Treat yourself to a weekend in Paris with Avios

Paris in winter. The air is crisp as you stroll along the Seine, passing the Cathedral of Notre Dame glowing golden in the afternoon sun, before finding a cosy cafe for a Chocolat Chaud to people-watch for a while. Sounds good doesn’t it? If you fancy a winter weekend in Paris, check out this cool giveaway from Avios for a 3 night weekend break for 2 people. Even if you don’t win you can still enjoy that weekend away by earning Avios as you shop at all your favourite stores – read on to discover more.

A weekend in Paris with Avios

One of the highlights of our last winter visit to Paris was a walk around Marché d’Aligre in the 12th arrondissement. This neighbourhood is just far enough away from the tourist hotspots and has a multi-cultural feel – of course it’s wonderful for foodies. In fact you get three markets in one, since there’s a covered market where you’ll be drooling over the cheeses and admiring the beautifully presented fish and meat, as well as an outdoor fruit and veg market and a flea market where you can shop for vintage clothes and cute household finds. As you often find around markets, there are lots of lovely cafes and restaurants in the streets nearby, all supplied with the freshest of produce. Read about my visit to Marché d’Aligre here.

Cheese stall at covered market Marche d'Aligre, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cheese stall at covered market Marche d’Aligre, Paris

Not too far from Marché d’Aligre we enjoyed visiting the Victor Hugo house in Place des Vosges which is close to the fashionable Marais district. Although there are plenty of cute shops in the Marais, we found it a bit touristy, but when we reached Place des Vosges it was a much more local experience with everyone enjoying a bit of winter sunshine and children playing in the park at the centre of the square. The apartment where Victor Hugo lived is at No 6, Place des Vosges, to one side of the square, full of the paintings, furniture and artistic objects that he collected, giving a fascinating insight into the creator of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Read about my winter weekend in Paris here. 

Place des Vosges, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Place des Vosges, Paris

If you love to travel you’re probably aware of Avios – they were formerly British Airways Air Miles. You can build up Avios like a currency each time you fly with British Airways, Air Lingus, Flybe, Iberia and Kululu.com and use them to book flights or hotel stays. What you may not realise, however, is that you can also earn Avios by shopping online at over 1000 stores – probably the places that you are shopping at anyway. If you’re stocking up on food and wine at Tesco Direct, or buying gifts at John Lewis, House of Fraser, Selfridges, Currys and many more stores, you could be building up enough Avios for that weekend in Paris in the New Year.

Whether you’re buying extra provisions for Christmas parties or gifts for loved ones, it’s the perfect opportunity to build up your Avios, since many of the retailers offer extra points at this time of year. You’ll find lots of Christmas ideas on the Avios Christmas List website where they are also running a giveaway of a weekend for two in Paris.

Gifts from Avios

I had a look around the Avios e-store and found plenty of inspiration for my own Christmas shopping from my favourite high street stores. My parents have a lifetime’s worth of ornaments so these days we tend to buy them foodie treats like the gourmet hampers at M&S. (M&S have an offer of 8 Avios for £1 spent until 18 Dec). For my husband I’d shop at John Lewis to buy a cosy wool jumper that he can relax in while watching the rugby – this one from Gant would be great to wear with jeans at the weekend (John Lewis have an offer of 4 Avios for £1 spent until 18 Dec).

Christmas gifts from Avios

My daughter collects silver jewellery so I think this pretty necklace from Links of London would be perfect for her (Links offers 8 Avios for £1 spent) and my son loves his music, so these Sonos speakers at John Lewis would mean he can stream music from his phone for student parties.

I recently upgraded to the iPhone 7 Plus and wish I’d known that I could have bought it from Apple through the Avios eStore, as that purchase alone would have probably earned me enough Avios for my flight to Paris.

Win a trip to Paris with Avios

Now let me tell you about the three night trip to Paris that Avios are giving away on their Avios Christmas List website – you can enter here.

Avios Competition

Just head over to the Avios Christmas List site and enter by leaving your name, email, address, and telephone number for a chance to win this trip. The prize consists of two return economy flights (including taxes, fees and charges) and a 3 night’s accommodation in Paris for two people.

You’re eligible to enter the competition if you’re over 18 and resident in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland), Channel Islands or Isle of Man and the competition ends at midnight on 22 December 2016, after which the winner will be drawn at random.

If you’re lucky you may win a weekend break in Paris (enter here), but if not you could easily build up enough Avios to cover your flights, just by shopping online at your favourite High Street stores this Christmas (shop here).

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

More tips on what to see in Paris

On your weekend in Paris you’ll almost certainly end up at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, where there are always plenty of crowds gathering to see Paris’s number one tourist site. We preferred to walk through the less crowded garden of Jean XXIII behind the cathedral and then over the bridge to Ile Saint Louis. Along the main street of main road of rue Saint Louis-en-l’Ile there are plenty of charming independent shops, galleries and cafes.

Canal Saint Martin, Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Canal Saint Martin, Paris

In the Bastille neighbourhood, it’s fun to walk along Canal Saint Martin and take a look at all the house-boats moored there, a little like Regents Canal in London. Walk right to the end where the canal meets the river Seine and you can walk along the cobbled footpath by the river. There’s a good view down towards Notre Dame on Ile de la Cité and you can watch the boats go by before climbing up the steps and crossing over to the Rive Gauche at Pont Charles de Gaule. Read more about my winter weekend in Paris here.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

I hope you’ve enjoyed my tips for a winter break in Paris – don’t forget to use the Avios e-Store to shop for everything you need this Christmas, at your favourite high street stores, so that you can make your weekend in Paris a reality.

How to collect and spend Avios Points

Check out the Avios Christmas list site for a chance to win a weekend in Paris and lots of cool gift ideas

Check out the main Avios site for information on where you can collect Avios and where you can spend them.

Check out the Avios e-Store once you’re ready to shop at over 1000 online retailers and build up your Avios.

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Read about a weekend in Paris with Avios

This article is brought to you in partnership with Avios

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence

While the summer may be over, autumn can bring clear, sunny days in Italy. Just the time for me to nip off to Florence for a weekend break with Citalia, to get a quick fix of culture and good food. My challenge was to strike the right balance between seeing the sights (and there are plenty!) while taking the time to soak up the atmosphere and charm of this ancient city set in the heart of Tuscany. Read on to discover how I spent my 48 hours in Florence.

How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence

Arriving Friday lunchtime

Flying from London City Airport direct to Florence, I arrived at lunchtime to be whisked away by private taxi transfer, arranged through Citalia. Driving through the narrow streets, we arrived in 30 minutes at Hotel Balestri, where I was to stay for the next 2 nights. The hotel was well located by the river, close to all the historic sites – I always think that with limited time on a city-break you want to be a short stroll from the things you’ve come to see. From my window I had a fabulous view across the river to the Belvedere gardens and Piazzale Michelangelo on the hill and looking the other way to the well known arcades of the Ponte Vecchio.

View from Hotel Balestri in Florence

View from Hotel Balestri in Florence

After settling in, I relaxed in the hotel’s glamorous, mirror lined bar, treating myself to the local Florentine aperitivo of a Negroni. Mixed with red vermouth, campari and gin, it was certainly strong enough to get me into a good mood for the start of the weekend, and for something lighter there’s always the brightly coloured Aperol Spritz. Salute!

Negroni at Hotel Balestri Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Negroni at Hotel Balestri

Dinner at Mercado Centrale

On my first day in a new city I like to just meander to get the feel of the place, orientate myself to the main sites and go with the flow. At the recommendation of the Citalia Concierge, I planned to have dinner at the Mercato Centrale where there’s an upstairs food hall serving many different dishes in a lively, café atmosphere.

Let’s talk Tripe

Well that was the plan. But when I arrived at the Mercato I found that downstairs, where the produce stalls would normally be open in the day, a neighbourhood tripe festival was in full swing. Tables designed for communal eating were set up down the centre of the space, lit by silver candelabras, and decorated with posies of cabbages and flowers. Wooden fruit boxes served as impromptu trays, so that you could buy what you pleased from different stalls, then bring it to sit and eat with friends.

A number of trattorias had set up stall, each with a bubbling pan of tripe stew. With the plastic tokens I’d bought at the door, I tasted my way through different styles of stew, one with a rich, tomato sauce, another like an onion soup with white wine. Tripe is a Florentine speciality and although the white spongy lining of a cow’s stomach is not the most appetising prospect, it was defintely a lot tastier than I’d imagined.

Tripe in Mercado Centrale Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Tripe festival in Mercado Centrale Florence

Although quite full, I thought I’d just pop upstairs, only to discover a whole world of food on the first floor. The open, industrial style space had different food stands around the walls and tables set in the centre to eat with friends. I wandered around admiring the round balls of mozzarella with a creamy oozing centre, crusty sandwiches filled with brie and sundried tomatoes and the pizzas being freshly cooked in wood-fired ovens.

Upstairs in Mercado Centrale Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Upstairs in Mercado Centrale Florence

My head was turned by cabinets of cannoli filled with ricotta and pots of tiramisu. Fresh fish was laid on a bed of ice waiting to be cooked, while at the next stand the well matured beef, marbled with creamy fat and almost black with age, would soon be cooked as the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Sadly I had eaten too much tripe to enjoy anything more but I finished the evening at the vegetarian stand with some fresh pressed apple and kiwi juice with fresh ginger, before heading back to the hotel.

Dinner in the Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dinner in the Mercato Centrale in Florence

Saturday Morning at the Mercato Central

While I’d enjoyed all the cooked dishes upstairs in the market, I wanted to see some of the produce stalls on the ground floor, so headed back on Saturday morning when the market was in full swing. Although I didn’t need to buy any fresh fruit or veg, I enjoyed walking round the different parts of the market devoted to fresh meat and prosciutto, plump cheeses and a butcher’s stall just for tripe.

Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mercato Centrale in Florence

Coming up to lunchtime I noticed the Nerbone stall was surrounded by a throng of people all waiting to be served with their lunchtime trippa alla fiorentina, just like mama used to make.

Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mercato Centrale in Florence

Saturday afternoon – a walking tour of Florence

On Saturday afternoon I’d booked a walking tour of Florence through Citalia, who offer a range of pre-bookable tours and excursions to their guests. Our art-expert guide Carlotta gave us an excellent orientation of the main sites of the Centro Historica, explaining the birth of the Renaissance which emerged from the 14th century, bringing a new realism and use of perspective to art that had not been seen in medieval times. The whole of Florence seemed to be a calling card for the great artists of the age; Dante, Giotto, Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci, who flourished under the patronage of wealthy families like the Medici.

At the covered loggia known as the New Market or straw market, we stopped to meet Il Porcellino, the bronze statue of a wild boar. He’s a copy of the original marble version that was a gift from the Pope to the Medici family. This ‘little pig” is almost as well known as the David for visitors to Florence – put a small coin in his mouth and watch it fall through the grill below, then stroke his nose, and your dreams are sure to come true!

Porcellino in Florence

Stroking the nose of Porcellino in Florence

In the Piazza della Signorina

We continued to the Piazza della Signorina, where Cosimo I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany lived in the Palazzo Vecchio with his wife Elenora, until she sensibly moved with their eleven children to the Pitti Palace across the river. There’s a statue of Cosimo on horseback in the square but the imposing statue of Neptune in the fountain also has his likeness.

At the door of the Palazzo stands a copy of the David by Michelangelo which stood here until 1873, when it was moved to the Galleria dell’Academia and now lives under its glass dome. The loggia to one side forms an outdoor sculpture gallery and is part of the Uffizi – the roof forms the terrace for the museum’s cafe. The sculptures seem to display a Florentine taste for stories of struggle and violence – the twisting Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna and the bronze Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini triumphantly lifting up the gory severed head of Medusa.

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

Finishing our guided walk by the River Arno and the Ponte Veccio, we were well placed to continue with a tour of the Uffizi, the main art gallery of Florence with all the masterpieces of the Renaissance. Because the lines for the Uffizi often so long, it’s a good idea to either book a group tour like the one offered by Citalia, or to go online and book a timed ticket to enable you to skip the line.

If you are a real art lover, of course you’d need a whole day to do justice to the gallery, but a two hour tour is a good idea if you are just there for the weekend, as you will cover the most famous highlights. We enjoyed looking at the lovely goddesses in Botticelli’s Venus and Primavera and heard how Filippo Lippi’s enchanting Madonna with two angels was actually a portrait of the nun who became his lover and their children. Perhaps the violent depiction of Judith slaying Holofernes by Artemesia Gentileschi was the female artist’s revenge on the man who raped her as a girl?

Uffizi in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Uffizi in Florence

I enjoyed the views from the first floor windows of the Uffizi, looking in one direction towards the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo beyond, in the other towards the river Arno and the Ponte Vecchio. Behind an unmarked door in these galleries is the entrance to the Vasari corridor, a passageway that runs from here, across the Ponte Vecchio and ends at the Pitti Palace, providing an easy route for the Medicis to move from home to office.

Uffizi in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Uffizi in Florence

Saturday evening – window-shopping on Via Tornabuoni

By the time our Uffizi tour was over it was dark and I wanted to get a bit of fresh air and enjoy the streets of Florence at dusk, so I walked along Via Tornabuoni to do a bit of window shopping. This is where all the top stores like Prada, Pucci, Gucci and Tiffany are located and the street was looking very pretty with the Christmas lights strung between the buildings.

Shopping on Via Tornabuoni in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Shopping on Via Tornabuoni in Florence

Shoe heaven at the Ferragamo museum

At the end of the street, by Ponte Santa Trinita I spotted the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo and popped in as I had an hour or so to spare before dinner. I’ve always loved fashion and have memories of buying a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo shoes at a church sale, where clearly no-one but me realised the bargain I was getting. In the museum below the flagship store, the shoes of the 1930s and 40s were laid out, still looking so fresh and wearable that I would have loved to try them all on. Salvatore Ferragamo learned his trade in Italy, but emigrated to California in the 1920s where he made his name selling shoes to film stars and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, before returning to Florence.

Shoes at the Ferragamo Museum

Shoes at the Ferragamo Museum

In some of the inner rooms were other exhibitions of designs, posing the question of whether fashion crosses over into art. The stunning pieces from designers like Elsa Schiaparelli and Germana Marucelli answered a resounding yes and were a real treat for a lover of fashion like me.

Ferragamo museum in Florence

Ferragamo museum in Florence

Saturday evening – dinner in Oltrarno

By the time I’d spent an hour looking around Museo Salvatore Ferragarmo it was time for dinner. I crossed the bridge into the Oltrarno, the old working class area which is now a hip and trendy neighbourhood with artisan shops, bars and restaurants. The restaurant I was heading for was another recommendation of the Citalia Concierge, called Il Santo Bevitore, striking just the right balance between modern style and traditional Tuscan flavours.

Dinner in Florence

Dinner in Florence at Il Santo Bevitore

The teracotta tiles, white walls and simple wooden tables combined with crisp white table linen and interesting and flavoursome dishes that erred on the side of gourmet. I started with an excellent small plate of spinach ravioli with shrimps in a buttery sauce, followed by a marinaded carpaccio of beef scattered with sprigs of salad, capers and egg yolk. My desert brought together all the flavours of winter with a rosemary and raisin cake, topped by a sweet mulled wine ice cream surrounded by a pool of pear custard. I’d certainly recommend this restaurant for those wanting to try the best of Tuscan cuisine in an elegant but relaxed atmosphere.

A Sunday morning visit to the Academia

On Sunday morning I’d made an appointment to see one of the most popular characters in Florence’s artistic scene, a certain young shepherd boy named David. He lives in the Galeria dell’ Academia under a beautifully lit dome that was built just for him and thousands of people visit him each day to admire his physique from all angles. As I wanted to be sure of a visit I took the precaution of asking the concierge at Hotel Balestri to reserve a timed ticket, which can also be done online, and arrived as the museum was opening around 9.30am.

David in the Academia in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

David in the Academia in Florence

Michelangelo’s David was carved from a block of marble that had been lying for 40 years behind the cathedral, rejected by all the other sculptors when Michaelangelo asked permission to carve it. The piece was intended to sit on top of the cathedral but once complete it was considered too fine (and too heavy) so was given the prime spot outside the Palazzo Vecchio. The Florentines took the David as a symbol of city pride, as the smaller underdog overcoming its much larger and stronger enemies. From close up the head appears to be a little too large, but it was intended to be seen from far below, so the proportions were designed to make sense from a distance.

The Academia in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Academia in Florence

Unlike the Uffizi, the Academia is a much more manageable proposition and you can easily get around the main things in an hour. After admiring the David, most visitors take a look at the ‘Prisoners’ that line the hall leading to the David. These unfinished sculptures by Michaelangelo were intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II and were give this name as they seem struggling to be released from their blocks of marble. I also enjoyed looking at the plaster nymphs and maidens in the ground floor gallery, with rows of pretty girls in ringlets striking demure poses.

The star of Florence, the Duomo

By mid morning I was walking back from the Accademia along Via Ricasoli, the cathedral dome framed by the buildings at the end of the street. It was time to take another look at the star attraction of Florence, the Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. On Saturday’s walking tour, our guide Carlotta had walked us around the cathedral and given us many of the stories, but I wanted to take a closer look. I bought a €15 ticket from the office opposite the Baptistry entrance, which would get me into the Baptistry, Campanile, Museum and to climb the cathedral dome (the cathedral itself is free), including optional timed entry to enable you to skip the lines.

Duomo in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Duomo in Florence

My first stop was the gorgeous Baptistry, a hexagonal jewel box that sits in front of the cathedral. The patterns of white, pink and green marble on the exterior continued inside with small arched windows illuminating the magnificent gold mosaics on the roof depicting scenes of the Last Judgement. Outside, it was easy to find Ghilberti’s ‘Gates of Paradise’ by the crowds swirling around them. The bronze doors show Old Testament scenes in intricate relief, but are in fact copies of the gold covered originals, which now reside in the Museum at the end of the Cathedral.

The Baptistry in Florence

The Baptistry in Florence

The tickets to climb Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome had already sold out that day, but I’d already decided that my preference was to climb the 85 metre high Campanile, which would not only give me views over the old city but also a bird’s eye view the dome itself.

The Duomo in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Duomo in Florence

My timed ticket meant that I could skip the long line and start to climb the 415 steps to the top. Luckily there were three different stages to take a break and admire the view before I arrived at the very top, looking down onto the Dome.

View from the Campanile in Florence

View from the Campanile in Florence

After taking photographs from every angle I started the long climb down, which was pretty claustrophobic as I had to keep stopping to let a long stream of people pass on the narrow stairs. Still it was well worth it for the views.

The Dome of the Duomo in Florence

The Dome of the Duomo in Florence

After fuelling up with a quick slice of pizza and gelato from one of the numerous cafes along the main tourist drags, I decided to head across the river to explore the Oltrarno, where I had dined the night before. My walk took me across another of Florence’s must-see attractions, the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge with an arcade of jewellery shops that seem to hang precariously over the river.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ponte Vecchio in Florence

The shops were originally populated by butchers and leather tanners who had an easy way to get rid of their waste into the river, until in 1593 the Medicis decided that the smell was unbearable and ordered the shops to be let to goldsmiths instead. Above the shops is an enclosed passageway called the Vasari corridor which runs from the Pitti Palace on one side of the river to the Uffizi and Pallazo Vecchio on the other.

Ponte Veccio in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ponte Veccio in Florence

Sunday afternoon at the Pitti Palace

Just a little way up the road on the other side of the river I reached the Pitti Palace, the residence that was purchased by Eleanora de’Medici, wife of Cosimo I who decided that she wanted a home away from the bustle of the city with a large garden for her 11 children.

Heather at Pitti Palace in Florence

Heather at Pitti Palace in Florence

While I didn’t have time to look around the whole palace, I was keen to see the costume museum, since I love fashion and textiles. I very much enjoyed the exhibition which showcased the couture collections of notable Italian women – wealthy of course, but also patrons of a different kind of artistic achievement just as the Medicis had been in the past.

Costume Museum at the Pitti Palace Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Costume Museum at the Pitti Palace

The most startling part of the costume musum’s exhibits were the clothes of Eleanora de’Medici, her husband Cosima I and their son Don Garzia. Startling because these were the very clothes they had been buried in, which had been removed from the bodies when their tombs had been opened, pieced painstakingly together and put on display. While the doublet and tunic of Don Garzia was pretty much intact, Eleanora’s dress was just a jigsaw of delicate scraps, bordered by well preserved gold lace embroidery.

Boboli Gardens in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Boboli Gardens in Florence

My final hour was spent wandering around the Boboli gardens behind the palace, a tranquil contrast to the crowded streets on the other side of the river. Walking back through the parterres and formal gardens I came across a spot where the view of the Duomo was framed by olive trees, the roof tiles of Florence glowing in the evening sun. It was a lovely memory to lock away as I made my way back to Hotel Balestri ready to head home after my weekend in Florence. Have you visited Florence and if so, what was your perfect weekend?

View of Florence from the Boboli gardens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of Florence from the Boboli gardens

Where to stay in Florence

I can highly recommend the four star Hotel Balestri where I stayed in Florence, conveniently situated by the river, just 5 minutes from the Ponte Vecchio and 10 minutes from the Piazza della Signoria. My bedroom was spacious with clean, modern lines and plenty of wood and leather. The dark wood parquet floor, leather headboard and furniture had an art deco feel, with even the walls covered in a cream leather effect with decorative wood bands.

The wardrobe space was quite small, but fine for a weekend break and there were the usual amenities of a flat screen TV, small safe and kettle to make tea and coffee. The French windows opened wide to a lovely view of the river Arno and over the bed was a photo print of the coloured marble facade of the Duomo.

Hotel Balestri in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel Balestri in Florence

My luxurious bathroom was lined from floor to ceiling in light brown honed marble panels. Marble is used everywhere here in Florence, since the Tuscan quarries that Michelangelo used are not far away. The bathroom was modern with a large backlit mirror, plenty of shiny chrome fittings and shower set in the corner with water draining straight into the floor. The luxurious feel was completed with white monogrammed bath robes, billowing white shower curtains, and plenty of nice toiletries. I wafted around in my marble bathroom enjoying all the space and feeling very spoiled indeed.

Hotel Balestri bar in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel Balestri bar in Florence

Hotel Balestri does not have a restaurant, but that’s hardly an issue when there are so many excellent places to eat within an easy walk. There is a bar area that adjoins the reception and like the bedrooms, the style is modern with clean lines and a slightly art deco feel in the mirrored tables, marble floors and leopard-print stools.

Breakfast at Hotel Balestri Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Breakfast at Hotel Balestri Florence

Breakfast was served in a private area through mirrored doors beyond the bar. In a side room was set out an excellent spread of cold meats, cheeses, pastries, yoghurts and breakfast cereals, with some hot eggs and bacon as well.  I found the hotel staff were extremely helpful and friendly, and they were able to make timed entry bookings for the museums so that I didn’t need to stand in line. Hotel Balestri would be an ideal choice for those who want a well located, stylish and comfortable base for their weekend break in Florence.

How to book your perfect weekend break in Florence

My weekend in Florence was arranged through Citalia who are a leading specialist in Italian holidays, winning the title of ‘Best Tour Operator to the Italian Peninsula’ for seven years in a row. They have more than 85 years experience in putting together flexible itineraries to suit your needs, using Italy’s finest handpicked hotels. The Citalia team are expert and knowledgeable in all things Italian and even have local concierges in each destination for personal recommendations, advice and help with day trips, car hire, or restaurant bookings. For more information visit the Citalia Florence page

Citalia is offering a three nights for the price of two in Florence staying at the four star Hotel Balestri on a B&B basis from £363 per person – a saving of up to £ 226 per couple. The offer includes return international flights from London Heathrow with British Airways. Based on departures 28th January 2017.

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Read about a weekend in Florence

Thanks to Citalia who hosted Heather’s stay in Florence. This trip was part of a project between Citalia and Travelator Media.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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5 top things to do in Braga, Portugal

Braga is located in the North of Portugal and its history and charms won’t leave you unmoved. In this article our guest author and Braga expert, Julia Vilaça picks out five of the most iconic things to do in the city.

Bom Jesus, Braga Photo: Braga Cool

Bom Jesus, Braga

Visit Bom Jesus

Bom Jesus is one of the most versatile places in Braga. The view from the top is mesmerizing, the environment is calm, quiet, romantic and family-friendly and there are lots of things you can do besides visiting the impressive and beautiful church. There are gardens and grottos, a lake with rowing boats, a relaxed terrace and carriages to enable you to discover the area. For a unique experience, use the water powered elevator to reach the area where the church is located.

In Bom Jesus there are options for everyone. The Hotel do Parque is always a good choice to stay and if you like cocktails, you must go to Casa Velha, a bar that takes the art of creating these kinds of drinks very seriously, providing you with a unique experience in a rustic space.

Braga Cathedral Photo: Braga Cool

Braga Cathedral

Visit Braga’s Cathedral

This is the oldest church in the country and its first construction project began even before Portugal became a nation. It’s possible to observe the influences of various eras on its walls and predominately Baroque interior. This is a symbol of the city and it is a mark in the lives of the people who live in Braga, thanks to its beauty and historical importance. Next door, there are some small chapels and a museum where you can learn more about the Church, the Portuguese habits and history – one of the pieces you can see in the museum is the cross used during the first mass celebrated in Brazil when the Portuguese arrived there.

A Brasileira Coffee, Braga Photo: Braga Cool

A Brasileira Coffee, Braga

Take a cup of coffee in A Brasileira

A Brasileira is the most iconic place when it comes to coffee. After lunch, order the drip brewed coffee and experience the traditional flavor of coffee. This iconic coffee shop is located in the heart of the city, so afterwards you can take a walk around the city’s pedestrian area, discovering the streets of Braga, its most delicate gardens and historical buildings. Shop for souvenirs or for a special piece for your wardrobe – if you’re a fan of international luxury brands, stop by Antónia Lage and Boutique Janes where you’ll find the latest collections from Miu Miu, Prada, Chiara Ferragni, Moschino).

Biscaínhos Museum, Braga Photo: Braga Cool

Biscaínhos Museum, Braga

Visit the Biscaínhos Museum

The Biscaínhos Museum opened its doors in 1978 and currently takes us on a journey through the daily life of a noble family in their palace. Visit the gardens – the perfect setting to read a book or go for a romantic walk. Inside you’ll see the noble ballroom where the family used to hold their receptions and balls and a fantastic ceiling painted by Manuel Furtado. This is the perfect Museum to visit if you want to see how a noble family used to live.

Tibães Monastery, Braga Photo: Braga Cool

Tibães Monastery, Braga

Visit the Tibães Monastery

The Tibães Monastery is more than just a visit to an old monastery, it’s a visit to the past, a visit to the present, and a desire to return there in the future. It’s located a bit far from the center of Braga, but worth the visit. The gardens are an ode to Mother Nature, there’s even a lake lined with centenary trees and the Rococo style church will blow your mind, thanks to the 24K gold covering most of it. And you know what? This Monastery also includes a guest house, Hospedaria Convento de Tibaes, with nine bedrooms, a restaurant and a venue for special events. Perfect, right?

Julia headshotAuthor Bio: Thanks for this article to Julia Vilaça who writes at Braga Cool and is an avid collector of happy moments. Her dream is to help people discover the coolest places when they travel.

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This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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