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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Isango’

In Salvador Dalí’s Footsteps

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Salvador Dalí was the master and greatest creative practitioner of surrealism.  During his life, Dalí lived and worked in many places in Spain. However, he spent most of his life in his home province of Girona in Catalunya. The region inspired much of his work and also houses the largest collection of his works in the world.
 
Whether you are out to explore the Costa Brava or to discover Dali’s works for yourself, travelling through the northern part of Catalunya will be one of your most rewarding journeys.

For instance, his birthplace Figueres (meaning ‘fig trees,’ which used to grow around it) is a picturesque town with winding streets, cosy cafés and a small yet picturesque ‘Old Town’ section and Square.  It is archetypical of a sleepy Spanish village.

Dali Museum-Its fame is forever entwined with that of its son Dalí and the Theatre Museum Dalí. This museum was built on the remains of a 19th century theatre and incorporates a tower from those ruins. The museum is Dali’s own creation and is reckoned to be the world’s largest surrealistic work.

Another attraction of the town is the well-preserved pentagonal Sant Ferran Castle.  It was built as a military fortress in the eighteenth century and completed in 1753.  It spreads over 5 kilometres making it the largest monument in Catalunya.

Not far from Figueres is the fishing village of Cadaques, another Catalunya gem, which has Dalí connections.  Its white-washed Mediterranean houses, quiet streets, beautiful beaches and the perfect blue waters of its cove simply grab your heart and make you want to stay back – many do and many did.  Some of its most famous visitors were Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Walt Disney, Richard Hamilton and Melina Mercouri.

Cadaques has an official population of around 3,000 people but at the peak of summer, many times that number visit and stay here. There are also some rather remarkable houses like the Casa Blava (Blue House) that are scattered around the town.

Dali statueCadaques has honoured Dalí by putting up a statue of him on the beach.  The statue captures his eccentric style, his manic yet haughty expression, his famous upturned moustache and trade mark walking stick.  It was in Cadaqués that Dalí first met his wife Gala in 1929.

Just a little way along the coast is Port Lligat, where Dali lived with Gala for over 40 years.  It is now a house-museum that is just as magical and stunning as the surrounding area. It comprises of several fishermen’s huts that Dalí and Gala joined together.

The house features a labyrinth of passageways and rooms, including his workshop, library, garden and a very lovely pool.  The tiny rooms are crammed with many of Dali’s creations including his last painting which he did not finish and paint brushes.

The highlight of the building though is the whispering room. The acoustics are so brilliant that you can hear a whisper from across the room – over 30 feet away.  The building and its gardens are ‘Cultural Assets of National Interest.’

Dali himself once described the area thus, "… as always, in the perfect and dreamy town of Cadaqués. There, alongside the Latin sea, I have been quenched by light and colour."  And so will you be when you are there.

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Nightlife in Istanbul

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Bosphorus IstanbulNightlife in Istanbul is exciting and varied with a plentiful choice for all tastes.  The city straddles the Bosphorus connecting two continents.  The diversity and contrasts of its night time activities and the entertainment available reflects this geographical spread.

Istanbul has establishments that offer both western and oriental entertainment and both are hugely popular.  It is not uncommon to see lines of people stretching from the doorways of venues and going around the block – all just trying to get in.  Many of these venues are world famous and frequently attract celebrities from around the globe.

One of the factors that make night time entertainment great in Istanbul is accessibility.  This is a very large city and getting around (and across the Bosphorus Straits) can be just that bit challenging – especially at night.  However, there are many venues, which are spread out across several entertainment centres around the city.

For instance there is the Kadiköy district, on the Asian side with many pubs, restaurants and clubs on Iskele and Kadife Streets.  The European side has several well known districts such as ?i?li, Be?ikta?, Ulus, Taksim and Beyo?lu that are packed with pubs, bars, restaurants and venues featuring live music.

Most of the places combine eating, drinking, dance floors and live shows.  However, you need to check first because many night clubs offer only dancing and a bar but no food.  Another thing you should be prepared for is the dress code.  A surprising number and variety of places will insist on a jacket and leather shoes – no jeans, sneakers or flip-flops please!

However you wish to spend your evening, one thing is sure – the venue you choose will have plenty of “attitude” and atmosphere.  You will find every style of interior design from plastic, post-modern, harem-like and traditional English pubs to elegant neo-baroque.  All try to hype up the picturesque view(s) of the Bosphorus or their location on its banks.  Then there are the very popular river cruises on the Bosphorus that also feature live entertainment.

Finding your cuisine for the night will never be a problem.  Seafood, Cretan, Middle Eastern, Turkish kebabs, pasta or classic French and Italian eating places are abundant.

Istanbul night spots have trendy “in” places that serve only cocktails, which are frequented by rising banker types.  Music of all genres can be heard blasting out of entrance doors.  Take your pick – jazz, reggae, world music, electronic, Latin, Turkish, Arabic, indie, rock (Turkish and Western), funk, soul or pop.  Many have world famous DJs and live bands performing regularly.

Of course – as a visitor you cannot miss out on the belly dancers.  And Istanbul has plenty of bars, restaurants and dance places that feature belly dancing as a part of the fare.  The Turkish style of belly dancing is very lively, vigorous and often gymnastic.  Its energy differs from its more contained and conservative Egyptian cousin.  Most belly dancers in Turkey are of Romani ancestry and that has had a strong influence on the Turkish style.

A very popular part of Istanbul’s night scene is the bright, brassy, outrageously gay and transsexual scene.  Be prepared to be shocked and dazzled.  

It is no exaggeration to say that Istanbul’s nightlife rivals any other city in Europe or in the world for that matter.  There is no shortage of the glitzy or shady.  You are bound to find something to satiate your taste for new experiences.

Have Fun!!!

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Enter our Valentine’s Day competition to win a £100 gift voucher!

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We think travel is best shared with those you love. What is the best trip you’ve ever taken with your significant other and why? Be it your partner, friend, mum or parrot, whoever you hold dear in the world – we want to hear from you.

Drop us a few lines at valentines@isango.com and you’ll enter the competition to win a £100 gift voucher to spend at isango.com. Share the love and surprise your loved one with a tour of your choice!

Competition closes on 14th February at noon. Winner will be announced on the same day. 

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A Bibliophile’s Guide to Britain & Ireland

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1.    Oxfordshire, England

Oxford University

Explore the rich heritage of the city that has long been a haven for authors, poets as well as dozens of note-worthy journalists, writers, politicians, and artists. As is typical of a university town, Oxford is packed full of great pubs, however unlike most university towns, Oxford’s pubs are famous. The Bear is one of England’s oldest pubs, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis regularly drank at The Eagle and Child, and The Lamb and Flag was frequented by the likes of Thomas Hardy and Graham Greene. Go on a hop on hop off tour to get a genuine flavour of Oxford’s glorious literary past and vibrant present. Visit the hallowed portals of the University which inspired Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy among others. In the University the historic Bodlein Library is one of the oldest and largest libraries in England. 

2.    Bath, England  

Roman thermal spril at Bath

Bath’s most famous resident, Jane Austen set two of her books Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in the city and lived there in the 1800s. Bath has year round events and activities for Austen fans to enjoy. Every summer people dress-up in Regency finery and attend the annual Netherfield Ball to dance like Darcy, Lizzy, Bingley and Jane. In the Fall, Bath holds a nine-day festival celebrating all things Austen. This includes a world famous Grand Regency Costume parade where 600 Austen fans from all over the world descend on Bath in Regency era costumes to open the festival. If you can’t make it for the festival, the Jane Austen Centre is open all year with exhibitions on Austen’s time in this city and a Regency themed Tea Room. While in Bath, be sure to take a dip in its ancient open-air thermal springs like they did in the 18th century. 

3.    Dublin, Ireland

Oscar Wilde statue in Dublin

Dubliners love words and Dublin has given the world such towering literary figures as Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Shaw and Wilde to name but a few. Designated UNESCO City of Literature in 2010, Dublin’s written tradition stretches back to 800 A.D. with the Book of Kells, one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts in the world on display at Trinity College Dublin. One Merrion Sqaure is the home of Oscar Wilde, a beautiful example of Georgian architecture restored to an approximate version of their appearance in Oscar’s day and can only be visited on a guided tour. Across the road, is a flamboyant statue of the man himself, reclining on a huge granite stone seemingly without a care in the world! Prose and pints go together in this city which has produced four Nobel Prize laureates in Literature. Participate in the popular Literary Pub Crawl on the cobbled streets of Dublin which promises to give you “the pleasant notion of simultaneously replacing brain cells as you drown them…” 

4.   London, England

London at dusk

London has cemented its reputation as the culture capital of the world and for good reason. A bibliophile or an aspiring writer can spend a lifetime in London and still not see everything! For Londoners and tourists there are all kinds of walks to trace the literary legacy of some of English language’s greatest writers from Chaucer to Dickens, Shakespeare to Virginia Woolf, J.K. Rowling to Arthur Conan Doyle who have lived in London or been inspired by the city at some point in their life. Though an obvious choice to include, The British Library cannot be denied by bookworms. It houses one-of-a-kind manuscripts including hand-written excerpts from Beowulf, King Henry IV and many more. A highlight is Jane Austen’s personal notebook as well as her writing desk. The mix of the old and the new is what captivates thousands of visitors. No literary buff's educational adventure would be complete without taking a tour of the fashionable Bloomsbury area in the London Borough of Camden. It's a great way to learn the literary history of the neighbourhood. The Lamb bar and pub in the heart of Bloomsbury district has long been frequented by Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Another landmark is the Charles Dickens Museum, where the permanent exhibition is a representation of what the house looked like while Dickens resided there and is home to an extensive collection of surviving possessions. 

5.   Edinburgh, Scotland 

Edinburgh Old Town

Edinburgh has been the home of many well respected and popular writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Arthur Conan Doyle; along with contemporary authors J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Alexander McCall Smith. Edinburgh's streets are steeped in literary history and there is never a dearth of inspiration in this awe-inspiring Scottish capital. In the centre of Edinburgh is St Andrew Square, Edinburgh's Poetry Garden where you can float poetry written on paper lotus across the square's pond and make it part of the garden permanently. A must see for Pottermaniacs is The Elephant House, a gourmet tea and coffee shop, where J.K. Rowling wrote much of her early novels in the back room overlooking the Edinburgh Castle. Walk down the West Port street in Edinburgh’s Old Town which features taverns that have opened their doors to William Wordsworth, Robert Burns and Walter Scott. An essential part of Scottish culture are these pubs and taverns where famous literary figures would go and mix with the common people over Scottish ales and whiskies.

6.    Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

Anne Hathaway childhood home

This delightful little town is famous as the birthplace of England’s greatest poet and playwright, William Shakespeare. Home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, five historic houses linked to the Bard and a wealth of other tourist attractions, there is a lot to see in this Heritage city. Visit the house where the world’s most famous playwright was born and grew up. Tour Mary Arden's House, the childhood home of Shakespeare's mother and learn about Tudor life on Palmer’s Farm, an experience that transports visitor’s back to the 1570’s. Also visit the picturesque family home of Anne Hathaway where young Shakespeare courted his future bride Anne. Watch a play at the historic Royal Shakespeare Theatre situated on the western bank of river Avon. The best time to visit Stratford is between April and July when there are plenty of festivals, parades, concerts, and workshops for young and old to take part in.

7.    Wales, England

Medieval castle ruins in Wales countryside

2014 marks the centenary of the Welsh poet, author and legend Dylan Thomas. Explore the vast seascapes, village tracks, dusky moorlands, brimming meadows and lush parklands that have inspired his works. At the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, see the permanent exhibition, ‘Man and Myth’ which includes Dylan Thomas' worksheets, recordings, artwork and even the suit Dylan wore in New York in 1953, the year he died. They also conduct the annual Dylan Thomas Festival that takes place each year from 27th October to 9th of November. Social historian Raymond Williams often embedded his work in Wales and Welsh cultural themes. Malcome Pryces noir novels set in Aberystwyth, Eve Green by Susan Fletcher and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle have all used Wales as a setting. 

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The Old City of Palma

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The city of Palma on the island of Majorca is an ancient one.  It has always been important in the history and culture of the western Mediterranean Sea.  That has resulted in a rich, diverse and, at times very tumultuous past.  That past has left behind magnificent reminders that are still visible, intact and available for visitors to enjoy today.

The best place to get a glimpse into Palma’s past is the Old City (or Old Town).  It is a charming combination of an intricate web of shady, narrow, winding streets lined by pink Mediterranean style houses and lovely gothic buildings mixed in for good measure.  Many of the houses are adorned with window boxes and narrow wrought-iron balconies, detailed metal carvings and overhanging eaves that add to its lure.

While there is much that is attractive and worth seeing in the Old City, it is the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Palma that dominates and receives the most visitors.  It is a very, very large and magnificent Gothic, neo-gothic, restored building that took about 300 years (1299 to 1601) to complete.  It sits between the Royal Palace of La Almudaina and overlooks the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea.

There are still some aspects of the town that are reminders of Palma’s Arab/Moorish past and their influences can still be seen.  Nowhere more so than the locality called Bany Arabs or Arab Baths.  You take a quiet street called Ca’n Serra that is close to the Cathedral to reach this small two-roomed brick building.  It dates back to the 11th century and was once part of a larger residential complex.  The bath room itself has a cupola, and twelve columns that were removed from some Roman era building.  The baths are surrounded by beautiful gardens – Ca’n Fontirroig.

Then there is the ancient and still operational fishermen and sailors locality of El Jonquet. The most notable features of this area are the old mills that overlook it from above.

Bellver castleBellver Castle is a unique structure because of its cylindrical form.  While not technically a part of the old city, Bellver Castle is quite integral to the medieval history of the city and the island.   It was built in the 14th century upon the ruins of a Moorish site and set high on a hill giving it fabulous (no doubt strategic too) views of the whole island.  This distinctive fortress has three large towers and a central courtyard and houses an archaeological museum filled sculptures of times gone by.  It has served as a residence for the Majorcan kings, a fortress and a prison.

While you stroll through this beautiful and old part of Palma you are bound to see a rather more modern addition to the area.  They are the rubbish bins!  They are attractive, like so much else in the Old City, and made of bronze.  These rubbish bins are made up of two sections – an upper cylindrical part where you place your garbage.  You turn a handle on the side, which then drops the refuse into the lower, rectangular storage portion.

When you are done seeing the area you could relax in one of the quaint little restaurants along the sea front and admire the view.

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1st Day of the New Year in Stockholm’s Old Town

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As New Year's Eve rapidly approached and I was faced with spending it in my pesky home town in grey, boring Finland, a friend and I decided that we needed to get away. The trip to Stockholm from Finland is easy and traversed often by Finns via a cruise liner. This is one of the most convenient ways for Finns to take a small break: a cruise to Stockholm is easy and quick – enjoying the tax free shops on board comes as an added bonus. Our ship docked at 10.30am on the 1st of January and the vessel was eerily, yet understandably quiet. After a night of boogeing on the party boat we were starving and headed out early.

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Ranked #3 on TripAdvisor for things to do in Stockholm, we headed for Stockholm’s Gamla Stan i.e. Old Town. The walk to the area from the port takes about 15 minutes and although there was nothing much of interest to look at along the way, at least we found evidence of a night of heavy partying. 

Celebrations

Gamla Stan is one of the largest and best preserved medieval city centres in Europe, and here you can see the Royal Palace with its 600 rooms, Sweden’s national cathedral Stockholm Cathedral and the Nobel Museum. The Christmas wreaths and decorations were still in place and created a cosy atmosphere even post-Christmas.

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The area isn’t huge and perfect for a leisurely wander along the cobbled streets, peering into crowded passageways and gazing up on the medieval buildings, the surfaces of which look powdery and ancient. There are so many little details on the buildings you'll be snap happy throughout your stroll. Gamla Stan is unsurprisingly very touristy with the appropriate offering of souvenir shops, sweet shops and bric a brac – none of which tickled our fancy. However, we did stop over for a tasty lunch in one of the little cafes that dot the streets.

Gamla Stan is definitely worth checking out when in Stockholm, but head over early morning to avoid the crowds!
Keen on a bit of Stockholm sightseeing beyond the Old Town? Take a bus tour of the city and get your bearings from day one!

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Mirador Del Rio Sunsets And El Golfo Lagoon, Lanzarote

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Lanzarote is the most remarkable of all the Canary Islands.  The eastern most of the seven islands that make up the archipelago, its extraordinary landscape seems to be of another planet.  Great parts of Lanzarote are covered by ash and lava.  Lanzarote also offers a wide array of quiet beaches with fine sand unspoilt, beautiful bays and turquoise waters.  It has many spots that are undisturbed making for a serene environment.

Sunset at Mirador Del Rio

Of all the numerous scenic pleasures Lanzarote has to offer, its sunsets are the most memorable.  The island is not very large, which means that you can get a view of the glorious phenomenon from almost anywhere.  However, the most sensational views are to be had at the north of the island – at Mirador Del Rio.

Mirador Del Rio is a slight, rocky hill, which is a beautiful place to sit and watch the sun go down.  The salmon pink, orange and purple of the setting sun are complimented by other Lanzarote delights.  Sitting on the cliffs overlooking the sea, you will have fields of bluebells on one side and a panoramic view of the sea and its changing colours on the other.

The tiny island of La Graciosa, not far from the Lanzrote coast, adds further magic to the already incredible vista.

A picnic hamper with a bottle of one of Lanzarote’s many excellent wines are great accessories to accompany your viewing of the celestial special effects of the setting sun!


El Golfo Lagoon

On the opposite side from Mirador Del Rio, on the southwest, is another spectacular Lanzarote gift.  This is El Golfo.  It is the remains of a volcanic crater that has been broken into and eroded by the might of the Atlantic Ocean.  Inside this crater the lagoon – “Charco de los Clicos” – has emerged.

This semi-circular lagoon is intriguingly bright green because of the algae and minerals in the water.  This crater is one of the few and rare examples of hydro-volcanism, a phenomena produced by the interaction of magma or with salt water.  The concentration of special seaweed blossoms pretty well due to the extreme high salt content present in the lake.  This makes an oddly interesting contrast against the sand and rock formation of the crater.

The remains of the volcano are like a painter’s palette with grand brush strokes of black, red, yellow-green and russet layers of cooled lava.  The beach comprises of black volcanic pebbles interspersed with semi-precious green stones valued by jewellers.

The nearby village also called El Golfo is a lovely, small community that has restaurants where you can get some excellent seafood.  You can dine al fresco and enjoy the sunset.

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Al fresco Tapas Bars In Lanzarote

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TapasBefore we start out lets understand what Tapas is.  Tapas are a wide variety of mouth-watering appetizers or snacks of the Spanish cuisine.  It is not the Sanskrit word for deep meditation, though after a tummy-full of Tapas you might want to drift off into a very satisfied mental state.

Tapas can be cold or hot and of many different kinds.  From the humble snack it has become sophisticated.  In most instances, it is a whole meal in itself with diners combining several tapas dishes.  It evolved from light snacks you nibbled on while you sipped your sherry, chatted and waited for the main meal to arrive – to the main course.  Having tapas has grown into a ritual in Spain – a favourite one too.

Way back in time tapas would be a piece of meat (usually salty) like Jamón (cured ham) that would be nibbled on while sipping drinks.  Bars and restaurants then became creative in their snack-making and started incorporating ingredients from around the world.  The Romans brought the olive; whole almonds, citrus fruits and spices came from North Africa and the Americas delivered tomatoes, peppers, corn and potatoes.  All these edible incursions have turned the tapas into gourmet must-do.  

Its evolution continues with the regular use of garlic, chillies, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, saffron, other seasonings and olive oil.  The fillings often include anchovies, sardines, mackerel, squid or a huge variety of produce from the sea.  These are all mixed in an infinite variety of combinations and accompanied by tomato-based sauces, with a number of types of bread including Boccadillo, the Spanish version of the baguette.  It is quite usual for bars and restaurants to have over a dozen kinds of tapas sitting in warming trays to temp and cajole you into ordering them.

Now that you have a much better understanding of what makes tapas, let’s move to its consumption and the culture surrounding it, especially on the island of Lanzarote.

Al fresco dining started out (more or less) in cooler climates where a sunny day was a good reason to sit out in the garden or and have a meal.  Al fresco is Italian meaning “outside” or “in the fresh air.”

The gorgeous warm and sunny Canaries weather of Lanzarote means that it is almost de rigueur for bars and local restaurants to have sit-out arrangements where dining is casual and encourages a party-like scene.  All the villages in Lanzarote have numerous al fresco and so do the beaches.  The bars in the larger towns place tables out on the sidewalks and pavements.

Enjoying a leisurely tapas meal at these bars is usually enhanced by fantastic blue skies, pink and orange sunsets and the magical scenery of the island.  Your happy taste-buds and the location that made them so, ensure you will remember the experience(s) for years to come.

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Romantic Winter Getaways (Part 2)

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This is the second and final part of our feature on romantic experiences around the world. You can read part one of this feature here

1)    DINNER ON THE GRAND PEARL FLOATING RESTAURANT, BANGKOK

Wat Arun Temple at sunsetLeave Bangkok’s chaotic traffic behind and whisk your loved one for a delightful cruise along the Chao Phraya river in Thailand’s capital city. On board the luxurious Grand Pearl floating restaurant you will be able to marvel at famous Thai landmarks – Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace; shimmering in the night while you enjoy sumptuous Thai and international cuisine with your partner in a candle lit ambience.   

2)    PORTRAITS IN PARIS PHOTO SHOOT, PARIS, FRANCE

Portrait in ParisWrap yourself in the beauty and romance of the City of Love by booking a professional vacation photographer to capture your love story. Packed with charming vintage locations, Paris is a lover’s fantasy and a photographer’s delight. Get your photos taken in the most eclectic neighbourhood of Paris. Latin Quarter is situated on the left bank of the Seine, in the 5th and 6th arrondissement of Paris. There is no better setting to capture your engagement, honeymoon or anniversary photos.  

3)    MOUNT PILATUS EXCURSION FROM LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND

Cable car to the Swiss AlpsWith the snow-capped Mount Pilatus towering over the city, and the pristine Lake Lucerne in the heart of it, Switzerland is everything that a romantic getaway should be. After you and your partner are done gallivanting through picture perfect Swiss villages, medieval walled towns and enchanted castles, take a panoramic cable car ride (40 minutes) to Mount Pilatus, at an altitude of 2132 metres. Enjoy the vibrant skyline of the Swiss Alps and the snow decked slopes of Mount Pilatus while you savour traditional Swiss cuisine from the delectable restaurants or on the terrace where the views are to die for.

4)    METROPOLITAN OPERA & DINNER – WITH PRIVATE TRANSPORT, NEW YORK

When in New York City, a visit to The Metropolitan Opera is a must for Opera lovers. Make it extra special for our beloved by booking a luxurious package that includes a limousine pickup from your hotel, a meal at the popular Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse, drinks, and opera tickets for your favorite production. This is perfect for an elegant proposal or a Valentine’s Day treat!

5)    ROMANTIC PRIVATE HELICOPTER TOUR FROM QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND

Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New ZealandThe magnificent scenery and views around Queenstown can only truly be experienced from the air via a scenic helicopter flight which will fly you over the highpoints of Lake Wakatipu. Look down on snow-capped peaks, dense forests and gleaming blue waters. The highlight of the luxury helicopter tours has to be shutting down on a remote alpine peak to take some time out to enjoy a delicious gourmet picnic and sparkling wine while you take in the pristine beauty of the alpine landscape. Perfect for couples looking to celebrate a special occasion. 

6)    ALHAMBRA PALACE GUIDED TOUR AND HAMMAM EXPERIENCE, GRANADA, SPAIN

Hammam in Granada, SpainThe city of Granada has one of the most dramatic locations in Spain, poised right below the magnificent “snowy range” Sierra Nevada. It is the perfect setting for one of Europe's most stunning monuments – Alhambra Palace, a romantic palace-fortress of the Nasrid Sultans, rulers of the last Spanish Muslim Kingdom. This red castle in Granada contains some of the world's finest examples of Moorish architecture. Relive the charm, magic and opulence of Alhambra’s glorious past by dipping in Arab-style public steam baths or ‘hammam’ where you and your partner can unwind in warm thermal baths complete with an exotic oil massage. 

7)    NEW YEARS EVE IN GRINZING – TOUR FROM VIENNA, AUSTRIA

Celebrating in a traditional tavernCelebrate the end of the year in one of the most famous wine growing villages in Austria. Just minutes from Vienna lies the wine hamlet of Grinzig with its traditional taverns serving local wine and hearty food, often accompanied by live Viennese music. The district of Grinzing is full of such beautifully preserved establishments that lend the whole district a magical feel. Numerous vineyards are located nearby and make a great place for a tranquil, romantic walk. Welcome the New Year in a traditional tavern, with "dinner à la Grinzing", sparkling wine and classical Viennese music.

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Timanfaya National Park

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The landscape of Timanfaya National Park is absolutely unreal.  In fact it is so alien that it could well be on another planet.  The Park occupies the southwestern portion of the island of Lanzarote (one of Spain’s Canary Islands).  It is a harsh and barren region formed by volcanic activity.  In that harsh alienness lies its magic and beauty.

Timanfaya National ParkTimanfaya National Park covers some 51 square kilometres (20 square miles) and the soil is entirely volcanic.  As late as 300 years ago the island was treated to some very large eruptions.  That activity continues till today as geysers of steam still spout occasionally from volcanic tubes, sometimes aided by park attendants pouring into them for the benefit of tourists and their cameras.

Timanfaya volcano is still an active one and is the highlight of some amazing volcanic features.  The blue-black lava fields (known as the malpais – meaning badlands), craters, lava tunnels, lava lakes and multi-coloured volcanic cones make for spectacular viewing.

This bleak and awesome landscape is however, thanks to Mother Nature, showing signs of life.  There are some rare plants growing among the volcanic rock.  There are over 200 lichen species and some very ancient fig trees growing, incredibly, among the volcanic cones.  So valuable and rare is the environment of Lanzarote that in 1993, UNESCO designated the entire island a Biosphere Reserve.  The heart of the reserve is Timanfaya National Park.  

camels in timanfayaTo protect and preserve the delicate ecology and rare flora and fauna, getting into Timanfaya National Park is very tightly regulated.  Private vehicles are not allowed into the park and one can tour it by coaches.  The care for the region extends to treks and walks too.  You can only take a trek in the company of authorised guides and even that is via one or two footpaths.  There are also camel safaris through the park.

One of the highlights of a visit to the park is having a meal at the El Diablo restaurant near the Timanfaya crater.  It has a natural oven where food is cooked on a grill by the heat arising out of a vent.  It can be quite a sight to watch chicken legs and potatoes being cooked by the underground heat.  The heat comes from superheated magna some 4 kilometres below the surface!

A trek or a coach ride through the amazing and awesome Timanfaya National Park will leave you with a lasting memory and experience that is like no other you have had or will have.

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