A world of adventure - the world's most spectacular journeys
The travel gurus at Lonely Planet have just launched their new guide to the world's most spectacular journeys. Here's our pick of the best
Published 31/12/2011 | 05:00
Italy's literary landmarks
Italy has had a deep impact on writers, and this journey joins the dots for those seeking knowledge of this history.
Learn what Rome did for Keats, Hawthorne and Shelley; why Florence captivated the Brownings; and why Venice inspired Melville, Mann and Hemingway.
In a country blessed with exquisite cities, few would argue that Rome towers above all.
In the 18th century, historians and Grand Tourists stampeded in from northern Europe, and Rome also proved irresistible for the English Romantics: John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley.
American author Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his classic 'The Marble Faun' after two years in Rome, using a sculpture in the Capitoline Museums as the hook to explore his thoughts on art and culture.
Venice has also proved a beguiling backdrop for foreign authors. Once again, Byron and Shelley were ever-presents, while Henry James set 'The Wings of the Dove' in the lagoon city in the 1880s.
Herman Melville, author of 'Moby-Dick', was also enraptured. Passing through, he wrote: "Rather be in Venice on rainy day than in any other capital on fine one."
The Trans-Siberian Railway
A trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the ultimate travel experiences: Moscow's Red Square, Beijing's Forbidden City, the Great Wall, icy Lake Baikal, Mongolia's steppes.
And then there's the onboard experience, swapping stories and slinging back vodka.
The classic Trans-Siberian service runs from Moscow's Yaroslavl Station to Vladivostok -- a span of 9,288km, seven time zones and a third of the globe, and it's memorable every step of the way.
The railway skirts Lake Baikal, resplendent in the middle of the Siberian taiga, while the Trans-Mongolian tributary continues past classic Russian vistas -- gingerbread houses and evocative forest views -- before submitting to the sublime Mongolian steppes.
Both the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian lines chart a course for Beijing, and the crème de la crème of sights: the mighty Great Wall of China.
With an average speed of 60km/h, it's the epitome of 'slow travel'. The carriages are not especially glamorous: think faded and functional. On the other hand, they're never dull, whether you experience the route non-stop, savouring the slowly evolving landscapes through your window, or take the time to explore the numerous fascinating stops along the way.
North Cape to Gibraltar
There are more than 5,000 km from Europe's northernmost point, Lapland's North Cape, to its southernmost at Gibraltar.
This is one of the earth's great cycling routes, as many have discovered.
This fabled route provides the coordinates for a thrilling journey that many people undertake simply to say they've done it.
Of course, what happens in between is very exciting too, as you pass through some of the great countries of continental Europe.
Numerous cars make the trip, but many cyclists are also drawn to it because of the variety and challenge of the physical landscape.
Consider the scenery: the Norwegian fjords; the Swedish forest; Germany's Bergisches Land; the Ardennes mountains in Belgium; the Pyrenees through Spain and France; Spain's Costa del Sol and Sierra Nevada; the Rock of Gibraltar.
How long it takes depends on how much sightseeing you do and, if cycling, how fit you are.
The grandpappy of motoring trips, nothing beats the 'Mother Road', as novelist John Steinbeck dubbed it in 'The Grapes of Wrath'. It's like a time-tunnel into retro America: think diners, soda fountains and motor courts.
Route 66 snakes across the very heart of America. It first connected Chicago with LA in 1926, and gave rise to a flurry of small towns that provided all the comforts of home to those perpetually on the move: drive-ins, motor courts -- the whole transient, garish bit.
Everything around here has to have a nickname, and the Oklahoma entrepreneur Cyrus Avery was no exception. Known as the 'Father of Route 66', he came up with the idea for a new national highway linking the Great Lakes with the greater Pacific Ocean.
Known as the 'Main Street of America', this was to link existing roads, many of them through rural areas.
It proved immensely valuable during the Depression, allowing countless migrants to escape the Dust Bowl for more salubrious climes such as California.
Conversely, the post-war boom saw cashed-up Americans taking their newfound optimism out for a spin on the open road, which ran through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. This is where the well-worn cliché 'get your kicks on Route 66' kicked in.
The Hippy Trail
In the 1960s and 1970s, with free love coursing through the air, so-called 'hippies' travelled overland from Europe to southern Asia through Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Turkey and Iran.
Usually, the European capitals of free love and dope, London and Amsterdam, would be the starting point for the journey.
An ideal route from there would go down through Europe via Yugoslavia, Bulgaria or Greece into Turkey and Istanbul. From Istanbul, a typical path went to Ankara, through Iran to Tehran, to Kabul in Afghanistan, through the Khyber Pass to Peshawar and Lahore in Pakistan, then Kashmir, Delhi and Goa in India.
Lonely Planet's very first guidebook, 'Across Asia on the Cheap', was all about doing the hippy trail.
Its founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler bought a clapped-out minivan for £65 in London and drove it to Kabul before pressing on to Australia across the Balkans, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia by any and all means possible.
After selling the van in Afghanistan, they pressed on via chicken buses, trains and hitched rides in trucks, arriving nine months later in Sydney.
The Grand Tour
Follow in the footsteps of the bright young things of the 17th and 18th centuries, who travelled around Europe to gain worldly knowledge -- and who enjoyed just as much partying as many tourists today.
The Grand Tour can be considered the prototype of the gap year: an extended bout of travel that served as a rite of passage, undertaken by young people who desired to see the world before they 'grew up' and became responsible adults.
Typically, the Grand Tourist would cross the English Channel from Dover to Calais and then continue on to Paris.
From there, the route might cross the Alps to Italy or traverse the Mediterranean Sea. Occasionally, the Tour would detour to Portugal, Spain, Germany, Eastern Europe or the Baltics, although the principal interest always remained the classic Romantic cities.
Salt Train in the Sahara
Since the Middle Ages, camel caravans have headed north from the storied city of Timbuktu in musical Mali, into the windswept Saharan sands in search of a most valuable mineral.
At its peak, caravans of more than 100 camels would navigate the nearly 800km north from Timbuktu up and over massive dunes, through sandstorms, and in spite of wild fluctuations in temperature, eventually reach the salt mines of Taoudenni.
They were discovered in the 12th century, a time when West Africa was flush with gold and ivory but in dire need of salt.
Suddenly, the Sahara became vitally important and soon trails bloomed from Timbuktu in all directions, connecting present-day Mali with West and southern Africa, Morocco and Europe, Ethiopia, Egypt and Arabia.
Istanbul to Cairo
A classic overland trip encompassing a maelstrom of experiences, sandwiched between two vibrant cities, Istanbul and Cairo.
The Istanbul to Cairo route is a favourite for novice backpackers and seasoned travellers alike, and the reasons for that are not hard to divine. The route is versatile and exciting and can encompass many different adventures.
Sailing boat or time machine? The world's longest river feels as if it's the oldest, and to board a vessel on the Nile is to peel back millennia as ancient temples, oxcarts and palm trees -- unaltered since Pharaohs ruled the roost -- pass by.
The Nile is more than the lifeblood of Egypt. It is Egypt. Without its generous overspill, this parched nation could not exist, and though accounting for just 4pc of Egypt's surface area, the Nile Valley is home to 95pc of its population.
It was also, until the relatively recent advent of roads, the quickest way to move goods around.
Most of Egypt's key buildings -- from the Pyramids to the temple of Karnak -- line the Nile, while the river has always been awash with vessels, from traditional papyrus skiffs to lateen-sailed cargo ships.
An exotic journey across Central Asia, threading through former Soviet republics and past Islamic architectural marvels, on roads once traversed by caravans carrying silk, is worth its weight in gold.
Containing as many strands as silk itself, the 'Silk Road' was no single road but a fragile network of shifting intercontinental caravan tracks that threaded through some of Asia's highest mountains and bleakest deserts.
'Great Journeys,' which features 78 journeys by road, rail, sea, river, plane and foot, is on sale in bookshops now priced at €29.99. For details, visit lonelyplanet.com