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Scotland’s UNESCO Trail

Scotland offers a treasure trove of experiences, history and – above all – fun. It’s a fantastic place to visit, especially with easyJet flying into Edinburgh from Gibraltar.

One thing that isn’t perhaps known is the number and variety of UNESCO places that VisitScotland has grouped into an explorers trail, in a world first.

Wester Ross UNESCO Biosphere

The landscape of Wester Ross is among the most spellbinding in the world. Here in the north west Highlands of Scotland, discover a place of astounding natural beauty and eco-diversity, where communities live in harmony with the land and sea, preserving a unique time-honoured way of life, passed down through the generations.

Amid this natural playground formed by some of the oldest geology in the world, explore an idyllic coastline fringed with pristine beaches, gleaming lochs, centuries-old pinewoods, deep glens, and lofty mountains among the highest in the UK. Each of these habitats provide for an incredible array of rare wildlife and plant species, that are of international significance.

Wester Ross Biosphere is more than just a place to enjoy some of Scotland’s most spectacular scenery; it’s a destination where you can truly slow down and appreciate the delicate and vital connection all humans share with their environment. A place where unique beauty, culture and history come together quite unlike anywhere else.

Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere

This biosphere is known for its spellbinding natural beauty. Covering 5,268 square kilometres of south-west Scotland, the area centres on the hills and moors of the Merrick, which were originally formed by glaciers. Explore the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere and discover untouched coastlines and deep woodlands and forests, all providing habitats for a rich diversity of plants and wildlife.

All of this beauty has produced a fair share of creative talent throughout the years, from Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns, to sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, who created the region’s iconic Striding Arches in celebration of Galloway’s ancient uplands.

Glasgow, City of Music UNESCO Creative City

It doesn’t take long to realise that music is the beating heart of this city. Get ready for a warm welcome from half a million residents who have access to over 100 music events every week. You’ll soon discover that music can do much more than simply put a smile on your face.

Glasgow is a vibrant city with a legendary music scene across a variety of venues, that stretches across the whole spectrum from contemporary to classical, and Celtic to country. It’s famed for the enthusiasm and energy of its audiences, which is no surprise when you hear it’s regularly voted one of the friendliest cities in the world.

Edinburgh, City of Literature UNESCO Creative City

Storytelling and the written word have been the life force of Edinburgh’s art and culture for centuries. Its contributions to the world of literature are so rich and well-recognised that in 2004, Edinburgh became the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature.

Literature is an important part of the city’s past and present, and it features prominently in almost every corner of city life. This is the only city in the world to erect a 60 metre-tall monument in honour of one of Scotland’s greatest writers, Sir Walter Scott.

Scott is by no means the only literary superstar to be associated with Edinburgh. Writers as diverse as Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, JM Barrie, Muriel Spark, and Harry Potter author JK Rowling, have all been inspired by and enriched the creative fabric of the city.

Boasting the world’s largest literature festival, home to a myriad of bookshops, not to mention the highest concentration of public libraries in Scotland – Edinburgh is a city which celebrates the power of the written word quite unlike any other.

Shetland UNESCO Global Geopark

The islands you see today of Shetland have been on an incredible geological journey. This land has literally travelled from near the South Pole, across the equator, to its current spot at the crossroads of the North Atlantic and the North Sea. The geology of the islands influences every part of life – they provide a home for unique biodiversity and they influence human settlements, their activities, and their industries.

Due to the lack of trees and the abundance of stone, Shetland has some of the best-preserved archaeology in Europe. Explore the Shetland Geopark and you’ll discover not just the story of the islands, but the story of how the world has formed and changed over millions of years.

Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site

Who could ever imagine building a monument and learning it would still exist some 5,000 years later? Thousands of years ago, the prehistoric people of Orkney began building such monuments out of stone. It’s testament to their skills that those domestic and ritualistic monuments still survive today, and we can now use them to get incredible insights into the society and spiritual beliefs of those people.

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney brings together four key sites near Stromness on the Orkney Mainland:

Skara Brae – a domestic settlement where you can still see the surviving stone walls, passageways and stone furnishings including beds and ‘dressers’

Maeshowe – this chambered tomb is an extraordinary example of Neolithic architecture. It’s designed so that the light of the setting sun at the winter solstice focuses on the narrow passageway, illuminating the chamber inside

The Stones of Stenness – the circle and henge* is a very early example of this type of monument. The surviving stones are enormous, standing up to 6 m tall

The Ring of Brodgar – a great stone circle, about 130 m across. It’s surrounded by a rock-cut ditch and sits in a spectacular setting, a natural amphitheatre of lochs and hills

New Lanark World Heritage Site

New Lanark was a site ahead of its time. Founded by David Dale, it is most famous for Robert Owen’s social reforms, such as shorter working days, an end to child labour under the age of 10, and free medical care for workers in the mill.

The cotton mill was in operation for two centuries from 1785 to 1968 and at one time was thought to be the largest industrial facility in the world. It became a world-renowned blueprint for what could be the ideal working and living environment for workers and their families.

Visit the award-winning restored 18th century mill village to see this progressive story brought to life in a series of buildings, exhibitions and attractions.

This is only a selection of the UNESCO Trail. See the full list at
visitscotland.com/see-do/unesco-trail/designations/list/


Travelling Alone

Travelling alone can feel incredibly exciting and somewhat daunting in equal measure. Embarking on a new travel experience requires careful planning but more importantly a huge desire for a unique, independent travel experience.

Karen Dwyer is a Health & Wellbeing Coach. She states ‘I believe traveling alone is a must do, at least once in your life. 

Life is so busy these days and there are lots of people to look after, whether it’s work, family, children and friends. 

I believe it is important to truly discover what you love, without attachment to pleasing others. That may sound a little selfish but I think we need to follow the flight’s safety instructions to the letter and put on our oxygen mask first before anyone else’s. 

Travelling with people you know can be an amazing way to bond, but it also comes with some drawbacks. You can’t always plan your schedule the way you really want to because you have other people’s schedules to consider, and splitting the work of planning so many logistics across a group can be time-consuming. If there’s division among the group, that can lead to tension. And if somebody gets sick or has an emergency in their family, it can throw a wrench into a trip that was planned months in advance.

If you’re considering traveling solo, there are some pros and cons that are worth knowing about. Obviously, it’s going to be different for everyone—some people love the freedom of being able to do everything on their own terms, while others find that kind of independence overwhelming. But if you’re thinking about making the leap from group travel to solo travel, here are some things that might help inform your decision.

If you’ve never travelled alone, you might not know where to start. But don’t let that stop you! To help you get your feet wet, here are some pros and cons of solo travel:

Pros:

  • You can do anything, anywhere, at any time—there’s no one to tell you what to do or when to do it!
  • You are free to meet new people or not, as you choose. It’s your choice. 
  • There’s no one around to annoy you. That’s pretty nice.

Cons:

  • You have to pay all the bills yourself. 
  • It can be intimidating sometimes—but it gets easier with time.
  • My advice, don’t let fear stop you. You must be a brave soul.

While there’s something to be said for traveling with friends and family, there’s also nothing quite like hitting the road by yourself. You might get lonely sometimes—and you will, trust me—but you’ll also find yourself solving problems on your own, making discoveries all on your own, and making the most out of everything without having to consider anyone else.

Here are some pro tips:

  • Make sure your phone works in the country you’re going to (most international phones have global capabilities these days).
  • Travel insurance is an absolute MUST if you’re going alone; you don’t want to get stuck somewhere without money or anyone else to help you.
  • Don’t forget your first aid kit. It’s worth it to have one even if you don’t think you’ll use it.

Michelle Ensuque is a psychotherapist and coach. Michelle says, ‘If like me you find yourself having to travel solo rather than someone hop, skipping and jumping into the wilderness with sheer abandon, then lean into what I am about to tell you; it might just change your plans:

• Read the small print. Yes, I know it sounds obvious, but I once found myself being groped by my ‘friendly’ designated driver, who I couldn’t complain about because he was the one driving me to around Tanzania. I also found myself sat alone at tables eating dinner when (as an over excited person in a new place) I wanted to share my thoughts with others rather than sit alone. Making assumptions rather than reading thoroughly might end up in a situation you hadn’t bargained for.

• Taking a book or magazine to the restaurant means you can avoid sitting in a restaurant looking like the resident stalker.  

• Consider going on a holiday with other single people so you can share the adventures. If you enjoy being surounded by others, explore the options out there.

• Use it as an opportunity not just to travel but to experience different things.  Whether your appetite is whetted by adrenaline-based pursuits or how to get into the handstand scorpion pose at a yoga retreat, if you are curious about new cultures and seeking some self-reflection time, take the opportunity to see what might be available. Don’t, however, try to do something because you think you ought to before time runs out. Sky diving and bungee jumping might have been on your bucket list but really take time to understand if this is because you want to, or you think you ‘should’.

• If the thought of speaking in a foreign language sends you running for the hills, visit somewhere where they speak your language or take time to learn some words or phrases of the country you are visiting, including ‘no’ and
‘no thank you’, and don’t forget that Google translate is a godsend.

• Take the essentials in terms of your medication. Be aware of the rules for each contry regarding prescription drugs. 

Finally – take the leap of faith.  You won’t know if you like it unless you try it and if you have no expectations, you might just be surprised and revel in those stories later.’

Karen Dwyer – www.karendwyer.com
Michelle Ensuque – www.meliusse.com


Intergenerational Travel

The relationship we have with our travel choices are complex, personal and sometimes highly emotive. We can love a person dearly but understand they might not be an ideal travelling companion for you. Equally, you may shy away from crowded cities and locations yet find yourself drawn to a country that is famous for its energy, colour and non-stop noise.  

Who we travel with is a an extremely important part of the whole travel experience.  What we desire from travelling can vary enormously and crucially, this can depend on our travelling companions and what they can bring to your journey.  Sharing new adventures with individuals from a different age group can be enriching and enlightening. We can all bring something unique to such experiences so it is up to us to create diverse travel opportunities.  It is understandable yet predictable that we choose people from our own age and friendship pool, yet the life knowledge, maturity and perspective older people can bring is invaluable.  Equally, a travel experience can be energised by including younger people in the group. Different ages mix up the conversation and bring an unexpected but welcome edge to travel.

A family holiday provides the perfect opportunity to strengthen (or indeed rebuild) relationships between loved ones.  Research shows only 1 in 4 children talk to their parents about “something that matters” more than once a week.  A family holiday gives you the time and relaxed setting to chat about things other than day-to-day chores, homework or what’s for dinner.  

Lily Rodgers, 46, from Somerset, discovered the joys of inter generational travel after her marriage ended. ‘Travelling with a diverse group felt quite daunting’, explains Anna, ‘I had previously always been with family, friends or my husband, really a safety net of those closest to me. I wanted to shake up the way I visited new places. The time was right for me to explore a totally new experience. Travelling with individuals who are a different age, cultural background and refreshingly, have varying views on the world. Interestingly, not having my usual support circle around me encouraged me into situations and conversations I would have navigated around or outright avoided before. Travelling without your go-to safety net really challenges you and sometimes I have felt a bit nervous but talking and engaging with people feels easier now and I am sure the more I travel this way, the more comfortable I will feel.’

Although technology means we are more in touch than ever before, nothing beats physical time together.  Spending close time with family members gives you the chance to develop a much closer understanding of each other through body language, subtle nuances, gestures and facial expressions that just aren’t possible via text or Whatsapp!

All in all, spending time together as a family on holiday simply provides you all with the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company, giving them the reassurance they are loved and creating fabulous memories for you all.

Faith Scanlon, 20, from Surrey confirms that she has ‘travelled with an inter generational group twice this year and I am heading to Milan tonight also.

What I found amazing about travelling with an inter generational group is the difference in interests. It really opens your eyes to how older people see the world and what they’re travelling for, and it’s often different to the reasons I travel for. It’s also great to make memories with a variety of people, especially the older generation, as I can always tell how grateful they are, particularly when I take on the technical responsibilities of booking flights, hotels, transfers, as well as organising digital check-ins and covid passports – this is usually a struggle for older generations.

A tough difference would definitely be the physical speed of the trip, particularly with older generations. As a woman in my 20’s, I find I just want to go, go, go and cram in as much as I can before having to go back, but you really have to take into consideration travel time, the amount of walking, the climate etc. I imagine this wouldn’t differ too much from travelling with children, either.

I have definitely gained some unique memories from travelling in an inter generational group. I’m not a clubbing type when I’m travelling so it’s refreshing to travel with people of the same mindset in that respect. It’s also nice as we tend to stick to nicer hotels over budget hotels, as they tend to be more comfortable and accessible for older people, so it’s great to experience settings that I usually wouldn’t choose to stay in myself for financial reasons.’

If you’re only travelling with people your own age, things can get super-competitive, which in turn can become tiresome. Who’s got the most passport stamps? Who made it to last year’s hottest destination first? Who can trot out 20 phrases in the local lingo as they’ve been to the country before? Mix up the age ranges, though, and you’ll likely find that this rivalry barely gets a look in – perhaps because more mature travellers are happier to soak in the sights, and savour the food and drink. This mindful, in-the-moment approach is a great way to experience a place – and, to live life once you get back home.

Every time you travel can be memorable: whether it is a UK location or a journey to the other side of the world. The one consistent is that we want to immerse ourselves in all aspects of the trip.

Travelling within an intergenerational group will provide an incredibly rewarding opportunity to experience the world not only through your eyes but the perspective of others who have lived and travelled a totally different life from you.

Faith Scanlon, Travel blogger website is wish-you-were-here.uk and is a travel blog (launching imminently) 


Travelling the new normal

Now that Covid-19 restrictions are easing, many Gibraltar residents will be thinking about travelling abroad for a well-deserved holiday break. As part of its awareness program, the Office of Fair Trading has issued some handy tips and advice to help consumers in an effort to minimise disappointments with holidays in what’s been termed the “new normal.”

Deciding where to go

There are a number of things you should consider before deciding where to go. When deciding where to travel to we recommend you do the following:

  1. Use the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office website to find out about the country you are visiting or travelling through. This website gives you very useful and important information, including:

a) updates on COVID-19 situation there

b) entry requirements and travel restrictions, including visas

c) other safety and security issues

d) travel advice, help and support

2.Check the latest information on COVID-19 risks and other health issues for the country on the TravelHealthPro website.

3. Think about the level of risk that you might be subjecting yourself and your family to. Whereas Gibraltar has had a very effective vaccination campaign (one of the best in the world) to protect its residents against COVID-19, this is not necessarily the same in the country you may be considering travelling to. Also note that health systems in other countries may be over stretched. If you or your family require medical assistance this may be difficult to get.

4. Many destinations that are popular because of the events they host and their atmosphere (e.g. festivals, nightlife, celebrations, entertainment venues) may not be able to offer you the same experience if they are operating under COVID-19 restrictions. Is now the right time to visit them? This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

These things may significantly affect your travelling arrangements, so before booking your holiday make sure you have looked at these things carefully.

Booking your trip

Once you have decided on your destination, consider the following COVID-19 and Brexit issues before booking:

1. COVID-19 considerations:


a) Tests & Vaccinations – Check if you need to be vaccinated or require a negative test result to enter your destination or to join tours and events. Check HM Government of Gibraltar’s latest press releases and technical notices for more information on vaccinations. Pre-book tests in advance to ensure you can get it before travelling and it is valid on the day you need it. Make sure the document you will receive is acceptable. You may need to complete specific forms at your destination. Consumers should be aware that getting tested and obtaining necessary documentation shall incur extra travel costs, locally and abroad.

For further information on vaccine and travel certificates visit healthygibraltar.org where you will find a dedicated Covid-19 section

b) COVID-19 Isolation on arrival – Check if you will be required to isolate when you arrive to your destination. Factor it in to your travel arrangements and also factor in the cost of any further tests at the end or during the isolation period. Entry requirements for destination countries can be found on the UK Government website.

c) Check COVID-19 travel restrictions – Once again check restrictions both at the place you are intending to visit and places you a travelling through. These may change often and you should check prior to booking. Additionally it is important that you check and follow the latest local official coronavirus restrictions and updates.

d) Cancellation policies & refunds – COVID-19 restrictions can change overnight. Check the terms and conditions when making your bookings as if they are cancelled you may not be entitled to your money back. If you can, book with a provider that provides redress to you if you are affected by new restrictions. This is becoming common in the industry.

e) Returning back to Gibraltar- Check the COVID-19 Travel Information page of the Visit Gibraltar Website for the latest information on requirements for entry into Gibraltar.

Brexit considerations

a) Passports – Gibraltar is no longer part of the EU, therefore travelling with your ID card alone is not possible. Check passport requirements for the country you are visiting and travelling through. Many countries require you have at least 6 months left on a passport by the time you leave the country.

b) Visas – If you are applying for a Visa to enter a particular country look for the country’s official visa portal. This is normally simple to do. Be wary of private entities that charge you significant fees to assist you with visa applications.

c) Driving abroad – Make sure you have all the documents you need to drive in the country you are visiting. There is a probability that you will require an International Driving licence. You can apply for one from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Department.

d) Travel & Medical Insurance – Gibraltarians no longer enjoy free health cover when travelling in the EU (E-111). Gibraltar has an agreement with Spain which extends emergency medical cover until 30th April 2022. Please check with the Gibraltar Health Authority for arrangements after this date. For any other countries (except UK) you will have to pay for medical care if this is needed. We recommend you purchase travel & medical insurance for your needs. Make sure you familiarise yourself with the terms and conditions of your insurance policy to understand what is covered in an emergency.

e) Pets –You should get the necessary vaccines, certificate and/or passport to take your pet abroad. Contact the Animal Welfare Centre for further information: +350 20043352.

Other General Travel Tips

We have compiled a list of guidelines and tips based on the common and recent travel related complaints received by the OFT for you to consider:

  1. Mobile Phones charges – Check your mobile phone network provider for information on any data roaming charges in order to avoid high roaming fees. It may be worth getting a sim card at your destination.

2. Research – Knowledge is key to a good holiday:

a) Do not book the first thing you see! Shop around for the best deal. Do some independent research on the place you are travelling to and determine what you want to see and experience. You can then ensure that travel offers provide you what you want.


b) Before responding to travel offers get recommendations from family and friends on travel agencies, vacation rentals, hotels and travel package providers that offer a good service.

c) There are many websites that will provide you with good reviews from other travellers. Note however that some online website reviews can be easily manipulated or may be fake.

3. Additional Costs – Look for additional costs that may not be immediately obvious. Resort fees (also known as destination, facility and amenity fees) can increase your daily costs.

4. Taxes – Many offers are advertised as tax free. Taxes may need to be paid at your destination. Ask about taxes and note that these may be significant.

5. Avoid scams – Holiday scams are very common:

a) If a deal is too good to be true research the travel service providers with the words “scam,” “review,” or “complaint” online.

b) If you are booking through a third party website (e.g. Booking.com or Air BnB) always make payments through these websites. Never pay a host directly.

c) While on holiday, say “no thanks” to anyone who tries to rush you without giving you time to consider an offer or to ask around. Always agree a price for a service in advance.

6. Cancellations – ask about cancellation and refund policies before you pay. If possible, obtain a copy of these. If any aspect of your holiday has been cancelled as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, please refer to our specific guidance on the OFT website.

7. Booking confirmations – Make sure you can check what you booked upon your arrival. You may want to check the rate and amenities you booked, particularly if these were booked through a third party website. This is also essential if the host says your reservation is ‘lost’ or ‘cancelled’.

8. Payment – Using your credit card to pay for the booking and your travel spending may give you extra protection than paying by cash or debit card. Check your credit card provider’s terms and conditions for details.

9. Travel Insurance – Purchase travel insurance as soon as you book your holiday. Check the insurance agency is licensed and make sure the insurance cover is fit for your particular purpose. Before travelling, familiarise yourself of the process to follow in a medical emergency with your travel insurance provider.


Travelling with Kids

Travelling with children can be an exciting, inspirational experience. Viewing the world through a child’s eyes is wondrous, however, keeping our children stress free and engaged whilst travelling can be a challenge. 

Dr Amanda Gummer, psychologist, states that ‘The normal routine goes out of the window when you’re on holiday, so children need to know what is expected of them. Be sure to explain these to your children before you go and then repeat these when you arrive. They still need to be well-behaved and rules will keep them safe in an unknown environment.

It also helps to go prepared. Bring a small tub of snacks with you to make sure tummies are kept reasonably full, even when you’re running a bit late for mealtimes. DoodleBags are great for anything squishy like yoghurt or smoothies. Your child can eat straight out of the pouch for a healthy, convenient snack time, no spoon required.

Pack an activity bag to use as well. To use while travelling and once you’ve reached your destination. Opt for compact toys without lots of little pieces, so you won’t risk losing anything while out and about. Have a good variety including some quiet and some noisy toys, some solo and group games, and so on. For example, the set of six coaster games by The Dark Imp only needs paper and a pen to play, and comes in a handy travel tin. Clip-on toys like the Sensory FX ASMR 2 Pod Carry Case are easy to keep on hand too. If you’re taking a tablet, make sure the apps and games are available offline, in case you are away from WiFi. 

In case you get caught without any toys, keep some games in mind that you can play with no equipment needed. For instance, 21 questions, I Spy, or Bingo. 

While it’s nice to have fun and relax on your trip, it’s also a good educational experience. Why not help your children learn at least a few words of the natives language before they go, so they can try using it while there and perhaps understand the locals as they say hello and goodbye. The free Moka Mera Lingua app by Moilo is an excellent introduction to another language for children under eight, with seven different languages including French and Spanish. 

Before you go on your trip, plan some places to visit and research them. For example, watch some online videos to learn more about the history of a local building. Once there, see what facts your child can remember. If there’s a tour guide, this is a great way to show off their knowledge and feel like a bright spark. Encourage your children to soak up the culture and lead by example. For example, try some new food together – you never know what they might enjoy. 

Take a pair of binoculars or a disposable camera to encourage your children to explore the environment around them. Not only is this a good way to keep them entertained, it helps immerse your children in the experience and you’ll get some snaps showing the holiday from their point of view.’

Gemma Perry is an Independent Travel Consultant, specialising in Family Travel. Gemma confirms that ‘having 2 young children of my own, and having travelled every year with them, aboard and in the UK, I am very well versed on giving advice so here are some of my thoughts:

• Keeping your children calm whilst travelling is a fine balancing act. Not only is it such a long day of waiting around, carrying bags,  juggling multiple stops of check in and dropping off your bags, immigration, getting food etc. Then finally when you step onto that plane, they are not only tired but so overexcited, and depending on how long your flight is, this can be exhausting, and overwhelming, especially if they’ve not flown before.

• If you remain calm, they are calm. 

• Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport, and also around the airport.

• In the airport – Plan in rest breaks, to sit down, refuel. Talk about what you have done, and what’s going to happen next, the more you involve your children, they can become engaged and excited, by what’s to come.

• Take plenty of activities to do, quizzes, mini games, drawing, sticker books, iPads/ consoles, kindles, most importantly snacks 

Having grown up with exposure to travel, and working in travel, I’ve always encouraged family and friends alike to adopt a similar approach. This is what I feel are some of the benefits:

• Any travel experience is an opportunity to learn 

• Experiencing different Countries

• Experiencing different Cultures

• Experiencing different Religions and local holidays, i.e. Ramadan, Hearing the call to prayer.

• Experiencing different Food and local delicacies (Just the other day, I was talking about shark fin soup, and how this is illegally sourced and made. My daughter was saddened by this, and wanted to know how she could better the sharks environment and stop this activity.)

• Hearing different languages, encourages with wanting to learn new languages, but also helping speech by trying to speak to locals.

• Building their confidence by experiencing a new place.

• One of my biggest things when travelling, is spending that quality family time. The memories you will make, and how you will talk about them for years to come, and this is HAPPY time.’  A holiday destination is less important than the fun, learning and experiences a family enjoys whilst travelling and when arriving. These moments will be treasured by all the family for years to come. 

Gemma Perry gemma@theholidayfixer.com www.theholidayfixer.com/gemma

Dr. Amanda Gummer
Author, psychologist and founder of The Good Play Guide. 
www.goodplayguide.com


Electronic Travel Accessories

If you are planning a holiday overseas, or even a staycation closer to home, there are some useful electronic travel accessories that you may want to consider packing in your suitcase that will make your trip easier, safer and more comfortable. 

Travel Kettle

My latest and most favourite purchase is a travel kettle. If, like me, you can’t start your day without a cup of tea or coffee before heading off sightseeing, a travel kettle is essential. Not every hotel has a kettle in the room, and there are some countries in mainland Europe where they are definitely not the norm. Travel kettles are either collapsible or small stainless steel models that usually hold enough water for up to two cups. Another option is to take a small immersion heater that boils water in a cup or mug… and on that note, don’t forget to take those with you as well as a teaspoon and the coffee, tea or sugar of your choice. 

Hair Dryer

If you need to blow dry on the go, a compact travel hair dryer is something that those of us with frizzy hair swear by! Hotels often provide these in the room, or have wall mounted dryers in the bathroom, but as they don’t have advanced hair care technologies they don’t always leave you with the best results and can burn your hair. Look for a hair dryer that folds up with a retractable cord for stress-free packing.  

Hair Straighteners 

If sleek locks are your beauty goal, hair straighteners should be part of your essential toolkit. Most of the big brands have a compact version but you can also buy cordless models for styling your hair on the go. 

Multi-Port USB Travel Chargers

How many times have you wanted to charge your phones, laptops, tablets or e-reader all at the same time, or maybe you are travelling as a family with lots of different devices? A multi-port USB travel charger is ideal and could be one of the best travel accessories that you buy to ensure there are no family disagreements!

Travel Iron

Maybe not an item that is high on your list of priorities if you are going on a relaxing beach holiday, but there may be occasions when a travel iron will come in handy to make sure you look your best. Choose a mini iron that is portable and lightweight with both a steam or variable temperature control and one that has dual-voltage functionality. 

Precautions

Electrical items such as hairdryers, straighteners, travel irons and electric shavers can usually be carried in your hand or hold luggage, but it is best to check with your airline before you travel if you’re not sure about what you can take as hand luggage. Not every country uses the same electrical plug so it’s wise invest in a universal adapter. Adapters make your plugs fit into foreign electrical outlets, but converters adjust the voltage so you may need to take a voltage convertor as well.


10 of Europe’s best train journeys

Gliding through the Alps or coasting along the French countryside, there’s no better way to move throughout Europe than its incredible and comprehensive train system.

We’ve compiled a list of the 10 most scenic routes, best enjoyed from a window seat. Whether you’re are navigating the depths of a fjord or spotting the romantic castles alongside the Rhine River, turn off your screen, relax and enjoy the view of these top scenic train routes in Europe.

1. Glacier Express, Switzerland

One hundred and eighty miles over the course of 8 hours: Pretty slow for an “express” train, right? The Glacier Express travels at a leisurely pace to allow its passengers the chance to appreciate every facet of the incredible landscape. The journey connects two of Switzerland’s resort towns, Zermatt and St. Moritz, and offers views of the Matterhorn, the Solis and Landwasser viaducts and spiral tunnels, Oberalp Pass and the Rhine Gorge. All of these sights are taken in from panoramic cars, which feature windows on the top and sides, so none of the views pass by unnoticed.

2.  West Highland Line, Scotland

Take in a side of Scotland that can only be seen by train aboard the West Highland Line. Wanderlust Magazine voted this Scottish railway as the best rail journey, and it is no wonder with its views of lochs and moors, the Arrochar Alps, the Erskine Bridge, Dumbarton Castle and the viaduct made famous by Harry Potter: the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This train ride is completed in approximately 5 1/2 hours and takes passengers from Glasgow to Fort William, then on to Mallaig.

3.  Belgrade to Bar, Serbia & Montenegro

Often referred to as ‘the Balkan Express’, the 11-hour (on a good day) jaunt from Belgrade to Bar is a celebration of civil engineering and natural majesty. A whopping 435 bridges are traversed as the train trundles from the Serbian capital to Montenegro’s largest port, working as something of a time machine through the twentieth century in these parts. That means socialist architecture in Užice, modern ski resorts in Kolašin and the rapidly developing tourism of Montenegro’s southern coast. The last stretch is particularly stunning.

4.  Myrdal to Flåm, Norway

Another frequent face on lists of the world’s best train journeys, the line between Myrdal and Flåm in Norway bridges the divide between impossibly cute and absolutely monolithic. That’s Norway in a nutshell, right? The small things are all quaint and idyllic, while the big ones bluster in through stunning cliffs, jagged mountains and awe-inspiring scenery. The Flåm Railway climbs a whopping 867 metres into the sky and back, with a short shop at the Kjosfossen waterfall as the cherry on top. 

5.  Barcelona to Montserrat, Spain

There are plenty of ways to travel from Barcelona to the base of Montserrat mountain, but we’re putting our eggs firmly in the basket marked ‘train’. Actually, that would be ‘tren’ in Catalan, but you get the idea. There is a wide range of tickets available for the journey, and though you can’t really go wrong with any of them, we recommend the ToT Montserrat as the way to go. This ticket covers your train from Barcelona and then either the cable car or rack railway up the mountain itself, as well as entry into the Montserrat Museum. 

6.  La Rhune, France

What an absolute stunner of a ride. From the foot of the Pyrenees to the top via an early 1900s cog railway, the quaintest of quaint trains scaling a mighty height. It can be a little jarring, but the cobwebs are soon blown away by the stunning vistas and the majesty that awaits at the summit. The train only runs from April to September, round-trip tickets cost €20 (an absolute bargain), and it begins its journey in the town of Sare, some 10km or so from Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

7.  Málaga to El Chorro, Spain

While you can’t exactly get a train across the thriling and terrifying Caminito del Rey walkway, you can still experience a great journey on the way. The train from Malaga to El Chorro is a stunner, a fast route that takes less than 45 minutes and will set you back no more than €4.85. That gives you just under 45 minutes to enjoy the stunning scenery and dredge up the courage to traverse the famous walkway. 

8. Bernina Express

The sheer majesty of the Swiss Alps is on full display aboard the Bernina Express. This train follows the highest railway in the Alps from Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy. The 4-hour journey takes travelers through 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges and viaducts, as well as through a number of twists, turns, ascensions, and descensions. In all, there are 25 stops on this route, and each brings its own dose of history, culture and fantastic scenery. One stretch of the track, from Thusis to Valposchiavo and then Tirano even boasts UNESCO World Heritage status for its iconic vistas and historic significance. Both classes of service on the train feature large panoramic windows reaching all the way up to the ceiling, so even the highest peaks of the alps are within view.

9. Levanto to La Spezia, Italy

The journey along the Italian riviera from Levanto to La Spezia may only take 35 minutes, but it includes the most sublime stretch of the Ligurian coast – the popular Cinque Terre (Five Lands). The pastel-coloured villages have been nestled in the cliffs for a thousand years or so, and along with their olive groves and vineyards make up an exquisite scene. For the full experience, take the regional train rather than the express: this stops at all five Cinque Terre villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – allowing passengers to hop off, hike between villages, and hop back on a train again.

10. Rome to Palermo, Italy

It’s not every rail journey that involves a bonus sea voyage. Board the direct service from Rome to the Sicilian capital, though, and you’ll find your train shunted onto a ferry to be carried across the Strait of Messina. The trip takes a little under 12 hours in total, passing down the Tyrrhenian Sea coastline. Highlights en route include Mount Vesuvius, the Bay of Naples and the countryside of Calabria, Italy’s toe. After a short passage across the waves, the train offers views of the north coast of Sicily as it heads westward to Palermo.


5 Destinations in Spain to visit on a bank holiday

If the Easter and May Day bank holidays haven’t been enough for you, then don’t fret because we have another 3 coming up in June thanks to the Queen. If you’ve already been abroad and are looking for something a bit cheaper, then why not spend it in our neighbouring country? Here are 5 of my favourite Spanish destinations, and recommendations on how to spend your time there. 

Seville

My previous memories of Seville, or Sevilla, were visiting the Isla Magica theme park as a child. If you’re travelling with younger family members then this will a great way to keep them entertained. One of the most notable things to do in Seville is visit the royal palace of Real Alcazar, which Game of Thrones fans might also recognise as Dorne. The gardens are beautiful and you will often see peacocks roaming around too. Another place to check out is the Parque de Maria Luisa, it’s a great park and you can rent bicycles and cycling carts for up to 4 people here. You will also find the Plaza De España here, where you’ll find murals dedicated to all of the Spanish provinces, as well as small rowing boats for rental. 

If you’d like a lunch spot with lots of different options, I recommend the Mercado de Triana which has stalls selling everything from paella to oysters to croquettes. We also stopped at El Papelon which specialises in meats and cheeses, and Taberna del Torneo which we took the last table at when we arrived, so it is definitely a popular choice! 

Toledo

Toledo is a beautiful and underrated city, probably because it’s a 6 hour drive from Gibraltar. It is one of Spain’s best preserved old towns and is also a UNESCO-listed mediaeval city. The first thing to do on your visit is see El Alcazar fortress which overlooks the city, which means it offers some stunning views. Other picturesque sites include the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, the Puente de San Martin and the Puente De Alcantara. 

La Mona Bar is a great spot for tapas and cocktails at affordable prices. Another favourite was Taberni Buenavista that has a great selection of both tapas and burgers. 

Malaga

Malaga is such a vibrant city, and there’s no shortage of things to do and see. Malaga is home to the big outdoor shopping centre of Plaza Mayor, where you can find your normal high street stores such as Zara and Bershka, and then another section where you will find more branded stores like Tommy Hilfiger and Nike. After you’ve had your retail therapy, you can head to the Hammam in the centre. Here you can enjoy the hot and cold arab baths, sip mint tea, and have a massage or a full body scrub. 

A restaurant I thoroughly enjoyed in Malaga was La Casa del Perro, which is a small family owned restaurant that changes its menu daily. You could really tell all the food was fresh and the tapas all had a unique twist to them. We also stopped by Restaurante Mosaico in the afternoon for some tea and middle eastern pastries which were delicious. If you are after something greasier, then you can also find the Five Guys burger joint in Plaza Mayor. 

Madrid

A common question that people ask is whether Madrid or Barcelona is better as a holiday destination. I still haven’t made my mind up as I’ve had good experiences in both, but for the sake of making this list a bit more varied I decided to pick one. My favourite thing to do in Madrid is eat, but there are also plenty of activities and things to see in a long weekend. I recommend doing a free walking tour with Sandemans to learn some interesting facts and history about Madrid. Including where ‘tapas’ got its name from – an anecdote I tell people quite often! Next you can head to the Parque de Retiro where you can also row around the water. There are also plenty of free museums you can visit at certain times in Madrid including el Prado, Museo del Romanticismo, and the Reina Sofia.  

When in Madrid, having churros at Chocolateria San Gines is a must. They’ve been around since 1894 and the queues can sometimes be long, so be prepared to wait a bit. If you’re after some fusion tapas, then I recommend heading to Juana La Loca or Musa Malasaña.

Ibiza

This will be the first year since the covid pandemic that events will properly be going ahead in the island of Ibiza, so if you’ve been wanting to go now is the time! Ibiza is on the pricier side, but if you head there in June you’re likely to save on hotel costs. Flights from Malaga are usually under £100 too. Partying aside, the island has a lot to explore too. The old town is beautiful to wander around, and you can also beach hop pretty easily. Benirrás, Ses Salines and Talamanca are some of the nicest ones. 

If you are travelling on a budget, there are some cheap eats you can find around Ibiza. The thai restaurant Pha Thu Thai offers a menu for 12 euros that includes a starter, main, dessert and a drink – bargain! The San Antonio restaurant Can Gust is another that offers a meal deal of two dishes and a drink for just 10 euros. 


A day in Porto

Porto, or Oporto as it is also known, is the second largest city and the jewel in the crown of Portugal. With a rich heritage and culture, Porto’s Historic Centre, the Luis I Bridge and the Monastery of Serra do Pilar were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1996.

The last time we visited Porto was over forty years ago, and our visit is but a distant memory, but there is no doubt that one of Europe’s oldest cities hasn’t lost the beauty and splendour that we can still recall. Situated in the the north of the country, in the north-western part of the Iberian Peninsula on the estuary of the river Douro, Porto was originally named Cidade Invicta, meaning  ‘the undefeated city’. Bear in mind that the historic centre is very hilly and compact and that the best way to explore it is by walking, so flat shoes are a must!

Having researched the top things to do in Porto, our first stop was to Livraria Lello, a bookshop in Rua das Carmelitas. Not any old bookshop though! Renowned as the second oldest bookstore in the world, the reason why it attracts more than one thousand visitors a day is because it is said to be where J.K. Rowling – who lived in Porto in the nineties, drew inspiration for the Harry Potter books and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There is no doubt that the iconic red winding staircase, the carved gothic wooden panelling, its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and the beautiful stained-glass skylight warrants a visit, but there is a €6 entry fee per person (€5 if you pre-book online) and the queues to get in can be extremely long.  Unfortunately, unlike the hordes of excited children and tourists vying to get a selfie on the staircase, in our view it was not worth the wait and to top it all I found this Tweet from J.K. Rowling herself:

“For instance, I never visited this bookshop in Oporto. Never even knew of its existence! It’s beautiful and I wish I *had* visited it, but it has nothing to do with Hogwarts!”

We walked to Rua de Santa Catarina to see the Capela das Almas, or Chapel of the Souls, famous for its beautiful exterior wall of azulejos, the glazed blue & white ceramic tiles painted with scenes from the lives of saints as well as the death of St. Francis. Azulejos can be found everywhere in Portugal and another ‘must see’ is the stunning departure hall of Porto’s famous São Bento Station where a beautiful tableau of 20,000 azulejos depicts scenes from Portuguese history.

As part of any cultural trip, we are always on the hunt for a new food experience or destination and the Majestic Café lives up to its name as not only the most beautiful café in Porto but as one of the ‘Top 10 of the most beautiful cafes in the world’, and with its lavish Art Nouveau architecture, impressive marble façade, mirror lined walls, sculptures and leather seating it certainly evokes the splendour of the ‘Belle Époque’. The staff are attentive and the seafood soup was good but this is a place you probably want to make a one-time-only experience as the bill was expensive and a coffee alone will set you back €4.00.

Porto is, of course, famous for its Port wine and the Douro Valley is one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world, famed for its terraced vineyards. The region has a hot, dry, micro-climate and rocky soil which are the ideal growing conditions for the grapes.

There are many different wine cellars to choose from, but we went to Taylor’s, one of the oldest of the Port houses in Vila Nova de Gaia situated across the River Douro in Porto’s waterfront district. Their visitor’s centre is one of the largest and they offer a comprehensive and useful self-guided audio tour that takes you through cellars full to the rafters with huge barrels, including at the far end a gigantic oak vat containing 100,000L of late bottled vintage. We finished the tour with a range of tasting options in their tasting room or you can sit on the terrace amongst the peacocks and chickens! Taylor’s was founded in 1692, and it still remains one of the few family-run wineries in the country. We learnt that the port wine used to be shipped from the vineyards down the dangerous and turbulent Douro River on special boats called ‘barcos rabelos’ (it now comes overland), and something we hadn’t realised was that foot stomping is still used to crush the grapes. 

Taylor’s is set amongst WOW – World of Wine – a mega complex consisting of museums, restaurants & bars and because our brains were full of facts, and a little befuddled by the port tasting, we didn’t visit the Wine Experience which ‘aims to demystify wine for all’ but there are also exhibitions on chocolate, fashion and textiles.

Both banks of the river are extremely scenic, and as we sat with a glass of wine in the main square at WOW we enjoyed a stunning view of the colourfully painted houses that rose steeply from the historic old town waterfront in the Ribeira neighbourhood opposite. 

If you’re lucky enough to have another day or two in which to discover more of the magic of Porto and the surrounding region, there is plenty to see. Don’t forget to try the delicious pastéis de nata, the traditional Portuguese custard tart found throughout Portugal. One is never enough!


The Art of Tapas

One of the most pleasurable experiences in Spain is eating, and tapas is always on of the best ways to sample the local cuisine.  

Tapas are a common delicacy at spanish bars and restaurants. You’ll find an endless variety of tapas when you visit. Traditionally, you used to be given a tapa free with every drink you ordered, though this is now only prevalent in a few regions.

Nonetheless, to ‘tapear’ is a tradition that remains alive. So, head to a bar, grab a glass of delicious Spanish wine, and enjoy tapas as you relax in the sun.

Each region in Spain is known for different tapas, defined by thefood that is grown or produced locally. However, today, most bars in Spain will serve tapas from across the country, though, of course, they are fiercely loyal about their own regional food.

In many bars, you may be offered a free snack of Jamon Iberico (Iberian ham), which is cured for 12 months and longer and has an incredibly rich taste and smooth texture. Manchego cheese is another popular offering.

But tapas are far more than ham and cheese. Here are 10 of the most popular tapas dishes that you will find in Spain.

Tortilla

Tortilla is a traditional Spanish omelette filled with potatoes. Other ingredients may include onions and chorizo. It’s a thick wedge of deliciousness, easy as finger food, and tasty served warm or cold.

Chorizo al Vino

Sliced chorizo, mixed with a little garlic and paprika, and cooked in Spanish red wine. This dish is a smoky, savoury delight.

Gambas al Ajillo

This is a spicy prawn dish. Served in a sizzling sauce prepared with chilli pepper, black pepper, and garlic. Enjoy with a little ‘pan’ (bread) to soak up the tasty sauce after you have devoured the prawns.

Pimientos de Padron Tapas

Spain may be a meat lover’s paradise, but there is plenty for vegetarians, too. Such as the very traditional Pimientos de Padron!

This is a traditional dish of the Galicia region. The green peppers are fried in olive oil and seasoned with sea salt. A simple dish, and one of the most popular across the whole of Spain.

Patatas Bravas

In the world of tapas, patatas bravas are the equivalent to French fries.

Cubed potatoes are fried in olive oil until they are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and then accompanied by a spicy tomato-based sauce (though you may also be offered a creamy garlic sauce instead).

Boquerones en Vinagre

Another fish dish, boquerones en vinegre is marinated anchovies, with a little garlic to boost the taste sensation. Fantastic with olives.

Pimientos Piquillos Relleno de Bacalao

Another dish made with peppers. This time small, red piquillos, which are filled with minced cod. The peppers are roasted and the cod and vegetable filling remains tender. This is a hot dish, often served with a sauce of the region. Once more, a little pan is a must to soak up the sauce.

Croquetas

Perhaps the most versatile of all Tapas, a croqueta can be filled with any ingredient – meats, cheeses, fish, and vegetables.

You’ll love the crispy fried shell and the creamy filling.

Magras

This is a tapa from the Murcian region, though you’ll find it served in many bars and restaurants across Spain.

Essentially, this is a stew-type dish. It’s made with lean pork and crushed tomatoes. Eaten either hot or cold, it should always be accompanied by a piece of pan.

Ensalada Rusa

Russian salad? As a tapa? Absolutely! This salad of egg, potato, carrots, and mayonnaise may also include prawns and pineapple (ask before ordering). It’s a fantastic side tapa to include with an order of all the above tapas!


7 of the best Tapas Towns 

León, Castilla y León

In Leon’s atmospheric old town, bars serve a hefty free tapa with each drink. Most spots tend to favour simple dishes and substantial portions – think platefuls of local cheese and chorizo, fried potatoes doused in homemade alioli, slivers of umami-rich Ibérico ham. The best bars are crowded into the boisterous Barrio Húmedo district and around the Plaza Mayor. 

Bilbao, País Vasco

Tapas are elevated to an art form in Bilbao. All along Calle Ledesma, counters are piled high with ‘pintxos’ – slices of bread topped with anything from caramelised foie to tempura crab. Some bars prefer you to point out the pintxos you want, while others just hand you a plate and let you help yourself. Take your lead from locals if you’re not sure. 

San Sebastián, País Vasco

San Sebastián is perhaps Spain’s most glamorous city – impossibly scenic, home to an International Film Festival and now, to a plethora of Michelin-starred restaurants. In the tapas bars of the old quarter, traditional anchovy, olive and chilli skewers vie with molecular creations like bonfire-roasted cod and velvety sheep’s cheese risotto. Locals pair their pintxos with Txakoli, a light white wine that’s made nearby. 

Logroño, La Rioja

The capital of the Rioja winemaking region is a magnet for bar-hopping foodies. In Logroño’s medieval centre, Calle Laurel packs over 30 tapas bars into a two-block stretch. Each one has a signature dish, from spicy patatas bravas in Bar Jubera to El Soriano’s grilled mushrooms with juicy prawns. The food isn’t free, but a tapa and glass of Rioja should come in at around €3. 

Granada, Andalucía

Granada is fiercely proud of its reputation for fantastic free tapas. Each round of drinks here comes complete with snacks – and you’ll never get the same tapa twice. Try Bodegas Espadafor for roast ham, or head to Los Diamantes for mouthwatering seafood, eaten elbow-to-elbow with a mostly local crowd. 

Jaén, Andalucía

Jaén is the world’s biggest producer of olive oil, so it’s no surprise that extra-virgin is the star ingredient of its tapas. It elevates simple sandwiches and imparts bold grassy flavour to regional favourites like pipirrana salad and gazpacho. Most bars have an extensive menu, but you may not need it – you’ll get a free tapa with every drink. 

Almería, Andalucía

Generosity reaches new heights in Almería. Not only does each drink ordered here come with a free tapa, but most bars let you choose which one you want from the menu. In this coastal city, fresh seafood is always a safe bet – look out for chargrilled octopus or crisp fried ‘pescaíto frito’.

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