The ultimate must-do list for travellers

Last updated 13:19 12/05/2014

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These seven travel writers spend their lives crisscrossing the globe. Here are their ultimate three-week itineraries for the continents they know best.

ASIA By Michael Gebicki

Revelation, inspiration and bliss are key on this tour of China, Myanmar and India.

Week 1: China

First stop is Shanghai for three nights at the PuLi Hotel and Spa "precious jewel", a hotel that thinks outside the square, with a sense of style tailor-made for the pages of Wallpaper* magazine.

You'll be exploring the Bund, admiring the artworks in the revolutionary and often slyly incendiary M97 Gallery, taking pu-erh tea with Mr Shanxi Kuo among the antiques in his glorious Gu Yuan tea house and sampling xiaolongbao, Shanghai's addictive snack food, mouth-pleasing wonton parcels stuffed with meat and lubricated with fragrant broth.

One evening you'll dine at Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet, a multi-sensory experience choreographed for just a handful of guests at a time by this French chef/impresario. Think Michelin-star molecular gastronomy meets Baz Luhrmann.

For a complete change of scene, on day four you'll fly to Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport to stay at the new Banyan Tree Chongqing Beibei. This hot-spring resort sits at the foot of the Jinyun Mountain Natural Reserve, a thickly forested region of mountain peaks set with temples and pavilions that date from the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Chongqing is known for its hot and spicy take on Sichuan cuisine, the birthplace of hotpot dishes. From Chongqing a one-stop, 4½-hour flight aboard China Eastern will take you to Mandalay.

Week 2: Myanmar

The first two nights are spent exploring the former royal capital.

Highlights include the temples of Mandalay Hill and a walking tour of Sagaing on the opposite bank of the Irrawaddy, a fantasy landscape of teak temples and white pagodas populated by Buddhist monks and nuns. On day three you'll board The Road to Mandalay, a crisply luxurious yacht operated by Belmond, formerly the Orient-Express Group, for the two-night trip downriver to Bagan. It's a leisurely pace, with plenty of time to observe the slow-moving tapestry of village life.

Although fewer than 2200 temples and pagodas remain of the 13,000 that were built here almost a thousand years ago, Bagan is overwhelmingly impressive, a ghost city of temples that twinkle in the sunlight, stretching their frilly spires into the heavens and gently crumbling into the earth.

Your two-night exploration will include an early-morning hot-air balloon flight over the temples, before flying to Yangon for an overnight stay at the gorgeously romantic Belmond Governor's Residence.

Week 3: India

First two nights are in Delhi in the care of Banyan Tours, staying and dining at the impressive Lodhi with a guided tour of the city's Mughal architecture. A one-hour, early-morning flight takes you to Leh, the capital of Ladakh, India's "Little Tibet", set deep in the valley of the Indus River between the peaks of the Great Himalayan and Karakoram ranges. For the next five days you'll be experiencing one of the remnant strongholds of Tibetan Buddhist culture on Shakti Himalaya's Ladakh Village Walk.

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You're staying in villages, in handsome two-storey stone-and-timber houses that have been tarted up with proper bathrooms, chefs and smiling waiters.

You'll spend early mornings with chanting monks, visit some of Ladakh's great monasteries, shop for chunky Tibetan artefacts, pashminas and Kashmiri carpets in Leh, drink yak-butter tea and barley beer, take a white-water rafting ride on the frisky Zanskar River, and possibly ride a Royal Enfield Bullet to Khardung La, 40 kilometres away and the highest motorable pass in the world.

Walking is optional - nothing much in Ladakh is below 3500 metres - and climbing a flight of stairs is enough to sap your breath, along with the scenery.

ANTARCTICA By David McGonigal

Antarctica is larger than Australia yet has no hotels, few roads and virtually no tourist infrastructure.

The Antarctic Treaty states that it's "a continent dedicated to peace and science" so travel is almost entirely ship-based. A three-week voyage around the Scotia Arc, taking in the Falkland Island, South Georgia Island and the Antarctic Peninsula, reveals much of what makes Antarctica special.

Weather, wildlife and ice conditions often determine the places visited, but this is my ideal itinerary, based on more than 100 Antarctic voyages.

Week 1: Ushuaia to Port Stanley

The voyage begins with a cruise down the Beagle Channel named after the vessel that carried Charles Darwin into history. The first Falklands day reveals the world's largest colony of 120,000 black-browed albatross on Steeple Jason Island, then West Point Island, where sheep share a farm with albatross and penguins, for a lavish afternoon tea in an incongruous English garden.

The best-of-British theme continues in Stanley, where 2400 of the Falklands' entire 3000 population live in a quaint port town dominated by Union Jacks, Land Rovers and a dozen pubs.

Week 2: South Georgia and the Scotia Sea

Heading WSW towards South Georgia, the ship passes through the Antarctic Convergence and the air and water become polar.

Wandering albatross follow the ship, and you may even see blue whales and discover the joy of Antarctic expedition voyages is not just what you can observe from the ship's bridge, but expedition ships figuratively have bumper stickers declaring "We Stop For Whales".

A dawn Zodiac cruise at tiny Elsehul bay is the perfect introduction to South Georgia revealing a teeming cauldron of penguins, fur seals and albatross.

Landings at Salisbury Plain, St Andrews Bay and Gold Harbour provide iconic images of hundreds of thousands of colourful king penguins to the horizon. Prion Island is a rare chance to visit nesting wandering albatross, the largest flying bird, and see them nesting and in mating dances.

The ultimate South Georgia experience is the 6-kilometre Shackleton Walk over the saddle between Fortuna and Stromness bays. The last stage of Sir Ernest Shackleton's escape after the Endurance was crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea is a beautiful walk to the ruins of the old whaling station. Nearby Grytviken's small museum tells the tale amid the evocative, rusty remains of industrial whaling.

Week 3: Antarctic Peninsula and Cape Horn

Sailing south towards Antarctica, the Weddell Sea reveals tabular icebergs that dwarf the ship. This is the ultimate voyage, so of course you spot a rare emperor penguin on the ice. At Paulet Island 300,000 cute Adelie penguins entertain before your sunset cruise along Antarctic Sound.

The flooded caldera of the black, forbidding active volcano of Deception Island is the perfect venue for a (very quick) polar swim. A climb up the glacier at Neko Harbour is a walk on the Antarctic continent itself (with perfect vistas of spectacular Andvord Bay), and a Zodiac cruise in Paradise Harbour reveals the wondrous (and very active) face of Skontorp Glacier.

At Wilhelmina Bay you'll be glad you opted to go kayaking as curious humpback whales surface alongside your tiny craft. As the ship sails through the Lemaire Channel it seems that glaciers overhang and icy peaks tower on either side. Cruising by zodiac around the maze of spectacular grounded icebergs of Pleneau Island is a fitting farewell to wonderland before the ship turns for Cape Horn and home.

Sailing below the headland of Cape Horn on your last day at sea is a fitting tribute to the early sailors whose wake you've followed into this very different world.

Travel fact: Your choice of ship or company can be based on comfort and luxury, price, or ice-strengthening (the higher the rating, the more places it can go).

See iaato.org.

EUROPE By Julietta Jameson

Taking in Italy, France and Scandinavia, this itinerary explores classical cities, rural beauty and urban cool.

Week 1: Rome to Paris

Start in Rome with the Colosseum in the morning and Forum in the afternoon, before dining at La Campana, the city's oldest restaurant. Take a post-pasta stroll past the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon before sleeping at iconic Hotel Hassler. Day two be first in line to see St Peter's Basilica.

Then follow the dazzling trail of your chosen prevalent Renaissance artist - Caravaggio's includes the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Grab a quick pizza before the 9pm train to Florence.

Wake up at the Hotel Regency, in a quiet residential square and stroll to the city's remarkable cathedral before an ice cream at Gelateria de Neri near your next stop, the Uffizi and Gallerie dell'Accademia to see the David.

Early day four is a leisurely drive through the glorious Tuscan countryside where your base is Borgo San Felice, an ancient village turned into a winery and resort. Spend day five exploring Tuscany, making your way to Siena.

Day six it's another early start to drive the coast to Nice, France, stopping at Lucca for morning tea, Genoa for lunch and San Remo for dinner before sleeping at Nice's quintessential Riviera hotel, Negresco. Take a day to explore the French Riviera.

Week 2: South of France to Paris

Provence is your playground for the next three days. Discover wineries, villages and an ever-changing landscape. Spot pink flamingos at the Rhone delta and drop into the wayside chapels adorned with the works of modern masters.

Your base for two nights is a farmhouse where you enjoy local produce al fresco.

Day 10 drive to Marseille, and explore this pretty seaside town where you overnight before catching a morning train to Paris.

Arrive in time for lunch at the classic bistro Ma Bourgogne on Place des Vosges in the Marais.

Take a walking tour (self-guided or with Discover Walks). Hit the renowned eclectic Marais nightlife.

Day 12 is dedicated to the Palace of Versailles, where you stay late for a concert in the gardens.

Day 13 is all about Paris's greatest hits. Climb the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, and finish with a late run through the Louvre (late is best to see the Mona Lisa). Dine at one of Paris's cool new "bistronomie" establishments. Day 14 is for your flight to Copenhagen.

Week 3: Denmark and Sweden

Copenhagen's Vesterbro meatpacking district epitomises the Danish capital's edgy and environmentally aware young scene. Eat at hip BioMio and sleep at sustainable Axel Guldsmeden.

Day 16 explore royal and Viking Copenhagen and move to a harbourside hotel. The next day is all about modernity - hit the galleries, admire the cutting-edge architecture and shop unique Danish fashion.

Day 18 it's up early for a pre-breakfast train to Gothenburg, Sweden. Take a ferry out to one of the beautiful southern islands for a glimpse of rural Scandinavian maritime life. Back in town, feast on the seafood for which this place is renowned.

Your final three days is all about the Swedish capital of Stockholm.

Enjoy the Swedish countryside en route via train, before arriving in time to explore Stockholm's chocolate-box Gamla Stan, the old district.

Dine and drink in the eclectic and fun Sodermalm. On a warm night, the beer garden at Mosebacke Etablissement is unbeatable. Spend a day in the sunshine exploring the glorious Royal National City Park by bike.

Be sure to visit the Vasa Museum. Finish your holiday exploring Stockholm Palace, and any of many other great museums (including the ABBA Museum) before a final, farewell slap-up dinner at spectacular, theatrical Michelin-starred Esperanto.

AUSTRALIA By Andrew Bain

Mixing coast, city and outback, this trip highlights the vast breadth of the Australian travel experience.

Week 1: Sydney to Cairns

This week begins in Sydney, where your adrenalin can get its bearings as you stand atop one famous national feature looking over a host of others on a Bridge Climb. Top up the view with dinner at the ever-popular Quay.

Australian travel demands an island experience, and while the east coast has hundreds to choose from, there's something about the raw beauty of Lord Howe Island that sets it apart. You'll spend two days here, snorkelling over reefs and feeding the fish at Ned's Beach, or challenging your legs to the Mount Gower climb - you can relax later in your luxurious stay at Capella Lodge.

Return to the mainland and fly to the Gold Coast, though you won't be here for the sparkly foreshore. Instead you'll be disappearing into the hinterland, discovering the green behind the gold in the rainforest that blankets Lamington National Park.

Set up base at O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat and spend a day exploring the mountains and forest.

Continue north to Cairns and beyond, pushing through the Daintree rainforest to where the good road ends at Cape Tribulation. Finish the week lazing in paradise on its two beaches or in the rainforest seclusion of your accommodation at Bloomfield Lodge.

Week 2: Cairns to Perth

This week you'll get outback and out west. Flying to Uluru, take a couple of days to admire the big rocks - Uluru and Kata Tjuta - settling back in the evening to enjoy a Sounds of Silence dinner on the desert sands.

Head to Alice Springs and spend a day exploring the West MacDonnell Ranges. Watch the midday sun illuminate the walls of Standley Chasm, wander through winding Ormiston Gorge and finish the day with a swim in Glen Helen Gorge and a cooling beer on the deck at Glen Helen Resort.

Flying to Perth, take an afternoon out to wander Fremantle's streets before dinner at the excellent Restaurant Amusé. Refreshed, you'll begin a three-day road trip through the south-west, where, in Walpole, you'll be immersed in one of Australia's tallest forests.

In contrast, the next morning there's an incredible wildflower display on the hike to Bluff Knoll in the Stirling Ranges. Round out this day with a scenic cellar hop through the tiny wine region at nearby Porongurup.

As you drive back towards Perth, stop by the translucent ocean at Greens Pool before rolling through Margaret River to Pullman Resort Bunker Bay, where it's a short stroll from your room to watch whales in the bay.

Week 3: Perth to Hobart

Start your final week by flying to Adelaide, ready to begin the country's most famous drive. Take the coast road through Robe and deviate into Coonawarra to sample a few wines from the terra rossa. Ahead now is the Great Ocean Road, with its renowned views and furious seas. Spending a night at Boomerangs at Johanna, you'll have the chance to double back to experience sunset over the Twelve Apostles.

Spend a day in Melbourne, lapping up the city's cultural essence, whether artistic or sporting. Ascend to the 88th floor of the Eureka building for the highest constructed view in the southern hemisphere, and then calm the nerves with a genteel high tea at the Langham.

Boarding the Spirit of Tasmania, you'll make a night crossing of Bass Strait, heading direct to Cradle Mountain when you dock. Set up base at Cradle Mountain Lodge and wander the Dove Lake Circuit or, if you're feeling limber, scramble to the summit of Cradle Mountain.

Heading to Hobart, you'll take Lake Highway over the Central Highlands, stopping at Liffey Falls and Nant Distillery for a nip of local whisky. Staying at MONA Pavilions gives you easy access to Tasmania's most famous gallery and you'll also venture to Bruny Island for a boat trip beneath some of the country's highest cliffs with Bruny Island Cruises.

SOUTH AMERICA By Ute Junker

Taking in Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil, this itinerary explores vibrant cities, ancient ruins and spectacular landscapes.

Week 1: La Paz to Cusco

This jam-packed week starts in Bolivia, a relatively underdeveloped country that most tourists miss.

Start with a day in the world's highest major metropolis, La Paz, exploring the Witches' Market and the Valley of the Moon, before dining at the city's best restaurant, Gustu.

Next morning, it's a quick flight to Uyuni, home to the famously otherworldly salt flats. Stay at the Palacio del Sal, a sprawling hotel made entirely of salt. Next day it's back to La Paz for an overnight stay before taking a car and driver for the long trip to Puno in Peru, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

You're spending three nights at the stunning hotel Titilaka, perched on the shores of the lake. Explore the area via the hotel's range of excursions, from hiking and kayaking to a visit to the famous floating islands.

From here, fly to Cusco, the picturesque high-altitude city where Spanish buildings rest on Incan foundations. Check into the Aranwa Cusco Hotel, an atmospheric colonial mansion with oxygenated rooms that help you combat the effects of altitude, then spend the day exploring Cusco's many sights. Finish up with a passionfruit pisco sour in the bar of the Hotel Monasterio.

Week 2: Machu Picchu to Buenos Aires

It's an early start as you take the train for an all-day excursion to Machu Picchu, the fabled Incan city in the clouds. Next morning, take the plane to Lima, where you will overnight. Visit the Museo Larco, which has a splendid collection of artefacts from pre-Colombian cultures, including the remarkable Moche portrait vessels depicting real people. Book a table for dinner at Astrid y Gaston, one of the best restaurants in South America.

Now comes a heavy travelling day - one flight to Santiago de Chile, followed by another to Punta Arenas in Patagonia. Your hotel, Hotel Salto Chico, is more than four hours away; staff will meet you at the airport for your transfer. There's a minimum stay of four nights, but you'll be glad to have the time to explore this icy wonderland. The hotel is located in the heart of the breathtaking Torres del Paine National Park, where you can enjoy hiking across glaciers, spotting condors, watching icebergs float past, and recovering from a hectic first week.

From here, another long travel day takes you to Buenos Aires via Punta Arenas and Santiago. You have two nights to enjoy the Argentine capital's blend of old-world elegance and new-wave energy. Take in a tango show, and savour some fine Argentine wine over dinner at Casa Coupage.

Week 3: The Pantanal and Rio

Your last week will be spent in Brazil. Rather than heading all the way up to the Amazon, where wildlife is notoriously difficult to spot, spend three nights in the world's largest wetland, the Pantanal. You may see caimans and giant otters lurking among the giant waterlilies, while on land there are capybaras and tapirs, anteaters and toucans.

Finish up with three days in Rio. Up the glamour quotient by staying at the Hotel Fasano right on Ipanema Beach. Devote one day to a trip to Paraty, the picturesque colonial port a few hours south of Rio. On the way, enjoy a superb lunch at La Gite d'Indaitiba, nestled in a tranquil corner of the rainforest.

Back in Rio, celebrate your last night in South America at Rio Scenarium, the antiques store-turned-club where the party goes until late.

AFRICA By Ben Groundwater

This tour takes in the length of the continent, from South Africa to Morocco, with wine tasting, jungle trekking, safari driving and river cruising.

Week 1: Cape Town to Zimbabwe

Why not begin at the end: Cape Town, the end of Africa, a cosmopolitan city of great natural beauty, a place rich with culture and history. Take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain; visit the District Six Museum; and ride the ferry out to Robben Island to see Nelson Mandela's former jail cell.

Dine tonight on the lawn at The Roundhouse and Rumbullion Restaurant - one of Cape Town's most spectacular locations.

The next day, hire a car and drive over to Franschhoek, a town that's home to some of South Africa's best wineries, as well as its most beautiful views. Then spend the next couple of days winding east along the famous Garden Route towards Port Elizabeth, calling past the coastal Tsitsikama National Park, Plettenberg Bay and Nature's Valley.

From Port Elizabeth, fly via Johannesburg to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, where, after a quick tour of the falls, you'll head out to Hwange National Park and Somalisa, a luxury tented safari camp that offers some of the closest encounters with elephants you could hope for (they drink at the camp's plunge pool). There's also a chance to enjoy the classic safari experience - a dawn game drive through the savannah.

Week 2: Zimbabwe to Ethiopia

From Victoria Falls it's time to head back to Johannesburg, where you'll connect with a flight up to Kigali in Rwanda. The next morning a true adventure begins - a day-trip north to trek through the jungle of Parc National des Volcans, where gorillas reside in their natural habitat. Rwanda Eco Tours includes visits to local communities after that brush with the world's largest primates.

Leaving Rwanda, it would be tempting to then tick off some of Africa's big names, the likes of the Serengeti, or Zanzibar, or Mount Kilimanjaro. However, on this journey you're heading off the beaten track, flying via Nairobi to Addis Ababa.

After a night in the Ethiopian capital feasting on local cuisine at Dashen Traditional Restaurant, a very small plane will whisk you up to Lalibela, a mountain town that's home to 11 UNESCO-listed rock-hewn churches, monolithic carved buildings that date to the 12th century. Think Petra, in Jordan, only even more impressive.

There's little that can compare to the magic of a dawn stroll around these churches, as white-robed monks float silently through the network of rock passages that connects them. Singing echoes from the church chambers; cooking fires burn in the distance, the smoke rising in the dawn light.

Week 3: Ethiopia to Morocco

You fly from Addis Ababa to Cairo for a first taste of Egyptian culture.

During a two-night stay, visit the Pyramids of Giza, take a guided tour of the amazing Egyptian Museum, wander through the Khan el-Khalili souk, and dine on all of the traditional Cairo street food - such as koshary, a spicy mix of rice, pasta, lentils, chickpeas and tomatoes - you can handle. Next, fly south to Aswan to board a hotel boat for a three-night cruise down the Nile to Luxor, exploring the Temple of Isis, Kom-Ombo Temple, Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings.

The penultimate day of this journey is one of travel, making your way from Luxor back to Cairo and then across northern African to Casablanca, and finally on to the ancient Moroccan town of Fes.

After a night at Riad Laaroussa, a beautifully restored guesthouse, the final day will be spent on a guided tour of Fes's labyrinthine medina, taking in the tannery, the food markets, the mosques, palaces and the world's oldest university.

Your final night in Africa will be spent at L'Amandier Palais Faraj, a Moroccan restaurant with flawless views over the medina - views that slowly fade with the setting of the sun.

NORTH AMERICA By Max Anderson

An epic triangle of travel plus a trifecta of North-Am heroes, this ultimate itinerary will have you whooping up the great south-west, cruising the wilds of Alaska and polishing off the Big Apple. The cruise means you'll be travelling in May to September.

Week 1: LA to Vegas

Fly into LA and get limoed to the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Spend two days doing Rodeo Drive, Hollywood Boulevard and the Dearly Departed Tragical History Tour; don't over-think it, just enjoy.

The hotel serves up as much Hollywood as anywhere with famed 4.8-hectare gardens and Polo Lounge; take one of the classic pink cabanas and justifiably claim to have shared a bed with everyone from John Wayne to John Lennon. Treat yourself to dinner and city views at The Roof on Wilshire (The Hotel Wilshire).

Reserve day three for Disneyland - and no, you're never too old.

On day four, do a one-hour flight to Las Vegas before checking into the Bellagio - or any of the absurd pleasure domes looming out of the Nevada desert. You're at liberty to disappear into a faux-lit fantasy of your choosing, though Old Vegas (now roofed over) is a must.

Notwithstanding hangover scenarios, emerge at some point to join your tour driver for a 36-hour looped excursion to the Grand Canyon via Hoover Dam. Once in Arizona, you'll overnight in the stately El Tovar in the national park; a touch tired, the four-star 1905 lodge has priceless canyon views.

Week 2: Las Vegas to Vancouver

After a 2½-hour flight you'll swap desert canyons for forested peaks.

Walk downtown Vancouver's foreshore for knockout views of mountains and harbour. Rest up in the landmark Fairmont Hotel and dine waterside at Five Sails.

Board your Holland America or Princess Cruises vessel for a round-trip tour of the Inside Passage - seven days of relaxation as Vancouver Island mountains, whale-filled waters and Yukon gold country slide into view.

The three-stop cruise is loaded with on-shore options. At Alaskan capital Juneau you can look for bears in Tongass National Forest, go dog-sledding or salmon fishing; at the Yukon town of Skagway discover glaciers by helicopter or join the Ghosts and Goodtime Girls Walking Tour (surely something for everyone); and at the timber shanty on the shores of Ketchikan, join a Native American cultural tour, join crab fisherman looking for their Deadliest Catch and enjoy an Alaskan feast. On return, overnight at the Fairmont.

Week 3: Vancouver to Niagara Falls and New York

Do the morning 4½-hour flight to Toronto and take a cab to the Hilton Hotel in Niagara Falls. The new tower has views of both Canadian and American falls; slide into bed, open champagne and get ready for fireworks. (They're lit nightly beside the Canadian Falls.)

Day two, get as close to the Horseshoe Falls as you dare - on the Maid of the Mist boat cruise and then on the Journey Behind The Falls.

On day three, cross the American border at Buffalo (15 minutes by cab), and catch a flight out of Buffalo Airport to New York. Check into the Langham Place Hotel on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.

You're two blocks from the Empire State, a stroll to Grand Central Station (this freshly renovated eyeful is the perfect surprise - do coffee or cocktails during either rush hour) and a walk to Madison Square Garden (last-minute sporting tickets from StubHub).

Thirteen blocks north is where Fifth Avenue starts doing its bling thing; a subway ride south takes you into Lower Manhattan for Wall Street, Broadway and 9/11 Memorial.

It's also your jumping-off point for a very moving tour of Ellis Island and Lady Liberty. A fitting farewell before flying home.

- FFX Aus

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