Sunday 26 February 2017

Best in travel 2010: top of the world

Struggling with your holiday plans for the New Year? Eva Hogan dips into Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2010 to give you inspiration for your next big trip

Eva Hogan

BEST COUNTRIES

Greece

Travellers seeking a balance between cultured history and pure, unashamed hedonism should look no further than Greece (left). Bursting with history, you can satisfy your inner culture vulture with a trip to the ancient ruins of Delos and be entertained at a concert at the historical amphitheatre, Odeon of Herodes. Alternatively, soak up the sun on one of the country's crystal-clear, white-sand beaches, before hitting party island Ios for a night on the tiles.

Northern Greece is particularly fun for female visitors at this weekend's role-reversal party where "Gynaikakratia" or "women rule". This celebration of girl power sees Greek guys step into the heels of their female counterparts and become all-cooking, all-cleaning house-husbands for the day.

Morocco

Morocco (above) is nothing if not unique and its biggest appeal lies in its bundle of contradictions. Muslim and secular, worldy and welcoming, the North African country's culture clashes are a mystery to behold for Western visitors looking for something different. Marvel at the country's glam International Film Festival; experience the grit with a donkey trek to Ait Bou Gomez 'Happy Valley'. Of course, no trip is complete without a visit to the bustling souk mazes of Marrakesh's Djemaa El-Fna market square, where you'll lose yourself in a sea of vibrant carpets, colourful people and snake charmers.

Malaysia

Both traditional and modern, Malaysia (right) is all about variety. From the towering shopping meccas of chaotic Kuala Lumpur to the sparkling waters in the abyss at Borneo's diving hotspots, Malaysia is deeply diverse. Visitors can enjoy a spectacular sunrise from Mt Kinabalu, a trip to Borneo's colourful village of Kota Belud or indulge in some of Penang's spicy nosh at one of its iconic, steamy hawker centres. While Malays are deeply traditional, living in rhythm to the call of the mosques, multiculturalism is making waves and has brought with it the country's most famous Malay-Chinese fusion dish, coconut-curry noodle laksa -- a must-try for that genuine Malay experience.

El Salvador

Think El Salvador (right) and you probably think civil wars, gang violence and drug barons. Well, it's time to think again. The trouble ended almost 20 years ago. This Central American country boasts some of the most impressive natural attractions, most of them largely unspoilt. Visitors can go walkabout in pristine forests, stand among the clouds atop Izalco Volcano and soak up the charm of colonial town Juayua by mountain-biking it through coffee plantations before refuelling at the Gastronomical Fair, a foodie haven.

New Zealand

Even the most blasé of backpackers is left smitten with the land of the mystical Maori tribe.

From Franz Josef's plunging glaciers and Waiotapu's geothermal springs (below) to the 'pulsating volcanic landscape of Tongariro National Park', this land down under is a bastion of unspoilt attractions.

The country's great outdoors also attracts thousands of fearless adrenaline junkies, making New Zealand one of the world's biggest centres for adventure tourism. Thrill seekers can indulge in all manner of heart stoppers, from bungee jumping around Lake Taupo to skiing down The Remarkables' snow-capped slopes. It's also home to the famous Marlborough region, a wine snob's paradise.

BEST REGIONS

Alsace, France

Can't decide on France or Germany? Then hit Alsace (right). This French area is a 'mountainous, vine-ribboned region along the Rhine Valley'. Fought over by France and Germany, it now boasts the best of both countries. The various vineyards and wine cellars along rural Route du Vin d'Alsace ooze French sophistication and make for a refreshing day trip, while the Berlin-esque love of winter wonderlands is alive at Strasbourg's Christmas Market, a popular haunt for festive shopping with tourists and locals alike. The city's vibrant street lighting also makes it safe and efficient, an unmistakable German trademark.

Bali

One place where you'll never get lost is Bali (left). The miniscule island is a mere 100km by 160km, making its vast range of attractions all the more surprising. While Bingen Beach is a sun-worshipper's paradise, the more active will love to 'cruise the gentrified Renon district in the otherwise chaotic Denpasar' and will thrive on the lively nightlife. Traditional entertainment comes in the form of colourful dancers shaking it to the sounds of traditional Balinese music, creating the island's energetic and frenetic atmosphere. However, Nyepi -- Bali's day of silence -- sees the community shut down with roads car-free and tourists banished to their hotel rooms to contemplate, so check the ever-changing date before you go.

Koh Kong Island, Cambodia

Cambodia may be a third-world country, but Koh Kong Conservation Corridor (below), just off the country's coast, is powering ahead of the curve when it comes to eco-tourism.

Hoping to turn the island into the 'Costa Rica of Southeast Asia', the island now features an impressive trail-blazing eco-lodge on Tatai River and a pioneering community-based eco-tourism project where reformed hunters now guide energetic, adventure-loving mountain-bikers. Not only will you be wowed by the island's crab-covered, pristine west-coast beaches, the great outdoors will prove tempting with challenging treks to undertake across the remote Central Cardamom Protected Forest.

Southern Africa

South Africa's heart-breaking poverty is overshadowed by its breathtaking landscape. With world-class wildlife stalking through the vast savannah grass, South Africa (above) is a world apart from neighbouring Namibia's harsh desert plains. Experience an African institution in the 'braai' (barbecue), which defines regional cuisine, or rise and shine early to take in the magical sunrise over the savannah -- an unparalleled piece of paradise. Get there now before the hordes of football fans arrive this summer.

The Lake District, England

'Green, great and grand', England's Lake District (below) is a nature-lover's utopia. Studded with shimmering lakes, misty fells and awe-inspiring panoramas atop the highest peaks, this refreshing corner of the kingdom has been an artists' retreat for centuries. But it's not all about nature and active visitors will revel in undertaking the tightrope-style walking challenge along England's most famous ridge trail, Striding Edge, followed by some hearty and nerve-soothing country comfort food at the historic Wasdale Head Inn.

The region's great outdoors also makes it one of the country's top chic-camping spots, where trendy visitors sleep under the stars on Sioux-style tepees. For those partial to creature comforts, the valley of the great Langdale boasts cosy farmhouses aplenty to bunker down in for the night.

BEST VALUE DESTINATION

Iceland

Iceland's oceanic climate sees a variety of extremes dominate its landscape, from hot springs and volcanoes to cool ice caps.

A hugely popular result is the therapeutic outdoor nature baths that residents have been plunging into with aplomb for years. The north-eastern Myvatn nature baths health spa (below) in the picturesque Lake Myvatn offer a spectacular panorama of surreal lava, cave formations, sulphur-streaked mountains and sweeping wetlands teeming with plant and birdlife, allowing visitors to get their health back on track in the midst of Iceland's natural beauty.

And best of all? Thanks to the collapse of the Icelandic currency, the kronur, there's never been a more affordable time to experience this geological gem.

BEST CITIES

Abu Dhabi, UAE

Glitzy Dubai may be stealing the limelight of late, but Abu Dhabi is the United Arab Emirates' real shining star. Currently reinventing itself with a 'calculated, cultural makeover', this one-time fishing village is alive with classical music and jazz festivals, international art shows and impressive architectural masterpieces such as the Emirates Palace Hotel, helping to earn the city its well-deserved title as the UAE's cultural capital. Hit the Iranian Souk and haggle over a handmade Persian rug, get cultured at the Cultural Foundation's latest exhibition and while away the night under the stars at an alfresco café.

Kyoto, Japan

If Kyoto is 'the most beautiful city in Japan', why do we hear so little about it? Because, demure and mystical, this city's beauty is its best-kept secret. Much of Kyoto's attractions lie hidden behind temple gates and garden walls, reinforcing the city's anti-western refusal to brazenly shove its assets to the fore. Its festivals are anything but understated, however, and the Gion Matsuri party, held on July 17, sees drunken revellers pull more than 30 towering floats through the frenzied city streets. Tawaraya, a fine 'ryokan', is a world-class place to stay and a must for any visitor who enjoys pampering. Boasting heavenly aesthetics and squeaky-clean rooms, these luxury pads overlooking the Japanese Gardens put even the Hilton to shame.

BEST WILDERNESS DESTINATION

Franklin River, Tasmania

Tasmania's Franklin River was at the centre of one of Australia's most controversial legal battles when the threat of a hydroelectric dam sparked outrage among locals. And it's not hard to see why. Twisting its way through deep rainforest gorges and plunging down waterfalls, the spectacular white-water river is a remarkable body which beckons lovers of water-sports the world over. It's also surrounded by towering forests frequented by all creatures great and small, from lizards to swooping eagles. One of the most beautiful rivers in Australia, the surrounding region is now a World Heritage Site not to be missed.

Antarctica

While you might think Antarctica's main attraction is its icy landscape, you'd be wrong. Penguins of all shapes and sizes dominate the frosty terrain and are the star attraction for many visitors to the country's bitter climes.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators allows visitors to explore the region, learn about its history and get up close and personal with a selection of obliging penguins en route. While many millions of the curious birds are happy to waddle about in one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth, few human beings grace the tough region making it a refreshing spot for some holiday making, away from the hustle and bustle.

Papua New Guinea

And from penguins to birds of paradise. Located in the south-west Pacific Ocean, Papua New Guinea boasts some 40 different species of exotic birds.

With most of these winged wonders nestled into their natural habitats, the land is a largely unspoilt archipelago awash with colour and activity. What New York is to people watchers, Papua New Guinea is to bird watchers, with flying creatures great and small fluttering their sweeping plumes and chirping sweet tweets from dawn to dusk. But beware: it's also home to the world's most dangerous bird, the cassowary, a large flightless feathered foe with a horny casque on its head and a sharp middle toe that's best avoided.

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2010 is available now in bookstores nationwide.

Irish Independent

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