Battlefield Netherlands by Jonathan Ball

In the autumn of 1944, the Allied forces found themselves advancing on a wide front across the Netherlands. The famous Operation Market Garden, leading to Arnhem, took place but there were many forgotten battles along the eastern corridor of Holland. Find out first hand about our brand new tour, Battlefield Netherlands, from our specialist guide Jonathan Ball.


Operation Blackcock was a large scale methodical mopping up operation. It was not planned to make any deep thrust into the enemy defences or capture large numbers of Prisoners of War. It proceeded from stage to stage almost entirely as planned and was successfully completed with minimum casualties.

That was the official 21st Army Group take on the events of February 1945. Lt-Col Frank Coutts of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers held a slightly different point of view…

I would very much like to meet that staff officer from 21st Army Group sitting in his caravan or chateau outside Brussels with a large whisky and soda on his table. He had the cheek to add ‘with minimal casualties’. What in Heaven’s name is minimal? One mans life is precious and XII Corps suffered over a thousand killed and wounded.

For our BRAND NEW four-day tour, Battlefield Netherlands, we aim to take our guests very much off the beaten track in the Netherlands which to most British minds ends on the banks of the Neder Rijn at Arnhem. On the recent recce, we looked at the Battle for the towns of Overloon and Venray as the Allies pushed eastwards from Nijmegen towards the River Maas and beyond to the borders of the German Reich. First attacked by the US 7th Armored Division, the Americans found Overloon too tough a nut to crack. In 7 days they advanced little more than 2 kilometres suffering 452 casualties and having 35 Tanks destroyed, 13 of them in quick succession in just one day by a solitary German 88mm Anti Tank Gun. Following the withdrawal of the ‘Lucky 7th’ the task of taking Overloon was given to the British in the shape of the veteran 3rd Divisions’ 8th Infantry Brigade. The Battalions involved lead the British assault on D-Day in Normandy landing at 0730 hours on Sword beach and it’s their fortunes we followed. Firstly with the Suffolks on their start line north of Overloon. We looked at the story of Nelson Brown, a Dunkirk veteran and a bit of a character. The night before the attack on Overloon he shaved a swastika in his hair. By the next morning, he was dead. Scythed down by German machine gun fire literally yards from where he emerged from the trees at the beginning of the attack.

Overloon Cemetery
Overloon

We followed the Suffolks to the site of a windmill, destroyed during the fighting on the Oploo road. All around the fire-swept, flat terrain gives the visitor a first-hand impression of what it must have been like on that October day to advance under heavy fire with so little cover. George Rayson, a Suffolks veteran was later to remark of the fighting around the Windmill “It was bad enough on D-Day but this was one of the worst days of my life, why I’m still here today I don’t know”

After the Suffolks, we followed the story of the East Yorkshire Regiment from the perspective of the defending German Paratroopers. In a wood, there is what a colleague of mine described as some of the best-preserved trenches of the Second World War he’d ever seen. Amongst these trees took place bloody, hand to hand combat as the East Yorks battled through to their objective.

Suffolks start line - CWGC Cemetery in Overloon
Suffolks start line – CWGC Cemetery in Overloon

Then it was on to the beautifully maintained CWGC Cemetery in Overloon before lunch and a visit to the superb museum in the town. There’s lots of original battle damaged kit recovered from the Battlefield in there that again illustrates the ferocity of the fighting.

After lunch, we walked in the footsteps of George Eardley. A Sergeant whose actions in destroying 3 German Machine Gun Posts was to culminate in the awarding of the Victoria Cross. After that, we travelled to the crossing of what is today the peaceful Loobeek River. It was no easy objective in 1944 and for good reason did the locals later know the river as the ‘Bloodbeek’.

Loobeek River
Loobeek River

Venray CWGC cemetery visited on the Battlefields Netherlands tour

Later, after paying our respects to the boys in Venray CWGC cemetery who fell liberating the town we moved on to end the day at Ysselsteyn German Cemetery. The only statistic you really need to know here is the number of men buried, 31,598. Everything else pales into insignificance after that.

The following day took us around what was known as the Roer Triangle with Operation Blackcock, arguably one of the most interesting series of battles you’ve probably never heard of?

We started at Brunssum CWGC cemetery with Brigadier Gerald Mole, killed when 700 mines that had been lifted detonated next to his Headquarters. When Mole was buried the British guns fired in salute using live ammunition on carefully selected targets across the border in Germany, an act that Gerald Mole would no doubt of approved of and incidentally our next destination on the tour.

Brunssum CWGC cemetery with Brigadier Gerald Mole

We crossed the border to look at the Battle for Geilenkirchen and in particular the fight for the woods west of the village of Tripsrath. What took place in these woods was described by one senior officer as being akin to scenes from the First World War. The assault was made by 5/Dorsets and the wood with the trenches and dugouts which remain to this day was named in their honour as Dorset Wood.

Following our brief foray into Germany it was back across the border and to the Dutch town of Sittard for lunch. We took time at the towns CWGC cemetery to look at the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to its youngest recipient of WW2, Fusilier Dennis Donnini, just 19 years old. Think about what you were doing at 19?

After lunch, we moved along the eastern bank of the River Maas to the town of Susteren. A superb and very original German 88mm Anti Tank gun awaited us there plus the scene of the bitter street fight for control of the town.

Leaving Susteren, we headed on to take in the site of another VC action, the only VC of WW2 awarded to a man of the Royal Army Medical Corps, Eric Harden, the Commando Medic. When men from 45 RM Commando were pinned down Eric Harden went out unarmed on at least three separate occasions to bring in the wounded. On that fateful third trip out he was shot and killed. As Derek-Mills Roberts was to write to his widow later, “it’s easier to be brave with a rifle in your hand than a stretcher”.

Eyewitness WW2 Museum visited on the Battlefield Netherlands tour
Eyewitness WW2 Museum

WW2 Museum visited on the Battlefield Netherlands tour

So those are some of the less explored Battlefields of the Netherlands. We finished with a flourish though at the simply staggering Eyewitness WW2 Museum in Beek. It’s a private collection, beautifully presented which tells the story of the war in the Netherlands and doesn’t shy away from some uncomfortable truths from those years of the German occupation.

Jonathan Ball – Specialist Battlefield Guide for Leger Holidays

If you’d like to join us on this tour, click here for more information.

The Holocaust Remembered | Leger Holidays

With the atrocities of the Holocaust brought firmly back to the forefront of our attention this week, it’s important for us to remember the millions of victims who suffered at the hands of evil during one of the most horrific parts of World War 2.

Our Holocaust Remembered tour follows the moving story of Anne Frank as well as the story of Oskar Schindler. Our specialist guide, Charlotte Czyzyk, who also works at the IWM North, specialises in the Holocaust, and here talks us through some of the most moving and thought provoking aspects of this emotional tour.

The Holocaust Remembered – Charlotte Czyzyk

This tour covers the history of the Holocaust in which 6 million Jewish men, women and children were murdered, as well as countless others because of their race, religion, sexuality, nationality, or disability. We follow the footsteps of those whose lives were affected by persecution, and include testimony from individuals such as Anne Frank to bring our excursions to life. We visit beautiful, vibrant cities where Jewish culture thrived before the war, including Berlin, Krakow and Prague, which reminds us of everything that was lost in the Holocaust.

We see the traces of Nazi architecture in the German capital of Berlin, and visit the villa outside the city where senior Nazis held the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. This secret meeting sealed the fate of European Jews, and it is always striking to think that such a beautiful lakeside location could provide the setting for such cold and calculated decision to murder millions of people. We also visit one of the earliest concentration camps at Sachsenhausen, where barracks have been preserved to gain a sense of the prisoners’ daily life. 

Achsenhausen Concentration Camp
Achsenhausen Concentration Camp

Moving onto Poland we walk through the sites of the former Krakow ghetto and Plaszow concentration camp, which during the war were plagued by overcrowding, violence, hunger and squalor. Later in the tour we also visit the so-called ‘model ghetto’ at Theresienstadt near Prague, which deceived the Red Cross inspectors into thinking that conditions were acceptable for the people held there. 
Krakow Ghetto
Krakow Ghetto

For many passengers, visiting the former concentration and death camp at Auschwitz is a particularly emotional experience. Seeing the huge displays of confiscated belongings – shoes, spectacles, even women’s hair – is overwhelming, and it helps us to begin to come to terms with the human tragedy that unfolded there.  The remains of the vast death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, including the railway lines, prisoner barracks and gas chambers, show how the Nazi machine was geared to destroying people using industrial methods. 
And yet amongst the suffering and loss, there are tales of hope and courage. We look at stories of inspirational individuals such as Oskar Schindler, and visit the museum at his former factory in Krakow where he employed and saved 1,200 Jews. We also move to the Czech Republic to see the church in Prague where the brave assassins of SS leader Reinhard Heydrich met their fate, a building which still bears scars from the fighting that took place there over 70 years ago.
Auschwitz
Auschwitz

The end of the war created new challenges for survivors. We visit the former concentration camp at Bergen Belsen, which was liberated by the British Army in April 1945. At this emotive site we think about the difficulties that soldiers faced in providing the food, clothing, and medical assistance required to save as many people as possible, as well as the psychological support needed to help survivors to make sense of all they had come through and all they had lost. Some people poured their efforts into seeking justice from the perpetrators, and we end the tour by visiting the Nuremberg courtroom where the trials of leading Nazis such as Herman Goering took place. 
Bergen Belsen
Bergen Belsen

This tour follows journeys of many kinds:  journeys of death in trains, in ghettos and in camps; journeys of escape, hiding and survival; and journeys made after liberation to a new life. I hope that you will join this special trip to unforgettable sites, which create evocative memories for all those who travel with us. Click here to view WW2 Battlefield Tours.

Italian Süd Tyrol & the Dolomites – A Passenger's View

The Dolomites

Amazing, Beautiful, Spectacular, Wonderful, Fantastic, Stunning…. You really do run out of words to describe some of the places you visit and sights you see on this Dolomites tour, but I think the coach crew would sum it up in their own word ‘Amazeballs’ as that’s just what this tour was.

Day One – Outbound to Liege

We were lucky enough to join our tour coach at our pick-up point and were able to sit in our allocated seats from the start. Once on board, Mum had a lovely surprise as her seat had been decorated by our drivers, Paul & Lisa, to celebrate her birthday. This was a lovely gesture and Paul & Lisa also made sure that they presented each passenger who celebrated a birthday on tour with a personal card & gift. This made the tour extra special for those 3 passengers who celebrated their birthdays on this tour of the Dolomites with us.

Following the usual efficient service at the interchange, we re-joined our tour coach and continued on to our overnight hotel in Liege. We arrived at a reasonable hour and were able to enjoy a drink at the bar and the chance to get to know our fellow travellers. One thing we love about Leger tours is the opportunity to make new friends and discover wonderful new places. This tour was no exception!

Day Two – Liege to Uttenheim

It’s an early start and a long day, but travelling through some wonderful scenery, as we did, it’s a very enjoyable journey. There were plenty of refreshments available on board, regular stops to stretch your legs and the lounge on board is a great place to spend some time getting to know the new friends you meet on board. During the journey, Paul explained the itinerary and provided additional information & interesting facts about the planned excursions and places we passed during the day. His knowledge of the area and enjoyment of the tour was obvious and both he & Lisa were more than happy to answer any questions about the tour, or indeed any other tour we were thinking of booking after perusing the brochures on board.

At the end of the day, we arrived at the lovely Zum Schlossl hotel in Uttenheim to find a warm welcome from our hosts Anna & Peter along with a lovely 3-course dinner waiting for us.

Day Three – Dolomites

I think this Dolomites tour has to be one of the highlights of the holiday. Stunning scenery around every bend, and plenty of stops for that perfect picture postcard photo opportunity. Our lunch stop on the Pordoi Pass, in the Dolomites, was fantastic with more than enough time for those who wanted to take the cable car to the top. I can thoroughly recommend doing this if you get the chance as the views were stunning…. snow, ice, blue skies and amazing vistas. The first of many lunches with a view this week….

After dinner, those who didn’t want to watch the football tonight had a fun evening of Bingo provided by Lisa & Paul …. It did get a bit competitive but was a great end to our day. There were a lot of laughs and everyone really enjoyed the fun end to a wonderful day exploring the mighty Dolomites.

Pordoi Pass, Dolomites
Pordoi Pass, Dolomites

Day Four – Lake Garda

This optional excursion was well worth booking. We travelled to Lake Garda and had time to explore Riva before catching our first boat of the day to Limone. Once there, we had plenty of time to explore this lovely town and enjoy lunch in one of the many cafes offering views of the lake. Our last boat ride of the day took us to Malcesine where there was time to visit the castle, browse the local shops and of course enjoy the obligatory ice cream in the Italian sunshine before re-joining the coach for our journey back to the hotel. On board the coach for our return journey we enjoyed our first taste of Meloncello which was lovely and the perfect end to the excursion.

Riva, Lake Garda

Day Five – Brunico & Lake Misurina

In our opinion, this was the best day of the tour and is an optional which really should not be missed. Our first stop of the day was Brunico, where we were given plenty of time to explore both the new and old parts of town and enjoy coffee & cake in one of the many cafes.

Some of us climbed up to the Woodland Soldier Cemetery which Paul had suggested we visit and the castle and I can recommend both on a visit to this beautiful town.

Brunico Soldier Cemetery is a forest cemetery and is unlike any other war cemetery I’ve seen. Set amongst the woodland, overlooking the town, all of the graves are carved from trees. Amongst them, you can find Hungarian-Austrian & German army next to Russian & Serbian Prisoner of War graves. Every one of them, whether Catholic or Orthodoxy, Mohammedan or Jewish, were buried according to their religious rites, and all of the graves are equally cared for and decorated all year round by the town. When visiting Brunico it is well worth the walk up to visit this woodland cemetery and we were so glad Paul told us about it.

Brunico Soldier Cemetery
Brunico Soldier Cemetery

Walking across the bridge from the Woodland Cemetery we found Brunico Castle, which overlooks the town. We had the time to go in and explore the castle and were glad we did. There is so much to see within it that we could have spent a lot longer there and would definitely go back again. The views from the castle over the town and surrounding area are worth climbing the stairs of the tower, although a lift is also available if the thought of the stairs is too daunting.

Brunico Castle
Brunico Castle

Lake Misurina

What a place for a lunch stop! There was the chance to walk around the lake if you wanted, which many of the group did. We chose to take our first chair lift ride and enjoyed a very nice lunch (& being at the top of the mountain we couldn’t not try the apple strudel for dessert!) with a spectacular view overlooking this beautiful lake and the surrounding snow-topped mountains.

Without a doubt we would recommend that you do this optional excursion if you get the chance….it’s just Wow!

Lake Misurina

Day Six – Venice

This is a long day with an early start and because of that, not all the passengers joined this optional excursion. Those of us who did had a lovely day in Venice with perfect weather. We enjoyed our first gondola ride and enjoyed wandering around the streets of Venice exploring before finding a lovely local restaurant for lunch. There was time after that to take photos at the Rialto Bridge and enjoy another ice cream while we walked back via St Mark’s Square to catch the boat for the optional Lagoon cruise.

Rialto Bridge, Venice
Rialto Bridge, Venice

Venice is a lovely place to visit and we enjoyed our day, but because of the long drive, it deters a lot of passengers from booking the excursion. It may be worth changing this day and including some of the other wonderful places in the Tyrol which are closer to the hotel. Some of the passengers who didn’t come to Venice had a lovely day exploring the local towns or going for walks from the hotel. Whether they joined the excursion or not, everyone enjoyed their day.

Day Seven – Bolzano

A nice short day after Venice but we still had plenty of time to explore this lovely town. The architecture of the buildings and the beautiful surrounding countryside provide some great photo opportunities. We took time to look around the local shops, visit the castle and enjoy lunch soaking up the sun with overlooking the Cathedral with its beautiful mosaic roof which stands at one end of the central square, Piazza Walther. In the centre of the square is a statue of the poet and bard, Walther von de Vogelweide and we found it was a wonderful place to sit and enjoy lunch whilst watching the world go by.

Bolzano
Bolzano

Hotel Zum Schlossl, Uttenheim

There is not one bad thing to say about this hotel. We had a room in the annexe which had a balcony with fantastic views over the mountains. The hotel is run by Anna, Peter and their son and is just across the quiet road from the annexe. The food is all fresh and homemade by Anna and, believe me, you will never leave the dinner table hungry. After dinner, there is a very nice terrace where we enjoyed a drink in the evening with our fellow passengers and I am being totally honest when I say we really can’t fault anything about this hotel or the wonderful staff. We only wish we could have stayed there longer!

Coach & Crew

There is not one negative thing to say about the coach or Paul & Lisa, our fantastic crew for this Italian Sud Tirol and the Dolomites tour.

The coach was always kept spotlessly clean inside & out, and with plentiful refreshments on board, there was no chance of spending any part of the tour thirsty or hungry.

Paul & Lisa are a wonderful team and they work extremely well together. Their obvious love of their work and knowledge of the tour and the places we visited was infectious and I don’t think one person left the tour without having a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Throughout the week, both Lisa & Paul were happy to answer any questions about any tours that we saw in the brochures on board the coach. Then, on the Friday night, they had the great idea of a ‘Booking Night’. This gave the whole group the chance to talk to each other and ask any questions of Paul & Lisa about future tours they were thinking of booking. We were lucky enough to make some wonderful new friends this tour and by the end of the night, we had booked another 3 tours to look forward to with our new friends.

To find out more about our Summer in the Italian Süd Tirol & the Dolomites tour, click here to find out more. 

Stalingrad: Turning Point of the Eastern Front by Paul Errington

Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s I was brought up on the World at war TV series and Purnell’s History of the Second World War magazine series leading to a lifelong interest in Military history the Western European Theatre but also the Eastern Front, the scale of which fascinated me.

Great Battles in the Cities of Soviet Russia and on the expanses of the Russian Steppes where huge armies clashed in what was the most Titanic struggle of WW2. One place held my interest more than any other, a City where arguably the most destructive and costliest Battle of World War 2, and in fact History, took place and where the momentum of the campaign in the east turned against the Germans: Stalingrad.
Battle of World War 2 - Stalingrad

The Battle symbolizes many things including the clash of the ideologies of Fascism and Communism both of which were brutal regimes which led to the suppression of hundreds of millions, the personal struggle between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, but most of all the savagery of a modern Industrial war fought in an Urban environment where the loss of life was numbered in the 100’s of thousands; a final death figure will probably never be known.

But Stalingrad has also been held as a turning point of the second World War in the east, a place where the German Wehrmacht suffered its greatest
ever disaster in the field and its largest formation the 6
th Army was almost completely wiped out.

After researching the Battle for several years in 2001, I was fortunate to visit for the first time the City now called Volgograd and the surrounding Steppe Battlefields to the west and south of the City where so much remains to be seen. The battle can be viewed and Toured from the first crossing of the Don River to the final surrender by Field Marshall Friedrich Paulus at the Univermag Store in the City Centre, visiting locations relevant to all the phases of the Battle where memorials and original Battle-scarred buildings still stand bearing witness to the ferocious fighting and courage and sacrifice of those from both sides who took part.

One of the places I found the most emotive was the location to the North of the City in the suburbs of Rynok and Lataschinka where the first elements of the 16th Panzer Division, Armoured cars of Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 16 reached the Volga river in the late afternoon of the 23rd August 1942 having made their famous dash across the land bridge between the Don and the Volga. The German troops involved referred to it as overwhelming, or Ein Historisches Augenblick, an Historic moment.

From here high on the west bank of the Volga they could see the mighty river itself, the Asiatic steppe shimmering in the heat haze and extending far into the distance to the east plus the Northern part of the City and the Industrial district where they would soon be involved in brutal fighting. In the distance huge clouds of smoke and fire hung over the
City where over 600 German Bombers had begun their saturation bombing of the City itself, Soviet archives estimate that over 40,000 civilians were killed on that day alone
by the bombing. Looking at the same view you can envisage their feelings of success and exhilaration that now the Volga had been reached the Russian campaign may be
nearing its triumphant conclusion.

Volga Crossing
Volga Crossing

At that moment of Triumph I’m sure not many of them were aware of the scale of battle that was waiting to engulf them and what the fate of themselves and hundreds of thousands of other human beings would be. But the moment and feelings were only fleeting as they began to be engaged by Soviet Anti-Aircraft Guns crewed by young female crews who began firing over open sights at the German Spearhead. As the famous Russian writer Vasily Grossman wrote “This was the first page of the Stalingrad defense”:
the Battle for the City of Stalingrad had begun.

Urban warfare, or Rattenkrieg, in the sewers and underground shops of the factories, the cult of the sniper, the evolution of street fighting tactics, extremes of weather conditions, attack and counter attack, encirclement, starvation and surrender and the final victory of the people of Soviet Russia and the Red Army. This was a turning point in History.

Even in subsequent visits that first sight of the Volga in that historical location left an overwhelming feeling of a moment in history and the beginning of infamous battle that
was to follow.

First view of the Volga
First view of the Volga

The Mamayev Kurgan, the Factory District, Lyudnikovs Island, Pavlovs House, Tsaritsa Gorge, the Railway Station and the Grain Silo etc are all names that will be familiar to those who have studied the fighting to capture the City. But out on the Steppe west of the City are the Airfields of Gumrak and Pitomnik the reconciliation Cemetery complex at Rossoschka including the memorials to the over 100,000 Germans soldiers still missing in action. Soldiers Field, Bald Hill – Memorials to the heroic Soviet defenders, Kalach and the Don River crossing and the area of the German defense lines around the so called Marinovka Nose.

Mamayev Kurgan
Mamayev Kurgan

Grudinin Mill
Grudinin Mill

The Tour we have put together is one that will allow the visitor to understand all the major phases of the Battle , looking at the whole picture from the point of view of both the Axis and Soviet Armies , the senior Commanders and the ordinary soldier, the Civilian experience and the famed resilience of the Red Army soldiers.

The Tour will be led by myself and one of the most knowledgeable and experienced Russian Historians and Guides of the Battle, who first took me to Stalingrad all those years ago: Evgeny Kulichenko. No-one knows the Battle and it’s history as intimately as Zhenya, who is a lifelong resident of the City and who has studied the Battle since being a small boy growing up with the stories and first-hand accounts of the surviving veterans. We look forward to welcoming you on an amazing tour of an incredible battlefield.

Tempting Wine Regions: Europe’s Top 5

Have you been true to your word and not touched a drop of wine, beer or your favourite spirit throughout the whole month of January? Well, there’s some good news in store… the end of dry January is nigh!

And, to all those who’ve soldiered on through the month, abstaining from alcohol, this one is dedicated to you.
We all know that a holiday just isn’t a holiday without a little – or a lot – of overindulgence, and for all you wine connoisseurs out there, there’s no better place to sample the local delicacies than within the wine regions of Europe!
So, if you’re more than ready for that first tipple of your favourite beverage, but you’re still trying to power through those last remaining days, turn those cravings into wanderlust and find out about the fascinating places behind your favourite glass.

The Loire Valley – France’s Picturesque Wine Region

The Loire Valley - France
Deep within central France, marking the border between the north and south, and just a short distance away from the capital city of Paris, lies the lovely Loire Valley.
Or, should we say the ‘Garden of France’? A name awarded to the region due to the abundance of vineyards lining the banks of the river. And, that’s a great start, right?
The Loire Valley produces grapes such as the popular white Chenin Blanc and the red Grolleau and amongst the stunning natural scenery, you’ll find châteaux, castles and palaces dotted along the river… but it’s the 4000 wineries that we’re most interested in.
Producing an array of world-renowned quality wines, from light rosés to deep reds and sparkling whites, there’s something for everyone to enjoy, whatever your tipple of choice.

La Rioja – The Famous Wine from Spain

La Rioja, Spain's famous Wine Producing Region
If you’re a glass of red sort-of-person, then Spain could be the one for you… Situated at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, La Rioja is close to the ‘Way of St. James’ pilgrimage route and is centred on the Ebro River Valley.
With beautiful views of medieval villages, endless vineyards and olive groves – not to mention the unbroken blue skies – the La Rioja region produces an abundance of full-bodied red wines.
And, the wines from Rioja are as age-worthy as those from the Chianti and Bordeaux regions – they’ve even been produced since Roman times!
Rioja’s main grape is the Tempranillo, however, most wines are blended with smaller amounts of others, such as the Garnacha and the Mazuelo grapes, but, one thing is certain, they always taste divine!

The Douro Valley – Portugal

The Douro Valley - Portugal
Often overlooked as a wine region within Europe, we say the Douro Valley in Portugal is amongst one of the best!
It’s home of the world-famous Port and, as a matter of fact, was the first wine region in the world to have a formal demarcation. Yes, just like Champagne, the Douro Valley is the world’s only producer of Port.
History played a huge part in the production of the sweet tipple. When England was at war with France in 1756, it was decided that they would import wine from Portugal instead.
However, due to the long journey, the wines would often become spoiled by the time it reached England. So, in order to preserve them, they were fortified… and in the city of Porto, Port was born!
And, due to its deliciousness, the sweet, red dessert wine is still extremely popular to this day.

Tuscany – Italy’s Iconic Region

Tuscany, Italy's famous wine producing region.
It’s true what they say, it really is hard to find a bad glass of wine in Tuscany! And, not only does Tuscany produce one of the most beautiful wines in the world, the Chianti, it is also one of the most beautiful places on earth!
Unique landscapes of lush green, sloping hills full of olive groves and vineyards, are scatted with tiny traditional villages, seen for miles and miles.
Chianti, typically and traditionally presented in a bottle known as a ‘fiasco’, wrapped in a straw basket, is a dry red wine, which goes very well with the delicious cuisine that you can enjoy in Italy!

The Moselle – Germany’s Top Wine Region

The Moselle Wine Region - Germany
Germany is home to thirteen different wine regions which make the country one of the top producers in Europe. But, out of all thirteen, the Moselle is arguably the most famous… and for good reason.
Vineyards cover the steep hillsides that border the Moselle River, and it’s here where the celebrated Riesling grapes are produced, along with the Elbling, Pinot Blanc and Kerner, to name a few.
These grapes create some of the most delightful light and crisp wines you’ll ever taste. And, they’ve been made here since the 15th century, when the Romans planted their crops along the Rhine and Moselle rivers in order to supply their garrisons with wine.
Add to that the fact that the Moselle Valley looks like something straight out of a fairy tale, you’ve got the perfect destination for wine lovers and old romantics alike.
Visit these impressive wine regions and much more on a Leger Holidays escorted tour – we even offer wine tasting excursions, if this blog has whet your appetite.

2018: Our 5 Top Travel Trends

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

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

Vietnam

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

Berlin

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

Sicily

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

The Azores

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

Santorini

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

Top Viewed Tours of 2017

As we near the end of 2017, we’re taking time to reflect on another fantastic year and what an honour it has been to take so many of you on wonderful holidays.

And we’re thrilled that, with all the hard work of our teams at Leger HQ and, of course, our coach crews and guides out on the road, we’ve helped create incredible memories and a lasting impressions, as you voted us the Best Medium Coach Holiday Company for the second year running at the British Travel Awards.
But, we couldn’t round off the year without giving you the rundown of our most viewed tours on of 2017. So, without further ado, if you’re on the lookout for holiday inspiration or just wanting to know if your favourite tour made it onto our list, here’s what really caught your eye this year…

10. The Beauty of Lake Como and Lake Maggiore

The third largest lake in Italy, and the first of four Italian tours to make it onto our list. But it’s not just our customers who love Lake Como, it’s also a hit with George Clooney, Madonna and Richard Branson.
Lake Como

9. Picturebook Norway – Fjordland Spectacular

Our dream tour seems to be your dream tour, too. With our first departure sold out and our 2019 dates now on sale, the Norway effect is still in full swing.
Norwegian Fjords

8. Splendours of Paris

Paris is always a good idea, and it seems that’s something we can all agree on! The romantic capital city of France comes in at a respectable 8th on our list.
Paris 2017

7. All Quiet on the Western Front

A perfect WW1 Battlefields experience for first-timers and experienced travellers, 2017 has certainly captured your interest of visiting the Western Front.
Tyne Cot Cemetery

6. Lake Garda, Venice and Verona

The mighty Lake Garda, incredible Venice and the home of Romeo and Juliet, Verona, this is three world-class destinations in one impressive tour, we’re not surprised to see this tour make it into our top 10.
Venice 2017

5. Picturebook Italy

A Leger Holidays favourite, Picturebook Italy, of course, makes its way into our top 5. Well, a holiday visiting the best that Italy has to offer, it’s bound to happen.
Florence

4. The Wonders of Rome & Pompeii

Italy still seems to be a big hitter in 2017, but the Wonders of Rome & Pompeii comes out top of the Italian pickings. And it’s no wonder when Rome alone attracts around 7 – 10 million tourists each year.
Trevi Fountain, Rome 2017

3. Dutch Bulbfields & the Delights of Amsterdam

Tulip mania lives on! In 2017, the beautiful Dutch Bulbfields really caught your attention, or is it the visit to Amsterdam? Either way, a trip to Holland doesn’t get much better than this.
Dutch Bulbfields

2. D-Day Landings in Normandy

Taking the hypothetical silver medal in 2017, our D-Day Landings in Normandy tour narrowly missed out on the top spot. But, with the recent launch of our D-Day 75th Anniversary tour, could it snag the top spot next year? We’ll have to wait and see.
Pegasus Bridge

1. Nashville, New Orleans & Elvis Presley’s Memphis

And with over 300 tours to choose from, for the third year running, our most viewed tour is our Nashville, New Orleans & Elvis Presley’s Memphis tour. Whether you’re an Elvis fan, a music buff in general or just fancy a visit to America’s Deep South, we seem to have got it right with this one.
New Orleans 2017
From everyone at Leger Holidays, we wish you a very happy New Year!

Ten Facts About The Christmas Truce

1. It was instigated by the Germans

In the lead up to Christmas, German soldiers on various parts of the British sector of the front were seen to be placing lanterns on their Trenches, in some cases Christmas Trees, and reports of carol singing were also received. Then on Christmas Day wooden signs could be seen on the German parapet saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and then German soldiers emerged into No Man’s Land, calling for a Truce. Many British soldiers were initially suspicious of this, but gradually the Truce spread. In some cases it lasted a few hours, in others it lasted several days. Thousands and thousands of men on both sides took part.

2. It was largely on the British sector

Despite some recent films, the Truce really only took place on the British sector of the front. Whether this was because British soldiers felt some natural affinity with the Germans due to shared history and culture is difficult to say. On the French front there was little desire for fraternisation, and while there were some isolated examples of a Truce, most were related to burying the dead after recent fighting.

3. No Football was played

Again, despite cinema and a recent supermarket advert, evidence shows that there were no football matches in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day 1914, between British and German troops. The nature of the battlefield, with shell holes and barbed wire, made such a match difficult anyway, but footballs were used for physical training when out of the trenches, and it is unlikely if any were available. Letters from the time show a desire to play matches, but the only example that comes anywhere near is on the front of 1/6th Cheshires where what was described as a ‘kick about’, featuring more than 100 soldiers of both sides, took place. So no organised match, and Germany did not win!

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE, 1914 (Q 11745) British and German soldiers fraternising at Ploegsteert, Belgium
THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE, 1914 (Q 11745) British and German soldiers fraternising at Ploegsteert, Belgium, on Christmas Day 1914, front of 11th Brigade, 4th Division. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205247304

4. Peace on Earth? It was about burying the dead

For many soldiers in the front line area there was a practical reason for a Truce: to bury the dead. On the British front in Flanders there had been some local attacks on 19th December 1914, and the unburied bodies of the dead were lying out in No Man’s Land. The smell was terrible, and soldiers wanted to bury their comrades, so one of the most common activities that day was not to share your rations with Fritz, but to find and bury your dead.

5. Did they swap gifts with each other?

In many cases soldiers did give each other gifts once the Truce was active. Opposing soldiers swapped cap badges and buttons, food and drink, and some took photographs of each other, as at this stage of the war personal cameras were not banned. The 1/6th Cheshires cooked a pig in No Man’s Land and offered to share it with their German counterparts. German soldiers brought a barrel of beer to the men of 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, for which they gave plum puddings in return. But the beer was of poor quality to the hardened Welsh regulars so it was not a popular present!

6. The Truce was not universal

Not every German unit wanted a Truce, and not every British unit agreed to participate. British soldiers had witnessed many examples of the Germans implementing ‘ruse de guerre’ (tricks of war) during the campaign from Mons to Ypres, and as such they did not trust the motives for the Truce. Some units were proud of their martial reputation and did not want to be seen to fraternise, and even in sectors where there was a Truce, some soldiers did not take part: having lost mates or family members in the war, as well as the diet of anti-German propaganda that had started on the outbreak of war, they perhaps had little inclination for it.

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT
THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914 (Q 50721) British and German officers meeting in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205026891

7. Men Died on Christmas Day 1914

Along the British front on 25th December 1914 more than seventy British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed or died of wounds. Of these 32 are commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, Ploegsteert Memorial or Menin Gate, and have no known grave. With shelling, random sniper and machine-gun fire, for many soldiers Christmas Day 1914 was a typical period of trench warfare with the usual losses.

8. There were many remarkable coincidences

Men of the London Rifle Brigade who took part in the Christmas Truce were Territorial soldiers from the City of London. Before the war many waiters in London hotels were German, and a large proportion of men’s barbers were German too. One veteran recalled meeting a German soldier who used to cut his hair, in No Man’s Land that day; a few months before he had been the man’s client, now they were enemies.

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914 (Q 50720) British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector). Burying those killed in the attack of 18 December. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205025418

9. Famous people who witnessed the Christmas Truce

Among those who took part in the Christmas Truce was wartime cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather, who drew the famous ‘Old Bill’ cartoons of the period. He was photographed by one of his men in No Man’s Land that day, and wrote about it in his best-selling book ‘Bullets and Billets’ published in 1916. Nature writer Henry Williamson, most famous for his 1928 classic ‘Tarka The Otter’ was in the Truce at Ploegsteert. Having German ancestors, he felt some kinship to the enemy he met that day, and it was a life changing moment for him: one German soldier told Williamson that he was fighting for King, Country and Freedom, something he could not square that with the fact that supposedly he was fighting with the British Army for the same thing. Later in life Williamson used to get very morose on Christmas Day, thinking back to the Truce and the terrible loss of life in the war.

10. It was a remarkable day

While aspects of the Christmas Truce have been exaggerated, and there may have been no football, it was a truly remarkable day. Soldiers who were enemies stopped fighting and met each other on the battlefield. They obeyed a basic human instinct, rather than just follow orders. As the majority involved were professional soldiers they may have seen it as a rare opportunity to have a day off. Others would have been curious to actually meet a German, as it was likely few ever had. Whatever the reason, it was an event unique to 1914. While the odd battlefield truce, and a small scale one at Cambrai in the winter of 1917/18 took place, there was nothing on this scale ever again: whatever innocence remained in 1914 was lost in the great battles of the war on the Somme and at Passchendaele.

A Spring Fling: The Best of the Dutch Bulbfields

When Christmas is out of the way and the New Year’s resolutions are in full swing, we all need something to look forward to. And, if spring is your thing, you’re probably already counting down the days until those first buds start to appear

We know many people will have their hearts set on that summer holiday, but we think why wait? When spring comes knocking, it’s time to get packing because the Dutch Bulbfields offer the perfect post-winter getaway.
It’s the time that Holland transforms into a sea of colour, from the brightest of yellows, to the deepest of pinks, it’s not just an anthophile’s dream.
First comes the crocus season, followed by daffodils and hyacinths, then the grand finale, the tulips! From mid-March to mid-May, Holland’s green spaces get a whole lot more impressive and the Dutch Bulbfields are a worthy inclusion on any persons bucket list.

The Dutch fascination with tulips certainly isn’t new. First introduced to Dutch Merchants from the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, unlike any other flower at the time, the intense petal colour fascinated Europe and the flower grew rapidly in popularity – and so did the price.
In fact, at there was a time that the flower was so valuable, it was even used as currency. That’s why they called it ‘Tulip Mania’.

Amsterdam


Although the value of a tulip will no longer buy you a house by the canal, throughout April, the Dutch capital still honours the humble tulip with its very own festival, showcasing an impressive 500,000 of them throughout the city!
From the EYE Filmmuseum, Hermitage Amsterdam and Hortus Botanicus to the Museum Van Loon, Rijksmuseum and many more public spaces throughout the city, you can be sure to spot some spectacular displays whilst in Amsterdam.
And, of course, as the hours of sunlight grow steadily longer, there really is more time in the day to enjoy the best of Amsterdam. Maybe having a leisurely break, sipping on a Dutch beer by the canal? Albeit, with the help of a patio heater every now and then.

Keukenhof Park


Just a short hop away from Amsterdam, you can reach the real holy grail of the tulip itself, the stunning Keukenhof Park. 79 acres of flowers and fragrance, the park is considered the ‘Garden of Europe’, a well-deserved title, we must say.
Unlike anywhere else, the park has attracted a whopping 50 million people since it first opened, with almost 75% of those visiting from other countries.
It’s one of the world’s largest flower gardens, with more than 7 million Tulips, Hyacinths and Daffodils on display over 8 weeks of spring.
Surprisingly enough, the bulbs are provided for free by over 1000 Dutch growers, and at the end of the show season at Keukenhof, the team of gardeners have orders to dig out the millions of bulbs and destroy them, ready to start fresh for the next year.
Although, the bulbs don’t go entirely to waste, maybe in stark contrast to the Tulip Mania era, most will be used as food for farm animals.
The gardeners will then hand plant next year’s bulbs in Autumn, taking 3 months to create a brand new design. So, if you’re wondering is it worth going back and visiting Keukenhof again, it sure is!

The Bulbfields


But, it’s not just Keukenhof where you can enjoy mass amounts of tulips all in one place, the bulbfields themselves are just as impressive.
Fields of vibrant colours line canals and road sides, with windmills rising up from the sky line, the growing fields of this fabulous flower are certainly a sight for sore eyes. Even Vincent Van Gogh thought them worthy of a masterpiece, as the fields feature in many of his paintings.
Every spring draws huge crowds, with cameras to capture the spectacular sight in their own snap shot. Even if you’re not particularly into flowers, this one makes a great photo.
Even though these fields are beautiful, and attract tourists in their droves, they are also economically valuable to the Netherlands. A high proportion of the country’s exports are freshly cut flowers.
In fact, Holland holds the title of the biggest player in the flower game, making up two thirds of the world’s flora sales! You can even buy tulips in New York that were cut in Holland that very morning! Now, that’s impressive.
So, if people in New York are enjoying a little piece of Holland, why not try some for yourself? Our popular Dutch Bulbfield tours will be departing through March and April so why not book your getaway today?

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.