The lure of water, a natural wonder I’ll never tire of

In Our Journeys, Trip-Types by JanisLeave a Comment

Whether it’s a river, a canal or a mystical lake

Other people crave to hike through highlands and hilltops or embark on a carefree train journey. My travels so often involve a desire to be close to open seas, lakes, waterways or coastal towns.

Janis with her toes in the Mediterranean sea as it laps up to the beach in Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Toe-dipping in the med in Villefrance-sur-Mer, France

I’ve put it down to my childhood, family history and seaside living. Both my father and grandfather were lightermen on the River Thames, so, I can’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia whenever I’m near Greenwich, where they lived.

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As a family during the ‘70s and ‘80s, we used to head off on our traditional English beach holiday.

Then my later childhood and teenage years, we lived at a seaside town on the Isle of Wight.

I feel that it was inevitable the lure of water would always run through my veins.

The azure blue waters of Sandown bay and the chalky outcrop of Culver Down on the Isle of Wight in the south of England.

Sandown bay and Culver Down, Isle of Wight

Now so often when we visit anywhere there just so happens to be a waterside location weaved in there somehow.

It’s to be expected that larger towns or cities around the world, will so often have a river at its heart. Early settlements relied on this to survive.

However, it isn’t just a river I’m lured to, lakes and canals are a bit of a weakness too.

A silhouette of Janis wrapped up warmly on a winter's day overlooking English Channel from Ventnor on the Isle of Wight

Overlooking the English Channel

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Old Father Thames

So, I feel this little aquatic journey can only start in London. And it just has to be the capital’s pulsing artery, the River Thames. I adore strolling along the waterside, crisscrossing the bridges and admiring the beautiful skyline that can only be London.

A pleasure boat heading up the River Thames past City Hall towards Westminster with the Shard dominating the London skyline on the South Bank

The River Thames from Tower Bridge, London

Gone are the days when grubby faced lightermen are hauling their cargo to and from the wharves. Today the dark mystical Thames cradles enthusiastic sightseers along this infinitely flowing waterway.

A scene of the working River Thames in London with empty barges and dredger moored at a jetty against backdrop of modern apartments.

The working River Thames near Greenwich, London

A helpful guide

If you've yet to discover London and its ancient history, then let's start planning. I find these DK Eyewitness Travel Guides invaluable. They're extremely informative, easy to follow, and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more of those fascinating sites.
 
You can now grab a recently revised copy of this guidebook, so you won't miss a thing.


Good old Blighty

Ahh, the appeal of a meandering English canal. We’ve ventured off on a few family canal boat trips, and they have all brought so much pleasure.
 
The initial apprehension from some ‘would be’ boaters turned into a desire for wanting more. Come rain or shine, you can’t help but slow your lives down to a duck’s pace and just soak up the English countryside.

A black narrowboat mode up against the reeds on the Kennet and Avon canal in Wiltshire on a beautiful idyllic sunny day under a light cloudy sky

A boat moored alongside the Kennet & Avon canal

Now, you couldn’t really get much more English than a visit to Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. Yep, the name is a bit of a giveaway, this beautiful historic town sits on the River Avon.

A wide-beam cnalboat navigating on the River Avon between other boats in front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on a beautiful sunny summers day.

The Royal Shakespeare theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Kick-off your summer sandals and sit by the riverside and enjoy watching folks bobbing up and down the Avon or why don’t you even hire a little boat for yourself.

An idyllic Cotswold scene of a very shallow, slow flowing, river in front of a Cotswold home and a water mill with a tall brick built chimney In a village called Lower Slaughter

On the River Eye, Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire

Just a short hop south of the Bard country and you are in the Cotswolds. This incredible Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is awash with rivers and tiny streams meandering through the picturesque villages.

A family gathered on a small stone bridge over the By Brook in Castle Combe.  The road leading over the bridge he is flanked on either side my beautiful stone buildings in the traditional Cotswold style of a golden sandy stone.

Beside the river, Castle Combe, Wiltshire

Although I no longer live on the Isle of Wight, I still remain in the southeast of the UK in Kent. This beautiful county has seaside towns like Margate and Folkestone that will have you grabbing at a bucket and spade and start building those sandcastles.

A scene of abandoned fishermans’ equipment including a wooden trawler, wooden shacks, rron winches and small track railway lines on the beach of Dungeness on the Kent coastline in England

Dungeness - on Kent's rugged coastline.

However, there is one unique place on the Kent shoreline that Gary and I regularly visit, and that is Dungeness. It’s so surreal, ethereal and harsh landscape all at the same time and reputed to be Britain’s only desert.
 
Don’t be lulled into the fact that it’s warm, the coastal winds here are bracing.

A wooden walkway leading across the pebbly beach of Dungeness Underneath a dramatic sky in the South East of England

The cobbled coastline at Dungeness, Kent

Tempted to?

Discover more of the Great British Isles, why not jump in a car and tour the country at your own pace. You can do it all on a road trip, Rental Cars cover all budgets and allow you to pick up and drop off at different destinations.

Venice of the North

The term ‘Venice of the north’ seems to get branded about so often, sometimes justifiably so. We visited St. Petersburg in Russia and the canals and waterways in this magnificent city, interweave for miles.
 
Plus, with St Petersburg’s spectacular architecture as a backdrop to this ancient city, this is a place that will always remain memorable to me.

One of the stone lion statues at the end of the Lion Bridge in Saint Petersburg, Russia

The Lions Bridge, St Petersburg, Russia

Then there are other European locations we’ve visited with meandering canals like Bruges, Colmar & Amiens.
 
However, one of our favourites was Strasbourg, I love this French city, particularly at Christmas time and the tarte flambés here are exceedingly good.

The view from Pont Saint-Martin over the canals of Petite France, framed by the half-timber buildings typical of this part of Strasbourg.

Petite France, Strasbourg, France

You can’t forget Amsterdam with a maze of canals and a fantastic place is to jump on a boat trip. Believe it or not, it is so easy to find quiet spots along the waterside too.

A canal in Amsterdam at dusk with lit streets on either side under a cloudy blue sky.

The Singel canal with the De Krijtberg Church piercing the skyline, Amsterdam

A little further northeast and you’ll arrive at Hamburg. I love this city; it embraces the old a new so well. The inland seaport here is busy, and not just with tour boats, this is a full-on working port.
 
A visit to the Speicherstadt (warehouse district) is a must, this area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can take a boat trip around the restored warehouses and canals, or like us just go for a stroll.

A tall ship with three masks and rigging flying the German flag moored up on the River Elbe. It now houses an escape room experience.

A tall ship on the River Elbe, Hamburg

Another town that also has a similar moniker is Aveiro, theirs is the ‘Venice of Portugal’. Admittedly it isn’t overflowing with waterways like Amsterdam; however, these canals were once used by the locals to bring in their haul of seaweed, in their colourful moliceiros.

Wooden Portuguese barges once used to transfer salt have now been converted for tourist pleasure trips. A couple of these Brightly painted boats are now mooring up at the end of the working day in Aveiro, Portugal

Moliceiros on the the Canal de Sao Roque, Aveiro

It's good to share

Have you discovered any incredible places around the world that embrace waterways and that will always remain memorable to you?  Drop us a comment below.

The real Venice

Oh yes, Venice had to be on my list, this Italian delight often gets a bad rap, and it really doesn’t deserve it in my opinion. Of course, it gets busy, it’s incredibly picturesque and nestled in a lagoon of islands. But if you head to Venice out of season, it’s a pleasure to stroll around the tiny lanes and over the ancient bridges.

Have a couple enjoying a gondola ride in the early evening is the colours change to golden hues on one of the small canals in Venice.

Evening on the Rio del Frari, Venice

Then there are its smaller counterparts of Murano and Burano. I understand that timing can be of the essence when visiting these islands; however, I would say try and make time, you won’t regret it.

The pretty painted houses either side of a canal in of Burano leading out to the lagoon separates it from Venice

A view to the lagoon, Burano, Italy

Our Tip

These islands are accessed by Vaporetto (water bus) which can get very busy on your return journey to Venice. If so, from Burano catch the Vaporetto onto Torcello (the next stop), stay on the boat, and it will turn around and complete the journey in reverse. This should cut down on your queuing.

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A little more Italy

Keeping with the theme of Italy, then it has to be its majestic lakes in the north of the country. We’ve previously visited Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta, and this year we visited Lake Garda.

A view from the lake of an ochre coloured Villa with orange tiled roofs set an outcrop on Lake Como with wooded mountains as a backdrop.

The fabulous Villa del Balbianello, , Lake Como

In the mountainous northern part of Lake Garda, it is truly breath-taking. We stayed at Limone-Sul-Garda and honestly, I don’t believe there could be a better place to appreciate an Aperol Spritz, than on the shores of this lake.

A view of Lake Garda, looking south from Trobole, with ducks in the foreground and flanked on either sides by the mountains.

The view of Lake Garda from the north at Torbole

There’s more to France

Another ‘French fancy’ is Annecy, although it does also boast of being the ‘Venice of the north’. With its colourful canals, it’s actually the lake that I fell in love with.

By the waters edge in Lake Annecy at dusk with restaurants lining the side of the canal

A strol by River Thiou, Annecy

Gary and I sat by the side of the opal blue lake and just watched as the delicate waves lapped between the crevices of the bobbing boats. To me, it’s so hypnotic and tranquil.

Janis sitting on a wooden fence in front of Lake Annecy in France

By Lake Annecy

Lake Kariba

If I was told there was only one lake that I could return to in the world, it would have to be Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe. I know it was manmade; however, the African wildlife that has embraced it as their home, you would never believe that it wasn’t natural.

The black skeletons of petrified trees appearing from the water of Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe under the orange glow of dusk.

The sunken forrests of Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe

My lasting memories that I have of Kariba are of us sitting in a boat watching the sun go down, with hippos wallowing by the side of us. I was in heaven.

Janis at dusk besides an inlet on Lake Kariba with a herd of hippopotamus grazing at the water's edge

Janis with Hi[ppos in the background

Embracing water with open arms

One country that we’ve visited that is awash with water is the Netherlands. I’ve touched on Amsterdam; however, there is so much more to this lowland country.

Two sailing boats navigating the canals around Haarlem in the Netherlands passing through of raised lever bridge

Sailing through Haarlem

Just a short hop from Amsterdam is Haarlem, which is a lovely town and so different from its capital city. As we are in the land of so many cheeses, make a detour to Alkmaar, Gouda and Edam. All these little towns have canals and waterways running through the heart of them.

The tree lined canal running through central Eden in the Netherlands with cobbled lanes on either side.

Canal through the centre of Edam

If that wasn’t quite enough, then the Netherlands has some truly picturesque harbour towns and cities too. Some of our favourites here were Rotterdam, Monnickendam and Hoorn.

Dutch sailing barges mood at the quayside of Monnickendam in Holland on a beautiful spring day perfectly clear blue skies.

The quayside at Monnickendam

Then last but by no means least here is the bustling cycling city of Utrecht and the tranquil waterways by the windmills in Kinderdijk.

Standing on a grassy bank in front of a large, wide, canal at KinderDjik in the Netherlands.  On the left side you can see at least 4 windmills with a further windmill on the righthand side.

Bridging the waterway, Kinderdijk

The ones that got away

I struggled so hard to condense this article, and I honestly feel that I left out so many other beautiful locations. Perhaps that’s one for another day.

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About the Author

Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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