As soon as I arrived in Germany I was excited to start planning trips, to start living again in my new home. Last month for my birthday – Rügen Island. It was somewhere I had never heard of before moving to Germany, but shortly after arriving here, a very kind travelling friend offered me her family's beautiful holiday home for a weekend and I thought what better timing than to go for my birthday! So the final weekend in May, we packed up the van and hit the road for a lovely long weekend at the seaside.
We had the most amazing weekend filled with ice cream on the beach, walking in the national park, exploring tiny towns and beautiful parks, and of course, stuffing ourselves with yummy food! I really wish I could go back and do that whole weekend all over again, I really wouldn't change a thing, it was a perfect way to spend my birthday. In this post I'm going to share all of the things we did and what I would recommend if you happen to be visiting, hopefully it will help you have a special trip and to make the most of your time there.
There is so much to do on Rügen Island, you'll be spoilt for choice! The best thing is that there is something for everyone, so whether you're away for a romantic weekend for two, or a big group holiday, everyone is sure to enjoy themselves. From the chilled beach bars and viewpoints, to the more active hikes and bike rides, you can design the holiday you want and do everything at your own pace.
There are so many lovely beaches to check out – hopefully you have good weather like we did – although I will warn you it is the Baltic Sea so don't start getting excited about swimming! We were staying in Sassnitz so we spent the most time on the east side of the island where we found some gorgeous beaches waiting for us. We had a day of beach-hopping starting from Binz and working our way through to Sellin, Baabe, Göhren and all the way south to Theissow. If you have the time on your trip, I really recommend visiting a few different beaches to get away from the crowds and see a different side to the island. Binz and Sellin are gorgeous beaches with all the cute charm of an old-fashioned seaside town, comparable to Brighton in the UK. Expect pricier accommodation and lots of bars and restaurants, as well as lots of people – these were the busiest places we visited – but they are very pretty and great for the evenings when you want to go out for dinner. The other beaches further round, especially Baabe and Göhren, are much quieter and its lovely to sit on the beach and enjoy a picnic and the uninterrupted views of the bay. Check out this article for a more detailed guide to the individual beaches.
For a really unique way to see the island, why not hop aboard the old fashioned steam train and power along the Rügensche Kelinbahn, a nostalgic nod to days gone by, from Putbus to Göhren on a 24km ride. Taking in everything from lush green forests to huge beach resorts, you'll get an eyeful when you take a ride on the fondly known, Racing Roland.
It's definitely worth taking some time to explore all the little villages and parks spread around the island during your stay. In Bergen, you'll find some pretty spectacular panoramas across the ocean, plus colourful old buildings including Benedix-Haus in the market place. Gary is close by and as the tiniest and oldest town on the island, you'll visit just to se the amazing views from the Ernst Moritz Arndt Tower. Putbus was our favourite village – originally we went there to see the beautiful palace I had read about online only to find that it had been torn down years ago – but we were pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous Insel Vilm eco-park that was waiting for us there and spent hours wandering around. If you get time to drive all the way north, I really recommend visiting Kap Arkona which is the northernmost tip of the island and boasts amazing views, a gorgeous beach and lighthouses you can climb to the top for even better panoramas.
One of my favourite parts of visiting the island was Jasmund National Park which completely took my breath away and was easily one of the most memorable places I have spent my birthday. Read all about our visit and my top tips for visiting, here.
If you love getting outside and being active, you'll be in your element at Rügen, hit the trails and go walking in Jasmund National Park or from beach to beach, or hire bikes and feel the wind in your hair as you cycle the island. There are also walking and bike tours available if you would prefer to join a group when you explore the island, or if you travel with a group and would prefer a guide to lead you around.
Everyone loves a sunset and on Rügen Island there are two places I found that will provide you with the best views in the evening. Sellin Pier is one sight you don't want to miss, so make sure you get there before the sun dips over the horizon to see it all light up. Imagine an old-fashioned, Brighton-esque pier bathed in the sun's last rays of the day and gently sparkling as its lights start to twinkle. It was a beautiful sight and a perfect place for a sunset walk before dinner. I also found out about another place called Panorama Hotel Lohme, which was up in the very north above Jasmund National Park, and boasts gorgeous panoramic views over the ocean. We didn't go to this one sadly as the weather was very cloudy and foggy on our second night on the island, but I've read great reviews and seen some beaut pics.
We came prepared and filled up the van with food for the whole weekend so we could have more of a self-catering experience and save a bit of money – we didn't know if it might be more expensive on the island. We ate our own food for breakfasts and lunches, but actually ended up eating out on both the Saturday and Sunday nights we were there. On the Saturday night, we decided to go and see Sellin Pier at sunset and realised we were both starving after a busy day, after checking out the menu for Seebrücke Sellin, we couldn't resist going in for a bite to eat. I was very impressed to find that it was actually very reasonably priced, I had expected it to be a lot more expensive, and that the food was absolutely delicious. We went for a goats cheese starter, then had the burger and a mushroom pasta, all of which were absolutely amazing and the service was great considering we walked in five minutes before they were due to shut the kitchen!
On my birthday night, we went on the recommendation of our friend who told us we had to go and eat at Rialto, an Italian restaurant in Binz which has the best pizza and ice cream. After thoroughly taste-testing, I can tell you that the pizza and ice cream are amazing!
We stayed at our friend's place in Sassnitz which was perfect – this side of the island has all the best beaches and sights, plus we were right at the entrance to Jasmund National Park. There are lots of hotels and holiday homes all over this side of the island for varying levels of luxury and price tags. I personally would recommend renting a holiday home or somewhere self-catering where you can cook your own meals or can even have barbecues in the long summer evenings. We loved having a bit more space and a place to prepare breakfast and lunches. Sassnitz is also a great way to stay close to all the action without actually having to be in busy Binz, it's still a cute little seaside town but with more of a cosy feel.
We went to visit at the end of May and the weather was gorgeous, but being close to the Baltic Sea, it is understandably harder to predict the weather. I would recommend visiting May to September for the best weather, but keep an eye on weather reports because if the weather is bad, there isn't much to do that doesn't rely on you being outside all day. Also, avoid school holidays as it is clearly a big holiday destination for families/elderly and can get busy.
There are buses and trains on the island which connect each of the little towns to each other, these are great if you don't have access to a car plus there are lots of bike paths and hiking trails if you like to keep fit. You also can access the island by bus or train from Hamburg. We drove to the island (around 3.5 hours) and throughout the weekend we used the van to get everywhere which was really helpful to make the most of our weekend. I would recommend hiring a car or driving to the island because it gives you so much more freedom to stay in more budget-friendly places and to be independent and spontaneous about your day. We would decide at a moment's notice our plans and easily went off to a new beach or town. If you rely on public transport you would be much more restricted on how much you get to see and how quickly.
Have you been to Rügen Island – what are your recommendations? Are you more of a beach or forests-lover? What summer travels have you got planned?
I'm lucky enough to travel to some truly amazing places and I'll be honest that sometimes that can mean that you become a little more immune to the wow-factor, but every once in a while, you go somewhere that restores your sense of awe to factory settings. Somewhere that really just takes your breath away and leaves you chomping at the bit to explore more of this incredible world around us. When we planned a weekend away at Rügen Island for my birthday, it was the result of a kind travelling friend who offered us a holiday home to stay in rather than a whole lot of planning. The spontaneous break was everything we both needed and much more, especially when we discovered how utterly beautiful both the island, and the national park, really were. It's not often a place leaves me speechless, but when it does, it usually comes down to the spectacle of nature because it takes something vast and powerful to really remind you what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
It may be Germany's smallest national park but Jasmund boasts some seriously spectacular views such as the famous chalk cliffs which won the heart of Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich around 200 years ago. With lush forests and endless walking trails, plus the stunning coastline and beautiful beaches, Jasmund National Park has a lot to offer to anyone who ventures up to the north-east of the country in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. A UNESCO Natural Heritage site and perfect for walkers, visitors will wander through ancient beech forests dating back over 700 years – if you're wondering what all those classic fairy tales were inspired by, it had to be mystical forests like this one.Perfect for exploring by foot or bike, there are lots of different trails that will take you through the forest, or along the 8.5km routes along the cliffs which can reach up to 117m tall. At the very highest point of the national park, you will find the entrance to UNESCO Natural Heritage site Könuigsstuhl, which is German for "King's Chair" and has long played an important role in local mythology. Overlooking the Baltic Sea, on a very clear day visitors can see right across the bay to the coast of Sweden as the sun warms the famous white chalk cliffs. According to legend, the name Könuigsstuhl actually comes from ancient times when the custom was that the first to climb the cliffs from the sea and sit in the chair on the top would be elected king. You can see why – with a history like that and the natural beauty of the area – it would capture the imagination of Romantic painters.
Jasmund National Park was honestly one of the most magical and mystical places I have ever visited, I felt as though I had truly stepped into a fairytale. The ancient beech forest was filled with swirling mist and dark shadows on the day we went and as we walked through the trees, I half-expected Robin Hood and his Merry Men to come running out brandishing bows and arrows. At every turn we marvelled at the spookiness of the fog as it engulfed us and yet the vibrancy of the green of the leaves and the colours in the bark. The walk only takes around 30 minutes to the top of Könuigsstuhl, but for us it took over an hour each way because we had to keep stopping for photos and just to enjoy our surroundings. At one point we went a little off-course and started exploring part of the forest around a lake which we were drawn to by the sound of the frogs chirping in the mist, it was simply too magical to turn away from.Eventually we reached the top and had to pay the €9.50 entrance fee but of course, with the mist, we were faced with a pretty much non-existent view! We didn't let it deter us and had a good laugh about it, exclaiming loudly how wonderful the view was in front of a group of confused tourists. We decided to make the most of our visit and check out the visitor's centre which is actually great with a really interactive audio tour which is available in English and will keep the family entertained. Then we also watched the short film they offer which was really interesting and tells you more about the forest and how they protect it. But obviously we were disappointed not to see the view, so we decided the next morning we would run the same route we had just walked to see the view and not waste time repeating the day.Thankfully our last day on the island dawned sunny and bright, with clear blue skies and we couldn't wait to see the view properly. We ran the same route again and arrived out of breath but were soon rewarded by the view, which was definitely epic enough to make our running worthwhile. We had to chat our way past the gate so that we wouldn't have to pay again just for the view but a lovely woman let us through for five minutes. It was spectacular and my words won't do it justice but hopefully the pictures will. On a side note: walking through the forest on the second day was definitely not as exciting as the first time with all the mist, although still beautiful it was a lot less atmospheric. If you get the opportunity, I would really recommend checking it out on a misty or duller day, it is one of the few places I have been that is actually worth visiting more than once for a totally different experience.
Have you visited Jasmund National Park – what did you think? Have you been to any other national parks in Germany? What summer trips are you planning?
I caught up with a fellow traveler at the weekend, she has just come back from travelling the world for a year with her young family - total family travel goals! She was thanking me for a travel tip I gave her about visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand because she had realised once there the sheer number of places out there clinging on the surge in popularity for ethical care of elephants by claiming to be good. Spending so much time in Thailand, I took care to research thoroughly and to ensure I was only supporting causes I was certain were benefiting the environment and animals. Talking about her step-daughter's experience in India where she signed up to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary and found it to be mistreating the creatures, we realised how easy it is to do the wrong thing when all you are trying to do is the right thing. And isn't that the problem we are all facing in trying to be ethical these days?
I consider myself a pretty good human, I like to keep my carbon footprint low, to support and build up my friends, to smile at strangers and help out at a homeless shelter. Everywhere I travel I try my best to be ethically-minded and research every location, every day trip I go on and all the companies along the way, only supporting causes I know are genuinely helping local people. But somehow I still feel like I'm fucking it all up.
Much like trying to be vegan or only eating ethically-sourced food, using only beauty products that haven't been tested on animals or wearing clothing that hasn't encouraged slavery or mistreatment of those in third world countries. What is boils down to is we're all just trying our best to be damned good people and to try and help everyone, to support all the causes. We get to a point when we think, hell yeah, I'm doing pretty darn good at this! We're able to help educate others and feel like we're actually making waves, like we're making a change.
And it all comes out that we were doing it wrong all along.
Like the time I switched to almond milk after learning about the harmful impacts of the dairy farming industry, but then found the problems caused due to water sourcing and insecticides were just as bad. Or when I signed a petition over the closure of a factory that had been mistreating workers in a third world country for cheap clothes, but then heard so many were unable to feed their families because they were out of work. And the time I switched make-up brands to avoid animal testing then found the company uses the services of another company that does employ animal testing!
It's a constant battle and for anyone who tries to be ethically-minded, it can be a bit of a roller coaster - one minute you're up and feeling great for all the good you are doing for the world around you. Then next, you hit rock bottom when you realise actually by trying to help you may be doing more harm than good.
One of the problems - there are too many opinions out there and too many facts, but so often thanks to Twitter and various other social media outlets - the two become almost indistinguishable. It's so easy to read one thing and to make a change in your life, then a week later to see an news article damning the opinion you just read elsewhere. I don't know about you but I'm overwhelmed with information and I'm finding it hard to know which advice to take. To feel certain that I am actually making informed decisions that really are doing the best for everyone and the world around us. We've gone full circle from struggling to get the truth from companies over their ethical policies, to now being swamped with information and unsure of the facts.
Another aspect of this is the bloggers, social media stars and the celebrities who so often pick a cause to back and legions of fans follow in their wake. The fact is these influencers have a huge impact on the decisions of people across the world and the ethical nature of the decisions they make can cause huge waves. Just look at how many more people seem to care and know about global warming effects since Leonardo DiCaprio started talking about it, and Emma Watson must be one of the best-known faces for using her platform to really highlight key issues from women's rights and climate change to sustainable fashion. But likewise, this can be used in a negative way, such as when some figures make questionable decisions such as wearing real fur, encouraging their fans to follow suit. The constant fight for change and for attention means it's hard to know who is really trying to make a difference, and who is just jumping on the bandwagon for likes.
As someone who has been travelling for over three years and has no plans to stop anytime soon, being ethical in my travel will always remain at the forefront of my mind. After all, what was that quote?
Take only pictures, leave only footprints, kill nothing but time. - Aliyyah Eniath
I've always felt the one thing that really touches my heart and stays with me a long time after my travels, it's not the places. It's not sunrise at Angkor Wat or exploring waterfalls of Laos, it's not doing yoga in Thailand or learning to work on a farm in outback Australia, or even getting lost in the ruin pubs of Budapest. It's the people you met along the way. The amazing souls who helped you when you were struggling, the ones who showed you a world you never dared dream of, the ones who gave you enough laughs to last a lifetime. Those people are the ones I hold close in my heart, they're the stories I tell about my travels, they are the memories.
So if that is the case, then it's so important to make sure your travel is benefiting the people who have given you the experience of a lifetime and the environment you've been lucky enough to explore:
These are just examples and there are so many other ways to be ethical in your travel, to make informed decisions. And that is the most important thing, like me, you may be struggling with knowing if you are truly being ethical. But when it comes down to it, just the fact that you care enough to inform yourself is the first step to really doing something good in the world. Don't listen to all the judgement over social media, it's too easy to get swept away in throwaway comments instead of investing your time in making a change.
This has turned into a pretty mega blog post considering I had writer's block just a few days ago, but I think this is such an important issue to be raised. Can you identify with feeling confused over traveling and living ethically? It's okay if you do, we're in it together. As long as we're all doing our darnedest to make a difference, that's all we can do.
How do you ensure your travel is ethical? Do you ever worry your 'ethical' decisions are less ethical than you would hope? What ethical changes have you made in your life?
There's nothing better than spending an afternoon with your favourite people indulging in tea, cake and a lot of laughs. Since being back in the UK I'm doing my best to organise as many fun reunions with friends and family as possible, to make the most of every second I have here before I continue with my travels. When I was invited along to try K West Hotel and Spa's Glamrock Afternoon Tea, there was only one person I wanted to invite along - my mum. We always try to organise regular mummy-daughter days to treat ourselves with a day at the spa, cocktails or shopping, but afternoon tea would be a new one for us. Surprising, considering how much we both like cake! When I'm away on my travels we always have to postpone our special days so we try our best to catch up when I'm back and to really treat ourselves.As you walk in the doors of the hotel, you're instantly bathed in the cosmopolitan vibe from the bold colours and luxurious decorations to the busy and well-stocked bar. Set just down the road from Shepherd's Bush tube station, the hotel is the perfect place to indulge in a really girly day with a spa on the premises and West 12 Shopping Centre just round the corner. Guided upstairs to the restaurant, you still retain the atmosphere of the bar downstairs but gain a little privacy to enjoy your dining experience. Given a warm welcome by our server, we were instantly in the glam rock mood as we heard the sounds of Steve Harley, Cockney Rebel, Blondie, Slade and even a bit of T.Rex. Having a mother who loved a bit of glam rock back in her day meant we were both singing and dancing along.The Glamrock Afternoon Tea has lots of different options available from the classic afternoon tea, to the Glamrock Prosecco or Champagne Afternoon Tea, or even the Rock'n'Cocktails Tea. We couldn't resist trying out the Rock'n'Cocktails Tea after seeing the amazing cocktail menu and the huge range of teas available to try. After glancing over the menu, we started on our first round of tea - the Tea Rex! This bespoke K West tea offers a more daring cup of tea with a bold, smokey flavour and a soothing floral aftertaste - it's really delicious and left us excited to try some more of their exciting blends. Later on I tried the Very Berry tea which is actually made from dried fruit and was heavenly, while mum tried the Cherry Blossom which was beautifully delicate on the taste-buds. There were several other fascinating ones to try including the Bobby Marley Blend and the Rooibos Orange and Cactus Fig.Differing from the classic afternoon tea, this one has a rather more glamorous twist with plenty of flavours to tantalise your taste-buds. If you've got a bit of a sweet tooth but don't fancy the traditional cakes of an afternoon tea, this one if perfect for you with lots of delicate sweet treats on offer. Starting on the savoury items we had a range of mini-sandwiches with fillings such as hummus and rocket or avocado, my favourite smoked salmon and cream cheese and some absolutely delicious halloumi, guacamole and tomato rainbow rolls. Then, we moved on to the delicious scones - my highlight of the afternoon tea - they were so tasty and served with strawberry jam, clotted cream and fresh berries. Before indulging our sweet tooth with no end of goodies from sugar confetti mini eclairs to cocktail macaroons and marshmallow, chocolate and nut sprinkles cones. We were in foodie heaven and were delighted when the staff brought us some more of the savoury snacks.Of course, we couldn't resist trying one of the amazing cocktails on offer for the Rock'n'Cocktails Tea - after taking a look at the menu, we both went for the Yo Snow which is gin infused with Campari, Martini Rosso and Prosecco Vaporetto with lemonade. It was the perfect accompaniment to all the sweet treats and the crisp, tangy flavours were really refreshing - it was exactly the kind of cocktail I would want to make for my girls at home. They really embraced the seasonal flavours for the winter-themed Glamrock Afternoon Tea and I'd be intrigued to see how these change throughout the year. At the end of the afternoon, we were sad to leave after having such a fabulous treat and such wonderful service. Our waitress was fantastic and was keen to recommend teas or cocktails she thought we might like to try, she really made sure to give us the best afternoon tea experience. A huge thank you to K West Hotel and Spa for having us along, and if you want to book in for afternoon tea - click here.
What are your favourite afternoon tea treats? Who would you like to take along for a Glam Rock Afternoon Tea? Can you recommend any other afternoon teas?
I'm really excited to be sharing this post with you guys today, because not only was it a real highlight of my Sri Lanka trip, but it was also what sparked the inspiration behind the trip. Although Sri Lanka has always been a place that really ignited my imagination, it had slipped to the back of my mind and wasn't really on my list of priorities. But when an email from the team behind Diyabubula Hideaway dropped into my inbox, suddenly Sri Lanka shot pretty quickly to the top of my must-travel list. Talking about the creative atmosphere, the beautiful and historical location, the nearby national parks where hundreds of elephants gather – read more about this here – my imagination was captured and I couldn't stop talking about it. My boyfriend was curious and eager for our holiday not to end, so he decided that we were going to Sri Lanka after we left Australia, my dreams were becoming a reality and we couldn't wait to explore this whole new world. Diyabubula Hideaway was the perfect place to celebrate the halfway point of our month in this amazing country and we couldn't have been more grateful for a chance to spend a few days in this wonderful, natural, creative space.Normally I would write quite in-depth about the property, but to be honest, I think the pictures speak for themselves. The place was absolutely beautiful from the second you walked through the gates, lush green vegetation adorning every building and inviting you to breathe in the fresh air and the sights and sounds. It was magical, with every luxury you can imagine, plus the freedom and the independence to explore at your own pace with a team who would work around your plans to provide you with the finest food and service. We stayed in an overwater villa which was absolutely stunning and reminiscent of the treehouse experience I had dreamt of when I knew I was coming to Sri Lanka.The rooms were peaceful and luxurious with a huge bathroom and walk-in closet, an enormous bed overlooking the balcony where we would watch monkeys play. We were quite lucky to experience all weathers when we were there - both glorious sunshine and one evening a torrential rainstorm which was quite magical to watch through the windows, and to fall asleep to the sound of raindrops drumming on the roof. The room also came with a small kitchen with basic amenities and a lounge area downstairs.Found in central Sri Lanka, in a town called Dambulla at the edge of the Cultural Triangle, the accommodation is the creation of renowned Sri Lankan artist Laki Senanayake who designed the place as a hideaway to compliment his water garden. With just five villas available at this luxury lodge, it defines "boutique luxury" and offers each guest the finest pace to escape from the busy cities and to explore the culture and heritage of Sri Lanka.With some of the country's oldest temples, ancient cities and astounding national parks right on your doorstep, there is so much to do in the local area and the helpful, and attentive staff can organise transport and guides for you. If you're less interested in the area and more in a creative escape, you're in the right place as artist Laki actually lives at the property in his own minimalist space. Each evening guests are invited to join him at his place for an amazing light and music show he has created himself, and to spend the night in discussion with the artist himself.I was so disappointed to find out Laki was away travelling at the time of our visit as I would have loved to have met him and to have heard more about his vision. But we still had the pleasure of exploring his quarters and enjoying the amazing sculptures dotted around the property, plus his amazing light show each evening. If you're a creative type yourself, this could be the perfect opportunity to indulge in creating your own art as I've heard Laki loves his visitors to try their hand at creating during their visit.Overall, an absolutely amazing stay that treated us to the ultimate luxury at this beautiful boutique lodge, and some well-needed peace and tranquility. After weeks of travelling non-stop and throwing ourselves into all of the activities, it was lovely to take some time to just relax and to have somewhere so peaceful and beautiful to do it. A huge thanks to all of the amazing staff who were so welcoming and who really made our stay at Diyabubula Hideaway a pleasure.
The rooms have different rates available – for the water villa we stayed in you can have half board for 200 euros a night or full board for 220 euros per night. (There are not many restaurants nearby and the food at Diyabubula is amazing so I would recommend full board) Or, if you fancy trying the tree house or bamboo grove, you can have half board for 180 euros or 200 euros for full board. All of these prices are for a double rather than a single. I personally think this accommodation is worth every penny and will make your stay in Sri Lanka even more magical. I really cannot recommend this place enough and although I received gifted accommodation in this case, all views remain honest and all my own. Click here for more info and to book.
Would you like to stay at Diyabubula Hideaway? Can you recommend any other accommodation in Sri Lanka? What are your priorities when booking accommodation?
One of the highlights of visiting Big Berry is getting a real taste of the Slovenian lifestyle against the incredible backdrop of the untouched countryside that lies just beyond the camp gates. My week was spent there visiting several local producers of beer, gin, oil and chocolate amid visits to viewpoints, hidden lakes and abandoned mills. We took breaks for delicious meals made from local ingredients including some of the best trout and carp I have ever eaten, fresh from the river that runs through the camp itself. I even had the opportunity to take a peek into the past when I visited an old fashioned Slovenian home to see how the people of years gone by would have lived, and the crafts and memories that remain.It hit me when I was there, just how hard it is these days to find a landscape that is actually untouched and undamaged by commercialisation. There are few places left in this world you can truly escape the modern world and step back in time into a completely natural landscape where green forests and clear rivers stretch as far as the eye can see, and eagles soar across the sky. It sounds like something out of a movie because we just don't get a chance to see this very often without a fast food restaurant or some kind of brand getting in the way. But Eastern Europe is a very different matter, the Balkan countries just seem to have escaped the commercialisation that has dominated so many other places in Europe. There are still so many wide open areas you can get lost in and that makes them very precious to the modern day traveler.When it comes to local producers, Primostek and the nearby villages are a wealth of smaller companies that pack a punch with top quality products that kept me fed and watered throughout my stay. Everything from fruit, cheese and bread, to gin, wine and beer. There's plenty to keep your stomach full and a smile on your face knowing your stay is supporting the local companies, plus you get a chance to see the process behind the products. All of the companies allow for tours to see how their food, drink and even body products are made during your stay, which is a great way to meet the local people and see another side to Slovenia.My favourite tours had to be Berryshka - the liqueur and chocolate makers - and Vizir Pivovarna - the beer producers. The owners of both were so welcoming and took the time to talk us through the whole process of creating the products as they took us on a tour of the factory/brewery, before enjoying a tasting of the products. For me, the highlight of Berryshka was tasting the unusual lavender chocolate, a new product, and tasting their liqueurs served in a chocolate cup. Just delicious. Vizir Pivovarna had a great range of beers and were happy to explain the differences to a non-beer drinker, my favourite ones were definitely the dark beer and the stronger 10% beer they produce. Another huge highlight was getting to eat at the home of the delicious apple juice producers, Lamut, where we enjoyed a home cooked feast of fresh carp and trout washed down with apple juice, wine and a lot of Rakea.During the visit we also took the time to walk around local vineyards and taken some stunning views from the mills and local beauty spots. It was great being shown around by the team who knew all the best places to see and best things to do. If you're staying at Big Berry, I would recommend getting out and exploring the local producers and seeing more than just the camp, get a real taste of this part of Slovenia and you'll fall for the beautiful location just like I did. I mustn't forget my favourite activity, on the last day we went rafting down the river and I don't even have the words to describe how much fun and just how breathtaking the views were.
Have you been to Slovenia - what was your favourite part? Does the wide open landscape appeal to you? Have you visited local producers on other trips?
Eastern Europe has been on my must-see list for several years, there's something about it's wild, untouched beauty that really appeals to me especially when so many places in Europe are so overcrowded with tourists. I've long since wanted to travel to Romania but haven't yet had the opportunity after travel plans changed this summer and I found myself meeting friends in Bulgaria instead - more to come on that in a later post! But when I was invited to Slovenia on my first travel blogger press trip, I was beyond excited to experience the country for myself and at the hands of those who know the local area best. I was invited to stay at Big Berry, a new luxury glamping lifestyle camp on the banks of the river Kolpa in Primostek and the first of its kind in the country. Big Berry embraces the concept of enjoying total luxury for the whole family while getting back to grass roots and really experiencing the Slovenian countryside.I was lucky enough to be staying in a gorgeous mobile home which has been specially designed to satisfy every need and want - the design was sleek and absolutely beautiful offering complete luxury and the opportunity to enjoy self-catering if wanted. Sleeping six, the cabin gave me plenty of room to myself and I even had my own private jacuzzi - total luxury after staying in hostels for the week beforehand. Waking up in the morning, I could step into a stunning rain shower before heading to the terrace for breakfast which was hand-delivered each morning. Filled with local produce, from fruit and yoghurt to eggs, milk and bread, it was a perfect way to start the day as the sun shone over the Kolpa river. Just across the water was the Croatian border, giving you ample opportunity to swim between the two in the cleanest, purest water you can imagine. If you're after a complete digital detox, this is the perfect place for you and I relished the chance to get away from a screen and to really experience life in the Slovenian town, but it also provides great communal areas perfect for working online which could be well suited for the digital nomads among us.Mornings would start with a workout to get the blood racing - a former Slovenian boxer led the classes out on the grass overlooking the river, a perfect setting. Then later there was plenty of time to explore and relax in the grounds by swimming in the river or reading a book on the comfy sunbeds scattered around. There's also volleyball, bikes and canoes available if you fancy something a bit more active. The team behind Big Berry hope to give visitors an authentic experience of the Bela Krajina region by showing them how the locals live, giving them an insight into the Slovenian past and present with visits to historical houses, beauty spots and local producers to try everything from cheese and wine, to oils, beer and chocolates. There's a packed schedule available to visitors who want to get to know the area and to fully experience local life, or for those who want to just relax and take it in at their own pace, there is total freedom to dine and explore independently.The camp, which will be open from May to September from next year, is perfect suited to families who want to get outside with the kids and explore somewhere new - the camp is very safe for young children with plenty of space for them to run around. It would also be perfect for couples who fancy a romantic weekend away in the countryside - trust me there's nothing more romantic than watching the stars sparkle over the river from the comfort of your own hot tub. At 200 euros a night, it provides you with all the luxury you want while allowing you to get back to basics and to enjoy a simple few days enjoying Slovenia in its purest and most beautiful form. Plus being right on the Croatian border, it gives you a good opportunity to explore two countries in one trip if you're flying into Zagreb like I did. Check out my upcoming posts for more information about the trips available while staying at Big Berry. You can find more information about Big Berry and planning your trip to Slovenia here.
Have you been to Slovenia - what did you think? Does the Big Berry concept appeal to you? Tell me about your favourite luxury getaways.
There's nothing like a good day trip to break up a holiday, whether you go off to visit another nearby island or just another town, it's a perfect way to experience something totally different during your trip. We were in Santorini for two weeks so we made sure to organise plenty of day trips and activities - like climbing the mountain - to break up our time sunbathing on the beach. One of my absolute highlights of the holiday was a bargain day trip we took from Perissa to explore the nearby active volcano, to swim in natural hot springs and mud baths, and finish the day with a cruise around the Caldera. You'll see this trip on offer a lot when staying on the island in various different forms, but it can be difficult to ensure you don't get ripped off when booking without doing a little research. Luckily for you, I've done the research for you so you can sit back and enjoy the trip!
Booking the trip
We booked our trip at a Perissa travel agency after checking out several to compare prices, it's always worth comparing at least three and seeing if they can offer you a discount for group bookings. A few euros doesn't sound much, but it makes a huge difference to your pocket if you have a big group of people. We booked our trip with Star Travel, on the main street, who were great - they offered a full day trip with all three attractions for the same price other companies were charging for a half-day experience. At around 20 euros per person, we could be picked up from the agents in the morning and taken to hike up the active volcano, we would swim in the hot springs then break on the nearby island of Therissa where you can enjoy a peaceful lunch before heading home and cruising around Oia and the famous Caldera. A pretty busy day, but one worth experiencing. Not only do you get to tick some pretty amazing sights off your Santorini bucket list, but you also get to do it at a steady and enjoyable pace.
Climbing the active volcano
An amazing experience to see the volcanic, bare landscape set against a background of ocean and Santorini coastline. Just out in the bay from the island, it's just a short 5-10 minute boat ride before you land here and prepare to climb the volcano. I wore running shoes but you can easily do it in sturdy sandals, I saw some in flip-flops but I wouldn't recommend it. You have to pay a few euros each for entrance to the volcano, then it's off up towards the crater. The hike takes less than half an hour and isn't too strenuous but it is hot - make sure you have water and sunscreen - and be aware that it is at least five degrees hotter at the top. The walk up is incredible - take a second to appreciate the stark landscape - and when you reach the crater it's amazing to walk around. Annoyingly you will be surrounded by boat-loads of tourists and plenty of selfie sticks, but it is still worth a visit and it is possible to find a quiet spot. Listen out for your tour guide talking about the history of the volcano, it has an interesting past, and then stroll around the crater taking in the 360 degree panoramic view of ocean and island. Watch out for our pal Walle who sits up there 24/7 monitoring volcanic activity and serving as an early warning for the island to be evacuated in case of emergency.
Swimming in hot springs
Back on the boat and we cruise round the volcano and off towards the hot springs which sit in the shadow of a nearby island. As you approach, you'll see further in where the water changes colour to a deep rusty, brown colour, where the mud carries no end of minerals. The boat stops around 15-20 metres away from where you will be able to touch the ground but you do have to jump off and swim for it - if you're not a confident swimmer stay on the boat. A short swim across and you can swim/walk across the rocks to enter the hot springs, feeling the water warming your skin. It's only just above body temperature but you can feel the difference and it's lovely to sit there in the water. I recommend rubbing the mud all over your skin - everyone thought Mum and I were mad for doing this but it makes your skin incredible soft. I was aiming for five years younger but I don't know if I quite reached it. We have just half an hour to enjoy the mud baths before heading back to the boat, but it's the perfect amount of time as we were starving by this point. Swimming back you definitely feel the cold hit you as you leave the hot springs but luckily the clear sea water washes off any remaining mud before you climb back on board.
A relaxing lunch on Therissa Island
Next our journey took to to the island of Therissa, a step back in time to the Greece of years ago. You can walk up to the main village but it is a very steep climb and we weren't sure we would have time to squeeze that in with lunch. Instead we pottered along the shoreline to one of the restaurants and sampled the stuffed vegetables and freshly caught calamari - I've become addicted to calamari over the last few weeks. It was a perfect relaxed lunch with a beautiful view of all the boats and the crystal clear waters. All of the restaurants serve the freshest of fish and for roughly the same prices so choose any and enjoy the setting. After we ate, we decided to wander along the shore to the windmill at the other end of the beach so we could check out the views and shops along the way. It was a lovely little walk and with two hours there we had just enough time to see everything we wanted to see before heading back to the boat to get a good spot at the front for our Caldera cruise.
Oia and Caldera Cruise
How better to finish the day than with a peaceful cruise around Oia - a chance to finally view it from the ocean in all its splendour before making our way along the Caldera by boat. I'll be posting about my day spent in Oia at a later date - but you must without a doubt experience Oia from the ocean, within the town during the day and of course, at sunset, to get a real feel for the town. It's spectacular in all its forms and not at all overrated, every time I was in awe of the beauty and the magic of this stunning location. And of course, a boat cruise around the island in the afternoon sunshine is a perfect way to experience Santorini. There's something so peaceful about being out at sea, perhaps it's the mermaid in me but it just soothes my soul every time. Clear, endless waters, overlooked by centuries old white windmills - that's what Santorini is all about and that's what this trip will give you. All those dreamy island views you've been stalking on Instagram in the months leading up to your trip.I can't recommend the trip we went on enough - it gave us everything we wanted and more. You get to see a whole different side to the island, a natural and raw side to the landscape that often isn't associated with the more manicured beauty of Santorini. It's a perfect way to spend a day during your holiday to the island.
Have you been on this trip - what was your highlight? Do you love boat trips, where was your favourite one?
Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Twitter have been berating me over the last two weeks for teasing you all with photos from my rather lust-worthy holiday. Sorry, I'm so not sorry about it. It was without a doubt one of the best holidays I have ever had and oh my, have you seen how crazy beautiful Santorini is? I'm not lying when I say the Greek island has been on my Must Visit list for years, and now having spent two weeks there I can officially say it is just as incredible as I dreamed. All those times I scrolled infinitely down websites and Instagram feeds taking in every dreamy image and every scrap of information about the island, and finally I had the chance to see it with my own eyes. I am such a lucky girl. Even more so, because I wasn't supposed to be going! My parents had booked themselves a holiday, not knowing when I would be back in the country, but when they realised I would be home, they booked me on to the holiday with them as my birthday present. Officially the best parents and the best birthday present I could ever dream of.
Where to stay
We stayed on the south-east of the island in the popular resort of Perissa - it's a good choice if you find the prices a bit steep in Oia and fancy actually being on the beach. After visiting both Oia and Perissa, I would say that for a week or longer holiday, Perissa is a perfect place to stay, but if you're just going for a few days you would probably want to stay in Oia. Perissa is nestled at the bottom of the mountain and it's the only place in the world I have seen the mountains meet the ocean on a beach of black, volcanic sand. Even in peak season, Perissa has a relaxed and quiet feel to it and the beaches are never overcrowded, nor are the restaurants. It's a good place to stay if you want a mixture of relaxing, exploring and activities during your stay - we found it a great base for visiting the rest of the island and enjoying trips. The buses give you great, reliable access to other areas such as Fira, Kamari and Oia, or you could hire and car or bike. Most places in Perissa come with a pool and there are a lot of self-catering apartments available which is great for those that have children or prefer to do their own thing.I stayed in a self-catering apartment at Sandy Villas, this place was great with huge rooms, private bathrooms and balconies for each apartment. My room also came with a small kitchen including a hob, fridge and basic items. It had a bar and lounge area with wifi (although rubbish) and offered the largest swimming pool in the area. It was set back from the main strip and closer to the mountain, but I loved that it was a short walk away from everything and it meant having a stunning view of the mountain and the ocean from my balcony, and getting woken up by the donkeys in the morning. A true Greek experience. The owners were very welcoming and friendly, all of the staff were so lovely, especially when they realised I was staying alone. I was really impressed with the place and would definitely recommend it for others travelling as a group, a couple or independently. With a shallow pool, this place is well-suited to young children and many of the groups staying had children with them.If you're looking for something a bit more adult, try Anezina Villas, it's much more suited to a couple on holiday with smaller rooms and more of a hotel feel. It was a lovely apartment for my parents with a private bathroom and balcony, although they did find the rooms a little stuffy. It came with a small kitchen area with a fridge and all that was needed to make simple foods if you preferred to have breakfast at the apartment. The outside area was the absolute highlight - the bar and seating around the pool was gorgeous and for sunbathers, you were treated to the most comfortable sunbeds I have ever laid on. Short of being a waterbed, I don't think they could have been better quality. Likewise, the pool was fantastic for adults, very deep and large enough to enjoy a good swim - not great for children due to the depth.The apartments also come with a swing and play area, a hot tub, and sit nicely in the centre of the town, perfect for strolling to the beach or out to dinner. Both places were fabulous and we would really recommend them if you're planning a trip to the island.
Where to eat
If you're heading to Perissa, have a wonderful time. It's a fantastic place to stay and perfect for a holiday in Santorini. If you have any questions about the area or planning your trip, leave a comment and I'll do my best to help you out!