We've all read a book or watched a movie and wished the places it transported us to were real. Some of the most enduring destinations are fictional. Well, not completely. Some were inspired by real places that resonated with their authors.
So, here are my top mythical locations. What have I missed?
10. Hundred Acre Wood
The home of Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and friends, the lush and charming Hundred Acre Wood is the literary soul mate of Ashdown Forest in Sussex. The perfect place to get in touch with your inner child, the Wood is known for its honey, tree climbing and the endangered Heffalump species.
The kingdom of Narnia, brought to life by C.S Lewis, captured the heart of young readers desperate for their own wardrobe portal to a wondrous land where animals talk and magic abounds. Lewis was inspired by his native Northern Ireland when conjuring Narnia’s wildflowers, haunting castles and majestic mountains, but the creators of the recent film version decided that New Zealand did it for them. The latest film is scheduled to be shot at White Island in the breathtaking Bay of Plenty.
8. El Dorado
The mythical city of gold has come to represent things opulent or unattainable. Inspired by stories of a ‘gilded’ man, El Dorado is said to overflow with unimaginable treasures. It has enticed centuries of explorers, but remains as elusive as the Holy Grail (thus far...) If you want to evoke the mood of the legend, the jungles and ruins of Central and South America are your golden ticket. Feel like joining an expedition? Edgar Allen Poe offers this cryptic clue: Where can it be, this land of El Dorado? Over the Mountains of the Moon, Down the Valley of the Shadow...”
Rumour has it only children can visit Neverland, but if you think happy thoughts you might just find your way to the famous home of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and the Lost Boys. Multiple suns and moons make for some crazy weather, but the chance to fly through treetops and cave dive with Peter and his posse makes up for it. Wildlife includes flamingos, crocodiles, fairies and pixies, but it’s the mermaids and the pirates you have to watch out for. J.M. Barrie may have named Neverland after the Australian outback (Never Never Land) but reliable Lost Boy sources inform us it resembles Madagascar.
Who wouldn’t like to travel via rabbit hole? It might be a bit bumpy, but these days it seems less confronting than flying and promises something much more marvellous at journey’s end. Lewis Carroll’s classic tale of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland introduced a beguiling universe of floating Cheshire cats, tea loving Mad Hatters, power hungry playing cards and scrumptious food with peculiar after-effects. Mischief is the national sport of Wonderland, where riddles and pranks await you if you’re sufficiently curious (and who wouldn’t be, when the flowers talk back and the furniture changes size). Carroll based Wonderland on the people and places in his own life, particularly around Oxford, where he attended university. A carving in North Yorkshire’s magnificent Ripon Cathedral is also said to have inspired the trip down the rabbit hole.
Arthurian scholar Norris J. Lacy once said that "Camelot, located nowhere in particular, can be anywhere.” That hasn’t stopped historians and hopeful tourism boards scrambling to locate the real life spot where King Arthur wielded Excalibur, married Lady Guinevere and made merry with his Knights of the Round Table. Plenty of places have laid claim to Arthurian fame, including Winchester (with its own round table), the small South Welsh town of Caerleon and Somerset (where locals insist Cadbury Castle was Arthur’s pad). Consult Wikipedia for a list of real places associated with Arthur and his noble empire, but a wander through the picturesque countryside of Wales, Scotland or England will capture its legendary spirit of romance and idyll.
The subject of debate since Plato first wrote about it in 360BC, Atlantis is said to have sunk into the seas one night around 9000 BC after its people (descended from the god Poseidon), invaded one kingdom too many. At the heart of the massive island continent was a series of concentric circles and canals, and its sophisticated architecture and culture was reminiscent of ancient Greece. The city still inspires popular culture and every once in a while someone claims to have found it. While scholars largely accept the tale was a fable, some think Plato was referring to ancient Ireland.
There one minute, gone the next, illusive, mist-shrouded Brigadoon is how many travellers like to imagine Scotland. Made famous by its musical namesake, Brigadoon is actually based on a German fairytale about a cursed village whose inhabitants are only allowed to roam free once a century. Brig o’ Doon will ring a bell for Robert Burns’ fans. The author was born in Alloway, near the River Doon. If you want to pretend you’re the bonnie apple of Gene Kelly’s eye, this is the place.
Surrounded by desert on all sides, Frank L. Baum’s Oz is divided into four territories (including Munchkin land) with its capital, the Emerald City, in the middle and a yellow brick road connecting the lot. Though visitors should beware flying monkeys and coma inducing fields of poppies, Oz has it all – steam punk robots, witches, killer shoes, talking lions, scarecrow escorts and corrupt wizards. It’s popularly thought to represent different regions of the United States, but some think Oz may actually be China. For the real world treatment, try Sydney, Chicago or Dubai for the Emerald City, or good ol’ Kansas where it all began.
1. Middle Earth
It’s hard to find a more extensively documented and mapped non-existent destination. J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle Earth has more histories on record than many actual countries and has inspired the creation of entire languages. Peter Jackson forever associated Middle Earth with New Zealand with his Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and Wellywood is very happy to let tourists relive the adventure. Other places that capture the sweeping diversity of Middle Earth are Argentina, Scotland, Romania and Finland. Of course Tolkien had a war torn, newly industrial England in mind when he wrote the epic. Perhaps that’s why Middle Earth is so remarkable (and steals my number one spot). It’s a little bit of everywhere.
Under constant threat from The Nothing, every child wanted to preserve the treasured world of the Never Ending Story (originally a German novel, and influenced by Europe's landscape). The literal embodiment of our fantasies, its racing snails, rock giants, werewolves and flying luck dragons (Falkor!) were unforgettable.
11 million tourists can’t be wrong. The oldest human city in the lands of the massive World of Warcraft, Stormwind has seen its share of war over the years, but remains a vibrant hub of culture and trade. Surrounded by an imposing mountain range, its climate is temperate and the migrant communities of dwarfs and elves will keep you on your toes.
Fortress of Solitude
There are many famous comic book destinations, including Batman’s New York inspired Gotham City, but Superman’s preferred spot for R & R, the Fortress of Solitude, is one of the most appealing. Who wouldn’t like a palatial, snow-capped cone of silence where they can hide away from their supersize problems? For a real world taste, you could stay in Sweden’s Ice Hotel or cruise the chill wonders of Antarctica.