On the Trail of Paddington Bear

Currently brightening up the streets of London are 50 unique statues of a very well loved bear. Paddington Bear to be precise. For those of you unfamiliar with the story of this adorable little bear, he came to London from deepest Peru and was found on the platform of Paddington station by the Brown family. Very polite and with a love of marmalade, he won the hearts of not only the Brown family, but those of children the world over, with the stories being translated into 40 languages and selling over 35 million copies.

You can find out more about why these statues have been made in the video below.

Whether you’re working in London or visiting the city, it’s a wonderful way to brighten up the otherwise rather gloomy winter months and perhaps take in some parts of the city you might not otherwise see.

With an amazing line up in terms of designers, you could have your photo taken next to a bear designed by David Beckham, Rhianna, Matthew Williamson, Sir Ian Botham, Boris Johnson, Peter Capaldi, Liam Gallagher, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kate Moss and many more. You could even win a limited edition Paddington by sharing your photos of you posing with Paddington on Instagram under the #PaddingtonTrail hashtag.

paddington collage

Of course you can try to see all 50 statues while you’re in London, but you could instead try one of four trails designed to allow you to take in the sights you want to visit while also being able to see as many of the statues as possible. There’s the Royal Parks Trail, The Paddington in Paddington Trail, River and Historical London Trail and of course seeing as it’s that time of year again they couldn’t miss out a Christmas Trail, which allows you to see lots of Paddington statues while you hit the shops and see some of the beautiful Christmas lights and attractions London is famous for. To print your very own Paddington Trail map or download the App, head to the Visit London website.

paddington collage 2

While you’re on Paddington’s trail, you might want to take in a few sights in the city associated with the character himself.


The ultimate in luxury shopping, Selfridges is infact where the story began. The book’s author, Michael Bond, bought a small bear left all alone on a shelf in Selfridges on the Christmas of 1956, as a Christmas present for his wife. It was this little bear, named after the train station closest to where Bond lived, that inspired the author to write several stories which later became the book ‘A Bear Called Paddington.’

You’ll find several of the trail bears featured in Selfridge’s famous Christmas window display this year and you can even buy your own mini replicas in The Paddington Curiosity Shop, both online and in store. The proceeds of which go straight to the NSPCC and ChildLine.

Portobello Market

iStock_000023066922_SmallThe world’s largest antiques market, made famous by the likes of Paddington who took a real liking to this famous and thriving market in London’s trendy Notting Hill. Open throughout the week, but with its busiest day on Saturday, when you’ll find an entire mile of stalls featuring everything you could possibly imagine from clothing and antiques to food stalls and street performers. If you’re looking to visit a market associated with Paddington Bear himself, it simply has to be Portobello Road!

Museum of London

You’ll find a showcase of Paddington Bear memorabilia at the Museum of London in their ‘A Bear Called Paddington’ exhibit. Including a collection of Paddington Bears from around the globe, original illustrations, props from the 1970s TV series, first edition copies of the book, fan mail and much more. It’s a wonderful place to visit for Paddington fans and can be seen until the 4th of January 2015.

The Shard

iStock_000032497210_SmallNow you wouldn’t normally associate an ultra-modern building with Paddington, however he would no doubt highly approve of the amazing Paddington Bear themed afternoon tea at Aqua at The Shard. Served in a replica of Paddington’s very own suitcase, this afternoon tea is as impressive as the panoramic views from The Shard itself. You’ll find a selection of finger sandwiches, a choice of scones (including orange blossom) served with clotted cream and jam or marmalade and several exquisite pastries and sweet treats, including a delicious orange marmalade macaroon and the famous Shard opera cake, which is shaped like The Shard itself. A delectable treat for Paddington Bear fans.

Of course these are just a few of the places you could explore on your very own Paddington inspired trail of London, but there are many more to consider. So book your holiday accommodation in London today and get planning your very own Paddington trail!

You can find the Paddington Trail in London throughout November and until the 30th of December. Good luck on your bear hunt!

Christmas Celebrations Around the World


With the Christmas countdown well and truly underway, many people´s thoughts will be turning to celebrations, opening presents under the tree and attending church.

Most parts of the world celebrate Christmas differently, and some of the most unusual traditions include:

All Night Celebrations in Croatia

Christmas in Croatia is one of the liveliest annual events on the social calendar.

Christmas Eve is celebrated with a family meal before midnight mass. After the church service the streets come alive and the bars open all night as Croatians party until the early hours. It is a tradition to stay awake from Christmas Eve until Christmas Day.

On Christmas Day Croatians traditionally cook roast pork, turkey, lamb and cabbage stuffed with minced meat. Home-made Christmas desserts, including strudel and poppy seed cakes also grace the table.

KFC Christmas in Japan

If you think sushi may be on the menu in Japan over Christmas, think again.

After a cutting-edge marketing campaign which began in Japan in 1974, Kentucky Fried Chicken has been associated with Christmas.

The Colonel´s famous chicken is eaten widely throughout Japan over the Christmas period. Over 240,000 barrels of the stuff will be sold during Christmas – almost 10 times its normal monthly sales.

The ´Caganer´ in Catalonia, Spain

Strange but true, the Catalonian ´Caganer´ is a figure of a Catalan man wearing traditional clothes, squatting with his trousers around his ankles. Dating back to the 18th century, his poo is a sign of good luck as it is said to fertilise the earth and ensure a good harvest for the coming year.

Closely associated is the ´Caga Tió´ which is a small log with a smiley face wearing a traditional Catalan hat. Small children ´feed´ the ´Caga Tio´ with nougat and fudge and keep it warm under a blanket so that he will ´poo´ out lots of treats on Christmas Eve.

Saint Nicholas and the Devil in Austria

A traditional Christmas story is told in Austria every 4 December. Saint Nicholas is said to visit children along with the devil. The two ask the children if they have been good or bad. If the children say they have been bad, the devil tries to strike them with a stick. St. Nicholas sends them running so he can protect them from the devil. On December 6, St. Nicholas´ Day, good children receive fruits, sweets and toys.

Midnight mass is held on Christmas Eve and a traditional meal is baked carp. A nativity scene is displayed in most homes.

Shoe-tossing in the Czech Republic

Single people in the Czech Republic who are looking for a partner stand with their backs to the door on Christmas Day and toss a shoe over their shoulders. If the shoe lands pointing to the door they will get married soon. If not, they will have to wait until next year.

Remembrance in Finland

Families in Finland enjoy a day of remembrance on Christmas Eve when they visit the graves of their ancestors and light candles. Cemeteries throughout Finland are lit up, presenting a beautiful and emotional scene.

Christmas Day & Boxing Day in England

Much less emphasis is placed on Christmas Eve in England than in other parts of Europe, and although midnight mass is still well attended, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are widely celebrated.

Christmas Eve, however is still an exciting time for the youngsters as it is the 24th night when Santa Claus ´delivers the presents´. Children hang up their stockings then go to sleep, hoping to find them stuffed full with goodies the next morning.

Mince pies and sherry are traditionally left out for Santa Claus and his reindeers who deliver the gifts.

Christmas Day is traditionally a family day, where presents are opened and lunch or dinner is prepared. Some families prefer not to open their gifts until after the Queen´s Speech which is traditionally broadcast at 3pm.

Christmas turkey with all the trimmings, copious amounts of alcohol and plum pudding are served up, along with plates of cheese, sweets and chocolates to keep you going until bed time.

December 26, Boxing Day is also a public holiday in England and the UK and is often celebrated by visiting family and friends or joining them for a meal.

Saving the Goat in Sweden

In 1966, a 13 metre tall goat was made of straw and erected in Gavle town square. The goat went up in flames at midnight on Christmas Eve. Local carried on building the goat, year after year while vandals continued to burn it down. By 2011 the Gavle goat had been burned down 25 times, including in 2001 when a USA tourist was jailed for the offence.

If you are looking for a wide choice of holiday rentals for Christmas, check out our apartments, cottages, villas, condos and holiday lets available worldwide.

Winter holidays to beat the January Blues

Roman Coliseum celebrates Christmas

Most people dream of a winter holiday in January to escape the gloomy skies of northern Europe and to re-charge their batteries after the festive season.

Here we look at European destinations which you may not normally consider in winter, but which offer a vast range of unique attractions.

We have chosen some of the best articles on the web about places to visit in winter, which you may not have considered:

Whether you are planning a sunshine holiday or a city break, by visiting out of season you will avoid the masses, and take advantage of uncrowded beaches and traffic-free roads.

If you are planning a winter break in late 2014 or early 2015 check out our wide choice of winter holiday rental accommodation worldwide including apartments, villas, condos, studios, townhouses and cottages.

Yorkshire – England´s Green and Pleasant Land

Todmorden or GaddingsDriving up the M1 motorway from the Midlands, it is easy to see why the locals refer to Yorkshire as ´God´s Own Country.´

Rolling hills, brooding moors and dramatic landscapes greet visitors to this verdant county, which boasts a population almost the size of Scotland´s.

Travelling to Todmorden on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border for a week’s holiday in a rural cottage, the scenery en-route was stunning. The town is situated in the Upper Calder Valley and is surrounded by moorlands which are perfect for outdoor activities.

yorkshire cottage

On arriving in Todmorden we checked in to our idyllic stone cottage, the Old Chapel Schoolhouse, overlooking the hills and fells surrounding the town. The owner of the cottage met us at the property and gave us some great tips about places to visit, and the best places to eat and drink locally, which is always useful when you are a stranger in town.

We were also able to buy free range eggs right in front of the cottage, which made breakfast a real treat.

The cottage is stunning, with original flagstone floors in the kitchen, and tastefully renovated interiors to reflect the character of the original building. Based in the heart of the Pennines with many original features, including exposed fireplaces and traditional beams, the cottage boasts stunning views across the valley, is just a 10 minute walk from Todmorden town centre and made the perfect base to explore the local area.

Gaddings Dam

Gaddings Dam has the highest ´beach´ in England, and cannot be reached by car.

The Dam is situated at the end of a steep footpath that climbs the hill, which by midday on a sunny Sunday in September was alive with people.

As a keen outdoor swimmer, a dip in Gaddings Dam was an opportunity too good to miss. High and exposed, this shallow reservoir of clean water is popular with sunbathers and swimmers, and on sunny days becomes a friendly lido with people picnicking and relaxing on the rocks and grass.

Don´t let a sunny day lead you into a false sense of security – the water is always cold, but for competent swimmers there are few places more enticing.

The food at the Shepherd´s Rest Inn, a good start point for climbing to the dam, comes highly recommended, especially for its delicious choice of Sunday Roasts.

Stoodley Pike

Stoodley PikeStoodley Pike is a 1,300 foot monument which dominates the moors above Todmorden, and was completed in 1856 at the end of the Crimean War.

The monument replaced an earlier structure which was started in 1814 and commemorated the defeat of Napoleon and the surrender of Paris. The earlier structure was destroyed by a lightning strike and the new monument was built slightly further from the edge of the hill.

The site is accessible on foot but there is no vehicular or bicycle access to the monument.

Hebden Bridge

Hebden BridgeHebden Bridge can be reached on foot via the canal towpath, and is a pleasant 5 mile walk away from the cottage. Alternatively if you take the car there is plenty of parking available near the centre of town.

Quirky shops jostle for position on the high street with tea rooms and cafés selling creamy cappuccinos, organic tea and home-made cakes and pastries. Once a hippy retreat, Hebden Bridge attracts artists from all over the UK, and is now home to a small new age community.

Alternative shops sell everything from hand-made organic soap to unique jewellery and Palestinian olive oil. Hebden Bridge is a great place to visit to shop, to eat or simply to people-watch.


Heptonstall is without doubt one of west Yorkshire´s best kept secrets.

Imagine Haworth without the Brontes and the tourist crowds. Attractive stone-built cottages crowd around a steep main cobbled street. Heptonstall has little in the way of shops or cafés, but retains a certain old English charm that you don´t find in the larger towns.

The village has changed little in the past 200 years and is situated just 2 miles north of Hebden Bridge. Enjoy stunning views over the Calder Valley from the main car park just outside the village.

We stopped off for lunch at the White Lion, half way up the main street, which serves a wide choice of home-cooked dishes. A traditional old pub with a modern twist, the White Lion prides itself on its food and real ales. We plumped for the braised shoulder of lamb and steak and ale pie, which were both delicious.

If you would like to rent the Old Chapel Schoolhouse in Todmorden, or take a look at our wide choice of holiday cottages and apartments to rent in the UK, visit our website to find your perfect holiday accommodation.

´Feliz Navidad´ – Christmas on the Costa del Sol!

Children in santa claus hat are sitting on beach

When I first moved to Spain´s Costa del Sol in winter 1994, I spent Christmas Day sunning myself on the beach while the turkey was cooking.

Back in the day, before satellite TV existed in southern Spain, ex-pats made more of the great outdoors, even at Christmas. The superb combination of sun, sea, snow and amazing food continues to attract visitors from all over Europe.

The weather in southern Spain and Malaga in particular is usually mild during December, with plenty of sunshine thrown in.

A wide choice of holiday rental accommodation on the Costa del Sol is available over the Christmas and New Year period.

Christmas Food

Christmas Eve (La Noche Buena) is celebrated with a huge family feast. Tables groan with appetisers of ham, cheese and chorizo sausage. This may be followed by a starter such as a large mixed salad or white asparagus with oil and vinegar.

The main course usually consists of a whole leg of roast lamb, beef, poultry or game served with potatoes or rice.  Sweets include Turrón, almond nougat or Mantecados, individually wrapped Spanish cakes.

No Spanish Christmas meal would be complete without several bottles of cava, red wine and brandy to wash it down with.

Whatever you fancy eating on Christmas Day you will find a wide choice of restaurants and cafés serving traditional Spanish and English food. From roast turkey with all the trimmings to paella and mixed fish dishes, there is something to suit all tastes and budgets on the Costa del Sol.

If you want a traditional ´home from home´ Christmas, you will find everything you need in local supermarkets, and a wide choice of British sweets, chocolates and confectionery in Iceland, Fuengirola and Puerto Banus or in Marks and Spencer in Marbella. Gibraltar is also a great place for Christmas shopping, and is just over one hour by car from Marbella.

Alternatively, Christmas lunch on the beach is something I will never tire of. If tradition and turkey are not your ´thing´ head for a local beach bar and enjoy a fresh seafood paella, washed down with a few jugs of sangria.

Cabalgata de Reyes

Although Christmas Eve is celebrated widely in Spain, but it is not the time for exchanging gifts. January 6th is Epiphany which follows the night of the ´Reyes´ when street processions, floats, Santa Claus and the Three Kings parade through the streets.

´Cabalgata de Reyes´ is a re-enactment of the arrival of the Three Kings. Amidst dancers, musicians, and puppeteers, the Kings ride on camels or elaborate floats and throw goodies down to the children, usually sweets or chocolate.

The processions take place in most Costa del Sol towns, including Fuengirola and Marbella, and start early, around 6pm on the night of January 5th.

The main gift giving day is King´s Day on the 6th January, which according to tradition is when the three kings arrived in Bethlehem with gifts for the baby Jesus.

Noche Vieja

Noche Vieja (New Year´s Eve) is celebrated with huge parties in every town on the Costa del Sol.

As midnight approaches, the town squares are packed with people celebrating with bottles of cava and 12 grapes. Tradition states that you must eat one grape to every chime of the clock at midnight (which is much more difficult than it first appears).

Then the party begins. Bottles of wine and cava are shared, live music plays and fireworks explode into the night sky. Many local councils still give away free cava at midnight, and the celebrations last into the small hours.

 Skiing in Sierra Nevada

Under a two hour drive inland from the Costa del Sol is the superb ski resort of Sierra Nevada.

Situated close to Granada (which is also a must-visit city, if only for the stunning Alhambra), the Sierra Nevada offers perfect slopes for skiing, snowboarding, tobogonning and hiking.

The ski season usually runs from November to April. The ski area is on the northern slopes of Veleta, and is the most southerly ski resort in Europe. The Sierra Nevada hosted the 1996 Alpine World Ski Championships and regularly hosts high level races of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup. The resort has also been selected to host the 2015 Winter Universiade, the World University Games.

Whether you prefer sunning yourself on one of the many Costa del Sol beaches or skiing in the Sierra Nevada, Christmas on the Costa del Sol offers a wide choice of attractions, food and fun to suit all tastes.

If you want to spend a sunny Christmas on the Costa del Sol, check out our wide choice of apartments for rent in Marbella, Fuengirola, Malaga, Torremolinos, Estepona and Benalmadena which provide perfect holiday accommodation for couples, groups of friends and families.

Attractions, Events and Food in Tuscany


Tuscany is one of Italy´s most famous regions, and the stunning scenery, delicious food and lively events keep visitors flocking back each year.

Here we look at some of the best articles about Tuscany, which we hope will inspire you to explore this beautiful region and find out for yourselves what really makes it tick.

If you are planning a break or a longer holiday in Tuscany, check out our vast choice of accommodation. We offer a vast choice of holiday rental accommodation in Tuscany, including apartments, villas, townhouses and studios.

Unusual London – Hidden Gems in the Capital!

London for uGuest Blog

If you are planning a trip to London, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Madame Tussaud´s Waxworks and the British Museum are likely to be high on your list of attractions to visit.

But scratch the surface of England´s vibrant capital city and you will find a wide choice of weird and wonderful things to do, off the beaten track.

We bring you some of the best articles about London´s hidden gems to inspire you to explore this great city, away from the tourist traps.

Check out our wide choice of excellent holiday rental accommodation in London, including apartments for rent, town houses, penthouses and studio rentals.

The Top 5 Unique Christmas Markets in Europe



With Christmas just eight weeks away, now is the perfect time to book at trip to one of Europe’s most unique Christmas Markets.

As TV adverts bombard us with the latest gadgets, festive food and ´must-have gifts´ our thoughts will turn to the Christmas shopping. When to start? What to buy? Who to buy for?

Europe´s Christmas markets offer a vast range of gift ideas you won´t find on the high street, and provide the perfect setting for a pre-festive break.

Here, we look at five of the most quirky Christmas markets in Europe, 2014.

The Christmas Market, Rome

Avoid Rome´s tourist hordes and visit the Eternal City in December.

Combine a visit to the Italian capital´s vibrant Rome Christmas Market in the Piazza Navona, with a sightseeing tour in the uncrowded city centre.

The Piazza is stuffed with stalls selling a vast choice of seasonal gifts, hand-made confectionery, toys, nativity figures and decorations to suit all tastes and budgets.

Nativity scenes fill the streets and the smell of roasting chestnuts drifts through the air.

Street processions, live music and colourful events take place throughout December and New Year.

Whatever your religious persuasions are, midnight mass in Rome on Christmas Eve is a memorable experience. Thousands of visitors flock to Saint Peter´s Square where a life-size nativity is set up, and the Pope says midnight mass inside the Basilica, which is shown throughout the square on large TV screens.

The Fira de Santa Llúcia, Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona may not be high up on everyone´s list of ´Christmas market destinations´ but this beautiful city is home to one of the oldest and most traditional festive fairs in Europe.

The Fira de Santa Llúcia Market includes hundreds of stalls packed into the Plaza de la Seu (outside Barcelona Cathedral) selling a wide choice of Christmas trees, mistletoe, toys, leather goods and handicrafts.

What this authentic Spanish market lacks in mulled wine and hot dogs, it certainly makes up for in traditional gifts and a warm festive atmosphere, especially in the evenings when the lights reflect against the backdrop of the cathedral.

Enjoy the Nativity scene contest, musical parades and exhibitions, including the popular life-size Nativity scene in Plaça Sant Jaume.

The Vorosmarty tér, Budapest, Hungary

Budapest´s Vorosmarty tér takes place from the end of November to the beginning of January and is situated in the heart of the Pest area.

Traditional food, folk dancing and live music are highlights of the market, which offers over 150 stalls selling everything from honey biscuits and mulled wine to leather goods and decorations.

The Fair also offers a choice of artistic and cultural events which take place throughout the streets.

The Budapest Christmas Fair is a foodie´s paradise. Aside from the usual sweet treats, try the traditional Hungarian dishes, including goose-stuffed cabbage, pork knuckle and grilled spicy sausages.

The Christmas Markets, Vienna, Austria

Visitors to Vienna during December are spoilt for choice when it comes to Christmas markets, which run from mid-November.

The festive season in Austria is a huge social occasion for the Viennese, who meet up to enjoy a glass or two of mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and spicy Christmas cakes and biscuits.

Rathausplatz is one of the most famous markets in the city, if only for a glimpse of the Advent windows on the Town Hall which are decorated by local artists. The Schonbrunn Palace Market enjoys a spectacular backdrop and upmarket stalls. Altwiener offers a more edgy, arty feel and sells a range of handicrafts. Spittelberg Market offers a range of unique goods not found elsewhere and is set in cobbled streets between Burggasse and Siebensterngassse.

Winter Wonderland, London, England

Christmas shopping at Winter Wonderland Hyde Park, London is made all the more pleasurable by carol singing, festive music and a lot of fun along the way.

Hyde Park´s stunning tribute to all things Chrismassy offers a vast range of things to see and do for all the family. Try the fairground rides, wander around Santa Land or through the Christmas markets, accompanied by festive tunes along the way.

Entry is free, and highlights include a Giant Observation Wheel and two Christmas circuses. You will also find a Winter Wonderland ice rink which is illuminated with over 100,000 lights.

Enjoy the themed bars with real fires or the Ice Bar (without a real fire for obvious reasons).

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is a great attraction for all ages.

If you are planning a trip to Europe´s Christmas markets in 2014, check out our vast range of rental apartments, studios, villas and holiday accommodation in Rome, Budapest, London, Vienna and Barcelona.

Halloween Traditions and Celebrations around Europe

Halloween pumpkin on wood with dark background

Halloween is one of Europe´s oldest traditions, and dates back to Pagan times.

The celebration of Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain when people would light bonfires to ward off roaming ghosts and evil spirits.

In the eighth century Pope Gregory III designated November 1, which has become known as All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before became known as All Hallows’ Eve and later, Halloween.

Halloween celebrations have now evolved into child-friendly activities, dressing up as witches, wizards and spooky figures and trick-or-treating.

We take a look at some of Europe´s Halloween Traditions:


Many people consider Halloween in Austria to be magical, and will leave a light or lantern, bread and water on the table before retiring. People believe that leaving food and water out at night would welcome back the dead souls to earth on the night of Halloween.

On All Saints´ Day, November 1, Catholics in Austria attend church services in honour of the saints, the martyrs and those who have died for the Catholic faith. Austrians may also visit their family graves and leave flowers, wreaths and lanterns.


Long before pumpkins became famous during Halloween in England, children would carve out beets, potatoes and turnips to use as lanterns to scare away evil spirits and ghosts.

Apple-bobbing is thought to link back to the days of the Romans who worshipped the Goddess of fruit and trees, Pomona. The Romans would hold festivals in October to worship Pomona, which is why apple-bobbing is still popular during Halloween today.

Apples are placed in a large tub or bowl and blindfolded contestants have to try and take a bite out of the fruit without touching it.

People began dressing up for Halloween to disguise themselves from ghosts they imagined came back to earth on 31 October. They also left bowls of food out on the doorstep to try and appease the spirits and stop them entering their homes.

Trick or treating originated from children dressing up as ghosts to scare householders into giving them sweets or money.


Halloween in Belgium is celebrated widely and massive processions are held with giant spiders, vampires, ghosts and ghouls parading through the streets.

Local shops and patisseries sell spooky cakes, decorated with ´cobwebs´, ´witches´ and ´ghoulish figures´ and vampire-costumed children knock on doors for treats.

Parties are held throughout the town, and special cuisine prepared to celebrate the occasion. Fairground rides and attractions are set up in most major cities and towns.

Halloween in Belgium is great fun for all the family.


La Fete d´Halloween is regarded as an American holiday in France and was never celebrated until the mid-90´s.

The French love of festivals and parties changed all that, and the opening of The Mask Museum in Saint-Hilaire-Saint-Florent in 1992 put Halloween firmly on the map.

Many of France´s largest companies began using Halloween images and characters in advertising campaigns, and the rest is history.

Halloween is celebrated in France by costumed people going to parties in private houses, bars and clubs. The costumes tend to be traditionally scary – mummies, ghosts, goblins, witches, and vampires.

Disneyland Paris is a great place to celebrate Halloween.


German people traditionally hide their knives out of sight on Halloween night so that returning spirits cannot use them.

Many modern Halloween traditions have been embraced by Germany, and celebrations have become much more popular in the past ten years.

By mid-October you will start to see hollowed-out pumpkins on the doorsteps of many German homes.

Department stores stock a vast choice of Halloween costumes and themed decorations. Night clubs open their doors to hundreds of costume-clad crowds who want to dance till dawn.

Not the dancing type? One of the best Halloween venues in Germany is the 1,000 year old castle in Darmstadt, known as Burg Frankenstein. Said to be the inspiration for Mary Shelley´s Frankenstein novel in 1818, the castle visited by researches from TV show, Ghost Hunters in 2008. Paranormal activity, including voices and movement were recorded and the Frankenstein Knights are said to haunt the castle today.

If you want to celebrate Halloween 2014 in Europe, check out our fantastic choice of holiday accommodation rentals in France, England, Germany, Austria and Belgium.

In Search of Dracula

If you associate the word Dracula with a fang toothed monster of a man who bites people’s necks and transforms into a bat, think again. The real Dracula was Romanian war hero and Prince, Vlad Tepes, of the House of Drăculești. Although he was a cruel man and widely known as Vlad the Impaler for the way in which he killed those who wronged his country, he was fighting for the protection of his people and was much loved by his countrymen and feared by his enemies.

Legend did grow that he was a vampire, largely due to his notoriety as a vicious killer. But then Romania and the surrounding countries were full of tales of vampires and other savage beasts at the time, so until Vlad became immortalised by the book Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it was never anything more than a rumour whispered among those who feared him.

Universal Pictures have recently released a new Dracula film – Dracula Untold, which combines the two Draculas, the reality and the fiction, to create a story about Vlad Tepes becoming a vampire. With big names being cast in the lead roles, stunning special effects and of course a great storyline, it could well be a fantastic watch this Halloween. Take a look at the trailer below to get a little taste of Vlad in both his real and fictional personas.

To go in search of the real and even the fictional Dracula, you must first start in Romania. Vlad was born in the beautiful medieval citadel of Sighisoara, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and lived here until he was four years old. You can still see the house in which he was born, now a bar and restaurant, which is marked by a dragon above the door (Dracul means dragon in Romanian) and there is a statue of the man himself nearby. One of the most beautiful walled cities in Europe, it is full of colourful medieval houses, stunning architecture and alleyways that transport you back in time to the 1400s when Vlad himself lived there.

sighisoaraStoker’s story sees Dracula’s castle set near the Borgo Pass, which links Bistriţa and Vatra Dornei (actually called the Tihuţa Pass) and is the gateway to the realm of Count Dracula. In the book the pass is reached through beautiful countryside, thick forests and magnificent mountains. Home to baying wolves, wind that moans and howls through the trees and a mysterious blue light, Stoker chose this beautiful yet eerie place, said to have witnessed great fires and killings over the centuries, as the perfect setting for Dracula’s castle.

The area is not home to the castle we are so used to associating with Dracula. Instead we must look to Bran Castle near Braşov as it is the only castle in Romania to fit Stoker’s description of the Count’s home. Vlad does have a connection to Bran Castle however. He was captured by the army of the Hungarian king, Matei Corvin, in 1462 and was held captive here.

bran castle

Other sites which are well worth a visit are Snagov Monastery, a stunning building situated in the middle of a lake, where the remains of Vlad the Impaler lie and Castle Poenari, Vlad’s stronghold. Reached by over 1400 steps and with breathtaking views, this now ruined castle is the one to visit if you want to see the ‘real’ Dracula’s castle.

Back on the fictional Dracula’s trail, we must cross from Romania to England, and the North Yorkshire town of Whitby. This is where Dracula is said to have arrived in England.


According to Stoker’s tale the Russian Schooner, The Demeter, ran aground in Whitby harbour in 1885. Mysteriously all the crew were dead including the captain who was found tied to the helm. As the ship ran aground a huge black dog was seen to leap ashore and run up the now famous 199 steps towards Whitby Abbey, which overlooks the town. Legend has it that vampires can take many forms, a dog being one of them. Dracula had arrived.

iStock_000019687262_SmallOnce he regained his strength Dracula left for London, where the story continues until his discovery and subsequent escape back to Romania, where he is tracked and eventually killed by Harker and his friends, led by the infamous Dr Abraham Van Helsing. And so the story ends.

Whether you are on the trail of the fictional character or the Romanian Prince Vlad Dracul, you simply cannot miss visiting the sites linked to them in Romania and the UK. You’ll find excellent tours in Romania, starting from Budapest in neighbouring Hungary, where we have some great properties in which to base yourself before you leave on your tour, following the exact route Jonathan Harker took to Dracula’s castle. Equally Whitby is home to the Dracula Experience, along with some fantastic Halloween events at the Abbey, including readings and performances of the novel within the atmospheric ruins.

So what are you waiting for? Why not go in search of Dracula yourself this Halloween?