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48 Hours in Valencia: The Perfect Spanish City Break

 

 

Beautiful Valencia. Famed for its football team, its extra long beach and for being the home of everyone’s favourite Spanish dish, Paella. The third largest city in Spain, Valencia was the second stop on my recent interrailing trip with my sister, breaking up the journey between Madrid and Barcelona. It was equally as beautiful but much less touristy than the other two cities, which we actually loved and it felt so nice to explore somewhere that wasn’t super crowded. We stayed just outside of the old town centre, in the new modern area, but within walking distance to the old town and all its attractions. Valencia is almost like a city of two halves; its old town square being home to the historic cathedral and bell towers, and then the more modern part of the city with its enormous Oceanarium, bioparc and state-of-the-art science and culture park. Although we only had 48 hours in Valencia, we felt this was definitely enough time to see everything and tick off plenty of the best known sights from our list. Here’s what we got up to, and what I would recommend you do there too…

 

Discover the gothic architecture

 

views from Valencia cathedral

Views from the top of Valencia Cathedral

 

Did you know that Valencia has its very own Gothic architecture? Influenced by the city’s Roman past and Mediterranean construction techniques between the 12th and 15th centuries, some of Valencia’s most popular landmarks represent this type of Gothic architecture. The main square, Placa de L’Amoina, is where the gorgeous Valencia Cathedral is located, along with it’s adjoining bell tower and incredibly ornate interiors, with the ceiling said to be inspired by Rome’s Sistine Chapel. The cobbled streets surrounding the cathedral are brimming with shops, bars, café’s and restaurants , and you can climb the tower for stunning panoramic views over the entire city below. Whilst wandering the streets during our 48 hours in Valencia, we found a super cool area called Plaza Redonda, a unique area filled with tapas restaurants and boutique stores laid out in a round circle, offering traditional Spanish food and souvenirs. La Lonja de La Seda, otherwise known as The Silk Exchange, is a one of the most civil Gothic monuments in Europe with history dating back to the 15th century, and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

 

Walk through Jardin del Turia

 

Torres de Serranos Valencia

The Torres de Serranos lit up at night

 

Spanning nine kilometres of lush gardens, winding foot paths and sports areas, the Turia Gardens (or Jardin del Turia) is one of the largest urban parks in Spain and runs alongside the former River Turia that once meandered its way through the city. Torres de Serranos is the gateway to the old style Valencia, linking the gardens and the new town with the history of ancient monuments in the old town. We actually walked through the gardens to get from our hotel to the old town many times during our 48 hours in Valencia and the walk was so lovely, with plenty of trees, flowers and plants lining the pathways. The walk between the towns takes around 20-30 minutes depending on how fast or slowly you’re going, and you’ll pass no less than 18 bridges above you as you make your way there. As well as being the gateway to the old town, the gardens are sprinkled with modern touches and are also home to the City of Arts and Sciences centre and plenty of sports and recreational areas with football pitches and tennis courts too.

 

Chill out on Malvarossa Playa

 

palm trees on the beach in valencia

The palm trees at Malvarossa Playa

 

I wasn’t sure if we would have time to head to the beach during your short 48 hours in Valencia, but I am so glad we did as it was definitely one of the highlights of our time there! Instead of spending an afternoon there soaking up the midday sun, we actually headed over at around 5pm to catch the last parts of the early evening sunshine and still got to enjoy the heat whilst we were there. We headed for dinner on the beachfront and enjoyed a cocktail or three as the sun started to set behind us. Malvarossa Playa was super lively and there was so much going on that we could have easily spent another day/night checking out all the other bars and restaurants. There’s also plenty of water-sports action if that’s what you’re in to, and the long stretch of sand makes the perfect place for a spot of sunbathing.

 

Visit the Oceanografic Centre

 

Valencia's Oceanografic Centre

Photo credit: www.musement.com
Valencia’s Oceanografic Centre

 

Located in the Arts and Sciences complex at Jardin del Turia, and with impressive architecture that looks similar to Sydney’s iconic Opera House, the Oceanografic Centre is one of the tourist attractions that’s a real must see during your 48 hours in Valencia. Laid out over two levels, with nine underwater towers housing over 45,000 marine species, the Oceanografic Centre is considered to be more of a training and research centre as opposed to a zoological park, making it an aquarium like no other. Split into ten geographical areas, from the Mediterranean and tropical seas to the polar oceans of the Arctic and Antarctic, you’ll spot more than 500 different species of marine life, including sharks, sea lions, manta rays and penguins. There’s also a separate dolphinarium, with training talks and daily feeds as well as shows at the auditorium which seats over 2000 people. If all the fantastic marine life isn’t enough to tempt you to the Oceanografic Centre during your 48 hours in Valencia, I’d highly recommend checking out the underwater restaurant where you can sit and watch some of the amazing species of fish swim right past you as you dine.

 

Where to Eat

 

valencia's central plaza

The central plaza in Valencia – great for eating out!

 

There are an abundance of restaurants, café’s and bars to choose from during your 48 hours in Valencia, most of which can be found in the old town, on the streets that lead from Placa de L’Amoina, where the cathedral is located. On our first night we ate in a tiny restaurant overlooking the cathedral, which was super cute and really cheap considering how good the location was. Our pizzas cost around 10 euros, and we had a cocktail each too. On our second night we hopped in a taxi from the old town square to Malvarossa Playa, the long stretch of sandy beach that I mentioned earlier on in this post. There were so many lively restaurants and bars to choose from, and there was even a club at the end of the pier too. We ate in a small beach bar that served an eclectic menu of Spanish and Italian dishes and enjoyed great sea views as we dined. We stayed out quite late that evening as it was a Saturday night and we were hitting up the cocktail bars, but a taxi back to our hotel was only 10-15 euros and was around a 20 minute drive away.

 

Where to Stay

 

The Expo Hotel Valencia

The rooftop pool at The Expo Hotel Valencia

 

We stayed out of the old town, in the new area with the El Cortes Ingles shopping centre just behind us which seemed to be v popular in Spain! Our hotel, The Expo Hotel, was around a 5-10 min taxi ride from the train station, where we came in and out of because we were interrailing, but it wasn’t too far from the airport either. A 20 minute walk through the Jardin del Turia took us under some of the historic bridges and through the gate at Torres de Serranos which marked the entrance to the old town. The Expo Hotel had a rooftop bar and terrace with fantastic city views which we loved, as well as a rooftop swimming pool too! It was super handy having the shopping centre right behind us and there was a courtyard of restaurants to choose from too if you didn’t fancy walking all the way into the old town for dinner. We ate lunch in one of the restaurants on the day it was raining and it felt like we were locals not tourists! Our room was spacious and modern, and the hotel was really stylish throughout, in a great location. If you want to stay in the heart of the action during your 48 hours in Valencia, I would recommend staying in the old town instead to really soak up the atmosphere.

 

My sister and I absolutely adored this city, and we discovered that 48 hours in Valencia was definitely enough time to explore and take everything in. We loved relaxing on the beach, enjoying the amazing foodie scene and admiring the gothic architecture. Valencia felt like true authentic Span, more like one of the Balearic islands than one of it’s cities, and I felt it was super similar to Palma in Mallorca with it’s ancient landmarks combined with lively nightlife. We had a fantastic 48 hours in Valencia and I would recommend this city to anyone looking for a true taste of Spain in a really beautiful city. Have you been to Valencia before? I would love to know what you got up to over there!

 

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Travel Guide to Valletta, Malta: Europe’s Capital of Culture 2018

 

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Good morning beautiful Valletta! #VisitMalta

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Listed as 2018’s European Capital of Culture, Valletta is a lively city brimming with history and culture and it has been on my bucket-list for the past few years now. I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit Valletta during my recent Mediterranean cruise and, as it was my first time in Malta, I was super excited to wander around and couldn’t wait to explore. Malta actually turned out to be my 25th country and it was an amazing place in which to celebrate this achievement! I literally only had a day in Valletta which wasn’t nearly enough time to experience it all properly, but we did do quite a lot in our short time there, and we got a good feel for the city during this time. Luckily, I had my trusty Marco Polo Malta guidebook with me which really helped us plan our time and make the most of the few hours that we had to spend there. The book covers the entire areas of Malta and Gozo, but there’s a fantastic detailed section of the capital city, along with maps, photos and plenty of recommendations of things to see and do and a full travel guide to Valletta, which was super helpful. If, like me, you only have a day to visit this pretty place, this is what I recommend you do there…

 

Take a glass elevator up to the Barrakka Gardens

 

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*NEW BLOG POST* ((link in bio)) A #Travel guide to #Valletta 🇲🇹 I got to visit this pretty city during my #Mediterranean cruise last summer and it was one of my highlights of the entire trip! 🚢 We spent our day in the Maltese capital wandering around the cobbled streets, checking out the enormous harbour and admiring panoramic views from the city walls 😍 I used my trusty @marcopologuides book to navigate myself around Valletta and it was an absolute God send! We found the cutest restaurants and bars after following recommendations from the book and the street maps came in super handy 🙌 Come and find out what I got up to whilst exploring 2018's European Capital of Culture, and it just happened to be my 25th country too! 🌍 (AD) . . . #ad #wanderlustwednesday #travelblog #travelblogger #bloggersofinstagram #girlslovetravel #visitmalta #marcopolo #travelbloggersofig #instatravel #travelgram #darlingescapes #mytinyatlas #cruise #europe #malta #igersvalletta #igersmalta #lovemalta #maltaphotography #maltagram #vallettamalta #lovevalletta #citybreak #cityscape #europetravel #europe_pics

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Once we had docked and left the ship we headed towards the general direction of the city centre and stumbled across a modern looking lift that connects the Grand Harbour with the Barrakka Gardens. I had spotted this place in my Marco Polo guide book and really wanted to visit, so we bought our tickets (€1 each) and headed up in a glass elevator towards the top exit. Installed in 2012, the elevator is 58m high and, within a matter of seconds, we arrived at the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Home to fountains, flowers and war memorials, both the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens are a beautiful place to wander round and, as the Upper Gardens are the highest point of the city walls, they make the best place from which to marvel at the 2000 year old Grand Harbour below. For the past 500 years, Valletta’s guns protected the harbour from naval attack, and there is now a daily operation, the Saluting Battery, which is one of Valletta’s most famous attractions, and possibly the oldest Saluting Battery that is still in operation. Every day at 12 noon, soldiers begin a ritual and cannon fire can be heard and seen over the Grand Harbour as a mark of regulating peace across the city. I’d recommend getting to the Gardens early to get your spot for the Saluting Battery as it gets super busy and you’ll be pushed to find a decent spot much past 11.45am!

 

Visit the historic Fort Saint Elmo

 

 

Separating the Grand Harbour from the smaller Marsamxett Harbour, Fort Saint Elmo is a star shaped fortress that is perhaps best known for its role in the Great Siege of Malta back in 1565. After the 40,000 strong Ottoman Empire tried to invade the island in May 1565, a garrison of over 8000 soldiers and 700 Maltese men stood strong and resisted for four weeks until the Ottoman’s eventually took over St Elmo, but at the loss of 8000 of their men. The Ottoman’s then set their sights on St Angelo and, in August 1565, Malta saw some of the bloodiest battles of the Holy War. By September, the Ottoman troops finally started to retreat after losing thousands more men, and the Great Siege ended on 8th September 1565. This day became one of the most important dates in Maltese history and marks the founding of the capital city of Valletta, named after Grand Master Jean de la Valette, who was buried in the city three years later. Nowadays, Fort Saint Elmo is home to the National War Museum and offers a fascinating insight into its history as a working fortress, as well as pretty harbour-side walks along the sea.

 

Marvel at the Grand Harbour

 

 

As we were on a cruise we got to see this from the best view possible, whilst sailing in and out of the fantastic port during our visit! The Grand Harbour is truly stunning, and was one of the biggest ports we visited whilst on the cruise. There are loads of ships lined up that dock regularly and, after being in use as a natural, working harbour for over 2000 years, this place proves that Valetta really is the gateway to Malta and the rest of the Mediterranean. If you’re not on a cruise and want to see the harbour from land, head back up to the Barrakka Gardens for incredible panoramic views over the waterfront and fortifications below.

 

Go shopping down the high street

 

 

As a former part of the British colony until it gained its independence in 1964, Malta has a distinctly British feel to it, particularly in Valletta, which made us lot feel right at home! Our lovely Queen Elizabeth remained the Queen of Malta until the country became a Republic in the 1970s, and there are still a huge number of British ex-pats that still live and work in the country. Valletta was one of those cities where I instantly felt safe, and where I could easily navigate my way around, probably because the locals were so friendly and everything is sign posted in English which helped – there was even a bright red British post box right next to the tourist information centre! Walking down the main street felt like walking down any of our Great British high streets back home. There were tonnes of designer stores and well known retail shops including New Look, La Senza and even Peacocks – my own local high street doesn’t even have one of them anymore! Although it felt weird walking round all the normal shops like I do at home, it was interesting to see how our British culture is received abroad, and how similar Valletta is to some of our British cities, minus the gorgeous waterfront location and it’s fabulous city walls of course!

 

See the Triton Fountain

 

 

I had spotted this landmark in my Marco Polo guidebook and was super keen to see it during my visit to Malta as I love anything to do with mythology and legends! Located right near the City Gate of Valletta, Triton’s Fountain is one of Malta’s most recognisable and most important Modernist landmarks. Completed in  May 1959, the fountain comprises of three bronze Triton’s (Greek gods/Mermen also known as messengers of the sea) holding up a large platter, balanced on a seaweed base filled with water. The fountain is used as a stage for shows and national celebrations and each of the Mermen’s faces can be seen from the City Gate. The water and the Triton’s symbolise Malta’s links to the sea and were said to be inspired by the little-known Turtle Fountain in Italy’s capital city of Rome. When we visited there were lots of other monuments and art displays located in the central plaza where the fountain is based. I think this was to do with the Capital of Culture events that have been running across Valletta throughout 2018, so this really added to the area and the plaza was a really lovely place to stop for a drink or some food and marvel at the sculptures that were present.

 

Discover the stunning cathedrals

 

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St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta #VisitMalta

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Valletta is brimming with churches and cathedrals as it is quite a religious city, so I was in my element as one of my favourite things to do when exploring a new city is to wander round it’s many saintly buildings. Most of them were displayed in the Marco Polo guidebook, but the ones which caught my eye were the impressive Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, and the pretty Saint Paul’s Pro-Cathedral. St John’s is the most famous, with an elaborate design, 9 individual chapels, 2 tall bell towers and a stunning altar adorned with statues and Baroque style decoration. Built between 1572 and 1577, St John’s is a Roman-Catholic Cathedral and is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Nowadays the Cathedral is one of the most visited attractions in the city, and is well worth a visit. St Paul’s on the other hand is an Anglican Church and is built in a fantastic Neo-Classical style which dates back to the 1800’s. The spire from the top of the building is one of Valletta’s most recognisable landmarks rising to over 200ft, and it’s Corinthian columns make it look similar to the Pantheon in Rome. A pro-cathedral is a church with cathedral status but is not the main cathedral in the city, which is why St John’s is more famous in Valletta.

So as you can see, I didn’t have much time at all, but still managed to fit in plenty of things to see and do in Valletta during my quick visit there. I really loved the honey coloured buildings, cobbled streets and fantastic buildings that are dotted across the city, and it’s history and culture was fascinating too. The fact that it was right on the water front made Valletta appeal to me even more, as I love the idea of a city break on the sea so you can still get your fix of the ocean whilst wandering around and exploring a new town on foot. I really want to return to Malta to see what the rest of the island has to offer and I would like to take another day trip to Valletta too in order to see more of this stunning city. Have you been to Malta before? The Marco Polo Malta & Gozo guidebook made for a great travel guide to Valletta, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to visit this country too!

NB. This post was sponsored by Marco Polo, but as always, all words and opinions are of course my own!

 

 

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Sail the Three Seas Marella Cruises Itinerary – REVIEW

 

 

If you follow me on social media you’ll know that I recently went on my first ever cruise with 12 of my crazy family members to celebrate my mums 50th and my granddad’s 80th birthdays this year! I had no idea what to expect from my first cruise but was completely blown away and honestly loved every single minute of it! I am now a total cruise convert and am already looking to book my next one. We weren’t sure which cruise liner to go with when looking at booking our holiday, but some online research and some helpful pointers from family and friends told us that TUI’s Marella Cruises were a safe bet for newbie cruisers. We looked at the fleet of ships on offer with Marella and decided that we loved the look of their Celebration vessel, and their Sail the Three Seas itinerary definitely caught our eye. We were so taken with the itinerary, and the destinations that were on offer, that we booked almost immediately in the travel agents and were so excited to have made our final decision! Here’s what I got up to on board the Marella Celebration’s Sail the Three Seas itinerary during my 7 day cruise in August, and what you can expect from it too…

 

Day 1: Embarkation at Dubrovnik, Croatia

 

 

On our first day we flew from Manchester to Dubrovnik on the 5am flight out and arrived in the Croatian city just before 9am local time. Our flight onboard the new TUI Dreamliner was as smooth as you like with triple rows, TV screens on every chair and comfortable seating with decent leg room space. After arriving at the airport and going through security, we were taken straight to the coaches where we made the short 40 min journey from the airport to the cruise ship. By the way, as soon as you check your bags on to your flight back at your UK airport, you don’t see your luggage again until you arrive at your cabin onboard the ship which is something I LOVED! After reaching the ship and checking in at reception, we were allowed to access the on-board restaurants and were treated to a fantastic buffet lunch which was sooo needed. Our cases arrived shortly after, at around 1pm, and we then spent a little down time in our cabins before changing and heading out to explore Dubrovnik. By the time we got a taxi into Dubrovnik centre (it was a short distance and only 13EUR per car of 4) we had just a few hours to explore the city so spent time wandering around the tiny streets, admiring the beautiful harbour and gazing up at the city walls. We wanted to walk the walls but didn’t have time as it takes a good couple of hours, and I also wanted to do the cable car at the top of the hill  as the sights are meant to be stunning, but again we ran out of time. I have already earmarked Dubrovnik as somewhere to return to though, and this post has more details of what I would do if I went back and had more time there. We set sail at 10pm that evening so had to be back on board the ship by 9pm (we actually came back at 6 so we could shower and have dinner) but the sail-away that night was incredible and as we left the glowing skyline of Dubrovnik behind I had already fallen in love with the idea of cruising despite having only stepped foot on the ship less than 12 hours ago! Our first night was spent listening to fantastic live music and having a dance out on the Lido deck whilst enjoying one too many all-inclusive cocktails!

 

Day 2: A day in Kotor, Montenegro

 

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Don't mind me, just posing in front of expensive boats like it's the most normal thing in the world 🙋 I'm currently writing up my #travel guide to #Kotor and can't wait to share it with you all! This pretty city is fast becoming the new go-to place for a European break in 2018, and with cute cobbled streets, an ancient old town and a glamorous waterfront like this, it's not hard to see why! 😍 I LOVED my time in #Montenegro when I visited as part of my recent #cruise and am already planning a return trip to explore more of this gorgeous country 🌍 Have you ever been to Kotor before? On this miserable windy day in England, I know where I'd rather be rn ✈️ #TBT #VisitKotor #VisitMontenegro #MarellaCruises #GoMontenegro #Insta_Montenegro #MontenegroWildBeauty #KotorMontenegro #KotorBay #CruiseLife #Europe #TravelGuide #TUI #ThrowbackThursday

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Kotor was the city I was most looking forward to visiting out of all the destinations on our itinerary, and mainly because Montenegro has been high up on my bucket-list since forever! I woke up at around 5am to get up on the deck and watch the sail in at 6am and it was hands down one of the most incredible travel experiences I’ve had to date. My parents and I got a great spot right on the top deck and we watched the sun rise over the mountains with the wind in our hair and the sea surrounding us everywhere we looked. As we entered the fjord we were treated to the most incredible views of the Bay of Kotor with a mountainous backdrop and as the sun started to warm our faces I had to stop and just take in the moment, put my phone away and just appreciate how awesome this place truly was – I fell in love with Kotor at that very moment, and all I had to do to experience that was wake up early! After we docked we had breakfast on board the ship before heading into the city and exploring everything that Kotor had to offer. We walked along the glamorous waterfront, which was lined with luxury yachts and other cruise ships, before meandering our way round the cobbled streets and ancient archways. The old town square is super cute and is filled with shops, bars, cafés and restaurants offering traditional Montenegrin cuisine at cheap prices. The city is home to tonnes of churches and we visited lots of these during our time there before climbing the fortress and part of the city walls – again we didn’t get the chance to do this fully as, like with Dubrovnik, it took a few hours to complete and we just didn’t have time. We had an early sail away (4pm) that day, and gliding away from Kotor was just as magical as sailing in to it, with even more incredible views of the picturesque landscape. if you have time to spare in Kotor, here’s what I recommend you do there during your visit. We spent our second evening having dinner in the a la carte restaurant before exploring some of other bars on board, including the Liberties, which hosted live music and entertainment, and the Hemingway bar which was a little more chilled with just the sound of the resident pianist for company.

 

Day 3: A day in Igoumenitsa, Greece

 

 

This day was super chilled and mainly consisted of sunbathing, swimming and more sunbathing as the tiny Greek port of Igoumenitsa was literally just a short stop and a chance for some beach action. We docked mid-morning and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and some free time at the Lido deck before hopping on the shuttle buses that were running from the port to the nearby Drepanos beach. The buses were only 7 EUR return for a 20 min bus ride each way (bookable at reception) and the gorgeous stretch of sandy beach and sparkling blue ocean that was waiting for us was welcomed with open arms. Our beach day gave us some time to catch some rays on the golden sand, as well as go swimming in the sea – despite being on a cruise there aren’t many swimming stops on most Med itineraries, unless you go to places where there are beach resorts! The on-site beach café served hot and cold drinks and food, at super cheap prices, plus when you bought an item from the café you got your sunbeds and parasols for free – bargain! We spent a few hours on the beach before catching the shuttle bus back and making our way on board the Celebration again. There really wasn’t anything to do in the town of Igoumenitsa, we just saw a handful of shops and bars but nothing more, and getting the bus back was the best option as we didn’t fancy the long walk in 33 degree heat! Later that afternoon we had some down time on the ship and joined in with the entertainment team’s bingo and trivia before having dinner and then drinks from the Liberty’s bar whilst sitting outside under the stars to end another wonderful night.

 

Day 4: A day in Argostoli, Greece

 

 

A short overnight journey saw us sail in to Argostoli at around 7am the following day, and we all had an early start as we needed to disembark the ship before 8am to head out on our pre-booked excursion. Half our group decided to wander round Argostoli itself, checking out the shops and bars and stopping off at the small cove for a swim – they saw turtles which I was sooo jealous of! – but there wasn’t much else to do in Argostoli itself. The other half of our group (myself included) opted for the pre booked excursion to some nearby caves and I was so glad to have taken this trip! Our coach took us to the Drogarati Caves, a natural rock formation which is over 150 million years old! These caves were seriously impressive, spookily dark and incredibly carved. The caves were discovered only 300  years ago, when an earthquake caused part of the rock to fall into itself and create an opening which lead to the caves – imagine the surprise on the local’s faces when they discovered those caves! In the early 1960s the caves were opened to the public as a tourist attraction and the big hall, decorated with stalactites and stalagmites, is even used as a venue for music concerts because of its exceptional base for acoustic sounds! After visiting Drogarati we hopped back on the coach towards our second stop, Melissani Lake. This place was gorgeous and one of the highlights of my entire cruise! After being excavated in 1963, archaeological artefacts including plates, figurines and lamps were found on site, all depicting the God of Pan. Legend has it that a Nymph named Melissanthe fell in love with Pan and then drowned in the Lake when he rejected her. I LOVE Greek mythology so this place was a real treat for me. We descended into the small caves in single file before jumping on a gondola (like the ones in Venice) and were then able to ride around the circular lake, taking in the impressive cave surrounding the lake, as well as the stunning turquoise waters. The lake is made up of a mixture of sea water and sweet water, creating the most amazing blue and green colours which glisten as the sun shines. Our third and final stop was a quick photo shoot at the pretty Myrtos Beach, one of the most popular on the island with spectacular views of the Ionian Sea. Lying at the foot of two mountains, the beach is shaped in a semi-circle and is surrounded by a dramatic rocky landscape topped with lush green terrain. I can imagine this place would be gorgeous to visit at any time of day, but particularly at sunset with incredible views of the horizon! We were at shore for approx. 4-5 hours on this excursion and I really enjoyed it. We spent the rest of the day on board the ship eating and drinking (you can tell this kind of holiday has a routine, doesn’t it ;)) before watching a fantastic theatre show from the entertainment team at the Broadway Lounge later that evening.

 

Day 5: A day in Messina, Italy

 

 

After a relaxing couple of beach days in Greece, it was time to head over to our fourth country of the trip so far, beautiful Italia. I’ve been to Italy twice but have never ticked Sicily off my list, so I was really excited about stopping off at Messina for the day and couldn’t wait to get off the boat once we had docked! Our sail in was nice and early, and cruising past the ancient monuments and harbour walls that lined Messina Port was a cultural experience to say the least. Once we had docked we headed towards the town centre (approx. 10 min walk) and found the Piazza Duomo (old town square) complete with the stunning Cathedral of Messina and it’s world famous clock tower. We wandered inside the impressive Cathedral and then hopped on a tourist bus for an hour long tour of the highlights of the old town. The bus was small enough to take a small group of 10-12 guests which was nice as I often find tourist buses ridiculously busy! Rather than hopping on and off we just stayed on the bus the whole time and admired the sights, including the Municipal Building, the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele and the Strait of Messina, all from our window. Our bus got back to the Piazza Duomo shortly before 12 noon, just in time for the daily showing of the carousel of the bell tower. Every day at 12 noon, the clock strikes and chimes to the soothing sounds of Ave Maria whilst each of the golden statues adorning the tower (lion, rooster, moon & planetarium) rotate in unison. The bell tower contains the biggest and most complex mechanical and astronomical clock in the world and was first opened to the public in 1933. The daily spectacle lasts 12 minutes and is a real sight to behold, where it remains the city’s main attraction. Unfortunately it starting thundering and lightning during our time in Messina, and started raining heavily during the show, so we missed the end of it as we darted into a nearby café to shelter from the storm, but I was really glad we got to see more than half of it. The main reason for stopping at Messina is to take an excursion to Mount Etna, but we opted not to do this as a) it was super expensive and b) the weather was terrible! Messina isn’t somewhere I would return to as it is super small and we saw pretty much all of it in the few hours we were ashore, but it was nice to see some of Sicily and both the sail in and sail out were pretty special. Later on that afternoon the weather brightened up and we enjoyed some sunbathing on the top deck of the ship and I swam in the pool whilst the rest of my family decided to take part in the afternoon entertainment. During the evening we enjoyed a buffet dinner on the Lido deck and then went to another show in the Broadway theatre lounge, this time to see comedian/musician Paul Daniels who was absolutely brilliant and had us in stitches!

 

Day 6: A day in Valletta, Malta

 

 

The last stop on our cruise was marvellous Malta, my first visit there and another new country to tick off – it just so happened to be my 25th country so it was a real milestone for me! We docked early in Valletta and had the whole day to explore in 30 degree heat, which to be honest was absolutely EXHAUSTING! We started walking along the Grand Harbour front before taking the Barrakka Lift, a 58m high glass elevator installed in 2012, which connects the Grand Harbour to the pretty Upper Barrakka Gardens. We wandered around the both the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens, which are home to flowers, fountains, monuments and memorials of famous British governors including Sir Winston Churchill. The gardens are the highest point of the city walls and it’s terrace offers stunning panoramic views over the 2000 year old Grand Harbour below. We then walked along the walls and through the ancient archways to discover other parts of the Gardens before moving on to the Parliament Square (we even saw the Maltese President who was in town during our visit!) We then made our way towards the fabulous Triton Fountain, which is a real landmark, and then headed towards some other nearby gardens and churches. We spent the afternoon heading back towards the city centre and into the new town, which was verrrrry British and was filled with shops, café’s and bars. A stroll past the Courts of Justice, Grandmasters Palace and St John’s Cathedral made for great sight-seeing stops, and we then ended up at Fort Saint Elmo which is an old waterfront fortress now home to the National War Museum. I really enjoyed Valletta and will shortly be putting together a full travel guide to the city – I already want to return to Malta as it was seriously stunning! We couldn’t cope with the Maltese heat and the many kilometres of walking much past 4pm so headed back to the ship late afternoon to unwind and enjoy some pool and ship time before changing into our evening clothes ready for another fun filled night of eating and drinking – and we tried out the casino and some new bars too! This was our last stop off before a full day at sea for our last day and I was sad not to have any more new destinations but definitely ready for a day of relaxation on board!

 

Day 7: Full day and night at sea

 

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Doing the Titanic pose all by myself cos this Rose doesn't need a Jack in her life 😎 I've been home for just 24 hours and I'm already missing being at sea 🌊 Words can't describe the amazing experience I had on my first ever cruise 🚢 I was so nervous before going as I suffer so much with travel sickness (ironic as I'm a travel blogger) but luckily I was absolutely fine and kept well the entire time! It's only now that I'm home I'm suffering with motion sickness despite being back on land! What is THAT all about?! 😩I think it means I need to book another cruise asap, I'm a total convert now and loved waking up in a new place each day, but my favourite thing was spending hours looking out at the blue waters, with nothing but the ocean staring back at me 🐬 Can I go be a mermaid again please? #cruiselife #titanicpose #takemeback #marellacruises

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I was a little apprehensive of spending a whole day and a whole night at sea as I thought I would get a) bored and b) travel sick, but I actually got NEITHER and it was sooo nice to spend some time on the ship rather than rushing around on our shore days and trying to cram as much in as possible. There is so much to do on-board a cruise ship, particularly on the Marella fleets, and I’ll do a full ship review of the Celebration in a separate post, promise! It was nice to have our sea day as the last day of our cruise so we could really relax before flying home the next day, and actually a day at sea was the perfect way to end our holiday. We had a leisurely lie in rather than waking up at the crack of dawn to watch the sail in, and spent time enjoying breakfast and some sunbathing before taking part in the entertainment throughout the day. There was a morning trivia quiz, afternoon bingo and evening music with plenty of activities going on throughout the day. I treated my mum and I to a spa day for her birthday and we had a treatment each and used the sauna – I had no idea you could even get a spa on a ship and it was lovely to just have some proper relaxation time together. We also had a professional photo shoot booked in as there were 12 of us and we were celebrating a special occasion. The photographer got some amazing shots of us all and we loved them,  but the shoot and the choosing of the photos took around 2-3hrs in total so we felt we spent most of our last night stressing about this rather than actually enjoying our last evening together. Note to self – don’t do this again! We had our last meal in the a la carte restaurant and the social team did a special thankyou to all the kitchen staff including chefs, porters, waiters and waitresses so it was lovely to give a big round of applause and say thank you to everyone who had looked after us so well all week. After dinner we hung out at some of our favourite bars listening to live music, watching the stars one last time out on the deck and enjoying each other’s company before the sad realisation that tomorrow we would all be going home. I really loved our full day and night at sea and would welcome this with open arms next time I do a cruise, and would encourage people not to feel apprehensive of it at all!

As you can probably tell, I had the most incredible week on board my cruise and loved everything about my holiday, from the ship and it’s fantastic food and entertainment facilities, to the variety of different destinations we docked at each day. The Sail the Three Seas itinerary was perfect for first time cruisers like us as it had destinations to suit everyone, no matter what your travel style. I thought I would get fed up with being in one place for the entire week, but the ship was so busy and had so much to do that I didn’t get bored once, even on our full day at sea which I was really apprehensive about. The Marella Celebration is a big ship, but not nearly as big as other cruise ships we saw docked at each port, and I liked that you could make your way around without feeling lost, and that every staff member knew your name and offered such brilliant, personal service that I think you’d struggle to get on larger ships. Probably the only downside to cruising is that you don’t get to enjoy your evenings in each destination as the sail-away is usually between 4pm and 8pm, so you never really see the ports after dark. When I’m on holiday I love wandering into the town or the city centre during the evening as everything looks so pretty lit up at night, but I guess cruising is just a different type of holiday, and you do get used to it very quickly. I would highly recommend the Marella Celebration and their Sail the Three Seas itinerary to those of you who are looking for a fantastic Mediterranean cruise, and particularly for you first timers out there who may be anxious about setting sail for the first time. Have you been on a cruise before? Let me know as I would love to hear what you thought of it – I’ve totally fallen for them hook, line and sinker and am already planning my next one for 2019!

Love Jess x

 

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One Day in Kotor, Montenegro’s Fairytale City

 

Last month I returned from my first ever cruise and had the most amazing time exploring new parts of the Mediterranean I had never visited before, including gorgeous Kotor. I was on board Marella Cruises Celebration ship doing their ‘Sail the Three Seas’ itinerary and after a day in Dubrovnik, our next port of call was charming Kotor, one of Montenegro’s most beautiful cities. One of the top Mediterranean destinations to visit, Kotor is fast becoming THE go-to place for your next European city break, and with its cobbled streets, quaint town square, dramatic mountain backdrop and water front location, it’s not hard to see why. I only spent half a day in Kotor as we had an early sail away on our cruise (the ship departed at 4pm) but we sailed in nice and early so still got to see a good chunk of the city before we had to leave. If, like me, you only have a few hours to spend here, this is what I recommend you should do…

 

Wander round the Old Town

 

 

Walking on foot is always the best way to get around, and what better way to explore a new city than to soak up its charm and culture from its pretty old town? Kotor is a tiny city, and its old town is even smaller, with cute cobbled streets, an abundance of restaurants and shops, and some gorgeous buildings thrown in too. The old town was just a short stroll from the harbour where our cruise ship was docked, and the walk past the waterfront and the ancient archways brought us right in to the heart of Kotor within a matter of minutes. One thing I really loved about the old town was that it was completely pedestrianised, so we could wander around as much as we liked without having to worry about cars or buses driving by loudly and filling the air with petrol fumes!

 

Climb St John’s Fortress and it’s city walls

 

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*NEW BLOG POST* ((link in bio)) A Travel Guide to #Kotor City walls ✅ Red roofs ✅ Waterfront location ✅ Mountainous backdrop ✅ The pretty city of #Kotor makes the perfect place for a quick European weekend getaway ✈️ Kotor was the second stop on my recent #cruise with @tuiuk and I think it may have just been my favourite destination of our entire itinerary 🌍 We walked along the cobbled streets and marvelled at the many churches before meandering through the ancient archways and taking a walk along the glamorous waterfront where we found luxury yachts, enormous cruise liners and posh boats a plenty 🚢 If you're planning a trip to the prettiest city in #Montenegro, come and read my #travel guide which has just gone live on the blog on today's #wanderlustwednesday! 💻#visitkotor #visitmontenegro #igerskotor #igersmontenegro #gomontenegro #marellacruises

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I wouldn’t recommend doing this in the height of summer as Kotor gets very hot, but during the cooler months, a hike from the old town up to St John’s fortress is an absolute MUST. Starting at the North Gate, wander through the old town and then climb up alongside the city walls to discover more of Kotor than you can see from the ground. The construction of the walls started way back in the 9th century, but it wasn’t until the 15th century that the walls joined together to form a loop up into the hillside, stretching for a full 4.5 kilometres. Your hike will take you 260m above sea level and you’ll climb over 1350 steps, up steep slopes and winding stone staircases, until you reach the top of St John’s Fortress (or San Giovanni as it is also known) where you’ll be treated to the most amazing views over the bay of Kotor below. What an absolute TREAT this sounds like! I was gutted I didn’t to do this during my visit as a) it was ridiculously hot at 35 degrees, and b) the hike takes approx. 2-3hrs to complete and we just didn’t have enough time to fit it in to our short stay. It’s at the top of my bucket list for my return visit though!

 

Walk down to the water front

 

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Don't mind me, just posing in front of expensive boats like it's the most normal thing in the world 🙋 I'm currently writing up my #travel guide to #Kotor and can't wait to share it with you all! This pretty city is fast becoming the new go-to place for a European break in 2018, and with cute cobbled streets, an ancient old town and a glamorous waterfront like this, it's not hard to see why! 😍 I LOVED my time in #Montenegro when I visited as part of my recent #cruise and am already planning a return trip to explore more of this gorgeous country 🌍 Have you ever been to Kotor before? On this miserable windy day in England, I know where I'd rather be rn ✈️ #TBT #VisitKotor #VisitMontenegro #MarellaCruises #GoMontenegro #Insta_Montenegro #MontenegroWildBeauty #KotorMontenegro #KotorBay #CruiseLife #Europe #TravelGuide #TUI #ThrowbackThursday

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This was easy for us as we HAD to walk past the water front to get into Kotor itself, but if you’re not visiting on a cruise I would definitely recommend taking the 5-10 min walk from the city centre down to the waterfront. The walk alone is worth it just to look at the line-up of magnificent yachts, cruise ships and fancy boats all docked in the harbour whilst their owners descend on the city. It can get extremely busy in the city centre when cruise ships are in town, and as Kotor is so tiny, it can feel a little overwhelming and very overpopulated in a short space of time. That’s why I think spending some time down on the water front allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets and gives you a little breathing space, plus the views of the harbour with the magnificent mountains in the background are seriously stunning!

 

Visit one of the many Churches

 

 

I absolutely adore churches and try to see at least 1 or 2 in every city that I visit when I’m travelling, so I hit the jackpot with Kotor which is home to a number of religious buildings and each one tells their own story. All of the churches are either Catholic or Orthodox, with the majority being Orthodox, and they are dotted all across the city, with some perched high up in the mountains too. We went inside the miniature St Luke’s Church which was ornate and delicate with a stunning altar and small confessional room to the rear. We also visited the stunning St Tryphon’s Cathedral, the most famous in the city, which was built in 1166 and houses the relics of St Tryphon, the Patron Saint and Protector of Kotor. If you’re feeling energetic, hike up to the hills where you’ll discover St George’s Church, a 1000 year old ancient building perched at the back of St John’s hill which can be reached when climbing the city walls. These are just a few of the many Churches that can be found in Kotor, I just wish I had time to see them all!

 

Take a boat trip round the Bay of Kotor

 

 

We didn’t really fancy the idea of getting off one boat and on to another one so we didn’t actually take a boat trip around the Bay of Kotor, but if I hadn’t been visiting whilst on a cruise I definitely would have done! As we had already seen the bay whilst sailing in to Kotor, I didn’t feel it was necessary for us to do a different boat trip here, and knew the sail away later that evening would be just as spectacular as the sail in that morning, with incredible views around the fijord each time. I would however have loved to do a speedboat or small boat tour around the Blue Caves of Kotor as this place looked amazing! The waters are gorgeously clear (and blue, obvs) and offer fantastic snorkelling spots. On most of the tours we were offered you can combine the Blue Caves with a stop off at Our Lady of the Rocks, an ancient church and museum which is one of Montenegro’s most popular attractions situated on its own island just in front of Perast, a UNESCO World Heritage Town. I’d definitely do one of these tours next time I return to Kotor and would recommend it to anyone who has time to do a 3hour tour whilst they are in the city.

 

These are the main things I would recommend to do if you’re short on time, but if you’ve got a few days to spare I would also squeeze in a visit to the nearby town of Budva, which looks stunning and I’ve heard amazing things about it! There’s also a tiny beach in Kotor, tucked around the corner away from the old town but I could see it from my cruise ship and it didn’t look like it was too far to walk to at all, so if you want a little beach time then you can do that too. Oh and if you’re visiting whilst on a cruise, make sure you wake up bright and early for the sail in – it was INCREDIBLE! My favourite sail in of the entire trip – gliding into the fijords was breath-taking and honestly one of the most magical travel experiences of my life. Montenegro is truly gorgeous and I can’t wait to return one day! Have you been to Kotor, or other parts of Montenegro before? I’d love to know what you thought of it!

 

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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.