Weekend in Reykjavik Iceland – Amazing!

Reyklavik Mini Breaks

Unbelievable, awesome, amazing, just three over used adjectives that have become normal for describing the most mundane of things. However when it comes to try and portray my weekend in Reykjavik Iceland believe me none of them do it justice!

We took the early Thursday morning  Easyjet flight from Manchester, the flight to Keflavik takes around 2 to 2 and half hours and the transfer from the airport to Reklavik approximately 45 minutes.

We stayed in the 3 star hotel Hafnafjordur (try saying that to the taxi driver after a night on the town) just outside Reykjavik. From the outside the hotel looked quite unappealing but it was immaculately clean and the rooms were spacious with a small kitchenette if you needed those facilities. All the staff spoke fluent English and the service was  five star. They just couldn’t do enough for you.

Whale Ship

There was a beautiful blue sky and the temperature was around 9 degrees but felt much warmer in the sunshine. We had booked to go whale watching the following afternoon but the weather forecast looked a little unfavourable so we asked the hotel receptionist if it could be possible to rearrange our trip for that afternoon. A quick call to the excursion company and our mini bus pick-up was set up for one hours time.

Old Harbour Reykjavik

The Whale watching embarks from the old harbour in Reykjavik and travels out into the waters of Faxaflói bay. Even though it was a sunny day it was quite cold out in the bay. The efficient boat company provided extra warm clothing for those that needed it. The trip was wonderful with Porpoises, Dolphins and several Minkie Whales spotted during our outing. Several seabirds including Guillemots, Arctic Terns and Puffins were also in abundance.

We arrived back into Reykjavik at around 5pm so we set off to explore the city. Although around half of the countries population live in Reykjavik the city is not huge and it wasn’t long before we found the Laugavegur district with its shops and bars.  Drinks prices are fairly steep but most bars seem to have  ‘happy hours’ in the early evening so we finished our long day with a lager or too and met some of the friendliest locals I’ve met anywhere.

Harpa Reykjavik

The next day we did some more serious sightseeing in Reyjavik, we jumped on the local bus, our friendly receptionist had  pointed out the bus stop and gave us the prices which were quite reasonable and off we went.

Church

You can’t miss the amazing Hallgrimur’s Church as it dominates Reykjavik’s skyline, here it’s possible to take the lift to the top of the tower and have an incredible birds-eye view of the city and surrounding coastline. The Harpa Conference centre and Opera house is a breathtaking architectural masterpiece and  also well worth the visit.  A few minutes walk from  the Harpa is the stunning  Solfar Viking ship a wonderful piece of art. To reflect Iceland’s colourful history there are plenty of Museums, Viking Villages and the like but with only so much time available we had to miss them this time.

Viking Ship

We had pre-booked the ‘Golden Circle Tour’ prior to our departure, this is the most popular of the excursions available in Iceland. Our knowledgeable guide Martha was very informative and told us so much about the country and the sites we were to visit.  It takes in the hot springs at Geysir -where the word Geyser go its name, the waterfalls of Gullfoss and the national park of Thingvellir. The excursion was worth every penny.

Gullfoss

I must admit I set off on Thursday morning thinking well OK this may be an interesting trip to somewhere I’ve never been, tick it off my list and move on. By Sunday I was reflecting on so many ‘firsts’ I had achieved in such a short length of time I was already planning my next visit!

I need to visit the blue lagoon, see the Northern Lights, check out a few Volcanoes, go on a Jeep safari, hike a glacier, wander round the odd museum or too and have a few more beers with my new Viking pals – Never mind sunbathing it’s the land of fire and ice, Reykjavik Iceland for me!

 

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Andalucia, trains & tapas!

My wife and I have just returned from a spectacular holiday in Andalucía, one of my favourite regions of Spain. Our first week was in the small holiday resort of Almerimar situated just a few miles from the popular Roquetas de Mar, here we spent a relaxing week and re-charged our batteries. 

Almerimar Marina

 We stayed in a modern self-catering apartment block a few yards from the pleasant marina and minutes from the beach. Travelling in late summer, we spent the last sunny days of September lounging by the pool or on the beach. This area of Spain is famous for its tapas and almost every bar serves a choice of free tapas with every alcoholic drink -not exactly good for the diet! A quaint beach bar or ‘Chiringito’ quickly became the venue for several long lunches and the evenings were spent sampling the local cuisine in a surprising wide choice of restaurants for such a small resort. 

Almerimar The Square & Pepe Morreno’s Chiringito

The days passed quickly and it soon became time for our adventures to begin, spending an enjoyable morning exploring Almeria followed by a lazy Sunday lunch provided the ideal start to our Spanish odyssey.

We travelled by train departing late afternoon and arriving in the city of Granada a couple of stress-free hours later. With incredibly good timing we arrived in Granada on the 29th September, this is the Feast day of Our Lady of the Angustias the Patron Saint of Granada and cause for great celebration with the people of the city. We spent a great evening marvelling at the parades, enjoying competing marching bands and strolling around the speciality stalls erected for the occasion. Our hotel for the night was the Melia Granada a centrally situated quality hotel. 

The Alhambra – Granada

If I am in a new city the first thing I normally do is book on the local hop-on hop-off city tour and this is what we did in Granada. These tours usually cover all the major attractions and give you ample time to explore any place that takes your fancy. The Alhambra Palace is without doubt the highlight of any visit to Granada but please be aware that tickets generally have to be booked 24 hours in advance.

The next day we caught a cab back to the station and jumped on our RENFE train for the two hour-ish journey to the capital of Andalucía, Seville. I am a real fan of city breaks and have  been lucky enough to visit many over the years but I must say from the second I arrived to the sad moment of my departure Seville has shot to the very top of my favourite city destinations. 

Seville – A mix of ancient and modern

 Its street are clean, it has iconic architecture with a brilliant mixture of ancient and modern. I never once felt intimidated in this university city with its youthful vibe and visitor friendly population. Home to bullfighting, the Spanish guitar, and flamenco, Seville is the real heartbeat of Spain here you can feel the real Spanish culture, not like the plastic version found along much of the Costas.

The city tour took us around the sights, here we explored the gothic Cathedral with the Giralda tower next it, the amazing Real Alcazar and Plaza de Espana and much much more. Away from the organised tours we enjoyed superb flamenco and discovered our own favourite local tapas bars. After 3, all-too-brief nights it was time to leave and catch our train for our final destination Madrid. Alas our Andalucía adventure was over but with a definite promise to return soon!

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Planning for Chistmas?

It’s July the 15th and the hottest day of the year, I’m sat in my shorts and T-shirt in the noon day sun writing this blog about planning for Christmas. Why? you may very well ask, have I lost the plot completely? hopefully not, the answer is simple if you don’t get organised you either miss out or pay over the odds, neither of these options ever sit well with me or I suspect you!

xmas holidays

Don’t get me wrong things are always a tad pricey at Christmas but what is certain, they won’t get any cheaper. This applies to a whole range of things from that favourite restaurant, (already taking bookings at my local) hotels in the UK or holidays abroad. Christmas doesn’t get anymore ‘peak season’ so don’t expect that last minute bargain if you hang on to the last minute hoping something will turn up. All that will do is leave only very expensive 2nd or 3rd choice options or worse still no option at all and that leaves the final nightmare scenario – spending time with the in-laws.

So for travel arrangements the deal is book early and bite the bullet on the price, at least by booking early it gives you more time to save up and budget, keep in mind all the positives: firstly you’ll have the brag factor on your return, all your friends that didn’t plan ahead will agree that they’ll do the same next year, you’ll save money on all the things you normally have to attend at home, you can only take small token presents due to the weight restrictions on the plane, you’ve topped up your vitamin D to get you through the next 3 months, the list is endless…

To do Christmas on a budget you’ll need to mess with the calendar, some people don’t buy presents at Christmas but buy them in the January sales instead, likewise if you celebrate Christmas early then just have a normal weekend over the Christmas period you can save a fortune, holidays to the canary islands are around half price in early December than later in the month.
Weihnachten im Erzgebirge, Weihnachtsmarkt in Annaberg-Buchholz

Another good idea is to go on a Christmas markets tour, these are reasonably priced breaks (as they are in late November to mid December) you can buy cheap, quirky, local handcrafts and other gifts for all the family. Get into the Christmas spirit as all the towns and stalls will be bedecked with seasonal decorations and the stalls will be manned by friendly locals dishing out gluhwein, plus you can bring back a load of cheap booze to quaff over the yuletide festivities – Voila!
Note, these tours are also popular so plan now and book early.

Merry Christmas!

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Downton Abbey Tour

The popularity of the recent hit TV series Downton Abbey has resulted in a huge wave of interest in Highclere Castle  the country house featured in the series. The house is a fine example of the Jacobethan  style and sits in a 1,000 acre park designed by Capability Brown. The estate is located in estate is in Hampshire, England, although it is only 5 miles (8.0 km) south of Newbury, Berkshire. It is the country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon.

Visit Highclere Castle - Downton Abbey

Visit Highclere Castle – Downton Abbey

Travel Empire are delighted to offer tours to this lovely country house and our most popular break includes 1 nights accommodation and also includes a visit to the historic city of Oxford.

The Itinerary includes:
Day 1 – Oxford. Journey by coach to the historic city of Oxford. Late afternoon we depart and journey to our hotel.

Day 2 – Highclere Castle/Henley-on-Thames. After breakfast we visit Henley-on-Thames before continuing to Highclere Castle and the setting of Downton Abbey. Late afternoon departure for the journey home.

What’s Included:
Transfers and entry ticket to Highclere Castle and its Egyptian Exhibition and Gardens.
Excursions to Oxford and Henley-on-Thames, one night accommodation with English breakfast, return executive coach travel.

There are departures in July, August and September but numbers are limited and therefore we are encouraging anyone interested to book early. The cost of these short breaks is £119 based on two sharing.

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Holiday Palace Benalmadena

We have been neglecting family hotels on our blog recently, so let me put that right with our ‘Hotel of the week’ the Holiday Palace on Spain’s sunny Costa del Sol!

The hotel is part of the four hotel Holiday World complex and is located just outside Benalmadena and a short hop from Fuengirola. 

Great family holiday choice

Just looking at the images above and below, you can instantly tell that this property is designed for family fun in the sun. The Holiday Palace hotel provides an amazing array of facilities and great entertainment with a dedicated staff on hand to ensure all the kids and teenage members of the family have a great time.

It’s not all about the kids however, the hotel’s health club provides a haven of relaxation and an opportunity to pamper yourself with beauty and health treatments.  Once your batteries have been re-charged you make like to try your hand at one of the many sports that are available or why not brave the wave pool or play a round of golf at one of the many nearby courses or just simply relax in your sun-lounger by one of the swimming pools. 

To find out more about this popular hotel simply click Holiday Palace and if you would like to find out more about the resort please click Benalmadena.

 

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What’s Hot for Summer 2013

After analysis of our search statistics I can reveal the trending hot resorts for summer 2013 and winter 2012/13.

Fuerteventura – High on the list for winter holidays!

Our booking stats show that the Canary Islands are the top winter destination for British holiday makers that wish to escape from the cold and rain. The islands of  Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura  are so popular they are providing holidays for more than  one in every two people jetting away in the next few weeks.

So far the  trends for 2013 are:

Turkey: N0.1 destination for summer 2013 searches (so far)

 Top 5 destinations for summer

Turkey

Balearic Islands

Greece

Canary Islands

Spain (mainland)

Top 5 destinations for this Winter

Canary Islands

Egypt

Tunisia

Turkey

Florida

Booking advice: We have seen price increases for popular destinations in high season so it would be a good idea to book early and secure your holiday as soon as possible!!

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