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

Stunning European destinations you can have to yourself this Easter

The sun may just be starting to emerge from the clouds in the UK, but in the sunny south of Europe, spring is well on its way. With the Easter holidays fast approaching, it’s time to start making those winter daydreams of lying on the beach, drink in hand, a reality.

We can imagine your holiday fantasy didn’t include hundreds of other sunbathers occupying the same stretch of beach as you, so we’ve put together a list of some more off-the-beaten track destinations for a truly serene holiday.

Whether you’re taking part in the traditional Holy Week celebrations of Sardinia’s eastern province, shopping in the markets of a sleepy Portuguese town, or enjoying an island to yourself in Corsica, these holiday destinations are sure to send you home truly relaxed and rejuvenated.

Ogliastra, Sardinia’s Undiscovered Gem
While the Italian island of Sardinia has long been known as a luxurious and beautiful holiday destination among Italians and foreigners alike, most visitors usually concentrate on the north of the island. However, Sardinia’s eastern province, Ogliastra, has all the striking scenery that makes the island so popular, but with less of the development and throngs of tourists.

Spend your days swimming in the province’s crystalline waters at the beaches of Cala Mariolu or Cala Goloritze. For the more adventurous, head deep into the caves and grottos of Grotta del Fico, only accessible by boat, or the nearby Grotte Su Marmuri. To get the most from your visit, ask one of the guides to lead you around the winding corridors of these caves while you learn about the millions of years of evolution that made them possible.

Ogliastra has plenty of options when it comes to accommodation, from five-star resorts averaging around £500 per night, to hotels for around £100 per night, to more modest B&Bs, and even a multitude of campsites around the province.

Easter is an especially good time to see all that Ogliastra has to offer, as the Holy Week celebrations fill the streets of the villages with processions, music, and locals in the unique traditional dress of their village. Weather on the island at this time of year is also ideal, with temperatures averaging at about 18C (65F) on Easter Sunday and gradually climbing up to 25C (77F) as we inch closer to summer.

Sand and Surf in the South of Portugal
Head to the far southwest of Portugal’s Algarve region and you’ll find yourself in the village of Odeceixe. With its homes seemingly tumbling down the hillside to the beaches below, and a quaint windmill perched high above the village, Odeceixe’s old-world charm seems a million miles away from the golf-course, resort-filled land of the rest of the Algarve region. Long hailed as a haven for surfers and sunbathers alike, Odeceixe has plenty to offer newcomers, especially around the Easter season.

The area has plenty of opportunities to try your hand at surfing, but if you’d rather watch the waves than ride them, the town is filled with charming cliff-top bars and cafes, like the local favourite, Cafe Dorita, where you can watch from afar. There are also ruins of Moorish castles to explore, and beautiful coastal paths to walk along. On Easter Weekend, there is also the Folar Fair, which celebrates all things sweet and delicious, with lots of cakes, pastries, and traditional crafts to see and sample.

You can expect temperatures at Easter to be around 18C (65F), sometimes reaching as high as 23C (73F). While there isn’t a huge selection of accommodation in the area, places are reasonably priced, with the top hotel costing around £100 per night.

Corsica: An island to yourself
The French Island of Corsica is popular in the high summer months of June and July, when boats fill its ports and holidaymakers squeeze into every room of its hotels. But for those on Easter breaks, or travelling in the late spring to early summer, Corsica has a calm lull to it: a distinct breath of fresh air before the onslaught of the summer tourists.

This is a time to see Corsica as it truly is, as the locals experience it every day. Base your island holiday in the medieval town of Sartène and bear witness to one of the most famous Easter processions on the island. On Good Friday, candles in all the windows of the town are lit as they illuminate the path up to the church in the town square.

The doors of the church open and a man in a hooded robe with heavy chains around his feet and carrying a heavy cross emerges. He carries the cross for over a mile, falling three times, just as Christ did. This ancient tradition is a sight to behold, and is not to be missed if you’re anywhere in southwest Corsica over Easter.

Sartène is also a wonderful starting point for seeing many of the island’s prehistoric sites and exploring the rest of beautiful southwest Corsica. The sun constantly shines at this time of year, and the weather plays its part in helping you enjoy your holiday, remaining at a pleasant 16C (61F) to 17C (63F) during the day.

Sensational Split: Life on the Adriatic

Split, the pearl on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, offers the rare combination of a beach and city break. This is a city rich in heritage and culture, but also gives locals and visitors the opportunity to head over to the beach when they need to do a spot of relaxing. It’s a great city to visit, and temperatures will soon be pleasant at this time of year, with average highs of 17C (63F) and 23C (73F) in April and May respectively.

Roaming around a Roman palace
The UNESCO heritage site and world-famous Diocletian’s Palace is the heart of the city. Built around 300AD, this Roman palace is one of the best-preserved sites of its era. The palace feels like a separate city, packed full of shops, restaurants and bars. You can easily lose yourself in its maze of streets and alleys for a whole day.

There’s always something going on here, whether it’s music, theatre or dance. Don’t miss the centuries-old ceremony of the changing of the guards, every day at 12 pm. At the start of May, the city’s annual “Festival of Flowers” showcases hundreds of displays around the palace, including within the palace’s cellars.

Italian food
Due to a close historical relationship with Italy, a short trip of less than 150 miles across the Adriatic, menus along the coastline are heavily inspired by Italian food: risottos, fish and seafood are all popular dishes in many restaurants. You’re sure to enjoy the world-class local wine in bars and restaurants throughout the city, and there are plenty of vineyards surrounding the city where you can learn from the growers and, most importantly, try more of their produce.

Life at the beach
Split’s position on the Adriatic means that beach trips are an essential part of life for locals, and you’ll find whole families flocking to them on weekends and summer evenings. The most popular and famous beach in the city is Bacvice beach, which is one of the few sandy beaches on the coast. This may not be the best beach in the area, but if you want to live like a local then find a spot on the sand and join everyone relaxing, eating and playing picigin, a hugely popular Croatian beach game.

If you want a more peaceful and relaxing beach visit then you’re better off walking west, following the coastline round to Jezinac. The beaches here are a good alternative, with bars offering great sunset views.

Boats
You can’t fail to notice the impressive collection of boats and yachts moored in the city; if you’d like to see more or dream about which one you’ll buy, the “Croatia Boat Show” gives you that chance. The show runs 5th – 9th April.

Head for the hills!
Anyone looking to escape the crowds of the city, or wanting to get back to nature, shouldn’t leave without visiting the tree-filled hills of Marjan. This shady park looms over the city and is an ideal escape for locals and tourists alike. There’s good reason why locals refer to Marjan as the “lungs” of the city: it’s a great place for walking, cycling and relaxing in general. There are also plenty of secluded beaches dotted around that you will often have all to yourself.

Ten events for a perfect spring getaway

With freezing temperatures continuing across the UK, we look at some of Europe’s best events over the next few months.

1. Dance away the winter cobwebs at one of Vienna’s grand balls
Vienna’s hugely popular ballroom dancing season runs until 25th February and offers 2,000 hours of dancing! The most famous event is the Opera Ball which offers a unique backstage view of the Opera House.

After whirling your partner around, make sure to take in sights including St. Stephen’s Cathedral and warm yourself up with a traditional strudel.

Temperatures up to 4C (39F).

2. Gorge on chocolate alongside the canals of Amsterdam
Chocolate lovers flock to Amsterdam’s Chocoa Festival (25th – 26th February) where some of Europe’s finest chocolatiers display their wares and visitors indulge in what is on offer.

Possibly a perfect late Valentine’s Day present but be warned, you might need to spend a few days wandering the canals of this famous city to work off those calories.

Temperatures up to 8C (46F).

3. Join in with a Greek carnival
The carnival season peaks on 26th February and the seaside town of Patras is the undisputed home of Greek carnivals. The Night and Grand Parades see thousands of revellers hit the streets with huge models and lanterns paraded through town.

Visitors may combine this with a few days in Athens or on one of the 6,000 Greek islands.

Temperatures up to 14C (57F).

4. Discover more than tulips at Dutch flower festivals 
Two of Europe’s largest flower festivals are held simultaneously in the Netherlands, with the Keukenhof Flower Show (23rd March – 21st May) and the Bloemencorso display (19th – 23rd April) drawing crowds.

Entrance to Keukenhof costs around £14 and is 45-minute journey from Amsterdam.

Temperatures up to 12C (54F) during April.

5. Celebrate the season at the Budapest Spring Festival
This long-running festival (31st March – 23rd April) combines a huge array of classical music, jazz, opera and theatre, all set within Budapest’s historic centre.

Between performances, don’t miss St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Chain Bridge. Many choose to have dinner on a luxurious river cruise along the Danube which divides the city.

If it gets chilly, warm yourself up with goulash, Hungary’s national dish (a beef stew with paprika).

Temperatures up to 15C (59F).

6. Watch fantastic films in Brussels old town
A regular on the European film festival circuit since 1983, the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (4th – 16th April) specialises in science fiction, thriller and horror films. Just ensure you try some of the luxurious chocolate before you leave.

Temperatures up to 13C (55F).

7. Stroll around the world’s best gardens in France
The International Garden Festival (from 20th April) in France’s Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire region will appeal to those with green fingers. This long-running festival attracts gardeners and visitors from around the globe and could be an alternative for regulars of the Chelsea Flower Show.

With Paris under three hours away, it is possible to combine this event with a city break.

Temperatures up to 11C (52F).

8. Taste the best ice cream Florence has to offer
Those with a sweet tooth shouldn’t miss Florence’s annual Gelato Festival this April (21st – 25th), when gelato lovers flock to this famous city, eager to combine great architecture with the world’s tastiest ice cream.

Accessible from many UK airports and with a wide range of accommodation options, Florence is a popular choice year-round. The world famous Uffizi Gallery (free on the first Sunday of the month) and Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo di Firenze which adorns every city guide), ensure there is plenty to appeal to those looking to soak up some culture.

Temperatures up to 19C (66F).

9. Sample the finest wines from Barcelona
The Priorat Wine Fair (30th April – 1st May) offers the finest in Catalonian wine, whilst tantalisingly close to the city of Barcelona. There really is something for everyone in this seaside city, boasting great food, culture and architecture.

Football fans won’t want to miss a tour of the legendary Camp Nou for £22, and may even catch a glimpse of Messi at a game.

Temperatures up to 18C (64F).

10. Enjoy Maltese fireworks in the Med 
Held annually since the country’s entry into the EU in 2004, the Malta International Fireworks Festival in late April has increasingly attracted visitors to the island’s capital, Valletta.

Excellent museums and churches, such as St. John’s Co-Cathedral, have boosted Valletta’s reputation as a cultural hotspot, and the warm weather makes it a perfect destination for a short break.

Temperatures up to 19C (66F).

These are just ten of hundreds of unique events occurring across Europe. If these don’t appeal there’s bound to be something to suit to your interests!

The Northern Lights: a dramatic holiday with a difference

When your winter routine starts to feel stuffy and stale, consider a relaxing trip to the North. It is here that you can cross off one experience from your bucket list: witnessing the wonder and awe of the elusive, electric Northern Lights.

The savvy traveller knows that booking an off-season holiday can be just as rewarding as a summertime trip. Appearing in a variety of vibrant colours, from pale yellow to deep violet, the Northern Lights —also known as the Aurora Borealis in the Northern Hemisphere — provide a spectacular display in the night sky.

Most commonly, the lights appear in hues of green and pink. To the human eye, the colours aren’t as vivid as you will see in the classic long-exposure photographs, but they are still a beautiful natural spectacle to behold.

Winter provides the ideal opportunity to encounter the Northern Lights. The recipe for a sensational show is simple: dark, clear skies. With the longer winter nights that the northern countries of Iceland, Sweden, and Norway are known for, there are many opportunities to view the dazzling auroral display.

Spend your next holiday relaxing indoors, cosying up with a hot cup of tea or cocoa, and pulling up a front-row seat to view the outstanding light display put on by Mother Nature right outside your window.

See the lights in Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland’s tourism industry has exploded in recent years, and for good reason. The country is remote and its landscape is dramatic, providing stunning vistas of mountains, waterfalls, lava fields, and coastline.

Even Iceland’s largest city, Reykjavik, has a small-town feel. The city’s quaint size means it doesn’t even put off enough light pollution to hide the Northern Lights from view; they are easily seen from the downtown area. Often, on nights with high aurora activity, Reykjavik will even shut off its lights to give its citizens and tourists a better view!

After enjoying your stay in Reykjavik, consider a drive through the Golden Circle to see such landmarks as Gulfoss and Geysir.

There is plenty in Iceland to do and see by day, and the awe-inspiring Northern Lights to enjoy by night.

Boldly go north to Svalbard, Norway
Northern Norway is another hot spot for watching the Northern Lights flicker over the Arctic. The northernmost cities of Norway are a popular location for viewing the lights, but even further north is the Norwegian island of Svalbard.

Svalbard is home to Longyearbyen, the world’s most northernmost town, and is also home to the world’s most northernmost airport. If the lights shimmering in the sky weren’t enough, reindeer have also been known to roam the streets of Svalbard, and the North Pole is a mere 1300 kilometres away.

Dog-sledding and snowmobiling are common pastimes in this secluded land, but relaxing and taking in the sights of the landscape and the sky provide a pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life.

The experience of visiting Svalbard is truly otherworldly. Consider a late-winter holiday to this final frontier.

Wrap up and head to Abisko National Park, Sweden
Sweden, Norway’s neighbour, has similar opportunities for enjoying the Northern Lights. Like Iceland and Norway, the north is known for its “Midnight Sun” in the summertime, but the opportunity to view the Northern Lights is of equal intrigue.

Northern Light sightings begin in September and last through until March in the Swedish Lapland. The Aurora Borealis is most famously seen from the Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park.

Abisko National Park offers a chairlift to the observation tower. Spend time enjoying the Northern Lights exhibition, grabbing a hot beverage from the cafe, and purchasing a souvenir for your friends back home who will be green with envy.

Winter weather can sometimes inhibit the viewing of the lights, but Abisko has a reputation for clear skies. Seeing the Northern Lights from this vantage point is highly likely.

Where else might I see the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights are also frequently spotted in Finland, Ireland, and the Denmark territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Temperatures
Winter temperatures in the northern countries of Iceland, Norway, and Sweden typically range from -15C (5F) to 0C (32F). Dress warmly, and don’t let the cold weather dissuade you from the experience of a lifetime!

When to go
While the Northern Lights can sometimes be seen as early as August, the highest-activity months are September through until March.

Aurora activity is higher during winter months, however, a trip does not guarantee a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Check the weather and an Aurora Forecast for your chances of aurora activity based on your location, or strike up a conversation with a friendly local to ask for tips on hunting the aurora. For locals, aurora hunting is a way of life!

Some Northern Light excursions, such as Reykjavik’s Northern Lights cruise, will offer a refund if viewing conditions are poor on your chosen date.

So avoid the influx of summer tourists and the pricier summertime season and plan a visit to see the Northern Lights this February.

Tell me more
To find out more, and see photos that have been adjusted for how the human eye sees the Northern Lights, take a look here and here.