Winter Wonderland: Christmas markets in Bruges

Bruges is a beautiful city at any time of year. Walking its quaint cobbled streets and admiring its medieval architecture, you can’t help but be reminded of childhood fairy tales.

The winter months bring even more sparkle and shine. At this time of year you’ll find gingerbread-style houses touched with frost, and Christmas lights twinkling in the canal.

The magical centre of this winter wonderland is the Bruges Christmas markets.

The markets
The 2017 Bruges Christmas markets open from 24th November to 1st January. They’re based in the city’s central Market Square, which is overlooked by the lofty medieval bell tower. More stalls can be found on Simon Stevinplein where you can also lace up your skates and head out onto the city’s winter ice rink.

Wandering the markets, you’ll find delicious Belgian chocolates, elegant glassware, handmade Christmas decorations, and lots of traditional handicrafts like knitwear and Belgium’s juniper-flavoured Jenever liquor. Food stalls also feature, with typical Belgian and international fare on offer.

Things to do 
While the Christmas markets are a highlight of a winter escape to Bruges, venturing beyond them offers even more delights. The 83m high belfry is a great place to start. A 366-step climb to the top of the tower gives you spectacular views of the city rooves and spires below.

Other beautiful architecture includes the façade of the Stadhuis, built in 1420, and the adjoining Heilig-Bloedbasiliek, which houses a vial thought to contain drops of Christ’s blood.

For a little culture, head to Groeningemuseum, Bruges’ best art gallery and home to Flemish and Renaissance works. Or for a more down to earth experience of Bruges life, past and present, make a stop at ‘t Brugs Beertje. It’s an old drinking hole and one of Belgium’s most famous brown cafés (so-called because the walls and ceilings have been stained brown by many years of tobacco smoke).

Back outside, take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the old town centre, or wrap up warm and explore the canals instead, taking a boat tour where you’ll learn all about the long and intriguing history of Bruges.

Food and drink
No trip to Belgium would be complete without sampling the local cuisine.

Chocolate is a must. Our favourite chocolate shops are Dumon and Pralinette, the latter selling a hard-to-find massive slab of pure Belgian chocolate that can be chopped roughly with a knife and savoured.

Save space for warm, freshly made waffles, bratwurst, glühwein, some good Belgian beer, and a big bowl of frites, delicacies you can find all across the city.

Places to stay
There’s a great selection of accommodation throughout Bruges. The five-star hotel, Dukes’ Palace, sits right in the middle of the action and also provides spa facilities within its palatial interior.

For a more boutique experience, there’s Inn us Hus, a modern and stylish B&B. It’s located on a quiet street but still just a stone’s throw from the town centre.

For something a little different, try Jacquemine Luxury Guesthouse. It offers beautiful rooms, delicious breakfast, and its own gardens and art gallery. There are plenty of apartments and Airbnb options to choose from too.

Useful information
Direct flights to Bruges from the UK are, unfortunately, few and far between. By far the most straightforward way to travel is by Eurostar from London St. Pancras. Alternatively, you can fly to Brussels and then hop on the train (it takes around an hour) or the shuttle bus (which takes a little longer) to Bruges.
Winter weather in Bruges is chilly, just like in the UK. You can expect average temperatures of around 4C (39F) from December to February, so take warm layers and be prepared to make many a glühwein pitstop!

Bruges is a great destination for a winter getaway, a cultural city break, and a little Christmas shopping too. The city is a winter wonderland that will infuse even the most dedicated scrooge with its festive cheer. For a short winter break over the winter months, medieval Bruges is picture-perfect and inescapably Christmassy.

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!

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.

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.

Ohrid, Macedonia: A pearl frozen in time

Continuing our insider’s look at European destinations through the eyes of locals, we asked Angela Manevska, from Macedonia, to tell us about her country and what makes it special.

In the south-west part of Macedonia, hidden amidst the mountainous landscape, lies Ohrid, a city treasured for its historical value and breathtaking nature. As the main cultural and historical city in Macedonia, it gives you a combination of historical treasures and a peaceful beach getaway at the same time.

The average temperatures during summer are 19С (66F), making it a perfect location for both your beach rest and a pleasant evening walk.

Lake Ohrid
Located on the border of Macedonia and Albania, Lake Ohrid is estimated to be 2-3 million years old, making it the oldest lake on the whole European Continent. It is one of the most valuable stagnant water ecosystems in Europe, and has earned Lake Ohrid its title as a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Fun fact: NASA has even named one of the lakes on Saturn’s Moons Ohrid Lacus).

Known as the Macedonian Pearl, the Ohrid Lake acquired this nickname for its awe-inspiring beauty and aquatic rarities. The medicinal benefits and the therapeutic effects of the lake’s flora attract thousands of people every year. If you want to improve your body’s condition and feel refreshed, you can visit local spas and natural healing centres which work exclusively with products made from the lake’s fresh algae.

Cruises on Lake Ohrid
Boat cruises are available at any time, taking tourists to various locations across the lake’s shore, with the final destination being the church of St. Naum. There are also private rowing boats that you can rent if you want to have a closer experience of the lake.

Historical places and architecture 
Natural beauties aren’t the only thing the city of Ohrid has to offer you. As it is one of the oldest cities on the continent, museums and archaeological sites can be found everywhere across the city within a few minutes’ walk. There are 170 archaeological sites, some of which date back to 6,000 years B.C.

The ruins of the old Tsar Samuel’s fortress can be seen from higher grounds in the city, and archaeological findings are exhibited across the city and in museums.

One of the most notable characteristics about Ohrid is its unique antique building style. It’s one of the few cities where you can book and stay in a historical hotel. Most hotels and private accommodations here are built in the same architectural style that is symbolic of the city, allowing you to experience the history of the place through their interior design and the food they serve.

Ohrid has significant religious historical value. The saying “A church for every day of the year” is well-known to the citizens of Ohrid, as there are 365 churches throughout the city.

Ohrid is known to be one of the first cities to build cave churches. They can be found in various locations around the city periphery, most of them only available with a boat ride. The churches hold some of the most valued frescoes, on which you can see the beginnings of Slavic literacy.

The church of St. Jovan Kaneo is one of the most photographed churches in the world. It stands on a rock high above the lake, and creates a dreamlike landscape at sunset. The view of the golden sunset rays hitting the millennium-aged lake waves is a sight to be seen, something that many have described as life-changing.

While you’re having a walk across the Turkish-style bazaar, you will come across “The Old Chinar” (Platanus Orientalis), a tree 800-900 years old with a 20-metre wide trunk. It’s a famous gathering spot for locals, and you can see musicians and performers all around, giving you the experience of the town’s spirit and the warmness of the locals.

Beach life and recreation
If you want to get away from the noise and city crowd, the beach Labino is a 10 min walk west from the church of St. Kaneo. It’s a small, calm beach place which is divided into a male part and a female part, but it also has a mixed part too.

While there are many deserted beaches on the shore of the lake, you’re best to avoid these: they are hard to reach, as the terrain is filled with reeds, and they are mostly covered with small rocks instead of sand.

Different recreational activities are available in Ohrid. If you’re up for a walk, the mountainous terrain allows you to have a wonderful hike through the untouched nature of the national park “Galichica”, and the many fishing villages can give you a unique fishing experience in small boats.

While you’re in town, make sure to try out local specialities. As a fishing town, the lake’s carp and trout dishes will leave you craving for more, and combined with the city’s homemade wine will make you want to come back for the experience year after year.

Majorca beyond the tourist traps

Aimee Wetherall is a British writer who has travelled all over the world and is currently living in Majorca. We asked her to give us an insider’s guide that goes beyond the typical tourist traps.

When it comes to Majorca, what’s clear to me is that the south of the island has so much more to offer than the Magaluf strip and boozy boat trips.

From the up-and-coming resort of Palmanova to the chic and trendy resort of Portals Nous, this part of Majorca is a welcoming surprise and a place I am happy to call home, along with many other business professionals, retired couples and Spanish locals.

Regeneration all around
Palmanova is Magaluf’s neighbour, and I have to say, from living here, that it could not be more different. The area has gone through some regeneration and is fast becoming a destination for couples and families who enjoy good food, nice beaches and comfortable, relaxing places to stay.

There are three blue flag beaches in the area to choose from, and opposite each one is a promenade lined with bars, restaurants and cafes. Playa Porto Novo is my personal favourite as it is a little quieter with a small marina at the end of the promenade. It is also opposite some of the nicest restaurants and cafes in the area.

Accommodation in Palmanova is generally 3 or 4 star and many hotels have been newly refurbished. The adults-only Fergus Style Palmanova truly lives up to having the word ‘style’ as a middle name. There are Bali beds, a rooftop pool with great sea views, and the bar area is chic and relaxed. This is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a good book.

Best marina area
Although Palma has some of the biggest and most impressive yachts I have ever seen moored on the marina, the area of Portals Nous is where you can see them up close while enjoying a drink and local tapas.

Another bonus to Portals Nous marina is that the beach is right next door. Playa Oratori is a blue flag beach and a favourite with locals. The clear blue waters and white sands make you feel instantly relaxed while you soak up the sun in your own corner of paradise.

Local information – food and transport
I frequently take buses around the resort, and although they may not always be on time, the buses themselves are comfortable and relatively cheap. You can also buy an intermodal card on board which allows you to make 20 or 40 journeys within a year and can give you considerable savings.

A great thing about the south-west is that the area has embraced the Spanish tradition of giving people great value for money, with some restaurants offering ‘Menu del Dias’ or ‘Menu of the day’ at lunch time. This means you can get a three-course meal in the area for less than £20 per head.

When to go
The south-west can get busy and extremely hot in the peak months of July and August, so if you’re like me, and you favour the beaches a little less crowded and your temperatures in the early to mid-twenties, plan your holiday here for September.

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!

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.

Something different: exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

We’re already into May, and summer will be with us faster than you think, so now is an exciting time to start making plans for the months ahead.

If you have considered visiting Ireland, there has never been a better time to go. The Irish Tourist Board has mapped out an easy-to-follow coastal drive called the Wild Atlantic Way, with the best sights the Atlantic (west) coast of Ireland has to offer.

Book a short flight or ferry. Grab a map, download the app and you are on your way!

Planning your route
‘The Wild Atlantic Way’ stretches from Donegal in the north-west to Cork on the south-west coast. Whether you have two days or two weeks, with 157 discovery points and over 1,000 attractions, you will be spoilt for choice.

The route is well signposted, with a wave symbol indicating frequent points of interest, and is quite an easy drive. However, to discover the truly remarkable points of interest, the signposts will often lead you down narrow country roads. It’s not uncommon for cars to be held up by a tractor or a wandering sheep! Enjoy it. After all, when holiday memories begin to fade, it is these experiences you will always remember as the ‘Only in Ireland’ moments.

When planning your journey, try to include some of the lesser known sights as well as the well-known locations. By contrast, popular locations such as the Cliffs of Moher, picturesque Kinsale Harbour, Bunratty Castle and the gorgeous Dingle Peninsula will always attract large numbers of people.

However, the beauty of this route is that it offers access to other hidden gems along the way: you may choose to take a guided boat tour out to see dolphins, whales, puffins, and the numerous other breeding seabirds; or you could watch the sun set on a deserted beach along this rugged coastline.

There are plenty of opportunities to get active, with popular activities such as angling or golfing. For the brave at heart, experience the exhilaration of swimming in the Atlantic Ocean on any of the blue flag beaches scattered along the coast, such as Lahinch. The northern edge of the Loop Head Peninsula also has great cliffs and a lighthouse.

Whatever your preference, The Wild Atlantic Way route will ensure your trip to Ireland is one that you will remember for a lifetime.

When to go 
May to September are the most popular months to travel around Ireland. The month of May is arguably the most colourful. As summer arrives, the landscape is awash with wild flowers blossoming, green fields against an Atlantic Ocean backdrop.

In the months of May and September, you are most likely to find you are the only person on a secluded beach or cliff walk. From June to August, the towns and villages buzz with activity, and you might be lucky enough to happen upon one of the many food or traditional music festivals held across rural towns and villages in the summer months.

Experience the culture, gourmet food and drink 
Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a local. You will often find they are fiercely proud of their local area and will enjoy sharing their knowledge on its history, hidden sightseeing gems, or the best restaurants.

From gourmet bistros to artisan food markets, there are plenty of pit stops along the way to tickle your taste buds, and you will find the locals are the best guides for advice. Spend an evening sipping on an Irish coffee or a cold pint of Guinness while enjoying a traditional music session in a pub. You will find trad sessions in most rural villages and towns each night. Again, the locals will be happy to point you in the right direction. If you really want to immerse yourself in the culture, it is worth booking into a B&B to truly experience an Irish homestead at its best.

What to pack
Although Ireland has relatively mild summers, the Atlantic coast can bring in sweeping brisk winds that are sure to make you feel alive! Be prepared for warm sunshine, rain, and hail all in one day. It’s easiest to wear layers, with cosy knits and raincoats. Comfortable walking shoes are also a must.

Finally, don’t forget your camera. There are photo opportunities around every corner of the Wild Atlantic Way! Consider whether the camera on your smartphone is really up to the task, and perhaps treat yourself to a new compact camera to capture the stunning views.

Bord Failte, the Irish tourist board, offers an informative website and smartphone application to help you plan and navigate your trip. See http://www.wildatlanticway.com