Traditional Foods of Costa Rica

Posted on: July 7th, 2014 Posted by

costa rica

 

With exotic beaches, a tropical climate and a vibrant culture, Costa Rica is a dream holiday destination for a beach holiday or romantic break. It is also a fantastic choice for foodies, with a distinctive cuisine that utilizes the ingredients available locally and is said by some Costa Ricans to be the secret of their vitality and longevity! In this blog, we take a look at some of the traditional breakfast and main meal dishes of the Central American country, as well as drinks and desserts.

 

gallo pinto

 

Breakfast Dishes

Many Costa Ricans start their day with a dish known as gallo pinto (spotted rooster). Despite the name, it does not feature chicken but is made from the staple ingredients of rice and beans mixed together with onions and red pepper. Gallo pinto is often served alongside scrambled eggs, sour cream and slices of fried plantain.

 

casado

 

Main Meals & Snacks

Costa Ricans tend to eat their main meal at lunch-time, with a combination plate called Casado being a firm favourite. Casado means married man, and includes a combination of (you guessed it!) rice and beans – in this dish they are served separately and not mixed together as in Gallo Pinto – along with beef, pork, chicken or fish, salad, fried plantain and omelette. Other popular main meals include the soups Olla de Carne (made from squash, potatoes and cubes of meat) and Sopa de Mondongo (for the more adventurous eater – it is made from cow-belly). For snacks, Bocas are rather like Spain’s famous tapas – small bites of delectable treats often served alongside beer. Black bean dip or chimmichurri with tortilla chips, and ceviche, a marinaded fish dish of Peruvian origins are favourites with the locals.

 

tropical fruit

 

Drinks & Desserts

Popular drinks in Costa Rica include coffee, which is usually served weaker and sweeter than visitors will be used to drinking at home, and hot tea with a slice of lemon. Fruit based drinks which incorporate tropical mango, pineapple, papaya and other more unusual ingredients are widely available and are served freshly juiced and on ice, or mixed with milk. One particularly refreshing beverage is Pipa , which is literally a green coconut sliced open with a machete and drunk through a straw. Desserts include Tarta de Tres Leches which has a sweet flavour and gooey consistency, and flan, which is a rich custard. Fruit also often shows up on the dessert menu – either served on its own, or sliced up into a fruit salad.

 

Do the traditional foods of Costa Rica appeal to your tastes? Which dishes would you most likely try or have tried?

 

 

prague2

 

Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic and the nation’s largest city, has become known as one of Europe’s leading destinations for short vacations. Increasingly popular as a hen and stag night party location, Prague is also an excellent choice for those looking for a self-catering city break, and anyone with an interest in history or architecture. In this blog, we suggest an itinerary for travellers who have just a short amount of time to spend in the city, taking in what we feel are Prague’s “must-see” sights and experiences.

 

prague castle

 

Morning – Prague Castle

Start your day in Prague with a typical breakfast to fuel up for the morning – locals tend to go for freshly baked bread rolls filled with salami, cheese or jam, and perhaps a sweet pastry, accompanied by coffee or tea with lemon. After breakfast, make your way to Prague Castle, an extensive UNESCO World Heritage Site and important Czech monument. The earliest mentions of the castle date back to the year 880 and over the years the castle has been the stage for many dramatic and significant historical moments. We suggest that you buy tickets for Circuit B, which includes access to highlights such as St Vitus Cathedral and Golden Lane.  Expect to spend a couple of hours exploring before moving onto the next location of the day.

prague3

 

Late Morning/ Lunchtime – Lesser Town

One of the joys of Prague is that it is easy to navigate and the best sights are within walking distance of each other. Moving down the hill from the castle, you’ll find yourself in the Lesser Town (Mala Strana) which you may well recognise as the scene of numerous TV adverts and film scenes! Stroll the charming streets and enjoy the beautiful Baroque architecture in this ancient settlement and if it appeals, take a look at St Nicholas Church with its impressive fresco by Franz Palko. For lunch, choose one of the many restaurants overlooking the river. Many eateries offer a budget lunchtime menu, usually including a soup followed by meat or fish with potatoes or dumplings.

 

prague

 

Afternoon – Old Town

After lunch, make your way over the 14th Century Charles Bridge, which connects Lesser Town and Old Town. Your destination is Old Town Square, an ancient plaza surrounded by buildings in the Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance styles. The best known site on the square is the 15th Century Astrological Clock on the Old Town Hall Tower. The awe-inspiring clock, which was made in the 15th Century, welcomes every hour with its Procession of the Twelve Apostles. Complete the afternoon with a walk (or elevator ride) to the top of the tower for more fantastic views of the city, then head back down to one of the nearby pavement cafés and reward yourself with a locally brewed beer!

 

prague1

 

Evening Entertainment

If you have time in the evening, make the most of Prague’s excellent night-life. Bars and nightclubs offering a vibrant party atmosphere and for those who would like to see a different side of the city, an evening river cruise with dinner on-board is an elegant option. Another idea is to check out one of the traditional Czech dance and music shows offered by several establishments in the city.

 

If you had just one day to spend in Prague, which of its many attractions would you make time to visit? 

 

 

 

cov centre1

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Located in the heart of the Warwickshire countryside, Coventry is a beautiful and lively city that is perfect for a short break with the family. In this week’s blog, we take a look at some of the top attractions in the area.

 

Coventry-Transport-Museum-Thrust-2

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Coventry Transport Museum

Coventry was formerly a centre for British motor-car construction, and its past is remembered at the Coventry Transport Museum. The extensive and well-laid out museum is free to visit, making it an ideal choice for families travelling on a budget. With over 200 cars and 120 motorcycles, the museum takes you through a history of British transport in style. Highlights include Queen Mary’s car and the two Thrust jet cars that broke world land speed records in the 1980s and 1990s. The museum has a coffee house serving eat-in and takeaway snacks, and gift-shop. (Please note that the museum is currently undergoing refurbishment and some exhibits may be partially closed).

 

 cov cathedral night

 

Coventry Cathedral

While many of Britain’s religious buildings are ancient, Coventry Cathedral is a newer construction which was built to replace the 14th Century church destroyed in air-raids during World War II. An iconic feature of the city, many locals consider it to be a symbol of the cities strength and community spirit. Coventry Cathedral is an active church, and visitors can choose to attend a service, or join a guided tour to discover more about the building. Also on-site, visitors can opt to take the challenge of walking up the bell-tower (a good way to burn off some excess energy and see the fantastic view from the top)  as well as exploring the Blitz Museum, which recreates what people’s homes would have looked like in the 1940s.

 

 herbert art gallery

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Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

The award-winning Herbert Art Gallery & Museum is an educational and fun attraction which focuses on local history, art and culture. As well as an astonishing array of artefacts ranging from costumes to taxidermy birds and weaving looms to children’s toys, the museum also has a great range of hands-on exhibits. Ideal to stimulate young and curious minds, interactive screens, dressing up opportunities and more guarantee a fun experience for all. The Herbert is located opposite Coventry Cathedral, and has a gift-shop and a café.

 

 brandon marsh

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Brandon Marsh Nature Centre

Located a short drive from Coventry city and easily accessible by public transport, Brandon Marsh Nature Centre is a fantastic place to get outdoors, enjoy the fresh air and spot the local wildlife. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, the reserve is set over 220 acres and is a habitat to numerous species of flora and fauna. With a nature trail, bird-hides, a recycled garden and a sensory garden, as well as a “mouse-maze” there is plenty to see and do. The nature centre also has a picnic area, a tearoom which serves hot meals and snacks, as well as a gift- and book-shop.

 

Do you know of a great family attraction in Coventry that we didn’t feature in our list? 

 

 

Must See Attractions in North Jutland

Posted on: June 16th, 2014 Posted by

 

denmark

 

If you are looking for a family-friendly holiday destination with a difference, why not consider North Jutland? The northernmost region of Denmark boasts miles of sandy beaches, attractive towns and lots of things to see and do, and is a reasonably short two-hour flight from the UK making it a great choice for anyone who wants to travel overseas but doesn’t fancy going long-haul. In this week’s blog, we focus on North Jutland and suggest just a few of the must see attractions in the area.

 

Lindholm Høje

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Viking History At Lindholm Høje 

Discover the fascinating history of the Vikings in Denmark at Lindholm Hoje. Located on a wooded hillside overlooking the city of Aalborg, Lindholm Hoje was once an important burial site and many ancient stones remain in place today. Sign-posts offering information in English are placed around the site to give you a better understanding of the various elements, while the museum displays an exciting collection of artefacts and exhibitions about Viking life and culture. The open-air Lindholm Hoje burial site is free to enter, but there is a small entry fee for the museum.

 

Voergaard Castle

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Fine Art & Spooky Tales At Voergaard Castle

Steeped in mystery and legend, and home to an impressive collection of fine art, Voergaard Castle (Voergaard Slot in Danish) will appeal to visitors of all ages. The lavish Renaissance style was built in the 15th Century and over the years, certain spooky tales have become attached to the property – from a strange stain that cannot be removed from the floor and sightings of a “white lady” wandering the rooms at night. Ghoulish happenings aside, the castle also offers a glimpse into the past with the beautifully furnished rooms featuring an array of antiques and rare items, from Napoleon’s dinner service to works by Rubens and Goya. There is an entry fee for the castle, with reduced rates for children.

 

 Nordsøen Oceanarium

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Fun For The Kids At Nordsøen Oceanarium

Located in the port town of Hirtshals, Nordsoen Oceanarium will be a huge hit with kids of all ages. The Oceanarium has Northern Europe’s biggest aquarium tank, featuring species from the North Sea, as well as smaller exhibition tanks, feeding demonstrations and a newly opened “touch tank” where you can get close to starfish, flat fish and other friendly sea creatures.Open daily from 10am to 5pm, entrance tickets for the Oceanarium can be purchased in advance through their website, at a discounted rate.

 

Are you planning a visit to North Jutland or have you already spent a vacation there? Comment and tell us what you are most looking forward to doing during your stay, or what you recommend 

 

 

What to See & Do in Cluj-Napoca

Posted on: June 9th, 2014 Posted by

 

romania

 

With its  unspoilt countryside and picturesque cities, Romania is growing in popularity as a holiday destination for a traveller from across the globe. Cluj-Napoca is a first choice for many visitors to the country – it was once the capital of the renown region of Transylvania and has grown to become a cultural and economic hub. In this blog, we offer just a few suggestions for what to see and do on a  visit to the city.

 

banfy castle

 

Cluj National Museum of Art

Established in 1951, Cluj National Museum of Art is housed within the beautiful Banffy Palace. The 18th century building was built by the architect Johann Eberhard Blaumann in the Baroque style and is considered an important example from the era. Open from 12 noon to 7pm from Wednesday to Sunday, the museum has more than 300 pieces of art and sculpture on exhibit including works by Alexander Popp and Virgil Fulicea.

 

museum

 

National Museum of Transylvania History

With an extraordinary collection of exhibits which tell the story of Transylvania from the Palaeolithic period to present day, the National Museum of Transylvania History is a fascinating place to spend an hour or two. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm, the museum was founded in 1859 and has a vast collection of objects which range from mammoth tusks and ancient tools, to intricate medieval jewellery, books, print and more.

 

gradina botanica - 1

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Alexander Borza Botanical Garden

Founded in 1920 and now a well-loved landmark in Cluj-Napoca, the Alexander Borza Botanical Garden is an ideal spot to explore on a sunny spring or summer day. The gardens are open daily from 9am to 8pm and are landscaped with different themed zones including a Japanese garden and a Roman garden. The gardens also have tropical greenhouses and a museum and many of the trees and plants are notable for being rare or threatened species.

 

Fortress_Hill

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Fortress Hill

Located to the north of Cluj-Napoca’s old city, Fortress Hill is a must-visit for nearly every visitor to the city. Reaching 60m above the city, the hill is, unsurprisingly, the best spot to get a wonderful view over the surrounding landscape. The hill is named for a fortress which once stood guard over Cluj-Napoca, although now only the remains of its ruins can be seen. Today, the hill is topped by a hotel, and a cross in memory of the 1848 Revolution.

 

Have you visited Cluj-Napoca and what did you think of the city? Or are you planning a trip?

 

 

Six Summer Cocktails To Mix During Vacation

Posted on: June 2nd, 2014 Posted by

cocktail

 

Whether you are staying at home this year during your vacation or travelling to foreign climes, a cocktail is a refreshing and fun way to celebrate. In this blog, we explain how to blend and present five fantastic summery cocktails (plus one alcohol free option) that will tantalise your taste-buds and get you in the holiday mood.

 

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What You’ll Need & Tips

In addition to the ingredients listed for each drink, you’ll need a cocktail shaker and selection of glasses for serving. Remember to have a good supply of ice prepared in the freezer and if you like, a stock of decorative straws and stirrers to add a personal touch to your drinks. And of course, remember that although these cocktails may be very easy to drink, they are also rather potent – so enjoy with moderation.

 

pink cocktail

Flamingo

The Flamingo is a zingy and tropical cocktail with a lovely pink colour thanks to the grenadine syrup included in the mix. To make the cocktail, simply mix two measures of white rum, one measure of lemon juice and one measure of pineapple juice in your cocktail shaker and mix well. In a tall or balloon type glass, add crushed ice, then pour a splash of grenadine over the top before filling with your cocktail blend.

 

coconut cocktail

Tropical Islands

Tropical Islands is a vibrant, sparkling cocktail which includes fresh fruit for a festive touch. Prepare this drink by chopping summer fruits into chunks (we like a combination of cherries, strawberries and peaches) and half filling a highball glass. In your cocktail shaker, mix one measure of brandy and one measure of white curacao, then pour over the fruit. To finish, top up with very cold tonic water.

 

red cocktail

Mad Summer

With an unusual and distinctive combination of flavours, Mad Summer makes a great palate refresher between courses at dinner. Make Mad Summer by mixing three measures of whisky and one measure of tequila with three measures of watermelon juice. Pour into a tall glass and serve with a slice of watermelon and plenty of ice.

 

bellini cocktail

Mango Bellini

For special occasions, the Mango Bellini is a wonderful, exotic cocktail that is very easy to make. The trick with this one is to make sure all the ingredients, and the glasses are chilled before starting. Then simply mix cava with mango juice, and serve in flute glasses – no decoration needed!

 

blue cocktail

Blue Lagoon

With an enticing blue colour that is reminiscent of the ocean, Blue Lagoon is a classic holiday favourite. Blend one measure of blue curacao with one measure of vodka, and pour over crushed ice in a tumbler glass. Top up with lemonade and serve with sprigs of fresh mint – magnificent!

 

cocktail by pool

Sunny Sunday

Those who prefer not to drink alcohol don’t have to miss out on the flavoursome fun of cocktails – try a Sunny Sunday instead. Make this delicious cocktail by pouring a generous splash of grenadine over crushed ice, before topping up with a 50/50 mix of ginger beer and apple juice. Serve with slices of apple for a decorative touch.

 

Which of our selection of summer cocktails do you like best? Do you have any delectable cocktail recipes to share?

 

 

Orlando – More Than Just Theme Parks!

Posted on: May 27th, 2014 Posted by

orlando

 

Mention a holiday in Orlando, and for the majority of us, what comes to mind are the city’s numerous, world-famous theme parks. However, Orlando has much more to it than Disneyland, Universal et al. In this blog, we check out a selection of fascinating things to see and do that are ideal for when you get theme park “overload” and need a break, or if you simply want to skip those types of attractions altogether.

 

MennelloMuseum

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Mennelo Museum of American Art

As one of the best cultural attractions in Orlando, Mennelo Museum of American Art offers a comprehensive introduction to works from a diverse array of genres, eras and artists. With a pretty location on the banks of Lake Formosa, just outside of Downtown Orlando, the museum building was once the private home of Howard Philips and exhibits both a permanent collection and temporary shows, as well as displaying sculptures in the surrounding gardens.

 

wekiwa springs

 

Wekiwa Springs

A beautiful and popular state park, Wekiwa Springs is a brilliant choice for a family day out with a difference. Pack a picnic and your swimming togs, and head down to the park early to enjoy getting close to nature in wonderful unspoilt surroundings. Fauna including squirrels, turkeys and bears are frequently spotted in the park, there are dozens of walking and cycling trails, kayak hire is available and the springs that the park is named for offer a memorable wild swimming opportunity.

 

orlandosciencecenter

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Orlando Science Center

Educational and fun, the Orlando Science Center will be enjoyed by adults and kids alike. Spread over six floors of exhibition halls, themes include dinosaurs, the human body and the weather, and is sure to capture your families imagination. The museum also has an ongoing schedule of events and workshops throughout the year, a high-powered telescope, plus a choice of superb 3D theatres showing nature related films.

 

More Inspiration

Orlando has plenty more to offer visitors who don’t want to be tied to the hustle and bustle of amusement parks. Anyone who fancies an action packed holiday will be pleasantly surprised by the variety of activities on offer – indoor sky-diving, paddle-boarding, trapeze lessons, hot air balloon rides and sport fishing are only a few of the options available. Those who prefer a slower pace are also spoilt for choice – vineyard visits and tastings, designer shopping outlets, luxurious spas and foodie gourmet tours offer something for every interest and personality.

 

Have you been on vacation in Orlando and done something “different” – why not tell us about your experience? 

 

 

Refreshing Soups for Chilled Out Summer Dining

Posted on: May 19th, 2014 Posted by

 

family eating

 

Are you looking for a tasty and easy to prepare dinner party starter? Or perhaps you are looking for healthy and refreshing dishes to serve your family during the summer holidays? If so, we have a treat in store for you. In this weeks blog, we look at a selection of cold soups from around the world. Light and fresh in flavour, these summery soups bring seasonal ingredients to centre-stage and are a delight on the palate.

 

gazpacho

Gazpacho

Originating from the province of Andalusia, gazpacho is the perfect antidote to the extreme temperatures and dry, dusty climate of Spain in summer. Concocted from a base of tomato, onion, garlic, cucumber and bell pepper, gazpacho is blended with olive oil, water, vinegar and salt, for a intense flavour and sometimes thickened with stale bread for a more substantial texture. Often served with ice-cubes and a garnish of diced vegetables, this traditional Spanish dish also has the added bonus of being rich in vitamins and minerals, so it is as healthy as is is delicious.

 

ajo blanco

Ajo Blanco

Spain is also the home of our second cold soup, ajo blanco, or white garlic, soup. Like gazpacho, ajo blanco was created in Andalusia – some say in Seville and others in Malaga. As its name suggests, garlic is a key ingredient, but don’t let this put you off. The garlic is combined with almonds, bread, olive oil and salt to create a creamy textured soup which is surprisingly subtle. The soup is usually garnished with grapes or melon, which adds an exciting contrast of flavour and texture.

 

vichyssoise

Vichyssoise

Our third cold soup is vichyssoise – considered by many to be a traditional French dish, although some food historians suggest that it may actually have been invented in America! Vichyssoise is a chicken stock based soup, which also features leeks, potatoes and cream for an exquisite flavour and velvety mouth-feel. Unlike other cold soups, vichyssoise can also be served warm – but we think that it is at its best when chilled and served with a garnish of chives.

 

borscht

Borscht

Our final cold soup recommendation comes from Central and Eastern Europe, where is is very popular during the summer months. Borscht is made from beetroot, including the leaves where possible, which is chopped and boiled, before being mixed with sour cream or yogurt. This results in a beautiful, pink coloured soup that has a delightful and unusual flavour. Borscht is often garnished with hard-boiled eggs and radishes.

 

 

Have you tried any of these cold soups? Or have you discovered another cold soup that you think we should know about? Comment and let us know.

 

 

A Guide to Camp-fire Cookery

Posted on: May 12th, 2014 Posted by

camp fire

 

Planning a camping holiday for your summer vacation? If so, then this week’s blog is for you. We’ve put together a camp-fire cookery guide which covers everything you need to know to cook delicious meals that go way beyond your typical barbecued sausages and burgers. Follow our tips and tricks and your fellow campers will be salivating at the enticing aromas emanating from your camp!

 

chopping board

 

The Basics

Whether cooking indoors or outdoors, food safety and hygiene is always an important consideration.

  • Make use of insulated storage boxes and ice-packs to keep fresh ingredients chilled.
  • Wash your hands regularly, or use an antibacterial hand sanitizer if water is not available.
  • Avoid using the same chopping boards, plates etc. for raw and cooked foods, especially meats.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check that foods are cooked through before serving.

 

As you’ll be cooking on an open fire or barbecue, you’ll also want to bear the following points in mind.

  • For the best flavour always use charcoal or quality fire wood as cooking fuel.
  • Use utensils and equipment which are designed for cooking on an open flame.
  • Always fully extinguish the fire when you are finished cooking and never leave it unattended.

 

kebabs

 

What To Cook

Cooking on a camp-fire is very different from cooking in your home kitchen, and sometimes involves some creativity to get tasty results. One pot dishes such as stew, chilli con carne, curry, Boston beans and soup are all great options. Hearty enough to satisfy the hunger brought on by all that fresh air and fun, and convenient when you have lots of mouths to feed, one pot cookery also means there is minimal clean-up afterwards. Another idea that we love is making individual “all in one” meals of meat or fish, potatoes and vegetables wrapped in parcels of aluminium foil and cooked on a rack over hot coals. You can even make desserts using the same idea – try mixed summer fruits such as strawberries, plums and peaches, or for each person, split a banana along its length and place a few pieces of chocolate and marshmallow inside before wrapping and cooking until soft. Another option is to use barbecue skewers (metal is best, but if you have wooden skewers, soak in warm water for a couple of hours before use to prevent them from scorching). Let each person concoct their preferred combination of meat, vegetables, seafood and fish, and marinade or season to taste before cooking over hot coals. You can even try making the traditional camp-fire bread “twist”, which is a simple dough made from flour, water and salt or sugar, twisted around a skewer or stick and cooked until golden!

 

Do you have a camp-fire cookery tip or recipe that you’d like to share with other readers? Comment and tell us about it!

 

3 Reasons to Try Glamping

Posted on: May 6th, 2014 Posted by

 

tipi's glamping

 

Over the past couple of years a large number of sites providing “glamping” accommodation have begun to spring up throughout the UK and beyond. From stays in shepherd’s huts to authentic Mongolian yurts, glamping is becoming a major self-catering trend and a fascinating alternative to normal holiday accommodation. In this week’s blog, we suggest three reasons why you might like to consider glamping for your next family vacation, couples getaway or group break.

 

glamping

 

Enjoy Outdoor Living in Comfort

The word glamping itself means glamorous camping – which might start to give you an idea of what this type of holiday is designed to offer. One of the main ideas behind glamping is to give everyone the chance to enjoy the good parts of camping, while getting rid of the less pleasant elements. When you glamp, there is no need to worry about the struggle of setting your tent up, and you can forget about sleepless nights on rocky ground. Glamping accommodation generally is all set up and fitted out with all the kit needed for a camping break, so that all you need to do is turn up on site and let your holiday begin. From double beds and bed linen, to camping stoves and kettles, glamping gives you all your home comforts in a beautiful natural setting.

 

wind power

 

Go Green

Many, although not all, glamping sites are set up to allow guests to enjoy a fun holiday while taking steps to protect and maintain the environment. Some eco-friendly glamping sites use alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power, and many are off the grid (meaning that the accommodation is not connected to mains electricity), helping to reduce the carbon footprint even further. Another popular feature of green glamping sites is compost toilets – a highly efficient and clean system which dramatically reduces the amount of water used to process waste.

 

camping fire

 

Spend Quality Time With Family

Another great thing about glamping is that it creates an experience that encourages everyone to participate and have some real quality time together. With no TV or internet, you’ll find yourself taking time to enjoy the good things in life – interacting with the ones you love and making memories together. Cooking together, sharing stories around the camp-fire, checking out local attractions and trying new activities are all ways that a glamping break can help you disconnect from the stresses of everyday existence and reconnect with the special people in your life.

 

Has this our blog inspired you to book a camping holiday? Have you already tried glamping? Comment and let us know your thoughts and experiences.