Only in Portugal

Castles, beaches and beautiful cities. Marco Polo loves Portugal! This is our list of things you can experience only in Portugal.

Marco Polo Portugal Guide

LAND OF CASTLES
The huge number of castles dotted all over the country is astounding. One highlight is the Convento de Cristo Knights Templar castle high above Tomar. Explore the cloisters, gardens and hidden corners behind the high walls.

CINEMA AU NATUREL
Experience the wildest yet a typical aspect of the country at the Cabo da Roca. Untamed nature with steep cliffs, whipping winds and thundering waves. This is the end of Europe, you’re standing on its last throne above the Atlantic.

ROCK OF AGES
Discover the rock art of the Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Côa in the valley of the Côa river: numerous unique rock drawings by prehistoric settlers. The rock slabs appear to be teeming with horses, goats and aurochs. An impressive place, deservedly amongst the World Heritage preserved by Unesco.

TO MARKET!
Every Thursday, for market day in Barcelos, the little town turns into a buzzing open-air bazaar for the Feira. Its colourful rows of stalls offers everything – food, clothing and typical crafts – and is not even expensive. Well worth a visit even if you don’t want to buy anything

A BLESSING FOR THE MONASTERY VISITORS
Batalha boasts the Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória, once inhabited by Dominicans and one of the most impressive monastic buildings in the country, having absorbed elements of the Gothic and Manueline styles. Experience the church, the cloisters and the Unfinished Chapels.

PICTURE-PERFECT BEACH
Thanks to its privileged climate and beaches, the Algarve enjoys a reputation as an oversized sun bed. A top-notch beach is the Praia da Falésia near Albufeira, beyond which rusty-red rock walls rise – a stunning contrast to the blue Atlantic!

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Portugal Marco Polo Guide

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That Amsterdam Feeling

Amsterdam continues to draw in tourists from all over the world – and it is for a good reason! Find out what makes the city tick, experience its unique flair – just like the Amsterdammers themselves.

Amsterdam Marco Polo Guide

MULTICULTURAL LIFE AT THE MARKET

Especially on Saturday, it seems that half of Amsterdam is out shopping for fish and vegetables at the street markets – or to eat some fresh syrup waffles or crispy loempia spring rolls. The largest market with the greatest cultural mix is the Albert Cuypmarkt; things are somewhat more tranquil at Noordermarkt and on neighbouring Lindengracht. It is part of the market tradition to end the visit with a slice of apple pie and a koffie verkeerd in Café Winkel.

TEMPTING CHIPS

Crispy, hot chips with a decent portion of creamy mayonnaise wrapped in a paper cone: the very thought is enough to make your mouth start to water. The best chips in Amsterdam are served at small street stalls at the markets or at established locations. The popular Vleminckx chip shop on Voetboogstraat even offers 20 varieties of mayonnaise. As an alternative, the locals sometimes eat their frietjes with Indonesian peanut sauce but never with tomato ketchup.

AND NOW, LET’S CROSS THE IJ…

When Amsterdammers feel the need to escape from the hustle and bustle of the inner city, they just take the ferry across the IJ. The five-minute boat trip to the shore on the other side is free of charge and you are sure to enjoy the wonderful view across the water. There, you will be able to choose between a visit to the futuristic Film Museum and EYE Film Instituut (IJpromenade 1, daily 10am–1am) or a cycle tour through Nieuwendammerdijk; what was formerly a dike village is now a piece of picture-book Holland on the outskirts of town. You can pause for refreshments at the idyllic harbour café ’t Sluisje (daily from midday, Nieuwendammerdijk 297, http://www.cafehetsluisje.nl).

PROOST!

The literal translation of borreluur is “cocktail hour” and describes the period after office hours when colleagues like to get together in one of the “brown cafés” just around the corner. There, those in the convivial groups drink a beer accompanied by a couple of bitterballen – round croquettes. Quite a few of the pubs are completely full at that time and people just have to take their beer and stand outside. The Café Brandon (Keizersgracht 157) is one of the most popular watering holes because it even has its own landing stage on the canal.

CREATIVE SCENE AT THE SHIPYARDS

Amsterdam is famous for its liberal creative scene and you can immerse yourself in it when you take the twenty-minute free ferry trip from the main railway station to the NDSM-Werft. An art community has now settled where ship hulls used to be welded. There are several cafés, an urban beach and artists’ studios, and a gigantic flea market is held once a month in an old wharf warehouse. The dates of the flea market vary. (Neveritaweg 15, www.ijhallen.nl).

AN EVENING SPENT STROLLING AROUND THE CANALS

The canals, with their picturesque bridges and magnificent mansions, are very beautiful during the day. But an evening stroll also offers many rewards: hardly any of the houses have curtains and it is therefore possible to see into the well lit rooms on the lower floors. The people living there are aware of this and they have their best furniture on display there. You will see designer furnishings or high-quality antiques beneath stucco ceilings and centuries-old beams and get an insight into life along the canals.

LONG LIVE THE KING!

Collective madness is de rigueur at the annual King’s Day celebrations. Until recently Queen Beatrix was honoured but now attention is officially focused on her son Willem-Alexander on 27 April. In reality, it is all about the typical Dutch party spirit coupled with business acumen: the entire city is turned into an enormous flea market in the morning and bands perform everywhere in the afternoon. Make sure you have some cash with you to buy some trinkets and head off to the Jordaan district where the festivities are the most social.

 

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Amsterdam Marco Polo Guide

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Top 5 Easter Destinations & Marco Polo Spring Giveaway

The Easter holidays are upon us but it’s not too late to plan a quick last minute getaway! Here are Marco Polo’s top 5 Easter destinations. Read on for inspiration and find out how you can win 5 Marco Polo Guides of your choice and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera!

Paris Marco Polo Guide

Paris

April in Paris, is there anything better? We love the city of lights in any season, but spring definitely adds to its charm. Visit the beautiful parks and gardens to witness the blossoming trees and stroll through the streets along the Seine. The famed patisseries with their chocolate marvels will make your Easter egg pale in comparison. Find a spot on one of the many terraces and enjoy the Parisian café culture with a café au lait or a pre-dinner apéro. You will not be disappointed.

Paris Marco Polo Guide

For Marco Polo Paris tips, check out our other blog posts.

 

Malta Marco Polo Guide

Malta

Malta during Easter is definitely worth a visit! You can enjoy the Easter processions around the island but don’t worry, restaurants and shops will be open for business. There are also many special Easter treats to sample, such as the Kwarezimal – Lenten biscuits – and Figolli – sweet almond cakes covered in icing or chocolate.

Of course, Malta remains close to our hearts because of its beautiful landscapes and fascinating history. The good weather doesn’t hurt either, and April is perfect for exploring the sights as the temperature will be around a comfortable 20 degrees.

Malta Marco Polo Guide

For more Malta tips, check out our other blog posts.

 

Amsterdam Marco Polo Guide

Amsterdam

The Netherlands is world-famous for their tulips, and April is the best time to see them in bloom. The Dutch tulip garden Keukenhof boasts a total of 800 varieties of tulips and the garden is easily accessible by public transport. In Amsterdam, when the weather is good, the locals will take to the terraces for a glass of wine and there are plenty of spots along the canals. Watch as the locals cycle by and enjoy the beautiful spring sunshine. Later on in April the city will become the centre of the orange-mania during the annual King’s Day celebrated on 27th April.

Amsterdam Marco Polo Guide

For more Amsterdam tips, see our blog posts.

 

Tenerife Marco Polo Guide

The Canary Islands

If you are in the mood for some sunshine and warm weather, the Canary Islands are your best bet. Lounge by the pool and work on your tan, or alternatively, experience a different Easter with the locals. Religious processions are a tradition here, and a lot of effort goes into re-enacting the sometimes gruesome events of the past.

Instead of an Easter egg hunt, you can have a more adventurous hike through the beautiful landscapes and breathe in the sea air.

Tenerife Marco Polo Guide

For more Canary Island tips, see our blog posts.

 

Bird’s eye view of Rome from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican

Rome

 Rome is the ultimate Easter destination. The Vatican is a must for those who wish to attend the Catholic Easter celebrations but there are more ways to enjoy the holiday. You should note that most of the city will be closed on Easter Sunday and Monday, including shops and museums. However, many restaurants will be open and you can sample the traditional Italian Easter menus. Chocolate eggs are also available in abundance. On Easter Monday do as the Romans do and head to a park for a picnic lunch.

Rome Marco Polo Guide

For more Rome tips, see our blog posts.


 

GIVEAWAY

To celebrate Spring, Marco Polo is organising an Easter giveaway! We are giving away a set of 5 Marco Polo Guides of your choice and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera to one lucky winner, chosen at random.

GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED!

How to enter?

Simply share the story of your most memorable Easter / Spring travel moment in the comments below. You can earn more chances to win by liking our Facebook page and by following our Twitter and Instagram accounts and by letting us know in your comment that you have done so.

The competition is open from Monday 3 April 2017 until Friday 7 April 2017 at 12.00 GMT. We will contact the winner personally via email using the email address used to leave the comment so make sure to check that it is spelled correctly!

Good luck!

Terms and Conditions:

  1. The promotion is open to UK & European residents aged 18 or over, excluding employees and their immediate families of Marco Polo, its agents or anyone professionally connected with the promotion.
  2. To enter, simply comment on the blog post. Additional chances to win may be acquired by liking the Marco Polo Facebook page and by following the Marco Polo Twitter and Instagram accounts. If the entrant has done any of the mentioned actions, it should be stated in the comment.
  3. This competition will commence on 3rd April 2017 and all entries must be received by 12.00 GMT on 17 April 2017. The Promoter accepts no responsibility for any entries that are incomplete, posted late, misdirected, and incorrect, garbled or fail to reach the Promoter by the closing date for any reason. Entries via agents or third parties are invalid.
  4. No purchase necessary, however internet access is required.
  5. The Prizes: 1 x prize winner will receive 5 Marco Polo guides of their choice and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera (RRP £64.99).
  6. The prize must be taken as stated and no compensation will be payable if a winner is unable to use the prize as stated. The winner will be liable for all costs and expenses not stated relating to claiming or partaking of the prize.
  7. The promoter may substitute the prize for a prize of an equal or greater value if, for any reason the original item is unavailable.
  8. By entering, winners agree that if they win they will participate in any reasonable publicity arranged by The Promoter or its agencies.
  9. By entering the promotion entrants confirm that they have read and agree to be bound by these terms & conditions and by the decisions of the Promoter, which are final in all matters relating to the promotion. Failure to do so will result in the forfeiture of the prize. No correspondence will be entered into.
  10. The Promoter or its agencies accept no responsibility for any loss or damage suffered through acceptance of the prize.
  11. The Promoter or its agencies will not be responsible for the non-inclusion of entries as a result of technical failures or otherwise, including any such failure which is within the control of The Promoter or its agencies. Proof of submission of entry is not proof of receipt of entry.
  12. The Promoter reserves the right at its sole discretion to disqualify any person it finds to be tampering or to have tampered with the operation of the promotion or the Marco Polo website, or to be acting in violation of these terms and conditions.
  13. To the full extent permitted by law the Promoter will not accept liability for any loss, damage, injury or death arising from this promotion beyond its reasonable control. The Promoter is Marco Polo Travel Publishing, Pinewood, Chineham Business Park, Crockford Lane, Chineham, Basingstoke, RG24 8AL

Dublin in a nutshell: craic, gaelic and the shamrock

The best part of traveling must be learning about different cultures. Let Marco Polo teach you a little about the important aspects of the Irish culture:  craic, gaelic, the harp and the shamrock. It really doesn’t get more Irish than this!

Ireland

Craic

In Ireland the pub is the focus of life. It is much more than a just a place where you go to drink beer, rather it is a place that nurtures two very important elements of Irish culture: music and conversation. The importance of traditional music to the Irish (which still sounds the best when played in a pub) is well documented but even more important than the music is the conversation, as the Irish are garrulous and humorous folk. Their eloquence has not only earned them the Nobel Prize for Literature but it is also something that comes in handy every evening at the bar counter.

And where there is Irish talk there is Irish laughter and so you will often hear the word craic, which is roughly translated as ‘fun’. ‘What’s the craic?’ can mean, ‘What’s going on?’ or ‘What’s up?’ and as a question it can also be a challenge to tell an entertaining and humorous story. After a successful evening at the pub you say, ‘It was great craic!’– ‘We had a lot of fun!’

Gaelic

Tourists in Dublin often wonder how many buses drive to An Lár as there is no mention of the place in conversation and it is not even recorded on the city map. An Lár is the Gaelic (Gaelic is the generic name for both Irish and Scottish but is the word used in Ireland for Irish) word for the city centre. In Ireland Irish is, according to the 1937 Constitution, the country’s first language – English is only the second official language – however, the reality stands in stark contrast to this constitutional wish.

Irish is a Celtic language that was allowed to flourish freely up until the 16th century when Henry VIII and his followers tried to suppress their rebellious Irish subjects by forcing English laws and language on to them. After the great famine in the mid 1900s it was forbidden to speak Irish at school. The children who did were forced to carry a wooden stick around their necks and for every Irish word they spoken, a mark was notched into the stick. Once a certain number of marks had been reached, the parents were forced to pay a fine.

Only once the independence movement, towards the end of the 19th century, was underway was there a revival of the language and after independence in 1922 the new government began actively promoting the language. Gaelic was taught in schools and Gaeltachts – communities with Irish as a home language – were founded. Tax reductions and housing subsidies were used as incentives to encourage people to settle in these areas. Even in Dublin housing complexes were created specifically for Irish-speaking residents.

Despite these efforts Irish Gaelic is a dying language. But there are still toilet signs that may create a little problem for harried tourists so do not make the assumption that fir means ‘woman’ and mná means ‘man’ or you may end up walking through the wrong door!

Dublin Marco Polo Pocket Guide

Photo credit: Carina Watson

The Harp and Shamrock

Two national symbols are ubiquitous in Dublin. The first is the twelve-stringed harp, which is a symbol for the bards and therefore music and literature. When the flag – with a yellow harp on a blue background – is raised in Phoenix Park it indicates that the head of state is at home, the state residence is right in the middle of the park. The harp is also seen as part of the stone coat of arms on the façades of some of the more prestigious buildings but it is most often seen as the Guinness logo. However, but the Guinness harp is inverted because in Ireland it would be presumptuous to depict a state harp on a glass of beer.

Another Irish symbol is the clover leaf, for botanists trifolium dubium, for the general population shamrock. On their National Day, St Patrick’s Day (17th March), the nurseries do a booming trade as every patriotic Dubliner wears a green shamrock sprig in their buttonhole. Legend has it that St Patrick used the three-leafed clover during his missionary work in the 5th century to explain the teaching of the Holy Trinity. The shamrock symbol appears when Ireland hosts a special event, on the shirts of the Irish football and rugby teams or part of the logo for the tourism board.

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Dublin Marco Polo Guide

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Top 10 Things to Do in Vietnam

There is a lot to see and experience in Vietnam from lush nature to beautiful colonial gems. Here are Marco Polo’s top 10 for Vietnam:

Marco Polo Vietnam Guide

1. HA LONG BAY

Limestone karst formations, some as high as skyscrapers, smothered in dense vegetation, rise right out of the emerald green sea. The best way to explore this bay of sagas and legends is on board a junk.

2. OLD FRENCH QUARTER (SAIGON)

A stroll around the Old French Quarter in the shade of tamarind trees takes you past magnificent buildings from colonial days.

3. HOI AN

A waft of China hangs over this old port between pagodas, traditional merchants’ houses, dressmakers’ and souvenir shops.

4. HUE

Tracing how the emperors and kings once lived takes you to moss- covered palaces and burial sites with gardens and ponds. The imperial era is brought back to life in plays and dances.

5. SA PA

Bright green rice terraces, rounded mountain tops and colourfully clad ethnic mountain people – hiking here from one village to the next is like being in one huge landscape painting.

6. DRY HA LONG BAY

From a canoe you can marvel at the fairy-tale scenery of paddy fields gleaming in every conceivable shade of green framed by karst giants covered in tropical vegetation.

7. PHU QUOC

Vietnam’s largest island is a paradise for beach-lovers with endlessly long stretches of sand and tropical jungle as a backdrop. Diving grounds bursting with brightly-coloured sea creatures wait to be explored.

8. CU CHI TUNNELS

Here, one remnant of the Vietnam War and the Viet Cong resistance movement can be experienced first hand – even if only a few minutes and just for a couple of metres underground.

9. PHAN THIET & MUI NE

This peninsula with its 1.6km (1 mile) long beach attracts holidaymakers from all points of the globe to swim, surf or kite surf.

10. OLD QUARTER AND HO HOAN KIEM (HANOI)

Wander around the labyrinthine alleyways in the Old Quarter with their traditional craft shops, corner bars and cafés, boutiques and galleries.

WIN A COPY OF THE VIETNAM GUIDE AND TWO TICKETS TO THE ADVENTURE TRAVEL SHOW 2017 IN LONDON 

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Vietnam Marco Polo Guide

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Top 10 Things to Do in Iceland

Volcanoes and glaciers – Marco Polo’s list of the top 10 things not to be missed in Iceland! Our best recommendations – from the top down – help you to plan your tour of Iceland’s most important sights.

Iceland by Sophie Boisvert

Picture credit: Sophie Boisvert, used with permission

1. GOLDEN CIRCLE

This day trip takes in the most beautiful sights in the vicinity of Reykjavík. The route includes Þingvellir, Geysir, Gullfoss and Skálholt.

2. BLÁA LÓNIÐ (BLUE LAGOON)

Milky blue, delightfully warm, mineral-rich water set in the midst of a bizarre volcanic landscape; a dip in the Blue Lagoon is a must on any visit to Iceland.

3. MÝVATN

The shores of the Mývatn (meaning “midge lake”) are covered with lush green vegetation but the surrounding area is an otherworldly volcanic landscape.

4. INSIDE THE VOLCANO

Ride an open elevator cable lift down 120m (395ft) into the magma chamber of Iceland’s dormant Þríhnúkagígur volcano.

5. HÚSAVÍK

The small village on the north coast of Iceland is one of the best places to whale watch in Europe. Sperm whales, humpback whales and finbacks are just three of the species you may be lucky enough to spot.

6. LÁTRABJARG

In summer, hundreds of thousands of seabirds nest on the North Atlantic’s largest bird cliffs, producing a deafening wildlife spectacle.

7. SNÆFELLSJÖKULL

The magical glacier, which inspired authors such as Jules Verne and Halldór Laxness, is the culmination of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula that juts out far into the sea.

8. GAMLA HÖFN

Reykjavík’s Old Harbour has developed into a vibrant new tourist area. It is the starting point for whale watching excursions and city tours, there are restaurants offering culinary delights and several museums to explore.

9. ÞJÓÐMINJASAFN ÍSLANDS

The National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavík provides a modern overview of the country’s cultural history – from the Vikings to the present day.

10. VESTMANNAEYJAR

A volcanic eruption in 1973 made the Westman Islands off the south coast world famous. Traces of this natural catastrophe can still be seen in the main town of Heimaey.

 

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Iceland Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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Vietnam – Delicious Dishes from the Wok

Don’t worry – Vietnam’s cuisine may be exotic but no tourist need fear that they will unwittingly be served roast dog, raw monkey brain or geckos on a skewer. The Vietnamese wouldn’t waste such delicacies on a tay, a clueless ‘long- nose’! And, compared to the explosively hot dishes found in Thai and Indian curries, the food here is very mild with fresh herbs dominating the Vietnamese menu.

Marco Polo Vietnam Guide

Enjoy the rice

The Vietnamese equivalent of ‘bon appétit’, moi ong xoi com, actually means ‘enjoy the rice’. Any number of interesting facts and countless legends tell of the importance of rice. Rice comes in all sorts of variations, e.g. as pure white rice (com), as rice soup (com pho), rice noodles (thick banh or thin bun), transparent rice paper to wrap spring rolls in (cha gio or nem in the north), rice pancakes (banh xeo), as biscuits, cakes and puddings. It was probably more than 1,000 years ago that this type of grain was used for brewing beer and making wine. And steamed sticky rice is processed into a distilled liquor called ruou de, ruou gao or can (50 percent alcohol by volume).

Hot Dishes in the Cooler North

Due to Vietnam’s geographical extremities, regional dishes evolved differently. In the cooler north, stews, deep-fried specialities, pan dishes and rice pudding are common. The best-known export from the north is the spicy noodle soup pho that is also eaten for breakfast. It has since become a national dish and has even made its way onto T-shirts with the world-famous Apple trademark and the proud announcement ‘iPho – made in Vietnam’! A hot bouillon is poured over the rice or wheat flour noodles which is served with wafer-thin slices of beef or chicken and a few soya bean shoots. Pho’s delicious aroma comes from the spices used: pepper, coriander, ground chili and lime juice as well as herbs that are always available everywhere.

The hotpot lau is not to be missed either. Rather like a Vietnamese-style fondue, ingredients such as fish, seafood, beef and glass noodles are added to a boiling stock in a clay pot and cooked at the table in front of guests. It is served with onions, garlic, tomatoes, cucumber, mushrooms, beans, soya bean and bamboo shoots, aubergines and carrots. Bun cha is a well-known grilled meat dish: balls of minced meat or slices of filet are cooked on a charcoal barbecue and served with long, thin rice noodles, raw vegetables and any amount of herbs. The sauce however is all important and the best in the country are to be found in Hanoi.

Central Region: Eat like an Emperor

200 years ago the Emperor of Hue was not going to miss out on whatever was en vogue in Europe – such as potatoes, asparagus and cauliflower. Everything was garnished in the most elaborate way for his Highness, well spiced and presented in a mouth-watering way. The pork sausages typical of Hue were not lacking either. Hue’s gastronomic hit, however, is banh khoai: crisp pancakes filled with crab, pork and soya bean shoots with a peanut and sesame dip. When eating da nang on the other hand, you could well believe you are in Japan. The Vietnamese sushi goi ca comprises a raw filet of fish marinaded in a delicious sauce and covered with breadcrumbs. In the little fishing port of Hoi An, cao lau is the hot favourite – a noodle soup with strips of pork, a whiff of mint, roast onions and crisp rice paper.

The Spicy South

More exoticism and spice can be found in the pots and pans of the south: stir quickly, sauté deftly but not for too long, add a generous number of spices and place on the grill – preferably with coriander, sweet basil, Vietnamese parsley, lemon grass, chili, pepper, star anise, ginger, saffron and tamarind paste. Curries are very much part of every housewife’s standard repertoire just as shrimp paste man tom and fish sauce nuoc mam are a must in every kitchen. Small, spicy spring rolls, served as a starter, are a speciality of the south – the deep-fried cha gio nam and the transparent ‘lucky rolls’ goi cuon and banh cuon, that are served fresh and not deep-fried – and require a certain amount of skill in the making. Fine slithers of pork, shrimps, cucumber, slices of star fruit and the usual herbs are rolled in a sheet of wafer-thin rice paper; the tight roll is then dunked in an accompanying dip.

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Vietnam Marco Polo Guide

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Top 10 Things to Do in the Algarve

The Algarve is one of the most popular destinations in Portugal with its beaches and seemingly endless sunshine. With this Top 10 list of Marco Polo’s insider tips, you are sure to make the most of your time in the beautiful Algarve.

Marco Polo Portugal Guide

1. PONTA DA PIEDADE

Enjoy picture­ perfect views off the coast of Lagos – bizarre, majestic cliffs interrupted by a medley of natural arches and caves. They’re best experienced on a boat tour.

2. CABO DE SÃO VICENTE

Frequently whipped by hellish winds, this Cape, named after St. Vincent, plunges spectacularly down into the roaring sea below.

3. PRAIA DA FALÉSIA

This magnificent beach is the sandy flagship of the Algarve. Overlooked by imposing walls of rust­ red cliffs, the Praia’s sweeping expanse of sand lies in the east of Albufeira, a popular holiday resort.

4. OLHÃO

The fish market hall is a real high­light, and the fruit and vegetable stands are lively affairs, especially if you go on a Saturday.

5. PRAIA DO AMADO

A wildly romantic, rugged Atlantic beach near Carrapateira. It’s the perfect playground for surfers on the Costa Vicentina.

6. IGREJA DE SÃO LOURENÇO

This small church on the edge of Almancil enchants visitors with its azulejos – the tiled décor here is extremely hard to beat.

7. TAVIRA

With its river, churches, small castle, camera obscura and numerous refreshment stops, Tavira – the springboard for ex­ploring the Ilha de Tavira – boasts a selection of great attractions!

8. RIO GUADIANA

This border river flows peacefully past Vila Real de Santo António, the castle town of Alcoutim, and the bird­ rich wetlands of the Reserva Natural do Sapal.

9. ILHA DA CULATRA

This island, home to the pretty villages of Culatra and Farol, is in a world of its own. The boat ride through the Ria da Formosa nature park is worth the trip alone.

10. FARO

The Algarve’s largest city surprises visitors with its harbour, its historic architecture and its vibrant, bustling atmosphere. Check out the well­-preserved Old Town that’s surrounded by mighty walls.

 

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Algarve Marco Polo Guide

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Only in Scotland

Scotland is iconic! Nessie and whisky, bagpipes, castles and myths lure you to this wildly romantic northern country with its magnificent, scenic landscapes. Check out Marco Polo’s insider tips to find out the best only Scotland has to offer.

Scotland Marco Polo Guide

Edinburgh’s magnificent mile

The Royal Mile is a stretch where you will find all things Scottish and along the way you go from the 21st century all the way back to the Middle Ages. The strains of the bagpipe, ghost walks and quaint pubs all set the tone for your Scotland stay.

Nessie mania

Steve Feltham has been tracking the Loch Ness monster since 1991. A full time Nessie hunter, he lives on the famous loch and is always keen to share what knowledge he has of the mythical sea serpent.

Legendary hiking trail

A trip to the Highlands wouldn’t be complete without this hike: the West Highland Way from Glasgow to Fort William is just less than 95 miles long and is legendary. Outlaw Rob Roy once hid in the idyllic wooded eastern shore of Loch Lomond.

A whisky pilgrimage

Only the Scottish could succeed in harnessing the spirit and taste of their country in a bottle! For connoisseurs there is the Malt Whisky Trail and you get to taste your way through the distilleries sip by sip.

Sit! Stay! Good dog!

At Viv Billingham’s on St Mary’s Loch and on Leault Farm at Aviemore you can watch the clever Scottish Border collies hard at work.

Royal Highland Games

To see men in skirts tossing the caber or country dancing you should visit one of Scotland’s many folk festivals. The guys are absolute pros! If you attend the main one in Braemar you could even get a glimpse of the Queen and her family.

Folk music to get you going

Celtic folk music is both melancholic and haunting and yet also very danceable. Sandy Bell’s is an Edinburgh pub where it is played and sung at jam sessions – also at the Orkney and Shetland festivals.

 

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Scotland Marco Polo Guide

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Eat like a local – Finland

Nature throws open her larder door: Finnish cooking brings the produce of the forests and the lakes to the table. Nordic cuisine – Finnish cuisine included – is taking the world by storm. Fish, berries and meat in hearty stews and casseroles, it is comfort food Finnish style. Check out Marco Polo’s tips for the real Finnish culinary experience!

Snowy Finland

Picture credit: Senja Yrjölä, used with permission

Traditional Cuisine

Traditional Finnish cooking is nutritional and plain, intended to make sure that a hard-working population gets through the long, cold winter. Depending on the time of year, restaurants serve the typical Nordic range of home-grown food prepared to tried and tested recipes. ‘Food fills you up’, so many a Finn says – and a lot of dishes taste like that, too.

The national cuisine has not always had the reputation of being star quality. But, if you keep to traditional dishes and regional ingredients, you will experience some praiseworthy culinary delights. On top of that, a lot of food is organic even if it does not come with a green stamp of approval – especially in the far north. Fruit and vegetables grow a long way from any industrial centres or towns and are pollution free. And, obviously, the meat of wild animals comes from those roaming free in their natural habitat.

Due to the climate, the selection of native fruit and vegetables is limited, one could even say paltry. But the Finns are proud of what Nature has in store for them and of what they make with it, and for a good reason. The Nordic cuisine has been right at the top of the food trend lists for a few years now. Traditional ingredients like beetroot, swedes and white cabbage are n being ingeniously transformed into gourmet experiences. However, hotpots, soups, casseroles, roasts and pies, such as the world-famous Karelian pies, still dominate everyday cooking.

International Cuisine

International cuisine is very popular in Finland, especially in the larger cities. The standard repertoire in the restaurant scene comprises Finnish, Scandinavian and Russian restaurants, but these are now being joined by pizzerias, Asian restaurants and the fast-food chain Hesburger – a Finnish product. Vegetarian restaurants are also popping up in many cities.

Fish Dishes

If you like fish, you’ll enjoy going out for a meal. In a country with 200,000 lakes there are lots of excellent edible fish and a lot more off the coast as well. A particular speciality can be sampled in January in the Kainuu region: eelpout soup. The animals’ roe is served as caviar on blinis with sour cream. Ice fishing for pike, perch and bream starts as early as in March. Small whitefish that are commonly found in the lake district are grilled whole – a typically Nordic speciality.

On the coast you can savour wild salmon from the major rivers. The beginning of the crayfish season on 21 July is a culinary highlight which, due to the diminishing number of crustaceans, is becoming an increasingly expensive treat.

Cloudberry Finland

Picture credit: Senja Yrjölä, used with permission

Fruit

The summer is short and it is only after midsummer that the market stands start to fill up. Delicious strawberries, bilberries and raspberries – Finland is rich in such fruit – are longingly awaited. The yellow cloudberry, lakka, from the moors of Lapland, is a rare speciality. It is served as a dessert with junket and distilled to make a liqueur. If you want to know what a cloudberry looks like, keep your eyes open for a two-euro coin on which Lapland’s emblem is shown.

Game

Autumn is the best time to enjoy game. Traditional Finnish restaurants serve elk, reindeer and wild duck; Russian restaurants also have bear on the menu. Game can also be taken home in the form of salami or ham. This can be bought in the markets in Helsinki, for example.

Korvapuusti Finland

Picture credit: Senja Yrjölä, used with permission

Sweet Things

What you will find to buy in abundance in Finland are sweet things. Chocolate (preferably from Fazer) keeps the northerners happy during the long winter months. The same goes for ice cream. No, this is not a misprint – Finns love their ice cream despite arctic temperatures. Berry cake and pulla, a dessert bread with crushed cardamom seeds, are also very popular. One dessert that you can expect to find in the most remote corner of any national park is munkki. This is a yeast-based bread sprinkled with sugar that is not dissimilar to a doughnut.

Coffee

Kahvi ja munkki: you will see this sign outside every café and also many a restaurant, inviting you in for a snack. Kahvi means coffee – the Finnish national drink that is consumed in huge quantities. Finland heads the EU statistics for coffee consumption and, at almost 12 kilos per capita, is far ahead of anywhere else. By comparison, the Americans drink on average 4.2 kilos and the British a mere 2.8 kilos.

Alcohol

Lots of alcohol is also consumed but is still very expensive, especially in restaurants. An ‘A’ licence denote that all alcohol drinks can be served; a ‘B’ licence covers wine and beer; a ‘C’ licence just low-alcohol beer. High-proof beverages and wines are only available in branches of the Alko concern.

 

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Finland Marco Polo Guide

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