Have you drawn up your own travel 'bucket list'?
A for ANDES
This towering mountain range stretches an entire continent, offering spectacular vistas and the chance to rub shoulders with ancient civilisations throughout. The ultimate way to experience the Andes is on foot, the way Incans and Quechuans and Mapuches have for centuries. That might be a climb with crampons and ice axes to the summit of the Villarrica volcano in Chile, or a trek through soaring mountain passes on the Salkantay Trail in Peru; it could be getting lost in the winding streets of La Paz in Bolivia, or a hike through coffee plantations in the highlands of Colombia. Each experience is an ultimate adventure in itself.
B for BUTLER
Once the preserve of the filthy rich, today butlers help ordinary mortals to live more fabulously. And they're not only confined to luxury hotels. On board a Silversea cruise ship, the butler won't blink an eye if you answer the door wearing pyjamas and a dishevelled look and want a cup of tea served in bed. Guests checking in to the Park Hyatt Sydney can avail themselves of another pair of hands to buy a shirt, press a skirt or source a glamorous trinket while Miami's Ritz-Carlton South Beach boasts a tanning butler. Job description? Applying sunscreen and spritzing the overheated.
C for CYCLING
Belgium is high on the list of greatest countries for two-wheeled tourism. Riding the 850-kilometre Flemish Cycle Route is no major athletic feat. It's relaxed and comfortable, gliding along car-free cycleways, towpaths by canals and quiet country lanes. There's ever-changing scenery, a seemingly infinite range of Belgian beers and beautiful small towns. Ghent and Bruges are justifiably famous, but also charming are places you may never have heard of; Diksmuiden, Turnhout, Duffel (bags and coats, remember?) and Kortrijk. There's tragic history too. The route passes the World War I trenches and cemeteries of Flanders fields. This writer paused for the moving remembrance ceremony at dusk in Ypres, raised a glass to my grandfather's fallen comrades and pedalled on. The Flemish Cycle Route was my first long ride in Europe. It suited a rookie cyclist perfectly.
D for DINOSAURS
There's a reason Jurassic Park opens on a dusty dig site in Montana: the place is stuffed full of fossils, like many of its neighbouring states. Tyrannosaurus Rex was first discovered in Colorado, then Wyoming. A mummified hadrosaur was unearthed in North Dakota badlands. In fact, the Rocky Mountains area is a dazzling playground for dino-enthusiasts - and not just for paleontology museums, though there are more than a dozen (Museum of the Rockies, in Bozeman, is the standout). A self-drive ''Montana Dinosaur Trail'' takes discovery to the open road, linking spectacular natural formations such as Makoshika State Park with major field sites. Plan early enough and you can even join an active dig.
E for ENDS OF THE EARTH
The poles aren't visited, they're earned. Entry price is prohibitive (especially when ice breakers are required), on-board lectures are often intense and if you're heading south, sea-crossings can be brutal. But you'll join a select club of voyagers who return home with a faraway look in their eye and a hard-to-explain love for ice. Broadly speaking, the Arctic is about ice-cap wildlife and a reachable pole, while Antarctica is the seventh continent that will turn your world on its head. For the latter, go ex-Ushuaia, a gorgeous Patagonian outpost before cruising the mountainous Antarctic Peninsula; or board an icebreaker out of Hobart/Christchurch into the Ross Sea for scientific bases, explorer heroes and the smoking volcano, Erebus. It'll send shivers up your expedition parker.
F for FORBIDDEN CITY
For 500 years, few ventured beyond the high-rise vermillion walls of the Forbidden City, an enclosed world of trembling concubines, wilful emperors and wily eunuchs divorced from the realities of sprawling China. Then revolution came knocking and today Mao grins from his pink gateway as the cameras of the masses click. A walk through the Forbidden City is a lesson in power, capped with glazed yellow roofs and writhing dragons. Venture into abandoned courtyards studded with bronze tortoises and dwarf pines, where you can still hear the whisper of history, surrounded by a pink pleasure of pavilions.
G for GRAPES
It's the undisputed global wine capital, a UNESCO World Heritage site of style and charm after a recent sprucing, and hosts Vinexpo, the world's largest wine fair. No wonder Bordeaux, one of France's most historic cities, is on the agenda for most gourmets visiting Europe - and a must for serious vinophiles. From the Medoc region - home to serious reds and names like Chateau Mouton-Rothschild - to Sauternes, where the world's greatest sweet wines, including Chateau d'Yquem, are made, the city is surrounded by vineyards - 115,000 hectares in total - and pretty wine villages like Saint-Emilion. Throw in atmospheric restaurants and world-class hostelries and you have a vinous paradise.
H for HANGING ROCK
Ultimate journeys really take place in the mind and fewer places encapsulate our fascinated fear for Australia's battered landscapes than Hanging Rock - even if it's only 70 kilometres from Melbourne. The 1975 movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, about the unresolved disappearance of schoolgirls, infuses it with mystery. Many incorrectly believe the events are fact: perhaps the national psyche enjoys vanishings and sexual hysteria. Or perhaps we just believe the vastness of gnarly Australia warps time and space. The real Hanging Rock has walking tracks, crimson rosellas and picnicking Melburnians but eeriness still pricks the imagination.
I for IRAN
One of the world's most incredible travel destinations is also one of its most frequently misunderstood, a country not just rich with history and culture, but with a kindness of spirit that will surprise and humble you. To journey to Iran is to challenge your assumptions about the world. Prepare to be greeted with a barrage of hospitality, to be constantly welcomed by strangers, to be given guided tours by generous locals, to be offered tea, to be invited to family dinners and friends' events. Iran's centuries-old mosques, bazaars and town squares pale in comparison to the drawcard that is its people.
J for JETFIGHTER
The adrenalin surges the moment your seat is ''armed'' and you're instructed to pull the handle if you hear the command ''Eject! Eject! Eject!'' . The price can also be dizzying, depending on the jet you're in: my half-hour jaunt to the outer atmosphere in a 1955 Lightning missile interceptor burned up several tonnes of fuel and US$10,000 courtesy a Cape Town operation that is now defunct. You can still invert at supersonic speeds in Russia (Mig 21, Mig29) for a bazillion roubles; or you can get 900km/h subsonic thrills in Australia from $1400. Jet Ride offers Top Gun experiences out of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane using RAAF L-39 jet trainers. You'll still do 900km/h. And yes, you'll probably puke.
K for KAYAKING
Each summer in a narrow strait between northern Vancouver Island and the Canadian mainland, there's a spectacular ocean ritual, as spawning salmon funnel through Johnstone Strait, pursued by orcas. To witness it from a kayak is one of the finest ocean adventures imaginable. From beach camps near Robson Bight, the only place in the world where orcas are known to come close to shore to rub off skin against pebbles, kayak tours paddle out into the strait, floating among the orcas that rise from the sea. To see a two-metre-high orca dorsal fin split the ocean metres from your kayak is as humbling as it is spectacular.
L for LAVA
Volcanoes are addictive. Go to Tana in Vanuatu, and sit on the crater rim, watching the red-hot lava surging towards you, and you'll be hooked. You'll start looking for more thrilling experiences, such as the Papua New Guinea town of Rabaul, which lies at the foot of a volcano that regularly belches large boulders as well as smoke plumes. (The new town lies somewhat further away than the ruined old town, destroyed in a 1994 explosion.) Other great destinations for lava lovers include Etna in Sicily, the island of Reunion near Madagascar and Hawaii's Big Island, where you can hike across a crater floor.
M for MICHELIN STARS
Forget star gazing: star grazing is where it's at. Competitive eaters are structuring their holidays to maximise the number of meals they can enjoy at Michelin-starred restaurants. Up for the challenge? Give yourself a head start by holidaying at Michelin ground zero - no, not Paris. Japan is the centre of the Michelin universe: Tokyo alone has 281 restaurants bedecked with a total of 323 stars. Even fronting up for lunch and dinner every day, it would take you more than four months to get through the lot. Add in Kyoto (101 starred restaurants), Osaka (99), Kobe and Nara, and that's more than nine months of gourmet indulgence.
N for NILE RIVER
Rivers tease travellers with their possibilities and the Nile, a great slash in the brooding desert, has long fascinated pharaohs, adventurers, novelists and tomb-raiders alike. A journey up the Nile takes visitors through space and time as civilisations erupt along the riverbanks. Loiter in shadowy Cairo mosques, clamber into King Tut's tomb, visit temples dedicated to falcon-faced Horus. The passing landscape appears timeless: laden donkeys, stoop-backed villagers, heron-stalked cane fields. Rust-red cliffs and sand dunes, clasping a gurgling river pocked with huge granite boulders, signal the end of the voyage at Aswan, where you could linger for days, mesmerised by the river's sluggish majesty.
O for OVERLANDING IN AFRICA
Three months. Three months to explore the dark continent, Africa, to take in its immense landscapes, its amazing wildlife, its dangers and its thrills. I spent three months in the back of an overland truck in Eastern Africa, taking a road journey from Kenya out to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and then south through Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique. Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to eventually finish in South Africa. Three months sleeping in a tent. Three months on bumpy roads. Three months in untamed land. It was rough, exciting, adventurous, inspiring, sometimes scary, and almost every day I saw something I never thought I would.
There was time in the steamy Congolese jungle with mountain gorillas. There was a drive through the Serengeti Plains. There was an "Angel's Flight" over the mighty Victoria Falls. Most of all, however, there was just time on those African roads, sitting in the back of a big truck, rumbling through villages and cities and across desolate plains. That's the real thrill of overlanding in Africa - it's not just the highlights, it's the journey to find them.
P FOR PLUS BEAUX VILLAGES DE FRANCE
If any one thing epitomises rural charm, it's French villages. But not all French villages are created equal. Plus Beaux Villages de France, the official listing of France's 156 most beautiful villages, represent the finest of the fine. Plus Beaux villages are spread across the country and, unsurprisingly, they are heavily represented in areas such as Provence and the Dordogne. In the latter, seek out Beynac-et-Cazenac, with its castle poised above the Dordogne River. In Provence, Les Baux-de-Provence is dotted among the boulders of the Alpilles range of hills, while Rousillon's colours complement those of the ochre deposits at the village's edge.
Q for QUALIA
Those in the know still queue to stay at Qualia. It's a cool performance from the get-go when they dazzle you with a view over Whitsunday waters and ply you with champagne (too late, you realise you've been checked in). Your plunge pool suite, high in the fronds, has been designed by people who know that island life has its own smooth aesthetic and "sexy" is never out of fashion. Take barefoot lunch by the sand or do a fine dining degustation at night when everyone is frocked up. And because Hamilton Island has been reinvigorated in recent years, it's no hardship to leave the resort in your comp golf buggy to get among the fun and colour of the waterfront.
R for ROCK ART
There are more than 100,000 known rock art sites in Australia but the most dramatic cover the hundreds of rocky overhangs in the valleys around Laura on the Cape York Peninsula, 314km north of Cairns. Extraordinary not just because of the number of paintings or their vibrant colours, they provide a window into an ancient way of life, a world full of giant animals and startling first encounters with Europeans. But it's the depictions, and the legends, of the mysterious night-dwelling Quinkan spirits - good and evil - that really make these prehistoric rock paintings so intriguing, so arrange a tour with an indigenous guide at the cultural centre before you go.
S for SANTORINI
Santorini is the essence of a Greek island, where sea meets weather-beaten rock and colours are bold and elemental. Blue-domed chapels stand on hilltops, houses are simple white cubes, sunsets flamboyant orange. The half-moon island, with its rearing cliffs and dramatic outlooks, is all that remains of a huge volcanic explosion. Inland, fertile soils provide a softer landscape of silvery olive trees, fields of tomatoes and neatly pegged vineyards that produce sweet amber-coloured wine. Every traveller should at some point experience a fabled Santorini sunset, when the sea turns purple and the sky explodes with colour: an evening's journey into soul-soothing beauty.
T is for the TRANS-MONGOLIAN
It's six days spent on a train. It's more than 8000 kilometres travelled through three countries. It's hundreds of people met and thousands of experiences to remember. The journey from Moscow to Beijing via Siberia, Mongolia and the Gobi Desert is one of the world's great adventures and one that becomes as much about the company with which you share it as the scenery that rolls past the window. It's hard to forget endless landscapes of Siberian forests and Mongolian plains, just as it's impossible to forget long nights in the rattling dining car swapping stories and shots of vodka with characters from around the world.
U for UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES
No bucket list? No worries, UNESCO's already done one for you. You'll need to get cracking though; there's nearly 1000 incredible places to see and things to experience on it. The UNESCO World Heritage register is the Who's Who (or rather, the what's what) of superlative sites in countries from A to Z. There are architectural wonders, for example Gaudi's Barcelona, Versailles in France and the Taj Mahal in India, places of historical significance, the historic part of the Italian capital Rome, the Imperial Palaces in China and the ancient Aboriginal archeology of Kakadu National Park; and ancient natural formations such as Norway's western Fjordland and Australia's Great Barrier Reef. There are also industrial sites, some of them obscure and surprising such as Belgium's hydraulic boat-lifts on the historic Canal du Centre, which, though somewhat well worn, UNESCO considers "a remarkably well-preserved and complete example of a late-19th-century industrial landscape."
As diverse as they are, these attractions all have one thing in common: they must be of what UNESCO deems "outstanding universal value". It'd be misleading to say you can't go wrong planning your travels around the UNESCO list - some are more universally outstanding than others - and there are plenty of sites not on the list which many consider should be (no Eiffel Tower, for instance, though it is within a designated site). But if it's world tourism's greatest hits you're after, this is a pretty comprehensive starting point.
V for VERBIER
The ski resort of Verbier has a big reputation for big mountains and bigger parties. Once known as the pilgrimage resort skiers ticked off to prove a skier's mettle, Verbier is now equally known for the British society types that pack the bars side by side with Prince Harry and his mates. Spend the day on a mountain that makes better skiers of all whom conquer it then descend upon The Farinet at Place Central for dancing on bar tops in ski boots during apres hour. If you're planning a week in Verbier, take vitamins, you'll need them on and off the mountain.
W for WILDERNESS
Drive five hours north of Las Vegas and you find yourself deep in the Great Basin, the USA's largest desert. It's remote and empty, an utter wilderness, and at its heart is 3982-metre Wheeler Peak and the Great Basin National Park. Nestled at the base of Wheeler Peak is one of North America's strangest sights - a glacier in the desert - while on its slopes grow bristlecone pines. Living up to 5000 years, these gnarled and stunted pines are said to be the oldest trees on Earth.
X for XMAS MARKETS
OK, we may have cheated a little on the spelling but for those who find the sparkle has gone from their Christmases, a trip to the yuletide markets of Europe might reconnect you to the joyous wonder of childhood - and provide the winter wonderlands we only experience in carols and on card in Australia. Christmas markets are held across the continent, from Krakow to Budapest, Strasbourg to Salzburg, though the best may well be in German cities such as Stuttgart, Berlin and Dresden. A medieval atmosphere, sparkling lights, Christmas trees under epaulets of snow and traditional eats all feature. Enough to delight even the grumpiest traveller.
Y for YANKEE STADIUM
A love of sport is universal and instantly connects you with locals. Head to a sports stadium and you also get a spectacle of mass entertainment at its most thrilling. During the April to September baseball season, attending a game with baseball-mad New Yorkers at the new billion-dollar Yankee Stadium is a sensational show. (The old stadium, familiar to Seinfeld fans, is just across the way.) The Yankees have won more World Series than any other and home runs are practically guaranteed. So is razzmatazz, gut-tingling collective roars, God Bless America, hotdogs and Cracker Jacks, the molasses-coated popcorn of the baseball masses.
Z for LAZY Z
Got a lazy quarter of a million? You and up to 11 friends can charter the world's most luxurious super yacht, the Lazy Z (that's $3000 a day each) for a week to remember. This sleek 51-metre beauty comes with an inflatable waterslide that will catapult you from the top deck (she has four, including staff quarters) into the warm sparkling water of the Med or Caribbean. She also comes with custom tenders, jet skis, all manner of other watersport paraphernalia including, for outright OMG factor, two underwater scooters. Add a top class crew and cuisine, glamorous furnishings and serious envy from the friends you didn't invite, and this ritzy raft is - in someone's world - a bargain.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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