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.


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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.


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


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





Madrid is very affordable city break with all sorts of accommodation from basic hostals to beautiful de luxe hotels. This time we stayed in a basic but well equipped hostal very close to the Puerta de Sol, the lively hub of Madrid. There is always something going on, entertainers, characters dressed up, and on the weekend we were there, a few demonstrations to back the government against Catalan independence. In the side streets there are many shops, cafes, tapas bars and pubs.

Madrid is a very easy city to navigate with a lot of pedestrianised areas and there is the metro and a good bus network too. We did struggle with the metro ticket machine even in English and in the end discovered there was an Abono Turistico which is available for 1,2,3,5 and 7 days. We bought a single day one at 8.40 euros so that we could explore some different areas of the city.

We began in La Latina and Rastro Market. This outdoor street market is a good quality one and there isn’t much duplication however it was extremely crowded, there is also a covered food market across the road. we wandered around the narrow streets full of old traditional buildings and quickly found a tapas bar and then we visited the beautiful cupola inside the Basilica de San Francisco.

It is an easy metro ride to El Rio Manzanares which is a lovely place to walk or just sit and relax. This was opened in 2011 as an urban green space for all the family with manicured gardens and play areas, and Vicente Calderon stadium where Atletico Madrid used to play until just a few weeks ago when they moved to Wanda Metropolitano to play their first match on 16 Sep 17 against Malaga. One slight disappointment was a lack of bars and cafes along the riverbank itself or at least with a view of the river and the park.

We couldn’t possibly go to Madrid without a revisit to one of the loveliest parks anywhere in the world, Retiro Park. In early October it was almost 30 degrees in felt like a summer day with people still rowing on the boating lake but the trees told a different story as they were already showing their autumnal colours. There are a few cafes in the park so it really is a lovely place in which to lose yourself for a few hours. One unique feature of Retiro are the trees which look like marshmallows and there is a beautiful rose garden to enjoy too.

There is some very good shopping and in particular there are shoe shops everywhere, so whether you want some small gifts to take home or some top designer clothes you will find it in Madrid.

There is good nightlife in Madrid with some good pubs, tapas bars and restaurants and as there is good weather from April to October there is a relaxed outdoor culture so it doesn’t feel like just another city. Most of the pubs and bars provide free tapas with a drink so you won’t go hungry.

Madrid is also very much a city of culture with the Royal Palace, the cathedral, lovely classic architecture, many fine art museums to visit including the Prado, Reina Sofia, Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Sorolla museum. Most museums close on Mondays and early on Sundays so if you aim to visit one of these you should plan your schedule.

If you want to go further afield to nearby Toledo or Segovia, they are easily doable by train or on a day trip

This was my third visit to Madrid. It is definitely on my list of favourite cities. Why don’t you give it a try too? There really is something for everyone

cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com 020 3432 4740

Which minibreak are you?

The title feels like one of those silly facebook quizzes only this isn’t chosen randomly. It is a genuine attempt to give you some ideas based on your very own personal requirements, the occasion and who you are with. The weekend break to celebrate a significant birthday or anniversary will be very different to a weekend with a group of friends or your extended business trip. The budget that you set aside will also predetermine what choices you have. A recent survey shows a definite trend towards several short breaks  rather than a traditional 2 week summer break to The Costas. Here are a few possible scenarios and ideas to go on

“The Minimoon”

Increasingly couples don’t want to go on a long honeymoon straightaway usually for reasons of finance or getting the time off,  or because you simply want to enjoy the wedding and enjoying the company of long lost relatives without the additional stress of thinking about a long holiday afterwards. Certainly the days of saying goodbye to the wedding guests as you head to the airport immediately after the first dance is a thing of the past. Of course a minimoon needs to be special and romantic but also cost effective so where can you achieve something like that?

I don’t think you could go too far wrong with something on a lake. If it’s slightly out of season, even better as there are less tourists. There is something about water that is peaceful and romantic so perhaps the Lake District or there are so many to choose from in Central Europe, the Italian Lakes, or Lake Bled or Lake Bohinj in Slovenia, the Austrian or Swiss Lakes, Baden Baden in Germany,  or Lake Balaton in Hungary where you can also enjoy very reasonably priced spa facilities.

You might also want to consider one of Europe’s many islands, there are so many to choose from, you could a classic picture postcard view of whitewashed churches with blue roofs in Santorini, or choose an island that doesn’t have a direct flight such as Paxos or Alonissos but expect the accommodation to be fairly basic without a pool and mod cons, or go for the gardens or lovely walks in Madeira, La Palma or La Gomera in the Canaries, the gorgeous bays in Corsica or Sardinia, one of many islands in Croatia, or really pushing the budget Sveti Stefan in Montenegro. Further afield you could go to the Azores where you can go whale watching.

You could perhaps celebrate over a glass of wine or two in Tuscany, or alternatively another wine and foodie region, perhaps Portugal, Madeira, Bordeaux or Alsace in France or the Palatinate region of Germany.

The stag and hen party

The stag hits a snag. If it is a party of around 8 or more not every hotel wants to accommodate single sex parties so this has to be considered. The larger the hotel or apartment is, the more likely they are to accommodate a single sex party. A small boutique hotel is not suitable for groups as it disturbs other guests and changes the character of the hotel. You shouldn’t have any problems with the classic resort choices, Benidorm, Magaluf, Fuengirola, Ibiza, Ayia Napa, Brighton. Cities are a little more tricky but again generally a fairly large chain hotel or a few apartments will normally accommodate a group without any problems but I always have to politely ask them. Trying to be sneaky about it can result in the hotel refusing the booking on arrival. Popular choices are Amsterdam, Dublin, Glasgow, Manchester, Cologne, Munich and Berlin. Recently more and more are choosing mini cruises as there are some excellent 3 or 4 day breaks on P&O and Cunard, CMV from Tilbury, or a few days in Jersey or Northern France on the ferry from the South Coast.  It may be possible to get a large house either in the UK or somewhere in Europe and these can be very reasonably priced but there is often a hefty deposit to be paid up front in case of damage and you often have to pick up the key from a different address.

Children’s Birthday

Everyone automatically thinks of Disneyland Paris but there are so many other ways to occupy children both in the UK and in Europe. Port Aventura is particularly good value, some holiday companies even include a 3-day ticket with a holiday to Salou. Siam Park in Tenerife has something for children of all ages and even adults. Over 7’s can swim with dolphins in Zoomarine near Albufeira in the Algarve. I really enjoyed Legoland in Billund and the one near Windsor has its own hotel or if you are driving there are some cheaper ones nearby or you could stay in lovely surroundings in nearby Windsor, Marlow, Henley or Denham all also convenient for Heathrow Airport.  Malta has Popeye Village which is fun for the younger ones.

Many hotels have waterparks and excellent children’s programmes an all inclusive hotel based holiday may be enough on its own to amuse your birthday child. There are plenty of hotels in Cyprus that spring to mind or you could go for activity based Club Med, Mark Warner or Neilson or a ski holiday if your child’s birthday is in winter.

Alternatively you could choose a city break. Somewhere like Barcelona visiting Camp Nou football stadium, Valencia with the amazing Arts and Sciences complex. Most older children will enjoy bring history and RE lessons to life in Rome or Greek mythology in Athens. There are also many things to do in Dubai if you want a break further afield.

Birthday or Anniversary Trip

Apart from the dubious novelty of enjoying an ice cold Budweiser at 21, USA is a great way to spend a 21st in New York, Boston, Las Vegas or Chicago. BA have been introducing new routes including New Orleans and next year they are launching Nashville and there are often seat sales so plenty of opportunities there. You can enjoy a freezing cold Coors at the tender age of 19 in Toronto and 18 in Montreal so you can still cross the Atlantic to celebrate a slightly younger birthday.

A young liberal city with interesting arts and music, closer to home include Amsterdam, Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Stockholm or look at Eastern European cities Bratislava, Ljubljana, Tallin, Krakow, Budapest or Prague. Closer to home Belfast is a great city with good bars and the Titanic exhibition.

Cruises will suit birthday or celebration trips for all ages as you can dress up and be spoilt with good food and cocktails. Different ships and itineraries will suit different ages, for instance a mid range Caribbean or Mediterranean cruise will generally have a much younger clientele than a Fred Olsen cruise to the Fjords or the Baltics. I enjoyed my first river cruise for my 60th birthday and now I’m hooked. I love river cruising and want to do this for out Ruby Wedding too but the average age, although coming down is still generally higher than for Ocean cruising

Closer to home, there are many good weekend deals to be had in lovely foodie manor houses around the country. Many of these have swimming pools and spa facilities. In London you can get a hotel and show deal or a hotel and dinner deal or Champagne in a pod on the London Eye or afternoon tea at the Ritz or Fortnum & Mason, lunch on the Thames .

The Special Interest Trip

There are many of these and I will think of some examples that clients have asked me for over the years

World War II – Ypres in Belgium and Normandy are the best known and there are quite a lot of organised coach trips with a guide. There are also a number of river cruises along the Seine with a choice of Normandy Beach trips.

Classic cars in Italy – these are possible but very expensive because of the insurance.

Volcanoes – Italy has several, Mount Etna, Stromboli and Vesuvius and Iceland of course

Sailing – Croatia is probably the best place to do this

Music Concerts – These are often cheaper in Europe than they are in the UK and a good excuse to snatch a weekend as well as seeing your favourite artist.

Business Trips

I do a lot of business trips, conferences and extended business trips. There are often opportunities to add a night or two extra on to a business trip or to combine it with another destination eg business trip in Milan with a few days on the lakes or perhaps Rome or Venice, perhaps joined in the second destination by a partner or family member, I do quite a few of these too.

The No Fly Trip

I have already mentioned a few of these but I have only briefly touched on rail. Eurostar not only goes to Paris and Brussels but also Lille, Avignon, Lyons and Marseille. There are many through fares to other cities connecting through one of these cities.

There are many coach trips too picking up from home or a nearby location for your trip round UK, Europe, WWII or your river cruise.

I also briefly touched on Jersey and Northern France for a weekend break and these are possible either by self – drive or on a passenger ferry. Guernsey, Isle of Man and Ireland are also doable by fast ferry.

You may think I am only interested in exotic trips but the UK is consistently my number one destination by passenger numbers. London, Edinburgh, Blackpool, Devon and Cornwall, Lake District, Cotswolds, and Brighton are normally the top destinations. Some are business trips, some are family caravans and some are spa and foodie weekends, a whole range.

Note – These are not covered by ATOL but they are covered by Travel Counsellors failure insurance.

The Bucket List Trip

You may not actually think of Europe for a bucket list trip but even somebody as well travelled as I am can still think of many trips in Europe that I need to do and some I have already done.

The top one still on my list is the Northern Lights which can be seen in Iceland, Norway and Lapland.

For some seeing a ballet in Russia would be on their list and a Baltic cruise presents a great opportunity as a visa isn’t required providing the cruise company organises the trip. Some would like to see an opera in Milan, Verona or Vienna.

Another good bucket list trip is the Orient Express. I did an evening trip with my mum about 15 years ago but it is also possible to do combinations with hotels, racing and longer trips, one of those being The Hibernian in Ireland which was introduced to the portfolio a couple of years ago.


Even as a seasoned cruiser, a Cunard cruise is still very special with a nostalgic white glove service, chandeliers and days gone by. I have been on Queen Mary II Transatlantic and Caribbean but I would love to go on Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth in Europe.

Christmas Markets and Santa Breaks

There are many Christmas Markets all across Europe and you can book an organised coach tour or short River Cruise calling at different Christmas Markets along the Rhine or Danube or an an organised rail tour, or else you can simply book a weekend break in December and I will send you details of the Christmas Markets. The best known I believe is Cologne which now has 7 Christmas Markets but there are many all across Europe mostly in central Europe, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Eastern Europe but also worth looking at Barcelona, Madrid and Seville who are also capturing the Christmas Market trends and there are also more and more in the UK too so why not have a weekend break in one of our own cities?

Santa Breaks range from day trips to several days. A couple of the tour operators have now scrapped day trips because the best venues are a long distance from the airport so they were finding that the experience wasn’t as authentic nor as enjoyable as a 1 or 2 night trip. It is also not recommended for small babies as it is of course extremely cold and they won’t remember so best to wait until they are at least 3 or 4, young enough to believe in the experience but old enough to remember when they saw Santa. These are in different locations in Swedish and Finnish Lapland and usually on direct charter flights from various UK airports. Dates are limited so you need to boo early and be very flexible on budget and dates.

The quirky trip

Ones that spring to mind are The Ice Hotel in Sweden sometimes combined with a Northern Lights trip. One night in the Ice Hotel is usually enough


Cave hotels – this concept can be found in Santorini

Botel – This is a budget hotel in Amsterdam. It is very basic but fun, suitable for groups

Design Hotels – many of these are themed with individual rooms.

This is by no means a definitive list, just a few ideas to think about and expand on. I can of course book most of these for you (I can’t always do concert tickets, opera tickets and museum tickets but I can always try). Please feel free to contact me on 020 3432 4740 or email cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com for any of these and many more!




Business Networking

I was completely unaware of the concept of business networking before I became self employed. I soon became aware that networking was essential to establish contacts.

First of all I had to find a group that I got the right vibe from, where a rapport can be established with at least some of the group straightaway and there is some synergy and interest between various professions and in the right group some can become friends as well as business associates.

It is very rare that you will get business immediately from a group as they have to learn to trust you and you have to show commitment as well but it does help if you are made welcome and that you like the members within the group. If you immediately feel uncomfortable, don’t give up networking, join another group until you find one that suits you. You can normally go twice as a visitor before committing to a group so this gives you an idea if it will work for you, different groups work for different people

Roughly a third of my business comes directly from business networking and indirectly probably closer to half but this concept does work better for some businesses than others.

I found that another benefit of networking groups is that it helped me with public speaking, business skills and to have the confidence and belief in running my own business

In my ten years of networking I have met some very interesting and talented people in all walks of life.

Once you get established in the world of business networking you quickly learn of other opportunities as most of us belong to more than one group

I started off by googling and joined West London Business Network in Ealing and I liked this group which meets once a month at Drayton Arms but it wasn’t easy for me to get there. From this I was introduced to Trevor, a business coach who helped me tremendously in my early days. Another member was the late Brenda Seel of ACN who introduced me to BNI, probably the most well known and most successful worldwide business networking group. They meet weekly at 7am which is not for everybody but now they have introduced lunches as well. I have a few lasting relationships and customers with BNI members and they have remained my most loyal customers. Ten years down the line even though I have not been a member for many years I still have a handful of very loyal clients.

I was quite unlucky that the group I was comfortable with dwindled in numbers and became unviable. BNI only have one of each profession in each group and a group of 20-25 is healthy. Too many, becomes noisy and chaotic, too few means no business passed round the table. BNI has some really useful business courses and because it is costly it is wise to take advantage of these. It is a very formal group, regular referrals are expected and you must provide a substitute if you cannot attend. I did find these commitments very difficult to maintain week in and week out but the right BNI group can prove very fruitful indeed and most people find that the £1000 a year roughly does pay off.

Another group I joined was The Athena Network, a womens’ lunch group which meets once a month. Personally I felt that once a month was enough of a commitment for people to get to know and trust you and I still often recommend people from my Athena days and a handful have remained my loyal clients. I reckon I did and still do get more business from Athena members and they have remained the most loyal. It is quite expensive as they are lunch meetings and you can only visit once before you join. This also has a business exclusivity and a yearly subscription. Athena only has 10 meetings a year

WIBN – Women in Business Network has a very similar concept to Athena but somehow I found that it didn’t work well for me and although a few did book once or twice, none of the people I met remained loyal. A colleague joined them too and stayed with them for a few years and she did gain a few loyal clients so it does prove that what works for one may not work for another.

A couple of networking groups that bridge the gap between formal and informal networking is Fabulous Women which is an expanding network but strongest in London and Surrey. It is is subscription based at different levels and you can only visit twice before joining. It is a very friendly and welcoming group and despite the name they do welcome men too but they do like it to be predominantly women. It does have the advantage of being very flexible with no pressure to refer and it is also cheaper than most and these were the main reasons I stayed with them for so long. There are no business lockouts which is good in one respect because in some professions you can collaborate on projects and share work but for other professions it is more difficult to do that so that may not work so well for you if are part of a franchise. The other drawback is that many members go to several different groups up to 2 or 3 times a week, there is a lot of overlap and often too many of each profession. I found that in this less formal, open environment it was harder for people to remember me personally and to understand how I work, so despite being a member and even a group leader for 4 years, longer than any other of my networking groups, I have retained about the same number of clients as I had from BNI and Athena.

There are a few local groups with no subscription obligation, including KNOTS which I run myself monthly in Notting Hill. It is currently once a month on a Tuesday morning at Dechen, 106 Chepstow Road, London, W2. I run this free with no business lockouts and about half and half men and women, but the venue needs voluntary donations. The other group that I try to attend as regularly as I can is Ealing Connect which is run by Anita Wong of Bommie Media. This is £15 a session once a month and there is also an evening session once every 3 months, both at Charlottes at Dukes Yard, Ealing. A modest fee will also add your details to an online directory. Another group that I try to go to regularly is Askew Business Networking at Orchard Tavern, Askew Road which is lunch once a month which is a very modest £7.50 or thereabouts.

I attend open networking groups as well. Your local chamber is a good one to consider. Some restrict where you live or work but some don’t. These vary considerably in cost. I belonged to Hounslow Chamber  for many years . It is well run and is excellent value at around £95 a year and I believe one of the best. They arrange many regular functions and meetings for little or no cost.  The Best of …. are also worth attending and I have established some useful contacts. Although open networking is generally cheaper, you don’t develop the same level of relationship and trust that you do in regular and more formal networking groups so therefore it doesn’t normally generate business unless you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time

Many of the coffee mornings, lunches and dinners I go to have been spin offs from other groups like Athena and BNI, these include Coffee with Jo in Ealing, excellent value at £5 including a coffee

I hope that I have pointed you in the right direction and that you too will find a profitable and comfortable networking group in your area.  Find Networking Events  will take some of the hard work out of finding a local group

A few lessons I have learned over the years though. If you feel a group isn’t quite right for you or feel uncomfortable, don’t join it and if you have any doubts whatsoever about rejoining, don’t rejoin. Once you have a few loyal and established contacts, they will stay with you because they respect and trust you and you have less to gain by continuing with a group for “just one more year” and feeling as if it is a chore. I have made this mistake too many times. Another lesson I have learned is that business networking contacts are exactly that. Some may be more warm and friendly than others and you may build up some excellent, lasting relationships with them but always keep them as friendly business contacts rather than as friends to socialise with. I have been to a few business networking social evenings, Christmas lunches etc. and I have found myself in some very awkward situations both financially and socially, so I tend to make excuses and avoid them.

Do you know of any other good networking groups, particularly independent ones? Don’t keep it a secret! Please post them on my own KNOTS facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/1247637008581204/



Luxembourg City is close to the airport and it is served well by public transport. They are currently building a tram system from the airport into the city. This should be finished by the end of 2017.

My first impressions were that it is very green even in and around the main city.

The main language spoken is Luxembourgish which is mostly a combination of German and French, but most of the people we met spoke very good English as well as German and French so language isn’t a problem and passable French worked well in shops and restaurants.

Luxembourg City is very walkable as there isn’t a huge amount of traffic but it is hilly and cobbly so the less mobile could have a few issues but there is a good bus network and only 2 euros for 2 hours or 4 euros all day. Of course the bonus of a green and hilly city are the fabulous views to the valleys below.

The city caters very well for tourists as their guides can cater for 28 languages. Elke, our guide was with us for 2 days to show us the sights of the city and Kirchberg Plateau on the outskirts of the city. The city has the nickname Gibraltar of the north because it is rocky and it is a fortified city but apart from the casements which have some similarities with St Michael’s caves, without the apes of course, it really is nothing like Gibraltar. It is unique and didn’t remind me of anywhere else I’ve been. It has a lot more history than I imagined but unsurprising considering it’s strategic position bordering Belgium, Germany and France and the influences from its neighbours. Apart from the casements, there are the Royal Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, Courts of Justice, some excellent museums, the fort and some good shopping in the usual plethora of familiar European high street shops and a twice weekly market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. There are also some lively bars which open until the early hours of the morning.

Kirchberg showcases the modern part of the city, some fabulous architecture including the architecturally interesting Philharmonic arena, European Courts of Justice, European School of Luxembourg, museum of Modern Art, built on top of the Musee Drai Eechelen to represent how ancient and modern blend well. There is also an open space with trees planted for all the EU Countries and popular with skateboarders.

Our last day took us to the Moselle region and the tiny village of Schengen, made famous by the treaties of 1985 and 1990 where the Schengen agreement was signed on a river ship on the Moselle between Schengen and Germany across the water. The guided tour was very interesting and there is a small museum with a lot of free literature in several languages. Behind Schengen are vineyards and we were soon to visit les caves des St Martin and sample some Cremant, their own sparkling wine and also their Pinot Grigi which was excellent too. We had an absolutely wonderful buffet lunch in the restaurant which would suit even the most fussy eater.

Luxembourg is worth visiting either as a standalone weekend or in combination with Trier in Germany which is only a few kms away or with France or Belgium either by rail or self drive. My advice would be to book well in advance for the best air fares. If you are planning a meeting or conference of course Luxembourg has excellent facilities but if you are a leisure traveller it is best to travel at weekends to avoid these.

If you are interested in a weekend break to Luxembourg or to combine it with neighbouring countries please call me on 020 3432 4740 or email cathie.odea@travlcounsellors.com