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Thursday, 2 May 2019

The Gambia and Senegal...Safari for the Uninitiated...Part Deux


Dear Readers,

Remember those words? “It’ll be such fun, darling”? Yes, well your Hapless Blogger and Jolly Hockey Sticks were indeed, inflicting themselves upon an unsuspecting Senegal, and embarking on a sort-of safari. Let’s face it, dear Readers, neither of us were really built (or prepared) for real safari, but in all fairness, you can go on some pretty posh ones nowadays…a Blog post for another day, perhaps…but I digress.




We took a rather rickety bus back to Banjul, and this time a short ferry ride to Senegal itself. This, Readers, was a ferry like no other. It was not fussy about its passengers: goats, sheep, cattle, humans, all welcome. We disembarked in Barra, which is also home to a famous fish market which was basically floating as it was conducted actually on boats…amazing to watch, it truly was.  Barra was very busy, full of fruit and veg sellers, and girls with enormous trays of cashew nuts on their heads.


This is when you know what got real.




We were introduced to our mode of transport for the trip (picture below). Not that bad, you think. Bearing in mind it was very hot and rain wasn’t imminent. Up we climbed and in we settled.



Destination was Les Paletuviers, a sort of basic resort in the reserve, but on the way we were to visit Missirah, an ancient tree, which we’ll talk about in a minute. However, let us not forget that this is “Travel Trends” so let’s discuss the “travel”. Now, dear Readers, in order to get to our various destinations, one had to “safari” through the reserves. “Such fun” according to my mother. Fun, dear Readers, it is not. 


The first bit was ok, but after a while, for reasons best known to himself, our driver veered off the unmade road and into the fields. We were driving through bush? Not exactly crops, obviously, but hugely tall grass. What are you whinging about, Hapless Blogger, you wonder! I will tell you, dear Readers. Please take a second to study the picture of the safari vehicle. Do you see any windows? Is it quite tall? Imagine HURTLING through long grass in it. Then imagine all the billions of weird, Senegalese creepy crawlies who live in said long grass. As you are catapulted along, said creepy crawlies are dislodged from their creepy crawly homes, and hurled at you at tremendous speeds. One minute you are minding your own business, trying to hang on and not fall off or out, then next minute you look at your hair on in your lap to see that some sort of giant locus or scorpion looking thing has taken up residence. As you leap up to free him, another one smacks you in the face. And so on. Such fun.




We reached this fabled tree, me half dead from smacking myself in the face and having developed some sort of nervous twitch as every time something brushed my arm I thought it was going to try and eat me. Picture below of fabled tree. I’m going to get a bit serious for a second. This is clearly a known tourist spot. It’s on the outskirts of a little village. The poverty is incredible. The local children clearly know tourists are going to visit and they come to beg. You’re told in the resort and indeed in Barra where they (conveniently) sell them, that should you wish to give the children something, you should give them pencils which they can use at school. But Readers, these children needed food. It was terrifying. In truth, I remember very little of the tree. It was a big, old tree. But the poverty of those children will never leave me. The flies were landing on their eyes, just like you see on the television. And I’m glad, Readers, that I took this trip before I became a mother. Should I do it now, I don’t think I could cope. Little kids. It makes me cry just to think about it. Sorry to be sober, but it was very, very sobering. And you know what was even worse, if that’s possible? There were some “celebrities” there on motorbikes doing some sort of “Travel Trend” of their own, I guess, and yes in fairness to them, they had bought the pencils etc, but they were having their photos taken giving them to these poorly, poor children. I just didn’t think it was right, you know? I don’t know what you think about this sort of topic, Readers, and it is indeed a touchy one, but I felt like the children were just some sort of prop.


Enough melancholy. On we bounced on the “Deathmobile”…more smacks in the face off the creepy crawlies. A giant beetle, of proportions you simply won’t believe, got stuck in my hair. I nearly passed out. We got to our destination, which was to be home for 2 nights, called Les Paletuviers. It was really, really strange: I can only really describe it as an old French (Senegal being French, of course) colonial holiday camp. It had a pool, and funny little huts and a restaurant where we all ate together “such fun”. And Readers, it had the most beautiful collection of exotic birds you have ever seen! Now, I’m not really into birds to be honest, but I kid you not, it was like living in an aviary in Kew Gardens, except the birds were wild. Unbelievable. The next day I was allowed to lie by the pool, and their colours and their song was something unforgettable.


Bedding in slightly, and trying not to think of the “Deathmobile” I relaxed and really enjoyed it. That evening we took an evening cruise to a village built on an island in the river, only accessible by boat. What set it apart from all the other small villages I guess one could visit, was that it was run by women, a woman being the chief. How cool is that?! We were shown around, and saw how they lived, how they fished, their traditions…it was fascinating, and so totally different to our Western way of life, it’s like your brain can’t even compute it.



The following day I climbed with trepidation back into the “Deathmobile” bound for the “Reserve de Fathala” a game reserve. Do you know something: I don’t think I believed Jolly Hockey Sticks when she said we were going on safari, because I hadn’t actually seen anything remotely safari-ish…but now it was time. As we drove through, we saw everything: antelope, zebra, and rhinoceros. It was quite incredible. I was unprepared to see anything and they came right up, with babies, too. Honestly, Readers, it was next level. It’s just so different seeing animals in their natural habitats rather than a zoo or wildlife park. They are just getting on with their lives, being natural. Another important point to make is that this was a very low-key, very relaxed safari. It wasn’t the “big 5” or some expensive, posh experience. I think the whole thing was about £100 for 2 people. But it was amazing.


Back to the colonial holiday camp, and then early the next morning, we were Barra-bound on the “Deathmobile”. More insect slapping, but it didn’t seem to bother me so much this time. And to top it off, we were pursued by some very wild, very cheeky monkeys who were swinging through the grass, keeping up with us at a terrific pace.


Once back with all the goats and cattle on the ferry, and so back to Kombo Beach, I had plenty of time to reflect. As you can imagine, Kombo Beach felt like the Ritz.


So what can we say in conclusion to our safari? I supposed because it was so unexpected, maybe I was unprepared. It was disturbing and wonderful at the same time. It wasn’t in the least bit posh, so if you want to safari in style, this isn’t for you. However, if you want some Winter sun, and an unforgettable experience, do it. Go. And don’t worry about dark streets. Probably not great advice, but if Jolly Hockey Sticks and I survived, I’m sure you will, too.


Until next time, dear Readers, thank you for joining me.
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Friday, 26 April 2019

The Gambia and Senegal...Beautiful Beaches and Safari for the Uninitiated...Part 1


Dear Readers,


It is your Hapless Blogger once more.  Not again!  I hear you cry…Unfortunately, yes.  This time, your Hapless Blogger is joined by her Intrepid Mother.  Terrifying. 

Today, we are going to explore two travel trends in one trip.  Firstly, we are going to talk about African beach holidays, and secondly, in Part Deux, I am going to expose you to the delights (questionable) of safari in Senegal…You’ll feel sorry for the animals…


Just a bit of geography to start off with:  mainly as I knew vaguely where the Gambia was, but I have to admit, my knowledge of African countries is hazy at best.  The Gambia is a long, very thin country, positioned, interestingly, within Senegal.  It basically skirts the River Gambie, which runs right from the Atlantic coast, inland. 


Let’s start our trip on a very small aeroplane:  my mother said one day, darling, we’re off to the Gambia.  It’s such fun.  She’d been before.  I was clearly having some sort of mid-twenties crisis and she decided that it would be “good for you, darling” to get some Winter sun in the Gambia.  Note here, dear Readers, that nothing was mentioned about safaris in Senegal…Now something I have to remark at this stage is that if you want some Winter sun, the Gambia is the place to go.  We went in November and it was glorious.  Mind you, the sun is mega hot.  If you are not native, or very, very dark skinned, you will BURN.  I am dark skinned but even I peeled like anything, so make sure you use Factor 50 all the way. 


Be warned.  The plane is small.  The flight is about 6 and a bit hours.  Oddly enough, the Gambia is only one hour behind the UK, which feels a bit weird really, as you have been on a (very small) plane for so long.  You fly into Banjul “International” Airport, which is a bit of a stretch, but probably the maddest airport I have ever been to, and if you’ve read my other Blog posts, my dear Readers, you’ll know that I’ve been to some pretty strange places…I don’t need to tell you this, but just in case:  prepare for the heat.  Most of you will be leaving the UK in November at about 10 degrees being generous.  When 30 degrees of dry heat hits you, it hits you hard.  Fortunately, and something else to note, dear Readers, is that it is a dry heat.  Often, it’s the humidity which nearly kills you, but a dry heat, one can usually handle.  So knuckle down and try not to get swept away by the madness of the airport.  Something else which struck me, was the volume of Brits there.  It seems that Brits have enjoyed holidaying in the Gambia for many, many years, and I can really see why!  I loved it, dear Readers! 


Once you clear the crazy airport, normally packed into a small people-carrier, you are shipped out to your various resorts.  This is great fun in itself.  It seems to me, with this sort of travelling and indeed holiday, you have two choices:  you can either hate every minute of it, as it’s not comfortable, too hot, too dirty, too foreign, or in true public school girl, head girl (my mother, not me, although we did go to the same school, I was more likely to get caught smoking behind the CDT block, rather than being captain of the netball team…sigh), jolly hockey sticks-style, embrace it.  And embrace it we did, dear Readers.  In the words of my mother (and also Miranda’s mother in “Miranda” if you watch it) “such fun, darling”.  And it really was.  A lot of the Brits we got talking to were off to their timeshares in the Kololi Beach Club (www.kololi.com) which looks lovely.  We were off to Kombo Beach (www.kombobeachhotel.gm), which was equally lovely.  No, Readers, it wasn’t posh, but it was hardly basic either.  The ground were lush and green with beautiful palm trees, but the main feature, and having been to many, many beaches, as I am sure you have, dear Readers, has to be the beach.  The “smiling coast” I think they term it, and you couldn’t not smile.  Honestly it is just beautiful.




I suppose a lot of people prefer to stay in their resort, as there really is everything there.  A lovely restaurant with local and international cuisine and even aqua aerobics if you really want…It’s a great place to chill out, read your book and re-charge as they say.  Being beach people we embraced it, although I will warn you now, dear Readers, of two slightly problematic issues:  the former is slightly more important than the latter, which is, quite frankly, #firstworldproblems.


Number one, and this might bother some people:  you get a hell of a lot of “hassle”.  I had blonde hair at the time which only made matters worse.  You do not get that level of hassle if you are male.  We took it completely in our stride, but I can imagine some people could actually get quite upset about it.  Really, it starts as soon as you emerge onto the beach on your sun lounger.  Should you remain relatively close to the resort, the staff there see off anyone trying to sell you something/talk to you etc etc pretty quickly.  However, as you begin to bake, you may want to take a dip in the Atlantic.  You then have to leave the relative safety of your lounger and run the gauntlet to the sea.  Once in the sea, they don’t really bother you.  For the first few days, and due to your inbuilt British politeness you either suffer or feel very, very rude.  But after a while you get used to it.  Best not to make eye contact.  And don’t buy anything.  Should you wish to take a lovely stroll up or down the beach, which we both very much enjoy doing, again, be prepared. 



Number two is this:  you are jumping straight into the Atlantic.  It’s much warmer than you think, but very, very wavy.  Jumping the waves has always been a favourite pastime, fortunately, but I would warn you that they are strong and vicious and will come out of nowhere, and knock you clean over.  But it’s SO MUCH FUN!  I would also warn you that it’s extremely salty and takes its toll on your bikinis very quickly, so if they are not particularly robust, or have seen better days before you go, think on, dear Readers, think on.  They will dissolve.  You have been warned!



Again, some people would just stay in their resort and refuse to go out at night to eat on the basis that it’s not safe.  No true.  You’ll be fine.  If Jolly Hockeysticks and I survived, then you will, too…We decided to venture out, mainly because Jolly Hockeysticks had been there before, and in typical my mother fashion, knew EVERYTHING about it already.  I’m not sure quite how much you know about Gambian food…yassa and fufu are popular sort of stews, and goat is a favourite along with beautiful seafood and fish.  We ventured out to a fabulous little place called “Boss Lady’s” as it’s pretty close to the resort and very, very traditional.  Now, Jolly Hockeysticks doesn’t mind a bit of rough and ready, but I found the hard boiled eggs and raw onion on top of yassa and rice a bit challenging, especially when you’re not quite sure what the meat actually was…but guess what, have enough local brew and you don’t really care anymore, it’s all about the experience.  Another resto of note is “Sailor Beach Bar and Restaurant” which you get to down a very dark bit of street.  Once the sun goes down in the Gambia, that’s it, pitch black.  Jolly Hockeysticks is not a streetwise person, so we had a full on posh-girls’ argument about how dangerous (me) it was and how I was overreacting (her).  Let’s face it, dear Readers, any potential threat would have run a mile anyway, and it turned out she was right (as always).  This is one of the best fish restaurants I have ever been to.  Fresh, BBQd fish and seafood.  Cheap as chips and wonderful.  Only slight drawback was the lighting, in that you pretty much ended up eating in the dark, but that was fine…


We are not “entertainment” people, but even we enjoyed the entertainment at the Kombo Beach.  It wasn’t cheesy, but in contrast, extremely interesting with local dance and costumes, and the participants obviously enjoyed it, and were extremely skilled.  In the picture below you’ll see a less willing participant:  white girls can’t shake their booty like the natives!!


Having bedded in nicely, with the tan coming along, and the stress leaving me, Jolly Hockeysticks, who likes to spring things on me at the best of times, announced we were leaving the following morning to go on safari in Senegal…”it’ll be such fun, darling”…famous last words?  Read Part Deux to find out!


And on that cliffhanger, dear Readers, I shall leave you.


Would I recommend the Gambia?  Absolutely.  Cheap as chips, welcoming as anything, and beautiful beaches.  Perfect for Winter sun, so put it on your list.



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Sunday, 14 April 2019

Family and Nomadic Sabbaticals - Are you crazy or inspired?

In line with our travel trends theme, and certainly in light of our travelling-the-world posts, it seems appropriate now, dear Readers, to consider the mechanics of travel.  As we have touched on before, we’re not all (or certainly not now) the classic “backpacking age”.  Many of us have missed out on the traditional “gap year” or indeed, when they were young, needed to work, not saunter off into the sunset without a care in the world…


In this post, we consider the different options available to more mature travelers, especially those with families….

What is a sabbatical?  Traditionally, a sabbatical is taking a year off, with pay, every seven years from work.  Generally it’s something we consider for those who work in higher education:  prominent educators who are at the top of their fields who take a year off to study, research or write.   Fortunately, the idea isn't confined to that particular sector of society any longer.  People from all walks of life are deciding to take sabbaticals.  It's doubtful their companies are willing to pay them to have an extended holiday, but a growing number of people are doing it anyway.  They sell up and move out, leaving behind their usually slightly unhappy and stressful lives.  Should you do this, of course, it doesn’t mean you’re tied to a year, sabbaticals, therefore, can be for any length of time.  Naturally, that brings its own set of problems and worries.  Basically, if you want to do it, you have to have the right mindset and attitude.  In other words, dear Readers: you only live once.


Financing Your Trip


The most common obstacle to taking a sabbatical is money.  How are you are going to survive without a permanent job or fixed income coming in?  There are different ways to finance your trip, you can sell the house and car, take out a loan and never come back or freelance and work remotely.  Having said that, some people will have savings to finance their time out.  The nature of work has changed over the years, and there are many more opportunities to work remotely, online, to ease those financial worries.  Anyway, anyone who is considering a sabbatical shouldn’t do it unless they are confident that they can cover their costs.

Obstructions


Those who choose to take a sabbatical or a more nomadic type of life (and is actually far more popular than you may realise) and have kids come up against other problems.  Taking kids out of school for a short or extended period will almost certainly cause problems with the educational authorities.  Granted, that they have your children's welfare in mind, but you might run up against opposition or legal restrictions.  One way around this is to assure the authorities that the children will be 'homeschooled' for the period that they are away.  Of course, if you don't have plans to return your kids to the same school or are going for the more nomadic approach, you can just take them out of school and go.


Home Schooling

Homeschooling is an increasing trend because many parents are unsatisfied with the quality of education their children are receiving.  Many children find school curriculums stressful, with the many different subjects they forced to study.  Whether or not your children attend state-run or private schools, the education system is based on results.  The quality of your child's education is measured primarily on test results, certainly once they reach senior school age.  Many children learn subjects by rote just to get through the exams, without understanding or interest.  This is where homeschooling rates above the other kind because you can control what your child learns and the amount of time spent studying.  On a sabbatical or extended trip, you are responsible for your children's education and this involvement may prove to be very rewarding, as by spending more time with your children, you learn more about them, and your relationship can strengthen.

Teenage Objections


On the other hand, sabbaticals with children could potentially be a nightmare…To go anywhere with your kids, you need their cooperation.  Your children need to appreciate the idea of going to travelling, especially if it's a foreign country and far away.  Little children have less understanding and certainly no say in the matter, but older children are another issue entirely.  Most children don't like the idea of leaving their school or their friends.  Teenagers are even worse, their world revolves around their friends and what is trending in their 'clic' at the moment.  If your children aren't eager and willing, your sabbatical could turn into a living hell!

The Rewards


The most rewarding part of having your kids with you are shared experiences.  You can explore new places together and share the wonders.  It is said that travel broadens the mind and that is very true.  Older children are a contradiction, part conservative and part impressionable.  Like all of us, they are bound by a particular set of rules that their set or group of friends live by and generally agree on, but they are also impressionable to the extent that they are lacking in experience and absorb new lessons better than adults.  Children are also very adaptable, willing to fit in wherever home is at the moment.

Expanding Your Children’s Minds


Whether the sabbatical is in your home country or abroad, both parents and children will be exposed to cultural differences, even moving from one part of your country to another.  People outside of your home environment may view the world differently from how you do and this is good for kids, as this broadens their minds.  If the sabbatical takes you to foreign countries, the impact of the change is even more significant.  All of you will have to deal with different customs and languages.  You will all be experiencing the same changes and differences, but together, as a family, creating greater bonds between you.  Younger children rarely have the same prejudices as older ones or adults.  They are more willing to be inclusive, instead of exclusive.  They accept others more willingly, despite colour or creed.  Children from different backgrounds or cultures can play together, their acceptance and friendliness overcoming language barriers.  Going somewhere entirely different will help your children become more socially adaptable and probably socially conscious too.  Not only that, but your children will grow more self-confident.


Building Self-Confidence


Parents who take their children on trips, long or small, sabbatical or nomadic are opening their minds and encouraging them to explore the world both mentally and physically.  It will undoubtedly broaden their interests and promote greater investigation.  These parents are teaching their children to become citizens of the world, not just of one country.

In conclusion, if you get the chance to take a sabbatical or an extended trip, take it.  Maybe reluctantly at first, but your children will adapt.  Homeschooling on the road or wherever you go will erase the divide between education and family, it all becomes family time, if you’re up for it.  You may be amazed at the abilities and interests your children show when they aren't forced into the straight-jacket of imposed learning.  However, there are many arguments for systemized learning, and perhaps, depending on your situation, one may argue that it’s better to take your sabbatical before your children reach senior school age.

In fact, dear readers, there is no barrier, no age limit, nor financial limit.  If you really, really want to travel, then you will.  If your children are young, they’ll love it.  If they’re older, you have more to consider regards exams etc, and if they're grown up, what the hell are you waiting for!


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Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Travelling the Indonesian Islands - Part II - This Time In Style


Luxe Travel in Indonesia

Dear Readers, until now, we have erred on the side of the backpacker/traveller in terms of experience and location.  Today, we are going to examine the luxury end of the spectrum, and give you an overview of the very best and exclusive places to go in Indonesia.

The question must be posed:  does expensive necessarily mean best?  And if so, how much better is best?  Is it really about the location at all?  Or is it more about the level of accommodation, opportunities and service?

As we said in our last post, Indonesia is an enormous place, and although we would love to examine each island separately, we would end up going on forever!  So we are going to pick the best of the best.



We’re actually going to start off in the same place as we did in our previous post, on Java, where you find the capital, Jakarta.  On the same island is of course, Borobudur, the World’s largest Buddhist temple.  We of course took you there in the last Blog post, where we were all suitably blown away.  So if you want to blow your budget as well, you might as well go big or go home:  Amanjiwo is built with Borobudur as your backdrop (www.aman.com)  One of the most significant and historical monuments in the World as you backdrop is undoubtedly pretty cool, and in fact, you can walk there in 25 minutes…The residence itself is built to resonate and revere its location, as a sort of temple-like destination made entirely from local paras Jogja limestone which is a sort of blush colour which of course looks amazing at sunrise and sunset.  The suites are clearly made to make the most of the architecture and surroundings with a chilled, temple-like theme at all times.  If you fancied the Dalem Jiwo Suite, with Borobudur views, personal butler, private entrance and driveway, private 15m green Javanese stone swimming pool, personal bar, bathrooms with sunken outdoor baths, etc etc etc it’s yours from £2,967 a night.  In fairness, they have some great ideas when it comes to dining:  private picnics by the riverbank or even a private Indonesian BBQ served at a candlelit, rose petal strewn table in your suite on in an isolated spot in the grounds…



Next, we visit Sumba Island, and so to Nihi Sumba (www.nihi.com).  This won best hotel in the World 2016 and 2017, and would appeal perhaps to the slightly younger traveller, looking for physical activities.  With a more laid back vibe, and certainly a big push towards eco-friendly, you can visit the island’s villages and ancient sites, but also go on spa safari, swim beneath a waterfall or go horse riding if you wanted to.  Also, it’s a mecca for surfers, Sumba being famous for its “left hand wave”.  Their strapline is “the edge of wildness”, with Nihi Sumba meaning “a destination with meaning”.  It’s all about the experience, and if you wished to experience the whole five villa Mandaka estate at the heart of the resort, it’ll cost you £9,397 per night, but that is for 5 villas, so it’s not as scary as it seems…They also have luxury tree houses which look tremendous fun, and villas right on the beach, to catch the famous wave.  All meals are included and you can eat with your feet in the sand and a relaxed, laid back vibe.  The whole place looks a dream.



Next we return to the Aman group, but this time Amankila in Bali.  This is a secluded seaside resort nestled next to the Lombok Strait.  Aman resorts are known for their destinations within destinations, and like our visit to Amanjiwo and its incredible location within walking distance of Borobudur, Amankila is located in Karangasem, an extremely traditional area of Bali (far away from the backpackers, one might hasten to add) so you can access the region’s Royal past, untouched countryside and local crafts without stumbling over too many drunken Brits…).  Regarded as the best hotel in Bali, Amankila means “peaceful hill”.  A recurring theme with Aman Resorts is that they try and emulate the architecture of the surroundings, so this time, expect to find thatched-roof suites on stilts and a three-tier infinity pool “spilling down the hillside like a cascading rice paddy”.  Should you wish to take the Amankila suite, overlooking the beach and Amuk Bay with private butler, large terrace and private pool, you’re looking at the same price as its sister resort in Java.   Amongst the stunning spa and multitude of activities there is also various options for dining, including a private dinner for two, right on the beach.



Staying in Bali, we’re going next to the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay (www.fourseasons.com).  Occupying 35 acres of beachfront, you can get onto the beach from the resort (which we always thought was a pre-requisite but you have to watch out for these, as many traveller have made this mistake when booking:  beachfront with no access to the beach isn’t as rare as you might think…we digress).  The villas each have a private plunge pool and are located in tropical gardens.  You clearly have a choice, but they are beautiful, very private with indoor/outdoor living a theme.  Like all the above resorts, you can also have a three or four bedroom villa with private butler, yogi, dining etc etc but you have to ring them to get prices, so one can’t really make a proper comparison, but for a normal villa, you’re looking at about £1,704 a night.  Dining is an exciting prospect, with the opportunity to watch 9 chefs prepare local cuisine at the same time in front of you at 9 different stations which looks great fun.  You also have the option of in-villa dining, sunrise breakfast, and of course, a very cool beach club.



No luxury blog would be complete without the obligatory “private island”.  This time it’s Bawah Private Island (www.bawahreserve.com) which you’ll find is 150 miles North of Singapore and accessible by seaplane.  The island only accepts 70 guests at a time and is in fact 6 islands containing 13 white sand beaches, 3 lagoons and 300 hectares.  Its whole philosophy is integration and love for the environment, in a luxurious way, of course, plus its own amphibious seaplane looks pretty cool.  It’s an all-inclusive experience (apart from alcohol and diving, plus only one spa treatment per day) but it seems pretty flexible in terms of your options, from picnics on the beach to fine dining.  You really want to go for an overwater bungalow where on one side you get the sunrise and on the other, the sunset…literally paradise.  You’re looking at about £1,913 per night.  If you fancy a cocktail in the tree canopies, head to their Jules Verne Bar and pretend you’re an explorer.  They also have other options such as fine dining, a relaxed beach bar, or indeed, private dining.  Your whole experience is completely customised to you and what you want to do, so whether you’re active, or if you prefer a spa, or to just do nothing, it’s tailored to your needs.

Alila Purnama
So chaps, we could go on all day, but we won’t (check out the 6 star floating ship called Alila Purnama (www.alilahotels.com) at Komodo Island that will take you on a cruise with a difference, too).  There you have it.  A flavour of the very best, most luxurious, top residences in Indonesia.  We do admit that perhaps we were a little reticent at the start of this Blog post, the thinking being that if you’re already in such a beautiful place, do you really need to spend thousands to stay at some swanky resort?  Surely the place alone is enough?  And although perhaps we still agree with that assumption, having researched these mind-blowing places, a little part of us is very sold.  If you’re going to do it, and you can afford it, then do it properly.  Even if you save up and it’s a once in a lifetime trip, or even if you were to go to this magical place and perhaps just spend a few nights at one of these resorts, we might, in fact, have changed our own minds.  Something that really stood out, was the conscience of these resorts, and how they are so keen to be eco-friendly as well.  This, especially in such a largely unspoiled place as Indonesia, is so important.


So what about you?  A private island?  A villa with a butler and a yogi?  Or would you still prefer a youth hostel on a beach?


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Wednesday, 27 March 2019

The Babymoon - One Last Hoorah...Only Joking...

Dear Readers,

The Babymoon.  Possibly the latest trend on our Blog, along with the term “Vacay” which, again, is new to us, although the Americans have been using it for years as a diminutive to “Vacation”, obviously.  Along with quinoa, millet, chia seeds and flavoured gins, the Babymoon is the latest craze.



Tips and Tricks for a Perfect Babymoon Vacay

The babymoon trend is fast gaining popularity.  Most first time parents take the trip before the baby arrives and it’s aimed at getting a break from the baby-centred conversations that take precedence during pregnancy.  Other couples opt for a babymoon as the last trip as a duo since it becomes more complicated to travel once the baby arrives. 

Planning for a perfect babymoon can be quite daunting especially when you factor in things such as pregnancy symptoms, travel restrictions, available vacation times, CDC recommendations and so on. In this guide, we’re going to give you insights on how to plan your perfect babymoon vacay.


The history of babymoon 

Although the trend has become more popular in the last few years, the use of this term in English can be traced back to 1991.  The term was coined by Sheila Kitzinger, a childbirth author, who was referring to the period that first-time parents spend alone with their child just after birth.  With time, this concept has morphed into a holiday just before the birth, and are as expected as honeymoons, hen parties, and weddings.

Various celebrities have brought attention to babymoon trips.  Case in point is Jessica Simpson who celebrated her first pregnancy with a staycation at Parker Palm Springs in 2011.  In 2013, Kim Kardashian and her husband Kanye West took a trip to Paris shortly after announcing that they were pregnant.  In 2015, Prince William and Kate Middleton took their family babymoon to the West Indies where they spent time on Mustique, an island in the Caribbean much favoured by Kate’s parents, and where Princess Margaret famously spent a lot of her time.



Why should you plan for a babymoon? 

A babymoon is all about you celebrating the upcoming changes in your life.  It also gives you time to relax and prepare your mind for the child’s arrival and enjoy some intimacy with your partner.  Here are a few reasons why you should consider planning for a babymoon:

• It creates some Mummy and Daddy time - in most cases, pregnancy pushes the dad-to-be out of the equation as the expectant mother goes through all the changes and symptoms.  The father has anxieties, changes, and worries that need to be addressed too.  Taking a babymoon is an ideal way of reminding each of you that you are going through this together. 

• It is a perfect time to bond - as first-time parents, feeling anxious about the new phase of life is expected.  A babymoon will be enjoyable and centred on the two of you thus giving you time to revive your bond.  This is the perfect time to take leisurely walks while holding hands as you enjoy beautiful sceneries.  It will give you a chance to remind yourselves why you are an exceptional couple and going to be great parents.

• It gives you a chance to de-stress - pregnancy is not an easy time.  Taking a week or two off to enjoy, relax, slow down, and focus on the simple things that matter and on each other might be just what you need. 





Babymoon planning tips and tricks 


A babymoon is supposed to be a relaxing retreat that leaves you refreshed rather than ragged, but planning for one requires more than picking out a destination, packing up, and going.  Here’s how you can plan for a perfect babymoon:-



Know when to go 

No expectant mother wants to travel when they can hardly fit into the car or when they can barely keep their breakfast down.  While there’s no right or wrong answer as to when you should travel, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend travelling during the second trimester.  That is between 18 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

During this time, your energy is mostly restored, and the pregnancy symptoms have subsided. However, should you miss out on this window you could travel in the early stages of the third trimester.  Remember to consult your doctor whichever time you decide to travel.



Choose the type of trip you want and pick a destination 

While you may decide to cross a major trip off your bucket list, you could also go closer home. It all depends on your doctor’s recommendations, your energy levels, and resources.  Whichever your choice, make sure you settle on a locale that’s mutually satisfying. 

When it comes to driving or flying, you will want to consider how far along you are and your budget. Virtually any airline will need a letter from your doctor if you are more than 28 weeks pregnant. While driving could be budget-friendly, remember that long drives could have the same effect as flights.



Check out what’s on the menu 

Before booking your preferred hotel, have a look at their menu to ensure that it has foods that you can bear.  Larger resorts or full-service restaurants would be better as they often offer buffet services. 

Pregnancy brings along peculiar pangs of hunger so it would be best to book a hotel that provides 24-hour room service. 




Opt for low-stress travel arrangements 

When pregnant, you want to avoid travelling across the world or taking part in extreme adventures. Sitting for too long while pregnant could result in blood clots.  It would, therefore, be wise to break up travel times so that you make time to move around on your feet.  You might also want to put off cruising unless you can take your doctor with you!

Before planning your trip, check out the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) for travel advisories for such things as Zika outbreaks, especially if you are travelling abroad.  The Zika virus could cause severe congenital disabilities on the baby should the mother become infected, so it would be wise to avoid those areas altogether.



Ensure your destination is in close proximity to medical help 

No matter what destination you choose, contact the nearby hotels and choose one that’s close to a quality medical facility.  Write down the contact info for nearby facilities and keep this with you throughout your holiday.  It would also be wise to have your midwife or consultant’s contact details and your insurance information at all times.



Have your doctor check on your itinerary 

Travelling while pregnant presents quite a few hurdles.  As your safety and that of the baby is paramount, be sure to keep your midwife/consultant in the loop before booking your trip to the tropics of Africa.  In addition to offering you advice and answering the pertinent questions you might have, your midwife/consultant will provide you with prenatal records.  Should anything happen during your trip, you will have accurate and up-to-date medical records.



Make time for some downtime 

Pick out a destination that offers not only pregnancy-friendly activities but also some serenity.  Some obvious choices would be a beachside resort where you can stroll or an eco-camp where you can go for nature walks.  A big city will also serve the purpose if you intend to steal some time for your favourite show and take time to enjoy the local park.

If you have the time to take a Babymoon, then take it.  Life will NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!  Joking, it’ll be better, just different.  In summary, though, make sure you make time for your partner.  It’s a scary prospect being new parents, and often stressful.  So make time for them, and enjoy being able to take a leisurly walk or read a book in peace!  Or, in fact, anything in peace...But it's all, without a shadow of a doubt, worth it!




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Friday, 22 March 2019

Corsica - Island of Mystery, Maquis and Tripe...

Dear Readers, an unusual place you may think, but did you know that it was the destination of the first ever package holiday? Vladimir Raitz, who recently died aged 88, has been indeed hailed as the man who shaped the UK travel industry. He organised charter flights and all-inclusive packages that, in 1950, had never even been heard of.

His inaugural “package holiday” was to the then wild island of Corsica.

He founded his company: “Horizon Holidays” (the name inspired by the view from an aircraft window) and set up his first “package”.

11 intrepid travellers gathered at King’s Cross in London, 68 years ago, to board a coach which took them to Gatwick, to board a war-surplus Dakota transport plane, which, after re-fuelling in Lyon, landed on an airstrip in Calvi built by the American military in 1943. It took them 6 hours. They stayed in military tents.

What lured them? “Meat-filled meals”, the Mediterranean sun and wine at 9p a bottle! And guess what, it cost them £32 10 Shillings all-inclusive of flights, accommodation and “meat-filled meals” which was a massive pull for them, after post-War British austerity. They could hardly believe their luck, as a return flight from Nice to Calvi at that time cost £70, which is equivalent today to £2,200. Indeed, many were reluctant to accept that a “package holiday” could be so cheap. And there it was, the birth of the “package holiday”.

But enough of the package holiday, and more about one of the most mysterious and fascinating islands in the World, with the most chequered history you could imagine.

Today we are talking about Corsica as a Travel Trend in its own right.

 Dorothy Carrington is an important person to mention when we speak about Corsica, and her prize-winning book “Granite Island” is definitely worth a read. She was an incredible woman, and only died in 2002, aged 91. She was a pioneer and was famously quoted as saying “my life really ended and started when I set foot in Corsica”. In today’s blog, we’re going to give you a little taste of how, perhaps, you may agree with that quote. She was an explorer, a journalist and a lecturer, and lectured all over the world latterly on Pascal Paoli and his 18th Century text which she brought to light as being the very first written democratic constitution. 


History


Corsican history is chequered and fascinating, and as a potted example, after being ruled by the Roman Empire, after its collapse, and briefly occupied by the Vandals and Ostrogoths, Corsica came under the Republic of Pisa, and subsequently Genoese rule. More fighting as Corsica was caught in the crossfire of Spain and France for the occupation of Italy, by the end of the 16th Century, Genoese rule was reinstated. In 1729 a revolution was started for the independence of Corsica from Genoa, and Pascale Paoli (who founded Corsica’s one and only university in Corte), took it over from his father Giachinto Paoli, was declared sovereign of the independent Corsican Republic in 1755. This continued until 1769 when Corsica was conquered by France.

In 1794 Pascal Paoli returned to Corsica from Britain where he’d been held in exile, and invited the British to take over the island from the French, which they did do (Admiral Nelson famously losing his eye in the battle for Calvi), so it was under British rule for 2 years, until the British decided to withdraw, rendering back to French rule. Nearing the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814, Corsica once more came under British rule, but was once again rendered back to the French.

Although Corsica was predominantly Italian, fondness started to grow for the French. Since its only industry was subsistence agriculture, as the French introduced more production, especially that of olive oil and wine and the export thereof, plus steamboats to make the journey from Corsica to France faster, plus the introduction of the French language in primary schools, the French were increasingly accepted. However after World War 1, unrest towards the French resurfaced and Corsican Nationalism began. Today, the Corsican language and culture is protected by them as a new born baby.




Corsica as a Destination


Despite being the destination of the first package holiday, Corsica is relatively undiscovered compared to the likes of Spain, the Balearics and Portugal. Probably the reason for this is cost. It’s not cheap to holiday there, especially if you are a family on a budget. But guess what, if you’re not, it’s heavenly! A flippant remark perhaps, and indeed for the cost of a modern “package holiday” to Corsica, including flights, car hire and villa, you can, in fact, go to Barbados for less, it’s what keeps it, for the time being at least, exclusive.




For various reasons, your intrepid Blogger has a wealth of experience of holidaying on Corsica. It’s a funny thing: once you’ve been a few times, you’ll decide for yourself: you’re either a “Northerner” or a “Southerner”. Corsica is split into Haute Corse, having Bastia as the capital and Corse du Sud, having Ajaccio as the capital. But, as Napoleon himself put it, nothing smells quite like Corsica. He claimed to smell it before he could see it through his telescope on his ship. It’s the smell of the “maquis”: wild Corsican herbs which grow all over the island. Once smelled, never forgotten.

The North


If you chose to go to the North, you’ll either fly into Bastia or Calvi.I love flying into Calvi, over the Citadel. If you go to Calvi, be sure to stay somewhere like Hotel La Villa or La Signoria. If you want the comfort of your own villa, then your Blogger would recommend Villa Cala Di Mare. Visiting the port is a must. It’s like St Tropez 30 years ago. So chic. So trendy. So beautiful. Admire the yachts moored there. If anyone has visited Puerto Banus in Marbella, there are better and bigger yachts in Calvi! You must prop yourself up in the luxurious cushions of Bar Du Golf, sip a Muscat, and watch the beautiful people. Not forgetting to pop into a little chic boutique or two, then head for dinner at Le Magnolia.


The Citadel is magical. Go and have a potter round it, then when night falls, either get tickets to watch I Muvrini perform in the moonlight (enchanting, you’ll never be the same again… although your Intoxicated Blogger may have fallen asleep at one point…) or head with the trendy crowd to the infamous bar and nightclub, Chez Tao (you’ll never be the same again, but for different reasons this time!).

If you want a beach club and want to hang out with the likes of Kate Moss, then head to L’Octopussy on the beach.

If you want quiet beaches, even in peak season, then hire a car (which is a must anyway) and pop to Marine de Davia. Your Blogger’s FAVOURITE beach. So clear is the water, and so clean and quiet, that in the mid-afternoon heat, the haze is the most stunning pink colour.


Ile Rousse is lovely, and the drive there from Calvi is beautiful. Head to the square and sit under the orange trees to watch the locals play petanque.

Carry on you’ll get to one of my favourite hilltop villages, Lama. Right up in the mountains, the views are unrivalled. Head to St Antonino as well, it’s just so beautiful. St Florent, over the Desert des Agriates, is another beautiful port, and if you’re a bit of a racing driver (who, moi?), the road there is wicked! Once there, visit Saleccia beach, one of the best on the island.


Another wicked road, but definitely not for the faint hearted, is the road up to Asco and Haute Asco…the former ski resort, from which you can get a wonderful view of Monte Cinto, Corsica’s highest peak at 2,706m. It’s a real experience driving up there, and even in the height of the Summer, you’ll feel the cold.

Bastia is the county town of the North, and also well worth a visit. Perhaps not in mid-Summer as it gets pretty busy, with all the ferries coming in, but out of season it’s just lovely.

Going inland a bit, Corte, the ancient capitol, is definitely worth a visit. The situation of the University of Corsica, it is the most beautiful hilltop town. The museum is fascinating and brings all the history we have spoken about above, to life.

Another route worth a mention is West from Calvi, and down towards Galeria and so to Les Calanches de Piana, the stunning series of red cliffs which will take your breath away.

For a free, and very, very amusing activity, do this (a Travel Trend in its own lunchtime): as you potter round Calvi or Ile Rousse, for example, read the English translations of the menus on the restaurant menu boards. More than once, I have been virtually hospitalised with laughter. Although the best has to be a translation of a coach trip to Spelunca Gorges…remind me to send it to you…

South


There’s no easy way to drive from North to South, and it’ll take a while, I kid you not. But it is an undeniably beautiful drive.

Places of note in the South are obviously Ajaccio, the modern capitol of Corsica and also the birthplace of Napoleon. Being another port on the sea, it has a similar feel to Bastia. Although you’ll find the whole flavour of the South much more Italian, than French. Perhaps you’ll also notice the increased prevalence of the “mafia”…but let’s not get too “Godfather” about the whole thing. Something people asked me, certainly from the UK, when I first started my Corsican Affair: was I not worried about the terrorism?! What terrorism? They have never once hurt a single hair on a tourist’s head. Unless you are a French Prefet that has annoyed them, you are perfectly safe. Corsicans understand that tourism is their greatest industry nowadays, and no, you are not going to get taken out by a Corsican sniper or wake up with a horse’s head in your bed…

Propriano is one of my favourites, and a lovely place to make your home whilst you’re there is Hotel Marinca in Olmeto Plage. Plenty of access to beautiful beaches, and a lovely atmosphere. If you do stay there, go, for the evening, to “Chez Mimi” at the Santa Maria hotel in Olmeto. Like visiting Chez Tao in Calvi, your Esteemed Blogger promises you, that after a visit to Chez Mimi, you will never be the same again…It is a peculiar experience, especially for the Brits amongst us…Undeniably picturesque, you’ll arrive at Chez Mimi not believing your luck…You have found the holy grail, the sort of restaurant that Peter Mayle talks about in A Year In Provence: undiscovered, strung with fairy lights, cheap, and, well, quirky. As another aside, if you loved A Year In Provence, please also read A Year In The Merde and more importantly, Merde Actually by Stephen Clarke. You will be crying with laughter. But I digress. Mimi (although I think she must have been replaced by now as she was certainly very old the last time we were there) and her team tell you what you are having to eat. No arguing. There are vats of strong local red wine, cooled (this is a normal thing to do in Corsica. No, I’d never come across it either, but in a hot climate, it sort of make sense) which are copious. You are then served what could be classed as a “tasting menu” but the difference being that the board of charcuterie or the casserole of tripe (yes, tripe, your Horrified Blogger has never quite recovered) is plonked between you for you to help yourselves…it’s such a fun, and pretty odd experience.

Whilst you’re there (having recovered from your red-wine hangover which you blame on dodgy tripe), head down to Bonifacio. You’ll be able to see Sardinia from there. It’s a really dramatic town, and something well worth doing is a boat trip round the bottom tip of the island. Again, very Italian feeling.


Arguably the most beautiful beach in the South is Palombaggia.  This is North East of Bonifacio and just before you get to Porto-Veccio.  You’ll find that with the South, the beaches to tend to be quieter in the high season, than in the North.  Santa Giulia is an absolute must, and the scene, with its jetty, of many a famous publication.

I could go on all day, but I won’t.  So there you have it:  Corsica.  Chic, mysterious, undiscovered, and probably one of my most favourite places on earth.  Once bitten, once you smell the maquis and taste the Pietra (local lager brewed using chestnuts), you’ll never not return…

And one of the best things, too?  It’s only an hour and a half flight from the UK…


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