Take Five: The most picturesque places I’ve visited
Aled Midha takes us through five places which warrant a special place in his heart, inimitable affection born by indelible ‘beauty’ and ‘staggering’ significance.
2020 was an absolute nightmare of a year for us all, with one of the many reasons being the countless holidays and trips cancelled or cut short. Here I look back at some of my favourite memories from times when we were able to explore new places and cultures, in the hope that it won’t be long before it is possible for us to enjoy such experiences once again.
5. Botaniska trädgården, Uppsala University, Sweden
There aren’t many things more refreshing than managing to escape from a pandemic-ridden United Kingdom to a much more healthy Central Sweden (though times have considerably changed since) during a summer where almost all previous plans were forced into cancellation.
I was lucky enough to still be able to travel to Uppsala University for my year abroad, and was greeted within days by one of the most stunning views to ever grace my eyes.
As I walked down the steps from the slott (historically the royal castle, currently the County Governor’s residence), what lay in front of me was the baroque section of the University’s Botanical Garden, leading up to the Linneaum orangery, named after Carl Linnaeus, the biologist and the university’s most famous alumnus. Having had my fair share of mathematical modules during my time as a student, the almost perfect symmetry in view gave me goosebumps.
I return to this spot at least once a week, and it’s been incredible to see the transformation of the landscape through day and night, and summer and winter. If it wasn’t for the temperature of -11 degrees Celsius outside I’d probably be writing this article from up there!
4. Porto, Portugal
One of my favourite cities I’ve been to. It’s the summer of 2018, the World Cup is in full flow, and you’re in desperate need of a break after grinding out the end of your A-Levels for a few months prior. We couldn’t have picked a better place than the football-mad yet surprisingly authentic Northern Portugal.
We couldn’t have picked a better place than the football-mad yet surprisingly authentic Northern Portugal.
We would make a daily walk through the World Heritage Site that is one of Europe’s oldest city centres, through winding cobbled streets up to Miradouro da Vitoria, where you can look north across the city centre, a view scattered with the iconic clay-tiled roofs and a distant Torre dos Clérigos.
As we reached the Ribeira, Ponte Luís I came into view – one of the most impressive pieces of engineering I’ve ever seen, and one of Gustave Eiffel’s lesser-known creations.
We spent almost every evening with football and local beer in the family-run backstreet bar Espaço 77 – I could not recommend this absolute gem of an establishment more to any future visitors to the city of Porto.
A positively overwhelming cultural experience filled with some unforgettable memories. Not your average lads holiday. But then again, we’re not your average lads.
3. Sri Harmandir Sahib, or ” The Golden Temple”, Amritsar, India
Everywhere I go, religious sites and places of worship are some of my favourite places to visit and explore – the sheer thought that such ornate and beautiful structures were constructed often as far back as a thousand years ago is staggering.
…the sheer thought that such ornate and beautiful structures were constructed often as far back as a thousand years ago is staggering.
And no single one place comes close to the Golden Temple, the pre-eminent spiritual site of Sikhism. Though not being religious myself, having descended from Sikh ancestors who lived in the time of British rule over India, my father, brother and I were determined to include the Temple on the trip of a lifetime across the land where it all began.
A place so impressive that we decided to return the same day, and witness the spiritual evening prayer under the lights. All that was missing was a clear, blue sky – though we probably didn’t need a blazing sun to add to the already sweltering-hot conditions of Indian summer!
2. Lake Ekoln, Sweden
2020 has seen me living further away from the coast than I have ever been before. Growing up near Swansea and attending university in Exeter has made trips to the beach a fairly simple task. I assumed living in central Sweden would see me miss such experiences greatly, but I was soon to be proved wrong.
The stunning Lake Ekoln lies just south of the city of Uppsala, and not far from the capital Stockholm. During the summer, it is very popular with water sports enthusiasts, as the calm waters can be seen scattered with boats, kayaks and swimmers. Although I am still amazed by the fabulous landscape all year round, with both these photographs taken last autumn.
Sadly, the world famous Swedish furniture brand IKEA can’t see Ekoln’s natural beauty in the same way I do – in 2019, they named a toilet brush after it!
1. Rhossili Bay & Worms Head, Wales
You can give me intriguing medieval cities, outstanding religious monuments or a sunset over the most perfect lake in the world, but none of them would ever beat the Gower Peninsula. And that’s for one reason and one reason only – it’s my home.
At the far west tip of the UK’s first AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), the 4.5 km wide and sandy Rhossili Bay curves along an arc running northwards from a tiny village sharing the same name. ‘Whovians’ may recognise this scene, as the bay was used as the setting of the hospital in “New Earth” in Doctor Who.
…the 4.5 km wide and sandy Rhossili Bay curves along an arc running northwards from a tiny village sharing the same name.
At the southern end of the bay is Worm’s Head, consisting of two tidal islands, which are accessible only at low tide, and so have been the location of many coastguard missions to rescue stranded adventurers.
In some of the fields above Rhossili Bay, the National Trust plant around 400,000 sunflowers every year. This makes it an extremely popular attraction for visitors during late July and early August – there’s a high chance you’ve seen some of those sunflower selfies on Instagram over the past few years!
In 2014, Rhossili Bay was voted the UK’s number one beach, 3rd best in Europe, and 9th best in the world, by TripAdvisor users. This comes as no surprise to me as it is still, and probably will forever be, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.