10 reasons to go back to Ireland

Marco Polo’s list of ten reasons to return to the Emerald Isle – for those who could bring themselves to leave in the first place:

Ireland

1. A Guinness at O’Donoghue’s in Ireland simply tastes better than it does in Irish pubs abroad.

2. When the Irish speak English, their beautiful lilting accent is quite irresistible.

3. “Creac” is the Irish word for fun, and it is something you experience a lot in Ireland.

4. Nothing is more amusing and eye-opening than small talk with an Irish stranger.

5. The Irish weather is an inexhaustible subject, with all the potential drama of a theatre play.

6. Irish salmon, Galway oysters and Dublin Bay shrimps: simply delicious.

7. Gardens are masterpieces of nature in Ireland – and the Irish are happy to show them off.

8. Country Houses and Mansions: You can visit them or reside in them.

9. Fleadh, is a festival of traditional Irish music, which can be enjoyed in an Irish crowd.

10. Forty Shades of Green: There is nothing more relaxing than a day immersed in Ireland’s greenery.

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Ireland Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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Only in Bali

Bali, Lombok or the Gilis – the names alone conjure up images of beaches lined with palm trees, coral reefs, of rice terraces and mighty volcanoes. Surfers, divers and mountaineers will find their paradise here, while the tourist centres offer all the amenities, from five-star restaurants to oriental spas. Bali’s unique culture draws travellers from all around the world: there are very few places where so much natural beauty meets with such a charming lifestyle as here on the ‘Island of the Gods’. With Marco Polo’s insider tips you can really experience the unique culture of Bali:

Bali Marco Polo Guides

WORLD CULTURAL HERITAGE IN THE RICE FIELD

The Subak system – the irrigation concept of Bali’s rice terraces  – is characterised by democratic and egalitarian principles, as well as harmony between the spiritual world and man and nature. This cultural heritage is clearly explained in the Subak Museum in Tabanan.

GIANT LIZARDS AND DWARF DEER

The dividing line between the Asian and Austronesian primeval continents runs between Bali and Lombok and the flora and fauna of both continents mix here. You will get a particularly good impression of the unique animal and plant world in the Rinjani National Park – also possible on easy day tours; you don’t have to climb the peak straight away!

COLOURFUL PROCESSIONS

Women dressed in brightly coloured clothes balance fruit pyramids on their heads; the men beat heavy gongs: on Bali, you never know when you are going to come across a procession. The most impressive are the parades celebrating the Galungan Festival.

BETWEEN VOLCANOES AND CORAL REEFS

Something you can only experience on the Gilis – and best of all, on the small hill on Gili Trawangan: the Gunung Rijani rises up in the east at dawn and the Gunung Agung shows just how big it is in the west at sunset. In the hours in between, you can explore the fantastic underwater mountains of the coral islands.

SPICY POULTRY

The way the locals like it: the simple Lesehan Taliwang Irama Restaurant in Mataram, which is very popular with the Indonesians, serves a no frills, tasty chilli chicken.

THE BATTLE OF THE PACKETS OF RICE

During Perang Topat – which always takes place at the beginning of the rainy season in Pura Lingsar – Hindus and Muslim Sasak pelt each other with rice wrapped in palm leaves. The so-called ‘Rice Cake War’ is a celebration for all those involved, no matter which religious group they belong to.

 

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Bali Marco Polo Guide

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Low Budget Brussels

Want to visit the trendy city of Brussels without spending a fortune? Here are Marco Polo’s top tips for exploring the city on a budget:

Marco Polo Brussels Pocket Guide

Sightseeing

A free lift will take you into the heart of the Marolles quarter, which was once a staunch working-class part of the city but is now slowly becoming gentrified. The panoramic view of the sunset from the Palais de Justice is spectacular. The huge domed hall is open to the public with no charge on weekdays but the view from the glass lift over the Marolles quarter is always free.

There is no admission charge for the Musée Royale de l’Armée et d’Histoire Militaire (The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History) in the Parc du Cinquantenaire. The Triumphal Arch is only a few yards from here too; it costs nothing to go up and there’s a great view from the top. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 9am – 4.30pm.

Step inside the Royal Palace as soon as the king goes away at the end of July; you can be a fly on the wall in his palace without having to pay an admission charge. Make sure that you include the Mirror Room in your tour of the palace! End July–early Sept (subject to when the king is in residence) daily 9.30am – 4pm | Admission free | Place des Palais | Metro 2, 6: Trône

Food and Drink

The cool and stylish Café National in the Théâtre National serves an oriental buffet at lunchtime for 10 euros. Open Mon to Fri, noon – 2pm | Boulevard Jacqmain 111–115

Cheap and cheerful options in Brussels are the soup bars such as the Bio Lounge, which also serve sandwiches. A bowl of soup costs between 3 and 6 euros. Open Mon to Fri, noon – 4pm | Rue de l’Enseignement 116–120

Le Petit Canon is a fashionable wine bar, which also serves beer, cocktails and spirits. It has tasty nibbles and hearty daily specials on offer too. Closed Sun | Rue Lesbroussart 91 | Tel. 0 26 40 38 34 | Tram 81: Dautzenberg

Shopping

In May/June and September/October Brussels is gripped by clearance fever. People are keen to sell off their odds and ends for bargain prices at the atmospheric braderies (markets). See the MAD supplement of the daily newspaper for full listings.

Buy cheap branded clothing from the previous season at DOD. Look out for special deals in the sales in July and January as well. DOD Homme | Rue du Bailli 81–85 | DOD Femme | Rue du Bailli 64 | DOD Kids | Rue du Bailli 8

Entertainment

The Grand Place − the finest theatre in the world − is regularly turned into an open-air arena for free chanson (any lyric-driven French song), jazz, rock and pop concerts and also sometimes for classical music concerts. You can even save yourself the price of a concert ticket as performances are occasionally broadcast simultaneously on large outdoor screens.

Arsène 50 sells tickets at half price for same-day performances in over 100 theatres and venues. Open Tue to Sat, 12.30pm–5.30pm | Cinéma Arenberg | Galerie de la Reine 26 and Flagey | Place Sainte-Croix

Every year during July and August, the canal in Bruxelles les Bains becomes a popular urban beach. You can sunbathe, play beach volleyball, join in pilates classes or dance to live bands playing everything from electro to soul. And the best thing about it − everything is free!

Accommodation 

Sleep Well: A modern hostel in the city centre with no upper age limit or curfew. There is a bar and regular live music. 42 twin rooms from 30 euros | Rue du Damier 23 | Tel. 0 22 18 50 50 | www.sleepwell.be/en | Metro: Rogier

Beverly Hills Hotel: A very comfortable, post-modern-style establishment in the elegant shopping area. It has a good fitness suite as well as a sauna and jacuzzi. 33 rooms | Rue du Prince Royal 71 | Tel. 0 25 13 22 22 |www.hotelbeverlyhills.be | Metro 2, 6: Louise

Hotel Derby: A nice hotel with simple rooms situated only a short distance from the Parc du Cinquantenaire. 27 rooms | Av. de Tervueren 24 | Tel. 0 27 33 08 19 | Metro 1, 5: Merode

» Read more about Brussels

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Brussels Marco Polo Guide

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10 reasons to go back to Amsterdam

Who doesn’t love Amsterdam? The canals, the history, the gezelligheid – why leave at all! Here are Marco Polo’s 10 reasons to go back to Amsterdam:

Amsterdam Marco Polo Guide

1. The canals are lovely in all season – in the summer sunshine or festively lit in winter.

2. In no other city is cycling so natural and so pleasant.

3. Dutch matjes herrings are tasty treats that just melt in your mouth and smack of the sea.

4. The Rijksmuseum is so large that you will discover new artworks every time you visit.

5. The countless small shops in the old town offer endless possibilities for rummaging.

6. Amsterdammers are friendly, open-minded and incredibly laid back.

7. It takes some time to eat your way through the cuisines from 55 different nations.

8. Time and time again, you can experience the gezelligheid of the brown cafés.

9. The beaches near the city and the Ijsselmeer coast lie waiting for you to discover them.

10 . The sound of the Westerkerk’s carillon will warm the cockles of your heart whenever you hear its chimes.

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Amsterdam Marco Polo Guide

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That Florence Feeling

Find out what makes the city tick, experience its unique air – just like the Florentines themselves.

Florence Marco Polo Guide

BEAUTIFUL VIEWS

A climb up the Duomo or Campanile is rewarded by a panoramic view of Florence but if this is too strenuous there are other options. You can enjoy a wonderful view of the city and the Piazza della Signoria from the rooftop terrace of the Uffizi cafe and the bar in the La Rinascente department store offers a bird’s-eye-view of the Piazza della Repubblica and a close-up of the cathedral complex. In summer you can spend Thursday evening surrounded by stunning views when visit the rooftop bar of the Hotel Minerva (Piazza di Santa Maria Novella 16; www.grandhotelminerva.com) for their aperitivo buffet.

FLEA MARKET ANTIQUES

If you are patient and keep your eyes open, you might find something of interest at one of the stalls at Florence’s flea market, the Mercato delle Pulci, on the Piazza dei Ciompi. When palazzi and villas are sold most items go to Pandolfini, Sotheby’s or Christie’s, but some fine objects do find their way to the flea market. In any case, it’s always fun to browse.

COOL RESPITE FROM SUMMER’S HEAT

On warm summer days, as in times past, Florentines travel up to Fiesole where they sit in the bars and restaurants on the tree-lined piazza and enjoy the cooler air. In July and August the beautiful Roman amphitheatre hosts popular ballet, theatre and concert performances as part of the Estate Fiesolana (Summer Festival).

STREET FOOD ALLA FIORENTINA

Dishes such as bistecca alla fiorentina may be famous but for Florentines the humble panino al lampredotto is a firm favourite. Lampredotto is tripe that has been simmered in a broth and is then tucked into a freshly sliced roll; the roll is then wrapped in a piece of grease-proof paper – and Buon appetito! The street stalls, or trippai, are usually always on the squares and street corners of the city centre. The locals know them, love them and vote for the best one every year – and it is perfectly acceptable to be caught with a tripe roll in your hand even if you are wearing your most expensive Armani outfit.

ALL THE TASTES AND SMELLS OF THE MEDITERRANEAN

The food hall of the Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo is a true culinary paradise. Here, everything is closely inspected, squeezed, turned upside down – no matter whether it be fresh fish, truffles, bistecca, Parmesan, ham, pheasant, suckling pig or fruit and vegetables. You can just take in all the sights and intoxicating aromas or, better still, taste the fare at Nerbone where the locals put their purchases down next to their bench and tuck in – just as they have been doing since 1872.

OASIS OF CALM

Retreat to the magical Boboli Gardens on a hot summer day and take a relaxing wander through its cypress avenues lined with statues, past the Casino del Cavaliere manor house and explore fanciful grottoes, splashing fountains and ornamental pools. A short visit to a spa, such as Soul Space (Via Sant’Egidio 12, 055 200 17 94; www.soulspace.it), is another good way to take a break from all the hustle and bustle of the city.

MADE IN ITALY

It need not be an entire outfit; even the tiniest little handbag from one of the top designers will delight! Via de’ Tornabuoni in the west of Florence is a prime shopping street for fashions, shoes and accessories.

COSY CORNERS

The Oltrarno has a magic all of its own with its little artisan workshops and narrow side streets. There are still some small corners that have remained untouched by tourism and the tiny Piazza della Passera is one of them. The Trattoria 4 Leoni is located on the spot where there has been a pub since 1550. Here, you can still enjoy your meal in an authentic Tuscan ambience, even though when you now eat outdoors on the piazza, modern sun awnings provide your shade.

 

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Florence Marco Polo Guide

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Only in Oslo

Looking at Oslo from the water, you can see how the city cosily nestles between green hills. Its skyline is a real mixture of all sorts with a container port on one side and a marina on the other. In between are the new opera house sparkling in the sun, massive Akershus Fortress standing proud, the square towers of the red brick city hall and the promenade Aker Brygge. The whole dynamism of the Norwegian capital is spread out in front of you: industry and leisure, culture and history, politics and pleasure. 

Let Marco Polo show you the unique experiences to be had in the Norwegian capital:

Oslo Marco Polo Guide

BEAM ME UP
The Holmenkollen ski jump curves elegantly away from the slope and forms the focal point of a magnificent ski arena which is both a major landmark and the heart of Norway’s national sport. For an unbeatable view, take the high-speed lift to the top of the tower – it’s almost as quick as the skiers speeding down the jump!

READ AND BE READ
Along with the Icelanders, the Norwegians have the greatest appetite for literature of any nation in the world and Oslo is proud of having a proper literature building, the Litteraturhuset, where readings and cultural debates are held. There is also a literature café where many guests nowadays sit with iPads in front of them.

TRADITIONAL NORWEGIAN GOURMET FARE
Apart from a large number of regular guests, inquisitive and hungry tourists also find their way to this pinnacle of perfection – Mat & Vinhus – and are rewarded with excellent Norwegian delicacies such as reindeer and herring specialities.

MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT IN THE PARK
Join the locals in Frogner Park and party the ‘white night’ through ’til dawn in the middle of the city to the sound of the chink of glasses and strumming of guitars. People crowd around the Monolith in Vigeland Sculpture Park to catch a glimpse of the sunset.

THROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD
Child-friendly Oslo even has a Museum for International Children’s Art with a wide variety of shapes and colours depicting how children see the world. And children can join in everything too – while adults are only allowed to watch.

HERR NILSEN SETS THE TONE
Oslo is a bastion of jazz and the jazz club Herr Nilsen is at its very heart. Here you can listen to traditional jazz played live almost every evening. During the breaks, many pints are downed… along with memories.

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Oslo Marco Polo Guide

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Top 10 things to do in Lisbon

Lisbon charms its visitors with her numerous museums and cafes. With Marco Polo’s Top 10 list you won’t miss any of Lisbon’s best sights!

Lisbon Marco Polo Guides

Photo credit: Tim Kelly

1. MOSTEIRO DOS JERÓNIMOS
This magnificent building, financed with gold from the colonies, is a symbol of Portugal’s Golden Age. It’s the most popular tourist attraction in the country.

2. ALFAMA
This former Moorish medina was largely spared by the terrible earthquake of 1755. Dive into its picturesque alleyways until the sounds of fado fill the night air.

3. MUSEU NACIONAL DO AZULEJO
The history of this uniquely Portuguese art form is told in a beautiful convent. There’s no metro station nearby, so it’s never overcrowded.

4.  BAIXA
The lower part of town and the centre of Lisbon. Climb the triumphal arch on the Praça do Comércio to get an overview of its chessboard layout.

Marco Polo Guides Lisbon Largo Trindade Coelho

Photo credit: Tim Kelly

5. ROSSIO
The heart of the city. The wave patterns in the cobblestones are absolutely enchanting. Grab a bica at Nicola (an art déco café), sit back and enjoy the scene.

6. PARQUE DAS NAÇÕES
Lisbon gets all futuristic at the former grounds of the World Expo. The park boasts great views and Europe’s second-largest oceanarium.

7. MUSEU NACIONAL DE ARTE ANTIGA
Admire the artistic treasures – including the apocalyptic visions of Hieronymus Bosch – before relaxing in the pretty garden café.

8. TORRE DE BELÉM
This symbol of Lisbon enchants visitors with its elaborate ornamentation. A beacon at the top once marked the entrance to the harbour.

9. CASTELO DE SÃO JORGE
This former Moorish fortress may have been restored beyond all recognition during the Salazar era, but the views from the battlements are unbeatable.

10. MUSEU CALOUSTE GULBENKIAN
A glorious treasure trove of art, collected by an Armenian oil baron who was accepted by the city of Lisbon in 1942.

 

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Lisbon Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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Eat like a local – Marrakesh

Eating out is one of Marrakesh’s big pleasures, but it pays to be both selective and organised when choosing somewhere to eat. Compared to the huge number of tourists, there are relatively few really good restaurants – about a handful in each district – so don’t expect to stumble across a good one by chance. With Marco Polo’s insider tips you will be eating like a local:

Marrakech Marco Polo Guide

GETTING A TABLE

Considering it is such a popular destination, Marrakesh dining takes some planning. The best restaurants must be booked in advance (ask your hotel receptionist, who can normally get a better table than you will if you just phone up yourself).

A HOME-COOKED MEAL

Try to eat at least once in a riad – they generally offer family-style cooking that is much better than restaurant food. Many are open to non-guests, but in all cases reservations should be made a day in advance. Many riads also offer small, casual cookery classes that are highly recommended.

KIF KIF (SAME SAME)

Set meals – usually salads, pigeon pastilla (pie), tagine, couscous and Moroccan pastries – are the only option in many Moroccan tourist restaurants. While a few of the best can be an approximation of an authentic Moroccan feast, visitors frequently find these set meals a drawn-out, heavy and expensive experience and few would want to eat more than one on a single trip to Marrakesh.

VEGETARIANS

Moroccan salads are a varied and vegetarian delight of super-fresh ingredients and jewel-like colours, usually served as a starter and often translated as “small plates”. As a rule though, non meat-eaters don’t have an easy time of it in the city, and even couscous au sept legumes (with seven vegetables) is often cooked with meat stock. It’s best to check with the chef rather than the waiter. As a back-up option, omelettes and pizzas can be found in many cafés and restaurants.

Photo credit: “IMG_0769” (CC BY 2.0) by Ninara via Flickr

JEMAA EL FNA: TOURIST TRAP?

Rather like London’s Leicester Square, or Times Square in New York, the main square of Jemaa El Fna is something of a tourist honeypot and tourists are fleeced every day. But eating out – particularly at the evening food stalls  where prices are very reasonable – is a quintessential Marrakesh experience. At the restaurants and cafés situated around the edge of the square, however, it is all too easy to end up with a really bad meal at a high price. Stick to the food stalls in the square or follow the recommendations in this guide, some of which, as described, should be visited for their views as much as the food.

TIME FOR A TIPPLE

As there are very few places in the Medina to enjoy an alcoholic drink, make the most of your riad (if it has a drinks licence) with a pre-dinner cocktail on the rooftop, or a nightcap afterwards. Alternatively, many of the restaurants (but none of the pavement cafés around Jemaa El Fna) have a drinks licence – so relax with a drink there rather than trying to find one of the few bars.

DINNER AND SHOW

In Marrakesh, eating and entertainment are closely entwined. Locals stepping out to sample the delights of the food stalls on Jemaa El Fna also enjoy the spectacle of street entertainers at the same time. Similarly, in many of the traditional tourist restaurants, a show is put on for the diners’ delectation. You can expect such acts as local Gnawa musicians and belly dancers giving performances with varying degrees of eroticism. Though apparently free, you are, of course, paying for the show in the price of your meal. Tips are also welcome.

MONEY MATTERS

  • Eating out in Marrakesh restaurants can easily be as expensive as back home, especially if you drink wine, beer or spirits with your meal.
  • The food stalls in Jemaa El Fna provide real atmosphere. Not only is the food here some of the best you’ll find in the city, it is also, quite literally, as cheap as chips. Nevertheless, ask for the price in advance.
  • Leave a tip of 10 to 15 per cent in bars and cafés. Waiters rely on tips.

A COURSE IN MOROCCAN COOKERY

Get a real taste of local culture and cuisine on a one-day cookery course. They usually include a visit to the spice market and you get to eat your creation afterwards.

  • Jnane Tamsna: One-day courses are tailored to individual needs.
  • Enjoy a private cooking lesson in the riad kitchen, and eat what you have prepared in the beautiful garden, filled with herbs, flowers and vegetables.
  • La Maison Arabe: One-day cooking workshops are held in the gardens of a villa just outside the city. Small groups and lots of inspiration.
  • Souk Cuisine: One-day courses are provided for a reasonable price including lunch and wine. Week-long culinary courses are also available.

THE CREDIT CRUNCH

Just because a restaurant displays the symbols of international credit cards on its door doesn’t mean you can actually pay with them. It is a good idea to carry some cash just in case the presentation of your card is met with a slow shaking of the head. Morocco has a large cash economy and most businesses try to put as little through their books as possible. Many establishments – even upmarket ones (and this applies to hotels too) will often claim that their credit card machine is not working. If you are prepared to hold your ground and wait patiently, you may find that eventually the “problem” is solved.

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Marrakesh Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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That Mallorca Feeling

Experience the island’s unique flair and find out what makes it tick – just like the Mallorcans themselves.

Mallorca Marco Polo Guide

GET UNDERWAY IN A KAYAK

Exploring Mallorca from the sea is something Mallorcans and their guests love to do. Mon d’Aventura organizes fabulous accompanied kayak trips in the north (http://mondaventura.com). You start from a beach at the wonderful coast town of Cala Sant Vicenç with the gleaming sea and spectacular cliffs of the Formentor Peninsula in front of you. Depending on the sea conditions, you may even be able to travel through a small cave in the cliffs. What an experience, in harmony with nature!

SEA SALT ON YOUR SKIN…

Not just for holidaymakers – the Mallorcans also love their beaches and like to mingle with the crowds and feel salt on their skin. One of the most popular spots is the unspoiled sandy beach that stretches for miles at Es Trenc in the south.

… AND ON YOUR PLATE

There is not only lots of sand, but also lots of sea salt, right at Mallorca’s doorstep. The mountains of salt, which can be seen from afar in the south of the island, point the way to the Salines d’Es Trenc. You can buy high-quality flor de sal – also flavoured with herbs or hibiscus flowers – in the shop. There is even a quaint vending machine for fine and coarse salt. And, if you want to find out more about how salt is harvested, you can take a tour of the salt works.

MARKETS

The pigs in their pens are a clear indication and so are the chicks and ducks in their cages: although there are many tourists and it is very crowded at the market in Sineu, the animals are quite clearly the main interest of the locals. They enjoy shopping at the markets just as much as the tourists do. Fruit, vegetables, cheese, sausages and more… maybe even a sow.

EXCURSION TO SA DRAGONERA

Admittedly, not all Mallorcans know the “dragon island”, off the west coast, by experience, but those who have visited it gladly pass on the tip. The protected park’s hiking trails of the offer spectacular views of the coast. And “dragons” even cross your path – miniature ones in the form of Balearic lizards – and there are lots of them, the visitors’ centre estimates that there are two lizards per square metre.

SEASIDE PROMENADE

Mallorcans love going for a stroll. One of the loveliest promenades, in the holiday resort Colònia de Sant Jordi, runs almost entirely along the coast: from the small Marqués beach to the harbour, past tiny promontories, miniature bays, rocky outcrops, villas, hotels and a black-and-white striped lighthouse. The path is around 2km (1 mile) long and along the way there are wonderful views of the sea as far as the Cabrera archipelago. Unfortunately, there is not much shade so it is best to take this stroll in the early morning or evening.

AUTHENTIC FISHING HARBOUR

Cala Figuera is an idyllic spot: a narrow fjord-like bay that ends at a wonderfully romantic harbour. Boats of all shapes and sizes bob up and down in the cove and a narrow footpath winds its way past whitewashed cottages and traditional fishing huts – unique!

FIESTA FUN

The Mallorcans really know how to enjoy life to the full. Mock “battles” between Christians and Moors (Moros y Cristianos), are popular enactments of historical events and are characteristic of festivals like the one in Sóller (in May) and in Pollença (in August). And, there are plenty of other opportunities for the locals and tourists to celebrate. The beloved figures Gegants i Capgrossos (“giant and big-heads”) are a highlight of several festivities on the island.

 

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Mallorca Marco Polo Guide

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10 reasons to go back to Thailand

Thailand remains one of our ultimate favourite travel destinations. The food, the culture, the people, the beauty of it all – really, the only reason to leave Thailand is so you can return! Here is Marco Polo’s list of ten reasons to go back to Thailand, or visit for the first time if you haven’t already:

Thailand Marco Polo Guide

1.  Life is too short not to come back to Thailand, the most beautiful country in the world.

2. The brochures call it a slice of heaven on earth – and they’re right!

3. Spend your summers in Europe and escape the winter by heading to Thailand.

4. What more could you want than two oceans boasting 3,000 km of tropical coast.

5. Thailand is so cheap that you can still have incredible experiences on a budget.

6. With museums, events and over 25,000 temples, you’ll never run out of things to do.

7. Showing consideration for other peoples’ feelings is a fundamental cornerstone of Thai society.

8. Thailand has the best curries to be found anywhere in the world.

9. You won’t fail to notice that sanuk joie de vivre – is a vital element of Thai life.

10. When you visit the “Land of Smiles” you’ll feel welcome from the first minute to the last.

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Thailand Marco Polo Guide

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