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Postcard from the future – a journey to Moscow

My friend N’s dacha in the countryside outside Moscow has been a refuge for 20 years. It’s actually two houses: the wonky Soviet-era one, built by her father, a screenwriter and relatively privileged Soviet intellectual, and the much larger, more comfortable but – to my nostalgic mind – less characterful one that she and her husband B built after the USSR fell apart.

The wonky house was my first proper entrée into Russian domestic life. I remember feeling extraordinarily privileged to sit at their long dining table for word games, meals that lasted the entire afternoon, fierce but bloodless arguments, and tea from a samovar.

N and I are corresponding over WhatsApp during the pandemic, sharing memes about the shortcomings of our respective governments. I send N a rude one about the prime minister. N sends one back, snarkily juxtaposing Chinese workers hosing down their streets with a truckload of disinfectant with a Russian priest shaking holy water over the afflicted.

When real life returns to normal, one of the first things we’ll do is set off east to pay N a visit.

During the lockdown, my family reminisce about trips abroad the way castaways on a raft fantasise about french fries and knickerbocker glories. The appeal of Moscow isn’t just N’s dacha and legendary Russian hospitality; it’s also about the long train ride east from London. After weeks of isolation, we no longer need to get anywhere in a hurry. The journey gives us the chance to enjoy the sensation that the world is healing itself. Incredibly, the views out of the window betray no hint of the turmoil we’ve all lived through. If anything, the landscapes are more beautiful than I remember.

On our first visit to Moscow, the children had no interest in the old buildings or stories of war and revolution. Coming back, they have a sense of their own connection to the place, and the epidemic has given them a vertiginous glimpse of their own place in history. We have travelled together through an immense historical event. It’s awakened a sense that travel itself is a history lesson, and that Russian resilience through extraordinary swings of fortune is one of the most remarkable monuments in history.

Sitting out in the long September dusk, nursing glasses of Armenian brandy, we toast the world’s good health and watch N’s grandson and my children play football. The children are roughly the same age. It makes me happy that for all the drama of the recent past, this year will also include warm memories of N’s gooseberry bushes, the stream behind the wonky dacha, and B’s plov.
Marcel Theroux’s latest novel is The Secret Books (Faber, £12.99)

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10 UK Cottages to book now … for a stay later this year

Holiday rental companies are among the many businesses facing losses since the UK went into lockdown last week. Some hosts saw a surge in interest at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, as international travel restrictions and flight cancellations were imposed, but sales are now falling dramatically.

In a bid to keep business going, travel companies are calling on those with with existing bookings to change their dates rather than scrap trips altogether. Taking a holiday might still be a way off but many rental companies are now also offering increased flexibility when it comes to changing dates.

“The best way to help the industry right now is to look ahead. It might feel like a strange time to book a holiday but do consider it if you can,” said Mike Shields, managing director of Sawday’s and Canopy & Stars. “Many of our owners are offering vouchers or credit notes that can be redeemed at a later date and are a great way to show your support. It’s encouraging to already see some of our owners are planning now for when we come out of the crisis, to take advantage of the likely pent-up demand and interest in staycations.”

Darling How, Whinlatter Pass, Lake District

The instructions for reaching Darling How are clear: catch the Honister Rambler bus over the Whinlatter Pass from Keswick and ask the driver to drop you at the end of the forest track.Darling How is at the end of a forest track, then a further half-mile into the hills, almost surrounded by long-established pine plantations. On arrival, hunt down the key safe on one of the barn walls. With the wind moaning in the trees and the looming skyline to the west – the ridge formed by Graystones, Broad Fell and Lord’s Seat – it feels properly remote, even though the owners do live next door, the only other humans within an hour’s walk.

The cottage is perfectly snug: an air-source heat pump does the heavy lifting, while a logburner adds the final warm touches in the upstairs open-plan kitchen-diner-living area. Laminated maps and a full set of Wainwrights are on the window ledge awaiting the evening planning session, although the DVD selection might cause some distractions. Bedrooms and bathroom (with full-size bath, I’m happy to see) are downstairs.

Next day we settle on a circuit that will take us up the forested valley then out on the tops for a return along the ridge. However, when we get to the summit of Lord’s Seat, the west wind is ferocious and has added a little scouring powder of hail that confuses the dog, Wilf. He can’t walk into it and keep his eyes open, so closes them and stumbles around blindly. We huddle on the summit for a while, enjoying long vistas across the Solway Firth to Scotland, but the wind only gets stronger so we retreat back to the valley, missing out on that ridge. At this point the hot water and the bath are much appreciated. Darling How has definitely delivered on the remoteness, and provided the perfect amount of cosiness to best appreciate it.
Sleeps 2, from £390 a week, sallyscottages.co.uk

The Cragg, Hawkshead, Lake District

Across Windermere on the western shores is the area where Beatrix Potter settled and began farming back in 1905 – when The Cragg was already long established. It’s a big house, with a big slate-floored kitchen, lots of old beams, latched doors and window seats to gaze over the pretty garden.

This is an area of gentle walks rather than your big fell classics: head down to Esthwaite Water, or an old favourite, Claife Heights, which follows a lovely woodland way up to High Blind How with views over Windermere and several small tarns. In summer, this can be a busy area, but out of season it is wonderfully peaceful.
Sleeps 8, from £586 a week, heartofthelakes.co.uk

The Byre, Deepdale, Lake District

If I had to pick a base for some great fell walks, The Byre would be a perfect location. It sits on a working farm right under St Sunday Crag and Kirkstone Pass, two places where I’ve also enjoyed rock climbing and cycling challenges, and Helvellyn is also close at hand. The converted byre is on Deepdale Hall Farm, which dates back to the 17th century, and the farm location certainly enlivens most visitors’ stays with its peacocks, Indian runner ducks and – of course – sheep. Inside The Byre it’s a spacious open-plan conversion with leather sofas, oriental rugs on boards and a logburner. The bathroom has that essential post-long walk item, in my opinion at least: a bath.
Sleeps 4, from £520 a week, sallyscottages.co.uk

Sally Port Cottage, St Mawes, Cornwall

The much-indented coastline of Cornwall does not easily lend itself to quick access by public transport, but in summer this gem of a lighthouse cottage is linked to Truro by three ferries. First, catch the service down the long fjord to Falmouth, nip across to St Mawes, then (having done your shop for the days ahead) jump on the Place Ferry across the Porth Creek, finally stepping off onto the Roseland peninsula. From there, you have a mile to walk on the access lane, or you can take the longer but more beautiful coastal path.

The reward for all this effort is clear when you first spot the lighthouse, perched on rocks above the sea, a fabulous white beacon of comfort and warmth. Inside, the place is well designed and practical, as befits a working lighthouse – there are even ear plugs for when the fog horn blows.
Sleeps 4, from £928 a week, hostunusual.com

The Nap, Langabridge, Devon

Sitting in delightful isolation amid Devon’s fields is this handmade cabin with views down to the River Taw, a trout stream followed by the Tarka trail and the Tarka railway line, two rather large clues that this was the stomping ground of Henry Williamson’s fictional otter. A firepit and hot tub sit a few steps away from this neat Scandinavian-style place complete with logburner and full-length glass doors looking out on the bucolic surroundings.

The first walk will be the mile up from King’s Nympton station on the Exeter-Barnstaple route, and after that there are many trails through the woods and valleys of this tranquil corner of the county. It’s on a working farm with a pedigree herd of Dexter cows, pigs and chickens that supply guests with some food, otherwise there’s a 20-minute walk to a community shop. There’s camping in the field, too, for a party too large for the cabin.
Sleeps 4 (space for 2 more on an air mattress), from £135 a night, canopyandstars.co.uk

Galatea Cottage, Whitby Lighthouse, North Yorkshire

I’m pushing the limits on this one, since the walk is definitely over a mile, but what a walk! From Whitby set off southward along the cliffs, and be warned: the Dracula Steps up to the Abbey are steep – I wouldn’t think of carrying anything but a rucksack. Once up, however, the Cleveland Way footpath is an undulating gem with magnificent sea views if the weather’s good.

The lighthouse, a bright white structure sitting above a huge cliff, is a working building with an important navigation mark for mariners. Take binoculars – there are gannets and whales out there, and in winter short-eared owls hunt the tussocky clifftops. Peregrines are often spotted too – in fact, this is a birdwatcher’s paradise. The cottage is a neat, bright apartment within the lighthouse complex with wonderful views.
Sleeps 5, from £572 a week, ruralretreats.co.uk

Abermawr Cottage, Pembrokeshire

The north Pembrokeshire coast is an old favourite, an exhilarating coastal path takes a rollercoaster ride across a panorama of savage cliffs and sandy bays, with the occasional neolithic monument as a landmark. Abermawr Cottage is a bit more than a one mile’s walk from the nearest bus stop, but the rewards are great. Set in woodland, and it is equidistant (15 minutes) from two superb beaches: Abermawr and Aberbach, which will reliably give visitors either sun-blessed days on the pebbles and sand, or wild wind-blasted walks with an oxygen overdose. To be honest it’s probably going to be the latter, but the former does happen.

The house itself is a single-storey place with large open-plan kitchen-diner-living space complete with log fire and a terrace. No neighbours. Nothing to disturb except birdsong.
Sleeps 6, from £628 a week, qualitycottages.co.uk

Hutty, Pembrokeshire

For those aiming to get away from human contact and stay deep in nature, then Hutty, a two-person cabin, could be perfect. It sits in a 14-acre private nature reserve under the Preseli Hills, which the owners maintain alongside an organic farm and, to be truly perfectionist about this lack of human contact, there is no electricity but for the solar supply provided by an adapted boat switchboard. The loo and shower are a few steps away in the trees.

The hand-built cabin itself is a compact ergonomic gem of rustic creativity: recycled timber, a woodburner and a massive bed with windows all around for a bit of stargazing or nature-watching. There’s a small deck for eating outside with views down to the meadows by the Cleddau Wen river. There are plenty of walks along the steep-sided rocky valley with various neolithic monuments to explore (this is the area where, 5,000 years ago, the builders of Stonehenge sourced their three-tonne bluestones).
Sleeps 2, from £85 a night, qualityunearthed.co.uk

Tigh Anndra, Isle of Skye

For a cottage with an epic mountain challenge on its doorstep, Tigh Anndra is the one. The Trotternish peninsula, a 19-mile finger of basalt that juts off the jagged northern coast of Skye, is home to the Trotternish Ridge walk, a gargantuan 23-mile trek through some of Scotland’s most magnificent scenery. Fortunately, there are shorter alternatives: anyone staying here will want to see the nearby Old Man of Storr, a famous pillar of rock, and the Quiraing, an area of strange rock formations created by an ancient landslip.

The house was once a shepherd’s cottage and is a snug, stone-built retreat with a great patio view towards the hills. There’s a logburner in the kitchen-diner-living room plus a TV and DVD, but no one would come here wanting to be indoors. The location is everything Access is by the bus from Portree, – just ask the driver to drop you at the door..
Sleeps 2, from £279.50 for 3 nights in winter, £389 a week at other times, ihcottages.com

Signal Box, Newtonmore, the Highlands

My commitment to public transport access reaches its ultimate destination: a cottage that looks like a railway signalbox. It has essential tongue-and-groove cladding and first-floor windows overlooking a working railway line: the north-south route through the Cairngorms. Sad to say guests can’t operate levers and signals from the bed, but it does mean this accommodation has the shortest walk of all our selections – the length of platform one, to be precise.

Old signalmen would no doubt approve of its library, logburner and regular train noises, but they’d find some surprises too – a sauna being one. Local walks include Creag Dubh, a magnificent 756m peak with a north-east ridge that rises up from the village of Newtonmore, as well as the 10km Wildcat Trail.
Sleeps 2, from £555 a week, skyecottages.co.uk

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Les Saisies: Is the French holiday destination skiing’s best kept secret?

There is no shortage of options when it comes to picking a resort for a skiing holiday. However, few places are sure to match the level of charm and an abundance of breathtaking views in Les Saisies.

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Roughly a two hour drive from Geneva airport, skiers will find the rolling hills of Les Saisies.

The resort is located in the Savoie region and is 19 miles from the town of Albertville.

If it sounds familiar, you probably know the slopes as the host of the biathlon and cross-country skiing events from the 1992 Winter Olympics.

As well as its exciting history, the area has kept its original aesthetic and looks exactly like you would hope a classic ski lodge to.

What to do

Les Saisies prides itself on having something to keep everyone entertained, from young children to non-skiers.

Skiing

Unsurprisingly, skiing and snowboarding are huge attractions for those at the resort.

There are lots of instructors ready to help out skiers, whether complete beginners or seasoned pros.

We were paired up with instructor, Thomas Brossard, who helped build confidence and gave a great guided tour of all of the best slopes at the resort.

Sport 2000 Les Volatiles snowmobile

Holidaymakers can take to the slopes after they are closed for incredible views of the sunset.

Drivers are quickly shown how to navigate the vehicle before spending an hour touring the snowy mountains.

If you don’t feel up for stepping behind the wheel yourself, the experience allows visitors to take a backseat and enjoy the views while being driven around.

Mountain Twister

Before 6.30pm, guests of all ages can take a ride on the Mountain Twister.

It is a short roller coaster through the snow which allows thrill seekers to choose how fast they go with individual controls in each carriage.

Snowga

If the beautiful scenery wasn’t enough to help you feel relaxed, visitors can take part in Snowga, or yoga in the snow.

With the guidance of talented instructor, Hélène Durand, guests strap on their snow boots and headed towards a quiet spot on the mountains.

The class is suitable for beginners and is done with unforgettable views of the famous nearby Mont Blanc.

Where to stay

MMV residence Les Chalets des Cimes spa

The residence offers authentic apartments with panoramic views of the ski slopes.

Our room was a mini apartment with two rooms, a fireplace and balcony.

Those who lodge there can also enjoy a relaxing spa session with the facilities including a sauna, steam room and jacuzzi.

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Where to eat

Trying out the activities on offer is sure to build up an appetite and holidaymakers can get their après ski fill in a number of restaurants.

From gourmet to family run, there are plenty of options when it comes to refuelling.

Le 1650

Doubling up as a bowling alley, the restaurant offered plenty of options for a quick bite including burgers, salads and meat dishes.

Les Arcades

This restaurant offers a family feel and we were greeted by the chef who enthusiastically educated us on some of the best local cheeses to get stuck in to.

Les Chalet des Marmottes

With outdoor seating the soak in the sun and sights, the restaurant offers everything from a light lunch to a filling meal.

La Table des Armaillis

Perhaps a more luxurious option, the modern restaurant is a great option for getting glammed up or for celebrating a special occasion.

There is also a special cheese menu that includes fondue and raclette.

When visiting Les Saisies, families are sure to find something for everyone to do on the mountains, whether they have skied before or not.

With so many different options available, it is easy to see why skiers would choose the resort for their holiday.

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Health and wellbeing in Provence – looking to the future – A Luxury Travel Blog

Under normal circumstances, many of us would choose to visit a beautiful place like Provence to enjoy some rest and rejuvenation in order to improve our Health & Wellbeing. In the midst of today’s Coronavirus pandemic, health concerns are an order of magnitude more serious. Whilst travel plans for the immediate future have been put on hold, it’s important that we stay positive and look forward to the coming months when hopefully the Coronavirus epidemic will be behind us. Perhaps one positive to come out of this crisis will be that people take more time to look after what is really important… their health. And there is no reason why health and travel have to be separated.

Even prior to the Coronavirus outbreak authentic and wholesome experiences were replacing traditional holiday getaways. ABTA reported that more people than ever are seeking new ways to alleviate stress, reduce illness and boost wellbeing. We’re even acknowledging men’s mental health. Women are striving to be strong, not skinny. Now nourishing, not starving. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that more and more are taking advantage of the wellness preferences across Provence. From healthy hikes to serene spas and wholesome cafes, the global wellness market is now worth more than double general tourism. Best of all, France is far more accessible than heading to the Himalayas to douse ourselves in holy potions.

Provence sees health, not as a trend, but something that is passed down through generations and this is sure to continue in the future. Yet even traditional, elegant and understated Aix sees transformation stirring. Social media has energized the town. For instance, you can now easily find a yoga instructor, through Instagram. Guests of Provence often seek experiences to rejuvenate, heal and gain self-confidence; as well as wanting to totally disconnect from the hectic pace of life at home and work. Often with a digital detox.

Eating according to the seasons is obligatory in Provence as everything comes from either the garden or the market. The French always treat their meals as sit-down affairs. You will never see anyone eating on the run. Yet in contrast to the purist discipline of wellness, the Provence way is all about moderation rather than abstaining. The French are firm believers that less is more.

So, when the world returns to some semblance of normality, we hope you are able to find the time to take an extremely well deserved holiday and one that fully refreshes both your body and mind. Hope is incredibly important in times like these and to help give you something to daydream about I’ve listed just a few wellness activities you could choose to enjoy in the future here in Provence. But of course, these activities are not limited to Provence and perhaps will give you some ideas on ways you can look after yourself even during these testing times.

Hiking in Provence

Trekking up the positive Provençal trails is the preferred alternative to standard gym workouts. The combination of physical exercise and mental relaxation is exhilarating.

Take a picnic or simply just meander to smell the wonderful wild herbs. Marching up the limestone mountain ridge of Montagne Sainte-Victoire from the hamlet Saint Antonin is a popular trail. As if you needed any more persuasion, this mountain was a source of inspiration for both Paul Cezanne and Pablo Picasso.

We’re all being advised to limit our contact with others, but in most countries there has been a recognition that some exercise is important. Well, a walk around your local park might not quite be like hiking in the Calanques but none-the-less it offers a welcome change of scenery, some fresh air and hopefully a burst of sunlight.

Fresh-pressed juice

Juice bars are increasingly squeezing up against the traditional pavement cafés. Juice Lab on Rue Nazareth, Aix-en-Provence are known to discontinue certain blends if they cannot serve them perfectly fresh.

They have post-workout wake-up juices, and their avocado toast is a firm favourite for a quick bite. In typical Provencal style, they alter their menu according to which fruit and vegetables are available. At the moment, fresh fruit and veg may be in short supply or perhaps you have stockpiled some that are now looking a bit past their best… well juicing or blending them is the ideal way of using these up. It’s a delicious way to enjoy fruit and vegetables whilst also giving you a great hit of vitamins.

Rosé at sunset

It is criminal to visit Provence without savouring their distinctly world class wine. And it tastes best being sipped at sunset and al fresco.

Casual, light and easy is the manner in which it is served, together with how it should be enjoyed. But why wait until you get to Provence? If possible, keep a couple of bottles of Rosé in the fridge to enjoy at home. Even without the sunset, Rosé can make you feel like you’re on holiday regardless!

Relaxing baths

Baths are the best remedy to relax and detox as they create a moment to slow down our hectic routines. Infuse your bath with muscle relaxing salts from the Camargue region or bath oils with sweet soothing orange blossom. The French will often then immerse into icy waters in antique tin tubs. Incredibly anti-inflammatory, and definitely relaxing!

And at times like these why skimp… put the hot water on and run yourself a deep luxurious bath to enjoy at home.

Spa treatments

Local spas house aestheticians who blend local essential and plant-based oils. These ingredients will be freshly mixed and immersed into your skin through calming facials that are like no other. Here are a few suggestions for you to try:

27, Rue Mazarine

This is a city spa, so there are no landscaped gardens or outside pools. Utterly divine, it retains a heavenly cosy atmosphere as it’s entirely underground. Centrally located in Aix, it has a beautiful pool and several massage rooms, as well as a sauna. Furthermore, it’s one of the few places in the region that you’ll find key make up brands (such as Laura Mercier). It’s where the ladies that lunch congregate before lunch. The ideal place to escape the hustle and bustle.

Thermes Sextius

The Thermes Sextius in the centre of Aix en Provence is built on the site of the old Roman Baths. It enjoys its own unique water source down to 80 metres in depth which is naturally kept at 33°C. Now a major hydrotherapy centre, it is established as a celebrated place to unwind on holiday. A blissful place to submerge in the baths or float away during a massage.

Les Lodges Health Spa

Les Lodges is a relatively new spa to the area having been built in the last few years. Found situated on the beautiful winding road that runs under the Sainte Victoire mountain, in between Aix en Provence and the charming village of Le Tholonet. It has one indoor and one outdoor pool, and a series of treatment rooms. The atmosphere is cool, calm and completely marvellous.

And whilst a trip to the Spa is off the cards at the moment, a pampering session at home always lifts the spirits. Now is the time to use the lotions and potions that get given as gifts that many of us store carefully away but never have time to use!

Previously, those seeking ‘well-being’ were people with a lot of free time. However, today most wellness consumers are decision-makers, with very limited time. Time has become much more valuable than money. Happiness is essentially the secret ingredient to health and wellness. Nowadays, as the majority of holidaymakers value their mental and physical health more, they invest more in holidays that work with their bodies and minds, rather than against them. As opposed to ‘escaping’ life, today’s tourists are looking for a beautiful environment with delicious nourishing food, healthy activities and sparkling sea views to increase their happiness.

I’m sure we all yearn for a return to times where we can freely travel and this epidemic is a distant memory. Until then, do take the best possible care of yourself.

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PODCAST: The Value of Travel Agents on Full Display

The TravelPulse Podcast is back with the first-ever quarantined episode.

Hosts Eric Bowman and Dan Callahan are practicing their social distancing and are recording from home this week.

Last week the two did not record as Dan was on his honeymoon in paradise. Listen in to see why he and his new wife made the choice to continue on with their honeymoon vacation in the midst of a global pandemic.

The focal point of today’s episode is all about showing the value that travel agents and advisors bring to travelers, with perfect examples showcasing how they saved the day for the clients.

Be sure to subscribe to the TravelPulse Podcast at Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Spotify and Stitcher.

Have any feedback or questions? Be sure to contact us at [email protected]

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Something to look forward to? Iceland in the Summertime – A Luxury Travel Blog

With much of the world in lockdown right now, there is still no reason why we can’t use the time spent indoors to look forward to happier times. And there is little doubt that there will be a lot of pent-up desire to travel just waiting to be fulfilled once this unfortunate situation passes. So where will you be heading when it is safe to do so? And have you ever thought about visiting Iceland in the Summer?

Maybe you have heard that Iceland is a must-see location – a land full of lagoons, waterfalls, mountains and lakes. If so, what you have heard is absolutely right! Iceland is truly a dream location to visit in the Summer; it’s a time when the country presents the visitor with adventurous opportunities and long days.

So what kinds of adventures can you actually enjoy in Iceland? Read on to learn just some of the undeniable reasons for visiting this beautiful country and soon you’ll hopefully be convinced to choose Iceland as your next holiday destination.

24-hour daylight

One of the many amazing things to experience on your visit to Iceland is almost 24-hours of daylight. No, this isn’t a joke. It will not get dark at night from May 21 until July 30, as the sun barely sets in summer. Pretty exciting, right? But that doesn’t mean that summers in Iceland are too hot. Typical temperatures in Iceland in the Summertime are 10–15°C (50-60°F), so you can actually enjoy every minute of your stay without having to worry about it being too hot. Additionally, the midnight sun phenomenon allows you to maximize your outdoor activities and have fun without the usual “daytime” restrictions.

Natural environment

Do you love nature? With Iceland’s incredible natural environment, we’re confident that the more mundane tourist attractions that you might be used to, will not compare. In many parts of the world, the excessive influx of tourists and their interaction with the environment, actually leads to its deterioration, but this could not be further from the case in Iceland. Instead, in Iceland you will discover the true color of nature that will leave you tempted to visit each and every Summer. Start packing and get ready to delve into the wonders of Icelandic nature. Let the cool breeze brush by your face and breathe in the fresh air. Feel the sparkling fresh water and marvel at the magnificent sky. This is a place which takes you far away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and lets you breathe in peace and enjoy being outdoors.

Relax in luxury

When visiting Iceland, you don’t have to forego luxury at the expense of amazing adventures and activities. You can enjoy the best of both worlds and definitely the best that Iceland has to offer. Since the opening of the first luxurious five-star hotel at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland has really made a name for itself in luxury travel. The best way to experience this remarkable country is in pure luxury. With first class accommodation and a choice of activities at your fingertips.

One of the best ways to relax in luxury is to soak in Iceland’s famous geothermal pools and natural hot springs. These heated pools are so therapeutic: all you need to do is just dip, relax and look at the sky. It makes you forget all your worries and refreshes your body and mind.

Adventure in style

Get set for adventures through a unique landscape and indulge your inner explorer. When it comes to adventures and activities the options are endless! Whether you head up the infamous Eyjafjallajökull Glacier that erupted in 2010 for a snowmobiling adventure or go horseback riding on the Icelandic Horse that is known for its five gaits and ability to cross rough terrain you will leave with unforgettable memories.

In the Summer you can really see the wildlife come to life, as Iceland gets many different bird species that migrate during that season. You will see many whales around the coast lines and you are likely to spot a puffin. The Atlantic puffin is somewhat considered the Icelandic mascot since we get estimated 8 to 10 million puffins here every Summer.

A variety of beautiful landscapes

On your trip to Iceland, you can expect a variety of terrain, from mountains and green valleys to lakes and lagoons, to waterfalls and ice. Whether you wish to delve into nature or seek more thrilling adventures, make sure you also leave time to truly discover the many incredible places that you will visit so you can learn about our culture, literature and history.

The days are long enough; there are many unique adventures, places to relax and activities to choose from, so you may want to take advantage of visiting places you may not otherwise have considered or want to plan a holiday to look forward to later on this year or in 2021.

Sigurður Sindri Magnússon is Owner of Deluxe Iceland. Deluxe Iceland is an authorised luxury travel agency and tour operator based in Iceland.

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On the trail of Patrick Leigh Fermor in Greece

Old Mr Fotis turned my question over in his mind while sipping his morning coffee. Below the veranda some youths had been playing noisily on the harbour wall, but now they all dived into the turquoise sea and set off on the long swim to the rocky island in the bay. It had a fragment of crenellated wall on top of it, the ruins of a Venetian fortress. Fotis watched them go, half-smiling.

“We do seem to attract a lot of writers,” said the old man eventually. “But that’s a name I don’t remember.”

“Bruce Chatwin, Baroose Chit-win, Chaatwing.” I tried a few variations but none struck a chord. “His ashes are scattered somewhere in the hills.”

“No, I never heard of him.”

“What about Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor? You must know about him.”

I’d first heard of Kardamyli because of Leigh Fermor, who had made the place his home. I’d always hoped we might meet, but then the grand old man of British travel writing had died in June 2011 (leaving the literary world praying that he had finished the final volume of his Time of Gifts trilogy). I’d come to the Mani on a sort of literary homage, hoping to find a little of the magic that had attracted first Leigh Fermor and later Chatwin.

The old man shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. There was a writer called Robert. Now he was famous – cured himself of cancer by walking around Crete. [Former South Africa cricketer Bob Crisp wrote of his walk around Crete in the 1970s.] He was very famous.”

This felt all wrong. Was I in the right place? How annoying that the locals should raise this unknown above the two giants of travel literature.

Fotis leaned back and shouted in Greek to his wife in the kitchen. She came through, cloth in hand. “Robert Crisp,” she said, smiling. “What a wonderful man! So handsome! I remember him sitting up at Dioskouri’s taverna drinking and talking with Paddy. They were always laughing.”

My ears pricked up. Fotis’s face underwent a transformation. “Ah Paddy! That is him – your English writer. Of course, Paddy – or Michali we called him. Yes, Paddy was here for years and years. When I was young we used to say he was a British spy and had a tunnel going out to sea where submarines would come.”

It didn’t surprise me. Leigh Fermor had been, by all accounts, extremely old school, endlessly curious and an accomplished linguist – all well-known attributes of British spies. He produced a clutch of good books and two classics of the genre, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, detailing his journey as an 18-year-old on foot to Constantinople.

“Did you see a lot of him?” I asked.

Fotis shrugged. “Sometimes. He liked to walk a lot. Now Robert Crisp – I used to see him. What a character!”

“Is Paddy’s house still empty?” I persisted. “I heard it was now a museum.”

Fotis shook his head. “No, no. He left it to the Benaki Museum in Athens (benaki.gr) and they’re supposed to turn it into a writers’ centre. My guess is nothing will happen for a while.”

I could hardly complain about Greek tardiness: Leigh Fermor himself had taken 78 years over his trilogy, and even then no one seemed very sure if he had completed the task. There was, I decided, only one way to get close to the spirit of these colossi of travel-writing: to walk.

“Which paths did Paddy like best?”

Fotis fetched a map and gave me directions. It was already hot when I left him on his veranda. I could see the youths lazing on the harbour wall again, tired by their long swim. Was this really the time of year for walking?

I headed through the ruined village, as instructed, and found a narrow steep path rising up the hillside. Before too long I came across the stone tomb that locals say is the grave of Castor and Pollux, heavenly twins and brothers to Helen of Troy. Kardamyli is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as one of the seven towns that Agamemnon gave to Achilles.

Sweat was pouring off me now, but I kept going. Scents of thyme and sage rose from the undergrowth. Fotis had said there were lots of snakes up here, but I didn’t see any. The views of the bay below, however, were becoming more and more magnificent.

The Mani is the middle finger of the three-pronged southern Peloponnese, a 40-mile long skeletal digit that was almost inaccessible, except by sea, until recently. When Leigh Fermor first came here in 1951, it was by a marathon mountain hike across the Taygetus range, whose slopes seem always to be either burned dry by summer sun, or weighted with winter snow.

The people here were different. For a start they had turned vengeance into a lifelong passion, building war towers to threaten their neighbours and generally making life on a stony mountain even grimmer than it needed to be and clinging to weird atavistic beliefs. No wonder that in the 1950s most of the younger people abandoned it for places not as badly infested with saltwater ghouls and blood-sucking phantoms – Melbourne and Tottenham were particularly popular.

Fotis himself had been one of them, settling in Australia for many years before coming home and opening a hotel. Nowadays some parts of the Mani are thick with holiday homes and development, but Kardamyli remains delightfully quiet and understated, the sort of Greek village where old widows in black sit out every morning watching the world go by.

Having reached a good height on the mountain I started to follow the contours, dipping in and out of the shade of walnut trees and cypress, drinking clear cold water from a spring. Further on I came to the village of Proastio, where Fotis had told me there was a church for every family, the ancestors having been sailors, and very superstitious. At the gorgeous little basilica of Agios Nikolaos in the main street I got the priest to come and unlock the door, revealing a gallery of perfect 17th-century Byzantine murals.

I tried the name Chatwin on him, and wondered how to mime death, cremation and scattering of ashes. But the Orthodox Church does not approve of cremation and his face told me I would not get far.

Returning to Kardamyli by a steep cobbled donkey trail, a kalderimi, I passed Fotis’s veranda once again.

“Who was that writer?” he called. “My wife thinks she knows.”

Anna came out. “Paddy himself scattered the ashes of a writer friend of his, up in Exochori.”

That was where I had just been walking, only higher. Next morning I started much earlier and with a water bottle. Fotis was already up and about when I passed his house.

“Exochori is my home village,” he said. “But what you see now is just old people up there. The old Maniati culture is gone. We used to grow silkworms and our mothers made all our underclothes from it. Can you believe it? We were peasants in the most remote part of Europe, but we wore silk.”

He tried to give me directions to the church, but it got so confusing that I just pretended to understand and resolved to ask along the way. As it happened, this was a useless strategy since the few old people I bumped into spoke no English, and my phrasebook was inexplicably silent on the important line, “Where are scattered the remains of the travel writer?”

In the end I came across a small white-washed shrine with a view of the sea. There was just room to enter, and inside a votive candle burned on a tray with some fresh flowers. A white dog appeared. I elected to call it the Chatwin Church. After a few minutes of contemplation I set off again, southwards past one of the war towers, a gorgeous forest monastery and finally the unspoilt hamlet of Castania, where the taverna owner marched me into the kitchen, pointed out the various dishes and then served a vast quantity of delicious food with a jug of rough wine. It took several strong coffees to get me moving again for the long tramp home.

Back in Kardamyli late that afternoon, Fotis was keen to hear of my walk, but he scoffed at my description of the Chatwin Church. “No, no! That is not it. Come on – I’ll take you there.”

“I’m a bit tired.”

“Good God, we’re not walking! In my car.”

Soon we were on a longer, twisting route. Fotis pointed out landmarks and patches of land that his family owned. I asked about his ancestors.

“The Mani was always where people came to hide,” he said. “Our family are said to have arrived when Byzantium fell to the Ottomans in 1453.”

“They came from Constantinople?”

He nodded. “Our family tradition is that we were clowns for the Byzantine emperor.” He smiled. “But I’ve no idea if that is true.”

He slowed the car down. “Look. This is where you turn off the main road, between the school and the cemetery.”

We pulled up in the shade of two pine trees then set off walking. We picked our way through some old stone houses, their walls overgrown with vines, their shutters closed.

“Holiday homes now,” said Fotis. “Exochori people working in Athens.”

Then we were on a grassy rill of land and I could see the church, a tiny Byzantine basilica, its rough stone walls and ancient pantiles crusted with lichens. Laid out before it was a wonderful tranquil panorama of the sea, its surface smooth as a sheet of silk. It was obvious why a traveller would want to come to rest here, overlooking the sea Homer’s heroes had sailed.

I stood there for a long time. Fotis was searching for the key to the church, normally left in a crack or niche, but there was no sign of it and we gave up. Back in the car, I asked Fotis to point out the house of Paddy Leigh Fermor and glimpsed a low pantiled roof almost submerged in trees on a crag next to the sea.

“Is there no way to see it?”

He shrugged. “It’s all shut up.”

“Is there a beach?”

“Yes – a tiny one.”

I memorised the spot. When Leigh Fermor came to the Mani he did some impressive wild swimming. To honour his adventurous spirit I felt I should swim around to his house and take a look. So next morning, before the heat of day, I entered the sea by the harbour and swam south down the rocky coast hunting for that tiny beach. I swam for what seemed a long time and had given up and turned back when I saw it: a little shingly beach with a single-storey house above. I swam closer until I could stand in the water.

It was a lovely place: deep verandas and stone walls under a pantile roof. Mosaics of pebbles had been made on a flight of steps. I called out but got no answer. The house was shuttered and quiet as though still in mourning. I waded up the beach and sat at the foot of the pebble path. I could see a colonnade with rooms off it, then a larger living room.

I thought of the years that Leigh Fermor had spent here: by all accounts he was a great host and storyteller. When I’d asked one old lady in the village if she had read any of his books, she’d laughed, “Why would any of us read his books? He told us all the stories himself!”

The last story had been that third volume of his epic walk across Europe, but he had never finished it, perhaps never would have. And now a great peace had descended on the place, a peace I didn’t want to disturb. I walked back down to the water and swam out into the bay. Without thinking, I found myself heading for the island of Meropi, the one that those youths had swum to. I would explore the ruins of that Venetian castle.

How to do it
The trip was provided by Sunvil (020-8758 4758, sunvil.co.uk/greece), which has seven nights self-catering in a studio at Liakoto Apartments in Kardamyli, including flights from Gatwick to Kalamata and transfers, from £699pp. Walking tours of the Mani with guide Anna Butcher can be booked through Sunvil, which also has a nine-day all-inclusive walking tour of the Mani for £1,755pp

What to read
Artemis Cooper’s biography, Patrick Leigh Fermor, An Adventure, will be published by John Murray on 11 October, price £25. To buy a copy for £20, including shipping, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk. Leigh Fermor never did fully finish writing the third part of his epic walk across pre-second-world-war Europe but John Murray will publish an uncompleted version of the book in 2013

“I felt like staying there forever” – Patrick Leigh Fermor on the Mani peninsula

Beyond the bars of my window the towers descended, their walls blazoned with diagonals of light and shade; and, through a wide gap, castellated villages were poised above the sea on coils of terraces. Through another gap our host’s second daughter, wide-hatted and perched on the back of a wooden sledge and grasping three reins, was sliding round and round a threshing floor behind a horse, a mule and a cow – the first cow I had seen in the Mani – all of them linked in a triple yoke. On a bank above this busy stone disc, the rest of the family were flinging wooden shovelfuls of wheat in the air for the grain to fall on outstretched coloured blankets while the husks drifted away. Others shook large sieves. The sun which climbed behind them outlined this group with a rim of gold and each time a winnower sent up his great fan, for long seconds the floating chaff embowered him in a gold mist.
The sun poured into this stone casket through deep embrasures. Dust gyrated along the shafts of sunlight like plankton under a microscope, and the room was full of the aroma of decay. There was a rusty double-barrelled gun in the corner, a couple of dog-eared Orthodox missals on the shelf, and, pinned to the wall above the table, a faded oleograph of King Constantine and Queen Sophia, with King George and the Queen Mother, Olga Feodorovna, smiling with time-dimmed benevolence through wreaths of laurel. Another picture showed King Constantine’s entry into re-conquered Salonika at the end of the Balkan war. On a poster, Petro Mavromichalis, the ex-war minister, between a pin-up girl cut-out from the cover of Romantzo and a 1926 calendar for the Be Smart Tailors of Madison Avenue, flashed goodwill from his paper monocle. Across this, in a hand unaccustomed to Latin script, Long live Uncle Truman was painstakingly inscribed. I felt like staying there
for ever.
Extracted from Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (John Murray, £9.99) which is available from the Guardian Bookshop (guardianbookshop.co.uk) for £7.99, including P&P

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My shock find in top hotel’s bathroom

There are plenty of handy things hiding in hotel bathrooms — cotton buds, hand cream, mirrors that make you appear 5kg lighter — but I wasn’t expecting to find this in my bathroom at Ovolo Woolloomooloo.

The boutique pad, which stretches along one of Sydney’s iconic finger wharves, was recently rated Australia’s number one hotel in TripAdvisor’s Travellers Choice Awards.

But I reckon the real reason comes down to the relief guests experience on level five.

In our busy world, ain’t nobody got time for extended toilet breaks, even when on holidays. Enter a stool to help you with your stools — promising a smooth process and none of the pushy pushy that purportedly plagued Elvis Presley before his spectacular abdication of the throne.

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At first glance everything looks normal.Source:Supplied

Sitting proudly next to the toilet in all of Ovolo’s suites, the Proppr stool promises perfect posture for your posterior on the potty. Yep, really.

It’s a shocking feeling to discover you’ve been doing something all wrong, on the daily, but using the Proppr during your stay might just be the push you need to change the way you poop.

Since squat toilets are not de rigueur in the Western world, gastrointestinal experts agree we need to prop so we don’t stop — aka get our knees up higher in moments of struggle, which is where the stool slides in. Its number 1 (and number 2) goal is to ‘unkink’ the colon and help you wipe away all your worries.

It may have taken a B-grade celebrity to stoke the idea fire but when Kelly Osbourne requested a stool for her room during a Sydney sojourn, staff were curious. Instead of pooh-poohing the idea, Ovolo management jumped on board and ordered Propper stools for every suite. A sticker on the stool says, “We found out about the Proppr and just had to share … Go on, give it a go.”

It’s the Proppr way to poop.Source:Supplied

The Proppr is an Australian-made adaptation of the Squatty Potty, which has swept the USA with its pooping unicorn ads and spawned countless testimonial videos you probably don’t want to watch over breakfast. Pitched as “the proppr (natural) way to go to the loo”, the stool was brought to life through a crowd-funding campaign in 2015.

In another nod to Ovolo’s sense of humour, 100 per cent recycled toilet paper in all rooms is from social enterprise, Who Gives a Crap — who, as well as having jocular toilet roll wrappers, funnel funds into building toilets in the developing world. A peek inside the INXS suite reveals even more (comic) relief — four books lined up on a shelf next to the loo with titles such as Get Sh*t Done and This Book Will Make You Feel Less Sh*t.

If you’re still having intestinal issues, there’s a yoga mat in every room to unfurl for a little downward dog action. Not that you’re probably going to have many problems if you dine in-house at Alibi — touted as the first plant-based hotel restaurant in Australia. The menu is 100 per cent vegan, clean and fibre-rich. Infused detox water on tap in the all-day bar area will keep you well-hydrated, too.

Everyone feels better after a full ‘elimination’; Ovolo know this. So before you start sh*tting yourself about splashing the cash on a stay at Ovolo Woolloomooloo, rest assured, they’ve got your back(side).

The writer was a guest of Ovolo Hotels.

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Oberammergau Passion Play delayed until 2022

In a virtually unprecedented move, the Oberammergau Passion Play will be postponed for two years as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage around the world.

Organisers sought to blame the delay on the administrative district office of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which earlier prohibited the performance.

The first performance had been scheduled for May 16th, but will now take place in 2022.

The world-famous Passion Play goes back to a vow made in 1633.

At that time, the people of Oberammergau vowed to perform the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ every ten years if no one else died of the plague.

The people of Oberammergau still want to fulfil this vow – despite nearly 50 deaths in Germany from coronavirus.

Therefore, plans to perform the Passion Play in 2022 are now being put in place.

The premiere is scheduled for May 21st that year, with further performance dates to be announced in due course.

In the past there have been postponements or even cancellations of the Passion Play – though not many.

In 1770 the play could not take place due to a general ban, while in 1940 the Second World War prevented a performance.

For the 1920 Passion Play, the municipal council decided not to press ahead with preparations in view of the large number of World War I casualties.

However, it did then take in 1922.

Tickets for 2020 performances can be transferred to 2022, or full refunds will be offered.

Coronavirus

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