American National Parks: a natural delight

The great outdoors is a beauty to behold. Nothing brings inner peace faster than engaging in a slice of nature, and you can experience it for yourself by visiting any of the historic national parks dotted around the United States of America. 

There are 61 national parks, providing a wide range of leisure pursuits and gorgeous scenery that will make you want to come back again and again. The National Parks Service website has lots of information to help you plan your trip.

So let’s have a look at some of the top places to visit for a great American holiday, and see what Uncle Sam has in store for you!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, this little slice of green heaven, an offshoot of the legendary Blue Ridge mountain range, houses over 10,000 different species of plants and animals, and is home to its signature black bears. It has high elevations ranging from 200 metres (650 feet) to 2,000 metres (6,500 feet), making it an ideal hiking spot. 

It houses the famous Clingsman Dome, which is the highest mountain in the state of Tennessee. It will give you a wonderful view from its observatory tower. 

Cades Cove offers a great spot for nature enthusiasts to observe plants and animals. There is also the Ober Gatlinburg park, an amusement park and skiing area, which can provide lots of family fun.

You can also wow your children by taking them to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, which houses a huge collection of exotic aquatic creatures. 

Many people say that the most beautiful time of the year to visit Great Smoky Mountains is in the autumn, where temperatures are slightly cooler too, from around 10C (50F) to 26C (79F).

Grand Canyon National Park
Located in Arizona, this national park is centred around the amazing Grand Canyon, a feature often hailed as a wonder of the world and is so large that it can be spotted from space

The Grand Canyon National Park is best enjoyed by those who enjoy hiking as it features numerous idyllic walking spots, from the beautiful Bright Angel Trail to the South Kaibab Trail. 

The park also houses the prestigious Grand Canyon Village which serves as a hub for rafting and camping. It provides lodging, souvenirs, and more. You need to carefully choose which time of year to visit, because the temperatures can get pretty extreme, especially in the inner canyon.

The North Rim and South Rim of the canyon can also be explored with your family, and helicopter tours are available for an amazing scenic view.

The Grand Canyon National Park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for an adventurous family. You can also visit Las Vegas while you’re in the area; it’s a four hour drive away.

Yosemite National Park
Anyone looking for the thrill of heights and extreme sports should look no further than the Yosemite National Park. Located in California, this park is known for its well-polished mountainsides and steep peaks. It is also home to over 250 species of vertebrates and several hundred species of plants. 

Yosemite is also steeped in Hollywood legend, since popular television shows and films such as Star Trek V, The Last of the Mohicans, and Maverick were all filmed here. 

Temperatures at Yosemite range quite a lot throughout the year, so choose a time where the heat suits the kind of activities you want to be doing. There is a wide variety of climbing spots like the Half DomeYosemite Falls, and the Yosemite Valley, which holds a great view over the glaciers. 

Rocky Mountain National Park
This historic national park is located in the lofty mountain ranges of the Rockies in Colorado. It is filled with a diverse biosphere ecosystem, from lush green vegetation to snowy peaks. The park is perfect for enthusiasts of hiking and mountaineering, as there are various trail types—from easy to challenging!—for those looking for a thrill. Fishing is also available for a more relaxed family experience. Because of the mountains, temperatures can vary a lot, depending on exactly where you are, so be prepared.

There are a lot of other activities to keep the family engaged, like cross country skiing and rock climbing. You can also explore the charming city of Boulder, which is something of a modern tech company hotspot too.

There are so many national parks to choose from, so why not set off on a voyage of discovery? Due to the high cost of medical care in the USA, we strongly recommend that you purchase travel insurance before your trip. Our Go2 Travel policy is the most suitable – choose the Worldwide cover option.

Spain: the rolling green hills and secluded beaches of Cantabria

We asked Mira Dornakova, who has lived in various provinces in Spain for ten years, to give us some inside info on the seaside places in Spain that travellers usually miss.

Santander isn’t just a bank; it’s also the capital city of the Cantabria province in northern Spain. 

Although staying in Santander would be an obvious choice on your trip to Cantabria, I suggest you travel a bit further east along the coast, as I’ll shortly explain. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed. 

However, you should at least take a day trip to Santander and get your dose of holiday sightseeing. The hop-on-hop-off bus will take you to the CathedralMaritime Museum and, most importantly to El Sardinero, one of the city’s long sandy beaches.

Once you’ve had your fill of taking pictures, tried out the fresh produce at the farmer’s market, and decided which of the tapas bars in the old part is the best, you’re ready to go further east.

Rural Cantabria
The first time I visited the beaches of the Ribamontán al Mar municipality and the countryside further east of Santander, I was amazed, and I’ve been coming back ever since. There are plenty of villages along the coast, and you can’t go wrong no matter which one you choose. 

If you like a lively atmosphere you can enjoy the surfers’ paradise of Somo, or, if you prefer something quieter, stay in Isla to marvel at the peculiar rocks that stick out of the sea at low tide. You might also want to go even further east to Noja and pick a hotel overlooking its endless sandy beaches. 

The whole area has a network of footpaths, each of them about three miles long, that will take you to the local churches, chapels, and beaches. The summer temperatures reach about 23C (73F), and the light sea breeze makes it bearable even on the hottest days.

Accommodation options range from little individual apartments to four-star hotels. We stayed at a spotless and well-equipped apartment with a terrace for £45 a night.

Galizano and the beaches
My personal favourite is a tiny village called Galizano, a hidden gem on the Cantabrian coast. The village itself is only a 30-minute drive away from Santander and lies tucked in between hills and farmland. There is a small supermarket, a couple of restaurants where you can enjoy a tasty set menu for little more than £10, and there is an impressive beach right at the foot of the hills. You can park in the local car park and take the short walk down the paved path to Playa Galizano, which is quiet in the spring and not overly busy during the summer. 

If you feel up for it, you can take an easy walk to Playa Langre, yet another long sandy beach with impressive cliffs looming over it. The beaches of Galizano, Langre, Loredo, and Somo form part of the Northern Way of the Way of St. James (El Camino de Santiago), which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can often see pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

Cabárceno Natural Park
Would you like to go on a safari during your summer holiday? It’s only half an hour’s drive south from Santander before you find yourself immersed in the picturesque surroundings of a former iron mine, which is home to about 150 species from five continents. Make sure you arrive nice and early as Cabárceno lies inland, and it can get rather hot during the summer. 

The park opens at 9:30 a.m. and once you’ve paid your entry fee you can park your car and get a cable car that takes you over the main enclosures. Seeing elephants from above really does make you feel that you are about to land in Africa. 

Make sure you hold on to your ticket because you will need it for all the cable car routes. Then take your car and drive along the well-marked roads within the park, stopping to see brown bears, hippos, and dozens of other species along the way. You can have lunch in one of the restaurants, or at a picnic spot, where we were surprised by an escaped antelope roaming free in the picnic area! 

Cantabria unfolds before you as an unforgettable mix of lush green countryside, rugged cliffs, and sandy beaches. It’s welcoming and full of energy, just like the people who live there. So why not give it a try?

Geneva: The lakeside city at the foot of the Alps

Geneva has long been associated with the 1864 Geneva Convention which established the humane rules of war. What fewer people know is that this treaty was signed in one of the most picturesque travel destinations in Europe. 

Summer is the ideal time to visit, since the temperatures reach a comfortable 26C (79F) during the day and drop down to a cooler 17C (63F) at night. During the summer months, Geneva becomes a bustling town filled with music, open-air bars and restaurants, and astonishing views of Mont Blanc.

Accommodation and activities
There is an abundance of activities on offer, and accommodation to fit any desired budget. Lakeside, waterfront views can stretch your pocket with prices at £450 per night, although three-star hotels average around £150 per night. In general, Geneva can be a bit expensive. Expect to pay roughly £15 per meal with an accompanying beer or wine for £8. 

So, what can you do in Geneva? You can enjoy world-class museums, visit international organisations, and do some historic sightseeing as you explore the scenic old town.

Enjoy the picturesque Lake Geneva – Lac Leman 
Lake Geneva, also known as Lac Leman, is one of the largest lakes in western Europe. It is nestled in a valley surrounded by the rising mountains of France and Switzerland. In the summertime, the lake’s many free beaches attract people from the city. Bains de Paquis is a popular swimming spot featuring saunas, restaurants, and sandy beaches. The water stays a cool 15C (59F) and provides a welcome relief from the summer sun. 

You can rent pedalos or power boats to enjoy the beauty of the crystal-clear water and the striking water jet: the Jet D’eau (Geneva Water Fountain) is one of Geneva’s best-known landmarks and can be seen from the air. It pumps a huge 500 litres of water per second 140 metres (460 feet) into the air! There are lots of other tours to enjoy too.

Cruise the lake
For an all-around unforgettable experience, you might want to consider signing up for a lake cruise. The Lac Leman boat tours feature a historic paddle steamer, allowing you to stop off at different locations around the lake. You can enjoy a brunch, lunch, or dinner cruise. For a budget option, you can ride on the Mouettes (Geneva public transport lake boats) for a mere £2, which provide similarly gorgeous views. 

Taste the fondue at a local restaurant
No trip to Switzerland would be complete without sitting down with a glass of wine and cheese, especially dipping a crunchy baguette into a pot of steaming hot Gruyère fondue. This iconic communal dish has been considered a Swiss national dish since 1875, when the first modern recipe was developed.

Visit major international organisations
Geneva holds an impressive position on the international stage. If you are interested, there are tours available for you to visit the United Nations. You could also see the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

In the streets, you will encounter people of every nationality. Geneva’s strong international culture brings cuisines and cultures together, yet you will enjoy Swiss precision and safety in the city. So take a seat by the lakeside, and raise a glass to the beautiful views!

Three hot picks for your first Caribbean holiday

The Caribbean has long been a bucket list favourite with British tourists. From the rich and vibrant culture to the crystal-clear waters and miles upon miles of dreamy beaches, it’s no wonder it has appeal. 

If you’re looking at visiting for the first time, 7,000 islands covering a huge one million square miles can be a little bit too much to choose from. Here are three favourites that’ll have you packing your case in no time!

You’re likely to feel right at home in Barbados, and with many Brits flocking to the island year on year, you’re sure to notice the large British expat community.

St James is a perfect area for first timers as it boasts a balance of excellent beaches, fabulous restaurants, and Bajan nightlife. Be sure to take a ride into Speightstown on the Reggae bus, if your ears can handle it!

And of course, no trip to Barbados is complete without a rum punch. Be careful though: some of them will definitely knock your socks off! Free-flowing rum seems to be common practice in many of the bars and restaurants. 

Two currencies are widely accepted in Barbados: Bajan dollars and US dollars. As is usually the case with currency, it’s better to pay with the local currency, as you’ll find you get a more favourable exchange rate. Should you choose to pay in US dollars, you’ll mostly get your change in Bajan. Most places such as restaurants, transport, and hotels advertise their prices in Bajan dollars, but prices for tours are often quoted in US dollars, so it’s always handy to have a little US money on you. 

From June to October, you’ll see temperatures sit at a high of around 31C (88F) and a low of 25C (77F).

St Lucia
St Lucia is a particularly lush, green island located in the eastern Caribbean. You’ll find one of the most iconic views on the southwest coast: the pitons, two huge volcanic plugs. Despite its volcanic origins, you’ll find perfect white sand beaches, plentiful rainforest, and—if you’re super active—you can hike up the magnificent pitons and grab a view from the highest point of the island.  

If you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth, and an even sweeter spot for the luxury chocolatier Hotel Chocolat, you’ll be excited to hear St Lucia is where they grow their cocoa. They also have a hotel there, which you might have seen on television recently. There are a wealth of tours available to plantations on the island, where you can taste and plant cocoa and even attempt to make your own chocolate bar.

Once you’ve filled up on chocolate, you can hop in a rental car and head to La Soufriere, the world’s only “drive-in volcano”. Be prepared to breathe through your ears though—it smells pretty bad! If you’ve been to geothermal areas before, perhaps Yellowstone, Rotorua, or El Tatio, then you’re probably used to it. Relax and rejuvenate in one of the mud pools before heading back down to your hotel for the evening. 

The Currency in St Lucia is the Eastern Caribbean dollar, with US dollars widely accepted across the island too. 

The climate is similar to that of Barbados. If you’d like to visit during the cooler periods, plan your holiday towards the end of the year. 

Last but not least, located just north of Venezuela lies the island of Aruba

Aruba is a bit of a melting pot when it comes to culture, which means you’ll certainly be able to grab some great food. Dutch pancakes and pastechi (pasties) are a popular choice amongst tourists and are available widely across the island. 

The beaches, though all beautiful white and sandy, vary in terms of liveliness. It’s worth visiting Palm Beach just to see it, but if you’re after something a lot more relaxing then head over to Druif beach on the north of the island. It’s small, but you’ll likely have a lot of it to yourself for the day. 

The currency in Aruba is the Aruban Florin, and you’ll get just over two of them to your British pound. 

The climate in Aruba is the hottest of the three locations we’ve looked at here. Highs in June to October can soar to 33C (91F) and only dip on average to a low of 26C (79F). Fortunately, a great thing about Aruba is the constant refreshing breeze, which makes things much more comfortable. Just don’t forget the sun cream!

The Foreign Office advises you to get travel insurance for the Caribbean
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice website advises that the hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June to November.

They also recommend that you should “take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel” to any of these three places in the Caribbean, and we agree. Our Go2 Travel Insurance product is the most suitable, and offers worldwide cover, so get a quote today.

Cassis: the beauty of French Riviera beaches without the crowds

Situated on the western side of the French Riviera, Cassis is a small place that captures all the charm of Provence without the madness of more popular destinations like Saint-Tropez or Cannes. It is a popular summer destination, even among the French themselves, yet it somehow manages to preserve a sense of peace and calm that makes you feel right at home. You’ll find Cassis on the southern Mediterranean coast, about ten miles east of Marseille.

What’s special about Cassis?
Nobel prize-winning writer Frédéric Mistral ventured to say that those who have seen Paris but not Cassis have seen nothing at all, surely trying to portray the unique attraction that the little fishing port has over all those who visit it. Lined with quaint little streets, pastel buildings, vineyards, scenic beaches, and olive and fig trees, Cassis perfectly embodies the spirit of Provence and the Mediterranean. 

It also doesn’t hurt that it is located between two remarkable natural sites, Cap Canaille and Les Calanques. 

Things to do
One of the main attractions of Cassis is Les Calanques, a series of coves lining the coast between Marseille and Cassis, set among the majestic limestone cliffs. The easiest way to see them is by taking a boat excursion. There are a number of options available, depending on how many inlets you want to see. If you’re feeling adventurous you can also hike there, but it’s not exactly a walk in the park!

To get the best of both worlds, you can take a baignade (swimming) tour. There are plenty of tours if you search online. You’ll get to see several of the calanques and spend some time swimming in a gorgeous bay. 

You don’t have to venture far to experience the beauty of the town. Much of its appeal is right there in the port. You can just stroll by the water and admire the boats and the impressive Cap Canaille, one of the biggest sea cliffs in Europe. You can appreciate the beautiful Château de Cassis, a fortress turned into a 5-star hotel. 

Food and shopping
If you don’t feel like walking, just stop at one of the many surrounding cafes and restaurants. Take in the view while experiencing the fresh seafood or the local white and rosé wines that Cassis is best known for. 

If you love wine, you can also take a wine tour. Two vineyards offer guided tours in English: Clos Albizzi and Clos Sainte Magdeleine

If you want to do some shopping, check out the dainty boutiques lined along the narrow streets. Or visit the market that takes place on Wednesday and Friday mornings in Place Baragnon and enjoy the beautifully displayed local food, crafts, flowers, clothing, and even jewellery.

If there’s nothing else you’d rather do than relax on a beach, Cassis has got you covered as well. The town has several beaches, but two of them are better known: the sandy Plage de la Grande Mer and the pebbled Plage du Bestouan, which is surprisingly comfortable for a pebbled beach. Both are just a few minutes walk from the port. If you’re looking for a little more peace and quiet, you might have better luck at Plage de l’Arène. It’s less popular, but just as gorgeous as the other two. 

What the weather is like
Cassis is blessed with a mild Mediterranean climate, without too much rain in the summer months. The hottest temperatures average at around 27C (81F) in July and August. June and September are a bit cooler, at around 24C (75F). At night, temperatures can drop to 15-17C (59-63F) during these summer months. 

Getting there
You can easily reach Cassis by train: the Eurostar goes directly from London St. Pancras to Marseille Saint-Charles railway station in around six and a half hours, then you can take a second train to Cassis. If you choose to go by rail, once you get to the railway station in Cassis you can call a cab or enjoy a lovely three-mile walk through beautiful orchards and vineyards. There is bus that goes from the station to the city centre hourly.

If you choose to fly, easyJet will take you to Marseille airport, around twenty miles north-west of Cassis.

Where to stay
Try to find a property that is close to the port, giving you have easy access to beaches, restaurants, and shopping. There are plenty of rustic Airbnbs, apartments, and hotels around, starting at about £60 per night for two people.

Six great travel websites you might not have heard about

Here are six useful travel websites you might not have heard about, which will help you to plan a great holiday.

The Discoverer
When you’re planning your holiday, sometimes you need a little inspiration. If you are looking for new ideas and well-written travelogues, The Discoverer is a great website to look at. It launches a new edition every month, dedicated to a destination, and includes general tips, must-see places, and inspiring pictures that capture the essence of each place. So start your planning by going to The Discoverer to get yourself into the travel mood! 

The Discoverer features places within Europe and also destinations much further afield. If you’re travelling worldwide, try our Go2 Travel Insurance to keep you insured.

If you’re relying on local transport, from public buses to ferries, taxis, trains or trams, Rome2Rio provides extensive information on how to reach your destinations, worldwide. Set your departure and arrival points, and the website will suggest the cheapest and fastest modes of transport, show you where you need to change, and give you an estimated price. It will even suggest accommodation options for you.

Spotted by Locals
When you’re planning a holiday, sometimes you’ll ask friends who have been to that destination for their tips and advice. Or if you know someone from that country, you’ll ask them for suggestions. Spotted by Locals does this for those places where you don’t know who to ask. For over 70 cities, mostly in Europe, you’ll find tips for the best restaurants, hidden gems, and great shopping opportunities. The tips are easily readable and come with a personal touch by each local expert, which the website calls a Spotter. It also offers downloadable city guides via a paid app, for $3.99.

Many people like to take a guided tour of their destination, to show them the most interesting things quickly. But finding the right guide and the best tour can be a time-consuming lottery. Viator takes care of that for you. Simply search for your destination and the website will show you plenty of options for tours, according to your interests and budget. From a behind-the-scenes tour of a French bakery in Paris to a fun boat ride in Faro, you can find most activities here, complete with real reviews.  

The Man in Seat Sixty-One
Launched by a former British Rail manager from Buckinghamshire, this website is a perfect example of how the internet can change the life of a dedicated hobbyist. What started as a small niche page is today one of the biggest sources of information on train travel. You’ll find schedules, prices, and even photos from inside the carriages, covering some of the most interesting train rides in the world. From well-known UK and Irish trains up to the famous Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia or the classic Indian trains, the Man in Seat Sixty-One knows the way. 

Getting a bad seat on your flight can get your holiday off to a poor start. Being seated close to the toilets, or getting the only seat on the plane without a window, are problems that you can easily avoid by looking up your flight on SeatGuru. Just enter your airline and flight number, and the website will automatically find the type of aircraft you will be on. It uses a traffic lights colour scheme of red-yellow-green to show you the best seats with additional leg room, and which seats you would be better avoiding.

Note that airlines can swap your aircraft for another type, and this tends to start happening at around two weeks before your flight departs, as the airline finalises their schedule. So SeatGuru is only a guide, but we reviewed it for easyJet aircraft and it’s fairly accurate. However, it doesn’t include the newer Airbus A321 aircraft.

SeatGuru also doesn’t show which seats are suitable for passengers with reduced mobility, so you might still need to phone your airline and check which seat would be best for you.

Backstreet Venice: steering clear of the main sites

Travel writer Julia Hammond explains how she learned to love Venice by avoiding some of its most famous attractions. 

Allow me to let you into a secret: I hated Venice the first time I went. I ticked off its sights like I was completing a childhood iSpy book: a gondola ride, a visit to the Doges Palace, coffee in St Mark’s Square, a souvenir of glass blown on Murano Island. 

The second time, persuaded to give the city a second go by those more enchanted by the place, I spread my wings a little and liked it a touch better. But it wasn’t until my third trip that I found a Venice that I could truly say I loved, for it was then that I gave up on the sights and ventured off the beaten track.

Beyond the tourists
Backstreet Venice is a world apart from the tour guide clipboards and over-inflated prices that blight the likes of St Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal. It’s no wonder the shrinking resident population is fighting to preserve the character of their beloved home city—they number just 55,000 people, fewer than the number of tourists that visit per day. But Venice is compact and you don’t need to stray far from those crowded, must-see spots to escape the masses. 

Take the Rialto Bridge, for example, rammed with tat shops and selfie-stick wielding tourists. A micro-stroll away, you’ll find yourself in the Rialto Market, still busy of course, but its visitor contingent is diluted by locals grabbing armloads of fresh produce for dinner. There’s fresh seafood, capsicums tied up like posies of flowers, and more varieties of mushroom than you probably knew existed.

Bars and bookstores
A few streets in from the water and you’ll encounter the oldest bacaro (bar) in the city. It’s called the Cantina do Mori, a tiny bar which manages to cater to a loyal local clientele without excluding visitors keen to experience a piece of Venetian history. Pull up a stool beneath a ceiling laden with copper pots and pans. Order an ombra, local slang for a glass of wine, and drink where the great Casanova once drank—this bar’s been a fixture since 1462.

Once you know how to spot them, you will find the city is littered with places like that: trattorias, bars, churches, and shops tucked away into impossibly narrow alleyways, known only to those who live there or those lucky enough to stumble upon them.

Backing onto a backstreet canal is the delightful Libreria Acqua Alta. This bookstore is packed with piles of books stacked on every imaginable surface. There’s a resident cat, books piled in bathtubs, and even a beached gondola. Duck out the back and there’s a tiny waterfront yard that forms the perfect reading nook, so long as you don’t mind being interrupted by a passing boat. 

When it comes to securing a view, don’t climb the campanile in St Mark’s Square like everyone else. Instead, hop on a vaporetto (water bus) to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. It overlooks the square and provides a bird’s eye view of the vessels entering the Grand Canal, yet you’ll have the belltower to yourself. Brace yourself, though: when the bells chime the hour they’re loud enough to startle you!

My favourite part of Venice is Cannaregio, home to the city’s Jewish quarter. Its Jewish heritage extends back to 1516 when the Doge Leonardo Loredan issued a decree formally segregating the city’s Jewish population. The area was previously used as a foundry, known as ghèto in the local vernacular, a term that became the modern word ‘ghetto’. 

These days, if you want to sightsee, there are ancient synagogues and kosher bakeries, but the real treat is simply to wander aimlessly through its unassuming residential streets. When your feet need a break, emerge onto Ormesini canal and beat a path to a bacarocalled Al Timon. Time it for early evening and munch delicious cicchetti—Venetian tapas—while the sun sets behind the buildings on the opposite side of the water. Ask the bartender for Campari rather than Aperol in your spritz and you might just pass for a local.

Rhodes: a Greek island of ancient sites and relaxing beaches

Few destinations can claim to be as diverse as the Greek island of Rhodes. This popular summer destination has something for everyone to enjoy, whether you’re a relaxed beach goer or a curious history buff. 

Strolling through the old Greek cities of Lindos and Rhodes will be as rewarding as a day of relaxation on the endless, sandy beach of Tsampika.

When to go to Rhodes
A few miles off the southern Turkish coast, Rhodes can be very hot in the high season during July and August. However, May and September can be better, since the temperatures are a little cooler and there are fewer tourists.

The average temperature in those two months should hover between 24-28C (75-82F), with little rain and lots of sunshine throughout the day. 

Rhodes is easily accessible from the UK, with plenty of airlines offering direct flights from April until October. TUI alone flies to Rhodes from 18 different airports in the UK, and Rhodes is also served by easyJet, Thomas Cook, Jet2, and British Airways.

There is a wide variety of hotels to choose from, and along the eastern coast of the island you’ll find many of the famous international hotel brands. From family-owned, simple 2-star hotels up to all-inclusive luxury retreats with private pools, all types of accommodation can easily be booked.  

What to see and do – Rhodes Town and endless beaches
Stroll along the Old Town of Rhodes and you will quickly feel the history and events that those ancient stone walls have witnessed over its existence. The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, for example, is a medieval castle which makes for an impressive sight, and it is a popular setting for movie productions: the 1988 epic thriller with Ben Kingsley and Helen Mirren, “Pascali’s Island”, was shot almost entirely in Rhodes. 

Leaving Rhodes Town and heading down south along the coast, one of the first stops will be the Kalithea Springs. These thermal springs have been known for their therapeutic properties since ancient times. Nowadays, you can enjoy an especially pleasant view of the bay from the inviting garden which surrounds the springs. 

After Kalithea, you’ll see an almost endless stretch of sandy beach. At the end of that stretch, you will find the famous (or possibly infamous) town of Faliraki, known for its wide array of nightlife, with many bars and entertainment venues. 

Next up along the coast is the Anthony Quinn Bay, named after the famous actor who fell in love when shooting a movie here in the 1960s. The pebble-stone beach is tucked into a tiny bay, so it can get crowded quickly—make sure you arrive early to grab a sunbed! 

You’ll find a great sandy beach further south, in Tsampika. The water here is especially warm, and if you feel up for a sporty challenge you can also visit the Monastery of Tsampika: placed on top of a hill, you can walk up 350 steps to reach the stunning viewing point and the small Orthodox church. 

Ancient Lindos and the western side of Rhodes
One of the highlights of every visit to the island of Rhodes is Lindos. This town of tiny whitewashed homes will instantly remind you of a postcard from another Greek island, Santorini. Over 2,000 years old, the Akropolis of Lindos is not as well-preserved as its famous counterpart in Athens, but is certainly impressive. You can either climb up to the Akropolis by yourself or have an especially Greek experience by taking a donkey ride up the hill!

Most of the sights and beaches in Rhodes are on the eastern side of the island, which is also much livelier. If you prefer a calmer way of travelling, consider the western side of the island. The castles of Monolithos and Kritinia offer incredible views over the Aegean, and the beaches—although more rock than sand—will be much less crowded, some of them even deserted. 

There is no particularly large town on the western side, but the locals in the small villages along the way will be happy to see any visitor who finds their way into the delicious restaurants lining the road. For this part of the island you will definitely need a rental car or organised tour, as public transport is rare. 

So whether you like the beaches or the culture, take a trip to Rhodes for your holiday this year.

Secret Salento: the beauty of the south-east coast of Italy

In recent years Salento, at the tip of Italy’s heel, has become a popular destination for British travellers. 

This stunning small peninsula can be divided into the west coast and the east coast. Most of the facilities and popular beaches are on the crowded west coast. But if you are looking for a relaxing and authentic destination, the east coast has a few hidden gems to explore. 

Lecce is a city you need to visit for its baroque architecture and its tradition of papier mâché. However, our journey begins in Otranto.

Otranto is the best place to stay if you are spending one or two weeks in the south of Salento. You can visit its peculiar Cathedral, where you can admire one of the oldest mosaic floors in Italy. 

The second monument to visit is the Castello Aragonese, which is rich with history. It is famous as the setting of the first Gothic novel, The Caste of Otranto, written in 1764. Besides those monuments, Otranto has many pleasant restaurants to discover the authentic culinary taste of Salento.  

The beaches in Otranto
At North of Otranto, there are some sandy beaches. Baia dei Turchi and Frassanito are the most popular. Here, you can enjoy crystal clear water and have a glass of refreshing wine at one of the beach kiosks—the local rosé is a must. 

If you are looking for a place with easy access to the beach and resorts, you can go to Laghi Alimini, a family-friendly beach. It is a nice place, but from the second half of July and into August it gets very crowded.

Scenic drive: Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca
If you need a one-day break from the beach, you can take a road trip and drive south to Santa Maria di Leuca. Here the landscape and the atmosphere have a Greek touch. The sandy beaches turn into a beautiful rocky coast with cliffs overlooking the azure sea. 

Along the journey, you can discover the charm and authenticity of Salento. From thermal baths to celebrity spotting, the drive offers a little something for everyone. 

Santa Cesarea Terme and its thermal baths
The first town where you can find interesting things to do is Santa Cesarea Terme. It is the most important place for thermal baths in Salento, and is famous for therapeutic treatments. 

If you want to spend a relaxing day at the spa, you can opt for one of the indulgent wellness packages. This is also the place to consider if you are looking for a week of pampering treatments and stress relief in front of the sea. 

Tricase: where VIPs spend their summer 
It is not a coincidence that Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep bought villas in this little town. In fact, it is considered one of the most authentic villages in the South of Italy. Taking a detour to the upper town will give you the chance to discover a hamlet rich in history, with plenty of churches and castles to visit. If time allows, you can have a nice aperitivo at the Farmacia Balboa. 

When to go 
June and September are the two best months to visit Salento. In those months the region is not too busy or crowded. Many hotels and beach resorts consider them off-season, so it’s likely that you’ll find accommodation that’s good value for money. The weather is good at that time of year too: temperatures can reach 27C (80F), avoiding the heat of July and August, which can reach 32C (90F).

So if you fancy an Italian holiday with a difference, why not try Salento this year?

The Azores: Portugal’s answer to the Canary Islands

The Azores has much in common with the Canary Islands. Both island groups have volcanic origins and are located hundreds of miles from mainland Europe in the Atlantic Ocean, giving them a remote and exotic feel.

While the Canaries are quite far south, just to the west of northern Africa, the Azores—an autonomous region of Portugal—are slightly further north, and a whole 900 miles west of Portugal.

So what is different about the Azores? For one thing, the climate is more humid but never gets scorching hot. But while sunshine is not always guaranteed, what you can expect is lush, green vegetation, dramatic scenery, waterfalls aplenty, and thermal pools to soak in should the sun hide behind the clouds. 

Summer temperatures in the Azores climb up to 26C (79F), and the sea stays reasonably warm throughout the year due to the effects of the Gulf Stream. The weather during spring is somewhat cooler, but May is the best time to travel if you want to experience the islands in full bloom. One of the nine islands, Flores (the Portuguese word for flowers), was actually named after this enchanting spring-time spectacle!

Getting there and getting around
The Azores have long been a hidden gem compared to the Canary Islands, but since flight restrictions were lifted in 2015, getting to this subtropical paradise has become both easier and more affordable.

From the UK, you can fly to Ponta Delgada (the capital of the Azores archipelago) in about four hours. Low-cost options are available too, with Ryanair operating a direct budget route from Manchester and Stansted, although sadly easyJet no longer flies there.

Island hopping on your holiday is easy and highly recommended! Local flights connecting all nine islands are regular and affordable, and from May onwards, frequent ferry services become a good option. 

Beaches and swimming
Plenty of coastline means you’ll have many opportunities for swimming and relaxing on the beach on your holiday. A typical Azorean beach is dark grey in colour, but you’ll also find golden beaches on Santa Maria and even a red beach on Graciosa.

If you love water, then swimming in the natural ‘pools’ inside volcanic craters, and soaking in the thermal baths, are experiences not to be missed!

Sights and activities
From visiting the UNESCO World Heritage listed town of Angra de Heroismo to admiring the many breathtaking natural wonders, you’ll always find things to see and do.

Geotourism is big in the Azores thanks to the impressive diversity of volcanic sights, and the caves, craters, hot springs, and curious rock formations are well worth exploring. Or why not make the most of the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean? See the rugged beauty of the coastline on a sailing boat, try your hand at big-game fishing, or sign up for a whale and dolphin watching tour.

Nature-lovers will also want to keep an eye out for rare bird species, while foodies will enjoy touring pineapple and tea plantations as well as sampling the local cheese and wine. Just leave some room for Cozido das Furnas, a meat and vegetable stew cooked in volcanic steam!

Culture and festivals
Each of the nine islands has its own distinct character and unique traditions, but chances are you’ll stumble upon a religious festival wherever you go. These frequent celebrations are joyful in nature: expect colourful parades, music, and dancing.

The Azores also hosts its own Fringe festival, which brings together local and international artists and performers to showcase their talents in June.

Where to stay
You won’t see huge resorts in the Azores—looking after the environment and the local heritage is at the heart of tourism on the islands—but you’re sure to find accommodation options for all budgets and tastes. 

Many hotels in Ponta Delgada and other larger towns offer good value and make a great base for exploring. However, you could also stay in a tranquil villa in a rural setting, a luxury seaside property or even a repurposed 16th-century fort!

So if you’re looking for somewhere a little bit different this year, try the Azores!