I’ve traveled a lot, particularly for someone in her twenties. I’ve been to every continent (save Antarctica, which I have no interest in due to COLD and no people and also COLD). And I get asked pretty frequently where my favorite places are…where other people should go. So…here they are.
CINQUE TERRE, ITALY
I loved the cobbled streets. I loved that everything is built on a hill or a cliff. That every room had a view. That you can walk between the five towns. Or kayak them.
Also, the little shops in the farthest east of the towns had the most charming stuff. I didn’t buy much for myself in Italy, but I bought things from those shops.
Another one off the beaten path…Tavernelle is in the middle of Tuscan wine country, about an hour from Florence. Everything is surrounded by hills and vineyards. If you wander a little out of town, you’ll come across an old, charming, abandoned church. Plus, if you go at just the right time (like I accidentally did), you’ll end up in the middle of the town’s week-long wine festival, which means cheap local wine, homemade pizzas and pasta and being surrounded by excited Italian chatter. Delightful.
Surrounded by sheer cliffs and hundreds of waterfalls, Lauterbrunnen was lush and beautiful…but it also wasn’t too touristy. The tourists stayed down the road in the much more famous Interlaken. Challenging hikes, cute towns along the way and then some breathtaking views as you walk through fields of wildflowers just underneath the snow-capped alps. What’s not to love? If you go, have breakfast at the little internet cafe/adventure trip scheduling center in town. Oh. My. Gosh.
VICTORIA FALLS, ZIMBABWE
It’s one of the seven wonders of the world for a reason. The falls themselves are breathtaking, but they are also surrounded by stunning African landscapes full of elephants and giraffe and a zillion types of antelope. Then there’s the tiny town with its bustling market and The Kingdom hotel, which has the most amazing fruit juices of any place on the planet. But watch out for crocodiles, as they live in the streams and pools around the hotel.
THE OKOVONGO DELTA, BOTSWANA
Rich and lush and full of wildlife. There’s a saying in Botswana that “once you get the sands of the Kalahari in your sandals, you can never get them out.” It’s true that the sand never comes out, but it’s also true that you can’t shake Botswana off. It seeps into your soul like no other place on earth. Beautiful. Strange. Dangerous. Alluring. Captivating. Exceptional.
MACCHU PICCHU, PERU
Okay…so it’s totally crawling with tourists, but worthwhile all the same. Stay in Cusco, which is a charming city full of cobblestones and old Spanish architecture, and take the train (or try the four-day trek) to Macchu Picchu. Spend the first day wandering around the ruins with a guide (you’ll learn SO MUCH MORE with a guide) and the second day climbing the neighboring mountain–Winu Picchu. From the top of Winu, you can see that the city was built in the shape of a llama.
Also, there will be real llamas. They are not friendly. You’ve been warned.
Vienna is hearty and stoical–with serious architecture, serious unfiltered beer and serious nude beaches covered in hearty men and their hearty man-friends. The city is sleek and at the same time historic. And the food is some of the best you’ll find anywhere. It’s totally worth the havoc it will wreak on an American digestive system.
I loved Vienna for it’s blue-green Danube and its hearty food. I loved it for its bike-friendly culture and its smart, interesting people. Vienna is the kind of city you want to visit with a guide–a friend, a lover, a family member–who can sweep you away from the main thoroughfare and into the sketchy-looking alley restaurant with the best weiner schnitzel you’ve ever had.
Picture well-kept, often colorful houses on a steep hill overlooking a short, sweet main street, tasty seafood restaurants and blue water stretching into the distance, dotted with sailboats.