2013 marks Leger’s 30th year of operating escorted coach holidays throughout Europe, so it’s a very special year. Ian Henry, Leger’s Managing Director, has been with the company for more than 20 years. Here he tells us the Leger story…
Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone who has travelled with us since 1983, and to those of you who haven’t yet enjoyed a Leger holiday, I hope you’ll join us in this milestone year. It’s hard to believe that the 30 years have gone so fast, but great to know that Leger continues to attract thousands of holiday makers each year – some customers that have been with us from the very beginning. Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned Leger traveller, I look forward to welcoming you aboard in 2013.
How did Leger Holidays begin?
Leger was started by my father, Alan Henry whilst I was at University. He had the idea of running coach tours to Austria and needed to be able to offer customers the security of being ABTA bonded, meaning all customers’ money would be protected. The quickest way to do this was to acquire a company which already had an ABTA Licence. That company was a small travel agent with shops in Wakefield and Doncaster called Leger Travel.
Where did the name ‘Leger’ come from?
Horse racing fans will know that Doncaster is home to the St. Leger Horse Race. Within Doncaster many places are linked with the name ‘Leger’. There are roads and even the local public bus company with the name Leger. I guess the original owners of the travel agencies named the company Leger for that reason.
How many people worked for Leger in the beginning?
In the beginning it was just my dad and mum, plus some part time work from me and a little bit of help from the travel agency staff. As I said, the business was started whilst I was away at University and, in fact, the company’s first office was my bedroom, which was transformed whilst I was away with a couple of desks, telephones and even a telex. Not many students found they’d been evicted when they got home at the end of the first term!
What was the first tour that Leger ran?
The first tours were 6 and 7-day holidays to the Austrian Tyrol. The ferry crossings we used to use were overnight from Felixstowe to Ostend and we even used Belgian coaches, as in those days standards of coaches were higher in Europe than they were in England. Also, getting to Dover used to be a lot more difficult than it is now as this was before the days of the M25, so, as much as we complain now about traffic, getting through the outskirts of London was even harder then.
When did you become involved in the business?
In the early days I helped out during my University holidays, but I joined properly on 28 February 1989. Sadly my dad died suddenly in 1993, so I’ve been running the business ever since.
How has the company changed during the last 30 years?
Well, to start with its much bigger. Today we offer more than 180 different holiday itineraries throughout Europe and even the World. However, apart from 30 years of constantly striving to do things better, I think we still retain much of the original philosophy of what my father started: offering good value, well planned holidays to interesting and exciting destinations. The other major change has been the innovation of our Silver Service coaches. We recognise that the comfort of the coach part of our holidays is very important and so, 10 years ago, we introduced our Silver Service coaches for the first time, not really knowing whether we were doing the right thing. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and today we have 28 Silver Service coaches.
What is your all-time favourite Leger tour and why?
It’s hard to pick one tour specifically as different tours mean different things for different reasons. On the one hand I’m very proud of our Battlefield tours and I think the emotion anybody experiences on the tours of Ypres and the Somme are difficult to express. I’m also proud of how we brought some new destinations within the reach of our customers, in particular our Rome, Pompeii and Capri tour, where we ‘discovered’ a spa town in southern Italy that offered a great location for touring Rome and its surroundings but at a very affordable price. We’ve been going there now for over 20 years. If I was forced to pick one tour, then for now it would be back to our roots, the Austrian Tyrol. I love the beauty of the scenery, the food and the hospitality of the people.
High in the Pyrenees Mountains, bordered by Spain and France you’ll find the small, yet stunning country of Andorra. The delightful Andorra la Vella, is the highest capital city in Europe, being at an elevation of 1023 metres. Whilst here many of you will enjoy the shopping, especially since Andorra has the status of a tax haven, the scenery is also a highlight – there are towering peaks, lush green meadows and deep gorges dotted with remote mountain villages. Our ‘Andorra ‘Haven’ of the Pyrenees’ tour would be a great way to see the area, plus it includes a visit to the Catalan capital of Barcelona.
The city of Barcelona ranks as Spain’s most visited city and is well known for the various works of art-nouveau architect, Antoni GaudÃ. He is perhaps best-known for the immense, but still unfinished Sagrada FamÃlia church, which has been under construction since 1882. A popular area of Barcelona is Las Ramblas, a pedestrian street in the centre of the city. It’s the ideal place to people watch and take a stroll, and there are dozens of outdoor cafes. Nearby is PlaÃ§a Real, a square in which you can buy traditional Catalan cuisine such as ‘Coques’, a kind of pizza, and ‘Pa amb tomÃ quet’, bread with tomato and olive oil. If you fancy a full day in Barcelona and visits to other Spanish sights, try our Barcelona and Spectacular Spain tour and if you’re travelling individually but don’t want to be on your own, we have a very similar tour especially for single travellers.
Medieval province of Catalonia
Further up the Catalonian coast and inland, is Girona. The old town stands on the steep hill of the Capuchins, while the more modern section stands on the plains. You’ll get to see the stunning cathedral, which is one of the most important monuments and is an excellent example of Spanish Gothic architecture. The city wall of the old town was an important military construction built in Roman times in the 1st century BC, and today you can walk the entire length of the wall and climb the towers to enjoy panoramic views of Girona and the surrounding countryside.
Sun, sand and sangria
Along the Catalonian coast lies the Costa Brava, a place more for relaxation than city sightseeing. Costa Brava as a holiday destination has a combination of a very good summer climate, nature and excellent beaches. One of the most popular holiday destinations is Lloret de Mar, where you can relax with a glass of sangria in hand, on the main beach which is consistently awarded the Blue Flag for cleanliness.
To chill out on the Costa Brava and Costa Moresme and enjoy some sightseeing our Highlights of the Spanish Coast and Barcelona tour might just be the holiday for you.
Historical Montserrat and Andalucia
Further down the coast we come to Montserrat, which is well-known as the site of the Benedictine monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat, a very important religious retreat. This is certainly a sight to see as the monastery is set high in the mountains.
In the south of Spain we have the region of Andalucia, and within that, Seville, the artistic, cultural, and financial capital of southern Spain. Here you’ll see the Cathedral of Saint Mary, which is Roman Catholic and the largest Gothic cathedral and third largest church in the world. An equally imposing building for you to visit is the AlcÃ¡zar of Seville, a royal palace that dates from the 12th Century. If you want to see three Andalucian gems our Seville, Cordoba & Granada by Air tour is the perfect choice.
‘Live in the moment’ Madrid
Right in the centre of Spain is the capital city of Madrid. It is a cosmopolitan city very different from other well known cities around the world, as although the architecture is beautiful there’s no Eiffel Tower, no Colosseum, no Gaudi-inspired buildings to photograph. Madrid is an idea, a way of life that is about ‘living in the moment’, and once you are here it is hard to resist. Madrid has a feast of fine restaurants and tapas bars, exceptional live music and astonishing art galleries, all waiting for you to enjoy. Plus, explore the beautiful muralled buildings which line Plaza Mayor in Old Madrid, and take a leisurely stroll around magnificent Retiro Park. Our Grand Tour of Spain & Portugal is the ideal choice if you want to visit Madrid and many other great cities.
If you would like to discover more of Spain with Leger Holidays you can view our full collection of Spanish breaks here.
Images courtesy of flickr user Moyan Brenn
Brendan Sheerin, is without doubt, the â€˜larger than lifeâ€™ star of Channel 4’s reality TV show, Coach Trip. As long-suffering Tour Guide on the show, Brendanâ€™s 30+ years of tour guiding experience has certainly come in handy. We spoke to him to find out why he still loves coach travel after so many years in the business.
WHAT ARE YOU UP TO?
Iâ€™m in Spain now, looking out at the palm trees. Itâ€™s a bit wet because thereâ€™s a storm coming through. Iâ€™m getting ready to fly to Havana on Friday. Iâ€™ve always wanted to do Cuba â€“ this is my holiday. Iâ€™m being picked up at the airport by the Secretary to the Ambassador of Belize in Cuba. Itâ€™s not what you know, itâ€™s who you know [laughing].
Donâ€™t get me wrong, Iâ€™ve planned my itinerary â€“ Iâ€™ve got about three or four nights in Havana, then Iâ€™m flying down to a small island for snorkeling; I love anything aquatic. Iâ€™m really getting into my swimming to get fit for the next series of Coach Trip. Iâ€™ll aim to get a bit of a tan and then return to Havana for four more nights. Iâ€™m staying at the Hotel Nacional: itâ€™s the best hotel in Cuba. Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck, Winston Churchill and all the big stars have stayed there, and now me â€“ not bad for a lad from Hunslet, eh?
WHY DO YOU THINK COACH HOLIDAYS ARE APPEALING?
I think itâ€™s more of an adventure, travelling by coach; your holiday starts as soon as you get on. You might go to Austria for example: you get on at your local stop, work your way down to the south of England, head through Belgium or France â€“ you see far more. If you made the same trip by plane, you board at the airport and see nothing but clouds!
Also, travelling in general still makes some people a wee bit nervous. When you holiday by coach, youâ€™re looked after from the moment you join the tour right up until you disembark. Not just that, you get to meet like-minded people; thereâ€™s usually a great sense of camaraderie amongst passengers.
DO YOU OFTEN SEE THAT CAMARADERIE BETWEEN THE COUPLES ON COACH TRIP?
I do, well, the thing is, they all get along on the surface. But, when it comes to vote time, the claws are out! It can surprise you â€“ you’ve got to remember that itâ€™s a game.
The young students start networking as soon as they get on board â€“ they watch the series and they know what to do because theyâ€™re very savvy. It takes the older passengers a while to cotton on and get going; by the time they do, they could be thrown off or have a yellow card at least!
Everyoneâ€™s looking for a reason to vote you out and you need to be aware of that.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT COACH TOUR GUIDE?
Youâ€™ve got to have a genuine interest in the places you visit and have lots of knowledge of the local history, geography, art etc. Thereâ€™s no point showing a cathedral in France and not know what Gothic means. Itâ€™s no good going to Reims if you donâ€™t know how important their champagne is to their economy. Itâ€™s no good going to Florence if you donâ€™t know about Michelangelo!
If youâ€™ve got a natural enthusiasm for all these things, it makes a big difference, especially when you visit some locations so often. I used to work on the Costa Brava, taking groups to Barcelona every Thursday; the trick is to keep energy levels up, make your enthusiasm contagious. Even though youâ€™re doing it week in and week out, your passengers are there for a holiday and are excited to see all these sights.
As a tour guide, the most important thing is caring about your passengers; youâ€™ve got to be a â€˜people personâ€™ and know how to communicate with everyone.
I remember once, at the airport, my driver and I were waiting for a coach load and a series of boxes suddenly started to appear on the luggage carousel. I went to investigate: they were all hatboxes! I had a Lord and a Lady on my tour. It was a complete surprise but, at the end of the day, youâ€™ve got to handle a Lord and Lady in the same way you might do a miner from Barnsley â€“ everyoneâ€™s important to a good guide.
You should never underestimate anyoneâ€™s little foibles or needs either; even a little problem can spoil someoneâ€™s holiday.
COULD YOU OFFER ANY TIPS TO ANYONE THINKING ABOUT BECOMING A TOUR GUIDE?
As a piece of advice to any guide just starting out, all I can say is never tell a lie. If someone onboard asks you the name of a mountain range, donâ€™t make it up, telling them â€œWhy, itâ€™s the Costa Brava mountains, Madameâ€, for example. â€œItâ€™s the Mont Seineâ€ or â€œitâ€™s the Pyreneesâ€ or whatever.
She might be a Professor of Geography â€“ everydayâ€™s like having a mystery shopper on board! Just be honest, say â€œIâ€™m sorry, I donâ€™t know but I will find out for you.â€
HOW DID YOU END UP BEING THE BRITISH TOUR GUIDE ON THE REALITY TV SHOW COACH TRIP?
Iâ€™ve worked in tourism since I was eighteen; itâ€™s been my life. I came back to live in England some years ago and started working for Scarborough Tourism Board. It was great. I became good friends with the manager and got to use my languages because there were always a lot of foreign students and tourists about.
I was asked to run the spa complex on the seafront which suited me fine; I loved all the history. I would show people around to book conferences â€“ sometimes theyâ€™d spend a lot of money, it was quite an important role because that sort of money was the lifeblood of the town. On the odd occasion where we had a VIP in Scarborough, I would jump on a bus and take them to see Whitby, Scarborough, Filey, the moors and then Robin Hoodâ€™s Bay.
My boss at the time received an email from a production company looking for a tour guide and she said Iâ€™d be perfect for TV. I was a bit of a character, still am really. So, I filled in the form, emailed it to London and the team got in touch. It all happened so quickly and was pretty manic. I got asked for a photograph then I had to go through a questionnaire over the phone talking about my highs, my lows, my career, all that carry on. Others would call to ask me the same questions all through the day. Theyâ€™d ask me to come down to London â€“ Iâ€™d have to tell them I couldnâ€™t. I mean, I was working!
Anyway, I got there eventually for an interview. There were about eight or nine people firing questions at me, looking over my CV and pointing a camera in my face, but I was just myself and they seemed happy.
SO, WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THAT?
The first step was the pilot; we needed to see whether the camera would spin round, check there wouldnâ€™t be too much background noise from the engine or air conditioning. We filmed with only 8 to 10 people from London to Oxford and visited Longleat Safari Park, Oxford city centre for the vote, had a pub lunch and ended up back in London.
I was more interested in Oxford than the vote. I always say Iâ€™m like the country Switzerland: neutral. The red and yellow cards have been in my pocket ever since though. If the service isnâ€™t any good at a shop, I give them out there and then!
Once the pilot was all wrapped up it was sent to Channel 4 because theyâ€™d have a big say in the series. Adam, who was the commissioner at that time, was happy to go ahead, so we filmed Series One with real passengers. Nobody had ever filmed anything like it before and it was a lot of hard work until Noel Edmonds came along with Deal or No Deal; Coach Trip was shelved for a wee bit until the new commissioner came in. At her say so, we were back to it, filming Series Three and it just took off â€“ mad.
HOW DID CELEBRITY COACH TRIP COMPARE WITH THE ONES WHICH USE MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC?
Celebrities are quite easy to workwith, no matter what activities we do on the trip. Our other passengers are a bit quiet â€“ it takes them a day or two to come out of their shell. With actors and actresses, theyâ€™re much bigger personalities and quick to respond.
If you want them to sing, theyâ€™ll sing. If you want them to dance, theyâ€™ll dance. Wherever the camera is, theyâ€™ll want to be there. I suppose members of the public are shyer and it takes a while to get to know them. The celebrities are the complete opposite â€“ ask them to strip naked and they would (and they do.) Theyâ€™re not phased by anything; they know what the Directorâ€™s job is and what the Producer does because they work with them all the time. Members of the public take a little while to find out who does what and wonder â€œwhy is that camera in my flipping face?â€ Itâ€™s a wee bit easier with celebrities even if they do all vie for the attention.
DO THE CELEBRITIES HAVE A DIFFERENT ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE VOTING?
Oh no! I still think theyâ€™re very competitive. You can see feathers ruffled during the day and it all comes out in the vote; theyâ€™re quite ruthless.
In fact, Alex Fearns from EastEnders and Imogen from Big Brother really fell out. Cheryl Baker hated David Van Day too â€“ he lasted twelve hours and then he was gone. Unfortunately, so was Tony Blackburn. It was a real shame, he was a perfect gent.
IF YOU COULD INVITE FIVE PEOPLE TO TRAVEL ON YOUR FANTASY COACH TRIP, WHO WOULD THEY BE?
I think Iâ€™d like Victoria Wood and Julie Walters. As a couple, theyâ€™d be absolutely brilliant; theyâ€™re so witty and full of laughter. Iâ€™d like Alan Bennett too â€“ heâ€™s a wonderful playwright, heâ€™s from Leeds and I love him. Maeve Binchy â€“ I like her novels, Iâ€™d have her on. Lastly, to round it all off: Abba. I have very fond memories of Abba.
HOW MANY LANGUAGES CAN YOU SPEAK? DID YOU STUDY THEM OR PICK THEM UP ON YOUR TRAVELS?
I speak Spanish every day. I live in Spain and I donâ€™t have any of the satellite channels or watch the BBC. Sometimes, I wonâ€™t speak English for three or four days. Spanish is my first language now, really.
When I first started in tourism, no-one on the Costa Brava spoke English â€“ you had to speak Spanish to everyone. In the villages they actually spoke Catalan, itâ€™s the language of the four provinces of Catalonia â€“ Girona, Barcelona, Lleida and Tarragona â€“ and I originally learned from that.
One of the girls I worked with had a dreadful accident. She was sent home and I had to take on her duties, going to the airport on the coach and leaving the office. They didnâ€™t want to fly anyone else over from England because it was mid season â€“ there were probably only three or four months left.
Sitting with a Spanish coach driver and not being able to speak with him was so frustrating. Iâ€™m Irish, I like to talk. I started to learn bits so I could communicate and the drivers would teach me things too. I studied French at school and I was very very good at it. When I got to Corpus Christi College in Leeds, I shouldâ€™ve carried on with it but I loved Geology and I loved Geography and I couldnâ€™t do all three. Itâ€™s a bit rusty now but Iâ€™m fine once I get going.
And then of course Italian; I understand a bit â€“ every Latin based language is quite similar though really.
YOU MUST HAVE SO MANY STORIES FROM ALL YOUR TRAVELS. WOULD YOU EVER WRITE A BOOK ABOUT THEM, OR AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY?
Maybe by Christmas there might be something. Iâ€™m beavering away getting all-sorts of things sorted. Watch this space!
Whether you’re travelling alone or with friends, you’re always in good company on a Leger Single Traveller holiday.
You can enjoy the great atmosphere of travelling in a group with like-minded people or savour the time on your own – the choice is yours.
What’s more our great-value holidays for Single Travellers feature:
? Door-to-Door travel on coach tours
? No single supplement
? Sole use of your own room at no extra cost
? Travel by SILVER SERVICE luxury coach
? Welcome drink
? Tour host or services of a Leger representative during your stay
Steve Cowley has travelled on Singles holidays with Leger several times now. Here, he tells us what makes a Leger Single Traveller holiday the right choice for him…
I’ve been back for five more since my first Leger ‘Singles’ Holiday in 2006, visiting Austria, Prague, Vienna and Budapest and Italy. To me a holiday is important, a getaway to relax and forget about the everyday things happening back home and at work, especially when you are ‘single’. Leger really care that your holiday is something special and they do their best to ensure it meets your expectations. They’ve done it for me!
My Next Holiday
In October I’m off on the Italian and French Riviera trip. I’m looking forward to this one – another new area to explore – maybe I could visit the Casino in Monte Carlo and win a few Euros to pay for next year’s holiday… now where shall I go next???Steve Cowley, Pontefract
Our Single Traveller Holidays are proving more and more popular each year, so we have added a new great-value tour
for 2013. The Rhineland and Austrian Tyrol 9-day holiday is available now from only Â£859pp.
Join one of our Single Traveller holidays this year, for fond memories, great holiday experiences and new-found friends!
France is said to be the most visited country in the world, which is hardly surprising when you think of its incredible mountain scenery, delightful sandy beaches, stunning royal chÃ¢teaux, amazing historic sights, plus romantic Paris as its capital.
Where better to go for a weekend break and recharge your batteries. Its landmarks are incredible and include the world famous Eiffel Tower, the most visited paid monument in the world, which stands 324 metres tall – around the same height as an 81-storey building. Other popular monuments in Paris include Notre Dame, a Gothic cathedral in the centre of Paris on the River Seine, and the Arc de Triomphe, which honours those who fought for France.
Art and Architecture
On the western outskirts of the city are the truly breathtaking Chateau and Gardens of Versailles. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city you can take a stroll through the gardens and see the opulence and grandeur of the Chateau, one of the finest achievements of French art in the seventeenth century.
On the subject of art, the Impressionist painter Claude Monet had a rural retreat in the small French village of Giverny, just 80 km to the west of Paris. The house and gardens, made famous by Monet’s ‘Water Lillies’ paintings, have been restored to their original designs. Planned out meticulously so that a different colour would dominate each month, the beautiful shades and shapes ensure the gardens are a delight at any time of year.
If flora and fauna are your pleasure then the Loire Valley is the ideal destination for you – an enchanted land of vineyards, flowers and rolling green hills dotted with more than a thousand chateaux.
Admire France’s stunning scenery and wine-growing areas from the water on a cruise along the river RhÃ´ne in the South of France. It’s the ideal way to experience the colourful history of this area.
Along the river you can visit delightful Avignon, surrounded by ramparts and perched on a rock overlooking the river. Avignon is famous for being the city to which the Popes fled when leaving the corruption of Rome in the 14th century, and the palace they built, ‘Le Palais des Papes,’ or the palace of popes, is the world’s largest Gothic edifice. The ramparts themselves were erected to keep the plague and invaders out during the turbulent middle ages.
For those of you attracted to striking scenery and charming villages then the Auvergne in the heart of France is your ideal holiday destination and home to no less than eleven of the 150 villages ranked as ‘the most beautiful villages of France’ teeming with heritage, history and stunning architecture. Sparsely populated, The Auvergne boasts beautiful valleys, large expanses of coniferous forests, and spectacular hillscapes and is a region much appreciated by ramblers and nature lovers, as well as by people in search of a holiday away from the crowds.
A Land of Contrasts
An area of France which has certainly become very popular is Normandy in the west of the country, with its rolling hills, sandy beaches and quiet little harbour towns. More significantly, this is where you can visit the landing beaches, battlegrounds, military cemeteries and museums of D-Day. Only by seeing it all for yourself and having it explained by a Specialist Battlefield Guide can you ever really begin to understand the depths of the sacrifices made and the heroism involved. You can visit the British Sector at places such as Pegasus Bridge, Ranville Commonwealth Cemetery and Merville Gun Battery, plus there’s the American Sector with sights such as the cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, Utah
Beach, plus the headland of Pointe du Hoc.
With a country offering so many diverse and wonderful sights and destinations, knowing where to start is perhaps the hardest choice! You can view Leger’s full selection of holidays in France on our website now.
Spaghetti bolognese or ‘spag bol’ as it’s often known, is one of Italy’s most loved exports but the dish we all know and love has come a long way from its humble beginnings in Bologna, Italy.
Below we will show you how to create an authentic spaghetti bolognese that will feed four and take a little over two hours to create!
What you’ll need
2 large, chopped onions
3 crushed garlic cloves
2 chopped carrots
6 strips of pancetta
A stick of celery
1kg of steak mince
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
Salt & pepper
800g of tagliatelli
How to cook it
Heat a large glug of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and fry the bacon until golden.
Throw in the onions and garlic and cook until they have softened.
Increase the heat and add the mince, cook until browned.
Pour in two glasses of red wine and cook until the sauce has reduced by a third.
Lower the temperature and add the tomatoes, celery and a pinch of salt.
Cover the pan and allow to cook for around 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Cook the spaghetti in salted water. Once cooked drain the water off and dish the pasta onto your plates.
Add your bolognese sauce to the top of the pasta before finishing with a pinch of pepper and a grating of parmesan.
Make it even more authentic
If you would like to make your bolognese dish even more authentic why not try using some thick tagliatelle pasta instead of spaghetti? According to Italian traditionalists, any bolognese sauce should be accompanied by tagliatelle pasta and not spaghetti!
Image courtesy of flickr user avlxyz.
Below we take a closer look at our Grand Explorer tour of Majorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands and, along with its sister islands of Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera, lies in the Mediterranean Sea off the east coast of mainland Spain.
Since the 1950’s Majorca has been an extremely popular spot for tourists, especially from the UK and Germany, owing to the climate, the mix of old architecture and new entertainment facilities, and beautiful sandy beaches lapped by clear blue waters. Furthermore, many celebrities holiday in Majorca and some even own private holiday homes, so do not be surprised if you see some famous faces!
During your first day of sightseeing you’ll visit Pollenca. The sheltered horseshoe shaped bay is set against the stunning backdrop of the Tramuntana mountain range. You’ll wander around the picturesque medieval streets lined with ochre coloured stone houses, which lead to the main square Placa Major. The square is dominated by a large 13th century church EsglÃ¨sia de Nostra Senyora dels Ã€ngels (translated to Our Lady of the Angels) and there are numerous outdoor cafes.
One of Pollenca’s most distinctive features is the 365 step stairway north of the square, which leads up to a chapel on top of the hill known as Calvary. On Good Friday this is the setting for the most dramatic parade of the year, which includes a mock crucifixion on top of the hill after which the figure of Christ is ceremonially removed from the cross and then paraded through the town, led by hundreds of people in cloaks, masks and pointed hats and done in total silence save for the slow beating of a drum.
From Pollenca we drive along the stunning Cabo de Formentor Road, regarded as Majorca’s most beautiful peninsula. 260 metres up on the hill there is the Cabo Formentor lighthouse, which enjoys an unforgettable panorama of the Mediterranean. The day is rounded off with a visit to Alcudia. The old town has a 14th century wall and there are remains of a Roman town just outside the town walls, in front of the Church of St. Jaume. North of the wall is a bull ring, although now most fights are mock fights.
Halfway through your holiday you have the option to visit Palma, the capital of Majorca, for the day. Almost half of the total population of Majorca lives in Palma. The huge Gothic cathedral overlooks the waterfront and the city’s ancient buildings reflect its rich and varied history.
Palma boasts wide palm-lined promenades dotted with pavement cafes, with the main hub being the Passeig des Born. This avenue has some great cafes for lunch, many with a view of the cathedral, and you’ll also find some good shops along here. If our sightseeing tour is not for you then a morning shopping, coffee at one of the cafes and then a stroll down Passeig des Born to the harbour for lunch overlooking the water is a delightful way to spend a sunny day.
Another of our optional excursions is La Costa Rocosa (the Rocky Coast). In the north west we head to Camp de Mar and then to the small town of Andratx, which enjoys a privileged location amid a valley of almond groves in the shadow of the Puig de Galatzo, which rises to 1026 metres.
Continuing through the mountains, we reach Estellenchs, a true taste of the real Majorca, facing the sea and backed by the peaks of the Tramuntana Mountains.
We continue to nearby Banyalbufar, where the slopes have been terraced into stepped Marjades and where olives, vines and almonds are grown. Later, we visit the old mountain towns of Deia and Valldemossa. It is highly likely you’ll see a famous face in Daia, with its idyllic landscape and orange and olive groves on steep cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean.
Virgin Records mogul Richard Branson, has a luxury residence in the town, and his label’s stars have often visited the village and sometimes jammed at the local bar, ‘Sa Fonda’. Other famous inhabitants include Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones.
If you’re wondering where to buy those holiday souvenirs and gifts then maybe you’ll find something nice to buy on your included visit to the market in Arta. This hilltop town is very picturesque and its main attraction is the Sanctuary of Sant Salvador with its walled grounds, which over look the town. The weekly market is a lovely place to browse and have a coffee and ensaimada (a Majorcan speciality of a spiral of pastry dusted with icing sugar).
We then continue to the legendary Coves del Drac (Dragon Caves). The stalagmites and stalactites are spectacular and cover the roof and base of the cave. There is a massive natural amphitheatre and one of the world’s largest underground lakes, Lago de Martel, plus you are treated to classical music by the musicians on the boat. The day is rounded off nicely with a visit to Manacor, famous for furniture manufacture and excellent artificial pearls.
Also on our Majorca Uncovered tour, on your journey to Majorca, you’ll enjoy a full day in the diverse city of Barcelona. If you join the optional guided tour you’ll see stunning sights such as Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, the awe-inspiring cathedral, and Las Ramblas, a treelined pedestrian boulevard packed with living statues, mime artists and people selling everything from lottery tickets to jewellery.
The River Rhine is arguably one of Europeâ€™s most beautiful waterways and because of this it has captivated visitors for over 200 years.
It is like something straight out of a picture book – medieval castles perched on virtually every hilltop, pretty villages lining the river banks, quaint half timbered buildings, precipitous cliffs and lush vine clad slopes.
The Rhine has more castles along its length than any other river in the world and they are seen as such a characteristic feature of the river landscape. The castles were built in the Middle Ages by powerful rulers, on hilltops and in the lowlands as moated castles, to protect estates and their inhabitants. Therefore they were seen as purely defensive structures. However it cannot be denied that some are rather breathtaking and many visitors today see them as objects of mystery, splendour and romanticism.
A well known focal point along the Rhine, on the Eastern side, is The Lorelei (also spelt Loreley). It is a rock which soars some 120 metres above the waterline and marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea.
Lorelei is also the name of one of the beautiful Rhine maidens who, according to legend, sat upon the rock and lured passing navigators to their doom with her alluring singing, much like the Sirens of ancient Greek myth. A bronze statue of Lorelei overlooks the river. Thanks to its favourable geological location, the Rhine Valley is covered in vineyards, which were originally planted by the Romans.
During the day the sun warms the grapes on the vines and in the evening the golden wines sparkle in the glass. There isnâ€™t a royal house in Europe at whose table these wonderful wines have not been served. Imagine sitting on top deck of your cruise ship, cruising along the Rhine Gorge with a chilled glass of wine in hand, or sitting outside one of the river side cafes in a pretty Rhine town and sampling one or two of the different varieties.
The scenery along the Rhine is the stuff of dreams, and places like, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Boppard and Cologne epitomise the wonder and charm of this remarkable area.
Cochem is a village along the River Moselle, just off the Rhine, and is dominated by the late-Gothic imperial castle, as well as being dotted with medieval squares and lovingly restored timber-framed houses. The castle is 1,000 years old and stands more than 100 metres above the River.
Other places of interest in Cochem are the historical mustard mill (SenfmÃ¼hle) built around 1810 (the last one of its kind in Europe), the market square and the well preserved sections of old town walls.
On the famous Deutsches Eck (German Corner), where the Rhine and Moselle rivers meet, stands Koblenz. The town is set amidst four ranges of hills, and two thirds of the surrounding countryside consists of woods, open green spaces and water.
Koblenz is a â€˜small cityâ€™ with much to offer and just a quick stroll around the town highlights itâ€™s appeal â€“ the romantic narrow streets and historical squares, picturesque alleyways in the old quarter with the Romanesque Basilica of St. Kastor, plus the Ehrenbreitstein fortress, set high above the baroque town and one of the largest castles in Europe.
Not far from Koblenz is Boppard, which was once a Roman fort, and is seen as the heart and sole of this tourist area. The finest of wines originate here on the slopes of Bopparder Hamm, the largest loop of the Rhine. The wine is world-class and this is because of the fantastic location of the vineyard slopes, which are south facing, but also due to the many
hundreds of years of accumulated knowledge and experience passed down through generations of local wine producers.
A little further down river is RÃ¼desheim and one well known attraction is the Drosselgasse. This narrow street, just 144 metres long, is in the heart of RÃ¼desheim’s old town and attracts visitors from every continent. Live music, singing and dancing can be enjoyed in its wine taverns and gardens, which are open daily from late morning to the early hours.
Another place of interest is the Niederwald Monument, which commemorates the reestablishment of the German empire following the Franco- Prussian War of 1870/71.
The main figure is Germania, holding the imperial crown in her raised right hand and the imperial sword in her left hand. There is a marvellous view from the monument far into the countryside.
Cologne is at the top of the river and is renowned for its churches. You’ll find a unique ensemble of twelve large Romanesque collegiate and abbey churches, all true gems of medieval architecture, packed into a compact area within the medieval city walls.
The city is also know for its cathedral, which is the largest in Germany and a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Around Christmas time the imposing cathedral is lit up, whilst stalls selling traditional German crafts and food dominate the square below.
Did you know…
There are more than 150 castles in Germany. Some are still inhabited by aristocratic families, others have been transformed into hotels and restaurants, and some are in ruins.
The Berlin Wall was 103 miles long and 12 foot high. It was constructed in 1961 to provide a physical barrier between East and West Berlin, as the city had been divided into a Soviet occupational zone and a joint U.S., France, and Great Britain occupational zone after World War II, with each zone being governed by the country(ies) controlling it.
Brandenburg Gate is one of the most famous landmarks in Berlin. During the Cold War it stood in the land of nobody, in the middle of a restricted area next to the Berlin Wall and it was the symbol of division of the city into West and East.
It took more than 632 years (from 1248 to 1880) to build Germanyâ€™s most popular tourist attraction, the Cologne Cathedral.
You would have to try one kind of German bread per day for almost a whole year in order to be able to taste them all as there are over 300 different kinds of bread in Germany.
There are over 1,500 types of sausages, such as Frankfurters (mild), Nuremberg (which are served barbequed) and Bavaria sausages (white).
Germans really do love beer and rank second in world-wide beer consumption per person after Ireland. Beer is officially considered a food in Bayern, where the normal size beer glass is 1 litre. Germany is the cheapest place in Europe to buy beer, but also the most difficult in which to make a choice as there are over 1,500 different brands and types of beer in the country.
Dogs are kings in Germany and can go just about everywhere including restaurants, public transport and shops. They even have their own pools.
Germany is the home of the world-famous garden-gnome. In the mid 1800s, the first garden gnomes were made in Thuringia, Germany. They have spread via central and northern Europe as far as America and Australia and have admirers in all four corners of the world.
The first cuckoo clock was made in Germany in the early 17th century and the world’s largest cuckoo clock (as reported in the Guiness Book of records) can be seen in the small Black Forest town of SchÃ¶nach.
Images courtesy of flickr users: Michal Osmenda, Dittmeyer, Fugue.
Each year, European towns and cities play host to the charming, traditional Christmas markets. Festive stalls form a carpet of colour throughout many of the squares and cobbled streets, each selling unusual gifts and trinkets that your customers just can’t resist.
Dotted throughout the stalls, you will find tasty treats to tempt you as you stroll around: delicious German sausage; chips with mayonnaise, a popular Belgian snack; hot roast nuts; and for those customers with a sweet tooth, there are so many mouth-watering snacks on offer: waffles with fresh cream; pancakes with chocolate – the list goes on.
Then there’s the seductive smell of GlÃ¼hwein that lures you over to the nearest stall, and ensures your customers are kept toasty throughout the day – for a few cents extra you can even keep your mug as a souvenir! Or why not try a scrumptious hot chocolate, towered high with whipped cream – but this is a European Christmas market – and this heavenly drink is made extra special with a dash of creamy Bailey’s or warming rum! Whether they fancy a nice brew, a local beer or mulled wine, there’s an abundance of beverages to choose from.
That’s one thing about a Christmas market – you can be sure your customers will never be hungry or thirsty!
If you’re stuck for Christmas gift ideas, look no further. The markets are brimming with quaint and wonderful souvenirs: hand-blown and colourful, painted baubles; unusual jewellery; festive decorations; a plentiful array of hats and scarves; snug slippers; traditional knit wear; novel ornaments; unusual candles; lovely leather goods – there’s so much to choose from for those last-minute Christmas gifts.
Great Choice of Short Breaks
Whether it’s cruising the magical markets of the Rhine Valley in Germany; visiting the cathedral city of Cologne with its six markets or taking in the largest underground market in the Dutch town of Valkenburg, we have a wonderful range of breaks, visiting some of the very best Christmas markets across Europe. We offer a range of 3 to 7-day breaks from only Â£129. You can find out more about our range of Christmas Market tours online now.
Eastern Europe was once a back water area recovering from communism, but in recent years it has become the hottest of
Below we list our four favourite areas in this huge and diverse region.
Budapest is the capital of Hungary and Hungarians are very proud of their city, owing to its contribution to European culture, especially in the field of music, a language one doesnâ€™t need to speak to appreciate.
The city is divided into 23 numbered districts, which are written in Roman numerals but can more simply be divided into the two parts, which comprise Buda and Pest, with the romantic Danube River running through the middle.
Buda is the hilly west side, which is thought to be the most charming, with its cobbled streets and medieval buildings. From Buda you can enjoy a wonderful view of the city, river and mountains, plus visit the Citadella, a huge stone fortress, and the Royal Palace, which was bombed during the Second World War and rebuilt thereafter.
Pest is the flat, east side of the Danube and is the modern commercial core of the city. After exploring Buda and Pest, you can end the trip with a relaxing boat ride along the delightful River Danube and see all the sights from the water.
Warsaw â€“ Destroyed and Rebuilt
Walking through Warsawâ€™s pristine Old Town and Royal Castle area, youâ€™d think the city had enjoyed a comfortable existence for the past 200 years, but youâ€™d be wrong. At the end of World War II, almost the entire city lay in rubble and ruin.
However historic buildings, palaces, churches and architectural complexes were all reconstructed with great care, and today, Polandâ€™s capital is a thriving, dynamic and progressive city, the epitome of a Polish nation firmly fixed on the future.
UNESCO appreciated Warsawâ€™s monuments and relics, and therefore honoured the city by putting the Historic Centre of Warsaw on the World Heritage List, and at the end of the visit you will have to agree that Polandâ€™s capital really is a gem.
Moscow â€“ A Sight to be Seen
Home to many iconic buildings from Russiaâ€™s extremely colourful past, Moscow is deservedly the Russian capital.
Embodying everything Russian, Moscow is filled with sights so big, bright and colourful that they are hard to imagine unless youâ€™ve seen them for real.
For the larger part of eight centuries, the Kremlin, at the very heart of Moscow, has been the seat of power for the grand princes, tsars and most recently presidents, as well as an important religious site. The Kremlin is now one of the biggest museums in the world, which, in its chambers and cathedrals, houses state regalia of Russia, invaluable icons and treasures of Russian tsars.
For Westerners, the adjacent Red Square, especially the bulbous, multicoloured domes of St. Basilâ€™s Cathedral, have been an image synonymous with the Soviet Union and Russian state. Combine seeing these famous sights with a boat cruise along the Nava River and a night at the ballet for a truly memorable trip.
Did you know…
PRAGUEâ€™S famous castle has been the home to a Czech King, President and even Roman Emperor and is also able to boast the largest castle area in the world. Itâ€™s a whopping 18 acres in total, with numerous courtyards and subsidiary buildings in its grounds.
The Czechs drink more beer per capita than other country in the world. Each head will sink about 43 gallons a year on average.
A major attraction of BUDAPEST is the 80 geothermal springs and the city also has the worldâ€™s largest thermal water cave system, second largest synagogue and third largest Parliament building.
WARSAW is one of the tallest cities in Europe with 11 of the tallest skyscrapers in Poland being located in the city. The tallest structure, Palace of Culture and Science, is the 7th tallest building in the EU.
BUDAPEST is designated as one of the top 100 most liveable cities in the world.
RUSSIA covers 1/7th of the total land of our planet and neighbours more countries than any other country on earth.
WARSAW is known as the â€˜phoenix cityâ€™, as it rose from the ashes when rebuilt after being destroyed during World War II.
Images courtesy of flickr users thisisbossi, comzerrad, Moyan Brenn, Dario Garivini.