17 places we loved in 2017

2017, despite what people say was a great year. Last year, it seemed global media picked up on all of the problems in the world and none of the solutions. Yet, despite all of the negativity in the air, we had a pretty good time these past twelve months.

We started 2017 in our snowy mountain home of Whistler, took a bucket list trip to Cuba for my 30th in February, then in May we waved goodbye to said snowy home forever and moved onto a backpacking trip of Europe including UK, Spain, Netherlands, Greece & Ireland before packing all of our belongings again to move to our current address of Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Isn’t it crazy how much you can fit into one year?

Anyway back to the point, here’s a list of 17 places we fell in love with in 2017:

17. Athens, Greece

Walking through ancient Athens is like being in a history book, there is so much to do here that you will never see it all unless you’re here for a long time. A must-see is the Acropolis (visit here as soon as it opens to avoid the crowds), we also highly recommend The National Archaeological Museum.

You can purchase a ‘Multi Ticket’ which gives you access to most of the ancient sights (including the Acropolis) for about  €30. We stayed very close to the Acropolis and we highly recommend staying near the Acropolis or Monastaraki Metro stations, Athens is a big city and you don’t want to be too far out from all the major sights.

We also recommend NOT to go in July and August as the crowds are at their biggest and the weather is at its hottest, it was 40°C when we were there.

Overlooking the Acropolis in Athens
Sunset near Athens

16. Eindhoven, Netherlands

We stopped here for a very quick stopover en-route to Corfu. I’m all about stopovers, I think  if you’re stopping there anyway why not make the most of it. FYI – a lot of airlines now offer free stopovers. Not knowing much about Eindhoven,  we didn’t expect a whole lot from the city. But, to be honest,  after just 36 hours in the city we were won over. It’s well worth a visit. Very clean, it’s almost too perfectly clean and functioning. I found myself likening it to a city in the Sims.

Eindhoven has lots of great restaurants (we went to a  Ribs restaurant that was phenomenal), it’s also filled with lots of cool Student-type bar with a focus  on in-house brewing, oh, and lots of stag parties. Everyone cycles here, so you have to be mindful of cyclist lanes everywhere.

But it can be an expensive city. Id forgotten how expensive some European cities can be. €100 per person is a safe bet for eating out. Our top recommendations for Eindhoven are the Van Abbemuseum and St Catherines Church.

A street in Eindhoven with St Catherines Church in the background
Eindhoven, Netherlands

15. Ballyhoura, Ireland

On a sunny Summer’s day in July, driving the narrow, winding road from Ballyhea to Kilfinane I thought to myself ‘this is the Ireland I came home to see’. I know that’s cheesy, but it’s the truth.

As you all probably know, I’m Irish, but have lived abroad for the better part of seven years. I love travelling, I love seeing new countries and cultures, but I’ve always known in my heart of hearts that I will settle in Ireland one day. Raised in neighbouring Cork, I’ve never visited the Ballyhoura region and so, didn’t know what to expect. But on that drive on a lazy Sunday evening, seeing the mossy green of the Ballyhoura Mountains ahead, I knew we were in for a treat.
 

We had a jam-packed three days in Ballyhoura including horse-riding, an aqua park, mountain-biking and a traditional Irish music festival. And so when it was over, we drove on down those country roads full of melancholy having tasted the best of Ballyhoura. Read more about beautiful Ballyhoura here

Castle Oliver outside Kilfinane
Looking down upon the cute little town of Kilfinane

14. Seattle, USA

Did you know Seattle is only a 3 hour drive from Vancouver? Well, as you know we lived in the Vancouver area for 2 years and finally made a trip to the Emerald City. A lot of friends who’d visited warned us of the homeless problem in the city, so we were expecting the worst but it’s no worse than Vancouver or San Francisco, in fact it’s probably better than both those cities.

Anyway, we stayed at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel (I was working for the Fairmont chain at the time and so we got a significant discount – lucky us). The hotel is luxurious, cosy & historic and very central so we walked everywhere. Some fun things we did whilst in Seattle included the Space Needle, Bruce Lee’s grave, Harbor Marina. We walked for hours around the city’s surrounding areas and got a great gut- feeling about this cool city. I would honestly live here.

Most importantly we got plenty of sleep each night (get it – Sleepless in Seattle)!

Sipping (lots of) cocktails at the Fairmont
Pike Place Market
The Space Needle

13. Vancouver, Canada

You may not know this but we lived in Vancouver for 6 months before making the move to Whistler. It’s a stunning city, surrounded on almost all sides by great big looming mountains. Vancouver known as a city where the beach and the mountains meet. Everything good to do and see here involves “the great outdoors” – Stanley Park, Capilano Suspension Bridge, the Seawall. God, I’m missing it massively now thinking of all this.

There’s so may great coffee shops that you’d struggle to visit them all in a year. If you like Korean/ Vietnamese food this is the city for you. It’s a great city to walk around with no definite plan.

Vancouver is undoubtedly one of the worlds most beautiful cities.

Views of the city from Granville bridge
Howe Sound sunset

12. Corfu, Greece

I’m sure most of you are familiar with Corfu, it is what it says on the tin, a holiday-makers paradise with lush green scenery and turquoise-water beaches, we spent five days here in total.

It’s one of the cheaper Greek islands and public transport on the island is incredibly efficient, so it’s easy to see the whole island in a short period. A top recommendation from us would be to visit Corfu town, it’s a lot bigger than you’d expect with lots of quirky cobblestoned back streets that you can spend hours getting lost in.

Paleokatrista, Corfu
The backstreets of Corfu town

11. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Malaysia is the perfect country for a quick stop-over & it’s cheap too. Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant city, a little similar to Bangkok. It’s all hustle & bustle, so many people squashed onto its narrow footpaths and everyone going a different direction. Streetfood stalls, that hot humid air smell, honking horns.

You can eat and drink like a King here for next to nothing. There’s so much choice from Balinese, Japanese, Indian even Irish restaurants.

My top top recommendation for here would be to have a drink at Heli Lounge Bar at sunset, just get here before 6pm to get a good seat. Obviously, a visit to the Petronas Towers is a must, Jalan Alor (a long street filled with food stalls) for the atmosphere and Central Market for shopping.

We also visited the UNESCO heritage town of Melaka which was unique and less tourist-heavy making it a more authentic experience.

Views from Heli Lounge
Melaka, Malaysia

10.  Santorini, Greece

What can I say about Santorini that hasn’t already been said, it’s top of a lot of people’s ‘Bucket List’ for good reason. Sure, the crowds can be manic, it’s expensive and it’s a little pretentious BUT its sunsets are beyond outstanding, its local people surprisingly friendly and what other place in the world can you find hotels built into the side of a cliff?

It’s a photographer’s dream here, the way the light falls onto the quirky ‘cave houses’ is magnificent any time of the day. Most of the hotels here have a pool, but there is also a black sand beach in Perissa if that tickles your fancy.

Our top tip for here is NOT to stay in Oia or Fira (the crowds here are crazy) instead opt for Imerovigli or Pyrgos which offer the same views with less crowds.

The view from our hotel in Imerovigli
Sunset in Oia
Us in Oia, trying to avoid the ‘sunset crowds’

9. Kinsale, Ireland

Kinsale is possibly my favourite place in all of Ireland. I’ve always said that when I settle in Ireland it will be in Kinsale. Kinsale is quirky, full of colour and traditional Irish music. It is the ‘foodie’ capital of Ireland with most of the best restaurants in the country hidden down its winding narrow streets.

Kinsale holds a lot of nostalgia for me, as it is where I spent every Summer of my childhood. We left our home in Blarney on the last day of the school term and  didn’t return ‘home’ again until the day before school. So, Kinsale for me is entire days spent on the beach, ice-cream from a beat-up ice-cream van and hot chips from a paper bag on a sea wall. When I am home from my travels I always take a trip to Kinsale. It is for me one of the best places in the world.

Kinsale, Cork

8. Brighton, UK

Paul’s hometown. If someone can buy us a seafront house here, we may just stop travelling (for a while). Spare $2million anyone?!

It’s very difficult to describe Brighton, it’s a city of extremes from its crowded stony beach, to the tourist trap that is Brighton Pier to the quirky hipster-filled North Lanes. On first look,  it may seem like a typical English city but it’s filled with the weirdest characters.  People you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world. But that’s why we love it. People don’t give a f**k here, they are who they are and Brighton embraces it.

The restaurants are cool, the bars are cool (even the ‘old man’ bars are cool),the coffee shops are cool. Cool. We’d live there in a heartbeat.

When I first met Paul, my mom asked what part of England he was from and when I told her Brighton her reply was “ah that’s a grand place, he’ll do”.  Being from Brighton = instant approval from an Irish mammy.

Brighton, it’s a grand place alright.

Brighton Pier
Royal Pavillion, Brighton

7. Alicante, Spain

Another favourite of mine is Alicante, Spain. It holds a special place in my heart because my parents have had a summer home here for 20 years. It’s a second home, a familiar place to escape. And that’s why I love it.

Where my parents house is an expat-heavy area, our next-door neighbours are from London and Scotland respectively and less than a 10 minute walk away is Cabo Roig strip which is lined with Irish bars. On the other hand, Alicante itself is a quintissentially ‘Spanish’ city. The Castillo de Santa Barbara is beautiful, the harbour area very sophisticated with cool bars and restaurants. But the best part are the quirky flower-filled streets underneath the “Castillo”.

Alicante, Spain

6. Naxos, Greece

Naxos is ‘in the middle’ both in terms of its geographic location between Athens and Santorini and its popularity with holiday-makers. It is more touristy than Syros, but less so than its neighbour Santorini. It is very popular with Dutch and Scandinavian tourists and it is indeed very beautiful.

We stayed next to probably the prettiest beach on the whole island – Prykopios, it has some of the clearest water we’ve ever seen and honestly gives the Carribean waters of Cuba a run for its money. A lot of the restaurants here are on the beach, so it makes for a unique dining experience especially because you can watch the sunset from your table.

Our top recommendation would be to spend an evening in the islands capital town – Chora. The white-washed streets here are very similar to the famed streets of Mykonos.

Agia Anna, Naxos
Chora, Naxos

5. Syros, Greece

Syros is one of the first stops on the ferry from Athens to Santorini. It is in the Cyclades region famous for its sunsets and white-washed houses.

It’s one of the least-visited islands in this region and so it was a pleasant change for us after the crowds in Athens. We stayed literally next to the beach in a region called Galissas, a sort of sleepy beachside resort, populated mostly with Greek holidaymakers. The village of Galissas has no more than five restaurants, all very good mind you. And every night we climbed the steps of the little white church on the hill, sat on its wall and watched the sun set into the ocean with a beer in hand. Heaven. Read more about our Greek adventures here 

Syros Town
Rose gold sunset in Galissas, Syros

4. Bay of Islands, New Zealand

This September, myself and Paul packed our bags (again) for a move far far away to the land of looming green mountains and crystal clear lakes.  New Zealand.

We now live in the Bay of Islands, in the far North of the North island. Life here is slow, and I feel more at home here than “city boy” Paul. We have a little house in the town with a wraparound deck and a garden filled with orange and lemon trees. We can drive 10 minutes to the beach or walk to the rivers and waterfall in town. It’s different for sure, especially since our last home was in the adrenalin-packed Whistler, but it’s good different. We are saving money (rent is cheap here) and earning decent wages and so we’re already planning lots of travel. Fiji, Samoa, Tonga & Hawaii have all been added to the list and all are a reasonable and short flight from here.

For anyone thinking of making the move to New Zealand – I say DO IT (x100). The visa is easy and quick to obtain, the country is beyond stunning (and we’ve only seen a tiny snippet of the country so far), the people are so warm & welcoming and a little similar to the Irish if I’m honest.

You can read more about our move to New Zealand here

Walking the beach in Omapere, New Zealand
Heli flight over the Bay of Islands

3. Meteora, Greece

Now I’m sure most of you have never heard of Meteora, it’s in the middle of mainland Greece and is famous for its Monasteries which sit atop massive rocks in the valley.

It was a unique experience and one of our favourite stops on the trip, we spent our days here hiking to the Monasteries (there are six active Monasteries in total), the photo opportunities when you get to these Monasteries are incredible.

To get to Meteora you catch a train straight from Athens. Two top recommendations from us would be to book a hotel with a view of the Monasteries (there aren’t many so book in advance) and to book a sunset tour to see the valley bathed in a magnificent pink.

The view of Meteora from our hotel
Overlooking the Monasteries in Meteora

2. Whistler, Canada

Whistler has to be one of our favourite places of 2017. Our former snowy mountain home is pure magic, mad but magic. The place is filled to the brim with drunken Aussies, hippie-types living in their beat-up vans, ski-bums and every other stereotype imaginable for a party-centric Ski town. Whistler is a bubble, it’s Neverland, you come here and the place refuses to let you grow up. In Whistler, you get up early and Ski all day, you work in the evening, you party all night, then do it all over again the next day.

Whistler was our home for close to two years and even though the place stressed us out to the max. Especially during the busy Winter months, then the town is manic, every hotel is booked and weekend lift lines to go up the mountain wind like a snake through the village. But, when the stresses of the town get to you, all you have to do is look up at the looming white mountains surrounding you and realise how insanely lucky you are to live here. To experience Whistler’s unique madness.

In short, Whistler is  unbelievably beautiful, frustratingly crazy but one of the best experiences of our lives to date.

Alpha Lake, Whistler
Daily views on Whistler Blackcomb
Nita Lake, Whistler

1. Havana, Cuba

Have you ever been somewhere and for some reason, you don’t understand why, but it just feels right. That place for me was Havana. Okay, I’ve been a tad obsessed with the city since I watched Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights about 15 years ago. And since then, I promised myself I’d celebrate a milestone event in Havana, so, in February I visited Havana for the first time to celebrate my 30th birthday. I struggled to get time off work, I was working in a hotel in Whistler and February is smack-bang in the middle of their busy season. But, I was beyond determined and before I knew it me and Paul were jetted off for 2 weeks to my dream destination.

Anyway, back to Havana’s magic. Havana’s not perfect, in fact its kind of dirty and gritty, the buildings are grand but crumbling and the light here is epic it’s honestly like walking through a very pretty Instagram feed. The Cubans leave their doors wide open, they sit on their front step chatting to their neighbours, their kids run barefoot on the street. The Malecon at dusk is the best place in the world. There’s a passion, a resilience about the city kind of like an eff you to the non-believers. Yes our buildings are crumbling our streets are dusty but we’re here and we’re dancing in the streets. I’ve thought about Havana every day since I’ve returned. Read more about Cuba here

Havana, Cuba
The backstreets of Havana
Exploring the backstreets of Havana

Why Cuba is my favourite destination of 2017

With the start of a new year, comes lots of resolutions to be better – better-body, ‘better’ at saving, ‘better’ in your career. Just all-round ‘better’. My resolution this year is to learn Spanish, because it’s such a beautiful language but mainly so I can go back to Cuba and travel easier. Which brings me to the reason for writing this piece – why Cuba is my favourite destination of 2017.

In fact, that title is slightly incorrect – Cuba may be one of my favourite destinations ever. Here’s why:

 

Havana has an indescribable magic

Have you ever been somewhere and for some reason, you don’t understand why, but it just feels right. That place for me was Havana. Okay, I’ve been a tad obsessed with the city since I watched Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights about 15 years ago. And since then, I promised myself I’d celebrate a milestone event in Havana, so, in February I visited Havana for the first time to celebrate my 30th birthday. I struggled to get time off work, I was working in a hotel in Whistler and February is smack-bang in the middle of their busy season. But, I was beyond determined and before I knew it me and Paul were jetted off for 2 weeks to my dream destination.

Anyway, back to Havana’s magic. Havana’s not perfect, in fact its kind of dirty and gritty, the buildings are grand but crumbling and the light here is epic it’s honestly like walking through a very pretty Instagram feed. The Cubans leave their doors wide open, they sit on their front step chatting to their neighbours, their kids run barefoot on the street. The Malecon at dusk is the best place in the world. There’s a passion, a resilience about the city kind of like an eff you to the non-believers. Yes our buildings are crumbling our streets are dusty but we’re here and we’re dancing in the streets. I’ve thought about Havana every day since I’ve returned.

It’s a difficult country to travel

In Cuba, nothing is easy. We were silly and landed in Varadero airport at 5am in the morning with no accomodation booked. We thought there would be touts selling hotels, or a public bus waiting to take us to the city or at least a taxi rank. There was none of that, so, we stood there like silly fools until we found a taxi in the carpark with a sleeping driver and convinced him to take us to an all-inclusive resort which I had thankfully screen-shotted on my phone. We arrived at the resort and the receptionist looked at us like we we had two heads when we told her we didn’t have a reservation. But thankfully they had one room left. We paid in cash and I honestly don’t think anyone other than her and the night porter knew we were staying there. See, nothing is easy here, but it works.

We had a horrible bus experience from Vinales to Trinidad, which took 2 hours longer than we were told and was basically an old prison truck with plastic deck chairs as seats. There were lots of older couples on the journey who were obviously sold something and clearly paid a lot more than we did. In these situations like many others during our time in Cuba you have to just laugh and get through it. 

Now matter how many times you visit you will never fully understand it

I think as tourists it’s easy ignore the struggles of being a Cuban, especially if you stay at an all-inclusive resort. On our last day we spoke at length with a Cuban girl at a street stall in Varadero. She told us she can’t leave Cuba. Well not easily anyway, she has family in Miami and in order for her to visit them she has to apply for permission from the Cuban government. Her family then must ‘back’ her application with a letter to the government saying they will host her and ensure she returns to Cuba. She told us that Cubans are the most educated in the Caribbean and she is fluent in 7 languages and studying a Masters in Marine Biology.

She told us that she works at the stall solely to send money home to her parents in rural Cuba who are looking after her children for her, she see’s them once every 3 months because she works 7 days a week. She told us that she’s met an older Canadian man while working at the stall and is tempted to marry him as a way out. She had an old iPhone and when she saw me looking, she told us her family in Miami gifted it to her and it is the most important thing she owns. She told us in every election as long as she’s been alive there’s just been one candidate – Fidel Castro or more recently his brother Raul. Supposedly she told us, this is about to change as the upcoming election is the first time in a very long time the Castro brothers will not be in the running. Yes, there’s big change ahead for Cuba. 

There’s limited or no internet

Cuba is probably one of the last remaining destinations you can trully ‘switch off’. To access the internet you queue at an Etecsa store (each town has at least one) show them your passport pay the fee and they will issue you an internet card, these can last for 30 minutes up to a few hours.  FYI – in some large hotels they sell these cards at reception. Then the fun begins because you have to find a WiFi spot, which are nearly always NOT outside the Etecsa store in which you just bought the internet card because that would make sense right. See, I told you nothing is easy in Cuba. I think we used the internet a whole 2 hours on our 2 weeks trip, which was honestly so refreshing.

Havana has probably the best night-club in the world

Its called Fabrica de Arte Cubano and it’s so much more than a night club. Contained within an old cooking oil factory, ‘Fabrica’ as it’s known to locals is an art gallery, a live music venue, a restaurant, a street food stall, it has a variety of music rooms playing different genres. The best thing is that you get a stamp card upon entry and when you buy a drink or even food your server simply stamps the card and you pay for what you consumed when you exit. Brilliant. No unnecessary queues at the bar. When, we visited the Havana Orchestra played and I cried, it was magic. I can’t describe how amazing this place is, it is definitely my top recommendation for Havana.

The beaches in Varadero are the prettiest I’ve ever seen

Just a photo here is enough explanation I think.

Cuba is home to Mojitos and Cuban cigars

If those two things aren’t enough to convince you I don’t know what else to say.

Don’t make your mind up on first impressions

I know a lot of the things I’ve written here may turn some people off. Yes, it’s a complicated country with a sad past that has obviously greatly affected the Cubans. Sure, it’s a difficult country to travel. Everything about Cuba is not easy.

But there’s no place in the world like it, it’s like stepping back in time. There are no McDonald’s or Starbucks, damn you’d be hard-pressed to find a grocery store in the capital Havana. As I mentioned there’s either no or very slow internet. The transport system sucks. It’s a country of vast contrasts from the white sand and palm trees of Varadero to the steamy dusty colourful streets of Havana. Music is everywhere, people dance in the streets in broad daylight. Salsa energy I call it.

The bars in Havana are not really bars at all but like sitting in someones living room. It’s a confusing jigsaw puzzle but somehow all the pieces fit together perfectly. And that’s why for me Cuba is the most fascinating and memorable destination I’ve visited yet.

“Don’t come here with a long list of questions. Just arrive with an open mind and prepare for a long, slow seduction.”

I won’t be home for Christmas

This Christmas will be my third year away from home. The past two were spent in the snowy, cold and very festive Whistler in Canada. This year will be a huge contrast to 2015 and 2016, as our current home is in Northern New Zealand, the warmest part of the country, also known as “the winterless North”. 
 
Walking the beach in Omapere, New Zealand

Christmas 2017 will be spent on the beach (probably) or at the very least in a bikini in my garden.

 
Part of my Christmas day will be spent here
 
Despite Christmas being the worst time of the year to be away from home, the past two Christmas’s having been spent in the ‘snowglobe’ that is Whistler, made missing home a lot easier. Because Christmas there looks like it does in the movies, with snow up to your waist, fluffy hats and scarves to keep warm, steaming mugs of coffee on our balcony and Christmas movies on repeat in the living room. 
 
Last Christmas in Whistler, Canada

In Whistler, Christmas felt as right as it could be without my family around. 

Christmas day on a frozen lake in Whistler
 

This year, will be a hell of a lot different as it’s currently 8pm and 22 degrees and I’m sitting on my deck writing this article because it’s way too warm inside the house.  It does not feel like Christmas. 

Even though the town where we live is decorated with Christmas cheer and the hotel I work in has gone “all out” with a massive tree and a huge gingerbread house, still when I hear a Christmas song on the radio, it feels wrong.  I haven’t even watched ‘Love Actually’ yet! It’s a strange feeling not being as hyped up as I usually am for Christmas.  Maybe that’s to do with living in a warm country, maybe it’s because I’m getting older. P.S we don’t have a Christmas tree (sinful I know).

The beautiful beach in Omapere
 
But, I have Christmas and St Stephens Day off, despite working in the hotel industry, so, I’m very lucky. It will be a balmy 25 degrees on Christmas day and despite being away from my family I’m tanned, happy and healthy. 
 
This Christmas we’ll cook ourselves a big feed, with all the trimmings, watch some Christmas movies, maybe go to the beach for a swim and then finish the night with an expensive bottle of wine on the deck watching the stars.  It could be better, of course. I could be with my family but I’ll make sure to Skype them and after seeing them, yes, I’ll probably feel sad for a little bit. 
 
Stunning views are everywhere in New Zealand

But, this is the life we have chosen. In the future, we will have lots of Christmases at home. For now, we’re on our adventure trying to experience everything in this world we possibly can. That takes sacrifice.

 
So, here’s to spending Christmas on the other side of the world – 13 hours in the future. 
 
The sky in New Zealand

 

 

Our top things to do in Northland, New Zealand

Today marks our 3-month anniversary in New Zealand. It feels like we’ve been here forever but then it also feels like we just landed – does that make sense to anyone else? I think, when you’re new to a place, everything feels exciting and  well ‘new’ and you relish every single moment making time feel slower, on the other-hand we’ve packed so much into these short 3 months that it feels like our life is on fast-forward. Since moving to New Zealand, 3 months ago we’ve: bought 2 cars (Paul bought his in Auckland, I bought mine here in Kerikeri); rented a property; started new jobs and also done just about every sight-seeing activity Northland has to offer.

Matauri Bay, New Zealand

So, where exactly is Kerikeri?

The town we’ve moved to is called Kerikeri and it’s in the far north of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s known as “the winterless North”, hence why we’ve chosen this town to start our New Zealand adventure. Honestly, we couldn’t face the cold again having just moved from Whistler, Canada. It is the biggest town in Northland (the state it’s located in) the biggest city here being Whangarei (pronounced Fun-gur-i) – I know, try saying that after a few glasses of wine. To those backpackers reading – you may be familiar with Paihia, a pretty beach-town just 15 minutes drive from us. It is where most expats to this area chose to live but we decided to base ourselves in Kerikeri because it’s bigger, it’s closer to my job & it had a better variety of rental properties. We were very lucky with our rental – we pay $290 a week for a large 2-bedroom house, with a garden, wrap-around deck and a 2-minute walking distance to town.  Believe me, that’s cheap for New Zealand.

The sunset from our bathroom window Beauty is everywhere, it’s up to you to find it.

Now, for some recommendations…

We feel the best things to do in Kerikeri are Rainbow Falls (see photo below), the Stone Store (the oldest stone building in New Zealand, which also houses the cutest cafe overlooking the river), and a visit to the bustling yet quirky Packhouse Market which is held every Saturday morning.

Rainbow Falls, Kerikeri

In the nearby surrounding area we highly recommend Opito Bay we took a drive here yesterday and found the most epic hidden beach – a 15 minute walk through the rainforest across from Opito Bay will bring you to a gem of a beach – just follow the wooden signs. On this particular stretch of sand you’re not likely to come across another soul for hours. Our kind of place! Another fabulous beach in this area is Matauri Bay. A 30-minute drive from Kerikeri with the most epic road winding down, the view as you drive down is spectacular, just be careful not to take your eyes off the road. Matauri Bay plays host to the Rainbow Warrior Memorial an unusual sculpture dedicated to the famous Rainbow Warrior ship – a Greenpeace protest ship which was blown up in Auckland Harbour in 1985. The wreck was moved to the waters off Matauri Bay (FYI – you can dive this wreck too). The walk to the memorial is a steep 10-minute climb but the 180-degree views of the bay is so worth your aching legs.

The ‘hidden’ beach near Opito Bay

The Puketi Kauri Forest is another great stop, only a 15 minute drive from Kerikeri – there are a variety of walks you can do here ranging from quick & easy to lengthy & more difficult. We did the Kauri Stump Walk –  a beautiful wooded walkway through giant Kauri trees & less than 15-minutes round-trip. It is peaceful and typically doesn’t attract too many other tourists. You can camp here too if so inclined.

Kauri Stump Walk at Puketi Kauri Forest

Further afield, the harbour-side town of Mangonui is pretty & picturesque, has the best Thai food in Northland and a sweet little cafe. Next to Mangonui is the very pretty Cable Bay, where we’ve taken some epic sunset shots. Did you know – Cable Bay got it’s name because it was home to the Pacific cable which linked British Columbia by telegraph with New Zealand. We found this fascinating, considering we just moved from British Columbia.

Sunset at Cable Bay

Driving further North you will come across the well-travelled 90-mile beach. This beach is officially a highway, but according to the locals “is really only suitable for 4WD vehicles and is safe to drive only at specific times of the tides”. We drove in our non-4WD Audi for a little while and were fine, although we were very cautious of the tide and didn’t drive too far from an exit. We’ve heard lots of horror stories, of cars sinking in the sand, and when the tide is out far enough you can see the cars half-submerged under the sand! The sunsets here are pretty epic too. At the very tip of Northland is Cape Reinga, the northern-most point of New Zealand and the point where two oceans meet (the Tasman & Pacific). We haven’t made it to Cape Reinga yet, as we’d like to camp a few nights up there, so are waiting for the weather to improve.

The viewpoint through the rainforest above Opito Bay

Some quirkier recommendations for you…

Want a very unique experience? Then, we hugely recommend Ngawha hotsprings. The hotsprings are located in the centre of a geothermally active area, an area that produces a considerable amount of Northland’s electricity. – all while feeding over a dozen hot pools of all sorts of colours, element make-ups and temperatures. Beware it stinks and it’s a little run-down but that adds to the appeal of it. We met quite a few interesting characters here – one-dreadlocked ‘dude’ insisted on teaching us the Maori alphabet and another guy from London believes the hotsprings have healed him (2 years earlier he was completely paralysed). The Kawiti Glow Worm Caves are another top attraction in Northland, again we haven’t made the visit but have heard great things. Yes, it’s not as ‘touristic’ as its famous sibling the Waitomo Caves, but we prefer off-the-beaten path attractions, don’t you?

The view from the Rainbow Warrior Memorial, Matauri Bay

Some quick notes about some other great towns in the area… 

Paihia, as mentioned earlier is a bit of a ‘backpacker haven’, with an abundance of hostels & seasonal work. The town runs the length of a golden sandy beach has lots of great bars & restaurants – one of our favourites being El Cafe a mexican cafe with great prices. From here, you can catch the passenger ferry to Russell.

Sunset at Paihia beach

Historic Russell was once known by the unflattering nickname of ‘Hell-hole of the Pacific”. It was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand, so was once full of rowdy british sailors and prostitutes (hence, it’s nickname). Like Paihia it is a very popular stop with tourists, so justifiably is full of restaurants & tourist shops. Still, it is a very pretty town to spend the day, take lots of photos and have a good hearty lunch. We recommend getting a seat outside the ever-popular Duke of Marlborough.

The beach at Russell

And there you have it, that’s all our recommendations so far for this beautiful part of the world which we are lucky enough to call home. I’m sure I will be writing a follow-up to this post very soon, seeing as Summer is here and there are lots more beaches and attractions waiting for us to explore.

Have you been to Northland? Have I missed anything here? If you think so, pretty please let me know in the comment section below.

You can read more about our relocation to New Zealand here & here

Tips & tricks for moving to New Zealand

This September, myself and Paul packed our bags (again) for a move far far away to the land of looming green mountains, crystal clear lakes or “middle-earth” as the darlings of Instagram like to call it. Yep, you guessed it (or maybe you haven’t) we’ve moved to New Zealand. I can’t get any further from home, can I?! We’re working our way through those Working Holiday Visa’s ain’t we – Canada (tick), Australia (tick) and now New Zealand.

Heli flight over the Bay of Islands

 New Zealand wasn’t our first choice, okay, it wasn’t MY first choice. I really really wanted to move to Capetown, South Africa, it was going be somewhere different a bit “off-the-wall” as my mother told me. But getting a work visa for South Africa is a bit of a nightmare. Basically, after speaking with an immigration lawyer we were told it could take up to 8 months for us to be approved by the South African government even with a job offer. So, alas it was not to be. We told ourselves we will get there one day but, we were itching to leave again, so, Plan B rolled into place. 

Like the love child of Hawaii and Ireland – this part of New Zealand is beautiful

New Zealand was Paul’s first choice and, so it was decided. Getting a work visa for New Zealand is pretty simple – you fill out a short online form with Immigration New Zealand, pay the $208 fee and wait. We waited just a few days for the work visa to come through to my email. It’s a hell of a lot easier and less time-consuming than our work visa for Canada (some of you may already know that Paul was waiting a long-time for his Canadian visa –  if you don’t well, that’s a story for another day).

As soon as the visas came through, Paul went into what I like to call “travel agent mode” researching cheap flights to New Zealand, a good stop-over destination and what part of the country we would settle in first. He found a cheap deal with Malaysian Airlines (FYI – we like to use Google Flights rather than Skyscanner as it gives more airline options & always works out cheaper). This flight gave us a free week stopover in Malaysia (actually – we had to pay $20 in taxes I think), most of the Asian airlines offer this so it’s a brilliant option to break up a long flight. Next time, I think we’ll do Singapore. Malaysia is the perfect country for a quick stop-over & it’s cheap too. Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant city, a little similar to Bangkok. We also visited the UNESCO heritage town of Melaka which was unique and less tourist-heavy making it a more authentic experience. I’ll be writing a blog post about our time here very soon, so stay tuned!

Pink Beach, Matauri Bay

Flights booked, goodbyes said, bags packed, cheeky stopover in Malaysia for a week and then we were here in Auckland. We stayed for a few nights, visited some friends, bought a car and then drove to the Far North of New Zealand to a little town called Kerikeri. I was offered a job at the No.1 hotel in Australia & New Zealand and I couldn’t refuse. It’s a lot different to my previous job in Whistler – it’s a lot smaller, more intimate but the setting is spectacular. The hotel has 3 private beaches and its own helicopter! Paul has struggled to find construction work here, since it’s technically ‘off-season’ there’s not much happening in that field yet. But, the locals here have been so helpful – in the local bank and shops people have been so quick to offer names and numbers of builders in the area who are hiring. It helped a lot and now he’s working full-time for a small construction company in town.

Life here is slow, and I feel more at home here than “city boy” Paul. We have a little house in the town with a wraparound deck and a garden filled with orange and lemon trees. We can drive 10 minutes to the beach or walk to the rivers and waterfall in town. It’s different for sure, especially since our last home was in the adrenalin-packed Whistler, but it’s good different. We are saving money (rent is cheap here) and earning decent wages and so we’re already planning lots of travel. Fiji, Samoa, Tonga & Hawaii have all been added to the list and all are a reasonable and short flight from here. Also, we were very excited to find out that internal flights in New Zealand are very cheap (a lot different to Canada)

A Matauri Bay sunset (close to my new job)

For anyone thinking of making the move to New Zealand – I say DO IT (x100). The visa is easy and quick to obtain, the country is beyond stunning (and we’ve only seen a tiny snippet of the country so far), the people are so warm & welcoming and a little similar to the Irish if I’m honest. My attitude is – life is short, the world is big so explore it while you can. I don’t think anyone can say that we haven’t lived our lives. Yes, moving to a new country can be scary & daunting especially if you’re doing it alone but I promise the benefits once you do it far outweigh these fears. 

 

New Zealand in photos

So, we moved to New Zealand. Yep, we did it! If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know our original plan was to settle in Capetown, but to put a long story short that proved a nightmare to get a work visa for. Basically, we’d have been waiting months for an answer from the South African Government and even with a job offer we wouldn’t be guaranteed a place! And why waste months waiting for a visa when we can be off exploring the world. Sensible sorts ain’t we?!

Cable Bay, New Zealand

Anyway, in the midst of all the stresses of trying to get a South African visa –  I got an opportunity I couldn’t turn down in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. So, in typical ‘us’ style we gave ourselves two weeks to pack our bags, book our flights and say our goodbyes. Needless to say, our families were a little relieved we weren’t moving to Capetown, ‘cos ya know danger and all that (that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to move to South Africa to prove the naysayers wrong). Oh well, one day we’ll get there!

Pink Beach at Kauri Cliffs Hotel New Zealand

New Zealand has been top of Paul’s Bucket List for the longest time, so even though it was ‘Plan B’ for me it was ‘Plan A’ for him, he was simply going along with my African dreams because I wanted to live in Capetown so badly. I’ve visited New Zealand before – over 5 years ago and only explored the South Island on a mini-roadtrip with my best friend. And from, what I saw then country is worth its hype. 

The beach ‘down the road’

So, on August 18th we said our goodbyes for another year and boarded a plane to Kuala Lumpur (‘cos ya can’t do long-haul without a week stopover). Then, finally we landed in Auckland on August 25th. First impressions – so far so good. It took a while to adapt to living in an expensive country again, especially when we hadn’t started work yet. But overall it seemed like we’d made the right decision. Auckland is small for a “big city” and has more of a big town vibe, we spent a few days strolling around and adapting to the ‘Kiwi’ way of life. But, jet lag hit us bad here so most nights we were back in our hotel room for 8pm. We done all the “admin stuff” as we like to call it like getting a sim card, setting up a bank account and buying a car. The joys of expatting! 

One of our favourite spots – Matauri Bay

Then, after a few days it was time to depart for our new home in the Bay of Islands in our recently purchased Audi (don’t get too excited it’s not that fancy, but is perfect for us). Just under a four hour drive from Auckland and we made it! It’s so pretty here, kind of a perfect mix of Hawaii and Ireland – if you can even imagine that. I feel at home here because I love small places whereas Paul is a city boy. But he’s adapting well. The most important thing is we’re happy here and kind of feel like we were meant to end up in this country all along.

Views for days

Everything happens for a reason, and this new plan was obviously meant for us. I learned a long time ago that the best things in life, come with the biggest risks, moving across the world, pursuing a crazy dream. Don’t be afraid to jump in the deep end.

Current Address: Matauri Bay, New Zealand

Put a visit to Ballyhoura on your Bucket List

 
 
Driving the narrow, winding road from Ballyhea to Kilfinane I thought to myself ‘this is the Ireland I came home to see’. I know that’s cheesy, but it’s the truth. 
I’m Irish, but have lived abroad for the better part of seven years. I love travelling, I love seeing new countries and cultures, but I’ve always known in my heart of hearts that I will settle in Ireland one day. 

Raised in neighbouring Cork, I’ve never visited the Ballyhoura region and so, didn’t know what to expect. But on that drive on a lazy Sunday evening, seeing the mossy green of the Ballyhoura Mountains ahead, I knew we were in for a treat. 

We had a jam-packed three days of activities ahead of us, we were penciled in for horse-riding, an aqua park, mountain-biking and a traditional Irish music festival. And so, we drove on down those country roads full of excitement to get a taste of what Ballyhoura could offer us.

We checked into the colourful Ballyhoura Hostel on the main street of Kilfinane village with equally colourful hosts.  Seamus and Teresa are the type of hostel owners you want to meet on your travels, ‘salt-of-the-earth’ as we’d say in Cork who clearly know how to run a successful hostel. They have a fully-equipped kitchen – better than any house I’ve ever lived in, a roaring open fire place in the living room and a sauna! 

The warm and inviting sitting room of Ballyhoura Hostel in Kilfinane 

Our private room was spotless with a large comfortable double bed, lots of storage space and the most beautiful furniture, all hand-made by a company based in Fermoy. 

Seamus and Teresa were a wealth of local knowledge, and just a joy to have a chat with. Seamus explained the site of the hostel was his family home which he saved from almost disrepair, being a carpenter by trade he oversaw every aspect of the hostels restoration. 

It’s hard to believe Ballyhoura Hostel sleeps a total of 43 people, as it’s so homely and welcoming. I was told they welcome a variety of guests every week from young families and avid mountain-bikers to stag and hen parties and couples like ourselves looking for a bit of luxury and peacefulness on a budget. 

I cannot recommend Ballyhoura Hostel more and I’ve already waxed lyrical about our stay to our friends and family, who will happily tell you we’re not easy to impress. 

For more information on Ballyhoura Hostel, give them a call on 063 91625, email info@ballyhourahostel.ie or visit www.ballyhourahostel.ie

 

Aimee getting set for her adventure at Ballyhass Lakes

We spent the next morning at the adrenalin-filled Ballyhass Lakes (about a 40 minute drive from Ballyhoura Hostel). 

This place is a hive of activity and has everything for all ages from zip-lining to wake-boarding to a brand spanking new Aqua Park, which we had the pleasure of exploring or perhaps more fittingly ‘falling off of’. 

The stunning and fun-filled aqua park at Ballyhass Lakes

The Aqua Park at Ballyhass Lakes is essentially a series of inflatable slides, runways, jumping pillows and bouncers all connected together and floating in a large, clean and refreshing lake. And boy, did we have fun on it. 

For our one-hour slot we were joined by approximately 40 other youths and adults. It’s a lot harder than it looks but it’s the type of belly-aching fun that you want from a great day out. 

If you’re not as agile as you once were (like myself) you may spend a lot more time in the water than on the Aqua Park itself. It’s an excellent activity if there’s a large group of you, although we did have lots of fun making fools of ourselves.

For more information on Ballyhass Lakes, call 022 27773, email info@ballyhasslakes.ie or visit www.ballyhasslakes.ie

 

All set for our horse trekking adventure

That evening we were scheduled in for horse-trekking with Ballyhoura Horse Trekking. 

On arrival, we were warmly greeted by the owner John Joe who swiftly asked if we had been horse-riding before “two or three times” was my reply, “Ah, great – we’ll try trotting so” was his response. 

Right at that moment we knew we were in for a treat. 

We took off down the vivid green country lanes, trotting like John Joe promised, until we reached a magical almost eerie forest which we trekked through mesmerised. 

The rest of the views were just as outstanding and my boyfriend (our photographer) had a tough attempt at snapping photos while riding his horse. 


John Joe, we were told by the locals was a “character”. He definitely is, and we had some very interesting conversations on the trek. 

The trek was just over an hour in length and because we had so much fun, next time we would definitely try a longer trek. 

The team at Ballyhoura Horse Trekking are truly experienced and cater for everyone from beginners to well-versed riders. 

At the end of the trek, after witnessing all that beautiful scenery and getting to know memorable people like John Joe and the rest of the Ballyhoura Trekking team, I honestly had such a huge swell of pride at being fortunate enough to call this beautiful country home.

 
For more information on Ballyhoura Horse Trekking, call 086 8094648 or visit www.ballyhourahorsetrekking.ie

 

Aimee zipping through the Ballyhoura mountain biking trail 

The next day, we tried our hand at mountain biking with Ballyhoura Trailriders. 

If you’re familiar with the Ballyhoura region, you’ll know it’s famous for its massive array of mountain-biking trails among the Ballyhoura mountains. 

We were sized up for our bikes, given a detailed explanation of the biking routes, as well as any shortcuts back to the start if the “going gets rough” as the guide explained. 

The technical trails were our favourite, a series of bumps and obstacles through a dense forest, exhilarating and fast-paced. 

Trailriders Ballyhoura

The uphill climbs were our least favourite, for obvious reasons but “you have to go up to come down” as the guide so expertly explained at the beginning. And boy, is the coming down fun. 

The trails vary in length and skill and if you’ve never tried mountain-biking before we highly recommend opting for the shortest route. 

The views as with elsewhere in the Ballyhoura region are breathtaking and we took lots more photos than we should have. 

Coming from Whistler – a very popular biking destination in Canada we had if I’m honest high hopes for the Ballyhoura trails. But, Ballyhoura well and truly exceeded our expectations and since coming back to Cork, we have already encouraged a few of our friends to try them out this week.

For more information on Ballyhoura Trailriders, call 087 2717330 or visit www.trailriders.ie

 

Hup na Houra

That evening despite our aching limbs we joined what seemed like the entire population of Kilfinane for the closing night of the Hup na Houra show at the Old Chapel Rooms. 

An undeniably beautiful venue, tables were candle-lit and featuring freshly baked cakes and the famed Ballyhoura apple juice. 

The show featured some of Ireland’s finest performers including Derek Hickey, Liam Flanagan, and Ronan Ryan. When Deirdre Scanlan started singing, the sound echoed beautifully through the room. It kind of gave me a nostalgia for the old Ireland we see depicted on TV or read about – a simple life, focused on music or dance for entertainment not social media or TV. 

Hup na Houra is part of the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Seisiún programme, beautiful music, traditional dancing at its best featuring a mix of step, set, sean-nós and brush dancing, it truly was a fantastic introduction to Ireland for my boyfriend Paul who is from Brighton in the UK and never witnessed anything like this before. 

Hup na Houra really was a celebration of Ireland. It even featured dancing on tables, an amazing part of the show, which has to be seen to be believed. It was a magical evening and one that anyone with any interest in music should attend. It runs every Monday and Tuesday in July and sells out quick!

 
For more information on Hup na Houra, which takes place each summer, call 087 4548501 or email hupnahoura@gmail.com 
Going home, we took the wider road to Kilmallock and reflected on a truly authentic Irish experience in Ballyhoura. 

After such an amazing few days I was even stronger in my faith that one day I will return home to settle in Ireland.

Aimee taking in the beautiful views over Kilfinane

A walk through Blarney Castle and Gardens

If you’re from Blarney like myself it’s a rare occurrence that you’ll venture into the Blarney Castle and Gardens. “That place is only for the Americans” me and my friends would say as teenagers. We were dragged here on School Tours or as part of the local Kids Summer Camp but we never really saw the appealing side of it that I’ve fallen in love with recently. Now that I’m older, I can appreciate The Castle through new eyes. We were mad not to step inside the magical grounds of The Castle all those years ago. It’s amazing how much hard work has gone into beautifying the gardens over the recent years. I may be biased because I’m a Blarney girl, but I have to admit that Blarney Castle and Gardens is one of my favourite places in Cork.

A view of the Castle from the stone bridge

 

Walking through “The Jungle”

I couldn’t help taking photos all day, the Castle grounds are trully a photographers dream. Tip: if you see a queue of people waiting to kiss the stone, that’s your chance to stroll around the gardens and snap plenty of people-free photographs.

Another from “The Jungle”

Everywhere is so green, it’s no wonder the tourists flock here in their thousands every year. It’s one of the top tourist destinations in all of Ireland. It gets very busy in the Summer months so be prepared for that, you may be queuing for the stone and to enter especially at the weekends.

 

Blarney Castle House

If you love to walk, there are numerous routes you can take through the grounds some a lot longer than others. The Castle’s grounds sprawl across 60 acres, so, you can easily spend the whole day here.

Found a cute little cottage for me to live in

Did you know? The famous Blarney Stone was originally known as Lia Fáil or the Stone of Destiny, and its mysterious powers were first revealed to the McCarthy family (the family who originally built the Castle) by a witch they had saved from drowning. As you know, it’s said to give anyone who kisses it ‘the gift of the gab’.

The Herbaceous Borders

The Castle is open year-round to visitors and cost of entry is 15euro for adults, 6euro for children aged 8-16, children under 8 are free and students/pensioners are 12euro.

The Waterfall at the Bog Garden

 

 

The Castle peeking through the trees

Did you know? You can purchase a Season Pass for the Blarney Castle Grounds, the price for an adult for a year pass is 75euro, a student is 60euro and a family pass is 170euro. Absolute bargain! You can find more pricing information here 

Green everywhere you look

 

 

Blarney Castle in all its glory

Want to know more? You can find more information about the Blarney Castle and Gardens here

Saying Goodbye to Whistler

 

This past fortnight I waved goodbye to my home in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada. 

Whistler had been my home for the past two years, and what a crazy, beautiful madness it was. 

Living there was unlike anywhere else we’ve ever lived. It’s an adrenalin-junkie’s dream with skiing being the sport of choice in the Winter (I’m sure you’ve already heard that Whistler is one of the best ski destinations in the world). And in Summer you can enjoy downhill mountain biking or kayaking in its many lakes.

In Winter, the town almost triples its population, with young people flocking from Australia and the UK predominantly, to call this ‘Winter Wonderland’ their temporary home. 

As you can imagine, it’s very difficult to find decent housing there, rent is incredibly expensive and most of my friends shared a room with several others, some people even live in campervans in the villages’ outdoor carpark. 

We got incredibly lucky with our apartment and our jobs, even though I had to work two jobs to ensure that I had enough money for my number one hobby – travel. 

Regardless of the long hours we worked, we were incredibly happy there. 

Just ‘Google image’ Whistler and you’ll quickly realise why we decided to call this astounding naturally beautiful place our home. 

We will miss the long cold days spent skiing, the quirky restaurants, our amazing multi-cultural group of friends, but above all we will miss the fun, care-free environment Whistler seems to effortlessly eminate at all times. 

The journey to the airport on our last day was a hard one. 

But as always, new adventures await us. 

Right now, I’m in Spain, with island-hopping in Greece next on the list. 

Then in September, we will be packing our bags to relocate to Bay of Islands, New Zealand for a year,  where a completely different adventure awaits.  

***This post originally appeared in Quinns Quill Munster News

Our Big Fat Greek Adventure

These past five weeks we’ve been lucky enough to explore beautiful Greece and its islands. 

Since leaving Whistler this June we’ve been itching to do a short backpacking trip and Greece featured highly on both of our bucket lists and so the decision was an easy one. 

The other half is excellent at finding cheap flights and so we found a great deal to Corfu (via Eindhoven mind you, but sure no harm in a quick sight-seeing detour) and so our big fat Greek adventure began.

Stop No.1: Corfu

Paleokatrista, Corfu

I’m sure most of you are familiar with Corfu, it is what it says on the tin, a holiday-makers paradise with lush green scenery and turquoise-water beaches, we spent five days here in total. 

It’s one of the cheaper Greek islands and public transport on the island is incredibly efficient, so it’s easy to see the whole island in a short period. A top recommendation from us would be to visit Corfu town, it’s a lot bigger than you’d expect with lots of quirky cobblestoned back streets that you can spend hours getting lost in. 

Stop No.2: Meteora

Meteora

Now I’m sure most of you have never heard of Meteora, it’s in the middle of mainland Greece and is famous for its Monasteries which sit atop massive rocks in the valley. 

It sounds crazy, but my shows more than I can explain with words. 

It was a unique experience and one of our favourite stops on the trip, we spent our days here hiking to the Monasteries (there are six active Monasteries in total), the photo opportunities when you get to these Monasteries are incredible. 

To get to Meteora you catch a train straight from Athens. Two top recommendations from us would be to book a hotel with a view of the Monasteries (there aren’t many so book in advance) and to book a sunset tour to see the valley bathed in a magnificent pink.

Stop No.3: Athens

Acropolis, Athens

Walking through ancient Athens is like being in a history book, there is so much to do here that you will never see it all unless you’re here for a long time. 

A must-see is the Acropolis (visit here as soon as it opens to avoid the crowds), we also highly recommend The National Archaeological Museum. 

You can purchase a ‘Multi Ticket’ which gives you access to most of the ancient sights (including the Acropolis) for about  €30. 

We stayed very close to the Acropolis and we highly recommend staying near the Acropolis or Monastaraki Metro stations, Athens is a big city and you don’t want to be too far out from all the major sights. 

We also recommend NOT to go in July and August as the crowds are at their biggest and the weather is at its hottest – it was 40°C when we were there.

Stop No.4: Syros Island

Galissas, Syros

Syros is one of the first stops on the ferry from Athens to Santorini. 

It is in the Cyclades region famous for its sunsets and white-washed houses. 

It’s one of the least-visited islands in this region and so it was a pleasant change for us after the crowds in Athens. 

We stayed literally next to the beach in a region called Galissas, a sort of sleepy beachside resort, populated mostly with Greek holidaymakers. 

The village of Galissas has no more than five restaurants, all very good mind you. 

And every night we climbed the steps of the little white church on the hill, sat on its wall and watched the sun set into the ocean with a beer in hand. Heaven.

Stop No.5: Naxos Island

Chora, Naxos
 

Naxos is ‘in the middle’ both in terms of its geographic location between Athens and Santorini and its popularity with holiday-makers. 

It is more touristy than Syros, but less so than its neighbour Santorini. 

It is very popular with Dutch and Scandinavian tourists and it is indeed very beautiful. 

We stayed next to probably the prettiest beach on the whole island – Prykopios, it has some of the clearest water we’ve ever seen and honestly gives the Carribean waters of Cuba a run for its money. 

A lot of the restaurants here are on the beach, so it makes for a unique dining experience especially because you can watch the sunset from your table. 

Our top recommendation would be to spend an evening in the islands capital town – Chora. The white-washed streets here are very similar to the famed streets of Mykonos.

Stop No.6: Santorini

Oia, Santorini

What can I say about Santorini that hasn’t already been said, it’s top of a lot of people’s ‘Bucket List’ for good reason. 

Sure, the crowds can be manic, it’s expensive and it’s a little pretentious BUT its sunsets are beyond outstanding, its local people surprisingly friendly and what other place in the world can you find hotels built into the side of a cliff? 

It’s a photographer’s dream here, the way the light falls onto the quirky ‘cave houses’ is magnificent any time of the day. 

Most of the hotels here have a pool, but there is also a black sand beach in Perissa if that tickles your fancy. 

Our top tip for here is NOT to stay in Oia or Fira (the crowds here are crazy) instead opt for Imerovigli or Pyrgos which offer the same views with less crowds. 

And that’s it, we leave tomorrow and to say we’re gutted is an understatement. 

If you haven’t booked your Summer holiday, we hugely recommend Greece. 

It is more beautiful than the photos show and the warmth of the local people together with the insanely good food make this country one of our favourites to date. And as you may know the government here is in a financial mess and the locals need tourist money now more than ever. 

Meteora, Greece

***This post was originally featured on Quinns Quill Munster News