The 25Hours Hotel in Florence, Italy, forces guests to spend a night in Heaven or Hell

A new opening by 25hours Hotels in Florence, Italy is anything but cookie cutter — giving guests the chance to stay in Heaven or Hell.

Inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, rooms at 25hours Hotel Piazza San Paolino are divided into two styles: Inferno and Paradiso. Milan-based designer Paola Navone created the red Inferno rooms with velvet curtains and black bed linen.

The Paradiso spaces are meant to be cloud-white retreats with ethereal blue accents.

The stylish 171 room property features a classic Negroni bar, a sauna with relaxation room, a gym, a seasonal Italian restaurant focusing on Tuscan cuisine, a typical alimentari – a grocery store for the neighbourhood, and a lively piazza that serves a small selection of food and drinks to suit the time of day.

The hotel, which represents the brand’s first property in Italy, is in close proximity to Ponte Vecchio, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the main train station. Whether you opt for heaven or hell, the character of 25hours Hotel Piazza San Paolino makes for a memorable and highly photogenic place to spend the night.

To learn more about the 25hours Hotel San Paolino, click here.

Croatia..beautiful surprises are waiting for you

In Croatia, almost anywhere the land meets the water, rough steps carved from pure white limestone jut into the teal waters of the Adriatic Sea. The country’s impressive coastline is among the largest in the Mediterranean and has quickly gained recognition as one of Europe’s most beautiful.

Here, white sand beaches and towering palms are scarce. Instead, in July and August, when the heat from the sun is at its strongest, locals young and old can be found sprawled out on the nearest rock ledge that hangs over the sea, the rays turning their skin to a deeper shade of burnt bronze, while fishermen set up their boats and inspect their nets in preparation for a day on the water.

In 2011, 8.5 million international tourists trickled into Croatia. That year was also the same year that the first episode of what would eventually be one of HBO’s most popular television shows, Game of Thrones, aired with scenes filmed throughout the old town of the medieval city of Dubrovnik.

Now, a decade later, Croatia’s tourism numbers have more than doubled. Dubrovnik, though enchanting with its symmetrical orange clay roofs and ancient stone walls should by no means be the only city on your itinerary. As one of the five main airports in the country (Zagreb, Pula, Split, and Zadar being the others), Dubrovnik serves as the perfect jumping point for an extended Croatian holiday.

With its colourful coastal towns, balmy weather, and reputable culinary scene, Croatia is a country that can easily be explored from top to bottom.

Story & photos by CHRISTINE HOGG

HVAR

With more than 1,000 combined islands, reefs, and islets, Croatia’s archipelago is the largest in the Adriatic Sea, and the country has the second largest number of islands in the Mediterranean, second only to Greece.

The majority are inhabited, though some are home to only dense pine forests, wild boar, wolves, and bears, and secret beaches, whose crystalline waters can still be reached by boat for an exciting day trip.

Perhaps one of Croatia’s best islands, Hvar, is to Croatia what Ibiza is to Spain. Easily reached by ferry from Dubrovnik two times per day during the high season, Hvar is a destination that’s steeped in rich nightlife, making it an ideal spot to escape the larger crowds of Croatia’s landlocked regions, while still enjoying the social comforts a city can bring.

Hvar island is also home to the town of Hvar (not to be confused with the island itself ), which dates back to the 13th century. It’s the biggest settlement on the island, and where the majority of restaurants, bars, and shops are located. Hvar acts as an open-air museum to the past, with many well-preserved sites, like the Stari Grad Plains, an agricultural landscape that were constructed in the fourth century by the ancient Greeks.

One of the best ways to take in the entire island, including Stari Grad (just 25 minutes outside of Hvar town) is by renting a gaspowered scooter or a quad for the day.

From mid-June to mid-July, the island of Hvar is bathed in a sea of blooming, violet-coloured lavender fields, with the majority of the fields being on the stretch of road that connects Stari Grad back to Hvar town. When lavender is in season, the fragrant floral also makes its way onto the gelato menus all over the island, where a popular flavour combo is one scoop of lemon, and one scoop of lavender.

SPLIT

Head back to mainland Croatia for a brief visit by taking the ferry from Hvar to Split.

Arriving by water, Split’s picturesque skyline which features the towering white Cathedral of Saint Dominus, constructed in 305 AD, is the first glimpse visitors will have into the city’s thrilling past.

Split is Croatia’s second largest city and one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, thanks to its easy link to the surrounding Adriatic islands. It’s a city whose history is as beautiful as it is complex, and in the heart of it all lies a nearly 2,000-year-old compound built for a former emperor, known as Diocletian’s Palace. Its immaculately preserved grounds form a protective rectangle around the historic city of Split, with hundreds of shops, bakeries,
and restaurants found on the grounds.

Visitors to the palace are greeted by a 3,000 year-old Egyptian sphinx made from black African granite, which is said to have been dragged all the way from Egypt to Croatia under orders from the emperor himself.

Don’t miss the massive underground market inside of Diocletian’s Palace where tourists can purchase anything from genuine coral jewellery to stuffed lavender pillows and silk ties.

ZADAR

Continue heading north along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast to the city of Zadar, unmistakable for its dazzling white limestone streets and lively waterfront. In the evenings, listen along to the strums of soft guitar music and sing along to traditional Croatian songs that eventually lead to dancing in the streets.

The city of Zadar has a striking promenade with major fashion labels and an overwhelming restaurant scene that extends well beyond North America’s traditional palette.

A country that’s famous for its creative expression, whether through the visual arts, theatre, or, perhaps most importantly, music. Zadar is also home to several modern art installations, including the Sea Organ (2005), an experimental architectural instrument that uses the waves of the Adriatic Sea to produce randomized chords of music, which occur when the water flows into a series of pipes and a cavity constructed below a set of concrete steps, and the Greeting to the Sun (2008), a large circle made up of 300 glass solar panels. In the evening, the panels emit coloured lights, and the art installation transforms into a dance floor.

PULA

At one of Croatia’s northernmost points, and directly across The Adriatic Sea from Venice, Italy, lies one of Croatia’s best-kept gastronomical secrets —Pula.

Most easily reached by plane from Zadar aboard the regional carrier, Croatian Airlines, Pula is Croatia’s eighth largest city, located in the Istrian Peninsula. Much of its tourism stems from its impeccable food and wine offerings, which are much different than the cities further to the south.

The Istrian region gained even more recognition in 2012, when the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain traversed through Croatia to film an episode for his series, “No Reservations”. During the episode, Bourdain hunted for rare white and black truffles that nowadays can fetch upwards of 2,500 euro for even the smallest mushroom. 

While the restaurants found along the Dalmatian coast all serve the freshest catch of the day and a series of traditional pastas, including frutti di mare (grilled squid, clams, and shrimp done in white wine garlic or tomato sauce), in Pula, the diet becomes largely influenced by the proximity of Croatia’s next door neighbour, Italy.

Here, the wine flows as freely as the olive oil, which is poured on everything from woodfired pizza crusts to hearty traditional stews and soups. Homemade olives make their way onto charcuterie boards and meat dishes are featured more prominently on the menus.

Croatia is home to more than 300 geographically-designated wine regions, with a history of winemaking that dates back 2,500 years when the Ancient Greeks inhabited the area and planted the first grapes. Istria’s rich, red soils and sub-Mediterranean climate enables the wines made here to be flavourful and full-bodied. Food and wine tourism continues to dominate the Istrian Peninsula, and many culinary tours are available for booking.

Eat Istria, led by Istrian-born Goran Zgrablić, is one such company that offers both private cooking classes and organized wine tours. Guests can try their hand at rolling out traditional Croatian pasta (fuži), or chopping vegetables and preparing meat to make a traditional žgvacet or brodet goulash.

Not to be missed in the quiet city of Pula is the Pula Arena. Constructed between 27 BC and 68 AD, this Roman amphitheatre is one of the world’s largest six surviving arenas, and the only one of its kind to have all four walls preserved. Purchasing a ticket grants entry to the ancient seating area, where gladiators and beasts once faced off for royal entertainment, as well as a museum located beneath the arena where ancient artifacts can be viewed.

With their endless historic archaeological sites, modern attractions, breathtaking beaches, and culinary delights, these four regions are among Croatia’s most popular tourist destinations, and all provide yearround entertainment, whether visitors come in the high season or the low season.

Visit offshoretravelmagazine.com for more Croatia and updated information on travel arrangements.

Europe’s most beloved Christmas markets

Christmas markets in Europe are a sensory experience. From picking up and touching artisanal products, to sifting through a heavenly assortment of homemade baked goodies; to graciously sampling chocolate or cheese, there is so much to see and do. Some of the world’s most beloved Christmas markets in years prior, after a two-year hiatus, have returned, back with measures to ensure that your experience is as safe as it is memorable.
Safety protocols in place, combined with high vaccination rates and low case counts, has earned several countries a spot on the list of Europe’s safest Christmas markets. While Germany, France, and Austria have world-famous set-ups, this year, Eastern Europe continues to enchant.

Story by Christine Hogg

Tallinn, Estonia Christmas Market lit up at dusk

Estonia’s capital city is home to an annual Christmas market that takes place from Nov. 19 to Jan. 2, 2022 at the Town Hall Square, in the centre of Tallinn Old Town. Every year since 1441, a towering Christmas tree is set up in the middle of the market and decorated in a display of dazzling lights. This year, the festivities will extend throughout the city’s Old Town. Estonia is currently open to fully vaccinated travellers with zero restrictions in place, which means this year’s Christmas market will be in full swing, with local artisans selling everything from traditional Estonian cuisine to hand-painted ornaments.

Many of the various products and goods found in Talllinn’s Christmas market can’t be found anywhere else throughout the year, including fur coats and hand-carved wooden ornaments.
(visitestonia.com/en/tallinn-christmas-market)

The Gdańsk Christmas Fair runs from Nov. 23, 2021 to Jan. 1, 2022 in Targ Węglowy, which is a square in the city centre. Don’t miss the beautiful Christmas tree next to Neptune’s Fountain at Long Market (Długi Targ), or the ferris wheel on Granary Island (Wyspa Spichrzów)., which, despite sounding like a remote spot, can be reached in five minutes by car from Gdansk’s main square. During the Christmas fair, four street names have been cleverly changed to Chocolate, Cinnamon, Angel or Christmas Eve Street. For the very first time, a five-metre-tall gate that’s decorated with Gdańsk’s largest advent calendar will open a new window every day to mark the Christmas countdown.

Santa himself will be at the fair starting Dec. 6, handing out sweets to children. Since the market is located right in the old town, there are also plenty of side streets to wander down to do some last-minute Christmas shopping at the many inviting boutiques.
(poland.travel/en/travel-inspirations/the-annual-gdansk-christmas-market)

Taking place this holiday season from Nov. 25 to Dec. 23, 2021, Basel’s Christmas market can be found in the centre of the Old Town in the cozy squares of Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz. With two Christmas markets on offer, visitors can expect no shortage of ways to get into the holiday spirit. At the Barfüsserplatz, market stalls with white roofs offer an assortment of handmade ornaments, gifts, and treats, including famous Swiss fondues and milk chocolates. The Christmas market at Münsterplatz is set at the base of the breathtaking Basel Minster cathedral, done in Romanesque and Gothic architecture, and dating back to the year 1019. At Christmastime, more than 180 vendors are on site, and food plays a major role, with all kinds of delicacies, sweet and savoury, available for purchase to eat on site or to take home, including the famous Swiss raclette and sizzling grilled sausages. This year, there’s plenty to see and do. Guests can enter St. Martin’s tower from Dec. 2 to Dec. 20 to take in the sea of tinkling lights across the square. The Basel Wish Book has also returned for another year, and allows visitors from around the world to write a special note to Santa Claus, or send well wishes out into the world.
(basel.com/en/events/christmas/christmas-market)

Considered the oldest Christmas market in Germany, and the oldest authentic Christmas market in the world, the Dresden Christmas market (also called the Striezelmarkt) began as a one-day event back in 1434. Now in its 587th year, the Dresden Christmas market takes place this year from Nov. 26 to Dec. 24. and is one of the best Christmas markets suited for children and families, thanks to attractions like a puppet theatre, merry-goround, and a children’s railway in recent years. A stretch of the market on the Prager Straße, known as Winterlights of Dresden, features a 15-metres high Christmas tree as well as a series of dazzling light displays. Meanwhile, the Christmas market at the Frauenkirche, one of the city’s most historical churches, includes an eight-metre tall climbable pyramid that’s covered in handcarved wooden figurines, and a series of traditional products for sale by local craftsmen.
(dresden.de/en/tourism/attractions/events/christmas-season/dresden-christmas-markets.php)

Vienna

Vienna, Austria

Whether it’s the smell of roasting chestnuts or the draw of the countless markets selling artisanal products that lures you in, Vienna is a must-see destination around the holidays. The city’s Christmas markets date back to medieval times, when in 1296, permission to host Vienna’s first-ever Christmas market was granted by the Duke of Austria, Albrecht I. Just like the age-old carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Vienna has a total of 12 Christmas markets and pop-ups taking place throughout the city. Not to be missed are the Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace (Nov. 19 – Dec. 26) and the Christmas Market at Schönbrunn Palace (Nov. 20, 2021 – Jan. 2, 2022). Both markets have enchanting backdrops that show off some of the city’s most famous Baroque-style architecture, and serve an assortment of tasty Austrian treats, like freshly-baked gingerbread, sugar pancakes with raisins, and mulled wine.
(austria.info/en/things-to-do/skiing-and-winter/christmasmarkets/vienna)


Zagreb, Croatia

Over the years, Croatia has emerged as a leading Eastern European travel destination, thanks to its stunning beaches, impressive culinary scene, and overall affordability. Advent Zagreb is the capital city’s take on a Christmas market. While dates are still being finalized, the Market normally begins on the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent and runs through the first week of January. While Advent Zagreb used to be a Christmas market confined to a square, two years ago, the decision was made to expand it into an experience to be had throughout the city. From cheering on runners of the Santa Claus race, to visiting the giant tree at St. Mark’s Church, or grabbing a tasty Croatian pastry (try the savoury bureka or the poppyseed roll) from one of the many stalls set up around town, there’s no shortage of festive moments this time of year. (visitcroatia.com/christmas-markets/christmas-in-zagreb/)

Historic Horsepower

Speed-seeking at sites around England 

The days of piston combustion are numbered, as any owner of a hybrid or fully electric car will tell you. Luckily, petrolheads seeking some solace can get instant anxiety relief with a visit to Great Britain. It has a piston-powered heritage reaching back over a century, and offers plenty of sites that have been optimized for vacation visits.

Goodwood 

Holiday self-drivers can start their tour at the horsepower mecca of Goodwood just 90 minutes  southwest of London’s Heathrow Airport. With its historic racetrack and airport, Goodwood holds two famous festivals devoted to internal combustion – the Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival classic car show. Visitors who want to attend either event should start planning a year in advance for accommodations and tickets. On the other  hand, those visiting at other times of the year can reserve a room at the charming Goodwood Hotel, which is generally fully booked up during the festivals. Goodwood resides within a countryside setting and presents an attractive option for dinner and a rest after arrival at Heathrow. The next day, guests can book a driving experience at the track, or even reserve a demo flight in a WWII Harvard warbird trainer priced from £499.  goodwood.com

National Motor Museum

There are plenty of palatial heritage manors scattered about Britain that visitors can tour and gain a sense of old-world opulence. But none have an extensive, curated collection of historic automobiles and motorcycles, as is the case at the Beaulieu Estate, in the pastoral New Forest region of southern coastal England. On the rambling grounds of the estate is the National Motor Museum, which preserves and displays a vast array of vehicles across all eras of motoring, on both two wheels and four. There is a predominance of British machinery, but highlights from other nations (BMW, Ferrari, Ducati, etc.) are also displayed.  beaulieu.co.uk 

Biggin Hill 

Those seeking more adventure in the sky can schedule a flight in a special two-seat Spitfire fighter aircraft at the historic Biggin Hill Aerodrome near London. Rates for these range from £2,750 for a 30-minute local Kent flight to £6,550 for the 70-minute Coastal Patrol flight.  bigginhillheritagehangar.co.uk

Classic Team Lotus

From the scenic city of Norfolk, it is a short drive to see the spectacular race car collection at Classic Team Lotus. This is where a host of automotive concepts were conceived, built, tested and engineered to render world-beating sports cars and racing cars. Classic Team Lotus maintains an outstanding collection of Formula One race cars that were piloted by many of the F1 greats. A new larger museum is under construction now and is scheduled to open in 2020. Also coming is a new Customer Experience Centre, which will give visitors the opportunity to take the wheel of a current Lotus sports car on the company’s own twisty test track.

classicteamlotus.co.uk

Silverstone F1 Circuit

A racetrack driving experience might be the ultimate indulgence for a diehard motorhead, and potentially the peak opportunity for that is waiting at the Silverstone Formula One circuit. Now, visitors can put wheel to pavement on the storied circuit, by choosing from a selection of driving experiences. These include a Supercar Experience (£279), Racecar Experience (£219), Ferrari Experience (£179), Aston Martin Experience (£179), and a Caterham Drift Experience (£119), to name some. Shorter drives are billed as Thrills, and cost less.  silverstone.co.uk

Story by TED DAVIS

Switzerland: Hepburn and Givenchy on display

A new exhibition about the long friendship and fashion partnership between Audrey Hepburn and the legendary fashion designer, Hubert de Givenchy, is on view through September 9, 2018 at Fondation Bolle in Morges. Audrey Hepburn: Entre films, vie privée et amitié. Givenchy, one of the most eminent designers of the 20th and 21st centuries, was the favorite designer of Hepburn, and he dressed her in such classic films as Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Charade. The film star and the haute couture legend are celebrated at this museum housed in an 18th century mansion in Morges, the lakeside town where Hepburn spent the last three decades of her life. There are original film posters, a documentary on view, magazine covers and articles from the time and unpublished Givenchy sketches and large-scale photographs of Hepburn modelling the designer’s creations. Visit the www.lake-geneva-region.ch for more information.