10 Secret Travel Destinations

By Mariam Ottimofiore
March 13, 2018
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This month, FUCHSIA’s resident travel writer Mariam Ottimofiore reveals favourite off-the-radar, secret travel destinations shared by her husband and her – just don’t tell anyone else!

 

Forget Santorini and Mykonos. When it comes to choosing which idyllic Greek island to explore, Corfu was Homer’s “beautiful and rich land”, and is the less touristy and, thus far, more authentic destination. Shimmering olive groves, dramatic coastlines, stately cypress trees, Venetian fortresses, Byzantine churches and Greek temples mean that you can find everything you are looking for in your Greek holiday on this one island.

The medieval Old Corfu Town, also a UNESCO world heritage site, often feels as grand and cosmopolitan as Paris or Rome (for a fraction of the cost!), with its broad streets, splendid monuments, fashionable shops and pavement cafés. Due to the size of the island, visitors can find peace and quiet, amazing nightlife and spectacular beaches, all in one.

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If you’re in Houston or Dallas, you might despair over the lack of culture. Venture into San Antonio, and you will be as surprised as I was to discover the true gem of Texas. Standing at a geographical crossroads, San Antonio encapsulates the complex social and ethnic mix of Texas.

Match your steps to the flamenco beat as you wander downtown to the famous River Walk, a verdant oasis of arched stone bridges, and lush landscapes dotted with restaurants, cafes, hotels and shops. A visit to the Alamo is an absolute must, as is taking in a show at the ornate majestic theatre.

Today’s San Antonio is predominantly Hispanic, and while it is the seventh largest city in the US, it retains an unhurried, organic feel, and is by far the nicest place in Texas to spend a few days in.

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Americans flock to Prague, Europeans to Vienna. For most people, the Hungarian capital of Budapest does not feature prominently on any itinerary. Those who do decide to include it in the itinerary find it is one of Europe’s true gems. On the Western shore of the River Danube stands proud and aristocratic Buda, with quirky and vibrant Pest on the Eastern. This culminates into a timelessly romantic place epitomizing a fault line between Western and Eastern Europe; between a noble Germanic imperial city, and a multifaceted Slavic frontier town.

Whether it is the view of the River Danube from the high climbing funicular, the truly Parisian boulevards with their street cafes, the grand bridges spanning one of Europe’s most renowned rivers, the majestic Turkish baths, the narrow alleys of the Jewish quarter, or the creaking wheels of one of the world’s oldest running underground railways – every corner of Budapest holds a special surprise, making it one of my personal favourite city break destinations in the continent.

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While there are many places in Africa that are perfect launching pads for a safari, Windhoek offers a unique combination of this with Old World German hospitality and architecture. Windhoek welcomes the visitor with authentic African handcrafts sold on orderly, manicured streets with German names. Barely half an hour’s ride to the north of this capital city of Namibia, are numerous game reserves which offer very real African bush strolls, with hidden electric wires to keep fierce creatures at bay, and offer the illusion of being lost in the wilderness. A guided leopard feeding drive, and coffee with German cakes and pastries served on a porch with a view from Out of Africa make for a perfect finish.

And if this interaction with the wilderness does not suffice, the Namib Desert looms on the southern edge of city, with the world’s tallest sand dune Sossusvlei making an unforgettable sight not to be missed.

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After a 16-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires, through ever-thickening pristine rainforest, one hears a thundering roar build up slowly as one approaches a giant cloud of mist above jungle-covered hilltops. Straddling 2 great Latin American nations, Iguazu Falls features, rightfully so, on the list of the great natural wonders of the world. While everyone flocks to Niagara, all American tourists that I encountered agreed that North American pales in comparison.

Few natural wonders allow for the intimate experience of Iguaza – with a web of fenced boardwalks allowing you to wander close enough to feel the spray on your skin, until you reach the top of the very edge of the falls – an exhilarating view.

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From ramshackle steep alleys to elegant boulevards, from Moorish heritage to a Latin-American street vibe, from delicious seafood to fiery peri-peri chicken, this Portuguese capital appears to be full of contradictions that somehow seamlessly combine into one of the most unique and remarkable cities I have visited.

While Mediterranean in flair, it is an undoubtedly Atlantic seaport, gazing longingly to the ocean and faraway lands, with its back towards Europe. It is no wonder that the great exploration of the 15th and 16th centuries started from here, and the city has cherished ever since its trans-oceanic connections, most evident in its very visible Brazilian and African immigrant populations. Seemingly at the crossroads between Europe, Africa and the Americas, the sea is omnipresent in Lisbon, in full view of its Moorish hilltop fortress and legendary winding street cars.

Most breath-taking in the evening, Lisbon beckons from behind every street corner, with the red sun plunging into the water, against the constant sound of laughter and music.

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While there are many famed honeymoon destinations in the world, surely the place that offers the right mix of romance and adventure takes the cake. St. Lucia, in the Small Antilles, is such a place. It is a rugged jungle island, with steep cliffs rising out of impossibly blue waters, cable cars zig-zagging through the rainforest and winding roads providing for exhilarating driving experiences. Not to mention, the world’s only drive-in volcano La Soufriere.

St. Lucia is also extremely gentle, most notably on Marigot Bay, a winding inlet of the Caribbean Sea between steep green slopes, that provides for a breathtakingly beautiful (and romantic) sunset experience. The bay itself is lined by a number of plush resorts, an attractive marina with shops, a yacht harbour and a dozen al fresco restaurants with their own landing peers for direct access for the boat from your hotel. Dinner over the sound of crickets chirping, and the waves crashing ashore – romance personified.

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Off the tourist radar for many years due to its notorious civil war, Sri Lanka has steadily emerged as one of Asia’s hidden gems. In fact, now is a better time than ever to visit this fascinating island nation, as it embraces an optimistic future while still undiscovered by mass tourism. Friendly locals, delicious seafood, serene beaches, and value-for-money 5-star-hotels dotted along the coastline – this is exactly what we found in the resort town of Bentota, an hour’s drive south of Colombo.

Sandwiched between the warm waves of the Indian Ocean and the island’s lush and mountainous interior, Bentota provides an alluring mix of luxurious amenities and a ramshackle tropical small-town charm. When tired of the spa, pool and beach, the town proves an ideal launching pad for exploring Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage.

Rome, Venice, Florence – the list of evergreen Italian crowd-pullers is long. Venture to the deep south of Italy, on the island of Sicily, and you find that the fiery essence of Italy comes alive. One feels transported back to what the country must have been like half-a-century ago. Closer to Africa than to Rome, with a stunning coastline, a rugged mountainous interior and an incredibly rich cultural heritage spanning from Greek temples over Roman villas to Moorish mosques, Sicily is undoubtedly the most multifaceted Mediterranean island.

 

At its grandest and most spectacular, Sicily’s Ionian (East) coast is dominated by the towering mass of Mt. Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, which forms the stunning backdrop of the town of Taormina. Taormina’s Greek amphitheatre, narrow alleys, and exhilarating setting on a high cliff overlooking the blue waters of the resort town of Giardini Naxos below is surely worth visiting.

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Stunning, unspoilt natural beauty is the hallmark of Canada’s westernmost province B.C., but if you find yourself unsure about dealing with the remoteness, Vancouver Island, with its quaint provincial capital of Victoria, is the place to go.

A little piece of England transplanted into the Canadian wilderness, Victoria enthrals with its teahouses, colonial hotels, and the remarkable beauty of the quintessentially English Butchart Gardens, making it no surprise that the English Queen has chosen the town as her Canadian residence. And within just a few hours’ drive, the best that wild Canada has to offer awaits the visitor – rugged peaks covered with alpine forests, glaciers and glittering lakes, over wild water rafting, to whale watching along the desolate Pacific coast.

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About Mariam Ottimofiore

Mariam Navaid Ottimofiore was one of Fuchsia's founding members, its first content editor and a regular writer and contributer for the magazine. Mariam holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mount Holyoke College in the United States, and has 7+ years of experience in the finance and corporate world. She is also the Co-author of the book "Export Success and Industrial Linkages in South Asia" published in 2008. She is a travel enthusiast and a long-term expat, having lived in 7 countries in the past 12 years, but is still hopeless at packing suitcases and an expert at getting lost in every new city she calls home. She currently resides in Dubai with her husband and two children. To follow her expat adventures, you can read more on her blog "www.andthenwemovedto.com".