Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer – The Gypsy Capital

Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer or Sant Marie De La Mer is a coastal city on the french part of the mediterrenean. These days it is largely a beach resort with heavy tourism, busy beaches, hotels and campsites roaming with holidaymakers from all over Europe, but Sant Marie De La Mer is in fact much more than that. If you look at the cultural history it is a destination of pilgrimage as well as a popular seaside resort, with a central mediterrenean location in Provence, in the Bouches-du-Rhone.

These days the centerpiece of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is the beach. A vast sandy beach that stretches for kilometres along the coastline with shallow waters making it extremely family friendly. However, the actual village is built around its famous ancient church of the eleventh century, that countains the mummified remains of the saint Mary (or the three marys that are the objects of pilgrimace and spectacular annual festivals). From the church the charming little village is spread out in a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets with outdoor café serving refreshments on every corner, craftsmen producing leather belts from tiny stores and a wide range of other original goods for sale directly from the producers. Sadly these days, these original traits are under heavy pressure from cheap and tacky tourist shops, standard tourist nightclubs and burger bars but you can still find the charming spots wandering around town, which is well worth doing.

St._Maries_de_la_Mer_-_The_church Saintes_Maries_de_la_Mer-Musée_Baroncelli

During the busy holiday season between Christmas and New Years, the village has an entertainment program named the Camargue. Thus, one can attend the “Abrivado”, which means a bull run taken away by cowboys (horsemen Camargue) carrying torches, visitors can admire the sunset with cowboys and bulls roaming the streets. Children can enjoy the bouncy castles while their parents stroll through the streets with live music, or visit the crypt housing St. Sarah. Each May 25, more than 10,000 gypsies from around the world flock to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to venerate their holy “Black Sarah” or Sara-la-Kali. Her relics are carried through the streets at the gypsy festival and into the ocean in a heap of flames. A spectacular sight not to be missed. Every year also sports the vierginenco festo (the virgin festival), which is a ceremony for girls aged 16 that celebrates their change of status to that of an adolescent woman. Theres further festivals and monuments relating to the roma gypsies treating it as a holy city or mediterrenean capital and its always worth looking out for these gypsy fiestas as they tend to be entertaining, inclusive and rather mad.

The area surrounding Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer include a vast natural park with the opportunity to go on safaris and admire a range of wild life, a high speed canal for windsurfers and long stretches of undisturbed beaches away from the main tourist areas. Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is still well worth a visit, especially during the gypsy festival season, even though it has developed from a real hidden gem to more of a traditional tourist beach resort

Holiday in Chennai

Far from the more famous tourist spots such as the Taj Mahal in northern India we find Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu and the cultural capital of all of South India. Chennai, or Madras as it is formally known, is at first sight an extremely busy, rather dirty and chaotic metropolis to visit. However, scratching beneath the surface reveals a wealth of interesting places to visit, a vibrant variety of activities to partake in and a welcome local population that loves to present their beloved town in the most charming way possible.

Accomodation is easily found in the form of reasonably priced hotels or furnished rooms for rent if you plot a longer stay in Chennai. Very basic hotels wont make much of a dent on your wallet, but if you require european style luxury and full service, expect to pay european prices.

holiday in chennai

The first place to visit on a sightseeing tour of Chennai has to be the National Art Gallery and Museum. It holds amazing temple friezes and South Indian bronzes. You can easily set a full day aside for exploring this museum alone, or simply nip in to see the highlights. Either way it caters for anyone interested in the cultural history of Tamil Nadu and the rest of south india. Other highly interesting landmarks to visit in Chennai are the Cathedral of San Thome, the Mylapore Temple, and St Mary’s Church. Theres plenty more and countless local temples, places of worship and old historic buildings to explore. Generally all historic landmarks are “guarded” by self appointed tourist guides, who will show you around the location, tell you about the history and ensure you get to see the highlights of whatever monument you are visiting. Dont be fooled into thinking they are doing it as a favour though, it is their job and you will cause great offense if you refuse to pay for the service afterwards.

The Anna Zoological Park at Vandalur is another nice spot to spend an afternoon in the company of a wide range of mammals, reptiles and birds. The animals are roaming more or less freely in natural surroundings by using a special enclosure for nocturnal creatures. Sometimes they roam a bit too freely though, during my visit we had to be suddenly evacuated as a load of poisonous snakes had escaped their enclosure. An exciting little roadtrip down the coast takes you to another load of rather dangerous animals. The Crocodile Bank is located some 44 kms from Chennai. It is a research and breeding centre for crocodiles with a generous display of african and indian crocodiles and alligators wandering the pens for visitors to study. For a small fee you can even buy a bucket of raw meat and try feeding the majestic animals yourself – rumour has it of course that several tourists has fallen in the pens and gotten eaten, the truth need not exploring, its an entertaining myth. On your way from Chennai to the crocodille bank you pass a few giant rivers, do yourself the favour to stop there for a bit. Little tour boats will take you out on the rivers, but even more interesting is that you can pay local fishermen in canoe style boats to take you out with them on a fishing trip (ask them, its not officially announced in any way).

holiday in chennai

Now, those are a few of the official things to do in Chennai. There are tons more including the fort from the british colony times, numerous hindu temples and the christian disciples Thomas´ church on top of a small mountain. Thomas´ evangelium was stripped from the bible and he was eventually killed on this exact mountain in Chennai. He is still kept sacred by the small christian community with a church and monuments on the mountain. However, the real beauty of Chennai is found in the interaction with its people and taking part in their busy activities round town. Go out and explore the little markets, try some of the local restaurants, go to the parks or enjoy a cricket match with enthusiastic supporters either in a stadium or a bar. You will be amazed by the friendlyness, the vibrance and bubbly approach to life expressed by the Chennai locals.

Vacation in Porto – Port Wine and History

Porto is the second city of Portugal located where the Douro river meets the sea. For a metropolitan holiday Porto gives you the opportunity to experience a strangely intimate and almost village style charm with its ancient building, the history of great seafarers written into the stonewalls of historic buildings and old port wine houses still spread along the Douro river as they have been for hundreds of years.

The most exciting part of Porto has to be port wine houses, certainly for us enthusiasts. You can literally walk in off the street to the well preserved original production facilities of still active port wine houses, get a guided tour through ancient and modern production facilities and finally taste the goods of that particular house. Head down to the Douro river and theres an almost endless supply of such port wine houses to visit, tour and taste.

Porto furthermore sports most of the dishes from the traditional Portuguese kitchen, but with a natural focus on seafoods, being a seaside town. One of the most common dishes of Porto is the delicious Tripas à Moda do Porto, that is served in largely every establishment round town. You shouldnt visit Porto without trying the Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá either, its a creative dish based on codfish which too is served in a majority of traditional restaurants in town.

Apart from eating and drinking, which are two of the main ingredients of life in Porto it seems, the old town of Porto is one of the most charming and atmospherical places to visit, certainly in any major city. In many ways it has similarities to the latino quarters in Paris, but the Porto version has narrower streets, a more traditional preservation and an even more vibrant atmosphere. Spending a few days just wandering the spiderweb of narrow cobbled streets, shopping in tiny specialist stores and enjoying the life round the countless cafees and restaurants is bound to recharge your batteries. Porto is a very distinquished and different kind of big city holiday option, but it certainly has the activities, charming features and vibrancy to pull it off.

Holiday Destinations Around The World