The ten rugby destinations which will take centre stage for touring teams in 2021.
Sky High Sports are looking ahead to the better times that will come to all.
With great hope and optimism the team at SHS have been working towards ensuring that in 2021 we are able to provide the best rugby touring experience available for our wonderful clients.
We have been looking closely at the fundamentals of what makes a successful rugby tour and analysing what we can do differently that will help to create those unique and memorable moments that stay with players, parents and coaches alike, for many, many years to come.
We are delighted to be able to release the top 10 rugby destinations that will take centre stage for touring teams in 2021.
This list has been formulated from an extensive range of 'touring' factors. From ease & affordability of travel, to standards of City-Centre accommodation, to abundance of hospitable local opposition, to the depth of unique rugby experiences on offer.
Please read on to find out why these destinations have topped the charts.
The Heartbeat of Italian Rugby Tours
We’re so proud of our Italian Tours that we had to get a second option into our Top 10. Veneto, in north-eastern Italy, is the province of Venice, Treviso & the iconic Italian rugby towns of Padova & Rovigo. Famous for Prosecco, the beach resorts of Jesolo & Chioggia, Venice itself & fair Verona, the region combines tourism heavyweights with the original hotbed of the game in Italy.
We’re thrilled to have Italian Rugby Legend Marco Bortolami continuing as our Italian Rugby Ambassador into 2021. Marco, who amassed 111 caps for The Azzurri is no assistant coach at Benetton Treviso, a team making great progress in the Guinness Pro14. Reaching the play-offs in 2019 was a great achievement, but not unexpected to those who look beneath the surface of the game in Italy.
For your tour, choose between a stay in Treviso itself or the exciting resort of Jesolo on the coast. Generally, that decision is made by the timing of your tour. Jesolo bounces with life in the summer months, but all but closes in the off-season, which makes Treviso a great option for early Spring or Autumn Tours. A third option is to head west to Verona. An incredible city oft overlooked in favour of Venice and Milan, a stay here would be for a training camp at the state of the art Payanini Centre at Rugby Verona.
In either event, kick off your tour with a guest session at the La Ghirada complex, the HQ of Benetton Treviso and the venue of choice for Eddie Jones’ England squad before their 2019 Rugby World Cup Campaign. The session will be lead by Marco himself, who will be assisted by colleagues from Benetton. Your first dinner will be on-campus too, in a Pizzeria lined with rugby regalia and full of rugby tradition.
There are some great clubs in Veneto. The past winners of the ‘Scudetto,’ the trophy won by the national champions each year, is dominated by clubs from Veneto. If you’re looking for a stellar test, Petrarca, Mogliano, Tarvisium amongst others will be up to it. The depth of the game is huge though, so there is something for all comers. Rugby is the sport here & each town has a rugby club. This is Italy’s answer to the West Country, South Wales & SW France.
Off the pitch, a day-trip to Venice itself will start with a Vaporetto ride up the Grand Canal & can include a guided tour, lunch and plenty time for sightseeing. In Jesolo, Aqualandia is a brilliant waterpark open in the summer months.
No Introductions Necessary
As a city to visit, Bath needs no introduction & we couldn’t add any sartorial one-liner to beat a Brontë-esque romantic prose. The city is of course one of England’s foremost and traditional Rugby Towns. Whilst the successes of the 90’s seem a distant memory away, Bath Rugby & The Rec are icons of the English game and remain one of the best venues to watch our sport anywhere in the world.
The club have lifted the bar with their off-field approach in lines with their history off it. Their state-of-the-art HQ is a must-see for any Rugby player or fan. It is incredible. A revamped Georgian Manor that combines Downton Abbey with the most outrageous of sporting centre of excellence. The main training field is on the lawn at the front of the manor, while the walled-garden now encloses a 3G Pitch used for restart work and set piece plays. The captains table in the heart of the stately mansion plays host to team lunches prior to games & the fitness and rehab building adjacent to the House would rival any top-tier Football outfit. Adding a visit, a guest session, a lecture on training and diet & a player Q&A here is an insisted inclusion in our Bath Tours.
Given the tradition of the game in the region, there are a number of great clubs nearby. We’d urge booking in advance though. With school rugby commitments & playing time limits it is a worthy idea to get the tour booked early and give us the chance to get ahead of the game with fixture arrangement.
#1 In The Netherlands
Think Amsterdam without the headaches, the seat of the Dutch Government is a premier destination for teams travelling by coach and ferry to Europe on Tour. You’ll stay at a newly-refurbished Hostel in the city centre, a pleasant stroll from the Binenhof, Hofviher & Mauritzhuis photostops.
For us, The Hague is split in two. You have the main part of town, a beautiful and mainly pedestrianised fairy tale of a place & then you have Scheveningen (Skay-ven-ingen), a grand & lively beach resort some 6km up the road. A highlight for us us at SHS the Beach Club Twins, a restaurant built on the wide promenade which serves up a superb BBQ as you spend the evening on the beach and in the attractions typical of any European seafront.
Kick off your tour with a session at RC Haagsche, test yourselves against the great hosts at RC The Hookers, ‘t Gooi Rugby
Amsterdam is a 45-minute drive, which presents a great option for a day out & of course a test against the strongest of Dutch clubs. The ferry terminals at Ijmuiden and Dunkirk are 30 minutes and 2.5 hours away respectively.
A New Entry.
The Spanish Capital has quickly become the starter-point for our ever-increasingly popular ‘Inbound’ tours for clients visiting Europe from far flung origins. We’ve championed Rugby on the Iberian Peninsula for some years now, but nowhere is the vast growth of the sport more evident than in Spain.
Madrid takes a slower approach to life than Barcelona. It combines grand & regal squares and boulevards with ‘real’ local districts bustling with activity around the clock.
Whilst we’d champion Madrid for any tour, we’re particularly excited about it as a destination for Girls and Women’s tours. We work very closely with the Complutense Cisneros club, whose home ground is the national stadium in the north of the city. When the National Women’s XV compete in the Rugby Europe competitions, it is not unfeasible to arrange a curtain raiser game at ‘Campo Central’ against the Cisneros themselves, a Madrid Selection XV or a collection of local clubs including Torrelodones, Majadahonda & Getafe.
Madrid is the birthplace of Tapas. What better way to experience it than an evening walking sightseeing tour of the city which just happens to take in several traditional and contemporary tapas bars along the way. Add in tickets to a Flamenco Show or Dance Class, High Ropes & Zip Wire in the Madrid Mountains and the obligatory ‘Bocadillo de Calamares’ (Calamari Sandwich) in Plaza Mayor, then you have an exceptional trip to Spain ahead.
Belgium as a destination has been an ever present on our list since day one, but that has been in the form of the idyllic city of Gent, which for the first time, drops out of our Top 10. Antwerp was due to be our busiest European destination in the spring of 2020, that will just have to wait until the coming Autumn with many clients opting to defer their tours as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. Our tours to northern Europe via the Newcastle-Amsterdam and Dover-Calais ferry have always been a cornerstone of our offering & Antwerp is a city which is fundamentally perfectly located for both.
Why has it surpassed Gent? Well, in short, there is a bit more ‘going on’ in the city, it is right on the Dutch border presenting the opportunity to play games in two countries on tour & it is that bit closer to some of the major Rugby clubs in Belgium. We’ve forged a superb relationship with the Hostelling International chain in Belgium. Like their counterparts of YHA in England & Wales and StayOkay in Netherlands, we learnt just how fortunate we were to have such partnerships when the travel industry came to a halt in March 2020. We know that when we send mini, youth and senior teams to Belgium, they’ll be safe, secure, well located & looked after – the Pulcinella venue in the heart of Antwerp encapsulates each asset.
Getting less serious, Antwerp retains to stunning gothic charm of its neighbours. The city combines a relaxed and safe feel necessary for younger teams, but also has a feel of Amsterdam about it for those older teams looking for a blow-out. This is the premier choice for a budget friendly, overseas tour.
An Old Favourite.
A mainstay on our top 10 since day one. Edinburgh was where we ran our first tour & will always enter the conversation if it is within striking distance for our clients. In 2020, we were delighted to welcome Scotland star Hamish Watson to our team as Ambassador. During our tours to ‘Auld Reekie,’ Hamish can meet you at Oriam, the state of the art Scottish Rugby Union high-performance centre, and put you through your paces. What an opportunity for your team to work through their defence & breakdown skills with one of the games greatest exponents.
Edinburgh is small and safe enough for groups of all ages to wander and explore. For the mini and youth teams, an after-dark underground walking tour of the old town is a great addition – as is the optional ‘jumper ooter’ who can appear from the shadows midway through to waken those with short attention spans. If you’re after some real Caledonian fun, head out to the grandiose Hopetoun House, split the squad into Clans & partake in your own Highland Games Championship.
Tickets to catch Hamish and his Edinburgh team mates in action in the Pro14 at Murrayfield are a great addition, as is admission to a tour of the home of Scottish Rugby.
As with all our tours, you’ll stay within walking distance of the city highlights & enjoy restaurants ideal for groups and budget travellers.
The Ideal Warm-Weather Rugby Tour.
Each of our tours to the Catalan capital start off with a training session at the BUC Club, whose HQ is in the heart of the 1992 Olympic Park. A superb all-weather playing surface is flanked on one side by the clubhouse and the other, the steep cliffs in which the Olympic Stadium is built. It is a short drive from the Accommodation via Placa Espana and Montjiuc to the ground & one of the more scenic trips you’ll take to a training session.
Rugby in Spain is on the fast track right now, and nowhere is it seen more than in Barcelona. The level of club Rugby at youth level especially is as competitive as anywhere in Europe, so don’t write this one off if you’re looking for an international challenge. Get a taste of top level club rugby too with tickets to a Division de Honor match at either UE Santboiana Rugby or the FC Barcelona club.
Another must-do on tour here is the Bicycle Tour of the city. There are more bike lanes here than in any other city in Europe. With so much to see, this is a great way to tick off all the boxes if you just have a snapshot of a trip to Barcelona. The tour starts and ends in the Gothic Quarter of the town, so there is plenty chance to end the day with time on the stunning Barceloneta beach.
Flights into the city are readily available & given the volume of options, the prices are often competitive. We’ve a range of accommodation options for you too – all of which are central & give you the chance to see the city in downtime. Whether it be a lively hostel for senior groups, or something more chill for kids, both are excellent. Don’t believe what you read in travel guides, Barcelona is not an expensive city, we’ll make sure you’re away from the tourist traps and get you sampling the best of the food and drink here for a fraction of what you’ll find on Las Ramblas.
Our Home Patch.
One of the few ever-presents on our list, our home city of Newcastle remains one of the most under-estimated tourist destinations in the UK. At the time of writing, the Newcastle Falcons are dead-set on an immediate return to the Premiership, bringing some top-level Rugby back to the region. As with Cardiff Blues & Saracens, the clubs 3G pitch is available to you for tour games & behind the scenes experiences at Kingston Park are a great addition to the tour.
You’ll stay in the heart of the city, a short walk from the Tyne Bridge, Quayside, Grey Street & St James’ Park. From here, we’ll get you to some of the greatest clubs in Northumberland and Durham for your tour games before showing off the best fun you can have in our home city. Our #1 activity in Newcastle is a Surf Lesson on the North Sea at Tynemouth Beach & we’ll keep you well fed at Coop, a restaurant best described as a quality, Geordie Nandos.
Number one for the past two years, Parma remains our premier overseas Tour location for 2021. Home of Guinness Pro14 franchise Zebre, Parma is a beautiful Italian city based 2-hours south of Milan. You’ll be based at a newly refurbished 4* Hotel in the heart of the city, a 5-minute stroll to the main Giuseppe Garibaldi square & a 5-minute drive to the ‘Cittadella del Rugby,’ a campus which hosts both the pro-Zebre and the local club, Amatori Rugby Parma. The venue has become our unofficial home in Italy & you’ll spend plenty time here during the visit. Whether it be training sessions of your own on one of the 4 pitches, a guest session with players from the Zebre club, lunch and dinner in the exceptional Amatori clubhouse & of course tickets to see Zebre in action in the Pro14.
Off the field, we’ll take in another Italian passion of motorsport. One ideal pre-match activity is a leisurely stroll through the Ferrari Museum at nearby Maranello & a great team builder is a Go-Kart Grand Prix at an awesome facility in the city of Parma. Paintball is another option, as is getting tickets for a Parma FC Serie A Football match at the Stadio Ennio Tardini. Parma is the gastronomy capital of Italy & the restaurants you’ll visit will champion the best of traditional and contemporary Italian cuisine. This is the region of Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamico di Modena & Lambrusco wine, so once you’ve worked up a sweat on the field, let’s get you replenished off it. Our favourite haunt in Parma is the Bangmaker 369 restaurant ran by ex-Rugby star Luca Redolfini – think part disco, part pizzeria serving up the best Pizze in the city.
The Sporting City Like No Other.
Making it to the top of our list in 2021 is the Welsh Capital, a sporting city without compare.
There are a number of experiences on offer in Cardiff which in their own right would be the go-to thing in a number of other locations on our list. Whether it be stepping out onto the historic Arms Park pitch for your tour match or racing down the UK’s premier artificial White Water Rafting circuit, this is a destination which gets pulses racing. Our accommodation of choice is Britain’s original 5* rated Hostel and is situated equidistant from the city centre & the lively Cardiff Bay area, meaning no need for continuous trips on the tour bus. The Pro-Rugby experiences at Cardiff Blues are excellent, as are the tours of the Principality Stadium. Throw in some Match Tickets and a Breakfast Q&A with a Welsh & British Lions legend and the experience you could have here would take some matching anywhere in the Rugby World.