International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Mont St-Michel, France
Mont St-Michel is a mesmerising mix of town, castle, island and abbey. The Benedictine abbey’s striking Gothic architecture was completed in the 16th Century and is surrounded by a village that is in turn, surrounded by defensive ramparts and towers, all of it perched on a large granite islet in the English Channel that is connected by a causeway to Normandy‘s shoreline. Mont St-Michel is often rated as France‘s most visited attraction, so its narrow streets get absolutely jammed with pilgrims and other visitors. Some prefer to gaze at it from a distance and meditate on the beauty of its silhouette against the surrounding bay.
Swimming with whales, Tonga
Between June and November, humpback whales congregate in Tonga to mate and breed. Observing the whales from the deck of a boat as they slowly frolic and occasionally slap their flukes on the water’s surface is one thing. But strapping on a snorkel and paddling amongst these majestic cetaceans is something else entirely, particularly when a mother and calf are nearby. Swimming with whales is mostly done around the Vava’u and Ha’apai island groups.
Petra is an ancient city that was sculpted out of sandstone cliffs in the southern deserts of Jordan to become the capital of the Nabataeans. This staggering feat of rock-carving is entered via the Siq, a narrow, high-walled gorge that leads directly to Petra’s Treasury – the squeezed view of its elaborate façade from within the Siq has to be one of the world’s most snapped photographs. Many visitors devote themselves to the hillside tombs along Petra’s one “street”. But for some quiet reflection and an awesome view, tackle the more than 800-step climb up to the monastery.
The name of the Tibetan capital means “Holy City”, a fitting description for a city lodged in the Himalayas at an altitude of about 3600m and the spiritual centre of Tibetan Buddhism. The thin air will take your breath away, but so will the incredible spectacle of the surrounding Himalayan peaks and the golden-roofed Jokhang Temple. And, unlike the exiled Dalai Lama, you can also enjoy the serenity of Potala Palace. Most beguiling, however, is the indomitable cheerfulness of the Tibetan people amid the impositions of Chinese administration.