I like to think that I know a fair amount of geography, at least I thought that before I started traveling more often. Now I’m always pleasantly surprised when I learn about new cities, towns and entire regions that I had never heard of before. It’s one of the things that make travel so exciting, the opportunity to discover new places and to always be in the process of learning about the world. It’s also a good lesson to all of us that 1) we don’t know everything and 2) to keep an open mind and try new experiences when traveling. Out of all of the ‘unknown’ places I’ve visited though, these were some of my favorite.
1. Albi – France is full of cities I didn’t know, and I think that’s common amongst Americans. Sure, we know the major cities but once you go down a level to various towns and regions, I think we’re a bit lost. This is where the British and other Europeans have an advantage, which explained the sheer number of British tourists I found all over France, even in Albi. Located in the heart of the incredibly green rolling hills of the Tarn region, Albi is a joy to visit. I’m a history fan, and I loved learning more about the tragic history of the Cathars, which culminated in and around Albi more than eight hundred years ago. But on the lighter side, Albi was also the birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec, the famed French artist of the 19th century. The Toulouse-Lautrec museum conveniently located in the heart of Albi has just been renovated and it is a masterpiece of modern design and museum management. Albi is just a beautiful place to spend a day wandering through its streets and alleys. It has great views, nice people and is overall very approachable.
2. Zadar – I loved most of my adventures in Croatia, but Zadar was one city that simply blew me away. It’s not only one of my favorite cities in Croatia, but easily the world. And yet it’s really hard for me to say why, exactly. Sure it’s beautiful and the mix of architecture from Roman times through today makes walking around a fascinating adventure, but it’s more than that. While in Zadar I felt connected to the town in a way that’s hard to replicate. I loved everything from watching one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world to hanging out with new friends at a local cafe. Everything worked for me, everything just seemed right. I’m not alone either, Zadar is quickly rising on ‘must-visit’ lists and it won’t be long until the masses discover this amazing town, so be sure to include a visit in your travel plans sooner rather than later.
3. Chishang – I knew nothing about Taiwan outside of Taipei before I visited in August 2013, and I was surprised by a lot of things along the way. What may have surprised me the most though was an amazing bike ride through the rice paddies of Chishang. This southern region of Taiwan is known for its rice production in fact and the vast paddies are even famous for their amazing beauty. To help tourists experience the best, a bike path was constructed through the paddies, giving visitors the chance to be up close and personal with the landscape. The bike ride was pretty easy as I navigated my way through the fields, around lotus-filled ponds and onto backcountry roads where my only companion was a local dog. It was serene morning of total peace and happiness, the likes of which are all-too hard to find sometimes.
4. Marstrand – While this island on the West Coast of Sweden is quite well known within the country, it was completely new to me. Even though Marstrand has been welcoming people looking for a weekend escape for decades, it has a much longer history as the castle perched high on top of a hill indicates. Carlsten fortress is a 17th century castle that served as protection during the many on and off again turf battles with neighbors. Today the castle and the classic buildings found around the island make it a relaxing and picturesque retreat. What I really enjoyed the most though was walking around the small town, marveling at the beautiful and colorful buildings, and enjoying my time on the water. There’s nothing quite like the sea to help put one’s over-stimulated mind to rest, and I found that moment of tranquility on the stunning island of Marstrand.
5. Cahors – Even though I speak French (sort of) I never mastered the correct pronunciation of this French town, but I ended up loving it anyway. Cahors’ biggest claim to tourist fame is its fortified Devil’s Bridge, so called because people believed the builder must have entered into a pact with the devil in order to finish this mighty structure. But there’s so much more to Cahors than just a bridge. The one aspect that draws me into any place is that indefinable feeling that you belong and I got that amazing sensation in Cahors. The downtown was bustling, the shops and restaurants lively and everyone just seemed happy. I know, it’s a strange observation, but it’s true. More than a bridge or the impressive medieval buildings, I just loved spending time in this picturesque town. For a special treat, head to the Cahors Malbec tasting room on the Place François-Mitterrand where you can try a variety of the local Cahors Melbec wines and learn more about what makes the region such a tremendous wine producing area.
What are some places that you hadn’t heard of before but ended up loving?