The end of the year invites us to pause for reflection. What went well? How did you grow as a person during the year? What did you learn? Is there anything that you would do differently if faced with the same situation in the future?
All of these questions can be applied to travel. But for the final post of this year, I am going to focus on the first question and identify my seven favourite places I travelled to in 2018.
My 7 favourite places of 2018
As I was lucky enough to visit some great destinations this year, picking my seven favourite places in 2018 has been a tricky task. But I have accepted the challenge that I set myself and, without further ado, in reverse order ….
#7 Honfleur, France
During 2018, I visited France not once, not twice but three times. Mon Dieu!
The first destination was Nice to help a friend celebrate his big birthday. Lots of great food, champagne, laughter and celebration. And a little bit of exploring Nice and neighbouring Monaco.
But as lovely as Nice, Colmar and Strasbourg were, my favourite destination in France this year was Honfleur. Courtesy of a free trip on Brittany Ferries won in a raffle (yes, really!), in August four of us piled in a car and headed to Normandy in Northern France.
Honfleur is an excellent base for exploring Normandy, including Etretat and the D-Day beaches amongst others. However, it is also a charming town in its own right. Although the fishing boats have been largely replaced with the yachts of affluent visitors, its 17th Century old dock (Vieux Bassin) is almost impossibly picturesque. Tall, timber-framed buildings with slate roofs encircle the harbour, reflected in its mirror-like water. Leading away from the harbour, a warren of cobbled streets lined with half-timbered buildings wind their way into the shopping streets of Honfleur.
I loved Honfleur’s vibe of laid-back sophistication and its fantastic weekly market (I was very pleased with my purchase of a bedspread!).
#6 The Cinema Museum, London
I know that this wasn’t a travel destination as such. However, I was so taken with my visit to the Cinema Museum in my hometown, that I have been waxing lyrical about it ever since. Therefore, I feel that it deserves its place on my favourite places list.
I confess that I am a complete cinephile, and an infrequent contributor to a movie blog – The Subtitled Friends – set up with fellow film-nut friends. Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise that I loved this cinematic time-machine, with its treasure trove of equipment, vintage uniforms, publications and fixtures & fitting.
But the London Cinema Museum’s greatest treasure is Maurice Hardcastle, the self-appointed “last cinema commissionaire in the universe.” Sporting a Bisto-brown commissionaire’s uniform from 1945 and a splendid moustache, he was our guide for the two-hour journey through cinematic history.
In addition to this main dish of movie-going nostalgia, the Cinema Museum offers a side portion of the fascinating history of London’s workhouses. The Grade 2 listed building housing the museum was formerly the administration block of the Lambeth Workhouse. These Victorian workhouses were where the poorest in society lived, working hard to live in squalor and be fed next to nothing.
#5 Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
To escape the January gloom, my first trip of the year was a long weekend in Abu Dhabi. It is a perfect winter destination for sun-starved Brits but also offers cultural activities. And it has a more measured approach to tourism development than Dubai, its glitzier Emirati neighbour (which would never appear on my favourite destinations list!).
Over the years, I have done a lot of travelling around Islamic countries and, with the exception of the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is the most beautiful mosque I have visited.
With its domes and minarets rising from manicured gardens, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque references traditional Islamic architectural styles. However, its interior feels contemporary with traditional geometric ceramic details contrasting with delicate floral designs inlaid with semi-precious stones.
A 12-ton chandelier sparkling with Swarkowski crystals hangs from its ceiling, but arguably the mosque’s star turn is the carpet covering its main prayer room. It is said that it took 1,200 craftsmen from Iran’s Khorasan Province took two years to weave its 2.2 billion individual, hand-tied knots.
Read more: 3 Days in Abu Dhabi: The Top 5 Things to Do
#4 The Fjords, Norway
My easiest trip of 2018 was a wonderful week-long cruise in May along the Norwegian fjords aboard P&O’s Britannia. Spectacular scenery, great ports of call – Stavanger, Bergen and Alesund – and a chance to ride the Flam Railway. And all without having to set foot on a plane.
Norway is an achingly beautiful country and had been on my travel bucket list for some time. However, it is also achingly expensive and visiting Norway on a cruise insulates you from these prices. Also, it gives you the chance to visit diverse towns and cities in a short space of time, and to cruise along some of Norway’s most scenic fjords.
#3 Iguazu Falls, Argentina / Brazil
I had my sights set on a return visit to South America for some time, so in March I set off on a two-week trip to Argentina. One of the highlights of this trip was visiting the Iguaza Falls, which straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil.
Visiting the Iguazu Falls is a complete sensory experience. Picture a network of thundering waterfalls – 275 of them to be precise. These generate clouds of mist that spray the lush vegetation in the surrounding forest. A maze of walkways allows you to get close up and personal to the falls. It is impossible not to get thoroughly drenched but that’s all part of the fun.
#2 The Matterhorn, Zermatt, Switzerland
Like many of my generation, I went Interrailing as a backpacker in my twenties. For some years, I had promised myself that one year I would do it again, albeit in more comfort. I am a flashpacker after all!
And 2018 was the year. In September, I took the Eurostar train from London to Paris and over the next two weeks I used close on 40 trains to explore Switzerland and France, with a few hops into Germany and Italy. It was a fantastic way to travel.
My favourite place on this trip was Zermatt and the mighty Matterhorn. Towering over the town at a height of 4478 metres, piercing the sky like a harpoon tip, the Matterhorn is the 12th highest peak in Western Europe. If ever there was a mountain that deserves to be photographed from every angle in every possible light, this is it.
Seeing the Matterhorn close-up is unforgettable. I took the Gornergrat Railway from Zermatt to Rotonboden, and walked the short distance to Riffelsee. The sight of the near-symmetrical peak of the Matterhorn reflected in the mirror-like water of Riffelsee almost made me weep with joy. Simply sensational.
The big moment now folks! What was my very favourite destination in 2018? Drum roll please ….
#1 Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina
This was my jaw-drop travel moment of 2018.
Stretching back as far as the eye can see above the turquoise water of Argentinian Patagonia’s Los Glaciares National Park, the Perito Moreno Glacier is an extraordinary sight. Describing it defies superlatives. At over 30km in length, 5km in width and towering 70 meters above the surface of Lago Argentino, the Perito Moreno Glacier covers an area of 250 square kilometres.
The Perito Moreno Glacier faced stiff competition from the other destinations I visited in 2018. However, this place is set above the rest by virtue of its sheer drama.
Although it is difficult to tear your eyes away from its beauty, what makes the Perona Moreno Glacier so spell-binding is its activity. As it advances, immense ice chunks break off, plummeting into the lake, which is extraordinary to witness. First, a low rumble, like thunder. Then the ice mass breaks apart and crashes into the water, to the accompaniment of a collective gasp of awe from visitors.
Travel destinations in 2019
So that’s the list of my favourite places I visited in 2018. I’ve enjoyed looking back.
By way of a personal reflection, I am grateful for two things. Firstly, that I have the enthusiasm and the ability to visit amazing places around the world. Travel is a privilege that I never take for granted. And secondly, I am grateful that, far from becoming jaded by years of travel, new places can still make me gasp in wonder.
Of course, the story doesn’t end here. I have one remaining trip for 2018 – a short trip to Kraków in Poland. Then looking forward to 2019, there’s a return trip to Thailand, a long weekend in Rotterdam and two cruises. The first of these is from Southampton to St Petersburg in early June. Then, in October. I have a cruise around the Greek Islands from Venice. I’m sure that other destinations will be added to this list as the year progresses!
Wherever you decide to travel in 2019, enjoy it and keep safe, and have a fantastic year ahead.