Christmas Markets Not To Be Missed

What could get you more in the festive spirit than experiencing some of the best Christmas Markets Europe has to offer? Stroll through snowy cities, enjoy tasty delicacies and traditional handmade crafts.

Vienna, Austria

The Christkindlmarkt in Vienna is one of the longest running Christmas markets in Europe, dating back to the middle ages. Vienna’s Christmas markets are known for unique Christmas gifts, so why not treat a loved one to something a little bit different? You’ll find everything from handmade gifts, pretty little trinkets, as well as lots of Christmas souvenirs which you can hang on your tree for years to come. If you’re feeling a bit peckish, you’ll be spoilt for choice as there’s countless food stalls here, from traditional roast chestnut stalls to a wide variety of sausage, ham and pretzels. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, indulge in some sugary delights which Austria is well known for.

Market - Vienna_117533932

Barcelona, Spain

What Barcelona lacks in snow it most definitely makes up for in stylish Spanish-flavoured shopping. The Fira de Santa Llúcia Christmas Market is probably the most well-known and classic market in Spain. A large number of the stalls sell fabulous Christmas decorations, from trees to mistletoe. Don’t forget to buy your Christmas Caga Tió; a log with a smiley face on, this is a unique part of Catalan Christmases. On two Saturdays during the Christmas market season, Santa Claus will pay a visit to the markets to collect letters from children and hand out cookies and balloons.

Market_235513402Budapest, Hungary

Towards the end of November Vörösmarty Square turns into a festive market place located in the heart of the city centre. There are more than 100 wooden stands selling high quality gifts such as jewellery, candles, Christmas decorations, and other items which can’t be found anywhere else. After shopping, enjoy a lovely mug of spicy mulled wine. You can even take home a Christmas Fair mug — a nice little keepsake which gets a new design each year.  If you’re travelling with children, be sure to attend a puppet show and play areas where they can enjoy Santa Claus games.

Market - Budapest_235683781-2Birmingham, UK

You don’t have to travel too far as some of the best Christmas markets can be found in the UK. The largest authentic German market located outside of Germany and Austria is located in Birmingham, and it’s one of the UK’s favourite Christmas Markets. Here you can buy traditional gifts such as jewellery, toys and Christmas decorations. Some stalls offer ethnic handicrafts from all over the world from places such as Africa, India and South America.

Market - Berlin_164615570If you would like to book a festive Christmas Markets break call us on 0800 412 5372 or pop into your local branch:


Halloween Around The World

Everybody in the UK knows that Halloween is a time to get dressed up in fun costumes, go trick or treating and celebrate with your friends and family. That is how we celebrate it here, but what about in other countries? Let’s look at some of the ways that different cultures celebrate Halloween…

Starfish HalloweenIreland

Halloween is believed to have originated in Ireland, and the Irish celebrate the event very similarly to us. They wear costumes, go trick or treating and host parties featuring games such as “Snap Apple” (also known as “Apple Bobbing”). A traditional Irish card game played at Halloween involves placing cards face down on a surface with sweets or coins hidden under them. The player picks a card and receives whatever prize lies underneath. Children also play a game called “Knock-A-Dolly” — knocking on a neighbour’s door before running away!

Food is also an important part of the celebrations. ‘Barnbrack’ is traditional sweet bread eaten at Halloween in Ireland. This treasured food is a kind of fruitcake with a treat baked inside that can be bought at stores or baked at home. Supposedly, whoever receives the slice with a prize in it will have good luck. On the other hand, if a piece of straw is found, it means that a prosperous year is on its way, while a ring means that the person will soon be married!


In Italy, it is common for families to bake bean-shaped cakes called fave dei morti (or ‘beans of the dead’, in English). These small cakes are made from eggs, flour, sugar, butter, flavourings, and ground almonds. Many people, mostly those in southern Italy, even prepare a feast for departed relatives. After this, they go to church and place flowers on their relatives’ graves — leaving the spirits to feast on the food that they prepared earlier in the day.


Teng Chieh is what Halloween is known as in China. The Chinese celebrate Halloween by placing food and water in front of photographs of family members who have passed away. They also light bonfires and lanterns to guide the spirits as they travel the Earth during the night. In Buddhist temples, worshippers make fachuan (or ‘boats of the law’) out of paper. These are then burned in the evening, which is apparently to remember the dead and to assist pretas.

In Chinese culture, pretas are believed to be the spirits of people who died because of an accident, and so are never buried. The fachuan is thought to help free the spirits, and temples have several ceremonies dedicated to the pretas. These include asking monks to recite sacred verses and offer fruit.



Halloween is not celebrated by the French to honour departed relatives. In fact, it was practically unknown in the country until the 1990s! The French, who are typically resistant to Americanisation, regard Halloween as an American holiday. However, some people in France enjoy the festivities and host fancy dress parties similar to the UK and USA.

In 1982, a restaurant named “American Dream” began celebrating Halloween, although it was difficult to explain the purpose of the holiday to each customer. Thankfully, since about 1995, many customers have become familiar with the occasion.

Communities on several occasions have tried to introduce Halloween to France. For example, Saint-Germain-en-Laye held a Halloween party on 24 October 1996, in an attempt to show people what Halloween was all about.

In France today, Halloween is celebrated like many other countries, with costumes, parties and trick or treating. Although, it remains common for many French people to refuse to enjoy it, as they don’t believe in the tradition. The most interesting thing about Halloween in France is how long it took to catch on…


In Mexico, Halloween is celebrated mostly by children who wear costumes and go trick or treating. However, people generally show a lot of affection towards their deceased relatives on this day. Families gather around photos of their dead relatives and place food, drink and cempasúchil (flowers) to welcome them back.

Mexicans are also known to decorate skulls, as well as create images of skeletons. But the country’s ‘Day of the Dead’, which falls near Halloween, is celebrated on a far greater scale.  Mexicans embrace it as a festive occasion with parties, dancing, singing, and even fireworks!

Dead Mariachi_207980722In a nutshell, Halloween is celebrated differently all over the world. Some countries use the tradition to celebrate the lives of those they have lost; some refuse to acknowledge the event; and others don’t know much about why we celebrate it in the first place.

Nevertheless, and however you choose to mark the day, we hope you all have a great Halloween! Stay safe, have fun and celebrate as you see fit…

Celebrity Eclipse Ship Visit

Welcome aboard!

Ruth Morgan-Owen from our Hedge End branch recently escorted a ship visit on board the luxurious Celebrity Eclipse. If you’re thinking about embarking on a cruise holiday, here is Ruth’s low-down on the fantastic features of the ship.

My visit on Celebrity Eclipse was the first time I’d been on any Celebrity cruise ship. I’d heard such good things about her that I jumped at the chance of taking twelve guests with me on a ship visit, which included a four-course lunch!

IMG_8037The ship is 122,000 tonnes and has a capacity of 2,850 passengers, with a guest to staff ratio of close to 2:1.

After having a guided tour around the staterooms, we were given some time to explore the ship ourselves. The suites are designed for modern luxury and certainly live up to it! Top suites even come with an optional butler service.

Toiletries in the bathrooms are customised and of a high quality, and the linen used is eXhale by Celebrity Cruises, which is top-class, premium bedding.

Celebrity Eclipse has three dining option times: 18:15, 20:30 or freedom dining (where you can eat at a time to suit you). The lunch we had was superb. Everyone agreed it was excellent quality produce and presented in a very professional way. The service in the restaurant was fantastic too, with staff being friendly and helpful at all times.

On board there are speciality restaurants covering a wide range of cuisines from all over the world. You can enjoy cafés, grills, bistros, and even a dedicated restaurant for AquaClass guests. Celebrity also has the largest wine collection of any cruise brand!

Entertainment consists of high-end shows together with a cinema, casino, card room, and the Hot Glass Show — where you can witness the incredibly gorgeous art of glass-blowing. Celebrity Eclipse also has an amazing spa, Canyon Ranch SpaClub. Here you can indulge in massages, salon services, body treatments, and rejuvenating skin therapies.

Celebrity Cruises is known all over the world for the IMG_7938number of awards its ships consistently win. In 2014, Celebrity Eclipse won the “Best from the UK” award, courtesy of the ‘2015 Cruise Critic – UK Cruiser’s Choice Awards’. Although even during my short visit, it was easy to see why! Celebrity Eclipse is designed for all ages and interests with a vast range of on-board activities — happy children equal happy parents!

A unique feature of this ship is its Lawn Club. Here, there’s half an acre of real, beautifully-maintained grass growing on the top deck, which is ideal for a picnic in the middle of the ocean! There are also ultra-modern fitness centres and classes on board, with specialised instructors in everything from Zumba to yoga. Plus, there are lots of benefits to enjoy by joining the Captain’s Club.

Celebrity Eclipse is by far the best ship I’ve been on of a similar class. The feel of the ship is definitely space, comfort and elegance. This is a stunning, first-rate ship and we are very fortunate to have her sailing from Southampton during our summer months!

If you would like to embark on a Celebrity Cruise, search for our deals here:

France, Switzerland, Lake Maggiore & Milan Tour

This week’s featured trip is our France, Switzerland, Lake Maggiore & Milan Escorted Tour— which showcases three of Europe’s most spectacular countries and an eclectic mix of famous cities and idyllic towns.

Our coach will pick you up from your selected departure point – Newton Abott, Exeter, Bridport, Dorchester, Bournemouth, Poole or Southampton – and transfer you to the south coast for your ferry trip over to Calais.

Our journey continues on to the French capital, Paris, arriving in time for dinner. The following morning, your European adventure really starts with guided tour of Paris’ iconic sights.

Visit the Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame before stepping on board a bateau mouche to admire the famous sights from a different perspective.

The remainder of the day is yours to enjoy. Maybe take a ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower to admire the city in all its glory, or simply dine on typical French cuisine in a local bistro.

beauneOn day three, we leave Paris behind and drive through the picturesque French countryside to Burgundy’s wine capital of Beaune for an overnight stay. Packed to the brim with famous vineyards, what better way to sample the local wines than with our included wine tasting trip?

hergiswil glassThe following morning, we cross the border into Switzerland and onwards to our next destination, Hergiswil, on the picturesque shores of Lake Lucerne. Take a stroll around this pretty village and observe the glassblowers at work at the furnace of Hergiswil Glassworks.

LucerneOn day five, we take to the road to explore the wonders of the city of Lucerne with its charming narrow streets and medieval buildings. The guided city tour takes in famous sights such as the Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge), the Old Town, Lowendenkmal (Lion Monument) and Gletschergarten (Glacier Garden).

isola-bella-stresaDay six sees us continue through the Italian Alps and beautiful lakeside scenery to the town of Stresa in Italy. On the shores of the famous Lake Maggiore, discover the wildlife at Villa Pallavicino zoological park, verdant plantlife at the Alpinia botanical gardens, and panoramic views from Mount Mottarone.

The following morning, we set out to discover the best of Lake Maggiore with a boat trip around the majestic Borromean Islands. Admire pretty palazzos, Art Nouveau hotels, exotic gardens and amazing scenery as you explore Isola Bella, Isola dei Pescatoria, and Isola Madre.

milanOn day seven we hit the road and head to the ‘Fashion Capital’ of Italy, Milan. This magical metropolis boasts countless boutiques and shopping streets alongside delicious cuisine and vibrant night-life.

Our final day in Milan starts with a guided city tour. Take in the famous sights such as the Duomo, Castello Sforzesco and La Scala Opera House.

There’s lots of free time in the afternoon and evening to explore on your own. Do some last minute shopping or tuck into an authentic Italian pizza and a few glasses of Chianti.

Say goodbye to Italy on the final day of the trip, where you transfer back to the airport for your direct flight back to Bournemouth. If you wish to continue your European adventure, why not join our onwards tour to the beautiful Lake Como?

To learn more about this amazing European adventure – visit your local Hays or Bath Travel branch. Find your local branch here:

Italy’s Classy Cocktails and Legendary Liqueurs

Everyone knows the Italians are commanders of cookery, but did you also know that these masters of menus are connoisseurs of tasty cocktails and lip-smacking liqueurs?

Italy can offer you an eclectic and exciting variety of drinks that have been carefully created over many centuries, ranging from the world-renowned to the secret delight. Here are a few thirst-quenching beverages to complement any meal, time or taste bud.

This lemony liqueur is hugely popular with Italians and is traditionally served as a chilled, after-dinner tipple (a digestivo or digestive, to be precise). Limoncello is created by macerating lemon rinds in alcohol and syrup with variable water: sugar: temperature ratios, depending on your clarity and flavour preferences. Thanks to grapefruit-sized lemons growing in the area, this liqueur is most commonly associated with sunny southern Italy — particularly the Sorrento Coast. But that’s not to say they’ve stayed there. Nowadays people across the world enjoy limoncello in a range of cocktails and desserts.

Limoncello_77665000Martini Cocktail
The Classic Martini cocktail is a generous gift to the world of refined drinking and James Bond culture. Made from gin and vermouth, it’s actually not strictly from Italy. However, vermouth is thought to have been born in Turin and an Italian vermouth-maker is generally credited as its namesake. Therefore, it’s allowed a place on our list. There’s a huge variety of this stylish cocktail, from delightful Sweet and Perfect Martinis, to devilish Smoky and Dirty Martinis. To make it the traditional way, pour your gin and vermouth into an ice-cold mixing glass, stir well, then suavely transfer it into a perfectly poised cocktail glass — chilled, of course. Add the signature green olive, perhaps lemon peel, and enjoy.

This is one of Italy’s more easy-going and flexible drinks. Hard-core fans might have it straight with ice; others prefer it with citrus juice or vodka; and a select few enjoy it with tonic water or sparkling wine. This aperitif (a drink enjoyed before your meal) is noticeably red and has a distinct bitter/spicy/sweet flavour. First created in Novara, northern Italy, it’s essential to any decent Negroni cocktail, which we take a look at further down.

Red Cocktail_271444616Amaretto
Originally prepared from apricot kernels, this sweet liqueur is strongly associated with Saronno in northern Italy. It has a popular and distinctive almond taste, and can not only be enjoyed as a digestive, but also in a selection of cocktails including Godfather, Godmother, and French Connection. Legend has it that the beverage was first given to a former student of Leonardo da Vinci as a gift for his work in the 1500s. Perhaps it’s because of this mythical artistic history that it’s so creatively used in cakes, coffees, creams, pancakes, and savoury sauces…

Renowned in the UK as champagne’s cost-effective cousin, Prosecco has recently rocketed in popularity. Prosecco is a white, sparkling, Italian wine with a soft and fruity taste that is traditionally the main ingredient in a Bellini cocktail. Apparently named after the small village Prosecco (found near Trieste in north-east Italy) this delight is usually consumed chilled as an aperitif. But feel free to add limoncello, orange juice or a fresh strawberry to make the drink your own.

From Prosecco comes Bellini. Simple, but effective. Bellini is made using peach juice and Prosecco — juice first, followed by your sparkling wine. Originating from Venice and best served in a champagne flute, this fizzy cocktail was a favourite at the Venetian ‘Harry’s Bar’ — visited by a host of famous people including Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock.

Northern Italians in particular adore grappa. Fermented from grapes left over from winemaking, the drink can be bought plain, or flavoured by pears, apples and prunes. It’s fast gaining popularity around the world and is most commonly drunk as a digestive, or simply with a fresh coffee.

Grappa Shot_313181594Negroni
You can’t go far wrong with this concoction of vermouth rosso, Campari and gin. Negroni has quite a sweet flavour with an attractive red hue (thanks to the vermouth) and was apparently invented in Florence around 1920. Splashed over ice in a lowball glass with a slice of orange and lemon peel for company, a Negroni is a suave and sophisticated pre-dinner beverage.

White, black and red sambucas make up the family of Italy’s favourite aniseed-flavoured liqueur. The drink made its social debut sometime in the 1800s around the Civitavecchia area of western Italy, and is produced using star anise and white elderflowers. You commonly find it bottled at roughly 42% alcohol by volume, which means you should handle it with lots of care and attention. Possibilities are endless with sambuca. Enjoy: neat, with coffee, on the rocks, or mixed with water. Having a bad day? Try throwing three coffee beans in it — traditionally, this is meant to represent health, happiness and prosperity. Although, probably not after one too many of them.

Now you’re fully equipped with an enviably varied knowledge of Italy’s most cherished beverages, you’re perfectly set for any type of Italy-inspired social event — or even a trip to the fair land itself! View our fantastic Italy deals here:

The Great Travel Bake Off in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support

Macmillan Coffee Morning - Seaham

After weeks of planning and scouring recipe books, The Great British Bake Off hit Hays Travel and Bath Travel in glorious fashion on Friday, 25 September. Ten branches took part in the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, and we’re proud to announce that they raised more than £2000 between them!

The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning is Macmillan’s largest annual fundraising event. As one in three of us will face cancer, the money raised will help ensure Macmillan can be there to offer support to anyone facing the illness.

Hosting a coffee morning is considered to be the perfect opportunity to catch up over a cuppa and a slice of something delicious for a great cause. Along with raising money by selling cakes and biscuits and holding raffles, each branch had its own reason for hosting the event:

Macmillan Coffee Morning - Seaham

  • Hays Travel Seaham raised more than £700 on the day, which was the greatest amount collected by any of the branches. The branch decided to host the coffee morning in memory of former colleague and travel consultant, Suzanne Elliot, who sadly passed away from cancer earlier this year.

Macmillan Coffee Morning - Totnes

  • Bath Travel Totnes’ coffee morning was dedicated to Travel Consultant Vicky Hudson’s grandfather, who she lost to cancer last year. They decided to take part as they all “just wanted to do their bit”. They were proud to sell out of all their tasty cakes, too!

Macmillan Coffee Morning Ferndown

  • Yolande Way, branch manager of Bath Travel Ferndown, saw the advert for the Macmillan event on TV. She suggested it to her team as their first charity event, as they’d all been affected by cancer in one way or another. They really enjoyed hosting it and can’t wait to repeat the event next year.

Other branches that held a Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning included: Bath Travel Fordingbridge; and Hays Travel Bolton, Birtley, Morpeth, Wallasey, Houghton, and Sunderland.

We’re hoping to make next year’s event even bigger – so keep your eye out for the posts on Hays Travel Facebook page and Twitter feed – because after all, it’s the perfect excuse to eat cake in aid of a great cause!

Italian Lakes Tour & Stay Inc. Milan & St. Moritz

Following on from last week’s special insight into the spectacular Venice trip, this week we have our Italian Lakes Tour & Stay — which includes a stay in Milan and St. Moritz. This tailor-made trip takes you across northern Italy to Switzerland, passing through Lake Como and Milan along the way.

Lake ComoFly from Bournemouth on the first day of your holiday, and land at Milan Malpensa Airport before a transfer to your base for the next seven nights. You’ll be enjoying an all-inclusive stay at the three-star Hotel Britannia Excelsior in the beautiful lakeside town of Cadenabbia.

Cadenabbia is found in Lombardy, which shares a border with Switzerland and is one of Italy’s largest regions. The picturesque landscapes here are breathtaking; offering views across shimmering lakes and soaring alpine mountains.

By the second day you’ll have settled into your hotel and be eager to explore the surrounding areas. Take advantage of the water shuttle service that sails you across the romantic Lake Como to the unique village of Bellagio. Enjoy some free time here and walk the rustic, cobbled lanes and stairways filled with tempting shops.

You visit Lake Maggiore on day three, with lots of time to relax in the charming lakeside town of Stresa.  We suggest you take advantage of the option to join the boat ride across to the Borromean Islands and discover its idyllic palace and ornamental gardens!

03-LagoMaggioreDay four brings us to Italy’s fashion capital — Milan! Take in the impressive Duomo Cathedral or the iconic red-brick castle on a guided tour of the city. The rest of the afternoon is yours to find out what else this vibrant city has to offer. Whether you want to immerse yourself in Milan’s famous shops or try some of the local food, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

04-MilanEnjoy a guided tour of Chiavenna on day five. This historic town holds much of its original medieval character, which can be seen in its number of narrow streets and ancient palazzos. On day six you will take a trip to Como Town at the south of Lake Como. Today is market day! A great chance for you to sample some authentic Italian specialities while shopping for that perfect souvenir gift.

Join the jet-setters and explore the exclusive resort of St. Moritz on day seven. We cross the border into Switzerland with a ride on the luxurious Bernina Express railway, taking in the staggering alpine views and awe-inspiring landscapes along the way. Get a taste of the modern lifestyle here and visit top-class restaurants, eclectic shops and international events.

08-St-MoritzSay goodbye to Lake Como on the final day of the trip, where you transfer from the Hotel Britannia Excelsior to the airport for your direct flight back to Bournemouth.

As you can see, this tailor-made holiday is filled with stunning scenery and exciting experiences. Visit us at your local Hays or Bath Travel branch to discuss it further. Find your local branch here: