The Artisan Blog
A self-drive trip with pre-booked hotels is probably one of the best ways for me to explore a country. I can set my own pace and decide which route I want to take and where I want to stop. The key point for me, however, is that I don't have to worry about the accommodation as everything is already booked for me. I could simply enjoy the drive along this beautiful island. I can tell you - driving on the right side of the road is easier than you think and you get used to it very quickly!
After a short flight from London I arrived in Corsica on a beautiful sunny day. As I landed, the island welcomed me with nice, warm sunshine - a brilliant start.
After I picked up my rental car at the airport, it was only a short drive to my first stop. I checked into my hotel and immediately went for a wander around. The hotel is perfectly situated, as it is just walking minutes away from the beach, the beautiful port and lovely restaurants.
I had been to Gozo once before several years ago with my family and my two favourite things about this island destination were the food and the wonderful climate! I jumped at the opportunity to go back to Gozo but this time it would be a very different type of holiday.
I was set to join a short break focused entirely on improving my overall health and well being... (So probably much less pasta, pizza and ice cream than during my last holiday!).
I met the small group the first night after we had the chance to check into the beautiful Bella Vista Farmhouses. There were all kinds of people in my group of varying age, physical ability and also trepidation of what the week ahead would hold.
One of the more memorable evenings of my visit to Northern Norway was spent in the home of a local fisherman who specialised in King Crab.I will admit right from the start that I on the whole don't eat seafood, but still found this whole evening a wonderful local experience.
King Crabs are rather famous on the north coast of Norway, namely in Kirkenes and the North Cape of the country.
Despite their immense popularity as a local delicacy, we learnt that King Crabs are not native to this region and were in fact introduced artificially by Soviet Scientists in the 1960s to provide a new valuable catch for Russian fishermen. Their native home is the Barents Sea surrounding Alaska where the population is declining, despite strict fishing controls, yet here on the coast of Norway they are thriving.
"We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow."
I've always wanted to incorporate Led Zeppelin into one of my blogs and the opening lines from their classic "Immigrant Song" presented the perfect opportunity.
Singer Robert Plant was inspired to write the lyrics when the band played in Iceland 1970 and this remarkable island has continued to inspire ever since.
My very first memory of Iceland is seeing it on a travel programme as a child and being completely captivated. I couldn't quite tell you why – I think it planted itself in my 6 year old mind as this big frozen country – a mystical, otherworldly place in the middle of the sea that seemed so far from and so unlike anything else.
As strange as it sounds to most of my friends and family, I have never been a fan of hot places and whilst I appreciate a bit of sunshine every now and then it's the cold that I enjoy the most (I'm one of those people that enjoys when the English two week summer is done and I can get out my woolly jumpers again...) so Iceland, even by just its name, was a place that called out to me.
Since then I always wanted to visit and it was forever in the back of my mind as a sort of bucket list place that I knew I wanted to visit when I was a grown up (as far off as that seemed at the time).
When we arrived in Iceland, the first thing we did was drive to the Blue Lagoon. To get here you drive across unending black lava fields which many would find desolate, but to me had a sort of bleak beauty and it is really no exaggeration that I basically fell in love with the landscape at first sight - as overly dramatic as that sounds!
At the Blue Lagoon we changed into our swimwear and headed out to the water. I must admit the weather was pretty bad (I learned quickly that the best way to describe the weather in Iceland is 'wildly unpredictable...').
However, the milky blue water was toasty warm and as we floated around I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place, with its pitch black lava backdrop against the blue of the water. It is well known as a tourist hotspot and I've heard some people say it's too busy and too commercial so I was a bit dubious but, it was quite simply wonderful. Yes, there are a lot of people there, but the lagoon is large enough that it never feels overcrowded and, as my very first taste of Iceland, it was pretty great. Speaking to fellow travellers the best times to go are early in the morning or late in the evening as it is much quieter then – late evenings in particular during the Midnight Sun are said to be rather special.
The final part of the week was a combination of the idyllic south shore and the island's northernmost city of Akureyri. First though, we went to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, on the west of the island, the self-proclaimed 'Iceland in miniature' which has a little bit of everything else you will see across the island - waterfalls, beaches, lagoons and glaciers.
We stayed in Stykkishólmur, which is one of those ridiculously quaint fishing villages which speak of an easy way of traditional laid-back life.
On the south shore we drive past glaciers and more waterfalls and the site of the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Here you can visit the tiny and informative museum which shows you the eruption in 2010 that not only impacted millions of air passengers across the globe but also completely covered the tiny community and farms here in vast quantities of ash.
Photography has always been a hobby for me and I've even got a really good camera at home. Unfortunately, how it is in real life, you sometimes do not have enough time to learn how to use it properly. I mean, there are so many settings you can choose from and you also need to check the lighting conditions and who knows what else... So when I heard about this trip you can imagine that I was the first person to join in.
It is a brilliant way to combine a nice holiday and learn something about photography and how to use a camera.
One of the first tasks I had when I joined The Artisan Travel Company was to spend two weeks acting as the company's representative in the tiny ski resort of Luosto. Travelling north of the Arctic Circle on my first assignment all seemed a bit daunting at first but I got to know Luosto and our suppliers very quickly and found myself falling very deeply in love with the place because it has just about everything you could ever want from a winter holiday.
As a Product Development Manager, I get to visit loads and loads of places but this very often has to be done reasonably quickly.
Spending 14 nights in the same destination allowed me to appreciate the slower way of life, to get to know the wonderfully friendly locals and take huge joy in the vast range of winter activities available in Luosto.
I have been lucky enough to visit Menesjärvi twice during my time working for Artisan. The first time was in September during the wonderfully scenic Finnish autumn. The drive here will take you away from the small town of Ivalo and into increasing wilderness – the trees grow denser, the roads grow quieter, and you pass nothing except a small handful of houses (owned mostly by local reindeer herders) before you come across the main hotel here.
Hotel Korpikartano is located on the banks of Lake Menesjarvi which at this time of year, is a beautiful glittering vista of water, reflecting the changing colours of the surrounding trees.
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