Worldwide Holiday Destinations – In search of hidden gems? Discover off-the-beaten-path destinations in Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia and beyond with these recommendations from the team and our favorite travel experts…
My travel secret is the small Greek island of Symi, near Rhodes, which undoubtedly has the most spectacular port in the country, completely surrounded by neoclassical houses.
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Think Greece is all about package holidays? Greece has the 10th longest coastline of any country on the planet, and there are still plenty of areas (and beaches) free of other travellers.
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Some of the best events in Greece take place before and after the summer. And areas of Greece you might think you already know during the summer are a completely different experience at other times of the year. During spring, flowers and greenery abound and parts of Greece are as lush as the tropics, while Greek Easter can be an incredible spectacle.
Maya Nord is not a travel destination for the faint of heart, more for the adventurous and intrepid with a hint of the hidden explorer in them. It is an open bay or clearing in the forests of Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo.
With smart planning, you can get from the UK, via Paris and Brazzaville, to the deepest parts of Africa in about a day. The journey itself is an adventure – planes, cars, dug-out canoes and some jungle trekking.
The reward is a truly wild paradise inhabited by a host of charismatic mammals, including elephant, western lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, leopard and forest buffalo, not to mention bird life. It’s a naturalist’s paradise and one of the truly wild places left on earth.
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Its namesake capital is a young, forward-looking city filled with colonial-era architecture, art and cultural venues, as well as a dynamic food scene centered around the trendy Güemes neighborhood.
The dramatic Sierras de Córdoba mountain range is wonderful for horseback riding, while Mar Chiquita, one of the largest lakes in South America, is a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Plus there’s the kitschy Germanic town of Villa General Belgrano, remarkable pre-Columbian petroglyphs, excellent hang-gliding and paragliding, Che Guevara’s childhood home and a host of Jesuit estancias dating back 400 years.
But the Hsinbyume Pagoda at the western back of the Irrawaddy is a real hidden gem (also called Mya Thein Tan, which translates as 100,000 emeralds).
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To get there, take the daily morning ferry from Mandalay to Mingun Wharf or join a sightseeing river cruise.
The beautiful all-white temple has seven terraces to explore, which represent the mountains that rise up to the mythical Mount Meru.
Buy with conscience in Morocco. There are numerous Fairtrade cooperatives and associations in Morocco, which are worth seeking out. Visiting them usually means getting to know the locals, as well as buying beautiful handicrafts or delicious food to benefit the community.
Some projects to look out for include the more than 40 cooperatives in Aït Bouguemez that produce traditional handicrafts; Al Nour in Marrakesh, a professional training center for women with disabilities who create hand-embroidered bed and bath linen; and the Amal Women’s Training Centre, also in Marrakech, where disadvantaged women gain financial and social security through cooking.
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My backyard overlooks the extensive estates of Blaise and Kings Weston in north Bristol. In the 18th century, its woodlands, river-carved gorges and views over the Severn Estuary were internationally famous, visited by European nobility and admired by Jane Austen.
Today, Kings Weston is a true haunt for the locals, a place for walkers and dog walkers to step into the dark woods and step back in time. Stand at Echo, a madness of crumbling stone sprouting greenery from every corner, and you could almost be in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Every spring, the Towpath Cafe on Regent’s Canal near Haggerston quietly opens its shutters and you can find the most delicious seasonal food served there until late autumn.
After a shoot, this is where I go to recharge my batteries and watch the wildlife and light refracting off the water.
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A walk through the Cameron Highlands can bring many highlights, one of which is finding the rare Rafflesia, a parasitic plant that has the largest flowering in the world.
The current record is 107cm in diameter and they can weigh up to 10kg. It is rare due to the fact that they are collected illegally for use in traditional medicines to treat injuries and infertility.
They also only bloom for three to five days, so you have to be in the right place at the right time to catch them in all their glory. In addition to Rafflesia, there are amazing animals in the Highlands; clouded tigers and leopards were seen.
The village of San Juan Parangaricutiro in Michoacán was almost completely engulfed by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in 1943.
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Today, all that survives of the original village is the upper half of the ancient church, its spire rising dramatically from the fields of black, cracked lava that form the slopes of Paricutín’s young volcano.
Spend a day with the Greek gods at Horta’s Labyrinth Park and you’ll find a place where time has stood still. Located on the outskirts of the city, the park doesn’t attract the same attention or crowds as Parc Güell, but don’t look for it – only 750 people are allowed in the park at any one time to preserve its character.
Traverse the twists and turns of the park’s namesake labyrinth, where you’ll find a sculpture of the god of love Eros at its center. If you can find your way out, head up to the upper terraces – some people will be taking pictures of the pavilions full of busts and statues of more Greek gods, but if you keep going up the hills you’ll find fewer people and panoramic views over the city.
Winding paths lead you past shady flower gardens, small waterfalls and ponds filled with the sounds of glowing dragonflies in secluded alcoves. Here, you can escape the crowds of Las Ramblas and spend the day in peace. Also, it’s free on Sunday.
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Visitors arriving in this remote corner of northeastern Brazil are rewarded by an otherworldly environment of sand dunes and pristine lakes.
The trip from São Luís to Barreirinhas takes about three hours. From here boat and 4×4 trips can be arranged in the park. The lagoons are best visited when they are full, between July and September.
There is a place on one of the sub-tributaries of the southern Amazon where you can cut through the vegetation in a small channel, which leads to a pool of the clearest water and a truly surreal underwater landscape.
Immerse yourself; each pile of rocks contains an electric eel, but in the clear waters visitors can avoid the consequences of stumbling upon one of these guardians.
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My Son Shrine is a collection of temples dating from the 4th to the 13th century in Vietnam.
This impressive site was left behind by the mysterious Champa civilization, whose secrets have yet to be fully unlocked.
Once you’re there, check out the local cemetery on a steep nearby hill – where hundreds of brightly colored headstones resemble an assortment of dollhouses.
There are a total of 72 waterfalls to see in Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley, but don’t miss the ones that are hidden from view: the hidden Trummelbach Falls.
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Accessed via an old funicular tunnel and elevator, ten glacial waterfalls thunder within the mountain, spraying you with a fine, drenching mist. The thunderous force of the water plunges on several levels, all easily seen from small viewing platforms.
I moved to Poland to find out why Poles were leaving. The answer was money. I could have googled it. But a Google search wouldn’t have taught me that Poland is beautiful, complicated and utterly memorable, and that working in a fish and chip shop on minimum wage is only so much fun.
I used to live in Poznań. It’s a secret? I would say its corners, its surroundings. I spent days riding the tram, getting a bigger picture. The centers are fine, but the edges are rich. Sometimes it’s good to look the wrong way.
Yes, Holkham Beach is award winning, yes, parking at the property can be limited, but it’s all too easy to miss any crowds walking through the pine forest or along the amazing open beach.
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Even at the height of the summer school holidays, you can easily find yourself alone where the sand meets the sky. Go bird watching, spot a seal or two if you’re lucky, then enjoy a pint at The Victoria at the end of the day.
Just a few seconds away from Notre-Dame Cathedral there is a blue door. You could easily miss it, but what lies beyond is one of Paris’ best-kept secrets: the Hôtel-Dieu complex, the city’s oldest operating hospital.
Slip through the sliding doors, ask for directions to the courtyard and you’ll find a piano and Hausmanian architecture – the ideal cure for the city’s crowds. But remember to keep quiet – patients don’t want word to get out.
Skip the long lines that wind around the Colosseum and instead head across the street to buy your tickets to the fascinating Roman Forum. It’s generally more relaxed and your ticket also includes fast-track entry to the Colosseum. Result!
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Ignored by guidebooks but adored by the likes of Robert Macfarlane, Essex is England’s most underrated travel destination.
Be for the ancients