From hiking Glyndŵr's Way and witnessing Northumberland's Dark Skies to transporting beer to Brittany, swimming in the Aegean and mountain biking in the Sierra Nevada, here are some of our favourite experiences from 2015, as chosen by our team of contributors James Stewart, Rhiannon Batten, Sian Lewis, Paul Bloomfield, Harriet O'Brien, David Atkinson, Florence Fortman, Liz Granirer, Lucy Symons, Yvonne Gordon and Richard Hammond.
Best family holiday Rhiannon's favourite family holiday this year was swimming with turtles (and watching their baby siblings hatch) in Cirali, Turkey. "A lovely low-key village right on a beautiful beach, backed by pomegranate groves and pine-peppered mountains and full of lovely family-owned businesses, from Hotel Azur to Hayriye’s restaurant, a shady flower and cushion-strewn cafe serving delicious salads and traditional Turkish mezzes made with produce grown on the owner's farm".
Prettiest hotel: Liz Granirer loved Hôtel Les Orangeries, in Lussac-les-Château, just south of Poitiers, France. "Verdigris window trim and doors, terracotta floor tiles, repurposed farm buildings, French doors onto impossibly perfect gardens... The sort of place where, somehow, they even know how to make breakfast look beautiful".
Best morning video shoot location Okay so it's not exactly an unknown location, but filming at Stonehenge (and Avebury) at dawn was one of the highlights of the year for our film crew. We produced two videos this year about how to reach these iconic mystical attractions by public transport.
Best wildlife-watching experiences In late summer, Jo visited the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and boarded a boat to the Farne Islands and had some fantastic views of some of the islands' inhabitants, including puffins, guillemots and seals. Read her full article: Wildlife watching on the Farne Islands, Northumberland Coast
In late November, Lucy visited Gwel an Mor where she went on her best wildlife experience; nearly three hours of wandering through local fields and woods at the coastal location of Portreath in Cornwall with enthusiast and biologist Ranger Gary whose passion extends beyond the indigenous furry creatures to championing the local ants. Fly Chunk the Owl, charm the snakes and feed the rescue foxes. £12 well spent!
Best hike Undertaking a couple of days' taster walking the Glyndŵr's Way around Machynlleth, starting from the truly remote Star Inn at Dylife and staying at the charming self-catering cottage Yr Hen Stablau (a converted stable), revealed the green beauty of this patch of mid-Wales, passing through the Dyfi Biosphere Reserve. Red kites soar overhead; serene, mirror-like lakes glimmer in the sun; trails wind through moors, down into verdant combes and past isolated sheep farmsteads. Magical.
Best ecolodge Wheatland Farm in Devon has long been a favourite of ours, so it was great to see it rewarded at the VisitEngland Awards where it won Gold for Sustainable Tourism. Above is a short video we made about it this summer.
Best International Moment Liz Granirer's favourite moment of 2015 was a home-cooked dinner at Une Campagne en Provence, an agrotourism-based hotel and range of self-catering cottages in southern France with hosts, Claude (from Alsace) and Martina (from Germany), along with their teenage son (born in France, fluent in English, French, German and Spanish, learning Russian...), and fellow guests who came from Turkey and Italy, and us (British and American). "There was so much good feeling and jolliness around the table," says Liz,, "it was truly a night to remember".
Best camping experience James's most unusual camping experience was cliff-camping with Gaia Adventures. Staying overnight on a portaledge, the flat frames that climbers use to tackle multiday ascent, hung from Angelsey's sea cliffs and dangling off the edge of the world on what looks like a cheap sunlounger, basically. James said it felt about as safe as abseiling yet was a genuinely escapist experience and is "a fantastic way to slow down, drop out of the world and immerse in beautiful views of sea and sky". Bonkers!
Best beach-side taverna The Aegean island of Chios is known as the island of the senses, and the air itself smells like tasty things to eat, from fragrant tangerines and ripening tomatoes to the piney tang of mastic sap. For the best beachside tavernas try the Nostos Tavern in Lagada - where they serve up fresh, traditional and beautifully prepared dishes, from bright Greek salads to just-caught and salted sardines - try them with a glass of cloudy ouzo on the side. Our favourites, though, are the puddings - pastries sweetened with mastic liquor or a 'spoon sweet' - rich homemade marmalades eaten with Greek yoghurt.
Best step-back-in-time accommodation Paul rated the Château de Chantore - a charming 18th-century mini-palace packed with period art and furnishings – breakfast coffee is poured from a silver-plated Napoleonic pot! Bernard and Iñaki, the antiques-loving pair who have restored the chateau, are incredibly welcoming and passionate about this place – perfect hosts. Sip cider made with apples from the château’s orchards, and breakfast on eggs from the Sebright hens pecking in the yard. And bed down with views of Mont St-Michel peeking through the trees
Best bike rides The trail from the Puerto de la Ragua pass in Andalucia’s Sierra Nevada to the lovely whitewashed Alpujarran village of Mairena traverses boar-grubbed forests, rocks topped by big-horned ibex, and peaceful farmsteads watered by acequias – irrigation channels created by the moors a millennium ago, gets Paul Bloomfield's vote for best bike ride of the year. Best of all, he says, "with David – owner of lovely guesthouse Las Chimeneas – as a guide, you won't miss a thing. Second best, it’s downhill all the way…"
In the summer, Yvonne Gordon cycled around the car-free islands in the southern Gothenburg Archipelago in West Sweden - exploring pretty harbours, swimming spots, lookout points and nature reserves on islands like Styrsö and Vrångö. There are more than 20 islands in the archipelago, with regular ferries between them. After a day of activities, retire back to your guesthouse for a supper of freshly-caught crayfish.
Best teaching experience Richard spent a weekend in Cornwall at Watergate Bay Hotel with Swimlab where he was given a two-day tutorial on swimming technique by the experienced swimming professional teacher Saim Ahmed. "The teaching was first-class - I've been swimming for years, but learnt so much about how to improve my technique, thanks especially to the underwater filming and analysis that Salim provides. I'd recommend this course to anyone - from novice swimmer to those that think they have their technique nailed - bet they would learn something from Salim's expert eye", said Richard.
Best tipple Paul Bloomfield's most unexpectedly tasty tipple was a pear aperitif from the farm near Domfront, Normandy. A blend of pear brandy mixed with pear juice, Paul said "it's the essence of rural Normandy in a glass (which just kept emptying and being mysteriously refilled...)". Sipped while gazing out at cow-grazed pear orchards, Paul says: "It was more delicious than I could have imagined."
Best wine-tasting Hiking a section of the recently opened Moselsteig walking trail between Trier and Beilstein, Paul Bloomfield enjoyed gazing at the meandering river, Roman remains and fairytale castles lording it over towns including Bernkasel-Kues and Traben-Trabach. But mostly he enjoyed sampling the many – and he means many – vintages en route; with the valley sides almost uniformly blanketed with vines and a Weingut (winery) or Strausswirtschaften (seasonal pop-up wine bar) at literally every corner, there’s no escaping the Riesling here. Paul suggests this as the best wine-tasting experience especially the Spätlese, slightly sweet but incredibly refreshing wine made with late-harvested grapes. Join the route with self-guided walking specialist Inntravel.
Best bits of the Cotswolds We invited Harriet O'Brien (the Telegraph's Cotswolds correspondent) to write our Greentraveller's Guide to the Cotswolds AONB - her favourite discoveries were The Chef's Dozen at Chipping Campden for exquisite, innovative cuisine with total commitment to local produce and to supporting suppliers in the immediate area. For more foodie heaven, she recommends trying the Jolly Nice Cafe and Farm Shop near Minchinhampton for the brilliant use of a once derelict petrol station, and for a really great selection of veg, meat and deli goods, she also suggests you stop by the Moreton-in-Marsh Show as it is a wonderful family event. "This is a charmingly old-fashioned country show complete with tractors, sheep shows and engaging pigs," she says. Also, don't miss the many pop up shows and events in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Cotswolds AONB.
Best bits of Kent Harriet also wrote our Greentraveller's Guide to the Kent Downs staying on Brenley Farm B&B- on a working hop and apple farm, which she recommends as a bucolic, elegant place to stay, with delicious breakfasts from host Maggie Berry. While you are there, grab your bins and pop by Lydden Temple Ewell Reserve - a glorious stretch of countryside full of birds (sky larks, woodpeckers and more) and supporting a great variety of plants from orchids to wild herbs - and butterflies too, and visit Doddington Place Gardens - a magnificent blend of nature and nurture; the clipped yew hedges are amazing, the woodland garden magical. Jot it down in your diary for the month of April as a place to go to see the terrific displays of rhododendrons.
Best Dark Skies experience In late summer, Jo visited the Northumberland National Park to experience the area's dark skies. "Once the clouds shifted, we began to notice things about the moon we’d never seen before. The white parts are more heavily cratered than the dark ‘seas’. Meteors hit evenly, Roy said, but the darker parts were once pools of lava which absorbed the shocks. As the rock hardened it formed ripples like cooling milk." Read the full article: Northumberland National Park's Dark Skies
Best châteaux bike tour Our staff writer, Florence Fortnam, rates cycling the wonderful 'Châteaux à Vélo' in France - 400km of cycle lanes that wind through vineyards, lovely villages and stunning countryside linking some of the Loire's grandest châteaux, such as Chambord, Blois and Cheverny. She suggests that you take a well-earned dip in the crystal clear waters at the Baignade Naturelle du Grand Chambord after a day in the saddle exploring the Châteaux à Vélo cycle routes.
Best home-from-home guesthouse David Atkinson says Geufron Hall is best home-from-home guesthouse. A B&B set on a widescreen-view hillside overlooking the vibrant North Walian town of Llangollen. Owner Beth Boyce served David a delicious breakfast in the morning with scrambled eggs from the hens wandering her flower-strewn garden. Best of all, it's just a short walk along the footpath to the ancient ruins on Castell Dins Bran.
Best eco retreat Tyddyn Retreat outside Machynlleth in Mid Wales, is a delightfully tranquil, three-acre site with two cosy stone barn conversations, sleeping up to six people each, plus a tipi, a workshop for seminars, even has a secluded, sleep-in summerhouse. The owner, Romy Shovelton, arranges regular events at the retreat from reiki to writing retreats and helps to guide visitors along local sections of the Glyndwr's Way National Trail.
Best al fresco festival feast We loved sampling local crab and oysters and learning how to forage for your dinner at the Food Rocks festival in Lyme Regis, Dorset, held just above the famous Cobb with the Jurassic Coast stretching off into the distance.
Best breakfast Rhiannon Batten says her best breakfast was the mustardy, cheesey rarebit with buttered but crunchy greens at the surprisingly green Ham Yard Hotel in Soho and she really enjoyed seeing local Somerset brandy (pomona) on the wine list alongside the usual dessert wines at Cross Lane House on the fringes of Exmoor and the best cooking course she attended was a relaxed autumn tasting evening at The Talbot in Mells courtesy of Kitchen Table Cookery. Lots of local produce, a sociable - and prettily candlelit - atmosphere and food you'd actually want to cook again: hearty mushroom bourguignon made with local mushrooms, a gorgeous cardamom-laced yoghurt to use in place of cream and a fresh, green apple coleslaw. Yum!
Best gluten-free grub Lucy Symons discovered that Lifton Farm Shop on the Cornwall/Devon borders had the most extraordinary selection of gluten free everything she has ever seen. Cheese, store cupboard items and hand crafted Cornish Pasties… The gigantic car park should prepare you for the heaving mass of punters all wandering the aisles open mouthed at the sheer volume of deliciousness under a single roof. The staff are all as excited as their customers, as they share their recommendations and enthusiasm for the farm produce.
Best cheese experience Sian Lewis still dreams about the Swiss Cheese Train she discovered on her Grand Train Tour of Switzerland. Platform 5 of Montreux's pretty station is the starting point for what must be the tastiest mode of slow travel in Europe - the Cheese Train, which runs from December to April along Switzerland's famous, mountainous Golden Pass line in its own train carriage - an original from the Belle Epoque, complete with plush seats and gold-trimmed interiors. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass then a Cheese Train ticket is just 39CHF, which includes cheese and wine on the platform and a fondue lunch in a chalet in the mountain town of Chateaux-D'Oex.
Read a summary of Sian's trip: Summary and Route Map of Greentraveller's Grand Tour of Switzerland and also a Storify summary of the social media coverage.
Best sea swims Sian loved swimming off the beaches of Lesvos: The inviting, clear blue waters that hug the coast of Lesvos are impossible to resist says Sian: "Go swimming on the beachfront of gay-friendly Skala of Eressos, swim above the beautiful reef at Agios Isidoros beach or wait until nightfall to see if you can spot starry phosphorescence on the waves".
Best gorge walk James Stewart says the Vikos Gorge is truly astonishing. However many times you see the world’s deepest gorge, it continues to reveal new perspectives of itself to wow you all over again. His favourite gorge experiences were the short walk to the Voidomatis Springs, the six-hour trek along its length (if only to have the place to yourself midway along), the viewpoint at Oxia and the Convent of Agia Paraskevi.
Best accommodation in Greece James Stewart rated the accommodation in Zagori. Marry genuine Greek hospitality in a family B&B to the good looks of historic stone buildings and you have some wonderful accommodation in the picture-postcard villages of the Zagori. Who needs the coast when you have such fantastic stays as Kipi Suites, Papaevengelou, Aristi Mountain Retreat and Thoukididis Guest House... James says he’d return tomorrow.
Best working holiday James Stewart says his best working holiday was when he took a booze cruise with a difference and joined Grayhound, a 108ft Cornish sailing lugger, to transport a cargo of beer to Brittany. It's not just pure escapism, he swears – he sailed as working crew, with his itinerary dictated by the whim of the winds – as part of a genuine cargo trip to provide green, low-carbon transport. James says: "Lovely owners, too!"
Best bit of news in the autumn spending review The protection of over £350 million funding for public forests, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Here's our video of one such area: The Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty:
And finally... we were delighted that Greentraveller was awarded the Top Green Travel Blog in 2015 badge by Flipkey.