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

Top 3 Places For A Family Holiday

There’s nothing better than a family holiday. It can sometimes be tricky choosing a destination that will appeal to everyone, especially if you have young children and grandparents to keep entertained, but there’s plenty of incredible places all over the world that are perfect for all types of families.

The wide choice of resorts available to apartments4you customers means that we have got everything covered when it comes to catering for families. Self-catering accommodation is usually more spacious than hotel rooms, and come complete with all the home comforts a family needs, including kitchen facilities, giving you a great dining in option if you would rather not eat out every day. That way, you can take your time and enjoy your holiday at your own pace.

Here are three of our top destinations for a great family holiday.

Tenerife

If you are looking for a family holiday that combines sun, sea and sand, Tenerife ticks all the boxes. With year-round sun, you can spend days at the beach, even in the winter when there’s snow on the ground in the UK – not many destinations are only a four-hour flight away from the UK can offer that.

CLC The Paradise Club, Tenerife

The south of the island is packed with tourist hotspots and beaches. If you relish fine dining and meandering gently through ancient streets then the beautiful Old Town of Adeje is probably your kind of place. The north is much more quintessentially Spanish, with beautiful old churches, interesting architecture, and plenty of restaurants serving traditional Spanish cuisine to savour a long and delicious meal. Lago Martianez, a beautiful and artful man-made lagoon, provides safe bathing, sun loungers, parasols and refreshments, just steps away from the attractive and sophisticated centre of Puerto de la Cruz.

Tenerife is a small island – you can drive the whole way around it in a day, comfortably – but it packs in more variety of landscape and holiday experiences per square mile than most other destinations I can think of.

Europe’s biggest water park, Siam Park, is one of the best family` days out in Tenerife. The Thai-themed water park is a world-class attraction. From the adrenaline junkies to those who prefer to keep their feet a little closer to the ground, Siam Park should definitely have something to please.

In the north of the island, Puerto de la Cruz is not only an elegant holiday base, but also home to Loro Parque, which happens to be one of the best attractions on the island for all ages. This zoo is home to hundreds of birds, mammals and fish, including dolphins, orcas, various species of monkeys and lots of different types of birds, notably its many colourful chatty and friendly parrots. You can even get a picture holding a parrot, which comes highly recommended.

Florida

Orlando in Florida – the US Sunshine State – is home to the greatest theme parks in the world! You’ll be pushed to find a more family-orientated holiday destination anywhere, and there really is something for everyone here, from the young to the young at heart.

Whether you’re skipping down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom or buying your Hogwarts’ robes in Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there’s something truly magical about the Walt Disney World and Universal Studios parks.

Photograph of Summer Bay Resort Orlando

Summer Bay Resort, Florida

Away from the parks there is so much to do, you could fill a whole other holiday if Disney princesses and wizards are not really your thing.

Spend evenings exploring Celebration Florida – another Walt Disney brainchild – filled with shops, restaurants and entertainment. Marvel at the dolphins in SeaWorld; or fly down a water slide in one of the many waterparks; or dispose of your holiday spends in a designer outlet. There’s so much fun to be had in Orlando, both inside and outside the famous theme parks.

The Sunshine State is more than just its capital. Daytona is one of the best places in the US for families, as there is so much to do. You can’t possibly think about going to Daytona without visiting the beach. There are over 20 miles of sand to play, walk and sunbathe on, so pick your spot and enjoy some of the warm Florida sunshine.

There is something rather nostalgic about a beach boardwalk and pier, and Daytona’s is the heartland of the city. Restaurants, shops, exciting thrill-rides and arcades make this a fantastic place to spend holiday time with the children.

Mexico

Mexico is often overlooked as a family holiday destination, but it is a perfect place to escape for a week or two away in the sun. Many of the resorts available are filled with so many activities, having round-the-clock entertainment for all ages, you don’t even have to leave the resort with your little ones – or older ones – to have a good time on this holiday.

Emporio Hotel & Suites, Mexico

If you do want to venture off-site, Mexico has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, including Playacar, which runs along the front of the resort. The crystal-clear Caribbean sea is perfect for snorkelling and scuba-diving if you have older children who want to meet the local marine life.

There are also the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá – one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – to explore. With its iconic pyramid architecture, this ancient place of worship provides a fascinating insight into Mayan culture and is a place that both young and old will find intriguing. It is a definite must-do day out.

Mexico is a destination that is rich in history, with plenty of sunshine and great beaches – what more could you want from a holiday?

 

apartments4you have a wide range of self-catering holiday apartments suitable for all of the family. Take a look at the holiday apartments that we have available: www.apartments4you.com