Holiday apps to experience European history and culture

Holidaying in Europe brings to mind thoughts of pretty cobbled streets, majestic castles, alluring mountains, and memorable museums. And while exploring a city or town on your own is wonderful, finding the best attractions is sometimes difficult. Add to that, some of us like to explore a museum, castle, or church on our own, instead of hiring a tour guide.

So we’ve shortlisted a few apps that help you find your way to the sites, but more importantly, act as a pocket-friendly tour guide.

Sygic Travel 
Sygic Travel allows you to plan your trip by selecting the location, then reading about and bookmarking the sights you’re interested in. Saving your trip offline before you leave home ensures you don’t have to pay for an internet connection or have to search for wi-fi spots.

The app boasts details of tourist attractions across the globe, from castles and museums to hotels and restaurants, and from waterfalls and caves to parks and beaches. You just enter your destination city into the app, and it gives you a list of attractions nearby with distances. Add in your hotel details if you’ve pre-booked, and Sygic Travel shows you the sights near your hotel first.

If you don’t want to bother with calculating the distance to the nearest museum or castle, the map format shows all the attractions with small images of the sights in the place of pins. Clicking on the pin pulls up the details and history of the attraction, along with timings, days closed, and more.

This app is free to use for most of its functions, and only requires payment for the advanced options. If you want in-depth guides to any cities, the app also allows you to purchase them. All in all, it’s a really handy app to have around!

Download Sygic Travel for iOS
Download Sygic Travel for Android

World Explorer Travel Guide
Quite similar to the Sygic Travel guide, this app shows you attractions in a city based on a 0 to 5-star rating, making it a lot easier to pick the best museums, castles or parks in any part of the world. It also gives you distances on a standard or satellite map, making it easy to navigate to where you’re going.

Although it pulls up most of the information about attractions from Wikipedia, it also has an option to purchase City guides online. With geo-location to pull up nearby attractions, distances calculated in both kilometres and miles, and more than 350,000 attractions that have been rated to date, it’s easy to see why this app is quickly becoming a travel favourite.

Download World Explorer Travel Guide for iOS
Download World Explorer Travel Guide for Android

Rick Steves’ Audio Europe
This app gives you the benefit of having a professional guide at your disposal without paying for one. Rick Steves is much more than a guide, he is a respected authority on European travel. His audio guides are perfect for learning more about a city and its history, its attractions and its culture. There are a variety of audio guides to choose from, based on cities, cultures, or types of monuments.

The audio tours can be downloaded before you embark on your journey, so that you have perfect offline access throughout your trip. PDF maps built into the app complement the walking tours. Some of the recent additions to the audio tours include Sicily’s Essential Sights, Provence Markets, Authentic Greek Food, France beyond Paris, and many more.

With Rick Steves’ Audio Europe, it’s really easy to come away from a trip feeling like you have a good grip on a country’s history and culture.

Download Rick Steves’ Audio Europe for iOS
Download Rick Steves’ Audio Europe for Android

Learn a new skill on your next holiday

Are you looking for something new and interesting to do on your next holiday? With the weather turning colder, consider using your trip as a chance to gain a new skill.

Foreign Languages
Have you ever fancied learning a foreign language, or at least learning how to order things in the restaurant abroad? You’ll be happy to know that it’s possible to find language classes for foreigners in pretty much every European country.

Courses usually take at least one week, but can be much, much longer. The intensity of the courses varies greatly, and you would be able to pick one that suits you. This could be a relaxed, one hour in the morning course, or an intense full-time course.

Group courses are usually cheaper than individual lessons, but the latter focus more on your personal needs. Many language schools combine language classes with various other activities: you can sign up for Spanish and FlamencoFrench and Bordeaux wine tastingGreek with dancing, or Italian and opera!

Cooking
Do you love paella, pizza, or pain-au-chocolat, and would like to learn how to make these from scratch? What better way to learn than from local chefs on your next holiday.

Cooking courses welcome complete beginners and experienced cooks alike, and everyone can learn something new.

The variety of cooking courses is great. You could bake baguettes in France or make and decorate chocolates in Switzerland. How about preparing tapas in the heart of Barcelona or learning from top British chefs on a Food Hero cruise?

You can choose between short courses that only take a couple of hours, full-day courses, or an entire week or two of cooking lessons.

Wine
Perhaps you enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner and would like to learn more about the different types wines and grapes. If that’s the case, you may enjoy a wine tasting holiday.

These usually involve touring different vineyards, learning about the grapes and the process of winemaking, and trying many local wines. Dedicated wine tasting holidays range from weekend trips to holidays lasting a couple of weeks. If that’s a bit too long for you, many vineyards offer short daily tours with wine tastings.

It’s not only the big wine countries, such as France, Italy, or Spain, that offer wine tasting holidays. For an off-the-beaten-track wine holiday consider Hungary, the home of the sweet Tokaji wine, or Portugal where Port wine comes from.

Photography
Have you marvelled at beautiful photographs in travel magazines and thought you would like to take better pictures? Adding a photography course to your next trip might be a good idea.

Photography holidays vary in their focus (pardon the pun!), offering a lot of choice: portrait, wildlife, cityscapes. During a photography course you would learn about light, composition, and how to capture movement in your photos. Some courses require you to have your own camera, while others offer rental of equipment.

Why not select a destination and see if there’s a photography holiday available? You are sure to return home with a collection of stunning photos that will remind you of your holiday. What a way to impress your family and friends!

The courses described here are just a taste of what’s on offer. (We have not personally checked these courses, and they are not specific recommendations, but they give you some idea of what is available.)

There are many different activities available in all the European countries. With some research, you are bound to find a perfect learning holiday for you.

Exploring the cosy towns of medieval Europe

Do you feel like you’ve already visited every interesting city in Europe, and you’d like to try something completely different? Why not discover the unexpected beauty of these small European towns, that have preserved their magical medieval feel, architecture, and past traditions?

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
This picturesque Czech town deservedly became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, and it is unique within the whole of Europe.

The town centre has preserved its historical look from the 15th century. The dominant feature of Cesky Krumlov is a gothic castle from the 13th century, which stands out above the Vltava river which flows through the middle of the town.

Local narrow streets with colourful timbered houses from medieval times complete the truly unique atmosphere of this town. Evening walks under the lit-up castle, while listening to the river and the music of local street musicians, will charm anyone who sometimes wonders what life was in the past.

If you’ve had enough of modern city life, and would like to step back into the past, at least for few days, than Cesky Krumlov is the right choice.

Rothenburg, Germany
The full name of this little Bavarian town is Rothenburg ob der Tauber. For all lovers of cozy towns which have kept their centre almost exactly as it was in Middle Ages, with numerous zigzag streets, Rothenburg is another exciting destination.

As soon as you arrive you will be amazed, and will be taken back in time to an age of kings, jugglers, and traditional street markets. For film lovers, the proof of its exceptional glory is the fact that part of Harry Potter was filmed here.

Another unique feature of this town is the famous Christmas markets which take place all year round!

As always in such a medieval town, you can enter one of many half-timbered houses and admire the traditionally decorated shops or traditional crafts. The main local treat is called “Schneeball” in German – meaning snowball – which is pasta noodles rolled into a ball, baked, and sprinkled on the surface with cinnamon sugar or coconut.

Colmar, France
The north-eastern French town of Colmar is a place for all lovers of wine and gothic architecture. Colmar feels like it was cut out of a postcard, and has the air of a fairy tale where people light torches and believe in supernatural powers.

Among the most charming places of Colmar are the Fishmonger’s District and Little Venice, where you can rent a rowing boat and float along one of the many local canals.

In Colmar, there is always time for a glass of great wine. Colmar has been nicknamed by the locals as the region’s king of wine – high praise in a country so famous for wine production. Of course, this is the way it should be, because wine undoubtedly fits our romantic view of the Middle Ages.

Local winemakers specialize mainly in varieties of white wine, such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer. Life surely does not get any better than a trip in a wooden boat, followed by an evening walk alongside original medieval houses, then finishing the day by enjoying the delightful local wine in an area so rich in history.

Hallstatt, Austria
The smallest middle-ages town on our list is the Austrian town of Hallstatt, that is a home to no more than a thousand permanent residents. However, this does not change its glamour.

Even from a picture of Hallstatt it is clear to see why this town is loved by the thousands of travellers who visit this town every year, and why it has been included on the list of Unesco World Heritage sites.

Hallstatt has a breathtaking location, situated 1,670 feet above sea level, and lying beside Hallstatt lake and under Hallstatt Mountains. When looking out of the window, or when resting on a bench, you can be watching the calm lake surface or gazing at the top of the sharp mountain peaks. There is a waterfall on the mill stream right in the centre of the town.

Hallstatt has also become famous for its salt mining on one of the local hills, where one of the oldest salt mines in Europe has been preserved and is open to the public.

No matter which of these towns you visit, autumn colours will further enhance the charm that each of them has to offer.

There is only one downside to visiting one of those lovely medieval towns: you will never want to leave!

Have you heard of these new holiday essentials?

This month, we take a look at a few things to make your holiday easier which you might not have considered.

Charging your gadgets
So much of our life revolves around technology nowadays. We rely on our phones, tablets and laptops to find our way, for hotel bookings, contact information, to figure out where we want to visit and so much more, but it’s often difficult to keep your devices fully charged when you’re on the move.

Don’t forget to take plug adapters that are suited to the country you are visiting – don’t forget to check the electrical plug information for the country you are visiting). If you are visiting several countries, you can get a universal travel adapter which, via its various connectors, should work anywhere.

Battery packs can be very useful. Even if you’ve got a phone that doesn’t have a removable battery, such as an iPhone, you can plug your USB charging lead into the battery pack. This is particularly useful on a long flight, where you’re using your phone a lot for entertainment, and will need to charge it again before you get to your hotel.

Amazon sells a good selection of battery packs. The higher the mAh rating, the more charge the battery can hold. We’ve found that the Anker Power Bank Astro E1 5200mAhworks well, and can hold enough energy to charge an iPhone (or most other phones) twice. It only costs £12.99, and is very easy to use, so it’s well worth having. Don’t forget that you still need to take your phone charger cable, to use with the battery pack.

A battery pack is an extra piece of kit that needs to be carried around, which is why battery charging backpacks are becoming so popular. Yes, it’s a rucksack with a built-in battery!

With various options to suit any budget, there is a whole host of backpacks on the market that can charge multiple devices at the same time. You’ll normally have a backpack or bag with you while you’re on holiday, so it makes sense for your bag to double up as a portable charger.

Purified drinking water
Water can often be a problem when you’re travelling. It’s not just far flung countries that don’t have safe water to drink – often you’ll find that hotels or restaurants all over Europe don’t have water that’s safe to drink, and it can be hugely dangerous if you’re out walking and you don’t have enough water.

Taking a portable water filtration bottle with you on your travels is invaluable – no matter where you are, having a bottle with an inbuilt filtration system means that you’ll never be without the ability to have clean and safe drinking water.

Comfortable cushions
Adjustable seat cushions are an absolute lifesaver when you’re flying or sitting in vehicles for long periods of time. Memory foam cushions, electronically controlled cushions and inflatable cushions have been designed to make your life more comfortable; if you suffer from bad circulation or find that you ache when you’re in the same position for too long, then these cushions are for you.

The travel versions are designed to be compact and fold away easily, and give you the most comfortable travel you’ve ever experienced.

Sand-resistant beach mat
The new sand-resistant beach mat is an absolute essential when you’re going on a beach holiday. These mats are designed with filtration technology to filter out small particles through the mat, so you never have to worry about your beach mat being covered in sand again.

They’re available in a massive variety of colours and sizes so you can find one that you absolutely love and, while they’re not cheap, it’s lovely to be able to take a mat to the beach and comfortably sit or lie on it all day without having to brush endless amounts of sand off it.

We hope you enjoy our suggestions, and that they make your travelling life even more fun!

Brussels: Take the train for your next city break

If you want to avoid the hassle of flying, consider taking the Eurostar to Brussels for your next city break. It’s a place with a lot to offer, especially as we start to look towards booking Christmas holidays.

Transport 
We’re not exactly blessed with a wide range of efficient, high-speed rail in the UK so we really do need to take advantage of what we have!

The Eurostar will take you from St Pancras directly to Brussels in around two hours. A little slower than a plane, true – but also without the queues at security or baggage drop off, and Brussels South (the Eurostar terminal) is in the heart of the city.

Once in Brussels, the city boasts a modern, easy to use public transport network with an underground Metro, tram and bus networks providing extensive coverage across the city.

Christmas Markets
Christmas markets are huge all across Central Europe, but Brussels boasts one of the best! The Winter Wonders and Christmas Market attractions will be open from the 24th November until 31st December this year.

This is located in the Grand Place Grote Market, which is Brussels historical main market square, conveniently in the centre of the city. The market is home to over 200 vendors selling a range of wonderful Christmas-related wares such as clothing and unique, home made Christmas decorations.

There is plenty of food and drink too – everything from famous frites (french fries), waffles and oysters all washed down with local Belgian beers or thick, luxurious hot chocolate.

Culture and food
Brussels is home to over 80 major museums and art galleries. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts is the premier art gallery, and there are major museums dedicated to the history of art, musical instruments, natural history and the Belgian armed forces.

Brussels is a beautiful city to look at, with a wide range of architectural styles on display. The centrepiece is very much the Grand Place (home of the Christmas market), which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dominated by several beautiful buildings.

Belgian cuisine is a mixture of fine French and more hearty Flemish cuisines. Moules-frites (mussels and french-fries) is pretty much the national dish, as are waffles with chocolate sauce. If you enjoy beer and chocolate you could happily spend several days trying to sample all the local varieties of both, and not come close to experiencing everything that is on offer.

Brussels – What to Know 
The choice of hotels ranges from hostels and family owned B&Bs right up to 5-star multinationals.

Consider staying in the district of Anderlecht. It’s far enough from the city centre to be relatively peaceful with excellent transport links easily connecting it to the entire city.

Average daily temperatures in November are going to be a bit on the chilly side, at 6C (43F) so make sure to pack some robust winter clothes!

Escape the beach crowds on the Slovenian Riviera

Slovenia boasts a glorious coastline on the Adriatic Sea, with clear Italian influences present in the architecture, the food and the friendliness of the locals!

Although Slovenia’s coastline may be fairly short compared to neighbouring Italy and Croatia, these charming towns and resorts welcome just a fraction of the visitors who descend on some of these more traditional beach destinations.

Slovenia offers a more relaxing break for those not looking to do anything more challenging than to discover tasty food and chill out on some of Europe’s least touristy beaches. Temperatures in September average 19C (66F), with average highs of 24C (75F).

Portoroz: popular coastline
Portoroz is home to the most popular strip of coastline in Slovenia, and also boasts the country’s best sandy beach. This is the place to head to if you’re looking for swanky coastal resorts, and there is plenty of choice for those eager to indulge in fresh, Mediterranean dishes or a few drinks after dinner.

As the most popular beach town in the country, it can get fairly crowded, especially at weekends, as locals head to the coast to relax on the clean, sandy beach.

Piran for swimming and great views
A more sedate and tranquil option is the coastline by the town of Piran. Although the beach here is man-made rather than sandy, it is one of the best swimming spots in the country. From the beach you can also enjoy marvellous views of the historic town in the distance, where the influence of Italy on Slovenia’s rich heritage should be obvious.

From Piran you can pop over to Italy to explore Venice, which is just a three-hour journey by ferry. It’s a very easy trip so may be an option if you are looking to soak up some culture for a couple of days after all that time relaxing on the beach!

When you’re in Piran, make sure you do not miss the stunning view from the top of the city walls, where you can marvel at the peninsula the town sits upon jutting out into the sparkling blue sea. Of course, you’re bound to have worked up a thirst climbing the walls, so you’ll be delighted to hear that there is a wide selection of bars where you can enjoy a refreshing drink while watching a spectacular sunset.

Izola for romantic beaches and views
The picturesque fishing village of Izola is perhaps the most romantic of all Slovenia’s beaches. You can find the perfect spot to watch the sunset on the pebble beach by the lighthouse which towers above the village.

This is one of the best sunset views in the whole country, and is best enjoyed when accompanied by an ice cream or a glass of wine. The road into Izola offers plenty of excellent photo opportunities to get that postcard-worthy shot of the village seemingly perched in the Adriatic.

Strunjan Nature Park for secluded beaches
Slovenia’s most secluded beaches can be found in Strunjan Nature Park. The coastline here is protected, so you won’t find the large resorts that are present further along the coast. Instead, you’ll just be enjoying the stunning scenery.

Moon Bay Beach, also known as Mesecev Zaliv, is the most famous beach here. You can only get there on foot, but the walk is well worth the effort as you’ll make your way through thick forest with spectacular views of the soaring cliffs emerging from the crystal clear waters.

This is a very different beach to the one you can find in the centre of Strunjan town, which doesn’t begin to compare to this hidden gem just a short walk away.

Holiday like a local with these interesting apps

We look at some apps that can help give you specialist local knowledge and experience.

Pretty Streets: Free
The goal of Pretty Streets is to create an itinerary for city explorers who are on the lookout for beautiful walks. This app is for people who like to enjoy the journey before they get to the destination.

Instead of giving you the shortest possible route, Pretty Streets creates the most enjoyable path through the city, meaning you can soak up the sights on the way. For those visiting Paris, the app also provides 60 free audio stories that can be discovered at certain locations on the map.

Download Pretty Streets for iPhone or Android.

Spotted by Locals: Free
Spotted by Locals is a free app that offers city guides (at a price) that are created by local ‘Spotters’. Unlike apps like TripAdvisor and Triposo, the content on Spotted by Locals only contains local favourites with no tourist highlights.

Each Spotter lives in the city they write about, speaks the local language and regularly updates their tips. This ensures that you will have access to the newest restaurant and the most popular bars in the palm of your hand. Furthermore, the various maps and city tips are all available offline.

Download Spotted by Locals for iPhone or Android.

VizEat: Free
VizEat is the global social eating app. After entering your destination, you will be given dozens of various eating experiences that are available to you. The immersive experiences are all hosted by locals and include cheese and wine evenings, culinary classes such as pasta making, and rooftop dining.

The 20,000 accommodating hosts from all over the world are ready and willing to show you their local delicacies and traditional recipes. With an average rating of 4.9/5, this is one of the best ways of discovering new cities in a unique and exciting way.

Download VizEat for iPhone or Android.

Citymapper: Free
Citymapper is an app that will help you get from A to B via your chosen form of transport. The app uses live and real-time routing that updates every minute to give you a constant update of the quickest way to get to your destination.

You will be given information such as price, departure times, time taken and calories burnt, allowing you to decide how and when you’ll arrive. After being included in Apple’s ‘Apps of the Year’ in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, it is clear to see that this is an essential holiday app.

Download Citymapper for iPhone or Android.

Tips to make the most of a European cruise holiday

Cruise holidays in Europe are becoming more popular by the year. If you’ve never been on a cruise, they are a great alternative to hotels. You’d be surprised how much variety a cruise can offer, and we’re sure you’ll find some helpful tips here.

Not all cruises are specific to a particular country        
Many cruise operators have European region-specific cruises that offer you a real variety of culture and sightseeing. There are a lot of cruise routes, so it’s worth you coming up with a list of countries you would like to explore. You should then be able to find a route that fits with the countries that you’d like to see.

However, if you want a longer holiday then you can take a 15-day cruise through most of central Europe. These cruises offer great value, allowing you to disembark to explore key landmarks and indulge in the local cuisine. Many cruise holidays can provide shuttle transport to these areas, so you don’t need to worry about taxis or using local transport.

Short river cruises 
River cruises offer you a way to see the waterways inside a country. They give you the inland cruise experience, getting into the heart of the country that you are sailing through. If you are looking for a shorter cruise but still want to see a large region of Europe, then taking a river cruise would be well worth considering.

A cruise along the River Danube can be between five days to two weeks, depending on how far you want to go and where you want to visit. The Danube can take you through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary in just one week!

If you just wanted to stick to Germany, you could take a five-day river cruise through cities like Nuremberg and Cologne. The beauty is that you can find a lot of different options and pick the one that suits you best.

Guided excursions to organise your sightseeing
Many cruise operators have a tour manager who can arrange outings to local areas you might be interested in. Cruises are quite flexible: you can choose whether to take the excursions or, if you prefer, have a rest with a drink on the deck and take in the view.

Most people who take a cruise tend to get off and explore, taking advantage of these outings. The tour manager is usually someone who knows the area very well, and there’s the bonus of being able to explore an area without having to worry about arranging travel back to your ship.

Cruise companies offer paid incentives for longer cruises
Operators have all types of offers available when you are booking. Be sure to check for inclusive meals and drinks: many cruises have this as standard, but not all.

Specialist travel insurance for cruises
Most travel insurance policies don’t cover you for a cruise without taking out the Cruise Cover option. Be sure to choose Cruise Cover when you are buying travel insurance for your cruise. All our travel insurance policies offer Cruise Cover as an option.

First Time Cruising?
If you are a first-time cruiser, or are considering a cruise, then there is a huge amount of information on the website Cruise Critic, which can help you to make the right choice.

A summer city break in Basel, Switzerland

Despite many people thinking of Switzerland as a winter destination, there are many merits to visiting the country in the warm summer.

Basel is an elegant and beautiful medieval city in the north-west of Switzerland, close to the borders of Germany and France. Visitors will be surprised by the depth of culture on offer, and soothed by its predictable and safe efficiency.

The excellent transport makes the many places of interest within the city easy to reach and offers the opportunity to make day trips into the surrounding areas.

Basel is well-built, well maintained, and readily accessible for anyone with mobility challenges to consider.

Attractive historical buildings and cobbled streets are features of the old city. The industrial and new areas boast modern architecture and innovation. The river Rhine runs through the city, and along the banks you will find comfortable places to sit and relax. Stylish cafés overlook the Rhine, and a little wooden ferry boat can be used to cross the river in a novel way.

Culture vultures
If you enjoy culture, a visit to the city of Basel will offer you a multitude of museums and art galleries to explore. Interesting picks for culture are Museum TinguelyKunstmuseum, and Fondation Beyler.

The city is sprinkled with sculptures and beautiful drinking-water fountains. A walk around the city will reward you with unexpected visual surprises at every turn. Basel also has many green spaces to enjoy: perfect for picnics in the sun.

If you’re thinking of booking for next year, every spring the Fasnacht festival is a mind-boggling three-day event. The festival starts early morning on the Monday after Ash Wednesday. Brightly-dressed masked people parade around the city playing fluting pipes and drums. Confetti is thrown around, and “Fasnacht” is the only time of year you will see any kind of “litter” on the streets.

A number of cinemas in Basel show mainstream movies and some show arty, cultural films. The bonus of going to the cinema is that many screenings are shown in English with French and German subtitles. Even people who are not good at languages can find a film to enjoy. Most cinemas will have a break during the film, so you can head off to the loo or buy drinks and snacks.

The Musik-Akademie in the old city has a lively calendar of musical events, modern and classic.

Travelling around in Basel
Getting around the city is very easy. The comprehensive tram and bus system links everywhere together. Services are regular and are always on time. There is excellent transport from the airport into the city.

You can buy a bulk ticket which has a fixed number of journeys to use. You then stamp the ticket at the start of each journey. Or you can buy tickets for each journey as you go. You can also buy a travel pass, which is a good option for people planning to use the transport frequently.

The system is very easy to use, everything is clearly signposted, there are maps and ticket machines at each stop. You can also buy the “bulk” tickets at the newsstand kiosks located all around the city.

Basel SBB railway station is centrally located, very easy to navigate around, and can be reached easily using the trams and buses. The station has excellent connections to other places in Switzerland. Day trips to different towns, into the mountains, or even to France or Germany, are easily arranged from the station.

Getting to Basel
Basel Mulhouse Freiberg airport is easy and low cost, with regular easyJet flights from Gatwick, Luton, Bristol, Manchester, and Edinburgh. Ryanair flies to Basel from Stanstead Airport. Other airlines such as British Airways and Swiss also serve the city.

The airport straddles France and Switzerland; take care to exit from the Swiss side of the airport when you land! There are two exits from baggage claim, and both have signs in English.

Language – English is spoken
The language of Basel is Swiss German, a dialect of German. Most people will speak at least some English. More often than not they will speak excellent English. You can also use French, Italian and “high” German to get around. Museums and art galleries will usually supply information leaflets etc in English, German, French and Italian (at least).

Eating out
Eating out in Basel can be expensive, so it is well worth choosing accommodation that includes breakfast. For lunch, you can buy a picnic from one of the many shops and supermarkets, to enjoy by the river.

Beware of restricted shop opening hours: Basel does not do 24-hour shopping.

Delicious crusty loaves of bread and Swiss cheese can make a good picnic. Pretzel bread sandwiches can be found at various market stalls around the city and offer a tasty alternative to a sandwich. After saving for breakfast and lunch, treat yourself to eating out for dinner.

Self-catering accommodation can be found in the city which can help reduce the cost of meals.

Insider tip: watch out when ordering water, because they will always serve sparkling water. If you don’t like sparkling water you need to specify when you order that you would like “wasser ohne gaz” or “water without gas”.

Accommodation
Accommodation in Basel can be expensive, but for a very high quality service. Increasingly, there are low cost and mid-range options available. A comfortable hostel is located not too far from the SBB Station. There are also B&Bs catering to the lower end budget.

You can find holiday flats which can be rented for a week or more. Renting a flat can offer a good solution if you want to keep the cost of your hotel down.

An excellent website that provides information about available accommodation is Basel accommodation.

Gadget tips for a spontaneous French road trip

Megan Thomas tells us about a holiday for the more adventurous and romantic, and shows how you can follow in her footsteps.

I’ve just returned from a two-week road trip from the UK to the South of France, and did it with absolutely no pre-planning except booking onto a ferry from Dover to Calais.

“Why?” may spring to mind – my answer is simply: these days, you don’t need to plan, provided you’ve got the right tools.

“How?” is hopefully your next question, because I’ve got the answers right here.

Legal requirement: get a driving kit for France
Amazon sells a driving kit, and this is roughly £25 you will never regret spending. Amazon does free UK deliveries, so there is absolutely no excuse not to have your Driving Kit packed in your car before you embark on your adventures.

I left on my adventures with only one breathalyser, and was informed by someone I met that if I didn’t have two, I would get fined. I got lucky, but I wouldn’t want anyone getting fined for something as minor as this seems to be (seeing as, hopefully, nobody will need to actually use them!)

Once you’ve made this purchase, it means that the pre-planning for a road trip is minimal and you can pack up and go – driving from Arras, to Lyon, to Montpellier was easy knowing that my car was well-prepared and within French laws.

Download MAPS.ME
One of my favourite additions to our technologically-infused society is the smartphone. With a car-phone-charger in tow, and preferably also a separate battery pack for charging, all your best travel plans can be kept on your phone.

MAPS.ME is what I’d describe as a hybrid between Trip Advisor and a GPS/SatNav. When you’re connected to the internet, you download maps of places you plan on visiting – the whole of France, for instance. This app saved me when I took a wrong turn, finding myself in the industrial area of Bordeaux with no internet access.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on internet access always being available – always have offline options available.

You can download MAPS.ME from the iPhone app store or the Android app store.

More on navigation
Good navigation is essential if you aren’t precisely planning your destinations before you leave – which I found to be is a perfectly viable option, provided you’ve got this app to make sure you are never in a situation where you don’t know where you are.

If you have a SatNav for your car, make sure it covers Europe as well as just the UK – some do, some don’t. Even if you wanted to buy a new SatNav specifically for your trip, they are fairly cheap these days: for example, Argos sells the “Garmin Drive 50LM 5 Inch Europe Lifetime Maps” for £88.99.

Use Airbnb to find places to stay
Airbnb – which can either be downloaded from the iPhone app store or Android app store, or used online at airbnb.com – offers holiday homes and rentals. I consider it to be the easiest, cheapest way to find accommodation that precisely suits your needs in no time at all. Better yet, it means you can stay in a homely environment.

Each day, once I had decided where I would be travelling to, I’d simply type my budget and city into Airbnb and explore the many amazing houses and apartments on offer in the towns I was visiting. Before the days of Airbnb, a lack of planning could mean a lack of options.

This the perfect medium for spontaneous travelling, because Airbnb monitors its users diligently and you are unlikely to go somewhere you haven’t researched reliably. I found myself in central Marseilles, overlooking the Opera, and within walking distance of some of the most delicious snails and mussels I’ve ever tasted.

With these steps in place, your only concern will be finding a delightful spot to order a cold drink and a fresh baguette. The best way to find an authentic place is to ask your Airbnb owner (the person who owns the property that you will be staying in). All the pre-planning and research in the world can never match up to a local’s knowledge!

Our planning notes for the more cautious

  • Take a second phone or tablet computer to use as a backup.
  • Take a spare charger, and a spare battery pack. (Even if you can’t replace the battery on your phone, like with an iPhone, you can plug your charger cable into the battery pack to get an extra charge.)
  • Also consider carrying a SatNav (making sure it covers France, or the area you will be driving in).
  • Take a paper map to use as a last resort.
  • Ensure your car is roadworthy before you go, and that it has been serviced, topped up with necessary fluids and oil, etc.
  • Check your car breakdown cover to ensure that it covers you while you are abroad.
  • Check your car insurance covers you to drive abroad.
  • Check your travel insurance covers you to drive abroad.

Further information to keep you safe and legal
You should review the following information before you leave home, to make sure you stay safe and legally compliant: