Category Archives: Blog

Secrets To Avoiding ‘Dehli Belly’

Too many people have fallen victim to the dreaded Delhi Belly whilst on holiday in India, so be sure to follow these handy tips to reduce the risk whilst you’re there.

1.    Avoid ice. Even if you’re at the swankiest of hotels or the most expensive cocktail bar, unfortunately many establishments in India continue to make ice using tap water. Tap water in India is not fit for consumption, but many tourists still get caught out when they order bottled water and a glass of ice made with unsanitary tap water.

2.    Use hand sanitizer. Keep a bottle of hand sanitising gel in your bag to use before meals and after you’ve handled money. Money is one of the worst culprits of passing on germs, so take extra care!

3.    Avoid meat. This might sound extreme, but if you’re really set on avoiding Delhi Belly this is the best thing you can do. Sticking to a vegetarian diet whilst you’re away will avoid you coming into contact with meat that’s been hanging about in the heat for days and possibly exposed to flies and insects. Eating gone off meat will certainly leave you bed bound for a few days so it’s probably not worth the risk!

4.    Wear a sunhat.

Temperatures in India have been recorded as high as 50 °C (122 °F)

Temperatures in India have been recorded as high as 50 °C (122 °F)

Many people who claim to be a victim of Delhi Belly are actually suffering from a classic case of sunstroke. Make sure you protect your head from the sun, wear plenty of suncream and cool off in the shade regularly.

5.    Peel your fruit. Fresh delicious fruit in India is abundant, but that fruit will have been handled and sat out long enough to pick up germs. You could wash it with bottled water but the safest thing to do is peel it. Then you can enjoy it without the worry. Salad should also be avoided, as this is often washed in restaurants using tap water. As a rule, hot options are the safest as the germs should be killed through the cooking process.

6.    Eat the street food.

Street food is cooked fresh in front of you, minimising the risk of sitting around and becoming contaminated

Street food is cooked fresh in front of you, minimising the risk of sitting around and becoming contaminated

Contrary to belief, the street food in India is some of the most sanitary food you can eat, and it’s dirt cheap too! Street vendors have nowhere to store their food and so everything is cooked fresh in front of you. If you stick to the veggie options, you really can’t go wrong!

Of course, you can take all the precautions in the world and still get sick, so don’t let the fear of Delhi Belly worry you too much. If you do end up getting sick, stick to plain foods like rice or bread and drink plenty of bottled water to flush it out.

Visit New York On A Budget

It’s no secret that New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live and visit, but with this savvy guide, filled with penny-saving ideas and budget options from the people who know the city best, you’ll get even more out of your stay in the Big Apple!

Culture

The Guggenheim Museum opens its doors for free during selective days of the year

The Guggenheim Museum opens its doors for free during selective days of the year

Of course New York is well-known and highly celebrated for its world-class museums and cultural institutions, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to experience them all, even on a tight budget. Many of the major art, history and children’s museums have a tradition of opening their doors to the public, free of charge, on designated days of the month, to save you the otherwise pricey entrance fee. This goes for centres such as The Museum of Modern Art, Museum of the Moving Image, New York Historical Society and the Guggenheim Museum. Alternately, you can visit the fascinating American Folk Art Museum, which holds a vast and expertly curated collection of traditional folk art works and objects, and admission is free all-year-round.

Accommodation

Booking accommodation for your stay in the city can easily be the biggest expenditure of your trip, but it doesn’t have to be with these alternative, bargain options. Bed & Breakfasts are the ideal substitutes for hotels, especially for families travelling with children, seeking an intimate and secure base for their stay in the city, and usually work out at a fraction of the price! Another option is for self-catering apartments, which similarly provide a more private affair than a hotel and also give the option to cook for yourself, saving money on eating out too. These are made even cheaper if you book well in advance and during off-peak season, which for New York is from January to early March.

If you want to guarantee a prime location and superior hospitality, your best option is booking a hotel room or apartment with Secret Hotels, through lastminute.com or Hotwire, which will save you up to 35% on mostly 4 and 5 star properties.

Nightlife

New York’s legendary nightlife doesn’t have to cost you an arm and leg; there’s a plethora of after-dark destinations that promise an unforgettable night without the hefty price tag! The Slipper Room on Stanton Street is a unique find; offering unabashed revelry and provocation, through burlesque performances, exquisite cocktails and exceptional live music, and all for under $5 cover charge! In the heart of Manhattan, Chetty Red is a sensational comedy club charging absolutely nothing for entrance. But there are no cheap laughs here; all the acts have treaded the boards at either NBC or Comedy Central, so you can guarantee they’ll put on a show you won’t forget!

Eating out

Eating the street food is a great way to save some pennies

Eating the street food is a great way to save some pennies

As well as a scattering of Michelin starred and celebrity-owned restaurants, you can find food just as delicious around the city that is a lot easier on the pocket. You’ll find cuisines from all over the globe; Vietnamese, Indian, Latino, Caribbean and Greek, to satisfy even the most discerning of cheap eaters! The best place to head for these quick, cheap eats is the collection of food karts on Wall Street, where you’ll join the bankers and office workers on their lunch breaks. Stick to the all-American classic with a mouth-wateringly good, four-ounce cheeseburger from Wall Street Burger Shoppe for only $4!

Activities

Arguably the best way to explore New York, discover all its hidden gems and get from place to place, is to take one of the city’s many free walking tours, which run throughout the calendar year and provide stunning opportunities to see less-frequented spots, beautiful parkland and characteristic architecture. The Lower East Side walking tour is provided for tourists by the local Visitor Centre from April to December and is free of charge, giving you resident insight into the neighbourhood’s best shopping, dining, sight-seeing and nightlife. The Big Apple Greeters tour is proof that New Yorkers have plenty of heart, to take time out of their own lives to show visitors around their favourite neighbourhoods and help acquaint them with the wide diversity of personality in each one. So you get an insider’s view into how it is to live like a real New Yorker, without having to spend a dime!

 

The Pickpockets of Barcelona

Unfortunately pickpocketing is a problem in Barcelona, but this shouldn’t deter you from visiting this beautiful city- you just need to be aware of what to look out for and how to prevent yourself becoming the next victim.

1.    Don’t look like a tourist. I don’t mean you have to speak Spanish and pretend you’ve lived there your whole life, but you do need to ensure you don’t stand out from the crowd looking lost and confused, as this will only invite pickpockets to try their luck whilst you’re busy navigating the map. If you do need to stop to catch your bearings, head to a café where you can plan your next steps or ask the waiter for directions. Wearing a big backpack is another no no- in crowded places, pickpockets can easily reach into your bag without you knowing, so ensure you’re holding your bag where you can see it and guard it at all times.

2.    Make use of the safety deposit box. Whether you’re staying in a hostel or a five star hotel, 99% of properties will have a safety deposit box where you can keep your passport and valuables. There’s no reason to take your passport and all your euros for a two week holiday out with you every day- just take what you need! And of course, don’t advertise the fact you have expensive jewellery or designer handbags (for extra caution leave these items at home).

3.    Avoid isolated areas at night. Pickpockets hang about until the early hours waiting for drunken tourists to stumble out of nightclubs and the worst thing you can do is walk back to your accommodation through the quiet alleyways of the gothic quarter or similar isolated areas. Ideally, take a taxi home to avoid any unpleasantness, but if you must walk, take the busiest route with other people (even if that alleyway is a short cut!).

Avoid isolated areas at night, such as the winding alleyways of the Gothic Quarter

Avoid isolated areas at night, such as the winding alleyways of the Gothic Quarter

4.    Keep your bag close. The beach and restaurants are two of the main places that pickpockets take advantage of. They know that when you’re sunbathing, or enjoying a meal you’re going to be more carefree about your belongings. They might approach you selling something, or begging or they might just do a snatch and grab. Do not put your handbag on a separate seat (especially on outside tables), and don’t fall asleep next to your beach bag. Keep your arm looped around it at all times, or if you’re at a restaurant, tie it to the chair leg.

5.    Pickpockets often work in groups. A common scam is to be distracted by someone, usually asking for directions, and whilst you’re talking to them, their accomplices will take the opportunity to steal from you when your guard is down. Most people won’t even realise their wallet or camera is gone until they need it- so if anyone tries to talk to you just keep on walking!

Take extra care in crowded areas such as La Rambla

Take extra care in crowded areas such as La Rambla

6.    Beware of fake policeman. A real policeman is not going to randomly ask you for ID (unless of course you’re doing something you shouldn’t be!) A common scam is for pickpockets dressed as policeman to flash an ID card and demand to see yours. As you’re busy finding it, their accomplices will take the opportunity to rob you- sometimes without even trying to hide the fact! The moral of the story is- just keep on walking and ignore them.

7.    Better to be safe than sorry. If you ever feel threatened, or notice someone following you or acting suspiciously then removed yourself from the situation. Whether that means jumping in a cab to go elsewhere, or going into a shop or café. Trusting your gut is your best weapon!

Top Five Views of Barcelona

When you first arrive in a new city, getting your bearings is essential, and what better way to do so that checking out the views! We’ve listed our top five below- perfect for picnics and romance.

1. W Hotel

The view from Eclipse Bar at the W Hotel

The view from Eclipse Bar at the W Hotel

This iconic five star hotel, in the shape of a sail ship, is situated on Barceloneta beach and offers fantastic views over the coast and city. Take the lift up to the 26th floor where you can take in the stunning vistas from the viewing platform for free before heading into the chic Eclipse bar with floor to ceiling windows. The onsite restaurant BRAVO24 offers up stunning vistas of the sea and coastline from its terrace, whilst guest rooms come with either city or sea views (you can request your preferred option when booking). You’ll also find small telescopes in the room so you can watch the boats and liners coming in. Check W Hotel prices & availability here.

 2.    Parc Güell

The view of Barcelona from Parc Guell

The view of Barcelona from Parc Guell

Gaudi’s spectacular landscaped park, just north of Gràcia, is a feast for the eyes with mosaic sculptures and fantastical structures including the Sala Hipóstila, a cluster of tree like columns. Wander up this hilled garden and in the southwest corner you’ll find Turó del Calvari, a small stone structure with three crosses at the top. It’s from here you’ll be greeted with spectacular panoramic views of the city including landmarks such as the Sagrada Familia, Montjuïc Hill and the coastline. Alternatively, if you follow the pathway to the very top of the park, there’s a plateau with benches, which makes an excellent spot for a picnic.

3.    Montjuïc Hill

Montjuïc is known for its evening magic fountain display and its selection of museums and galleries including the celebrated Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, but it’s also where you’ll find some of the best views of Barcelona. At 568ft high, a walk to the peak is highly recommended, where you’ll be greeted by a 17th century castle with several viewing points. Even as you follow the winding path up to the top, you’ll be exposed to fantastic views of the harbours and coastline but from the roof of the castle you’ll have 360-degree vistas– the perfect place to enjoy a picnic!

4.    Mount Tibidabo

Mount Tibidabo rises up to an incredible 1746ft, and is the highest mountain in the Collserola mountain chain that borders the city. You can easily reach the top by tram and funicular train, (just a ten minute train journey from the centre of Barcelona) or indeed make the ascent on foot if you’re feeling active. Once you’ve arrived you’ll be welcomed by extensive views of Barcelona and it’s coastline. Besides the fantastic views, Tibidabo is home to an amusement park and the Temple of the Sacred Heart church. Just a kilometre away, you’ll also find the Torre de Collserola, an award winning communications tower complete with a restaurant and observation deck.

5.    Cable Car

The cable car and views over Barcelona

The cable car and views over Barcelona

The cable car runs from the San Sebastià tower, near Barceloneta beach, up to the Miramar tower on Montjuïc Hill. It will cost you €9 for a one way trip and €12.50 for a return, and although you can experience great views from other points for free, the cable car does give a unique perspective of the city with birds eye views of the port and centre. The journey lasts around 7 minutes, so it’s a practical way to get across the city quickly, with cable cars leaving every 15 minutes. There’s also a restaurant at the San Sebastià tower, Torre d’Alta Mar, serving Mediterranean cuisine against the backdrop of the port and coastline 250 feet into the sky.

Visiting Berlin On A Budget

For Culture

Many of Berlin’s museums are free all year round, including the Topography of Terror, the Allied Museum and the Berlin Wall Memorial. For anyone interested to learn about Germany’s history and particularly life under and after the third Reich, these museums are a must, with the former known for its particularly moving exhibits. For those interested in the Cold War, visitors can now pass through Checkpoint Charlie for free and imagine what life was like during the division of east and west.

For the arts, there are a couple of free options, the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin is a small contemporary art museum with free entry every Monday and the Academy of Arts is free the first Sunday of every month. Alternatively, there is a cluster of free galleries around Hackescher Markt, and on Thursdays to coincide with new exhibition openings you’ll enjoy free drinks and snacks whilst you peruse the city’s latest offerings.

Reichstag Berlin Germany

The Reichstag is free to enter and offers panoramic views of the city from its viewing platform.

The Reichstag, home to the German parliament, dates back to 1894 and has witnessed some of the most important historical events of the last century, including the fire of 1933, which led to Hitler taking power. You can explore this iconic building for free, and the viewing platform of the glass dome offers panoramic views of the city between 8am and midnight.

Accommodation

Berlin can be an expensive city break, especially for first timers, so it’s important to save money on your accommodation.

The city offers a wealth of hostels, as it’s a popular destination for the younger crowd, and on the whole you’ll find these to a high standard with free wifi and kitchenettes. The Circus Hostel  is a great option, offering 11 flats for 2-4 people as well as dorms, whilst Pfeffersbet is an award winning hostel in the lively area of Prenzlauer.

berlin-catIf sharing a dormitory doesn’t sound that appealing, self catering apartments and bed and breakfasts are also good budget options. You’ll save a lot by cooking in the former option, but if you’re only staying for a couple of nights it may not be worth it. Hotels are the preferable option in Berlin, as you’ll have more locations to choose from but you can expect to pay a few hundred a night for prime locations, especially during peak season. For the best deals, opt for a Secret Hotel, which will save you up to a cool 35% off (click the image to the right to begin your search!).

Nightlife

Berlin is famed for its nightlife and eclectic music scene. A-Trane and B-Flat offer free jazz nights every Wednesday and jam sessions for the musicians among us.

For an honest watering hole, Franken offers cheap beers in a pub ambience, whilst Café Morgenrot is the best place for cheap cocktails and Helmut Kohl is renowned for its cheap whiskey sours! For dancing the night away, many clubs, such as C-base, offer free entry before a certain time.

Eating Out

Currywurst is one of the city’s best loved fast food dishes, consisting of steamed and fried pork sausages cut into pieces and covered with a curry ketchup. Fill yourself up on this guilty pleasure at Konnopke’s Imbiss or Curry 36 for just €2.50- perfect on a hangover! For traditional German dishes and a rustic ambience, Henne Alt Berliner Wirtshaus will fill you up for less than a tenner whilst Hamy Café is a tasty Vietnamese venue with mains for under €5.00.

Alternatively Kollwitzplatz food market is a great place to pick up delicious treats for a gourmet picnic, or simply experience a traditional German market. The displays of food here are sure to get your mouth watering if the wafts of freshly cooked bratwurst don’t lure you in first!

Activities

Alternative Berlin, offers free tours off the beaten track of the city- perfect for anyone in search of something different to do! With three daily tours heading to artists’ squats and daytime parties it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience!

East Side Gallery Berlin Wall

Discover the culture and history of Berlin through the colourful murals of the East Side Gallery.

First timers to Berlin should include a walk alongside the Berlin Wall. The East Side Gallery encompasses a section of the former wall, adorned with murals to educate people about the history and culture of Germany. In fact it’s the world’s largest open air gallery with over 105 paintings.

If you’re keen to escape urban life, Tiergarten is Germany’s second largest city park, originally used as the hunting ground for the royal family in the 16th century. This stunning park is today a haven for romantic strolls and family picnics, with mazes, ponds and landscaped gardens. Nearby is also one of Berlin’s most photographed monuments, the Brandenburg Gate, symbolising unified Germany.

Visiting Rome On A Budget

For Culture

Wandering around Rome and taking in its stunning architecture doesn’t cost a thing, and many of the best known landmarks can be entered for free too. The Pantheon dates back to 27 BC and was originally built to worship the Roman Gods but today it is a Roman Catholic church, where visitors and locals can attend services, and of course admire the famous open-air oculus in the dome which lets natural light pour in. Angel Tours offer free 30 minute tours from every evening at 7pm.

Rome Colosseum At Dusk

The Colosseum at dusk

The Colosseum is perhaps the city’s most iconic landmark, and there is an admission fee, but you can walk right up to this Roman Amphitheatre free of charge. If you have time, visit it at night when the whole structure becomes illuminated to produce a hauntingly beautiful symbol of Imperial Rome.

You’ll have to pay to enter a number of Rome’s galleries and museums, but the Vatican Museums offer free entry on the last Sunday of every month. Highlights include Michelangelo’s frescos in the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms and Greek and Roman antiquities such as the Belvedere Torso and the Discus Thrower. Other free museums include the Gallery of the National Academy of San Luca, the Historic Museum of the Liberation of Rome and the Numismatic Museum of the Italian Mint.

Accommodation

To get the best deals when visiting Rome, you’ll need to avoid the peak season months of July and August, but if you’re tied down to travelling during the school holidays there are still a few options. Families should consider self catered apartments, whilst students and younger travellers might like to opt for hostel accommodation. If you’re keen to stay in a centrally located hotel, your best chance of securing a deal is through Secret Hotels. This concept offers guests up to a 35% reduction on room rates, you’ll be able to read all about their facilities and services and rough location but the name and address won’t be revealed until you book- who doesn’t like an element of surprise!

Nightlife

La Notte Bianca sees Rome open its galleries and museums for free for one night only during the month of September. Visitors can attend cultural events and performances for free before enjoying a spectacular fireworks display and over the summer the Miracle Players at the Forum show a range of free public performances in English including comedies and dramas- the perfect date night without the price tag.

Besides specific events, it can be hard to find cheap watering holes in Rome. The rule of thumb is to step away from the tourist traps- and where you see locals drinking is usually a good sign! Look out for happy hour deals, or head to an aperitif bar to even out the price of booze with free food (see eating out section below).

Eating Out

Don't miss out on a traditional wood fire oven pizza!

Don’t miss out on a traditional wood fire oven pizza!

There are so many tourist trap restaurants in Rome, it can be frustrating trying to get a good meal for your buck- but it’s by no means impossible! La Gatta Mangiona (the greedy cat) is a popular pizzeria with delicious homemade desserts to boot. Expect a relaxed friendly ambience with cat inspired décor! For a spot of lunch or a snack, IL Seme e la Foglia is a favourite with teachers and students, with pasta and salads from just 5 euros and for a slice of pizza on the go, IL Forno Campo de’ Fiori is truly heavenly!

Remember to take advantage of the public water fountains around the city. Don’t waste money on buying bottled water when you can fill up your bottle for free!

For the chance to try some authentic Italian dishes for free, get yourself to an Aperitif bar, like Société Lutèce, Bar Gelateria Pompi and Crudo. For the price of a drink, you’ll get to fill your plate from a buffet of pizza, pasta, salads and cold finger food. 

Activities

Timing your trip with events and festivals is a great way to ensure some free entertainment. In the summer, Rome comes alive with the Estate Romana festival, with outdoor performances, film screenings and concerts and many of these are free to the public.

Toss a coin into the fountain and legend has it you'll return to Rome.

Toss a coin into the fountain and legend has it you’ll return to Rome.

Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain you’ll return to Rome again, and the Mouth of Truth, in the entrance to the church of Santa Maria, is said to bite the hand off anyone who tells a lie. Another quirky attraction has to be Largo Argentina, the site where Julius Caesar was murdered by Brutus, and now home to a no-kill cat shelter. There really is something surreal about seeing so many cats basking in these ancient ruins. The shelter also offers free tours.

Perhaps the prettiest neighbourhood of the Italian capital, Trastevere is known for its winding cobbled streets and pretty squares. The huge villas and gardens here once belonged to Julius Caesar himself. If you’re looking to escape the bustle of the city, Park Gianicolo offers fantastic panoramic views of the city, and offers free puppet shows to entertain little ones. The best picnic spot however has to be the gardens of Villa Borghese.

Top Five Spanish Festivals

Spain, the country that gave us the word ‘fiesta’ attracts revellers from all over the world to its towns and cities for the many festivals that take place throughout the year. Fireworks, noise, music, religion and alcohol all play a part in making the fiesta in each town an event that celebrates exuberance and joy at being alive. Fiesta visitors never fail to enjoy a truly memorable experience whether it is running with bulls in Pamplona, jumping over babies in Murcia or flinging tomatoes at anyone within view in Buñol. The fact that every town in Spain has its own festival tells you something about how proud Spanish people are of their home towns and how much they love to let loose and enjoy a riotous occasion. Finding a fiesta is as easy as stepping off a plane – here are one or two memorable festivals to give you a reason to take a trip.

1. Running with the Bulls at Pamplona

Running With The Bulls!

Time: Early to mid July

Location:  Pamplona, Northern Spain.

What is it? A magnificent outdoor party that combines alcohol and stampeding bulls. What could go wrong?

Who is it good for? Anyone who enjoys letting their hair down, especially the mad, who like the idea of being chased by large, horned animals and the bad, who want to watch them do it.

Tell me more… 
Few festivals have the name recognition of the Pamplona bull running festival. A week-long open-air party where hordes of tourists from Spain and all over the world dress up in white shirts and red scarves to eat and drink the night away. El Chupinazo is the pyrotechnic show that kicks-starts the festivities and the highlight at the end of each night is undoubtedly the encierro, therun of the bulls held in the early morning that sees revellers run for their lives down 850 metres of narrow cobbled streets, armed with a rolled-up newspaper and hopefully making it to the finishing line at the bullring. The three-minute adrenaline surge is unsurprisingly considered dangerous and the number of serious injuries every year numbers in the dozens, including broken bones, goring or even asphyxiation. On the last day of the celebrations, people embrace to sing Pobre de mi as they bid farewell to the fiesta for another year.

Nearest international airports: Biarritz (127 km), Bilbao (172 km) or Zaragoza (174 km). Pamplona also has a domestic airport.

Interesting fact: Since records began 15 people have been killed taking part in the bull            run.

2. Cabalgata de Reyes (Parade of the Three Wise Men)

Time: Early January

Location: Nationwide but with a particularly lively one in Madrid.

What is it? A celebration of Christmas with giant toys, parades and enchanting puppet shows. 

Who is it good for? Families.

Tell me more…
Christmas gifts in Spain are traditionally handed out on 5 January (Noche de Reyes) instead of 25 December and the Cabalgata de Reyes festival celebrates the end of the Christmas period with a big focus on present giving. Throughout the streets of Spanish cities and villages, floats adorned with the themes and colours of Christmas, Santa Claus and the Three Wise Men make their way proudly down thoroughfares on chariots overflowing with presents, throwing sweets to the watching children, who have presents of their own to look forward to at home. The most impressive cabalgata (parade) takes place in Madrid, starting at Nuevos Ministerios and finishing at Cibeles at around 21:00. A highlight of the parade is the Cortylandia, a famous show of puppets and giant toys that thrills children and adults alike. The participants traditionally sing the same song every year in front of the large El Corte Inglés department store on Princesa street. 

Nearest International Airport: Madrid.

Interesting Fact: After the parade children leave their shoes out in a place where the Kings are sure to see them so that they will definitely receive their presents.

3. El Colacho (Baby Jumping)

Time: Late June

Location: Village of Castrillo de Murcia near Burgos in northern Spain.

What is it? Fiesta to banishing evils spirits from babies involving leaping over multiple newborns laid out on mattresses.

Who is it good for? Anyone who enjoys strange traditions or trying something just a little different.

Tell me more…            
On the week of Corpus Christi the Colacho, men acting as the agents of the devil on earth seeks to free newborn babies from all evil by jumping over them in a single bound. A local fiesta dating back to 1620 and now made up of parades, music and other festivities, the highlight is an attempt by young men of the town, dressed up in a bright yellow costume, to jump over rows of babies. Groups of four to six newborns are placed on mattresses every few yards as cheering mothers ask the Colacho to jump multiple times over their babies to ward off all evil and bless their children for a lifetime. The ceremony is finished off when unwed women from the village rush to the babies, lift them off the ground and return them to their mothers, thus improving the women’s chances of getting married in the coming year. Throughout the day children shout and mock the Colacho, who run wild on the streets of the town, hitting a terranuela, a nut-shaped object to attract attention. 

Nearest international airport: Bilbao (179 km) or Santander (182 km). Burgos itself also has a domestic airport.

Interesting fact: The Catholic Church frowns on the festival but local priests still turn out to bless activities.

4. La Tomatina

Time: Late August

Location: Buñol, near Valencia in southern Spain

What is it? A party where everyone gets together in the town centre to throw ripe             tomatoes at each other and generally make a complete mess.

Who is it good for?  Eaters with bad table manners with access to a clean set of clothes.

Tell me more… 
Another world famous Spanish festival, La Tomatina is nothing but fun. The fiesta has its origins in the Second World War when a group of young people started a food fight, throwing vegetables at each other in the town square. Like most festivals in Spain there is a religious element to La Tomatina and it tips its hat to the patron saints of Buñol, San Luis Bertran and the Virgin Mary. However this fiesta is all about good, clean fun (or not!). La Tomatina was banned during Franco’s regime during the 1950s but was later restored because of people’s overwhelming desire to throw food their neighbours. There is a loose set of rules which mean that the battle starts when a ham is placed at the top of a soapy pole two stories high, with teams forming to climb to the top and loosen the ham. As soon as the ham hits the ground, a bell rings and the tomato fight starts. After 60 minutes, a second bell rings to signal the end of a fight, by which time around 125 tonnes of tomatoes will have been fired, landed and squashed. Over the years the fiesta’s popularity grew to the point where 40,000 – 50,000 people were attending every year. This created security and cost issues and in an effort to manage the event the local council limited numbers in this year’s Tomatina to 20,000 and began charging tourists to participate. It is the best ten euros you will ever spend.

Nearest international airport: Valencia (38 km).

Interesting fact: The tomatoes used are grown especially for La Tomatina and are not used for cooking.

La Merce

Time: Third week in September

Location: Barcelona

What is it? City street festival with four days of open-air entertainment including dozens of free concerts with plenty of music, food and all-round good times.

Who is it good for? Everyone!

Tell me more… 
The La Mercé festival commemorates the Virgin Mary’s ridding of the Catalan capital from a plague of locusts in the 17th Century, together with intercessions from various military attacks down through the years. Nowadays the feast day of 24 September is an official city holiday and the four days preceding sees Barcelona peopled by gegandes (papier-mâché giants), drummers, correfocs (fire runners) and castellers – human castles rising up to eight stories high. There are a multitude of things for visitors to see and do and guests can enjoy it all while sampling the delights of Catalonian tapas and cañas of cerveza.

Nearest international airport: Barcelona or Girona

Interesting fact: Sparks will fly during the correfocs so wear clothes that aren’t flammable.

 

London Hotels With Spa (our Top 4!)

1. Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane ***** 

Four Seasons Spa

Out of all the spas in London, none rival the fantastic service and facilities available at the Four Seasons. Located on the tenth floor, this rooftop haven with floor to ceiling windows benefits from stunning vistas across London and nearby Hyde Park making it a true urban retreat. The spa has nine treatment rooms offering everything from manicures and massages to an aromatherapy salt scrub and a classic Hungarian body wrap. Treatments are available for both men and women and special packages include ‘mother to be’ and ‘wedding bliss’ designed to pamper before the big day.  The relaxation pods are a welcome addition, and a must after using the sauna and plunge pool. Check prices & availability. 

2. The Berkeley *****

New-Berkeley-Pool---716The spa at the Berkeley has been a favourite amongst the rich and famous for a long time, and I think what sets this spa apart from the rest of the pack is its iconic rooftop swimming pool overlooking Knightsbridge and Hyde Park. The Bamford Haybarn Spa here uses organic ingredients in their treatments for both men and women, which include waxing, facials and massages. As well as the swimming pool, there is also a sauna and steam room but if you’re after the ultimate relaxation, book yourself in for one of the Berkeley Experiences which include breakfast, lunch or dinner depending on when you visit. The fully equipped gym uses Life Fitness cardiovascular equipment. Free weights and resistance machines are also available. The gym has little luxuries such as personal TV and hifi monitors with headphones and complimentary mineral water and fruit juice. Personal trainers can help with anything from nutrition to boxing, yoga and even life coaching.

3. Connaught Hotel *****

Connaught hotel spa

The award winning Aman Spa at the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair is an Asian retreat offering guests the ultimate urban tranquillity. The vast selection of treatments here takes its inspiration from around the globe. Be transported to the Himalayan Mountains with a traditional Chinese body and face massage or to an exotic beach with the Indian inspired Samadara facial massage. The spa has five treatment rooms, including one double- making it the perfect option for a couple’s massage and spa day. Before your treatment guests are encouraged to arrive early to make use of the opulent black tiled swimming pool with waterfall feature and the crystal steam room, which uses essential oils to nourish your skin, for relaxation. The fitness centre uses Technogym equipment with free weights and cardiovascular focused machines. Personal trainers are also on hand should you want a tailored workout and one on one yoga sessions are also available in one of the treatment rooms. Check prices and availability

4. The Mandarin Oriental *****

The Mandarin Oriental London spa

Spread over two floors, this contemporary spa has eight treatment rooms all with private showers where guests can experience a customised aromatherapy facial or an oriental essence body massage as well as healing and rejuvenating treatments. Before or after your treatment, you can indulge in the decadence of the water and heat facilities, including vitality pools, amethyst crystal steam rooms and solariums. Half day and full day packages are available as well as tailored packages to your needs, such as expectant mothers and brides to be. A sleek stainless steel swimming pool is set to open before the end of 2013, but until then guests can make use of the fully equipped gym, open 24 hours, or invest in the knowledge and guidance from one of the specialist personal trainers. Private classes such as yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates are also available as well as the help of a nutritionist and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner. Check prices & availability.

 

London Hotels With Free Parking

It comes as no surprise that finding a hotel with free parking in London is no easy feat and if you want something centrally located, you’ve got very slim pickings. From the small quantity of hotels that do offer this budget saving luxury, we’ve selected the top 5.

The Hide London (not star rating registered)

The Hide Hotel London

The Hide is a luxury boutique hotel located just 2 minutes from Hendon Central tube station in the north of the city. Guest rooms are beautifully decorated and come with a complimentary continental breakfast. Besides the free parking, there is free WIFI as well as an in room safe and mini fridge. Hendon Central is on the northern line, which means you can easily get into the centre as well as popular destinations such as Camden and Hampstead Heath. All in all this is an exceptionally good value hotel with rave reviews from fellow guests. Check prices & availability.

Glenlyn Guest House ***

the glenlyn guest house

The Glenlyn Guest House is in a beautiful Victorian terrace, with many original features, situated just a 7 minute walk from Woodside Park tube station in the heart of Finchley, north London. Guest rooms are spacious and finished to a high standard with tasteful décor and modern amenities such as a 32” flat screen television and tea and coffee making facilities and each come with a private bathroom. The property also benefits from three one-bedroom apartments, furnished with granite worktops in the kitchen, walk in shower and Hypnos luxury beds. Breakfast is served in the conservatory and there is also a bar and garden where guests can relax. The hotel offers 16 free parking spaces, and these are given on a first come first serve basis, and should you need to go into central London, Woodside Park is on the northern line which will take you to Leicester Square in 30 minutes. Check prices & availability

The Fox and Goose Hotel ***

the fox and goose hotel

Located in Ealing, near to Hanger Lane tube station, The Fox and Goose Hotel is within easy reach of Wembley Stadium and just a 20 minute drive from Heathrow Airport. The free parking onsite means you can explore the local area with ease, and the proximity to Hanger Lane allows guests to be in the centre of London within 25 minutes. Expect contemporary styled guest rooms, an award winning beer garden and a destination restaurant serving Sunday roasts and traditional pub classics. Check prices & availability.

Cannizaro House ****

cannizaro house

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to stay in a Georgian mansion where the likes of Oscar Wilde and the last Maharajah of the Punjab have stayed, then Cannizaro House is for you! This impressive property is set within Wimbledon Common and the free parking is sure to come in handy here as most points of interest are a short drive away, such as Windsor Castle and Thorpe Park. The nearest tube is Wimbledon, which is on the district line so journeys into the centre are around 30 minutes. Each of the 46 guest rooms has been individually designed, including 4 suites for extra luxury. Besides the first class accommodation here, the hotel boasts a destination award winning restaurant, a recently renovated Orangery and a lounge bar. So whether you want a sophisticated cocktail or afternoon tea overlooking the lush parkland, you’re sure to be well catered for. Check prices & availability.

The Lodge Hotel Putney ***

the lodge hotel putney

Set within two Victorian houses, guest rooms in this three star hotel are contemporarily decorated and benefit from free wifi as well as complimentary tea and coffee, a writing desk and comfortable beds. East Putney tube station is a 2 minute walk away, and runs on the district line with easy access to popular destinations such as High Street Kensington and Notting Hill. There’s plenty to do in the local area however, with the prestigious borough of Chelsea easily reached by car or public transport. Besides the free parking, the food here is sourced from the best suppliers to create exciting and delicious dishes in The Library restaurant and the Conservatory where guests take their breakfast. Check prices & availability.

 

How To Get An Upgrade On Your Hotel Room

Hotel Upgrade

A smile goes a long way!

We’ve all been there, checking into that bog standard room at reception whilst Joe Bloggs gets carted off to his penthouse suite. But what if you can harness your green eyed monster to get a free upgrade? Follow our careful tips below and try them out next time you book a hotel!

1. Careful planning is the key to winning your free upgrade. If you book into a hotel in Dublin on St Patricks Day the likelihood of bagging a free upgrade is going to be zilch. In fact, even if you were willing to pay for an upgrade, it’s very unlikely that a spare room will even be available at such a busy time of year. Your best chance of getting a free upgrade is to stay during off peak times when the hotel is unlikely to be fully booked.

2. If you’ve booked the cheapest room in the hotel, this won’t help your cause. The fact that you book the second cheapest room will increase your chances dramatically as the hotel will see you’ve opted for a specific room for the extra features, and are therefore willing to pay for them. Another key part of the booking process is your length of stay. It’s very unlikely a hotel will upgrade a guest for a whole week but if you’re staying just one night what’s the big fuss?

3. It’s all in the approach. Don’t start throwing a hissy fit the moment you walk through reception, you’ve got to play it cool or the staff will know exactly what your game plan is.

You’ve got two options when you get to your room. Firstly you can kindly ask the member of staff for a small change, eg “I don’t suppose there’s another room available with a slightly better view” or “I didn’t realise there wasn’t a bath/fridge with this room”. You’re not explicitly asking for an upgrade but you are asking for small features or amenities associated with better and more expensive rooms. If you can think of a reason why a bath or fridge is so necessary, this will no doubt help your cause. If another room is available, the member of staff will probably let you switch rooms for free.

Your second option is polite disappointment and a tear-jerking enquiry as to how much you’d have to pay should you want to be upgraded. The member of staff will undoubtedly be embarrassed the room is not as you expected, and your offer of payment may well twist their arm into a free switch- or at worse a reduced rate.

4. Be Special! If you’re only going to ask for a free upgrade once in your life, do it on a special occasion. Birthdays and anniversaries are your best bet, as everyone is going to be playing the same card on Valentines Day! Tell the hotel beforehand and if an upgrade isn’t available, the hotel is sure to leave you some welcome treats such as a complimentary drink, discount in the restaurant or late check out.

Regular customers should definitely make themselves known, drop in that you’ve recommended the hotel to friends, or exclaim at how much you enjoy your last stay here- if you can get on first name terms with the staff you’re on the right track! Regular customers equal special customers and that means special treatment! Free upgrade cough.

5. Being polite and courteous goes a long way. Those staying for more than one night have the opportunity to build up a rapport with the staff, tip the nice chap that brought your luggage to your room, compliment the lobby bartender on his expert cocktail shaking skills and tell the manager what a nice lady the receptionist is. If you put a smile on a few faces during your stay, if a better room becomes available the hotel is sure to reward you with a free upgrade.

And if all that fails, you could try booking one of our secret hotel deals – with prices discounted by up to 35% it really will feel like an upgrade.