Hidden in the Himalayas, with all the matchless scenery you’d expect, the tiny country of Bhutan is staggeringly beautiful. Piercing peaks and plunging valleys fold into its borders, where you can climb to mountaintop monasteries, hike through ancient forests and horseback ride over lush green plains, while local guides give a real insight into the country’s living spirituality.
Bhutan has been quietly forging its own path for centuries. Now, it’s leading the way in sustainable tourism. With at least sixty percent forest cover, Bhutan takes environmental conservation seriously. It’s already carbon negative, and is set to become the world’s first fully organic nation by 2020, as well as limiting the number (and impact) of its tourists by imposing a per-day minimum spend for visitors.
Preservation is priceless, and travellers to this enchanting nation will leave with a real sense of what a privilege it is to experience Bhutan’s natural, cultural and spiritual riches.
While the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, has long lured visionary types to its bohemian neighbourhoods, it’s slipped under the tourist radar for years. That may have something to do with its turbulent recent history: although Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, there followed a period of civil war, violence and ethnic tensions.
Over the past decade, however, a new generation has reignited Tbilisi’s cultural scene through a mix of local art galleries, exhibition spaces, music venues, concept stores and creative hubs. A growing crop of industrial- style hotels is springing up across the city, many set in Soviet-era factories and publishing houses. The food scene is thriving, too – innovative chefs have taken the helm in the kitchens of new restaurants, where they reimagine traditional Georgian cuisine with a modern twist. The revolution is underway.
Image: Imran Kazi/Shutterstock
An enigmatic and utterly beguiling country, Ethiopia has endless intrigue. From its unique, highly sociable cuisine – the basis of which is injera, a spongy sourdough pancake, piled high with piquant curries and stews and shared between friends – to its ancient language and curly Amharic script, there’s very little that’s familiar about this place, and your trip will be all the better for it.
Ethiopia is a largely Orthodox Christian country, and its religious festivals and structures are something to behold. The sunken churches of Lalibela, hand-carved out of the red rock below ground some nine hundred years ago, are an astonishing feat of engineering. Come January, the network of tunnels and staircases that connect all eleven churches fill up with thousands of worshippers dressed in white, celebrating the birth of Christ with a twelve-hour mass.
To plan your own trip to Ethiopia, get in touch to be connected with a local travel expert.
The breathtaking beauty and majesty of the Gorges du Verdon – also known as the Grand Canyon du Verdon – almost matches that of its American cousin, albeit on a much smaller scale. Peppered with spectacular viewpoints, plunging crevices up to 700m deep, and glorious azure-blue lakes, this area of Provence in France is absolutely irresistible. The river falls from Rougon at the top of the gorge, disappearing into tunnels, decelerating for shallow, languid moments and finally exiting in full, steady flow at the Pont du Galetas at the western end of the canyon. Alongside is the huge artificial Lac de Sainte-Croix, which is great for swimming when the water levels are high.
Moustiers-Ste-Marie is the loveliest village on the fringes of the gorge, occupying a magnificent site near its western end. Set high on a hillside, just out of sight of both canyon and lake, it straddles a plummeting stream that cascades between two golden cliffs. A star slung between them on a chain, originally suspended by a returning Crusader, just adds to its charms.
If you're thinking of visiting Provence and the Gorges du Verdon – get in touch. Rough Guides has paired with experienced local guides in France to offer fully customisable trips.
Simply the world’s greatest building, Shah Jahan’s monument to love does not disappoint. Volumes have been written on its perfection, and its image adorns countless glossy brochures and guidebooks; nonetheless, the reality never fails to overwhelm all who see it, and few words can do it justice. A workforce of some twenty thousand men from all over Asia completed the Taj Mahal in 1653 after twenty years of toil, and it is undoubtedly the zenith of Mughal architecture.
Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore described the Taj Mahal as “a teardrop on the face of eternity”, and though its layout follows a distinctly Islamic theme, representing Paradise, it is above all a monument to romantic love. Shah Jahan built the Taj to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, Arjumand Bann Begum, better known by her official palace title, Mumtaz Mahal (“Chosen One of the Palace”). The emperor was devastated by her death, and set out to create an unsurpassed monument to her memory – the result is sublime.
To see the Taj for yourself, drop us a line. Our new tailor-made trips service will pair you with a local expert to plan a fully customisable tour of India.
Along with Mount Everest and the Grand Canyon, Victoria Falls – or Mosioa-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders”) – ranks as one of the world’s seven natural wonders. No matter how many pictures you’ve seen beforehand, nothing can prepare you for the awe-inspiring sight and deafening sound of the falls. The world’s widest curtain of water crashes down a huge precipice, producing clouds of spray visible from afar, before squeezing into a zigzag of sheer-sided gorges as a torrent of turbulent rapids, carving its way to the Indian Ocean well over 1000km away.
Their dramatic setting on the Zambezi river – on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border – has also made Victoria Falls the undisputed adventure capital of Africa. There’s an array of adrenaline-fuelled activities on offer, from whitewater rafting and bungee jumping to zip-lining and bodyboarding. Less touted are the stunning wildlife-viewing opportunities
Victoria Falls affords: the national parks that line the serene banks of the Upper Zambezi are home to large mammals, such as elephant, lion, buffalo, giraffe and leopard, as well as a variety of antelope and more than 410 bird species.
All this and more is available in our new book The Rough Guide to the 100 Best Places on Earth 2020, out on 1st September 2019. Pre-order your copy now.
Header image: Yana Zubkova/Shutterstock