World Guides Travel Blog

February 2013

This is where we let you know all about what's going on with our website and the world of travel, with destination reviews, current travel news and topical travel-related stuff to discuss with your friends. Please let us know if you want to comment on anything - Contact us.

February 22, 2013


Photo of hillside houses in St. Guilhem-le-Desert, nearby Montpellier, Southern FranceIt is hardly surprising that with all the recent economic doom and gloom, it is been more tricky than usual to contemplate this year's annual holiday. To splash out (or not to splash out) poses something of a dilemma. True, a holiday abroad would lift flagging spirits. Paying the bill afterwards, though, might just set stress levels rising again. So I was interested to hear from a relative of mine that she'd be spending summer this year in a luxurious-looking house in a scenic part of the country. What is more, she wouldn't be paying the owners of the house a penny for the privilege. In short, she was going to join an army of housesitters who travel the globe in search of the ultimate free holiday.

The best-known perk of becoming a housesitter is, of course, free accommodation. It allows you to free up some much-needed cash to reduce the cost of your holiday or help to pay for travel-related expenses. And it offers a very different sort of holiday experience.

For the owner of a house - whether it is a detached place in the Home Counties or a villa in the south of France - hiring a housesitter makes perfect sense. Just by unpacking their suitcases, housesitters make a place look more lived-in and, therefore, much less attractive to passing burglars.

Just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, though, housesitters must be prepared to pay for their holiday in other ways. You can't spend the whole fortnight lounging by the pool, studiously ignoring the growing mountain of washing up. Likewise, you can't ignore the pair of lovable but energetic labradors that need walking and feeding at regular intervals. If the property is surrounded by a lovely lawn, then it'll probably need a bit of attention. Houseplants may require a drop of water, too.

Popular housesitting destinations range from Canada and the US to Thailand and Malaysia, although there is nothing wrong with wanting to start your housesitting career a little closer to home. Wherever you land up, though, you will have had a holiday that is a far cry from your typical package tour - somewhere that feels more like a home-from-home than a hotel.

Posted by Sue at 22:00:38 on 22/2/2013

February 19, 2013


View of Paris and the distant Eiffel TowerI love Paris. Whether you love the Ella Fitzgerald version or prefer the one recorded by Frank Sinatra, you have to admire the sentiments of Cole Porter's song - Paris is great anytime of the year. For me, though, in the springtime this iconic city has something particularly special to offer. It is at its best as temperatures climb from chilly to warm. The days grow longer, too, making it possible to explore even more of those Parisian streets between dawn and dusk.

The delights of Paris aside, there are plenty of good reasons for choosing a spring holiday over its more traditional summer counterpart. This early in the year - between March and April - you are likely to encounter fewer folk. Less pressure on accommodation is an added bonus. And although spring break travel isn't quite as cheap as it used to be, you may still be able to find a bargain, making it a more cost-effective way of getting away from it all.

If the weather at home isn't warming up quick enough for your liking, it is tempting to hop on a plane and escape to sunnier climes. For maximum springtime sunshine, Spain and Turkey are perennial favourites, although, really, the list of destinations is endless.

Picture of the famous Louvres gallery in ParisMeanwhile, culture lovers can enjoy the delights of Europe's most beautiful cities without having to queue up at the door of every historic monument or flag in the heat. Chic shopping opportunities are an added attraction, making a stroll around the well-heeled boutiques of, say, Barcelona or Rome particularly worthwhile.

There are some people who simply prefer life to be on the cooler side, although I can't claim to be one of them. For shade-seeking tourists, Dubai in the summer can be a bit of a nightmare. In peak holiday season, it is possible to sizzle in this mid-desert destination, unless you stick close to your air-conditioned hotel. In early spring, though, temperatures are pretty much perfect.

Finally, springtime breaks are ideal for those who simply can't get enough of the white stuff. Late season ski breaks can often mean that you've got the mountains to yourself. Head to the world's most popular high altitude resorts in the French Alps - the likes of Chamonix, Meribel and Morzine - and you can slide down those slopes to your heart's content. It is enough to put a spring in your step for the rest of the year.

Posted by Sue at 9:40:33 on 19/2/2013

February 14, 2013


Photo of Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, AfricaIf you are planning to visit a well-known beach resort in Spain or take a family camping trip to the south of France, then your only concern may well be how much suntan cream to pack. It won't even cross your mind to consider whether your holiday destination is safe. However, if beach-lounging isn't your thing and you are already bent poised over a map of the world trying to decide which exotic tourist destination to visit, it is a whole different ball game.

There are some places that should be paradise on earth for tourists, but sadly are not. Instead, they are variously labelled hijacking hotspots, terrorist havens or hotbeds of organised crime. So, should you travel there? That is indeed a very big question.

One thing's for sure, travelling to the world's more dangerous regions takes more effort than planning for your average holiday. First, you need to learn how dangerous a country really is - then, you need to be really good at listening to advice. Essential reading are those travel advisories that are published regularly by government agencies. They give up-to-date information about what is going on and the level of risk that you are likely to be encounter.

Picture showing Kinshasa city, Democratic Republic of the Congo, AfricaIn places like the recently troubled African country of Mali, for example, the advice to travellers is quite simple - don't go there at all. Strong words, but well worth heeding. Some countries are deemed relatively safe to visit - but not completely. In other words, travellers can go there by all means, but they need to exercise caution. It may be that whilst the country as a whole is relatively risk-free, certain regions are not.

Likewise, many countries seem to be perfectly safe holiday destinations by day, or in and around busy tourist attractions. It is a different matter at night, though, when unwary tourists can sometimes find themselves the target of petty crime.

It seems to me that it is not a question of ruling out all countries that don't have a perfect safety record. It is a case of making an informed decision. That way, you may well still be able to enjoy all the upsides of visiting a less-obvious tourist destination - lots of unspoiled scenery and plenty of unexplored attractions - and arrive back home, safe and sound.

Posted by Sue at 18:24:55 on 14/2/2013

February 2, 2013


Picture of the Abbey and River Avon in BathIt is a truth universally acknowledged that this week's news has dallied a great deal on the work of that much-loved English author, Jane Austen - and with good reason. This is the year that 'Pride and Prejudice', surely one of the most famous of Austen's works, celebrates the 200th anniversary of its first publication.

Bicentenary celebrations of 'Pride and Prejudice' are sure to herald a flurry of Austen-related events. Places touched in some way by the great author herself during her lifetime will also bear special significance in 2013.

Austen-related places to visit include the Hampshire village of Steventon. Sadly, the family rectory has long since been demolished. However, the village church that she attended still stands for dedicated 'Janeites' to visit. In the opening years of the 19th century, the Austens moved to Bath, a city that is understandably proud of its Georgian and its literary heritage. They lived first in Sydney Place and then in lodgings in Gay Street, a building which today houses the Jane Austen Centre.

In 1809, the Austen family moved to Chawton Cottage. Situated in the tiny village of Chawton in Hampshire, this is the place where Jane spent many a happy hour and, more significantly, did most of her novel writing. Now a museum, a special exhibition will feature Pride and Prejudice throughout the year.

If time allows - or if you've embarked on a serious Jane-inspired break - it is worth paying a flying visit to nearby Winchester. This was the place where she spent her final few weeks. She died in 1817, aged just 41 years old. Her grave in the cathedral is particularly memorable. The engraving mentions a lot of things about the author. Funnily enough, though, there is not a single mention of her novels.

Posted by Sue at 11:01:27 on 2/2/2013