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6 years ago

DESTINATIONSEuropeSunseekers

Tuscany, Italy

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The contrast of the countrysides rolling hills mixed with the stunning cities of Florence and Pisa make’s Tuscany an irresistible choice for any traveller.

There is so much to see here, the problem is where to start! I have holidayed in Tuscany numerous times in various cities and towns and loved it each and every time. There are regular direct flights from Dublin to Pisa with Ryanair and they won’t break the bank so its probably the most direct route to take. I would recommend getting the Ryanair coach from Pisa airport direct to Florence and spending a few days there first. Florence is Tuscany’s capital city and when walking around it, you get the feeling that it deserves to be! The Tuscan countryside is so beautiful that it would almost be a shame if its capital city didn’t have that certain heir of grandeur. Although the largest city in the region it retains its old world romantic charm. It has one of Italy’s must see Cathedrals or Duomo, the magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce, the famous statue of ‘David’ by Michelangelo and of course one the largest collections of art in the world in the Uffizi Gallery. I would recommend doing an organised city tour to avoid long queues and will enable you to see most of the sights in the shortest time. If you would rather go it alone make sure you at least pre book the Uffizi tickets online, the queues can be over 2 hours long during peak summer months. Florence is not only known for its artistic charm, it’s really quite romantic too. The Ponte Vecchio Bridge, one of the most photographed places in Florence, is lined with vendors, hoping the magic of this city will entice the spellbound tourists to purchase something for their loved one.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert talks about Tuscany

From Florence you can take a train to nearby Siena which is only just over an hour away. In my opinion, this is another ‘must see’ if visiting Tuscany. It is one of my favourite places to visit. The old town centre is pedestrianised and is so easy to navigate. It doesn’t have that big city feel but there are numerous sights to see and it feels almost relaxing, strolling through the streets picking up souvenirs, a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of Florence. Siena has been declared a World Heriage site by UNESCO and after a visit to the Piazza del Campo you will see why. The Palazzo Pubblico or town hall stands magnificently beside the Torre del Magnia. Climb the 400 steps to the top to see the red roof tops of Siena and the surrounding countryside, it is breathtaking. This is also the famous location for the Palio horse race which takes place twice every summer. Ten horses with bare back riders race around Il campo each representing their own district, dressed in various colors, it really is a magnificent sight. For any movie buffs out there you may recall this from a scene in the James Bond’s movie, Quantum of Solace. Like most of the Italian cities and towns, there are loads of typical trattorias and osterias. One of the best lies in the heart of Siena. Unfortunately the secret is out so its usually thronged with locals and tourists but make sure you visit, you won’t be disappointed, Losteria on via de Rossi.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert talks about TuscanyFrom Sienna, get a hired car. There is a fantastic train service to most of the larger towns but to experience the Tuscan countryside properly you really need a car. The freedom you have to stop at small walled towns and villages and sample the local produce, for me is one of Tuscany’s highlights. The Cypress trees, old country cottages and the striking sunflowers means the journey is the destination. Driving the Chianti region, stopping at various towns and sampling the local wines is another highlight. We came across Montepulciano, one of the oldest hill top walled towns while driving one day and to this day it’s one of my favourite spots. Although not exactly undiscovered, it’s not as well known as some of its neighbours so it doesn’t attract as many tourists as the famous San Gimignano just down the road. However, regardless of the large influx of tourists the medieval walled town of San Gimignano is town you just have to visit. The fourteen towers dominate the landscape and give a dramatic feel as you get closer to it. Like most of Tuscany’s towns it is also pedestrianised but although easy to navigate it can be extremely busy in the summer months. I would recommend staying there for a few days or even overnight to get a true feel for the place. Alternatively visit in the late afternoon when the numerous Tour buses have left. Because of the nature of the walled town it gets dark very early and is not the best place to see the Tuscan sunset. Its neighbour on the other hand, Volterra, is the perfect spot. Only a half hour drive from San Gimignano, but its situated perfectly to enjoy a late drink as the locals meet in the open square to discuss the events of the day. You get the feeling you are seeing the true Tuscany here while taking in one of the best sunsets in the world.

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You can drive back to Pisa from here as it’s only an hours drive and visit the famous leaning tower before flying home. Pisa however, for me lacks the grandeur of the other Tuscan cities. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Leaning Tower, I think I would probably skip it altogether. The great thing about the Tower and its surrounding buildings is that they are so close to the airport that you can really do a quick visit on your way home. There are four buildings, one of which is an impressive Cathedral but really a few hours is all you need here to tick the box and get the souvenir photo.

 

Sarah

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DESTINATIONSSunseekers

My Guide to Lake Garda, Where to Stay and What to Do.

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For a long time now Italy has been one of favourite holiday destinations. I have stayed in Lake Garda twice, both with and without children and have loved it both times. Check out my handy guide to Lake Garda, with tips on where to stay and what to do.

 

Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, is extremely popular with Irish visitors. There are direct flights to Verona from Irish airports during the summer months as well as flights to nearby Milan and Bologna, so it is easily accessible. This may sound like a cliché but Lake Garda is one of those destinations that caters for everyone. It is romantic yet family orientated and quiet but full of sports activities. It is also perfectly situated to visit some of Italy’s famous cities and towns. Garda is just over two hours from Milan and Venice, and only an hour from Verona – so if you are looking for a holiday where you can get out and explore some more of Italy, then Lake Garda is for you.

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If Venice or Milan seem a little too far to attempt on a day trip, Verona is most definitely not. It’s so easy to navigate and has some marvellous sights to see. The amphitheatre or Arena Di Veroni, is stunning, and is in remarkable condition. In fact I thought it was more impressive than the Colosseum in Rome! You can also visit Juliette’s house (of Romeo and Juliette), and call out to your partner from the balcony where Romeo declared his love. If on the other hand you just want to wander, Verona is a beautiful city with plenty of shops and cafes lining the medieval streets in the historic centre.

juliettes balcony verona, near lake garda

 

Things to do in Lake Garda

Of course Lake Garda itself has so much to offer, each village being quite different to the next. It takes approximately three hours to drive around the lake but water taxis are available to most towns and are much nicer way to explore them. The cable car ride from Malcesine to Monte Baldo is also a great way to see the lake from above. You will see many jumping off the top of the mountain with parachutes – it is a remarkable sight.  If you just want to relax, there are many man made beaches to choose from, but the sandy beach of Lazise is one of the best on the Lake. Gardaland is a must visit if on holidays in Lake Garda with kids – see more on that below.

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Where to stay in Lake Garda

The town of Garda is quite small, yet attracts many visitors because it is only twenty miles from Verona. If you are only staying for a short time the choice of location is very important, particularly if you want to do some sightseeing. Generally speaking try to stay south if you want to be close to Venice, Milan and Verona. Riva, although a beautiful town at the very north of the Lake, will take you a lot longer to travel to and from, when taking excursions. My favourite town in Lake Garda is Sirmione.

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Sirmione is situated at the southern tip of Lake Garda, on a long peninsula that juts out from the mainland. It is stunning! The old town is dominated by a thirteenth-century almost fairytale-like castle, the Rocca Scaligera. The fortress is open to the public and is well worth the visit. If you are travelling with kids, don’t despair. My daughter Alex thought it was like Cinderella’s castle, so it appeals to both adults and children. 

You can choose to stay in Sirmione, but bear in mind it will be very busy with tourists in peak season. A day trip might be a better option depending on the time of year you visit. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a more relaxed village to stay in, Bardolino or Limone may suit you.

bardolino lake garda

If you are travelling with kids, Pescheira would be my resort of choice. It’s southern location allows for a short airport transfer and it is also ideal for day trips to nearby cities. Its pedestrianised streets and Roman ruins make an idyllic setting, but its close proximity to Gardaland is the main attraction.

Gardaland is Italy’s largest theme park and is Europe’s third largest. It is also home to Peppa Pig Land and Legoland are opening a waterpark there in 2020. If you are staying in Garda for two weeks you may be better to buy an annual pass. This will allow you as many visits as you like, with automatic fast pass entry to most of the rides. If on the other hand one day is enough for you, order your tickets online to beat the queues. This saved us forty-five minutes queuing time in July. GardaLand is a super theme park with rides for all ages and I would highly recommend it if you are travelling with kids.

gardaland

Garda is just one of the many beautiful holiday destinations Italy has to offer, but is one that I can safely recommend for everyone. Whether you want to try some fantastic water-sports, visit some stunning Italian cities or simply enjoy a peaceful lakeside setting, Lake Garda has all in abundance.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

 

DESTINATIONSEuropeFamily HolidaysFeaturedSunseekers

Alvor in the Algarve – The Perfect Spot for a Relaxing Break.

Alvor fishing village portugal

Looking for a quiet break with great restaurants and a stunning beach? Alvor in the Algarve ticks every box.

My husband and I went there when I was pregnant on my second child and it was perfect. I stayed in the Pestana Dom Joao villas which were right on the beach. You may see them available cheaply on some accommodation websites but be careful, some villas which have been renovated and are four star, but there are also some that are in need of modernisation. Although the villas are more like apartments, you can’t beat the beachfront location. The sand is literally at the end of the garden, a luxury that is hard to find on a typical package holiday.

alvor portugal fishing village tourist attraction

The garden also comes in handy. You can sunbathe on the loungers if you have a child asleep or the kids can play while you are getting the dinner ready. It’s ideal for young kids who don’t need kids clubs or entertainment and are just happy to be at the beach or kicking ball. There are really dramatic rock formations all along the Alvor coastline. These are not only stunning to look at, but have the added advantage of creating rock pools, a great way to pass the time with young kids too, searching for crabs, small fish or other ‘pirates treasure’!

Alvor, The Travel Expert

Alvor itself is a small fishing village, yet despite the influx of tourists it still retains much of its old world charm. The village has narrow cobbled streets with some fantastic restaurants and some lively bars at excellent prices. Adega Alvor is a great family choice with an extensive menu to suit all tastes. The ‘Alvor’ wine is particularly good too! There are also some stunning restaurants built into the cliffs along the beach. Canico is a particularly good choice, you can access this from the beach itself or through the Prainha Village complex. Canico is more expensive than the local village restaurants and although the food does not necessarily justify higher prices, the setting certainly does. Watching the sun set on the ocean in a dramatic cliff setting is quite special.

 

 

I would recommend car hire if you want to see a little more of the Algarve. The coach transfer from the airport can be two hours depending on the amount of stops but to drive it yourself is just over an hour. I would also recommend a trip to nearby Portimao, the Algarve’s capital to visit the modern marina and local shops. Zoo Marine which is close to the airport is an excellent theme park with dolphin, seal and bird shows. It also has a man made beach with slides and a splash park. The shows are well worth seeing and to be honest were as good as what you would see in Seaworld.

Alvor in Portugal by Sarah Slattery, Irelands top travel expert

The Algarve in general is a great holiday destination with a huge number of resorts to choose from. Alvor is my personal favourite though, it still feels like the ‘real’ Algarve and I hope it stays that way.

Sarah

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