Snow business

In search of a cool winter break? Look to Les Arcs where quality snow, top notch accommodation and array of activities come as standard, says Kaye Holland

Winter holidays have a glamour all of their own. Perhaps it’s the thrill of swishing through perfect powdery snows, the apres ski or the gossip (guessing which celebs are on the slopes, where they’re staying and, crucially, with whom).

However attempting to select the best ski resort to visit this winter is akin to pick the spottiest dog in a kennel full of Dalmatians: nigh on impossible.

Fortunately for you, dear reader, TNT has a suggestion for the 2017/18 ski season - regardless of whether you’re in the process of finding your ski legs or a wannabe downhill champion.


Say hello to Les Arcs - the popular French winter sports destination that is part of the huge Paradiski area and caters to everyone from casual skiers (like yours truly) to experienced skiers and families alike.

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Regardless of your ability, you won’t be short of options. For Les Arcs is home to a huge network of groomed pistes, 70 per cent of which are situated at above 2,000m and rising to 3,250m - a height that virtually guarantees snow -  meaning that Les Arcs remains open even when other European resorts struggle.

Day one of our trip to Les Arcs saw me awake excited, yet with a certain amount of fear and trepidation in my heart, about making hitting the slopes. (It had been three years since my first and last foray into the white stuff).

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First though I had to be fitted out with ski boots and I won’t lie: I had forgotten that they’re heavy, hard to put on and, yes, can hurt (10 days down the line, I’ve still got welts on my calves from where the boots cut into my skin). It was all a bit of a faff to be truthful so I couldn’t help but hope that skiing in Les Arcs would live up to my great expectations.

Happily, however, it did.  Skiing, I soon discovered, is a bit like learning to ride a bike: once mastered, the basics don’t desert you.

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And so it was that, to my delight, I found myself slaloming - albeit a little shakily -  down the slopes against the backdrop of the breathtaking Mont Blanc (aka the highest mountain in the Alps) with the wind whipping my face. 

Coming from London, where I have had to train myself to block out the cacophony of daily life, there’s something incredibly special about swishing through the snow and drinking in the blue skies, mesmerising mountain views and late afternoon sun in silence. (Our group went early in the season, ahead of the crowds, which meant that often we felt as though we the only people on the pistes).

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On day two, in a bid to be able to end the trip effortlessly gliding down the mountain like US skier Lindsey Vonne, I signed up for a lesson with ESF Ski School (France’s largest ski school).  If you’re short on confidence - or serious about improving your skiing - than a few hours of tuition with an EFS instructor will certainly help you brush up your skills.


Our instructor Thomas dispensed advice such as “don’t  look down at your ski tips” (tougher than it looks, as having long planks attached to your feet isn’t exactly the most natural feeling in the world) and to “always bend the knees” (the tendency is to want to straighten them) with good humoured patience.

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And, after a few hours under Thomas’ tutelage, our entire group had swapped snow ploughing for parallel skiing (the sort of skiing that looks good on the slopes) and learnt to side step - a key technique to have in your arsenal, when you find yourself on challenging terrain. 

 

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After a long day on the slopes, we invariably looked forward to returning to our accommodation, Chalet Panda - which mixes the comfort of a hotel with sociable aspects of a hostel - shattered but elated.

If you want to stay in the thick of it, to be an easy stroll from both the slopes  (the nearest ski-lift is just 250m from the front door) and Les Arcs’ array of acres ski bars, then Chalet Panda covers these bases and adds the kind of delightful touches you hope for but don’t always get. Think friendly chalet hosts who will welcome you back every afternoon with a warming cup of tea, served with a slice of heavenly homemade cake. It’s hard to think of a better way to top off a day on the slopes.

Guests can also enjoy a swim in the large pool in the neighbouring Altitude residence or, if that seems too much like hard work, indulge in a sauna at Chalet Panda’s own private sauna before dinner.

You’ll find a menu filled with dishes so delicious, you’ll return a dress size larger - despite all the exercise you are doing. The cuisine is accompanied by a wine list that is compact but well chosen.

After dinner, it’s time to soak up the buzzing atmosphere of the resort at night. There’s plenty to do from pub quizzes every Sunday at Red Rock Cafe & Restaurant to swapping ski boots for dancing shoes at Whistler bar (which promises the best night you will never remember), before somehow staggering back to your bedroom.
 

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Speaking of the rooms, each one is furnished with natural wood to create a cosy, rustic atmosphere and boasts a private balcony (to make the most of those magnificent mountain views). And with twin beds, they are well suited to single skiers as well as couples and friends. What’s more, every morning your chalet hosts arrive to crisp up the sheets, fluff up the towels and replenish the shampoos.

All told, this is a place that guarantees a good time - I defy even the most tightly wound city worker not to feel the tension slip away after a spell in Les Arcs.

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Sure after a costly Christmas, money is no doubt tight but Ski Total offer plenty of budget friendly packages. And at the end of the day, you can either look back on January 2018 and say “I spent it skiing in a stunning French resort” or you can whack on the heating at home, hunker down and watch Celebrity Big Brother.
 

Ski you there?

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IF YOU GO
Ski Total (www.skitotal.com / 01483 791 935) is offering seven nights at the four-diamond plus Chalet Panda in Les Arcs, France from £499 per person this season. Price includes flights from London Gatwick to Geneva, resort transfers and chalet catering (daily skiers breakfast, afternoon tea with homemade cake and three-course evening meals with complimentary wine). For more information please visit www.skitotal.com

View the post here: http://digitaledition.tntmagazine.com/snow-business/

10 reasons why Athens is Europe’s coolest new city break destination

Our lives are short and the world is interesting so why do we spend so many of our weekends away in bland, well behaved cities? Athens is anything but.
The charismatic Greek capital - easily one of the most exhilarating cities right now - is often overlooked by travellers in favour of Barcelona, Berlin, Paris and Rome. Error.  If good nightlife, bars and shops are your thing, then Athens is where it’s at.

Here’s 10 reasons to book a sun drenched city break….

 

The Acropolis

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There are many sites to explore in Athens, but the best is the iconic Acropolis - the greatest symbol of ancient Greece and a wonder of the world.
Crowned by the Parthenon, this epic monument towers over the city with a history that dates back to 447 BC.
Even if you’re of the opinion that you’re after a holiday, not a history lesson, it’s worth climbing the citadel for Instagram worthy views of Athens.
For more information, visit http://odysseus.culture.gr/ 

 

Cafe culture

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Despite being home to blockbuster sights such as the aforementioned Acropolis, Ancient Agora and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens isn’t about sightseeing per se but about exploring.
It’s about wandering around neighbourhoods like Kolonaki and stopping for a leisurely coffee in a people watching cafe.
Make no mistake: Athenians have  great and enduring obsession with coffee. Coffee culture brings people out of their homes and into the streets cafes. Coffee lovers would do well to indulge their cravings at Da Capo (https://www.facebook.com/CAFFEdacapo/) which pours inarguably some of the best coffee in the world.

 

Best bars

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Behind heavy unmarked doors lie lively bars with courtyards and secret rooftops - the perfect place for some raucous antics in a city that exudes sheer joie de vivre.

Hip spots include Clumsies (www.theclumsies.gr), where you can enjoy the most gripping people watching in the world, and Drunk Sinatra (210 331 3733; Thiseos 16, Syntagma). The lines at the latter can be long, but they’re worth it for a mean cocktail at what is currently the hottest place gather post midnight.
Be warned though: bars only close when the last customer has left, so pace yourself as the nights are long. TNT never made it to bed before 2am - this is how Athens rolls - so it’s best not to make too many plans.



Fantastic food
 

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Chances are all this partying will make you feel hungry but fortunately food is a passion in  Athens - just ask locals to recommend favourite spots to start a lively debate.
TNT can vouch for Nikitas (210 325 2591; 

Agion Anargyron 19, Psyrri) - a tried and true taverna in Psyrri that serves reasonably priced and tasty, traditional food.
Chow down on dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves), baked moussaka, mouthwatering mezze, succulent souvlaki, feta and Greek fava dip mopped up with delicious bread so good that you won’t be able to resist munching your way through the whole basket. You'll fast find yourself slipping into a food coma when in Athens….

 

 

Wallet friendly

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What more could you want from a city break? Bargain prices? Well since you ask, Athens offers those too - great news for those whose budget is more push bike than Porsche.
The cost of a coffee or cocktail is embarrassingly low - especially if you’ve arrived from London - and we reckon that a long weekend in sunny Athens would cost you the same as a couple of hours in icy Scandinavia. Hmmm, tough choice.

 

 

The weather

 

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Athens puts out the welcome mat all year round: the city basks in sunshine for the majority of the year, and even if you travel in the height of winter, you can expect temperatures of around 10 degrees.
TNT visited in mid November when it was t-shirts by day and jumpers by night. What’s more if you visit in autumn/winter, the weather is less stifling than in summer while going now also whittles down the crowds.

 

Fab accommodation
Move over dark and dingy hostels. Athens is home to a plethora of accommodation options that are worth your time, as well as your money.
We love Fresh Hotel (www.freshhotel.gr) - a boutique hotel in the hectic heart of downtown Athens - whose bright white balconied bedrooms are perfect for urban explorers who don’t like too much fuss. However the jewel in Fresh Hotel’s crown is the ninth-floor Air Lounge bar which serves up unrivalled views of the floodlit Acropolis, together with a decent drinks list.

 


A creaking calendar of events

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Athens is a city that rarely sleeps. Each month of the year, there’s something happening somewhere - a festival, a show or an exhibition - and often at the same time.
TNT was in town for the Athens marathon - aka the mother of all marathons, whose finish line is in Athens’ magnificent Olympic Stadium (the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games).
According to legend, the race covers the same ground that the Athenian messenger Pheidippides ran when he brought news of victory from the battlefield of Marathon 2,500 years ago. All of which means that when you run the Athens Marathon, you run in the very footsteps of the ancient gods and heroes that gave birth to western civilisation. 

 

To market, to market

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Athens’ buzzy Central Market - a cacophony of shopkeepers, food sellers, scents and performers - is remnant of an older, miraculously unspoiled world

Put your bargaining skills to the test by haggling for spices and this year’s olive oil, then make for the famous Monastiraki Flee Market at Avissynias Square to barter for everything from books to paintings, clothes and trinkets. Even if you come away empty handed, listening to stallholders sing and shout about their wares is half the fun.

 

 

Athenians
Athens is made even more inviting by its people who are happy to share their world with you. Charming and hospitable, they always have time to talk.  Everyone knows somebody who has a friend, who has a cousin, who can help you out.



For more information on Greece, visit DiscoverGreece.com

To make the most of your time in Athens, pick up Lonely Planet’s Pocket Athens (http://shop.lonelyplanet.com/greece/pocket-athens-3/)

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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View the post here: http://digitaledition.tntmagazine.com/10-reasons-why-athens-is-europes-coolest-new-city-break-destination/

Welcome to the jungle

TNT boards a slow boat for an adventure along the Amazon

 

My journey through the astonishing Ecuadorian Amazon Basin, was one of lovely juxtaposition.

On board the ultra-modern, 40 passenger capacity, luxury MV Anakonda vessel, guests sipped Canelazo cocktails - a mixture of boiled water, sugarcane alcohol, lemon, sugar, and cinnamon typical of the Andean region - and listened carefully to lectures about the river’s history.

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My fellow passengers were mostly fellow Europeans and wealthy Ecuadorians, exploring this small South American nation’s section of the Amazon Basin.

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Despite the fact that indigenous people had been living in the Amazon for at least 10,000 years, the Amazon River itself was ‘discovered’ by a Spanish explorer and conquistador - step forward Don Francisco de Orellana. 

The expedition left Quito - capital of Ecuador - in 1541, in search of gold, cinnamon and the elusive El Dorado (the lost city of gold).

Fast forward 12 months and Don Francisco de Orellana et al found neither cinnamon, nor gold. Rather they found the greatest river on earth, arriving at the junction of the Napo and the Amazon on 12th February 1542.

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Back to the boat (although calling the Anakonda a boat is a serious understatement). The vessel employs an army of smiling staff (who easily outnumber the guests) and offers an expansive observation deck, outdoor jacuzzi, al fresco lounge - ideal for reading, relaxation or simply enjoying the spectacular vistas  - plus a screening area for lectures on everything from the history and culture of the region to the Amazon’s bird, animal and plant life.

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The food was an impressive mix of Ecuadorian dishes such as as empanadas (super South American pies), cuy (roasted guinea pig) and ceviche, as well as simpler seafood dishes, soups and salads for the less adventurous.  A highlight was the final night’s barbecue dinner which was enjoyed outside on deck with the Anakonda’s captain - and washed down with copious copa de vinos, natch.

Elsewhere the Anakonda Amazon River Cruise features 18 cabins, all of which boast every conceivable amenity a twenty first century traveller could desire: think private balconies from which to watch the sun rise over the canopy of the rainforest and hear the forest come to life as dawn breaks, jacuzzis, full-frame panoramic windows and, astoundingly, Wifi.

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There were canoe trips downstream to the remote and pristine Pañayacu River Delta in search of squirrel monkeys, pink river dolphins, piranhas, water monkey fish (arawana) and white caiman, and hikes through the Panacocha Protected Forest with experienced guides which revealed all manner of extraordinary flowers, plants and creatures.

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We were also rowed to shore to meet the local Kichwa tribe - who continue to resist contact with the outside world - and tour their traditional village in order to learn a little about Kichwa culture, customs, cuisine and everyday life.

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Another magnificent memory was travelling upstream on a tributary of the Amazon to the Yasuni National Park - one of the most  biodiverse places on earth - to gawp at hundreds of parrots, parakeets and amazons. (Ecuador happens to possess the highest density of bird species anywhere, with over 1,670 species in an astoundingly-reduced geographical area).

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Yet the standout was sailing through the Amazon  - a place that still shows its best self from the water - on the Anakonda, which made for a magical equation: immersion in the the thrill of the wilderness, followed by a retreat  to cosseted comforts.

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I wasn’t an intruder in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin, but part of it. And this is the magic of arriving by water.

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“If man doesn't learn to treat the oceans and the rainforest with respect, man will become extinct.” 

Peter Benchley, American author
 

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It’s a shore thing
A typical day on board the Anaconda (http://www.anakondaamazoncruises.com/) runs as follows:

Morning
6am: wake up call
6.30am: breakfast
7.30am: disembark, morning excursion
12.00: return on board
12.30: lunch

Afternoon
1.30pm: optional lectures
4.30pm: disembark, afternoon visit
8pm: dinner
9pm: briefing for next day activities
9.30pm: optional movie or video presentation

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

 

View the post here: http://digitaledition.tntmagazine.com/welcome-to-the-jungle/

Afraid of flying? easyJet’s Fearless Flyer course could help

Budget airline easyJet – which picked up the award for World's Leading Low-Cost Airline App 2017 at the prestigious World Travel Awards – has opened up bookings for its two day ‘Fearless Flying’ course.

The course kicks off this month and will run until April, with sessions taking place in Belfast, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, Stansted and Gatwick.

Over 6,000 people have attended the course since it launched in 2012- and it has worked for 95% of them.

The course is divided into two sections: a ground course section and a flight.

During the ground course section, phobia expert Lawrence Leyton teaches attendees proven mind techniques to control their nerves while a senior easyJet pilot explains the sounds and sensations experienced onboard a flight.

The second part of the course includes a one hour flight featuring full in-flight commentary, where the attendees can put their new skills and knowledge into practise.

Sian Smith, who attended a course last year, said: “Before the course, I hadn’t flown for ten years because of debilitating anxiety on every flight. I would be sick at the airport, hyper-ventilate, panic, and it would ruin my holiday. I was a bit sceptical about the course, as I was worried it wouldn’t work for me, but it was amazing!


“I felt so calm before the flight and when I did start to feel a bit nervous on the plane before take-off, I used some of the techniques we had been shown and was able to calm down really easily. I absolutely loved my flight, and for the first time ever I got out of my seat to walk around the plane while in the air, and look out the window.

 “I would highly recommend this course to anyone who is scared of flying, even someone really phobic about it.”

Course director, Mark Wein, said: “We’re really pleased to be holding our Fearless Flyer courses across the UK to help passengers conquer their fear, particularly just before the summer period so people can fly to some fantastic destinations for their summer holidays.

“The course is always really emotional with an amazing atmosphere and there are lots of smiles and tears of joy as people learn to fly fearlessly – some for the first time in their lives.”
 

Easyjet’s Fearless Flyer course costs £199 per person and can be booked online at www.fearlessflyer.easyjet.com

 

KH

Seychelles in the spotlight

Move over Mauritius and the Maldives. This year, it’s time for the Seychelles - the Indian Ocean’s less flashy sister - to steal the spotlight.

This enchanting archipelago - which lies off the coast of East Africa and comprises more than 100 (mostly uninhabited) islands - is blessed with year round warm weather, pristine beaches, azure waters and the world's largest coral atoll in Aldabra Atoll.

Little wonder then that A listers, including George and Amal Clooney and Prince William and Kate Middleton, have all honeymooned here…

A  new direct flight from British Airways (launching in April 2018), should help the Seychelles  - which scooped the titles ‘Indian Ocean's Leading Cruise Destination 2017’ and ‘Indian Ocean's Leading Tourist Board 2017’ at the prestigious  World Travel Awards - re-claim its place in the sun. As should the re-opening of the luxurious Four Seasons Resort Seychelles at Desroches Island, in March.


Bottom line? We’ll see you in the Seychelles.