Looking back at 2016, there were some tough moments but there were also some incredible experiences that I’ll never forget. Paul and I got to tick off quite a few things from our ever expanding bucket list. From a year of hidden gems and unique experiences, here are our 2016 highlights. In a year when a relative passed away and another was struck with a particularly cruel illness, your support and kindness has been so touching. To all our readers, followers and brands that we have been lucky to work with, we wish you a wonderful 2017, filled with adventures and surprises.
Cruising down the Thames in the UK’s only hottug
Regular readers will have noticed my obsession with all things quirky, so this unique way of cruising down the Thames was right up my street. The UK’s only hottug is surprisingly warm thanks to the wood-burning stove and the bubbly probably helped too!
Driving a McLaren at Goodwood
I’ve always been a fan of fast cars so driving a McLaren at Goodwood race track was a definite highlight. Strangely enough, it was more intimidating to be driving one on the open road afterwards but both experiences were very enjoyable!
Enjoying an exclusive preview of Chaplin’s World in Switzerland
Charlie Chaplin achieved so much in his lifetime, and now his legacy lives on at Chaplin’s World in his former home on the shores of Lake Geneva. We were fortunate to enjoy an exclusive preview of the new museum in March before its opening to the public a few weeks later.
Experiencing the thrill of a RIB boat and sailing a classic yacht in the Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is such a charming destination and was the perfect place to experience the thrills and spills of a RIB boat for the first time. We squealed a bit as it dashed through the waves, before alighting on the island to watch the Classic Yachts Challenge. Later, we learned how to sail a classic yacht, before savouring an amazing dinner at Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s former home.
Exploring the Wild Atlantic Way and staying in an Irish castle
The Wild Atlantic Way is one of West Ireland‘s most beautiful hidden gems. What better way to explore it than from the fairytale Ballynahinch Castle. Our full review will be appearing soon so watch this space.
Getting my culture fix at the opening of the new Tate Modern
Standing proud over London’s skyline, Tate Modern was extended this year with the new Switch House. Although the new building is quite austere, the viewing deck on the 10th floor is not to be missed. There are some interesting artworks on display too, including a room dedicated to sculptor Louise Bourgeois.
Kayaking through the Everglades
We got an adrenaline high, kayaking through the Everglades in close proximity to alligators. As long as you don’t disturb them, they are perfectly safe and this trip through the mangroves was a real delight.
Learning how to play polo at Guards Club
I’m always happy to be trying something new and learning to play polo at the prestigious Guards Polo Club was an amazing adventure. Most of the other participants were expert horse riders, whilst I hadn’t been on a horse for a good few years. Thankfully I had a fairly docile pony and managed not to fall off 😉
Making (and eating!) chocolate in Brussels
Whether you’re a chocoholic like Paul and I or not, you’re sure to enjoy chocolate making in Brussels. We headed to expert chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud’s workshop to create our own rather unique treats.
Mastering Italian home cooking in Venice
Venice is one of those places that I had expected to be overrated but it blew me away with its beauty. After exploring the city’s many hidden gems, we ventured to the Dorsoduro area for a masterclass in Venetian cooking. Our hostess with the mostest, Enrica, knows the city like the back of her hand and she showed us how to rustle up a veritable feast.
Skiing in two of the best resorts in the world
Kitzbühel is one of the most photogenic ski resorts out there but this medieval Austrian town has plenty more going for it, including 179 kilometers of slopes. It was voted best ski resort in the world by Skiresort.de. See how we got on during our visit in March.
Another famous ski resort, Val d’Isere, was voted best in the world at the World Snow Awards. We headed there in December when the snow was already abundant and stayed in a picture perfect chalet.
For old school glamour, you can’t beat Verbier in Switzerland and we’re looking forward to visiting in the New Year for more skiing adventures, gluhwein and tartiflette!
Snorkelling in the Similan Islands, Thailand
It was the first time in Thailand for both Paul and I – safe to say that we’ll be back! One of our favourite spots was Khao Lak, famous for its White Sand Beach. We ventured to the nearby Similan Islands on board the Lady Sarojin, enjoying a day of snorkelling amid the clear waters and spotting a myriad of fish and sea turtles.
Visiting the Alhambra by day and by night
Never one to shy away from controversy, I asked whether it was best to visit the iconic Alhambra in Granada by day or by night. You’ll have to read the post to find out which we preferred but needless to say, you won’t be disappointed with either a day or night visit.
Walking the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival
In May, I was lucky to attend the Cannes Film Festival and best of all, to walk the infamous red carpet! Managing not to trip on my dress, I posed for the paparazzi before going inside to watch The Salesman, which went on to scoop quite a few awards. After the festival, we headed to a lovely hidden gem nearby, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild – definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Watching geysers explode in Iceland
Our first visit to the Golden Circle in Iceland was a revelation – there are so many natural wonders to see. The geysers dutifully exploded as if to order, every few minutes, giving the spectators a thrill! We enjoyed some delicious gourmet meals too, as Icelanders pride themselves on their home cooking.
Wining and dining in style
There are so many wonderful oo many to mention this year, but this month I caught up with a good friend at the Chinese Cricket Club. This stylish restaurant is located within the Crowne Plaza London The City and has been popular since its opening in 2009. It specializes in dim sum and Sichuan cuisine, and we tucked into the Shengdan tasting menu. We enjoyed prawn har gau and salt and Sichuan pepper squid before savouring crispy aromatic duck served with spring onions, pancakes, cucumber and hoi sin sauce. Yet there was more to come, in the shape of delicious beef tenderloin with black pepper, Kung po turkey, three seasonal greens and Sichuan special fried rice. Accompanied by a bottle of Finca Lorosco Chardonnay Reserva, it was a veritable banquet!
Later that week, Paul and I enjoyed an Italian inspired brunch at Veneta in the new St James’s Market quarter. Here’s a video that Paul made of our experience…
— Paul Renner (@DealMakerPro) December 17, 2016
We loved the Venetian take on breakfast dishes, with avocado, chilli and stracetelli on sourdough for me and pork and fennel sausages, tomato, Portobello mushrooms, pancetta and fried eggs for Paul. These went perfectly with Prosecco, orange and grapefruit Mimosas and a piping hot chocolate. We couldn’t resist the wonderfully crisp frittelle, Italian mini doughnuts to finish.
Finally, I met up with Miriam for a decadent Christmas Afternoon Tea at The Intercontinental Park Lane. Created in collaboration with master chocolatier Paul A. Young, it’s available until 8 January. Our knowledgeable waiter, Stefan, served us a chilled glass of Moët champagne. We then sampled a moreish Stilton, chestnut and walnut vol-au-vent and a venison and winter vegetable puff. The sandwiches were a manageable size and with tasty flavours such as smoked salmon, crayfish and prawns, honey roast ham hock with cranberry and pineapple chutney and turkey with a sage stuffing. Next up were the classic and speculaas scones with strawberry jam, clotted cream and a lovely orange curd. The piece de resistance was the Christmas sphere of chocolate ganache, orange and cranberry compote with salted caramel hazelnuts. I also liked the white chocolate water ganache with mincemeat and single origin Grenadian Kalingo dark chocolate, and a smoked crackling embers tart with gingerbread and single origin 72% Venezuelan ganache. We were served three different teas during the afternoon, with the cocoa nib and peppermint being my favourite. Finally, we were treated to a fruit cake made to Winston Churchill’s family recipe!
So there you have it, these are just some of the highlights from an exceptional year of bucket-list experiences and hidden gems. Which of these adventures would be your favourite and what are you looking forward to in the year ahead?