Category: Travel

PROVENCE in SPRING

The perfect choice for an early spring holiday, with temperaturealready starting to hit 15˚C and the days rapidly lengthening, offering a perfect escape from winter.

Hiking

Provence can get hot during the summer. Really hot! The heat is wonderful and allows for lazy days on the beach however, it’s not ideal for more physical pursuits. March offers an ideal opportunity to do activities, like extended hikes around some fabulous areas of the region.

Two favourite spots to hike are the Calanques and the Gorges du Verdon. The Calanques extend south from Marseille and run along the coast. They are a series of inlets, steep-sided valleys and hidden coves that, due to fire risk, can be closed during the summer months

If you’re into hiking you could build an entire holiday around hiking this region. Equally impressive is the Gorges du Verdon, a river canyon considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful. There are hundreds of routes to hike, but with climbs of 700 m or more you’ll be pleased to be walking the region in the comparative cool of a March spring day.

White water rafting

Thrill-seekers flock to the Ubaye Valley region during spring to make the most of the incredible white water rafting opportunities available from late March, thanks to the rivers that become swollen with spring snow meltwater.

Don’t worry if you’ve never white water rafted before. There are different levels of ‘runs’ available, depending on experience. Not only are you in for an exciting ride across turbulent rapids, but you’ll get to see the countryside from a whole different angle, much of it inaccessible from roads.

Bird watching in the
Camargue

You may well have heard of the Camargue – a World Heritage Site and home to an incredible array of wildlife, including the world-famous Camargue horses. It’s at this time of year, though, that bird watching can be hugely rewarding by offering a chance to see early returning migrants such as white storks, stone curlews and hoopoes.

You’ll be able to catch the best of the Camargue’s winter birds before they disperse for the summer, such as black-necked grebes, cormorants, red-crested pochards and other waterfowl which gather on the vast Étang de Vaccarès, which lies at the heart of the reserve.

Boating

Whilst it might be a bit nippy for swimming, March offers a great chance to get out on the water with conditions often proving ideal.

In addition, don’t miss Les Nauticales, one of the first major boat shows of the year. With 30,000 visitors annually and 200 exhibitors, if you’re into boats it’s not to be missed! The upcoming show is being held between March 14th and 22nd, 2020.

Food and drink

A trip to Provence just wouldn’t be a trip to Provence without making sure you include a food element. Fortunately, March offers all manner of gastronomic delights to enjoy. If you’re quick, you’ll be able to catch the end of the black truffle season. These are wonderful grated over an omelette. The market stalls are beginning to get loaded with early seasonal produce.

Wine is also most definitely on the agenda during March with the nationwide Foires aux Vins running during March. This is the perfect time to get your cellar replenished after a thirsty festive season, with heavily discounted bottles on sale throughout this period.

Other activities

Provence really starts to come to life during March. Aside from the activities listed above, there is a lot to see and do; museums to enjoy, beautiful towns like Aix-en-Provence to explore, beaches to walk on and restaurants to sample, to name but a handful.

With a vitamin D boost, you’ll leave feeling refreshed and invigorated and ready to make the absolute most of the upcoming spring and summer. We suspect you’ll also want to get some new dates in the diary to pop back and enjoy another holiday in the summer months, as well. Provence is totally seductive during the spring … you have been warned!

Gill @ NotJustTravel says

Stay at Villa Campagne, Saint Saturnin Les Apt, Provence for 7 nights from 23rd May from £2996 for a family of four.  This 4 bedroom villa has a pool, fantastic views of the surrounding area and is in the gated resort of Le Clos Savornin. Price includes return flights from Leeds Bradford Airport to Nice and villa rental.

hiking trails

Seven of the Pacific Northwest’s most impressive hiking trails.

Toketee Falls

We’re starting off small with Oregon’s Toketee Falls. This stunning waterfall in the Umpqua National Forest takes less than a mile hike to reach. You’ll probably recognise it from the many photos circulating Instagram, because this view is truly breathtaking. The two-tiered waterfall flows down the side of a cliff that surrounds the area, making it even more beautiful. The 0.8-mile hike is perfect for kids, a busy day or those who don’t love hiking but do love a view.

Carroll Rim Trail

This dry trail is the exact opposite of the last one. Instead of a lush forest and waterfall, the Carroll Rim Trail spirals through the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon. This trail offers the best views of the Painted Hills, and some of the best sunsets you’ll ever see in your life. It can be steep in some areas but is only a 1.6-mile round trip, so it’s easy to fit into a busy day if you’re in the area.

Colchuck Lake

This Washington hike will offer you one of the best views of your life, as well as quite the workout. Colchuck Lake has been described as “heaven on earth”, but it is a nine-mile round trip to get there. It’s totally worth it, though! This lake’s striking blue water is unforgettable and if you’re a hiking lover, it is a definite must-do!

Nisqually Vista Loop Trail

Nisqually Vista Loop Trail is a 1.1-mile hike on Mount Rainier in Washington. Great for families and offers some of the most amazing views of the stunning mountain. The trail is paved, so it’s more of a scenic walk than a hike, making it perfect for all ages. Be sure to get to the carpark early in the morning, though, as it fills up quickly!

Rattlesnake Ledge

Rattlesnake Ledge is the perfect hike to take if you’re on a trip to Seattle because it’s so close. Take a break from the city for a day to see this gorgeous trail. The hike is rated moderate to hard and is a four-mile round trip, with an elevation gain of 1,160 feet. The trail is also pet-friendly so you can bring your pup, and if you don’t have a dog, you’re guaranteed to see some on the way up.

Oneonta Gorge

This amazing one-mile Oregon hike is tucked away in the Columbia River Gorge. The hike is best done in the summer because for most of it, you’ll have to wade through shallow water. Although your feet may get a little cold, the gorgeous view of Oneonta Falls at the end makes it all worth it. As you walk through the creek, you’ll also be surrounded by the picturesque, moss-covered walls of the gorge. While hiking through a creek may seem intimidating, but truly,  you can’t miss this one!

Mount Storm King

Of course, we saved the best for last! Mount Storm King in Washington has been described as some of the best views people have seen in their lives. How could you pass that up? The hike has a 2,300-feet elevation gain in just two miles, so come prepared. While the trail is difficult, if you take it on in nice weather and with the proper equipment, you’re in for the view of a lifetime.

Whether you’re a hiking lover, or just looking for a breathaking view, we hope this helps you pick out which gorgeous trail you’re going to take on, while on your next trip!

Gill @ NotJustTravel says

Explore the magnificent North West of America on a self-drive round trip from Seattle. From £6855 for 2 adults on 5th September. Price includes return flights from Manchester, accommodation, car hire and driving directions.

how to choose your Thai villa vacation island

Any 1970s backpacker who might venture into Phuket or Koh Samui today would definitely have a hard time recognising the places they used to know. The paradise islands of Thailand have grown from the far-flung tropical hideaways they once were. The old paths are now paved, fishing boats have given way to yachts and cruise ships, and the thatched seaside huts have been replaced by high-end accommodations, including star-studded resorts and, of course, private luxury villas.

Phuket

With an elongated landform, Phuket enjoys longer stretches of beaches, especially along its western side, which faces the Andaman Sea and the vast Indian Ocean. Areas such as Patong and its six-kilometre long Bang Tao beach are popular for its fine white sand.

However, there are very few villas here privileged with a beachfront. There are plenty of hillside properties offering splendid sea views, either walking distance from the beach or just a short drive away.

The coastal woodlands of Kamala, along Phuket’s famed Millionaire’s Mile, are home to luxurious villa estates with spectacular clifftop properties looking out into the ocean.

Should you prefer a beachfront setting, there are a good number of villa options in the more remote areas of Phuket. The exclusive Cape Yamu Estate on the quiet eastern side hosts some of the island’s most luxurious beachfront villas. Though the beach here is not as ideal for swimming, it is perfect for walking or sunbathing and has a view of the distant Phang-Nga bay cliffs.

Up north, in the neighbouring Phang-Nga province, beachfront properties are also found along the secluded Natai beach area, with its unspoilt 10-kilometre stretch of ocean-facing beach.

Samui

Koh Samui still possesses the true island-village vibe, which has already gone in most parts of Phuket. And, although you will find a good selection of lively establishments there are no high-rise buildings or multilane concrete highways.

For this same reason, Samui also enjoys more beachfront options among its private villas. Along the northern shores, you will find vacation homes right next to the lovely Maenam beach. Down south, if you are after complete seclusion, the peaceful neighbourhood of Laem Sor offers a selection of luxury villas on the far south. But arguably, the best choice would be the quiet Lipa Noi beach – a gorgeous stretch of fine and unpretentiously white sand.

Samui also boasts impressive hilltop villas that capture the island’s awe-inspiring coastal landscape from high above. You will find these in the areas of Choeng Mon, Maenam and Nathon.

Activities

Phuket is more advanced in terms of development. with more shopping malls. The more popular party venues are also found in Phuket, however, Koh Samui has its own offerings of beach clubs.

The yachting scene is thriving in Phuket, evident with its four different marinas that present gateways to the wondrous formations of Phang-Nga Bay and neighbouring islets. Although it has no marina, yacht charters are also available in Koh Samui offering tours to the exciting islands that dot the Gulf of Thailand, including the Angthong National Marine Park.

Other leisure activities that can be enjoyed in both islands include golfing, Muay Thai, yoga, zip lining, scuba diving, snorkelling, and visiting elephant sanctuaries.

Accessibility and transport

Phuket has an international airport undeniably a key advantage. Because it is much larger than Samui, fixing your itinerary and transport around the island will need a good deal of preparation.

Koh Samui, with its small-town feel, allows you to explore its central areas on foot, Roads are less developed but because of its smaller size and circular form, distances between places are
also shorter.

Gill @ NotJustTravel says

Stay at the luxurious COMO Point Yamu pool villa for 2 weeks for £11,585. Price is for 2 adults and includes return flights from Manchester on 7th November.

TWELVE AMAZING train JOURNEYS

JOURNEY around the world, with itineraries that range from a few hours to many  days.

The Belgrade–Bar Railway

Country: Serbia and Montenegro

Duration of trip: 10 hours

Takes passengers over 435 bridges and through 254 tunnels, from Serbia’s capital to the shores of the Adriatic in Montenegro.

The California Zephyr

Country: USA

Duration of trip: 51 hours

There’s no better way to see the heartland of America than on the California Zephyr, a railway that climbs the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada before descending to the Pacific Coast.

VIA Rail Canada The
Canadian

Country: Canada

Duration of trip: 86 hours

Passengers of The Canadian spend four days watching golden prairie fields, rugged lake country, and picturesque towns pass by their dome cars from Toronto to Vancouver.

Palace on Wheels

Country: India

Duration of trip: 7 nights, 8 days

Palace on Wheels is a luxury resort aboard a train — complete with a spa — that takes riders past India’s temples, forts, and the Taj Mahal on a seven-night passage.

The Glacier Express

Country: Switzerland

Duration of trip: 7.5 hours

The Glacier Express connects two major mountain resorts in the Swiss Alps, giving riders a whirlwind tour of Switzerland’s snowy peaks, mountain meadows and storybook villages.

The Train to the Clouds

Country: Argentina

Duration of trip: 15 hours

The Train to the Clouds follows zig-zag tracks across the rugged Andes on its way from Salta, Argentina, to the Chilean border. It’s one of the highest train rides in the world.

The Shongololo Express

Country: Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Duration of trip: 12–15 days

Africa’s best affordable railway, the Shongololo Express includes pit stops in wildlife reserves and craft markets across Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express

Country: Russia

Duration of trip: 14 days

The Trans-Siberian Railway offers a 14-day excursion through Russia that passes by endless grasslands and Lake Baikal, the deepest lake on Earth.   

The Ghan

Country: Australia

Duration of trip: 54 hours

The Ghan takes riders through the fiery red centre of Australia, offering access to the dramatic scenery and indigenous sites that are off-limits by other modes of transport.

The Orient Express

Country: Multiple, including the UK and Italy

Duration of trip: 2 days

The century-old Orient Express transports riders to the golden age of rail travel, with its four-course dinners and black-tie glamour. It runs from London to Venice in two days.

The TranzAlpine

Country: New Zealand

Duration of trip: 5 hours

In New Zealand, the TranzAlpine lets riders take in the epic vistas and awe-inspiring plains between Christchurch and Greymouth. It covers 139 miles in just under five hours.

The Belmond Grand Hibernian

Country: Ireland

Duration of trip: Varies
The Belmond Grand Hibernian brings a “shimmering world of indulgence” to the Irish countryside. Its cushy observation cars offer pristine views from Dublin to Cork or Belfast.

Gill @ NotJustTravel says

India’s Palace on Wheels and Rajasthan from £5695 per person based on 2 people sharing departing on 14th October from London Heathrow.  Experience the lifestyle of the Maharajahs as you visit walled cities, marvel at the astonishing Taj Mahal and enjoy tiger spotting in Ranthambore National Park. Price includes 15 nights (6 nights on Palace on Wheels and 7 night hotel accommodation),

Six semi-secret Spanish islands

La Gomera: The Roque de Agando is a massive volcanic monolith.

La Gomera has a number of nicknames, including ‘the land that time forgot’ and Jurassic Park, thanks to its unspoilt landscape of centuries-old forests, clinging to sheer rocky cliffs like bespoke tapestries. La Gomera has over 40 signposted viewpoints but you won’t miss the Roque de Agando – a volcanic monolith that juts from the earth like a prehistoric signpost. Lush laurel forests carpet the island and a stroll through the Parque Nacional de Garajonay feels like walking through an enchanted wood.

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