The joys of 2015: the experiences that made my year

Travel adventures abounded for me in 2015. Yes, I know how fortunate I am. It was a year full of amazing journeys, discovering new countries and revisiting old ones on three continents. Here are some of my favourite bits.

March

My Blue Train odyssey

It’s always been my dream to experience one of the world’s great train journeys. And this trip from Cape Town to Pretoria lived up to every expectation. Top quality service, amazing food, the comfiest of cabins and of course the ever-changing scenery on a journey through the majesty of South Africa. 27-hours of pure magic.

Find out more about The Blue Train by clicking here.

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The stylish Blue Train leaves the Mother City, heading north

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The Blue Train has arguably the best breakfast menu in the world…and also the best eggs Benedict

June

A spontaneous short break to Barcelona

One of my favourite cities in the world, Barcelona has everything going for it. Amazing architecture, friendly people, great shopping, a huge beach, endless bars and restaurants serving amazing food and wine. And this trip was even better as it was a last-minute booking, an escape from a chilly grey London to the energy and blueness of a fabulous Spanish city.

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Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, the most stunning unfinished building in the world

And of course there’s the Boqueria, probably the best food market in the world – I know I should calm down with the superlatives. I reckon I could spend a whole holiday in here alone, with the mission of tasting something from every stall – a challenge I’d embrace whole heartedly.

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One of the tempting tapas bars in La Boqueria

July

I embarked on a cruise around Northern Europe with my brother Ray, nephew Zak and niece Maxi. And our mascot Sigmund (the toy baboon, reflecting our African roots) who we took everywhere with us. It was a real adventure, visiting new countries like Estonia and Finland and starting off in wonderful Copenhagen where we spent a few days. There were three real standout experiences in a wonderful fortnight where we made new friends and discovered new lands.

Discovering the beauty of Copenhagen

This charming Scandinavian city was a revelation. Truly fabulous restaurants – we devoured course after course at the Michelin-starred Studio. We also shopped up a storm, caught up with old friends, ambled around picturesque Nyhaven and took in all the tourist sights. And the cherry on the top was that Elton John was playing in the world-famous Tivoli Gardens – and we got tickets. What more can I say?

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One of many amazing and delicious courses we tucked into at Studio

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The very little mermaid (she’s very beautiful, too), with our travelling companion Sigmund

Marvelling at St Petersburg

I hate the phrase bucket list – maybe it’s because (if I had one) I’m sure it would go on forever and be way too intimidating to tackle. Having said that I think St Petersburg should on everyone’s…from the grandeur of the Hermitage, the sheer scale and amazing design of the city, the majestic buildings and the somewhat brutal history. Oh and the caviar. When in Russia!

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The Church on the Spilled Blood has to be the most stunning church I’ve ever visited

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Sampling caviar with Zak and Maxine, and Sigmund of course

Sailing down the Thames through Tower Bridge

The cruise ended in London, I mean right in the centre of London – we sailed down the Thames with the city’s landmarks getting closer and closer until Tower Bridge opened up to let us through. I’ve lived in London most of my life and truly love the place. When the crowds lining the river cheered us through I had tears in my eyes. We spent our final night on the river overlooking Tower Bridge, The Shard and the Tower of London. Just perfect.

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The unique view of London’s landmarks from the River Thames

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The beautiful lights of Tower Bridge at night seen from our ship

August

Loving the beachlife (and everything else) in sun-drenched Spain.

I visit La Manga in Spain every year and explore more and more of this versatile region each time. It seems there’s always something new to discover. The markets with their fabulous fresh produce and bargainous clothes, bags, shoes and jewellery, the many beaches lined with restaurants and bars serving delicious Spanish fare, the welcoming people and the sunshine and blue skies, how I love those Spanish skies.

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Early morning on the beach in Cabo de Palos, heavenly!

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A break from sun worshipping and swimming for a chilled Rose

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The purple light of a summer night in Spain

September

At the end of September I embarked on another cruise. This time starting in Rhodes in Greece and sailing around the island of Symi before heading into Turkey. Our eight-berth Turkish gulet, the Muhtesem A was a joy to live on for a week in harmony with nature with endless seas and skies of blue. There were two highlights in a week of chilled-out happiness.

Our beautiful boat in the blues of Greece

Our beautiful boat in the blues of Greece

Absorbing the delights of  dreamlike Symi Harbour

My love affair with Greece continues. On the island of Symi you inhale the wild herbs at every step and the panoramas are endless. A hike to the top of the hill at sunset finished with my first taste of Retsina, a trip to the local herb man to stock up (of course) and a feeling of joy at this picturesque town.

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Our boat berthed in Symi Harbour, picture perfect

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I couldn’t leave Symi without buying plenty of herbs from the charming Stavros

Sleeping under the Turkish stars.

Our idyllic days began with yoga and continued with absorbing the ever-changing landscapes, swimming in the crystal clear sea and eating delicious local food. They turned into starlit nights where I clambered on top of the boat, wrapped in a fluffy blanket and slept tight under the stars, waking to the sunrise, the bleating goats on shore and the early morning bread delivery by boat. A once-in-a-lifetime experience – one I hope to repeat!

You can find out more about Mediterranean Fitness Voyages by clicking here.

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Perfect pinks and blues get the day off to the best start

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The bread man turns up just after dawn with freshly baked goods

October

Living the beach life Thai-style in Koh Samui

Another of my favourite places, the islands of Thailand call me back again and again – well I am a beach baby, after all. The Land of Smiles is the ultimate place to re-energise with warm, crystal-clear waters, laid back shopping days, beautiful scenery wherever you look, the myriad of fruit shakes and cocktails and all those tasty Thai dishes…I ate seafood every day in many different styles and it’s all such great value. Thailand rocks.

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Welcome to Koh Samui with a cocktail on the beach

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My favourite Thai salad – spicy green papaya with prawns. Yum!

Well, what a year. Happy new year to you all, wishing you lots of adventures in 2016. As one of my favourite sayings goes: “Travel is the only thing you pay for that makes you richer.” How true is that?

Where is the best place you went in 2015? Where should I go next? I’d love you to inspire me with your travelling tales.

A stunning dinner at Studio in Copenhagen

I haven’t travelled a lot in Scandinavia, so was very excited to be spending a few days in Copenhagen before embarking on a cruise of Northern Europe. And I was even more excited to discover that the city’s packed with top-quality restaurants…so many it’s hard to choose where to go.

Most famously, there’s Noma, which was voted Number 1 for two years in a row in The San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants rating (only losing its top spot this year, it’s now at Number 3). I did try to get a table, but even trying to book early on the day that bookings opened I had no luck.

Nothing to get stressed about, as I said there’s no shortage of options – and I was recommended Studio, where I duly booked (three months in advance). Head chef Torsten Vildegaard was the Deputy Head Chef at Noma for eight years before branching out on his own.

Studio opened in October 2013 and after only four months was awarded a Michelin Star. This year it’s been nominated for all sorts of awards, including the best restaurant in Denmark – now that’s a competition that’s going to be hard to win!

Studio is situated in a lovely spot on the water, the perfect summer dining venue on an amazingly long Copenhagen day – it doesn’t get totally dark until very late, Danish days seem to go on forever.

There are two tasting menus available (no a la carte). One is seven courses and the other 18 – and the 18-courser includes a range of luxury ingredients like foie gras, caviar and truffles. Sounds intimidating, but portions aren’t huge and some are very light – and all of them were so delicious that it was oh-so-easy to demolish every morsel. The presentation was to marvel at, the combination of flavours, textures and colours so cleverly conceived of…and the whole experience a total wow. Here are some of the beautiful dishes we delighted in – they’re hard to describe, but you’ll get the idea.

Crisps don’t get better than this, well they’re crisp sandwiches, really. Freshly homemade with a delightful fishy filling, they had just the right bite and melted in the mouth after that.

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The prettiest and tastiest crisps ever

Oysters tasted like they’d come straight from the sea and were served on a base of pebbles and topped with a zingy mix of herbs and green strawberries.

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A glorious taste of the sea

Quails eggs topped with the most delicious of sauces…down in one (don’t want to make a mess after all). And don’t eat the decorations.

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The delicate flavour of perfectly cooked quails eggs

Beautiful bread was served with the fluffiest and butteriest of butter…a genius touch with buttermilk…

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Even the butter was in a league of its own

This could have been my favourite dish of the evening, tender and sweet squid served with local herbs and a light and creamy sauce. Doesn’t it look stunning?

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How’s this for a work of art? Perfect little portions of sea bass topped with pea-pod boats filled with peas and flowers – it tasted as good as it looked.

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The prettiest plate of all?

Sweetbreads were cooked and sliced at the table, served with a truffly sauce and amazing onion concoction. So rich and indulgent.

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A real luxurious treat

And then there was the most succulent and flavoursome venison.

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Local carefully sourced venison was packed with flavour

Pudding time and an ice cream log beautifully decorated to delight in.

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The delicate first dessert course

The final dish was made from a unique Scandinavian brown cheese which, when described to us, really didn’t sound edible at all! Of course it was, not tasting cheesy but sweet and creamy and served nestling in pine leaves.

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When cheese is not cheese

You watch in anticipation as each new dish emerges from the open kitchen. Chefs and waiting staff engage with you at your table explaining how each masterpiece has been created, giving a real intimate feel to proceedings – it seems like it’s all being done just for you. Even Torsten comes out for a chat. You can tell he’s put his heart and soul into Studio, you can taste it in the food and feel it in the air – dinner here is one of those truly memorable experience.

It’s an expensive night out, but having said that I think it’s good value for a spectacular package. Ingredients are carefully chosen, largely local (and sometimes unusual) and perfectly prepared. Service is welcoming, friendly and informative and while the food is obviously complicated it doesn’t feel like you’re part of a science experiment. And, most importantly, every dish tasted absolutely wonderful.

Our evening ended with a bang when a beautiful firework display erupted over the harbour just as we finished our dinner. I certainly won’t forget that magical Copenhagen night.

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Here’s our lovely table which faces the kitchen with the harbour behind you

Studio is at The Standard, 44 Havnegade, Copenhagen.

The seven-course menu was 1,000 Danish Krone (about £100).

The 18-course menu was 1,500 Danish Krone (about £150).