Increasingly we are finding that people want to give Experiences rather than specific items as presents. Certainly we have personally found as we age and our house fills up with clutter we would much rather have a shared experience with a loved one, than be given yet more “stuff” to find a home for.
Many of our clients are booking holidays to celebrate a special occasion or milestone such as big birthdays with a zero on the end, significant anniversaries, as well as many proposals and honeymoons. The joy of this is that the giver often benefits from the experience as well! In this case the anticipation of the special occasion break adds to the experience with shared excited plotting and planning.
In other cases the gifter is arranging this trip in secret and we send the travel packs out to a different address so the game is not given away ! Then the surprise weekend break is given as a present on the big day, as people often do not actually travel on their special day so they can be at home with a wider group of family and friends.
The extreme surprise planners like to be away for the big moment and to try to get the recipient to the airport without knowing where they are going! This is always a bit trickier as the packing to some of our destinations such as attending a Venice Carnival Ball or going on a Northern Lights Trip in Swedish Lapland need a bit more thought than the usual weekend away!
Sometimes though it can be tricky if you are unsure of their date availability or their break preference and people prefer to give the idea as a present, and if it is well received then book it. The issue with that though is that availability may have gone in the meantime, and due to exchange rates and flight movement, we can only confirm the exact price for an exact date for 48 hrs and the price may have moved in the meantime. Both lead to an awkward situation!
Therefore the final option of gifting a voucher to a certain value is a good option for a special occasion break gift. This option lets the recipient choose themselves where and when they wish to go to. With over 19 countries on offer across our 4 websites, and with breaks ranging from travelling on the luxury Maharajas Express in India, to going to see the spectacular Verona Opera in the Roman amphitheatre, to Whale Watching in Iceland or an exotic Safari to see the Migration there is bound to be something that appeals!
Gift vouchers are also a popular way for friends to buy a present, or as a retirement gift, as everyone can contribute the amount they wish, and it is surprising how quickly this adds up to give someone a unique and memorable special occasion break.
These vouchers are valid for 3 years and can be topped up by the recipient if they wish to go on a more expensive break than you had intended.
So if you are thinking of gifting a Special Occasion Break do give us a ring on 01722 744695 or take a look at our 4 websites; Aurora Nights, Italian Short Breaks, Weekend a La Carte and Safari Addicts for inspiration.
There is no doubt that Prague is getting popular but it is still possible to get away from the crowds and enjoy it’s beauty. The Clock Tower in the main square has to be seen as it truly is remarkable, but it is on everyones list and the crowds will be with you. See it and stop to have a drink in the square, and watch with amusement as the bubble man makes a living blowing clouds of bubbles for tourists to have their photo taken in, and then move on further afield.
For example we would recommend the Strahov Monastery for its truly stunning ceilings in the libraries. With over 260,000 books, many dating to the 14th Century, it is rather special. Set up high on the hillside overlooking Prague it can be tricky to get back from so don’t rely on a passing taxi being available. Instead a private tour of the monastery can be combined with a private tour of the castle and the famous Golden Lane which will overcome that little logistical challenge.
For many of our clients their highlight is the private classic car tour that takes them past all of the main sites. Here you can enjoy Prague cities highlights without fighting through the crowds, and with a glass of bubbly in your hand and the sun on your face in your open topped car! Whether you choose a Skoda Felicia Cabrio or a replica of a Alfa Romeo you will find it to be a lovely introductory Prague tour.
The old streets are worth a wander both sides of the river, and on the far side of the river it quietens off and this is a great place for a lunch stop.
There are some wonderful restaurants overlooking the river on the far side of Prague where you can rest any aching feet and relax into your Prague City Break with the sun on your face. With a surprising range of restaurant budget choice available you can lunch with the water lapping at your feet overlooking the King Charles Bridge, or indeed be so close as to be overshadowed by it. I was rather charmed at my choice near where some of the river boats left from, and by the fact that the waiter seemed particularly pleased on my dessert choice as his wife had made it!
Afterwards stroll back over the King Charles Bridge and enjoy the many buskers on the bridge. During my recent visit there was a particularly good jazz quartet which I stopped to listen to. It was as good as any concert and had the extra delight of people dancing on the cobbled bridge with the evocative backdrop of the river.
The Old Town Hall Tower whilst busy seems to soak people up so the wait is not too long and it does not feel too busy at the top. With wonderful views across the red roofs and The Old Town Square it is definitely worth a trip up in the lift.
We would recommend you stay at the charming and rather quirky Hotel Aria in the heart of the Old City. A view of the breathtaking panorama from the Roof Garden Terrace will leave you in no doubt that you are in the most prestigious quarter of the Old City. Aria Hotel celebrates the work of some of the greatest composers with each floor dedicated to an important genre of music, such as Opera, Jazz, Contemporary and Classical. Each room then honours a specific artist or composer with music, art, and books highlighting their work.
We can organise trips to go Hot Air Ballooning over the nearby countryside and if the wind is blowing in the right direction you may even get to see the highly evocative Karlstejn Castle from the air.
So don’t write off Prague, as many have, as now being spoilt. It is a beautiful classic and clean well maintained city with plenty of local vibrancy, culture and sights to see. A Trip to Prague can still be enjoyed in full with the right guidance . Do take a look at the Prague Luxury City break that we offer.
What a great day we had with Liza in Cape Town. We had opted for the Photography Guided Tour for the day. The benefit of this is it came with a camera and memory card that my daughter could use, and we could tailor the day to do exactly as we wished. I let my 12 year old choose the itinerary and whilst I wasn’t surprised by the visit to the Ostrich farm, I was surprised by the Cape Malay cooking lesson … but what a great choice she made!!
Liza took us to the less well known Ostrich Farm in Cape Town, which rather wonderfully we had totally to ourselves. The visit was great fun in itself as we took turns to feed the Ostriches (at one point we had 3 leaning over from behind and feeding out of our hands), standing on the eggs (yes they really are strong enough!), as well as a guide explaining a few facts about Ostriches and how they are made. Did you know they only have 2 toes on each foot, and that their eyes are heavier than their brains?! Finally a photoshoot with the smallest adult Ostrich in the world, as recorded by the Guinness World Book of Records, at 50 inches tall!
It was also the perfect place to practise different techniques with our cameras – movement as the Ostriches ducked all around us as we fed them, and interesting close-ups (ruffling feathers).
Liza was engaging and chatty throughout, but also able to adapt to our interests. She quickly worked out that my daughter Kristyna would not be very interested in taking lots of landscape shots of Table Mountain so instead took us to the ‘coloured house’ area which is where some of the Mandalay population was moved to when District 6 was cleared for apartheid in 1968. The brightly coloured houses shone out in contrast to the rest of Cape Town and we quickly started using the contrasting colours for some interesting effects, and focused on a more ‘Street Photography’ style.
Next up was our Cape Malay cooking lesson, with the adorable Faldela in the purple house. You don’t get more authentic than this and when we asked for the ingredients she informed us the most important ingredient was “love”. Whilst not exactly a cooking lesson we loved our time with Faldela learning to make Samosas (with pre-prepared ingredients), and chatting to her about her life. It was a real privilege to spend some time with her – and the Samosas were delicious!
Finally we went up to Signal Hill for a great view back across to Table Mountain just as the clouds cleared, and learnt some of the skills of taking panorama’s and how to play with depth of field shots.
Liza then was kind enough to ring Table Mountain for us and find out if it had re-opened (closed earlier due to high winds), and find out how long the queue was. She then dropped us off at Table Mountain so we could finish our day up there by ourselves. Little tip for you from Liza – use Table Mountain’s Wi-Fi to book your tickets in the car-park so you can walk straight in – just show your tickets via a screen grab on your phone – otherwise there was a 2 hour wait if you just turned up without pre-booking!
It was a super relaxed day which we thoroughly enjoyed and learnt a lot as we went. Throughout the day Liza took us through practising one new technical challenge at a time so that we really understood the effects before we moved on to the next one, and as a result I definitely have been experimenting with more knowledge with my camera.
As for my daughter Kristyna? Did she get anything out of the day? Well for a start she has already made Samosas at our next dinner party, said it was the best day of her stay in Cape Town, and is now manically washing cars to earn enough money to buy a “proper Camera”. I would say that was a good day out, and one to be recommended!
Click here to see our break to Cape Town, Kruger and Victoria Falls.
The new Lapland and Iceland season is now upon us and as such we have quite a few excited people who can’t wait to see the Northern Lights. To help plan for your experience, Apple have created an Aurora forecast app . This clever little app lets you see 8 days of Northern Lights viewing for both Iceland and Lapland in the north, (along with the southern hemisphere as well). To access this app all you need is either an iPad, iPhone or iPod with either Wi-Fi and/or 3G signal.
For iPhone and iPod users, go into your App Store and on the search option type in “Aurora Forecast”. Click on the app (looks the same as the photo below) and press the “Install” button.
Both of these devices will then show you a date screen: Click on the date you are interested in and scroll down to the Iceland and Lapland bar. This way you will be fully up to date with the aurora!
Following on from this original Northern Lights Apps blog posted in December 2011 in relation to an app that forecasts the Northern Lights, the designer has now incorporated more updates into this app, one of which is compatibility with iPad as well as the iPhone and iPod.
Other exciting updates include an easier way of viewing the Northern Light forecast for both the Northern and Southern hemisphere at the push of a button, quarterly hour updates, and push notifications informing you when the Lights peak above a set level. For more information on this please click on the two links below. Happy viewing!
1135 AD is a new restaurant at Jaipur’s Amber Fort which recreates the splendour of the Maharaja’s Court. Your experience will begin with a traditional Indian welcome followed by a meal in an open courtyard in the central area of the palace offering breathtaking views of the historic Jaigarh Fort. The lavish meals replicate the bygone charm of the king’s court with a variety of traditional delicacies and exclusive music and dance performance by local artists.
Click here to see our Taj and Tigers break which also stops in Jaipur.
We are delighted to share that one of the hotels that we work closely with in Iceland has just received the prestigious 2012 certificate of excellence award from TripAdvisor.
This award is in recognition of Hotel Rangá’s 4.5 rating on the TripAdvisor website. As you can imagine the staff and management at Hotel Rangá is delighted to have received this award as it reflects feedback from their genuine customers who have visited. It certainly confirms both our personal experience staying there, and feedback that we have had from our clients who have stayed there as part of the breaks we offer.
Weekend a la Carte offers both summer and winter breaks based out of Hotel Ranga with the Iceland Northern Lights Winter Break being our most popular.
For more information on our Iceland breaks please click here
We always knew our partners in India were an excellent team delivering great service and now this has been recognised in India in the National Tourism Awards.
They have been awarded for the second year in a row the first award for outstanding performance for tourist services as a tour operator for foreigners coming into India in their National Tourism Awards. This is fantastic news and adds to the 20 National Awards they have already been given in recognition of the quality of their offer.
Click here as we have a super Taj and Tigers holiday developed with them.
Petersburg has so much to offer in terms of stunning palaces nearby such as Peterhof, The Peter and Paul Fortress with its dramatic spire, beautiful art at the Hermitage and of course it’s world renown ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre.
Saint Petersburg city has changed its name several times. It was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 as Petersburg. In 1914, the name was changed from to Petrograd, in 1924 to Leningrad, and only in 1991 back to Saint Petersburg again. Between 1713 – 1728 and 1732 – 1918, Saint Petersburg was the imperial capital of Russia meaning that there are various beautiful Imperial Palaces to view. In fact it was only in 1918 that the government bodies moved to Moscow.
Petersburg is situated on the lowlands along the shores of the Neva Bay and Neva River, and islands of the river delta and is therefore criss-crossed with canals and rivers. We would recommend a great introduction to the city is to take a river cruise where you can see many of the Palaces on the shoreline.
It you were looking for the top tips on things to do in St Petersburg we would recommend the following.
The Hermitage museum contains one of the largest art collections in the world. Commissioned by Catherine the Great the Hermitage houses over three million items which of course cannot all be on show; the highlights of the collection are the Italian masterpieces, French Impressionists and the Russian Royal family jewellery including the Faberge collections. It can get incredibly busy in the summer with lengthy queues, and we are thrilled to have managed to organise for our Weekend a La Carte clients the unique opportunity to enter 1hr earlier than the masses so you can admire the world-famous paintings in piece and calm.
Peterhof Palace and Gardens
This world renowned palace is most famous for its fountains in its gardens. In the summer 176 fountains play in the gorgeous gardens making it a very special and peaceful visit. Traffic in St Petersburg is becoming notorious so we suggest you return to St Petersburg by hydrofoil which is a pleasant journey in itself, as well as avoiding the jams.
Peter and Paul Fortress
The Peter and Paul Fortress is now the final resting place for most of the Romanov emperors including Nicolas II, who was executed with his family in 1918 and who was very recently reburied here, and is a must for first time visitors to this city.
Catherine’s Palace and Pavlovsk
This is a must to see the extraordinary amber room where over 100,000 perfectly fitted pieces of amber adorn the walls of the room. Originally constructed in the 18th century it covered more than 55m2 and contained over 6 tons of Amber. The Amber Room disappeared during World War Two with its current whereabouts still remaining a mystery. Decades of work culminated in its recreation and unveiling in 2003.
Pavlovsk was the last of the imperial estates to be built and has an elegant simplicity in contrast to the much more decorated and Catherine’s Palace.
Leningrad Defence Museum
Not on the usual tourist route but for those looking to learn more about history then we would recommend a visit to the Leningrad Defence museum which is a memorising and shocking account of the resilience and ingenuity of the citizens of the city during the 1000 days Nazi’s siege during the second world war.
A trip to St Petersburg would not be complete without a visit to see the famous Ballet in one of the three theatres The Hermitage, The Mikhailovsky and the most famous The Mariinsky. The Mariisnky has a very full Ballet Schedule which has been released up to May 2017. Covering some of the traditional ballets such as Swan Lake, Giselle, Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, there are also some more unusual Ballets for the experienced Ballet goer and we can organise tickets in the very best seats.
The White Nights
Finally for those looking for something even more special we would recommend you travel to St Petersburg during the White Nights which usually lasts from June 11th to July 2nd when the sun does not descend beneath the horizon enough for the sky to grow dark. Indeed the authorities do not turn on the city’s streetlights at all! This is because of St Petersburg very northerly geographical location – approximately the same as the southern tip of Greenland.
Indeed it is easy to understand why St Petersburg is again voted the European Destination of the year! For inspiration see our Russia Breaks