Marco Polo’s Top 5 End of Summer Destinations + GIVEAWAY

The summer holidays may be almost over but there is no reason not to book a quick getaway and return to work or to your studies feeling just that little bit more relaxed. We at Marco Polo have compiled our top 5 end of summer destinations, and to sweeten it up even more, one lucky commenter is going to receive five copies of our Marco Polo Spiral Guides of their choice and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera! 

Photo credit: SarahFunky

 CROATIA

Croatia is an immensely popular destination these days, and for good reason! Full of history and beautiful nature (just look at that picture taken at the Krak National Park!) it is definitely worth visiting at least once in your life – though once you have been there, you may find yourself wanting to go back. If you’re thinking of a city trip, your best bet would be either Zagreb or Dubrovnik.

Zagreb, with around a million inhabitants, one in four of the country’s population, is easily Croatia’s biggest city. This is the political, economic and cultural heart of the nation, which makes it easy to forget that it has only been a state capital since 1991. For most of its history, Zagreb has lived in the shadow of Vienna, as a provincial outpost of the Austro-Hungarian empire, or of the former Yugoslav capital Belgrade. Only in the past few years has it rediscovered its confidence as a youthful, vibrant, forward-looking city.

Dubrovnik on the other hand is the jewel in Croatia’s crown – a beautifully restored town, full of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, crowded onto a rocky headland and surrounded by its 15th-century walls. The English poet Lord Byron (1788–1824) quite rightly described the town as the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’.

 Marco Polo Portugal Guide

ALGARVE, PORTUGAL

The Algarve in Portugal has been one of our favourites for a while. Perfect for catching some sunshine and lounging on the beach, or hiking in the  fragrant pine forests of the Ria Formosa National Park in central Algarve.

Central Algarve is a melting pot of contrasting natural landscapes. It’s where the Atlantic meets the hilly hinterland and where long, sandy beaches encounter the labyrinth of canals and islands in the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. In the centre of the region lies Faro, the capital of the Algarve and the point of arrival for countless holidaymakers. With its crystal-clear light, glittering nightlife, fantastic beaches and fabulous markets, the central Algarve has a wealth of diverse experiences to offer. 

At first glance, Faro can seem pretty confusing to visitors. After all, it’s the largest city in the Algarve and home to 50,000 people (65,000 including the surrounding area). If you come armed with a plan, however, the city will start to grow on you and you’ll quickly find your feet.

Photo credit: Flikr.com Zaprin Geguskov – Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

 BULGARIA

 We love Bulgaria, and so do countless other travellers! Fine beaches and austere mountains, unspoilt hilltop villages and lively major towns, effervescent temperament and Mediterranean laissez-faire – all this makes Bulgaria a country of contrasts, a delightful mix of east and west. The travel catalogues are full of sea and beach, in other words the Black Sea coast – a beautiful and important part of the country. But if you stick to the tourists trails, you’ll miss out on what’s really worth seeing.

Mother nature has been very kind to Bulgaria. With its surface area of a little under 43,000 square miles, it’s not a particularly large country (England measures just over 50,000 square miles), but it has to a great extent been richly endowed with diversity and beautiful scenery, with mountains and a coast measuring 378km / 235 miles, and it’s densely wooded with many lakes. In other words, Bulgaria has something for everyone: for beach lovers a holiday by the Black Sea; for skiers the ski runs around Bansko, for hikers and bikers the green peaks of the Rila and Pirin Mountains; and if you’re looking for solitude, you’ll find it by hidden mountain lakes. To all of this add any amount of culture in the world-famous monasteries and the picturesque, beautifully restored villages.

 

Amsterdam Marco Polo Guide

Photo credit: Tim Kelly

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS

It seems to us that almost all of our lists include Amsterdam, but the Dutch capital has a truly special place in our hearts, and the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the city each year would definitely agree.

The old heart of Amsterdam feels like two distinct cities. The more obvious of the pair comprises the sort of brash tourist trappings that you find in any major European city, in this particular case augmented by the unabashed indulgence of the main red-light district, De Wallen. Yet alongside such excess you can find oases of calm and solitude, plus some charming little places to eat, drink and shop.

De Dam, the main square, is not the most beautiful plaza in Europe, but it serves as a good hub
for exploring the rest of the area. Everything in medieval Amsterdam is a short walk from here. Almost all visitors to Amsterdam find themselves passing through De Dam, as the square at the centre of the city is concisely known. This was where the Amstel River was first dammed in the 13th century (today the river flows via underground pipes into the IJ). The square is central to the city and the country, containing both the Royal Palace and the National Monument. Initially, the unruly architecture may disappoint, as well as the fact that the whole place is decked in overhead power cables for trams. Although De Dam can largely appear as a tourist thoroughfare, it remains at the historical heart of the city.

The most romantic photographs of Amsterdam are taken in the western part of the city – which is also where the real soul of Amsterdam resides. Beautiful waterways and quiet courtyards, the trendiest and most liberal locals and authentic bruin cafés can all be found here. Almost any street you walk along is likely to reveal at least one of the following: a lovely old house embellished with a beautiful tablet or gable; an intriguing shop or café; or a charming canal view.

NICE, FRANCE

Ah, the French Riviera. The jetsetter dream and the azure waves of the Mediterranean, who can resist it? After all, the largest resort of the French Riviera, Nice is France’s main tourist centre and the most visited city after Paris. Friendly and informal, Nice radiates a unique atmosphere that is hard to define, although many have tried, labelling it the “Queen of the Riviera”, “Capital of the Côte d’Azur”, “Nizza la Bella”, “The Big Olive” and “Mediterranean Chicago”. “Nice” just doesn’t seem to cover it.

Over the centuries the city has enjoyed a colourful history. Founded by Greeks and settled by
Romans, it thrived in the Middle Ages under
the Counts of Provence who were followed by
the Italian Dukes of Savoy. United with France only as recently as 1860, it still retains a strong
Italianate character and is a seductive mix of the best
of France and Italy, with its own dialect (lenga nissarda) and delicious cuisine. Nice is also blessed with more museums and galleries than any French town outside Paris. Its Mediterranean charm has long provided inspiration to artists, with its pastel-painted buildings and terracotta roofs, cradled by the vine-clad foothills of the Maritime Alps and fringed by a vivid blue sea bathed in magical, incandescent sun- light. Even the palatial hotels, designer boutiques and crowded terrace cafés exude a carefree joie de vivre. No wonder Nice has been voted the city where the French would most like to live. As Sandy Wilson remarked in his musical comedy The Boy Friend (1954): “Other places may be fun, but when all is said and done, it’s so much nicer in Nice.” 

GIVEAWAY

To wave the summer goodbye, Marco Polo is organising a giveaway! We are giving away a set of 5 Marco Polo Spiral Guides and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera to one lucky winner, chosen at random.

How to enter?

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

The competition is open from Thursday 24 August 2017 until Friday 1 September 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 and EU 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 win-chances 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 24 August 2017 and all entries must be received by 12.00 GMT on 1 September 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 x Marco Polo Spiral Guides: (£9.99 each) and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera.
  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

 

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.

 

Buy the Algarve Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Algarve Marco Polo 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!

 

Buy the Algarve Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Algarve Marco Polo Guide

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