Christmas Markets: ‘Tis (almost) the Season

As the old Wizard track goes, we really do wish it could be Christmas every day. There’s just something about the cold winter nights, the twinkling lights and the smell of roasting chestnuts filling the air.

While we seem to be heading through this year at colossal speed, it does give us one thing that we can really start to look forward to… Christmas market season!
Yes, before we know it, we’ll be gearing our coaches up to send them on their merry way into the continent, taking all of our lovely passengers to their exciting holidays visiting the best Christmas markets.
But, if you’re still looking for a trip to some of the best Christmas markets in Europe, here’s where our Christmas markets by coach and air will be heading in 2016.

Germany

Berlin Christmas Markets
Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas market season without a great selection of German markets. Big cities and twinkling lights, from Berlin to Cologne, you can really get the traditional Christkindlmarkt experience.
Dipping into the lesser known destinations, we’ll visit the markets of the Rhine Valley and the small yet perfectly formed resorts such as Monschau.
With plenty of Glühwein, stollen and steins, even Berlin’s toboggan run, there’s heaps of fantastic festive fun to be found in Germany.

Austria

Salzburg Christmas Markets
The Austrian lake district, Innsbruck and of course, Salzburg. We’re ticking off all of the top destinations in Austria.
Whilst Austria shares many traditions with its Bavarian neighbour, one thing you can count on is the romance of it all. The picturesque settings of the small towns can easily outweigh the big city buzz if you’re after something more cosy and scenic for you and your partner.
Even if you’re heading out to the markets solo, with so much to enjoy and the abundance of Christmas spirit, you certainly won’t feel lonely.

Belgium

Bruges Christmas Market
The master of beer and chocolate, enjoy some tasty festive treats and say hello to beautiful Belgium. From picturesque Bruges to the heart of Brussels, stay in style as you combine the most popular Belgian Christmas markets with 5-star luxury hotels!
We’ve even got you covered if you’re looking for something a bit more off the beaten track, heading to Ypres and the underground cave markets of Valkenburg.
So, get your hands on some jenever (gin), Glühwein, and some tasty deep fried sweet dumplings, oliebollen, and get into the true spirit of Christmas in Belgium.

Denmark

Copenhagen Christmas Market
Fancy some Danish flavouring this Christmas? We’ll also be heading off to Copenhagen’s fabulous Christmas markets, including the picturesque Tivoli Gardens, set in the downtown area of Denmark’s capital city. The gardens will be host to a true Nordic atmosphere with wooden huts, Christmas lights and even Father Christmas’ reindeer.
With spectacular illuminations and Danish treats aplenty, it’s the perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy the festive atmosphere with a mug of spiced grogg.
But, that’s not all! See where else we will be heading this festive season, all of our Christmas market tours by coach are available to book now. Click here for more info.

Fall for Autumn: 5 Reasons to Travel in Autumn

 With the hectic summer holiday travel period over for another year, and a few more months to wait until our festive holidays kick off, you could be forgiven for thinking that autumn can be pretty dull.

But, it’s not a season for sitting at home twiddling your thumbs. We think it’s time to get out and about and embrace the new season! And, here’s a little secret, travelling throughout September and October could actually prove to be the best time to feed your wanderlust. Why? Well, here’s what we think makes travelling in autumn amazing!

1. The big summer getaway is over!

Train crossing bridge in Switzerland
Yes, we’ve already mentioned it, but summer really is the busiest time to travel. And, as you can imagine, with 58% of Brits looking to get away over the same period, it can prove to be quite hectic. With dreaded traffic jams, busy ports and airports, and the school holidays in full swing, autumn definitely has the upper hand.
Of course, when passenger numbers drop, things tend to flow more smoothly. You’ll be swiftly through passport control and on your way. Team that up with an escorted tour where everything is taken care of for you, it’s a perfect combination, if we do say so ourselves.

2. There are less tourists!

Autumn in Belgium
If you’ve got the flexibility to travel whenever you like, you really can take advantage of the off-peak season in your favourite European destinations. Not only does it mean there are less people around, less hustle and bustle, and a better chance of getting to see everything you set out to, but you may be able to grab some great deals, too!
With the foot fall to major attractions dwindling once the seasons change, some will drop their entry prices to a more attractive price. So, you may have a few more Euros to play around with whilst you’re there.

3. It’s cooler.

Brussels
Now, don’t get us wrong, us fellow Brits, we know that every bit of sunshine and warm weather should be cherished. But, as the summer fades out, we can really enjoy Europe, with more bearable temperatures. Perfect for sightseeing!
Forget about overheating, with cooler air and weaker sun rays, sightseeing can be a whole lot more pleasant. And, that tasty Italian gelato won’t melt quite as quick.
And, when the temperature finally drops as we edge closer to winter, what could be finer than wandering around the likes of Paris and Bruges in a cosy coat, clutching a nice hot drink?

4. Wine lovers rejoice.

Grape Harvesting in Tuscany
With the cooler weather and the ripened vineyards, autumn is the time when European winemakers get to grips with grape picking.
Bustling with activity, between September and October, the annual wine harvest takes place throughout Europe.
Some travellers lend a hand and volunteer to work the harvest alongside locals, but it’s not expected. So, if you’re travelling through a wine region throughout autumn, why not contribute by treating yourself to a tipple or two?

5. Autumn is just simply beautiful.

Charles Bridge, Prague
The trees start to shed their leaves, leaving a carpet of oranges, reds, and the last remaining flickers of green. You can’t deny that autumn scenery is stunning.
With the low, hazy sunshine, a crispness in the air and the new hue of foliage, if you’re a keen photographer, or just looking for a stunning selfie, autumn has picture perfect scenery wherever you go.
Did you know, we’re heading to some exciting destinations throughout autumn? Why don’t you come along, too? See this season’s departures, here.

Our Top Destinations for the Food Fanatic

We know that sometimes, the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. And, although the majority of us travel with our hearts and our heads, with so much tasty food on offer all around the world… maybe we should travel with our stomachs too?

Different cultures bring a whole host of new flavours, whether its local produce or superb sea food, part of an adventure is learning how the locals live, and eat.
So, whether you see yourself as a super foodie, or you just appreciate the finer tasting things in life, then why not check out our top destinations for the best culinary experience.

Croatia

croatia
‘Jedi!’… Put down that lightsaber, we’re not talking Star Wars. One of the mouth-watering aspects of the Croatianculture is to eat, eat, eat! And, that’s exactly what ‘jedi’ means.
And, despite this seeming somewhat the wildcard entry, the people of Croatia are actually renowned for serving up some outstandingly good grub.
Their food has many influences, from the Italians, to the Turks and even the Hungarians, the Croatians have taken the best from the best to create one of the most delicious blends of cuisines in Europe!
‘Split’ in two (excuse the pun), if you’re enjoying time on the coast, you’ll be relishing coastal cuisine! Making the most of a fantastic array of seafood with dishes such as pašticada and black risotto – a must for seafood lovers.
It undoubtedly has a more Mediterranean taste, too, with olives, fresh bread and meats. In fact, the Croatians have been growing olives for centuries! It really is worth picking up a bottle of olive oil whilst you’re there.
If you’re inland, you’ll get a taste of their continental cuisines. Croatian pasta, stuffed peppers and hearty meat stews. It makes our mouths water just telling you about it.
Chicken and veal are two of the most popular protein offerings, and you can be sure to find lots of cheese, hearty sauces and pastry thrown in for good measure. A great offering after a long day touring.

France

france
Frogs legs and snails may not be at the top of your list of tasty treats to try, but they certainly top a lot of travellers ‘to-do’ lists when visiting France. But, beyond the daring feat of trying these unusual appetisers, the French really know their food.
The leaders in haute cuisine, their chefs are national celebrities. And, the culture of French food is certainly distinctive, with dishes popular all around the world such as Coq au Vin, crêpes and crème brûlée.
And, of course, if you’re on the search of flavoursome food, be sure that you get a taste of truffle. A pungent fungus that grows under trees, you can rely on the French to make it simply divine!
If you know what you like and you love your cheese, France actually has a different cheese for almost every day of the year. And, with ten billion baguettes baked in France every year, that’s a recipe for an incredible cheese sandwich!

Italy

italy
Italian cuisine has made its way into almost every country in the world, and we love it. From pizza to pasta and wine and even cheese, it’s part of our everyday life.
Italians don’t see food as just a means of survival, it’s about family, happiness and heritage. And, when you think us Brits are rather at home with a Sunday roast, Our continental cousins do one better.
It is said that a whopping 95% of Italians stay at home on Sunday afternoon, eating as much as humanly possible with their relatives. And, boy, do they mean it. The estimated annual pasta consumption is around 70 lbs per person!
With pizza originating it Naples, and tomato sauce first recorded in Italy in the late 18th century, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that Italian food all comes down to one tasty list of carb-laden menu.
But, you’d be wrong. There’s no such thing as ‘Italian food’. We Brits have cherry-picked dishes from around the country and created our own version of Italian cuisine. There are actually 20 regions in Italy, each with their own special cuisine. For example, your carbonara you might have enjoyed in Rome, may not be as easy to track down in Florence, down to it being a roman dish.
But, if that’s not just the best excuse to see more of Italy, then what is?

Spain

tapas
A tradition starting long ago in the city of Seville, of course you couldn’t sample the delights of Spain without trying a bit of tapas.
The word tapas actually derives from the Spanish word ‘tapar’ or in English, ‘to cover’. Where does ‘cover’ come in to tasty little snacks we hear you ask?
Well, originally tapas began life as slices of bread or meat, and Andalusians used them to cover their glasses of sherry to stop flies from getting in.
As Tapas has developed, it’s settled into the quintessentially Spanish lifestyle. Evening meals tend to be eaten between 9pm and 11pm which means that there’s a long period between lunch and dinner.
And, they sure do use this time constructively. Hopping from bar to bar, where small pieces of Tapas are served with drink orders. It’s just a nice way to keep guests comfortable whilst drinking in a bar. Or keep them there longer, whichever way you would like to look at it.
You might need something a little more filling, though. And, how could you turn down some authentic paella? With so many options, there really is a paella for everyone. Seafood, vegetable and, of course Valencian.
Valencia is the home of paella, so it would be just right to have a dished names after its birth place and using chicken, rabbit and garrofón beans, you’re in for a treat.
But, those are just our top foodie destination in Europe, what’s the tastiest country you’ve stayed in?
 

Paul Reed: Arnhem and Its Forgotten Battles

This month marks the annual commemoration of Operation Market Garden, a battle fought in Holland in September 1944.

And, normally associated in most people’s mind with the Dutch city of Arnhem, where the Airborne forces battled on bravely for nine days until it was clear the ground troops would never reach them, and just over 2,000 out of 10,000 men who were dropped on Arnhem got away over the Lower Rhine, either swimming through the rapid currents or evacuated in assault boats.
But what is the Battle of Arnhem? What is it about this aspect of Operation Market Garden we should remember and are there some forgotten battles of Arnhem during the Second World War?

Veterans at Arnhem70 in 2014
Veterans at Arnhem70 in 2014

Anyone of my generation, born in the 1960s, grew up on a diet of Airfix kits, battle action comics and war movies. One of the defining war films for me was always A Bridge Too Far and I went to see it countless times at our local cinema.
From an Arnhem point of view the focus is on the bridge, the final of the road bridges that need to be reached by the ground troops of XXX Corps to allow Operation Market Garden to be a success.
Arnhem Bridge 1944
Arnhem Bridge in 1944

But, is Arnhem just about the bridge? John Frost and his party of Airborne troops, which defended the bridge, went beyond the call of duty in holding on. But, the bigger battle, and the often forgotten one was that to the west of Arnhem, in Oosterbeek.
Walking round Oosterbeek today, it is a quiet suburb just as it was on the eve of WW2. There are some nice houses and clearly some wealthy people live here.
Go back more than 70 years, and this was the real Arnhem battleground. Bitter hand-to-hand fighting took place in gardens where children play, grenades tore apart front rooms now full of books and music, but you don’t have to look far to find railings bent by shrapnel or bullet nicks in the brickwork.
Battle damaged railings Oosterbeek
Battle damaged railings Oosterbeek

Here, in some respects, was the real Battle of Arnhem: urban warfare in and around the Oosterbeek perimeter, the place where most Arnhem veterans fought and where most of the casualties in the battle occurred.
Walking just beyond the Oosterbeek Perimeter you cross a railway bridge and follow a tree lined road to what many call the Airborne Cemetery.
Airborne graves at Arnhem
Airborne graves at Arnhem

More than 1,700 British and Commonwealth soldiers lie here, in a quiet glade, the majority of them the ‘Airborne carpet’, men of 1st Airborne Division who guard the dropzones for ever more. But, to the rear are other graves, from the final and perhaps most forgotten Battle of Arnhem: the one from April 1945 when Canadians supported by British troops liberated this part of the Netherlands.
This was the moment of victory and among the blood and sacrifice of Arnhem Bridge, it should never be forgotten and no trip to the battlefields here is really complete without following in the footsteps of all those men of Arnhem who passed this way in the last year of the war.
Arnhem Drop Zone
Arnhem Drop Zone

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Sightseeing as a Single Traveller – Rachel Wade Discovers the Mystical Cities of Central and Eastern Europe

You’re never too old (or too young!) for an adventure, as seasoned single traveller Rachel Wade discovered when she took on Leger’s Imperial Capitals – Prague, Vienna and Budapest tour.

This was my sixth solo Leger tour and by far the most ambitious, taking in three of Europe’s most beautiful cities – Prague, Budapest and Vienna. Thankfully, our friendly and helpful coach drivers, Richard and Shaun, were happy to help make our experience one we would never forget.
RachelBlog2_Prague
Our first destination was the Czech capital of Prague. While some of my fellow travellers joined a guided tour and boat cruise, I took to the city on foot to take in the stunning buildings, tempting shops and fascinating museums and galleries. The Jewish quarter and State Opera House were also well worth a visit, providing plenty of unique photo opportunities.
RachelBlog3_Bratislava
The following day we travelled to Hungary with a stop en route to the Slovakian capital of Bratislava. It was a vibrant and friendly city with many interesting streets to explore and an array of eateries serving everything from steak and lobster to vegan ice-cream! We finally arrived at our hotel in Buda directly opposite the glorious Hungarian Parliament building in Pest. What a way to begin our stay!
RachelBlog4_Budapest
We had the next day to explore Budapest at leisure, with an optional guided tour and boat cruise on offer. There were so many sights to soak up including the Fisherman’s Bastion, Cave Church, St. Stephen’s Basilica, and the famous baths. My favourite place was the Great Market Hall, which was crammed with all varieties of food, clothing and souvenir stalls – shopping heaven!
RachelBlog5_SchonbrunnPalaceGardens
Today we set off for Austria, stopping first in the Hungarian city of Győr – ideal for some last-minute shopping with our Hungarian Forints! We finally arrived in Vienna and were able to spend a couple of hours exploring the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace with its Baroque architecture, elegant gardens, and the oldest zoo in the world founded in 1752.
RachelBlog6_MuseumQuarterinVienna
Our final day had come all too quickly, but what a city to spend it in! Our coach dropped us off between the Vienna State Opera house and the Kunsthistorisches Museum; both incredible buildings displaying the historic and cultural heritage of the city. We spent the day exploring these and other iconic landmarks in the summer sunshine.
During our time in Europe we had travelled 2,300 miles, crossed seven different countries, used three currencies, heard multiple languages, and taken hundreds of photographs! But the memories each of us were taking home were countless. If you have a passion for exploring Europe’s finest cities, then this tour is the adventure you’ve been waiting for! You won’t regret it.