The Best Holiday Homes for Big Family Reunions

Yes, we all do it. Time runs away with us, and before you know it you haven’t seen some of your closest relatives in years. Life is definitely one big excuse for most of us, but perhaps this year it’s time to change that. Get everyone together, but rather than putting all the pressure on one family member to host the entire clan, turn the reunion into a retreat. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most spectacular holiday homes around, so that the only thing you’ll need to concern yourself with is finding a date when all of your nearest and dearest are free.

Sleep in the Mountains at Villa Kalkan. Credit http://www.thebigdomain.com

Villa Kalkan

Wake up to a view of the rugged Taurus Mountains. Admire clear Kalkan Bay waters spilling out into the glorious Med. At Villa Kalkan, there’s a wrap-around balcony perfect for evening cocktails with a view. You’ll also find a swanky pool terrace for lounging on the sunbeds. This five bedroom villa is great for families who crave the sun. Everything about this Turkish build is swoon-worthy. The open-plan living area’s wall-to-wall glass doors unfold onto a large outdoor platform, revealing spellbinding panoramic views of the coast. So, sashay down to the first floor in your finest swimwear, soak in the fizzing Jacuzzi and float in the heavenly infinity pool. Later, cook dinner on the sparkling kitchen island or dine al fresco after making use of the barbecue.  Finally, settle into the huge L-shaped sofa for a comfy night of stargazing.

The indoor swimming pool at Ludbrook Manor. Credit http://kateandtoms.com

Ludbrook Manor

Sandwiched between the wild moors of Dartmoor and the Salcombe Coast, enveloped by a soft patchwork of turtle-green fields, is Ludbrook Manor. This Grade II listed building has features dating back to 1050 AD, and really is everything that holiday dreams are made of. On approach, you’ll see acres of South Hams countryside, some of which is landscaped into a water garden with oriental influences. In addition, there’s a floodlit tennis court, outdoor hot tub and chicken coop. With capacity for up to 24 guests, each suite has an impeccable, distinctive design.

From remarkable, oak four-posters, to luxurious, freestanding baths;  a purple, velvet chaise longue to a room built on top of a glass-covered well (The Well Room), it’s easy to live like royalty here. Roaring marble fireplaces keep you warm, and the extensively stocked kitchen makes it easy to self-cater. The manor is so well-built for guests, that it’s easy not to leave the estate during your stay. In addition to the aforementioned amenities, there is also a table tennis table, grand piano, giant chessboard, swimming pool, music systems and some fairly large televisions.

Sleep like a princess at Chateau Chamborigaud. Credit https://www.oliverstravels.com

Chateau Chamborigaud

For an inspiring retreat, stay in a forest-engulfed fairytale castle. With rapunzel-esque turrets, it’s easy to let down you hair in this gorgeous part of southern France. Those who appreciate the raw wonder of nature will enjoy swimming in the local river or wandering the wilds, but this property is not short of extravagant luxury either. There are countless astonishing features across this 1575 estate; whether you want to relax in a clawfoot bathtub, ascend regal, twisting staircases or admire the dainty, floral wallpaper. Suits of armour line the halls and cavernous stone ceilings echo of the castle’s past.

Come snowfall or sunshine, this chateau looks completely divine. In winter, eat in the candle-lit, formal dining room using crockery from the distressed welsh dresser, and in summer cook outside in the poolside kitchen. Chateau Chamborigaud even has its own vineyards, and there are plenty of picturesque villages around.

Play some pool at Loch View Manor. Credit https://www.holidaycottages.co.uk

Loch View Manor

This mansion does what it says on the tin and so much more. This hillside property does indeed boast views of Loch Striven, on the rural Scottish coast. It also happens to be surrounded by acres of secluded forest. Those families who like an active break will be spoilt for choice, with onsite shooting and fishing, tennis, mountain biking and golf all possible. There are a whole host of natural attractions too, from deep glens to mighty waterfalls. On top of this, there is a billiard room with a bar, and a small, eccentric public house within the grounds.

 

How to take the best travel photos

Going on holiday means great fun but also great responsibility… when it comes to taking photos. If you’re reading these you’re probably the kind of person that the whole family is relying on as the official photographer of the group. Or maybe you’re a first-timer looking to improve at snapping visual memories on holiday. In any case, here are some useful tips for you to succeed in making the most of your travel photography:

Do it for yourself.

If all you can think about is what your Instagram followers and workmates will say about the photo you’re taking, you need to rethink who these photos are really for. You’re on holiday, relax, take the photos you feel like with the people you want. Make them personal! In a few years, you’ll be the one looking at them and cherishing those memories.

Research your destination.

We all agree that it’s nice to go somewhere without knowing what you’re going to do step by step and let the destination unravel before your eyes. But it’s worth doing a bit of research beforehand. Get to know the history, main cultural sites and facts about customs and locals of your holiday destination – otherwise you could miss important details. Know what you’re photographing and learn a few words in the native language of your destination when asking locals for a portrait or for tips. You’ll find yourself far more inspired when you know the history of a place and more aware of what you should be looking out for when hunting for holiday snaps.

Meet the locals

Getting to know the locals should be a top priority as they might tell you where the hidden gems are.This brings us to another point we discussed above. If you learn about the history of a place, it’s much easier to communicate with its inhabitants.

Some of the best portraits you can take during a trip are those of the locals. You can either take a few street-style snapshots or go for classical portraits with people wearing traditional costumes but you always have to remember that people are the ones who bring a place to life.

Be spontaneous

Sometimes, the best photos are the less planned ones. So make sure to keep your camera at hand or to keep your phone charged, depending on which medium you’re planning on using. When photographing friends, don’t give them time to pose – you want to capture them in the moment, free of pretense or embellishment.

Learn the basics

Whether you’re using a professional camera, a pocket one or an iPhone,it’s worth getting to grips with the less glamorous side of the photography: the technical one. Familiarize yourself with the meaning of words such as shutter speed, exposure, aperture and ISO. Check out this guide from Lifehacker for your first foray into the world of manual photography. On your next holiday, try switching to manual mode and you’ll quickly find out how much difference each of the settings can make.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Have you ever found a weird mosaic cobblestone that you stop yourself from taking a photo of because you’re not sure it’s “photogenic” enough? Or maybe you’ve come across a beautiful landscape but are actually more interested in the statue in front of it? Don’t be ashamed to experiment!

Framing and composition

So far we’ve been telling you to take photos with your heart more than with your mind. But now we have to go back to basics and acknowledge the importance of… geometry.

As soon as you lay eyes on a potential subject, be it a landscape, a portrait or just general cityscape, you should start thinking about framing. This means you have to do your best to make the photo look aesthetically balanced by taking into consideration the shapes, composition and aiming for a pleasing geometry.

Do not be afraid to try more angles until you find the one you that meets your expectations.

Looking for a challenge? Try taking a photo which adheres to the golden ratio!

Learn a bit of photo manipulation

OK, so you took a photo you like, but you’re not quite happy with some details – it could be too dark outside, or the sun may have overexposed the shot. You may sometimes need to work a bit after the magic has happened. Download software and play with the settings until you achieve what you want. You can get a free trial with Photoshop, one of the most powerful and professional photo editing tools, which is also very beginner-friendly. Though it’s tempting, try not to go overboard with altering the original photo as you still want it looking natural.

A Day Out In London

London is well known for its near-infinite offering of ways to spend your time – from museums to concerts, parks to skyscrapers, it really does have it all. In fact, the worst thing about London is the fact that you’ll never be able to fit in absolutely everything that you wanted to see into your packed holiday schedule. To help you out, we’ve taken a day out of the office to explore the best places to visit in London, even if you’ve only got one day!

 

Everything you see in this list and the video above can be visited in one day and can be seen by any visitor to London for completely free.

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-21-57-01

Westminster is probably London’s most famous area, featuring sites such as the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Take a stroll across Westminster bridge for a panoramic view of the area or simply take a break and jump in one of the London Eye’s  glass-walled cabins for an unforgettable experience overlooking London in all its splendour.

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-21-58-20

Continue walking and you’ll arrive in front of the imposing Buckingham Palace, home to one of London’s most famous residents (the Queen!), venue for royal marriages and landmark historical site. The palace can be visited both on the outside and on the inside (for a fee!), don’t forget to grab a classical photo with one of the guards before leaving the spot.

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-21-59-17

St James’s Park is the oldest Royal Park in London. Whilst not the largest, it is abundant in verdant beauty, St James’s Park is the perfect place for an afternoon walk. Take a picnic on the grass and feed the squirrels, or just relax and enjoy the view.

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-22-01-41

The Shard is the tallest skyscraper in London and hosts restaurants, offices and hotel rooms. Its eclectic architecture and  mesmerizing views attract millions of tourists every year.

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-22-01-05

For another set of arresting views and a hip atmosphere to boot, head towards the Southbank. As you walk, you’ll reach London’s best contemporary art museum – the Tate Modern. Take a few good hours to visit both its temporary and permanent exhibitions and see the work of artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp or Francesca Woodman. Since you’re at the Tate, grab a coffee on the wide terrace and admire once more the beauty of London.

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-22-02-04

The Millennium Bridge is a modern construction that connects the Tate Modern with Saint Paul’s cathedral and generally with the northern side of Thames. Once you get to Saint Paul’s, make sure you walk all the way around it as each of its side is as beautiful as its grand entrance. The massive baroque church is absolutely awe-inspiring, with its elegance, architectural precision and sheer size!

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-22-02-50

One of London’s greatest museums, The National Gallery, is situated in the majestic Trafalgar Square. The gallery hosts some of the greatest collections of paintings in the world and presents the works of painters such as Michelangelo, Turner and Van Gogh. With free entrance 361 days a year, there really is no excuse for leaving this off the itinerary.

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-22-04-53

It is said that the heart of London beats in Soho and there’s a good reason for it. In Soho you’ll  find everything from eclectic bars and restaurants to chic designer stores and galleries. Here you can find a cosmopolitan mix of cultures, a perfect representation of the essence of London. Connected to Soho by some narrow paved alleys, Chinatown is perhaps the most colorful part of central London. Don’t forget to taste the crispy duck on display in the windows of the restaurants.

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-22-05-14

Yes, London is a city with amazing panoramas and there are plenty of options if you just want to gaze at the city from higher grounds. But the view from the Emirates Air Line offers a completely different perspective – that of the financial district of Canary Wharf, not to mention it actually serves as a means of transport and can be used with just the tap of an oyster card.

Top Things To Do In and Around Santorini

Santorini is one of the most mesmerizing island of the Cyclades and that kind of place where acting like the most cliché  tourist just makes sense. You could literally stop at any corner and take a photo that can easily end up in a wall calendar. When you get to Santorini it feels like you arrived in a much further land, as this place really has no comparison. For the best experience, it’s recommended to visit the island during spring or early autumn when the weather is less hot and the tourists are less present.

shutterstock_132953783

 

Fira, Oia and the best sunset in the world

The beautiful town of Fira is the official capital of Santorini and the best place to start your visit. It is said that in Santorini there are “more churches than houses” and Fira is the best place to observe this. On the narrow paved streets, you can find plenty of small orthodox churches painted white and blue (specific to the island) that are worth a visit but also great restaurants, bars, shops and nightlife.

It is said (and proved) that from the cliff top village of Oia you can see one of the most beautiful- if not THE most beautiful sunset in the world. We recommend arriving early otherwise you’ll find yourself surrounded by excited tourists posing for selfies. Take a walk on this lively town’s marble street, paved with souvenir shops, art galleries and jewelry stores.

shutterstock_425097295

You might also want to taste the best seafood on the island. For this, take the stairs down from Oia to Amoudi port where the Greek tavernas compete in their authenticity. We recommend taverna Katina, not only for the variety of fish and seafood but for its proximity to the sea.

 

Don’t forget about the beaches and the volcanic island

To easily reach the most famous beaches of the island, we recommend that you take a sailing trip.  Due to its volcanic rocks, Santorini offers unique beaches. You’ll be able to brag that you that you visited a red, a white and a black beach all in a day. If the weather allows (and it most certainly will as weather in Santorini is warm from May until late September) the boat will stop for a bath in a deep, clear, striking blue water. You’ll also be surprised to discover that the picturesque red beach actually has warm water.

shutterstock_148278689

A visit to the volcanic island Nea Kameni is not to be missed. Another boat trip – but this time shorter – will take you to a place seemingly inspired by a sci-fi film. Besides its interesting structure and rocky texture, the best thing that Nea Kameni has to offer is the breathtaking view. While you walk on solid black lava, you’re able to look at Santorini island from afar, and see it in all its splendor.

 

Hiking from Perissa to Kamari

Not the easiest journey, but one of the most enchanting, a hike from Perissa to Kamari can be a great plan for half a day in Santorini. Not only you will get amazing views but with a slight detour you can visit the old Panaghia church, a small orthodox church built in traditional Santorini style. At the end of the hike, you might want to sunbathe on the unique beach of Kamari, covered with black sand. Or why not enjoy snorkeling in the clear waters of the Aegean sea?

If that wasn’t enough to make you want to visit, you may be interested to know that Santorini stole the hearts of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who in 2010 actually bought a house on the island. If it’s good enough for Brangelina, it’s good enough for us!

 

Gran Canaria – Top Things To Do

Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, is a piece of heaven in the Atlantic Ocean. The island is surrounded by sandy beaches whilst its interior providers an alluringly rural tranquility.

Las Palmas and its surroundings

Vageta - Gran Canaria

Las Palmas is the island’s capital and its most urban attraction. The district of Vagueta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, is the best area to get a feel of the island’s cultural and historic heritage. You will find yourself roaming on the charming narrow streets until your eyes will meet the spectacular and elegant St. Ana Cathedral. Some of the buildings date back from the 15th century, when the Castilians conquered the island. For a truly special lunch, try Deliciosa Marta – a small restaurant serving exceptional modern Canarian dishes. You will be back.

Not far from the center, there’s Las Canteras beach – the most visited beach on the island. In its proximity there are shops and restaurants that will keep you entertained once you’ve had enough sun. Las Canteras beach is not only designated for sunbathing and swimming but also offers an intense social experience and is a great place for gatherings of friends.

Treasures of Gran Canaria

Puerto de Mogán - Gran Canaria

On the complete opposite side of Las Palmas, at one hour drive along the coastline, you can find an enchanting fishing village called Puerto de Mogán. The sheltered beach, the picturesque view of the cottage next to a hill, and the overall tranquility of the place, will no doubt make you envy the inhabitants of Puerto de Mogán. Not to mention that the Canary Islands have what some scientists cite as “the best climate in the world”.

Nublo Rural Park is a must see when you visit Gran Canaria. The park has intense natural beauty, given by the hills and rocky relief, completely distinct from the ocean view. It’s hard to believe that you’re just an hour away from the buzz of Las Canteras. Nublo Rural Park has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, due to its unique flora.

Maspalomas Dunes - Gran Canaria

The Maspalomas Dunes are another unique must-see location. Imagine over 400 hectares of sand dunes that eventually reach a deep blue, endless ocean. A place of high ecological interest, the Maspalomas Dunes offer a striking view that will stay with you for a long time. The sand can get hot, even during winter, so take a careful temperature test before deciding to walk barefoot.

In order to get a better view of the indigenous inhabitants of Gran Canaria, visit The Painted Cave, or as the locals call it, La Cueva Pintada. The Painted cave was discovered in 1873 and is painted with geometric motifs. To reach the spot, you’ll need to walk through the Painted Cave Archaeological Museum and Park, in fact the most important site in the Canary Islands.  The park was built around an aboriginal village and will answer at least some of your questions about how people used to live here.

We hope all of the above will convince you to visit Gran Canaria for your next vacation. The best and fastest way to reach the main attractions of the island is by car – book with easyCar.com to get the best deals on car hire at Gran Canaria and beyond.

Secrets of France

A collection of insider tips, tales and memories.

France, the most-visited nation on Earth, is also one of the most varied, with scenery ranging from rolling hills, white beaches and arid grasslands to the cobbled squares of the many market towns and historic cities. Not to forget of course, the quiet majesty of Europe’s largest mountain range, the Alps.

There is simply too much going on for us to effectively document so we’ve enlisted the help of the real experts: the Francophiles and travel writers on the ground, living the lifestyle.

Our new project, Secrets of France, describes some of the most magical hidden places of L’Hexagon as chosen by our experts.  Click the book below to begin.

 

sofclick

Things to do in Tenerife

Tenerife, pearl of the Canary Islands, is frequented annually by around five million tourists, thanks, in no small part, to the variety of activities on offer. Given its reputation as a European centre of tourism,  you may be forgiven for thinking that Tenerife’s wonders have been aggrandised over the years. However, by renting with easyCar in Tenerife, we are absolutely certain that you will find something to satisfy all tastes and that, whatever you chose, its reputation will be fully warranted.

 

The Eco-Tourist

shutterstock_296090732

Although there are some exceptionally developed resorts on the island, such as Costa Adeje (rumoured to be a favourite holiday spot of the Beckhams), Tenerife still delivers outstanding natural beauty. For the wayfaring ecotourist, there is Teide National Park, home of active volcano Teide (12,198ft high) whose eruptions have carved the island’s landscape for centuries. Conquering the mountain may require a permit, but the views and the first-hand experience of the island’s biodiversity you gain are completely worth it!

If heights aren’t your thing, Teide Observatory, built in 1964, offers incredible views of the constellations and is perfect for stargazing (a Tenerife tradition dating back to Charles Piazzi Smyth’s nineteenth century research on Mount Guajara). A late night picnic under the stars with your beloved, far away from the island’s hustle and bustle, will be a memory that stays with you both for a long time.

 

Active Traveller
shutterstock_79988044

Our well of outdoorsy ideas hasn’t dried up just yet! Los Gigantes Diving School, and the many others like it towards the South of the island, afford you the opportunity to fraternise with Tenerife’s marine life; you may even spot the illustrious and ever evasive sea turtle! Alternatively, for those who don’t fancy a one-on-one encounter with a shark or barracuda, there is Thai-themed Siam Park water park. The park is noteworthy for purveying attractions for even the smallest of children, as well as for offering a joint package with Loro Praque Zoo, Puerto de la Cruz, known worldwide for its extraordinary range of fauna and diligent animal care. For quintessential family fun, it’s definitely not one to miss!

Holidays are the perfect excuse to try something different and, when it comes to paragliding, the island has over 40 places to try out. For the absolute beginners, you can be accompanied by an expert who can steer you across quaint villages, verdant hills and large expanses of luscious beaches. Para42 provides such flights for €90 each, or beginner’s courses at €695. Experienced paragliders even have the opportunity to paraglide off Mount Teide!

shutterstock_342949418

With both sea and air adventures taken care of, why not relax with feet firmly on land at one of Tenerife’s splendid golf resorts? You could opt for a clifftop golf experience offered by BuenaVista Golf in North West Tenerife, just a half hour drive from the resorts in South Tenerife. Rates are very reasonable too, with green fees starting from €57 for the full 18-hole course.

 

Sun, Sea and Sights

shutterstock_352445759

A pleasant 40 minute drive around the eastern edge of the island from Costa Adeje, you will find the Pyramids of Güímar, a series of six rectangular free-standing lava stone structures, excavated in 1998 which have been dated to the 19th Century. The source of much archeological interest, a museum has now developed around the site including an information centre and a museum holding artefacts found during the excavation. For the culture vultures out there, it definitely is an interesting sight to behold and gives an usual insight into how Tenerife was before it became the world-famous tourist destination that it is today.

Santa Cruz is Tenerife’s capital and home to La Laguna University, which has origins dating back to 1701 and various faculties housed in interesting buildings. Cultural offerings in the city include the Auditorio de Tenerife (the Canary Island Parliamentary buildings) and Plaza de España (a tax-free haven for those looking to shop for big international brands). Just up the seafront is Plaza de la Candelaria, where La Obelisco de la Candelaria, one of Santa Cruz’s main sculptures, lies.  Furthermore, every February Santa Cruz also hosts the second biggest annual carnival after Rio de Janeiro. Recent themes have been Bollywood, and the Roaring 80s; next year, the theme is the Caribbean.

Book with easyCar in Tenerife today

Cultural Guide to London

Samuel Johnson once said ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’ Whilst perhaps expressed a little strongly (there are other fantastic places in the world) Johnson was pretty accurate in his sentiments  –  London really does have it all going on! Today the capital is a giant cultural melting pot where a British cultural past meets a more diverse and global present. London’s galleries, museums, palaces and notable sites are all set against an innovative art, fashion, dance and music scene. Explore London’s vibrant culture with a set of wheels from easyCar.

 

Royalty

shutterstock_151926017

For visitors to London, the Royal Family is often the prime attraction. Recent films such as ‘The Queen’, ’The King’s Speech’ and ‘A Royal Night Out’ have done much to peak interest in the Windsors and the history, pomp and circumstance that surrounds them. When it comes to London’s royal buildings, Buckingham Palace (the Queen’s official residence) is the real jewel in the crown. In the summer the magnificent state rooms are open for visitors to explore and it is from this palace that the family make their public appearances on the famous red draped balcony. Other historical royal houses in the capital include: Hampton Court Palace (court of King Henry VIII), Kensington Palace (London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), and the Tower of London (home to the Crown Jewels) – all of which are open throughout the year.

 

Museums and Galleries

shutterstock_57585985

London has a wealth of museums and permanent gallery spaces, many of which are free of charge to visit. Head to ‘Albertopolis’ (an area of South Kensington on Exhibition Road) for some of the popular museum names: the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. If you want to see some of the world’s most famous historical finds like the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon, make The British Museum your goal. Art more your cup of tea? Two of the four Tate Galleries (Tate Modern and Tate Britain) are located in the city and there are two National Galleries (one for portraiture and one for other art) situated near Trafalgar Square. Contemporary art doesn’t go unrepresented in London either with independent galleries, like Pace Gallery in Soho or White Cube in Shoreditch, showing modern, international pieces.

 

World Heritage Sites

shutterstock_159514856

Four of England’s sixteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites can be found in London, giving the city the highest density of protected sites in the country. Built in 1759 and awarded their UNESCO status in 2003, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew have a special cultural significance as a place of study for botany and ecology. A forty-five minute drive from central London, Kew has an extensive set of gardens, including aquatic, grass, azalea and rock gardens. There are also glasshouses each containing a different type of plant: bonsai trees, alpine plants, palms and waterlilies. Wander through the ancient and rare trees to hunt out Kew’s collection of Henry Moore Sculptures or its hidden period buildings. Another site on the London’s heritage list is Maritime Greenwich. Notable for its astronomical studies, history and Palladian architecture, Greenwich is full of things to do and see. Visit the world’s largest Maritime Museum, take a tour round the Queen’s House, pop up to the Royal Observatory and discover the Cutty Sark.

 

Modern Culture

shutterstock_247564159

The face of London’s culture sector has to constantly shift and evolve in the face of global competition, but London is still able to take on the big boys! The city is the third most popular filming location in the world, after Los Angles and New York, with over 14,000 hours of film shot there to date. London Fashion Week is held twice a year (with famous names such as Vivienne Westwood and Christopher Kane taking a prominent role) and the capital continues hold its place as world leader for men’s wear. London hosts a huge 250 festivals a year, including Europe’s largest street festival, Notting Hill Carnival, and the world’s leading design festival, London Design Festival.

 

Book in London today

Cultural Guide to Alicante

 

Thousands of beach lovers and sun worshippers are drawn to the warm climes and sandy shores of Alicante each year. You would be more than justified in spreading out your towel and refusing to move for a week, but there is so much more to Alicante than just the three S’s – sun, sea and sand. The city has its origins in the 16th Century and bears the marks of the different civilisations that have settled on its site. Visit Alicante’s historic buildings, tour its museums, and join in the frivolity of the fiestas.  Don’t strain yourself too much however –  you are on holiday after allHire a car with easyCar to get to all the must-see places with ease.

 

Architecture

Mount Benacantil was home to some of Alicante’s first tribes, who inhabited the area in 3000 BC. The site of this first settlement on the slopes of the mount is now the home of Santa Bárbara Castle. Originally a 10th Century Moorish castle, Santa Bárbara has been added to over the years and is now a true castle-lover’s castle, complete with dungeons, cannons and a moat. To reach the castle you can either drive, take the lift, or walk up the steep hill past the little cafes, tapas bars and colourful, flower adorned houses. At the top, look out over the ledges and parapets at the amazing views of Alicante and the Mediterranean. Next go hunting for hidden doors and explore the castle’s rooms, turrets and towers. If the lure of the beach is too much in the day, then make an evening visit to the castle and stay around to watch the sunset from this ideal viewing point.

shutterstock_283995116

Back down in the old quarter you can find the Concatedral San Nicolás de Alicante. Notable for it bright blue cupolas, this Herrara style cathedral is enough to draw any architecture fan from the soft sands of the beach. The building has a simple charm with a decorated ceiling, attractive altars, striking statues and paintings. Should you feel the need, there is a peaceful chapel where you can retreat from the bustle of the town. At night the domes are lit up making the sombre church feel incredibly warm and welcoming. Opening times are limited, so plan your visit to this serene space with care.

shutterstock_356747342

If you are still hungry for more culture, then a trip to Alicante’s Baroque Town Hall is in order. Making up one side of a pretty square with fountains and orange trees, the building is near plenty watering holes that will refuel a hungry explorer. The building’s grand entrance has beautiful spiralled columns, decorated with garlands that deserve a close inspection. In the Blue Room, there are portraits of the town’s mayors to admire and a sculpture by Salvador Dali displayed by the entrance. There is a plaque at the foot of the main staircase from which point the heights of the all the cites in Spain are calculated. Alicante is defined as being zero metres above sea level because its still waters (where tides are hardly visible) provide the ideal measuring point. The ground floor Town Hall features an entertaining exhibition of the city’s history with archaeological remains. The building is viewed at its best when decked out in red for the Holy Week processions in March – April.

shutterstock_173293856

 

Museums

Sometimes you can just have too much fun in the sun and need to retreat somewhere cool and calm. Fortunately in Alicante this needn’t be boring as the city has a great selection of museums, covering areas as diverse as bullfighting to the nativity.  Set in an 18th Century palace, Gravina Museum of Fine Arts (MUBAG) houses 16th – 20th Century art, furniture and textiles. The ground floor is an impressive cave of large stone archways leading you from exhibit to exhibit, which are, in turn, displayed on stark, unadorned walls. The Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art (MACA) has a great collection of surrealist and cubist paintings and the Archaeological Museum of Alicante (MARQ) houses eight different interactive experiences with people from the past.

 

Cultural Events

shutterstock_191929880

When it comes to fiestas, Alicante really spoils you. One however, is particularly special – Hogueras de San Juan (Bonfires of St. John). Declared to be of international tourist interest and an important event in Alicante’s cultural calendar, the locals are always keen to encourage visitors to take part in the festivities. The largest celebration of this kind in Spain, Alicante’s San Juan celebration marks Midsummer’s Eve on 24th June. The fun involves bonfires, beautiful papier maché effigies (that are burnt in the main squares), and a glittering white, palm tree shaped fireworks display to round off the festival. To learn more about the festival’s history, stop off at the Fogueres Festival Museum where you can watch screenings of festivals from previous years.

So as you sit sunning yourself on Postiguet beach, look up at Santa Bárbara Castle and make it (or any of the other cultural spots in this blog) your destination for tomorrow!

Book in Alicante today

Cultural Guide to Milan

 

If we were to quiz people on where best to soak up the culture of Italy, they would almost certainly all return with answers of Rome, Florence and Venice. Many of these same people would be surprised to learn that Milan’s cultural offerings equal those of its fellow Italian cities. Often associated purely with fashion, Milan is the capital of the catwalk but is also rich with cultural heritage, boasting well-stocked art galleries, superb museums, grand theatre venues and stunning architecture.  Rent a car in Milan with easyCar and reconsider your views on the culture of this great city.

 

The Museums

Castello Sforzesco

A visit to Milan would not be complete without exploring its fashion culture. The Triennale Museum is a temple to design that hosts fashion events and film screenings, alongside its exhibitions on subjects as diverse as architecture and furniture. Milan also is home to the largest science and technology museum in Italy. Named after Leonardo da Vinci, the museum houses over a hundred models by the great man, along with a number of great transport exhibits, including steam trains, aeroplanes, submarines and the bridge of an ocean liner. If you are looking for something a bit out of the ordinary then Castello Sforzesco is the museum for you. Part of a gorgeous castle and with a wonderful quiet setting, this museum has a history of its own along with a veritable rabbit warren of exhibits!

 

The Theatre and Opera

Teatro alla Scala

Milan certainly doesn’t lack theatres with Piccolo Teatro, Teatro degli Arcimboldi, Teatro Dal Verme, Teatro Lirico just to name a few. The jewel in the city’s crown, however is the Teatro alla Scala. Built in the 18th Century to replace the previous opera house that was destroyed in a fire, Teatro alla Scala shares its name with the church that was demolished to make way for its impressive bulk. A magnet to opera stars, La Scala has been drawing in the greatest performers for hundreds of years, often hosting the first showing of many famous productions.  If you can, watch a ballet or concerto nestled down in a red plush seat on one of the burnished gold balconies. If pressed for time, the building is also a museum to the theatrical business with antique music scores, instruments, costumes, and set designs.

 

The Galleries
Hangar Bicocca

It would be foolish not to take in at least one gallery as part of your trip to the home of fashion and design. For world renowned photography, head to Studio Guenzani; for accessible contemporary art, try Circoloquadro; for the Old Masters, make a visit to Pinacotera di Brera. Also be sure not to miss the treasure that is Hangar Bicocca. A short drive from the centre of Milan this delightful modern gallery is a bit different from those that display more classical offerings in the heart of city. Exciting and often challenging, the permanent artworks exhibited here sit alongside constantly changing and arresting temporary exhibitions.

 

The Architecture

Duomo

Many historic Milanese buildings were destroyed in World War Two, but still more great examples remain. It is an obvious choice, but the famous Duomo is still completely un-missable. Make sure to view inside as well as out, finishing with a climb to the roof to admire the statues, spires and gargoyles adorning the top. Another essential for architecture-lovers is Villa Necchi Campiglo. A little off the beaten track, this 1930s house is an architectural delight.  The structure has been well-preserved and the gardens (complete with swimming pool) make for an excellent wander. The villa gained additional fame when it featured prominently in the 2009 film ‘I Am Love’ with Tilda Swinton. The English language tours around the house are a great opportunity to learn more about the building’s furniture, decorative arts, and ornaments.

 

Book in Milan today

Things to do in Geneva

Home to some of the world’s most formidable international organisations, you’d be forgiven for thinking Geneva consists solely of suits sat in boardrooms trying to figure out how to save the world. Yes, the city is home to the World Health Organization, the International Committee for the Red Cross and the United Nations. But this unassuming sprawl, stretched along the banks of Switzerland’s largest lake, is also filled with unexpected twists and wonderful contrast. Flit between chocolate box scenery and graffitied grunge bars; from the calm of the sky-blue lake to the thundering of the jet d’eau and from the peace of Mont Salève to the wild parties of Bar L’Aiglon. Geneva is a city that’s begging to be set free from its stuffy stereotype. Hire a car with easyCar to explore both sides – sensible and subversive.

Geneva

Spectacular scenery

Lake Geneva is too beautiful to belong to just one country. Half in Switzerland, half in France, the blue spread of water is Switzerland’s largest lake. Take your car for a spin and loop around its entirety – 180km in total. On the eastern side, watch the colours creep into evergreen as the alpine scenery takes over and to the south, see medieval castles rise out of the vine-carpeted hills. Be sure to visit Castle Chillon. This medieval fortress is one of the most visited castles in Europe. Made famous by Lord Byron, who featured it in his poems, the site sits against a stunning backdrop of snow spattered Alps. This location is the definition of ‘breath-taking scenery’.

 

Chocolate box views

Mont Saleve

The monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein cemented Geneva’s Mont Salève into the world’s cultural consciousness. Even though it actually stands on French soil, it’s only 20km drive away from the city.

Known as the balcony of Geneva, the mountain looms above the urban sprawl – offering a peaceful retreat high above the buzz. Don’t worry, no clambering required. The cable car of Mont Salève carries visitors to an altitude of 1,100 metres in under five minutes. At the top, you’ll find yourself surrounded by outdoor pursuits – this is a paradise for paragliders, climbers, mountain bikers, trekkers, even cross-country skiers in the winter.

If you can tear yourself away from the city vista, visit the south-east side of the mountain to get a fresh view of the Alps. From here, you can see the peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif curve, like foaming waves, out of the horizon. Energise yourself for the drive back to Geneva at the mountain’s local restaurant.

 

Swiss Bohemia

The wholesome impact of Switzerland’s luscious landscape melts away as you enter Les Pâquis, Geneva’s red light district. Yes, prostitution is legal in Switzerland, but this is also the city’s answer to Bohemia. Here you can find grungy, graffiti painted bars (Le Phare), Parisian style day-to- night cafes (Café Art’s) and watch a steak-restaurant descend suddenly into a wild party (Bar L’Aiglon).

The district is a multi-cultural hub. For food, choose between Japanese sushi, Moroccan tagines, Chinese stir fry or pad Thai before relaxing on silk cushions at a Middle Eastern saloon, smoking shisha. In warm weather, the water-side promenade is perfect for people watching as Geneva’s youngsters sit in the grass; eating, drinking and listening to music.

Visit the public swimming baths, the Bains des Pâquis to freshen up of a morning. Built in the thirties, the baths jut out into Lake Geneva. Keep an eye on the events calendar, the poolside regularly comes alive with music concerts, fondue nights and poetry evenings. The Turkish baths provide a welcome retreat for cold Genevese in the snowy winter months.

 

Selfie magic

Jet d'Eau, Lake Geneva

Since being built as a safety valve for a hydraulic power network back in the 1800s, Jet d’Eau has become an iconic Geneva landmark. The fierce curtain of white water is visible throughout the city and can even be see by planes, gliding past Geneva. The jet towers 140 metres above the lake and the water leaves the nozzle at 200km per hour. As with all iconic landmarks, selfies are obligatory. Stay alert for any changes in the wind though – without warning you can be drenched at any moment. Witness the water in all its glory during the city’s annual August fireworks, when the colours of the display are reflected in the spray.

 

Book in Geneva today

Lake Geneva

Cultural guide to Geneva

Not just a pretty face, Geneva has a lot of culture to offer beyond its chocolate box scenery. To help you hop between the city’s sights, hire a car with easyCar.

The Swiss city doesn’t just have any old museums; it has some of the most unique museums in the world. CERN is home to one of the most complex scientific experiments ever made and then there’s the UN’s Grand Palais des Nations, with its army of flags, stood to attention outside.

It’s difficult to exist in Geneva without letting your mind wander to the grand decisions and (mostly) good deeds that are done here. Visit the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum where you can explore the history of humanitarian action. The exhibition explores three major themes – defending human dignity, restoring family links and reducing natural risks.

UN Geneva

Wander from here towards the Palais des Nations, taking a slight detour via the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Unveiled in 2007, the inscription reads “My life is my message.”

Be one of the 100,000 people each year to visit the UN’s office at Geneva. Tours round the Palais des Nations are free and done in a variety of languages. See the famous ceiling in the The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room, designed by Miquel Barcelo. The Spanish artist has created an abstract landscape of stalagmites, submerged in a storm of colour. He says the work represents a cave and the sea at once, in an “absolute union of opposites.”

While you’re here make sure to visit the hall of lost footsteps, a space so vast that the noise of footfall is lost. The work of another Spanish artist decorates the walls of The Council Chamber, where the end of the Gulf War was negotiated. José Maria Sert’s gold and sepia murals, depicting the progress of humankind through health, technology, freedom and peace are majestic in their grand statements about humanity.

Lake Geneva

Geneva’s ICT Discovery is the city’s newest museum, opening in 2009. This is the International Telecommunication Union’s headquarters and the building charts the evolution of technology. Enjoy the hands-on nature of the museum – see technology from the past and the future, and see what impact technology has had on people’s lives all around the world. Entrance is free.

Stick with the museum tour, moving away from the field of humanitarian action and diving headfirst into the world of physics. Take a free tour at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, to see the largest particle physic laboratory in the world. The most powerful and most complex particle collider ever built exists in a 27km tunnel, deep beneath Geneva. Try and grasp the concept of the Large Hadron Collider and ponder the mystery of the universe with your tour guide. Take your knowledge further with the permanent exhibitions.

Unlike the other museums which all sit within the Paquis Nations district, CERN is beyond the city centre. To get there by car, follow signs to the airport and then to St Genis, CERN is on your left. Full directions can be found on the CERN website.

For more cultural sightseeing, amble up to Geneva’s old town, a little climb above the lake. Explore the maze of pretty cobbled streets, until you stumble onto the Place du Bourg-de-Four. A quaint square, spotted with lines of umbrellas, where once a bustling Roman marketplace stood.

On the site of an ancient Roman temple stands Saint Peter’s Cathedral. Standing sternly over the city with its green spire lancing the sky, the building was originally built in a Romanesque style but today it is known for its neoclassical facade and its fusion of many different architectural styles.

St Peter's Cathedral, Geneva

In the grounds of Geneva University, find the city’s famous 100m reformation wall. Important protestant figures emerge out of the stone, telling the story of Martin Luther’s breakaway from the Catholic church and the following splintering of Catholic Europe.

Look for the motto of both the reformation and Geneva, along the wall: Post Tenebras Lux (Latin for “after darkness, light”).

 

Book in Geneva today