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.
Reykjavik Centrum Hotel in Reykjavik – What a great hotel only opened in 2005 with part of it situated in a building dating back to 1764. Perfectly situated right in Reykjavik centre overlooking Parliament Square but on the right side of the square to distance yourself from noise. Reykjavik is a party town and at weekends can get very noisy!
Restaurants are close by with a very quirky one just across the square, though the hotel has the Uppsalir Bar & Bistro with special lunch and dinner offers, as well as their claim of being one of the best happy hours in town between 5-7pm!!
The Team are friendly and helpful and there are 2 styles of rooms. Modern and the more traditional feel with panelling. Both have a great feel and space, but for me the more traditional ones had the edge. The Museum next door should have been their car park but as they were digging it out Viking remains were found and so it was converted into a museum with the quirky name Reykjavik 871 +/- 2 which of course relates to the date of the exhibits! As a result Car Parking is Metered Parking on the street – though it is free at night (please check locally in case this changes!).
And if you are looking for a quirky local restaurant just across the square is The Icelandic Bar which offers traditional Icelandic ware in an authentic laid back atmosphere with plenty of old style photos. On offer are Puffin, Reindeer and Minke Whale though less controversial fish stews and lamb are also on offer. The Creamy Seafood soup is excellent and filling. Starters are @ 2,000 isk and main courses range from 3 – 4,000 isk.
To see our Iceland breaks
With Brexit now confirmed we wanted to update you, especially as there is still a possibility we could Brexit without a deal. Travel to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein will change if the UK leaves the EU with no deal.
You may need to renew your British passport earlier than you anticipated if you’re travelling after Brexit. The new rules will apply to passports issued by the UK, Gibraltar, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey.
On the day you travel, you’ll need your passport to both:
If you renewed your current passport before the previous one expired, extra months may have been added to its expiry date. Any extra months on your passport over 10 years may not count towards the 6 months needed.
Please see a link below with further details and also a link for you to check your specific passport
Driving Licence Requirements
In the event that there is no EU Exit deal, the government will seek to put in place new arrangements for EU and EEA countries to recognise UK driving licences when people are visiting, for example on holiday or business trips. Until such arrangements are in place, UK driving licence holders may need an IDP in addition to their UK driving licence to drive when visiting EU and EEA countries.
Each EU and EEA country will decide if they require a foreign driver to have an IDP, in addition to a driving licence, to legally drive in their country.
There are three different types of IDP (International Driving Permits) covering different countries so if you already have one please check it is the correct one for the country you are travelling to.
For example –
Italy, Norway, Sweden – 1968
Iceland – 1949
It is very easy to get a IDP from a Post Office (There are 2,500 that issue them in the UK). You would need to take with you a passport photo, your plastic photocard driving licence and we would recommend taking a second Photo ID such as your passport as well. It costs £5.50 and it is issued there and then over the counter. We would strongly recommend if driving in Europe (including Norway and Iceland) you get one as the local suppliers are also not clear if they will need them or not. For example in Iceland one car hire company think they may not need them, another one says they will need them. For the sake of £5.50 it seems an easy decision for peace of mind for your trip, and as we would not be able to help overrule this requirement if on arrival it is required we do recommend you get one.
Please see the link below with further details, as well as the ability to search for you nearest issuing Post Office.
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 just received this feedback from a client who went to Iceland in November!
We did see some fantastic sights around the south side of the island. Hotel Ranga was amazing in terms of comfort, food, and friendliness of the staff. We were treated to some brilliant views of the Northern Lights on our first night there.
The lava tubes were not quite what we expected and we would probably have described it as pot-holing but it was an experience that neither of us would want to have missed. The excursions were well organised and very enjoyable.
We did choose to miss the visit to the Blue Lagoon and took a trip instead over the recently erupted volcano. The manager of Hotel Ranga tried to help us organise a helicopter flight for that day but it could not be arranged. As an alternative he told us of a local character with a fixed wing plane. When we agreed to go he made the arrangements for us. I would say the plane was lacking in comfort but our pilot was “mad enough” to fly us on a roller coaster ride right down the lava flow tipping the plane left and right throughout the descent and then back up again. The flight over and inside the rim of the still steaming volcano with its powerful smell of sulphur was brilliant. Our flight included going over the nearby glacier and lasted for about two-and-a-half hours. Ann still describes it as the scariest thing she has ever done!
I could write pages on The Golden Circle Tour but I doubt I could do justice to the brilliance of the experience and the enthusiasm and pride of the people involved in taking us.
Hotel Centrum in Reykjavik was different in style to Hotel Ranga but none the less impressive and comfortable. We thoroughly enjoyed the short break you arranged and our home made DVD will continue to enthral for years to come.
To see the break they went on please click here on Icelandic Northern Lights Weekend Break
There are three main types of travel. The first are the beach holidays. Flights, car hire and a hotel/villa and you’re all set. These are great for when you just want to get away and have a relaxing break. They are perfect for those that don’t want to plan and just decide as they go what they do with tomorrow. This is the sort of trip for someone who wants to keep full control of their schedule. They are simple, easy trips. Pick a beautiful location and half an hour on Expedia, and it’s all done.
The second category is the full set tour package. Whether it is a case of you travelling alone, wanting to meet new people, or whether you are just unsure how to put together everything you want to do, these are the breaks for those wanting someone else to plan out the A’s to B’s. It could be a case of too much to organise or just not knowing how. City breaks are easy to organise, but how about a trip to the arctic on a northern lights holiday? How do you organise a husky sled tour? Or maybe you are travelling around. Organising a trip to Golden Triangle India trip say, would be quite daunting for most people. This is where the tour package excels; it gives you effortless travel without the worry. Trying to arrange this sort of trip would feel like a comparison search for new car insurance at the end of the day, and that rather defeats the point of a wonderful holiday!
But there is a downside to the second category. What if you don’t get on with everyone in the group and you spend part of your coach or cruise trying to avoid set people? Also, it means many early starts, which feels contradictory taking into account that for a few days/week etc. you want to escape the alarm clock! Lastly, whilst you’re happy to get up early for a tour you are looking forward to, there are always parts of the ground programme you have no interest in, and that’s when getting out of bed early, packing the case and checking out of your hotel to be driven to the next place, just feels like too much hard work.
Onto category three. At Weekend a la Carte most of our clients have done many of the previous types of trips, and they know what they want. This includes hassle-free travel and to be looked after, but not to be part of a group and have no say on their itinerary. Everything we do is bespoke travel, reaching from an African Big 5 Safari, Venice Carnival package, Northern Lights trips, to city breaks. We know you want control of your holiday, but we also know you want someone else to work on the finer details. Most of our travellers are celebrating special birthdays and wedding anniversaries. These are our forte. We know how to make your trip special. You won’t be waiting for others to get on the bus, we won’t take you places you have no interest in, your hotel won’t be away from all the local sights.
The travel dates, hotels and duration are for you to decide. We are very flexible! We have many clients who want us to arrange ground only and then leave them to their devices, and if you want a second tiger safari on your Golden Triangle India holiday or a second night at the Verona opera, we can do this. We have been doing it for thirteen years, and are constantly looking at ways to improve our breaks, extensions being one of the main ways. We really do have something for everyone. Why not take a look?
Weekend a la Carte – a chocolate box of trips including Slovenia, Russia, Prague, Jordan, Morocco and Vienna.
Aurora Nights – Northern Lights inspired trips to Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Greenland.
Italian Short Breaks – Verona Opera, Venice Orient Express Train, Venice Carnival and the Siena Palio.
Big 5 Safaris – South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia.
Now the only hard part is for you to decide where your next adventure takes you!
On arrival in Iceland we went straight to the well-known thermal Blue Lagoon. To be honest, I wasn’t that inspired, but that soon changed as soon as my toes touched the wonderful warm water. We swam to the mud baskets to put the silica mud on our faces and then swam around exploring where the hot spots were. My husband disappeared for a Sauna and a Steam Bath but my daughter and I were quite happy slowly swimming around the bright blue lake and basking in the sun and warm water. We stayed a good couple of hours there before we carried onto Reykjavik. The only concern was that my hair turned positively frizzy after the experience – something to do with the Silica I think!
The next day we self-drove up to Hotel Budir which is on the West Coast of Iceland. Whilst the drive was quite long at about 2 ½ hours it was beautiful with the sea on one side of you and the ever-changing landscape of volcanic fields on the other. To be honest it took us quite a lot longer as I kept insisting upon stopping to take photos. I studied Geography at University so I was on the best field trip ever!
Hotel Budir is without doubt one of my favourite hotels in the world. There is a very special peaceful atmosphere there, the people that run it are delightful, and the restaurant food is divine! But it is the beautiful location that is so special; the hotel is perched right on the edge of the sea, with the stunning mountains of the Snaefellsnes peninsula in front, and dramatic lava fields and extinct volcanoes behind. It is the ultimate peaceful stay.
We spent the next day wandering along a trail to a nearby volcano. A picnic lunch surrounded by the jagged lava fields and total silence was quite surreal.
Whilst Hiking and Snowmobiling trips are available on the glacier at the top of Snaefellsjokull our daughter was too young so we had to give it a miss. However many have written about its grandeur including Jules Verne in the novel “Journey to the centre of the Earth”, and it is considered one of the most beautiful mountains in Iceland. However she was not too young to go on the whale watching trip the next day. What a great morning. A whole pod of Orcas around the boat and a Humpback Whale fluking in the distance – all with the backdrop of stunning snow tipped mountains.
There’s so much more that can be done up there in the area including many boat trips and riding on the famous Icelandic Horses on the beach, but our time was limited and we returned to Reykjavik in order to do the Golden Circle the next day.
This was great fun. I’ve always wanted to see the Strokkur Geyser. My father has talked about it from when he visited years ago, and it did not disappoint as it shot up, and we managed to press the button on the camera late every time! Thank goodness sport buttons are now available on cameras to capture the image!
Gullfoss is a truly dramatic waterfall with a tremendous amount of water gushing over, and of course we got soaked walking around and above it. Finally Thingvellir is a beautiful location. The Geographer in me was again excited to be walking through a mini rift valley! I always thought I had to go to Africa for that! Whilst the Icelanders are very proud of its heritage as the first democratic parliament in the world, for me it was the dramatic and stark beauty of the landscape that captured my imagination.
Click here for our Iceland breaks
Several years ago I had gone out to Iceland to find a someone who could offer a highly personalised and local guide to the area. I was delighted to meet Saeli, who met the brief in every way. We had discussed in detail the sort of SuperJeep tours he could run. We had spent a long day together and he had shown me in his SuperJeep snippets of all of them. Now I felt it was time to experience a full one.
We have had such fantastic feedback on Saeli and his team that I was very excited about the day – I knew it was going to be a goodie!
Sadly the weather put paid to my preference of going to the top of the Glacier on top of Eyjafjallajökull volcano … the one that no-one can pronounce that exploded in 2010 – and so instead we went to Þórsmörk. My disappointment was short lived. Named after the Thunder God Thor, this SuperJeep Tour takes you up through the river bed right up to the bottom of the Glacier, and then beyond into the valley surrounded by rugged and majestic mountains.
The river fjording was exciting with Saeli explaining carefully before each crossing exactly his route, and what his escape route was if it got any deeper than he had anticipated. As a result I felt very relaxed and there were no mishaps, at each crossing we arrived safely at the other side. I quickly learnt though to close the windows as we crossed!
This valley is a dramatic black volcanic landscape littered with huge boulders that have been brought down by the Glacier and from the Volcano.
After an hour of driving Saeli just stopped and showed me on his GPS map how 3 years ago we would have been in the middle of a glacial lake, now it was the ash laden flood plain as the ash from the 2010 eruption totally filled up the lake! We had to take some ash home for our “Nature collection”!! A bit further on Saeli found a pyroclastic bomb thrown from the volcano – we were ecstatic!
The river winds it way across the glacial plain through towering and ominous cliffs. As a joke I said it reminded me of Mordur from Lord of the Rings. Saeli just smiled and about half an hour later showed me a towering opening in the cliffs which the locals call “The gates of Mordur”. Apparently Þórsmörk actually inspired Tolkien when he was writing Lord of the Rings. I could totally see why as I looked across at the dark overpowering cliffs that towered above us.
Saeli and his team are fascinating to talk to as they describe their experiences during the 2010 eruption. All of the guides are members of the Mountain Rescue Team and so were heavily involved in the organising the evacuation, bringing the animals in from the outside and the monitoring of the eruption progress. This included the movement of the glacial meltwater which came from the melted glacier on top of the volcano. Nature is something these guys live with as part of their daily lives and accept and embrace. They don’t talk about IF there is another eruption, but WHEN… the next time it will be Katla and it will have a much bigger impact on airspace than Eyjafjallajökull. Ironically last time there was one airport open in Europe – and it was in Iceland! It was Akureyri which is in North Iceland and so upwind of the ash.
This was a great fun tour, with lots of opportunities to stop and wander if we wanted or just stay in the SuperJeep and explore the rugged landscape as we did.
Having recently returned from a site visit to Iceland to make sure our Weekend a la Carte breaks to Iceland are as good as they can be I wanted to share what an amazing country it is. So much to offer in terms of dramatic landscapes, beautiful scenery and natural phenomena and many SuperJeep and Snowmobile adventures. I can’t tell you everything – The Blog will go on for ever but here are the highlights- and as it is I have split it into 2 blogs on 2 different days!
Blue Lagoon – Surprisingly, as it is THE tourist destination in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon was only signposted in Icelandic “blå lagunen” until very close. However it was easy to see across the eerie lava field of jagged moss covered rocks as it is right next to a geothermal station with steam belching out. It is quite a desolate but strangely entrancing sight.
Having visited once before, I decided to go one step further and have an In Water Spa Treatment – Oh what a joy!! – I am so glad I did! The feeling of drifting around on your back on a Lilo as you have a gentle massage is so relaxing. The warm thermal water of the Lagoon heats you and the blanket you have over you. Every 10 mins or so the Massager dips you back into the water (still on the Lilo) so that the warm water flows over the blanket keeping you warm throughout. Afterwards I swam around the Lagoon and as it started to rain the feeling of the cold rain on my face invigorated and awakened me from my post massage state (tip: pre-booking is essential).
I watched as couples bought a drink from a Waiter in just a bow tie and swimming trunks – but the luminous blue drink colour put me off from trying it myself. I did though find the Silica Mud and plastered myself with it hoping its magical qualities will transform me into a new woman!
I still had time to sit under the waterfall, have a sauna and a session in the steam room before it was time to get changed. I spent just under 3 hours there which felt relaxed with plenty of time. I did not eat there but there is a choice of a café or a restaurant.
For more details on our most popular break with the Blue Lagoon click here
That first dip into the warm, cloudy blue waters feels like you’re taking the bath of your life. It can get crowded but because the of the steam and the size of the area it really doesn’t ever feel busy, but if you really like the thought of having the space virtually to yourself then you will be pleased to hear that Blue lagoon is now open till midnight during the period 1st July to 15 August. How lovely to avoid the daytime crowds and just relax late into the night in a warm pool staring at the stars.
The water remains a constant 36 – 39 degrees Celsius. The lagoon’s white silica mud gently cleanses and exfoliates the skin and has a revitalizing effect. The blue-green algae nourishes and softens your skin, while the mineral salts balance and relax both body and mind. It does however, play havoc with your hair, so make sure you cover your hair with conditioner before going in to avoid the (not so sought after) Worzel Gummidge hair look the next day.
The Blue Lagoon is a manmade geothermal pool, not a natural phenomenon as thought by some, but it is nonetheless an amazing experience not to be missed. Going to Iceland and not seeing the Blue Lagoon would be like going to Egypt and not seeing the Pyramids. A must-do.
We often send our clients to Blue Lagoon on the way back to the airport (as its just 20 minutes away from Keflavik airport) which is a lovely relaxing way to end your visit to a country with so many extraordinary sights. With a whole morning to kill, what better way to while away the time than by relaxing in a geothermal spa?
Click here for more information