Paul Reed: Exploring the Secret Wehrmacht Bunker

Getting prepared for new battlefield experiences is all part of the work Battlefield Guides carry out in readiness for the tours we do for Leger Holidays.

When there are new tours we always go out on a Battlefield Recce to check the fine details and make sure it all runs smoothly for when we have the groups with us. It’s all part of the professionalism with which we all approach how we operate Leger Battlefield Tours.
I was recently in Germany on such a Battlefield Recce with fellow Battlefield Guides David McCormack and Bill McQuade for the new Peenemunde, Baltic Coast and Berlin tour, which has its first departures this summer. This promises to be an excellent tour looking at different aspects of Third Reich history from the ‘Strength through Joy’ site at Prora to the development of secret weapons at Peenemunde, which will include for the first time having access to the actual rocket test stands and launch sites.

Zossen-Wünsdorf

However, one of the highlights of this Recce was our visit to Zossen-Wünsdorf to the site of Oberkommando der Wehrmacht: the Headquarters of the German Wehrmacht. The Wehrmacht wasn’t just the German Army: it was the overall governing body of the Army (Heer), Airforce (Luftwaffe) and Navy (Kriegsmarine). All of these had personnel at Zossen in a massive series of underground bunkers and tunnels.
While some wartime planning was done here, it was in essence the wartime communications hub of the Wehrmacht, a site once buzzing with the orders, commands and information relating to every key battle in the war from Poland to Stalingrad to the final battles.
Zossen-Wünsdorf

Zossen-Wünsdorf is a ‘book village’ where there are a large number of second-hand bookshops, and we started our tour there with the group that runs the bunker site. Our guide took us in through the main gate, dating from Cold War days, but which immediately put us into the heart of the above ground bunkers.
These all resemble houses as they were used to disguise the site as a residential area; in reality they were the way into the underground structures used by the various branches of the Wehrmacht. Some had been damaged in bombing but most had been blown by the Russians. They stand as decaying monuments to the failure of the Thousand Year Reich.
Cold War entrance door at Zossen-Wünsdorf

From here we went through the woods to the entrance of the main underground section. Initially we went through some Cold War period doors, which were amazing in their own right, and then into what was the entrance area during WW2.
It was very wide and when we questioned this, it was so that small vehicles such as Kubelwagens could drive in and enter the lift to take them to the lower levels. It was at this point we began to get an idea as to how big this site was!
From here we made our way through the tunnels, rooms and corridors. Because of occupation as a Soviet Airmobile Headquarters during the Cold War, the site is in very good condition and easy to access: it is fully lit and there are easily manageable stairs. No crawling through tunnels or roping down holes! Health and safety on these visits is something we do have to think about as Battlefield Guides!
Cold War remains at Zossen-Wünsdorf

As we made our way through the bunker site we got some sense of the importance of it and also the scale, and just how modern it was. Having an integrated internal messaging system, it had the WW2 equivalent of email whereby everyone in the complex could message others through a message pod system powered by compressed air! Anyone in the complex could speak to any headquarters on any battlefield.
As you walk the corridors you just wonder what it must have been like when the surrender at Stalingrad came through or when it was clear the fronts in both East and West were collapsing.
Message pod system at Zossen-Wünsdorf

Coming back outside from the Wehrmacht Bunker we realised we had been underground for well over an hour, seeing a site not normally open to the public because of the safety issues and which we know will fascinate those who travel with us on this new tour that focuses on many areas of WW2 history we have not been able to discuss in such depth before.


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Paul Reed, our Head Battlefield Guide, will publish regular blogs including personal stories, new tour updates and plenty of interesting and factual information about the Battlefields of Europe and beyond. Sign up below and receive email alerts keeping you up to date with Paul’s blogs.

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In search of Great Uncle Sidney by Catherine Miles

A battlefield tour can mean many different things to many different people, whether they’re on a journey of discovery, or something slightly more personal, what you take from an emotive experiences such as these tours will differ from person to person.

Catherine Miles recently published an article on her blog following her visit to Tyne Cot cemetery, on our All Quiet on the Western Front tour, in which she writes to her Great Uncle Sidney, who was sadly lost during one the Ypres salient of World War I . Catherine has kindly let us share with you on our blog.

In Search Of Great Uncle Sidney

It’s a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s and I’m about 8 years old. I’m standing in the back garden of my Grandmother’s house in Dagenham. I can hear the whirring of hand pushed lawnmowers as neighbours cut their grass. My Great Uncle Frank is with me and has just handed me a bronze medallion, about 5 inches in diameter.
The medallion has a relief of Britannia with a lion at her feet on one side. There is also a rectangular box with an embossed inscription. I trace my fingers over the letters.
Private Sidney Greaves
“He was my brother. He was killed in the First World War”. I look up. Great Uncle Frank is looking intently at me with his piercing blue eyes. The same eyes of my Grandmother and Dad.
“He was very young. Never forget him, Cath. It’s important. Never forget.”
Dear Great Uncle Sidney (can I call you Sid?)
We never knew each other, and this may seem a bizarre letter to write. I’m your Great Niece – your little sister Winnie was my Grandmother. I’m writing this in Belgium, just outside Ypres, in an area I guess you came to know all too well. I’ve come to see where you and your mates fought.
There’s lots we don’t know about you but we’ve pieced together the bald facts of your story. You were born in 1898, the fourth of 7 surviving children of Mary and Herbert Greaves. You lived in extreme poverty in Birmingham. Your Dad was an electrical light switch maker, then a labourer and the family lived in two rooms at the back of a shared house in Bacchus Road. I’d imagine it was a tough existence, which only became tougher as you grew up.
By the outbreak of war in 1914 both of your parents had died, along with the step-father who your mother married after your father’s death. Your elder brother Wallace had died aged 8. There clearly wasn’t a lot of money around as your mother died in the workhouse hospital. Your sister Winnie had been placed in an orphanage, and from there she went into service from the age of 14. Your youngest brother Frank had been adopted by a caring local couple who set him on a very different path in life: education, a decent job, a family. Your two older brothers, William and Herbert, had both joined the Army and were fighting in France.
We know you enlisted in your local regiment, the Warwickshires, in Birmingham. We don’t know exactly when. Did you join up under age in the surge of patriotic enlistment in 1914? Or were you conscripted in 1916, when compulsory military service was controversially introduced? This looks more likely – you’d have been 18 and eligible for service. We know that after you joined the Warwickshire Regiment you were transferred into the 6th Battalion, Royal Wiltshire Regiment. This suggests you were conscripted in 1916 – it was after this point the Army started to re-allocate new soldiers from their local Regiments to Regiments they had no geographical connection to. This was prompted by the horrendous losses on the Somme, particularly amongst Kitchener’s Pals Battalions. The huge losses incurred by full frontal infantry attacks against machine guns meant that entire communities were decimated when their local Battalions suffered severe casualties.
So let’s assume you were conscripted in 1916 and sent out to France to join the Wiltshires a few months later. How did you feel? Scared? A sense of patriotic duty to do your bit? Excited for the adventure? Was it better than the alternative of fending for yourself in Birmingham living a hand to mouth existence?
It’s October 1988. I’m 17 and on a 6th form trip to the World War One battlefields. I’m standing at a windswept Tyne Cot Cemetery under leaden skies, looking at the rows and rows of neat white gravestones. I scan name after name of the missing on the stone tablets arcing round one side of the cemetery. I try to imagine what it was like for these lads, many my own age, to stand in those trenches then climb out over the top when the whistle went at dawn. And I can’t imagine the mix of fear, adrenalin and dread they must have felt.
I turn to join my classmates getting back on our coach as the rain starts to fall, raindrops streaking the names on the stone. What I don’t realise is the significance of one of those names.
The Wiltshire Regiment you joined had seen significant fighting during the War. The 6th Battalion was formed in 1915 from the rush of volunteers responding to Kitchener’s call to join the Army. It fought at the Battle of Loos and at the Somme, taking large numbers of casualties each time. By 1917 when you were likely to have joined it, the Battalion was in Belgium preparing to take part in the next great Battle.
So now we come to the part of your story where we know a little bit more. In summer 1917 the British Army launched a new offensive against the Germans around Ypres in northern Belgium, aiming to push them back from the salient and away from their strategically important ports. The offensive was led by General Plumer, one of the more innovative WW1 Generals, and started in 7th June 1917 with the detonation of 19 massive mines under the German lines at Messiness ridge. The simultaneous explosion of the mines was so loud it was heard in England. As General Plumer told the Press before the mines detonated ‘Gentlemen, we may not make history tomorrow, but we shall certainly change the geography’.
God knows how loud it was for you Sid – it must have sounded as if the world was exploding.sidney-battlefield
The mines were a success, and the British gained ground, with your Battalion (including you, most likely) fighting in the thick of the action. There was then a pause before what became the Third Battle of Ypres began. During this time there was unseasonably high rainfall, turning the clay-based ground into a water-logged quagmire. Trenches flooded, the shell holes that pockmarked the landscape filled with water and if you fell in you could drown in them.
This was the battlefield which you were to fight in. After three years of total war the landscape was totally desolate, without a building and barely a tree left standing. Ypres and the fields around it had repeatedly been fought over since 1914, the ground being gained and lost by either side. Trenches snaked through the very slight inclines of the land.
It was in one of these trenches that you were standing on the morning of 20th September 1917, waiting for the order to attack. You would have looked out onto a wasteland of mud, shattered tree stumps, jumbles of barbed wire, and the remains of unburied men and horses. Your Battalion was to take part in what became known as the Battle of Menin Road Ridge, attacking parallel to the ridge line.
You were exactly here, about to attack up this slope.
I can’t imagine what you were feeling, standing in that trench with your mates. What I do know is that, according to the Battalion War Diary, at 5.40am the whistle blew and you climbed out of that trench and attacked the German lines. With artillery shells falling around you, machine guns firing in front of you and snipers taking aim at you. The Battalion war diary records:
At zero hour 5.40a.m Battalion advanced to the attack under a heavy creeping barrage by our artillery. Left front Company met with little opposition except for continuous Machine Gun Fire from the direction of CEMETERY EMBANKMENT. The machine guns appear to be located beyond the objective line and to fire through the Barrage. The dugouts in the wood at about O 6 a 7.7. were dealt with 3 Germans being killed and 19 taken prisoner. As ‘D’ Coy on the right seemed to meet with considerable resistance Capt. Williams (O.C. ‘C’ Coy) ordered his right front Lewis Gun to open a brisk fire on the dugouts in front of that Company.
The Company reached its objective O 6a 75.65 – O 6a 3.7 within 37 minutes of Zero and flares were lit in response to aeroplane calls at Zero plus 42. The consolidation was covered by Lewis Guns and the Company Snipers who were busily engaged endeavouring to pick off Germans moving down the railway embankment and also keeping down enemy sniping on the immediate front – one platoon sniper remained isolated in a forward position from the morning of the 20th until relieved on the night 21/22. Left Support Company consolidated its section of the intermediate line, several casualties were caused by sniping. The ground was very wet and water logged in places but firesteps were formed with sandbags.

And then at some point on that day you were killed. You were 19 years old. Your body was never found or identified.
Ironically, the action you were killed in was one of the more successful ones of the war. However, the battle that followed was one of the most attritional and horrific the British Army has fought. It’s name – Passchendaele – continues to epitomise the suffering, sacrifice and for some, the futility of the First World War. In your battle the British Army advanced five miles at a cost of 100,000 men killed. 1 man for every 35 metres gained. 1 of them being you.
It’s May 2016 and I’m standing again at Tyne Cot Cemetery. It’s a peaceful and beautiful place where 12,000 British servicemen are buried, the largest British Cemetery in the world. This time, however, I know who I’m looking for. I walk round the stone curved wall containing the names of 33,000 servicemen who were killed but their bodies never found or identified. These names are only those of servicemen killed after August 1917 in the Ypres salient. The original intention was for all of the missing to be inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. But despite its enormous size it could only take 55,000 names – which wasn’t enough. So Tyne Cot was expanded to take the rest.
The curved wall is a striking feature but within it are two circular rotundas with carved panels containing more names. I walk towards the left hand one. It’s a peaceful tranquil space.
And there you are Sid, on panel 120. The Royal Wiltshire Regiment, Private Greaves, S.
I stare at the panel for a long time. I read the names around you. Were any of these lads were your particular mates? Which of the 5 NCOs listed was the toughest on you? Lieutenant Adam Shapland appears and he was killed on the same day as you, aged 22. Was he one of your officers?
I place a remembrance cross at the bottom of your tablet. On it I’ve listed the names of your brothers and sister. Will and Herbert survived the war, but Will was gassed and never really recovered. He died in 1944 from the effects of the gas nearly 30 years earlier. It must have been tough knowing they survived the war but their younger brother didn’t.
Your little sister Winnie married a sailor from East London (a cockney, news which may not please you) and had two sons. One of them is my Dad. I call him now and tell him I’m standing in front of your name. He’s glad we’ve found you.
And I think of my Great Uncle Frank, who made sure we knew about you and inspired me to come and find you.
So why do thousands of British people visit the WW1 battlefields every year to find the names or graves of relatives they never knew? There are 34 people on my trip and many are searching for relatives. One has come to see her Uncle, Harry Anderson of the Staffordshire Regiment. It turns out Harry is on a plaque just two down from you so I go to see him as well. Another lays a wreath in remembrance of the grandfather she never met at the mighty Thiepval Memorial which has the names of a further 72,000 missing from the Somme. The losses of the First World War were so great they touched every family in the country. There were over 730,000 British servicemen killed – sons, fathers, brothers, uncles and friends.
I came to Tyne Cot because I wanted to honour your memory and pay tribute to the incredible bravery and sacrifice of you and your generation. I’m acutely aware and grateful that I have a life of comfort and opportunity which would have been unthinkable to you. I wanted to keep my promise to your brother Frank to remember you.
And I wanted to let you know that your family loved you, and cared enough to make sure that your great nieces and great nephews knew your story.
You have never been forgotten, Sid. For me, it’s so important that all of us who came after you remember you and remain eternally grateful that we have never found ourselves on the front line, being ordered to climb out of the trench.
With love from your great niece
Catherine

Why Coach Holidays Offer More Than You Think

We know that coach holidays are some of the best holidays that you can head off on, but some might say we are biased.

We get it, though. Some people may have never even considered a coach holiday before, for many reasons. But, we’re here to tackle that stereotype and tell you why coach holidays are great!
So, whether you’re new to coach travel, just want to see what it’s all about, or, of course, if you’re a seasoned traveller looking to sway your unconvinced friends and family, here are our top reasons to try a coach holiday in 2016.

Tick some of the best destinations off your list in one fun-filled trip.

Take Italy for example, we know it’s full of iconic places and it would probably take quite a few trips to see them all.
Venice, Lake Garda, Pisa AND Rome. We can dream, right? Well, there’s no need for dreaming, on a coach holiday, you can visit all of them during one trip. There are even tours that will take you to several different countries!
And, best of all, you don’t even have to lift a finger. You don’t have to worry about arranging your own transport and booking hotels in various destinations, it’s all part of your coach holiday package. Sounds ideal, right?

You don’t even have to stay close to home

Coach holidays are more than just fish and chips by the sea, they’ve entered the 21st century with a bang!
With exciting itineraries that will rival even the most enthusiastic traveller’s bucket list, you won’t be left longing for that gap year never taken.
With coach tours of New Zealand, South Africa and the USA thrown into the mix, you can sit back, relax and let some of the world’s most impressive destinations come to you.

You can use our local joining points

Forget about the long drive to the airport, hours in advance, the worry of parking and packing all your luggage into a small space. On a coach tour, we’ll pick you up closer to home.
With over 500 joining points around the UK, your holiday will start right away. There’s even the option to be picked up from your home with our door-to-door service. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Plus, there’s a maximum of only 5 pick-ups on your journey, so you know you’ll be on your way in no time.

Meet new people

Coach holidays are a great opportunity to socialise and meet some fantastic new friends, this also makes them a great choice for single travellers.
If the fear of setting off alone has held you back, you can be safe in the knowledge that you will be included and looked after with your tour group, guides and drivers.
Plus, with lounge facilities on board, our Silver Service coaches with drinks and snacks available, it’s almost like a hotel on wheels.

But, the Journey is long and boring, you say?

Whilst we do have a lot of ground to cover in some cases, the journeys certainly aren’t boring, and here’s why…

Entertainment

Of course, you can bring your own entertainment. Books, magazines, Sudoku, even bring along a pillow if you fancy catching a few hours’ sleep. But, we also like to do things a little more high-tech.
Take our Luxuria coach, for example, you will have a world of fun right at your fingertips. Your own, personal, seat back T.V. and entertainment system with USB ports and plug sockets to keep your devices charged, the journey might not be long enough to fit it all in!

Fantastic Scenery

Don’t get us wrong, the view from up in the clouds is pretty spectacular, but it gets a bit samey, don’t you think?
Swap those clouds for something a little different. How about a jaunt through the snow-capped mountains of the Alps? Or, maybe driving along the stunning Amalfi Coast? The Wild Atlantic Way?
When even your journey is a photo opportunity, you know you’re in for a good ride.

And, whilst we’re talking about those photo opportunities, get your selfie-sticks at the ready…

On a coach holiday, you’ll get dropped off at the places that you want to see, and with guided tours and knowledgeable drivers you won’t be left fumbling with maps, you’ll be ready to get those picture-perfect holiday snaps right away, so keep your cameras charged!

Even after all that, you’re not convinced to try the whole coach travel experience

There’s the option to fly to-and-from your holiday with our Air Holiday packages, and we’ll pick you up right from the airport. The best of both worlds!
But that’s enough about us, what do you think are the highlights of a coach holiday? Let us know in the comments.

Leger Holidays' Top 10 Viewed Tours of 2015

A new start to a new year, and no, we can’t quite believe it’s 2016 either. 2015 was a brilliant year for Leger Holidays. Our new coach, Luxuria, hit the road, our website got a new look and, best of all, we got to take more fantastic customers to some great destinations and made memories to last a lifetime.

Whilst we’ve been busy preparing for the exciting year ahead, we can’t help but look back fondly on our experiences from last year. So, we’ve compiled a list of our most-viewed tours over the last 12 months. If you’re looking for some inspiration or just curious to see if your favourite tour makes the list, here’s what caught your eye over throughout 2015:

10.

In at number 10, giving us all that warm, fuzzy feeling is the Fairy Tale Castles of Bavaria, the Rhine Valley & Black Forest. And, who said romance was dead?
Bavaria, Germany

9.

Taking the number 9 spot was beautiful Italy with our Lake Garda, Venice & Verona tour. Now that’s amore!
Venice Grand Canal

8.

Speeding in at number eight, it’s fast cars and lavish surroundings with the Monaco Grand Prix by Coach.
Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix

7.

Lucky Seven, our Splendours of Paris caught your eye for a short trip just across the channel.
Eiffel Tower, Paris

6.

The stunning Dutch Bulbfields take the number 6 spot, or was it the excursion to Amsterdam that tempted you to this colourful tour? Both spectacular choices, of course.
A windmill in Holland

5.

Italy sure is popular, coming in at number 5 is the fantastic Wonders of Rome & Pompeii.
Trevi Fountain, Rome

4.

Our D-Day landings in Normandy comes in at an impressive number 4, proving once again, we will never forget.
Pegasus Bridge

3.

Into the top three for 2015, and first onto the winner’s podium, the tour taking the hypothetical bronze medal is Beautiful Bruges!
Bruges, Belgium

2.

And in second place, it’s another appearance for the Formula 1 fanatics, our ever popular Belgium Grand Prix Race Weekend spiked your interest for another year.
Ferarri Forumla 1 Car

1.

Taking the top spot, the most viewed tour of 2015 is… Nashville, New Orleans and Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Heading into America’s Deep South, you liked the sound of the live jazz of New Orleans, the blues and rock ‘n’ roll in Memphis and the country sounds of Nashville. And, a visit to Graceland? We can’t disagree with that.
Nashville, USA
With a host of new tours coming up, we wonder which tour will top our most viewed tours this year. One thing we do know is that we’ve got plenty of holidays and experiences we hope you enjoy in the meantime. Where will your plans take you in 2016?

The Inside Guide To Europe's Christmas Markets

Berlin Christmas Market

Welcome to all the Christma-holics, the festive fanatics and the yule-tide yea-sayers! We’re now under 100 days until the big day and here at Leger HQ, we’re in the festive mood already, preparing for our annual Christmas Market pilgrimages.

With a fantastic selection of new and popular tours – we’re even sending our brand new, luxury coach, Luxuria, off on some jolly journeys across the continent – we can’t wait to get your journeys started.
So, in the midst of our festive excitement, we’ve put together our inside guide to the fabulous markets of Europe. Whether it’s your first time, or you’re just looking for the perfect experience, here’s our guide to the perfect places to suit you.

First Timer -Bruges

Fancy trying out the Christmas Market experience for the first time? You want twinkling fairy lights, traditional wooden stalls and picturesque scenery, right?
A great choice for any first-time visitor is Bruges, especially if you’re looking for fairy tale yule-tide escape. With a cosy Christmas atmosphere, it’s the perfect location to get a taste of everything you’d expect from a festive market.
With an impressive ice rink in the centre of the famous market square, you can skate up an appetite for some delicious Belgian treats. From waffles to local beers, there’s plenty to keep those cheeks rosy as you experience everything this fascinating market has to offer.

A Romantic, Christmas Market Break – Salzburg

OK love bugs, here’s one for you. Thinking about that romantic escape? You and your significant other, enjoying the Christmas period just like in the rom-coms? Find your picture perfect scene in Salzburg.
Mentioned as far back as the 15th century, with stalls set around a stunning, baroque cathedral, there is a magical air around the markets as the fairy lights twinkle and the smell of roasted almonds and mulled wine fill the air in the city of Mozart.
You can even top it off with a romantic horse and cart ride through the charming Old Town, who said romance was dead?

The Bigger the Market, The Better – Cologne

If you want to visit multiple markets in a large city, Cologne has exactly what you’re looking for.
The city has an impressive 8 markets! Some of which are amongst the biggest in the whole of Germany. There’s even a floating market on the River Rhine.
With the main market set in the shadow of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral and others set in its picturesque old town, whether you’re there for the scenery the experience or just something different, it may sound rather cliché, but, there really is something for everyone.

Excellent for Restricted Mobility Access – Erfurt

If you’re looking for an easily accessible market, if you have mobility problems or require the use of a wheelchair, Erfurt could be perfect place for you.
Erfurt Christmas market contains an accessible infrastructure meaning it is accessible and enjoyable to everyone!
With a huge candle-lit Christmas tree and more than 200 wooden huts flanked by half-timbered houses, the atmosphere here could only be beaten by one in a certain grotto in the north…Unless the elves are having a bad day.

Something For The Whole Family – Dresden

If you’re wishing to share the experience with the whole family, Dresden offers a fantastically fun experience for young, old and everything in-between.
With elves’ houses, a children’s bakery and a grotto for the big guy himself, there’s plenty to keep the kids entertained and with plenty of mulled wine, local beers and shopping opportunities on offer, there’s plenty for the adults to enjoy too.

A Market Off The Beaten Track – Wurzburg

Some people fancy heading somewhere a bit more niche, off the beaten track so to speak. If this is you, try Wurzburg.
Smaller than its German cousins, Wurzburg’s main market hosts around 100 stalls offering regional produce and food.
There’s also a small Artists’ Christmas Market over the weekends on the run-up to Christmas, with more than 40 artists selling jewellery, hand-made teddy bears and jam to name a few.

A Christmas Market For Delicious Local Delicacies – Freiburg

If you’re a lover of all things tasty, then Freiburg is one to enjoy. Set in Germany’s Black Forest, you’re in a haven for some Black Forest Gateau.
There’s plenty more sweet treats on offer too, from ginger cake to nicely decorated biscuits. If you’re looking to re-fuel, there’s a whole host of delicious hearty meals on offer as well as some tasty local snacks such as the potato pancakes, Kartoffelpuffer.
But, maybe more importantly, there’s a wide selection of mulled wines and punches, a perfect accompaniment to the food on offer at this fantastic market.
With so many fantastic Christmas Markets in Europe, it’s hard to choose where you want to head off to next. Are there any that have caught your eye this year? Check out our full list of Market tours, here.

Will and Pat Nicol take on our Highlights of Eastern Europe Tour

Will and Pat Nichol recently travelled with Leger on our Highlights of Eastern Europe tour, after sending some great photos to Leger HQ, they have kindly taken the time to answer a few questions for our blog.

So, if you’re looking to head off with Leger shortly, here’s what they have to say about their experience:

What was it about the tour that made us want to book? We had planned to visit these cities on a backpacking trip booking as we went, until, your brochure dropped onto our mat. It was going to every city we wanted to visit. Now, having reached a mature age, we decided to let you take the strain.
Which day were we most looking forward too from the itinerary? The day we were looking forward too, was the trip to Auschwitz and Krakow. Both places have been high on our list, due to the fact we have always been interested in WW 2 history. Auschwitz, what can we say, the impact  was exactly as we had imagined. Krakow, we had been told the old town was stunning, yes it was, both by day and by night.

018
“Thanks for laying on a flypast of a Lancaster at the Mohne Dam. Surprised everyone one on the coach. Took a model of a Lancaster with a loop of fishing line and my wife held it in a suitable position near the dam – looks brill.”

How did we find the travelling aspect of the holiday? It was easy, sit back and relax, comfortable seats, excellent drivers, plenty of refreshments, good choice of DVD’s to pass the time on the long days, what more could you ask.
Which city that you visited, was the most memorable? Prague, without a doubt, so much to see, so much to do. A city to re-visit, finished off with a boozy ride around the city in a vintage tram – brill.
389
“Mike and Keiran try to recruit a new Leger driver”

Did we find any hidden or unexpected delights on our tour? Yes, we did. Being aircraft enthusiasts we found a hidden aircraft museum in the middle of Warsaw.  Amongst all the hidden gems were four WW2 Russian aircraft, which we never dreamt of seeing, they are as rare as hens teeth!
What was the best part of the trip? the evening tour of Budapest. A fantastic champagne organ recital followed by a stunning tour of floodlight Budapest. We took hundreds of photographs!
"Keiran and Mike present the Budapest guide with two cuddly sheep for her children"
“Keiran and Mike present the Budapest guide with two cuddly sheep for her children”

What would we say to someone who was thinking of booking this tour? Don’t think about it, just do it, you will not be disappointed.
What was our favourite part of the whole experience? Spending a whole day wandering around Prague, its bridges, its squares and shops… and a pint of beer (or two!), watching people and the river activities. Ending the day with the vintage tram ride as already mentioned
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Do we have any funny stories from the tour? Yes, I spent twenty minutes riding the lift. Having forgotten my room key card in haste to collect my suitcase from the lobby. The keycard was designated to the floor we were on, so it took considerable time  to find a guest staying on the same floor. I thought I would be spending the night in the lift and without dinner too.(Moral, always carry your door key when leaving the room).  Four fellow travellers after hearing about my dilemma decided to take the stairs to breakfast the following morning. Not realising they were using the fire exits, once the door had closed behind them, they were trapped. After shouting and banging on the doors to no avail for over half an hour, they thought to call Mike Brannon on their mobile phone to come and release them. They made breakfast, just (Moral to this one, don’t use fire escapes except in an emergency).
Finally, would you head off on  tour with Leger again? Yes, already thinking about taking the Bavarian Castle’s tour.
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“My wife Pat really appreciated the coach named after her, seeing as it was her 60th birthday, she thought I had arranged it, I haven’t said I didn’t.”

One of the most rewarding things from a travel company’s perspective is to hear that customers have had great experiences on their holidays and we’d love to hear from you too!

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Easter in Lake Garda, Venice and Verona by Linda McKeown

Linda McKeown and her family took one of our Italian Tours over the Easter holidays, visiting Lake Garda, Venice and Verona, here’s how she found her first coach trip to Italy.

I have just returned from a wonderful holiday to Italy this Easter; the Lake Garda, Venice & Verona Tour. I had wanted to visit Italy by road for some while and was dreading the driving, as there is plenty of it! However, I persuaded my husband and 2 teenage children to accompany me on the tour – and we had a fabulous time!

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All we had to do was turn up at the convenient meeting point (just 7 miles from home) with our passports, and everything else was taken care of! The first holiday I have ever experienced when I am not constantly juggling tickets, passports, hotel details and a map! We were able to relax in the knowledge that everything was organised.
The drivers (Stuart and Gareth) were absolutely excellent – they got us from one place to another in good time, their driving was faultless and their knowledge of the area unsurpassed. We were not hurried, there were plenty of comfort stops and they made sure we were always looked after.
My husband and children dreaded the journey to Italy (boredom and leg room were the perceived issues) but we had plenty of leg room (we upgraded to Silver Service) and there was so much to look at on the way, that no one was bored! There was even a DVD to watch on the homeward journey. The hotel in Belgium for the first and last nights was excellent quality and the Lake Garda hotel offered an outdoor pool which the children braved during our stay!
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We found Venice an absolute gem, we were there in good time in the morning to enjoy it before it became too crowded, and the children took the optional cruise which they really enjoyed. Verona was completely different, and a beautiful city to spend the day in and enjoy – we had lunch in one of the squares and enjoyed people-watching after walking around the arena, the church and the Roman ruins.
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We did a spot of shopping after lunch (credit card beware, the shops are very tempting!) and then returned to the tranquillity of Lake Garda. We did the optional boat tour of Lake Garda on Easter Monday, and despite the holiday traffic, we arrived in Malcesine in good time to enjoy the sights and the ice cream – we also had a wonderful boat ride to see the sights from the Lake.
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We spent the day before departure walking around the Lake, having lunch at Riva del Garda enjoying the views and the sunshine, and sitting around the hotel pool – how fabulous!
We won’t forget our wonderful holiday in Italy, and not only have we recommended this holiday to friends and family, we will definitely do it again! Thank you Leger Holidays team! Linda, Dave, Rowan & Millie
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Picturebook Italy: a snapshot of all things Italian.

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

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

Lake Garda

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

Siena

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

Sorrento or Capri

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

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

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

Lake Maggiore and the Borromean Islands

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

My First Coach Holiday by Dave Tarbrook

My First Coach Holiday by Dave Tarbrook

Are you thinking of heading off on a tour of Italy? Or maybe you’re thinking about heading off on your first coach tour? Dave Tarbrook took his first ever coach holiday on our Rome, Pompeii and picturesque Capri tour earlier this year. Read his blog documenting his tour from the coach to the sights and how he found the experience on his first Leger holiday.

This was my first ever coach holiday and first time with Leger Holidays, but I was not disappointed!

Coach Journey & Hotel

I was unsure what to expect with regards to travelling by coach, but the silver service coach was very comfortable indeed with ample leg room, a reclining seat and superb, knowledgeable and professional driver and co-driver – Damien & Steve. From the moment I stepped on the coach I received a warm welcome and was very much looked after.
The coach journey itself was rather long, travelling through France, Switzerland and finally reaching my destination – Italy, but there were plenty of comfort stops and films were screened along the way which broke up the journey. Hot and cold drinks were served throughout which was great!
On reaching the hotel in Fiuggi, again we received a warm welcome from the owners who could not do enough for the coach party. The hotel was set in a beautiful little hill top town and was very clean, tidy with a comfortable room. This holiday offered bed and breakfast only, but guests were able to dine in the restaurant during the evening for a reasonable cost should they choose. The hotel itself was approximately a 5 – 10 minute walk away from the town, where there were ample restaurants and bars available, offering food and drink again at a very reasonable cost.

Sight Seeing

The scheduled sightseeing tours were superb! The beautiful Montecassino Monastery with its grand opulence and the fascinating trip to Pompeii was just out of this world! For a reasonable price, guests were able to opt into a guided tour around Pompeii and I am very pleased that I did, as it ensured that I got the very best out of this vast historical site. The trip to Rome had to be the highlight for me! On our 9 day tour we visited Rome twice. During the first Trip, we visited the Coliseum, The Spanish steps and Trevi Fountain, which were spectacular. On our second visit, we visited the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. Again, optional tours were offered which were very informative, ensuring that guests once again got the most from their time spent in Rome. During the tour, we were offered the opportunity to go to either the island of Capri or visit the town of Sorrento. I decided to visit the beautiful town of Sorrento, which has great shops and plenty of restaurants offering fantastic Italian cuisine! The final trip to Frascati and Castell Gondolfo was great! We went to taste the wine and had a light lunch of bread, cheese, meat and olives… Following this, we had the opportunity to buy the local Frascati wine, which of course I did!!!
All in all, this was a great holiday and I met some truly wonderful people in our coach party. I would definitely recommend this holiday to anyone who has not visited  Italy and very much recommend Ledger Tours which was extremely professional from the initial booking, right the way through the holiday itself!
Thanks for a superb and memorable holiday!
Dave

Do you have any suggestions to people taking a coach holiday for the first time? Leave your comments below.

Lose yourself in Cézanne ’s home town.

Known for its many fountains, famous artists and impressive architecture, next stop on my tour of Provence and the Dordogne was the charming town of Aix en Provence.

It was raining heavily as I stepped onto the streets of Aix en Provence, a town no stranger to water being known as the ‘City of a Thousand Fountains’, the water coming from the city’s underground springs. One of the first things I saw was… a fountain: the fountain of La Rotonde to be exact, built in 1860, and a sight I spotted on many postcards throughout my visit. As I walked along the street, following my map in the direction of a street named ‘Cours Mirabeau’, people dashed around shielding from the weather under brightly-coloured umbrellas or were sheltering in doorways or in the haven of one of the cosy cafés. I passed one old lady wearing a carrier bag on her head – stylishly, of course, it was the south of France afterall. She’d obviously not anticipated such a heavy downpour today.

The wide avenue of Cours Mirabeau
The wide avenue of Cours Mirabeau

After a couple of minutes I reached the wide avenue of Cours Mirabeau. One the right-hand side, banks and other businesses filled the old buildings, while to my left, inviting cafés, book stores and gift shops lined the street. Continuing along, I came across one of Aix’s thousand fountains: a moss-covered font known as the Fontaine des Neuf Canons (the Fountain of the Nine Cannons), apparently located on the site of a spring where sheep were once brought to drink while migrating. Further along, I spotted another mass of thick, green moss hiding another fountain known as the ‘mossy fountain’ – the Fontaine Moussue, a thermal fountain whose water comes from a hot natural spring.
The Fountain of the Nine Cannons
The Fountain of the Nine Cannons

The reflection of car headlights danced across the wet, glossy pavement as I carried on along the avenue, framed by huge sycamore trees (or plane trees as they’re sometimes referred to), and there on the left was a café called Les Deux Garçons. I’d read about this place before my trip, and knew it as the legendary brasserie frequented by the likes of Edith Piaf, Ernest Hemmingway, Winston Churchill, Paul Cézanne and his friend, novelist Émile Zola. It was in fact here in Aix en Provence that the great painter Paul Cézanne was born in 1839. It was a name I remembered from my Art History studies, many years ago, and as I walked along, on the pavements I noticed small brass medallions underfoot which displayed his name and a large letter ‘C’. These plaques mark around 30 significant places associated with the painter’s life, making up the ‘Cézanne Trail’ which starts at the bronze statue of Cézanne standing just outside the Tourist Office and opposite the Fontaine de la Rotonde. The statue was put there in 2006 marking the centenary of the artist’s death. The trail features sites such as the College Mignet (then known as Bourbon College) which is where Cézanne met Zola; the building where Cézanne was born and, of course, the Café des Deux Garçons at No. 53 Cours Mirabeau.
The bronze statue of Cézanne stands just outside the Tourist Office
The bronze statue of Cézanne stands just outside the Tourist Office

 
Brass studs on the pavement mark the Cézanne Trail
Brass studs on the pavement mark the Cézanne Trail

Splashing through puddles my feet became more and more soggy as I became more and more engrossed in what I was seeing than where my feet were stepping. By now the rain was dripping off my hood and past my eyes, so I sheltered under a tree for a couple of minutes. The vivid colours of a nearby fruit stall caught my eye, standing out against its grey surroundings as brightly as the fruit in one of Cézanne’s still life paintings. To my left, the warm light of the boulangerie looked extremely inviting – the seductive smells coming from the place and the food I could see through the window reminded me it was almost lunch time.
Adding a splash of colour to the day: a nearby fruit stall
Adding a splash of colour to the day: a nearby fruit stall

By the time I’d refuelled it had stopped raining – just in time for our departure from the city. The huge curtain of grey sky was drawing back, making way for a canvas of bright blue dotted with fluffy white clouds. I headed back along Cours Mirabeau, once again past its splashing fountains and towering sycamore trees, and the bar that no doubt held so many interesting stories from its past visitors. It was time to say ‘au revoir’ to Cézanne’s hometown.
Want to know more about Leger’s Highlights of Provence and the Dordogne tour? Click here.
Have you visited Aix en Provence? Share your stories and comments with us.