And just like that, the Christmas decs have been packed up, the leftover turkey, chocolates and cheese have all been well and truly stuffed – and I am taking some time out to reflect about the past year, on where we’ve been, and how lucky we are to have created so many wonderful family memories. My Travel Monkey was first set up to diarise our adventures, but if you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that it’s much more than that now.
I never underestimate the opportunities that have been given to me via My Travel Monkey – and when the New Year hit, like so many of you, I’ve had a little think about what my priorities are at the start of a new decade. Of course, I still want to travel but in 2020 I am going to try to be much more spontaneous. I’m also going to really try hard to be positive in all aspects of my life. This is my most important goal – which is why writing this post is an essential reminder to myself that even when the chips are down, I am truly blessed.
My Travel Monkey – The Best of 2019
We do begin 2020 with one family trip planned – I am excited to be working with Eurocamp and heading back to France during May half term but other than that we’re free as birds – and I am looking forward to seeing where in the world we’ll be heading to.
Over 2019, I’d forgotten how many overnight trips we got to do from Cowley Manor in the Cotswolds to lots of day trips to our favourite seaside town of Whitstable and to several National Trust sites. Meanwhile, my 40th celebrations took me to the best restaurant in the world in Monaco, while our first family holiday was to Dubrovnik. My travelling year ended on a high in the beautiful Spanish city of Seville. So much has happened that it has been hard to keep track – so here’s a round-up of all the best 2019 travel and highlights from My Travel Monkey below…
At the beginning of the year, we headed to the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire for a luxury weekend break. It had been a long week in the run-up to our overnight stay at Cowley Manor – a luxurious spa hotel just a short drive from the stylish town of Cheltenham. A sickness bug had floored the kids but even though they recovered in record time, the husband and I were exhausted. So luckily, we received the warmest of welcomes from the staff at Cowley, blew the cobwebs away in their beautiful grounds and relaxed in the spa – all with the kids in tow.
We decided that as it had been seven years since we had last visited Wales, it was high time we returned – and what a fun-filled staycation we had during Easter. Staying in an idyllic cottage with Coastal Cottages, we were close to plenty of Pembrokeshire attractions, not least the breathtaking coastal walks and sandy beaches. We discovered a hidden beach and epic sea views at Stackpole Quay, a fun day out at Folly Farm and the delights of seaside town Tenby. You can read more about all Pembrokeshire attractions here. The one thing about this holiday that stood out for us was the unexpected cold! Sunny but so chilly, we all had to buy new woolly hats!
Monte Carlo, Monaco
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to live the high-life even just for a few precious days. So when I think of fast cars, designer shops and a city that exudes opulence, Monte Carlo springs to mind. It was my 40th birthday at the beginning of May, and what better way to celebrate than flying out with the hubby and my two close friends to spend a foodie-fulled weekend in Monaco? The sun was shining and we got to find some lovely beach eateries as well as dine at Mirazur – a three-Michelin starred restaurant set on a cliff face in Menton. Was it worth the eye-watering price tag? Well, watching the sunset over the sea, devouring over 10 excellently executed dishes, and being waited on by attentive staff in the Best Restaurant in the World, was an experience I will never ever forget…
There was much excitement in the My Travel Monkey household as we were heading to Croatia not only to stay in one of the most sought after destinations in Europe but to meet up with my brother-in-law, who we hadn’t seen in over four years. Dubrovnik was everything I expected and more – an ancient and beautiful Old Town with bags of character. We certainly found much to occupy ourselves from the stunning beaches to island hopping, the kids loved the ice cream parlours, and we loved the café culture. While the weather was a bit iffy in parts, and the crowds were unbearable on occasions, we had a marvellous trip catching up with family and exploring the Dalmatian Coast.
Puy du Fou, France
When I talk about one of France’s biggest theme parks, Puy du Fou, I am still overcome with awe – that is the magical power it holds. Travelling with a group of friends and family travel bloggers, we got to see for ourselves the epic story-telling and fantastical shows that have been wowing visitors for decades, as well as stay onsite in the parks individually themed resorts. It is impossible to describe Puy du Fou without sounding like a broken record – but to give you some flavour, in just one day I saw a Viking ship rise from the water, a castle burst into flames, a jousting competition and a night show performed by over 2,400 volunteers! Read here for the ultimate guide to Puy du Fou.
The launch of Kidventures Podcast
Back in July, my friend and fellow travel blogger Cathy from Mummy Travels decided to launch a brand new family travel podcast, hoping to bring some inspiration and travel tips to parents across the airwaves. We’ve had such a positive response that we’re about to start recording another series which will be once again filled with expert interviews and advice on all things family travel. Do check out Kidventures or take a listen here for some of the episodes that are available to download.
The Wirral and Liverpool
This was to be the very first time I travelled solo with the boys. When fellow travel blogger Karen from MiniTravellers offered up her beautiful home in exchange for cat sitting, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to explore the beautiful Wirral and Merseyside. We were so close to West Kirby Beach that this was to be our favourite hangout for sandy walks, crabbing, ice cream and fish and chips. Taking the train into Liverpool meant we got to explore the city and the Royal Albert Dock, museums, catch a ferry across the Mersey and even spend the day at Knowsley Safari Park. It was such a fun week.
Brittany, The Dordogne and Nantes, France
It had been some time since we spent a fortnight abroad – so having two weeks during the summer holidays gave us ample time to drive to the south of France. Taking the overnight ferry for the first time to Saint-Malo in Brittany was a fantastic experience, our trip started as soon as we boarded the boat. We got to spend four days exploring Brittany including its epic castles, pretty towns and breathtaking coastlines, as well as stay in an ecolodge. This won’t be the last time we visit, that I can guarantee.
We were left relatively unscathed from our seven-hour drive to Domme in the Dordogne. It was here that we truly relaxed. Swimming and canoeing in the river, wandering the villages, eating cheese, drinking wine and watching the hot air balloons drift across the cloudless skies – it was wonderful. And the Dordogne has cemented itself as a firm favourite family destination in our household. We loved it so much we extended our stay. Find out more about Dordogne with kids here.
Which meant we only got to spend two days in Nantes – however, that was enough to get a flavour of Brittany’s capital, its great cultural vibe and wander along the river. Not only that, but we couldn’t leave without riding a giant elephant! Read here to discover more about the elephant and our time in Nantes…
Our road trip in France was epic – sure we had to do long car journeys with an active and willful toddler, but there are so many special moments from our summer holiday, I’ve already forgotten the tantrums!
It had been some time since Monkey and I got to go on a solo trip. Heading to Cambridge with National Express, we not only got to spend some quality time together but got to explore this picturesque ancient university town for the very first time. By taking on the challenge of a treasure hunt, we spent the day discovering hidden gems and historical tidbits across the city, as well watch the punts up and down the Cam River. And the weather was still gloriously warm at the beginning of September – so made it feel even more like a proper trip away.
Another family trip but this time it was a flying visit to Dublin. Visiting our friends who live there, we spent two days catching up over lots of food and drink as well as long walks in the countryside. My highlight of the trip, aside from seeing our pals, was eating in Dublin’s highest pub – Johnnie Fox’s – and listen to hooley music!
This was my first time in Tunisia – and wow, it was incredible how much we managed to fit in during one weekend. Working with the National Tunisian Tourist Board, myself and two bloggers headed to Tunis in search of activities that were beyond the beach. From wandering the vast medina and souks and learning about traditional Tunisian cuisine, to discovering more about the country’s fascinating history and being scrubbed to perfection in a Hamman – it was a weekend break like no other. Tunis surprised in so many ways and really showed me there are more affordable and adventurous weekend breaks to the norm. And who knows – 2020 may very well see me returning…
It was fitting that the last trip of 2019 was somewhere hot, sunny and full of colour. Madrid has always been one of my favourite Spanish cities, however, since returning from Andalusia, Seville may well jump into the hotspot. Staying in the old neighbourhood, I immersed myself in Andalusian food from the most delicious Iberico hams to tapas and wines. We wandered the city across the river to the Triana neighbourhood and spent time in Seville’s famous Plaza de España and soaked in the heady atmosphere at night as people came out to play. I enjoyed Seville and I really want to return with the family.
What a year for My Travel Monkey!
As I conclude our best in travel review, I am astounded just how much we’ve fitted into 2019. So it only seems right now that I should look ahead to the new year with an energised optimism to all the exciting trips that may come our way. My list of where to go never gets any shorter, but with my resolution to be more spontaneous and last-minute, I’m going to sign-off by saying your guess is as good as mine! And I look forward to sharing with you all when I find out… Happy new year!