My travel discovery of 2013

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Wow, is 2013 over already? This year seems to have flown by really quickly and as we stand on the edge of a new year many of us will be starting to think about planning and booking next years big summer holiday. To give you some inspiration we have asked some of our team of travel experts to share their travel highlights of the past 12 months.

For some it has been a year of rediscovering a destination they have not been to in many year’s, such as Donald’s trip to Newcastle; whilst others have touched ground in and nominated a whole country as their highlight, see Sofia’s review of Costa Rica. My travel highlight? A trip to both a new city and country, (to me that is!) the ancient Italian capital of Rome. For all of us Travel has played an important part of 2013 and we hope to give you inspiration as you look into your 2014 holiday plans.

Ochil Hills, Scotland

Alva Glen, Idyllic Scottish Landscape

Alva Glen, Idyllic Scottish Landscape

Considering I’m a travel writer, it may come as a surprise that my discovery of 2013 was close to home. Staying with a friend in the Ochil Hills, stretching for 25 miles from the Firth of Tay to Stirling, I was there to have a breather from city life; and it certainly did the trick. There are some incredible walks to be had around the Path of Condie, a little-known area in the countryside; and nothing so demanding that you’ll need more than some sturdy boots. My winning moment was wandering off the beaten path to find a secret waterfall along the Water of May, and a deep, dark pool underneath. Needless to say, I promptly plunged into it. Cold? Yes. Breathtaking? Literally. Perthshire doesn’t really do sunshine, but it’s got natural landscapes to die for.

Sophie Gackowski
Sophie Gackowski

Newcastle, England

Newcastle quayside  View of the Sage building and Tyne bridges from Newcastle quayside

Newcastle quayside View of the Sage building and Tyne bridges from Newcastle quayside

My favourite discovery this year was a re-discovery, and pretty close to home, too. I’d not seen Newcastle for about a decade—so long ago they didn’t even call it Newcastle–Gateshead back then. There’s a real buzz about the place that I didn’t detect on my last visit. The Georgian terraces and Victorian industrial architecture is as honest as ever. The nightlife, too. And that ‘brash and lively’ stereotype is no longer true, if it ever was. There’s also classy cocktails and craft beer bars, like The Bacchus and The Bridge Tavern.

The city’s riverside panorama is up there with anything in Europe. As the lights come on over the tilting Millennium Bridge, and the city’s cultural icons the Sage and BALTIC, it’s magical. And there wasn’t a scrap of fog on the river to spoil my view.

Donald Strachan
Donald Strachan

Rome, Italy

Altar of the Fatherland, Rome Photo: Russell Bowes

Altar of the Fatherland, Rome Photo: Russell Bowes

The two things I really look for in a destination are culture and food and I think I hit the jackpot when I visited Rome in October. Past the hustle and bustle (not to mention the heat) of summer I found a wonderful city packed full of history and culture and importantly food. Rome is a treat for the senses. Visually it is a stunningly beautiful city from ancient Roman sites such as the colosseum and forum to renaissance masterpieces like St Peters basilica and the more modern Altar of the Fatherland. My highlight of Rome was Vatican city, a must see simply for the volume of art and history it encapsulates. For me no trip is complete without trying as many of the local dishes as I can, and my foodie highlight of Rome was sitting in Piazza Navona with a chocolate ice cream truffle from Tre Scalini watching the evening go by, perfect! Find your classical world holiday apartment in Rome.

Russell Bowes
Russells Kitchen

Costa Rica

Playa Naranjo

Playa Naranjo Photo: Geoff Gallice

Costa Rica is by far my favorite vacation destination. The beaches in Santa Rosa National Park are second-to-none for beauty and seclusion. I spent a memorable day there just savoring the sounds of nature and soaking up the glorious rays of the sun. When it got warm, I simply took a dip in the crystalline waters.

This country is one of the best for active travelers, which is another reason why I love it. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve gave me a fascinating background on the ecological system in the jungle, and being able to ramble freely for several hours was definitely a treat. For something a little more strenuous, I opted to rent a mountain bike so I could explore Costa Rica’s many unpaved roads and trails. Not surprisingly, that wasn’t enough for me. Eventually, I signed up for a multi-day tour that had me riding a bike, whitewater rafting and trekking through the jungle. That was definitely an amazing adventure.

Of course, Costa Rica isn’t all about adrenaline. The breathtaking Rincon de la Vieja National Park, with its geysers and hot springs, was also one of my favorite experiences. I can’t wait to get back there someday!

Sofia Von Porat
As We Travel

The Badlands & Black Hills of South Dakota

Mount Rushmore National Monument near Keystone, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore National Monument near Keystone, South Dakota

This July, I took a five-day solo road trip through the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota, a beautiful part of the U.S. that is totally underrated. I visited Badlands National Park, stopped by Wall Drug (a popular road side attraction just outside Rapid City), tasted Thomas Jefferson’s original ice cream recipe at Mount Rushmore, and went bar-hopping with local ranchers in Deadwood, a town where actors dress as legendary characters from the Old West and re-enact famous shootouts every hour on the hour—you can also visit the real gravestones of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane! My favorite part of the trip was seeing the Crazy Horse Memorial up close, and getting caught in a traffic jam while driving through Custer State Park because a herd of buffalo decided to cross the road! Definitely a trip full of unforgettable experiences!

Kaeli Conforti
Budget Travel

Portugal

 

Monsanto Portugal Photo: Fiona Maclean

Monsanto Portugal Photo: Fiona Maclean

Mountains, birds of prey, Prehistoric man and a village in the rocks – Central Portugal. A hiking and bird watching trip to central Portugal was perhaps not the most obvious choice for a food lover with a penchant for spas. When the itinerary mentioned ‘optional’ rock engravings, the spa seemed a better bet. But who would miss a walk along a deserted valley at midnight to see the carvings of Foz Coa, from 22,000 BC? Bird watching involved vultures and eagles nesting on the craggy cliffs of Faia Brava while I was amazed by the precarious fortified village of Monsanto, built into the boulders at the very top of the hill. Central Portugal offers history, culture, wildlife and gastronomy in an almost deserted region of great natural beauty.

Fiona Maclean
London unattached

Itria Valley, Italy

 

Trulli_Alberobello11_apr06 Photo: Marcok

Trulli_Alberobello11_apr06 Photo: Marcok

Perhaps my most fairytale-like travel discovery of 2013 was the Itria Valley in Italy’s southern Puglia (Apulia) region, specifically in the Salento peninsula which forms the heel of the Italian “boot”. The Valley’s most recognizable feature are its 19th century trulli–small round whitewashed dwellings topped with cone-shaped limestone roofs—which look like a combination of something out of Middle Earth and Hans Christian Anderson, and dot the landscape. Trulli were constructed by peasant farmers in the Apulian countryside as a poor but effective shelter; the walls are dry stone masonry, as are the limestone slabs forming the conical roofs. The structures, which can be single buildings or clusters of up to five or six round trulli, are topped with a whimsical sandstone pinnacle, hand-carved into a variety of shapes which sometimes served as the signature of the trullo’s mason. The roofs often also have sacred symbols whitewashed onto the limestone slabs. The best stop to view trulli is the tiny town of Alberobello in the Itria Valley, where the rione Monti neighborhood is home to around 1000 of these structures which are now used as homes, shops, and restaurants.

Rebecca Winke
Rebecca Winke

Revelstoke, Canada

SnowShoeing Photo: Jay Morrison

SnowShoeing Photo: Jay Morrison

This remote resort, deep in Interior British Columbia, has been on my ski wish list for years – and 2013 was the year I finally made it happen. It’s not a big resort, but then most skiers would agree that five lifts is all you need when you’ve got 3,121 acres of terrain and North America’s longest lift-accessed vertical (1,713m) to play with. The off-piste skiing here is incredible, from the tight couloirs of Greely Bowl to the vast and dense forests (where we almost got lost on several occasions). I was lucky enough to go heli-skiing during my trip. The highlight was a north-facing bowl called Letterbox. The powder was knee-deep and the lightest I’ve ever skied. The day was rounded off with real ale and burgers in the Village Idiot bar in town, filled with chairs made of retired skis and big-screen TVs playing ski movies. Perfect.

Nicola Iseard
Fall Line Magazine

Montenegro

Panoramic view on Kotor, Montenegro.

Panoramic view on Kotor, Montenegro.

Montenegro is the New Iceland. Well we believe so anyway. While it may be a small country, it’s a huge playground for anyone who loves the outdoors. The meaning of Montenegro is ‘a black mountain,’ and much of it is mountainous and forested. It has a growing infrastructure of camper van parks and accommodation, yet relatively few tourists outside of the main beach resorts.The butterfly shaped Bay of Kotor is a natural wonder, where overhanging limestone cliffs frame the blue of the Adriatic. The beaches are packed, but you can hop in a kayak if you seek tranquility. We went island exploring from the village of Perast. Keen paddlers can book onto a bigger adventure in the Tara Canyon; the deepest river canyon in Europe.

The Durmitor National Park is a gem and worth hiking or biking. Montenegro had a few surprises up its sleeve too; like the Mausoleum of Njegos with outstanding views of Lovcen National Park, and the terrifying hairpin Ladder of Cattaro, just outside Kotor. Kotor Old Town of Kotor is a must; this UNESCO World Heritage Site is an Aladdin’s Cave of alleys, cafe’s, historic buildings and churches.

Kirstie Pelling
Family Adventure Project

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