The delights of Porto: foodie culture and wine cruises

Fabio Mendes has travelled extensively in Porto, so we asked him to give us his very best tips and advice for a great holiday.

There are plenty of reasons why Porto won the award for Best European Destination at the World Travel Awards in 2017. If you enjoy history, excellent food and wonderful views, you will agree that Porto deserves this title.

Porto is the largest city in Northern Portugal, and gives its name to the famous dessert wine, port. The city combines its historical roots and modern aspirations, in a setting which at first seems similar to its famous southern sister Lisbon, but feels quite different.

Placed at the margin of the river Douro, Porto represents an entire region proud of its uniqueness.

When to go, and how to reach Porto
Due to its more northerly location, Porto is spared from the typical Portuguese heat. Average temperatures between 20C (68F) in May and 25C (77F) in August, and almost no rain at all, offer perfect conditions to explore the city.

The airport of Porto is served by easyJet, Ryanair, British Airways, and TAP Portugal. Upon arrival, you will easily find public transport to the city centre right in front of the terminal.

To move around the city, you can buy a Porto Card day pass for six Euros, with discounts if you want a card lasting more than one day. This price includes the rechargeable card. With this pass, you can even use the public elevators, which bring you from the lower to the higher parts of the city. Make sure you always activate the ticket upon entering all transport and that a green light flashes afterwards.

What to see and do
If you arrive by train, the São Bento Station is a good first sight to behold. The impressive hall, completely covered with the famous Portuguese blue tiles, gives you an incredible first impression!

Walk down the narrow streets towards the river. You will reach Ribeira, the part of the city right by the river and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can stroll along the promenade until you reach the Dom Luis I. Bridge, designed by Gustav Eiffel, or just enjoy the scenery sitting at a café and drinking port.

If you are up for learning more about the Age of Discoveries, head to the Casa do Infante. Nowadays, this antique building houses a museum about the history of the city, but it is also the birthplace of Henry the Navigator, the famous mastermind behind the Portuguese discoveries of the New World. I can also recommend visiting the Palacio da Bolsa, a building that took 30 years to finish; its main purpose was to impress visitors to the city!

What to eat
Not many cities can claim to have such a vast offering of delicious restaurants as Porto. Typical Portuguese dishes are quite simple, and that means that plenty of places will offer you good food. In Porto, it’s actually difficult to stumble upon a restaurant where you will be unhappy.

The most famous dish in Porto is the Francesinha. It’s a sandwich made of different types of meats and sausage, with a fried egg and molten cheese on top. The secret is the sauce, and every single restaurant is proud to announce that their sauce is the best in town. The servings are usually so generous that many people can’t even eat it all.

Another creation of Porto is Tripas, which is a tripe stew that has been eaten in the city since the 15th century. Probably not the tastiest option, but surely one to tell your friends at home about!

Seafood and fish dishes are highly recommended too. Restaurants easily source fresh and high-quality fish at the local markets. You can try the local octopus salad almost everywhere, and it’s perfect as a side dish! Usually, lunch for two, with a bottle of house wine included, should not cost you more than 35 to 45 Euros.

The Port Wine Experience
It’s impossible to escape the sweet wine in Porto. Made world-famous by the British, you can have a small glass everywhere in the city for less than the equivalent of £2. To get the full experience, cross the river to the south side and visit the Port Wine cellars. Most of them offer guided tours, including a Port Wine tasting at the end. Graham, Sandeman’s and Cockburn are just some of the most famous names where you can learn all about the wine.

Another highlight is the river cruise offered by several operators. You will sail upstream, out of the city and into the heart of Northern Portugal to see where the grapes used for Port grow. It’s possible to visit the actual vineyards, sometimes with the guide being the owner himself.

In June, the Douro Fair is an excellent opportunity to taste the specialities of the region, not only the wines.

For the return to Porto, use the historical train for a memorable trip back in time!

Tallinn: the medieval marvel of the north

Mark Taylor is a British expat who now lives in Estonia. We asked him to give us an insider’s view of the beautiful city of Tallinn.

There is a reason that the entire old town of Tallinn is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site: it’s jam-packed full of history that has been impeccably preserved. Being the son of an archaeologist, it’s probably one of the main reasons I made Tallinn my home eight years ago.

It’s hard to compress so much history into so few words, while also giving you a guide to the best places to see. So here’s a little taster of some of the most important places in the city’s history.

Toompea
Wherever you stand in Tallinn you will be able to see Toompea. The hill lies at the heart of the city and can be seen for miles around. It’s why the Danes built a castle there in 1219 and why the Houses of Parliament are there today.

However, the origins of the hill date back much further than even the bronze-age artefacts that have been found there. Estonian folklore tells that the hill was created by the mythical Linda piling rocks on to the grave of her husband Kalev.

St Olaf’s Church
With the Danes and the subsequent arrival of the Teutonic knights, Christianity arrived in the city and hence St Olaf’s church was built. As the city grew in prosperity and power from its membership of the Hanseatic League, so did the church.

Between 1549 and 1625 it is believed to have been the tallest building in the world at around 124m (407 feet). It has the best views of the city too, and at only around £2 to go up, it’s somewhere I always take visitors.

Kadriorg Park
After some 500 years of Danish, Swedish and Teutonic Knight rule, 1710 saw the arrival of the Russian empire under Peter the Great. To mark his victory he built a grand palace with grounds. Those grounds now make up the beautifully kept Kadriorg park, which is just a ten minute tram ride from the city centre.

As well as the palace you will also find the national art museum KUMU and the residence of the President of Estonia in the park.

Lauluvaljak
There is a reason Estonians are referred to as the singing nation, and it’s not their successes at Eurovision! Lauluvaljak, which simply translates into English as “Song grounds” played host in 1988 to the singing revolution, where more than 300,000 people gathered to sing patriotic songs.

The unique thing about the song grounds is the stage, which can hold up to 15,000 singers, a Guinness World Record.

When to visit
When having friends and family come to stay, I almost always recommend they visit in June, July or August (unless they like snow!). This is when the weather is at its most settled and pleasant, with average daily temperatures around 20C (68F).

It very rarely goes above 30C (86F) too, meaning that it never gets unbearably hot. The long summer nights are another great plus, including one month around the summer equinox when it never truly gets dark.

It’s Estonia’s 100th birthday
This year Estonia will celebrate 100 years since it first gained independence from the rule of various other countries. Therefore there are many events taking place in Tallinn throughout the year to mark the centenary.

[Editor’s note: from my own visit to Tallinn, the Museum of Occupations, detailing Soviet and Nazi influence, including huge communist statues, was a very powerful exhibition, not to be missed.]

To learn more about events happening in Tallinn when you visit, see the Visit Tallinnwebsite.

Malta: the perfect holiday for beaches, culture, and history

Malta is one of the most pleasant places in the Mediterranean to spend a holiday. It will suit you if you’re looking for beautiful beaches, plenty of things to do, an excellent climate, and affordability.

Malta is packed with interesting attractions, including medieval castles, incredible 17th-century architecture, and several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It has over 7,000 years of interesting culture and history to explore, spanning from the Neolithic period, to the Crusades, to the island’s role in World War Two.

You will also find miles of beaches, where you can relax and frolic in the warm waters of the Med.

Things to know about Malta
Malta is just south of Italy, so the climate is great for a beach holiday. During the summer months you can enjoy up to 12 hours of beautiful sunshine, with temperatures that range from 24-28C (75-83F) during May and June, with peak summer months at a consistent 31C (88F).

When you arrive you will be delighted with the easy access to almost all of the main island’s attractions and beaches. With Malta covering only 122 square miles, you can travel from one end of the main island to the other in about an hour. You can decide to rent a car, but other forms of transport are readily available, such as a public bus system which will take you directly to several of the fabulous attractions around the island.

You won’t have to worry about a language barrier. The island has two official languages, Maltese and English. This will make your holiday more enjoyable when conversing with the local residents.

There is no need to worry about currency either. Malta is part of the European Union and uses the Euro. You will find plenty of places offering competitive exchange rates.

Where to stay in Malta
Most people on holiday in Malta stay in or near Valletta, the capital city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the 1560s. The neighbourhoods around Valletta offer holidaymakers a wide assortment of places to stay. Prices can range from £56 to over £200 per night depending on your preference for budget versus luxury.

Areas such as Paceville are lively, with plenty of dining, entertainment and shopping options within walking distance. Other neighbourhoods of interest include Sliema and Gzira which overlooks the Grand Harbour.

If you prefer to stay outside the city, in a more relaxed atmosphere, the Corinthia Palace Hotel, located within a renovated 19th-century Neo-classical mansion, is a fantastic choice. The hotel is situated a 15-minute drive from Valletta and many of the beaches, as well as being adjacent to the lush San Anton Gardens.

Beautiful Maltese beaches
The variety of beaches you can experience in Malta will provide you with plenty of opportunities for relaxation and swimming, along with numerous watersports activities. Most of the beaches are within around 20 miles of Valletta, and you can easily access them by car or public transport.

The Mellieha Beach, also known as Ghadira Bay, is an ideal choice if you want multiple on-site amenities. Beachgoers at Golden Bay can also enjoy a wide array of services as well as excellent sunsets. Pretty Bay is a short distance from Valletta with a superb promenade.

Other attractions in Malta
You can take an interesting tour of Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site loaded with baroque and medieval architecture. When you visit the Upper Barrakka Gardens you will have panoramic views of the Grand Harbour, and you can learn about the Knights of St. John as well as the 1565 Great Siege of Malta.

Other magnificent sites include St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the ancient capital city of Mdina, and you can take a ferry north to the neighbouring island of Gozo. You can relive the perils of the bombing raids during World War Two within several renovated bomb shelters, and there are unique museums that cover World War Two.

Overall, travellers who have holidayed on Malta come away feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Where else can you go to the beach, then walk through a Neolithic temple and a medieval city all in one day?

Could Malta be your perfect holiday getaway?

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.