Nov 3, 2010 6:17:32 AM
Lonely Planet’s top 10 regions for 2011
The lists are out and the crowns have been placed on the heads of our favourite upcoming cities, countries and regions. So, where will you be heading in 2011? Check out these regional recommendations taken from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2011.
OK, Sharm el-Sheikh is being sold for its cheap winter sun but Sinai is much more than a convenient place for Europeans to top up their tans. Away from the Costa del Camel, this mighty desert peninsula is home to a mystical red-rock mountain range, said to have played a major role in the foundation of the three major monotheistic faiths.
The Red Sea’s phenomenal coral reef may have brought divers from all over the globe, but in recent years a new type of tourism has emerged. Ecolodges and idyllic beach-hut camps between Taba and Dahab are now attracting travellers looking for a peaceful retreat in the Middle East. President Mubarak’s government may have spent much of the past decade developing the ‘Red Sea Riviera’ with huge hotels and golf resorts but parts of Sinai still have that familiar old hippy-trail vibe.
Tone Tuscany down a notch or two – thin the tourist hordes, lower the prices, sprinkle a little mystique – and you get Istria. Shaped like a heart, this Italian-flavoured peninsula of 3600 sq km is where continental Croatia meets the Adriatic. In summer months, the sun-and-sea set storms the resort-lined coast, or so-called ‘blue Istria’. For art, food, wine and an offbeat vibe, head to the interior, nicknamed ‘green Istria’ – a bucolic dream of rolling hills, hilltop villages, rural B&Bs and farmhouse restaurants.
The famous French painter Paul Gauguin didn’t escape to the Marquesas for nothing. Constantly in search of a place to eschew civilisation and find perfection, he finally settled in the Marquesas in 1901. He couldn’t have picked a better place. About 1500km northeast of Tahiti, the Marquesas still feel like the world’s end. Waterfalls taller than skyscrapers trickle down vertical canyons, the ocean thrashes at towering sea cliffs, sharp basalt pinnacles project from emerald forests and scalloped bays are blanketed with desert arcs of white or black sand. The Marquesans live in a sprinkling of tiny villages where time moves at a crawl.
With the slow pace of life in its villages, it seems like Cappadocia sees little change other than winds eroding the fairy chimneys (rock formations). However, as surely as Mt Erciyes towers in the distance, the modern world is encroaching here. If you want to live like a troglodyte, you should rock ‘n’ roll to Turkey now, before Cappadocia is changed forever.
It’s worth the trek from İstanbul. Once you’ve left Göreme’s Flintstones-referencing backpacker joints behind, and hiked into the valleys of wavy white rock, the 21st century feels like a distant world.
Anyone lucky enough to visit Iceland comes back goggle-eyed and open-jawed with tales of an untamed island of volcanoes (yes, including that volcano), waterfalls and unrivalled natural scenery. Unsurprisingly, routes out of Reykjavík and the circuit of the island are well-trodden, especially in summer months. But there is another Iceland:a quiet whisper about a secret and overlooked corner of the country is becoming a clamour that this year might be too hard to ignore. The place is the Westfjords, that oddly shaped peninsula only just connected to the rest of Iceland by a narrow isthmus of land. It’s as isolated as it is spectacular.
Unst, Fetlar and Foula don’t sound very British, or indeed Scottish. But they are some of the many islands that make up the little-known Shetland Islands. Part of the UK but closer to Norway than the islands of Great Britain, part of Scotland but less than 100km from Caledonia’s north coast, the Shetlands are a place apart. This might just be the last untamed corner of the United Kingdom.
Staying on a Whitsunday isle is one of the best options for experiencing the reef. There are 74 islands in total but only eight are inhabited – most are accessed via the wild and trashy port town of Airlie Beach. Our tip: just spend one or two nights at Airlie, then quickly make your way to an island. Most resorts are excessively pricey, but good budget options can be found. Hook Island has a rustic backpacker-style resort with cheap meals, and both Hook and Whitsunday Islands have self-sufficient bush camping areas – perfect for kayaking trips.
8. West Coast, USA
Postage-stamp-sized states and bleak urban living? Forget about it. The West Coast states of California, Oregon and Washington mean wide-open spaces and a fresh look at urban and rural living, which has resulted in a fervent eco-movement. Get in on the action by touring urban chicken coops, tasting biodynamic wines or shopping for heirloom vegies at farmers’ markets. Then head outdoors into decades-old national and public parks that now feature uber-environmentally friendly interpretive centres and campgrounds.
The dramatic landscape of Chilean Patagonia is not for the faint of heart. But on a crowded planet, it’s strangely satisfying to encounter wide open spaces where GPS devices may not help you find your destination and your Gore-Tex jacket does little to protect you from the elements. This is the great outdoors – complete with wildly fluctuating weather, massive glaciers, active volcanoes, and herds of graceful guanaco hightailing it across jaw-dropping mountain vistas.
Although the tag ‘New Ibiza’ is wildly off the mark, the lures here seduce visitors so that days flow into nights and weeks drift past in a haze. Brilliant snorkelling and diving among sea turtles, sharks and rays can fill days or you can just drift off on a beachside bed. There aren’t any cars or motorbikes to spoil the mood, rather you can quickly make an island circuit on foot, bike or horse-drawn cart. Nights are the bomb on Gili Trawangan, by far the most popular of the three islands. All-night parties and raves anchor the weekly calendar while visitors can choose to sleep it off in original thatched huts by the beach, in hippy chic retreats, or in stylish villas dripping luxe.
See more recommendations for the year to come in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2011