Quirky Travel is all about seeing the world from a different angle, looking at things from all sides, finding the unusual, the interesting, the fascinating.  Meeting delightful people, discovering new cultures, eating strange foods and seeing curious customs, have fuelled my life-long love of the breadth and depth of experiences that travel gifts to us – and 2011 has been the epitome of Quirky Travel.

Over the past 12 months I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the UK and abroad with a host wonderful companions.  I’ve learnt about some incredibly quirky customs and etiquette (I now know NOT to ask a Finnish reindeer farmer how many animals he has), eaten some absolutely delicious food (Cunard's Princess Grill restaurant was SUPERB), seen on some amazing sights and spent a lot of time discovering yet more beautiful and inspiring places in my beloved Lake District.

Derwentwater in Autumn

Although it's been incredibly difficult to choose, here are my Top Ten highlights and why they epitomize Quirky Travel … (They are roughly in date order, NOT preference – that would be impossible.)

  1. The Snowmobile Safari, Finland: this was my very first visit to Scandinavia but also my first blog trip abroad. To be invited to stay in beautiful  Iso-Syote fjell-top hotel and experience their adventure holiday was a dream come true.  Zooming across pristine snow over frozen fields and through ancient pine forests at high speed defines ‘exhilaration'.
  2. The Scaffolding Tour, Chatsworth House, Derbyshire: In April Visit England invited me to Chatsworth, one of England's great historic houses.  The external stonework of the house is being cleaned, repaired and restored and I had a Scaffolding Tour to the roof.  Being able to see up close the very quirky Snake motifs was a reminder of the days when, with money, grand designs and a view to history, architects created individual works of art, even when hardly anyone would ever see them.
  3. The Calf Of Man, Isle of Man: on a glorious spring day, sitting on boingy grass dotted with dainty wild flowers, gazing out across ancient stones and the Irish Sea, all seemed right with the world. I'd chosen to visit the Isle of Man as the prize for winning ‘Britain's Best Travel Blogger' in January.  It's a magical island and so very quirky … a treasure trove of maritime history, proud Parliamentary tradition, roaring race tracks across the landscape, four-horned sheep and faery folk-lore.
  4. Geiranger Fjord, Norway: Gazing down on the toy ship set in the middle of one of the world's most stunning fjords was surreal.  Had I really sailed all the way to Norway aboard that ship? Cunard's Queen Elizabeth was on her maiden voyage and I will never forget the myriad of sensory experience on board and ashore during that trip.  I fell in love with the ship and the crew made every moment a joy and a treat.  I am now a total convert to cruising  – maybe someone will invite me on another one in 2012 – hint hint!
  5. The Calvari Steps, Pollensa, Majorca: walking up the 365 old stone steps past beautiful gardens was a rather exhausting but rewarding experience. We were having a family holiday in nearby Puerto Pollensa but son & friends didn't want to do the walk – wimps!  At the top there is a small, simple chapel with a wooden cross placed in memory of shipwreck survivors.  Sitting within its peaceful tranquility was a moment to reconnect with the soul and a reminder of what's important in life …
  6. Cogglesford Mill, Lincolnshire: Windy Miller aka Michael, a retired school teacher, shared his passion for the old tradition of making wholesome, tasty flour in one of the country's few surviving working mills.  I bought a bag of flour and it does make exceedingly good bread.
  7. Walking with Wallender, Sweden: medieval Ystad, in the Skäne region of southern Sweden, was a delight. Its colourful wood-framed houses, winding lanes and imposing square all feature in the detective series ‘Wallander'.  I was with a really fun group of travel bloggers and sharing the delights of this region with a group of like-minded writers was the other reason this trip was so enjoyable.  Oh, and the food was DELICIOUS.
  8. The Art Deco Tour, Midland Hotel: Morecambe is not necessarily the most obvious place to find one of the UK's best-kept Art Deco gems, but then travel is full of surprises.  Renowned (and definitely bonkers) sculptor Eric Gill produced some of his best work for this hotel; my brother and I had an absorbing insight on one of the hotel's tours, followed by excellent afternoon tea. History, art, culture and cake in one afternoon – heaven.
  9. Strahov Monastery Library, Prague: books are a passion and the historic collection in this 12th century monastery is one of the glories of the Czech Republic. Prague is one of my favourite European capitals. The people are friendly, cultured and feisty, the architecture is varied and well-preserved, the beer is excellent and the food … well, the food is OK if you are a carnivore with a penchant for dumplings, but it's definitely one place I could return to again and again.
  10. Cocktails at the Cavendish, London: learning how to make cocktails from a world-class expert with a group of food & drink bloggers in this luxury hotel – what's not to like?  It combined so many things I love about travel – great surroundings, meeting new people, discovering how to do something different and getting in the festive spirit in style.

Quirky Traveller notebook & camera

With grateful thanks to all people who made these trips possible.  Wishing all the friends and travellers I have met along the way a very Happy New Year and all the very best for 2012.  Travel Quirkiliciously …