In May’s edition of Tourist in my Town for Blank GC Magazine, Sarah Tayler explores the world of indoor skydiving.
What do you give the cruiser who already has everything? That’s the dilemma of luxury cruise lines chasing a well-heeled client who just expects a butler, champagne on ice and a restaurant run by a celebrity chef.
All-inclusive has become the latest catchcry. But all-inclusive fares may still end up costing you more than you think.
Companies such as Scenic, Avalon, and Viking have teamed up with travel insurance companies to create specialist cruise insurance which will now be sold as part of your holiday.
Sarah Loughlin follows the 2012 Olympic Road Race Route to explore the beautiful Surrey hills, the River Thames and the Royal Parks.
There is nothing better than sailing past standstill traffic on your bike, feeling very smug from the cycle path, taking in a bit of sun and fresh air, while the angry car dwellers stare at the long line of vehicles in front. This summer holiday why not leave the car at home and see a bit more of the world than the bumper of the next car!
Over 10,000 athletes from 204 countries took part in the 2012 Olympic games in London, which will go down in history as the first games to feature female athletes in all sports and from every competing country. Great Britain finished third overall with Silver medal in the woman’s road race from Lizzie Armistead, and two medals from the men’s time trial. With the next Olympics in Rio already upon us, its time to get on the road and explore the road race route of London 2012!
Day 1: Redhill to Kingston (16 miles) Arrive at Gatwick – take a 15-minute train to Redhill and pick up your bike from C and N Cycles (www.candncycles.co.uk – advanced reservation recommended). Kingston is a historic market town with fantastic riverside bars and restaurants, make sure to arrive in time for dinner at Stein’s (www.stein-s.com) and enjoy some Bavarian goodies in their riverside Biergarten to give you energy for your next leg!
Day 2: Kingston to Richmond (4.5 miles) Today’s short ride will take you through the magnificent Richmond Park with the long wild grass and roaming deer. Why not pack a picnic and enjoy views out over London from the top of the hill.
Day 3: Richmond to Hampton Court (23 miles). Get an early start today and arrive on The Mall in time to watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. Take a leisurely ride back through Richmond Park to Hampton Court, another stunning riverside location.
Day 4: Hampton Court Palace and Gardens. Enjoy a day off the road and explore Henry VIII’s beloved palace, built as we now know it in 1540, it is packed full of fascinating history. If you are visiting during the festive season make sure to book in for a ghostly carol singing tour of the Palace at night and go ice-skating in the grounds. If you are here in summer check out the open-air cinema, or the famous Flower Show.
Day 5: Hampton Court to Guildford (21 miles) Todays journey takes you through the pretty riverside town of Weybridge on your way to Guildford. Guildford has a lovely cobblestone town centre with plenty of shops and bars to choose from. Head to the Weyside, a traditional English riverside pub and stock up on energy for tomorrows ride.
Day 6: Guildford to Box Hill (15 miles) Almost on the home straight, todays ride is much shorter. Take a leisurely lunch in at the White Horse in Shere, a charming English Pub set in a 15th century farm house, and location of Hollywood film ‘The Holiday’. With a full stomach its time to head to Box Hill. Legs at the ready, this is a steep one!
Day 7: Box Hill to Redhill (10 miles) Congratulations you have now completed the London 2012 Olympic cycle route! Jump on the train back to the airport and rest those weary legs.
Total = 89.5 miles
Read the August 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month I visit Dracula’s on the Gold Coast to see their brand new show Retro Vampt!
From the moment you walk through the gate at Dracula’s you are transported into a spooky immersive theatre performance. Met at the door by ghosts and ghouls, you are then taken inside the Transylvanian castle in groups to begin the evening. I won’t give away the surprises, but since the renovation there have been some new additions, so prepare for a fright or two before you reach your table! Read more….
With the recent rise in Shark attacks both in Australia and other parts of the world Sarah Loughlin finds out just how Sharky it really is out there.
The most dangerous thing about surfing in Jersey was the chocolate milkshakes from El Tico’s. Those things were seriously addictive. Learning to surf in the UK seemed a tremendous feat at the time, but looking back the worst thing that could happen was you would get a weaver fish, or be washed up on the beach a bit battered and bruised.
Growing up in the England I had never given sharks much of a thought. But the recent move to Australia has bought these issues to the front of my mind. The week we moved over to the Gold Coast, a surfing mecca, was just after World Champion Surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark in South Africa. Mick is from the Gold Coast, and can often be seen out on the water when he is in the area.
Just How Sharky Is It?
There have been record numbers of Shark attacks in the last few years on both the West coast and more recently the East coast of Australia. In 2015 there were 22 recorded shark attacks on humans in Australia, this is double the amount recorded in 2014, and higher than the yearly average of 13. Of the 22 attacks, only one was fatal, and seven of the shark attack victims were uninjured. NSW has the highest rate of attacks with 14 recorded in 2015. Experts have many theories about why this might be, and are equally unsure as to how to deal with the problem. From increased helicopter patrols and lifeguards on previously un-manned beaches, to more controversial solutions such as shark culling and shark nets. Some reports say that one of the most influential factors to the increase in attacks is the increase in population. The more people there are in Australia spending time in the water, the more chance that a shark attack could occur.
Facing My Fear
Before heading in to the water I wanted to find out exactly what I was up against so I caught up with Josh Fuller, a pro surfer who now runs his surf school from Kingscliff, NSW. One of the first things Josh explained is that is it a small selection of shark species that are normally involved in shark attacks; Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, and Great White Sharks. Most other species are completely harmless. Josh explained that there are risks involved with surfing, as there are with most sports, but if you take the time to learn about basic ocean safety you are more likely to enjoy surfing and stay safe in the water.
One of the first Aussie phrases I came across moving over here was ‘Sharky’. Not commonly used in other parts of the world, I still wasn’t quite sure what it meant. ‘It’s more of a feeling’, explains Josh, ‘when the sky is grey and overcast, and the water looks really dark, it just feels sharky’. One of the first points covered in Josh’s ocean safety run down is to avoid surfing at dusk and dawn, as this is feeding time for sharks. After our pep talk on the beach I was ready to hit the surf.
Splashing about in the shallows in the warm, clear waters it was hard to imagine that there were huge predators swimming probably not that far away. Josh explained that although sharks are often close by, the number of attacks on surfers compared to the number of surfers is very low. After picking up a few tips from Josh on my technique and spending time in the water with a local, I felt confident that I could take to the beach on my own, but I still couldn’t get the thought of sharks out of my head.
To get over my fear I wanted to see what was going on under the water, and get a feel of what might be lurking underneath me. I felt that if I could see one up close I wouldn’t be scared anymore. It’s more the fear of the unknown than anything else. Sort of like falling off your bike for the first time when your a kid, once you have done it, and it doesn’t hurt that bad, and you don’t have to be scared of it.
Heading out on the boat to Cook Island, a local diving spot known for being a bit sharky, I had mixed feelings. I wanted to see a shark, but at the same time I felt like hunting them down was asking for trouble. Never the less I hopped into the water and sunk down with the dive instructor to have a look around. I will never tire of diving and seeing at the marine life going about their business, swimming about, its mesmerising. About 10 minutes in, almost forgetting why I was there, I saw one. Small, but most certainly a shark, it swam by in the distance, not giving us a second glance. After thinking of nothing but sharks for the last few weeks, it seemed almost an anti-climax to have the shark be so uninterested in us.
I blame my irrational fear of Australian wildlife on being addicted to Steve Erwin’s TV show. Before I moved here I imagined that everything in Australia would kill you as soon as look at you. But with one fatal shark attack per year in Australia you are far more likely to come to a sticky end using a vending machine!
To get out surfing on the Gold Coast visit in2surf.com.au and book your lesson!
Read the June 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month I spent some time in the rainforest at Mount Tamborine, being outdone by small children…
There is nothing like spending time in the rainforest, with the lush green leaves as a backdrop, and the birds as your soundtrack for the day. Living on the Gold Coast it’s easy to take for granted that we not only have white sandy beaches and warm water year round, but we also have miles and miles of hinterland to explore. Right on our doorstep. Read More…
Read the May 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month learn about Wine Group and Co., a company that runs fun informative wine workshops on the Gold Coast!
I really like wine. But I usually choose my bottle the way I pick a horse at the races, based on the appearance and an interesting name. Like any sort of gambling this sometimes pays off, and sometimes results in a $20 bottle being relegated to cooking wine. Read more….
To see more of my Blank GC Tourist in my Town articles click here.
There is nothing in life both as thrilling and frustrating as surfing. After spending the winter battling through the frosty waves in the Channel Islands, trying to get the hang of this new hobby of mine, I thought I would take my own advice on learning a watersport and add a bit of sunshine to the mix!
Taghazout, a small fishing village turned surfers paradise, is about an hours drive from Agadir Airport. Having never been to this part of Africa before I had no real idea what to expect. The village itself is bustling with people, cars and mopeds and the small square is surrounded by restaurants, and surf shops. The coast is not as picturesque as other places I have visited, but it has a great atmosphere; local families, tourists and surf schools all mingle together on the long sandy beaches. The snack-sellers on the beach are a bit intimidating at first, as they can be a bit pushy, but are actually very friendly and provide much entertainment with their haggling and joke telling. The macaroons and candied nuts they sell are perfect for a post-surf snack!
As those who have been following my previous surf posts will know, I am not a great surfer, I am not even a good surfer. So I had arranged lessons via Surf Maroc; a surf school started by Ollie and Ben, two English surfers, back in 2003. Our surf class was an interesting mix of nationalities and people from different professions and backgrounds. Chatting on the beach at lunchtime was almost as educational as the surf lessons as I learned about the best bars to visit in Krackow, and how the Swiss school system works.
Being largely self-taught I have no concept of ‘surf chat’, and so for the entire first day I assumed wave ratings must be the same as ski slope ratings; green wave must mean beginner wave. I was mightily confused pushing myself into tiny white foamy waves as my teacher yelled from the beach at me to catch a green wave. On day two it clicked, green wave doesn’t mean beginner wave at all, it’s super cool surfer lingo for a wave that has not yet broken. You have to have good timing to catch these as opposed to white waves (the foamy ones), thus they are the mecca of intermediate surf waves.
Part of my problem, like most of the beginners I meet, is that waves are terrifying. Going head on with a huge unbroken wave while attached to an eight foot cumbersome floaty board was seeming more ridiculous the more I thought about it. But I had got this far, board in hand, I was determined to make it out to find one of these sought-after green waves. Alas it was not to be, and I went back to the beach in search of some candied nuts.
Back out in the surf again and I was constantly amazed at how patient and enthusiastic our teacher was with us, despite our consistent face plants into the beach. When my arms had run out of juice he even let me hold on to his ankles so he could paddle me outback to meet the rest of the group – now that is service! Surf Maroc employ a lot of local staff from Taghazout and surrounding villages; this helps improve the local economy and quality of life by providing jobs as well as offering training and opportunities for young entrepreneurs, who sometimes go on to open their own surf businesses. The teachers at Surf Maroc, who have all grown up surfing in the area, have great local knowledge which is huge benefit to the customers. They always managed to hunt down the waves, despite the forecast being not so great, and made sure we were in our wetsuits and out surfing before the beach got too busy.
One interesting thing about holidaying here is that Taghazout is a dry town, as a European this is a bizarre concept. But actually it was quite nice, I drank more Fanta than dentists would recommend, but it is the perfect place if you are planning an alcohol detox! You can buy alcohol in some near by hotels such as the Paradis Plage who have a great beach bar as well as beach side yoga sessions. Outside Paradis Plage the locals bring their horses and camels and you can ride down the long peaceful beach. The surfing in Morocco was great, but it was nothing compared to riding a Camel on the beach at sunset, I felt like a Princess riding through the desert on my trusty steed (one can dream).
If you like a post surf yoga session, Surf Maroc offer classes on their yoga balcony set into the cliffs at the Taghazout Villa. It was quite honestly the most relaxing place I have ever been. As the sun set over the sea, the sound of the waves crashing rhythmically into the cliff was the perfect accompaniment to the session. There is weekly schedule of post-surf evening entertainment at Surf Maroc , the BBQ on the balcony of the Auberge was a nice way to socialise with your surf group out of your wetsuit!
If your weary arms need a break from all that paddling why not head to Paradise valley; only a 45-minute drive from Taghazout. As you drive in to the valley there are cafes and restaurants dotted around next to the river with the tables and chairs in the shallow streams so you can keep your feet cool while you have a nice Fanta. A short hike from the car park at the top brings you through the trees into the valley, where you will find locals having big family days out, preparing and cooking their tagines on the rocks. There are also make shift shacks selling fresh tagines and cold drinks. You won’t be offered a menu, you just ask what they have (normally two different types of tagine!), they are very good value and the food is great.
Renting a car is very reasonable from Agadir airport, petrol is cheap and it’s not to difficult to navigate your way around. Make sure to keep some change handy for the car guards who will watch your car while parked in town or at the beach. If you don’t fancy driving, airport transfers are included in Surf Maroc’s packages and they offer excursions to Paradise Valley. The packages include everything but the flight which you will have to book yourself. If you are booking in advance try Easyjet for direct flights from the UK, or Thomson Flights can be really good for a last minute flight deal. The peak season for Surfing in Taghazout is November – April, so get booking for your mid-winter sunshine now for the best flight deals.
Sarah Loughlin a reformed non-windsurfer, gives us the lowdown on how to get your friends and family out on the water this spring and summer.
After a very green start to the winter the snow is here! Just as you were beginning to think that the age old vacation problem of ‘sun or snow’ was going to be answered for you by the unseasonable lack of the latter ingredient…. its only gone and dumped it down! Oh well, back to the drawing board.
Like many other people, starting at an early age meant skiing has always been a big part of my life. It’s not just the sport itself but the atmosphere and the people it attracts that keep you going back year after year. There’s nothing like sitting down at dinner to stuff your face full of cheese and chatting to everyone about their day up the hill. But saying that, every year around this time, normally on a chilly walk to work, I start to crave a beach day in the sunshine – just me and a good book!
If you still can’t decide whether to don your bikini or your snowboard, maybe these cheeky ski deals will help you out!
Three nights in Avoriaz, France – Thursday 26th March-Sunday 29th March £267.26
This trip perfect is for you indecisive folk; can’t decide between sun and snow? Do Both! Thursday afternoon flights from Gatwick mean you only need one and a half days holiday to enjoy two full days of skiing! Plenty of holiday left for that dose of mid-winter sun!
Fly from London Gatwick to Geneva with Swissair for £64 per person:
Avoriaz is only about an hour and a half from Geneva. This means you can be up the mountain by 10ish to get an early night and awake refreshed for the first lift on Friday morning, or be there in time to catch a few drinks at aprés… which ever takes your fancy. There are quite a few transfer options around of varying reliability, you can in theory get a return transfer for about €50 but if you are only there for a few days best to pick a company with a good reputation. I traveled with Ski- Lifts, who offer a return shared minibus transfer for £71.76 per person. They were efficient, friendly, and after a short wait for the other passengers on my bus we hopped on board and were up the mountain in no time. I would love to tell you about the amazing scenic views on the way up the valley – but I fell promptly asleep before we left the car park!
AirBnB offers an Apartment in the center of town that sleeps up to six for £263; which works out as £131.50 per person based on two people sharing. One of the great things about Avoriaz is that they have no cars in resort, so pretty much everywhere is ski in ski out. All the roads around town are pisted into slopes and are dotted with skiers, pedestrians and the occasional piste-basher; the only thing you have to watch out for are the horse drawn sleds!
You can pre-order your lift pass online before you go to make the most of your time on the mountain. All you have to do is order a re-loadable Portes du Soleil card and then charge it with a two day lift pass which costs €93 for the area pass (+€3 for the card).
Eating: With only a few days up the hill its going to be hard to fit in all the essential mountain grub! So here are my faves; if you like omelet try La Grenouille du Marais, where they come served in huge frying pans straight to your table! If you don’t want to stop for too long grab a quick burger from Changabang, super tasty, but sometimes there is a bit of a queue. Or if you fancy somewhere a bit quirky be sure to check out Chez BaBeth a cosy chalet style restaurant choc-full of fur throws and alpine themed decor, they even have a bit of aprés on the terrace in the afternoon!
Skiing: Avoriaz is a huge ski area, spreading out into the Portes du Soleil. There is something for everyone, long gentle blues, parks and half pipes, and a lot of off piste. Including the famous ‘Swiss Wall’ if you fancy a challenge!
Aprés: When you are all skied out head to Globe Trotters for a few chilled out beers on the terrace, and if you fancy some music afterwards it’s a short stumble to Shooters who have a live band from 5-7pm.
A March week:
Seven nights in Kitzbühel, Austria – Saturday 21st March – Saturday £379pp
When looking for a week’s ski holiday I always aim to get a flight, transfer and accommodation package for roughly £350. Depending on the time of year you want to go you can normally find a nice place to stay in a good resort for that price. You can get them much cheaper but bear in mind, you get what you pay for. That self catering deal for £199 might look appealing, but you will be four to a room in bunk-beds on a corridor full of students vomiting in their own shoes.
This deal with Crystal Ski to Chalet Karlberger, in Kitzbühel is great value; the package includes flights from Manchester, transfers and accommodation with chalet board which includes breakfast, afternoon tea and three course dinner with wine. Gatwick flights available for £429 per person.
On the chalet staff night off head to Sigi’s for one of their famous burger’s and beer or two. This family run sports bar is part of the Hotel Jagerwirt, which has beautifully decorated alpine inspired lobby. The staff are all super friendly and are sure to show you a good time. If you like spicy food try the ‘Fire Burger’, but be warned it has more than a little kick to it!
A February week:
Seven nights in Val Thorens, France – Saturday 7th February – Saturday 14th February £561pp
Having said that £350 is a reasonable price to pay for your package, I would definitely fork out the extra money for this deal! Val Thorens is the place to be at the minute with 50-60cm of snow predicted towards the end of this week! Travel with Skiworld from London Gatwick to the Chalet Verseau, located at the top of the resort with easy access to the slopes and town. The package includes flights, transfers accommodation and chalet board (breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner including wine).
Eating: The great thing about a chalet holiday is that the food is all included in the price of the package along with the wine, but you do get one evening to go out and try some of the local restaurants – best of both worlds! If you don’t want to venture too far from the Chalet go for a fondue at the l’Auberge, then when you are totally cheese out head over to the Red Fox for an digestif or two!
Skiing: What can I say about the Trois Vallees that hasn’t already been said – probably my favorite place to ski! Like most big French ski areas, there is something for everyone – park, piste, off piste; even a fab little cross country route on the lake at Les Menuires, ideal for beginners.
Aprés: There is almost far too much choice in Val Thorens its hard to know where to start! If you are a mid-afternoon aprés on the mountain fan there is a choice of 360 or the famous Folie Douce both with live music and great atmosphere. If you want to ski until the very last second possible then the center of town is where you want to head; the Frog has great bands and as much dancing on the table as you can shake a stick at, while Danish bar Cafe Snesko also its own theme song and sets fire to things at regular intervals through out the evening.
For more ideas about great holiday deals check out my previous post ‘How to Fly for £17 Return’.
All prices and availability were accurate on Monday 26th of January; please check websites for up to date pricing.
Whether you think that the lack of snow this year is down to global warming, disgruntled Snow God’s, or just plain bad luck, the fact is there are a fair amount of resorts not opening their lifts this weekend due to snow conditions. If you have already booked a ski holiday for this Christmas and your resort is looking more golf course, than ski piste, read on!
‘No snow?! At Christmas??!’ I hear you cry, ‘This madness’…. And madness it will be, thousands of people are due to descend into resorts this week, and as I look out on the very green and leafy mountains of the Tirol in Austria I can’t help wondering how this will play out. One solution used by many ski resorts are snow cannons which create artificial snow. However due to unseasonably warm temperatures and humidity they are not able to use them to create snow for this coming weekend. To create artificial snow it needs to be around -2/-3C. Christmas Day this year in parts of the Tirol region are due to be between 8-10C.
This is not what we have come to expect on the 19th of December, most years there is some sort of covering on the mountain, enough for resorts to open, even if it’s only the higher ski runs. With the scientists reporting that the weather is getting warmer, the glaciers are shrinking and the altitude at which rain turns to snow getting ever higher, it begs the question of whether low lying resorts such as those in the Tirol will still be skiable in the future. However traveling around the Tirol and speaking to various locals over the last few days I am told this is not the first time this has happened. One hotelier tells me he can remember a season about 20 years ago where they didn’t get the first snow until mid January. He doesn’t think that this situation is new, but it just happens a bit more often than it used to. He is not worried though, ‘the snow will come’, he tells me, ‘it always does’.
I imagine there will be a lot of disappointed people at the airport this weekend, but don’t be one of them!! After all, It’s Christmas!!! Although not ideal if you had envisaged spending a week swanning around the slopes, there is plenty to do in resort if there is limited skiing. These are my top activities to make the most of your non-ski holiday this week!
1. Try something different…. Most resorts offer activities that don’t need snow, such as paraponting (running/ skiing off a hill while attached to a nice French/ Austrian man and floating down through the valley with a parachute). If you think this could be the new sport for you, do some research and try to book something before you get there, I imagine they will get very busy! Companies like Evolution 2 in France offer a wide range of non-skiing activities.
2. Relax….. There are normally great spa’s and sauna’s in ski resorts. Make the most of the time you don’t normally have when running between ski school, après and dinner to relax in the spa, take a steam, or get a massage. Depending on your budget and the resort you are in there is normally a few to choose from. Again, research before you go and get booked in, especially if you want treatments. This could also double as a cheeky last minute Christmas present for someone you are traveling with!!
3. Explore…. I think like a lot of keen skiers I have only ever visited the mountains in the winter. Until this autumn, when I spent some time in the French Alps. I completely fell in love with it, it is so beautiful and peaceful walking in the mountains; there are so many animals and amazing views. You can even burn off some of that Christmas dinner while getting out in the fresh air! Make the most of a chance to go for a nice long hike and see the mountains before they get buried again for another winter.
4. Get sporty…… If hiking and paraponting aren’t your thing, visit the local sports centre. Depending on the resort there are all sorts of activities from climbing and swimming, to ice skating and table tennis.
5. Go shopping…. Whether you are into tacky souvenirs, hand carved wooden statues or cool snowboard apparel you will find it up in the mountains. Again, something you don’t normally have time for on an action packed ski holiday, so make the most of the time to look around the shops and pick up a few cool Christmas presents for yourself (and/ or friends and loved ones!).
6. Pig out….. It wouldn’t be Christmas without eating yourself silly. The mountains are a great place to do it, with more cheese and carbs than you can shake a stick at! So treat everyday like Christmas and take long boozey lunches while praying to the Snow God’s for a midweek dump!
7. Après…. Just because there is no snow doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in the strange post-skiing afternoon tradition of watching live music, drinking beer and dancing on tables; other wise known as après ski. Plus you can hit it extra hard because you don’t have to be up early for ski school in the morning!!
8. Excursions…. Depending on the resort you are going to it is relatively easy to take the train to visit a nearby town or city. Check out my article on Salzburg for some inspiration!