After finishing my A-levels, my best friend Lucy and I booked a girls holiday. No, it wasn't to Magaluf or Ibiza. We wanted somewhere that was both cultural, cheap and a good party. After finding flights for a reasonable price, we settled on Barcelona. For around 300 Euros, we stayed in a great hostel just around the corner from La Ramblas, just next to the Metro and within walking distance from all the best night clubs and a short ride to all of the excellent attractions that Barcelona has to offer. We spent a week in the city, beach and parks, managing to find cheap enough places to eat, drink and party. On a budget, we managed to have the best holiday and it's so easy to adapt a trip to Barcelona to your traveling style. There's plenty for families, older couples, friends, everything. I'm definitely planning on taking my parents there in the near future and my own family when I have one. Art galleries, Gaudi, food, anything you're interested in will be in Barcelona and so long as you know where to look, it can be as affordable as you like.
Amazing views from the 9th floor in Gran Via. A variety of restaurants in the same trendy rooftop. Good for tapas, traditional food and fusion. Also a good place for just a coffee or a cocktail with panoramic views.
Calla Metro Station.
Starting at Berwick-upon-Tweed a hike up the coast up to the English/Scottish border is a must as the beauty of the coastline is just breathtaking with coves, headlands and rocks which look like heads staring out to sea. The walk is generally easy but can be quite steep and dangerous at times because of the path being very close to the cliff edges and sheer climbs. But as long as you take your time and stay vigilant you'll be fine. A pose by the fence marking the border between England and Scotland as well as a photo by the border sign on the East Coast Mainline are both a must. To get to the border sign by the railway follow these directions - once you have got through the turnstile in the fence which has the Welcome to Scotland sign in front of it just turn left and walk across the field and follow the fence up to the stone wall by the railway line and the border sign is opposite to you.
Once you are in Scotland there are clear views down the coastline to St Abbs head. The entire walk from Berwick upon Tweed up to the England/Scotland border takes between one and two hours and clear signposting marks the way along the path so just follow the signs and stick to the path
A walk on the town walls of
Berwick-upon-Tweed provides stupendous views of the North Sea and the coastline south of Berwick as well as of the town itself. There are hidden gems along the route such as the Lion House, watch towers.
Google map: bit.ly/1338TY2
The restaurant has the finest clams near Lisbon and a view of one of Europe's most beautiful beaches. The journey there has captivating views of Serra da Sintra and the coastline. Spend a day at the beach then slide into the restaurant for a late lunch of ameijoas de bulhao pato (clams in garlic sauce) and camaroes (prawns) washed down with vinho verde (Quinta da Aveleda). On your way home stop off for dinner on the coast road between Guincho and Cascais at either Porto da Santa Maria (where presidents and football managers dine) or the Faroleiro
Take the train from Cais do Sodre in Lisbon to Cascais, jump in a cab towards Guincho beach, a 2km sweep of fine white sand. Drive along the coast road, passing Sintra range on your right and the coastline on your left. Drive past Cabo da Roca and Pe da Serra towards Almocageme. This beautiful village will lead you towards Adraga road. Follow it to the end.
Google map: bit.ly/10fjL7j
Just over the river from Lisbon is the Setubal Peninsula. Take a full day there, and head to the Arrabida Natural Park area. It has one of the most beautiful beaches in the region, Portinho da Arrabida, where green hillsides drop dramatically down to white sandy beaches. As it is protected by the curve of the Sado estuary, the water is warmer and much calmer than the Atlantic coast, perfect for sunbathing and swimming. There are also plenty of activities - diving, sea-kayaking, walking - all in the middle of the natural beauty of the Park. Have some of the best seafood in Portugal by detouring for lunch in Setubal, where there are dozens of low key restaurants dotted around local squares, and finally visit the quaint village of Azeitao for a wine-tasting at the Jose Maria de Fonseca quinta, including the regional sweet wine, Muscatel.
Portinho da Arrabida - www.getportugal.com/en/poi-praia-do-portinho-da-arrabida-14032
Outdoor activities - www.vertentenatural.com/index_lang.php
Winetasting - www.jmf.pt
The highest point in Athens. You can walk to the top using the footpaths but it is fun to catch the funicular railway (Telefrik). It is about a ten minute walk from Kolonaki square through some steep backstreets, but the funicular station is not well signposted. The little trains run every thirty minutes, and more frequently in busy times and costs six euros return. The views from the top are absolutely stunning.
10 minutes walk from Kolonaki square.
Google map: bit.ly/11w8a1O
A broad wooded valley north of Lucca, the Garfagnana is a ruggedly beautiful area of Tuscany hidden between the Apuan Alps and the Apennines, often overlooked in the stampede for the art-laden cities further south. If you are tired of galleries, museums and crowds or simply prefer nature to culture, a 24 hour escape to Barga, one of the 'Borghi piu Belli d'Italia' with its twisting lanes, artistic residents and incredible panoramic views will refresh your crowd-weary soul and renew your appetite for all that Florentine art. Among the elegant medieval merchant's houses are several flower filled stairways leading to the cathedral which surveys the town from above. The vista over the tiles and verdant valley towards the Apuan Alps is ample reward for the climb. There are plenty of trattorie for the obligatory sampling of delicious regional fare.
Barga can be reached from Florence by train but it is not a straightforward journey as you must leave the train on the valley floor. Simpler and quicker to drive - around two hours from Florence. Stay in the impressive and serene Villa Moorings in the town or in one of the many nearby agriturismi.
Villa Moorings: www.villamoorings.it
Via Roma 18, Barga (LU) 55051.
+39 0583 711538
Google map: bit.ly/Zg84hR
Tune in to to the animated chit-chat of day-tripping Madrillenos for an hour or so while you ride the local C8 train from Achota or Chamartin stations to the idyllic Sierra region of Cercedilla, an ideal spot for a couple of hours walk away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Madrid.
You can either walk the 3km from the station to Desehenas, where the trails start or take a bus (every 75 mins or so). I'd recommend the bus as it's an uphill walk along a pretty unattractive main road and you'll want to save your legs for the climb ahead.
There's an excellent information centre where you can get a map that shows you the three or four trails you can follow, depending on how far you want to walk and what kind of challenge you're up for. You don't really need the map because these are some of the best marked routes you'll find in Europe. So long as you can see 30 yards ahead of you all you have to do is follow the circles painted on the trees and you won't go wrong.
These routes take you through some of Spain's most spectacular views of the snow brushed mountains, along shady forest paths that open up on splendid views down the valleys below. Breathtaking in every sense.
Take the train from Atocha - either a slow 90+ minutes relaxation through the stunning forests and little villages of the sierras, or a fast 30 minutes zipping you to your destination. Then bus to the foot of the absolutely stunning 1st century Roman aqueduct; and a slow walk up the calle Juan Bravo, passing mediaeval casas and plazas, to the Plaza Mayor and the huge Gothic sandstone cathedral, with its myriad of buttresses. A pause here for refreshments under the arches or a lunch in the many restaurants in and around. For a glass of Douro and a tapas or a full meal in the restaurant try Jose and Maria round the corner (my favourite). Then a stroll down to the fantasy Alcazar, all turrets and towers, with its stunning views over the barren plain. On the way back slide down the left of the Cathedral to take in the Juderia and the synagogue. A walk outside the walls will take you back to your bus and on to the train and the beautiful journey home. A grand day out!
Google map: bit.ly/XMhZMe
Hilltop town favoured by the Etruscans and wealthy Renaissance families who valued the cooler climate. Well preserved Roman Theatre and other ruins in the archaeological park with lots of Etruscan artefacts in the Civic Museum. A Combo ticket also gives admission to Ethnographic Missionary and Bandini Museums (small but worth it for the painted panels).
Eating wise there are two good restaurants (l'Polpa particularly good) at the bus terminus on Piazza Mino or take a picnic on the panoramic terrace with wonderful views of Florence.
Take bus no. 7 either from outside the main railway station or from Piazza San Marco - about three an hour. Lots of hairpin bends up to the town. Double decker Florence sightseeing bus also goes there.
Piazza Mino, 21/22, 50014 Fiesole, Italy
Google map: bit.ly/XDwbVI
An enjoyable day trip from Madrid famous for it's monastery. Walk past the monastery and into the park beyond, stopping to buy a 'limon granizado' from the mobile refreshment cart on the way. Keep walking and go up the mountain towards 'La Silla de Filipe 11'. Fantastic views of the monastery and surrounding countryside. You'll hear cuckoos and woodpeckers. There's a cafe at the top for cold drinks.
Take the bus, 661 or 664, stand 11 from the bus station at Moncloa. An enjoyable ride that takes about 50 mins and costs €4.20
Google map: bit.ly/YrpinI
I caught myself singing out loud as I was walking the coast path between Swanage and Corfe Castle on the first sunny day of spring. The walk is about 10 miles, taking in wild cliffs, rock pools, giant fossils, old quarries, stunning bays and finally the lush Dorset countryside, with rewarding views of the mysterious castle ruins at the end. Put up your feet at the Greyhound Inn, which does a good pint and meal. Returning to Swanage by steam train makes for a perfect end of the trip.
For a guaranteed pick-me-up after our long winter head to Brodie Castle in Moray for a fix of bright yellow sunshine. The park around the castle has thousands of daffodils, part of the National Collection and some of them very old cultivars. Warm yourself up in the tearoom with some excellent homebakes before heading to the Culbin Sands for more colour - this time big blue skies and miles of white sands. End your day at The Loft at East Grange with an organic beer from the Black Isle Brewery and good, local produce. Winter blues replaced with spring colour!
From Buttermere to the Kirkstile Inn return, around Crummock Water.
This will take you about five hours including an hour’s stop for lunch at the Inn.
Begin in the small village of Buttermere, following the path to Crummock Water. This skirts the lake on its western shore. The path is clear and hugs the water’s edge.
Spring is coming, heralded at last by the sound of water as the frozen waterfalls melt, there is the gold of gorse, birds nesting and the bleat of lambs.
We recite lines from Innesfree:
‘I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore’ and sing snatches of song as our spirits soar as we tramp along.
Mellbreak soon flanks us as we tramp the mile or so along the path to Dropping Crag’s sheer face, on to High park and then by road to the Kirkstile Inn.
I sampled delicious home made bread and soup and a wonderful plum and cinnamon crumble washed down with half of the local ale before setting off to Lanthwaite wood.
This takes us back towards the lake and her Eastern margins. A path again follows the water’s edge, light glittering on rock and water, milder air.
The last bit is along the road into Buttermere but can be avoided with some careful map reading.
The Sky Tea Rooms are still open for home made ice cream or cream tea to round off a perfect day out.
Stroll or cycle the traffic free paths of this gently rolling 22km coastal stretch between Pembrey Country Park and the National Wetland Centre, Wales. Transformed from its industrial past, Llanelli’s steel works are now a wildfowl packed lake surrounded by sculpture dotted parkland. Carmarthenshire Woods and a giant earth sculpture replace a coal fired power station. Salt marshes and dunes provide a wildlife haven.
Bikes can be hired from The Discovery Centre at Llanelli (Merlin Cycle Tours), from where you can head in either direction, refuel in the café or grab an ice cream.
Discovery Centre/North Dock, Llanelli SA15 2LF
Google map: bit.ly/10TmB11
Stairway to Heaven is good mood music for a romantic journey to Castell y Bere - a cottage not far away was where Led Zeppelin started writing the song. The castle stands proud on a rock outcrop in the gorgeously peaceful and very remote Dysynni Valley. Visitors are infrequent - climb a wooden stairway and you may be alone to tour the extensive home of Llewellyn, the last prince of independent Wales, and Lady Eleanor, first Princess of Wales.
Once there, nearby for experienced walkers, is the start of the easiest route to ascend the 2930ft of Cadair Idris. Or the tiny chapel houses a scale model of the Dysynni Valley and the castle, and, from earlier times, has the poignant reminder of a leper hole. The small village, Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, was also made famous by the Bible Society as the place from where, in 1800, 15 year-old Mary Jones walked 25 miles barefoot to buy a bible.
To find it, head first for Machynlleth (‘Mach’ has a train station), pausing for sustenance perhaps, and check out the blue plaque marking the site of Laura Ashley’s first shop. Bron-yr-Aur, an unremarkable cottage unless you’re a Zeppelin fan, is up on the hillside (out of sight) as you head off towards Abergynolyn. The iconic Centre for Alternative Technology is a little further on. Satnavs or apps are said to function only erratically or not at all in the hills so a map is recommended to find Castell y Bere along a winding and narrow road.
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