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Benidorm: Sometimes Brash, Often Beautiful
Jul 24th, 2017 by Tom Kerswill

The most visited resort on the Costa Blanca is big and bold, packed with restaurants, bars and clubs. But the size of this sprawling resort means more choice, so you can tailor your holiday to fit, making it a great destination for a family holiday.

In other words, don’t be put off by Benidorm’s somewhat larger than life reputation. Choose a self-catering holiday villa in the area, and take what Benidorm has to offer at your own, relaxed pace.

Beaches in Benidorm

Luxuriant and long, Benidorm’s beaches are epic stretches of golden sand, so while they’re popular, there’s plenty to explore to find your ideal spot in the sun.

On the east side of the resort is Levante Beach, known as the sunrise beach. It’s lively and has some 5,000 sun beds. The sandy beach slopes gently into the sea, making it relatively safe for all swimmers, whatever their level of confidence and ability

In the sea itself are rafts, slides and diving boards, while lifeguards are on duty throughout the summer season. There’s also disabled access onto the beach via ramps.

For parents seeking relaxation, children are well catered for with all-day entertainment at the beach, and the conspicuously colourful meeting points make it easy to find them at the end of the day.

To the west is Poniente Beach. While also huge, it tends to get less crowded than Levante. It’s rock-free with a relaxed atmosphere and a recently revitalised promenade provides food and drink, and shopping – for when you want a break from the sun.

Further along the coastline from Poniente is the area of La Cala, a quieter part of the coast. This is a little way out from Benidorm, but when you tire of the quiet life, you can easy get a taxi or bus back to the hustle and bustle of the main town.

Closer to the harbour, beneath the port, is the smaller Malpas Beach. In contrast to the two main beaches this is altogether quieter, but with a character of its own.

The Old Town

Benidorm’s glitz, glamour, nightlife and beaches are, naturally, a big holiday draw, but away from the bustling city, the old town retains its natural Spanish charm.

Here you can experience the taste of Spain at a range of authentic eateries, and explore the town’s cobbled roads and twisting streets. Tapas Alley is so named because it’s packed with tapas bars and restaurants.

There’s a weekend flea market, and local market produce available mid-week – ideal for stocking up your villa supplies.

You can easily explore the shoreline from the Old Town, and key vantage points provide beautiful views of the beach and the coast.

Balcon del Mediterraneo – the Castle Viewpoint

On top of the rock that separates the two main beaches, overlooking the port, is Balcon del Mediterraneo, originally the fortress built to defend Benidorm town from incursions of Algerian pirates between the 14th and 16th centuries.

With its large balcony, you can enjoy splendid views of both the beaches, beautiful architecture and places of interest in Benidorm, such as the Church of San Jaime.

There are steep steps to climb, but the view is more than worth it as your reward.

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The Beach and Beyond: Attractions in Alicante
Jul 10th, 2017 by Tom Kerswill

In the middle of the Costa Blanca’s recreational coastline, Alicante is a multi-faceted tourist destination with a strong culture and tradition dating back centuries.

Full of natural treasures, and with blue flag beaches to relax on, Alicante is a great holiday villa destination, where you can set your own pace, combining culture with a bit of holiday indulgence.

Contrasting Beaches

First, the beaches, because even if you’ve got other interests, the beach remains a great attraction, and Alicante’s beaches are of a Blue Flag standard, while offering a high degree of diversity.

There’s the central Postiquet Beach, near the heart of Alicante itself. It’s big, it’s popular and it has wide stretches of fine sand, palm trees and plenty of places to eat and drink. It’s also ideal if you want to take a break during your day at the beach to explore more of the city.

If you don’t want so much bustle and activity around your beach, try the quieter location of La Almadraba. Enclosed by rocky outcrops, Playa de la Almadraba is smaller and quieter than the other beaches in Alicante. It provides lovely scenic views, especially at sunset, and during the day it retains its quiet charm.

There are plenty more beaches to choose from, many practically on the doorstep, and where they’re not, the public transport network of buses and trams makes reaching them easy.

A Brush with Culture

We’re not saying you shouldn’t soak up the sun’s rays and just relax, but if you want to mix your holiday experiences a bit, then Alicante is the place to do it. There are several great museums in this culturally rich location, including the Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art (MACA).

MACA’s home is a baroque town house, the oldest civil building in Alicante. By contrast, the museum’s focus is on contemporary and 20th century art, and contains work by Picasso, Juan Gris and Cocteau, alongside notable local artist and sculptor Eusebio Sempere.

If you want art that’s more traditional, try the Gravina Museum of Fine Arts. Here you’ll find plenty of striking work by regional artists from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Like MACA, the entrance to this museum is free.

Climbing the Castle

The 10th century fortress of Santa Barbara Castle rises over Alicante, perched on the of Mount Benancantil. Whether you walk, drive or take the lift from Postiguet Beach, which tunnels up through rock to reach its destination, this is well worth a visit.

As one of the largest Medieval fortresses in Europe, this is the full castle experience, including dungeons, battlements, the palace and the ruins of a small church within the castle walls. Plus, you get tremendous views across Alicante.

Throughout July and August, the city hosts special evenings at the castle consisting of free concerts held in the courtyard.

The True Taste of Alicante

As you might expect, Alicante boast fine local seafood, usually combined with tasty rice dishes, including arroz negro – black rice cooked with cuttlefish. Another speciality is to bake a whole fish in salt, and the area has the claim to some of the best prawns in the world.

If you visit the Pesca al Peso restaurant in the Old Town, you pick out your choice of fresh fish from the market-style displays and they cook it for you on the spot.

In all, there are lots of seafood restaurants in idyllic locations to choose from, when you want a break from your self-catering holiday villa. There are also daily indoor markets from where you can buy your own fresh fish supplies and go native.

Make Island Hopping in the Canaries Worth Your While
Jun 26th, 2017 by Tom Kerswill

The Canary Islands are a popular holiday destination, but most people stick to just one for the duration of their break. However, it is possible to broaden your experience of the Canaries by island hopping.

Your self-catering holiday villa can provide the perfect base for exploring the different islands, whichever destination you choose.

Getting About

For island hopping purposes, the best means of getting about is by using ferries. With the hydrofoil and high-speed ferry services, island hopping is far less time consuming, while remaining relaxing and pleasurable.

The main airports of the Canaries are Fuerteventura, Tenerife South, Las Palmas for Gran Canaria and Arrecife for Lanzarote. Once at your main destination, you can explore the ferry and boat links to the other islands.

 

Tenerife

This is an ideal ferry destination for island hopping because it has a bit of everything, from imposing volcanic landscapes to the tourist-friendly centres of Costa Adeje and Los Cristianos.

Explore the vineyards of La Orotava, or go whale watching off the coast. Mount Teide is Spain’s highest mountain, and the world’s third highest island volcano, situated in Teide National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can enjoy the spectacular views by riding on the Teide Cable Car.

Tenerife is also the main hub for inter-island sea traffic, so you’ve plenty of choice for where to hop to next from here.

 

Gran Canaria

This island is home to Las Palmas, the capital of the Canaries, which dates from 1478. It’s on the eastern part of the island, and has two bays with the popular beaches, Playa de las Canteras and Playa de las Caravaneras.

Gran Canaria is often described as a continent in miniature, because it consists of such varied geography and climates. Places of interest include the large bird sanctuary at Palmitos Park, and the Maspalomas Dunes and Maspalomas Lighthouse.

Also check out the village of Puerto de Mogán, known as Little Venice because of its many canals; and the archeologically significant Painted Cave of Galdar.

 

La Gomera

With its dense woodland, lush vegetation and deep ravines, La Gomera is an ideal destination for walkers and hikers.

These green slopes form the Garajonay National Park, and there are some 350 kilometres of walking trails. On La Gomera, there are streets made of sand, and the inhabitants still speak an ancient whistling language, Sibo, devised to help them communicate across the island’s landscape.

 

Lanzarote

Beyond the beaches and clubs, Lanzarote presents an eerie, alien vista of red and black volcanic rock and its famous lava tubes.

Some of these form the Green Caves, or Cueva de los Verdes, a large cave system which includes a concert hall carved into of it.

Lanzarote’s vineyards grow celebrated local Malvasia wines, which you can enjoy while experiencing the island’s long, sunny days.

There are daily ferries from this northernmost of the Canaries to Fuerteventura, and the journey takes around 25 minutes.

 

La Palma

Another of the Canaries with a varied geography, La Palma is known as the beautiful island for its beaches, its stunning greenery and dramatic volcanoes

The entire island is a UNESCO-designated World Biosphere Reserve. It has 1,000 kilometres of paths for walkers, through prehistoric forests, past waterfalls and up the island’s peaks.

And at night you discover another quality to La Palma, its incredibly clear skies, making it a great place for star gazing. Astronomers love the island for this reason, but you don’t have to be an expert to experience the beauty of the stars from high on La Palma.

Exploring Volcanic Fuerteventura’s Varied Coastline
Jun 12th, 2017 by Tom Kerswill

Whether it’s the beach, the exploration, the food or the nightlife, the island of Fuerteventura has plenty to keep you occupied, while giving you the space to relax as much as you want.

Less than 100km off the African coast, this is the oldest of the Canaries, and the largest. It boasts 152 beaches along its coastline, many of which are dazzling white sand, while others are a contrasting black, volcanic shingle. There’s barely any rainfall here and the temperature rarely falls below 18º centigrade, or rises above 32º.

In short, for many it’s the perfect island destination. And if you choose a holiday villa as your base, this gives you an open itinerary for exploring and experiencing Fuerteventura’s varied attractions and locations.

The island’s natural coastline is, itself, a big draw, offering beaches, landscapes and places to explore.

 

The Best Beaches

Obviously, with 152 beaches to choose from, there is a lot of choice. However, some of Fuerteventura’s beaches are so strikingly beautiful that they set a whole new standard.

Sotavento has 17 continuous miles of unspoiled, white sand. This lengthy beach stretches down the south east coast of the island, and while some parts of it are popular, and therefore get quite busy, others are deserted.

Swimming conditions are ideal, with the sea a comfortable 21º all year round.

Getting to Sotavento beach is very easy. There are places to park all along the coastline, if you’re driving, or there are plenty of buses leaving from all the major towns on the east coast.

At the north of Fuerteventura is Corralejo beach. This is six miles long, bordering a national park. With its palm trees and sand dunes, it’s another idyllic setting. You can reach it from the island’s highway, the FV-1.

From Corrlejo there are regular boat trips to Isla Lobos. You can explore this tiny island on foot in just a few hours, but it has some wonderfully secluded beaches, and it has great snorkelling – its protected status means there are plenty of fish in its waters. Lobos island also comes with its own volcano, so if you tire of beach life you can always hike to the top for some spectacular views.

 

The Protected Peninsula

The south westerly tip of Fuerteventura is another protected area. This is the Península de Jandía, a rugged landscape of cliffs and empty plains.

It provides a dramatic contrast to the beaches of the north and east, and is an opportunity to explore another side to the island.

If you’re feeling confident and adventurous enough, you can hire your own four-wheel drive to drive along the winding cliff roads, or alternatively, take the bus to experience the ride and views.

 

Caves and Coves

On the west coast is Ajuy, an area full of rocks, caves and coves. It’s a great area for walking and taking in the natural, dramatic atmosphere.

The footpath makes the caves more accessible from the top of the cliffs, and you can also reach them from the beach.

The beach at Ajuy is black, volcanic sand, contrasting with the crystal clear water. It rarely attracts many visitors, so provides a peaceful place to relax after exploring the caves and coves.

Ajuy town is small but welcoming, and it has plenty of seafront restaurants offering great local food.

This varied coastline is just one of the many aspects making Fuerteventura an ideal destination for a villa holiday.

Fascinating Betancuria at the Heart of Fuerteventura
Jun 5th, 2017 by Tom Kerswill

Much of the Canaries’ attraction comes down to them being the ideal holiday destination, with glorious weather and vast stretches of white, sandy beach.

However, if you’re going on a self-catering break to a holiday villa in Fuerteventura, you might just want to consider what else there is to do there, because, strange as it seems, you can have too much relaxing on a beach in the sun.

Luckily, there are plenty of other things to see and do in Fuerteventura when you want a break from the beach, due to the island’s history and heritage.

The Old Capital and Turbulent Times

Betancuria is the old capital of Fuerteventura, before the advent of tourism transformed the island so dramatically. Along its cobbled streets, you’ll experience a sense of a past that still resonates beneath the modern island, and is carried on through its culture.

Jean de Béthencourt founded Betancuria in 1404, hence the name, during the Castilian invasion of the island. Because Betancuria was some distance from the coast, many there believed it would be safe from invading pirates, and therefore the ideal spot for a settlement.

In fact, Moors and Berbers raided it several times during the early 15th century, and the British had a go at invading it in 1740, but were defeated at the Battle of Tamasite by the Spanish.

From the 19th century onwards, as the island’s power and economic centre shifted, Betancuria declined in importance until it was officially stripped of its capital status in 1834.

With the growth of tourism in the 1960s, more inhabitants migrated to the coast, leaving behind Betancuria and the island’s interior.

 

Historical Architecture

The Iglesia de Santa María was the first church built on the island, and is a combination of different baroque, renaissance and gothic architectural styles.

This is because it was rebuilt several times during the island’s more troubled history, with the Berbers burning it down in 1593.

The historic bell tower survives, however, as do other aspects of the church; and the interior has several elaborately decorated baroque altars.

On the outskirts of the town are the ruins of a late 15th century monastery, San Buenaventura. This convent was last used in 1937 and now stands as a ruin, alongside its small, disused companion church, which has undergone extensive restoration.

In the heart of the designated Betancuria Natural Park, is the Casa de Santa María, a house dating from the 17th century. It has been carefully renovated in the traditional Canarian style and is now home to a local museum and craft centre, along with a café and restaurant. It also has a 3D cinema showing spectacular underwater footage.

Also in Betancuria are the Museo de Arte Sacro (Musuem of Sacred Art), containing many historically important religious relics, and the Casa de Museo de Betancuria, displaying various architectural objects found at excavations in Fuerteventura.

 

Great Views

A little way out from the town centre are a couple of vantage points presenting spectacular views of the island.

The Mirador Corrales de Guize is located at an altitude of 600 metres and provides a panoramic view of the stunning local scenery. It’s hard to miss as it’s marked by two enormous bronze figures. On a clear day, you can see the El Rincón Valley, the mountain peaks of Morro Veloso, Morro de la Cruz and la Atalaya, and Betancuria itself.

The other vantage point is at Mirador Morro Veloso, north of Betancuria, towards Antigua. This has a café bar at the viewing point, and offers great views of the dramatic landscape.

Electronic devices with flat batteries not permitted to fly to US
Jul 9th, 2014 by elisa

Enhanced security checks mean any electronic devices that will not switch on will have to be left behind by passengers travelling to the US.

US homeland security confirmed that these checks would be implemented immediately at some airports abroad as it believes that there is a very real threat of terrorist attacks with the potential for phones to be turned into explosive devices that can avoid detection.

It said passengers at airports which offer direct flights to the US may be forced to switch on their electronic devices to prove to security officials that they do not contain explosives. This comes after it was announced last week that extra security measures would be put in place at airports and on flights due to an increased threat of terrorist activity.

The US Transportation Security Administration warned: “Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveller may also undergo additional screening.”

Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind warned against complacency on the issue because there are more threats than have been made public. Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Sir Malcolm said: “It is simply foolish to believe that the threat is either minimal or now behind us.

“We have, indeed, been fortunate but, sadly, this has not been because the terrorists have, since 2005, given up trying to do us harm.”

Six-day French air traffic controllers’ strike
Jun 24th, 2014 by elisa

Delays and cancellations are expected from today as French air traffic controllers begin a six-day strike. 

The strike over budget cuts is not as large as first feared, as one of the two unions that announced the action backed out at the last minute. However, flights to and from France, and also many flights that travel across French airspace will still be cancelled or delayed.

Eurocontrol, a European air safety organisation, estimated almost 14,000 hours of delays over the strike period. A similar walk out last year led to the cancellation of around 1,800 flights a day across Europe.

Ryanair has cancelled 26 flights to and from France, and British Airways has cancelled three return flights from Heathrow to Toulouse, Marseille and Lyon. Easyjet has cancelled 28 flights, but none of these are from UK airports.

Airlines have said that they will update customers daily on further cancellations.

BA said: “The level of disruption is likely to fluctuate in different parts of France at different parts of each day.

“Unfortunately this industrial action is also highly likely to lead to delays on other short-haul services which have to overfly France.”

“We expect to receive information from the French authorities the day before each strike event as to the levels of mandated cancellations for all airlines on each route.

“We aim to publish our revised schedules by 1400 GMT each day for the following day’s flights.”

Advice for travellers affected by the strikes

  • If your airline cancels your flight you are eligible for a refund. You are not, however, eligible for additional compensation from the airline as it is not directly responsible for the cause of cancellation.
  • If you are left stranded abroad (in the EU) as a result of the cancellation of your flight, then the airline are required to pay for accommodation and subsistence until another flight is available to take you home.
  • Travel insurance may pay out small amounts for long delays, but not always for subsequent losses such as hotel bookings. Check your documentation carefully to see what you are entitled to.

A statement on the Easyjet website said: “For cancelled flights, all our customers will be offered a free of charge transfer to a new flight or a full refund.

“We strongly advise customers who wish to travel and want to rebook Easyjet flights to AVOID rebooking flights for any day between 24th-30th June as there is a high likelihood of further disruption that could cause further cancellations.”

Ryanair has urged the French Government and European Union to intervene, calling for the air traffic controllers’ right to strike to be removed and in the meantime to allow neighbouring air traffic providers to keep the skies over France open over the strike period.

Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs said: “It is high time the EU Commission removed these air traffic controllers’ right to strike, in the same way as ATC in the US, and many of Europe’s armies and police forces, are prohibited from striking by law, to stop Europe being held to ransom by a small number of air traffic controllers every summer.”

 

A rise in travel spending
May 20th, 2014 by elisa

Positive growth for the travel industry as Mastercard Advisors report a rise in travel spending in three out of the first four months of this year.

Group head and senior vice president at Mastercard Advisors, Sarah Quinlan, said sales growth has been rising steadily throughout the early part of 2014, which is “a vast improvement” on 2013 overall.

The sunny weather and rising wages in April have made a positive impact on the travel sector.

“Travel businesses in the UK should be encouraged by the positive sales growth in April,” she said.

“As the economy strengthens we would expect to see momentum build this year with consumers becoming confident to spend hard earned wages on summer holidays or short city breaks rather than saving everything for a rainy day.”

Overall, retail sales are up 5.5% year-on-year in April, however, Quinlan still warns that any increased travel expenditure will be gradual, as wages have only shown slow improvement and discretionary spending on travel is still a luxury for many.

Cheap tickets tricks for huge saving potential
May 19th, 2014 by elisa

Easyjet Flexifare screenshot

Easyjet Flexifare screenshot

Lowest fare guides and flexible dates options are really helpful in finding the lowest travel fares, but sometimes the cost of a flight or train when you want it is still too expensive.

Moneysavingexpert.com founder, Martin Lewis has just revealed a way to ‘trick’ Easyjet’s booking system to get the cheapest possible fare.

“The idea is to book a Flexifare on the same route at a less busy time, then switch to the dates you originally wanted. It’s not the easiest trick in the book, but if it works it could save £100s,” is says on the website.

It’s a bit of a risk as you need to know that your dates will still be available to switch to. The website provides a step by step guide on how to do this, which includes beginning a booking for 20 people on your desired flight to see if that many seats are available and therefore not likely to sell out so quickly.

One customer is quoted as saving £700 on flights to Lanzarote. The online posting said: “When we went on the Easyjet website the flights were over £1,500 including bags. We then booked the flexi flights, which were £848 – a saving of £700. A bit nerve-wracking for the 24 hours, but we know it works. There must be availability obviously on the dates you are changing to.”

A spokesperson for Easyjet said: “EasyJet’s aim is to provide easy and affordable fares for everyone which is why we provide a number of tools on our website to help customers identify the best flight for their budget.

“Our recently launched ‘low fare finder’ makes it easier than ever to find the lowest fares available on specific routes without the stress of needlessly changing dates and our Inspire Me tool enables customers to specify their budget and dates and sets out on a map where they can fly to for that budget.

“Flexifares are designed specifically for the business customer and offer the flexibility they require when travelling for business, however there is no guarantee of availability on alternative dates. Most of our passengers travelling during the peak summer understand that the earlier they book the cheaper the fare will be.”

Train fares are another contentious issue when it comes to the different prices for the same routes, often depending on whether you book early enough or use a rail card.

Tickets are grouped into three types: “Advance” for a specific train journey, “anytime” for any train on the route, and “off-peak” restricted to quieter times of travel.

“Anytime” tickets are usually most expensive because of their flexibility, but it can still seem too expensive when booking an “advance” or “off-peak” ticket, and this is where the money-saving trick comes in. If you are travelling on a popular and fairly lengthy journey, then it could be much cheaper to buy tickets for separate parts of the journey in a practice called “ticket splitting”.

For example, a one-way “advance” ticket from Oxford to Leeds will cost £90, calling at Birmingham New Street. However, a one-way “advance” ticket from Oxford to Birmingham New Street costs £33, and then from Birmingham New Street to Leeds another £49 giving a total fare of £82. This is a fairly sizeable percentage saving of the original cost, and can amount to much larger savings on other routes. National Rail allows ticket splitting (essentially travelling on the same train) as long as the train stops at the station you’re splitting the tickets for.

Another trick I found when trying to book an “anytime” ticket on thetrainline.com was that I still had to provisionally select a journey time to allow me to buy the ticket, but the price of the “anytime” ticket fluctuated depending on the time I was searching for. I selected a time later in the day to halve the price of the ticket at the time I was considering travelling, but could still use it at any point that day.

There are lots more possible money saving methods to cut the cost of travel. Let us know what your tips and tricks are in the comments section below.

 

 

Most family-friendly destinations
May 8th, 2014 by elisa

Florida beach picture by Flickr user Adam Caudill

Florida beach picture by Flickr user Adam Caudill

A survey of 2,000 British parents regarding the most family-friendly destinations in the world found Cornwall to be top of the list, with Orlando in Florida a close second.

The only reason Orlando was pipped to the post was because of the long flying time of around nine hours from the UK, otherwise, its world-famous theme parks and near-constant sunshine ranked extremely favourably for child-friendly holidays.

The Spanish islands of Majorca, Menorca and Tenerife, and the Costa Del Sol on the mainland made up the rest of the top ten for holidays abroad, with Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Isle of Wight for holidays in the UK.

Around eight in ten respondents said making sure a destination is child-friendly is their main priority when booking a holiday. Factors that contributed to a family-friendly holiday included nearby play areas, a good choice of food to cater for fussy eaters, and a shallow sea. Half of the parents polled said the ideal holiday destination must have nice beaches, and 28% said kids’ swimming pools are essential.

The study also found that the ideal holiday would last an average of 10 days, and involve less than five hours of travelling time, making many of the European destinations ideal for family breaks.

 

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