What to see and do in Pisa this Christmas

Pisa is a popular tourist haunt at any time of year, with even the least clued-up traveller sure to have heard of attractions like the Leaning Tower. But it’s even more impressive at Christmas, when decorations adorn the streets and various special events are held.

Located in the central Italian region of Tuscany, Pisa is undoubtedly one of our favourite Italian cities to visit in the run-up to the festive period. Milan may have its shopping and Venice its canals, but it’s hard to beat Pisa’s traditional Christmas markets, beautiful illuminations and cheerful seasonal atmosphere. If you’re planning a visit to Pisa this Christmas, our top tips will fill you in on the best sights to see and events to attend in the city…

Check out the Christmas lights

For the best possible view of festive Pisa, head to Corso Italia and Borgo Stretto, where the colourful lights of the Christmas decorations are sure to fill you with seasonal spirit.

Borgo Stretto is widely considered to be the most elegant street in the city. If you want to combine seeing the decorations with the chance to pick up an elegant and memorable present for a loved one, you’ll be in the right place, as it’s lined with high-end shops and boutiques. A small square on Borgo Stretto also hosts a Christmas market, where you can browse a wide array of decorations and more.

All shopped out? Recharge your batteries with a well-earned drink in one of the street’s many picturesque bars, or head to Salza, which is arguably the city’s best loved pastry shop.

Earn your Christmas dinner by running the Pisa Marathon

Christmas has become a time of excess, with people doing their best to eat their body weight in turkey, pigs in blankets and mince pies. So what better way to prepare for this year’s seasonal overindulgence than running a marathon?

The 2012 Pisa Marathon will take place on December 16th and boasts a spectacular route that sets off from one of the most beautiful squares in the world.

It combines plenty of flat stretches and long straights, so if you’re an experienced runner, there’s every chance of beating your personal best, while relative newcomers should find the race isn’t too demanding.

If you’re not feeling up to tackling the full 26-mile course, there are also half marathon and family run events that may prove a little more appealing.

Enough exercise, bring on the chocolate

Okay, so running a marathon isn’t for everyone. If you’d prefer to spend your Christmas in Pisa exercising your sweet tooth, head to the factory of luxury chocolatier Amedei.

Situated in Pontedera, about half an hour’s drive from the city centre (you should easily be able to find car hire in Pisa), the Amedei factory offers tours all year round, giving visitors an insight into the world of chocolate.

The factory opens its doors to the public from Monday to Friday, with tours lasting for around an hour and a half. Tickets are priced at €50 (£40) per person.

See the Scuola Normale of Pisa in concert

Founded back in 1810, the Scuola Normale is an elite school that gives regular musical performances in and around the city.

Culture vultures eager to enjoy some classical favourites this Christmas can head to the Teatro Verdi, where the Scuola Normale will give their tribute to Rameau, Mozart and Beethoven on December 11th and play music from Von Weber and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy on December 18th.

British Airways Lists Top Destinations to Visit in 2013

British Airways (BA), a UK-based airline, has announced its list of the top 13 destinations to visit in 2013.

The airline company expects the coming year to see far more UK residents visiting Far Eastern destinations. And a recent survey conducted by the airline for its Facebook page shows that 22 percent of the respondents want to visit New York in 2013, while 8 percent would like to visit Australia.

Richard Tams, the airline head of UK and Ireland sales, said, ‘Undoubtedly consumers will continue to be driven by value-for-money next year, with routes such as Dubai, Cape Town and Bangkok already proving popular. We’re also experiencing a real growth in Asia right now and responding to demand with a number of new routes, including Seoul and Sri Lanka.’

Sri Lanka heads the 13 for 2013 list, with many more tourists showing an interest in visiting the country. Ash van Wensveen, the airline destination manager, said, ‘There’s a real buzz about Sri Lanka right now. For a small island it offers a lot, from endless beaches, to elephant treks and several Unesco world heritage sites to visit – it’s hard to think what Sri Lanka doesn’t offer.’

Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, will be hosting the 2016 Olympic games, the 2014 Brazil World Cup, and FIFA Confederations Cup in 2013, and is also gaining plenty of tourist interest.

Of the Asian destinations, Seoul, in South Korea, makes it to the list. Mike Rock, the airline commercial manager in Seoul, said, ‘There’s a lot happening in Korea right now, business is thriving and it’s a tourist destination on the up. The mega metropolis is home to some 10 million people, and is attracting a fresh new audience.’

Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam, also appears on the list as, as does Dubai, in the UAE. Ash van Wensveen, said, ‘Dubai has become more affordable over the past few years, yet still offers super high-end hotels and unrivalled luxury.’

The top 13 destinations, in order, are, Sri Lanka, Rio de Janeiro – Brazil, Seoul, Korea, Croatia, Vietnam, Punta Cana – Dominican Republic, Derry – Northern Ireland, Las Vegas – USA, Tbilisi, Georgia, San Diego – USA, Cape Town – South Africa, Alicante and Dubai.

TUI Travel Announces Increase in 2013 Booking

TUI Travel, a UK-based travel company, has reported increased bookings for the 2013 summer holidays.

The company has reported an 8 percent increase in annual pre-tax profits from its UK businesses in the year ended September 30, 2012. The company has also reported that early bookings for the summer of 2013 have shown an increase of between 9 percent and 16 percent in Northern European markets.

The company has reported an outstanding performance in the UK, with a record operating profit of £197m in 2012, compared to £149m in 2011, and operating profit margins of 5.4 percent in 2012, a rise from 4.2 percent in the prior year.

Peter Long, the chief executive officer of TUI Travel, said, ‘The year has been one of many successes. We have delivered record Group profits while the UK achieved outstanding results both in terms of profit and margin all against a backdrop of continued economic uncertainty.

Our proven strategy continues to evolve and drive strong trading momentum throughout the Group. Overall, with the exception of France, trading for both Winter 2012/13 and Summer 2013 is very encouraging.

We are today pleased to announce the next stage of our strategic development. This roadmap for growth, built on our detailed understanding of the market and robust business models, means that we are well placed to continue to deliver long-term sustainable growth, which in turn, will drive further value for both our shareholders and our customers.’

Calum Macdonald, the e-commerce manager at Holiday Hypermarket, a subsidiary of TUI Travel, said, ‘All-inclusive package holidays provide great control for people who are managing their budgets carefully and who want to get their money’s worth on a luxury holiday to a well-known summer destination.

We’re pleased with the volume of holidays that have been booked this winter, and we’re looking forward to what – according to trends – looks like a strong summer season next year.’

Travelodge Introduces Hotel Rooms with Night Sky Panorama Ceilings

Travelodge Hotels, a UK-based company that owns and operates hotel properties, is offering a customised hotel rooms to its guests, which feature a night sky panorama on the ceiling.

The rooms have been created with the intention of providing guests with a good night’s sleep, and include a ceiling featuring the Milky Way and constellations of stars that shine as the room turns dark, and fade to a perfect white ceiling with the morning light.

The brand has created the room as a result of a recent survey that it conducted to research the perfect sleeping conditions. Around 42 percent of respondents said that they like to sleep with the backdrop of a starry night sky, compared to other backdrops that included a tropical beach, rainforest and jungle. Around 52 percent of Britons who participated in the survey feel there is something magical about starry nights.

Shakila Ahmed, the Travelodge spokesperson, said, ‘As part of our commitment in helping to ensure our customers attain a good night’s sleep, we are constantly looking at innovative sleep aids. Therefore in response to our latest sleep study, which highlighted Britons most desirable place to nod off is under a blanket of stars, we took the challenge and created the ultimate outdoor sleeping experience indoors. Now our customers can gaze into a cosmic night sky of shooting stars, milky ways and constellations of twinkling stars from the comfort of their warm cosy bed.’

The rooms are currently available at Birmingham Bull Ring; Blackpool South Shore; Bournemouth Seafront; Bristol Central Mitchell Lane; Cardiff Atlantic Wharf; Edinburgh Central Waterloo; Liverpool Strand; London City Road; Manchester Central Arena; Newcastle Central; Newquay; and Torquay Travelodge locations in the UK.

Travelodge is currently operating around 500 hotels, offering a total of 35,400 rooms in the UK, Ireland and Spain. The company expansion plans include increasing its portfolio to 1,100 hotels and 100,000 rooms by 2025. For reservations made online at travelodge.co.uk, room rates commence at £19 per night.