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Tuscany-map

The rolling hills, luscious farmlands and historic towns of Tuscany are usually swarming with tourists and visitors come the peak summer months, so if you can plan a break to the popular Italian region in March for an early spring break then you’d be foolish not to! Generally quite mild in March, with fewer windows of sunshine and highs of 17 degrees, you won’t have much luck if you are hoping to top up your tan but visiting in this quieter month will save you from the increased tourist prices that are incurred at high season.

The most popular towns in this region are Florence, Pisa and Siena, and the main airport for the region is Pisa, less than hour from Florence by train. Easy to explore by car or bus, you’ll also have the opportunity to soak up the sights of the surrounding hillsides with their blooming wild flowers, traditional rustic houses and impressive Renaissance architecture.

What to bring

To ward off any cooler spells lightweight layers would be best and a raincoat just in case the heavens do open. English is spoken in most of the region’s main towns but you may find you struggle slightly in the smaller villages. If you can find the time to learn a few basic Italian phrases they will leave you in good stead for a travelling tour of the area. The best way to experience the beauty and character of the region is to travel by car and vehicle hire will require proof of travel insurance and your driving documents so be sure to pack these.

Stay at…

There are plenty of welcoming hotels and bed and breakfasts in the famous wine region of Chianti, which is ideally located between Florence and Siena making it a great base for visitors to explore the area. You’ll need to decide whether you want to find accommodation in a village or relax in the rustic charms of a countryside abode, but you can find equally remarkable hotels at very affordable rates in both.

Eat…

Favoured for its simplistic but delicious flavours, Tuscan cuisine is not fancy but strong and wholesome. Start off with traditional bruschetta and a main of Italian spring lamb if it is on the menu, or a bowl of traditional Tuscan Pici whole wheat pasta. Locally grown asparagus and fresh artichokes should also be readily available during this season and the popular Tuscan dish of baccalà – salt-dried cod softened in water and cooked with tomatoes and white wine – is sure to delight.

Explore…

Piazza del Campo, Siena
The main pubic space in Siena, the Piazza del Campo is one of the grandest and largest medieval squares in Europe. Once an open marketplace, the square is now a destination for visitors to come and witness the break taking architectural beauty of the buildings that circle it. The square also houses the monumental Fonte Gaia fountain, carved out of white marble in 1419 by famous Sienan sculptor Jacoppo della Quercia.

The Leaning Tower, Pisa
You couldn’t come to Tuscany and not pay a visit to the famous Leaning Tower. Built on soil too weak to withstand its weight, the tower first began to lean once only 3 of the 8 levels had been completed. A recovery attempt took place from 1990-2001 to further stabilise the structure from complete collapse. If you are planning to visit the tower also stop by the rest of the Campo dei Miracoli to admire the unique Italian design of the sacred building.

Villa Reale di Marlia, Lucca
Constructed in the 15th century, the sprawling gardens of this late-renaissance villa have a heavy baroque influence. Notable sights within the grounds include the beautiful Theatre of Water with its cascading fountains and mosaic decoration, and the ornamental Lemon Garden complete with reclining twin giant statues.

To help remember your Tuscan adventure why not record your travel route on your own personalised map to keep a log of where you’ve been!

For even more great travel and map related gifts visit Map Marketing.

backpacking-europe

Europe is a fantastic place to travel to on a budget and there are also plenty of upmarket hostels if you can’t quite bring yourself to stick to low-budget shared dormitory offerings. Below are our top 3 cities to visit for a cultured trip on a shoestring. All three are backpacker friendly, easy to navigate and have plenty of free attractions to visit, plus a good selection of traditional hostels, as well as some more usual ones if you’re feeling a little adventurous!

Berlin

A fascinating city to visit, especially if you have an interest in WWII, Berlin has a great choice of architectural and historical sites of interest. Even if you aren’t too into your history there are some great galleries to visit and free walking tours run each day from a meeting spot next to the Brandenburg Gate. There’s a busy nightlife scene too, with some amazing club locations including an old underground station! The metro is extremely efficient and easy to use and buses and trams also operate in the city making it a breeze to travel in.

Must see
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe –Visitors are free to wander through this haunting architectural memorial dedicated to victims of the holocaust, constructed from over 2,000 concrete slabs
Berliner Dom – The stunning domes of the Berlin Cathedral attract thousands of visitors every year. Even if you don’t want to look inside, the building itself is worth a visit
The Berlin Wall – You can’t visit Berlin and not seek out the remnants of the Berlin Wall. Dedicated tours can give you a full history, but you can just as easily locate the remaining sections on a map

Must eat
Currywurst is a local delicacy and a good option for a cheap evening meal. Pair the chopped sausage meat smothered in ketchup and curry powder with Sauerkraut for a delicious dinner on the go.

Prague

A favourite with stag parties, Prague is a real cultural gem not just a great drinking destination. The city is divided into two parts by the Vltava River – the cobbled hillside of the Old Town houses Prague Castle, whilst the other side has a great selection of shops and bars. You can choose to travel by tram or metro, but it is just as easy to get around on foot – just be wary of pickpockets when out and about. Prague is a particularly good place to visit in spring and summer when the surrounding landscape is sunny and beautifully green.

Must see
The view from Charles Bridge – the main bridge into Old Town, it provides a stunning view along the river and of the majestic rooftops of the old baroque buildings in the Old Town
The Petrin Tower – dubbed the mini Eiffel Tower, the Petrin Tower is at the top of the hill overlooking the Old Town. Catch the hillside Funicular to the top (a novelty in itself) to be rewarded with some breath-taking views of the city
The Astronomical Clock – a hit with tourists, the clock is built into the Prague Town Hall and puts on a charming mechanical display of the apostles each hour which regularly attracts crowds

Must eat
Try the traditional dish of goulash – a hearty stew flavoured with paprika and served with dumplings which is washed down particularly with one of the Czech Republic’s famed selection of beers.

Backpacking-budapest

Budapest

Budapest is a wonderfully varied city with a great array of attractions and very friendly locals, and its famed ‘ruin pubs’ – bars transformed from derelict buildings – have become a popular part of the city’s nightlife. The River Danube runs through the centre of this busy capital and trams are the easiest way to get around, but if the weather is good it’s just as pleasant to walk or cycle. The leafy Margaret Island, with its medieval ruins, also makes a peaceful afternoon get away from the bustle of the town.

Must see
The view from Castle Hill – This does require a fair bit of walking, but the view from the top is worth it and there are plenty of smaller viewpoints to stop at along the way
Stop by the Széchenyi Baths – Don your swimming gear and relax in the historic outdoor City Baths, a regular pastime with locals, and take in the grand surroundings of the largest bathhouse in Budapest
Walk the Fisherman’s Bastion – Partly destroyed during WWII, the now restored Bastion runs along the Buda bank and provides some amazing panoramic views across the Danube and Margaret Island

Must eat
Sample the Hungarian speciality of Dobos cake, a sweet but dry cake that is available in most bakeries and supermarkets. Also try the Apricot Palinka, a traditional Hungarian fruit brandy which makes a warming after dinner drink.

To help you reminisce on your backpacking adventures why not record your favourite European destinations with a personalised European Traveller Map from Map Marketing. It’s the perfect way to remember your favourite holidays!

Sochi mapSochi is the perfect destination for a February getaway to catch a first-hand glimpse of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Whilst the Russian resort town gears up to welcome the world’s finest winter athletes, traditionally Sochi benefits from a reasonably mild climate lasting most of the year, and is surrounded by the warm and welcoming waters of the Black Sea.

Nestled on the border between Russia and Georgia, Sochi requires a short flight from the UK to a main airport such as Moscow, before catching one of the multiple daily connection flights to the town. Sochi provides a beautiful backdrop to the games, with the Olympic Village based in the neighbouring port of Adler and certain events due to take place in the nearby ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana. Along with breath-taking architecture and the numerous events planned to celebrate the games, Sochi has plenty of historical buildings and scenic parks to visit including the popular Arboretum.

What to bring…

To gain entry to Sochi you’ll need to have a visa to enter Russia, which depends on your passport being valid for 6 months after your departure date. You’ll also need to bring with you a ‘Letter of Invitation’ from your hotel, accommodation or travel agent, and any tourists who will be attending the games will also need to purchase a ‘Spectator Pass’ online or upon arrival. This needs to be shown with your Olympic event tickets to gain entry into the venue. The temperature is usually quite moderate but you might want to pack an extra warm coat if you will be attending any events in the mountain cluster.

Stay at…

Most of the top hotels have already been booked in time for the games, but smaller 3 star hotels and B&Bs still have vacancies. If you are going to see the games then you’ll need to arrange separate transport from your hotel to Adler, which is around a 20 minute drive from Sochi.

Eat…

With the Georgian border nearby, cuisine in Sochi has a noticeable Georgian and Turkish influence. Traditional Russian potato salad needs to be sampled and is the perfect accompaniment to chicken or sausage courses. Pirozhki dumplings are also a regular on most menus, and are baked dough pockets filled with beef, mushrooms, rice and mashed potato. Wash your meal down with a warming glass of Sbiten, a delicious mulled honey drink that is just as tasty with a shot of vodka added in the evenings.

Explore…

Dendrary Botanical Garden
A popular destination for visitors and locals alike, Dendrary garden is a once-private collection of over 1,800 exotic species of trees and bushes representing almost every country in the world. Set across two sections, the hill side is decorated with classical Italianate park fountains and sculptures, whilst the lower side features a pond with swans and pelicans.

Agura Waterfalls
Not technically in the town, Agura waterfalls are still well worth a visit. Found amongst the vast forests that surround Sochi, a walk through the ancient Russian trees will bring you to the falls that drop from 30m along the hiking trail. It’s a great site to take in the panoramic views across the city and the Black Sea.

Winter Theatre
If you fancy watching a Russian style opera then this is the best place to find one. An un-missable building within the city, the venue can also be explored in the day when no concerts are playing, giving you the chance to wander around and take in the impressive scale of the building.

Once you’ve returned from your trip don’t forget to record your visit on a personalised travel map to keep a log of where you’ve been before you start to plan your next exciting adventure away! For even more great travel and map related gifts visit Map Marketing.