Forgotten wonders of the world
Overlooked sites beyond the main tourist trail to explore post-pandemic
Japanese tourist Jesse Katayama recently experienced what most of us can only dream about – a Unesco World Heritage Site all to himself. He had bought a ticket to visit the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru in March, before Covid-19 struck, says BBC News. But the site was closed before he could use his ticket and owing to travel restrictions, Katayama was stranded in the country.
Seven months later, however, Peru’s Culture Minister Alejandro Neyra acceded to a special request from Katayama that the ruins of Machu Picchu be reopened early for him - allowing the Japanese national to have a site that would normally be swarming with visitors all to himself. The ruins are expected to reopen to other visitors at reduced capacity next month.
A marvel in Lebanon
“Anyone who has visited the Inca citadel – and has had to share it with hundreds of others, jostling for space on every photo – will appreciate that the 26-year-old has been granted a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity,” says Chris Leadbeater in The Daily Telegraph. But even after the coronavirus pandemic has passed, “you can repeat Katayama’s experience”.
As long as you are “prepared to put in the miles or venture towards the edge of the map”, there are plenty of forgotten cultural wonders that do not get anywhere near the attention of Machu Picchu. Take Baalbek (above and main image) in Lebanon, for example. Admittedly, it is a “tricky proposition for tourists”.
Owing to its proximity to neighbouring Syria, the town has slid on and off the UK Foreign Office’s safe-to-visit list. “This is a very considerable shame.” Baalbek is home to “what may well be the greatest set of Roman ruins anywhere outside Italy”. The Temple of Bacchus, built in the second century BC, when the city was known as Heliopolis, is a “marvel”.
Even better-known sites in the region are likely to see fewer visitors, at least for a while, once it is safe to travel again (watch for updates on gov.uk). All the same, “the lost city of Petra” in Jordan, “where Indiana Jones searched for the Holy Grail”, should be on anyone’s bucket list, says Oliver Smith in The Times.
It is “more revealing when seen in the company of a real-life bona fide archaeologist”, though a guided tour (organised through coxandkings.co.uk – eight nights’ B&B from £2,645 per person, including flights) takes you through the “Rose City”.
“But instead of whips, fedoras and car chases, you get erudite historical insights on Roman temples, Byzantine mosaics and Crusader castles.”
The Eden of ancient woodland
There are forgotten spots closer to home that deserve a visit too. “Well-heeled ‘down-from-Londoners’ flock to honeypot Cotswold towns and villages such as Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water, attracted by their beauty and the prospect of mingling with celebrities at Soho Farmhouse,” says Marianna Hunt for Spectator Life.
But “the chalk escarpment known as the Chilterns, on the other hand, is far less glitzy and tends to draw a hardier set of dedicated walkers, cyclists and birdwatchers”. This area is “remarkably quiet… and you can easily wander along many of its prettiest high streets without spying a single tourist”.
The region offers plenty of hiking trails through open fields, wild flower meadows and ancient wooded valleys. “One of the best is the Ridgeway National Trail, said to be Britain’s oldest road.” It starts at the World Heritage Site of Avebury (“Stonehenge’s lesser-known sister”) and runs for 87 miles.
Another option, a few miles from “the prehistoric wonders of Avebury and Silbury Hill”, is the “Eden of ancient woodland”, says James Canton in The Guardian. Here “in the wilds of Savernake Forest”, near Marlborough, in Wiltshire, it is possible to get “gloriously lost”. Just be sure to check for local coronavirus restrictions before heading out.
Scotland’s hidden gems
Of course, “when it comes to natural wonders, Scotland has us spoiled”, says Susan Swarbrick in The Herald. At Eshaness on Shetland, “you can feel the raw power of nature pulsating from what has been described as one of the most high-energy coastlines in the world”.
The peninsula is formed from the remnants of a 400-million-year-old extinct volcano – the cliffs you see today reveal layers of lava and pyroclastic rock. Or there are the “emerald waters” of An Lochan Uaine in Glenmore Forest Park in the Cairngorms and the “mysterious” Fingal’s Cave on the uninhabited Hebridean island of Staffa, to name but a few of Scotland’s “lesser-visited gems”.
This article was originally published in MoneyWeek