In this blog, Ffestiniog Travel tour leader Geoff Lumley, takes you on one of his favourite journeys, island hopping through Scotland’s Western Isles and Highlands. He has visited Scotland many times and provides some visual advice in words on how to get the most out of travelling so far north to the Scottish Highlands and Outer Hebrides and offers suggested routes you can take, by train, ferry and road. It follows a similar path taken by our escorted tours.
Ffestiniog Travel’s ‘Small & Traditional’ escorted tours are about discovering those areas of Europe and the former Communist bloc that still remain untouched by tourism. So when introducing a new S&T destination, a thorough, hands on approach is required to establish its suitability. Here FT director Alan Heywood invites us to share his experience of his recent research trip to Uzbekistan.
Working up a holiday to a new destination, especially a new country, inevitably means a lot of research. Is there enough of interest? Are the standards (especially accommodation) sufficiently acceptable for the needs of the 21st Century tourist? Is it safe (alas a much too common question in today’s troubled world)? Whilst the answers to these questions can almost be taken for granted in much of the western world, there is a growing demand for more unusual destinations and these require extremely careful planning. Ffestiniog Travel’s Alan Heywood travelled to Georgia to find out if it was a suitable destination for future holidays.
Readers who are already familiar with our Small and Traditional tours to former Communist bloc countries won’t be surprised to read that we are always looking for new destinations, particularly those that fit our mould of a venture into the unusual, giving the opportunity to explore those places which are well off the beaten track and to learn about the local culture and social history whilst, at the same time, sampling their railways. It all started with Romania back in 2008 and has subsequently expanded to include Moldova, Bulgaria, Georgia and Uzbekistan. The details inevitably change from country to country but one theme is constant – we do, for the most part, aim to use locally owned accommodation, restaurants, transport and guides, thereby ensuring that our custom benefits the local community rather than lining the pockets of multi-nationals. By the way, did you know that, at the time of writing, there are no McDonalds or Starbucks in Albania? This seems a good reason to pay the country a visit! Albania certainly hasn’t yet been “globalised”.
During the hiatus in travel and holidays forced upon us by the pandemic Ffestiniog Travel Director Alan Heywood decided to take a retrospective look at his many travels and has written a blog based on his 2018 research trip to Montenegro which formed the basis of our Small & Traditional escorted tour of the Mountains and Coast in Montenegro, a 13-day tour that we will be running in September 2022.
From my experience a trip to Romania promises to be something quite special. Having led several tours to the country I can categorically state that it is a wonderful destination. Ffestiniog Travel has had the privilege of working in close partnership with owner managed local operator Ramona of “My Romania” which gives added value to all FT’s Romanian operations. This association has enabled FT to become one of the UK’s leading tour operators to Romania. A day-to-day itinerary doesn’t do justice to a tour like Romania so I have written a first-hand account of the ‘Romania at Harvest Time’ tour which took place in September 2013 and I hope it provides a flavour of why Romania is a must-see destination.
When Ramona, our Romanian colleague, and her husband Dan invited my wife, Pam, and me to join them for a week in Moldova, we couldn’t resist. Having led many Ffestiniog Travel adventures to Romania and fallen in love with that part of Europe, we were both very keen to see something of Romania’s eastern neighbour. Would we enjoy our trip enough to include Moldova in Ffestiniog Travel’s 2015 brochure we wondered?
Readers who are already familiar with our Small and Traditional tours to former Communist bloc countries will know that we are always looking for new destinations, especially those that give the opportunity to explore those places which are well off the beaten track and to learn about the local culture and social history whilst, at the same time, sampling their railways. It all started with Romania back in 2008 and has subsequently expanded to include most of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, Georgia, Armenia and Uzbekistan. Whilst the details may change from country to country, we do aim for some constant themes in this programme, particularly the use of locally owned accommodation, restaurants, transport and guides. This ensures that our custom benefits the local community rather than lining the pockets of multi-nationals.
Inevitably our research trip can be no more than a framework of the holiday which will eventually evolve. The first job is to plan a route, select and check the accommodation and get a feel for the places of interest that can be visited. It also tells us a lot about the feasibility of the proposed transport arrangements, how long it takes to get from A to B, whether it is possible to get refreshments on the proposed route and so on – the things that make our “Small and Traditional” tours what they are. We also need a good local agent to do the “fixing” on the ground and this company needs to subscribe to our way of doing things.
My colleague for this new adventure was, as always, Ramona. She has been the inspiration for all the Small and Traditional programme and her involvement ensures a uniformity of standard across the brand. Those who have travelled with her in Romania and elsewhere will know exactly what I mean.
Our research trip to Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania, June 2013
It probably comes as no surprise to the reader to learn that, once we have decided to explore the possibility of a tour to a new destination, we have to do our homework and, where appropriate, our fieldwork too. What is perhaps unusual is that we have decided to write it up, bad bits as well, for everybody to read. We aren’t trying to put you off, of course! Far from it – we hope that, like us, you will get a lot of enjoyment out of being a pioneer to an area which, thus far, has seen virtually no tourism of any kind. That, perhaps, is the point – we want all customers who sign up for this tour to know exactly what it was like for us so that they can make up their own minds whether it is also right for them.
It is important to stress from the outset that, although Kosovo is a “new” country with KFOR peacekeeping troops still very much in evidence, we felt completely safe at all times. Crime is low in all the countries visited and we kept well out of the way of those areas which border Serbia and where tensions are still occasionally reported. In fact, the nearest we got to becoming the victims of crime was the usual occupational hazard of being ripped off by taxi drivers.