Category - Our Holidays

A selection of our favourite destination guides, summer holiday ideas and resort info from the expert team at Purple Travel

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Purple Hearts: Playa del Carmen Mexico
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9 things to do in Luxor (besides the pyramids)
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Purple Hearts: Luxor Travel Guide
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Get Inspired: A Hipster Guide to NYC
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Purple Hearts Christ Church Barbados
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Holidays help you live longer: Ikaria Greece
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Goan Grub : Six of the best Goan Dishes
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Purple Hearts Goa Destination Guide
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Amazing Days Out: Mexico’s Underwater Sculpture Park
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Punta Cana Travel Guide

Purple Hearts: Playa del Carmen Mexico

Daydreaming about holidays is one of our favourite things and there might not be a better place than Playa del Carmen Mexico.

Found on the stunning coast of Riviera Maya, just a stone’s throw from the (in)famous resort of Cancun, Playa (as it’s known locally) is a haven for honeymooners, families looking to relax, couples who need a break and cruise ships that dock nearby. Temperatures are generally above 20 all year round, reaching a height of the mid 30s in the Summer. Playa del Carmen Mexico is number two on TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice for Mexico, and features in the prestigious Conde Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Awards this year . While the beaches are simply to die for, regularly topping the top 25 in the world lists. Playa comes at number 12, while nearby Tulim is third on TripAdvisor’s yearly ‘Top 25 Beach Destinations in the World for 2012.’

There’s a big focus locally on keeping the area’s charm of a small fishing village and colony for artists. Basically it’s a smaller, less touristy version of Cancun. There is a Fifth Avenue where you can stock up on Louis Vuitton or Chanel, but there are also unspoiled beaches, hammocks swaying in the breeze under coconut trees, stunning sea views, great Mexican food and history by the bucket load. Don’t knock Playa ‘til you’ve tried it.

Things to do in Playa del Carmen

Snorkelling/Scuba The offshore Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, (the second biggest reef in the world) is right there on your doorstep in Playa del Carmen. You’ll find lots of dive shops throughout the resort, while there’s open water scuba a little further down the coast in Cozumel.

Get married or go on honeymoon Mexico might actually be the most romantic place ever. They make weddings and honeymoons an art form. Take all the hard work out of it and simply enjoy the ultimate beach wedding or the most luxurious romantic honeymoon you can image in Playa del Carmen. We’ve even put together this Mexico Honeymoon guide to help you get started!

Meet some monkeys The Jungle Place is a spider monkey sanctuary where you can go and meet these adorable little animals. Although a little out of the way, according to TripAdvisor, it’s well worth the trip.

Splash some cash on Quinta Evenida Playa’s fifth avenue has become a firm tourist favourite, with 20 blocks of cobblestone streets to explore. It’s got tonnes of shops if spending is your thing. Even if it’s not, it’s a great place to have some delicious local grub and is a safe place to spend an evening out.

Nightlife Not as wild as Cancun, but still with plenty on offer, most clubs in Playa stay open all night, and some of the best ones are actually on the beach, so you can enjoy a cocktail and sunset as well as sunrise views.

See the cenotes these are huge naturally occurring spring water sinkholes. Historically they were very important to the Mayan people as they were a channel to communicate with the gods. Found all over the Yucatan peninsula, the clear water, which is around 200 feet deep in some, is perfect for swimming or diving, in fact you might not have a better swimming experience in your life. Read more about cenotes in our Purple Picks: Mythical Hotspots.

BPM: Or beats per minute. The BPM Festival is a trance lover’s dream and is taking place in January, 2013 in Playa. It’s got everyone from Carl Cox, Sasha, and John Digweed on the lineup. Click here for more details.

Get close to nature at the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve just an hour or so outside of Playa you’ll find a great day out for the ecologically minded. Locally run, it offers tours of the Mayan ruins at Muyil or a float down the river through mangrove trees. There’s also a local nature guide pointing out the local flowers and animals. They’ve just introduced a chewing gum tour too.

Go to this amazing beauty salon (in Mexico City) It might be a little out of the way for a Brazilian, but we just had to include this beautiful beauty salon. The amazing colours are soothing and beautiful and certainly enough to distract while you’re getting seen to.

Visit Tulum The nearby resort is a history buffs paradise. The pre Christopher Columbus walled city is right on the water and is easily the number one attraction in the area. The big temple on the site, and the many smaller buildings and huts give a good glimpse into life hundreds of years ago.

Go in the dark: How amazing does this sound? Xplor is an adventure park, where you can go ziplining or go in all terrain trips under the moonlight. It’s an exclusive after dark experience especially for meetings and groups form 8 to 11.30 at night.

Where to stay in Playa del Carmen

Stess buster Bluebay Esmerelda an onsite spa, spacious rooms, snorkelling and windsurfing just down at the beach, and 15 minutes from Fifth Avenue. All inclusive at the Bluebay Esmerelda is the ultimate in stress free holidays.

Couples getaway Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya Hotel & Spa If we could use one word to describe the Sirenis it would be gorgeous. The modern hotel is right on a picture perfect sandy beach, the crystal clear water is home to a coral reef, and the palm trees are the perfect shade from the hot sunshine.

Family favourite Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa Just a look at the brige rooms, great gardens and exotic surrounds and you can tell the 5* Sandos Caracol is a fantastic choice for all the family. The watersports centre offers something for everyone, while a kids club and teens club means everyone is catered for, as mum and dad chill out in the hot tub.

Best Budget Hotel Bananathis is right on the famous fifth avenue, so it’s a great choice for sampling the local nightlife and culture. With an outdoor pool and the beach just a stone’s throw away, as well as tonnes of eating options nearby, it’s a great choice for you and your pocket.

Best for the beach Ocean Maya Royale this one is so close to the beach, its pools are built into the sand. The recently refurbished hotel offers a little bit of luxury, with its Despacio Spa Centre and sea view rooms. Perfect for going from beach to bed in no time.

You Should Read… Our top 6 hotels in Jamaica right now.

What to eat in Playa del Carmen

There are around 75 restaurants throughout Playa, so make sure you get on that plane with an empty belly! From the pizza in the street places that are open until 6am, to the super fancy, delicacy serving delights of Quinta Avenida, here are some of the top places to eat and the top dishes to try.

Stuffed tacos You can pick these up on practically every street corner, whether it’s seafood, chicken or chorizo, these traditional lunchtime meals are usually around two or three dollars, so stock up.

Chocolate Mexico is famous for it. What did you mean you didn’t know that ? Try the most amazing brownies at the Ah Cacao Chocolate Cafe on Fifth Avenue.

Breakfast The family owned Kaxapa Factory between 10th and 15th Avenues does a tasty breakfast or brunch and its Venezuelan inspired dishes are to die for.

Birds We don’t mean to eat! The parrots on the balcony create a wonderful atmosphere at the Xulam, Mayan Fisher on 10th Avenue. A great choice for traditional Mayan fare.

Fish Kool Fish Restaurant on Fifth Avenue is a seafood lovers dream. It’s great value and offers wonderful fresh seafood with that traditional Mexican twist.

Although it’s in Mexico, there are also plenty of well known chain stores including a Cheesecake Factory. Now, we’re not saying it’s worth a trip to Mexico just for some cheesecake, but ‘when in Rome…’

You Should Read…  Mexican foodie dictionary

Images courtesy of Riviera Maya DMO.

9 things to do in Luxor (besides the pyramids)

The ancient ruins of Luxor are admired the world over (yay, go pyramids!) and visiting them can be a profound and awe inspiring experience. But their not the city’s only attractions, here are nine of our favourite things to do when you’re all templed-out.

Alternative Things to Do in Luxor

Rent a bike

Work off one too many kebabs while seeing the city. Hiring a bike is perhaps the most exhilarating way too see the East Bank, and when you’re done you can catch a ferry over to the West Bank and do it all over again.

Drink tea

Tea is by far the national drink of Egypt and they drink it strong, black and very sweet. There are a number of hotels that offer a full afternoon tea, and even an English tea room on St Joseph’s Street, but the best way to drink tea in Luxor is to wander into a local cafe and ask for glass of ‘duty.’

Visit the animal sanctuary

Away from the hustle and bustle of the main tourist trail, ACE animal sanctuary is a charity dedicated to caring for animals. Keep kids entertained for hours with this loveable lot -donkeys, horses, camels, dogs and perhaps even the odd tortoise. Visitors are offered a guided tour and if you time it right, you might even catch a Thursday morning lesson in animal welfare.

Caleche at night

Experience the city at night by horse drawn carriage. Perfectly romantic and also a jolly good way to get around.

Swim at the Maritim Jolie Ville

Take a load off your aching feet and cool off in one of the Jolie Ville’s outdoor pools. Relax in luxury and when you start to wrinkle, there’s a great balcony for taking photos of the stunning bird life that lives in and around the Nile. For a truly unforgettable experience, try the infinity pool at sunset.

Take a balloon ride

See the city from a whole new perspective – get a bird’s eye view of one of the most famous landscapes in the world. Expect tranquility, unbelievable views and stunned silences. For the ultimate wow factor, take an early morning flight and catch the sunrise.

Spend, spend, spend

Luxor is a great place to pick up a bargain. Carvings, Egyptian cotton, gold and silver are just a few of the goods on offer, but don’t forget to haggle.

Cruise the Nile in style

Glide down the river on a felucca, a type of sailboat. Feel the breeze in your face as you pass banana and mango trees, local fisherman and grassing animals. Trips are by the hour or, for even more of an adventure, a three-hour trip will take you to Aswan, the ancient Egyptians ‘gateway to Africa.’

Go Veggie

Unlike many Western countries, fresh seasonal produce is plentiful in Egypt. A great way to take advantage of this is at one of the large fruit and vegetable markets. However, if you don’t fancy cooking, the local restaurants are more than happy to oblige – we have to warn you though, once you’ve tried Egyptian falafels your meat-eating days could be numbered.

All these tips kindly shared with Purple Travel by Liz Cookman. Go visit her lovely blog here or follow her on the twitter machine @lizonomy

 

Purple Hearts: Luxor Travel Guide

Not to be confused with the stunning Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, (which is also amazing) this is the one in Egypt, perched right on the banks of the Nile offering the ultimate in history, holidays and sunshine. Either on its own, a stop off on a Nile Cruise or on your way to one of the stunning Red Sea Resorts like Sharm el Sheikh, Luxor is a city just waiting to be discovered. Enjoy Egypt this year with our Luxor travel guide.

Luxor’s been named the ‘world’s greatest open air museum’ with its stunning complexes of temples, tombs and history. Perched right on the banks of the infamous Nile River, its Indiana Jones appearance feels completely exotic and its show stopping antiquities are well worth the visit.

The city is more or less divided in two. On the West Bank sits major ruins including the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, that’s where you’ll find the likes of the tombs of Tutankhamun and Nefertiti, still standing vibrant against the blue sky after a 3000 whopping years. The town proper sits on the East Bank, home to the Luxor and Karnak Temples as well as tonnes of Hotels, restaurants, and nightlife.

It’s not just the history that draws people in, but the extensive city, that is absolutely made for exploring. It’s a group of districts that come together to create a bustling environment of nightlife, accommodation, eateries and sightseeing. It’s ideal for families who want to share the discovery of ancient times, couples who are looking for romance or anyone looking to simply soak up the sunshine.

Read more: Purple Hearts Sharm el Sheikh

What to see in Luxor

Valley of the Kings archaeologists are *still* finding new tombs in this vast complex. The Valley of the Kings is where you’ll find the extraordinary tombs of the boy king Tutankhamun and Ramses the Great.

Sound and Light show at Karnak Temple The aim of this is to bring the ancient city of Thebes to life through the magic of sound and lights. It’s also said to be one of the largest religious sites in the world. Everything is lit up and it’s a great way of viewing the historic monuments in a different way way, plus the reflection of the temple on the Sacred Lake makes a great finale.

Memnon Colossis these are two huge figures depicting the famous god Amenhotep III and featured in front of his temple.

Museum of Mummification This is a small museum but is devoted entirely to the mummification process. So, if that’s something you’re into, this is the place to go.

Read more: top 10 facts about the pyramids of Egypt

What to do in Luxor

Go to the Egyptian Museum Kids will absolutely love this and mum and dad will get some preparation for years worth of school projects here. Luxor is where the ancient capital of Egypt Thebes once stood and the museum is home to the great finds from the (cursed?) tomb of Tutankhamun and the Royal mummies of the pharaohs Ahmose I and Ramesses I. There’s even a double statue of the crocodile god Sobek. If that doesn’t impress the kids, nothing will.

Afternoon tea Agatha Christie style at the Winter Palace Hotel Agatha Christie stayed here while she was working hard on her famous Poirot detective story Death on the Nile. So what better place to indulge in a little tradition, than in her footsteps with tea and sandwiches? There are macaroons, fruit scones, assorted cakes and custard along with proper brewed tea. It really is a home away from home.

Horse drawn carriage These cost about £1 and kids will love it. A great way to rumble around the city, stop and get your picture taken or just take in the breathtaking sights.

Felucca rides These are traditional Egyptian sailboats that float up the bustling banks of the Nile. It’s a great way to see the cities that dot the shore. Just one thing to remember, it’s best to haggle over a price, it’s totally expected.

For something extra special (honeymoon anyone?) a hot air balloon trip is a stunning way to enjoy the beauty and history of Luxor. Flights usually start before dawn and last about 40 minutes, so you can totally indulge in the beautiful surroundings of this ancient city.

Buy stuff The old Luxor market is great for an afternoon out. Here it’s all about the ritual, find a seller you like, sit down, have a cup of tea and put your bartering hat on. It might seem a little intimidating at first, but haggling over the price of even the smallest item is all part of the experience. There are spices, scarves, and sheesha (water pipes) to be had here.

Read more: Opera in El Gouna

Where to stay in Luxor

For a honeymoon Maritim Jolie Ville Kings Island this 5 star is proper luxury, set on its own private island and surrounded by lush gardens. There are ten restaurants on site andevery possibility amenity you could imagine.

For a little luxury Iberotel Luxor, The 4 star Iberotel Luxor is home to a heated floating pool on the Nile and overlooks the Theben Hills for a great holiday, with spacious rooms and a relaxed atmosphere.

For all the family Gaddis Hotel Luxor The 3 star Gaddis offers hotel and apartment accommodation and is in a peaceful neighbourhood as well as within walking distance of the main sites.

For something a bit different Bob Marley House Hotel Bob Marley might not be synonymous with Luxor, but this relaxed hotel has a certain charm. This budget friendly hotel is within walking distance of lots of amenities and even offers horse riding lessons.

Read more: Top 10 holidays for history buffs

What and where to eat in Luxor

Luxor is a paradise for vegetarians. Restaurants usually offer whatever they have in season, so you get beautiful extra fresh tomatoes or cucumbers. Mezze dishes are a big deal in Luxor, these are small dishes that give you a taster of Egyptian style food. It’s usually traditional pieces of pita, with baba ganoush or taboule. You can of course get meat in the form of simple kebabs in plenty of the street shops and if you’re really missing home there are plenty of chain restaurants downtown to pick up a Big Mac.

Jamboree Restaurants on Market Street, inside the souk. This one is child friendly, with lots of choices and is great value.

Sofra has a great terrace where you can enjoy delicious, traditional Egyptian food.

El Kebabgy Reasonably priced, decent quality food, offering pasta, kebabs or mousaka. Snobs in the East Bank. Worth it for the name alone really, Snobs servers Western style food at great prices.

The Lantern, Al Roda Sharifa Street, good quality English style and Egyptian food at good value prices.

Read some our customer reviews of Luxor.

Get Inspired: A Hipster Guide to NYC

Just like madness, depression or alcoholism – the first stage is admitting that you have a problem. Say it with me now.

“My name is (blank) and I am a HIPSTER. “

Now that that’s out of the way, we’ve created a survival guide to the world’s hippest destination: NYC, a.k.a the hipster holy grail.

The New York hipster should only frequent establishments that cater to their ‘coolness’. However, as these hipster-only joints tend to have a strict dress code; in order to be allowed entry, you must first pass the visual test. Women should head to Buffalo Exchange in Williamsburg, where they can pick up vintage or designer clothing from different eras (which should then be draped on every part of your body with no great regard for aesthetic cohesion).

Read more: the best vintage shops in New York here

Men should check out the Housing Works Thrift Shops that are scattered throughout the city or vintage shops such as Cheap Jack’s on Fifth Avenue. In regards to what you should buy: anything that would look good on a farmer, pirate, hobo, Elvis Costello or golf caddy would work/anything that can be worn and explained with irony. To both genders – be sure to pick up a pair of thick black glasses, even if you have perfect vision.

To complete your image, you need to have the right hair. Men, head to F.S.C. Barber on Horatio Street in the West Village. Like your overall image, this place looks old, but it isn’t. It opened in 2008. Make sure you get them to trim your fashion ‘tash while you’re having them shave in your undercut. Girls , probably just leave your hair the way it looked when you woke up this morning.  You guys are so post-modern.

In order to complete your Orwellian, tortured artist type image, your tastes must include a range of hipster fare. Take a trip to the Strand to pick up the necessary copies of Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast Of Champions or J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye, before lazily meandering  around the clearance books stalls on  the sidewalk to really get the “Yes I read” message across. Guys – this is a great place to pick up hipster chicks and Chloe Sevigny types.

Next, stop by Bleecker Street Records or Other Music to pick up a few Black Lips LPs and maybe a Best Coast album or two. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES BUY A CD. If you want to improve your hipsters credentials, you must only buy vinyl, at least one of those records must be by a band that no one has ever heard of. Assure yourself of this by taking the record to the counter and asking,”Have you ever heard of this?” When the reply is no – hey presto, you’ve got your new favourite band.

Later on you can go and hang out at Union Square with the rest of the rat pack. Do not fret if you don’t have a skateboard, just take out your copy of Bukowski’s Post Office and before burying our head within its pretentious pages, shrug to the guy next to you a simple, ‘”got it at the Strand.”


The best way to explore New York is by bicycle. No hipster worth his salt should be seen hopping onto the subway or bus, or worse… into a taxi. Bikes are the only way to travel, and a little fixed gear number should be your new best friend. A fixie is a slang term for bicycles that have drivetrains with one gear that’s fixed to the rear wheel so that you cannot coast and must continue pedalling whenever the bike’s moving. Fixies are among the most simple of bicycles because they don’t require derailleurs, shifters, double- or triple-chainring cranksets, or, in some circumstances, even brakes. Pick up your own at Bicycle Habitat in Soho and then spend the night standing outside bars (but never actually going into them), casually leaning up against your fixie with a bottle of Newkie Brown in your hipster hand. Oh how they will look on in admiration.

Speaking of bars, as the hipster truly comes alive at night, the area known as the BELT (or “below the L train,” which slices through hipster-infested Williamsburg) is where most of New York’s best hipster bars are located. As a general rule, any bar described as Kafka-esque (which means dark and seductive; add that phrase to your hipster glossary), will most likely possess atmosphere and location somewhat irresistible to the urban hipster. Here’s our top five hipster bars in New York:

Bar Reis
375 Fifth Ave., nr 6th St., Park Slope, Brooklyn
With a garden area, basement lounge, and loft-like stage for live acts, former wine bar, Bar Reis, has all the components of an awesome hipster hangout bar.

Cake Shop
152 Ludlow St., nr. Stanton St.
Upstairs are cupcakes and vinyl records (see above for what to purchase there), while  downstairs are live bands, adding to cool credentials.

Happy Ending
302 Broome St., nr. Forsythe St.; 212-334-9676.
This bar was once the place where city dwellers would go to get an erotic massage, but now  its status as the Lower East Side’s most enduring dance dive means New York’s hippest have made it their second home.

Music Hall of Williamsburg
66 N. 6th St., nr. Wythe Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 212-260-4700.
Northsix may have had a face-lift and name change in 2007, but its constant flow of top-notch indie acts and flowing crowds of hipsters has continued unabated.

Royal Oak
594 Union Ave., at Richardson St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn;
Williamsburg partiers pile into the Royal Oak’s cosy booths, schmoozing about Hemingway and the latest post-modern electro-new wave trance acts they just bought on vinyl.

Enjoyed our hipster guide to NYC? Be sure to check out our Goth’s Guide to Gothenburg.

Purple Hearts Christ Church Barbados

With its traditional fishing villages, exclusive five-star resorts and lush vegetation, Christ Church Barbados blends the exotic with the familiar. Known as the Little England of the Caribbean, Barbados is an island that prides itself on its British customs and yet can’t help but embody the authentic spirit of the Caribbean.

When to go to Barbados

Barbados has a tropical climate, meaning it’s hot and sunny all year-round. The best time to go however, is between December and May when there’s less humidity and rainfall.

Beaches in Christ Church Barbados

The beaches around Christ Church are the chief reason why this area of Barbados sees such soaring numbers of tourists. Snorkelling, surfing and windsurfing opportunities are infinite, particularly at Dover Beach due to its favourable conditions for body boarding. Rockley Beach, with its tropical palm trees, comfortable sun loungers and good choice of local shops is another favourite. Enterprise Beach, frequently referred to as Miami, is a sandy spot that’s very much favoured with the locals due to its sheltered setting, crystal clear waters and calm waves. Windsurfers should head to Silver Sands, widely considered to be the best place to windsurf spot on Barbados. Tropical Bottom Bay is lined with mature coconut palms and boasts outstanding views of the shore. Unfortunately, swimming is not recommended here as the waves can be strong. Close to Christ Church is Crane Beach, a remarkably beautiful spot, which deservedly ranks amongst the world’s most acclaimed beaches. Crane, which takes its name from the large crane that was once located here to load and unload ships, plays home to an historic cliff-top hotel that dates back to 1867 – an excellent photo opportunity. The New York Times says, “A wave can travel nearly three thousand miles in the open ocean, undisturbed by sandbars, reefs or land, before it breaks here — on an unlikely little island shaped like a teardrop, off the radar of all but the most devoted surfers.”

What to see on the island

Apart from the beaches and water sports of Barbados Resorts like Christ Church, there are some excellent tourist attractions, especially those concentrated around the lively Saint Lawrence Gap area. Here’s our pick of the best:

Fish Cleaner, Oistins Fish Market By Day, Barbados by Patrick Bennett

OISTINS FISH MARKET
Oistins Fish Market is a must-see attraction in Christ Church. Watch fisherman hauling in their daily catch and barter for some of the freshest, most delicious fish you will ever eat. Visit on a Friday or Saturday night to take part in the community fish fry, where you will enjoy the live Caribbean music, friendly atmosphere and a feast of grilled barracuda, dolphin fish, flying fish, marlin, snapper and tuna – to name but a few.

ST JOHN’S CHURCH
St John’s Church, on Hackleton’s Cliff, is not only one of the loveliest churches on Barbados, but it is also the burial place of Ferdinando Paleologus, last member of a family descended from ancient Greek royalty, who was a warden of the church and died in 1665.

GARRISON SAVANNAH HORSE RACING
A day at the races feels entirely different when sipping coconut water, tasting authentic Bajan cuisine, and basking in the Caribbean sun. “I hate horse-racing myself, but the atmosphere is great,” notes one Virtualtourist reviewer, “there are stalls selling Bajan food, parades, all sorts of activities, crafts stalls, etc. and the Bajans make a fun day of it.”

NATURE TRAILS
Located a little further away from the coast are some excellent attractions: the botanic gardens; a couple of nature reserves, including the wetlands of the Graeme Hall Swamp, which have attracted more than 160 species of bird, including some beautiful pink flamingos. In the middle of the island is Welchman Hall Gully, a kilometre-long walking trail through a sheltered and shaded ravine which hosts 200 flowering plants.

HOLDERS SEASON
Holders Season is how the smart kids gets their cultural fix; held at Holders, a plantation house owned by Johnny and Wendy Kidd (parents of Jodie), this art and music festival is a glam event that presents the best of the island.

BAJAN ROOTS AND RHYTHM
This EXCELLENT dinner theatre takes place in the heart of the lively St. Lawrence Gap area of Christ Church. Staged at the Plantation Garden Theatre, this production showcases the culture and traditions of Barbados. Performers at ‘Bajan Roots and Rhythm’ don spectacular costumes, and a buffet and drinks are included in the price of admission.

Where to eat in Christ Church Barbados

PISCES
St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church, Barbados (00 1 246 435 6564; www.piscesbarbados.com). A beautiful restaurant overlooking the sea. Good blackened fish and friendly service.

CAFE LUNA
Overlooking the sweeping view of pretty Miami Beach, Café Luna offers alfresco dining on top of the Mediterranean-style Little Arches Hotel. This is spectacular at lunchtime and magical in the moonlight, serving up contemporary favourites from around the world, including fresh Scottish salmon grilled to perfection, oven-roasted New Zealand rack of lamb, fresh seafood bouillabaisse, and local chicken breast with mango chutney. Sushi is a specialty on Thursday and Friday nights; on Saturday night, a champagne and lobster option enhances the regular menu.

Holidays help you live longer: Ikaria Greece

Holidays to help you live longer: Ikaria Greece

Do you fancy a holiday that not only boasts beautiful sunshine, but could actually help you live longer? Then head for Ikaria Greece.

A small mountainous Greek Island in the Aegean, the residents there tend to reach an average age of 90. The remote island has long been intriguing scientists, who have been trying to find out why there are more healthy people in their 99th year than anywhere else on earth.

Apart from sunshine, which does wonders, here are a few reasons Ikarians live so long.

  1. Eat your greens Ikarians obviously listen to mum’s advice about eating their greens. There are over 150 varieties on the island, and most of what they eat they grow themselves. There are lots of veggies and beans and little meat and sugar. As well as that, their diet is dipped in extra virgin olive oil, which holds lots of natural antioxidants.
  2. Goats Researchers found that most of the people aged over 90 have been drinking goat’s milk almost every week. It’s easier to digest than cow’s milk and is said to be high in a hormone called tryptophan which reduces stress.
  3. Herbal teas the Ikarians are famous for their herbal teas which contain ingredients to lower blood pressure and even reduce the risk of dementia.
  4. Walk this way Ikaria is a mountainous place – so by default residents get lots of daily exercise by simply walking around, strolling to meet a friend for coffee, or heading down to the beach.
  5. Siesta Ikarians love a nap. A little mid afternoon snooze is said to decrease the chances of a heart attack and make you look and feel younger. So, not only are Ikarian’s a healthy bunch, but good looking to boot! Sleeping-in is a big priority too; people don’t really begin to start their days until around six in the evening.
  6. Laidback That phrase, ‘so laidback they are horizontal’ could have originated here. They don’t wear watches and there’s no hurry… anywhere. If you ask for the time, you won’t get an answer as most Ikarians don’t know, or care. Even other Greeks know it as a laidback island. If for example, you go to a restaurant be prepared to wait… and wait… and wait. If the baker doesn’t want to open up, then he won’t until he is good and ready.
  7. Hot Spring Ikaria has radium bearing hot springs that have been in use since way back in the 4th century BC. It won’t turn you into Superman, but a dip is likely to relieve joint pain and skin conditions, keeping you feeling fit and healthy.
  8. Dancing the night away Ikarians do love a party. Make sure you go to one of  the famous feasts, where you can drink the special wine which Homer called “Pramnios oinos” and where you can learn traditional Ikarian dances.

Book a cheap holiday to Greece with ABTA member Purple Travel today.

Goan Grub : Six of the best Goan Dishes

Like the country itself, Goa food is a mix of east meets west, being both spicy and flavoursome. Its strong history has influenced its food dramatically, meaning dishes are frequently divided into two groups: Goan Hindu cuisine and Goan Catholic cuisine.

Hindu cuisine is less spicy, less oily and centres around ingredients such as lentils, gourd, pumpkins, shoots, bamboo and root vegetables. Goan Catholic cuisine on the other hand, is highly influenced by Konkani, South Indian, Portuguese (who colonised the area in the 18th and 19th centuries), British and Saraswat cuisines, focusing mainly on onion or garlic flavours, with plenty of seafood and meat. However both cuisine types share a reputation for taste and freshness, with presentation being paramount as Goans often share their food with neighbours.

You should read… Insider’s Guide to Goa

While the techniques and recipes of Goan cuisine have changed several times over the years, the primary ingredients have remained the same. Coconut features heavily in many of the dishes, along with more unusual ingredients such as breadfruit and papaya, which give a distinctive flavour. In general, Goans have a very diverse serving of food types ranging from prawns to sausages, chicken to beef, and numerous vegetarian dishes.

Technique is equally important to producing the famous taste of Goa food; if you visit any rural area, the locals can be seen cooking in the clay pots on firewood – the source of the smoky flavour of many Goan dishes. Over time, cooking methods have been blended together and allowed to simmer, producing an authentic selection of delicacies. Here are our pick of the six best Goan dishes:

Sorpotel

This pork-based dish is perfect if you like your food to be spicy. Pieces of boneless pork are first parboiled, then finely diced, before being cooked in a sauce infused with two types of chilli, turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic, peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, vinegar and onion. You’ll typically find sorpotel served with sanna, a rice and coconut cake that often accompanies Goan meals instead of bread. Sorpotel usually tastes better on the 2nd and 3rd day, after it has had time to mature.

 

Fish Curry

Fish curry

As you might expect from its coastal location on the Arabian Sea, seafood is a staple part of the Goan diet. You’ll find all manner of fish curries on the menu, with many featuring a coconut milk sauce. Xitt coddi is a yellowish-red curry, due to the presence of chillies and turmeric in its sauce, while Ambot Tik can be served with either fish or prawns, and has a sweet and sour flavour.

 

Chicken cafreal

Chicken cafreal

Chicken cafreal consists of fried or grilled chicken in a spicy coating, often served with a green salad or some plain rice. This specialty is heavily influenced by the Portuguese, with the marinade used on the meat strongly resembling peri-peri sauce. This sauce is made from coriander, lime, green chillies, peppercorns and mint.

Khatkhate

Khatkhatem

This is a mixed vegetable curry, featuring carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and French beans in a sweet and sour curry sauce. A vegetarian’s favourite – this dish is a hotpot of rich flavours.Enjoy Khatkhatem with steamed rice to allow the various spices to come through as you enjoy your meal.

Bibinca

Bibinca

One of Goa’s most famous desserts, bibinca first appears to be a layered cake, but when you take a closer look, you’ll discover its layers are thick pancakes made from egg, coconut milk, sugar and ghee. Cooking a perfect bebinca is considered an art form and a huge amount of patience is needed to prepare it correctly. The next layer can only be added once the previous layer has been cooked in the oven until it has a light fudge consistency. Bibinca can be eaten hot or cold and is traditionally served at Christmas.

Feni

Feni

Feni is a kind of liqueur made from either the juice of a cashew fruit or the sap from a coconut palm. The best-quality feni is distilled at least two, and normally three, times, making it quite strong, but don’t worry, you don’t have to drink it neat, it’s often served with a mixer like tonic or lemonade. The word ‘feni’ derives from the word ‘fenn’, which means froth. In fact, a good feni, when poured in a glass produces a little froth, which is an indication of the superior quality of the product.

You should read… The Best Portuguese Desserts

Purple Hearts Goa Destination Guide

The home of vibrant markets, stunning scenery, spectacular sunsets and erm… cow beaches? Here’s our insider guide to Goa, the perfect winter sunshine holiday destination.

This is the Purple Travel cheat sheet for Goa, it’s right on the western edge of India and known under many guises, including ‘Pearl of the Orient’ and ‘Tourist Paradise’. A former Portuguese colony, it’s home to soaring temples, endless beaches and an eclectic mix of Indian and Portuguese traditions, architecture and food. As you can imagine, holidays in Goa are more than just about beaches and sunshine (although they are near perfect!) they are also about indulging in the unique history and rich culture of this beautiful part of India.

Once a hotspot for hippies in the 60s, Goa’s glorious beaches and wonderful atmosphere has seen it become a firm holiday favourite, with over 2.5 million people visiting every year. Towards the end of September, monsoon season finishes up, leaving lush greenery, around ten hours a day of warm sunshine with little humidity, temperatures averaging 27 degrees and endless sandy beaches to perfect your tan. This carries on through to early March, meaning it’s a great choice for Christmas or New Years too. Throw in great prices, you’ll get a decent dinner for two with some local wine for about a tenner, while there are more budget friendly hotels and apartments than you can shake a stick at. Trust us the ten hour flight from the UK will be worth it. Find out all about this amazing country in our Goa Destination guide.

Goa’s loosely separated into two parts: North and South. The general rule is that it’s a bit busier in the north, maybe because it’s where the capital Panaji is. Plus it was the first part to be developed, when hippies arrived in the early 70s. The Southern part of the country is known as a more relaxed, laidback holiday destination.

North Goa

Anjuna with a weekly flea market, regular Saturday night bazaars and an alternative feel, Anjuna Beach has got plenty on offer. At sunset the beach is filled with entertainers from jugglers to fire-eaters, a great place to start your night out.

Candolim One of the quieter beaches in the Northern part of Goa, Candolim is not exactly empty, but tends to be on the quieter side. There are plenty of restaurants and bars nearby to keep your energy levels up for all the sunbathing.

Calangute is known as the queen of Goa’s beaches. It’s a really busy, bustling beach with lots of people. You’ll find plenty of children happily plotting sandcastles, while the surrounding bars and beach clubs mean it’s a great place to relax after a heavy night out.

Vagator The cliffside beach is split in two, between Big and Little Vagator Beaches and these are home to some of the best beach parties you’ll find in all of Goa, from trance to techno, hippies and backpackers, it’s a spot for all walks of life and certainly a place to make some new friends as you dance the night away.

South Goa

Agonda Beach Regularly topping the best beach in Goa lists, Agonda is clean and out of the way. It’s beautiful and secluded so it’s ideal for couples looking for a quiet day relaxing on sand. There aren’t so many food options around, so a sunset picnic sounds like a gorgeous option to us.

Cansaulim offers a really relaxed atmosphere. It’s a quiet, clean stretch close to two airports, so it’s perfect if you want to escape to the sun last minute. The sleepy villages nearby combined with the hotels and resorts mean you’ll never be short of options.

Betalbatim Great value on the shacks that edge the beach, while the peace and quiet is only interrupted by the odd bird or dolphin. Betalbatim has a friendly atmosphere that gets people returning year after year.

Colva A perfect mix of sun, sea and sand, Colva is known for its natural beauty. The 20-odd mile stretch of white sand and sparkling ocean leaves plenty of room to grab a lounger, a good book and take advantage of the sunshine.

huh?

Cow beach well, we couldn’t talk about Goa with talking about Cow beach. Bikini clad tourist happily mingle with bulls and heifers. As you do.

Things to do

Family break Many of the hotels dotted along the coast of the Arabian Sea are fully kitted out to make sure you and your little ones get the most out of it. Every conceivable activity is on offer, from Kid’s Clubs, crocodile watching, waterslides, swimming pools, beaches, GoKarting, or cruises. Sounds like a handful for your little handful.

Grownups getaway If you’re after a more grownup approach to your holiday, then a spa break is a pretty decadent way of doing it. Ayurvedic therapies will reunite your mind and body harmony. Failing that, you’ll at least find yourself feeling more relaxed than when you arrived.

Silent discosThe Silent Noise headphone parties in the south of Goa, see clubbers dance the night away – without disturbing any of the neighbours. It’s also some of the best fun you’ll ever have. Two or three DJs play the night away and each clubber has their own headphones so you can tune to whichever song suits your mood. It might sound weird, but when you make eye contact with someone dancing to your song, you’ll know you’re in the right place.

Goan Carnival A yearly procession of colours and costumes, the Goan Carnival lasts for three or four days every year and we’re talking night and day. The legendary King Momo comes to life and takes over to create a riot of music and dance. It’s perfect timing if you’re planning ahead, the 2013 carnival kicks off on February 9th.

Dudhsagar Falls a tiered waterfall just a couple of miles from the capital Panaji, it’s known as one of the most beautiful in India. Surrounded by legend, the story goes that a beautiful princess used to live nearby and enjoyed bathing in her birthday suit, drinking ‘sweetened milk’ from a ‘golden jug,’ honestly, this is how it goes. One day she found herself being watched by a prince. To cover her modesty, threw herself under the jug of milk. It’s said it is that sweetened milk that pours down the mountain today.

Eat in Goa Goa is, naturally enough famous for its seafood. Fish based curries and rice are the staples. Add a dash of coconut and some local spices and you’ll find the intense flavours and delicious aromatic dishes Goa prides itself on.

Find the best cheap flights, hotels and package holidays to Goa from Purple Travel

Amazing Days Out: Mexico’s Underwater Sculpture Park

‘Museum’ probably isn’t the perfect word for the combination of art and nature you’ll find just off the Cancun coast. Holidays here are of course the stuff dreams are made of and for something really special we love a day at Mexico’s Underwater Sculpture Park. Sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor has installed hundreds of natural clay statues that will act as a reef to encourage coral and sealife growth.

The Cancun Underwater Museum acts as a restoration project, the statues have been built as artificial reefs to attract marine life and improve the natural reef that’s been damaged over the years. The displays are perfectly placed to attract glass bottomed boats, divers and snorkelers. Now 450 permanent life size sculptures make up one of the most ambitious and attractive underwater art works in the world.

Here are some of our favourites:

Man on Fire: This eerie sculpture was one of the first installed in 2009. It’s been cut with 75 holes, to allow fast growing fire coral to thrive. As the coral grows it will begin to bloom red, hence the name Man on Fire. It’s actually been cast from a local fisherman named Joachim and is meant to reflect the current world environmental situation.

The Banker: The meaning of this one is fairly clear cut. A suited man has his head buried in the sand. What’s that phrase, a picture paints a thousand words? Well this sculpture paints a lot more. It symbolizes the current economic crisis and the accountability of banking institutions. The sculpture itself is made for crustaceans and young fish to grow and breed.

The Silent Evolution: In the shape of an eye and the newest addition, this is an underwater village of hundreds of life size sculptures, all cast from local people. The silent museum takes you up, close and personal to view art in a way you may never have imagine. Like the others they’re made from special PH neutral clay to promote coral growth and life.

For more information visit the Aqua World Cancun website. You can find regular diving trips, including for beginners or certified.

All images courtesy of Aqua World Cancun.

Punta Cana Travel Guide

What do Angelina Jolie, Beyonce and the Clintons have in common? They’ve all been spotted paddling in the jewel coloured waters or strolling on the glorious white, sandy beaches of the Dominican Republic. The rich culture of the small Caribbean country makes it one of the most interesting and varied destinations we can think of.

It shares land with the nation of Haiti, making up the island of Hispaniola. It was first inhabited by the Taínos people, before becoming the first European settlement when Christopher Columbus landed in 1492. Since the 70s it’s become a tourist hotspot, for people who want to discover this historic and vibrant country, while we couldn’t mention a Caribbean destination without a little mention of the weather and beaches, which really are to die for.

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