Santorini: a spectacular beach holiday

Santorini may not have as many golden sandy beaches as other Greek islands, but the other beaches here possess a more rugged natural beauty. Created by an ancient volcanic eruption, many of the beaches around the island are lined with unique rock formations, all set against the stunning backdrop of the sparkling sea.

Temperatures should be around 24C (75F) in June: perfect beach weather.

Relaxing and spectacular beaches
While the black beach of Perissa is perhaps the most famous, and certainly the most popular, it isn’t the best on the island. It can become very crowded, and sections of the beach are reserved for water sports, which won’t be to everyone’s taste. With a little research and planning there are more spectacular beaches to be found!

Those wanting a more relaxing beach experience should head to Vlychada, or the White Beach, so-named because of the huge white rocks that line up the coast here (which make for a great photo opportunity). Unlike some other beaches in Santorini, there are no loud beach bars or parties here, and it’s a great option for a beach where you’ll avoid the crowds descending on the island from cruise ships every day.

There are a few more sedate places to enjoy a drink in the evenings or to escape the heat in the day. “Theros Wave Bar” is one of the best spots on the island to enjoy excellent food and drink, whilst soaking in the stunning scenery.

Sandy beaches
Santorini has sandy beaches too. The best of these is Monolithis beach, but as it’s very popular with families you may want to avoid it during the school holidays in July and August, where it’s likely to be fairly noisy and crowded. A little tip for those spending all day at the beach: make sure you don’t forget your flip flops – the dark sand and pebbles will become scalding in the midday sun.

Funnily enough, the best place to swim isn’t even a beach. Locals and tourists love to take a dip at Ammoudi Bay, a tiny secluded spot just below Oia. To get here you can follow the path down from Oia towards the port (avoiding the donkeys) and take a left at the bottom. When you stumble across an incredibly picturesque bay with the clearest, sparkling blue sea you’ve ever seen, then you’ve arrived!

Sunsets
If you want to escape the heat of the beach then there is plenty to do across the island. Don’t miss the incredible sunsets at Oia: there is a good reason why so many sunset photos are taken there! Even if you’re not staying in Oia, it’s well worth spending a full day there before you catch a sunset as it’s a beautifully atmospheric town with lots of hidden paths to explore.

Food and drink
Oia is also home to some great restaurants. “Melitini” is one of the most popular places to eat in town, with locals and tourists heading there night after night to try their Greek tapas-style menu. It’s far more reasonable and casual than some of the overpriced restaurants overlooking the caldera, and has some of the best food on Santorini.

While you’re on the island, make sure you try tomato keftedes, a local speciality dish of fried tomato balls that will almost melt in your mouth. There are also plenty of vineyards dotted around, where you can sample some more of that delicious wine you had the night before!

Transport tips for cheap travel around Europe

Once you’ve booked your flights and made sure you’ve got a great deal, here are a few tips to ensure that you carry on saving money and time on your holiday transport.

InterRail pass  not just for students!
If you’re thinking of travelling around Europe by train then why not consider an InterRail pass? These tickets start from £210 for over 60s, and can be a huge money-saver if you’re looking to travel long distances within a country, or you are crossing between two or more countries. This is especially true in the more expensive western European nations such as France and Germany, where train travel can be a considerable expense.

Even better, purchasing this pass gives you two free trips within your home country (the UK), allowing you to get to and from the airport, ferry or Eurostar terminal. Just be sure to book in advance, as tickets depend on availability and there can sometimes be an additional charge.

There’s plenty of information on either the InterRail website or the forever helpful Seat61.com, which offers invaluable advice on train and bus travel across Europe and beyond.

Train passes for a single country
Some countries offer train passes just for travel within their borders. For example, it is possible for a non-Spanish resident to buy a pass for travel throughout Spain, where you can select a certain number of trips in a month. This allows you to book a seat on every train, without having to pay any additional fees, with prices starting from €195 for four trips in a month. This could be a worthwhile investment if you’re planning on travelling across the country.

Travel within a city – includes savings on attractions
Anyone who has travelled to London in the last 10 years will appreciate the usefulness of an Oyster card, where a small upfront payment can save you several pounds on each journey within the capital whether by tube, bus or even tram, more than paying for itself in a day or two.

The good news is that other European cities have followed suit and offer similar passes with discounted fares. Countless cities have such schemes, for example, Berlin’s WelcomeCard offers unlimited travel for 48 hours for just €20.

Some schemes also include deals to give you savings on popular attractions within the city. The Lisboa Card costs €19 and is valid for 24 hours, giving you unlimited travel throughout Lisbon as well as free entry to some of the city’s best museums, such as the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, priority access to avoid queuing and even discounts on tours.

Visitors to Prague can purchase a Litacka card for around £1.60, which can then be topped up like an Oyster card to access cheaper fares. Cardholders can also receive discounts of up to 50% on many major museums and galleries, including the City of Prague Museum, so it’s great value, and it’s well worth grabbing one of these if you’re heading to the Czech capital.

Websites for planning your transport
There are also lots of handy websites that are useful when planning your trip before you go, and for using when you’re on holiday. Rome2Rio is particularly good – even if you’re not actually going to Rome or Rio! – because it calculates the price and time it takes to reach a location using all modes of transport including taxis, buses and trains. This gives you all the information you need to make your decision and ensure you pay the correct amount.

Barcelona: an exciting city break with something for everyone

Barcelona has long been established as one of the most popular European destinations. There’s a good chance that someone you know has recently been and loved it! The city really does have it all: whether you love beaches, culture, shopping, food, sport, or all of the above, then Barcelona will not disappoint. With average temperatures of around 23C (73F) in June, now is a perfect time to visit – pleasantly warm, but not too hot.

Shopping
One of the first things you should do when you arrive is to take a stroll down La Rambla (a boulevard referred to locally as Las Ramblas). This is the heart of the city, where locals still come to relax and socialise along its tree-lined avenues. There are countless shops and restaurants along here, but the most authentic places are found further into the old city so make sure you check out the side streets too!

Fashionistas will no doubt want to check out the famous El Corte Inglés department store or the high-fashion names along Passeig de Gràcia, whilst there are countless boutiques hidden in Barri Gòtic (the Gothic Quarter) and the newly-gentrified El Raval.

Food and drink
Food is hugely important in Catalan culture and a vital ingredient in their regional identity, so make sure you taste some local cuisine. Foodies must visit La Boqueria (open Monday to Saturday), the world-famous food market just off La Rambla. Here you can taste some of the finest produce the region has to offer. Grab a freshly-squeezed fruit juice as you stroll through the alleyways of gloriously coloured fruit, cheese and desserts.

Anyone who has worked up a thirst from a day spent sightseeing or relaxing on the city’s beaches are well-catered for here. Almost everywhere you look there are bars where you can enjoy a refreshing beer or glass of world-class local wine, accompanied by pintxos, a traditional bar snack which is like tapas on bread, and which typically costs around €1.

Football
For many, the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Camp Nou, one of the spiritual homes of football, is reason enough to visit Barcelona. For football fans, no trip is complete without visiting the stadium’s museum, or if you’re lucky, catching a game to enjoy some of the world’s greatest players in action: the 2016-17 FC Barcelona team included Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suárez.

The stadium holds 99,354 people, making it the largest stadium in Europe. It’s guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience for anyone with even the slightest interest in the beautiful game. Tickets to the museum and stadium tour cost €25 for adults and €20 for seniors (over 70).

Quieter areas
After the excitement of the city, it’s a good idea to visit some of the quieter areas nearby to relax and catch your breath. Montjuic is a hill overlooking the harbour, and is a popular weekend escape for Catalans. You can save yourself a hike by catching a cable car! At the top you can take in the spectacular view across the city and out to sea, before learning more about Catalan history in the castle at the summit.

It’s best to walk back down towards the city centre, through beautifully serene gardens, passing attractions such as the National Botanic Gardens and Laribal Gardens, to enjoy the peace and quiet in the midst of one of Europe’s most energetic cities.