Staying safe in the sun

Many of us a fully aware that our skin can suffer if it is exposed to excessive amounts of sunshine, something that we often go on holiday in order to find.

Applying sun cream and wearing a sun hat are obvious measures that we can all take when heading to sunnier destinations, but these are not the only things that you should do. The heat from the sun can have more debilitating effects than simply causing sunburn.

Here, we’ll take a look at some points you may not have considered. For more advice, see the NHS Sunscreen and Sun Safety page.

For some, the only measure they take against the harmful UV rays that the sun throws out is to use a sunscreen, typically when they hit the beach. However, you should try to get into the habit of applying a sun cream before you head out, so that you can make sure your body is fully covered, particularly if you intend getting down to your swimsuit at some point.

Medical advice states that you should apply sunscreen half an hour before going out into the sun. The NHS recommends choosing a sun cream that is rated with at least SPF of 15 and at least four-star UVA rating (five-star cream is available too). Other creams might help, but not provide such strong protection. You should frequently reapply the protection, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Don’t forget that you can also get sunburn when it is cloudy!

If you don’t get on well with sun creams – perhaps you find them sticky or unpleasant – then you can now also get sprays that spray a liquid sunscreen. This can be more pleasant for some people than a cream, but sometimes the sprays are alcohol-based and can dry the skin a little.

Protect your eyes
As well as protecting your skin, it is important to make sure that your eyes are fully safe. Exposure to bright sunshine can lead to problems with your eyes such as cataracts. Therefore, invest in a good pair of sunglasses. Adequate ones will have a CE mark or a UV400 label on them. This way, you can be assured that they offer full UV protection. If you find that you are still squinting, then seek some shade or wear a brimmed hat to help offer your eyes more shelter.

Taking medicines? Take extra care in the sun!
Fair-skinned people, those with freckles or lots of moles, and children need to consider sun protection more than other groups.

However, some routinely taken medicines can also put you at risk. If you are taking a tetracycline, an oral hypoglycaemic drug or a diuretic, for example, take additional care or seek specific medical advice.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke
To avoid these unpleasant and potentially serious conditions, drink plenty of water and avoid excessive activity in the heat of the midday sun.

For first aid if you suspect these conditions:

  • Lie down in a cool place
  • Remove any unnecessary clothing
  • Cool your skin with wet towels or wet sheets
  • Drink fluids, including water and a rehydration drink
  • Consider getting professional medical attention

It’s useful to take rehydration sachets on holiday: not only will they help if you get heat exhaustion or heatstroke, but if you get a dodgy tummy they can also be useful!

For more detailed advice, see the NHS advice on heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Travel apps: currency conversion and language translation

Let’s start this month with an essential type of app when you’re travelling abroad: a currency converter.

One of the most popular is XE Currency, which is free, and available for iPhone and Android. It gets live exchange rates from the internet when it can, or it uses the last rate it was able to get if you’re offline.

XE Currency for iPhone
XE Currency for Android

Unfortunately, most currency apps give you the exchange rates that banks themselves use, rather than the actual rates you’ll get as a tourist, so after you’ve done the conversion it’s best to think of everything as actually a little bit more expensive than the app is showing you.

The XE Currency app isn’t the easiest app in the world to use when you first get it, but it’s straightforward once you’ve figured it out. (It tries to get you to sign up for an account, but you can click a No Thanks link at the bottom to get rid of that!)

You can then convert euros to pounds, pounds to euros, or whatever else you fancy.

The app can also show you a currency chart of the pound vs. the euro, so you can guess whether the exchange rate is about to get better or worse! (Let’s not kid ourselves here, it’s a guess!)

When you’re abroad, here’s a tip to avoid extortionate data roaming fees. Load up your currency converter app when you’re in your hotel on wi-fi, let it get the latest exchange rates, then set your phone to aeroplane mode and use those exchange rates while you’re out and about for the day.

If you’re on the iPhone and you want a slightly simpler and easier to use currency converter app, try Currency.

Google Translate – foreign language translation
Moving on to look at another essential app, you don’t want to be without Google Translate. It’s free for iPhone or Android, and covers all the European languages you are likely to encounter.

Google Translate for iPhone
Google Translate for Android

The most common and useful way to use the app is to type in a word or a short phrase in the foreign language and have it converted to English. This is useful for reading signs and menus.

If you click the speaker icon, the app will pronounce foreign words to you, which can be very useful. Although it uses a computer-generated voice rather than recordings of real people, it’s still quite an accurate guide.

You can even hover your camera over a word, and the app will read the foreign text and translate it to English. At least, in theory you can do that – in practice this doesn’t usually work very reliably! But give it time, and it will get better; when it does work it’s pretty impressive though.

Since you will probably need to use Google Translate in places where you don’t have internet signal, you can go to the settings in the app and download a language. So if you’re going to Germany you can download the German language when you’ve got wi-fi, and then the app will still work when your phone isn’t connected to the internet.

Be safe – insure your gadgets
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Granada: a city overflowing with history

If Spain means more to you than just sun-soaked beaches, don’t miss the chance to visit the beautiful inland city of Granada. Nestling at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada makes a superb centre for a city break.

What to see in Granada
Everyone will tell you that you must visit the Alhambra – and everyone is absolutely right. You can spend hours at this astonishing medieval palace complex without seeing everything.

Built by the Moors in the early 14th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site contains both extraordinarily intricate architecture, and stunning gardens added by later Christian rulers.

The city’s Moorish heritage is also on display in the Albayzin quarter, a short taxi ride from the Alhambra and among the oldest parts of Granada. The magnificent Renaissance cathedral was added after southern Spain’s return to Christian rule in 1492, and it towers over the winding lanes that thread their way through this intriguing district.

Culture and cuisine
Granada’s patron saint is celebrated on the last Sunday in September. Processions and festivals abound, while churches are decorated with large displays of flowers brought by the faithful.

On a different note, the Casa del Arte Flamenco regularly hosts superb performances by this traditional Spanish dance’s finest exponents.

If all that makes you hungry, enjoy Andalusian dishes such as gazpacho soup, enlivened by the use of garlic, pepper and other spices befitting the city’s Arab heritage. Alternatively, visit a Moorish-style tea room such as Teteria y Restaurante Marrakech and relax in splendour while tea is served from silver pots.

Where to stay
Despite Granada’s wealth of attractions, there are bargains to be found. The Palacio de Santa Ines, as palatial as its name suggests and a stone’s throw from the Alhambra, charges around £90 a night in mid-October.

Slightly further out, the Room Mate Leo costs around £80 a night and is renowned for its helpful staff; some rooms have private terraces, from which there are breathtaking views across the city.

Discover the hidden treasures of Majorca

With its beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters, and an agreeable year-round climate, it should come as no surprise that Majorca is Spain’s most popular island destination for tourists and sightseers of all ages.

Yet, over the years, this paradise in the Mediterranean gained a reputation for hosting some of the more raucous holidaymakers that head to the Med for a fortnight of sun, sea and sangria within the confines of the island’s many resorts.

But beneath the popular image of party towns and package holidays, there is another side to Majorca that is waiting to be discovered by the more adventurous visitor.

Natural beauty
It is an island of extreme natural beauty, ancient culture and monuments, and a calm, peaceful approach to life. It is, for this reason, that one of Europe’s top destinations is also something of a hidden treasure: Majorca is the perfect tonic for holidaymakers seeking relaxation by the sea.

The island has no shortage of spectacular sites and memorable landmarks to make this a holiday of a lifetime. The 550km of coastline is punctuated at regular intervals by rustic fishing villages and picturesque coves.

Three places worth a visit
To the very north of the island lies Alcudia, one of the island’s most attractive stretches of water. With its broad beach and clean, shallow waters, the bay makes for one of Majorca’s most popular seaside destinations. The area provides typical resort facilities, as well as water sports for those seeking an action-packed holiday experience.

However, the coastline is most popular for its tranquillity. Inland, you will take a trip back in time, walking among the ruins of ancient Pollentia, once the Roman capital city of the Balearics. This uniquely atmospheric location is irresistible for any visitor seeking an insight into the island’s long and distinguished history.

In the south, a short journey along the coastline from the famous resort town of Magaluf brings the promise of another of the island’s great cultural destinations: Palma de Mallorca. The gothic cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma (known locally as La Seu) dominates the skyline, and is a beautiful attraction both during the day and at night.

Great value for money
More than four decades ago, it was the affordable luxury of this island economy which helped to establish Majorca as a tourism hotspot. Today, while the costs are generally above the average of mainland Spain, the island continues to represent fantastic value for money, thanks to the high quality of services.

Look beyond the resort towns and the primary attractions, and the intrepid explorer will discover hospitality, accommodation, and local cuisine that all rank among the best in Europe.

Discover beautiful Bruges

The Belgian city of Bruges is an interesting destination for a city break. It is within easy distance of Calais, being under an hour and a half by car, or you can get a Eurostar train from London St Pancras International station.

Historic buildings
Bruges, or Brugge, is Belgium’s, and perhaps Europe’s, most well-preserved medieval city. Almost every street consists of pristine and attractive houses built in the distinct Flemish style with ornate gables. Popular destinations in the historic city centre are the Markt (Market Square), and the Stadhuis (City Hall).

Ponies, waffles, chocolate, and canals
The city centre is a good place to sample the sugary waffles for which Bruges is renowned, or take a drive through the city streets in one of the many horse-drawn carriages that are for hire.

There are numerous gift shops where you can buy Belgian lace and chocolates. The best chocolate shop we have found, from personal experience on repeated trips, is Dumon, located in a very quaint building on a street called Eiermarkt. We managed to smuggle out a huge 1 kilogram block of pure chocolate from there, but they seemed a little reluctant to sell it, it was an under-the-counter job! Fellow gluttons who knew we were visiting Bruges asked us to bring back chocolates from Dumon too, so that’s a high recommendation! If you like your chocolate, that’s the place!

Bruges is also famous for its maze of canals – in fact, it has often been referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ and a boat ride is an enjoyable and relaxing way of viewing the architecture from a different perspective. As with Venice, the houses look their best when viewed from the water, and it’s a good chance to escape the crowds of tourists.

Bruges is also a city that is extremely bicycle-friendly, and it is easier to cycle the streets than it is to drive. Hiring a bicycle is another good way of escaping the crowds and getting to experience the real Bruges.

Some rainy days
The weather in Bruges is mild, but it does attract more rain and cold weather than other North European cities of a similar latitude. In the summer months, the weather rarely exceeds 21C/70F. You can expect cloudy skies and damp drizzle.

You might be lucky and experience some sunshine, but visitors to Bruges would be well-advised to pack plenty of waterproofs and warm clothing. On a positive note, the cooler climate is ideal for walking around the city on foot.

Summer Events in Bruges
There are many interesting events happening this summer, such as the free summer festival in Benenwerk, 13 August, with music and dancing.

The KookEet food festival on 24th September 2016, which showcases the work of the best chefs in Belgium, is a great way to get to know the country’s cuisine.

Those interested in history might be fascinated by a two-hour guided walk through Bruges’ inner town, which offers the chance to learn what life was like in Bruges during World War One when the city was occupied. From 1st August to end of December 2016, leaving from Belfort (the 12th century Belfry), Markt.

TripAdvisor and travel guide apps

In the last issue of this newsletter we started a new series looking at travel gadgets and travel apps. Last time we looked at airline apps, and this month, Ian from our technical team takes a look at TripAdvisor and some of its lesser-known features, and sees if it can replace a traditional guide book.

Tripadvisor is one of the biggest apps out there, and you’ve probably used it, or at least heard of it. The basic premise is that people review places they’ve been to, including restaurants and hotels, both here in the UK and worldwide.

Here’s how to find TripAdvisor:
TripAdvisor Website
TripAdvisor app for iPhone
TripAdvisor app for Android

What’s wrong with review sites?
This approach of what’s known as “crowd-sourced” reviews has a few flaws. Firstly, someone else’s taste might not be the same as yours. They might prefer different things to you, or have a different opinion to you as to what constitutes high or low quality.

Secondly, there is the issue of fraudulent reviews. TripAdvisor acknowledges this phenomenon, attempts to take action to prevent it, and even publishes a Fraud Detection policy on its website.

Fraudulent reviews can include people reviewing their own restaurants and hotels (presumably favourably!), submitting artificially negative review of a competitor’s business, and incentivising customers to write overly-glowing reviews. There are even companies that try to boost an establishment up the TripAdvisor rankings for a fee!

How to avoid fraudulent reviews
The best thing you can do to avoid falling foul of this is to look for places that have lots of reviews. The more reviews a place has, the more likely most reviews are to be genuine, and the more likely that people with similar tastes to yours will have left a review.

From my own experience, if a place is ranked bad it usually is pretty bad, but if it’s ranked very good you’ve got a 50/50 chance of it being worth a visit. Having said this, some of my favourite restaurants are indeed ranked as Excellent by TripAdvisor reviews, so it almost feels like pot luck!

Careful of the location of places you visit!
Also, reviews don’t tend to focus on where the place is located, so you need to be careful. I once went to what TripAdvisor claimed was a great American barbecue restaurant in Las Vegas, which involved us walking down a very poorly lit, seedy back street, with no proper pavement, and ending up outside a neon-lit horror of a place! We pretty much fled for our lives!

I had another faux pax on a trip to Bath, where we ended up walking miles out of our way to a place that was apparently great, but was like some kind of crazy uncontrolled riot when we got through the doors! And the menu was rubbish too!

Fortunately, TripAdvisor gives you the website for many restaurants and hotels, and many places publish their menu on the web. So you can either research some places before you go on holiday, or use your phone or iPad with the wifi in your hotel or in a coffee shop to figure out where to eat next.

A great TripAdvisor feature: downloadable city guides
One of the lesser-known features of the TripAdvisor app is probably more useful than the reviews: you can download an entire city guide. This puts all the information directly onto your phone, so you don’t need to be connected to the internet in order to read it. This is great because quite often when you’re overseas you can’t use the data connection on your phone for fear of racking up a huge bill!

I usually just put my phone into flight mode when I’m away, unless I’m using the wifi. Bonus tip: don’t forget to turn off data roaming on your phone. This means that when you’re away from the UK, your phone will not use the internet unless you’re on a wifi network, so you won’t get charged for it (overseas data charges can be extortionate!).

If you’re not sure how to turn off data roaming for your phone, just search Google for “turn off data roaming on iPhone“, or “turn off data roaming on Android“.

We’ve just come back from a few days in Vienna, and the downloadable city guide proved to be very useful. Here’s why:

Your download includes a map, and your phone can show you where you are. You can then find a place you want to go to, read a review, then see where the place is on the map compared to where you are right now. The little blue dot that represents you will start to move as you walk, so you can check you’re heading in the right direction.

Does this replace a traditional guide book?
In my opinion, no, you still need a traditional guide book (or its modern digital equivalent). I personally find the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel books very good, with lots of illustrations (although they are printed on high-quality heavy paper, which makes them quite weighty to tuck in your bag).

A good guide book will give the historical context of the place you are visiting, and will give you a much better understanding of what you are looking at, which routes to take, how to use public transport, etc.

Of course, in this modern age, you can download many travel guides onto your phone or iPad too. Amazon Kindle is particularly good for this.

Alongside the standard publishers, such as Dorling Kindersley, Rough Guide, Time Out, and Lonely Planet, there is a rising trend of non-professional publishing on Kindle, where short travel guides are written by people who live in the city they are writing about. These are often surprisingly good, and often very cheap, costing only a pound or two. I like to read them before I go on holiday, or on the plane, so I don’t waste time when I arrive.

Something a lot of people don’t realise is that you can also download travel guides for a specific city directly from your phone’s app store. For example, bringing up the Apple app store on my iPhone and searching for “Vienna travel” brings up several guides, including audio and video, and detailed transport maps. Some of these are free to download too.

Foreign Office Travel Advice
With the recent security alerts and fears in some destinations, the UK government’sForeign Office travel advice has information for every country you’re ever likely to visit. It’s kept up to date, and it is always a useful guide to check before you travel.

For example, the page on Turkey contains sections on terrorism, safety and security, local laws and customs, entry requirements, health, natural disasters, and money.

Without wishing to sound too grim, if you are ever overseas and find yourself in an unstable situation, you should check the Foreign Office website first, and then check with your airline, who will also publish advice on what to do.

Airlines often have problems contacting passengers who are overseas on holiday, because the passengers’ mobile phones either don’t work, or they don’t have your correct number, and they may be laying on emergency flights for you to return home.

Don’t forget YouTube
I don’t want to end on a downbeat note, so let’s take a look at one last thing this month! A useful source of information for your trip can also be YouTube.

Just search for the place you’re visiting, or a landmark within that city that you want to visit, and you can often find lots of interesting videos. Some videos will be from other travellers, some from professional publishers, and others from official sources such as the tourist board or the owner of the attraction.

Videos can give you a good feeling for whether or not something will appeal to you, how crowded a place can be, and any particular things to see or avoid.

Hopefully that’s given you a few new ideas to get the best out of your next holiday. Oh, and if you’re going to Vienna, go to Figlmüller and order the Schnitzel!

Be safe – insure your gadgets
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The Big Beach of Ulcinj is Montenegro’s hidden treasure

Although its near neighbour Croatia attracts the lion’s share of attention when it comes to resorts facing the blue Adriatic, the more modest coastline of Montenegro, to the south, should not be overlooked. One of the most stunning beaches in this part of Europe can be found in this former Yugoslav state.

Montenegro is a delightful destination for British tourists with easy access to euros from cash machines and most restaurant meals costing somewhere between £15 and £20 before drinks. In the predominantly Albanian area of Ulcinj, prices can be even more competitive for accommodation and dining out, although tourism is picking up led, in the main part, by German and Italian visitors.

Ulcinj – An Overview
Ulcinj is pronounced “Ult-SING”. What marks Ulcinj out from some of the other municipalities of Montenegro is the high quality of its beaches. There is a small pebble beach near to the town which is said to possess fertility qualities.

Then there is the so-called Small Beach, which is more diminutive in size, but is situated close to the town centre, making it popular among visitors and locals alike. The Old Town is full of restaurants and bars with an impressive fort overlooking the sea.

The Big Beach
Nevertheless, it is the Big Beach of Ulcinj which is most likely to attract visitors with a serious hunger for top-quality sand. The longest stretch of sand to be found anywhere on the Adriatic, Ulcinj’s Big Beach, or Velika Plaza as it is known locally, offers around 8 miles of soft, flour-like sand. It is around 60 metres (196 feet) wide and it sits on a shallow south-west facing bay that is easy to reach from Uclinj via the R17 coast road.

There are a couple of beach bars and eateries at the most westerly end of the beach, but the further east you progress the less developed it becomes. The beach continues all the way to Bojana Island where the R17 ends, and which itself has a further stretch of beach facing the Adriatic.

When to Travel
July and August are the hottest months with average highs of 29ºC (84F). For holidaymakers considering Montenegro as a destination outside of the school holidays, when it is generally more peaceful, then September is the best month to opt for. September has 252 hours of sunshine on average, and a very respectable mean temperature of 26C (79F).

Podgorica airport, in Montenegro, is the nearest airport with direct services to the UK, served by Ryanair.

Failure of Low Cost Holidays

Current advice regarding the failure of Low Cost Holidays which will apply to all MAPFRE underwritten schemes.

EHICPlus, EHICPlus Expand, ANZPlus

July 2016: Failure of Low Cost Holidays

On 15 July 2016, it has been confirmed that Low Cost Holidays went into liquidation.

Low Cost Holidays, Spain, S.L. registered address C/ada Byron, S/N, 07121 Parc Bit, Balears, Spain.  Its registered company number is CIF B57813248 is an Appointed Representative of Cover-More Insurance Services, PO Box 9180, Chelmsford, Essex CM1 9AG, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to transact general insurance business. Cover-More Insurance Services FCA Registration.  The underwriter is ERV.

Customers may wish to use these details to assist with any assistance they may require.

If you have booked a holiday with Low Cost Holidays and need to change the dates of your cover on your policy, due to changing your trip arrangements, we can change this to cover your new holiday providing the new trip is within three months of your original departure date, is for the same (or no longer) duration and is to the same geographical area.  If your trip is cancelled and you are being fully refunded by your holiday company and so have no claim to make under this insurance, we will also consider the cancellation and refund of your existing policy.  Please note that this will only apply to Single Trip policies for specific trips covering the dates concerned.

The insurance policies do not provide cover for situations of this nature.  In most cases, we would advise you to contact your travel company to help you make alternative arrangements.  We understand that in this instance it is the travel company that has gone into liquidation.

Customers should refer to their terms and conditions for full details of their travel insurance cover.

  • Medical expenses – The failure of the travel company will have no bearing on the medical expenses cover.
  • Repatriation – The failure of the travel company will have no bearing on the medical expenses cover.
  • Cutting short your trip – There is no cover under the policy for cutting short your trip as a result of the failure of the travel company.
  • Cancellation – There is no cover under the policy for cancelling your trip as a result of the failure of the travel company.
  • Travel delay – The failure of the travel company will have no bearing on the delayed departure / travel delay cover.
  • Scheduled Airline Failure Insurance (SAFI) – As described in the section this only applies where a scheduled airline has gone into liquidation, which does not apply on this occasion. So no claims can be considered under this section.
  • Supplier Failure – This cover is not available, as it only applies where elements of your trip are booked independently of a package with a travel company and only refer to the failure of the following:
    • short let holiday accommodation providers (including hotels),
    • car hire operators
    • ferry operators
    • coach operators
    • train operators

As we are sadly, therefore, unable to offer any cover in this instance, we can only advise customers already abroad to contact the travel company, or the local British Embassy, for assistance in returning home.

Please note that our advice remains valid until further notice.

For information on your local British Embassy in the country you are currently in, please go to the following website address and locate the relevant British Consulate / Embassy for assistance:

Further to the information above, MAPFRE have advised that if a customer booked their trip with Low Cost Holidays and paid for this using their credit card, as long as this was more than £100 they should be able to contact their credit card provider to seek a refund under their protection program.

Quiberon: A Relaxing Beach Holiday in Brittany

With beautiful sandy beaches, prehistoric monuments, fishing villages and bustling markets, Quiberon (pronounced “Kibberon”) is a wonderful destination for a beach holiday.

When To Visit
Quiberon enjoys around 8 hours sunshine a day during the summer months; this is also the driest time of year. Daytime temperatures reach 22C/72F in July and August, dropping back to 20C/68F in September. The oceanic climate can be changeable and breezy, so pack a lightweight jacket.

Beaches for Everyone
Wherever you are on the Quiberon peninsula, a spit of land just 14 kilometres (8 miles) long and only 22 metres (72 feet) wide at its narrowest point, you are only a stone’s throw from the sea.

The sheltered bays near St-Pierre-Quiberon in the south are popular with swimmers and families with young children. To the north, the vast sandy beaches near Penthièvre are superb for horse riding, sand yachting and windsurfing.

The Grand Plage in Quiberon town has a boardwalk lined with boutiques and stands serving sweet and savoury crêpes — the local speciality — biscuits and salted caramels.

The Cote Sauvage, the wild coast, is best explored on foot or by bike: this is the rugged west of the peninsula, where dramatic cliffs are pounded by Atlantic waves.

Not To be Missed
The Neolithic site of Carnac lies just to the north: its rows of 3000 stones have astonished travellers for thousands of years.

Take a ferry to the island of Belle Ile and discover an array of wildflowers, pretty coves and restaurants serving some of the freshest seafood you will ever taste.

During the last week of July, Vannes hosts an open air jazz festival.

From 5-14 August, Lorient hosts the Interceltique Festival, an international celebration of Celtic music, dance and culture.

Where To Stay 
Quiberon has a range of hotels and self-catering apartments to suit all budgets. The town gets busy during July and August so make your booking well in advance. Bed and Breakfast is a popular option, with prices from around £60 per night.

Getting there
By car: Ferries run to St Malo and Roscoff. Many summer visitors park their cars at Quiberon’s main railway station and take the shuttle bus into town, as the two-lane road can get very busy in high season.

By train: the TGV runs from Paris Montparnasse to Auray, where you change to the local connection to Quiberon.

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  • Accidental damage
  • Theft
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