Madagascar – The Islands

My list of countries visited is endless (last count 130) but there has been one one the list to do for so long – Madagascar. Don’t ask me why – other than its where many people have heard of, few have been and it just being a place of great mystery that has kept me wondering about the place for so long.

As a Travel Agent i get to go to many places, far and wide and see and experience many different things – Madagascar hopefully was going to prove me right on all accounts.

Its not the easiest of places to get to form the UK – with only really Air France, Kenyan Airways and Turkish Airlines operating flights into Antananarivo (Tana as its known on the Island). We chose to fly Air France, as the flight leaves paris in the morning, you will no doubt fly nice and early from your regional airport – then a 10 hour none stop flight to Tana. I expected (and I dint know why as I didn’t have a back pack) but lots of young, grungy long haired folk on the flight – I could not have been further away from the truth. Wirth my fellow travellers it was like we had boarded a flight to the USA, with people from all over the world heading to Tana.

`Upon arrival into Tana on schedule around 10:30pm – the queue for Immigration line was long – so if you get the choice, sit close to the front of the ret of the aircraft, as there is no airbridge and steps go to both the front and the back of the plane. There are 3 steps to enter the country – handing in your immigration card, which is stamped, not read and placed in a pile. Then buying your visa $25 in hard cash (either Euros or Dollars or ATR if you have it) then handing your passport – with the visa in it to a ‘gang’ of 4 of 5 people in a booth, whilst they all look at it, pass it to each other, put their signature on both the passport and various pieces of paper, then hand the passport to someone else, then in turn passes it to you – the whole process took approx 2 hours – so do ensure you can disembark early to get to the front of the queue.

Most tourists would prebook some kind of tour (more on that one later) before they arrive, as especially at peak times, accommodation and internal transport can be impossible to secure. Drivers, guides and hotel reps are all waiting outside in an abundance, along with the tout taxi drivers trying their hardest to hard sell you into getting in their vehicle.

We stayed for out first night at the BoisVert Hotel, a 15 minute ride from the airport at that time of the night, the streets were empty and we had no idea what to expect the following day on our way back in day light. The Boisvert Hotel- quite possibly the finest airport hotel I have ever stayed in. Typical of Madagascar – its an Eco resort, built from local sources trying to fit in with the environment and employing way more staff than guests.

We actually with burst out laughing when we walking into the room – it was noting how we had imagined – simply put – stunning – again the resort making full use of the local resources a huge wet room, amazing artefacts on the walls and floors and 2 (fortunately as Im traveling with a friend) massive beds surrounded by mosquito netting.

Once we were over the initial shock, we just hit the pillows and slept through till morning.

As the majority of people visiting Madagascar fly with Air France (the only carrier to offer a daily service) if you are flying on from Tana you will no doubt do one night in a hotel as we did.

We had a fresh breakfast everything on the plate grown in the hotel itself, and was picked up to be taken back to the airport.

The drive back, as we suspected was completely different – a hive of activity small markets ladened the entire route back. Fresh meats handing in the sunshine feeding the flies, second hand clothes, DVD’s, plastic buckets, batteries, second hand shoes, car parts the usual fascinating stuff you find at the side of any road in Africa.

We arrived the National Terminal to find that the internal flight to Ile Sainte Marie was going on time – this is a rarity for Air Madagascar another word of advice, check in and enjoy the sunshine from the outside, the waiting area is nothing to write home about, there is a place to buy a beer and an instant coffee – at cost. So check in, and wait outside and catch some of the beautiful Madagascan sunshine.

Our propellor jet took us over the middle of the country to the North East of the Island where we crossed the coast line and had the opportunity to go whale watching and saw whales breaching in the Indian Ocean below – again more of that later.

We landed on the airstrip on the island, local teenage playing football by the airstrip – no heightened security here at all the ocean by the side of the strip – it was certainly an Island. The Airport (or building) is new and you can nip out for a cigarette whilst waiting for your luggage – the ashtrays outside of the building are Old Sea Shells – I knew I was going to love it here.

We were staying on the Island for 3 nights at the Princess Bora Lodge – very close to the Airport, but as there is only one flight per day – that shouldn’t worry you at all. We were met at the airport our bags were taken away and we were shown to out Hotel Transfer – a Zebu Cart. (a Zebu is an African Ox) 2 of them pulled us for the 15 minute ride – beautiful road with everyone waving as we went passed.

We were taken aback once again when we arrived at the Princess Bora Lodge – simply stunning. A quick tour of the hotel by the GM then to be taken to the room – really was the WOW factor, double shower, sunken bath floor to ceiling windows bang on the beach – absolutely amazing. We have in fact asked that the hotel rename their “Executive Suites” to honeymoon suites, as they are just perfect for such a romantic occasion.

We hit the beach and swan a few laps in the infinity pool on the beach, and had our first cocktails of the day. Sampling a few of he locally made rums – the coffee, the Coconut and the pineapple were our favourite the pepper one left a lot to be desired – but each to their own.

We, like almost everyone were on a Half Board basis a selection of starters mains and desert all of which are made from local produce – the majority grown on site – and it all tastes so fresh. Lola Produce with a huge French influence really worked well for us – we could not fault the food in any way throughout our entire stay – if anything, its really set the bench mark really high for the rest of our trip.

The hotel is located at the South of the Island and offers an array of excursions, all conducted by the In-House team of guides, it also has a well equipped Dive Centre where you can refresh or take your Padi course from the start. Fifo the Swiss owner is a Marine Biologist and has set up a Whale Research Centre where he takes in Volunteers (mainly made up of locals, and International enthusiasts alike to record the activity of this incredible Hump Back Whale breading ground. The association is called Cetamada. On our Whale Watching trip we encountered more than 30 Hump Back and mix of Females and their carves and their male escorts. we took amazing photos even with out IPhones – we were so close. To hear them was magical, and learned so much about these amazing creatures. Was was even more bizarre – we went out as 16 strangers and came back as 16 friends that saw the same awe inspiring sights, mesmerised by it all – hardly able to speak on the boat, when we saw than breach out of the water, the boat went silent, jaws dropping the only thing you could hear was cameras clicking 10 to the dozen. Then a massive SPLASH as these mighty mammals hit the ocean at great force – it was magical watching them show off. If I were a whale, I would be the one showing off to an audience of onlookers for sure.

A night in the bar after yet another fabulous meal – having the French influence in the hotel really helps the food and gives it the feel that you are eating in the most fabulous of restaurants – yet barefoot in shorts and T-Shirts its a very casual hotel – if you are anything but barefoot – then you are well over dressed.
The hotel is a great pace to use as a base, the majority of guests do not lay around on he beat all day – although there is absolutely nothing wring with doing this, as its the prefect place to do that but there is so much to see and do on the Island. I had opted for a full day guided tour of the Island by Quad Bike. All of the tours from the hotel are done via in house tour guides, so they are completely safe and reliable. I had my own guide for the entire day, so it was pretty much up to me what I wanted to do – I wanted to see as much as possible. We were going to do the full loop of the island so i could see how diverse it is from North to South and East to West.

We headed up the East Coast, the main road to the Capital of the Island (????) was a half decent road, with little traffic, just the odd tuk tuk and occasional motorbike and I think we saw 3 cars. Turning left onto the Road heading up the East coast and all remains of tarmac left behind us. I figured that as I had a quad bike he had brought me up here for an adrenalin rush – but no this was in fact the main road. That said we didn’t pass another vehicle, or for that matter see another vehicle until we got back n the road going from East to West. Flooding has seriously effected these roads over the years and the government have done nothing to repair them, the villagers have repaired where they can, with stones and in some cases sticks, just to make it passable even by foot.

You soon realise how the islanders live. No electricity, no running water and very very little. Living day to day, no real need for money, as there is nowhere accessible to buy anything from. There were no shops at all. As you would imagine the remotest of African Villages. These villages were close in distance, but completely cut off from everything else. Yet – did I see a sad face? No! Did I once feel uneasy or unsafe? Not at all – on the contrary in fact, so many smiling faces, so many people just waving, the boys putting out their hands so you could high five them as you went past – it was beautiful to experience. I feel so privileged to have seen this – i am left as speechless as I was with the Whales.

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Pool at the hotel swim in the pool and watch the Whales Breaching

I have been promised the most amazing crab lunch half way – i was beginning to doubt any food at all – however after driving over a make shift bridge (I was VERY scared driving over it) i came across an idyllic setting by the Mangroves. A quick (very large beer) and I was then walked to a canoe carved from a tree – I am not sure how old it was, or how it was going to float with me, the guide and the boatsman in it – but it did (with the help of myself and the guide scooping out the water that as fast as it came in.

We went over the main waterway, then through a small canal, stepped out of the boat, after being knee deep in black mud, i walked through the mangroves onto the most amazing deserted beach. Mine were the only footsteps here. I was given a large rafia mat, and feel asleep instantly – a gift I have – waking up an hour later still in the shade and ready for my lunch.

We headed back where we went through various small canals in search of crocodiles but none to be found – mainly because there are none on the Island, but it is a perfect place for them Given the hand carved boat I was on, and a small stick for self defence – its probably just as well!

We arrived back into Port Mangrove to the most amazing crab lunch i have ever had. So fresh, so tasty and just lovely – followed by possibly the best desert I have aver had in my life (and I do like my puddings) a simple dish of coconut, caramel and honey – I can still taste it if i close my eyes – I am still eating it.

At the crab shack I bumped into 2 other guests form the hotel that had rented a quad without a guide As they had difficulty with their quad (it wouldn’t go in reverse) I would NOT recommend this, there are only a few road, so theres only a slim chance you would get lost, but if anything were to go wrong with the bike, there is no phone signal, and there is a long long long difficult walk to find anyone to help! You would also not get to see the smaller things i go to see – the family run vanilla plantation, the cinnamon groves, the clove trees that made the whole area smell like Christmas, – the list goes on.

I was taken to a view point, where on one side it looked like Mauritius, with the dance greenery and palm trees here there and everywhere, and on the other side it looked like remote Queensland, with the long stretch of deserted beach and the Indian Ocean – stunning!

Eventually we hit the main road on the West Coast – with stretched of Tarmac Road – what a relief – my arms were still shacking from trip Mid Country. Again hardly any cars, just the occasion bike and Tuk Tuk.

A quick stop at Coconut Bay, where i learned all about the Travellers palm (The Symbol of Madagascar) and how useful it is to use for plates and for water. Coconut bay is the closest oart of the Island to the Mainland, literally 7kms and you can see it very clearly. I also learned here that people on Sainte Maire do not consider themselves as part of Madagascar. They are very proud and think of themselves as Sainte Marinas.

A quick stop at the Pirates Graveyard, seeing Head Stones from 1834 with the Skull And Cross bones on them was all a bit spooky but a fabulous site to get buried in – just a shame they couldn’t appreciate the view themselves..

Back at the hotel – and it was time to catch up with everyone to find out what they had been doing. Most of the guests are in the hotel for just a few days as part of a grand tour of Madagascar – so there are lots of tories flying around of where people have been and where people are going next – its great to get tips from fellow guests that have already been where you are going. We fly bad, ladened with tips for the next part of our adventure.

We leave the island in just a few hours. I am siting here on the beach – I lift my head to see the splashing on Whales Breaching, i can here the Indian Ocean lapping, under the shade of a coconut palm, I really don’t want to leave – and if this is all i see of Madagascar (its not but you know what I mean) then I am already in love with the place – and I WILL return….

After our Zebu Cart ride to the Airport and our shop hop to Tana we were due an overnight stay in Tana itself. Having big ideas of going out for dinner and visiting a market, after our drive to the hotel we decided that was a bad idea so it was dinner in the hotel for us.

Our ride from the Airport to the Hotel should have taken 30 minutes, but we were in the car for a good hour and a half. Fascinated – Tana is a side of the road culture, with plenty of pop up market stalls and regular market stalls everywhere you look. Regular brick and concrete homes, next to dwellings made of wood and mud. Side by side everyone getting on, plenty to buy again, old car parts, chairs or fruit – all from the same stall of course. You understand why it takes forever to get form one side of the city to the other.

You will find on any trip to Madagascar that you will do many stops in Tana, this is due to a few things, first the traffic getting on and out of Tana itself is scary – and the internal flights can be so unreliable. Our 6am flight to Ile Sainte Marie was changed to 11am. etc etc with constant schedule changes – often in days too – it certainly pays to book with a travel agent that can organise new itineraries last minute.

We went on from Ile Saint Maire – you’ll have to come back to read the next part of one of my BEST trips ever.. Madras

Why Peru Should Be Your Next Holiday Destination?

Fantastic beaches, contemporary cities and gorgeous weather; Peru is undoubtedly one of my favourite destinations in the world. And while it may not be the first choice for everyone’s summer holiday destination, it certainly is mine – and I’m ready to share my love of Peru with all my clients!

Easy to get to

In May 2016, British Airways launched brand new flights from Gatwick to Lima three times a week, not only bringing the South American country closer to home but also putting Peru on the map once again. From London, the flight to Lima is only 13 hours so I recommend booking an overnight flight in order to catch up on some Zzz’s before you explore this magnificent country.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu on it’s own is its very own reason to visit Peru, for the same reason it’s at the top of many people’s bucket list! Set high in the Andes Mountains, the ancient city of Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century by the Incans who settled there. As one of the most popular tourist attractions in South America, you can expect the hiking trails and railway line to be busy with people from all over the globe, but I suggest putting this at the top of your itinerary just for the view over the Andes!

 

Exploring Ancient Cities

Just beyond the modern-living of Lima lies the ancient city of Cuzco, once the capital of the Inca Empire. It is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas and retains links to its pre-Columbian past such as the ruins of Coricancha, a temple demolished by the Spanish in 1533. Despite its ancient history, the city has since been pedestrianised, making it easy for visitors to explore and acclimatize to the beautiful surroundings.

Exquisite Beaches

The chilly peaks of the Andes are a stark contrast to the scorching beaches in the northwest of Peru. Renowned for its tropical climate and golden sand, the Piura district is the perfect place for beach bums staying in Mancora resorts, where the waves, crystal waters and power-sands draw in guests.

Food and Drink

As one of the world’s most exciting culinary destinations, Peru is best known for its ceviche, a seafood dish popular in the coastal reasons, but Lima is specifically recognized for its cutting edge Peruvian cuisine with its fabulous fusions and experiments.

Peru is also famous for its Pisco Sours, a combination of lime juice, syrup, ice, egg white, Angostura bitters and of course, Pisco, a brandy from Peru and Chile – the right way to start the night!

To book your perfect holiday to Peru, be sure to call 07990 018018 or email david@thetravelsnob.co.uk.

National Endangered Species Day: Luxury Safaris That Help to Save Wildlife

The 19th May 2017 commences National Endangered Species Day, an annual event that aims to address the risks affecting endangered wildlife and highlight the efforts of people and safaris protecting endangered species and their habitats.

Now you may be thinking how does travel come into this? Well, around the world there are a number of safaris you can visit that strive to save animals’ lives.

Okonjima & the AfriCat Foundation in Namibia

 

Sitting on the 200 square kilometres of private nature reserve and sandwiched between the Namibian capital, Windhoek and Etosha National Park. Okonjima is home to the Africat, a non-profit organisation working to foster conservation and environmental awareness. Since it’s beginning in 1993, AfriCat have rescued over 1,000 cheetahs and leopards on Namibian farmland and reduced 85% of them back into the wild.

From private campsites to breathtaking safari lodges, the Okonjima offers a wide variety of accommodation for guests to experience a truly unique African safari.

Camp Jabulani in South Africa

Just like Okonjima, the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre is another research conservation facility working to protect and renew the continents dwindling numbers of big cats. The centre aims to focus on the release of captive-bred cheetahs into the wild and breeding endangered and rare animal species.

The luxury Camp Jabulani is a family-owned and private luxury safari lodge in the Kampama Game Reserve. Guests staying at this resort will have the opportunity to visit the centre, offering ‘hands on’ photo-ops and the chance to view wild dogs, lions, African wildcats, ground hornbills and sable antelope.

Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda

Just over a century ago, two million chimpanzees lived in Africa’s forests and bush compared to today where fewer than 200,000 remain. Due to their disappearing habitat and hunting for their meat and offspring, Ngamba Island is one of the sanctuaries that African authorities send confiscated baby chimps from poachers and market vendors.

Established in October 1998, the Ngamba Island has cared for over 40-orphaned chimps on a 100-acre refuge on Lake Victoria near Entebbe, Uganda. Guests can enjoy morning and afternoon feeds and informative talks with the chimps and experience living with the chimps in their natural habitat from luxury tents.

To find out more information about my luxury safaris holiday breaks, call 07990 018018 or email david@thetravelsnob.co.uk

National Bed Month: The Comfiest Hotel Rooms

It’s time for a lie in! March is the month to celebrate National Bed Month and the importance of having a good night’s sleep. So it’s time you forgot the old phrase, “You snooze, you lose!” and get a few more Zzz’s in the morning.

Westin Hotels

In 1999, Westin hotels became the first chain to create a signature bed in partnership with mattress manufacturer, Simmons. For 18 years, the Westin beds have stood the test of time, making them one of the most comfortable beds in hotel rooms.

The Westin bed’s 13-inch pillow-top mattress that’s enveloped in 250-thread count sheets. Two feather and down pillows and two hypo-allergenic pillows perch on top, along with a boudoir pillow, an overstuffed duvet and a down blanket.

Four Seasons

When you check in to this luxury hotel chain, you get to customise your bed. You can pick from three different mattress toppers;

  • Signature – Every bed is set with this topper, designed for optimum firmness and offering classic Four Seasons comfort.
  • Signature Plus – If you prefer softer mattress, request this mattress topper.
  • Signature Firm – For ultimate support at night, request Four Seasons’ Signature Firm topper.

Hilton Hotel

There’s nothing quite like “The Hilton Bed Goodnight!” The Hilton’s special bed is quilted to perfect with a plush top to improve circulation and reduce restlessness at night. It has plenty of coil support and reinforcement at the edges.

Marriott

The iconic The Marriott bed is one-foot high from top to bottom, plus, there’s a nine-inch box spring underneath. Made from a “high-density, open-cell poured polyurethane foam,” it helps minimize movement from your partner so you can sleep the night through without disturbances.

Ritz-Carlton

As part of the Marriott family, this ultra-luxury retreat has equally plush beds. Their beds are made from a special coil technology and foam that is able to keep you cool when you sleep. This unique mattress sits atop an environmentally responsible, sturdy base and finished with removable featherbed toppers for your ultimate comfort!

Whether you’re travelling for business or for pleasure, the key to a successful getaway is getting enough sleep, so it’s vital that you book a hotel with a fantastic bed waiting for you. To find the perfect bed (and hotel) for you, contact me on 07990 018018.

Luxury Mother’s Day Breaks & Days Out Guide

Don’t panic! Mother’s Day may be right around the corner (26th March if you need reminding), but I have some luxury Mother’s Day weekend breaks to show just how much she means to you.

 Afternoon Tea at The Savoy, Covent Garden

In the heart of The Savoy is the Thames Foyer, a stunning glass dome flooding the room with ounces of natural light. Beneath the dome is a pianist serenading the guests as they enjoy The Savoy’s world-class afternoon tea.

Guests will choose from a range of teas (twenty to be exact!) served with finger sandwiches, homemade scones paired with traditional clotted cream and jam as well as a selection of seasonal cakes and pastries created by The Savoy’s Executive Pastry Chef.

Vineyard Tour at Hambledon Vineyard, Hampshire

If you’re mum is a wine lover (and let’s be honest, whose isn’t?), she will love a tour the Hambledon Vineyard, Hampshire – the first English commercial vineyard.

The South facing chalk slopes of Hampshire were not only the birth place of cricket, but Hambledon Vineyard is the perfect growing environment for the production of England’s finest sparkling wine.

Especially for Mother’s Day, Hambledon are holding a Mother’s Day tour of the vineyard, with the possibility to try out their wines.

Luxury Spa Break in North Yorkshire
Full of Yorkshire charm, Rudding Park is an extraordinary 4* Georgian manor house hotel set on over 300 acres of parkland, just south of Harrogate and close to Leeds and York. As one of the only UK Hotels in TripAdvisor’s Hall of Fame for Hotels, you can expect excellent facilities, stunning features and winning service during your stay.

All of the hotel’s ninety-one plush, contemporary bedrooms overlook the beautiful gardens, rural parkland and 14th-century wedding chapel. The stylish Follifoot rooms are unlike any others, with a private hamman steam room or sauna in the en-suite and your own remote garden.

Not only can you stay in one of the finest hotels in the UK, but you can also dine in the finest restaurant! With The Travel Snob’s Mother’s Day break offer, you will experience dinner at the Clocktower Bar and Restaurant underneath the stunning pink glass chandelier, or alongside the 400 year-old olive tree growing beside the airy conservatory. The Clocktower chefs’ speciality is modern British food; taking inspiration from classic dishes and jazzing them up with unique herd, salad, edible flowers and fruit grown in Rudding Park’s Kitchen Garden.

A Mother’s Day break would be incomplete without a spa treatment! Whether you’re looking to tone the body, revitalise your senses or buff the skin, the highly acclaimed Harrogate spa at Rudding Park offers an extensive range of luxurious treatments and features four treatment rooms including a hammam and steam room. With The Travel Snob’s Mother’s Day Treat, a 50 minute bespoke treatment of your choice will be included.
To find out more information about The Travel Snob’s Mother’s Day breaks, call 07990 018018 or email david@thetravelsnob.co.uk

Luxury Family Holidays with The Travel Snob

Away from juggling work and cooking for the whole family and helping the kids with the homework, a family holiday is the perfect time for families to spend time together. But taking a family holiday with the kids this summer doesn’t have to mean the absence of luxury!

Here are some of my very best luxury family holidays for 2017:

One & Only Reethi Rah, Maldives

In the local language of Dhivehi, ‘Reethi Rah’ translates to ‘beautiful island’ and that is exactly what it is! The award winning, Reethi Rah resort in the Maldives is sprawled across it’s very own island with the regions very first PADI National Geographic dive centre, sun spa and a climbing wall. Amongst the long list of activities for both the kids and adults to enjoy, there are eight dining spots on the resort, tennis courts for all guests to use and 12 golden, sand beaches, meaning you will feel spoiled rotten at this resort.

Four Seasons Resort, Mauritius

Located at the heart of the Anahita peninsula estate on the east coast of Mauritius, you will find the secluded and spacious luxury Four Seasons resort. The whole family will enjoy spending all day coasting across the turquoise water in your very own sailing boat, or touring a former sugar plantation to learn the history of Mauritius. Or let the kids run wild and make friends with the local fauna like giant tortoises and then fall asleep in a hammock under the stars.

The Atlantis Palm, Dubai

Bringing to life the legend of Atlantis, the Atlantis Palm resort in Dubai combines luxury and legend! One of Dubai’s most iconic resorts resembles that of an elaborate, dusty-pink palace out of a fairytale, a palace you and your little prince and princesses will love.

Located on the spectacular man-made island called The Palm, The Atlantis Palm has one of the world’s largest aquariums with over 65,000 exotic marine animals. There is also the Aquaventure Waterpark has fun for all the family, from fast and slow, big and small waterslides and ziplines, rope bridges and climbing frames – for even the smallest of guests.

With The Travel Snob you can stay 5 nights at Atlantis, The Palm for just £679pp

Thinking of booking one of the luxury resorts for your family holiday in 2017?

The Travel Snob is a self-proclaimed luxury travel expert, only staying in the finest and most luxurious destinations and accommodation. With over 112 countries and 1,000s of hotels and restaurants visited you can be reassured that David, The Travel Snob, will create the very best holiday for you.

To speak to David, call 07990 018018 or email david@thetravelsnob.co.uk.

Travel Snob’s Guide to The Maldives: Things to do in the Maldives

The Maldives is a slice of paradise, located just Southwest of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. Known for its captivating crystal clear waters and idyllic white sand beaches, a thousand coral reefs link together to make up the 1,200 small, beautiful islands in the Maldives. Synonymous with once-in-a-lifetime luxury, romance and complete tranquility, it’s easy to see why the islands making up the Maldives are regulars on the top bucket list destinations.

But there’s more to the Maldives than just luxury ocean bungalows, turquoise shores and white sand beaches.

Old Friday Mosque

If you do happen to venture out of the many luxury resorts in the Maldives, then why not visit the oldest mosque in the country? Dating back from 1656, the beautiful structure is made from intricately chiseled coral stone and decorated in Quranic script and lacquer and woodcarvings. The mosque was built on the foundations of an old temple that faced west towards the setting sun, not northwest towards Mecca.

Visitors wanting to peep inside are required to seek permission from an official of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, but if you are respectful and well dressed they will give you permission to enter the mosque on the spot.

Diving in the Maldives Reefs 

You cannot go to the Maldives without diving into those crystal waters. These idyllic coral islands rank amongst best dive destinations in the world, giving you views of up to 50 meters (in good weather conditions!) The warm water temperatures all year-round make diving in the Maldives.

To see Maldives local wildlife, North Male Atoll is home to the Lion’s Head and Wattaru Kandu diving sites, where you can see reef sharks as well as stingrays, garden eels and manta rays. In South Male Atoll, Hukrueli and Maaya Thila are the perfect places to see white-tip sharks, turtles, zebra morays and the elusive guitar shark.

See the Stars – and Sea, Sparkle!

The beach is not just for daytime activities – when in the Maldives take a trip to the nearest beach at night to discover Noctiluca Scintillans. Not sure what this is? No, it’s not some rare disease you can pick up on the island! Commonly known as sea tinkle, Noctiluca Scintillans is a natural phenomenon that occurs in the ocean. Bioluminescent algae wash onto the beaches of the island, leaving a scattering of neon stars on the sand. You will need to see it to believe it!

Want to experience the serenity and beauty of The Maldives in 2017? The Travel Snob can help. Call 07990 018018 or contact david@thetravelsnob.com for further information.

Travel Snob’s Best Hotels in Mauritius

As you know, I travel as much as I possibly can – usually I go “under cover’ with no mention of being a Travel Agent until I check out – I want to see how my guests will be treated.  Its quite funny to watch a Hotel General Managers face when I tell them I am a Travel Agent.

Towards the end of last year, I was lucky enough to be invited on a F.A.M (Familiarisation Trip) with my Favourite Supplier – Travel2 and the Mauritius Tourist Board.   The trip involved staying in 7 different Hotels, Lunch in another 6 and visits to another 6.  Its trips like this that enable me to really recommend the right hotel for each client.  Every client is different when it comes to personal choices, wants and needs and these trips are invaluable so I get to see the rooms, the facilities, the restaurants, the locations etc of each and every hotel.

Famous for its breathtaking white, sandy beaches, crystal-clear blue waters, sugar cane plains, truly amazing people, and of course – wonderful weather. It’s easy to see why Mauritius is one of the most popular destinations among couples and families.

With both British Airways (from Gatwick) and Air Mauritius (from Heathrow) operating direct flights, and a host of other carriers flying from regional UK airports offering convenient connecting times, or enabling you to make a few days stop over (in Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Dubai) then you can tailor make a holiday around your own preferences.

Why Go?

The tropical island of Mauritius are a chance to explore Indian temples, colonial houses, botanical gardens and opportunities to spot rare birds among the soaring ebony tress, walk with majestic lions and freely swim dolphins.  Amazing crystal clear waters, palm fringed white sandy beaches and incredible sunsets – make this piece of paradise accessible to many people.

Plentiful water-sports, incredible diving sites, snorkelling, world class spas, top-flight golf courses and gourmet cuisine make it hard to the leave the variety of luxury hotels in Mauritius, but Mauritius has plenty to see and do – from the tradition French colonial houses and imaginative animal parks to nature walks, quad biking, zip-lining and horse riding – even the chance to go for a leisurely stroll – with a LION!

Mauritius can be its own wonderful singer destination, or you can soon make an amazing twin Centre Holiday, such as Mauritius and Dubai or Abu Dhabi, even do a Safari in Kenya or Tanzania then top off an amazing trip with a few days on the beach in Mauritius.  Even South Africa with its vast array of activities, then fly to Mauritius for a few days of rest before you head home.

When to Go

Mauritius has a subtropical climate which brings sunshine, blue skies and warmth for the majority of the year.  Perfect beach weather all year round.  Temperatures tend to be hotter towards the end of the year, (October through to December).  The Mountain Range in the south can get rain at any time of the year – which provide it with its lush green tropical feel, the rest of the year can see prolonged rain in January and February – but lest face it – its always going to be better weather in Mauritius than it ever will be at the same time of the year in the UK.

Where to Go

Mauritius has many amazing place to go, with hotels and amazing beaches on all its coastal lines. From opulent 5 star properties, to the more rustic 3 star properties.  Wherever you go you will find amazing beaches, clear sea and incredible hospitality from the warmest of people – who want to ensure you have the best holiday ever!

Below you will find some of my favourites from the best hotels we stayed in and visited.

Heritage Resort

The Heritage is made up of three properties; Tel fair, Awali and Heritage Villas. 

Tel fair Looking over the water, nestled in the beautiful tropical landscape of Domaine de Bel Ombre, Heritage Le Telfair is a luxurious resort right by the coast. With timeless plantation-style villas, suitable for couples and families alike, a high-class spa, 18-hole golf course, a diverse choice of restaurants, a private beach and access to a nature reserve. This resort offers guests some of the best experiences in Mauritius.  This was where I experienced the best breakfast on the Island along with the most incredible Sushi!

Traditional, colonial architecture with elegant modern touches perfectly blend together to create a relaxed atmosphere, with family-friendly and adult-only facilities and activities to keep you (and the kids) entertained!

Awali, is much more low key and less formal resort with an amazing indian Restaurant. Both the properties share the same beach, and at the far end of the beach is an incredibly cool beach club, certainly with a cool vibe about it, with cool tunes and chill out spaces to watch the sunset and just hang out.  Awali tends to be more of an all inclusive resort, where as Telfair is for people on half or full board.

Villas – perched on the hillside overlooking the spectacular Golf Course, with the pean in the distance, you are spoiled rotten here.  Each villas having its own Gold Cart to get to and from the beach or the restaurants, and of course to the Spa, The Beach Club and more importantly the gold course itself. These villas are incredible like nothing I have ever seen.   Ideal for a couple of family, or group of friends traveling out.  A family reunion is just the most perfect of settings.  With 2 – 4 bed villas all with their own pools – this could surely be a peaceful tropical sanctuary you have always dealt of.

St Regis Mauritius Resort

On the South-Western side of the Island, white coral-sand beach and the stunning backdrop of Le Morne Mountain comfort the stunning 5* St Regis Resort. Dedicated to relaxation, the serene resort creates the perfect magical setting with most suites looking out into the turquoise lagoon. At the St Regis you will feel completely at home (except on a beautiful tropical island in 30.C+ weather) with a friendly butler on standby for your every need.

While at the resort you can enjoy pampering in the world-class spa, as well as watching your favourite movies in the private cinema, or taking a morning yoga class to start the day off right.

The St Regis probably had the largest stretch of beach that we saw when we were there.

The rooms are stunning all with amazing balconies or terraces, some you just step out onto the beach.

The St Regis Brand is world renowned and each one has a story to tell.  You will leave here being able to tell plenty of a wonderful time had by all at the St Regis.

Lux* Belle Mare

Set amid tropical gardens on the eastern coast the Lux* Belle Mare is a welcome resort with an array of restaurants, stunning beaches and the most incredible spa.   I loved the casual beach dining with the food trucks by the beach.  Their Ice Cream Parlour(almost a signature thing with Lux*) with regular favours along with some incredibly exotic flavours that you are bound to want to try.  I had one of the very best curries I have had before at the Amari by Vineet. This is a great resort for foodies, with other restaurants including The Duck Laundry – and a big hands up to the Beach Rouge Cafe with its cool vibe to grab a cocktail, watch the sun set and stay for the evening.

The Raveanela by Attitude

The huge lobby with vies over the pool welcome you as you arrive into this oasis.  Huge Rooms with sizeable terraces or balconies – again plenty of places to eat and drink, with its own night club open until 7 am in the morning. This is a family friendly howe however it has an area specifically for adults only, right on the shore line with dramatic ocean views and a Sushi restaurant just for you.

The pool area is huge if you are not a beach lover,

Paradise Cove

Perched up on the north coast The Paradise Cove is a couples / adults only hotel.  The minute you enter there is an air of sophistication of this small boutique hotel.  With lots of gorgeous chill out ares all with amazing views of the Indian Ocean.  All rooms are romantic with 4-poster beds and white washed walls.  Smaller than other properties, but all with that ocean boutique style.

The water surrounding the resort is crystal clear, there is a very small cove with a beach, the beach service is exquisite, if you are more find of smaller resorts that offer a person service this would well be the one for you.

Emeraude Beach by Attitude

If you are on a tighter budget or don’t enjoy 5 star luxury, then there are plenty of other options for you.  Emeraude by attitude, whilst it does not have its own beach, it is on the most spectacular stretch of palm fringed beach.  With just one restaurant you are close enough to the town to wander in and sample more local cuisines. The staff here are just as charming as in other hotel in Mauritius.

Overall much more laid back and chilled that other 5 star resorts, with smaller (nicely finished) rooms around a smaller pool – but full of charm and local culture.

Call 07990 018018 TO FIND OUT MORE about the best hotels in Mauritius.

Lapland: Walking in a Winter Wonderland.

A magical Winter-Wonderland in the North of Europe, Lapland, is an exciting place to spend a winter holiday – a place that I myself visited in December 2016.

Having been a good boy all year I was not hesitant about meeting Santa at all! I was, however, hesitant about the trip to Lapland in general as I figured it would be queues of people for everything, terrible food and accommodation reminiscent of a stable (which was fairly apt for this time of the year) – however I was totally wrong!

My 3 days, 2 night adventure with Santa’s Lapland Tours (which you can now book with me for a discount) was all set to depart out of Newcastle on a direct flight to Ivalo on the 22nd December, meeting the BIG man himself on the 23rd – the night before he was due to drop off presents to boys and girls all over the world!

I arranged to meet my colleague, Ben, who was traveling with his 10-year-old son Oliver, who still believed, which was perfect, as I also got to see the trip through a believer’s eye.

Ben only told Oliver at the airport where he was actually going on his winter holiday and his face was a picture – trying to be a cool 10 year old but you could see he was even more excited than I was!

We arrived after a direct, 2 and a half hour flight over the Arctic Circle into Ivalo airport. It’s tiny but very well set up for the plenty of charter flights it receives during the 6 week rush for Santa and the occasionally flight to and from Helsinki, Paris, Frankfurt etc.

Whist waiting for our bags, we were greeted by Elves singing carols and ushered onto coaches as we walked past Rudolph and his reindeer friends, handled by guys in traditional Lapland costumes. It was the perfect start and just a taster of what was around the corner.

We all boarded our buses and took in the scenery for the 25-minute transfer to Saariselka. It was like driving through Narnia; snow everywhere, fur and pine trees fringed with more powder-white snow, the occasional cabin in-between the trees with fairy lights twinkling away.

Upon arrival into the resort, we were ushered to a store to do our best Michelin man impressions as a bunch of elves took one look at us and gave us a suitable suit to keep us warm for the next few days – how they actually did it was unbelievable, one glance and we were given a massive overall, thermal socks, boots and gloves! Other than the one-minute walk from the airport to the coach you are not exposed to the winter elements, so there’s no need to go out and spend a fortune on clothing before you go.

The art of keeping warm under the suits is layers. You will just need leggings, thermal long johns if you have them, a vest, T-Shirt, a sweatshirt and a jumper underneath the thermal snowsuit you are issued with and you will be as warm as toast!

The resort was made up of a few hotels, gift shops for the kids and a couple of restaurants and bars (for the adults!) There was no such thing as cars there; instead your chosen mode of transport is plastic toboggans, which are everywhere for anyone’s use. The kids loved it – being towed about everywhere – in fact Oliver found it difficult to actually walk anywhere when we got home! But if riding around in a toboggan all day doesn’t get you excited then there is also a toboggan run situated in the corner of the resort – great fun for kids and adults alike!

The first afternoon was free – and with the snow all around you it’s enough for the kids to do for a couple of hours. Prepped in our winter thermals we played around in the snow for hours without feeling the cold too much – there are people everywhere doing snow angels, sliding down the slopes, tobogganing or just enjoying the fresh air and snow in general.

Be aware there is little light during the day in Lapland. We arrived around 11am but it felt like 7 in the evening, and by around 5pm (still before dinner), you feel as if you should be going to bed! Maybe it was Lapland telling us we needed to be asleep before the big day tomorrow.

We were given a bit of time before we departed for the day, so we had an early breakfast – which, like the dinner the night before, was nothing to shout about, but nothing to complain about either. There was a small selection but something for everyone at least. And then we boarded our bus to be given a full briefing on what to do and how best to utilise our time when we got to the Arctic Circle centre.

(Kids don’t read this!) Adults can also remain in the bus, to be informed how to give their prewritten letters to Santa so it looks as if they had been posted. Meanwhile the kids are outside singing Christmas carols with the elves.

We headed down to the centre to do some ice fishing and play ice hockey before waiting in line for about 10 minutes (the only time we had to wait for anything) to board the sleighs where we could explore the Finnish wilderness on our search for Santa.

As we rode through the forest we passed an upturned sleighs with presents that had fallen out – Santa obviously had too many Sherries! We quickly arrived at a little cabin, covered in snow with excited elves prancing around outside.

We walked through the door to see him, sitting in a rocking chair with a raging fire in the corner, big red and white suit hanging on a hook and a magical Christmas tree, along with a pile of presents wrapped in blue or pink wrapping paper for obvious reasons.

Softly spoken with a Finnish accent, he produced the letter that Oliver had written previously – again his face was a picture. When we left Oliver said ‘I know that was the real Santa as he was just like the one on all the Christmas cards” bless him – he even fooled me to be fair!

Meeting Santa at Lapland

Meeting Santa

After Santa, we wandered over to the Ice Bar – an igloo with ice sculptures and of course, a bar for more €5 beers and the chance to thaw out a little. They also served hot chocolate for additional thawing.

We wandered back to the top of the snowy hills as we had a time slot for our Husky Sleigh Ride (the only activity you need a time slot for!) I was in a sleigh with my other colleague Megan and her adorable daughter Lilly, who at 20 months, had been pulled around in a toboggan since our arrival as they are easier to handle than a buggy/pushchair, and besides, the airline had left it in Stansted!

Visiting Lapland was a fantastic experience, for both the adults and children! And it’s easy to see why the locals speak of Lapland’s wilderness as a place ‘of strange magic’. From everlasting daylight in summer to the natural phenomenon, Aurora Borealis, in winter, Lapland is full of magical experiences that everyone in the family can enjoy.

Here are some of the best winter activities in Lapland that you need to try.

Northern Light Safaris

A natural wonder of the world, the Aurora Borealis is one of the massive lures to Finland. It occurs throughout the winter, during November to April, most commonly seen between 5pm and 2am. There are plenty of Northern Light tours to take you away from artificial light and give you the best chance of seeing this natural phenomenon. The tours include everything from evening snowmobile safaris to guided snowshoe adventures, or for those who don’t fancy braving the cold, you can stay in a glass-ceilinged igloo, where you can gaze at the night sky from the warmth of your bed.

Snowmobile Safaris

In Lapland, the locals often use snowmobiles to get around, using the massive network of snowy trails that extend past forests, frozen lakes and over the icy hills. It is because of these extensive tracks that it makes this the perfect way to explore the region.

 

Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling

Dog-Sledding

A far more traditional way of traversing the snow-covered landscape is by sleigh, specifically pulled by a team of huskies that were bread to pull heavy loads in harsh conditions in Siberia. Pairs of dogs, typically three or four couples, will pull the two-man sleigh through the snowy tundra, following the lead slay. It’s an exhilarating experience, hurtling through the snow, but don’t expect peace and quiet! As they run, the dogs excitedly yap and bark, filling the idyllic surrounding with noise.

Dog Sleigh Rides in Lapland

Dog Sleigh Rides in Lapland

Sleigh Rides

For those who prefer the slow lane, a reindeer sleigh ride will be right up your street. Again, reindeer sleigh rides are a traditional way of transport for Lapland locals, who have depended on reindeers to get them around for centuries. In a stately procession, a single reindeer pulls open sleigh while you are tucked up warm in a bundle of furs. While it may not be the fastest of rides, you will enjoy the smooth, quiet and magical landscape from the comfort of your own toboggan.

Santa Claus’ Village

It wouldn’t be Lapland without popping to see the big man himself! The Santa Claus Holiday Village is a unique experience for adults and children alike; from cozy, cabin-like restaurants to exhilarating sledging down the snowy slopes. But a trip to Santa Claus’ Village wouldn’t be complete without knocking on Santa’s office door to meet the man in red.

Do you want to visit Lapland in 2017? I can organise the perfect trip for you and your family next winter. Call me on 07990 018018

Top 5 Places to Spend New Year  

New York City, New York

Millions descend on New York’s Time Square for a ‘once in a lifetime’ New Year’s celebration, dating all the way back to 1906.

Head to New York and experience the dazzling lights, bustling energy of Times Square and watch the ball drop to celebrate the end of the year. Afterwards, continue the celebration and head out to a New Year’s party. The One World Observatory hosts an amazing get-together where you can enjoy the view from the tower overlooking the entire city while you indulge in the open bar and DJ until 1am.

And for families who don’t want to miss out on all the fun, parents and children alike can enjoy Central Park’s midnight fireworks. While you wait for the fireworks you can relax in the park with a hot drink and some warm snacks of your choosing from the many street food vendors they have.

South Lake Tahoe, California

Skiers, snowboarders and music fans will love this celebration of the New Year. SnowGlobe Music Festival combines music with the mountains, bringing together the world’s best musicians with the best snow conditions.

If you want to celebrate the New Year skiing down Californian mountains in the mornings and chill out, listening to EDM in the evenings- this is the place for you!

Paris, France

Bonne année! Spend New Year’s Eve sipping wine with friends in the bar of your hotel, clubbing the night away in the centre of Paris or eating a meal with a view of the beautiful city; whatever the way you spend New Year in Paris, you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time. The ultimate way to New Year in Paris is heading to the street party along the Champs-Élysées where tourists and locals join as one to celebrate New Year together.

Hawaii

A New Year’s Eve in Hawaii is a celebration that boasts gorgeous weather, breathtaking views and lively parties going ‘til early hours. Whoever you are, you will find a celebration for you. From stunning firework displays perfect for all the family or Romantic River cruises where you can toast a glass of champagne to the New Year.

Sydney, Australia

A rival to New York’s stunning New Year celebration is the spellbinding display of fireworks in Sydney, Australia. Be the first to celebrate the start of 2017 with Sydney’s six-hour celebration. The night begins with entertainment and displays with water and planes before a ceremony is held to celebrate aboriginal Australian culture. Then it’s time for the fireworks! Centered over the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, the stroke of midnight is started in spectacular fashion with a 12-minute firework display captured in the habour below.

Wherever you choose to spend your New Year’s, you’re guaranteed to have a fabulous time when you book your celebration with me. Contact me today on david@thetravelsnob.co.uk or give me a call on 07990 018018.