On the Gourmet Trail. Spain: Paella

This delicious dish is from Spain and is the ideal meal for a night in with your friends and family.

 

Ingredients 

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 red pepper, chopped

125g (4¼ oz) fresh chorizo sausage, casing removed and diced

2 skinless, boneless chicken breast fillets, diced

350g (12 oz) uncooked Arborio rice

1.25 litres (2 pints) chicken stock

100ml (4 fl oz) white wine

1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves only

1 pinch saffron

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 squid, cleaned and diced

2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped

75g (3 oz) frozen garden peas

12 large prawns, peeled and deveined

500g (1 1/4 lb) mussels, cleaned and debearded

Generous handful chopped parsley

8 wedges lemon to garnish

 

Method

1. Heat olive oil in paella pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and pepper; cook and stir for a few minutes. Add chorizo, chicken and rice; cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 of the stock, wine, thyme leaves and saffron. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes; stir occasionally.

2. Taste the rice and check to see if it is cooked. If the rice is uncooked, stir in 1/3 of the remaining stock. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally. Stir in additional stock as necessary. Cook until rice is done.

3. Stir in squid, tomatoes and peas. Cook for 2 minutes. Arrange prawns and mussels on top. Cover with aluminium foil and leave for 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Remove the foil and sprinkle parsley over the top. Serve in paella pan garnished with lemon wedges.

41 Hours in Andalucía

On a recent work trip I was lucky enough to find myself in Andalucia…for just 41 hours! Having spent the last few days exploring the bustling resorts of Fuengirola, Marbella and Benalmadena, I was looking forward to a more relaxed pace as I headed east along the coast – luckily, I was not disappointed! Trading the glitz and glamour of Puerto Banus for the laid-back charm of Torrox Costa and Nerja, here are my favourite experiences:

Nerja_shutterstock_1020497014

Tapas in Torrox Costa

Home to a wide promenade lining the beautiful beach, Torrox Costa certainly has a relaxed vibe. Having found a wonderful little tapas bar, Entre Vientos, I enjoyed a delicious feast whilst admiring the stunning views.

Getting lost in Nerja

Although a popular tourist destination and therefore busier than its neighbour, Torrox Costa, I was surprised by how Nerja has managed to keep much of its authentic Spanish charm. The old town is a network of narrow streets and characterful buildings with a mix of shops selling perfumes, wines and clothing as well as souvenirs.

So much seafood!

With both Nerja and Torrox Costa having such superb costal locations, it’s no wonder I had so much seafood to choose from. From mussels to lobster, and everything in between, the world (or menu) is literally your oyster! Having settled on a delicious crab ravioli, I sat back with a glass of wine overlooking the sea.

IMG_0380

Balcon de Europa

A tree-lined promenade leading to a spectacular viewing point, the Balcon de Europa is certainly a popular spot for the novice photographer – or selfie taker! Grabbing a coffee from the nearby café, I settled in for an hour or so of people watching.

The stunning views

With the seaside location of both resorts, I was (of course) expecting some spectacular sea views, and true to form I was not disappointed! Driving along the coastal road between Nerja & Torrox Costa, I was surprised by how beautiful the scenery was. Heading up in the hills I was quick to choose my favourite villa, Cecilia Sol – a charming, traditional Spanish villa with superb views.

ceciliasol_2162_villa1e_w7

All too quickly my 41 hours in Andalucia came to an end and it was time to head back to the airport, one thing I am sure of is it won’t be long till I head back – hopefully for a longer stay next time!

Post written by Sammy, one of our Product Performance Analysts.

3 romantic destinations in Spain for a secluded getaway

If you’re planning a honeymoon, or even just an intimate getaway away with your other half, you’ll probably already know that there are plenty of romantic destinations in Spain. The real task at hand, though, is narrowing the list of potential locations down to just one.

Here’s three of the most alluring holiday spots around the country, all known for their viewpoints, culinary delights and beaches.

Nerja

The town of Nerja is on the east of the Costa del Sol and is renowned for its endearing beaches, many of which are ideal for water sports. Flanked by a dramatic mountain range and bordered by a rugged coastline of coves, caves and sandy beaches, the town is the perfect destination for adventurous couples partial to stunning scenery.

Highlights here include the Balcon de Europa, a raised pedestrian promenade looking out over the Mediterranean, and the 17th century Church of El Salvador. For many visitors, though, the Caves of Nerja are the real draw here. These ancient towering caverns contain prehistoric paintings and even play host to a music and dance festival in the summertime.

For a real romantic day out, spend a day hiking up to the top of El Ciel and lose yourself to the panoramic vistas, then return to Nerja for a candlelit dinner, served up from the patio of your fanciful holiday accommodation, and made up of fried fish and spicy prawns.

Moraira

You’ll find the gorgeous coastal town of Moraira towards the northern tip of Costa Blanca. Easily accessed from both Alicante and Valencia, it’s famous for its tranquil atmosphere, unspoilt scenery and Blue Flag beaches.

Spend some time here and make the most of historic sites such as Moraira Castle. Otherwise, enjoy a romantic horse ride at sundown or simply unwind on the sand. The cuisine here is well suited for evenings of amour, too. Paella in Moraira is exquisite, but other local delicacies include fideua (noodles and seafood) and gazpacho (a cold soup containing raw blended vegetables).

As for the beverages? Moraira is part of a region famed for its Moscatel grapes and white wine. Order a bottle or two and watch the sun set with your beloved.

Marbella

Marbella is made for couples who are looking to rest and relax in style. Situated on the Costa del Sol and around a 40-minute drive from Malaga Airport, people visit this coastal gem for its glitz and glamour. The cobbled streets and pretty squares make for a truly picturesque backdrop, but don’t be fooled – Marbella isn’t as sleepy as it looks! Spend a romantic break here touring designer shops, sampling Andalusian cuisine, taking wine-tasting tours, and, come nightfall, sipping cocktails under the moonlight.

Alternatively, pick up locally-sourced procured meat, a loaf of bread and whip up a packed lunch from your self-catered accommodation. Head out on a walk along Bounty Beach and enjoy it while letting the lapsing waves tickle your feet.

Staying in a holiday rental provides all the right ingredients for a memorable trip with your partner. Set the ball rolling for your next romantic adventure and take a look at Villa Plus offerings in Spain.

By Lara Scott. A former executive at a major hotel chain, Lara Scott is a freelance travel writer and journalist. She says her previous career gives her extra insight into both sides of the tourism industry.

Best Mediterranean places to visit for cycling holidays

There’s something idyllic about cycling along a clifftop track while the sea gently crashes beneath you. Apart from that and the whizz of your hubs, the world seems mysteriously quiet. It’s moments like this that make cycling holidays in the Mediterranean region so appealing.

Between Spain’s Costa del Sol and Cyprus’ eastern shores you’ll find some of the best Mediterranean places to visit for cycling holidays. Here are a few that any cyclist should tick off.

Spain – Costa del Sol

Like the name suggests, Spain’s Sun Coast largely makes for brightly-lit rides which, depending on when you visit, can get a little hot, so bring a hydration pack! One such Costa del Sol cycle starts from the small hillside town of Mijas.

Study a few maps then make for La Cala Golf Course, a popular spot for golfers that’s south of Mijas. The route entails a mixture of arid single-track and two-lane roads, suited to either hybrid bikes or cross-country models. Like all great bike rides, it’s a mixture of ups, for a challenge, and downs, which leave you with a little more time to enjoy the stunning Andalusian views. Once you get to the river near the golf course, stop for a picnic, made up from the kitchen of your self-catering holiday rental, then prepare to do it all again on your way back to Mijas.


Image by Antonio, used under CC License (CC by 2.0)

Spain – Costa Blanca

Many professional cycling teams use the Costa Blanca as a training hub in the winter. The smooth surfaces here appeal to road cyclists who thrive on gradual climbs, speedy descents and flat stretches.

One of the most renowned climbs in the region is known as the Coll de Rates. You can easily access it from nearby towns, like Javea and Calpe. From Coll de Rates, make your way to the village of Parcent, where the route starts off with a light incline until you reach the summit. Soak up the verdant views of the surrounding region then replenish with a refreshing drink and get ready for a leisurely cruise back down.


Image by Phillip Capper, used under CC License (CC by 2.0)

Greek islands – Crete

If you’re ever struggling to tackle a Greek hill, promise yourself a big platter of mezes when you finish your ride to spur you on. Other than the end-of-ride meal, however, Greek island cycling makes for unbeatable holiday memories on routes you’ll always remember, many of which are found on Crete. A lot of Cretan roads are large and quiet, too, resulting in a wholly tranquil experience when you’re speeding across the island.

While it’s perfectly easy to trundle along these roads at your own pace, a real test of endurance is to brave the near-90km journey from Chania through the inland hills to the stunning village of Kallikratis. From here you’ll be able to see much of the island’s enticing coastline. Make sure you bring a camera, then capture the moment with a panoramic shot which’ll always remind you of your Crete cycling holiday. If you don’t fancy doing it over again, though, get a holiday companion to drive over and take you back to your villa rental.


Image by Andy Montgomery, used under CC License (CC by 2.0)

Cyprus – Paphos

Cyprus serves cyclists a selection of island routes for many different preferences. The city of Paphos and the surrounding resorts of Coral Bay are home to road and off-road paths suited to everyone from the everyday commuter to the endurance junkie who craves another fix of kilometre-rich coastal roads.

For a real challenge, cycle into the Troodos mountain range from Paphos. The journey itself is roughly 65 kilometres and is mostly downhill, making for a highly enjoyable and breezy trip. It’s suited to both road and off-road cyclists – just make sure your trusty steed is fitted with a good set of brakes for when you need to stop!

Take the time to soak up gorgeous Cypriot views, like that of the Diarizos river, which you’ll encounter along the way. It’s the fourth largest river on the island, although every twist and turn makes for a serene spot for a sandwich and a bottle of water. Failing that, you can always dip your feet in the river to help cool off before hitting the road again!


Image by Tomasz Huczek, used under CC License (CC by 2.0)

Mediterranean destinations have all the right ingredients for a cycling holiday – sun, scenery and a fair whack of sandy strips where you can put your feet up after a long day of pedalling!

Thinking about bringing your beloved bicycle on your next getaway? Here’s how to go about taking it onto an aeroplane.

By Isabella Perkins, a freelance travel writer best known for writing about self-catering holidays. Her writing tends to have a family focus, and she is in the middle of writing a new travel guide due to be published next year.

Hidden gems of the Costa del Sol

The Costa del Sol remains one of Spain’s most popular destination for holiday makers. The glitz of Marbella and the wealth of tourist developments in Torremolinos and Benalmadena attract travellers in their millions. But there is more to this region than high-rise hotels and resorts.

Much of the hidden beauty is located off the beaten track and away from the coast. Those that travel a little further inland are sure to be rewarded with beautiful countryside and beguiling Spanish towns and villages. To help inspire you on your own holiday to this magical Mediterranean region, here are some of the Costa del Sol’s hidden gems.

Ronda

Visit beautiful Ronda on your Costa del Sol holiday
Image by the very honest man, used under Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Few towns can boast the amazing scenery of Ronda. Located atop the 100-metre deep El Tajo gorge, Ronda is an unforgettable place to visit. The views across the surrounding landscape are stunning, but walking across the Puente Nuevo bridge offers the most amazing views of the hills in the distance and the canyon below.  Beyond the incredible views and striking geography, the town is a quintessential Andalusian town with white washed buildings, narrow streets, and evidence of its long architectural history from the Romans and Moors to the present day.

Comares

Enjoy the view from Comares
Image by Bryan Ledgard, used under Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Most people make the trip to the Costa del Sol to see just that, the sunshine coast. But by taking a trip deeper inland there are some remarkable hidden gems to uncover. One such jewel is the beautiful hilltop town of Comares. Perched more than 703 metres above sea level, the town’s white washed buildings glitter in the sun and can be seen from miles away. But it’s the views from the town that make the trip worth it. The vistas across the Andalusian hills from the town’s many viewpoints are truly stunning.

El Torcal

Marvel at the otherworldly landscape of El Torcal
Image by Goya Fotografia, used under Creative Commons license (CC BY SA 2.0)

Nature lovers should take a trip to El Torcal Nature Reserve and take in the remarkable geology of the park. El Torcal has some of the most dramatic karst formations in the world and an intriguing history which stretches back seven thousand years to the time of the area’s original inhabitants. The fascinating flora and fauna of the park is sure to enrapture children and fascinate adults. Only 30 miles from Malaga, El Torcal should be on the list for any holiday to Andalucía.

Antequera

Often referred to as the “Florence of Andalucía”, Antequera is another gem in the region. Its moniker refers to the spires of the 30 different churches in the town. The town is rich in local heritage with historical sites dating back thousands of years. See this history for yourself with a trip to the megalithic burial mound at Dolmen de Menga.

Take a look at the different types of property offered by Villa Plus and take your first step to discovering Spain’s Sunshine Coast.

By Ciaran Brooks. A former history graduate, Ciaran Brooks’ love for old stories has led him around the world. A self-confessed adventurer, he fell into travel writing after his blog chronicling his year in Thailand was picked up by a national paper.