This summer I‘ve taken a break from travelling overseas to spend more time with my family and friends. I’m also using the opportunity to explore local places, which I’m excited to share with you – my 15 favourite exotic locations – some of which I’ve known well for many years and some that are new to me.
It’s all too easy to ignore what’s on your doorstep but I’ve found that I don’t have to leave the UK to visit an exotic location. Wherever you live in the world, do a bit of research and you might be surprised by what you discover.
Much of my time these days is split between my home town by the Sussex seaside and London. Here’s a collection of my local gems, with some places further afield that I have visited on my travels and others that I have heard about but have not had a chance, as yet, to see for myself. Most importantly, they are all right here in the UK.
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Architecture that will whisk you away to distant lands
Brighton Pavilion, East Sussex, England
Who needs India’s Taj Mahal when you have Brighton Pavilion on your doorstep? I love the colourful seaside town of Brighton, which is just an hour’s train ride from London. One highlight you must not miss if you visit is the magnificent Pavilion. Built by the Prince Regent in 1797, the exterior resembles an Indian palace while the inside is equally fanciful, if not even more so, with huge golden Chinese dragons suspending glittering chandeliers and the like!
Two other destinations in the UK come to mind that will transport you to another time and place. Portmeirion in North Wales is where the 60’s TV series The Prisoner was filmed. The pastel-coloured buildings, intricate architecture and Italian gardens may have you thinking you are in a village on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. While a visit to Porthcurno’s Minack amphitheatre in Cornwall will whisk you off to ancient Greece.
Other-worldly trees and forests
A magical tree tunnel, West Sussex, England
Known as a holloway, where centuries of footfall have worn away the soil so that the path is sunken down from the surrounding ground level, this public footpath in Halnaker near Chichester, is just a 20-minute drive from my home. Running along the course of the old Roman road that used to link Chichester with London, the trees growing either side of the lane curve over to meet each other, forming this magical tree tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, if you turn north and head up hill, you’ll find the recently restored Halnaker Windmill and 360-degree views of the surrounding Sussex countryside. You can even see the Isle of Wight on a clear day.
Puzzlewood, Forest of Dean, Wales
Said to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings novels, Puzzlewood has been used as a filming location for the likes of Doctor Who, Star Wars and Merlin. I’ve yet to visit but from what I’ve seen, it looks like an enchanted wood straight out of a fairy-tale, so for those two reasons, it’s on my ever-growing list of must-see UK destinations.
Kingley Vale, West Sussex, England
In this lovely nature reserve, you can see what are believed to be the oldest living things in England; groves of ancient twisted and knurled yew trees that are possibly as much as a thousand years old. Although it’s quite an eerie experience to wander around them, there’s no doubt that is has a magical atmosphere. With rare orchids and ancient burial mounds amongst its attractions, I’m lucky that it is just a short drive from my home.
The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland
For many years I’d seen striking images of this lovely avenue of trees not far from Belfast, and I longed to visit it for myself, so that I too could photograph them. In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice and have captured them in both the snow and sunshine. Made famous as one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones, it can get a little busy. But with enough patience, sooner or later, you should be able to photograph it with barely another soul in sight.
Explore the world through your taste buds
I’ve heard it said that you can try every cuisine from around the world in London. I don’t know if that’s true, but it can’t be far off it. I’ve enjoyed a huge variety of food there in the last few years, from Vietnamese to Ethiopian.
Chinatown and Soho, London, England
I recently went on a cultural walking tour of London’s Chinatown, with Minji from Taste Chinatown Inside Out. It was fascinating to learn about the history of this colourful district. Minji shared some insights into the lives of immigrants moving here from China, while my taste buds discovered Mango and Sago, halfway between a dessert and a drink, perfect for a hot summer’s day, and the traditional Chinese crepe breakfast, a dish that has spread from the north of China to become popular all over the country. The tour ended in Bun House in Greek Street, Soho. Although a bun wasn’t included in the price of the tour I couldn’t resist trying one and I’m so glad I did, as were my taste buds!
Every Chinatown I have visited around the world has huge ornate entrance gates. As I learned from Minji, the gates once had wooden doors marking the boundaries between districts. The doors also acted as information boards where people posted announcements about forthcoming marriages, births and such like. Interestingly, Liverpool’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinese community in Europe and has the largest entrance gates outside of China.
Wine Tasting, South of England
Did you know that the south of England has a growing reputation for its excellent white and sparkling wines, meaning you no longer have to go abroad for a great wine tasting experience? Some of the best English vineyards include Camel Valley Vineyard, Cornwall, The Chapel Down Winery in Kent and Three Choirs Vineyards in Gloucestershire, but there are many more excellent wineries than that to discover.
Stunning beaches to explore
With this summer being the exception, we may not often have weather to compete with more tropical destinations, but we do have plenty of visually stunning sandy beaches, perfect for leisurely walks or a dip in the sea when weather permits.
West Wittering, West Sussex, England
Just a stone’s throw from me are the lovely sand dunes of West Wittering. While I’d recommend avoiding them at all costs on a sunny bank holiday as you are liable to spend most of your day stuck in a traffic jam, this unspoilt beach has stunning views across Chichester Harbour and the rolling hills of the South Downs beyond.
Other world-class beaches in Britain that I long to see include Hunmanby Gap, North Yorkshire, Pelistry Bay, Isles of Scilly and Crosby Beach, Liverpool with the eerie sight of Antony Gormly’s cast-iron human figures scattered over a 2-mile stretch of sandy beach, looking out to sea. They disappear beneath the waves each high tide. Another lovely beach, on Scotland’s wild, north-western coast, Sandwood Bay is stunning, I’m told, with a vast expanse of pink-hued sand dunes leading down to the sea.
I’m sure there are a great many more places in the UK that would sit well in this list. For a relatively small country, the UK has many unexpected treasures. If you live in the UK (or even if you don’t) and such a place springs to mind, please do tell me about it in the comments below. While my travels often take me far away from our shores, what exotic wonders, man-made or natural, am I missing here in the UK?
Ryvita has teamed up with Kathryn Burrington, Travel Blogger, to be part of their Positivity Panel alongside Davina McCall. The panellists were handpicked to help inspire women across the nation to feel confident and happy, whatever their age, through advice, tips and tricks. Head to Ryvita.co.uk/living-well to find out more.
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