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.

I can offer any type of break; a battery recharging UK staycation, a cobble stomping European city break, a sunny beach hop and flop, a family ski chalet, a spectacular northern lights cruise, a heavenly honeymoon or a year out 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 would like to do, great, but if not, I hope you will be inspired by my travel accounts and tips.

I handle all enquiries 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 but I do not necessarily strive to beat online price, with my service 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 my business on word of mouth recommendation, only achievable due to my high level of service and commitment to every customer.

Having spent 25 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 - I have sailed across oceans and climbed mountains… but I also enjoy losing myself in a good book on the beach. I have travelled much of the World including Europe, America, Canada, South America, Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia and Asia.

I am a big advocate of Sustainable Travel, promoting only ethical properties and suppliers. I am a firm believer that a little with a little mindfulness, travel can benefit our planet, our ecosystems and support local communities, ultimately creating a more sustainable world for future generations. I encourage support of organisations such as Trees4Travel and Pack for a Purpose and have been involved in helping clients travel worldwide for voluntary projects.

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

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My Blog

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

Epic Euribia

15 February 2024

Recently I was lucky to be invited aboard MSC’s newest ship into their fleet, Euribia. One of their larger ships and probably the biggest cruise ship I have had the pleasure to explore (currently the 12th largest cruise ship in the world), the well designed areas and entertainment comfortably accommodates all types of guest from babies through the tweens and teens, multi-generations, groups, solos and couples. Embarking into the magnificent central Galeria, guests are immediately wowed by the glittering crystal staircases and spectacular LED Dome running the length of the indoor promenade, home to some fabulous shopping and an array of tasty restaurants – the perfect destination for socializing and entertainment. With five swimming pools, including one of the most intricate waterparks and longest pool at sea, there is plenty of space for guests to relax on deck, in and out of the water. The Balinese styled Aurea Spa is a fabulous haven for relaxation, offering a wide range of massages and beauty treatments, thermal area, hair salon, nail bar and barber shop. Euribia probably has some of the best facilities I have seen for younger cruisers, with seven rooms dedicated to children and teens of all ages, including an indoor sports hall, games areas, more than 100 hours of live family entertainment per cruise and the first MSC Foundation Youth Centre. The ship also offers fabulous family cabins, specific dining and excursions. For those preferring a more luxurious cruising experience, Euribia has a lovely private members area, the MSC Yacht Club, with a dedicated restaurant and lounges, large private pool area with solarium and whirlpool baths, 24-hour butler service, dedicated massage rooms and full access to the thermal suite in the MSC Aurea Spa. Dining includes a fabulous range of 10 unique venues from buffet to 5* waiter service, salads and sandwiches to sushi and teppanyaki. Being an Italian owned cruise line, the homemade seafood pasta was simply divine! 21 bars dotted about the ship ensuring guests are never thirsty, including a sports bar showing the big games, traditional pub, sunset bar, champagne bar, big band lounge and plenty more. There is also great entertainment onboard, such as comedy and stage shows, acrobatics and cabaret. Euribia is named after the ancient goddess Eurybia who harnessed the winds, weather and constellations to master the seas. Following in her footsteps, Euribia uses state-of-the-art sustainable technology to protect and preserve the precious marine ecosystem, with advanced onboard wastewater treatment system, strict recycling procedures and a wide range of energy-saving equipment to maximise efficiency, such as smart heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Even Euribia’s hull symbolizes MSC’s commitment to the sea, with a unique and iconic design and the hashtag #SaveTheSea. A fabulous ship offering a huge range of onboard facilities to suit all cruisers and some wonderful itineraries to match.

Exploring Explora Journeys

13 August 2023

It is always exciting when a new product appears in the world of travel and last week I was lucky to be one of the first invited onboard the brand new ship, Explora 1. Straight from the factory in Italy, not only is she a new vessel, but also the first (and currently only!) ship for new brand, Explora Journeys. Set to transform luxury cruising and with an ethos ‘’Discover the ocean state of mind’’, Explora Journeys aims to inspire guests to travel further, immerse deeper and linger a little longer. Explora 1 has no home port or repeat of itinerary, simply spending her days travelling the world with the seasons, with some unique itineraries. Explora 1 oozes luxury, yet is very understated. The elegant lobby lounge with beautiful Steinway piano is complimented by boutique shops including Cartier, Panerai and the first Rolex boutique at sea. Guests can choose from a range of eateries, from the relaxed Emporium Marketplace, Anthology with the world’s most celebrated Michelin-starred guest chefs (chefs who cook, not sign cook books, as we were told!), European steakhouse Marble & Co, Med Yacht Club, French Fil Rouge and one of my favourites, Sakura offering authentic Pan-Asian cuisine in a beautiful setting of cherry blossom and gold Japanese inspired walls. There is also a fabulous Chef’s Kitchen with immersive experiences and private dining. The food served onboard is all based around healthy and delicious produce from local, sustainable sources. My tuna tataki and slow roasted lamb were both to die for, followed by a fabulous selection of French cheese. With over ten indoor and outdoor bars, there’s no end of places to relax. Explora 1 offers exclusive wine, whiskey and spirit tastings, food and drink pairings, alcohol-free beverages, cocktail making masterclasses, ‘Meet the Winemaker’ events and wine-themed destination experiences ashore. The entertainment is very music based, with cabaret acts, DJ sets, live jazz and a very cool 1970’s inspired nightclub. There are also various quirky ideas, such as storytelling about ancient seafaring traditions under the stars, sunrise meditation, photography masterclasses, destination themed book cruises and crafts courses lead by local experts. The 461 ocean fronted suites, penthouses and residences offer a refined European elegance and comfort. All have private sun terraces and the larger accommodation options, extended lounging and dining areas, outdoor whirlpools, plunge pools and butler service. With a very much reduced guest capacity for a ship of her size and a staff to guest ratio of 1:1.25, it is never a problem to find a quiet corner to relax and a smiling waiter to bring more champagne! The calming onboard spa offers a myriad of treatments, hydro-pool, steam room, sauna and salt cave. For more energetic guests, Explora 1 has a fully equipped fitness centre with state of the art Technogym equipment, a range of studio classes, 360 degree running track with uninterrupted ocean views, ball sports court, outdoor yoga experiences and even an outdoor fitness deck with cycling and rowing apparatus. On deck there are plenty of sun loungers and comfortable seating areas, and not just one busy central pool, but three outdoor pools, one indoor pool with retractable glass roof and numerous indoor and outdoor whirlpools. By day the indoor atrium pool with floor to ceiling windows is perfect for relaxing, particularly in chillier climes, and at night it is transformed into a wonderful cinema under the stars. The designers of Explora 1 really have thought of everything! Explora Journeys respect for the planet is core to their operation. Explora 1 and her future sisterships are not only built with todays sustainability in mind, but also that of tomorrow, utilising the very latest in environmentally supportive technology, ready to be adapted to alternative energy solutions as they become available. There is no single-use plastic, produce is locally sourced as the ship moves around and shore excursions are designed to leave a positive footprint. Explora Journeys also works with brand ambassadors, such as adventurer and environmentalist Mike Horn, who will be onboard for Explora 1’s inaugural Iceland and Greenland Journey next month. Drawing on his vast expertise and experience visiting the most remote regions on the planet, Mike is working alongside Explore Journeys to create unforgettable and sustainable experiences for guests. Do I think Explora Journeys have transformed luxury travel? They are certainly giving it a go! Whilst there are marble staircases and crystal chandeliers, they are very contemporary. There are a number of quirky twists, such as a very funky bookcase art piece to break up the otherwise muted tones, walls of wine displayed along corridors and some interesting ports of call – why visit the main town of Basse Terre in Guadeloupe, when you can anchor off the fabulous, off the beaten track Deshais (home to the popular BBC series Death in Paradise, although not that you would know, as the French really don’t care about British tv and most Brits have no idea where Deshais is!). Whilst great for all ages (yes, there is even a kids club!) I would say Explora Journeys is ideal for 40/50/60’s, looking for an exquisite service level and getting off the beaten track. Taking a cruise with Explora Journeys, I promise you would not be disappointed.

Sustainable Travel Tips

11 June 2023

Sustainability has long been a passion of mine and I am thrilled to have been chosen to take part in the 2023 Travel Trade Gazette Sustainable Travel Ambassador programme, following my commitment to promoting and practicing sustainable and responsible travel. The Travel Trade Gazette (TTG) is THE travel industry publication and along with their six Sustainable Travel Heroes – Avis, G Touring, Greek National Tourism Organisation, Hurtigruten, Iberostar and Intrepid – I am currently undertaking a series of training sessions to learn more about how to help both you and I not only reduce our impact whilst travelling, but also how to have a positive impact on the destinations we visit. With a little mindfulness, I believe travel can benefit our planet, our ecosystems and support local communities, ultimately creating a more sustainable world for future generations. To kick things off, here’s a few of my tips to help become a responsible traveller: 1. FLY LESS - Appreciate not always achievable for long distances, but for short haul, why not consider train, driving or ferry to reduce carbon emissions? For example, did you know that taking the train to Paris instead of flying can reduce emissions by up to 90%. Travelling through a country, rather than flying over it, you also get to see so much more and can make the journey part of the experience, rather than simply travelling from A to B. 2. CARBON OFFSET - To help compensate for emissions you are not able to completely eliminate, invest in projects designed to remove emissions from the atmosphere and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Working with our partner, Trees4Travel, I can help calculate and offset the emissions of a trip, not only by planting trees to absorb carbon dioxide, but contributing towards United Nations certified emission reduction projects, effectively doubling up the compensation. The projects supported are linked with UN Sustainable Development Goals to ensure local communities receive social and economic benefits. 3. TAKE LESS HOLIDAYS BUT STAY FOR LONGER - Do you really need that mini-break to Venice this year and a long weekend in Rome next year, equating to two return flights to Italy? Rather than taking two short breaks, consider combining Venice and Rome into one longer trip, only taking one return flight and enjoying an added beautiful train ride or scenic drive through the Italian countryside. 4. CHOOSE YOUR NEXT DESTINATION WISELY - Many cities and countries around the world are finding unique ways to welcome visitors in a more sustainable way. The Azores are an outdoor lovers paradise and in 2019 became the first island archipelago certified under the EarthCheck Sustainable Destination programme in recognition of their commitment to protecting resources. The city of Vancouver is a big leader in urban green initiatives, including an extensive network of trams, electric buses and cycle lanes to reduce travel emissions, a farm to fork campaign to reduce food miles, to become a zero waste community by 2040 and use 100% renewable energy by 2050. 5. CHOOSE SUSTAINABLE ACCOMODATION AND PROVIDERS - Whether a self-catered property using renewable energy and buying food and supplies directly from local providers, through to an all-inclusive hotel with zero-single use plastic policy and involvement in local conservation projects, there are some wonderful sustainable properties to choose from. At Travel Counsellors we operate a Green Leaf Logo system, meaning properties have been certified by an organisation using criteria created by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, working to maximise social and economic benefits in the local community, enhancing cultural heritage, reducing negative impacts on the environment and effectively planning for the future with sustainability in mind. 6. SUPPORT LOCAL COMMUNITIES - The World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that 10% of global jobs are reliant on travel and tourism, with some destinations up to 30%. By travelling more responsibly, you can help unique cultural customs remain intact and prevent the negative impacts of over tourism. By shopping and eating at locally owned businesses you can get a truer taste of your destination, enjoy a more authentic experience and know you are supporting the local economy, helping to create jobs and removing dependence on fundraising or aid. 7. NO SINGLE USE PLASTIC - Despite years of the damages caused by single use plastic, in some developing countries in particular, there are still tons of plastic bags, cups, bottles, cutlery and alike being offered to tourists. Simply take your own sustainable shopping bag, water bottle to refill, cutlery to reuse and reusable coffee cup. If you are worried about drinking the local water, there are many wonderful filtration bottles on the market nowadays, filtering out up 99.99% of nasties, meaning you can literally fill your bottle anywhere. 8. ETHICAL WILDLIFE - No animal should be captured from the wild for the purposes of entertainment, subjected to exploitation, neglect and cruelty. Only view and support wildlife in their natural habitat or at ethical rehabilitation and rehoming projects. I will only promote operators and suppliers I know operate safe and fair practice towards animals. 9. VOLUNTEER IN LOCAL COMMUNITY PROJECTS - There are so many valuable charities and projects worldwide looking for assistance from simply taking a few pencils and paper to help underprivileged children, through to assisting build shelters or teaching locals useful skills. Just a couple of hours out of your holiday can make the world of difference to those less fortunate. Pack for Purpose is a great organisation, working to positively impact communities around the world by assisting travellers who want to take meaningful contributions to the destinations they visit. 10. TRAVEL PAPERLESS - Rather than printing off endless documents, using our nifty myTC app gives access to all your important holiday paperwork in seconds and not just the documents I send – for example, if you have sorted your own visa or would like your travel insurance document to hand, no problem… just send me the documents and I will upload so you know everything is in one place. I am also all ears… let me know your sustainable travel tips and ways in which you believe travel can benefit the world for good?

Caribbean Cruising '23: Antigua

09 June 2023

What a joy to be back in Antigua! You may recall 12 months ago we packed away ‘Ghost’ in Jolly Harbour, having sailed from the Canaries to Barbados and up through the Caribbean chain, stopping at many lovely islands along way… Grenada, the Grenadines, St Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe, Barbuda and Antigua. Roll on a year and we are back in Antigua reassembling Ghost - hurrah! Whilst our eventual route may change with the weather and our mood, we are aiming to sail further north, island hopping through St Kitts & Nevis, St Barts, St Martin, Anguilla, the BVI, Puerto Rico, Turks & Caicos and ultimately back across the Atlantic via Bermuda and the Azores… well, that’s the rough plan anyway! I have always had a fondness for Antigua, having spent a fair bit of time here over the years. Taking a break from working on the boat, we have allowed ourselves a bit of time off, popping to some favourite beaches, Ffryes, Darkwood and Pigeon, plus poking our noses into the popular hotels of Carlisle Bay and Curtain Bluff. We have enjoyed catching up with friends and revisiting some old haunts in Falmouth and English Harbour, plus finding some new delights, such as Karnagio, a Greek restaurant in the most idyllic spot, with stunning views out towards Monserrat. I plan to post tales of our adventures as we go along, so stay tuned... This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘Monserrat & The Kingdom of Redonda’.

Caribbean Cruising ‘23: Monserrat & The Kingdom of Redonda

09 June 2023

Our first proper Caribbean sail of 2023. Leaving Antigua behind and knowing our next few islands are close together, we decided Ghost needed a good run, so at first dawn departed Five Islands Harbour and headed for the southern end of Monserrat. Unfortunately the weather would not allow us to stop in Monserrat, having been warned the anchorage can be pretty uncomfortable with big swells. However, keen to see the active volcano and abandoned city of Plymouth, we took the detour to sail around Monserrat on our way to Nevis. Monserrat was first settled by the Irish in the 1600’s. By the mid-1990’s, the island was thriving with farming, fishing and tourism until the Soufriere Hills volcano started a string of eruptions, leading to evacuation, exclusion zones and sadly destruction of the main town, Plymouth. By early 2000’s the government deemed it safe to start reopening some areas… but the volcano unfortunately had other ideas and the exclusion zone was again extended, which today covers over half the island. Sailing past it is like two different islands. The southern half soars out of the sea, wild with past lava flows, lush untamed vegetation and a stream of smoke puffing out to one side. We decided a terradactyl swooping overhead wouldn’t look out of place! As we rounded up the west coast, it was sad to see Plymouth, obviously once a vibrant thriving town, now reduced to a ghost town, with the buildings slowly crumbling away and being engulfed by the rich vegetation. With the overwhelming waft of sulphur, there was no doubt we were sailing downwind of an active volcano! The northern end of Monserrat however, looked beautiful, with colourful houses, pretty beach bars and palms gently swaying in the breeze, and all safely protected from the Soufriere Hills volcano by the Central Hills Mountain. Mid way between Monserrat and Nevis lies a rock, one mile long by 1,000 feet high. From the sea it looks like somewhere inaccessible to land and impossible to climb. However, somehow people have and the Redonda has an interesting history. From the mid-1800’s to mid-1900’s Redonda was mined for phosphates, with people and parts pulled up and down the rock on a bucket system, from the wharf at the bottom to houses on the top. When looking at the island today, with both the wharf and houses long gone, it seems an impossible feat due to the incredible steepness! Although officially part of Antigua, there are various claims over the Kingdom of Redonda, starting in 1880 with an Irish-Monserrat merchant wanting a kingdom for his 15 year son (born after 8 daughters who could ‘’go marry’’). Taking a day trip to the rock with the Bishop of Antigua and friends, they apparently consumed much alcohol and King Filipe I of Redonda was crowned! With the new king being a writer, the title was passed to various writer/arty types over the years. In 1998 Robert Williamson or ‘Bob the Bald’, apparently a rather exuberant writer and artist living in Antigua, claimed he’d been on the short list to be king (as he stood at only 5’ 2’’ - ha ha!). Aboard his flamboyant royal yacht (which apparently features in Pirates of the Caribbean) he mounted an expedition with 16 loyal subjects to Redonda to claim his title and appoint various nobles of the realm. There have since been other claims over Redonda, but I think ‘Bob the Bald’ sounds the most fun! As we sailed past Redonda it was amusing to read the varied history and tales, being just a simple steep sided rock in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Unfortunately my photos don’t really do either island justice, but armed with a good set of binoculars, we had a fun day exploring from sea. Late afternoon we arrived to Pinney Beach, Nevis. A lovely anchorage in the shadow of the mighty Nevis Peak. After a full day of exciting sailing, time for an early night before discovering the delights or Nevis over the next couple of days. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘Nevis’.

Caribbean Cruising '23: Nevis

09 June 2023

A pretty island to approach by sea, Nevis Peak stands at over 3,000 feet and is often shrouded in cloud, tumbling down the sides like snow. Christopher Columbus named it ‘’Nuestra Senora de las Nieves’’, Our Lady of the Snows. Fought over by the Spanish, French and English, home to Alexander Hamilton, where Horatio Nelson married Nevisian, Fanny Nisbet and with a long tradition of sugar production, Nevis has a varied history. Not long after we arrived ashore, we were lucky to bump into a local legend (at least a legend in our Leeward Island Cruising Guide!), Teach. A former teacher turned taxi driver, Teach is well known for his informative island tours and quirky local facts. The capital, Charlestown, is a pretty little place, with lovely old stone buildings and palm planted squares. Passing by the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton (and a bus load of very excited Americans), we next witnessed a darker side - a bleak tunnel from the sea where slaves were once off-loaded from ships and passed under town to market. On a lighter note, we visited The Old Bath Hotel, the oldest tourist hotel in the Caribbean. Currently under renovation, it has a lovely commanding position, perched on the hill overlooking Charlestown and next to Nevis Hot Springs, where still today locals come to bathe in the natural volcanic waters. Following the flow upstream, the water got progressively warmer, reaching its peak where it emerges from the ground as hot as a recently boiled kettle. The Montpellier Estate is probably one of the best known plantations on the island, where Lord Nelson married Fanny Nisbet. Today it is a beautiful bijoux hotel, with a guest list including Meryl Streep, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, Brittany Spears, Justin Timberlake and even Princess Diana when looking to escape the fresh news about her divorce from Charles. Perched high on the island, with glimpses of the sparkling Caribbean Sea between the lush palms and pines, there was a delightful cooling breeze keeping guests comfortable. For lunch we decided on another charming plantation hotel, Golden Rock. Set in stunning tropical gardens with terraced fish ponds, we feasted on delicious fish tacos and ice cold Caribs, whilst keeping one eye peeled for the mischievous greenback monkeys that freely roam the area. Not a big island, in less than a couple of hours we had circumnavigated by road, having driven up the wild Atlantic east coast, past Oualie Beach, a popular tourist spot, dotted with small hotels and beach bars and past Nelson’s Spring, where Nelson used to bring his ships from Antigua to replenish with water. Our tour ended at the Four Seasons Hotel, located at the furthest end of Pinney Beach. The Four Seasons is a modern airy hotel, with a golf course and beautifully decked swimming pool, leading to their own area of beach with comfy sun loungers, cocktails on demand and a breakwater to provide a safe sea swimming area. Busy with guests of all ages, it was a very lively and buzzing spot. Only one thing left to do before we departed Nevis… enjoy an infamous ‘Killer Bee’ cocktail at Sunshine’s. A quintessential Caribbean beach bar, with reggae tunes, beach games and a delicious BBQ on the go serving freshly caught fish, chicken wings and conch fritters. What more does one need as the sun goes down on a glorious day exploring this beautiful tiny corner of the Caribbean. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘St Bathelemy (St Barths)’.

Caribbean Cruising '22: Saint Barthelemy (St Barths)

09 June 2023

Saint Barthelemy (St Barths), WOW what an island, oozing chic and money! Winding our way through the dazzling array of superyachts anchored in the bay, we entered the pretty harbour of Gustavia. A lovely long inlet, with pretty red roof buildings nestled around the harbour and creeping up into the surrounding lush hills. A favoured hot spot for celebrities, reflected in the shops and facilities. Gustavia is awash with cute alleyways and arcades, filled with wonderful shops and boutiques selling high end clothing, gifts and homewares, mixed with grander known brands, such as Dior, Gucci, Rolex, Cartier and Hermes. With a great history of smuggling and piracy, having been fought over by the British, French and Spanish and for a time even under Swedish control, the harbour around St Barths is well protected by forts. A stroll up to the top of Fort Gustav rewarded us with wonderful views across the harbour and out to the islands of Saba and St Eustatius soaring out of the sea. As the sun went down, Gustavia really came to life, with well dressed shoppers taking advantage of the cooler evening temperature and locals parading along the harbour front. Following a fun couple of pre-dinner Caribs and people watching in one of the towns hot spots, Le Select, we dined at the ultra cool Eddy’s - a fabulous restaurant. Simple large wooden doors in a wall lead into a wonderful courtyard restaurant. Very French, yet with an Asian feel with high wooden beams and bedecked with succulent palms and plants. A perfectly formed menu tempted us to delights including codfish fritters, tempura fish tacos, Peking duck ramen, tuna sashimi and mahi mahi in passion sauce. Delicious and somewhere I really hope to one day revisit. St Barths is not all about glitz and glamour, with many areas under their marine park protection, requiring a permit to enter and rules regulating waste discharge from yachts, no motor powered watersports and a provision of mooring buoys to discourage anchoring to protect the sea bed. One such area we visited was Anse du Colombier, a beautiful large secluded bay, only accessible by boat or a long hike over the hills. With a sweeping sandy beach dotted with palms, thick unspoilt vegetation clinging to the sides of the surrounding hills and turtles regularly popping their heads up, we had a lovely evening enjoying a couple of rounds of cards under uninterrupted stars, and all with our next destination on the horizon, Sint Maarten. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘Sint Maarten (Dutch Side)’.

Caribbean Cruising '23: Sint Maarten (Dutch Side)

09 June 2023

Sailing up through the Caribbean has been interesting to see how totally different the islands are. Although you can often see one island from the next, depending on their history, governing nationality and accessibility by big planes, they wildly vary. It has also been fun to hear the local quirky tales, which whilst possibly not always true and/or may have been exaggerated over the years, add to the personality of each island. One such tale is about how Sint Maarten / St Martin came to be both Dutch and French. Only 7 miles in each direction, rather than fight over the island, the matter was apparently settled by dispatching a Dutchman from one side armed with a bottle of gin and a Frenchman from the other side with a bottle of wine. Where they met became the boundary, with the Dutch ending up with slightly less due to the gin stronger than the wine! Simpson Bay is on the Dutch side and centre of the islands yachting scene. Whilst somewhere I have not visited, until now, it is a place I have long known about from my yacht charter days, having sent many a happy charterer to explore these parts. The bay has lovely long stretches of sand, backed by numerous resorts, hotels, bars and restaurants, making for a very lively spot! Entering through the bridge into the huge Simpson Bay Lagoon, we passed yachts and boats of all shapes and sizes, from kids sailing small dinghies to gleaming superyachts of 150ft+. Ashore felt like we’d arrived into Miami! A long palm lined strip, awash with bars, restaurants, burger joints, neon lights, Americans and a few crazy Dutch, this was not a Caribbean we had experienced before. We enjoyed everything, from chatting to locals at the St Martin Yacht Club to sipping cocktails and getting into the Ibiza vibe at Roxy’s Beach Bar, and from jerk shrimp at a roadside bar to burgers whilst watching US basketball in tv. The Simpson Bay area of Sint Maarten really is an anything goes, holiday party central! Departing Simpson Bay, we discovered the Sunday 1030 bridge opening is a popular slot. As we jostled into position (the channel is only wide enough for one boat at a time), we could hear whooping and hollering from the St Martin Yacht Club, next to the open bridge. Approaching the bridge, we suddenly saw a chap pop his head up with a high powered water pistol, squirting each crew as they passed through the narrow gap, with no way of escape. Probably one of those ‘you had to be there moments’ but great fun for the watching crowds! Sailing up the west coast of the island we crossed the boarder into the French side of St Martin, past Maho Beach, watching the tourists line the end of the runway to experience the low jets passing overhead as they come into land and past a number of beautiful long stretches of sandy beach, with many gorgeous looking whitewashed houses hidden amongst the swaying palms. This area of St Martin we felt had a Mediterranean feel and certainly a slower pace than the Dutch side. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘Saint Martin (French Side)’.

Caribbean Cruising '23: Saint Martin (French Side)

09 June 2023

Having sailed from the bustling Dutch side of Sint Marteen into the calmer French side of Saint Martin, we were amazing how different the two sides of one island can be. Grand Case on the northern coast is known as the gastronomic capital of the island. The small town runs along a beautiful long sandy beach, with a cute high street dotted with small shops, bars and restaurants catering for all tastes, from huts with large BBQ’s and big fridges of beer to gastronomic French extravagance and fine dining. Seafood is pretty popular, with many of the restaurants showcasing tanks with quite possibly the biggest lobsters I have ever seen! During the day the beach clubs are the places to be seen. Sun beds and cabanas dot the shore for relaxing, with cool tunes playing and cold drinks on tap. As evening falls the main street comes alive, locals parade and maitre d’s tempt in diners. Once a week they apparently close the road for an informal street party, with musicians and vendors creating a wonderful party atmosphere. Saint Martin unfortunately suffered terrible Hurricane damage in 2017 and whilst the locals have obviously worked hard to rebuild their community, in Grand Case in particular, there are still a number of damaged buildings. However, to give hope to anyone still struggling, many of these buildings have been decorated with funky street art, a local told us to show those less fortunate support. It also gives the town a wonderful cool vibe. I really enjoyed our time in Saint Martin / Sint Marteen and would like to return to explore further. It would make a great multi centre holiday, splitting time between both the French and Dutch sides, with their contrasting differences. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘Anguilla’.

Caribbean Cruising '23: Anguilla

09 June 2023

There are two types of island in the Caribbean, mountainous and towering and low and flat. Although some of the lower islands are a result of tectonic plate movement, I also remember from A-Level Geography that some are actually much older than their younger mountainous friends and they too would have once been soaring but over the years they have eroded, sometimes falling beneath the sea and acquiring limestone caps, resurfacing once again. Low lying and relatively shallow water is also ideal for coral growth, which over millions of years transforms into long white sandy beaches. A prime example of one of these flatter islands is Anguilla. Surrounded by beautiful picture postcard sandy stretches, it really is all about the beaches. Tourism is the islands main income, which has resulted in an eclectic range of buildings from traditional Anguillan houses to very modern angular structures. Although many of the beaches are backed by hotels, holiday homes, restaurants and beach bars, the island still maintains a very chilled and laid back feel. After a busy few days exploring St Martin, Anguilla was the perfect place to recharge our batteries - swimming in beautiful turquoise water, exploring the beaches and deserted outer islands and enjoying sundowners at Elvis’ Beach Bar (apparently one of the Top 10 beach bars in the Caribbean)! Thanks Anguilla - feeling recharged for our next stop… the beautiful British Virgin Islands! This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘British Virgin Islands’.

Caribbean Cruising '23: British Virgin Islands

09 June 2023

Ah, the beautiful BVI! I am lucky to have visited these waters a couple of times previously and they never disappoint. My last visit was just pre-hurricane Irma, which sadly raged through the islands and whilst there are still some signs of damage, the local community have worked hard to rebuild their beautiful islands and it’s great to see tourism booming again, a major source of income for the islanders. Having sailed overnight from Anguilla, we arrived to one of my favourite bays, Gorda Sound. Anchoring off the Bitter End Yacht Club allowed us a marvellous couple of days hanging out, swimming, catching up on a spot of work (yes, I have still been working whilst away!) and exploring the post hurricane rebuilds of the Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock. The BVI is often referred to as one of the top cruising grounds in the world and for good reason. Dotted with numerous islands and cays around the main island, Tortola, you are never too far from your next destination and hopping between bays for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a change of scene is great fun. Despite being such a favoured destination, it is still possible to find quiet coves and in the popular spots there are now a good ratio of mooring buoys, plus a new buoy reservation system, meaning the charter boats especially aren’t having to charge from hot spot to high spot to ensure a mooring if not permitted to anchor. The BVI is full of many quintessential and world renowned bars and beach clubs, such as Willy T’s, Foxy’s, Cooper Island and the Soggy Dollar Bar, creator of the infamous Painkiller cocktail. Anchoring just inside the reef at White Bay, the stunning white sand beach and clearest turquoise waters really are something special and visiting with friends for their first time to The Soggy Dollar, it was great to experience the scene again through fresh eyes! Whilst throughout the Caribbean there are marvellous tales of piracy, the Virgin Islands in particular are known for famed buccaneers. Blackbeard is one such fellow, who marooned his crew on Dead Chest Island with nothing but a cutlass and bottle of rum each, with the story is said to be the background to Robert Louis Stephenson’s song ‘’Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum…’’. Reading about the various dastardly plots and hidden treasure whilst cruising around adds great atmosphere to these wonderful islands, no matter your age! My time in the BVI also gave chance to catch up with an old friend, Emma. Having moved to the BVI over 20 years ago, Emma now runs a popular beach restaurant in Trellis Bay, Jeremy’s Kitchen, and BVI Watersports, which along with kit rental, offers a fabulous programme encouraging local youngsters into watersports. Recognising a large proportion of the BVI population can’t swim and have never taken part in watersports, Emma’s aim is to get all BVI children on and in the water. Whilst her sessions are low cost, she understands this can still be out of reach for some local families, so looks for support to offer part funded and scholarship places. Not only is it great fun for the kids but Emma encourages the continuation of training, with the hope for some children it may lead to employment within the local water based tourism industry. For anybody reading this who has enjoyed sailing in the BVI, has visited the Caribbean, knows Emma of old or just wants to do a good deed for the day, any donations to her worthy cause I know would be greatly appreciated – further details can be found at Emma works hard and seeing the enjoyment it brings to the local kids (and Emma!) was lovely. So from the BVI we next head into the USVI… This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘US Virgin Islands’.

Caribbean Cruising '23: US Virgin Islands

09 June 2023

Originally occupied by the French and Danish, the US Virgin Islands were finally sold to America in 1917 and whilst today they have all the feel and facilities of America such as highways, fast food joints, shops and bars, much of the architecture and town names have a European feel - Frenchtown, Christiansted, Frederiksted and Charlotte Amalie. The USVI are comprised of three main islands, dotted with a few smaller islands and cays. St Thomas is the most built up island, with a busy international airport and continuous stream of cruise ships. The main town of Charlotte Amalie, named after a Danish Queen, offers a duty free appeal and happening to be there on the same day as two large cruise ships, walking down the high street felt somewhat like walking down the duty free aisle at Heathrow Airport, with shop owners enticing shoppers in to snap up value bargains. The beautiful island of St John is predominantly National Park, with strict laws about building and access. This has resulted in a wonderful natural island, abundant with unspoilt beaches, lush forests leading from mountain top to waters edge and many amazing hiking trails. The island has a great team of friendly park rangers who patrol both on and off the water and lead guided land and sea trails. St John also has some super campgrounds, from remote wild camping to larger grounds with full facilities and watersport rental. A great destination for a camping holiday with a twist! The third major island in the USVI is St Croix, pronounced by the locals a Saint Croy (we were regularly corrected for our incorrect French pronunciation!). Located 35 miles south of the other USVI, both the island and locals have quite an independent spirit. The Danish influence can certainly be seen in the main town of Christiansted. A solid fort keeps watch over the harbour, alongside some lovely old buildings and a well preserved wharf, which comes to life as the sun goes down and people frequent the waterside bars and restaurants. St Croix has many features, including the largest barrier reef system in the Caribbean (great for diving, not so great for deep keeled yachts!), is home to the world renowned Captain Morgan Rum distillery (quite an operation) and also Point Udall, the eastern most point in the US by direction of travel. The latter is celebrated by a large Millennium Monument, a sundial marking the first sunrise of the millennium for the USA. Like many Caribbean islands, St Croix has a history of sugar plantations, with a lovely botanic garden set within the grounds of an old plantation house, not only showcasing the local flora and fauna, but also walking visitors through the history of plantation life and the part the island played in the abolition of slavery. Before leaving St Croix, we had one last delight, Buck Island Reef National Monument. A small island 5 miles off the coast of St Croix, surrounded by an amazing reef. Buck Island is fully protected under National Park status and plays an important part in flora and fauna conservation, particularly turtle nesting and the replenishment of coral and reef wildlife. However, despite strict rules for visiting boats, Buck Island welcomes visitors and being there over a weekend, it was great to see locals and tourists enjoying the stunning sandy beaches, picnic areas, crystal clear waters and underwater snorkelling trail. So far on our travels we have visited the British Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands and so to complete the set, next we are onwards to the Spanish Virgin Islands... This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘Spanish Virgin Islands’.

Caribbean Cruising '23: Spanish Virgin Islands

09 June 2023

Located between Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, the Spanish Virgin Islands are a fabulous tropical paradise. Delightfully quirky with their Spanish feel and often referred to as Puerto Rico’s best kept secret, whilst popular with Puerto Rican and American tourists, they are ‘’rather off the beaten track for Brits’’ as locals told us! The two main islands of Vieques and Culebra have a very laid back feel, with wonderful beaches, charming little towns, friendly people and all surrounded by amazing reefs. Vieques is the larger of the two islands, known for wild horses and the world's brightest bioluminescent bay, whilst Culebra is mainly about the beaches, including Flamenco Beach which regularly appears as one of the best beaches in world. The beautiful sandy crescent and turquoise waters are a magnificent sight, with the curious addition of a partly submerged US tank, following previous use by the US Navy for manoeuvre and bombing practice (which no longer happens, I hasten to add!). Just off Culebra is the tiny uninhabited island of Culebrita and a must for anybody visiting the SVI. Anchoring in the stunning sandy horseshoe bay, we enjoyed plenty of inquisitive turtles, a magnificent firey sunset and an amazing show of stars - nature at its best! The island has some lovely trails and early morning we decided to seek out the ‘jacuzzi’. Following the rocky coastline and clambering over boulders, we eventually reached a shallow cut in the island where waves are forced through a narrow gap, creating a churning swirl in the pool. Whilst conditions for our visit were not really strong enough for a full on jacuzzi, it was fun exploring the rock pools and cooling off in the mildly bubbly crystal clear water. Chatting to a Puerto Rican in the BVI before venturing to the Spanish Virgin Islands, he told us the islands are somewhere you go to loose yourself for a few days and boy he was not wrong. A delightful corner of the Caribbean! This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘San Juan, Puerto Rico’.

Caribbean Cruising '23: San Juan, Puerto Rico

09 June 2023

Capital of Puerto Rico, the old town of San Juan is a fabulous maze of cobbled streets, vibrant coloured buildings and brimming with old style elegance, interesting historic charm and a wonderfully sassy feel! Having left our boat on the east coast of Puerto Rico for a couple of days, we booked an apartment in a lovely old colonial style building, with large interior courtyard and huge shuttered doors opening onto balconies overlooking the bustling street below. Everywhere is within walking distance in the old town and to orientate ourselves, we first went on a walking tour. Meeting our guide Juan ‘JC’ Carlos, we spent a great morning stomping the cobbles around town. We learnt about everything from the cobbles themselves, having been brought from England in the 18th century, about the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the late 1400’s, the history of the city fortifications and why she is called ‘The Gateway To The America’s’. JC showed us prominent landmarks and quirky sights, including the narrowest house in the north western hemisphere at only 5ft wide, the oldest cathedral in the US, monuments to historical moments and figures and the very colourful Calle Fortaleza, otherwise known at Umbrella Street, leading to the Governor’s residence. A really interesting and worthwhile morning. In addition to the fabulous architecture and building colours, with space at a premium many houses have beautiful balconies and roof gardens bursting with flowers and plants lazily tumbling down. Some have even managed to grow large trees and palms from tiny pavement cracks outside front doors. A fabulous city for simply wondering. San Juan is also full of many excellent bars and restaurants and great fun as the sun goes down, with the music turned up and dancing in the streets until dawn. Seafood is prominent on the menu and we enjoyed fine feasts of ceviche, fish tacos, snapper and fríjoles. Craft beer and cocktails are also popular in San Juan, with some great bars, including Barrachina, the bar where the Pina Colada was invented! Not really knowing what to expect from San Juan, we were pleasantly surprised how much we enjoyed the city. Often a cruise embarkation/disembarkation port or flight transit, but not often a destination. Puerto Rico is one of the largest islands in the Caribbean chain and offers so much, with cities, beaches, mountainous rainforest, culture and scenery, making it a wonderful island for a multi centre holiday. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘Saba’.

Caribbean Cruising '23: Saba

09 June 2023

‘’Saba rises from the sea like a fairytale picture of a forbidden land. If there was ever a hidden Shrangri-la in the Caribbean, it is Saba.’’ - Doyle Leeward Islands Cruising Guide Approaching in the early hours, we could see lights glistening way up high against a black backdrop and as the sun rose, the rock that is Saba appeared in all her glory. At only 5 square miles but a whopping 3,084 feet tall, Saba is unmistakable and approaching from the east it looked nigh on impossible for anything to have been built on this sheer sided rock, nevermind accessing it. Although Saba has been home to hardy souls for decades, until the 1940’s the island was almost inaccessible, with everything carried up and down a steep stone staircase cut into the rock and boats only able to attempt approach in rare calm conditions. Goods were often passed between men chest high in water before the gruelling haul up the 800 steps, including legend has it, a bishop and a piano! Whilst access has since been improved, it is still possible to climb (in places, scramble!) up the original steps at Ladder Bay and fully appreciate exactly how hardy the early settlers must have been. In the photos, the Customs House is only halfway up! A ‘new road’ from the sea was built in 1943 but with no port for shelter it was still tricky landing supplies and transportation between the two villages of The Bottom and Windwardside, perched high on the top of the island, was also still along a steep mountain track. Dutch engineers said it would be impossible to build a road between the villages and moreso contemplate building an airport. However, a local Saban decided to take matters into his own hands, undertaking a correspondence course in road building. Taking several years and the help of many locals to hand build the road, it was finally completed in 1958. The Sabans also called in a pilot from St Barts to prove landing would be possible on their hand flattened landing strip on a magma flow, the only flat part of the island, resulting in the opening of their airport in 1963. Saba Airport is today the shortest commercial runway in the world at only 400m (only marginally longer than an aircraft carrier!). Saba really is a special place and the locals are so proud to show off their tiny piece of paradise. Following a rather treacherous disembarkation into the dinghy and trip ashore (the harbour is very exposed to the Caribbean elements!) we were treated to a fabulous taxi tour. Our driver, Cuchi, was Saba born and bred and I don’t think there was anything or anyone he didn’t know! Full of island tales and facts, Cuchi entertained us whilst effortlessly navigating the narrow roads, seemingly oblivious to the sheer drops down the mountainside. He even introduced us to a part time resident living between Saba and Chichester. From properties squeezed onto every available flattish piece of land, through to those on stilts clinging precariously to the cliff sides, The Bottom and Windwardside are like toy towns, with delightfully pretty white washed, red roofed buildings, cute shopping arcades and roads so narrow we found ourselves occasionally breathing as we squeezed between buildings. Tourism is a good part of Saba’s income, not only from visiting yachtsmen but also hikers, divers and tourists simply looking to get off the beaten track. We passed a couple of lovely little hotels and a good handful of delightful restaurants. For any visiting sailors, there is also one of my new favourite anchorages, Ladder Bay. On the sheltered western side of the island, anchoring under the spectacular high cliffs with pelicans diving for fish and countless turtles really is a magical setting. Many people are unaware of Saba’s existence and it is certainly not the easiest of islands to reach. However, I think that all adds to the islands charm and mystery and any visitors who do make the effort can be sure of a very warm welcome and a memory that will last a lifetime. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘St Eustatius (Statia)’.

Caribbean Cruising '23: St Eustatius (Statia)

09 June 2023

Part of the Dutch West Indies, St Eustatius (Statia) was once a trade capital and one of the worlds busiest harbours. Dealing in everything from fabric to gold and tobacco to guns, whilst the rest of Europe were fighting over Caribbean islands and trying to quash the American rebels, the Dutch remained neutral, opened a free port and happily liaised between counties not allowed to deal with eachother. Often referred to as ‘officially approved smuggling’, apparently in 1770 Statia produced around 600,000 pounds of sugar but on paper exported 20 million pounds of sugar! Needless to say, the local merchants became very rich and the island was known as the Golden Rock. However, in 1776 an American rebel ship came into harbour to purchase arms and ammunition for the American Revolution. Fort Oranje saluted the ship ‘recognising’ the new American government and Statia officially became the armoury of the American Revolution. This did not go down well with the English, who launched an attack on the island, capturing her ships and warehouses. Not finding as much wealth as expected and apparently noticing an unusual number of funerals, a further search revealed coffins full of treasure and money sewn into clothing, leading to many men being exiled to St Kitts. Whilst Statia did regain some of her trading relationships, it was never to the same level again and many of the grand buildings and warehouses have since been lost due to erosion and hurricanes. Quite a history for an island many people today have never even heard of! Today Statia’s economy depends mainly on a large oil storage depot, which whilst rather blots the landscape as you approach the island, with tanks ashore and large ships at anchor, once landed at the main town of Oranjestad, this is mostly hidden and it is a rather pleasant little Caribbean town. Whilst clearing customs we were warned about the cheeky goat community and to ensure we closed any gates… walking around the corner the first sight we saw was a naughty goat trampling a car to reach the lush leaves of the tree above and soon after were told one of the islands favourite dishes is goat burger! The waterfront is home to the Old Town, with some lovely restored merchant buildings, mainly now used as restaurants and small hotels. Statia was unfortunately one of the first islands to begin importing and trading slaves and the path up to the New Town on top of the cliffs is via ‘Slave Path’. Steep, uneven and with no shade from the blazing sun, it is a sharp, hot climb but fortunately for us, today it leads to the lovely shady town square. Whilst small, the New Town of Statia on top of the cliffs is very friendly and has a lovely charm. With some pretty restored buildings and houses and the picturesque Fort Oranje, we spent a delightful couple of hours wandering around the town as the sun set, encouraged by the locals to take as many wild mangos as we could carry and being given all sorts of mango tips! Dinner that evening was fresh mahi-mahi in a lovely little restaurant serving from repurposed shipping containers to diners at plastic tables on the quay – by no means plush, but some of the most delicious fish I have ever eaten. We sadly only had a short time in Statia but heard from other visitors how enjoyable the local hiking was, with well laid out paths and a very helpful National Park Office. Statia also prides herself on diving, with the National Park extending beneath the waves and some good local dive centres. Whilst Statia is generally off the beaten track for tourism, the locals relish interacting with visitors and for such a small island, we received a huge warm welcome! This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’. Next article ‘St Kitts’.

Caribbean Cruising '23: St Kitts

09 June 2023

St Kitts is known as a green and fertile island, with a long rainforest clad mountain range leading down to large flat plains, perfect for farming and for many generations a major player in sugar cane growth. Today many of the old plantations have been turned into boutique hotels and restaurants, with tourism now the islands main income. Arriving to Port Zante in the islands capital, Basseterre, we were immediately welcomed by our friendly neighbour, Up Town. Once a music industry mogul, Up Town now has a quieter life, living on his boat selling homemade Swizzle, a delicious fruity rum punch made to a generations old recipe using homegrown mangos and passion fruit (he grows the fruit at a rental property he owns, not on his boat, in case you were wondering!). Soon after our arrival a bottle had been cracked open to sample and over the following few days we saw a regular trail of customers from fellow cruisers to local hotel owners arriving to collect orders. I have loved some of the entrepreneurship we have seen cruising around. St Kitts is a popular cruise stop, with a new ship arriving each day and the shopping precinct next to the quay a bustling affair. By day it was full of tourists haggling over souvenirs, enjoying the traditional street entertainers and indulging in highly decorated bowls of rum punch. However, once the ships had departed each evening, the music was cranked up and the locals descended to enjoy the outdoor bars and food shacks until the early hours of the morning – a totally different scene! A favourite tourist attraction of St Kitts is the scenic railway. Originally built to collect sugar cane, it is now an enjoyable way to see the lesser visited east coast, passing through stunning countryside, past remote villages and offering wonderful Atlantic views. Throughout the trip we enjoyed narration from a very jolly hostess, pointing out the sights and telling us about the history of the island. We were entertained by onboard dancers in traditional dress and well refreshed with hosts preparing delicious punch and distributing sugary treats at strategic points as we passed famed plantations. The islanders enjoy the train too, waiting by the track to wave and cheer as it passes by. As with many Caribbean islands, St Kitts was battled over by the Europeans and for a while was inhabited by the English in the middle and the French at either end. Worried about sea invasion, in the 1600’s British military engineers designed a dominating fortress, Brimstone Fort, building it with the immense strength of African slaves on a 780 foot high volcanic hill, offering commanding views of five neighbouring islands and impenetrable access. Today the fort is an interesting visit. Well preserved it showcases the history of the island, the remarkable construction and how life would have been living at fort. The wonderfully steep road leading up to the fort not only proves how difficult construction must have been, heaving up the building materials, guns and supplies, but passing through the lower rainforest we saw many lovely wild African green velvet monkeys, descendants of the original monkeys brought to St Kitts as pets by the plantation owners. The majority of hotels and resorts are to the south east of the island, where most of the beautiful sandy beaches tend to be, such as Frigate Bay and South Friar’s Bay. This end of the island is also home to some great restaurants and beach bars, including the infamous Reggae Beach Bar with picturesque views towards Nevis and Shipwreck Beach Bar, with both offering great rum punch and fun music on certain nights. Sadly St Kitts is our last island before heading back to Antigua for the end of our 2023 Caribbean sailing season. Combined with our 2022 sailing exploits, I have now visited virtually all islands between Barbados and Grenada in south, up to Puerto Rico in the north – so if you are looking for your own Caribbean adventure, get in touch!

Peru '22: Lively Lima

06 January 2023

Arriving to Lima after our long flight, it was lovely to be greeted by our enthusiastic local guide, Paola, who swiftly ushered us to our awaiting transfer and straight into the throng of morning rush hour traffic. Not too sure what I had expected from Lima, but a culture surprise to discover locals take traffic regulations as advisory and not mandatory, squeezing through non-existent gaps, turning across multiple lanes of traffic, honking at most things and seeing kids breakdancing in the road at traffic lights! However, somehow it all seemed to work and we were soon relaxing in the calm oasis of our lovely hotel in the popular district for tourists, Miraflores. Situated on the Pacific coast, Lima reminded me of California, with big skies, a rugged cliff shoreline often shrouded in mist and surfers dotted about the breaks. Home to many wonderful parks, sculptures and street art, Lima is a cool city to wander. We explored much of the city on foot and bike, expertly led by Paola, with her wealth of knowledge about the culture and history. Like many large cities, Lima is split into districts and one of my favourites was Barranco, with a wonderful bohemian air, cool ranch style houses, hip cafes and bars and fabulous bright street art. Our evening downtown street food tour was a great insight into local life. Walking through Chinatown we were introduced to Chifa cuisine, a culinary tradition of Chinese Cantonese fused with Peruvian ingredients, a Churros stall popular for having been blessed by the pope, award winning beef hearts and to round the off, Pisco Sours at the Plaza Mayor. I believe many tourists don’t venture downtown in Lima, but I would highly recommend it not only for the authentic food and to mix with the locals, but also for the beautiful colonial architecture. Whilst Paola expertly navigated us around Lima, she was sadly not to stay with us for the duration of our time in Peru. That was tasked to the amazing Alejandrina (Ale). Getting to know Ale over a delicious welcome dinner of ceviche and lomo saltado at a wonderfully quirky restaurant overlooking Inca ruins of an important ceremonial site (don’t think we could have got more Peruvian, even if we had tried!), we eventually managed to extract from her that not only had she walked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu over 700 times, but she recently won an award for being one of the best tour guides in Peru – we knew we would be in safe hands! Not having known much about Lima before my visit and being a city people often just pass through when entering or leaving Peru, I was pleasantly surprised. Whilst an easy city to explore on your own, it is a fair size and I would definitely recommend a guide to cover ground quickly and seek out some great quirky sights which we would otherwise have easily missed. Next we are off to the Amazon jungle, with only 3 hours electricity per day, no wifi, no hot water, lots of spiders, snakes and caiman… but there is apparently a fridge full of cold beer - phewie!

Peru '22: Awesome Amazon Jungle

06 January 2023

Leaving the hustle and bustle of Lima behind, flying over the soaring peaks of the Andes it was fabulous to see the ground below slowly turn from a stark mountainous landscape to a lush green carpet of rainforest, with meandering rivers, beautiful lakes and the odd settlement dotted about. Puerto Maldonado is one of the main cities in the Peruvian jungle and gateway for tourists visiting the Amazon Basin. A city by local standards, most of the streets are bumpy dirt tracks lined with wonderful shacks and homesteads nestled in tropical foliage, happy street vendors jostling for business, kids waving enthusiastically at passing tourists and a beautifully natural feel. We were staying at Ñape Lodge, owned and run by the Native Community of Infierno to promote eco-tourism, conservation research and benefit locals with employment opportunities. Following a brief stop at their office to pack a small bag for the next couple of days, we were soon bumping our way deep into the rainforest to our awaiting boat. Speeding down the mighty Tambopata River, we feasted on a delicious lunch of vegetable rice packed in natures own food wrap, a big banana leaf, whilst eagerly keeping our eyes peeled for brightly coloured macaws soaring overhead, hogs roaming the banks and caiman basking in the sun. Arriving to Ñape Lodge we were greeted by a big hairy tarantula guarding the path and troupes of marching ants big enough to carry a small child. Beautiful hummingbirds buzzed about their business and it was not long before the lodge’s mischievous ‘pet’ tapir, Chamuco, came to check us out. Orphaned at a very young age, the lodge adopted Chamuco, leaving out water and encouraging him to forage for fallen fruit. We were amused to see that he had recently learnt how to turn on the outside tap with his big snout, but not yet mastered turning it off again – how cute, we all thought… The following morning however, getting up for our 4am start to discover there was no water as Chamuco had been back during the night and drained the main water tank, there were a few choice words! (Fortunately Ñape Lodge had a secondary tank!) Based around a lovely communal dining/lounge area set in lush foliage, the accommodation at Ñape Lodge is in small wooden huts and whilst basic, very comfortable with mosquito nets around the beds, flushing toilets and cold showers (in the heat of the jungle, a cold shower is very welcome!). Completely open on one side with a lovely balcony and hammock, it was magical to lay in bed at night listening to the sound of the jungle coming alive and even the overnight monsoon rain. Over the course of our stay we did a number of jungle walks, both at day and night. Led by our fabulous guide Ederson, we followed tracks deep through the jungle with some amazing sights; monkeys swinging through the canopy, numerous species of spider including a Brazilian Wandering Spider which is apparently more deadly than a black widow, bats and some very cool insects of all shapes and sizes. We were encouraged to try some edible plants and even fresh termites straight from the tree – you have to try everything at least once, right? The jungle exploration at night was particularly exciting. Turning off our torches to absorb the sounds and let our imagination run away with every squeak and rustle, I had the feeling there were eyes watching us and even got sucked into tales of the Jungle Spirit who wanders the rainforest looking for explorers to lure deeper into the vegetation and never be seen again! We were treated to a morning serenely floating around a beautiful oxbow lake, watching playful giant otters, spying some amazing birds, having a go at piranha fishing and all the while being closely followed by a caiman on the hunt for the odd piranha going spare. We witnessed pandemonium’s of parrots and macaws feeding on minerals in the clay river banks at dawn and climbed a tower high above the jungle canopy as the sun set. We spent an afternoon with the local shaman learning about the medicinal properties of jungle plants, trying some of his natural potions (making us a little giddy) and were taught about local traditions, including the famous Peruvian ayahuasca ceremonies. Whilst it is hard to pick ‘the best bit’ about my time in the jungle, one of the highlights had to be our night caiman hunt. Speeding down the river, spotlights were shone along the banks to pick up the eerie glowing eyes of the caiman, who once detected, would slip into the water with barely a ripple. We spent a few minutes sitting silently in the river, no lights, no engine and no talking, simply the sound of the jungle and occasional rumbles and flashes as a lightning storm brewed far away, high in the Andes. We all agreed afterwards, if only we could have bottled those few minutes as one of the most relaxing and calming moments ever. The food was outstanding. Meals were freshly prepared and served buffet style, dining together with the other guests and guides. Spending time in the jungle brings many questions for inquisitive minds and eating with Ederson gave opportunity to discuss our activities further, learning so much from his endless rainforest knowledge. Since having visited the jungle I have repeatedly been asked three questions… YES it was hot, YES there were plenty of biting beasts and NO we sadly did not see Paddington or Aunt Lucy! Regarding the heat, most activities were undertaken in the cooler early mornings and late afternoon/evening, with the rainforest canopy providing shade, the boat having a good canopy, plus a wide brimmed hat is highly recommended. The cold showers are welcomed and I would also recommend taking a few changes of top as you do get very sweaty! I am generally the first to be bitten but ensuring I was fully covered at all times (long trousers tucked into boots, long sleeves and regularly dousing myself in strong anti-bite) I got away completely bite free. Take a pair of flip flops for walking around the lodge as boots are removed at the door and a head torch is invaluable, not only for the night walks but also for outside the 2-3 hours of power each evening, it is eyes shut dark – even showering and dressing pre-dawn. As for the other question, Paddington obviously now lives in London and we didn’t go to the Home For Retired Bears whilst in Lima! The staff at Ñape Lodge were so welcoming, knowledgeable and enthusiastic to showcase their beautiful world. A completely different and unique experience.

Peru '22: Charming Cusco & The Splendid Sacred Valley

06 January 2023

Once the ‘navel of the world’ for the Incas and capital of their Empire, Cusco is a beautiful city situated high in the Peruvian Andes, brimming with fascinating history, beautiful avenues and squares, magnificent Incan and Spanish architecture and a fabulous mountain feel. Arriving late afternoon, we were immediately taken on a wonderful orientation tour with our guide, Ale, learning about the fascinating Incan history and Spanish conquest in the mid 1500’s. As darkness fell our tour arrived to the beautiful Plaza de Armas (main square), flanked by many wonderful buildings and lively with both locals and tourists. Standing proud over the square is the city’s impressive cathedral, constructed by the Spanish on the grounds of an Incan temple using stones from their original construction. Whilst some Peruvians still have animosity towards the Spanish for their disregard of the Incans all those years ago, the cathedral is magnificent and famed for its unique depiction of The Last Supper, with Jesus and his disciples being treated to a fine feast of guinea pig, a nod to the traditional Peruvian dish. Cusco is very much a touristic city, gateway to the Sacred Valley and legendary Machu Picchu. Full of shops and local markets, it is an ideal place to stock up on souvenirs from alpaca hats to guinea pig jumpers and knitted bags to woven cushion covers. With sustainability the theme of our trip, we were taken to a small market that encourages local producers of handmade souvenirs and had a thoroughly enjoyable morning browsing the stalls, chatting to the locals and attempting to haggle over items in our broken Spanish/Quechuan – I am now the proud owner of some marvellous woven cushion covers! There are many wonderful restaurants in Cusco to suit all tastes and budgets and with sustainability again in mind, we ate in a lovely restaurant supplied by local farmers and another, my favourite, ‘Mama Seledonias’. Meeting Mama Seledonia, we learnt about her struggle to find work with a young family and who subsequently set up this wonderful restaurant, not only to provide delicious traditional Peruvian food (I highly recommend the alpaca steak!) but to encourage young mothers to develop their culinary talents and support their families. With children sat quietly drawing in the corner whilst their parents worked the evening shift, there was a lovely family feel and wonderful to see these young girls keen to enhance their lives and interact with visitors from all over the world. We even were even honoured to have a very detailed picture of our table drawn by Mama Seledonia’s son! Overlooking Cusco is Sacsayhuamán (or Sexy Woman as some locals apparently refer to it – yes, really!), a citadel built by the Incans to represent a lions head keeping watch over the city and to provide places for worship, ceremonies and storage for arms, food and valuables. Whilst the Spanish unfortunately used Sacsayhuamán as a source of stone to build their own Cusco and so it is no longer the towering construction is once was, there are still adequate remains to appreciate given the weight of some of the stones (up to 200 tonnes), the location high above the city, the period of build (15th century) and the perfect dry stone build technique (where it is said not even a pin could fit between the joints) it is mind-blowing to see! The site also provides stunning views across Cusco, nestled in the valley below. Leaving Cusco behind, we next headed into the dramatic Sacred Valley, with the beautiful snaking Urubamba River and flanked by the soaring peaks of the Andes. This rich and fertile valley has long been home to traditional Andean communities and is fast becoming a mecca for adrenaline junkies, from whitewater rafting to rock climbing and ziplining to mountain biking… anybody fancy climbing a ‘via ferrata’ to sleep in a transparent capsule bolted to the side of a mountain 400 meters above the ground, then zip wiring down in the morning?! Fortunately our exploration did not involve having to leave the ground, visiting the remote community of Amaru, tucked away high in the mountains. Arriving to a shower of petals and gifts of flower necklaces, the community ladies made us feel very welcome and we had a wonderful few hours practicing our Quechuan, learning about life in the mountains and enjoying demonstrations of ancient textile dying and weaving techniques, producing beautiful scarfs, hats, purses and bags. We were even given the opportunity to be dressed by the community in their local attire and try the national Peruvian dish, guinea pig! Bidding farewell to our new friends of Amaru, we continued on to Ollantaytambo, a charming mountain town with narrow cobbled streets and pretty stone buildings, centred around a small yet lively square and overlooked by some of the best Incan terraced slopes and ruins in Peru. For many, including us, Ollantayambo is embarkation point for the train to Machu Picchu, but first we had an evening to explore this delightful town and relax over a couple of Pisco Sours in a very friendly local bar. A question often asked when planning a trip to Peru is about the altitude. Although I have been at altitude skiing and on summer hiking holidays in the Alps, I will admit that I was still a little nervous, knowing we would be travelling to nearly 4,000m at times. However, I need not have worried! Ale (our super guide extraordinaire!) originated from Cusco and having guided in the mountains all her life, was very much aware about the effects of altitude. Prior to our flight to Cusco, Ale noted our heart rates, oxygen levels and general health and throughout our stay at altitude, she monitored us twice daily and assessed everyone’s needs individually. She encouraged us to keep well hydrated (in fact throughout our whole trip there were always large boxes of drinking water travelling around with us to refill our bottles whenever required) and whether it helped or not, I had taken some electrolyte tablets to pop in my water. The pace was definitely slowed a little whilst at altitude (no charging about the streets or running up the stairs!) and fortunately aside from a few minor symptoms (slight headaches and a little difficulty sleeping), we all seemed to fair well, but it was comforting to know should the altitude have got to us, we were in safe hands.

Peru '22: Magnificent Machu Picchu

06 January 2023

One of the new 7 Wonders of the World, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on most people’s bucketlist, Peru’s top destination and for the fifth consecutive year named as South America's Leading Tourist Attraction by the World Travel Awards… I don’t think Machu Picchu really needs much introduction! Boarding our early morning train in Ollantaytambo, there was an air of great excitement amongst our group, with fingers crossed the early morning drizzle would lift and wonder whether Machu Picchu would live up to expectation. The train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (the town of Machu Picchu) takes around 90 minutes and is a breathtaking journey. Running alongside the bubbling Urubamba River, the train slowly climbs deep into a spectacular mountainous world, passing snowy peaks, small communities and the occasional glimpse of Incan ruins. Whilst it is easy to relax and enjoy the wonderful scenery from the comfort of your seat, with large windows curving into the roof, I highly recommend venturing out onto the open sided viewing platform, fabulous for feeling the wind in your hair and freshness from the roaring river nearby. As the scenery begun to change from bare slopes to lush cloud forest, our excitement grew and soon we had arrived to Aguas Calientes. Situated in a steep sided valley cut sharply down the middle by the Urubamba River, Aguas Calientas is a bustling little town full of hotels, restaurants, shops and reminiscent of a European Alpine ski resort. It is also transfer point from train to bus for tourists on their way to Machu Picchu and following a quick breakfast empanada, we were soon on the bus winding around hairpin bends through lush cloud forest, still with a little mist swirling around to add to the mystical atmosphere… Walking through the entry gate, the path clings to the mountain side and is enclosed in trees until BANG… it opens to reveal the first sight of Machu Picchu, laid out exactly as you see in the iconic pictures, with the green peak of Huayna Picchu in the background and the site of Machu Picchu below. After taking time to soak up the initial scene, take our obligatory selfies and watch the resident llamas prance around, we begun our tour around the site, brought to life by our guide, Ale, with historic tales, images of the site when Hiram Bingham shared it with the world in 1911 (he did not discover it, as we kept being reminded, as locals always knew it was there!), plus modern day theories and how the Peruvians are preserving the site for future generations. Whilst I will not go on too much about the history of Machu Picchu for fear of sounding like a Wikipedia entry, it is fascinating. Thought to be built as a royal retreat during the 1400’s for the Inca Emperor, Pachacuti, the spot was chosen for its agreeable tropical climate, high location to be close to the worshiped Incan Gods and hidden away safe from invasion. However, how the Incans transported the stones from the river way down below and manged to cut them for such an intricate fit to not need mortar and still be standing today, remains a mystery. Also a mystery is why Machu Picchu was abandoned, with popular theory that although the Spanish did not discover the site when they invaded Peru in the 1500’s, they did bring disease such as smallpox and syphilis, which may have spread to the Incans hidden away high up in the mountains. Wandering the terraces and buildings transports you to another world, imagining how the site must have been in its heyday. There are over 150 buildings and 100 flights of stairs linking the houses, baths, sanctuaries and temples. Water was apparently a key element to the Incas, not only for survival but also to their belief that their civilisation arose from the water of Lake Titicaca. Machu Picchu has an intricate series of channels and fountains to direct mountain water for inhabitants use and, it is thought, to create a calming environment and improve wellness – how modern! Whilst my time at Machu Picchu was unforgettable and exceeded expectation, I must admit that I do feel a slight fraud, not having hiked the 4 day Inca Trail or even the 1 day ‘KM104’ route and was a little jealous of the weary looking hikers wandering around the site, who really had earnt their visit! I would love to have entered via the infamous Sun Gate, knowing full grown men who have apparently been overwhelmed with tears at sighting Machu Picchu for the first time from the Sun Gate. However, for us time was sadly not on our side and so letting the bus and train take the strain was a great option and who knows, perhaps one day I will have the chance to return to hike. Sadly Machu Picchu was our final stop in Peru. We had such an amazing time, it has been hard putting our trip into words and whittling down the thousands of photos I took! In case you haven’t gathered, I would highly recommend everyone to visit Peru. Such a wonderful country, with amazingly friendly locals, a rich history, dramatic scenery and magnificent architecture. We only scratched the surface on our visit and there is so much more of the country I would like to see and even revisit. If you are considering visiting to Peru, be sure to get in touch as there is so much I can tell you about the country and hints and tips you will not find in any guidebook. As I write this I am actually currently in discussion with Ale (our superguide!) to guide some clients on the 1 day KM104 hike as part of their Grand Tour of South America… again, not a highlight you would get booking elsewhere!

In The Press – Phenomenal Peru

08 November 2022

I was thrilled to have recently been invited to Peru by the Travel Trade Gazette (TTG) and Intrepid Travel as part of their sustainable travel programme, educating agents about ‘creating positive change through the joy of travel’. From the mighty Andes to the majestic Amazon rainforest and from lively Lima to the spectacular Machu Picchu, we had an unforgettable journey, meeting many locals and learning about how their interaction with tourism benefits local projects. Being the first of a new travel programme showcasing a series of sustainable trips operated by Intrepid Travel, it was super exciting to see TTG feature our trip in their monthly magazine, read by all the travel trade, and even appear as September cover girl! For more details about my trip to Peru, please refer to the series ‘Peruvian Adventures ‘22’ on my webpage, featuring Lima, the Amazon Jungle, Cusco & The Sacred Valley and the mighty Machu Picchu. Peru is such a wonderful country - if you are considering visiting, be sure to get in touch!

Vibrant Valiant Lady

28 July 2022

The new kid on the block in the world of cruising, this year Virgin Voyages have been changing the traditional view of cruising and won ‘Best New Cruise Ship’ for Scarlet Lady’s ''standout new concepts and designs to give guests witty and smart features and options''. I was therefore very excited to be invited aboard her sister ship ‘Valiant Lady’ for her MerMaiden Mediterranean voyage in May – that’s her maiden Med cruise from her new home port of Barcelona to you and me! Flying to Barcelona, we had a quick transfer to the port before being swiftly boarded by the friendly crew, made so simple with our pre-programmed ‘sea bands’ (snazzy bracelet performing as room key and onboard payment method) and also having uploaded all our travel docs, vaccination passes, PCR test and personal requirements to the Virgin Voyages app. We were soon reunited with our luggage in our cabin and ready to explore. Valliant Lady is a beautiful ship. Modelled on a superyacht, she is sleek (for a cruise ship!), luxurious, stylish and full of fun! Sharing with my friend, we had a Sea Terrace Cabin with lovely balcony and the most comfy Yellow Leaf hammock upon which to relax. We opted for the double bed to be converted into two singles in an L-shape, also maximising the cabin space for daytime movement. The cabin had everything required; hairdryer, fridge, safe, regularly replaced drinking water, TV packed with free movies and box sets, bathing and beach towels, a bathroom stocked with all the essentials and two faultless attendants who regularly restocked and refreshed our cabin. In fact all the crew on Valiant Lady were amazing – super friendly, relaxed and attentive. Nothing was ever too much trouble to sort or source. Whilst onboard we were also able to view some of the Rockstar Quarters and exclusive Richards Rooftop, the private sundeck (for Rockstar guests) with panoramic ocean views and lavish cocktail and bubbly hours! The food aboard Valliant Lady was exceptional. With more than 20 eateries, we managed to try almost everything (yes, I did not need to eat for a couple of weeks after I got back!). My favourite restaurants were the Korean BBQ Gumbae, the Mexican Pink Agave, the Italian Extra Virgin, the delicious mezze at The Dock and the showy Test Kitchen with tasting menu and wine pairing – in fact we even went to the Test Kitchen twice to try both their meat and seafood menus. No matter the time of day, from apples to pizza or salads to sushi, there was always something delicious available to satisfy any hunger pangs! The breakfasts were amazing too, I particularly enjoyed the melon and cucumber sriracha salad and egg and chorizo burritos. The entertainment was exciting and certainly different to other cruise ships I have been on. Dual Reality was one of my favourite shows, a fast paced modern day Romeo and Juliet, with two gangs fighting to win through dance and death-defying acrobatics. The Diva provided us with fun and frolics ‘around the world’ with interactive games, songs, dancing and a stunning aerial silks display right above our heads! We spent a fun couple of hours perfecting cocktail making, photography and drinking(!) with the onboard mixologists and to help clear our heads, a highly amusing ‘80’s dance workout – I have not laughed so much in a long time! Music is a large part of Virgin’s ethos, with an onboard vinyl shop and many fabulous musicians and DJ’s. A favourite time of the day was meeting friends at The Dock on the aft deck for sundowner cocktails whilst leaving port, listening to the wonderful solo guitarist Journeyman or DJ Ella and her chilled vibes. After dinner we would often enjoy a nightcap at the lounge bar, On The Rocks, listening to the Slam Allen Blues Band before heading for some well earned rest or to dance the night away at The Manor, the onboard nightclub. Pools parties, stargazing, eco-shopping tours, dinner entertainment, 90’s boy band workouts, karaoke… there was so much to do onboard but cleverly hidden away, so if you simply wanted to sit and chill, lots of space and peace for that too. In addition to the two onboard pools with plenty of sun loungers, there were also a variety of sunbeds and comfy seating dotted around the decks, perfect for hanging out with friends or finding a quiet corner to read a book. We spent a wonderful 3 hours in the spa, working our way through the series of rooms offering steam, mud, sauna, salt and hot and cold pools – afterwards feeling so relaxed and with skin as soft as a peach! On the odd occasion we felt a little too overindulged(!), we hit the gym, with state of the art cardio and weights equipment, various classes and even an outdoor running track. Our route took us from Barcelona – Toulon (France) - Marina di Carrera (Italy) – Ajaccio (Corsica) – Cagliari (Sardinia) – Ibiza – Barcelona. Not only do Virgin Voyages offer unique itineraries, but also excursions with a difference, using small local operators for an immersive experience. In an ideal world we would have spent at least a week in each destination to do all the shore trips that appealed to us! We visited St Tropez, Florence and Pisa, we hung out on the beach in Corsica, kayaked in Sardinia and explored caves and snorkelled in Ibiza. Virgin Voyages have definitely thrown all the cruising norms overboard. Having taken a friend along who had never cruised before, she said it was her ‘’most favourite holiday ever’’ (shhh, don’t tell her family!) and she will definitely now consider cruise as a future holiday option. Currently cruising the Med and Caribbean with Scarlet Lady and Valiant Lady, Virgin Voyages have two new ships on the horizon, Resilient Lady and Brilliant Lady. They will be expanding their cruising grounds to include Australia and New Zealand, plus some fabulous opportunities for one off itineraries such as Transatlantic, Athens to Dubai, Dubai to Singapore and Singapore to Sydney. There is so much more I could tell you about my time onboard Valiant Lady and any questions, please ask away! Alternatively, why not see for yourself? As one of Virgin Voyages top tier ‘Gold’ agents, I have access to some amazing deals not available direct and based on my awesome adventure, promise you will not be disappointed!

Caribbean Cruising '22: Beautiful Barbados

13 July 2022

January has been a little different for me this year, fulfilling a long time ambition of sailing across the Atlantic! Setting off from Lanzarote, we made landfall in Barbados 18 days later. A mixed bag of weather and some fairly confused seas, but we generally enjoyed fair winds, fabulous fresh fish straight from the sea to plate, awesome star spotting and swimming in the middle of nowhere with over 5,000m beneath us - that was a bit eerie! Exploring Barbados has been interesting. From the west coast, brimming with hotels and tourist hotspots, to the more chilled east coast and fun surf beaches, from opulent hotels to relaxed lodgings and fine dining to street side vendors, there’s certainly something and somewhere for everyone. Barbados feels a very safe island and I can see why it is so popular with British Tourists. The leafy colonial style resorts and villas, palm fringed tranquil beaches, world renowned restaurants and perfect golf courses – it is an island exactly as described in the travel brochures! There’s plenty of wildlife in Barbados too. We have seen many turtles bobbing about, dolphins dancing around the boats and cheeky monkeys swinging through the trees, even in the town centres! Our last treat in Barbados was to see England play West Indies in the T20 cricket in Bridgetown (the very close 4th match). A great afternoon and a real highlight of our stay on the island. Next on our itinerary is Grenada, before meandering up through the Caribbean chain. With no fixed plan, we will go where the wind blows us… so stay tuned for regular updates! This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2022’: Next article ‘Glorious Grenada’

Caribbean Cruising '22: Glorious Grenada

13 July 2022

I last visited Grenada 15 years ago, not long after devastating Hurricane Ivan. Touring around the island then felt sadly barren in parts, with much of the established vegetation having been destroyed and whilst fresh growth was emerging, it was not the lush green I had been expecting. However, roll on 15 years and what a gloriously lush island! Basing ourselves in the pleasant Port Louis marina in St Georges, followed by a few days in Woburn Bay visiting friends, we’ve had plenty of time to explore areas we had previously visited such as St Georges lively market, Grand Anse Beach and the many beautiful bays along the south coast, plus time to hire a car to get off the beaten track… Undertaking a somewhat adventurous route (my intrepid streak driving forth!), we drove from west to east over the top of Grenada, enjoying a refreshing dip at Concord Falls, before driving high into the mountains. Passing through delightful little villages with pretty houses defying gravity as they clung to the side of sheer mountain drops, road signage was not always in abundance, so we were pleased to meet friendly locals happy for a chat and to offer directions, plus the fabulous views from the top sure made up for the odd wrong turn! Grenville was a true Caribbean experience. Narrow streets crammed with market vendors selling everything from papayas to pencils and cantaloupes to covid masks. Locals bustled about their business, kids played in the streets and not another tourist to be seen - a fabulous local scene. Driving up the more remote east coast, we visited River Antoine Rum Factory, which although unfortunately currently closed for tours, we enjoyed seeing the lovely old buildings and water wheel crushing the sugar cane. Sauteurs on the northern tip of Grenada is a pleasant town. Again, not really touched by tourism, it offers a lovely local feel and the residents very friendly towards visitors. The northern tip of Grenada is also dotted with some fabulous little hotels, a long way from the main tourist bustle but well worth the effort for the tranquillity and fabulous views out towards St Vincent and The Grenadines. We popped into Petite Anse Hotel for a delicious roti on their airy terrace and refreshing dip in their pool. Certainly a spot to remember for a future visit! This recent stay on Grenada has really changed my view of the island. It is beautifully tropical, with so much to see, easy to get around and wonderfully friendly locals. Whilst most hotels and tourist spots are in the south west, I would definitely recommend exploring elsewhere on the island for a more local feel, some amazing sights and fabulous views. Next on our adventure we head north into The Grenadines. An area I have been lucky to have sailed in before, but some years ago and I am excited to be returning… This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2022’ Previous article ‘Beautiful Barbados’ Next article ‘Gorgeous Grenadines’

Caribbean Cruising '22: Gorgeous Grenadines

13 July 2022

I love the The Grenadines, the small chain of reefs and islands running between St Vincent and Grenada. With over 30 islands in total but only 9 or so inhabited, it is not hard to find a secluded spot and can often feel like you’re living on the edge of the earth, with only a reef separating you from the wild Atlantic! Many people will have heard of Mustique, holiday destination to the rich, famous and royals. Hiring a golf buggy is a great way to explore, with rewards of fabulous views and beautiful beaches, such as my favourite, Macaroni Beach on the wild west coast. No visit to Mustique would be complete without an evening at Basils Bar, enjoying cocktails and dinner overlooking the beautiful Britannia Bay as the sun goes down. On Union Island we were treated to daily spectacles of kite surfers zipping across Clifton Bay and discovered some lovely cycles and walks around the island, over to Chatham Bay and Sparrows Beach Bar at Richmond Bay. A very laid back and quiet island. Mayreu and the Tobago Cays should always be a stop when touring The Grenadines. Saltwhistle Bay on Mayreu is a quintessential Caribbean anchorage - a beautiful white sand crescent beach, dotted with casual beach bars and palm trees gently swaying in the breeze. Walking up the hill to the quaint little church is a must for the magnificent views over The Tobago Cays. The uninhabited Tobago Cays are a real treat of picture perfect white sand beaches and turquoise waters, teaming with turtles and colourful marine life. A fabulous place for snorkelling and at night, for magical skies filled with endless stars. This really is an ‘edge of the earth’ destination! Bequia is one of my favourite islands, offering a wonderful balance of laid back charm mixed with vibrant shops and bustling bars and restaurants. Taking an open backed 4WD taxi tour, we learnt so much about the history of the island. We also visited The Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, The Bequia Beach Hotel at Friendship Bay and were wowed by stunning views at every turn. Being there on a Sunday, we enjoyed a perfect afternoon soaking up the scene on Princess Margaret Beach. A great spot for people watching, with locals parading along the beach, relaxing over picnics with family and friends and afterwards, chilling with sundowners at Jacks bar as the sun set over Admiralty Bay. I could go on, Canouan, Petite Martinique, Petite St Vincent, Palm Island… there are so many fabulous islands to visit, whether you are visiting by yacht, ferry or plane, a visit to The Grenadines should be included on everyone’s bucket list! This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2022’: Previous article ‘Glorious Grenada’ Next article ‘Super Saint Lucia’

Caribbean Cruising '22: Super Saint Lucia

13 July 2022

Arriving to St Lucia felt like sailing to some mystical land, with the mighty Pitons rising high on the horizon, shrouded in cloud. Fortunately by the time we arrived the cloud had lifted to reveal the towering peaks in all their glory - what a welcome to St Lucia! In the shadow of Petit Piton is the lovely little creole town of Soufriere, which is a great base for exploring the south of the island. Surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, there are plenty of beautiful walks, along rivers, past waterfalls, to natural hot pools, mud baths and up to ridges with spectacular views. For the more energetic, one can even hike up the Pitons - unfortunately (or fortunately!) due to limited time, an adventure I will have to save for another visit. Marigot is a picture perfect Caribbean bay. Passing through the entrance flanked by white sand beaches with swaying palms, Marigot Bay opens into a long steep sided lagoon, lined with mangroves. Dotted with hotels, bars and being a popular spot for superyachts, this is a fabulous bay for people watching and soaking up the holiday vibes. Marigot was also location for the 1967 film ‘Dr Doolittle’ and there is a lovely beach bar bearing his name, perfect for the obligatory sunset rum punch! Rodney Bay to the north of St Lucia is a lively area, popular for hotels, shops and restaurants, with great long stretches of glorious sandy beaches. We enjoyed a particularly fun evening at Frydays in nearby Gros Islet, with delicious food and dancing to a fabulous saxophonist. As with the south of St Lucia, the north also offers tropical rainforest interior, with some wonderful hiking trails, zip lines to fly through the trees and even an aerial rainforest canopy tram. St Lucia has a fabulous array of hotels and accommodation and sailing up the west coast gave great opportunity to see many of them. From the fabulous and quirky Jade Mountain Resort, totally open on one side with views of the Pitons to die for, her sister beach hotel Anse Chastanet Resort, the luxurious Sugar Beach, family friendly Windjammer Landing and sporty Body Holiday, to name but a few. Whilst in Marigot Bay we were able to enjoy the lovely pool, gardens and restaurant at the Marigot Bay Resort. We have France next on the horizon in the form of Martinique, which is very exciting. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2022’: Previous article ‘Gorgeous Grenadines’ Next article ‘Marvellous Martinique’

Caribbean Cruising '22: Marvellous Martinique

13 July 2022

My first visit to a French Caribbean island and what a delight. I love France and I love the Caribbean, so a combo of the two is a real treat! Although I have known of Marin from my yacht charter days, having arranged many bareboat holidays for clients from here, I had not quite appreciated the full size and beauty of ‘Cul-de-sac du Marin’. A huge bay lined with mangroves, surrounded by hills, with some lovely beaches and creeks to explore, plus the pretty little seaside town of Ste. Anne. We were told there are often over 3,000 boats in the bay, which I guess explains why the local supermarkets even have their own trolley accessible dinghy docks! Sailing through the Caribbean is proving an interesting history lesson, particularly regarding the various battles for control of the islands. Passing Diamond Rock we learnt how in the early 1800’s the British, being short of ships in the Caribbean, commissioned ‘HMS Diamond Rock’, hauling cannons and supplies up the steep, barren, snake infested pinnacle. For 18 months they used this to surprise unsuspecting ships sailing into Martinique, before finally loosing control in a battle under Napoleon’s orders. Sailing close past the island, we were wondering exactly which side of this sheer rock would be the easiest route up, especially hauling cannons! Grande Anse D’Arlet and Les Anses D’Arlet are two neighbouring bays with white sand beaches and chilled holiday vibes. Spending the night at Les Anses D’Arlet, we were welcomed ashore to the pretty little town by joyful singing from the evening church service, mixed with families enjoying the last few rays of sunshine in the beach bars - a lovely scene. The following morning we were up bright and early to walk over the headland to Grande Anse D’Arlet, watching the sun rise as we scrambled up the rocky path, before dropping down into the little fishing village for a welcomed coffee and croissant. Being a Sunday, there was much activity from locals arriving to spend the day at the beach and dive boats preparing for their early morning guests. Fort de France is the capital of Martinique and despite being a large city (by Caribbean standards!), has a pleasant waterfront overlooking the bay, which comes to life in the late afternoon with locals strolling and kids playing in the park, all under the watchful eye of Fort St Louis. The town has an interesting mix of markets, independent shops, big department stores and some lovely old buildings, all making for an interesting place to wonder. St Pierre lies at the foot of Mt Pelee volcano and has a sad, yet fascinating history. In 1902 it was known as the Paris of the Caribbean, being a thriving commercial, cultural and social centre but following a series of volcanic eruptions, nearly all of the 30,000 inhabitants were killed and many ships sunk in the bay. Today St Pierre is a very pleasant town, with a great market, shops and some fabulous restaurants. Many of the old ruins remain, with some of the more iconic buildings being informatively presented, such as the theatre and prison, where one of the very few survivors kept their life thanks to the thick stone walls. No visit to Martinique would be complete without popping to a local rum distillery and our choice was Distillerie Depaz, on the slopes of Mt Pelee. Set in beautiful grounds, we saw the steam powered machinery in action and learnt how to make the perfect Ti’ Punch with French white rum (a recipe we have since been practicing!). We also visited the magnificent plantation house, once home to Victor Depaz and his family and now an interesting museum about the Depaz family and Martinique. We will soon be moving back into the French Caribbean but before we do, the mystical island of Dominica awaits, some say one of last untouched Caribbean islands and somewhere I have wanted to visit for many years. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2022’: Previous article ‘Super St Lucia’ Next article ‘Dazzling Dominica’

Caribbean Cruising '22: Dazzling Dominica

13 July 2022

Soaring peaks, deep valleys, lush vegetation, 365 rivers, hot waterfalls, boiling lakes and an abundance of nature… Dominica is said to be one of the last unspoilt islands in the Caribbean (mainly due to no international flights and limited large hotels) and boy, she did not disappoint! Arriving to Prince Rupert Bay, we were immediately welcomed by the locals, who love meeting outsiders and proudly showcase their island. Taking a trip up the Indian River, we quickly escaped the bustle of Portsmouth into the tranquility of the bloodwood tree lined river, with tangled roots creeping out, vines dangling overhead, parrots calling, herons swooping and iguanas napping on branches. With no engines allowed in the river and taking the tour late afternoon, after most people had gone, our guide serenely rowed us upstream, pointing out the wildlife and other areas of interest, including a beautiful tributary and wooden hut featured in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. At the head of the river we were treated to a fabulous rum punch at the Bush Bar, hosted by local mixologist Buddah - there didn’t seem to be anything growing on the island that he hadn’t used to infuse the rum! Roseau, the capital of Dominica, is a true Caribbean working town. Visiting on a Saturday, the streets were brimming with colourful market stalls and locals excitedly preparing for carnival time. Wandering the town we discovered some lovely old buildings and we also tackled the short but very steep Jacks Walk, up to the old garrison at the top of Mourne Bruce for some wonderful views across the town. Dominica is an island to be explored inland. Taking a guide for the day, we ventured high in the north of the island, driving through lush rainforest dotted with tiny villages, peering into steep green valleys, crossing babbling rivers and enjoying occasional glimpses of the sparkling sea far away. We visited the charming Pointe Baptiste Chocolate Factory, with an interesting history dating back to a couple of bohemian Scottish aristocrats in the 1930’s (as they put it). Today, the same family produces many flavours of delicious chocolate using local fruits and ingredients. Calibishie is a picturesque seaside town on the east coast, with a few little shops and restaurants lining the white sand beach and was the perfect spot for lunch before exploring the Kalinago or Carib Territory. Some say the Kalinagos were fierce warriors, dominating much of the Caribbean and threatening early European settlers with raiding parties. Visiting Barana Aute village, we were instead told by descendants that the Kalinagos were peaceful traders and any warrior like actions were purely for hunting and in self-defence! Perhaps a degree of truth in both? We were guided around the village, visiting traditional buildings, observing dugout canoes built by age old techniques, sampled cassava bread and learnt about daily life for these very early settlers and why they chose the rugged east coast to base themselves. An interesting visit to discover early Caribbean history. Dominica is a hikers paradise, with many fabulous trails from simple short strolls along made paths through the rainforest, to the 115 mile Waitukubuli trail, running the whole length of the island. We did a couple of walks, exploring the area near Portsmouth and to the Emerald Lake for a marvellous refreshing dip. I loved how these trails can make you feel like a true explorer, surrounded by beautiful tropical vegetation and enjoying stunning vistas across new lands. Living up to its name of ‘The Nature Island’, Dominica is absolutely an island not to be missed and I for one will be back. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2022’: Previous article ‘Marvellous Martinique’ Next article ‘Idyllic Isles des Saintes’

Caribbean Cruising '22: Idyllic Isles des Saintes

13 July 2022

A stunning reef lined volcanic archipelago comprising of seven islands south of Guadeloupe. Think of a French Isles of Scilly in Caribbean sunshine! With only two inhabited islands and just one small town, there is lots of beautiful countryside to explore and many deserted beaches to discover, plus the odd exciting high peak to conquer! Bourg des Saintes, is an adorable seaside town, offering French sophistication mixed with a laid-back Caribbean lifestyle. The mainly pedestrian streets are dotted with restaurants, bars and independent shops, making for a very pleasant wander, including for the iguanas who casually stroll about the place! Hiking up the hill to Fort Napoleon, we were rewarded with commanding views across the islands. Inside the fort was an interesting exhibition about the 1782 Battle of the Saintes between the English and French and outside, a wonderful cactus garden, home to many lovely geckos and iguanas. Arriving to The Saintes at the beginning of carnival time, we were treated to a cute afternoon procession by the local school, with the children marching along in tribal outfit, guided by their teacher playing a traditional soundtrack of drums and horns over a loud speaker. A gentle start to our Caribbean carnival experience, as over the next couple of evenings Bourg des Saintes changed from a sleepy backwater to lively jump up, with processions of marching drumming bands, conch horns blasting, music and spectators of all ages lining the streets to enjoy the buzzing atmosphere. We have been lucky to have experienced some fabulous swimming and snorkelling whilst in the Caribbean, with The Saintes possibly the best so far. The warm crystal clear waters were teeming with colourful marine life, from fish of all shapes and colours to dolphins and turtles darting about. A beautiful and magical place to visit. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2022’: Previous article ‘Dazzling Dominica’ Next article ‘Glitzy Guadeloupe’

Caribbean Cruising '22: Glitzy Guadeloupe

13 July 2022

Shaped like a butterfly, Guadeloupe is two islands in one: Basse Terre, which means the low land although actually the larger mountainous island, and Grande Terre, meaning the large island but actually the smaller lower island… somebody had a good sense of humour! We were lucky to arrive to the town of Basse Terre, the capital of Guadeloupe, for the final night of Carnival season and boy what a party! The whole town had turned out to watch the singing and drumming bands parading through the streets, dancing late into the night, all fuelled by bokits and Carib beer! Basse Terre was also a great point from which to explore the interior of the island, including the Route de la Traversee, a fabulous road running high up through the rainforest, offering amazing views of the island and leading to some great walking trails and the popular Crayfish Waterfalls, named after the many crayfish that once lived there. Whilst Guadeloupe offers many hidden secrets, one of my favourites was the little town of Deshaies, a picturesque fishing village with a magnificent botanic garden, fabulous beaches nearby and home to the BBC's ‘Death In Paradise’ - we slept with one eye open, just in case! I do love a botanic garden and the Jardin Botanique de Deshaies has to be one of the best I have visited. A winding path gently transports visitors through lush gardens containing over a thousand different species of plant from palms to tree orchids to cactuses. There are meandering streams, a fabulous 50 foot waterfall and resident flamingos, parrots and lorikeets also to admire. Looking for somewhere a little different to stay? The Jardin Botanique also has a fabulous villa for rent, set in beautiful gardens, with stunning views out to the sparkling Caribbean Sea. With so much diversity on the island, Guadeloupe makes a great destination for a multi-centre holiday, enjoying a bit of R&R on the numerous beaches and exploring the lower lands of Grande Terre, combined with hiking through the rainforest and admiring wonderful waterfalls in the mountains of Basse Terre. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2022’: Previous article ‘Idyllic Isles Saintes’ Next article ‘Blissful Barbuda’

Caribbean Cruising '22: Blissful Barbuda

13 July 2022

Approaching Barbuda by sea it was not land we saw first, at only 125ft at the highest point, but the change in colour of water from deep Caribbean blue to the most mesmerising turquoise, even giving the clouds a slightly blue tinge. Shortly after, the dazzling white sand beaches came into sight, fringed with swaying palms and backed by huge blue skies. If you could design the quintessential Caribbean island, it would be Barbuda! Whilst there are a couple of small hotels dotted around, Barbuda is virtually untouched by tourism and a fascinating place. Most residents live in the only town, Codrington, a fairly sleepy place but definitely the hub of the island. Devastated by Hurricane Irma in 2017, locals enthusiastically talk about life after Irma and how the island is rebuilding itself. This includes mixed feelings about proposed larger tourism developments by the likes of film star Robert de Niro and billionaire James Packer, who have recently opened a Nobu restaurant on the beach. A little surreal to be on an island with no paved roads, a simple life for residents, wild horses and donkeys roaming about… and a Nobu restaurant! Barbuda is famed for its frigate bird rookery, featured in National Geographic as one of the largest in the world. Having seen frigate birds at sea dramatically swoop to scoop food from the surface, we were keen to learn more about these magnificent birds and spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring Codrington Lagoon, led by our fabulous local guide George. Zooming across the open water of the lagoon we could soon hear the cries and see the air ahead alive with birds. Threading through the maze of mangrove channels, we then smelt the birds(!) and arrived to their nesting site. Completely unphased by our presence, we got very close whilst George animatedly explained about these fascinating birds and their importance to the residents of Barbuda. George also showed us some of the devastation caused by Irma around the lagoon, tearing out areas of mangroves (the frigate birds even had to move home!), lifting and depositing huge shipping containers way out into the mangroves and destroying natural barriers holding back the sea, subsequently changing the ecosystem in some areas, but how nature has adapted and is slowly rebuilding damaged areas. A captivating afternoon. The beaches of Barbuda are spectacular. Long stretches of white and pink sand as far as the eye can see, lapped by warm turquoise water and backed with lush greenery and palms, often with barely another soul in sight. Having had some heavy weather pass through also seemed to make the colours pop more, set against huge dramatically dark skies. Underwater revealed colourful reefs, teeming with beautiful tropical fish, turtles, rays and small sharks. Back on land we had a very enjoyable couple of evenings at our ‘local’, Shak a Kai. The perfect spot for sundowners and to exchange stories with fellow sailors anchored in the bay. An idyllic setting and bar - I didn’t want to leave and even asked for a job! Barbuda is a magical island and very unique. Anyone looking to run away for some true peace and quite, R&R on pristine beaches and to snorkel on some amazing reefs, this is the island to visit. This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2022’: Previous article ‘Glitzy Guadeloupe’ Next article ‘Awesome Antigua’

Caribbean Cruising '22: Awesome Antigua

13 July 2022

Antigua is a fabulously diverse island. From historic Nelsons Dockyard at English Harbour to the modern day superyacht glitz and glamour at Falmouth Harbour, from 365 beautiful beaches to rich mountainous forests and from laid back lodgings to exclusive and luxurious hotels – Antigua has it all! Whether a sailor or not, Falmouth Harbour is an island highlight. Full to the brim with magnificent superyachts, there is a great buzz in the air with crews bustling around preening their yachts for guest arrival or preparing to sail in one of the many regattas. I am sure the yachts are getting bigger – when we arrived we almost missed the racing machine ‘Comanche’ at 100ft, she looked so small, and whilst we were berthed on the tender pontoon, at 45ft there were still tenders bigger than us! Falmouth Harbour is also home to many great bars and restaurants, creating a fun vibe late into the night. We enjoyed visiting old favourites such as Trappas and Cloggys, plus discovering many new places including Indian Summer, Paparazzi and Flatties Flame Grill. Nearby English Harbour is like stepping back in time. Whilst the square riggers of Nelsons era have been replaced with classic J-Class beauties and modern charter yachts, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is steeped in history back to the 1700’s, when the British Navy stationed themselves here. The classic buildings have been lovingly restored to create a wonderful visitor site with a museum, bars, bakery, souvenir shops, marine suppliers and a couple of small hotels. One of my favourite places to visit is The Admirals Inn and Gunpowder Suites, a lovely boutique hotel set in historic buildings dating from the 18th century. The buildings, originally used to store supplies and Officers, were built by bricks brought over from England as ship’s ballast and replaced by ballast of rum for the return journey (I love quirky little facts like that)! Inside the hotel there are many historic features and artifacts and outside, the garden is set around the pillared remains of a large boat house and sail loft. They also serve fabulous rum punch, which I admirably tested for a lovely couple I am sending to stay in the hotel shortly – that’s how committed to my work I am! An iconic view of Antigua is from Shirley Heights, a restored military lookout and gun battery overlooking Falmouth and English Harbours. For the adventurous there is a wonderful trail from Galleon Beach, rising steeply along an old riverbed through lush forest, passing interesting ruins and old military graves nestled deep in the trees. For the not so energetic, there is always a taxi to the top! Many people will visit one of their infamous Sunday or Thursday evening jump ups, enjoying rum punch, BBQ jerk chicken and the resident steel band as the sun sets, creating a magical setting. I have visited Shirley Heights at various times of day and particularly enjoy first thing in the morning, tackling the trail at first light and arriving to a completely deserted lookout, enjoying the view as the sun rises and Antigua wakes up below. Sailing around the island we visited many beautiful bays and anchorages, Deep Bay, Heritage Bay, Carlisle Bay, Dickenson Bay, Jolly Harbour and one of my favourites, Nonsuch Bay. Following a very blustery sail from Falmouth Harbour, we were relieved to finally surf through the narrow entrance of the bay into tranquil water and relative calm, tucked behind Green Island. We had a fabulous couple of days exploring the creeks of Nonsuch Bay, watching kiteboarders blasting across in their perfect breezy conditions and picking our way through reefs and breaking surf by dinghy to explore the more remote and wild areas afloat and ashore. We discovered some amazing cacti, not something often related to the Caribbean, and enjoyed wild displays from fabulous tropic birds, pelicans and turtles. One last treat whilst in Antigua was to see England play West Indies on the second day of their first test. With the Barmy Army in full cheer, it was a fairly noisy day as England slowly clawed back against the Windies (ultimately a draw) and a great day out. Sadly, Antigua is where we say goodbye to the Caribbean for this season. ‘Ghost’ now safely ashore in Jolly Harbour under the watchful eye of some marvellous friends until our return next season, when we plan to sail further north. I hope you have enjoyed virtually joining me visiting Barbados, Grenada, The Grenadines, St Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Isles des Saintes, Guadeloupe, Barbuda and Antigua over the past few months. Whether you are a salty sea dog, a luxury loving landlubber or something in between, if you are considering a holiday in the Caribbean, get in touch and let me help arrange a fabulous trip you will not forget! This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2022’ Previous article ‘Blissful Barbuda’

Stunning Isles of Scilly

06 January 2023

Only 28 miles off the coast of mainland Britain, the Isles of Scilly had long been on my bucket list to visit, so when offered the chance to sail there, I jumped at the chance! Comprising of 140 islands and rocky islets, only 5 islands are inhabited, each offering their own uniqueness. St Mary’s is the main island and about as busy as it gets, Tresco is the stylish and cosmopolitan one, St Martin’s is considered best for beaches, Bryher offers a contrast of western rugged Atlantic Coast and eastern sandy beach calmness and St Agnes represents the remote and wild edge of Britain. This magical archipelago is an outdoor lovers paradise. We enjoyed some beautiful walking, fabulous picnics on stunning white sandy beaches, refreshing swimming in the clearest seas, adored dazzling agapanthus displays and spotted some interesting wildlife (although sadly no Wally the Walrus). Amongst my personal highlights were sleepy St Agnes and The Turks Head, the most south westerly pub in the UK* and offering possibly the most amazing pub views in the UK. Also, the Tresco Abbey Gardens were simply wonderful and we truly lost ourselves wandering the winding paths through the beautiful sub-tropical gardens. Thank you Isles of Scilly for a fabulous few days. One of my new favourite places and I will definitely be back for further exploration on land and sea! * The Channel Islands are excluded, being classed as Crown dependencies and not constituent parts of the UK - just to clear up any debates!

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!