Sun seekers’ sensations!

By Helen Foster

While I love the feel of warm sand between my toes and the sound of the sea washing over me, a beach alone isn’t enough. My shores have to be fringed with interesting shops, iconic landmarks and be within easy reach of places that are oozing with character.

Although I love the perfect sun-soaked beach where I can unfurl my towel and lose myself in the murmuring music of the waves and the pages of a good book, I need that proximity to lots of other interesting places I can explore when the time is right to turn a page of my own holiday story.

The Algarve, Portugal

A highlight of the Algarve, for me, are the golden rock formations rising out of the bluest of seas at Ponta da Piedade. These magnificent limestone pillars and arches have been sculpted by the crashing winter seas and they give this coast, just two miles south of Lagos, a distinctive beauty. This wild headland is more cultivated for tourists than it first appears. Boardwalks and steps weave along the cliff tops and down into the hidden sandy grottos, allowing you to take in the views along the coast, or by looking up from below, dwarfed by the towering cliffs.

With a coast as spectacular as this, a boat tour to view the rock formations and secret beaches from a totally different perspective is a must. The locals who work the boats welcome you aboard with a genuine warmth you’ll find everywhere on the Algarve, while drifting around the rocky arches and outcrops transports you to a surreal watery world; one you will always remember. A bonus is a delightful café and restaurant by the car park at the cliffs where you can get your breath back over a tasty lunch and refreshing drink.

The stunning view from Ponta da Piedade Cliffs in the Algarve

The stunning view from Ponta da Piedade Cliffs in the Algarve

You don’t need to work as hard to enjoy the delights of the intimate Praia de Carvoeiro in the Lagoa region. This small beach is sheltered between two rocky headlands and surrounded by pretty fisherman’s cottages, many of which have been transformed into classy little restaurants and lively bars, ideal retreats from the heat of the midday sun. The sands are picture-perfect golden and the sea here isn’t tidal, so great for families. It is also a really short stroll from some of the best holiday shopping you’ll find anywhere. Carvoeiro’s tree-lined boulevards afford a cooling shade while you meander the elegant boutiques and select your fine dining venue for the evening.

There are so many beaches to choose from on the Algarve. For example, Alvor Beach is the longest stretch of sand with a boardwalk taking strollers through the Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve with ease, while Praia de Benagil benefits from being close to the iconic Benagil Caves. Being every bit as stunning as its sister beaches, it is buzzing with boat trips taking tourists into the caves, and returning with the thrill of the boats being driven at speed from the sea straight up, high onto the sands – it felt very James Bond!

Málaga, Spain

Being a city girl, I don’t like to be too far away from the buzzing hub of civilisation, even on holiday. Málaga, the capital of the Costa del Sol, boasts as many as 20 beaches within easy reach of its city parameter. Playa de La Malagueta, a manmade crescent of yellow sand, is just a 10-minute walk from the lively Promenade of Pablo Ruiz Picasso, which will take you past a host of restaurants, bars, shops and other activities, where you can sample a little Malagueño culture and cuisine as you go.

Malaga's Playa de la Malagueta

Malaga’s Playa de la Malagueta

The 3,000-year-old city port is still evolving today and the Paseo del Muelle Dos, opened in 2011, is a snazzy shopping wonderland and home to Jose Carlos Garcia’s restaurant, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the city.

If this is too pricey for your holiday budget, there are lots of other eateries to suit all tastes and purses. So much in this beautiful city is free, and the Palmeral de las Sorpresas, or Palm Garden of Surprises is a stunning waterfront promenade with children’s playgrounds and activities, endless gardens housing 420 palm trees and 7,400 tropical plants, water features and more. This sleek new addition to the city’s attractions is very different from the ancient favourites, such as the Moorish Alcazaba and Gibralfaro Castle with its neighbouring Roman Theatre, but there are few better places to while away the hours as the sun shines or sets.

Just over an hour’s drive or bus journey from Málaga is Estepona. This exquisitely pretty town nestles behind a stunning beach with its 2.5 miles of wide sands snaking from the port, past the town and beyond. You will find some of the best fresh fish dishes served in the elegant restaurants and traditional chiringuitos along Estepona’s promenade. Often passed over for its glitzier neighbours, you will have a lot more room to spread out on the beaches here, even on the town’s main beach, Playa Rada, which backs onto the promenade.

The Old Quarter here isn’t just a step back in time, it is an explosion of invigorating colour, where the bright white walls of the houses are the perfect canvas for the profusion of coloured planters and cascading blooms which adorn the tiny lanes. The town’s plazas are also completely charming places in which to take some time out to enjoy a tasty Spanish tapas treat sitting on a terrace fringed by orange trees.

Malaga is the capital of the Costa del Sol and boasts 20 sandy beaches within each reach

The best of both worlds: Malaga is the city capital of the Costa del Sol and boasts 20 sandy beaches within each reach

Crete, Greece

It was a yearning to visit Spinalonga, an island off Elounda in northeastern Crete, that kicked off one of my best holidays ever. Victoria Hislop’s novel, The Island, tells a fictional story of a leper who was sent out to Spinalonga – Europe’s last active leper colony from 1903 to 1957. The lepers have long gone but I was moved to be following in their footsteps through the houses, shopping street and church – all there, as described in the book.

The ferry over to the island takes about 15 minutes from Elounda and costs around €10. The beaches on Elounda are pretty shingle suntraps and not overly populated. Elounda is a busy little town, complete with a picturesque clock tower and some spectacular seafront eateries.

You can’t help but love the way multi-generational families come out to dine together, and how the smallest, noisiest members of the group are made so very welcome by the waiters, waitresses and maître d’s. I don’t think I have ever visited a more child-friendly destination; it was wonderful to see everyone so happy and relaxed as they dined out together.

A boat over to Spinalonga Island costs around €10. Spend the day taking in the the history of these old streets and enjoy the clear blue sea surrounding the island.

A boat over to Spinalonga Island costs around €10. Spend the day taking in the history of the old streets and enjoy the clear blue sea surrounding the island.

Crete is a great place for waterborne exploration. If it is a fabulous, sizzling beach you want, then head for the beautiful seafront town of Ierapetra in southeastern Crete – it is an easy place to drive around – and hop on a ferry to Chrissi Island. Just 25 minutes later you will be in an island paradise of just 17 square miles of the best sand and sea you’ll see anywhere.

The only shade is beneath the grassy parasols by the sun loungers, so take some light cotton cover-up clothes, as well as your sunscreen. Thankfully, there are small beach shacks selling cooling drinks and snacks. Don’t forget that a dip in the azure waters here is a wonderfully refreshing experience.

Back in your rental car, a drive up (and down) into the forgotten rural world of the Lassithi Plateau proves a memorable adventure. The area is famed for windmills and Dikteon Andron, the cave where Zeus was born and for which you will need sturdy shoes to tackle the slippery steps.

The real pleasure is to take your lunch under the shade of the vines at a tiny café – that serves as the village shop, bar, and community centre – with the local farmers. Communicating largely by using mime, you can spend a couple of fun hours ‘talking’ with the laid-back and lovely people who live here, grow the food you are eating, brew the wine you are drinking and are openly amused by your fascination with their ancient tractors and farming tools!

Did I mention the truly breathtaking views? They come as standard in this destination.

Feel the sand beneath your toes at these destinations and relax back at your own self-catering apartment at the end of a fun-filled day with Apartments4you

The best things to see and do in Portugal and Madeira

By Lorraine Loveland

When looking for a winter sun break, Portugal and Madeira don’t always make it to the top of everyone’s list, and yet there are so many fascinating and fun things to do in this part of the world.

Here are the best things to experience in Albufeira, a coastal city in the southern Algarve region of Portugal and Funchal in Madeira, part of the Portuguese archipelago most known for its outdoor offerings.

A whistle-stop tour of Albufeira

There are numerous beaches to choose from on this southern stretch of coast, each of them with their own unique characteristics. But a beach day here is particularly a must with over 20 beaches having the coveted Blue Flag status.

Albufeira boasts more than 20 beaches with the coveted Blue Flag status

Albufeira boasts more than 20 beaches with the coveted Blue Flag status

Even in winter, temperatures here are a comfortable 17 degrees celsius so you’ll still feel the subtle warmth of the sun on your back.

After easing into your holiday with some time on the beach, next up should be your own history trail. The city is rich with history and tradition, as you will uncover with a tour of the 18th-century Santa Ana Church. Though tiny in stature, this charming whitewashed church is fused with Moorish influence, typical in this old part of Albufeira known as the Largo Jacinto D’Ayet.

As long as there are no church services taking place you are free to wander inside – just be sure to dress appropriately given its religious significance.

When you are inside soak up the intricate patterns adorning the ceiling, and detailed wood carvings on the altar. And of course, revel in the heavenly peace of your surroundings with just the echoes of people’s footsteps as your soundtrack.

While you’re in the area, you should call in at the Museu de Arte Sacra, which is the home to religious pieces that were salvaged from local churches following an earthquake and tsunami in 1755 – which makes these artefacts particularly treasured.

There is a long tradition of accordion playing in Albufeira, so to delve in and discover more about this unique cultural aspect of the city, head for Casa Museu do Acórdeão in Paderne. The museum features over 1,500 pieces relating to the accordion.

Did you know that the city is known for its birdwatching offerings? Regardless of whether you are a keen twitcher or not, the diversity of bird life here makes for an interesting encounter.

The freshwater wetlands of Salgados Lagoon are a good spot to start and the boardwalks bring you close enough to get a good look without interrupting the natural habitat. Flamingos, spoonbills, herons, warblers and starlings are just some of the varieties to look out for at different times of the year, as well as the mighty falcons and kestrels. Time your visit for an early weekday morning to increase your chances of spotting some extraordinary species of wildlife.

And while you’re in the area, you can also get a different perspective with a genteel horseback ride on the beach.

Local guides will always impart some useful nuggets of information which allow you to really get underneath the skin of a destination, and see it through a local’s eyes. Book a Tuk Tuk Tour to enjoy a tour through the side streets of Albufeira which you won’t typically see by car or bus.

After a day of exploring on foot, horseback or by tuk tuk, you’ll have worked up a serious appetite and with over 700 restaurants in Albufeira alone, you have everything, from traditional Portuguese fare to Michelin-starred venues.

Open for lunch and dinner (closed on Tuesdays), Copos & Petiscos is a family run tapas restaurant in Tavira, where a warm Portuguese welcome awaits. Set away from the tourist strip, you can expect authentic food and wines which are the embodiment of Portuguese gastronomy. While there is a varied menu, opt for a seafood dish as it comes highly recommended on a number of review sites. Pair this with one of the crisp white wines, and you won’t be disappointed.

Bear in mind some restaurants do close during winter so do your research before you travel.

A colourful adventure in Funchal

If I had to define Funchal it would be like a box of crayons, with a rainbow of colourful attractions doodled across the city.

To get your break off to the vibrant start it deserves, the Painted Doors Project in the old town of Funchal should provide the necessary colour pop – sunglasses at the ready!

The Public Art Project has transformed the Zona Velha area into a permanent art gallery with doors, walls and premises decorated in a variety of creative ways. The works were created by a number of renowned creatives of the Madeira art scene, and notable contributors include the architect Paulo David and the designer Nini Andrade Silva.

Look out for the Painted Doors Project in the old town of Funchal

Look out for the Painted Doors Project in the old town of Funchal

Find your favourites from over 80 pieces of work located on Rua de Santa Maria, before stopping for lunch to run through your highlights with each other from the variety of amusing and edgy displays.

Just a short walk along the street you will find Galeria Restaurante, and if you’re in need of a hearty lunch, the steak is highly rated here. Vegetarian options include the asparagus and mushroom risotto, and it will be hard to determine whether you should eat or just photograph the desserts as they are quite the work of art!

After lunch, take the cable car to the village of Monte to see the Monte Palace Tropical Garden which presents Japanese-style gardens filled with koi ponds, red bridges and bright blue flora. And of course, when in Madeira, you should look out for the exotic Bird of Paradise, the island’s national flower, noted for its resemblance to a bird taking flight.

While in Monte, you’ll also glimpse traditional Portuguese Santana houses, featuring triangular thatched roofs, with colourful red doors and blue window frames.

What goes up must come down, so stroll over to Nossa Senhora do Monte Church to take the ten-minute ride back down to Funchal aboard a traditional wicker sledge. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted, with the toboggans reaching 18 miles per hour as they career down into the outskirts of the city while being directed by two men called ‘Carreiros’ dressed in white and donning straw hats.

It’s one of the island’s most iconic attractions, and the activity dates back to the early 19th century when they were used as a means of transport for locals.

Either take a 30-minute downhill stroll back into the city centre, or book a taxi back.

If you’re not feeling too queasy from the ride, you should pick up a cup of tea and a pastel de nata custard tart. The creamy custard tart is a Portuguese delicacy and you’ll find them all over the island served with or without cinnamon.

It will be like your very own taste of history – the sweet treats were first created by Catholic monks in the 18th century in Lisbon. At the time egg whites were used for starching clothes with the leftover egg yolks used to make cakes and pastries.

With the impending closure of convents and monasteries after the 1820 Revolution, monks resorted to selling the pastries at a sugar refinery to make some money, before selling the recipe on to the refinery in later years, and it is still in operation today.

Pastel de nata is a creamy custard tart you’ll find all over the island

Pastel de nata is a creamy custard tart you’ll find all over the island

Following all your inland wanders, it will be high time to head for the coastline. The Lido Promenade meanders along the rugged coast, past gardens, cafés, restaurants and even natural pools. A small tunnel will take you to Formosa Beach – the largest in Funchal with phenomenal cliff views.

The walk takes less than two hours, and will bring you to Câmara de Lobos Bay. Try to time your arrival for sunset and be amazed at the stunning display of oranges and pinks as the sun makes its descent into the sea. This should provide the ideal finish to your rainbow tour.

The ultimate sunset spot: Câmara de Lobos Bay

The ultimate sunset spot: Câmara de Lobos Bay

Our self-catering apartments in Portugal and Madeira offer the perfect base to explore this beautiful country:

View apartments in Portugal

View apartments in Madeira

Canary Island Adventures

With year round sunshine the Canary Islands prove to be an ever popular escape for holidaymakers looking for a much-needed sunny break. Whether it is a winter pick-me-up or a family summer holiday, there is a Canary Island holiday for everyone.

Each island has something exciting and unique to offer. It can be hard to decide which island to holiday on, but why have one holiday destination when you can have two or even more? With journey times between the islands starting from just 25 minutes, you can choose to have a multi-destination holiday, or have one base island to excursion from each day.

Let’s take a look at just a few of the numerous exciting experiences on offer in this sun-kissed archipelago.

Tenerife

Sunset Bay at Torviscas, Tenerife

You may have heard of, and even visited Mount Teide, but did you know you can take a cable car to the summit of Spain’s highest peak? Visitors can witness the light illuminating the wonderful volcanic rock formations of this national park at altitude, spectacularly so at sunrise and sunset, taking in breathtaking views along the way.

Back at sea-level, there is so much to see and do on the largest of the Canary Islands. The sun-drenched shores of Costa Adeje and Playa de las Américas are a perfect mix of beaches, bars and restaurants, ideal for seafront strolls. Kids will also love spending days at the Siam Park waterpark and Loro Parque zoo.

Gran Canaria

Club Cala Blanca, Gran Canaria

Feel like Lawrence of Arabia in Gran Canaria on a camel ride along the sand dunes, one of the most popular activities on the island. Pacing softly along Maspalomas beach, riders enjoy views of Gran Canaria’s diverse landscape of rugged ridges and soft sand dunes against the cool blue Atlantic Ocean.

Puerto de Mogán is at the heart of the action on Gran Canaria. An upmarket port with quaint shops to browse; time your visit on a Friday for market day to pick up some mementos, or simply watch the world go by against the backdrop of colourful buildings.

Lanzarote

Diamond Club Calypso, Lanzarote

With its Lunar-like landscapes, sunshine and cool breezes, Lanzarote is a haven for beach and nature lovers alike. Feel like you’ve stepped onto Mars with a trip to the Timanfaya National Park and see the stunning Fire Mountains.

 

 

 

Fuerteventura

Dunas Club, Fuerteventura

The second-largest of the Canary Islands, Fuerteventura is a beach-lovers’ paradise, with plenty of beaches to choose from. Many of the golden sandy stretches of beach are framed by stunning and dramatic mountains and all are inviting for sun worshippers and sandcastle builders, alike.

Located just one mile off the north coast of Fuerteventura is the tranquil nature reserve of Lobos Island. Lobos offers opportunities to see rare and endangered birdlife, species of vegetation unique to the island, walking trails and peaceful beaches.

The Canary Islands make a great holiday destination all year round thanks to their fantastic weather, great beaches and plenty of activities to enjoy. If you want to make these unique islands the base for your next holiday, search our self-catering holiday apartments…

https://www.apartments4you.com/

 

Must visit destinations recommended by our customers

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a summer holiday! If you haven’t booked yours yet, this blog will definitely get you in the holiday planning mood. Here are just some of the most popular destinations that we know our apartments4you customers love to visit. The destinations may sound familiar, but the different ways in which you can holiday there might just surprise you.

Tenerife

El Marques, Tenerife

As familiar as it is warm, there’s no surprise why Tenerife remains a firm favourite with British holidaymakers for both summer and winter getaways. With beaches galore, from golden sands with every amenity in Playa de las Américas and Los Cristianos, to the coves filled with black volcanic sand in Playa de la Arena and Puerto de la Cruz, it’s no wonder holidays centre around the beach here. But if you dig a little deeper you’ll find that there is so much more to discover. At the island’s heart you’ll find the towering volcano of Mount Teide. Look to the north and discover Tenerife’s capital Santa Cruz, sitting in contrast to the holiday hotspots of the island, this dynamic and sophisticated city is buzzing with life and rich in culture.

 

 

Florida

Silver Lake Resort, Florida

There really is something for everyone in this holiday capital of the world. If it’s a thrill-a-minute family holiday you’re after, Orlando should be at the top of your list, being home to the world’s greatest theme parks. This is just one reason to visit the Sunshine State. If you’re a nature lover, explore the sub-tropical waterways of the Everglades National Park, and if shopping is your hunting ground you won’t be disappointed. Whether it’s a pair of Mickey Mouse ears or that designer handbag at a fraction of the price, shops are aplenty. If soaking up the sun is more your style, then visit the pristine shores of Palm Beach or strut your stuff on the miles and miles of Miami’s white sand. A holiday in Florida is whatever you want it to be, and we’re sure that however you chose to holiday, you’ll be returning again.

 

 

Portugal

Macdonald Monchique Resort and Spa

Warm, welcoming and exuding traditional charm there are many good reasons why picture-perfect Portugal remains a firm favourite, embracing beach goers, culture lovers and sports enthusiasts alike. With a coastline as expansive as Portugal’s, there is no shortage of beaches for you to check out on your travels. If you’re more of an explorer, walks across the golden clifftops and boat trips to secluded caves with magnificent rock formations are a must. Look beyond the shores of Portugal and you’ll uncover fascinating histories and vibrant cultures. Portugal’s distinctive food and wine captures the charisma and traditional soul of the country. To top it off, it has a pleasant year-round climate, so your invite to holiday in Portugal will always be open.

 

 

Lanzarote

Diamond Club Maritima, Lanzarote

With sandy beaches, volcanic landscapes and quirky architecture, Lanzarote is one of the Canary Islands’ biggest hitters. Local artist and sculptor César Manrique’s work has enhanced the island’s natural beauty, with his sculptures and architecture waiting to be discovered across the island. Make Timanfaya National Park your first port of call. The moon-like landscape here is made up of around 100 volcanic craters known as the Fire Mountains – pour water into one of the boreholes and it’s vapourised in seconds. On the east coast, Jameos del Agua and the Madeira Botanical Garden offer more examples of Manrique’s fascinating use of the island’s natural resources. Jameos del Agua hosts concerts in an auditorium cut into the volcanic lava. For the beach lovers, they can enjoy the 30 kilometres of sand that melts into the ultra-calm sea.

 

 

These are just some of our most popular destinations. With access to one of the largest collections of self-catering holiday apartments across the world- there’s something to suit everyone’s 2018 summer plans. To view all of our holiday apartments available this summer visit: https://www.apartments4you.com/home