4 of the best couples retreats

Now the school holidays are over, why not book a trip away for just the two of you? By jetting away off-peak, you’ll skip the crowds and save money on accommodation and air fares. Here are four small but fabulous villas that are just the ticket for a romantic couples getaway this autumn.

Villa Lefkippos in Gouves, Crete

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Right in the centre of Crete’s northern coast is Villa Lefkippos. With its exposed stonework, arched windows and mix of contemporary and traditional furnishings, this beautiful 1-bedroom property is perfect for couples looking for both chic and charm. What’s more, you can rack up some lengths in the long private pool before chilling out together on the sun loungers.

You’ll find plenty to keep you occupied in the local area too. An unspoilt beach is just a 5-minute wander away, and there are plenty of great restaurants and tavernas in Gouves. Or take a trip to the historical resort of Hersonissos, where you can amble round the picturesque fishing harbour or enjoy a date night at one of its many bars and eateries.

Villa Morea in Old Skala, Kefalonia

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Villa Morea is idyllic 1-bedroom hideaway near the southern coast of Kefalonia, the largest of the Greek Ionian islands. Set into the slopes near Old Skala, you can both unwind in its fantastic infinity pool while watching the sun set over the olive groves and glittering ocean below.

For some quality time outside the villa, visit the nearby peaceful fishing village of Katelios for an evening of wining and dining at a waterfront taverna. Or if you fancy a livelier atmosphere, the popular seaside resort of Skala offers trendy cocktail bars, authentic tavernas and 3 kilometres of sand-and-shingle beach flanked by fragrant pine forest.

Villa Dora in Sao Rafael, Algarve

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Located in the picture postcard countryside near the Algarve’s southern coast, the 2-bedroom Villa Dora is the ideal choice for couples wanting some R&R. With its impressive pool, spacious terrace and lush lawn surrounded by colourful blooms, there are plenty of great spots to soak up the sun and enjoy each other’s company.

Just around the corner is the spectacular Sao Rafael Beach, with its stunning rock formations and rust-coloured cliffs. And you’ll also be within striking distance of Albufeira, where you can roam the Old Town’s cobbled streets before sipping a delicious cocktail at one of its many nightlife hotspots.

Villa Serena in Nissaki, Corfu

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Villa Serena is found in a small seaside village in north east Corfu. It boasts two bright bedrooms, a vine-covered pergola, gorgeous treetop views and a poolside BBQ for rustling up an intimate alfresco dinner for two.

Not only that, but Villa Serena occupies a great central spot in Nissaki. You’ll be just a 10-minute stroll from its pretty cove, harbour and seafront tavernas. And if you’re feeling particularly intrepid, you can even hire a private motorboat to explore the neighbouring resorts and little tucked-away beaches along the coast.

Want to discover even more options for the perfect romantic escape? Take a look at our other villas for couples

5 top tips for keeping fit and healthy on holiday

Ah, holiday time. A chance to leave the stressful everyday routine behind and spend a few weeks indulging in endless food, drink, sun and relaxation.

But you don’t have to completely neglect your health and fitness while you’re away. Check out our 5 top tips for how to stay in great shape during your villa break, while still kicking back and enjoying yourself.

  1. Eat mindfully

It’s hard to resist the lure of all the tasty cuisine on offer when we’re on holiday. Who could say no to another cooling scoop of that delicious gelato? But if you want to still fit into your favourite jeans when you get home, you’ll need eat consciously rather than on autopilot.

So balance out those naughty treats with healthier choices. Savour rather than scoff each mouthful. Don’t pile your plate too high. And instead of dining out every day, why not stay at your villa and whip up a wholesome feast with fresh produce from the local market?

  1. Go easy on the booze

It’s not just holiday food that can wreak havoc with your waistline. Alcohol also packs a calorific punch and too many tipples will quickly pile on the pounds. What’s more, it can make you pee more often and lead to dehydration – which is bad news if you’re in a hot climate.

Instead of downing lots of drinks at once, pace yourself and try not to exceed the recommended maximum of 14 units a week. And if you’re watching your weight, choose your drinks wisely and consider swapping that calorie-laden wine or beer for a skinnier spritzer or shandy.

  1. Keep active

After an exhausting few months at home, it’s tempting to spend all of your well-earned break lazing and lounging in the sun. But by staying active for some of the time, you’ll keep your fitness levels up and burn off those extra calories too.

Why not swim a few lengths of your villa’s private pool? Have a rally on your private tennis court? Or get out and explore the local area on foot or by bike? Just be careful to avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest part of the day.

  1. Stay hydrated

We all know we should be drinking eight glasses of water a day. And it’s even more important to get plenty of H2O while holidaying in the heat, as dehydration can lead to nasties like headaches, nausea, dizziness and even heatstroke.

To keep your water levels topped up, make sure you always carry a bottle with you and take regular slurps even if you don’t feel thirsty. You could also munch on yummy snacks with a high water content, like watermelon or cucumber.

  1. Protect yourself from the sun

Most of us can’t wait to escape the typical British weather and soak up some rays in warmer climes. But too much UV light is is hazardous to our health, causing painful skin burns and even cancer.

To enjoy the sunshine safely, generously apply a good high factor sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outside and reapply this regularly throughout the day. And when the sun is at its strongest, it’s best to seek out shade, wear a wide-brimmed hat and cover up with loose-fitting clothing.

7 easy ways to go green (and save money) on holiday

7 easy ways to go green (and save money) on holiday

 

Climate change. Plastic pollution. Food waste. These are all hot topics right now, and with good reason. But how can you care for the planet when you’re miles away from home? Well, it’s not as hard as you think. Here are 7 simple ways to protect the environment (and your wallet) on your next villa holiday.

 

  1. Pack a refillable water bottle

BBC’s Blue Planet II woke us all up to the world’s devastating plastic problem. So do your bit and save some dosh by taking a refillable water bottle on holiday with you. Trendy stainless steel bottles are the most durable, best insulated and easiest to clean. But if you want a lighter and cheaper option, a BPA-free plastic bottle is the way to go.

 

  1. Watch your energy and water use

Conserving energy and water are great ways to be eco-friendly during your villa holiday. Turn off the air conditioning, lights, TV and taps when you’re not using them. Take a quick and energising shower instead of a bath. Don’t run the dishwasher or washing machine until they’re full. And remember to unplug your gadgets when they’ve finished charging.

 

  1. Bring some reusable bags

Like plastic bottles, single-use carrier bags are another big environmental offender. So make sure you pack some reusable ones for carrying your groceries, souvenirs and holiday gear. Tote bags are a good choice as they’re hardwearing, lightweight and foldable. They’ll hardly take up any space in your suitcase, either.

 

  1. Explore by foot or bike

Motor vehicles are a major contributor to climate change and air pollution. So why not leave your hire car at the villa and explore the local area by walking or cycling? Many of our villas are in great central locations just a stone’s throw away from beaches, restaurants and other amenities. What’s more, you’ll save yourself the hassle and expense of parking – and burn off those extra holiday calories!

 

  1. Eat out responsibly

Restaurants and cafés generate a huge amount of food waste and carbon emissions, so it’s worth being mindful when eating out. Try to dine at places that use local, organic ingredients that haven’t been shipped from the other side of the world. Avoid disposable containers and cutlery. And don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach and order more than you can manage.

 

  1. Cook up your own storm

Instead of eating out every day, how about saving the environment and a wad of cash by self-catering? Head to the local grocery store or farmers market before whipping up a delicious feast using your villa’s kitchen or BBQ. You could even make your own yummy packed lunches to take out on day trips.

 

  1. Recycle your rubbish

You don’t have abandon your recycling habits just because you’re on holiday. Rather than throwing all your waste into the same bin, sort it into categories like you would at home and drop it at the local recycling facilities before you leave. The planet will thank you, and you can travel home guilt-free.

 

 

 

On the Gourmet Trail. Italy: Puglia

Taste a piece of Puglia at home with this delicious Orecchiette pasta with broccoli sauce.

Ingredients

12 ounces broccoli florets- cut or broken into very small florets about equal size

8 ounces short pasta- orecchiette pasta, penne, rigatoni, etc

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 garlic cloves- rough chopped

Generous pinch chili flakes

Generous pinch salt and pepper

12 anchovy, chopped (optional)

2 cups veggie or chicken broth

Garnish options- grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese,  lemon zest, fresh basil ribbons, toasted pine nuts, toasted bread crumbs, truffle oil or kalamata olives- all optional.

 

Instructions

1. Steam small broccoli florets until very tender ( easily pierced with a fork)  and set aside.

2. Cook pasta according to directions, and save some hot pasta water when you drain.

3. In a large pan, saute the garlic and chili flakes in the olive oil, over medium heat until fragrant and golden, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the steamed broccoli, optional anchovy, salt, pepper and broth. Bring to a gentle simmer and start breaking apart the broccoli with a metal spatula into tiny pieces.

4. You want the broccoli to basically melt down into a “sauce”.  Continue simmering gently, on low heat until half of the liquid evaporates and it becomes the consisancy of a thick sauce, about 10-15 minutes. It won’t be smooth-just broken down and tender.

5. Add the pasta. Toss well. Add more pasta water if you like it a little more saucy. Taste for salt, adding more along with pepper and the chili flakes.

6. Divide among bowls and top with any of the garnishes you like. Grated Parmesan adds depth and salt, Lemon zest adds a nice brightness, which I highly recommend and a drizzle of truffle oil elevates.

Enjoy!

How do you choose your next destination?

Have you booked your holiday? How did you decide where you were going? Did you spend hours thumbing through Instagram, checking out your friends’ pictures of sun-kissed legs set against the backdrop of an azure sea, or envying those influencers lounging by an infinity pool? Maybe you read an article about the latest holiday hotspot in one of the Sunday supplements? Or perhaps you’re returning to the same place you went to last year. After all, you had a great time, so why wouldn’t you want to return?

Here at Villa Plus, we wanted to find out the greatest influences when looking for our next holiday destinations. So, we surveyed 1,000 British adults to find out.

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Instagram influence

One in five of us let our thumbs do the talking when we’re looking for our next holiday.

Scrolling through social media sure does make us feel envious, or shall we say, provides inspiration. Whether it’s travel bloggers in far-flung places or friends messing around pools in the grounds of gorgeous villas, social media certainly gives us lots of ideas when we’re looking for our next holiday destination.

And it’s women who are more influenced by social media than men. In fact, they’re three times more likely than men to choose a holiday based on something they’ve seen on social media. And 10% more likely to choose a holiday destination because they deem it to be “Instagram worthy”.

Finding that Instagrammable location is especially a priority for Geordies, with nearly a fifth of them stating it’s an important factor when choosing a holiday destination.

After all, what’s the point of going on holiday if you can’t make your friends jealous?!

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Keeping it in the family

Despite the rising influence of social media, recommendations from friends and family remain the top factor when we’re looking for holiday inspiration, with over a third of Brits saying that they’re more likely to book a holiday at a location that their friends or family have stayed at and enjoyed.

Bagging a bargain

Us Brits love a bargain and finding a cheap deal certainly remains a factor when we’re looking for a holiday, particularly for men, who are nearly four times more likely to pick a holiday destination because of a special offer or because it has been reduced in price. Liverpudlians are particularly keen on a deal, with 42% stating that it would influence where they decide to go on holiday.

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Sticking to tradition

A good few of us are repeat tourists – 10% of Brits like to return to a holiday destination they’ve enjoyed before. After all, if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it! Men (20%) are nearly twice as likely as women (11%) to choose a holiday because they’ve been there before. This also tends to be true of older holiday makers, with more than a quarter of 55-64-year-olds (25.3%) returning to a favourite destination, compared to only 11% of 18-24-year-olds. As for around the UK, a quarter of Sheffield-based folks stated that the last holiday they booked was a return visit to a place they had stayed at before.

Chasing the sun

So, what other factors influence us when we’re looking for a holiday? Just over 23% of people from Edinburgh revealed they get holiday inspiration from newspaper and magazine articles, whereas 50% of Scousers list finding a holiday destination not too far from home as a top factor. After all, not everyone wants to waste days of their work holiday allowance travelling to their destination. Obviously, the weather is a big consideration for many of us, especially for Sheffield holiday makers, with over 62% of them stating that it was a major factor in their decision-making process.

Getting it booked

When it comes to booking, the majority of us (34%) prefer to book a holiday directly with the service provider, for example, booking villas with a dedicated villa holiday company. Surprisingly, only 8% of Brits use home-sharing or owner-letting sites, like Airbnb, to book their holidays. Perhaps we’re still disposed to trusting more established companies rather than individuals when it comes to such important decisions. Interestingly, over one in ten Brits booked their last holiday destination directly through social media.

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It’s clear that social media is becoming more and more influential to people’s holidaying habits, but can anything really match a recommendation from a friend or family member?  After all, it’s the job of influencers and travel bloggers to make their pictures look amazing, so how can you really be sure that a place is as Instagrammable as it looks? When it comes to family and friends, they’re more likely to give you the warts-and-all report of a destination, which might be why their recommendations influence our holiday decisions more than social media.

No matter how you found your holiday whether it was through your Instagram feed, by following a friend’s recommendation or returning to a tried-and-tested location – we’re sure you’ll have an amazing time. Bonnes vacances!

Ways to protect yourself in the sun

With temperatures this week due to reach a scorching 38°C, we’ve put together a list of handy tips to keep you and your family safe in the sun…

1 Make sure you always carry water with you – carrying water or something cool to drink not only keeps you hydrated, it also decreases your body temperature, and is therefore a must on sunny days.

2 Apply sun cream – put sun cream on before you go out and make sure to top it up regularly throughout the day, especially after swimming.

3 Cover up – wear something light which covers easy-to-burn areas such as your neck and shoulders. A sun hat is also a great way to keep your head and face protected at the same time as looking super fashionable!

4 Protect your eyes – wearing sunglasses will protect your eyes from the sun’s UV rays. Plus, they’ll also block out the glare allowing you to see much better in bright weather.

5 Stay in the shade – the middle of the day is when the sun’s rays are strongest, so stay safe in the shade as much as possible between 11am – 3pm.

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33 years of Adding Extra

To celebrate our 33rd birthday, we’ve chosen 33 reasons why customers love holidaying with Villa Plus!

1.       You’ll have your own very own private pool.

2.       We have villa in 18 European destinations, so you have plenty of choice.

3.       We have over 16,000 reviews on Trustpilot and our customers rate us as “Great.”

4.       Great for multi generational holidays.

5.       Some of our villas have annexes, so your party can spread out and enjoy more private space.

6.       There’s no racing to reserve a sunbed, everyone gets their own.

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7.       We offer year-round holidays in a mix of destinations, so spend your summer in Greece or your winter in the Canary Islands, the choice is yours!

8.       For something a little bit more special you can book a Very Villa Plus property and enjoy even more free added extras.

9.       Almost all of our villas come with BBQs, so you can practice your grilling skills and whip up some tasty food for lunch or dinner.

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10.   We have a great team of representatives in every resort who are available 24/7 if you need them.

11.   Our selection of villas with pool fences will give you extra peace of mind when travelling with little ones.

12.   Kids and adults alike will love the table tennis and pool tables.

13.   Our ABTA and ATOL protection mean your money is safe with us.

14.   Free WiFi means you can keep up to date with what’s going on and stay in touch with family and friends.

15.   A lot of our villas offer a good deal of privacy and seclusion for a relaxing family holiday.

16.   Our Price Match offer means we won’t be beaten on price.

17.   Our Villa Only low deposits mean you can book the villa of your choice for only a fraction of the price up front.

18.   Many of our villas are in completely Instagram-able locations – perfect for making friends and family jealous back home.

19.   Our countryside villas typically offer more seclusion and wonderful views of the surrounding area.

20.   A private villa holiday is the perfect choice for spending quality time with family or friends…

21.   …as well as making memories with the kids.

22.   Villa Plus is an award-winning company, recognised for its great service both in the UK and overseas.

23.   Our villas with a sea view are perfect for lazy days at the villa, sunbathing and enjoying the scenery.

Villa Plus Rhodes 2018

24.   We offer starter packs at all of our villas for a small extra cost – or for free at our Very Villa Plus Villas – so you’ll have some provisions when you arrive.

25.   The majority of our villas have free pool heating available for 10 months of the year.

26.   All of our villas offer complete exclusivity – you won’t find them anywhere else!

27.   Every villa in our programme has been hand-picked by our knowledgeable team, with our customers best interests in mind.

28.   On a private villa holiday, you’ll have your own space and can do things at your own leisure.

29.   Many of our villas sit within a short walk of the seafront – perfect for beach lovers!

1 Praia Dona Ana

30.   Our centrally located villas are within a short walk of the nearest amenities, meaning there’s no need to hire a car.

31.   Villa Plus is a well-established company and has been for 33 years.

32.   Whether it’s just the villa you’re wanting, or a full package including flights are car hire, our flexible booking options mean you can tailor make your villa holiday.

33.   A handful of our villas include private tennis courts where you can practice your serve and enjoy a game or two.

 

On the Gourmet Trail. Greece: Moussaka

Want a taste of Greece without leaving the country? Try our easy to follow Moussaka recipe.

Ingredients

750g/1lb 10½oz lamb mince

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp dried oregano

1½ tsp dried mint

1 bay leaf

1 cinnamon stick

1 tbsp plain flour

200ml/7fl oz red wine

400g tin chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato purée

2 aubergines, cut into 0.5cm slices

1 tbsp fine sea salt, plus extra for seasoning

100ml/3½fl oz olive oil

500g/1lb 2oz Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

Freshly ground black pepper

For the white sauce

50g/2oz butter

50g/2oz plain flour

400ml/14fl oz milk

25g/1oz Parmesan, finely grated

1 tsp finely grated nutmeg

1 free-range egg, beaten

Method

1. Put the lamb, onion, garlic, oregano, mint, bay and cinnamon in a large heavy-based frying pan and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up the meat.

2. Stir in the flour and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the wine, tomatoes and tomato purée and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is tender and the sauce has thickened. Season again if needed and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, place the aubergine slices in a colander and sprinkle with the tablespoon of salt. Set aside for 10 minutes.

4. Rinse the aubergine slices under cold running water and pat dry with a clean tea towel. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large heavy-based frying pan and fry the aubergines for 2–3 minutes on each side, adding more oil when necessary. Remove from the pan and set aside to drain on kitchen paper.

5. Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain in a colander under running water until cold.

6. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6.

7. To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for a few seconds, then gradually stir in the milk. Add half the Parmesan and the grated nutmeg. Simmer the sauce gently for 4–5 minutes, stirring regularly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

8. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool. When cooled, stir in the egg.

9. Spoon one-third of the meat sauce into a shallow ovenproof dish large enough to hold 2.5 litres. Cover loosely with a third of the potatoes and then a third of the aubergines – you don’t need complete layers, just to arrange them roughly on top. Repeat the layers twice more, finishing with the aubergines. Pour over the white sauce, making sure it covers everything in a thick, even layer. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Bake for 35–45 minutes, or until deep golden-brown and bubbling.

We LOVE ISLAND Life in Majorca

Are you glued to your TV watching the Love Island celebs get up to their cheeky antics in the Majorcan sun? If the show’s got you dreaming of a villa holiday to this amazing Balearic island, here are four ways to enjoy life out there.

 

  1. Stay in the charming yet stylish resort of Cala d’Or

Once a traditional Spanish fishing village, this family-friendly resort on the island’s south east coast fuses relaxed charm with upmarket style. As well as picturesque cobbled streets, golden sandy beaches and fun activities for the kids, you’ll find endless chic bars, eateries and shops in the stunning yacht-filled marina.

Cala Varques beach

If you’re looking for the perfect villa holiday in Cala d’Or, check out Villa Marino with its private pool, serene gardens and beautiful countryside views. Or take a look at the spacious Villa Ses Arcades which boasts a great central location and wonderful sun terrace for dining al fresco.

 

  1. Discover a slice of Caribbean paradise at Es Trenc

A short drive away from Cala d’Or is Es Trenc, the most famous beach in Majorca. This trendy part of the south east coastline is often likened to the Caribbean thanks to its two kilometres of powdery white sand and bright turquoise water.

Es Trenc is quite remote and not part of a resort, which gives it an unspoilt and natural ambience. It’s a little more peaceful than the more commercial beaches thanks to fewer noisy watersports and restaurants. And it’s popular with nudists, so head to the marked sections if you fancy shedding your swimwear!

 

  1. Visit the laidback ancient town of Pollensa

For relaxing holiday in northern Majorca, Pollensa is a great choice. This historical rural town is full of narrow streets, old buildings, interesting museums and quaint shops. It’s also home to one of Majorca’s best markets, where you can buy everything from beautiful local crafts to delicious fresh produce every Sunday.

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If you want to stay near Pollensa, Villa Bennassar is a top pick with its spectacular mountain backdrop, private pool and traditional style. Or Villa Bon Reco is well worth a look if you’re after lovely hilly views and a secluded lawn for a spot of sunbathing.

 

  1. Tickle your taste buds at Ponderosa Beach

The popular Ponderosa Beach is considered one of the top chiringuitos (beach clubs) in Spain. Situated on Playa de Muro on the north coast, this fashionable restaurant has a cool vibe with colourful shutters and white furniture.

Sink your feet into the sand as you savour mouth-watering Mediterranean dishes like seafood paella or linguine pasta. And then wash it all down with a tasty cocktail while admiring the ocean vista.

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Want to follow in the footsteps of the Love Islanders for your next villa holiday? Check out our fantastic range of villas to rent in Majorca.

On the Gourmet Trail. Spain: Paella

This delicious dish is from Spain and is the ideal meal for a night in with your friends and family.

 

Ingredients 

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 red pepper, chopped

125g (4¼ oz) fresh chorizo sausage, casing removed and diced

2 skinless, boneless chicken breast fillets, diced

350g (12 oz) uncooked Arborio rice

1.25 litres (2 pints) chicken stock

100ml (4 fl oz) white wine

1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves only

1 pinch saffron

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 squid, cleaned and diced

2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped

75g (3 oz) frozen garden peas

12 large prawns, peeled and deveined

500g (1 1/4 lb) mussels, cleaned and debearded

Generous handful chopped parsley

8 wedges lemon to garnish

 

Method

1. Heat olive oil in paella pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and pepper; cook and stir for a few minutes. Add chorizo, chicken and rice; cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 of the stock, wine, thyme leaves and saffron. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes; stir occasionally.

2. Taste the rice and check to see if it is cooked. If the rice is uncooked, stir in 1/3 of the remaining stock. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally. Stir in additional stock as necessary. Cook until rice is done.

3. Stir in squid, tomatoes and peas. Cook for 2 minutes. Arrange prawns and mussels on top. Cover with aluminium foil and leave for 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Remove the foil and sprinkle parsley over the top. Serve in paella pan garnished with lemon wedges.