Here are some of the places that made an impression on me in the last 12 months. Congratulations to you all – I am fairly sure I’ve just made you all really famous.
Best Castle: Odawara Castle, Japan. Only 70 minutes from Tokyo is the pretty seaside town of Odawara. As with many of Japan’s landmarks, Odawara is a rebuilt castle – Japan’s earthquakes mean such structures require such constant restoration. The most exciting thing about the castle is the excavation site within the grounds where treasures are being rescued and displayed in the castle museum. Odawara is a 10- minutes, signposted walk from Odawara Station. Entrance fee is ¥400 (adult)
Best Hiking Trail: also in Odawara. This is a great place for a hike. You can either DIY from Odawara or Nebukawa Stations (there is an area map in English at Odawara Station and it’s a good meeting place) or you can look at some of the hikes people have taken from Odawara on Everytrail. You can go all the way to Hakone, to the lakes of Mt Fuji or, as I did, a half day hike along the bay. It is certainly a picturesque region. The Hilton Resort and Spa in Odawara has walking trails and a fabulous water spa including pools and natural hot springs, which is a nice way to finish a day after a hike.
Best Ice Cream: Lick , London. I am always on the lookout for some exciting ice cream. At Soho’s Lick you can try some fun flavours such as lychee, wild cherry and peanut butter.
The traditional gelato, such as the vanilla, is creamy and actually tastes like vanilla; Mango sorbet smells that like real mangoes… this leads me to believe that they use real fruit. Which means it’s kind of a health food.
Sort of. Go for a run afterwards just in case.
Best New Bar: Paraiso, Tokyo. There is no shortages of bars in Tokyo’s Roppongi district but there is certainly a shocking lack of ones that are worth visiting. There is a lot of sleaze, a fair amount of “frou frou” and not enough cool places to meet up with friends that serve impressive cocktails and an offer authentic South American dishes. Enter Paraiso, which opened a few months ago to fill the void in Roppongi. Many bars have come and go with the current state of the Japanese economy and this is definitely the best of the best new arrivals. Tucked away in a smaller street opposite Tokyo Midtown, this elegant latin bar is surprisingly affordable. The staff are friendly, the music is good and the chairs are comfy – it’s quite a find. I like the open kitchen and the fact that everything is very fresh. Paraiso is open until 2am most days and 6am Thursday to Saturday.
Best Low-Cost Airline: This category makes me laugh but cheap flights have become indispensable over the past 5 years, with such a shaky global economy this is the only way we can afford to travel. While no budget airline is particularly exciting, Air Asia is the pick of the bunch. I love them for their $28 interntional flights, allocated seats, more legroom than you will find in its European LCC counterparts – that’s not saying much – and friendly staff.
Best Eco-Friendly Business: It’s never been my favourite destination but Bali is the home of my favourite company, Down To Earth. Founded by a vegetarian chef and nutritionist/macrobiologist, Down To Earth have opened Zula Restaurant; Down To Earth Ubud; Earth Cafe and Earth Market. I couldn’t live without when I am in Bali – you will never get sick eating at these places and Earth Market is the only real organic supermarket with local and international products. Beauty and baby items are also available. In short: chemical free, cruelty free and delicious.
Best Guide Book: I haven’t written it yet and I am disgusted with the standards out there at the moment so we are going to stick to the stalwart of the traveller. The Bible, the One and Only Lonely Planet. Many thanks for 12 years of careful guidance. I’ve noticed that you still haven’t asked me to be Editor-in-chief. I can’t wait forever, LP.
Best Travel Blog Other Than Mine: Lacey Edney Travels is an excellent blog that I have just come across. I love her stuff. Notesofnomads is another fabulous travel site with especially good pictures. Thanks to both of you for sharing your knowledge with other foreigners.
There you have it. If you have a chance to experience any of these products/services/places I hope they are up to your standards. I feel that I should start giving my favourites an actual award – I could have them commissioned by Swarovski or Baccarat? Georg Jensen? For this year, however, all they get from me is good vibes.
Happy New Year!