Wild wind howled through the auburn autumnal leaves and across the rolling green hills on either side of the secluded, narrow road that we carefully tread along, excitedly pursuing filming locations for Outlander…
My brother Josh, happened to be my travel companion this past October, and we both remained quietly stunned by the scenery at each turn: thick woodlands spilling into pretty streams, centuries-old wooden bridges and an odd few sheep tenderly grazing under patchy grey skies.
Filming locations for Outlander
It felt like an adventure, and that’s because it was!
Rewind an hour, and we were sitting on a local bus which for just a few dollars was ferrying us around the area from Inverness to famous Loch Ness, its castles and ruins.
We were on our way to Culloden Battlefield, a vast windswept moor that preserves stories of the Jacobite rising that came to an entirely tragic end here on 16 April 1746.
History buffs, fans of Scotland and indeed those of a seductively popular television series called Outlander will be familiar with the locations.
Josh and I were discussing our day’s plan when a sweet woman turned around in her seat to chat to us. She asked where we were from, because she recognised our accents and said she had family dotted around Australia.
As it happens, in her 70 years young she’s done a lot of travelling and had some great tips to share, one being for us to get off the beaten track about 30-minutes’ walk from Culloden, to seek an ancient burial ground called Clava Cairns.
Clava Cairns and Outlander film locations
I’m one of those Outlander fans eagerly awaiting the return to telly this month of time-travellers Jamie and Claire Fraser.
Scotland now offers plenty of ‘Outlander travel experiences’ that attract thousands of enthusiasts seeking the filming locations for Outlander, and Clava Cairns happens to be an integral part of this.
While ‘Craigh na Dun’, the mysterious stone circle where Claire falls through time in Scotland to the 1700s in the books and television series does not actually exist, Clava Cairns is understood to be author Diana Gabaldon’s inspiration for the spot.
So, willing to walk – because Josh and I have always been into the mystical, mythological and downright creepy (our parents are very proud) – we went in search of this millennia-old site.
These exceptional 4000-year-old remains of an ancient cemetery are set on a terrace above the River Nairn, and an appropriately atmospheric breeze washed dust and leaves through the ghostly site as we pushed open a rickety fence and made our way inside.
Historical sites of Scotland
There are four cairns (the word ‘cairn’ hailing from the Scottish Gaelic, càrn, meaning a human-made stack of stones) and three standing stone circles here. The three prominent cairns form lines aligned with the sun solstices and show hints of forgotten beliefs carved into the stones.
Our friendly local guide on the bus had shared stories of how she and her friend experienced extreme emotions and rushes of energy on touching some of the larger stones in the circles.
Josh and I can attest to feeling what can only be described as a very heavy sensation within one of the open-air stone tombs, and admittedly I felt like it wouldn’t be right to take photos inside.
A strange tale I’ve read since, is that of a Belgian tourist who claimed to have been cursed after taking a stone away from Clava Cairns. He and his family swiftly encountered such terrible luck including job losses, accidents and ill health, that the disturbed visitor anonymously posted the ‘souvenir’ back to the Inverness tourist centre and requested it be returned to the site.
Superstitious or not, this excellent adventure provides an off-road glimpse into the true heart of the Highlands, a rugged, romantic destination where you may very well be standing in 2018; or is it 1743? Just be careful what you touch or wish for.
First published in Get it Magazine, November 2018, getit-magazine.com.au
How lucky we are in London to be so close to some of the world’s coolest cities, and be able to set up time away, like a weekend in Amsterdam, just across the water.
We’ve discovered some of the very best experiences in Amsterdam that you can take advantage of on a weekend city break – have a read for our itinerary.
A weekend in Amsterdam for couples
Amsterdam is a city with a reputation.
While we did discover the best place to get high (above the city, you cheeky things), on our recent winter weekend in Amsterdam for couples city-break, we fell a little more in love … with the city, too.
Winter in Amsterdam can be a little harsh, as we experienced in the pitch black at 6pm on Saturday night.
We pushed slowly against the wind, hail slapping us hard in the face as we pressed one slow step at a time forward along the side of a bicycle highway towards our hotel.
There was a very real concern that someone wouldn’t see us among the construction and the weather and knock us down.
At the end of the shortcut we’d naively taken along the waterfront towards Aitana Amsterdam, I felt quite exhilarated about surviving. I couldn’t help but relate to the scene in Clueless where Cher, Dion and Murray are able to pull over safely after a brush with death-by-Californian-highway.
To be honest though, the weather was about the same as London in terms of chill factor, and if you’re rugged-up, winter in Amsterdam for a traveller is just fine!
The other bonus about this time of year is that you can secure lovely accommodation for a fraction of the price it is in summer, and the city isn’t as busy either (although I wouldn’t say it was quiet).
A weekend in Amsterdam for couples: best travel experiences (especially in the winter)
I’ll address the elephant in the room now – yes, you can buy weed here, it’s well-known for that.
But, Amsterdam is so much more than some of it’s seedier (sorry…) areas, although no judgement there!
Amsterdam is full of all sorts of fun – and it’s just so beautiful, interesting, chic, delicious, as you’ll see in our vlog below…
In the first instance, we can’t recommend highly enough the I Amsterdam City Card – we have used it twice on visits to the city and it’s excellent value for money, including transport and entry to most attractions, a free canal ride and discounts in many stores.
Learn about Amsterdam’s interesting history through its national drink, Genever, and a cool sensory experience at the House of Bols (with free cocktail!)
Step back in time to discover how the wealthy set lived (this was an incredibly rich city and important trading port just a few centuries ago) by exploring one of the mansions open to the public with the past on display. We enjoyed Museum Van Loon
A canal cruise, included with your I Amsterdam City Card, or hop on board one of the many options available when you arrive in town – day, evening, dining – whatever takes your pleasure. But do definitely see Amsterdam from the water!
Then see the city from the opposite perspective at A’DAM Lookout, which features restaurants, bars, a panoramic sky deck and Europe’s highest swing (and a disco elevator to the heavens, that’s fun!).
Do you have questions or tips of your own? Do let us know in the comments.
Amsterdam is one of our very favourite cities so we’d love to have a conversation with you about it… you can find us on social media too.
The past few weeks in London had been cold – colder than I care for, but I had Christmas in Mallorca to look forward to! Work days at a top of 3 degrees, and when you top that off with a daily ride to work full of sniffly, coughing commuters, well, you can appreciate that we all need a little break come Christmastime.
I’d been very good [hello Santa] coming up to the festive period. One who enjoys the sparkly allure of a Christmas party, this year the late nights were kept in check, that is, until 22 December when a slew of happy events led me to being in a state not at all fit for a 4.30am rise.
We got through Stansted airport, fending off the rest of the Saturday morning school holiday rush. I thought I was doing well, despite the brain fog and living on the edge of severe grumpiness, only to get to security and realise my computer and liquids were inside my carry-on suitcase. I slid the laptop out through the side and attempted a very cunning manoeuvre to remove my plastic bag full of liquids, only for the entire suitcase to flip over on itself and for all the contents to scatter along the floor.
Oh yes, I was that person.
It would have been hilarious if only it wasn’t me. I’m sure for the hoards of holiday-goers trying to cope pre-caffeine it was hysterical. I didn’t look. I still can’t think too much about it.
Fortunately, just over two hours later, I was in Spain where I would happily take the sun and breezy 17 degrees by the marina – a pleasurable escape from the grey that has been my adopted home of the UK (I’m its biggest fan but even I need a little sunshine every now and then).
Thank the Universe for Christmas in Mallorca (sometimes spelled Majorca).
Then there was Spain
There really is something about Spain, for us at least.
We love the language and the accents and the culture. The sun and beaches are pretty nice too.
Last Christmas we defied tradition and visited Ibiza, a long-time dream destination of ours. It certainly did not disappoint and remains one of our favourite places. I’m looking forward to returning to that blissful, melodic island – probably in summer when everything is open!
We couldn’t get as far as home (Queensland), so wanted an Ibiza-esque Christmas experience in 2017. That is, sunshine, beautiful scenery and travel experiences, but with a little more actually happening over the festive break. After a long discussion where the list of possibilities became impossible (we just want to go everywhere!), one weekend in September we literally closed our eyes and put a virtual pin on Google Maps.
Mallorca (or Majorca) was the winner.
Is anything open at Christmas in Mallorca?
At Christmastime for most around the world, we all encounter the same thing which is a lack of activities, shopping and travel options on offer late December. Fair enough, this is a time for families and if you’re lucky enough to not be working, then so be it (you deserve it!).
As a visitor to a region though, we want to be able to take in a couple of new experiences, and my research indicated that while much of the island of Mallorca may not be open (some beach clubs operate seasonally across the summer months), the capital of Palma promised to be abuzz with plenty to do.
As it turns out, this is very true. Even London totally (totally!) shuts down on Christmas day, but in Mallorca the local buses were operating, as was City Sightseeing (hop on hop off bus tour) and many bars and restaurants opened their doors.
Winter in Mallorca – travel tips, transport and best-of
The weather in December averages a top of about 15 or 16 degrees. It’s warm in the sun but can be a little chilly if there’s a breeze, and the temperature does drop at night. It’s quite pleasant though.
The capital, Palma, is buzzing with plenty going on, so in the first instance wander the back streets, visit art galleries, take a look inside the old churches and try some tapas.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma (or La Seu) is unmissable, its Gothic structure standing tall over the city. Work on this cathedral began in the 13 Century, and famous architect Antoni Gaudí (who has left his stamp all over Barcelona) even spent time working on this structure between 1904 and 1914.
Another Gothic structure that’s well worth the trip to the top of a hill overlooking the city, is Bellver Castle. The only circular castle in all of Spain, this 14th Century structure is really interesting to explore, and with a huge bonus in that it boasts the best views across Mallorca.
Hire a bike and ride along the extensive promenade, explore the marinas and along the coast.
You could ride to, or take bus number 25 to nearby beach s’Arenal. Many beaches and beach clubs around the island are closed over winter but this is a nice area and some eateries and shops are open.
The bus system is quite easy to use, but you’ll need cash. A single fare is currently €1.50, and the driver can change up to a €10 note.
If you have spare time and in need of retail therapy, there’s plenty of stores and a mall in the city, and a large shopping destination called Porto Pi which you can take a bus or a cab to.
Another experience that was mentioned to us a few times was a steamtrain that runs between Palma and Soller on the other side of Mallorca.
The whole trip is about an hour and a half one way, and you can’t pre-book tickets. The line was closed for maintenance when we were there, but this seems like it would be a lovely thing to do. Do keep an eye on the timetable though, because return trip would need to be planned.
Christmas in Palma – dining ideas
To be honest, we didn’t have a bad meal here! I remember being concerned about what may not be open at Christmas in Mallorca but there’s no need to worry, you’ll have plenty to choose from even on 25 December.
Notable venues we found:
– Lennox the Pub, for €2.50 glasses of wine and gorgeous bar ambience.
– Cafeteria Tropic (opposite the marina and next to the Auditorium), for delicious tapas.
Ever wish you could just jump on a train and spend a day in Paris? Well, from London you can! We’d never taken a ride on the Eurostar before, and when we finally did we wished we’d done it sooner. We’ve discovered an easy way to spend a day in this romantic place, whether it’s cold, windy, wet or sunny.
How to spend a day in Paris
Easy, accessible … 24 hours in Paris is sure to enliven anyone’s spirit. We visited during the colder months, and the city is just as charming, if not more so than in summer. Like Amsterdam, it’s easy to get to Paris from London for a day trip, city break and 24 or 48 hour adventure.
Highlights for our day spent in Paris include a Sienne river cruise on Batobus Paris, Montparnasse Tower, wandering the Latin Quarter and visiting the very gorgeous Notre Dame Cathedral. Have a read of our travel guide and vlog, linked in the feature below.
Click ‘read more’ or the arrow in the top right hand corner to scroll the photo story.
Paris is a huge city with quite a bit of craziness going on. We like this helpful guide by NTripping on how to avoid havoc. We’d love your tips and questions too – drop us a line in the comments or on social media.
Attending my fifth TBEX Future of Travel Media conference, I had the chance to also travel in Killarney and Kenmare in Ireland.
I produced a vlog on the experience to share so you can see highlights like seals, donkeys, history, nightlife, traditional dancing and much more.
Ireland is amazing! If you want to know more about TBEX and why you should go, press play, or search TBEX on this blog for learnings and adventures from over the past few years in Costa Brava, Athens, Stockholm and Dublin.
If you’ve been to TBEX or have questions drop us a line and say hi in the comments.
Winter in Ibiza is an excellent choice for anyone wanting to escape the cold of other Euro destinations. We visited from the UK for Christmas in Ibiza, and the average weather in Ibiza at this time was about 18 degrees and sunny during the day! Spain in general is pretty great at this time of year, especially around the Barcelona region or Mallorca, but there is indeed something very special about the islands.
Winter in Ibiza was basically a perfect experience for us. Read our travel guide and tips on things to do…
Average weather in Ibiza in winter is warm – get your dose of winter-sun
This year’s winter in the UK has already been particularly long, grey and cold – worse than last year in my view.
That said, I’d prefer it to sweating (southern hemisphere Christmas!), but this December it was time for a break, which is why we ended up in Ibiza for winter.
Last year we visited Copenhagen in Denmark and had some lovely family for Christmas company along for the ride. It was fantastic – a cool city and Tivoli Gardens, the world’s oldest operating amusement park, was a magical highlight.
However this year I wanted to change a couple of things with regards to an end-of-year break:
− it needed to be less expensive
− it needed to offer more of a mix of options to explore (travel), as well as options to rest
− it needed to be warmer!
Recalling that the Mediterranean seemed to be at least sunny when we cruised through back in January 2013, my research began ….
Sunny climates in Europe during winter
And it started in August because previously I’ve left plans really late by which time flights everywhere are expensive.
Long story short, I found a good deal through British Airways holidays which included flights from London City airport (tick, that’s our closest);
–>to Ibiza in Spain (double tick, always wanted to go!);
–>staying at a central resort by the beach with American half board (so breakfast and dinners, including seven courses for our special Christmas meal were included in the package).
Yes, yes and yes.
But like many of even the world’s biggest destinations, much is shut over Christmas, and in Ibiza even more so outside of its popular summer season.
Ibiza’s small local population swells about five times in summer, with the island boasting the usual beautiful delights of this part of Europe as well as allegedly ‘the best clubs in the universe’ (Ibiza is known as the home of dance music).
What to do in Ibiza in winter then? Travel guide suggestions:
Walking or hiking
We were based along Figueretas beach which is situated about 15 to 20 minutes (easy) walk from the main island ‘city centre’, cruise marina, shopping strips and the ‘old town’.
Cooper and I enjoy being able to walk everywhere in a town, and it is an activity that is free, can be done in most weather conditions (although we got lucky with sunny days), and regardless of what’s open.
In Ibiza the walking or hiking options are endless, with beachfront, villages, cliffs and green hills to explore.
Only thing to be mindful of in our experience, is while it was warm throughout the day, temperatures dropped quickly around 4pm which could be a problem if you are far from home and all of a sudden not dressed appropriately.
It’s not a big stretch to imagine that a sun drenched Spanish island is pretty, and Ibiza certainly is.
From ocean to mountains, vineyards, cool street art, contemporary and old architecture blending as one, it’s a great destination for the modern content creator.
Photographers, videographers, writers and artists will find much inspiration, particularly as the light changes across the course of a day.
Boat rides and beaches
Unfortunately we just missed this option because of much being closed over Christmas, but there’s a number of day trips you can enjoy around Ibiza even in the winter.
That said, try to book in advance online as there is far less operating than between April and October.
A ferry to Formentera (the smallest of Spain’s Balearic islands in the Mediterranean Sea) for a chilled out day by the crystal clear blue is something that was recommended and I’ll make it happen next time!
Sant Antoni is the main clubbing area and includes the famous sunset strip where summertime ravers enjoy shows by the world’s coolest DJs as the sun sets over the Med.
Pretty much everything is closed in winter with only a few cafes and restaurants operating to cater for the boating crowd. But for the curious (like me), for €2 bus no. 3 from Avenue d’Isidor Macabich (a main street in Eivissa’s city centre) will get you to where all the action takes place.
In about 25 minutes you’ll be on the other side of the island and can spot locations of some of the famous dance music fun-hubs like Cafe del Mar and Cafe Mambo.
While most up this way in the world are rugged-up at Christmastime, we enjoyed still, warm and sunny 18 degree days. Best to make the most of it then!
We thought the Chinese cuisine was delicious and well priced at Restaurant Taiwan along Figueretas beachfront. Just up a bit from there is Oferta, a little family-run hole-in-the-wall (almost) business that was actually open when nothing else was.
Their food was good, but don’t accidentally order the cheap local beer that turns out to be non-alcoholic – oops.
Next door to Oferta is a larger pub-like establishment, Bistro Magnus; and for a classy meal and cocktail with a view look up Cotton lounge bar, also positioned on the Figueretas waterfront.
Bondi at Sant Antoni is a cafe/bar/restaurant opposite the port, not too far from the bus station where we got off the no. 3 from the city centre.
The food was delicious with many nice vege options on the menu. Friendly service too. Finally, back over on the Sant Antoni side is a beachfront restaurant called Hostal la Torre – sadly we didn’t get to it but it was recommended for sunset gatherings and if it’s as pretty as its pictures it wouldn’t disappoint.
We also frequently bought some nice cheese, salami and inexpensive wine from local Spar supermarkets for beach picnics.
Along the main road Av D’Espanya there’s a few lovely bakeries where you can buy fresh baguettes and coffee to complete your DIY lazy long lunch experience.
Meditation, yoga, mindfulness under the sun or even sun bathing – it’s all possible here in winter.
During the day when there’s no breeze it’s really warm; perfect conditions to ‘just be’.
In fact, along the promenade where we were staying I noticed many individuals happily spending quiet time bathed in sunlight; no phones, relaxing, tuning into the sound of the waves, no distractions (except for the odd dog, but even they seemed blissfully content).
When a little more is operating (April to October), I’d like to:
Visit the hip and happy Hippy market
Book a four hour party boat ferry that cruises around the island
Indulge in a winery tour
Hike over to the mystical rocky island of Es Vedra in the north west, reputedly the island’s most magnetic point and with an energy similar to that of the Pyramids. I’m actually sure I spotted this when we were flying out at the end of our trip, but we’ll be back…
Explore Sant Josep some more – I wanted to make my way over to a little village called Es Cubells which promises a quaint church on a cliff top and a couple of authentic local bars, but the bus wasn’t heading there during our festive stay.
Organise hire of a bike, car or moped for an easier and independent look around the island’s main regions of Eivissa (central), Sant Josep de sa Talaia, Sant Antoni de Portmany, Sant Joan de Labritja and Santa Eularia des Riu.
There is an inexpensive bus service which you’ll need to study the map and website to navigate, and you need change to buy a ticket when boarding, but the service is clean and efficient. The no. 10 gets you to and from the airport to the city centre for €3.50 (single), otherwise a cab is about €15. There are many airport shuttle and pick-up services advertised online but they are totally overpriced so be careful not to be ripped off.
Other useful online Ibiza resources:
Ibiza Spotlight features lots of stories and tips for first time visitors on where to eat, travel, club, stay and spend your money.
Ibiza bus includes maps and timetables for the local service around the island.
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