If you have ever had a flight cancelled, had a boarding pass but were denied boarding because they overbooked, been bumped just before boarding, sat on the tarmac for hours, or find that your luggage has been lost or delayed on arrival at your destination, you know how maddening it can be.

This is especially stressful if it’s not just you and now you have a melee of angry passengers looking to re book. To put it mildly they are stressed and upset and make it obvious, Then you have the drunk and the crying kids all of which add to the stress level when all you want is to board a plane and get to your destination on time.

In all of these cases, the airline owes you for your trouble. Sometimes it’s by law and other times it’s just good customer service – not all airlines are equal in the way they handle a variety of problems. Here are some of your legal rights you may not know you have..

Research and Know Your Rights in Advance
It makes sense to know your rights before you book. When you are stranded at the airport is no time to start researching to find out what you are entitled to and what rights you have in the particular situation you end up in. There are two resources that will help you understand your rights the US Department of Transportation Airline Passenger Protection Bill and the Air
Consumer Flying Rights.

Locking in your Fare in advance of Payment
When booking a flight you can reserve and lock in your price for 24 hours or more without payment depending on the flight being booked. This works when booking direct with the airline or with your Travel Agent. This won’t necessarily work if booking your own fare online. At the time of making the reservation you must provide your exact name as it is on your passport or government ID. Names cannot be changed and if it’s wrong the reservation would be canceled starting back at the beginning looking for a new fare likely at a new more expensive price. This process gives you 24 hours or more to decide if that’s the flight you want before making payment. Remember that any requested changes during that time will cancel the reservation and start you back at the beginning with new information.

Prices do change quickly in the airline industry depending on the volumes booked on the flights. Booking last minute will likely cost you a lot more than booking 2 to 3 weeks out. When you get a good quote on the flight you want lock it in while you make a decision rather than losing out on the price while you decide.

Bumped Flights
You may not be aware but if you are bumped from a flight or if your luggage is lost or delayed you have a right to ask for cash. If they ask for volunteers because a flight is overbooked and offer a voucher for a future flight or a combination of cash and voucher most people will accept this. If that’s good with you then take it, but according to Airfare Watchdog you can ask for a cash payout on the spot depending on the amount of delay time In getting to your destination. :

Under US Department of Transportation rules bumped passengers subject to short delays will receive compensation equal to double the price of their tickets, while those subject to longer delays would receive payments of four times the value of their tickets. There are limits in place so check the DOT bill of rights for the latest compensation limits.

Short delays are 1-2 hours for domestic flights, and 1-4 hours for international flights. Longer delays are for times more than these. For outright cancellations, the airline owes a full refund, even on non-refundable flights.

Delayed or Lost Luggage
If your luggage is delayed or lost you are also entitled to compensation. Some airlines offer nothing other than delivery to your home or destination hotel when the luggage arrives, others offer a small amount of cash to cover essentials like toiletries, and others might offer a voucher for a discount on a future flight. The law actually says you are entitled to up to $3,300 for luggage delayed on a domestic flights and up to $1,500 for luggage delayed on an International Flight. The amount is determined by how long you are without your luggage. If the luggage is totally lost then you are entitled to the full compensation. Check the DOT bill of rights for the latest compensation limits.

Airlines are also required to apply the same baggage compensation for each segment of your trip if you have more than one flight including those with interline and code share partners.

Tarmac Delays
The amount of time the airlines are allowed to keep you sitting on a plane on the tarmac before they allow you to deboard has changed . On a domestic flight the airline cannot keep you on the plane for more than 3 hours before allowing you to deplane. On International flights the amount of time they can keep you on the tarmac is 4 hours. The airlines are required to provide you with water and washroom access at all times during the delay.

Summary
Airlines will often give you what works for them, glossing over whats best for you and your passenger rights. Your best defense is to know your rights and to be willing to follow up with them when you have to.

Most airlines will try to give you a travel voucher, a discount on a future ticket, a flight upgrade or additional frequent flier miles instead of cash. If you are happy with any of these take them.

The airlines will do their best to re book you on another flight or with another airline. Rather than wait in the line up after a flight is canceled call the Airline direct to re book, you’ll get booked much faster than waiting in line. Make a note of the airline contact number and keep it handy just in case.

Better to be prepared and to know your rights before you fly, then you’ll know exactly what to do if and when the times comes.

In my next article I will elaborate on how to complain and how to go about getting what you are entitled to.

I am a serial Entrepreneur particularly in all aspects Small Business and Tourism. Over the years in addition to owning a Country Inn & Restaurant and 3 Travel Agencies I have mentored many small business owners and developed and presented several workshops on Tourism, Entrepreneurship and Life Skills.

My staff are experts on Travel and treat our clients like family. We look forward to working with you to find the best program to suit your tour plans. Individual personal attention to your tour and travel requests.

Contact us now at info@a-ztours.com and check out our website tours and testimonials at – http://www.a-ztours.com

Avoid Airports with Multiple Terminals for International Connections

When flying to an International destination you want the process to be as smooth and comfortable as possible especially if you have to deplane and make a new connection. When buying your ticket there are a couple of things to consider to make your transition as easy and stress free as possible.

Firstly make sure there is enough time between connecting flights so you aren’t literally running from one gate to another. Remember that if your first plane is delayed it could mean you miss the connection. So check what weather conditions are likely to be at the time of travel and plan your time accordingly. Much better to have time for a coffee, meal and washroom break between flights than to be running from one to the next. This is especially important if you have to change terminals and if you have to go through security a second time for the new flight. If you need help ask your Travel Agent to help you plan your trip.

Some airports are better than others for connections so if traveling where you may have to change terminals this information is worth noting. Brett Snyder at Conde Nast Traveler highlights the three worst U.S. airports for international connections and what to look out for when considering an airport as a connection stop.

The 3 airports are:
1. O’Hare International Airport in Chicago
2. John F. Kennedy Airport in New York
3. LAX in Los Angeles

and if traveling through Europe I would also add
1. London Heathrow
2. Frankfurt in Germany

These airports have one thing in common: they all have multiple terminals, many of which aren’t connected behind security. This means you may have to go through customs and security again if you exit one terminal and enter another if the terminals are not connected behind security. Besides the time and energy taken to move from one terminal to another as I’m sure you realize going through security a second time can be tedious and time consuming especially if there are long lines. This is exaggerated by the fact you have already been through security once and have now come off your first flight likely tired after a long flight and made even worse if you have elderly persons or children in tow.

If you picked up that bottle of water or soda you will need to drink it or dispose of it again. If you purchased duty free on the first flight and have to go back through security for the next flight they are likely to confiscate your duty free liquor. This has happened twice were it was confiscated from my clients when flying into Amsterdam and onto Scandinavia. If buying liquor make sure to buy on the second leg if you have a terminal change – check with the store when buying it so you don’t get caught out.

Before taking your next international flight, check your routing, get advice from your Travel Agent on connection times for your particular connection airport and check online for the layout of the connecting airport so you can see exactly what you will encounter if changing terminals.

If you can’t avoid going though a connecting airport that you know could mean a terminal change and possible second security check, make sure to leave plenty of time between your flights so you are not rushed and stressed about missing your connection.

Being aware and prepared can save you a lot of time and stress and make your flight more relaxing and enjoyable. There is nothing worse than sitting on the first plane wondering if it’s going to arrive in time to make your connecting flight. Been there, done that!!!! it’s hard on the head particularly if you have time frames to meet at your arrival destination.

Plan ahead for a smooth relaxing trip.

My name is Avril and I’m originally from England, now a Canadian Citizen, I have over 35 years experience as a serial Entrepreneur particularly in all aspects Small Business and Tourism. Over the years in addition to owning a Country Inn & Restaurant and 3 Travel Agencies I have mentored many small business owners and developed and presented several workshops on Tourism, Entrepreneurship and Life Skills.

My staff are experts on Travel and treat our clients like family. We look forward to working with you to find the best program to suit your tour plans. Individual personal attention to your tour and travel requests.

Contact us now at info@a-ztours.com and check out our website tours and testimonials at – http://www.a-ztours.com

When you go on holiday you are looking to your new surroundings to find relaxation and enjoyment away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life. If your chosen destination is a hot tourist spot then you are likely to be overwhelmed by masses of tourists, noise and long line ups at your intended site visits. At this point you might wonder why you ever left home. Here are some tips to bypass the crowds and avoid the frustrations that might otherwise spoil your trip.

Book Your Passes or Event Tickets in Advance:
These days many Passes and Event Tickets can be booked online or through your Travel Agent and will save waiting in line ups.

Arrive before or After the Crowds:
Many of the sites have key times when the masses turn up, go early before the crowds or later, when they are likely to have left – even lunch times are good as many of the groups will have left to have lunch.

Travel in the Off-Season and avoid Main Holiday Periods:
Find out when the shoulder seasons are for your particular destination – these periods are often cheaper and definitely have less crowds to tend with. Remember that main holidays like, Christmas and Easter usually incur supplementary charges and will definitely be more crowded with holiday makers.

Talk To Your Travel Agent and Hotel Concierge:
Ask questions, get maps, ask about taxis, restaurants and the sites you wish to visit. These folks are experts and can save you lots of hassle trying to find things out for yourself.

Sign Up For Special Tours/Event in Advance:
If there are any special events or tours being offered for your Vacation buy them in advance. Firstly they are usually cheaper purchased in advance and secondly it ensures you get booked in before they are sold out.

Week Days as opposed to Weekends:
I think we all know that most sites and events are less crowded during the week than on weekends when people are off work and the kids are out of school. Flights are also usually cheaper weekdays than they are on weekends.

Choose the lesser visited sites during Peak Periods:
If you know that the main sites are going to be crowded during peak periods, try to choose the more off the beaten path sites during these times and save the main sites for quieter periods.

School Holidays are always busy:
When the kids are out of school you can guarantee that sites will be busy as families will be limited to traveling during these times if they don’t wish to take their kids out of school. Try to choose your travel times outside of these periods if you wish to avoid the crowds.

Opt Out of the Photo Ops on Entry:
Bypass the Photo Ops often offered at sites as you enter. Firstly you will bypass the line-up and you will save money as they are usually expensive. You can readily take your own photos with a cell phone these days.

Vary your Meal Times:
If you don’t have to have set meal times for medical reasons, then it makes good sense to vary your meal times to avoid the busy restaurant periods especially at lunch and dinner times. Besides avoiding the crowds you are likely to get better service when the staff have less folks to service at one time.

Avoid staying in Noisy Areas:
If you like a good nights sleep then be aware of the location of your Hotel. Stay away from busy and high traffic areas especially if there is a lot of night life going on in that area. Even if the Hotel is quiet you are likely to have late night revelers coming back to the Hotel at all hours of the night, and after a night of frivolity they aren’t likely to be quiet when going to their rooms. Check to see if any sports events are going on in the area and if the teams are staying at your Hotel – if they are you might be in for a noisy night.

Are there any Cruise Ships in Town?:
When Cruise ships dock for the day passengers are offered sightseeing and shopping tours. This means the local sites and shops will be overrun with Cruise passengers. Find out when Cruises are booked to Dock and if possible avoid the sites and shops on those days.

Check for The Weather:
Mother nature controls a lot of what we do especially for outdoor activities. Check the forecasts and plan your indoor and outdoor activities accordingly to accommodate the weather. It pays to be flexible when it comes to weather, and to have back up plans if the weather changes.

THE QUEBEC WINTER CARNIVAL

The Québec Winter Carnival held annually in Quebec City in collaboration with Loto-Québec has existed for over 60 years. Taking place in late January to mid February each year. The habitants of New France created a rowdy annual celebration just before lent of eating, drinking and getting merry. This led to the set up of the annual winter celebration meant to create a social and tourism event that would in turn give Quebecers something to be proud of and stimulate the economy.
Over the years it has gained international fame through its renowned key figure, Bonhomme Carnaval, a living replica of a snowman. Created for the first festival in 1955 he enchants local children and has become an ambassador to all Carnival visitors. Bonhomme wears the the traditional red hat and belt and appears during all the various Carnival events.

Over the years the Carnival has added and enriched its activities. The Québec Winter Carnival has become the largest winter carnival in the world today, and is third on the List of Top Carnivals after the famous Rio and New Orleans carnivals.

Bonhomme’s Arrow Sash
The red outfits, the arrowhead sash, a sip of “caribou”, various tests of strength and skill and Bonhomme’s image go back to the origins of the Québec Winter Carnival, some even further.

The arrowhead sash used as a belt to tie jackets during the 19th century to prevent cold has remained a symbol in Quebecois society thanks to the Québec Carnival. Both a practical and fashionable accessory the belt and the red hat, linked directly to Québec folklore, are the primary elements of Bonhomme’s outfit.

Trumpets
The long red trumpets toot through the parade circuits to encourage people to move and dance to keep warm. Dress in red, tie your belt and hold onto your hat and enjoy a Quebec City party.

The Ice Castle
In 1955 A magical ice palace was built for Bonhomme this impressive ice construction even included a dungeon used jokingly to jail Carnival-goers who refused to honour Bonhomme.

The Carnival kingdom’s palace is an immense structure taking around 2 months to build of snow bricks then enhanced with light displays and special effects. The palace is the center point for many of the Carnival activities.

Ice canoe races
The ice Canoe Race held since the beginning of the festival has several courageous teams compete in a tumultuous ride along the St. Lawrence River between Quebec City and Lévis.

Now you can jump from spectator to canoeist allowing you to experience an ice canoe ride downtown were you’ll float and paddle on the St. Lawrence River with the ice crackling at your feet. A unique experience not to be missed.

Snow Sculptures
Sculptors from around the world turn Place Desjardins and Place Loto-Québec into a giant outdoor museum of snow sculptures. Snow sculpting has become one of the Carnival’s key activities. In 1973, the International Snow Sculpture Competition of Québec officially opened. Nowadays the International Snow Sculpture Competition has become a prestigious event and the oldest snow sculpture competition in the world.

Carnival Night Parades
The two Québec Carnival Night Parades have become popular events over the years. They take place during the second and the third Carnival weekends. Thousands of spectators turn out to celebrate and enjoy these unique events.

Caribou
The Caribou drink is feisty beverage created by Ti-Père, a business in Old Québec.

Carnival Queens & Duchesses
Each year after a lengthy process to qualify 7 duchesses are chosen to represent the 7 sectors of the Quebec region. They are assigned many tasks and must not forget that first and foremost they are Ambassadors of the Carnival.
At the beginning of the Carnival a Queen is chosen through a program based on the number of candles sold in the different areas of the city. Everyone participating eagerly awaits the Queen’s coronation. Over the years more than 12,000 women have applied to become a duchess.

Would you like to know more about this event or book to go – please contact us at info@a-ztours.com

OVERVIEW:
As a child one of my favorite places to visit was Hampton Court, home of Henry VIII and his many wives. The gardens are beautiful and the maze is a real challenge. That’s before you get into the Palace itself with the animated staff and furniture and décor from the original days of Henry.

Not forgetting the kitchens and hallway where the ghost of Anne Bolelyn is said to walk with her head under her arm. Luckily I haven’t witnessed that phenomena. Here is some info on the Palace and I hope if you are ever in the area you will make the time to visit – it’s a place you won’t soon forget.

MUST SEES:
The Maze –
Get lost and test yourself in the most famous Maze in the world. Entry is included in the All Palace and Gardens Admission or you can purchase and Maze only ticket.

The Kitchens – The kitchens were built to feed the court of Henry VIII – over 600 people twice a day. See the sights and smells or a real Tudor Kitchen.

Animators – Hear about the life of Henry and his courtiers and you might even see the big man himself.

Henry’s Crown – See the recreation of Henry VIII’s Crown of State. 

The Chapel – The Chapel has been in use for over 450 years and visitors are welcome to attend services on Sundays.

The Gardens – 60 Acres of internationally celebrated and beautifully maintained Gardens at Hampton Court Palace.

HISTORY:
The Palace was originally the property of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem until it was taken over in 1514 by Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop or York and Chief Minister to Henry VIII who spent the next 7 years rebuilding the Palace into the finest Palace in England. Nothing was too lavish as Wolsey attempted to create a Renaissance Cardinal’s Palace in all it’s grandeur. Even today most of Wolsey’s original building work remains and his seal remains visible over the entrance arch of the clock tower.

Wolsey passed the Palace onto Henry VIII as a gift in 1528 when he realized that his enemies and the King were engineering his downfall. He died in 1530.

After the King took ownership he immediately started rebuilding and expanding the buildings. In order to transform Hampton Court into his principal residence and to house his huge court of over 1,000 people he built the huge kitchens and expanded the buildings to hold his assembled court. The King owned over 60 houses and palaces but none were big enough to house the assembled court. He followed the same style as Wolsey in his building and this remained the same for nearly a 100 years until classical influences from Italy were added to the London Palaces of the Stuart Kings.

Henry added the Great Hall were he would dine in state at a table set on a raised dais. The still functioning Astronomical Clock was gifted to Henry. The clock was important especially for those transported by barge Thames side as the clock showed them when low water levels created dangerous rapids.

The Palace was the scene of many historic events including the birth of Edward VI. Henry died in 1547 and was succeeded by Edward, then by Henry’s daughters Mary I and then Elizabeth I. Elizabeth had the Eastern kitchen built which is today the Public Tea Room.

The Tudor period came to an end in 1603 with the death of Elizabeth I. James VI succeeded her as King of England. King James met at the Palace with the English Puritans in1604. An agreement was not met but led to King James commissioning the King James version of the Bible.

In 1625 King James was succeeded by his son Charles I. For Charles Hampton Court become both his Palace and his prison. Charles’ was executed in 1649 and the Palace then became the property of the commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell. Many of the contents were auctioned off while the building itself remained relatively unscathed.

King Charles II and James II visited but resided elsewhere. During their time French Court standards made Hampton Court appear old-fashioned. It wasn’t until 1689 that the Palaces antiquated state was addressed. William of Orange and Queen Mary II (daughter of James II) embarked on a massive rebuilding project at Hampton Court. Half the Tudor Palace was rebuilt replacing Henry VIII’s state rooms and private apartments with new ones that reflected the unique status of William and Mary as joint sovereigns. When Mary died William lost interest and the work stopped.

In 1702 William fell off his horse and later died. He was succeeded by Queen Anne who completed the decoration and rebuilding at Hampton Court. The Stuart period ended in 1714 on the death of Anne.

Anne’s successors George I and George II were the last Kings to reside at Hampton Court.

Today the grounds are laid out in the grand style of the late 17th century with Privy Gardens, sunken Gardens and more. Part of the gardens recreate the style of Henry VIII’s gardens of 1536.

After George II no King has ever lived at Hampton Court. George III never set foot in the Palace.

After some heavy restoration plans were completed during the reign of Queen Victoria the Palace was opened to the public.

During the 20th Century Hampton Court became a major Tourist Attraction and still is to this day. The Palace was home to some esteemed servants and subjects of the crown. One of these elderly residents caused the major family which spread to the King’s Apartments in 1986. Restoration work completed in 1990.

Make sure to visit the Palace if you are visiting London you won’t regret it.

Lindy Rothenburger one of our agents recently visited the Umbria & Tuscany areas of Italy on an inspection tour for our future clients. – June 1 to 7, 2013 and wrote this wonderful account that will help anyone wanting to visit the area.

This is a fascinating write up on the area, that will give anyone wanting to visit the area a very detailed account of things to see and do and places to stay in the area. For more information or to book at tour please contact Lindy at lindy@a-ztours.com

Written by Lindy Rothenburger after a recent visit.

Gatwick Airport – they have a funny system at Gatwick. Once you are through security, there is a huge waiting area with big screens showing which gates the flights will be leaving from. My flight was at 9:10 and boarding was at 8:40 but the gate number was not displayed until 8:20. Then as soon as your gate number is displayed you make your way to the gate and almost right onto the plane. It is a good 10 minute walk or more so you have to head to the gate as soon as the number is displayed.

EasyJet – They allowed me to check-in online and select my seat a whole month prior to my departure. I had my boarding pass weeks before I left Vancouver. The bag drop at Gatwick Airport was easy. They don’t even offer you water without purchasing it on the flight but the seats were comfortable and the flight attendants were friendly.

Rome Airport – there was no declaration to fill out. You just line up to go through a passport check and your done. They don’t even ask you any questions – just look at your passport and hand it back to you. That was upon arrival. Departing was another story. Getting through security in Rome is a nightmare I’ve never experienced anywhere else in the world.

There was a HUGE mob of 800 or more people pushing from all directions to get to the security check-in. There was no order and if you were too polite, you wound up moving backward instead of forward. I was in the chaos for over an hour and when I got to the gate one Canadian couple told me they were 2-1/2 hours getting through security because whole groups of people kept pushing in front of them.

Airport officials tried to bring some semblance of order to the chaos by setting up poles and ribbons to get people to line up but they were just taking down the barriers and pushing by 20s and 30s in front of the people in line ahead of them. My love of Italy quickly faded as I stood in the midst of that mob hoping I would make my flight. I would never take a group through there. People at the gate were saying that the airports in Florence, Milan or Venice are no better. Maybe the best way to leave Italy is by train!

Very Italian Events – M and C my hosts were wonderful. They are warm and welcoming and have connections all over Italy. M used to manage a large hotel in Rome and together they ran a B&B for several years. They have been operating tours around Italy for 16 years. M guides many of the groups himself but they also have certified guides they use everywhere in Italy. C takes care of all the administration and lines up the itineraries.

They are both extremely knowledgeable and both speak excellent English. Anything our clients could ask for in Italy, M & C will figure out a way to provide it. They are especially good at showing guests the real Italy rather than the tourist stuff. If people want to shop, M takes them to vendors who have quality products rather than junk. He does not get a commission from those vendors but uses them because his reputation is on the line. Depending on the interests of the guests, he can show people places that are not well known by the tourists and don’t have bus loads of people all lining up at the same time.

Spello, Umbria – I left my heart in Spello. It is a small medieval town where M & C own an apartment. They rent the apartment to tourists. It is a 2 bedroom/2bathroom apartment overlooking the valley. It has everything you need. It is a 4th floor walk-up, though, so guests have to be able to carry their bags up the stairs. I stayed there 2 nights. The bed was firm but very comfortable. It is easy to walk around this picturesque town center and the people are very friendly. It is much quieter than Assisi with few tourists.

These medieval towns and cities have festivals all summer long but I was fortunate to view Le Infiorate – a flower festival that takes place in Spello 40 days after Easter. Tourists come to see it but it isn’t put on for the tourists. It is an Italian festival. I got to walk around the city the night before the actual festival and watch families, school groups, and friends, prepare and lay the flower petals.

It was a true Italian experience to watch the grandparents showing the small children their first experience of how to lay the petals. M takes his guests to many true Italian experiences that tourists normally miss. Spello has a train station and is only 1 hour from the center of Rome. From there it is easy to get to all points in Italy. Many attractions in Umbria & Tuscany are only 40 minutes away by car.

Foligno, Umbria – This is where St. Francis came from. It is the town square in Foligno where he stripped naked and told his father he was no longer his son, thus giving up his inheritance, when he returned from the Crusades. Twice a year they host a horse riding competition that is similar to jousting. While I was there they were holding a medieval dinner to fundraise for costumes.

Foligno has won this competition for many years now and the whole town is very proud of the young people who take part. Because M & C know the people personally, they took me upstairs to see the costumes and armor they use during the competition. It was great to see a group of about 20 teenagers all volunteering their time to wait on tables to raise money for their sport.

Assisi, Umbria – There is no denying that the Basilica is spectacular! The frescos covering all the walls of the church depict the life of St. Francis and are stunning. He is buried under the altar. But the place is overrun with tourists. It is hard to move around because everywhere you turn your path is blocked by a large group listening to their tour guide. M took me on up the hill overlooking the townsite to a grotto where St. Francis used to retire to meditate and pray. It is in the woods and very peaceful.

There were only 4 other people there. The Basilica was erected after the death of St. Francis but this grotto was a spot that he loved and went to often. The townsite is full of souvenir shops and restaurants for the tourists.

Castello di Petrata – This is a castle hotel that overlooks the valley and the St. Frances Basilica. It is part of a group of hotels called Silence Hotels. They are located in rural setting with grounds that guarantee relaxation and peace. The original stonework of the castle is evident in all the rooms yet the modern facilities blend in well. They have a swimming pool that overlooks the valley, a tennis court, a working farm where they grow the produce, lamb and chickens used in the restaurant.

There are lots of walking paths on the grounds and a wellness spa. No two rooms are the same. They have both rooms and suites. The family suites have a loft, a separate bedroom, and a small kitchenette. Their average stay is 3 nights.

Malvarina – This is an Agri-Tourism property near Assisi. They have rooms and suites that are basic, furnished with country style antiques, but comfortable and homey. They grow most of the produce and meat used in their dining room. They grow their own olives and process their own olive oil, jams, and deli meats. Staff and guests eat together in a big country style dining room with an open fireplace.

There are lots of walking trails and a swimming pool. Guests can take part in caring for the animals and tending the gardens if they wish. I took a cooking school class here one evening. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the kitchen was a huge basket overflowing with the fresh produce we were going to be using in our preparations. We made soup, appetizers, two different kinds of homemade pasta, and a chicken dish plus dessert.

Then we joined the staff and guests of the resort in the dining room for a 7 course dinner. The owners here are wonderful!

Cortona, Tuscany – We drove out to the villa owned by Frances Mayes of Under the Tuscan Sun fame for a photo. She still owns it and rents it out to tourists but it is very pricey – EUR 10,000 per week! Cortona is also overrun with tourists. I think it is M’s favorite place. He is friends with the mayor and can get anything clients might ask for here. He does a lot of photography workshops in the fortress, which is closed to the public.

The city sits on the top of the mountain and overlooks the most breath-taking scenery. The rolling hills are spectacular! We had dinner at the La Logetta. All the chefs, waiters, and owners of this place came out to greet us with much joking and laughter. They insisted we try some new dishes they were experimenting with and all of it was delicious.

The restaurant is housed in a 13th century palace and they have kept as much of the original ambiance as possible. They have a large terrace that overlooks the valley but it was raining so we didn’t get to sit out there.

Villa Marsili – This hotel is rated 4-Star and is housed in a historical building. C referred to it as, “The hotel that hugs you!” and that is a perfect description of it. It was originally a church, a hospital, and a school. It is now a lovely hotel. The staff are very gracious – like the butlers you see in movies. They attend to your every need but unobtrusively.

No two of the bedrooms are the same. They have standard and deluxe rooms as well as suites. They are all furnished with antiques and yet have modern facilities and some fireplaces. Even the standard rooms have a sitting area. Off the lobby there are two sitting rooms where they serve tea or drinks in the evening.

I saw a price sheet for the different teas and drinks but the tea and the aperitif are included in the price of the room if booked with Very Italian Events. The hotel looks out over the valley and Trasimeno Lake. The breakfast is amazing with a huge selection – the best I have had anywhere I have traveled.

Montepulciano – This city’s claim to fame is that parts of the series Twilight were filmed in its town square. It is the largest hill town in southern Tuscany with a very impressive central square. It is an ancient Etruscan city and would be of interest to those who like art and architecture. It is located in the heart of the classic Chianti wine region.

San Gimignano – All the medieval cities are set up the same way – the streets come out onto a large square with a church and the city hall. San Gimignano is set up that way too. Because it is close to Florence and Siena it is better known than some of the other walled cities.

The World Champion Gelato maker is located here. They serve the creamiest gelato I’ve ever put in my mouth.

Pienza – This is another walled city in the province of Siena, in the Val d”Orcia. This area is protected by UNESCO as an artistic, natural and cultural park. You can walk on the top of the wall and they have benches up there for people to sit and watch the sunset over the valley. It is a popular place for lovers. M provides a picnic for couples here.

Pienza is best known for its pecorino cheese. There are cheese shops all over town.

Cordella Winery in Montalcino – The owner of this vineyard is a personal friend of M’s. She was in China when I visited but she asked her father and aunt to open the winery so M could give me a tour and tasting. They harvest both grapes and olives. I got to taste both the wine and olive oil which are excellent.

When you do a wine tasting in Italy, they provide a dinner plate loaded with meats, cheeses, breads, and olive oil. There is a specific, small area in Umbria where the Sangiovese Grosso grapes are grown and harvested for Brunello wine. They must grow and process the wines in a specific method to get the DOCG certification. It is entirely organic and all the work is done by hand.

Lake Trasimeno – This lake is in Umbria and is equally as beautiful as the lakes in the Lake Como area but is not as well known by tourists. In Tuoro you can camp, rent boats and swim while Passignano is a pretty little village like the waterfront in White Rock, British Columbia.

There is an island not far from shore with great places to walk and picnic. It is a 15 minute ferry ride to get there.

Norcia –This is another medieval city in the southeast corner of Umbria. It is not visited by tourists as much as the other cities. When I walked down the streets I saw a hardware store, a toy shop, sporting goods store, florist, produce store, and clothing stores. I only saw one souvenir shop in town. The merchants definitely catered to the local residents rather than the tourists.

It is a very pretty city and is the birth place of St. Benedict and his twin sister Ste. Scholastica who started the Benedictine Order. There is a church dedicated to St. Benedict erected on the site where they were born. There is another church in the square dedicated to his sister. They sit on each side of the town hall.

Castelluccio di Norcia – this is a small village in Umbria that sits above the mouth of a dormant volcano. The mouth is a flat valley that took us a half hour to drive across. It is completely covered in blooms of red, yellow, white, blue, and purple for 2 weeks every June. The mountains that rise all around the mouth are Italy’s adventure wonderland.

Clients who like to trek, hike, mountain climb, parasail, horseback ride, etc. will find this a paradise! The winds in the valley have great updrafts so as soon as they push off while parasailing, the winds lift them right up to the top of the mountain. There are hostels all along the roads so people who want to trek can walk from village to village.

The town of Castelluccio is very rustic so for day trippers, they would probably prefer to return to Norcia for accommodation.

Spoleto – This medieval city does not allow cars into the center of the city at all. They have an escalator that takes you from the parking lot up to the city center. It is 6 escalators that have been covered with a wooden structure that looks old to make the modern blend in with the ancient. The old wall is intact and completely surrounds the old city.

There is also a very large, modern city outside the city walls. It is a popular city for photography groups, bike tours and trekking tours.

Eremo delle Grazie – This is another castle hotel that M took me to inspect. It sits high up in the hills overlooking Spoleto. The woman who owns it is very wealthy and operates this hotel as a hobby. She is warm and welcoming.

It is a true castle and furnished with wonderful antiques, maybe a little too much furniture and a little dark, but It does have a wonderful terrace and dining room overlooking the valley.

Narni Underground – In the village of Narni they have an amazing underground attraction. It features a church complete with frescoes, a Roman cistern, a prison cell, and an Inquisition chamber from the 13th & 15th centuries. It was discovered in the 1960s by 5 teenage boys looking for adventure and treasure.

For anyone interested in history or archeology, it is a must see.

Castello di Sismano – I was fortunate to spend my last night at Sismano Castle that has been turned into a B&B near Todi. It is owned by the Marchesa Ginevra Sanminiatelli Bruti Liberati. She lives in the castle full time and invited me for drinks before we went down to dinner.

She has used her money to completely restore the castle and provide work for the people of Sismano. There was a festival taking place the night I was there and all the townspeople came to the castle dining hall to have a barbecue style dinner together.

The Marchesa is very gracious and regales her guests with stories of her wealthy family down through the centuries. Her family owned a sailing merchant ship they had built in France called the Fleur de May. When they didn’t need it any longer and tried to sell it in England, no one would buy a ship with a French name. By law, they could not change the name of the ship but they could translate it into English – The Mayflower. As soon as they did so, it was bought and fitted for the voyage that brought the pilgrims to America.

That is just one of her many stories. The rooms maintain the old stonework of the castle but are thoroughly modern inside. The bathrooms are very luxurious and the beds super comfy. They have 600 hectares dedicated to hunting plus there are 1000 hectares to walk or bike and picnic.

If you are interested in visiting this area or for more information please contact
Lindy at lindy@a-ztours.com

Lindy cooking classInfiorata Lindy

multepulciano

British Columbia has an amazing geographical diversity with a variety of places to see and things to do. Mountains to climb, beaches to bask on, exciting cities to explore, rainforests to hike, warm-water lakes, rivers to ride and much more. All of this arranged into regions featuring their own differences and attributes.

The Pacific Ocean, mountain streams filled with Salmon and Trout, White Water Rivers to raft, and whales frolicking off the coast. Come to canoe, kayak or simply walk along the beach. In British Columbia’s back country you’ll be rewarded with some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

British Columbia is a land of colorful characters and adventurers. From the proud heritage of Aboriginal peoples to the early explorers who waged against fear and famine, and the brave souls who opened the west with the cross Canada railway. Refined Victorians of the British Empire, swaggering lumberjacks, wild west cowboys and silk-swathed people from the Far East all settled here. Today, past and present mingle with the sights, sounds, tastes and traditions from virtually every country and culture in the world.

In Vancouver the city lights up at night offering a dazzling array of entertainment. The latest Broadway shows share the stage with smaller theater groups. Five-star restaurants and neighborhood bistros are around every corner. In the summer symphonies are performed in the park along with the Shakespeare in the Park theatrical production. There is a wide assortment of shops, art galleries, spas and museums only minutes away from the wilderness trails, Stanley Park, Grose Mountain and Caplilano suspension bridge are all must see places in and around Vancouver.

Whistler offers year round activities including a zip line and is world renowned for its winter skiing on Whistler Mountain. The interior of British Columbia has a wide variety of activities. During the summer months there is an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables direct from the fields at Farmers markets and stalls at every turn in the road.

Sharing the rocky mountains with Alberta, the ride through the mountains by train or car can only be described as magnificent and majestic.

Vancouver Island is unique with the city of Victoria and its old world charm. Afternoon tea Victorian style is not to be missed at the grand Empress Hotel right on the waterfront. Spectacular Buttchart Gardens, a Butterfly farm, whale watching and much more await you on the island.

The British Columbia climate is varied throughout the Province with the Vancouver area having the mildest weather in the whole of Canada. The weather in greater Vancouver and Vancouver Island greatly resembles that of England, with 4 distinct seasons.

The Interior regions experience drier weather and greater temperature extremes. Farther north, you’ll notice the long summer days (or the short winter ones, depending on the season). The mountains often experience heavy snow (great for skiers). The snow rarely settles for long in either Vancouver or Victoria.

For more information on tours to British Columbia check out
http://www.tourbritishcolumbia.com or email or call us at
avril@actiontravel.ca
or 604-278-8286 or 1-888-682-6449

CIMG0999Butchart Gardens6

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