Discover my favourite destinations of the year in this 2023 travel review, featuring 12 of my favourite photos — one from each trip I took.
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Ahh, 2023….a year of strikes and cancellations, and a rising cost of living that far surpassed wage increases (for those of us who were lucky enough to get wage increases). It’s definitely made travel noticeably more expensive and stressful for me, and travel planning has, in turn, become more complex and time-consuming. Perhaps that’s why I’m sitting here now, wondering how the hell 2023 has come to an end already!
But, without further ado, let’s get started with my 2023 travel review.
2023 Travel Review
January | A few days down in Devon and Cornwall
It’s Stu’s birthday in January, so we always try and go away somewhere for a few days this month, in order to mark the occasion. This year, we scored two back-to-back Travelzoo deals — two nights in an apartment in Sennen for just £99 followed by two nights in a historic hotel in Clovelly for only £149. These prices were for two of us, which made our 4-night break an absolute steal at £31 per person per night. Considering that our apartment came with free private parking right outside and that the hotel rate included breakfast, we really did score ourselves a bargain!
Aside from our last day in Devon (the day we were due to travel home), we were so lucky with the weather during our four-night break. We arrived in Sennen to sunshine and blue skies, walked the South West Coast Path to Lands End and Nanjizal Beach, spotted some beautiful wild horses and then cosied up in our local pub (which was actually next door to our apartment) in the evening, with some quality Cornish ale and delicious, hearty food.
The following day, we headed over to St. Michael’s Mount and the picturesque village of Mousehole, and walked another section of the South West Coast Path to Lamorna Cove. We had intended to visit the Minack Theatre on our way back to Sennen, but guess who didn’t check the opening times beforehand? They were closing their doors for the day just as we arrived!
As we drove up the west coast of Cornwall towards Clovelly, we stopped at the Botallack Mine — part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, located on the Tin Coast just outside of St. Just. It’s one of Cornwall’s most iconic sites, and has attracted a huge influx of tourists since being used as a filming location in the BBC’s Poldark series. However, on a cold, windy January day, we were two of only a small number of visitors there.
Up in Devon, it was a similar story in Clovelly. This privately-owned historic fishing village is picture-postcard pretty, with steep cobbled lanes and no vehicular access permitted — meaning that locals have to transport goods by sledge! It’s one of Britain’s most unique and Instagrammable villages, so, in the height of summer, the streets can get absolutely rammed. But, our experience in January was completely the opposite.
We enjoyed a lovely early morning wander around the village, followed by another walk along the coast, to Blackchurch Rock. We then drove to Hartland Quay and walked to Speke’s Mill Waterfall.
It’s difficult to pick just one photo from my Devon and Cornwall trip, for this 2023 travel review, because I feel like the whole weekend was filled with incredible scenery and stunning coastal views. But, in the end I decided to plump for this iconic shot of the Crowns Engine Houses, clinging dramatically to the foot of the cliffs.
February | A long weekend in Wroclaw, Poland
The primary reason I ended up spending a weekend in Wrocław this month was because I found cheap flights there from my local airport. And when I say cheap, I mean just £37 return! (which is ridiculously cheap in today’s economic climate).
Wroclaw had actually been on my travel radar ever since it was awarded the title of the European Capital of Culture in 2016; I’d just never made it there until this year. And whilst the beginning of February is not an ideal time of year to visit Poland weather-wise (temperatures hovered around minus four degrees for the entirety of my time there), the good news is that Wroclaw’s Old Town is packed with inviting cafes and quirky coffee shops to cosy up in and escape the cold.
Even though I only booked my trip around three weeks before I flew, I managed to score a surprisingly affordable room in a beautiful new hotel just steps from the city’s Market Square, which meant that everything was within easy walking distance of my temporary home.
I spent the majority of my time in Wroclaw dwarf hunting (the city is home to around 600 miniature bronze sculptures, affectionately known as dwarfs or gnomes), but I also managed to incorporate visits to Cathedral Island (the oldest part of the city) and Nadodrze (Wroclaw’s ‘alternative’ neighbourhood), along with sampling some top-notch local and international food.
One of the most unique things about Wroclaw (aside from its army of tiny dwarfs) is that the city still employs a lamplighter. If you can find him, you can follow him around Cathedral Island at dusk every evening, as he carries out his duty of lighting all 103 gas lamps in the area.
March | Exploring Barcelona with Jet2 and 10 days walking the Lycian Way in Turkey
I lucked out with a double whammy of travels this month! First up, I was fortunate enough to be invited to collaborate with Jet2 on a city break to Barcelona. It’s an opportunity I was ridiculously excited about, because, in all honesty, I’ve neglected my blog a bit since lockdown, so I don’t have as many page views as I probably could have, had I invested more time in it. Yet, still they wanted to work with me!
Of course, this also meant that I felt under a lot of pressure to ensure that I wrote a blog post about my trip that was different to the rest of those on the internet, but that was still useful and informative, and would perform well.
As I’d been to Barcelona twice before, and had visited a lot of the popular sights that appear on most tourists’ itineraries, on this occasion I decided to concentrate on those your average tourist doesn’t make it to and those where you won’t be inundated with crowds of other people doing exactly the same as you.
This required a lot of research (as there is obviously a lot less written about Barcelona’s lesser-known sights and attractions), but it’s research that definitely paid off because I found some wonderful spots that I couldn’t wait to tell you all about. Among them were Gaudi’s Bellesguard (on the outskirts of the city, where we had our own private tour!), the Montjuic neighbourhood (including its crowning glory — the castle), the beautiful (and immense!) Botanical Garden, Parc del Laberint d’Horta, Recinte Modernista Sant Pau, and the Palau de la Musica (first thing on a Sunday morning, when everyone else is still in bed!).
Just days after returning from Barcelona, I jetted off to Turkey with my friend Jayne, to spend 10 days walking the best bits of the Lycian Way trail.
Hiking the Lycian Way is an adventure that had been on my travel hit list for some time, but I’m very glad I waited until a time when my fitness was at its peak, because this is not an easy trail — there are lots of ascents and descents over very rocky terrain. I’m also pleased that I chose to organise the trip independently. Although this was no easy feat (the logistics were almost as challenging, if not more, than the walking itself!), in hindsight I could not imagine walking the trail any other way now, because my experience of hiking the Lycian Way was definitely one of my travel highlights of the year!
The scenery along the Lycian Way is incredible! You’ll pass centuries-old Lycian ruins and walk through traditional Turkish villages where the locals will welcome you with open arms. Food and accommodation are both very affordable, and the weather in March is perfect for both hiking and photography. If you’re an avid hiker, I cannot recommend this trail enough!
April | Easter with mum in Kent and a visit to Trinny in Spain
I went away over Easter with mum last year to South Wales, and we were very lucky again this year to chance upon another Easter trip (travelling over the Easter bank holiday means using zero annual leave, which is always a bonus!) — this time down to Kent.
We stayed in Bridgewood Manor Hotel and Spa, in Chatham, and made visits to Faversham (Kent’s oldest market town that is home to more than 400 listed buildings), Rochester (an ancient fortress town that is famous for being the birthplace of Charles Dickens), Canterbury (home to the oldest cathedral in England), and Leeds Castle (a stunning medieval castle set on two islands in a magnificent lake; often referred to as ‘the loveliest castle in the world’)
Yet again, mum was my good weather omen on this trip — we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine for the majority of our four days down in the ‘Garden of England.’
At the end of the month, Stu and I flew out to Spain to spend the bank holiday weekend with my friend Trinny and her family. Whilst, we didn’t have quite as much of an action-packed few days as we did when we visited them this time last year (primarily due to the problems they were all having attempting to exchange their British licences, meaning that, when we visited, they weren’t actually legally allowed to drive), it was still lovely to see them all again, after eight months.
And, we still managed to make a few local trips to Serón, Purchena, and Playa de la Carolina — where we had fun watching the kids attempting to tunnel their way to Australia.
May | A city break in Santander with the girls
Gloria and Kath have been friends of mine since Sixth Form days, and now that we all live in different parts of England, we try to get away for a weekend abroad together every year. Previously we’ve visited Riga, Poznan, Cluj Napoca, Vilnius, Warsaw, and Zadar together, and this year, one of the cheapest flights we could find from Birmingham (the most central airport to all three of us) was to Santander, on the north coast of Spain.
Like Zadar in 2022, it was lovely to spend another city break on the coast. This gave Kath the opportunity to go for a swim (which, in all honesty, she’ll do anywhere, regardless of the temperature!), me the opportunity to take us all on a long walk (again, I don’t need much persuasion to do this!) and Gloria the opportunity to find us a quirky way of exploring the city and its beautiful coastline (we took a tour of Santander in a classic Seat 600).
Santander is not a touristy city at all, which is great news if you want an authentic Spanish experience away from the crowds, but not so great if you’re not keen on typical Spanish food (vegetarians may struggle) and don’t speak a word of Spanish.
All in all though, we enjoyed Santander. What it lacks in the plethora of elegant, well-preserved historic buildings that lots of Spanish cities have in bucket loads (much of the old city burnt down in the great fire of 1941), it makes up for in character, natural beauty and vast open spaces.
June | Greek island hopping with Stu
Prior to this trip, I’d not been to Greece since 2015, so I was well overdue a visit to one of my favourite European countries. Whilst my last trip had been based on the Greek mainland (with the exception of a couple of days on the island of Hydra), I wanted this trip to be all about discovering a few of the country’s lesser-known islands.
Again, I do like to set the bar high when I plan my trips; there are over 160 inhabited Greek islands! And I’ve previously visited just eight of them. How was I ever going to decide which ones to explore this time around?
Stunning natural beauty, an abundance of hiking trails, attractive towns and villages, and affordable accommodation and dining options were our main priorities, but we also needed to be able to easily travel between our chosen islands, so we needed to pay attention to ferry routes and schedules, too.
Ultimately, we decided upon three of the Cyclades islands — Andros, Naxos and Amorgos. We’d fly to Athens, catch the ferry to Andros from Athens’ Rafina port, and then spend three or four days exploring each of the three islands, before making the seven-hour journey back from Amorgos to Athens’ Piraeus port. We factored in a day in Athens at the end, just in case of delayed ferries, which was actually really nice because I loved the three days I spent there back in 2015, much more than I’d ever expected to.
Of the three islands we explored, my overall favourite was probably Andros, because of how green it is and how well the hiking trails are marked. We also stayed in a beautiful traditional home there, in the island’s capital town, Chora. But, I also loved wandering the disorientating maze of streets and alleyways in Naxos’ old town, and visiting the spectacular 11th century Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa on Amorgos, with its dramatic cliffside location and sweeping views of the Aegean Sea.
I’ll be publishing a post about my 2023 Greek island hopping trip very soon, so keep your eyes peeled!
Cyclades Greek Island Hopping Itinerary: Andros, Naxos and Amorgos (publishing soon)
July | A weekend in York and Scarborough
My trip to Scarborough was actually one that had been booked since the start of the year when my friend Gloria managed to bag us tickets to the PULP gig at Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre. The Different Class album felt like a very, very long time ago (28 years, in fact) and we were keen to find out whether Jarvis had still got it. Spoiler art: he most definitely has!
Due to the fact that it was almost as cheap to factor in an overnight stay in York (in the YHA) and catch the midday train to Scarborough the following day as it was to get the earliest Scarborough-bound train out of Shrewsbury on the day of the gig, I also got to spend 24 hours in one of my favourite UK cities prior to arriving in Scarborough.
It was an incredible gig, and even in spite of the torrential rain (ironically it had been ridiculously warm and sunny up until around 7 p.m. that day), everyone in the crowd properly danced their socks off — including whilst in the toilet queue!
The following morning, the rain had cleared, and I was able to explore Peasholm Park and Scarborough Castle in the sunshine before jumping on the train back to Shrewsbury.
August | Walking part of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales
After walking my first section of the Wales Coast Path, between Pwllheli and Porth Colman, in May 2021, I’ve been keen to walk some more of the trail ever since. And pretty much everyone I’d spoken to about it had strongly encouraged me to head down to Pembrokeshire.
So, that’s exactly what I did on the 18th of August 2023.
However, little did Stu and I know, when we drove down to the campsite in Fishguard on the Thursday evening, that Storm Betty was due to bring very strong winds and heavy rains to Wales and the west of the UK that very weekend. On the Friday night, in true Wizard of Oz fashion, the wind very nearly lifted our roof tent right off the car it was attached to. At 3 a.m., having not managed to get a wink of sleep since we got into bed, we got out of the tent and attempted to lash it more securely to the car with ratchet straps!
Considering the above information, you’d have thought that I’d have abandoned the idea of a coastal walk. But, actually, in spite of the horrendous storms overnight, the weather conditions during the daytime hours were actually reasonably good. On the second and third days, we even saw some sunshine.
In total I walked 36.5 miles (59.5 kilometres) over two and a half days, between St. Dogmaels and Pwll Deri. Our wonderful campsite — which, not only had the best campsite showers ever, but also had an amazing on-site restaurant and a few resident alpacas — was located just a mile from the centre of Fishguard and made the perfect base from which to hike this part of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
September | A weekend in Harrogate with mum
Harrogate had been somewhere mum and I had wanted to visit for some time, so when we spotted a coach trip that saw us staying in the centre of the city itself and also exploring the picturesque town of Knaresborough nearby, we booked it right away.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to book ourselves a session at the Turkish Baths (Britain’s most fully restored Victorian Turkish Baths), but we did manage to have a peek inside the Mercer Art Gallery, take a relaxing wander around the city’s English Heritage Grade II Listed Valley Gardens, visit the infamous Betty’s tearooms, and enjoy a lovely coffee at Scandinavian-inspired Fi:k.
The following day, we headed over to 14th century medieval manor house, Markenfield Hall in the morning, and spent the afternoon in Knaresborough. Straddling both sides of the River Nidd, the picturesque market town of Knaresborough is located just four miles east of Harrogate and is known for its striking viaduct, picture-postcard views, and unique chequered houses.
Knaresborough is also famous for being the home of England’s oldest tourist attraction — the Petrifying Well — which has been open to the public since 1630. I remember visiting the Petrifying Well as a child and being completely fascinated by it. Witnessing everyday objects being turned to stone is like something out of a fairy tale, when you’re just 10 years old. It’s still a pretty surreal sight even when you’re an adult and you know the science behind the whole petrifying process.
October | A cancelled trip to Azerbaijan and a competition win to Paxos, Greece
At the end of September, I had just one trip planned this month — a 10-day adventure to Azerbaijan that Jayne and I had booked back in July. It was the one place I was most excited about visiting this year, because, ever since I travelled to Georgia back in 2018, I’ve desperately wanted to explore more of the Caucasus.
Unfortunately, luck was very much not on our side on the day Jayne and I were due to fly there. We got in the car around 7 a.m. and one of the first things we did was switch the radio on. There had been a fire in one of the car parks at Luton Airport (the airport we were scheduled to fly from) so the airport was closed and all flights had been halted until midday. Ours wasn’t due to depart until 14:40. Whilst we knew it would probably be delayed now, we had a three-hour wait in Warsaw airport before our connecting flight to Azerbaijan, so we hoped we could still make it. We had no real option at this stage but to try.
So, we got on the road and started our journey to Luton Airport. We’d probably been travelling for around an hour and a half before we got a message from Wizz Air to inform us that our flight had been delayed until 16:00 hours. That was fine, we’d expected that, and it still meant that we would be able to make our connection in Warsaw. However, around half an hour later, we had another message from Wizz Air to say that our flight had been cancelled. Every single news bulletin we listened to stated that the airport was now closed until 3 p.m. and advised all passengers NOT to travel to the airport until further notice.
Obviously, we were still desperate to get to Azerbaijan, so we pulled up at a motorway service station on the outskirts of Luton to look at our options. We jumped on to Skyscanner and looked at all other flights to Warsaw leaving from any airport south of Manchester. We’d paid £20 for our Luton to Warsaw flight, yet there were no flights heading to Warsaw now for any less than £500 one-way!
Our other option was to find an alternative flight all the way to Azerbaijan, which we did manage to do. There was a flight leaving Stansted bound for Azerbaijan (via Istanbul) for an additional £246. Google informed us that we could make it to Stansted in time, and the cost to park there would be covered by the refund we’d get from Luton Airport Parking. However, we we subsequently found out that if you don’t show up for your outbound flight (i.e the Warsaw to Azerbaijan one we were booked on to), the airline cancel your right to fly home on the return one. We even spoke to LOT airlines and explained the problem, but they were not budging on that — we’d have to book a whole new return flight for some ridiculous amount of money that I can’t remember right now!
And, so it was that we didn’t make it to Azerbaijan. Fortunately, we were able to cancel all our booked accommodation with no penalty, but we couldn’t claim any money back on our flights between Warsaw and Azerbaijan, due to the fact that they were still running — we just weren’t able to get on them.
But, every cloud ‘n’ all….
Shortly before we were due to leave for Azerbaijan, I won a competition on Instagram for seven nights in a villa on the Greek island of Paxos. I couldn’t make the original dates stated in the competition (dates I’d clearly not paid attention to when I entered), because I was due to be in Azerbaijan. But, fortunately, the company running the competition, Ionian Villas, allowed me to move the dates to the end of October.
So, Stu and I just had to pay for our return flights to Corfu (which were around £80 each) and the ferry over to Paxos and back.
It was quite weird that, out of all the places in the world that I could have won a holiday to, the place that I ultimately did was a tiny island in the Ionian Sea where my ex-boyfriend’s parents used to live. And, probably still do! It’s an island that I’ve explored in depth, and an island I grew to love.
For that reason, I was quite hesitant about returning. But, at the same time, I was ridiculously excited about re-visiting all the places I had such fond memories of.
It turns out that the end of October is not the best time to visit Paxos if you want to find restaurants and scooter rental outfits open and buses running to normal schedules. And, it was quite upsetting to see how much this beautiful ‘unspoilt’ island was getting spoilt by the sheer number of villas being built everywhere (yes, I’m well aware I was staying in one of them, but I hadn’t paid to do so). But, on the plus side, our villa was amazing (we especially loved the views from the pool area), the weather was (mostly) a lot warmer and sunnier than I’d expected it to be, the beaches were lovely and quiet, and the landscapes and landmarks were just as wonderful as I remember them to be.
November | Visiting my friend Trinny in Spain
Although the plan had been to get out and see Trinny again before November, we just couldn’t afford the flights. I still find it quite difficult to believe that the first time I flew out to visit Trinny after she moved to Spain in November 2019, a return flight cost me just £22. And, if Stu and I had gone the same time of year (end of September) in 2023, it would’ve cost us closer to £222 each!!
As it turns out though, November is the perfect time of year to visit Almería if you want to enjoy beautifully warm and sunny days, but don’t mind putting on an extra layer or two when the sun goes down.
Due to only having two full days over in Spain this time around (there are fewer flights at this time of year), we primarily focused our explorations close to Trinny’s home just outside Albox. However, we did venture a little further afield when we took a beautiful walk (and cycle ride for the kids) along the old railway track from Cantoria to Almanzora and back.
December | Visiting my friend Katy in Ireland
Katy is the second of my good friends to have left the UK for pastures new. She and her husband moved out to a little village in County Clare (oddly enough, the very same village my friend Trinny grew up in) in September 2023.
Every year, for the past 20 years or so (Katy could tell you the exact number), Katy has hosted a festive Muppet Christmas Carol, Cheese and Wine night on the first Saturday of December. As the name of the event suggests, the evening is spent watching A Muppet Christmas Carol (amongst other Christmas films — usually The Polar Express and The Grinch), eating cheese and drinking wine. It helps to get us all in the festive spirit and signifies the official start of the Christmas celebrations.
Despite moving to a different country, Katy was keen to continue the tradition over in Ireland. So, Stu and I caught a flight over to Shannon on the Friday and returned home on the Sunday. It was a fleeting visit, but one I’m very glad we were able to make.
Apologies for the poor quality photo, but it’s one of very few I managed to take on my visit. Incidentally, it was taken in the very same pub that my friend Trinny’s parents used to play music in when she was a child.
And that was 2023!
I visited five different countries (as you now know, this was meant to be six!). Unfortunately, having never made it to Azerbaijan, none of these countries were new to me this year. But, I did get to explore some previously unfamiliar parts of a few familiar countries, which can be equally as rewarding as setting foot on completely new territory.
I know I said the same thing in my 2022 travel review, but my only regret this year is that I have neglected this blog somewhat. Not intentionally, of course; life just got in the way! And, I don’t mean in a bad way; I’ve just been really enjoying dedicating a bit more time to running (I’ve really got into trail running this year with members of my Renegades running family), spending some quality evenings and weekends with friends and family, and doing things at home that don’t involve sitting on the sofa staring at my laptop screen.
At the start of the year, I vowed to share more regularly on social media in 2023. And, it got off to a great start — I shared a photo every day in January on my Instagram account, and felt inspired to continue as I watched my engagement soar — but, by February, when my engagement started to plateau, it began to feel like too much of a chore. So, I stopped. This year, I need to find a better way of organising the photographs I take, and a less time consuming way of locating those I like enough to share on social media. Any tips would be gratefully received!
How was your 2023? What was your favourite trip or new favourite destination? Share away in the comments below
If you’d like to read any of my other review posts, you can do so here: