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FAVOURITE PLACES #1

Here’s the first in a series of posts featuring some of my favourite places around the world.  This first article focuses on spectacular scenery.

IGUAZU FALLS. I've been lucky enough to travel around the world extensively and I always find myself drawn back to South America. Once you’ve visited, you find that this amazing continent really gets under your skin, with its spectacularly diverse landscapes, friendly people and fascinating history – and many of my favourite places are here. Of all the places I’ve seen, top of my list is Iguazu Falls. On the border of Brazil and Argentina there are a series of spectacular waterfalls in a beautiful jungle setting. If you’ve seen the film “The Mission” you’ll get an idea of what the area’s like. I've been here 7 times now, and the views still take my breath away and never disappoint. You’ll need to visit the Falls on both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides of the border – the former gives you the sense of scale of this natural wonder, whereas the walkway on the Brazilian side lets you get up and personal with the amazing torrents of water. If you’re visiting, there’s really only one place to stay in my opinion – the Belmond Las Cataratas on the Brazilian side of the Falls. Yes, it’s pricey – but it’s the only hotel that’s actually in Iguazu National Park. So, when the day trippers have departed you’ll almost have the Falls to yourself. There’s something magical about walking along the path in the early evening with the rumbling sound of the water and watching toucans flying across the different waterfalls – with each view more breath-taking than the last.

BLUE MOUNTAINS. Just a 1½ hour drive from Sydney is the amazing Blue Mountains National Park. A World Heritage site, this area is known for eucalyptus forests, rare plants, spectacular scenery, waterfalls, lookouts, cliff faces and numerous walking tracks. The mountains are so named because as you approach, they appear blue due to the haze produced by light reflecting off the fine droplets of oil given off by the eucalyptus trees that cover the rugged slopes and valleys. I’m not a hiker, but I really enjoyed walking a few of the shorter trails and simply sitting and taking in the fabulous scenery. You can visit the Blue Mountains on a day trip from Sydney, but I’d recommend spending a couple of nights here (as I did) so that you can fully explore this fantastic area. It really was one of the highlights of my tour of Australia and I’d say it’s a must-see if you’re in Sydney.

CALANQUES DE CASSIS. Many people think of the Cote d’Azur when you say the South of France. But for me, the most attractive (and more authentic) area is further west. And it’s here, along the craggy coastline from Marseille to Cassis, that you’ll find the fabulous fjord-like "calanques". The Calanques National Park is a protected area, stretching over 20 km, with 26 Calanques of various sizes. The pine-covered white cliffs and beautiful turquoise water are picture-postcard perfect. Some of them are harder to access and require more effort but they’re well worth it. I highly recommend a visit here, whether you visit by boat or by road.

HALONG BAY. Dotted with jagged limestone pinnacles, Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s biggest attractions. The vast majority of its 10 million visitors a year arrive aboard day and overnight cruises - so it can get crowded. But don’t let that put you off – because cruising around this beautiful area with its spectacular greenery-covered limestone karsts is a fabulous experience and should definitely be included in any Vietnam touring itinerary. Watching the islands pass by from the deck of a junk, a refreshing drink in hand, is one of the most relaxing ways to explore. As the sun sets, the surrounding boats are silhouetted along the horizon and the sky turns coral pink. If you extend the time spent on board your junk to 2 nights, you can visit Bai Tu Long Bay which has very similar scenery but which has far fewer boats, so it’s more peaceful and less crowded.

DAMARALAND. When I travelled to Namibia, I was expecting that the sand dunes of Sossusvlei would be the highlight of my trip. But while the burnished orange landscapes are truly spectacular, my favourite part of the country was Damaraland. This area has an other-worldly, wild and rugged landscape and is one of Namibia’s least populated areas. At times you feel like you’re on another planet. And watching the sun set over the dramatic landscape at the end of a day exploring is a truly memorabel experience. As well as the scenery, Damaraland has a great deal to offer the visitor. There’s plentiful wildlife such as kudu, springbok, Hartmann’s zebra, elephant, giraffe and black rhino. And then there’s the Rock Art at Twyfelfontein - with hundreds of ancient engravings (mostly depicting animals) which is perfect for a few hours' exploration.


Watch this space for future posts where I'll be talking about some other favourite places - both historic sites and cities.

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