Zakopane, Poland

“Home is where the heart is, no matter how the heart lives”

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The saying goes; some of the best things in life are free. But is that true?
Does cost determine our happiness, or is it just an added byproduct of the overall experience?
Is our judgement on whether something is either good or bad considering expenditure?
I think not many would disagree that the answer to that is yes. We all do it. More than likely people have become accustomed to think in that way, especially in a world where the language of money speaks. Price it seems is a pivotal factor in our decision making.
This then produces further questions…
Does price correlate to better quality, experiences, or products?
Is a designer £1,000 suit that much better than a £100 one?
Are budget holidays or cheaper destinations not as fulfilling as those which require a bigger down payment?
When it comes to world locations I would argue expenditure quite often doesn’t follow the normal pattern, with a little mountain city hidden away in the southern part of Poland proving the point perfectly.

Zakopane, the winter capital of Poland; a hidden gem of a destination nestled amongst the stunning Tatra Mountain range, for so long a mystery to those from outside Polish lands. Famous in its homeland, yet barely heard of by the rest of the world, this magical destination has everything you could desire whether you’re a winter wanderer or summer explorer. Poland’s stock is however on the rise, stylish historical cities such as Krakow are now common go-to destinations, and not just for the typical drunken weekends away. Krakow (an incredible city by its own account) is only a two hour drive from our Narnia like location, and with more and more tourists flocking to the area Poland’s best kept secret is quickly being let out of the bag.

Many people’s incorrect image of the country is that of industry, and a grey gritty environment. Due to this it has quite often been overlooked as a place to visit, as most could never envisage that Poland could in fact contain cities full of character, and vividly colourful countryside. Tell people you’re going skiing there and watch for the bewilderment spread across the face…
“Poland… Do they even have mountains?!”
Oh yes, they most certainly do and it is a joy to behold.

With mountains, like the inevitable turning of time always comes one thing… Snow, and whether it’s seasonal or all year round it subsequently attracts those who enjoy partaking in wintertime activities.
The popularity of skiing holidays has been on the rise for quite some time, and it’s clear that it is no longer exclusively held by those with wealth. Of course ski holidays still have the potential to be excessive when it comes to price. The famous resorts across Europe such as in France or even further a field like America and Canada need huge sums of money just in travel costs alone, and that’s without taking into account the costs of equipment hire, lift passes, and ski related expenditure. With this has come the emergence of up and coming resorts; places not normally thought of as ski locations, hidden away by locals not keen on sharing the goods with those from outside. However, to say Zakopane is an “up and coming” ski spot does it a monumental injustice.
Our Polish masterpiece has always had the goods so to speak. They didn’t just randomly appear overnight. Zakopane has been developing its ski experience now for twenty odd years to bring it up to the modern day standards of its European neighbours. Year by year more money is pumped into a growing industry improving at an exponential rate with the expansion of resorts, improved experiences, and a more user friendly environment for those not of Polish decent, and although prices have naturally started to creep up Zakopane is still vastly cheaper than the majority of ski resorts around the world.

Okay, so it’s a good destination if you’re trying to save the pennies, but that doesn’t make it special does it?
In relation to skiing Zakopane provides for all abilities, and has numerous resorts to mix things up with. Most however are on the small side, and unless you are a beginner or only fancy popping the skis on for a short amount of time, they aren’t really worth your while. That’s not to say they are bad, just lacking in challenge and variety. Two areas do break that mould though, and quite rightly deserve recognition.

For those who range in abilities, and fancy a resort which provides for everyone; families, groups, advanced skiers, young and old, or the one who just prefers to sit in the bar drinking mulled wine, then Bialka Tatrzanska is for you. By far the largest resort in the area, Bialka has it all; large ski areas including baby slopes, a mixture of blue and red runs, a ski park, and importantly some heated chair lifts (for those days where you can’t feel your backside). But it doesn’t stop there. The resort which has expanded at rapid rate on a yearly basis also boasts its very own thermal baths, Terma Bania. Large in size the natural geothermically heated pools which are surrounded by snow allow for those achy muscles to be soothed and extremities to be defrosted after a tough day on the slopes.

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For those looking for something much more advanced then Zakopane can be limited, however Kasprowy Wierch a mountain in the heart of the city offers an authentic challenge for seasoned skiers and snowboarders alike. Based in the national park this all natural resort is untouched from almost all development. Protective laws ensure that future expansion is unlikely, resorting in slopes catering solely for those high in ability. As unfortunate as this is for families and typical holiday makers wanting a huge commercial resort carved out of the mountain side, it does give a unique experience for the real ski enthusiasts.
As well as the designated black runs, Kasprowy provides acres upon acres of varied off-piste landscape just waiting to be explored. Although, it is worth noting that due to the laws protecting the land it isn’t strictly speaking legal, and if caught by a park guide a fine will usually be imposed. This law however doesn’t seem to be applied to the local community quite as stringently. Unsurprisingly it’s quite a contested issue. If venturing off into the wild the best advice would be to attach yourself to a local guide or experienced skier, who not only will be able to protect you from falling foul of the laws, but with their extensive knowledge of the area will enhance the ski adventures for all involved.

When speaking of those who know the area like the back of their hand, there are none better than that of Addventure Tours who specialise in vacations to Zakopane. Highly professional in all manners of work this multi-diverse team provides the best all-round holiday experience for those venturing to the Malopolska region. Their expertise in winter vacations, snow-sport instruction, and the local surroundings are only matched by their unique personalised touch which they consistently produce for guests. Tailor-made packages to suit the individual needs and demands of travellers make a trip to an almost unknown destination super easy and enjoyable.
In the total absence of hassle those visiting are free to experience this winter wonderland at its finest, whilst the professionals work hard at optimising the experience. Not only are the packages specifically designed, but also include all-inclusive offers thus allowing almost all parts of the trip to be covered and organised for you. As a location which is still quite raw and uncut this is highly advisable, only enhancing the vacation. Although experts in the winter field Addventure Tours also offer summer travel packages, which range from activity sports to hiking trips in a market which has just as much to offer in the sunny season as it does in the winter.

Once the snow has melted from the peaks, and all the wildlife thawed out Zakopane starts to bloom. From the spring through to the autumn the whole outlook of this mountainous region changes completely, and not for the worst. Almost unrecognisable in parts it’s like the fashion model who has ditched the giant sweater and boots for a more scantily clad crop-top and mini-skirt. Stunning in appearance yet different on the surface, it is however undeniably indistinguishable at its very core; still very much Zakopane despite its interchangeable looks and manner.
With the change in the weather (which throughout the summer months can be rather tumultuous) comes the ability to explore a more open and expansive landscape. With numerous scenic spots it’s a nature lovers dream come to true. Hikers are treated to such jaunts as the valley of five lakes which includes the mystical Morski Oko, or mountain hikes up iconic cliffs like Giewont and Rysy. Even for those inexperienced walkers there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy Zakopane’s natural beauty. Gubalowka, a famous hill overlooking the centre provides a truly wonderful viewpoint of the city and its extraordinary backdrop, while Kasprowy and the national park both of which synonymous with the area offer an escape from the outside world.

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Talking of famous landmarks there is none more illustrious than that of the central high street, Krupowki. Around two kilometres in length this long cobbled strip is what everything in Zakopane revolves around. From shops to bars and hotels to restaurants it has it all… As traditional as it is iconic, this is no ordinary high street. As many quality food and drinking establishments as there are located off Krupowki one roof top café by the name of Tygodnik sets the bar the highest, and most certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. So unassuming and hidden away from outside, it can quite easily be missed.
Horse drawn carts line the paths whilst locals in highlander attire converse amongst a setting so picturesque it could quite easily pop out of a postcard. During the cold chill of winter log fires blaze and crackle through the windows, illuminating the snow covered avenue. Whereas in summer as flowers flourish and the walkways bristle into life, everything expands outwards covering the street in a unique atmospheric vibrancy.

Due to the scenic surroundings come snow or come sunshine Zakopane has become an idyllic location for those wishing to tie-the-knot. Although weddings in the region seem to follow the customary pattern of mainly being undertaken by locals, there is a niche market developing giving opportune moments for those from the wider community. KC Love Stories are an independent wedding planner from the area specialising in bringing people’s dreams into reality, making that all important day splendidly exclusive. Covering all bases they really go that extra mile for loved up couples and their close ones, ensuring it will be a time not short-lived in anyone’s memory.
Whether it be a wedding set amongst pristine snowy surroundings, or on a warm summers evening as the sun sets behind the rugged Tatras, how many could say they got married in such a memorable and remarkable location?
Handcrafted wooden buildings decorated in the typical highlander fashion play host to an elaborate day (and night) of celebrations… Get ready for some homemade local lemon vodka, live music, games, food in abundance, and enjoy Poland’s highlander culture in the real traditional way.

It’s the traditional feel and time-honoured ways which give Zakopane its main selling point. As with any tourist destination with the influx of more travellers arriving from further afield brings increased sums of money, developments, and inevitably the rise in prices. The expenditure and improvements shouldn’t be an issue, but the area must avoid the temptation of commercialising itself too much. To be doing so would be selling the soul of a majestic and magical destination, which must ensure at all costs to keep its historical values alive… It’s integral to the charm.
This is the reason Zakopane is so special; the rarity of finding a place which remains so enclosed within a time-warp, with a natural life almost unrecognisable for most living in the modern day world is extremely high. To visit such places nowadays is challenging, time-consuming, and usually expensive… Zakopane is none of these. In fact it is the complete opposite.
Breathe in the fresh air, and the aroma of burning wood which creates a hazy view across the city. Strap on a pair of skis or boots and explore breath-taking beauty not commonly associated with Polish lands, all for a cost that seems impossible to believe.
So do increased prices correlate to a better holiday experience?
When it comes to the charming and exquisite winter wonderland of Zakopane… It most certainly does not!

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Credits & Links:
Addventure Tours - Zakopane Holiday Specialists
KC Love Stories - Wedding & Events

Andalucían Dreaming: Part 1

“We travel not to escape life… But for life not to escape us”

From the sun soaked beaches of the Costa del Sol to the architectural wonders of such areas as Seville, Granada, and Cadiz, Andalucía is quite rightly one of Spain’s most famous regions. With history entwined within, locations which exude magic, and a climate most places could only dream about, the South of Spain is far more than what meets the eye.

The most populated of any community within the country, the territory of Andalucía is divided into eight provinces spanning two hundred and fifty square miles. A blend of cultures which have been collectively concocted together through the ages, have created a cocktail of delight. As places go it is unlikely that a more open and friendly environment will be found, that which in fact mirrors its collection of people precisely. Warm, welcoming, open-armed, and with huge hearts it’s hard not to fall in love with the community. Be that as it may the region and its people have been through terrible hardship over the years, and we’re not talking so far into its distant history.

Unsurprisingly due to its strategic geographical position as the gateway to Europe, its richness in minerals, and agricultural wealth, wars have erupted within the region for the best part of its long and violent life. Most recently, during and after the Spanish Civil War the region was one of the worst affected areas from the murderous regime of Spain’s infamous dictator Franco. In the very beginning Nationalist forces bombed and overtook working-class districts of Andalucía, proceeding to murder thousands from left-sided parties which opposed. It is appallingly estimated that a total of fifty-five thousand Andalucían locals were deliberately killed over this period.
Andalucía still holds its scars from the Franco era, with working class towns such as La Linea acting as stark reminders as to what fascism can bring. As sad as this recent history may be for the society as a whole, many remember those hardships, and it gives these amazing people an added quality. As open as they are, there is a certain degree of strength about them. Strong willed, proud, and courageous, their toughness and resilience has allowed for Andalucía to recover and prosper in astonishing fashion.

Over two articles we are going to explore ten places within the region which hold a special relevance to me. All have been chosen for many a different reason, and have a variety of points attributed to them. From the hipster shores of Tarifa, to Granada’s gastronomical brilliance it is time for you to take a trip with me across Spain’s marvellous underbelly…

Ronda

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Like a scene set straight from Lord of the Rings, this mountaintop town located just north of the city of Malaga dazzles and delights for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Picturesque, at least within Andalucía you will struggle to find a place with better visuals. A setting reminiscent to that of the elfish valleys of Rivendell, Tolkien would have been in his element.

As views go there is probably none more famous within the region than that of the Puente Nuevo; a stone bridge crossing a deep and mystical gorge, torn straight between two gigantic rock faces. A work of art, architecturally magnificent, and unlike Ronda itself huge in structure, it links the old to the new. The bridge stands tall in the backdrop of the Malaga foothills with a winding river weaving itself through the countryside, eventfully dropping an artistically inspired waterfall straight through its central archway.
There is more to Ronda than solely the Puente Nuevo however. With its beautifully cobbled streets, eighteenth century bullring, monumental viewpoints, and a real traditional taste for oxtail, its beauty is only matched by its totally chilled out ambiance. It only takes a matter of moments for the heart rate to drop, the pressure on the sinuses to release, and the stresses of life to diminish… Ronda lifts the weight of the world off those laboured shoulders almost instantaneously.

As much as there is to see in Ronda, it is the journey up via the mountainous roads which hold such a great sense of intrigue. Sharply ascending, whilst mere feet away from huge cliff face drops, it isn’t for the faint of heart. Be that as it may if you can stomach the treacherous pathways it’s worth it for the views alone. Wonderful widespread landscape as far as the eye can see, with a vast array of wildlife basks in Andalucían sunshine. The closer to the summit, the better the views become. Just like one of those journeys undertaken by Frodo and the fellowship; dangerous, but epically worthwhile.
Ronda is the star upon the top of the Christmas tree, the pearl at the bottom of the ocean, an espresso shot in the heart of Europe… Small in stature, but stupendously stunning.

Seville

How could we not include Seville, the capital and beating heart of Andalucía?
A city nicknamed ‘The Frying Pan of Europe’ for its ridiculously hot temperatures in the midst of summer. A classic footballing city divided between green and red. A city famed for its oranges and home brand marmalade, steeped in history and architecture alike… Oh and god forbid not to forget the flamboyant flamenco!
Seville truly deserves an article alone, however there are a few key things that one must see when visiting Spain’s fourth largest city.

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The first thing which strikes you as you wander around the passages of Seville is the strange resemblance to that of North Africa, especially that of Marrakech. Most of the architecture from the mosaic tiled artwork, to the courtyard fountains are almost carbon copies of Morocco. This shouldn’t really be too much of a surprise as Seville was in fact under Arabic rule during medieval times, and the influence of its culture is clear to see in beautiful artwork form. Such landmarks as the Torre del Oro which overlooks the beautiful Guadalquivir River, or La Giralda; a former minaret to the Great Mosque of Seville now transformed into the jaw-dropping cathedrals bell tower, are both fine examples of this. Never the less it is the Real Alcazar de Sevilla which basks in glory, a huge palace complex which fans of Game of Thrones might be all too familiar with.

Although the Alcazar is one of the shining lights of the city, it is another location which has also dabbled within the film industry setting Seville apart from the crowd. Surrounded by beautiful parkland the Plaza de Espana epitomises the sheer brilliance, artistry, and charm of Andalucía’s elegant capital. The crowning jewel amongst a hoard of rubies and sapphires, this congregational square is nothing short of fascinating. A design so thoughtful, that those who were tasked with its construction should be widely celebrated.
Take a breather from the blistering sunshine in one of the many individualised and handcrafted murals, exhibiting Spain’s glorious towns and cities. Gaze out upon the luscious manmade lake, fabulous fountain, and for as long as deemed necessary just absorb the infinite allure of a city unparalleled in beauty.

Cadiz

California, Cornwall, Cadiz… Apart from beginning with the letter ‘C’ what do these contrasting locations all have in common?
An abundance of beautiful beaches… A gorgeous society of people… a unique and trendy feel…
While all of the above may be correct, it isn’t the answer being looked for.
Cadiz, as with its idyllic counterparts plays host to some of the most glorious sunsets known to man. It is no real surprise that a city so picturesque in appearance, and with such naturally beautiful people would produce sundowns which could steal even the most unemotional of folks hearts.
As vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows melt across the skyline until the sphere like structure of the sun reaches its final conclusion, people gathering on the Cadiz coast are treated to a special spectacle. Just like cutting into the yolk of a fried egg, the colours spill out engulfing the dusky heavens… The wild blue yonder is no more, replaced by what can only be described as some sort of golden utopia.

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There are no better places to see a Cadiz sunset than the two main beaches in the city, both of which differ from each other immensely but can’t be separated in quality. The ridiculously long and widespread Playa Santa Maria del Mar outlines the coastline, and with its considerable amount of space has almost a never ending feel to it. Meanwhile the more sheltered Playa de la Caleta an alcove at the tip of Cadiz, holds host to a more scenic and secluded environment. With its tied-up wooden boats, and millpond waters shimmering in the sunshine it most certainly has character. However, so does this city… epitomized by probably the most famous Carnival within Spain. In the early part of the year for approximately a month, the party hits the town. The Carnaval de Cadiz which characterises itself on Andalucían irony brings current affairs to the streets, in a musically dramatized fashion. On the weekends small groups of Chririgotas in elaborate outfits, perform their own acts on every street corner. Everybody dresses up, and unlike other carnivals around Europe, instead of costumes being based around traditional fashions, the style is all about humour and fun.

What differs between Cadiz and the region itself is that although both contain astounding coastline, Cadiz is in fact a huge port city and a glorious one at that. This municipal thrives on bringing the best of both worlds to an area which contains beauty similar to Seville, a warm friendly atmosphere to match Granada, and beaches which compete if not beat those from Malaga. For those wanting a bit of everything Cadiz is the complete location by some distance. Andalucía’s answer to an all-round city will just like a summer romance completely steal the heart!

Tarifa

Andalucía’s most known unknown; a kite surfing paradise with an ocean swell as turquoise as it is translucent, and sands so golden they gleam in the midday sun. The shores of Tarifa are as hipster as they come, attracting blonde curly-haired surfers with an aroma of sea salt from as far afield as Australia and Brazil. Unsurprisingly this has created a character like no other within the region. With its subtle blend of worldwide cultures combined with Spanish life, Tarifa is the epitome of an Andalusian meeting point.

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It’s hard not to talk about Tarifa without marvelling at the coastline for which it is famed. However, with the highly popular Costa del Sol more often than not taking centre stage with those wishing to visit the south, Tarifa and its beaches are seemingly an unknown entity to most outside of kite surfing circles. Just a stones throw away the illustrious Moroccan mountains almost feel within touching distance. Soak in the exquisite Bolonia Beach recently voted one of the best beaches in Spain; Caribbeanesque, it could quite easily be mistaken for somewhere else in the world.

There’s no doubt that Tarifa caters mainly for youthful exuberance, or at least to those still young at heart. During the summer months the town is brimming with excitement. Those who visit will notice a real buzz around the place, and feel an extra energy bursting through their veins. If the day is bustling with life from crowds enjoying the Tinto de Verano and tapas, then the night is a full on celebration for no other reason than it is summer.
As the sun goes down the alcohol starts flowing, the music becomes more raucous, and the party springs into life. The narrow white washed streets become filled with boisterous activity, and due to the local bars being mostly the size of someone’s living room, the nightlife naturally spreads out onto the street. It is something which must be experienced for those travelling around Andalucía. Enjoy everything that Tarifa has to offer; from its tropical shores, to partying the night away underneath a starlit sky… This little location in the deep south may just become a new favourite stop-off.

Granada

Skiing and snow is not something commonly associated with the South of Spain. However, contrary to belief in this eastern corner of Andalucía lays a city encompassed by a mountain range well established in providing snow sport activities. The superlative Sierra Nevada produces a simply stunning backdrop to the community of Granada, a place that once again thrives on culture and history. As reoccurring as this theme may be with Andalucía’s great cities, Granada with its Moorish architecture and grand design adds a degree of wonder.
Never the less, it just doesn’t have the same allure as Seville. Nor does it have the shoreline of Cadiz… and yet there is something about Granada which makes it extra special; an appeal ultimately unique to the area, the country, and even the rest of world.

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Nowhere comes close to the atmosphere enclosed within these city walls. A centre of gastronomical excellence, a famous student city, and tourist hot spot all combine to bring an unrivalled flavour to a location like no other. A multitude of tapas bars fill the traditional streets, and provide quality to those wandering its many paths. A mixture of cultures congregate almost on a daily basis to enjoy each other’s company, the wonderful food, and the delights of a city built on friendly hospitality. Almost always full of life, daily and nightly whether it be Monday or Sunday, Granada is always on the move…
But is that all?!
Of course not…
That extra bit of special which gives Granada a twinkle in its eye is the unusual aspect ingrained within its traditions that the majority of food establishments (which are exemplary) provide a free tapas dish with every drink purchased, and we’re not just talking a pot of olives. From squid ink rice to gigantic croquetas, the tapas are top of the range and unmistakably some of the best within the region… And yet it is unbelievably totally cost free.

Granada also plays host to arguably the most famous landmark within Andalucía – The Alhambra Palace. Surrounded by magical mountains, woodland, and epical viewpoints this hilltop fortress marvels in the midst of the Sierra Nevada countryside. A palace so big it could hold within it a small town; it is one of the greatest Islamic contributions to European architecture the continent has ever seen. Attracting up to six thousand people daily, to avoid disappointment it is highly recommended booking in advance of a visit. From the Palacios Nazaries the Alhambra’s incredible centrepiece, to the pristine Generalife Gardens marvel at one of Spain’s finest masterpieces, whilst exploring the gorgeous and quite frankly delicious destination of Granada.

Marrakech, Morocco

“If I who is Deaf and blind, find life rich and interesting, how much more can you gain by the use of your five senses!” Helen Keller

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The human body with its intricacies and imperfections is undoubtedly a work of art. Like clockwork our internal components ensure we are who we are, effectively allowing us to survive. Out of the millions of bodily functions which we unconsciously perform each and every second, the brain plays a pivotal role in this well orchestrated performance. Not only this, but it has to be one of the most fascinating and mysterious organs within any living creature which graces this wonderful planet.
On this basis could you truly imagine living without senses?
Touch, smell, taste, and everything that we hear around us. As humans these are key to our beings. Isn’t it funny how a particular smell, or even a piece of music can spark a memory. Digging deep down inside of us somewhere, and churning out some forgotten emotion relating to a specific moment in time… That’s extraordinary;  An extraordinary which has inadvertently become rather ordinary, or at least somewhat expected. As a collective we generally take for granted our faculties other than sight.
This relates to travel in a major way.
When we visit places are we appreciating our destination fully, or are we just looking at what is on the surface?
Do you take in the fragrances, do you get hands on, do you close your eyes and just for a few seconds open your ears?…
Realisation for myself of how undervalued our sensory organs are came in a location which brutally attacks all the senses of the body on every level possible, from the smells to the sounds it’s an assault on human ignorance. That place is Marrakech!

Quite often mistaken for Morocco’s capital, Marrakech is situated in the shadows of the elaborate Atlas mountain range. Snow tipped desert cliffs which spread out into the surroundings provide the picture perfect backdrop to this wondrous city. Although snow resides on these mountainous ranges, the weather in Marrakech is of the opposite nature. Blisteringly hot and sunny is par for the course, so it’s important not to forget sun-cream and a shade inspired hat. Not too much of a surprise really when you’re located in the north of Africa. What might come as more of a shock though is that flights from London approximately only take three and a half hours…  That’s quicker than flying to many European destinations.
Prices for said flights can also be found at really economical rates if travelling at the right time, meaning trips can be quick and low-cost. Ideal for those looking for either short breaks or longer stints away. It gets even better, Marrakech with its historical wealth offers luxurious accommodation in abundance, and again all for a very affordable price.

The Savoy 5* Hotel

Hotels are priced accordingly as you would expect anywhere around the world, however be aware that certain larger hotels wanting to fill capacity in the off-season occasionally cut prices to an almost steal for travellers. Be that as it may, visiting Marrakech and not staying at least for one night in a riad would be a monumental mistake.
Explained to me prior as a traditional guest house, it didn’t exactly enthuse, especially with a five star hotel offering a deal so good it didn’t seem real. My partner however who had instigated the trip was insistent… Riad or nothing…  So we split the trip.
I hate to admit it but she was right.
How wrong I could of been. Riad’s are not the typical guest house we are accustomed to, with tobacco stained paper tearing off the walls, chewing gum underneath the beds, questionable decor, and hosts of the Basil Fawlty ilk. These artistically designed buildings offer privacy and luxury fit for a Prince.

Marrakech with its boisterous hustle and bustle can for the unprepared be too much to handle. Even for those who are more accustomed to its noise and sensory abuse at times need a little respite. Within the walls of the city however this isn’t particularly easy, unless you walk through the doors of a riad. Like stepping into the cupboard and appearing in Narnia, from the outside these buildings are nothing short of unassuming. Step across the threshold however and be rewarded with lavish beauty, an essence of tranquillity, and most importantly an astonishing peacefulness. It’s hard to believe that riads and Marrakech go together like a sunny day and a ice cold beer, but they surprisingly do. Once inside it’s a forgotten memory that outside those four walls of seclusion is utter madness, for within these confines there’s a feeling of almost being hidden away from the rest of civilization. You could be literally anywhere in the world and have the sense that not a soul would discover where your body lies resting.  It’s about balancing the crazy with the subdued. The hectic with the relaxed. The hot with the cold, and Marrakech does that incredibly well.

Sat above the Jemaa El Fna watching out upon the Medina’s local melting pot of society, an area of congregation, food, and entertainment is a prime example of how to see Marrakech’s two worlds roll into one. From a perch above this historical square, it all manages to look so calm and picturesque. On the contrary, down below is anything but calm. It is chaotic, seemingly unorganised and enough to make the most placid of people edgy and tense. From the snake charmers and monkey handlers, to those trying to sell you orange juice or some local merchandise, you’re attacked from all angles without a moments respite. So much so you’re unable to breathe or think straight at times. It is effectively like entering a claustrophobic persons worst nightmare. Hassled and harangued quite literally with every step, the blonde hair blue eyed foreigner stands out like a sore thumb, and like ants to honey is honed in on by the hoards within a blink-of-an-eye. Fight your way through all this however and it’s quite a spectacle, especially as dusk descends in the shadow of the exquisite Koutoubia Mosque… Marrakech begins to bristle with life.

Like most famous central locations the Jemaa El Fna is a focal point, and a link to the majority of activity in and around the city. Marrakech is famed for its vast network of souks; local owned stores which range for miles and sell anything from hand crafted woven carpets to traditional tea sets. The streets of souks spread out from the Jemaa El Fna almost in every direction possible. Twisting and turning this way and that, tightly compacted underneath sheets to protect occupants and visitors alike from the suns scorch. It’s a maze like no other. A maze in which it’s almost impossible to guide yourself successfully through. With the vast amounts of people, and identical looking alleyways it’s inevitable to lose your bearings. This isn’t made easier by being unable to view the surroundings either. When finally finding an alleyway which breaks out into the bright outdoors again, more often than not you’ll be some distance away from where you believed yourself to be.
Once immersed amongst the souks the noises from outside drown out. Never the less within this network your senses are once again brutalised, as if being hit in the face continually for twelve rounds by Mike Tyson. This time from the indescribably pungent aromas which congregate in the vicinity.

Indescribable as they may be, these scents are distinct and a mixture of flavours. Some pleasant, and others not so much. The stench of animal meats being sold without an ideal cool climate, grabs you by the back of the throat viciously. Yet the essence of naturally made perfumes, fills the air with rose and lemon.
Meanwhile the fragrances which exude from the array of spice stalls, are really something to savour. Numerous fresh ingredients by the sack load line the paths, with the brain struggling to take in the amount of aromatic information. Whilst your brain struggles to comprehend these smells the eyes are feasted to a wonderful array of colours. Bright reds and yellows from such spices as turmeric and paprika, both extravagant and exquisite give life to the area. The souks are the true heart of Marrakech, and it is a real sensory overload.

Vibrant colour does seem to be ingrained within Moroccan lifestyle, and that is exhibited within its architecture. A trip to Marrakech without visiting some of the local palaces, gardens, and traditional buildings would be an opportunity missed. As the rhetoric continues these places feel another world away from the boisterous and full on antics associated with the city. Bahia Palace, The Saadian Tombs, El Badi Palace, Menara Gardens, and even the Marrakech Museum all provide stunning artwork, scenery, and architecture, plus an escape from the real world.
But none as much so as the Majorelle Gardens, which are as quaint as they are exuberant. A two and a half acre botanical gardens created by French artist Jaques Majorelle over a forty year span, now open to the general public having been restored by fashion designers Yves Saint- Laurent and Pierre Berge back in the 80’s. A mixture of wildlife and stunning artistic designs, added to a chilled ambiance provides its visitors with pure beauty and relaxation whilst stimulating the body with some stunning visuals. Around every corner another surprise for the eyes to be treated to. As with everything else Marrakech, unsubtle and totally over the top, yet marvellously magical.

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Marrakech is what it is, a destination like no other. It’s almost guaranteed that the place itself is not everyone’s cup of tea. Those unable to adapt to the harassment will either internally combust, or end up never leaving the comfort and privacy of their own accommodation. Whilst those who aren’t able to fine tune their senses, will find it’s too much for the body to process.
However for those able to alter their mindset, and become more accustomed to Marrakech’s abruptness then it is something really quite special. Luxurious and peaceful in the center, combined with a raw and crazy nutshell. Two separate worlds which would usually never combine, going together hand-in-hand, almost complimenting each other perfectly. If there ever was a beautifully bipolar city, then this would be it.
Let the senses which have become so close to obsolete within a mundane lifestyle be stimulated, embracing a new culture as you do so. Engage your ears and listen to locals excitedly chatter away giving the city an almost constant buzz, or appreciate the sound of its silence. Open the eyes and really look deep into those vivid colours to find what intricate artwork lies beneath, in architecture which is difficult to be rivalled. Let the nostrils widen and extract all the aromatic information, separating the fragrances rather than letting them all break your nose at once. Taste a real Moroccan culture, with its flavoursome dishes combining sweetness and spice.
Marrakech is an attack on human ignorance via sensory overload. But my advice would be to let it… Embrace it, and come out the other side better for it. Whether you love it or you hate it, one thing is for certain, you won’t forget Marrakech in a hurry.

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Osasuna: Basque by Name, Basque by Nature

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of fight in the dog.” — Mark Twain

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Where better to start our ‘Away Days’ journey than at a team residing in the Northern Spanish city of Pamplona, a place famed for its festival of San Fermin and exquisite gastronomy. Surrounded by the remarkable landscapes of Navarra this picture perfect destination sits right on the border of Basque Country, its cultural influence abundantly clear to see. So much so in fact, that even the city has an alternative name – Iruña.
Hiding away from the limelight in this innocuous part of the world, is a true gem of a traditional football club… Loud and proud, it goes by the name of Club Atlético Osasuna.

Affectionately known as ‘Los Rojillos’ (The Reds) by the natives, Osasuna were formed back in 1920. In size and stature very moderate indeed, and involved in a Spanish set-up dominated by giants their history in terms of notable trophies is pretty much none existent. Never the less, spirited underdogs always tend to have moments to remember whether in the record-books or not, and Osasuna are no different.
Up until recently the club had been a mainstay in La Liga’s First Division, and for their size alone over-achieving the odds in many peoples eyes. However, it was between the years of 2004 and 2007 that Osasuna enjoyed a period of success many around these parts will never forget.

So near but yet so far was the story in 2005, as under the stewardship of Mexican Javier Aguirre they made it all the way to their first Spanish Cup final, only to be beaten 2-1 by the green and white of Real Betis.
Not content with this Osasuna put the disappointment behind them and proceeded to lead an all-out assault on the league the following season, pipping Seville on the final day to finish fourth. Not only was it their highest ever finish, it also gained them entrance into the most prestigious of competitions – The Champions League. Aguirre departed for the red half of Madrid a hero.
For Osasuna Champions League success was never on the cards. Never the less, they didn’t let it stop them. Dropping down into the Europa League they went on to show-up some of Europe’s elite whilst making their way to the Semi-Finals, only to come face-to-face with familiar foe Sevilla – The reigning champions, and a team still hurting from being outdone by their smaller counterparts the year before.
Osasuna fans once again dared to believe, could this be the season they finally made their mark?
It just wasn’t to be… Osasuna for all their hard work and endeavour fell at the penultimate hurdle to the eventual Andalusian winners. Although bitter in disappointment this “little” club from Pamplona had done itself proud, and even though there was no silverware to show for it, they had in fact left a very big mark on the European stage.

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Unfortunately, Osasuna were unable to replicate or build on the successes of the previous seasons, and by 2014 found themselves dropping out of the top flight. Disaster ensued, with a crisis off the pitch and on it nearly resulting in consecutive relegations. Clinging onto Second Division status at the last, and with no money in the pot, Osasuna needed to rebuild from the bottom up, and they did so by taking advantage of homegrown talent.

Based in the heart of the city and with its endless list of youth graduates appearing in its ranks over the years, you’re unlikely to find a homelier club than Osasuna.
Pamplona is a lovely mix of both Spanish and Basque lifestyles, and although has been caught up in the tumultuous affairs of yesteryear, times are changing for the better. Away from the controversial issues which have tarred the region, Basque culture identifies itself as being extremely tough, passionate, and loyal. These traits transfer themselves into Osasuna, a club which holds strong ties to the region not just in its name but in its whole ideology. On matchday the green, white, and red flag of independence outnumbers any Spanish flags on a grand scale. In reality you’re unlikely to see any Spanish flags at all inside El Sadar, apart from those congregated in the away section.
Is this because the fan base mainly associates themselves as Basque?
Potentially… But certainly the Indar Gorri, the hardcore set of fans certainly believe themselves to be. All the traits of Basque culture – the singing, the passion, and the loyalty spills out when Osasuna step out onto their hallowed turf in a spectacular show of support, not to be missed by any who endeavour to discover football from the continent.

For those more familiar with British football, the Spanish atmosphere will be a shock to the system. In the UK atmosphere tends to be built around two sets of fans bouncing off one another… It can be jovial, it can be heated, it can be competitive. Travelling the length and breadth of the land to follow your team is both time-consuming and expensive even in a smaller country, but in a larger country like Spain it takes real dedication, and with this comes smaller away followings, especially for those plying their trade in lower divisions. Spanish crowds as a collective often use the disproportionate numbers to provide a home advantage. Instead of an atmosphere based on a back and forth between opposing fans there is cauldron of home support, and although small Osasuna creates one of the best cauldron like atmospheres around.

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Every team has a section of hardcore fans which can often be the difference between success or failure. The Indar Gorri live and breathe Osasuna, and quite rightly have a reputation amongst the football community. Living up to their Basque qualities, they are both vocal and ferocious in their support of the team they call their own. From the first minute until the last constant renditions of numerous songs are carried out, creating shockwaves around the ground. Not only is it a show on its own, it’s unbelievably intimidating… No surprise then that Osasuna tend to perform much better on home soil than on their travels.
For a neutral it’s immense… Spine tingling in fact. The hairs on the back of the neck don’t just stand up, they curl over and try to find a way back into the body. Just to make things even more colosseum like, those in the crowd are spurred on by a leader at the front with a megaphone and drum. Like any General leading his army into war he sets the tone for everyone else, even when the battle is being lost.

Deriving from Basque language ‘Osasuna’ translates itself as health… The irony of this was obviously lost on someone, as one thing’s for sure supporting Osasuna is not good for anyone’s so called “health”!
Currently battling for a play-off place, they can at times be breathtakingly brilliant and utterly frustrating in the same sentence. Inconstancy has been their downfall thus far, and yet there is still hope that they might just bounce back to La Liga Santander at the first attempt.
Osasuna have built themselves on a strong defensive structure this season, conceding only 26 goals in 31 appearances, the second lowest in the division. Goals at the other end however have been at a premium, yet to say they are a defensive side wouldn’t be true at all. On the contrary, at times Osasuna which have a midfield bursting with technically gifted players, knock the ball about with consummate ease. When on form they play the game at break-neck speed, one and two-touch football, splitting defences easier than Moses divided the Red Sea, all in an arena fit for purpose.

El Sadar… What a wonderful little stadium. It may only hold just under 19,000, but that’s more than enough to create a perfect environment for supporters and players alike. Its concrete structure gives it a seasoned look without feeing decrepit, and although it does have an old-fashioned vibe about it, it has all the modernised amenities you would expect from a well-established club.
What separates this venue from many around Spain is how close you are to the action, in this respect El Sadar coincidentally replicates many British stadia. Whether or not they took the idea from there remains to be seen, but it is certainly used to the same effect. Bringing fans closer to the action is essential for a smaller club to create that atmosphere previously mentioned. In a stadium where the fans are so close that the players can feel the breath on the back of their necks, it really feels like those watching are right on top of the action… It’s intimate. This intimacy can feel like numbers are doubled from what they actually are. For away teams it can be overawing… For ‘Los Rojillos’ it can be inspiring.

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Away day travellers who want to immerse themselves into true Spanish football culture need to arrive at El Sadar early. Grabbing a few “Cañas” (small beers) with the locals, and getting involved with the pre-match buzz is a right of passage for all who visit. It’s worth mentioning that once inside the stadium no alcohol can be served. This doesn’t mean they don’t serve drinks or snacks though, just that you’ll have to make do with an ethanol free beer.
Just like in the UK, situated in the concourse are serving areas, however unlike the UK you can’t purchase anything there. Little stalls (normally opposite) sell you tickets which are then taken to the serving area to pick-up said order. Admittedly it’s a very good idea, and drastically cuts down on the build-up of queues.
For those who normally spend the weekends watching the likes of Wolverhampton, it would be a Bovril and Pie as the most typical things to indulge in, an acquired taste no doubt. Over here they also have a bit of a football delicacy, and that’s “pipas”, or sunflower seeds to you and me. If you can get the knack of getting into them (it’s harder than it looks) these salty treats can be rather addictive, and a great way of blending into the crowd without looking too much like a tourist. Especially on those eagerly awaited matches between rivals.

For those who like to experience true rivalries and everything which comes with it, then Osasuna have a few options. Although not technically based in Basque lands, the club sees its locals as the Basque teams – Alaves, Eibar, Real Sociadad, and Athletic Club Bilbao, and out of these teams it is with Bilbao they hold the fieriest of rivalries. This isn’t on location alone, this is based on heated arguments which have spanned over a number of years. In the past Bilbao have taken many a young starlet from the Navarra area, angering those from Osasuna who believe talent rightfully theirs is being poached from underneath their noses.
Surprisingly though there are two clubs which hold even greater rivalries… Real Zaragoza and Real Madrid. This has nothing to do with location, this solely revolves around politics and Basque – Spanish differences, but consequently ensures heated clashes whenever the sides meet on the pitch. For those prepared to put themselves into the midst of battle for heart-pumping entertainment, then a game versus Real Madrid must be on any to-do list.

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As a place, you are unlikely to find a destination like it. Pamplona has its mix of city-life and country-life combined in perfect harmony. It’s unique, friendly, full of culture, and up there as one of the most wonderous destinations to visit in Spain. In terms of football quite simply it isn’t about how the team are currently playing. They haven’t got superstars who will dazzle and delight like some of the other teams. What they do have however is a team bursting with homegrown talent, and a very apparent connection between both players and fans. In turn this leads to unbeatable atmospheres, with breath-taking shows of support almost always guaranteed when visiting El Sadar… One of the main reasons Osasuna’s fan base has such a feared reputation amongst many in Spain. To be honest for a city which routinely have bulls chasing locals through the streets all in the name of fun, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Osasuna with their dogged determination and attitude provide a spectacle well worth being a part of… This club although Spanish in location, is most definitely Basque by name, and Basque by nature!

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Introducing Away Days

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now!” — Paulo Coelho

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Football… What is it about the beautiful game which gets adrenaline flowing, hearts racing, and an unusual ability to turn grown men into blubbering babies?
Life as a football fan isn’t easy. In this day and age it’s expensive to follow, and more often than not a cruel sport for frayed emotions. Yet week by week we go back for more punishment, to be put through the ringer of nerves, excitement, bitter disappointment, and unparalleled joy. I know a lot of people don’t understand this. “It’s only a game” they say, but it’s not just a game is it. To us its far more important than that.
When you’ve supported a club from such an early age its engrained into your mentality and heart. It could be your hometown club, it could be a club you’ve adopted, it could be a club which has family ties, what it is not though is just a game. This is something you adore, a team you love, there’s pride at stake, and it hurts at times. Those who don’t support a team I doubt will ever understand this concept, nor grasp the type of attachment and emotion which comes with it.
Personally, I’ve never felt the desire to go and watch another team from the same country, for me it would just feel like cheating.

The vast majority of fans will never get the opportunity to follow their team around the globe, and as a huge Wolves fan over the last twenty-odd years I’ve begrudgingly come to accept this. However, with the world only getting smaller the popularity of the away day abroad which combines both travel and football, is on the rise.
I’d hazard a guess most football fans have at some point in their life idolized a foreign club, whether that be the Ajax team of the 70’s, the Barcelona of the 90’s, or Milan of the 00’s. There is also the more obscure teams which have developed a cult like status, not so much because of their success, but more to do with a brand of football, style of play, atmosphere, or even location. This is where two passions collide… Travelling the world whilst experiencing new cultures, people, and places both on the field and off it. The rigours and stresses which come with following a team not included, the loyalty to your own team not playing heavy on your heart. This isn’t like cheating on the wife, this is like going to the party with her best friend… Integrity and loyalty still intact.

For me Spanish football has always been an enticing proposition. From a young age I would watch awestruck as they showcased their flair-filled talents in the Champions League… The flamboyancy, the way they used to caress the ball around the field, the star players from Kluivert at Barcelona, to Zidane at Madrid.
Strangely enough though, it was not these two giants but in fact Valencia which really caught my eye. Canizares with that bleached blonde hair, Mendieta a Rolls Royce of a playmaker, and then that man mountain John Carew. Dressed in their white, black and orange, dishing it out to teams which visited the magnificent Mestalla.
I had images portrayed in my head. Warm sunny days, beaches, typical Spanish architecture, and the lifestyle to go with it. It appealed to my wandering mind and elaborate daydreams… Sun, sea, and football.

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It wasn’t however until the age of eleven that I first went on a proper holiday abroad – A family vacation to the Balearic island of Mallorca. You know what, it rained the entire week. Never the less it was new and interesting, and it was during this trip that due to a young lad from Cameroon who went by the name of Samuel Eto’o, I took a liking to Real Mallorca. I remember sat mesmerized as he dismantled Madrid’s defence, giving the Galacticos superstars a night they’ll never forget in front of a stunned and enraged Bernabeu… I was sold!
Unsurprisingly Eto’o outgrew the over achieving minnows, and his performances earned him a move to Catalan giants Barcelona. In turn Mallorca have unfortunately been on a downward spiral ever since, and although after his departure my interest in them started to dwindle, just for those memories alone there will always be a soft spot reserved for them.
Spain for all its big cities and even bigger clubs has some wonderful smaller hometown teams. Clubs which may be small in stature, but massive in heart and character. Many of which lie in traditional locations overflowing with culture, history and uniqueness. Locations which exude attractiveness, making them a must visit destination for travellers from afar. One such place is Pamplona, home to Osasuna and also home to my other half (who just for the record has no interest in football what-so-ever).

Having visited this wonderful city for the first time back in April of last year, and realising that El Sadar stadium is literally a stones throw away from her apartment, I began to take interest in the team I only really knew from the Championship Manager (later known as Football Manager) series.
At the beginning of the current season they were once again back in the second division, after a disastrous return to La Liga the year before.
Due to my attachments to the place and its people I began following their games, and somehow with an expert use of persuasion managed to convince my partner to take me the next time I visited Pamplona. Credit to her she upheld her promise, and it was truly an experience I will never forget. Something which was all so familiar to me in football, but at the same time all so different and new… I was hooked, and the seed had been planted. Football and travel entwined, the start of my away days bucket list had begun!…

Osasuna: Basque by Name, Basque by Nature

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10 Beaches You Must Visit When in Cornwall: Part 2

“Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it” — Confucius

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Roll up, roll up it’s time for your weekly travel fix, and after galivanting away from home in recent weeks it’s back to Cornwall for our second instalment of ‘10 Beaches you Must Visit’.
The question is what did we learn from Part 1?
Well after only five locations we’ve already gathered that Cornish beaches are as unique as they come – quirky, exclusive, secluded, rustic, relaxing, tranquil, the list could go on. From the surfer’s paradise Fistral to Lusty Glaze with its spectacular sunsets, these beaches can galvanize the imagination.
If somehow you’ve managed to skip Part 1 then you’re missing out. Go read it, five beaches including Crantock, St Ives, Pedn Vounder, and the two previously mentioned will enlighten your beach friendly mind, whilst introducing you to the world of Cornwall and its wonderful relationship with the beach. You won’t be disappointed, that’s a promise.

Okay, hopefully at this point everyone has caught up on the first five beaches?… Excellent!
So, our next contingent have a lot to live up too that’s for sure, but where better to keep producing the goods than Cornwall. Following on from Part 1 we have some seafronts capable of matching if not beating those before it, whilst blowing your mind at the same time. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but these shores will most definitely get your travellers feet itching and a beach lovers mind racing. So, without further delay lets continue our run down of ’10 Beaches you Must Visit When in Cornwall’ with Part 2 and five more dreamy locations…

Bedruthen Steps

Bedruthen Steps, most definitely the lovable rogue of the group. If beaches were celebrities this beach would be a Johnny Depp or a Tom Hardy. Rough around the edges with an attitude to match, yet somehow attractive, open, and engaging. It’s that boy your mother always used to warn you about, with that beach blonde hair and blue eyes… A heartbreaker. Biker jacket, boots, and tattoos, a wink to make the knees go weak… Trouble!
On the outlook a place which shouldn’t be appealing… But oh how it is.

Attraction is a funny thing, and in this case it’s a jaw-dropping piece of work by mother nature herself which provides the draw. A coastal path which year by year and storm by storm holds siege to natural elements intent on constantly altering its appearance. Cliffs which have more scars than a bareknuckle boxer, facing vicious onslaughts from both the ravenous waters below and wind on a warpath. The receding land literally crumbling away at your feet as you make your way around towards the top of “The Steps”. Nature’s own walkway, both sickly steep and nervously narrow which dangerously descends downwards.
Just like escaping out of your bedroom window for a secret rendezvous, a sure thing to get the pulse racing.

At the bottom of Bedruthen Steps lies a beach with jagged rockfaces, a brutal waterfront, and a scene to make your heart skip a beat. Only at low-tide can visitors reach its sandy shores, but what greets those who do is both remarkable and frightening. Huge rock formations line the beach, in no order whatsoever, whilst boulders of rubble from the crumbling cliffs litter the outskirts. This isn’t a beach for sunbathing or swimming, it’s for those who want to walk amongst monsters.
Care must be taken not only from potential falling debris, but the incoming tide which rapidly engulfs the entire beach. Get your timings wrong and you’re getting cut off.

Is it worthwhile then?
You bet it is… Secluded, dangerous, but unmistakably beautiful with its fresh golden sands. The views from above are no less impressive, and in fact show the entirety of the landscape in all its glory.
A National Trust café based near the car park at the beginning of the coastal path is also a perfect way to finish off your visit. Sit in the sun with some of the best homemade Cornish scones around, whilst washing it down with a Cornish milkshake or tea… A clotted cream kind of heaven.

“There is no real beauty without some slight imperfection” James Salter once said, and he could not have been more right. Bedruthen Steps with all its imperfections is the epitome of natural beauty. On paper not the best location, but you’ll not find too many people who’ve travelled around this monumental coastal spot and not had their breath taken away.
What we find attractive is unique to us. What is beautiful in one person’s eyes will not be so in another’s, it’s what makes life interesting. If our interests all revolved around the same things life would be… Well bluntly put, boring…
Plus, everyone loves a bad boy!

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Porthtowan

There’s something about lesser known beaches which make them that extra little bit of special. To find a spot of sandy joy which you’ve somehow stumbled across or been tipped off about brings it closer to your heart. It’s not the commercialised version, it’s not where the crowds go, it’s not the generic template… It’s unique. For me Porthtowan is that beach. Stumbled across years ago and now a personal favourite, it must be included in any trip to Cornwall.

Porthtowan, a beach which is neither big nor small, is perfectly set in a valley surrounded by dramatic hills. It is a favourite for surfers, locals and travellers alike due to its exclusivity and relaxing atmosphere. A blue flag beach, which prides itself on being exceptionally clean and inviting to all that visit. For surfers of all abilities to ride the waves here as the sun goes down should be on every bucket list.
Although you might not get the waves of larger and more popular beaches, Porthtowans pristine uncrowded ocean and views which come with it trump the lot. Plus let’s not knock the surf, it can be damn good at times.

Sat on the edge of the beach is The Blue Bar… Neither fancy nor glamorous, just a good old-fashioned surf shack. With outdoor benches, inside bay window seating, a range of local craft beers and ciders, and some real good comfort food to warm the stomach, it’s a prime spot for those who have braved the chilly evening waters… And whether you’re in a group or on your own their dirty chips are to die for.
It’s also another great beach for sunset hunters, and the Blue Bar is a faultless venue to observe a splodgy surfy sundown. A visit to Cornwall for me without an evening in the picturesque Porthtowan, with a plate of dirty chips and a Cornish Rattler, whilst watching the surfers as the sun go down just wouldn’t feel right.

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Watergate Bay

Watergate Bay, one of the best-known beaches in not only Cornwall but the whole of the UK, its reputation only matched by its size. At low-tide this beach can stretch for 2 miles long, with crisp golden sands and some huge Atlantic swell enticing surfing enthusiasts, beach lovers, and families alike. Popular doesn’t always mean better, but despite all Watergates downfalls it is extremely hard not to find it a place in your heart.

Due to its enormity, flawless appearance, and cascading waters it’s no real surprise that Watergate bay is so popular amongst tourists. There is no hiding from the fact that it’s become a touristic location, and with that evidently can come pitfalls. Amongst communities who prefer to avoid the crowds, not be extorted, and have very little interest in visiting commercialised places it divides opinion. During the summer months especially, these aspects can be repellent and deterring to those wishing to jump into the south-wests true culture.
There are however always two sides to any coin, and what for some is a total put-off is for others a big pull. Pricey Watergate may be, but with its boisterous beach bars, stylish restaurants (one of which with the Jamie Oliver name to it), a surf academy, and a five-star hotel it’s got a certain appeal for some folk. The only thing I doubt you’ll find much argument about is the astronomical cost of parking, and the battle to find a space… But I guess beggars can’t be choosers.

With all its negative press in this respect, I must point out that this only comes from being top of the class. Its like comparing Cristiano Ronaldo to a player plying their trade in the lower echelons of the football ladder. The majority of others will never receive the amount of criticism or be judged to the standard of the best players in the world, and it’s the same with Britain’s beaches. Watergate is as beaches go world-class, and for that unfortunately you have to pay, just like choosing to watch Real Madrid over Grimsby Town.

Watergate is what it is. You either love it or you don’t. Whether you do, or you don’t it can’t be denied its rightful reputation as one of the best beaches in Britain. When taking everything else out of the equation, judging it based solely on its beach qualities alone, it’s like a peacock in full bloom… Majestic. The mesmerizing sight on a summers day as the sun glistens on the tips of waves which roll through like clockwork, is enough to catch anyone’s imagination. For so many windsurfers and surfers it’s those winning combinations which make it their Cornish beach of choice.
Personally, I believe after a certain length of time outlying aspects can sometimes make you under-appreciate such a place. It’s exuberant, it has a character, it is a true Cornish wonder, and it’s not until you visit out of season (when you are literally the only soul around) that it hits you in an overwhelming fashion. A resonating moment if there ever was one, and therefore Watergate Bay is a beach you must visit when in Cornwall. Does it revel in the limelight a bit too much?
Of course it does, but at the end of the day it’s still what’s underneath that counts.

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Harlyn Bay

Like the quiet individual at a party, Harlyn bay can quite easily go unnoticed. Largely unheard about outside of Cornish travelling circles, its unassuming nature is one to be admired and enjoyed. White sands reminiscent of somewhere far more exotic than the south-coast, and an uncharacteristically calm sea lend itself to being one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole of Cornwall. If that wasn’t enough then the perfectly peaceful atmosphere which accompanies these traits make it almost too good to be true.

A beach off the beaten track which allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle of Newquay and its surrounding areas, Harlyn bay is a real breath of fresh air to stuffy sinuses. Its white sands give it a really luxury undertone, whilst its millpond like waters are ideal for bathing in on a warm sunny day. Not only is the sea the opposite of most Cornish beaches in how relatively calm it is, but its translucent beautiful blue colour is as about as enticing as any beach can get. Tranquil and unspoilt, with a touch of class and elegance.

In the height of summer, you could quite easily mistake this beach for somewhere in the southern hemisphere, it honestly has that look about it. However, what puts the final touches to this masterpiece is the thoroughly relaxing sensation you get from being here, away from everything, not a care in the world. To live a care-free existence is something many strive for but very little succeed in achieving. So, if you’re the type of person which really needs to unwind and lose yourself in the moment then this is the beach for you.

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Porth Joke (Polly Joke)

Last but by no means least a beach which cries out to those who love true beauty and nature in its original format. No fancy frills or spills – no cafes, no bars, no restaurants, no events… Nothing. In fact no basic amenities what so ever. You’re out in the wild with this one, and that’s its charm. A large proportion of other beaches are made by what’s in the vicinity, or how they’ve been developed… Not Polly Joke. If you travelled back in time I’m more than certain you wouldn’t recognise any differences between then and now.

Perfect for ramblers or travellers who enjoy to explore whilst also idyllic for those who crave picturesque seclusion, this beach is mistakenly overlooked by many who travel around the cornish coasts. The lack of amenities puts off many families with younger children, and its accessibility is probably another reason Polly Joke tends not to be high on the list of beaches to visit. A walk in the countryside around the headland from Crantock is one way of getting to Polly Joke, and although requires effort it isn’t anything most people wouldn’t be able to handle. This route also more importantly gives everyone the opportunity to admire the wonderful scenery surrounding West Pentire point along the way. If walking’s not your thing though, then a small car park half a mile inland is your only other option. Quite selfishly I don’t mind this, it leaves the beach spotless and abandoned… All the more for yourself to enjoy.

Small and quiet, however full of wonder, enjoyment, and individuality Polly Joke is no less pretty then any of the best beaches in the area. Caves, rockpools, surf and sand-dunes, with wildflowers during certain seasons, all set in a deserted cove… What more could you want?
For me, my memories of this beach (which lies only a stones throw away from Newquay and rural life) completely revolve around evening BBQs. Sat at the back of the beach in the minuscule dunes or sheltered up along the rocks, there’s nowhere better to relax with a hotdog and beer whilst partaking in a typical Cornish traveller’s tradition.
Stripped back to nothing but it’s birthday suit Polly Joke is exceptional in every way. Whether it’s your stunning girlfriend, amazing wife, or even just your friend without their makeup on, what’s underneath the mask can be far more picture perfect than what has covered it up. What you see is what you get with Polly Joke, and personally just like with my girlfriend I wouldn’t have it any other way (and no she didn’t force me to say that)… Natural attractiveness is something which is unfortunately rather undervalued these days.

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10 Beaches You Must Visit When in Cornwall: Part 1

Skiing In Soldeu, Andorra

“If size mattered then the elephant would be king of the jungle”

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Good things come in small packages my mother always used to tell me growing up, and although she was more than likely saying it to make me feel better about my shorter stature she may have had a point. Sometimes the little things in life can offer you the most. Is it not on occasions nicer to have a romantic homecooked meal and a night in front of the fire with a loved one, rather than an elaborate meal out on the town? Or how about an engagement ring, one of the smallest gifts you can find, which can bring unbridled joy to so many people. Once again like with most destination reviews there’s about to be a tedious link.
If we’re talking small, then as countries go you’re unlikely to find too many countries smaller than Andorra… A miniscule landlocked principality sandwiched in between two European powerhouses, France and Spain.

Situated in the Pyrenes with France to the North and Spain to the South, Andorra has both countries cultural influences bursting out of its seams. Although the national language is Catalan both French and Spanish are widely spoken here, which is not much of a surprise, especially as many French and Spanish nationals have made it their home over the past century. To put it into perspective of how small a country Andorra actually is though, nearby is the neighbouring city of Barcelona home to the illustrious Nou Camp. If the entire population of Andorra were to seat themselves inside this stadium, you would still be left with a staggering 22,000 spare seats (there or there abouts). A ridiculous notion if you think about it. It’s no surprise then that Andorra is the eleventh smallest country in the world in relation to population. However, in actual size it increases, mainly due to the magnificent mountainous range on which it resides.

Basically, Andorra is a country sat at the top of a mountain.
Driving in from the north through the South of France is an experience on its own. Endless vineyards line a road which arrows towards the Pyrenees, providing stunning scenery in every direction. The closer you get, the bigger that mountain range becomes. A journey which feels like you’re Frodo Baggins heading to Mt Doom (excuse the Lord of the Rings reference). I say this because from below, these mountains are both magnificent and ominous in appearance. Unlike Andorra (and myself) huge in stature, and as you get to the foot of these peaks they stand tall overlooking everything in the vicinity…
Rather like that giant kid at school who was always friendly to you, but you knew if you got on his bad side you’d probably end up head first in a dustbin.

From the bottom begins the journey to the summit along narrow winding roads, which creep up the side of these monstrous freaks of nature. If you can stomach the dangerous paths, then the views are rather special.
With clear skies, travelling up at the end of the day can provide an unforgettable experience. The sunsets which appear whilst slowly making your way up the mountain are one thing, but as the sun disappears and darkness descends there is a sight many will rarely encounter. With nothing but vast areas of land and no one else on the roads, the closer you get to the top deep white snow starts to appear around you, thousands of stars engulf the sky, and a huge gleaming moon illuminates the world. Soon you realise that with the phenomenon of no unnatural light around, and the combination of moon and snow you can see miles into the distance with light as bright as day. With a midnight blue airspace, star filled skies, a huge luminous moon, and of course the surrounding terrain covered in white stuff it’s hard not to imagine that you’ve landed on another planet.

Another planet it is not… Just one of earths great natural wonders, and with mountains come only one thing… Skiing!
Hand-in-hand with an expansive resort tourism always follows… Perfectly set, Andorra is a paradise for those in love with winter snow sports. Vallnord, Naturlandia, and Grandvalira provide three top-class areas to ski, however it is the latter which really attracts those from around the globe. Situated in the east, with 200km of splendid slopes Grandvalira is widely renowned as the largest if not the greatest ski resort in the Pyrenees. Numerous slopes ranging from steady greens, to ballsy blacks provide those of all abilities an opportunity to ski and explore a huge mountain area without concern. Challenging for those who want it, whilst extremely enjoyable for those preferring a more chilled ride.
One of the best aspects of Grandvalira is the ability to ski from area to area… Pas de la Casa, Grau Roig, El Tarter, Canillo, Encamp and of course Soldeu. Individually fantastic ski areas, and the size of many decent resorts across the world. The fact that they all join to form one massive range enables something which only certain mountains across Europe are capable of. For those who love to explore it’s perfect and lends to hours and hours of ski time and adventure.

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Boredom will not occur here, that’s a guarantee. Not only are there endless amounts of slopes to ski on, there is variety for the more advanced snow sports enthusiasts amongst us. From mogle runs to snowparks, from off-piste to slalom runs the resort is your oyster.
If however you are not of the required level to partake in these variations, then all is not lost. Grandvalira is home to a number of high profile events to tickle your entertainment taste buds, and if you’re a fan of the Winter Olympics then you have a chance of watching some of your favourite competitions live in the flesh.
March holds host to some of the best freestyle snowboarders and skiers around with Total Flight: Masters of Freestyle, a truly stunning spectacle of acrobatics and skill. Whereas in the same month for those more into speed and on snow precision there is the FIS European Alpine Ski Championship Finals. These finals are also a pre-cursor to the World Championship Finals, which will be held on the same slopes in 2019.

For those wanting a bit more than just skiing then the place can be a little limited. There are shops, museums, and quaint towns to visit, but in winter if your travelling to Andorra you’ve pretty much just got the mountains. So, if you’re after a place with a bit more sightseeing then it’s advisable to look elsewhere. However, if you do fancy a change from the daily ski there are some alternatives on offer. For adrenaline sport junkies ice karting, 4×4 snow driving, ice skating and snow-mobiling are available, and will more than likely maintain the required fix. Whereas if you’d prefer to sooth those aching muscles instead of getting your heart pumping, then a spa day in a warmer environment is just for you. Luxurious relaxation right on your doorstep. For adults and children alike, there is more than enough to keep you entertained for a winter vacation.

Grandvalira is also an ideal location for those wanting to learn. The ski school based at the resort has its own English, Spanish, and French sections, plus many more nationalitities which are represented. If you’re from one of the major European countries then you are unlikely to come here and find an instructor which doesn’t speak your native language, which is a huge bonus. It is also worth mentioning that the standards set by the Instructors are incredibly high. With the world renowned Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance (CSIA) and Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors (CASI) holding their European base here, many of their instructors opt to stay put and work for the ski school. It is widely appreciated that these instructors are some of the most reputable around, not just with their riding abilities but more importantly how they teach. This also provides a terrific location for those interested in doing a winter season, and the CSIA and CASI constantly put on courses for those wishing to improve their skiing and snowboarding. With exams regularly taking place throughout the winter, it is also an ample opportunity for those wanting to become the next generation of qualified Canadian Instructors. Either that or you can just bum it for the winter, and enjoy some fun in the sun.

Sun you say? Yes, due to its Southern European location, you have the best of both worlds. Mid-winter you get some of the best snow conditions across Europe, and in a good season you’ll see dumps of powder landing on the resort, whilst also getting a better share of the sunshine. This is ideal for those keen skiers and boarders who love the cold and the amazing conditions which come with it, mixed in with plenty of bluebird days. However not everyone is into freezing conditions and challenging terrain. So, by the time the end of the season arrives there is a great chance for those wanting to ski in a warmer climate. Younger children may also find this more enjoyable I hasten to add. Imagine being able to ski on a big resort, with minimal crowds, in temperatures where you could quite easily just wear a t-shirt. The snow conditions are still surprisingly decent apart from going slightly slushy towards the end of the day, and the season itself usually runs from the start of December to the end of April, thus giving interested parties plenty of time to decide on the period which suits them best for their trip. Andorra with its cold winters, and warmer summers has a perfectly variable climate to suit those of all needs.

Accommodation across Grandvalira also suits the needs of the many arriving to tear up the mountain. The most popular area being Soldeu with its lush hotels, apartments, bars, and of course a bit of après waiting for worn out bodies at the bottom of its slopes. It is both vibrant in character and full of life, but if that’s not your cup of tea and you prefer some peaceful seclusion then Grandvalira’s other areas can offer wonderful traditional bricklayed homestays away from all the buzz. This doesn’t mean you are further away from the chairlifts either. Each subsection has its own way to the top of the mountain, although again many like to stay in Soldeu where the main gondola is based. It really is the base for Grandvalira with the majority of things centred around it, and the après lifestyle is no different.

Drinking culture and skiing somehow go together like pineapple on a pizza (I know that’s a contentious subject, but you get my point). Whether you’re a holiday maker, an instructor, a seasonaire, or even a professional competitor everyone gets involved with the après life, from a few chilled beers to out and out parties. Admittedly after a tough old day on the slopes there’s nothing better than to grab a few beers in a relaxed environment. The thing with après skiing which differs from just popping down your local pub, is that you have a variety of people from different walks of life in the same place, all with one similar passion. The social aspect of this is like no other. Everyone socialises together, whereas back in reality they probably wouldn’t converse. Skiing brings people together and Andorra is great for this, especially because of the taxation laws meaning beer is on the cheap side.
Soldeu’s après scene is not huge, but with less places to go its allows for close knit social groups to be formed. Après bars here offer such a friendly and open atmosphere it’s hard not to fall for them. Live music, DJ’s, pool tables, events, table football, and even towards the end of the season outdoor BBQs… You name it they put on everything, resulting in a fantastic social scene. Two places which will kick start your social inauguration here are The Aspen and Fat Alberts, and the rest I’ll let you work out for yourselves!

So small it may be, but Andorra isn’t at all what it seems. With Grandvalira you have one of the largest and best ski areas across Europe, rivalling most other resorts. Yes, there’s not much else here apart from mountains, but what more do you need for a skiing holiday. Excellent quality accommodation, restaurants, bars and spas with a variety of choice to meet differing needs, along with a ski area which is hard to find fault with and you’re onto a winner.
The only downside about Andorra is its ease of access, with either having to fly into Barcelona or drive via car… but then again find me any big ski area with an airport sat on its doorstep. Prices (apart from beer) aren’t extremely cheap, but they are far cheaper than what you’ll find knocking about in France for example. Why is it then that when everyone thinks of a winter break to a big ski area in Europe, the same places always come to mind – France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy?
They are of course fantastic ski areas, and offer probably slightly more than what Andorra can, but you pay a hefty price for that, especially mid-season.
Personally I think it’s because Andorra as a country is small and unheard of. Not many people think that in such a tiny destination there could be something so elaborate and large… But there is.
Inside this small package is a magnificent mountain range, big in size and big in heart. Maybe it’s time to stop judging places from the outside, and look a bit deeper underneath the surface. Honestly, I’ve not got a bad word to say about Grandvalira or Andorra, I really haven’t. My advice to those who love to ride the white lines – take a break from routine, mix it up and try somewhere new, starting with this little gem hidden away in a land amongst giants.

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Long Weekends Away: Short and Sweet or Rushed and Stressful?

“Nothing is as far away as one minute ago”
Jim Bishop

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I realise most of my blog reviews and articles so far have been rather heavy reads, and quite substantial in substance. I understand for some this isn’t ideal reading for the daily commute, or a quick flick in the lunch break.
Well it’s time to meet the needs of the many and those too lazy to read anything more than a few paragraphs, with an article which I’ve been debating with myself for quite some time… Long weekends away, yay or nay?

Work life, family life, rising costs of living (in certain countries) are literally just a few of the stresses and time-consuming aspects life is constantly throwing at us, and it seems with our commitments life is only becoming busier on a yearly basis. So, with the general population becoming more and more bogged down by the daily struggle, the long weekend away has unsurprisingly become a popular choice for those wishing to travel.
The concept of a long weekend away basically involves a cheaper trip over 3 to 4 days which doesn’t even have to occur on a weekend. It allows travellers to get away without the worry of interrupting daily life too much. Cities, towns, villages take your pick the world’s your oyster for a short trip.
Some of these places would not be prime locations for a longer holiday either because of limited landmarks/ points of interest, or the expenditure that would entail. A long weekend away can go a long way in combatting this. For travel fanatics it enables numerous places to be visited in a shorter space of time, as not all of us are multi-millionaires who can travel around the globe 365 days of the year. Sights worth seeing can be explored and ticked off the bucket list, whilst enjoying some ‘me-time’ in the process. Even for those who are not big on exploring, the shorter trip offers a chance of some relaxation away from hectic lifestyles back home, in locations which can be both beautiful and interesting… Traveller or not, you can’t beat a change in scenery.

Short getaways are all well and good, with their nice ideas and concepts, but are they in fact more rushed and stressful than we let on?
Travelling itself can be rather time-consuming and painstaking at times, especially when jet-setting to another country. The days in which you travel are almost write-offs. However, if you neglect doing anything on these days during a short-break, then you are effectively wasting 50% of your trip.
To get around this, travel times are altered to maximise the duration. Anti-social travel hours involve a significant amount of disruption, and you can almost guarantee minimalistic hours of sleep. For the trip itself this doesn’t pose too many issues, most can power through after a few z’s on the plane. However on return to reality, the post-holiday hangover kicks in and it really is like you’ve been hit with a ton of bricks. There is most certainly an undeniable feeling that you really need another holiday to recover from this ordeal. Now add into that the travelling aspect. That wherever the destination may be you have literally got to manage your time so precisely and efficiently that you wouldn’t look out of place organising a military operation. All the sights which you want to see must be crammed in, and their can be no room for error. It can be a whirlwind of a visit, leaving you mentally and physically exhausted. It also begs the question whether on this whistle stop tour you actually had the opportunity to take everything in, and most importantly enjoy yourself. Can you really get a good vibe or feel from somewhere if you’re rushing through?

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I think you can. I’ve had many amazing long weekends away, and for all the hassle they can cause they are more than worth it. Never the less the hangover which subsequently follows can be brutal, especially with a full-on life. For those who like to explore new places these short breaks are far from relaxing, they are tiring, but also ever so rewarding. Is it a case of taking the rough with the smooth then?
I think it possibly is, albeit I’m not entirely convinced either way. I believe some destinations are better than others for the long weekend, that’s a given, but even then how can we avoid just skimming the surface. People have even started branching out into long-haul short trips which I personally can’t see the appeal of at all. At the end of the day it all boils down to whether or not you value your rest, or your desire to travel more. I’d say for me my hunger to see new places, experience new cultures, and meet new people overrides all the negatives which come with it. However, this does not mean I don’t find it stressful and rushed, I just choose the lesser of two evils… I’d rather travel like this, than not travel at all.

So here we have our very own marmite topic. Some will love short trips, others will hate them. For me I’m well and truly going to sit on the fence with this one, if anything slightly erring towards favouring them… at least for now. But here we hit full circle, and back to the original question. Long weekends away: short and sweet, or rushed and stressful… what’s your thoughts?

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Get Lost in Mykonos

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost” — J.R.R Tolkien

In an age of social media and the ‘D’ list celebrity, popular culture has seemingly been engulfed with a new craze… the world of being internet famous. Flashy lives of so called celebrities are beamed out to millions of followers from across the globe via such resources as Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and with money to be made for being popular the time of the influencer is nigh. So much so, that instead of the average individual working towards a more conventional career, a good proportion of the population now aspire to advertising unheard of teeth whitening products whilst sunning it up in the Maldives. With numerous cases of everyday people making it big, this new world is expanding at an expediential rate. Is it now more common to see people conversing in the street, or to see someone walking down it live broadcasting themselves?

Before you think I’m criticizing, let me make my tedious link. The fact is that the majority of us have engaged in the culture whether we like it or not, from middle-aged people taking selfies, to children with video channels promoting their lives to a bunch of strangers. This is the new age, and travel has somewhat become a substantial part of this modernized lifestyle in more ways than one, epitomized by the Greek Island of Mykonos.

 

Three types of people can normally be found in Mykonos… The rich, those who think they are rich, and those who wish they were rich. In the last few years Mykonos has really burst onto the scene, and become a hot spot for celebrities, wealthy people, and influencers alike. To call it a knock off Santorini would be unwarranted and untrue. However, with the common knowledge of Santorini’s blue and whitewashed houses set upon the hillside with views to match anywhere in the world, visitors have flooded the island in droves causing prices to skyrocket. This in turn has obviously resulted in people searching for alternative destinations, and unsurprisingly Mykonos with its striking resemblances and party scene has fast become the new go to destination.

Super yachts, speedboats, jet skis and even a helipad all litter the shoreline on the south coast showing just how much money Mykonos attracts. Nevertheless, having visited a few destinations where wealth is openly visible, the differences are quite clear. Although noticeably wealthy, places like Nice for example have a classy feel. The rich don’t shove it down your throat so to speak. The same can’t be said for Mykonos, which has an extravagant flavour to it. You get a real sense of people wanting to show off their wealth and flashy lifestyles in a “my boats bigger than your boat” kind of way… Wealthy but not so classy. The people here, young and old strive to live the celebrity lifestyle, and they want the world to know about it.

With the influx of vast sums of money and people willing to spend it, prices are high. More than likely these costs will continue to rise for the foreseeable future, with the popularity of the island only increasing year upon year. However, just because there is an expensive luxury undertone, doesn’t mean you can’t do Mykonos on a budget and still have a wonderful time. Bargains are there to be found, just as long as you want to find them.

Budget or no budget, inconspicuous or flashy, make no mistake Mykonos has so much to offer punters visiting the island. From electric blue oceans with intense colours reminiscent of a vivid watercolour painting, to dreamy beaches where you can whisk the day away. Yet there is no better place to start than the landmark of the island, five old fashioned windmills which stand proud as punch overlooking Mykonos Town. There are in fact sixteen of these windmills located around the town if you fancy yourself a bit of a treasure hunt, but it is the five sat upon the hill which provide Mykonos with its famous image. Cylindrical in shape, with thatched roofs, and a whitewash finish, their unique appearance is part of the charm. The mills handcrafted wooden frame which seemingly transports you back in time gives it that final antique touch.

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In my opinion it’s an absolute travesty if people don’t visit the windmills, or the town for that matter. However, if you think you’re going to take in these views in peace and quiet, maybe even get a stunning picture or two to boost the Instagram profile, then think again. With the town easily the highlight of the island, crowds understandably swarm here in their hundreds. If you’re traveling in the holiday months prepare for a horrific struggle, but even in the so called “off-peak” periods be aware that due to numerous cruises you may end up fighting for personal space. Ideally in these periods it would be worthwhile finding out when the cruises are not going to be dropping anchor in the towns port. This would ensure exploration of the wonders of the town without feeling like you’re stuck in the London Underground during rush-hour, which is a must… more for your sanity rather than anything else.

Its vital to explore the town without crowds as its quite obvious it wasn’t designed for anything more than a peaceful existence. A labyrinth of narrow streets which weave in and out of houses, shops, cafes, restaurants and much more, provide Mykonos Town with something marvellously majestic. Typical blue and whitewashed buildings surround hand painted pathways which lead you on a magical mystery tour through this wonderous destination, and oh how easy it is to get lost along the way (you will realise this is not a dreadful thing at all).
With the sun breaking through onto the white streets around you heightening the brightness, that claustrophobic effect you can feel from other mazes around the world doesn’t occur. In fact, it seems to have the opposite effect. The soothing shadows give respite from the midday scorch, whilst giving travellers a perfectly peaceful environment. Time almost becomes an illusion, appearing to grind to a halt… Life in a typical Greek stereotype completely slows down. This in turn allows you to appreciate your surroundings more. Everything from the smells and colours provided by the flamboyant flowers, to the surprises around every little corner the place just radiates. This is far from flashy, this is a work of art.

When you do decide to break-out of the time warp and find the edge of the network of passageways, just be aware you might not be where you thought you were. Wherever you do pop out though head towards the appropriately named Little Venice. You could argue that the view of the windmills from here is the best on the island, but what I doubt many could argue is you’ll find many better places to sit and watch the sun go down. Little Venice is named as you can probably imagine from its appearance. A mixture of restaurants and bars which arc around the ocean, with coastal water lapping up the sides of its walkways and buildings giving a lovely Venetian ambiance.
As the sun starts to descend, the crowds begin to gather, almost to a state of breaking-point. Of course, they are all here to see one thing. Nevertheless, arrive in plenty of time and prime location on seating will be yours. On our visit we thought ahead. Found the perfect spot from the array of outdoor seating available. No obstructed views, or potential to be fighting for space. Hey, we were two hours early, but who cares when you’ve been wandering about all day. Time to relax, get comfortable, and sink a few beers in good company…

An ideal plan if it wasn’t for the daylight robbery which takes place hither. In hindsight it was perhaps evident that there would be a major price hike due to the location and popularity, but not to this extent. I don’t think I’ve ever drank a small bottle of beer so slow my entire life, and I don’t ever intend to again.
Despite all this it’s worth it when the sun reaches horizon point. While hundreds of visitor’s jostle for a view like a mob of meerkats, you can take in the wonderful aura and scenes without a care in the world, giving you an experience you will never forget.
Meanwhile, Frederick and Channel who are sat next to you will probably be on their tenth bottle of Don Perignon, whilst telling anyone willing to listen about that time they sailed around the pacific… but who cares when you’ve got an overpriced beer and such vibrant views!

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Talking of extraordinary views and an influencers dream come true, Mykonos has one of the best viewpoints you’re likely to find… at least around Europe. Hidden away in a somewhat secluded and secretive location, resting high above the Town is the 180° Sunset Bar.
Immerse yourself into a birds-eye view, and let the sights bedazzle you. Alas, here you can see everything all the way from the port to the quintuplet of windmills. The views are spectacular, the bar is lavishly designed, and with a windmill and archway there is ample photo opportunities. If that’s not your cup of tea, just sit back and enjoy the views, it’s more than worth the sketchy trek up from the port side of the town.

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Now if you’re into your history and like to explore, then your next port of call should be… well the port. From here journey out via ferry on a thirty-minute quest to the nearby island of Delos. An uninhabited island, widely regarded as one of the most important and mythological archaeological sites in Greece. Ruins upon ruins are scattered over this dusty landscape, some well preserved, others not so much. You could wander around for hours if that’s what you wished for, although with the ferocious heat of the suns rays beaming down on you in an over-exposed location you might choose otherwise. Due to the extensive excavations the majority of the islands most impressive artefacts and structures have been removed, many of which can be found in the onsite museum.
If you are into your history and exploring unfamiliar places, then the trip is definitely worthwhile. If, however looking at old piles of rubble really isn’t your thing I’d advise you save your money, as again overpricing is apparent.

There seems to be a reoccurring theme of high-costs and overpricing, but like mentioned previously there are bargains to be found. It really is up to the individuals on how much money is spent. If you want an all-inclusive accommodation, with your own spa pool on a balcony you’re going to end up paying for it. Meanwhile self-catering apartments which overlook the sea are just down the road for extremely competitive prices. The same can be said for food. If you’re planning on fine-dining every night then you might want to take out a loan before your trip, although that could be said for numerous places around Europe. Expensive doesn’t always mean better either. Search around the variety of tavernas, read reviews, talk to people in the know. There are some real gems out there which are more than reasonable in price. Being close to the coast unsurprisingly seafood takes up a lot of the menus, nevertheless Greek salads, moussakas, pastries and other delicious traditional food are readily available. The food it has to be said is mightily impressive, but none more so than one of the cheapest edible items you can find. The pita chicken gyros’ are to die for, and no that is not an exaggeration. Not healthy, not classy or luxurious, just straight up fresh and homemade traditional Greek comfort food. If you’re in Mykonos town then set your GPS map to find a take-away restaurant by the name of Sakis, and you can thank me later!

Mykonos. It has the beaches, it has the weather, it has culture, architecture, a party scene, tranquil waters, cuisines to make your lips smack… this list could go on an on. What more could you want from a destination.
Unfortunately, with any great destination comes popularity and eventually notoriety. The ever-increasing number of people arriving on the island is somewhat of a turn off point. People who have been visiting for years believe this is only likely to keep increasing at an unsustainable rate, until Mykonos becomes overwhelmed. Local businesses are just trying to take advantage while they can, bumping prices higher and higher year upon year. My fear is eventually this place will outgrow itself. The rich and those wanting to live the celebrity lifestyle will move on to the next trendy destination, as with any popular craze there is evidently a rise and a fall. In the meantime, Mykonos will continue to grow. It is without question an idyllic destination. However, pick and choose your travel decisions wisely, none more so than your dates of travel. Avoid the crowds, extortionate fees, and the craziness which comes with it and you’ll be rewarded with heavenly relaxation and a world of exploration. That is unless you enjoy all that razzmatazz. If you get it right the potential for an unforgettable trip is high, my advice…Take your time, and go get yourself lost in Mykonos.

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10 Beaches You Must Visit When in Cornwall: Part 1

“If you don’t live life on the edge, you will never see the view”

If you don’t already know that Cornwall is one of my favourite places in the entire world, then you soon will. Year upon year I return to the place and still find I’m discovering both new and exquisite places. As a destination it has everything, in fact if you could guarantee the weather it would be one of the ultimate travel destinations… That’s not to say it isn’t mind you.

Cornwall’s beaches which attract surfers and travellers alike are a thing of beauty, and there is no doubt about that. But what makes Cornish beaches so special?
They are of course beautiful and clean, but many destinations have beaches with this quality. Cornwall has picturesque beaches in abundance, some well-known, and others not so much, but what continues to grab my imagination in an illuminating fashion is the uniqueness of each beach here. Although only separated by mere miles, the differences are substantial. Just like humans, animals, and even places, they have a personality, a soul, a character which all differ from one another… something which makes you sit up and take notice.

Like I said Cornwall is a land of exploration, which even after the many years of visiting I continue to discover. In all honesty I have merely scratched the surface, but I’m of the opinion that when in Cornwall some beaches must be visited. Remember this is not a list of the ‘10 Best Cornish Beaches’. I genuinely think that would be an impossible article, mainly down to the subjectivity and the vast number of amazing coastline spots. Unfortunately, many incredible beaches will be missed out, but this does not mean that they are not a must to see. These beaches have been chosen as they hold something special personally, with a uniqueness or quirk which has given me some inspiration to share with yourselves and others.
So, time to begin with part 1, and the first 5 beaches you must visit when in Cornwall…

 

Lusty Glaze

Situated merely a stone’s throw away from the centre of Newquay lies a beach which not only epitomizes uniqueness, but revels in it. It is a personal favourite of mine for a reason, and you’d be foolish to write it off for its location alone. So, sit back and let me persuade you as to why Lusty Glaze is the place to be, especially on one of those sunny evenings in which we relish.

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Sunsets are a thing of beauty. Watching the sun gradually diminish on its trajectory towards the horizon before eventually it is no more, leaving a vast array of colours and views in its wake is somewhat captivating.
If you, like me are also captivated by sunsets then Lusty Glaze is sure to be a new-found favourite of yours too. This small alcove sheltered away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby town centre, is in fact situated in a prime position. Summer months are lucky enough to have the sun set in almost perfect symmetry with the beach, although don’t let this put you off visiting at other points of the year. A vivid sunset can be seen all year round, you just might have to position yourself at slightly varied angles to view it. The key for Lusty Glaze is that accompanying a knockout sunset, the beach has a somewhat exclusive feel. It’s like you’re closed off from the stress of life and the outside world. Quiet, peaceful and relaxing… an ideal scenario for those wanting to watch the sun go down.

As settings go its top of the range, no doubt, but what separates it from the rest? What gives it that unique touch? What sends it from being nice to special?
Well as you wander down the steps to this small privately-owned cove, you will find at the back of the beach set up on the rocks a restaurant and bar. It certainly is unique. With a rustic feel the décor is fantastically laid out. From cosy sofas to cuddle up by a blazing log fire, to a terrace where you can watch the sun disappear whilst listening to music. It’s stupendous, and if that doesn’t convince you then let me add that the food is top notch, with service to match anywhere I’ve been before. It gets better though. Lusty Glaze throughout the year (especially summer months) holds many an event. From chilled live music on an evening, to actual concerts. They even have their own accommodation on the beach. A few select cabins (once again immaculately designed and maintained) are available for those wishing to do something slightly special… Really this beach has it all!
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 LUSTY GLAZE, LUSTY GLAZE ROAD, NEWQUAY, CORNWALL, TR7 3AE
 CONTACT - +44(01637)872444 INFO@LUSTYGLAZE.CO.UK

Fistral Beach

Well the question is how could you visit Cornwall and not go to the home of British surfing?
A huge widespread beach with scenic views and big waves ensures Fistral is not only popular amongst the surf community, but nearly all who visit. Surfing is of course a big pull for the place, and from competitive competitions including the international Boardmasters event to amateurs just looking for the thrill, it is easy to see why it is a favourite for those who like to ride the oceans ripples.

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However, there is more to Fistral than the ripcurls which hit its shoreline. Go explore and you will find the wonderful Seaspray café with its timber structure, situated above a reef like area on the southern end of the beach. Whereas on the northern side you’ll find the new and rebuilt boardwalk. Washed away by a huge storm a few years back, now improved and home to some quaint bars, restaurants and shops. Both of which offer stunning angles of the beach if you like your views.

It is quite easy to miss one of Fistral’s best kept secrets though,  unless you continue to walk around the headland from the boardwalk. Only a short distance past the iconic Headland Hotel, hidden away from the hustle and bustle, is the imaginatively named Little Fistral. The tiny beach situated in a sheltered alcove is truly a work of art, and the cherry on top of the extravagant cake that is Fistral Beach.

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FISTRAL BEACH, NEWQUAY, CORNWALL, TR7 1HY

Pedn Vounder

If you’re looking for quirky then Pedn Vounder tops the lot. Situated in the south most tip of Cornwall this beach really is a sight which cannot be missed. This may not be a list of the 10 best beaches in Cornwall, but Pedn Vounder could quite easily make it onto any list of best beaches. However, it isn’t just its beauty which make it a must visit for all those travelling around Cornwall.
I stumbled across a picture of Pedn Vounder by mere coincidence before my latest trip, and I was immediately mesmerized by it. The trip being referred to was going to be quite important, as after years of persuasion it was the first time I would be taking my Spanish partner to this wonderful area of England which I held so dear to me. I remember sending her the photo not long after expecting her to be just as in awe as myself, but instead got the response “I haven’t got the money to go to the Maldives Joe…”

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In fairness to her, on reflection it did look like the Maldives, but surely this was just some very good photography and bit of photoshop… right?

Wrong. The sea which surrounds Pedn Vounder is both clear and turquoise in colour, and wouldn’t look out of place in a brochure for the Caribbean. But something quite spectacular occurs on this tidal beach which makes it so iconic, and different to any other beach around. When the tide turns the beach is engulfed with shallow water. Shallow water which with the clearness of the ocean and the white sands underneath gives you something truly beautiful. As a spit of sand rises above the water in the centre of the beach, an almost perfect illusion of a miniature desert island appears. Mystical, magical and totally awe inspiring.

To get to the beach is a challenge on its own. After taking a lovely scenic walk through countryside fields you reach the end of the land, where begins the treacherous descent to the beach. It isn’t for the faint hearted or those who aren’t nimble of foot that’s for certain, but ensures the beach is isolated and not overly crowded.
Due to it being slightly off the beaten track it might be worth mentioning at this point that it has become a bit of a naturist hotspot, and I’ll leave it at that. However, if you are willing to risk the dangerous road down and aren’t fazed by people in their birthday suits, you will certainly reap the rewards. If you aren’t up for this though then it’s not all doom and gloom. You can either perch yourself on the cliff face above which provides a fantastic birds eye view of the beach, or alternatively visit the Minnack Theatre. Both of which provide stunning views of Pedn Vounder and its coastline from a unique perspective.

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PEDN VOUNDER, PORTHCURNO, CORNWALL, TR19 6LF

 St Ives

St Ives… That little coastal town, home to a bunch of militant seagulls. Famed for its picturesque appearance and harbour, whilst being full of quaint shops and cafes has its beach overlooked more often than not by visitors (I hasten to add that this doesn’t mean it is not appreciated). So, whether you’re just thinking of visiting, or plan on making it your base for a trip let’s have a look at why more attention should be paid to the St Ives oceanfront.

Now don’t think I’m trying to distract you from the beauties of the town or it’s harbour, these are what give this beach that extra bit of special. For Cornwall and its beaches, the majority won’t be found literally on the edge of one of the most iconic places in Britain. With so much to see and do it’s understandable that the beach itself normally takes a bit of a backseat. However with clean sands, plenty of space, and waters which are delightfully clear, you can begin to wonder how often you’ll sit on such a beach and be in the shadow of somewhere so marvellous. To coin a phrase is it better to be inside something stunning looking out upon on the rest, or to be inside the rest and look out upon something stunning?… I paraphrased there a little. But hopefully you catch my drift. The beach is absolutely made by its location, and although the best views are probably found at the end of the harbour wall where you can view across St Ives like its popping out at you from a postcard, you can’t beat getting the sand beneath your feet.

Unfortunately, St Ives does have an issue with its Seagulls, and it brings into question whether that’s why people tend to sidestep the beach. It’s a very British thing taking a packed lunch to the beach, the only difference when in Cornwall is that you should probably swap the sandwiches for pasties. St Ives is perfect for it as well, with the number of places you can pick up some award winning fresh food to snack on. However, if you do take your food to the beach, speaking from experience you will instantly regret it. These birds are far more aggressive than you will have ever encountered, and to top it off they’re not daft, hunting in packs with distraction their key tactic. Many humans take refuge scattered along the harbour wall instead of the beach, taking a chance that the buildings and vast amounts of people will provide them refuge… in this case safety in numbers does not apply. All that being said, when the tides out take a walk past all the beached boats in the harbour, and around the corner to the right and settle yourself down. On a summers day, you can bask in the sun and maybe even go for paddle in the calm crystal coloured waters away from all the crowds which cram the streets around the harbour front. You won’t regret it, just remember ditch the food and don’t feed the birds!

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 ST IVES, CORNWALL, TR26, 1LG

Crantock Beach

There’s just something about beaches which can get your imagination running, especially as a child. Whether it’s the caves, rock pools, or sand dunes it’s a place where the mind can run free, and adventures can be had. As an adult your brain obviously matures, and that expansive imagination you once had starts to unfortunately be supressed. There is however an inner child in all of us just waiting to burst out of our adulthood shells, and for me beaches can still have that effect.

I’ve been visiting Crantock since my first Cornish trip, so I’ve been able to enjoy the beach both as a child and an adult. A wide beach with acres of space, set amongst some awesome dunes, which have provided me and many other youngsters endless fun throughout the years. A natural playground which sits as a perfect backdrop to a beach which is often open to the elements. This only seems to make it more exhilarating for young ones, for adults though a wind-break might be advisable.

However, Crantocks showpiece isn’t what most would suspect, and it goes by the name of the Gannel. A river estuary which weaves its way towards the Atlantic Ocean dividing Crantock from the town of Newquay. Make your way down from the Pentire Point side amongst an array of stunning plants and trees, taking in some of the breath-taking views which come at high tide. On a sunny day its quite easy to get lost in your imagination here, with views reminiscent of a tropical rain forest cut open with a large winding river.

By the time you make it to the bottom a little ferry awaits to transport you across the waters to the beach. On the other hand when the sea is out, all that’s required to get to Crantock is a tiny footbridge and a walk across the damp sand opposite which will be drying out in the midday sun. The Gannel comes and goes at a rate of knots, constantly transforming from a tame little stream into a deep current driven river… As beautiful as it is dangerous. There is much to discover here, but it’s worth exploring and finding out these hidden treasures for yourself. It’s certainly got intrigue about it, and for those who’ve heard the “Gannel Crake” even more so. A shocking sound heard both day and night which no one has yet been able to determine the cause of. There is of course both logical and mythical explanations for this phenomenon, it just depends on where you want to let your imagination take you.

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CRANTOCK BEACH, CRANTOCK, CORNWALL, TR8 5RN

10 Beaches You Must Visit When in Cornwall: Part 2