Marco Polo’s Top 5 Romantic Destinations + GIVEAWAY

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today is all about the big romantic gestures, and what better way to show your love than by taking your significant other on a romantic getaway. We at Marco Polo have decided to share our top 5 romantic destinations with you and to spread the love, we are also giving away a set of 5 Marco Polo Pocket Guides:

AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam may not seem like a romantic destination, but there is a lot of love in this Dutch city. A stroll down the canals, hand in hand with your love, while the locals cycle by, also often hand in hand. Or take a canal cruise and snuggle on the boat while you take in the beautiful 17th century sights.

Oh, and don’t forget to treat your love to a bunch of tulips at the Bloemenmarkt!

BALI

Bali is without a doubt a romantic getaway destination: the beaches, the views, the sunsets, what more could you ask for? The island is a perfect couple’s paradise! For those wishing to splurge, check out the AYANA Resort and Spa in Jimbaran for first class luxury! For those looking for luxury on a budget, this can still be found at Keraton Jimbaran Beach Resort with its own private beach!

While you’re on the island be sure to check out Sanur for its relaxed vibe, Ubud’s rice paddies and in the north: Lovina to do some dolphin watching!

Venice Marco Polo Guide

VENICE

The canals, the gondolas, the gorgeous historical buildings – Venice is full of romance! It has been the setting of many a love story, and one of the most famous ones is the tragic love story between a fisherman and a mermaid. All that is left of their love is a stone heart that is said to bring eternal love to those who touch it, so make sure to take your own love there.

For the best view of Venice, check out Ponte dell’Academia, also known for the many love locks attached to it. Just don’t leave yours there, the locals will not appreciate the damage done to the historical bridge.

Photo credit: Tim Kelly

LAKE GARDA

The beautiful Lake Garda, with mountains in the distance, makes for a stunning scene for the couples seeking an active vacation. Visit the historical harbour of Sirmione, go hiking in the nearby mountains and end your day in one of the area’s excellent Italian restaurants, or watch the sun set into the lake on the beach.

NEW YORK

With all the romantic comedies set in New York, it would be hard to argue why New York does not belong on this list. It is the perfect urban setting for your very own love story. Exchange kisses on the top of the Empire State Building, take a stroll in Central Park and re-enact your favourite romantic movie scene in the city that never sleeps.

*****

GIVEAWAY

To spread the love, Marco Polo is organising a giveaway! We are giving away a set of 5 Marco Polo Pocket guides to one lucky winner, chosen at random.

How to enter?

Simply share the story of your most romantic travel moment or your favourite romantic destination 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 Wednesday 14 February 2018 until Tuesday 20 February 2018 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 14 February 2018 and all entries must be received by 12.00 GMT on 20 Febryary 2018. 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 Pocket Guides: (£7.99 each).
  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

10 reasons to go back to Prague

Prague is one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations and those who have been there know why! Here is Marco Polo’s list of 10 reasons to go back to the Czech capital.

Never been to Prague? You really should! You can check out our other Prague tips here.

Prague Marco Polo Guide

Photo Credit: Tim Kelly

 

1. In comparison with other leading cities, Prague is still very good value for money.

2. The architecture of the town is spectacular and is definitely worth a second visit.

3. The beer is far too good for one trip to be sufficient to give it the attention it deserves.

4. The coffee house scene is so dynamic that there is always something new happening.

5. Last time, there probably wasn’t time to enjoy at length the sun on the Vltava Embankment.

6. Next summer it would also be fun to rent a paddle boat on the Vltava.

7. You need to follow the Kafka Museum with the Kafka Tour.

8. David Cerny’s tongue-in-cheek works alone take up one whole day…

9. Taking a taxi is so inexpensive that you can leave your car at home next time.

10. In winter, the Christmas markets in Prague are also well worth a visit.

 

Buy the Prague Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Prague Marco Polo Guide

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Where to go in 2018? – Marco Polo Staff Picks

Choosing your travel destination can be difficult, as there is the whole wide world to choose from. Many of us are planning our 2018 travels at the moment, so we thought we would ask around our office for some ideas, and some Insider Tips. Here are Marco Polo’s Staff Picks for your 2018 travels:

Lake Garda Marco Polo Guide

Photo credit: Ian MacDonald

LAKE GARDA

“Lake Garda is my favourite holiday destination, it has everything – the weather, the views,
the food, the wine… did I mention the food and wine?

My tip for Lake Garda: Have your first espresso immediately after getting off the autostrada
(motorway). 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 breath-taking.”

– Ian MacDonald, Managing Director

Dresden Marco Polo Guide

DRESDEN

“Dresden city exudes a magical aura. When the morning sun glistens on the Elbe River and
highlights the silhouette of the Altstadt, even the residents of Dresden catch their breath.

As one of the most popular travel destinations in Germany (the city welcomes around
ten million visitors every year, and this figure is on the rise) it impresses its visitors
with monuments, art and culture. Yet, it is the Elbe River that defines the city’s
mood. It winds its way through the town in broad curves, passing vineyards, stately
castles and homely beer gardens, and lined by the broad Elbwiesen meadows, which
are unlike anything to be found in other large European towns these days. People meet
here to sit around camp fires, eat picnics, go for a walk, ride their bikes
or relax in the sand and watch the clouds go by… why not join them?”

– Andrew, Sales Representative for London and the South Coast

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA

“This is hardly a hidden gem, but after travelling around Asia for two and a half months,
this place is the one I still dream of. Angkor Wat is simply the most stunning thing I have
ever witnessed in my life. It’s no exaggeration to say it took my breath away. Make sure
you allow plenty of time to explore the temples. The best way is by tuk-tuk; hire a driver
for the day. Or if you’ve brave enough you can rent a moped or bike – but prepare to sweat!!

Whilst in Siem Reap be sure to check out Pub Street and the Night Market. Restaurant wise
– I’d recommend New Leaf Eatery and Genevieve’s, both of which are non-profit organisations,
so you can enjoy your meal knowing you’re supporting a great cause!”

– Hayley, Digital Marketing Manager

Photo credit: Alison Floutier

CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP & SAN DIEGO

“If you’re on Highway 5 heading south from LA to San Diego, add an extra hour to your journey time to allow a stop in San Clemente. It describes itself as the ‘Spanish Village by the Sea’ and would be so easy to dismiss in your charge south to the San Diego. But an hour here, taking in the ocean views and gorgeous Spanish architecture is well worth your time. Insider Tip – you’ll see the big Starbucks sign from the 5. Use this for navigation but stop at the Zebra House Coffee Shop. The best coffee you’ll experience in California and if you strike lucky, the walls can be laden with beautiful artwork from local artists.

Coronado, the spit of land that juts out from San Diego, is Paradise with a capital P. Everyone knows it for ‘The Del’, the grand Victorian Hotel Del Coronado graced by US Presidents and Marco Polo staff alike! It’s a beautiful beach to while away a few hours and then take your sandy-self to the Babcock and Story bar on the ocean front to sip a perfectly ice cold beer and imagine Marilyn Monroe filming Some Like it Hot on the beach just in front. If you can tear yourself away, a drive round to Point Loma is well worth the view looking back across the Navy base, the principal home port of the US Pacific Fleet, and see the hotel and the whole of this gorgeous peninsula.

Insider Tip – the finest Mexican food and eye-wateringly wonderful margaritas can be found just across the road and a world away from the tourist hub of The Del. Hidden behind a row of shops, is the fantastic Miguel’s Cucina. You need to find time to linger here.”

– Diane, Sales & Marketing Coordinator

Marco Polo Guides Lisbon Largo Trindade Coelho

Photo credit: Tim Kelly

LISBON

“Ah, where do you start with Lisbon? I think I’ll have to start with food – freshly caught seafood including prawns the size of your fist and Bacalhau, a local speciality! You can’t leave without trying a Pastel de nata – a Portuguese egg tart. The most popular place to try them is Pasteis de Belem, but they’re sold all over the city. Not forgetting the wine – Portugal produces some excellent wines! Including the famous Port and Madeira, of course… but they’re found all over the country. In Lisbon, the local delicacy is a sickly sweet but surprisingly delicious liqueur called Ginjinha. It’s made from cherries and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a whole cherry in the bottom of your cup! The best places to try it are A Ginjinha near the famous Rossio Square or Ginjinha Sem Rival.

Alfama is my favourite area in Lisbon, I could wander around there for hours. And you must visit Castelo de São Jorge, Rossio Square and the beautiful Cathedral: Se! My other tip is Belem… which is a little out of the city, but worth a visit… and if you have time, take an excursion to Sintra. You won’t regret it!”

– Petra, Sales & Marketing Manager

BOSTON

Boston is ideal as a stand alone city break or as a good starting point for trips further afield in the New England area. Hotels can be ridiculously expensive so we tend to go for the better priced boutique B&Bs. Seafood is plentiful and just about everywhere from cafes, pubs to restaurants offer lobster and their famous Clam Chowder on their menus and at such good value.

For sports fans you have everything covered, The Boston Red Sox Baseball stadium where you can take a guided tour, the TD Gardens for Ice Hockey and Baseball and Patriots Place for the current Superbowl Champions, the New England Patriots for American Football and The New England Revolutions for Soccer. This is further afield and requires a train journey but great to get to see small town America as you travel by.

Boston and the New England coastline is brilliant for spotting whales and from the harbour you can easily book day trips on the many tours they offer. Duck Tours are great to get your bearings and get the low-down on the city from a local driver and they all end up on the river which is one of the best places to view Boston. Their Aquarium is right on the harbour front and worth a visit.”

– Julie, Office Manager

UTRECHT, THE NETHERLANDS

“Amsterdam is one of those destinations that everyone has to see at least once in their life, but my tip for anyone visiting Amsterdam for more than a day or two is to leave the city. It may seem counter-intuitive, but there is a lot more to see in the Netherlands than just Amsterdam. One such place is Utrecht, one of the oldest cities in the country. It’s only 20 minutes away by train, but Utrecht is still a bit of a hidden gem for most tourists.

There are canals, just like in Amsterdam and many other Dutch cities, but the canals in Utrecht have a unique feature: the canal side docks. Once used for loading trade goods, today there are countless restaurants that host their terraces on the docks.

The Dom tower is the main landmark of the city, an old church tower from the 15th century, which you will be able to see in the horizon almost everywhere in the city. The cathedral is also worth a visit, as is the old courtyard with its flowers and a maze. Entrance is free, though a small donation at the door is always appreciated.

If you are hungry or thirsty, there is plenty that Utrecht can offer. My personal favourite for a quick, inexpensive snack is the Vietnamese streetfood restaurant Kimmade, on Mariastraat. It’s a tiny little place, with seats for around 10 people, but the food is excellent. For drinks Neude is the place to be, especially if it is sunny. The square will be packed with tables and chairs and this is where the locals will be. Order a beer and a portion of fries – or bitterballen if you are really feeling the local vibe, and enjoy.”

– Senja, Social Media Assistant

What is your pick for 2018?

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 24: London Christmas crackers

Happy Christmas Eve to all! It’s Day 24 of our Advent Calendar which means that it is time for the final Holiday tradition. For this one we don’t have to travel far, as we are taking a look at the good old Christmas crackers. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

Photo credit: Saz B on Unsplash

LONDON CHRISTMAS CRACKERS

What is Christmas without Christmas crackers with the paper crowns, riddles and silly jokes? But, did you know that Christmas crackers have only been around for less than 200 years? In 1847, a Londoner, Tom Smith, was trying to figure out a way to promote the sales of his bonbons. He first experimented with the adding of messages into the wrappers, small “love messages.” According to a tale, still trying to improve his sales numbers, Mr Smith was lighting a fire and when he heard the logs crackle, he found the inspiration to create a bonbon that would crack when pulled open. Mr Smith called his new cracking bonbon “the Cosaque” but – to Mr Smith’s dismay – the term “cracker,” invented by his competitors, was the one that stuck. The explosive popularity of the crackers was a bit of a double-edged sword for Mr Smith, and for his son, Walter Smith. Eventually competition was popping up everywhere and Mr Smith the younger had to find a way to distinguish their crackers from those sold by everyone else. This is when he decided to abandon the sweets entirely and the crackers we know today were truly born, with the paper crown, the riddle and the trinket.

Will you be pulling crackers this Christmas?

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London Marco Polo Spiral GuideSomething to say? Leave a comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.

Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 23: Sicily Christmas bonfires

It’s Day 23 of our Advent Calendar and Christmas is almost here! Today we are headed to Sicily, to discover how Sicilians – and other parts of Italy – keep warm on Christmas Eve. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

 

SICILY CHRISTMAS BONFIRES

We have already featured one Italian Christmas tradition, but there are so many lovely traditions that we could do a whole Advent Calendar of Italian traditions alone. However, we will do just one more: the Christmas bonfires in Sicily, and other parts of Italy. For Italians Christmas is still very much a religious celebration, and the Christmas bonfires have a religious background as well. Traditionally, the bonfires would be a part of large Nativity plays, meant to keep everyone – and most importantly the baby Jesus – warm. Nowadays most villages, towns and cities have a large bonfire on the main square on the evening of Christmas Eve, kicking off the festive period.

And really, is there anything nicer than a roaring bonfire in the darkest and coldest period of the year?

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 22: Krakow Szopka cribs

Happy Friday! It’s Day 22 of our Advent Calendar which means that Christmas is less than two days away. Today we are headed to Krakow, Poland to check out another lovely local Holiday tradition. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

 

 

KRAKOW SZOPKA CRIBS

Cribs, crèches, nativity scenes – whatever you want to call them – are a common sight around Christmas time in Christian homes, but in Krakow, the tradition has a unique local variation. In Poland it has been a long standing tradition for local woodworkers to create elaborate scenes as sets for the nativity plays, Jaselka in Polish. The plays would be acted out with puppets on the streets, sometimes involving legendary figures from Polish folklore, though straying too far away from the source material was strongly opposed by the Catholic church. The tradition goes back all the way to the Middle Ages. During the 19th century woodworkers started creating slightly smaller versions of their elaborate cribs, szopka, as seasonal decorations to be sold to the wealthy. In 1918 when Poland gained its independence, miniature szopkas were sold as souvenirs in Krakow. It is unclear when the tradition of setting the nativity scene in famous Krakow landmarks started, but the most popular source of inspiration is the St. Mary’s Basilica, though the Sukiennice trade hall and the Wavel castle are also often depicted in the szopkas.

Every year on the first Thursday of December a competition is held to find the most beautiful szopkas from different categories. The best works are displayed in the Historical Museum of Krakow or sold. The first time the competition was held was in 1937 and it has been held every year since, with the exception of the war years.

In which landmark would you place the Nativity scene?

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 19: Greek Christmas Boat

It’s Day 19 of our Advent Calendar and it’s time to head over to Greece to find an alternative for the Christmas tree. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

 

GREEK CHRISTMAS BOAT

If you are spending Christmas in Greece, and you take a walk in a harbour, you may see sailboats decorated with lights. Greece is a country of seafarers so it is hardly surprising that this  Christmas tradition revolves around boats. Especially on the Greek islands, such as Crete, this age old tradition is still going strong, and many people choose to even put up a decorated miniature boat in their home instead of a Christmas tree.

There are many variations to how the tradition supposedly came to be. Allegedly, it was customary for the wives of the homecoming sailors to decorate boats and place them by the fire to welcome their husbands home, and to symbolise the safe return of the ships.

Other sources link the tradition to the patron saint of sailors, Saint Nicholas, and indeed, the boats are traditionally decorated on December 6th, the feast of Saint Nicholas. Sometimes, the boats are also filled with gold coins – or these days, with chocolate coins – which are also a symbol of Saint Nicholas.

The tradition somewhat dwindled in popularity in the 19th century when the German kings of Greece started decorating Christmas trees instead, but in the islands the Christmas boats maintained their place in people’s homes. These days the boats are making a comeback on the mainland as well, and many cities display a large decorated vessel for all to admire.

Would you switch your Christmas tree for a more nautical centrepiece?

Buy the Marco Polo Crete Spiral Guide.

Crete Marco Polo Guide

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 17: Czech Christmas Carp

Happy 3rd Advent Sunday! It’s Day 17 of our Advent Calendar and that means that Christmas is only 7 days away! Today we are headed to the Czech Republic to find out why some Czech citizens avoid taking relaxing baths at home a few days before December 24th. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

carp by andrijbulba, on Flickr
carp” (CC BY 2.0) by andrijbulba

 

CZECH CHRISTMAS CARP

In the Czech Republic, and also in Slovakia, it is customary to eat fish on December 24th, and the fish of choice is usually carp. In fact, the local superstition is that eating carp on Christmas Eve will bring good fortune for the next year, and if you keep a scale from the Christmas carp in your wallet, it will help to keep money (and presumably to attract more of it) in your wallet. What makes the tradition particularly peculiar, however, is that many Czechs opt to buy a live carp a few days before Christmas Eve, presumably to make sure their Christmas carp is as fresh as it can be. Of course, the carp splashing and swimming around in the bathtub usually turns into a source of fun and fascination for children and cats. Some families even name their carp, and perhaps unsurprisingly, end up releasing the fish instead of cooking it to perfection.

Fortunately, it is also possible to buy your carp from the fishmonger ready to cook, without having it occupy the bathtub.

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Buy the Prague Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Prague Marco Polo Guide

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 16: Ireland Wren Day

Day 16 of our Advent Calendar and today we are headed to the Emerald Isle, Ireland,  to look at the tradition of the Wren Day. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

IRELAND WREN DAY

When many of us are celebrating Boxing Day on December 26th, in Ireland the day is traditionally known as the Wren Day, or Hunt of the Wren Day, Lá an Dreoilín in Gaelic. Up until the 21st century, it was customary to hold a bird hunt, to hunt a wren, and then hang the hunted bird in a net from a pitchfork and walk it through the town in a parade. Nowadays the hunt is usually skipped, or a fake bird is used instead. The parade consists of mummers, dressed up in masks, straw suits and colourful clothing, playing music and singing songs. The parades are sometimes called wrenboys and often at the end of the day, special parties, or ‘Wren balls’ are held.

There are several theories on the origins of the tradition. Some say it’s a Celtic tradition, the others claim a Norse origin, and there is also a claim that it is a Christian tradition. Whatever the true origin, the tradition is fundamentally Irish. A good, lively way to burn calories off after Christmas dinner.

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Ireland Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 15: Denmark Mandelgave

Happy Friday! It’s Day 15 of our Advent Calendar and today we are headed to Copenhagen to find out why almost every Danish person is on the lookout for almonds on Christmas Eve. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

DENMARK MANDELGAVE

Risalamande, from the French riz à l’amande, is a traditional Danish Christmas dish. It is a rice pudding made with vanilla, chopped almonds and whipped cream, and it is usually served cold with cherry sauce in Danish homes on Christmas Eve. A lovely, sweet – and heavy – dessert, but what really has the Danes excited, is the tradition of mandelgave, ‘the almond prize’ in Danish. The host of the Christmas dinner hides one (or more) whole almonds in the rice pudding, and everyone will try to find it. Traditionally, one must keep on eating until the almond has been found, which can be quite the task after the lavish Danish Christmas dinner. The happy finder of the whole almond will receive a prize and a year’s worth of good luck. Not a bad deal.

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Buy the Copenhagen Marco Polo Guide.

Copenhagen Marco Polo Guide

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