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While Christmas is the perfect opportunity to spend some quality family time, it can also be both hectic and stressful. Have you bought those presents yet? Who will be hosting the day? Have you purchased a turkey?

December can truly be a festive period as we all attend German markets, drink mulled wine and get the tinsel out of the cupboards, but if you are looking to escape the week surrounding the big day itself, it may be worth considering getting away. Not only will you make sure your loved ones have a peaceful Christmas but it may also be one to remember. Here are a few options you have for an ‘alternative’ Christmas.

The beach Christmas

The concept of topping up your tan just before Christmas dinner may seem alien, but you have to ask yourself ‘why not?’, for just one year – and you never know, you may never go back. One such place to consider is the island of Tenerife, where even in December, average daily highs stand at 22 degrees C. And with so many beaches, family-friendly attractions and water parks to choose from, you will have one festive period that will be the envy of your friends and family back home.

Tenerife beach2

On this isle, it is perfectly possible to head to Siam Park waterpark a day before you open your presents, check out the birds of Loro Parque once Santa has been and gone, or even choose to climb the mighty Mount Teide, the tallest peak in the Canary Islands, on the day itself. And all of this is not without mentioning the family-friendly beaches. Some to look out for are Playa de las Teresitas, sheltered by a breakwater, El Médano and the Blue-Flag Playa Fanabé that is perfect for water sports enthusiasts.

The faraway Christmas

If you want to have a similar experience, but get even further away from home, Goa in India may be a consideration. The great thing about this place is that it enables you to have that idyllic paradise holiday while squeezing in some fascinating culture for good measure.

Goa india beach

Very much like Tenerife, the beaches here are to die for, with their crisp white sands, glittering cyan waters and swaying palm trees. Your first port of call should be Anjuna Beach, located close to the Chapora Fort, while Palolem Beach with its rocky outcrops is great for something a bit less crowded and more scenic.

But celebrating Christmas here doesn’t just have to be about relaxing. You will find more museums and art galleries than you can shake a stick at, while must-see churches include Bom Jesus Basilica (1605), Church of St Francis of Assisi (1661) and Se Cathedral (1619). And why bother with turkey and trimmings? Dig into a Goan fish curry or munch on a platter of crabs, lobster and squid. The options here are limitless.

The magical Christmas

If you want to get away, but don’t want to ruin the traditional aspect of Christmas, Lapland is your best bet. Here, you can be surrounded by a blanket of snow, which you probably wouldn’t even get back home, ride with reindeer on a sleigh and even meet the man in red himself at Santa Claus Village. You never know – you might bump into Mrs Claus and Santa’s little elves.

lapland reindeer

Regardless of what you do, getting away with the family is always a chance to create new treasured memories, so have a Christmas you will never forget, with the sun or with St Nick himself!

Goa sunbeds

Goa is one of our favourite destinations, offering wonderful Indian culture and heritage, beautiful architecture, stunning landscapes and of course those world-famous beaches. The climate is on average a balmy 30°C throughout the year, making it a perfect holiday destination, particularly for winter sunseekers. Join our resident Goa experts Ian Hailes and Neil Garner for a LIVE Facebook chat on Tuesday and tell us what YOU’D like to know about gorgeous Goa!

Event:Facebook chat with Ian Hailes and Neil Garner, Goa experts at Cosmos Holidays
Date: Tuesday 24 July
Time: 12:30pm-1:30pm
The Wall at: www.facebook.com/CosmosHolidays

Goa market

Here’s how it works

Firstly, you could give us a head start by sending your questions to social.media1@monarch.co.uk by Monday 23 July. This will help us to prepare some answers for you, but it’s not compulsory!

Then, meet us at http://www.facebook.com/cosmosholidays  on Tuesday 24 July between 12:30pm-1:30pm.

Look out for our post announcing Ian’s ready to chat.

When you see the announcement, add your question as a comment on this post. Please don’t post other separate questions on our wall as we’ll get confused!

What are we going to be talking about?

Ian and Neil both have first-hand experience of Goa and are happy to answer questions about almost anything. Here are a few ideas to get the juices flowing and your thinking cap thinking, before the live event:

– The best time of year to go to Goa
– Great places to stay on various budgets
– Ian’s personal recommendations for things to see and do, beyond Goa’s beautiful beaches
– Ian’s favourite street food / local cuisine

Contingency plans & community rules

This is a great opportunity to ask Ian or Neil for any hints and tips about your trip to Goa, and tap into their expertise. Please stick to the topic because in the limited time we’ll have, we won’t be able to answer anything about other destinations.

Ian and Neil will try to answer as many on-topic questions that we receive by 1:30pm. If he can’t answer everything, we’ll answer as many as we can later on our blog: http://dev-cosmos.wp-sites.co.uk

Ian and Neil will try to answer your questions individually, but if we receive multiple questions on a theme, we’ll answer them all together to save time.

Please only post your question once – don’t worry, we will see it even if we don’t answer it immediately, though we’ll do our best to keep up!

Please be friendly to other people in the discussion even if you disagree with their point of view. Our community rules can be seen here

We are hoping for a lively discussion. In the unlikely event of someone deliberately posting about unrelated topics to try to disrupt our discussion, or breaching the community rules, we reserve the right to delete posts in order to minmise offense to other participants.

Look forward to seeing you there!

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Partying, pampering and good friends out to make the bride-to-be blush – it’s all essential to that final fling with freedom we call the hen do.

If you’re in charge of organising a hen party, make sure it’s one that allows bride and friends to let go totally. Do get out of town, but it’s also worth considering a hen weekend abroad. It’s the perfect recipe for lots of laughs – without any embarrassing moments on home turf!

Spain – the crowd pleaser

Cheap holidays to Spain have the potential to win over everyone in the hen party, no matter what how they define a good time.

Fly to one of Spain’s hedonistic island resorts to party hard and recover beach-side the next day. Whether you choose the Balearic Islands or the Canaries, try booking into a resort with a good spa so you can treat yourselves to some pre-wedding beauty treatments.

For a sophisticated hen weekend – taking in elegant bars, luscious food and maybe even a spot of culture – try a city-break in Barcelona. It’s also a great place to try out the trend in hen cooking classes. There are plenty of hands-on courses available online that will get you making (and indulging in!) Spanish staples such as tapas, paella and sangria.

Best for: sun, sangria and smiles

Goa – something to really boast about

India may seem a bit of a long reach for a weekend away, but Goa package holidays can make for a surprisingly affordable do with a difference.

Laid-back Goa is made for unwinding, so it’s just the ticket for a stressed out bride-to-be (and her hardworking bridesmaids and friends, of course).

Any girly weekend away will leave you feeling recharged. Just think how much more refreshing it will be when you can enjoy palm-fringed beaches by day and the local coconut liquor (feni) on balmy bougainvillea-scented nights.

Goa’s a great place for group activities (from boat trips to yoga sessions) and it has a colourful party scene. And, if you have your hen-do in February, you can join Goa’s three-day street party at Carnival.

Whatever you do, make it a long weekend to make the most of the trip!

Best for: a languid, life-restoring break

Also consider…

  • Greece and Cyprus are sun-sure crowd-pleasers
  • Portugal and Morocco are brilliant for cheap indulgence
  • The French or Austrian Alps are perfect for ski-bunny brides in winter
  • City-breaks in Rome, Venice, Madrid or Munich are bundles of fun

If  you’re planning a fantastic trip for the girls, or you have any tips to share, why not let us know below…

Long gone are the days when going on safari was the privilege of the well-off. We’re going to take a look at two amazing and affordable Cosmos safari package holidays that couldn’t be more different!

Florida, Everglades Safari

Flight time from the UK: 9 ½ hours

What to see and do:

There is so much more to Florida package holidays than theme parks and Disneyland. Located in the southern heart of the state are the majestic Big Cypress National Preserve and the Everglades Wildlife Management Area. The parks are made up of four outstandingly beautiful ecosystems: pine savannah, sawgrass prairie, cypress swamps and mangrove estuaries. You can enjoy a white-knuckle airboat ride or a relaxing boat trip through the ‘River of Grass’. The area has more alligators per acre than anywhere else in the world, so either way you’re bound to see some gorgeous gators, fine feral pigs and a whole range of fascinating bird species. You can also explore the cypress swamps by foot, where you have the chance to see the rare Florida panther, bears, otters, deer and much more.

What to combine it with:

If you’re travelling with the family, the theme parks of Florida are a must-see. From the childhood dreamland of Disneyworld to the action at Wet ‘n’ Wild, there is something for the whole family to enjoy. Try the stunning Delray or Clearwater beaches if you fancy just relaxing on the sand or paddling in the shallows. 

Best time to go:

Weather-wise, March or April is a great time to go, but you may want to avoid the UK and US school holidays. It’s not too crowded in October/November or January/February and the humidity is bearable, so this may be a perfect time to visit if you want to stay away from the tourist throngs. 

Goa, Wildlife Safari

Flight time from the UK: 9 ½ hours

What to see and do:

Cheap holidays to Goa give you access to great geographical diversity. You can go on safari in the jungle, in the mountains, on the plains or in the forest. The big wildlife sanctuaries are Dandeli, Bondla, Mahavir and Cotigao. Dandeli is 125km from Goa, on the banks of the Kali River. Water sports enthusiasts can try some exhilarating white-water rafting or you can keep your feet dry on jeep safaris. The abundant wildlife means you may catch a glimpse of a tiger, a giant iguana, a king cobra, a bison, a black panther or the iconic Great Indian Hornbill.  Mahavir is the biggest reserve – it’s teeming with birdlife and also includes some captivating historical and geological features such as the Dudhsagar waterfalls and the 13th century Mahadev temple.

What to combine it with:

Unlike the everglades, exploring the wildlife sanctuaries of Goa is likely to take you several days or even a week. What better way to ease those trek-weary legs than to relax on some of the best beaches in the world? Head to Baga Beach on the West coast if it’s water sports and boat trips that you’re after, or Candolim beach in the North if you prefer a more untouched paradise.

Best time to go:

Goa has a tropical climate so it’s best to avoid June to September where you may find your holiday ruined by high winds and heavy rain. November to April, when the weather is milder, is the best time to go, but if you’re not fazed by high temperatures (exceeding 30°C) then May would work for you as well.

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I always pack something good to read on holiday. Of course, I have a trashy page-turner that will see me through the flight and give me some cover while I snooze beside the pool. But I also like to bring a book as a personal guide. And I’m not talking about guidebooks – although they are handy. I want a novel that will fire my imagination and bring the place to life. With that in mind, here are five of my favourites set in great literary holiday destinations:

 

1. Gerald Durrell’s Corfu

Some books conjure up such unforgettable settings that they inspire us to follow in the characters’ footsteps. In My Family and Other Animals (1956), Gerald Durrell captured the landscape of 1930’s Corfu in such tantalising detail that it helped to bring tourism to this Greek island. Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods complete Durrell’s Corfu trilogy, based on his childhood there.

Best for: A glimpse of unspoilt Corfu

Cosmos, Literary Locations, Corfu

2. Carl Hiaasen’s Florida

Crime fiction might be at the low end of the literary spectrum, but it’s typically at the top of my holiday reading pile. My murder-mystery favourite, Carl Hiaasen, hails from Florida, US, and sets his fast and funny novels there. I love Tourist Season (1986) and Double Whammy (1987), which both feature dark deeds in Florida’s Everglades wetlands.

Best for: A fantastic ride on Florida’s wild side

Cosmos, Literary Locations, Everglades, Florida

3. Louis de Bernières’ Kefalonia

There’s something about Greek islands that attract literary sorts. Louis de Bernières’ inspiration for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (1994) was the World War II occupation of Cephalonia (Kefalonia). Yet, the thing I remember best from the book is its poetic evocation of daily lives (and loves) on the island.

Best for: An insight into Kefalonia’s history and traditions

Cosmos, Literary Locations, Kefalonia

4. Alaa al-Aswany’s Egypt

The Yacoubian Building (2002), an international best-seller for Egyptian author, Alaa as-Aswany, centres on one Cairo apartment block. But the stories that unfold there have a big sweep, making this book relevant to anyone who wants to understand Egypt today.

Best for: A provocative look at contemporary Egypt

Cosmos, Literary Locations, Cairo, Egypt

5. Richard Zimler’s Goa

When in Goa, India – amid its crumbling colonial remains – Richard Zimler’s Guardian of the Dawn (2009) provides a compelling link with history. It’s set at the close of the 16th century, back when Goa was an outpost of Portugal.

Best for: The backstory of Old Goa

Cosmos, Literary Locations, Goa, India

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curry

Shimmering white sands, sparkling blue waters and gently swaying palms – these are just some of the things that attract more than 2 million* people a year to this little corner of paradise and make Goa holidays so popular.

However, there’s a lot more to Goa than beautiful beaches and perfect weather. The unique history and culture of the place makes it a fascinating holiday destination for families and backpackers alike.

curry

Curry

Talk to anyone who has visited Goa and the one thing you can be sure they’ll rave about is the food. Goan cuisine is famous for its delicious combination of Eastern and Western influences and, generally speaking, is not as spicy as food from other parts of India.

Lots of coconut milk is used, which tends to temper the flavours of the spicy chillies and, being a Portuguese outpost, there are lots of Mediterranean influences too, with olive oil and garlic used liberally. Keep an eye out for fish curry and rice, which is a local favourite!

culture

Culture

Culture wise, Goa is as laid back as it gets and this is one of the key attractions for people booking cheap holidays to Goa. There’s a reason it’s been an essential stop off point on the hippie trail for the past five decades: the people are warm and welcoming, and there’s a relaxed, easy-going pace of life.

Over the years, Goa has become a haven for people who want to take some time out to recharge their batteries and discover a new way of life. In terms of religious customs, Goa is a lot more flexible than other parts of India and much more secularised, as people are free to practise whichever religion they choose.

carnival

Carnivals

One of the most important cultural events in the Goan calendar is the famous Goa Carnival. This festival has been celebrated for over 300 years and the original Portuguese influence is still very much in evidence.

For three days and nights the streets of Goa are alive with music, singing, dancing and of course street stalls selling delicious local cuisine. The carnival is held every year in February and attracts people from all over India as well as other parts of the world. The atmosphere is vibrant and buzzing, and if you can time your holiday to coincide with the carnival, you won’t be disappointed!

*Figure obtained from Lonely Planet travel guide. (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/goa)

If you’ve been to anything amazing on a holiday to Goa, go ahead and mention it in the comments below… Don’t be shy! 

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Goa is becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination and acts as a gateway for many a holidaymaker’s first taste of India. With cheap holidays to Goa now available through Cosmos, this tropical paradise not only offers swaying palms, beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters, but also countless captivating cultural sites to contribute to an unforgettable time away. Here’s a run-down of 6 must-see places.

1. The Arvalem Waterfalls, northern Goa

Distance from Goa airport: 30km
These 50m falls offer truly breathtaking views in the mountains just 2km outside Sanquelim. Culture vultures may want to make for the nearby Rudreshwar Temple, while seasoned swimmers will love the chance of a dip in the pools at the bottom of the waterfall.

Best time to visit: After the monsoon season to maximise the amount of water over the falls.

2. Mangeshi Temple, northern Goa


Distance from Goa airport: 20km

This magnificent man-made spectacle is set amidst serene natural surroundings. As a foreigner you may not be allowed into the temple so ensure you dress appropriately. Even if you can’t see inside, the exterior alone is well worth a visit.

Don’t miss: The leaning temple tower.

3. Anjuna Beach Flea Market, northwest Goa

Distance from Goa airport: 22km
This bustling market takes place every Wednesday and draws tourists from all over the country. The sheer exuberance of the place and range of goods on offer makes it an absolute must-see.

Perfect for: Those who like bartering for a bargain.

4. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Panaji

Distance from Goa airport: 33km
One of the oldest churches in Goa, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is an unforgettable example of the beautifully conserved Portuguese colonial architecture, brought over by the conquistadors of the 16th Century. The former Portuguese presence is still visible all over Goa in the form of colourful houses and street demarcation through traditional Portuguese ‘azulejos’ tiles.

Must-see for: Those interested in history and awe-inspiring architecture.

5. Casino Royale, Panaji

Distance from Goa airport: 34km
The Casino Royale, India’s largest casino vessel, is moored in Panaji on the bank of the river Mandovi. Described as the hallmark of sophistication and grandeur, the Casino Royale is perfect if you’ve packed that gown and you’re looking for an opportunity to show it off. Just don’t get too carried away with the exchange rate!

Great for: Those looking for a bit of decadence on their trip

6. Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary, eastern Goa

Distance from airport: 50km
This lush national park is the largest protected area in Goa, covering over 240 sq km. If you’re lucky you might be able to catch a glimpse of the majestic Bengal tiger or the spine-chilling King Cobra.

Best for: Nature lovers who want to see animals in their natural habitat.

Other places worth a visit

Fort Aguada, northwest Goa

Distance from Goa airport: 16km
Built by the Portuguese in the 17th century, this is the largest and best-preserved fort in the country and it’s one of the most predominant landmarks in Goa.

Must-see for: Those interested in awe-inspiring architecture.

Choram Baim or ‘Well of thieves’, Baga, northwest Goa

Distance from Goa airport: 22km
Gushing seawater causes captivating haunting sounds at this stunning rock formation that stretches out into the Arabian Sea.

Great for: Absorbing dramatic natural landscape.