Why should you go on a Pilgrimage

This guest post was written by Rebecca Brown, an avid traveller from Ireland.

 

Do people even go on pilgrimages today? Really? In the age of the Internet and all that?

Odds are, we are further from God (if there is a God) than we have ever been. And I’m not trying to belittle your belief system, I have one of my own too. However, I never imagined myself as the kind of person to go on an actual pilgrimage. In the sense that I will be walking the same road hundreds of thousands of people have walked since the Middle Ages, a road where people died, and which they traversed to feel closer to their deity. Turns out, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Admittedly, before we took the trip last year, I visited my mother’s homeland (she was born in Eastern Europe). Seeing where she came from felt like a spiritual homecoming, and that’s putting it mildly and overemphasizing it at the same time. When my husband suggested the Camino de Santiago, I was on the fence to say the least. However, he talked me into it, and the five weeks we spent walking across France and Spain were some of the best of our lives. That’s where the inspiration for this piece has come from, and all the people whose faces I am not likely to forget, but who will remain anonymous in the next page or two.

In a nutshell, here is why you should be going on a pilgrimage:

You are either rather young, or rather old

I know it sounds idiotic, but it’s true – we’ve met many young people out looking for adventure. They were in it for the walk, for the miles, for the nights by the campfire, for getting soaked in the middle of nowhere and chasing after a bus, (knowing that riding it is not the true Camino way, but nevertheless caring more about being dry than a true pilgrim). Not all were believers, and not all wanted to come, but I met one of them at Santiago de Compostela, who said it was the best vacation of her life.

On the other hand, we met an older gentleman from York. He has been walking a different Camino each year for five years. He told me he needed the time to spend in his own head, and that nothing can get your brain working like moving your legs. He’d been a top level executive for ten years, and now that he was one no longer, he wanted the time and the space to reflect on those years, the failures and the big wins. No better way to see yourself more clearly than to walk five hundred miles, he said. I’m thinking he’s probably right.

You (don’t) believe in God

Of course, there are those who take pilgrimages to feel closer to God, even today. There are also those who don’t quite believe, but would like to. The devout are some of the most interesting people to talk to on the Camino – they are calm, collected, and they can absolutely motivate you when you are about to chuck your shoes in the ditch and fly home. There are amazing heartfelt conversations to be had while you walk along. You may often find yourself questioning your own views of the world, and I don’t just mean your spiritual beliefs.

You want a challenge

This is admittedly me. I wanted to challenge myself physically and mentally – and see if I could do it. Turns out I can, even if I did want to quit three times. Let me warn you, there will be blisters. There will be rain and wind. There will be annoying people bugging you, but you can’t avoid them anyway. But you will have time to think, you will have time to breathe (I can’t stress this enough) and you will have the incentive to open your heart just a bit more. By the way, I am a terrible cynic in my everyday life, but something about the Camino has changed me. I have not only traveled from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela, I have learned more about life and people in those 800 kilometers than I thought I could.

If this short rant has sold the Camino the Santiago to you as well, here are some of my expert tips:

  • Choose a reliable tour operator. We went with Follow the Camino, based on a recommendation, and we were never once sorry.
  • Choose even more reliable shoes. I finally bought these Hanwag Trek Light ones, and they were great – after I paired them with the right socks.
  • Choose the most reliable socks. The socks are the most important part of your gear, don’t underestimate them for a second.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Upping your water intake will help you feel and walk better, no question about it.
  • Leave the prejudice behind. Simply enjoy the walk and the air and the company. That’s what you’re there for.

Have you ever walked the Camino de Santiago? Would you like to, and if yes, what are your reasons? If these eight hundred plus words have not sold you the idea of trekking eight hundred kilometers, let me know why you are still unconvinced!

 

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Parent Only Getaways to the Costa del Sol in Spain

The Costa del Sol in Spain is currently one of the hottest choices both for family vacations, and for second home, for buyers from the UK, Scandinavia and even Russia and China. The reasons why so many people from abroad are visiting and even moving to the south of Spain, are manifold. Perhaps most importantly, the weather is fantastic almost all year around; winters are mild and summers, deliciously sunny, with life focused on the beach and the many beach restaurants and clubs which pepper the Coast. Safety is another strong point. Families love the peace and calm, which sits nicely alongside the buzzing night life in both the city of Málaga and her smaller yet more luxurious sister, Marbella, famed for top-level shopping and gastronomic offerings. Finally, price is another strong point. You can enjoy a great tapas meal or three-course meals for a fraction of the price you would pay in a city like Paris or Berlin.

One thing many travellers won’t tell you about, is that the Costa del Sol is also a great choice for a parents-only holiday. The buzzword these days in health and travel circles alike is self-compassion; which in essence involves being kind to oneself, taking a break from our duties to work, friends and children to re-focus on the things that make each of us feel happy and whole. The results of ignoring our inner needs can be disastrous, ranging from anxiety to depression so it pays to make it a point to disconnect at least once a year. A parents-only holiday also allows us to reconnect with our partner or spouse, and enjoy a few romantic days away together, discovering new sights, sounds and flavours in the company of our best friend and lover.

Even if you have just a few days (between three days and a week), there is plenty to do in the Costa del Sol. Top suggestions include:

  • A night at the theatre: Head for Málaga’s premiere theatre, the Teatro Cervantes, which attracts world-class performers from the worlds of dance, classical and modern music, opera, ballet, modern dance, jazz, flamenco and so much more. The Cervantes was built in the 19th century and is beautifully elegant inside, with gilded balconies, a painted ceiling and a magnificent main stage.
  • The Starlite Festival in the summer: Starlite is a festival which takes place every summer (July and August) in Marbella, a city which is around an hour’s drive (or less) from the Costa del Sol’s main city (Málaga). Starlite features top performers, and offers a fun night for all in a unique setting: the Cantera de Nagueles, set in the midst of dramatic rock formations. Just a few of this year’s performers are Andrea Bocelli, Elton John, and Jason Derulo.
  • Museum hopping: Málaga has long ceased to be a city that relies on the beach for tourism. Its Town Hall has done plenty to make it an epicentre of art and culture, with the establishment of various museums, including the Contemporary Art Centre, the Picasso Museum of Malaga, the Russian Museum and the pop-up Pompidou Art Center, the first of its kind in Europe. Also on the list of most visited museums is the Carmen Thyssen Museum, which focuses on 19th-century art. While you are in the Old Town, take in the stunning exponents of architecture, including Málaga’s magnificent cathedral, built between 1528 and 1782 and featuring stunning Renaissance-styled interiors.
  • Tasting evenings: Málaga is home to more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other province in the south of Spain. In Marbella is Dani García: a two-Michelin starred restaurant that takes you on an imaginative journey which combines traditional ingredients with avante-garde preparation methods. Also in Marbella are El Lago (one Michelin star), Messina (one star) and Skina (also with one Michelin star). Skina is a particularly beautiful place to dine, since it is located in the quaint Old Town of Marbella, where iron lampposts stand gracefully in cobblestoned squares, and where restaurants are often graced with the scent of flowers and the sight of flickering candles. For an elegant night out with a big party afterwards, head for Plaza Village at the Puente Romano Beach Resort & Spa. The latter boasts a plethora of top-rated restaurants (including Thai Gallery, Dani García and Bibo) as well as elegant nightclubs such as La Suite or Joe’s Bar.
  • Relaxing spa breaks: Málaga is home to a plethora of stunning spas, the best and most luxurious of which are in Marbella. Have an anti-ageing facial or soothing massage at the Villa Padierna Palace spa, the La Cala Resort Spa or the Marbella Club Hotel Spa, to name just a few of the many luxurious spas on the Coast.

This is an article sent in by Sally Barker

Where to Find Europe’s Best Beaches: Spain vs. Portugal

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Posted by Sam Schuler

Spain and Portugal are two top vacation destinations in Europe with beautiful sandy beaches, a warm sunny climate and a low cost of living. Spanish cities and beaches attract over 60 million visitors each year and the country ranks #2 in Europe for tourism.

In comparison, the country of Portugal does not even make it into the Top 10 most popular destinations with a mere 14 million visitors. However, if you are looking for authentic fishing villages, cultural experiences, rolling surf and less crowded beaches, Portugal may be more to your liking than the high-rise Spanish Costas!

Both countries have family friendly beaches, city beaches and more remote crescents of sand that few visitors choose to visit. Checkout our list of Europe’s best beaches before planning your next sun-and-sand vacation in Europe.

Best Beaches in Spain

For families, La Manga del Mar Menor in Murcia offers a shallow saltwater lagoon formed by a 22-mile long sandbar with several channels connecting it to the Mediterranean Sea. The result is miles of beaches on both the ocean and the lagoon with opportunities for snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing and canoeing in this scenic area.

Couples looking for a more high-end resort will find exclusive designer shopping, marble plazas and gorgeous beaches in Marbella on the Costa del Sol. The multi-million dollar super yachts in the marina may be out of your budget, but you can still enjoy the private beach clubs, tennis courts, golf courses, stand-up paddle boarding, waterfront dining and subtropical gardens in this classy resort.

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Looking to escape the crowds? Make your way further north to Tamariu on the Costa Brava. This idyllic area has sandy coves fringed with tall green pines and coral pink rocks. This area boasts some of the clearest waters in the Mediterranean making it a delight to go swimming, snorkeling or take a boat trip in this peaceful area. It’s the perfect place for chilling out on the beach, yet beautiful Barcelona to the south and the French border to the north are just an hour away if you fancy a scenic coastal drive.

The quieter northwest coast of Spain is popular with surfers as it is battered by Atlantic breakers. Consider the city of San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque region which has endless sandy beaches along this picturesque shoreline. The hilly backdrop and traditional houses in the Old Town make this almost unrecognizable as “typical Spain” but it provides the perfect haven for beach lovers.

Of course, many of Spain’s best beaches are on the Balearic Islands of Majorca, Menorca and Ibiza. In summer these sandy beaches are the perfect place for party goers to sleep off a night of dancing, clubbing and drinking, if that’s what you’re looking for in a vacation!
In winter, the Spanish Canary Islands are a popular choice. Located off the coast of Africa, these volcanic islands have some of the Europe’s best beaches, although they often consist of mainly black volcanic sand. One exception is Maspalomas Beach on Gran Canaria, which has gigantic wind-sculpted sand dunes of golden sand as a backdrop to one of the best beaches in Spain.

Best Beaches in Portugal

Most of Portugal’s best beaches are in the southwest of the country, south of Lisbon and scattered along the Algarve coastline. Praia da Rocha in Portimao is one of the longest, broadest and firmest sandy beaches in the Algarve, which can get crowded in summer. Sheltered by the cliffs, it is popular for sunbathing, safe swimming, surfing, walking or playing beach volleyball.

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The small town of Sagres on the Algarve has an undeveloped beach with orange cliffs and dramatic rolling waves. If you want to spend time exploring Portugal’s agricultural heartland by car, this town is the gateway to the Alentejo and the dramatic Costa Vicentina Natural Park.

Porto de Mos Beach certainly wins as one of the best beaches in Portugal when it comes to natural beauty. The golden sands, multicolored cliffs, caverns and rock formations are stunning against the turquoise sea. This gorgeous beach usually benefits from fresh sea breezes to keep temperatures pleasant.

If you want to combine your beach vacation in Portugal with a few city highlights, Playa do Guincho is just 30 minutes from Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. The golden sands are pounded by Atlantic breakers and the fresh seafood here is sensational! Nearby is the lighthouse and Cabo da Roca, Europe’s most westerly point which was once believed to be the end of the world!

Spain or Portugal? Which Beach Getaway is Right for You?

Whether you choose to explore the best beaches in Spain, or would prefer to catch some rays in coastal Portugal, a car rental will allow you to make the most of your visit exploring the surrounding area at your own pace. Visit Moorish palaces, tiny fishing villages and stunning national parks as part of your adventure. Of course, your car rental also makes airport transfers with your luggage very affordable and easy.

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From spacious van rentals in Portugal that are able to accommodate the entire family, to trendy sports cars in Spain and practically everything in between, Auto Europe has the vehicle that will best compliment your needs wherever you’ll be traveling. Reserving a car rental online is easy and can be done by using their secure booking engine – below.

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