Increasingly we are finding that people want to give Experiences rather than specific items as presents. Certainly we have personally found as we age and our house fills up with clutter we would much rather have a shared experience with a loved one, than be given yet more “stuff” to find a home for.
Many of our clients are booking holidays to celebrate a special occasion or milestone such as big birthdays with a zero on the end, significant anniversaries, as well as many proposals and honeymoons. The joy of this is that the giver often benefits from the experience as well! In this case the anticipation of the special occasion break adds to the experience with shared excited plotting and planning.
In other cases the gifter is arranging this trip in secret and we send the travel packs out to a different address so the game is not given away ! Then the surprise weekend break is given as a present on the big day, as people often do not actually travel on their special day so they can be at home with a wider group of family and friends.
The extreme surprise planners like to be away for the big moment and to try to get the recipient to the airport without knowing where they are going! This is always a bit trickier as the packing to some of our destinations such as attending a Venice Carnival Ball or going on a Northern Lights Trip in Swedish Lapland need a bit more thought than the usual weekend away!
Sometimes though it can be tricky if you are unsure of their date availability or their break preference and people prefer to give the idea as a present, and if it is well received then book it. The issue with that though is that availability may have gone in the meantime, and due to exchange rates and flight movement, we can only confirm the exact price for an exact date for 48 hrs and the price may have moved in the meantime. Both lead to an awkward situation!
Therefore the final option of gifting a voucher to a certain value is a good option for a special occasion break gift. This option lets the recipient choose themselves where and when they wish to go to. With over 19 countries on offer across our 4 websites, and with breaks ranging from travelling on the luxury Maharajas Express in India, to going to see the spectacular Verona Opera in the Roman amphitheatre, to Whale Watching in Iceland or an exotic Safari to see the Migration there is bound to be something that appeals!
Gift vouchers are also a popular way for friends to buy a present, or as a retirement gift, as everyone can contribute the amount they wish, and it is surprising how quickly this adds up to give someone a unique and memorable special occasion break.
These vouchers are valid for 3 years and can be topped up by the recipient if they wish to go on a more expensive break than you had intended.
So if you are thinking of gifting a Special Occasion Break do give us a ring on 01722 744695 or take a look at our 4 websites; Aurora Nights, Italian Short Breaks, Weekend a La Carte and Safari Addicts for inspiration.
Oh wow, I was going on a trip to Swedish Lapland and Norway!! It was the first time I had ever travelled on my own but it was so easy as all the travel arrangements worked like clockwork. Getting up at 4am for my flight to Stockholm wasn’t fun but worth it for the chance to see the Northern Lights. I took a connecting flight from Stockholm to Kiruna and then was taken to the IceHotel. As it was September everywhere was very green and the countryside looked lovely.
The IceHotel 365 was only a year old when I visited but is a lovely structure which I imagine looks magical covered in snow in winter. The reception area is large and the staff were very welcoming. I was taken on a tour of the site which is much larger than I anticipated. There is the large reception block which also houses the restaurant. There’s a gift shop, arctic clothing store and lots and lots of cabins. The Kaamos cabins were stunning, very simple but they had everything you could wish for. The IceHotel 365 is situated near the bank of the River Torne. It’s an amazing piece of architecture, well thought out and a great substitute for the winter IceHotel. There is an Ice Bar too!
Across the road from the IceHotel complex is the Old Homestead restaurant. A great place to sit and relax and eat the most amazing food. After a visit to the reindeers and a short walk I went to the Ice Bar and had a fabulous blue cocktail in a glass also made of ice. The Ice Bar has some amazing sculptures and a stunning chandelier, also made of ice! At the entrance to the Ice Bar you are given Arctic Capes and gloves as it is very cold inside. They proved invaluable in keeping me warm whilst holding my ice glass and drinking my amazing cocktail.
After dinner at the Old Homestead is was time to turn in for bed but not before one last look for the Northern Lights! My Deluxe Art Suite was amazing, with subtle lighting to make the most of the intricate ice sculpting. The bed had a lovely comfy mattress covered in reindeer skins so I wouldn’t be sleeping directly on ice. The Suite had an interconnecting dressing room, accessed through a sort of air-lock corridor. This was so the heat from the dressing room didn’t melt the ice in the bedroom. The dressing room had underfloor heating, a sauna, shower, loo and wash basin and a dressing area. The dressing area was very simple with comfy chairs and somewhere to put your clothes and belongings. There was also a door to the outdoors so that guests could go out at night to catch the Northern Lights (just don’t forget the key to get back in!).
It had been a long exhausting day and I was absolutely shattered. I’d been given instructions on how to dress for bed and a sleeping bag with cotton liner. So, dressed in a nightdress (big mistake)and socks I made my way through to the bedroom and struggled, but managed, to get into the cotton liner and then into the sleeping bag. I think I fell asleep quite quickly but at some point woke with a very cold head. I had forgotten to take my hat in and wear it despite being advised to wear it. The dilemma then was do I get out of bed and get my hat risking the cold on the floor, or tough it out and hope to go back to sleep? I chose to try and get back to sleep, another big mistake.
In the morning I was woken by the staff with a most welcome hot lingonberry juice, just what was needed! Breakfast was taken in the Old Homestead too, a great selection of foods to fuel you for the day ahead.
An amazing stay at the IceHotel and a lesson learned; pyjamas are much more practical for bed and a hat is a definite must! The food in Sweden and Norway is exceptional, and perhaps not what you would necessarily be going for but a fantastic added bonus. It’s not all herrings and reindeer meat! Take a look at our very popular Ice Hotel & Abisko break giving you an excellent chance of seeing the Northern Lights as well as staying at the Ice Hotel
Reykjavik Centrum Hotel in Reykjavik – What a great hotel only opened in 2005 with part of it situated in a building dating back to 1764. Perfectly situated right in Reykjavik centre overlooking Parliament Square but on the right side of the square to distance yourself from noise. Reykjavik is a party town and at weekends can get very noisy!
Restaurants are close by with a very quirky one just across the square, though the hotel has the Uppsalir Bar & Bistro with special lunch and dinner offers, as well as their claim of being one of the best happy hours in town between 5-7pm!!
The Team are friendly and helpful and there are 2 styles of rooms. Modern and the more traditional feel with panelling. Both have a great feel and space, but for me the more traditional ones had the edge. The Museum next door should have been their car park but as they were digging it out Viking remains were found and so it was converted into a museum with the quirky name Reykjavik 871 +/- 2 which of course relates to the date of the exhibits! As a result Car Parking is Metered Parking on the street – though it is free at night (please check locally in case this changes!).
And if you are looking for a quirky local restaurant just across the square is The Icelandic Bar which offers traditional Icelandic ware in an authentic laid back atmosphere with plenty of old style photos. On offer are Puffin, Reindeer and Minke Whale though less controversial fish stews and lamb are also on offer. The Creamy Seafood soup is excellent and filling. Starters are @ 2,000 isk and main courses range from 3 – 4,000 isk.
To see our Iceland breaks
When we walked outside Reykjavik airport and saw the light aircraft before us, the excitement started to build. It is pretty much a rule of thumb that boarding a light aircraft means an awesome adventure is on the cards. The anticipation of venturing to a far off icy land was mounting, as we flew over the ocean towards the world’s largest icecap. One of the best decisions of the trip was to book window seats, as the view was extraordinary. The rocky volcanic landscape was soon replaced by vast ocean, as we flew steadily north-west, across the Arctic Circle, towards the edge of East Greenland. The scene from our tiny airplane window was truly breath-taking. Massive icebergs scattered across the water like a giant jigsaw puzzle, flanked by towering snow topped glaciers meandering to the sea, cutting a path across an untouched white blanket. Tiny freshwater lakes showcasing a broad palette of brilliant blue and green waters, like paint stains on a white canvas. It took an hour to cross the ice sheet from east to west, the snow so white that sunglasses couldn’t bar the blinding glare off the unpolluted, untouched snow. A true polar wilderness.
When the longest road in the area is a 10 minute drive from the airport to the town, you realise how remote you really are. The clear blue skies and warming sun was a welcoming surprise, as being 69 degrees north you think you would be entering a world of fur coats, not sunglasses and t-shirts! Home to a mere 4,000 people, Greenland’s third most populated settlement is a true gem for scenic vistas. Perched on the edge of fjord slopes, wooden houses in red, blue and green look out to the sea, towards the giant icebergs on the horizon. An ancient 18th century church overlooking the fjord provides the perfect postcard photo opportunity, its dark wood exterior starkly contrasting the pure white bergs behind.
Hotel Arctic grandly overlooks the town and bay, with sea views from the rooms which are impressive enough to keep anyone from wanting to sleep. Looking out the window, a dozen Siberian huskies lounge on the rocks, the only thing between you and the vast expanse that is the bay. One lifts its head towards the sky and howls, breaking the silence. These magnificent dogs command respect and awe. The icebergs drift serenely and silently with the evening tide. I close my eyes and breathe in the cool, crisp Arctic air, feel the cold wind gently brush past my face, the warm summer sun radiating on me. The occasional howl from a husky and the gentle lapping of the water is most soothing. You truly feel like you are in a distant wilderness that must be appreciated. Global Warming is changing the landscape at an unprecedented rate, yet as I look out to the sea, time seems to slow and worldly problems seem almost insignificant. This is a place to visit to get perspective, clear your head, and think about what is important in life. Whilst looking out at one of the world’s greatest views of course!
And all this beauty and emotion is before we even started any of the activities that we had planned!!; Whale Watching boat cruises in amongst the Icebergs, The Calving Glacier of Equip, Kayaking amongst the Icebergs, Broadwalk Hike to the Unesco protected Sermmiut Icebergs, Midnight sun Iceberg Cruise!! To see the Greenland under the Midnight Sun break we went on
With Brexit now confirmed we wanted to update you. Travel to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein has changed.
You may need to renew your British passport earlier than you anticipated if you’re travelling after Brexit. The new rules will apply to passports issued by the UK, Gibraltar, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey.
On the day you travel, you’ll need your passport to both:
If you renewed your current passport before the previous one expired, extra months may have been added to its expiry date. Any extra months on your passport over 10 years may not count towards the 3 months needed.
Please see a link below with further details and also a link for you to check your specific passport
What an absolute joy our trip to Swedish Lapland was – you know that feeling of worry that the transfer is not going to be there and you won’t like the food and the hotel? Well I have to say that lasted about half an hour and then I relaxed and enjoyed every minute. Máttaráhkká Lodge was wonderful, the first impressions were of the stillness, the absolute peace and quiet, with all this beautiful fluffy snow and the sun beaming at us in an utterly perfect blue sky. We sat on a little decked area and just breathed in all the fresh air looking to the distant snow covered mountains and then just couldn’t sit any longer and had a walk (plough) through the snow, spotting animal tracks everywhere – ptarmigan and artic hare – no moose or deer though, we wouldn’t see those until the next day when we ventured off on our snowmobile trip. First however was the stunning meal cooked by Roger and a wonderful hot tub experience whilst looking at the stars until it clouded over, then, once cooked and wrinkly all at the same time, we made our way to bed.
After a marvellous buffet breakfast (I ate far too much) it was time for our snowmobile trip, I was excited and nervous all at the same time. There had been a fresh fall of snow in the night and the guide, Roger, who was following a GPS was a little uncertain of the route – we laughed as in the snowy wilderness how would you find your way? Thoughts of the Sami deer herders went through my mind but we zipped off into the unknown and within 20 minutes were lying deep in the snow unable to get up, floundering around like stranded fish! We had missed the track with one edge of the snowmobile with the result that it tipped over in the soft snow – it all seemed to happen in slow motion- and getting out of the snow again was hard work as we couldn’t stop laughing. After the guide had rescued us we journeyed for quite a while, the artic clothing keeping us snug and warm until Roger halted and said, sweeping his arm around “welcome to my office”. I looked around at the mountains covered in snow – there was no evidence of human habitation from our vantage point, it was pure unspoilt wilderness and realised that we had in fact being travelling on snow that was right up to the tops of the trees– what an amazing job to have! We shared a flask of lingonberry juice and then journeyed back, coming off the snowmobile another twice- the last time we were told it was a good spot to stop anyway as the guide had spotted some Moose tracks – we ploughed through the snow on foot to investigate and could see where the Moose had been eating the moss from the trees but the wise Moose had moved on elsewhere.
After lunch we visited the Icehotel, exploring all the rooms and chatting with other visitors discussing what we liked and what we loved about them – a visit to the ice bar was a must and amazing ice cups with wonderful coloured liquids, which was perhaps not wise, as we stood outside watching the harvest of the ice from the river below the hotel. Although we had missed the ice cutting demonstration we wandered around and admired the results – the swan was the most beautiful object with the sun shining through it and was the most photographed, from every different angle.
Then it was on to the Sami evening and what an entertaining time! First we met the guide and collected the snowmobile and the sled in which we sat to go and visit the reindeer sheltering in a little copse and fed them dried branches (there was a little competition amongst them as they were all the young males from the spring) then we were asked to look at the sky with the many brilliant stars and as we couldn’t see any indication that the aurora was going to visit we were asked to lay on the snow and make snow angels as that might appease the spirits (he was grinning from ear to ear) but my husband obliged, so then we could carry on to the lavuu and supper which was wonderful. He spoke of the beliefs that his people have in regards to the spirits of the ancestors and the influence that has on the generations as they come along, although nowadays they all have access to the ever increasing technology. As he warmed the food he spoke of the difficulties his people had experienced and how at one time they were not even allowed to build permanent houses. It is a plight comparable to the Indians of America – resident peoples being moved on and denied access to their own lands. He offered us a secret Sami desert (After Eight mints) which I have never eaten frozen but they lasted a long time! We watched the skies and had a brief glimpse of the lights before the clouds covered it over and we went back to the hotel with humbled hearts. A great guy, with a real sense of humour and natural entertaining abilities, who managed to educate us at the same time.
A very full day and I slept extremely well.
More excitement and trepidation – dog sledding. After greeting and harnessing the dogs we were shown how the brake was supposed to work (most important tool!) and how to move when cornering and told that we had to run when going uphill as the dogs would get too exhausted – I wondered about myself? However it was just the most incredible experience the sled travelling almost silently across the snow in picture perfect wilderness, a stop for lunch in a lavuu and a chat about the dogs, the guide Mia was heartfelt in her adoration of them, and onwards again – my turn in the sled in this time! Such fun and another fantastic experience that I will never forget.
Then we transferred to Abisko Mountain Lodge, another great place but in a different way. It was constantly busy with the guys from the heli-skiing trip (totally mad) and other guests sharing their experiences. We settled in immediately but then had to go to the Sky station for a meal and, we hoped, a good view of the Northern Lights. Sadly though the wind was blowing a gale and the skies clouded over fairly quickly allowing only a short viewing but we did see the awesome lights although it was disappointingly brief. It was such a shame that it clouded over.
The following night was amazing – we had booked up for a photographic training session aimed at teaching people how to successfully photograph the lights and we had picked the right night – the lights put on a wonderful display for us and we got some memories to keep forever on the memory disc. The time just flew by and at midnight the display seemed to be at an end – there was some high cloud coming in- but just as soon as all the cameras were packed away there was one last burst of stunning colour and clarity right above us – we had been blessed!
There is no doubt that Prague is getting popular but it is still possible to get away from the crowds and enjoy it’s beauty. The Clock Tower in the main square has to be seen as it truly is remarkable, but it is on everyones list and the crowds will be with you. See it and stop to have a drink in the square, and watch with amusement as the bubble man makes a living blowing clouds of bubbles for tourists to have their photo taken in, and then move on further afield.
For example we would recommend the Strahov Monastery for its truly stunning ceilings in the libraries. With over 260,000 books, many dating to the 14th Century, it is rather special. Set up high on the hillside overlooking Prague it can be tricky to get back from so don’t rely on a passing taxi being available. Instead a private tour of the monastery can be combined with a private tour of the castle and the famous Golden Lane which will overcome that little logistical challenge.
For many of our clients their highlight is the private classic car tour that takes them past all of the main sites. Here you can enjoy Prague cities highlights without fighting through the crowds, and with a glass of bubbly in your hand and the sun on your face in your open topped car! Whether you choose a Skoda Felicia Cabrio or a replica of a Alfa Romeo you will find it to be a lovely introductory Prague tour.
The old streets are worth a wander both sides of the river, and on the far side of the river it quietens off and this is a great place for a lunch stop.
There are some wonderful restaurants overlooking the river on the far side of Prague where you can rest any aching feet and relax into your Prague City Break with the sun on your face. With a surprising range of restaurant budget choice available you can lunch with the water lapping at your feet overlooking the King Charles Bridge, or indeed be so close as to be overshadowed by it. I was rather charmed at my choice near where some of the river boats left from, and by the fact that the waiter seemed particularly pleased on my dessert choice as his wife had made it!
Afterwards stroll back over the King Charles Bridge and enjoy the many buskers on the bridge. During my recent visit there was a particularly good jazz quartet which I stopped to listen to. It was as good as any concert and had the extra delight of people dancing on the cobbled bridge with the evocative backdrop of the river.
The Old Town Hall Tower whilst busy seems to soak people up so the wait is not too long and it does not feel too busy at the top. With wonderful views across the red roofs and The Old Town Square it is definitely worth a trip up in the lift.
We would recommend you stay at the charming and rather quirky Hotel Aria in the heart of the Old City. A view of the breathtaking panorama from the Roof Garden Terrace will leave you in no doubt that you are in the most prestigious quarter of the Old City. Aria Hotel celebrates the work of some of the greatest composers with each floor dedicated to an important genre of music, such as Opera, Jazz, Contemporary and Classical. Each room then honours a specific artist or composer with music, art, and books highlighting their work.
We can organise trips to go Hot Air Ballooning over the nearby countryside and if the wind is blowing in the right direction you may even get to see the highly evocative Karlstejn Castle from the air.
So don’t write off Prague, as many have, as now being spoilt. It is a beautiful classic and clean well maintained city with plenty of local vibrancy, culture and sights to see. A Trip to Prague can still be enjoyed in full with the right guidance . Do take a look at the Prague Luxury City break that we offer.
For many travelling on the Venice Simplon Orient Express is on their bucket list and is a “Once in a Lifetime Special Experience”. For me I thought it would be an outstanding way to travel between two fabulous cities, but I did not expect the journey to be as unusual and as special as it was. I had not prepared myself to “step into another world”, and to enjoy the 24 hours as much as I did.
Your Steward will escort you to your cabin and whilst you settle into your home for the next 24 hours ease yourself into the mood with a glass of Prosecco.
It is a very different atmosphere from the busy, often manic, lives that many of us live. On the Venice Simplon Orient Express you will be forced to unwind and as a result have the time to enjoy beautiful craftsmanship, indulgent service and unexpected companionship.
Many people leave their cabin doors open during the journey in the daytime. Partly it is so as to not miss the scenery on the other side, but it is also a different way of “living”. There is a real companionship on the train and you will see people leaning in to have a chat as they pass by. It would feel positively rude to close your cabin door for the first couple of hours.
The food is quite exceptional. Right from the delicate afternoon tea that is served in your cabin by your Steward, to the exquisite dinners that are freshly prepared and served from the tiny kitchens, to the scrumptious croissants that you can eat whilst still in bed in the morning.
There is a wonderful amiable atmosphere in the 3674 bar carriage. This is where you are encouraged to dress up and you will see the range of 20’s flapper dresses with feather boas, black tie, Scottish Trewsers and sparkly full length dresses as well as the more usual suits and cocktail dresses. The pianist plays all the great classic hits such as “New York New York” on his baby grand piano and occasionally someone will burst into song to accompany. It almost has a jazz club feel.
This carriage is popular pre and post dinner and as people walk down with the train gently rocking you will find yourself “handed along” so that you don’t stumble. The carriage is lined with sofas and padded stools either side and you will quickly find people making space for you and yourself engaged in conversations with them.
Travelling on the Venice Simplon Orient Express does feel like “going back in time” – not only in style of the carriages but in how people act. The atmosphere facilitates connection and conversation. The fact that telephones are frowned upon in the restaurant and bar carriages means people instead engage with each other. I wasn’t able to make the WiFi work in my cabin, and for me this was a joy as it meant I could truly relax into the rhythm of the train.
There is a very special atmosphere that is hard to explain , but it felt very “in the moment” and your focus was totally on what was happening on the train, and what you could see through the window. Past and future issues were parked as you focused on your train community.
The recent “Murder on the Orient Express” movie did not fully show the glory and beauty of the Venice Simplon Orient Express train with it’s inlaid marquetry and Lalique glass, but it did showcase how the train “becomes a world and community” in its own right. In this day and age anything that can trigger that openness and willingness to engage and connect with strangers is to be treasured.
There are many different journeys that can be undertaken on the Venice Simplon Orient Express. I would personally recommend the Venice to Prague, Venice to Budapest or Venice to Vienna route as you have longer on the Orient Express train as the full journey is on the Orient Express train, rather than connecting with British trains (as the train is not allowed to run through the EuroTunnel), and you have 2 wonderful cities to visit and explore either side of the journey.
For most the pull of the Unesco protected Sermermiut Icebergs, the calving Equi Glacier, and watching whales under the midnight sun are the main pulls for going to Greenland in the summer, and the Husky Sledding, Snowmobiling and Northern Lights are the reasons given in the winter.
However there are some other activities that we would recommend you also do whilst in Ilulissat in Greenland to add richness to your Greenland holiday.
The Kaffemik short visit to a local family is much loved by our guests – Luc explains why:
Visiting a Greenlandic family home and being part of the traditional “Kaffemik” gives the unique opportunity to experience this local tradition in a close and cozy environment, whilst enjoy a hot drink and delicious cake.
“Kaffemik” is an expression for the openness and solidarity of the people in Greenland – it combines the celebration of important festivities with the need of companionship. A Greenlandic “Kaffemik” is the perfect place to enjoy a good cup of coffee and meet a local family in a homely setting.
You will leave the “Kaffemik” with a filled stomach and many impressive stories about the daily life in Greenland.
It is a great opportunity to ask about the local customs and to understand current Greenland culture and ways of life. This 1 hr excursion has proved popular as an insight into the “Greenland Way”.
Click here to see our range of Midnight Sun breaks in Greenland and our Icebergs and Northern Lights adventure in the winter in Greenland
Of all the destinations we offer we get more requests from clients celebrating a wedding anniversary or big Birthday for a break to Lapland than any of our other destinations.
It’s really not difficult to see why as a trip to the Arctic for most people is once in a lifetime experience and so completely different to almost any other holiday they have been on before. After all if you are celebrating a silver wedding anniversary or a 40th or 50th Birthday then you want an experience that stands out from what you have done previously.
Who could not be captivated by the idea of being pulled through a pristine snowy wilderness by a team of eager to please Huskies or by the thought of staying in the world famous ICEHOTEL in an individually designed Art Suite? To crown it all of why not go Northern Lights hunting in Abisko in Swedish Lapland probably the best place on earth for consistent sightings of the Northern Lights.
In addition you have unique wildlife, the indigenous Sami culture centred on reindeer herding and all manner of unique settings from fjords to mountains and icebergs to volcanoes.
In terms of places to stay there are small lodges, wilderness cabins with private chef and the unique Tree Hotel with its quirky rooms such as the Mirror Cube, Birds Nest ad UFO! Whether you are travelling as a couple or bigger group to celebrate, we can suggest itineraries that fit best for your group size.
Click on this link to see our suggested breaks for celebrating a Special Occasion
If you truly want to make your special moment an amazing adventure, why not combine more than one country on your Arctic Northern Lights holiday adventure. We offer great combinations of Sweden and Norway, Iceland and Sweden and Iceland and Greenland for spectacular journeys that will be forever etched on the memory.
Click on this link to see some of our longer journeys
We have, over 14 years, built up the expertise to knit together arguably the best journeys possible in the region and have reams of feedback from satisfied clients over the years. If you have a special occasion on the horizon, then give us a call to see what we can do for you.