My best travel experiences

Spurred on by the inspiring travel magazines I read and follow on social media, I have complied a list of my favourite travel experiences. I may not have discovered even a quarter of the world yet, however, of the wonderful places I have been fortunate to visit;- from road-trips round Europe with my family as a child, to working abroad in the U.S.A. – I feel that I have a few good travel tips to share.

Best airline:

Emirates are one of the most luxurious airlines I’ve had the pleasure of flying with, both with work and for holiday trips. Not only do they provide a great service, they have the highest standards of safety. I witnessed these standards first-hand when I went on a work trip to their training headquarters in Dubai. They even have a hair and beauty salon for the flight attendants to perfect the ‘Emirates’ look.

I’m not very fussy when it comes to food and so unlike many, I actually enjoy aeroplane food. The varied menu Emirates flights offer is great and usually in keeping with the cuisine of the destination. The complimentary drinks trolley is also a highlight!

Of the few times that my flight has been delayed or I have missed a connecting flight, Emirates have provided a decent hotel and/or food and drinks vouchers at the airport. So I cannot complain about the service.

I am also a fan of their frequent flyer rewards scheme, Skywards which provide many benefits including, fast check-in and upgrades.

Best hotel:

The five-star InterContinental Dubai Festival City is located in the United Arab Emirates and is the best hotel I have ever stayed in, purely because of the amazing bathroom. Bathrooms, in particular baths, are an Achilles heel of mine as soaking in a huge bath is one of my favourite past times.

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The large oval bath tub boasted epic views of the Dubai skyline, across the Dubai Creek, with a tap that filled the tub from the ceiling. In a separate part of the bathroom was a double shower cubicle and luxurious sink and mirror with high-end products.

The executive room I stayed in was wonderfully spacious and was fitted with all the mod-cons, including fluffy bathrobes, slippers, flat-screen television and a well-stocked bar with snacks. As well as a complimentary turn down service, an array of Arabian treats were delivered to the room in the afternoon, as well as fresh fruits.

The dining facilities are suitably grand, with a vast choice of cuisine and dining options. Along with a lavish spa, the hotel offered a serene outdoor haven, with luscious palms, pool bar and infinity pools. The hotel is also in the perfect location of the shopping district, Festival City.

If I had to choose a second favourite hotel in the world, it would be Pimalai Resort & Spa on Koh Lanta in Thailand. The five-star luxury beach resort not only has its own spa, beach bar and infinity pool, but also boasts its very own scuba diving centre.

I feel I should also mention The Marcliffe Hotel & Spa in Aberdeen, Scotland. The venue for past work events, meetings and trips, this five-star hotel stands out from any other hotel I visited, purely because of its fantastic service. With an on site spa and nearby golf course, the hotel is a hit with foreign visitors, who enjoy a first-class and luxurious stay. However it’s the traditional Scottish touches that make it so endearing. With a plethora of Scotch fare available in the bar and restaurant, coupled with the tasteful tartan upholstery, I have always received a very warm welcome at the hotel, which even has its own brand of wine.

Best hotel facilities:

The four-star Hôtel Ermitage in Évian-les-Bains, France offers the best facilities I have experienced. Located in natural lush green grounds, each bedroom is stocked with the area’s namesake, Evian water and provides guests with outstanding views of Lake Evian.

Voted “Europe’s leading luxury golf resort 2015” at the World Luxury Hotel Awards, the resort is a prime golf destination which hosts the Evian Championship and is also one of France’s oldest golf courses. With stunning surroundings and 148 acres of wooded parkland, the Evian Resort Golf Club is an 18-hole course, offering views of  nearby Lake Geneva and the Alpine summits.

Other sporting activities at the resort include indoor and outdoor tennis – with the option of coaching. There is also a climbing wall, a petanque ground, a mini football pitch and multi-sports pitch for basketball, volleyball, and handball, and the opportunity to go off site to the high ropes course. In winter, this resort turns into a ski resort, complete with an equipment hire shop.

Well-being is at the utmost here, with several spas to choose from. The luxury spas use products by La Prairie and have high-quality facilities like; treatment rooms, relaxation rooms, pools, hydro-circuit and a thermal spa that provides Evian water-based treatments, medical spa programmes and thalassotherapy. There is also a fitness suite that features cutting-edge equipment at the Spa Evian Source.

Children up to the age of 13 go free at this family friendly resort and there is a Kid’s Resort Club which offers activities for all ages, under the supervision of childcare professionals. The facilities for the little ones include; several play areas, a stage for shows, dressing up room, a multi-purpose sports pitch and a safe, supervised heated indoor pool.

Best spa:

I’ve been spoiled when it comes to pampering and spas. Even though I have had the pleasure of wonderful spas in Europe, namely France and Italy, the best spa experience I have had is down the road from my apartment.

The Woodland Spa in Lancashire, UK is not only award-winning, but also a surprising escape from the harsh English weather. With a wonderful outdoor pool, lounge and bar area – that almost feels like you’re in Spain – the spa offers a range of treatments, from couples to pregnancy and luxurious spa days and breaks for both men and women.

I experienced the NEOM Wellbeing Day, which wasn’t cheap, but well worth it as the treatment was incredibly relaxing. Plus I got to use all the thermal facilities, including; hydrotherapy pool, serenity pool, outdoor infinity pool, sauna, saunarium, steam room, salt steam, roman foot baths, ice fountain, experience showers and rasul.

In addition to the wonderful facilities, the on site Bertram’s Restaurant, which looks out to Pendle Hill, offers an adult-only dining experience where spa guests are free to eat in comfort and wear their robes. There is also the option to enjoy tapas on the terrace, when the weather is lovely.

I did have another truly unique spa experience when I went on a hen holiday to Agadir in Morocco. Having booked a traditional spa experience in a hammam, on arrival we were told to completely strip off and enter a wet, steamy room where some middle-aged women proceeded to scrub our bodies, for over an hour. Then we were led into a treatment room for an Argan oil massage. Although slightly alarming, I can say that I left with softer than soft skin and feeling incredibly relaxed!

Best city:

Berlin. I think, because I visited the German capital with my two close friends during winter when all the Christmas markets came alive, my experience of Berlin was extra special. From the cosy coffee houses in every district, to the graffiti art on the Berlin Wall, this city is certainly varied.

Brandenburg Gate is an unforgettable sight, where the old city gates stand in the heart of Berlin, as is the breath-taking Baroque Charlottenburg Palace located in the centre of the city, next to the river Spree.Brandenburg

Enjoying a glühwein and a salted pretzel, we took the surprising safe and extremely clean U-Bahn (underground train network) around the city. Although we didn’t go in any museums, there are so many to choose from, culture vultures and history buffs will have a field day.

Both the WeihnachtsZauber at the Gendarmenmarkt and Christmas market at Charlottenburg Palace are equally as enchanting, with a fair share of handmade wooden crafts and culinary delights. There’s also a the Winterwald (winter forest) in front of the small orangery which offers magical attractions for children.

Best shopping:

It may not be an original choice, but undoubtedly, Paris is home to the best shops. France’s capital city is not only beautiful and blessed with stunning architecture and monuments, it also has amazing shopping  spots to suit every taste.

When I visited Paris as a teenager, I was obsessed with surf shops like Billabong and Quiksilver, especially if there was a ‘soldes’ sign in the window. I also loved the NARS and Sephora cosmetic stores for their amazing colour pallets.  Now, as an adult, I love walking down the grand boulevards and exploring the department stores, markets and boutiques that specialise in haute couture.

Paris

Parisian districts, or arrondissements, like the flash Champs-Élysées and chic Triangle d’Or are perfect for window shopping, whilst the shopping spot of Le Marais offers brilliant designer stores. St-Germain des Près is home to Paris’ original department store of Le Bon Marché, built by the Tour D’Eiffel’s designer, Gustave Eiffel in 1852.

Whilst along the Left Bank shoppers will find interesting antiques shops, as well as art galleries. The Latin Quarter offers many literary shops, whilst the flea markets can be found at the massive Marché aux Puces St-Ouen in northern Paris.

Best tourist information centre:

During an epic road trip with my boyfriend across France, to Switzerland and Italy, we stopped for a few nights in the Alpine ski town of Morzine. As it was summer, we were amazed at how busy it was, mainly packed with mountain bikers and down hill bikers.

We stopped by the Morzine Tourist Office in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes which in just looks won me over – beautiful wooden chalet with huge windows and a jaunty roof. The inside was equally as attractive and welcoming, with an Alpine yet modern and minimalist feel, offering a wealth of information.

It was here that we discovered the annual goat festival was occurring that day in the mountain villages. So we drove up the winding route to the ski resort of Avoriaz, also home to one of the highest golf course in Europe.

Best landmark:

I could say the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building, but castles really do it for me. As a Welsh native, i was brought up in a country where castles dominated the hill sides.

There are over 600 castles in Wales, and although I haven’t visited them all, I do have my favourites. Where I grew up, in the Mid Glamorgan village of Taffs Well, the small yet attractive Gothic Castell Coch (Welsh for red castle) always drew my attention.

Nestled in a mountain, just outside Cardiff, this red castle was built by the Normans to protect the capital city. After it was abandoned and destroyed in the 13th century, the castle was later acquired by the wealthy 3rd Earl of Bute in the 19th century. The castle was then transformed into a place of residence for the Earl and his wife. Inside the castle’s elegant rooms, which feature elaborately decorated furniture, are high Victorian ceilings. Upon entering the castle, it is equipped with a fantastic moat and draw bridge. Today Castell Coch is open to the public and maintained by Cadw.

castle

My other favourite landmark is Harlech Castle, located in Gwynedd, North Wales. Settled on a hill overlooking the Irish Sea, this medieval fortification was built during the Invasion of Wales by Edward I. Recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the castle is open to visitors and has a wonderfully informative gallery and exhibition on site, as well as a good souvenir shop and café.

Best work of architecture:

Isola Bella on Lago Maggiore in Italy is home to the most ornate Baroque palace. The Borromean Island’s name literally translates to beautiful island, and it’s easy to see why. Dating back to the 17th century, the palazzo was commissioned by Carlo III from the influential House of Borromeo and dedicated to his wife, Isabella D’Adda. The architect Angelo Crivelli created the sumptuous Palazzo Borromeo and the outstanding Italian-style gardens, and today its lavish gates are open to the public.

Perfectly situated on a rock, the palazzo plays host to a wealth of treasures inside its high ceilings. With beautifully furnished halls that offer splendid views of the lake, along with exclusive paintings, neo-classical stuccos, shining armour and Flemish tapestries made of gold and silk, the palazzo is truly breathtaking.

The only way to reach the palace is via boat, which frequent the island from the lakeside towns of Stresa, Baveno, Pallanza, Intra, Verbania, Baveno and Arona.

Best natural wonder:

Sequoia National Park in California’s mountains. The American national park is home to the giant Sequoia trees which are the world’s largest trees. Sequoias, which have striking reddish bark, grow high above at 5,000 – 7,000′ and are a true natural wonder.

The land of giants lies between both the Sierra Nevada and the San Joaquin Valley and sits next to Kings Canyon National Park. With huge mountains, deep canyons, rugged foothills, vast caverns and immense forests the park is a haven for wildlife, particularly brown bears.

During a road trip on the west coast of the U.S.A. my family and I ventured to this scenic park to climb the incredible peaks and gaze up at the enormous trees. Whilst hiking in the park we came across a family of bears but were conscious not to be seen. I vividly remember my Dad being petrified and physically trying to make us walk away from the bears, who were thankfully oblivious to us.

Best activity:

Although I’ve been spoilt with the amount of fun activities I’ve experienced, from mule treks through the Californian forests and horse hacks along the Corsican hills, to wake boarding in the mangroves of Thailand, sea kayaking in the UK and skiing in the Alps and Tirol mountains, scuba diving will always be at the top of my list.

Off the island of Koh Lanta, in the Andaman Sea, there are plenty of small islands that provide the perfect diving conditions. I attained my PADI Open Water qualification five years ago with Blue Planet Divers and coupled with the fact that my boyfriend is an underwater photographer, I have had a few opportunities to dive with marine life and in caves.

Admittedly, I have done more snorkelling of late and want to get more dives in, which is all a matter of time. However being underwater and so close to the mesmerizing coral and fish, the weightless feeling of diving feels like I’m in another world. I still haven’t seen a sea turtle or come up close to any rays or sharks, but this is one activity that I want to continue and hope to get better at.

Best meal:

Shakshuka. I had my first ever shakshuka in the old town of Jaffa in Tel Aviv and it was amazing, like nothing I’d ever tasted. The meaning of shakshuka comes from both Hebrew and North African words that translate to “all mixed up”.

The Arabic mixture of poached eggs in a sauce of tomatoes, chilli peppers and onions, is also spiced with cumin. It is often eaten for breakfast but I enjoyed it for dinner. My Israeli friend took me to a small traditional restaurant and we ate it straight out of the oven, from the skillet.

My favourite meal features on Wanderlust Magazine’s 40 of the world’s most unforgettable meals list.

Best mode of transport:

The iconic San Francisco cable car system is the most unforgettable way to travel for me. As the world’s last manually operated cable car system, the trams that pass up and down the streets of the Californian city are made more endearing as passengers can literally hop on and off.

The traditional wooden trams operate on three lines and take commuters and tourists alike past all the major attractions, including the famously steep Nob Hill (where coincidentally the Cable Car Museum is located).

I got to jump on and off the trams during my visit to San Fran on a family road trip of the West Coast. We were mainly travelling around the shopping districts after a hearty American breakfast.

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4 thoughts on “My best travel experiences

    1. Hey Tom, Yes I’ve been there twice with my family. It’s wonderful and very scenic with a lot of history. We got a ferry from Nice, so it’s always ‘nice’ to spend a night there beforehand.

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