Pretty Palma

When most of us head to Mallorca we arrive in Sant Joan airport and then make our way to whichever resort we are staying, not returning to Palma again until its time for the flight home. Some of us may squeeze in a day trip to the Mallorcan capital as part of their holiday and those that do, will no doubt return. However, Palma rarely makes an appearance on lists such as ‘Best City Breaks’ or ‘Girls Getaways’ – well it should! So why is it a great place for a city break for couples, or for a few days with your friends?

Cheap flights for a start! If you plan ahead you can get return flights from many UK airports for less than £100, even in peak season. Easyjet normally do the best prices from Belfast, though Jet2.com is another option. The main centre of Palma is only 10 minutes by taxi from the airport.

Only 3 hours away – reasonably short flight which is what you need for a short break, though long enough to enjoy a glass of wine! Should probably point out that the evening flight can be lively and Easyjet do normally restrict alcoholic drinks to 2 per person.

The climate is perfect, hot and sunny during the main summer months, with temperatures in the low 20s from Easter and even reaching high 20s in September and October. Though always worth checking the weather before you go as, like anywhere in Europe, it is prone to the odd storm and rainy periods, even in the summer….

I have been several times with my family for day trips, but recently I visited with a couple of friends and we had a ball! So here are a few tips …..

Where to stay? I would recommend staying in a hotel close to the old town or the marina, as that is where you will spend most of your time.  We stayed in the Catalonia Majorica which was situated over looking where the cruise ships dock. The views from the terrace where amazing, there was an outdoor and indoor pool and the indoor bar area was lovely. You can walk into the centre in about 30-40 minutes along the front and take in the marina and the beautiful boats, there is also a bus and taxis were reasonable. Though we felt, on the whole it was too far from the centre.  If you are able to stretch the budget a little, any of the Melia Hotels would be a fantastic choice!

Shopping wasn’t something we did a lot of, though the area around the cathedral is beautiful with quaint, narrow streets packed with boutiques and cafes. We did take a walk to Porto Pi which was a great shopping centre with a fabulous range of shops and a couple of good restaurants (with great views of the cruise ship dock). As you wander around Palma you will come across a range of stores that we have in the UK, alongside European chains and some high end retailers such as Louis Vuitton. Check out this site if you’re after some retail therapy Palma Shopping Guide.

Food and drink – you will be spoilt be for choice with the range of restaurants. We were given a few recommendations and on the first night we chose El Neo which was absolutely stunning! The vibe of the interior was quirky and welcoming and the food was mouth watering! Super cocktails too and the staff were really friendly and attentive. It was hard to not return there the other nights we were there!

 

The second night we tried a family ran business, an Italian restaurant called La Baranda and on our final night we opted for the main square beside Sa Llotja as we wanted to eat outside, there are several restaurants in the square, all offering tapas so worth checking out menus and prices. Again we had beautiful meals on both nights, with a different dining experience on all 3 nights.  On average dinner and a couple of drinks worked out around 30 euros each.

Several other restaurants that were recommended are mentioned below – always a reason to return…

El Camino

Canela

Forn de Sant Juan

Koa

The main areas for nightlife are Santa Catalina and La Lonja. There are lots of quirky bars in the labyrinth of streets behind Sa Llotja. No trip to Palma should miss a visit to Bar Abaco as this place is so unique. There are people wandering around, taking in the atmosphere and the luxurious interior, as well as the museum rooms upstairs. The courtyard is beautiful and buzzing with people drinking the very expensive cocktails! Stunning place and worth checking out.

Over the weekend a few other places that we visited were the famous Sky Bar this place has unrivalled views over the marina and the cathedral, with a nightclub in the basement (free entry).

(not the best photos as my iPhone is totally wrecked!)

Idem served up fabulous cocktails, which were less pricey than Bar Abaco. This cocktail bar had a warm, glamourous décor.

Novo Cafe Lisboa was a bar we found by accident, but was a great find as it extended towards the back, with a balcony where you could watch the DJ in the basement, there were stairs leading from the main bar into the underground nightclub – the atmosphere was amazing.

On our last night we walked past the Ice Bar and we thought why not? It was a bit cheesy, though still good fun – entry includes a cocktail and you do get a cosy furlined cape to help you bear the temperature!

If you are looking for somewhere to have an afternoon coffee or glass of wine you could do worse than check out Melia Palma Marina. On a warm day the terrace at the swimming pool is the perfect spot for a snack or drink, with views over the marina. The lobby area is absolutely stunning, making it another good choice to sit and chill.

I honestly can’t wait to get back to Mallorca and think on my next visit I will definitely spend a couple of nights in Palma, before heading off to our resort…. on this trip we didn’t go to any of the museums, galleries or Bellver Castle.  There is so much to see and do in Palma it is worth checking out Things to do in Palma..

Enjoy Palma x

Jewel of Eastern Europe

Over the years I have visited a few of Eastern Europe’s most popular cities – Prague, Krakow and Lubljana, as have many others.  All were beautiful and gave me an appetite for visiting a few more – top of the list was Budapest! So here goes, I hope I can give you a taste!

For many years cities like Budapest were not on the tourist trail thanks to a history of communist oppression and war.  Thankfully this part of the world has moved on and is now well and truly open for business.

It has so much to offer – historic buildings, the stunning Danube, quirky bars and a vibrant nightlife, fabulous restaurants, thermal baths and the sprawling City Park which incorporates an ice rink in winter, a circus, a castle and the most beautiful walks!

Hungarian Parliament

We arrived on a late night flight and were off guard as tired so ended up being caught in one of the oldest scams going and got in an unauthorised taxi and were charged 4 times what we should’ve have been .. grrr! (TOP TIP – only get in an official taxi, if it’s during the day there are very cheap buses from the airport, we got one on the return journey for a few £s).

Once we got over the shock of the rip off taxi ride we had a great weekend – it was January so a bit on the chilly side, so definitely wrap up!  In any city we usually do a hop on/off bus tour to orientate ourselves and in Budapest this was definitely the way to do it as it also included a boat trip on the Danube, as well as allowing us to explore Buda and Pest (the city was previously split in two). There are several companies offering this so shop around.

We did also do a bit of walking as we were staying on the main shopping street so near many of the main places to visit.  So where did we go?

The Hungarian Parliament 

Wow what a building it’s huge! We didn’t do a tour as were limited on time but the best views are definitely from the Danube.   Do not miss out on a boat trip and learning about Margaret Island that lies between Buda and Pest, it looked so tranquil and a great place for families to chill out. Some more info on this site!

Hung P

Bridges of Budapest

Chain Bridge

One of the main bridges that connects Buda with Pest and a hive for photo opps due to it’s stunning architecture.

 

Jewish Quarter

Hard to visit Budapest and not be affected by the impact the Jewish community had still do on this city.  At the river there is a memorial to the Jews that were killed during WW2. The synagogue is really beautiful and the surrounding area has lovely restaurants and is close to the Ruins Bar area if you are wanting night life.

 

The Synagogue

Jewish Synagogue

House of Terror

I normally mark where I want to go on a map once I get to a city, this helps me plan each day and link nearby places.  So on the walk up Andrassy Avenue (the equivalent to the Champs Elysee of Paris) to the City Park I wanted to stop off at the House of Terror. This was a great museum and insight into the desperate position of Hungary during WW2. Handouts were available in many languages as you moved around the building. Worth spending an hour or two here.

House of Terror

 

The Ruins Bars

Several friends had recommended this area and we were not disappointed! These bars are literally ruins in some parts, but very eclectic and quirky which I loved! Don’t expect high end wine bars, but do expect these bars to be bursting with people, character, music and cheap alcohol! You might have to do a bit of walking from bar to bar and dress code is relaxed and anything goes! I had a dress and heels on and was definitely overdressed.

Ruins Nightlife

Map or Ruins Bars

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This photo is ‘borrowed’ but it gives you the gist!

St. Stephens Basilica

Another WOW moment! I hadn’t really intended to check out this spot, but wandered beside it so thought, ‘Why not?’…  Well I was glad I went in, this cathedral is breathtaking no matter what your take is on religion you can’t not be impressed with the exquisite architecture.  There was a bit of a crowd around one area which turned out to be St. Stephen’s mummified hand!

Loving St Stephens

 

Fishermen’s Bastion

I wasn’t too sure what this actually was though once on the ‘Buda’ side of the city I soon realised this was yet another stunning location, very fairytale-ish with unrivalled views of the main city.

 

Ice Skating in the City Park

Who doesn’t dream of ice skating outdoors in the winter – well ok I do! Totally loved this and in a stunning location, though check out time slots. There are lockers to keep your personal belongings whilst you skate in front of Vajdahunyad Castle …. as we visited the park later in the day castle was closed – another reason to return.

Ice Rink

 

Szechenyl Thermal Baths

Let’s just say the baths will blow those cobwebs away, even in the depths of winter! We visited in January in very cold weather and loved the warmth that the baths gave us.  The baths are located with the City Park and are only one of many as an option within the city.  Be organised though and bring flip flops as the ground around and in the changing room is a bit dirty…

Having said that nothing better than standing in swimwear in temperatures below zero and jumping into the outdoor baths at 30 degrees, with the steam rising. There are also numerous baths indoors with stunning glamorous architecture.

 

 

This is a MUST if you find yourself in Budapest.

Eating Out

You will be spoilt for choice in Budapest, though I definitely recommend this restaurant, superb service, delicious food and very good value!

Fausto – Michelin Rated

For those loving a burger you are in luck as there is a Hard Rock Cafe in town!

Hard Rock

Don’t miss out on a trip to the New York Cafe, some say it’s the most beautiful cafe in the world!  You might have to queue to get a table but it is worth it. This really is a little bit of a sanctuary in a busy city and the surroundings are stunning.  You will hear some authentic Hungarian musicians which was an unexpected treat.

New York Cafe

THIS CITY

This is a very vibrant, beautiful and historic city, which is why I loved it! Budapest offers the opera, ice skating, thermal baths, stunning views from the Danube, as well as some beautiful architecture.

I totally loved this city and would recommend it! If visiting in winter wrap up, if you are here in the summer make the most of outside space.

Eastern Europe is beautiful so get exploring!!

#easterneurope

Krka National Park – WOW!

Do not miss this spot if you are in Croatia!! About an hour from either Split or Zadar, and 10 km from Sibenik.  Hopefully my photos so if some justice!

Having a hire car was handy, as it avoided us having to do an organised day trip and we were able to travel and visit the park at our leisure.  However, clearly the organised trips know exactly where the best bits are and we didn’t!

I had only planned on visiting the main waterfall, not really grasping the sheer size of the park and so we ended up starting off at Roski Slap by chance, which was lovely, but I knew not the ‘main attraction’.

We spent a bit of time here and it was stunning and came across ‘Legendfest‘, an event aimed at children and based around local legends and fairies etc. For full details just click here as this is an annual event. Legendfest

 

We bought a full park ticket (the staff advised this, though if you just want to go to the main waterfalls there is a cheaper entrance fee so be careful)  which is worth it if you visit the full park – though I have to admit we didn’t…..oops!  For details on tickets and the park check out  Tickets

After Roski Slap we went on to Shradinski Buk ….. this is what I would call the main event!  You need to park in Shradinski and walk to the boat.  There are lots of car parks as you enter the small town of Shradinksi, just be careful with price, we parked beside the main marina and it wasn’t expensive.

There is a beautiful boat trip up river that drops everyone to Shradinski Buk,  and then it’s another boat that takes you on up the river to the Monastery etc.

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The waterfalls are just breathtaking and it’s definitely worth walking up the steps as there are a series of cascading falls, as well as a few market stalls with local crafts and produce.

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The water is lovely to swim in, though do be aware there is a strong current particularly near the bridge.  It’s very rocky too so water shoes are again needed if you don’t want your feet ripped to shreds!  Some food and drink stalls beside the falls and a huge grassy area where you could even bring a picnic too.

Fabulous day out ….. and I’m sure the monastery is stunning too ….. we’ll just have to come back and do that the next time!

Kornati National Park … what a place!

Before we arrived in Croatia I had researched to death which national parks were within ‘day trip’ distance and weren’t going to break the bank.  I had narrowed it down to Kornati and Krka – though really wanted to do Plitvice too, but couldn’t fit it all in (another reason to return!).

These pics show why I chose these amazing the Kornati Islands!!

 

 

A shot of some of the 140 islands and the vibrant colours of the sea – then a fabulous aerial view of the salt lake and the dramatic cliffs (not unlike Dover) with a stunning salt lake tucked in behind it …..

We booked an all day boat trip and realistically if you want to chill and get off on the islands, it will take a full day.  We left after 9 am, sailed through the islands, totally amazing scenery.  It took about 2 hours or so to reach the islands from Pine Beach, Pakostane (we were picked up at the park which was great).

 

 

Before lunch there was time to explore one of the islands we stopped at and it was definitely worth the climb. (TOP TIP – don’t be like me and attempt this in flip flops, you need decent footwear that won’t slip around in the heat). The views from the hillside were stunning, aqua water and numerous other hilltops dotted in the tranquil sea.  Honestly my photos do not show the true colour of the sea – you need to see this for yourself!

 

 

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Time for lunch at a beautiful quiet bay.  This place was ran by a couple who live on this island during the summer and on the mainland during the winter.  It was very rustic and just perfect in terms of atmosphere and location.  The staff were very attentive, ensuring everyone was fed quickly and had drinks – water, soft drinks and wine. Lunch was a whole cooked fish, so be prepared if not a fish fan! Though apparently it was mouth watering if you are – there was also dressed lettuce and we think lamb or pork so a nice lunch.  My fussy boy struggled but filled up on the delicious fresh breads that accompanied the meal.

 

 

There was also time to swim in the beautiful crystal clear waters, which were also shallow. (TOP TIP – bring water shoes everywhere as Croatian beaches are mostly rocky)

The guides on the boat we very informative in a multitude of languages. They held out a map and explained the route and local history. Very impressed with interaction and number of languages! There were also drinks and snacks on board included in the price.

After lunch we sailed to the other side of the cliffs and visited the salt lake which was warm to swim in, just beautiful.  There are a few bars and cafes here aswell as a very enterprising ice cream man! The walk to the edge of the cliffs is a good work out! Though if you can do it as the views are stunning.

 

 

 

Great day out for a family of 4 for around £100 including lunch.  Definitely recommend x

Pine Beach Eco Resort – Croatia’s best kept secret!

Croatia has been on my travel bucket list for the last 10 years or so.   Last year I came across this fabulous eco resort called Pine Beach in an area called Pakostane and was hooked!!  You can book it through www.loveholidays.com or direct with www.pinebeach.hr/en/, I initially priced with Loveholidays but booked direct as soon as the prices for 2018 were released to try and get the best deal.  I have to admit I was a bit obsessed with their website as it was so easy to navigate and had the option to use Google Cardboard and view it using VR goggles – totally amazing.  Make sure you do have a good look at the site – though even with the virtual tour (watched over and over) when we arrived I was still blown away!

Nearest airport is Zadar, though we flew into Split with www.easyjet.com.

Airport

We booked a hire car with www.economybookings.com , reasonable at £165 for 12 days,  (though we were charged an additional 60 euro for late pick up and drop off, as well as taking the car on the ferry to Hvar). They were very good and had a driver pick us up at the airport to take us to their pick up area about 5 minutes drive away, we were also dropped back after returning our car.  Car was spacious and immaculate.

The drive to Pine Beach took around 1 hour 20 mins and we arrived at around 11 pm.  The security hut confirmed our booking , gave us our keys and arranged for an electric car/buggy to take out luggage to our hut. Luckily our hut was not far from the entrance, only a short walk to the bar, beach beside one of the toilet blocks and main restaurant – an excellent location overall.

So the accommodation?  I was so excited to see the straw huts and they didn’t disappoint!  There are a range of sizes of huts and we had booked one to sleep 5 as below, though there were only 4 of us. There was plenty of space, 3 good storage units and the beds were comfortable with mosquito nets to cover them at night.  I had read some reviews complaining about the mattresses, though we all slept soundly every night and I found the huts to be just fab.  There are detailed photos on the website but here are a couple of my own.

The hut

Boys Sleeping in the hut

These pair has to be woken every morning!

We soon got into our routine – breakfast and then went to either the beach or to the rocky area to the left of the beach.  There were plenty of sunbeds in every location right around and beyond the mouth of the bay. It was lovely to have the choice of the beach or the less sandy option on the rocks.  The beach area is perfect for young children as the water is super shallow, it only goes to the knees even for adults, until you get out quite a bit, even then it only goes to upper body for adults.  You are also close to the mini club, play park, trampolines, football pitch, volleyball courts and the beach bar.

Beach

The beach …. or a really bad photo of it lol

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There were several more slides and activities within the park.

Indoor softplay

Soft play area, this wasn’t set up when I passed, but there were kids at the other side of this area drawing so a great area in the shade.

Football Pitch

Football pitch.

Volley Ball Court

There are also 2 volley ball courts so plenty to keep teenagers entertained too! Not far from this area there are 7 tennis courts and a basketball court, all surfaces were in great condition, I was very impressed with all the facilities.

As my boys were keen to snorkel and jump in from the jetty’s, the rocks area suited us a little better, in most places there were shallow areas of water.  The other bonus for us was that we could sit between the water sports area, the bar and other activities including table tennis, mini golf, table football, bocce and giant chess.  This kept everyone busy and plenty of opportunity to get out of the sun when it got too hot.  It was really chilled sitting here into the early evening, stunning sunsets.

View from rocks down to beach

View from the rocks to the beach.

Rocks area

Stunning views from the rocks.

People in water at rocks

The rocks area – crystal clear water which is shallow and perfect to cool down in, as well as snorkel.

So onto the activities….

Another big attraction for my family was the opportunity to sail in small boats, kayak and paddle board.  Sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, paddle boarding and the inflatable water park are  part of the ‘All Inclusive Lite’ package. Lessons in sailing or windsurfing can be arranged at an extra cost of around 200 HRH around £25 per hour.

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If it’s too windy the boats won’t got out.  You do need some experience to sail these and I would strongly recommend that you know what you are doing before taking these out, as they can go very fast in strong winds and tip to the side (which they are designed to do), though if you’re not careful they can capsize!   There is a speed boat which very quickly goes out to assist anyone in difficulty.

For all water sports including the inflatable water park life jackets are provided.  My tip would be to make sure they are fitted correctly, otherwise they won’t do their job if needed.

 

 

Same goes for Paddle boarding – depends on the wind, we did get out several times so it’s not a big issue.  As the water is crystal clear, once you get your balance you can see to the bottom of the bay.  You might have to queue for a paddle board but not for too long.  We didn’t venture out windsurfing but many did and they looked like great fun.

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Kayaking featured a lot for us and there are a number of options – single, double triple, quadruple kayaks.  This is great so that those with younger children can get out with adults.  Another great way to experience the Adriatic Sea in a relatively safe way.

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No holiday is complete without an inflatable water park, so of course Pine Beach has one too.  It may not be the biggest, but it’s still great fun!

All these activities are unlimited and you don’t need to book.  Really amazing value when all of this is included in ‘All Inclusive Lite’ so I would encourage you to make the most of it all.  Stunning location to do any of these activities.

So it that it?  Definitely not!  There are a couple of activities that do require booking, worth doing this early to get your pick of days and times. Firstly the Adventure Park

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Low ropes area for those under 200 cm.

Climbing wall

Fantastic climbing wall.

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High ropes for those over 200 cm

Children do need an adult with them, though the adult doesn’t have to do the course.

Archery

You can book archery at the archery spot just off the beach.

So what is the rest of the park like?

The park was beautiful everywhere you looked!  The grounds were so well kept and signposted, we did see a gardener attending to plants as we walked to the activities.

Flora

Also loving the signs, which were not only cute, but kept you from getting lost.  Though the whole park was easy to find your way around.

 

 

The restaurant was also an asset to the park, it was open air and have a relaxed feel to it.  Plenty of choice for all tastes, though desserts were a little limited if you are used to a Spanish style all inclusive buffet, most nights it was ice cream …. though there was a great choice and they came in cones so everyone loved them!

Restaurant

For those panicking about the lack of electricity in the huts – don’t!  Outside the restaurant and beside the bar there are solar powered benches with USB charging ports.  There are also plugs in the main bar for charging devices and reception will also charge your phone if you leave it with them with plug etc.

Around the park there are numerous toilet/shower blocks which were all cleaned regularly.  The hot water was solar powered and was constantly available – no queuing for showers either, not like my memories of caravan holidays as a child! There was a power socket in the toilets beside our hut, as well as a built in hair dryer so you don’t need to pack one.

Other services included a laundry which was an additional cost and a shop with a range of confectionery, toiletries, gifts etc.

At reception there was lots of information about renting jetskis, banana boats and a wide variety of excursions….  Kornati Islands and Krka National ParkBike rental was another option and my partner rented one on 2 mornings we were there. He cycled to Pakostane one morning and then to Biograd another morning.  The cost for the day was around £10, expensive for one journey so I would advise planning ahead and maybe taking a trip around Vrana Lake.  This is the largest lake in Croatia and another national park so there is an entrance fee.

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There was a full programme of activities beyond the water for kids and adults ….. football tournaments, yoga, aerobics, juggling school, dancing and many more. At night there was a mini disco, though for adults the entertainment was limited. The bar is beside the mini golf, bocce, table tennis and giant chess so ideal for family fun or to keep an eye on your children if they play on their own.

The surrounding area has lots to offer …. Pakostane is a small town with a marina and some stalls along the waterfront.  We did venture into Biograd one evening which was lovely. Again there was a marina with quite a variety of boats, lots of bars, restaurants, shops, some amusements and good quality market stalls.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Pine Beach it really is a special place and I’m sure I haven’t done it justice!  I will blog more about our excursions and where we travelled onto after our week in Pine Beach  .. (Hvar and Split………..amazing!).  Would I recommend it?    ……    YES!!

Top Tips

  • Pack for camping without food and bedding ……torches/lamps (we got ones in Go Outdoor that double as both). 
  • Bring some mosquito/bug repellent.  We all got minor bites despite mosquito bands.
  • Get your bearings the first day and plan what activities you would like to do and book those that you need to.
  • Remember All Inclusive Lite includes 3 meals and drinks during these, as well as snacks at 4.30pm.  Outside of this all drinks, ice cream and food must be purchased.
  • Ensure life jackets are properly fitted
  • HAVE FUN and do as much as you can!!

#pinebeach #pakostane #croatia #eco-resort #sailing #kayaking #paddleboarding #snorkelling #adriaticsea #clearwater #familyfun #sun #beautiful