Is this the ultimate Antarctic holiday?

August 20th, 2015

 

Catherine Leech  By Catherine Leech, 101 Holidays

“Holiday of a lifetime” is perhaps one of the most over-worked descriptions used in our business but every so often, there’s one which truly lives up to its billing.Shackleton's Expedition 2 (1)

The Ultimate Travel Company is organising an exclusive 23-night voyage to the Antarctic from 28 January 2016 to mark the anniversary of Britain’s legendary explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s historic Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917.

Akademik Ioffe ii photographer Andrew Prossin (1)Sir Ernest Shackleton (1)Henry Worsley (1)

This isn’t any old Antarctic voyage, however – it is accompanied by Roddie Wordie, grandson of Sir James Wordie who was the geologist on Shackleton’s expedition team a century ago, and Henry Worsley, seasoned adventurer who will be “fresh” from his unsupported solo attempt to cross the 1,000 mile Antarctic Peninsula.

Roddie will share his grandfather’s diary extracts and photographs – many of which have never been seen outside of close family and friends before – as the tour retraces the steps of the original expedition from Ushuaia via the Falklands, South Georgia and Argentina to Antarctica.

Elephant landing

Henry, a career soldier, is renowned as one of the foremost experts in the region and will be on hand to discuss his more recent experiences.

Shackleton's Expedition 3 (1)

En route, the expedition ship, the Akademik Ioffe, will attempt to visit Elephant Island, the site where half of Shackleton’s crew were stranded for four months after the sinking of Endurance before being rescued by Shackleton – 100 years ago.

Shackleton's Expedition (1)

This 23 night expedition costs from £9,876 per person including all flights, hotel accommodation and the 18-night cruise on a full board basis. There is a single supplement of £3,495.

Find out more about this unique “Celebrating Shackleton” voyage.

Why mountain gorillas need tourism to survive

May 26th, 2015

Will Bolsover, Natural World Safaris  By Will Bolsover, Managing Director, Natural World Safaris

Will Bolsover set up the first ever gorilla tracking safari in Gabon in combination with Emmanuel de Merode (now the Chief Warden of Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo). He also worked for a niche gorilla safari company based in Uganda and Rwanda and was one of the first people to lead safaris to track some of the first habituated groups of lowland gorillas. Will is recognised as one of the world’s leading authorities on gorilla tourism.

Sabyinyo

One of the most controversial topics associated with wildlife conservation is tourism. Who does it benefit – the wildlife or the tourists (or both)?

The main threats to gorillas are poaching, habitat loss through mining or deforestation and regional conflicts. In some areas, the effects of these are devastating to the local gorilla population, in particular illegal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

90% of locals within these destinations make their living from cash crops, so they see gorillas as direct competition to their livelihood.

Areas which would have been pristine forest and prime gorilla habitat a few years ago are now fields of potato crops.

The key to protecting the gorillas is to teach the locals that it is in their best interests to conserve and protect them, so that they receive additional income or gain quality of life from their co-existence.

Mountain gorillas have been highly endangered for a number of years and live in one of the most restricted habitats left on the planet today. In recent years they have defied all odds and their population has increased.

Of course the dedicated work of researchers, forest staff and conservation organisations is a major contributor, but undoubtedly so is tourism.

The mountain gorillas of Rwanda are living, breathing proof of tourism and conservation working together in unity.

Mountain gorilla tourism is big business for the East African countries of Rwanda and Uganda, both of which are reaping the benefits.

UmubanoTribal performanceHirwaMountain habitat

Vast sums of money are required on a daily, monthly and annual basis in order to protect and conserve this endangered species, and the money from gorilla tracking permits goes towards this. It contributes towards the maintenance of the park boundaries, medical assistance for both the gorillas and the local population and also to support the local residents, who are now not permitted to make use of the resources of the local forest.

Importantly, it is also used to pay the salaries of the park staff and rangers who patrol this region on a daily basis, monitoring the gorillas and ensuring that those people who are not meant to be in the park are not there.

To put this in a very simple context, over 100 park rangers in the last 10 years have lost their lives whilst protecting mountain gorillas. For this reason alone, the finance that the sale of these gorilla permits generates is essential in order to continue to support the various conservation initiatives and local communities of this region, all of which contribute to the survival of these gentle giants.

It is fair to say that money is a powerful motivator and as a result of the success of eco-tourism and conservation working together, these affable apes are a major contributor to one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, that of Rwanda. A country that has been through more than we can imagine, Rwanda – also known as the Land of a Thousand Hills – is hospitable beyond comprehension and offers a unique wildlife experience that is at the top of the list for most enthusiasts.

By visiting the mountain gorillas, you are making a positive contribution to their conservation and also ensuring that local communities benefit too.

It is essential you book through a reputable tour operator who uses eco-friendly lodges that support communities and employ local guides. Natural World Safaris does just that, ensuring that your contribution to the gorillas through tourism is positive in every way.

Check out Natural World Safaris’ full range of mountain gorilla trekking holidays.

* All images courtesy of Richard Denyer, a Natural World Safaris client.

2-for-1 luxury holiday hotel and business flights to Zanzibar

May 15th, 2015

The Residence Zanzibar

Catherine Leech  By Catherine Leech, 101 Holidays

If you’re looking for an exotic holiday this summer with all the bells and whistles, get clicking now.

Book by 5pm on Sunday 17th May and save over £1,500 pp including two for one business class flights and accommodation in Zanzibar in July and August – peak season in Zanzibar.

This exclusive offer from Turquoise Holidays costs from £2,399 pp including 7 nights’ half board accommodation at The Residence Zanzibar, a five star plus all-villa resort with your own private pool, as well as private transfers and business class flights with Qatar Airways.  You can upgrade to all-inclusive from £60 pp per day.

The beach at The residence ZanzibarCycling butlerThe pool at The ResidenceLuxury bathroom

Chill out on the white sand beach or by your private pool with butlers, riding on traditional tricycles, on call throughout. There are two restaurants, two bars, a swimming pool, 24 hour in-villa dining, a superb Wellbeing Centre, tennis court, watersports and complimentary bicycles.

Find out more here – and make sure you book by Sunday 17 May.

Discover the secrets of Ancient Greece

May 14th, 2015

Catherine Leech  By Catherine Leech, 101 Holidays

Peter Sommer Travels has perfected the art of combining a relaxing holiday with a fascinating insight into ancient history and archaeology in the heart of the Aegean.

Frequently based on board a luxury gulet, these holidays are usually a sell-out months in advance but there’s a new Macedonian Greece trip, departing 2 September 2015, which has a few places still available.

Staying in characterful 3 to 5 star hotels en route, highlights include Thessaloniki, Mount Olympus, the birthplace of Aristotle and Amphipolis (the final mustering point for Alexander the Great’s expedition to the east in the 4th century BC.

It’s not all about culture and history of course – gastronomy is high on the agenda with some unique venues for meals and wine-tasting.

This 13-night trip costs £3,595 pp (based on 2 sharing) including all accommodation, meals except one lunch and two dinners, transfers, entrance fees and excursions with expert guides. The single supplement is £495.

Find out more about Peter Sommer Travels’ Archaeology, Food & Wine of Macedonia holiday.

Entertain the kids in Paris

April 2nd, 2015

Paris - Eiffel Towerbaking baguettesExplore the Marais, including the Pompidou CentreLouvre treasure hunt

Catherine Leech  By Catherine Leech, 101 Holidays

If you’re heading to Paris with young kids, check out these new tours from Family Twist.

There’s a two-hour sightseeing tour, ideal as an introduction to the city. Accompanied by a private and certified guide, and chauffeured in a Mercedes car, you’ll see and find out about the Arc de Triomphe, the Opéra, the Louvre, the Invalides and the Champs Elysées. There’s a booklet too, filled with games. The minimum age is 4 years and the cost is €550 for the family.

Also new, explore the Marais on foot, with a professional guide who will bring to life the hôtels particuliers and the Place des Vosges, the Jewish quarter plus the Hôtel de Soubise (the magnificent 14th century mansion, remodelled in the 18th century and home to the Museum of French History). This two-hour tour (minimum age 5 years) costs €350 per family.

Other options include a treasure hunt in the Louvre, fun French language learning in a cafe and a hands on class on how to bake a baguette.

Find out more from Family Twist, who also offer family activities in the Loire and London.

Cycling safaris in Tanzania

March 31st, 2015

Lake Manyara National Park

Catherine Leech     By Catherine Leech, 101 Holidays

I’ve been on safari in South Africa and I’ve cycled around Gozo but I’ve never combined the two – the idea of a cycling safari really tickles me, not least as a great idea for families with teenagers.

Aardvark Safaris has introduced four-day mountain bike safaris in Tanzania.

Explore the compact Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park and the foot of the Rift Valley on two wheels. The habitats vary from grassy floodplains, acacia woodland and evergreen forest to salt pans and wilderness.

Tanzania safari

With a more traditional safari drive at the beginning and end of each trip, wildlife encounters will generally include flocks of flamingoes, wading birds, elephant, lion, buffalo, wildebeest and giraffe.

Each night you stay in a simple but comfortable camp, set up in beautiful, remote locations with roomy bell tents, proper bedding and an attached bathroom.

Cycle through rural villages

The bikes are Merida BigNines, perfect for off-road cycling. There are a few moderate climbs and tricky tracks to negotiate but a reasonable level of fitness and confidence on a bike are the only requirements.

You will be accompanied by an expert guide with a support vehicle and crew on call throughout.

Relax in your camp each evening

This new three-night, four-day trip costs from £985 pp, based on four travelling and including all meals, drinks and safari activities. Aardvark Safaris can tailor-make your holiday to include other safari experiences and/or some well-earned R&R on the beach.

Find out more here and check out Aardvark’s horse-riding safaris too.

Diving holidays for singles

March 24th, 2015

Diving holidays for solos

Jane Herbert, Regaldive By Jane Herbert of Regaldive

Single travel is on the up, and diving is no exception. Scuba diving is the perfect activity for the solo traveller – divers are generally an inclusive and sociable bunch and the fact that you spend a lot of time underwater admiring the marine life and not uttering a single word makes for plenty of fun exchanges back on the surface.

With your certification, you can travel the world with the guarantee of like-minded company amongst fellow dive enthusiasts.

So how do independent travellers and single parents dip their toes into the world of scuba diving and ensure their valuable holiday time is a success?

Top level instruction

Learning to dive

With 70% of the world covered in water, scuba diving is the passport to a world of discovery. From the moment you take your first breath underwater, you’ll be hooked. You need to be in reasonable health and feel confident in the water but you don’t need to be an expert swimmer.

There are several ways of starting out but the best way to ensure you get the most out of diving is to learn in the warm clear waters of your chosen holiday destination. We offer learn to dive experiences throughout the Red Sea, and in more than 20 other destinations around the world including Oman, the Caribbean, Bali and the Maldives.

Would-be divers who sign up for a learn to dive course will usually find themselves in small groups of other individuals as they learn the essential basics. The most popular course is the PADI Open Water and from the start you’re with a group of like-minded new friends which is perfect for those travelling alone.

Learning navigation in the Red Sea © PADI 2013

The Red Sea, one of the most popular scuba diving destinations in the world, is the ideal place to start, with its long-established dive centres, professional trainers and access to stunning reefs, many within easy access for the learner and recently-qualified diver. Choosing a hotel that offers a dive centre on site means you don’t need to travel far and makes it easier to socialise after a day in the water.

The Camel Dive Hotel in popular Sharm el Sheikh is one of our favourites for solo travellers. It’s in the heart of this lively resort, with good value accommodation and its own excellent dive centre, plus restaurants on site.

If you’re looking for a quieter pace, consider a stay at a dedicated divers’ resort such as Roots Club in El Quseir.

The charming Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo are also popular with beginner divers and offer a warm, welcoming atmosphere that will make you feel at home.

Diving with children

Diving for single parents

Scuba diving’s buddy system means that you will always be partnered with another diver. For single parents, diving is a wonderful opportunity to share an exciting new experience with your child. It’s especially good for spending some quality bonding time with an active teenager.

Children as young as eight can learn to dive with the PADI Bubblemaker course, a great option for parents who are experienced divers and want to encourage their own children to participate in the sport.

For parents of teenagers, learning to dive together provides the ideal opportunity for kids to learn new skills on an equal footing with their parent. From age ten years, youngsters can follow the PADI Open Water Course – the only difference from the adult course is a depth limitation which changes as the child gains in age.

Marine encounters

We offer buddy diving course deals throughout the year at many resorts which mean two can learn for the price of one – an added incentive to learn to dive together.

If you’re travelling with children, consider an All Inclusive hotel to save on food and drink bills or opt for a resort that offers other activities to enjoy during your stay.

Hotels with on-site house reefs are perfect as you can build up water confidence with snorkelling and get to grips with scuba gear in shallow water. The Red Sea’s Coral Garden Resort in Safaga and the Breakers Diving and Surfing Lodge in Soma Bay both offer fantastic house reefs just steps away from the hotel. The Breakers also has the monopoly on kitesurfing and other watersports, plus two golf courses and a golf academy to keep even the most active of holidaymakers happy on holiday.

Blue Planet, one of Regaldive liveaboards

Already an experienced diver?

Many experienced divers who travel alone opt to join a liveaboard as these boats offer the chance to visit a greater range of remote and challenging dive sites. If you’re serious about your diving, liveaboards are the way to go with some itineraries featuring as many as five dives a day allowing you to really maximise your diving. We offer liveaboard trips in over 12 world class dive destinations including the Red Sea, Maldives, Indonesia, Philippines and the Galapagos.

Liveaboards are perfect for the independent traveller, as cabin spaces are sold individually with solo guests usually allocated a cabin with another single guest of the same sex (no supplement) – or even given a cabin to themselves if the boat isn’t full. With the average number of guests on a liveaboard around 18, these trips provide a great opportunity to share your holiday with a small group of fellow divers and make new friends for life – perhaps even finding a new buddy for your next adventure!

Find out more about our diving holidays for singles.

Is Seville the sexiest city in Europe?

March 11th, 2015

By Mark Hodson, Editor of 101 Holidays

Is there a more beautiful and seductive city in all Europe than Seville? The capital and cultural heart of Andalucia is not just the perfect antidote to the northern winter, it’s a teasing hint at how different our lives might have looked had we been born in Spain’s sultry south.

Seville is a distillation of all things Spanish. This is the city that invented tapas and flamenco. It’s home to the world’s oldest bullfighting ring, and the setting for many of the great operas from Carmen to The Marriage of Figaro. Plump oranges hang from trees in every square, and the sound of guitar and castanets is never far away.

Unsurprisingly, Sevillanos look rather pleased with themselves. On the evidence of my recent visit, they are better looking, better dressed and generally more jaunty and life-loving than the average European. At 4pm on a Friday afternoon, when most of us are still tapping away at keyboards in darkened rooms, the bars around the centre of Seville were buzzing with crowds, eating, drinking, laughing and carousing. It’s not unknown for lunch to keep going into the early hours. Were they laughing at our drab Protestant work ethic?

Plaza de Espana

Plaza de España, Seville

On a Saturday morning, the last day in February, the weather was perfect – blazing sunshine and 20ºC – and the locals were out in force. Families strolled through the formal gardens of the Parque de Maria Luisa and cycled along the banks of the Guadalquivir River. On the water was a flotilla of canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and rowing boats.

I stumbled across a wedding ceremony in a huge Gothic church in the old riverside district of Triana. The men in sharp suits and the women in hats and veils looked impossibly elegant, yet outside beer bottles were piled high on the tables of a pavement cafe. Beer, I was told, is not regarded as alcoholic, so it’s fine to polish off a couple before lunch. The drinking really starts in earnest with a fridge-cold fino, served with the day’s first tapa.

Spring is the perfect time to visit. In summer the heat in Seville reaches an unbearable 45ºC, made worse by a wind so hot and fierce it could strip paint. Only then might the locals moderate their intake by switching to tinto de verano – red wine mixed with lemonade – followed by the obligatory siesta.

Giralda

La Giralda

One of the many joys of visiting Seville is that you can throw away your map and wander aimlessly, certain that you’ll chance upon a perfect cobbled square or some ancient blue-tiled tapas bar, where grizzled old geezers neck sherries and loudly debate the latest football scores.

At the heart of the city, the Barrio de Santa Cruz is a baffling maze of streets and alleyways so tightly packed that even the midday sun can’t peep through. One street is so narrow that it’s known as the Calle del Beso because it’s said you can lean out of your window and kiss a lover in the opposite building. In summer, residents splash water on the cobbles to bring the temperature down a degree or two. Perhaps also to stop the kissing.

If you do opt for some conventional sightseeing, you’re in for a treat. A piffling €9.50 gets you into the Real Alcázar, one of the greatest palaces in Europe, a Moorish masterpiece of arcaded courtyards, tiled patios and impossibly ornate ceilings. Peacocks strut through the magnificent gardens where, given a well-stocked picnic, I’d have happily spent the day.

Alcazar

Ceiling in the Real Alcázar

It’s a short walk from the Alcázar to Seville’s cathedral, the third largest in the world after the Vatican and St Paul’s. Inside, the two big crowd-pullers are the elaborate carved altarpiece and a bombastic shrine to Christopher Colombus which is said to contain the explorer’s remains (though a church in the Dominican Republic makes a similar claim. It’s possible Chris’s bones were divvied up at some point).

Seville’s most striking building is the Giralda – a Moorish minaret so exquisite that even the addition of a Christian bell tower failed to diminish its beauty. It is said that the Moors, who reigned over this part of Andalucia for 500 years, planned to demolish the building rather than let it fall into Catholic hands. The Christians, who had the city under siege, threatened to kill every man, woman and child in Seville if the threat was carried out. The Moors backed down and the building survived.

According to local statute, the Giralda should remain the tallest edifice in Seville, but this rule was broken recently with the construction of an ugly tall tower that is home to … you guessed it … a bank. Apparently, this was deemed to be okay because the new monstrosity stands on the other side of the river. Disappointing, but I’ll bet the Giralda outlives the bank and its hideous headquarters.

Not all modern intrusions are crass. In fact, some are quite wonderful. A case in point is the Mercado Gourmet Lonja Del Barranco, a 19th-century steel and glass building on the banks of the river that was once the city’s fish market, but latterly fell into disrepair. It reopened at the end of 2014 as a food hall packed with stalls serving a dazzling array of fish, seafood and superb modern tapas. You can’t book a table so go early to avoid the 2pm rush.

fish

Seafood at the Mercado Gourmet Lonja Del Barranco

Urban regeneration has also revived the Plaza de la Encarnación where a remarkable structure of connected towers that resemble giant mushrooms has been built on the site of a neglected car park. Designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer-Hermann, Las Setas is said to be the largest wooden structure on Earth. Its unworldly looks only really make sense when you pay a couple of Euros to get a lift to the top. There, a curling walkway offers panoramic rooftop views, which are especially beautiful after dark.

The area to the immediate west of Las Setas is known as Soho and is slowly gentrifying. There are cosy hole-in-the-wall bars serving cheap cocktails (and one adverting beers at just 40 cents), while a fair trade eco fashion boutique sits incongruously next to a shop selling curtain accessories.

A little further west is the district of Alameda, which has transitioned from blue-collar deprivation to gay-friendly hipsterdom. On a Saturday night I drank with friends at the Gigante Bar, which had an easygoing unpretentious vibe and an eclectic crowd. It’s easy to come away from Seville thinking this is a macho monoculture steeped in the past, but there also appears to be tolerance for people who follow alternative lifestyles.

Les Setas

Las Setas at night

Next day I rented a bike and pedalled up and down the river bank, gazing at the unending parade of beautiful people. When work started 12 years ago on the city’s first cycle routes, traditionalists declared that Sevillanos would never be persuaded to abandon their cars, but now Seville has more than 80 km of dedicated paths with more planned, plus a rental scheme similar to those in Paris and London. As a result, cycle use has risen eleven fold and Seville is regarded as proof that any city can get people riding bikes if it builds an extensive network of paths.

If the sexy haughty people of Seville can potter around on bikes and thus become a little more like us northern Europeans, what hope have we of becoming more like them? Can we adopt their sultry insouciance? Should I start drinking beer in the morning and walk with more of a swagger?

According to the conventions of travel journalism, this would normally be the point in the article where I take a flamenco lesson from a black-clad Antonio Banderas lookalike. This would, of course, end in embarrassment and humiliation. So I decided against.

Instead, I watched a heart-pumping, foot-stomping show at the Museo del Baile Flamenco, which I thoroughly recommend, then I sat down to a long and indulgent dinner of classic Sevillan dishes including carrilladas (tender stewed pork cheeks), bacalao (salted cod), whitebait and absurd quantities of ham, cheese and wine.

Did I feel a little more like a Sevillano? If I’m honest, not really. But I had fun trying.

How to do it

British Airways has a new direct flight from Gatwick five times a week with returns from £82. There are many hotels in the Barrio de Santa Cruz – I stayed at the excellent Fontecruz Sevilla, a former palace converted into a smart boutique four-star, which has doubles from €139. Taxis from the airport have set fares to the centre: €22, or €24.55 after 9pm.

Our recommended tour operator to Seville is Kirker Holidays. More information from the Spanish Tourist Office.

© All photos copyright Mark Hodson 2015

Flamenco

Performance at the Museo del Baile Flamenco

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