Tag Archives: travel

Winter Trip to Morocco: Essaouira & Ouzoud

Our vacation in Morocco included two day trips from Marrakech: it was hard to choose where to go as there are loads of possible excursions available but, in the end, we ended up picking a breezy visit to the seaside town of Essaouira and a trip to the famous waterfalls in Ouzoud.

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Essaouira is about a three hour drive away from Marrakech. We had booked a tour that picked us up in the morning and dropped us off around noon. On the way we stopped to ogle the ridiculous goats that hang out on trees. We were also taken to see how they make argan oil, which is what Morocco is known for.

Once we arrived to Essaouira, we right away headed for lunch at Restaurant du Coeur, which we had googled beforehand. We didn’t expect too much since we based our decision on online reviews but it turned out to be a wonderful place for lunch. We had fresh fish (literally fresh from the ocean, they picked it up from the harbor while we waited and even showed it to us before cooking it) and some wonderful desserts.

Essaouira boasts a wide, sandy beach, which is great place for walking around but it was way too cold to even think about swimming. After a little food and some beach views, we walked around the harbor that was just bustling with action.

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If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones like me, you might recognize Essaouira as the city of Astapor where Daenerys becomes the leader of Unsullied. Some King’s Landing scenes were also filmed there. In fact, Skala du Port, which offers picturesque and completely Instagram-worthy views over the harbor and the Île de Mogador, was used for the walk of punishment (Shame! Shame!). You have to pay to go up to the walkway and the tower but I would say the views are worth it.

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Essaouira’s large port is filled with noise and bustle, which is hugely hugely atmospheric. You can sometimes see traditional wooden boats being made in addition to the usual comings and goings of the bight blue boats.

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The city’s walled medina was added to Unesco’s World Heritage list in 2001. The narrow streets, souqs, and picturesque houses with gorgeous ornate doors make it a perfect getaway from the hectic Marrakech. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants to smell the fresh seaside air on their trip to Morocco.

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In addition to Essaouira, we wanted to explore Ouzoud and its famous waterfalls. We had heard that there you could see monkeys in the wild (we were horrified to see the monkeys in chains for the entertainment of tourists at Jamaa El Fna). The waterfalls are located near the Grand Atlas village of Tanaghmeilt in the province of Azilal. We were picked up early morning from our riad and had a lovely drive through the country.

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Once we arrived to Ouzoud, our guide led us around the olive groves and through some little buildings where they were making argan oil (this is something that seems to be included in almost every tour and excursion in Morocco). We then walked down the mountainside to the falls and after enjoying a short boat ride there was time for a relaxing lunch overlooking the waterfalls.

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After lunch we hauled our full stomachs back up to see the monkeys who were eager to get their paws on whatever snacks tourists would bring them. I didn’t really appreciate seeing how readily they would go for chips and other unhealthy junk food but I still went all gaga over the baby monkeys that were running around.

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Now this post is embarrassingly late as I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus due to an extremely stressful spring (with work and family stuff). However – if you’re still around – thank you for waiting! And I have tons of posts lined up so I’m gonna try to keep up with a more regular posting schedule now.

Winter Trip to Morocco: Marrakech

Morocco seems to be one of the most Instagrammable travel destinations, which is why I was incredibly excited as I booked flights to Marrakech last summer. I promptly checked out accommodations as well, since we wanted to go over Christmas holidays (peak tourist season) and places get booked early. I guess I’m not the only one who wants to escape the cold.

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We settled on the very affordable Riad Espagne right by the biggest market, Jemaa el-Fna. The location of the riad is brilliant but, of course since we went with the budget friendly option, the rooms were small and hot water for showering not always available. Speaking of hot, if you go to Morocco during the winter, wear warm clothes because the temperature changes between +27 in the sun during the day and +7 during the night. You’ll definitely need a set of winter clothes for the night and summer clothes for the day. Hence, layering is key!

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Here is a rundown of days one, two and five of our trip during which we explored Marrakech. My next post will give you a tour of the seaside town of Essaouira and the magnificent waterfalls of Ouzoud.

The first night we only had a few hours (due to our delayed flight) so we accepted our host’s recommendation to check out a restaurant called Zeitoun right by the market. It quickly became our favorite – I especially recommend the lamb tajine with dried fruits and virgin mojitos (Morocco seems like the promised land of virgin mojitos – though all the mocktails tasted yummy).

On day two, we managed much more exploration, which started by locating the nearest supermarket. We found it outside of the medina and picked up some snacks on the way to Jardin Majorelle, Majorelle Gardens.

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The gardens are absolutely gorgeous and also the perfect relief from the scorching sun. Roam around and admire the trees, flowers and the massive cacti that have been collected from all over the world. Pop by to have a cup of tea at the cafe. We didn’t go into the Berber Museum or the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, which has a display of hundreds of garments from his career, but I’ve heard they are very interesting as well. You can buy combo tickets from the gate for any combination you desire. Just pay attention to the prices – locals get in a lot cheaper than tourists, so don’t be fooled (this applies to other sights as well).

The following two days were spent on day trips, but on our last (fifth) day, we decided to check out two famous palaces in Marrakech. Our first stop was the El Badi palace, which costs 70 dirhams (and is worth it). It is an old palace that is now in ruins but still looks hugely impressive.

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El Badi used to be grand palace: it has large pools that sit at the centre of the site and it still boasts a few towers where you can get a panoramic view of Medina. The walls that tower over you are incredible and there’s surprisingly many places you can check out, such as the prison cells and art displays.

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The second palace on our agenda was the El Bahia palace, which also cost 70 dirhams to get in. This palace is a much more modern construct that boasts gorgeous blue and white architecture as well as a lush garden. The various rooms can actually make you feel a bit lost, but you can take a minute to orient yourself once you reach the vast courtyard in the middle. Remember to also look up: the ceilings have stunning art work.

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Marrakech is also famous for its souks (a massive marketplace). You can find basically anything there: gorgeous rugs, cheap trinkets and crockery for making your own tajine. I do recommend a GPS if you’re prone to get lost because it’s very hard to keep track of your whereabouts in this maze. Unfortunately this is also the reason I don’t have any pictures of the souks: I was too busy trying to figure out where I was going as well as looking at possible souvenir options.

Have you been to Morocco? I’d love to compare travel experiences! And be sure to check out my next post about Essaouira and Ouzoud.

Estonia’s Summer Gem: Pärnu

Pärnu is a lovely little town on the coast of Estonia. We visited Pärnu with a group of friends this summer because one of our friends threw a birthday party there. Though we had never been there before, as soon as we saw the town we fell in love with the quaint houses, lush parks, and the gorgeous beach.

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We took a boat from Helsinki to Tallinn and drove from there to Pärnu. Though the drive is only a few hours, we decided to make a little detour to Rummu Quarry, which is an old Soviet prison. Now tourists go there to swim and dive. And can you blame them? Look at the amazing turquoise water in these photo!

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There are curious sand formations surrounding the prison, and the water glistens all around. It was a little tricky finding a spot where you could enter the area but a GPS is you friend in this case. Also, we ran into so many others along the way that if you can’t figure out where to go, someone else will. The area is nowadays slightly off-limits because there is a guard but you can swing by and go take a quick look at the place at least. I wouldn’t recommend a longer outing though. Before the area was privatized it was used quite freely for beach outings and swimming.

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Pärnu is filled with huge parks, especially near the Old Town. There are also beautiful churches (that might wake you up on a Sunday morning). We even found some street art reminiscent of Berlin! The city is best explored on foot, I think, because it’s filled with gorgeous old, wooden houses and some interesting new architecture.

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It’s easy to find good food in Pärnu. And it’s usually quite affordable! Steffani pizza place is a must try – we were recommended the place by several people before our visit. There’s one in Old Town (apparently it is slightly better) but also one right by the beach if you fancy a lunch between swimming. If pizza isn’t your thing, then the roads that lead from the Old Town to the beach are lined with restaurants that you can choose from. My personal favorite was Villa Wesset, a hotel restaurant that had THE BEST FOOD AND DRINKS (I recommend the Asian style beef soup and the creamy chicken pasta).

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We found a nice Irish bar called Sweet Rosie with cheap, strong mojitos (winning combo!), when we were looking for a place to have a drink after a late dinner in the center of Old Town. There was a karaoke place, too, so if that’s your jam then head to Hommiku street (where we actually had a room at the Hommiku hostel). There are also lots of small beach bars, where you can get cheap ciders and beer to quench your thirst during the long hours of sunbathing. And for the night time, the Sunset Club by the beach is an easy option.

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After a wonderfully hot and sunny weekend at Pärnu, we headed back to Tallinn and the boat to Helsinki. We took Viking FSTR cruise both ways and used our own cars for the ride between Tallinn and Pärnu.

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Have you been to Pärnu (or Estonia in general)?

Exploring House of Minalima in London

House of Minalima is a wonderful little building near the Palace Theatre, London, where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play is on at the moment. It is the brainchild of Miraphora (Mina) and Eduardo (Lima) who were the graphic designers for the Harry Potter movies (and now Fantastic Beasts). The building is an exhibition as well as a shop, where you can buy pretty much anything that is on display. The artwork includes issues of Quibbler, wanted posters of Death Eaters, Marauder’s Map, and much much more! All the classic props that you saw in the movies are there to look at…for FREE!

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I guess I don’t need to tell you that I jumped at the chance to go see the House of Minalima when I visited London for the Cursed Child play with my friend. The building looks adorable already from the outside and the windows are filled with floating candles and different posters.

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The house is divided into the shop on the ground floor, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them on the first floor, and finally the Harry Potter exhibition on the second and third floor.

One of my favorite things was the fireplace that had tons of Hogwarts acceptance letters shooting out of it. I was really tempted to grab one but I guess McGonagall would notice right away that I was too old to attend Hogwarts and that I had stolen someone else’s letter…

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The Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes section is magnificent: the colors are popping and in your face, which just makes you feel like you’re right there in their joke shop. I also loved the floors of the building, which have the Marauders’ Map printed on them.

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I definitely recommend to anyone who might be going to London, that you also go see the House of Minalima! And get souvenirs too! ;) I bought two sets of cards (one set with Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes designs and one with school books and other classic designs), which I just love love love.

Have you been to House of Minalima? What are your favorite props from the movies?

London: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I will try to keep this spoiler free for those who haven’t read/seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child yet.

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As I said in my previous post, I went to see Harry Potter and Cursed Child in London with a longtime friend of mine who is also a huge Potterhead. I had read the play as soon as it came out so I knew the plot while my friend didn’t. I was really curious to see how the technical stuff would work on stage – I didn’t wanna see any fake-looking magic! – but I was equally curious to find out whether I would care for the characters the same way as in the original books.

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SURPRISE – the magic was incredible! We were both left wondering how on earth they managed to perform some of the tricks. Nothing looked out of place or lame, everything was expertly choreographed and made to look as real as possible. There were even two impressive dance scenes that looked fantabulous from the balcony!

The characters were often funny – surprisingly it was Draco who had me giggling more than once. Ron was perhaps the most similar to his predecessor from the new cast. I kept comparing the “new” Hermione, Ron, and Harry to the originals and wondering if the older characters were enough like their younger selves and, while all did a good job of it, Ron was most like himself.

The plot holes and problems one might have with the script itself are far easier to ignore when watching the story unravel on stage. The focus is on the characters, the movement, the visuals…and some of the awkward lines end up feeling less so.

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After the play ended, we quickly ran to the other side of the theater to wait for the actors to pour out and got our programs signed by most of them. In the pictures above you can see Noma Dumezweni (Hermione) and Anthony Boyle (Scorpius), who both were fabulous. Everyone was really lovely considering they had just finished a really long day!

All in all, I’d definitely recommend the play to any hardcore Harry Potter fan (as long as you’re not too nitpicky about time travel plot lines). However, if you’re not a massive fan, the length of the play can make it quite an intense experience. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the performance though and think that, as long as you recognize that this is separate entity from the original series, you can get a lot of kicks out of it!

Have you seen/read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? What did you think?

Jetting Off to London to Start the Year

This post (and a few drafts that I have waiting) has been a long time coming and I blame my very persistent flu. However, I couldn’t NOT show you guys how amazing the short trip to London I did in the beginning of the year was!

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This trip had been planned by me and a childhood friend of mine for a long long LONG time. Almost two years. And the reason was: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! While we got tickets to see the Cursed Child play, the date was a long way away. But at least that meant we had something to look forward to. It’s been the longest time I’ve waited for something but it was completely worth it.

I’ve been to London many times (as has my friend), so we agreed on not even trying to do all the tourist attractions. Instead, we focused on eating good food, enjoying the winter-y atmosphere, and walking about town without a care. It was perfection! These were my last days before my new job (yes, I will blog about that at some point!!) started so I made the most of my freedom.

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Covent Garden (pictured above) was still covered in Christmas lights and even boasted a huge Christmas tree. The area is very picturesque but Christmas decorations just enhance that feeling. I wholeheartedly recommend visiting Covent Garden around Christmas time! Also, be sure to check out the adorable Moomin shop there!

Our hostel YHA St. Pancras (student budget travel so no hotel) was right next to King’s Cross and St. Pancras stations, which was perfect for several reasons: very easy access to the underground and, thus, to basically every other area in town; almost in the center of London; food places and cafes nearby; AND the Harry Potter store at Platform 9 3/4.

During the trip we also checked out the House of Minalima, which will be its own post soon. And the play will naturally get its own magnificent post as well<3 Have you been to London? Or seen the Harry Potter play? If you have I’d love to hear your thoughts :)

Visiting the Bone Church of Kutna Hora

Have you ever seen a chapel that’s filled with human bones? Everything is bone: the chandelier, the candle holders, everything… Well, that’s the Kutna Hora bone church for you! The little medieval town of Kutna Hora is located a short drive away from Prague. We did a lovely day trip there on our vacation in Prague, just before Christmas.

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The town is really nice and atmospheric. We managed to see the sunset there since the sun sets so early during the winter. There are some cute restaurants, though not many, around town. The main attractions are the bone chapel (offically called Sedlec Ossuary), St. Barbara’s Church, and the Italian court, which was a palace modeled after Italian architecture.

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The day trip was a great break from walking around in the same area of Prague and it allowed us to see some of the countryside as well. It was fairly cheap and we even got a discount by attending a free walking tour hosted by the same company the day before. You can also get a student discount from a lot of the tours, which is something to keep in mind!

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I only wish we would’ve had a bit more time there because we had to rush to eat quickly before heading back to Prague.

Have you been to an ossuary before? (I hadn’t but it was definitely interesting learning about its history!) Would you be creeped out? :P

Traveling to Prague during Christmas Season

Who doesn’t want to travel somewhere nice and warm during the winter? Wait…what did you say? Prague isn’t warm? Oh well, it didn’t bother us one bit. I went to Prague with the boyfriend just before Christmas for some well-deserved R&R and loved every minute of it. The Christmas markets, frosty air, and smell of crepes and mulled wine in the air. It was a perfect city vacation. Winter in Europe tends to mean dark dark dark all day long but it didn’t matter since there were brightly lit Christmas trees and decorations everywhere.

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Our hotel was about half an hour walking distance from the center of the Old Town in Prague 1 (Prague is divided into districts with numbers…how very Hunger Games!) and we walked every day to that part of the town along the river Vltava. I don’t think I’ve ever walked that much – in fact, we didn’t take the public transport anywhere and even the taxi only to the airport. We did use a bus service once but it was included into a day trip out of town so it doesn’t count…

Prague is so handy for seeing all the major sights by walking, especially because many of the sights are statues, bridges, and buildings that you can see by merely standing outside. Also, the architecture in general was absolutely amazing: pastel buildings and ornamental designs.

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We saw all the classic sights, such as the Charles Bridge, Powder tower, Prague castle, the Lennon Wall, the astronomical clock, and Dancing House. The Charles Bridge is one of the most known sights and it’s lined with magnificent statues. The bridge goes across the river, the Old Town being on the other side and Prague castle and the Lesser Town (one of the oldest districts in Prague) on the other. The Lesser Town also boasts the colorful Lennon Wall (pictured below), near the bridge entrance.

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Many of Prague’s sights are in or around the Old Town Square, including the astronomical clock and the Powder tower (used to store gun powder back in the olden days). During Christmas time the square is taken over by a massive, festive Christmas market where you can eat all day from different booths and save a ton of money. Or that’s what we did at least. The food was incredibly cheap (in general, Prague is cheap) and it was great getting to taste different local treats at the market while browsing for souvenirs. I also heartily recommend the Kafka bookshop for literature lovers (situated on one side of the square)!

It was incredible just getting out of town and on holiday, but Prague was definitely worth the praise we’d heard from a lot of our friends. It’s very affordable, gorgeous, and people are really friendly. What’s not to like?

We did one trip out of Prague during our stay: we visited a little medieval town called Kutna Horá, which boasts one of the most famous bone chapels in the world as well as a lovely cathedral. You can check it out in my next post!

Have you been to Prague?

Tour of Scotland pt 4: Glencoe & Edinburgh

Unfortunately this is the last part of my Scotland tour series – but before we embark on other adventures, I still have loads to tell you about our last days on the road.

We didn’t need to drive far to reach our first destination: St. Conan’s Kirk is a gorgeous church a short drive away from Oban and it has the most beautiful view of a loch. You can even see the Kilchurn Castle, which was our second stop of the day.

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Doune Castle was a lovely treat on our last stretch before Edinburgh: the castle has served as a filming location for Monty Python’s Holy Grail as well as Outlander (Doune Castle is Castle Leoch). It even appeared in Game of Thrones as Winterfell! There was an audio guide which had fun tidbits both about the history of the castle as well as the movies that were filmed there. The entrance fee was 6 pounds, which was not too bad either. From Doune Castle we made our way toward the famous Glencoe.

Glencoe was the last location we visited before getting back to Edinburgh. I can’t even stress enough how beautiful the mountains were around us and the amount of green was just staggering.

Once we got back to Edinburgh, we still had one and a half days left to explore the city. Our pre-planned stops included The Elephant House (where J.K. Rowling sat writing Harry Potter), Tom Riddle’s grave (okay, Thomas Riddell’s…but that was in any case the inspiration for Voldemort’s real name), Arthur’s Seat and Greyfriar’s Kirk.

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Arthur’s Seat took the longest amount of time considering the climb you have to do just to get up on the hill. But the scenery overlooking Edinburgh is amazing. Especially on a warm and sunny day, you can see really far and get wonderful snapshots as memories.

All in all, our tour of Scotland was amazing (we used the company MacBackpackers) and we met wonderful people and saw more than we could’ve hoped for. I wholeheartedly recommend it!

Have you been to Scotland?

Tour of Scotland pt 3: Skye, Oban & Kilmartin

Time for another part of my Scotland tour: from Lewis, we made our way to the Isle of Skye, a famously breathtaking island that is filled with faeries. The first stop on the island was the famed Faerie Glen, where you can climb onto a faerie “castle” and see the entrance to a cave that leads into the faerie realm. You must be careful not to take even a twig as a souvenir though, because otherwise the fae will make sure you’ll have bad luck until the item is returned!

We also saw the famous Kilt Rock and it’s waterfall and later spent the night at Kyleakin where I did an evening walk to the Castle Moil, which was stunning in the evening light.

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From Skye, we crossed on a ferry back to the mainland and to Oban – but not before visiting Fort William and the Steall waterfall in Glen Nevis. As a massive Harry Potter fan, I was really excited when we stopped at the Glenfinnan viaduct on our way to Fort William. Glenfinnan viaduct featured in Chamber of Secrets in the scene where Harry and Ron try to find the Hogwarts Express while flying in the Ford Anglia. And speaking of the Hogwarts Express, you can see the actual train either puffing over the viaduct or on your stop at Fort William. You can even ride the train! How cool is that?

After a lunch in the picturesque Fort William, we hiked up the mountain sides to the second largest waterfall, Steall, in Glen Nevis. The scenery was unbelievable – jumping over little streams and climbing on rocks until you saw the massive waterfall completely made my day!

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Oban was our end destination and we stayed there for two nights. The small waterfront town has delicious seafood and lots of cruises going to the nearby islands, such as Mull and Iona. I spent my free day in Oban by doing a half day trip to Kilmartin Glen, an area that has a massive concentration of Neolitchic and Bronze Age remains and a museum that tells you all about them. The best part is that after the museum tour you can actually go and see all the places that are talked about. Imagine climbing into two ancient cairns (tombs) and walking across a field with fluffy sheep before resting your eyes on ritual places, such as the Templewood stone circles. It felt like being sucked into a historical novel.

Places to Visit from Oban

  • Iona (“the cradle of Scottish Christianity”, graveyard, Iona Abbey, beaches)
  • Mull (beaches, wildlife, brochs, castles)
  • Staffa (PUFFINS)
  • Kilmartin Glen (ancient cairns, standing stones, castles)
  • Oban’s own McCaig’s Tower & the local distillery