Sophie – Club Med Peisey Vallandry,

Club Med Peisey Vallandry,

Tucked away in the French Alps Club Med Peisey Vallandry sits at 1600 metres altitude and offers a vast range of Terrain for all ski/snowboard levels. From the moment you arrive you are greeted with open arms, the staff and GOs go out of their way to enhance your experience, nothing is too much trouble.  There is a great variety of food daily and being all inclusive it is completely hassle free. There’s nothing better than coming back from a long morning on the slopes and lunch is already served. The instructors are world class, they can teach an old dog new tricks or help a newbie find their snow feet. Either way by the end of the week you will surprise yourself how much you have learnt and how much terrain you have covered.

Club Med Peisey Vallandry is perfect for families.

I personally loved the entire experience and can’t wait get back there.sophie-image2sophie-image1

Holly: Culinary Tour Of California

This year I was lucky enough to join a culinary tour of California, which proceeded to unveil many hidden treasures in and around Los Angeles.

We started by flying with United Airlines, sampling their new Dream Liner and Economy Plus Seating – there is no need to fly economy again when the extra seat and leg room was such a minimal additional cost.

Downtown Los Angeles proved to be a real treasure, contemporary, clean, safe and very easy to navigate.  An absolute must is to dine at the Commissary, showing off the massive shift in LA toward the “farm to fork” style dining.  Then of course we only had to take the lift up to our rooms at The Line Hotel.  Waking up and looking out on the Hollywood sign was very cool experience, and the rooms were very funky.  The Line also had great coffee and cold pressed juices – who would have thought!

Many of us have walked the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, but have you dined where the famous did nearly 100 years ago?  The incredibly stylish Musso and Frank Grill, with its red leather booths and mahogany bar was a regular to the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Munro, serving up the best steak (and martini’s) in town.

Disneyland is an obvious choice for many travellers, but did you know you could experience fine dining in a theme park!  The beautiful, peaceful Carthay Circle was inspired by the theatre  where Walk Disney showcased Snow White.   The contemporary menu was amazing, and away from the crowds where you can enjoy the nightly parade go by, before of course joining in on the World Of Colour.

Enough action was had by now, so off to the pristine Temecula Valley we went.  Not only home to world class wineries and 6 top golf courses, it also boasts title of USA’s best Casino – Pachanga!!

We met the charming Bill Wilson whilst lunching at Wilsons Creek Winery, this place was beautiful and the food and wine were to die for – I particularly enjoyed the famous “Yes Dear” Chardonnay!

Temecula Valley was a real highlight, if you can spare a couple of days whilst transiting or visiting LA please try to fit this in.  Our accommodation at Temecula Creek Inn was outstanding, and the whole area was very picturesque and relaxing.  We noticed again that shift to “farm to fork” dining, with a major focus on home grown and sustainably raised meats in the award winning Cork Fire Kitchen.

Only an hour away from Temecula, we headed back to the coast, to San Diego – another wonderful surprise.  We explored farmers markets, the USS Midway, drove our own speedboats across the vast San Diego Harbour.  La Jolla proved to be another hidden treasure, we dined at Georgias Roof Top, overlooking the spectacular Pacific Ocean – it was truly breathtaking!

Our journey was coming to an end, but not before visiting Coronado, a small island off San Diego – I urge you all to google search The Del Coronado – words cannot describe how amazing this 18th century luxurious resort is.  Perched on one of the worlds’ most beautiful beaches, this resort was pure luxury, offering fine dining, private beach front cottages, and many activities including an ice skating rink set up in front of the beach to operate during their winter months.

My journey has certainly changed my perspective of visiting LA – there is just so much more to do than Santa Monica Pier and Anaheim, I urge you all to find a few extra days and see more of what Southern California has to offer.

 HOLLY.Commissary Restaurant at The Line Hotel                                                        The Commissary Restaurant at The Line Hotel

Sophie: Sabah

Sabah is an East Malaysian State on Borneo Island, and only a short 2 hour and 40 minute flight from Kuala Lumpur.  It is an amazing destination and boasts ancient rainforests, endless beaches and amazing wildlife. The Asian cuisine is sensational, and the shopping will keep you entertained for hours.

I was lucky enough to spend a week in Sabah last month. My journey started in the states capital, Kota Kinabalu.  Kota Kinabalu or as the locals call it KK is a modern city, the streets are clean and the people are welcoming. Kota Kinabalu has something to offer for all types of travellers, for the adventurous traveller there is the Tunku Abdul Rhman Park which is a cluster of islands only 20minutes from Kota Kinabalu. The islands offer brilliant scuba diving and snorkelling; you can even do your complete PADI course here! For families there is more than enough to do. Visit the Mari Mari cultural village and see how the Borneo tribes use to live, it is a very hands on and educational experience, brilliant for children!

 

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blowpipe hunting @ Mari Maru Cultural Village

                                                           

 

 

 

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Cooking class @ Mari Mari Cultural Village

 

 

 

The Shangri la Rasa Ria is a must for couples and families. This 5 star resort is exceptional, and in a league of its own. It is only a 45 minute drive from Kota Kinabalu, and located on the beautiful Pantai Dalit Beach.  Treat yourself to a sea view room and you wont be disappointed. The resorts facilities are outstanding; it even has its own 64acre Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre! Once you go to the Shangri la Rasa Ria you will never want to leave!

Sandakan was the next stop. Sandakan is only a short 40 minute flight from Kota Kinabalu, the city itself feels untouched by tourists compared to Kota Kinabalu. The city gives a great insight into the daily life of the local people. When staying in Sandakan you can’t go past the Four Points By Sheraton, this brand new hotel oozes class and is in Prime location. Located on the waterfront it is close to restaurants and markets.    sophie sabah aorangutanSandakan is a great base for seeing the Orang-utans in Sepilok and the Proboscis Monkeys at Labuk Bay. Seeing the Orang-utans is a surreal experience, all orang-utans are going through a rehabilitation process and at any point they have the freedom to fend for themselves. Given this it is never guaranteed how many you will get to see in one feeding session. So it is recommended to attend the morning feeding session at 10am as more Orang-utans come out to play for breakfast. You even have the opportunity to adopt one of the orang-utans and receive updates of their progress. The Proboscis Monkeys are also a must do, you get the opportunity to get right up and close to the monkeys. I could have watched them for hours while they frolicked around me.

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Gelison – My adopted Orang-utan

 

 

 

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Monkey@ the ProboscisMonkey Sanctuary

 

 

 

Sabah is a great destination for any type of holiday or traveller. I really enjoyed my week there and would love to go back and explore some more!

Jess: Avalon Waterways River Cruising

AVALON WATERWAYS are extremely well organised with their arrival process, day tours and departure. Each time you head off you are put into smaller groups and given water bottles to take away with you. You are given headsets which makes it much easier to hear and you don’t miss out on what the guides are saying. Avalon has 1 or 2 included tours each day plus additional tours to purchase if you are interested – for example to go out to Versailles. Each day is pretty busy which surprised me as I thought would be more leisurely paced.

The food was really good, with four courses each night for dinner and alcohol served with dinner too. They kept glasses topped up well throughout dinner.

They have a main dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner and also a bistro option for dinner which offers a degustation option, max 20 guests so it’s a good idea to book when you get on the ship as this wasn’t on every night.

They do have a lift on board to accommodate those guests who need assistance.

They also cater very well for guests with food allergies and intolerance’s. We had a girl in our group who had food allergies and they were very accommodating, discussing food options for her every night and bringing gluten free bread in the morning.

I stayed in a category A stateroom and loved it as it offers a unique room configuration where the beds face looking out to the window which means you can lie in bed and get a great view! Beds were AMAZING!!

AVALON is a great product for those clients who are after a beautiful river cruise ship but don’t want to pay for the all-inclusive product (ie unlimited drinks and choices of shore excursions).  I would have noproblem recommending AVALON WATERWAYS to our clients wishing to cruise!jess avalon

Sophie’s APT River Cruise…

European River Cruising is an Australian favourite and it’s not hard to see why. The rivers of Europe promise stunning scenery along with centuries of culture, all with the ease of unpacking once. I was fortunate enough to experience APT River Cruising first hand, and on board the AmaReina life couldn’t get much better. Everything from the ship facilities, on board cuisine and level of service was faultless.

 

sophie aptThe 15 day Magnificent Europe itinerary takes you from Budapest to Amsterdam (or in reverse), I joined the river cruise half way in Nuremberg, Germany and I was impressed from the moment I stepped on board. The suites are luxurious, equipped with state of the art technology, and modern furnishings. Categories T+ and above include your very own butler who is there to make your experience even more enjoyable. There is something magical about sitting on your balcony watching the sun rise while sipping on you freshly made coffee.. and you haven’t even left your cabin yet! The food on board exceeded all expectations, with an  à la carte menu offered for every meal there was something for everyone. Any special dietary requirements were met with ease – nothing was ever too much trouble! Also with a vast selection of high end wine, there 
was something for every palate.

 

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APT have their freedom of choice tour options, these tours operate at each port and it is up to you which tour you do. They are not compulsory, if you would prefer a leisurely day on board or to take a quiet stroll yourself you can do this too. That’s why it’s ‘freedom of choice’ you have the freedom to choose what you do. The tours are operated by local guides, all of whom are knowledgeable and engaging. One of my favourite tours was to the medieval town of  Rothenburg. Rothenburg is picturesque German town where it is Christmas all year round. It’s like walking into a  fairy tale dream land. Known as the best preserved medieval town in Germany, the architecture is beyond amazing.

 
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River cruising is a perfect way to see Europe, the ships are essentially floating luxury hotels taking you  to towns you would only dream of. In addition to comfort and easy travelling APT European river cruises are fully inclusive – All meals, beverages and touring, there are no hidden extras! If you enjoy the finer things in life, with a casual atmosphere then APT is for you!

 

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Jess: Club Med Japan

I loved my stay at CLUB MED Japan and cannot recommend highly enough.  It makes what can be sometimes an exhausting holiday a breeze as it is so CONVENIENT!

Club Med Japan is located approx. 1.5 hrs drive from Sapporo Airport.  It shares the mountain with only 1 other resort so unlike neighbouring mountains, not overall busy and it is rare to wait long in a line to get on a lift.  Each day you have available to you 2 snowboard/ski lessons and you are teamed up with those of the same ability, moving up in levels as you progress.  If you are already confident or not wanting to join a class then this is up to you with many people venturing out on their own daily as the lifts open.

The Food.

Food is amazing, with a different theme each night over a 7 night prior so you never get tired of the one cuisine. It is so convenient to come in from being out on the slopes and have lunch/dinner waiting for you, no decision making on where to go or having to book a table, it is all there waiting for you as you come in.  Soft drink and beer is available on tap in the restaurant and wine is available to be selected from a self-serve fridge, all included in the Club Med rate.  There is also a speciality restaurant to book if you wish to have a change from the main restaurant during your stay.

The Rooms. 

There are a variety of rooms to choose from with some families preferring to share one room or for those who prefer more space there are 2BR suites or option to request interconnecting rooms.

Not only for families, Club Med Japan caters for couple or groups of friends travelling who share the same passion of getting out on to the slopes and experiencing the amazing snow that Japan delivers.

I highly recommend this resort and look forward to returning  myself in the coming years.

To find out more about Club Med give one of our travel experts a call on 1300 783 840.

 

Reece: Scenic Europe River Cruise

I have just returned from an amazing adventure on board Scenic’s new Space Ship, Scenic Jasper. Scenic have recently rebranded their offerings, focusing on the “wonder” of the destinations they visit, and introducing two new Space Ships as well as updating their coaches. What a beautiful transition it has been, using their new black colour scheme with mirrors and elegant surfaces, the attention to detail has not gone unnoticed.

The Rooms.

The suites are a little subtler in their colour scheme, providing a very pleasant space that entices rest and relaxation. I was able to view all the room categories, but the one stood out from the rest was the single balcony cabin, room 224. It is a great option for a single traveller with the cabin being slightly narrower than regular cabins, you are given your own space. However the bathroom and balcony layout is the same as regular cabins, giving you plenty of room to enjoy the Scenic experience. Having stayed in this cabin I can tell you first hand that there is no noise disturbance and is a great option for single travellers.

The balconies, known as ‘Sun Lounges’ are amazing. The sun lounges are a floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall window giving maximum views from your room. The top half winds down at the push of a button to open up and become a true balcony allowing the outside in.

You can partition the rest of the room off if needed as the air conditioning does get shut off once the balcony is opened for obvious reasons.

The Food.

The food on board was some of the best I have eaten, truly fantastic. I dined at all the restaurants on offer, from the Crystal Dining Room to the River Café, and was never disappointed. The cuisine in the Crystal Dining Room changes from day to day, with a buffet breakfast and lunch, and a la carte for dinner.

The River Café is a light dining option offering sandwiches and pastries plus a smaller buffet and pizzas for lunch.

Portobello’s offers great Italian food on board, serving 7 courses with fine wine, it is a great option but a reservation is required.

Rounding out the dining options on board is Table La Rivé, a premier experience reserved for guests on the Diamond Deck (top deck). It is a 6-course degustation with paired wines, and is truly lavish and luxurious. Reservations are also required as it has a maximum capacity of 10 guests per sitting. There is also a 24-hour a day ‘butler service’ that serves as Scenic’s concierge/room service option.

The Staff.

The staff couldn’t be more helpful. They are very prompt with their service and friendly, always saying hello and having a chat. They were more than accommodating with some of the special requests, especially regarding meals.

The Extras.

The Tailor-made devices are another unique addition this year and offer another level of depth to your journey. The device is essentially a handheld, GPS activated tour guide that talks to you through a very comfortable earpiece.

They can be used as a self-guide with points of interested loaded onto a map with your location plotted via GPS. Tour guides can use it on guided walks so there’s no more need for mega phones or to fight the rest of the group for front position. They can even be used on board the ship to give commentary of the river, also using GPS plotted points of interest.

The Destinations.

Enough about Scenic though, as they’d tell you “It’s not just about the on board experience, it’s about the destinations.” Scenic just make it all that more enjoyable.

Here’s an example: I wasn’t really “getting” Vienna to start with. It’s a pretty city and I had heard that there was a lot of music history there but it was a little ruined by all the souvenir shops selling silly Mozart dolls on springs, dancing up and down in their windows.

Scenic’s Enrich program took us to Palais Lichtenstien in the heart of Vienna. We all got dressed up and were welcomed with champagne for a traditional 12 piece symphony, complete with opera singers and ballet dancers. Now that is something that I didn’t think would interest me, but they put on a fantastic show and from that moment on I really “got” Vienna and now have an appreciation for that music history I was so underwhelmed with before.

This continued back on the spaceship where I took part in one of the many on board entertainment activities and I learnt the Viennese waltz!

The Sundowner Experiences are also something special. On one of our included shore excursions, a bicycle ride from Durnstein to Melk, everyone had noticed an impressive castle up on a hill on the opposite bank. Little did we know we be later exploring that castle with sunset drinks, as part of the Sundownder Experience. There was Austrian singing and dancing, plus this was opened specifically for our group so it felt even more special.

Scenic Tours really are all-inclusive and the staff truly goes the extra mile. It is a very refined product that I can’t rate highly enough. They truly provide the perfect way to experience Europe.

 

For more information about Reece’s Scenic European adventure, give one of our travel experts a call on 1300 783 840.

Stuart: Cruising in the Caribbean

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Cruising the Caribbean allows you to explore some of the most beautiful stretches of waters in the world, littered with stunning islands – from the Grand Caymans to Jamaica it is hard to imagine more idyllic tropical islands to cruise through.IMG_6206

Stuart is currently on Celebrity cruise lines Western Caribbean cruise – in seven nights you visit five countries without having to do a thing.

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How easy is that? And at that time you enjoy luxury five star accommodation, all inclusive modern cuisine and entertainment. Sound pretty fun doesn’t it? And with seven night cruises starting from just $999 per person you cannot get much better value for money either.

For more information give one of our travel experts a call on 1300 783 840.

Kirilly: Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of my favourite cities that I have been lucky to visit is Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina.  With a population over 13 million people the city has been virtually rebuilt since the beginning of this century and very few of the old buildings remain. It drags you in to its charms whether it is the famous tango, the atmosphere of its surrounding neighbourhoods, the amazing restaurants for you to try local food and wine or simply strolling around soaking in this vibrant city.  What makes this city so fascinating is its dual-heritage, part European & part Latin American.

Buenos Aires is home to the widest  avenue in the world where you can see many of the city’s famous monuments & sights. Plaza de Mayo the city’s largest square resembles a grand square you could find in Madrid and the ornate Teatro Colon which flanks it looks like a building you could find in Vienna.  But there are plenty of cobblestoned streets around with impromptu parades to let you know that you are indeed in Argentina!  You can visit the nearby neighbourhood of La Boca which is the typically Italian district and where you can sit back & enjoy some lunch and watch some locals doing the tango!  It is probably the most colourful area of Buenos Aires and its sits along the port.  It has many brightly painted low houses made of wood and metal which are amazing to see. The main street here is Caminito which is home to the artisan & painters fair, open air tango shows and typical Italian cantinas.

A must to any visitor here is to explore the Recoleta area.  Such a pretty neighbourhood filled with lovely houses and tree lined streets.  There are parks and a large array of restaurants and cafes to try.  It is home to the famous Recoleta market which is only on weekends.  A popular tourist attraction of this area is the Recoleta Cemetry where Eva Perone is laid to rest.  The neighbourhood of Palermo situated next to this area is also beautiful with huge jacaranda trees.  There are many parks to visit with some stunning flora and fauna to see.  I actually did a fantastic bike ride around this area with a local guide and got to see so much more of the area I would have seen on my own… even taken to his favourite local bakery to try out some local delights.

San Telmo is yet another stunning part of the city, some say the most picturesque of Buenos Aires.  Here you can wander down cobblestone streets and look at the colonial buildings amongst and array of shops & boutiques, tango parlours & cafes.  The Sunday Flea market here provides excellent, leisurely people-watching & shopping opportunities!

As I have already mentioned, Buenos Aires offers some wonderful shopping, it is said to be one of the most charming cities of the world for this reason.  You can find grand boulevards, to winding streets which offer an endless variety of boutiques, galleries and antique shops.  Argentina is well known for its excellent beef and also red wine and you will find many local restaurants to try this out for yourself.  It is also home to some delicious ice-cream!  Buenos Aires is also known for its vibrant bars & nightlife so there is always plenty of offer for anyone visiting this city and all I can say is – it’s a must for anyone visiting South America, I bet you will fall in love with the city like I did!  It has rich cultural heritage, the highest concentration of theatres in the world and a way of life that cant help but drag you in to its charms!

Kirilly: Peru

I was very lucky to escort a group to South America a couple of years ago, somewhere that had been on my bucket list forever and it did not disappoint!  I loved every minute of it, each country offering me something different to experience.  Different cultures, way of life, food and scenery.  One highlight amongst many was my visit to Peru which I thought was totally amazing and a must see for everyone.  Peru offered me what I imagined South America to be, one of the places left where you can see people in traditional dress, mixed with a lot of western customs now so if you are thinking of heading to Peru, I suggest doing this sooner rather than later before you miss this experience.

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Our first stop in Peru was Cuzco which stands 3310 meters above sea level so the first thing to do was to acclimatise to the altitude.  Luckily our whole group did well and we did not have any of the altitude sickness you hear of.  Cuzco is a beautiful city  full of colonial churches, monasteries, convents and extensive Inca ruins, which can be seen throughout the city with remains of the Inca walls, arches and doorways.  It is home to some fantastic restaurants as well and I enjoyed lots of local food while staying here.  Cuzco was to become one of my favourite cities I visited on this trip.  It is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in this continent and has been declared an UNESCO site.

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From Cuzco we visited the Sacred Valley – a long narrow valley and home of the Incas for many years. We visited the famous Andean market of Pisac where you can see local handcrafts, food & people which was a truly wonderful experience.  Stunning scenery throughout and visiting the ruins of Ollantaytambo with its ruins and terraces showed us how life used to be so many years ago.  This made me more excited to visit Machu Picchu the following day, which had been in my top 5 places I wanted to visit for so long.

 

The following day we went by train to Aguas Calientes which is the town at the base of Machu Picchu and our home for the next 2 nights.  The train was amazing with our Vista dome carriage offering us amazing views the whole way of the valley & gorge which grew more narrow and deeper as we went.   Walking in to Machu Picchu on a beautiful sunny day was so surreal and did not disappoint one expectation I had of visiting here.  There are many theories as to what Machu Picchu once was, some say it was a secret refuge.  The Incas had no written language and the existence of Machu Picchu seems to be completely erased from official records.  Despite all of this it is one of the most stunning places I have ever visited, it is mystical and some find it a place of strong spiritual feelings.  Machu Picchu is well known for its 4 day trek in to it which is an unforgettable experience however you can do this by getting the train to Aguas Calientes and then a local bus up which operates every 3o minutes up the mountain.  A must do as well is to get up there for sunrise, watching the sun rise over these ruins is truly amazing.

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Returning to Cuzco and then we travelled by train to Puno aboard the Andean Explorer which is one of the famous Pullman trains of the 1920’s.  This was a truly spectacular trip firstly travelling through the Andean mountains which tower over deep valleys and then more gentle rolling plains where from the viewing car we could see many alpacas grazing.  We had a stop in the middle of the day at La Raya which was 4321 meters above sea level and  the highest point that we travelled to.  From here we could see snow-capped peak mountains and it seemed like such a remote place, however there was a market all set up in place for our arrival again with handicrafts, local food to try and even music!

 

From Puno we visited the Uros Islands one of the more unique places on our trip where we were made to feel so welcome by all of the local families.  This was where we got to experience some true Andean culture.  These islands are all made up by reeds as is their boats, houses and many of the items they use in a daily basis.  The people are so friendly, very poor but always a smile on their faces.  Each island usually has 2 or 3 families living on them.  One thing I found interesting was if these families ever had a fight and didn’t want to live together anymore they could cut off part of the island to remove themselves from each other and float to join up with another island and their family!  The boats were amazing and we got to sail around looking at the other islands in the area.

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Our last stop in Peru before crossing over in to Bolivia was Lake Titicaca.  We were able to cruise around this area and see yet again some more stunning scenery.  We visited Sun Island the legendary birth place of the Inca Empire and got to see the snow-capped mountains of Cordilleria Real.  The sun was shining for us again so we were able to just sit back and take in the beautiful landscape.

 

Peru to me was what South America was about and I enjoyed every moment here, every experience and learning about the way of life.  I want to travel back to South America one day and Peru is on my list to revisit and explore more of.

 

To find out more give one of our travel experts a call on 1300 783 840.