If you’re a traveler who likes to wander the road less traveled or poll the locals for their recommendations on what to see and do, you’ve probably come across some secret journeys of your own. That’s exactly what this book is about and since it’s from the folks at National Geographic, you know it’s going to be great. Beautifully crafted, it has gorgeous pictures and lots of information like when to go, how to find it, planning tips and websites. There are sidebars with informational tidbits about the area or related subjects and sometimes “My Secret Journey” anecdotes from travel writers about their personal experiences. There are also Top 10 lists sprinkled throughout the book like ‘Top 10 Coral Reefs’ or ‘Top 10 Ghost Towns.’
I was first attracted to it by the cover and then curious about the sub-title, “500 of the World’s Best Hidden Travel Gems.” Who doesn’t like to be in on secrets? As I paged through the book, things started catching my eye and my interest. There are nine sections with titles like Last Wilderness and Island Getaways and Secret History. There are places mentioned from all over the world like the Cherohala Skyway in Tennessee and North Carolina that goes through the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest or the Old Cataract Hotel in Egypt where the view of the Nile inspired Agatha Christie to write “Death on the Nile.”
There are places for nature lovers and adventurers. For instance, the Atchafalaya Swamp in Louisiana is home to lots of wonderful birds, wildlife and rare flowers and plants. The book recommends getting to know them by renting a houseboat for a few days. Then there’s Palawan Island in the Philippines with vast tracts of unspoiled land and sea. Palawan is recommended by Jacques Cousteau as one of the most beautiful places he’s ever been. There are romantic places like Ponza, Italy an island frequented by the Italian elite and rumored to have been a hideaway of Circe, the enchantress. The Noto-Hanto Penisula in Japan includes Hatago Iwa, two rock formations thought to be lovers and therefore connected with a rope.
One of my favorites in the Hidden Treasures section is Georgia O’Keeffe’s house in New Mexico. Located north of Santa Fe, it has been preserved pretty much just as she left it in 1984 when she had to move due to illness. I can just imagine the beautiful vistas from the 18th century adobe that inspired her art. Another interesting place is a begijnhof in Kortrijk, Belgium. Begijnhofs are walled retreats for communities of single women, some widowed, some unable to find husbands. They were created in the 12th century for these women as an alternative to living with relatives or entering a convent.
Other National Geographic books: