Top 10 Thursdays – My Top 10 Favourite Places

I must admit I love me a good top ten list so I’ve decided that Thursdays will now be Top Ten Thursdays at The Travelling Munschkin. I hope you’ll join me for what I know will be both informative and entertaining.

After visiting more than 67 countries I am most often asked, “What Are Your Top Ten Favourite Destinations?” Let’s begin with that. As of February 2013 here they are, in no particular order.

1 – FRANCE – I first visited France when I was 16 and spoke limited French. I liked it then although I can appreciate it more now that I speak French. Since that time I have lived there for a year and have returned many times.

My favourite areas?

Paris' Pont Neuf Bridge

Paris’ Pont Neuf Bridge

CHAMPAGNE REGION/REIMS – Tour the champagne houses and visit Reims and its cathedral, home to the coronations of France’s kings. Where To Stay?: I considered the famous 5* Relais & Chateaux hotel, Château des Crayères but with one day touring champagne houses it didn’t make sense to spend $500/night when I wouldn’t be there. It was a tough decision because it is top rated and known for its Michelin starred restaurant, Le Jardin les Crayères. 

I ended up at a reasonably priced, top 3.5* rated hotel, the Best Western Hôtel de la Paix. Perfect location.

PARIS – A city I plan to live in one day. I simply cannot get enough. Walking along the Seine River, at night, in the rain, with the Eiffel Tower ahead. Love. Where To Stay?: 2*Hotel France Albion, recommended at around $125 CAD per night. Basic, clean, and a great location between the Opéra and Montmartre.

4*Hôtel Aubusson. I love quaint, charming hotels that are simply appointed but feel like home. A beautiful courtyard, excellent location a minute’s walk from the Rodin Museum and ten minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. A basic, good continental breakfast.  

Our last night was spent in the now #1 rated hotel in Paris on Trip Advisor, the exquisite 4* Maison Favart. What a dream! Beautifully appointed, gorgeous, stunning and warm with rich fabrics, velvets and satins; truly French chic. We were guests of the hotel and stayed in one of their two story suites. Excellent location close to the Louvre.

CÔTE D’AZUR/FRENCH RIVIERA – Takes me back to living there as a teenager. The rock beaches of Nice and its old town. The romance, glitz and glamour of Monaco, Cannes and St. Tropez. The gorgeous villages of Eze, St. Paul de Vence and St. Jean Cap Ferrat. I haven’t been in a while but I’m remembering  the 3* Hôtel Mercure Nice Marché aux Fleurs well situated by the famous Promenade des Anglais and not far from Old Nice. Of course there is the majestic 5*Le Negresco on the Promenade des Anglais, across from the beach and centrally located. In Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat we stayed at the impeccable 4* La Voile d’Or.

I could go on and on about France. Wine, castles, medieval history, skiing and snowboarding in the Alps!

Cannes

Cannes

 

2– SAN FRANCISCO, USA – I appreciate the topography, cable cars, unique music scene and eclectic neighbourhoods. Some of the nicest people live there and it has great proximity to Sonoma and Napa Valley’s wineries. Don’t forget Sausalito, a picturesque town on the ocean just across the Golden Gate Bridge. Where To Stay?: I have always stayed centrally in Union Square at the 4* Westin St. Francis. Another favourite is the 4* Fairmont San Francisco.

 

3- BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – Maybe because it’s the architectural Paris of South America? I just knew I’d love it before I went and I did, staying longer than I had planned. It is both large with the widest avenue in the world at twenty lanes across but it also has charm with smaller pockets like Palermo, a quaint neighbourhood with cute shops, great shopping, art galleries and fantastic restaurants. Palermo is again a place I will live in at some point. Learn to tango, reel in its shocking political history, stroll in San Telmo’s Sunday Market, go to a futbol game – immerse yourself in the craziness! Feel like partying? Remember that people from Buenos Aires do not go to bars and clubs until 3am, that’s right, 3am!!

Where To Stay?: I met a fellow Canadian at a hostel in Iguassu, Brazil and he recommended the Terrazas Estoril on Avenida de Mayo, a popular area of Buenos Aires. The bottom floor of the building has private bedrooms, a communal room and a large kitchen while the top floor of the building holds dormitory rooms, a communal room and a small kitchen. Both area’s guests can use the other’s facilities while the top floor boasts access to the incredible multi-level terraces with great views of Buenos Aires. It was very nice to have  terraces where I could relax with my laptop and meet other travellers. 

Also when in Iguassu I heard whispers of a hostel called Milhouse. Whilst learning the art of Argentine cooking at the interactive and wonderful Argentine Experience I met some Aussies who were staying there. Milhouse is famous and is the largest and biggest party hostel in B.A. It is also a block away from the Terrazas Estoril. There are in fact two Milhouses located a ten minute walk from each other. They take turns hosting the party so if you’re looking to meet a ton of people and party, stay at Milhouse. Keep in mind that even if you’re looking for a solitary experience they also, by far, have the largest private bedrooms with ensuite (bathroom) that I have seen, larger than many hotels and lighter on the wallet.

 

A Traditional Dhow

A Traditional Dhow

4-LAMU, KENYA – I first visited Lamu at the end of my Kenya trip when I was 17 and vowed to return with the person I love. I was lucky enough do so when Matt and I visited there in October of last year. It was everything I remembered and more. Lamu Island, near the Somali border is one of the oldest and best preserved Swahili settlements. With no cars on the island you are transported back in time. Meander through narrow cobblestone alleyways and take in the orthodox Muslim lifestyle. We enjoyed a turtle hatching with 82 babies making it to the ocean and stayed at the gorgeous Lamu House.

Enjoy a lazy sail on a traditional dhow and walk miles of sandy beaches on nearby Manda Island. The only thing missing from long ago were camels walking on the beach and their handlers selling fresh samosas. Lamu is simply magical.

 

Lamu Market Square

Lamu Market Square

5-THAILAND – It’s my opinion that Thailand is the best Asian country to first visit when considering Asia. Why? It’s Buddhist and the people are gentle and kind. It offers great variety from the long neck tribes people of Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand to the hustle and bustle of its capital, Bangkok. Visit the ancient capital of Siam (Thailand), Ayyuthaya  then hit the fantastic beaches and great diving in many of its islands; Ko Samui, Ko Tao, the Similian Islands, Ko Phi Phi and don’t forget the full moon party at Ko Phangan. Best of all? Thai food is super cheap and has many tourists so the culture shock won’t hit you all at once.  

Where To Stay?

CHIANG MAI5* Four Seasons Chiang Mai. Exquisite and cheaper than Four Seasons in first world countries. Outdoor mahogany living rooms and an infinity pool built over a rice paddy.

CHIANG RAI – I’d highly recommend the 5* Four Seasons Tented Elephant Camp which did not exist when I was there. We stayed at the Dusit Island Resort.

PHUKET 4* Katathani Phuket Beach Resort. Simply gorgeous and I really appreciated that it had a secluded beach away from the hustle and bustle of Phuket.

KOH SAMUI – I don’t remember the name but it was a simple hut on the beach, about $25/night. Lots of great options out there.

BANGKOK – One of the oldest and most celebrated hotels, rich with history is the 5*Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.  It lived up to its name. The elevator operator welcomes you by name when you step in and the food is fantastic, the spa heavenly. I didn’t appreciate the $400USD laundry bill though. Note to self.

AYYUTHAYA – My favourite accommodations were on the 4*Anantara Manohra Song, a luxury overnight experience on a converted rice barge cruising on the Chao Praya river from Bangkok to Ayyuthaya and back. Once in a lifetime experience and a definite must!

 

6-GREECE – So many islands to visit all with different flavours. Mykonos, the party island, Santorini for romance and the white washed homes Greece is known for. Patmos, quieter with religious UNESCO World Heritage sites and Rhodes, my favourite with its history and ancient walled city with cobblestone streets.  Only an hour from Turkey you might want to take the ferry from Rhodes to Maramis for some great port shopping and try to make it to the Ancient Library of Ephesus in Turkey, best visited on a day tour from Samos. Best beaches? Corfu and Crete.

Library of Ephesus, Turkey

Library of Ephesus, Turkey

Where Did I Stay?: Apart from Rhodes (and a hotel I can’t remember) I visited these incredible islands while on Transat Vacation’s Greek Island Hopping cruise holiday inclusive of flight from Toronto. The cruise ships are smaller than those we’re used to but the overall experience was still great. If you prefer to spend more time on each island then cruising is unlikely the way to go.

An incredible restaurant not to be missed? Ta Kioupia in Rhodes. It is so unfortunate that this restaurant relocated from it’s gorgeous, charming and romantic location overlooking Rhodes town but the food is spectacular.

Rhodes

Rhodes

 

7 – ISTANBUL, TURKEY – Pretty cool visiting the only city in the world split between two continents, Europe and Asia. It is said often that the people of Istanbul live in Asia and work in Europe by way of the Bosphorus Bridge. Istanbul is enchanting and the Byzantine architecture memorizing. Enjoy the majestic Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. Visit Topkaki Palace, get lost in the Grand Bazaar, fall over dizzy with the Whirling Dervishes and relax at an open air café with fantastic aromatic food and shisha pipes.

Where To Stay?:  5* Four Seasons Istanbul. A converted female prison, quaint with a great location near the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and Topkapi Palace.

 

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

 

8-SALT CAY, TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS– I can’t say enough about Salt Cay and I used to travel there every year. It is reminiscent to me of the main island, Providenciales and how it was when I lived there in 1999. Unfortunately Provo is so built up now and I tend to avoid it. Anywhere in Turks is the place to go for scuba diving, it is one of my favourite destinations in the world and Salt Cay has some great dives including a British ship that would have carried salt from the flats of Salt Cay to Britain during the American Revolution. Cannons are still visible in the waters and the clarity is incredible. But what I love the most about Salt Cay is that there are no cars, lots of donkeys, and unspoiled beaches that go on for miles and miles. Between December and March you can hear humpback whales singing to each other under water, breeching and you can slip into the water with fins and goggles 10’ away from a 50’ mother and her 20’ calf. It is mind blowing and an unforgettable moment looking into the eye of a humpback whale when their eye is the size of your head.

Where To Stay?: There are very few options in Salt Cay. Tradewind Guest Suites is reasonably priced, self-catering and is located next to the dive shop and whale watching/snorkelling operation. I love Island Thyme Restaurant & Bar, fantastic ambiance and food and Pat’s Place is in Pat’s house and serves great Caribbean cooking.

 Dive and snorkel with humpback whales with Salt Cay Divers.

 

9- LONDON, UK – I might be tired of writing but I also think London needs no explanation. History, culture, architecture, cheap flights to everywhere else in Europe and a high speed train to Paris via the underwater chunnel. London is yet another place I intend to live in at some point. Where To Stay?: 4*The Fairmont Savoy, completely refurbished and wonderful.

 

10-RUSSIA – I was in Russia briefly for work years ago and stayed near the airport in Moscow and centrally in St.Petersburg, neither  hotel I remember. But even though it was a cold December I made my way to the Kremlin in Moscow’s Red Square and there is nothing like feeling as if you are standing in a snow globe, the ones you play with as a child. The palace in St. Petersburg was gorgeous in gold, a sparkling winter palace, a place I also hear is stunning in the summer. Hopefully I’ll make it back soon when taking the Trans-Siberian Express from Beijing to Moscow via Mongolia.

 

Thanks for reading and may this list inspire you. LIFE IS SHORT SO LIVE IT!

 

P.S. I also loved Sydney, Australia and stayed at the 4* Shangri-La Sydney.  Hong Kong captured my heart and I stayed at the Hong Kong Hostel in central Hong Kong.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

 

 

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