Whenever I talk about my passion for travelling and seeing the world, the same question comes up time and time again: what is the best country you've been to? I always falter and I'm pretty sure it makes people think I'm making up my anecdotes as I'm going along - I'm not, promise!
Having now passed the halfway mark of my 20s (sob) and on the trajectory to being ‘thirties in transit’, I've finally come up with an answer for the question. I realise that it actually depends on different things and, if the asker is seeking recommendations, what they're after too.
For the food: Morocco
A far cry from just couscous and tagines, Morocco's dishes are packed with such incredible flavour. At home, you'll never see me order a salad when I'm out (though I'm a sucker for the salad buffet at Harvester lololol), but here I couldn't get enough! From roasted, and of course, seasoned, eggplant to salsa-style tomatoes, every vegetable was prepared in the most mouthwatering way. My favourite dish of the trip was a bean soup in Chefchaouen, with added olive oil - it tasted like a bowl of houmous but 10 times better.
For the people: Cuba
I still cannot get over the sheer kindness of the locals in Cuba. By their own admission (well, by my tour guides admission), they live a simple life, yet provide such a warmth in their personalities. On my first day, my bank card didn't work, meaning I was stranded with no local currency, and the host of our casa particular in Havana (as well as my parents and a couple fellow travellers) went out of his way to help me sort it, even providing Wi-Fi for free after the quota had timed out. Our second host in Vinales, who I took to calling Tia, was just as lovely, creating huge breakfast spreads each morning and chatting with us for ages despite our minimal vocabulary in each others' languages. In Playa Larga, the casa manager took the time to learn each of the group's names, addressing us by them whenever he needed us, despite us being there for less than 24 hours.
For the landscape: Iceland
Iceland is otherworldly in the winter; you feel as though you are on a different planet. The rugged white terrain stretches for miles and miles, especially when driving in the countryside. Þingvellir National Park boasts hot water springs and baths - in which my hair froze rock hard but I was as snug as a bug in a rug in the 36-degree water - while watching huge shards of ice float down Jokulsarlon Lagoon or standing tall, glimmering and contrasting with the black lava sands of Diamond Beach, really is breathtaking.
For some history: Italy
Italy is unrivalled in its historic sites. Rome is the UNESCO World Heritage site that obviously springs to mind first, with the Colosseum (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World), Pantheon and Trevi Fountain all within walking distance of each other, but all over the boot you'll find notable sites or hidden historical gems in the form of churches, piazzas and more. I took time to accidentally-on-purpose get lost within the cobbled alleyways of Venice, admire the castles of Naples' bay (the mussels were to die for, FYI), wander around the arena in Verona, and gawp at Milan's Duomo, and these have stuck with me.
For the beach: Croatia, Australia and Cuba
To be honest, I can't choose one particular trip for this; I've been to quite a few beaches - especially for a Londoner - and they each differ. The paradisaical white-sand beach of Cayo Levisa in Cuba was gorgeous, yet I was positively surprised at the beauty of the rocky beaches in Hvar too. Australia, thanks to its varied terrains, offers a range of different beaches, best enjoyed on a coastal walk, for example, Bondi to Coogee, and Manly to the Spit.
Go on, where are your favourite places?