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A Travel Guide to Bruges: The Beautiful Belgian City

 

If you’ve been following this blog, and my social media channels, for the past few weeks, you’ll know that I’m STILL posting content from my recent European inter-railing adventure which took place over the Easter holidays, and I had the best time running around with my sister! After 2 nights in both Paris and Luxembourg, we were so happy to arrive in Bruges for our third and final stop, and we certainly saved the best til last! Despite both of us visiting Belgium before, neither of us had been to Bruges and we couldn’t want to explore this chocolate box city. Here’s what we got up to during our time there, and what I would recommend you should definitely see if you only have a short time there…

 

Climb the Bruges Belfry Tower

 

 

One of the most iconic buildings in the entire city, the Belfry Tower is a sight not to be missed when in Bruges. Built in 1240 and packed full of history, the Belfry is certainly an interesting climb to say the least! Standing 272ft tall, with fabulous views from the top over the Markt Square below, the Belfry climb was the first thing my sister and I did when we arrived in the city and it was a great way to kick-start our time there. The climb is by stairs only (366 steps to be precise) and is super steep so please take extra care if you have difficulties walking and make sure you wear the right shoes! You pass the large bells on a couple of floors whilst making your way to the top and it is super windy right at the top, despite being slightly closed in, so take an extra layer if you need it.

 

Take a boat ride around the canals

 

 

I knew my sister and I just HAD to take a boat ride during our time in Bruges, and this really was a great way to see the city from a different perspective. We had wanted to do a boat trip along the River Seine in Paris a few days earlier but didn’t get time, so this was a worthy second best and really made our trip that extra bit special. It’s a very obvious thing to do and one of the most popular attractions in the city, but I love embracing my inner tourist so was happy to lap it up. You can hop on a boat from just about anywhere in Bruges, and each one can take you to different canals but I imagine most companies take guests to similar areas each time. The cost was around €8pp for a 20-25min ride which was a steal and a fraction of the price of what it would have been in Paris, but obviously a very different experience too.

 

Learn about the history of chocolate at Choco-Story

 

 

If you’re anything like me, the main reason you’ll be visiting Bruges is to get your hands on allllll the Belgian chocolate, and let me tell you, this place certainly does NOT disappoint in that department! With chocolatiers, chocolate café’s and chocolate stands at every turn, Bruges is a coco lovers delight. The city even has a museum dedicated to the history and origins of chocolate, from the humble cocoa bean to the lavish truffles we love and know today. Check out Choco-Story as a fun thing to do when it’s raining or cold outside – we did this on our last morning as it was a little chilly and it was a great indoorsy thing to do, plus it was super interesting to learn all about my favourite food, and there were plenty of tasting opportunities along the way. The museum is laid out over multiple floors and is really interactive, with videos, games and a souvenir shop as well as a live demo at the end!

 

Wander out towards the Bruges windmills

 

 

City breaks can often be a bit overwhelming, especially in a small place like Bruges where everything is fairly crammed in and the streets are filled with tourists at every turn. On our last day, the sun was shining and we’d pretty much ticked off everything we had wanted to see and do, so my sister and I took a 20 minute stroll out of the city and found the Cruise Port which is where all the large ships and cruise liners dock when visiting Bruges. Just opposite the port was a large green park boasting numerous windmills, also known as Molino de San Juan, and they were certainly a sight to behold! It was so lovely to wander round the park, admire the windmills both from afar and up close, and perch on top of the hill for a spot of people watching. One of the hills is quite high and you can see lovely views of the river/port and the Belfry spires in the distance. The windmills themselves were actually closed when we went, but I think you can go in them during the summer months for a small fee. Spending a couple of hours at this place was a great way to end our time in Bruges, and we left feeling refreshed after spending some time away from the hustle and  bustle of the city centre.

 

Enjoy Belgian frites in the Markt square

 

 

Where better to find a true taste of Belgium than at in the Markt Square? The focal point of the entire city, and the prettiest place to stop and watch the world go by, the Square is home to a number of restaurants and shops as well as the famous Belfry Tower and some museums too. My sister and I took great pleasure in devouring some of the tastiest, saltiest, crispiest fries we’d ever had and took some time out to chill and enjoy the ambience of the square, with its horse drawn carriages and ornate buildings dominating the area. We also did the same with Belgian chocolates, Belgian waffles and just about every other kind of Belgian food we could get our hands on! No visit to Bruges is complete without a visit to the Markt Square, and it’s not hard to see why.

 

Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood

 

 

There are many Churches in Bruges, and the city is well known for its ornate religious buildings, but the Basilica of the Holy Blood is definitely its most famous. History tells us that Thierry of Alsace brought a red-stained cloth to the Basilica after the 12th century Second Crusade, and the cloth was said to have the blood of Jesus Christ on it. The cloth has been held in a secure vial since the Church was built in the 1100s, and thousands of visitors have either seen it or been invited to the altar to pray whilst holding their hands over it – whilst not touching it of course. A service is carried out every day at 2pm inviting church goers to witness the cloth and I think this age-old tradition will continue for centuries to come.

 

Getting Around

 

 

As it is fairly small, Bruges is best discovered on foot, and making your way around the cobbled streets is definitely the best way to explore this ancient city. I loved strolling down the old fashioned streets lined with shops, café’s bars and restaurants, and really got a feel for traditional Belgium by discovering Bruges in this way. You can of course hop on a boat like we did to explore a little further afield, and to see the city from a different perspective, and we saw lots of cyclists too if you enjoy getting around by bike. I would say walking is your best bet though, as it is so compact and you can see as much or as little as you want to whilst you’re there.

 

Where to Stay

 

 

We had splashed out on accommodation in Paris and Luxembourg so knew we needed to tighten our belts a little by the time our Bruges stop came around. Luckily, we found an Ibis located in the heart of the city centre which was absolutely perfect for us and catered to our every need. A steal at just €140 for 2 nights, the Ibis Brugge Centrum was clean, comfortable and just what we wanted. Walkable from the train station and every attraction in the city, the hotel enjoys a fantastic location and offers guests brilliant value accommodation. We particularly liked that our street facing room had a view of a gorgeous cobbled road (super quiet and quaint) and we felt that we were right in the middle of the action as we were just a 5min walk from the main square and close to all the main city landmarks. I would definitely recommend the Ibis for those looking to stay in the heart of the city.

 

Although super small, Bruges is packed with history, charm and culture and is up there with one of the best European cities I have ever had the pleasure of visiting! I loved my stay so much that I am already planning a return visit, but this time for Christmas Markets to see the main square all lit up and sparkly! Have you ever been to Bruges before? Let me know what you thought of it, I’d be keen to hear all your travel tales!

Love Jess x

 

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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

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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

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

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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.