As we come to the end of the 2010s, I've been reflecting on how incredibly lucky I've been to travel to some of the most spectacular places in the world over the last decade. From historical city breaks to mountain hikes; seeing rare animals in the wild to geographical marvels, here are some of my highlights from the past 10 years...
Getting Spooked In Prague, Czechia - 2011
Starting right back at the beginning of the decade, my first travel highlight of the '10s was the fascinating ghosts and legends tour we were taken on in the magical city of Prague.
With the Old Town spanning back to the 10th century, Prague is jam-packed with history, art and culture, with highlights including the 14th century Charles IV bridge, the intricate Astrological Clock Tower, historic Jewish Quarter and impressive Prague Castle. Given how much history it holds within it's winding alleyways, it's no surprise that there are more than a few mysterious, grisly and downright chilling tales of murderers, monsters and ghouls to be shared.
Booked spontaneously one evening during a girls' weekend away, the two-hour walking tour explored the cobbled gothic streets after dark, revealing some of the city's lesser-known folklore and myths that have haunted Czechia's rich past. Visiting key landmarks including the Convent Of St Agnes, Spanish Synagogue and Astrological Tower, the guide really brought Prague's history to life, celebrating its many incarnations and beautiful architecture. It was the perfect way to dig a little deeper into this amazing city.
Exploring Dubrovnik's City Walls, Croatia - 2017
Despite it being late October when we visited, the sun was still shining during our time in Dubrovnik, making it ideal weather for exploring this historic fortress from both sea and land, with my two highlights being kayaking along the dramatic coastline during the day and walking the city walls at sunset.
Finding particular fame over the past few years as one of the main filming locations for Game Of Thrones, the Old Town of Dubrovnik really is like going back in time. Named as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and nestled on the shimmering Adriatic coast, the inside of the 16th century walls are made up of marble streets, historic churches, baroque buildings and renaissance fountains.
Our kayaking trip during the day allowed us to see the city in all it's glory from the water - and trust me, it's an incredibly impressive sight! Starting from the Pile Gate, the tour travelled around the allegedly 'cursed' island of Lokrum just off the coast, as well as visiting a number of secluded caves and beaches which were all breathtaking. Upon returning back to the shore, we walked up and around the City Walls as the sun set, overlooking the city from above. Not only is this the best time of day to do the 2km walk due to the temperatures, but the views were stunning. There's even a bar on the seafront side of the walls to enjoy a cold beer as the sun goes down!
Visiting The Acropolis Of Athens, Greece - 2012
I loved visiting this iconic ancient landmark and exploring the vibrant city of Athens in 2012.
Taking centre stage and majestically overlooking the city, the Acropolis of Athens, an ancient Greek citadel built on a hill top, is one of the most culturally and historically important archeological sites in the Western world. It is truly magnificent, and mind-blowing to think it has stood there for over 3,000 years, surviving numerous wars, extreme weather, earthquakes and fires.
Our hotel had views of the Acropolis itself, all lit up in the evening, and it was just a short walk to visit it and see the ancient building up close, including the Erechtheum, Propylaea and most famously, the Parthenon. There is so much intricate detail to see in these incredible monuments - the extensive design of the temples themselves, as well as all of the carving and sculptures that adorn them. There is so much depth and history in each part, which is why I also particularly enjoyed visiting the nearby Acropolis Museum which had only recently opened (in 2009). Home to over 4,250 artefacts, it it a brilliant accompaniment to the archeological site, giving context, background and detailing the mythology surrounding the Ancient Greek culture.
Road Tripping Around New Zealand - 2014
I'll admit, I've cheated a bit with this one, but I just couldn't pick one part of New Zealand so have chosen it all as a travel highlight as it was all equally amazing.
New Zealand is one of my favourite places in the whole world, and we were lucky enough to spend 5 weeks driving around both North and South Island of New Zealand in a lime green Ford KA during March and April 2014. From watching dolphins play off the coast of the sunny Bay Of Islands at the northernmost tip and vineyard tours of Waiheke Island; all the way to the dramatic waterfalls of Milford Sound and snow-capped mountains and glacial lakes in the Mount Cook National Park, every moment was so incredibly special. To top it all off, we even got engaged on a beach in the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park!
What I really love about New Zealand is the amount of hugely diverse landscapes, along with the friendly, laid-back attitude of the Kiwis themselves. Despite being relatively small in size, there is so much wildlife, so much variety and always something new that will take your breath away.
Marvelling At Mountains In Yosemite, USA - 2018
I know I've written a lot already about our time in Yosemite National Park, but it's safe to say that it made a pretty lasting impression! Visiting in the height of summer, it was very hot but I was absolutely blown away by the scale and magnitude of the natural beauty that greeted us.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite National Park spreads over 1,000 square miles, boasting an array of giant granite cliffs and domes, the largest of which is 4,800 ft tall. It’s an absolutely vast area with plenty to explore, with awe-inspiring waterfalls and magnificent landscapes around every corner.
We spent two full days in the park itself - the first on the valley floor taking in all the spectacular mirror lakes, waterfalls and mountains from above, and the second we drove up towards the top of the park to view the glacial valley from above, both of which were absolutely breathtaking!
Sailing Around The Aegean Sea, Greece / Turkey - 2011
In 2011, we were lucky enough to be invited on a trip with Adam's family to sail from Rhodes to Turkey on a chartered sailing yacht owned by a family friend. I'd never experienced anything like it - being on the open water, the wind in our hair and stopping at secluded islands to explore, was incredible.
Setting sail from Rhodes Town, we travelled through the clear, turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea, visiting the gorgeous island of Symi and an array of smaller, uninhabited islands, before ending in Bodrum, Turkey. We were joined on board by a husband and wife crew who not only made sure we safely got where we were headed, but provided us with the most delicious meals throughout the day, all expertly prepared on the boat itself - we were well and truly spoilt!
Symi was a particular highlight for me. Known for its colourful buildings built into the hillside, as well as its sea sponge and ship building industry, this tiny island is full or charm and character. The island's most iconic landmark is probably the Monastery of the Archangel Michael Panormitis, an elegant 18th century Greek Orthodox place of worship, which dramatically overlooks the harbour. Watching the sun set across the bay from the yacht with a chilled glass of fizz in hand was pure luxury and a memory I'll never forget.
Visiting Iguazu Falls, Argentina / Brazil - 2014
Iguazu Falls had been on my bucket list for a while so when we visited South America in 2014, we went out of our way (taking a short flight and three day trip) to visit. And it didn't disappoint!
Spanning over 1.7 miles, the spectacular Iguazu Falls and River are so large that you can view and access them from three different countries - Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Flying from Buenos Aires, we spent the first day in Argentina, which is home to two thirds of the Falls. Here, we saw the part of the river known as the 'Devil's Throat', a dramatic 80m U-shaped drop, as well as getting soaked on a boat trip into the mouth of the Falls and seeing local wildlife on the Rainforest Train.
The second day, spent on the Brazilian side, was calmer, but equally impressive, with platforms and walkways allowing you to walk across the top of the Falls themselves. It really is a natural wonder of the world and a sight to marvel at!
Touring The Winelands, South Africa - 2016
For our honeymoon, we did the most incredible road trip across South Africa's Garden Route before heading north to do a four-day safari. Though all of the Garden Route was stunning, my favourite part was the Winelands - for the scenery as much as the delicious wine!
Instead of wedding gifts, we asked for any guests who'd like to give something, to contribute towards experiences on our trip. One of which was a day of horse riding and wine tasting in Franschoek, a small settlement in the Winelands often lauded as the gastronomical capital of South Africa. where we were planning to stay. We got up that morning fully expecting to join a group bus tour of the area, do some horse riding and sample some wines. However, thanks to our very generous friends and family, we were actually treated to a very special private chauffeur-driven day of rural riding amongst the vineyards, and personalised tastings of wine, rum and cheese at some of the region’s highly acclaimed wineries.
It was such a luxurious experience, topped off by a delicious and idyllic lunch in the Autumnal sunshine at La Petite Ferme, a rural, upmarket restaurant offering panoramic views across the vineyards, mountains and valley. Absolute bliss!
Swimming With Manta Ray, Fiji - 2014
To be honest, there are no words to describe or do justice to how beautiful Fiji is. It's the epitome of paradise, with it's crystal clear turquoise waters and idyllic white sand beaches.
As part of our big round the world trip, we did a week of island hopping through the gorgeous Yasawa Islands, an archipelago of 20 or so islands off the north coast of mainland Fiji. Throughout the week, we visited and stayed at three different islands and got to do some amazing activities including reef snorkelling, a Fijian cooking class, cave diving and a sunset tube cruise. However, the absolute highlight was getting to swim with the beautiful and majestic manta ray.
Though we were a little early for the manta ray season (which typically runs from May - October), we were told that there was a small chance that we may catch a glimpse of one early in the morning. The team had a system of banging a gong when one was sighted with the first guests to get to the beach able to head out on one of the boats to see them, and on our third morning, we were lucky enough to hear the gong and dash out of bed in time!
Spanning 5-7m in diameter, these giant rays can be a bit intimidating at first, but as soon as you realise how gentle and graceful they are, they become entirely mesmerising. We didn't have to go out far to see them, and snorkelled just above the surface as they glided below us. To see these rare creatures in their natural environment really was an experience of a lifetime.
Driving Through Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia - 2014
Along with Iguazu Falls and the Inca Trail, the Salt Flats (or Salar de Uyuni) in Bolivia had been on my bucket list for a while too, and somewhere I'd been fascinated by.
As the world's largest salt flat at over 10,500 sq km, the Salar de Uyuni is situated in southwest Bolivia and is believed to be the result of several prehistoric lakes which evaporated thousands of years ago. The first thing that hits you when you enter this incredible salt desert is it's vastness. There is nothing but beautiful, perfectly formed hexagonal white vistas for as far as the eye can see, set against a piercing blue sky which makes for an eerily peaceful, yet otherworldly experience. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before and are likely to see again, to be honest!
The nights were just as spectacular. Although warm in the sunshine during the day, as soon as darkness fell, the temperatures plummeted to a freezing -10°C. Despite the cold though, we had to venture outside to marvel at the clear, star-filled night's sky. With no light pollution for miles, it was the perfect conditions for star-gazing, making us feel very small in this vast, open and extraordinary landscape.
Hiking The Inca Trail, Peru - 2014
Again, I've written a lot about my experience of the Inca Trail, but it has to be one of the weeks from the last decade that I'm undoubtedly most proud of.
It was unbearably tough at times, to the point where if I could've turned around and gone home to my warm, cosy bed, I definitely would have, but I am so pleased I completed the hike and reached the coveted Macchu Picchu to see the sun rise. And what a sight that was!
Re-discovered by Hiram Bigham in the early 20th century, the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu is believed to have been built in the 1400s during the reign of Inca emperor Pachucuti. The trail itself is understood to have been a pilgrimage route along which the Incas would perform religious ceremonies and rituals to honour the mountains and natural world. As a result, the classic Inca Trail features many fascinating archaeological sites including the Inca ruins of Llachtapata, Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuypatamarca and Wiñaywayna, which are all built into the mountain sides along the ancient road.
Though my knees ached and I was physically exhausted, every moment of the Inca Trail was so precious. Passing rivers, mountain ranges, valleys and forests, as well as hugely important archeological sites, there was so much to see and every time we stopped, I just marvelled at the incredible views that surrounded us.
Seeing Wild Animals On Safari, South Africa - 2016
Topping off my travel highlights of the decade has to be the incredible four day safari we did in South Africa as part of our honeymoon.
Staying at the Makanyane Safari Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve, we were utterly spoilt by the beautiful surroundings, delicious food, luxurious accommodation and hugely accommodating staff. The lodge itself was incredible, offering all our meals (breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea and dinner - I've never eaten so much in my life!), spa treatments, a pool, bush barbecues and cosy evenings by the fire.
Each morning, we were woken up early for breakfast before wrapping up warm for a sunrise game drive. I'd always said that the one thing I'd really love to see during the safari was a lion - anything else would be a bonus - but was keeping my expectations in check as to whether this would actually be possible. However, within an hour of leaving the safari lodge, I was absolutely thrilled when we caught our first glimpse of the big cats - and oh, how magnificent they were! Later in the week, we were even lucky enough to hear one of the males roar which was such an incredible experience.
Our days were then structured around eating and going on amazing game drives! After the first drive of the day, we'd return to the lodge where a sumptuous brunch would be waiting for us, and have a couple of hours to relax by the pool before heading out again mid-afternoon, with sightings of impala, zebra, rhino, buffalo, elephants and giraffe, amongst others. We had the same ranger all week, who would bring personalised snacks and 'sun-downer' drinks for us to enjoy as the low, African sun glowed around us. We'd then return to the lodge for tea and a later dinner, either in the main building, in our room or under the stars.
Perhaps the most romantic evening of our whole honeymoon was the night we spent out in the open under the stars. Sleeping on a cosy bed on a raised platform in the middle of the game reserve, we had a hugely special evening sharing a bottle of champagne and listening to the nocturnal animals come out to play around us before falling asleep and waking to watch the sun rise. It was absolutely magical.
We were so lucky to see four of the 'Big Five' (everything but the elusive leopard which is very rarely seen) over the four days, as well as some very rare sightings such as a honey badger, hippopotamus and warthog. It was all the experience of a lifetime!