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Enjoy a Slow and Relaxing Break in the South of France

Beyond its vibrant cities, France is possibly the most relaxed and laid-back country in the world. The South of France around Provence is particularly somnolent in summer with lazy days filled with leisurely lunches, good food, fine wine, and the scent of lavender. Where better to head to relax, recharge and reflect? 

 

These are some of our favorite places in the south of France to take a break from stress and enjoy the simple things in life… 

 

Antibes

Antibes, France

While the Cote d’Azur is known for its mega-yachts and flashy coastal towns, Antibes enjoys its own gentle pace of life. It’s within easy reach of Nice and Cannes for a day of boutique shopping and sightseeing. Antibes has long been favored by many well-heeled visitors in the past, including Elizabeth Taylor, Hemingway, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The wooded peninsula is dotted with luxury villas enjoying their own private piece of paradise. Explore the Old Town with its 16th-century ramparts and star-shaped Fort Carre or spend time at Musée Picasso in the Chateau Grimaldi. Book a meal or stay a night or two at the opulent Hotel du Cap Eden Roc and enjoy magnificent sea views, wonderful cuisine, and glamorous surroundings. In late May, the hotel is packed with celebrities and movie moguls attending the Cannes Film Festival.   

 

Bordeaux 

Large brown building with fountain statue
Bordeaux, França

Wine lovers will revel in the opportunity to visit the historic walled city of Bordeaux and tour the surrounding wine region. There are 6,000 wine-producing chateaux in the region providing the world with quality Bordeaux wines including full-bodied merlot, sauvignon blanc, and sparkling Crémant.

There are many unique places to stay including turreted chateaux that have their own upmarket B&B, winery, and renowned restaurants onsite. Saint Emilion is an enchanting old town lined with wine shops offering tastings of their world-famous appellation. Explore the 12th-century rock-carved Eglise Monolithe de Saint-Emilion (church) with its catacombs and artworks, take a guided tour around the medieval town, visit the quarry caves and tour some of the family-owned vineyards nearby. The Grand Cru St Emilion is the ultimate souvenir for any discerning wine connoisseur! 

 

Eze 

Èze, France

One of the famous hilltop villages (village perché) that the French Riviera is known for, Eze is a captivating village with stunning views of the blue Mediterranean from its 400-meter elevation. Sitting aloft above the stunning Cap-Ferrat coastline, the village is known for its luxury chateaux accommodation and Michelin-star dining. Explore the cobblestone streets, pop into museums, and dine alfresco in the old town square. The streets are lined with perfume houses where visitors can enjoy the fragrant experience of shopping for their favorite brand of perfume or sample one of the authentic fragrances produced in the area for hundreds of years. Don’t miss the Jardin Exotique, a mountainside garden of succulents with stunning coastal views.  

 

St. Remy, Provence

Fresh Lavender

For an authentic taste of Provence, head to the enchanting town of St. Remy. It’s a truly relaxing place to wander and enjoy with a relaxed pace of life you’ll quickly find yourself adopting.

Art lovers may have a sense of déjà vu as it frequently appeared in paintings by Vincent van Gogh. The picturesque village was the inspiration for his famous artwork “Starry Night”. St Remy makes a wonderful base for enjoying a comfortable stay in a luxury spa hotel. After a leisurely petit déjeuner, enjoy a scenic drive through the countryside. In summer and early fall, the smiling golden heads of sunflowers and waving drills of lavender make a sensational sight. For a little adventure, visit the extraordinary Pont du Gard, a three-story 360-meter-long bridge built by the Romans in the first century AD. The broad Gardon River is an inviting place for a refreshing swim or a kayak trip.  

 

Aix-en-Provence

Delicious cheese

Immerse yourself in the timeless way of life enjoyed in southern France when you visit Aix-en-Provence. Explore the open-air markets, picking up tasty morsels of smoked meats, delectable French cheese, warm baked goods, and freshly caught seafood. Known as the “City of a Thousand Fountains’ these gushing Art Deco water features create a refreshing focal point in many public squares. Look out for the Fontaine de la Rotunde with its bronze carved lions and statue representing the Three Graces of mirth, elegance, and youth. Sit beneath the plane trees at a sidewalk cafe on the broad Cours Mirabeau and watch the world go by. Explore the Vieil Aix (Old Town) with its mellow architecture and aristocratic palaces and pop into the Garnet Museum, the former art studio of impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, the “Father of Modern Art”.  

 

Grasse 

Grasse, France

Once surrounded by fields of jasmine, lavender, and roses, Grasse is the historic home of French perfume. Perched on the hillside above Cannes, the town has many fascinating attractions including the cathedral with its priceless Rubens artworks. The major perfumeries of Fragonard, Molinard, and Galimard all offer factory tours proving an insight into how the floral essence was originally collected on sheets of wax and made into French perfume. Visit the Musee International de la Perfumeries or book a place on a perfume-making course. Under the expert tutelage of a “nez” you can blend your favorite essences to create your own named perfume and receive a 100ml bottle to take home. Your unique perfume recipe will be cataloged for future orders! 

Old towns, fascinating museums, cultural experiences, wonderful food, and some of the best wines in the world will all be part of your relaxing break in the South of France. What’s not to like about that!

The Best Places to Visit during March/April in Europe

After the gloomy days of winter, it’s great to plan a trip and enjoy the longer daylight hours, Easter festivities, and fresh blooms of spring. Europe has an abundance of fabulous cities, parks, historical sites, and cultural festivals to enjoy before the heat of summer takes hold. Treat all your senses to a feast of color, fragrance, and beauty in one of these outstanding spring destinations!

Barcelona, Spain

Mosaic wall in Barcelona
Barcelona, Espagne

Temperatures are just about perfect for visiting Barcelona in March and April, ahead of the summer crowds and cruise passengers. Plan a themed trip, ticking off the seven UNESCO-listed projects of modernist architecture by Antonio Gaudi.

With a keen eye for color, the avant-garde architecture of this 20th century Catalan artist can be seen at Casa Battlo on Passeig de Gracia. This iconic mosaic-clad home has a “dragon’s back” roof and tortoiseshell skylights. Neighboring Casa Mila (aka La Pedrera) shows that even an apartment block can be a show-stopper! More Gaudi commissions feature in Parc Güell, but his crowning glory is the magnificent Sagrada Familia Church. The exterior is a breathtaking apparition of sculptures and symbolism while 18 bauble-topped spires are covered in Venetian mosaics. Ride to the top for panoramic city views.

Paris, France

Brown concrete building in France
Notre Dame, Paris, France

Paris is a very special city to visit at any time of year, but in spring it is decked with pale pink cherry blossom (cerisier in French) throughout the streets and parks. Wander through this city of romance admiring the white and pink blossom trees that shed their petals to lie like confetti on the grass and sidewalks. You’ll find fairytale blossoms near Notre Dame and Montmartre, and around the Sorbonne in the Latin Quarter.

Head to Parc Georges Brassens or Parc Monceau and stroll around photographing the laden boughs of blossom. Best of all, the Champ de Mars is packed with cherry blossom trees providing the perfect setting for admiring the iconic Eiffel Tower in the background.

Rome, Italy

Blue waters and tall buildings
Piazza di Trevi, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy

For many tourists, a trip to the Eternal City of Rome is a pilgrimage of faith, and when better to visit than during the Holy Week of Easter? Gather with around 70,000 worshippers in St Peter’s Square for the Holy Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing by Pope Francis on Easter Sunday. It’s a very moving experience.

Tickets are free, but you need to apply well ahead. Spend the rest of your time exploring the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and peaceful Villa Borghese Gardens. Don’t forget to toss coins over your shoulder and make a wish at the Trevi Fountain! Feasting on outstanding pizza, pasta and gelato go without saying.

Seville, Spain

Tall brown buildings and green flowing water
Plaza de España, Seville, Spain

Spain again, this time in the southern city of Seville where temperatures are balmy and skies are bright. The historic city streets are alive with orange blossom in this season. The white flowers may be inconspicuous, but the heady fragrance is unforgettable! Santa Semana (Holy Week or Easter) is celebrated with huge parades featuring religious statues, banners, golden monstrances, and priceless solid silver objects carried through the streets as part of the Passion of Christ.

The sombre mood gives way to merriment as part of the Feria de Abril (April Festival). Locals dress in colorful Andalusian costumes and there is dancing, live music, traditional flamenco performances, eating, and celebrating on the streets. The tasty seafood and aroma of giant paellas sold on the markets are well worth making the trip.

Keukenhof Tulip Fields, Netherlands

Rows of tulip fields
Tulip fields, Netherlands

The famous Keukenhof Flower Gardens in the Netherlands open from 24 March to mid-May, 2022. Where better to celebrate the tulip season than in one of the largest and showiest flower gardens in the world? Located in Lisse, the landscaped gardens offer a sensational display of over 7 million flowering bulbs, providing a rainbow of color.

Tulips, narcissus, daffodils, hyacinths, iris, and lilies deliver an unforgettable display of nature’s beauty along with a pervading scent of sweet blooms. Once the hunting grounds of Castle Keukenhof, the gardens are now one of the most visited attractions in the Netherlands – and you only have eight weeks to visit and enjoy them.

Saalfield, Germany

Multi colour painted eggs
Painted eggs, Germany

In Germany, spring is synonymous with new birth and “Ostereierbaum”, which means “Easter Egg Tree”. Wherever you visit in Germany in spring, you will see trees hung with colorful painted eggs. This is a long-standing German tradition, bringing a branch indoors and decorating it with hand-painted eggs. However, this charming celebration has taken on new significance in the town of Saalfield, Thuringia. In 1965, the Kraft family began decorating an apple tree that stood in their garden.

More eggs were blown, hand-painted, and added to the tree until it was laden with over 10,000 pretty eggs! It became a national attraction in its own right after being featured on TV. In 2016, the giant project was taken over by the city of Saalfield and moved to a tree on Blankenburger Strasse outside the Alte Poste Restaurant. You can see more Ostereierbaum trees all over the town and in the castle park. However, the holder of the Guinness Book of Records entry is the Ostereierbaum at Rostock Zoo, with over 76,000 eggs covering a red oak!

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Orange walled buildings surrounded by blue waters and rocks
Dubrovnik, Croatia

The historic coastal city of Dubrovnik is a summer haven for swimming and sightseeing, but for foodies the best time to visit is March. This is the peak season for oyster harvesting and the city has many street fairs and festivals to celebrate in gastronomic style.

Head to the Old Town and nearby Ston and Mali Ston for the best places to find fresh seafood. Not a fan of oysters? Then visit this red-roofed city for the clear blue skies, wildflower meadows, Old Town architecture, and the chance to explore film locations featured in Game of Thrones without the usual crowds!

 

Make plans for a spring break and you’ll be surprised at how beautiful Europe can be in March and April.

The Most Beautiful Villages in the Cotswolds

Head west from London and you’ll find yourself in The Cotswolds, a delightful area of timeless villages and medieval towns characterized by their mellow Cotswolds stone. The local honey-hued limestone graces garden walls, country churches, and quintessential thatched cottages with roses framing the front door. While these pretty villages offer historic architecture, quaint tea rooms, antiques, and gifts shops for exploring, the area also has an abundance of fine country house estates. 

 

This area of south-central England is the largest designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and definitely lives up to its name. Covering 800 square miles, it incorporates five counties including Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. From Bath to Stratford-upon-Avon (home of Shakespeare) and Cheltenham to Banbury, this area is steeped in history.  

 

Visitors will quickly discover that the Cotswolds villages are as pretty and unique as their quaint-sounding names suggest, including Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, Moreton-in-Marsh, and Chipping Norton! So without further ado, let’s dive in and explore some of the most beautiful villages in the Cotswolds! 

 

Castle Combe

Castle Combe, Chippenham, UK

Castle Combe is said to be the prettiest village in England, and it’s easy to see why. Amble down the winding lane admiring the pretty thatched cottages and walled gardens and you may get a sense of déjà vu. It is frequently used as a film set for period dramas including Downton Abbey and Warhorse. You can almost hear the horses’ hooves on the cobbled streets! Although it takes its name from the 12th-century castle ruins, the hub of the village is the 17th-century manor house. Now a five star luxury hotel, it is open to the public and offers drinks at the bar and afternoon tea in the glorious Italianate Garden beside the babbling brook. Stroll around the village admiring the abundance of color in the walled cottage gardens. Look out for the 14th century Market Cross, a Scheduled Monument, and the old village water pump. For motorheads, the Castle Combe Racing Circuit is nearby. 

 

Stow-on-the-Wold

Cotswolds, UK

The historic market town of Stow-on-the-Wold is steeped in medieval history. The word “wold” means “hills” and the name means “Holy Place on the Hill”. It’s a typical rural community that once prospered from the fairs and markets that were held by royal charter since 1330. King Edward III set up the first annual charter fair for the sale of wool and livestock. It is no coincidence that the parish church is dedicated to his namesake, St Edward! The pretty streets are decked with flowers in summer while bow-fronted tea rooms and shops offer a range of local artworks and gifts. Check out the two ancient yew trees that now intrude across the entrance door to the church. Other interesting features in Stow are the narrow lanes leading into the market square. They were used for herding and containing the animals that were traded here.  

 

Burford

Burford, England

The tiny village of Burford is an excellent example of a pretty Cotswolds village with thatched cottages clustered around the 12th-century church. Known as the “Gateway to the Cotswolds”, the name Burford comes from burh meaning fortified town, and ford, a river crossing. The village was once famous for its bell foundry, including some examples still hanging in Burford Parish Church. The attractive Burford Priory is now a country house estate on the site of the 13th century Augustinian priory hospital. The Priory Church continued to be used as a nunnery and monastery until 2008 and was once owned by the disgraced media mogul, Robert Maxwell. Reasons to visit include the many gourmet restaurants in the village and the award-winning Burford Garden Centre with its outstanding Cafe nearby.  

 

Painswick

Painswick, UK

Presiding over the pretty Cotswolds countryside around Cheltenham, Painswick is set on a hill. The gently sloping streets and byways are lined with terraces of pretty Cotswold cottages and boutique businesses. It has been nicknamed the “Queen of the Cotswolds” and is well worth visiting in July when the village hosts a renowned Arts Couture Festival. It’s a cross between a fashion and an arts show as it features fabulous wearable designer artworks! After country walks through the scenic Painswick Valley, look forward to feasting at The Painswick, a Michelin-recommended restaurant in a picture-perfect country house. 

 

Asthall

A little off-the-beaten-path, Asthall village sits on the River Windrush and attracts many artists – a clue to its idyllic presentation. Surrounded by fields, it is on the ancient Roman road from London, known as Watling Street which had a ford across the river nearby. The pretty parish church of St Nicholas with its peal of six bells was enlarged in 1160, making it very old indeed. Another indicator of the ancient settlements nearby includes the discovery of the “Asthall Hoard” of gold coins during renovations. The angel and half-angel coins are now on display in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Highlights of the village include Asthall Manor with its elaborate Jacobean architecture and stunning gardens which are open on select dates each summer. The Maytime Inn Gastropub is typical of the local Cotswolds architecture and the pub’s Beer Garden has an abundance of blooms. 

 

Lower Slaughter

Lower Slaughter, UK

This sleepy Gloucestershire village has no shops or pubs, but it’s very Instagram friendly! Lower Slaughter (the Old English meaning “wetland”) is known for its caramel-colored stone cottages with mullioned windows lining the slow-moving stream. Look for the original red brick watermill and the waterwheel that once powered local industry. The old mill now houses a small museum and craft shop. The cafe sells delicious hand-churned ice cream. It’s the perfect excuse to sit on the stone footbridge spanning the River Eye enjoying the creamy taste and taking in the gentler pace of Cotswolds life.  

 

If you’re visiting England, the Cotswolds should definitely be part of your itinerary!

Visit Ireland: Rural Spots You Should See

Ireland, the “Emerald Isle” is a land of dramatic natural beauty, from the remarkable karst landscape of The Burren to the stunning sights along the Ring of Kerry. As an island, you’re never far from rugged coastlines, serene loughs (pronounced locks), and spritely seas. Further inland, craggy mountains provide a breathtaking backdrop to timeless rural communities.  

 

Whether you plan to explore this mainly rural island on foot, by bicycle, or by car, you can be assured of sweeping views and surprising landmarks at every turn. The pristine countryside is dotted with ancient dolmens, ring forts, and Celtic crosses that pre-date modern history. 

  

We’ve picked out some of the best rural highlights below, but wherever you choose to visit in Ireland, two constants are guaranteed: stunning scenery and the warmest Irish hospitality! 

 

Leitrim

Autumnal waterfall found at Glencar by The Tour Creator on Unsplash
Autumnal waterfall found at Glencar

 

Ireland’s most rural county is Leitrim, on the north side of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Despite being one of the largest counties by area, it is one of the least populated. Winding country lines provide endless opportunities for exploring the lush rolling countryside which is interspersed with rural villages and dark-water loughs. One of the best ways to appreciate this bucolic area is aboard a canal barge on the Shannon-Erne waterway. The 39 mile manmade canal has 16 locks and runs from the charming village of Leitrim to Lough Erne. Must-see attractions nearby include Lough Key Forest Park with its nature trails and tree canopy walk. It occupies the former Rockingham Estate and includes the 1970s Moylurg Viewing Tower. Although the grand mansion was demolished long ago, there are remains of the ice house, church, gazebo, stables, Fairy Bridge and Bog Garden within the evergreen and deciduous trees.  

 

Connemara National Park

Sheep grazing in the beautiful Connemara National Park by Piotr Cierkosz on Unsplash

Located in West Ireland, the Connemara is a stunning region of natural beauty in Galway. Best known for its hardy wild ponies and woolen tweed knits, the best of the area is contained within the Connemara National Park. Three of the region’s 12 Bens (high mountain peaks) can be seen within the park boundaries and these are Benbaum, Bencullagh, and Benbrack. This unspoiled region is traversed by a network of hiking and climbing trails with panoramic views across the endless countryside. The lofty peaks give way to green inland valleys, fertile agriculture, and peat bogs stretching from Galway to Letterfrack. Don’t miss the lakeside Kylemore Abbey, an active Benedictine Monastery housed in a beautiful Victorian castle with heritage gardens in the wild Connemara countryside.

 

Glendalough

Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland by Christian Bowen on Unsplash

Within easy reach of Dublin City, Glendalough is known as “the Valley of Two Lakes”. Nestled in the Wicklow Mountains National Park, 28km south of the capital city, this lush rural area boasts rolling meadows, vast loughs, and heather-covered hillsides. Once the site of a silver and lead mine from the 1790s to 1957, the glacial Glendalough Valley was the site of a 6th-century monastery founded by Saint Kevin.  

Aptly nicknamed “the Garden of Ireland” Wicklow remains a nature lover’s paradise.  

 

The Burren

Burren Way, Lislorkan North, Co. Clare, Ireland by Ingo Doerrie on Unsplash

The Burren offers a remarkable landscape of ruts, broken pavement and natural fissures often described as “walking on the moon”. The flat limestone “karst” landscape covers a huge expanse of Co. Clare in Western Ireland. It’s worth trekking across the terrain which, despite its barren appearance, nurtures a host of rare plants. Miniature alpines and wildflowers bravely struggle through the cracks to bloom in spring and early summer. Highlights of the area include strange green depressions called dolines. These indicate the sites of collapsed underground caverns, hollowed out by underground rivers over millennia. While you’re here, don’t miss the spectacular Cliffs of Moher that are also part of the UNESCO-listed Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark. These sheer cliffs rise to over 500 feet above sea level and stretch for an incredible 9 miles! 

 

Giant’s Causeway

Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills, United Kingdom by Aaron Kato on Unsplash

No trip to Ireland would be complete without a visit to the Giant’s Causeway on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland. Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited tourist attractions, it manages to remain a natural wonder in a stunning rural landscape. The causeway consists of over 40,000 hexagonal basalt rock columns that create a natural pavement of stepping stones with plenty of taller pillars for scrambling over. Stand in awe at this unique natural wonder and enjoy the stunning rural scenery and wave-dashed coastline that surround it. Just four smiles inland are the quaint hamlet of Bushmills and the world’s oldest whiskey distillery. Take a guided tour around the whitewashed buildings, enjoy a tasting and browse the gift shop for unique souvenirs.

 

Inishmore

Inishmore, County Galway, Irlanda by Paolo Gregotti on Unsplash

The best way to experience the rural landscape of Ireland is with a ride in an authentic pony and trap. You might prefer to upgrade to a horse-drawn carriage with its sprung suspension, but for a breathtaking rural escape head to the island of Inishmore (Inis Mor) in Galway Bay. A short ferry ride connects the remote and beautiful Aran Islands with the small harbor in Rossaveal, Galway. Pony and trap tours take you all around this remote rural island, stopping for a warming Irish coffee and the chance to explore the remains of the ancient Dun Aonghasa Fort. The site dates back over 3,000 years to 1100BC! The ancient laneways around the island resound to the clip-clop of the pony and tours take around three hours to circle the island of Inishmore. With a cozy woolen rug on your lap and the Irish brogue of your local driver and guide, this is rural Ireland at its most memorable!

Travel Guide to the Best of Croatia

Gathering momentum as a worthy European travel destination, Croatia is definitely worth adding to your travel list. Bordering the beautiful sapphire waters of the Adriatic Sea, Croatia boasts pristine national parks with unrivaled wildlife, beautiful beaches, historic walled cities with jaw-dropping architecture, and mouthwatering cuisine around every corner.  

So, without further ado, here are our recommended places to visit to see the best of Croatia.

Beautiful beaches

View of Croatia blue sea and sandy beach
Croatia Coastline

Croatia’s fragmented shoreline and many islands have over 3,900 miles of beaches, cliffs, and reefs. White pebble beaches line the clearest blue waters that sparkle in the Mediterranean sunshine. It’s an irresistible combination that will lure you into the water for swimming and watersports. Snorkeling and scuba diving are a delight, along with kayaking, sailing, water-skiing, and windsurfing. Of course, there are long sandy beaches for walking and sunbathing and some shingle beaches for fishing and watersports.  

Croatia beach, beautiful blue seas, sandy beaches, and people lounging on warm sands
zlatni rat beach ~ Croatia

 Croatia’s most photographed beach is Zlatni Rat Beach, and when you visit this remarkable sea spit of white sand and pebbles, you’ll understand why. Jutting out into the waters of Brac, it changes shape with the winds and currents. Rent a paddleboat or book a private catamaran for the day and enjoy seeing one of Europe’s top beach resorts against the Vidova Gora Mountain backdrop. Brac is also a good place to find some of the best luxury hotels and restaurants in Croatia if you want to extend your visit.  

Historic towns and hybrid architecture 

Overlooking a harbor in Hvar, Croatia. Beuatiful blue skies and misty seas
Hvar, Croatia

Croatia is just around the corner from Venice. Consequently, the Italian influence is very apparent in Venetian-style harbors and waterfront mansions. However, this former Balkan state also has a rich cultural legacy with early Slavic churches and red-roofed architecture. The Romans left their mark everywhere: in city walls, colonnades, temples, sculptures, and the magnificent amphitheater in Pula which rivals the better-known Colosseum in Rome.  

Traditional buildings in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik 

Dubrovnik is Croatia’s best-known destination for tourists. Why not take a guided tour so you don’t miss some fascinating buildings, legendary stories, and highlights lining the hilly streets.  

A walk along the sturdy 2km defensive walls with turquoise waters on one side and the old town on the other is unforgettable. Peer into gardens and courtyards and admire the series of well-preserved forts and cannons around the perimeter. It’s like looking down on a fairy-tale set with its maze of steeples, look-out towers, and terracotta roofs.  

Castle in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Castle, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Don’t miss the elaborate Pile Gate (1537) and the statue of the city’s protective patron, Saint Blase, nestled in a niche above the fine Renaissance doorway. You can almost hear the rattle of heavy chains that once raised the wooden drawbridge each evening at sunset.    

Of course, Game of Thrones fans will have their own list of must-see places, perhaps best enjoyed on a guided tour. Other gems include the Treasury within the beautiful cathedral and the Square of the Loggia, a traditional gathering place lined with beautiful architecture and monuments.  

Split 

Man walking by harbor in Croatia. Beautiful boats and buildings
Split, Croatia

Stroll the Riva promenade and get your bearings on arrival in this fine UNESCO-listed city. The Diocletian’s Palace stands at the epi-centre of Split’s historic quarter. Built around 305AD, this colossal palace complex was home to the Roman Emperor who gave it his name. The magnificent arcaded peristyle and cathedral bell tower are illuminated after dark, creating a magical tableau. Diocletian left his mark on the city in many ways and his mausoleum is worth a visit too. 

Zagreb 

City Square, Zagreb
City Square, Zagreb, Croatia

Don’t miss Croatia’s colorful capital city, Zagreb, where culture blends with modern shopping and dining. The red and blue tile roof adorning the modest Church of St Mark is like an elaborate board game with its shields and heraldic coats of arms. Visit the Cathedral Treasury and admire the priceless collection of religious silverware and artifacts within the Gornji Grad (Upper Town). The best views of the city are from the 13th century Tower of Lotrscak; it’s well worth the climb. 

 Hvar 

Hvar, Croatia. Boats sailing on blue waters on a summer evening
Hvar, Croatia

Home to some of Croatia’s most luxurious hotels and top seafood restaurants, Hvar is well worth a stop-over. This delightful Dalmatian Island attracts a host of celebrities and wealthy yacht-owners to the traffic-free Old Town and pretty harbor.  

Tasty Croatian cuisine – and where to find it! 

Croatian hospitality is legendary and with a good cause. Their enthusiastic cry of “Jedi! Jedi! means Eat! Eat!

Woman drinking wine overlooking the sunset in Croatia
Chorwacja, Chorwacja

While talented chefs preside over elegant restaurants, it’s worth venturing into a rustic family-run tavern and sampling local fare. Leave wine particulars at the door and sample some of the delicious local wines – you’re in for a big surprise! No meal is considered complete without a glass of wine, whatever the time of day! 

Hearty home-style cooking maximizes the flavor and availability of fresh local produce and meat in a casserole known as peka. It is slow-cooked over the fire and spiced with honey, cognac, and Mediterranean herbs. 

Typical Zagreb cuisine has an emphasis on meat, especially pork, with side dishes of potatoes, root vegetables, and cabbage. On the Istrian peninsula, a bean soup called manestra provides a filling lunch while the hand-rolled pasta (fuzi) accompanies mushroom or tomato-based sauces. 

Along the coast, don’t be surprised to find Black Risotto (crni rizot). It’s a typical seafood rice dish colored with squid ink. It tastes better than it looks! Be warned, the ink will also temporarily color your tongue, lips and teeth too! 

Typical Croatian snacks include air-dried smoked meat, soft sheep’s cheese, and locally produced olives and anchovies. Leave room for the delicious pastry desserts known as pita or burek.  

Natural wonders to behold 

Much of Croatia’s coast is limestone karst, a natural source of underground caverns, waterfalls, canyons, and lakes. It offers an unrivaled opportunity to go rock climbing, hiking beside waterfalls, caving, rafting, and ziplining.  

Krka National Park and watefalls, Croatia
Krka National Park, Croatia

Inland, Croatia’s most popular attraction is Plitvice Lakes, one of eight national parks which protect around 9% of the natural landscape in this beautiful country. Steep forested slopes surround dozens of extraordinary emerald green lakes and cascading waterfalls, best viewed from a series of boardwalks and bridges. Take a boat ride and keep your eyes open for evidence of wolves, bears, eagles, and owls. 

Winding path through Plitvice National Park, Croatia
Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Croatia has so many different aspects so why not plan a tour and experience it for yourself?

Get in touch with us at reservations@finestjourneys.com and we’ll be sure to plan your dream trip to Croatia.

Best Christmas Markets and Events to Visit in Europe in 2021

If you’re planning a pre-Christmas city break in Europe, why not combine sightseeing with a little Christmas shopping and seasonal entertainment?  

Christmas markets pop up in most European cities, and the key to their popularity is the magical atmosphere. Located in cobbled squares in the shadow of historic cathedrals, cities such as Florence, Strasbourg, and Tallinn host traditional markets evoking an air of nostalgia and goodwill. Couples stroll by arm-in-arm and families browse the laden stalls of delightful goods on offer. Carol singers and live music transform mundane shopping into a relaxed and memorable experience– unlike stressed Christmas shopping elsewhere!

If you haven’t visited a Christmas Market, you’re in for an enchanting experience. Small wooden chalets traditionally house each individual stall. They are laden with handmade toys, cookies, decorations, wreaths, candles, and even hand-carved nativity sets. These markets are a great place to find stocking stuffers and unique personalized gifts. Lit with strings of bright Christmas lights and clustered around a decorated fir tree, it’s a timeless scene.  

 The first Christmas Markets began over 600 years ago in Germany. The “weihnachtsmarkts” were an extension of the weekly markets and were an opportunity for locals to stock up on seasonal produce for the long winter months ahead. December markets evolved into Christmas markets, selling wooden carved toys, crib scenes, and festive foods.  

Enjoy foodie Christmas traditions Europe-style!

Each European country has its own traditional Christmas food and traditions and Christmas Markets are just the place to find them. In Germany and Poland, the aroma of sizzling bratwurst, roasted chestnuts, and warm gingerbread are sure to tempt you to sample the traditional foods on offer. 

Germany Christmas Markets
Germany Christmas Markets

Germany is home to lebkuchen, a type of gingerbread cookie and each city seems to have its own special variation. Frankfurt has Brenton honey cookies and delicious Bethmanchen cookies made from marzipan and almonds. Stalls sell “gluhwein”, hot mulled wine seasoned with cloves and cinnamon sticks, to provide a warming glow. You’ll also find gluhwein stands dotted around ice-flooded fields where skaters take to the ice. 

The Covid pandemic led to most Christmas markets in Europe being canceled in 2020, but at the time of writing the following cities are going ahead with their Christmas markets in 2021. We’ve also found some other seasonal events to make your European Christmas trip extra special. 

Basel Christmas Market, Switzerland

If you’re heading to Switzerland this year for skiing and winter sports, don’t miss the incredible Basel Christmas Market which is already in full swing. It’s hard to beat the beautiful setting of Switzerland in winter and it creates an amazing atmosphere for the Christmas Markets. You’ll need to present your ID and proof of vaccination to join in the fun. 

Switzerland Christmas Market
Switzerland Christmas Market

Basel Christmas Market has over 200 stalls in two locations: on Munsterplatz and Barfusserplatz. It’s the place to source exquisite Christmas decorations, hand-made candles, and spices, all beautifully presented.  

Families should head to Munsterplatz and join in the activities such as a star workshop, candle decorating, icing gingerbread cookies, and riding the festive train. Toot toot!  

Strasbourg Christmas Market, France 

Dating back to 1570, Strasbourg’s black-and-white architecture is straight from the pages of a fairytale at any time of year. When decorated with huge ornaments, wreaths, Christmas trees, strings of colored lights, and a light dusting of snow, it’s absolutely captivating. 

Festive Market Shopping
Festive Market Shopping

Expect to do quite a bit of walking as the market is spread over 10 locations within the UNESCO Heritage-listed Grand Île. Running from late November to December 30, 2021, this market is already in full swing for shoppers, who must wear masks. It normally attracts over 2 million shoppers, but this year is a good time to visit when crowds are likely to be reduced.  

When shopping is done, head to Place Klebe which has an ice skating rink in front of the huge Christmas tree.  

Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin, Germany

Although many German cities have canceled their Christmas markets, Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt, will be celebrating as usual. This is one of the oldest marketplaces in Berlin. They have massive open-air market festivities and evening concerts in the city. In fact, the market is already underway and will run until December 31st. However, there are some safety restrictions in place including mandatory masks and proof of vaccination.

Berlin Christmas Market
Berlin Christmas Market

Brussels Winter Wonders, Belgium 

Brussels Winter Wonderland is hosting its fabulous Winter Wonders Festival again in 2021. This extravaganza takes over many public spaces around the city. There’s ice skating, a sound-and-light show, fairground rides, and an enormous Christmas tree.

Christmas in Belgium
Christmas in Belgium

There’s also a traditional Christmas Market in 200 chalets where you can browse for gifts, sip steamy gluhwein or Belgian beer, and snack on freshly cooked waffles. The event runs until January 2, 2022. 

St Lucia Feast Day, Barcelona, Spain  

Each December, Barcelona celebrates the Fira de Santa Llúcia (St Lucia Feast Day) with a 4-week festival and fair from November 26 to December 23. Celebrations of this religious festival include a parade, storytelling, and other family activities along with food stalls. One special highlight is the caga tio, a giant pinata-style Christmas log. When beaten with a stick, it breaks open with candy and gifts for children.

Fairytale Christmas Tree
Fairytale Christmas Tree

Held in front of the Cathedral, St Lucia Market is divided into four different sections. One sells nativity figures and religious decorations for Christmas; another focuses on plants and Christmas trees, both real and artificial. There’s a crafts section with many beautiful hand-painted pots, jugs, and plates along with handmade jewelry. The final section, Sinbombes, specializes in all types of musical instruments. It’s quite an education as you browse! 

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

Tivoli Gardens is one of Denmark’s most popular attractions (along with the original Legoland!) This fun-filled amusement park is truly enchanting in December when it hosts the annual “Christmas in Tivoli” event. The beautiful gardens are decorated with 500,000 twinkling lights. There’s a fair with rides and jolly music from a Pixie Band.

Tivoli Gardens, Denmark
Tivoli Gardens, Denmark

Denmark also celebrates St Lucia Day with a candlelit procession through the gardens on December 13. Over Christmas (Dec 25 and 26) and New Year’s Day, the event includes fireworks. It’s already started, so best make travel plans fast! 

Wherever you plan to spend Christmas, we hope you have a wonderful time with family and friends. Happy Holidays!

Why don’t you check out our blog on Christmas food traditions?

Thanksgiving Traditions in the US

Thanksgiving is one of the busiest times for travel in the US as families get together to celebrate this special holiday. Every year, Thanksgiving Day takes place on the fourth Thursday in November (which is not always the last Thursday) and it’s followed by Black Friday. The holiday is rooted in an event in US history that took place 400 years ago.

Let’s look at some of the traditions, past, and present, that are part of Thanksgiving in the US and see what you should expect.

Thanksgiving celebratory dinner
Thanksgiving Dinner

What’s Thanksgiving Day all about?

Thanksgiving is widely celebrated in the US. The first-ever Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts and is now modeled on a harvest feast shared by the early Pilgrim settlers and the Native American Wampanoag people in 1621. The colonists were following their familiar harvest tradition, giving thanks for the fruits of their labors which had been harvested and stored to see them through the harsh winter months.

The original Thanksgiving started with “fowling” by the colonists. They may not have found many wild turkeys but would have roasted geese and duck. The Wampanoag people probably contributed their more familiar fare of venison, fish, eels, and shellfish. Together, they would also have enjoyed their seasonal produce from the harvest such as corn, pumpkins, potatoes, and beans.

Pumpkins
Pumpkins

The original Thanksgiving had special meaning as the settlers may well have starved without the help of the Native Americans. However, the event did not become a national holiday until 1863. This was when President Abraham Lincoln issued a special proclamation making Thanksgiving an official annual celebration.

Travel

Thanksgiving is a time when family members often travel great distances to be together over this special holiday. In past years, around 50-55 million people travel by air or long road trip to spend Thanksgiving with their loved ones. Students return home and generations of families come together, perhaps even more so for Thanksgiving than at Christmas.

Thanksgiving dinner with candles on the table
Thanksgiving Dinner

What to eat at a Traditional Thanksgiving Meal

The Thanksgiving meal is prepared during the morning and then served around 3pm. Families gather around the dining table and enjoy the turkey feast together. Some restaurants may offer a Thanksgiving menu or pre-ordered take-out. However, generally, staff are given the day off to celebrate their own Thanksgiving at home with family and close friends.

A typical Thanksgiving meal shared by families across the US includes a turkey and all the trimmings. These include bread stuffing, corn, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes with gravy.

Turkey dinner with all of the trimmings

Other traditional side dishes include Green Bean Casserole. The cut beans are mixed with tinned mushroom soup and seasoning and cooked in the oven. Just before serving, the casserole is covered with French Fried Onions and then returned to the oven to brown and crisp.

Equally popular is Sweet Potato Casserole. The sweet potatoes are cooked and mashed with orange juice, cinnamon, and brown sugar. They are spread into a casserole dish, covered with marshmallows, and heated in the oven until the marshmallows are puffy and golden brown.

Pumpkin Pie

Families tuck into plates heaped with food as part of the turkey dinner. However, you have to leave room for the traditional Thanksgiving dessert – Pumpkin Pie! This delicious treat has a deep pastry shell filled with cooked (often canned) pumpkin, mixed until smooth with sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and spices. It is baked until firm and served with whipped cream. Delicious!

Thanksgiving pumpkin pie
Thanksgiving pumpkin pie

Other pies may also be served as optional desserts, favorites include pecan pie and apple pie, served with cream or ice cream.

Enjoy some American Football

American Football (not soccer) is the game in the USA. Some of the most important NFL matches are played on Thanksgiving Day. Most families sink down in front of the TV after dinner and watch the league rivals compete on what has become one of the biggest days on the football calendar. It creates plenty of friendly rivalries when families have divided loyalties over which team they support!

American Footballer holding a ball
American Football

Attend Macy’s Parade

Many US cities host Thanksgiving Parades, with floats, costumes, and marching bands. The biggest and most famous Thanksgiving Carnival is the Macy’s Parade in New York City. It starts at Central Park West and ends in Macy’s Herald Square.

Thousands of people line the 2.5-mile long route and watch the 3-hour cavalcade that runs from 9am to noon. Giant helium balloon figures of famous cartoon characters add to the noisy carnival atmosphere.

Pardon the Turkey

Turkey in the wild
Turkey in the wild

Another tradition started by President Lincoln is the custom of pardoning the turkey. Each year the US President officially “pardons” a turkey and the lucky bird is sent off to live on a farm rather than heading for the dinner table.

This unusual tradition began in 1863 when President Lincoln’s son, Tad, felt sorry for the turkey. He asked his father to spare the turkey’s life.

This tradition was formalized when George H.W.Bush was President. More recently, when President Trump was in office, he officially pardoned two turkeys, named Peas and Carrots. Other turkeys have had equally tasty names including “Drumstick” the 2017 turkey, and “Tater”, the 2016 bird.

Food Drives

Thanksgiving is a time when many people pause and consider those less fortunate than themselves. Food drives collect and distribute food to the elderly, the homeless, and the needy. Churches host Thanksgiving dinners and invite those who would normally be alone to join the wider spiritual family for the Thanksgiving holiday dinner. It’s a time to give thanks and enjoy each other’s company.

Black Friday

After the relaxation, feasting, and family gatherings on Thanksgiving Day, the following day is one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Traditionally there are plenty of bargains to be had in huge Black Friday sales, from electronics to clothing.

Although it is not an official holiday, most Americans take Friday off work to extend Thanksgiving into a long weekend. Whether shopping online or at local stores and malls, Black Friday is traditionally seen as a good day to start Christmas shopping.

Wherever you are on Thanksgiving Day, we hope you enjoy some of these interesting traditions.

The Best Fall Activities for Couples on a UK Vacation

Fall is a great time to take an extra vacation before winter sets in, and where better than the UK? With its plethora of pretty villages from the Cotswolds to Cornwall, ancient castles to explore (or stay in!), and stunning natural parks for hiking, it’s a glorious place to visit. At the end of the day, relax together over a hearty home-cooked meal in a historic inn, warmed by a blazing fire.

Edinburgh and the Scottish Lowlands

Combining historic city attractions with rural activities, Edinburgh makes a great base for a romantic fall break. Travel first-class from London by train and enjoy the passing scenery together. There are plenty of indoor attractions to enjoy in this historic royal city. Tour the majestic Edinburgh Castle and dine in style at the Amber Restaurant and Whisky Bar just outside the castle gates. The dark-wood ceiling and half-moon cellar windows provide a cozy ambiance. Enjoy window-shopping for woolly Aran sweaters and tartan kilts along Royal Mile or do some serious Christmas shopping in the high-class department stores along Princes Street. Beyond the city,  take a tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia, now moored in Leith, for the ultimate luxury treat.

Try a Whisky Tasting

Whisky in Scotland

Still north of the border, take a private tour of some of Scotland’s premier whisky distilleries. Snuggle close and enjoy the dramatic scenery of the Scottish Highlands while your driver navigates the narrow lanes. Choose your own itinerary, or sit back and let Whisky Wheels put together a bespoke trip. Knowledgeable local chauffeurs will point out the main highlights and you’ll be hosted in style at each distillery. A wee dram of whisky will certainly warm your heart and keep out the cold! Learn to distinguish the different ages and blends and take home a case of quality Scotch. No need to worry about drinking and driving on this tour! Just so you know, Irish whiskey is spelled with an “e” while Scotch Whisky is spelled without!

Fancy your own Whisky tasting tour? Check out our itinerary here: Scotland Castles, Loch Ness, and Whisky Trails.

Greenwich, London

Greenwich, London

You may have visited London many times, but why not focus on one particularly historic area – Greenwich? There are plenty of indoor museums and attractions and the quaint cobbled streets are lined with nautically themed shops, friendly pubs, and cozy cafes. Visit the grand National Maritime Museum and learn about the early explorers and navigators that set sail from this very quay. As well as galleries of naval exhibits, there’s a fine art collection within the Maritime Museum. Admire J.M.W.Turner’s largest painting featuring the Battle of Trafalgar, see the coat Admiral Nelson was wearing when he was fatally wounded in battle, and view the world through a Seafarer’s Lens. Visit the Queens’ House nearby and learn about the Ball Drop on top of the Royal Observatory. You can even stand astride the Prime Meridian Line (Longitude zero) and home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Finish your amazing stay in Greenwich by stepping aboard the Cutty Sark Clipper Ship with its tall masts, 32 sails and 11 miles of rigging! Of course, Greenwich is just a short ferry or taxi ride from London’s gourmet dining scene and West End Theaters for romantic evenings together.

Hot Springs in Roman Bath!

Bath, UK

The elegant spa city of Bath is 120 miles west of London. It’s a gorgeous place to visit, especially in fall when the summer crowds have departed. Hot springs delivered healing waters to the town’s Roman Baths over 2000 years ago, so it’s the perfect place for couples to indulge in a little spa pampering. History lovers will want to take a guided tour of the Roman Baths and Pump House, but the best place to bathe in these health-giving waters is at the modern Thermae Bath Spa just around the corner. As well as two warming thermal pools there’s a rooftop pool with stunning sunset views. While staying in Bath, don’t miss the UNESCO listed Royal Crescent with its Georgian architecture and mellow Bath stone.

Cumbria’s Lake District

Lake District National Park

Just south of the border with Scotland, the Lake District National Park has dramatic fall scenery. Deep lakes reflect dramatic fells (hills) covered in rusted bracken and purple heather. This is hiking country at its best! Tuck some Kendal Mint Cake in your pocket for energy later – it’s what the locals do! Explore winding country lanes or travel back in time aboard the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam Railway to Windermere. Stop for a hearty lunch in a lakeside pub and listen to local gossip at the timeless bar. Book a cruise on Coniston Water aboard the National Trust’s Gondola, a restored steam-powered yacht (sailings until October 31st). Visit Arnside Country Market on Fridays and pick up homebaked cakes, artisan bread, savories, preserves, jams, and crafts. When it comes to food, you’re guaranteed to dine well on local seafood and tasty Herdwick lamb at one of the renowned restaurants in Ambleside. You can’t go wrong with a romantic meal at the Michelin star Old Stamp House Restaurant.

Wildlife in Wales

Snowdonia National Park

If you enjoy outdoor adventures as a couple, Wales offers many hidden delights. Although it’s a tiny independent country, it has three national parks, each with its own natural beauty. Explore the dramatic peaks of Snowdonia or stay close to the coast and walks stretches of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. This traffic-free route traces the coastline along the clifftop or down at sea level. You’re very likely to see gray seals and their pups that are born between September and December. Further out to sea you might spot basking sharks, blue whales, and pods of Risso dolphins. The Brecon Beacons National Park is another paradise for hiking, biking, bird watching, and stargazing with your loved ones. The area is known for its magnificent waterfalls such as the 90-foot Henryd Falls which is at its best in fall. For those who love Italian architecture, a day at the village of Portmeirion delivers Gothic towers, baroque facades, and Italianate mansions surrounded by Mediterranean plantings. It’s the perfect place to propose, or just celebrate being in love.

Happy fall!

Spooky Places in Europe to Set the Scene for Halloween!

It’s officially spooky season 🎃

As fall sets in, Halloween provides some fun events to liven up the dark evenings in late October. We’ve got some fantastic castles, historic houses, and uninhabited mansions that make a great tour experience by day….but would you sleep well in those dark and draughty chambers after dark?

From powerful Barons and headless women to prisoners and even animals, we feature some of Europe’s spookiest sightings to get you in the mood for Halloween….

Top 7 Fall Walking Routes in Europe

Fall is the perfect season for engaging in a trip with more physical activity. Days are bright but without the steamy energy-sapping heat of summer. As the shadows lengthen, fall color can be spectacular. Europe has so much to offer, from river valleys and famous wine routes to alpine meadows, dark lakes, and lofty mountains. Now’s the time to polish your hiking boots, pack your camera and join nature in a final fling outdoors before winter sets in.

Let’s take a look at the walking routes we’ve chosen…

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