It’s that time of year again! The holidays are here and a brand new year is right around the corner. I generally like to take some time during this season to really appreciate and reflect on the amazing experiences I got myself into over the previous 12 months. This year, I’ve rounded up 16 of my favorite places, events, and trips from 2016. It wouldn’t be fair to play favorites with my favorites because I loved each one for a different reason, so they’re in no particular order. Let’s jump right in!
Getaway to Hacienda Zorita
My boyfriend surprised me with a weekend trip to this winery estate outside of Salamanca, Spain. Little did he know, it’s here I would find my new favorite wine and cocktail!
Read more here : Hacienda Zorita: My Favorite Spanish Winery Resort
Our weekend trip to this party island was a hot mess which I came to appreciate. After some mishaps with boat rentals, getting lost, and a few other personal problems, we just had to laugh at how wrong everything was going. After a few days of nothing working the way we wanted, I realized just how well my boyfriend and I can handle travel stress together. Maybe it was the hype the island gets that gave us our expectations; regardless, being together and how hilariously awry the trip went makes it a top favorite.
Sister Road Trip, Southern Spain
For our annual sister trip, we rented a car and hit the road to the south of Spain! My sister[in-law] was born in Rota, near Cadiz, and she wanted to revisit her birthplace and the surroundings. So we spent the day in Rota, some time in Cadiz, and a fun weekend in Sevilla. One of my favorite stops was Arcos de la Frontera – one of the ‘Pueblos Blancos’ – where we spent a wine night atop the hidden gem, Casa El Sueño.
New Years Road Trip in England
A very last minute decision, I made my way to London to spend New Years with my love. With him having a family dairy farm in Gloucestershire, parents in Brighton, and having gone to uni at Oxford, we decided to rent a car and make a road trip out of it! My favorite stops were Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds, the tiny pubs in Oxford, feeding baby cows on the farm in Cam, and drinks in the Lanes in Brighton.
Read more here : UK & Ireland Road Trip: PART ONE
Road Trip through Ireland
A spur of the moment trip, my boyfriend and I decided to add on an Ireland trip after spending New Years in England. Typical us, we road tripped through Northern Ireland and down through Republic of Ireland, with Dublin as our gateway. To this day, I crave returning to this lush, friendly island no matter the season. The natural wonders here will blow your mind and each town will woo you with it’s own allure.
Read more here : UK & Ireland Road Trip: PART TWO
I loved getting away from the cold to this fun island! My favorite stops were El Escondido Guest House in El Yunque jungle, Old San Juan, and the secret La Jungla beach.
Tea at the Ritz, London
It seems small, but this has been at the top of my bucket list for years. The scones, the cakes, the decor; everything was exactly as I’d hoped and imagined.
Family Reunion in Sicily
I know I said I wouldn’t pick favorites, but this experience is high up there. My distant family on my mothers side are from Rosolini, Sicily. One of the relatives, Frank Lentini, was born with three legs and eventually joined the Barnum & Bailey’s circus. We celebrated the life and 50th anniversary of his death in this small town where everyone knows everyone. I was able to meet every aunt, uncle, and cousin that still lives today and the love and hospitality of the big Sicilian family I have but have never met was incredible and unforgettable. The fact that we were on the news and in the newspaper was pretty cool too!
Oktoberfest Round Two
My 2nd annual Oktoberfest was again a success! This time with friends from home and my sister-in-law, we broke out the Dirndls and hit the tents with a stein in one hand and a wurst in the other.
It had been years since visiting this iconic city and I was eager to get back! This time, I actually did a walking tour of the Gothic neighborhood, wandered through Parque Guell, oggled at the interior of the Sagrada Familia, and of course ate my way through the food markets.
Staying in Ballynahinch Castle in Ireland
During our road trip through Republic of Ireland, we made a stop a this secluded castle in the Connemara national park. Nature walks through the woods, board games by the fire in the sitting room, and chats with the butlers made this an absolute treat.
Running of the Bulls in Pamplona
After countless recommendations from fellow travelers to attend this festival and myself already living in the country, I would have been crazy not to check it out for myself. It was every bit as crazy and adrenaline pumping as I’d heard. The whole old town is blocked off to cars, so the parties in the streets include bands, wine, and flag flying. We only had time for one running and couldn’t find the entrance to actually run the whole way down the track. But after letting some people go by and slipping past security, I found myself dipping under the fence just as the last bulls ran by!
La Tomatina in Buñol
This massive tomato fight was a festival unlike any other I’ve been to. The energy of the crowd, the locals dumping buckets of water on people off their balconies, the river of red marinara sauce, and the permanent smell of tomato in my hair was worth it to be a part of this tradition!
Trekking in Georgia
Having never attempted a multi-day trek, I made some travel friends and embarked on this 4 day journey through the mountains of Svaneti, Georgia. We stayed in small local guesthouses, ate meals made by the grandma of the house, and crossed glacier rivers on horseback.
My flight to Havana was the inaugural JetBlue flight from Ft. Lauderdale! They threw a party at the gate for our flight and gave us goodie bags on our seats. My trip through the country during the mourning period of Fidel Castro was so eye-opening. I transformed into a sponge and soaked in every bit of culture and history I possibly could. Staying in guest houses and riding in shared taxis, I discovered the love Cubans have for their culture and land. They’re hardworking, welcoming with open arms, friendly, and love to have a good time.
Moving to Madrid
Alright, I lied. I’m labeling this as my top favorite of 2016. In May, I moved to Madrid with my boyfriend and set up a new home-base for myself and my business. It’s been an amazing 6 months being able to road trip throughout and explore the country on long weekend getaways. I was able to make some great friends, discover my new favorite wine, and practice some Spanish a long the way. It’s become my new second home and I’m grateful for the experience. So much so, that I plan my return in early 2017!
There are definitely some trips in the works for 2017 including a Stans trip (Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, etc.), Israel, Morocco, California, and some other potentials. I plan to grow my adventure travel planning business – AlyssaAllDay Adventures – and continue learning about and exploring this beautiful planet.