A Christmas Letter

Seasons Greetings
They say Christmas comes once a year but it feels as though it is a lot more often than that and suddenly it is here again. My first taste of Christmas this year was the Yuletide market at Winchester, a town packed with interesting buildings and endowed with a fascinating history that I had visited earlier this year. We wandered around the brightly lit stalls and smiled at the children pushing their stabilising penguins around the rapidly melting ice rink.
Christmas market in Winchester
Christmas is also the precursor to a new year and time to reflect on the last twelve months. I am still working as a tour leader for Solos Holidays and enjoying it as much as ever as I have visited some wonderful destinations, met lots of interesting people and renewed acquaintances with regular clients.
Guardian of hats and bags at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Tuscany in Italy
Mauritius was my exotic destination this year. We stayed in the fabulous Tamassa resort in Bel Ombre in the southern part of the island. It was wonderful. I am not usually so enthusiastic about a beach holiday but the hotel was set in lovely gardens full of beautiful blooms and cheeky birds. The food was great, even in the large hotel buffet restaurant and I had lunch every day at the beach restaurant overlooking the sea – indulging on fresh sea food and perfectly cooked steak. But I did use the gym most days to counter-act these excesses.
On the balcony outside my room at the Tamassa Resort, Bel Ombre, Mauritius
During our stay I went on three excursions exploring the island, its industries and is nature. But more about that in future posts on my blog. My most memorable moment was meeting one of the many giant tortoises that inhabit the island.
A friendly encounter with a giant tortoise in Mauritius
Puglia was my new ‘discovery’ in Italy – a lovely region of Italy peppered with pretty little towns and beautiful landscapes of white buildings perched on the top of sheer cliffs and masses of wild flowers carpeting fields of olive trees. I had been working in Sorrento and extended my stay in Italy to have a holiday on my own. From our base in Sorrento we visited the island of Capri and explored the Amalfi Coast.
The Faraglioni Rocks off the coast of Capri in Italy
I stayed in an apartment in the old town of Monopolí – I could have reached out and shaken hands with the people in the house across the street the passageways were so narrow. I had breakfast every morning, a cappuccino and croissant in the local bar. After spending two days exploring the old port, old town and natural coastline around the town I spent the rest of the time exploring nearby towns by bus and train. I visited Alberobello which has thousands of one storey dry stone huts, Lecce with its beautiful baroque architecture and the white city of Ostuni perched on a hill top.
Posing in front of a view of the white city of Ostuni in Puglia
Kew Gardens in London were a revelation and although I spent two whole days ithere I still did not manage to see everything. Over the years the gardens have evolved from a royal country retreat to an important example of nineteenth century landscaped gardens and tourist attraction. Different events are organised there and I really enjoyed a ride on the little train and learning about the different spices from around the world on my last visit.
The Palm House at Kew Gardens in London
Madonna di Campiglio in the Italian Dolomites has once again featured as my second home this year. I skied there in the winter and walked there in the summer. I finally achieved a long held ambition to do one of the toughest walks there, the Cinque Laghi Walk. It took six hours (without a break) and I am still basking in the warmth of the resulting sense of achievement. This fabulous walk takes in five different lakes and features some great panoramic views. I will be spending this Christmas in the Dolomites – skiing.
Skiing a red run on Pradalago a ski area in Madonna di Campiglio
Tuscany has also been a regular haunt this year and I am now very familiar with its most famous towns. I have spent many hours exploring Florence, Siena, Lucca and Pisa as well as the less well-known but equally interesting town of Pistoia. I am sure I have now climbed every tower it is possible to climb in these cities and a fascinating experience was climbing up some scaffolding to get a close look at the glazed terracotta frieze on the front of the Ospedale del Ceppo in Pistoia. I will be back in Tuscany again to for the New Year when I will be out on the streets celebrating Italian style.
On the cupola of the cathedral in Florence overlooking the Campanile
This year has also been my first full year of blogging on my own website and I have really enjoyed having this outlet for my stories and images . I have also discovered the joys of Tweeting and posting on Facebook. I would like to wish all my followers (and anyone else reading this letter) a lovely Christmas and a happy and healthy 2016.

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Author, Valery Collins

About the Author - Valery Collins
London, England

I have been addicted to travel since I was three years old and escaped from the confines of the family home and set off for Windsor – on foot. After qualifying as a solicitor I took a gap year and worked as a tour leader on a freelance basis. That was 20 years ago and I am still working as a tour leader. Over the years I have ridden camels, horses and an ostrich, walked and skied in mountains and followed the Inca trail and climbed towers and temples. I write honest reviews of my travels in the hope it will inspire others to follow in my footsteps.

Valery on the Zugspitzplatt above Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria

While travelling I have always kept a diary and that was the basis of my first book about my experiences. Then I discovered blogging which is a great outlet for both my writing and my photography.

Recently I became a regular contributor to GPSMyCity and my city guides have been converted to Guided Travel Articles

Valery Collins