Mad About Madrid

One of the best places you can visit in all of Spain is Madrid — the country’s capital and largest city. Located on the mighty Manzanares River in the centre of the nation, Madrid is a hub of exciting experiences and inspiring landmarks. There’s so much to do here, you’d have to clear your schedule for a fair few days to do it justice, so it’s the perfect place to spend a fun weekend with family or friends.

Spain - Madrid_111640076First up is the Plaza Mayor, which is a grand square in Madrid surrounded by traditional shops and cafes. Once the setting for markets, bullfights and public executions; this is one place you simply can’t miss. While you’re here, you have to sample the signature dish of this great city — squid sandwiches, which are found right here in the Plaza Mayor.

Nearby, sits another famous spot; the Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun), which lies at the very centre of Madrid’s circular network of roads. The square contains a famous clock, whose bells initiate the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes and the start of a new year. Make sure to get a picture with the 20-ton statue of a bear eating fruits from a tree — the most iconic and famous symbol of Madrid.

Not far from the Puerta del Sol, you can find the majestic Palacio Real (Royal Palace), which is thought to be one of the finest palaces in Europe. Officially, this is the residence of the Spanish Royal Family, although it’s generally only used for banquets and state ceremonies. Several rooms in the palace are regularly open to the public, which are well worth a look around considering the interior design includes Spanish marble, mahogany wood and important works of art.

Royal Palace Spain - Madrid_262331195Perhaps you want to relax and enjoy walking through beautiful gardens? Then head to Buen Retiro Park, which temptingly translates to ‘Park of the Pleasant Retreat’ in English. This is an ideal spot to unwind with a peaceful lake and blend of sculptures, monuments and galleries. Then again, if you’d prefer to experience the bustling centre and taste the best tapas in this vibrant city, take a stroll up Gran Via Avenue. Believed by many to be the most popular tourist street in Spain, it’s filled with cinemas, theatres, bars, nightclubs, and shops.

But of course, you can’t leave Madrid without tasting ‘cocido’ — one of Spain’s most loved and traditional dishes.

We’ve only taken a snapshot of what’s in store when you visit vibrant Madrid, so why not hop on a flight and explore it for yourself?

Click here to find our Madrid deals: http://bit.ly/1MxLpo0

New York vs Paris

Choosing a City Break is the perfect way to truly experience the sights and sounds of some of the most iconic cities around the world!

New York and Paris feature on many a wish-list – two cities that couldn’t be more different but both share common bonds – they’re fun places to spend a weekend, great for a spot of retail therapy, and packed with famous attractions galore.

Get your bearings

South of the RockNo trip to the Big Apple would be complete without a trip to the top of the famous Empire State Building and its awesome panoramic views. Towering 381 metres high above the New York sidewalks, join the queues and whizz to the 86th floor Observation Deck, or be a little braver and go 16 floors higher to the 102nd floor Top Deck.

In Paris, the best vantage point is of course from Eiffel Towerthe top of the Eiffel Tower. Smaller in height than its New York counterpart at 324 metre, it’s no less amazing. Take the stairs to the 1st floor to watch the world go by 57m below via the transparent floor. Climb the spiral staircase to the 2nd floor and step into a glass lift to the very top, where you can enjoy a glass of bubbly in the Champagne Bar as you take in panoramic vistas of the famous sights.

Shop ‘til you drop

DKNY New YorkShopping in New York opens up a world of famous department stores, designer boutiques, shopping outlets and open air markets. Names like Bloomingdales to Macy’s have been around since the 1920s, or you can splash the cash on Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue. Bargain hunters make a beeline for Century 21 and Woodbury Common Premium Outlets. Discover foodie heaven at Arthur Street Market or uncover vintage buys on Sundays at the Brooklyn Flea Market in the Williamsburg district.

Paris matches New York bag to bag when it comes to shopping – it’s a true shopper’sParis - "Au Printemps" paradise. The ‘Grand Magasins’ (department stores) are awash with everything you could wish for, from Galeries Lafayette and Le Bon Marché, to Printemps and the BHV Department Store. There are designer names aplenty around the chic Place Vendome and Faubourg St Honoré and concept stores like Collete, Merci and Killiwatch’s vintage store are scattered city-wide. Bag a bargain each weekend at the Marche aux Puces de Saint-Ouen and the Marche aux Puce de la Porte de Vanves

After dark

Times Square is the heartbeat of the Big Apple’s entertainment scene. Bright lights highlight the vast array of Broadway shows on offer – the Lion King, Wicked!, Jersey Boys and Les Miserables top the list. Not forgetting the countless comedy clubs, party nights, dance clubs and rooftop lounges in Manhattan and Greenwich to Brooklyn which stay open until the early hours. The dining scene takes in everything from fast food fare, to coffee shops and diners, to celebrity-owned eateries, and 5-star gourmet restaurants.

Night-times in Paris are not just about romantic dinners for two, fun and entertainment are on the menu too. Whether you start the night with cocktails and people watching on Place Vendome and Faubourg St Honoré; or experience the trendy bars and clubs of the Oberkampf and Bastille districts…the fun continues until late. No trip to the French capital would be complete without sailing on a bateau-mouche along the River Seine to admire iconic sights lit up in all their glory. When you get peckish, dine on frog’s legs and home-style fare in a local bistro, savour experimental food in a hip pop-up restaurant, or chose a Michelin-starred dining restaurant for the ultimate haute-cuisine experience.

No matter whether you choose 24/7 living in New York or the romance of Paris, you’re guaranteed to create memories that last and lifetime … and leave you wanting more (a good excuse to return).

To book your New York or Paris break, call into your nearest Hays Travel or Bath Travel branch or ring 0800 412 5372.

photos by: & matze_ott, , y.caradec

Elle’s Week of Work Experience at Hays Travel

Ellie Lemon has this week been undertaking work experience at the Hays Travel marketing department.

Ellie Lemon, a student at Monkwearmouth Academy, has this week been undertaking work experience in Hays Travel’s marketing department.

My name is Elle and I’m about to go into my final year at Monkwearmouth Academy. This week, I’m doing my work experience in the marketing department at Hays Travel and have written this blog to tell you about my time so far.

On my first day at the Hays Travel office, I worked with Jayne. She showed me how to use Feefo, a rating and review system, for responding to positive and negative feedback from customers. She then taught me how to process gift vouchers, as well as which programs the team uses to keep track of everything that goes on in the company.

Later in the day, I helped sort the company post before taking a tour of the other office buildings, training centre, and shop.  I was surprised at how big the departments are and how large Hays Travel is as a company. During my first day, I managed to speak with everyone who works in the marketing department. Thankfully, they were are all lovely and made me feel really welcome! I even got to meet Sam, the office dog, who belongs to the managing director, John Hays.

On Tuesday morning, I started the day working with Rob, who is a marketing analyst. Rob showed me all the things he does, which includes looking at financial data and checking how close the company is to meeting its daily targets. He told me about all the tasks he has to complete, along with the many systems he uses.

In the afternoon I sat with Gemma, who showed me how to source and put together the deals you see in shop windows. I enjoyed looking at all the different hotels and seeing when certain flights are cheaper depending on date, time and destination.  It was also interesting to see how posters are created and how to choose the best information to display on them.

On Wednesday, I worked with Charlotte, who does lots of things relating to the company’s social media! I looked through the Hays Travel Facebook page and made a note of the different things they post; including what themes are most popular among their audiences.

Afterwards, Charlotte gave me the document she uses to plan content on a weekly basis. I used pictures and offers from the website to come up with different ideas to go on the Hays Travel Facebook page. Charlotte then checked through my work and helped me find some good deals, before showing me how she schedules uploads. I also learnt about choosing the best time to post content, which I’d never considered important before! To finish off, I looked at different images Charlotte could download to use for future updates.

On Thursday morning, I learnt about all the tasks that Helen, the group marketing manager, is responsible for. I was asked to help out by checking some more Feefo reviews, which I managed without Jayne’s help this time. Once I’d finished, I was lucky enough to visit the finance department where I spoke to Dan, an accountant. He went through the basics of accountancy and the qualities you need to break into the industry. I found this particularly interesting, as I’m considering a career in accountancy and was grateful for the insight.

In the afternoon, I created this blog post with some help from Adam, the content manager. Adam’s in charge of all written content from Hays Travel, and it was interesting to see the different topics the copywriting team post on the company blog.

So far, I’ve learned a lot about marketing and the travel industry in general, and am looking forward to what my final day at Hays Travel will bring …

Why is the Belgian Circuit Part of Grand Prix Royalty?

Even the most unaware of us know that Formula One racing takes place on a huge amount of champagne-drenched circuits across the globe. Google “favourite Grand Prix courses” and you’ll find that Belgium’s Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is consistently top of anyone’s list, from amateur blogger to expert reviewer.

But why? We’ve taken a look at this world-famous track to guess why fans and drivers alike love the circuit and its home country.

Turns

The first hairpin turn of the race is an infamously sharp one, making it a breathtaking sight to witness and a heart-stopping one to hear. After taking the corner, the drivers speed down the bank at a tremendous rate. The vertical and lateral g-forces at play when the car reaches the bottom of the hill and zooms through the weaving Eau Rouge section must be as exhilarating to watch as they are to manoeuvre. Throughout the circuit, the cars meet a host of further high-speed corners such as Rivage and Blanchimont, as well as plenty of slower ones including Malmedy and Les Combes. Slower paced maybe, but they still demand absolute precision to accomplish without catastrophe. This perfect blend of Spa-Francorchamps’ twists and turns is surely a mighty contributor of the circuit’s fame.

Transformation

Perhaps the auto-adoring audience love the ‘calm vs. contest’ contrast that dominates the area during the race? This circuit is found in the peaceful forests outside Francorchamps, where serenity, nature and relaxing ambles reign supreme. But the lush terrain comes alive for Grand Prix. The clamour of excited fans and buzz of competitive drivers transform the land into a hub of hysteria that would look completely out of place from a bird’s-eye-view. Seeing a place reach the level of frenzied excitement that only a global sporting tournament can achieve amid such untapped tranquillity must be quite the experience.

The Belgian way

As if it needs saying, surely the host itself plays a part in its course’s stardom. Belgium has been a popular city-break destination for decades and continues to attract tourists to this day. Found in northern Europe, Belgium is flanked by distinguished countries and claims a short but crucial coastline on the North Sea. This country has a unique culture of traditional values sprinkled with a unique mix of Dutch, French and German influences. Modern and traditional arts are hugely appreciated in Belgium, and you can enjoy a variety of art and history museums, century-old architecture, and local Belgian festivals during your stay.

Top-notch catering

Chocolate and lager instantly spring to mind when you think of Belgian culinary delights, but it’s also renowned for both its waffles and French fries with mayonnaise. Of course, your eyes are surely on the prize when attending the Grand Prix, but who’s to say you can’t savour some treats too? You can discover the secrets behind chocolate creation at nearby La Roche-en-Ardenne, or merely sit back and sample a range of Belgian beers, from Leffe to Hoegaarden.

Its impact on Grand Prix antiquity

The colourful history of Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is a serious boost to its allure. Built in 1921 for hosting Grand Prix events; it was actually used for motorcycle racing for its first three years and has been appointed The European Grand Prix six times between the 1925 and 1973. It’s also famously rained at the Belgian Grand Prix a massive 20 times in a row. Belgium’s circuit has gone through an array of changes including: relocation, scrapping slow turns, cancellations in the 1950s due to the Suez crisis, and Michael Schumacher surpassing the current world title by winning his 52nd Grand Prix here. As you can see, this Belgian track has a chequered-flag past to keep even an uninterested audience entertained and intrigued.

Danger value

Once considered the fastest circuit on the continent, the Spa-Francorchamps was eventually excluded in 1971 due to the refusal of authorities to make suggested changes. It was notorious for its slippery roads, high-speed sharp turns, and sending its drivers hurtling through public areas. As a result, Belgian authorities moved the race to another area. But the plucky Spa-Francorchamps fought back by cutting out perilous obstructions and roads through urban areas to boost its safety value. In 1985, it was even given an asphalt makeover to combat the constantly rain-soaked track. Unfortunately, an ironically hot day followed, breaking up the new safety feature so badly that cars couldn’t drive on it. But the thought was there, at least.

Belgian Gran PrixWith only a little digging, you soon uncover a treasure trove of delights that each help elevate Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps into the top of the racing-lover’s list. Now with 7km of track, 44 laps and a promise of world-famous drivers vying to hurtle passed the chequered flag first, this year’s race is set to be just as eventful.

Why not join us on our escorted tour to see the Belgian Grand Prix? Click here to view more information: http://bit.ly/1Le175d

photo by:

Father’s Day Gift Ideas

Father’s Day is nearly here, but it’s not too late to plan the perfect day with your Dad! Forget mugs, socks and bottles of beer; treat him to something a little bit more special. Our gift ideas will be sure to put a smile on his face this Father’s Day.

If he’s a motor-racing or football fan

Robert KubicaThere are not many guys that don’t enjoy sport – whether it’s playing a game themselves or sitting in the stands as a spectator. If your Dad is a Formula 1 nut, why not treat him to tickets to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, or venture further afield to see the Belgian Grand Prix by coach? If he’s a footie fan – why not head to Manchester and book at stadium tour, to see behind the scenes at United’s Old Trafford or City’s Etihad Stadium?

If he’s a keen golferTiger Woods

What better way to enjoy some bonding time with your Dad, than a morning playing or watching golf. Take your pick from a wide choice of weekend breaks around the UK with their own golf courses attached. Or maybe consider tickets to the British Open Championships in St Andrews in July?

If he loves culturebarca sagrada

If your Dad loves museums and sightseeing then why not really splash out and treat him to a city break? Classic destinations such as Barcelona, Paris or Rome are always a hit. For something a little different, why not consider hopping over the Irish Sea to Dublin or jumping on a flight to Prague, both of which are steeped in culture and boast a lively night-time scene to boot.

 

If he’s a theatre or music lover

Why not whisk your Dad off to London’sLondon West End to see his favourite musical? Billy Elliott, Jersey Boys and Phantom of the Opera are amongst the most popular, but there are plenty of toe-tapping shows to choose from. You’ve also got many of London’s famous attractions to explore too, from rides on the London Eye, to visits to the London Dungeon, Madame Tussaud’s and the Tower of London. Or why not book to see his favourite band or artist live at the O² Arena?

If you would like more information, please pop into your local branch. Find your nearest Hays Travel or Bath Travel branch here: http://bit.ly/1hPMo3q

photos by: &

Hays Faraway Best of Vietnam Escorted Tour

Our very own John Hays, managing director of Hays Travel and Bath Travel, has recently escorted the Hays Faraway Best of Vietnam Tour.

Vietnam is a perfect country to explore. With booming cities, beautiful nature and an enviable climate, there’s never a dull day in this country. This remarkable place offers spectacular, contrasting landscapes from the emerald-green Fansipan Mountain to the majestic waterways of Mekong Delta.

VietnamHere are some highlights from the group’s Vietnamese adventure.

They began with a full day in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, which houses some awe-inspiring landmarks including Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the revered One Pillar Pagoda.

Next, the group squeezed in a trip to both Ha Long Bay and Ha Long City. As an UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay is praised for its beautifully scattered islands and captivating karst landscape (a natural rock structure only found in certain parts of the world). There are around 1,600 islands in the bay, but not a single one fails to provide astounding, untapped beauty.

Following a brief journey, the group arrived in Ha Long City. Not ones to waste time, they climbed aboard a wooden junk — a traditional type of boat — and began to explore the magic of the district. Since it’s one of southeast Asia’s premier tourist hotspots, there was much to see and do.

Soon after, the group continued their journey with a visit to age-old Hoi An. Hopping on a cyclo — a three-wheeled bicycle — they went to visit its ancient village Tra Que. This quaint must-see sits at the edge of Hoi An and is famous for its aromatic herbs, including mint and basil. The group learnt to plant and water herbs and vegetables, as well as properly cook them for maximum taste. Mercifully, they were allowed to sample their culinary masterpieces before setting off. Old town Hoi An is actually recognised as an UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unusually well-preserved archaic streets and homes.

On the seventh day of the trip, the group travelled to Hue, via the scenic Hai Van Pass. This is essential if you want to see beautiful panoramic views of Vietnam’s central coastline. But they made sure to stop off at the picturesque Lang Co and savour the paradise of its hot, white-sand beach.

Hai Van Pass

After prising themselves away from the tropical coastline, the group eventually arrived in Hue. This began with a visit to the Imperial Citadel, the royal site of past ruling dynasties. They strolled through historical temples and gardens, and even explored the magnificent palace before ending their day with a visit to the Tomb of Minh Mang. This is the final resting place of the revered Emperor Minh Mang, who reigned from 1820 until 1841.

Following this culture refresher, the group headed to the amazing tunnel network of Cu Chi. This tunnel system covers almost 250km in length and was built to shelter over 16,000 members of the Viet Cong guerrilla force during the wars. The network has been used as hospitals, storage facilities, living quarters, and communication routes.

After some snap-happy exploration, the group set off on a city tour of the former capital of French Indochina. Once known as Saigon and now named Ho Chi Minh City, this iconic place is home to some astounding historic landmarks, including Binh Tay Market, Saigon Central Post Office, and Saignon Notre Dame Basilica.

Once another hearty breakfast in Ho Chi Minh City was devoured, the group ventured to Ben Tre Province, which sits comfortably wedged between two branches of the Tien Gieng River. Here, they saw where bricks are still painstakingly made by hand at the brick kiln of Phong Nam.

Later, they boarded a boat and cruised along the Chet Say River. This relaxing journey regularly stopped at various local workplaces, including a factory that heats coconut shells to produce charcoal! The cruise then docked at the quiet village of Delta, and the group jumped aboard a xe loi (motorized rickshaw) to go further into the peaceful village. This place appears utterly untouched by clock-hands: you can see farms, rice fields and vegetable plantations before making a pit-stop at a local house to enjoy a deliciously filling lunch. The group then took the scenic route along all the narrow canals back to Can Tho, the largest city in the region.

Vietnam 6

After a night’s stay here, the group embarked onto a local boat tour for a ride through the colourful floating markets of Cai Rang, before drifting through the labyrinths of streams and channels that surround Can Tho.

But alas, the UK Border Control queue began looming depressingly close. So, the group finished their staggering expedition with a final foray into Ho Chi Minh City — just to make sure not a sight, smell or sound was missed before leaving this stirringly diverse country.

If you would like to visit the stunning country of Vietnam then click here to view our Vietnam deals: http://bit.ly/1aNqMBM

Film Locations You Need to Visit

When a film is shot in an amazing location, we all end up dreaming about being there ourselves. Whether it’s wandering the lush land of The Shire, or dancing in the Austrian mountains singing “the hills are alive!” — admit it; you’ve always wanted to do it.

Sound of Music – filmed in Salzburg, Austria

If there’s one film that has truly stood the test of time, it’s The Sound of Music. You can embark on a bus tour dedicated to The Sound of Music through the charming city of Salzburg to visit many locations featured in the film. These include both Mirabell Gardens and Pegasus Fountain, where Maria sang and danced with the Von Trapp children during the iconic ‘Do-Re-Mi’ number. Thanks to The Sound of Music, so many people still visit the city each year. Although since 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the film’s release, any trip to Salzburg will be extra special this year.

Austria - Salzburg_134107592

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – both filmed in New Zealand

New Zealand’s dramatic landscape was the perfect setting for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Both were filmed entirely in New Zealand, and super-fans will be delighted to know that many of the film’s locations are accessible to the general public. You can experience the real Middle Earth with a visit to Hobbiton Movie Set, which was the setting for The Shire that featured in both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

New Zealand - Hobbiton_274005011

Schindler’s List – filmed in Krakow, Poland

Steven Spielberg’s moving 1993 Holocaust drama is based on the life of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman born in 1908. He became an unlikely hero after turning his factory into a safe haven for Jewish people during the Second World War, which saved thousands of lives. The film not only won critical acclaim and a plethora of Academy Awards, but also had a huge impact in Krakow following its release. Many Schindler’s List tours are still available around the city, while Schindler’s factory is now a museum and a must-see for any visitor.

Wawel Castle, Krakow

The Beach – filmed in Phi Phi Island, Thailand

If one place is a prime example of paradise, it’s Phi Phi Island. The Beach, starring Leonardo Di Caprio, is about a group of young travellers that abandon society to live in a hidden lagoon in southern Thailand. Maya Bay on Phi Phi Island was the perfect location for the film. The island is surrounded by stunning turquoise waters and dramatic cliffs that plunge into the ocean; you can even visit Maya Bay and see first-hand why this stunning paradise was selected to be the backdrop for this 2000 film.

Thailand - Maya Bay_128142050

Mamma Mia – filmed in Skopelos, Greece

Skopelos is one of the most picturesque islands in Greece and a veritable feast for the eyes in the film adaption of the Abba-inspired musical. Part of the success of Mamma Mia was down to the beautiful Greek landscape that featured heavily in the film. The church that hosted Sophie’s wedding was filmed at Agios Ioannis Prodromos Monastery, which is located high up a cliff overlooking the tranquil waters of Skopelos. The harbour scene in Mamma Mia was actually filmed on the beautiful Greek isle of Skiathos, around one hour away from Skopelos by boat.

Greece - Skopelos_144299176

Frozen – inspired by Norwegian fjords

The world has gone Frozen-mad thanks to Disney’s wildly popular animation film, released in 2013. Cruises to Norway, the destination that inspired the smash-hit, have become increasing popular in recent years due to parents wanting to give their children an unforgettable ‘real life’ Frozen experience. Cruises are a fantastic way to experience the dramatic and stunning landscape of Norway. Whether you’re a Disney fan or just enjoy natural beauty, you’ll be in awe of the magnificent fjords, which were the inspiration behind this phenomenal film.

Norway - Olden_217017055

Which film location would you love to visit? Comment below to let us know!