2018: Our 5 Top Travel Trends

New Year, new you, you’ve probably heard that a lot. Yes, It’s that time of year again where everyone seems to be kick-starting those New Years’ resolutions for 2018…

Joining the gym, eating healthily, maybe even giving up your usual tipple for a dry January… but is there a truer tonic for pressing that reset button, introducing yourself to new experiences and enlightening yourself, than heading off on a new adventure?
Travel is said to be the only thing you can buy that makes your richer, but with so many places to visit and so much to see and do, choosing where to book for your next holiday is quite the decision.
But, in the spirit of trying new things, and enjoying new experiences, we’ve put together our top destinations to travel to in 2018. Perfect if you’re looking for a little travel inspiration.

Vietnam

Vietnam
If you’re looking for somewhere exotic, packed with plenty of memorable experiences and that once-in-a-lifetime feel, Vietnam has it all. From the serene views over Ha Long Bay, dotted with junk boats to the buzz of the capital city Hanoi.
With waves of moped cyclists weaving through the traffic, some with pigs strapped to the back (yes, really), pyjama fashion and cà phê Chồn, a rather curious coffee, partly digested by the weasel-like civet. You will feel a world away from normality in this fascinating country.
But, beyond the outstanding natural beauty and unique cultural experiences, Vietnam also has a complex and diverse history. The impact of the infamous 19-year-long Vietnam War can still be felt this day, from the War Remnants Museum to the Dien Bien Phu War Cemetery.
A fascinating destination and one that will leave you awe-struck, gratified and completely enchanted by what it has to offer.

Berlin

Berlin, a top city break for 2018
Another hub of culture and history, the German capital is a must when it comes to places to visit in 2018. Whether it is part of a longer holiday or even a short break (especially for the Christmas Markets), Berlin’s combination of charisma and character is certain to appeal to almost anyone.
The iconic buildings, such as the Reichstag and the Fernsehturm TV tower are high on many visitors to-do list whilst in the city. But, digging a little deeper, there’s much more on offer than the popular postcard places.
The Treptower Park is host to an impressive Soviet War Memorial, set amongst a huge cemetery for 5000 Soviet soldiers. You can visit Checkpoint Charlie, the former crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin and the nearby Mauerpark, a former part of the Berlin Wall and its death strip.
And, of course, you can visit the East Side Gallery, a 1316m long section Berlin Wall itself, or see the impressive Brandenburg Gate. There’s so much to fit into your time in Berlin, it will more than likely leave you wanting to visit again.

Sicily

Sicily
Are you talkin’ to me? Yes, we are! If you’re a fan of The Godfather, that is. Or, just anyone who is looking for a taste of the less trodden parts of Italy, really, Sicily could just be your cup of tea in 2018.
Yes, the small Italian island is the famous ancestral home of the notorious Corleone family, who you’ll know from being at the centre of the classic cinematic saga.
Perfect for any film buff, you can head to the foothills of the Peloritani Mountains where you’ll find some rather recognisable surroundings in the town of Savoca. You can even watch the world go by on the shady terrace of Bar Vitelli itself. And, best of all? The bar hasn’t changed since the film’s release in 1972!
But, it’s not all movies and the Mafia in Sicily, in fact, it’s one of Italy’s most beautiful islands.  Taormina offers beautiful views of the east coast and a perfect perspective of Mount Etna. It’s easy to see why this has become the summer playground of the rich and famous
Many big names have been spotted seeking the dolce vita in the Taormina, from Oscar Wilde to Elisabeth Taylor, and a whole host of big-screen stars jetting in for the Taormina Film Festival, you’ll certainly be in great company wandering the streets of this glitzy hill-top retreat.

The Azores

The Azores
When you think of Portugal, you’ll be forgiven for thinking the sun, sand and the Algarve. But we’re thinking somewhere a little more exotic. The Azores islands are an autonomous region of Portugal, sitting deep within the North Atlantic, and offer a truly unique and really quite breath-taking experience.
It’s been called Europe’s answer to Hawaii and one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, a cavern of volcanic enchantment, you will bear witness to some pretty spectacular scenery, and who could say no to that?
Furnas City is host to botanical gardens, hot and cold springs and a lush, green, mountainous setting. The mystical lake, Santiago, is almost other-worldly, with its green waters sitting 334 metres above sea level, surrounded by the borders of a small crater, it’s a must-see whilst in the area.
You can even head over to Pico Island, the largest of the Azores. Dominated by Pico Mountain, it became a nature reserve in 1982 and has been producing delicious wine since the 15th century.
You won’t be disappointed by these beautiful islands, in fact, they could just prove to be the exotic adventure you’re looking for, all without leaving Europe in 2018.

Santorini

Santorini, Greece, a must-see for 2018.
A bucket list destination by the very definition, the remarkable island of Santorini is stealing hearts and keeping travellers flocking in for the 2018 season.
The world-famous view over the iconic caldera, whilst perched in the popular cliff-side towns of Fira and Oia, is one that you won’t get over for a while, especially at sunset. It’s a scene you’d see on postcards picked up throughout Greece, and that’s how you know you’re in an incredible location.
With the beautiful blue church domes scattered around the whitewash towns, seemingly clinging to the cliff edge, met by black, volcanic beaches at the foot, you’ll certainly get the best of Greece in Santorini.
Not to mention the old saying that there is more wine than rain on the island, and you have the delicious Greek cuisine to pair it with, from mezze to a moussaka, it’s a holiday for your taste buds as well as your sense of adventure.
If these incredible destinations have whet your appetite for a holiday to remember in 2018, why not see more on an escorted tour? At Leger Holidays, we have tours that encompass all of the above and lots, lots more. So what are you waiting for? Head over to www.leger.co.uk, today.

Born in the USA: Our Guide to the Stars of the States

In a week where our friends across the pond have been celebrating their Independence Day, we’ve been busy thinking about all the fantastic things the United States of America have on offer.

We probably don’t even need to talk about how amazing New York is and how everyone should visit the Grand Canyon at least once, you more than likely already know because America itself is just as famous as the celebrities it produces.
And in true American style, this one’s not just about the stars and stripes, it’s also about the stars themselves! And if you’re a music fan, a film buff, or like to dabble in the celebrity gossip scene, here are our top places to visit if you’re looking for the star-studded experience whilst travelling in the states.

Memphis


Memphis is not just a fantastic place to visit, it’s also the home of rock and roll royalty. From Johnny Cash and George Coleman to a rock band called Saliva (yes, really), it’s certainly got some musical merit.
But one of the big attractions is the home of possibly the most famous musician of all time. Yes, the King himself, Mr. Elvis Presley!
Elvis purchased the sprawling property, better known as Graceland, 60 years ago and luckily for us, it is now open to the public. Spreading over 17,500 square feet, it has even been voted the World’s Best Musical Attraction in USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice awards in 2015.

It offers an exciting experience touring through Elvis’ former home. But some things are kept a little more private. The upper floor of the mansion is not open to the public, but don’t feel too bad…
Considered his private sanctuary, the place he lived and loved, only former wife Priscilla, daughter Lisa-Marie and the Graceland curator are allowed within its hallowed halls. So you can be sure to still get the fullest experience on offer when visiting the iconic home.
Graceland comes in a smooth second in the most visited homes in the USA list, attracting over 500,000 fans a year, falling just behind our next stop off…

The White House


Home to possibly the biggest star in the USA, the presidential home is the most visited house in the USA. And, it’s certainly of presidential proportions.
Despite what you may think of the man in the oval office at the time, it’s a fascinating place to visit. And, best of all? It’s free to get inside!
Each week, the White House has over 30,000 visitors. But, it doesn’t end there, they also receive 65,000 letters, 3,500 phone calls and 100,000 emails! So, they could certainly do with the extra hands, lucky there’s an extra resident on hand to help them out…
Winston Churchill reportedly saw the ghost of Abraham Lincoln whilst staying in the former president’s bedroom. It’s said he was just getting out of the bath at the time, lucky he didn’t slip!

San Francisco


The birth place of Bruce Lee, Clint Eastwood and Steve Jobs, San Francisco hasn’t just brought us the best of film and technology, it’s also one popular place to visit.
Attracting 18.9 million visitors in 2015 alone, if you’re looking for former celebrity haunts, you’re in the right place.
The impressive China Town area is actually the birth place of Bruce Lee, and it’s the largest of its kind outside of Asia. There are temples, tea houses, souvenir shops and traditional pharmacies and if you’re visiting during a Chinese holiday or event, you can expect some extravagant celebrations.

And, if you’re looking for a popular celebrity haunt, The Slanted Door in San Francisco Bay is not only one of the most popular restaurants in the city, it’s also attracted stars such as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Quentin Tarantino!

Beverley Hills


Of course, the home of the rich and famous, Beverley Hills has not only attracted the elite for decades, but the tourists seem to love it too!
Judy Garland lived on Bel Air Road, Michael Jackson and Walt Disney on Carolwood Drive and John Lennon on Mulholland Drive, so you can see why the Hollywood Stars’ Homes tours are so popular.
But if you’re thinking less about peeking into houses and more about living the lifestyle, Rodeo Drive is a great place to visit.
Not only is it a shopper’s paradise, it’s also starred in over 50 films! From Beverley Hills Cop to Pretty Woman, you can walk in the footsteps of Julia Roberts and Eddie Murphy on the picturesque and pretty famous street.

Hollywood Walk of Fame


How could we not mention the world famous, Hollywood Walk of Fame, where any star who is a star has a star! Visiting the Walk of Fame is almost a rite of passage when in Los Angeles.
Honouring luminaries in film, television, radio, theatre and recording, the sidewalks of the famous Hollywood Boulevard have taken over tinsel town since the 1960s, and it’s still just as impressive today.
Everyone’s favourite stars from Richard Bacon, Doris Day, Aretha Franklin and the Backstreet Boys have their names adorned on the glistening footpaths. And if this isn’t the best way to reach the stars, we don’t know what is.

It’s also just a stone’s throw away from the Hollywood Madame Tussauds, meaning you can (almost) get up close and personal to the stars, too!
Thinking about heading off on a dream tour of America? With our fantastic selection of USA holidays, you can take in some of the most popular destinations worthy of anyone’s bucket list!
From New York to Miami, the West Coast or maybe a cross country journey travelling along Route 66, we’ve got it all. Fancy taking a look, they’re all available, here.

Simon Calder Q&A: Tips and Travel Advice

Simon Calder, Travel Writer and Broadcaster

Here at Leger Holidays, we’re celebrating holiday inspiration, and who better to get involved than travel writer and broadcaster, Simon Calder? We invited the Twittersphere to ask the travel man himself for his ideas and experiences. We’ve distilled the best for you here …

What are the strongest triggers to deciding on a particular trip?
My usual motivation is a word in my ear from a friend with taste – but a film, chance conversation or just a tweet can work.
Your greatest drive in Europe?
So many roads, so little time – but most of Italy’s coast, so long as someone else is driving.
Is there a secret European location waiting to be discovered?
Yes, and almost all of them are behind the old Iron Curtain, particularly Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine.
What was the last film that inspired you to travel and why?
Er, is it very uncool to say Sound of Music? Many of the locations in it, in and around Salzburg in Austria, are still exactly the same
What’s the latest about the hole in Rhodes airport runway?
The runway on the Greek island had a malfunction earlier this week but is now back in action – and a great destination in Sept/Oct.
Your favourite Christmas Market?
For me the surroundings count for as much as the stalls, chalets and cafes. So: Cologne, with Bruges, Hamburg and Frankfurt as good alternatives.
You were in Castellon last week – what’s it like?
The latest Ryanair route from Stansted and Bristol serves Castellon Airport on Spain’s Costa Azahar – the Orange Blossom Coast and mostly beautifully unspoilt, with Peniscola the best place to stay. The airport also serves as a cut-price gateway to Valencia if the fares to that fine city are too high.
Where are you going skiing this winter?
Haven’t decided yet but Slovakia and Germany are possible locations – they don’t experience the usual half-term price surge. However, Austria is also very appealing.
How far in advance is too far to book a holiday?
Booking too far in advance can be a real problem, particularly for non-refundable plane tickets. Package holidays are less risky because you can transfer them to someone else if you can’t go. But of course anticipation is sweet – and I’ve already booked an eclipse-hunting coach holiday in the US for 2017.
Former Yugoslavia – your favourite component?
I’m fond of them all, but besides Croatia (a given) I have particular soft spots for Slovenia, Montenegro and Bosnia.
What type of coach holiday would be most appealing to you?
A good guide and good company are essentials, but after that it’s terrain that you can really enjoy from a coach. So lakes (or lochs) and mountains work for me, but some UK motorways are also excellent – the M62, M74 and upper reaches of the M6 are all best seen from a passenger seat
Do you ever ask locals for tips on things to do and places to see?
Yes. Online research and guidebooks are invariably trumped by local recommendations. So, always ask.
The best place to visit in Reykjavik?
I’m just back from the Icelandic capital and it’s in great shape, with more flights from the UK than ever. Eat at the newly opened Tacobarinn, which brings Latin American style (and almost prices) to the city. Don’t bother with the Blue Lagoon – overly commercialised – but take the 5-min ferry rider to wonderful Videy Island.
Any other relatively undiscovered wildernesses in Europe, other than Iceland?
Many. In the UK: Knoydart Peninsula in Scotland. Eastern Poland/western Ukraine also wonderful.
Based on what you’ve seen so far this year, what do you think will be the travel trends for 2016?
Niche Latin America, eg Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, eastern Europe and Canada for sheer good value.
Where has reading a book led you?
George Orwell made me hitch-hike to Barcelona after I read Homage to Catalonia. The Fruit Palace by Charles Nicholl is an inspiring introduction to the marvels and madness of Colombia. And the European Rail Timetable is full of wild and wonderful places to add to the list.
Croatia, Greece or Turkey?
Great question – all offer value, beauty, history and a warm welcome, but right now Greece is the word.
Where are the best places to travel to in Europe that are still warm in autumn/winter?
I’d choose an island from Crete, Malta, Sicily, Mallorca and Ibiza, with the Canaries best for the real depths of winter.
What’s not to miss in Berlin?
The Reichstag (Parliament building) is free and brilliant. Ditto East Side Gallery. And take a trip out to Potsdam.
Which TV show or movie has inspired you to visit the filming location?
It’s only been out a week, but Everest is spectacular. I don’t want to climb it but I do want to visit Nepal.
Thank you to Simon, and huge thank you to everyone for your questions! You can take a look at all of our once in a lifetime Grand Explorer holidays by clicking here.

A Grand Alpine Adventure by Carole Russell

As a 73-year-old lady not used to travelling alone, I was very apprehensive about going on holiday, but one of the best decisions I ever made was to go on the Grand Alpine Adventure in August last year. The Silver Service coach was beyond all my expectations and, once we’d crossed the channel I really felt the adventure was beginning

Right at the start Stuart, one of our drivers, said “remember, you are not on holiday – you are on tour!” We very quickly understood what he meant.  Staying in no less than 9 hotels over a 2 week period certainly meant having to be organised with the packing and, if you are expecting a relaxing, restful holiday, do NOT go on this tour!

One of our first visits was to a wine tasting in the Rhine Valley. What better way to get me talking to my fellow travellers who I was to share the next 2 weeks with!

We had so many wonderful experiences and saw the most spectacular sights, travelling through the Alps and Lakes of Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland and France.

I was simply enchanted by all of the towns we visited, particularly Rothenburg, Innsbruck and Salzburg, feeling I was part of a storybook. And the Alpine regions we visited – welI the splendour, magnificence and beauty of what I saw was simply awe inspiring.

You’d have thought one mountain would look much the same as another, but every area we went to, the scenery was so spectacularly different.  We stayed in some lovely hotels along the way and the variety of food was excellent.

The only lady amongst five other ‘singlies’, I wonder if I may have earned a bit of a reputation as we did tend to end up together as a group!  But the whole camaraderie of all the passengers and crew was really good and I felt very safe and secure.

I would certainly say to anyone who is on their own that this type of holiday is probably the best they can take.  You can spend time on your own when you want, but there is always someone else around who will happily have you join them for a meal, or whatever.

Our crew, Stuart and Ralph, were tireless in their endeavours to ensure everyone was happy and that everything ran like clockwork.  Their commentaries were so informative and interesting and their driving – well how they get that huge coach around those Alpine bends beats me!

I very soon decided that I wanted to experience more of the world with Leger as it is such a splendid way to have holidays, particularly when you are travelling alone. So I’m off again soon, this time to Eastern Europe. Who wants to lay on a beach when you can go on tour!

Would you like to be a Leger Blog star? Get in touch at blog@legerblog.co.uk

 

Israel: Seeing really is believing.

Israel may not top the holiday list of many, in fact, many would not even regard it as a holiday destination. However, in 2012, visitor numbers were up by an impressive 8% and even in 2014 14.2 million people passed though Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport.

Hailed as the Holy Land sitting on an intersection between Asia, Europe and Africa, the country has become the religious hub to Jews, Muslims and Christians from around the world. Whilst having a very complicated history, when it comes to finding a new adventure, Israel really does have it all.
You could consider the country to be a ‘rough’ diamond in the travelling stakes and with most cut and polished stones coming from Israel, it is also the world’s largest diamond centre. Above all of that, there are many unique attractions that will continue to draw tourists in from around the world. ‘Rough’ may not be the right analogy for this spectacular country but diamond most certainly is.
Sea coast and the view of Tel Aviv at the evening
Israel boasts 137 beaches and 273km of coastline and is an ideal destination for any sun seeker. Its longest coast line runs alongside the Mediterranean Sea and with temperature average around 26⁰C in the summer months. Cities along the coast such as Tel Aviv, a thriving cosmopolitan city, attract a high level of holiday makers every year.

The Three Seas of Israel

If you’re a fan of sun, sand and sea, here’s another two factors that that may be of interest to you, the Red and the Dead – seas that is. There are many unique qualities making the seas of Israel so Iconic. Each with its own diverse nature, we stop of at each sea on our Jerusalem and the Three Seas of Israel tour.
Having already touched on the Mediterranean coast, the Red Sea reaches Israel in its most southern region. It is the northern tip of the Indian Ocean and is the closest that tropical waters come to Europe.
iStock_000019028061_Large
There is a spectacular coral reef just off of the coast of Eilat, with a nature reserve stretching 1,200 metres along Amlog Beach where you can see various tropical fish, types of coral and other fascinating sea creatures.
At the lowest point on earth at 1388ft below sea level and three million years old, the Dead Sea is given its name from the fact that the high mineral and salt content makes it impossible for fish or plants to live within the waters. Of course, the most unique feature is that you can lay on the surface and peacefully float away as the high salt level also makes you buoyant.
Filled with minerals including calcium, iodine, saline, potassium and bromide, you can also reap various health benefits from the highly saturated waters such as relief from arthritis, skin problems as well as respiratory problems and even cellulite. Relaxing and good for you, it really is natures best spa day.
iStock_000030770960_Large
If those three seas aren’t enough, there is also the Sea of Galilee. Also known as Lake Tiberas, it is here where Jesus is said to have walked on water.
The Sea of Galilee is the lowest lying freshwater lake on earth, surrounded by artificial beaches and the magnificent backdrop of the hills of Galilee. First-century Roman historian, Flavius Josephus, was so impressed by the scenery surrounding the lake he wrote “one may call this place the ambition of nature”.
iStock_000010660449_Large

Jerusalem

One of the oldest cities in the world and the most visited in Israel, Jerusalem is considered the Holy city to three major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The city has over 2000 archaeological sites and plenty more of religious significance. It’s one of the only places in the world where you will find a Synagogue and a Catholic Chapel sharing the same building on Hillel Street in Central Jerusalem.
Some of the highlights of Jerusalem include the Mount of Olives, the Western Wall and the Pool of Bethseda. The Mount of Olives is the site that Jesus is said to have ascended to heaven and the world’s oldest and most important continually used Jewish cemeteries.
iStock_000007511783_small
The Western, or Wailing, Wall is a renowned site for prayers and pilgrimage and has been for centuries. There are over a million written prayers in the cracks of the Western Wall left by tourists every year. These prayers are collected twice a year and buried on the Mount of Olives.
The Pool of Bethseda, that is actually a series of reservoirs and medicinal pools is said to be the site of miracles. It has been identified as the scene of one of Jesus’ miracles in which he healed a paralysed man.
iStock_000003182070_Large

Jerusalem Syndrome

There is every chance you haven’t heard of Jerusalem Syndrome, but it is, in fact it, a well-documented medical condition in which 40 visitors a year are hospitalised. Brought on by the intensity of the holiest city, sufferers identify themselves as figures from their religious backgrounds such as King David with some even seeing themselves as the second coming of the Messiah.
Tour guides are often on the look-out for potential sufferers who show signs of agitation and drop away from the group. Recovery rate is said to be quick and once out of the city and back with their families and friends, Jerusalem Syndrome sufferers tend to get back to their usual selves.
However, for others, the syndrome turns over a new leaf with several tourists giving up jobs and lifestyles back home to be found living happily with the syndrome and still preaching on the streets urging tourists towards a better life.
iStock_000008566365_Medium

Israeli Cuisine

Whilst being on a tour of such religious and historical importance, it’s important to keep well fed. Luckily, the Israeli cuisine is not something to be scoffed at. Scoffed, maybe! A country where houmous flows as freely as water and you can taste an array of falafel made to every recipe, there’s plenty more on offer from street vendors and restaurants alike.
iStock_000019641383_Large
A Shwarma should be high on your agenda when it comes to eating like the locals. Similar to a Turkish kebab served in pitta bread with added houmous and the sesame seed dip, tehina. Israel doesn’t skimp on its wine production either, producing a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Upper Galilee region that has made the Top 100 Wines of 2014 list.
If you’re looking for something original, try sabras. Sabras is cactus fruit, thorny on the outside and sweet on the inside. Better known in English as the ‘Prickly Pear’, the cactus fruit is said to have several health benefits including treatment of diabetes, high cholesterol and even hangovers so it may be worth stocking up if you are keen to try out the Israeli wine.
iStock_000005429160_Large
Ready to go? At Leger, we have two tours that head off to the Holy Land, Jerusalem and the Three Seas of Israel and Highlights of the Holy Land both taking you through some of the most spectacular places Israel has to offer.
 

Picturebook Italy: a snapshot of all things Italian.

From Venice to Rome, Pisa to the Amalfi Coast, despite never setting foot on Italian soil, there’s every chance you’ve already fallen in love with Italy. Despite only being a unified country for 153 years, it’s understandable how the boot of Europe attracts over 43 million tourists a year, making it the 4th most visited country in the world. Home to some of the most iconic cities, with a unique culture and first class cuisine featuring the some of the world’s favourite carbohydrates, with over 350 different types of pasta and after all, Pizza is one of few words understood all around the world, they’re doing something right.

Venice and Rome, both appear on many-a-persons bucket list, so here is our guide to some of the lesser known, but no less spectacular, splendours of Europe’s boot-shaped masterpiece, all of which you can visit on our popular Picturebook Italy tour.

Lake Garda

The largest lake in Europe and the most visited in Italy, with its beautiful shorelines and quaint villages, even for the Romans, Lake Garda was the luxury summer destination.
The town of Sirmione gives you the chance to visit the ruins left behind by this ancient powerhouse, including some inviting thermal spas.
You cannot miss the thirteenth-century Rocca Scaligera. Like something out of a fairy tale, you can head inside and take a look around, take in the sights of Lake Garda. Whilst Sirmione was once a town of great military importance, the only guarding of the fortress happening nowadays are the swans patrolling the moat of the castle, a great sight.
Sirmione

Siena

Heading into Medieval Tuscany, to the stunning city of Siena. Famous for the Palio run, where the various areas in which the city is divided challenge in other in a passionate horse race in the heart of the city, the event also features in the James Bond film ‘Quantum of Solace’. This medieval Tuscan town is embroiled in an age-old rivalry with Florence, even tourists get involved, picking a side with their favourite city of the two to champion. Luckily, our tour heads off to both cities so you will be able to pick your allegiance before heading home.
In the heart of the city, the Il Campo is where to take in the true nature of what Siena has to offer. Sit back and enjoy the perfect espresso whilst enjoying Siena’s gothic architecture. The Italians consume over 14 billion of them each year so you can be sure they’ve perfected the art of coffee making.
Piazza del Campo in Siena

Sorrento or Capri

Whilst on the Amalfi Coast, why not visit beautiful Sorrento? Celebrity chef Gino D’acampo has said previously that it is the most romantic place on earth. However, if you’re not quite the romantic type, it could be worth noting that Sorrento is also home to possibly the best Limoncello you could find. Using the famous Sorrento lemons, you will find almost every shop filled to the brim with the famous citrus tipple.
Sorrento
Instead, you could choose to head off to the island of Capri where you can experience the beautiful Blue Grotto. A cave where an underwater cavity illuminates the waters and lights the walls with in a magical shade of blue, it takes its place proudly as one of Europe’s best natural wonders.
Capri
A highlight of the Amalfi Coast is the picture perfect views that have plenty to offer. With Mount Vesuvius dominating the horizon, one of only three active volcanoes in Europe. Interestingly, Italy is also home to the remaining two active volcanoes, Mount Etna and Mount Stromboli
iStock_000033859550_Large

Florence

Once home to the Godfathers of the Renaissance, the Medici family, Florence is also birth place of the nurse and namesake, Florence Nightingale. Even in modern day Florence captures the hearts of many, Dan Brown set his recent novel, Inferno in the city.
The famous Cathedral, Il Duomo, is most certainly worth a visit. Taking 140 years to build, you can climb the 463 stone steps to reach the cupola for a close up look of the Last Judgement painting that covers the inner dome. Or you can just enjoy the view of this beautiful city from a perfect vantage point.
Whilst appreciating the architecture, you can also admire the streets themselves, Florence was the first city in Europe to have paved streets.
iStock_000023095721_Large

Pisa

The leaning tower, the mindboggling architecture seemingly defying gravity certainly is the focal point for many in this town. Funnily enough, the tower once leant the other way.
Shortly after building started, the fine soil started to give way. They continued by piling on stone work to counter-balance the lean only for it to slump in the other direction.
The Bell chamber that tops the tower is the only part of the tower that sits true after purposely being laid to incorporate the lean. However, the slight problems with the building work nearly 850 years ago has provided us with one of the most recognisable pieces of architecture in the world.
Pisa, Piazza dei miracoli.

Lake Maggiore and the Borromean Islands

Reaching over the border into Switzerland, Lake Maggiore certainly wouldn’t look out of place on a postcard. We stop off at the town of Baveno, the town famed for its pink granite. Used for numerous famous buildings around the world such as St Paul’s in Rome, Gallerica Vittorio Emanuele in Milan and even the monument to Christopher Columbus in New York City.
Hop onto a boat and head off into the lake to the Borromean islands, each with its own charms.
Isola Bella an elegant island with a 17th century castle, perfect for a budding historian. If you’re interested in a more laid back time, Isola Pescatore is the only inhabited island, with a quaint village featuring charming shops, cafes and restaurants. Isola Madre features 19th century English style gardens and a palace filled with Italian masterpieces and paintings, the islands as a group offer you a perfect snapshot of Italian culture.
iStock_000017715111_Large
Of course being topped off by the Rome and Venice visits, you’re sure to have the perfect Italian tour taking in much of what makes this country one of the most unique in the world. Check out our blogs featuring Venice and Rome coming soon!
You can get your cameras at the ready, our Picturebook Italy tour starts from as little as £849 pp for 12 days. You can view our full itinerary here.
Why not head over to our Facebook page and share your tales and experiences of this magnificent tour with us?
 

Grand Explorer: Delights of the Costa Blanca, Valencia, Burgos & Cuenca

Our 2015 brochure has introduced some fantastic new tours for 2015, including Our Grand Explorer tour, Delights of the Costa Blanca, Valencia, Burgos and Cuenca. The tour combines a leisurely stay on Spain’s sun-drenched coast with an exploration of Spain’s slightly lesser known, historic towns. Here’s a rundown of some of our highlights from this spectacular tour.

The Costa Blanca, or the ‘White Coast’ in English, is a traveller’s hot spot. With over 2800 hours of sunshine every year and with 200km of coast line, it’s easy to see why it attracts 2 million tourists from the UK alone each year.
Although sounding quintessentially Spanish, the name ‘Costa Blanca’ was actually first introduced as a marketing gimmick by British European Airlines to promote their new flight route from London to Valencia in 1957.
Staying in the resort of Los Alcazares, you’ll take in the historic old town of Burgos with its stunning cathedral, a true masterpiece of Spanish Gothic architecture. Buried beneath the cathedral is Spain’s national hero, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar. Better known as El Cid, the lovable rogue was made a legend by his remarkable military ability whilst conquering Valencia. El Cid is still idolised to this day and has been immortalised in plays, film, folk tales and even video games.
City of Burgos and the CathedralBurgos is also home to the Baby Jumping festival and, yes, you would be forgiven for being intrigued about the title. Known as the El Colacho, it has taken place every year since the 1620’s. The festival is free to join for any new born baby. Swaddled in blankets, they are laid on the ground where grown men, dressed as the devil, jump over the babies to cleanse them of evil spirits. The slightly bizarre festival is part of celebrations held nationally for the Catholic festival of Corpus Christi.
Cliff Houses of Cuenca, SpainA visit to the extraordinary settings of Cuenca where buildings seemingly cling to the rock walls is next on the itinerary. As you will notice, the most popular attraction of this fortified city is the Hanging Houses. The houses were originally built as summer houses for the Royal Family but have also been used as individual and even council houses. Built into the walls of the gorge, the houses are now largely occupied, however, one has been converted into and abstract art gallery giving you the chance to head inside one of these spectacular buildings.
How about a day spent enjoying the many cafes and tree lined boulevards of Albir, the little gem of the Costa Blanca, before heading to the Cultural Capital of the Valencian region, Altea? From there you will have time to explore beautiful Guadelest, a little village overlooking the Guadelest reservoir.
Declared a Monument of Historical and Artistic Value, Guadelest is a major tourist attraction. Take a look up to the highest point on the cliff towering over the walled town, you will find the Castle of Saint Jose. The Castle has endured two earthquakes and a bomb attack in the Succession War which have all contributed to its destruction, however, its imposing presence is still a spectacular sight.Belltower in Guadalest, Spain
We head on to Alicante, a city with a true Spanish flavour, you will have the perfect opportunity to enjoy the clean Costa Blanca air. It is said that this is one of the healthiest areas in Europe. The warm temperature and low rainfall is said to be a perfect remedy for sufferers of asthma and arthritis, a much more enjoyable treatment, we’re sure you will agree.
iStock_000017785253_LargeWhilst in Alicante, you will be drawn to the Santa Barbara Castle.  One of Europe’s largest Fortresses. Perched on the top of Mount Benacantil, it has everything you’d imagine from a medieval castle from cannons, dungeons and even a moat. Best of all it offers fabulous views across the city. Or, of course, you could savour the moment and take advantage of the beautiful sandy beaches.
Possibly saving the best ‘til last, wrapping up our tour of the Costa Blanca region is the cosmopolitan city of Valencia, regarded as one of the most beautiful cities of Mediterranean Spain and we certainly won’t disagree. Birthplace of the famous Spanish dish, paella, Valencia also stakes the somewhat controversial claim of holding the Holy Grail. You can view the chalice in all its glory as it is on show in Valencia’s opulent cathedral.
iStock_000006049446_LargeThere is plenty to do in Valencia, you will be glad to know there is plenty of time to fit it all in as the tour accommodates a one night stay in beautiful Valencia.
To see our great value Grand Explorer Holidays, please head over to our website.

Introducing our New Tour: Grand Scenic Austria

Snow-capped mountain peaks, luscious green hillsides and crystal blue lakes are just some of the images conjured up by the thought of Austria, however, it’s not just the natural beauty that visitors seek out. There is also a rich culture, a fascinating history and spectacular architecture to discover throughout this impressive landlocked country.

In our 2015 Brochure, we have introduced a brand new tour, Grand Scenic Austria. This Grand Explorer tour takes you through some of the country’s most spectacular delights. Here’s a few of our favorite things that you can expect to see and do whilst taking this magnificent tour.

Salzkammergut

AUST MOND 000001 F crop
The Austrian Lake District, the first port of call. There’s a total of 76 lakes surrounded by picturesque villages. Our tour takes you to delightful Mondsee. Translated to Moon Lake in English, the crescent shaped lake is one of Austria’s famous bathing lakes. Its water temperature reaches up to 28⁰C and is a popular attraction to locals and tourists alike. Possibly the most renowned attraction in Mondsee is the Basilica St. Michael, situated in the middle of the town centre, the church was famously used for the wedding scene in ‘The Sound of Music’. For that reason more than 200.000 people are visiting the church every year and give it the honour of being one of the most photographed churches all over the world.

Krems and Melk

Krems an der Donau is the eastern gateway to the Wachau valley, thought to be the most picturesque stretch of the River Danube. One of the oldest cities in Austria, builders and archaeologists throughout the country have created a unique cityscape that has earned the city a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. If you’re a wine lover, you will be happy to know that Krems is said to have the best selection ofAustrian wine, whether this comes from its 1000 year wine making history or the perfect conditions the vineyards are set in is up for debate, however the wine taverns will certainly not disappoint.
Heading down into Melk you will make a stop off to tour the Melk Abbey, a fortified castle that is home to the Babenberg’s, Austria’s first ruling dynasty. Located on the bank of the Danube, the Abbey was originally a palace and it most certainly shows. A sight to behold with its baroque architecture, the abbey’s church is the highlight with its numerous windows and rich embellishment of marble and frescoes. The abbey contains the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau, an Irish Pilgrim mistaken as a spy due to his strange appearance and was subsequently tortured and hanged.

ViennaAUST VIENNA 000037 F

The capital city and also the largest city in Austria, Vienna is home to quarter of Austria’s population. Birthplace of the waltz and hosts up to 200 balls every year, the most popular location for a ball to be held is the Hofburg Imperial Palace. The world’s largest emerald is displayed in the Imperial Treasury of the palace boasting 2860 carats. If you like to do your sightseeing from a height, head to the Prater, Vienna’s most popular fun fair. Hop on the giant Ferris wheel, featured in the James Bond film, The Living Daylight, and see it all from 200 feet up. Although born in Germany, Ludwig van Beethoven lived most of his adult life in Vienna. He battled deafness starting at the age of 26 and he composed some of his best-known works, including Symphony  No. 9 while profoundly deaf. If you are a fan of Beethoven, you can visit the Theater an der Wien where there is a Beethoven memorial room open to the public. This is where most of his compositions were premiered.

CarinthiaAUST CARIN 000010 F

Austria’s southernmost province, Carinthia boasts the most sunshine hours per year. The tour stops here for two nights so there is plenty of time to discover the beautiful scenery it has to offer. You can also see Augenquelle St. Kathrein. Known as an ‘Eye Spring’, it is thought to have beneficial healing effects. From stabilising blood circulation to aiding recovery after surgery, people have even been known to splash the 36⁰C mineral water into their eyes in order to ensure good eyesight into old age.

Salzburg

AUST_SALZ 000169
Salzburg, where the hills are alive with ‘The Sound of Music’. The home of the von Trapp family and Mozart, from museums to palaces there’s plenty of culture to soak up in this picturesque town. Salzburg used to be an independent country, but was annexed to the Austrian Empire in 1816. Whilst in Salzburg, the Residenzplatz is well worth a visit. With its horse drawn carriages and street entertainers surrounding the most beautiful fountain in the city, it’s most definitely worth a closer look. The Sound of Music Pavillon can be found at Hellbrunn Palace today, in the movie it was still located at Leopoldskron Palace. This is where one of the most famous and romantic scenes was filmed:  ‘I am 16 going on 17’

InnsbruckAUST.INNS 000154 F

The capital of the Tyrol and hailed as the capital of the Alps, Innsbruck’s pride and joy stands tall in the old town. The German Renaissance gothic court church was commissioned in 1553 by Ferdinand I, who enlisted the help of top artists such as Peter Vischer the Elder and Alexander Colin to complete the building as a memorial to Emperor Maximillian I. Alpine skiing is a very popular sport in Austria, as are snowboarding and ski-jumping. The city of Innsbruck hosted the Winter Olympics in both 1964 and 1976. While in Innsbruck you could also pay a visit to Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Wattens, a sparkling, underground world where crystal comes to life. Take a look around the museum or treat yourself, it’s the prefect excuse.
 

Krimml Falls

AUST KRIMML 000020
One not to miss! With a total height of 380 metres, the Krimml waterfalls are the highest in Europe and we offer you an optional excursion to visit this natural wonder. The waterfall begins at the end of the Krimml River flowing through three stages of the beautiful Hohe Tauern National Park. To make the waterfall more accessible to visitors, Ignaz von Kürsinger created a path to the upper part and is well worth a visit.
 

To see this tour in more detail and to see where else we can take you in Austria, visit the Austria Tours section of our website.

 
 

Susie's Amazing Grand Explorer Adventure

Susie’s Amazing Grand Explorer Adventure

Sue Clark one of our customers has not long returned from her holiday with Leger Holidays. Read on to see what she thought of her trip with us on our Arctic Circle and the Land of the Midnight Sun Tour.

 


Which tour did you go on?

I went on the Arctic Circle and the Land of the Midnight Sun 16-day Grand Explorer trip departing June 29th 2013
 

How did you get there and how long did it take?

Initially by feeder coach in Lincoln, which also was our tour coach, and I undertook the whole tour by coach. During the adventure I also travelled on 10 ferries, which included an overnight one from Stockholm, Sweden to Turku in Finland
As mentioned previously, it was for 16 days, but as someone who travels as she lives, preferring the journey to the destination-it was paced just right.
 

Where did you stay?

Too numerous to mention and in a variety of accommodation, including a ski chalet.
 

What was the weather like? Did it affect your visit?

This tour was not about the weather but the experience, but the added bonus was that for the majority of the time it was glorious weather. I witnessed the Midnight Sun in Rovaniemi in full sunshine. The visit to North Cape was cloudy and windy, but very atmospheric. It rained in Tromso but that only added to the beauty of the countryside. Without the rain I would not have experienced the wonderful waterfalls and lush scenery we travelled through.
 

Which optional excursions did you do?

I booked the guided sightseeing evening tour in Oslo, and what an enlightening tour this was! I was completely unprepared for the visit to the Vigeland Sculpture Park, and as a sculpture spotter I was in raptures. For me, this optional excursion was worth every pound I spent on it!
 

Conclusion

In the words of one of our drivers, this was an adventure rather than a holiday, and it was an adventure I would not have missed! Throughout the adventure I grew in cultural, spiritual and geographical experience. It was also a very positive experience because I travelled with a lovely group of people and also a couple of great drivers.
This experience has convinced me not only to undertake more Leger Grand Explorer tours, but also to visit Scandinavia, particularly all the capital cities, for longer as I was only able to have ‘tasters’ on this occasion.
Thank you Leger, without whom I would not have been able to have such an amazing Grand Explorer adventure 🙂
 
 

10 facts you may not have known about Russia

Find out what made our list of facts about Russia below:
 

  • Moscow has the busiest Mc Donald’s in the world (30,000 people entered on the first day of opening)
  • There are more than 600 universities in Russia
  • Russia is home to the world’s largest active volcano Klyuchevskaya Sopka which stands at 4,750 metres.
  • Russia is the second biggest oil exporter in the world
  • 10% of St Petersburg is covered by water
  • Russia is the only country in the world to have 12 seas
  • Russia is so vast it spans 9 time zones
  • The first man into space was Russian, his name was Yuri Gagarin
  • Vitaly Petrov is the only Russian Formula One driver to date
  • Life expectancy in Russia is 59 years for men and 73 years for women

 
Do you have any facts about Russia? Please share them in the comments below. For more information on our tours of Russia take a look at our Tours of Russia page.