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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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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That Croatia Feeling

Croatia remains one of Europe’s favourite destinations. History, culture, nature, beaches and sunshine – in short it is every holiday wish packed into one! Experience the region’s unique flair and what makes it so special – just as the Croats do themselves.

Croatia Marco Polo Guide

Photo Credit: Tim Kelly

PROMENADING
See and been seen: no Zabrebian would want to miss their evening korzo on the Trg Bana Jelacica. There is a lot of flirting and cliques of teenagers giggling outside ice cream parlours. Young parents can be seen pushing prams and elderly men and women strolling along at their own pace. Everybody greets each other and catches up on the latest gossip. Just join the promenade and have a look for yourself – it’s great fun (on summer evenings from 7pm onwards, in winter much earlier with many fewer people).

THAT BAROQUE FEELING
Varazdin is Croatia’s most beautiful Baroque town. When Croatian and international musicians perform works from this era in the Baroque halls and squares, some dressed in period costume, from mid September until mid October, you will find yourself transported back to the elegant 18th century with its lacy crinolines, smart uniforms and dainty dances (Varazdinske barokne veceri, mid Sept–mid Oct, www.vbv.hr).

MARKETS
As a contrast to all the sights of Ancient Pula, take a look in the elegant Art Deco market hall (Narodni trg, Mon–Sat daily until noon) where the locals really go to town bartering for a bargain. Here, a little unadulterated piece of everyday Croatia can be seen every morning. No Istrian would even conceive shopping in a supermarket when farmers bring their fresh fruit and vegetables to market every day. Not to forget the range of fish on offer either.

PEBBLES
Sandy beaches or ones with very small pebbles are rare on the Croatian coast. But the locals don’t miss this at all. They love their bathing spots on the cliffs due to the crystal-clear water – and that can’t be matched by any sandy beach. One particularly clean and picturesque beach with large pebbles is in the bay below the little village of Beli on Cres island. Don’t forget your flip-flops!

ON THE BALL
What do the predominantly male inhabitants of Split do on a late summer’s afternoon? They head for Bacvice beach to the east of the town centre to play picigin. This variation of water polo, invented in Split, is played by up to five people in knee-deep water, doesn’t seem to have any obvious rules and attracts an avid and critical audience. Why not join in?

GOING WITH THE WIND
No windsurfer should miss these hotspots: in the straits between Orebic on Peljesac and the little town of Korcula the powerful maestral wind blows surfers along in a force six gale at 1pm on the dot. The only snag is that you have to watch out for ferries and other people on the water in this narrow passage! And don’t get carried away in your quest for speed either or else you will end up many nautical miles distant at the second surfing hotspot on the Dalmatian coast, the waters off Bol on Brac.

SLADOLED – GELATO – ICE CREAM
A day without at least one tempting ice cream with a couple or more brightly-coloured scoops when on holiday on the Adriatic is virtually unthinkable! Simply the choice on offer and the juggling skills of the ice cream vendors are a delight themselves. The only question is: where is the best ice cream? The Ice Box in Porec is a popular place but the champion could well be the Dolce Vita in Dubrovnik too.

WINE, MEN AND SONG
Croatian male-voice choirs call themselves klapa. And when they launch into their melancholic ‘a cappella’ songs, they will carry you away to a far off land of distant horizons and romantic sunsets with sailing ships heading out to sea and women waving to their departing lovers … This traditional, heart-melting and contemplative music, often performed in simple pubs (konobe), is moving indeed and calls for a glass or two of wine afterwards as a form of emotional comfort – zivjeli!

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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, 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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That Vietnam feeling

Vietnam may first bring to mind the eponymous war and then the delicious cuisine but there is much more to this Southeast Asian country. A culture spanning back thousands of years and of course the beautiful nature. Experience the country’s unique flair and find out what makes it tick – just like the Vietnamese themselves.

Marco Polo Vietnam Guide

Temples as oases

Whenever your senses are the worse for wear from the sheer noise of Saigon, visiting a pagoda will soon soothe the soul – relax, here at last is a place without the rattling of mopeds and incessant hooting, a place of contemplation with Buddha where you can rest for a moment. The timeless atmosphere of this world apart, enshrouded in incense, is often just a few yards from the chaos of the main roads – in Le Van Duyet temple, for example, which lies a little further off the beaten track.

Coffee breaks

Just grab a plastic stool, take a seat on a street corner and order a ca phe sua nong. Then watch as the delicious smelling, thick, bitter coffee drips from a dented tin filter into a glass before sweetened condensed milk is added. The whole process takes place in slow motion – and helps enormously to relax in the midst of Vietnam’s frenzied everyday hectic, even if only for a few minutes.

Communism live

People move slowly and reverently past the revolutionary leader’s sarcophagus; soldiers in pristine white uniforms scare hawkers away; nobody is allowed to talk or even whisper. Hands must be taken out of pockets, sunglasses and hats removed. ‘Uncle Ho’, who can be seen behind the polished glass window, looks almost as if he is wistfully turning his head to see each visitor.

The early bird…

Everyone in Vietnam is up and about early in the morning. In the cool of the day between 5:30am and 7am people doing their morning gymnastics can be watched at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Balance out your own yin and yang with a bout of shadow boxing, exercise to the rhythm of the cha-cha or play a round of badminton.

Homestays

‘Homestays’ in Vietnam are always good for a surprise. Sometimes you spend the night in a type of dormitory under the roof, other times – in stilt houses – you sleep in the living room and meet the family personally. You can stay with the Vietnamese in their homes in cities, in the mountains, in the Mekong Delta, in national parks and on the less touristy islands.

At the fortune-teller

A glimpse into the future costs just a few dong. In the mountains, in particular, you can even watch the shaman telling a person’s fortune. The tools of his trade include a dog-eared book in Chinese characters, two split bamboo sticks, a stone that is heated in the embers of a fire and a thread that he winds around the stone – and, there you are, his ‘telephone to the spirits’ is ready for use.

Night markets

Try a tasty treat of a special kind. Start off with a steaming bowl of soup made with noodles, beef and onions, soya bean shoots and tiny strips of banana leaf – and slurp it quietly! For the next course, just follow the columns of smoke to a barbecue stand where skewered octopus is sizzling away, as an accompaniment dunk mint and basil leaves in a dip made of salt, pepper, chilli and lemon. Save the best ’til last: diep nuong mo hanh, scallops decorated with shallots and finely chopped peanuts – soft and slippery and incredibly cheap on top!

Timeless Vietnam

In the Graham Greene Suite in the Metropole in Hanoi it is not difficult to imagine how, in the 1950s, the eponymous author kept to his daily writing schedule like clockwork. Or how, one war later, Joan Baez strummed We Shall Overcome in a bunker under the pool. And in the Mekong Delta you can retrace the steps of Marguerite Duras in Sa Dec or of W. Somerset Maugham under the tamarinds along Saigon’s tree-lined avenues, just like in the days of old.

 

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Vietnam Marco Polo Guide

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That Marrakesh Feeling

Marrakesh, with its brilliant riads and bustling souks, is a truly enchanting place. Find out what makes this Moroccan city tick and experience its unique flair – just like the Marrakchis themselves with Marco Polo’s insider tips.

Marrakech Marco Polo Guide

Thé à la menthe

No trip to Marrakesh would be complete without tasting some of the legendary Moroccan thé à la menthe (mint tea). If you want to try this sweet treat in the fairy-tale atmosphere of a palace filled with exquisite stucco, wood and zellij work, then you should definitely head to Dar Cherifa. It’s an extraordinary literary café where you can not only sit like royalty, but also admire temporary exhibitions and enjoy listening to concerts as you drink.

An evening meal at Jemaa el Fna

The food stands that are set up here every evening under the stars are the epitome of Marrakesh’s vibrant soul. Surrounded by acrobats, snake charmers and storytellers, you can either enjoy such simple dishes as fried fish and chips or try out something more exotic, like sheep’s head and snail soup. This is one experience you definitely won’t want to miss!

Storks chattering at the Palais El Badii

The El Badii palace is large, impressive, and almost completely empty. Nevertheless, a visit here is one of the absolute highlights of Marrakesh. Find a place to sit in the shade or at a café on one of the surrounding roof terraces and admire the palace walls while listening to the chatter of hundreds of storks. It’s a unique experience that gets even better just before sunset!

Haggle away!

At any respectable souk, you stroll around, haggle a little, and buy anything that takes your fancy. Things are a little more intense at the Bab el Khemis flea market, however. If you can’t find something here, you won’t find it anywhere! Sellers come from all directions in the morning to set up their stalls and try to earn some money with repairs or second-hand goods. The shoppers here – mostly Europeans – are on the lookout for the antiquities that pop up from time to time amidst all the other wares.

Hip Morocco

While you’ll come across the city’s poorest at the Souk el Khemis, you’ll mainly mingle with the upper crust when you visit the Hivernage, a quarter boasting rows and rows of hip hangouts, bars and rooftop lounges. If you feel like eating Thai food while you’re in Africa, this is the place to be – head to such restaurants as the beautiful Jad Mahal. The Hivernage is a melting pot of Moroccan and European influences, and money here is King.

Sweat in style

The spa at the La Mamounia Hotel is the pinnacle of Moroccan pampering. Entering the Hammam is like stepping into a dream from the Arabian Nights. The turquoise pool in its own little palace is surrounded by oriental lanterns and alcoves everywhere you look. It’s also furnished with big, comfy recliners with views of the world outside. There are few experiences that are more stylish and relaxing than a luxury steam bath – so take your time and enjoy!

Cyber-cuddling at the park

The Cyber Park, located between the New and Old Town, is special for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a beautiful swathe of green right by Marrakesh’s city walls. Secondly, there’s free WiFi everywhere – and we mean everywhere! – in the park, so you can surf the web on laptops and tablets while you sit under the trees. Above all, however, it’s where the youth of Marrakesh come to have dates and hold hands – a sweet and entirely innocent sight!

Live like a pasha

If you’ve ever wanted to live like an Arabian nobleman (and who hasn’t?), Marrakesh is the place for you. More than 1000 riads (city palaces) have been renovated and turned into small guest houses that whisk you far away from the noise and stress of everyday life. Treat yourself to a magical stay in such palaces as the exclusive Riad Enija or the more simple Riad Bamaga.

 

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Marrakesh Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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That Iceland Feeling

Iceland – a truly magical place if there ever was one! This Northern island has it all: glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs and one of the most progressive and liberal cultures in the world. Experience Iceland’s unique flair and find out what makes it tick – the Marco Polo way!

Iceland by Sophie Boisvert

Picture credit: Sophie Boisvert, used with permission

Weekends in Reykjavík

In Reykjavík, daily life follows a leisurely pace from Monday to Friday, just as you would expect from the world’s most northerly capital city. But the picture changes late on Saturday evening when the streets of Reykjavík are abuzz with nightlife revelry. The Laugavegur becomes the site of a motorcade, the restaurants are transformed into bars and discos – and the alcohol level increases as the night progresses.

Beach holiday

Iceland has beautiful sandy beaches that stretch for miles. They are dazzlingly white on the Westfjords and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and impressively black on the south coast around Vík. The water temperature will probably not tempt you to take a swim –only the bravest risk the waves for a few moments – but if you are looking for peace and quiet you will not be disappointed. A long stroll quickly turns into an atmospheric nature experience.

Iceland by Sophie Boisvert

Picture credit: Sophie Boisvert, used with permission

Midnight sun

To truly experience the midnight sun you need to visit the small island of Grímsey north of Akureyri; it lies right on the Arctic Circle. But summer nights on the main island are also bathed in warm, soft hues and as the sun slowly sinks towards the horizon, and the hands of the clocks move towards midnight, a unique – almost magical – silence envelopes the landscape.

A world of elves and trolls

A remarkable number of Icelanders believe in elves, fairies, dwarves and trolls. Some even claim that they are able to communicate with the Huldufólk (the “hidden people”). If you want to test your second sight then you can take part in an elves tour in Hafnarfjörður or make a detour to the tiny village of Bakkagerði in the east of the island where it is said that the Queen of the Elves has her residence in a rather non-descript hill.

Island of fire and ice

Iceland is famous for its volcanoes and glaciers. Both have a destructive power but also offer the opportunity to experience marvels of nature in their purest form. A quiet spot on the shore of the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, which is fed by the mighty Vatnajökull, or an excursion to the man-made ice cave in the Langjökull are just as fascinating as the bubbling mud pots in the high-temperature area of Hverarönd, or the descent into the magma chamber of Þríhnúkagígur.

Iceland by Sophie Boisvert

Picture credit: Sophie Boisvert, used with permission

Dine with the locals

You can enjoy a meal with an Icelandic family in their own home via the Meet the Locals website. Expect either lamb or fish to be served for dinner, they are both top ­quality products that can be enjoyed without any reservations. It’s a unique opportunity to engage with locals about life in Iceland (Tanni Travel, Eskifjörður, Strandgata 14, tel: 476 13 99; www.meetthelocals.is, ISK13,500).

Iceland by Sophie Boisvert

Picture credit: Sophie Boisvert, used with permission

Cascades of water

Iceland is not only an island of dramatic volcanoes and glaciers but also one of impressive waterfalls. The superlatives “highest” and “the most powerful” can be­ determined objectively but you can decide for yourself which one impresses you the most. Here are a few candidates: the Gullfoss (meaning “golden falls”), the Dynjandi in the Westfjords, the mighty Dettifoss, the mystical Goðafoss or the Seljanlandsfoss on the Ring Road near the Eyjafjöll Glacier, which has a path behind its veil of water.

Experience solitude

As soon as you leave Reykjavík, you will discover just how sparsely populated the island is. This creates an unusual sensation for many tourists: a feeling of solitude and silence. This feeling is especially acute on an excursion into the uninhabited highlands. A deserted beach, a lava field covered with moss, or the view of the gigantic Vatnajökull will make you relish the solitude in wonder and awe.

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Iceland Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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That Algarve Feeling

Golden beaches, seafood and plenty of sunshine – the Algarve has it all, and more! With its breathtaking vistas and lively culture, the southern-most region of Portugal will steal your heart, as it has done for countless people before. Find out what makes the Algarve tick and experience its unique flair – just like the locals themselves, with Marco Polo’s insider tips:

Marco Polo Portugal Guide

Life’s a beach

Beaches might be a part of the Algarvios’ lives from a young age, but that doesn’t mean they let tourists hog all the best swimming and sunbathing spots for them­selves! The Algarve’s many beaches come in all shapes in sizes, ranging from the cliff­ lined shores at the Ponta da Piedade to the long expanses of sand near Monte Gordo and on the Ilha de Tavira. The region is a beach fan’s dream come true!

Fresh fish from the grill

If you see columns of smoke in the air, it’s nearly time to eat! These telltale signs come from simple restaurants and open­ air grills that serve swordfish, salmon, sardines and a great deal more. It’s a guaranteed taste sensation!

Fun in the sun

Golf, standup paddle boarding, sea kayak tours… you’ll find all this and more in the Algarve!
The Via Algarviana and the Rota Vicentina are popular long ­distance hiking trails, the Costa Vicentina boasts some excellent surfing beaches, and the best cycling can be found along the 214km (133 miles) ­long Ecovia that connects the Cabo de São Vicente in the west with the Rio Guadiana border river in the east.

Markets

No matter whether they’re large or small, indoors or out, on the coast or inland… locals love their markets! They go there to stock up on fresh seafood, fruit, vegetables, honey, garlic, spices, sausages and cheese. The best markets in the region are held in Olhão  and Loulé . There’s a bit of a carnival atmosphere there, particularly on Saturday mornings. Dive right in and enjoy the hustle and bustle!

Straight from the source

Farmers and beekeepers go to markets to sell their wares – but locals also sell goods right outside their front doors! You’ll often notice small crates or nets along the street filled with freshly plucked produce from the fields and private gardens. Depending on the season, you might stumble across  oranges, lemons, mandarins, melons and much more besides. Selling direct like this cuts out the middleman, and because there are no receipts, the taxman doesn’t get a share either…

Taking a break

Taking a break is an essential part of life in the south, and no break would be complete without a spot of coffee! You could choose a tiny espresso (café), which locals drink with plenty of sugar, or perhaps a large latte (galão) that’s served in a glass – beware: holding this clear container without burning yourself demands a great deal of skill!

Frolicsome festivals

The Algarvios might seem rather reserved, but they certainly know how to let their hair down during festivals. They celebrate Carnival for days on end in Loulé, the village of Alte and elsewhere. Patron saint and summer festivals are also pretty lively. Get stuck in and party like a local!

Bottles of liquid sun

The region’s wines, grown around Alvor, are a vital part of the Algarve experience.
The reds are full-bodied, the whites are smooth and fruity, and they all taste like they’ve been soaked in the southern sun!

 

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Algarve Marco Polo Guide

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That Lake Garda Feeling

Discover what makes Lake Garda as appealing as it is and experience its unique flair. Just as the locals do, with Marco Polo’s insider tips:

Lake Garda Marco Polo Guide

The first espresso after leaving the autostrada

Stop at the car park after the first hairpin bend coming from Nago heading for Torbole and enjoy your first cup of coffee, your first aperol or your first ice cream (at the bar on the other side of the road). The view to the south is breathtaking.

Racing through tunnels like James Bond

The Gardesana Occidentale that runs down the western side of the lake from Campione to Riva passes through at least a dozen tunnels which even inspired 007’s motive scouts. Bond & Co. spent two weeks filming for Quantum of Solace on Lake Garda. That may only have resulted in a brief moment in the final film – but what a couple of minutes!

Trip on a paddle steamer

A trip across the lake on the ‘Zanardelli’ or the ‘Italia’ – two paddle steamers built in 1903 and 1908 respectively – is a must. The ‘Zanardelli’ operates in the north; the ‘Italia’ in the south. The locals love being out on the lake too, albeit generally in their own sailing boats. Alternatively you can hire a little motorboat with 40hp even if you don’t have a driving licence.

Torbole at half-past-six

When the first rays of sunlight peak over Monte Baldo the lake is already full of brightly coloured sails. When the wind is right, the windsurfing cracks are out on the water by this time, speeding along or showing off their tricks. Distance fans race back and forth along a 2km (1 1⁄4 mile) stretch between Torbole and Riva as if on a conveyor belt. Time and again. A wonderful spectacle to watch.

A view of the lake and pasta at half-past-seven

In the evening, when the colour of the lake changes from a brilliant silver to a soft gold in the light of the setting sun, sit back and enjoy an aperol or a ‘Hugo’ before your evening meal on the Gardesana Orientale at least once during your stay and watch the sun go down – either on a pontoon in Torri del Benaco, a balcony in the ‘Belvedere’ in Marniga di Brenzone or right on the water with a view of the castle in Malcesine on the Lido di Paina.

Sunday evening on the beach

Lots of Italian families head for the lakeside in July and August although it is often said that it is firmly in the hands of the Germans – which, considering the number of tourists who flood to the lake every year, is hardly surprising. However, when the Italians descend the situation changes noticeably. Tables, chairs and sun umbrellas appear early in the morning and airbeds are pumped up. After a long, hot day, family get-togethers start at around half past seven in the evening with barbecues, vino and a huge variety of antipasti. And some of the fathers may have had a successful day’s fishing. You may even be invited to a glass of something by your neighbours.

A day in a deserted village

A 30-minute walk along a donkey track from Marniga di Brenzone will bring you to Campo. An artist has set up his easel, sheep are grazing nearby, a donkey is standing motionless in the blazing sun. Campo dates from the 11th century and is a quiet, solitary place albeit run down now. Hardly anyone lives here anymore as most people have moved away: no roads, no future – but a wonderful atmosphere.

A night in the Limonaia

The view of the bulbous lower end of the lake is simply stunning and the edge of the infinity pool merges optically with the water on Lake Garda 300m (985ft) below. You may be able to find a more exclusive place to stay in Lago, but nowhere is as beautiful as in “Lefay’ – the holiday resort above Gargnano that will give you that perfect ‘lago’ feeling.

Buy the Lake Garda Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Lake Garda Marco Polo Guide

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