Monday, March 31, 2014

The Corliss Group World Travelers: How to do the Camino de Santiago walk

Ask the experts: Annie Bennett, our Spain expert, advises a reader who wants to walk part of the pilgrim's path to Santiago de Compostela.

Patsy Lees writes

A friend and I would like to walk part of the Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela, in June, but only have about five days free. The tour companies I have seen all seem to do longer tours. We are happy to make our own arrangements but are not sure where to start.

Annie Bennett, Spain expert, replies

Lots of people opt to do the pilgrimage in stages these days. The Confraternity of St James (csj.org.uk) should be your first port of call for general information. Have a look at the Spanish (spain.info) and Galician (turgalicia.es) tourist office websites too.

Tour operators that organise self-guided trips include Camino Ways (caminoways.com), which offers a six-night holiday covering the last stretch of the most popular route, the Camino Francés, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela – around 70 miles. Prices start at about £400 without flights, staying in family-run guesthouses or cottages, including breakfast and dinner, luggage transfers and walking notes.

Bear in mind that there are several lesser-known, shorter routes too. Macs Adventure (macsadventure.com/camino-tours) can arrange a five-night walk covering the Camino Finisterre, where you actually start in Santiago de Compostela and walk to Finisterre on the Atlantic coast, a distance of around 5 miles, stopping off at fabulous beaches. This costs from £285 without flights, staying in simple rural hotels. Luggage transfer is £150 extra.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Corliss Group World Travelers on Luxury cruise and biking

I fancy myself a backpack-carrying, adventure-seeking traveler, at home in hostels and on hiking trails. But there I was, on a luxury cruise ship, sipping wine with silver-haired foxes, fox-trotting with male escorts in the ballroom, and escorting myself on a tapas-like tour around Europe, sampling cities for a day via ship, bus, foot and bike.

It was the biking aspect that had led to my unlikely sojourn on the ship, Crystal Cruises ' Serenity. Months before, my cyclist-enthusiast ears perked up when I heard about the cruise, with biking-based itineraries in several port cities.

The regimented itinerary of a cruise with its scheduled ports of call, and the idea of spending that much time on a ship, wasn't all that appealing to me, but the prospect of biking around a few different European cities was. So I packed my sneakers, some cute bike shorts and an open mind.

Embarking in Dover, England, I was sure I was the only passenger hauling a backpack on board when the butler assigned to my cabin floor did a double-take at the sight of my luggage. But after a restful sleep, rocked by the waves of the Atlantic and the gentle hum of the ship's engine, thoughts of hostels were but a distant memory

On the first of my 10-day adventure hitting seven cities in four countries, my cousin and fellow cruiser Olivia Female, I, and a few other cyclists biked around Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, on cruisers we were given. We traversed the quaint, compact island, two-wheeling by fawn-hued cows, primary-colored fishing boats and World War II bunkers.

The next day we sampled wine on an evening walking tour in Bordeaux, France, as we learned about local history. In the hopes of working off some of that vino, I pedaled around the cobblestoned streets and lush wineries of Saint-Emilion the following day. Continue Reading

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Corliss Group World Travelers, 50+ Travel: 6 Tips on Choosing the Perfect Tour or Cruise






Amazingly, Americans age 50 and over spend more than $150 billion annually on vacations. For many, travel is their number one leisure activity.


Some travel so they can cross something off their bucket list, such as drinking wine in Tuscany. Others travel to indulge in a passion, perhaps studying the geological wonders of the world or learning a new language. And for many, travel is a time to enjoy a special vacation with several generations of family.


Tours and cruises are a great way to achieve any of these objectives. In fact, they are among the top vacation choices for much of the 50+ crowd. Many travelers are happy to let someone else making all the lodging, dining, transportation and entertainment arrangements. The good news is that the choices for guided tours and cruises are nearly endless, and can fit almost any budget, travel style or itinerary expectation.


So how do you choose the right tour or cruise? Here are some points to consider:

• Activity Level: Travelers should determine the objective for their trip. Is it to rest and relax or stay on the go? Actively learn and explore or just enjoy the scenery? Immerse yourself in a culture or admire from a distance? Tours and cruises often have themes and all have set itineraries, so it's important to know what your objective is before you make reservations.

• Destination: Some cruises and tours head for far-reaching places and little-known ports of call, while others stick to more mainstream destinations. Others combine the two. Travelers should consider the appeal of all legs of their trip. Some people like to take trips that allow them to add on other destinations or more days to the end or beginning of the trip, so consider that option, too. Doing so could really give you more value for your dollars.

• Timing and budget: Prices for tours and cruises may be lower in off seasons such as spring and fall, and may also help travelers avoid weather extremes. Also, single travelers should be aware that some trips charge for lodging based on double occupancy. In addition, the cost to get to and from the trip should be factored into a trip budget. For example, you may have to fly to and from a cruise port.

• Size: From intimate, small-group excursions by van or small boat to large tours via bus or cruise ship, size can make a difference. Travelers should be realistic about their desire to be around large or small groups for extended periods and about their need for independent excursions or time alone.

• Physical limitations: Travelers with physical limitations or special medical needs should realistically assess their ability to engage in the trip itinerary. They should also check whether medical care is readily available or accessible on all parts of the trip.

• Discounts: Travelers 50 and older should remember to seek out discounts. For example, a variety of travel discounts -- from car rentals to cruises and lodging -- are available to AARP members. Membership cost is often recouped quickly by using a few discounts.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Corliss Group Travelers: TripAdvisor Plans Mobile Travel Guide



Now 14 years old and hosting 150 million reviews and opinions, (twice as many as two years ago) TripAdvisor has established itself as a go-to destination on the Web for reviews of hotels and attractions around the world. The market is hardly standing still though and the company now faces competition from the data-powered approaches of Foursquare and Google Now, offering a more contextually relevant experience.

To find out how TripAdvisor is facing up to these challenges, I spoke to president and CEO Stephen Kaufer today at SXSW.

Kaufer isn’t phased by the newer kids on the travel information scene. “The fact you can come to a new city and get tips and information from sources other than TripAdvisor, that’s cool. It’s going to help people understand that there’s so much they can ask of their phone or expect of their phone.” In all, Kaufer believes TripAdvisor has the most data and can still offer the best recommendations.

It’ll come as little surprise to learn that mobile is a big growth area for the company. Over 40 percent of traffic to its site comes from mobile devices, but Kaufer feels its apps could offer more than just trip-planning help. “Just as we humbly think of TripAdvisor as having changed the way people plan their trip before they go, we think there’s a phenomenal opportunity once travellers are actually in market to change their in-market, or in-destination activity.”

Kaufer hinted at custom tours and object recognition as features a mobile ‘personal travel guide’ from TripAdvisor may have in the future.

You can listen to the full interview below, where I also asked him how the company is faring in the battle against the fake reviews that have blighted TripAdvisor in the past.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Corliss Group Travelers: Scandinavia travel guide





An essential guide to Scandinavia, including information on Sweden, Norway and Denmark, attractions, transport, when to go, where to stay and top travel tips. By Andrew Stone, our Scandinavia expert.

The word “Scandinavia” evokes many images. Endless fir forests, awe-inspiring fjords, wilderness, and lately, perhaps, crime fiction and noir thrillers such as Borgen, Wallander and The Killing. It’s all these things, of course, but this hardly does justice to the region’s vastness and diversity. To the North is the Arctic Circle, where polar bears roam, the summer sun lasts 24 hours, but an implacable dark descends in a winter lit, if you’re lucky, by cosmic northern lights. Although not in Scandinavia, Finland, where Russia's cultural orbit is felt, also has a Nordic feel with vast expanses of lake and forest inhabited by wild bears stretch beyond sight. Nomadic reindeer herders range from mountain to forest and the naked sauna is a national pastime.

Stockholm offers grand Venetian charms around its many canals and islands as well as the world’s only ABBA museum. AP 



The western coasts are wild and wet. Plunging cataracts and cruise-ship-dwarfing fjord cliffs defy your sense of scale and the wind whips angry seas. Head south to Denmark’s countryside, though, and you’ll find a pastoral, almost English beauty of rolling fields and woods. It’s a gentler landscape ideal for touring by bike.

Scandinavia is also a region of extreme seasons quite unlike Britain’s tepid climate. Winter in the region thwarts all but the most determined city-break tourist. It’s a winter sports heaven, though, when ice grips great tracts of wilderness tight for half the year and you can snowmobile to ice hotels or trek wild trails by husky sled. 

During summer’s brief lease, the days stretch on and every Scandinavian country explodes in a celebration of light, music, culture, Baltic beachcombing, lakeland fun and some legendary fishing (especially in Norway during the salmon runs). This is the time to explore remote coasts and sleepy islands by car, canoe, ferry or historic Baltic schooner, and to plan mountain and trail hikes. It’s also when frivolous midsummer festivals and cavorting take over and a husband can win his wife’s weight in beer at the World Wife Carrying Championship.
An implacable dark descends in a winter lit, if you’re lucky, by cosmic northern lights. AP 

While most regional towns and even cities in Scandinavia tend to be small, relatively sleepy and often achingly pretty, the capital cities are compelling destinations in their own right. Stockholm offers grand Venetian charms around its many canals and islands as well as the world’s only ABBA museum, while Copenhagen has chic sophistication and fine dining.

For a region that subsisted largely on herring and rye bread, only occasionally looking to France and Italy for some culinary cues, the food has changed out of all recognition. Local chefs, such as René Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen, have transformed the way they find and use what’s on their doorstep, and the world is now beating a path to their kitchen doors.

Putting together an itinerary to sample the best of the region is quickest via the network of airports. Doing so overland poses its challenges but promises greater adventure too. Determined independent travellers willing to stitch together an itinerary that takes in several countries will feel like Phileas Fogg taking in rail, road and ferry travel over some incredible landscapes. The Oslo to Bergen railway or the Norwegian coastal steamer route are just a few examples. Happily, all these mini-adventures will generally run to timetable, thanks to innate Nordic good sense and organisation.

To the North is the Arctic Circle, where polar bears roam and the summer sun lasts 24 hours.
ALAMY 

When to go

Mid-May to August is the obvious period in which to go, when daytime temperatures rise into teens and 20s Celsius, greenery abounds and everyone makes the most of the “midnight sun”. It’s also when the vast majority of food, culture and music festivals happen and the seasonal attractions and camping grounds re-open. Oddly, and happily, the height of summer is also when many hotels cut their rates (and surprisingly many businesses including restaurants close so everyone can head off to their summer houses). Spring and autumn are when the cities really come into their own and a series of often excellent cultural and food festivals take place.


By rail

Rail travel in Scandinavia is first-rate, usually reasonably priced and with some good regional and cross-border intercity services. Some journeys are wonderfully scenic trips in their own right, such as the Bergen railway which crosses the “roof of Norway” on Northern Europe’s highest altitude line. Eurail (eurail.com) offers great deals on unlimited rail travel around Scandinavia if you are planning extensive rail travel and are prepared to plan and book ahead. It also offers family tickets and discounts on some ferry routes in the region.

Mid-May to August is the obvious period in which to go, when daytime temperatures rise into teens and 20s Celsius, greenery abounds and everyone makes the most of the “midnight sun”. AP

By road

Car hire works well and all the major international firms operate here. The ScanRail Drive (eurorailways.com) deal offers a five-day rail pass with two days of car hire.

By ferry

Much of the region is dependent on ferries and there are extensive services throughout Scandinavia including many car ferry routes. At weekends, ferry fares go up. Sweden has the largest fleet of ferries serving the islands of the Stockholm archipelago. Some ferry routes are worth the journey in themselves, perhaps chief among them Norway’s extraordinary Hurtigruten (0203 627 8249; hurtigruten.co.uk).
Know before you go

Travel around Scandinavia is generally safe, hassle-free and requires little in the way of special planning or completion of red tape. Your European Health Insurance Card will be accepted in some countries (Sweden) but not others (Denmark), so travel insurance is a must.

Copenhagen is home to chic sophistication and fine dining. AP 
While the summer climate is mild and sometimes even hot, it can also be wet, so warm clothes and waterproofs are essentials. Mosquito repellent is a good idea if you’re visiting the lake areas in summer.

Perhaps the main preparation to make is realistic budgeting. It’s not a cheap region to visit but it is possible to make savings by planning and booking ahead. Drinking alcohol and eating out are generally expensive. Picnics with off-licence wine, lunch set menus and bakery pit stops are some examples of how to shave costs without wearing a hair shirt.




The Corliss Group Travelers Tips: Holidays in Croatia






Baroque churches and cobbled streets in the capital of Slavonia, plus short holidays in Cornwall and Sardinia


Hapsburg-era charm: the pretty Croatian town of Osijek. Photograph: Nino Marcutti/Alamy



Why go?

Ryanair's new destination in Croatia (it launches flights from Stansted on 4 April) is a likable, laid-back university town. It's the capital of Slavonia, a land of cornfields, vineyards and pastel-hued villages, famed for its cuisine. (Nope, we'd never heard of it either.)

What to do

Soak up the Hapsburg-era charm, baroque churches and cobbled streets of Tvrda, the old town. Take a boat tour through Kopacki Rit Nature Park, one of Europe's largest wetland habitats (kopacki-rit.com). Cycle through the winelands of Baranja (biljeplus.hr). In summer, join locals swimming off the sandbanks of the River Drava.

Where to stay

Maksimilian (from £35, maksimilian.hr) is a home-from-home B&B with heaps of character in an old Austro-Hungarian building in historic Tvrda. It also offers bike hire (€10 per day).

Where to eat

Be serenaded by a frog chorus as you dine on fish at Zelena Zaba, a riverside restaurant on the edge of the Kopacki Rit (Ribarska 3, 00 385 31 752 212). In Baranja, Josic serves Slavonian dishes, such as smoked fish, goulash and spit-roast venison, in a cosy underground wine cellar (josic.hr).


"The riverside promenade is lined with cool café-bars, some with open-air terraces," says Jelena Matkovic of hip design store Lega-Lega (lega-lega.com). "My favourites are Trica (facebook.com/caffetrica) and Brooklyn (Šetalište kardinala F. Šepera 8F)."

Give me a break
Lap of luxury: the child-friendly Polurrian Bay Hotel.

Home: Cornwall with the children

Luxury Family Hotels is offering discounted spring breaks at its seven child-friendly hotels until 3 April. For example, a two-night stay at Polurrian Bay Hotel, set on the cliffs of the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall, currently costs from £199 per room on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis – a saving of £141 on normal rates. The hotel offers a crèche, pool and lots of family activities (luxuryfamilyhotels.co.uk).

Grand designs: Casa Rosa, in the seaside resort of Cannigione, Sardinia.

Away: Sunshine in Sardinia

Bag some early-summer sunshine on a break to Sardinia. Tour operator Sardinian Places is offering a week at the three-bedroom Casa Rosa, in the seaside resort of Cannigione, from £389pp – a saving of £169pp on the brochure price. The price is valid for a 3 May departure, based on six sharing, and includes return flights from Gatwick and car hire (sardinianplaces.co.uk/casa-rosa).




Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Corliss Group Travelers Tips: Best Urban Beaches for Kids


London, Paris, New York - when the sun comes out, they’ve all got them: urban beaches combining cityscapes and the ‘seaside.’ Share your tip on your favourite for youngsters via GuardianWitness and you could win this week’s prize

Paris Plage by the River Seine. Photograph: Alamy
Do you know a city that has an excellent beach for kids, where sandcastles are obligatory and facilities well thought out? From summer pop ups to perennials, where’s your favourite patch of urban sand?

Up for grabs is a £200 voucher from Hotels.com. Submit your tips by clicking on the blue button and using the text tab. Try and include as much detail as possible – any nearby cafes, location, website address etc. – and feel free to add a photo if you own the copyright to it, but it will be the text we’re judging! Your tip should be around 100 words.Terms and conditions.

Closes 12 March 2014 at 6am GMT

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