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Rafting near Murillo de Gállego.

I’m not long back from twelve days in the gorgeous Aragon region of northern Spain.

It was brilliant.

In fact it took our kids only three days to decide that they were having their best holiday ever.

The following nine days did nothing to change their minds.

And we parents felt much the same way.

We have four daughters aged between 7 and 15.

We didn’t want to idle our summer holiday away by a pool or on a beach.

We wanted to do stuff.

But finding stuff to do to please that age range for two weeks is a tough brief.

It’s a tough brief that I decided to give to Off The Map Travel.

(I wish I could remember the search phrase that brought them to my attention, but I can’t).

I instantly liked their vibe. They’re small. They’re a recentish start-up. They’re specialists.

(Specialists in “soft adventure“).

I checked them out on Facebook, where it becomes even more apparent that they know what they’re talking about. They specialise in soft adventure and they focus on a few interesting locations that they’ve personally visited and tried out.

So I got in touch with them.

Which is when it got really good.

You deal direct with the founders.

They listen and totally understand your brief.

They’re flexible. They expanded their standard 8 day Pyrennean trip to 12 and put together a bespoke schedule of activities for us.

(At short notice).

We ended up with a day-on, day-off schedule that included white water rafting (twice), canyoning, horse riding, hiking, caving and high ropes.

It looked great on paper.

(When I say paper, I mean a password-protected itinerary link with full details of accommodation, activities, and car hire – which they also sorted for us. We had to book flights ourselves but they did the online research and recommended the best option.)

It looked great on paper, but it was even better in reality.

Everything was great. And everything worked like clockwork.

Our accommodation was a rented “casa” in the picturesque village of Berdún.

The view from Berdún.

The casa was in the grounds of a larger house (Casa Sarasa) inhabited by our hosts, Peter and Mel, a lovely English couple who have lived in Spain for 22 years.

They cooked a delicious supper for us on the night of our arrival.

Breakfast was served on the outside table at whatever time we asked for it.

The packed lunches on activity days were a treat – tasty salads, fresh baguettes (sorry “barras”), local sausage, fresh fruit.

And we benefited from their local knowledge on our non-activity days. We’d never have found the pools in the photo below on our own for instance.

Pools near Foz de Biniés.

It became apparent that our hosts know the Off The Map guys quite well. From the way they talk about each other it’s clear that there’s a genuine relationship and real trust there. And, as their client, it definitely shows on the receiving end of seamless, smooth delivery and a string of kept promises.

Peter and Mel also knew the local, on-the-ground adventure “consultant” (lovely lady called Martha) who had put together our programme of activities on Off The Map’s behalf.

So there was a “triangle of trust” between holiday company, accommodation hosts and local adventure “fixer”.

The activities were pitched perfectly for adults and kids alike.

And the guides were great. Special mention goes to Eloy who took us both canyoning in the Boca del Infierno and hiking to the Ibon de Acherito, a small lake 8,000 feet up in the beautiful Pyrenees.

Ibon de Acherito

Seven year old Madeleine gladly jumped into waterfalls and rapids in Boca del Infierno, confident that Eloy would reach in and yank her out by her harness at the bottom. It was the most extreme (or least “soft”) of all the activities and Eloy was the key to ensuring that it delivered challenge and fun in the right proportions.

The girls with Eloy

Anyone reading this far won’t be surprised to learn that I’d whole-heartedly recommend Off The Map if your holiday brief is similar to ours.

I spend my life trying to make clients happy – listening, understanding briefs, delivering bespoke solutions, anticipating needs, making things happen.

I know it’s not easy to do all of those things well all of the time when you have clients plural and there are only so many hours in the day.

So I really appreciate what Off The Map did for us.

And as they grow, as they surely will, I hope they don’t lose the attributes that made them special to us.

  • Start-up vibe.
  • Entrepreneurial attitude.
  • Direct access to senior people.
  • Specialism and focus.
  • Good listeners.
  • Flexibility.
  • Tailored solutions.
  • Attention to detail.

It is a good recipe for a holiday company. And it sounds spookily similar to the reasons that enlightened advertising clients give when they appoint a spunky new agency rather than an established, network outfit.

Now I know how they feel.

 

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