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Readers’ favourite travel discoveries of 2023


Tove Jansson’s island life, Finland

Fans of Finnish author Tove Jansson will love the idyllic Pellinki archipelago, where she spent her summers on a tiny island, Klovharun, described in several of her novels. About 50 miles east of Helsinki, Pellinki forms part of a group of islands, linked by bridges and a delightful ferry, which you can explore by boat, car, bicycle, bus or on foot. Walk through the woods to reach one of the quiet beaches, hire a boat to fish or just tootle around the beautiful bays and stay in a traditional, wooden cottage with a matching sauna set among the trees where the only sounds you’ll hear are birdsong and the gentle putter of a small boat passing by. Finnish people know a lot about the importance of connecting with nature and this is a place where you will quickly find yourself reflecting on what really matters in life.
Christine

Sounds and sights of Lake Ohrid, Albania

Lake Ohrid, eastern Albania
Lake Ohrid, eastern Albania. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

Our summer 2023 trip took us on a tour of Albania. We loved Tirana and its lively drivers, Berat bewitched us, historical Gjirokaster entranced us and we chilled out by the beach in Himarë. But it was tiny Lin in the Korçë region, eastern Albania, perhaps the oldest inhabited settlement in Europe, dating back to 6,000 BC, that totally captured our hearts. Our accommodation on the shores of Lake Ohrid offered amazing views across to North Macedonia. Delicious homecooked meals, including the tasty local Ohrid brown trout caught by the owner, were served on the terrace overlooking the lake where we were serenaded by a noisy frog chorus.
Lisa J

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Young and inclusive, Wrocław

There is plenty of scope for boat trips on the rivers and canals of Wrocław.
There is plenty of scope for boat trips on the rivers and canals of Wrocław. Photograph: ewg3D/Getty Images

Wrocław is an underrated city, a place to be immersed in river boat trips, £1.30 pints, chimney cakes and cobbled streets. The cathedrals are stunning, the people are warm and kind and it’s just about within day-trip range of the beautifully preserved German town of Görlitz. As a centre of academia in Poland, it has plenty of inclusive, youth-friendly bars and shops, and for far less money than in France, Belgium or Germany you can enjoy a truly authentic European long weekend.
Aaron

Every day in Georgia we ate bread filled with oozing cheese

An adjaruli khachapuri.
An adjaruli khachapuri (cheese-filled bread) Photograph: Radist/Getty Images

Khachapuri, bread filled with oozing, melted cheese, was so irresistible, cheap and ubiquitous, I ate it every day for two weeks in Georgia with each regional variation evoking travel memories. Breakfast in Tbilisi was warm imeruli khachapuri, stuffed with sour, salty Imeretian cheese; while a version full of cheese and nettles warmed the soul on a dreary night in the Kazbegi mountains. In the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region of western Georgia, we had megruli khachapuri, with sulguni cheese in the middle and on top, which was like pizza on speed. But we saved the best for the Black Sea resort Batumi: adjaruli, an iconic canoe-shaped bread, full of cheese swimming in butter. Lovely!
Helen Jackson

Sea, surf, rock arches and beer, Galicia, Spain

Catedrais beach.
Catedrais beach. Photograph: Luna Marina/Getty Images

Head to As Catedrais beach (Cathedral beach) in Galicia, north-west Spain, for incredible rock formations and turquoise waters. It takes its name from the huge arches which resemble the flying buttresses of a cathedral. During high tide the formations are hidden, but as the tide subsides beautiful arches and caves are revealed. Exploring these and sploshing through the beautifully clear water is pure pleasure. When you’re done exploring there is a cafe on the cliff top serving cold beers with views of the sea and surf below.
Laura

Tipple in the taverna, Volos, Greece

A dish at Ouzeri fish taverna .
Dishes at a Volos taverna. Photograph: Wirestock, Inc./Alamy

Volos is a city in eastern Greece that many pass through en route to the Sporades islands, but we stayed a bit longer and discovered the culture of tsipouradika. Order a small bottle of tsipouro (a wine-based spirit), and a meze or two will come with it. If there are two of you, you get double; four and they quadruple it – it’s a social thing. The first meze are basic: aubergine salad, cured fish. Then the more you drink, the better they get: grilled sea bream, scallops. There are no menus, but as it’s a fishing city, seafood dominates. With hundreds of tsipouradika tavernas throughout Volos, it’s an integral part of local life and one I’m glad to have discovered.
Alice

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Incredible atmosphere, Essex by the Thames

Thames View campsite, East Tilbury.
Thames View campsite, East Tilbury

Thames View in East Tilbury is an eco-conscious, no-frills campsite and a perfect weekend escape, with a firepit and table on each generous pitch. It’s right on the Thames Estuary path. There’s a second world war battery next door, and Coalhouse Fort is at the end of the road. For a real sense of the edge of things, walk up the path to Tilbury Fort just after high tide; it’s lonely, desolate and incredibly atmospheric. This is where Elizabeth I rallied her army nearby to face the threat of the Armada in 1588. It’s a half-mile walk to the jetty for the ferry to Gravesend here. At the other end of East Tilbury is the old Bata estate, a modernist masterpiece best explored by bike.
Tim Smith

Canny meandering, Essaouira, Morocco

Fruit and veg on sale in Essaouira.
Fruit and veg on sale in Essaouira. Photograph: Grant Rooney/Alamy

The Essaouira Sunday souq on Avenue Moulay Hicham is an un-Googleable paradise of organic produce. Our landlady showed us the way, cannily meandering, pausing to ask a price, split open a pea pod, exchange gossip. Essaouira, best known for surf and seafood, is also ridiculously fertile. November and December are best, when all the key Moroccan ingredients are at their peak. A truckload of corn in their husks? Thick bunches of wormwood? Artichokes, their stalks intact for soup making? One step back from the coast, the Essaouira land was brought to us, and it was delicious.
Rachel Hobley

Tranquil swimming spot, Lake District

Wasdale’s Emerald Pool.
Wasdale’s Emerald Pool. Photograph: Laurie Crayston

In July we found the tranquil and secluded Wasdale Emerald Pool. We were the only people there. The double waterfall is framed by the 899-metre peak of Great Gable, and looks out to the Wasdale valley below. After an invigorating dip we headed back to our timber cabin in Irton near Ravenglass and watched a thunderstorm from the half-moon window.
Rachel Donnison

Winning tip: Cycling and refuelling on the Hebridean Way

Crust, Lewis
Crust, Lewis

In August we cycled the 184-mile Hebridean Way from Vatersay to the Butt of Lewis. Our best discovery? The food! We enjoyed fudgy brownies from Ardmhor Coffee while waiting at Barra ferry terminal. A day later we arrived, soaked to the skin, at the Hebridean Jewellery Cafe on South Uist and had the best brie and cauliflower soup ever. We ate, overlooking the beach, at the Wee Cottage Kitchen trailer on North Uist; my partner loved his scallop and black pudding roll. And on Lewis we hunkered down beside a blue shipping container, sheltering from the wind, with yummy Neapolitan pizza from Crust.
Christine

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