Saturday snippets: 12th November 2016

By | Category: Travel news
Blenheim Palce - illuminating the formal gardens at Christmas

The illuminations in the formal gardens at Blenheim Palace

Illuminations and light shows seem to the flavour this Christmas season. The new Christmas Trail at Blenheim Palace which opens in about a fortnight’s time on 25th November will light up the formal gardens  “transforming the outdoor space landscaped by ‘Capability’ Brown into a magical illuminated wonderland.”  The hour long trail will include scented fire gardens, singing Christmas trees and a lake on which there will be brightly lit boats filled with snowflakes and presents. Other highlights include the fairy-lit arbour and the lakeside boathouse, which will become a temporary home for Santa Claus, and the Cascades, which will also be bathed in light.  Adults £16.00 and children £10 when booked in advance.

At the World Travel Market a number of popular destinations trumpeted how well they were doing. For example, in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic had an increase of 6.9% between Jan and July to 3.7 million visitors.  Jamaica had 2.5% increase in the first six months of the year which seems quite small in comparison with Antigua & Barbuda where visitor numbers rose by 9.9%. But Guyana outdid that with an increase of 15.7% and the Turks & Caicos upped their numbers by 18.5% but, in fairness, that was from a much smaller base. The impact of American visitors on Cuba and the rush by other nations to see the country before it possibly changes under the weight of increasing tourist numbers can already be seen. Visitor numbers there were up by 11.7%. Overall, the Caribbean Tourism Organization is estimating that visitor numbers to the region this year will rise by between 4.5% and 5.5%.

In Europe, Greece continues its impressive recovery in visitor numbers. In the year up until August it saw a 7.7% per cent increase in arrivals from the UK. About 1.9 million of us holidayed there compared to 1.8 million in the same period last year. There has been a 4% increase in UK holiday bookings to Greece in the year to September 2016 compared to 2015 whilst bookings to the Greek islands were up by 7%l. Crete, the most popular destination in Greece for British travellers in 2016 saw a 13% increase; Rhodes, a 12% growth; Zante, a 6% increase and Corfu saw an 8% increase in British visitors.

If you are holidaying in Athens next year or going there as a hop-off to the islands, you may be interested to learn that the city is introducing an Oyster-type card to replace paper tickets. The smart card can be used buses, trolleys and trams, the metro and the electric railway. The personalised plastic smart cards will replace tickets as well as providing a wider choice of fares based on destination, distance and zone.

panoramic view of South Africa's Cape Winelands

Stellenbosch is the main town in the Cape Winelands

Stellenbosch in South Africa is the centre of one of the great wine regions of the world. More and more people holidaying in the country spend some time following the wine trails. From the middle of this month until March (virtually South Africa’s summer) what is known as the Stellenbosch Street Soirees occur. These are like street markets cum festivals where food and wine stalls are open for visitors to sample the different wines, the local food and some music to add to the frivolity. It happens in Drostdy Street and has become so popular with South Africans and overseas visitors that crowds build up particularly at weekends. If you travel in half term in February next year, you’ll also find that it coincides with the Stellenbosch Wine Festival.

Can you believe it? On ski destination – Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps- will open parts of its ski area three weeks due to recent snowfall. Three slopes will be open at the weekends covering more than 5km between 2700m and 1800m, totalling a height difference of 900m. For those who know the area, those pistes that will be open will be Le Coloir, Les Jeux and Pistes du Rif Nel.

Late last month, Natural England opened a new 21-mile stretch of the England Coast Path. It links Hopton-on-Sea with Sea Palling in Norfolk. Towns and villages along the way include Gorleston-on-Sea, Great Yarmouth, Caister-on-Sea and Hemsby. The new path connects with the 26-mile route between Sea Palling and Weybourne, which was opened in 2014, to create the east of England’s longest section of coast path. It will also be part of the 2,700-mile-long path that Natural England is establishing around the entire English coastline. When it is finally complete in 2020 this will be the longest continuous coastal walking route in the world.

caravan site numbers grow

Another 39 sites as caravanning increases popularity

The Caravan Club has added another 39 sites to its listings. This makes the number over 300 in Europe. It is yet another sign of the appeal of caravanning. Of course, the sites need not only be used by caravanners. Those with camper-vans can also book in at the sites as can traditional campers. Whilst cruise holidays are often seen as where the holiday trends are, caravanning keeps on going from strength to strength and that can be seen by the number of caravanning shows that are scheduled for the early part of next year.

Readers will remember me writing about the hyperloop, a transport system that uses propulsion to accelerate a passenger or cargo pod through a low-pressure tube at speeds of up to 700mph. Testing took place in the California desert this year. Now it seems as though the first system may be built linking Dubai and Abu Dhabi which will reduce the journey time from one hour to twelve minutes! At least that is the plan of a company called Hyperloop One which announced it was undertaking a feasibility study. It also said that such a system could cut journey times from Dubai to Riyadh to 48 minutes and from Dubai to Doha to 23 minutes. It makes HS2 and HS3 a little antiquated in comparison doesn’t it? And as for my Pacer service, that’s positively Victorian!

Think of museum exhibitions and you might consider those about Tutankhamun, Turner or Monet to be the crowd pullers. And they were. But the retrospective exhibition of the life and work of David Bowie has become the most visited show in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s history. More than 1.5 million people have visited David Bowie Is across eight different locations since it first opened in 2013  and, on Thursday, 47 art works in Bowie’s collection sold for a total £24.3 million. It suggests that touring exhibitions are worth considering so will that happen with the forthcoming exhibition of Elton John’s photographic collection that has just opened at Tate Modern?

some of the Terracotta Army

Terracotta Army, Weinan, Xian

On the 25th of June this year, Tianjin Airlines launched a route from Gatwick to Chongqing and Tianjin, thir first in the UK. just five months later it has announced that expansion is under way. From December the flight will dovetail with a Chongqing -Auckland service giving UK visitors a different route to New Zealand and the opporutunity for a short break stop on the way. Then, from next May, there will be a new route from Gatwick to Xi’an, the former imperial capital and now capital of Shanxi province, one of the oldest cities in China, the end of the Silk Road and better known to many as the home of the Terracotta Army. For tour operators a direct route to one of China’s greatest tourist attractions will be a boon as it will save transfers and time for those who can only a shortish time for a break.  For isn’t a visit to the Army on everyone’s bucket list?

Finally, figures are coming out showing that many more of us flew in October. Gatwick had its busiest ever October with 3.9 million passengers passing through the airport. The bulk of this is in long-haul traffic across the Atlantic to North America which is up by 22% over October 2015. Its rival – Heathrow – didn’t do so well seeing 1.2% fewer passengers this October compared to last. It blamed it on Hurricane Matthew in the US but that cannot be the complete answer otherwise why did Gatwick so some better on its US routes? Nonetheless it still managed to carry 6.48 million passengers which gives an idea of just how important Heathrow is. Manchester had a 12% increase giving the airport more than 25 million passengers on a rolling annual basis – the highest it has ever achieved. Stansted carried 6% more giving it moving annual total to more than 24 million.

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