1. Instead of Venice, Italy, head to: Annecy, France
Venice tops many travel lists, and with good reason: its abundant waterways, lack of roads and impressive Renaissance art and architecture all add to its unique charm. Yet with soaring visitor numbers, Venice’s tourism board recently introduced ’12 good rules for the responsible visitor’ in a bid to promote sustainable tourism. Rules include tasting local produce, not standing on the bridges and visiting out of high season. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but to really give Venice’s structure (and locals) a break, consider a trip to Annecy, instead.
This small, south eastern French town sits against a backdrop of the French Alps, which peek over the curved, colourful stretch of sixteenth-century houses lining the canals. Come summer, it’s certainly busier, but there’s still plenty of room to enjoy a coffee at La Barista Café, pause on the Point des Amours bridge and take in the former-prison of Palais de I’Isle (don’t worry, it’s a museum now). It’s also home to Lake Annecy, an UNESCO World Heritage Site (a status that Venice is at risk of losing) so hire a small boat and soak up the uninterrupted views. No elbow-jostling or tiptoe viewing required.
Annecy, France © Elenarts / Shutterstock
2. Instead of Maya Bay, Thailand, head to: El Nido, the Philippines
Since featuring in Danny Boyle’s film The Beach and welcoming up to 5,000 visitors a day (mostly from boat trips), Maya Bay has become the ultimate go-to spot on Koh Phi Phi Island. The effect on the ecosystem has become so damaging, though, that Thailand recently made the hard call to temporarily close the area, so that the littered beaches, coral reefs and other marine life can return to their natural states. So where should you head to in its place?
El Nido, on the northernmost tip of Palawan Island in the Philippines, is the gateway to the Bacuit archipelago and home to the largest marine sanctuary in the country. A package deal allows you to explore the limestone-clad islands and includes an ecotourism development fee. This ‘eco-tax’ goes towards the preservation of the area’s natural habitat, protecting more than 400 species of coral, 850 species of fish, 5 species of marine turtles and 100 species of birds. So whether you choose to go swimming, snorkelling or diving, you know you’re doing your bit to help.
El Nido, Philippines © R.M. Nunes / Shutterstock
3. Instead of Cinque Terre, Italy, head to: Tellaro, Italy
You’ve probably seen the picture many-a-scroll on Instagram: white waves crashing beneath a tall cluster of colourful houses that teeter on the water’s edge. It’s pretty unlikely that Cinque Terre’s popularity was anticipated when the original stone trail was laid in the nineteenth century. So to balance out the daily impact of hundreds of feet pounding the paths today, plans for a real-time tourist flow app are currently being considered.
Meanwhile, the cosy fishing hamlet of Tellaro offers similar views, but minus the crowds. Don’t miss the dusty pink St George’s Church at the helm of the rocky peninsula, which played an important part in a local legend that’s celebrated at the Sagra del Polpo (Festival of the Octopus) every August. Shimmy down narrow alleyways between wooden rowboats and take in the pastel-coloured splendour of the town: it’s somewhere you won’t mind getting lost. At the end of the day, find a bar and join the locals for a final spritzer sundowner.
Tellaro, Italy © StevanZZ / Shutterstock
4. Instead of Dubrovnik, Croatia, head to: Muscat, Oman
From all-encompassing city walls to the domed, medieval Large Onofrio’s Fountain, and, of course, Game of Thrones tours, there’s no doubting Dubrovnik‘s appeal. However, the city recently came under pressure to curb visitor numbers and address the dwindling number of locals, or risk losing its UNESCO World Heritage Status. The city’s mayor responded by pledging to cap daily visitor numbers at 4,000 by 2019. Where else should you head to with a similarly rich history at its core?
A visit to Muscat offers a fascinating insight on the city’s ancient history, and you won’t hear anyone yelling ‘Winter is coming!’, either. Confusing to navigate, but fun to get lost in, the Mutrah Souq is one of the oldest markets in Oman and sells a bewildering range of items, from Arabian perfumes to Omani daggers and sweets. Also worth checking out is the sixteenth-century Fort Al-Mirani, down by the harbourside in Old Muscat – any clicking you hear won’t come from camera shutters, but from visiting dolphins as they splash back into the sea.
Muscat, Oman © NAPA / Shutterstock