Christmas Holidays: The Beauty of Escaping it All

Set the scene of Christmas… big family dinners, drinks with your nearest and dearest, festive cheer to set you up for the next year.

What you don’t see on these picture-perfect Christmas cards and in the adverts for this years’ must-have gadgets, is the stress, the expenditure and the mountains of washing up.
For some people, that first chorus of this year’s Christmas carol bombardment fills them with dread. If this is you, we’ve got some advice… it’s time to take back Christmas!
Forget about the sprouts and put down the turkey baster… this year, it’s all about you!

Escape the Country


The odds for a white Christmas might leave you more likely to win the lottery, but winter scenery is within reach.
Sure, we can’t predict snow, but the Swiss Alps and the Italian Dolomites will give you that winter cosiness that every traditional Whovillan wishes for.
Snow-capped peaks, outstanding natural beauty and a chill in the air, the first gift of Christmas away from home is certainly the change of scenery.

Be Looked After


Forget about being the people pleaser, and the ‘who wants trifle, who wants pudding’ fiasco, you can have everything taken care of for you.
Your days expertly planned to maximise your experiences whilst you’re away. Like, a ride on the Swiss Glacier Express or just a Boxing Day stroll around Rome.
You also don’t have to worry about cooking, as all of our Christmas breaks have a festive dinner included. Yum!

Be Around Like-Minded People


You certainly don’t have to be lonely at Christmas. The great thing about escorted tours is that you’re around people who have the same love for travel as you do!
And, if you’re all enjoying Christmas away together, then you’ve all got something in common.
Our Single Traveller Christmas holidays offer a great way to surround yourself you great people, and the best part of all is that there is no single supplement!

Treat Yourself


When was the last time you put yourself first? We all do it, whether it’s work, family or friends, the easiest option is to satisfy others before yourself.
So, why not treat yourself at Christmas? And, we may be biased, but is there any better present than the gift of travel?
Ticking destinations off your bucket list, sightseeing in some of Europe’s most impressive cities – and, when there’s less crowds to stifle your views – a Christmas getaway could be just what Santa ordered.

Something for the Inner Scrooge


Maybe, you’re just not a Christmas person. And that’s perfectly okay! You are allowed to walk away from the cold weather and family gatherings, because this is about you.
In fact, the ultimate treat for the self-professed scrooge could well be a Spanish fiesta! Swap the sprouts for sangria, sit back, relax and enjoy the Spanish Coast.
There’s nothing wrong with a real winter warmer, after all.
 
If the thought of all this and more sounds like just what the doctor ordered, it’s not too late to book your Christmas getaway. Click here for more information.

Inside India: The Highlights of an Incredible Country

Beauty in architecture, the thrill of experiencing a new and exciting culture, incredible cuisines and fascinating wildlife, sounds like the perfect travelling experience, don’t you agree?

Few places in the world offer authentic experiences these days. With the world becoming more and more commercialised, you may not feel you’re getting the real deal when visiting new places. After all, you can fly half way around the world and still find a burger chain restaurant you’d thought you’d left behind on your local high street.
Of course, some of us embrace it. And, why not? Home comforts can certainly make travelling more familiar and, well… comfortable.
But, if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, somewhere where you can really feel you’re embracing a new culture… say hello to India.
We’ve recently launched our brand new tour and an exciting new destination, exploring India and its incredible Golden Triangle. And, we’re pretty sure this is one of those tours that will really fuel your wanderlust.
We’ve left no stone unturned when it comes to experiencing the very best of India. From iconic destinations to coming face to face with the majestic tiger, here’s just some of the incredible things you’ll experience on our brand new tour…

The Golden Triangle

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

 
You may have heard of the Golden Triangle in reference to India before, or maybe not if this is your first insight into the country. But, the Golden Triangle is a must. It refers to India’s three most visited cities in the north-west, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and is a major tourist route packed full of fascinating sights.
Jaipur is home to some of Asia’s best Bazaars, a city buzzing with activity, nicknamed the ‘Pink City’ from the hue of its buildings, you’ll certainly want to visit its main attraction, the Amber Fort, just on the outskirts of the city.
The capital of India, Delhi, is a real contrast of old and new, from its turbulent past to its thriving future, it is host to a wealth of fascinating historical monuments as well as modern symbols of the present day such as India Gate and Parliament House.
And Agra, well… Where do we start? Obviously the world famous…

Taj Mahal

The taj Mahal

Topping many bucket lists, a trip to the Taj Mahal is a must when visiting India. A wonder of the world and universally admired, the mausoleum of white marble is a spectacular sight.
Built in Agra between 1631 and 1648, by order of the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in memory of his third (and favourite) wife who died during the birth of their 14th child. The iconic building is a true symbol of eternal love and romance.
Easily one of the most photogenic pieces of architecture in the world, you’re probably wondering just when are the best times to visit? Two pieces of advice, early morning and evening. Although, in the morning, your view could be slightly shrouded by mist, but in the evening… expect perfection.
The orange glow of the evening sun, the warm air clearing any lingering residue and the views of the Yamuna River opening up, you don’t have to be an avid photographer to capture the most incredible photos during the golden hours of the evening.
As many as 28 different varieties of semi-precious and precious stone were used to adorn the Taj Mahal, making this more than just a gem on your journey through India, but a truly treasured experience.

Agra Fort

Agra Fort

Staying in the city of Agra, there’s more than just the Taj on offer in the former capital city of India. The Agra Fort is a sandstone and marble masterpiece.
It runs along a 2.5km stretch of the Yamuna River and was built as a military fort by Emperor Akbar. It was repurposed as a palace by no other than Shah Jahan, who spent his last years under house arrest there by his own son, Aurangzeb.
Despite being held prisoner following an illness, which saw four of his son’s embroiled in a war of succession, Shah Jahan was given a room with a view, in a tower overlooking the Taj Mahal.
The Shah Burj, as it is known, has an exquisite marble balcony where Shah Jahan spent his final days close to his late wife, overlooking his masterpiece.
If the Taj was the jewel of Agra, Agra Fort certainly shines just as bright. The walls house a number of stunning structures such as the pearl mosque and many hidden rooms, a fantastic experience learning about the grand legacy of the Mughals in India.

Fatehpur Sikri

Panch Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri

Follow the Red Sandstone to Fatehpur Sikri, a small ghost city just west of Agra. Ranking among the most visited spots in India, the city was made the political capital of the Mughal Empire between 1571 and 1585.
Fatehpur Sikri is considered to be one of the architectural legacies of Akbar, hosting beautiful palaces, halls and mosques.
From the Buland Darwaza, the largest gateway in the world, to the Panch Mahal, a beautiful 5-storey ‘pleasure palace’ used for Emperor Akbar to relax and unwind and to be used for his entertainment.
The top floor offers outstanding panoramic views of the surrounding area and the brilliant architecture within Fatehpur Sikri.
The complex took around 15 years to build and is one of the best instances of Mughal architecture and is now a UNESCO heritage centre.

Ranthambore National Park

Bengal Tiger at Ranthambore National Park

One of India’s most iconic parks, Ranthambore is best known for its population of Bengal tigers. A former hunting ground of the Maharajas of Jaipur, the park now acts as home area for one of India’s most famous conservation projects, Project Tiger.
The project was launched to protect the diminishing population of tigers throughout India. With just 9 tigers in its care at the birth of the project, with the help of more tiger protection schemes around the country, India now boasts an impressive 70% of the world’s tiger population.
The importance of tiger preservation in India is more than stopping a species from going extinct, the tiger also plays a pivotal role in the health and diversity of the ecosystem.
The top predator of the food chain keeps the population of the wild ungulates (hooved mammals such as goats, cows and deer) in check, and maintains the balance between these herbivores and the vegetation that they feed on. If the tigers were to become extinct, the entire system would collapse.
Ranthambore offers more than just a chance to see the tigers up close and personal, but a real insight into India’s wildlife.
India offers one of those once in a lifetime trips of true experiences and creating lasting memories
If you’re ready to indulge in a fantastic Indian extravaganza, take a look at the full itinerary of our India’s Golden Triangle – Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Ranthambore tour, here.

The Weird and Wonderful: Superstitions of Europe

Black cats, horse shoes and not walking under ladders, we’ve all encountered some strange superstitions in our lifetime, and whether you believe in them or not, when Friday the 13th comes around, you can never be too careful.

But, it’s not just here in the UK that we’ll try out little techniques to try our luck, our European neighbours are just as superstitious. But, you guessed it, they’re completely different to ours. So, in honour of this day, why not delve deep into the superstitions of Europe?

Spain


Here we are, worrying about what Friday the 13th can bring, but our Spanish friends are more than likely left scratching their heads, because they believe that Tuesday the 13th is the unluckiest of days.
Tuesday, or Martes in Spanish, is a word derived from the name Mars, which in the middle ages was called ‘Little Evil’. Mars is also the God of War and Destruction, therefore Tuesday is ruled by Mars – and to think we dread Mondays.
But, on Tuesday the 13th, the consensus is Spain is to not get married or board a ship or a plane, as luck may not be in your favour.

Portugal


Spilling wine on any day would be considered bad luck, especially if it’s been a bad day already, but not in Portugal. It’s thought to actually bring happiness to the whole table if you topple your tipple.
But, walking backwards is a no-go. They say that by doing so, you’re teaching the devil the way you’re walking. Also, your left foot is said to be unlucky, so you should always enter someone’s house with your right.

Norway


Ward away the bad luck in Norway by setting a bowl of porridge outside the door. Why, you ask? It’s said to sweeten the old, small barn trolls. And, if it’s a nice day in Norway, don’t whistle towards the sun, it’s said to bring rain.
And, maybe a superstition we can believe in… apparently if there’s ice on the lakes on May Day, then spring will be late. Which, we think is a fairly good observation, given may day is actually in spring.

Italy


The Italians are particularly fond of their superstitions. For a start, if you hear a cat sneeze, expect good luck to be coming your way.
But, interestingly enough, the number 13 is actually considered to be good luck in Italy! But, the number 17… not so much. Friday the 17th is an unlucky day, some Alitalia planes don’t have a row 17 and hotels can skip out the 17th floor all together.
It all comes from the roman numerals for 17, XVII. Change it anagrammatically to VIXI which translates in Latin to ‘I have lived’. Or, looking at it a little more objectively ‘My life is over’. We’ll give them that one, that is pretty spooky.

Czech Republic


In the Czech Republic, throwing a shoe over your shoulder and smashing a glass is meant to be good luck, although, maybe not for the people around you at the time…
But, it’s also custom for brides to smash a plate on their wedding day and have their groom clear it up. The fragments are distributed to the guests and the newlyweds keep a piece for themselves. Quite the unusual favour.
But, on the other side, pouring beer into an old glass isn’t quite so prosperous, especially if it has the remnants of another type of beer in it. That’s said to be very unlucky, and maybe not as refreshing.
 
One thing is for sure, strange customs and cultures make for some interesting and exciting places to visit. Have you heard any unusual superstitions on your travels?

The 10 Most Beautiful Places in the World

Beauty – it’s in the eye of the beholder, is skin deep and can be subjective, we know, we know…  But, it’s hard to deny that there are some destinations in this world that are drop dead gorgeous!

And, who would we be to keep all this beauty to ourselves? Of course we want to share it all with you, so whether you’re looking for a little pick me up or some hearty travel inspiration, here’s our list of the top 10 most beautiful places in the world.

1. The Norwegian Fjords


Is there anything more dramatic than a Fjord? Sheer cliffs tumbling down to sea waters with cascading waterfalls either side of a narrow channel of water. As valleys go, these are pretty impressive.
The contrast of the green slopes and the deep blue of the waters below, with a dusting of white with the snow-capped tops… we can categorically say that we do not agree with the old ‘blue and green should never be seen’ saying… in terms of travel at least… we’re not fashion experts.
The National Geographic Magazine awarded the Fjords ‘The Best Unspoiled Travel Destination in the World’, something we whole-heartedly agree with.

2. Venice


Who doesn’t want to visit Venice? Well, if you are one of those people, we think it’s time to rethink. Stunning architecture, canals instead of roads, some of the most iconic views in Europe… and Gondolas! It’s easy to see why so many people call for the charms of Venice.
In the words of Elizabeth Berkley, ‘It feels like you are transported to another time – the art, music and pure romance in the air is like no other place.’
Over 15 million visitors flock to Venice every year to see it yet it’s said to be sinking at a rate of 1-2 millimetres a year! A sad thought that global warming could eventually eradicate such an iconic part of Europe.

3. Ha Long Bay


Emerald waters, towering limestone islands topped with rainforests, of course Ha Long Bay is a popular place for travellers flying in from all over the world. It even ranks top of the list as Vietnam’s number one tourist spot.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site looks like something straight from a film, and funnily enough, it is. Recently featuring in the films Pan (2015) and the soon to be released Kong: Skull Island (2017) and even going back to James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), we’d say the ethereal setting is the real star of the show.

4. Banff National Park


Canada’s oldest national park, nestled in the famous Rocky Mountains, is something that dreams are made of. Snow-capped peaks, stunning blue waters and luscious green foliage, and we can assure you, the postcard worthy photographs you see, are certainly not Photoshopped.
It’s also the perfect place to attract some of Canada’s most interesting wildlife. The moose, the elk and even the grizzly and black bear call Banff home thanks to its variations in elevation, climate, and plant communities.
More than 4 million visitors travel to Banff National Park each year to visit the mountains that range from 45 to 120 million years old. Pretty impressive, we’re sure you’ll agree.

5. Oia


Oh Santorini, the ‘poster-island’, so-to-speak, of Greece. Even if you didn’t know, you’ve probably seen it. You can pick up postcards of its white-washed buildings clinging to a cliff edge in just about any Greek island.
But, seeing really is believing, and heading to the famous Cyclades Island is a must if you’re looking for absolute heart-warming beauty.
And where better to get an eyeful of the islands beauty than visiting Oia? Famous for its small village charm, it even offers once of the best sun sets in Europe! And, it’s easily accessible from Fira, the islands capital, making it a great stop off if you’re sailing into the island on a cruise.

6. Isle of Skye


The largest island of the Inner Hebrides, the Isle of Skye shows us that we don’t have to leave our shores to find one of the world’s most beautiful spots.
Its rugged landscapes and spectacular scenery make it one of Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations, but it’s not just a pretty face.
The island has a rich history from the Jacobite rebellion, Clan Warfare and ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, it’s even known for producing some pretty impressive dinosaur fossils! But not just that, the wildlife on offer is just as impressive.
Otters, seals, whales, dolphins and red deer can all be seen in and around Skye, only adding to the spectacular beauty on offer.

7. Milford Sound


Half a world away but always worth the miles covered to get there. Milford Sound is a stunning fiord on New Zealand’s South Island that is home to Dolphins, Penguins and seals.
Mountain peaks reach as high as 1000ft, it’s considered New Zealand’s most stunning natural attraction, famous for its ink-like waters and cascading forests, if this isn’t on your bucket list, it should be.
And the best thing? You don’t have to worry about the weather. We can’t fault a sunny day, but the best weather to view the sound in is actually rain! The granite peaks and no beaches mean the cliffs don’t absorb water, resulting in some pretty spectacular waterfalls.

8. Bryce Canyon


We’ve all heard of the Grand Canyon and many people have been there, seen it and purchased the souvenir t-shirt. But, we think that Bryce Canyon is more deserving of a place on this list.
With the largest collection of Hoodoos (oddly shaped pillars of rock left standing as a result of erosion) in the world, the canyon is a sight to behold. In fact, Ebenezer Bryce, who the spot was named after, is thought to have said ‘It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow’… a ‘moo’-ving sentiment.
On a good day, when visibility is clear, views of the canyon can spread for over 100 miles, deep into Colorado! And, interestingly, Bryce Canyon isn’t actually a canyon – it’s a natural amphitheatre! Either way, we’d echo the thought that it really is stunning… stunning… stunning…

9. Lake Bled


It’s got to be said, that beauty lies within Lake Bled! Slovenia isn’t one of the most famous tourist destinations in Europe, but this pretty little lake certainly makes visiting more than worthwhile.
The lake is one of the warmest alpine lakes, sitting at a pleasantly warm 26°C, and it’s tiny, tear shaped island is the only natural island in Slovenia! The church that sits on the island dates back from the 17th century, but we digress…
Just look at it! As lakes go, it’s so spectacularly beautiful, we just had to put it pride of place on our list.

10. Angkor Wat


Last, but by certainly no means least, we had to mention Angkor Wat. The largest religious monument in the world, you can be sure it’s every bit as breath-taking as you’d imagine.
Paramount Pictures even paid $10,000 a day to film in the temple Ta Promh for the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film, which led to the films lead actress, Angelina Jolie, to adopting her Cambodian son, Maddox.
The UNESCO World Heritage site’s name translates to the ‘City of Temples’ with new structures and ruins being discovered almost every year. Impressively, it was built without the aid of machinery, just the help of approximately 1000 elephants.
 
Would you add any other destinations to our list? Let us know in the comments where you think the world’s most beautiful place lies.

All New, Now! Our Top Picks from our New Tours

September… the summer is over, the leaves are turning golden and the air is becoming a little more crisp. The year is certainly coming to an end. But, we don’t like to dwell on that, in fact, we think September is the month for new starts… well, a new brochure at least.

As is the procedure, with a new brochure comes new tours! And, this year, we’ve got some real corkers. 31 to be precise. And, what better way to get over those post-summer blues than to get ready for your next holiday?
With a big year coming for our Battlefield programme, and an exciting batch of new tour experiences and destinations on offer, you hardened Leger lovers will be spoiled for choice through 2018/19.
But, we would be here for days if we were to talk you through all the amazing new experiences that have just been launched, so we’ve hand-picked 5 of our favourites!
So, if you’re looking for a little holiday inspiration or just a deeper look at our new tours, then you’re in the right place.

Bavarian Forest Winter Wonderland – Huskies and Igloos


Yes, this is probably one that you’ve already heard about, but it’s finally making its way into our brochure. And, after an incredible launch, it certainly seems to have caught your attention.
Our first departure will be heading off on the 22nd January 2018 and we already have 2019 dates in place for those of you who like to book early.
So, what can you expect? Well, a true winter wonderland experience! Mulled wine, winter walks over the world’s biggest treetop path in the Bavarian Forest National Park and you’ll even get chance to visit a real igloo village!

Dreisessel

But, we’re sure this is the real pièce de résistance… heading into the husky farm of Dreisessel! You’ll learn all about the beautiful dogs, from the housing, feeding and training they undergo.
These big balls of fluff are impressively bred, born to run with impressive endurance and a high tolerance to the cold. They can even survive on small amounts of food which is why they’re perfect sled dogs.
But, like many of our furry friends at home, they all have their own personalities, are super cute, heart-warmingly loving and you’ll even have the opportunity to give them a little fuss. Paw-fect!

French Grand Prix

Paul Ricard Circuit

Yes, for all those with a need for speed… the French Grand Prix makes it return to the Formula 1 calendar in 2018, a whole 10 years since the last time tyres touched track in France. And it’s also making an appearance in our 2018 programme.
The race will take place in the south of France at the Circuit Paul Ricard – which last staged the event in 1990!
The French Grand Prix is actually the world’s oldest, originating in France in June 1906. Fast forward to the future 2018 season, Ferrari hold the title of most wins with Massa and Räikkönen taking top spot in the last two races held.
10 years on, will Ferrari remain dominant in France or will Mercedes start to make its mark on French soil? We’re still waiting to see the outcome of the 2017 season, but the early bird gets the worm, so why not secure your place on our French Grand Prix by Coach tour?

Oberammergau and the Austrian Tyrol

Oberammergau

The word on everybody’s lips, and there’s still 3 years to go! Our Oberammergau tours are flying off the shelf, so to speak, so we’ve added an extra tour to our 2020 programme.
This time we’re heading deep into the spectacular Austrian Tyrol, enjoying destinations such as Kitzbühel, Salzburg, Lake Achensee as well as the German delights of Cologne, the Rhine Valley and, of course, Oberammergau.
If you’re new to Oberammergau, every 10 years the residents of the small German town put on a Passion Play, and have done since 1634!
Passion Play Painting, Oberammergau

Performed as a thank you for being spared from the Plague Epidemic, the residents of Oberammergau prepare for years to make the production a success… they even undergo strict preparations that sees them banned from shaving.
Without going into too much detail (more of which can be found over on our Oberammergau blog) we can safely say this will be the performance of the decade… one not to miss!

Château Tilques, St. Omer & the Opal Coast

© Najeti Hôtel Château Tilques

Dreaming of France, you can get lost in thoughts of stunning rolling countryside, opulent coast lines and tasty cheeses and wines. So, why not go one better than the dream and enjoy your stay in an actual Château?
Just a short hop across the channel, this really is an idyllic short break. Nestled in the Caps et Marais d’Opale Natural Regional Park with peacocks roaming the grounds, this 17th century manor house has a certain je ne sais quoi.
Visiting pretty little market town of nearby St. Omer, you’re also given the chance to enjoy stunning architecture from the medieval streets to the Notre Dame Cathedral, even the incredible ruins of Saint Bertin’s Abbey.
Le Touquet

You’ll also have time on day three to enjoy Boulogne, Le Touquet, the playground of wealthy Parisians, and the Opal Coast giving you a real taste of Northern France.
Back at the Chateau, there’s a chance to enjoy gourmet food at the Le Vert Mesnil restaurant, make use of the indoor swimming pool or just enjoy the stunning grounds the Chateau is set in.
And, we think there’s a Lord or Lady in all of us that would enjoy their time in the manor.

First & Last Shots

Mons

2018 marks a significant year for WW1 history. 100 years ago, we saw the end of the Great War and our attentions will once again turn to commemorating a significant centenary in military history.
The city of Mons, Belgium, is where the first and last shots of World War One were fired by the British, and where the first and last soldiers died.
With departure dates throughout the year, we’ll take groups on a journey of remembrance visiting significant areas around Mons.
Visiting the 4th Dragoon Guards Memorial close to the spot where they engaged the Germans just before the Battle of Mons, firing the first shots of the British Army on the Western Front and crossing the road, we visit a Canadian memorial on the site of their final advance on 11th November 1918: four years of war separated by a few yards of ground.
George Lawrence Memorial, Mons

But not just that, we’ll also spend time commemorating the battle of Mons, head to Nimy Bridge, where the first two Victoria crosses of the war were awarded. And, drawing the tour to a close, we visit the Memorial to George Lawrence Price, the last British and Commonwealth casualties at 10.58am on 11th November 1918, just two minutes before the end.
A battlefield tour not to be missed, we’re sure you’ll agree! There’s plenty to interest seasoned Battlefield travellers on this tour and it will prove an insightful experience for anyone visiting the battlefields for the first time.
 
Our brand new brochure is out now, so why not request your copy? Simply click here to order today.

Best European Cities to Visit in the Winter

Winter is coming… and, no, we’re not talking about Game of Thrones. More the crisp air, thick coats and the smell of Christmas treats galore, lingering around the cities of Europe.

The summer crowds are a distant memory yet these European cities are still very much alive, so what better time than to pack your bags and head off on an exciting winter escape to these incredible cities?

Cologne


The star of the Rhine, Cologne well and truly comes alive in the wintertime. There’s a magical air about as its many Christmas markets open their shutters to a new season and the smell of roast chestnuts waft through the air leading revellers to one of the most festive destinations on earth.
With plenty to see and do,  even beyond the Christmas markets, from the mighty cathedral to intriguing museums, you could even warm up a little by joining the locals by strapping on those skates and taking to an ice rink.
Or, if you fancy something a little less energetic, why not grab a hot chocolate and follow the route of the nativity scenes? There’s over 100 of them to find across the city.
As it is the season for giving, or even if you just fancy treating yourself after a long year of staying on the nice list, you’ll be happy to know that Cologne is one of the most popular cities for shopping.
From the well-known Schildergasse and Hohe Straße to something a little more luxururous at the Mittelstraße, you will certainly be spoiled for choice.
We love Cologne at any time of year, but there’s something about the winter season that warms our hearts.

Brussels


 
We’re giving you the chance to leave the Brussel sprouts once and for all, because this year you could well and truly have your portion of Brussels by visiting the winter wonderland that is the Belgian capital.
No longer will you have the dreaded sprout fear that the festive season brings, it’s all about chocolate, beer, waffles, fries and the sumptuous setting to the magical Winter Wonders, an unmissable event right in the heart of the city.
Spreading from the Grand Place to the Marche auz Poissons, you’ll enjoy an abundance of Christmas trees, ice-skating, Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, colourful stalls great tasting foods and a magical atmosphere that’s hard to beat.

Vienna


You’ll want to waltz right into this one! The music city, where Mozart wrote some of his finest work, where Beethoven enjoyed most of his success and the birth place of Schubert, you’re not short of culture in the Austrian capital.
But, it’s not just the culture that makes it worth visiting this magnificent city, the wintery hues and sparkling Christmas lights in every direction give the Vienna the cosiest of atmospheres, and with a warm heart, who cares about the cold?
Vienna comes alive with the spirit of Christmas, with the sounds of carol concerts and waltzes heard throughout the city. The December Market, or “Krippenmarkt”, now has over 20 official advent markets selling an array of gifts and mouth-watering treats.
With people wandering the twinkling streets sipping on Glühwein, nibbling on schnitzel and Apfelstrudel, it’s hard not to be filled with seasonal joy in Vienna!

Prague


Prague, the home of Gothic romance. Medieval architecture reaching from the ground, high up into the winter’s sky, glistening in the icy moonlight. Sounds like something from a romantic vampire novel, right?
But, you don’t have to be a fan of Twilight-esque stories to appreciate Prague in the winter time. Yes, it’s chilly, but wrap up in warm layers and enjoy the spectacular setting in the low winter sunshine.
From Prague Castle to the Astronomical Clock, the winter weather doesn’t stop this city and with frosty walks across the Charles Bridge and stunning views of the Municipal House to look forward to, you might be wondering what took you so long to visit Prague in the winter months.

Salzburg


Ah, Salzburg… where the hills are alive with, well, absolute perfection. If there was ever any city that truly looked like a picture postcard winter wonderland, this is it.
Crisp weather with a good chance of snow-capped mountains to set the scene, this beautiful city is not just a pretty face, there’s also plenty to see and do.
The birthplace of Mozart and the origin of the ‘Silent Night’ Christmas carol, the city comes alive around Advent. The Lebkuchen Christmas cookies are in the oven and the Glühwein is in full flow.
The Christmas Market in Salzburg are well known throughout Europe, and for good reason. Of course, in the setting of the main square, overlooked by Hohensalzburg Castle, it’d be hard not to fall for the charm.
But with caramel almonds roasting and plenty of culinary delights and crafts to pick up whilst you’re there, the magical atmosphere is certainly a winner when it comes to choosing your winter holiday.
So, if you’re lost without your fix of Game of Thrones and are longing for your next spot of winter fun, we all know that Jon Snow knows nothing… but, luckily, we do. Embrace the winter and enjoy a Christmas market, fabulously festive break or a true winter wonderland experience with Leger Holidays.

ANZAC by Scott Brand

On the 25th April 1915, Australian and New Zealand forces stepped ashore onto the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsular, Turkey. They were part of a large expeditionary force comprising of British, Indian, Newfoundland and French forces, with the aim of fighting their way into Turkey and capturing Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

An ambitious plan, and what could have been a bold strike that might well have changed the course of the war, very quickly deteriorated into stalemate of trench warfare only a short distance inland from the landing sites. A variety of reasons contributed to this impasse, but primarily the fighting ability of the Turks was severely underestimated, putting up a fierce and unrelenting defence.

Australians in WW1

 
The end result was eight months of horrific trench warfare, which claimed the lives of thousands of men from both sides as a result of combat and disease.  When it was acknowledged that the Gallipoli campaign was untenable, the decision was made to leave the peninsular and on the 20th December 1915, The Australians and New Zealanders under secrecy and the cover of darkness were evacuated from Gallipoli. In those eight months, 28,150 Australians became casualties, which includes 8,709 killed and 7,473 New Zealanders with 2,721 killed in action.
Rewinding sixteen months to the outbreak of war in August 1914, Australia had only been a federated nation for thirteen years and New Zealand seven, and though contingents of militia from both Australia and New Zealand had been sent to fight in South Africa during the Boer War, both countries had not fought in any major conflicts as nations. Keen to play their part, both Governments went about recruiting men, and thousands of men rallied to the call. Late 1914, the first wave of Australians and New Zealanders set off destined for the Western Front in Europe, but were diverted to Egypt and subsequently Gallipoli. This contingent of antipodeans were known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, but more commonly ANZAC’s, and it was the 25th April 1915 that the ANZAC’s wrote themselves into history and into the psyche of the Australian and New Zealand Nations.
 
Gallipoli Battlefields

The 25th April soon became a day of remembrance, with the first ANZAC day in 1916. There were commemoration ceremonies throughout the two countries and 2000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers marched through the streets of London. However, Gallipoli would be the last time the two nations would fight side by side for some time and it wouldn’t be until June 1917 at the Battle of Messines in Belgium, before they fought alongside each other again Throughout the remainder of the war ANZAC day continued to be a day of commemoration with marches in major cities, but it was used for recruitment rallies also.
At the end of hostilities in November 1918, over 60,000 Australian and over 18,000 New Zealanders had been killed, the majority on the Western Front. ANZAC day commemorations continued after the war, though there was no formal organisation, commemorations took on many different forms throughout Australia, with a morning vigil being popular amongst veterans as they most likely found peace in the quite solitude of the dawn. It was these vigils that formed the basis of the Dawn Service, which is a regular part of the ANZAC commemorations we know today.
Dawn ANZAC Day Service on the Somme

ANZAC day continued to be popular and following Word War 2, there became a new generation of ANZAC’s to commemorate. In the 1960’s with Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the popularity of ANZAC Day declined with many commemoration services marred by anti-war protests. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that they regained the popularity and attendance they had seen post World War 2.
As a young soldier in the Australian Army in the 1980’s, I participated in many ANZAC day commemorations and I have strong memories of marching along George Street in Sydney and the pavements were lined with thousands of people. As far as the eye could see along George Street it was a sea of khaki, white and blue, with the men and woman of the Army, Navy and Airforce, marching alongside veterans of three wars. The day always started with the dawn service at a war memorial local to our barracks and then it was back to the RSL (Returned Service League) for a rum with the veterans, before heading into the city for the main march. ANZAC day always ended back at an RSL for the biggest game of two-up, with the calls of “come in spinner” ringing around the room. Incidentally the only time it’s legal to play.
Villers-Bretonneux

In my younger years, I always associated ANZAC day with the remembrance of the dead and missing in the mud of France and Flanders, the beaches of Gallipoli and the sands of Mesopotamia, however as I become more involved in military history it became more than that for me.  ANZAC day for me now is not only commemorating the ultimate sacrifice so many of those men made, but it is also remembering the ones that came back. So many returned from war changed men, whether physically or mentally and the war would have a profound impact on them for the rest of their lives. It’s also reflecting on the impact war has on those left behind, whether grieving for the loss of a loved one or caring for the injured. Seeing the veterans turned out in their best bib and tucker, proudly wearing their medals, smiling and joking amongst their mates, it was easy for me to forget the painful memories so many would have had.
ANZAC day is for commemorating the fallen and celebrating the achievements of the Australian forces in all the wars it has been involved in, but also reflecting on and remembering as it has been so eloquently said to me so many times “Just ordinary men doing extraordinary things”
Join us for our Centenary of ANZAC at Villers-Bretonneaux on this 5-day tour from £399pp.

10 interesting facts about Germany

Germany is proudly the seventh most visited country in the world and it sure is packed with so many things to see and do, so there’s no wonder people flock there in their droves.

Whatever you are looking for, whether it’s a city break, Christmas market trip, a cross country tour or even a historical pilgrimage, there’s something for everyone in Deutschland.
So, if you’re still in the research phase of your holiday planning, or just wanting to brush up on you knowledge before heading off on your German adventure, we’ve compiled our top 10 interesting facts about Germany just for you.

Here are our facts about Germany…

1. Germany is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe

The country has a staggering population size of 80,636,124 people, which means even though Germany is a rather large country, there are actually 231 people per square kilometre!

2. One third of Germany is still covered in Forest and Woodland

Despite the population density, a good proportion of Germany is actually still covered in foliage, and boy is it spectacular. If you’re a fan of the Brother’s Grimm fairy tales, you might just want to pay a visit to the beautiful Black Forest… the setting of many of their stories.

3. Berlin is nine times bigger than Paris and has more bridges than Venice

Did you realise how big Berlin actually is? Dating back to the 13th century, the city spans a whopping 891.8 km², which gives plenty of room for the 1650 bridges it houses.

4. During JFK’s famous declaration of “Ich bin ein Berliner” he actually likened himself to a jam doughnut.

Yes, you read that right… What JFK should have said is “Ich bin Berliner” meaning “I am a citizen of Berlin”, as a Berliner is actually a type of jelly donut made in Berlin, so “Ich bin ein Berliner” can actually be translated to “I am a jam doughnut”.

5. Germany’s Capital City has shifted 7 times!

Now here’s one to remember for the pub quiz! Germany’s capital has shifted from Aachen during the Carolingian Empire to Regensburg, Frankfurt-am-Main, Nuremberg, Berlin, Weimar (unofficially, during unrest in Berlin), Bonn and East Berlin, and, since 1990, Berlin again!

6. Germany is sometimes known as the land of poets and thinkers

German writers and have won 13 Nobel Prizes and Germany was home to world-renowned writers such as Friedrich Schiller, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Günter Grass and Maria Stona.

7. Germany is Europe’s second largest beer consumer

Just behind the Czech Republic, the German’s are known to consume a fair amount of ‘liquid gold’. However, given the Bavarian’s consider beer to be a basic food and drink an average of 150 litres per person per year, so we think they’re giving the Czech’s a good run for their money.

8. The longest word published in the German language is Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft

This loosely translates to Danube steamboat shipping electricity main engine facility building sub clerk association. It is a law delegating beef label monitoring, was removed from the German language in 2014.

9. The German football team is the second most successful football team in the world

The beautiful game is a British sport and a hard fought rivalry in the football world. We have to hand it to Germany on this one, falling just behind Brazil, winning four world cups and three European championships, so they certainly can play us at our own game.

10. The first book to ever be printed was the Bible by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1450s in Germany

The first mass produced printed book was the Latin Bible and was originally published in February 23, 1455 in Mainz.

Are you tempted by Germany? Then join one of our many escorted tours for a great value holiday to some of the best destinations. Click here to see what’s on offer.

Coach Holidays: Breaking the Stereotype

You could probably stereotype any type of holiday, from an 18-30s or a couples’ retreat, and if we don’t usually associate ourselves with those we assume we would be travelling with, it could well be a make or break factor.

But, what about coach holidays? Who exactly would you be travelling with? What sort of people would go on a coach holiday? Well… everyone!
We asked a collection of passengers, who have previously travelled on a coach holiday, a series of questions to shine some light on the mysterious passengers on board your coach and what it is you can really take away from a coach holiday.

Let’s take a look at your fellow passengers…

A common question we get asked from people who are thinking about travelling on a coach holiday is about the age of fellow passengers. Will they feel that they are too young or too old?

71% of people we asked thought, prior to their coach holiday, that their fellow passengers would be over 50 years old with 9% thinking all of their fellow passengers would be 70+. Once on board their coach, 47% of these people actually travelled with passengers that were under 40.
But, if you’re thinking about going on a coach holiday for the first time and your age is playing on your mind, you may be glad to know that only 2% of those surveyed said that the age of their fellow passengers was an important factor in their holidays with 59% saying they would recommend a coach holiday to any age group. So no matter how old you are, you’ll always be made to feel welcome on board.

A comfortable setting for a solo traveller…

When the itchy feet set in, you just want to go. It’s not always easy to have your travel companion free to travel at the same time, or circumstances might make it difficult. Solo travel is a coach holiday speciality.
You get the benefit of being able to head off where and when you want and with the sociability of being in a group. And, you have the option to travel on our Single Traveller holidays, alongside a group of like-minded individuals, or join our main tours and feel welcomed into the Leger family with a wider variety of passengers.

And, don’t worry too much, everyone is different and enjoys different things, and a coach holiday doesn’t have to be restrictive. Whilst 29% enjoyed their holiday with their group as whole, 70% enjoyed the best of both worlds, having a great time with their group, also enjoying time to themselves, doing exactly what they wanted to do. What more could you ask for?

Social and relationship benefits of a coach holiday…

Following their coach holidays, our passengers weren’t thrown back in the real world with memories alone. In fact, 21% of our customers flouted the post-holiday blues, and came back feeling happier than before they left.

But, for the people travelling with a friend or partner, 83% have taken away lasting memories with each other, 9% feel it has brought them closer together and 3% have said it’s even made them want to spend more time together!

The benefits of being an experienced traveller…

Stories, experiences and the ultimate travel envy, there are many ways in which others can influence your holiday choices.
When travelling on a coach holiday, you visit many destinations within your holiday, ticking off those bucket list destinations or visiting places you’ve never even heard of, you’ll certainly come back at least a little more knowledgeable in travel. And, it makes you far more interesting too…

The coach holiday also broadens horizons with a whopping 76% of people feeling they are more likely to visit new places. But, it can also create a new love story with the destinations you’ve visited, 23% of people said after a coach holiday, they were more likely to go back to the places they found themselves to love.
The benefits of a coach holiday means you can really make the most of escorted touring. In fact, 70% of people feel they return feeling more enlightened and 80% feel they are more knowledgeable, and how incredible is that?

Travelling for long periods, how would I pass the time?

Luckily, with our Luxuria coach, with your own touch-screen TV at your seat, you’ve got plenty to keep you entertained. But, even without that, our previous passengers have found passing the time a breeze.

And, then you’re hooked…

An incredible 62% of people surveyed have enjoyed 5 or more coach holidays and 88% of passengers would consider them to be their main holiday! And, with so much on offer, from short breaks to our impressive Grand Explorer holidays, the choice is almost endless.
Has this got you thinking a coach holiday might just be for you? Well, take a look at our incredible collection of exciting itineraries available to book, now: leger.co.uk
Survey conducted with 144 previous Leger travellers who are members of the Leger Holidays – Very Important Passengers Facebook group.

The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial Site – Part Two

The abandonment of Soviet prisoners by Stalin and the subsequent re-establishment of the camp as a special Gulag.

The first Soviet prisoners arrived at Sachsenhausen in August 1941. By the end of the year, more than 11,000 of these living skeletons were being held in the camp in appalling conditions. Impossible work conditions, meagre rations and mass executions steadily reduced their numbers.

The most common method of execution was by shooting in the so-called ‘neck shot facility’ located close to the camp crematoria. Here, an estimated 10,000 Soviet prisoners were executed over a ten week period during late 1941. Total estimates of Soviet prisoners murdered in the camp between 1941-45 vary between 11,000 – 18,000.
None of this mattered to Stalin, whose attitude towards captured troops was underlined in his statement that, ‘There are no Soviet prisoners of war. The Soviet soldier fights on until death. If he chooses to become a prisoner, he is automatically excluded from the Russian community’. This attitude even extended to his own son, Lieutenant Yakov Dzhugshvili, following his capture during the Battle of Smolensk on 16 July 1941. Soon after, Stalin ensured that the wife of this ‘Traitor to the Motherland’ was not spared the state’s wrath. Yakov’s wife Julia was subsequently arrested, separated from her three year old daughter and imprisoned in the Gulag for two years.

Stalin and the Son he Abandoned to his Fate

Following the German disaster at Stalingrad in February 1943, Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus was taken prisoner. Soon after, the Germans suggested a prisoner swap, their senior officer for Stalin’s son. Inevitably, Stalin turned the offer down, saying that, ‘I will not trade a Marshal for a Lieutenant’. On 14 April 1943, Yakov was shot and killed. Contemporary reports indicated that he was shot whilst approaching the camp’s prohibited ‘Neutral Zone’ which bordered the electric fence. More recent investigations point to him being killed for refusing to obey an order to return to his barracks. In March 1945, Stalin talked with Marshal Zhukov about his son, whom he believed was still alive and being kept as a hostage. His hard heart began to soften a little towards a son who had once been dismissed by him as ‘a mere cobbler’. When the death of Yakov was later confirmed, Stalin rehabilitated him posthumously in the knowledge that he had died honourably.
Brick Built Baracks in Soviet Special Camp

The liberation of Sachsenhausen on 22 April 1945 came too late for Stalin’s son. Neither did liberation bring comfort to thousands of Soviet prisoners who had effectively been abandoned by the state. For them, there was no hope of rehabilitation, just interrogation by Smersh (Soviet Military Counter Intelligence). Stalin’s assertion that there were no Soviet prisoners of war, just so-called ‘Traitors to the Motherland’ condemned them to imprisonment and hard labour in the Siberian Gulags. Some Russian  prisoners  were held in Sachsenhausen (renamed by the Soviet authorities in August 1945 as Special Camp No.7).
Soviet Prisoner at Sachsenhausen

The arbitrary enmity of the Soviet organs of repression resulted in the convictions (after interrogation and torture) of alleged Nazi collaborators and soldiers who had contracted venereal disease in Germany. By 1946, the camp held approximately 16,000 German and ex-Soviet citizens (including 2000 women prisoners). In 1948, the camp was redesignated as Special Camp no.1. That year, some 5000 German prisoners were granted an amnesty and freed. Another 5,500 German prisoners were freed in early 1950.  More German prisoners were freed shortly before the camp was shut down in the Spring of that year. The few remaining Russian prisoners were transferred to the Gulags on Soviet soil.
For those so-called ‘Traitors to the Motherland’ who somehow survived their harsh treatment and subsequent cold-shouldering by the state, their ordeal was not over. Their rehabilitation did not finally come until after the fall of Communism in 1989. We still tend to associate cruelty and barbarity almost exclusively with Nazism, yet Stalin’s state was also brutal and unforgiving. Learn more about Soviet Special Camp No.1/No.7 on Leger’s ‘The Holocaust Remembered‘ tour.
 
Read part one of David’s Sachsenhausen blog, here.