Ampersand's Travels...

Travelspinner Guest Post: Ampersand Travel's UK & Ireland

As featured by our friends at Travelspinner, Ampersand's UK specialist Ellie Boulstridge chats about the unique appeal of holidaying in the UK & Ireland

image of a wooden gate giving into a green field
A Green and Pleasant Land

Brief CV – Ellie Boulstridge, UK & Ireland Product manager
With globe-trotting parents (a French mother and an English father), I took my first long-haul flight aged 3 months and spent my formative years living in a variety of far-flung places – from Sakhalin Island off Vladivostok in Russia, to Muscat in Oman, Diyarbakir on the Iraqi border of Turkey and the Hague in Holland. I started my career as a management consultant but, perhaps unsurprisingly, I grew frustrated and turned my back on corporate life for the thrills and luxury of travel!

Why Great Britain and Ireland?
At Ampersand we sell only destinations we know and love. Although we travel to Asia frequently, our office is in London and it seemed madness that we were not selling the UK too! The UK & Ireland offer such rewarding and diverse holidays – from multi-destination cultural tours to romantic city breaks, rural escapes and family adventures… There are historic country houses, royal palaces, ancient castles, stunning landscapes and world-class food all jostling for your attention here. Whilst I love Asia, for me it’s a dream to sell the best of the best on my doorstep.

What kind of feedback do you get from your clients?
Every Ampersand journey is designed to the client’s requirements, whatever their idea of fun or relaxation may be. Itineraries are as handheld as desired, and can be led by Blue Badge guides, for instance. And they can include add-ons such as being met off the aircraft at the airport for those who want a truly indulgent experience – which most of our clients do. The majority of our clients travelling to the UK are from Brazil, Australia or America and they are not afraid to pay for the best arrangements (travelling in style in the UK is a fair bit more expensive than in Asia!). But often they like a mix of extremes, so they may be staying at a luxury castle in the Scottish Highlands, but as a contrast we like to throw in a laid-back lunch of freshly shucked oysters at our favourite little food shack!

image of a man loading suitcases into a classic car
Personal Service Ballyfinn style

Expect the unexpected?
Our tours focus on the more academic traveller, providing them with specialist guides, insider access and unique experiences – perfect for lovers of art, architecture, literature, fashion, royalty and special events. Quirky British experiences include getting tailor-made kilts by the Queen’s kiltmaker, private out of hours viewing of Hampton Court and Lake District food safaris.

What’s new?
London continues to amaze with the choice of luxury hotels on offer. Every global brand and a whole host of amazing boutique properties reside here. Two of the latest which I love are Ham Yard (Firmdale’s new flagship property) and the celebrity-favourite (for good reason), the Chiltern Firehouse. Combined with what is already on offer I would say London is the most exciting luxury destination in the world right now! I’ve also got my eye on The Beaumont hotel, hopefully opening in the autumn, which is the first foray into hotels for Corbin & King, my favourite restaurateurs.

Dish to die for?
Scotland is a foodie’s heaven. Recently I had a spectacular springtime jaunt across the country and – with many whisky tasting tours and Michelin-starred meals under my belt (I’m also partial to a good black pudding) – I put on a few pounds. But it was entirely worth it! My favourite restaurant is the Witchery in Edinburgh which is dripping in medieval atmosphere and set right next to Edinburgh Castle, but the stand out meal of my trip was at the fine dining restaurant at Kinloch Lodge on the Isle of Skye; the whisky sours there are also divine.

image of a castle and a loch in Scotland
Under a Scottish Sun – Loch Laich north of Oban

The challenge!
Ampersand works with boutique hotels, lesser known contemporary classics and unmissable grande dames…treasures like Claridge’s, Lime Wood, Aldourie Castle, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Royal Crescent and Ballyfin in Ireland. The challenge is not to allow yourself to be swayed by what is new and shiny – it’s easy to make something look appealing on a website or on first sight. Instead, our job is to judge the true quality of the property in terms of service, style, food, location, clientele and vibe. It’s not simply to experience our chosen hotels and activities first hand; it is also about being purveyors of good taste and an acid test for excellence.

Dream itinerary?
Our ‘Best of British’ itinerary is my favourite itinerary blueprint – it can be tweaked and tailored depending on interests, but it works wonderfully as is, capturing our signature destinations in one whirlwind 13-day tour. It takes you from one corner of the British Isles to the other, visiting world heritage cities, majestic cathedrals, royal palaces, snow-capped mountains and lakes along the way. Start in London with a stay at Claridge’s and visit the city’s classic sites. Move on to Cambridge to explore the university’s historic buildings and colleges with a private guide. In Oxford, stay slightly outside of the city at Raymond Blanc’s beautiful Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, located in a sleepy and picturesque village.

Next, head to Stratford-upon-Avon for the opportunity to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company in action before driving to Scotland’s royal city, Edinburgh. Venture into rural Scotland and stay at Gleneagles where you’ll you have endless country pursuits to keep you occupied – from gun-dog training and clay-pigeon shooting to off road driving and, of course, golf. From Edinburgh, fly to Dublin where you’ll finish the tour by staying in the luxurious Shelbourne hotel. Explore Joyce’s Dublin on a literary walking tour or simply soak up the city’s Georgian streets and many Irish pubs!

an image of the Rooftop bar at the ME Hotel and the London skyline
An Evening Cityscape – the view from the Rooftop Bar at the ME hotel

If you could change any one thing about Great Britain and Ireland…
As you will have gathered, I absolutely love Scotland – its amazing landscapes, food, friendly people, outdoor activities and gorgeous cities. However, I wish there were more luxury-level hotels on offer. Scotland excels in cottages to rent, cosy B&Bs and historic castles, but in my dreamworld Scotland would be home to a Lime Wood equivalent – where style, luxury, food and comfort all come together perfectly.

Contact Ampersand on +44 (0)20 7819 9770. You can read Travelspinner’s Review of Ampersand Travel here.

 

image of the soldiers that guard Buckingham Palace in London
London Pride – the Guard at Buckingham Palace