At the start of a brand new year, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights of the last 12 months.
What a fantastic year!
Over the last 12 months, I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to stay in some fabulous places. I’ve been from Puerto de la Cruz to Portmeirion, and stayed in everything from a Georgian mansion to a grain silo.
I’ve also eaten the most amazing food, from a Michelin-starred tasting menu in Bath to Poffertjes in Rotterdam.
So before I get started on another year of travel, let’s take a quick look back at some of the highlights of 2019….
The drama and elegance of Nanteos Mansion provided the setting for my first visit of 2019. This Georgian mansion sits just outside Aberystwyth, on the coast of Ceredigion Bay in Wales.
I loved the period features of the house and the hotel’s stunning Nightingale Suite certainly ranks as one of my favourite rooms of the year.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing weekend in glamorous surroundings, the perfect venue for a romantic wedding, or the base for walks in the Welsh countryside, Nanteos Mansion could be your ideal destination.
February saw me head off to Scotland again – this time to visit Cringletie, a boutique hotel in the Scottish Borders.
I spent the night there, and fell in love with the decor and cosy open fires. Each of the rooms is individually decorated, and little touches like a complimentary nip of whisky add to the experience.
In Cringletie’s elegant restaurant, I enjoyed a delicious dinner that showcased the fabulous local produce.
Cringletie is around an hour away from Edinburgh, so it’s the perfect venue for relaxation after a visit to Scotland’s capital city.
And soon after this, I spent a fabulous night in the Queensberry hotel in Bath.
This city is one of the most beautiful that I’ve ever visited, and the Queensberry is ideally located near to all the main attractions. The hotel is located in three adjoining Georgian townhouses, and retains a lot of the original elegant features.
It also has a Michelin-starred hotel on site, called the Olive Tree. The 7 course tasting menu that I sampled was definitely one of the best meals that I’ve ever had.
I also took the opportunity to take Ollie and Lyle off to Malaga in Spain for a long weekend.
I first visited this city in southern Spain back in 2017, when I went to see the Alhambra de Granada.
This time we spent the full weekend in the city, exploring some of its historical treasures and sampling the local food. Although it was a little chilly in the evenings, the daytime temperature made it a really nice respite from the British winter.
My next trip was a five day visit to Puerto de la Cruz, on the north coast of Tenerife, thanks to Jet2 Holidays.
It was my first overseas package holiday since 2001, and the first time that I visited the Canary Islands. I spent time exploring the city with its colourful Canarian architecture.
And as April started, I was to be found in another colourful location, but this time on the North Wales coast.
Portmeirion Village is full of quirky Italianate buildings, with imaginative details to be found around every corner. It overlooks the Dwyryd estuary, and you can take a walk along the coast or head through the village’s Wild Wood.
I stayed overnight in Hotel Portmeiron, which is every bit as quirky as you’d hope. Even the menu at the restaurant was full of surprises!
My second visit of the month to Wales took me to the RHS flowershow in Cardiff.
It’s the first big gardening event of the season, and I headed there to see the show gardens and floral marquee.
I was lucky to enjoy a beautiful Spring day with plenty of sunshine, which really helped to show the gardens off at their best.
And I also headed down to the New Forest for a review of the Bell Inn. This is a really cosy inn, complete with low ceilings and flagstone floors, and the bedrooms are cosy and comfortable.
My youngest son Lyle accompanied me on this trip and we took the opportunity to pay a visit to Portsmouth as well.
The Historic Dockyard and Spinnaker Tower were high up on our list of things to do in Portsmouth.
I had another visit to a flower show in May, this time a little closer to home. The RHS Malvern Spring Flower Show takes place each May and is a fabulous display of colour and scent.
The show gardens at this event are always fabulous, and the 2019 edition was no exception. Gardens included everything from a Spanish train station to a modern construction of pillars, and the best show garden was particularly stunning.
And the floral marquee was filled with displays of seasonal flowers, heritage vegetables and even bonsai trees.
As summer came to Shropshire, I had two very different visits lined up. The first took me on my very first Glamping trip, spending a night in a grain silo in Ellesmere. Yes, I said a grain silo!
I was invited to spend a couple of nights at the Acorn Ponds site near Ellesmere in Shropshire. It was less than an hour away from my home, but the quiet location and back-to-basics facilities made it feel like I was half a world away.
I absolutely loved the experience though, and it was incredibly relaxing once I got used to the peace and quiet. I’d definitely love to go glamping again this year!
Just a few days after my glamping trip, I was heading down to the Warwickshire countryside for a luxurious weekend at Studley Castle, thanks to Warner Leisure Hotels.
Studley Castle was built in the 19th century as a very special family home. It’s now owned by Warner Leisure Hotels, who have transformed it into a very luxurious place to spend time either relaxing or taking advantage of the excellent facilities.
The building has been extensively renovated, and great care has been taken to make sure that its period details have been carefully restored. And a modern remodelling of the stables has created a luxurious spa.
The British Grand Prix takes place every July at Silverstone, and this year I was invited to attend by National Holidays. Ollie and Lyle were offered the chance to come along, and Lyle snapped it up.
We spent two days at the British Grand Prix, travelling by coach to Silverstone with National Holidays. General admission tickets let us get close up to the action on track, and we stayed overnight at a nearby hotel. And of course, because we were travelling by coach, I could sit back and relax instead of being stuck behind the wheel.
It was the second time that I’d been on a weekend away with National Holidays, and certainly one of the highlights of the year!
With Ollie due to take his A levels this summer, I am trying to make the most of the time we have together before he goes off to Uni. So when Warwick Castle invited me to visit, I was really glad of the opportunity to spend a day with him. It was great to spend a day on our own.
Warwick Castle is a really popular place for Midlands families to visit, and a great day trip from Birmingham. But somehow we’d never been there before. I was really looking forward to our trip, and loved exploring the castle and its grounds.
But it was the live shows that proved to be the real highlight of the day. A live action ‘jousting’ show depicted the Wars of the Roses, and we were both enthralled by a fabulous birds of prey display.
And then Lyle came along as well when we spent a few days over in Dublin. We were invited to travel by Stena Line, and stayed as guests of the Clayton Hotel Ballsbridge.
Our visit took in some of the usual sights – Molly Malone, O’Connell Street, the Ha’penny Bridge. And we also went to some of Dublin’s many museums and paid a visit to Dublin Castle.
I always love visiting Ireland and can’t wait to go back again in 2020.
Back closer to home in September, I headed off to Birmingham to spend a night at the Radisson Blu hotel.
The distinctive blue glass fronted building towers over Birmingham city centre, and it’s a hotel that I’d wanted to stay in for a long time. So the invitation to review the new breakfast menu was very gladly accepted!
I enjoyed a night in one of their spacious, modern rooms, and then tucked into a fabulous breakfast from their new menu. It was certainly a great start to the day, and I’d recommend trying it out if you get the chance.
In half term, I whisked Ollie and Lyle away for a weekend on a mini-cruise to Rotterdam. We’ve been on a mini-cruise before when we visited Amsterdam in 2018, and we really enjoy them.
We spent two nights on board a ferry, with a day in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. During our short visit, we viewed the city from the top of the Euromast Tower, went inside one of the incredibly bizarre yellow Cube Houses, and tucked into delicious local delicacies in the Foodhallen.
I haven’t blogged about our trip, yet, but look out for details of our trip soon.
I travelled northwards to Scotland again in November. I spent my first night near Glasgow and then visited the impressive National William Wallace Monument which overlooks the site of the Battle of Stirling.
On a crisp St Andrew’s Day morning, I climbed all 246 steps to the top of the tower and my efforts were rewarded with breathtaking views out over the surrounding countryside.
Afterwards, I travelled onwards to Loch Earn in the Trossachs National Park. I would be reviewing the Four Seasons hotel in St Fillans.
This charming hotel in St Fillans gave us a really warm welcome. I spent a fun evening enjoying traditional Scottish ceilidh music and hearty Scottish dishes.
And my Scottish trip crossed over into December, as my third night in Scotland was spent at the Elphinstone Hotel in the Scottish Borders.
Before we headed to Elphinstone, I paid a visit the Kelpies near Falkirk. These stunning sculptures are absolutely beautiful, a real feat of engineering as well. You can go inside one of the sculptures if you book onto a guided tour. It’s really fascinating to hear more about how they were conceived, designed and constructed.
I’ll be writing more about the Kelpies soon.
And after the sub-zero temperatures at the Kelpies, it was good to warm up at the Elphinstone Hotel. It’s a traditional coaching inn, and I enjoyed a night in one of their comfortable, cosy rooms with an excellent meal in their restaurant.
Finally, it was time to go home for the holidays. After a busy year, it was good to go back to Newport and get ready for a family Christmas.