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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Things To See On The Costa del Sol

Just over two hours flight from the UK, the Costa del Sol is the popular short-haul option with more than 300 days of sunshine a year and everything you could want for in a holiday. Nowhere else on earth can you find beaches, history, culture, sports, fantastic cities, the great outdoors and even skiing, all in one compact destination!

Kathryn Stride gives her run-down of some of the fantastic activities to try in the Costa del Sol for your next holiday.

Skiing and sunbathing in one place

We all associate the Costa del Sol with the sparkling Mediterranean Sea lapping against fantastic sandy beaches, and it’s certainly a great place to soak up the sun, immerse yourself in the relaxed atmosphere, and enjoy the world-renowned nightlife. However, what many people don’t know is that Andalucía as a region also offers Europe’s Southern-most ski resort, with great skiing from December to the beginning of May.

This winter wonderland is just a stone’s throw from the Costa del Sol and on a good day you can even see the sea from the slopes. In fact it’s so close that you could combine skiing with a day on the beach to recover before you head home. It’s even possible to be on the slopes in the morning and then within two hours drive be enjoying a long afternoon of warm sunshine on the coast.

The Sierra Nevada (Snowy Mountain Range) near Granada offers plenty of sunshine, good snow and a varied mix of runs for beginners and intermediates, plus a handful of more challenging runs. Although it is not a huge resort, there are wide, well-pisted slopes, quick and efficient lifts, and good restaurants and bars to rest those weary feet. The après-ski is quite legendary too!

Terrific towns and picturesque pueblos

This area of Spain has been slammed for its concrete tower blocks and non-existent town planning. However, don’t be fooled by this negative press coverage. For every Torremolinos there are several stunning white villages nestled into the hillsides, not to mention vibrant, Spanish towns and cities with great architecture.

Marbella is a fantastic town with lots of charm, a predominantly Spanish population, a beautiful beachside promenade and tons of bars and restaurants. It is often confused with the nearby Puerto Banus and thought to be an expensive, flashy place, but in fact this is a very real, working Spanish town and merits a visit.

Marbella’s hidden gem is its historic and picturesque Old Town, or casco antiguo. This has changed little over the centuries and still features ancient architecture, a maze of narrow cobbled streets with charming white washed houses, and beautiful plazas adorned with fountains. At the centre is Orange Square, a beautiful Andalucian square, full of orange trees and sweetly scented tropical plants. The Old Town is full of unusual shops and galleries, little chapels and churches, not to mention a fantastic selection of bars, cafés and eateries, and is a great place to explore.

The picturesque Pueblos Blancos white villages are a typically Andalucian feature and have been well-preserved, yet little explored by most tourists. If you are able to hire a car then you can spend several days driving around the stunning countryside, exploring these little villages and stepping back into Andalucia’s past.

One of the most breathtaking places to visit is the mountaintop city of Ronda, located less than an hour’s drive from the coast. This city is set above a gorge (El Tajo) giving dramatic views and the stone bridge that spans the gorge offers the perfect place to take in the stunning scenery. The old town dates back to Moorish rule and is full of history and charm.

Closer to coast and more popular with tourists is the beautiful village of Mijas Pueblo. Located just a 20 minute drive inland, this village has remained relatively unspoilt by tourism maintaining its Spanish charm and offers spectacular panoramic views of the coast from its many view points. Wander the cobbled streets and sample the local delicacies, there are also many specialist shops around the town including handmade leather and ceramics. Every Wednesday the town hall puts on a popular flamenco show at midday in the main square.

A Sportsperson’s Dream

For golfers, it features more than 70 fabulous golf courses, which has earned the Costa del Sol its nickname of Costa del Golf. With year round sunshine this is a golfer’s paradise. The coast is host to some high-profile big prize tournaments such as the Volvo Matchplay.

If you like tennis, there are many fantastic tennis clubs, as well as many outdoor courts attached to hotels and urbanisations. Many international tournaments are hosted in the Marbella area.

The region is a perfect place for mountain-biking and hiking in the nearby hills and mountains. For the more adventurous a hike up the iconic La Concha is a must, but as it is as high as Ben Nevis it isn’t to be underestimated. There are numerous companies offering quad-biking, horse-riding and walking tours to help you make the most of the stunning scenery just minutes from the coastal resorts.

There are also a host of water sports to take advantage of the warm Mediterranean Sea, such as sea-kayaking, windsurfing, scuba diving, kite surfing or even learning to sail. Or if you want something potentially less wet, you can take to the sea for a spot of fishing, or enjoy a catamaran cruise to try and spot some of the native dolphins.

Andalucia’s unique cultural treasures

Andalucía boasts some of the most amazing architecture and the most breathtaking sights to be seen anywhere in the world.

There’s the narrow, bustling cobbled streets and ancient architecture of the Jewish Quarter in Seville; the harmonious blend of two thousand years of Christian and Muslim religious history in the stunning Mezquita in Cordoba; the world-famous Alhambra set against the snow-covered peaks of Sierra Nevada in Granada, and the golden dome of Cádiz cathedral shimmering high over the white-tipped waves of the blue Atlantic ocean.

These cities’ treasures are no more than two or three hours away by car from the Costa del Sol and make fantastic day trips to spice up any Costa del Sol holiday itinerary.

Spain’s capital, Madrid, is also within easy reach of the Coast now, with a two hour journey by high-speed train bringing all of the city’s immense heritage right to your door.

Even closer to the coast is the lovely and often overlooked city of Malaga. Malaga is so much more than an airport. Its long history has left a host of beautiful monuments such as the Cathedral, Gibralfaro Castle, the Alcazaba and the Roman Theatre. There are also a selection of beautiful historical gardens, and over 20 different museums to choose from.

However, it’s the city’s artistic heritage that is its biggest claim to fame. Malaga was Picasso’s birthplace, and has the fantastic Picasso Museum to honour and celebrate the city’s most famous son. This gallery has over 200 examples of works by Picasso on permanent display, including oil paintings, sculptures, drawings, sketches, etchings and ceramics housed in a stunning 17th century Renaissance building.

Relax and Rejuvenate

A holiday in Spain is a great way to get rid of the stress and strain of working life. Visit some of the beautiful beach clubs, stroll down the promenade and enjoy the laid-back pace of life. In addition, there are some amazing luxury spas and health clubs where you can pamper yourself and ensure you come back rested, relaxed and rejuvenated.

If facials and treatments just aren’t enough to achieve the desired result then you can combine a relaxing holiday with a spot of cosmetic surgery, for a truly rejuvenating trip! There are several world-renowned clinics to choose from in this area, and it can often be a more affordable and discreet option than the UK. All clinics have fully-qualified, English-speaking surgeons, excellent after-care and an opportunity to recover gently from the surgery before returning home.

Family Fun

Spain is a very family-friendly place and kids are welcomed wherever you go. The Costa del Sol has a whole host of fun places to go and things to do, ranging from days spent on the beach, swimming and playing ball games, to great amusement parks like Tivoli World in Benalmadena and the Parque Acuático Mijas water park in Mijas-Costa.

Families can also enjoy a number of other high activity attractions in the area including Funny Beach, near Marbella, with its go-karting track, trampolines, electric bikes and cars, and children’s rides as well as Aventura Amazonia, a tree top high ropes course just a 10 minute drive from Marbella.

For animal lovers there’s the Bioparc Zoo (Fuengirola), SeaLife centre (Benalmadena),Butterfly Farm (Benalmadena), Crocodile Park (Torremolinos), and the Selwo safari park in Estepona.

The cinema in the Fuengirola’s Miramar centre shows English films and other activities include a large crazy golf park with bbq restaurant (Fuengirola) and Costa Jump, a huge indoor trampoline park.

For more teenage fun, there are many good organisations on the coast who offer such adventures as scuba diving, quad-biking, jeep safaris in the National Parks, mountain treks on horse-back, canyoning in the region’s gorges, and paintballing. As well as Segway tours to explore some of the major towns and cities.

Eating and Drinking

One of the many pleasures of a visit to the Costa del Sol is the fantastic food. There are so many great restaurants to choose from, serving all types of food. The chiringuitos on the beach are great and tasty tapas is an excellent way to sample some of the local Spanish fare. You don’t have to walk far to find a good restaurant, the main problem is knowing which one to choose.

Staycation On One Of Britain’s Fabulous Beaches

Weymouth Beach, Dorset, England

Weymouth is a charming family seaside resort located in the rural county of Dorset. The gently curving beach with its soft sand and clean cool water, attracts thousands of tourists every year whatever the weather.

The beach is often buzzing with donkey rides, fun fairs, and Punch and Judy shows. Everything you gaze upon is quintessentially British.

There is also ample opportunity for retail therapy, and there are plenty of charming cafés and restaurants to choose from without the threat of burning a hole in your pocket.

The best way to travel to Weymouth is to fly to Southampton Airport and then take a train direct to Weymouth.

Stay at the family-friendly Best Western Hotel Rembrandt. It has a spa, restaurants and a huge swimming pool and a good base to explore the Dorset coast.

Eat at the art deco styled Italian restaurant Al Molo which has a fantastic location on the pier. For something more family friendly head for Manbo’s bistro. They have children’s menu and fast service so the hungry kids don’t stay that way long.

Oxwich Bay, Gower Peninsula, South Wales

You have to look to Wales for what may be the most beautiful beach in Britain. Soft, sandy Oxwich Bay, framed by woodland and overlooked by Penrice Castle, could come straight from an Enid Blyton story. With its Arcadian beauty, in summer Oxwich is an ideal place for safe swimming, a walk on the sands or through the nature reserve with its 600 species of flowering plants. The Gower, lying west of Swansea, was Britain’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and this year is the 50th anniversary. A footpath leads from Oxwich to St Illtyd’s Church, reputedly haunted by a half-man, half-horse creature and further along, the coastline is dotted with castles and ancient monuments and many unspoilt bays.

Nearby Swansea is a city that has reinvented itself in the past 5 years with a thriving local food scene showcasing the region’s rich food heritage: laver bread, cockles, Welsh black beef, and sea bass jostle.

Stay behind Oxwich Beach in Penrice Castle’s cottages a series of 14 self-catering cottages that overlook the beach and the wonderful Gower Peninsula.

Eat at Munch of Mumbles and enjoy British fare and a fabulous seaview.

Barafundle, Pembrokeshire, Wales

The beautiful Barafundle Bay on National Trust land is perfect for couples looking for ‘us time’. The beach ensures discretion by virtue of its secluded location in a bay protected by a rocky landscape. Park in the National Trust car park (£5) then be prepared for a 15-minute robust ramble over clifftops and hillocks and steps down onto a duned beach. There may be of smattering of others there in the summer and out of season you may get to see a surfer or two. There are no facilities there so take your lunch and nibbles with you.

Stay at the Grove B&B, a refurbished manor house in Narberth with pretty gardens and lovely views.

Eat at the Stackpole Inn, a gastronomic pub with great food. But to get there pick up the car and make your way to the nearest village Stackpole.

Brighton Beach, Sussex

There is no white soft sand because Brighton beach is a pebble beach. Yet when there is a hit of sunshine, the long stretch of stoned seafront becomes crowded with deckchairs, sun umbrellas, and people. The promenade is gorgeous and the vibrant pier is a pull for those searching entertainment. You could not get a better city beach vibe anywhere else in England.

Stay at the quirky Pelirocco. This hotel may well be England’s most rock-n-roll hotel. Rooms are themed in pink, debauched Nookii Room (for sexy couples) and Pin Up Parlour dedicatd to Diana Dors and one dedicated to the Sex Pistols.

Eat at the tiny 64 Degrees. This is proving to be the hottest restaurant at the moment. It is located in the Lanes and features a series of small dishes for sharing. Grab a stool at the counter and for a close up view of the cooking or book one of the three tables.

South Bay, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England

This is a traditional bucket and spade soft-sand beach with a marina, arcade, cafes and surprisingly beautiful architecture. The water is calm thanks to the shelter of the Castle Headland. Folklore depicts the sea here as the original spa. The story goes that 15th century bathers believed that the water had healing powers. Go exploring and you may come a across a secret cove to hide away for a while. For a break from the beach explore the ruins of the 11th century Scarborough Castle.

Stay on the seafront at the Ambassador Hotel. Steps away from the beach, this Victorian building has a free-to-use leisure club and fantastic pool.

Eat luscious icecream at Mr Moo’s cafe and icecream parlour or a enjoy a wholesome lunch. Perhaps take a very civilised tea at Francis Tea Rooms on South Street. Your table will have vintage crockery on embroidered table clothes. There are cakes and speciality teas as well as savoury items such as rarebit.

Hotel Rooms With Amazing Views In The World

1. Oliver’s Travels, Tamarind House, St Lucia

Oliver’s Travels, Tamarind House, St Lucia

Made from local stone with high greenheart ceilings, and Barbados tiled floors, this exceptionally large Caribbean house offers the rare luxury of space, privacy and sensational views of the Pitons. The 640sqft master bedroom is furnished with a beautiful antique king size four-poster bed, a hand carved standing cheval mirror and private terrace. From the bed, the view of Piton is framed by bougainvillea climbing up the stone walls. The main house has three bedrooms and three bathrooms, while the separate cottage is the master bedroom suite with its own living room, kitchen, dressing area, marble bathroom, and terrace.

Prices start from £3,145 per week.

2. PurePods, Canterbury / Kaikoura, New Zealand

PurePods, Canterbury / Kaikoura, New Zealand

Made completely of glass from roof to floor, guests can sleep under the dazzling stars of the Southern Cross and awake to pure New Zealand native bush. With sliding glass doors for hot weather and bio-fuel fires for winter months, the Pure Pod offers unique year-round nature experiences. Reached only by a walk through the bush land into a completely private haven, the Pure Pod offers 360-degree views of the valley and the Pacific Ocean in the distance. There are three PurePods – one in Little River, Canterbury, and two in Kaikoura.

From £210 per night based on two people sharing.

3. Uma by COMO, Ubud, Bali

Uma by COMO, Ubud, Bali

Uma by COMO, Ubud, immerses guests in the culture of Bali. The Terrace Rooms are serene and magical, with French doors that open onto a private terrace overlooking the gardens, paddy fields and hills of the lush Indonesian island. Carved wooden panels give the room the charm of a traditional Indonesian home, while the contemporary furnishings including a four-poster bed, sunken bath tub, outdoor shower and a private pool, make it the ultimate luxury jungle escape.

Prices start from £191 per night based on two people sharing.

4. ITC Maurya, New Delhi, India

ITC Maurya, New Delhi, India

Nestled in greenery, in the heart of Delhi’s diplomatic corridor, ITC Maurya is the city’s premier luxury hotel (President Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton have all stayed at the hotel). The Luxury Suite offers breathtaking views of Delhi’s green ridge, and blends grandeur and exemplary hospitality soaked in Indian traditions. The hotel is also home to Bukhara, one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, where guests can experience authentic North-West Indian cuisine in a traditional and rustic setting.

Prices start from £254 per night based on two people sharing.

5. Beachspoke, Blackmoon, Cornwall, UK

Beachspoke, Blackmoon, Cornwall, UK

Ever dreamed about lying in a super king sized custom made bed whilst watching the sun set or rise over the ocean? At Black Moon, that’s exactly what guests can do. With the bedroom separated from the living room by a huge sliding mirrored wall, guests can enjoy truly spectacular coastal views towards Gwithian lighthouse. A striking one-bedroom property, Black Moon transforms the ubiquitous luxury cottage into a private hideaway.

Prices start from £200 per night based on two people sharing.

6. Blue Chip Holidays, Laburnham, Cornwall, UK

Blue Chip Holidays, Laburnham, Cornwall, UK

Perched at the top of Tregonhawke Cliff on the south coast of Cornwall, Laburnham is a secluded one-bedroom lodge that boasts 60 miles of uninterrupted panoramic sea views. Laburnham has an open plan living space, kitchen and dining area that opens up to the private clifftop garden, and a master bedroom that opens onto a decking area that overlooks the glistening sea. Stunning sea views and fresh sea air make this cosy British bolthole the ultimate Cliffside retreat.

Blue Chip Holidays offers three nights at the Laburnham from £488 on a self-catering basis.

7. Forest Domes, Finn Lough Resort, Northern Ireland

Forest Domes, Finn Lough Resort, Northern Ireland

Set within the woods on the banks of Lough Erne, the bespoke Stargazing Forest Domes atFinn Lough Resort allow guests to escape the noise of the outside world and enjoy stargazing in solitude. The new forest domes feature 180-degree transparent walls and roof, and include luxurious creature comforts, such as a four-poster bed, waterfall shower, under floor heating, fluffy robe and slippers, and daily breakfast. Accessed by a short walk or drive through the forest or aboard a boat or pedal Hobie via Lough Erne, guests can immerse themselves in nature and watch the changes in the night sky around them.

Prices start from £175 per night including breakfast, based on two people sharing.

8. Le Sirenuse, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Le Sirenuse, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean, fifty kilometers from Naples, Le Sirenuse is the most stunning and iconic hotel on the Amalfi coast (and discreetly plays host to A-list celebrities). The rooms and suites retain the personal touches of a private residence and offer dramatic views over the bay of Positano. Standing 70 metres above the sea, the rooms are an unbeatable oasis of peace and silence, with breathtaking views.

Prices start from £325 per night including breakfast, based on two people sharing.

Family friendly skiing at La Plagne France

La Plagne, in the Tarentaise Valley of the French Alps, is probably the world’s most popular family friendly ski resort. Many are attracted by its vast ski area and its myriad of beginner and intermediate runs and the choice of affordable apartments and villas.

The resort was born in the 1960s, with a bold new post war vision of giant Alpine complexes to provide affordable ski holidays, but these ended up no bigger than rabbit warrens amid vast acreages of linked ski slopes.

Decades later, these tiny apartments were knocked into larger units and nine satelite villages were developed. One of which is former farming village, Montchavin – my base for the duration of my stay.

In recent years La Plagne has been connected by a spectacular cable car with neighbouring Les Arcs – the Vanoise Express. It spans a valley that is 1,800m wide and 380m deep and forms the vast ski and snowboard playground marketed as Paradiski.

It sits between enormous linked ski areas – the Espace Killy (Val d’Isère-Tignes) and the Trois Vallees, which comprises resorts including Meribel and Courchevel. At its heart is the original, 45 years-old development now known as Plagne Centre.

Its great advantage was (and still is) that it allowed visitors to ski from and back to its doors. The flattish snowfield outside, the so called Front de Neige, with its cat’s cradle of lifts heading in all directions, can be so busy it gives the impression that if you sat long enough at one of its outside tables someone you know would eventually come gliding past.

Paradiski is claimed to be the world’s second biggest ski area connected by lifts. It has some 265 miles of pistes, and with more than two-thirds of its skiing over 6500 feet.

A great advantage of La Plagne is the large amount of blue rated intermediate cruising, on long and unthreatening slopes. Unthreatening, that is, on groomed powder. If you’re unlucky enough to catch them when they are hard and icy, head for steeper red or black pistes, for the easy terrain tends to attract skiers whose compulsion to bomb down exceeds their abilities.

Experts may wish to head for Roche de Mio for its 2,700m of challenging runs or the Bellecôte Glacier for black pistes and the opportunity to go off-piste.

And you can always take the cable car to Les Arcs, you don’t have to journey far to find a clutch of similarly moreish descents above Vallandry.

Skiing back to Montchavin – it lies at only around 4100 feet – can be tricky. In warm conditions I found the snow to be heavy as wet sugar. But you can always wimp out and catch the gondola down the last stretch.

The resort certainly has its charms with a lovely range of pistes and gives the impression of being a sort of Metropolis on snow that is worthy of its popularity.