Wonders of Wales & the Scottish Isles

The latest addition to our ‘Undiscovered Europe’ portfolio is an in-depth discovery of Scotland and Wales, revealing the wealth of magnificent scenery and cultural heritage of these two ancient Celtic nations.

The tour begins with a 10-day exploration of some of the truly hidden gems of Wales, from the vibrant capital, Cardiff, to the Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast, and the old walled town of Conwy in the north. Along the way we visit the largest castle in Wales – Caerphilly Castle, discover the Welsh mining culture with a visit to an underground mine, and take a trip on a horse-drawn narrow boat across the magnificent Pontcysyllte Aqueduct that soars high above the River Dee. In Scotland we get right off the beaten track with a 9-night expedition aboard Ocean Nova, which takes us on a remarkable journey to the ruggedly beautiful wilderness, rich history and abundant wildlife of the Scottish Isles. Our voyage takes us to the Inner and Outer Hebrides, St Kilda and the Orkney and Shetland Islands where we immerse ourselves in the history of ages past as we visit ancient brochs, standing stones and stone circles. This is a land where the people are waiting to welcome you to their unique culture and heritage which has evolved in isolation from the mainland over thousands of years. Finally we make landfall at Oban and continue on to Glasgow where we conclude our momentous tour. Join us on a memorable journey to the ‘Wonders of Wales & the Scottish Isles’!

Tour Fitness Level: Active

(Price will be based on Standard Stateroom – limited availability) | Cabin upgrades POA

Highlights

Scotland

  • Enjoy a 9-night expedition voyage of the Scottish Isles aboard MS Serenissima
  • Visit the cliffs of Fair Isle where fulmars, kittiwakes, gannets and shags breed from April to August
  • See Fair Isle’s puffins at close quarters
  • Visit the amazing Ring of Brodgar
  • See the remarkably well-preserved Mousa Broch in the Shetlands
  • See the extraordinary standing stones on the Isle of Lewis
  • Visit the mystical island of St Kilda a dual World Heritage site for its natural and cultural significance
  • Visit Kinloch Castle on the Isle of Rum
  • Explore the extraordinary Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa
  • See Staffa’s abundant birdlife including puffins, gannets, razorbills and guillemots
  • Sample the ‘water of life’ at one of Islay’s distilleries

Wales

  • Ride a horse-drawn canal boat across the magnificent Pontcysyllte Viaduct
  • Visit Betws-Y-Coed – home to the famous Swallow Falls
  • Spend three nights in the ancient walled town of Conwy
  • Explore UNESCO Heritage listed Caernarfon Castle
  • Ride one of the ‘Great Little Trains of Wales – the Vale of Rheidol Railway
  • Explore the smallest city in Britain – St Davids – located inside Pembrokeshire National Park
  • Visit the lovely seaside town of Tenby
  • Visit the magnificent Brecon Beacon’s National Park
  • Go underground to a mine at The Big Pit National Coal Museum
  • Explore Caerphilly Castle – the largest castle in Wales
  • Explore the exciting Welsh capital, Cardiff

Inclusions

  • All ground transportation
  • All hotel accommodation (twin-share)
  • Twin-share stateroom aboard MS Serenissima*
  • All meals as specified
  • Complimentary house wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner onboard MS Serenissima
  • Complimentary tea and coffee onboard between 07.00 and 23.00
  • Travel Directors’ tour leader (land portion only)
  • Expert local guides
  • Experienced expedition leader throughout the Scottish Isles voyage
  • All entrance fees in specified sightseeing
  • All tips and gratuities

Please note that whilst every effort will be made to adhere to the above pricing, currency fluctuations beyond our control can affect final costs. A booking form is to be completed by all passengers, and a non-refundable deposit of from AUD $6,000 per person paid at the time of booking. All escorted tours are based on a minimum group size of 10 people travelling.

*(Note: this tour is based on a standard stateroom aboard MS Serenissima of which there is limited availability. POA for other levels of stateroom.

 

Itinerary

03/05/2023 Australia – Dubai

Depart from your chosen capital city on your flight to Doha.

04/05/2023 Dubai – Birmingham – Cardiff (D)

Depart Dubai Emirates EK 39Y, 07.50

Arrive Birmingham 12.35

On arrival into Birmingham we board our coach for the 2h10m transfer to Cardiff. On arrival in the Welsh capital we transfer to our hotel in the city centre. The rest of the day is at leisure to rest or take a stroll in this welcoming and vibrant city. In the evening we enjoy a welcome dinner.

Indigo Hotel

Cardiff

05/05/2022 Cardiff (BLD)

Compact, multicultural Cardiff has a wealth of cultural and historic sights and this morning we set out on foot to explore the city and surrounding areas. Our tour takes in such key landmarks as the Principality Stadium, the National Assembly of Wales and the Senedd. After lunch we visit Cardiff Castle, one of the leading heritage attractions in Wales. Located within beautiful parklands in the very heart of the city, the castle is at once a Roman fort, Norman stronghold and Victorian Gothic masterpiece, with more than 2,000 years of history concealed within its walls.

06/05/2022 Cardiff – Brecon Beacons (BLD)

Wales has 641 castles in total and today we visit the biggest of all – Caerphilly Castle, just outside Cardiff. Built by Gilbert ‘the Red’ de Clare in the 13th century, it is a stone behemoth, surrounded by a series of moats and watery islands. Continuing north we enter the Brecon Beacons National Park, a natural wonder and home to almost 300 monuments, as well as rushing waterfalls and caves. Later we learn about the historic mining culture of Wales at the ’Big Pit’ National Coal Museum, a World Heritage site. Here we enter a cage and descend 90 metres to the pit floor below, where we see the pit pony stables and hear stories from former colliery workers.

Brecon Castle Hotel

Brecon

07/05/2022 Brecon Beacons – Tenby (BLD)

The Pembrokeshire coast offers stunning beaches and bays including Tenby and Saundersfoot, and as we leave the Brecon Beacons behind, we discover these and more. We begin our scenic journey towards the coast, stopping en route at Jabajak Vineyard where we enjoy a tour and tasting of their award-winning wines. After lunch we continue on to Tenby, a lovely seaside town rich in history and culture, and renowned for its glorious beaches and fine Victorian houses.

Heywood Spa

Tenby

08/05/2022 Tenby – Aberystwyth (BLD)

Delving deeper into the Pembrokeshire National Park, we visit the smallest city in Britain – St Davids. Here we explore the wonderful cathedral which is the resting place of the patron Saint of Wales, Saint David – or Dewi Sant, as he is called in the Welsh language. Across the road from the cathedral sits the magnificent Bishop’s Palace which dates back to the 6th century and is one of the most important religious sites in Wales. Continuing north we enjoy the views along the beautiful Cardigan Bay as we head to the wonderful university town of Aberystwyth. The afternoon is at leisure to explore the town and perhaps enjoy a walk along the promenade before checking into our stately accommodation for the night – a Grade-1 listed Georgian mansion!

Nanteos Mansion

Aberystwyth

09/05/2022 Aberystwyth – Conwy (BLD)

Today we travel on one of the ‘Great Little Trains of Wales’ – the Vale of Rheidol Railway. A narrow-gauge steam locomotive takes us 19 km up the beautiful Rheidol Valley, clinging to the mountainside as we cross through lush valleys to the remarkable Devil’s Bridge. We learn the story of the three bridges and then take a leisurely walk around the waterfalls. After lunch we enter the magnificent Snowdonia National Park, home to the largest mountain in England and Wales – Snowdon – as we continue north to the delightful walled town of Conwy.

The Quay Hotel & Spa

Conwy

10/05/2022 Conwy – Caernarfon – Conwy (BLD)

The busy market town of Caernarfon, just half an hour’s drive from Conwy, awaits us this morning. We explore the imposing medieval castle which dominates the town and boasts eight towers, two twin-towered gateways and a well-deserved UNESCO World Heritage status. Later we cross the Menai Strait to the island of Anglesey, an area of outstanding natural beauty, where we delve deep into the past with a visit to the Iron Age and Celtic sites for which it is famous.

11/05/2022 Conwy – Betws-Y-Coed – Conwy (BLD)

Conwy is one of Europe’s finest surviving medieval towns and this morning we explore two of its remarkable ‘houses’. Conwy Castle is Edward I’s most striking and powerful fortress, and perhaps the most impressive of all the Welsh castles. After our exploration here we visit the tiny Quay House, reputed to be the smallest house in Great Britain, at just 1.8m wide and 3.1m high. Later we drive to Betws-Y-Coed, where we walk along woodland trails to a series of waterfalls and the famous Swallow Falls. After our visit here we return to Conwy.

12/05/2022 Conwy – Llangollen – Chester (BLD)

Leaving Conwy we head east to the town of Llangollen, famous for hosting the International Eisteddfod. Another claim to fame for the town is Thomas Telford’s famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, that takes the Llangollen canal soaring above the valley of the River Dee. And what better way to see this engineering marvel and the surrounding countryside than by a horse-drawn boat ride across the aqueduct? After our short canal cruise we leave Wales behind and head to England’s Roman city of Chester. Chester’s city walls are the most complete city walls in Britain, with some sections still intact from 120AD. From here we see great views of this beautiful city and the adjacent landscapes, and later visit the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre just outside the city.

Grosvenor Pulford Hotel

Chester

13/05/2022 Chester – Edinburgh (BD)

This morning is at leisure before we transfer to the railway station for our journey to Edinburgh.

Depart Chester by train, 12.52

Arrive Edinburgh 16.18

On arrival in Edinburgh we transfer to our hotel. Early evening we meet for dinner at our hotel where we will be given an introduction to our expedition programme as we commence our discovery of ‘Scotland in Depth’.

Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor

Edinburgh

14/05/2023 Edinburgh (BLD)

Today we savour the atmosphere of one of the most beautiful cities in Great Britain. Among the highlights in Scotland’s grand capital are Edinburgh Castle, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which sit at either end of the fabulous Royal Mile. We enjoy a stroll down the Royal Mile soaking up the atmosphere and, perhaps, stopping to taste one of Scotland’s greatest contributions to world civilisation – shortbread! If your palate leans towards something stronger, there are many pubs where you can taste a range of famous Scottish single malt whiskies. In the evening we enjoy a dinner with our guides and fellow travellers on our forthcoming cruise.

15/05/2023 Edinburgh – Aberdeen: Board Ship (BLD)

We depart Edinburgh this morning and make our way over land to Aberdeen. Here we explore the iconic township of St Andrews including the Abbey ruins, before visiting the historic Dunottar Castle. Later we board the MS Serenissima, and enjoy our first night on the ship together.

16/05/2023 North Ronaldsay/Fair Isle – Orkney Islands (BLD)

This morning we arrive at the northernmost of the Orkney Islands, remote and isolated North Ronaldsay renowned for its beautiful coastal scenery, abundant birdlife and its famed sheep. After a short Zodiac ride ashore we have the opportunity to meet with some of the 60 residents of the island to learn more about their lifestyle and the unique North Ronaldsay sheep, which are farmed collectively and have evolved over generations to the particular conditions of North Ronaldsay. Others may choose to join our naturalists on a nature walk searching for some of the many bird species which are both resident and vagrant visitors. We also enjoy time in the Fair Isle, a tiny jewel of an island lying half-way between Orkney and Shetland, famous for birds, knitwear and historic shipwrecks. Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, it’s one of Britain’s most successful small communities, pioneering projects in wildlife tourism, wind power and sustainable management of the environment. The island is an internationally important seabird breeding site. From April to August the cliffs are busy with the sound (and smell!) of thousands of fulmars, kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots, gannets, shags and puffins, while skuas and terns fiercely defend their nests on the moorland. The 70 or so islanders mostly live in traditional crofts on the more fertile and low-lying southern third of the island.

17/05/2023 Lerwick & Shetland Islands (BLD)

Lerwick is the charming capital of the Shetland Islands and today we wander the cobblestone streets of the town and waterfront. To the south of Lerwick is Jarlshoff where we delve into more than 4,000 years of history. Neolithic people first settled this site in Shetland around 2700 BC, and it remained in use until the 1600s AD. Discoveries made here include oval-shaped Bronze Age houses, an Iron Age broch and wheelhouses, Norse long houses, a medieval farmstead, and a laird’s house dating from the 1500s. This afternoon we land at Mousa Broch, Scotland’s most impressive and best surviving Iron Age tower or broch, which stands 13m high. Brochs were built in Shetland around 400-200BC, and Mousa Broch is particularly well-preserved. It is thought that the quality of stone, the workmanship and overall size of Mousa have contributed to why it has so survived so well.

18/05/2023 Stromness – Orkney Islands (BLD)

From Bronze Age man, Iron Age people, Vikings and World Wars – time has left its mark on the Orkney Islands, the green isles. We land in the seaside town of Stromness, a past safe haven for Vikings, whaling and fishing, and now a ferry gateway to Scotland. We make our way to the historic village of Skara Brae, where in the winter of 1850, a great storm battered Orkney, the grass was stripped form a large mound, then known as ‘Skerrabra’. The outline of a number of stone buildings was revealed – something that intrigued the local laird, William Watt of Skaill, and he embarked on an excavation of the site. Today, Skara Brae, as it has become known, survives as eight dwellings, linked together by a series of low, covered passages. We also have time to visit the famous Ring of Brodgar Henge, a neolithic Orkney World Heritage site.

19/05/2023 Isle of Lewis: Stornoway (BLD)

Stornoway is the main town on the Isle of Lewis with just over 6,000 people – about a third of the Island’s population – living here. Home to a mix of traditional businesses like fishing, Harris Tweed and farming. Arriving at Stornoway we land in this Gaelic heartland to explore the Stone Age ‘Callanish’, the primordial configuration of standing stones. Crossing the gentle troughs and rounded tops of the landscape we explore the cultural Gearrannan Blackhouse Village and meet the people of this area. As we stroll the alleyways of Stornoway, or wander the pathways of Lews Castle gardens, we discover the timelessness of the Hebrides.

20/05/2023 St Kilda (BLD)

Remote and battered by the Atlantic seas, St Kilda, is a near mystical island with dual World Heritage site status for its natural and cultural significance. St Kilda is deemed Europe’s most important seabird colony – with abundant puffins, fulmars and the largest colony of gannets in Britain. Inhabited till 1930, the 19th century village layout remains allowing us to envisage life on this island where the bird life provided sustenance for the villagers. To visit St Kilda is a very special experience.

21/05/2023 Isle of Skye – Loch Skavaig & Loch Courisk Isle of Rum (BLD)

Isle of Skye’s southern coast is remote, mainly uninhabited and home to the Cuillin Mountains. Loch Courisk is nestled securely in the landscape’s folds of the Cuillin Ridge. A freshwater lake, Loch Courisk is separated from the sea by the River Scavaig. Our walk along this river gives access to the Loch, or the adventurous can take the opportunity to explore the Loch further. Later in the quiet Isle of Rum, Kinloch Castle greets us. Built of Isle of Arran sandstone the castle took three years and upwards of 300 craftsmen to build. One craftsmen was unique for the time – an electrician – and this was the first private residence in Scotland to have electricity. The electricity was derived from a hydro dam constructed on the Coire Dubh Burn. Now under the care of the Scottish Natural Heritage its restoration is a work in progress.

22/05/2023 Staffa, Iona & Treshnish (BLD)

Our visit to Staffa features the hexagonal basalt cliffs which culminate in ‘Fingal’s Cave’ – a spectacular natural feature named by the Celts as Uamh-Binh or ‘the Cave of Melody’. Abundant puffins, gannets, razorbills and guillemots use the island for breeding, accessing the surrounding rich marine environment. This afternoon we visit lona. Remote today, lona was once the centre of the Celtic world: in 563 AD, the Irish missionary St. Columba went into exile and established a small monastic community here. However, driven out of lona by Viking raids, most of the monastic community moved to Kells in Ireland around 800. In more peaceful times, around 1200, a Benedictine abbey and nunnery were established on the site and it is these heavily restored buildings that we see today.

23/05/2023 Gigha & Islay (BLD)

The southernmost isle of the Southern Hebrides, Gigha is one of the smallest populated Islands in the Hebrides. Meaning Good or God Island, the highest mountain is Creag Breahn. Nestled in woodland and extensive gardens, Achamore House was built in 1884 for Lt-Col William James Scarlet – the 3rd Lord Abinger: the gardens of Achamore House were purchased by the people of Gigha in 2002. The earliest documented record of distilling in Scotland occurred as long ago as 1494, in the tax records of the day, the Exchequer Rolls. The entry lists ‘Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae’ (water of life). This afternoon we share a dram of whisky, the water of life, ashore at one of Islay’s historic distilleries.

24/05/2023 Oban – Glasgow (BLD)

As we sail into Oban, the view is unforgettable. Oban is a lovely seaside village with cobbled streets and stone houses. We disembark and enjoy some time exploring before starting our journey overland to Glasgow. We visit the Inveraray Castle and connect with Clan Campbell as we walk around the beautiful grounds and explore the castle. We make our way past Ben Lomond, a munro, rising to 974 metres (3196 feet). Prior to reaching our destination of Glasgow we meet the famed shores of Loch Lomond. This freshwater Scottish loch is the largest inland stretch of water in Great Britain.

Grand Central Hotel

Glasgow

25/05/2023 Glasgow – Dubai  (B)

This morning we transfer to the airport for our flight to Dubai.

Depart Glasgow Emirates EK 28Y, 14.35

26/05/2023 Dubai – Australia

Arrive Dubai 01.05

On arrival in Dubai connect with the flight to your chosen Australian capital.

 

FAQs

Why is the tour fitness level classed as ‘Active’?

This tour involves a reasonable amount of walking, climbing steps and stairs and getting on and off boats and zodiacs. In the Scottish Isles there is a lot of uneven terrain at the historic sites and hiking poles can be be useful. In order to get the most out of this tour and fully explore the islands, a reasonable level of fitness is required.

If I travel alone, do I have to pay the single supplement?

If you wish to have sole use of a hotel room on the tour, you will need to pay the single supplement. If you are travelling alone but willing to share a room, we will endeavour to match you up with another solo traveller of the same gender. We cannot guarantee that a share-match can be provided, and in the event that this cannot be arranged at the time of final payment, you will need to pay the single supplement. Please note, this applies only to the hotel accommodation on the tour: we are unable to cover the cost of the single supplement aboard MS Serenissima. The single supplement on the ship is available on request.

How long is the flight from Australia to Cardiff?

Flying time to Dubai is between 11 and 14.5 hours, depending on your Australian capital city of departure. Flight time from Dubai to Birmingham is 7 hours 45 minutes. The road transfer from Birmingham to Cardiff is approximately 2 hours 10 minutes.

What are the average temperatures at this time of year?

The temperature varies along the route. In Wales, temperatures during the day can get up to 18 – 20C. In the Scottish Isles it is considerably cooler with a temperature range of around 10 to 13C.

What is the best currency to take on this journey?

The best currency is GBP, in small denominations. i.e.  50s, 20s, 10s.

How much spending money do I need for the entire trip?

Because almost everything is included, we would suggest an amount of £900 per person as being ample for the whole journey.

Are credit cards acceptable?

Credit cards are widely accepted throughout the journey and ATMs are available in the main towns and cities. However it is not recommended to rely on these as your main source of funds. The ship accepts credit cards and cash in GBP and Euros.

Do I need vaccinations for this journey?

You must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel and you must carry the printed International Vaccination Certificate with you, and also a digital copy if possible. Tetanus should always be up to date. Other recommended vaccinations are Typhoid, Cholera and Hepatitis A. Please consult your doctor for more information. The Australian Government smarttraveller website and the World Health Organisation website have further information for travel during COVD-19.

Can I extend my stay in Edinburgh at the end of the tour?

Yes, it is possible to stay on in Edinburgh after the group departs – or have additional days in Cardiff at the beginning of the tour. Our consultants will be happy to make the arrangements for you. If you wish to take up this option, all arrangements must be confirmed before leaving Australia.

Do I need any visas for this tour?

No, visas are not required on this tour.

A lot of companies have many expensive optional extras on their tours. Do you?

We don’t believe in a lot of expensive ‘optional tours’. Our itineraries are designed to make the best possible use of time and to include all the must-see sights, plus additional surprises. Therefore, practically everything is included in the tour cost.

Is the water safe to drink en-route and what is the general standard of hygiene?

The standard of hygiene is high along the entire route and tap water is of a high quality and perfectly safe to drink.

What is the standard of the hotels?

The hotels are generally 4-star quality, comfortable, clean and all with en-suites.

Are there internet facilities en-route?

Most of the hotels we use have internet facilities.

Do mobile telephones work?

Telstra and Optus mobiles work throughout the entire journey. You will need to ensure you have global roaming. Contact your service provider for further details. Or you can download apps for your phone such as WhatsApp and Viber.

How much should we tip the guides and porters?

There is no need to tip guides or porters as all tips and gratuities are included in the tour cost. Tipping aboard MS Serenissima is also included.