Underrated Travel Destinations, Part 1
You can never plan your next holiday too early, since booking a vacation in popular tourist destinations can be quite difficult. The best hotels have no more vacancies, flights are getting more and more expensive and all the research for the best deals is starting to give you grey hairs.
For a change, here is part one, in a list of less popular, but definitely worth visiting, destinations.
Did you know that Romania is dotted with 13th-century UNESCO World Heritage-recognized villages? That it’s home to the largest area of contiguous forest in central Europe, filled with brown bears, lynxes, and wolves?
Don’t just go to meet traditional village craftspeople and see the Carpathians’ forested peaks by horseback, but also to experience a culture charmingly stuck in an earlier era, when people organized their lives around the seasons.
Romania is one of the most religious countries in Europe, and the Orthodox Church is omnipresent. You will certainly want to visit some churches and monasteries for their beauty and history, but why not take the chance to experience an Orthodox mass? The congregation is usually standing and it is perfectly normal to show up only briefly during the mass so you can come and go at your leisure without disturbing anyone. Show up at any church on Sunday morning, stand quietly in the back and observe. Please note that while mass is open to all and visitors are most certainly welcomed, communion (the Eucharist) is normally reserved to those baptized Orthodox (regardless of the denomination).
Romania is home to many interesting places to visit including Bucharest, the capital, in which interesting monuments, such as the “House of the People”, overlook medieval and neo-classical neighbourhoods. Take a trip to Brașov, located in south-eastern Transylvania, its main attractions are the well-kept medieval downtown, the nearby luxury resort of Poiana Braşov and the Bran (“Dracula’s”) Castle.
For those on a culture trip a visit to Sibiu may be of interest. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Transylvania, it has the best preserved historical sites in the country, and hosts many museums and exhibitions. Sibiu is close to the stunning Făgăraş mountains, for which reasons it became the 2007 European Capital of Culture.
Of course there are many more interesting destinations, like the Saxon villages with fortified churches in Transylvania; the Danube Delta; the Alba Iulia, that let’s you travel back in time along two millenniums on The Route of the Three Fortifications, the Black Sea resorts.
A lot of people don’t really explore Africa. While in South America or Southeast Asia, people might go on cross continent journeys, but in Africa they might only visit two or three countries. Which is a shame, since there are many countries across Africa that are incredible unexplored destinations.
Zimbabwe is a captivating land in southern Africa, and unquestionably one of the most underrated countries in the continent.
You can explore Mana Pools National Park and Matobo National Park to spot zebras and herds of elephants escorted by the park rangers and the Zimbabwean army and don’t miss the fascinating Victoria Falls, the world’s largest sheet of falling water and one of the most unbelievable places on Earth. It’s known for it’s wildlife but not many people think of it for other kinds of adventures.
For culture, it’s possible to visit the 2000-year-old paintings inside the Matobo Hills. This incredible place has more than 3000 registered rock art sites. The country also has fascinating history. The Great Zimbabwe National Monument, the 11th-century ruins of ‘the capital of the Queen of Sheba,’ is one of those places that make you travel back in time. Hike up the hill to have a fabulous aerial view of Great Enclosure and Valley Complex.
The secluded village of Zalipie in southeastern Poland is home to a charming tradition. Over a century ago the women of the village began to paint their houses: however, it was not the single, uniform color one might expect from a traditional and conservative society. The village, through the intricate and vibrant paintwork of its womenfolk, bloomed.
Although no one is completely sure how and when this tradition began, it dates from when the smoke from stoves escaped through little more than a hole in the ceiling of the house. Women would paint over the spots of soot with whitewash. Yet the spots would still be partially visible and it is believed that the women, in order for their house to appear immaculate for religious festivals, took to covering the remnants of soot stains with paintings of flowers. Once modern cooking and better ventilation came into practice, these cover-ups were no longer necessary.
Yet instead the flower patterns became gradually more and more sophisticated.
To this day, the village hosts an annual competition held every year since 1948 around the feast of Corpus Christi. Local painters (a few men now, but still predominantly women) create their own intricate floral arrangements on the walls of the houses as well as touching up patterns from previous years. The practice has spread beyond the walls of the cottages too – it seems in Zalipie any immovable object is potentially the site for a florescent flourish.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An has the beautiful beaches, stunning sights, and interesting history you want in a vacation destination, but it really has so much more. For one, there’s a great scene for custom-made clothing, so you can leave with some unique, reasonably priced pieces. In addition, the food is outstanding, making every meal a highlight. And finally, the people are incredibly warm and welcoming.
Graceful, historic Hoi An is Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful town. Once a major port, it boasts the grand architecture and beguiling riverside setting that befits its heritage, and the 21st-century curses of traffic and pollution are almost entirely absent. The Old Town of Hoi An is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The face of the Old Town has preserved its incredible legacy of tottering Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples and ancient tea warehouses – though, of course, residents and rice fields have been gradually replaced by tourist businesses. Lounge bars, boutique hotels, travel agents and a glut of tailor shops are very much part of the scene here.
To enter most of the main attractions in the Old Town (i.e. the handful of buildings that aren’t shops) you require a ticket, which is sold at various kiosks. You certainly do not require a ticket just to walk the streets. But it can seem that way since the main entrance to the Old Town is the covered bridge, which being one of the attractions does require the ticket.
Once purchased, the old town ticket includes five coupons that can be used to enter five attractions: museums, old houses, assembly halls, the handicraft workshop (and traditional music show) or the traditional theatre and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Cong Temple. Tickets are sold at various entry points into the Old Town, including Hai Ba Trung Street, and also at some of the attractions, including the Cantonese Assembly Hall. The city requests that visitors dress “decently” while visiting sites in the Old Town.
By Catherina Arndt