful scaled model of the city as focal point. We finished the tour in a second hawker market, sampling further delicious cuisine including dim sum, poh piah, oyster omelette, roti prata, the ever popular staple of chicken rice and all washed down with a refreshing calamansi (lime juice). In addition to being great fun, gaining confidence to visit hawker centres ourselves and not having to eat for the rest of the day, Rene was full of top tips to make the most of our remaining time in the city, from where to buy discounted attraction tickets, through to the best place in Singapore for a drink with a view! The Marina Bay Sands/Gardens by the Bay area is not to be rushed. We particularly enjoyed the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, wandering the amazing display of gardens from around the globe, the seasonal magical display of Japanese blossom and admiring the largest indoor waterfall and tropical foliage as we weaved in and out on suspended walkways. Whilst interesting to visit The Supertree Grove during the day, I recommend visiting one of the nightly light shows, when visitors lay on the ground to gaze up at the fantastical Supertrees changing colour to music from local composers through to the Star Wars theme! This should also be incorporated with the Marina Bay Sands fountain light show. Both are twice nightly shows and scheduled to allow time for the dash through the Marina Bay Sands hotel to see both in one evening. Whichever show you decide to watch first, there is no doubt as to where to go for the next show – just follow the crowd! Whilst we had planned a drink at the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, Rene tipped us off to instead visit 1-Altitude, which at 282 metres is the highest alfresco bar in the world and offers amazing 360 degree views of the city, even looking down onto the observation deck of the Marina Bay Sands. By chance we were there on a Ladies Night and so whilst Johnnie had to pay to get in, I got in for free and we shared his entry ticket inclusive drinks! Although the glitzy dance floor and champagne bars might not be to everyone's taste, I highly recommend a visit as the city views are amazing. No visit to Singapore would be complete without popping to the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel for an iconic Singapore Sling! Having heard about the often long queues, we were delighted to arrive at 5.30pm and immediately seated at a prime spot at the bar. Feeling like we’d stepped back into the colonial 1920’s, we loved the charmed atmosphere and relaxed vibe, watching the barmen slinging the cocktails about, nibbling the monkey nuts and obliging in the encouraged practice of throwing the shells on the floor. There are hotels and accommodation in Singapore to suit all tastes and budgets. We stayed in a newly opened Holiday Inn at Clarke Quay, the main tourist area, and whilst no problem reaching the areas we wanted to visit on foot and using the MRT, most of our time was spent in the main Downtown area. I would also highly recommend opting for a hotel with a swimming pool, with many hotels, like ours, having a rooftop pool allowing for a wonderful cooling breeze after a hard day sightseeing.

Skiing Simplified: Choosing The Right Resort

19 June 2019

Choosing a skiing holiday can be daunting, especially if you are a beginner or trying to please a mixed ability group. However, having been skiing for many years and often being holiday organiser, I know there is a perfect resort for everyone! Whilst skiing doesn’t have to be expensive, transport, accommodation, lift passes, ski rental, boot hire, food and drinks (someone has to pay to get the provisions up the mountain!) can mount up. A few tips to help keep costs down include driving to a resort with your food for self-catering, packing a picnic lunch, taking advantage of après happy hours, booking ski/boot hire and lessons in advance and choosing a smaller or lower resort. We've had a couple of cost-effective trips to Les Houches, with lovely runs perfect for families, leisurely skiers and beginners, and just a short drive from Chamonix for more challenging skiing and nightlife. Skiing is an active holiday and when taking a family, I would recommend a smaller resort or at least ensuring you are close to the ski school and beginner slopes. It can be challenging enough for an adult clomping along the road in ski boots with all the gear, but adding tired children who don’t want to walk, let alone carry skis, staying close to the piste is a must. Furthermore, you can easily pop back for forgotten kit, lunch or a little R&R! Avoriaz is very family friendly, with great kids’ clubs and ski schools and being purpose built, is car free and thoughtfully laid out with no long treks. A smaller resort is generally good for beginners, often with quieter slopes and no need for masses of runs whilst you master the basics. If visiting a larger resort, it is best to opt for the cheaper immediate ski area pass to begin with, which can be extended to cover a wider area once you have built confidence and want to explore further afield. Arinsal and Soldeu in Andora are popular for mountain newbies, with excellent beginner and early intermediate slopes, plus good value. Alternatively, larger resorts such as Alp d’Huez and La Plagne offer gentle slopes to start on and longer runs to progress to. I think ski holidays are made for large groups and extended families. We normally go with around 10-15 friends of mixed ability, from beginners through to off piste Heli skiers. We often opt for larger resorts with a wide range of slopes, links to other ski areas and high for snow reliability. Val D’Isere is a favourite, with something for everyone and great nightlife, plus resorts such as Ischgl and Val Thorens. For our next trip we are considering the all-round American resorts of Breckenridge or Park City. I love the après ski! There is nothing more fun than arriving to a bar after a long day on the slopes, hearing the music and merriment as you approach, enjoying a well-earned beer and attempting to dance in ski boots! World renowned après bars include the MooserWirt in St Anton, La Folie Douce in Val d’Isere and Rond Point in Méribel. Some resorts even offer full blown concerts, such as Ischgl who has hosted acts from Elton John to The Pussycat Dolls and Bob Dylan to the Scissor Sisters. Accommodation type is important. For families an apartment is a good choice, with your own space and the ability to have some form of normality around meals and bedtime. For couples or smaller groups, a hotel is nice to give everyone their own space, but with the option to meet in the bar and restaurant. Alternatively, a shared chalet is a more relaxed way to meet new people. For larger groups I would recommend sole use of a chalet, so you can spread out and enjoy relaxing together without worrying about disturbing people not in your group. Regarding catering, self-catering is great for families when restaurant food might be wasted on fussy eaters or to give more control overeating times. Hotels are good if you like to spread dinner over a long evening, often including 4 plus courses. For larger groups, my favourite is a catered chalet, where the host will often tailor meals to suit, for example serving later if you want to partake in a few après drinks and earlier if you want to go out after dinner, plus they will have an evening off when you can try one of the resort restaurants or have a late long lunch up the mountain! Many people who have never been skiing view all skiing holidays as luxury, although the resorts do vary. Top end luxury destinations such as Zermatt are more expensive but if budget allows, offer the most amazing hotels and chalets, plus great for people watching, celeb spotting and designer shops, even if only window shopping! Other such resorts include Verbier and Klosters favoured by Royals, Courchevel for the likes of the Beckhams and Ramseys, Zermatt is loved by Phil Collins and Robbie Williams and Colorado's Vail and Aspen are popular with the Kardashians and Trumps! Having mentioned resort functionality, many of the purpose-built towns are not the prettiest. If chocolate box village charm is what you are after, you might like to consider Mürren, Courmayeur or Zermatt. Alternatively, a pretty alpine village linked to a larger resort to get the best of both worlds, such as Les Breviers and Tignes, Peisey and Les Arcs and Belle Plagne and La Plagne. The mountains are not just for those wishing to strap skis to their feet, with many resorts offering a variety of activities for non-skiers such as walking, ice skating, curling, fine food, spas, music, the après parties and of course, enjoying the stunning mountain scenery! The pretty town of Kitzbühel has plenty of activity off the slopes, as does St Moritz with unique horseracing, cricket and polo on a frozen lake and Courchevel offering a superb indoor pool and activity centre. Most of the resorts I have mentioned are European, although a long-haul destination can be fun for something different or a special occasion. Plus, many resorts can be easily paired to multi-centre holiday, for example we had 8 days skiing in Whistler, followed by a couple of days in Vancouver. Other options include combining Banff and Calgary, Lake Tahoe and San Francisco and somewhere becoming increasingly trendy for skiing, Japan, visiting Hakuba and Tokyo. You can even ski in New Zealand and Australia! Whether a beginner or seasoned skier, couple or large party and no matter your budget, there is a resort for everyone and its great fun exploring new places as your needs change. Whatever your requirements, let me help you find the perfect mountain holiday.

New Zealand - Notable North Island

30 May 2019

New Zealand had always been high on my list of places to visit ever since I understood ‘Coromandel’ was not only the name of the house I grew up in, but a beautiful peninsular in some far-flung land. So finally deciding 'to take February out to do New Zealand’, boy we were not disappointed! Quite simply one of the most naturally dramatic countries I have experienced, New Zealand not only boasts stunning mountain vistas, spectacular valleys, awesome fiords and beautiful beaches, but is incredibly remote. A similar size to the UK but with a population of only 4.5 million (the UK is 65.5 million!), you often feel you are the only people for miles around and the first to have discovered a particular beach or snow-capped mountain view. One of the biggest decisions when planning a road trip, especially in New Zealand, is whether to hire a car and use hotels or opt for a campervan. We decided on an SUV and were delighted when passing oversized motorhomes chugging up steep mountain passes or occupants lugging shopping to remote areas of town, as unable to find sufficient space to park closer. However, we did envy those with their homes on their backs as we pulled into the most stunning camping locations, unpacked our bags for the umpteenth time, were worried we might not find a bed for the night unless we booked ahead and when we had to pack up one car in Wellington, negotiate luggage onto the ferry and pick up a new car in Picton (car hire companies generally do not allow cars to be taken between North and South Island, whilst campervans are permitted) – the latter being a minor thing but in the pouring rain early one Sunday morning in a packed ferry terminal, it seemed quite big! In hindsight we decided a mixture of the two would have been good, having seen people carrier sized vehicles, converted with a bed, storage and kitchenette, giving the freedom to enjoy the stunning camping opportunities, but also small enough to park with ease and not feel guilty for having double accommodation on nights enjoying the luxuries of a hotel! We arrived internationally to Auckland and having spent a few days prior visiting family in Sydney, were fresh to immediately hit the sights. Whilst you could spend longer, Auckland is not a particularly big city and we felt happy covering our interests in a couple of days, beginning with the Sky Tower for fabulous views and city orientation, exploring the Viaduct Harbour and visiting the Maritime Museum. The following day we took the short ferry ride to Waihiki Island. A highly recommended trip to enjoy the Hauraki Gulf, the fabulous relaxed island vibe and many wonderful vineyards. With ‘only’ 3.5 weeks in New Zealand, we had to compromise on where we visited and decided against the famed Bay of Islands, 90 mile beach and northern tip of Cape Reinga, mainly because we wanted to visit the Coromandel Peninsular (most people tend to do Bay of Islands or Coromandel) and we felt we would be wasting a valuable day retracing our steps back to Auckland. The Coromandel Peninsular is visited by many New Zealanders as a popular holiday retreat, offering beautiful views, quirky towns, fantastic walking and the most amazing beaches. We particularly enjoyed the pleasant town of Whitianga and Cathedral Cove, the latter only accessible by a rather steep 30-45 minute walk each way, followed by well-deserved refreshment at The Pour House in Hahei. We briefly swung by Hot Water Beach, although seeing the swarms of people digging holes to sit in the hot water, we quickly moved on to the much less busy Cooks Beach. Throughout our trip Johnnie was reading ‘Captain James Cook’ by Rob Mundle, so many of the places we visited were notable locations of Captain Cook’s exploration of New Zealand! Whilst still beautiful and in some areas remote, the North Island is noticeably more built up than the South Island, with around 75% of the population living there. The honeypot towns such as Rotorua I guess should be visited to be seen, although we felt slightly claustrophobic with the number of people pouring off busses, brown tourist signs and smell of sulphur. We did however embrace some tourist spots, taking in a busy but informative Maori evening with Hangi supper, plus the world's youngest geothermal system, Waimangu Valley. The latter was highly enjoyable, walking through the valley of steaming rocks and bubbling blue lakes, which I imagined similar to walking onto the set of Jurassic Park and was disappointed not to see a t-rex or diplodocus! We were lucky to have been invited to stay on a friend’s deer and cattle station. Although the farm we visited is not open to the public, there are many opportunities in New Zealand to stay on farms, which is a wonderful way to experience agricultural on an immense scale, plus explore the conservation programmes often run. For example, the 100 square mile station we visited is committed to helping save the endangered Kiwi bird, Whio duck and various native bush species. Again making compromises and slightly dictated by location of our friends farm, we stuck to the eastern side of the North Island, from Lake Taupo, admiring art deco Napier, neighbouring Cape Kidnapers golf course (an amazing setting spreading across cliff top fingers) and the Esk Valley vineyard, before eventually arriving to Windy Wellington (yes, it did live up to its name!). Due to road hold ups on our way to Wellington, we sadly did not get the chance to visit New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa. We did however enjoy taking the cable car to the top of the Botanic Gardens for great views over the harbour and a pleasurable walk winding down through the wonderfully tended gardens. Wellington has a great vibe, with a big craft beer scene, a bustling harbour front with whilst we were there, a beer swilling oompah band playing at one end, through to trendy urban reggae at the other, plus we were fortunate to encounter a scrummy street food market to celebrate Chinese New Year. Whilst having thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the North Island, we would like to have included a visit east to Mt Taranaki, to walk the Tongariro Crossing, taken drives such as The Gentle Annie and Forgotten Highway and further explored the wine areas of Hawkes Bay and Martinborough. However, time was ticking and we had the South Island in our sights, so on a drizzly Sunday morning we were aboard the Interislander, crossing the blustery Cook Straight to the South Island…

New Zealand - Stunning South Island

30 May 2019

Having spent the previous 10 days basking in glorious North Island sunshine and anticipating the great beauty of Marlborough Sound, we were disappointed to arrive aboard the Interislander from Wellington in pouring rain, barely able to see one end of the ship from the other, never mind the dramatic Sound. However, the rain and our moods soon lifted as we approached one of the highlights of our trip, Abel Tasman National Park. With no road access aside from the extreme ends of the park, water taxis are the way to get around, hopping on and off at the numerous stunning beaches. We did a self-guided walk one day and guided kayaking the next, covering most of the park. The kayaking especially was amazing, discovering hidden inlets, navigating rocky channels, seeing frolicking seals, feeding penguins, curious birdlife and stunning native bush. We wish we had spent more time in Abel Tasman! For any wine lover, a trip to the Marlborough wine region is a must. We had a delicious lunch at the trendy Rock Ferry vineyard, obviously with wonderful wines to match. We also visited the Nautilus Estate to sample their award-winning sparkling wine. With several vineyards offering accommodation and bike hire easily available, Marlborough is a lovey place to spend a couple of days. The east coast Highway 1 has ongoing roadworks to fix earthquake damage, which can make for slow progress. However, whenever we hit works, we simply sat back for a few minutes to enjoy the stunning ocean views, playful sea lions and dolphins, plus the cheeriest road maintenance gangs ever! The towns along the east coast have individual distinctions, with the quirkiest being Oamaru, offering a delightful evening penguin homing parade, Victorian quarter and their biggest claim to fame, being ‘The Steampunk Capital of the World’! Our visit coincided with arrival of the ‘Alps 2 Ocean Ultra Run’, a 322km 7 day run from Mt Cook to Oamaru. Having driven the distance the day before, we respected the runners’ arrival as we sampled the local brew and delicious pizza in Scott’s Brewery. Being an outdoorsy country, New Zealand is full of sporting events and it is great to see whole towns turn out to support such challenges. Kaikoura is a popular tourist stop for crayfish and whale watching. Sadly, the first we ‘missed’, deciding to have a pre-dinner drink and discovering restaurants stopped serving at 8pm (something we would further find the deeper south we ventured!) and the second being cancelled due to swell. On advice there is not a great deal to see in Christchurch, we only stopped for one night but were pleasantly surprised! Much of the city is still in rebuild after earthquake devastation, with many buildings propped up awaiting repair, including the cathedral. Nevertheless, it is a likeable city with lovely parks, pretty river, trendy bars and eateries. Not far from Christchurch and highly recommended is Banks Peninsular. The Summit Road offers stunning views over the remote volcanic peninsular, before eventually dropping down to Akaroa. With an interesting history, the French influenced Akaroa is a delightful little harbour town and as we had been tipped off, it is worth timing a visit when there is no cruise ship in port! The university city of Dunedin has a distinct Scottish feel, is home to one of New Zealand’s favourite tipples, Speights Brewery, and the world’s steepest residential street. Nearby, situated at the end of the Otago Peninsular, is the only land-based albatross colony in the world and a lovely drive if fine weather. To the south is St Clare, with a beach to die for, a big surf community and fun heated seawater pool - it is a fabulous place to watch the world go by. Visiting the majestic Mount Cook is quite a drive, although passing the shimmering blue Lake Tekapo and taking the iconic Highway 80 along Lake Pukaki, it is worth the effort. A night at Mount Cook Village is recommended to enjoy the Sir Edmund Hilary Museum, walk the local trails and discover uninterrupted stars. Visiting Fiordland be prepared for rain (apparently 70% of the time!) Our coach/boat trip to Milford Sound was a rather damp affair but fully waterproofed up, we had a wonderful time cruising the sound, admiring the many thunderous waterfalls and wonderful wildlife. We had been warned Queenstown, the adrenaline capital of the world, had become too big and should be bypassed in favour of Wanaka, how Queenstown used to be. However, we had a great couple of days soaking up the fun vibe, watching people hurl themselves off bridges and out of planes. Our highlights included taking Bob’s Peak cable car for a spectacular sunset, a self-guided cycle tour of the Gibbston Valley vineyards, the thrilling Shotover Jet and a fabulous Fergburger! The west coast of New Zealand offers some lovely beaches and interesting towns, but also the dreaded sand-fly and covering up at all times is essential! Franz Josef makes a convenient overnight stop, with a pleasant walk along the valley to the glacier base, past the sad but interesting markers highlighting the astonishingly fast glacier retreat. Highway 6 between Queenstown and Franz Josef is worth spending a whole day driving, with ever changing magnificent views over mountains, rainforests, waterfalls, lakes and streams, plus some wonderful places to stop such as ‘The Devils Staircase’, ‘Roaring Billy’ and ‘Thunder Falls’. Our last adventure was to take the TransAlpine from Greymouth to Christchurch. Often described as one of the world’s greatest train journeys, the route winds its way through the Southern Alps, offering delightful views and a fabulous relaxing ride, with great optional commentary. Compared to the North Island, the South Island has more dramatic scenery. With snow-capped mountains playing backdrop to most magnificent beaches, fields awash with sheep, thunderous waterfalls and never-ending native bush, we would often turn a corner and physically gasp at yet another stunning scene. New Zealand is definitely a place for traveling around and whilst I would recommend a loose plan, be prepared to be flexible - we never set out to see Te Puke, the kiwi growing capital of New Zealand, The Pour House, home to The Coromandel Brewing Company and Pukeko Junction Café for the best brunch! For every place we visited, we added another two we would like to have visited and so for us, there is only one option... to go back!

Bobbing Around The BVI

03 February 2019

Having worked in yacht charter for many years I have had the opportunity to sail in many beautiful places around the world, with one of my favourites being the British Virgin Islands. With no direct flights from the UK it is not the easiest of destinations to reach, but the flight to Antigua and quick hop up the Caribbean island chain to Beef Island Airport is soon forgotten when slipping into the crystal-clear water for the first time or sipping your first rum sundowner! With over 60 beautiful islands, the BVI is perfect for exploring afloat, whether as an experienced sailor on a bareboat charter, a novice aboard a crewed yacht or by basing yourself ashore and taking day trips to the various islands and bays. One of the great advantages of a sailing holiday is the ability to mix anchoring in deserted bays with not a soul in sight, through to picking up a mooring in a busy harbour and enjoying all the bars, shops and restaurants ashore. Known for its abundance of beautiful beaches, super snorkelling and bouncing beach bars, it is hard to name just a few favourites… Jost Van Dyke is home to many fabulous beaches and bars. White Bay is a quintessential picture postcard white sandy beach and home to the infamous ‘Soggy Dollar Bar’ – called so due to sailors swimming ashore and having soggy dollars in their pockets! Relaxing in a hammock or lazing in the shade of a palm whilst sipping a Painkiller is a must, although beware of too many Painkillers or you’ll certainly be in need of the other type of painkiller in the morning! A new highlight we discovered on our last visit is the Bubbly Pool, a natural pool surrounded by large rocks, where waves tumble through a hole in the rock, bubbling up the water like a big human washing machine! No visit to JVD is complete without a night ashore at the legendary Foxy’s - a great place to meet other yachties, enjoy a superb BBQ and dance the night away on the sandy dancefloor to a local band and sometimes even Foxy himself! The sheltered lagoon of Gorda Sound always makes a good mid holiday stop. Bitter End is perfect for stocking up on provisions, water, fuel and taking advantage of the entertainment facilities. I always love a visit to Saba Rock, located on an island and only accessible by dinghy. With a friendly and relaxed vibe, it’s a great place to while away the day or night and kids love the daily Tarpon feeding off the dock. I was very lucky on one of my trips to visit Richard Branson’s Necker Island. The private island is like nowhere else on earth, with the beautiful Balinese style Great House, accommodation cottages doted about the island and idyllic dining areas nestled amongst the beautifully tended gardens – you truly feel that if there is a heaven, this is it! I recommended venturing to ‘the drowned island’ of Anegada. Located 11 miles north of Virgin Gorga, its highest point is only 28 feet and so the first thing you spot on approach are the palm trees, seemingly bobbing in the middle of the sea! Scattered with bars and restaurants of varying wallets, it is worth spending a couple of days exploring this quirky island, enjoying the pristine beaches, snorkelling over one of the many wrecks and eating fantastic lobster. The Baths, back on Virgin Gorda, is always a fun excursion, following the crudely signed track through the large granite boulders, scrambling over rocks and through natural pools to Devils Bay. I recommend making the effort to do this at the very beginning or end of the day to avoid the cruise ship hoards! Dotted all around the BVI are numerous beautiful deserted cays, such as Sandy Cay and Green Cay. Unless you know conditions will be benign overnight, they are normally only recommended as a daytime stop, but fabulous to be anchored off your own desert island. With superb snorkelling sights in abundance, my favourites are The Indians, The Rhone and Monkey Point. Making a perfect lunchtime stop, it is worth getting to The Indians early to secure one of the limited mooring buoys to explore this interesting archipelago and some of the best snorkelling. The 150-year-old shipwreck ‘The Rhone’ is fun not only for the marine life, but for floating on the surface watching the scuba divers beneath explore the hidden remains of the ill-fated ship! Monkey Point is a little tucked away, although being one of the less discovered and thus less busy snorkel areas, it’s fabulous and like swimming through an aquarium! There is so much amazing sea life in the BVI, it is common to regularly have dolphins playing in your bow wake, see turtles pop their heads up whilst anchored and have the chance to swim through beautifully coloured shoals of fish, see tuna, octopus, rays, lobsters, moray eels (not my favourite!) and shy nurse sharks. There are many great bars and resorts dotted around the BVI who welcome sailors. The eco-resort Cooper Island is fabulous and worth a visit, either as a stop afloat or a night or two ashore pre/post charter. At the other end of the scale, no visit to the BVI is complete without an evening aboard the infamous ‘Willy T’s’ at Norman Island. Only accessible by dinghy, as the sun goes down the action really gets going and not for the faint hearted! Awash with rum, pumping music and dancing flip flops, this is THE place to be, although will you be brave enough to jump off the top deck into the murky waters below? The BVI is the perfect destination for sailing. Known for its relatively predicable wind, short distances between islands, numerous onshore bars and restaurants and overall stunning beauty, it is perfect for all levels of sailor and very popular with families. Kids and adults alike love the rich piracy and smuggling history, such as Dead Chest off Peter Island, home to Robert Louis Stephenson’s ‘’Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s chest. Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!’’ If self-provisioning it is worth stocking up as much as you can at the charter base or making a trip to one of the larger supermarkets in Road Town, as food can be expensive on the outer islands due to everything being delivered by boat. Water and fuel are also only generally available at the main marinas on Tortola and Virgin Gorda, so advisable to refill as and when you can to avoid having to make any unnecessary diversions. ‘’Most travellers come to hoist a jib and dawdle among the 50-plus isles. With steady trade winds, calm currents, protected bays and pirate-ship bars, this is one of the world's sailing hot spots’’ – Lonely Planet

Canals, Culture and Cicchetti in Venice

18 January 2019

Arriving into Venice for the first time is spectacular enough, although speeding through the lagoon in a private boat towards the emerging floating city and entering the backstreet canals with locals going about their daily lives on floating trucks is like nothing else. Couriers, supermarket deliveries, laundry, rubbish - you name it, the Venetians have a boat for it! As the canals grew narrower, with barely room for one boat, never mind two passing, our driver swiftly manoeuvred us under low bridges and washing lines, gently bouncing off surrounding buildings and gliding around tight corners, all the while chatting with passing locals afloat and ashore until we arrived at our accommodation. We felt like we had just entered a James Bond film set! Visiting Venice with friends, we rented a centrally located apartment close to the Rialto Bridge. Our initial orientation to the city, highly recommended, was to take a Vaporetto (floating bus) the full length of the Grand Canal, alighting at St Mark’s Square. By day the square is full of hustle, bustle and selfie sticks as tourists soak up the glorious east meets west architecture. In the evening however it is a completely different atmosphere, with orchestras playing and locals parading. Despite having been warned about high prices, we stopped at one of the cafés to enjoy the wonderful ambience and fabulous people watching. At over €20 for one glass of wine it was not cheap, but a magical and memorable evening drink. Before visiting Venice, it is worth learning a little about its history. From the first refugees building on the marshy lagoon to escape mainland invasion, Venice grew into a city state and slowly gained power and wealth to become, for a time, Europe’s richest city. Today prosperity can be seen all over the city and particularly in the two most popular sights, the Doge’s Palace and St Marks Basilica. To impress international visitors, the Doges (rulers of Venice) undertook lavish interior design and extensions of the Palace, resulting in a magnificent building. Wandering the excellently preserved halls and staircases is like stepping back in time, ending in the vastly contrasting grim prison via the famous Bridge of Sighs. Next door and dominating St Mark’s Square with its high domes is St Mark’s Basilica. Due to long queues we only popped our heads inside, but worthwhile to see the dazzling gold mosaics and extravagant adornments. I am not much of a shopper, but wandering the streets of Venice, especially along Mercerie and across the Rialto Bridge to Ruga Vecchia, it is hard not to peruse the shop windows stuffed with beautiful Murano glass and lavishly adorned masks. Whilst on the west side of the Rialto Bridge, it is also worth walking through the fish market and surrounding less touristy streets of Venice, where some lovely little shops, bars and eateries can be discovered. One of the true thrills of Venice is getting lost! With over 100 islands and over 400 bridges to explore, we spent much of our time just wandering the streets, admiring the architecture, canal life and discovering tiny squares with magnificent fountains and churches. Every corner you turn, there is another wonderful delight! Understandably, seafood, pizza and pasta feature highly on most restaurant menus, but unfortunately restaurants tend to be touristy and nothing to write home about. Visiting Venice not long after Rick Stein’s ‘Venice to Istanbul’ we wanted to try two places, All’Arco and Antiche Carampane. Cicchetti is the Italian version of tapas, small pieces of bread topped with delicious meats and seafood, plus little bowls of pickled vegetables and olives, and normally enjoyed with a glass of wine. All’Arco is tiny and so as soon as our Cicchetti and wine had been purchased, we joined the chatting locals outside. Having enjoyed our first Cicchetti experience so much, the following evening we did a wine and cicchetti crawl along Strada Nuova. A great evening enjoying a glass of wine and plate of nibbles in various bars, whilst soaking up the evening scene and chatting to locals – possibly a highlight! We also discovered Cicchetti can be quite a budget dinner as for only €2-3 per dish it is possible to have a delightful and interesting supper for only €10-15 per person. For anyone who prefers a full plate of food, whilst not easy to find and pricy, Antiche Carampane is well worth the effort. Due to reputation and recommendation by the likes of Francesco da Mosto (the Venetian born architect of ‘Francesco's Venice’ – worth watching before any visit and happy to loan out my DVD!) and Rick Stein, this place must be booked in advance. Between our party we covered most of the mainly seafood-based menu and nothing disappointed. We were there for late lunch and all seemed leisurely, although I believe evenings can sometimes feel a little rushed, with two sittings operated. Venice can get hot, busy and famously smelly (we fortunately didn’t have any problems), so planning your visit is important. We visited mid-September, which was gloriously warm by day and slightly cooler in the evenings (jumper/light jacket required). However, and more importantly, it was not too busy! There were times along the narrowest streets and tiniest bridges that we felt a little squashed, although generally only middle of day and around the main tourist areas. Late afternoons and evenings were noticeably quieter, after the cruise ships and day trippers had left. It is also worth visiting popular sights first thing – we arrived at the Doge’s Palace just before its 0830 opening and seeing the queue by the time we left, were pleased we did! Despite packing our time in Venice, we didn’t manage to visit any neighbouring islands such as Murano for glass or the beach resort of Lido. I think a wonderful break would be a couple of days in Venice, followed by a couple of days in Lido for the best of a city/beach combo! I am a huge Rick Steves fan for European guidebooks - informative without being dreary, highlighting the main sights, plus some quirky extras and with a humorous twist. Rick’s ‘Pocket Venice’ gave us all we needed to know, with some brilliant narrative walking guides of the city and main attractions. Easy to visit as a short city break, combined with a lake or beach holiday (we visited following a few days at Lake Garda) or as part of a larger Italian itinerary, Venice is like nowhere else and somewhere everyone absolutely must see!