Category - Our Holidays

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

1
Getting married in Portugal, a bride’s guide
2
Sweet Tooth in Portugal: A guide to Portuguese desserts
3
Purple Hearts… Albufeira Portugal
4
Purple Hearts: Sharm el Sheikh Holidays
5
Purple 10: Ten Days in Havana Cuba
6
Purple Hearts: Cuba Travel Guide
7
A first-timers guide to Hammam
8
Top Canaries Beaches: Best Beaches Fuerteventura
9
Top Canaries Beaches: Best beaches Gran Canaria
10
Top Canaries Beaches: Lanzarote Beaches

Getting married in Portugal, a bride’s guide

Weddings abroad are becoming more and more popular. You can top up your tan before the big day, you’re surrounded by family and friends in a beautiful destination and it will usually cost you a fraction of a big wedding in the UK. Las Vegas, Sri Lanka, France and Spain are all popular choices. But, getting married in Portugal is something special!

We spoke with one bride, Deirdre who married hubby Barry in Albufeira, Portugal last year. From handling the heat in a wedding gown, to waterparks in the days before the ceremony, she gave Purple Travel the lowdown about getting married in Portugal.

Purple Travel: Why did you decide to go abroad to get married?

Deirdre: We decided to get hitched abroad for a couple of reasons mainly; we had been to a lot of weddings. Although each wedding was special they all followed the same format and tended to blend into each other a bit. Barry also works in a wedding band so he has seen so many weddings we decided we wanted to do something a little different and personalise our experience.

We both wanted somewhere where all our friends could really enjoy themselves and somewhere we could all hang out for a week instead of just a day. A place where young and old could enjoy themselves and make a holiday out of it. The weather was another big factor; we were hoping to find a place where the weather would be nice. Also we were on a budget so a wedding abroad seemed like a fantastic option.

Purple Travel: What was it about Albufeira that made you choose it? Did you have to make a few trips before you decided?

Deirdre: I had been on many family holidays to Albufeira so the place for me was very special and held a lot of very special memories for me. Albufeira is also a fantastic place for people to enjoy themselves on holiday. The weather is usually good, the people are very friendly, there are gorgeous beaches, the food is amazing and atmosphere is second to none. It’s a fantastic place for families as it is very child friendly and there is lots to do on the beaches, waterparks etc.

It is also a fabulous place for single people or couples as the nightlife is hopping. It seemed to have something for everyone and when we looked at it, it seemed like an ideal place for our friends and family to enjoy themselves at our wedding.

Purple Travel: Did hubby take any convincing about the idea?

Deirdre: I am very enthusiastic about Albufeira but brought Barry on a trip to Albufeira to show him what I meant. We had an amazing time and have never come home from a holiday so relaxed and unwound! We were sure at that stage it was what we wanted. While we were there we hooked up with Algarve Wedding Planners, two amazing girls Paula and Karina, who showed us many of the hotels and options for getting married in Portugal. It was fantastic after a few showings we found our perfect location.

Purple Travel: It sounds very romantic, where was the wedding itself?

Deirdre: The wedding itself was in the main church in the old town Albufeira followed by a reception in the Grande Real Santa Eulalia. The place was fabulous we had a rooftop cocktail reception overlooking the sea, we were then led to an outdoor balcony where tables were decorated fabulously, the food was to die for, atmosphere was fantastic and we had a beach down a few steps to take some nice photos.

Later on that evening we had a place called Le Club to have the night part of the wedding. Barry and his friends are musicians so it was great, they played music and that was followed by lots of dancing with an amazing playlist and D.J. The staff were fantastic, we danced until at least six, the bar stayed open and we were never told to leave. That’s the great thing about a foreign wedding; the regular opening hours and curfews don’t apply. That was another big plus for us.

 Purple Travel: How did you handle the heat on the day? In a wedding dress, we can only imagine it got a little toasty!?

Deirdre: Wearing a wedding dress in the heat is everything you would expect it to be, very hot and a little uncomfortable. I wasn’t one of those brides who didn’t want to get out of their dress. I couldn’t wait to get out of it! It was probably a bit too heavy so bear it in mind if you decide to get married abroad.

Purple Travel: Did you have local help, e.g. a wedding planner, hotel manager something like that?

Deirdre: As I said, we had a wedding planner, Algarve Wedding Planners. We really could not have done it without their help. They were fantastic! I looked online, wrote to them, told them the type of budget we had and asked what we could get for it. They wrote back with loads of options. We arranged to meet up with them when we were on holiday. After that we met them at home. They come over for a wedding fair every year and they bring lot of people to help with your wedding in Portugal. You name it, they can tell you about it, hotel managers, musicians, florists, makeup artists hairdressers etc. all with portfolios of their work. In one day we had booked hair, makeup, flowers, reception location, menu, music. It was super!

Purple Travel: Was there a lot of paperwork involved, e.g. did you need to sort out licences etc at home first?

Deirdre: There was lots of paperwork involved but there is lots of paperwork for any wedding. You needed to get all the same letters of freedom etc you need for home. I also remember that you needed a solicitor over in Portugal to translate documents but that was all set up by the wedding planners. They knew exactly what we needed to do so it was a relief having them for that part.

Purple Travel: So, would you recommend getting married abroad?

Deirdre: I absolutely would recommend a wedding abroad. We had such a memorably, magical day. I’m not great on organisation but having wedding planners there to make sure everything runs smoothly was fantastic. We had a great time but not only with the day but the whole lead up. Meeting up with friends and family on beaches, in pubs, for dinner, at water parks was so much fun. It can at times be stressful, it’s very hectic and there are so many people to meet and hang out with it can be exhausting but very, very exciting. The excitement of meeting your best friends, on a holiday before your big day is just unforgettable.

The day was perfect, the experience amazing, we would do it again in a heartbeat!

A huge thank you once again to Deirdre for her bride’s guide to getting married in Portugal. If you’re thinking of a wedding abroad, firstly, congratulations and why give Purple Travel a call to find out more on 0207 993 9228.

Sweet Tooth in Portugal: A guide to Portuguese desserts

The Portuguese sure like their food. Although a relatively small country, their cuisine is somewhat diversified and distinctive in each of the different regions. They value their meats, their seafood is some of the freshest in the world and their vegetables are cooked to perfection, but most of all – the Portuguese love their desserts. You will never have your plate cleared in a Portuguese restaurant without being asked, “What would you like for dessert?”

For those of you that have visited Portugal, you will have probably noticed that every street has at least one pastelaria (pastry shop), usually occupied by a line of locals and tourists alike who have followed the sweet smells of fresh bread and toasted almonds. Dessert specialities include more than a whopping 200 different types of pastries. This national penchant for sweets seems to have originated during the Moorish occupation; in the 15th century, there was the sugar cane planted in Madeira. Then, sometime in the 17th and 18th centuries, Portuguese convents began to be known for their sweet pastries, including specialities such as “toucinho do céu” (heaven’s lard) and “barriga de freiras” (nun’s belly). The convents would frequently compete to see which could produce the best sweets and desserts. There are even stories of the famous Belém pastries, whose recipe remains a closely guarded secret, or the ‘Abade de Priscos Pudim’, dating back to a 14th century legacy from one of the best Portuguese cooks.

There are simply too many desserts to list them all, but if you have one week in Portugal, this is a list of the best seven Portuguese desserts – one for each day of your stay:

The seven best Portuguese desserts

Toucinho do Céu | Translating to ‘Heaven’s Bacon’, this dessert was originally made with pork lard by convent nuns. These were women who understood the intrinsic ingredients of any good dessert: ridiculous amounts of sugar, a boat load of egg yellows and of course, more calories than you can imagine.

Differing from modern almond cakes, Heaven’s Bacon is extremely moist, rather than battery. You can find Toucinho do Ceu anywhere in Portugal, but for a more traditional (and delicious) version – head north to the city of Guimaraes.

Aletria | You will be surprised to hear the main ingredient for this dessert – a very thin kind of noodle (like vermicelli) that was brought into Portugal when the Moors settled. The Portuguese, sweet-toothed by nature, then turned these noodles into a sugary treat by boiling them in milk and adding butter, egg yolk, lemon zest and a sprinkle of cinnamon, creating something a little similar to rice pudding. A very traditional dessert, no Christmas table in Portugal is complete without a generous tray of Aletria.

Ovos Moles | Another dessert that centres on Portugal’s favourite ingredient combination: sugar and eggs galore. Ovos moles means ‘soft eggs’, which pretty much sums up what this dessert is. Portuguese nuns once used egg whites to iron their garments and create this recipe accidently – so as not to waste the remaining egg yellows. Ovos moles come in rolled cakes, inside traditional clay pots or, more famously, inside light wheat dough in the shape of items that symbolize Aveiro and its river.

Azevias de Mertola | Another dessert with origins inside religious institutions, Azevias de Mertola originates from the southern town of Mertola, where nuns devoted themselves to God and to making heavenly treats. The dessert is made up of fried dough pockets, filled with a smooth and creamy paste made of mashed chickpeas. Don’t worry, it tasted nothing like humous; Azevias are super sweet and extra delicious.

Egg threads from Purple Travel

Image via @ Wikicommons

Bolinhos de Amendoa | Aside from sun, white sands and crystal waters, the Algarve is famous for the creative use of almonds. 
Marzipan is taken to a whole new level by Algarvian sweet makers, filling the almond paste with an egg and sugar concoction known as “fios de ovos” – egg threads. Bolinhos de Amendoa is one of the most attractive sweets in the entire country, being most popularly presented in fruit shapes.

Blog Pastel

Image via @ Wikicommons

Pastel de Belem |These egg custard tarts are probably one of the most popular desserts amongst tourists. Originating from the area of Belem in Lisbon, Pastel de Belem is found all over Portugal, under the name Pastel de Nata. Pastel de Belem has been elected one of the “7 Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy” (yes this is a real thing!); people queue up in Belem to taste this cake where it was originally created, served warm straight out of the oven, with a burnt crust on top, a crumbly pastry base and a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. This take-away treat is the perfect companion to a cup of coffee or tea.

Bolo Rei from Purple Travel

Image via @ Wikicommons

Bolo Rei (King Cake) | A traditional Portuguese cake that is typically made at Christmas and eaten up to Dia de Reis (the day of Kings). Its shape resembles a king’s crown. Made from soft, white dough, raisins, nuts and crystallized fruit, it is not so dissimilar from an English Christmas cake. When families bake this cake, they usually include a little prize within it and whoever slices the piece with the prize has to either bake or buy the next cake the following year.

You should read… Purple Hearts… Albufeira

Purple Hearts… Albufeira Portugal

When you think of Albufeira Portugal the tourist capital of the Algarve, you first think of its golden beaches and pulsating nightlife. These features attract droves of holidaymakers from all over Europe, particularly during the summer months when you can’t swing a lilo without banging into another tourist. Coming under the municipal area of Faro, Albufeira covers an area of approximately 140 km², with more than 40,000 resident inhabitants including a whopping 4,000 foreigners who have chosen to live here. But how has Albufeira earned so much popularity and yet retained its traditions? Read on to find out why, this week, we heart Albufeira Portugal…

The history of Albufeira

Back in Roman times, bustling Albufeira was called Baltum, up until in the 8th century when the Moors who occupied the town renamed it Al-Buhera – The Castle on the Sea. Today, vestiges of aqueducts, roads and Roman bridges can be still be seen in Paderne and Guia. Much later, in the middle of the 19th century, the fishing industry did much to revive the economy of the town, soon becoming the principal means of income for the region. Tourism only began to flourish from the ‘60s onwards, providing a new breath of air for the locals, leading to the town becoming a city in 1986. Thanks to an ever-growing tourist industry, Albufeira has become one of the most desired holiday destinations in Europe.

Best beaches in Albufeira

Albufeira beaches are the most popular in the Algarve, yet with more than twenty golden, sandy beaches to choose from, many of which are blue flagged, they never get too overcrowded. The most well-known is Fisherman’s Beach, where many of the Algarve’s summer parties are held. Despite this, the beach has managed to retain its traditional appearance, of which the fishing industry is still very much a part – expect to see colourful Algarve fishing boats dancing on the waves both day and night. Falésia Beach, a huge length of fine golden sand running from Albufeira to Vilamoura, is another great spot, particularly if you’re bringing the kids as its blue flagged. Similarly, Olhos d’ Agua or “eyes of the water” as it translates to, is a safe beach that’s very popular with tourists due to its myriad resort places to eat and drink along the beach. It gets its name from the freshwater springs underneath the sands, which can sometimes be seen to bubble up at low tide. Praia do Túnel, is situated at the front of the old Albufeira town. It is a magnificent wide stretch of golden sand, embraced by soft golden-red cliffs and boasting striking rock formations in the water. Access is through a ‘tunnel’ in the cliffs under a hotel just past the tourist office with a few steps down to the beach – hence its name.

You should read… Getting Married in Portugal, a Bride’s Guide

What to see in Albueria

Albufeira’s old town centre has a charming traditional feel. White-washed houses and narrow, cobbled streets lined with cafés and boutiques lead to a picturesque central square. In the square, you will find yourself surrounded by bars and restaurants where you can taste some of the local fish-based gastronomy. The historic centre exposes Albufeira’s Arab past through its impressive architecture. The charming, meandering streets are narrow and the jasmine-scented air makes walking through the neighbourhood a pleasure. You can walk to the Castillo del Mar from here – the ‘castle by the sea‘ – a fortress built by the Arabs as a significant point of defence. Culture enthusiasts will enjoy discovering the rich heritage of Albufeira, particularly if they visit the Museum of Archaeology. The museum showcases fascinating artefacts from the pre-historic, Roman, Muslim, medieval and modern periods. The Church of São Sebastião on Praça Miguel Bombarda has an impressive Manueline doorway that provides an excellent photo opportunity. From there, Rua 5 de Outubro leads through a tunnel to the Fisherman’s beach, where you can see Albufeira’s colourful fishing boats surfing the waves. One of the best attractions in Albufeira is the Zoomarine Aquarium, where visitors can watch animal shows and even have a chance to swim with dolphins. Go-carting and horse-riding are also popular activities.

Where to party in Albufeira

And if you’re looking for some late night revelry, there’s plenty of it in fun-loving, lively Albufeira. The Strip is the place to head to – a succession of booming bars, restaurants and clubs – and the hub of Albufeira’s nightlife scene. The owners of the bars and restaurants are frequently expats, who make you feel at home straight away and enjoy nothing more than a good natter. For adult holidays there are happy hours, strip clubs and late night partying on balmy summers evening. And the best bit? Drinks are seriously cheap.

What to eat in Albufeira

In the foreground of Albuferia’s dining scene is its fishing industry.  Traditional Algarve dishes include the famous Cataplana, a seafood and shellfish dish, and grilled sardines. Tuna, sea bream, monkfish, horse mackerel or alimados, squid and many other delicacies are prepared mostly in stews, ragouts or grilled, or boiled – any of which is sure to be excellent. You won’t find fresher fish than here. Desserts are another strong point; cakes are mostly made from dried fruits, and other titbits are made from almonds, figs and carob beans. There is an ice-cream of carob, the Dom Rodrigo, and we recommend you try the Almond Liqueur, Alfarroba (carob) liqueur and Medronho.

You should read: Sweet Tooth in Portugal: A guide to Portuguese desserts

Purple Hearts: Sharm el Sheikh Holidays

Purple Hearts: Sharm el Sheikh Holidays

What once was a tiny village at the very southern tip of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has grown into one of the most popular holiday resorts in the world: Sharm El Sheikh. For the ultimate in sun, sea and sand, you’ll find relaxation in abundance on the beautiful golden coast of Egypt. For families looking for all ages fun, couples in need of some quality time, or adventure seeking groups, the beaches and scenery, aqua parks and desert day trips make Sharm the ultimate holiday destination. Find out more about Sharm el Sheikh holidays in our Purple Hearts Guide…

Do

Diving: Known as one of the best diving spots in the whole world, it’s a swimmer’s playground. Sharm was initially built on a reputation of snorkelling and diving over 25 years ago – so there’s lots of experience for beginners to the most advanced underwater adventurer. Diving safaris are a great choice, they take you away from the crowded popular spots and you might be lucky to find a real hidden gem. The wreck of the SS Thistlegorm is also regarded as a great wreck diving point and pick from any number of diving and PADI schools and bam, you’ll be in underwater heaven in Sharm.

You should read: World’s best scuba diving spots

Ras Muhammed National Park: Take a boat trip to this natural wonder that’s also a Diving Hot Spot, with parrot fish and puffer that go as far as the eye can see. There are over 1000 species of fish and even sea turtles to get friendly with in this underwater adventure land and in parts you can see stretches of coral reef up to eight or nine km wide. You can organise these locally when you arrive.

Camel tour: If a Bedouin dinner under the stars sounds like something you’d be interested in, then head out on a camel safari at sunset to dine on local, home cooked meals from the comfort of a candlelit tent.

Grab a bargain: Sharm’s old market is a riot of colour, with the best in bargains from jewellery to handbags, paintings to clothes. As a tourist you’ll probably stick out like a sore thumb, but if you’ve got your haggling skills packed then it’ll be an opportunity for great fun as you bargain for sometimes up to an hour to get the best price. A little warning, women tend to get a little extra attention, so be careful you don‘t get swapped for a camel!

Hit the Clubs: Sharm el Sheikh is fairly bangin’ place after dark. There are lots of restaurants, bars and clubs that stay open to the early hours. Famous for attracting top DJs, it’s also worth keeping an eye on local information to see if someone good will be in town when you’re there.

Huh?

In May, Sharm plays host to the South Sinai Camel Festival, where you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of competing camels stampeding through the desert. It’s said over 250 camels take part from 17 different tribes, so grab your camera check out the bumpiest ride in town.

See

Mount Sinai: This is the historic mountain where it’s said Moses received the 10 commandments on two stone tablets. A sunset or sunrise day trip is a really magical experience and the jaw dropping views are something you’ll never forget.

St. Catherine’s Monastery: One of the best preserved sites of Roman and Greek heritage, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is found at the foot of Mount Sinai. Attracting visitors for hundreds of years, according to some sources, this is the place where God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush and where the holy relics of St Catherine are found.

Luxor: You couldn’t go to Egypt and not see some of the country’s most ancient wonders now could you? A day trip starts early (we’re talking 5am) but the breathtaking Luxor Temple, Temple of Karnak and Valley of the Kings make it all worthwhile.
Tiran Island: It’s believed that Tiran is the site of the parting of the Red Sea, as written in the bible’s Book of Exodus.

Hot

Dahab: The best thing we can think to do in Dahab is: very little actually. It’s made for completely relaxing and soaking up the sunshine on the long, sandy shores.

Naama Bay: The gently sloping beaches of Naama Bay make it an excellent choice to take the kids. Take your bucket and spade and enjoy the lively atmosphere among the many cafes, bars and restaurants along the seafront.

Taba: There are over five km of beautiful snady beach to choose your perfect spot. Surrounded by lots of palm trees, if you’re feeling energetic enough there’s a bit of beach volleyball on offer, or if you’re more into relaxing, we LOVE the idea of hammocks with a sea view between the palm trees.

Shark’s Bay: Is made of a beautiful curving cove, with loads of hotels, bars and restaurants nearby. Like most of the places in Sharm it’s a top diving location and has lovely views across the bay of Tiran Island.

Find the best deals on cheap holidays to Sharm el Sheikh from Purple Travel.

Purple 10: Ten Days in Havana Cuba

When you think about Cuba what comes to mind? It’s probably the rhythmic lilts of Caribbean music that flows throughout the island, or the sugar-white sandy beaches that are a perfect escape from the rate race. Maybe it’s the 1950s cars that are so popular on Pinterest these days or the long, lazy days taking in the colonial architecture. Well, you’ll be pleased to hear there is all that and lots and lots more. Read our top 10 things to do in Havana Cuba.

  1. Music and movement: Whether it’s salsa or jazz, rumba or reggaeton, you won’t go too far in the bustling capital of Cuba without hearing some amazing street music. Music is a religion in this city and a holiday here will quickly turn you into a convert. Grab a drink and relax to the stunning sounds of the tres guitar or head for some of the noisy jazz clubs to experience a night out like a local.
  2. Havana Street food: It’s well worth grabbing some pesos to get your hands on some delicious street food. Tuck into some deliciously fresh egg tortillas, or paper cones filled with fried banana chips or pork skin. Ok, it’s not good for your cholesterol but is so tasty, one or two can’t hurt, right?
  3. Old Havana: A hectic and crazy experience for some, Old Havana is where to go for a true Cuban experience. A tour in an old time Cadillac is a great way to round off a day. Usually available for an hour or too, it can be pricey by Cuban standards.
  4. Che shaped history: It’s well worth taking a step back in time and visiting the Mausoleo Che Guevara. The Santa Clara memorial houses a dedicated museum to the legendary revolutionary’s life and work and an eternal flame that was lit by Fidel Castro in Guevara’s memory.
  5. Writing tour: Havana’s been a Mecca for writers since… well, since they realised what a cool place it is. Check out Ambos Mundos, Ernest Hemingway’s old stomping ground. He lived at the hotel for seven years in the 30s, and wrote part of For Whom the Bell Tolls in one of the rooms which is preserved in pristine condition.
  6. The Tropicana: Really, you can’t head for Cuba without sticking your head in the gloriously tacky, world renowned, cabaret club. Set in six acres, the Tropicana’s history of mob involvement and showgirls (or flesh goddesses as they are known) is a jingle of colours, a riot of music and one helluva night out.
  7. Perfect beaches: While Varadero is the top beach jaunt, with lots of all inclusive options, don’t knock the beaches close to Havana until you’ve tried them. Playa Jibacoa is a little village about an hour from Havana. Renting a car is probably the best way to get to this idyllic, sundrenched paradise beach. Otherwise the gorgeous Santa Maria beach is a typical picture perfect tropical wonderland.
  8. Dance the night away: Cuba is certainly famous for its dancing. Think of those strong rhythms working your feet into a frenzy. There’s pretty much no bar or venue where dancing is frowned on, so bring your comfy flats and a bit of rhythm and get into the swing of it with the locals.
  9. Nights on the Malecón: You’re on holidays but you want to hang with the locals? Head for the Malecón, the seafront promenade that’s perfect for people watching. Just watch out for the ladies of the night, or their friends who like to befriend foreigners.
  10. Mojitos on the Malecón: Ok, you’ve found the famous locals hangout point, how about a mojito nearby. A trip to Cuba wouldn’t be right without sampling at least on. In fact, you’ll probably never settle for one at home after an expertly made version, with precisely the right amount of ice and rum. A trip to the historic Havana Club Rum Museum is top of our list, it is great post or pre your cocktails.

Purple Hearts: Cuba Travel Guide

Upon arriving at Cuba, Christopher Columbus remarked that it was “the most beautiful country human eyes have ever seen.” Yet for tourists, the country is a land of continuous confusion; its economy is struggling at best, yet its cultural history is rich and diverse; its landscape is filled with relic and dust, but its architecture is indisputably magnificent; it is considered dangerous and even saddening, yet at the same time, utterly compelling, like the moment when you pass by a car crash and cannot help but slow down to take a closer look. You may even say that these mysteries and parallels are what make Cuba an attractive destination choice. They map out its troubled history like wrinkles on an aged face – a product of years of genocide, slavery, invasion, counter-invasion and revolution – adding both a character and a melancholic beauty.

The words ‘Cuba’ and ‘politics’ have gone hand in hand for more than half a century now, headed by Fidel Castro and his communist regime. However, unlike the grey, barren dystopia of archetypal communist countries, Cuba is an exuberant, romantic milieu, where art, music, literature and creativity are the dish of the day. The Cubans themselves are a nation of artists; from doers to dreamers, sceptics to sages, poets to philosophers. To put things into perspective, here is a review from one of our customers:

“We visited (Cuba) some 18 years ago, and the most attractive and memorable aspect was the pride our guides had in their country and the things they were showing us. A simple doctor’s surgery was described as cutting edge, a somewhat decrepit university as the equivalent of Oxford, and so on. That aspect was enchanting, as they obviously had so little yet treasured what they had.”

The Cubans have shaped their country into the captivating, impenetrable, paradoxical nation it is. However with tourism on the rise, and therefore a huge injection of capitalism pumping through Cuba’s socialist veins, now is the time to travel to this unique country, before its beauty fades into an increasingly globalized world. And if you need some inspiration? We’ve created this Cuba travel guide to ensure your holiday is the best it can be:

Food
Cuba is inhabited mainly by people of African and Spanish origin, which is reflected in the cuisine. Food in Cuba is therefore unlike the rest of the Caribbean, relying heavily on onions and garlic for its flavourings, rather than spices. To find delicious food, head to the casas, rather than the restaurants, which can be somewhat hit and miss and where service is generally quite poor. The real adventure however, is eating at peso places (the national money), which serve the cheapest and most interesting food around. A meal for three people with beers will only cost around $4. Just look for a line of Cubans and jump in it – there’s sure to be something delicious at the end.

Places to go
Havana
Cuba’s sultry capital is one of the finest examples of a Spanish Colonial city in the Americas. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, Havana was once one of world’s most beautiful areas, but as the city deteriorates and tourism influxes, the city is in a state of change; now, behind the crumbling colonial façades, are hidden boutique hotels, cocktail bars and fine dining eateries.  Head for Old Havana to explore the original churches and reconstructed mansions, or to Malecon road for a lively meeting place. or try one of these fantastic new restaurants for a slice of modern Havanan culture:

Atelier: ForCaribbean and European dishes; Good
for groups and well-priced.
Café Laurent: Spanish cuisine with other European influences; the speciality is seafood.
Doña Eutimia: Traditional Cuban food; one of the specialities is the classic ropa vieja (pulled beef in a tomato sauce). About £15 for two.
San Cristóbal: Cuban and international cuisine; pork in mustard sauce is a speciality.

Guardelavaca
Thepeaceful region of Guardalavaca is home to some of Cuba’s most idyllic, powdery beaches. Crystal clear waters, filled with an abundance of marine life, make it a popular destination for snorkelers and divers, while swimming with dolphins is a not-to-be-missed opportunity. Traditionally famous for its sugar production, if you venture away from the beach, you can drive through roads lined with fields of sugar cane plantations. Although its main industry is now tourism, Guardelavaca has retained an authentic Cuban feel and you never feel too overcrowded.

Varadero
Varadero is Cuba’s largest beach resort, set on a 12-mile long peninsula of stunning white sandy beaches and clear Caribbean water. Despite being a beach resort, the area is still not as commercialised as many other Caribbean locations. After it was first visited in 1870, Varadero rapidly grew into an exclusive resort for the Havana elite, visited by many celebrities, including Al Capone.
This tourism boom, which has never wavered since, has meant that Varadero is a long way from being the ‘real Cuba’, but for a great beach holiday, this is surely one of the best in the entire Caribbean.

Cayo Coyo
Cayo Coco Cuba is occupied by one of the world’s largest coral reefs – second only to the Great Barrier. Like Varadero, Cayo Coyo is a magnificent beach resort, boasting fifteen miles of virgin beaches and azure seas, perfect for indulging in a spot of Cuban deep sea fishing. If you prefer to stay on dry land, the dramatic mountainous backdrop offers some fantastic hiking or horse riding opportunities, rewarded by spectacular views. If you travel by car through the linking causeway, you can make a stop off at Parador la Silla, about half way across, which is home to hundreds of bright pink flamingos. Hotel-wise, we recommend Playa Coco, a modern, spacious hotel set right on the beach or Tryp Cayo Coco, designed like a traditional Caribbean village. For something even more luxurious, Melia Cayo Coco hotel has everything you could ever want – perfect for honeymoons or romantic couples break.

Trinidad
Founded in 1514, Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is home to an extensive colonial history. Expect to see locals riding on horseback down cobbled streets, past rows of houses painted in pastel pinks, yellows and blues. The renovated elegant mansions of the past are now enchanting museums, whilst original church windows are like works of art.

Santa Clara
Santa Clara is the home of the monument, museum and mausoleum of revolutionary, Ché Guevara, whose body was only returned from Bolivia in 1997, some 30 years after his capture and execution.

Things to do

Jardin Botanico Nacianol, Havana
A well-kept collection of tropical plants that includes poinsettias the size of Christmas trees, hibiscus, bromeliads, coleus and bougainvillea. Open daily.

Museo De La Revolucion, Havana

Refugio 1, between Avenida de las Misiones and Zulueta, Habana Vieja, Havana. To learn a bit about the country’s history, visit the housed in a huge, ornate, dome-topped building which was once the presidential palace. The spirit of the greatest revolutionary of them all, Che Guevara, lives on in posters, statues and murals such as the one on Plaza de la Revolucion.

Partaga Cigar Factory, Havana
Industria 520, Habana Vieja, Havana. A national treasure that hides behind the Capitolio in Havana’s main square, Partagas – formerly the second largest cigar factory in Cuba – is worth a visit.

Muse Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana
Opened in its current location in 1954, the National Museum of Fine Arts 50,000 strong collection of artworks has been divided into two separate buildings: the Cuban art collection (Arte Cubano), and the international collection (Arte Universal). The international collection is a passable survey of world art but the main draw is the building itself.

Call Purple Travel on 0207 993 9228 to find out more about holidays in Cuba.

A first-timers guide to Hammam

English: This is how most Hammams look like

Hammam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or how to avoid embarrassment when naked in a foreign country…

This week we’ve discovered the multiple souks, the ancient ruins and even the camel-wrestling tournaments that Turkey has built its reputation upon (please see Purple Hearts… Bodrum for more on that). However, any mention of Turkey would be incomplete without some acknowledgment that it is also the European capital of overly-aggressive exfoliation. You cannot visit Turkey without adding a Hammam to your itinerary. And by that I mean a Turkish bath, not a theatrical Irish mother. In fact, you may say that life itself is never truly fulfilled until you’ve had a good ol’ scrub-down from a hairy, half-naked Turk!

The problem then lies in knowing what exactly to expect. A quick Google search churns up dozens of stories of awkward moments, frightened old ladies and slapped cheeks (n.b. the Turks’, not the customers’). Take this American woman in a bath in Istanbul, for example: “Of all the women in the room — at least 40 — I was the sole person wearing a bra. I originally thought keeping on my bra would help me blend in and be more comfortable, but it was immediately apparent that it did nothing but make me awkwardly stand out. I shamefully slithered back to the locker room and succumbed to Turkish tradition as I shed my black brassiere and my modesty, and I reentered the room full of bare breasts.”Another women’s account from a PR review followed suit: “With three of us to be scrubbed down and only one lady to wash us, everything had to be done in turn. This meant the other two women either played a limited game of ‘I spy’ with the tiled interior of the Hammam or watched the third member of our group being covered in black soap, washed down and then scrubbed vigorously with an abrasive pad while lying down completely naked on the floor.”

Forget Hammer Horror – this is Hammam Horror. The tales of embarrassment are vast and often off-putting and its common to leave feeling like a castrated house pet. However with this Purple Travel guide to Hammam, you’ll know what to expect and can avoid all those red-faced moments:

The turkish bath (hamam) constructed by archit...

1)      Yo mamma’s so old, when she was young, the Dead Sea was only sick.
First of all; knowing which Hammam to go to is half the battle. In Turkish, cockroach literally translates to ‘hamam insect’, so you’ll want to avoid the grimy ones. The most famous is Çemberlitaş Hamamı in Istanbul, built in 1584, but as one of the older establishments, it’s relatively pricey. We recommend Mihrimah Bath in Edirnekapi, Oruculer bath next to the grand bazaar or Kadirga bath, not far from the little Hagia Sophia.

2)      Yo Hammam’s so stupid, she cooked her own complimentary breakfast.
Knowing some Hammam etiquette is vital – take swimwear with you to be prepared. More often than not, the bath will state a ‘dress code’, but it’s best to stand on the side of caution. And although most people do go naked, uncrossing your legs like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct is not advised. On the contrary, avoid lap-eye contact with the other bathers.

Hammam Caretaker

Have you seen this Hammam? Caretaker (Photo credit: upyernoz)

3)      Yo Hammam’s so hairy, Bigfoot is taking her picture.
Before you go, make sure you’ve had a pre-preen. And by this I mean a ‘tidy-up’, unless you’re sure you won’t be offended when you are stared at and offered a wax. Men may not mind this, but women – the Turks are not afraid to tell you if you’re a little unkempt, so wack out the Veet or things may get a little awkward.

4)      Yo Hammam’s so greasy she used bacon as a band-aid.
Swallow your pride, it’s time for the massage. Ladies – don’t go in there expecting some sort of relaxing spa treatment with twinkling candles and white-coated beauty technicians; the Turks will kick your ass. And guys – if this whole endeavor seems homoerotic, think happy thoughts; it is as masculine and normal as a post P.E. communal shower.

5)      Yo Hammam’s so dirty she has to creep up on bathwater.
After the fifteen minute massage, let the cleaning commence. Most of this part will be later blanked out and stored in that part of your subconscious that’s usually reserved for gynecology visits and waiting to pay in Ann Summers. You’ll be maneuvered this way and that, spun around until you can’t stand straight, soaped up like the dirty cocker spaniel and then rinsed down with bowls of hot water. When you come back around, it’s off to the shampoo station for a final, neck-cracking rinse. It’s at this point that you may be solicited for a tip, but this is not necessary and if it comes down to it, just shrug your shoulders and pat your pocket-free hips with a look that says ‘sorry, I would, but I had nowhere to put my change.’

To wrap things up, let’s be blunt about it. It’s clear that youwon’t feel like an adult here, and you definitely won’t feel a man. In fact, it’s difficult to even feel like a human being after being stripped, emasculated and cleaned down like a wet dog. However, no two experiences are alike, and women will be pleased to find that the female bath attendants are far more chivalrous than the men. And all things considered, this is just one of those things you have to do if on holiday in Turkey. You don’t want to return home and tell all your family and friends of how you chickened out on the most defining facet of traditional Turkish culture. So suck it up and get soapy with the best of them.

Top Canaries Beaches: Best Beaches Fuerteventura

Beaches! You love them, we love them, who doesn’t love a day by the seaside? It’s particularly nice when the weather is actually decent enough to take off our coats and scarves. With that in mind we’ve done a four part series on the beaches on the glorious Canary Islands, so you can plan your perfect sun, sea and sand holiday.

The last part of our 4-part series on the best beaches of the Canary Islands brings you to beautiful Fuerteventura, home to hundreds of the most stunning beaches in all the Canaries.

Because there are so many amazing beaches here, choosing only a few is a very difficult task. Since we absolutely must narrow it down and you have another must-see spot not listed, please let our readers know about it! Enjoy our guide to the best beaches Fuerteventura.

Jable from Purple Travel

Jable Beach via @ Lostajy

Morro Jable / Jandia

This is a stunning white sand beach with turquoise water that stretches for miles – or 13 miles to be exact. Running from Morro Jamble to Costa Calma, this beach is separated into sections with something for everyone along its coast. However, the length of the beach takes about 6 hours to walk, so you may want to choose a spot that’s right for you from the start. Because you can easily spread out and get away from the crowds, naturists enjoy this spot as well!

Costa Calma

The blue-flag beach of Costa Calma is a large, fine sandy beach, approximately half a mile long. If you’re looking for beachfront hotels, the hotels and apartments along the beach in Costa Calma have direct access and are not separated by a promenade or road. This beach is an ideal place for families with children, as the waters are usually very calm. All along the beach you will find sun beds for hire, a beach bar, water sports and other facilities to make your stay comfortable.

Corralejo Town & Beach

Corralejo beach is just south of the town and is an incredible fine white-sand beach stretching for six whole miles. This beach is part of the National Park and offers fantastic views of nearby Lanzarote and Los Lobos. It can get a bit windy, so it’s best to shelter behind the stone castles. The beach here has some waves as well, so it’s perfect for water sports, especially kite surfing. Families will love the stretches of gorgeous sand and activities available, particularly in the parts of the beach which are slightly less wavy.

Corralejo has several small coves right in the main town as well, which are very accessible and home to beautiful fine sand. Many facilities are also available depending on which beach you choose. The great location, close to the town ensures you never run out of shopping and restaurant options when taking a break from the sun and sea.

Costa Caleta / Caleta De Fuste

The beach in Costa Caleta is man-made and well maintained. The beach is fine sand with some pebbles leading into the water. Mostly for tourists, it has all the facilities needed for an excellent family day on the beach, especially since there are hardly any waves in the water. The beach itself is about 600 meters long and very wide, offering some room for movement even on busy days.

Cotillo from Purple TravelEl Cotillo via @ Dirkvorderstrasse

El Cotillo

The beach comprised of many small coves separated by lava rocks. It is very new to tourism and usually is quiet compared to the other beaches on the island, making it an ideal spot for tranquility and relaxation. Families generally love it here because of the calm, shallow water and fine sand. There is a beach bar along the coast but no other facilities – bring your towel and a book!

Ajuy

More a tourist attraction than a beach for bathing, this beach offers a stunning contrast of pitch-black pebbly sand and blue water. Not suitable for bathing or children due to the high waves against the rocks, this beach is nevertheless very beautiful. A short stroll will take you to a cliff with a stunning view to the beach. A little restaurant in the area gives the perfect relaxation point for your day trip.

Read more… Best beaches Gran Canaria

Top Canaries Beaches: Best beaches Gran Canaria

The third part in our guide to the beaches of the Canary Islands. You won’t go wrong with a trip to the best beaches in Gran Canaria.

Finding your perfect beach can be like finding your soulmate; some trawl the Internet, running the risk of only finding the creepy ones, some end up lying down on the first one they see and others try out a few before settling on one that’s not already had every other tourist in sight.

Luckily, the best beaches Gran Canaria has something for everyone: there are the lively and alternative sorts, the quiet and peaceful types and even some nudists, romantics and wild partiers. In fact, finding your sandy soulmate has never been easier. So don’t get caught up in the rat race, just follow this simple guide for a beach life that’s nothing but bliss:

Playa de Maspalomas
Don’t be put off by the fact that Playa de Maspalomas is one of Gran Canaria’s most popular beaches. With 4 miles of desert-like white sands, it can be enjoyed by almost anyone, from families to homosexuals, nudists to quiet types.
This beach is for you if… you’re a bit of a playa yourself.

Playa del Ingles
A continuation of Playa de Maspalomas, Playa del Ingles provides plenty of opportunity to get stuck into some watersports. Enjoy water skiing, jet skiing and windsurfing or take a walk down Paseo Maritimo, a street filled with heaps of restaurants, bars and shops, specially tailored to all your tourist needs.
This beach is for you if…
you like an athletic beach, with a good stamina.

Playa de Puerto Rico
A crescent of sand, brought over from the Sahara desert, situated in Gran Canaria’s sunniest spot. This beach is a real paradise for sun worshippers and thrill-seekers alike, doubling up as a subtropical garden of outstanding watersport offerings, such as the eminent dolphin safari.
This beach is for you if… you like exotic types.

Playa de los Amadores: Just 20 minutes from Playa de Puerto Rico is the Playa de los Amadores, a.k.a. the Lovers’ Beach. This well-protected cove boasts half a mile of golden sand and a sea od crystal clear water.
This beach is for you if…
you’re a hopeless romantic.

If you fear that you might miss your beach too much during the winter months, remember that Gran Canaria boasts a subtropical climate, with water temperatures lying between 18 and 22 degrees Celcius all year round, so there’s more than enough reason to revisit your holiday fling.

Read more: Best Beaches Lanzarote

Top Canaries Beaches: Lanzarote Beaches

The second entry in our 4-part series on the best beaches of the Canary Islands focuses on the beautiful island of Lanzarote and its beaches.

Papagayo Beach from Purple Travel

Papagayo beach via @ SparksEmma

Papagayo

The Papagayo Beaches are easily some of the most beautiful natural Lanzarote beaches in the archipelago. Composed of a series of six beaches, of which Playa Mujeres is the largest and the busiest (about 90 meters long). The other coves in the area are Playa de las Coloradas, Playa de las Ahogaderas and Playa de la Cera, located west of Punta del Papagayo, and Playa Caleta de Congrio and Playa de Puerto Muelas, located on the east side.

The Papagayo beaches are very popular with surfers and snorkellers, as well as families with children. The beaches are also favoured by naturists, with some areas being reserved for them, in order not to disrupt the families sharing the area. Although these beaches are stunningly beautiful and relatively easy to reach, they do not provide very many facilities, so make sure you come prepared.

Puerto del Carmen

Puerto Del Carmen is Lanzarote’s largest holiday resort on the south coast of the island. The five mile (or so) promenade connects the resort’s three main beaches with a huge variety of restaurants, shops, and bars. The most famous are the yellow sand beaches of Playa Grande (also known as Playa Blanca like the southern tourist resort, just to confuse you) and Playa de los Pocillos, both are around half a mile long. Further along is Playa de Matagorda, a smaller beach with fewer attractions, as the noise from the nearby airport keeps the crowds away.

Puerto del Carmen’s beaches are man-made, and are therefore easily accessible and family-friendly. They offer a wide range of water sports, leisure facilities, and amenities needed for a fantastic and carefree day on the beach!

El Jablillo & Las Chucharas

Located in the resort of Costa Teguise, these beaches are extremely family-friendly. The El Jablillo beach is connected to the resort’s promenade and has white sand and plenty of facilities to keep you comfortable and entertained. The larger of the two beaches is the Las Chucharas beach, stretching 600 meters in length. Both beaches are easily accessible from the resort’s boardwalk and offer calm, clear waters and lots of facilities.

Playa Blanca & Dorada

The Playa Dorada Beach is located in the eastern resort of Playa Blanca. The Dorada Beach is an artificial beach stretching 300 meters with white sands and clear water. The beach is home to many facilities as well, with shops and restaurants available within walking distance. The Playa Blanca Beach is a narrow, but natural, beach with white sands and plenty of facilities for the entire family, and especially for those looking to dive these famous waters. Both beaches have a boardwalk and are great settings for a relaxing beach day.

Read more… Best beaches Fuerteventura

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