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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Highlights of our Final Six Months in Europe

After two years living in England it was time to say goodbye to the UK and hello to a European Spring and Summer before we jetted across the world to start our lives in Australia. We wanted to share the highlights of our travels which proved incredibly hard to sum up as there was just so many incredible highlights in each of the countries we visited. It's a long post so grab a drink and get cosy as we share the highlights of our final six months living and travelling in Europe!

I guarantee you it'll make you want to pack a bag and jump on a plane to Europe right away! 

Couple Sailing in Croatia

ENGLAND & SCOTLAND
Our two years in the UK came around quicker than I saw coming and by the time March came around we were both full of mixed feelings. Whilst we were incredibly excited for our upcoming travels around Europe and our move to Australia we were also sad to be leaving Dan's family, our friends we'd made in the UK and also the things we loved about England. I'd be lying if I said I loved every minute of our time living in England (mostly due to the incessant rain) but as our last few weeks quickly passed us by we couldn't believe it was all coming to an end and couldn't stop talking about all the incredible experiences we'd had living in the UK.

Whilst we spent most of March catching up with family and friends we still managed to squeeze in a long weekend in London for my birthday and a week in Scotland! I still had a few things left on my UK bucket list which included a few sites in London, a traditional English high tea, a bottomless brunch and of course, visiting Scotland.

In London we had an incredible stay at the very exclusive Beaufort House Apartments in Knightsbridge. It was the perfect luxurious London stay I was seeking for my birthday and is somewhere I'd highly recommend to anyone wanting the ultimate in luxury apartments in London. I was delighted to also tick off a visit to Harrods, a mouthwateringly good afternoon tea at Lanes of London and an incredibly fun, delicious & boozy bottomless brunch at Villandry St James. It was the perfect London birthday weekend and one I won't forget anytime soon!

Villandry Bottomless Brunch London

Scotland was the last country in the UK I had left to visit and I had quite high expectations given the incredible reviews I'd heard from friends and family who had visited before me. Dan and I spent a week exploring Edinburgh and the beautiful Scottish Highlands and truly fell in love with this magnificent country! We had a great time exploring Edinburgh in the rain, trying out countless types of Whisky at the Scotch Whisky Experience, climbing Arthurs Seat, warming ourselves up over a few pints in charming pubs, exploring the impressive Edinburgh Castle and relaxing at the gorgeous G&V Royal Mile Hotel.

Whilst exploring the Scottish Highlands we fell head over heels in love with the remote, rugged and naturally stunning Highland region and were lucky enough to stay in an incredible log cabin at Eagle Brae which is still one of our favourite places we've ever stayed, and is an experience in itself! Scotland is a country of natural beauty, endless freshwater lochs, magical glens, charming castles with extensive histories and evergreen forests with soaring snowcapped mountains in every direction. Scotland and the Scottish Highlands were everything and more I'd hoped they would be, and we cannot wait to visit again in the future and explore Scotland further.

Couple at Eagle Brae Log Cabins Scotland
Scottish Highlands and Loch
Edinburgh Castle Scotland

PORTUGAL 
After a week of teary good byes at parties, pubs, work & the airport we finally set off on our flight to Portugal! We spent almost three weeks in Portugal and we still talk about it as if it was yesterday. We spent a few days relaxing in luxury at Vila Monte Farm House and Fazenda Nova Country House whilst we explored the countryside and adjusted to the fact that we were now full time travellers again. These two gorgeous hotels were completely different to each other but were two of the most welcoming, relaxing and gorgeous country retreats we've stayed in and we couldn't have been happier with our choice of hotels to begin our European adventures!

Vila Monte Farm House Portugal
Fazenda Nova Country House Portugal

The next leg of our Portugal trip saw us pick up our Soul Campers campervan and spend a week exploring the stunning Algarve and Alentejo regions of Portugal. We very quickly fell in love with everything about Portugal and it is without a doubt one of our favourite countries in the world and our week in the campervan was Dan's highlight of our whole Europe trip. Portugal is a country where you can relax on some of Europe's most beautiful beaches, eat the freshest of seafood straight off the boat in small, traditional fishing villages, stroll through charming historic towns, surf waves that people travel from all over the world to surf and discover a different paradise everywhere you turn, and often you'll have it all to yourself!

For anyone thinking of visiting Portugal we've shared our itinerary, 10 reasons you should explore Portugal in a van (in case you need any more convincing), our tips and experiences from life on the road & our 5 must see destinations on the Algarve.

Algarve Portugal
Couple in Campervan Portugal
Girl in Algarve Portugal
Couple in Lagos PortugalSoul Campers Portugal

SPAIN
After an incredible time in Portugal we jumped on a plane to Barcelona where we were greeted by sunshine, beaches, sangria, tapas, Gaudi and much more! Barcelona is a gorgeous city and I honestly don't think I've ever heard anyone say that they didn't like it and now we can see why! We had an incredible week exploring the city and its many sites and the highlights were visiting many of Gaudi's works especially the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. We stayed at the gorgeous, new Cotton House Hotel which was luxurious, stylish, relaxing and one of the most welcoming hotels we've ever visited. We particularly loved the rooftop terrace and pool!

Couple at Sagrada Familia Barcelona
Park Guell BarcelonaRooftop Pool Cotton House Hotel Barcelona

ITALY
We had just short of a month in Italy, which after four visits is still one of my favourite countries in the world! Highlights from this trip would be returning to the beautiful Amalfi Coast and island of Ischia, exploring Rome in more depth, falling in love with the Cinque Terre, Florence & Tuscany and experiencing Venice in the most luxurious way imaginable. Italian cuisine is one of the best in the world and we certainly indulged in a ridiculous amount of pizza, pasta, seafood, gelato and wine during our time in Italy (with no regrets at all of course)!

Rowing in Rome
VeniceCouple in Florence Tuscany
Tuscany Italy

It's hard to choose a number one highlight from this trip to Italy but if we did have to choose, we'd both say the Cinque Terre. We spent four magical days exploring these gorgeous, colourful, enchanting villages built into the cliffs of this amazing part of the Italian coastline. We rented a small room in Riomaggiore on booking.com and we were blown away when it turned out to be an incredible apartment with a kitchen and amazing terrace overlooking all of Riomaggiore. On one of our days we did the very tough but incredibly rewarding hike through the five villages and spent a few hours exploring them all. It is truly one of the most enchanting places we've ever visited! We finished every day the same way, with a takeaway pizza and a bottle of local wine on the rocks at Riomaggiore to catch three of the most beautiful sunsets we've seen in all our travels.

Vernazza Cinque Terre Italy
Manarola Cinque Terre Italy
Couple in Riomaggiore ItalyPizza and sunset in RiomaggioreRiomaggiore Cinque Terre Night

We hit the jackpot with our choice of hotels in Italy, with our favourites being Il Palazzetto in Rome, Antica Torre di via Tornabuoni in Florence, the Westin Europa & Regina in Venice and of course we were over the moon to return to two of our favourite hotels in the world; Maison La Minervetta in Sorrento and Mezzatorre Resort & Spa on Ischia.

Westin Europa and Regina VeniceMaison La Minervetta Sorrento ItalyMezzatorre Resort and Spa Ischia Italy

SLOVENIA
We only had a week in Slovenia and boy oh boy it was not enough. Slovenia was the one country we wished we could have spent double or triple or even quadriple the amount of time exploring.

Ljubljana is one of Europe's greenest and most liveable cities and has been awarded the coveted Green Capital of Europe title for 2016! The majority of the centre of Ljubljana is a pedestrian zone with restricted car traffic which leaves the leafy banks of the emerald-green Ljubljanica River which flows through the heart of the city, free for pedestrians and cyclists. We loved the restaurants, cafes and bars set up all along the river which gave the city a very sociable and friendly feel. We spent three nights in Ljubljana in an amazing apartment and in the elegant Antiq Palace Hotel & Spa and even though the weather wasn't fantastic we loved exploring the beautiful streets and green areas of Ljubljana. Ljubljana was a very refreshing city to visit, it was clean, there was countless green spaces, everyone was friendly and spoke perfect English, it wasn't too busy, it was extremely affordable and everyone is really passionate about the environment and sustainability. A lot of countries could learn a lot from Slovenia and it is one of our favourite countries we've visited in Europe and Ljubljana is without a doubt the city in Europe that we'd choose to live in!

Ljubljana SloveniaLjubljana Main Square and Castle

Slovenia is quite a small country and we loved that it was quick and easy to get everywhere! We took a half day tour to Postojna Caves which are the world's largest caves that are open to the public and were incredible! Our tour also took us to the medieval Predjama Castle which has a dramatic location in the gaping mouth of a cavern, halfway up a hillside and is literally built into the caves and cliff face!

Predjama Castle Slovenia

The final destination of our week in Slovenia was the beautiful Lake Bled where we fell even further in love with Slovenia. Lake Bled is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places we've ever visited and is surrounded by tall snow capped mountains and endless greenery with beautiful castles and cottages dotted around the landscape, it is a truly magical destination! We spent our days relaxing at beautiful Garden Village Bled in our glamping tent complete with a hot tub, being pampered at Grand Hotel Toplice, the most luxurious hotel in Lake Bled and exploring the local region!

Lake Bled Slovenia
View of Bled Castle from Hotel Toplice Slovenia
Glamping Tent Garden Village Bled

We cycled to nearby Vintgar Gorge which was stunning with emerald green water, steep depths, vertical walls, a winding wooden platform over the rapid river below and the largest waterfall in Slovenia! We also hired row boats and leisurely rowed around Lake Bled, with a stop on the island in the middle to visit the church which was a wonderfully romantic experience. In order to see the lake from all angles we walked around the entire lake stopping to enjoy the beauty around us and watch the ridiculously cute spring ducklings learning to swim on the lake! Our stay in Bled was nothing short of perfect and it is without a doubt one of the most naturally beautiful places in all of Europe!

Vintgar Gorge Slovenia
Lake Bled Picnic

CROATIA
Croatia has to be one of the hottest tourist destinations in Europe right now with people flocking there from all over the world! Highlights of our three weeks in Croatia included strolling the ancient streets and walls of Dubrovnik, kayaking the nearby Elafiti Islands, staying in a charming 16th century apartment in the heart of Diocletian's Palace in Split and dining at one of Croatia's finest and one of the most romantic restaurants in the world, Nautika Restaurant.

Dubrovnik from City wallsDubrovnik Old Town from City WallsNautika Restaurant Dubrovnik

The ultimate highlight of our time in Croatia and one of the highlights of our entire European travels was sailing around the Croatian islands with MedSailors! It was our first experience sailing and I'm happy to say it was one of the most incredible weeks travelling we've had in all our years of traipsing around the world. As an Aussie I gravitate towards the sunshine, salt, sand and sea and after two years in the UK I was in serious need of some Vitamin Sea. There's truly nothing better than waking up and diving off your yacht into the crystal clear, aquamarine waters of the Mediterranean Sea and then spending your days sailing, stopping in gorgeous bays, paddle boarding, relaxing and then docking up on a beautiful, new island each day to explore historic towns, try wonderful new cuisine paired with local wines and relax onboard your own yacht with your new friends, some who will become friends for life.

Sailing Croatia with MedSailorsDolphins in CroatiaSailing in Croatia

MONTENEGRO
We had a short but sweet four days in Montengro and the moment we crossed the border from Croatia we knew we'd made a mistake by booking only four days as Montenegro is drop dead gorgeous! We spent two nights in gorgeous Kotor where we hiked up the fortress and the mountain behind it. The fortress was incredibly impressive and the hike was amazing and offered the most gorgeous views of all of the Bay of Kotor!

Kotor Fortress Montengro
Bay of Kotor Montenegro

From Kotor we spent two nights at beautiful Budva staying at the luxurious Splendid Hotel where we had a mini "holiday from our holiday" and literally spent two days lying on the beach, swimming in the sea, eating excessive amounts of food and lounging by the pool between visits to the spa and sauna. We were bad tourists in Budva but after two months on the road we welcomed this relaxing break with open arms. On our final day in Montenegro our transfer from Budva to Sarajevo took us through the very heart of Montenegro past Sveti Stefan and the beautiful coastline up through the mountains and along beautiful Tara Canyon and Lake Skadar. It was during this drive that we truly fell in love with Montenegro's stunning, unspoilt natural beauty and without even discussing it we knew that we hadn't truly experienced or ticked Montenegro off our bucket list. It is still firmly on the list and we can't wait for the opportunity to return one day and give this gorgeous country the time it deserves!

Resort in Budva Montenegro

BOSNIA
Like Montenegro, we had only booked a short visit to Bosnia to visit Sarajevo and Bosnia. Exploring Sarajevo and learning all about its very shocking recent history was an experience we'll never forget. The people of Sarajevo are truly resilient people and it was amazing to experience this city as a local during our stay in our apartment, Villa with a View which overlooked all of Sarajevo! One of the things we will never forget from our time in Sarajevo was visiting the history museum which taught us more about the 1990s conflict than we'd ever known before and this shelled out building and its contents were a grim reminder of the atrocities which took place only a few decades ago.

Sarajevo Bosnia
History Museum Sarajevo

We also had a very eye-opening visit to Mostar which is known for its iconic Stari Most (Old Bridge) which is a reconstructed medieval arched bridge that local boys jump from as a right of passage. During the 1990s conflict Mostar served as the front line and much of the historic town along with the Old Bridge was destroyed. The Old Bridge and much of the Old Town have since been restored or rebuilt with the contribution of an international committee established by UNESCO.

Mostar Old Town and Stari Grad

However when you walk a few minutes outside the attractively restored cobbled lanes of the Old Town you'll come face to face with the vivid scars of the conflict, especially around Spanski Trg. Mostar was a surprising destination, it was nothing like we imagined but was one of the most interesting places we've visited in our European travels. It was eye opening to see the juxtaposition of the beautiful Old Town with its iconic Stari Most and gorgeous emerald green river with the very real remnants of the conflict which serve as a reminder of the terrible atrocities that happened here during our lifetime. We didn't know a great deal about Mostar when we arrived but couldn't believe the wealth of information we learnt during our 24 hours in this enchanting town which has both very old and very recent histories.

Mostar Old Town
Bombed out house Mostar

TURKEY
Turkey is a country that had been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember and despite our initial concerns about safety we spent three weeks incredible exploring this amazing country in depth. We booked both a land tour and a sailing tour with Neyzen Travel and Yachting who are the leaders in luxurious custom designed Turkey travel and made our time in Turkey an experience we'll never forget. It's hard to narrow our time in Turkey down to a few highlights but our favourite destinations would have to be the incredible cities of Istanbul and Bodrum, the 4000 year old ruins of Troy, the amazing sites of Ephesus and Aphrodisias and the cotton candy landscapes of Pamukkale.

Istanbul Turkey
Aphrodisias Stadium Turkey
Pamukkale Turkey

Our favourite luxury hotels from our travels through Turkey were Assos Alarga in Assos and The Marmara in Bodrum. After a few weeks exploring Turkey's mainland we boarded our luxury yacht to spend a week sailing along the Turquoise coasts of Turkey and Greece and it was incredible! We swam everyday in the most beautiful water we've ever seen, ate incredible meals, relaxed and explored, it was such a relaxing week of sailing where the fantastic staff spoiled us rotten!

Assos Alarga Pool TurkeyThe Marmara BodrumNeyzen Yachting Turkey
Bodrum from Bodrum Castle
Beautiful water sailing in Turkey
Couple sailing in Turkey with Neyzen Travel

One of the most moving and unforgettable parts of our time in Turkey was visiting Gallipoli. As an Australian we learn about the Anzac's and Gallipoli Campaign from a very young age and for as long as I can remember I have felt the need to travel to Turkey to understand exactly what happened here, learn just how this shaped our very young nation and to pay my respects to the thousands of Australians and New Zealanders who gave their lives here. During the eight month campaign around 100,000 allied and Turkish soldiers were killed and now lay beneath the today peaceful lands and beautiful sandy shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Today the Gallipoli Battlefields are silent and preserved as a national park with marble and bronze monuments dotted throughout it and it is one of the most emotional and moving places I've ever travelled to.

Anzac Cove Turkey
Beach Cemetery Gallipoli
Lone Pine Cemetery Gallipoli

GREECE
The Greek Islands have been on my bucket list forever and the three weeks we spent in Greece were even more magical then I could have ever imagined, we truly couldn't have chosen a better country to end our European adventures in! From Turkey we island hopped around Kos, Santorini and Paros, Mykonos before ending in Athens, with our favourite islands being Santorini and Paros.

Santorini has always been at the top of my bucket list. It has been ever since I first saw a photograph of this picturesque island with its white buildings built into the sides of cliffs, its beautiful blue domed churches and the gorgeous blue water of the caldera that meets the endlessly blue skies. Santorini is romantic, charming, beautiful... it was everything I had hoped and more. We spent our days strolling Oia, relaxing in our gorgeous cave hotel, cruising around the island on Quad bikes and finishing our days with unforgettable sunsets and local wine. Our time on Santorini was so perfect that it almost feels like a dream.

Blue Domes Oia Santorini
Girl in Oia SantoriniNostos Apartments Cave Hotel Oia SantoriniSwimming Pool Nostos Apartments SantoriniQuad Biking ATV in SantoriniOia Sunset Santorini

We also very quickly fell in love with Paros, a gorgeous island boasting sandy beaches, charming villages and beautiful landscapes. Paros is located in the heart of the Aegean Sea and has something for everyone! We loved the traditional villages of Naoussa, Parikia and Lefkes which are wonderful examples of Cycladic architecture with their whitewashed Greek houses, paved streets and blue-domed churches that ooze charm and beauty. Paros also has unrivalled natural beauty with its golden sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and breathtaking landscapes and we loved cruising around the island in our Suzuki 4WD!

Girl in Nauossa Paros GreeceParos Island GreeceStreets of Parikia Paros GreeceParikia Paros GreeceRoadtripping Paros Island GreeceRoadtripping Paros Greece

We've now 'ticked off' a great deal of the countries in Europe with only a few of the Eastern European & Scandinavian countries to go on future trips 
(as well as returning to our favourite countries of course)!

Where are your favourite places in Europe? 

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Highlights of our Final Six Months in Europe

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