Travelooney’s Best of 2019
The end of the year is a time for reflection – also when it comes to travel memories. It’s been a couple of years since I first selected the winners of Travelooney’s Random Travel Awards for 2017, but this year I simply call them Best of 2019 and select my best memories from this past year. They’re from a mix of holidays and work trips, but only places I have personally visited, and I hope that some of these will inspire you when you plan your future trips around Europe.
Throughout 2019, I got to explore much more of beautiful Spain as well as some, for me, new corners of Europe.
Best Café Experience:
Café del Art, Madrid, Spain
Having lived in Madrid on-and-off since 2014 and due to my work as a freelance writer, I have enjoyed a ton of great cafés in the city throughout the years. There are always new exciting cafés popping up while I also have a bunch of favourites I return to frequently. This year, a new café was added to my favourite list, as I discovered Café del Art. Not only is this such an atmospheric café full of amazing details – but the main ingredient, the coffee, is excellent too. Read about it here: Café del Art – a unique café experience in Madrid
Most Unique Lunch Spot:
Buzz Lisboeta, Lisbon, Portugal
You might have been eating your lunch on a bus before. But have you ever been eating your lunch on a bus parked on top of a container? No? I thought so. Well, you’ll get the chance if you head to Village Underground Lisboa in Lisbon, where Buzz Liboeta serves food and drinks in a retired double-decker bus. This unique café is part of a tiny “village” of colourful containers connected by bridges where creative souls hang out and enjoy life in the Portuguese capital. I loved everything about it, and yes, the food was good too!
Best Film Location:
El Chorillo/Vaes Dothrak, Almeria, Spain
I was one of the millions of fans of Game of Thrones as the series was going strong on the screen and while on a work trip in Belfast a couple of years ago, I enjoyed a GOT-themed guided tour along the coast of Northern Ireland. Fast forward to 2019 and while being on a road trip in southeastern Spain, I got the chance to visit a cool filming location used for Game of Thrones – the Dothraki city of Vaes Dothrak, which in real life is set in a unique desert-landscape called El Chorillo in the dry region of Almería. This rustic terrain took some careful driving to navigate, but then we had the abandoned film set to ourselves. A perfect place to shoot a few photos.
Most Memorable Accommodation:
Hotel Marsil, Cologne, Germany
During my trips in 2019, I got to spend nights at various types of accommodation, from backpacker hostels to guesthouses and business hotels. One very nice surprise came at La Pita Guesthouse in Almería in southern Spain, where my partner and I had a rooftop terrace almost all to ourselves with a view to the city’s illuminated castle. But my most memorable accommodation experience this year came during a work trip to Germany, where I got to spend a couple of nights at Hotel Marsil in Cologne. It is a lovely boutique hotel with a modern, light and homely feel in its apartment-style rooms, and with delicate touches of vintage-vibes throughout the historic building. I would definitely consider staying there again next time I visit Cologne.
Most Unique Neighbourhood:
Troglodyte Quarter, Guadix, Spain
Spain keeps surprising me the more I get to explore its corners. I had never heard of the cathedral-town of Guadix before we happened to drop by on a southern road trip, but this placed proved to be a wonderful surprise. While the cathedral was really impressive, the highlight was the so-called Troglodyte Quater of unique cave-like hobbit-style houses built into the wavey landscape. We were even lucky to be invited in by the friendly local José, who had been living here his whole life.
Most Mind-blowing Landscape:
Las Médulas, León, Spain
Chances are high that you’ve never heard of this spectacular natural sight in Northern Spain’s León Province. Nevertheless, this historic gold-mining area was the most important of its kind during the Roman Empire and it’s not surprisingly listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The hydraulic mining technique that was used here ages ago has left a truly spectacular landscape where the cliffs seem to shine like the gold once found here while vegetation has covered large parts and created a fantasy-like scenery. You can hike along paths, enter a dark mining tunnel and take it all in from an awe-inspiring view-point.
Coolest Capital Quarter:
LX Factory, Lisbon, Portugal
Re-invention of industrial sites has become a popular concept in many cities today, but few have done it so well as LX Factory in Lisbon. It was love at first sight as I started exploring the cobbled streets, the street art and the cafés and shops set in these former factory buildings. It felt like a unique little town in itself and you can easily spend an entire day here taking it all in. Besides the street art piece by Bordalo II, I was especially drawn to the cafés and the extraordinary bookshop Ler Devagar (Read Slowly). Please don’t miss this spot if you visit Lisbon.
Best Street Art Experience:
Pinta Malasaña, Madrid, Spain
Today, excellent street art can be found in all bigger cities and I always enjoy to go street art hunting whenever I visit a new destination. Even better is when I manage to catch a street art festival in the making, for the chance to see the painters and artist perform their colourful magic live. This year, I happened to be in Aarhus in Denmark while a bunch of artists were creating an impressive outdoor gallery during Aarhus Streetart Festival. It’s hard to beat Pinta Malasaña though, that brings some excellent local and visiting artists to the streets of Madrid’s Malasaña neighbourhood. It was amazing to see so many different artistic styles take shape simultaneously. Read more here: Pinta Malasaña is Madrid’s biggest urban arts festival
Most Positive Surprise:
This was a tough one to select because 2019 took me to cities like Lisbon, Granada and Bilbao for the first time, and all three cities jumped into my unwritten list of favourite cities in Europe. I had good expectations for those cities before my first encounter though, unlike with the German city of Düsseldorf, that I had never really heard anything about. It can be refreshing to travel without knowing what to expect. Düsseldorf turned out to be a surprisingly interesting destination full of exciting architecture, lively bars and restaurants, tons of shopping opportunities and a lovely riverfront atmosphere along the Rhine. My first encounter was just brief, so I hope to return one day soon.
Most Impressive Historic Site:
Alhambra, Granada, Spain
For 2017, I chose Tintern Abbey in Wales as the Best Historic Building I had visited that year, and this year it has to be the UNESCO-listed Alhambra complex that sits on a cliff-top in Granada, South Spain. This combined palace and fortress is adorned by endless of carvings and mind-blowing patterns, and you can easily spend half a day up there. It is not surprisingly a huge tourist attraction in this part of Spain and you gotta book your ticket in advance. Despite the many tourists, it’s a must-see, as well as the rest of the lovely city of Granada for that matter.
Best Gastronomic Experience:
Pintxos & Txakoli, Bilbao, Spain
Bilbao‘s Basque brother of San Sebastián is a true celebrity when it comes to culinary aspects like Michelin star restaurants and the Basque version of tapas – pintxos. But you will also find a ton of gastronomic highlights in beautiful Bilbao, and my partner and I enjoyed discovering our favourite bites from pintxo-hotspots such as Plaza Nueva and Mercado de la Ribera – both found in the city’s historic Casco Viejo quarter.
There should be no visit to Bilbao without at least one proper pintxo-expedition and don’t forget to wash these tasty treats down with another Basque classic, the delicate Txakoli white wine.
Best Hiking Experience:
Tenerife Walking Festival, Tenerife, Spain
When I spent lots of time on the West Coast of Wales, I got inspired to do more hiking, and this year I got the chance to join the Tenerife Walking Festival on the Canarian island of Tenerife. This was a great chance to not only meet fellow hikers and some lovely local guides but also to explore some truly unique and extremely varied landscapes on foot. My boots carried me through volcanic dust, past giant cacti and through moss-covered laurisilva forests. It was a hiking experience I will never forget – and I’ll be posting a separate article about it leading up to the 2020-festival.
Most Inspiring Shop:
Garbags, Lisbon, Portugal
The Portuguese capital is an exciting city – also when it comes to speciality shops. During my two visits to Lisbon this summer, I found myself a couple of favourite stores with one being the coffee shop O Moinho do Café, from where I brought coffee home from both of my visits. The other one and the winner of this category is the upcycling shop called Garbags. Genious name right? It is a well-known shop-concept where old packaging and other materials are transformed into eco-friendly bags and accessories – from bags of dog food to toothpaste tubes. Garbags have a couple of shops in Lisbon, so don’t miss them if you’re visiting.
Best Wildlife Experience:
White Tenerife, Tenerife, Spain
While on Tenerife for their hiking festival, I also got the chance to explore the island on a mountainbike and to go on a whale-watching trip with White Tenerife. I’m a big fan of experiencing animals in their natural habitat (not a big fan of zoos), so I was excited for the chance to see some large whales in these Canarian waters. We didn’t spot any of the very big ones on this particular trip, but we got to admire some beautiful pilot wales and listen to them “sing” via a sub-aquatic microphone. An unforgettable experience that you can read more about here: Spain: Whale watching in Tenerife
Best Contemporary Architecture:
Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain
While I love the architecture of past times, from back when people made an effort to decorate even residential buildings, I also admire when architects go all-in on contemporary projects. I found one such example in Lisbon this year, where the MAAT building (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) is a real beauty. But it’s hard to beat Frank Gehry‘s crazy Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Although having seen it on photos, there’s nothing like getting up-close to this in-your-face creature of a building, as well as its “guardian angels” – the residing sculptures of Puppy and Maman. While it’s interesting to have a look behind its twisted facade, it’s just more spectacular from the outside.
What was your best travel experience in 2019?
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