How to beat the winter blues: Top 7 destinations for winter sun

I don’t know about you, but it seems that the need for my summer wardrobe is coming to an end. I have definitely started to notice night’s drawing in and the allure of PJ’s, brew, book and bed pre 8.30 pm is a sure sign that winter is coming.

For many of us, winter can be a really depressing time. Going to work in the dark, coming home in the dark and enduring weather that feels relentless and utterly miserable. So, in my opinion, the only way to beat the winter blues is with some sunshine and an adventure to look forward to.

1.Oman

Without a doubt, Oman is growing in popularity as a holiday destination. With temperatures during the winter months sitting comfortably around 25 degrees Celsius, it makes a wonderfully attractive winter sun option.

Muscat is a vibrant and cultural city, one which I barely scratched the surface of when I visited in 2017. With the Opera House, Museum of Modern Art, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the fierce assault on the senses that is the Mutrah Souq; Oman offers a wealth of cultural activities and adventurous excursions. However, if your winter sun trip is all about recharging and rejuvenating your tired self, then head to the beaches.

For unadulterated luxury and a true adult-only paradise check out the Shangri La Al Husn or the Al Baleed Resort Salalah. For a more detailed review of the Shangri La Al Husn see my full review; www.takemefarandaway.com/2018/11/23/hotel-review-5-shangri-la-al-husn-muscat-oman/

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  1. Tenerife

I can’t extol the glories of this Island enough. Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, boasting beaches, mountains, vastly contrasting terrain and excellent food. The imposing Mount Teide and the surrounding National Park oversee proceedings on the island. The volcano and National Park are easily explored on foot, bike or cable car. However, if it’s a quick fly and flop break that you need then Tenerife is a very reasonable four-hour flight from London airports. With temperatures rarely dipping below 20 degrees Celsius what’s not to love? Tenerife is still blighted by a few rainy days in the winter. Best winter months to avoid the rain are October, January and February where only around 8-10 days during the month might experience rainfall.

For a proper beach break check out the Costa Adeje or Los Gigantes. My recommendation is the Ritz Carlton Abama, Guia De Isora. For an extended review of this spectacular hotel check out my earlier post; www.takemefarandaway.com/2019/08/14/hotel-review-5-ritz-carlton-abama-tenerife/

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  1. Barbados

Barbados has long been a firm favourite among travellers seeking year-round sunshine. December through to March sees the lowest rainfall so chances of long warm sunny days sipping cocktails are almost guaranteed. With a flight time of eight and a half hours from London airports, it is well worth the trip. That kind of flight time is a recommended full nights sleep, so what better way to start your trip than catching up on those lost Zzzzzz’s to arrive in paradise feeling refreshed.

Surely the winter months are for eating right? Us not so hardy Brits need the extra layer to keep warm! If you’re a foodie (like me!) then Bridgetown and the West Coast offer a variety of spectacular restaurants. My favourites are Lone Star (good portion sizes),     Cin Cin By the Sea, The Tides and The Cliff.

As for accommodation, I would recommend the Coral Reef Club, set in gorgeous gardens or The House for a more boutique yet luxurious stay.

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  1. New Zealand

Stepping off a flight to New Zealand on the 24th of December 2018 was fabulous. We had boarded in four degrees of drizzly rain and thick low cloud. So, arriving at a comfortable 18 degrees was the ideal tonic for my deeply entrenched winter blues.

New Zealand starts to hit its stride with long warm sunny days in November and temperatures peak around 26 degrees. If you venture farther north to the Coromandel and Bay of Islands, however you can see temperatures of 30 degrees and higher.

New Zealand offers a blissful escape and summer is a great time to sail, surf, kayak, mountain bike or lace up your hiking boots and take to the Franz Josef Glacier. A trip to New Zealand is well worth it if you’re an active soul seeking an adventure.

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  1. India: Rajasthan

Rajasthan; India’s vibrant, colourful, fort laden land of Maharajas. A winter visit is sure to quicken your heart rate and captivate your senses. Rajasthan is located in the North West of the country and is an eight-and-a-half-hour flight from London airports. Rajasthan enjoys temperatures between 25 and 33 degrees Celsius and minimal rainfall from October to February, so the winter months are the perfect time to book a trip.

Rajasthan has a huge variety to offer the winter sun seeker, I would say this trip is best for those seeking a cultural adventure. Whilst the beaches of the south are fabulous, a trip to Rajasthan is a different animal entirely. With forts, palaces and shrines in abundance coupled with rare wildlife in the Ranthambhore National Park and technicolour festivals to rival any 1990’s psychedelic rave, a touring trip to Rajasthan is your best bet.

I would recommend a trip with Intrepid Travel; their 15 days classic Rajasthan trip covers all the highlights of this spectacular region. With the tricky logistics and planning taken care of by the Intrepid team that leaves your free to take in the experience.

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  1. Florida

Florida will always have a place in my heart, as a young girl we would spend summers visiting our Grandparents apartment in St Petersburg. So many of my earliest family holiday memories are in this sunny corner of the Gulf of Mexico. Whether it was sitting on the dock fishing for catfish, long walks along the beach, creating my own synchronised swimming routines or playing ‘noodle warriors’* with my sister Florida will always be a happy place for me.

The affectionately named ‘Sunshine State’ sure does live up to its name. With temperatures hovering around 18-20 degrees Celsius between October and February and balmy 25-degree sea temperature, you are sure to find some sunny solace.

Orlando and its theme parks are, of course, a draw for any holidaymakers, but, if you are looking to slow the pace during your winter break then check out the beach resorts at Clearwater, St Petersburg and St George Island State Park.

I would recommend the Don Cesar in St. Petersburg. A luxury pink palace right on the beach.

* Noodle Warriors is an exceptionally competitive game whereby you sit on a pool noodle like a horse and try to knock your opponent off their noodle…simple things.

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Photo by Valentina Rossoni on Pexels.com

  1. Bali

A not so undiscovered gem in the Indonesian archipelago, but despite its popularity with tourists it is, however, a fabulous place to catch some winter rays. Bali boasts extensive sandy beaches, luscious plant life, mountains, temples and sapphire blue seas brimming with coral and multicoloured fish.

Bali is often found on many peoples list as an epic adventure destination. Having travelled there twice I still don’t feel as though I did everything. It is firmly on my list of countries to return to. If you are looking for a winter adventure then Bali has a lot to offer. Whether it is exploring the Sacred Monkey Forest, immersing yourself in Balinese culture and craftmanship with a tour of the temples, water sports in the sparkling azure sea or simply basking in lagoon beach at Nusa Dua. Bali has something to entice and ensnare the senses of all.

November heralds the start of the wet season in Bali, but, despite the rain, average temperatures remain a very pleasant 28 degrees Celsius with sea temperature around 29 degrees Celsius. January experiences the most considerable number of rainy days so if you are looking for the sunshine then October and November are your best bet.

I would recommend the Ritz Carlton, Bali, Nusa Dua for a slice of luxury perfect, for blowing even the darkest winter blues away.

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Photo by Aron Visuals on Pexels.com

Happy travels,

Jess

Hotel Review: 5* Ritz Carlton Abama, Tenerife

Hotel review: Ritz Carlton Abama, Tenerife

I like to think of myself as a finely honed hunter of hotels, and a wanderlust predator keen to experience all the world has to offer whilst maximising my limited and precious time away from the 9-5 grind. So, in my continual quest to absorb the offerings of our beautiful planet, few places captivate me enough to continually return to year after year. As I frequently tell my husband “It’s a big world…I need to see it!”. In spite of this familiar mantra, the 5* Ritz Carlton Abama in Tenerife keeps pulling me back and I am more than happy to oblige!

Getting to the Ritz Carlton Abama

IMG_5632Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands located off the coast of West Africa. The Canary Islands enjoy almost glorious sunshine all year round. Year-round sunshine has made the Canaries a premier destination for holidaymakers for some time. Flights operate regularly from London airports to Tenerife South with carriers like British Airways, Easy Jet and Jet2. If you are looking to stay at the Abama then you should fly into Tenerife South rather than the northern airport. Be sure to confirm this as it will affect your transfer time.

The average flight time from London airports to Tenerife South is four hours, plenty of time to relax with a drink and a good book. We have always opted for a private transfer from the airport to the Abama. If you contact the hotel prior to arrival, they are happy to organise a transfer for you or I use www.suntransfers.com, who have consistently provided an excellent service. Transfer time from the airport is approximately twenty-five minutes. Alternatively, if you want to wing it on arrival taxis are in plentiful supply at the airport.

Having travelled to the Abama many times I would say the ideal arrival time is late afternoon. Arriving around 5 pm gives you plenty of time to wash up, grab a drink and enjoy a proper dinner on your first night.

First impressions

The hotel rises up out of the hillside like a glorious pink Kasbah, nestled amongst lush vegetation and tumbling down in sweeping terraces towards the sea. On first sight it is breath-taking. Yes, this term is a cliché but trust me on this one, it’s like nothing else when you first catch a glimpse. Nothing blows the cobwebs away than the juxtaposition between pink and cloudless azure sky to get you in the holiday mood…cue the cocktails!

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Clean lines and cool marble make up the entrance and your eyes are drawn to the intricate and striking floral displays presented for your arrival. Check-in has always been quick and efficient and a cold drink or a glass of fizz is always on offer to help get you in the holiday spirit.

Which room?

As a guest at the Abama, you have the luxury of choice, no more so than with the impressive array of rooms you can opt for. I have stayed in some spectacular rooms at the Abama and have a firm favourite with the Tagor Villas.

Tagor Villas: An adult-only escape

The Tagor Villas are situated slightly further down the hillside away from the main citadel making them a blissful couples retreat. The villas have their own concierge service, pool area and some even come with their own golf cart, making travel around the luxury resort a piece of cake. I have to say a private golf cart is a real perk and super fun to drive!

Our deluxe room in the villas was immaculately clean, well-furnished and complete with a welcome fruit plate and bottle of wine. Our room looked out on to the tranquil ocean and manicured gardens. We also had direct access to the Tagor Villa private pool.

Another bonus of the Tagor Villas is the option to breakfast at the El Mirador restaurant. The El Mirador serves an adult-only breakfast, so, if you are looking for a peaceful child-free retreat then this calm breakfast option is perfect.

IMG_2736Nothing beats a warm peppermint tea, omelette, the gentle lull of continuous waves lapping the mighty cliffs below and stillness in the air only punctuated by birdsong. In my opinion, there are few more pleasant ways to begin your day than this one.

 

 

Deluxe Ocean View – Citadel

I always feel that an ocean view room is the only way forward as they often tend to have more natural light compared to a garden view. The Deluxe Ocean View rooms in the citadel are bright, airy and well-appointed. The clean, sleek feel of the lobby extends to the rooms lending a tranquil and calming feel, which is often just what’s needed to help you unwind. The Deluxe Ocean View rooms all have large comfortable beds, balconies with chairs for catching those late afternoon rays and shower and bath facilities.

This last one might seem odd to note but my lovely husband and I differ considerably when it comes to washing! He is an ardent shower fan, however; I love to wallow in warm bubbly waters until I am sufficiently pruned and will only venture to the shower when I need to wash my hair. The option of both and being separate bathroom entities is a real plus for the rooms at the Abama. Finally, on the topic of luxurious bathrooms, the Abama generously provides a gorgeous range of toiletries courtesy of Asprey: Purple Water collection.

Suite – Citadel

During our stay in 2016, we were given a gorgeous suite in the Citadel. The suit occupied the top floor of one section of the Citadel and boasted unparalleled views of the sea and the Persian Garden. To put into context how special this room was is a remarkable testament to the Abama team and the splendid service they offer. Our stay in 2016 was for the purpose of our wedding. I had requested that some of our pictures be taken in the Persian Garden as it had always captured me and was visually gorgeous. The fabulous reservations team had taken this on board and made sure that our room overlooked something I found so special.

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The suite itself opened into a large sitting room with a balcony. We had a table and chairs for in-room dining and plenty of entertainment options with TV and internet access. The bedroom also had a substantial balcony as well as a gloriously comfy bed. As with all the rooms at the Abama the housekeeping team keep them spotless and their attention is detail is excellent.

We found the space perfect for hosting a drinks party with family and friends who had stayed after the wedding.

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Hotel Complex

The Abama resort complex is extensive, with a championship golf course, tennis courts, private villas, fitness centre and spa, the main Citadel and pool areas down to the Tagor Villas and the beach. Despite the sprawling expanse of the resort, it is remarkable how unique and secluded each area is.

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The resort has become increasingly busy with families during school holidays however as a teacher I would nonetheless choose to visit with my husband as there are so many areas where we do not have to around children. The Abama is extremely good at catering for adults only and family needs.

The spa is worth a mention as the treatments are excellent and the use of the water circuit is well worth an afternoon of your time. There have definitely been a few occasions where I’ve snuggled down on a warm stone bed listening to the gentle trickle of water creeping stealthily over the edge of the infinity pool only to fall sound asleep. As with all good things booking ahead is advised.

I wouldn’t say I’m a golfer by any stretch of the imagination however I like playing andIMG_3883.JPG can just about hack my way around a course. My family however including the hubby are pretty proficient when it comes to accurately swinging a club at a small ball and getting it into an even tinier hole 400 yards away. The Abama has always provided a spectacular golfing experience. The course is a tricky 72 par 18-hole course with water, sand, trees and vastly varied terrain; a day spent tackling this beast is well worth it. I would recommend a post-round beer and burger at the clubhouse with views over the complex and the sea it’s a pleasant way to dissect your round and reflect on the game.

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Pools & Beach

IMG_3845As guests of the Abama, you can freely use the beach and sun loungers. Views from the beach particularly at sunset are stunning.

The large hotel complex makes it possible to have multiple pools. If you are travelling as a family then the main pool is where you should head. It does get busy, and it is very much a family area so if you are without children, I would recommend seeking out the adult-only pool. To the left of the main pool, a smaller pool area can be found, often popular with families with smaller children. This area has lots of shady spots and a lovely shallow igloo area perfect for small ones to splash about.Attachment-1.jpegAs a resident of the Tagor Villas then you needn’t look further than your own private pool area. This area is just for residents of the villas so make the most it! The beds are well separated, so you don’t feel crammed in and due to the length of the pool, there is plenty of space for all. The Tagor Villa pool is well attended. The staff are always on hand to help out regardless if it is a new towel, cold drink or even helping you make dinner reservations from your sun lounger.

Wide cabanas, infinity pool, expansive ocean views, another adult-only paradise. The adult pool is located by the El Mirador restaurant and provides spacious seating for around eighty guests. The loungers and private cabanas are large and comfortable and all are positioned to make the most of the panoramic views of the sea or the hillside and banana plantations which surround the resort. The adult pool has a bar and lunch area available, meaning you don’t have to stray too far from your lounger to procure a cold beverage.

Regardless of where you choose to park yourself for a day in the sun, the pool staff at all locations are keen to ensure your experience is as relaxing and enjoyable as possible.

Food & Drink

If you travel with the British Airways deal that includes bed and breakfast it means that lunch and dinner are additional costs. The Abama boasts two Michelin starred restaurants Kabuki & MB and a host of other fabulous eateries. You don’t want to have your dinner reservations defined by the package you booked; meaning you miss out on the culinary experiences on offer.

The Abama has worked hard over the years to update and ensure the utmost quality of the restaurants they provide. With such high-quality food offered at the hotel, booking is imperative. Regardless if your trip coincides with a school holiday or you are blissfully unconstrained by term dates; book your dinner ahead of schedule! I would recommend making your dinner reservations before your trip and the reservations teams are incredibly helpful via email and phone. You can, of course, visit the concierge when you arrive however your ideal dining time may be unavailable. I have been stung with this one too many times and have ended up eating far too late in the evening.

If it’s culinary theatre you are after then take an evening to enjoy the tasting menu of the MB. It is a true gastronomic experience. The food pushes your senses to redefine your preconceptions of traditional flavours and unique textures. Absolute genius.

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Kabuki is my all-time favourite restaurant in the world. I love Asian food, in particular sushi. Kabuki offers Japanese fusion cuisine and with every visit to the Abama, I make sure I snag a reservation here. I have found the best option for ordering is to go with the chef’s recommendations. Let the experts provide you with a worthy feast. I have never been disappointed.

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The Abama restaurants cater for every taste with the 20/20 steakhouse serving succulent cuts of meat and perfectly paired wines. Verona offers Italian cuisine. El Mirador serves up freshly caught fish and Txoko presents a modern take on traditional Spanish gastronomy. But if it’s a low-key night with a burger and beer then the sports bar is great for a chilled evening.

Final Thoughts

It is safe to say I am an Abama regular with around nine visits and counting! The Abama offers everything I need for a holiday; whether I am with my husband and we need an adult-only escape or I am travelling with family and young children. Fabulous food, drink, service, amenities and a host of additional extras. This is a truly special place and one which I will continue to return to.

Happy travels,

Jess

 

 

 

How to spend 3 days in Prague: A long weekend guide to the charming Czech capital

Getting to Prague

Flights to Prague operate regularly out of London Heathrow with carriers such as Finnair, British Airways and Ryanair. The flight time to Prague from London is about two hours; which is very reasonable if you are planning a long weekend. I would recommend getting a taxi from the airport. You can book a taxi through www.suntransfers.com who I have always found reliable and good value. Our journey took about thirty minutes to the Art Deco Imperial Hotel and we checked in and were unpacked within an hour of stepping off the plane. A taxi was the right option for our trip as our flight arrived late so, a quick check in and sleep was at the top of our agenda.

If you don’t fancy the cost of a taxi then buses and trains are available. For more transfer options check out, https://www.prg.aero/en/transport-airport.

Where to stay

Our trip to Prague was a surprise for my 30th birthday last summer so, the hubby went all out and booked the Art Deco Imperial Hotel. The Art Deco Imperial is a 5* luxury hotel only a five-minute walk from the old town area. Knowing that all things Art Deco & Art Nouveau bring me joy; this original 1914 building was the obvious choice for our stay. My husband won some serious brownie points as the original features and quirky embellishments throughout the hotel were totally captivating; the main staircase is just gorgeous and a real focal point.

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A photo just doesn’t do it justice!

The Art Deco Imperial Hotel is also home to Café Imperial. The café has been the most popular Grand Café House in Prague for over 100 years. Boasting stunning Art Nouveau tiling and a mosaic ceiling, it is a charming spot to have breakfast. Lunch and dinner are also offered; so even if you aren’t a guest of the hotel there are plentiful opportunities to sample this famous hot spot.

Where to eat

Prague has hundreds upon hundreds of fabulous eateries serving excellent local food. It is worth trying to get off the beaten track for eating in Prague. Often, like most cities, end

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A modern twist on a Czech classic at Spejle

up paying too much for satisfactory food. Alternatively, you end up eating food purely made for tourists meaning you miss out on the good stuff and miss the chance to experience the real culinary landscape of the city. Prague plays brilliantly to its heritage and you can easily find a tavern serving good beer and copious amounts of meat. We opted for a food tour on our last day. It was such a perfect way to experience restaurants and local producers that we would never have found on our own. For the full write-up and information on our Eating Europe: Prague food tour check out this post https://takemefarandaway.com/2018/10/07/coming-soon/

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The first stop on our food tour!

What to do

Powder Tower

Finished in 1475 the Powder Tower; affectionately named as a nod to its past as a gunpowder store marks the start of the Royal Route to Prague Castle. The Powder Tower was a bit of an accidental first stop on our first day. Typically, we like to have a wander and general mooch around before committing to specific sites or attractions. However, as we approached the tower the huge wooden and iron-studded door was ajar revealing a set of narrow windy steps. The exciting unknown beckoned and before I knew it, I was firmly committed to my ascent up the tower.

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Be warned there are a lot of steps and they do get pretty narrow as you climb. If you do struggle with stairs, you might want to give this a miss as there isn’t much stopping room to catch your breath.

That being said, the views from the top are fab. The city stretches out in front of you in all directions and is a great way to orientate yourself with the local landmarks. To access the top part of the tower there is a 100CZK charge but it is well worth the price for the view waiting for you at the end.

Be aware that the powder tower will be closed for renovation until August 2019.

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Gallery of Art: Warhol, Dali & Mucha

On each of our weekend breaks, we often take the opportunity to visit the national gallery or museums of modern art. Upon seeing a flyer for a Warhol, Dali and Mucha exhibition at the Gallery of Art I eagerly handed over the 170CZK entrance fee and made my way to the top floor. The exhibition was laid out over three floors with each dedicated to one of the three artists.

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Before the exhibition, I was familiar with the work of Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali but Alfons Mucha was a pleasant surprise and for the hubby, Dali and Mucha were a new offering. I think of the three exhibitions it was Mucha’s I enjoyed the most. Mucha’s work is gloriously intricate and romantic conjuring nostalgia for a time and era that I have never experienced but can only imagine. I also found it fascinating learning about his professional relationship with actress Sarah Bernhardt and seeing his designs printed on the earliest Czechoslovakian stamps and banknotes.

The three artists are very different making the whole exhibition considerably varied. From Andy Warhol’s pop art, original Dali prints and sculpture to Mucha’s stunning Art Nouveau designs this exhibition is well worth an hour or two of your time.

Museum of Communism

This one was a bit of a curveball for our trip. My husband who does no research, planning or preparation for any adventure had one request whilst in Prague; a to visit the Museum of Communism. After a short afternoon beer-inspired nap, we made our way to the museum which was only a two-minute walk from our hotel.

I am ashamed to say that I knew relatively little about the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe and Czechoslovakia following the Second World War up to 1989. The museum was well laid out and incredibly informative. I am one of those people who go through a museum reading most of the information but also getting distracted by other pictures, artefacts and colourful displays. My moth-like nature was no trouble here. My eyes were glued to every plaque. The information is presented over two floors and describes the politics, economics, the media, police and what life was like for everyday people under communist rule.

We spent over two hours devouring the information in total silence. Only once we emerged into the sunshine did we debrief on the experience. Having a starting point of limited knowledge on this period in time, the Museum of Communism was an informative, sensitive and truly excellent presentation of the life of Czech people during communism.

Entrance to the museum is 290CZK for an adult ticket and the museum is open every day from 9 am -8 pm.

Prague Castle

Our second day was devoted to exploring Prague Castle and the castle complex and a full day was definitely needed!

The walk up to the castle complex took around twenty-five minutes from our hotel. We arrived around 10 am and would definitely say that the earlier you arrive the less you’ll have to queue. Queueing took to get into the complex took approximately fifteen minutes but it doubled in size whilst we were waiting.

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Tickets for the castle complex vary depending on what you want to see. We opted for circuit A as it offered access to the majority of attractions in the complex.

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We started our tour of the complex with St Vitus cathedral. Upon walking through the cathedral 2impregnable wooden doors, we stepped into the nave of the cathedral and basked in glorious technicolour. Sunlight streaming through the stained glass and the soaring heights of the vaulted ceiling was truly awe-inspiring. After a good half hour absorbing the delights of the cathedral, we checked out St Georges Basilica, ‘The story of Prague Castle’ exhibition, Rosenberg Palace and Old Royal Palace. The story of Prague Castle exhibition gave a fascinating insight into the development of Prague Castle and its grounds over the years also the history and background of the city.

 

Our final adventure of the day was Golden Lane also known as the Street of Alchemists. Sadly, this last part is pure myth. Emperor Rudolf the second did have alchemists working for him however they occupied more discreet rooms in the castle complex. However, all is not lost as Golden Lane did house the Royal Goldsmiths during the 17th Century.

Golden Lane is a small street constructed after the northern wall was built in the 16th century originally for the castle guards. The dwellings in Golden Lane are modest and

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The home of Madame De Thebes

are the final reminder of the small-scale buildings which existed in the castle complex. The dwellings were inhabited by castle defenders, servants and tradesmen until World War Two.

Some truly remarkable people chose this small section of the castle complex for their homes. Famous inhabitants included Franz Kafka, Madame De Thebes and Nobel prize-winning writer and poet Jaroslav Siefert.

It would have been easy to spend another hour purely immersing myself in Golden Lane and taking in how each little home was set up to reveal its former life.

John Lennon Wall

After reading various posts and recommendations I decided that I couldn’t visit Prague without a stop at the John Lennon Wall. After a speedy breakfast, we ventured out into the thirty-degree heatwave to find the wall. The wall is located in the old town on Velkopřevorské náměstí, 100 00 Praha 1, not far from the Charles Bridge.

Despite the early hour of our visit, I was expecting to find new-age hippies singing of peace and love against a backdrop of Lennon inspired graffiti. What I discovered was the opposite. Yes, there was someone singing ‘Imagine’ but it felt out of place juxtaposed against mindless images and random offensive graffiti. Regrettably, I felt disappointed as I scoured the wall for what lay underneath; there were snippets of Beatles lyrics and an image of Lennon himself but it seems that the original purpose of the wall and message it was designed to give is long gone.

However; disappointment aside some of the graffiti is pretty cool and it made for not only a lovely walk but some interesting pictures.

If you have a demanding schedule then I wouldn’t worry too much about carving out time to visit the John Lennon wall, I reckon we were only there for around ten to fifteen minutes. I’d like to think that some of the random offensive graffiti which was there on my visit might be repainted and replaced by something a little more akin to the message of peace, love and freedom of speech; so, if you do visit please let me know.

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Letna Beer Garden

letna .JPGPrague is known for its beer gardens and rightly so. There are some fabulous beer gardens dotted around the city. We opted for one of the bigger and more well-known ones, Letna. The Letna beer garden is situated at Letenske Sady 341 just across the Stefanikuv Most bridge. After a short yet steep walk, our trek was rewarded with picture-postcard views over the city and the river. After a long day checking out Prague Castle a cold beer and a gorgeous view was just the ticket.

Museum of Alchemy

I am definitely one of these people who strongly feel that their letter to ‘Hogwarts’ was lost or mislaid by a slightly wayward owl. A small part of me holds some hope that although thirteen years late my owl could show up at any given moment, I am a dreamer and a fantasist. I love losing myself in fantasy novels and quite often find myself snooping around unknown places in the hopes of discovering a concealed door, untrodden path or mysterious and mystical item. Who doesn’t love a mystery! In my head I am Lazlo from ‘Strange the Dreamer’ by Liani Taylor; a fabulous book if you’re looking for some holiday reading! So, when I read that Prague was home to a real-life alchemy laboratory from the 16th Century I jumped on it!

After locating the unassuming shop front, I secured places on the next available tour and waited for it to start. My husband took some convincing that this would be an enjoyable experience and not simply a tacky show for tourists. I am pleased to say that he was most certainly won over!

All-access is through the organised tour so it is worth checking this out first to avoid disappointment. The tour lasts 30 minutes and starts every half an hour.

Without giving too much away the tour shattered all my expectations and I left me fizzing with excitement to seek out my next mystical adventure. The guides brought the whole story to life and had I been sitting I would have been on the edge of my seat.

The whole experience felt genuinely magical, it’s hard to describe and If you fancy extending your magical experience you can snap up your own alchemical elixir in the shop!

Final thoughtsdoor

Our three days in Prague were fabulous, although it felt as though I had only scratched the surface of this fascinating and history-laden city. I would love to visit in the winter and check out the Christmas market but also venture further afield. Inspired by our food tour guide Neil I have been firmly sold on the beauty of Moravia; so, it’s safe to say I will be back.

Happy travels

Jess

New Zealand’s North Island Part 2: How to spend 3 days in Rotorua

Wai-o- tapu Thermal Park

Moving on from Taupo we started our journey to Rotorua. Rotorua is famed for its geothermal activity, hot springs, geysers and bubbling mud pools as well as that fantastically egg inspired sulphur scent. The first stop on our journey was the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Park. Wai-o-tapu is Māori for sacred water. Once you’ve visited Wai-o-tapu it is clear to see why this is such a special, if not a weird and wonderful place. The best way I can describe the crazy natural geography of Wai-o-tapu is as the secret love child of Picasso and Dr Frankenstein. Random bursts of colour thrown together with ominously bubbling pools which look like they could combust at any moment…it really is a mad place.

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I would advise arriving at Wai-o-tapu either early morning or late afternoon. Due to our travel schedule, we arrived around 11.30am. Although the journey from Taupo was relatively short, only 40 minutes, it would have been even better if we had planned our arrival time a little more carefully. Whilst there was a small queue for tickets, the trails around the park were pretty busy at this time particularly at the Artist’s Palette pool and the entry tracks around the Devil’s Ink Pots and Devil’s Home.

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The park is fantastically set up with boardwalk trails, so it makes for easy navigation and walking. We opted for the longest trail which encompassed a good proportion of the park. Our choice for the longer trail certainly paid off as the boardwalks became much quieter and we didn’t have to jostle hundreds of other tourists to get the best views of the pools, waterfalls and geysers.

Wai-o-tapu was a fantastic trip and well worth the $32.50 dollar entry price. I would leave around 2-3 hours to make the most of your visit. It’s easy to get drawn into the steam and multicoloured waters and not realise you’ve been standing in the same spot for fifteen minutes, mesmerised by the aspect in front of you.

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No edit here….the water is genuinely that colour!

Hobbiton

Undoubtedly, Hobbiton stole my heart! I have always been a big fan of all things Tolkien and a visit to Hobbiton has been firmly on my bucket list since its existence on the tourist map. Hobbiton is situated in Matamata, a 45-minute drive from our base in Rotorua so, it’s easily done as a day trip. With our tour booked late afternoon, we still had all morning to cram even more into our day. It’s worth noting that the pre-booked tours are the only way to visit the movie set and they do get booked up. So, if you are keen to experience a little slice of movie history and share in the furry toed Hobbit love then make sure you book ahead.

Matamata evokes a quiet charm; nestled at the base of the Kaimai ranges; it is true farming country. Gently undulating hills, like something from a patchwork quilt stitched together with ranges, hedgerows, picket fences and pockets of native bush. The natural artistry of the place is unparalleled. Driving through this remarkable countryside produced one of those rare warm and complete feelings within me.

matamata

Arrival at the Hobbiton movie set was super simple, we parked up, collected our tickets and even had time for an ice-cream before I firmly established myself at the front of the 5.10pm queue, yes, I was that keen. Despite the queue being in the burning sunshine, a little-added sweat wasn’t going to keep me from claiming the best seat on the bus. Tragic, I know.

A short bus ride takes you through the Alexander farm and down to the set. Thehobbiton 4.JPG Alexander farm is still a working farm; so the partnership between Peter Jackson and the filmmakers and the Alexander family has been incredibly important to the success of the attraction. From start to finish the tour was fabulous. Our guide was knowledgeable, passionate and clearly knew her movies and her Tolkien. It was also an added bonus that as a local girl her Grandmother had actually been in the films as an extra in Hobbiton.

The set itself is phenomenal, with only minutes of footage being actually used in the films the environment, Hobbit holes and the village is exceptionally intricate. Each Hobbit hole has a particular theme from fishing to gardening and beekeeping; a glorious insight into the Hobbit’s interests and pastimes. The gardens, allotment and paths are perfectly curated in a wild and realistic way, with the tourist path gently winding its way up the hillside to lead you to the big green door of Bag End, set slightly ajar as to beckon you into the wondrous fantasy that is the Shire.

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The attention to detail and the way the tours were operated was excellent. I particularly liked the drink at the end in the Green Dragon and I can thoroughly recommend the ginger beer.

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Blue Lake (Lake Tikitapu) Track

Who doesn’t love a good walk? Honestly, there are some days when nothing is better than tramping around a local landscape to get the feel of the place. The walking trails in and around Rotorua are plentiful so it would have been rude not to check out a few on our short stay.

We opted for the Blue Lake trail which was an easy-going 5.5km hike, taking around one and a half hours. I say it was easy and this is certainly true if you don’t lose the trail and go a little off-piste. In truth, the trail is clearly marked and there is a section along the road. I would recommend sturdy walking shoes or trainers as the woodland sections are not really suitable for open-toed shoes or sandals.

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The trail which takes you through the native bush and woodland and is a total delight. There were moments when the path ahead was encased in Jurassic foliage, not a sound penetrating the dense bush and the scent of moist earth lingering in the air; once again I was truly captivated by the landscape. I felt as if I had been transported to the set of Jurassic Park.

An excellent way to spend a morning, working up an appetite for lunch.

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Lake Tarawera

Lake Tarawera is one of the largest lakes in New Zealand and used to be home to the pink and white terraces which graced its shores until the volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886. The terraces were once named the 8th wonder of the world. Mount Tarawera can still clearly be seen from the shores of the lake and it is an imposing landmark on the horizon.

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Lake Tarawera was only a 15-minute drive from our base in Rotorua so it was a great option for an easy lunch stop. The café on the lake is called The Landing Café and if you are after quality, quick and easy food then this is a perfect stop for your list. If you stick with the twisty, winding drive down to the shore you won’t be disappointed by the views or the food.

I could have stood on the edge of the boardwalk quietly taking stock for some time. It’s an easy place to lose yourself in.

lake tarawera

Zip lining at Rotorua Canopy Tours

New Year’s Day: a day for firmly enacting and living out your new years’ resolutions. Well, New Years day 2019 was incredible; I climbed big trees and jumped out of them with the Ultimate Canopy Tour from Rotorua Canopy Tours. I’m not especially scared of heights but I’m not a huge fan of the unknown and change; however, there was something hugely freeing both physically and mentally about casting my body of a small ledge into the unknown. With the wind in my hair and the forest below the 1,200m of zip line completely transported me to a happy place.

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To experience the Canopy Tour, you definitely need to book in advance. Upon booking you have a choice of two different experiences. We opted for the Ultimate Canopy Tour; a three-and-a-half-hour tour through the trees with a range of zip lines, bridges, different ascents and even a cliff edge walk – perfect to get the adrenaline going.

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Before booking you should note that there is a weight limit of 120kg and you are weighed before getting kitted out with helmet and harness at the centre. All the staff were incredibly well-trained and safety conscious before and during the tour; their advice and tips as we were going through the forest made the experience even more enjoyable. Whilst you don’t need to have an athlete’s level of fitness to take part in the tour, you should have good mobility in your knees and hips to get them up ready for landing on the platforms. There is also a steep stair climb and some walking involved throughout the tour, so a general level of fitness is recommended.

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400m zip line!

In addition to the experience, you get a range of photos taken during the day which are available free of charge after your tour is finished. You can, of course, take your own photos but there really isn’t anywhere to store a big camera and you’re going to want both hands going down the zip lines. One thing which I wish had taken advantage of was the go pro which is available for hire from the centre.

One of the most fascinating parts of the tour was actually hearing about the conservation work the organisation is doing to restore the natural flora and fauna to the forest. Their commitment to trapping pests and rejuvenating the forest is brilliant. Comparing images of the difference in the canopy over a period of four years was quite impressive. It is always good to know that the funds you put into a business as a tourist genuinely are making a positive impact on the local environment.

Kiwi at rainbow springs

I had always assumed that Kiwis were just a stable part of the New Zealand countryside like sheep or foxes are for us in the UK. In my blissfully ignorant state, I thought that these cute little furry, feathered round things just pottered about the bush with not a care or predator to bother them. How wrong I was. I was ashamed to say that my Kiwi knowledge was zero, I could definitely identify one (thanks Canterbury clothing) but that’s the extent of it.

Rainbow Springs is great for an afternoon’s wanderings with the park open all year round from 8.30am to 10.30pm, there is plenty of opportunities to fit a few hours into the day. The Kiwi burrow is a purpose-built enclosure with history, conservation and educational material provided before going into the enclosure. After 20-30 minutes reading the information I felt thoroughly clued up on the unfortunate plight of the Kiwi and other native birds such as the Moa – these chaps are sadly extinct but they certainly would have been kings of the forest.

Kiwis are easy prey for small mammals such as stoat and weasels. It was shocking to discover that only 5% of Kiwi hatched in the wild actually make it to adulthood. This startling figure makes the work of Rainbow Springs and the One Nest Egg programme even more important to securing the future for the Kiwi.

Kiwis are shy nocturnal creatures so it felt pretty special to see one pottering around in his burrow. Rainbow Springs works hard to promote and enact meaningful Kiwi conservation and the conservation of native plant life which is clear to see as you make your way around the park.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Rainbow Springs for the Kiwi alone, never mind the other attractions the park has to offer. It felt so worthwhile educating myself on this strange little bird with mammalian tendencies and what a treat to see one now I have improved knowledge.

Happy travels

Jess

Top 10 Tips for surviving long haul flights

Noise cancelling headphones

This one I was sceptical about at first and in truth I had always been under the impression that noise cancelling headphones were a crazy expensive and unnecessary extravagance. However, after a quick demo from a Skull Candy representative at Heathrow before boarding a long-haul flight to New Zealand; I was sold. When staring down the barrel of 25 hours on a plane the thought of being able to block out the persistent drone of the plane, crying children and general chat of other passengers is pretty appealing. Anything that helps you get some much sought-after rest is a good thing!

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I opted for the Skull Candy model reasonably priced at £95. They have a noise cancelling function so you can turn it on and off. They are easy to use and can be plugged into the ports on the in-flight entertainment. You can also use them with Bluetooth connection to your device. It is safe to say I am a huge convert and won’t dream of hitting the skies without my noise cancelling headphones.

 

Book a lounge

Long haul travel on occasion comes with hours sat in transit waiting for connecting flights. If this is the case and you don’t feel like you have time to venture into the city then I would recommend booking a lounge.

There are lots of options which can be pre-booked and you don’t have to be a member of a rewards scheme or group to get a space. If you need a shower, somewhere comfortable to sit, catch up on work or a lie down then booking a lounge is a perfect choice.

 

Comfortable clothing

If you have to sit on a plane for any length of time you need to be comfortable; that includes your footwear. Don’t forget that during the flight your feet are likely to swell a little due to the altitude – there is nothing worse than trying to squeeze your feet back blur close up coffee coffee cupinto shoes at the end of the flight only to find they are much too tight. One little tip I can always recommend is packing a pair of warm slipper socks in your hand luggage particularly if you want to travel in sandals or flip-flops.

You might be heading off to sunnier climes however the high-powered air con on the flight is going to leave you feeling chilly so make sure you pack a jumper or a longer layer even if it is just for the flight.

 

Reserve your seat

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On most flights, you can reserve your seat prior to the date of departure. If you are a nervous passenger then I would recommend snagging a seat over a wing as this is the most stable part of the plane and if turbulence does strike then you might be spared a few bumps. If you are someone who likes to be up and down be sure to get an aisle seat – I am definitely one of these people and like to have the freedom to get up and move around.

For those of you who have a little more time to research your seat options then check out Seat Guru or Sky Trax as they give a full comparison of different airlines and their seat provision.

In addition to reduced feelings of turbulence, the emergency exit seats on the wing come with a little extra leg room and trust me – when you have to sit there for 12 hours straight every inch counts!

 

Snacks!

At least you get fed on long haul flights….right? Yes, you do but often you end up eating ice-cream and noodles in the middle of the night or a roast dinner for breakfast. Whilst my body generally tends to go with the flow there are certainly times when I have declined the meal to try and sleep only to wake up two hours later completely starving! So, to prevent any mid-flight cravings make sure you pack a few slow energy release snacks in your hand luggage. Nuts, seeds or dried fruit are a great way to go. Alternatively, if you are in the mood for a mid-flight midnight snack, I can thoroughly recommend the Cathay Pacific midnight noodles, delicious!

variety of brown nuts on brown wooden panel high angle photo

 

Pick your airline

airplane wing towards clouds

When choosing an airline, you have a huge amount of choice. Whilst timings or location may narrow down your suitable options you still have a decision to make on which airline to travel with. When flying long haul your choice of airline can really make the difference in your travelling experience. I would recommend choosing an airline with a seat width of 17.2+, you can compare this information on Seat Guru. Consistently good airlines for long haul travel are Singapore Airlines (Winner of the Telegraph Travel Award for Best Long Haul Airline) Emirates, Qatar Airways and Air New Zealand who were also crowned best airline 2018 by AirlineRatings.com. This was a fifth consecutive win for Air New Zealand so it’s safe to say they are doing something right!

 

Move around

Moving around seems like one of those things you’re told to do, know you should but in

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reality, you have just got comfy, don’t want to disturb the person next to you or you are simply too engrossed in a ‘Friends’ marathon to get up and walk up and down. However; if I can stress one thing about long haul travel is that you should get up and move about. If getting up isn’t possible then try a few simple exercises in your seat – that way you don’t have to pause your movie! Try some ankle circles, knee lifts or foot lifts just to get the blood moving.

Our bodies weren’t designed to sit still and vegetate for 12+ hours so even if it’s just every few hours have a little wander up and down or even just stand and stretch out and get your legs moving.

 

Upgrade

If you are a member of a reward scheme such as Avios you might be able to use your points to upgrade for a more comfortable flight. Upgrading not only gives you the benefit of more room, better food and the option to lie flat in some cases but, you also get access to the lounge before departure. Lounge access before boarding your long-haul flight can really help ease you into your journey. Be sure to check out offers and deals when you are booking as it might be possible to upgrade to for a small fee.

Finally, if you choose to fly off-peak; avoiding school holidays, weekends and Mondays (the busiest travel day!) then you might be able to use those additional pennies to upgrade to premium economy, business or first class.

 

Plan your in-flight entertainment

Prior to your flight, you can check out your in-flight entertainment options online. The majority of airlines will publish their movie and TV schedule a month or two in advance so you can fully plan your in-flight TV binge with relative ease. Whilst the entertainment options on most airlines are pretty wide and varied these days, I make sure that my Kindle is fully loaded with new books to read and I always keep a paperback in my hand luggage if technology fails.

woman in white bed holding remote control while eating popcorn

If you are using a smartphone to access E-books, audiobooks or music it is also worth have a portable charger to keep your battery topped up throughout the flight.

 

Hydrate

70% of our body weight is water based – this is huge! It is a well-accepted fact that flying can significantly increase your risk dehydration. Dehydration can make you feel miserable with headaches, increased lethargy and dry eyes just to name a few symptoms. If you are on a long-haul flight, noclear disposable bottle on black surfacet getting brilliant sleep you don’t want to throw dehydration into the mix as well. Whilst you are flying make sure you are constantly sipping on water to keep your liquids topped up. Remaining fully hydrated will have you stepping off the plane feeling fresh!

 

Happy travels

Jess

 

 

 

New Zealand’s North Island Part 1: How to spend 3 days in Taupo

How to spend 3 days in Taupo

Many people have a spot firmly reserved for New Zealand on their bucket list. Whether you are an adventure seeking backpacker, family travellers or just looking to uncover some of the fabulous culture and landscapes New Zealand has to offer; there really is something for everyone.

After making the mammoth effort to get here it is easy to approach your travels with a checklist of things to tick off, because, let’s be honest when is the next time you will be making this trip again?

In December 2018 my husband and I flew out to Palmerston North to visit family over the Christmas period. Due to work commitments we had two full weeks including travelling days to explore this beautiful country. Itineraries were created, reworked, scrapped and tinkered with for some time before the final plan was in place. With only 12 days to work with excluding Christmas day and boxing day we wanted to get the most out of our trip without countless hours in the car; only getting out to take a quick picture then onto the next thing. We opted to stay on the North Island and complete a road trip. Our trip took us from Fielding to Taupo to Rotorua and finally ending in Opito Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula before heading back to Auckland for the trek home to the UK.

Our slightly more laid-back approach to the trip definitely enabled us to immerse ourselves in the culture and places we discovered.

This road trip itinerary takes in Taupo, Rotorua and Opito Bay. There are recommendations for thrill seekers, outdoor enthusiasts and a few gems for those who hunt for opportunities to get off the grid and take a step back when travelling!

Day 1-3: Taupo

Setting off from Fielding to Taupo didn’t start the way we had anticipated; after only 20 minutes we were forced to make a speedy U-turn to reclaim our winter coats which were stowed away on our arrival…lucky my husband remembered as his passport was conveniently stashed in his coat pocket! Who keeps their passport in their coat pocket?? Anyway, with disaster averted we were on our way.

Within 30 minutes of leaving Fielding I was like a child on their first trip to Disney World. Eyes as big as saucers, completely enthralled by their surroundings and silently mouthing ‘Wow’ every five minutes, as I pressed myself closer to the window to make sure I had the best views. gorgeMy husband fell asleep!view!mountain

 

 

Our drive took us through gently rolling hills, far better than anything I’ve seen in the UK! Past volcanoes’, rivers, gorges and mountain ranges. Every aspect was a picture worthy of capturing. I couldn’t get over how green everything was. New Zealand is pretty subtle at letting you know that their country is breath-taking. Every now then there are gravel laybys and viewing points where you can get out of your car and take in the view. I can definitely recommend the views from Stormy Point look out and the roads through the Tongariro National park.

It is safe to say that Lake Taupo crept up on me, I was so enthralled by the cutest little church (Waitetoko Church) that I completely missed Lake Taupo sneaking up on my left-hand side. It most certainly took me by surprise. Lake Taupo is impressive! The lake was created almost two thousand years ago during an enormous volcanic eruption. The crater left by the eruption, now Lake Taupo is roughly the size of Singapore….insane!

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With such a brilliant natural resource Taupo is an excellent place for all things water based. From cruises to kayaking, Māori rock carving to beautiful riverside walks and trails not to mention excellent café culture, Taupo has a lot to offer.

Travelling in a group of six and opting for a more relaxed trip, we had decided that we would rent a home for our stay rather than stay in a hotel. This option enabled us to have the freedom to work around our own schedule and we had the run of the loveliest house right on the river. Booking was done through http://www.bookabach.co.nz/baches-and-holiday-homes . The whole process was simple and worked brilliantly for our needs.

What to do

We couldn’t visit Taupo without spending some time checking out Huka Falls. Huka Falls is the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand and it sure is worth a stop. I would recommend walking along the river for the best views and appreciation of the falls. This is not just a jump out of the car take a picture opportunity – trust me, it’s worth taking in a little more of the landscape. I have never seen water so perfectly and exquisitely turquoise.

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You can park at Spa Thermal Park and begin the walk from there. The trail takes you along the river winding its way up to give you a bird’s eye view of the river before meandering back down to culminate at the mighty Huka Falls. The power, speed and ferocity of the water reminded me of some elemental water dragon thrashing beneath the surface. Leaving time for photos and general wallowing in its beauty the trail takes about 1hr 30mins -2 hours. Also, as a little bonus you can take a dip in the hot springs at the start of the trail. The Spa Thermal Park is well equipped with changing rooms and easy walk ways to make access to the springs simple – so pack your swimwear!

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Whilst hiking is lovely and gives you a great opportunity to take in the views it isn’t exactly adrenaline fuelled. If you’ve come to New Zealand seeking action and thrills then I can thoroughly recommend the Huka Falls Jet. The Huka Jet takes you along the river, cliffs and to the base of the falls at 80 kilometres per hour! Our skilful driver weaved, spun, dodged and narrowly missed all the obstacles the river had to throw at him…..top tip – hang on! I stepped off the boat buzzing and with my heart in my mouth but it huka jet.jpgwas a brilliant way to get up close and personal to the falls. I should also mention that you will get wet, possibly VERY wet! Come prepared wearing a quick dry t-shirt and shorts as, particularly if you’re sitting on the outside edge you are in the firing line when the jet completes its breakneck 360 turns.

Sitting in the Pacific Ring of Fire it is no wonder that New Zealand harnesses the benriver 6.JPGefits of geothermal activity to generate power. If you’re visiting Taupo it is worth checking out the Aratiatia dam and rapids. The dam opens at 10am, 12pm and in the summer months 4pm. Along the dam there are various viewing platforms where you can watch for free as over 90,000 litres of water burst through and fill the gorge below. We arrived at around 9.45am and river 5.JPGwere able to get a spot with a perfect view of the dam opening. I recommend getting a spot below the bridge to see the full effect. It is worth arriving before 10am so you can see the tremendous change in the gorge as it becomes a rapid filled rushing river. Seeing the transition from unrelenting river to empty gorge really does make you appreciate natures incredible power.river 7.JPG

Continuing with the water-based activities we finally headed out one evening onto Lakemaori carving.jpg Taupo itself. We booked tickets on small boat with Ernest Kemp for an evening cruise to see the Māori rock carvings. Whilst the carvings aren’t as old as you might expect they are still pretty impressive. The giant Mine Bay carving of Ngātoroirangi is an excellent modern example of Māori artwork and took four summers to complete. Despite the grand splendor of the Ngātoroirangi carving; I think my favorite was the tuatara (giant lizard) which is sprawled across one of the lower rocks. The tuatara appears like a real-life dinosaur and could easily have been prop on the set of Jurassic Park. The carvings can only be accessed by boat

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Can you spot the Tuatara?

or kayak so it’s worth booking a trip. Our cruise with Ernest Kemp was very chilled with beer, wine, soft drinks and pizza served as we glided across the lake. Once at the rock carvings there was also the opportunity for a dip in the lake. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.

 

 

 

Finally, if you need to take a break and catch your breath then Replete café and store https://replete.co.nz/ is the perfect place to do so. Once you’ve snagged yourself a seat take a moment to fully study the huge glass cases of food and snacks also don’t forget to check out what’s on the menu! Whatever your choice I have no doubt it will be excellent! Top recommendation, the Moroccan chicken sandwich with an iced mocha went down a treat. It is easy to see why this cute little café has won numerous local and national awards. With a stellar reputation Replete is a popular place so try to beat the morning and afternoon rush to secure a table!

Although we managed to achieve a lot in three days, I would say that Taupo still had more to offer. On a return trip in the future I hope to get in some kayaking, complete the full hike from Huka Falls to the Aratiatia Dam and maybe check out the bungee jump over the Waikato river if I can turn my brave on!

Part two: Rotorua coming soon!

Happy travels

Jess

 

Top 5 tips for nervous flyers…

As I look forward to my epic trip to New Zealand, I am also slightly daunted by the huge amount of time needed to sit on plane in order to reach our destination. Whilst I love travel, adventures and the process of travel I have in recent years become quite a nervous flyer. There have definitely been a few ‘moments’ or as my husband would call them ‘scenes’ where I have been overcome by anxiety mid-flight. Moments where I been totally convinced that ‘we’re all going to die’ which I have loudly exclaimed to my fellow passengers as we were landing in Ottawa in 2015; my anxiety hasn’t thankfully got to the point where it has stopped me from flying. However, there are a few things I make sure I do before and during each flight to ensure I keep on top of my nerves.

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Top 5 tips for nervous flyers

Keep busy during the flight

No matter how long the flight it is really important to keep yourself busy. Something to watch, read or keep your mind occupied will not only make the time go faster but it will also help to calm you should the panic set in.

Prior to any flight I make sure I have plenty of books pre downloaded onto my Kindle, a few episodes of something downloaded from Amazon Prime and I often have a notebook

woman reading a book beside the window

or some adult colouring. I often find colouring can really help to focus my mind and calm me down, (Provided my hands haven’t become to clammy I can’t grip the pencil!). If you are planning to use any devices for watching movies, TV or just listening to music remember to bring your own headphones…the ones provided will never be as comfortable!

Whilst technology is brilliant, I always keep a hard copy book in my hand luggage just in case my Kindle decides to give up without any prior warning; there are also occasions particularly on a long-haul flight when you need a break from staring at a screen.

Talk to the flight attendants and Flight Officers

These guys know their stuff and they deal with nervous passengers all the time, so don’t be embarrassed to ask questions about the flight or the plane. Most airline staff are more than happy to put your mind at ease, remember they do this a lot!

It is always worth making yourself known to the flight staff as a nervous passenger as they will often make a point of checking in with you during the flight and on some airlines, you may even get to have your worries alleviated by the Captain himself.

Practise breathing exercises

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Breathing properly can be wonderful to focus on when you need to calm yourself down. There are some great apps to help with this such as Headspace and Breathe2Relax. I tend to use the ‘relax’ function on my Fitbit for 2-5mins to help focus my mind, breathing and attention. Internalising my thoughts to something so simple has often really helped particularly when I have been caught in turbulence during a flight.

Stay hydrated!

70% of our body weight is water based – this is huge! It is a well-accepted fact that flying can significantly increase your risk dehydration. Dehydration can make you feel miserable with headaches, increased lethargy and dry eyes just to name a few symptoms. If you are on a long haul flight, not getting brilliant sleep you don’t want to throw dehydration into the mix as well. Whilst you are flying make sure you are constantly sipping on water to keep your liquids topped up. Remaining fully hydrated will have you stepping off the plane feeling fresh!

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Whilst it might be tempting to reach for a gin and tonic to calm your nerves, alcohol consumption can accentuate the effect of dehydration on the body leaving you feeling pretty rough! So skip the Gin and opt for a soft drink or good old fashioned water.

Know your flight information and give yourself time

I often find that knowing roughly how long the flight time is, the countries we will fly over and what the time will be when we land can be quite comforting. Feeling clued up on the basics of flight number, gate number, terminal, right airport (yes there have been a few near misses!) and having plenty of time prior to boarding also reduces any unnecessary stress at the airport leaving you free to grab some food or just sit and chill.

Giving yourself enough time is key to a relaxed departure. Make sure you take heed of the security time when you get to the airport and make sure that all your liquids are separated, in a see through bag and electronic devices are out of their cases ready to be scanned.

Happy travels

Jess

 

Baltic Beauty: How to spend 4 days in Tallinn, Estonia

Baltic beauty: How to spend 4 days in Tallinn, Estonia

If Tallinn doesn’t immediately spring to mind when planning a long weekend getaway then I urge you to reconsider! I recently visited Tallinn for four days and even managed to squeeze in a day trip to Helsinki. From the moment I arrived I was totally swept up in the history and atmosphere of the city; merely wandering through the old town alleys felt anachronistic. Amongst the tightly cobbled streets, exquisitely painted houses and the steadfast and dominant towers and walls which surround the old part of the city; I was captivated. With beautiful architecture, phenomenal café culture and plenty of things to do, Tallinn is truly a destination to rival other more popular European cities.

Getting to Tallinn

Flights to Tallinn operate regularly out of London Heathrow with carriers such as Finnair, British Airways and Ryanair. The flight time to Tallinn from London is approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes, which is very reasonable if you are only planning to travel for the weekend. I would recommend getting a taxi from the airport. Our journey took about 15 minutes to the St Petersbourg Hotel in the centre of the old town and we were checked in and were ensconced by the fire with a brew in hand within 40 minutes of landing.

Where to stay

We stayed at the luxury Hotel St Petersbourg in the centre of the old town. This hotel is perfectly situated at 7 Rataskaevu which meant that all the main attractions were within easy walking distance during our stay. The hotel is charming and dates from the 14th century; it also boasts the title of the oldest working hotel in Tallinn. The décor is warm and cosy yet with a stylish edge which provided the perfect setting for our Late October trip. Roaring fires and hot beverages greeted us when we arrived in the pouring rain late on a Tuesday afternoon.

Our room was immaculate and incredibly comfortable. Although we didn’t spend much time at the hotel; the comfort and service we received during our stay is worth a mention.

Breakfast was included as part of our stay and it was an absolute treat each morning! Having chosen to visit at the end of October the hotel was quiet and we ate three of our four breakfasts just the two of us, it was blissful! The usual buffet fare was on offer and there was a menu option as well. We opted for the menu option as the chilly weather outside prompted more of a substantial start to the day. Each morning my omelette was cooked to perfection and the coffee was always piping hot and beautifully crafted.

Where to eat

16 Rataskaevu, this place is unreal! The food, the service, the atmosphere, wow! This absolute gem was directly opposite our hotel and was our first point of call after unpacking. Having not made a reservation for lunch I was dubious about our chances of snagging a table based on the impressive reviews I had read; but as luck would have it, they had one available.

After procuring drinks we were given freshly made rye bread and given the personal touch of how it was made and why it is different to other breads from the region. In short it was moist, melt in your mouth breaded yumminess….we ordered another plate!

Our starters and main courses were presented like works of art with flavours to match. We left feeling full and ready to explore the city.

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Wild boar soup

tallinn 6

Slow roasted wild boar with roasted root vegetables

The service we experienced, very reasonable prices and exceptional food, there is little surprise why comments such as ‘Best restaurant in Tallinn’ are attached to this place. I would thoroughly recommend making a reservation so you don’t loose an opportunity when in town. On our final day we thought we would try our luck again however this time they were fully booked; but within minutes the waiter had phoned their sister restaurant Väike, and secured us a table.tallinn 21

If I am ever short of a plan of action my go to decision is always coffee and a cake. I havetallinn 24 to say that during our four-day trip this plan was very well executed! Tallinn, I discovered has a wonderful café culture which I was not expecting. Tucked away into the recesses of the ancient walls is Café Carissimi, we made thtallinn 20 (2)an a few stops here during our trip. The coffee was presented like miniature caffeinated works of art and the cakes and tray bakes were delicious! I can thoroughly recommend the marshmallow tart and the cappuccino.

No visit to Tallinn is complete without a hot beverage and something sweet at Café Maiasmokk, the oldest café in Estonia. This establishment is worth a visit to view the beautifully opulent marzipan room but also sample the sweet treats! I can recommend the Blackcurrant mousse cake….yummy!

tallinn 15What to do

City walls, towers & Gates

For any Game of Thrones fans a walk along the city walls is what I imagine it would feel like to wander round the battlements of Winterfell particularly as we visited on a very cold and blustery day. Touring the city walls and taking in the many towers which still remain from the medieval defences are a must when visiting Tallinn. Tallinn city walls are now a protected UNESCO world heritage site, this status does bring crowds however if you aim for late afternoon or early morning you should avoid the larger groups; leaving you free to get lost in a time long since passed.

Tallinn 1

Bastian Passages

Access to the passages can only be secured with a group tour ticket. Tickets can be purchased from the desk at Kiek in de Kök, the cannon tower.

The tour began with a short film explaining the evolution of Tallinn as a city and how it was often fought over and modified by the Danes, Germans, Russians and Swedes.

Going down into the tunnels felt as though you were descending into the depths of the earth, in reality you don’t actually go down that far! However, despite the relative shallow depth of the tunnels it is worth making sure you have a coat as it was pretty chilly down there!

As we wound our way through the myriad of tunnels each section had been well adapted to show how the passages were used during different periods of history. The bastion passages were a fabulous glimpse into

Town Hall Pharmacy or Raeapteek

tallinn 14The Town Hall Pharmacy is a fun little jaunt and a nice way to spend 30 minutes before dashing off to catch your flight or make your tour time elsewhere. This pharmacy is claimed to be the oldest dispensing in Europe dating from 1422. The Raeapteek has been a cornerstone to the daily lives of the residents of Tallinn and the work which was carried out has helped to shape the Estonian pharmaceutical industry. The Raeapteek provides a detailed history into the ownership of the pharmacy and the types of work and medicines they tallinn 16dispensed across the years. For those keen to explore more alternative remedies there is a price list and some very suspect items in jars showing the common goods to be prescribed in the middle ages. Burnt hedgehogs, dried deer penis, sun bleached dog faeces and stallion hooves were all popular medicinal options during the middle ages….I’m pretty glad that medicine has moved on….dried deer penis – no thanks!

Estonian History Museum (Guild Hall)

We visited the Estonian History Museum on our last day and arrived early – our early arrival paid off, as we were leaving a very large school group came in! It is worth bearing this in mind if you choose to visit outside of the school holidays. The museum was well put together and provided a well detailed account of the building and life in Estonia across the ages. The building itself if lovely and worth some time just taking in the architecture and craftsmanship. Entry to the museum costs €6 for adults and was well worth it as we spent a good 2 hours reading and taking in the information.

St Catherine’s Passage

tallinn 11This cute little passage way is worth a wonder down and provides some excellent photo opportunities! Walking down St Catherine’s passage really does feel like you’ve stepped onto the set of Game of Thrones, it is a true medieval street complete with tombstones lining the walls and some lovely little artisan shops.

Museum of Occupation and Freedom

Having visited Prague only two months prior to my trip to Tallinn my head was already swimming with information about the Soviet occupation of this area and how life had been for everyday people under the Soviet regime. The Museum of Occupation and Freedom was exceptionally well put together, it was informative, sensitively displayed and generated real feeling for the many thousands of Estonians who were affected or lost their lives during the occupation. I would suggest that you leave at least two hours to take in each part of the exhibition and take the time to listen to each part. Having known nothing about the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe it has been a sobering experience to learn so much in a relatively short space of time about a part of history which didn’t see these countries regain their independence until the 1991.

KGB museum

When my husband and I arrived at the KGB museum located inside Hotel Viru; we immediately and without foundation lowered our expectations. Our reaction was based on the hotel which seemed dated and full of overly touristy activities. First impressions can be deceiving! We had prior booked our tickets as you can only gain entry as part of a group tour, so I would advise booking in advance https://viru.ee/en

As we ascended to the top floor of the hotel it became clear that we were in for a treat and a glimpse back to life during Soviet occupation. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and had lived in Tallinn during the 1970’s and 80’s so knew about the history of Hotel Viru. As it turned out the hotel was a base for the KGB to observe foreign guests and employees. When the Soviet regime collapsed in 1991 the KGB vacated their ‘secret’ floor of Hotel Viru and much of what was left has been preserved today and turned into a museum.

The tour took around an hour and a half and it was so worth it! It was fascinating to see how established the organisation were in a seemingly average hotel and that even your dinner plate could be a listening device.

tallinn 17

St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The bold Russian architecture of St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral dominates the horizon tallinn 9at the top of the Toompea and is worth a moment of your time. I would however, advise that you don’t carve out any significant time in your schedule for a visit to the cathedral. Whilst the building itself is spectacular from the outside, inside it is very similar to most orthodox churches and you are not allowed to take photos. Inside the cathedral was busy and there seemed to be an odd juxtaposition between tourists pursuing souvenirs and those genuinely visiting to worship or appreciate the architecture.

 

 

Final thoughts

My short trip to Tallinn exceeded all my expectations and I am definitely keen for a return trip to explore outside of the city and see what the coast and national parks have to offer. If you are looking for a long weekend European city break then get booking Tallinn!

Happy travels

Jess

Hotel Review: 5* Shangri-La Al Husn, Muscat, Oman

Hotel review: Shangri-La Al Husn, Muscat, Oman

2017 was a pretty hectic year for both myself and my husband. In March we set about booking a holiday for the simple purpose of de stressing in the sunshine and get getting away somewhere neither of us had previously been to. With that pretty basic criteria in mind we found that British Airways had a brilliant deal of flights and hotel to the 5* Shangri-La Al Husn hotel in Muscat, Oman. After a quick perusal of what the hotel had to offer and some of the online reviews, we were sold and booked it that afternoon.

The main draw of the Shangri-La Al Husn is that although it is one of three hotels in a complex it is adults only. As a teacher I am surrounded by children all day so it was really important to me that our choice of hotel be suitable for couples and ideally adults only. On this front we couldn’t have made a better choice!

Getting to the Shangri-La Al Husn

We flew from Heathrow on an early evening flight and landed seven hours later in Muscat. Our arrival time was made slightly more civilised by the fact that Oman is 4 hours ahead of the UK.

Having chosen to travel in July it was not a surprise when we were greeted by a wall of sweltering heat as we stepped out of the airport. We quickly shed our travelling layers and headed for our taxi.

The journey from the airport took around 40 minutes and gave us an opportunity to take in some of the spectacular scenery Oman has to offer. Soaring rugged rocks and cliffs reminded me very much of the landscape of Tenerife. The whole process was nice and simple and having a pre booked transfer made life easy after a long flight.

First impressions

Muscat 5Driving up to the hotel felt like arriving at the Sultan’s palace Muscat 3from Aladdin. A beautiful plain façade with simply crafted archways which lead to a stunning interior. Colourful geometric patterns adorned the floors and walls and the long courtyard drew the eye all the way to the sea. As first impressions go the Al Husn is simply and beautifully striking. Our check in was quick and efficient and made even better with the addition of a glass of bubbles and a cold towel! It is these small touches that make such a difference. By the time we arrived at our room our bags were already there.

Our room, A Deluxe Sea View:

Our room was perfect. A blissfully cool retreat from the blazing hot sun, immaculately clean and tastefully decorated with a modern fusion of Western and Arabic design. The furniture was well selected to complement the style and the bed was very comfortable, it really was tough to get up each morning!

 

Muscat 1.JPGOur room was also perfectly situated with a stunning view of the sea and beach. That view at 10am on a 35-degree July morning was the perfect tonic and seemed to wipe away all my prior stress leading up to the holiday.

Hotel Complex

The Al Husn is part of a larger complex of three hotels; the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah and the Shangri-La Al Waha. Both the other hotels are more family orientated and were significantly busier than the Al Husn. It is also worth bearing in mind that the whole complex became busier at weekends as local Omani families came for a weekend break. The main impact of this was ensuring that you had made sufficient dinner reservations. However, the staff were more than helpful when it came to booking restaurants and organising dinner reservations.

Despite being part of a group of hotels the Al Husn certainly did not feel like it. The whole hotel was calm and a totally separate entity to the others.

As a guest of the Al Husn you could also use the spa facilities of the Barr Al Jissah, however the Al Husn has recently opened its own exclusive spa and fitness centre. This addition in my opinion will secure the absolute luxury status of this hotel and is a driving force in my eagerness to return!

Muscat 2

Pool and Beach

As a resident of the Al Husn you have full access to the private 100m beach, restaurants and spa facilities of the whole complex. Although the Al Husn has its own private beach, the long stretch of unspoilt beach connecting the Al Jissah and the Al Waha was too good not to take advantage of and made for a perfect post breakfast walk each morning.

The main pool at the Al Husn was a beautifully appointed infinity pool looking out to the calm waters of the Arabian Sea. Having travelled to Muscat in the height of summer, I spent a lot of time in the pool! It felt truly heavenly to wallow in cool water with a good book in hand.

Muscat 8

The pool accommodated around 20 guests and there were further sun beds on the terrace above and below by the pool bar and the lower level of the pool which was more of a shady run off for the infinity pool. The sun beds were set nicely apart and you weren’t too close to any other couple. Although there was space for lots of people during our stay the pool never had more than 15-20 people sat by it, limited numbers made for a really peaceful and relaxing stay.

The pool staff could not have been more attentive, they brought round a cool box with cold towels, cold fruit drinks and water multiple times a day so you were never at risk of dehydrating! The pool attendants also offered sunglasses cleaning and worked tirelessly to ensure that the pool environment was pristinely presented and offered pure relaxation for all.

Food & Drink

The British Airways deal was a bed and breakfast package so lunches and dinners were an additional cost. Each night we ate in the hotel complex and the food was superb! The Al Husn offers 2 restaurants available for evening meals and the beach bar; however as with all other facilities the restaurants of the entire complex are at your disposal.

My particular dinner highlight was without a doubt the meal we had on our last night at the Shahrazad restaurant in the Al Husn. The restaurant offers Omani, Moroccan and Lebanese cuisine with world class wines and live entertainment. I opted for a lamb tagine which was delicious! The Shahrazad is the signature restaurant of the hotel so the prices were not cheap however the quality of the food and service were well worth the price.

If you are a fish lover then the Bait Al Bahr must be on your dinner wish list. The seafood was stunning, fresh, flavoursome and all locally sourced. Although we only had 7 nights worth of dinner reservations to play with; we decided that the Bait Al Bahr needed two nights to sample its delicious offerings. I can thoroughly recommend the Sultan Ibrahim!

Every evening in the courtyard there were pre-dinner drinks and canapes all included

oman

Pre dinner drinks & canapes!

with your stay. Beer, wine, prosecco and a range of other beverages were all available without charge. When the sun went down and the temperature dropped (only slightly) this was the loveliest way to relax before dinner, indulging in a few cold beverages, miniature bites of culinary excellence and listening to the live music.

 

With the intensity of the heat we never felt that a proper lunch was needed however; the Al Husn offered a complimentary afternoon tea every day in the Sultanah restaurant. This luxury touch provided a soothing retreat from the heat of the day and the food presented was of the highest quality, we never left disappointed!

Final Thoughts

I loved this hotel and couldn’t have asked for more of my holiday. If you are looking for a totally relaxing time away then I cannot recommend the Shangri La Al Husn enough. I returned home feeling completely rested and ready to tackle life again! My short trip has me already planning a longer more adventurous stay in Oman.

Happy travels

Jess

 

Top 10 tips for planning a skiing holiday

 

  1. Choosing the right resort:

If this is your first time planning a skiing holiday choosing the right resort can seem daunting. There are a number of things to consider; from how friendly the resort is for beginners to the range of lifts, quality of terrain and snowfall to name just a few.

Whilst there are fabulous resorts across Europe, America, Canada and even further afield it is important to consider the needs of your group when picking where to go.

My family has generally always skied over New Year; however, can sometimes go as late into the season as Easter. As a group we have always had a range of different needs from total beginners, children and non-skiers, therefore resorts offering other activities have also been necessary. Hopefully this post will give you a few top tips for planning your own ski trip!

When to go?

Early December: This is often a good time for those on a tighter budget as many resorts offer half price lift passes. Just keep an eye on the forecast as there may be poor snowfall in some lower resorts. Generally, the higher a resort the better the snow, regardless of ability you will have a better experience if there is more of the white stuff to actually ski on! My resort recommendation for early December is Val Thorens, France, Zermatt, Switzerland or Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada. A short pre-Christmas trip can be just the thing to de stress before the chaos of Christmas. Just be aware that aware that the higher you go the chillier it will be so… pack your thermals!

Late December & New Year: This can be a great time to go away with the family and

skiing

Mont Tremblant, January 2016

resorts put on some excellent additional offers and activities over the festive period; however, the slopes, lifts and resorts are often very busy with like minded skiers and boarders. New Year can also be an expensive time to go as it falls over work and school holidays. That being said this is usually a brilliant time for snowfall. My recommendation for skiing over New Year is Val D’Isere, France or Mont Tremblant Quebec, Canada.

January: After the crazy Christmas and New Year rush, mid to late January is a good time to get a new year deal, the slopes are generally quieter as schools go back so you can have your pick of the resorts and all they have to offer. If you aren’t tied by school holidays this is your time go! Recommended resorts are Tignes, France, Val D’Isere, France or if you fancy a little further afield check out Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA.

February: Whilst the draw of a half-term get away might be pretty strong to escape those long dark days at home, this is peak time. The slopes will be busy and prices will rise. If you can avoid school half term holidays do so. February half term is also prime school ski trip season!

March & April: Warmer weather = slushy slopes however there are plenty of days when nothing beats perfect sunny but chilly conditions at some of the higher resorts. March is usually a better time to go for cheaper deals as prices rise again for the Easter break. Top resorts for March & April, Zermat, Switzerland or Tignes, France. Obergurgl, Austria is often recommended however from personal experience the snow conditions haven’t been great, Icy in the morning and slushy by the afternoon.

Skill level for your group

Whenever I have skied there has always been a range of abilities within the group, so it is important to choose a resort which caters for all levels. There is nothing worse than being a new skier and finding that the resort you have chosen only has a limited number of beginner slopes or being a little more adventurous only to find that the slopes are too simple and lack challenge.

Best resorts for beginners and improvers:

Tignes, France: Loads of beginner and intermediate slopes with easy access to the Val D’Isere slopes – just make sure you buy the right lift pass! Top runs for beginners to gain their confidence Henri (blue) & Borsat (green).

ski sign

Which way to go? Val D’Isere January 2018

Val D’Isere, France: –The Espace Killy is the highest extended ski terrain in the Alps and offers a really good range of slopes to suit all levels. Val D’Isere boasts 83 beginner runs, 46 intermediate runs and 25 advanced runs. Access to Tignes is possible with the appropriate lift passes. Personal favourites for easing into the day and gaining your confidence, Diebold (blue), Grand Pre (green), Col de la Madeleine (blue) & Verte (green).

 

Best resorts for intermediate & advanced:

Zermatt, Switzerland: Zermatt has 200km of well crafted piste and offers lift links to Cervina, Italy. Zermatt truly has something to suit everyone! Zermatt has extensive off piste skiing and two thirds of the runs are red, some have even been affectionately classified as ‘dark red’, hinting at the extended difficulty. Zermatt is undoubtedly a resort for more confident skiers looking for a challenge.

St Anton, Austria: St Anton is located in the Arlberg region of Austria. Renowned for the quality of the snowfall St Anton offers 340km of challenging slopes for intermediate and advanced skiers. Whilst there is some beginner provision St Anton lends itself to skiers looking for difficulty and those who are keen to hone their technique. There is also the world cup downhill slope or the seriously steep and testing north face of the Valluga…so if you’re looking to push yourself St Anton could be for you!

val d'isere

Beautiful wide open piste’s in Val D’Isere

Val D’Isere: If the thought of taking on a piste fit for Olympians is your cup of tea then give La Face a go in Val D’Isere. Val D’Isere also offers a huge range of lift served off piste skiing which should appeal to the more adventurous skiers! In addition to the variety of more challenging runs Val D’Isere offers wide intermediate runs to help you build your confidence and a good array of challenging red runs if you want to extend your skillset! My personal choices for challenge are Plan & Piste M (red), Santons (red) and if you’ve got tired legs then Piste L (blue) can be a tricky one to navigate!

All round resorts:

Vail, Colorado, USA – A great range of wide-open slopes and from experience excellent snow conditions. The terrain is enormous with back bowls, the front side and Blue Sky basin any skier has choice and challenge. Additionally, the Vail resort offers a huge range of additional activities so if you have non-skiers or just fancy an afternoon break to rest your legs there will be something to take your fancy. A brilliant resort if you are looking to change things up and venture outside of Europe.

Avoriaz, France – Great for families with ski in and ski out providing easy uncomplicated access to the slopes! Avoriaz has large ski school provision but do book in advance. There is a good range of runs, lots of blues, greens and reds to suit all levels. Avoriaz is also a great resort for those groups with non-skiers as there are walking trails, snowshoeing and Nordic walking all offered within the resort so your Après ski or afternoon off is well and truly taken care of.

When considering the skill level of your group you may also want to consider what other activities the resorts offer such as walking trails, gyms, snowshoeing, spa days or shopping. So, when picking your resort, do your research!

Hotel or Chalet?

Deciding what kind of accommodation, you would prefer is also a consideration. I would recommend a catered chalet for travel as a group as the chalet vibe can be much cosier and nicer when you return after a day on the slopes. Being able to chill in your matching family PJ’s and chat around a fire offers something a little more personal than a hotel. VIP Ski offer a good range of ski chalets across a variety of resorts.

However, if you do opt for the hotel option make sure you do your research as some resorts such as Avoriaz have a limited number of hotels. Whichever type of accommodation you go for I would always suggest that you go for ski in ski out. The ability to go down to basement get your boots on and hit the snow is a big plus and will make your days more enjoyable if you don’t have a 10-15min walk in ski boots with skis to the slopes.

2. Pack appropriately

 

Inappropriate packing is definitely something I have fallen foul of on occasion particularly if you are planning to ski in December-February when the weather can be very cold. Here are a few crucial items I would definitely pack for any ski trip:

– Merino Wool thermals.

– A good quality pair of gloves. Make sure that the gloves fit you properly and if you are prone to chilly hands then I recommend a liner glove to help keep in the warmth.

– High quality ski socks. I can honestly say that there is nothing more miserable than having cold feet at the top of a mountain whilst wearing rented boots! Aim for thick, warm and padded socks where you can. I get cold easily so often put a liner sock on first and this helps retain some of the heat.

– Ski jacket & Salopettes. Again, go for quality and find something which is going to keep you warm and is comfortable to move in. Don’t forget that whilst a tight fit might look cute you need a full range of movement.

– Ski boots. If you are looking to ski regularly then invest in your own boots. Find some that are comfortable and fit your foot well. Boots which are comfortable will make a big different to your enjoyment and your skiing. This is also 1 less thing to rent when you arrive.

– Thin layers. You can wear these over your thermals and they can easily be removed if you find yourself getting too warm throughout the day.

– Sun cream. This one is often forgotten about, however if you are skiing in March or April then the sun reflecting off that beautiful white snow can leave you with some impressive google burn!

– Helmet & hat. Helmets are a must have nowadays and can be rented at all resorts, however make sure that they are fitted properly and are secure. You may also want a thin hat for underneath your helmet. A hat is also perfect for keeping your ears warm wandering around the resort when the lifts shut.

  1. Health & Fitness

Skiing is fantastic fun but it does take a level of fitness and leg strength to really get the most out of your trip. It is always worth investing a little time prior to your trip to get ski fit. Even if you just go for a 20 minute walk each day or you decide to build in some weights to your normal gym routine it will pay on the slopes and you’ll more able to ski for longer and tackle some of those steeper routes.

If you have any prior injuries make sure they are properly checked out before you go. Skiing can be hard work on the knees and ankles so if you have old injuries which could flare up make sure you have packed a few support bandages just in case. Even a small niggle is worth supporting to prevent any greater injury.

4.Book ahead!

Wherever you can aim to book as many aspects of your trip as far in advance as possible. Booking in advance will save you time when you arrive at the resort. The last thing you want to think about it having to spend your first precious morning organising lift passes, getting children enrolled in ski school and sorting out ski hire.

Using a company such as VIP SKI can ensure that all your lift passes are ready for you when you are met at the airport. VIP SKI will also help you pre-arrange ski school and ski hire so that your arrival and first few days are as simple and as stress free as they can be.

https://www.vip-chalets.com/

  1. Transfers

The main gateway to the alps is Geneva airport. For those of you who have flown into Geneva airport during peak ski season you will know that it can be chaotic and slightly stressful! I would suggest that a private transfer from the airport is the way forward. This will allow you and your group to leave the airport quickly and will ensure a more pleasant journey up the mountain rather than waiting for one of the large group buses.

I would recommend www.suntransfers.com from previous experience the vehicles are clean and the drivers are knowledgeable, friendly and most importantly on time! VIP Ski also provide airport transfers and are again efficient, friendly and a good option for group travel.

If you choose to rent a car be sure that you check out the snow conditions and are prepared to drive in potentially tricky conditions if the weather turns on your way up the mountain. If renting a car is your preferred choice check with your hotel or accommodation what the parking options are. Many hotels won’t have a designated car park however there is normally plenty of parking within the resort.

  1. Boots

Ski boots, which ever way you look at it they will never be the most comfortable footwear! Whether you are renting boots or looking to buy your own make sure you always try them on with your ski socks. Thick ski socks will have an impact on the correct size of boot you should go for. Also like most shoes different brands and types will fit your foot differently so don’t just assume that the first one you try in your normal shoe size will be the best fit for you.

If you are considering making your ski trip a more regular event then I would recommend investing in your own ski boots. You can get some great deals and offers out of season and often the variety of boots you can buy compared to those for rent is considerably better.

  1. Route planning

Which ever resort you choose full piste maps can be found and downloaded online. It is worth spending some time before your trip looking at your options and planning out some of your time; this way you don’t have to stand at the top of the lift and work out which run you want to do or where you want to go! Route planning can be really valuable particularly if there are options to ski across to other resorts or there are different aspects of the resort such as back bowls or different sides of the mountain. Similarly route planning can also help you familiarise yourself with the runs available and can make navigating some of the trickier intersections where you have multiple routes crossing much easier.

  1. Forecast & weather warnings

Everyone has access to a weather app and it is worth keeping an eye on the changing conditions of the resort you are travelling to. Most hotel’s and accommodations will display the day’s weather and inform you of any warnings such as avalanche risk.

Take heed of warnings and make sure you follow all the signage at the lifts particularly if certain runs are closed. From experience injuries tend to occur when you decide to do ‘just one more’, the light is going and visibility can quickly disappear particularly if it decides to snow. Always finish the day on a high with a glÜhwein in hand!

tignes.JPG

Tignes, January 2018

  1. Ski school/ private lessons

Whether you are new to skiing or looking to refresh some of your skills, lessons can be a good place to start. Here are a few things to consider before you book your lessons:

– Does the ski school have a good reputation? What are the reviews like?

– Do the instructors speak your language? From experience it is really frustrating trying to learn a new skill when you are not sure what is being asked of you.

– How big are the groups?

– What qualifications do the instructors hold?

Also bear in mind that if you choose to go during school holidays know that ski schools will get pretty busy so book as far in advance as you can.

If you are skiing with a group and a few of you are on the same level then a private lesson can work well. I took a private family lesson in Vail, Colorado. I think I learnt more about improving my skiing in this half day lesson than I had in a 4-day ski school in Austria. For me; making mistakes around my family was a lot less stressful and as the instructors were fluent in English, I knew exactly what I was being told to do to improve.

  1. Enjoy & relax

Lastly remember to enjoy your ski trip! Often you will only book for 1 week so make the most of it, take each day at your pace and have fun.

Happy travels

Jess