This year didn’t begin well. At approximately 5:45am on the 1st of January 2015 I woke up in a Berber tent in the middle of the Sahara desert in Morocco. I was freezing despite wearing all my clothes and jackets under three blankets. I had barely slept. I had most certainly not partied till the early hours on New Years Eve. And to make things even worst, I was about to get on a camel for a 45-minute ride in the icing cold of the sand dunes. Fortunately my not-so-well-planned experience did not set the tone for the rest of the year. 2015 was quite a spectacular year of travelling for me!
I have been fortunate to revisit favourite destinations as well as discover new ones, in the company of family and friends. I have travelled more and further than I could have imagined that first day of the year. Here’s a roundup of my Top 5 destinations of 2015. Hope you’ll enjoy it!
Two days after my desert experience I arrived at the coastal town of Essaouira and as I entered the city walls, I fell in love with the place.
Compared to Marrakech, Essaouira felt more human, more approachable and ultimately more authentic. There were many tourists of course, the medina is full of souvenir shops and hostels, but as we walked further east into the old town we found an area with homes and shops with mostly just locals.
Essaouira is infinitely Moroccan with narrow alleyways, wind that reputedly drives people crazy, the smells of fish guts and damp sea air mixed with aromas of spices and thuya wood, women in white haiks (veils), midday palm-tree shadows on red city walls, and the sound of drums and Gnawa singing reverberating from shops and houses. [Lonely Planet]
Essaouira allowed me to breathe in the sea air, absorb the sun rays, relax and enjoy that very unique moment of my life. It felt special and beautiful.
At the beginning of May I travelled to Porto with my husband for a long weekend of eating and drinking.
We had a wonderful time discovering Porto’s food specialties, such as pasteis de chaves, bifana sandwich, petiscos (Portuguese tapas) and of course tasting the local Douro and Port wines.
Porto’s historic centre, the Ribeira district, is alone worth the trip, with its hilly cobbled streets, colourful buildings, tiled façades, soaring towers and churches.
Ribeira is divided from the new town (Vila Nova de Gaia) by the Douro river, with the famous Dom Luís I Bridge connecting the two river banks.
I found the city incredibly charming and the locals very friendly, despite the obvious language and cultural barriers. I am looking forward to visiting again someday, hopefully with a bit more sun! I made a view of my travel in Porto and I hope it will inspire you to visit this city in 2016.
Sarawak Borneo, Malaysia
One destination I certainly wouldn’t have dreamed of visiting in 2015 was Malaysia, and yet I was fortunate enough to be invited by Malaysia Airlines to spend one week in Sarawak, Borneo and Kuala Lumpur. I was there with a lovely group of UK food bloggers to discover the food of Sarawak and we certainly didn’t waste any opportunity to try the local cuisine.
I discovered many favourite dishes, from the Sarawak Laksa to the Chicken Satay, passing through all the types of noodles, especially the ones at Uncle Tom’s in Kuching!
Sarawak is one of the Malaysian states in Borneo, but compared to the other one (Sabah) it is relatively unknown to Western tourists. We stayed two nights at Damai Beach Resort, learnt about the local tribes and culture and went for a memorable boat cruise on the Santubong river.
I also watched Orang Utans in their habitat at Semenggok Rehabilitation Centre, which was incredible! Kuching is just a small part of Sarawak so there is still so much I have to see. I hope to be back someday, but until then Sarawak will always have a special place in my heart!
San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain
My Top 5 is listed in chronological order, but if I had to pick my top one destination of 2015 it would be San Sebastián.
Friends had told me about how lovely San Sebastián was, but it surpassed my expectations. I was charmed by the natural beauty and the architecture, a mix of Basque, Spanish and French influences. I loved the Belle Epoque buildings and boulevard, the neo-gothic cathedral and the breathtaking promenade of La Concha beach.
Gastronomy is what sets San Sebastián apart: can you believe it is one of the cities in the world to hold the highest number of Michelin stars per square metre? It’s a mix of amazing local ingredients, old culinary traditions passed down by generations, and talented young chefs. I tried to eat as many pintxos as possible, but there are too many to try. I have to go back!
San Sebastián is the kind of city that you want to live and experience for long periods and I hope to be back in 2016 for more sunrises and sunsets.
Sarlat and Périgord Noir, Dordogne, France
One destination that left me speechless for three days straight was the Dordogne Valley. You can read my full post about it here. It’s one of those places out of a fairy tale and for the whole time I was wondering “why have I not been here before?”. The area was once called Aquitaine, but it’s now known as Périgord. I spent three days in Sarlat-la-Canéda, a charming and picturesque old town with honey-coloured buildings and alleyways.
Sarlat and Périgord Noir are famous for the local produce such as goose, foie gras, truffles, walnuts and strawberries.
So it’s not a surprise that Sarlat is renowned since the Middle Ages for its weekly farmers market, which still takes place in the old town twice a week and attracts many visitors.
Périgord Noir is called as such for its dark oak forests which at the end of October were coloured in all shades of red and brown. It was absolutely gorgeous! The valley around the Dordogne river is also dotted with beautiful old chateaux, as if you needed any more excuses to fall in love with the place.
If you are curious to know where else I have travelled to in 2015, you can read my posts about Bordeaux, Copenhagen, Sicily, Rioja, Formentera, Kerala, Venice, Val d’Isere. Coming soon on the blog: my travel guides of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Istanbul and Madonna di Campiglio (Italian Alps).
Special thanks to all the wonderful people (my husband, family, friends, bloggers and PRs) I have travelled with this year. I hope our roads will cross again in 2016.