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HUNGARY - WILDLIFE OF THE KISKUNSAG NATIONAL PARK - Friday 17th - Wednesday 22nd May 2013

Friday 17th
The group met at Stansted for our early morning flight to the Hungarian capital Budapest. After a good flight, we had a slight hitch at passport control when we got stuck behind a group of Russian gymnasts having trouble with their paperwork!

Eventually we got through and after picking up our bags we met with our guides for the tour, Andrea and Gabor and our driver Zori. The journey out of Budapest was trouble free and we were soon on our way. After a while, a stop was made in the village of Ocsa where we admired the beautiful church and traditional houses. Small numbers of TREE SPARROWS were seen and a WHITE STORK occupied a large nest.

A few kilometres along the road we stopped in the Kiskunsag National Park, where the meadows were awash with the colour of wildflowers. A HOOPOE flew across a field and nearby, a male RED-BACKED SHRIKE perched atop a pile of dead sticks. A male CORNCRAKE was heard calling briefly from the meadow.

By now we were getting pretty hungry so a stop was made in a superb area of damp woodland. The local Mosquitos were also hungry and it was us they came to feed on! The insect like song of a RIVER WARBLER could be heard across the road and we eventually managed to get views as it sang. A GOLDEN ORIOLE could be heard singing and it was seen briefly but failed to reappear for us all.

We then took a walk along the forest track and found MIDDLE-SPOTTED WOODPECKER feeding at a nest hole, with several SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS in the area. CHIFFCHAFF, GARDEN WARBLER and BLACKCAPS were all heard as well as distant COLLARED FLYCATCHERS. A family party of NUTHATCHES frequented a large tree, whilst nearby a SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER was seen briefly.

The Mosquitos did not let up, but at least they were food for a party of BEE-EATERS overhead! GREEN WOODPECKER was heard and GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKERS were seen as we carried on our walk. Eventually we reached a clearing which produced a pair of HAWFINCH feeding on the edge of the woodland before vanishing.

Retracing steps back through the woodland we reached the van and set off southwards. A male MONTAGU'S HARRIER quartered cereal fields and both MARSH HARRIER and COMMON BUZZARD were seen nearby. We reached a field full of MUSK THISTLES and over them fed around 40 WHITE-WINGED TERNS which was a delight.

Moving along the roads, we came across a farmer ploughing his field and amongst the large numbers of BLACK-HEADED GULLS were some pristine summer-plumaged MEDITERRANEAN GULLS and in a field nearby stood a 1st winter CASPIAN GULL.

Not far away, we stopped at a large mound that was used for burials in ancient times and this gave us stunning views over the Puszta. Although raining slightly the flowers were magnificent and it wasn't long before Gabor had found our target, two GREAT BUSTARDS! Although very distant, they stood on a small hill not far from a ROE DEER.

SKYLARKS were singing everywhere and other species noted were STONECHAT, CORN BUNTING, MARSH HARRIER, COMMON BUZZARD and BEE-EATER. Due to the damp conditions, we found a few DRAGONFLIES including NORFOLK HAWKER and BLACK-TAILED SKIMMER and small numbers of COMMON BLUE and SMALL HEATH BUTTERFLIES.

With time getting on we headed towards our accommodation spotting several RED-BACKED and LESSER GREY SHRIKES and a couple of ROLLERS along our way before arriving at the Kondor Ecolodge, our base for the next 5 nights.

After being shown to our rooms and with some time to unpack and shower, we met for a very welcome evening meal which went down very well. During dinner there was a thunderstorm and quite heavy rain fell and we hoped it would clear for the next day.

Saturday 18th
The morning dawned bright but slightly cool as we met for a pre-breakfast walk around the accommodation. Just off the main road we found a singing male TURTLE DOVE perched in a dead tree and to our right was where Lake Kondor once stood. Now the lake has dried out but grassy meadows and reedbed remains.

A TREE PIPIT sat on a bare branch and our first raptors of the day appeared in the form of a pair of HONEY BUZZARDS, SPARROWHAWK and HOBBY. YELLOW WAGTAILS sang from thistle tops and in the distance we could hear and see SEDGE WARBLER, ROLLER and RED-BACKED SHRIKE.

BUTTERFLIES included EASTERN BATH WHITE, SMALL HEATH, COMMON BLUE and a GLANVILLE FRITILLARY. In the damp grassland we located a EUROPEAN SPADE-FOOTED TOAD which Gabor picked up for us to see. Several MARSH HARRIERS and a male MONTAGU'S HARRIER were seen over the fields and reedbeds, whilst a few BEE-EATERS flew over us.

It was then back for breakfast and afterwards, we loaded up the van and drove along several bumpy roads, noting BLACK-NECKED GREBE, GARGANEY and a few POCHARD and GREYLAG GEESE on the way.

Arriving at a small river we got out of the van to the constant sounds of both PENDULINE TIT and GOLDEN ORIOLE which was amazing. Warm temperatures had brought out many dragonflies along the paths including BLACK-TAILED SKIMMER, NORFOLK HAWKER, BLUE FEATHERLEG and several BLUE CHASERS. A COMMON TERN fed over a small fishpond and two male GOLDEN ORIOLES were seen in the BLACK POPLAR plantation. Close to the van we came across a couple of LONG-TAILED TITS, one of the northern white-headed race and another of the central european race.

On the main part of the river we had flyover NIGHT and PURPLE HERONS and eventually we found a nest that a male PENDULINE TIT was making and we had good but brief views as he made the delicate structure. A EUROPEAN POND TORTOISE sat basking in the sunshine before we slowly retraced our steps.

Not far along the path we found a couple of small MARSH FROGS in a pool and then Gabor located a stunning LESSER PURPLE EMPEROR sitting in the sunshine, which glowed purple when the sun hit it. Eventually the butterfly came down to the ground to take minerals from the damp earth.

We then moved onwards taking a small side road where we reached a large reed-fringed lake. Our first RED-FOOTED FALCONS of the tour were seen but there were many other birds to see on the lake. Good numbers of WHISKERED TERNS fed close by and a scan of open water produced male FERRUGINOUS DUCK, BLACK-NECKED and LITTLE GREBES, BLACK-WINGED STILTS and BLACK-HEADED GULLS.

Herons were well represented with a small flock of SQUACCO HERONS, PURPLE, NIGHT and GREY HERON as well as flyby BITTERN and SPOONBILL. A GLOSSY IBIS was seen in flight which was a good bird for the area and in surrounding trees were plenty of TREE SPARROWS.

We moved to a stunning spot for lunch complete with picnic tables and a large tower overlooking a shallow lake. Whilst Gabor, Andrea and Zori laid out the lunch we started birding, with small numbers of LAPWING, AVOCET and REDSHANK on the wet edges and in some wet pools fed another GLOSSY IBIS, SHELDUCK and GREYLAG GEESE.

We tucked into lunch which was fantastic and much needed after a busy morning in the field. Several climbed the tower and were rewarded with discovering an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE circling over the marsh and the breeze drifted the sounds of GREAT REED and SAVI'S WARBLERS over to us. In the picnic shelter, both TREE and HOUSE SPARROWS nested and could often be seen side by side. There was also a Heron Well here and Gabor demonstrated how it worked and brought up a bucket full of water with another EUROPEAN SPADE-FOOTED TOAD in.

After packing up, we went back to the heron area and got better views of RED-FOOTED FALCONS as well as BEE-EATERS. On another pool we had flyby views of FERRUGINOUS DUCKS and a GREAT REED WARBLER was spotted on a distant area of reeds. Back on the road a TAWNY PIPIT fed, whilst a pair of RED-FOOTED FALCONS looked on.

Our last site of the day was an area of sand dunes that were once moving but have since been covered by vegetation, including the invasive MILKWEED which is sadly taking over the area. Both GREAT SPOTTED and GREEN WOODPECKERS were noted and on the return leg of the walk, we found RED-BACKED SHRIKE, MONTAGU'S HARRIER and a brief perched GOLDEN ORIOLE.

We got back in the van and went to drive off but the battery was flat! We all jumped out and the men took up position at the back of the van to give it a push and luckily it started – hooray! What heroes! They saved us having a long and arduous evening and back at the accommodation, we enjoyed a well deserved shower before meeting for dinner.

Gabor and Andrea brought out glasses of fruit brandy as thanks for pushing the minibus and it certainly hit the right spot.

After completing the bird list, we all retired for bed very happy at the days birding.

Sunday 19th
We awoke to the many sounds of the area. BITTERNS boomed and the songs of CUCKOO, GOLDEN ORIOLE, BLACK REDSTART, WHITE WAGTAIL, BLACKBIRD, HOOPOE and BEE-EATERS were good to hear.

Most of the group met for a pre-breakfast walk but had difficulty following Gabor's directions and couldn't find the exact spot. Instead we had a wander and found HAWFINCH, TURTLE DOVE, BEE-EATER, RED-BACKED SHRIKE and several TREE SPARROWS.

After a filling breakfast, we headed eastwards through the large town of Kecskemét before arriving at the edge of a large woodland. We donned insect repellent, as only a few weeks previously the area was flooded, making a perfect breeding ground for mossies!

NIGHTINGALES sang from the scrub and in the first sunny clearing, we found a newly emerged SILVER-WASHED FRITILLARY which basked in the sunshine. From the woodland, the call of LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER was heard but frustratingly remained hidden. Over the next hour or so we heard both GREEN and BLACK WOODPECKERS and saw both GREAT and MIDDLE SPOTTED.

By now the Mosquitos were quite aggressive and we reached an area where we couldn't continue due to flooding, so retraced our steps. In another clearing, four BLACK STORKS drifted over and a brief HONEY BUZZARD was seen through the canopy.

Close to the van we had stunning views of a pair of HONEY BUZZARD soaring above us and then a BLACK STORK rose up out of the forest and circled on the thermals. Both WRYNECK and BLACK WOODPECKERS were seen briefly as was a NIGHTINGALE that flicked out across a gap in the hedges.

From here we reached a small village and parked adjacent to a church. Walking behind it gave fantastic panoramic views of the surrounding area. Whilst lunch was being spread out we started scanning and it didn't take long before we found several PYGMY CORMORANTS amongst its larger cousins. Good numbers of SPOONBILL were present along with NIGHT, PURPLE and GREY HERONS. Three FERRUGINOUS DUCKS flew past quickly and then we spotted an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE circling the wetlands, before being mobbed by a HOODED CROW.

Lunch was delicious in the sunshine and the birding got even better, if that was possible, with several sightings of SYRIAN WOODPECKER and a pair of RED-BACKED SHRIKES with the male performing a magical display, trying to impress the female. Close by we could hear a warbler singing and it turned out to be a male BARRED WARBLER. After several display flights, he flew to the area where the shrikes were and his large size, orange eye and faint barring could be seen well.

Another two WHITE-TAILED EAGLES were seen over the lake and a male GOLDEN ORIOLE showed well for a lucky few. Down on the water’s edge, a SQUACCO HERON fished as did a KINGFISHER. After this excellent stop, we moved on to a nearby village where it was busy with people enjoying the fantastic Sunday weather. Most of the group opted for a refreshing Ice Cream before we once again headed into a wood that was alive with mossies.

We checked out a hole for BLACK WOODPECKER but to no avail so carried on along the forest ride. A WRYNECK was heard calling quite close to us and was seen briefly, as was a BLACK WOODPECKER that flew across a clearing before vanishing. Several EASTERN GREEN LIZARDS used the sunny path to bask and an OSIRIS BLUE was seen.

Strolling down to an oxbow lake, a pair of NIGHT HERONS sat patiently waiting for fish on the water’s edge, as did GREY HERON on the opposite side. The air was full of the noise of FIRE-BELLIED TOADS as we strolled back up the road.

A slight detour around the village was rewarding with singing male BLACK REDSTART as well as a brief SERIN singing. One of the highlights was an EASTERN HEDGEHOG feeding on a grassy area and he came within a few feet of us simply unconcerned.

We left the area and headed back to base, where a cool shower was very welcome. Our evening meal was once again very good and as we retired for the night, there was lightning in the sky and before long it turned into a full blown thunderstorm with heavy rain!

Monday 20th
We opted for a slightly earlier pre-breakfast walk to try where we had failed the previous day. This time we got it right and hadn't been on the track for more than a few minutes when we heard the unmistakeable song of male ICTERINE WARBLER. He was seen briefly before our attention was taken away by a beautiful ROLLER, BEE-EATERS and a GOLDEN ORIOLE!

A small number of BEE-EATERS sat on overhead wires and could be seen hawking insects over the fields and male RED-BACKED SHRIKE sang from nearby. In quite a cool breeze we could hear the descending song of male WOODLARK but it could not be located.

More GOLDEN ORIOLES were seen including two males chasing each other through a Poplar plantation. The same plantation also held GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER, MISTLE THRUSH and JAY. As we walked back, several QUEEN OF SPAIN FRITILLARY basked in the sunshine.

Back at the Ecolodge we tucked into breakfast which included plenty of toast. Zori drove a short distance along the road but we didn't get far when a male MONTAGU'S HARRIER was seen close by over the fields. Getting out of the van, we decided to walk the rest of the way along the road. Several ROLLERS and RED-BACKED SHRIKES were seen and we found a more obliging male ICTERINE WARBLER singing from a BLACK POPLAR.

Wildflowers in the fields and verge were stunning in the early morning sunshine and this in turn invited butterflies and insects to feed. LARGE and MARBLED SKIPPERS were seen along with QUEEN OF SPAIN & LESSER SPOTTED FRITILLARIES and several PALE CLOUDED YELLOWS. We reached our destination and spent some time scanning and it wasn't long before our first EUROPEAN SOUSLIK of the tour was seen in the grazing fields. Small numbers of this rodent were seen scuttling around and were watched sitting on their hind legs in Meerkat fashion.

WHEATEAR and STONECHAT were seen on wires and over the fields we watched a couple of ROLLERS, including one performing its rolling display flight. A male SPARROWHAWK flew over fields and around the area were COMMON BUZZARD and MARSH HARRIER. A single TAWNY PIPIT and a pair of CRESTED LARK were noted in the far corner of the paddock.

Gabor then lead us to an area where we stopped for a break and marvelled at around 50 BEE-EATERS feeding over fields and sitting on overhead wires, whilst we saw more TURTLE DOVES in the area than we had seen in the UK for over 10 years! Another RED-BACKED SHRIKE sat above us and a few ROLLERS were also seen.

Eventually we got back to the van which was parked close to a church and from here, we had a close flyby ROLLER, HOOPOE and in the well we found a EUROPEAN SPADE-FOOTED TOAD. It was then back to our base for lunch which we enjoyed in the garden.

Once suitably refreshed from our food, we headed off in the van, spending some time in a large lake complex. The vast reedbeds held REED WARBLERS and once again, the air was alive with the calls of FIRE-BELLIED TOADS. PYGMY CORMORANTS were quite common here and we had both flight and perched views. Four NIGHT HERONS drifted past and also GREY and PURPLE HERONS and GREAT WHITE EGRETS were noted. We tried looking for MOUSTACHED WARBLER but there was no sight or sound of them.

From the raised bank, we had better views over the lake and many WHISKERED TERNS fed close by. Careful scanning produced a single BLACK TERN and WADERS included REDSHANK, BLACK-WINGED STILTS, LAPWING and a pair of BLACK-TAILED GODWITS.

RAPTORS were well represented with MARSH HARRIERS, COMMON BUZZARDS and best of all, a hunting SHORT-TOED EAGLE which at one time was mobbed by three HOBBY. BEARDED TIT and CUCKOO both called and the latter gave a close flyby.

We then left the site and stopped on our way home to a town where we searched for SYRIAN WOODPECKER but to no avail, we did however, spot a pair of SERIN singing from a tall JUNIPER.

After an earlier dinner, we prepared for a walk along the track for a spot of NIGHTJAR watching. Several ANT-LION pits were seen in the sand and as we reached the spot, we were serenaded by the sound of NIGHTINGALES. It wasn't long before we could hear the unmistakeable song of male NIGHTJAR. He eventually gave an excellent flyby and perched high in a tree although hidden from view.

Over the next fifteen minutes, he gave several flybys including one very close over our heads. Delighted by this, we walked back to the lodge where we completed the bird list over a drink before retiring to bed after what had been another excellent day.

Tuesday 21st
Our early morning walk took us to a slightly different location, which almost immediately produced singing BARRED WARBLER, which unfortunately was only seen briefly from a copse of trees. The usual RED-BACKED SHRIKES and TREE SPARROWS were along the track and from the reedbed we found GREAT REED and SEDGE WARBLERS. As we walked towards a farm we saw several MONTAGU'S HARRIER including a displaying male which eventually flew across in front of us. It was then back for breakfast which after our large meal the previous evening still managed to be demolished.

Our penultimate day was spent in the northern part of the Kiskunsag National Park and our first stop produced a single STONE CURLEW sitting in a field. Other birds here included GREAT REED WARBLER, WHISKERED and WHITE-WINGED TERNS, BLACK-WINGED STILT and several distant RED-FOOTED FALCONS.

The weather was warming up nicely when we reached our next site and this brought out the RAPTORS. MARSH HARRIERS were common place as were COMMON BUZZARDS and KESTRELS but pride of place went to two SAKER FALCONS, one of which was perched on a distant pylon and the other in a nest box. With only 200 pairs in Hungary, it was a great delight to see these birds even though they were distant! The male eventually flew off and was seen circling before gaining height and disappearing.

Whilst this was happening, a LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE was picked up circling over trees, again before reaching a thermal and rising high. STONECHATS and YELLOW WAGTAILS were quite common in the cereal fields and small numbers of GREY HERON were seen flying over, presumably to and from a nearby heronry.

After a short drive, we arrived at an area of wetland and Puszta, which we birded whilst our picnic was set up. LITTLE BITTERN was seen flying across a reedy drainage channel but despite searching it wasn't found. On pools we found a few WADERS including REDSHANK, LAPWING, BLACK-TAILED GODWIT, female RUFF and two WOOD SANDPIPERS, whilst WHITE-WINGED TERNS fed over sedge beds.

Whilst tucking into lunch, a few GREAT REED WARBLERS sang and were showing in the reeds adjacent to the channel and from the bridge we saw a small dead CATFISH. Driving a mile or so south, we stopped to scan a large pool where a few WADERS were present.

A GREENSHANK was seen roosting and a small number of CURLEW flew off. A small party of GULLS roosting caught our attention, especially one, but the heat haze made viewing quite difficult and despite looking quite like a Great Black-headed Gull, it turned out to be just a CASPIAN GULL. We then moved onto the other gulls and concluded that these were CASPIANS also.

With time on our side, Zori drove us down to a vast area of fishponds that we walked through to a viewing tower. Quite a few FERRUGINOUS DUCKS were seen, as well as three RED-CRESTED POCHARDS. A BEARDED TIT was spotted briefly but the moderate breeze kept things low. Numbers of HERONS and EGRETS flying past were quite impressive as there was a nesting colony close by, which included a new colony of SPOONBILL.

Luckily we could drive out through the fishponds as this saved us a long drive round the area. Parking next to a gravelpit, we climbed up onto the banks where large numbers of BLACK-HEADED GULLS and COMMON TERNS were nesting. A second-summer LITTLE GULL hawked over the water and quite a few handsome MEDITERRANEAN GULLS uttered there cat-like calls.

A GREY PARTRIDGE was seen in a distant field before we moved further down the track to get nearer to the gull nesting island and with much better views, we found four BLACK TERNS feeding over the open water and more MEDITERRANEAN GULLS. The LITTLE GULL had relocated closer, allowing some good views and the area was full of feeding SWALLOWS and both HOUSE and SAND MARTINS.

We saved the best till last as we stopped to scan the vast puszta. Almost immediately a couple of GREAT BUSTARDS were noted, then we found a male strutting in front of a female and through Gabors scope at 70x it was quite stunning. More GREAT BUSTARDS flew into this vast area. However, getting on some of the birds was a problem but luckily a series of different sized water towers of the horizon helped. The large one was the Onion, the middle the Shallot and the last the Chive. This made locating birds quite hilarious as you heard, "just flying past the Shallot now!"

A couple of juvenile WHITE-TAILED EAGLES terrorised the waders and then the shout went up, COLLARED PRATINCOLE which unfortunately, not everyone got onto. The GREAT BUSTARDS more than made up for this and the smell of herbs, such as THYME and SAGE permeated through the air. Just as we were leaving, a COMMON SNIPE was seen displaying.

The journey home produced the usual suspects including GOLDEN ORIOLE, LESSER GREY SHRIKE, RED-FOOTED FALCON and two brief QUAIL flying over fields. A wetland close to the road produced good numbers of AVOCET, BLACK-WINGED STILT and a few SHELDUCK.

We got back for a shower and a cold beer before dinner which was once again fantastic and shortly afterwards drove to the nearby lake where we wandered down the same track we had been down before breakfast. We stood silently and a few noted a NIGHTJAR flying over fields, whilst frogs sang in the clear air. Then a SCOP’S OWL started singing from across the fields, so we moved position but despite a thorough listen, we didn't hear it again.

Back for a quick nightcap and to complete the bird list before calling it a day.

Wednesday 22nd
There was no pre-breakfast walk this morning which was lucky as when we awoke there was steady rain. After a good breakfast, we loaded up the van and trailer and made our way northwards, stopping in a nearby village for food supplies, while the rest of the group searched the square for any woodpeckers. The rain was quite persistent by now and none could be found.

By the time we reached the next site rain had stopped and the air was alive with the songs of GOLDEN ORIOLE and NIGHTINGALES. A male WHINCHAT perched in a field and as we wandered around the meadow we saw good numbers of GOLDEN ORIOLES including several males chasing a female. A MARSH WARBLER sang from dense scrub and a pair of CUCKOO were seen.

A few Mosquitos came out now the rain had stopped and on the paths we found plenty of ROMAN SNAILS. Reaching the main road, a woodpecker was seen briefly but disappeared into the woodland. The van came and picked us up and we drove to an area of wet pools that we had passed the previous day.

BLACK-WINGED STILTS were abundant as were SPOONBILLS, LITTLE and GREAT WHITE EGRETS. WHISKERED and WHITE-WINGED TERNS which fed low over the pools and HIRUNDINES were present in large numbers. Several drake GARGANEY were spotted in the shallows and we had at least 7 in flight. REDSHANK, AVOCET, BLACK-TAILED GODWIT and a stunning adult WOOD SANDPIPER fed right in front of us, but more frustrating were six small waders that looked like Little Stints but were just too far away to clinch ID.

Our picnic lunch was enjoyed in the sunshine and around us several CRESTED LARKS sang. Afterwards, we revisited the 'Kun' hill from our first day and with warm weather this was ideal for RAPTORS. Almost immediately we noted several MARSH HARRIERS and COMMON BUZZARDS, then a first-summer male MONTAGU'S HARRIER floated across the fields and was mobbed by a hunting HOBBY.

More scanning yielded a couple of large RAPTORS, the first of which was an immature WHITE-TAILED EAGLE and then a slightly smaller bird above turned out to be a SHORT-TOED EAGLE. Lots of BUTTERFLIES including REVERDIN’S BLUE flitted in the warm sunshine and high pitched whistles of SOUSLIKS could be heard occasionally. A QUAIL was heard singing and in front of us were many YELLOW WAGTAILS and SKYLARKS.

Moving northwards towards Budapest, we noted plenty of RED-BACKED SHRIKES and a couple of GREY PARTRIDGE in open fields before arriving at a bird ringing site not far from the capital. We were invited by the curator of the site to take a walk around a nature trail and although some singing birds were silent, we heard at least two singing MARSH WARBLERS, NIGHTINGALES, BLACKCAP, GARDEN WARBLER and the ubiquitous GOLDEN ORIOLE.

We reached a wildflower meadow that was simply stunning with large numbers of WILDFLOWERS including swathes of YELLOW RATTLE and ORCHIDS including Southern Marsh and Bug. A HOBBY was seen briefly and several GREAT WHITE EGRETS drifted over.

Retracing our steps back to the van we found several DRAGONFLIES along the road, including a WHITE-TAILED SKIMMER and a few DOWNY EMERALD.

A short drive later we were at Budapests’ Budapest Ferenc Liszt Airport where we said our goodbyes to Andrea, Gabor and Zori and after packing our optics etc went through to departures where we tucked into some more food.

Our flight arrived earlier than planned at Stansted and after a slight wait at passport control, we reached the carousel to find our bags. It had been a great tour with so many fantastic wildlife spectacles, from swathes of beautiful wildflowers to stunning birds such as GOLDEN ORIOLES, ROLLERS, RED-BACKED SHRIKES and BEE-EATERS, all set in amazing surroundings with good food and company.