Malaga city: more than meets the eye

Malaga is a Spanish city underestimated by many travellers, who just see it as the place their plane lands before they head for the coast! However, with history, culture, real Spain, great shops and wonderful food, it is growing in popularity.

We asked Tracy Morgan, who lived in Malaga and knows it well, to give us an insider’s view.

Malaga city offers a wealth of culture, nightlife, sightseeing, and beaches. There is something for everyone in this trendy and vibrant city. Malaga Airport is very well located, just a short train or bus ride away, but offers everything you would expect from an international airport, including car hire.

Climate
During winter, Malaga reaches a pleasant 17C (63F). Springtime temperatures rise to 21C (70F) and the summer months are on average as high as 30C (86F).

City sightseeing
Architecture is a huge part of Malaga’s history. Visit the cathedral, Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica de la Encarnación, known as “La Manquita” (“the one-armed lady”.) The cathedral took 250 years to build, and is one of the highlights of Malaga.

The Alcazaba is a Moorish fortress, built in the 11th century. City tourist buses offer reasonably-priced 24-hour tours, which take you to the top of the Alcazaba, where you can use the hop on/off facility to relax and take in the 360-degree views across the city.

Remains of an ancient Roman theatre lie below the Alcazaba, dating back to 1st century BC. Unearthed by construction workers in 1951, it took many years of restoration to fully reveal this stunning piece of history, and it is well worth a visit at night when it gets lit up majestically.

Beaches
Malaga has over 14 kilometres (8.5 miles) of stunning Mediterranean coastline. Stroll along the promenade to discover inviting “chiringuitos” (beach bars) offering fresh, local cuisine. Many rent out sun loungers and umbrellas, a perfect way to spend the day. Malaga beaches are very clean and have great facilities including showers, toilets and play areas for children.

Shopping
Walk around the vibrant and colourful Calle Larios, a broad pedestrian avenue with street entertainment including mime artists and flamenco. Take a detour and explore the narrow side streets to find artisan boutique shops and bars.

When you have shopped enough, mingle amongst the trendy Malagueños, and enjoy a cold drink or a tapa.

The Malaga Marina has a great deal to offer, with green parks and the Muelle Uno shopping complex with its trendy shops and restaurants.

Nightlife
When it comes to nightlife, Malaga is a vibrant city all year round, and in the summer months most people don’t venture outdoors until after dark. This is when Malaga comes into its own, when the streets and squares are filled with families having fun.

Malaga has many restaurants, bars and bodegas (wine bars), from smart and modern lounges, flamenco bars, to the traditional “spit and sawdust” bars.

The must-visit places are the amazing Antigua Casa de Guardia, the oldest bar in Malaga, and El Pimpi where you can mingle amongst the ancient barrels, sip the famous sweet fortified wine, and gaze upon the interesting old photographs that adorn the walls.

Culture
Apart from the very popular Picasso Museum and birthplace, there are over 100 art galleries and museums in the city, with something on offer to satisfy everyone.

Malaga is a truly wonderful city – you should give it a try!

Disneyland Paris – not just for kids!

Much closer to home than its big brother in the USA, much easier to reach, and so much more affordable too, Disneyland Paris really isn’t just for the kids.

While it’s true that Disneyland is a magical haven filled with fun and wonder for young children, there is also plenty to keep an adult couple – or a group of adults – entertained too.

Of course, if you have children or grandchildren to take along with you, you’ll get so much pleasure from seeing their little faces light up at the sight of all their favourite Disney characters coming to life through the various rides, shows and other attractions the park has to offer, but even if you are travelling without children, your own inner-child is sure to find plenty to captivate it!

Two parks: which will you choose?
The Disneyland Paris site is made up of a selection of themed hotels, the Disney Village which hosts numerous shops and restaurants, and two theme parks: Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park.

If you are travelling without children, and certainly if you are limited to only a day or two, Walt Disney Studios Park will be the park for you to make your way to first.

Disneyland Park caters very much for young children – think rides for toddlers and over-excited Disney characters appearing for photo opportunities around every corner! However, Walt Disney Studios Park is much more suitable for adults, with its theme focused on the history of “the movies”, with adult-friendly shows and more intense rides (for those that are brave enough!).

If you’re interested in the history of Disney and how it all began, including how Walt made his movies and revolutionised the animated film industry, the Art of Disney Animation attraction within the Toon Studio area of the park should be your first stop. Here you’ll find lots of interesting information, presented in a genuinely fun-for-all-ages format of cinema presentations, lively demonstrations and fascinating exhibits. There is even the opportunity for some interactive experiences if you fancy getting involved yourself!

Attractions
Petrol heads (or anyone who appreciates a good stunt show, and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) should head on over to the Backlot area of the park to see the Moteurs…Action! Stunt Show Spectacular as this is definitely one not to be missed by the adults! A thrilling 45-minute long live show of fast cars swerving, sliding, and even jumping through fire as they race around in hot pursuit of each other, this is a real jaw-dropping show which never fails to impress even its repeat visitors.

As for rides, these include to name a few, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, themed around a spooky abandoned hotel; the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith for those that like a bit of rock music while they are traveling at 62mph along a track of hairpin turns, steep drops and loops (not for the faint-hearted!); or the slightly more subdued, although still considered a thrill ride by most, Crush’s Coaster where you ride on the back of the friendly turtle from the Finding Nemo movie.

Avoid queues with FASTPASS
All three of the above rides are eligible for FASTPASS. This is a free service offered by Disney where you can get a ticket from a booth outside the ride entrance of certain attractions which regularly have long queues.

This gives you a time to return and enter through the special FASTPASS entrance and either walk straight on the ride, or only queue for a few minutes, depending on how busy the park is when you visit.

Unbelievably, many visitors to Disneyland don’t take advantage of this time-saving FASTPASS service, either because they simply do not know about it, or because they mistakenly believe you have to pay for it. That’s a shame, because guests who are not in-the-know waste valuable time queueing for rides when they don’t need to.

The park is open year-round and if you are travelling without children you have the luxury of being able to visit outside of school holidays, which will help you avoid the worst of the crowds.

Where to eat
And of course, no discussion of Disneyland Paris would be complete without mention of the mouth-watering dining options available throughout the resort. Within Walt Disney Studios Park itself you will find “Bistrot Chez Rémy” an excellent Parisian bistro serving mouth-watering French cuisine in the themed surroundings of Disney’s “Ratatouille” movie.

Over in the Disney Village, situated conveniently between the two theme parks and the various resort hotels, you will find an abundance of tempting dining options. These include The Steakhouse where you can tuck into steak and chips in a Chicago themed setting; Annette’s Diner a 1950’s themed eatery where your servers whizz around on roller-skates; or for something extra special there is Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, where you can watch a live action-packed Cowboys and Indians show whilst chowing down on some hearty Texan fare!

Reservations can be made up to two months in advance, and money-saving Disney Meal Plan pre-paid vouchers are also available for purchase.

How to get there
The nearest airport is Paris Charles De Gaulle, which is approximately 45 minutes away and is well-served by easyJet. Disneyland Paris offers a complimentary shuttle servicefrom the airport to most of its hotels, of which it boasts several, suiting most budgets.

There are also various park entrance ticket options depending on which parks you wish to visit and for how long you wish to stay, but prices start from £38 for an adult and £32 for a child. You can start planning your trip by looking at Disney’s own Disneyland Paris offers.

Bon Voyage!

Island of Brac: the hidden gem of Croatia

You know we like to get a local’s view of the places we write about, so we asked Valentino Jaksic to tell us more about Croatia. He was born on a Dalmatian island in a tourism-oriented town, and lived there for 18 years before moving to Zagreb.

The Croatian Adriatic coast has become a popular holiday destination for British tourists in recent years. However, there are still some undiscovered parts, since most tourists usually only visit Split, Dubrovnik and Hvar. The real gem lies between Split and Hvar: the island of Brac.

Location
The island of Brac is the largest island in Croatian region of Dalmatia. It is easily reachable by a pleasant 50-minute ferry boat ride from Split or via Brac Airport. Even though Brac is the closest island to the Croatian mainland, it remains relatively uncrowded.

History
The island lies at the crossroads of important trade routes between the Croatian mainland and Italy. The abundance of olives and pine trees, and distinctive white stone used for building, ensured early human settlement. This led to the Greek and Roman colonisation of the island.

The Roman colonisation laid the foundation for the tradition of stone excavation on the island. Numerous quarries on the island produce stone of the highest quality: the quality of Brac building stone is famous all around the world.

Interesting fact: Brac quarries provided the stone for the construction of the White House in Washington and Diocletian’s palace in Split.

Climate
The island’s mild climate means that the average temperature on the island is around 25C (77F) during summer, although it often approaches 30C (86F). Sea temperatures reach 24C (75F) and allow swimming in the Adriatic Sea from May to September.

The mild climate has resulted in an easy-going lifestyle and unique cuisine. Cooler evenings are perfect for exploring the towns. Besides various festivals and rich nightlife, strolls along the waterfront are the most popular activity. Restaurants, cafes and bars typically stay open until 2 am.

One of the most popular destinations on the island is the Vidova Gora peak, the highest island point in the Adriatic Sea (780m). Due to its height, the temperature is usually a few degrees lower than on coastline. The highlight of the peak is its incredible panoramic view of the islands of Hvar, Korcula and Vis. The peak is accessible by car or via hiking trails.

Beaches
With a coastline of 175 km (110 miles), the island offers a vast number of different beaches, both public and in private camps. All public beaches offer a wide variety of activities such as boating and surfing.

Zlatni Rat beach is one of the most beautiful pebbled beaches in Europe. It is a highly popular beach located on the southern side of the island.

However, if you value privacy, there are numerous isolated beaches along the road all around the island. A great example is Lovrecina, a sandy beach near the town of Postira.

Summer festivals
Nearly all towns on the island take pride in their culture-oriented summer festivals. Usual events include exhibitions, theatrical performances and folklore evenings. Coastal towns organise Fisherman Feasts every week. During those feasts, local fishermen serve organic fish while singing traditional a cappella klapa music.

The city of Supetar’s summer festival also includes the traditional Brac Film Festival and an urban music festival called Voi’Sa.

Special events in Europe during February and March 2018

During winter, the summer holidays can feel like a million years away. As you’re reading this newsletter, you’re probably daydreaming of beaches, sunloungers and sangria, but let me interrupt you for just one second!

Maybe the remedy for the dark nights isn’t a time machine to transport you to summer. Maybe, it’s right on your doorstep…

These ten European festivals are just a short flight away, and will get you over your winter blues in no time!

Carnival of Binche 
Binche, Belgium, 11th to 13th February 2018
The tiny Belgian town of Binche comes alive on the days leading up to Lent, for the Carnival of Binche. During this time, Gilles take to the streets dressed up in elaborate costumes and take part in a variety of events including a confetti battle and orange throwing. The festival dates back to the 14th century and has been declared a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.

Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin
Berlin, Germany, 15th to 25th February 2018
Berlin has long been regarded as one of the most important cultural cities in Europe. It should come as no surprise, then, that their International Film Festival is held in high regard all around the world.

Carnival in Bern 
Bern, Switzerland, 15th February to 9th March 2018
Bern Carnival is one of Switzerland’s most famous festivals, dating back to the 15th century. The city is filled with jesters and performers who take to the street with one particular aim: to awaken the imprisoned bears from their 11-day long winter sleep!

Taste Florence Food Festival
Florence, Italy, 10th to 12th March 2018
Let’s be honest: no trip to Italy is complete without sampling some of the country’s famous cuisine. So why not make it the focal point of your trip? The Taste Florence Food Festival features some of the region’s most famous chefs and producers and is a fantastic place to explore the city’s culinary traditions.

Carnival of San Remo
San Remo, Italy, 11th March 2018
The Mediterranean city of San Remo comes awash with colour during the annual Carnival. This is one of Italy’s most popular yearly events, with TV viewers in their millions tuning in to catch some of the action. The highlight of the celebration is the exquisite flower parade, which features imaginative floats made entirely from flowers.

Medieval Discovery Fair
Palos de Frontera, Spain, 11th to 12th March 2018
Palos de Frontera is a historical town in Andalusia with a rich maritime culture. The Medieval Discovery Fair celebrates the town’s involvement in the discovery of America and the life of Christopher Columbus. Visitors looking for full immersion can take to the cobbled streets fully clad in traditional clothing. It’s just like being taken back to the 15th century!

Saint Patrick’s Day Festival 
Dublin, Ireland, 15th to 19th March 2018
It seems like three-quarters of the world is half-Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day, so why not join them? Dublin is, undoubtedly, the heart of the world’s Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations. Expect parades, dancing, and of course plenty of pubs. Don’t forget to pack your green hat!

Las Fallas 
Valencia, Spain, 15th to 19th March 2018
Every March, Valencia goes up in flames for Las Fallas Festival. Visitors can watch as huge, intricate dolls take to the streets before being burned on the bonfire. Traditionally, the local people believe that everything bad is then burnt and can be reborn from the ashes.

Barcelona Beer Festival
Barcelona, Spain, 16th to 18th March
“Una Cerveza por favour!” (a beer please!) is a favourite phrase of most holidaymakers in Spain. To put it to good use, pay a visit to the Barcelona Beer Festival. The festival has more than 300 beers to choose from, coming from all around the world. Guests can also enjoy live music and a huge array of street food to line their stomachs!

Keukenhof Tulip Festival
Lisse, The Netherlands, 23rd March to May 2018
Spring is the perfect time to see Holland’s famous tulips in full bloom. During Keukenhof, visitors can enjoy 79 acres of vibrant and colourful flowers, making it one of the largest flower gardens in the world!

Amazing winter events in Europe during January and February

When the temperature drops, you may be tempted to just stay inside with a cosy blanket wrapped around you, doing nothing fun or adventurous. Oh, what a mistake!

Winter in Europe sets the perfect stage for numerous amazing events and festivals, giving you the opportunity to enjoy this magical season.

We’ve chosen nine incredible events that will take place in January and February 2018 in Europe; we’re sure you will find something you will enjoy!

If you are a carnival and music lover…
The world-famous Carnival of Venice will take place from 27th January to 13th February 2018. During the carnival city comes alive with its magical atmosphere – there are masks of different colours, shapes and designs everywhere you look, lively dresses and elegant costumes. Music and entertainment will follow you wherever you go in this town during the carnival, and it’s a unique opportunity to feel like you time-travelled back to another century, where everything is mystic and beautiful.

If you want something more wild, join the thousands heading to Carnival de Santa Cruz, Tenerife from 7th February to 18th February 2018. This festival is traditionally held every February on this stunning Canary Island, and it’s the source of immense entertainment for all generations. There are amazing costumes everywhere, and for a good reason: costume competitions and election of the Carnival Queen. You’ll enjoy the show, parades, beautiful and bizarre costumes, music concerts, jaw-dropping performances, street parties and much more!

Nice Carnival is a big thing in France. In 2018 it will take place from 17th February to 3rd March. This lively and colourful festival lights up the winter mood; people dress up in costumes, enjoy the show and the music, and have fun. You’ll love it for its happy feeling, as well as costumes, street performers, and clowns.

For a more calm and easy atmosphere, where you will relax and just enjoy the great jazz music, Winterjazz in Denmark is a perfect event. This music festival is held in several cities across Denmark: Copenhagen, Aalborg, Aarhus, Odense and Esbjerg, from 2nd February to 25th February 2018. You can hear hundreds of Danish and international jazz artists all across Denmark, so if you find yourself in this stunning country in February, don’t miss this great festival.

If you put great food and drink as your priority…
You’ve heard of wine tasting, but what about chocolate tasting? Amsterdam gives you the opportunity on 24th and 25th February to taste numerous different kinds of chocolate on its Amsterdam Chocoa Festival. Besides discovering and enjoying new flavours, you will learn about chocolate making and different kinds of chocolate, and more sweet stuff!

For all you beer lovers out there, Bruges Beer Festival in Belgium is exactly what you need for a perfect holiday! This festival will take place on 4th and 5th February 2018 in the historic centre of Bruges. You will have the opportunity to taste more than 300 different beers from more than 70 breweries. What’s more interesting: there are new beers launched at the festival every year, so it’s a great opportunity to try something new and exciting.

If you’re a visual type and enjoy winter lights…
Amsterdam Light Festival, which is held from 30th November to 21st January 2018, will amaze you with its beauty. As the day turns into night, this city turns into a fairytale, with its glowing artwork lights above the water, and it inspires everyone lucky enough to see it at this time of the year.

Closer to home, 30th January 2018 is a special day in Scotland because of one unique traditional event: Up Helly Aa in Lerwick, Shetland, is all about fire, burning torches, Vikings, and glory! If you want to see hundreds of people dressed up as Vikings with fire torches, burning a wooden Viking ship in honour of their history, and then dance all night around the fire, you have to see this one-of-a-kind event!

If the fire is not so much your thing, there is something completely different for you in the ice of Sweden’s Lapland: Jokkmokk Winter Market from 29th January to 4th February 2018. With over 400 years of tradition, people from all around the globe gather to enjoy Swedish food specialities, music and dance, and of course the beautiful, glowing decorations.

And there you have it! These are just a few of the events and festivals Europe has to offer in the winter months, so get out of that blanket and experience a new adventure! We’ll look at some more next month.

Hidden Zagreb: five secret spots you won’t find in a tourist guide

We asked a true local, Dorotea Albertina Knezevic, who was born and brought up in Zagreb, for her top tips.

Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, has become an increasingly popular destination in the last couple of years. It’s received an award for the best European Christmas Market last year, and it keeps attracting more people by continually improving what it can offer to travellers like you.

That means one thing: Zagreb can be swarming with tourists! If you want to visit Zagreb, but you want to avoid overcrowded tourist sites, here is a special treat for you: five hidden places in Zagreb to make your trip a truly unique experience.

Savica Lakes
Only five minutes car ride from the industrial part of the city, in the southeast outskirts of the town, you’ll find the perfect water oasis. The Savica Lakes is a complex of twelve lakes, surrounded by greenery, the chirping of birds, and serene swimming swans. You can take your picnic basket and a blanket and enjoy the view.

Medvedgrad Fortress
Medvedgrad, a medieval fortress built in the 13th century, watches over Zagreb from the southern slopes of Medvednica mountain. This picturesque but formidable castle defended the city from the Tatars, who often raided two ancient settlements of Zagreb: Gradec and Kaptol.

Through the years, the castle was the residence of many aristocratic families. One of the most infamous owners were the Counts of Celje, with the ill-famed countess Barbara “The Black Queen” as a head of the family.

Solar System Model 
Did you know that Zagreb has its very own solar system? That’s right! Most of the locals know about the “Sun” in Bogovićeva Street, but even they are not familiar with the existence of the other planets in this fascinating scale model art installation that is spread all over the city.

So, if you’re up for a little walk – put on your adventurous shoes and start your planet quest.

Grič Tunnel 
The tunnel that served as both a rave party venue and a bomb shelter in World War Two is located in the very centre of Zagreb. This 1,150-foot long tunnel is open to the public from 9am to 9pm. You can enter it from one of three entrances – Mesnička Street, Tomićeva Street or Art Park. I encourage you to walk through the tunnel and try to make an echo!

Zagreb’s First Traditional Teahouse 
After visiting all those places, a good cup of tea would be much appreciated! Jing Yuan – a teahouse in the centre of Zagreb, is a perfect place for it. It’s a traditional Chinese teahouse where you can enjoy a true tea ceremony and rejuvenate your body and mind. You can’t miss it – it’s in Ilica Street right after British Square.

Enjoy your secret Zagreb tour!

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.