2012 Travel Awards

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)

Odawara Castle

Odawara Castle

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.

Meet me under the enormous lantern at Odawara Station

Meet me under the enormous lantern at Odawara Station

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 best gelato I've had this year

The best gelato I’ve had this year

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.

Real margaritas, real chorizo. You'd never guess that Paraiso is in Japan

Real margaritas, real chorizo. You’d never guess that Paraiso is in Japan

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.

A healthy snack from Earth Market, Seminyak

A healthy snack from Earth Market, Seminyak

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!

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6 responses to “2012 Travel Awards

  1. Love your blog! If you’re ever in Costa Rica, definitely check out the La Fortuna branch of the “Pops” chain of ice cream stores. I’m not much of a banana split person, but theirs was unbelievable… I think they may have even put chopped up figs in it. Yum! Safe travels; keep up the great work on your blog! =)

    • Thanks, Jessica. Can’t wait to see your site next month… will you post on twitter or something when you launch it?
      Haven’t done Costa Rica yet but it’s in my top 10.

      • Hi Jane, thanks so much for the kind words and positive feedback RE: my site’s launch! I’m excited, but also nervous (seeing such great travel blogs like yours makes me realize I have so much to work towards). I’ll be sure to post updates on @SunUmbrellaTrav. I look forward to hear more about your travels on Twitter and also look forward to reading about your Costa Rican adventure, whenever that may be. -Jess

  2. Hi Jane, thanks so much for the kind words and positive feedback RE: my site’s launch! I’m excited, but also nervous (seeing such great travel blogs like yours makes me realize I have so much to work towards). I’ll be sure to post updates on @SunUmbrellaTrav. I look forward to hear more about your travels on Twitter and also look forward to reading about your Costa Rican adventure, whenever that may be. -Jess

  3. Thanks so much for the mention! Really appreciate it. Sorry that we didn’t know about it until now.
    I see there are quite a few picks from Japan. Do you live there?
    Love your site and looking forward to following.
    Greetings from St. Petersburg!
    Jessica
    Notes of Nomads

    • Hi Jessica, Well, I like yours too – it’s very useful. I lived in Japan for years and spent a lot of time there. Russia is on my list, just need to find someone to drag around with me 😉

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