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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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Kotor Travel Guide – 1 Day in 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. 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. A trendy destination for 2018, 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! 💻 journeyswithjessica.net #marella #marellacruises #marellacelebration #cruiselife

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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! We saw tonnes of sales people up and down the waterfront trying to lure passing customers to one of their pretty boats, with yachts, small boats and even speedboats offering fantastic rides around the bay. 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!

Love Jess x

 

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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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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.

 

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Why Nendaz, Switzerland Should Be on Your Bucket List – AllTheRooms.com Guest Post!

 

Last year I took the trip of a lifetime and spent a summer in the beautiful ski resort of Nendaz, nestled in the heart of the Swiss Alps. 4 other bloggers and I were invited by Travelopo and the Nendaz Tourism Board to stay in a fantastic ski chalet and admire everything that the resort had to other. We had a fantastic itinerary, a wonderful home for the week and plenty of things to keep us occupied on what was my first ever visit to Switzerland. I had never though to visit a ski resort in summer before, but I was completely blown away and had an amazing time. I’ve been thinking a lot about my trip lately and reminiscing over on Instagram, so when I was approached by travel startup at AllTheRooms about hosting a Nendaz guest blog on my site I jumped at another chance to showcase this incredible resort to all of you guys, my fantastic readers. Here’s why the team at AllTheRooms think Nendaz should be your pick for a Swiss mountain getaway…

 

Perched high in the Swiss Alps, Nendaz looks like the kind of place where James Bond would slip out of some chic chateau and race down the slopes with masked bad guys at his heels. Mr. Bond may not have the time to fully appreciate the panoramic views of the dramatic peaks and deep valleys, nor the long list of outdoor activities for those looking for adventure, but luckily, you do. For those of you who have dreamed of an escape deep into the Swiss Alps with nothing but powder, wonderful views and incredible hikes to fill your days, Nendaz deserves a place on your bucket list.

 

  1. The skiing, of course!

 

Image courtesy of AllTheRooms

 

Located at the heart of the famed Four Vallees, Nendaz gives you access to 92 lifts and over 250 miles of runs in the immediate area. We recommend you check out Mont-Fort, Verbier, La Tzoumaz and Bruson. If you want to venture to another area, bring your skis over to the Sector Printse, where you’ll find 50 lifts and more than 130 miles of runs. It’s hard to go wrong when choosing between the two as both offer incredible slopes and scenery. Four Vallees is significantly larger and better known, so Sector Printse may feel a little more off the beaten track. However, you can’t really go wrong with either. Both deliver an exhilarating rush.

 

  1. Walking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing

 

Image courtesy of AllTheRooms

 

Not everyone is up for the fast-paced exploring method that is downhill skiing. Some of us like to take in the scenery at a slower, steadier speed. Maybe that’s Mom and Dad, or maybe it’s a member of the group looking for a little change in routine after hitting the slopes hard for days in a row. Nendaz has over 60 miles of marked winter walking trails that beg to be explored. We highly recommend this route for photographers eager to capture the scenery. There are also numerous cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails for people looking to cover some rougher terrain. Whichever route you choose, you’ll end up with a spectacular view.

 

  1. The weather

 

Image courtesy of AllTheRooms

 

We’ve emphasized the scenery, but one of the best parts of Nendaz is the weather. Famous for its consistently sunny weather, while in Nendaz you can expect clear days and plenty of sunshine, casting light over the incredible landscape.

 

  1. Helicopter drop-offs

 

Image courtesy of AllTheRooms

 

In another James Bond fashion, you can reserve a helicopter to pick you up in Nandez and whisk you off over the mountains to the famous Zermatt resort. Once on the ground, your guide will lead you through some of the resort’s best skiing and take you to a fine-dining restaurant for a little break from the slopes. At the end of the day, the helicopter will pick you up and bring you right back home. While the scenery is breathtaking from the slopes and the valleys, the view from above is even more stunning. A helicopter may seem a touch over the top, but we believe a Nandez vacation is one worth maximizing. Just imagine the photos and videos.

 

  1. Summer hikes

 

Image courtesy of AllTheRooms

 

Skiing is certainly the main attraction, but we have to say, Nendaz in the summer is equally impressive. Trade you ski boots for hiking boots, catch a chairlift (they run in the summer) and glide your way up the mountain to a wide range of hiking options. Simply choose a trail and enjoy the views. The temperatures hover in the mid-sixties during the summer months so the temperate climate and consistent sunshine make the perfect combination for outdoor exercise. For a cooldown, finish up the day poolside with views of the peaks.

 

  1. Nightlife bars and restaurants

 

 

Nendaz is small and doesn’t feel overwhelmingly touristy, and it also doesn’t leave you empty-handed at night time. Check out La Lanterne et le Vieux-Chalet for gourmet French cooking and a seat next to the fireplace. In the summer you can sit outside and take in the peaks while you eat. Head to Cactus Saloon for a few drinks and some live music or a DJ. Alternatively, if you feel like staying in, swing by Cafe a lait for a bottle of wine.

 

  1. Alphorns

 

Image courtesy of AllTheRooms

 

This is a page right out of National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Gather the whole group and sign up for an Alphorn lesson. Giving the instrument all the air you’ve got while looking out over the Alps is quite an experience. If you can’t quite master the horn, experts will show you how at the Alphorn International Festival held every year in late July.

 

  1. Mountain biking

 

Image courtesy of AllTheRooms

 

Like many of the world’s best ski areas, Nendaz doubles as excellent mountain biking terrain when temperatures increase. Replace white with green—get a Camelbak and spend the day on the slopes.

 

These are just a few reasons why Nendaz should definitely be on your bucket list. Have you ever been to a ski resort before? Have you done summer in the Alps or would you only go during winter? Let me know as I would love to hear from you! Thanks must go to the brilliant team at AllTheRooms for putting this guest post together for me, and for catapulting Nendaz right back to the top of my travel highlights from my amazing summer of travel last year!

Love Jess x