Tips: The planning that can make your holiday truly memorable

As overseas holidays become more commonplace, it’s easy to ignore the detailed planning that can make your trip truly memorable. Here’s a few things to consider when planning your next trip:

Holidays are a journey, not just a destination
You can start your journey in style by thinking about your choice of transport. The fastest, cheapest and most direct route is not always the most enjoyable. A flight from London to Brussels may take a fraction over an hour, but why fly when the Eurostar provides such a relaxing experience? You save time by avoiding airport check-ins, and you have more scenery to enjoy along the way.

Similarly, a holiday in the south of France can begin with an entire mini-adventure before you even arrive if you opt for a ferry ride and a laid back drive through the French landscape instead of a direct flight.

Choosing the best airport to fly into
Low cost carriers, especially Ryanair, keep their costs down by flying to what are known as “secondary airports”. These can often be a long way outside the city they claim to serve, meaning you will need to take a coach, a train, or hire a car in order to get to your destination.

By contrast, easyJet tends to fly to more “primary airports”, which are usually much closer to the city they claim to be in, meaning that although you might pay more to fly to that airport, you will almost certainly then pay less to get from the airport to your accommodation.

Of course, sometimes a secondary airport will be closer to your hotel, so take a quick look on Google Maps and find exactly where you are staying, and then see which airport is closest for you.

Plan for events, they can make or break your trip
Keep in mind that no place stands still all year round. Many of Europe’s most popular destinations offer all kinds of festivals, carnivals and special events. Consider how these might affect your own, personal plans, from increased costs, to unexpected crowds.

Equally, it is worth investigating the local monuments, historical sites, and museums before you venture off. Whether you have chosen a city break or a rural retreat, most people like to take in one or more of the famous attractions when they are visiting a new country. Just as in the UK, the admission fees for these locations can vary from place to place, or at different times of the year.

Over 60s should also look for places offering free entry to their age group – because even on holiday the discount factor can sometimes be all it takes to choose between one destination and another!

“Cheap” deals aren’t always the cheapest
When you book flights, remember that a lower up-front fee can often equate to much higher total costs, should you require any additional services. Budget airlines make their money on the “extras” – from food and seat selection to baggage allowances or accommodating any special health and dietary requirements.

If you think you may have to ask for extra services during your journey, maybe consider paying a little bit more to begin with, to avoid the hidden charges later on.

Price comparison sites can be misleading in this regard so don’t just choose the “cheapest” price, dig a bit deeper and consider national carriers such as British Airways, or Air France KLM, as well as the low cost carriers such as easyJet.

The best way to get the overall price, including all extras, taxes, etc, is to do a booking on each provider’s website and go all the way through until the last point where it asks you to pay. Then you will see the final, total price. When you’ve added everything up, you might get a surprise as to who is actually cheapest for you!

Stay Safe: check the government advice web site
Above all, stay safe. Research the local culture and how social and personal opinions may be different from one country to the next.

Within Europe these considerations can be as mundane as dress codes in public places such as bars and restaurants, or as important as your legal rights and medical entitlements.

There are also local customs as to how one is expected to behave. A good guide book will fill you in on the details, so it’s worth spending a few pounds to make sure you don’t get yourself into trouble!

The UK Government maintains a Foreign Travel Advice page which covers 225 countries, giving you details on safety and security, any terrorism advisories, local laws and customs, natural disasters, money, etc. Their advice changes from time to time as the political landscape changes, so it’s worth checking it just before you travel.

Keep in mind that health care is provided and funded differently in most European countries. Stay protected with EHICPlus traveller’s insurance and always keep your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you as you go.

Keep these tips in mind, and you are sure to have a fantastic time!

Lisbon: The most complete city break of them all

It is difficult to imagine a better place than Lisbon for an autumn break. Blessed with temperatures touching 20C (68F), even in October and November, you can choose between spending a day on the beach or strolling around the city’s ancient streets.

With one of the smallest populations of any European capital, your stay in Lisbon will be far away from the hustle and bustle typical of many other destinations on the continent. This is a holiday you can take at your own pace: soak up the sun, take in the astonishing history, or simply watch the world go by with a chilled glass of Portugal’s trademark vinho verde.

Not only Rome was built on seven hills
Spared from the ravages of modern development, Lisbon’s beautiful scenery does not have to jostle with high-rises for attention. Picturesque, centuries-old trams and funiculars rattle up and down its roads to transport you to the city’s very distinctive districts:

  • the Alfama, the oldest part of Lisbon, overlooked by São Jorge Castle;
  • the bohemian Bairro Alto, where you can hear live Fado – Portuguese music often accompanied by mandolins or guitars – well into the small hours;
  • and the Baixa Pombalina, home to the Praça do Comércio, the historic gateway to Portugal’s maritime capital.

Monuments to a proud seafaring nation
The Tagus River offered Portuguese explorers a safe harbour before they embarked on voyages that would change the face of the world. Completed in 1960, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, which stands on the north bank of the river, commemorates their astonishing feats, including Cabral’s discovery of Brazil, Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe, Dias’ crossing of the Cape of Good Hope, and da Gama’s discovery of the trade route to India.

Far older are the nearby Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery, two UNESCO world heritage sites borne out of Lisbon’s immutable relationship with the sea. The tower was commissioned by King John II to protect Lisbon from invaders while the monastery was built on the orders of his successor, King Manuel I, to provide a place of rest for his country’s intrepid voyagers.

A history that has given rise to a vibrant living culture
Lisbon is marked by its history. The city’s twelfth-century cathedral and the astonishingly ornate interior of São Roque Church, one of the first Jesuit churches in the world, will vie for your attention with the breath-taking murals that Portugal’s artists are painting today to cover and enliven its more utilitarian buildings.

A distant cousin of the political graffiti that appeared in the aftermath of the country’s Carnation Revolution, Lisbon’s modern art is just one aspect of a city that offers everything today’s travellers could ever wish for.

Limassol: an idyllic autumn beach holiday

Cyprus is an obvious choice when it comes to finding a place in Europe where an autumn beach holiday makes sense – but it’s not all about Ayia Napa and Paphos.

The island’s second largest city, Limassol, boasts a wonderful selection of wide, safe beaches as well as a beautiful old city centre, not to mention many fine places to eat. It’s a lively city, but one that’s increasingly being reshaped and refreshed in a way that respects its unique history and culture.

The two-mile-long Dassoudi is Limassol’s main beach, and it’s dotted with pleasant parks that help break up its wide expanses and offer shade from the still-hot Cypriot autumn sun. Those willing to do a little exploring will find smaller, quieter bays where sailing trips are often available.

Many of these beaches are pebbly, but there’s enough sand for most beach lovers to feel comfortable. A short bus ride away is Kourion Beach, overlooked by a well-preserved Greco-Roman amphitheatre, and by mid-autumn it’s rarely crowded.

In the city
Limassol’s Old Town is not large, but it contains plenty of winding lanes to explore, filled with a mixture of independent shops, cafés and centuries-old stone houses. In the very centre is the castle, square and squat but nevertheless imposing in the context of this small-scale district. It dates back around 1,500 years, although most of what is visible today was constructed under Ottoman rule in the 16th century.

Where to stay
The four-star Crowne Plaza is a firm favourite with British visitors, who often remark on the helpfulness of its staff. Rooms with an ocean view are highly recommended, and rooms in November start at around £80 per night for bed and breakfast.

If you’re after something a little more intimate, there’s the Alasia Boutique Hotel, again a four-star establishment and costing about £90 per night for bed and breakfast. This hotel is a short walk from the main beach and serves Sunday brunch on its terrace.

Limassol has one of the warmest autumn climates in the Mediterranean, making it an ideal choice for a late beach holiday. Temperatures in mid-October often reach 25C (77F), high enough to make the gentle cooling breezes off the sea very welcome.

Even as late as early November, it’s common for the resort to enjoy maximum temperatures around the 21C (70F) mark. With around eight hours of sunshine per day, and a mere five or six rainy days each month, Limassol will feel a world away from home.

Wonderful beaches, warm weather, fascinating history and great hotels: perhaps Limassol is calling you this autumn!