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

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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:

Austria

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.

England

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.

Belgium

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.

France

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.

Germany

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.

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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?

 

The 5 Best Places to Eat Like a Local in Rome

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In a city that ´lives to eat´ rather than ´eats to live´, Rome is without doubt the foodie capital of the world.

If you are looking for authentic Roman cuisine, avoid the tourist hot spots, and head for the back streets where you will find a choice of ´hidden gems´ within easy reach of the city centre.

Whether you are planning a gastro-tour of Rome, a romantic dinner or simply a quick lunch, Rome´s vibrant pizzerias and trattorias cater for all tastes and budgets.

The beauty of Italian food is in its simplicity.

Have you ever wondered why a ´rocket and parmesan salad´ never quite tastes the same when you make it at home?  The answer is in the ingredients!

Locally sourced cheese, meat, tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, fresh herbs and organic vegetables feature heavily on many Italian menus, resulting in some of the world´s tastiest cuisine.

Five of the best ´off the tourist track´ restaurants in Rome include:

Da Enzo

Cherished by the locals and revered by the few tourists who find it, Da Enzo is situated in eastern Trastevere and offers delicious, locally-sourced organic food in a vibrant, residential part of the city.

Don´t expect luxury décor, but do expect clean, simple surroundings and stunning food. Try the stuffed courgette flowers, the pepper and cheese pasta and the oxtail.

It is advisable to book as Da Enzo gets very busy and tables are not always available.

La Carbonara dal 1906

La Carbonara in Monti offers classic Roman dishes in a quirky, tavern-style restaurant with graffiti on the walls.

Family-run, Le Carbonara, as its name suggests has been welcoming locals since 1906, and offers simple, delicious home-cooked food at reasonable prices.

Traditional home-made pastas and pizzas include the super-spicy ´zi Tere´ made with fresh chilli, basil and pecorino and the cheese and walnut ravioli. Classic fried vegetables flavoured with fresh herbs and award-winning olive oil are also worth a taste. If you still have room for dessert, try the lemon tart, profiteroles or creamy Tiramisu.

Osteria Bonelli

Combining excellent food, stylish but simple furnishings and a bustling location, the Osteria Bonelli is always full. Try the vermicelli with anchovies and courgette flowers, the ricotta, basil and porcini mushroom or the mouth-watering spaghetti vongole with fresh clams, mussels and seafood. Osteria Bonelli is also one of the most reasonably priced restaurants in the city, and you can eat, drink and be merry for less than the price of a pizza in some of Rome´s more touristy restaurants.

Fariné 

The husband and wife owners of this restaurant were trained at the National School of Pizza, and offer five selections of Roman pizza every night. If you are looking for fine dining, elaborate furnishings and luxury decór, this may not be the place for you, but if you want excellent ´no nonsense food´ Fariné will rival anywhere in Rome. Fresh produce is bought daily in local markets, and this restaurant has paper plates, no cutlery and no staff apart from the two owners. The only menu options are Margherita, Napoli, Mozzarella and Anchovies, Mediterranean, and a daily special based on fresh seasonal ingredients. The choice may not be great but the food certainly is and if you are something of a pizza guru, this is the place to come.

Cabo Boi 

Frequented by well-heeled locals, Cabo Boi is an elegant restaurant, specialising in fresh fish dishes and a choice of upmarket wines.Situated in Coppide, in between Parioli and Trieste, Cabo Boi takes diners back to the days of 1920´s Rome, and is where the locals come to celebrate special occasions.Sample the fresh oysters, mussels, octopus and delicious mixed fried fish dish which the restaurant is famous for.Everything about Cabo Boi reeks opulence and fine dining. The restaurant is not cheap but does not profess to be, and the white linen table cloths and crystal wine glasses add a touch of class to its excellent cuisine.

If you are looking for a superb choice of holiday accommodation rentals in Rome, check out our apartments, villas, rooms for rent and studios in and around the city centre.

 

 

Get Your Bake On

With BAFTA Award winning TV show, The Great British Bake Off, still fresh in our minds, maybe now is the time to indulge your inner baker and treat yourself not only to a slice of cake, but a cookery course. That way you really can bake your cake and eat it too!

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Thanks to the likes of The Great British Bake Off, hit US shows like The Next Great Baker and Cupcake Wars, along with MasterChef, which has seen success across the globe, it seems that we are becoming more and more likely to want to experiment in the kitchen. It seems cookery schools have tapped into that and are offering great courses not only at home, but abroad too.

Paul Hollywood & Mary Berry

Perhaps you want to follow in Paul Hollywood’s footsteps and try your hand at cooking in Cyprus? Paul spent six years baking in Cyprus at two different resorts, following stints as Head Baker at several prestigious hotels in the UK. The Cookery School Cyprus offers many courses in different types of cuisine. You’ll enjoy learning to cook in beautiful surroundings, just inland from Limassol, where you’ll find a number of our properties just perfect for enjoying your foodie holiday in Cyprus.

Good Food Show

Sticking with Paul Hollywood, fans of this culinary ‘silver fox’ will be thrilled to learn of his new British Baking Live Tour, which is set to tour the UK in November and December this year.

Mary Berry fans needn’t worry, the doyenne of all things cake will herself be appearing at several events throughout the UK this year. You can find her at the BBC Good Food Cakes & Bakes Show at the Business Design Centre in Islington, along with the likes of Eric Lanlard, Lisa Faulkner, Phil Vickery, Mich Turner, Paul Hollywood and stars of The Great British Bake Off past and present, between the 25th and 27th of October. You’ll also find her at the Good Food Show London on the 14th and 15th of November and the Good Food Show Birmingham on the 28th and 29th of November. We do of course have plenty of options in terms of your accommodation while you enjoy a show or two featuring your favourite celebrity chefs.

Ballymaloe Cookery School

Ballymalloe Cookery School

If you’re looking for the ultimate cookery school. Look no further than Ballymaloe in County Cork, Ireland. Situated on a beautiful 100 acre farm and teaching students from all over the word since 1983, under the watchful eye of the famous Irish chef Darina Allen and her brother Rory O’Connell, who himself has twice been voted Ireland’s Chef of the Year, it is a culinary institution. Joined by celebrity chef Rachel Allen, who once attended Ballymaloe Cookery School herself, they make a formidable team.

The choice of courses at Ballymaloe sets it apart from other cookery schools. You can take up a 12 week certified course, dabble in the odd half day course, or spend a few days to a week learning about the subject of your choice. Learn how to create the perfect tea and cake, Italian dishes like pizza, calzone and panzerotti, Christmas dishes, bread making, butchery, sherry and tapas, foraging, how to start your own tea shop or maybe even how to start your own food blog. The list is endless.

Your Own Private Foodie Retreat

16130-1800290627-pad_738_527_Castello Gubbio - Umbria - Italy (23)_01Perhaps you’d prefer a foodie break where you can enjoy learning to cook in the comfort of your own holiday rental property. Look no further than Castello Gubbio in Umbria in Italy. It’s the perfect place to relax with friends and family while you enjoy the sumptuous surroundings and get some great one on one tuition in the kitchen. You could perhaps even host a banquet in your very own medieval banqueting hall or hang up your apron for the evening and enjoy the culinary delights of your very own private chef.

Of course the beautiful Castello Gubbio isn’t the only one of our extensive list of properties at which you can learn to hone your cookery skills. If you would like further information on these properties, or you would like information on cookery schools in the area you wish to stay, don’t hesitate to get in touch via customer services or social media.

 

3 ´off the beaten track´ ski resorts in Europe

Some of the biggest, brashest and glitziest ski resorts in Europe, include St. Moritz, Switzerland, Cortina, Italy and St. Anton, Austria, which all offer first class skiing and excellent facilities.

However, if you´re looking for more ´off the beaten track´ places, where it is more about the skiing than ´being seen´, and where beautiful natural landscapes are blanketed with untracked snow which lasts for days, we have chosen our three favourite resorts.

Zermatt, Switzerland

Zermatt Situated in the German- speaking part of Valais in Switzerland, the village of Zermatt nestles in a deep valley surrounded by steep mountains, including the Matterhorn.

No traffic is allowed in Zermatt, and the first thing to strike you will be the silence. Sleigh-pulling horses wait for passengers and the cobbled streets wind around the village, transporting visitors back in time.

All journeys to Zermatt are via train, and from there, on foot or on skis. This is a perfect ski resort if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the busier resorts and enjoy the fresh Alpine air which first attracted early visitors to Zermatt.

We have a wide choice of winter ski accommodation in Zermatt to suit all tastes and budgets, including villas, apartments and chalets.

The first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 ended disastrously when, having reached the summit, four of the party, led by Edward Whymper fell to their deaths on the descent.

The beauty of the setting backed by high peaks, including the Matterhorn at 4,478 metres is still unsurpassed.

Laid back and welcoming, Zermatt offers a wealth of cosy restaurants, bars and night clubs to suit all tastes and budgets.

The winter ski season runs from November-May (the longest season in Europe) and Zermatt is home to nine of the ten highest mountains in Europe.

The nearest airport to Zermatt is Sion, which is 82km away. The airport has direct flights from Zurich and other major destinations.

St. Michael Im Lungau, Austria

 St Michael Im LungauSt. Michael Im Lungau, Austria is the perfect destination for a wide choice of winter sports, including cross-country skiing, snowboarding and ice-skating.

Salzburg Airport is 1 hour and ten minutes away by car, and the convenient location coupled with stunning surrounding landscapes make St.Michael an ideal location for thrill-seekers.

The town offers a choice of wellness centres, where visitors can go to relax body, mind and soul.

Check out a wide choice of winter accommodation, including chalets and apartments for rent in St. Michael Im Lungau, ideal for families, couples and groups of friends.

Situated between the Aineck ski regions of Grosseck/Speiereck, Katschberg and Obertauern, St.Michael also offers a choice of après-ski activities, including romantic sleigh rides and a choice of excellent eateries.

If you are lucky enough to be visiting at Christmas, the Advent markets offer elegant stalls, selling a choice of local produce and handicrafts.

This year´s markets will be held in the centre of St. Michael in December, 2014 from 5-7, 13-14 and 20-21.

Eisacktal, Italy

 Italy, South Tyrol, 2013-538The Eisack Valley is a district in South Tyrol, Italy which comprises the middle part of the valley from Franzensfeste in the north to Waidbruck in the south.

The ski areas in Eisacktal offer modern lifts, ideal conditions for skiers and snowboarders and a stunning location.

A local ski bus will take you to different resorts within a 30 minute drive, and if you purchase an Eisacktal ski pass, you can enjoy unlimited skiing on the slopes of all three resorts.

With a wide choice of ski chalets, apartments and houses to rent in Eisacktal, we offer winter holiday accommodation to suit all budgets.

Visit Groden/Gardena Sella Ronda, Seiser Alm/Alpe di Siusi, Plose or the Kronplatz/Plan de Corones for the ultimate winter sports experience in stunning surroundings.

The Villnoess Valley/Val di Funes, is the perfect holiday spot for cross-country skiers, hikers and families with small children. The ski area has super facilities, offers a wide range of activities and is also quite compact, so easy to get around.

The nearby Mount Plose is also worth a visit. A snow park and cross-country ski run is situated near the Valley Station in St. Andra, and both offer stunning views of the Dolomites.

Gitschberg-Jochtal is situated at the beginning of the Pustertal Valley. This resort is perfect for families and over 43km of slopes are wide and easy to navigate. There is also a kid´s park for the little ones and a ski school. Both Gitschberg and Jochtal are quiet and never over-crowded.

Europe´s Top 4 Winter Sun Destinations

The words ´winter sun´ may evoke images of sun-kissed Caribbean beaches, glitzy Dubai swimming pools and Egypt´s famous Red Sea Riviera, but what about the resorts closer to home?

Four of Europe´s top winter sun resorts are within a 4hr 30 minute flight time of London, and are easily accessible from all major airports.

Malaga, Spain

View of Malaga at twilightMalaga boasts long, sandy beaches, cultural monuments and superb restaurants and shopping outlets, all within a two hour flight of London.

Once a fishing village, Malaga has evolved into the self-proclaimed ´Capital of the Costa del Sol´, and is an elegant city with a thriving port area.

Calle Larios is the main pedestrianized shopping street through the centre of town, and is lined with quirky pavement cafés, boutiques, ice- cream shops and tapas bars.

The streets leading off Calle Larios will take you through the impressive old town to the Cathedral and the Alcazaba, a palatial fortification which was built by the Hammudid dynasty in the early 11th century.

We offer a vast range of rental apartments, villas, townhouses and fincas in Malaga to suit all tastes and budgets.

Malaga´s beaches are some of the best in southern Spain, and with average winter temperatures of between 17ºC-22ºC between October and February, and over 320 average days of sunshine a year, this vibrant city attracts visitors from all over the world.

Winter sports fans should take a trip to the Sierra Nevada, Granada, just a 90 minute drive from Malaga, for excellent ski runs and a range of holiday accommodation.

Funchal, Madeira

 iStock_000020099860_MediumOne of the prettiest islands in Europe, Madeira offers visitors stunning landscapes, cultural attractions and a sunny climate.

If you are lucky enough to be visiting over the new-year period, amazingly Funchal, the capital stages the world´s biggest and most spectacular fireworks display.

The island of Madeira belongs to Portugal, which is over 1,000 miles away and lies closer to Africa than Europe. Average winter temperatures between October and February are 20ºC.

Funchal holiday accommodation rentals include apartments, villas and townhouses.

You will find plenty to explore in the city centre of Funchal. Take the cable car up Monte which offers stunning views over the white houses and terracotta roofs which dot the surrounding hillsides. The themed flower gardens at the top are worth the trip alone.

No trip to Funchal is complete without a ride on one of the toboggans which whizz down the hill on wooden sliders. These were originally used in the 19th century to transport goods down the steep slopes. With the addition of a wicker seat, the toboggans became one of the town´s most famous tourist attractions.

Two ´carreiros´ steer you down the 2km route using their boots as brakes!

Famous for its colourful flowers and plants, Funchal is a beautiful location on one of Europe´s most idyllic islands, perfect for winter sunshine and a range of activities.

The flight time from London to Funchal is 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Lanzarote, the Canary Islands

 Cactus garden, LanzaroteLanzarote offers plenty of sunshine throughout the winter months, and average temperatures from November to April average around 22ºC.

The flight time from London to Lanzarote is around 4 hours and 10 minutes.

A wide choice of holiday rentals, including apartments, villas and studios in Lanzarote are available on uGuest.

Mild winter temperatures allow visitors to explore the long beaches on the island, perfect for relaxing and swimming, while avoiding the summer crowds.

Surfing, diving and boat trips to Fuerteventura are also popular activities in Lanzarote.

Timanfaya National Park offers volcanic, rocky landscapes which were left behind after the Montañas del Fuego, a group of over 100 volcanoes exploded in the 1730´s. It is also the number one attraction in Lanzarote.

If you want to explore the more tranquil parts of the island, hire a car and visit the small coastal villages or use the rural walking trails which will lead you through beautiful open countryside.

Cyprus

Sea caves near Cape Greko. Mediterranean SeaWith average winter temperatures of 21ºC, Cyprus is a perfect escape from the chilly climes of northern Europe.

Cyprus, out of the main summer season, is uncrowded and offers plenty of sunshine. From March the island´s flowers start to bloom and the sightseeing opportunities are endless.

Cyprus holiday rentals provide perfect accommodation for families, couples and groups of friends.

The flight time between London and Cyprus is 4 hours and 30 minutes.

Nature lovers are attracted to Cyprus in winter by its lush, green landscapes. Take a trip to the Troodos National Forest Park, the largest park of its kind on the island with over 9,000 hectares of plants, colourful flowers and fauna.

The city of Limassol offers a wide choice of cultural attractions, including the medieval Lemesos Castle, built in the 14th century.

Paphos is famous for its stunning beaches, and the town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You may not normally associate Cyprus with winter sports, but ski facilities are open from January to March in the Troodos Mountains. Mount Olympus, which is over 2,000 metres high is a favourite destination and offers 4 ski lifts and slopes to suit all abilities.

The Top 3 Places to Spend Christmas in the UK

With 75 days, 12 hours and 14 minutes left until Christmas (not that I am counting), many of us will be looking for cottages and apartments in the UK to rent while visiting friends and family for the festive season.

October is traditionally the busiest time of year for Christmas holiday bookings.

Cottage rentals and vacation rentals over the Christmas period are popular with families who are visiting relatives a long way from home, and also with city-dwellers who want to ´get away from it all´ and celebrate the holiday in the countryside.

Christmas Day, 2014 conveniently falls on a Thursday this year, so many of us will have at least a four day break, including Boxing Day and the weekend, without having to book any additional days off.

Three of the most popular destinations for renting a cottage or holiday let in the UK over the Christmas and New Year period include:

Edinburgh, Scotland

New Years fireworksFrom one bed holiday apartments to 30 bed castles, Edinburgh, Scotland offers a wide choice of accommodation to suit families and groups of friends over Christmas and New Year.

No trip to Scotland over the festive period is complete without celebrating Hogmanay in style, and the colourful celebrations in Edinburgh are among the best in the world.

The Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Party is the only festival to appear in the ´Discovery Channel – Top 25 World Travel Experiences´, and includes live bands and DJ´s who fill the streets, framed by the backdrop of the stunning Edinburgh Castle.

Other events being staged as part of the Street Party include the Torchlight Procession, the Keilidh, which brings the best Scottish folk music to the city and the Concert in the Gardens, a spectacular fireworks and music extravaganza. Lily Allen is the headline act at the 2014 event.

We have a vast range of holiday cottages, self-catering houses and apartments in Scotland for rent to suit all tastes and budgets.

Cornwall, England

Cornwall Xmas If you want to escape the crowds and immerse yourself in some of England´s finest landscapes over the Christmas period, Cornwall offers a vast range of accommodation, including cottages, apartments and penthouses.

Christmas festivals, fayres and markets are held in towns throughout Cornwall, including St. Ives, Truro and Penzance, and this is a perfect destination for families who want to enjoy Christmas in style without the razzmatazz of full-on city celebrations.

We offer a wide choice of holiday cottages, apartments, studios and penthouses for rent in Cornwall at Christmas and throughout the year.

Go to one of the many Christmas Carol Services at churches throughout Cornwall, join in a Christmas Day or Boxing Day Swim in the Cornish Sea (if you dare) at Bude or Charlestown, or Join in one of the Christmas theme events such as the Dickensian Weekend at Looe.

Visit one of the many Christmas food markets selling delicious local produce for some special treats or a craft market for gifts with a difference such as The Castle Christmas Food Fayre in Bude.

Cornwall´s beaches are among the most beautiful in the UK and you can enjoy some stunning winter walks along the unspoilt stretches of sand which hug the coastline. Watch the winter waves crashing in from a sea-view restaurant or pub, and you will understand just why Cornwall attracts so many holidaymakers each year.

London, England

London XmasIf you want to let your hair down, party ´til dawn and enjoy some of the world´s most spectacular Christmas and New Year events and attractions, London is hard to beat.

Glide around one of the outdoor ice rinks at Exchange Square, Canary Wharf or Hampton Court Palace.  Most of the outdoor rinks include bars, cafés and outdoor terraces where you can enjoy the action. The ice rinks open from November to February.

No family trip to London at Christmas is complete without a trip to the pantomime. This year check out Jack and the Beanstalk at the Park Theatre, north London, Sleeping Beauty at the Churchill Theatre, south London, Mother Goose at the Hackney Empire, east London or Dick Wittington and His Cat at the Lyric Hammersmith.

A wide choice of London apartment rentals, houses, flats and penthouses are available throughout the Christmas period.

Christmas as Kew is also worth a visit with the family. Attractions include a Victorian Carousel, Santa´s Grotto a Christmas Market and live festive music.

The Dusty Fingers German Winter Wunderland also comes highly recommended. The market is held in the Round Chapel, Clapton and includes arts and crafts, home wares, festive films, vintage stalls and a wide choice of German food. Sample the bratwurst, waffles and cakes which bring a taste of Deutschland to east London.

London boasts some of the finest eateries in the world. Whether you are planning a traditional roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings or a more international feast, you are sure to find something to suit your tastes and budget. From Michelin star fine dining to gastro pubs and quirky cafés to pub grub, London offers hundreds of options for Christmas Day.

If you are lucky enough to be in London for New Year´s Eve, enjoy one of the capital´s biggest party nights.

The city comes alive with festivities and the spectacular firework display at midnight rivals that of every major city in the world.

The 2014 event is ticketed to ensure the safety and success of the London New Year´s Eve Celebrations.

The New Year fun in London does not stop there. The New Year´s Day Parade features more than 10,000 performers, including acrobats, musicians and dancers who gather in the centre of the city in a colourful celebration.

Seville Makes Way for the Dornish

Fans of hit TV series Game of Thrones around the world are waiting with bated breath for Season 5 to air in early 2015. However, thanks to some of the amazing locations they have chosen to use across the globe, we can get a sneak peek into the world of the Seven Kingdoms before it premieres.

For a reminder of what happened in Season 4, take a look at this short clip:

 

Currently filming in Northern Ireland, home to Winterfell, which will see a revival this year. Riverrun and the King’s Road, among others, are also filmed here. Scenes of King’s Landing and Meereen are being filmed in Croatia, with the cast and crew moving to Spain in mid October, where they will be filming in both Seville and Osuna, transforming it into the Kingdom of Dorne.

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For those not familiar with Dorne, it is the southernmost part of the continent of Westeros, with a harsh desert climate and a people with a strong sense of national identity.  Much like Spain in medieval times, it was conquered and the region united by the powerful Queen Nymeria, who, thanks to her marriage alliance with Lord Mors Martell of Sunspear, was able to take control of the entire region and form what is now known as Dorne.

Up until now, we have only met the character Prince Oberyn of House Martell and his paramour Ellaria Sand, who came to the Red Keep to celebrate the wedding of King Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell. We learn of Oberyn’s hatred of the Lanisters, following the death of his beloved sister and her children, at the hands of Sir Gregor Clegane one of Tywin Lanister’s bannermen. Of course Prince Oberyn seeks revenge on Sir Gregor and uses Tyrion Lanister’s trial by combat to attempt to kill him. Unfortunately for Prince Oberyn, just when it looks like he has won the battle, Sir Gregor shows why he is such a feared opponent and crushes Oberyn, leaving Ellaria screaming in despair.

Of course Prince Oberyn isn’t the only member of House Martell, his older brother Doran, rules Dorne, Marcella Lanister is betrothed to Prince Doran’s son and Oberyn himself had eight acknowledged illegitimate daughters, known as the Sand Snakes. Needless to say, this isn’t the last we’ve heard of this exotic, lusty and vengeful family. But how are they and the Kingdom of Dorne linked to Spain?

Two sets have been chosen in the province of Seville. Osuna, where the imposing bullring is being used for what is believed to be a fight scene (some preparations and test shots have already occurred here) and the stunning Alcázar of Seville, which is to be transformed into the Water Gardens of Dorne, the pleasure palace of House Martell.

Osuna

 photo osuna_zps4fe0f290.jpgA small town, surrounded by countryside and overlooked by a hill, upon which the lavish Colegiata de Santa Maria de la Asuncio and the simple yet imposing University sit (both you can imagine fitting in quite nicely in Westeros), Osuna is itself shrouded in history. With links to Spain’s Moorish past, the Romans and with lots of medieval buildings, including the University with its plain sandstone exterior and tiled blue and white turrets and the caves, famed for their prehistoric carvings. Osuna is an interesting place to visit in its own right.

It’s believed both the Colegiata and the University will be used in filming, along with the bullring, which is said to be bringing ‘Daznak’s Pit’ to life. Something which will feature in Daenarys Targaryen’s future storyline.

Alcázar of Seville

 photo alcazardesevilla_zpse420759e.jpgThe Alcázar is everything you could image the Water Gardens of Dorne to be and more. One of the oldest palaces in Europe to still be in use to this day, it is a feast for the senses. With the scent of orange blossoms gently floating on the breeze, the trickling of the fountains, the cool of the mosaic tiles. The intricate architecture and the sheer majesty of the place, which is clear everywhere you look, it is simply breathtaking.

With much of the filming taking place in the gardens, where Dornish tradition has it that both high and low born children are free to frolic in the fountains, it is the perfect place for a stolen moment beneath the palms and offers plenty of secluded nooks in which to plot revenge against the Lanisters. Inside the palace, the stone work and mosaics are quite simply amazing and you can easily imagine Prince Doran receiving visitors in the beautifully ornate Salon de Embajadores or a steamy scene being shot in the Banos de Dona Maria de Padilla.

Game of Thrones aside, the Alcázar is without a doubt a must see on your visit to Seville and is one of the most beautiful palaces you will ever have the privilege to see.

Whether you’re on the trail of the Game of Thrones, or you just want to see what the glorious city of Seville has to offer, we have the perfect selection of accommodation to suit you, both within the city itself and in the surrounding area.  So book your rental property to use as a base to explore this magnificent and enchanting city and get ready to follow in the footsteps of not only the Dornish, but the greatest Kings and Queens of Spain.