Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Discovering Peñíscola In The Castellón Province Of Spain

Castellón is an area of Spain which needs to be discovered, explored and enjoyed. With a mild climate in the Winter and gorgeous sunny days in the Summer, it's popular with Spanish tourists yet often overlooked by the British. 

Recently I was invited to explore the area on a press trip with the Castellón Tourist board and a group of amazing bloggers and influencers from Bristol. Our jam-packed itinerary gave a little taste of the wide and varied activities on offer in this region and included trips to Peñíscola, Morella and Benicàssim.  From castles to museums, beaches to boat trips, gourmet food, national parks and even a Game Of Thrones filming location thrown in for good measure we had a fantastic time in this underrated region of Spain. 

Our flight was with RyanAir from Bristol to Castellón (Valencia). This new route whisks you to Spain in just over two hours. Within an hour's drive of Valencia, it's an easy way to get to the area at a budget price and with flights from £40 return, it's a destination that is affordable to get to as well.


Our trip started in Peñíscola, a town north of Valencia, a short drive from Castellón airport. Mountain and sea surround this beautiful area, and with a population of 7000 inhabitants in Winter but 70,000 in Summer you can see that this is a popular Summer destination.

Our hotel was the Gran Hotel Peniscola. On the seafront between Peñíscola and Benicarlo this 4-star hotel with 437 rooms, a large with excellent sea views, a restaurant, cafe bar, indoor and outdoor pool with a wellness centre, and gymnasium. The hotel excels in its entertainment programme offering both a kids club with daily activities and nightly shows with live music. A great family hotel.
The rooms were lovely and there were welcome chocolates greeting us. A little treat like this made me feel special - I know I'm shallow but I will do (almost) anything for chocolate! 

Amazing view from the hotel room

The next morning a wonderful breakfast awaited us, with plenty of hot and cold options but although I would have loved to try out the wellness centre it was time to get out and explore!

A short journey by car took us to a marina where we boarded a charter boat from Anavegar to explore the Sierra de Irta Nature Park. 

Emma from Ladies What Travel, Jane from Practically Perfect Mums, Heather from Heather On Her Travels, me and Jenni from Travel To Recovery

This area of marine nature reserve and mountain areas were declared a protected area in 2002. The mountain area is great for hiking, cycling and bird watching and is largely undiscovered by mass tourism. 

The trip also gave us a great view of the medieval old town, but more of that later.

We stopped off at South Beach or Playa Sur as it's called in Spain and this beach was shallow, with crystal clear water and ideal for kids. 

Jane from Practically Perfect Mums and Emma from Ladies What Travel on Playa Sur beach

After a paddle, it was time for lunch in Restaurant Puertoma.

Restaurant Puertomar is directly on the sea front and sells the freshest of fish and seafood. Packed with locals you can tell this is the place to go in the area.

We were so spoilt here, as we were given a large selection of fish and seafood from the menu and it just kept coming, octopus, calamari, razor clams, prawns, mussels, all so delicious and served simply with a sq
ueeze of lemon and a splattering of olive oil.

After eating our fill we took our minibus back to the hotel for a quick shower and change and checked out of the hotel.

This afternoon we met with Catherine Dolz, a local tour guide to see the castle of Papa Luna also called Peñíscola castle. This castle fortress from the 14th century is in the centre of the old medieval town with winding narrow cobbled streets and an old world charm, think rustic dwellings, charming cafes, small shops selling local crafts and cosy bars lining the streets.

From the top, there were superb views, and you can see the main town beach with 5 miles of golden sand.

The walled fortress of Papa Luna's castle was built in 1294 on what was formerly an old Arab fortress by the Knights Templar.It underwent minor alterations under the rule of Benedict XIII, being transformed into a papal palace. It's an interesting place to explore with a number of rooms including a church and was a cool respite from the Spanish heat. There are a couple of multimedia presentations which are interesting too, considering the entrance fee is only 5 euros for adults, it is worth a visit if you are into history. 

It was also a filming location for the classic film El Cid and also series 6 of Game Of Thrones, where filming took place in October 2015. If you are a fan of the series I highly recommend you visit.

So after exploring the castle, it was time to move on to our next hotel and a different town, Morella. 

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Peñíscola is a town for culture lovers, beach lovers, nature lovers and history lovers. It's a place to discover the laid back Spanish life over a cold iced beer or a chilled glass of Sangria. It's a place that deserves to be explored and discovered. 

Watch out for my next blog post on our Castellón trip very soon where we discover Morella and check out the #InCastellon hashtag on Twitter, FB and IG to see what we got up to. Many thanks to the Castellón Tourist board for hosting my stay, if you found this post interesting check out the tourist board link for further information for what to do in the area.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A Four-step Guide To Becoming Engaged

Angelic Diamonds have offered four simple ways that you can get your partner thinking that it might be time to propose and go shopping for engagement rings.

Have you tried a dash of honesty?

You may be able to save yourself a lot of time and effort by just sitting down with your boyfriend and discussing where you imagine your relationship going. It needn’t be an awkward conversation; just discuss with your partner why you want to get married and he should soon start to understand just how much he means to you. Sometimes people have the same fears and doubts within a relationship, but they are just too afraid to address them with each other. By talking about your future together, he’ll know that you want to be a part of it. 

Can you increase your time spent with couples who are married?

It could well be that your other half may have become anxious or worried about the thought of getting married, and so has put off popping the question. Try to resolve this by hanging around with friends who are happily married, as well as family members who also have children. This will make him realise that you’re comfortable with him being around others in more serious relationships.

Yes, you will see both the highs and lows of married life as you increase the time you spend with couples who have already tied the knot, however, at the very least it should also get your boyfriend picturing a wonderful married life with you. Although men who have parents that are divorced sometimes struggle to trust this commitment, replacing negative feelings with positive ones in this type of environment may help to bring him around to your way of thinking.

Do you see yourself as your boyfriend’s go-to guy?

Never allow your relationship to get to the point where you and your partner have assigned specific roles as a couple. If it has already developed to this point, it’s time that you become your other half’s go-to guy as well as girlfriend instead. If you’re constantly being left behind for the guys, then this is going to put a strain on his ability to propose and take you seriously.

Being a go-to guy can involve something as simple as deciding to exercise together where it’s possible, as well as taking a vested interest in his hobbies and interests. If you can be part of his whole life, rather than just someone he spends time with, then he’ll feel like you’re indispensable. Once you get to this point in your relationship, then he’ll feel like proposing, as he can’t spend his time without you! 

Have you tried some tough love? 

Have the top three suggestions failed to deliver the results you were looking for? Then it may be time to be cruel to be kind. If you don’t see your relationship heading in the right direction, and things are flatlining, tell him you are considering moving out and mean it.

Alternatively, a gentler approach that still shows that you’re taking a stand is to start going out with friends more or changing careers without getting your boyfriend’s advice. Although he knows that you’re always there for him, this will make him feel that he isn’t being as included as he should be, and he’ll start to wonder why. Keeping him on his toes in this way will make him realise that he needs to put the effort in (by proposing!) so that he can get your undivided effort and attention in the future.

*guest post

Monday, 17 July 2017

8 Reasons Why You Should Visit Hamburg

Hamburg is a city that may not be at the top of most people's places to see but it's a city that really deserves a visit and here I will tell you why. When we visited recently we were pleasantly surprised at what a vibrant and intriguing city Hamburg is, and we would love to go back. 

Here are my 8 reasons why you should visit Hamburg. 

1. It's a short flight from the UK

Having only a short flight time from the UK you can get to Hamburg in little over an hour flight, making it a perfect destination for a weekend break.

2. Most people speak English

Although German is the main language widely spoken, most people speak English too so if you don't know German you shouldn't have a problem making yourself understood.

3. It has amazing architecture

The Rathaus town hall

Being a big fan of architecture I was smitten with this city. The Rathaus is beautiful, the warehouse district, Speicherstadt has lovely red brick buildings and there are some gorgeous churches.

4. It has a large but fabulous port area

A boat in the port

Join a boat trip to get a real flavour of Hamburg, the second busiest port in Europe. A real working port you can see everything from large cargo being transported to luxury yachts being refurbished.

5. It has an eclectic mix of museums

Hamburg has an eclectic mix of museums. The Maritime Museum is really worth a visit if you want to find out about the history of boats, whilst the Chocoversum guided tour lets you discover the history of chocolate, and you can make your own chocolate bar. The real stand out museum though is the Minatur Wunderland, the largest model railway in the world having over 6 miles of track!

6. Music is at its heart

The Elbphilharmonie concert hall

With over 100 music venues and clubs and the newly built Elbphilharmonie concert hall, Hamburg is a city with music at its heart. In the Summer there are many live concerts in the beautiful parks.

7. The shopping is fabulous

From high street shops to independent quirky stores Hamburg will satisfy even the ardent shopaholic. The Neuer Wall Boulevard has designer stores like Gucci whilst the Sunday morning Fishmarket is interesting to browse and has great bargains to be had with flowers, fruit and locally caught fish - but get up early! On Saturday night St Pauli has a flea market so pop along for a vintage bargain. 

8. It has interesting nightlife

View of the city from Clouds cocktail bar and restaurant

From the dubious delights of the Reeperbahn, Hamburg's answer to the Red Light District in Amsterdam, to great cocktail bars at 20 Up and Clouds, to a wide mix of nightclubs and pubs, Hamburg has something for everyone.

My husband and I were guests of the Come To Hamburg scheme, read more about our long weekend in Hamburg and what we thought of the Heikhotel Hamburg here. We also covered Hamburg on our travel blog Fly Drive Explore where we wrote about 48 hours in Hamburg Germany and a tour of Hamburg harbour  #ComeToHamburg.

Friday, 14 July 2017

The Ultimate Guide To Universal Studios Orlando For Adults

Universal Studios Orlando is a great theme park, I've visited on 6 occasions over the last few years, my last trip being only last week.  Here is my guide on what to see, what to do, where to stay and those little insiders tips on how to get the most out of your visit especially if you are travelling with adults.


Firstly download the Universal App, this will give you wait times while you are in the park, show you the shows, and give you dining options. Wi-fi is free in the park for Universal guests. 

To get the most out of your trip get to the park early, before park opening. This will give you the chance to get a map, plan where you are going and be ready to hot foot it over to the most popular rides first. The map shows you the plan of both parks - Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, the times of the live shows, and the character meet and greets. Download the map here.

Insider tip - they often open the gates 15 minutes early.

Consider staying in a Universal Hotel

If you are staying at a Universal hotel you can get into the Universal parks an hour early before general admission, and some of these hotels have free express passes too, so it can certainly be worth booking one, especially in high season. 

We have stayed at a few of the Universal hotels. The Hard Rock hotel is great as it has a lovely pool area with underwater music and is the closest to Universal Studios but is pricey whilst Cabana Bay is a fabulous retro themed hotel which is much cheaper but further away yet has regular bus services to City Walk and is a very short walk to Volcano Bay.  Cabana Bay has no express passes whilst Hard Rock Hotel does. Check out this guide to the various Universal Studios hotels and the benefits of staying at each.

Express passes

Some Universal hotels give you express passes and this is a great perk. If you stay one night you can get express passes for the day you arrive AND the day you leave. The hotels that currently offer this are Lowes Portofino Bay, The Hard Rock Hotel and Lowes Royal Pacific hotel. If you are staying in the high season especially, Christmas, Easter, 4th July, late July and August consider staying at one of these hotels, it could save you a lot of time in the park.

A small number of rides do not take express passes, mainly Harry Potter and Escape from Gringotts,  the Hogwarts Express and Kang and Kodos Twirl and Hurl.

You can buy express passes if you don't have them included in your hotel stay and this could be an option in high season to skip the lines. There are different types of express passes and the prices vary at different times of the year so be sure to research this and weigh up if its worth it before you go. 

Early entry and normal entry

The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter

If you have early entry to the parks by staying in a Universal hotel then you will get into the park an hour or so earlier.  Not all the rides are open and it's mainly the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter (WWOHP) which is. Get to the Escape To Gringotts ride first. 

The next ride whether you have early entry or normal entry should be the Despicable Me Minions ride. This ride opens around or just before official park opening usually 9 AM.  As it's at the front of the park, family friendly and slow loading, the queues can be long. If you have an Express Pass use it now. 

1. Escape to Gringotts

Escape To Gringotts is a 3D motion ride which is great fun. You must be 42 inches to ride and you must stow loose articles in the free lockers available. You have two options to ride here - normal queue and single rider. The normal queue is fun as you go through the Gringotts bank and pre-show.

Insider tip - if you just want to ride as soon as possible do the single rider queue. If travelling with other people they only split you up at the end.

Then spend time looking around Diagon Alley and the WHHOHP.  If you are keen to do the big rides first though you can always come back later.

There is so much to do here and explore. Knockturn Alley is worth seeking out, it's a bit creepy but fun, a dark back lane which is air conditioned to give a respite from the heat. Seek out the shop of the dark arts. 

Harry Potter fans will love Olivander's wand shop where the wand chooses its owner! Once you have bought a wand you can use it throughout the land to make things happen in stores and other secret locations throughout the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter.

Just outside the entrance to TWWOHP is the Knight's Bus with the shrunken head that talks so keep a watch out for it.

2. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride is a motion simulator, you sit down and the seats move. If you are prone to motion sickness even though the ride doesn't move much it could still affect you. It's a fun ride for all the family.

Insider tip - If you are prone to motion sickness take a travel tablet prior to going on the rides. If you forget to bring them from the UK, Dramamine is widely available in the US.

3. Transformers The Ride 

Transformers The Ride is the next ride I would do. This 3D motion simulator with a height restriction of 40 inches, is a must do. The ride particularly appeals to Transformers fans (often boys). It's loud, brash and great fun.

If the queue is long, use your express pass or do single rider. We have done single rider on this ride and again you are together until the very end where you will be split up to ride. This cut down the queue from 50 minutes to 5 minutes!

4. Character meet and greet Transformers

Here you get the chance to meet a transformer, such as Optimus Prime, Bumblebee or Megatron with some great character interaction. Check the times on your park guide.

5. Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket

Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket is a rollercoaster with a big initial drop. For those that are brave do this now. It has a single rider queue and express passes are excepted. Single rider queue here goes slow so bear that in mind. Height restriction is 51 inches to ride.

Everything and I mean everything must be stowed in the free lockers available. Mr W lost his sunglasses on this ride last year! One of the fun things is that you get to choose your music for the ride from a selection. 

Insider Tip: They also have secret music available which not many people know.

6. Shrek 4-D 

Shrek 4D is a great family friendly ride but can be skipped if there are huge queues which can be often. Express passes can be used. The one in Universal Studios Hollywood is being replaced with a Kung Fu Panda ride so this may be the fate of the ride in Florida so if you like Shrek catch it while you can.

7. Revenge Of The Mummy

This headliner ride is a must do. A rollercoaster that's a bit creepy, it's indoors and has some fun special effects. Height restriction is 48 inches and you can also use Express pass here. Free lockers must be used to store possessions before you ride.  

Insider Tip - Last year we saw a character from The Mummy on stilts outside! 

8. The Blues Brothers 

The Blue Brothers show is on the street close to The Mummy ride. It's fun to watch for a while but can be missed if you want to.

9. Men In Black Alien Attack

The Men In Black is a shoot em up ride which is fun for all the family. You can do single rider here but if you are with a group I wouldn't do this as part of the fun is seeing how well you can do together to beat an opposing car. Free lockers are available for all your belongings.

Insider Tip: Keep your finger down on the red button when you hear the character Zed say 'press the red button'  to give your team a bonus.

10. The Simpsons

The Simpsons ride is a fun motion simulator ride. This is one ride that can make you feel ill if you are sensitive to motion sickness so be aware. Full of in-jokes, Simpsons fans will love this ride. The queue is generally not that long but if it is, use an Express Pass if you have one. Height restriction is 40 inches.

11. Terminator 2 3D

This indoor show with 3D Science Fiction effects with actors is great for fans of the films and sci-fi lovers everywhere. One show my son loves, it is showing it's age a little but is great to sit down in the cool air conditioned theatre.

12. The Horror Make-Up Show

We are big fans of the horror make-up show with is a comedy horror experience, going behind the scenes of horror movies such as American Werewolf in London, and The Mummy. They show is kept up-to-date so most years there is something new to see. This year they spent time talking about the new Mummy movie. Although it is light hearted if you are of a nervous disposition this show isn't for you as clips of horror films from the 1930s to the modern age are shown.

Insider Tip: There are some cool horror movie props in the room before the show 

13. E.T.

Although the E.T. ride is aimed at little ones I think all adults need to do it at least once. It's also air conditioned so gives you some relief from the heat. A neat trick is they ask your name as you go in and at the end of the ride E.T. says goodbye to you.

14. Hogwarts Express

If you have park-to-park tickets that include Islands Of Adventure, a fun way to leave Universal Studios is to go on the Hogwarts Express. You can also ride it the other way. On board you passengers will see some of the English countryside and the characters featured in the film. Unfortunately, if you only have a ticket to Universal Studios you cannot ride. 

So these are the main rides for adults in Universal Studios. It doesn't cover everything as the park is so big you could easily spend two days there especially if you are a Harry Potter fan. Other experiences you could do include the Fear Factor show, and Animal Actors on location and for little ones Woody Woodpecker Kids zone is fun. The Cinematic Spectacular show is on park closing, and shows over 100 years of movie magic, including synchronised fountains and amazing pyrotechnics and a stirring musical score.

Where to eat

red velvet milkshake at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium

There are a number of places to eat in the park, and one of the best is The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade a themed restaurant serving breakfast and lunch. Finnegans is also another decent restaurant near The Mummy ride. Often we prefer to leave the park and eat in Citywalk. The Hard Rock Cafe, The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Bubba Gump's Shrimp Shack are favourites of ours in Citywalk.

the original legendary burger at the Hard Rock Cafe

Other cool things

  • Check out the Williams of Hollywood shop for Universal Studios and film props.
  • Get a massive doughnut at Lard Lad doughnuts.
  • Call the Ministry of Magic at the red phone booth in front of Kings Cross Station.
  • Talk to the Goblin at the Gringotts Money Exchange and exchange your US dollars for Gringotts money to use in Diagon Alley and selected outlets in the park.
  • Visit in September or October for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal. Horror themed houses and scare zones make HHN not to be missed.
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If you want to read more about Orlando check out my Orlando Money Saving Tips and my top 5 attractions on International Drive on the travel blog I write with my husband Fly Drive Explore.

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