The grand finale of my exquisite culinary tour of Madrid with Luxury Travel Advisors was an unforgettable 20 course meal crafted by chef Ramón Freixa. His restaurant is set within, Hotel Único, a former 19th century mansion in the Salamanca District. As well as two Michelin stars it also boasts three Repsol Suns, and other Spanish and international distinctions.
The second day of my Chef’s Table Tour with Luxury Travel Advisors starts on a bright fresh Sunday morning in November in the busy centre of Puerta del Sol, Madrid. It was a privately guided historic walk with tapas stops in some of the most iconic venues of Madrid.
Chef’s Table Tour, Madrid. How does that sound? Delectable? Seductive? Enticing? Well, I can unflinchingly tell you that it was all three and more. It was fun, it was laughter, it was good food shared with the finest company entwined into unparalleled delight. An impeccable weekend with Luxury Travel Advisors in Madrid was the most exhilarating gastronomic journey.
It’s that inevitable time of the year when we are collectively encouraged to reminisce on the last 12 months of our lives. Personally, I’ve always preferred to look ahead. I must however, take a moment to be grateful for an incredible year of growth for Girl Travels World. Visitor numbers to the blog increased 345% (year to date) and number of views increased by almost 300% for the same period. I was fortunate to travel to fascinating destinations and bring forth captivating stories and images which hopefully played a small part in inspiring you all to travel more. Girl Travels World social media channels (namely Instagram and Facebook) also reflected the immense growth of the blog and now have a collective following of almost 25,000. For all of this I am grateful.
Furthermore, I’ve had the opportunity to form inspiring partnerships with worldwide destinations, luxury brands and work alongside exceptional PR companies, travel writers, bloggers and journalists. 2017 also brought me the good fortune of becoming a contributing writer for award-winning TikiChris.com and Seen in the City magazines. (Thank you to my editors Chris Osburn and Natasha Colyer for taking a chance on an inexperienced writer with a gigantic dream). All of this drove me to work as hard as I could to create the best content for my audience and brands I work with. As a result my rewards were plentiful and I am grateful.
2018 promises to be even bigger and better for Girl Travels World. With several key collaborations, travel documentaries and food related ventures all in the pipeline it is exciting to look ahead. To show my gratitude for the support I’ve received in the past year I’ve rounded up my top five (short-haul) destinations which I think you will all love. I’ve been to all of these places. They made the list because they are currently vastly underrated and I believe they will trend in 2018.
Happy travelling wanderlusters! Thank you for everything.
1. Lake District, UK
2017 was the year that England’s largest national park was at long last declared a World Heritage Site. Located in the county of Cumbria it is home to Scafell Pike – the highest peak in England (YES, I’ve climbed it) and you guessed it…lakes. It’s the epitome of the picturesque green and pleasant land. Long hikes through the park are highly recommended as is summiting Scafell Pike. You will need the help of a local guide to appreciate its wilderness and enjoy the astounding beauty of its caves, caverns and waterfalls.
There are luxury cottages, local inns, log cabins, hostels and bunk houses to stay in which are dotted around the surrounding area of the park. It’s a five-hour drive to The Lakes from London which means you can make it a road trip to remember.
2. Madrid, Spain
This year I realised that Spain as a country needs a revisit. It’s a destination that Brits in particular take for granted. The number one city which needs an urgent revisit is Madrid. It is the home of Spain’s bloodiest battle during the civil war and is bursting at the seams with history. Landmarks and monuments for victorious heroes as well as fallen ones are dotted throughout the city and makes for remarkable walking tours.
It must also be said that Madrid’s food resurgence is nothing short of incredible. It’s no easy feat to cling to your roots while moving forward in the name of change and modernity. But this city appears to have done it. From traditional tapas restaurants which have seen little change since the 19th century to Michelin starred gourmet restaurants the city now boasts it all. In under just 3 hours’ flight time from London you could be sipping a traditional chicken broth at the world’s oldest restaurant while picking on black label ham. Stay in five-star hotels or cool private rentals but remember to look at Madrid with new eyes.
3. Tallinn, Estonia
This Baltic capital which is home to a Unesco World Heritage Site (The Old City) is beginning to make a name for its cuisine. Tallinn is seeing a generation of young chefs reviving its restaurants by adding new twists to traditional food. With a focus on local, seasonal produce delivered directly from farms there is a quiet food revolution in Tallinn. The city hosts Restaurants Week, twice a year, to promote the variety of food available. It’s a great time to visit if you want to sample the best of what’s on offer.
The plot twist here is that this harbour town held the sailing event of the Summer Olympic Games hosted in Moscow in 1980. V. I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport was purpose-built with facilities in preparation for the Olympics. The brutal grey structure, now eerie, abandoned and covered in graffiti stands as a cold reminder of a not so distant past. The building was renamed Linnahall and is currently under the city council’s authority awaiting renovation and construction. Go see this part of human history before it’s changed forever.
4. Tel Aviv, Israel
Travel broadens our horizons and bring our focus back to the things which unite humanity rather than divide us. This is the lesson I learnt in Tel Aviv. I was grounded here for two days due to bad weather in London which gave me the perfect opportunity to do what I do best – explore. Tel Aviv’s promenade runs along the Mediterranean seashore and is a place for walking, jogging and generally showing off your physical prowess/perfection. All through the day joggers, yogis and sporty types practice their craft in full view of passers-by. At night, parts of the beach are floodlit for beach volleyball games.
In the heart of the city approximately 15 minutes’ walk from the promenade is Carmel Market which caters to all your street food needs and funny slogan tees. Running parallel is Nahalat Binyamin Craft Market where you can browse for ceramics, jewellery and fascinating pieces of art along a long leafy street. Under six hours’ flying time from London and all of this awaits you.
5. Nimes, France
Nimes is possibly the most underrated of all the cities on this list. It sits along the Cote d’Azure and enjoys hot summers and mild winters. It was an important city in the Roman Empire and the evidence is everywhere. A magnificent amphitheatre, Arena of Nimes, which dates back to AD 70 dominates the centre of town. Maison-Carrée, a 2000 year old temple, is one of the best preserved Roman buildings in the world and sits alongside modern museums, coffee shops and galleries.
Pradier Fountain (pictured above) greets visitors arriving by train and has been the centre-piece of the urban garden Esplanade since 1845. What is baffling about this little town is that with such perfectly preserved Roman buildings it’s yet to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An application is due to be presented in the summer of 2018 and in my humble opinion I see no reason why it would be unsuccessful. Also, did I mention…Musée du Vieux Nîmes (free entrance) has a room devoted to Nime’s most famous export – it’s where denim was born. Go see this marvel of a town before the crowds get there.