Top 5 luxury ski resorts in Europe

The European Alps cover a vast area and span eight countries: France, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany and Slovenia. In such a vast expanse the opportunity to ski is abundant and obviously very well catered for. There are more world famous resorts in the Alps than arguably anywhere else in the world. Some resorts were in the mix at the birth of  ski tourism, in fact St Moritz could lay claim to be the first resort to kick the whole thing off. Some resorts grew from already established mountain villages and some were purpose built from scratch. Some have remained in the shadows while others have flourished to become premier world renown resorts. One thing most have in common is the ability to attract wealth. Here are five resorts that have risen to the top of the premier league and look set to stay there. They are among the most exclusive and wealthy resorts in the world.

Courchevel 1850, France

Arguably the world’s most exclusive ski resort, Courchevel 1850 was the first resort in France to be constructed from scratch, rather than based around an existing village. The resort started to take shape around the end of WWII.

Courchevel 1850 has 11 luxury hotels with a 5-star ranking. In 2011 France introduced a very prestigious 6th star ranking for hotels, named “palaces”. The palace 6th star ranking is only awarded to the most prestigious, exclusive and luxurious hotels in France. No more than eight hotels in France have received this rating. Two of those eight hotels are in the Courchevel tree-lined Jardin Alpin area. No other ski resorts in France have hotels with the palace ranking.

Sometimes referred to as the St. Tropez of winter sports resorts, it attracts a select clientele of VIPs, wealthy people and royal families, including Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Beckhams, Christina Aguilera, Geri Halliwell, Lionel Richie, the Saudi royal family, Peter Andre, Robbie Williams, Roman Abramovich, George Clooney, Giorgio Armani, the King of Morocco, a veritable who’s who, taking the art of people watching to a whole new level and a rubber-necker’s paradise.

The current status of 1850 is almost certainly down to the massive cash injection provided by wealthy Russians who have taken a shine to Courchevel and made it a home from home and as a result have driven prices of residential and commercial properties to dizzying heights. The wealthy Russian elite flock to the resort during New Year and Russian Orthodox Christmas which is celebrated on 7th January. As a result, the first two weeks of January are high season weeks in Courchevel. So unless you have very deep pockets it’s probably wise to look elsewhere during these two weeks.

Courchevel is located in the Les Trois Vallées ski domain in the Tarentaise region where you’ll find the biggest concentration of world-class ski resorts in the world. With access to neighbouring systems Paradiski (Les Arcs & La Plagne) and Espace Killy (Val d’Isere & Tignes), a weekly lift pass in Courchevel gives you the choice to ski one day in each of the other two systems mentioned providing you with an almost endless supply of piste options.

St Moritz, Switzerland

The origins of this very attractive and wealthy winter resort dates back 154 years ago to September 1864, when St. Moritz hotel pioneer Caspar Badrutt made a wager with four British summer guests. Summer in the Alps was popular back then for wealthy Europeans who could afford to travel, long before Easy Jet et al made the world easily accessible and affordable for all.  He wanted to establish winter tourism for entirely selfish reasons as his hotel was deserted in the winter months. He urged his four guests to return in winter and in the event that the village was not to their liking, he would reimburse their travel costs. If they were to find St Moritz attractive in winter, he would let them stay as his guests for as long as they wished. This marked not only the start of winter tourism in St Moritz but the start of winter tourism in the Alps. The first tourist office in Switzerland was established the same year in the village. Caspar certainly had vision. It wasn’t really a hard sell, St Moritz has a lot going for it. Like Zermatt with the Matterhorn, St Moritz was also favoured with a calling card, its situated lakeside with stunning scenery.

Very soon St Moritz became the place to see and be seen. The aristocracy and the well-to-do flocked here in numbers and lent St Moritz a glitzy aura. The word spread and St Moritz was soon on the map as a premier winter destination. In the late 50’ and 60’s, when the jet age arrived, St Moritz attracted a fresh influx of visitors who were rich and famous. St Moritz reinvented itself as a cool winter haven for the jet set. There are well established hotels here that are redolent of those early days. They lend the village an old world feel.

St. Moritz hosted the 1928 Winter Olympics, the stadium still stands today, and again in 1948. It has hosted over 20 FIBT world Championships, three FIS World Ski Championships and over 40 Engadin Ski Marathons since 1969. It has also hosted many other events since, including some unlikely ones on the frozen lake in the 1970s and 1980s such as a golf tournament. It has hosted a polo tournament every year in February since 1985 and believe it or not a cricket tournament in 1989. St Moritz has also been the venue for many Sailing and Windsurfing World Championships.

Zermatt, Switzerland

I can’t deny it, I’m biased. I’ve lived in Zermatt for nearly a decade and I’ve grown to love the place. For me Zermatt is the perfect ski resort. It has everything, not least the chance to ski all year round. Zermatt is populated by some of the most luxurious and exclusive ski chalets in the Alps, arguably the world. Zermatt is a wealthy resort and the prices can be eye watering but you’ll find accommodation here to suit most budgets.

Edward Whymper put Zermatt well and truly on the map when he came here in 1865 to have a crack at the Matterhorn and became the first person reach the summit. It was an ill fated mission, four members of the expedition perished in the attempt. The news of the expedition piqued the interest of the world and a steady stream of visitors started to arrive to gaze in awe at the mighty Matterhorn. Since then Zermatt has gone from strength to strength to become Switzerland’s premier ski resort.

Zermatt is a very pretty village. Its growth is naturally curtailed by it location at the head of a valley. Surrounded on three sides by mountains as it is, its expansion is restricted, which helps to maintain the village feel and maintain its unique character. There’s a tranquil feel about the place, its car free, the sound of footfall and birdsong creates a calm ambience which is refreshing.

The apres ski here is lively and there are some wonderful mountain restaurants for you to sample and fuel up for the second half of your day on the piste. Meanwhile in the pretty heart of the village itself there are a wide range of restaurants catering for all budgets and tastes.

Val d’Isere, France

Val D’Isere is situated within the Tarantaise Valley where you will find the highest concentration of world-class ski resorts in the world.  Along with nearby Tignes the area forms part of the L’Espace Killy, the self-titled “Most Beautiful Ski Area in the World”

Neighbouring systems are the Paradiski and Les Trois Vallees. A weekly lift ticket in Val d’Isère gives you the choice to ski one day in each of the other two domains mentioned. There were once plans to interlink all three systems and resorts to create what would have been by far the largest ski area in the world. However that vision was ended with the creation of the Vanoise National Park. No worries though, they may not be linked but you still have an almost unlimited amount of choice.

The story of the current Val’dIsere began in 1888 with the opening of the first hotel. From 1930 onwards, skiing became popular and Val d’Isère was immediately the destination of choice. The post-war period marked the advent of winter sports and Val d’Isère became an internationally renowned resort thanks to its unique ski area and the authentic charm of its village. Val d’Isere is a very popular resort and boasts some wonderfully exclusive and luxurious chalets. You can ski all year round here and there are plenty of options to suit all levels of ability. I still remember fondly being tucked up on the sofa and watching David Vine present Ski Sunday from Val d’Isere and other exotic sounding resorts. My first taste of skiing, albeit second hand. I would never have guessed back then that I would become very familiar and grow to love the resorts outlined in this blog.

Verbier, Switzerland

Another Swiss resort and a worthy opponent for Zermatt for the crown of best Swiss resort. As much as I like Verbier, in my humble opinion Zermatt wins hands down. Verbier is recognised as one of the premiere off-piste ski resorts in the world. Some areas are covered with snow all year. Pro skiers have settled in the Verbier area in order to take advantage of the steep slopes, varied conditions, and resort culture. Verbier is a very cosmopolitan resort attracting visitors from all corners of the globe, can a globe have corners? It caters to British customers but also receives many visitors from Germany, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, France, Austria, the USA and South Africa. There is a vibrant community of photographers and artists in Verbier, most born out of winter sports action photography.


Along with the previously featured resorts in this blog Verbier is also a very wealthy resort with some very expensive and exclusive real estate and some fabulous luxury chalets. Verbier is a popular holiday destination for celebrities and royalty, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, Sarah and the Duchess of York who owns a Chalet there. James Blunt, Diana Ross and Lawrence Dallaglio are often seen in resort and Richard Branson owns and rents out a high end chalet to people with deep pockets. The Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Denmark, the Swedish Royal Family and the Belgian Royal family holiday here also.

You can bet with such a ski culture that Apres ski is well catered for and you’d be correct. The apres ski here is legendary. Verbier’s après is concentrated in a relatively small number of venues, and all the more exuberant for it. Most of those off the mountain lie within a short stagger of Place Centrale, in the centre of the resort.

Danny Frith is Director at SkiBoutique. SkiBoutique is a luxury ski chalet agency based in Switzerland.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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5 amazing yoga retreats to try out in 2018

How amazing would it be to enjoy a relaxing and luxury holiday without having to sacrifice your yoga practice? Well, the great news is that you can! With so many yoga holidays and yoga retreats available, I have scoured through and produced the 5 most amazing yoga retreats to book and get yourself to in 2018.

Vana, India

Vana can be best described as an international ashram, a healing and nourishing wellness retreat that will leave you feeling refreshed, and help you to connect with your inner stillness. Surrounded by the gentle slopes of lychee and mango plantations, the beautifully graceful Sal forest, and gorgeous Mussoorie hills; it’s undoubtedly a spiritual paradise.

The accommodation at Vana’s divine yoga retreat is spectacular, with modernist polished buildings surrounded by a large courtyard shaded by a grove of mango trees, bedrooms with wall-to-ceiling windows overlooking fairy tale like trees and hills. Indulge in gentle yoga along with a vast menu of healing treatments, including Chi Nei Tsang (a deep abdominal massage), Watsu, Ku Nye massage and more. You’ll be hard-pushed to find a yoga holiday more blissful and healing than this.

Absolute Sanctuary, Thailand

Located on the North-Eastern side of Koh Samui, Absolute Sanctuary was founded in 2008 by Claire Bostock and Benjaporn Karoonkornsakul, notably who runs Thailand’s most popular and largest yoga studio group.

Overlooking the astounding landscapes of the Gulf of Thailand, complete with yoga mats and extensive amenities, accommodation at Absolute Sanctuary really is a sanctuary, of the Moroccan kind. With its world class yoga center, this yoga retreat will provide you with classes and training at the forefront of Asia’s island of healing.

Yin & Yang Yoga Immersion in Kamalaya, Thailand

Located in Koh Samui, lies mesmerisingly-beautiful Kamalaya, surrounded by sandy beaches, coral reefs, and coconut trees. If you’re dreaming of escaping the challenges of a modern world, Kamalaya is the place to be.

Immerse yourself in a transformational Yin & Yang yoga retreat that will help you balance your inner dualities of sun and moon, masculine and feminine, physical and mental, and action and stillness. Ranging from a Royal Ayurvedic Massage to Vital Essence Oil Massage and Traditional Thai Massage, the treatments within this retreat will soothe and reinvigorate tired muscles.

Ayurveda Parkschlosschen, Germany

Find inner peace, balance and vitality by uniting the calming qualities of yoga with the healing benefits of Ayurvedic treatments. You will work together with professional yoga teachers in personal training sessions, specifically designed to meet your personal needs.

Let go of all your worries and negative energy with a combination of cleansing and harmonising oil massages, and intensive yoga sessions.

Nihi, Sumba Island, Indonesia

If you’re looking for a yoga holiday with a twist, you’ll certainly find the right balance of relaxation and adventure at Nihi Sumba Island.

With their tailor-made experiences, you can design your own ultimate place of tranquillity. Why not start the day by practising traditional yoga over breath taking views, followed by an endless Indian ocean coastline escape? Whether you want to paddleboard, indulge in the Sumba culture, or simply relax for the day, you’ll find yourself laying down on your canopy bed craving for more on Sumba Island.

Frances Geoghegan is CEO at Healing Holidays. Healing Holidays is an award-winning tour operator, specialising in spa and wellness escapes.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Top 7 sustainable travel experiences

The ethos of sustainable travel has made leaps and strides over the last couple of years. With travellers’ becoming more interested in eco-friendly experiences, the number of innovative and luxurious sustainable experiences on offer are on the rise.  From positively impacting the local community to supporting conservation projects, it’s time for travel to make a difference.

Tree dining in Sweden

Treehotel is built on a genuine experience of nature, and the hotel fully embraces sustainable and ecological values. It’s also a member of Bee + Hive, a not-for-profit association that unites hotels offering sustainable experiences, making it easier for travellers to choose activities that help protect the local environment, community or economy. The hotel is now quite literally taking their love of sustainability to new heights with their new guest experience: tree-dining. On a wooden terrace ten metres up, amidst the canopy of the forest, guests are served a three course dinner inspired by forest flavours. Poised between land and sky, with the swaying trees and magical White Nights of Swedish summer, this is a dinner in total harmony with nature.

Sustainable travel experiences

Marine learning experience in the Maldives

Luxuriating on a Maldivian beach is a holiday fantasy for most of us. But what if you could relax in paradise, and help protect the Maldives’ marine life to boot? The Four Seasons at Landaa Giraavaru’s Marine Discovery Centre aims to do just that. It enriches the guest experience through once-in-a-lifetime encounters with a variety of marine creatures; all while learning about their life and habitat, and even participating in some of the Resort’s conservation projects. Think snorkelling with a marine biologist, heading out on turtle safaris, and enhancing marine life with build-a-reef sessions. Paradise just got even better.

Loris watching in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is blessed with an abundance of wildlife. From leopards and elephants to sloths and monkeys, this island is a veritable utopia for animal lovers. Guests at Jetwing Vil Uyana’s can get up close and personal with a range of creatures at the hotel’s private nature reserve. It’s the country’s best site for Loris watching, and guests may even spot the elusive Grey Slender Loris on the hotel’s dedicated night time Loris Tour conducted by the resident naturalist. The Slender Grey Loris, one of world’s smallest primates, is found only in Sri Lanka and parts of India. This tiny creature is under threat through loss of habitat, but thanks to conservation efforts at Jetwing Vil Uyana, numbers have gradually started to climb again on the reserve.

Coffee experience on organic farm in Costa Rica

Started in 1985, Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation Resort is one family’s passion project. For over 30 years their mission has been to provide the finest hospitality services to guests, whilst also offering authentic experiences with a local flavour.  As well as a luxurious inn with 100% local staff, the resort is perfect for coffee lovers, as it has a 30 acre plantation of Arabica coffee plants. Guests can tour the plantation with on-site naturalist Manolo, and discover the amazing interdependence of coffee with other flora and fauna. Birdwatchers are also in for a treat, as the plantation’s neighbouring forest is home to over 130 species of birds.

Ride bamboo bicycles in London

When you think of sustainable experiences, the sprawling, vibrant city of London may not come to mind. Despite the urban environment, the Hilton London Bankside has cleverly teamed up with Bamboo Bicycle club to offer guests the use of six custom-built bamboo bikes to tour the city. More environmentally friendly than standard bicycles, these beautiful modes of getting around were constructed entirely from scratch by hotel staff themselves, under the careful eye of experts. Robust and easy to ride, this is definitely one way to see the city in sustainable style.

Jaguar spotting in Brazil

Another member of sustainable tourism association Bee + Hive, guests staying at Refúgio Ecológico Caiman can spend a full day and evening with the Jaguar Habituation Team to spot these amazing big cats in the wild wetlands of Brazil’s Pantanal. The conservation experience helps protect wild jaguars, getting them accustomed to safari vehicles so guests can respectfully witness these beautiful animals while ensuring their environment in the Pantanal is preserved. Refúgio Ecológico Caiman is a pioneer in ecotourism, with experienced local guides on hand to show guests the delights and wonders of this part of the world.  The refuge is involved with a plethora of environmental research and conservation projects, whilst also priding itself on offering guests excellence in hospitality and gastronomy.

Community visits in Africa

An incredible safari trip can be truly transformational; holding your breath as you spot wild lions, laughing as a tribe of monkeys frolic in trees, or gazing in awe as a majestic giraffe crosses your path. But the wildlife is not the only fabulous thing about the continent, it’s often said its people are Africa’s greatest beauty. Singita, a renowned luxury safari lodges and reserves company, is deeply committed to conservation and sustainability, supporting both wildlife conservation projects and community development. The Singita Community Development Trust helps to initiate Early Childhood Development practices in pre-schools, and guests can meet local children and learn about this vital programme, as well as witness many other areas of interest and cultural significance on the community visit.

Tom Marchant is Co-founder of Black Tomato. Black Tomato is an award-winning luxury travel agent and part of The Black Tomato Group, with partner brands including Studio Black Tomato, The Black Tomato Agency and Epic Tomato.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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8 Charmingly Eccentric National Trust Buildings | Where to Stay

In 1895, three wealthy English social reformers founded a nonprofit corporation with the lofty ambition to preserve the natural and manmade heritage of the United Kingdom for future generations. Today, the National Trust owns roughly 613,000 acres in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including 59 historic villages and hundreds of culturally significant properties ranging from towering castles to thatched cottages.

To support its preservation efforts, the National Trust rents out many of these properties to travelers. Want to stay at a 17th-century manor house situated on 200 acres of Welsh countryside? How about a Downton Abbey-style country house that once hosted the exiled King Louis XVIII of France? The National Trust can accommodate you.

But the options aren’t limited to such stately piles. For intrepid travelers seeking an only-in-the-U.K. experience, there are dozens of charmingly eccentric National Trust cottages and lodgings scattered across the countryside and lining the seashores. Here are a few of our favorites.

Doyden Castle

Port Isaac, Cornwall

Standing guard on a hill overlooking Port Quin, on the wild Cornish coast, this one-bedroom “castle” makes up in charm what it lacks in size. Arched windows and a roaring fire are among the quaint touches that give this miniature fortress its rugged appeal. If you’re a walker, you’ll enjoy easy access to the South West Coastal Path, which runs for 630 miles along the English coastline.

Doyden Castle
Starting at US$613 for two nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps two.

The Lighthouse Keepers’ Cottage

Lynton, Devon

The National Trust rents out a number of lighthouse keepers’ cottages around the U.K., but none more spectacular than this whitewashed, six-bedroom house perched on the side of a steep cliff overlooking the Bristol Channel. Although the lighthouse is still in operation, guests will be thankful to learn that the old foghorn has been decommissioned.

The Lighthouse Keepers’ Cottage
Starting at US$1,145 for three nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps 10.

The Water Tower

Truro, Cornwall

This cylindrical stone tower on the banks of the River Fal was built in the 1860s as a water reservoir but has since been renovated into a whimsical guesthouse featuring one room on each of its four stories, all outfitted with gothic windows and accessible only by a winding staircase. Explore the area by foot or by canoe, or simply lounge on the nearby beach.

The Water Tower
Starting at US$401 for two nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps two.

Squire’s Loft

Norwich, Norfolk

Few travelers would likely have paid money to stay in the Squire’s Loft in the 17th century, back when it was a horse stable for the nearby Felbrigg Hall. But the National Trust’s sensitive renovation has turned the stable loft, built in the neo-Jacobean style, into a charming two-bedroom flat complete with all the modern conveniences and accented by exposed wood beams. Access to Felbrigg Hall and its grounds is included with the rental.

Squire’s Loft
Starting at US$419 for three nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps four.

The Triumphal Arch

Leominster, Herefordshire

Okay, so it isn’t actually a triumphal arch — this formidable brick edifice is really just the grand gateway to Berrington Hall, an 18th-century Georgian mansion. The gatehouse was employed at various points in its history as a coachman’s house and a shooting lodge, but now the three-bedroom property can be rented out by anyone interested in exploring the bucolic Herefordshire countryside. Guests have free access to the gardens, the final project of the great landscape architect Capability Brown, as well as Berrington Hall itself during its hours of operation.

The Triumphal Arch
Starting at US$480 for three nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps five.

Millbeck Towers

Keswick, Cumbria

What better way to explore the Lake District — inspiration for so much of William Wordsworth’s Romantic poetry — than by staying at this former carding mill, which was built in the 18th century and has since been converted into a turreted, six-bedroom guesthouse. Stained glass windows, open fireplaces and checkered tiles create a warm, intimate atmosphere inside, while the lovingly tended gardens offer the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic. The town of Keswick, the Derwent Water and the Borrowdale Valley are just a 10-minute drive away.

Millbeck Towers
Starting at US$833 for two-nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps 12.

The Bakehouse

Isle of Purbeck, Dorset

Situated on the Isle of Purbeck, a peninsula on England’s southern coast, this cozy renovated cottage features a thatched roof, wood-burning fireplace and exposed timber frame. During the day you can ramble through the surrounding heaths or take the road into the small town of Wareham to drink a pint at the local pub.

The Bakehouse
Starting at US$398 for two nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps two.

The Round House

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Unlike some of the National Trust properties we’ve highlighted, this former shooting lodge and gamekeepers’ cottage is exactly what it sounds like — a completely round house in a sylvan grove on the Ickworth Estate in Suffolk. With a cozy living room organized around an open hearth, you may think you’ve been transported into a Jane Austen or Emily Brönte novel. If you decide to seek out company, the Porter’s Lodge Cafe is just a short walk away, as are hiking, biking and running trails.

The Round House
Starting at US$672, for three nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps six.

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Why you need to visit these 5 cities and towns in the Basque Country of Spain

There is so much to love about Spain it can be hard to choose where to go and what to see when planning a trip. Sitting on the west coast of Spain, undiscovered by most tourists, is the Basque Country, a region full of beauty, amazing experiences, fantastic food, beautiful beaches, historic architecture and friendly people. These are five cities and towns you shouldn’t miss in the Basque Country.


Bilbao is a small city with a beautiful contrast between the historic and the modern. It is home to the Guggenheim, perched beautifully in the middle of the city and overlooking the river-which divides the city into two parts. The more modern part of the city is full of great shopping, world class restaurants, beautiful boardwalks and bridges along the river as well as a great train and metro system to get around town and beyond. There is a sense of community in Bilbao that doesn’t exist in the larger cities. The locals are happy to welcome you in.

Historic Bilbao is like stepping back in time. When you cross the river from the modern side of the city you enter a maze of small streets full of restaurants, bars, shops, and incredible buildings stacked together with balconies overflowing with flowers. There are several squares where the community gathers either, on the stairs leading up the hill surrounding the city, or next to the ancient church, or the tree lined riverwalk. Get an aerial view of the city by taking the funicular up the mountain then spend some time in the park or walking around the small neighborhood. The views are stunning as is the artwork around the park.

The pintxos, the popular food fare in the Basque country, are on display as beautiful as artwork, in one of Europe’s largest food markets, the La Ribera Market along the river. Bar hopping for a small plate of pintxos here and there is encouraged and will create a delectable experience. The bars are full of locals drinking wine, eating and celebrating life. The laid back attitudes are contagious. Soon you are swept in and hopping from bar to bar filling your plate with delicious pintxos.


Getxo is a short 15-minute drive or 30-minute train ride from Bilbao. It is easy to spend days here exploring the massive art-nouveau era mansions overlooking a beautiful bay and marina. Take a day and walk the gorgeous cliffs in the region, stopping for a nice lunch or coffee in the elegant cliffside restaurant before taking in the historic Aixerrota Windmill and La Galea Fort. Getxo is a stunning example of the beauty Spain’s Basque Country holds. The rocky cliffs are each more breathtaking than the last, and the tree lined walkway and paths are the perfect respite from hectic travel schedules. The bay area of Getxo pulls no stops in its architecture, scenery and walkability. There is nothing like it anywhere else on the Spanish coasts.

Getxo is home to the Vizcaya hanging bridge that is the only one of its kind in the world. The gondola glides under the bridge carrying passengers and vehicles from Getxo to Portugalete. The Vizcaya Bridge has gained UNESCO world heritage status due to its perfect balance of beauty and function.


The town of Orio is a rare bit of untouched coast in the Basque country. The large beach area is popular with locals and Spanish tourists but otherwise relatively unknown. This is evident the minute you walk across the bridge and into what feels like a town time forgot. The small town is built into the side of a mountain with the stone walkways weaving themselves among the old stone buildings and up the mountain. At the base of the mountain town is a square with restaurants, bars and a couple of shops. Traveling further through town is the beach area complete with restaurants serving great seafood and drinks, and a few ice cream stands. The beach is wedged between two mountains, which help to protect it from the heavier winds in the area and create a perfect swimming zone for beachgoers. These winds create a great atmosphere for paragliding, or sitting on the beach watching the colorful gliders gently sway through the sky. The area is surrounded by hiking paths so you can explore for a day or head out for longer treks using Orio as a base or just a great day of relaxation.


Game of Thrones fan or not, Zumaia is worth the trip to see the longest rock strata formation in the world. These incredible jagged formations rise out of the earth to create jagged lines in the sand, which flow up to form jaw dropping cliffs. The surrounding ocean is full of surfers waiting for the next big wave. You can sit and enjoy the day on Itzurun beach or in the café above where you can take in the surrounding beauty and watch as more grey and black strata is revealed with each change in tide. There is trekking along the top of the surrounding cliffs which lead you past historic white buildings situated on the edges of the cliff formations or rent some surfboards and hit the waves yourself. If you are a GOT fan, don’t worry you can get some memorabilia of the show and stand where the cast did while filming the scenes outside of the Dragonstone castle. There are small shops in Zumaia worth taking in as you make your way through the town where the waterfront is lush and green and you may just catch some paddle boarders learning how to navigate the rougher waters.

San Sebastian

The magic of San Sebastian isn’t only its beautiful beaches. The beautiful architecture, amazing food, incredible weather, endless shopping and history all make this town a great getaway.

You can spend your days walking along the wide promenade along La Concha beach with its famous white railing then head over to Old Town. Here you are surrounded with 400-year old architecture, which now house bars serving great pintxos, shops, churches and what used to be the old bullring. From old town you can make your way to the majestic River Urumea. The river runs through the city with beautiful bridges and tree lined streets on either side. Here you will find the Victoria Eugenia Theater, the home of the International Film Festival where each fall Hollywood and European film stars gather. There is also the stunning five-star Hotel Maria Cristina.

A quick walk from the river and you are in the romantic center of San Sebastian, filled with beautiful parks and squares to pass the afternoon in. You can also get lost in the shopping, tour the Good Shepherd Cathedral, or hang out in the bars and restaurants. A stroll around the Romantic Center will have you reminiscing about how Paris was years ago.

As one of the world’s top dining destinations, holding 15 Michelin stars, there is never a shortage of amazing food to try, along with the famous Txakoli (sparkling white wine). Be adventurous and try several places, eating small plates of pintxos and drinking some Spanish wine at each then enjoy a stroll down the streets, enjoying the glorious Basque country sun.

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Top 10 things to do in Reykjavik

Reykjavik has come a long way since I first visited in 2004. It was a charming city then, but it did feel small. It has now become an exciting and innovative capital filled with art, great food, cutting-edge architecture and loads to do. Most visitors to Iceland are justifiably focused on seeing Iceland’s natural attractions but do make sure you spend some time in this charming and quirky city.

Free walking tours

Free walking tours have become very popular. The model is that you pay what you think the tour was worth at the end – thus incentivizing the guide to keep you entertained. I have found this does exactly the job and now seek out free walking tours.

This was no exception in Reykjavik. Book your tour five days ahead online. It runs for 2 hours and leaves from the front of the Parliament Building. I learnt a huge amount from our interesting and amusing female guide.

See the Sun Voyager

It is somewhat ironic that one of Reykjavik’s most well-known images is named after the sun it doesn’t get to see for a chunk of the year! This stunning sculpture is located on the waterfront near the Harpa Concert Hall (see below).

The statue is made of stainless steel and was designed by sculptor Jón Gunnar Árnason as a dream boat. It is extremely photogenic. Of course, it is most stunning on a clear day or when it has the sunset behind it but it can also be very atmospheric in the low light of the Reykjavik winter.

Visit the church with a view

There is one building that you won’t miss in Reykjavik and that is the Hallgrímskirkja Church. The unique design of the church was apparently inspired by Iceland’s geology. Architect Guðjón Samúelsson built this white concrete building in the 1940s. It is rather minimalist inside. Don’t miss taking the lift up (or climbing if you’re keen) to the top of the church for some amazing views over Reykjavik.

Experience strudel Iceland style

You will know that you have reached Braud & Co when you see the queues. This is one of the hottest bakeries in town. There are so many things that look amazing in this tiny bakery. However, it is most famous for its rhubarb strudel and may I say with very good reason. They also have amazing cinnamon rolls and a funky street art exterior.

Have a coffee at Reykjavik Roasters

The people of Iceland take their coffee seriously. There are several great options in Reykjavik but Reykjavik Roasters was my favourite. They did a wonderfully tasty flat white. The café itself is super cute. It is a mix of retros with its classic record players and vinyl and cutting edge with its giant bean grinders.

Visit Harpa Concert Hall

Opened in 2011, the Harpa Concert Hall is a stunning addition to the Reykjavik harbor area. The building sparkles with three-dimensional windows. It is lit up naturally during the day and with lights at night. There is a great gift shop, a bar and a restaurant to visit. The building is also stunning inside so even if you’re not going to see a concert while you are there I definitely recommend heading inside for a look.

  1. Have a Lamb Burger and catch some local music

Kex appears to be a bit of everything! It is a boutique hostel, a music venue, a bar and a great restaurant. The interior is a mix of sophisticated Icelandic style and kitschy art. It has a very comfortable and friendly feel. The lamb burger is sensational and if you stay around till a bit later you’ll catch free shows from some of the best musicians in Reykjavik.

Eat Langoustine

Iceland is famous for its lobster or Langoustine. Apparently, the lobster tastes better as they are smaller due to the temperature. I am not sure how correct that is but my gosh Icelandic Langoustine is the tastiest version of this type of crayfish that I have ever eaten!

There is a multitude of ways in which you can enjoy your langoustine. From soups to sandwiches to sushi to grilled to burgers there is no end of ways to enjoy this local treat.

If you are after another Icelandic classic then check out their hot dogs. The Baejarins Bezzu Hot Dog stand in Reykjavik is the most famous of all the dogs – again you will find it easily due to the queue!

Take to the water in Reykjavik

Icelanders love their pools and jacuzzis. Indeed locals frequent their outdoor pool areas all year round. Most people heading to Iceland have heard of the Blue Lagoon and it is on most tourism to do lists. However, there are also bathing options in Reykjavik itself.

Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach is a small man-made beach that has a water temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius all year round and hot tubs. Laugadalur Swimming Pool has jacuzzis, a steam bath, a solarium, mud baths and a large waterslide!

Shopping and street art

Icelanders are creative people and you will see a focus on design throughout most of Iceland. This is strongest in Reykjavik. As so many buildings are made from concrete it is the perfect town for street art. There are colourful murals throughout the city and well worth exploring.

There is also some great shopping in Iceland. One of the nicest things about shopping in Iceland is the lack of chain stores. There are lots of cute local boutiques and artisans. There are of course the classic Icelandic wool jumpers but I was a big fan of some of the local jewelry – with some even including lava rocks!

There are some funky Scandinavian style homewares stores and even a local shoe brand. The centre of shopping in Reykjavik is the main road Laugavegur. Visit Systur and Makur, Myconceptstore, Hrim and Kiosk to see the best of what Iceland has to offer.

Amanda OBrien is Owner of The Boutique Adventurer. The Boutique Adventurer focusses on luxury adventures in emerging destinations that end with a high thread count on the sheets in the evening.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Andalusian Spring comes early, bring on the fiestas!

Winters in Andalusia are as mild as they come, and the sense of the spring season seems to linger for half of the year. The sun bathes this southernmost region of Spain for more than 300 cloudless days each year, giving Andalusia bragging rights for mainland Europe’s best climate. Spaniards have a definite penchant for celebrating any and all occasions, and the temperate climes only help to facilitate a seemingly endless string of fiestas.

In reality, springtime sees the unofficial launch of the festival season. There’s a spattering of carnival celebrations and the odd cultural or religious fair in late winter, though the famed Semana Santa processions in the week leading up to Easter always kick off the season in earnest. From then through summer and autumn pass a stream of festivals celebrating culture, gastronomy, saints and traditions across virtually every tiny village and capital city alike.

So dig out your short sleeves and leave the cold of winter behind to jump start Spring and the colourful, rich traditions of the Andalusian festival season. Here you find a brief sample of the upcoming events across the region; but never fear, once the season gains momentum you’ll find some celebration or another around every corner.

“Semana Santa” the Holy Week, 24-31 March

All across Andalusia and Spain

The “holy week” leading up to Easter Sunday is easily the biggest and most important celebration in all of Spain each year, and nowhere are they more serious about it than in Andalusia, with Malaga and Seville putting on particularly spectacular weeklong events. Each dioceses and every town or city has numerous religious associations represented throughout the Semana Santa. Each has its day when they make their slow and sombre march through the streets, their numbers in the hundreds.

If you witness nothing more than one of these distinctly coloured, hooded and robed “cofradias” lumbering under the massive weight of the ornately decoratd floats (or tronos), it will have been worth your visit. Those carrying the tronos, which depict biblical scenes and venerations of the Virgin Mary, consider it a great honour, and many pay handsomely for the right. Others walk blindfolded, self-flagilate, or otherwise demonstrate their passion and contrition along the way. This is serious business, but despite the gravity of the processions this is still Andalusia, where an opportunity for a party never slips by unheeded.

“Dia de la Morcilla”, Black Pudding Day, 29 April

Canillas de Aceituno, Malaga

One of the more quaint and amusing of the springtime gastronomic festivals, the small but historic white washed village of Canillas de Aceituno kicks of the season with an ode to the humble blood sausage, one of the specialties of this little mountain pueblo. They tear through a literal tonne of the stuff within a matter of a few hours, all washed down with copious amounts of beer and wine served on the cramped central plaza. You have to be early to get in on the free tasting of morcilla, but never fear; the party lasts well into the night with live entertainment, games, and the unmistakable songs and dances of Andalusia. Drop into one of the restaurants for a sampling of the black pudding if you missed the public degustacion in the morning.

“Romerias” (“pilgrimages”), on or soon after the last Sunday of April

Various sites across Anadlusia

The Romerias take their name and tradition from historic Christian pilgramages destined for Rome. Like the Semana Santa processions, the Romerias include lengthy parades, though these generally cover greater distances and typically include a much more festive atmosphere altogether. The Romeria will usually end in a pre-designated destination where the proper festivities kick off and last well into the night.

Though officially religious in nature, the tradition would seem to owe much to those of the travelling gypsies, incorporating song, dance, games and other entertainment, plentiful food and drink, and general merry making that draws the entire community out to share in the revelry and strengthen common bonds. Many of the smaller villages around Andalusia will celebrate their own version of the Romeria around the end of April, while from the larger cities one never has to travel far to join the festivities. They often honour a particular patron saint and begin with an honorary mass, though as the evening light fades and the celebration runs into the early hours, it is easy to forget any religious affiliation.

“Cruz de Mayo”, the May Cross, 3 May

Various sites across Andalusia

Today the May Cross celebrations have evolved into something of a floral competition, with residents, businesses and religious associations vying for prizes awarded for the most beautifully decorated crosses. The origins, of course, have a more religious tenor, harking back to Saint Helen, mother of Constantinople, who sought out Jesus’ cross in Jerusalem and allegedly performed numerous miracles upon finding what was presumed to be the true cross of the crucifixion, according to legend. The coastal town of Nerja has an impressive display for its size, while Cordoba, with its affinity for floral displays and competitions, is the best place to witness the modern, festive celebration of the May Cross.

The Patios Festival of Cordoba, 1 – 13 May

Cordoba City

The May Cross competition is something of a warm up for the true floral fair overtaking the city of Cordoba each May, and this year they actually overlap. Here individual residents of the city open up their private, exquisitely adorned courtyard displays to the public, competing for recognition and prizes. Local businesses, governmental offices and historic sites also join the action, creating an impression that this ancient city all but drips with flowers and colour, as the breeze delights with the scents of Eden.

Alan Hazel is Owner and Director of Cortijo El Carligto. Cortijo el Carligto is a private Andalucían hideaway and luxury rental estate in the hills of Malaga, Spain, overlooking the Mediterranean.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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9 reasons to visit Valletta, European Capital of Culture, in 2018

Malta’s tiny capital, Europe’s smallest, takes you back to the 1570s. Built on a rocky peninsula – as the ultimate bastion-and-fire-power defence against a Turkish empire rampaging through the Mediterranean – Valletta was the first planned city in Europe.

European Capital of Culture

2018, with hundreds of cultural events planned, is the best of times to visit Valletta. As ever there are 350 historic sites crammed into a site that UNESCO recognises as “one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.”

But this year, funded by a €10m grant, there will be around 1,000 local and international artists, curators, performers, workshop leaders, writers, designers, choirs and film-makers making it a very lively cultural time in Valletta. There is a strong participatory theme to the programme: with invitations to the public to act, blog, create, design and sing.

A slice of Renaissance architecture

Valletta, Renaissance-style high-rise, is a city designed for walking. Even though it was built to a grid-plan, narrow passageways and steep streets of steps make it impossible for cars to access much of this compact city. So, the scirocco, a hot wind blowing in from North Africa, whips through the narrow alleys, still cleansing as it was intended to five centuries ago.

Even intense bombing during the Second World War failed to destroy Valletta’s charm and character. Families, making up Valletta’s population of just 7,000, still live behind the geranium filled window boxes and colourful wooden shutters, children still play football on cobbles which become more uneven for every generation.


The Main Street which runs 1.5 km from the massively imposing city gates through to St Elmo’s fort is at its best in the morning. Before lunchtime there’s a buzz to the boutiques, cafes and historic piazzas.

After lunch, when many of the market stalls have packed away for the day, the traditional spirit of the siesta, once considered essential in the baking heat of summer, lazily lingers on.

Grand Harbour views

A deep natural harbour at the heart of the Mediterranean, Valletta has been strategically significant for millennia.  Best to begin your exploration by looking down on strata after strata of history from Upper Barracca Gardens.

Even with all the cranes and contemporary heavy industry crowding the shoreline, in luminous summer there are enough Baroque remnants to give a sense of a Canaletto-style waterscape.

At sea level, on a calm day, a half-hour tour on a traditional wooden dghajsa, with the oarsmen standing up, is the best way to get a sense of the immensity of this harbour. On land the red post boxes are a reminder of how important Malta was to the British Empire in the first half of the 20th Century.

The Lascaris War Rooms

The cliff top bastion, named after a former Grandmaster, sits above the war rooms which were laboriously and urgently excavated during the punishing bombardment of Malta’s docks during the Second World War.

Descend into the tunnels, once the slave accommodation of the order of St John, which served as Headquarters for the defence of Malta against German and Italian attacks. In the early years of the war, in the Operations Room of maps and plotting tables, there was just one telephone to co-ordinate the launching of fighter planes as they fought off wave after wave of attacks. So heavy were aircraft losses that ships were positioned to scoop up surviving pilots as soon as they ejected from their burning aircraft.

Newsreel film shows how the remains of a British convoy limped into Valletta to provide desperately needed supplies. For their bravery, the people of Malta were awarded the Military Cross.

Then in 1943, General Eisenhower used the same Operations Room to control Operation Husky, the Allied Invasion of Scilly.

Grand Master’s Palace

Since 1571, when Valletta took over from inland Mdina, as Malta’s Capital, the intensely ornate Grand Palace has been the showy seat of power in Malta. Throughout the 18th Century, before Napoleon deposed the Knights of St John, a succession of Grand Masters collected tapestries, portraits and luxurious artefacts.

Although Parliament recently moved to new premises the President remains in the Palace. Occasionally the State Rooms are closed to the Public for official functions but the Knights Armoury remains open

Manoel Theatre

This ornate theatre’s programme is a cultural magnet not just for the Maltese. For folks on the neighbouring island of Gozo a night-out can be a ferry to Valletta for a concert, play or opera before catching a late ferry home.

Originally commissioned by the Knights of St John in 1731, the golden interior of the theatre, with one massive central chandelier, has the extravagant elegance of a bygone era.

Although the theatre was beautifully restored in 1960 there is little space to spare. At the interval theatre-goers, often in black-tie or evening gowns, enjoy their drinks in neighbouring bars and cafes. This Spring audiences will take a break from Opera Week and The Crucible to catch up on football scores from the matches showing on the bars’ televisions.

St John’s Co-Cathedral

Designed by the same military architects who built the citadel capital in the 1570s, the exterior of the cathedral is deceptively functional and plain. In contrast the gold, marble and vibrant colours covering every last inch of the interior can overwhelm the senses.

This is competitive holier-than-thou-worship at its best or worst. Each language group of the Knights of St John had their own chapel area within Malta’s primary place of worship. Inevitably each group competed to see who could produce the most elaborate and sumptuous decor for their chapel. As every Knight, on promotion to the order, was required to make a gift, the Cathedral became crammed with artefacts.

Even though there is an audio guide it is worth undertaking some research in advance to ensure that you do not miss highlights such as Caravaggio’s “Beheading of St John.”

If your Latin is up to the challenge, there are High Mass Services on Sundays and Festival Days.


Long ago Maltese food threw off the restricting shackles of the British empire and bland Shepherd’s Pie cuisine – even though Valletta still has its own Marks and Spencer store.

Valletta has dozens of restaurants where you can dine out on a piazza or the waterfront or on one of the narrow streets where a handful of tables are set.

Of course, for an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, the sea-food is outstanding. With Italy as a near neighbour there’s a strong Italian influence of pasta and pizza, though locally sourced rabbit casserole is a favourite too.

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5 of the best European ski destinations for 2018

January is over and the winter blues should be beginning to clear, however, if you’re still feeling like your summer holiday is a long way off why not consider a short winter break? February is a great time to book a last-minute getaway for some fun and excitement on the snowy slopes on Europe’s Top Ski Resorts. Follow us as we take a closer look.


Venture to southern Germany and into Bavaria for a winter wonderland escape where mountains soar high into the clouds above scented pine trees and picture-postcard villages. Top family ski destinations to suit all skills and experiences can be found in both Allgäu and Oberstaufen, home to the world famous Oberstaufen Schroth Cure Centre.

Snowy resort Germany

Hop aboard the cable car in Oberstdorf to admire sweeping alpine views across the Nebelhorn mountain or climb Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest mountain at 2,962m above sea level.


Austria has long been regarded as one of the top ski destinations in Europe and it is easy to see why. A breathtaking array of natural beauty from pristine lakes and mountain passes to tree-lined ski slopes create the perfect conditions for a memorable winter break.

Snow scene ski town Austria

First-time skiers or those wishing to brush up on their skills will find the Alpbach ski resort ideal for learning the ropes and is conveniently located just 40-minutes from Innsbruck International Airport. Further afield the classic alpine village of St Anton and snow peaked Arlberg ski area is filled with popular restaurants and bars, perfect for a little après-ski. If you prefer to mix a little history and culture with your skiing then stop by the medieval village of Kitzbühel, a truly peaceful location perfect for all levels of skier.


A winter trip to Sweden almost guarantees great skiing conditions and the opportunity to witness the Northern Lights in all their splendour for a lucky few. Break up your skiing holiday with magical reindeer rides through the snow and let yourself be captivated by the raw beauty of Sweden.

Two ski lifts in Are Sweden

First timers and professionals alike flock to Sälen in the west of Sweden for the wide variety of slopes and ski passes found amongst four ski resorts contained within one top destination. Tandådalen provides black run challenges to the pros whilst Högfjället, Hundfjället and Lindvallen are fun for the whole family with their gentler slopes.

Sweden’s largest ski resort is found at the centrally located Åre where a plethora of winter and summer programmes entertain visitors all year-round. Glide your way through the slopes and passes during the snowy winter months and then explore the lakes and mountains hiking and climbing through the warmer summertime.


The French Alps are a term synonymous with skiing and it’s clear to see why when touching down at the stunning skiing resorts on offer in this region. Val Thorens, situated within the Terntaise Valley, is an ever-popular ski destination joining together the three valleys ski area of Les Menuires, Courchevel and Méribel. Combine your winter ski break with a dash of the French Riviera with a stay at Isola 2000, a mere 90km hop to the pretty coastal town of Nice.

White mountains ski town France

Mont Blanc is the tallest mountain in the alps soaring to nearly 5,000m above sea level and is home to Megève, a stylish ski resort, providing a great experience for skiers of all abilities and boasts a great après-ski scene.


Picture skiing through a UNESCO World Heritage Site where 300 annual sunshine days grace 175km of pristine mountain slopes and you have the Dolomites in northeast Italy.

Skiing white mountain Italy

The largest ski resort found here is the Val Garden-Alpe di Siusi where an abundance of outdoor activities are set to spoil all that visit. Taking a more refined approach is the Cortina d’Apezzo, where Michelin star restaurants and bars combine with stylish resorts to provide a luxury ski destination.

Callum Davies is Marketing Manager at eXpectations Holidays. eXpectations Holidays is a Private Members Club specifically designed for families and couples who like to take one or more quality holidays each year.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Spring in the Lake District

It is almost time for brightly coloured Easter eggs, heavily scented Spring blooms and lots of fun family activities. Yes, Spring is just around the corner and here is some of what awaits you in the Lake District.

Daffodils on Ullswater’s shore 

The brightly coloured, cheery and wonderfully scented blooms of the Lake District’s famous daffodils have had visitors under their narcotic spell for centuries. Indeed, the impressive blanket of yellow daffodils dancing on the breeze at Gowbarrow Park on the shore of Ullswater captured William Wordsworth’s imagination so much so that it inspired the penning one of his most famous verse’s: ‘I wondered lonely as a cloud’.

Daffodils burst into colour and their heady scent fills the air between March and April, in formal gardens and natural wooded areas across the Lake District. You know when spring has arrived when you are greeted by these cheery blooms and they are a sight not to be missed.

East egg trail 

The National Trust preserve vast swathes of the Lake District so that generations to come can enjoy the wonders and delights of this magical landscape. At various stately homes and grand estates across the Lake District, The National Trust are hosting activities welcoming families and encouraging imaginations to run wild over this important holiday celebration.

Spring walk

The pastoral valleys of the Lake District are abuzz with life in Spring. Sheep have been brought down form the fells to lamb and graze in warm low-lying pastures. This is a celebratory time of year and it is best enjoyed on a valley walk, passing through pristine conservation farmland. Take in the 17th century farmhouses and architectural dry stone walling. Cross babbling rivers and stop a while at a gastro pub. We’d recommend Hawkshead in particular as a great base for an inspiring Spring walk.

Egg hunt with Peter Rabbit 

Spring wouldn’t be the same without a visit from the Easter bunny.

Visit the Lake District over the Easter holidays and go on an egg hunt with the most famous bunny in the world. Yes,  Peter Rabbit. The floppy-eared children’s book character along with his other mischievous friends, were created by Lake District resident Beatrix Potter. Potter was a naturalist and found her greatest inspiration in a world of creatures living beneath mighty English oak trees, sailing rafters across the lakes and building homes within the craggy mountainsides. There’s treasure all around in the Lake District.

Handmade chocolate

Kennedys Fine Chocolates is a real secret gem of Cumbria and the Lake District. In the heart of the northern village of Orton, a gemstone itself.

There’s so much pleasure in handmade indulgence. Passion, joy and pure fun simply oozes from these divine chocolates that have been made by the same family for over 25 years.

Don’t just come to Orton for the sweet treats, however. In fact, this remote village, located between Kendal and Penrith, is quite the foodie mecca. The monthly farmer’s market is reputedly the best in Cumbria. Orton also puts you a stone’s throw from the Eden Valley, just outside the crowd-drawing Lake District and is filled with tempting delights, such as mythical stone circles, luxurious country spa’s and sprawling castle and gardens.

Paul Liddell is the Managing Director at Lakelovers. Lakelovers provide quality self-catering cottages in the most popular Lake District holiday locations, including Windermere, Ambleside, Coniston, Grasmere, Keswick and Ullswater.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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