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.
Oh wow, I was going on a trip to Swedish Lapland and Norway!! It was the first time I had ever travelled on my own but it was so easy as all the travel arrangements worked like clockwork. Getting up at 4am for my flight to Stockholm wasn’t fun but worth it for the chance to see the Northern Lights. I took a connecting flight from Stockholm to Kiruna and then was taken to the IceHotel. As it was September everywhere was very green and the countryside looked lovely.
The IceHotel 365 was only a year old when I visited but is a lovely structure which I imagine looks magical covered in snow in winter. The reception area is large and the staff were very welcoming. I was taken on a tour of the site which is much larger than I anticipated. There is the large reception block which also houses the restaurant. There’s a gift shop, arctic clothing store and lots and lots of cabins. The Kaamos cabins were stunning, very simple but they had everything you could wish for. The IceHotel 365 is situated near the bank of the River Torne. It’s an amazing piece of architecture, well thought out and a great substitute for the winter IceHotel. There is an Ice Bar too!
Across the road from the IceHotel complex is the Old Homestead restaurant. A great place to sit and relax and eat the most amazing food. After a visit to the reindeers and a short walk I went to the Ice Bar and had a fabulous blue cocktail in a glass also made of ice. The Ice Bar has some amazing sculptures and a stunning chandelier, also made of ice! At the entrance to the Ice Bar you are given Arctic Capes and gloves as it is very cold inside. They proved invaluable in keeping me warm whilst holding my ice glass and drinking my amazing cocktail.
After dinner at the Old Homestead is was time to turn in for bed but not before one last look for the Northern Lights! My Deluxe Art Suite was amazing, with subtle lighting to make the most of the intricate ice sculpting. The bed had a lovely comfy mattress covered in reindeer skins so I wouldn’t be sleeping directly on ice. The Suite had an interconnecting dressing room, accessed through a sort of air-lock corridor. This was so the heat from the dressing room didn’t melt the ice in the bedroom. The dressing room had underfloor heating, a sauna, shower, loo and wash basin and a dressing area. The dressing area was very simple with comfy chairs and somewhere to put your clothes and belongings. There was also a door to the outdoors so that guests could go out at night to catch the Northern Lights (just don’t forget the key to get back in!).
It had been a long exhausting day and I was absolutely shattered. I’d been given instructions on how to dress for bed and a sleeping bag with cotton liner. So, dressed in a nightdress (big mistake)and socks I made my way through to the bedroom and struggled, but managed, to get into the cotton liner and then into the sleeping bag. I think I fell asleep quite quickly but at some point woke with a very cold head. I had forgotten to take my hat in and wear it despite being advised to wear it. The dilemma then was do I get out of bed and get my hat risking the cold on the floor, or tough it out and hope to go back to sleep? I chose to try and get back to sleep, another big mistake.
In the morning I was woken by the staff with a most welcome hot lingonberry juice, just what was needed! Breakfast was taken in the Old Homestead too, a great selection of foods to fuel you for the day ahead.
An amazing stay at the IceHotel and a lesson learned; pyjamas are much more practical for bed and a hat is a definite must! The food in Sweden and Norway is exceptional, and perhaps not what you would necessarily be going for but a fantastic added bonus. It’s not all herrings and reindeer meat! Take a look at our very popular Ice Hotel & Abisko break giving you an excellent chance of seeing the Northern Lights as well as staying at the Ice Hotel
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
When we walked outside Reykjavik airport and saw the light aircraft before us, the excitement started to build. It is pretty much a rule of thumb that boarding a light aircraft means an awesome adventure is on the cards. The anticipation of venturing to a far off icy land was mounting, as we flew over the ocean towards the world’s largest icecap. One of the best decisions of the trip was to book window seats, as the view was extraordinary. The rocky volcanic landscape was soon replaced by vast ocean, as we flew steadily north-west, across the Arctic Circle, towards the edge of East Greenland. The scene from our tiny airplane window was truly breath-taking. Massive icebergs scattered across the water like a giant jigsaw puzzle, flanked by towering snow topped glaciers meandering to the sea, cutting a path across an untouched white blanket. Tiny freshwater lakes showcasing a broad palette of brilliant blue and green waters, like paint stains on a white canvas. It took an hour to cross the ice sheet from east to west, the snow so white that sunglasses couldn’t bar the blinding glare off the unpolluted, untouched snow. A true polar wilderness.
When the longest road in the area is a 10 minute drive from the airport to the town, you realise how remote you really are. The clear blue skies and warming sun was a welcoming surprise, as being 69 degrees north you think you would be entering a world of fur coats, not sunglasses and t-shirts! Home to a mere 4,000 people, Greenland’s third most populated settlement is a true gem for scenic vistas. Perched on the edge of fjord slopes, wooden houses in red, blue and green look out to the sea, towards the giant icebergs on the horizon. An ancient 18th century church overlooking the fjord provides the perfect postcard photo opportunity, its dark wood exterior starkly contrasting the pure white bergs behind.
Hotel Arctic grandly overlooks the town and bay, with sea views from the rooms which are impressive enough to keep anyone from wanting to sleep. Looking out the window, a dozen Siberian huskies lounge on the rocks, the only thing between you and the vast expanse that is the bay. One lifts its head towards the sky and howls, breaking the silence. These magnificent dogs command respect and awe. The icebergs drift serenely and silently with the evening tide. I close my eyes and breathe in the cool, crisp Arctic air, feel the cold wind gently brush past my face, the warm summer sun radiating on me. The occasional howl from a husky and the gentle lapping of the water is most soothing. You truly feel like you are in a distant wilderness that must be appreciated. Global Warming is changing the landscape at an unprecedented rate, yet as I look out to the sea, time seems to slow and worldly problems seem almost insignificant. This is a place to visit to get perspective, clear your head, and think about what is important in life. Whilst looking out at one of the world’s greatest views of course!
And all this beauty and emotion is before we even started any of the activities that we had planned!!; Whale Watching boat cruises in amongst the Icebergs, The Calving Glacier of Equip, Kayaking amongst the Icebergs, Broadwalk Hike to the Unesco protected Sermmiut Icebergs, Midnight sun Iceberg Cruise!! To see the Greenland under the Midnight Sun break we went on
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.
Of all the destinations we offer we get more requests from clients celebrating a wedding anniversary or big Birthday for a break to Lapland than any of our other destinations.
It’s really not difficult to see why as a trip to the Arctic for most people is once in a lifetime experience and so completely different to almost any other holiday they have been on before. After all if you are celebrating a silver wedding anniversary or a 40th or 50th Birthday then you want an experience that stands out from what you have done previously.
Who could not be captivated by the idea of being pulled through a pristine snowy wilderness by a team of eager to please Huskies or by the thought of staying in the world famous ICEHOTEL in an individually designed Art Suite? To crown it all of why not go Northern Lights hunting in Abisko in Swedish Lapland probably the best place on earth for consistent sightings of the Northern Lights.
In addition you have unique wildlife, the indigenous Sami culture centred on reindeer herding and all manner of unique settings from fjords to mountains and icebergs to volcanoes.
In terms of places to stay there are small lodges, wilderness cabins with private chef and the unique Tree Hotel with its quirky rooms such as the Mirror Cube, Birds Nest ad UFO! Whether you are travelling as a couple or bigger group to celebrate, we can suggest itineraries that fit best for your group size.
Click on this link to see our suggested breaks for celebrating a Special Occasion
If you truly want to make your special moment an amazing adventure, why not combine more than one country on your Arctic Northern Lights holiday adventure. We offer great combinations of Sweden and Norway, Iceland and Sweden and Iceland and Greenland for spectacular journeys that will be forever etched on the memory.
Click on this link to see some of our longer journeys
We have, over 14 years, built up the expertise to knit together arguably the best journeys possible in the region and have reams of feedback from satisfied clients over the years. If you have a special occasion on the horizon, then give us a call to see what we can do for you.
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 (email@example.com) 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com
For more information on our Verona breaks please click here
Only 45 minutes from the Slovene’s capital Ljubljana, Lake Bled is easily accessed. What is imperative is that you book a room with a view over the Lake. The Grand Hotel Toplice is our favourite. Set right on the lake shore overlooking the church of the Assumption of Mary, the hotel has an old world Eastern European charm. Our balcony was huge and afforded many moments of quiet reflection taking in the majesty of the view.
We took a walk right around the Lake. This can take a few hours but is worth the time. If you are particularly enthusiastic you can even walk up to the medieval castle with its commanding views. Lunch and drinks is a welcome reprise before taking a look around the castle museum.
A 3 or 4 night break is optimum and the region offers a number of fabulous day trips. We would recommend a private guide as this always allows you to really understand the history of a destination in particular.
One day venture through the Triglav National Park with its gorges, ravines and waterfalls and perhaps even take the cable car up to Mt Vogel which at over 5000ft offers commanding views over the whole of Julian Alps and beyond.
Another great day out is taking in Postojna Caves and the Stud farm for the famous Lipi. The scale of the 20km cave is extraordinary. A fantastic maze of tunnels and passages, stalagmites and stalactites make this one of world’s premier subterranean locations. About an hour further on, and near the Italian border, is Lipica a small town with a global reputation as the breeding place for the famous Lipizzaner stallions used in dressage routines worldwide but most famously at the Spanish riding school in Vienna. Take in a show, walk around the stud farm and become acquainted with horses with bloodlines going back centuries!
No trip to Slovenia would be complete without spending some time wandering around the very relaxed city of Ljubljana. This small compact, relaxed and scenic city is a perfect half day experience and if your flight takes off in the afternoon then do this before going to the airport.
For more information on our Slovenia breaks please click here
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!