While we like to indulge our urge to explore Europe at every opportunity, we love our time just as much enjoying London and the rest of the UK. This country has so much to offer, from the hustle and bustle of the big city, to the rolling green pastures of the countryside, to the quaint towns and villages.
So while we showcased our top world travel of the year, we wanted to shine a special spotlight on the UK this time around.
1) Old Swan and Minster Mill
We took a long weekend trek through southwest England this past February, stopping for a night in the Cotswolds for a stay at the Old Swan and Minster Mill, before heading home. We did not know too much about this property prior to our arrival, except that they are dog friendly.
What we discovered was a quintessential English countryside property, nestled in the woods, along a babbling brook. The rooms are updated, yet cozy, with complimentary sloe gin for a late night cocktail. It has a touch of luxury, with a beautiful spa, but also rustic charm, including a pub with a roaring fire and stone facade. The Old Swan is situated on 60 acres, with various walking trails scattered throughout the land, allowing for some excellent walks, our favorite British pastime.
One night was too short at the Old Swan. We need to go back.
2) ATP World Tour Finals
This annual year-end event at the O2 Arena in London showcases the top 8 men’s singles and doubles tennis players in the world. Having been to numerous tennis events, including the US Open and Wimbledon, the ATP World Tour Finals was one of the most fan-friendly events I’ve attended.
The practice courts were on full display, meaning that you could stumble upon Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal having a hit. The Fan Zone, with its various interactive exhibits, kept me entertained for a few hours before entering the arena to watch the actual matches. The arena itself includes over 2 dozen bars and restaurants, so you could easily make a day or night of the event, without being stuck eating overpriced, crappy, concession food.
If you find yourself in London in November and fancy a little tennis, this event is well worth it.
3) Bath and Somerset County
We spent a weekend in Somerset in October, packing our wellies for some long walks in the countryside with our pup, Basil. Mother Nature had other thoughts, providing us with pouring rain and gail-force gusts of wind. Not ideal walking weather. Our dog was not too keen about being out in those conditions either.
So, we decided to do a driving tour of Somerset, ending the day in Bath. We had no expectations, nor pre-arranged stops. Armed solely with Google Maps, we headed off with Basil to explore.
We ended up having a great time, stopping in Cheddar (yes, like the cheese) and driving through the Mendip Hills (offically called ‘The Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. Not kidding. Check it out on Google Maps!). Somerset County was beautiful, and ending the day in the historic town of Bath, with its 2,000 year old Roman baths, was well worth it.
Sometimes, when life gives you lemons, just make a road trip through Somerset.
4) City of London Distillery
Back in May, I got the opportunity to do the Gin Lab Experience at the City of London Distillery (COLD), the lone gin distillery in the City. We toured the small facility, and learned about the history of gin and how it grew in popularity in London. The main event of the tour was the Gin Lab, where I had the chance to concoct my own special blend of spices, herbs, and botanicals for a custom-made bottle of gin.
The lovely team at COLD helped us figure out what ratios and flavor profiles worked best, helping me pick the right ingredients for a more citrusy gin. With a ramekin of ingredients, I distilled the gin and botanicals in mini copper pot stills. After a short wait, I bottled my gin, even customizing the label (mine was called Sea Monster Gin) and dipping the cap in red wax. All of this resulted in a Father’s Day git to my dad.
There is no better gift than one you can drink!
5) Hastings, East Sussex
We booked a long weekend away with friends down in Hastings, a town along the English Channel coast. We all wanted to just hang out and relax, so we rented a small cottage near the sea. By sheer luck, it ended up next to the Hastings County Nature Reserve, with 4 miles of walks through the rolling hills, perched high above on cliffs overlooking the Channel. We could let our dog Basil roam free, as we enjoyed some warm spring sunshine.
The next day, we hopped in our car and headed towards Beachy Head, near the town of Eastbourne. These chalk cliffs, which I had never heard of, are simply beautiful, towering 500 feet above the sea. With no fencing, you can walk directly to the edge, which is both amazing and terrifying, since I am not a huge fan of heights.
Standing there, looking over the edge of the cliffs, with seemingly miles of pristine coastline and shockingly green pastures, it was hard to imagine that we were less than 2 hours from central London.
What have been your top highlights of 2015, in the UK or abroad?