Portofino glam

A small number of unyielding laws in Portofino create a unique sliver of astonishing beauty and elegance on the Italian Riviera.

Feel the first flushes of Italian allure as you step onto the exclusive sandstone Piazetta of legendary Italian seaside resort Portofino. Immerse yourself in ‘la dolce vita’ on Italy’s northwest coast, a sophisticated bolthole of the rich and famous for many years, from the old Hollywood glamour of Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne to a newer breed of stars including Madonna, Kylie Minogue, George Clooney and Naomi Campbell. Dolce & Gabbana adore these Thyrrenian shores so much they even own a villa here.

Distinct from any other seaside resort in Italy, Portofino’s hills are dressed in olive trees, its Mediterranean villas are painted delicious shades of lemon and the cerulean harbour is lined with sleek yachts. Portofino is not simply picture perfect – it has an enchantment that has to be seen to be believed.

Portofino’s rules

A bewitching combination of both excess and jurisdiction – authority here is tight – are what makes it perennially exclusive. Helicopters and jet skis are not allowed, there is to be no outdoor music after 10pm, no new building has been constructed in the last 40 years, one is not allowed to swim in the port and nightclubs are situated further away, such as in Paraggi. You won’t find graffiti or litter and certainly no teenagers falling out of clubs in the early hours of the morning.

The air exudes grown up glamour, the Italians are discreet and stylish and visiting here is synonymous with scenes from Frederico Fellini movies. The code words here are composure, poise and consideration – one of the focal reasons celebrities flock here. Double scoop gelato is smoothly bitten into, coffee is sipped for breakfast, Prosecco is drunk to whet the appetite and a vibrant atmosphere is soaked up with late dinner taken at one of the many outstanding restaurants along the bay. Glamour, delight and discretion are the very essence of Portofino.

 

Italian extravagance

Visit Portofino to experience the epitome of optimistic impulses, of sizzling Italian nature and the chic, classic lifestyle of the locals. The resort is alive with countless symbols of Italian extravagance. Due to its high per-capita income the main street is lined with delectable designer boutiques, home to plush leather handbags and swish haute couture dresses demanding new owners. Most of these new owners will have just stepped off their glistening million dollar yachts. Shop here if you love Hermes, Gucci and Dior.

Drinks in Portofino cost more, as does food, simply because it can. Portofino is a dream destination, overflowing with a joie de vivre these days sometimes hard to find in the daily hum drum of life. Luxury holidays of outstanding beauty and prestige couldn’t get much better than this.

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Family holidays in Italy

Italy is home to some of the most picturesque countryside in Europe, a spectacular coastline boasting beautiful beaches and a rich and varied history. Italians are very fond of children and families will be made to feel very welcome. There are plenty attractions for people of all ages to enjoy, from a surfeit of Roman ruins to the town of Pompeii, beneath the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, which has been frozen in time.

Sorrento Family Holidays

sorrento

The town of Sorrento, on the Neapolitan Riviera, comprises of sparkling waters and dramatic cliff top hotels backed by lush hillsides. The Hilton Sorrento Palace affords majestic views over the Bay of Naples and is the perfect base for families looking to explore this scenic region. Both children and parents will love the hotel’s six interconnecting, split level pools; children can also enjoy the entertaining activities on offer at the ‘Kidz Paradise Club’ (open from 15th June to 15th September) or the children’s playground.

 

Sardinia Family Holidays

The crystal clear waters and white sand beaches that encompass the island of Sardinia provide the dream location for a family holiday. Discover ancient fortresses and giant tombs, experience exhilarating watersports or perhaps just relax and play on the silky white sand beaches. At the Forte Village, a ‘World Leading Resort’, there is huge choice of facilities for all the family. The ‘Citta dei Bambini’, or Kids’ City, is at the heart of the village; with a pool, tailor made activities and children’s shows youngsters will be kept happy while you relax at the spa or eat at one of the resort’s 21 restaurants! Instead of just providing a children’s menu, the Forte Village have gone one better with ‘Aquarium’ – a restaurant exclusively for children serving pasta, pizza and chips or, for the more health conscious, fish and salad dishes. For budding footballers there is the Chelsea Football Club Soccer School which is open during the summer season for children between the ages of 4 and 14. Nine pools are available for the use by the resort’s guests, some with slides and diving boards and others which are more sedate and relaxing. ‘Leisureland’ is comprised of facilities such as Technodrome – which boasts all the latest video games – a bowling alley, go-kart track, trampoline and climbing wall.

Family-Hotels-and-Resorts

Just five miles along Sardinia’s south east coast is the popular Chia Laguna Resort, featuring the family friendly ‘Chia Village’. There is an array of kids’ clubs for children of all ages, from babies and infants to teenagers, offering plenty of fun activities. At the excellent Bimbi Restaurant children can have a healthy and hearty lunch, discover what their food is made from and, more importantly, play!

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An Italian wedding

I always knew that if I was going to get married it would have to be abroad. The thought of it lashing down with rain when I woke up on my wedding day seemed like a nightmare!

After looking at several options around the Caribbean, we decided that Italy would be perfect. We flew out a few months before our proposed wedding date and fell in love with Sorrento. Ironically, it was raining but I was assured by the locals that, if I got married in June, the weather would be gorgeous.

wedding-villa-italy

When we flew back to Italy for the wedding, for the most part, we stayed at the 4* Hilton Sorrento Palace, which has amazing views of the Amalfi coast and is only a 10-minute walk into town. We had our 9-year-old daughter with us and the hotel was fantastic for us all, with its many pools and kids’ club.

Just a few days in and our wedding date soon arrived. We got married at the historic and beautiful Moorish-style cloister of San Francesco in the centre of Sorrento, it’s a 14th century cloister attached to the baroque Church of San Francesco and easily seats up to 70 people, so can accommodate most wedding parties.

“Everyone said how amazing the wedding was and we were so happy we got to spend time with our family and friends before and after the wedding.”

We’d decided to get married at 4.30pm when the temperature was a bit cooler and we were glad we did! The ceremony lasted 20 minutes and we were able to incorporate our own personal wedding vows and our chosen reading. Our wedding package included all the legal fees, translator and minister fees, along with a meeting a few days before to go through the whole ceremony. We didn’t need to worry once.

After the ceremony, we had our photos in the stunning public gardens, which have an amazing view of Mount Vesuvius. As we had 42 people coming to the wedding, we decided to have a formal reception, which I arranged independently and hired a venue in the Sorrentine hills. Here we had a four-course meal, speeches and dancing late into the evening, just as we’d wanted.

On our wedding night and the evening before, we stayed in a suite at the 4* Grand Hotel La Favorita, which is in the ancient part of Sorrento on a prestigious street. It has a big roof-top pool, intimate gardens and was the perfect choice, giving me and my bridesmaids room to get ready before the ceremony. Everything went to plan and my favourite part was saying our vows outside in such a beautiful location and watching the sunset from high up in the hills at the reception.

italian-wedding-soup

“My favourite part was saying our vows outside in such a beautiful location and watching the sunset from high up in the hills.”

Everyone said how amazing the wedding was and we found it fantastic to spend time with our family and friends before and after the wedding. The Italian hospitality was also brilliant. This is the perfect choice if you’re looking for a special wedding abroad without having to travel too far for it.

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Family holidays in Greece

The accessibility of mainland Greece and the Greek islands from the UK makes for an ideal family holiday destination. Families can look forward to discovering rugged bays and secret coves, island charms and delicious maritime cuisines, and the lovely sandy beaches and warm waters here are perfect for little ones. This is a part of the world where family is extremely important, and you’ll experience a classic Mediterranean welcome.

The-Croc-Crew

Greece is also one of the best destinations for a luxury family escape, with hotels that offer activities for all ages as well as plenty of opportunities to relax and indulge. Whilst most hotels here are more than accommodating for families, we have specially labelled a handful that we believe are particularly family-friendly.

Family Holidays on the Costa Navarino

Perhaps lesser known than the more celebrated Greek islands, Costa Navarino is a relatively quiet out of the way corner of the Greek Peloponnesian peninsula, boasting a staggering coastline with sweeping sand dunes that roll onto the shores of the Ionian Sea.

The Westin Resort Costa Navarino is a wonderful holiday destination, with its glorious sea views and sweeping green fairways. Children will enjoy the large pools, plus there is the innovative ‘Cocoon’ for infants, and for four to 12 year-olds the ‘SandCastle’ is an exciting playground and activity centre. Children can also enjoy special golf programmes and activities and all the fun of the Recreational Park, which offers an aquatic playground, sports centre, bowling alley and games room. The spacious family suites have a separate living room containing a convenient sofa bed.

Family Holidays on Crete

There’s plenty of choice for families on Crete, the largest of the Mediterranean islands. With stunning mountain ranges, an interior blanketed in olive groves and wild flowers, harbour towns, ancient ruins and a coastline of glorious sandy beaches and unspoilt coves, it’s the perfect island to explore. Equally, if you’re looking for a family break where you needn’t even stray from your hotel, Crete can offer you that, too.

1258-Greece

Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas has a beautiful setting and really does cater for all, with a state-of-the-art-spa retreat alongside a fantastic kids’ club and children’s pool, plus abundant activities from sailing to waterskiing and a child-friendly sandy beach. For a true luxury escape with a home-away-from-home feel, the Two Bedroom Family Villa here has everything covered – it provides a high chair, stroller, baby bath, bottle warmer, fences for the pool and staircase and more.

At the St Nicholas Bay Resort Hotel & Villas there’s a real focus on children’s entertainment, with an all-day kids’ club to ensure younger guests get the most out of their break – and that parents do, too. This luxury private beach resort has a typically Greek design, a secluded setting and four restaurants to keep even the fussiest of eaters happy. Other excellent family options on the island include Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort with its Blue Flag sandy beach and Domes of Elounda for a serene and stylish family break.

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Step Goal Holidays

1. Walk the Freedom Trail in Boston (gentle)

Boston, Massachusetts

The two and a half mile red brick-lined Freedom Trail will lead you past 16 fascinating historical sites. Explore at your own pace or take an organised walking tour of approximately 90 minutes and get your steps going.

2. Hike from Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort and Spa to Anse Mondon (moderate)

Anse Mondon, Silhouette Island, The Seychelle
Take the four-hour trek from the Hilton Labriz Resort and Spa, through the National Park to Anse Mondon. With stunning panoramic views, this is your perfect excuse to get your steps in, even on a beach escape.

3. Climb the Great Wall of China (moderate to challenging)

Depending on the challenge and how advanced a hiker you are, the Great Wall of China has routes for all. From a couple of hours to seven days; see the untouched, part-restored and reconstructed sections of the Great Wall – definitely a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.

4. Walk the entire length of the Las Vegas Strip (gentle)

Las Vegas Strip

Lined with hotels, casinos, shops, restaurants and attractions, walking The Strip is the best way to see Las Vegas. Four miles in total will ensure you get your daily steps in.

5. Reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro (challenging)

Far from a walk in the park, this is one for the ambitious walkers. Through every type of climate, from misty rainforests to its snowy peak, the seven day summit will be an unforgettable journey of discovery.

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

6. Climb Mount Kinabalu in Borneo (moderate)

Not quite ready for the heights of Mount Kilimanjaro but still need a challenge? Then Mount Kinabalu is for you. Standing at 4095 metres embark on a two day summit trek; bound to make your Fitbit buzz.

7. Shop ’til you drop in the world’s largest shopping mall, the Dubai Mall (gentle)

Filled with luxury brands, peruse the shops with a gentle stroll. For a challenge, add some weight with some purchases to carry. Who said shopping wasn’t exercise!

8. Trek to Machu Picchu (challenging)

Machu Picchu in Peru

You’ve seen the photographs, now see it for real. As well as reaching beyond your steps, walk the ancient and beautiful Inca Trail as you hike through dense forests, over mountains and through ruined fortresses.

9. Take a village tour of Chiang Mai with Tamarind Village (gentle)

Get your steps in while taking in the local culture as you set off on Tamarind Village’s The Village Walk tour of some of the neighbourhood’s most interesting temples and sites.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

10. Climb to Everest Base Camp (challenging)

Surprisingly achievable for people from all walks of life. Climbing to Everest Base Camp is challenging but the personal sense of accomplishment plus the awe-inspiring views of the world’s highest peak is a story you can dine off for years to come.

Everest Base Camp

Visit our holiday types pages to reach your goals and for more inspiration for your next big trip

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Where to spot elephants

As I write this blog article, on my desktop facing me is a lovely picture of an elephant I took while on safari. It was stood right next to the jeep and I was so petrified, I didn’t want to take the picture in case the ponderous pachyderm took exception to the shutter sound. It did not. I lived to tell the tale and I have the picture as evidence.

On another occasion, I was busy filming these attractive beasts, they were so close my heart was pounding with the excitement of capturing the moment, I forgot to press the record button.

These are exhilarating experiences I won’t forget, a mixture of serenity, fear and wonder – and it is something I would advise everyone do at least once in their lives. So if you’ve ever wanted to see these amazing animals up close and personal – here are my top places for elephant spotting.

Thailand

1. Thailand is a stunning country, I think you’ll agree. Sublime cuisine, culture experiences at every twist and turn, laidback locals and some of the most wonderful scenery this writer has ever spent time in. It’s a country that deserves to be explored from top to bottom and not just the glorious islands.

One such place is found in the northern wilderness jungles above Chiang Mai. Here you’ll find the Thai Elephant Care Centre, a place of sanctuary for elderly elephants to live out their days in peace and harmony, lovingly cared for by this sanctuary and the Asian Elephant Foundation. There’s plenty to keep you occupied here; you can volunteer to learn to make grinded grass to feed the elephants and also, under guidance, you can help bathe them too. These are life-changing, emotional encounters, where you can be a small but essential part of this inspiring programme to preserve the welfare of elephants in Northern Thailand.

Thai elephant

2. Also in Thailand, but in somewhat more comfortable surroundings is the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort, a five star award-winning resort with onsite elephant camp set up in 2003 to provide a home for rescued elephants, and they have excelled in doing so.

Not only do these graceful creatures roam throughout the rugged hill country near the border of Laos and Myanmar, but the resort also offers mahout courses, and other conservation-related activities. If you want to get involved with the animals amid the luxury of a five star resort, this will be the place for you.

Yet, if that weren’t enough to tempt your average Thailand enthusiast to book a guest suite here immediately, Anantara Golden Triangle Resort all inclusive deal also includes a Thai cookery class, a 90 minute spa treatment, a Golden Triangle excursion and an Elephant Camp experience in one amazing package. Face it, you probably won’t want to leave this place will you?

3. Leaving the north, and heading into Southern Thailand and Khao Sok National Park should really top your Thailand travel wish-list. The landscape here, with so many people drawn to the beaches, you’ll mostly have this spectacular region to yourself, plus it is so stunning it will melt hearts.

Another reason to visit this inland place of beauty is the Elephant Hills Jungle Safari – Luxury Tented Camp; a stunning little boutique resort tucked away by forest-clad limestone cliffs. Here, you’ll be greeted by the familiar rumble in the jungle that signifies the close proximity of elephants.

Not only is there plenty of elephant interaction here, but the resort also offers exciting wildlife tours into the jungles by canoe and trekking through forests on foot to spot cheeky monkeys and colourful birdlife, plus there’s the Rainforest Floating Camp to tempt you to swim on the emerald waters of the lake after your enthralling animal encounters.

Botswana

4.Botswana is a country of incredible biodiversity and no experience typifies this more than a breathtaking Belmond Luxury Fly-In Safari.  The best way to witness this vast landscape is to fly-in by light aircraft until you arrive at Chobe National Park.

Here, prepare yourself to see one of the highest concentrations of elephants to be found anywhere on the planet. You’ll arrive at your camp on the banks of the Savute Channel, a dry river bank region that is famed for its lions and herds of elephants (up to forty or so in number).

If you desire more wildlife then continue your African adventure safari adventure further into the Okavango Delta. Expect to see more African Bush Elephants, cheetah, leopards, giraffe, white and black rhinoceros, zebra, hyena, wildebeest, crocodiles and springboks galore.

5. Wish to see elephants roaming by your resort? Head to Kenya and the Elephant Bedroom Camp Fly-In Safari located on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River in Samburu National Park. Sleeping in luxury safari tents equipped with all modern conveniences, you’ll be thrilled by the wildlife you spot on game drives, including reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, Beisa oryx and the long-necked gerenuk antelope.

But possibly the greatest animal encounters you’ll experience will be overlooking your camp perched on the river that plays hosts to many animals who visit the area and even cross the river. Elephants, monkey and impalas are regular visitors, dropping by when least expected, sending you scurrying for your camera.

This boutique camp offers luxurious and comfortable accommodation with unparalleled service and fine cuisine within a natural, wild environment. Dinners under the stars complete the enigmatic experience – and of course, those elephants, bellowing away in the night, will be your constant companions.

India

Elephants in Kerala

6. India has a long association with the elephant, present in almost every aspect of their society from kaleidoscopic parades to fashionable weddings. These sacred animals are said to symbolise good luck and prosperity, which is why they are present at so many public ceremonies and events.

If you’re planning a visit to India and wish to get a glimpse of these beautiful beasts, chances are you’ll pass them as you journey through the countryside and towns, villages, and cities. For a prime view, however, I suggest you combine your India wish-list with that other great adventure, a Kerala Houseboat Tour.

Your journey will take you by the peaceful backwaters of Kerala through serene countryside, tea plantations and also to visit the dense forests of Periyar National Park where elephants and other animals roam wild by the banks of the lake. In a country of constant surprises, add elephant encounters to a growing list of amazing experiences.

Elephants gathering in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

7. You’ll want to visit Sri Lanka for many reasons. Let’s see, the food is absolutely divine, prepare to put on weight here, the people are talkative and good-humoured, the history and heritage is both fascinating and spiritually uplifting – plus the scenery, from tea plantation to golden sand beaches is the stuff of holiday dreams.

When you factor in the amazing wildlife encounters, you realise that Sri Lanka is a country that offers so much on so many different levels – and of course, there are elephants here, lots and lots of elephants.

I suggest you head over to Udawalawe National Park, take one of their incredible safari tours to spot leopards, buffalo, Ceylon Spotted Deer, Crested Serpent Eagles, and Mugger Crocodiles. And of course elephants – you’ll find herds roaming free across the landscape here.

baby elephant

Wherever you travel to see elephants I really do hope you’ll be as transfixed and touched as I was by the experience – but whatever you do, don’t forget to press record on your camera. For more amazing animal encounters check out our safari holiday pages or visit our holiday types pages for further inspiration.

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Seven Tempting Reasons to visit Malaysia’s Langkawi archipelago

Travellers with an appreciation for stunning visuals and rarely-seen creatures will be enchanted by Langkawi. The Malaysian archipelago is a tantalizing mix of vertiginous mountains, waterfalls, untouched rainforests, karstic isles, coral reefs and mangroves inhabited by eagles, monkeys and other fascinating wildlife.

The 100-or-so islands in the calm jade waters of the Andaman Sea were designated as south-east Asia’s first ever UNESCO Geopark for the unique geology and tropical geoforests that account for much of their ethereal beauty. Close to the border with Thailand, they share the strange topography and silken beaches of much-photographed Thai islands like Ko Phi Phi. But Langkawi is generally less visited and offers some great opportunities to go off grid.

Langkawi, Malaysia

Far from undeveloped, the eponymous Palau Langkawi (Palau is Malay for island) has an airport and pockets of modern civilization dotted around the coast where you can find everything from free internet access and a cold beer to local eco-tour operators and an aquarium. But the island is large – about the same size as Singapore – and vast swathes of wildlife-rich jungle and mangroves remain undisturbed, life in the local kampungs continues as it has done for centuries, and there has been a marine park protecting the coral reefs around Payar for more than thirty years.

If you’re wondering where to go on your next tropical break, here are seven tempting reasons to choose Langkawi

Tropical wonderland

  1. Desert island-hopping

    Desert island-hopping in Langkawi

    Travellers with an appetite for discovery will be seriously tempted by the uninhabited karstic islets that speckle the ocean to the east and south of Langkawi’s main island. Only two of the archipelago’s 100 islands – Langkawi and Tuba – are inhabited, so there are plenty of chances to play castaway.

    Local tour operators offer scheduled boat trips island-hopping in Dayang Bunting Marble Park, which is made up of untouched islands draped in foliage and embellished with platinum ribbons of sand. From the rock tower of Singa Kechil to the ship-shaped Jong, the string of islands come in all shapes and sizes with towering cliffs and rocky shelves etched out by millennia of wind and waves.

    Desert island-hopping in Langkawi

    The flagstone-like platforms linking the green humped hills of Ular give the island the appearance of a beaded bracelet, while the park’s central island – Dayang Bunting – is blessed with Langkawi’s largest freshwater lake known as the “Lake of the Pregnant Maiden.” Formed by the collapse of a limestone cavern and separated from the sea by a narrow rock wall, here you can stop to swim in the clear waters surrounded by serene emerald hills said to resemble a pregnant woman lying down.

  2. Natural playgrounds

    Natural playgrounds in Langkawi, Malaysia

    Most of the attractions are natural in this UNESCO-protected geopark with caves, mangroves, mountains and waterfalls that are a virtual playground if you enjoy the great outdoors. The islands’ ancient mix of sedimentary and granite rock formations are unique according to geologists. But you don’t have to be a rock specialist or naturalist to appreciate the dramatic and distinct beauty of the islands known as the Jewel of Kedah.

    A trio of protected areas – Kilim Karst Geoforest Park in the east, Machincang Cambrian Geoforest Park in the north-west and Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park in the south – form the cornerstones of the UNESCO site. All the areas contain information points and can be explored on guided tours, usually by boat, but also on foot via hiking trails.

    Natural playgrounds in Langkawi, Malaysia

    Kayaking through the coastal mangroves, tunnels and waterways is one of the best ways to see Kilim Geopark’s karstic scarps, islets, lagoons and caves draped in thick rainforest. Kilim River is lined with mangroves, jutting angular rocks like hastily-stacked blocks, and melting pinnacles with the appearance of petrified candle wax.

    Among its natural wonders, bat-haunted caves with weird interiors are open to visitors and tunnels cut through the cliffs such as Gua Buaya can be traversed at low tide. Another tunnel, Gua Langsir, opens into a spectacular lagoon encircled with plant-entangled cliffs, while offshore Langgun contains a beautiful hidden freshwater sinkhole. Ancient oyster and gastropod-encrusted Anak Tikus is an islet perfect for fossil hunters.

    Natural playgrounds in Langkawi, Malaysia

    The Machincang Cambrian Geoforest Park covers the oldest part of the island, home to tall tumbling waterfalls such as “Telaga Tujuh” (Seven Wells), gentle green slopes and vertical stacks showing off the layers of sandstone and mudstone strata that are often mistaken for limestone. Visitors can venture up to its top tiers via Panorama Langkawi that includes cable cars and a sky bridge across the mountaintops.

  3. Eagles and monkeys

    Eagle in Langkawi

    A rare sight elsewhere, eagles are quite common in Langkawi where lofty verdant peaks and rich mangroves make the perfect flying and feeding ground. The reddish-brown eagle known as the brahminy kite has become the islands’ emblem, and larger white-bellied sea eagles are also commonplace. Almost 1,000 wild eagles are said to feed at Kilim River in Kilim Geopark and at Singa Besar just south of the main island. Local operators run specific boat excursions to witness the eagles feeding and some bait the birds by throwing chicken skins into the water. A few island-hopping tours include eagle-watching on their itineraries. There are also eco-tours with a more environmentally-sensitive approach to eagle spotting and viewing.

    Monkey staring at us in Langkawi

    Kilim River is also a good place to spot monkeys perched on the banks or in the trees, but you are just as likely to see troops strolling around the island. A rainforest immersion tour or walk with a naturalist guide in the north of the island reveals all manner of primates, exotic birds such as hornbills, and lizards. Shy dusky leaf monkeys are less easy to glimpse than the local macaques, who have a reputation for making their presence known.

  4. Paradise beaches

    Paradise beaches in Langkawi, Malaysia

    The word Langkawi is said to have derived from the Malay for tropical paradise, and it definitely has the beaches to back up that name. The vast swathe of floury white sand at Tanjung Rhu is the ideal spot for a swim with a picturesque backdrop of rainforest-entangled cliffs. Datai Bay is also known for its scenic beauty, though the beach facilities are exclusive to guests at the two five-star hotels that overlook the bay.

    The crescent beach of Pantai Cenang in the south is the island’s busiest but it’s beautiful none-the-less with just a few colourful buildings visible behind the bank of palm trees. Nearby, the boundless sand of Pantai Tengah is quieter. The beach at Pantai Kok slightly further north probably wins the prize for best backdrop in the spectacular form of Machincang Cambrian Geoforest Park.

    Paradise beaches in Langkawi, Malaysia

    Away from the main island, the isles of Pulau Payar Marine Park are indented with some spectacularly scenic beaches that can be reached in an hour by speed boat from Kuah jetty. As a protected marine park, the islets harbour a paradise below the waves too, with colourful coral gardens ideal for snorkelling.

  5. Spas, yoga retreats and seriously beautiful resorts

    Serene settings in Langkawi, perfect for Yoga

    There are around 200 hotels and resorts in Langkawi ranging from basic budget places to five-star spa boutiques, with most concentrated in Pantai Cenang. Seriously luxurious spas and hotels include the Datai Langkawi with its on-site Mandara Spa and the Andaman with its ocean-facing treetop spa. Both five-star resorts are hidden between the trees above the sweeping sands of Datai Bay.

    The Four Seasons Langkawi Resort boasts the gorgeous Geo Spa tucked inside the forest with pools under cliff faces and bespoke natural treatments. The resort itself has bagged one of the island’s most stunning spots beside the idyllic Tanjung Rhu beach with tracts of ancient rainforest covering the surrounding hills.

    Serene settings in Langkawi, perfect for Yoga

    But you don’t have to visit a swanky resort to indulge yourself. Independent places such as Ishan Spa on a verdant hillside in Pantai Tengah offer a beautifully-relaxing and peaceful environment with expert masseurs and beauty therapists. The serene surrounds of Langkawi are also ideal for a yoga retreat. Ambong Ambong in Pantai Tengah offers short programs combining yoga and discovering Langkawi with a local naturalist guide.

  6. Underwater gardens

    Underwater gardens in Langkawi, Malaysia

    Snorkellers and divers can gain access to a magical underwater world from Langkawi. Boat tours providing snorkelling gear depart from the Kuah marina to the pristine reefs and crystal-clear waters of the archipelago’s marine parks. PADI-accredited dive centre Langkawi Scuba in Cenang runs trips out to dive the Pulau Payar Marine Park, the region’s oldest protected area said to harbour the richest diversity of marine life and colourful soft corals on Malaysia’s western seaboard.

    Underwater gardens in Langkawi, Malaysia

    The uninhabited jade-green islands of the park – Payar, Segantang, Lembu and Kaca – are 30km south-east of Langkawi and the top dive sites are scattered along the reef system that skirts the south, east and west of Payar island, including the Coral Garden, Lobster Garden, Porite Garden and Raaf Beach. Frequently-sighted sea creatures include fusiliers, jacks, black-tip reef sharks, barracudas, groupers, damselfish, lionfish, lobsters and moray eels.

  7. Jaw-dropping views

    View from Panorama Langkawi

    Panorama Langkawi makes the most of Machincang mountain’s wondrous views across slopes swathed in dense rainforests to the brilliant blue Andaman Sea and distant emerald-drop isles. Part of Machincang Cambrian Geoforest Park, known for its uber-ancient rock formations, the cable cars take you to the scalloped peaks sculpted over a period of 550 million years and link up with an elegant suspended sky bridge and angled viewing platforms. Go up just before dusk for an unforgettable sunset.

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Holiday Packing Tips – Essential Items to Pack on Your Travels

One of the many benefits of a self catering UK holiday is the freedom to pack whatever – and however much – you want to bring. That being said, packing for the whole family can result in a mountain of luggage, which doesn’t make for a very relaxing holiday.

Prepare for a wonderful family break in one of our superb family cottages with these helpful packing tips.

Entertainment

A selection of toys, books and games (including outdoor equipment like a Frisbee, football and tennis) is essential, not just for kids but for grown-ups too. A few good DVDs can be a Godsend and a portable DVD player or laptop, if you have one, might be worth bringing to avoid arguments about who’s watching what!

Books are a great way to keep children absorbed for hours, and it’ll give you the chance to bury your nose in that novel you’ve been meaning to read too! The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is a fun and engaging way to encourage your children wanting to read on their own.

Clothes

Pack sufficient changes of clothes for the trip plus a few spares, or instead check whether your accommodation has washing facilities if you don’t mind doing a bit of laundry while on holiday. Also, make sure that you pack for all weather – throw in wellies and rain coats as well as sun hats and glasses.

For the ultimate in comfort and style, you’d be hard-pushed to find a better one-stop-shop than Crewe Clothing Co. Their stylish yet practical range makes dressing the whole family simple.

Toiletries

Travel-sized items are a great way of saving space. Pack sun lotion even if you think you won’t need it as the weather can be very unpredictable! A small family first aid kit, including items such as adult and child painkillers, plasters, antiseptic cream and a thermometer, is a useful addition.

If you’d like to indulge with a special holiday treat, Molten Brown’s travel selection of toiletries makes a great addition to Mum’s suitcase!

Food

Apart from a supply of snacks and drinks for the journey and a few things to tide you over on arrival, it’s probably best to leave food shopping until you arrive at your destination. Even better, use a grocery delivery service such as The Organic Fresh Food Company and have your shopping delivered to the cottage door.

For babies

If you’re travelling with infants, check what equipment your accommodation might supply such as cots, stair gates and highchairs. Don’t forget essentials like a baby monitor, portable blackout blinds, spare dummies, potty, swim nappies and arm bands.

Finally, take anything that you think is vital in order for your children to enjoy their stay away from home, be it a special blanket or pillow, a favourite cup or a treasured teddy. Kiddicare sell a wonderful range of travel accessories for babies.

Now that you feel prepared for packing, take a look at our family friendly cottages and find the perfect cottage for you.

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THE BEST TIME TO VISIT THAILAND

THE BEST TIME TO VISIT THAILAND depends exactly where you’re going. The islands on one side of the country have a slightly different rainy season to those on the other; the good news is that this extends Thailand’s dry, sunny season. So if it’s rainy and grey in one place, it’s a short hop over the coast to sunshine on the other side.

Basically, December to March are the best months to go to Thailand – though as with any tropical destination, a short and ridiculously torrential burst of rain is unpredictably possible, even on the sunniest of days.

The Thai islands in the Gulf of Thailand – KOH SAMUI, KOH PHANGAN, KOH TAO – tend to get less rain than the rest of the country (even in rainy season), and are at their best from the end of January until mid March. January is the freshest month – great for after the Christmas and NYE party chaos. February is the driest month, one of the sunniest, and the heat still bearable; and March is sunny and dry, too.

Over on Thailand’s west coast and the Andaman Sea – where you’ll find the Thai islands of PHUKET, KRABI, KOH LANTA, KOH PHI PHI -the optimum time for a beach holiday is slightly earlier, in December and January, when fresher weather, maximum sunshine and minimum rainfall combine to create the best climate for a beach holiday.

BANGKOK, meanwhile, is stultifyingly humid practically all the time (discomfort levels range from ‘high’ to ‘extreme’ year-round), but the best time to visit Thailand’s capital is December and January, when it is dry and a relatively bearable 31-32ºC average during the day, and 20ºC at night (the coolest Bangkok ever gets). When not to go to Bangkok: avoid the months of April and September. April is unbearably hot and humid; September is hot, humid and torrentially wet.

CHIANG MAI and the lovely little town of PAI, in Thailand’s cooler north, have much more pleasant climates than Bangkok and the south. Go from December to February for lovely sunny days (around 29ºC) and cooler evenings (the temperature dips to 13ºC – and even lower in the highlands, so dig out some warm clothes if you’re trekking).

The time to not go to Thailand is the rainy season, from May to October, when monsoons blow in from all directions.

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Best Top 5 Beach Breaks in Europe

  • 1- La Graviere, Hossegor

The surf town of Hossegor on the south western corner of France’s Atlantic coast boasts one of the best surf spots for the whole of Europe.  La Graviere is the wave that attracts thousands of spectators, and a handful of surfers every year to witness the Quiksilver Pro France ASP contest take place every September.  Whether you just watch the Pros out in the water whilst enjoying a coffee and a croissant, or find another surf spot close by to surf, Hossegor is a youthful and fun town to visit for your trips.

  • 2- Supertubos, Peniche


Lying close to the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, Peniche is a perfect surf destination if you’re wanting to try out some beginner beach breaks, and then get inspired to improve by Supertubos.  This wave is beautiful, holding stunning barrels, especially when the Atlantic sends larger swells.  Visit Peniche and Supertubos towards the end of October when the Rip Curl Pro Peniche contest is held, and see the ASP surfers backlight and ripping in the waves.

  • 3- El Cotillo, Fuerteventura

For when you’re feeling like you need a combination of a super lazy beach holiday, but with some added fun waves, head to El Cotillo in Fuerteventura.  The volcanic beach break with its mink coloured sand is a lot of fun to play in, providing punchy waves that will have you up and riding in no time.  Team your holiday with a  or lessons to get the most out of your time in the beautiful azul waves.

  • 4- Foz do Lizandro, Ericeira


If you are looking for an easy holiday combined with culture and unspoiled stunning coastlines, then Ericeira is for you. Ericeira has already been awarded the title of World Reserve, so it is little wonder that the beaches are stunning and the surrounding landscape is beautiful.  Foz do Lizandro beach break is ideal for looking to learn or improve on their technique, especially as it is only 5 minutes away from the town centre- perfect for rewarding yourself with a delicious post meal.

  • 5- Zarautz, Basque Country


Zarautz is one of the better known beach breaks of Europe, and for good reason, it has one of the longest beaches in the Basque country.  The beach break is very consistent, and offers left and right waves almost regardless of the swell direction hitting the coastline, so is ideal for Compare travel market holidays where you want to surf every day.  For when you fancy a moment away from surfing, Zarautz is perfectly located for day trips to San Sebastian, Bilbao, Mundaka, and even Hossegor in France.

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