This post is sponsored by Exodus Travels.
What are your seven wonders of the world? Exodus, the adventure travel specialists, have been asking this question, and they’ve got me thinking about my own seven wonders – those places with the “wow” factor, the ones that stay in your mind long after you’ve got home. I’m sure we’ve all got a list like this – here is mine.
1. The Grand Mosque Of Abu Dhabi
The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is simply the most spectacular building I’ve ever seen (in my opinion it far surpasses the Taj Mahal). The courtyard is a dazzling confection of arcades, columns and mosaic floor, and the cavernous interior has sumptuous furnishings of marble and precious stones and a massive hand-knotted carpet. The architects have taken the best of traditional and contemporary Islamic architecture and combined it with modern building techniques and materials, sparing no expense to create one of the largest mosques in the world.
Admittedly the Grand Mosque is slightly less fabulous since it has been discovered by the cruise companies (the first time I went we had it almost all to ourselves), but it is still a lot less crowded than many better known destinations.
2. The Icebergs Of Greenland
I wrote about Greenland’s icebergs a couple of weeks ago. Even after a lifetime of travel these have to be one of the most remarkable natural sights I have ever seen: massive chunks of ice thousands of years old, dwarfing everything around them. They come in a vast array of shapes and sizes, and some seem to resemble buildings or sculptures, or giant sea creatures.
Actually this is two natural wonders in one, because it was in Greenland that I first saw the midnight sun, a quite unreal and unforgettable experience.
3. Table Mountain, Cape Town
The world is full of amazing mountains, so why have I chosen Table Mountain as one of my seven wonders? Partly because it dominates Cape Town, a beautiful city that I hope to visit again. And partly because of its distinctive fynbos vegetation (the Cape Floral Kingdom is unique to this part of South Africa).
Like many mountains, Table Mountain is criss-crossed with hiking paths. Just make sure you choose a day when it is not covered with cloud (known locally as the “tablecloth”).
4. Hadrian’s Wall, England
There were lots of Roman sites I could have chosen, but my favourite is Hadrian’s Wall in the far north of England. Stretching right the way across the country, it was originally 73 miles long and up to 15 feet high in some places. It incorporated forts and milecastles, and a large ditch (the “Vallum”) and a military road ran beside it. I have heard it said that when the wall was built – around AD 122 – it must have been as astonishing to the local tribes as a modern motorway would have been to 19th century Africa!
Quite a lot of the wall is still visible, passing through the beautiful Northumberland countryside. The Hadrian’s Wall Path is a long distance trail that takes you past all of the remaining wall, forts and milecastles.
5. Vicenza, Italy
I was going to include Venice, but you don’t really need me to tell you that Venice is wonderful (as well as very overcrowded). So I’m giving you Vicenza – just 39 miles from Venice – instead. Like Venice, Vicenza is a must for architecture lovers – it is jam-packed with 16th century buildings by Palladio and his followers. The whole of the town centre, and many of Palladio’s villas in the surrounding countryside, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Unlike Venice, Vicenza is not much frequented by tourists. You might find less English spoken there, but you’ll also find proper, sensibly-priced Italian food…
6. Waiotapu Thermal Park, New Zealand
The whole of New Zealand could be classed as a natural wonder, as it is full of waterfalls, glaciers, mountains… and hot springs. My favourite hot springs were at the Waiotapu Thermal Park on the North Island. This is a visual feast of strangely pigmented water and rocks, and you’ll even find bushes with yellow or mauve tints.
Like most of New Zealand’s scenic places, Waiotapu was once an important Maori site, and its name literally means “sacred waters”.
7. The Alhambra, Granada, Spain
The Alhambra in Granada is one of Spain’s many former royal residences and certainly the grandest of the ones I’ve visited. Originally a Moorish fortress and palace, it became the royal court of Ferdinand and Isabella in the 15th century. Today it is a breathtaking mix of Moorish and Renaissance architecture with extensive gardens and parkland.
Out of all the places I’ve mentioned, the Alhambra is the one where you’re most likely to have to battle through crowds, although timed entrance tickets and skip the line tours make it more manageable. But the grounds are so vast that you should be able to find a quiet spot to admire the gardens and the views over the city and the countryside.
What are your favourite wonders of the world? Let me know in the comments below.