Surprise yourself in the Isle of Man

Citywing-logo-aboveA great many of us pass over the Isle of Man every time we travel to the mainland  or further afield to Europe. A couple of weeks ago I decided to  visit  Mann as its known and spend a few days in this very quaint part of the British Isles.

I travelled direct with Citywing (www.citywing.com) direct from Belfast harbour airport on one of their 19-seater aircraft. I am a hopeless claustrophobic but actually found this a very pleasant way to travel and the size of the craft did not bother me at all. Citywing offers exceptional fares on routes to the Isle of Man, Blackpool, Gloucester (M5), Newcastle and Jersey.

citywing1Belfast to the Isle of Man starts from £29.95, and they have up to 4 flights a day. They also fly onwards to Blackpool daily, with up to two flights a day with fares starting at £59.95 for this one. Citywings timetable is specifically designed to provide flights at times customers actually want to fly at. For business travellers, they offer a choice of early departures and late returns, while leisure passengers can take advantage of flights that are conveniently timed for onward travel with the leading low-cost airlines – meaning you can easily book with Citywing to escape to some of Europe’s top destinations. For more see (www.citywing.com)

The Isle of Man has been inhabited since before 6500 BC and it was one of the six Celtic nations. It’s a self-governing British Crown dependency which have their own government called Tynwold and the Manx people claim that this is the oldest continuously existing ruling body in the world.

They have their own laws and importantly their own taxation system, and interestingly it’s the only country in Europe that does not have any debt!

So their local form of government could show the rest of us a thing or two about managing finances!IMG_1536

Due to the very generous tax laws, many celebrities still retain residency on the Isle of Man in order to benefit from their tax system.

 

The Isle of Man is 32 miles long and its widest point and approximately 14 miles wide it has an area of around 221 mi²The latest interim population census was completed in 2006 and it showed that it was home to about 80,000 people, of that; approximately 30,000 reside in the islands capital Douglas.

 

My previous impression of the Isle of Man was that it was dull, boring and a place that you should only ever go to once. Well I was indeed wrong.

 

The Isle of Man has a pace of life that is without doubt slower than most others, they don’t rush they don’t panic they just “let it be”.

 

When you visit the doctor and he or she tells you: “not to sweat the small stuff” or  “take a chill pill” what I think they mean is visit the Isle of Man. As soon as you step of the plane your worries slip away, your heart rates starts to reduce and you feel a sense of calm invade your body.

IMG_1566Empress Hotel

I visited in the middle of September, the holiday season had all but come to an end and visitor numbers were starting to diminish, but it was none the less a nice time to be there. I stayed at the Empress Hotel, which is located right in the centre of the Promenade (www.theempresshotel.net).

 

The Empress commands a wonderful view of Douglas Bay and is a short walk from the town centre; it’s a perfect place to stay whether visiting the Isle of Man for Business or Leisure.

Recently the hotel has been extensively upgraded and maintains its status as one of the best hotels on the Island. This impressive hotel boasts 102 bedrooms including 3 executive suites with separate lounge area, a number of executive sea facing rooms and a fantastic top floor penthouse overlooking the whole of Douglas Bay.

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All of the bedrooms are fully equipped with the comforts of home. Luxurious en-suite marble bathroom, complimentary refreshments, LCD flat screen televisions, hairdryer, trouser press and Free Wi-Fi.  Apart from great rooms and stunning views the Empress is also a great place to dine as well. With 3 different restaurants to eat in, you will be spoilt for choice. The Conservatory, located on the upper ground floor with spectacular views of the bay, offers a traditional à la Carte menu, including fresh locally caught fish and mouth watering grills. “Aroma” ‘Eat as much as you Like Buffet’ was clearly a hit with the locals as it was packed every night and the Piano bar.

 

Most of us will has seen a picture of the famous horse trams that run along the promenade in Douglas. The Trams are the world’s oldest surviving facility and they started in 1876 and have run ever since (except the war years). The trams run between the Manx Electric Railway station, along Douglas Promenade to the Sea Terminal, a distance of just two miles and they are great fun and provide a very useful function.

 

The Isle of Man is a railway enthusiast’s paradise the extensive railway system has plenty to offer. There are more than 60 official stations or stops on the network which provides a perfect opportunity to hop off and explore some of the Island’s most stunning glens and coastal areas.

 

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Steam railway service

The Island also features a regular steam railway service, which is the longest narrow gauge steam line in Britain and was opened in 1874.  The three-foot narrow gauge railway still runs with its original locomotives and carriages through the Island’s charming countryside between the Island’s capital and a range of destinations in the south.  

If by now you have been left wanting more, then the Snaefel Mountain Railway is sure to quench that thirst.  This unique Victorian enterprise, which is around five miles long, has been in operation since 1895 and is the only electric mountain railway in the British Isles as well.

You can start your journey in Douglas or in the pretty village of Laxey on the east coast. En route you’ll be able to see the Laxey glens and Lady Isabella – Laxey’s water wheel – as well as The Bungalow, a famous TT landmark and only other stop on the line.

 

Once you have reached Snaefell’s summit, at 2,036 feet above sea level, you may be able to see some, or all, of the Seven Kingdoms – England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the kingdoms of heaven and the sea. Unfortunately the day I visited the mist and clouds had come in and I could barely see my hand in front of me, but the summit café more than made up for that.

 

There are no roads to the summit of Snaefell but there are a number of paths that lead to the Bungalow, and Laxey, for those visitors who want to make their own way up or down.
You’ll never be short of something to see and do during your visit to the Isle of Man whether you’re looking for action packed fun or the opportunity to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the countryside its all there for you. Its certainly a true adventure playground for lovers of the great outdoors, the Island’s varied terrain and extensive coastline lends itself perfectly to those who want to get their blood pumping.Rushen Abbey Crown Copyright

Whether you’re a thrill seeker who wants to try your hand at watersports, a mountain biker keen to explore some of the best trails in the British Isles or a walker keen to scale the challenging coastal footpaths – you’ll find an activity to suit. Don’t forget to look out for the wildlife which calls the Island home! Of course, if you are there at the right time you can join in with the world famous TT races.

When you’ve exhausted yourself during the day you’ll find an extensive year round programme of arts and cultural entertainment so you can relax watching a play, a live musician in session or watching the latest Blockbuster.

Other suggestions

Castle Rushen

Located in the ancient capital of the Isle of Man, Castletown, this impressive fortress was once home to the Kings and Lords of Mann.

Cregneashheritagelaxeywheel Crown Copyright  no to be reproduced without permission

The picturesque village of Cregneash was one of the last strongholds of the traditional customs, crafts, and skills, which characterised the Manx crofter’s way of life.

Laxey Wheel

Designed by the Victorian engineer Robert Casement, the wheel was built in 1854 to pump water from Glen Mooar, which was part of the Great Laxey Mines industrial complex.

 

Beaches

The Island has a fantastic range of beaches to visit and there are simply too many to list. Visit http://www.visitisleofman.com for more information.

 

Everything taken into account my return to the Island after quite a number of years was enjoyable. I honestly thought I was going to be bored stiff, but it was really a pleasant surprise to find the island so enjoyable.

My taxi driver who, was originally from Northern Ireland and who took me back to the airport for my flight home summed it up for me. “I came here 30 years ago as a relief driver, I am so glad I stayed. It’s a wonderful place to live, where quality of life really means quality life”

If you fancy a great break away from the humdrum, give the Island a visit you might be very surprised at how relaxing it can be.

LIVING THE GOOD LIFE

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about, cruising on Lough Erne, the freedom of the waterways in Ireland and the great weekend I had, this week  however, I am writing about the waterways, but in a very different setting.  This boating holiday was just a little bit special!

A hotel barge cruise on a Burgundy Canal is a wonderful experience and hopefully when you have finished reading this you too with be excited enough to go and try it for yourself.
Burgundy boasts some of the world’s finest wines with around 60,000 acres of sunlit vines and arguably the prettiest canals in France. The Burgundy Canal winds its way in smooth curves through the heart of renowned vineyards, medieval towns, elegant châteaux, magnificent cathedral

s, picturesque villages and wonderful local markets.

When one travels with European Waterways you will experience all the very best in 5 star luxury, food, and service.  My collection point was in Paris, so the easiest and cheapest way was to book an Easyjet flight www.easyjet.com in to Paris Charles De Gaulle or CDG as its known.

I made my way to the heavenly Hotel Pont Royal, (http://www.leshotelsduroy.com/en/hotel-pont-royal) which is located in the heart of the stylish Saint-Germain des Prés district. This beautifully authentic and elegant hotel has 65 rooms and 10 suites, which have spacious high ceilings and romantic views of the city.

The reason I chose this hotel was because of their new Gatsby in Paris offer, which was the perfect Parisian package. Paris is a place to inspire the creative mind and imagination. Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Miller all spent time at the Hotel Pont Royal enjoying the charming surroundings and lavish accommodation.

Even today the building evokes a glamorous vintage mood and satisfies the appetites of artistic characters.   I wasn’t able to stay in the Gatsby suite as my budget did not stretch that far, but the room I had was indeed beautiful.

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Service at the hotel was great and it was located in a superb part of Paris. Breakfast was a treat with a fine selection of offerings from around the world. So if you fancy “pushing the boat out” then the Gatsby  package in the Pont Royal in Paris, could be the one for you as it offers you to the very best of Paris’ literary scene whilst offering the top Panoramic suite with enviable views of the city.

Make the most of a weekend in France’s idyllic capital city with Hotel Pont Royal’s Gatsby in Paris package:

One night in the Panoramic Suite

Buffet  breakfast included (for two persons)

One cocktail “Great Gatsby” per person

Walking Literary Tour around Paris

Chocolate box from “Hugo&Victor” as gift in room

Rate: 1 200 Euro per night

No luxury is omitted in this innovative package; where guests will feel like literary legends for the night.

The Gatsby in Paris package prices start from £1,027 (€1200) per night for two people including taxes and service. For bookings contact: http://www.leshotelsduroy.com/en/hotel-pont-royal / Tel: + 33 (0)1 42 84 70 00

All Aboard

After my quick and Imagevery enjoyable stopover in beautiful Paris, I was whisked down to Burgundy to board my floating hotel for the week.

The 8 passenger L’Art de Vivre started life as a Scottish munitions carrier and survived long enough to be transformed by a team of skilled crafts-men into a floating celebration of the Burgundian “good life”.

Her facilities included a sun deck, spa pool and 8 bikes, perfect for gentle tow path ride along the canal side. The air-conditioned interior boasted a comfortable saloon / dining room and an always open inclusive bar.

My air conditioned, en-suite cabin had a double configuration (twin at your request), it was compact but beautifully furnished with wood panelling and suitable nautical brass fittings, the bathroom was extremely well equipped with a very generous fully functioning power shower.

I have to say this way of cruising has to be the best cruising you can do. No seasickness, no hoards of tourists running all over the place, no queues for the restaurant, you remain stationary at night and only cruise during the day, at no more than 5 kmph. And every night you eat at the Captains table!

Amazing Food

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The food on the L’Art de Vivre was Michelin class repast, Jim our chef was outstanding, a quiet man but obviously so focused on his craft, he was barely able to speak, but when he present his magnificent fare we were spellbound.
Poached eggs in red wine, stuffed pigeon breast, sweetbreads, foie gras, oven baked  salmon and 5 cheeses every day.
This is a region with a vast variety of cheeses, in all shapes, sizes and colours, strong in character or mild and fresh and all can be enjoyed with full-bodied red Burgundies, or perhaps with lighter white Chablis wines. Burgundy’s gastronomic tradition is certainly rich and diverse and a sedate cruise on a hotel barge along one of its delightful waterways will allow you to indulge in good food and wine, two of the real pleasures in life. Make no mistake about it, this is a gastronomic experience that will leave you breathless, and it will without doubt increase your waistline a little.

 

The crew of the L’Art de Vivre, comprised of our Captain and tour guide Paul, Master Chef Jim and Housekeeper, all of whom have a love for the region, and all secure in the knowledge that their vessel represents L’Art de Vivre itself.

Our week flew by, but to give you some idea of the way it works goes like this we were collected on Sunday and we transferred to the barge, which was moored in Auxerre.
Following a champagne welcome, we were free to explore the medieval town of Auxerre or take a stroll along the banks of the River Yonne before returning for dinner on board. Dinner was an exquisite affair and after a few glasses of port and possibly a larger amount of Bailies Irish cream, I retired for the night.

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Monday Day 2, morning I was up bright and after breakfast we set off on our morning cruise which took us past past vineyard-clad hillsides to our rural mooring at Vincelles.

The afternoon excursion took us to Chablis, home of one of the most famous white wines in the world. A tasting at family run winery, Jean-Marc Brocard introduced us to some of the local Petit Chablis and Chablis wines.
After another splendid Dinner on board, we retired for the evening.


Tuesday
, Day 3 after breakfast, we set for a cruise southwards through rich pasture lands past grazing Charolais cattle to the town of Mailly-la-Ville. Once again after a sumptuous dinner on board and a few jokes round the deck top table it was lights out.


Wednesday, Day 4,
we visited the charming 14th century medieval market village of Noyers, one of the most beautiful villages in France. In the afternoon we cruised past the Saussois cliffs where an international climbing centre creates a spectacular setting. Giving Jim a night off, we ate wonderfully at a local auberge.


Thursday, Day 5
,  In the morning we enjoyed an excursion to the town of Vézelay, one of Burgundy’s most famous treasures with the Romanesque Basilica of St Mary Magdalene, craft shops and fine views of the surrounding countryside.
Lunch on board followed by an afternoon cruise through the Yonne Valley to sleep off our recent acquisition of Chablis. We had dinner on board and more craic as the wine and jokes flowed.

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Friday day 6,
saw us take a morning cruise through beautiful countryside to Chevroches.
By now as the waste lines expanded we all decided to start walking the tow-paths in an effort to avert the inevitable. In the afternoon, we visited the Chateau of Bazoches, whose illustrious visitors included Richard the Lionheart and which was later remodelled by Maréchal Vauban.

Captain’s Farewell Dinner followed on board with a celebration and applause for our superb staff. Our last  morning we were reluctantly dragged from our cabins as we all had decided that a return to normal living was not for us.

Upon return to our individual homes, our new found American, New Zealand and South African friends all embarked on emailing each other, berating the fact we had to cook, clean and make our own beds and that when we raised a hand a Bloody Mary or Chablis was not trust into it. So if you want to live the good life I can highly recommend  European Waterways and please make sure you visit www.gobarging.com


Prices for a 6 night cruise aboard the 8 passenger hotel barge ‘Art de Vivre’ are from €2,990pp (€3,190 in 2014) in a twin/double en suite cabin, including all meals, wines, an open bar, excursions and local transfers. Full boat charters are also available. Call European Waterways: +44 (0) 1753 598555    Website: www.gobarging.com

 

 

karl logoNEED SOMEWHERE TO PARK?

Considering I was away for about 10 days, I needed somewhere to park  my car close to Belfast International Airport. I have checked out all of the car parks and for me I have found KARL to be the cheapest and best suited to my needs.
KARL Airport Parking is located in KARL Business Park and it is only a 5 minute drive to the Terminal at Belfast International Airport.  It provides a reliable, quick and easy way to both start and finish your journey.  The car park is manned 24 hours per day and 7 days per week.  The floodlit parking areas are all hard standing (e.g. tarmac, concrete or hardcore), the entire perimeter is fenced and CCTV operates 24 hours a day.
Transfers to and from Belfast International Airport are included, available 24 hours a day and take approximately 5 minutes.  Please arrive at the car park in plenty of time as the bus may have just left to go to the Airport when you arrive in which case it should return in around 15 minutes (this time should be less if more than one bus is running).

 

 

 

TAKE OFF IN THE BRITISH AIRWAYS SUMMER SALE WITH UP TO 1/3 OFF …

TAKE OFF IN THE BRITISH AIRWAYS SUMMER SALE WITH UP TO 1/3 OFF …

Thousands of seats and hundreds of holidays are reduced in the British Airways sale, which starts on Thursday, June 27.  Over 95 destinations worldwide are included for selected travel from June 27 through to June 10, 2014, saving up to a third off flights.

Discover a new city in Europe with one-way flights from London City starting from £69 to Stockholm, Venice and Zurich (saving up to 12 per cent) and to the new Spanish city of Granada from £76 one-way (saving up to 11 per cent).

Long-haul flights start from £256 to Moscow (saving up to 19 per cent), Delhi from £519 (saving up to 20 per cent), Johannesburg from £709 (saving up to 19 per cent) and Sydney from £879 (saving up to 31 per cent).

Bag a bargain in the USA with return flights to New York from £444 (saving up to 15 per cent), Los Angeles from £536 (saving up to 13 per cent) and Honolulu from £592 (saving up to 8 per cent).

For those who haven’t yet booked their summer escape, there is still time with hot spots including: Sri Lanka from £495 (saving up to 32 per cent) and Las Vegas from £565 (saving up to 15 per cent) both from Gatwick.

Alternatively take a break and relax in Dubai with return flights from £419 (saving up to 16 per cent) and in premium economy from £706 (saving up to 24 per cent) or enjoy a taste of Thailand with return flights to Bangkok from £599 (saving up to 29 per cent) and in premium economy from £949 (saving up to 27 per cent).

Great value city breaks and holidays are also included in the sale with two night deals to the South of France starting from £129 per person (including return flights from Gatwick and accommodation at the 2* Comte De Nice). Stay for two nights in Berlin from £149 per person (including flights from Heathrow and accommodation at the 3* Days Inn Berlin West) or check out the Costa Blanca and relax in Alicante where seven nights costs from £199 per person (including return flights from Gatwick and accommodation at the 4* Traina Hotel).

A three night break to New York costs from £549 per person (including return flights from Heathrow and accommodation at the 3* Jolly  Madison Towers) or enjoy the thrills of Orlando with three nights from £499 per person (including return flights from Gatwick and accommodation at the 3* Ramada Gateway).

For a tropical escape head to Tobago with seven nights from £549 per person (including return flights from Gatwick and accommodation at the 3* Grafton Beach Resort), alternatively for all-inclusive enthusiasts, head to the Dominican Republic with seven nights from £699 per person (including return flights from Gatwick and all-inclusive accommodation at the 4* Occidental Grand Punta Cana).  For culture and unspoilt beaches check out Sri Lanka with seven nights from £659 per person (including return flights from Gatwick and half board accommodation at the 3* Tangerine Beach Hotel).

All British Airways flights include a generous 23kg baggage allowance, free online check-in and seat selection 24 hours prior to departure.

For reservations visit ba.com or call 0844 493 0787 for flights or 0844 493 0758 for holiday deals