My Favourite Destinations of 2019
Updated on January 21st, 2020
Thinking back to the beginning of 2019 seems like a lifetime ago. 2019 was the first year where I have called myself a fulltime traveller and the first time I am also an expat. Over the year I have travelled to 15 countries and while I enjoyed all of them, some stood out more than others. Of these countries, I had been to 5 of them previously, but this time I went to new towns and cities within them.
I love going back to places I have visited in the past. I think seeing a country twice opens your eyes to so much more than what you initially see when you are first there and full of excitement. It’s also why my bucket list is ever-expanding. There isn’t a place I have visited where I didn’t discover more places that I hadn’t heard of previously.
Many of the places I visited were spontaneous and our travel plans in Europe didn’t exceed more than a month at a time. There were a few places we had wanted to visit, and we tried to squeeze those in between others. Read this if you need help choosing your next travel destination.
The following are my favourite destinations from 2019.
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Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
I can easily choose Plitvice Lake National Parks as one of my favourite destinations from 2019. I had previously thought that it might be a bit overrated and hadn’t built my hopes up for it too much. Although how wrong was I?! After spending the winter in Slovakia, I had wrongly assumed that heading down to Croatia in the early Spring meant we would be lazing by the beach and island hopping. Ha. So I might have been wrong about a few things in Croatia. I guess this is why travel is so great. You are put in your place pretty quickly and it leaves a lot of space for adaptability.
On the 10th of March, we arrived nearby Plitvice expecting to head in the following day. However, the weather gods had other plans for us. Instead, the following day consisted of a complete white-out and bouts of sleety snow and rain. We had booked two nights at our b&b and asked the owners if we could stay another. They happily agreed and gave us a super discounted price! Yay for not booking 3 online and also for not having booked anything further on. This is one of the reasons I don’t like booking things ahead of time.
We had a lazy day in our hotel room and in the afternoon the weather cleared up a bit. Having taken the bus down from Zagreb we passed this amazing mill village not too far from where we were staying. We decided to get on a bus and try and find it. After 20 minutes on the bus, we discovered the town was called Rastoke and is an old mill town. The village of Rasoke sits on top of waterfalls and is completely picture-perfect. If you are visiting Plitvice Lakes, make time to also spend a couple of hours here also.
Our day in Plitvice Lakes
The following day we rugged up. Literally, I wore all the warm clothes I hadn’t sent back to Australia after the snow season. Once I entered the park and looked down at the impressive Veliki slap (the largest waterfall) I knew it was going to be a good day. There weren’t many tourists in the park at this time of year and we were able to wander across the boardwalks at a leisurely pace and stop and take photos as we pleased.
After spending some time down in the lower lakes areas, we made our way over to the ferry stop and warmed up with a hot drink. We took the ferry across to the other side and headed to the upper lakes. When we got to this area we were the only people there. We spent a full day walking around and exploring and still only saw such a small part of what there is to offer.
At this time of year, the park isn’t green and the water isn’t as blue (due to the grey sky) as the summer months. However, the trade-off of being some of the only visitors that day was totally worth it for me. Ben was disappointed about the colours in his photos and wants to visit again during summer. I personally would go back at any time of year because I loved the park so much.
Ok, so I am creating a whole lot by adding an entire country. Although I knew I wanted to include somewhere in Montenegro and have been racking my brain for which part to include. I cannot decide on just one location. Montenegro was easily my favourite country over the past 12 months. We spent 7 weeks here on a work exchange program and were able to explore so much. Our wonderful hosts had a car for their Workawayers to use which allowed us to see much more than we would have otherwise.
We were based in Lake Skadar National Park, which firstly, is beautiful and secondly has so much to do around the local area. From bird watching, hiking, lazy lakeside days, exploring the villages around the lake and wine tasting. It was impossible to get bored here.
Even the crazy drivers couldn’t put us off exploring. We found sunset spots overlooking the Mediterranean Sea high up on cliffs, we hiked through giant slabs of rock that had been cut out during the war, camped in a field overlooking the Albanian alps, did the craziest hike in Durmitor National Park, unsuccessfully scouted out flamingoes and visited 3 of the 5 national parks.
This was my second time to Montenegro and I know it will not be my last.
Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia
Have you ever heard of Lake Ohrid? We hadn’t until a couple of days before we arrived. We accepted a Workaway program in Peja, Kosovo and our host was telling us it was one of his favourite places to visit. So off I went to Google to check out this destination and it was decided that’s where we would go.
Accommodation at this lakeside town was so affordable when comparing to similar lakeside towns in western Europe or the USA. There are places with lake views for under $100 US for 3 nights. It’s the perfect spot for budget travellers to feel like you’re travelling more luxuriously.
We were looking for a few days to chill and it was the first time all summer I had had some days doing nothing in the sun. Ben and I got a much-needed break from each other after being inseparable for the past half a year. He was able to enjoy the view from our balcony while watching the cricket and I headed to the waters edge for swimming, sunshine and a good book.
Mealtimes were at cafes and restaurants that extended out of the water. Prices again were relatively cheap and the food was some of the best we had eaten in the Balkans. The entire place had a relaxed feel about it and it was easy to lose the day doing very little. Take a look at my full guide on things to do in Ohrid.
Albania was a complete surprise as to how much I enjoyed it. I was hoping to have time to explore the coastal regions but unfortunately didn’t make it during 2019. Instead after Ohrid, we spent a night in Tirana and then headed further north to Shkoder.
Tirana was such a fun city and had the biggest cosmopolitan feel about it when comparing to the other Balkan cities. We had been missing Asian food and were excited to find a little Vietnamese place tucked away. We had only booked one night in the city and chatted about staying another. Although decided against it as we were aiming to reach Slovenia by a certain date.
We used the town of Shkoder as a gateway to hiking the Valbona to Theth trail as most travellers do. Then it was off to do our hike. We left the majority of our belongings in Shkoder and started the adventure to Valbona. After 2 minivans, and a ferry ride we were deposited into the local Albanian village. This tiny village had so much character and friendly locals and was a beautiful insight into how rural Albania lives.
The next day we hiked to Theth along a trail in the Accursed Mountain ranges. Rocky riverbanks gave way to green meadows and forests the further in we went. Halfway through we reach a summit and took it unobstructed views of the area. A couple of hours later we were welcomed into our next tiny village of Theth. This hike is gaining in popularity and it’s easy to see how quickly these small towns will change. I was happy to be able to witness them before tourism takes over and they lose their charm.
Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
Slovenia had been on Ben’s bucket list for quite some time. This was the only place in Europe he put on our must-visit list. As we were travelling predominately with volunteer programs we found a Workaway on the shores of Lake Bohinj. Lake Bohinj has some of the clearest and bluest water I have seen anywhere in Europe. At night the limited amount of light pollution allowed for some incredible star-gazing. I gave astrophotography a go for the first time here and was more than happy with the outcome.
What made this place so special was how quiet it was. The popular destination of Lake Bled is less than an hour by bus and yet so few tourists will actually make it to Bohinj. While we weren’t gifted by the weather gods here when we did we made sure to make the most of it.
This area is one of those places that no matter how long you spend here there will always be more to discover. Situated inside the Triglav National Park, it is the travel destination for anyone who loves the outdoors. There are watersports, rock climbing and endless hiking trails.
The mountains ascend from behind the lake so dramatically that it seems it would be impossible to hike up there. While not impossible as we found out, it is definitely hard work.
Hiking around Montreux, Switzerland
The one thing on my bucket list for Europe was to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc. Although digging into the pricing of this hike, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. A bed in a shared mountain hut costs 53 Euro per person, wayyyyy out of my budget. So more than a little disappointed I set my sights on conquering a few day hikes in Switzerland instead.
There are three hikes that stand out in Switzerland and all of them are located above the town of Montreux on Lake Geneva. Pic Chaussy, Dent de Jaman and Dent de Lys. Hiking in Switzerland in the summer months was perfect. The weather was warm but not too hot and the number of trails over the country meant that there were very few people on any one track.
Each one of these hikes above was special in its own way. Dent de Lys was the first ridge hike I had ever done and I loved the feeling of walking along a knife-edge. At the top, I was confronted by a friendly mountain goat and didn’t know whether he would let me pass or not. Turns out he wasn’t vicious, just curious.
Pic Chaussy took us higher than the top of Australia (although that’s not really saying much) and down to Lac Lioson. This would have been a nice area to spend half a day after hiking. Dent de Jaman was a large rock protruding from the earth that could be seen from close to Laussane. At the top of this peak, there were 180 views of Lake Geneva and the surrounding mountains.
What blew my mind was just our endless the mountain ranges are here. While Switzerland is such a small country, you could hike your entire life here and still not see it all. I can’t wait to return for more hiking another time.
Valley d’Aosta, Italy
This area was another place I hadn’t heard of and although I was a ski instructor and have a good friend who even teaches here, the Italian alps didn’t seem to exist in my knowledge. Again, we found this place by searching for Workaway hosts within a 50km radius of Chamonix. Expecting to find one in France. Instead, we ended up in Valtournenche in the Aosta Valley.
Valtournenche is a small town 15 minutes south of Breuil-Cervinia, the base of the Matterhorn on the Italian side. The entire region is home to hiking and you can even ski year-round on the glacier.
I’m sure you are sensing a pattern here about what my favourite destinations look like. Not overly touristy and surrounded by nature.
Although only a stone throw away from where we were hiking in Switzerland, the area felt completely different. It was also nice being in Italy and not having to worry so much about the cost of things. We could go out for meals and drinks and not blow all our savings.
One of the best hikes in the area was to Lago di Cignana which had intermittent and unobstructed views of the Matterhorn. Another of our favourite places in this region was the village of Cheneil, with a year-round population of just 8 residents!
That’s a wrap on 2019’s top destinations
As much as I loved Europe and exploring this part of the world, I don’t believe I will make it make here during 2020. Unless of course, I can make my Christmas market trip happen.
During 2020 I plan on exploring more of Asia. It has been 5 years since I last visited any of this continent with the exception of Bali. Living in Myanmar, I am excited to get an in-depth look into this fascinating country.