“What’s the best place you’ve been?
When I’m asked that, I never know what to say. The joy of discovery is in every journey, even the ones that don’t go quite as planned. As travel writers, we get a special view of places and a chance to meet extraordinary people, although the experiences can be frustratingly brief. Take romantic and historic Cartagena’s rich blend of African, Spanish and Indigenous culture. The old colonial city was a delight but the hidden gems were discovering the more authentic, less touristy Getsemani neighbourhood, along with dinner at the old city’s Cafe Interno, a restaurant staffed by inmates of the women’s prison next door (above).
When I come across a story like this, I anxiously fire questions and scribble notes, hoping it will add to a piece that will inspire people to come to this place. When I sit down to write, it sets me to dreaming of the day I can go back. I think I have that in common with many fellow travellers.
Here’s to hitting the road together in 2018 with my Top 10 Travels for 2017, listed in random order. Follow the links in the titles to read the original stories.
I’m very lucky to have a Dutchman as my spouse and we spend a couple of weeks in the Netherlands each year, visiting family in Amsterdam. Earlier this year, we headed north to explore areas even he hadn’t been to. It was a fantastic trip, from the stunning Groninger Museum in Groningen (above), to “wadlopen,” or mudflat walking on the Wadden Sea floor at low tide to experience the freaky feeling of striding towards the 360-degree horizon in water that is typically 50 meters deep, yet barely covered our sneakers.
Tranquil Udaipur, situated on Lake Pichola in northwest India’s “land of kings” and home of the enduring Rajasthan kingdom of Mewar, was an unforgettable part of 2017. Travelling with custom tour company Abercrombie & Kent was seamless and my stay at the luxurious, exotic Oberoi Udaivilas, where our days started with yoga by the lake (above) may never be matched by another hotel.
From the serene and astonishingly beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (above) to the $27, gold dust-topped Palace Cappuccino at the showplace Emirates Palace Hotel, UAE capital Abu Dhabi does nothing by half measures. And that includes the incredible experience of flying business class on national carrier Etihad Airways. I hope to return one day to write about the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which was under construction when I visited.
Duck Key, Florida
I caught my dinner and lost my breakfast on my first time trying deep-sea fishing at Hawks Cay Resort at Duck Key in the Florida Keys. It was a fair trade for a fun experience, although the four other female anglers with me on the bouncing Atlantic Ocean did much better than I did, as this photo of travel blogger Angie Orth (@angieaway) shows. Hawks Cay reopens in 2018 after an extensive renovation after Hurricane Irma.
Harry Potter’s London, Oxford and Scotland
A story to follow in J.K. Rowling’s footsteps to find her sources of inspiration for Harry Potter at the Philosopher’s Stone, published 20 years ago, put me in touch with so many passionate fans of the series, like this enthusiastic girl at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter. I picked up a 20th-anniversary copy of the book at the Platform 9 3/4 shop at King’s Cross before we departed and read it on the four-hour train journey to Edinburgh, following the boy wizard’s Hogwarts Express trail.
Prince Edward Island
Spending the night at Treetop Haven in a geodesic TreePod dome, forest bathing, walking with a hawk, morning yoga on the deck (above) and having a fantastic massage as rain drummed on the roof of the cozy pod was among the highlights of my Prince Edward Island trip, which included a fun afternoon trying some shellfish foraging and the opening of the Stompin’ Tom Centre in Skinners Pond.
Oahu’s North Shore
A trip to this gorgeous area removed from commercialized Honolulu led to meeting Ken Hirata, a Japanese native who quit his job in finance to learn how to make shochu, the clear liquor that outsells sake in Japan. His story was an inspiration and the shochu, made in small batches from Hawaiian bright purple sweet potatoes, was exceptional.
Arizona’s Agritainment Scene
From an olive mill, to eating juicy white peaches right off the tree, to Argitopia, a city-meets-rural “agri-hood,” the foodie trail around Phoenix and Mesa was a delicious experience. Here, Melanie Albert leads an “intuitive cooking class” under the trees at The Farm at South Mountain. And the goat yoga was delightful.
Prince Edward County, Canada
Moteliers Sarah Sklash and April Brown run the cute-as-can-be June Motel just outside Picton, Ontario, which quickly became one of the hippest stays in Prince Edward County last summer. They were exceptional hosts and introduced me to the charms — and delicious farm-to-table tastes — of the picturesque wine and region between Ottawa and Montreal, wisely suggesting I stick to the more relaxed and secluded east side of The County.