Take a tour of the highlights and lowlights of 2023 On the Luce with the annual travel and blogging review, featuring Greek islands, Mallorca, Belgium, a UK sleeper train and a big guidebook project.
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We’ve welcomed in a new year, and before filling my 2024 diary with new trips, I’m taking a ride back through 2023 On the Luce. I’ve been writing some sort of annual review post since back in 2011, and they’re a great way to remember what happened each year (which with my terrible memory was my main motivation for starting a blog in the first place).
Travel really took off again in 2023, with the pandemic period starting to feel like a bad dream as normality resumed, right down to concerns about overtourism making an unwelcome comeback. How to balance growth and sustainability is going to be a big issue for the travel industry to ponder in 2024 – but first, what about 2023?
2023 on the blog
2023 marked my 12th year blogging at On the Luce, and it definitely had its ups and downs. After a bumper 2022 for travel, Google wasn’t all that kind to bloggers last year, with a lot of volatility and top-ranking posts suddenly losing traffic (and don’t get me started on the terrible AI-generated content that’s starting to crop up in search results!).
But I’m hanging on in there and trying to update and improve my old content as well as keep on useful writing new posts about places I love – Greece, Italy and Scotland were all popular last year. The plan is to focus more closely on car-free/train travel in 2024 too, so if there are any topics or destinations you’d like me to cover please do get in touch.
My big news of the year was after writing a chapter for a Lonely Planet guidebook in 2022, in 2023 I got to write a whole book! I was originally commissioned to write an Edinburgh guidebook way back in 2018, but the pandemic meant it kept getting pushed back.
Luckily the publishers stuck with it, and Auld and New in Edinburgh will be hitting the shelves in April 2024. It was a huge project, with over 120 venues visited, photographed and written about. But it’s looking great and I can’t wait to show it off to everyone. I also had my photos of the Cotswold Way featured in another lovely new book.*
2023 on the road
2023’s travels were all about Edinburgh. I spent over a month in the city during the spring on various different research trips for the book, then a month at home writing it all up, and another couple of months dealing with edits, map-making and proofing.
The rest of the year took me to three different countries (Spain, Belgium and two trips to Greece). I maintained my travel love affair with Greece with visits to three new islands, discovered some old and new favourite destinations around the UK, and spent a lot of time researching my local area for my spin-off website Explore the Cotswolds.
One of my focuses over the last few years has been to cut down on air travel. In 2023 I took six flights, down from the previous year’s eight. There were also three ferries and a whole lot of trains, including a UK sleeper and a couple of vintage trains. So what were the best bits On the Luce in 2023? Here are some of my travel highlights from the last year.
A whole lot of Edinburgh
When I was first asked to write a book about Edinburgh, I was studying in Scotland and my sister lived in Stockbridge. Things have changed a bit since, so I had to start from scratch. I stayed in different neighbourhoods – Grassmarket, Leith, Morningside and Broughton – to get the most up-to-date information, and loved getting to know the city better.
I took different friends and family on each trip and we ate and drank our way around a huge shortlist of venues to find the best restaurants, bars, shops and attractions. A few of my top experiences were staying on a converted boat in Leith docks, afternoon tea in a library and visiting a cat café. But you’ll have to wait for the book to see the full list!
A travel anniversary in Mallorca
Much as I love Edinburgh, by the time it came to March I was happy to visit somewhere a bit warmer and drier. In 2003, my friend Nicki and I set off on an epic 18-month round-the-world adventure, visiting India, Southeast Asia and Australia. So to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the trip we headed to Palma in Mallorca for a long weekend.
Palma is a fab place for a spring city break, with sunny 18ºC days and plenty of sunshine, tapas, coast walks and castles. We also took a day trip up into the mountains to Soller and down to the seaside Port de Soller on board a vintage wooden train and tram.
I’ve developed a major Greek island addiction over the last few years. And in May I visited Skiathos, one of the Sporades islands. Unlike a lot of Greek islands, Skiathos has miles of sandy beaches – though some unseasonally chilly weather made it a bit cold for a dip. And there’s a lovely old town, hillside churches, traditional tavernas and sunset spots.
We also dropped off Dreamies and met the kittens at Skiathos Cat Welfare, who do an amazing job of looking after the island’s feline residents. Add in a great public transport network and Skiathos makes an ideal late spring break before the busy peak season.
Lots more Cotswold exploring
My pandemic project spin-off blog Explore the Cotswolds had a fantastic 2023, more than doubling its page views over the previous year. As part of the research for the site I’ve been staying in different Cotswold towns and villages – Blockley, Burford and Bradford on Avon were all new for 2023 – and trying out the local walks, restaurants and pubs.
I also headed slightly further afield to some of the cities around the Cotswolds. I revisited Oxford, where I lived in the 2000s, checking out old haunts and spending the night behind bars at the Malmaison hotel, a converted Victorian prison. I also went museum-hopping around Bath and visited all the Shakespeare sights in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The sleeper train to Cornwall
Sleeper trains are in the midst of a resurgence, with new routes springing up across Europe. The UK is a bit too small to have many of them, but it does have two. So after taking a few trips on the Caledonian Sleeper to Scotland, I finally tried out the UK’s other overnight train – the Night Riviera Sleeper, which runs between London and Cornwall.
We spent a few nights in St Ives first, walking the coast path, eating lots of seafood and taking a trip to St Michael’s Mount. Then climbed into our bunks at St Erth for the seven-hour overnight journey to London. Like the Scottish sleeper you might not get the best night’s sleep ever, but it’s a good time-saving (and not too expensive) way to travel.
Greek island hopping in the Dodecanese
My second trip of the year to Greece took me on an island-hopping adventure around the Dodecanese in the far south of the country. We started with a couple of nights in Rhodes before taking a ferry to the tiny island of Kastellorizo, just off the Turkish coast.
It turned out to be my favourite destination of the year, a chilled out spot where we watched sea turtles in the harbour, swam, read and stoked the local cats. Then it was on to Symi, known for its colourful Venetian style harbour. It’s a popular day trip from Rhodes so gets busy by day, but you can always escape to the beach or its hilltop old town.
A festive trip to Belgium
Then my last trip of the year was to Belgium for a Christmassy long weekend with my mum and sister. We stayed in Ghent and walked miles around the canals, visited castles and Christmas markets, and warmed up with lots of gluhwein. And as Bruges is so close by we fit in a day trip there too and learnt to make (and ate a lot of) Belgian chocolates.
And so to 2024?
I’ve started the last few years with a pretty empty travel diary, but this year I already have a few trips booked. I’ll be soaking up the snowy scenery and getting back on the ski slopes for the first time in seven years in Zakopane in Poland (wish me luck). And returning to Norway to explore the fjords on a Hurtigruten ship from Bergen to Trondheim.
I’m also hoping to visit another Greek island or two, Paris for the Paralympics, and am definitely overdue a new country. Either way I look forward to sharing lots more travels with you all – thanks to everyone for following in 2023 and here’s to a fantastic 2024!