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

 

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!

Buy the Croatia Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Croatia Marco Polo Guide

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Top 10 Things To Do In Croatia

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

Croatia Marco Polo Guide

Photo Credit: Tim Kelly

1. DUBROVNIK
The ‘Queen of the eastern Adriatic’, with its palazzi, churches, museums and imposing defensive walls and fortresses, takes you back to that glorious era when it defiantly held Venice at arm’s length.

2. PLITVIČKA JEZERA
Tumbling waterfalls, turquoise-coloured lakes, luxuriant vegetation and dazzling travertine stone create a fairy tale-like landscape.

3. SPLIT
The palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian forms the heart of this bustling port. This is where Ancient Roman gods rub shoulders with Christian saints and trendy cafés with Roman remains.

4. POREČ
Striking mosaics catch the eye in the Euphrasian Basilica, a unique ecclesiastical building from the early days of Christianity.

5. TROGIR
This little port’s historical splendour is omnipresent in the Old Town. The magnificent cathedral portal, with its countless figures, is a highlight of Early Gothic stonemasonry.

6. NACIONALNI PARK KRKA
The Skradinski Buk waterfall is a popular attraction in this national park but there is much more to discover: secluded monasteries, shady walks and lush vegetation.

7. HVAR
The international jet set congregates on the island of Hvar; the scent of lavender and the romantic town of the same name attract the rich and the beautiful to Hvar.

8. KORČULA
Aromatic white wines and unusual sword dances are the trademarks of this southern Dalmatian island. The attraction of the bewitchingly beautiful main town is its narrow alleyways, Venetian palaces and rustic taverns.

9. PULA
Modern and ancient architecture in harmony. This bustling harbour town boasts a number of exquisite treasures from Antiquity – an amphitheatre, the Temple of Augustus and a triumphal arch.

10. BRAČ
The sun, its beaches and the wind are the three plus points of this island that is one of just a few in Croatia that has a fine pebbly beach.

 

Buy the Croatia Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Croatia Marco Polo Guide

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Top 10 Nudist Beaches

Ooh er missus! If sunbathing in your birthday suit is right up your street… then we have the perfect list for you! The top 10 best nudist beaches around the world, as chosen by Marco Polo authors…

Cuban dead tree

Photo credit: Tim Kelly

1. Grande Saline, St Barthélemy

St Barth, as the little Caribbean island is called for short, is popular among celebrities. Nudists also feel at home on the velvet sandy beach of Grande Saline in the area reserved for nudists.

Buy the Caribbean Marco Polo Map

 

2. Nordstrand, Helgoland, Germany

The island’s secret jewel is not actually on it, but next to it – the 32 acre beach on the north of the dune has very fine sand. You can relax here with or without clothes on – or in a fur coat like the seals. The magical North Sea!

Buy the Germany Marco Polo Map

 

3. Praia da Ursa, Cabo da Roca, Portugal

Praia da Ursa with its fascinating rocks is hidden between cliffs in the far west of Europe. Thanks to the fact that it cannot be seen from anywhere, the beach is especially popular among nudists. Be sure to take your own food and plenty to drink with you as there’s nowhere to buy anything in this secluded spot.

Buy the Portugal Marco Polo Map

 

4. Kordovon Beach, Jerolim,  Croatia

Anyone taking a boat from Hvar to this tiny island, one of the Paklenis, can shed their clothes and enjoy the untouched wooded scenery. Kordovon Beach is the perfect place for a totally relaxed holiday free from all constraints. As one sign proudly announces, nudists have
been more than ‘Welcome since 1896’.

Buy the Dubrovnik & Dalmatian Coast Marco Polo Guide

 

5. Platja del Mago, Portals Vells, Mallorca, Spain

The boats anchored in the bay seem to hover above the crystal-clear water. All along the rocky shoreline crooked pine trees have established themselves up the slopes around the cove where there are lovely views over the sea. The Platja del Mago is an official nudist beach.

Buy the Mallorca Marco Polo Guide

 

6. Cap d’Agde, France

It’s not just the fine sandy beach on the Cap d’Agde that makes this one of the most popular resorts for naturists on the Mediterranean. It is also the fact that this is a large village-like complex where nudism is the norm night and day.

Buy the France Marco Polo Road Atlas

 

7. Kókkinos Ammos (Red Beach), Mátala, Crete, Greece

Picturesque Kókkinos Ammos, the ‘Red Beach’, enjoys a peaceful, sun-soaked location that can only be reached after a 20-minute hike. Naturists aim for the northern part of the shimmering red sandbank. Don’t forget to take enough food and drink with you!

Buy the Crete Marco Polo Guide

 

8. Nida, Lithuania

The regulations in the Baltic State of Lithuania are strict – at least as far as nudism on the Curonian Spit goes. There are separate areas for men and women to (sun)bathe in the nude. Make sure you observe the signs whatever you do – vyrų pliažas is the beach for men and moterų pliažas for women.

Buy the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania) Marco Polo Map

 

9. Saltum Strand, Denmark 

There’s plenty of room for everyone here! The seemingly endless beaches in this kingdom stretch as far as the horizon and are seldom full, especially in the north. Since nude bathing is allowed on every beach in Denmark, as long as you are considerate to others, you don’t need to pack your swimwear for Saltum Strand either.

Buy the Denmark Marco Polo Map

 

10. Neuendorf, Hiddensee, Germany

The dunes where beachgrass grows and the hidden sandy hollows in between, very close to the conservation village itself, provide perfect, secluded spots for bathing in the nude. INSIDER TIP: Afterwards try something completely different – Karl Huck’s puppet theatre in Vitte.

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Do you know any other great nudist beaches you’d like to share with us? Leave a comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.