THAMES TRAVEL, EAST TWICKENHAM ONE OF TTG’S TOP 50 TRAVEL AGENCIES 2020
Set on a leafy high street in this affluent area, Thames Travel is a small stylish shop run by husband and wife Christian and Claire Green, with Christian having been around the travel business his whole life, given his parents first launched the company 38 years ago.
He may have stacked brochures here as a kid, but Christian now plays a major role not only in the agency, but in the local community too, including acting as treasurer for the East Twickenham Association and organising the Christmas trees for all the shops on the high street every year. The pair also support their children’s school by offering travel vouchers for the summer and Christmas fairs, and sponsoring cinema nights and their son’s football team.
Given the Greens have kids themselves, they understand their local family market very well, confidently recommending ideas to clients, and even posting vlogs from trips. Claire focuses on the marketing side of the business, creating two e-newsletters a month, which regularly generate enquiries. She also works closely with her local Mums in Business networking group to improve both her own skills and to promote Thames Travel to members.
Since taking on Lizzie last year – who brings 10 years’ travel experience – they have also been able to tap into a new network via her theatre group, which Thames also sponsors.
Between Lizzie and Claire, they’ve made great inroads with social media, thanks to a new focus on Instagram, setting themselves a target of 1,000 followers by December 2019, and also co-hosting a successful event in Kingston with influencer @Surrey_mama who has more than 20,000 followers. They have also been targeting new areas such as central Twickenham and Teddington with flyers – and they’ve had plenty to talk about on those, including winning Best Small Business at the Richmond Chamber of Commerce Awards.
Meanwhile, Claire says more conversations have been taking place around green travel, as clients start to place more consideration on this, including one family who have pledged not to fly in 2021 and want the team to help plan plane-free trips.
As the weather takes a downturn in temperartiure this week it is rather apt that we are staying closer to home for our latest armchair adventures. We’re journeying north to bonnie Scotland to have our breath taken away by some of the best landscapes in the UK, Europe and even the world!
There are so many great places right here on our own doorstep and now might be a good time to find out more about them! Remembering there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, join us on a wander to discover the very best of Scotland. A cultured capital, heathered hillsides & haggis, glittering lochs, steely mountains, remote isles, secret luxury hideaways, wilderness, wildlife and whiskey await.
Welcome aboard for this week's armchair travels, where we uncover some of the not so well known safari destinations in Africa. It can be easy to focus all your expectations on ticking off the ‘Big 5' when planning a safari holiday but some of the other options offer the chance to experience a different, hidden magic of Africa which can be equally rewarding, if not more so.
Safari means ‘long journey’ in Swahili, the language of East Africa. Africa is synonymous with safari and safari has long been synonymous with the Maasai Mara, the Serengeti and Kruger National Park. #The safari market is very mature in these regions, offering lots of choice at all budgets, animals more used to humans for increased sightings and an all year round season.
However, there are also more under the radar alternatives for experiencing life under African skies.
We’re getting right off the beaten track, taking in five alternative African safari destinations all with something unique to offer. Walking safaris, impossibly romantic lodges, tented bush camps, secretly observing life at a waterhole from a hide, traditional dugout canoe trips and nights under the stars all add to the authentic African experience.
Firstly, we want to say a big thank you for all the lovely messages of support we received following our last update. Your kindness is greatly appreciated. We are continuing to make all necessary changes and amendments to effected travel bookings and lots of our tour operators partners are amending their booking conditions to take into account the impact of Covid-19, making it easier for clients to plan and book holidays with the benefit of greater flexibility over cancellations. So we're confident about our industry pulling together to do all it can to return to normal when the time is right.
Whilst we wait, we would love you to keep joining us on our armchair travels. This time we are taking you to some of our favourite hidden destinations, perfect for when you'd love to just tuck yourself away in a wonderful destination, so sit back, close your eyes and imagine…
Keep well everyone and best wishes, Christian, John, Claire & Lizzie
We'd like to finish by saying a huge thank you to all the key workers out there, especially those on the front line working for the NHS.
First and foremost, we hope everyone is safe and well during these difficult times. We would also like to say a huge thank you to you all for your patience, support and understanding during this unprecedented situation. It is really appreciated.
We have delilberately taken a little time off from our socials and general communication over the past few weeks whilst we – like everyone else – adjust to the new normal. Our office is temporarily closed but we have been working hard behind the scenes and we're pleased to report that all of our clients are now safely home, which has been our number one priority.
Moving forward, our primary focus now, is to continue to support all of our clients as the situation evolves and we're busy working in date order to re-book holidays for those who are unable to depart in April & May. As things develop, this will extend to later months, but please note we can still only work in date order. If we have not yet made contact with you, we will do as soon as we're able to.
We had a brilliant time last week hosting a Canada Evening in our office with guest speakers from Prestige Canada and The Rocky Mountaineer. Holidays to Canada as well as rail adventures are growing in popularity, so we've included some suggestions in our holiday inspiration this month – plus super ideas for your Summer or half term getaways.
We also wanted to reassure you that we are keeping a constant eye on the developments surrounding the Coronavirus and we're in contact with all clients who may have their travel plans affected. As the situation is changing on a daily basis we recommend you look at the officialABTAwebsite or theForeign Commonwealth Office for the latest advice.
Last month we mentioned ways of offsetting your carbon footprint & after considerable research we are pleased to recommend the World Land Trustwho's patron is local Richmond resident Sir David Attenborough. The World Land Trust work tirelessly to protect the world’s most important and threatened habitats and they offer superb knowledge on Carbon Offsetting. If you would like to know more and specifically how you can offset your carbon footprint when travelling, you can use the World Land Trust's Carbon Calculator.
Our Top Offers for 2020! We hope you had a great Christmas and 2020 is starting off well! January is the peak time to book your next holiday. It's the month when the airlines have their biggest seat sales, hotels release superb
We've spent the last few weeks researching what's hot for next year and these 20 destinations are the best of the best! There are some destinations largely overlooked by most of us and some familiar ones offering new reasons to return. We hope you'll enjoy reading!
If David Attenborough's series Seven Worlds, One Planet inspired you to see more of our natural world in 2020, Borneo should be your first port of call. Home to fascinating creatures, including the marvellous orangutans to the elusive pygmy elephants – this Asian island offers a whole host of opportunities to get up close to wildlife.
2. SRI LANKA
Sri Lankan locals are celebrating life and encouraging travellers to return to their beautiful island. With free one-month visas a current enticement, it’s even easier to explore its shores, temples, caves, beaches, tea plantations, wildlife reserves and stunning hotels.
Picture this…breath-taking glacial landscapes as far as the eye can see, penguins swimming & fishing, pods of humpback whales, Elephant seals playing and flocks of birds flying over head. This is just some of the incredible wildlife you could see on a cruise in Antarctica.
Japan's popularity has risen dramatically with world-class events such as the Rugby world cup in November this year and the upcoming Tokyo Olympics next summer. For those who have had this fascinating destination on their bucket list, now is the perfect time to visit Japan's high-tech cities, beautiful countryside, numerous shrines & temples and not forgetting a trip on the super speedy bullet trains!
5. THE PHILIPPINES
Home to 7,000 tropical islands, a handful of futuristic mega-cities and some of the friendliest, most cheerful locals in all of Asia, welcome to The Philippines! The country's pristine beaches, heritage towns and monuments, mountains, rainforests, countless islands and sensational diving spots are among the country's most popular attractions.
6. THE NETHERLANDS
In the year that marks 75 years of freedom since the end of WWII, the Netherlands is ready to celebrate in 2020 with festivities and special events across the country. April and May are the months to visit, as you can take in King's Day, Liberation Day and the Eurovision Song Contest, which The Netherlands are hosting.
The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is clocking in on the Lonely Planet's Hot-list for 2020 and there are so many reasons to visit this captivating destination. Highly regarded for its natural beauty, forest conservation & towering Himalayan mountains, there's also impressive ancient culture & heritage and incredible biodiversity. Bhutan covers 72% forest area of the country which is one of the large biodiversity places in the world, it is also the first carbon-negative country in the world!
8. COSTA RICA
Costa Rica is ideal as a first time visit to Central America and is also perfectly suited to families, due to a stunning mix of pristine beaches, turquoise waters, vivid green forests and abundance of exotic wildlife! Think sloths, toucans, 4 different species of monkeys, big cats, tree frogs, vultures and much more. Other elements that make this country so remarkable is its diverse natural landscape – from mangrove swamps to volcanoes, lush rainforests to gorgeous beaches.
A holiday to Scotland is perfect for some close-to-home soft adventure or a complete rest & relaxation break. Whether you're thinking about a family break with lots of fun for the kids, a luxury stay in a stunning castle or a country retreat on a farm, Scotland offers an option for suit all. The Scottish Highlands are home to castles, locks, mountains and lakes. The coastline offers miles of pristine beaches often flanked by gorgeous forestry & there are 7 lively cities with award-winning attractions, dining and hotels.
10. NORTH MACEDONIA
It is an ancient land, but as of February 2019 North Macedonia was granted this new name, giving travellers seeking a cool passport stamp a novel reason to visit. Adventurers are flocking here already to hike North Macedonia's mountain range and string of peaks in the 3 national parks. Monasteries perch atop hills overlooking the water and glittering Lake Ohrid and its historic town are complete marvels.
Petite, pleasant and packed with culture, adventure and legendary wildlife, the newly named Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) is one of Southern Africa’s most underrated (and least visited) destinations. With easy reach from Joburg it makes for a perfect multi-centre trip and visitors will have the chance to get up close to local wildlife at the Mkaya Reserve including white rhinos, elephants, giraffes and bird species, stay in one of the countries eco-lodges and experience one of the many festival and celebrations.
Morocco is having a shining moment, with time-honoured attractions complemented by sustainable-yet-stylish lodging, restaurants serving up seasonal produce and coastal wellness retreats mixing up yoga and surfing. All this in addition to the well loved souks and lively culture of places such as Marrakech & Fez and not to mention having the Atlas Mountains and the desert on the doorstep. There is plenty to explore in Morocco and it's only 3.5 hours from London.
13. THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
The British Virgin Islands suffered terribly in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the destination experienced a 90 per cent loss in tourism as a direct result of the damage. But over the past two years, following extensive hotel renovations and reopening’s, these remarkably cheery islands – awash with pearlescent bays and neon-bright shoals of fish – are finally bouncing back! Known locally as Natures Little Secrets and arguably the best sailing destination in the Caribbean, we urge to discover the magic for yourself!
Momentum is once again gathering for fascinating Lebanon and its crumbling crusader castles and intricate mosaic-paved streets, which had become tourist-free in recent years. These ancient places are now ushering in culture-curious travellers once more. Earlier in 2019, the British Foreign Office changed its travel advice, deeming it safe for travellers to return. So it's great news for Lebanon which offers wonderful Middle Eastern cuisine and delicious Lebanese wine, alongside a buzzing atmosphere in Beirut, ancient Roman ruins and beautiful white sand beaches.
15. NOVA SCOTIA
When it’s summertime, the place to be is outdoors! Gingerbread-like houses, picture-book lighthouses and lapping waves on sandy, wild-rose strewn shores will have you exclaiming ‘oh how cute!’ and ‘what a quaint place!’ at every bend in the road. While Cape Breton Island has endless hiking trails throughout its breath-taking national park, other more hidden hikes can be found scattered about the province. The capital Halifax, is brimming with museums, galleries & historic sites and there are over 150 historic lighthouses to spot during your stay!
Rwanda's tourism scene is most famous for the opportunity to come face-to-face with the world's most magnificent creatures on a spectacular Mountain Gorilla Trek. Add to this, hiking, biking, & camping near beautiful lakes, enjoying the local cuisine in places like the capital city of Kigali, you can see why the World Economic Forum recently named Rwanda as the safest country in Africa. RwandAir are also set to operate direct flights from JFK to Kigali next year, so 2020 is the best year yet to travel to Rwanda.
Traveling to Uzbekistan means not just crossing borders but stepping back in time to a land whose remarkable history as the meeting point of East and West oozes out of its splendid architecture, multi-layered culture, and show-stopping sites. With its previously onerous visa restrictions having been significantly relaxed recently, there's never been a better time to travel to Uzbekistan than 2020.
Hands down, one of our favourite Caribbean islands! And it's great to see that all eyes will be on this Caribbean gem when the James Bond film ‘No Time to Die‘ hits the big screen in April 2020. Confirmed as the first location in the latest installment, Jamaica is where Ian Fleming created the James Bond character all those years ago. Did you know, you can even rent Fleming's villa?! With adventure for every traveller and hotel's, resorts and so much fun on this large, jamming island, we highly recommend a visit!
If Uruguay isn’t already on your South American bucket list, 2020 is the perfect year to add it. With 660km of Río de la Plata and Atlantic shoreline, a burgeoning wine industry, bubbling hot springs and endless rolling rangelands where South America’s grandeur feels seductively tangible, Uruguay has something for everyone. It has a dynamic coastline, extended carnival season and UNESCO cultural heritage status make it a prime Latin American hot spot!
20. GALWAY, IRELAND
Next year, Ireland’s effervescent west-coast city will throw its arms open wide to the world as it becomes the 2020 European Capital of Culture! With a glut of traditional pubs spilling out lively fiddle music, this bohemian city has spent 2019 testing new community heritage and arts projects, such as pop-up culture cafés and funambulism (tightrope-walking) workshops! Must-see spots are the Latin Quarter, Eyre Square, Galway Cathedral, Kirwan's Lane & the picturesque Dunguaire Castle.
We recently sent Richmond resident & travel journalist – Sarah Tucker to the gorgeous Hotel Palacio Estoril. Sarah is joining us in our store for a glass of bubbles & to tell us more about her fabulous stay.
Please join us on Wednesday 4th December anytime between 1-3pm
For bubbles & limited goodies!
The Hotel Palácio Estoril is one of the Grande old Dames of European splendour and has been welcoming guests since 1930. Located in the heart of Estoril, just 20 minutes from the centre of Lisbon, the Palacio is a true five star hotel set in beautiful gardens with outstanding views over the bay. Grandeur is still very evident today, even though the hotel has been completely renovated offering fantastic facilities including a modern spa & wellness center – plus the famous Estoril Golf Course just a short drive away.
Health & Wellbeing are a huge focus at the hotel and The Hotel Palacio is the ideal spot for a long weekend with your loved one or a group of friends to indulge in a variety of wellbeing packages including a 3 night Beauty Booster, 4 day Detox or how about a 7 night Healthy Ageing programme or there's a great 3 night Golf & Spa break combining the best of both worlds.
We look forward to seeing you on the 4th where we'll have lots more info on the hotel.
5 night Spa Break includes: Superior Double room, Unlimited access to the spa & gym. Gentle Touch Full Body Massage (60 min) Master Therapist Experience (90 min) Thai Classic Full Body Massage (60 min) Body Scrub (30 min) Yoga group class.
Price includes the above, plus B&B, flights & transfers from £1099 pp
3 night Golf & Spa Break includes: Superior Double room, Unlimited access to the spa & gym. Includes Two Rounds of Golf at the Championship Estoril Golf Club. One Banyan Tree Spa Deep Tissue massage (60min) One Sothys Facial Anti-aging Youth Intensive Treatment.
Price includes the above, plus B&B, flights & transfers from £825 pp
Canada really does produce an unfathomable amount of Maple syrup – an average of 10 million gallons a year to be precise! Honestly though, this was not my sole reason for wanting to visit this picturesque part of the world. Canada has long been on my bucket list as I love the outdoors and any kind of adventure. So when an invitation came my way to spend a few days in Vancouver and then out to Kelowna – a waterfront town packed with wineries & known as “Napa North” – I jumped at the chance!
We work closely with Prestige Holidays when planning itineraries to all parts of Canada & Alaska. Over the years we have got to know the team really well and they completely understand what our clients are looking for – be it fun family adventure, spotting all kinds of wildlife, to the more indulgent experience journeying through The Rockies on board the iconic Rocky Mountaineer.
My trip got off to a great start, with seats in Club Class on BA! This is such a perk of the job and a really lovely treat! Then a mere 10 hours later, I touched down in Vancouver, reached my hotel – The Sheraton Wall Centre – and we were at a sports bar sipping a cool G&T all within 90 mins of landing. The following morning was a chance to scope downtown Vancouver and get my bearings. The Sheraton Wall Centre is in a great location, offers comfortable rooms and is affordable too. I also got the chance to see the 2 Fairmont hotel's down at Canada Place which is right on the waterfront and both hotels are very luxurious. They make the ideal stop either before or after an Alaskan cruise as the terminal is quite literally across the road.
Visiting Vancouver in autumn – or Fall, should I say(!) – shows off the city skyscrapers, the magnificent North Shore Mountains, the bountiful, bright red maple trees & 100-foot tall Douglas Firs, all with a brilliant blue-sky backdrop. It's heaven for budding photographers! So, after becoming accustomed with the city for a few hours, we ventured the short 25 min drive to Stanley Park, which boasts over 1000 acres on the western peninsula and is one of the largest urban parks in the world. Here, visitors can hire bikes and cycle the 9km Seawall path, explore the many look-out points, the totem poles at Brockton Point & marvel at the centries-old red cedar trees. We took the winding route through Stanley Park and out over Lions Gate Bridge towards Capilano Park, home to the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge, the tree-top tour and the newly built Cliffwalk. The park is great for all visitors, there's lots of interesting facts to learn from the guides and walking across the bridge is not for the faint-hearted. It's quite easy to spend 2-3 hours here and we even saw bald eagles flying overhead!
Onwards for a lunch stop and what better place to try tonnes of new and delicious Canadian treats, than joining a foodie tour on Granville Island. Here, we met Jesse, whose passion for all kinds of food was brimming to the fullest and he made the 2 hour tour a real highlight. We skipped the queues and sampled delicacies including organic breads, local charcuterie, British Columbia cheeses, melt-in-your-mouth donuts and the epic maple-syrup-dipped almonds! All washed down with a pint from Granville Brewery! It was a really fun afternoon and I would highly recommend Vancouver Foodie Tours!
The next day we flew an hour east to the pretty town of Kelowna. I was initially a little hesitant about what I would discover here and would it match up to being in the fantastic city of Vancouver? Well, it took precisely 3 minutes of clocking the surrounding landscape of snow-capped mountains, unspoilt views as far as the eye could see and learning that we were being whisked off to the largest winery in BC, to rest my fears and I settled right in to my new home for the next 3 days!
First stop on our tour of Kelowna's finest wineries, was Mission Hill Estate and wow what an experience! Picture this…the sky was a piercing blue, the rows upon rows of vines swept down to a sparkling lake and the center of the winery was reminiscent of a small Italian town complete with soaring bell tower. We met Brum, a charismatic guy who brought the wines to life and we tasted their award winning sparkling wine, the Reisling and the most delicious Pinot Noir – it may have had something to do with the quantities consumed in a short space of time, but I felt compelled to purchase a couple of bottles – happy days!
From Mission Hill being the largest and probably most glamorous winery in BC, next stop was to a small, family-owned winery called Quails' Gate. Again benefiting from sweeping views over the lake, hawks buzzing over-head and that gorgeous blue sky, meant that we saw this winery in all its finery (sorry…bad pun!) Here, the stand-out highlights were the crisp Chardonnay and the renowned British Columbia Ice Wine! Much like a dessert wine, Canadian Ice Wine can only be produced when the temperatures plunge below -8oc and the grapes naturally freeze on the vine. The resulting juice is lusciously sweet, but also beautifully balanced with the vibrant natural acidity that BC wines have become known for.
You can probably tell, this was a pretty smashing day!
The following day was spent driving alongside breath-taking lakes & rivers, some more than 100 miles long! We drove long stretches on those typical wide-open Canadian roads, flanked with tall fir trees either side and mountains in the distance, on route to our next destination. There are more than 50 enormous lakes in the Okanagan region and we were heading for a small hotel, beautifully perched on the banks of Little Shuswap Lake. Here we learnt lots about the native Indian culture, we experienced the famous salmon run – desperately hoping to spot a black bear at the same time – and we had the most sensational 4 course meal with locally sourced ingredients and paired with fine wines for nearby wineries – obviously I had become completely au fait with BC wines by this point! The Quaaout Resort & Spa is a place that quietens the senses and calms the mind. Spending time by the lake in the summer months, enjoying kayaking, swimming and hiking is equally complemented by time in the autumn or winter with biking, snow-shoeing or even joining a native Indian on a hunting expedition!
My final stop on this fantastic tour of BC was out past Kamloops (the town known mostly for its overnight stop on the iconic Rocky Mountaineer) and so as well as passing many more stunning lakes and mountain back-drops, I was on route to a town called Sun Peaks. I checked into The Sun Peaks Grand Hotel and was very impressed with the rooms & suites – especially the Mountain View Suite, with living area, kitchen and over-sized bedroom all with an outstanding view of the mountain range. I quickly learnt that Sun Peaks Resort is just as glorious in the summer as it is in the winter, with activities such as hiking, biking, bear spotting, segway tours, horse riding and kayaking available in the summer months and then 130+ runs for skiing, plus dog sledging, horse drawn sleigh rides, tubing, ice fishing and much more in the winter! What is not to love about this place?! Being here in the shoulder season, allowed us to see a number of the hotels that are usually completely full in both seasons and it was great to see the town still very much open for business with the 900 year-round residents.
Sun Peaks makes the perfect stop when flying into Calgary and driving between Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise, before then heading onto Vancouver.
As you can probably tell, I loved every minute of my short, but action-packed trip to British Columbia and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for a first time visit to Canada or to someone who has only been to West Coast Canada or has only been to the major cities. Combining the laid-back vibe of Vancouver with a real outdoors experience in the Okanagan Valley – with countless wineries to enjoy – makes for a must-do holiday and one for the bucket list!
If you'd like to know more about Vancouver, Kelowna or any other part of Canada or Alaska, then please do get in touch to start planning a holiday to this exciting part of the world!