Discovering Culture in Fuerteventura

It was our second trip to Fuerteventura in just a few months but we felt we had only seen Corralejo and loved and we decided we wanted to see a little more so we came back. We found there was a lot more open in April even though the weather was actually better in December. We had been recommended a tapas bar called La Playita and this time it was open and what a fabulous feast we had! We chose a selection of tapas for two people and four of us struggled with the 8 dishes for 30 euros, amazing value.

We wanted to see more of Fuerteventura so we booked a coach trip to Jandia at the very south of Fuerteventura. This is a very different type of resort. It has a beautiful long sandy beach and it is very quiet and relaxed but it is hotel based and doesn’t have the selection of bars and restaurants that Corralejo does so it would best suit people who like all inclusive and mostly like to stay round the pool or sit on the beach. It does have the protected land between the road and the beach where you can see birds and wildlife. There is a lighthouse, a Thursday market and the old town of Morro Jable nearby.

We had read about the nearby village of El Cotillo which is accessible by bus or cab. A cab is 25 euros from Corralejo and the bus is 4 euros each. The bus takes just under an hour as it goes through a few villages but it’s quite a nice scenic trip. El Cotillo is a lovely traditional fishing village and we discovered one of a selection of lovely tapas bar and we had lunch in Chringuita el Muellito. The meal was delicious.

We wanted to explore one of the other local villages and studying the timetable and some googling we chose La Oliva, just a short bus ride from Corralejo and what a gem this proved to be! There is a board showing plenty of things to do in this small town so you could actually spend an entire day there. There is an 18th century church Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria. We visited the Colonel’s House. It didn’t look that appealing from the outside and questioned whether it was worth paying 3 euros but in fact it was bigger than it looked with a lot of historic content and a fabulous view of the volcano and the surrounding countryside. We also found Centro De Arte Casa Mane which was well worth seeing. The Art Gallery was very interesting with exhibits by local artists and also Cesar Manrique who is responsible for a lot of art installations in Lanzarote. There was also a cactus garden outside which was also very interesting. We didn’t have time for the Aloe Vera factory but it is there if you wish to visit. Buses are hourly and it is less than 2 euros.

We were so pleased we came back to Fuerteventura and discovered what lies beyond the beaches and the bars

 

 

 

Advertisements

How long is a piece of string and what does it include?

It is almost a daily challenge to be faced with yet another claim that the holiday on the internet is cheaper. It may be the case that it actually is cheaper but what does it include? Is it ATOL or at least financially protected in some way? Is it actually like for like or am I comparing apples with oranges?

I have actually just priced a holiday for the same family, same dates, same airport, same hotel but I priced it in 3 different ways but there are still literally hundreds more ways to price this same holiday.

1. Easyjet, no luggage, no transfer, non refundable, room only
2. British Airways with luggage, speedy shuttle, non refundable, room only
3. British Airways with luggage, private transfer, flexible rate, B&B, Sea View

At first glance you might think that the differences are quite subtle and therefore there shouldn’t be much difference in price. In fact there isn’t a huge difference in the flight cost once luggage is factored in.

You may be staggered to know that the difference between the first holiday and the last is over £2000!

Using an other example of a holiday I booked last year and looking at two different ways of booking it, it could have been £4.5k or £2.6k. Of course we opted for the cheaper option.

And yet another was a flight only that was £700 cheaper with a little tweaking. I even managed to cut a complicated round the world for 2 people down by over £5k

In another example and this is today as well I was asked to price a UK rail journey. If I priced this priced this A to B on The Trainline, the cost is £91.90 but I found a way of doing the exact same journey for £53.40 using exactly the same trains. Both of these are bookable on The Trainline or Virgin Trains website.

The point is, don’t necessarily assume that the internet is cheapest until you check what you actually want to include and what you actually need. I have been in the business a long time and I have a fair idea of how to tweak things but also things change and maybe there is something I might have missed. I do make certain assumptions eg if you are going for more than 2-3 days you will need luggage. If it is a destination that isn’t great on public transport or there is a group of you I will assume you need a transfer. Is there a massive difference between the cost of shuttle and private transfers, if not I will quote private.

It may after all still be cheaper on the internet, but then again it may not…

Before you book, give me a chance to check that we are not comparing apples with oranges

cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com

 

Easter Celebrations in Cyprus

I have been to Paphos and other parts of Cyprus many times but I have never before had the chance to join in the traditional Easter celebrations. Greek orthodox Easter or Pasxa, is nearly always on different dates to here in England and in 2018, it happened to be the week after our own Easter.

We were privileged to be invited by Constantinou Bros to join in their Easter celebrations, to stay in the fabulous Asmina Suites and to visit their portfolio of hotels

Easter is the biggest celebration of the year in Cyprus and as the weather is so mild, a lot of their celebrations are outdoors as well as inside the church. In Cyprus they don’t celebrate with chocolate as we do but they do have many other traditions so it was really interesting to join in and celebrate Easter with the locals

I have been to Cyprus over Christmas and I now know that the celebration of the risen Christ is more significant than the birth of Christ in the Greek Orthodox religion.

The streets are decorated with huge eggs and bunnies and every hotel has decorations in their foyers, just as we do at Christmas in the UK.

P1030023

P1030024

 

On Great Friday, the hotel was already preparing Tsoureki bread outside on the barbecue ready for the guests on Sunday. Traditionally the Tsoureki and the eggs have to be prepared on Great Friday prior to the church service at 7pm. The Great Friday evening mass is followed by the Ephitafios, a procession carrying the body of Christ through the streets.

P1030040.JPG

On Saturday we visited the Greek Orthodox Timios Stavros monastery in Omodos. Our guide told us about the monastery and about the services and traditions over Easter , Great Friday which is a day of sorrow, Holy Saturday when bay leaves, laurel leaves and flower petals are spread around the church and then Holy Sunday when Christ is risen – Xristos Anesti and the feast begins.

Saints have a much bigger significance in the Greek Orthodox religion and all baptised Greeks are named after saints, so Greeks celebrate their own saints day as well as their birthdays.

Omodos was extremely busy and already a huge bonfire was piled up ready to light and an effigy of Judas Iscariot is burned and then traditionally, there is a late night midnight mass where candles are lit and immediately after midnight, everything closes down. Some of us joined the evening celebrations in Paphos

Over Lent, Greeks don’t have any meat or dairy, so the feast begins immediately after midnight with Magiritsa soup made from the offal of the prepared for the spit lamb or goat, then a traditional Easter Sunday breakfast which consists of red coloured hard boiled eggs. The dyed red eggs represent the cracking open of the tomb – they are dyed red usually using onion skins)to represent the blood of Christ and tsoureki which is a bread containing cheese, Fanta Orange and mint, and it is covered in toasted sesame seeds. As you can imagine it is a rather strange taste sensation, both sweet and savoury at the same time! Lunch consists of a spit roasted lamb or goat feast to celebrate the Lamb of God.

They play a game similar to conkers where whoever has the last uncracked egg will have good luck for the year.

We really enjoyed celebrating Easter with the Cypriots and it all seemed a lot more meaningful somehow than a Cadbury’s Egg and a bunch of daffodils.

 

The Philippines

Cebu is reasonably easy to get to from the UK with a change in Manila. After the very long flight, the hotel zone is only about 20 minutes from the airport. We were greeted with a smiley Filipino welcome and a refreshing drink even at 1.30am and our 4 star hotel was of a very high standard with a huge room with a balcony.

The Philippines were named after King Philip of Spain and the Spanish influence can be seen in the language and the fact that it is over 90% Catholic unlike most of the rest of Asia so this gives it a unique feel.

Much of Cebu was destroyed during the second world war. There is a lot of reclaimed land so it is now much bigger than it was 100 years ago and there is a huge American influence so there are many signs in English, probably more than there are in the native Filipino language which is based on Spanish. Modern Cebu has huge shopping malls including the biggest shopping Mall in Asia. It is a very distinctive landmark as it is designed to look like a cruise ship.

Lapu Lapu came from Indonesia and is revered everywhere in the form of colourful masks on the roadside to match the hoardings and concrete planters which are painted in bright colours

There are many different ways to get around Lapu Lapu in Mactan and Cebu city which is about an hour away, give or take, depending on the traffic. The quickest way to get around is by Jeepney. These are old Suzuki jeeps left over from the war, often personalised in bright colours and slogans, taking up to 16 people.

After an ample breakfast buffet consisting of both Asian and Western food, we set off on a Cebu Heritage tour. We visited Casa Gorordo which is a museum of the history of Cebu City from its humble beginnings, when it was just a few settlements and houses to the large modern city it is now.

Our next stop was the famous Magellan Cross and the Basilica of Santo de Nino which is an impressive Catholic Cathedral.

After lunch, we visited the impressive Taoist Temple in the district of Beverly Hills which has a large Chinese population. I enjoyed Cebu which reminded me in many ways of Sri Lanka, the vegetation, the style of the hotels and the roads.

Just a 2 hour crossing by fast ferry took us to Bohol. Immediately we sensed a quieter island with less traffic and lush vegitation. Here the main mode of transportation is the tricycle. I know that sounds strange. It is a cross between a motorbike with a sidecar and a tuk tuk with enough room for 3 passengers and luggage on the top.

We stayed in an area of Panglao Island called Alona Beach which is a lively area with a coral beach. This area is one of the best dive sites in Asia and there are many good diving schools to choose from. Our hotel in Bohol was family owned and there are a lot of similar small B&B’s in the area but there are also some lovely resort 4-5* resort hotels too.

The Bohol countryside tour is an absolute must! We travelled about 100kms to experience what Bohol had to offer. Our first stop was to be the Tarsier sanctuary. These are the world’s smallest primates, about the size of a guinea pig, they have huge eyes which don’t shut and they can turn their heads 180 degrees. As these animals are nocturnal, the guides have spotted where they are clinging onto trees and branches and they take you to them. They look so fragile and vulnerable. You can get quite close to them and although it is a sanctuary it is open and conservation is the priority there.

The journey to Chocolate Hills was on a winding road full of lush tropical vegetation. Chocolate Hills were believed to be formed by the ancient underwater volcanoes that created the island, round topped hills and mountains are an unusual feature anyway, there are only a few in the world that are a natural phenomenon. Here there are nearly 2000 of them as far as the eye can see, and in the summer the grass on the hills turn brown hence the name, Chocolate Hills. At the time of writing, some had already turned brown so it was a really spectacular sight.

Our next stop was the Butterfly Garden, small but interesting and containing, some of the worlds largest moths and butterflies, a hybrid male, female butterfly, beautiful flowers, and our guide Rey who took lots of trick shots of us having fun with butterflies.

We arrived at Loboc, past a small tourist tat market to see a conveyor belt of tourists queuing to get on all the boats lined up. We feared it would be a tourist trap. As it turned out to be much nicer than we thought as the boats are not too big and set out at intervals so it didn’t feel like a convoy on the hour and a half river cruise. The ample buffet lunch with iced tea or beer, was full of regional cuisine with plenty of variety but advise in advance if you have special dietary needs. The boats glide down the peaceful Loboc River to a cluster of waterfalls before turning back via a short display of local singers and dancers along the way so although it is touristy it is still rather lovely.

Our last stop was at Baclayon church museum which dates back to 1727 and made from Coral, lime, mortar and egg white. It was interesting to see all the very old religious artefacts within the museum and the large effigies of Mary and Jesus are taken out along the streets when everybody lines the streets for the religious fiestas that take place.

All in all this was one of the best days of my life with so many wonderful experiences and I would definitely recommend Bohol as a destination to visit. It feels more like the Caribbean and completely different to Cebu just 2 hours away.

After a short flight from Tagbilaran, we stopped overnight in Manila at an airport hotel. We had a lot less time than we envisaged as the traffic and the one way system meant that it took almost an hour to get to our airport hotel, let alone getting into town or shopping. Pasay City which is the airport area is a huge area of development with hotels, designer shops and Resorts World so when this is completed, it will be a good stopover destination in itself for a couple of nights.

Is it expensive? Compared to Thailand or Vietnam, yes it is more expensive. It is much cheaper than London or Singapore, probably on average, closer to Malaysia prices.

Currently tourists are predominantly Korean and Chinese but we did see a lot of Europeans too and the new international airports in both Cebu and Bohol which`will make tourism to the islands much easier in the future. The Philippines lend themselves really well to island hopping and there is a good network of flights and ferries but doing too many islands does add a lot to the cost so it it is worthwhile deciding on 2 or 3 islands to visit with a few nights in each. I would also recommend a minimum of 3 nights in any of the individual islands as each of them offers a unique experience.

Why you should book a package

It is very tempting to book this, that and the other on the internet to possibly save a few pounds so here’s a reminder of the advantages of booking a proper package including flights and hotels as opposed to bits and pieces.

1. Protected by ATOL

2. Lower deposit

3. Possibly cheaper as I can often use a lower package fare

4. The more complete a package, the lower the cost as I can average it out.

5. 24/7 support if anything goes wrong, eg overbooking, building works

6. Ability to contact you if your flight has changed or worse cancelled. It is easier to contact you if I know where you are. If you have wifi no problem. If you haven’t you may or may not get the message.

7. Financial protection. we offer this even if it’s non ATOL so if you go by Eurostar and the hotel supplier goes bust we will find an alternative or refund.

8. If a natural disaster happens and the hotel decides to close we can organise a plan B

9. I can organise transfers in advance and there is no bank holiday, night or weekend supplement

10. As long as the hotels are flexible I can change them, sometimes as late as a couple of days before

11. I will already have looked at location, decent reviews, not just Trip Advisor but also previous clients and Trust You as well etc so this will save you a lot of time. I don’t just offer the cheapest, crappiest miles from anywhere hotels unless of course you really want them for economy.

12. We have contracted rates with many airlines and can usually match the likes of Skyscanner etc. but with the additional security of knowing that you have booked with a proper IATA agent.

13. With 45 years of experience with airlines and routes, I can often find multi centre routes at unbelievable prices.

14. I can hold flights for you sometimes for a few days.

15. Rates are guaranteed at the time of booking so even if the exchange rate slumps you still prepay accommodation at the agreed rate

16. Accommodation which hasn’t been prepaid is more likely to be overbooked in high season

 

Trends for the year

Every year I go through the destinations I have booked this year to check the trends and also to show the range of the things I book
 
Short Haul 2017              Short Haul 2016
1. UK                                  1. UK
2. Spain                             2. Spain
3. France                           3. Italy
4. Italy                               4. France
5. Netherlands                 5. Iceland
6. Portugal                        6. Greece
7. Poland                           7. Iceland
8. Greece                            8. Germany
9. Germany                       9. Portugal
10. Cyprus                        10. Croatia
10. Iceland                        
The UK continues to be the top seller and yet many don’t even realise I sell the UK while Spain is consistently number 2. France and Italy are usually in roughly equal numbers so they have swapped places but I have done a lot of groups and city breaks this year so Amsterdam and Poland are on the list. Greece is similar to last year and it’s good to have Cyprus back in but Croatia which proved popular last year has slipped off the radar. Iceland has also scraped into the Top 10 again but what I have noticed is that more people are doing Northern Lights breaks so collectively Iceland, Norway and Sweden would be higher up the list.
Trending for next year, I think Spain including Canaries and Balearics will stay 2nd and France and Italy 3 and 4. Cruises and river cruises are definitely in so I think Germany will stay too. I think Greece will still be there too as it’s a great value destination with fantastic hospitality. I would like to see Cyprus stay too as the hotels look after my clients so well. I think Portugal and Madeira will stay. I think Turkey might come back in as a value destination.
 
Long Haul 2017               Long Haul 2016
1. Australia                      1. USA
2. USA                               2. Australia
3. Bali                               3. Canada
4. Egypt                            4. Bali
5. Malaysia/Borneo       5. New Zealand
6. Japan                           6. Thailand
7. Sri Lanka                     7. UAE
8. South Africa                8. Vietnam
9. Vietnam                       9. Japan
10. Laos                            10. Singapore
Australia and USA are still at the top but they have swapped places. Canada has dropped out completely. Bali is great value destination and I believe that if there had not been the uncertainty with the volcano, the numbers would be even higher. Canada and Thailand have dropped off completely but Malaysia with Borneo, Japan and Sri Lanka have all made the middle of the list and good to see South Africa back in, all really fascinating destinations. Vietnam has made it again along with neighbouring Laos. 
New destinations for 2018? I think the Philippines might creep in as I’ve had a few enquiries and I’m going myself so I will be able to tell you more about it. I also think Canada will be back and I think Bali is here to stay but I believe Thailand will be back in too. I hope I will get more bookings for Vietnam, such a great value destination. Whether Egypt stays will depend whether Sharm is back on sale.

Fuerteventura

Having previously visited 5 of the 7 Canary Islands, Fuerteventura was long overdue a visit. In case you were wondering, I have yet to visit the least developed of all, El Hierro.

It seems that Fuerteventura is a little like Marmite, people either love it or hate it. I was very keen to see it for myself for the first time and form my own opinion.

P1020418

The Canaries as a whole tend to lack culture and personality and that, I believe, is the reason that the islands appeal to some and not others. What the Canaries do have is a year round warm and pleasant climate, breezy and not too humid. There didn’t appear to be any mosquitoes either which is always a bonus.

In December, the average client is over 60. In the summer and during school holidays, the islands have more of a family appeal.

On the island of Fuerteventura, even the capital and main resort of Corralejo is less developed and more wild and rugged than most of the major resorts in the neighbouring islands

P1020516

There is a good range of accommodation, everything from self catering and villas to 5 star hotels and they are of a high standard. The hotels in the centre of town are no more than 3 storeys high so they blend in quite well with the surroundings and most are only a short walk to the beach and the shops.  There are a couple of bigger resort hotels a few kilometres away on the dunes if you prefer to choose more of a hotel based or all inclusive holiday.

P1020361.JPG

Corralejo is quite flat and the harbour and old town are mostly pedestrianised.  Away from the high street and shops, there are some really lovely walks, and plenty of opportunities to breath in the sea air, stop and admire the wild scenic beaches contrasting against the dark volcanic rocks with the Atlantic waves crashing up against them and to watch the windmills in the distance. There are plenty of benches along the way to sit and watch the world go by. There are also lots of cafes to stop for a coffee or a glass of wine and some tapas. On a warm December day there are just a handful of people doing likewise so it really doesn’t feel like it is just any resort. It does still have a distinct character.

P1020352.JPG

Fuerteventura is well known for being windy but in temperatures of 20 degrees it is more of a refreshing breeze than a howling gale. We were told that Jandia in the south is less exposed and a little warmer

P1020326.JPG

We quickly discovered that Corralejo has a lot of good bars and restaurants and with a large beer costing around 2.50 euros or a large measure of whisky costing around 4 euros, it is much cheaper than at home. Whether you are looking for a quiet bar serving tapas, a disco, football screens or a karaoke bar,  there are plenty to be found in Corralejo. As with the other tourist spots in the Canaries , Corralejo has a lot of expats running the bars although all the Hotels, restaurants and shops we came across seem to employ locals. With such a good range of bars, entertainment and restaurants locally there is no need to go all inclusive in Corralejo

P1020340.JPG

Corralejo has a couple of good commercial centres so you can find some bargains on popular brands such as Zara, Benetton and Berksha. There is also a Tuesday and Friday market selling mostly fake handbags and jewellery. There are, of course, plenty of souvenir shops and tobacconists along the Main Street. Prices of duty frees are very low in the Canaries but don’t forget it is only the reduced non EU allowance.

There are a few buses to other parts of the island.  However, the service is very sparse compared to Tenerife, so plan and read the timetables carefully before setting out. Alternatively, excursions are reasonably priced if you want to see the sand dunes, go dolphin and whale watching, go across to Los Lobos or Lanzarote by boat or go all the way mostly along the coast to Jandia at the opposite end of the island, the tourist office can arrange tours locally or I can arrange them in advance for you. Self drive is another affordable option to get around the island and off the beaten track.

As for Marmite I’m not a fan but I did love Corralejo and I will definitely be back very soon. If you fancy it too please feel free to contact me cathie.dea@travelcounsellors.com or call 020 3432 4740 for options.

 

 

The benefits of a spa weekend

I have booked many spa days and weekends over the years but I never really went on one myself then I was invited by Classic Collection to sample three of the wonderful spa hotels in Tuscany that are featured in their Italy brochure and all part of Italian Hospitality Collection. I had always believed that spa weekends were an expensive luxury by way of celebration, a detox or perhaps to re-energise following a major life change, perhaps a redundancy, a divorce or bereavement but this weekend has taught me that there are additionally many health benefits to spa weekends and in fact I learnt that many are actually on medical referrals for breathing and joint problems. I actually suffer from both so experiencing the beneficial effects of the natural thermal waters was a revelation for me personally and definitely something I would recommend.

The Italians are also famous for food and wine and we had plenty of opportunities to sample some wonderful cheeses, pasta, fish dishes, juicy olives and their speciality Tiramisu and both red and white wines were excellent and the Prosecco too.

The first hotel was Fonteverde which was surrounded by beautiful Tuscan countryside. It is actually closer to Rome than Pisa or Florence so this would be a really good fit for those taking a city break in Rome and then hiring a car to go to Florence and Pisa. Fonteverde is a converted palace and has many original features. In addition to the amazing views and the natural thermal waters, golf and tennis can also be arranged. Fonteverde has 7 pools including one especially for dogs. Even in misty late November there was enough heat from the natural, thermal waters to bathe comfortably outdoors and even after less than two hours I could feel the benefit of the hot water and minerals to my arthritic knees.

P1020171 - Copy.JPG

The second hotel was Grotta Giusti, which is about halfway between Viareggio and Florence and rail is a possibility as well as driving. Grotta Giusti is unique as it is a 19th century villa next to a thermal cave. Grotta Giusti has mud baths, a room for people with severe breathing difficulties to breathe in the minerals that are present in the caves and the unique feature is the grotto itself which has three sections Paradiso, Purgatorio and Inferno. I was concerned about spending a long time in a hot cave and took my inhaler with me, but as long as you rest and go down slowly as advised, weirdly it is both very restful and easy to breathe down there and upon returning to London I noticed how quickly I got out of breath when surrounded by familiar diesel fumes.

The last hotel was Bagni di Pisa which is very close to Pisa and in fact some rooms have a view of the Leaning Tower on the horizon. Bagni di Pisa has a very unique spa with a very high salt content. There are plenty of treatments available including a warm salt treatment, floating in a hot salt bath, a very odd sensation and lots of bubbling pools.

P1020262.JPG

After three days of sampling some of Tuscany’s natural thermal spas and minerals I have definitely felt the benefits to my breathing and joints so not only does a spa give the feel good factor and a detox and an opportunity to wind down from the stresses of life. It can also have health benefits too so whether it is a spa weekend on its own, part of a fly-drive, a few days after a city break, part of a honeymoon or celebration or even combined with a golf trip please email me on cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com or phone 020 3432 4740 to work out the best itinerary for you to include one or more of these three fabulous hotels.

http://www.travelcounsellors.co.uk/cathie.odea

 

Leeds and Saltaire

It is so easy to get to Leeds by train from many different parts of the country or even to fly from Heathrow. Much of Leeds is pedestrianised making it a very easy city to negotiate on foot and it is often quicker to walk into the centre of Leeds than to get public transport or even by cab as both have to go right the way round the outside of the city.

There is so much beautiful Victorian architecture in Leeds including covered arcades. There are lots of quaint old pubs hidden down alleyways so it is a city with great character but there is a lot of good modern architecture too such as the Trinity Mall and Victoria Gate with the new John Lewis.

Leeds is a great city for nightlife and is worth considering for a stag or hen party since the cost of partying in Leeds is far less than in London and the south. The Viaduct which is the gay area has many lively bars.There are many good concerts and gigs at the arena and all over the city. There are also some very quirky pubs such as Dry Dock which is on a boat which is nowhere near the water.

You may not think of Leeds for food but it is increasingly becoming known for food with Leeds Indie Food and North Leeds Food Festival and there are several Michelin star restaurants in the city

Leeds is also good for music and festivals including Live at Leeds and the yearly West Indian Festival. There are plenty of top artists performing at Leeds Arena and many gigs in various venues around the city. There is also the Grand Theatre and Opera House and West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Leeds is a great city for shopping with just about every designer shop represented, some of the big department stores such as Debenhams and John Lewis, plenty of discount stores and Leeds Kirkgate, the biggest indoor covered market in Europe which sells a good variety of things, Fruit and veg, clothes, tools, bric a brac and apparently the pork pies are excellent too.

Leeds is also a sporting city with a long history, Headingly the home of West Yorkshire Cricket Club, Leeds United FC does stadium tours, Yorkshire Carnegie Rugby Union and Leeds Rhinos Rugby League.

There is a lot of things to do for the family in and around Leeds like the Emmerdale film set, Royal Armouries Museum, Roundhay Park with Tropical World, Leeds Industrial Museum

Leeds has a good range of accommodation from apartments and the likes of Travelodge and Premier Inn to some really top notch hotels and looking beyond Leeds, hotels like Rudding Park in Harrogate, a foodie hotel with massive grounds. There is quite limited parking in Leeds so I would recommend arriving by train

Leeds is a great base as it is really easy to get to Harrogate and York but closer still, just half an hour from Leeds is the town of Saltaire.

Saltaire is a step back in time to cloth caps, grey stone buildings, and the industrial revolution. Saltaire was built for the workers in the mills and it was named after Sir Titus Salt who is remembered by a statue which overlooks the bandstand in the park and the Aire river. The park is a very pleasant one and there is a statue of an Angora goat, a reminder of the once thriving textile industry and cricket was being played by the river. There are a couple of lovely riverside pubs to sit and watch the world go by but nowadays Saltaire is best known for Salts Mill which was once a textile mill which was in its heyday, the largest industrial building in the world by total floor area. It closed in 1986 and was redesigned as an Art Gallery and specialist shopping complex containing many of the works of David Hockney, an art and craft shop on the ground floor and a very extensive bookshop on the 2nd floor. Just hearing how excited two children were about the books on offer made my day and I was truly heartened by the fact that some children still get so excited by books. We had lunch in the cafe and I came away truly inspired by David Hockney’s method of painting by ipad since 2004 and have since done a few of my own using apps (example below is looking along the Thames)

If you are interested in a short break to Leeds, visiting kids in uni, a concert break including tickets, a gastronomic break in Rudding Park or part of a round Britain tour please contact me on 020 3432 4740 or cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com

London

Only Lyon

Lyon is easily accessible by flights with Easyjet, by Eurostar direct from London  or by rail from other parts of France and Switzerland

I had been told that both Lyon and Marseille are France’s 2nd largest city. Mystery now solved. Marseille is indeed larger in population but Lyon is larger in area.

We had amazingly good weather for mid October and the sun shone with hardly a cloud in the sky.

Lyon is very fortunate to have two rivers, Rhone and Saone and we had the chance to see some of sights from both on our dinner boat. The food on board was of very high quality and also beautifully presented. There is plenty of choice for both day and dinner cruises.

On day 2 we began a walking tour of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière which is absolutely stunning. In particular the mosaic tiles are worth seeing. Fourviere metro station is right opposite the Basilica. From there just a short walk to the Gallo-Roman museum, and the remains of the ampitheatre below which is well preserved and interesting.

After a short bus ride we then meandered round the quaint narrow streets of Vieux Lyon, the old medieval city with the pink tower and gardens. Many of the medieval buildings are pink and there are many traboules still existing which are unique to the region. They are secret passageways which go from house to house. There is one of the best examples inside the puppet museum which looks an interesting possibility for next time. Another thing which caught my eye were the stained glass shop signs

Our evening dinner was in a traditional and very ambient Bouchon. It is just how you would expect a French cafe to look like, quaint with handwritten chalk boards, mirrors and signs. Afterwards we tried a couple of bars in the old town and in the unusually warm October weather we were still able to sit outside

Lyon isn’t all old and there is some very bold and unique modern architecture there too. The bright green Euronews building and the The Orange Cube and the highly impressive Musee des Confluences which as the name suggests, situated where the Rhone and Saone meet. It is a really interesting example of modern architecture but beyond that, it is a really interesting and well thought out science and anthropology museum based on 4 themes, origins, species, societies and death and eternal life. You couldn’t fil to be impressed by the almost complete mammoth skeleton which is just one of the exhibits and best of all, it is free to visit.There are also temporary exhibitions. Currently there is one on Lumiere and early cinematogaphy.

A visit to a rather uninspiring looking 70’s concrete food hall, but once inside if ever there was a feast of food it is right here at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. There are the most beautiful cakes, chocolates, hams, cheeses, sausages, huge mussels and Oysters, it’s all here under one roof. You will certainly feel hungry after a visit here and you are unlikely to come out empty handed with so much choice on offer

We had lunch in the Radisson which occupies floors 32-37 of the city’s tallest building. The views were of course stunning and the food was excellent too. It is open to non residents too so well worth having a sunset dinner there.

With an hour to spare I went to the shopping mall. This has everything from Primark to top designer shops and I managed to find a few unusual Christmas presents . A couple of the others visited the park with the lake and the zoo. Seems another good reason to return and see it next time.

Lyon has many different and distinct areas but the main areas to see on a short visit are the Fourviere area with the Basilica and the Gallo-Roman museum which is hilly and there are many steps but there is also a metro and bus service so with a Lyon city card it is really easy to travel around. There is also a tram which serves the flatter areas of the city, Vieux Lyon is accessible on foot and also the riverbanks and with two big railway stations, Part Dieu and Perrache there are plenty of opportunities to twin Lyon with other towns and cities with the TGV or even the Eurostar. Many of the hotels have parking facilities and although chargeable, it is reasonable compared to some other European cities.

We had just 2 days to explore what Lyon has to offer and there are so many more things I would like to come back and see. It is certainly worth a city break in its own right but also at the beginning or end of a River cruise, as part of a self drive or Rail itinerary to the South of France or Provence or at the beginning or end of a ski trip. There is a festival of light 8-10 December and a Christmas market from the end of November so it has all the ingredients for the perfect city break or an extended business or leisure trip. The hotel rates are favourable both for leisure and business travellers and there is all sorts of accommodation available from apartments and chain hotels to quirky boutique hotels such as Fourviere where we stayed.

I would strongly recommend a Lyon City Card as this will get you on all the local transport and entry to all the museums free.

If you are interested in visiting Lyon I made many contacts over the weekend at the workshop so I can offer a wide range of options. Please feel free to contact me on 020 3432 4740 or email cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com