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!



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?

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Crete Marco Polo Guide

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Top 10 Things To Do On Crete

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

Crete Marco Polo Guide

The reconstructed palace of Knossos, near the island’s capital of Iraklio, gives visitors an idea of the splendour of the more than 3,500-year-old Minoan culture.

The museum’s rich collection of art, ritual objects and everyday utensils, unearthed by archaeologists in Crete, are all beautifully exhibited and clearly explained.

Over 500 years of Venetian rule left their mark on Crete, and nowhere is this more evident than in Chania, Crete’s second largest city.

A particularly large number of Ottoman-era minarets soar above the city; and its harbour is the most picturesque in Crete.

A hike through the Samaria Gorge, in the White Mountains, is an exciting adventure that combines physical challenge with great nature, and it finishes off with a ferry trip.

Many of the ruins of the former Roman capital are picturesquely scattered through an ancient olive grove.

The Minoan palace of Phaistos lies in a scenic location on a hill overlooking a fertile plain between Mount Ida and the Asterousia Mountains.

The excavation of this small Minoan country town gives one a vivid impression of how the
island’s ordinary people lived more than 3,500 years ago.

In a solitary location on a high plateau, this Renaissance monastery is a national shrine and symbol of Crete’s struggle for independence – hundreds of Cretans sacrificed their life here during a rebellion against Turkish rule.

The small, picturesque town in the east boasts a freshwater lake as a fishing port, an excellent museum and a former leper colony as an excursion destination.


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Crete 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.

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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!

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Top 10 Beaches for Snorkelling

Looking for the perfect destination for diving and snorkelling? Look no further – you’ll be in underwater paradise in no time with Marco Polo’s Top 10 Beaches for Snorkelling: 

Snorkelers with sea turtle

Photo credit: Vlad & Marina Butsky [CC BY 2.0]

1. Ammoópí, Kárpathos, Greece

Conditions are perfect for snorkellers on Kárpathos as visibility under water is excellent. Moray eels, barracudas and crabs can be watched near the shore. The diving centre in Pigádia runs diving courses for beginners as well.

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2. Anse Chastanet, St Lucia

Dive near the Pitons, the beautifully shaped volcanic plugs, and explore Anse Chastanet reef with its brightly-coloured undersea world of parrot fish and wrasses. INSIDER TIP: Another bonus is that the hotel beaches on the island are open to all!

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3. Punta dello Spalmatore, Ustica, Italy

The little island of Ustica is volcanic in origin and for that reason offers wonderful opportunities for snorkelling fans. Punta dello Spalmatore is the perfect starting point for a foray into the undersea world where you can marvel at fish including gleaming barracudas and bream.

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4. El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Eye to eye with Nemo, the orange-striped clown fish, a whole bouquet of brilliantly coloured coral and water as bewitchingly clear as Finnish vodka. Gaze into the endless skies and feel the soft, warm sand under your feet. In a nutshell – welcome to the Philippines, Palawan and paradise.

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5. Amos Beach, Turunç, Turkey

The water is as clear as neat raki and the swell quite gentle. Perfect conditions on the Turkish Aegean Coast to explore life under the surface. Amos Beach with its large pebbles boasts crystal-clear water and a lively undersea world.

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6. Shell Beach, South Bimini,  Bahamas

Let yourself be swept off  your feet and float above the white sand found on the seabed with its wavy patterns formed by the warm water. Here and there shoals of fish swim past or a large shell can be spotted with beady eyes peering out at you.

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7. L’Estartit, Illes Medes,  Spain

Rays, barracudas, octopuses… the variety of sea life around the seven uninhabited islands that jut steeply out of the water, is simply fascinating. Thankfully, these picturesque islets are in a conservation area.

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8. Navagíou Beach, Zákynthos,  Greece

The chances of seeing a hawksbill sea turtle in the Ionian Sea are pretty good. Just put on your diving gear and head for Navagíou Beach where you will be rewarded with spectacular underwater sights as well as a shipwreck on the beach.

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9. Zeituna Beach, El-Gouna, Egypt

The deep blue of the Red Sea conceals an even more colourful undersea world. Fishing boats take visitors to Zeituna Beach and the adjacent reef. If you are lucky, you’ll see some red lionfish and bluespotted ribbontail rays and sometimes even dolphins pass by here.

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10. Plage de Ficajola, Corsica,  France

Snorkellers can explore the little sheltered beach of Ficajola on the southern tip of the Gulf of Porto, hidden between towering cliffs that stretch some way into the sea. Anyone who dives here is rewarded with an undersea world teeming with life.

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Do you have any other great snorkelling sites you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.

Top 10 Family Beaches

Off on holiday with the kids? Here are Marco Polo’s Top 10 Family Beaches from all around the world! From Brussels to Crete, and from Italy to the USA – we’ve done the hard work for you – so you don’t have to! 


1. Dominican Republic, Samana, Las Terrenas

The water is like a bath, the sand perfect for playing in and, where the waves gently lap the shore, squeals of delight can be heard each time a wave comes in. The Caribbean is a paradise under palms for families. When the children are a bit bigger, whale-watching is an unforgettable experience – the best time to visit is in February.

Caribbean Marco Polo Map


2.  Greece, Crete, Bálos Beach

Turquoise, more turquoise, Bálos. The lagoon in the northwest of Greece’s largest island gives you that South Seas’ feeling – but without the palms. The beach of white shell and coral sand around the lagoon and the shallow water – up to a child-friendly depth of 50cm (less than 2ft) – are ideal for a relaxing family trip.

Crete Marco Polo Guide


3. USA, Sanibel Island, Bowman’s Beach

Buttercup Lucine, Florida Cone… the sandcastles on Sanibel Island are richly decorated, the island an eldorado for shell collectors. Gentle waves and no sudden drops are an open invitation for small children to paddle safely. For souvenirs head for ‘She Sells Sea Shells’.

Florida Marco Polo Spiral Guide


4. Italy, Caorle, Spiaggia di Levante

Spiaggia di Levante, with its sunbeds and shades, stretches out beyond the old fishermen’s church. Kids love the climbing frame on the sandy beach. Don’t forget a walk along the promenade with the children who can clamber around the artistic stone sculptures to their heart’s content.

Italy Marco Polo Guide


5. Western Australia, Monkey Mia

Anyone who has experienced this will dream about it for the rest of their lives. Swimming with dolphins is just pure bliss. On Monkey Mia beach Flipper’s relatives in the wild come right up to the beach. What does a dolphin’s skin feel like? Like a shelled hard-boiled egg under water!

Australia Marco Polo Guide


6. Belgium, Blankenberge

Building sand castles on the beach here has moved to a completely new level! Every year, children and adults can marvel at the work of professionals during the sand sculpture festival when the most incredible creations imaginable are conjured up in Blankenberge. For the rest of the year the little ones can try to make a work of art of their own, or simply enjoy paddling in the water.

Belgium / Luxembourg Marco Polo Map


7. France, Cabourg, La Plage des Romantiques

Villas along the promenade conjure up pictures of the elegant spas of old. The beach has been given the ‘Famille Plus – Mer’ seal of approval by the Ministry of Tourism and is considered particularly family friendly with lots of activities for young visitors available throughout the year.

France Marco Polo Atlas


8. France, Île de Ré, Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré

The beaches slope gently into the sea and the temperature of the water is perfect thanks to the Gulf Stream – the beaches in the south of the Île de Ré, off the French Atlantic coast, are ideal for the whole family. And don’t forget to buy a packet of the finest salt – known as fleur de del – from the salt pans here to take back home with you.

French Atlantic Coast Marco Polo Guide


9. USA, New Jersey, Cape May

This brightly-coloured resort with its oversized ‘dolls’ houses on the southern tip of the Garden State looks as if it is made of icing. There’s plenty of room on the long beach on the Atlantic for building sand castles and the waves are perfect for boogie boarding too. Cape May is perfect for all ages.

USA Marco Polo Map


10. Norway, Stavanger, Solastranden

A long, fine sandy beach, blue skies with a few cotton-wool clouds just here and there… Who doesn’t think of Norway’s beaches straight away? Solastranden near Stavanger is a popular place for families in the summer months.

Norway Marco Polo Guide


Content taken from the Marco Polo World Map with 100 Dream Beaches.

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Top 10 Party Beaches!

Let yourself be inspired by Marco Polo’s selection of Top 10 Party Beaches! Have fun planning the holiday of a lifetime where you can party until the sun comes up!

Group of people party on the beach.

1. Paradise Beach, Mykonos, Greece

Paradise Beach is a magnet for the young from all over the world. The sound is turned up in the early evening when DJs take to the turntables. The beach vibrates to the sound and night becomes day.

Greece Marco Polo Guide


2. Bloemendaal, The Netherlands

The best beach pavilions are in Bloemendaal where party-lovers congregate in the trendy lounges and chill-out areas on the shore. Sometimes several pavilions join forces and hold parties at the same time, turning Bloemendaal into Holland’s answer to Ibiza.

Netherlands Marco Polo Map


3. Daytona Beach, Florida, USA

The throb of V8-engines, the roar of Harleys right on the 37km (22 mile) long sandy beach and the thunder of the Altantic. Daytona Beach on Florida’s east coast is the ultimate meeting place for the young and young at heart. Open the throttle!

Florida Marco Polo Guide


4. Santa Cristina Beach, Lloret de Mar, Spain

Life is a beach! Young people from all over Europe descend on the Spanish party mile near Barcelona with its more than 100 bars and clubs, especially at the weekends. During the day, chill out on Santa Cristina Beach – it’s not quite as crowded as Central Beach.

Costa Brava Marco Polo Guide


5. Anjuna Beach, Goa, India

Dancing to the beat under decorated palms and coloured lights with lasers shooting into the evening sky, video installations and masses of other party freaks. The trance and techno parties on Anjuna Beach are wild and legendary. The latest trend is silent disco where music is played through headphones.

India South (Goa & Kerala) Marco Polo Guide


6. Golden Sands, Varna, Bulgaria

Chart hits, old favourites and lazing around in the sun. In the Golden Sands resort on the Black Sea in Bulgaria partying to live music and international singers turns night into day.

Bulgaria Marco Polo Guide


7. Drums’ Beach, Tel Aviv, Israel

Groove to the beat every Friday evening at sunset in the south of Tel Aviv when bongo players and drummers congregate on Drums’ Beach and pound out their rhythm like there’s no tomorrow.

Israel Marco Polo Guide


8. Bodrum, Turkey

In Bodrum, the place to be on the Mediterranean, the younger generation and thirty-somethings from nearby cities gather here to party under the stars. Insider tip: Party all night long in Club Halikarnas.

Turkey Marco Polo Guide


9. English Harbour, Antigua

This island in the Lesser Antilles has 365 beaches to offer, so deciding where to go is not so easy! Those who love sailing around the Caribbean anchor their yachts in English Harbour. Sundays at Shirley Heights is party time with a glass of rum punch and the sound of steel drum bands.

Caribbean Marco Polo Map


10. Nikki Beach, Marbella, Spain

The guests at Nikki Beach Club on the Costa del Sol are sexy, cool, trendy, wealthy and come from all over the world. Relax on one of the upholstered sunbeds under the palm trees or a white sunshade. Don’t miss one of the famous ‘White Parties’!

Costa Del Sol (Granada) Marco Polo Guide


Content taken from the Marco Polo World Map with 100 Dream Beaches.

Have any comments? Tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.