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.
With the uncertainty of Brexit we wanted to make you aware of the government advice re passport requirements, and Driving License Requirements for driving abroad in Europe, if we Brexit with out a deal.
The rules for travel to most countries in Europe change if the UK leaves the European Union (EU) with no deal.
The new rules will apply to passports issued by the UK, Gibraltar, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey.
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 often asked by our clients who on a Verona Opera Trip with us where to eat in central Verona – here are our top favourite recommendations.
Situated in the heart of Verona, Ristorante Al Cristo is the venue for an optional extra wine tasting offered by Weekend a la Carte. The menu is considerably cheaper than the other suggested restaurants though highly related by previous of our clients, with starters being priced between €8 and €15, and mains starting at €12. Reservations can be made by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by telephone: +39 045 594 287.
With its’ history dating back to the early 1900’s, this traditional and charming restaurant is extremely popular. It is advisable to book in advance – reservations can easily be made via email email@example.com or by telephone: +39 645 596 999. Prices tend to range from €45 to €65 per person excluding wine. Closed on Sunday evenings and Mondays.
Ristorante Arche dates back to 1877 and is known in particular for its excellent fish menu. Situated beside Juliet’s balcony and Romeo’s house, the romantic setting is perfect for an enjoyable evening in Verona. The meat menu starts at €15, whilst the specialities menu is slightly dearer with the fish dishes starting at €21. It is advisable to book in advance; they can be contacted by telephone: +39 045 800 7415.
Ristorante Il Desco
Elegantly decorated, Ristorante Il Desco is yet another romantic setting that is perfect for a lovely evening out. The four course ‘Fast Menu’ costs €65, however the individual courses are more expensive, with starters being at least €38 and meat and fish dishes starting at €40. The online website allows reservations to be made, however they can also be contacted by telephone: +39 045 595 358 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on our Verona breaks please click here
Last week I returned from an exhausting 24 hour period in Siena when I went to review the Palio balconies, windows and hotels that we offer for the Palio. Of course others from Weekend a La Carte have visited and reviewed but this was my first time and I am thrilled with the Palio positions we have managed to secure. I was expecting them to be good – but they are fabulous! Balconies and Windows right on the Campo which offer first class positions with which to view the race and take in the atmosphere and passion of the Italians! With different positions across the Campo we have managed to deliver angles to different clients – some can even see the Mossa beforehand.
The two main hotels we offer are super and in very different ways. Both are within the city walls and extremely central.
The Palazzo Ravizza Siena is a charming converted Palazzo with oodles of character, a grand piano for anyone to play and the most stunning gardens overlooking the Tuscan countryside – a perfect place to take a drink and look at the view.
Hotel Athena Siena is a more modern offering with a restaurant and also has a wonderful Terrace overlooking the gorgeous Tuscan countryside – a superb place to chill and imbibe the atmosphere – this will be slightly quieter on Palio day.
Both are managed by excellent teams focused on making sure you have a wonderful stay. I would be hard pressed to know which one to recommend.
The Palio consists of a bare back race around the Campo between 10 out of the 17 Contradas at any one time. The Contradas are based on districts and you belong to a Contrada based on where you were born. Our Palio partner gave me the Pantera (Panther) colours (Based on the fact that my first night in Siena was in the Pantera district) so now I will be supporting Pantera in the upcoming Palio races. We discussed the machinations and politics of the Palio many times during my visit and I think I may understand about a tenth of it now! – 700 years of history is hard to unravel in a day!
The streets where the Contrada Dinners take place are full of character, churches and atmosphere – with an average of 1,500 people at each of the 10 Contrada dinners the night before the Palio the atmosphere must be electric! What an amazing way to wish the Jockeys luck!
I visited many restaurants and would certainly recommend Cane & Gatto Siena restaurant run by a graceful elderly couple delivering mouth-watering and beautifully presented food. The Antica Osteria da Divo Siena restaurant offers delicious traditional Italian food served in a wonderful atmosphere of alcoves in the underground Tufa which Siena is built on.
Please click here to see our Palio break where we offer a package including Palio Balcony viewing, the privilege of attending the Contrada Dinner and a Guided Introduction to the Palio as well as Hotel, private transfers and Flights.
We have previously written about the Palio, and the factors to consider when booking a Palio position, this time we thought we would give you some ideas as to where to eat in Siena. We would recommend you reserve a table at any of them as it can get very busy during the Siena Palio!
ANTICA OSTERIA DA DIVO
The restaurant is near the Cathedral and the Piazza Del Campo. The Ancient Etruscan rooms that are cut out of the ‘tuff’, the soft volcanic rock on which Siena is built, create a unique atmosphere for an evening which will not be forgotten.
The prices are reasonable with starters averaging €8 and main courses starting at €20.
Reservations made by email email@example.com or by telephone on +39 0577 286054.
LA TAVERNA DI SAN GIUSEPPE
Situated in the heart of the historic centre of Siena, the restaurant is only a short walk from the ‘Piazza del Campo’.
La Taverna Di San Giuseppe has a hand-sculpted wine cellar which holds over 500 different labels.
The prices are reasonable with starters averaging €10 and main courses starting at €20.
Booking is by telephone only on +39 0577 42286.
ANTICA OSTERIA CANE E GATTO
With many customers of this family run restaurant describing it as the best meal of their life, it is understandable why the set menu does not come cheap. Usually costing around €70 per head excluding wine, the intimate and welcoming atmosphere of the restaurant is well worth the cost.
An evening at this restaurant is likely to last for two or three hours, so choose a night when you can sit down, relax, and enjoy a delicious meal without the pressure of time.
Book by telephone on +39 0577 287545
We have had such great feedback from our returning clients from the Verona Opera that we thought we would share some of it with you. There is too much to share it all but to give you a flavour.
“We had a very enjoyable time in Verona. The Accademia Hotel was excellent in every respect. The hotel staff were very helpful and spoke good English taking time to provide information on tourist attractions and local restaurants. Our room was spacious and thankfully had aircon as the outside temperatures were in the mid 30’s! The food and service in the Accademia restaurant was extremely high quality and they have an excellent wine list. We enjoyed a pre Opera dinner consisting of beautifully prepared Pasta followed by Turbot accompanied by an excellent bottle of 2004 Jermann Vintage Tunina.
The tasting menu at Villa del Quar (Ristorante Arquade) was also fabulous. The setting is simply stunning and we wish we had arrived a little earlier for pre-dinner wine tasting. The chef has worked in Michelin starred London restaurants and came to the table after the meal to get our comments on the menu. With wine this was not a cheap night out by any stretch of the imagination but for a special occasion it was really stunning.
The transfer from the Airport by chauffer driven Limo was very efficient and comfortable and we had the same car/driver for the trip to/from Villa del Quar. We also had a great pre Opera dinner at Ristorante Maffei which we would highly recommend. The “Gold” seats at the two Opera performances were in Rows 10 and 16 and were centrally positioned so we had a great view of the stage.
Last but not least, Abigail was very helpful and did everything she could to make our trip very memorable.”
“Just a short note to thank you for arranging the trip to Italy for me and my family. I have to say it lived up to my expectations. The organisation was faultless, all transfers were on time and all the admin (tickets passes etc.) delivered as expected. My mum particularly enjoyed the opera in Verona (fantastic tickets by the way) and a real red carpet experience. I will have no hesitations in recommending your company to my friends and I look forward to our next business together.”
“We loved the whole weekend, thank you so much. Everything worked like clockwork, we were really well looked after throughout, and we made maximum use of our Verona Cards. The lunch in Sirmione was exquisite, and they seemed to be expecting us from the moment we walked in.
All in all it could not have been better, and we are very grateful for the arrangements you suggested and made. A perfect way to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We would certainly recommend you to anyone we know.”
“We really enjoyed the trip. The hotel was in a great location and the staff friendly and helpful. The opera tickets and the tourist pass were waiting for us at reception on arrival. The taxi was also waiting for us on arrival even though we had a 5 hour delay at Gatwick. All in all a fantastic trip and hope to use your services in future”
“Just to let you know that we were very pleased with the service you provided, the hotel was very good and with nice location for a central city hotel, conveniently situated to the Arena. Our seats choice at the Arena were excellent, also the lady driver who collected us a dropped us to the airport was very nice and her car was very comfortable. Overall you made our trip very comfortable and nice and was very good value for money.”
“Thank you so much for organizing our trip to Verona and Lake Garda, everything – hotels – opera – taxis – all perfect and worked smoothly. We had a brilliant time and will definitely get in touch with you again”
“The weekend was absolutely fabulous. my wife was thrilled as it was our 20 anniversary surprise weekend. Everything went well.”
“It all went very well; it was exactly what I had hoped for – the opera of course spectacular. Many thanks for an excellent service. I will certainly recommend Weekend a la Carte to anyone”.
“Verona was absolutely lovely and we had a great time for four days. All the arrangements went very smoothly with no hold ups at any point. The Hotel Firenze was very nice indeed with every comfort and a beautiful room. All the hotel staff were excellent as was the breakfast and I would certainly use this hotel again as it was an easy walk to the Arena. The Gold Poltronissima seats in the Arena were also very good. Anyway, thank you so much for booking our trip and helping us with all the little queries. I liked using your company a lot and have already recommended you to other friends and will certainly use you another time”
“The arrangements were excellent. Everything went as clockwork from pick-up to set-down. The Accademia was brilliant, the best hotel in thirty years of European travel. The quality of the room, the daily fresh bed-linen, the attention, when needed, was absolutely excellent. The staff at all levels were unfailingly helpful and couldn’t be bettered. The Breakfast Table superb. The performance was bettered only by the incredibly brilliant way in which they delivered my forgotten car keys to the airport. Wonderful service. Having previously spent a day in Verona we knew the place was wonderful but the opera experience just made the whole thing such a joy. Thank you for arranging such an enjoyable time, it was unforgettable”.
To see the range of Verona Opera Packages we offer click here.
When thinking about going to the Palio race in Siena there are some factors that you should take into account when making your choice.
Access to Activities around the Palio.
Much of the fun of attending the Palio is to become involved in the events leading up to the Palio. This is where unique access can only be gained via people with the “right” contacts. Attending one of the good luck open air Contrada Dinners on the streets hosted by the different Contrada to celebrate and anticipate the Palio race scheduled for the following day is a lively event and a great way to get a “feel” for the passion the Siena people have for the Palio. If you can gain entry to one of the Contrada Museums you will indeed be lucky as these are unique rooms which will give you a great insight into the Palio.
The View of the Palio itself.
The race is run around the central square (Campo) and can be seen from all of the privately owned balconies and windows overlooking the square. Many of the locals hire out their balconies and windows for Palio viewing and put in benches for you to sit or stand on so all can see. Each view is unique and different as they are in 14th C buildings and you should also consider whether walking upstairs is an issue as lifts are in short supply! The Palio can also be watched from the centre of the Campo though thousands in the crowds necessitate an early arrival to gain a good spot, standing throughout both the wait and the Palio and the reality of being crushed with a lot of people! There are also Grandstands all around the track in which people can watch the event.
Things to take into consideration are:
Once you have decided what is important to you the next stage is to find someone who can offer you the solutions. An early discussion is critical as the best options tend to go faster. July tends to sell faster than August so you have a bit more time to find the right position if you are looking to go in August, but of course August has a tendency to be hotter!
At Weekend a la Carte we are delighted to have just gained access for one of our clients to what is considered one of the best positions in the whole of the Campo. Right above the Mossa the window has a perfect view of the whole track. The Palio (the banner that is won) is hung just metres beneath the window – if you stretch out your arm you can almost touch it. It’s incredible to watch the Contradaioli who literally climb up to you to claim their prize.
If you are looking to go to the Palio the important thing is to start investigating early as the options and choices are so much wider. Click here for more information on our Palio break
For more information on our breaks to Verona click here
While attending our Palio Siena package break, you need a good hotel within the city walls, which is within walking distance of the main sites. One of our favourite hotels in Siena is Palazzo Ravizza, which is only 600 metres from the Piazza del Campo – the location of the Palio Siena Horse Race.
This converted palace was a family residence in the 19th century until the current aristocratic owners decided to convert the palazzo into a pensione in the 1920’s. The palazzo can boast a wealth of historians, musicians, writers and art collectors as some of their guests, one of which donated a Steinway piano in the salon.
The rooms are characterful and have the original furnishings maintained from the 1920’s. Some of the rooms face the garden creating a relaxing atmosphere.
As well as being within the castle walls, the hotel has a garden offering quiet areas where guests can read, relax with an aperitif or entertain friends. There is also a lemon house, bar, wine cellar and bookshop, the last of which is Siena’s only English bookshop. The bookshop stocks books on current trends along with Italian translations.
With incredible views overlooking Siena, this palazzo has something for everyone. When you have ticked all of these off your list you still have your Palio Siena package to entertain you! For those wanting to travel further afield and visit the nearby towns, Palazzo Ravizza has free parking for housing your car overnight.
This hotel is sure to be the icing on the cake when satisfying your wanderlust or special occasion on your Palio Siena package trip. For more information click here
Opera seems to be steadily gaining in popular consciousness, if ITV’s ‘Popstar to Operastar’ is anything to go by. The first show pulled in 6.4 million viewers (a 27.5 per cent share) and is now averaging an audience of 3 million weekly, according to Broadcast; demonstrating that the British public do have an interest in opera and it’s not something reserved for real aficionados. Even the popstar participants are realising that opera is not an elitist art form, helping to change general perception.
While the show in no way compares with the exhilarating experience of a full operatic performance sung by professionals, it is bringing the art to the mainstream. TV is a start but to really enjoy opera, it needs to be experienced in the place which lays claim to its creation: Italy.
For anyone who is developing an appreciation of opera, a visit to the famous Verona Opera is a must. Enjoy ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the very setting in which Shakespeare intended, along with other wonderful arias throughout the summer-long event. Held in the iconic and atmospheric Arena di Verona, a Roman amphitheatre, this open-air festival celebrates the very finest and best-loved operas from June to September.
On the schedule are ‘La Traviata’, ‘La Boheme’, ‘Nabucco’, ‘Aida’ and ‘The Barber of Seville,’ not forgetting, of course, the star-crossed lovers themselves, ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
The production featured this year is brand new and “destined to reignite the souls of all opera fans,” according to italymag.co.uk.
The Verona Opera is not to be missed. For more details click here