Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New year

Best wishes to all my readers for the festive season. My thanks to you all for your support, comments and ideas throughout the year. Travel Wonders will close for a week restarting soon after the New Year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Discover the Most Beautiful Villages in France

With its excellence in selling itself, the French encourage visitors to enjoy some of France's most elegant and photogenic villages. Highlighting villages with populations of less than 2000 people that boast at least two historic monuments or sites and striking architecture, unique culture or natural beauty, an initial book published in the early 1980s led to an association of around 150 villages that proudly call themselves The Most Beautiful Villages in France. Sprinkled throughout the country and highlighted by the above logo, here are ten personal favourites from those that I have visited over the years in this most enchanting of European countries.


Bordering the sparkling beauty of Lac Léman (as the French call Lake Geneva), this medieval fishing village with its stone houses and wooden balconies glisten in geranium and wisteria blooms in summer. Whether wandering its narrow streets spotting signs of its ancient castle its 700 years of history, paddling the shores in a tiny canoe or enjoying the colour of the Garden of Five Senses, Yvoire is a wonderful diversion heading towards Switzerland.


Experiencing Rousillon has two contrasting feels - the narrow paths, archways and roughened walls of the historic village (over 1000 years old) and the other-worldly trail through the golden yellows, burnt oranges and flame reds of the largest ochre deposits in Europe. The area is sprinkled with painters and their easels enjoying the rich colours and strange shapes of the historically-valued clay fields or the towering bell tower and expressive town squares.


Surrounded by its World Heritage-listed defensive walls and shaped like a boomerang, the tiny town offers its best panorama from Fort Liberia. Boasting delicate formations in its neighbouring limestone cave, the town is the launching pad for the superb Pyreneean rail journey on the Little Yellow Train.

More of France's most beautiful villages can be found here.

Things To Do on raveable

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Exploring the Christmas Markets (England)

guest post by David Collins of

Each year, cities in the UK play host to continental markets, bringing with them delicious food, warming drinks and a whole host of gifts and knick-knacks for the festive season. City centres seem to sprout wooden shacks, which sell everything from wooden toys, glassware and quirky little gifts that can make perfect stocking fillers.

As well as the trinket shops, the smell of freshly cooked food and mulled wine emanating from the food stands is enough to draw you in with the promise of something to warm you up against the cold winter air. Christmas markets can be a perfect opportunity to try new things and stock up on gifts for your friends and family.

Many of the Christmas markets are open from 10am to 9pm, although this can vary from place to place, so it’s always best to double check before you travel. Here are just a few location ideas to help you decide which one to visit:

London (mid-November – Christmas Eve)

There are a number of market areas around the capital, from the bustling streets of Camden to the banks of the River Thames, where you can stop by on a shopping trip to London and enjoy some food and drink and even pick up a gift or two along the way.

The Cologne Christmas Market runs from the Southbank Centre to the iconic London Eye, and is also located a short walk away from some of the main tourist draws in London – including the Houses Of Parliament and Tower Bridge.

So why not spend a festive weekend in the capital? Be wary that hotels in London (as well as the other cities on this list) can get busy over the Christmas period, so book as early as you can to ensure you get the most out of your visit, and may be look into getting an Oyster card for the duration of your stay, to make travelling around the city by bus and Tube that little bit cheaper.

Lincoln (early December)

Lincoln plays host to one of the oldest and most established UK Christmas markets, and whilst it may not be the longest, the Lincoln market is one of the most popular. Set in and around the grounds of the city’s cathedral and within the walls of Lincoln Castle, which comes alive with stalls selling everything from wooden trinkets to tasty foodstuffs from the continent, as well as a host of live entertainment to help get you into the festive mood.

Most of the market takes place at the top of Steep Hill, but there are also a few stalls in the city centre, allowing you an excellent chance to do some Christmas shopping. The nearest train station is at Lincoln Central and there is also a Park’n’Ride service available from the Lincoln Showground on the outskirts of the city, which will drop you off in the vicinity of the main market.

Birmingham (mid-November – Christmas Eve)

Being twinned with Frankfurt, Birmingham is home to the largest German Christmas market outside of Austria and Germany, and has become a favourite for UK tourists. From New Street station you can step straight into the festivities and enjoy perusing the festive gifts and foods on offer, why not combine your visit to the Bullring shopping centre, with a stroll around the market this holiday season?

Manchester (mid-November – few days before Christmas)

There are eight market sites spread around the city of Manchester, including outside the town hall at Albert Square and Exchange Square, where you’ll find a number of big name brands and the famous Manchester Wheel – a ferris wheel which gives you spectacular views of the city from above.

To make the most of a visit to Manchester, take the train to Manchester Victoria station and begin your journey around the market stalls at the Manchester Wheel, where you’ll also find shopping centres such as the Triangle and the Arndale Centre as well as the entertainment centre at Printworks, where you’ll find a selection of restaurants and an IMAX cinema.

You’ll find wooden market shacks along the way as you head towards the main market at Albert Square, where you’ll find the majority of the food stalls and a sheltered bar area where you can enjoy some mulled wine and continental beers and ales to finish off a busy day of shopping.

Liverpool (late November – few days before December)

Liverpool’s Christmas market has grown from year to year, and this year promises to be one of the biggest in the UK. With stalls selling crafts and foodstuffs from all over the world, present at locations all around the city centre, giving you the chance to make a day of it and explore the stalls along with a visit to the Liverpool One shopping centre.

So why not make the most of a seasonal city break with a visit to a Christmas market as part of your trip? Take in the sights, do a bit of shopping before warming up with some hot food and drink from the continent.

Photo Credits: London, Lincoln, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool Santa Dash

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pont du Gard: A Roman Marvel (France)

The first sight of Pont du Gard is striking. Set in a picturesque valley and with its towering three arched structure reflected into the peaceful river below, it is extraordinary to realise that the bridge was built around the time of Christ as part of a water supply system to the Roman capital of the area, Nîmes (which is well worth a visit with its Roman amphitheatre, Roman house and ancient gates). The huge limestone blocks (many over a tonne) are held together without mortar – a remarkable Pyramid-like construction effort.

Its three layer grand arch stands nearly 50 metres tall (the highest Roman aqueduct in the world) and delivered 200 million litres of water per day from the springs in Uzès to the good folks of Nîmes (the exit point still exists today). The engineering for the times is exceptional, the waterway dropping just seventeen metres over the distance of 50 kilometres (the water took over a day to make its full journey, much of it via underground trenches) and the bridge being responsible for a drop of just one inch over its span of half a kilometre.

Somewhat fortunately, the bridge survived the middle ages, being a tollway granted to the church in exchange for maintaining the structure.

Walks in the area (as well as across the bridge) offer a variety of views of the bridge and surrounding area with information signs along the paths highlighting the rich history of the bridge. Sadly the bridge is ridiculously popular in summer and has been somewhat commercialised with mediocre extras such as a museum, film and info centre.

Being so shallow, the waters of the Gard River are warm, many visitors escaping the heat of southern France by swimming, canoeing or liloing on the gently flowing stream.

Go early in the day to avoid the crowds and the heat, the Pont du Gard being only a short 25 kilometres from Avignon. It makes for a worthwhile diversion to marvel at the remarkable scientific and engineering skills of the Romans, protected with its entry on the World Heritage List).

Things To Do on raveable

Thursday, December 9, 2010

e-Book Review: Ultimate Tech Guide for Travelers (Anil Polat)

Anil Polat, the author of the popular travel blog Foxnomad has just launched his e-book titled The Ultimate Tech Guide for Travelers. He kindly sent me a complimentary copy for review.

With a professional career as a computer security consultant and as a long term traveller, Polat is almost uniquely qualified to write on his pet topic. With a striking design, the book is easy to read, well written and targeted for anyone with a little computer familiarity but is bound to have some new ideas for the fairly experienced computer user. It is packed with money-saving ideas for using computers on the road, a place fraught with expensive hotel wifi and dodgy internet cafes. It is targeted at both Windows and Mac users with lessons for Linux users as well.

The e-book is rich in links to sites that offer further detail or explanation on a specific topic along with links and suppliers and companies of recommended services. One excellent aspect of the design is the highlighting of key tips which stand out when referencing the book at a later date.

The nine chapters covers all the major areas of travelling with computers including:
- selection of the most suitable computer for travel;
- finding free or inexpensive software for email, photo editing, office tasks, language translation, travel budgeting and data security;
- backing up data (in multiple places);
- securing data;
- establishing wireless connections on the road (even in remote locations);
- good habits at internet cafes;
- getting open internet access in restrictive countries;
- using e-book readers and mobile (cell) phones
- great tricks and tips for getting discounts while travelling (such as cheaper airline flights and saving 30% on Apple purchases).

Most importantly, Polat backs his book with six months of free consulting to assist the purchaser to setup their own computer travel setup whether it be to save photos on the way or setup free telephony back home. It also includes a year of free updates and is available on Kindle and Nook, along with being a standard PDF.

At $37, the price is on the high-end for travel e-books though it is an excellent resource. However by taking advantage of two or three of the tips could comfortably save more than the cost even before considering the value of six months of access to Polat's expertise (you typically can't get much consulting time for $37 so this alone makes it good value - don't hesitate to take advantage of it). That makes for excellent value and hence Ultimate Tech Guide for Travelers is a book and resource that I can heartily recommend.

Disclosure: Travel Wonders receives a small commission on any sale of the book made from this website.

Travel Tips on raveable

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Photo of the Week: Cotopaxi (Ecuador)

Photographed almost a decade ago, Cotopaxi cuts an impressive figure at sunset in darkening conditions. Ironically it was covered in cloud nearly all day but the clouds lifted just as the last vestiges of sunshine lit this Ecuadorian giant. Still an active volcano, it stands just under an imposing 6000 metres with a rough road that runs to an overnight hut (mainly for climbers) at 4600 metres.

Things To Do on raveable

Friday, December 3, 2010

Seven Tips for Effective Travel Insurance

Guest post written by Mark of Travel Wonders on behalf of, providers of travel essentials including travel insurance, car hire and airport parking.

I continue to be surprised by the number of travellers I meet that are uninsured relying on little more than good fortune. Travel insurance typically includes a variety of benefits such as medical and injury expenses, loss of bags, unavoidable interruption to travels, Evacuation and/or medical care in some countries is astronomically priced and no treatment will be forthcoming without up-front payment.

Read the Policy

While insurance policies can appear a little daunting, it is important that you read the terms and conditions before signing or paying for any travel insurance. It is an individual’s own personal responsibility that they have the required coverage for their journey. Check for suitable coverage for the countries on the itinerary, the planned activities, the traveller’s age (policies typically have explicit terms for people over a certain age) and for any pre-existing medical conditions. All the tips below require that the policy is checked carefully - this is one time to sweat the details.

Use a Comparison Site

Avoid taking the travel insurance offered with travel agencies. It is one of the highest margin elements of an agent’s business with large commissions paid by insurance companies and rarely offers good value. Travel insurance comparison sites offer quick and easy contrast between different companies based on price and features. After all, if the agent works out cheaper, you can always go back and take out the insurance.

Insure Early

It is strongly recommended to obtain your insurance early. Though the payment is related to the length of the actual holiday, coverage automatically commences for unavoidable cancellation or delay of your holiday.

Ensure Coverage for Planned Activities

Many policies have exclusions including snow skiing, scuba diving, golf, rock climbing and trekking. Ensure that any planned activities are covered by your policy (even if it costs more) by checking the policy document before signing up. Many policies require that the traveller informs the insurer of the adventurous activity before departure.

Understand Coverage For Costly Items

Ensure that you understand and have desire coverage for expensive single items such as photography equipment, laptops and electronic gadgets. Some travel insurance policies have a single item maximum which can be extended for an extra fee. Some home contents insurance policies also provide coverage for portable goods for an increased premium.

Avoid Excess Car Hire Insurance

Most car hire companies demand an extra fee of $20 to $30 to waive or reduce the outrageous excess on car insurance, often several thousands of dollars. Travel insurance typically pays out the excess on car rental insurance if you have an accident in the rental vehicle.

Multiple Trip Coverage

A number of insurers offer good value for year long coverage for multiple journeys or vacations (as against one year-long holiday). Each journey is typically limited to periods of 30 or 45 days, but can include as many vacations as you wish. If you foresee having more than one break, often including breaks in your home country (read the policy), then take the multiple-trip insurance policy.

Stories on the internet and in magazines are rife of dream holidays spoiled by a failure to insure or by a badly chosen insurance policy. Make insurance an aspect of planning a trip and help ensure that an unexpected event during a holiday is only an inconvenience and not a long term financial disaster.

Photo Credits: stretcher

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Drinks Around the World: Bibicaffe (Italy)

Again a product of an age-old family recipe, Bibicaffe is one of the more unusual soda drinks I have ever tasted. Bibicaffe is a bottled, mildly carbonated coffee drink - a sparkling espresso. While a fraction sweet to me (though at least it is real cane sugar), Bibicaffe has subtle flavours of caramel and vanilla woven into a strong coffee flavour, presenting one of the most unusual drinks I've tried and very refreshing straight from the bottle (small bottle with the traditional bottlecap) on a hot Italian day (exploring Pompeii).

Alternatively, Bibicaffe is served in cafes poured over ice and with a dash of cream (like a bubbly macchiato). Reading their website, it is also used in a range of suggested cocktails. Incidentally, the Bibicaffe website is one of the most painful and cheesy sites I've ever witnessed with cringe-worthy music and painful cartoon-like graphics. Visit at your peril!!

For those who like coffee, Bibicaffe is well worth trying when exploring the wonders of Italy. Whether it is for refreshment or a bit of a lift, it is one of the most unusual and best soda drinks I've drunk and a real taste of Italy.
Travel Wonders highlights a characteristic drink experienced on his travels. Prior articles have featured drinks as widely varied as Vietnamese slow-drip coffee, Austrian Almdudler, Green Mint Tea from Morocco and cherry beer (Belgium).

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