Sunday, 17 December 2017

Best of 2017

Another year nearly done, and I have one last post to share before I head off for my annual digital detox. The end of the year brings out mixed emotions in me; I'm a rather melancholy person so I tend to feel decidedly wistful when looking back over the year's events. 2017 has, for me, been a time of professional highs and personal lows. 

Earlier in the year, a very close friend died of cancer - a first experience for me of terminal illness, hospice care and supporting my friend's partner through an unbearably sad and traumatic process. His untimely death very much underlined to me the need to grab the moment in life and say 'yes' to things more readily. 

Taking on that mindset led to some professional and personal firsts - I went on 6 Music and spoke on a panel at a conference, both things I never would have imagined doing once upon a time. I've done some great things through the blog, too, as well as meeting some other brilliant local bloggers and influencers along the way. 

But more than anything, I've tried to do more of the things I love: travel, days out, reading, walking, going to clubs and listening to live music. My friend was the perfect example of someone who knew how to live life well - he gave himself willingly to new experiences, prioritised the people who mattered and had lots of varied interests. I've tried to follow his mantra to 'just do it' as much as possible this year, and luckily living in Bristol makes enjoying life to the full easy.

So, before I get too melancholy, here are the things I've really enjoyed in Bristol and beyond in 2017...

Best Cup of Coffee
Sometimes it's the little things. And the coffee at Little Victories has made my lunchtime just that little bit happier. Friendly staff, gorgeous decor and a wonderful location in the heart of Wapping Wharf make this my favourite recent addition to Bristol's vibrant cafe scene.

Best Day Out

We returned to lot of old favourite haunts this year (Southerndown, I'm talking about you again) but one of our favourite trips was, rather unexpectedly, to see some locks...I mean the ones you get on canals. Borne of one of those 'where shall we go that's a bit different but not too far away?' moments, we had a wonderful day strolling along Caen Hill Locks. Tranquil and pretty, this free day out beat a lot of the more expensive experiences we had in 2017.

Best Meal Out
Paco Tapas made me beam with happiness in 2017. When the British weather is getting you down, or you just feel a bit blue, this bijou restaurant on a quite corner of the harbourside will lift your spirits, I guarantee it. You feel as if you've been transported to Seville for the evening and the food - though quite pricey - is exceptional. Without doubt the best tapas I've had in the UK. The Sherry Negroni isn't too shabby either. 

Best Cultural Experience

Forget the hipster haters, Hauser + Wirth is a nice place to hang out. Yes, it's a magnet for the cool Bruton set, and yes, it is 100% hipster, but it's located in a pretty spot in Somerset, the gardens are lovely and it has a nice cafe. When we visited there was an exhibition of Elizabeth Frink sculptures, which I'm pleased to say I genuinely enjoyed.

Best Cocktail
Weirdly, I had my best G&T of the year at the Orpheus Cinema - who knew they can pour a better one than many bars and for a fraction of the cost? But for something a little more sexy, I really enjoyed the delicious cocktails and decadent atmosphere at Red Light. 

Best Live Music Event

We enjoyed Joe Goddard at the Thekla and The Cribs at the O2 (though were disappointed by the Downs Festival) but the most life affirming live music event for me this year was the Bristol Sounds series. From the stirring sounds of the Manics, a band I'd been wanting to see for years, to the euphoria of hearing classic dance tracks re-imagined at Hacienda Classical, everything about these events was perfect - the location, capacity and sound quality. I loved every moment. 

Best Pizza
Pizza - like burgers - is ubiquitous in Bristol and equally as divisive. But in my opinion - and I do like to think that with my Italian heritage I know what I'm talking about - Pizza Workshop does it best. I was very happy when they opened a new branch north of the river on Whiteladies Road over the summer.

Best Travel Experience

While Ibiza continued to enchant us, our stand-out trip this year was to Venice. While not new to me, I'd totally forgotten just how mind-boggling Venice is and I enjoyed every moment of our 5-day visit which cost us less than a long weekend to Centre Parcs. Everyone should go to Venice at least once in their lifetime. 

Best Family-Friendly Eating
Having reviewed Thaikhun for the blog back in 2016, I was delighted to find that it lived up to my initial review. I took the kids during a summer holiday trip to Oxford (there's a branch a bit nearer to home in Bath) and it was excellent - efficient, friendly service and great value, authentic Thai cuisine. My kids have quite adventurous palettes but there's plenty for more reserved young diners too. A great place to mix things up if you're a little bored of Pizza Express and Wagamama.

Best Shopping Experience

I'm afraid Bristol's mainstream shopping options continued to disappoint me this year (when will we catch up with cities like Manchester or Birmingham?) but I discovered some lovely little independents in 2017, from the plant-based heaven of Wild Leaf to gorgeous homeware at Mon Pote Home. I was also chuffed when Graham & Green opened a store in Bath. But my most successful, semi-local shopping trip took place at Kilver Court, where we combined a spot of retail therapy with a picnic in the stunning secret garden. I didn't find anything in the clothes shops, but I did come away with an amazing glass fronted cabinet for £50 and could have spent a few quid more in the homeware store.

Best Luxury Experience

Another first for me in 2017 was a visit to a spa hotel. I won't lie; it cost an arm and a leg. But my visit to Ragdale Hall was one of the most incredible, life-enhancing things I've ever done. Rarely do things live up to my expectations but on this occasion, I came back feeling the several hundred quid I'd shelled out was money well spent. For three days, me and my friend cocooned ourselves in a place that felt a million miles away from our everyday lives. Despite warnings about chintzy decor, unfulfilling mealtimes and over-zealous fitness instructors, Ragdale Hall felt a lot more modern and chic than I'd expected. The food was plentiful and delicious. And it's been a heck of a long time since I've felt that relaxed and carefree. It was worth every penny.


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