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candidtraveller has written 170 posts for candidtraveller

Beaches or City Breaks? Barcelona has Both

Torn between a city break and a beach holiday this year? The truth is, if you look carefully you can find special places around the world where you can have the best of both. Take Barcelona, for example. It’s a vibrant city filled with lively central streets, trendy bars and elegant restaurants, yet a short walk from the centre brings you to the soft golden sands of its award winning beaches. How’s that for the perfect combination?

Self catering holidays in Barcelona

There’s always one problem when you book a trip like this – you never know how to pack. Do you bring enough smart casual clothing for strolling through the outdoor markets of the Ramblas, or do you ditch them all in favour of your best beach attire? Our solution is to avoid hotels completely – it’s hard to do your laundry in the bathroom sink – and book a hassle-free self-catering apartment from a company like Owners Direct instead. Your own space means you can take half your wardrobe if you like, and you’ll never head into town looking creased and dishevelled.

Barcelona is one of those places you absolutely have to visit. Take in your surroundings on a walk through the city, where the unusual modernist architecture of Antoni Gaudi is on display for all to see. The Sagrada Familia is undoubtedly his most famous work, and Gaudi spent so many years labouring on this project – 40 in total, to be exact – that he was rewarded with his own resting place in the nave of the church. When it’s time to dine, treat yourself to a visit at La Pepita, one of the city’s iconic bars. It’s famous for its gin cocktails, and their house Vermouth is particularly inspired (and heady), but their Tapas menu is equally as good, with fabulous spicy potato chunks and fried squid on the menu, next to devil eggs with shrimp, crunchy croquettes and fluffy Spanish Omelettes.

Self catering holidays in Barcelona

To take a break from the big city, head to one of the four main beach areas that run along the coast. Barceloneta Beach is usually heaving with sun worshipers, kite surfers and swimmers. Along one side you’ll find little hut bars dotted here and there, serving ice cold drinks and snacks – just enough to keep hunger at bay mid-afternoon. There’s plenty of accommodation along the promenade, but these ocean-front hotels usually command high prices for their guest rooms – yet another reason why self-catering holiday rental apartments in Barcelona are a welcome choice. Choose carefully and you’re bound to find some within walking distance of the beach.

Self catering holidays in Barcelona

Wondering when to visit? We reckon September is a good time to go. You can catch the end of the school holidays if you have kids to worry about, or miss them completely if you don’t, and the temperatures are still hot without being stifling. Not only that, but the Festes de la Merce comes to town, a week-long extravaganza celebrating the life of the city’s patron saint. You’ll be thrilled by fireworks displays, entertained with concerts and amused by street shows. Not to mention stuffed with all the food and drink events that seem to pop up all over the place.

Even if you aren’t convinced, we certainly are. It looks like a short self-catering break in Barcelona has just sailed onto our horizon. Hola!

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Australia Day Celebrations: January 26th…Every Year

So, what will you be doing on January 26th? We know what we’ll be doing. We’ll be tooting those colourful trumpets you get at kids birthday parties, wearing silly hats, and blowing out quite a few candles on a great big cake, because January 26th is our editor’s birthday and we’ll be having a party. It’ll be quite a celebration, but probably not as big as the party going on down under, because around 9.5 thousand miles away, an entire country will be going berserk as they celebrate a birth of a different kind – Australia Day, arguably the biggest festivity our Commonwealth friends enjoy every year.

Sydney Harbour Australia Day

Australia Day is a celebration of the original landing of British Naval ships, a date that marks that moment a small fleet sailed for the first time into Sydney Cove, New South Wales back in 1788. It signalled a new age for the once isolated island, and since then Australia has grown into a profitable nation, with a rich culture, unique history, and world-famous beaches. Its people are friendly and warm, and nowhere will you get a better welcome in the Southern Hemisphere than this iconic island. Australia Day celebrations are designed to recognize native culture and its indigenous people, as well as celebrate the hundreds of thousands of settlers who continue to colonize its sun-drenched shores. Events can take many forms, from the ostentatious, to the downright crazy, and they happen all over the world as Australians everywhere get ready to party.

Here in the UK, London joins in on the action. Head to Camden Town where the trendiest urban bars whip up some mid-winter BBQ heat, test your mettle with some realistic kangaroo boxing, and crack open an Aussie beer or two. Over the ‘pond’ in the USA, (where everything is bigger and better than on our reserved European shores) they don’t celebrate Australia Day. Why? They celebrate Australia Week, of course. A seven day extravaganza of the best Australian wines, all-day reruns of celebrity hunk (sorry, chef) Curtis Stone at work, and gala dinners to show off their strong tourism links with our Australian cousins.

Curtis Stone Australia Day

In Japan, the annual celebration is marked by a high profile black tie ball, led by Tokyo’s Australian Society. A four course gourmet dinner with all Australian produce, and copious amounts of imported wine mark the occasion. It’s all for a good cause too, because the proceeds go directly to local charities. In fact, the Japanese enjoy this event so much, they hold another one in April under the guise of Australia Day in Spring. Ah well, any excuse for a good knees up, we say.

But let’s be honest, if you’re going to join in the festivities of Australia’s favourite annual festival, there’s only one place to do it. In iconic Sydney Harbour, where those wooden ships sailed in so many years ago. These days, there are more than just a few boats. A symphony of lights and music illuminates the skies over Cockle Bay and Darling Harbour, fireworks crackle overhead in a dazzling spectacle of kaleidoscopic colour, and enormous outdoor stages host performers from around the world. And that’s not all, because the run up to this main event sees the streets taken over by a 10k, fun time for kids at a garish carnival display, outdoor public BBQs, and our favourite – the WugulOra Ceremony – where Aboriginal and Australian flags are hoisted aloft on the poles at Sydney Harbour.

Australia Day Flotilla at Sydney

Sound too good to miss? We think so too. So, while we’re contenting ourselves with some homemade fudge cake and a glass of sparkling apple juice or two (we might even get crazy and dress in red, white and blue), why don’t you think about hitting the Sydney coastline to really get in on the Australia Day action. A little bird tells us that Emirates can fly you there direct, so there’s no excuse for hanging around here. Go catch some winter sun, and don’t forget to tell us what you get up to while you’re there.

Where to Find Your Winter Sun, 2014

It’s that time of year again. The depressing cold has begun to set in, the rain is sheeting over the damp streets, and we’d all far rather stay tucked up in bed than head to work every dreary morning. But it doesn’t have to be like this, you know. No, really, it doesn’t, because when else are you going to appreciate some winter sun more than getting away from the cold British weather. And we know just where to go too, because thanks to this fab little infographic from Expedia, we don’t have to strain our grey matter to find the perfect destination. So, Sydney….or London? Sydney…or London? Can’t decide? Then read on to find out why you should be heading Down Under early next year…

Where to do for winter sun in 2014. Sydney Australia

Stop Your Tan From Fading: An Easy Guide

Well, that’s it…the summer is well and truly over for most of us. Loungers are put away, the beaches are deserted, and our bikini’s have found their way back to our bottom drawers till next year. For those of us who aren’t getting away this winter, clinging to the remnants of our summer tan is the next best thing. Not sure how to make your tan last for longer? Have a look at this fab infographic from our friends over at Hayes and Jarvis for some great tips.

How to make your tan last

So there you have it, the best way to keep your tan healthy and glowing for longer. We might not manage to stay golden brown for a whole year, but another few weeks can’t be bad! Of course, if you do fancy a winter getaway, why not have a browse and see where you’d like to go?

Camping on Loch Lomond: What you need to know

Wild camping in Scotland is very much accepted. In fact, for many people it’s a way of life, a hobby or a favourite pastime. From Loch Lomond to Loch Eck, people have been making their way north for years in search of a quiet sport, excellent views, and total freedom. The reason it’s so popular north of the border is because there’s no law of trespass in Scotland. In effect you can camp (almost) anywhere that falls into the category of being wild. It’s actually quite a privilege, and one I tend to forget when I camp elsewhere (I once mistakenly camped on farmland on the wrong side of the English border. There weren’t any crops or livestock to disturb, but that didn’t stop me getting thrown off the hill at the barrel-end of a shotgun by an irate farmer. I always double check my bearings anytime I walk near the border now…..)

Camping on Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond is without doubt one of the most popular camping destinations for travellers heading to the west of Scotland. It’s scenic without being terribly remote, warmer than you’re likely to get in the true Highlands, and easy to access by public transport as well as car. And with plenty of quiet laybys and gravelly patches of beach, you don’t have to travel far to find somewhere that’s perfect for pitching a tent.

While camping on the west banks and on the islands in the heart of the Loch is unrestricted by legislation regarding location, heading to the east is a whole different story, with a camping ban that’s legally enforceable and regularly policed. Pitch a tent in the wrong place here and you’ll end up in trouble. The camping restrictions are clearly marked around the area of Balmaha and Rowardennan, and although the only camping allowed in this area is in designated sites that you need to pay for, you can camp further northwards along the West Highland Way without problem.

Camping on Loch Lomond

The camping ban has caused all sorts of outcry from hikers and campers heading here. It’s seen as a breach of people’s right to camp where they please. But people who find fault with this ban are missing one vital point – the right of access for wild campers, really means the spot you pick to knock in your tent pegs has got to be wild, right? The middle of sleepy Balmaha, or on someone’s doorstep in Rowardennan, doesn’t really fall into that category.

There have been attempts made to have the camping ban introduced in the village of Luss on the west of the loch, but so far the National Parks authority has resisted appealing for the change – and frankly, I can’t see why. The village doesn’t deserve to be descended upon in such boisterous fashion every summertime, particularly not where there’s a perfectly good purpose-built campsite right on its doorstep. The Luss Pools are the reason most people visit, that and the fact that they like to be within walking distance of a pub – but again, that sort of defeats the point of going wild.

To understand your rights when you go camping on Loch Lomond, make sure you’ve read the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. It’s a simple and easy-to-understand guide to what you can and can’t do, which land you can cross, and reasons you’re allowed to be there.

All of the above said, there are some fabulous places that I recommend for camping on Loch Lomond. The islands have some excellent spots to choose from, and there are nooks and crannies (that’s a good Scottish phrase by the way) the whole way up both shorelines. If you want some suggestions for places to pitch your tent in this part of Scotland, drop me and email and I’ll let you in on a few secrets. Also, check out our partner site at Short Breaks and Holidays in Scotland where you can request free itineraries for your holidays in Scotland.

Conic Hill, Loch Lomond: Walking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Scotland is a land of adventure, full of inspiring scenery, imposing mountain ranges and endless lochs. It’s the perfect outdoor adventure playground whether you’re into mountain climbing or gentles strolls along flatter ground. The gateway to the mountains begins at Loch Lomond, a place that hill walkers call home and where Ben Lomond makes an appearance as one of the first Munro’s you’ll meet, but you don’t have to go trekking up a mountainside if you want to stretch your legs and enjoy the view, because Conic Hill is right next door, and it’s worth a climb as well.

Conic Hill, West Highland Way, Scotland

Conic Hill sits on top of a fault line, and ancient one at that. It’s not very tall at only 1200ft, so it’s ideal for novice climbers as well (in fact, you get a lot of dog walkers up here on a gentle stroll). It forms part of the West Highland Way, although the route itself skirts the actual summit, and also forms an easy route from Drymen to Balmaha.

The shortest route is from Balmaha car park, where a forestry road takes you towards the bottom of the hill. It’s well signposted at the beginning, and if you do miss the route markers you could always follow the steady stream of walkers going the same way. This route is the steepest, offering sharp climbs and twisting turns but it’s still navigable by most people, regardless of fitness level.

Conic Hill, West Highland Way, Scotland

The other popular route starts at Garadhban forest (pronounced Garavan) at the other side, just north of Drymen. It’s a longer walk in but because you’re starting above sea level the actual climb to the summit is nowhere near as steep. From car park to summit and back again, including a few moments at the top for photos, can take around three hours. Ideal for a long walk with the dog and great if you’re looking to get into hillwalking and want an easy place to start.

Things you’ll need to remember about climbing Conic are that the top is a series of three peaks with the actual summit located right in the middle. The climb to the summit from the main track is one of the steepest sections, covered in loose shale and slippery when wet. It’s fine for most walkers but if you need walking aid you’ll need to take care here. You should also be aware that the slopes of Conic are farming land. You have right of access, of course, but you need to take care not to disturb the flocks of sheep that live here, particularly if you’re walking with dogs.

Whether you choose to climb from the Balmaha or Drymen side (Drymen is my personal preference because there are fabulous views for nearly the entire route) you can return to respective villages to relax in their local cafes and restaurants, all of them very welcoming to walkers. This is a great walk for all seasons of the year, every bit as accessible in winter as it is without the snow!

Walking With Wolves

I remember being on holiday in Aspen one year, when I had an encounter with a wolf. It was late September or early October, I can’t remember which, and my husband and I were exploring the Maroon Bells just west of the pretty alpine town. The Maroon Bells is a mountain range, two towering peaks gazing out over a series of small lakes, glowing at that time of year with the golden hue of autumnal aspen trees. It was a glorious sight. The road to the Bells is a well tarmacked but winding trail that leads from the main highway through the mountains. It’s not difficult to drive, but you wouldn’t want to take it fast, and as we came back down, the mountains behind us, we were travelling slowly. Slowly enough, thankfully, to stop when a lone timber wolf stepped out onto the road ahead of us.

The wolf was a long, slender creature, with a body too long for its stature, pointed grey ears and slanted eyes that gazed up at our advancing car without a hint of fear. It stopped at the side of the road as we drew to a standstill and gazed up at up, balanced on the edge of a dramatic slope that lead to the valley floor below. And then it was gone. In the split second I reached for my camera, determined not disturb it, it buggered off anyway.

Real wolf

After that, I was so taken by wolves that I wanted one of my own. Only, they’re not so easy to come by in the UK, and probably wouldn’t be allowed anyway. I settled on a wolfdog – an Anglo Wulfdog to be precise.

Mac’s a cross between a Czech wolfdog and a Northern Innuit. When we first got him, the little bundle of fur that travelled home looked nothing like his lupine ancestors. Growing up with us, we didn’t see the wolf in him really, probably because he’s such a pet, but on a recent walk in the woodlands at David Marshall Lodge near Aberfoyle, we discovered just how like a wolf he really is.

Walking with wolves scotland uk

 

It wasn’t the stalking through the forest that made us realise he was tuning into a wolf (he’s been stalking things since we got him…our German Shepherd, our sons…the occasional random teddy bear he decides needs a pouncing on), and it wasn’t the tracking through the undergrowth either (he’s got an exceptionally good nose for scent). No, it came home to us when he climbed onto a ridge at the edge of a forest trail and stood completely still, ears pointed forward, nose sniffing the air, eyes narrowed….and a female walker on the path below him turned completely white and froze to the spot.

There are more of them now, and it’s easy to see why. They’re easy to train and make great walking companions. Since many of our holidays are in the UK, walking with wolves has become a new family pastime. And it’s all thanks to that one wolf that stopped to stare on the slopes of the Maroon Bells.

Santorini: Home of the Luxury Holiday

Dan Perdomo, travel blogger, explains why he fell in love with Santorini and gives his recommendations for luxury hotels and places to eat…

When I need to get away from the world, Greece is my go-to place to enjoy a relaxing holiday. What’s not to love? The summer months sees temperatures peak in the mid thirties. In 2013, 393 of its beaches received the Blue Flag seal of approval; a testament to the cleanliness and quality of facilities. The authentic Mediterranean flavours never fail to delight my taste buds.  Even just writing about Greece makes me feel relaxed! I thought I found true luxury in Elounda, Crete – that was before finding it in Santorini this summer.

Mystique Hotel Santorini

I’m not sure why, but all the things I love about Greece that I listed above was, I don’t know, turned up to eleven. The sand was softer, the sea was bluer and the food was the best I’ve ever eaten in my life. Simply put, Santorini holidays are all about spoiling yourself rotten and over indulgence.

I think a lot of it was due to the picturesque nature of the island – pictures just don’t do it justice. I don’t think there is anyone in the world who wouldn’t fall in love with the Santorini view. Having lived in busy cities all my life with no beach or water in sight, lying on the golden sands of White Beach and staring out at that dazzling blue sea clears my head – nothing else exists. I highly recommended this beach if you’re looking for tranquillity as some of the other beaches like the famous Red Beach were extremely busy.

But this view or feeling isn’t anything compared to watching the sun setting over the sea. I had heard before that Santorini is the best place to watch a sunset, but I wanted to reserve judgement until I saw it with my own eyes. I’m now one of those who believe this too. Spending an hour watching the caldera and Aegean Sea slowly glow orange was unlike anything else I’ve seen. I recommend having dinner at Kastro Restaurant with this in full view too – they serve authentic Mediterranean dishes!

One of the hardest decisions whilst booking my holiday was choosing a hotel in Santorini. They have so many luxury 5 star boutique hotels that are out of this world. After much deliberation I chose Mystique, a Luxury Collection Hotel. Perched high upon the cliffs, it has that beautiful and authentic white-washed exterior throughout which is synonymous with Santorini. What attracted me to this hotel was the infinity swimming pool, the spa and butler service meaning I didn’t have a tense bone in my body by the end of the week. Oh, did I mention the hotel has a secret wine cave?

When I managed to tear myself away from the hotel, I indulged in some shopping therapy. I had heard of a place nicknamed Gold Street, the main street in Thira, which takes its name from the number of jewellery stores there. There seemed to be an infinite number which explains why it’s one of the biggest gold markets in Greece. Some of the local handmade jewellery was beautiful and unique as too were the handicrafts and art on display.

A week in Santorini is just what the doctor should order for those feeling stressed and worn out. Those who live in Santorini must be the most laid back people in the world!

Go Inland: Freshwater Diving in Malawi

When you think of holidaying in Africa, Malawi might not be the first place that springs to mind. As one of Africa’s poorest nations, it doesn’t generally feature in most travel providers’ destination lists, losing out to better known Kenya and Zimbabwe for nature and adventure, and South Africa for culture and sunny beachside vacations. So, you might be surprised to learn that it does, in fact, offer some exclusive and outstanding holidays that you can’t find elsewhere. And one of its unique attractions is diving, because Lake Malawi – running down its eastern border with Mozambique and Tanzania, is one of the world’s favourite freshwater diving locations.

Diving on Lake Malawi

Reaching almost 360 miles long and 50 miles wide, the lake is the ninth largest body of freshwater in the world. It is home to an impressive number of dive sites, unusual species of fish and marine life, and became a natural reserve in 2011. Divers flock here from around the world – at least, those who know about this unique location do – holidaying in Malawi itself or visiting the lake from diving holidays on Africa’s eastern coastline. In fact, it’s so special it’s been featured on television in a nature series hosted by David Attenborough and written about in countless numbers of diving related books.

Bakers Oven is one of the lake’s most popular dive sites, boasting shoals of Cichlids (bright, tropical coloured fish) all year round. At its deepest point is sits at 15m below the water line and extends into a rocky cavern which gives it its name. Divers can swim through various tunnels and crevices to explore the formation, meeting some unusual reef inhabitants among the granite boulders.

Diving on Lake Malawi

The Wreck is the aptly named 30m deep dive to a scuttled vessel, where a 15 long steel hull extends along the lake bed, providing a welcome home to huge numbers of beautifully coloured fish. Although its depth means it’s only suitable for experienced divers, it’s an easy wreck dive to enjoy, with a safe hull and easy access points giving first-time deep divers the chance to really explore a sunken ship.

For something a little different, The Canyon and Zimbabwe Rock are two unusual and challenging dives that require a little more experience than most. With long crevices, deep drop offs and multi-rock formations with swim-through’s to explore, these are two dive sites that let you enjoy all the best aspects of scuba diving contain in one location. The abundance of fish here is impressive, and research scientists with an interest in Cichlids use these sites for their research on their habitat and environment.

To keep in touch with all the latest news from Malawi, including where to dive and what’s happening in this unique country, many dive operators have their own websites with regular updates on trips and adventures on the Lake. If you’re a certified scuba diver with space in your passport for another stamp, and room for a few more logs in your dive book, check out the fabulous adventures you could be having on a visit to the world’s most unique freshwater diving destination, Lake Malawi.

Discovering Malawi: Africa’s Hidden Gem

Malawi might be one of the world most under-developed countries, but when it comes to tourism, it’s certainly stepping up its game. Sitting towards the south east coast of Africa, landlocked and surrounded by countries already enjoying an economic boost thanks to their influx of western visitors, this tiny little country already has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites to its name and another seven waiting for approval. Its three major National Parks are also a source of interest for tourists, offering the sort of safari tours and trekking opportunities many African countries are already famous for.

Leopard in Malawi

The Niyika National Park is by far one of the most popular and frequently visited destinations, boasting a series of dramatic waterfalls, vast Serengeti-style savannahs and twisting rivers that dry to dusty riverbeds when the rains are gone. Safari tours are popular in this part of the country, where leopards can be seen at their highest numbers in the world. Other remarkable creatures often spotted include the wattled crane and the red-winged francolin, both rarely seen anywhere else. Getting to Niyika involves a long drive from the nearest major town at Mzuzu – two and a half hours or so over bumpy, unsurfaced roads – but the park does boast its own grassy landing strip for fly-in safaris.

It’s the sort of landscape where animals reign, and humans are most definitely not top of the food chain, so if you do plan to visit, it’s best to take an experienced guide or join an organised tour. There’s a choice of transportation method, from conventional 4×4 vehicles, to horseback riding across the plains, and the hardiest adventurer can always attempt to cover the isolated 1250 square mile region on foot. When the rains are falling you might be lucky enough to spot wild orchids, and there are over 200 species found here, as well as herds of grazing zebra, elephants and buffalo. Keep your eyes peeled for smaller creatures from warthogs to bushpigs, darting through the brush.

Niyika National Park has seen a real influx in tourism since it was added to the UNESCO tentative list just over a decade ago, and the increased economy has not only benefitted the park itself, but also the local communities that rely on it for their own survival. Money generated from by tourists has directly resulted in developments to local communities, although the country is still behind its neighbours in terms of economic and social growth.

Zebra safari in Malawi

If walking amongst the wild residents of this unique African country doesn’t appeal to you, head for the Mulanje Mountain Biosphere Reserve for a natural attraction of a different kind. Hugging the slopes of Mulanje Mountain, the forests, high plateau basins and unique rock formations are quite an attraction of their own. Its height means it attracts the rains, bringing much needed water to the plains below. Local people still attach magical importance to this area, believing that the mountain is sacred and a gift from the Gods. Rite and ceremonies are still performed on its slopes today, whenever villagers are in need of rain or healing, or are lacking in food.

Malawi might not feature highly on most travellers bucket lists, but if you’re the sort of adventurer who wants to discover the last bastion of early civilisation, where iPads and technology are out and the natural environment is the focal point of community life, then this unique country, with its wild plains and under-developed communities, should be on your list of places to explore.

The Edinburgh Festival: 2013 Predictions

Visiting the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

This year’s Edinburgh Festival is approaching fast. The internationally acclaimed Fringe Festival is already in its 66th edition, and this year it will be held between the 2nd and the 26th of August at different venues throughout the Scottish capital. The Fringe is the perfect excuse to visit this magical city, which offers visitors plenty of opportunities to shop, eat out, discover its surrounding natural landscape, and visit its fascinating museums and galleries. edinburgh fringe festival 2013 visit If you are planning to attend this year’s edition of the Edinburgh Festival, you may want to consider that accommodation gets filled quickly around the festival dates. It is recommended that you stay near the heart of the action in the centre of the city, in one of the best hotels for the Edinburgh Festival, and get ready to discover the fantastic city of Edinburgh. Whether you are visiting the Fringe Festival for a couple of days or for the whole month, planning your visit and deciding on which shows you want to attend is the single best thing you can do. According to the organisers, this year there will be more than 2,400 events on offer during the festival, including cabaret performances, children’s shows, comedy, theatre plays, dance, exhibitions, concerts, opera, musicals, and many more. With so many shows to see, you can save cash with an all-inclusive holiday deal, so that you don’t need to worry about anything else other than enjoying your time in the city. edinburgh fringe festival 2013 visit what's on To help you with your booking decisions, here’s a list of the shows that have the most potential to become hits.

The List

The List is a touching theatre play directed by Muriel Romanes, who in 2011 won the Best Director title at the CATS Awards. The play describes the story of a woman trying to adapt to a new way of life in rural Quebec, and it deals with the subjects of loyalty, friendship, and isolation. The List will be performed at the Summerhall.

Gym Party

Also at the Summerhall there’s Gym Party, a show that is as funny and brilliant as the company that performs it. Made in China sold out all tickets at last year’s festival, so their new play is definitely one to watch out for!

Where the White Stops

This show has high chances of becoming a total hit at this year’s festival. Where the White Stops has already won the IdeasTap Underbelly Award, and critics have praised the perfect combination of music and storytelling, without forgetting that the play touches on subjects that are easy to identify with; like thirst for adventure and fear of stepping into the unknown. You can catch this show at the Antler theatre.

Making News

If you are in for some comedy spiced with a good dose of irony, Making News is the show to watch. The play is a critical look at the Saville Enquiry and the circumstances that surrounded it, so it ticks all the boxes from controversial to witty and well-written. This play will be performed at the Pleasance Courtyard.

For more ideas on things to do in Edinburgh, click here.

Farmer’s Market: Loch Lomond Shores Shopping Galleries

Farmer’s Market, Lomond Shores

There are a few days every year that are a little more special than most. There are birthdays, anniversaries, the occasional wedding, and of course every public holiday or festival that gives us all an extra day off work. And then there are every first and third Sundays of every month when the farmer’s market arrives at Loch Lomond Shores Shopping Galleries. And these are my favourite days of all.

I love fresh food, I adore organic and I take an enormous amount of pleasure in cooking, so getting all three combined – especially in an area where good quality local shops are almost non-existent – is great. The only downside is the market doesn’t come around often enough.

farmer's market loch lomond shores

You need to arrive early on the Sunday as there aren’t a huge number of stalls at this farmer’s market and the produce can disappear quite quickly. Not to mention that there are often events happening at Loch Lomond Shores, so the place can get crowded fast. There are nearly always some fresh vegetable and fruit sellers, a couple of bakeries, and a few craft-type stalls occasionally make an appearance. The best ones though are the local fisheries and meat suppliers who sell everything from freshly made salmon pate to venison burgers to die for. They aren’t that cheap by comparison to some of the prepackaged food in the local supermarkets, but they taste so much better. And that’s the point, right?

Scottish Gifts and Shortbread

If you manage to make it down to the farmer’s market on one of these Sundays, look out for Chrystal’s Shortbread, a locally produced biscuit made to a secret recipe. It’s the crumbliest, most delicious shortbread I’ve ever eaten, and we would happily buy it by the bucket load if we could. If you’re here on holiday and you’re looking for some traditional Scottish gifts to take back home, they sell some that are packaged in really nice travel-friendly tins that should manage the journey without much hassle.

Sometimes, especially throughout the summer (although we do get a winter one as well) a continental market comes to Loch Lomond Shores. It can be a little bit hit and miss depending upon which market sellers turn up, but it can also be an excellent place to pick up some exotic foods. My personal favourites are the sweet, nuts and meze stall, where a variety of continental snacks are sold on the same, very large, market stand. You can choose between beautifully sweet honey cashews, Turkish delight and pastries like baklava, to a selection of savory nuts and then a wide variety of roasted artichoke, sun dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and more. It’s a smorgasbord of culinary delights, most of them unheard of before in the west of Scotland.

Continental Food

Another favourite is the German hot food stall selling spicy potatoes, fried in what looks like an enormous paella pan. The aroma from these is inviting enough that eating fried potato chunks first thing in the morning suddenly seems acceptable. I first tried this German dish - Bratkartoffeln I think it’s called - at Teutschenthal motocross track back in 2010. They were good back then, and they’re still good now. Sometimes you find bacon in the mixture as well, which is just an added bonus – although vegetarians should probably check first to be on the safe side.

Next time you’re hanging around Loch Lomond on an early Sunday morning, and it’s the first or third sunday of the month, head down to Loch Lomond Shores Shopping Galleries to check out their popular farmer’s market. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. And while you’re here, don’t forget to take a look at SeaWorld, some of the shops, and the kid’s playpark as well. There’s plenty to do here for an enjoyable family day out in Scotland.

For other ideas and tourist places in Loch Lomond, click here.

Truckfest Scotland: A Great Day Out

Trucks, trucks, trucks. Then a few motocross bikes, and more trucks, trucks, trucks. It can only mean one thing! Truckfest Scotland is back in town.

Every year the biggest, brightest and noisiest machines make their way to the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston to delight crowds of spectators who all have one thing in common – a love of big rigs with engines. It’s a mechanical extravaganza filled with displays of new models of trucks, provided by some of the biggest names in British hauling. And let’s not forget all those entertaining shows in the main arena too.

truckfest scotland royal highland centre ingliston

This year’s highlights will see Lisa Kelly and Alex Deborgski from popular TV show Ice Road Truckers go head to head in a truck-off with Matt Ekins, Ashley Maddox and Mick Leech of Scottish trucking company, Eddie Stobarts. The Stobart’s big screen, known affectionately as Teletubby, will be sitting pride of place over the main arena, making sure even the youngest Truckfest visitors get a good view.

Other highlights include the chance – for the first time – to ride in a monster truck as Mudzerella shows off its moves, and then there’s some freestyle motocross action for visitors who still think that the most fun comes on two wheels.

Truckfest Scotland is an excellent family day out, with two days of mayhem, loud engines and big wheels to enjoy. Finish the school holidays in style with a weekend pass to the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston and get a bird’s eye view of the action.

Truckfest Scotland 2013 Dates:

3rd and 4th August 2013

Important Info:

Buying your tickets in advance lets you take advantage of a discount on sales. To pick up your tickets, visit Truckfest online at www.truckfestscotland.co.uk or telephone 0844 854 0064 twenty-four hours.

Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston Directions:

The attached Google Map shows the location of the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston. Use the zoom feature to get an overall view.

Restaurant in Loch Lomond: Cucina

Those of you have read my blog for a while will know that I’m a sucker for Italian food, particularly when it’s served in Italy. It’s not that I’m snobbish about my destination at all, but I think there’s often something missing from the dishes in Italian restaurants that you find anywhere else. It’s a bit of a problem considering that when I eat out in Scotland, I usually choose restaurants in Loch Lomond. Maybe it’s something in the air or just the fact I love visiting their wonderful boot-shaped country, I’m not sure. So discovering an Italian restaurant that actually serves great food exactly three streets away from me is positively fantastico!

Cucina is a tiny little restaurant sitting opposite a local nightclub, and just minutes away from attractions like Lomond Shores shopping complex and The Maid of the Loch. It’s on Balloch Road, the main street through the village, and pretty easy to find. For me, it was one of those places I kept saying ‘I must go in there one day’ about, and when I finally did I could have kicked myself for not going in sooner.

restaurant in loch lomond cucina

Inside, it’s very well decorated and modern, with a long mirror giving the welcome impression that it’s somehow larger than it is, and with a menu that’s as authentically Italian as you expect to get in Scotland. Sure, it’s still missing that real Italian ambiance. There aren’t any dusty wine carafes stuffed with dripping candles in the centre of the tables here, not like you get in any decent back-street trattoria in Venice. And none of their expensive faux-leather chairs wobble on an uneven Italian tiled floor while you’re trying to cut your carni, but this tiny restaurant in Loch Lomond is good nevertheless.

They’ve kept the menu simple and stuck to the classics, doing them really well – ariabiatta, lasagne and my favourite, Gamberetti Olio Rucola (king prawns in garlic and rocket). They have a nice selection of wines, all carefully chosen and obviously Italian, and some excellent set menus to take the hassle out of choosing.

If you want to get a table here over a weekend then I have to recommend that you book in advance. You see, the secret is out about this little Italian restaurant in Loch Lomond, so getting a table here means you might have competition on your hands.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out some of our other luxury travel ideas here.

Re-Visiting Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in Scotland: The Old Road and the A82

I spend so much time writing about and travelling to some of the world’s most exciting and interesting places, that it can be hard to remember I actually live near one of them. Almost on the banks, in fact. I’m talking about Loch Lomond, that icon of Scottish landscape, about which songs have been sung and stories told, and also about the National Park in which it sits. In all my years of travel writing I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve written about this part of the world, and I’m so annoyed at myself that I’ve decided to change all that. So here I am, re-visiting Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in Scotland.

visiting loch lomond and the trossachs

Most of my family are native to Scotland, but my formative years were spent in England. Our annual holiday was a fairly consistent toss-up between Bournemouth in one direction, and Glasgow in the other, and whenever our travels took us north of the border, we used the city as a base to explore as much of our old homeland as possible. One of my lasting memories was a trip to Perth because it involved driving up the old A82 (it was known by a different name back then) along the west bank of Loch Lomond.

Old Road by Loch Lomond

The old road – the ‘low’ one from the song – was a tortuous and interminable road that afforded you fabulous views over the water and the distant hills, but really didn’t get you anywhere very fast. Not that we were bothered back then – our inordinately small, bright red, fully-laden Fiat 126 was never in much of a hurry to get anywhere.

It tended to crawl at a sickeningly slow pace every where it went, much like a lethargic ladybird, only without the spots. And it’s because the road was so twisty that I remember it at all. It took over an hour, maybe nearer two, of twisting turns, rises and falls, of keeping my eyes on the horizon and challenging my sister for control of the ‘sick bowl’ before we made it out the other side of the gauntlet to the safety of Crianlarich.

visiting loch lomond and the trossachs

This was not our Fiat 126. Ours eventually met its end. It does seem just as slow though…

These days, that old road is mostly gone and the part that’s left is only used as the south entrance to the village of Luss. In its place is the much faster A82, a modern thoroughfare featuring real tarmac and relatively straight lanes, sometimes even two in the same direction. There are occasional opportunities for overtaking, something our Fiat would have scoffed at the mere thought of.

What the new road also has, that the old one didn’t, is a view. Sure, the old road was slower and a whole lot closer to the edge of the loch, but there’s only so much admiring to be done when you’re spending most of the trip comparing your apathetic Italian car to a narrowboat navigating some rapids, and willing the morning’s hash browns to remain below your esophagus.

Loch Lomond New Road: A82

When I eventually returned to Scotland as an adult, my first trip back along that road was filled with a certain degree of trepidation. Is it, after all, even possible to drive a car whilst being sick? When I discovered the original snake-like route had been relegated to little more than a side road, I was overjoyed. Finally I could make a safe journey up the lochside without losing my breakfast, and enjoy the views as I went.

The A82 is the main trunk road for the west of Scotland, and despite my appreciation of its new, flatter self, I have to be honest and say that the section above Tarbet is still a hazardous journey – although, thankfully short by comparison to the length the old road used to be. It’s busy every day of the week with tourists visiting Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, not mention the crowd ‘just passing through’. Not crowded-like-Glasgow-on-a-Saturday-afternoon kind of busy, but busier than any country road has any reasonable right to be.

There are certain times of the year when it gets a whole lot worse; crawling traffic caused by the Garelochhead Marches, the returning revellers from Rock Ness and groups of cyclists who don’t seem to realize that riding four deep on a 60mph road is not all that polite. (And I’m not anti-cyclist by the way. Just anti-impolite ones).

The road passes all the main villages along the way, bringing plenty of traffic into the popular village of Luss and Tarbet. At its base, the village of Balloch hugs the edge of the A82 and provides an access route around the other side of the loch towards places like Rowardenan and Balmaha, as well as the towering form of Ben Lomond that dominates the landscape from every direction. In fact, the A82 is Loch Lomond and the Trossach’s arterial route, bringing tourists to this fabulous part of Scotland in their hundreds every week. If you plan on visiting Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, chances are this is the road you’ll use. I certainly hope I haven’t put you off?

A Hard Day Travel Writing: Best Places to Blog

Leaving the rat race behind and heading in a new direction can be daunting for some, but the realization that life has just gotten better gives you a feeling that makes me think of that icon of the boxing world, Rocky – it’s just so good, it knocks all other emotions out cold. That’s happened to me with travel writing, and I’m not hanging around long enough to look back. No more corporate ladder, pressing deadlines (except the ones I set myself) or unreasonable bosses, and my desk and PC are ditched for a lightweight table and a laptop. But the best thing by far is the constantly changing view, as I discover a new office in different places around the world. The best places to blog are never surrounded by four walls.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved to travel and I’m never far from a pen, so it’s not as if these are passions I developed overnight. The difference is I never dreamed of doing them for a living and I consider myself lucky to be following this path. I’ve seen some sights I never knew existed, met people from different cultures and eaten dishes I’d never heard of. Always travel writing, always blogging.

Two years ago this was my first alternative office space….

best places to blog travel writing

 

We were taking a family holiday to France, travelling in an RV and exploring the route from Glasgow to St Jean D’Angely in time for the motocross. And having fun all the way. Okay, so as a travel writer you sort of have to work while you’re on holiday, but with great scenery, childish antics, loads of food and a view like this every time you stop, it’s hard to feel disgruntled about it. This trip was the one that really made me decide to go for it. The one that made me realise just how fed up I was being just another rat in an age-old race.

Since then, I’ve added to my list of best places to blog.

My travel writing has taken me here…

best places to blog travel writing

And here….

best places to blog travel writing

And here too…..

best places to blog travel writing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

best places to blog travel writingbest places to blog travel writing

 

 

 

In fact, the places I’ve been to seem almost endless.

I love the fact that I can wake up one day with a new horizon, pack my pen and notepad and set off on another adventure. In my last job, posting pictures, tweeting and instant messaging were alien concepts. I’ve stepped out of the box and into the world, and I’m loving it. 

There is one downside though. I thought that by travel writing I’d get some of my bucket list ticket off. In fact. it’s getting longer as I discover new places to visit and different activities to try. And when I do tick something off, it invariably goes back on in the ‘must do that again’ category. There’s really only been one place I’ve actually hated – a dreadful little hotel on Florida’s I-Drive with stained carpets, holey sheets and broken furniture – the sort of place you get out of in a hurry, even when you’re only visiting by Google Map!

The more I travel, the more I want to write. And the more I want to write, the more I want to travel. Yet suddenly that whole ‘vicious’ circle thing is so much more appealing. Especially if I get to keep adding to the list. That’s the thing about travel writing…!

So where are some of your best places to blog?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Your Children Safe on Holiday with Child ID Safety Bands

Travelling with children can be stressful enough with all that extra packing you need to do, not to mention the inevitable series of toilet breaks and the gradual onset of boredom that often comes with trips away. So, when you add in the extra stress that comes with keeping your children safe on holiday, family trips away begin to look less appealing. We love anything that helps us keep them safe a little bit easier, and child ID safety bands are the answer.

Win child safety ID bands

By keeping your children safe on holiday, we’re talking about not losing them, often a difficult task if you’re travelling with over-excited, sugar-filled youngsters. Airports become playgrounds, cruise ships become adventure-lands and there’s no stopping them on long esplanades where there’s plenty of space to run. So it’s clear that where you go on holiday has a real impact on how relaxed you are as a parent. Navigating public events, visiting crowded beaches and even strolling through shopping malls are outings that come fraught with danger. And it’s tiring work too – keeping your children safe means constantly knowing where they are and what they’re doing.

 

We’re parents too, here at Candidtraveller, and we’ll admit that we’ve taken some unusual precautions to make sure we can always see our kids when we’re on holiday. Many of our ideas haven’t been met with enthusiasm from the youngest members of our families. They’ve been subjected to wearing the most unfashionable clothing available, because flower print neon T-shirts can be spotted a mile off! We’ve tied helium balloons to their backpacks as a visual aid, and even slung whistles around their necks (although these were quickly removed when they became little more than annoying toys). But no matter how much care you take, kids are fast little things. If they decide to wander off not even the most watchful parent can spot them every time.

Win child safety ID bands

So what do you do if the unthinkable happens and your child disappears into the thronging crowds at a packed theme park? Apart from shout and scream, cry a lot, and generally feel utterly miserable until they’re found again? The problem we face is that small children don’t know how to find us. Very often, they don’t remember our phone numbers, and if a stranger asks them what their parents are called so they can make a tannoy announcement, ‘mummy and daddy’ isn’t the most helpful answer. But we’ve cracked it with a discovery that last year – as we went to one crowded sporting event after another – helped allay all our fears.

A search on the internet brought up this fabulous little company (www.theidbandco.com) who sell ID wrist bands for kids (as well as adults and a whole lot more). Cue a little panic buying on our part, and before you knew it our kids were sporting brightly coloured wrist bands with a list of contact information inside. It may not be the same as tying our wayward children to a long piece of string, but these bands certainly give us confidence that if they do manage to give us the slip in busy places, a simple wave of their wrists at any respectable adult will have our phones ringing in no time. Sure, they won’t stop determined children getting lost in the first place, but that little bit more peace of mind makes it easier for paranoid parents to relax.

We love these Child ID Safety Bands so much that they’ve become our ‘must-pack’ item whenever we go away. And our new friends at www.theidbandco.com have kindly offered to give some away to Candidtraveller.com readers over the next few months.

If you’d like the chance to win one of these fabulous child ID safety bands, perfect for keeping your children safe on holiday, then check out our prize draw competition page here for all the terms and conditions. And don’t forget to visit their website at www.theidbandco.com to have a look, because if you’re one of the lucky winners, they’ll let you choose your favourite colour too!

Happy (and safe) holidays….

Win Child ID Safety Bands with Candidtraveller and the ID Band Company

Competition: Win a set of two Child ID Safety bands in a colour of your choice. 

Our fabulous friends over at the ID Band Co have agreed to send three lucky winners a couple of fabulous child ID safety bands. These super cool bands are one of our favourite travel products here at Candidtraveller. We use them on our kids, take them travelling with us, and even wear them around the office so we know who we are! They come in a variety of bright colours and have a handy little insert for keeping essential safety info nice and secure. Write down your name and mobile number and strap it to your child’s wrist next time you’re out in busy public places. We all try to keep our kids safe – especially when we’re travelling abroad – but if the unthinkable happens and your child does get lost, the authorities can use your contact information to reunite you quickly.

Win child safety ID bands

Not only are these Child ID Safety Bands a brilliant safety idea, but they look great too. With fussy kids of our own, even getting them to wear a hat can be a chore – but we had no problem with these! You can find our review right here.

For details about entering the competition, as well as terms and conditions, read on. Everything you need to know is below. In the meantime, why not head over to the ID Band Co website to check out their other great products.

Win child safety ID bands

 

Win Child ID Safety Bands with Candidtraveller and the ID Band Company


How to enter:

To enter the competition, simply click on these links to visit Candidtraveller and the ID Band Company FaceBook pages and ‘like’ them both.

One winner will be drawn at random on 31st July, 31st August and 30th September from entrants who have ‘liked’ BOTH pages.

For extra chances to win:

  • Share the competition post on the Candidtraveller Facebook page with your friends
  • Tell us where you’ll use the bands if you win.

Closing Date:

30th September 2013 at 12:00hrs GMT

Terms and Conditions:

1. The Child ID Safety Band competition (the “Competition”) is open to worldwide applicants. 2. The Competition is not open to employees or agencies of either Candidtraveller or the ID Band Company, its group companies, their family members or anyone else connected to the Competition. 3. Entry into the Competition is acceptance of these Terms and Conditions. 4. To enter the Competition, ‘like’ the Candidtraveller and ID Band Company Facebook pages.   5. Entries on behalf of another person will not be accepted and joint submissions are not allowed. 6. No responsibility is taken for entries that are lost, delayed, misdirected or incomplete or cannot be delivered or entered for any technical or other reason. Proof of delivery of the entry is not proof of receipt. 7. The Competition closes at 12.00pm on 30th September 2013, with preceding draws taking place 12.00pm 31st July and 12.00pm 31st August. Entries received after the closing date will not be processed. 8. The winner will be chosen at random from the entries submitted correctly.  The judges’ decision will be final and no correspondence will be entered into. 9. The winner from each draw will receive two Child Safety ID bands as shown in the picture above. They will be allowed to choose the colours from the selection on the ID Band Company website. No alternatives will be offered. 10. Winners will receive their prize by normal post, not by courier. The ID Band Company cannot accept liability for items in the hands of the delivery service. 11. Entrants under the age of 18 must have parental consent to enter. 12. Winners will be notified by Facebook message. Winners will be required to provide their details within 15 working days of confirmation of their win. Failure to provide accurate contact details within that time may result in their win being voided.

Babymooning in Marienbad

Fiona Galloway: Editor

For excited parents-to-be, or those whose precious bundles of joy have just arrived, life has probably taken on a whole new persona. Gone are the late nights socializing in five-star restaurants or the long weekends in luxury hotels, and sleeping in the next day is a decidedly distant memory – for a while at least. Tired, emotional and unquestionably frayed, when it comes to babies our need to relax has never been greater. That’s why the concept of ‘babymooning’, originally a celebrity trend, has really caught on with couples looking for a last chance getaway to relax, and when it comes to child-free holidays, spa vacations in Europe are the perfect antidote to baby blues.

mariendbad4

The key to a successful babymoon is ‘location’. Forget hiking the Alps or tackling the Moroccan souks when you’re starting a family because this is a time for tranquility and relaxation. And when it comes to taking the pace of life down a peg or two, the impossibly beautiful spa town of Marienbad (or Mariánské Lázně in its native tongue) is hard to beat.

Nestling in a valley that was once little more than a vast forest and gurgling wells, this 200 year old town in the Czech Republic sits in the heart of the Bohemian Spa Triangle, a tract of land once occupied by the Roman Empire. From street to street here, spring water bubbles to the surface ready to be sipped from sidewalk drinking fountains or used for bathing within the walls of eons-old spa baths. Its popularity as a romantic, therapeutic and exclusive vacation destination means it’s not short of a luxury hotel or two, a fact that’s been attracting the rich and famous – from European nobility, to famous composers and writers – for centuries.

The town is filled with renaissance buildings, narrow streets and secretive nooks and crannies, but undoubtedly one of Marienbad’s best features is its endless parks, which create an alluring green patchwork of landscaped tree-filled spaces across the town. All of them are home to at least one natural spring, and on sunny summer days – and the weather here in the Czech Republic often averages in the mid 20°s – these esplanades are where the locals flock to with picnics and deckchairs, and where drinking water is literally on tap. Grab your lunch from one of the bohemian cafes on Hlavní třída (the main street) and choose a shady spot to relax in and watch the world go by, or head to the Art Cafe on Ruská where al-fresco dining on the terrace is a lovely way to take in the atmosphere.

marienbad 3

The best way to see Marienbad is on foot, but when you’re expecting a baby, pounding the streets might not be all that appealing. In this quaint Czech town, horse-drawn carriages are the answer. They clatter around the central esplanade, stopping at the main parks and circling the famous Singing Fountain, an ornate structure that shoots streams of water six feet in the air in time to music by Chopin, Mozart and Bach. It’s a lovely spectacle at night, with soft lighting at night creating a wonderfully romantic ambience.

Energetic babymooners can pass the time wandering through the elaborate, wrought iron spa colonnade, shopping in pretty boutiques and hunting out the many mineral fountains hidden along the route. The nearby Boheminium Park is a must-visit attraction, with miniature replicas of Marienbad’s most interesting and famous buildings hidden along the trails. It’s a leisurely way to pass an afternoon, and beats trekking through the surrounding countryside to see the real 17th Century Kynzvart Chateau or indomitable Loket Castle, with baby or bump in tow.

But of course, babymooning holidays are all about being pampered, and Marienbad doesn’t just offer picturesque scenery and delightful architecture to look at. Every corner turned through the labyrinthine streets and pathways of this charming hamlet reveals another fabulous spa hotel with a tempting range of treatments to ease away aches and pains.

We suggest heading straight for Hotel Nove Lazne in the north of the town, a wonderful luxury hotel where marble-columned Roman baths and an exquisitely designed Italian Neo-Renaissance casino make it the place to stay in bohemian Marienbad. This beautiful hotel was a favorite of King Edward VII of England and remains the hotel of choice in the area – not least because of its heritage and architecture, but because it’s got a wellness centre that’s truly fit for royalty.

Do you suffer from late-pregnancy swollen ankles? A treatment with natural dry carbon gas is the very thing for inflammation. Mud wraps, thermal waters, and mineral treatments are a specialty here, alongside traditional massages and hot stone treatments that are guaranteed to ease tired and suffering limbs. Relaxing in the opulent private spa, with plunge pools and outsized Jacuzzis is the perfect antidote to pregnancy pains, and a fabulous way to indulge in a little ‘you’ time.

Getting to Marienbad is delightfully easy, with the international airport at Prague just an hour and a half away. Car hire is a great option – there’s so much to see in the region – but there’s a direct train running every two hours from Prague’s main railway station, making babymooning Eastern-European style a breeze.

Best Credit Cards to Take on Holiday

A credit card is a must have when you go away on your next vacation. It’s the perfect safety net if you’re met with any unexpected holiday expenses and find that you haven’t purchased enough currency in advance, as well as being essential when it comes to charging luxury hotel rooms or hiring a car abroad. But before you go, make sure that the credit card you have is suitable for foreign use. Many credit card companies will charge you huge fees for taking cash out of foreign ATM’s and most also charge you a transaction fee for every purchase you make using it. It’s near-impossible to find a card which doesn’t charge you at all for using it abroad, but still, there are some which are much more foreign-friendly than others.  

If you do find one that doesn’t charge for foreign transactions, make sure you check the exchange rate before you go away; they can be subject to change meaning they might actually work out more expensive. In the run up to our holidays this year, we’ve checked out some of the best UK credit card deals available, helping you narrow down the most expensive options. Happy holidaying….

Credit cards

HALIFAX CLARITY CREDIT CARD

This card offers the benefit of not charging any fees on cash withdrawals of foreign currency from ATMs whilst abroad, but there is a rate of at least 12.9% interest charged even if the amount is repaid in full straight away. But this still works out to be quite a good deal, at roughly £1 per month per £100 withdrawn it is actually significantly cheaper than many foreign bureaus de change. And the best thing about this rate is that it applies worldwide, so you are not restricted to the countries in which you can actually make use of it. It’s a brilliant card to have if you are a regular traveller and visit many different places.

As an added bonus, if you already have a Halifax Reward current account and you apply for their clarity credit card, you will receive £5 every month that you spend over £300 on your credit card, either in the UK or overseas. But make sure that you repay in full each month otherwise the £5 will not go very far in paying off the interest you accumulate.

SAGA PLATINUM CREDIT CARD

This is a great card and offers many of the same benefits as the Halifax Clarity. It is, however, only available to people aged over 50. Its offers of no transaction fees on payments and cash withdrawals are also only available in Europe. But it’s a great card to have if you fit the brief. The card also offers you discounts within the SAGA group and only charges you 11.9% APR as opposed to Halifax’s 12.9%. SAGA’s card is a visa and so should be accepted by all major retailers, even overseas.

POST OFFICE CLASSIC MASTERCARD

This card offers you no transaction fees at all when used in Europe, and just 1% anywhere else in the world. It does charge a somewhat hefty 19.9% APR on repayments though. A much larger amount than the SAGA or the Halifax Clarity. But, instead of the standard month you get a full 3 months interest-free before this 19.9% rate starts to apply. The post office has the added benefit of not charging any commission on currency when exchanged. So the rates offered when paying abroad should be much better than those available on either of the other two cards. There is no age restriction on this credit card, it can be used all over the world and is, again, a MasterCard so you should have no problems with it being accepted wherever you go.

Whichever credit card you prefer, don’t let money worries get you down on your next luxury holiday abroad.

Kyloe Restaurant and Grill, Edinburgh

It’s very often the case that you need to check out a restaurant menu or read a review to discover what type of cuisine you’re letting yourself in for. Not so at the Kyloe Restaurant and Grill, one of the best restaurants in Edinburgh, where it’s fairly obvious that beef is on the menu. It may be the large ornamental cow standing out front, with dotted lines on its right flank depicting the source of the choicest cuts, or perhaps it’s the giant cow head protruding from the exterior wall one floor up. But should you miss any of these signs, then the interior design is likely to give you a bit of a hint. More ornamental bovines adorn the walls, the booths are upholstered with real cow hide and there’s enough wood to construct a stable

KyloeI stepped inside and instantly wished I was wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson. I don’t have any, but if I did this would surely be the place to pass unnoticed. It’s not a tacky restaurant, let me assure you of that. The décor is actually quite elegant, and there’s no straw covering the varnished floor. It’s just, unequivocally, a steak house.

The menu speaks for itself in a ‘who’s-who’ of steaks. Favourite cuts like sirloin and fillet rub shoulders (or rumps) with the lesser known bullet steak. The starters are mostly meat-friendly while the mains are an eye-watering display of red protein, and just when I thought that vegetarians would have long since given up and run for the hills, I spot monkfish, a risotto of beetroot and a chickpea curry, all of which I (as a confirmed carnivore) would have been happy to eat.

Dining at Kyloe is a relaxed experience. The quality of the food is outstanding, the presentation was immaculate and the service was friendly, knowledgeable and courteous. If you don’t know your steaks well, they provide an ‘at the table’ master class where their educated waiters talk diners through a selection of cuts, all nicely presented on a large wooden board.

Kyloe Restaurant Scotland

I started my meal with the steak tartare. Let’s face it, if you’re going to get the best raw beef, you’re likely to get it in a great steak house, right? It was perfectly cut and had just the right amount of salt from the capers and gherkins. Having just devoured a perfectly rounded portion of entirely raw meat, I felt like a fraud ordering a medium-rare ribeye, but since that’s the recommended degree of cooking (I paid attention in my master class) I didn’t want to argue. Clearly the chef at the Kyloe knows his stuff because it was sublimely tender.

The wine list is another pleasure. A reluctant New World wine drinker, a recent trip to London opened my eyes to some of the better estates down under, and with Hidden Bay on the list here it was an easy choice to make. Dessert brought the tasting platter, a selection of smaller sweet things to taste and share – ideal if you can’t make up your mind.

Despite their high standards there’s no pomposity or arrogance here. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There’s a constant hum of activity everywhere you look, couples chatting, large groups just out of work for the day, family get-togethers, girls nights out and so on. It’s clearly a popular choice. One of the benefits is the short walk back downstairs to the bar when your meal is done – you have a complete night’s entertainment under one roof. So next time you’re arranging a round up of friends and you’re looking for one of the best restaurants in Edinburgh, may I humbly suggest that you ‘cattle drive’ your way to the end of Princes Street where the fabulous Kyloe Restaurant and Grill is waiting…

For more luxury travel ideas check our our hotel reviews here.

RV Vacations: A Beginner’s Guide to the USA

RV vacations are an increasingly popular choice of holiday for many Americans. Using a trailer rather than a hotel is fun for all of the family and offers some surprising benefits. Travelling to your destination with your very own home in tow is a great way to save money and bring home comforts along with you. Avoiding public transport also means that you can bring your own sports gear and you can quickly move elsewhere if you don’t like your neighbours. You get to use your own sheets, eat your own food and there are no restrictions on luggage allowances or the amount of stops that you make. The road is your oyster.

American Bullet RV

Where to Go

North America is a vast continent with an almost impenetrable number of tourist attractions. It’s also conveniently home to a great many RV parks that come in all shapes and sizes. Among the best are Mill Creek Ranch in Canton in Texas, Yosemite National Park RV Parks in California and River’s Edge RV Park in Fairbank Alaska. The entertainment on offer at these RV hot spots ranges from visiting enormous Texan flea markets, to panning for gold in Yosemite. Or you can watch the natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights and visit the reindeer at River’s Edge.

What to Bring

What you decide to bring with you largely depends on what you plan to do during your trip. If you’re heading to the Floridian beachside then you’ll need considerably less than a trip to a northern National Park. A trailer dolly will keep your trailer as mobile as possible. Spare tent parts are essential if you are going to set up camp outside of your trailer for a substantial amount of time. Cleaning and cooking products will also come in handy if you’re going to be making your own food and vacationing on an extended trip.

Cooking equipment

Make sure that you get the best meals possible by packing the right cooking equipment, as well as bringing non-perishable food items. Sharp knives, a chopping board, seasoning, plates, pans and cutlery are all essentials for self-catering. Napkins, washing-up liquid and cleaning sponges will also go a long way when you’re out in the wilderness. Some camping stores supply gas camping stoves, which are an excellent way to cook breakfast. A small and cheap BBQ should also last you for the duration of your trip and gives you the opportunity to make smores.

Food Items

Food items that will last include pasta, rice, canned food, biscuits, chips and bread. Most candy, crackers, eggs, fresh fruit and cheeses also keep well outside of the fridge. But these should be kept at relatively cool temperatures and consumed as early as possible. MRE army-style rations may seem like a slightly extreme option, but some are very tasty and they last for years. You can make your meat and vegetables last longer by freezing it before you depart and storing it in a cooler packed with ice. Once you have exposed your meat to normal temperatures, you should cook it and either eat or refrigerate as soon as possible it to avoid bacterial contamination.

Conclusion

As affordable vacations become increasingly hard to come by, more people are turning to RV trips for their precious holiday time. There’s nothing quite like an American road trip for a great family and friends bonding experience. You’ll definitely be surprised at the amount on offer from the USA’s huge pick of RV parks once you have a look online. With your own bed, home cooking and whole of America on offer, it’s tough to go wrong. Just remember to pack the right equipment, plan ahead and settle for nothing less than the best. RV vacations really are the way to go.

For more luxury travel ideas check our our hotel reviews here.

Real Mary Kings Close, Edinburgh

Somewhere beneath the bustling streets of Edinburgh, away from the street vendors and mime artists and out of sight of the thousands of people who live and work in the city every day, lies an abandoned street that was once the very heart of the city: Mary Kings Close.

A close is the Scottish word for tenements, a row of tightly packed high-rise apartments with narrow alleys forming streets between them. Often depressing places, a close was a community all of its own, with a rank structure that saw the wealthiest tenants living in relative comfort in the upper middle floors. Those who formed the lower classes were relegated either to the very top floor, where the howling winds and often leaking roofs made life uncomfortable, or to the lowest flats, where living amongst the grime and faeces was part of everyday life. Most of these closes are long forgotten, buried beneath the ever-expanding streets of a constantly modernising city, but the Real Mary Kings Close has been rediscovered – and what a popular tourist attraction in Edinburgh it is now!

Step inside this unique visitor centre and descend beneath the cobbled pavement of Edinburgh’s High Street, and you’ll find yourself standing in 17th Century Edinburgh as it existed all those years ago. You’ll be led by your guide through the maze of underground homes, some still completely intact and others held up by supports. You’ll discover the legends of the Mary Kings Close in habitants, learn the fate of those who died from the Plague, and meet the ghost of a lost little girl. Tales will be told of everyday living, from working in the slaughterhouse to running the market stalls that once lined this cramped alleyway.

The Real Mary Kings Close is a seriously good attraction, and something that shouldn’t be missed on a tour of Edinburgh. Nowhere else will you get such a first hand, visual experience of how life used to be, and when we visited we were impressed by how well it’s run. The guides are well-informed and incredibly believable, the props do the tours justice, and it’s nice to see a historic attraction that hasn’t gone overboard by masking the realism with the hype. There’s the obligatory gift shop, of course, as you’d expect to find in any 5 star tourist attraction, but the trinkets you’ll find here are a step up from the normal tacky tourist rubbish you get elsewhere.  The Close isn’t difficult to find, and certainly not expensive – our opinion is that it’s well worth the trip.

If you want to make the experience even more interesting, why not brave a tour at Halloween. We haven’t been on one ourselves, but we’ve heard they’re to die for! :)

For more luxury travel ideas check our our hotel reviews here.

 

 

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Val d’Isere: An Insider’s Guide

As a ski destination Val d’Isere is hard to beat. The resort boasts a massive ski area with an excellent snow record and varied enough terrain to keep everyone – from beginners to experts – grinning all week, authentic mountain restaurants and a rocking après-ski scene for party-lovers. Its traditional resort atmosphere and old town make it a more charming alternative to its purpose built cousin, Tignes, yet skiers benefit from the connections between the two resorts, which amount to the extensive Espace Killy ski area.

To provide you with a true insider’s guide we’ve recruited the help of Charlie Balfour, who has the lovely day job of leading Mark Warner guests out onto the slopes, picking the best runs and lunch stops through the week and recommending the best après-ski spots for continuing the fun off the slopes.

Val dIsereOn the Slopes

For beginners

The nursery slope in the centre of town is a good place to start but beware it’s a little steep at the top. For your first real run off the nursery slopes try the Madeleine green run on Solaise and progress to Genepy, Borsat and Mont Blanc, which are all rolling green runs with no nearby intermediate runs that might attract faster skiers. As the resort has a reputation for under classifying runs and exposure to the elements can change the terrain to what you’d expect on a blue or even red run, always ask your chalet host or instructor for tips on where to go on the day. From most sections beginners are often best to take a lift back down to the valley. For any beginners we highly recommend taking some lessons with a local ski school.

For intermediates

To get your ski-legs on the first day head up the Glacier Express to warm up on the blue runs of Leissieres and Plan Milet. For nice long runs that push intermediate skiers but have flat sections for recovery head to Piste L or Mangard. For an exciting red run have fun experimenting with different routes down the long tree-lined run of Germain Mattis to Le Lasisinant.

For experts

Marmottons and Arcelle offer a little of everything, some un-groomed sections, moguls, wide motorways and some steeper sections.

For thrill-seekers Piste S is open to the elements and unpisted and the Face run provides the added pressure of onlookers from the Gondola and town below.

Off-piste, Val has some hidden gems that only seasoned pros know about so it’s worth hiring a guide for a day.

For snowboarders

Val d’Isere is not considered a hard-core resort for snowboarders but has great terrain for freeriders. Beginners will enjoy the easier slopes and lack of draglifts. As usual watch out for flat areas, including a long flat on Santons, where boarders will end up scooting.

Tip: For a spine tingling view jump on the Cascade Chairlift on Glacier de Pissaillas.

Lunch on the mountain

A great place to stop for a satisfying lunch is La Barillon at the bottom of La Daille gondola. L’Edelweiss above the hamlet of Le Fornet serves Savoyard specialties in a picturesque alpine building slightly off the beaten track. If you have non-skiers in your group try L’Arolay for great food and easy access on foot.

If you’re on a budget try the central Bellvard Mountain Restaurant for self-service with great views or stock up for a picnic at La Tartine, a friendly bakery in resort next to the ticket office and Saloon Bar.

Tip: To re-live the highlights of your day’s skiing sip your last vin chaud at the cosy Rosé Blanche.

In Resort

Dinner

For hearty local dishes La Corniche is a charming Savoyard restaurant in the centre of the old town, or if you’re planning to splash out it’s hard to beat La Grande Ouse for a first class gourmet menu and fantastic setting. For more modest but still delicious grub choose from a wide selection of burgers at Moris Pub or try the sociable spot, Le Lodge, for pizzas and fondue.

Tip: Carnivores make sure you order at least one Pierrade during your stay. There is something deeply satisfying about watching your meat cook after a day on the slopes.

Après-ski

For buzzing apres-ski, Foulie Douce is considered the place to go. The Chalet also has a great atmosphere and for a fun happy hour Café Face offers beat the clock drinks and live music.

If you’re in search of a younger crowd Doudoune plays a mixture of music and has an entertaining ‘21 club’ on the 21st of every month when it blasts out classics from the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Tip: Before you head to the bar, re-energise with a swim and sauna at the Centra Aquasportif or for a mid-week treat book a massage at Bonne Sante.

Charlie Balfour is based at Chalet Moris in Val’d Isere, where he leads groups of mixed ability skiers (from intermediates upwards) for Mark Warner.  Mark Warner has led the way in activity holidays for over 30 years. Specialising in family holidays, Mark Warner packages provide superb childcare with kids clubs for all ages and free evening crèche service.

 

For more luxury travel ideas check our our hotel reviews here.

A Cynic in Scotland: Luxury Hotels and Apparitions – Culcreuch Castle, Fintry

As a travel writer I often find myself in strange places, seeking out new experiences and learning the deepest darkest secrets a place has got to offer travellers, and it was from this desire to explore that I found myself heading off on a tour of Scotland’s haunted castles, notably (although not limited to) those which are now run as hotels. As a cynical person by nature, I’ve never much believed in ghosts, although I remain relatively open-minded to the whole idea. If only one would appear before me.

Not far from Glasgow, in a sleepy village called Fintry, sits ancient Culcreuch Castle, a 13th Century stone build fortress that’s now a popular castle hotel in Scotland. Built back in 1296 the castle became the seat of the Clan Galbraith before changing between families and Laird’s until its present day. Not only is it a beautifully idyllic location, and frequently chosen by brides-to-be looking for a Scottish castle wedding venue, but it also has an interesting history – and more than a passing fascination with ghosts.

Culcreuch_castle

Culcreuch Castle was the first stop I made on my investigative trip to visit haunted Scottish castle hotels. From the outside, this magnificent building does have an imposing look – a large stone facade, small windows perfect for firing arrows through and a parapet just large enough to be intimidating. It sits surrounded by trees on a petite but perfectly tended estate and gives away little sign that’s it’s now a hotel. Inside, and the illusion of a fortress continues, with a hall that’s more suited to an ancestral family home than a lodging and only a visitor’s book to give away its true purpose.

This Scottish castle turned hotel has more than one haunting to its paranormal ‘bow’ so it came as little surprise to find a team of ghost hunters arriving at the same time as we did. My husband and I were greeted with looks that suggested we were clearly too cynical for our new brigade of ghost busting friends, but nevertheless they gamely asked if we’d like to join them as they sought the truth behind the various hauntings that Culcreuch Castle has become famous for. And we gamely agreed.

Our first stop was the grounds themselves. They came armed with a variety of equipment from superdooper cameras to simple divining rods, while I was armed with a notepad and pen that it was way too dark to use. My husband came armed with a smile, and a willingness to try and see things from their point of view.  We strolled around the grounds for a while, wandering through the pitch black shadows from the canopied trees and examining the exterior of the building in the gloom. The team were snapping away heavily, ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ over each digital image with increasing enthusiasm. They showed me some of their snaps – black pictures with flecks of bright light dotted across the screen and asked me what I thought the dots were. My answer of ‘dust?’ was less than satisfactory – apparently such things are orbs, living spirits that glow in the dark. (I think I’ve got that right?)

Our next stop was the Chinese Bird Room, one of the most intricately decorated hotels rooms I’ve ever seen, and the real reason I was visiting the castle in the first place. This beautiful room is named after its wallpaper, which was brought from China in 1723. Painstakingly handpainted, it depicts birds and flowers and the owners have taken care not to let it fade too much as the centuries have passed. It’s also the main focal point for haunted activities in the hotel, and over the years visitors staying in the room have reported all manner of eerie happenings, including the sound of bagpipes coming from the walls and the apparition of a woman clothed in white appearing at the end of the bed.  I watched as the team set up their equipment – and as my husband backed out of the door and retreated to our room. When the cameras were ready and rolling, and the lights were switched off plunging us into darkness, I waited, ready to see my first real ghost. One of the team began to chant an invocation to whichever spirit might have been there, but despite his sincere pleas none of them seemed interested in appearing before us.

Next, was the dining room at the back of the hotel, a room that had to be haunted on account of the frigid temperature inside? I don’t know enough about ghost hunting to agree or disagree, but the plummeting chill was certainly something I found difficult to argue with. They decided to hold a séance, creating a circle on the floor with cameras set up round the group. I joined them, and for once was glad of the dark because I confess I find it difficult not to giggle. Despite not seeing anything appear before us I still have to admit that it was an interesting experience, sitting there in a haunted hotel, in the dark, holding hands with complete strangers and asking spirits that I’m not quite sure I believe in if they wouldn’t mind appearing before me. I’d like to think my tone of voice was sincere.

Fintry

With that finished we descended to the basement bar which had once been the castle dungeons. A dungeon is, as most people probably think, where any self respecting ghost would prefer to hang out, so I was keeping my fingers crossed that something would appear before us down here. The group was keen to try direct communication, and in the absence of a telephone opted for an upturned glass on a table top – a makeshift weegie board. One by one we placed our fingers on the glass and the team began to ask questions. And the glass did move. Yep, it really did move. Yes and No answers were flooding out to every question they asked, and it wasn’t long before they’d figured it all out. A young boy had been murdered in the dungeons many years ago for something he said he didn’t do, and here he was chatting away to us and dishing the dirt. I decided it was time to leave, excused myself politely, and went to find my husband who was relaxing in our Keep Room, clearly worn out from all his paranormal investigating.

It was an interesting experience, and although I guess I am a cynic, it’s only because no one has managed to convince me otherwise yet. I would have been delighted to see a ghostly apparition or hear a voice talk to me, and although I can’t explain the reason for the glass moving I’m still not satisfied there was anyone other than the team and I in that room. That said, it was only night one, and with more nights to go, who knows what might be uncovered?

Regardless of whether you’re heading to Culcreuch Castle for a romantic stay in a lavish Scottish hotel or to visit its haunted rooms to see for yourself, what you’re guaranteed to find is superlative accommodation and a fabulously warm welcome in traditional Scottish style. I loved this hotel, and with it being so close to Glasgow, it’s a great choice for travellers looking for a luxury Scottish holiday within easy reach of everything Scotland has to offer. I would happily stay here again, in no fear of being bothered by insensitive ghosts, and I think it’s the perfect base for exploring this beautiful area.

Next stop on my haunted tour…Tulloch Castle near Dingwall, Ross-shire.

 

For more luxury travel ideas check our our hotel reviews here.

The Chester Residence, Edinburgh

One thing the Americans do well is the Residence-style hotel, and I am continually on the search for a European offering that can match the comfortable elegance of my favourite residence in Aspen. I think I may finally have found it – in Edinburgh – home of luxury travel in Scotland.

The Chester Residence on Edinburgh’s Rothesay Place is a truly remarkable conversion of a traditional townhouse – or four townhouses, as it happens. Taking up much of this block of Georgian -built frontage, the listed buildings have been transformed into luxury self-contained apartments without losing any of that original charm. Inside, jaw-dropping room sizes, designer furnishings and thoughtful touches certainly elevate this five star hotel to the higher ranks of luxury accommodation, and in a city that prides itself on its outstanding hospitality, residents at the Chester can be sure of an indulgent stay.

Mews Bedroom at the Chester Residence, Edinburgh

We arrived on a particularly wet evening in October, having fought the stalling traffic on the M8 and coped with the confusing one-way layout in place for the Edinburgh tram works. The Chester is remarkably easy to find, and although it lies almost at the heart of Edinburgh, a mere stone’s throw from the Castle and the shopping along Princes Street, reaching it by car is far from difficult.

The reception is in the first of its buildings, at number 9, and it’s hard not to be impressed when you’re met by a smiling Scotsman in a kilt, carrying an umbrella to rescue you from the depressing drizzle.  As we were led next door, front-of-house Christina explained that reaching the separate residences meant leaving each building by the front door, a necessary requirement since planning regulations wouldn’t allow the listed buildings to be knocked through. While it may not be the best arrangement for staff, as a resident of the hotel it is the perfect set up – you have the freedom of an apartment without the need to pass through public areas whenever you step foot outside – giving you total privacy as you come and go.

Apartment 8/3, also known as the Grand, certainly lives up to its name. The spacious living room, with its impossibly high ceilings, is beautifully decorated in warm woods and chocolate browns. iPod docking stations, satellite television, hidden surround sound and a living flame fire the Georgian’s would have been envious of, are just a few of the touches that adorn the room. My husband settled on the expansive leather sofa to flick through the movie channels, while I headed to the kitchen to become acquainted with my new best friend – the Nespresso machine.

Living room in The Grand Suite at the Chester Residence, Edinburgh

Although residents have a fully equipped kitchen at their disposal, the Chester Residence does offer in-apartment dining if booked in advance. Caramelized shallot and goat’s cheese tartlet, and beef wellingtons or 28 day matured steaks are on the varied and tempting menu. But if dinner out is more up your street, then it literally only have to walk a block or two away to find a range of delicious restaurants with cuisines from around the world.

As a travel writer I suffer from an unfortunate affliction. I don’t sleep well in strange places. It can cause problems on press trips, with sleepless nights one after the other as I bed hop around the country.  No such problems at the Chester, and I can boast one of the best sleeps I’ve had in months. The Chester sits on a relatively quiet road, and with the bedroom located at the back of the house, there isn’t any noise to disturb guests.  This is a utopian home-away-from-home, and a hotel that certainly comes highly recommended.

For more luxury travel ideas, check our our hotel reviews here.

How to Spend a Day in Pisa

By Erin Mauger, Contributory Writer

What to See in Pisa, Italy

We all want to go travel, and for many of us the eclectic tourism in Italy is a genuine draw. Every year thousands of us make it to this odd, boot-shaped stretch of land where history and culture abound. If you’re looking to schedule some day trips into your Roman holiday, consider visiting the beautiful city of Pisa. Pisa is located in Tuscany, a region influential in terms of culture and the arts and known for its natural charms. This once powerful city was an important maritime republic and is also the birthplace of Galileo, the famous physicist and astronomer.

Square in Pisa

To explore this destination in the flesh, you can easily travel into Pisa by train from Florence, or Siena if you’re coming from the other direction. Pisa Centrale is the main railway station in the city. It’s equipped with all the amenities, and it’s here where you may want to buy a map if you haven’t already. Buses are readily available for your use, and, if you want to head straight to the main sights, locate the one that goes to the Piazza dei Miracoli or Field of Miracles.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Having the Leaning of Tower of Pisa on the itinerary is probably a given. Go ahead; go there first if you want to cut straight to the chase. This famous freestanding bell tower began construction around 1174, the design of which has been attributed to Bonanno Pisaro. Once the structure was about half its height it began to sink into the ground, giving it its iconic lean. Work on the tower was abandoned for almost a century before construction resumed.

Pisa Duomo

Tickets are 15€ or slightly more if you book them in advance. It’s probably worth the extra convenience fee, particularly if you go during the high tourist season between May and September. Climb the 300 stairs to the top and check out the view, surveying the remainder of the architectural wonders in the square.

Duomo di Pisa, Pisa Cathedral

The Cathedral is another attraction that seems worth giving a bit of a look. The admission price is only a couple of euros so it’s not much of a strain on the pocket. Also known as the Duomo di Pisa, the Cathedral was built in Romanesque style and set the aesthetic standard for the other buildings in the Piazza dei Miracoli. Take time to note the intricate details on the outside such as the bronze doors decorated with biblical scenes or the interior with its mosaics and gilded ceiling. There was a lot more artwork displayed inside the Cathedral but much of it burned in a fire in the 16th century.

When you want a break from all the sightseeing, there are a number of restaurants and eateries to choose from. Keep it simple by going to places like Gusto Giusto, about a 20-minute walk from the square, and enjoy a sandwich on a fresh baguette. There’s also Il Campano, which has a more extensive menu. Do a little research beforehand or decide according to your whims (or your budget!). When it comes to shopping, you can probably skip it and save the rest for other activities.

Shops along the River Arno in Pisa

Go back to the Piazza to see other things you may have missed like the Baptistery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. You can also choose to walk down the Arno River to get another vantage point of the city.

These suggestions are only a place to start. It’s possible to get a full-day audio walking tour, which will give you a different feel for your surroundings. If you’re more on the spontaneous side, put away the map and just wander, see what the locals are doing, or observe closely the things that make you curious. When your thirst has been satisfied and you’re done seeing Pisa, flag a taxi back to the Pisa Centrale and get ready for the next stop on your adventure!

For other great ideas about luxury travel in Europe, check out our hotel reviews here.

The Rutland Hotel, Edinburgh

There’s nothing worse than heading away on a luxury city break and staying in a hotel miles from everything. When you book a holiday to travel and tour a new destination, you want to be close to the sights. Who wants to walk forever to reach the best shops, or trek for miles to see the best attractions? So when you find a luxury hotel in the very centre of a city, it’s always a great start.

The Rutland Hotel in Edinburgh is one such establishment, sitting on the north west corner of Princes Street Gardens. From here, everywhere is accessible within minutes; the delights of the gardens and their ancient cemetery, the shopping along Princes Street, the castle perched loftily on the dormant volcano, and infamous Rose Street, legendary for its pub crawls, are all just minutes away.

The Rutland Hotel, Edinburgh

As hotels go, the Rutland is something to behold. From the outside it’s an interesting layout, with the restaurant and bar taking up the first two floors on the northern side. The entrance to the hotel is found on Rutland Street itself, and as I stepped inside I was taken aback. It certainly wasn’t quite what I’d expected. The lobby is elaborately decorated in bold, dark colours, with fabulous orchid displays and ornate throne-style chairs in rich upholstery. Upstairs, our room was every bit as fanciful, with a large carved bedstead dominating the centre of the room, and a chandelier taking up ceiling space. It is by far one of the ‘dressiest’ rooms I’ve stayed in. But its real feature isn’t what’s in the room, it’s what’s outside – this room is one of two in the Rutland known as the Castle rooms, and as well as the royalty theme running throughout, they also have simply outstanding views of Edinburgh Castle from their panoramic windows.

Most of the other rooms in the Rutland are less extrovert in design while still retaining a fresh, colourful appeal. But I imagine that these Castle Rooms would be first choice for hen parties and brides-to-be, as well as those travellers who just want a glimpse of Edinburgh’s most iconic landmark from their bedroom. And while the view is wonderful during the day, the dark nights bring views of the Castle lit up in all its glory.

Stylish room at the Rutland Hotel, Edinburgh

The hotel is more than comfortable. The hallways and corridors follow the same dark décor,  but it’s rich rather than overwhelming or subdued. Sporadic Beckham-style thrones adorn occasional nooks and crannies, and contemporary wallpaper adds a decadent touch. On the ground floor, your bedroom key card grants access to the bar as well as the Kyloe restaurant, one of the hottest eateries in the Capital, and with a young team running the establishment we were looked after on our stay with a pleasant youthful enthusiasm.

The Rutland Hotel is ideal for a luxury city break in Edinburgh. It’s got everything you’re looking for in an inner city property, as well as that all important location, location, location. The next time you’re planning a trip to Scotland’s capital, give serious consideration to booking your room here.

For other great ideas about luxury travel in Europe, check out our hotel reviews here.

The Roxburghe Hotel, Edinburgh Scotland

Here at Candidtraveller we love our luxury travel destinations, so we’re lucky to have all the delights of fabulous Edinburgh not too far away. We think it’s one of the best travel and tour destinations in the Northern Hemisphere, although we don’t mind admitting to being a little biased! It’s also the location of one of our favourite hotels, the Roxburghe, a place we’d travel to just for their sweet potato chips!

Just north of famous Princes Street in Edinburgh, and overlooking the green precinct of historic Charlotte Square where the acclaimed Edinburgh International Book Festival takes place every November, the imposing facade of the Roxburghe Hotel stands tall along the southeast edge, rubbing its Georgian shoulders with noteworthy neighbours. On the north side, Bute House is official home to the First Minister of Scotland, and to the south, the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell is another noteworthy home. So, with such esteemed surroundings, the red carpet gracing the entrance to the Roxburghe is far from out of place.

Inside, the hotel is an eclectic mix of old and new, contemporary and period, but every aspect works well. Walls are painted in warm hues of lilac, the floor is wood with the occasional tapestry-effect rug, and even the pillars have been given a modern look with mirrored facings that brighten the large rooms.

Roxburghe Hotel, Melrose Lounge 1

We ate in the Melrose Lounge overlooking Charlotte Square. With the Melrose Restaurant next door and the Consort Bar also serving meals, guests won’t struggle for choice. And the service is friendly too – unhurried, polite, and attentive without being overbearing.

The menu isn’t extensive for lunch, but I like that in a restaurant. Lunches are meant to be simple, uncomplicated meals. Taking a break from work or the strenuous rigours of shopping, shouldn’t be met with a complex menu and head scratching choice. So the Roxburghe has got this one absolutely right. There’s something for everyone here. The heat of a curry, the tradition of battered fish, the meatiness of steak and the comfort of cottage pie – whatever the weather or your personal taste this is a menu to make you happy.

We tried the curry and the Caesar salad, and chatted to Jimmy, probably one of Scotland’s cheeriest waiters while our food was cooked. The curry, with its free-range chicken, perfectly cooked fluffy rice and tangy lime chutney was hot and fragrant. Not the sort of heat that makes you think your head’s on fire, but the sort that demonstrates a chef has a good relationship with his spice rack. Madhur Jaffrey would have been very happy with this.

Roxburghe Hotel, Edinburgh

The Caesar was also very good. A salad can often be a disappointing choice in a restaurant. Invariably on the menu to cater only for guests who either eat little or have an aversion to any sort of calorie intake, they can often be overlooked and disappointing dishes. But not so at the Roxburghe. The chicken was a whole roasted breast, moist and tender and with crispy skin – a far cry from the usual chopped pieces you find strewn over the top of some limp lettuce leaves. Large lengths of parmesan, slivers of anchovies and crispy croutons, with just the right amount of dressing.  And they know their wines here too, with the Barossa region featuring as the main attraction. The crisp zing of a good citrus flavoured wine never seems to miss the mark.

The Roxburghe prides itself on its food, and so it should. A plaque outside the restaurant announces its commitment to local and sustainable food sources, and the manager Wilfreid Gendron says their dedication to seasonal fare runs throughout the Macdonald chain of hotels.

We were only there for the food, but a quick wander around the rest of the hotel after lunch told us all we needed to know about its popularity. The courtyard between the old and new parts of the Roxburghe was overflowing with contented wedding guests, although one or two had escaped the cacophony to relax in the sanctuary of the traditional Consort Bar. With rooms that blend the traditional with the new, a state of the art gym open to locals as well as guests, and friendly staff who greet you with a smile, it’s little wonder the Roxburghe has such a well-earned reputation.

We love this hotel for its proximity to everything that Edinburgh has to offer. It’s a fantastic choice if you’re visiting the city, and if you’re looking for a party venue at New Year, there’s an amazing view of Edinburgh Castle from one of the upper floors. This is definitely a luxury hotel in a fantastic city.

For other great ideas about luxury travel in Europe, check out our hotel reviews here.

Top 7 Things You Can’t Afford to Miss in South Africa

Travel and tours in South Africa are big business, from their wildlife to their eclectic culture. Here we’ve listed some of our favourite luxury travel locations in the country to help you plan your next trip to Africa’s most southerly country.

Bo-Kaap (Cape Town)

Cape Town’s most colorful quarter is also steeped in history. It was formerly known as the Malay Quarter, and hosts the Nurul Islam Mosque which dates back to the mid 19th century. Walk the cobble stone streets, peruse the shops, and make sure you check out the Bo-Kaap Museum, the oldest standing original house in the quarter. It was built way back in the eighteenth century and is a testament to the Muslim heritage of the area.

Bo-Kaap 

Robben Island (Cape Town)

Robben Island is the location where Nelson Mandela served his time as a political prisoner in the blank. Therefore it is an important historical landmark and a must see sight for anyone visiting South Africa. Catch a ferry from the city and take a guided tour through this World Heritage Site.

Table Mountain (Cape Town)

Table Mountain, which is featured in South Africa’s national flag, is an important natural formation for South African culture. This top destination is accessible by a multitude of options, but by far the most popular are hiking and cable car. Taking the latter offers breathtaking views of the city. Once you reach the top of Table Mountain you can explore the many wonders, both natural and man-made, that the plateau has to offer.

Table Mountain

Gold Reef City (Johannesburg)

This theme park located in Johannesburg is a family friendly destination sure to please everyone in your party. It’s location on top of an old gold mine makes it a historical experience as well as a thrilling one. Many of the rides are mining themed, such as the apt but frighteningly named Miner’s Revenge. Make sure you try the Tower of Terror, which offers riders the opportunity to experience a positive G force of 6.3 Gs.

Also of note is the Anaconda, which is the tallest inverted roller coaster in Africa. Gold Reef City also hosts a 4D movie theater, which features 3D and motion effects, as well as a wealth of hotels and restaurants. It’s truly an all inclusive experience.

MonteCasino (Johannesburg)

This bustling district in Johannesburg is the perfect destination for a little afternoon fun. In addition to housing- you guessed it- a casino, the MonteCasino complex boasts an impressive theatre (the Teatro), as well as numerous shops. The Teatro is a newer addition to the MonteCasino complex, and it hosts numerous high profile shows each year. Recently the smash hit The Lion King was performed at MonteCasino. Finally, at the complex you can enjoy a ride in a hot air balloon called the “Jozi Eye”.

Voortrekker Monument (Pretoria)

If you have any interest in apartheid politics, then this monument in Pretoria is for you. The granite structure, which is 130 feet every way around, sits on a hilltop south of Pretoria. It’s dedicated to the Voortrekkers who left the cape in the early to mid eighteen hundreds.

In 2011 it was named a World Heritage Site. This unique structure has many influences, with some saying it resembles such European monuments as France’s Dome des Invalides, while others cannot deny its German roots. One of the most striking features of the monument must be the aperture at the top of the dome. At noon this hole shows the sun as a tiny dot in the center of the ceiling, a clear reference to ancient Egyptian practices.

Game Drive (Kruger National Park)

Here’s your opportunity to get up close and personal with the big five safari animals. A game drive is the best way to experience wildlife in South Africa. While you can choose to go on a self guided driving tour, it’s best to have a guide. One of the advantages of taking these tours is your guide can communicate with his peers all over the park, and be alerted at a moment’s notice to the location of exotic wildlife.

There are also night tours available, which are a truly unique experience. On a night tour of Kruger National Park you can view nocturnal animals not usually available, such as leopards stalking their prey or perched lazily in trees. Some other animals you can expect to see on a game drive include African elephants, Vervet monkeys, and zebras.

Author Bio – This article is a guest post by Dillon Michaelson who works for InsanelyCheapFlights.com. Make sure you visit their website for some exclusive offers and deals on cheap tickets, car rentals, vacation packages etc.

For other great ideas about luxury travel in Africa, check out our hotel reviews here.

Tourist Sights in Pisa you Simply Have to See

By Katie Ryde, Contributory Writer

Most people heading to the Tuscan city of Pisa will be going with one thing on their mind – the famous Leaning Tower – but for many visitors this is just a brief stop off while travelling to or from Florence. Certainly Pisa doesn’t have the highest number of attractions compared to its neighbours, but in fact there are many luxury hotels, here, the opportunity to enjoy unique travel tours and numerous hidden gems concealed amongst Pisa’s medieval lanes that are well worth taking the time to explore.


Leaning Tower

The Campanile

There’s no way you can visit this city without a stop off at what is better known as The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Built by Bonnano Pisano in 1173, only three tiers were completed before it started tilting due to sinking soil. Somehow the marble tower had a further four tiers added to it, and with the help of some re-construction work in the 1990′s it’s still standing today. Go and take the obligatory photograph as you ‘hold up’ the Tower, but if you want to go inside I would suggest booking ahead as visits are limited to groups of 30 at organised times.

Campo dei Miracoli

While you’re at The Leaning Tower, have a look around, because you’ll be standing in the Field of Miracles, and the Campanile itself is the bell tower to an incredible Cathedral. Its’ beautiful striped façade gives way to an interior, which despite a catastrophic fire in 1595 that destroyed much of the medieval art work, is still worth paying the entrance fee (about 6 Euros for two of the monuments in the square). Inside you’ll find the spectacular gothic pulpit built by Giovanni Pisano in 1302, with reliefs depicting various bible scenes. The most notable of the eight sided pulpit is the ‘Massacre of the Innocents.’ Also worth visiting are the Baptistery and the Campo Santo – a most beautiful cemetery originally built to hold the holy soil brought back during the Crusades from the mount where Christ was crucified. It was the burial ground for Pisa’s upper class for centuries and is also home to 84 Roman Sarcophagi from the 3rd century AD.

View of Pisa

Orto Botanico di Pisa

A short walk from the Campo dei Miracoli, lies the oldest university-owned botanical gardens, and a chance for some peace away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds in the square. An entrance fee of 2.50 Euros is required, and once inside it is easy to forget you’re in a city at all. Visit the gardens for a bit of peace as well as to encounter the beauty and history of some very old plants – the Magnolia Grandiflora was planted in 1787. There are also samples of various plants both medicinal and edible, coffee, pepper and passionflower to name a few. Relax by the pond covered in water lilies and enjoy some time-out from the busier tourist attractions.

National Museum of San Matteo

To be in Italy is to be surrounded by beautiful artwork, and Pisa is no exception. Situated in the old San Matteo Benedictine convent and overlooking the River Arno, this stunning museum houses not only a wide collection of medieval ceramics from the 13th century, but also paintings and sculptures ranging from the 12th century up until the 18th. Well known artists exhibited here include Ghirlandaio, Donatello and Simone Martini. There are also various works from the school of Pisano. This is a wonderful place to discover some fine Italian art work, and at 5 Euros entry, it’s a great place to start.

Borgo Stretto

Running off the Piazza dei Cavalieri (worth a look at as the home of the Knights of St Stephen, and for the large busts of the Medici family topping the Palazzo dei Cavalieri –Knight’s Palace) is the Borgo Stretto. Archways cover the walkway of this street, which is home to some of Pisa’s more expensive shopping and restaurants, but if you can’t afford the prices of the shops, it’s still a great place to enjoy an espresso and do some people watching. It’s also the street on which the scientist Galileo is said to have lived.

Santa Maria della Spina

Santa Maria della Spina

The name Spina comes from a thorn from Christ’s crown which was apparently brought here in 1333. This Gothic church is a fantastic example of architecture, and its pinnacles, cusps, rose windows and arches all built from marble make the exterior well worth a visit. Situated on the River Arno, this extraordinary masterpiece, adorned with statues, some of which are attributed to Giovanni Pisano, was rebuilt on higher ground in 1871 to protect it from the river. The interior in comparison is rather plain but does hold another Pisano sculpture, this one by Andrea and Nino, ‘The Madonna of the Rose’.

These are just a few of Pisa’s must-see sights according to Italian tourism experts. This city is steeped in history and just by wandering the streets you can chance upon all sorts of fascinating medieval buildings and things to see. This is after all a place that houses one of the oldest universities in Europe, as well as many historical churches and palaces. Next time you decide to go travel in Italy, it’s certainly well worth spending extra time here to discover these often over-looked gems and to enjoy the general beauty of a place that has much more to offer than just a Leaning Tower.

For other great ideas about luxury travel in Europe, check out our hotel reviews here.

Christmas Markets: Munich Style

It’s that time of year when I start planning a break away. I hate the wet drizzle of the winter months, and the lure of foreign shores where the weather is usually warmer starts calling me. This year though, in a move that has taken my husband a little by surprise, I’ve ditched the equatorial climes for something a little different. I’ve booked a luxury hotel in Europe – we’re heading to Munich and its century old Christmas Market instead.

Christmas markets have always fascinated me. I love the idea of quaint cobbled town squares all brightly lit with flickering fairy lights and 40ft high trees. I like the idea of maybe, just maybe, catching a glimpse of real snow instead of that stuff we spray on shop windows every year and then scrape off again in January. I’m not too bothered by seeing Santa, but the tantalizing aromas of cinnamon and mulled wine certainly get me excited.

This trip is actually my birthday present from my husband. Those of you who know me will also know that my birthday is in January, so I’ve had plenty of time to get everything planned. The hardest part was deciding where to go. There are so many markets dotted around Europe that narrowing it down became a bit of a challenge, but with cheap flights on offer to Munich I decided that Germany was the way to go. Not to mention that spending less on travel will be leaving me with more to spend at the market. Munich is a fabulous place, and somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit. I actually wanted to go over for Oktoberkest, but since my husband detests beer I didn’t think I’d ever get there. To be fair, he doesn’t much like shopping either, but I guess he thinks it’s the lesser of two evils.

Munich is actually a bit of a Mecca for shopping at this time of year, and they actually have eight different Christmas markets to choose from. The most famous, the Christkindl market takes place in the old town square, Marienplatz. It’s by far the most popular with tourists, and the stalls that line the square around the impressive tree have all manner of delicious foods and wines to sell. There are Bavarian costumes on display and carol singing by gospel choirs, jugglers and mime artists and loads more (according to their website), so it’s certainly going to beat Christmas shopping online this year!

If you do decide to visit a Christmas market then there are a few things you should be aware of in advance. There are cheap tickets available to fly to most popular destinations, especially in Europe, but do remember to check your luggage allowance and upgrade if necessary. There would be nothing worse than spending a fortune on fabulous handmade presents and then having to pay extra to get them home. Also, if you plan on bringing back local alcohols or beverages, you’ll need to pay for hold luggage and not just carry-on since large volumes of liquids aren’t allowed on planes. Remember to check the dates the Christmas markets are running before you book your flights, because it’s not unheard of for some to start after Christmas day and run into January instead. And finally, if you’re looking for luxury hotels in Munich close to the main markets to avoid lengthy walks weighed down with gifts, you need to book in advance. Otherwise you’ll probably find they’ll be booked very early indeed, leaving you settling in on the outskirts of town.

I’m looking forward to my trip and I’ll post back on here to tell you all about it in December. Have any of you been to a Christmas market before?

For other great ideas about luxury travel in Europe, check out our hotel reviews here.

Seeing London on a Budget

There are some cities around the world which are perhaps worth seeing if you have the time, the money and the energy. There are one or two, however, which should be, to put it mildly, must-visits. One of those is undoubtedly London, the capital of the UK and perhaps the most iconic capital on the whole planet. It’s a great place to travel and tour, with tons of luxury hotels to stay in and lots of 5 star restaurants to experience.

Many people have so far missed out on the delights of London purely because they were put off by the cost, but it’s important to remember there are ways to keep the spending to a minimum without harming the overall pleasure of the experience. Here are four useful tips that will help you see the city without having to spend a fortune in the process.

Invest in an Oyster Card

Taxis are generally expensive in London, so the best option is to traverse the city by bus and tube, both of which are very affordable. To make even more savings, you should buy an Oyster Card, which covers travel on buses, overground and underground railways, trams, and the Docklands Light Railway. As well as saving you money, it will also mean you no longer have to queue up for tickets every time you travel. There is so much to see and do in London, and public transport is always the cheapest option.

Shop around for accommodation

Many of the hotels in London are extremely expensive, but there are plenty of bargains to be found as well. The best options are to use the web to find the cheaper accommodation deals, and to be prepared to stay outside the centre of the city if necessary. Thanks to the transport infrastructure, you can be in the heart of the metropolis in no time, so if it’s less expensive to stay in suburbs such as Putney, St John’s Wood and Chiswick, that’s what you should do.

Avoid the expensive eateries

Many of London’s restaurants are costly, but not all of them. If you’re prepared to look around before deciding where to eat you can find some wonderful bargains. In a bid to entice diners, many places offer special deals if you’re prepared to accept a restricted menu, or if you’re happy to eat during less busy hours such as before 7pm. In the UK, restaurants display their prices in the window, so you can make an informed choice without having to set foot inside.

Look for discounted attractions

London is home to a vast number of tourist landmarks, many of which are free, but there are some attractions which require an entry fee. While the budget traveller may not be able to afford all of them, he or she will want to see as many as possible. By checking online in the months leading up to the trip, it might be possible to find discounts and special offers that can be used to keep the spending down.

David Showell was born and brought up in London, and is always keen to travel on a budget. He works for www.carhiredirect.co.uk.

For other great ideas about luxury travel in Europe, check out our hotel reviews here.

Four Tips for a Successful Golfing Vacation

Even in the midst of difficult economic times, the popularity of golfing holidays has not waned. It seems golfers still need to get their annual fix of a luxury vacation with a group of friends, and although they may have to search a little harder for good deals, they are not prepared to forego their little extravagance altogether. Plus, with golfing holidays available all over the planet, you can go travel wherever you want and still find a green or two to enjoy.

There are many factors to take into consideration when organising a golf trip. If things go wrong, they can soon escalate into major problems, and the chances are that particular groups of golfers will not travel together again. Here are four tips to make sure your next holiday gets off on the right foot and stays there.

The right mix of people

On a normal vacation, if people don’t get along they can wander off to different attractions and take part in other activities. On a golf trip this isn’t an option, so the organiser needs to put a little thought into who should be invited. If there are one or two individuals who are likely to be difficult for everyone else to get along with, it might be a good idea to omit them from the passenger list. The last thing you need is everyone going home early because of a succession of petty arguments.

Keep a close eye on the calendar

Many inexperienced organisers make the mistake of booking a trip in a very hot country right in the heart of the summer. Playing golf in a warm climate is one of life’s great pleasures, but when the temperature is more than a hundred degrees it can become too stiflingly hot to play. Those months either side of the warmest ones will be preferable. If you must travel when the sun’s at its hottest, be sure to choose tee-off times that avoid the very middle of the day.

Play a few different courses

Many destinations, such as the Algarve in Portugal and the Costa Blanca in Spain, offer a variety of courses to visiting players, but there are some locations which may only have one course nearby. To get the best from the whole experience, it’s a good idea to play at more than one venue. Therefore, do a little homework before booking, just to make sure there is some variety available.

Food, glorious food

By the time they’ve played eighteen holes of golf, players will be eagerly anticipating a few cold drinks and a good meal. Therefore, once you’ve chosen a destination it would be useful to investigate the local restaurant scene. The best options are eateries which offer a range of local and international cuisine and, given the energy that golfers have already used up, sizable portions!

David Showell is from the UK and is a keen golfer. He works for http://www.comparecarrentals.co.uk.

For other great ideas about luxury travel in Europe, check out our hotel reviews here.

Cultural Highlights of Glasgow

Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, has so much to offer visitors it’s difficult to know where to start. From historic architecture to shops galore, there’s plenty to pack in to a trip here. It boasts luxury hotels, 5 star restaurants and some fabulous shopping locations. It’s a great place to travel and tour in, with no time for dull moments. Over the past decade, Glasgow has seen a culture boom so you’re sure to have a fun-filled time here.

Historic Buildings

Doors Open Days is an annual event which allows you to explore Scotland’s architectural gems for free. This year’s event is going to be the largest yet as throughout September more than 1,000 sites are expected to welcome visitors across Scotland.

Glasgow-born architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh has left his mark on buildings all over the city. Take a trip to the Glasgow Art School or the Mackintosh House and be wowed by his Art Nouveau touches of brilliance. Alternatively, you can honour the temperance movement and sip tea and eat cake at The Willow Tearooms, designed by Mackintosh himself in 1904. Found on Sauchiehall Street, it’s a quaint setting and the style details continue right down to the little teaspoons.

Shop ‘til you drop

Glaswegians are a stylish bunch. To satisfy their demand for shopping, a wealth of centres and clusters of independent shops have sprung up around the city. The appropriately named ‘Style Mile’ around Argyle Street and Buchanan Street, offers a range of designer, high street and independent shops so you can indulge in some serious retail therapy.

Art Smart

If you’re looking for quiet contemplation and like to gaze at works of art then the GoMA (Gallery of Modern Art) should be top of your list of things to do in Glasgow. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is a grand statement on the city’s skyline. It’s an interactive space and you’ll be dazzled by suits of armour, engrossed in the rich Scottish natural history and taken on an impressive journey through its historic art collections.

A wander around the exhibitions at The People’s Palace will satisfy your curiosity for the story of Glasgow and its people. When you’re finished you can stretch your legs in the grounds of the Winter Gardens. You’ll also find a Victorian glasshouse where you can relax amongst tropical plants.

Need a breath of fresh air?

You can hire a car in Glasgow and head a few miles out of the city centre to Pollock Country Park. It has 360 acres of woodland and green space to explore so it’s a great option for a family day out. And, this is no ordinary park as it was voted Europe’s Best Park in 2008. It includes walled gardens, walking trails and of course the stately home of Pollok House.

Nightlife

Glasgow’s famed club, the Arches is a cavernous venue which hosts some of Britain’s biggest club nights and a massive variety of gigs. This place is still going strong and you’re sure to find a mixed crowd here. The city’s other nightlife options are abundant and Sauchiehall Street is where you’ll find the main hub of activity. As well as local pubs, you’ll find whiskey and cocktail bars, gig venues and clubs galore.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Glasgow, or maybe a restaurant in this vibrant city? Then check out our favourite recommendations for some great ideas.

For other great ideas about luxury travel in Europe, check out our hotel reviews here.

Must Visit Restaurants in Glasgow

Glasgow might not be famous for it’s fine dining and award winning food, thanks in part to the controversy it’s courted with its deep fried Mars Bar, but that’s not to say that fabulous food doesn’t exist within its streets. In fact, some of the city’s top luxury hotels have 5 star restaurants that are worth travelling for, and there are a plentiful supply of boutique bistro’s and up-scale eateries to choose from. Hidden beneath the outer facade of traditionally pocket friendly, cheap meal cafes are some hidden treasures waiting to delight you with taste and texture.

Black Sheep Bistro

The Black Sheep Bistro is a small restaurant run by a family who pride themselves on serving what can only be described as traditional home cooked food. Bright, friendly and welcoming this restaurant feels like someone’s living room and the staff take extra special care to make you feel at home. The food is basic, making the menu of soups, haggis and beef and mash very easy to navigate and they taste fantastic! Simple, no nonsense food which comes in at around £15-30 a head for three courses, you really can’t go wrong. http://www.blacksheepbistro.co.uk/

Grill on the Corner

The Grill on the Corner is large, spacious and feels very much like a giant pub. It is noisy and busy with plenty of seating space so a great place if you want to feel lost and anonymous. You may have to wait a little for your food, but this restaurant is a favorite for most Glaswegians and attracts celebs like Billy Connolly. Steak, fillet burgers, fat cut chips and an environment to match, the Grill on the Corner is an excellent place to take time over your food and chill out with friends, there is plenty of space for a party of five or even ten. http://www.blackhouse.uk.com/

Café India

If you love your spice, then you can’t go wrong with a trip to Café India where curry meets city and award-winning wine abounds. Cooked live on a real fire, you can expect  treat of the very best that Indian food has to offering the form of curries, melt in your mouth chicken and sheesh kebabs full of lively, fresh recipes and good service to match. http://cafeindiaglasgow.com/

Alla Turca

A Turkish restaurant, that has won user review led awards for it’s fanatic service and high quality food, this restaurant is a treat for your palate. Warm, and welcoming, the waiters are decked in traditional Turkish gear and live music will take you straight out of Glasgow into the Far East. Portions are incredibly generous, and come to your table hot and straight off the cooking plate with fresh flatbreads clearly cooked to order. Kebabs, lamb, aubergine, spice and traditional Turkish wet foods are all on offer and the menu is written in English to help you along. A real find! http://allaturca.co.uk/

Brian Maule

A list of must-visit restaurants would not be complete without a spot of fine dining and Brian Maule is considered one of the best fine dining restaurants in Glasgow. Having won numerous awards, this light, fresh and well thought out restaurant offers a menu of scallops, beef and lamb cooked to perfection. Definitely upmarket, Brian Maule is more expensive and requires a longer time to be spent there than other restaurants, but you will not regret it. This restaurant is perfect for a special date, occasion or celebration. http://www.brianmaule.com/

Ben loves to travel and visit different restaurants all over the world. He runs www.wheretoeat.co.uk where he blogs about restaurants and recipes.

For other great ideas about luxury travel in Europe, check out our hotel reviews here.

Palma de Mallorca, Balearic Islands

The Balearic Islands are one of the most desirable archipelagos in Europe; the most notable islands in the chain are Mallorca, Minorca and Ibiza. The capital of the Balearic Islands, Palma de Mallorca, is a beautiful Mediterranean destination with ideal weather, picturesque sights and a vibrant nightlife, no to mention some outstanding luxury hotels and 5 star restaurants the specialise in fresh seafood and local cuisine. The city can  be found in the south west of Mallorca, in the popular Bay of Palma, which is home to some of the island’s most famed beaches, including Playa de Palma. Palma has been a popular destination since the 50′s and is now the bustling cultural and commercial hub of Mallorca.

The city has a strong Mediterranean vibe; from streets packed with activity and entertainment to alluring cafes promoting lazy afternoons. The Old Town showcases the most authentic elements of Palma; the labyrinth of alleyways present a myriad of sights, squares where you can grab a refreshing beer and tapas bars emanating mouth-watering smells. If there’s just one sight that you see on a travel tour of this island, it should be La Seu Cathedral; it is literally unmissable as it stands proud, rising above the city. Located right on the waterfront it is a magnificent building to behold. The backstreets behind Born, heading towards Placa Cort, are solely for pedestrians and are well worth walking around during the day. It’s also a great place to grab a beer from one of the many bars with outdoor seating and partake in the great Mediterranean past time of people watching.

Palma has come in to prominence in recent times through its notorious nightlife. With its new found reputation it was put on the map as a top stag weekend city and its streets, riddled with bars and clubs, have quickly elevated it to one of the most favoured Spanish destinations. A wild stag do in Ibiza has long been the most popular choice for people seeking sun, sea and parties; however, Mallorca offers a great deal more, because on top of being a great destination for clubbing it’s also home to plenty of contemporary shops, bars and cafes, and a nightlife devoid of inhibitions.

Whilst maintaining its charm and quaintness through the labyrinth of quiet, narrow streets which roll through the Old Town, the seaside promenade boasts some of the most exciting establishments, presenting an exciting array of options for any weekend. It has a comprehensive selection of restaurants, bars and clubs making it an ideal evening destination.

This outpost of hedonism boasts an abundance of night time activities in an awesome setting. Surrounded by sun, sea and sand, the inhibitions of the locals and tourists alike are particularly free-spirited; everyone has a great attitude and are hell-bent on having a fun time – the epitome of an epic Spanish night out. Palma boasts an exciting nightlife scene; one of the most popular areas with the locals is Sa Llotja, its venues are often bursting at the seams with energy and people. When Sa Llotja shuts down at the end of the night, it’s common for everyone to pile across to Passeig Maritim to carry on the party until the small hours.

For other great ideas about luxury travel in Europe, check out our hotel reviews here.

UK Car Insurance Laws Every Traveller Should Know

Many people who are travelling to the United Kingdom find one of the biggest challenges is renting a car. They don’t even consider that they may need to buy car insurance. Parliament passed laws requiring drivers to be insured over 80 years ago and the Department for Transport has been following them strictly ever since. Make sure you understand the travel insurance requirements before you start driving in the UK.

What Are the Requirements for Car Insurance in the UK?

The travel insurance laws in the United Kingdom are similar to those in the United States and the rest of Europe. All vehicles you are driving must be insured unless you have applied for a statutory off road notification.  Insurance must cover damage to property or injuries to other people. Always carry documents to prove that your insurance meets these requirements.

Does My Insurance Policy at Home Cover this Requirement?

In most cases, the auto insurance policy you hold in your home country will not provide coverage overseas. However, most large auto insurance policies will allow you to extend your policy to cover you when you are driving abroad.  Speak with your auto insurance provider to see if your policy already provides the coverage you need.

You might already be covered when driving overseas, but you will most likely need to speak you’re your agent about extend your policy. These agents will either speak with a representative in the country you are visiting or work with a third party agency that can help you get the coverage you are looking for. Your insurance provider will provide you with all the documents you need to get the coverage you are looking for. Make sure you have these documents before you leave or provide a shipping address that they can be sent to.

Penalties for Driving Without Insurance

The minimum penalty for driving without insurance is a fine of 100 pounds. Many people aren’t that lucky. Some police departments will double the fine to make sure you understand how seriously they take uninsured drivers in their jurisdiction. Your vehicle can be repossessed or even destroyed. You may also be called to court and forced to pay a fine of 1,000 pounds or more. A court may also place a ban on anyone caught driving without insurance. The ban will typically be a month or more. Courts don’t usually place a ban on a driver if this was the first time they were caught without insurance. However, driving without insurance can make matters significantly worse if you have been found guilty of other offenses such as speeding or driving while intoxicated.

Make Sure You Always Drive With the Proper Insurance

You probably know that you need to drive with insurance in your own country. The basic requirements for car insurance are fairly uniform throughout the developed world. Make sure you understand the legal requirements for insurance before you visit the United Kingdom and don’t get caught driving without it.  But remember, most hire companies will provide you with insurance as part of the hire agreement. It#s up to you to make sure that it covers everything you need.

Kalen Smith writes travel and auto advice. He is a freelancer with http://www.williamsoncadillac.com.

For great ideas about luxury travel in Europe, check out our hotel reviews here.

Comfort and style: Guarantees with Business Car Hire

So you’re still debating whether you take your own motor to the conference or invest in a hire car?

Well, there’s arguments for both of course. In your own car, you know how it feels to drive; its nuances and personality, if you will. You also know where things are, what radio station you like and whereabouts you like to store your personal items (mints, phone and so on). You’ll also know how hard you can push it and how many miles to the gallon you’ll get out of it.

In a hire car though; well, that’s the unknown. How will it drive? How far will I get on a tank. Where will I put my mints?!

Without actually knowing these questions, it’s probably safer to work out just what guarantees you will have when renting a car for business use.

Comfort

Okay. While this might be a subjective statement to make, near enough anyone who provides business car hire is really just trying to make sure you have a comfortable and luxurious ride.

This could be leather-bound seats. It could be the silky-smooth grip of the steering wheel. It could even just be the fact that it comes with air conditioning. Whichever it is, a key part of having a business car is to not only look, but feel business-like. Car lenders know the last thing anyone in business wants is to be crippled by their motor and covered in sweat patches because their car let them down.

Style

Alongside comfort inevitably comes style. Business-types, well, like to look the business. Shallow as it may be, style plays a bit part in being taken seriously. Taking pride in one’s appearance shows a level of commitment beyond (Parker) fountain-pen and paper.

Plus, if you look the part, then no doubt you’ll feel the part.

Author Bio:

Jim Evans is fanatic about cars and has tried his hands on various segments of four wheelers for a significant number of years. Sports car thrills him most, though recently he is busy researching on business car hire. To know about his latest information gathered, visit http://www.ssdhire.co.uk/business-hire.html

See Scotland by Car

Scotland is a clean and unspoiled region with a lot of historical sites as well as outstanding natural beauty. There are prehistoric stone circles, burial chambers and standing stones as well as Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age ruins. Scotland is also famous for its spectacular castles starting with Edinburgh Castle. One of the best ways to visit all the wonder and beauty of Scotland is by renting a car and driving. Visitors can stop when they please or drive through the night. They can spend several days or just a few hours whenever they feel like it.

One drive that passes near several castles begins in Aberdeen. Visitors travel south on the A90/92 to Stonehaven to see Dunnottar Castle. It is perched high on a cliff overlooking the North Sea with a dramatic location that both Cromwell and Wallace wanted. Franco Zeffirelli used this castle as the setting for his 1991 Hamlet.

From Stonehaven, go north on the A957 to Crathes Castle. Just five more miles east on A93 is Banchory and Drum Castle. Crathes Castle is straight out of a fairy tale and visitors wouldn’t be surprised to see unicorn grazing. There are trails for exploring the magical surrounding woodlands. The castle has spiral staircases to rooms with famous Jacobean painting on the ceilings. There is a ghost, the Green Lady, who may make an appearance.Drum Castle has a 13th century tower as well as a Jacobean mansion with Victorian additions. The furniture and paintings are worth the trip and there are also trails through woodlands and an exceptional rose garden. Just 15 miles further north on the B977 is Castle Fraser. It has an amazing Great Hall with stunning paintings and furniture. There are also walks and gardens as well as a children’s adventure playground.Another road trip through Scotland visits the famous distilleries. Begin in Speyside at the Glenlivet Distillery in Banffshire. They give guided tours and tiny tastes of their 18-years-old, Nadurra or The Glenlivet 12.

The designated driver can continue 13 miles north to Knockandu for a visit to the Cardhu Distillery. This is the only distillery pioneered by a woman. They also offer tours and tastes. Nine more miles takes travellers to Dufftown considered the heart of the Speyside whisky region. The Speyside Cooperage is there. It is the only working cooperage in the UK. They are creating whisky barrels according to the ancient traditions including using the ancient tools. Visitors can try to make their own small casks.

Scotland is famous for a lot of things, not the least of which is literature and art. Begin the next tour in Edinburgh, the capital and the first UNESCO City of Literature in the world. See manuscripts form Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson in the Writers’ Museum near the Royal Mile. There is a lot more to see in Edinburgh as well as other cities around Scotland and they are close enough to make a great city road tour.

From Dundee visitors can take a day in Edinburgh or visit the largest National Park in the UK. Stirling is one of the gateways to the Highlands with the spectacular scenery of the lochs and mountains. Travellers enjoy Scotland by rental car on the National Tourist Routes to see all the sites up close and personal.

This post was crafted by the travel writers over at Skedaddle Car Hire
 

Win a 2 Night Stay with Small Luxury Hotels of the World™

About The Competition

Small Luxury Hotels of the World™ (SLH) is an unrivalled portfolio of some of the world’s finest small independent hotels. Comprising over 520 hotels in more than 70 countries, the diversity of the individual properties, and the experiences that they offer, is exceptional. From cutting-edge design hotels to palatial 17th century mansions, city centre sanctuaries to remote private islands, historic country houses to idyllic resorts, Small Luxury Hotels of the World offers a world of luxurious locations. What’s more, SLH rewards loyal guests handsomely with their Club programme – it’s our favourite luxury travel tip we’ve heard recently! Membership is offered on a complimentary basis, and the benefits grow each time a guest books a hotel stay. The Club offers incomparable service through a dedicated Club Manager and Club Reservations Consultants, ensuring the very best personal service, advice and recommendations for your next hotel stay.

Read down for HOW TO ENTER…

To browse your next luxury holiday on the go, download the free SLH iPhone app viawww.slh.com/iphone

Small Luxury Hotels of the World is exclusively offering Candidtraveller readers the chance to win two nights for two at any SLH property around the world. The prize is subject to availability and is valid for standard double room accommodation only for stays within one year. Terms and conditions apply.

How To Enter:

1.  For your chance to win visit http://www.slh.com/marketing/candid/ and enter by joining the Club programme absolutely free.

2.   Then log onto Candidtraveller on Facebook and ‘like and share’ the page so they know you’ve entered.  Good luck!

 

 

 

SLH Terms and Conditions:

The arrangement relates to standard double room accommodation only.

It is always subject to availability; (i.e. at the hotel’s discretion. If a booking is requested during the hotel’s peak period, or their annual complimentary room night allocation has already been confirmed, they are entitled to deny confirmation).

General online availability and hotel availability for claiming complimentary room nights may differ; the availability of the letter will prevail.

A maximum of five (5) room nights can be requested per hotel, per stay, (applies only to complimentary room night offers for five nights or more.)

A minimum of two (2) weeks’ notice must be given.

The complimentary room nights are valid for 12 months from the date of receipt.

All food, beverages, taxes, and other incidental costs incurred by the guest are to be settled prior to departure from, and direct with, the individual hotel.

Complimentary rooms are non- flexible and once confirmed by SLH, no alterations or cancellations can be made. In case of alteration or cancellation, you will forfeit the rooms.

The Club of Small Luxury Hotels of the World’s benefits cannot be redeemed in conjunction with this offer.

Guests who choose to utilise their room nights at an all-inclusive SLH hotel will incur an additional charge, which will vary depending on the property selected.

No monetary value can be given in exchange for this prize

The prize cannot be transferred

Small Luxury Hotels of the World has the right to update these terms and conditions. Complimentary room nights will be governed by the terms and conditions that are in place at the time the room nights are reserved. 

General Terms and Conditions:

1. The Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) competition (the “Competition”) is open to entrants aged 18 and over, worldwide. 2. The Competition is not open to employees or agencies of either Candidtraveller or Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), its group companies, their family members or anyone else connected to the Competition. 3. Entry into the Competition is acceptance of these Terms and Conditions. 4. To enter the Competition, ‘like’ and ‘share’ the Candidtraveller Facebook page and enter your details on the SLH entry page . 5. Entries on behalf of another person will not be accepted and joint submissions are not allowed. 6. No responsibility is taken for entries that are lost, delayed, misdirected or incomplete or cannot be delivered or entered for any technical or other reason. Proof of delivery of the entry is not proof of receipt. 7. The Competition closes at midnight GMT on Friday 7 September 2012. Entries received after this closing date will not be processed. 8. The winner will be chosen at random from the entries submitted correctly. The judges’ decision will be final and no correspondence will be entered into. 9. The winner will receive the prize specified above. Any other costs and responsibilities not specifically associated with each Prize are the responsibility of the winners.

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Important Facts about the island of Majorca

How to say it

There has always been some confusion as to what the real name is for this island.

Is it Majorca or Mallorca?

Although both spellings are correct, Mallorca is the Spanish/Catalan version and is pronounced ‘Mah-york-a’ which is the correct way.

Majorca on the other hand is the English version and is sometimes pronounced ‘Mah-jork-a’, although this sounds incorrect in the contextual sense.

Scenery

Majorca is one of the most favoured of all the Balearic Islands with its combination of stunning scenery, rolling hills, picturesque coves and delightful beaches.

With the diversity of natural beauty found on the island, it comes as no surprise that its popularity as a tourist destination has kept on growing over many years, giving visitors a taste a Mediterranean paradise.

History of Invasion and Occupation

Like many islands in the Mediterranean, Majorca attracted many a conqueror, invader, settler and tourist who all contributed to its rich history and culture that we have today.

It flourished during the Roman occupation around 123BC which had the greatest impact on the islands social patterns.

This occupation was overturned by the Byzantine Empire in 534 which consequently allowed Christianity to flourish on the island.

Nearly 400 years later, when the Moors conquered the island, they greatly improved the agriculture and local industry but for most Majorcans, history didn’t really begin until the 13th century when the Catalans took the island from the Moors hence the reason why the official language is Catalan.

Cuisine

Traditional food is the best kept secret of the indigenes and is derived from that of Catalonia. Most dishes adopt a sweet and savoury taste combination, with pork being a very popular ingredient.

A must to try is Langosta a la parrilla which is the local spiny lobster dish. Infused with aromatic herbs and spices, it is usually eaten with a delicious local mayonnaise.
Make sure you also try the ensaimada, a yeast bun that’s baked in an unusual spiral shift, and which perfectly complements a strong Spanish coffee.

Places to visit

Palma, the capital, is etched in history with its cathedral, monuments and old cobbled streets, transporting visitors to a bygone era that truly mesmerises.

A trip to the town of Manacor will give you the opportunity to experience how cultured pearls are made at one of the several pearl factories on the island.

Other tourist attractions include thrilling water slides and tropical parks that are aimed at the whole family with both adults and children being catered for.

Other places include the leather factories of Inca and the many boutiques and shops around Palma for the shopaholics among you.

The beaches in Majorca are kept very clean and are of a very good safety standard so it is normally safe to swim unless the local authority states otherwise.

Climate

Being a Balearic island, Majorca has a typical Mediterranean climate of hot summer days and very mild winters.

The peak summer months are July and August which boasts of nearly 12 hours of sunshine with the winter months becoming chilly with the weather remaining mild and bright on most days.

Majorca unlike Tenerife, is not a year round tourist spot so make sure you plan your trip according to your expectations.

Roundup

Majorca should be on your ‘to visit’ list if it’s not already on there and being known as the youthful island, it may even afford you the elixir that has proved so elusive.

The author

Peter writes for the Tenerife Forum blog and has a keen interest on Spanish islands.

Cruising the Basque Country

The Basque Country is one of the most culturally rich regions of Spain and remains a must-see for all foodie types. This beautiful Northern region is far removed from the commercialism of the package-orientated Costas. And, a holiday here doesn’t have to cost a fortune. With a bit of extra planning you’ll discover authentic Spain is much more accessible than you think. There are lots of great car hire options in Spain and driving is the best way to get out and explore this region. You’ll have complete freedom to roam between cities and cruise the scenic coastline. Bilbao’s port has great motorway connections for ease but take the smaller country and mountain roads and you’ll experience a much more picturesque drive. A good time to head here is during Basque Week, in September each year. Celebrations take place in towns across the region, where you will get chance to see traditional dances and games and even take part in a bit of cider tasting.

Bilbao

Do you ever feel like you spend a lot of your time on holiday eating? One of the best things about travelling abroad is that there are plenty of delicious new foods to try. The Basque Country is renowned for its top-notch food. Wander around the Old Town’s narrow streets and you’ll find it hard to resist all the tempting tapas restaurants. Bilbao is the largest city in the region and the nightlife here is pretty lively. The Guggenheim Museum is definitely also worth a look. With its striking modern architecture and art exhibitions, it has become a key attraction for visitors looking to add a bit of culture to their lives.

Mundaka

Not quite active enough for you? Tour out to the Basque coast and you can stop at the several picturesque beach spots or find the optimum conditions for catching the best waves. Drive just 45 minutes from Bilbao and you’ll reach the town of Mundaka, a surfer’s mecca that attracts visitors from around the world. It also hosts a round of the World Surfing Championship each year. The diversity of beaches means there is something for every skill level.  So, come here to catch your first wave, beat your personal best or just watch the professionals do it.

Lekeitio

Just 45 minutes’ drive east along the coast is the little town of Lekeitio. Fishing has always been big business here and if you’re looking for a slower pace of life then you can take lots of leisurely walks or marvel at the sunsets. Aside from the Gothic architecture other attractions are the two great beaches overlooking the island of San Nicolas. When the tide is low, it becomes an island no more and you can walk across on foot. You can carry on the sea theme with a visit to the Lighthouse of Catalina. The Navigation Interpretative Centre on site lets you put your sailor cap on, experience a virtual voyage and learn those essential navigation skills. When you’re done you can take in sweeping views from the terraces.

San Sebastian

San Sebastian offers the best of both worlds. You can party in the city’s many bars or go for a slap-up meal in one of the fancy restaurants. This is also one of the best places to nibble some pintxos, the region’s version of tapas. Common ingredients of these small snacks include seafood and peppers and bread usually held together with a toothpick or skewer making them great for sharing. So you can gather together a group of you and hop from tavern to tavern, sampling all the tasty pintxos options. You’ll also find fine sandy beaches to lounge around on and Le Concha is one not to be missed.

Author Bio: Melanie is a freelance writer and blogger with a passion for travel.

The World’s Greatest Pizza Can Be Found in America

The World’s Greatest Pizza Can Be Found in America

If you are a connoisseur of the pizza pie, there’s little doubt that you know the best place to grab a slice no matter which city you’re in. While virtually anyone can make a pizza, it takes a talented individual to make the perfect pie. If you’re looking to mark the next great slice off of your “must-have” list, here are five pizzerias that can’t be missed:

Giordano’s Pizzeria – Chicago

Located in the windiest city in America, Giordano’s has been a neighborhood staple for years. Just in case you don’t live near the original Giordano’s, you can visit one of their other 42 locations in Illinois and Florida. The recipes at Giordano’s are those of the restaurant’s namesake, a beautiful woman from northern Italy. Her dishes were so lauded by the region that her sons opened a pizza shop in her honor when they came to America. Today, residents of Illinois and Florida flock to the pizzeria for a sampling of the best stuffed-crust pie in the nation.

Lou Malnati’s – Chicago

Malnati’s pizzeria is another favorite of the residents of Chicago. In fact, if you browse through Yelp!, you’ll find that diners are almost perfectly divided when it comes to dining at Malnati’s or their next door neighbor, Giordano’s. The creator of this fabulous restaurant got his start in the 1940’s, cooking in one of Chicago’s best pizza shops. It was years later that Lou Malnati and his wife, Jean, opened what would become the most popular pizzeria in a Jewish neighborhood in Chicago. The tradition continues today, with diners often lining the streets for a chance to get belly-up to one of these delicious deep-dish pizzas.

Lombardi’s – New York

It started way back in 1905 when Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery store in Little Italy after emigrating from his home country. Only three miles from Ellis Island, Lombardi’s soon began to sell tomato pies to the Italians who worked their fingers to the bone in the community. Pizzas today are made with the same coal-fired ovens that fed so many immigrants so long ago, and the restaurant is as popular as it ever was.

Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana – New Haven

Your first visit to Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana will definitely not be your last, even after you notice the misshapen pie sitting before you. Instead of being baked in a round pan, Pepe’s pizza are hand-crafted and then baked in a traditional, coal-fired pizza oven made of brick. Stop by this New Haven hangout and try a slice for yourself.

California Pizza Kitchen – Multiple Cities

If you aren’t lucky enough to live near one of these great pizzerias, you can always visit a California Pizza Kitchen. The chain restaurant is often named one of the best by customers and food critics alike. Home to some of the more original pizzas in the nation, California Pizza Kitchen is a favorite for those who want something more unique than pepperoni dotting their pie.

The next time you’re in Chicago, New York or New Haven, you’ve got to stop by one of these pizza joints. If you think you know a great slice of pizza, you’ll be blown away by the cooks at any one of these fabulous eateries. The next time you have a craving for a slice of fabulous pizza, pop by one of these pizzerias; you won’t be disappointed.

Cyndi Ross writes for Delivery.com, a site she recommends for finding the best delivery options in Chicago.

Top 10 Beaches in the World

The world is blessed with some amazing beaches. From north to south, there are tiny rocky coves sheltered by towering cliffs and incredible swathes of sweeping sand. From islands to towns, from tropical paradises to cities, from sparkly silver, through gold of every hue to volcanic black sand, the diversity is incredible. Here are 10 top beaches of the world:

 

Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii, USA

One of Hawaii’s most beloved nature preserves, the beautiful horseshoe-shaped Hanauma bay represents the floor of an ancient volcanic crater.  A scant 10 miles from Waikiki, Hanauma stands above the rest, with its calm lagoons which make it a haven for snorkelers, swimmers and indeed, local marine life.

Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

South of Cape Town, Boulders beach is protected by an outcrop of grassy dunes.  The beach itself mixes white sand with large, pillow-shaped boulders.  One of the world’s most distinct beaches, Boulders attracts nature lovers the world over and is famous for being home to African penguins.

 Grumari Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

While Ipanema may have been immortalized in the 1960s bossa nova classic, Rio de Janeiro lays claim to several spectacular beaches.  Away from the crowds in an environmentally protected area, Grumari Beach is Rio’s best kept secret.  Bordered by striking mountains and bounded by wild vegetation, Grumari’s soft fine sand and gentle waves feel a world apart from the crowds of Ipanema.

Whitehaven Beach, Queensland, Australia

Australia’s most photographed beach is a sight to behold.  Nowhere else in the world does aqua blue contrast so starkly and beautifully with white sands than in Whitehaven.  Tidal shifts along the along the 7km beach create swirls of colors unique to the region, making it one of the top must-see destinations in Queensland.

 Arambol Beach, Goa, India

Making a swift transition from humble fishing village to world-class beach, Arambol is the jewel of Goa.  Here on this broad crescent of soft sand there is a mix of beach chairs, a few remaining fishermen and the odd cow or two.  Arambol’s laid-back atmosphere along with its natural beauty creates a magnetic pull that has been attracting more and more visitors each year.

 Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia

The Perhentian Islands represent the quintessential tropical beach paradise.  Here, the sand crumbles underneath your feet like powder and palm trees jut out from the sand in perfect postcard image form.  Featuring a year-round temperate climate and warm, crystal clear waters, Kecil is true paradise on Earth.

Las Islas Cíes, Galicia, Spain

Once squarely in pirate territory, Las Islas Cíes is a remarkable place near Spain’s northern border with Portugal.  The area is only open to visitors in the summer and features two crescent-shaped pristine beaches with clear turquoise waters.

Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Sitting on Zanzibar’s northern tip, Nungwi offers an almost surreal landscape.  Its shallow sloping beach is a sight to behold as are the small fishing villages that still dot the region.  Nungwi is home to some of the finest sand in the world which when combined with the warm equatorial waters of Zanzibar, create a first-class beach experience.

Matira Beach, Bora Bora, Tahiti

Nicknamed the “Romantic Island”, Bora Bora is home to some of the most beautiful spots on earth.  Matira Beach is the island’s crown jewel.  Protected by a thin strip of land, Matira is nestled in a lagoon creating incredibly calm and clear waters which lap at your feet.

Anse Source d’Argent, Seychelles

The granite boulders which burst through the soft pink sand of Anse Source d’Argent is one of the region’s most distinctive features.  Creating an even more dramatic scene, the flat sandy beach is protected by walls of palm tree-covered granite cliffs from behind, making it feel like the most secluded place in the world.  Largely protected by a reef, the waves entering this stunning beach are calm and relaxing.

The Inn at Lathones: Stylish Dining at St Andrews, Scotland

Just outside St Andrews, a short drive south on the A915, is a jewel in the crown of independent eateries in Scotland. Behind the unassuming facade of the Inn at Lathones lies a restaurant that is, at best, deserving of its two AA Rosettes, but at the very least, worthy of much more. Focusing on fresh produce, and advocates of the ‘slow food movement’, the Inn showcases the very best of seasonal Scottish food with fresh locally-caught seafood high on the menu.

The Inn’s owner, Nick White, began his early career in hospitality as a chef, and although he’s turned his hand to other areas of wining and dining, his knowledge and understanding of food is clearly the driving force behind the success that his restaurant enjoys. That, and the skill and vision of his chef as well, he’s quick to inform us.

Dining at the Inn is an absolute pleasure. They’ve deliberately taken a step away from aiming for the dizzy heights of Michelin acclaim to focus instead on producing a delightful bistro-style menu. But that doesn’t mean that their food is presented with less flair. In fact, the stylish plates of well-cooked, gratifying food that arrive before diners in this relaxed dining room, have been plated with all the mastery and expertise you’d expect to find in restaurants at the top of the food chain. Pardon the pun. And that’s undoubtedly one of the reasons why they enjoy such popularity, not only with the locals who call this place home, but also with golfers from nearby St Andrews who clearly recognise the Inn as a veritable competitor to their usual 19th tee haunts.

And it’s not just the food that’s enjoyable here. There’s a clear understanding of how a good wine should taste as well, like the £35 bottle of Albarino we were encouraged to try. This 2009 Casal Caeivo white was refreshing and fruity, with a hint of blackcurrants, although maybe that’s just my palate. It worked every bit as well with red meats, and wasn’t lost by the robust flavour of the lamb.

When we visited, we found their summer menu to be frustratingly tempting. The pan roasted cod with a side of crispy anchovies was tantalising, as was the thought of cannelloni of local langoustine with parmesan crisp and a seafood bisque. We finally settled on seafood chowder, made with seafood caught locally at nearby Pittenweem, and a terrine of chicken and ham confit, dressed with housemade apple jelly to start. We followed that up with a heavenly braised shoulder of local spring lamb, served with a pan fried chump and perfectly cooked vegetables, a and local corn fed chicken breast main with artichokes.

Desert was equally as difficult to narrow down, but a soft and refreshing vanilla mousse and raspberry sorbet, along with a well chosen cheese board won.  It’s the first time I’ve tasted pickled celery – I have to say, I may now be a celery convert.

It’s the care that goes into the food here, that makes dining at the Inn special. They take care of their produce from the very beginning, using meats that are tracked by the Scottish Beef Club from field to table. Everything is locally butchered just a few miles away from the Inn, giving a certain degree of comfort in knowing how fresh and well-sourced the food you’re eating is. And when the Inn finds something special, something to show off about, that’s exactly what they do. Catering for larger groups, particularly with the famous golf courses of St Andrews just up the road, is something this outstanding restaurant is perfectly used to doing, and it’s a chance for them to get creative. Take their seafood nights, for example. We narrowly missed one such occasion, and how we rued that fact. The thought of long slabs of wood, laden high with fresh lobsters, a variety of other saltwater crustacions, and an outsized champagne bucket filled to the brim with fresh mussels in a white wine and cream sauce, sounded like seafood heaven. No starters, no need for deserts, just seafood. And lots of it.

The menu we dined from is the Inn at Lathones’  summer menu for 2012, but they’re working on their winter menu already. Anticipate plenty of fresh local estate game, with pheasant and partridge likely to feature on it. And the seafood will undoubtedly be making an appearance again too.

Click here to visit the website for the Inn at Lathones: http://www.innatlathones.com/

 

 

 

Seattle: Microbreweries Put to the Test

Last month I was at an industry conference in Seattle. It was my first trip to the Emerald city, and I was not disappointed. The one drawback I have ever heard about Seattle the often crummy weather, but three of the four days we were there, there wasn’t as much as a cloud in sky, and the cool sea breeze made for a perfect climate. Being a big fan of beer, I went into the trip excited to try out all of the microbrews that the city had to offer. Some, I really liked. Others, not so much. Below is my list of the best and worst Seattle beers (based on exhaustive research…).

The Best: Pike Kilt Lifter from The Pike Brewing Company

Those who are not into the more bitter taste of ales will not be a fan of this one. I for one could not get enough! This is a high gravity beer (6.5% alcohol by volume) is a hefty brew with a beautiful ruby color and a bitter, crisp finish. Enjoy one or two of pints at the Pike Brewery near the heart of the city on on 1st and Pike.

Runner-up: Hefeweizen from Pyramid Breweries

I am not typically a fan of wheat beers, or any beers that are served with fruit for that matter, but this unfiltered wheat from Pyramid breweries just about changed my mind. Like most Bavarian style wheat’s, The Hefeweizen is a lighter brew, and goes great with a steaming bowl of chowder.

The Worst:The Pike Stout

In my humble opinion, a beer should not taste like a Starbucks energy shot, and to me, this one did. Please take my opinion with a grain of salt, as I am very particular about my beer, but this one I could have done without. It is a high gravity Stout (7% ABV) and will fill you up by the time you’re half way through. Unless the heavy, rich, malty style lager is your thing, I would steer clear of this one.

Runner-up: Bosun’s Black Porter from Maritime Brewery

Even though the name is derived in quite a creative manner, this brew was far too smoky, malty, and heavy for my taste. With that kind of make-up I would at least expect it to pack a punch, but the ABV is only 5.2% , which simply isn’t high enough to make up for the downright strange flavor. Agree? Disagree? Please comment below!

Written by the Marketing team at McCormick & Murphy, Denver Car Accident Attorneys.

The Inn at Lathones: St Andrews’ Answer to Wembley

You might not think it as you drive up to the small, whitewashed renovated coaching inn that lies just south of the golfing town of St Andrews, but these walls have seen (and heard) a lot of musical talent over the past few years, much to the delight of tourists and locals alike. Okay, so the Inn at Lathones might not quite match Wembley in terms of size and scale, but still, its gig list reads like an A-list music agent’s resume – impressive, and long.

So why have talented artists like, Bob Catley, Peter Tork and Mick Taylor made their way to the east coast of Scotland? Well, a few years back the owner of the Inn, savvy businessman Nick White, wanted to find a niche market for his business. Something that would set his small Fife tavern apart from everything else in the area. And with music providing the perfect reason to travel, he set about turning his Inn into the music venue for St Andrews and the east coast of Scotland. And so the gig nights were born, and given the name Rocking at the Stables, or RATS for short.

It wasn’t long before the list of celebrity artists grew to a notable size, and that’s seen the venue grow in popularity as well. In 2009 it was awarded the title of UK’s Best Music Venue 2009, and in the following year The Publican listed it as a finalist. And its popularity continues to grow. This year sees the arrival of more talented artists like Lizanne Knott and Bob Cheevers, and they’ve even found the time on their gig list to open some space for one of two little-known talents as well.  There have always been plenty of reasons to travel to this part of Scotland, whether it’s for the golf, historical tourist sites, or the plentiful and fresh seafood that’s a mainstay of the tourist trade here. But now there’s another reason to visit, and music fans everywhere should put the Inn at Lathones on their travel list.

Forthcoming Rocking at the Stables events in the Inn at Lathones can be found here:

http://www.mundellmusic.com/gigs_inn_at_lathones.php

And to see a full list of previous artists, click here:

http://www.theclaymoreproject.com/uploads/hotel/39/file/gigs%20played%20at%20inn%20%202009%20to%202011.pdf

Traveling to the Limits: Places to Go where You can See it All

Growing up you may have had dreams of traveling to a far off land. As an adult, why not make those dreams a reality? Traveling to a faraway place can give you that feeling back, the feeling where the world’s chaos didn’t matter and you are free to dream. Here are some inspiring places to visit and help you renew that feeling of wonder.

Big Sur, California, United States

The California coastline is known for its breathtakingly scenic views. If you want stunning landscapes and open space, spend time around the Big Sur region. Between the jagged coast and rippling waves, you will have the opportunity to overlook a true marvel of nature. Those who like to go for a drive to clear their mind will really love this place – you can zip around winding Rt. 1 while taking in the view.

Green Lake, Austria

At the base of the Hochschwab Mountains in Tragoess, Austria, sits a lake so unique and beautiful you cannot help but be inspired. During the winter, you can find a park in this spot. It is decorated with all the trappings of a well-maintained rural getaway – trees, benches, and walking paths.

Once the heat of summer melts away the snow and ice from the mountains, that all changes. Crystal clear water from the mountains trickles down and creates a lake about 10 meters deep. Strap on some diving gear for the amazing experience of seeing a functional park submerged in beautifully transparent water.

Grand Canyon, Arizona, United States

The Grand Canyon is one of the natural wonders of the world for good reason – one look at it strikes most with awe and wonder. Its size is amazing. Measuring in at 277 miles long, 4 to 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep, it is difficult not to marvel in its vastness.

What makes it more unique is its magnificent color palette. While other canyons throughout the world may stretch longer or go steeper, few present the same combination of shades that light up against the sun. It also offers visitors plenty of lookout points, so you are sure to find a spot with a view that captures your imagination.

Black Sand Beach, Vík, Iceland

Located in the southernmost village in Iceland, the black sand beach at Vík is a surreal combination of starkly-colored sand and rippling waves. You can almost sense the presence of sailors of the past as you stand on the black basalt sand near the stormy sea. The surrounding rock formations are captivating, too; they have that unearthly quality that characterizes much of Iceland’s famous landscape. Last but not least, bird lovers are in for a treat – puffin colonies live around this part of the country.

Milford Track, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Tucked away in one of the most effortlessly beautiful countries in the world, Milford Track offers a one-of-a-kind trek through nature to anyone who wants to get away from the grind. Hikers can expect to see staggering mountains, countless winding rivers, and waterfalls. Hiking activity is moderated pretty strictly during the summer months, which is between October and April in New Zealand, so if you want to check out this scenic spot, you need to make reservations several months in advance. Many hikers would agree it is well worth the wait.

You don’t have abandon feelings of wonder once you hit adulthood. Get away from your stifling routine and explore pockets of the world that can fill you with child-like inspiration all over again.

Author Bio:

Guest post contributed by Carla Gregson, freelance travel writer. She enjoys writing articles about her travel experiences and sharing them on various online travel publications.

Things to Do in Cornwall, England

If you are traveling to Cornwall, England, this year, do you know what you will do when you reach your destination? There are many opportunities awaiting you in this lovely location, so it pays to plan ahead and have an idea of your itinerary before arriving in Cornwall.

Visit Land’s End

Land’s End is unparalleled when it comes to natural beauty and peaceful surroundings. You can walk along the coast and watch the seabirds frolic in the surf. You may even get the chance to glimpse a seal or dolphin in the waves. There are free events for the entire family to enjoy, such as fireworks displays on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the months of July and August. At this time, restaurants and shops stay open later, and live music can also be enjoyed. If you would like some exercise, you might decide to take a leisurely stroll along beautiful trails offering breathtaking views of the countryside.Land’s End Hotel is located on the top of a cliff and it provides ideal family accommodation.

Check Out the Eden Project

The Eden Project, which has actually been referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, is a beautiful garden situated in tropical biomes located in a gigantic crater. Colorful plants abound here, and you will have the opportunity to experience a rainforest, as well as walk among lemon and orange trees like the ones you might find in California. The Roofless Biome occupies 30 acres and houses such plants as hemp and sunflowers.

Tintagel is a Must-See Stop

This lovely location is in North Cornwall right along the Atlantic coastline. Here you will learn about wizards and kings. Tintagel Castle, high on the cliffs, is perfect for a family outing. It is said to be the location where King Arthur was born. You may also want to visit the nearby village to see the old post office and tour quaint cottages that are open all year.

Take the kids to Tencreek Holiday Park

If your children are accompanying you on your vacation, visiting Tencreek Holiday Park will create a wonderful excursion for them. It is located near the seaside town of Looe. Caravan holiday homes that will house from six to eight people are a great way to stay together as a family, and they’re every bit as comfortable as your own home. Even the family dog is welcome. There’s a heated pool on the premises, and you can find plenty of shopping nearby. Castaways Bar provides food and entertainment.

Spend the Day Surfing

Kingsurf Surf School, located in Newquay, gets high marks from tourists for being a great attraction for kids and adults. You can learn to surf regardless of your skill level. Lessons are provided that are just for fun or that cater to more professional tastes.

There are many attractions in Cornwall to be enjoyed by all age groups. You may find yourself running out of time to do and see everything, so make sure you plan ahead and factor in enough time to do the things that appeal to you most.

This is a guest post from Jennifer Lewis, who has spentseveral wonderful vacations in Cornwall. She writes for a site that providesinformation on financial help for female students, such as scholarships for women in physics and free money grants for women.

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