In late March 2012 there were a few days of glorious weather when it felt like we had bypassed spring and gone straight into summer. The temperature rose above 20 degrees, out came the shorts and Aberdeen was officially the warmest place in Europe. As the clocks went forward, we declared winter was over and celebrated our good fortune to live in such a wonderful country. Naturally one of the coldest, windiest and wettest Aprils on record was to follow a week later, but it was good while it lasted.
My own good fortune was to choose that week of balmy warmth to try a Great Little Break. Checking out the website, I found a selection of neatly packaged experiences across the British Isles. It was all very easy to navigate, with breaks categorised into areas of interest and themes as well as by destination, with tempting ideas such as Great Little heritage breaks, indulgence breaks, pamper breaks and romantic breaks to suit all desires, whether for entertainment, relaxation or thrills. And if I needed a little extra help choosing? There’s a call centre and live webchat available which gives the whole process a nice personal touch.
“You’ll be delighted”, claimed the Great Little Breaks website, and indeed I was. With limited time to spare, I selected a City Breaks London experience combining an overnight stay at The Thistle Kensington Gardens with a river cruise. The hotel ticked all the boxes – a perfect location right opposite one of London’s most beautiful parks, handy for Oxford Street and the West End, close to public transport, easy access with a ground floor lift, and 24-hour room service. The room was spacious and well-appointed, with a Great Big Bed for my Great Little Break, as well as an excellent view across the park and many of the iconic London landmarks.
The hotel was combined with a City Cruises river boat trip along the Thames from Westminster via the London Eye to Tower Pier. I could have gone further to Dulwich, but that will be for another time. Access is easy from the piers, and a wheelchair would have no difficulty using the ramps and rolling on and off. Inside the boat there’s plenty of space with comfy seating and a bar.
The cruise was fascinating and exceeded expectations – an excellent English commentary was very informative, and filled with nuggets of information all dutifully noted in a leather bound journal by the American couple sitting in front of me. We first passed Cleopatra’s Needle: at 3500 years of age it’s the oldest monument in London, and was presented in 1819 by the Turkish Viceroy of Egypt. Its partner obelisk is in Central Park in New York.
We then motored past Somerset House, and a small arch which I must have passed by hundreds of times and never stopped to look at. It has griffins on either sides and marks the start of the City. Legend has it that Kings and Queens of old would have to stop there to get permission from the Lord Mayor to enter.
Other landmarks included the Oxo Tower with its eponymous windows, the City of London School, St Pauls Cathedral with the 2nd biggest dome in Europe (after St Peter’s in Rome), and apparently Sir Christopher Wren wanted a steeple not a dome. Then the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, minus the brothels, the replica of the Golden Hind, and Old Billingsgate Market with its weathervanes which have golden fish on them. Before mooring at Tower Pier, we passed by HMS Belfast which served in World War 2 as well as the Korean war and whose long range weapons had a range of 22km. And that was in 1939.
Disembarkation at Tower Pier made this an easy way to explore The Tower of London as well as Spitalfields Market, before returning at a tranquil pace downstream. It certainly beats the tube.
Great Little Breaks is a clever idea – it takes away the hassle factor of booking a hotel and then wondering what to do. Or searching through endless websites trying to combine activities with accommodation. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated; simply decide what kind of break you are looking for and where you would like to go, and let the team at Great Little Breaks do the rest. You’ll be delighted.
Great Little Breaks, tel: 08448 488 488; www.greatlittlebreaks.com offers a wide range of themed short breaks staying in hotels across the UK. Sample package: Great Little City Break, costs £159 pp (two sharing) including one nights’ accommodation at the Thistle Kensington Gardens Hotel with breakfast and a river cruise.