,

48 Hours in Luxembourg, A Tiny City With a Big Heart

 

 

Sandwiched between France, Belgium and Germany, the tiny country of Luxembourg is often overlooked as a place for a European getaway, and certainly isn’t as popular as the likes of Paris, Brussels and Berlin. However, Luxembourg’s charming capital city, which shares the same name, is fast becoming one of the hottest places to visit in 2018. With an interesting blend of modern and historic landmarks, as well as an abundance of things to see and do, it’s the perfect underrated city break destination to add to your travel bucket list. Luxembourg was the second stop on my recent European interrailing adventure with my sister, and here’s what we got up to during our time in this pretty city, and what you should do there too…

 

Purchase the Luxembourg Card

 

 

Now I don’t often rave about these city cards as I’ve never really felt the need to purchase one before, but the Luxembourg Card was hugely beneficial to us during our time in the city. My pre-conception was that it would be just for entry to exhibitions and museums and, given that I’m not really an indoorsy kinda person, I didn’t think we would use this card much at all. However, we were unlucky with the weather on our first day in Luxembourg and this card was an absolute god send on what could have been a really miserable day. The card gave us free access to many museums and small exhibitions and came in super handy when we were trying to dodge the horrendous rain that was intermittent throughout the day. We also used the cards for free public transport to and from the train station which came in useful, and we probably would have used it a lot more if we’d have had more time to explore the rest of the country. Big thanks to Sandy and the rest of the Visit Luxembourg team for gifting these fantastic cards to my sister and I, we felt they made a huge difference to our short time in their beautiful city!

 

Visit The Casemates du Bock Exhibition

 

Spent this morning dodging the rain and staying underground here in #Luxembourg. ☔️ We paid a visit to The Casemates, a series of secret tunnels that formed the country's excellent fortification system back in the 1600s. Once one of the most envied fortresses in Europe, and now a UNESCO world heritage site, a visit to The Casemates are an absolute must on your visit to this pretty city! 😍 . . . #VisitLuxembourg #IgersLuxembourg #LoveLuxembourg #LuxLife #JessDoesEurope #WanderlustWednesday #travel #travelblogger #lonelyplanet #mytinyatlas #darlingescapes #travelgram #instatravel #inspo #interrailing #europe #cities #capitals #citybreaks #icelollyloves #holidays #vacation #girlslovetravel #wanderlust #lonelyplanet #girlsvsglobe #travellover #travelinspo #inspo

A post shared by Jess Buck|JourneyswithJessica (@jessica16_x) on

 

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Luxembourg, and perhaps the most ancient too, the Casemates du Bock are a series of underground tunnels which were used as defence works as part of the city fortress that protected the country from enemy fire during the many wars Europe endured. Housing thousands of soldiers, the Casemates were also home to workshops, bakeries and kitchens. The first passages were built in 1644, during the Spanish domination, and were in use for over 200 years when they were finally dismantled in 1867. Upon partially demolishing the fortress, over 17km of the passages remained in tact and were left in place as they were in such good condition. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Casemates are fascinating both to look at, and to walk around, and visitors are able to join an interactive exhibition as they meander their way through a series of tunnels and chambers and discover the history behind these impressive defence works. We did the Casemates whilst escaping the rain and it’s the perfect activity to do when the weather isn’t great – entrance is free with the Luxembourg Card!

 

Hike the Wenzel Walk

 

Fairytales are found at every corner in #Luxembourg and here's the cities very own little mermaid 🐬 Her name is Melusina, wife of King Siegfried, and the couple were happily married for many years. One of the conditions of their marriage was that Melusina required one day a week where she was totally alone, and the King was forbidden to see her from morning til night on this day. Everything went swimmingly until, one day, curiosity got the better of the King and he spied on his wife through the keyhole of their bathroom. To his horror the King saw an enormous fish tail at the end of Melusina's body and, once her secret had been discovered, she let out an almighty scream in rage that the King had betrayed her. Legend has it that Melusina jumped straight into the Alzette River, never to be seen again. ✨ Have you ever been to a fairytale city like Luxembourg? I love myths and legends so this place ticked all the boxes for me! 🇱🇺 #visitluxembourg #igersluxembourg #loveluxembourg #luxlife #liveluxembourg #riveralzette #fairytales #mermaid #legends #myths #city

A post shared by Jess Buck|JourneyswithJessica (@jessica16_x) on

 

Luckily the weather brightened up on our second day in Luxembourg and we were keen to get out and explore more of the city before we left and continued with our interrailing adventure. After leaving the city centre we stumbled upon a signpost which signalled the start of a circular walk showcasing some of Luxembourg’s prettiest features and knew that we immediately wanted to go on an expedition to discover more about this fascinating city. The Wenzel Walk was named after Wenceslas II, the Duke of Luxembourg who reigned from 1383 to 1419 and erected part of the third wall during this time. Starting at the Bock Promontory, past the Wenceslas Wall and the stunning Neumunster Abbey, you’ll spot the mermaid Melusina whose history has a mythical past. The walk takes approx. 1 hour to complete and you’ll end up at the Rham plateau, offering fabulous views over the Alzette valley and river of the same name below, as well as the old town and the Luxembourg fortress. We loved taking some time to explore the rest of this city by foot and the Wenzel walk  is a popular route enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

 

Admire the Grand Ducal Palace

 

 

The official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the Grand Ducal Palace is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the entire city, and one of the most impressive too. It’s stunning façade and Renaissance décor make it a photographer’s dream, and it’s location right in the heart of the city centre and in the middle of the old town ensures thousands of tourists visit the site year after year. We actually stumbled upon the Palace by accident after stopping at renowned café The Chocolate House for cake and hot chocolate and gazing out the window in awe at the splendid building that was directly opposite. It was only when we saw the guards and security staff outside that we realised we had found the Palace, and it certainly was a sight to behold. Despite being closed during winter, you can actually take a tour of the inside during the summer months and can see the Palace in all it’s glory. Originally used as the City Hall back in the 1500s, the Palace was formerly the Headquarters of the Luxembourg Government before becoming the home of the Grand Duke Adolphe in 1890, and subsequent Dukes thereafter. No trip to Luxembourg is complete without visiting this gorgeous Palace, I just wish we’d had the chance to see inside during our visit!

 

Take a Day Trip to Vianden Castle

 

 

Located in the north of Luxembourg and roughly an hour’s drive from Luxembourg City, the spectacular Vianden Castle is one of the largest of its kind in Western Europe. Dating back to the 10th century, the castle was originally built in a Romanesque style and was then transformed into a Gothic masterpiece before finally being converted to a Renaissance building until it started to crumble in the 1600s. The castle was fully restored in 1977 after being transferred to State ownership by the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and is now open daily to visitors all year round (excl New Years Day and Christmas Day). Entrance to the castle is free with the Luxembourg Card, and my sister and I were dying to visit but sadly we just ran out of time and didn’t have a spare day to take a trip from the city out to Vianden. We would have loved to have spent the day in Vianden, discovering the town of the same name with it’s pretty river and views over the gorgeous valley below the castle. Vianden can be reached by car or bus from Luxembourg City and a chairlift at the starting point can take you over the valley and up to the castle for the most spectacular views. I’m hoping to go back to Luexmbourg one day just to visit Vianden as it looks right up my street!

 

Getting Around

 

 

As the city centre is so tiny, you can walk around the entire area in just a few hours and see all the sights in a short amount of time. This comes in handy if, like us, you don’t have much time to spare, but I would recommend using the Luxembourg Card if you want to head a bit further afield and explore outside of the city centre – with free transport it would be rude not to! My sister and I hiked around outskirts of the centre first, from the modern area by the train station right into the heart of the historical centre, and then discovered other areas of the city that were a little more off the beaten track. Walking is always my favourite way of getting around when exploring a new city, and it’s so easy to see everything that way in Luxembourg.

 

Where to Stay

 

The view from our breakfast area!
Image courtesy of Parc Bellevue Hotel, Luxembourg

 

We stayed at the Parc Bellevue Hotel, about a 10 minute walk from the old town, and a 20 minute walk from the train station located in Gare. When deciding on accommodation in Luxembourg I found it really hard to know where to start as I wasn’t sure where would be best for my sister and I to base ourselves, and everything was looking super expensive for our dates (Easter half term), but the Parc Bellevue ticked all the boxes and we were really happy with our choice once we got to our hotel. Sadly our train from Paris had been cancelled due to SNCF strikes (nightmare!) but we managed to hop on a later one which meant that by the time we reached Luxembourg we pretty must lost the entire day and sunset was fast approaching. The walk from the station to the hotel was super easy (just one long, straight road) and we passed some incredible buildings and beautiful architecture along the way. The hotel was part of a twin complex, with it’s sister hotel the Parc Plaza located nearby, and we benefited from breakfast, an onsite bar and restaurant and comfortable, modern en-suite accommodation in a great location. I would recommend the Parc Bellevue to anyone looking for a budget friendly, value for money hotel in a city which is really quite expensive. The fairy lights at the entrance were the perfect way to welcome us and really made our stay that extra bit special!

 

As you can see, I had the most amazing 48 hours discovering Luxembourg and ticking a new city, and a new country, off my ever expanding bucket list. As it is quite small, I really don’t think you need more than 2 nights to explore Luxembourg and really get a feel for it. However, if you had more time on your hands, you could definitely rent a car or use public transport to wander a bit further afield and discover more of this country rather than basing yourself solely in the city like I did. Have you been to Luxembourg before? I’d love to hear what you thought of it!

Love Jess x

NB. My Visit Luxembourg cards came courtesy of the Luxembourg tourism board for the purpose of this review, but all thoughts and comments are of course my own.

 

,

My Travel Guide to Paris, The City of Love

 

Ah, beautiful Paris, the city of light, the city of love and one of the most famous cities on the planet. Prior to my visit to the French capital on my recent inter-railing adventure, I had only ever been to Paris once whilst on a day trip from Disneyland. Although I whizzed around trying to see as much as I possibly could, it’s such a huge city and I found it so hard to fit everything in. Luckily this time round I had way more time to spare and managed to see pretty much everything I wanted to during my time there. Here’s what I got up to on my Easter weekend visit…

 

Stroll along the River Seine

 

 

One of the prettiest parts of Paris is definitely the River Seine. I walked alongside it during my last visit and couldn’t wait to see it on a sunnier day, taking a gentle stroll along the many bridges and spend some time people watching. Given that we were staying at Saint Germain, we were perfectly positioned to access the Seine and walked alongside it each morning to get to and from the city and our hotel. Why not grab a chocolate crepe and devour it whilst walking along the river? You can’t get more Parisian than that!

 

Visit The Notre Dame Cathedral

 

 

This was my second visit to the Notre Dame and it was even more impressive than I had remembered. We spent a good hour here on Easter Sunday, listening to the bells chime and admiring the incredible architecture from every angle. It was sooo busy though and the queue to get inside was ridiculously long, so we came back to the cathedral a couple of days later and managed to walk straight in – it seems 9am on a Tuesday morning is a good time to beat the queues! Inside it was even more amazing than I had remembered and the stained glass windows truly were a sight to behold.

 

Discover the Hidden Passages of Paris and visit Montmartre

 

 

Prior to my visit I was contacted by tour company Triple (formerly known as Local Guddy) asking if I would like to review one of their many European tours, all ran by locals in their respective cities. As I was going to be in Paris, I wanted to discover a different side to the city and picked a tour that was a little less obvious and one that covered more than just the standard touristy sights. After scrolling on the Triple website, it was the Hidden Passages of Paris tour, run by local teacher turned guide Lucien, that jumped out at me immediately. Running for approx. two hours (€30pp) Lucien was to start at the Royal Palace of Justice before taking us to some of the ancient hidden passageways (old buildings and arcades that used to connect different districts of the city) which are now used to house an abundance of restaurants, cafes, hairdressers, shops and bars. As there were only two of us on the tour, it was super informative, yet informal, and we really got to know some different areas of Paris that you won’t find in the guidebooks. Lucien was a fantastic guide, very knowledgeable, and friendly too – nothing was too much trouble. As there were just the two of us we actually finished the tour early, but instead of walking away and leaving us to it, Lucien asked if there were any other areas of the city we wanted to see and he gladly walked up to Montmartre with us when we expressed our interest in visiting this area. He accompanied us up the steep hill to the top of the Sacre Coeur where he left us to carry on with our day. Lucien was fantastic and Triple were great at being on call if I had any queries in the lead up to the tour. Thank you to both Lucien and Rebecka at Triple for a wonderful tour that turned out to be one of the highlights of our Paris trip!

 

Wander through the Luxembourg Gardens

 

 

The Luxembourg Gardens were a pleasant surprise to both my sister and I – we had no idea they were so close to where we were staying in Saint-Germain and they were a real hidden gem. The weather wasn’t particularly warm during our trip, but luckily we did have sunshine for a few hours when visiting the Luxembourg Gardens. A series of outdoor gardens linked with bridges, fountains, ornaments, trees and lots of beautiful flowers made this place look like heaven on earth. There is a small onsite café serving drinks, cakes and snacks making it the perfect place to enjoy some much needed respite after a busy day of exploring. Paris can often be a little overwhelming at times as it’s streets are so busy, so taking a stroll around these beautiful gardens is a lovely way of slowing the pace down a little.

 

Stop off at The Louvre

 

 

Home to the largest collection of art in the world, the Louvre is the most famous museum on the planet and one of the most iconic buildings in history. Located in the 1st arrondissement on the right bank of the River Seine, the Louvre is home to almost 40,000 objects dating back centuries ago. It is perhaps best know for housing the world-famous Mona Lisa portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci. Receiving over 8 million visitors each year, the Louvre is undoubtedly popular and it is highly recommended that tickets are bought online rather than just showing up on the day! We didn’t actually go inside the Louvre as the queues were insane and we hadn’t booked tickets, but to be honest we were limited on time and would rather have spent our days in Paris outside than in. It is worth seeing from the outside though, and getting a selfie with the all important pyramid is a definite bucket list item.

 

Ride up to the top of Montparnasse Tower

 

 

This was something I was soo excited about doing as I LOVE rooftops and had climbed the Eiffel Tower last time, so when the lovely team at  Euroventure kindly gifted me two tickets (€17pp) I was so grateful and jumped at the chance to see the Parisian skyline from a different angle. We chose to go at dusk, at around 7pm, so that we could see the skyline both in the light, and after dark once the sun had set. Located in the 15th arrondissement, just a 20 minute walk from our hotel in Saint-Germain, we found the tower easily enough and it is ENORMOUS at an impressive 210m high! Upon arrival we took a short ride up in the elevator and found ourselves at the top of the tower where we were met with the most amazing panoramic views over the city. There is a café/bar on site and this actually became the place where we stopped for dinner after realising we were far too hungry to go wandering around an area we weren’t familiar with in search of some much needed food. A short staircase climb took us to the very top of the tower, which was open air and home to a number of sofa’s, chairs and large seating areas as well as another bar which is open in high season. The views from the very top of Montparnasse Tower were absolutely breath-taking, and it was the perfect place to watch the sun go down, as well as to spot the Eiffel Tower lighting up after dark when it sparkles on the hour, every hour each day from 7pm. A magnificent experience and the most delightful way to end our last night in pretty Paris.

 

Getting around

 

 

I know this is super touristy, but in my opinion the best way of getting around is jumping on a hop on, hop off bus and relaxing on the top deck whilst the driver takes you around to admire all the sights. There are a number of different companies to choose from and we picked Big Bus Tours Paris, just because their stop was nearest to our hotel and we saw them driving around the streets more often than some of their rival companies. A little on the pricey side, our tickets were €36pp for a 1-day ticket. Looking back I would have preferred to do a little research and get a better deal as we saw tickets with CitySightseeing for less than that for a full 24hr ticket, but hindsight is a wonderful thing! We stayed on board for the majority of the two main routes, the red line and the blue line, which gave our little legs some much needed rest whilst we hopped on and off at whatever sights/areas took our fancy. As Paris is so huge, I do think that taking an open top bus is the best way of getting around and an audio commentary was a great way of seeing the sights without wasting too much energy! We did use the metro to get to and from the train station which was handy and super cheap, otherwise we tended to walk to the other places when we weren’t using the bus tickets.

 

Where to stay

 

 

During our time in Paris we stayed in the lively Saint-Germain area which was the perfect place to base ourselves for our 2 night trip. There are sooo many places to stay in Paris, some better than others, and I did struggle at first to find somewhere as a base. With so many options it can be a little overwhelming, but after a friend recommended the Saint-Germain area for its trendy jazz scene and its close proximity to the River Seine (5 min walk away), I knew that was definitely where I wanted to be. Saint-Germain isn’t too huge but there are plenty of bars, café’s, shops and restaurants to visit during your stay. There are plenty of choices for hotel options but we picked the beautiful Hotel de Seine, conveniently located on Rue de Seine, right opposite a pharmacy and a few doors down to a little green grocers where we bought fruit and pastries each morning for breakfast. You’re right in the heart of the action, a stone’s throw from the busy entertainment district and just a 5 minute walk from the nearest metro station to connect you to the rest of the city. The hotel was beautifully decorated in traditional Parisian style with comfortable bedrooms, lavish bathrooms and a cute reception/breakfast area. The staff were so friendly and helpful, especially when our ongoing train to Luxembourg got cancelled because of the SNCF train strikes – reception lady was on hold for ages and was great at being a translator for us! I would highly recommend Hotel De Seine for anyone looking to stay in the heart of Saint-Germain when visiting Paris.

I really enjoyed my time in Paris, even if it did feel super busy and crowded during our visit. I think because we went over Easter weekend it was just so packed and way too touristy, but I did enjoy being at the Notre Dame on Easter Sunday as that was definitely a bucket list moment for me. Yes it was busy in the city, and yes it sometimes isn’t as pretty as it looks with it’s dirty streets and smelly subways, but overall I did enjoy my time there and feel like I saw everything I wanted to see. I’m not sure if I would go back purely because it didn’t totally blow me away, and because there are sooo many other cities I want to visit, but it’s gotta be done at least once in your life, right?! In the words of Audrey Hepburn, Paris is always a good idea.

Love Jess x

NB. I was invited on the Hidden Passages of Paris Tour with tour company Triple, and I was a guest of Euroventure’s who kindly sent me up Montparnasse Tower. Both experiences were gifted to me for the purpose of this review, but as always all thoughts, comments and photos are of course my own.

 

, ,

Sick of stressful airport travel? Ride in style with National Express!

 

So your alarm is set, your suitcase is packed and your trip is booked. Every final detail is confirmed, from your flights and transfers to your tour itineraries and restaurant reservations. Going on holiday can be pretty stressful, and it is often made worse by the hassle of getting to and from the airport. Flying is lots of fun, but let’s face it, who really wants to get there 3 hours before a flight and spend ages queuing at the check in desk?! Not me, that’s for sure! One of the things I find most stressful about travelling is actually the hassle of getting to and from the airport. I can drive but I prefer not to travel long distances in my car and would rather not leave it at the airport car park for a week.

Living in Oxford, I am lucky that I have several airports to choose from when considering booking flights, but the hassle of getting to and from each airport has often put me off in the past. However, as an avid fan of public transport, I would always try and catch a bus, coach or train to an airport wherever possible, and that’s where National Express comes in. I’ve been using National Express services for years and have always had fantastic journeys, so I was delighted to be asked to team up with them for the purpose of this blog review, and when I realised I needed transport for my upcoming European city break it was hard to refuse such a fantastic offer. Lets find out what I got up to on my recent trip with National Express…

 

An early start

 

My coach from Oxford to London Gatwick

 

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person in the world who will happily get up at 2am, after zero sleep and at the most awkward time possible, just to jump on a cheap flight to anywhere if it means I can get better value on my travel deals! Luckily, National Express is the largest operator of scheduled coach services in the UK operating high frequency services linking more than 900 destinations. National Express know that there are lots of people out there who, like me, need to get to an airport at ridiculous o’clock in the morning, and they operate coach services direct to the terminal for all major UK airports, 24 hours a day with 1,100 airport services running every day. They also offer generous luggage allowance of two medium sized suitcases and a small piece of hand luggage as well as driver assistance – pretty amazing if you ask me! My 2am wake up call didn’t seem so bad when I hopped on board my perfectly timed coach ready to start my next adventure.

 

A comfortable outwards journey

 

Image courtesy of National Express

 

One of the benefits of getting on an early morning coach usually means that it’s not too busy, although surprisingly my coach was pretty full by the time I left Oxford to head to London! The coaches are also usually very quiet during the early morning times, which means I can catch up on some much needed sleep before arriving at the airport and being in holiday mode. National Express coaches are modern and comfortable with a variety of facilities and features including a free wifi and entertainment system which consists of a complimentary on-board app offering TV, films and magazines to passengers. On board the coach you’ll also find smart leather seats, convenient power sockets for charging your mobile devices, comfortable leg room for business class passengers, welcome air-conditioning on a warm day and clean toilets on every journey. My outwards journey from Oxford to London Gatwick took just under 2 hours and it was smooth, comfortable and extremely easy.

 

A relaxing homeward journey

 

Image courtesy of National Express

 

After my whirlwind weekend abroad, it was time to come home and I actually looked forward to my return journey back home given that my first coach journey on the way out was so comfortable. I wasn’t sure if I would actually make my return journey on time as my flight was delayed by almost an hour! But luckily we made up some time and I had booked the coach an hour later than I had actually needed to just allow for some additional time, so this really helped. If your flight is delayed though, I’m aware that you can hop on the next coach (up to 180 mins after your booked coach time) providing that the driver of the next available coach has room for you. My journey home was just as good as my journey out and I felt fully relaxed by the time I got back to Oxford – there’s nothing worse than a stressful drive home to dampen your holiday mood!

 

So as you can see I had a really pleasant journey to and from Oxford and London Gatwick during my recent trip and it definitely made my holiday both stress free and hassle free. Turning up and being able to get to and from the airport safely and swiftly really makes me relax before a holiday and, for me, is a great alternative to driving. The drivers were friendly, the seats were comfy, I felt safe at all times and even got a couple of hours kip before my flight… Oh and the free on board WIFI worked a treat too – bonus! Overall I had a fantastic return journey with National Express and I would highly recommend their services to anyone looking for a hassle free start and end to their airport trips. You can also benefit from a Coachcard if you’re a young person (aged 16- 26), a senior (aged 60+), or if you’re registered as disabled. For the price of just £12.50 a year you’ll get up to a third off standard and fully flexible fares, as well as benefiting from discounted travel to and from nationwide festivals, and 20% off Pizza Hut too!

Have you ever travelled with National Express before? What did you think of their services? As I mentioned, I have used them for many years and never had a problem so am already looking forward to booking up next time I need airport transport. The question is, where will I travel to next? Answers on a postcard please!…

Love Jess x

NB. I was a guest of National Express and was gifted tickets to come on board for the purpose of this review but all thoughts and comments are of course my own.

For more information and to find the best value fares visit www.nationalexpress.com or call 0871 7818181

 

Image courtesy of National Express

,

5 Hidden Gems That Can Only Be Found In Spain

 

 

If you know me, you’ll know that the beautiful country of Spain has a special place in my heart, and that it is my go-to place for a beach holiday, city break, adventure trip or just about any kind of getaway you can think of. As someone who has visited Spain 15+ times over the past 20 years I can say with certainty that is my favourite country in the world, and I love finding things off the beaten track that aren’t in the tourist brochures or the travel guidebooks. So when tour operator Holiday Gems challenged me to put together a list of top hidden gems from my favourite country, how could I say no?!

 

 

Mount Teide, Tenerife

 

The magnificent Mount Teide

 

If you’re a bit of an adventure seeker and would like to swap a day by the pool for a day hiking a mountain, the magnificent Mount Teide is definitely the place to be! Teide can be climbed, hiked, or walked around slowly if time is no issue, and it is the third highest active volcano in the world. As expected, Tenerife is warm all year round which makes it difficult to hike the mountain, so there is the option to take a cable car up to the summit which is a welcome alternative. I hiked around the base of the mountain on my visit last summer, but I heard the views from the top of the cable car were absolutely STUNNING so next time I would definitely choose this option instead. Whilst at Teide, I would also recommend making a pit stop at the nearby Los Roques de Garcia, a UNESCO world heritage site with rock formations that are over 170,000 years old. The rocky landscapes were incredible and made for the most amazing, Instagrammable photos – the whole place looked like something out of an ancient western movie and we instantly felt transported back in time!

 

Cova d’en Xoroi, Menorca

 

The quirky Cova D’en Xoroi

 

Is there anything cooler than a bar built into a cave? I think not! The fabulous Cova D’en Xoroi is listed as one of the best bars in the world, with a fantastic selection of food and drink to choose from, and plenty of seating areas dotted all over the cave. The most magnificent sea views can be found from the front of the cave, and guests are encourage to arrive at dusk, just in time to watch the sun go down as it sets over the sparkling ocean below. After dark, the bar turns into a nightclub with DJ playing an eclectic choice of music for adults to let their hair down and dance until the early hours. If the idea of a bar in a cave wasn’t impressive enough, the myth behind the building is truly magical and gives an added sense of historic mystery to this epic place. Legend has it that a man named Xoroi survived a shipwreck and washed up into the cave where he took refuge from the dangerous seas. At the same time, a local girl from the village went missing and was never to be seen again. Months and years passed by, until she was eventually found alive and well in the cave, with Xoroi and three children, the fruit of their love. Finding himself cornered by the people who found him, Xoroi threw himself into the sea where his eldest son followed him. Both men were lost under the waves and their bodies were never found. Devastated, the girl and her two children were taken to another nearby village where they started to rebuild their lives without their family. A trip to Cova D‘en Xoroi is an absolute must when visiting Menorca and I would recommend it to anyone looking for something different to do on their holiday.

 

 

Old Town, Ibiza

 

Ibiza Old Town

 

A visit to the White Isle usually consists of sun, sea, sand, alcohol and lots of partying until the early hours. Thousands of tourists flock to the biggest clubs, the best beaches and the busiest bars for a week of dancing, drinking and tonnes of fun. However, I discovered a totally different side to the island during my most recent visit a few years ago when I stayed at the quiet resort of Es Cana and took a day trip to the Old Town. Brimming with history, the cobbled streets, ancient walls and natural beauty of the Old Town can be found in abundance and is one of the most visited areas in Ibiza.  Why not spend some time walking along the city walls and finding the old war cannons? Or wander down by the sea front and watch as the sun glistens on to the sparkling turquoise waters. A trip to the Old Town is an absolute must when visiting Ibiza, and you won’t be short of things to see and do here.

 

The Pine Walk, Mallorca

 

Puerto Pollensa’s Pine Walk

 

I stumbled across this place whilst on a family holiday to Majorca a few years ago, where I was staying in the vibrant resort of Puerto Pollensa. The Pine Walk is the busiest part of the resort and is where the nightlife really comes alive, with loads of cosmopolitan cocktail bars, traditional Spanish restaurants and pretty little shops. It is quite a large entertainment district with many pubs and lots of places to eat and drink, and typically there are lots of tourists here but it is fun, it is lively and it offers lots of things to see and do. You’ll find street performers, sand sculptures, caricature artists and pretty much every kind of entertainer or performer you can think of. Set back slightly from the beach, and just away from the main road, the Pine Walk enjoys the perfect position just from which to allow visitors to enjoy a different area of Puerto Pollensa.

 

St Joseph La Boqueria Market, Barcelona

 

Barcelona’s famous food market

 

Located right on Las Ramblas, in the heart of the city, St Joseph’s Market is one of the hidden gems of Barcelona and is a hit with locals and tourists alike. Stocked with a colourful array of fresh fruits and vegetables, a variety of meats, fish and cheeses, as well as sweet treats like cakes, smoothies, ice creams and much much more, this undercover market offers plenty of things to buy. Why not wander around Las Ramblas with one of their enormous ice creams, or grab a bargain and take some local produce back for your loved ones at home? There are also a variety of souvenirs and Barcelona merchandise on offer too. Whatever you decide to purchase, you can guarantee you’ll pick up a local, authentic token from the Catalonian capital.

 

So as you can see, these are just a few of the less known landmarks that can be found across sunny Spain, but there are hundreds more just waiting to be discovered! If you’re looking for a cheap, last minute getaway to this beautiful country, why not browse the Holiday Gems website to see if you can grab a bargain; I challenge you to see if you’ve found a much cheaper holiday? Have you been to Spain before, and if so where was your favourite city? Get in touch with all your Spanish stories as I would LOVE to hear them!

Love Jess x

NB. This was a sponsored post in partnership with Holiday Gems but, as always, all thoughts, words and photos are of course my own.

 

, ,

How to plan your European interrailing trip on a budget

 

 

Last month I took my first trip of 2018 as I went inter-railing round Europe (again!) with my sister. After inter-railing round Italy together back in 2016, we were super excited to be back on the road again, but this time exploring three countries in a row: France, Luxembourg and Belgium! We’d planned the route fairly quickly and, once we decided that we wanted to use the Eurostar to get there and back, had chosen our starting point as Paris and our final destination as Bruges, so just had one stop in between meaning that Luxembourg was the obvious candidate! Getting to and from the UK and each city was extremely easy, and both stress and hassle free. My sister and I organised every aspect of the trip before we left and we managed to get a week-long stay, including transport to and from the Eurostar stations, national and international trains plus six nights’ accommodation in 3-4* hotels for just £437pp! We had given ourselves a budget of £600pp for the entire week and well and truly smashed it. I like to think I’m quite good at getting a bit of a bargain, and this trip was certainly a steal. Being the geek that I am I’ve even worked out all the individual costings for this trip and included them in my total  pricing breakdown below. Want to know how I got a week’s inter-railing trip for less than £500pp? Let’s find out…

 

UK transport

 

 

Obviously this one depends on where you’re based, and I am lucky to live in Oxford so am very close to London, but our capital can be reached easily by most of the UK’s major cities, which makes getting to St Pancras Eurostar Station very accessible. We were travelling on Easter Sunday which may have slightly put the prices up, but usually a one way ticket from Oxford to London costs around £10 per adult, and is cheaper for me as I have a young person’s rail card. The Eurostar tickets themselves, from London – Paris and from Brussels – London were pretty reasonable and each journey was less than £70pp return. Have a look to see which trains are cheapest/most expensive on the day of travel as you could save a lot of money by going later in the day, or earlier on in the morning, or even the day before or after if you’re really flexible and want to get the best deal possible!

Costings:

Oxford – London return train – 1x adult, 1x rail card holder = £28.90pp and £19.05pp

London St Pancras – Paris Gare du Nord one way train – 2x youths = £65pp

Brussells Midi – London St Pancras one way train – 2x youths = £53.30pp (don’t forget your ticket should state that departure is from any Belgian station and includes onward travel between cities ie if you’re staying in Bruges and need to get back to Brussels Midi for your departing train, the journey between Bruges and Brussels is included in your ticket price, you don’t need to buy an additional ticket).

 

International trains

 

 

Sadly we were hit by the dreaded SNCF train strike during our time away – they had only just started and it caused havoc! Our train from Paris to Luxembourg was cancelled and, because it was bank holiday Monday, none of the phone lines were working and no one on the website online chat/social media pages were able to get back to me. Luckily we were able to use our existing ticket free of charge on the next available train which was only 3 hours later than our scheduled train, but if that one had been cancelled I don’t know what we would have done! I would recommend downloading the SNCF app for live updates to your train as this came in handy when the website crashed! All other trains ran smoothly though and international train travel is so enjoyable for me as I love the scenery between cities and the excitement when I pass over the border into a new country! My top tip is to book your trains as far in advance as possible for the best rates, be flexible on timings, and don’t forget if you’re under 26 you qualify for youth prices.

Costings:

Paris – Luxembourg international train (direct) – 2x youths = £25.61pp

Luxembourg – Bruges train (change at Liege) – 2x youths = £29.14pp

 

Accommodation

 

 

We picked some fantastic hotels for our trip and it made such a difference to have somewhere cosy and warm to come home to after a busy day of exploring. I knew the cities we had chosen weren’t the cheapest on earth and so we would have to use a significant amount of our budget to cover the cost of accommodation, but I think we did well considering we got 6 nights for under £600 which is just less than £300pp for the entire duration. I usually look at private rooms in hostels to keep costs down, but actually we found hotels that were still within our budget and so decided to spend a little bit more in order to get maximum comfort and security during our stay. Being a travel blogger, I usually reach out to hotels and offer my services (writing a review/promoting on social media) in exchange for a discounted/complimentary stay, however sadly I didn’t find any hotels that were free on my dates that were able to collaborate with me on this occasion which was a real shame. I did expect this though as we went over Easter weekend and the kids half term holidays, so be careful when you choose to travel if you are trying to pitch to hotels!

I am a big advocate of using online promo codes/vouchers to book hotels though and my travel hack when booking accommodation would be to book using Expedia. I have used them for years and never had a bad experience! For every hotel I booked I was able to find a 10-15% off voucher online (literally just Google Expedia promo code and one usually always comes up!) and also received up to 200 nectar points for each booking which is another bonus for me. I’ll be talking a bit more about the hotels I stayed in over the course of the next few weeks as I will be putting together individual travel guides to each city, but I wanted to keep this post purely about the costings/planning of an inter-railing trip so hopefully these tips will come in handy when you’re looking to book something!

Costings:

Hotel De Seine, Paris – 2 nights = total £246 = £123pp

Hotel Parc Belle Vue, Luxembourg – 2 nights = total £204 = £102pp

Ibis Hotel Brugge Centrum, Bruges – 2 nights = total £140.98 = £70.49pp

 

Activities/optional tours

 

 

Luckily as a travel blogger I am able to reach out and pitch to tour companies/excursion brands in order to enhance my trip and book some much needed add-on’s. On this occasion I was lucky enough to work with tour company Triple and holiday company Euroventure whilst in Paris. I went on a guided tour around the secret passageways of Paris with Triple and went up the famous Montparnasse Tower with Euroventure and both of these experiences really enhanced our stay. Again I will be writing about both tours in more detail when my Paris travel guide goes live. I also worked with the Luxembourg Tourism Board whilst I was exploring their beautiful capital city and was offered complimentary visitor cards which enabled us to make use of free public transport, free museum entry and discounted entry to a range of other attractions which really helped our budget in a city which is quite expensive! Where possible, pitch to brands in order to keep costs down – you’re probably going to be writing about them for your blog anyway, so you may as well get something in return for it. Obviously we did more tours/trips whilst we were there, but here are the ones we pre-booked/pre-paid before we left and what they cost/saved us in money…

Costings:

Montparnasse access for 2 adults, Paris = £17pp – GIFTED to us by Euroventure

Guided passageway tour for 2 adults, Paris = £30pp – GIFTED to us by Triple

Luxembourg card for 2 adults, Luxembourg = £17.50pp – GIFTED to us by Luxembourg Tourism

 

Total breakdown

 

 

Transport: £284.55 (£142.28pp)

Accommodation: £590.98 (£295.49pp)

Extras: £129 (£64.50pp) if we hadn’t been kindly gifted them.

GRAND TOTAL = £437.77pp – still would have been under £500pp even if we had paid for the optional extras!

So as you can see, there were lots of different elements to this trip which did make it add up, but everything was kept at a relatively low cost, which definitely helped to stick within budget. Obviously we had additional spending money for food/drink, other excursions and attractions we wanted to visit, and this was covered by the euros we used for spends. When planning an inter-railing trip like this I would definitely take into consideration the time of year, dates of travel (ie try and go mid-week where possible) and try to book transport as far in advance as possible. As you can see, even with a train strike, we were still able to travel to our intended destination and it didn’t affect our holiday too much, but having as much planned in advance really helped to take the stress away from what was otherwise quite a hectic trip. We had a brilliant week away and I can’t wait for my next adventure… inter-railing is definitely my favourite method of travel and I hope this might inspire you to take a similar trip in 2018!

Have you ever been inter-railing before? Get in touch – I’d love to hear your train tales!

Love Jess x