Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Bavarian Autumnal Celebrations "Oktoberfest"

Beer, food, music and fun are the key words for Oktoberfest, which takes place annually in Munich, Germany. Don't be fooled into thinking that it lasts throughout October because you'll probably miss it - it runs from late September for a couple of weeks till early October.

There is always plenty of beer (lager) from the major local breweries: Augustiner, Hacker Pschorr, Paulaner, Spaten, Hofbräu and Löwenbräu - but prices may be higher than usual. Here is a link to the 2013 Oktoberfest event calendar but don't despair if you can't make it - gather some friends together and have an Oktoberfest party!

A good way to prolong the summer party scene - simple decorations to create the atmosphere, some German sausage, a selection of lagers and, most importantly, get everyone to wear lederhosen and bring their own steins or tankards - just add some traditional Bavarian hats for your party guests and sing some silly drinking songs. Oh, and don't forget the Black Forest Gateau!
Zum wohl!

Salamanca in September, the perfect short city-break

Salamanca in Spain is roughly half-way between Madrid and Porto on the Portuguese Atlantic coast. The weather in September is very pleasant - hottish with plenty of cool shaded places as you wander through the mainly pedestrianised centre, enthralled by the architecture.

Of a compact size and shape, it is one of the oldest University cities in Europe and a UNESCO world heritage site. It's busy but with so many places to wander around, not too crowded. Easy walking, places to sit, cafés, bars, etc. enable you to spend all day exploring and not be too tired to eat in the evening. Be aware, though, that most restaurants don't open for dinner until 8.30ish!

Where to stay? There is a good choice of hotels, starting from under £40. For luxury, fly-drive for a 3-night stay in the Hotel Rector in the heart of Salamanca or, for a family holiday with children, take the 24-hour car ferry to Santander (it's like a mini-cruise) and drive the 225 miles to Salamanca, which is a fairly pleasant three and a half hours, then stay in a self-catering wooden chalet at the Hotel Regio. It's a short drive into the heart of the city and there are car parks around its edge - or - take the bus from the hotel into the city centre for under a Euro per adult. Salamanca is one of my favourite cities!

Monday, 16 September 2013

We stumbled across Verona

August: whilst staying near the Italian Great Lakes, we decided to take the train to Venice. Unfortunately, we missed the train, having allowed only 20 minutes to cover the 8 miles from our base to the station.

Balcony, Romeo and Juliet, Verona, Italy
So, instead, we drove to Verona, famous only for its Shakespearian connections - Two Gentlemen and Juliet. We parked fairly easily just outside the central piazza and wandered into the heart of Verona. It was enchanting. The piazza is so vast that it wasn't crowded, there were numerous restaurants around the piazza and throughout the many streets throughout the centre, some leading to the river that partially surrounds it.

You can wander along the ancient bridge-ramparts (free) and meander along the streets, browsing the shops and discovering snippets of delightful architecture - including the 'Juliet' balcony - all the while, snapping away with your camera.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Portugal is more than just the Algarve

The Algarve is Portugal's most popular tourist area because the climate is more predictable than the West Coast; it can be fairly mild throughout winters and is hot and dry in summer. Not far from Lisbon are the coastal resorts of Estoril and Cascais, popular with week-enders from the capital.

Having spent holidays in those areas, we decided to try another resort a little further along the coast, near Obidos, a rather up-market golfing resort (we don't play golf) with a number of privately owned villas and apartments plus a 5-star Marriott hotel, Praia d'el Rey.

On the Atlantic coast, north of Lisbon, the resort is situated a short drive from a small village, through woodland to its entrance. The area is still being tastefully developed and there is no obvious sign of financial hardship (unless that's the reason a few properties are for sale). The gardens are beautifully maintained and new properties are being sold.

Some of the properties are available for short term rental. We booked a spacious two bedroom ground-floor condo for a week, self-catering and arrived yesterday, having driven from the ferry port at Santander in Northern Spain.

First impressions were very favourable... great for a quiet holiday.