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Stunning destinations to brighten your year ahead

Let’s welcome in the New Year of 2023 and explore 12 incredible locations that will add pleasure and fulfilment to our travel calendars for the coming year ahead.

There’s nothing quite like snuggling down on your sofa. Your mind is bursting with places you’d love to discover, and you have one mission in mind: to book a memorable holiday.

Gary and I live in the southeast of the UK, in the picturesque county of Kent. Therefore our ‘near’ destinations are UK based and often offer something a little different.

The six recommendations that we have chosen for overseas travelling include a charming mixture of mini-breaks, road trips, sunshine, and culture and all with a touch of adventure and fun.

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Our near locations

For us, it’s the UK

The UK has so much to offer every traveller; whether you’re a city lover and enjoy immersing in the local culture, cruising the meandering British waterways or just love escaping for a weekend away, we’ve got you covered.

So, fire up a map and plot your route; there’ll be beaches, castles, Romans, and narrowboats.

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Our first location is to the magnificent city of Bath in Somerset and is perfect for a weekend away. When you arrive in this beautiful UNESCO city, you feel like you’ve stepped into an open-air museum.

Street after street, stunning Georgian architecture takes your breath away. I was amazed at how well the whole city of Bath is preserved and so many sights to see.

Overlooking the Great Bath from the victorian upper terrace of the Roman Baths in Bath
The Roman Baths
The central attraction to the city of Bath is the ancient Roman Baths, and it is easy to see why visitors return time and again; it is stunning. As you wander around the upper terrace, grand statues overlook the Great Bath below and give a feeling of opulence and wealth.

Nearby the Roman Baths is Bath Abbey, founded in the 7th-century and was originally a Benedictine monastery. Prior to stepping inside, look out for Jacob’s Ladder stretching high above and with intricate stone angels climbing the stairway to heaven.

You’ll discover so much during your getaway to Bath; take a stroll along the River Avon and soak up the splendour of Pulteney Bridge. Pulteney Bridge is one of only four bridges in the world to have shops across its entire span.

The view over the River Avon towards the weir in front of the Pulteney Bridge in Bath at dusk
Pulteney Bridge at Dusk
Another iconic sight to see in Bath is Royal Crescent. Sweeping in an arc are 30 Georgian terraced homes standing shoulder to shoulder and portraying the wealthy lifestyle of Bath during the 18th century. Visit No.1 Royal Crescent for an insight into Georgian life.

We have created a little YouTube video of  Bath.  Why not take a look?

Also, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?

Where to stay in Bath?

The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa
For an indulgent treat this beautiful 5-star hotel is located along Bath’s iconic Royal Crescent. Full of exquisite 18th- century décor and the luxuries pf a modern-day spa.

Harington's Hotel
Along a charming, cobbled street and just a few minutes’ walk to Bath’s historic attractions. Offering a delicious breakfast in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

You’ll never forget a holiday on a narrowboat, it is such good fun, and you’ll create so many lasting memories.

What I love about a canal boat holiday is that it forces you to slow down your pace of life and embrace the surrounding countryside. When you are chugging along at 4mph, you have no other option than to soak up the environment.

A narrowboat positioned deep in the lock on the Kennet and Avon Canal. The skipper is at the tiller as water seeps in through the closed lock gates behind him.
Navigating the locks

We’ve embarked on three canal boat trips, two of which were along the Kennet and Avon canal. Whether there are just two of you or a group, you’ll be vying for the chance to hop off the narrowboat and crank open the huge doors on the deep canal locks.

I advise you to plan a rough route in advance for stopovers, turning areas, water points and riverside pubs. Allow plenty of time, and don’t overestimate your pace, as the pleasure of this trip is slowing down and enjoying your holiday. There may even be a queue for the numerous locks en-route.

To assist in your planning, invest in the Inland Waterways map of Great Britain it’s reasonably priced and will guide you along the way.

Handy to know narrow-boating tips

Take a peek at our post ’12 useful tips for your canal boat adventure’, it’s often the little details that make a holiday perfect.

The Canal River Trust website is particularly useful for planning your trip. It gives detailed information on the canals and the surrounding facilities.

It wasn’t until we’d visited a few of Kent’s castles that I realised there were so many fortifications in one county.

Although I suppose it isn’t surprising that we have quite a few defences along the Kent coastline, as our location to our overseas neighbours has meant that we were embroiled in many battles with other European nations through the centuries.

The entrance across the moat to an ivy-covered Hever Castle in Kent
Hever Castle

In part one of our discovering ancient Kent castles, we visited Dover Castle, Scotney Castle, Canterbury Castle, Hever Castle, Chiddingstone Castle, Deal Castle and Eynsford Castle.

Then in part two, we explored a further seven Kent castles, which included Leeds, Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Walmer Castle, Rochester Castle, Upnor Castle, Lullingstone Castle and Sandown Castle Garden.

The fourteen Kent castles we visited were all quite different in character ranging from the imposing Dover Castle, which sits high above the White Cliffs of Dover, to the ruins of a Norman ‘enclosure castle’ in Eynsford.
Looking up at the Keep of Rochester Castle from the now dried out moat that surrounds it.
Rochester Castle

It’s fascinating visiting these many fortifications as a few of the castles like Rochester and Upnor, for example, feel as though they have certainly seen battle and then others like Hever, Leeds, and Walmer conjure a truly majestic presence.

If you love visiting historic places with equally stunning gardens, then Sissinghurst Castle Garden and Scotney Castle are for you. They are both managed by the National Trust and are gorgeous to stroll around.

If you're intrigued by Kent's weird and wonderful history, or all unusual stories around the county, then take a peek at "Kent's Strangest Tales".

You won't be able to put it down, you can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.

If you fancy a relaxing city break, then we can highly recommend Norwich in the beautiful county of Norfolk, a UNESCO City of Literature.

This charming Cathedral city is full of so much character and history and what makes it even more enjoyable is that you can easily explore Norwich in a weekend.

The view from Erpingham Gate to the Cathedral under stormy skies
Through Erpingham Gate to Norwich Cathedral
Elm Hill, a cobbled street in the Tombland district of Norwich
A view of Elm Hill in Tombland
You’ll instantly be drawn to Norwich’s magnificent cathedral, which has stood for over 900 years. As you stroll through the gates of Erpingham and Ethelbert, you’ll enter the 44-acre tranquil Close, which encompasses the ancient church.

Another area of Norwich that we loved exploring was the labyrinth of cobbled lanes and medieval Tudor buildings in the Cathedral Quarter. All along Elm Hill and Tombland are delightful half-timbered homes and enticing book shops.

Heading towards Norwich’s heart, you’ll inevitably discover its colourful open-air market in Market Place, which houses around 200 stalls. A market has been held in Norwich city centre since the 11th-century.

The bustling Norwich Market, with its brightly topped stalls, on a beautiful spring day.
Norwich Market

There are stunning examples of period architecture around the main square, including the Art Deco City Hall. Although what you cannot miss is the magnificent Art Nouveau Royal Arcade which was designed by George Skipper.

Ensure you keep a look out for the Norwich 12; this is a collection of iconic buildings taking you through the ages of Norwich, from the Normans, onto Medieval, through to the Georgian & Victorian periods and ending with the modern-day era.

Where to stay in Norwich?

The Maids Head Hotel
This delightful 4-star 13th-century hotel is located in Norwich's Cathedral Quarter, just by Elm Hill. On-site free car parking is available.

The Georgian Townhouse
With stylish accommodation and an in-house restaurant, this friendly hotel offers free parking. It is just 1 mile from Norwich Cathedral.

If you're intrigued by Norfolk, a UK county with an interesting past, then why not check out  "The Little Book of Norfolk".  Full of facts and obscure information. It's a fun read on the region.

You can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old hardcover. (Depending on region)

When touring around Kent and East Sussex, you may have spotted the historic Cinque Port signs and become a little intrigued as to the history behind this ancient group of towns and villages.

Well, I certainly was the name “Cinque Ports” is Old French, meaning "five harbours". The Cinque Port Confederation was established during the 12th-century. It was initially comprised of five Head Ports: Dover, Hastings, Hythe, New Romney, and Sandwich.

The Winchelsea village sign featuring the coat of arms of the Cinque Ports with a golden galleon on top.
The Cinque Ports sign

These five ports were required to supply and maintain ships for The Crown. In return, they were granted certain privileges, financial advantages, and status.

Through the subsequent centuries, these ports supplied ships and their supporting crew. For some towns, this became quite a burden, and they would then call upon nearby towns and villages for support.

These were known as “Limbs” during the height of the Crown’s requirements; up to 30 limbs were attached to the head ports. The seven surviving limbs are Deal, Faversham, Folkestone, Lydd, Margate, Ramsgate and Tenterden. In addition to the limbs, there were also two Ancient Towns, Rye, and Winchelsea.
The historic Barbican tollgate over the road into Sandwich, a beautiful part of kent to visit
Sandwich Barbican
Curiosity got the better of us. Over time, we have visited many of the picturesque locations associated with the Cinque Ports. Why not choose a few for yourself and head off on a voyage of discovery?

Escape for a few days

Are you in search of a tranquil hideaway to relax and unwind in, while you discover the beautiful British countryside?

Browse through the handpicked properties and unique retreats at Holiday Cottages.

We loved visiting National Trust sites in 2021, so much so that we renewed our membership for 2022.

As you travel around the UK, you’ll be amazed at how many manor houses, picturesque castles and preserved stately homes are hidden away amongst our beautiful countryside. The National Trust do a magnificent job at maintaining these properties and ensuring that their surrounding gardens look incredible too.

The rear view of the red-brick Chartwell House from the corner of the lawn.
Chartwell
One home I love visiting through the seasons is Chartwell in Westerham, the family home of Sir Winston Churchill, the vast walled garden is amazing, although I particularly enjoy visiting Churchill’s art studio; I could spend hours there.

If you are in the southern region of the Cotswolds, there is a stunning village named Lacock in Wiltshire, just on the outskirts of the AONB.

Almost the entire village is owned by the National Trust, and each beautiful stone cottage is lovingly looked after. Lacock Village really is pretty; it’s hard to believe that places like this still exist.

Church Street in Lacock, Wiltshire, as used in Downton Abbey
Church Street, Lacock Village
If it feels like you’ve wandered onto a movie set, then you’re correct. Lacock Village and Lacock Abbey have been used for filming numerous TV dramas and movies. You may recognise it from Downton Abbey, Cranford and Pride and Prejudice. Inside the abbey, the historic cloisters were visited by Harry Potter and Wolf Hall.

Map, guides and more

Whether you’re planning a road trip, plotting a hiking route or cycling one of UK’s scenic trails, there’s nothing quite like using a tactile paper map.

The Ordnance Survey folk are here to help, with maps, guides, gadgets and more. Take a browse through their vast array of maps and grab your ideal companion for your adventure.

Alternatively, why not purchase and download the OS Maps App, which covers all of Great Britain.

Our far locations

The world’s your oyster

If you’re looking for some inspiration for overseas travel for 2023, then we can certainly help you with that.

We have an exciting mixture of adventurous road trips through Croatia and Normandy and weekend getaways to Porto and Belgium. You’ll be basking in the Cypriot Mediterranean sunshine. For something a little different, we discover 16 of Spain’s UNESCO World Heritage Sights.

If you’re yearning to tour Croatia on a road trip, then we have an amazing Croatian road trip itinerary for you to follow. We give plenty of handy hints and tips on driving around Croatia, the destinations to visit and wonderful places to stay.

You could be mad like us and embark on this road trip from the UK, alternatively, fly into either Split or Dubrovnik and start your Adriatic adventure there.

Boats moored up next to the riva in Zadar under the orange sky of dusk
Trogir at dusk
The first stop on our Croatian road trip was Plitvice, where we visited the UNESCO opal lakes in Plitvice National Park. Our second location was the coastal city of Zadar; we chose to go via a ferry and do a little bit of island hopping.

We then headed further south to the tiny city of Trogir for a couple of nights and then onto our southernmost point of the trip Dubrovnik. We stayed in Dubrovnik for three nights and chose to drive to the historic city of Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina for one day.

Journeying back north, we visit the ancient city of Split for one night and then further north to Rovinj, where we base ourselves for two evenings and explored the towns of Pula and Poreč.

A view over the terracotta rooftops of the historic centre of the UNESCO old city of Dubrovnik looking out to the Adriatic seaÉ
Overlooking the historic streets of Dubrovnik

In total, we stayed for 12 nights in Croatia. However, as mentioned, we stopped in Obernai, France and Salzburg, Austria, on our journey south and Salzburg and Baden-Baden on our journey back to the UK.

Although it appears we squeezed a lot into this trip, we found it very relaxing as Croatia is a beautiful country to tour around.

If you've yet to discover the delights of Croatia you're in for a treat. While planning our road trip, I used the DK Eyewitness books.  I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our north to south Croatian road trip, now you can grab the revised copy.

Belgium may not have crossed your mind for a city break destination; however, I urge you to think again. The cities of Ghent, Mechelen and Leuven are delightful, and all can be reached in under three hours by hopping on the Eurostar and making a quick change in Brussels.

Alternatively, these three cities are reasonably close together, so it would be perfect for a road trip with an electric car.

The Fish Market at the confluence of the River Leie & River Lieve as seen from the Grasbrug bridge in the centre of Ghent.

The Fish Market in Ghent

The charismatic city of Ghent is perfect for a European mini break. The meandering waterways and the ancient, cobbled streets lead you on a voyage to discover Ghent’s culture, counts and chocolate; what’s not to love about that?

Navigating Ghent on foot is incredibly easy. You can stroll around at a relaxed pace exploring the historical heart of the city. Just slip on a pair of comfy shoes and venture off to discover Ghent’s magnificent sites; oh yes, keep an eye out for the cyclists.

Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral, with the statue of Margaret of Austria in the foreground.

Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral, Mechelen

We then come to the captivating city of Mechelen in the heart of Flanders, which is also perfect for a Belgian getaway. This charming European city has so much to offer the curious visitor and often slips under many travellers’ radars.

We adored Mechelen as soon as we stepped foot onto its historic cobbled-stoned streets. If you are looking for a relaxing mini-break with character, culture and an intriguing past, then Mechelen is undoubtedly for you.

Mechelen’s many historical sights and museums are within a comfortable strolling distance of its picturesque Grote Markt. Even after discovering Mechelen’s ancient brewery, climbing its towering belfry and sampling its delicious fare, you’ll want more.
Leuven's historic City hall is illuminated under the blue sky at dusk.

Leuven's townhall

The next stop is the historic city of Leuven in Belgium, also located deep in the heart of the picturesque region of Flanders. Leuven is overflowing with bustling charm and warmth.

Leuven is easily explored on foot, with its magnificent historical landmarks and grand squares within a short stroll of the breath-taking Grote Markt. Amble amongst Leuven’s captivating, cobbled lanes and venture off on a voyage of Flemish discovery.

In 2022 Leuven was voted 5th as a “European Best Destinations”, why not uncover its heritage and culture for yourselves?

Where to stay in Belgium

Ghent – Hotel Monasterium PoortAckere
Hotel Monasterium PoortAckere was a former 19th-century monastery located along ‘Oude Houtlei’ and was an incredibly peaceful day and night. The delightful hotel is only a five-minute stroll to the heart of historic Ghent.

Mechelen – Hotel Martin’s Patershof
Hotel Martin’s Patershof is a beautifully restored church hotel located along the quiet street, Karmelietenstraat. The former 19th-century neo-Gothic convent was converted into a Martin’s Hotel in 2009 and is only a five-minute stroll to the Fish Market.

Leuven – Pentahotel
Pentahotel is incredibly central, and no sooner you step outside the hotel, you’re strolling the historical cobbled-stone streets. The hotel is modern, and glitter balls await as you step into the reception/bar.

If you’re craving the Mediterranean sunshine, then you must visit the ancient city of Paphos on the southwest shores of Cyprus. Not only can you bask under the shimmering sun and swim in the glistening azure seas, but you can also awaken your inner historian.
The view across Paphos harbour with the Castle in the background
Paphos Harbour

The depths of history that can be found amongst the archaeological sites in Paphos are truly impressive. Ensure you visit the UNESCO Nea Pafos Archaeological Site and the Tombs of the Kings.

If you’re like us and you enjoy discovering a little further afield, you’ll want to explore beyond Paphos. Hire yourself a car for a few days and tour along the stunning coastline of Cyprus and seek out Aphrodite’s Rock.

Aphrodite's Rock set in beautiful blue waters on the coastline to the south of Pathos, Cyprus
The iconic Aphrodite's Rock

With the freedom of the car, you can head into the Troodos Mountains and also visit the beautiful wine villages dotted across the countryside.

We organised our hire car before we left for Paphos with RentalCars.com, and it went incredibly smoothly. RentalCars.com even picked up the vehicle from our hotel once we had finished.

We have created a little YouTube video of Paphos.  Why not take a look?

Also, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?

Where to stay in Paphos

If your perfect break is relaxing under palm trees by the poolside of a stunning all-inclusive beachfront resort, we highly recommend the 5-star Olympic Lagoon Resort Paphos.

The beautiful Olympic Lagoon Resort surpassed all our expectations. From the moment we stepped through the doors and observed the ocean view beyond until we said our final farewells to the ancient city of Paphos.

Our second European road trip is to the beautiful region of Normandy in northwest France. Winding our way through the lush French countryside’s rugged shorelines and all in the footsteps of William the Conqueror and the poignant Normandy landings. Our Normandy road trip itinerary guides you through Rouen, Caen and Alençon.
The high street in Beuvron-en-Auge with half-timbered homes, shuttered windows and tables & chairs outside a café
Half timbered homes

In our first location of Rouen, we explored the delightful cathedral city and its charming historic streets and lanes. We then used Rouen as a base to venture off and visit Giverny, the home of Monet and admire the famous lily pond, which gave him so much inspiration. We also headed to the 7th-century open-air Jumièges Abbey, which was extraordinary to see.

Our next overnight destination was Caen. En-route we visited Le Bec-Hellouin and Lisieux Basilica, toured the Route de Cidre, stopped at the stunning half-timbered village of Beuvron-en-Auge and then went onto Pegasus Bridge.

The edge of Cosy's Pillbox, on Juno Beach, Normandy with a view out to the sea on an overcast day.
Cosy's Bunker - Juno Beach
We explored Caen for a day, where we discovered the tomb of William the Conqueror and Caen Castle. We then spent another day visiting the five poignant Normandy D-Day Beaches of Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah, the British cemetery at Bayeux and the American cemetery. On our last day in Caen, we journeyed to the UNESCO site of Le Mont-Saint-Michel.

From Caen, we were off to Alençon via the scenic La Suisse Normande Route. After a day exploring Alençon, we were heading back north to our final Normandy destination, Honfleur. Honfleur is a delightful bustling harbour town and a lovely place to stroll and soak up the nautical atmosphere.

Over recent years Honfleur has become quite popular, so I suggest visiting out of season when it is more relaxed.

Heading to France from the UK?

There are a couple of choices for getting to Normandy, and as we live only 40 minutes from Folkestone in Kent, Le Shuttle is our chosen route.

Alternatively, a perfect option would be crossing the English Channel with Brittany Ferries. Here you have the choice of arriving in Caen, Le Havre or Cherbourg.

Don’t forget to take a look at our useful road trip checklist; there may be something that you have forgotten.

We love visiting France and each region so different from one another. I find the DK Eyewitness Guides really helpful in planning a trip and so often find interesting little snippets of info.

Take a peek at this revised Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide and see what you can discover.

The city of Porto in northern Portugal is full of so much character, vibe, history, and an infectious laid-back charm; I can’t believe we hadn’t visited sooner.

Well, where shall I begin? Let’s start at the Douro River, the pulsating heart of the city. Both banks of the Douro are bursting with life; the Ribeira on the north is alive with cafés, bars and restaurants and has stunning examples of Porto’s colourful townhouses with ornate wrought-iron balconies.

A couple of Rabelo boats from the Sandeman port house on the Douro River, opposite the Ribeira in Porto, Portugal
Rabelo boats

Venture across the magnificent Dom Luís I Bridge for that iconic view back across Porto’s UNESCO Old Town to the lower banks of the Gaia.

In this vibrant region of Porto, not only will you find fascinating examples of street art, but it’s also where you’ll discover the Port wine cellars. That can only mean one thing a cellar tour and Port wine tasting.

Dotted all around the streets of Porto are stunning pieces of architecture from striking Sé do Porto, the 18th-century Romanesque Cathedral, sitting high above the city. To the elegant Art Nouveau cafés and the azulejo tiled São Bento train station, depicting Portugal’s historical past.
The number 22 Heritage tram, en route to Batalha, on the streets of Porto, Portugal
The Heritage Tram

Ahh, yes, then there are the Heritage Trams weaving their way through Porto's narrow streets and lanes. Jump on route 22 to take in Porto’s famous sites.

If time allows, venture off into the astonishing Douro Valley wine region and weave your way amongst the terraces of lush vineyards.

If you've yet to visit the charming and colourful city of Porto, then you're in for a treat.

I found this DK Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide invaluable.

They're extremely informative, easy to follow, and the pictures and maps tempt you to discover more.

We’ve embarked on a few road trip tours around Spain, and we are currently planning our next adventure for 2023. During our previous trips, we’ve been lucky enough to visit some fantastic places in the north, south, east, and west.

Gary and I love our history, and throughout these journeys, we are always looking out for historical and magnificent places to visit. Spain has some incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The decorative moorish arches of the Mosque–Cathedral of Cordoba.
The interior of the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba
In part one of our UNESCO locations, we discover the Old Town of Cáceres, the Silk Exchange in Valencia, the historic cities of Córdoba, Salamanca and Ávila, works by Antoni Gaudí, monuments of Oviedo and Alhambra Palace in Granada.
A view of the main section of the Roman aqueduct of Segovia.
Climb up high for the best views of the Roman aqueduct in Segovia

Then not to be overlooked, are the eight locations we explored in part two of our UNESCO destinations. They include Burgos Cathedral, the archaeological Ensemble of Mérida, and the ancient cities of Toledo, Segovia, Seville, and Cuenca. The Routes of Santiago de Compostela and the Renaissance towns of Úbeda and Baeza.

All these places are sublime to visit, and I appreciate that it may take a few trips to start ticking these off a list; nevertheless, the memories you’ll create will be unsurpassable.

Start planning

We embarked on our Spanish road trips from the UK, catching a Brittany Ferry to Santander.

However, there are regular flights to many of Spain’s cities; take a look at ebookers.com. Then pop in your location details, and Rental Cars will search well-known car hire brands and discover the deals that suit you the best.

There are so many incredible places to discover in Spain and I love planning road trips. I often use the DK Eyewitness books, I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into searching for more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our Spanish road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.

Happy Travels!

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