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!
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’.
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.
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, 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- No purchase necessary, however internet access is required.
- The Prizes: 1 x prize winner will receive 5 x Marco Polo Spiral Guides: (£9.99 each) and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera.
- 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.
- The promoter may substitute the prize for a prize of an equal or greater value if, for any reason the original item is unavailable.
- By entering, winners agree that if they win they will participate in any reasonable publicity arranged by The Promoter or its agencies.
- 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.
- The Promoter or its agencies accept no responsibility for any loss or damage suffered through acceptance of the prize.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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