Girl Travels World – Top Five Places to Visit in 2018

 

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

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Image – Conde Naste Traveller

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.

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Image – Evening Standard

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Restaurants Week – Tallinn, Estonia

September 11th 2017 was the start of Restaurants Week in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. It is a week long celebration of good food and great restaurants. Over 50 restaurants took part in the event which showcased the culinary skills of the country’s chefs and introduced visitors to the variety of food on offer in the capital. During a short stay I visited three of the participating restaurants to sample their cuisine.

Restaurant Controvento

Restaurant Week - Tallinn

My first stop was Controvento Restaurant and Pizzeria. As the name implies it’s a little conflicting to find an authentic Italian restaurant serving great Italian food in the heart of Tallinn. However, locals have been enjoying this little gem since 1994.

The restaurant is spread over two floors. The ground floor where I enjoyed my meal was rustic in appearance and ambience. A low ceiling and a large fire place created the feeling of a Tuscan farm house. Upstairs, a more modern setting with bright lighting catered for groups of four or more.

What I Ate

Appetiser – Bruschetta

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Now I am no food critic. As such, my simple test for Italian food is the unfussy dish of bruschetta. It also happens to be one of my favourite appetisers. I have tasted all of its incarnations many times over and, as such, have come to know that a well executed bruschetta will often lead you to a good Italian meal.

Controvento did just that. The bread was perfectly roasted and I could taste the garlic as I crunched into it. The olive oil blended wholly with the tomatoes and crunchy salt. I would have preferred more basil but combined with rocket leaves it was all utterly delicious. At €5.50 this was a great appetiser.

Main – Lasagne

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Lasagne is a much more complex dish to judge. However, I can say that it was exactly as I like lasagne to be – thin layers of egg pasta which poise straight, slightly dry with a rich beef ragu and bechamel sauce. All of it topped with grated parmesan makes for a great lasagne in my book. Controvento’s lasagne was remarkably tasty and at €11.70 great value. I skipped dessert but enjoyed a glass of Sicilian Pinot Grigio (due to the absence of Malbec) which cost €6.

So if you happen to be in Tallinn, enjoy this wonderful Italian in the Latin Quarter of the Old Town where around €20 a head with a glass of house wine is a fantastic meal. Controvento is located in Katriina Kaik in the Old Town, Tallinn, Estonia.

Umami

On my second restaurant visit I felt that I had struck gold with Umami. The only setback was that the restaurant is on the outskirts of Tallinn with no ease of access. My drive there took around 40 minutes during rush hour. As a visitor to Tallinn it was a challenge to find the restaurant even with the best intentions. If you are visiting, take a taxi and let the driver do the searching for you. One thing I can promise is  that once you get there it’s all worth it.

Umami is a gorgeous blue wooden property evocative of an old colonial house of New Orleans. It’s set within an apple orchard which simply gives the experience a magical feeling. The interior of the restaurant is light and airy with an unmistakable Scandinavian sentiment. The open kitchen with full view of my food being prepared added a pleasing aspect to my dining experience.

Restaurant Week - Tallinn

What I Ate

Main – Quail with warm leek salad and romesco sauce.

I chose black bread with butter to start my meal. This typically Estonian rye bread was a wondrous surprise with a heavenly home baked feel. My main was quail, from a local farm, served with warm leek and lard salad served with spinach and romesco sauce. All the flavours of this dish came together so beautifully that I was tempted to order it all over again. Delicious! At a mere €15.50 for this plate I really should have!

Dessert – Vanilla panna cotta with passion fruit

I do believe that a good panna cotta is as good a dessert as any if you’re willing to ignore the quirks of restaurant fashions. It’s simple, tasty and slightly reminiscent of your favourite childhood dessert (anything that involved jelly and custard in my case).

Umami’s offering had a perfect consistency, just the right amount of sweetness and the passion fruit complimented without over powering. Flakes of wafers added a welcome texture. A marvellous panna cotta for just €5.50.

It’s also worth mentioning that Umami has a grate range of craft beers, fresh juices and an extensive wine and cocktail list. I accompanied my meal with a freshly made sea buckthorn lemonade (€2.90) which was delightful. It’s hard to believe that this entire meal came in at under €30 a head (without wine).

So when you’re in Tallinn with a craving for a sumptuous meal of locally sourced ingredients crafted into great dishes, make the trip to Umami. It is located in Kadaka Tee on the outskirts of the city.

Olde Hansa

My final evening in Tallinn was spent in the medieval themed restaurant Olde Hansa . It’s located in the Town Hall Square surrounded by all the tourist attractions. I had never been to a themed restaurant before this and was unsure what to expect.

The interior of the restaurant was dimly lit using only candles in keeping with the medieval theme. Due to the location of the restaurant it was brimming with eager tourists who were enthusiastically taking part in the experience. The staff were outstanding and exceptionally knowledgable about the dishes they were serving.

What I Ate

Appetiser – The Monk’s Bride

My appetiser was a shot of a fragrant warm alcoholic drink known as the Monk’s Bride. Its rich colour and taste was the perfect introduction to the main meal and most certainly kick started my taste buds. It was included as part of the experience but there was a range of appetiser shots to choose from.

Main – Himalayan Lamb Dish

This was a mountain people style hearty dish. Even though I couldn’t clearly see what was on my plate it was spicy and warming. Chunks of braised, tender lamb were served with rice, garlic and a rustic dumpling. I never expected a themed restaurant would serve such a full flavoured, appetising meal. But it did. I thoroughly enjoyed my medieval dinner. The dish was €16.40 and I felt it was great value for money especially when combined with the experience of a candle lit medieval theme. I accompanied my meal with a glass of Chilean Rioja which was €8. The meal cost under €25 a head and I was full for hours.

Olde Hansa is a great place for family dining as it offers a fantastic experience which combines good food with a fun atmosphere. It is located in the Town Hall Square of the Old Town.

 

You can find out more at www.tallinnrestaurantweek