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In the News this Week...
brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
Deepest Spain: rural areas win UNESCO status2 days ago
Away from the busy Costas, the Alto Turia and Valle del Cabriel in Spain have been named Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO. The former is in Valencia province, the later mostly in neighbouring Cuenca. Biosphere status is accorded to areas that combine conservation of biological diversity with sustainable use. Both newly designated areas, 40-60 kilometres from the city of Valencia, have fine landscapes and a rich variety of flora and fauna. The former is crossed by the upper Turia river and attracts visitors seeking outdoor activities, from hiking and cycling to canoeing, rafting and fishing. The Cabriel is claimed to be Europe’s cleanest river. The valley is home to a number of important archaeological sites, among them the Cave Paintings of Villar del Hurno. Worldwide, UNESCO has named a total of 18 such new reserves this summer.
Old Bangkok gets new underground stations3 days ago
Bangkok’s old city has been made more accessible for tourists berth by the opening of four new MRT underground stations. Travel between them will be free between 10am and 4pm until 28 September. They are part of a 14 kilometre extension to the Thai capital’s Blue Line. The old area – Rattanakosin – is home to attractions including the Grand Palace, Chinatown and Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Pho – respectively Temples of the Emerald Buddha and the Reclining Buddha.
Norwegian axes Ireland-North America over 737 MAX grounding4 days ago
The grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX has forced Norwegian to axe all its flights from Ireland to the US and Canada from 5 September. The low cost airline operates from Dublin, Cork and Shannon. It is trying to re-route affected customers on its services from other countries and offering full refunds if they no longer want to travel. The aircraft was grounded globally following two fatal crashes. Matthew Wood, Norwegian’s senior vice president, long haul commercial, said the airline had been hiring alternative jets to operate the services. “However, as the return to service date for the 737 MAX remains uncertain, this solution is unsustainable.”
Rooms with undersea views4 days ago
With floor to ceiling windows affording views of ocean life from turtles to manta rays, Australia’s first underwater visitor accommodation is scheduled to open on the Great Barrier Reef in November. Guests will be able to book from the end of this month. ‘Reefsuites’ are part of the AUD8m redevelopment of the Reefworld pontoon at Hardy Reef, 39 miles from Airlie Beach in Queensland’s Whitsunday region. Prices start at AUD740 for each of two sharing (about £412 at the time of writing). That includes a Reef cruise, meals and drinks and a selection of marine activities. More details
New pass cuts cost of Portsmouth breaks5 days ago
Portsmouth has launched a single ticket combining admission to the Mary Rose Museum and other key attractions. The pass promises to save 20% overall compared with the price of visiting each attraction individually. It also covers the Portsmouth Historic and National Museum of the Royal Navy, the Emirates Spinnaker Tower and the D-Day Story. Entry to The Mary Rose Museum and the Dockyard are cover is free for a year. Prices are £65 for adults, £57.50 for concessions – and for those taking grandchildren it’s £38 per child or £149 for a family of two adults and three children. Called the Portsmouth Pass, it must be bought in advance on the websites of all the sponsoring attractions except the Dockyard, and at www.visitportsmouth.co.uk
Venice to re-route cruise ships – but problems remain6 days ago
The Italian Government is reported to be planning to divert cruise ships from the centre of Venice, where they currently loom like great apartment blocks. Following two recent incidents – one a collision between the MSC Opera and a small tourist boat, the other a near miss, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said that, from the start of September, some ships would no longer sail through the Giudecca Canal to reach the city’s maritime terminal. Instead they would dock at the Fusina and Lombardia terminals, still in the lagoon but some distance away. But cruise experts are sceptical that this could represent anything but a temporary solution. They note that ferrying passengers from there to the principal island, with attractions such as St Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal, would be a major logistical task. They want to see the implementation of a long hatched plan to sail into the lagoon from the southwest and approach the terminal via the Vittorio Emanuele channel. Nothing being simple, however, this would involve dredging a deeper channel through the lagoon, which raises concern among environmental activists, who argue it would disrupt sediments and marine life.
Historic Bath hospital to become hotel9 days ago
The Royal Mineral Water Hospital in Bath is to become a luxury hotel. The Grade II listed building will be developed by the Singapore based Fragrance Group, whose UK hotel portfolio includes the Imperial in Blackpool and the Crown in Harrogate. The hospital which consists of two buildings linked by a bridge, opened in 1742. Its purpose was to provide care for the poor, who had long been drawn to Bath by the supposed healing powers of the city’s Roman baths. Officially known as the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases it is scheduled to move to the site of the Royal United Hospital – whose Trust runs it – on the outskirts of Bath. The Fragrance Group’s other current hotel projects include plans to transform Liverpool’s Municipal Buildings into a four star property and redevelop the site of Torquay’s former Palace Hotel.
Smoother security at Frankfurt Airport10 days ago
Frankfurt Airport is speeding up its security process. Operator Fraport AG has opened seven new lanes in an extension to Concourse A in Terminal One. Passengers are able to overtake others taking more time in the same lane. There is also more space for analysing x-rays and conducting manual checks. In October the lanes will be removed and switched to other checkpoints in the airport’s two terminals. The Concourse An extension will be put back into operation in time for next summer’s busy holidays season.
New Himalayas trek launched11 days ago
A trekking holiday in northern Pakistan, designed for those keen to experience the Himalayas without committing to a long challenge on foot, is one of three new packages for next year launched by KE Adventure Travel. Customers hike in two stages to the foot of Nanga Parbat, at the western end of the mountain chain, the world’s ninth highest peak at 8126 metres. After that the group will move to the Hunza Valley, widely acknowledged for its stunning beauty, visiting the old capital of Karimabad, trekking for a day on the Bualtar and Barpu glaciers, taking a tour to the Chinese border and cruising on Attabad Lake, which was formed as a result of a huge landslide in 2010. The two week holiday – Nanga Parbat and the Hunza Valley Trek – costs from £2635 including flights and £1995 land only.
Gatwick speeds up domestic arrivals12 days ago
Passengers arriving at Gatwick on domestic flights can now expect a faster and more convenient passage to the baggage hall. The creation of a new, dedicated route, launched at a cost of £24m, means almost all travellers from UK airports – including the Channel Islands – and the Republic of Ireland, will disembark via a jetty or aircraft steps directly into the South Terminal. Previously they were coached to a special baggage reclaim area to observe immigration rules that demand segregation of domestic and international passengers. The airport company says while passengers on a few flights might still need to use coaches during peak periods, 95% would be able to use the new route.
Hotel group to banish mini bathroom bottles13 days ago
The end may be near for those little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and moisteriser in hotel bathrooms. In a move to reduce plastic waste the giant InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has announced that it will switch its entire operation to “bulk size bathroom amenities” by 2021. On average, that will amount to the removal of 200 million miniatures a year. CEO Keith Barr says they have already been abolished at hotels comprising nearly one third of IHG’s 853,000 bedrooms worldwide. “It’s more important than ever that companies challenge themselves to operate responsibly – we know it’s what our guests, owners, colleagues, investors and suppliers rightly expect. Switching to larger-size amenities across more than 5,600 hotels around the world is a big step in the right direction and will allow us to significantly reduce our waste footprint and environmental impact as we make the change.”
Holidays hit as Super Break ceases trading16 days ago
The holiday plans of thousands of travellers were in doubt today after tour operator Super Break ceased trading. The firm’s parent group, which also owned accommodation specialist Laterooms.com, has gonr into administration. It was not immediately clear how many customers were currently abroad on holiday but Super Break was reported to have taken some 20,000 forward bookings affecting 53,000 people. ABTA advised customers who had booked holidays including flights directly with Super Break to contact the Civil Aviation Authority. They should be covered by the ATOL safety net. Those who booked through travel agents should contact those agents. Some customers have booked trips without flights. If they paid with credit or debit cards they should be able to get refunds from their cards companies. If they [aid by any other means, said the Association, they would need to make a claim through ABTA (by going to abta.com/claims. Bookings with Laterooms.com should be secure as customers paid directlyn to the accommodation supplier.
Welsh food is new tour focus16 days ago
Foodie tours of North Wales and a one off holiday on the waterways of Paris are among the new 2020 packages announced by coach specialist Shearings. The former will include visits to Bodnant Welsh Food centre with tastings and lunch, Halen Mon Anglesey Sea Salt and a steam train ride up Snowdon. It’s available from April – August and costs from £449 for five days with four nights half board. The latter includes day cruises on the Seine and Marne, plus the Canal St Martin in the city centre – and a trip the Montparnasse Tower with Champagne at the top. The holiday starts on 7 June and costs from £692 – also for five days and four nights half board.
NZ Government names latest Great Walk17 days ago
The popularity of New Zealand’s hiking routes has prompted the country’s Department of Conservation to increase its Great Walks network. Newest addition is the Hump Ridge Track, a 61 kilometre loop on South Island’s Fjordland coast. Starting and finishing in Te Waewae Bay, the routes takes hikers through a range of forest type to Alpine high ground, taking in beaches and spectacular views. Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage says is “offers the walker remote and unforgettable beauty and history”. Her Department has announced it will work with the Tuapere Hump Ridge Trust to bring it up to the standard of established Great Walks such as the Milford Track and the Tongariro Northern Circuit, some of which are becoming increasingly crowded during peak periods. The upgrade will attract more hikers by installing facilities enabling them to spend three rather than two nights en route. It will cost around £2.7m. The walk should open in its new form in 2022. But according to Derbyshire based specialist tour operator New Zealand in Depth, hikers tempted to experience it should book early. “The Paparoa Track, the last addition to the DoC’s Great Walks, sold 37% (over 4300 bed nights) on its first day of launching”. The firm’s founder Paul Carberry says: “We have already had interest in the track and can’t wait to include the newest Great Walk in our guests’ personalised itineraries”. The Department is also working on plans to add the Te Paki coastal track, which follows the coastline of Cape Reinga in the far north of the country.
Virgin to drop St Lucia flights18 days ago
Virgin Atlantic is to axe its Gatwick–St Lucia service from 8 June next year. After 21 years on the route the airline says “It’s never easy to withdraw from a destination and it’s not a decision we have taken lightly”. It currently operates three times a week to the Caribbean island. When flights there cease, Virgin’s Gatwick-Antigua service will increase from three to four departures a week and its Havana operation will switch from Gatwick to Heathrow.
Santorini has new luxury hotel19 days ago
A new boutique hotel has opened on of Santorini. The five star OMMA, is high above the Aegean in the northwest village of Imerovigli, whose characteristic whose buildings cascade from the rim of the Greek Island’s volcanic caldera. It has 30 rooms, including suites and a villa. Some of its accommodation comes with plunge or private swimming pools. It also has what is billed as a ‘multiple level infinity pool’. The property also incorporates a spa and a gym.
New budget flights to Russia planned20 days ago
Low cost flights from Luton to Russia are set to take off later this year. The central and east Europe airline Wizz will operate daily to Moscow and St Petersburg from 1 October. It foresees one way fares starting at £25.99, though these prices are based on the current level of competition on the two routes. Wizz will also start flying from Yorkshire to Moldova this winter. It will operate two round trips a week from Doncaster Sheffield Airport to the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, from 20 December. Flights will depart on Mondays and Fridays.
Five day ski packages on Japanese slopes23 days ago
Ski and mountain specialist Inghams has launched five night packages to Japan for next winter. Customers will ski on the slopes of the Hakuba Valley, which comprises ten different areas, all on one lift pass. They will stay in Happo-one, on Mount Karamatsu in the northern Japanese Alps, which is about 1hr by road from Nagano and was one of the venues for the 1998 Winter Olympics. The area offers “superb off piste opportunities”, says Inghams. Visitors may relax post ski muscles in water from hot springs in traditional bath houses called onsens. Sample price of the package (for departures on 14 December, 29 February and 7 and 14 March) is £1,869 for each of two sharing. That covers flights from Heathrow, transfers, b&b and lift pass. But the duration of the holiday is also flexible, with add ons possible.
New hotel opens at Toulouse airport24 days ago
Early flight home from Toulouse? A new hotel has opened at the airport with a free shuttle to the terminal. The Hampton by Hilton is about 600 metres from check in. It has 126 rooms, a fitness centre and free wi fi. A hot breakfast is included in the room price. For travellers using satnav, the property is at 92 rue de Bordebasse, Blagnac.
Luxembourg tops accessible cities table25 days ago
Europe’s most accessible city for visitors is Luxembourg, according to a league table assembled by comparethemarket.com. It has the highest proportion of accommodation suitable for wheelchair users and ranks in the top three for wheelchair accessible attractions. Berlin comes second, followed by Stockholm and Oslo. Among the biggest destination cities, Paris is sixth, Vienna and Madrid are ninth and tenth, London and Amsterdam 11th and 12th. Dublin and Rome are next at 13th and 14th but Prague is down at 24th, Lisbon 29th and Athens is at 32nd.