• The best royal palace visits in the UK

    27th April, 2018

    If the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle has left you curious to know more about the UK’s royals, why not tour the many palaces that have played host to kings and queens through the ages. Here are eight of our favourites palace visits for tourists.

    Our own Thames Royal Palaces four-night boat and bike tour starts from central London and heads out to the Queen's home at Windsor, taking in Kew Palace, Hampton Court and Windsor Castle en route.

    1.Buckingham Palace is probably the most famous of England’s royal homes. It is in central London and is the focal point for many royal events and the administrative headquarters of the monarchy. There are almost 800 rooms in total, with visitor highlights including the lavish State Rooms where the Queen welcomes dignitaries; the throne room; the Royal Mews, where the family's vehicles, including horse-drawn carriages are housed, and the Queen's Gallery, which hosts exhibitions of artworks from the Royal Collection. Entry: The Queen's Gallery is open for most of the year and an adult ticket costs £11. The Royal Mews is open from February to November and an adult ticket costs £11. The State Rooms are open from 21 July to 30 September and an adult ticket costs £24.

    2.Windsor Castle has been popular with royalty for more than 1,000 years and it is still the Queen’s preferred weekend residence. Windsor Castle is the longest-occupied palace in Europe and the largest inhabited palace in the world. This is where the Queen entertains political leaders, and the magnificent and many State Apartments feature incredible artworks and architecture from across the ages. Entry: Open daily, adult tickets costs £21.20, or £11.70 if the State Apartments are closed.

    3.Hampton Court Palace is best known as home to King Henry VIII in the 16th century and provides a fascinating window into the medieval monarchy. The incredible Great Hall is one of Britain’s oldest theatres - Shakespeare’s company performed here for King James. The opulent Chapel Royal has been in use for more than 450 years and the famous gardens include the world’s oldest puzzle maze. From 5 May to 2 September there’s a re-creation of Henry VIII’s kitchens and Tudor cooking, showing what it took to feed 800 courtiers and ambassadors at a royal celebration. Entry: open all year round, adult tickets cost £19.20.

    4.Clarence House is one of London’s last remaining aristocratic houses and is the official residence of Charles, the Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. The home is opened to members of the public from 1-31 August, with visitors taken on guided tours of five ground-floor reception rooms. Entry: Open from 1-31 August, adult tickets cost £10.30.

    5.Tower of London is perhaps the most feared Royal building. the Tower is famous as a fortress, palace and prison. In 2018 there are live performances reliving the final few days of Anne Boleyn, which saw her trial and execution after falling out of favour with her husband King Henry VIII. The Tower is also where the magnificent collection of Crown Jewels is kept – there are more than 23,000 gemstones under armed guard in the Jewel House. Entry: open all year, with adult tickets costing £22.70.

    6.Sandringham is the Queen’s country getaway in rural Norfolk and includes a house, museum and stunning gardens. Guests can tour ground-floor rooms that are regularly used by the Royals, with much of the décor dating to when the house was built by Edward, Prince of Wales (later to become King) in 1870. The glorious gardens and museum of vintage cars and big game trophies complete the trip. Entry: open from 31 March to 21 October, adult tickets cost £16.50.

    7.Holyroodhouse is more commonly known as Holyrood Palace. The Queen’s official residence in Scotland is found at the opposite end of the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. Highlights of this 16th century castle include the chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots’, where the tragic royal was witness to murder; the regal Throne Room and the Great Gallery, which is hung with portraits of every Scottish king and the single queen. Entry: open year round, adult tickets cost £14.

    8.Balmoral is the Royal’s holiday home in the beautiful Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. Visitors can tour the stunning grounds and working gardens, with Rangers providing guided walks and Land Rover safaris packed full of insider information. Inside Balmoral guests can see the Castle Ballroom, which is still used today for two big dances held when the Queen is in residence. This is also the spot for special exhibitions. Entry: open from 30 March to 31 July, with adult tickets from £11.50

  • The Spring Edit

    9th April, 2018

    A walking break is the perfect way to settle into Springtime, to get invigorated and out and about this season. After eating our way through mounds of chocolate eggs, it is time to get outdoors and get excited about 2018. These are our choices for late Spring and early Summer, we’ve highlighted our favourite parts of these trips to help you find the perfect little holiday!

    For history and heritage

    • England is well-known for its rich history, and we know the way around some of the country’s best kept secrets. One of our longer walks, the Cotswold Way, gives you a little taste of everything; there are Roman ruins, Iron Age forts, Civil War battlefields, Medieval Churches, Jacobean Palaces, and Georgian gardens, all in the very heart of England. We will guide you through the rolling hills and little rivers, for a relaxing but rewarding walk.

    • Outside of England, A Potter through Provence is one of our finest. This is a feast of French heritage – sample rare wines and classic cuisine, explore medieval hilltop villages and picture-postcard market towns, and ramble through the ancient forests of the Luberon valley. This is the perfect choice for those seeking culture, and wanting to explore at their own pace.

    • Another favourite for Spring is the new Authentic Algarve, bringing you incredible food, rural charm and stunning scenery. Spring is the perfect time to explore the Algarve, as the weather is warm, but not so hot that all you'll want to do is sunbathe! Get immersed in the unhurried and relaxing local way of life, journey through little villages and hillscapes by day, then unwind in the evening and watch the sun set over the hilltops.

    For landscape

    • It doesn’t get more stunning than Scotland - our West Highland Way walk is the top choice for those wanting to be immersed in the wild, rugged and sublime. Get away from the trappings of modern life and wander the ancient paths of the Highlands, journey around the famous Loch Lomond and through the glens and see wild deer, mountains and heaths. Coupled with luxury boutique hotels, this trip is one of our most special – a walk in the wild that you won’t forget.

    • Of course, if landscape is what you want, the list would be incomplete without the Lake District. Our Quintessential Lake District has a bit of everything – from sweeping valleys and deep, tranquil lakes up to some of the highest peaks in England. There is plenty of history here too, with both Wordsworth’s and Beatrix Potter’s homes open to visitors. As the newest World Heritage Site, the Lakes make for the perfect time away.

    For sun and sea

    • Although not strictly all seaside, our Seashores and Moors tour is still definitely a top choice. From the rich Jurassic coast of Devon up to the wild moors around Exmoor, this tour gives you the chance to explore the rural West Country at its best. From the gentle Lynmouth seaside, to the Cliffs of Lynton, to the inland moors with the world-famous wild Exmoor Ponies, this is a truly spectacular tour of this corner of England.

    • Wales is one of the United Kingdom’s lesser known gems – its peaceful Ceredigion Coast offers stunning scenery, wildlife, historic villages, and the chance to truly relax. Get a taste of Welsh seaside charm with our handpicked hotels, and sample the local food (and ice cream). This is the ultimate classic UK seaside holiday.

    For the serious explorer

    • For those seeking a challenge, there is the enduringly popular Hadrian’s Wall Walk. Trekking along this ancient monument is a must for serious walkers – with wild landscape and history all around, you will trace the footsteps of the ancient Britons from one coast to the other.
  • 10 great UK castle stays

    3rd March, 2018

    It has long been said that an Englishman’s home is his castle, and for some that is quite true. Many of these ancient royal homes have been converted, so that you too can make them your home for a night or two. Here are our picks of the best in the UK; from grand to small, from hotel to private – all are historic buildings just waiting for you to visit.

    • Thornbury Castle near Bristol, on the edge of the Cotswolds, is a Tudor hall converted to a hotel. It was built in 1511 for the Duke of Buckingham, and was intended as a fortress for his safety. Henry the VIII stayed in the castle for a short time in 1535, with his then wife, Anne Boleyn. It comes with a vineyard, kitchen garden and dungeon dining if that's your thing.

    • Eastnor Castle is a 19th century revival building near Hereford, is lived in by the current owner and is gothic, grand and imposing. It has 12 bedrooms but only serves corporate, wedding or private stays. The grand state bedroom is just that, otherwise try the turret suite. The deer park also hosts two music festivals, Lakefest and the Big Chill.

    • In Sussex, you will find Amberley Castle, a 12th century fortification. This is a traditional medieval castle, with two towers and a great gateway. It was attacked during the Civil War by the parliamentarians, and lost nearly 20 feet off of the walls. The Castle was restored and is now a luxury hotel, with 19 wonderful historic rooms.

    • The northern Langley Castle, near to Hadrian’s Wall, is the ultimate fairy-tale castle. Built in the 14th century, with four proud turrets and ten acres of parkland, there aren’t many hotels like this one. Live like a King in the luxury rooms, decorated in a traditional English style. This grand Castle is where our guests stay on the Hadrian’s Wall walk, which takes you through some of England’s most ancient heritage.

    • Fonab Castle in Pitlochry is where our luxury Lochs and Glens cycling holiday guests stay. It is an ancient castle converted into a hotel with a contemporary twist. Set in the Scottish Highlands, on the lochside, views from Fonab are quite phenomenal.

    • Inverlochy Castle, Fort William, is a 19th century baronial mansion two miles from the ruined 13th century original. Queen Victoria famously remarked ‘I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot’, and that definitely still applies today. This is where our West Highland Way walkers stay, and our Coast to Coast cyclists.

    • Glengorm Castle, on the Isle of Mull, (pictured above) is still lived in by the family. It’s a remaining example of the Island’s long history, and the lifestyle of the people who used to rule over the area. Stay in the tower rooms, and have breakfast served in the castle dining room.

    • The 12th century Roch Castle in Wales is small and authentic. It was converted to a six-bedroom luxury hotel in 2008, and has been named the best 5-star hotel in Wales. Did you know, there are more castles per square mile in Wales than anywhere else in the UK?

    • Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara, where you stay on our Jolly around Connemara trip, is one of Ireland’s greatest. Set on the shores of a lake, between mountains and forests, the views are beyond compare. It was built in the 17th century, and is today a fine hotel.

    • Rincolisky Castle in County Cork dates back to 1495, and is set on a bay on the wild Irish coast. Rincolisky is a little different to other castle retreats, and is self-catered. If you want the chance to escape the rat race and experience life in medieval Ireland, then this is it!

  • Notes from Andalucia

    5th February, 2018

    We like to keep you updated on our travels, so here's the latest from our trip to Cadiz in the South of Spain. The region around Cadiz, along the Costa de la Luz, faces the Atlantic rather than the Mediterranean. This part of Western Andalucía is cooler in summer than other parts of southern Spain, giving travelers a chance to avoid the intense heat common so far south. Music to the ears of cyclists and walkers! It also means that the area enjoys fewer tourists and is less busy in the summer months. The comfortable climate is all due to the Levant wind that blows through due to the funneling effect of the Strait of Gibraltar to the east.

    • Take a walk along glorious Conil de la Frontera beach (lying between Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar) which runs for more than an amazing eleven miles to Cape Trafalgar. Here, you will find an unspoilt, dune backed beach – one of Spain’s best and you will also be able to spy the waters where, in 1805, Nelson defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Trafalgar.

    • As well as panoramic beaches, there are endless cosy coves backed by cliffs. The coastline is unique - with some stunning rock formations, in places encrusted with beautiful fossilized shells. Much of the coast of Cadiz is unspoilt, and inland there are deep, wild valleys with exotic birds for you to spot and a number of large natural parks to explore.

    • There‘s a glorious cycle path that runs along the coast from Huelva in the west, near the Portuguese border, past Cadiz to Tarifa at the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s not signposted or suitable for the lycra brigade but is wonderful to amble along on board walks, pavements and minor roads as it weaves through dunes, across estuaries and past the many watering holes in which to wile away the day.

    • Once in Tarifa take the ferry across the Strait for a day trip to explore the exciting Moroccan city of Tangier with its American Legation - the first American public property outside the US.

    • Andalucia is known for its mishmash of Moorish majesty and Roman relics and this area is no exception. Head inland to the hills to Midena Sidonia and view the medieval walls and Moorish cobbled streets with its three gates before taking an extraordinary walk through the Roman sewers and along an immaculately preserved Roman street where even a child’s game is still visible, etched on to the pavement. Rows of reja-fronted houses with interior courtyards, an elegant plaza where the locals gather in force to chat, and restaurant La Vista de Medina with its fabulous terrace and amazing view are all to be discovered in this little-known gem of a town.

    • Eat at Venta La Duquesa just outside the town if you like great service. Vejer de la Frontera is another hill-top historical delight with El Jardin del Califa, a wonderful hotel setting, serving fantastic Moroccan food in a small place that abounds with smart 2nd homes. Every town has its pastry shops – the selection of local light pastries with almonds are to die for. For savoury delights it doesn’t get much more local than Restaurant El Pastore down on the harbour front in Cabo Roche, where the catch of the day is served simply and cheaply before you climb to Roche lighthouse and take the coast path beyond through the wild landscape of pines.

    • Cadiz itself has an extraordinary setting on what is a very long spit with a fine fort and small beach at its promontory. Its city walls encase a fascinating medina with interesting shops and a vibrant market. It also remains an important port, protected by over a hundred watch towers. If that were not enough, it is also considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe – founded 1100 years before Christ.

  • New Year, New Tours

    8th January, 2018

    2018 is here at last and we’re welcoming in the year with many new holidays to help you make the most of it! We’ve been expanding in the UK, and adventuring abroad, with great tours from the cosy Cotswolds to the awesome Algarve. Here is a brief insight into our very newest…

    IN THE UK

    Electric Lakes

    The Lake District finally received its long-deserved position as a World Heritage Site last year, and so to celebrate we’ve developed a tour with a little twist to help you get the most out of this extraordinary area. For those wishing to experience the wonder of the lakes in a new way, we are offering a tour with electric bikes – the chance to see more, do more, and to coast down the slopes without the struggle the other side! While still challenging for the passionate cyclist, this is also the perfect chance for those with a little less experience to have a real adventure. We are very proud of the route, which offers incredible views over the greatest mountains and lakes in England, vibrant villages with rich culture (Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth, John Ruskin etc.) and so much more. This is England at its wildest and most un-tampered. Visit our site to learn more about our new favourite…

    The Cotswold Way

    The Cotswold Way weaves from picturesque Chipping Campden to historic Bath, and the journey is quite spectacular. The area boasts history like no other - we will take you through ancient woodland, Civil War battlefields, castle gardens and market towns, past ruined abbeys, Jacobean manors, Iron Age forts and so much more. For those wishing to immerse themselves in the rich history of rural England, it doesn't get much better than this. We've chosen elegant and unique boutique hotels to ensure you get a real taste of Cotswolds charm - see all the details here...

    EUROPE

    The Awesome Algarve

    Portugal’s southernmost region is known for beautiful beaches and superb sun – easy to fall in love with if you’re seeking that perfect summer holiday. We’ve carefully designed this trip to give you a taste of the authentic Algarve, giving you the chance to see the stunning vistas from the clifftops and the Natural Parks, to experience the culture of the ancient towns, and the unforgettable local cuisine. This is a cycling holiday like no other. Our handpicked hotels promise luxury and style, together with an unforgettable setting. Find out more about the Awesome Algarve here…

    Everything Netherlands

    We have actually put together a trio of tours in the Netherlands this year – A Grand Tour of the Southern Netherlands, Dutch Tulips in Spring, and Hidden Gems of Holland.

    The first of the three, A Grand Tour of the Southern Netherlands, offers rural charm and local intrigue alongside spectacular landscape - those on the hunt for something a little different should definitely take a closer look. There’s history throughout; in the Burgundian villages, in the classic windmills and ancient towns. Every one of the towns you pass through has its unique style, art and culture.

    Dutch Tulips in Spring is the perfect tour to welcome in the new season; we invite you to come cycling through the tulip fields of Holland, the Botanical Gardens, picturesque villages and of course, the famous Flower Festival Week. This tour only runs from March to May, so take a peek at our website now…

    Last but definitely not least is our Hidden Gems of Holland tour. Starting in Amsterdam and taking you through the Golden Age museums, local towns with staggering Gothic Churches, the Hoge Veluwe National Park, the Baroque gardens of the Loo Palace, and on to Giethoorn, the ‘Venice of the North’. The area oozes history and culture, and with our expertise, you won’t miss a single gem.