A great year of travelling began in Amsterdam – one of my favourite cities – in January. I travel a fair amount, but 2016 has been a particularly wonderful year of travel, sometimes on my own but also with friends and family. My travelling tends to be mainly short breaks to cities, revisiting old favourites and exploring new ones. This year I’ve been lucky enough to ‘tick off’ four places on my list of cities I’ve been wanting to go to for some time: Bilbao, San Sebastián, Vienna and Turin.
Another highlight of my travelling was teaming up with GPSmyCity who have published some of my travel articles on their app. This is a brilliant app that allows you to read articles and city walk guides offline (for a small fee) and provides you with a map and GPS system to take you round. For more information click here.
Here’s how my travelling year went:
January – AMSTERDAM
Amsterdam has long been a favourite place to visit. I love its laid back atmosphere, its café society, and it’s just the most wonderful place to wander around and relax in. But I also love the strong cultural, design and art influences; the way you constantly find fantastic little art, ceramic and craft galleries and shops as well as the major art galleries like the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh. And really, is there a prettier city than Amsterdam to visit? It may be a city kind of beauty but it’s glorious and completely irresistible. I seem to have developed a habit of going in January. It’s not the best time; a little later would be warmer, the days longer, and I could see the glory of the famous Keukenhof gardens with carpets of bulbs in bloom just a little later in March and April. But I like the city when it’s quiet; full mainly of locals rather than tourists. I know it so well I don’t need to do the sights; I just want to soak up the atmosphere and relax. And there’s nowhere better to relax. For more about Amsterdam see my article: The Traveller in Amsterdam, which is also available to download from GPSmyCity.
April – BILBAO
Like nearly everyone else, my main reason for wanting to visit Bilbao was to see the Guggenheim Museum. And having wanted to see it for years, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s wonderful, incredible; such a stunning and fabulous building, both externally and inside.
It doesn’t actually house a particularly impressive collection of artwork – there are better places for that. But it doesn’t matter when what you’re there for is to see one of the most impressive pieces of architecture in the world. I was delighted to go with my good friend Annie and we spent just 24 hours in Bilbao before moving on to San Sebastián. We may have gone to see the Guggenheim but were pleased to discover that Bilbao has so much more to offer. It’s a lovely town with fabulous food, attractive architecture, and other attractions, so we could have easily spent more time there. Clearly, I just need to go back. To read more about the Bilbao trip, click here. To download from GPSmyCity, click here.
April – SAN SEBASTIÁN
As nice as Bilbao was, it was lovely to head to the smaller San Sebastián with its beautiful beach. It was too early in the year and too chilly to sit on the beach, but as it was just at the end of the road our hotel was in, nearly every time we went out we got a view of the sea and would walk round the bay to the old town. Of course Travel Gourmet is always in search of good food and there are few – if any – better places to go than San Sebastián. It has more 3* Michelin restaurants than Paris so some very fine dining can be found here. However, Annie and I were in search of the famous pinxtos, a Basque version of tapas. Yet to define them as ‘tapas’ doesn’t do them justice. I love tapas but most are fairly simple, their quality dependent on good ingredients. Pinxtos are works of art; amazingly complex and completely delicious.
When in San Sebastián, the thing to do is move from bar to bar, ordering one drink, a couple of pinxtos, and then moving on to the next bar for more. Counters are laid out with dishes and you pick what you want.
The quality varies a little, and we found we liked some bars a little more than others, but this is all relative – most bars sell great pinxtos and you can’t go far wrong just going into one you like the look of. For more about San Sebastián, click here. To download from GPSmyCity click here.
June – SOUTHERN SPAIN
My lovely friends Linda and George have invited me to stay with them in their beautiful home in Spain for the last few summers and I always have a brilliant time. This is a longer holiday for me – usually about 10 days – when I have time to relax as well as making some good excursions with Linda to visit local markets, interesting towns, and nearly always a trip to Valencia for the day.
Valencia is a beautiful and vibrant city which would make an excellent weekend break destination – but I’m lucky enough to get to see it when I’m staying with Linda and George. It’s about an hour or so’s trip by car and train so we tend to make a day of it. There’s a wonderful large indoor market but a tram will take you to the sea where you can walk along miles of beach. Click here for more on Valencia and here.
July – VIENNA
I’ve been wanting to go to Vienna for so long and luckily for me this year, my daughter Nicola had to go there for a work conference and invited me to spend a weekend with her in the apartment she’d rented for a week. Music, art, history, psychotherapy … Vienna has it all, from Mozart, to Klimt to Freud, not to mention its imperial history. But for Travel Gourmet there was much attraction in a city so famous for its coffee houses and café society – places where famous artists, politicians and musicians would gather to put the world to rights – and its famous cakes. Yes, where else do you find such amazing cakes? Sachertore, apple strudel, Linzertorte, and others. So, go to one of the world’s most famous hotels, the Sacher Hotel, for Sachertore:
Go to Cafe Landtmann for apple strudel:
Drink a melange coffee:
And dine on Wiener Schnitzel:
September – TURIN
I wanted to go to Italy. For a blogger who claims to ‘love all things Italian’ and takes Italian lessons and has Italian friends, I’d got to September in the year and had not yet got to Italy. Turin had been on my list of places to go for sometime so I opted for somewhere new and – of course! – famous for its food and wine and home to the Slow Food movement. But Turin is also famous for other things – Fiat cars, Martini, the Turin Shroud, and being the city where the original The Italian Job film was made. It turned out to be such a beautiful city too and I immediately loved it. It’s also famous for its cafés and chocolate. Chocolate was making a name for itself here before the Swiss claimed it. I felt immediately at home in this new city and managed to fit in visits to an amazing number of cafés in just one weekend.
I took a view across the city from Mole Antonelliana, once the tallest brick building in the world.
I visited markets, walked the 15km of beautiful arcades and enjoyed aperitivo at Caffé Torino.
November – PADSTOW, CORNWALL
There’s something particularly lovely about being by the sea in winter – even when there’s lots of rain, as there was for my weekend in Cornwall with Nicola and Rachael. They’d rented a place in Trevone, just outside Padstow, where on a sunny Sunday morning we enjoyed a beautiful walk to the beach and along the coast with their fox red Labrador, Willow, in a small window of sunny weather.
And we enjoyed some fantastic food in Padstow at Prawn on the Lawn …
and then Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant.
What a great end to a travelling year, full of variety and of course gorgeous food. The beginning of 2017 will get off to a good start with return trips to both Amsterdam and Turin, but I’m thinking hard about new places to explore too. Watch this space!