Abbe’s Wine Tour

Out and About is a popular feature in Group Travel Organiser magazine, where we share the places, trips and sights the editorial team have recently experienced, and believe will be of interest to others organising group travel.

We’ve just begun blogging our stories to make them available to a wider audience online.

Over the early May Bank Holiday, Consultant Editor Abbe Bates visited the French region of Bordeaux for a three-night break with a group of 14 people. 

Flying from Gatwick to Bordeaux airport, the group was met by their guide, Alex, who’d arranged most aspects of the stay, with great attention to detail. The party travelled in two minivans to the village of Montagne, near Saint-Émilion, where they stayed in a beautiful and rustic barn conversion owned by the Saby family, prominent winemakers in the region. The house has been available to groups since 2017 in an effort to boost the number of properties in the local area that can cater for more than 10 people, and is set amongst the vineyards.

After a buffet of local food and a chance to taste some of the wines for sale at the house, it was time for an escape game experience from local company Oenanim. This was cleverly set up where they were staying and was designed to teach the group about the wine-making process through a series of clues. A tuk-tuk tour with Tuk Tour Events around the area’s vineyards, with a talk and wine tasting at Chateau des Laudes followed, rounded off by dinner at the bustling L’Envers Du Décor in Saint-Émilion.

The Famille Saby wine business is now run by father Jean-Bernard and his two sons, Jean-Philippe and Jean-Christophe, and day two began with a walking tour of their Saint-André Corbin vineyard and winery, and a gourmet tasting of the produce, including delicious pate and the area’s famous red wines.

The guided day, which explores the UNESCO-designated area of Saint-Émilion, is new for 2019 and Abbe says, ‘it was great to be able to experience the itinerary as it was being developed and to use bikes to travel to different places on the tour.’

Lunch of duck and sweet potato mash was enjoyed at Table 38, and was followed by a walking tour of the medieval city of St Emilion with Mark, the guide for the day, and included Les Cordeliers monastery.

The group then cycled to the flagship vineyard of Château Rozier, for further tastings in the family home and a talk by Jean-Phillipe on production processes, and on running the business that comprises three vineyards and an annual output of 10 cuvées and seven appellations. The day was rounded off with another local meal, catered for the group, back at the house.

The last day saw the group sample a virtual reality experience at Virtual Room in Bordeaux before their flight home. Abbe said that this was great fun, with the team split up into small groups that had to work together in their own separate rooms, wearing headsets that transported them into the virtual world they had to navigate to complete challenges. Lunch was at L’Austra by the river, a good option for a group as the venue has plenty of space, although best to visit in the day, as it is a club at night! 

Abbe adds, ‘The break as a whole is a brilliant way for groups to learn more about wine and the technical aspects of its production as well as becoming familiar with the beautiful landscape. And, for hardened viticulturists, there is plenty of scope to create a more in-depth experience. The family is happy to cater for specific requirements and to tweak the itinerary to suit.’

Peter’s Royal Time at Montreux Casino

GTO Editorial Director Peter Stonham recently enjoyed a trip around Switzerland, courtesy of the Swiss Travel Centre. The group’s visit to Montreux Casino was a particular highlight for Peter.

Montreux Casino
Montreux Casino

Montreux previously housed a recording studios at which the pop group Queen made some of their most famous work.

Freddie Mercury Statue – a Tourist Hotspot

Iconic singer Freddie Mercury eventually settled on the lakeside.

Peter Mixing it Up
Equipment Close Up

Peter says the museum was ‘really engaging’, including an opportunity to play with the equipment in the carefully preserved studio, as well as to see a collection of Queen memorabilia.

Mercury Memorabilia
An Innuendo-Heavy Shelf

‘It’s very well worth a visit,’ Peter said – ‘and free!’.

For more information on Peter’s trip around Switzerland – you can view the full blog post here

Peter’s trip to Lac Leman, Switzerland

Out and About is a popular feature in Group Travel Organiser magazine, where we share the places, trips and sights the editorial team have recently experienced, and believe will be of interest to others organising group travel.

We’ve just begun blogging reports on our activities to make them available to a wider audience online with more pictures and live links to further information and contacts of help to GTOs.

Lakeside View

A wonderful reminder of the beautiful and relaxing environment around Lac Leman in Switzerland, was provided to GTO Editorial Director Peter Stonham when he joined a group organised by the Swiss Travel centre recently.

The trip demonstrated the ease of travel around the country by public transport, the quality of hotels and restaurants, some spellbinding scenery and an amazingly relaxed ambience.

The trip began by flying into Geneva Airport, where the group, led by Adrian Millan and colleagues from STC, joined a train to Lausanne. It’s a nice journey on the double-deck train alongside the lake to the fourth largest city in Switzerland. 

After checking in at the hotel, the group walked down to the lakeside through lovely gardens on a beautiful sunny day to visit the Olympic Museum.

This celebrates the story of the modern Olympics, whose Committee was founded by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1894, headquartered in Lausanne, and which prepared for the first games in Athens in 1896.

The impressively designed museum was opened in 1993, and refurbished in 2012/13, and has some excellent memorabilia and stories from the last hundred years of Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

It is set in beautiful grounds on the lakeside, and after the visit Peter was able to enjoy views across the lake, prolific gardens and watching the iconic steamers dating back to the Belle Époque that still operate, as they provide vital transport links around the lake and across to the southern side in France.

He couldn’t resist hopping on board a return trip for commuters from Evian in France at the end of the afternoon, and enjoy what must be one of the nicest commutes available! In the evening the group enjoyed an excellent meal and local wines at the restaurant Eat Me in Lausanne old town.

Next morning, a walking tour of Lausanne provided insight to the rich history and architecture of the city, and its many museums and galleries, and impressive viewpoints from the upper part of this city established on three hills, and an important fortification in Roman times. This was followed by a delightful lunch cruise on the CGN La Suisse steamboat dating from 1910 where treats included watching the original steam engine at work powering the paddle steamer.

CGN La Suisse

The ship dropped the group at the famous Chateu de Chillon, made famous by Lord Byron in his poem The Prisoner of Chillon, and full of historical intrigue about its occupants and those incarcerated there. There was even another chance to sample local wines at the Lavaux vineyards.

Next day took the group away from the lake by one of Switzerland’s many impressively engineered mountain railways, the train of the golden pass MOB Railway hauling them up to the village of Gstaad, famous for its winter sports, but also a peaceful summer retreat in verdant and wooded countryside.

A regular mountain post bus then took the group to Col-Du-Pillon, at the foot of the cable car that rises up in two stages by 10,528 thousand feet to Glacier 3000 – an all-year-round ice field. The group retreated to a ride in a ‘snowbus’ designed to cope with travel across the snow and ice, and fortunately well heated to cope with the icy conditions and snow and blizzard that was happening around the visit. It made the experience of the Peak Walk opened 5 years ago between the two mountain peaks a less tempting experience! It’s nonetheless an impressive piece of engineering that gives visitors a unique opportunity to take a walk at mountaintop level!

After the descent back to warmer levels, another local bus took the group to the village of Les Diablerets for tea at the Eurotel Hotel, which in winter is a popular base for skiers, but in the summer offers groups an excellent base for summer walking experiences and visits to nearby attractions. Then it was two linking train journeys back to Montreux for time to explore the lakeside in this town famed for its jazz and film festivals and dinner at the Jazz Café, which keeps the musical theme alive throughout the year.

On the final day of the trip, a bus transfer took the group from Montreux back towards Lausanne and Geneva, but not without an exceptional lunch stop amongst the traditional Unesco-protected Lavaux vineyard, where wines continued to flourish after their original establishment by the Romans on intricate terraces on the slopes of the lake.

There was a chance to sample a number of wines at the Domaine Croix Duplex in Grandvaux, a family run traditional producer of fine wines. Quite amazingly, there is a railway station just yards from the vineyard, which would make a visit eminently possible by train, although the group transferred by bus back to Lausanne, and then onto Geneva airport for flights home.

Peter’s overall experience was one of gentle but highly engaging activities in a beautiful pristine environment, presented at the highest quality and with friendly attention by all those providing the visitor experience. Switzerland is not the cheapest destination, but offers an exceptional type of tourism with everything well-organised and well-connected, which befits the country’s history as one of the first genuine tourism destinations in the world, dating back to the first travellers taking the European ‘grand tour’ in the early 19th century.

Peter would like to thank Adrian Millan and colleagues at the Swiss Travel Centre, for arranging such an enjoyable trip.

Peter’s Trip on the Sunset Steam Express

Out and About is a popular feature in Group Travel Organiser magazine, where we share the places, trips and sights the editorial team have recently experienced, and believe will be of interest to others organising group travel.

We’ve just begun blogging our stories to make them available to a wider audience online.

Editorial Director Peter Stonham preparing to board

Editorial Director Peter Stonham enjoyed a serene evening on the Sunset Steam Express in late June. These are the first scheduled steam train services from Waterloo in over 50 years, running until 3rd September. 

The 44871 ‘Black Five’ departs

Peter and the group travelled on the 44871 ‘Black Five’ – one of 18 members of the class (built in 1945) that survives into preservation. He enjoyed a four-hour round trip through the Surrey Hills – an Area of Outsanding Natural Beauty.  

A Carriage with a View

After departing from Waterloo and passing through South London, the train passed beneath the District Line from Wimbledon to Putney Bridge, as it made its way to Richmond Station. Peter enjoyed the relaxing ride out of London during the suburban rush hour, as the train headed towards Ashford (Middlesex). Here, the train was able to show its paces, as it was no longer hampered by speed restrictions. 

Peter was kept well topped up with water, and served a luxurious dinner in the elegant 1950’s Pullman Style Dining carriage. This made a very welcome addition to the sunset, as the train ascended the steep climb through the Surrey Hills, before descending the Vale of Holmesdale and back to Waterloo. 

Dinner on Board

Peter would like to thank Steam Dreams for a most enjoyably journey. For more information on group visits on the unique locomotives, you can visit the Steam Dreams website.

A Salty Experience for Groups at The Lion Salt Works, May 2019

Out and About is a popular feature in Group Travel Organiser magazine, where we share the places, trips and sights the editorial team have recently experienced, and believe will be of interest to others organising group travel.

We’ve just begun blogging reports on our activities to make them available to a wider audience online with more pictures and live links to further information and contacts of help to GTOs.

‘Salt is something in everyday use and in Roman times it was thought to be so important that it was often given to soldiers as part of their pay – and this is where the word salary comes from! This is just one of the facts I discovered at The Lion Salt Works just outside of Northwich in Cheshire, which I visited with a friend in early June,’ says GTO editor Val Baynton. 

GTO Editor Val Baynton (right) and her friend Fiona Jenner (left)

‘We were taken round the historic site by Fiona Young from Marketing Cheshire whose enthusiasm for the attraction is shared by the volunteers we met during the tour. She explained how salt was produced by evaporating it from brine pumped from the ground via bore holes and how the Cheshire plain with its many salt deposits is a legacy of the shallow salt marshes that formed during the Triassic period c.220 million years ago.

‘Nodding donkey’ brine pump

‘The Lion Salt Works is one of just four open-pan salt making sites remaining in the world and it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument – the same status as sites such as Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall. Production of salt ended here in 1986, and the late Victorian buildings, including huge brick and wooden pan and stove houses, and equipment such as cast iron salt pans and the original steam engine rapidly deteriorated.

‘It was only after a lengthy campaign by the Lion Salt Works Trust and the local council, and with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund that the buildings were eventually restored and the site developed for visitors. It re-opened as a museum in 2015 and includes a Butterfly Garden with an important Buddleia collection and a picnic and play area.

Model of Salt Works

‘The tour takes in the huge salt pans and the old buildings, there are interactive displays and an innovative light and sound show, while social history and environmental issues are explained as you go round. The works location right by the Trent and Mersey Canal enabled the cheap transport of coal in to fire the furnace and the mined salt away to Liverpool and the world, so visitors can arrive by narrow boat today!

Tubs used to make Lumps of Salt

‘Self-guided tours are available or groups can book a guide for a more in-depth visit, there is also a very pleasant large room, overlooking the grounds, that could be booked for a group event. Just along the canal is the Anderton Boat Lift, which we also visited, and you can read about this in the August issue of GTO magazine.’

Val would like to thank Fiona Young from Marketing Cheshire, and the team at the Lion Saltworks for enabling such an enjoyable and informative visit.

For more information on group visits – including guided tours – you can visit the Lion Saltworks’ website.

Round Scotland on British Isles Cruise with CMV group, May 2019

Out and About is a popular feature in Group Travel Organiser magazine, where we share the places, trips and sights the editorial team have recently experienced, and believe will be of interest to others organising group travel.

We’ve just begun blogging our stories to make them available to a wider audience online.

‘A wonderful way to enjoy some beautiful and remoter parts of the British Isles in comfort and without difficult travel!’ is how editorial director Peter Stonham described his recent trip by cruise ship up the North Sea, around Scotland and down the Atlantic coast.

Peter travelled with Cruise & Maritime Voyages on the Columbus, on one of her regular British Isles Discovery Cruises. His week-long journey, began in Tilbury and called first at Amsterdam, and then the Orkney Islands, Skye and the Isle of Mull in Scotland before a stop in Dublin and visits to the Scilly Islands, Guernsey and Honfleur in Brittany. Sadly, Peter had to leave the vessel in Dublin for other engagements, but found the Scottish segment of the cruise a really enjoyable experience.

GTO Editorial Director Peter Stonham

Day 1: Keukenhof Bulb Fields

The initial call in Amsterdam provided for Dutch and German guests to join the cruise, and also for Peter and other journalists to visit the world-famous Keukenhof bulb fields during their six-week limited springtime annual opening. There was a remarkable display of all kinds of tulips, daffodils and other bulbs in a delightful setting, which was once the grounds of a stately home.

Day 3: Orkney

After a day at sea, arrival at Orkney brought a sense of special tranquility and privilege in visiting these islands with their unique identity and history. The group explored Scapa Flow, one of the world’s biggest natural harbours with a rich maritime heritage including a delightful Italian chapel built by prisoners of war in 1943.

Sealife, birds and flowers are a particular treat in this part of the world, which exhibits signs of civilisations dating back to pre-history and of Viking occupation. More recently, an eco-friendly and carefully managed approach to sustainable activity has ensured the environment is both clean and green. 

Day 4: Isle of Skye

Another part of Scotland that enjoys beautiful landscapes and seascapes is the Isle of Skye, and landing there at Kirkwall required a tender boat journey from the ship. This adds a sense of privilege to the visit and because larger ships cannot access the port, it ensures that tourist numbers brought there by cruises are not excessive. A coach trip took Peter and his colleagues to the MacLeod family seat of Dunvegan Castle – rich in clan conflict and adventuring history, and set in some lovely grounds.

Day 5: Tobermory

Arrival at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull was another uplifting experience. The small port itself is delightful, as was the coach journey with spectacular views along the coast to Duart Castle, home of the Maclean clan, and fought over for generations because of its strategic promontory commanding sea and land access. Peter was amazed at the prolific bluebells and gorse in bloom, and he said, ‘walking through this landscape made it possible to escape into another world. In just moments I saw remarkable birds of prey and a sudden appearance of a group of deer.’

Time at sea on the ship was passed by some relaxing sunset and sunrise views, excellent evening dining, (and drinking!), and opportunities for entertainment in the onboard theatre and different lounges and cafes. 

There was also a fascinating visit to the bridge and behind-the-scenes tour to show how the ship was run and all the food prepared and served.

CMV Columbus

Amongst the other passengers was a big group brought by BBC Gardeners World magazine, who enjoyed visits to gardens and landscapes and their abundant flowers and plants at the various ports of call. As Peter left the ship, they were looking forward to visiting the famous subtropical gardens in Tresco on the Isles of Scilly, the special growing conditions of Guernsey and the chance to visit Monet’s garden at Giverny as an excursion from the stop in the delightful small French port of Honfleur.

Peter would like to thank Mike Hall, Marketing Manager, and all the team at CMV for making the trip so pleasurable. He thoroughly recommends the sea-born approach to exploring the UK and its neighbours as a great group holiday!