We’ve all seen those lists of places you should go as soon as possible. Rome, Paris, New York, London… These make it to everyone’s lists. Yet, it’s often the little towns and villages that make an impact on how you view the world. I’m no travel expert by any means, but last night, during dinner, a well versed traveler was asking my opinion of places to see before you die. I was stumbling and stuttering through my list. It’s hard for me to define the parameters of what I find incredible.
After all, I also love Paris, Rome, New York, and London. But here are some out of the way places that have changed me that I reckon you ought to see too, that will change you forever.
1. Vernazza, Italy
Vernazza, is one of the Cinque Terre, or five lands, located on the Ligurian coastline of the Italian Riviera. It’s easy to get to by train. Two hours north of Pisa, and one hour south of Genova, it’s a dream come true. The picture speaks for itself. When you’re there, try some of the local anchovies and the crisp Sciachhetra wine.
Vernazza’s name is derived from the Latin adjective verna meaning “native” and the aptly named indigenous wine, vernaccia (“local” or “ours”), helped give birth to the village’s moniker.
For nature enthusiasts, there are several trails connecting Vernazza to the Monterosso in one direction, and Manarola, on the other. After the terrible landslides of October 2011, Vernazza has been on the road to recovery, but having been there both before and after the landslide, I must note that the beauty of this ancient 13th Century village remains untouched, although much renovation is currently taking place.
2. Culebrita, Puerto Rico
Culebra will already feel remote to you, when you land, but if you’re like me, and like having your little piece of heaven all to yourself, without the distractions of annoying tourists, go to Culebrita! Located an hour long boat ride from neighboring Culebra, which is already renowned as one of the Carribean’s sleepy and exquisite beach towns, you will find that Culebrita boasts the oldest lighthouse on the Carribean.
Additionally, the turtles you can spot whilst snorkeling along Playa Tortuga will leave you craving to return to Culebra, and Culebrita, again and again. Ask locals about tours, and if you can, try to get Sebastien and his girlfriend Amanda to give you one if they’re free. Yup, it’s just that small: Culebrita is uninhabited with sandy beaches that are soft to the touch, and Culebra is tiny, with a population of approximately 3000 in a 6 by 2 mile radius.
Culebra also boasts amazing fresh seafood, lovely beaches, friendly locals, and it’s a short plane ride from San Juan. If you don’t mind the jittery waters but an incredible view, and perhaps even calm enough seas, try the ferry. It’s about 2 dollars on the ferry. What I’m trying to get at is that it is cheap.
3. Sighisoara, Romania
This cute little citadel village in the Carpathian mountains is quite simply, enchanting. You can probably see the entire village in about two days, but then you should definitely get your own intake of the graveyards at the top, the crypts and the murals that date back to Byzantine times, and the local food and rustic bucolic life which continues in the old town, in and around Transylvania, to this day.
A good time to go is around Halloween. You can catch the yearly Halloween Party in Bran Castle, supposedly the home of Count Dracula. Sibiu is an overnight bus drive from Budapest, and can also be accessed quite easily by flights offered by WizzAir, and other cheap airlines: Traveling across Transylvania is also easy by local buses, relatively inexpensive, and filled with a multitude of surprise.
4. Poznan, Poland
I’m in love with Poland. I was there only for a week, but the magical architecture, the beautiful people, and the amazing pierogis and borsch was fantastic. Plus, it’s inexpensive, an hour from Berlin, and has received too much bad press for the rubbish the country had to face under the colonization of the Germans. The food, the malls, the mix of old and new, the little island with the church on the river, and the different breweries around town mean that you won’t just have a good time, Poznan will give you a lot to do, and memories that will keep you wanting to go back to Poland for your entire lifetime.
5. Mahabalipuram, India
This south Indian city is on the beach, and has by far, some of the most amazing seafood ever. I also have a penchant for obsessing with elephants, and finding a whole temple dedicated to them made me super impressed and excited about life for the next few weeks. Go here between November and March. Located three hours south of Chennai and one hour south of Pondicherry, it’s a city whose cuisine will give you dreams to think about for the rest of the year.