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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Our Top 10 Travel Experiences of 2016

2016 was a magical year for us, we left the UK, moved to Australia and along the way managed to tick off 12 new countries! It was really hard to narrow all the incredible experiences we had down to just 10 but somehow we managed to and can't wait to share them with you all! 2017 will be a different year of travel for us, we won't be ticking off 12 new countries as we're now living Down Under but look forward to visiting at least 12 new destinations in Australia and can't wait to share all our Aussie adventures, both luxurious and adventurous with you! We're also moving into our own place in a few months and can't wait to show off our humble abode and also share all the details of our upcoming WEDDING and honeymoon!

Couple in Oia Santorini Greek Islands

1. SAILING CROATIA
One of our favourite travel experiences of 2016 was something that had been on my bucket list for a long time and that was sailing Croatia! We booked a week long sailing trip with MedSailors who were the company which seemed the perfect fit for us. MedSailors offer sailing holidays that are the perfect mix of relaxation, sightseeing, sailing, fun, adventure, culture and partying.

There's 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, stand up 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 we are sure we will meet up with on future travels!

It's actually really tough to put into words how much we loved every single moment of our week sailing around Croatia with MedSailors and we would do almost anything to be back on our boat "Marot" sailing around the incredible blue waters of Croatia!

Male jumping off sailing boat in Croatia

2. SOAKING UP TURKEY'S HISTORY
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. 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.

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.

Couple at ANZAC Cove Gallipoli Turkey

After a few weeks exploring Turkey's mainland and soaking up the incredible history we boarded our luxury yacht to spend a week sailing along the Turquoise coasts of Turkey and Greece and it was unforgettable! 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 staff spoiled us rotten!

Sailing in beautiful water in Turkey

3. ROAD TRIPPING PORTUGAL IN A CAMPERVAN
Portugal was the first stop on our travels through Europe this year and is a country which we very quickly fell head over heels in love for. It is a country where you can relax on some of Europe's best 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 fall further in love with the country the more you explore.

Portugal is known for having some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe and truly has some of the most breathtaking beaches we've seen in all our travels! The Algarve boasts a perfect Mediterranean climate, sandy golden beaches, incredible towering limestone formations and beautiful, inviting azure waters and we loved the freedom of our campervan which meant we could drive until we found the most picture perfect beaches to stop and explore (oh and spend the night because free camping is tolerated in a lot of Portugal)!

We drove the whole length of the Algarve from East to West and up through the Alentejo National Park stopping at beautiful, untouched wild beaches along the West Coast. We also made a few detours inland to the countryside to visit small, traditional Portuguese towns, unique medieval castles and also explore the gorgeous countryside around the Algarve and National Park that covers the South West of Portugal. During this week we were lucky enough to experience the huge diversity of these different regions of Portugal and it was without a doubt one of our favourite travel experiences of 2016!

Girl in Campervan Portugal

4. FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
Scotland was the final 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 the beautiful Scottish Highlands and their many magical landscapes. 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. The Scottish Highlands were everything and more I'd hoped they would be and I truly fell in love with this beautiful country.

Our home for the first few days in the Highlands was Eagle Brae, the ultimate luxurious retreat in the Scottish Highlands. Our stay at Eagle Brae even topped the list of our favourite luxury hotel experiences of 2016 and we are convinced their log cabins are the best in the world. It isn't just the exterior of the cabins that is incredible, we were truly speechless when we stepped inside our cabin! Luxurious, unique and private, everything you could possibly want or need is provided for your stay. In addition to being luxurious and relaxing they are also completely carbon neutral and your stay there is environmentally friendly!

On our last morning at Eagle Brae we woke up to a beautiful, light covering of snow with big, fluffy snowflakes still lightly falling from the sky! We quickly made a warm cup of tea and headed out onto our deck to enjoy the snow, which as an Aussie I don't think will ever become old for me! It was the perfect ending to a perfect stay, in our favourite place we've ever stayed, right in the heart of the magical Highland region!

Couple at Eagle Brae Log Cabins in Scottish Highlands

For some crazy reason I'd always had swimming in Loch Ness on my bucket list, but I never quite imagined I would visit in the middle of winter! So as we were walking along the shores of Loch Ness searching for Nessie and Dan announced that this was the spot we were going to go swimming, I told him he was crazy! But within a few minutes he'd convinced me and we stripped down to our knickers with GoPro in hand and waded in the icy water until it was deep enough to dive under! It was as cold as you can imagine but it was quite the thrill to tick that off the bucket list and finish our Scotland trip on a high!

Couple after swimming in Loch Ness Scotland

5. A VERY LUXURIOUS 24 HOURS IN VENICE
Venice is one of those unique, ridiculously beautiful destinations which truly has to be experienced at least once during your lifetime. I've been lucky enough to visit twice before but this visit was Dan's first and I'm happy to say that my third visit to Venice was my most spectacular and memorable! It's almost impossible to explain the grandeur, beauty and charm of Venice with its 100 small islands, car-less streets, endless beautiful canals and spectacular marble palaces which seemingly rise out of the water... it is truly somewhere that needs to be experienced.

After a morning of exploring we checked into our hotel, the beautiful Westin Europa & Regina, located right on the Grand Canal, which we honestly think is the most incredible hotel in all of Venice! We were lucky enough to have been spoilt with one of the best rooms in the hotel which was enormous, elegant, luxurious and had the most incredible views of the Grand Canal. It was a very surreal experience to be standing on our gorgeous balcony overlooking the Canal, drinking the finest Prosecco and having people wave to us as they drifted past on their gondolas or motored past on boats! It's probably the closest either of us have ever felt to being celebrities and most likely the only time it will ever happen!

Girl at Westin Europa & Regina Venice with Prosecco

It was ridiculously tough to drag ourselves away from our gorgeous room and balcony but we had a Gondola Ride & Dinner booked and so we dolled ourselves up and headed out. We'd booked a tour which included a 30 minute private gondola ride and three course dinner at a restaurant in Venice. Our gondola meeting point was less than a 5 minute walk away and as soon as we arrived we were whisked onto our private gondola and set off along beautiful, hidden canals that were clear of traffic and other gondolas. Our gondolier was very friendly and took the time to point out a few sites but also gave us time to relax and enjoy an incredibly romantic ride (and of course the bottle of prosecco that we'd packed) before dropping us right to the door of our restaurant for the evening!

After three incredible weeks in Italy, Venice was the perfect finale. Our 24 hours in Venice were busy, exciting, romantic and truly felt like we'd spent a great deal longer than just 24 hours in this magical city! It is a destination like no other and one that should be experienced at least once in your lifetime!

Couple in Gondola in Venice Italy

6. HIKING THE FIVE VILLAGES OF THE CINQUE TERRE
I don't know when I first fell in love with the Cinque Terre but I do know that it has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. We finally got to visit in May and 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 and we were blown away when it turned out to be an incredible apartment with a kitchen and amazing terrace overlooking all of Riomaggiore.

Couple on balcony in Riomaggiore Cinque Terre Italy

One of the highlights for us and many other people to the region is hiking the Sentiero Azzurro, the path along the coast that connects all five villages of the Cinque Terre. Unfortunately a few years ago terrible landslides closed the world-famous Via dell'Amore which is the path that connects the villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola. However, it is still possible to hike between the five villages it now just involves a much more strenuous hike! These ancient trails are rough but manageable and the charm of the area is that it is natural and unspoiled so don't expect nice even steps or safety rails along the path. We undertook the hike between Riomaggiore and Monterosso al Mare, taking the time to stop at each of the villages on our way and it was without a doubt a highlight of our time in Italy!

Manarola Cinque Terre Italy

Whilst Riomaggiore was certainly our favourite, every village in the Cinque Terre is magical and has its own unique & charming features and so I don't think it matters which village you stay in because you're guaranteed to love it. I'm so glad we stayed on the actual Cinque Terre rather than travelling in each day because it meant we had the place all to ourselves in the mornings before the day trippers arrived and in the evenings once everyone left where we caught the most majestic sunsets every night.

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre by Night

7. EXPLORING THE BEAUTIFUL BALKANS
After three incredible weeks in Italy we were incredibly exciting to be crossing the border into Slovenia, our first country of the Balkans! 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. 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!

In addition to Ljubljana, we also spent four nights in beautiful Lake Bled which is only an hour north of Ljubljana and is truly one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places we've ever visited. The Lake 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! 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. 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!

Lake Bled Slovenia

From Slovenia we headed south to Croatia and spent a few days exploring Zagreb and Split before boarding our MedSailors yacht, which you've already read all about! In addition to sailing Croatia, a highlight for us was visiting the magical city of Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is known for its beautiful, well-preserved Old Town which is encircled by massive stone walls and which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. We're also both massive Game of Thrones fans, and as Dubrovnik is one of the major filming locations of the show we loved seeing it in real life! We spent our days climbing the city walls, strolling the marble streets of the Old Town, marvelling at the endless shimmer of the Adriatic, soaking in the warmth of the Mediterranean climate and escaping the crowds to the nearby Elafiti Islands.

We had a very short but sweet four days in Montenegro. Before we arrived we hardly knew anything about this small country in the Balkans and didn't mind that we only had four days as it was more time than anyone we know has spent there. 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! 

Bay of Kotor Montenegro

Bosnia and Hercegovina was our next stop and was a place we both wanted to visit and learn more about the horrendous conflict which occurred here during our lifetime. We visited both Mostar and Sarajevo during our time in Bosnia. Mostar 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, today to cheers of tourists. 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. 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.

We also learnt an extensive amount during our time in Sarajevo, both from speaking to locals, to visiting the eye opening History Museum (which is a must to anyone in Sarajevo) to simply walking around the city and witnessing all the cemeteries dotted all over. 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 we will never forget our time in Bosnia and Hercegovina. The city today has a lot of life to it, it feels like people are trying to move on, of course they are not forgetting the past but there feels to be a new lease of life on the city, there is a huge young population and it feels very safe for visitors to the city.

Mostar Bridge Bosnia

8. GREEK ISLAND HOPPING
Like most Australians, the Greek Islands had 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, Paros and 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 Domed Houses in Oia 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!

Streets of Parikia Paros Greek islands

9. ONE LAST HURRAH IN LONDON
I had a few things left on my London Bucket List which included an afternoon tea, bottomless brunch, a few museums, a visit to Harrods and a luxury staycation! My birthday weekend seemed the perfect weekend to head up to London, tick these off and say our goodbyes to one of my all time favourite cities (for now).

We finished off our time in the UK in absolute style with a very luxurious stay at Beaufort House in exclusive Knightsbridge in London. Beaufort House is comprised of 20 individually designed apartments and is located in Beaufort Gardens on a quiet, beautiful tree-lined Regency terraced street. These incredible five star apartments have achieved a well deserved Gold Award from Visit England for their exceptional quality of accommodation and excellent levels of customer service. We had an incredible weekend at Beaufort House and fell in love with their elegant, luxurious apartments which quickly became our home away from home in London.

I also managed to tick off a traditional British afternoon tea at Lanes of London, which was located on the very iconic Park Lane in Mayfair (hello Monopoly)! We had a wonderful afternoon at Lanes of London enjoying delicate sandwiches, freshly baked scones and a beautiful selection of pastries and desserts in a elegant and relaxed atmosphere. 

Another item which I absolutely HAD to do and which is something that you can't do in a restaurant in Australia due to our stricter alcohol laws, and that is a Bottomless Brunch! We chose elegant Villandry St James for our first ever Bottomless Brunch experience and it was even better than I'd hoped! We had a delicious brunch whilst indulging in unlimited Champagne Comte Remy de Vallicourt Brut NV! If that's not a perfect way to spend a birthday weekend then I don't know what is!

Girl at Beaufort House Luxury Apartments London

10. BRINGING IN THE NEW YEAR ON STRADDIE
We spent a week on North Stradbroke Island, also known as 'Straddie' over our Christmas/New Year holidays this year. Straddie is located off Brisbane, is the world's largest sand island and is only a 45 minute ferry from the mainland! The island is one of Australia's natural treasures and is blessed with white sandy beaches, magnificent inland lakes, hidden waterways and scenic walks. We loved Straddie's many waterways which were perfect for swimming, walking, snorkelling, scuba diving, stand up paddleboarding and surfing! The island is particularly well known for its surfing and scuba diving. One of our favourite places on Straddie was the breathtaking North Gorge walk where we spotted pods of dolphins, turtles, manta rays, sharks, kangaroos and during whale migration is the ideal spot to watch these majestic creatures! Straddie really has it all, it was the perfect place for us to slip into the relaxed pace of island life and recharge our batteries! We can't wait to share more of our Straddie adventures on the blog soon!

Main Beach North Stradbroke Island Queensland Australia

+ a Bonus One - MOVING TO AUSTRALIA!
And finally... this year we moved to Australia! Well, I moved back and Dan emigrated from the UK on a partner visa! We arrived back in August and have almost been back for six months which seems crazy! In this time we've certainly settled in and both found jobs within a few weeks in our chosen fields, have embraced the Aussie lifestyle by spending as much time at the beach as we can and of course are loving exploring our local area and planning weekends and holidays away wherever we can! Our biggest holiday for 2017 will be our honeymoon where we will be spending almost three weeks in Far North Queensland on the Great Barrier Reef, Whitsunday Islands and Daintree Rainforest and we absolutely cannot wait!

Miners Beach Port Macquarie Australia

What were your highlights of 2016? 
We'd also love to hear of any big plans for 2017! x

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Our Top 10 Travel Experiences of 2016

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