As we see out the old year and bring in the new, there’s something of a tradition in blogging circles to review the places you visited, share photos from the year just gone and generally reminisce about those days of sunshine and happy memories – doesn’t everything seem more rosy in retrospect?
Looking back over my travelling year, I’m amazed at how many places in the UK and Europe I managed to fit in, considering that I have a full-time job and family (although only one of my little birds left in the nest). Perhaps that’s why my preferred travel style is the short break, to pack in the maximum fun from a limited amount of holiday. My most regular travel companion is my husband Guy who by his own admission is as expert in ‘loafing’ as I am at scribbling, photographing, video-ing, although he regularly gets roped in as assistant cameraman and videographer. Whenever I get the chance, I also love travelling with friends and family, especially when the (nearly-grown-up) kids do us the honour of coming along.
So here is a taste of my travelling year in 2014 in anticipation of many more happy travels in 2015.
January: Still recovering from Paris in December
January was something of a catch-up month, so I’m cheating a little bit here by including the pre-Christmas trip to Paris from December 2013. We found that Paris at Christmas is surprisingly un-Christmassy as the French are pretty low key about their celebrations and decorations. On this trip we stayed clear of the regular tourist traps (although we couldn’t quite escape Notre Dame) and enjoyed exploring the more local haunts, with a gourmet walking tour of Marche D’Aligre, a local dining experience with a Frenche Creole flavour and a walk along the pretty Canal Saint Martin in Bastille.
February: A winter break in Copenhagen for the Wondercool festival
In February we were back in Copenhagen, a favourite of mine, to see what the city has to offer in winter and check out the Copenhagen Cooking festival. The gastronomic highlight was a gastro-cruise around the harbour during which we stopped at no less than six of the top restaurants in Copenhagen, each of which had prepared a different dish of mussels. I hadn’t quite realised that the focus would be entirely on one ingredient so was quite thankful that both Guy and I love seafood! We stayed at the fabulous and colourful Anderson boutique hotel and managed to combine more gourmet food tasting at the Torverhallerne food market with culture at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and Rosenborg Slot.
Read More: In Photos: Our weekend break in Copenhagen
March: Heather is featured in Woman and Home Magazine
Although this is not actually a place I travelled but I have to mention how thrilled I was at being featured in Woman and Home magazine, with two other bloggers in a feature about “Blogging for fame and fortune”. I had such a fun day at the photography shoot, being made up and dressed up in impossibly high heels with tons of make-up, and a suitcase that would never have made it past the Ryanair police. All great fantasy and left me floating on air when friends kept telling me they had seen me in the magazine.
March: A weekend in Marrakech in search of Josephine Baker
March took me off to Marrakech to get my fix of spring sunshine and we stayed in the magical Riad Star which was once the home of French cabaret artist and superstar of the 1920s, Josephine Baker. The Riad has been beautifully renovated in a Jazz Age theme, with a relaxing roof terrace, inner courtyard where we enjoyed breakfast and even had its own dressing up box. We spent the weekend trying to not get too lost in the Souk, perfecting our haggling skills, and visiting a fair number of beautifully decorated mosques, palaces and gardens. Of course there was the obligatory snake charmer photo opportunity in Jemaa el Fnaa.
April: A spring break in North Devon
April is when spring is truly upon us with the daffodils and primroses blooming in North Devon. We spent a weekend with friends in the lush, green wilds of the Devon countryside at Penhaven Country Cottages, booked through Premier Cottages. There was plenty of pub grub, coastal walks and a visit to Clovelly, the picturesque cliffside village that is now a major tourist attraction and could easily play a starring role in any costume drama about smugglers and pirates.
May: Walking the Pembrokeshire coastal path and the puffins on Skomer island
In May we went walking in Wales along the Pembrokeshire coastal path with Macs Adventure on a taster version of their Best of Pembrokeshire itinerary. We had chosen the perfect time of year to visit Skomer island, a short boat ride off the coast, since it was the beginning of the Puffin breeding season and we were able to get really close to the cute looking Puffins as they arrived back at their burrows. Our walk along the Pembrokeshire coastal path continued from Broadhaven, past the lovely harbour at Solva, ending at St David’s where we had a look around the famous cathedral, art galleries and craftshops in the “Smallest City in Great Britain”, which is really an overgrown village.
May: A Mediterranean Cruise with MSC Cruises
Later in May we were off again on a Mediterranean cruise with MSC Cruises. We embarked at Barcelona and had a fun week as the ship cruised around the Med visiting Marseille, Genoa, Naples, Messina and Tunis, before returning to Barcelona. The ship was very glamorous with a lively atmosphere and plenty of families on board, and at each port we visited I wished we could have stayed just a little longer!
June: Discovering Dylan Thomas in Swansea and Laugharne
One of my favourite UK trips this year was to South Wales to discover more about the poet, Dylan Thomas in his centenary year. Swansea, where Dylan grew up, is not the prettiest of cities but provided a fascinating gateway to his childhood and early years. We followed his life through the dramatised walk we took around the streets from the Dylan Thomas Centre and our visit to the Dylan Thomas Birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. Our Dylan Thomas discovery continued at Laugharne in Carmarthenshire, where we stayed at Dylan’s favourite drinking haunt of Brown’s Hotel and visited The Boat House where he lived and worked, overlooking the beautiful Taf estuary. With views like these who wouldn’t be inspired?
June: Walking the beaches of the Gower in South Wales
In June, I was back in Wales with another cottage stay at the fabulous luxury cottage, Promenade View in Mumbles through Home from Home Cottages. The cottage was perfectly situated on the promenade of this traditional holiday resort which is also the gateway to the fabulous beaches of the Gower Peninsula. We took full advantage, with a long walk from our front door along the coastal path, past the fabulous beaches of Bracelet Bay, Langland, Caswell, along the clifftop to Pennard, where we caught the bus back to Mumbles. The next day we had a morning in the sand-dunes and flat beach of Llangenith, a favourite beach for surfers which left us feeling refreshed and miles from our busy life in Bristol.
July: Back to Copenhagen for a family holiday
Two visits to the same place in one year must mean that I really like a place and we took the family back to Copenhagen in late July for a family break, staying in a large apartment near the harbour side. The weather was hot and sunny and we cycled everywhere, swam in the harbour, ate great street-food and took ferries across the harbour. Like Copenhageners of all ages, we enjoyed a day at Tivoli, although after the adrenalin rush of the roller-coaster with my kids I was happy to sit and admire the rose garden from a shady spot on the lawn.
August: Zakynthos Greece for a beach holiday with my daughter
Since my sister lives on the Greek island of Zakynthos, I try to visit her each year and in August I was there with my 19 year old daughter and English niece. Since my Greek niece was also there with four of her friends, I got to hang out with the beach-babes in the most trendy beach bars, check out all the unspoiled beaches and generally live the life of a 19 year old on holiday. When not sipping on my chilled frappe coffee or swimming in the clear water to cool off, I was able to observe Greek beach style and etiquette which I wrote about in the article below.
September: A foodie adventure in South Tyrol, Italy
September took me to South Tyrol in Italy, an area that is close to the Austrian and Swiss borders with stunning mountain scenery in the Dolomites. I spent a few days there, combining outdoor activities with gastronomic pleasures, cycling around Lake Kaltern on the South Tyrol wine road, visiting some of the local designers and the climbing a Via Ferrata. These ‘iron routes’ are rock climbing routes of varying difficulty where you are secured to a cable that snakes up the rock-face, enabling relative novices like me to reach the top (although best with a guide) in a scary but exhilarating experience.
September: Hiking the Dry Stone route in Mallorca
Later in September I was off for another walking holiday with my friend Julia, to Mallorca. Having completed the Tour de Mont Blanc together in previous years, we fancied something that combined views of the sea with mountainous walking and decided to walk a section of the Dry Stone Route, a long-distance path that skirts the west coast of Mallorca into the Tramuntana mountain range. We passed through several of the coastal resorts of Mallorca but my favourite time was walking the higher rocky sections of the Traamuntana from Soller to Lluc monastery.
October: Athens for TBEX Blogger’s Conference
In October I was in Athens, a city I haven’t really explored, despite visiting the Greek islands every year to see my sister. The city has been through a tough time with the recent ecenomic crisis but we found a new spirit of optimism and purpose as the worst seems to be over. The city was hosting the TBEX blogger’s conference and as part of this I spent a day in Athens on a gastronomic walking tour as well as a visit to the Parthenon. I was pleasantly surprised the warmth and spirit of Athens and it’s one place I’d love to get back to see more of in 2015.
November: A weekend at the Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon
In November I was back down to Devon for a weekend on the edge of Dartmoor at the Moorland Garden Hotel. This is a part of the world that I have visited quite a few times and we visited the market town of Tavistock, on the edge of the moor and visited The Garden House and National Trust property of Buckland Abbey nearby. There were all too many opportunities to try those yummy Devon cream teas.
December: A pre-Christmas weekend in Dublin
To bring the year to a close I spent a weekend in Dublin with my husband and 17 year old son in early December. The purpose of our trip was the Trinity College open day, since my son is looking at university choices for next year, but we managed to pack in an awful lot else, with shopping on Grafton Street, the Little Museum of Dublin and plenty of great meals, not to mention the odd pint of Guinness.
So the year comes to a close but I know there will be plenty more travel adventures in 2015. In January I will be back down to Devon to stay in another lovely cottage that’s close to the Jurassic coast, as well as a visit to India at the end of the month to visit the charity project that I support in Andhra Pradesh. I hope that you’ll join me through the blog on these and other trips and follow my photos on social media too.
Wishing you many happy travel adventures of your own in 2015.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
When spring arrives with sunshine and daffodils, it always puts me in the mood for planning my next getaway, a mini-break to throw off the chill of winter and tide me over until the summer holidays. If you’re in the mood for a weekend away in Europe or the UK, take a look at the fun web app from SuperBreak to fuel your holiday inspiration. Whether you’re planning a relaxing half term break with the family, a weekend of eating and entertainment with your friends, or a cultural city-break with your partner, here are some of the destinations that you might want to consider;
If you’re a couple looking for a weekend of food, drink and entertainment you might look at….
What Superbreak have to say; Just a quick jump across the water and you can enjoy traditional Bars, comedy clubs, delicious local food and the ever-so-friendly Irish welcome! Guinness at the ready!
What I enjoyed about Dublin;
- I love the way that the Irish always have a story to tell, that you can go into any pub and strike up a conversation with a complete stranger and there’s always some music and a song or two.
- Visit the Guinness Storehouse in an amazing 7 storey old warehouse with modern glass additions to learn about Dublin’s favourite tipple – you’ll be shown how to pull the perfect pint of the black stuff and can buy up the brand’s heritage (love the retro toucans).
- Take the train out to Sandy Cove, a seaside spot where the members of the 40 foot swimming club test the water every day of the year and where James Joyce lived in an old Martello tower and liked to take a dip.
Here’s what I wrote about Dublin: The best of TBEX, the best of Dublin
But if you and your partner are looking for a weekend of culture in Europe, why not try…
What Superbreak have to say; With a wealth of history, culture and plenty of Italian charisma, you can’t help but feel the love on a weekend break in Rome with someone special.
What I enjoyed about Rome;
- Buying a gelato from the kiosk shop on the island in the Tiber and eating it with a view of the river where Dan Brown’s hero, in the book Angels and Demons, parachutes out of an exploding helicopter to land on the island.
- Visiting the Turtle fountain or Fontana delle Tartarughe in Piazza Mattei first thing in the morning before the crowds have gathered – so much more charming and less crowded than the Trevi Fountain.
- Visiting the daily fruit and vegetable market in Campo de’Fiori and buying a slice of pizza fresh from the oven from the artizan bakery at one end, then sitting on the steps of the central monument to eat it.
Here’s one of my stories about Rome: The view from the dome of St Peter’s in Rome
If you are a couple who fancy a weekend of culture in the UK take a look at …
What Superbreak have to say; Discover the quaint city of Stratford upon Avon on a romantic weekend break. Step back in time in this historic city and see the spots where Shakespeare’s most famous plays were created.
What I love to do in Stratford-upon-Avon;
- Visit the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, a fabulous venue that has gone through a multi-million pound renovation. You must try and get a ticket to see one of their Shakespeare productions but even if you can’t, be sure to pop in to wander round the building, visit one of the exhibitions, climb the tower or take a backstage tour.
- Taking afternoon tea at the Arden Hotel right opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the perfect place for a lunch stop in between sightseeing or a pre-theatre dinner before you pop across the road for the performance.
- Several of the houses in and around Stratford associated with Shakespeare and his family are open to the public, and we we especially love Anne Hathaway’s Cottage with its cottage garden and the settle by the fire where young William might have snuggled with his new bride Anne.
Here’s what I wrote about Stratford-upon-Avon: The Tower and other Transformations at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon
But if you are a group who’d like a weekend of culture in Europe why not try …
What Superbreak have to say; With history, landmarks and iconic French architecture around every corner, Paris offers everything a group would need for a cultural break. Don’t forget your camera!
What I enjoyed about Paris;
- Wandering around the Parisian’s choice of market, Marche d’Aligre with the most polished and perfect fruit and vegetables, a mouthwatering selection of prepared dishes in the covered market and a flea market where you can buy everything from vintage footwear to elegant wine glasses.
- Walking down Canal Saint Martin to admire all the houseboats and then continuing along the narrow footpath right beside the Seine, with views of Notre Dame in the distance – a world away from the tourist crowds at the cathedral itself.
- Exploring the covered arcades with art galleries and street cafes in Place des Vosges and then visiting Maison Victor Hugo to find out about the life and times of this celebrated French writer, author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Here’s what I wrote about Paris: Our winter weekend in Paris, the food, the sights, the video
And if and your friends are looking for a weekend of culture in Europe, why not try…
What Superbreak have to say; A weekend break in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital offers an eclectic mix of fascinating Portuguese history and contemporary art and culture.
What I loved about Lisbon;
- Listening to the mournful Fado singers who perform in the restaurants in the Bairo Alto and Alfama neighbourhoods – don’t expect the food to be anything special but the music will touch your soul.
- Eating Pasteis de Belem from the famous cakes shop near the Monastery of Jerónimos – these creamy custard tarts are the signature of Lisbon and you can either sit in the vaulted cafe rooms at the back of the shop or take them away to eat in the gardens overlooking the port.
- Taking the yellow, vintage No 28 tram up the hill to the Castelo de Sao Jorge where you can walk around the ramparts and gaze over the rooftops towards the river where the ships left to conquer the New World centuries ago.
Here’s one of my stories about Lisbon: An autumn weekend in Lisbon – Podcast
There are plenty more inspirational short break destinations to discover with the SuperBreak app so why not give it a try and see where your inspiration leads you.
About the Superbreak Holiday Inspirator: To celebrate their 30th anniversary, Yorkshire based holiday company Superbreak.com have created a fun app to help you choose the perfect UK or European city break based on who you’re travelling with and what you enjoy. Check out the Superbreak Holiday Inspirator Webapp or follow the coversation on the Superbreak Facebook Page or on Twitter @Superbreak using hashtag #SuperBreakinspo
This article is brought to you in partnership with Superbreak.com
Photo Credits: Dublin at night by LenDog64 Other photos by Heatheronhertravels.com
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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
“In Dublin you’ll always find a pub next to a bookmaker’s,” Denis told us as the coach swung around the roundabout, ” You place your bet, watch the horses on the telly then pop next door to get your winnings”. We’d barely left the hotel on our Wild Wicklow coach tour, driving past Georgian terraces and brightly coloured front doors, when the stories started to flow. Denis O’Reilly, our guide for the day, was like a good natured leprechaun, full of michievous energy and with a tale to tell about everything that we passed. One of the other bloggers beside me exclaimed “I don’t know what sort of coffee he had this morning, but I want some of that!” The flow of chatter and stories was so continuous that it took me an hour to realise that Denis was driving the coach as well as giving us an annecdote or joke about everything that we passed. Who says men can’t multi-task?
I was off on the Wild Wicklow tour, the day after the TBEX travel bloggers’ conference I attended in Dublin. Although I’d barely scratched the surface of Dublin, I selected this tour because it seemed to offer a taste of Ireland in one day; wild scenery in the Wicklow mountains, a stop at the Avoca handweavers known for their colourful checked throws, a bit of history at the Glendalough monastery and a good lunch in a traditional Irish pub thrown in.
As we pulled up at Sandycove, a seaside spot on the outskirts of Dublin, Denis managed to convince us that the group of Germans on the tour were keen for a bit of skinny dipping. We got off the coach to stretch our legs and admire the views across the bay where a red and white buoy marked the mouth of the Liffey to guide the ships into the port of Dublin. Tucked on the far side of the rocky point was the 40 Foot swimming club, a popular place to come and swim all year round, even on Christmas day. According to Denis “you go in a man and come out a woman”, or as James Joyce, who swam here, described it in Ulysses, “the scrotumtightening sea”. We wandered around, mingling with the wrinkly swimmers, who were all sticking to the rules with togs on. They dressed and undressed, juggling towels and clothes in the fresh air, sharing cups of steaming tea poured from thermos flasks. We could see swimming hats bobbing in the water, or perhaps they could be the seals that Denis assured us swam in these waters. You never get a cold or fall ill if you swim here all year round.
“Don’t take me too seriously”, said Denis as we got back on the coach, “it’s only that I had a group of 25 Danish students and before I knew it the lads were in for a swim, bollock naked. We were all ready to go except for the girls who were last back on the coach and they’d been skinny dipping too!”. To this day all the swimmers at the 40 Foot, most of whom seemed to be in their 60s, ask Denis, “When are you bringing back the Danes?”
Our next stop was at Avoca handweavers in Kilmacanogue where we couldn’t resist cuddling the bark of the huge tree in the car park which felt spongy and soft to touch. The centre consisted of a large and tempting shop showcasing Avoca throws and other Irish crafts, a cafe full of delicious food, and a plant nursery and garden. The property was the home of John Jameson, of Jameson whiskey fame who came to Ireland from Scotland (but we won’t hold that against him) and collected all the exotic trees which are planted in the garden.
We sat on the terrace tucking into the huge scones then ignored the railing around the weeping Monteray cypus tree and went inside the dark cavern under the branches. I could easily have spent an hour or two, not to mention a few euros, drooling over all the beautiful things in the shop, but I didn’t want to trouble the Ryanair police and needed to stay under my 10kg baggage limit.
Before long, we were driving over the Wicklow mountains, which were not so much high peaks as rolling moorland (50 shades of green according to Denis) with dots of fluffy white bog cotton and the heather staining the hillside purple. Beside the road, the rainwater ran down the hillside in streams that were coloured brown from the peat (no, it’s not Guinness). Denis pointed out how the moorland and bog was uneven in places, where families for centuries had come to cut turf, which was the main source of fuel in days gone by. The turf was cut into rich brown bricks and laid out to dry in the sun and wind to fuel the winter fires. Every so often they find treasure left by the fleeing monks and 2000 year old bodies perfectly preserved under the turf. The Irish definition of heaven in October is to sit in a country pub with the smell of turf on the fire, a pint of Guinness and a packet of cheese and onion crisps. I was quite sold on the idea of the pub and turf fire but not so much on the bog snorkelling that some people also try in these parts – yes really they hold competitions!
Denis pointed out the patch of woodland where one of the battles was filmed in Braveheart (Mel Gibson in a skirt). Apparently the tax breaks for filming in Ireland are more generous than those in Scotland, so a lot of films are made here. The film was watched in Ireland more times per capita than any other country, since half the locals took part as extras in the battle scenes and had to see the film at least 3 times to make sure they could spot themselves. According to Denis you’d go to the cinema with your friends – but couldn’t hear anything except people saying “Did’ya see me? Did’ya see me?” Next we stopped to photograph the bridge where PS I Love You was filmed (it’s a chick flick) and the house by Lough Tay where all the pop stars stay. The lake was fringed with a bit of extra sand where they’d been filming Vikings and was also the setting for Excalibur where the sword is flung into the lake.
While we all stood on the hillside admiring the lake, and wondering whether Bono or Enya might be staying at the Guinness family home, Denis popped out a bottle of Jameson whiskey and we all had a warming nip and a toast – Sláinte! To continued peace in Ireland – see the video here
As we drove on to Laragh, Denis treated us to tales of his childhood when his parents would leave him and his brothers to make Irish coffees for their guests. If any went wrong and the cream got mixed with the coffee then of course Denis and his brothers would have to hide their mistake by drinking them. Here’s the recipe for a true Irish coffee;
How to make an Irish Coffee
Take out your best Waterford crystal goblets and put a teaspoon in the glass then heat the glass by pouring the boiling water over it, the spoon is there to prevent the glass from cracking. Pour freshly made coffee in to halfway up the glass then add 3 teaspoons of brown sugar and stir like crazy until the sugar melts. Add a good dollop of Irish Whiskey and a bit more for luck, then take your fresh cream from the fridge – not whipped cream but thick pouring cream as you would eat with strawberries. Rest the teaspoon against the inside of the glass then pour the cream slowly over the back of the spoon so that it sits on top of the coffee. When you drink it you have to get a creamy moustache.
At Laragh, we stopped at the Lynham’s Hotel, where a good roast lunch was being served washed down by a pint of Guinness if you were inclined to have a doze on the coach in the afternoon. The bare brick walls were covered with old pictures and prints and a young girl was playing on the Irish harp. It seems that no self-respecting traditional pub would be without a musician or two to entertain the guests.
After our late lunch we were off to nearby Glendalough, the ruins of a monastic settlement, built on the gently rising ground where the glacier had deposited its moraine at the end of the valley millions of years ago. The settlement was founded in the 6th century by St Kevin who lived as a hermit a bit further up the valley beside the lake in an inaccessible spot that could only be reached by boat. The tall tower set among the gravestones might easily have featured in Rapunzel, but was used as a bell tower to call the monks to prayer as well as a look-out for pilgrims or less welcome visitors who might be planning to attack. We wandered up the valley through the woodland and passed the first lake, up to the second lake which filled most of the valley. It was a lovely setting and in the car park I treated myself to a Teddy’s 99 ice cream before we were back on the coach for the drive back to Dublin, listening to some haunting Irish pipe music from Pat Connery who we had passed at the stone archway as we came in. You can see my short video of the singing here.
Thanks to Denis we had a great day out and a true taste of the Irish Blarney. I’m not so sure which of your stories was true, but after the Wild Wicklow tour, I’m ready to believe anything told me by an Irishman!
The Wild Wicklow Tour – book through the website or through your hotel, costs €28 per adult, €25 for child/student/seniors.
You may also enjoy my article: The best of TBEX, The best of Dublin
What other bloggers made of the Wild Wicklow tour;
Wicklow, the garden of Ireland: Finding the Gypsy in me
Day Trip from Dublin – The Wild Wicklow Tour is a must: Solo Travel Girl
The best pubs and restaurants in Dublin
As we reached Dublin, Denis gave us his personal recommendations for some great Irish Dublin pubs for a pint of Guinness and perhaps some traditional Irish music. If you’re looking for a good craic you might try;
Toner’s at 139 Lower Baggott St, O’Donahuhes at 15 Merrion Row where you’ll find traditional music every night, The Long Hall at 51 South St George’s St, Dohenny and Nesbitt at 5 Lower Baggott St, The Merchant at 12 Lower Bridge St, Stag’s Head at 1 Dame Court, The Brazen Head at 20 Lower Bridge St
For restaurants in Dublin, Denis suggests that you try;