TravelAwaits writers go everywhere. Selecting a favorite destination is like choosing a favorite child. It was hard for our travel experts to pick just one place, but they did their best! From one of the oldest cities in the world to the only sunken caldera in the world, here are our writers’ favorite places they’ve ever traveled.
1. Landelies, Belgium
Award-winning writer Vanessa Chiasson spent just a few brief hours in her favorite travel destination, but “I can still remember how utterly relaxed I felt when I was there,” she says. Fairly close to the city of Charleroi, the village of Landelies, Belgium exists in its own tiny, cozy world. Driving is the easiest way to get there, but Chiasson informs us that the community is served by sporadic train service.
The ruins of Aulne Abbey are the main attraction of this rural spot. “Founded around 637 A.D., the Abbey functioned first as a Benedictine monastery and then as a Cistercian monastery until the late 1700s, when it was burned by the French,” explains Chiasson.
Her perfect afternoon of travel “starts with exploring the ruins and then enjoying beer served in earthenware mugs at the on-site brewery, Val de Sambre. You can grab a second round at one of several eateries in the village,” Chiasson suggests. “I settled on La Guinguette by the simple formula of choosing a spot with a good view of the water. I still dream about the meal I ordered that day — a wheel of cheese, cooked in its own rind so the outside forms a crust and the inside is liquid, served with new boiled potatoes,” she reminisces. “Molten cheese and ancient-abbey beer on a sunny Sunday afternoon? What more do you want!?” remarks Chiasson.
2. Petra, Jordan
The best place blogger and traveler Inka Piegsa-Quischotte has ever traveled is Petra, in Jordan. Piegsa-Quischotte finally managed to visit her dream destination a couple of years ago. After hiring a private car and driver from Amman, Piegsa-Quischotte arrived very early in the morning. No tourist coaches were around, so she walked the narrow cliff-lined passage which opened onto the rose-colored library alone, just as the sun came up. She describes it as “a truly magical sight that no picture can do justice.”
3. Budapest, Hungary
Kansas City mom Sage Scott had a hard time choosing between Monet’s home and garden in Giverny, the Loire Valley castles, and her first trip to Prague and Budapest. The latter was a milestone trip to celebrate a big anniversary. “While I enjoyed strolling across the Charles Bridge, touring the Prague Castle, and snapping photos of the colorful Lennon Wall in Prague, it was Budapest that stole my heart!” Scott exclaims.
“With the stunning Széchenyi Chain Bridge connecting the previously separate towns of hilly Buda and Pest, Budapest is absolutely magical,” says Scott. “The Buda Castle perched high on a hill above the Danube River offers sweeping views of Hungary’s capital city. For one weekend in early September, its lush grounds are transformed into one of the best wine festivals in the world,” she states. Sounds tempting!
“As you explore the streets of Budapest, you’ll be treated to a wide variety of statues, from Ronald Regan to Hungarian Painter Roskovics Ignac,” Scott asserts. She lists the Parliament Building, the Citadella, Matthias Church, and Fisherman’s Bastion as other can’t-miss sights.
4. Merano, Italy
Writer, leadership coach, trainer, ex-pat, cook, and paddleboarder Louisa Rogers is also an avid hiker. She calls her favorite place, Merano, “a walker’s paradise.” Just a few miles south of the Austrian border in Italy’s South Tyrol region, this mountainous town lies about an hour and a half from Verona. Known for its spas and art nouveau buildings, Rogers says the town still feels like the spa resort it was back in the 19th century.
Surrounded by Alpine peaks that reach almost 11,000 feet, Merano is nestled in a lush basin. Several of the old hotels, restaurants, and cafes as well as thermal baths dot the banks of the Passirio River. Trails at different elevations all over make the town “sheer candy for walkers,” Rogers attests. “The Summer and Winter Promenades line either side of the river. A longer route is the 2.5-mile Tappeiner Trail, one of the legendary high walks in Europe, which leaves the city center and climbs upward,” she explains. She suggests strolling along the trail, looking down at rooftops, and stopping for a beer or coffee. Named for the popular Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Sissi’s Path is yet another route. It takes visitors to Trauttmansdorff Castle, “whose gardens offer a mix of alpine and Mediterranean vegetation, combined with panoramic views,” Rogers remembers.
Rogers and her husband took the cable car up to the mountains one day to enjoy the views. The hiker admits to feeling spoiled gliding over the treetops, obtaining a 3,000-foot elevation gain without breaking a sweat. At the top, she says they found “miles of moorland and trails — ranging from easy to difficult — with pubs dotting the landscape.”
5. Liguria, Italy
Arizona-based newspaper reporter and travel writer Cindy Barks has fallen in love with every place she’s ever visited in Italy. However, Barks was wonderfully surprised when she took a two-week European train trip with her son after his college graduation back in 2007. “On the recommendation of a friend, we had decided to make a several-day stop on our way between Switzerland and Rome in the Cinque Terre, a string of five coastal villages in northwestern Italy.”
“This was a few years before the five picturesque cliffside towns would become social media sensations,” Barks points out. The pair wasn’t sure what to expect. “But as soon as we arrived in Monterosso on a warm Saturday evening, we knew we were in a special place,” Barks says. “Everything — from the fragrant pink bougainvillea flowers that bloomed along the winding streets, to the scenic trail that connected the five towns, and the delicious pesto-focused cuisine — made lasting impressions,” she recounts. Cinque Terre remains Barks’ favorite travel destination all these years later.
Going to Antarctica was a lifelong dream for Sue Davies. The native New Yorker’s dreams were finally realized a few years ago. Davies got to take a cruise and kayak the Southern Ocean for several days. To get there, she flew into Buenos Aires, Argentina then down to Ushuaia, where she hopped on a cruise to Earth’s southernmost continent.
Visiting the seventh continent was an experience that Davies will always treasure. Penguins splashing, a whale circling in the water, and witnessing an iceberg calving in the distance was more than Davies had dreamed. “We got to see penguin chicks,” she gushes, “young ones, fluffy ones, and some not yet hatched.”
7. Tallinn, Estonia
Being a travel writer, Melody Pittman is often asked where her favorite place is. Her answer can vary from state to state, country to country, and is even influenced by the time of year. However, she chooses Tallinn, Estonia above the rest.
If you haven’t ever heard of the capital of Estonia, you’re not alone. Pittman hadn’t either when her Baltic Capitals cruise stopped at the enchanting town. Minutes after walking under the Viru Gate, she was mesmerized by Tallinn’s historic downtown.
“From the charming people and sophisticated stores to restaurants with incredible food and period-clothing clad waitstaff, Tallinn is a magical place,” Pittman proclaims. She was awed by the town’s architecture and beautiful buildings with orangey-red rooftops. The town has “a way of making you feel like you were walking in a storybook fairytale,” Pittman opines. “Still, the juxtaposition of the high-end boutiques against ancient churches, and kiosks with warm, sugary nuts, served by costumed gals that rivaled Disney’s EPCOT staff is fantastic,” she expounds, declaring that “Estonia is an extraordinary place.”
8. Athens, Greece
Of all the amazing places authors, entrepreneurs, and world travelers Diana Laskaris and Sue Reddel have been, Athens, Greece tops the list. Considered the birthplace of Western Civilization, Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world and is filled with historic reminders of ancient society. “Diana’s Greek ancestry got us interested in exploring the entire country,” Reddel remarks.
After flying into Athens, the duo drove from the mountainous mainland towns in the North to the Peloponnese at the southern edge. “The beautiful islands are a dazzling Greek feature as well,” says Laskaris, “But if we have to choose just one spot as best, Athens would be the one.”
With millions of Greeks living and working in Athens, the pair says delicious food is easy to find. They suggest checking out the central market for the freshest produce and other delights. They also advise that one could dedicate an entire day to investigating the capital’s street and graffiti art and would only scratch the surface.
Nearby beaches, music, museums, and culture make this thriving, vibrant metropolis Laskaris and Reddel’s favorite spot. Add the Acropolis with the Parthenon, other architectural remains, the ancient Agora, Monastiraki flea market, national gardens, parks and pavilions, and gorgeous hotels and restaurants, and the two are unable to resist!
9. Santorini, Greece
Pennslyvania-based freelance travel writer, photographer, and foodie Jeanine Consoli’s favorite place she’s ever traveled to is Santorini, Greece. “I’ve been to many islands, but Santorini is stunning,” Consoli raves. “It took my breath away.”
Consoli visited the archipelago of volcanic islands on a family vacation last July, shortly after Greece reopened to tourists. They arrived in Athens before taking a ferry to Mykonos for a few days and then headed on to Santorini. “A driver collected us at the port and expertly maneuvered up winding switchbacks to the top of the land formation that looks like a shrimp. He told us about the volcano that erupted in the 16th century B.C. that shaped Santorini’s rugged, lunar landscape,” Consoli recalls. The historic eruption caused the mouth of the volcano to collapse, forming a large crater called a caldera. The crater sunk under the Aegean Sea, making it the only sunken caldera in the world. Santorini’s villages are perched on the edge of the caldera, offering breathtaking views of the sea.
When they arrived at their cliffside hotel in Fira (one of the principal towns), Consoli and her cohorts couldn’t help but stop and stare as they stood at the top of the rim, admiring the caldera from above. “The Aegean sparkled below, and I had that WOW moment,” she recollects, “breathtaking.”
10. Chiapas, Mexico
Phoenix-based freelance travel writer and translator Emese Fromm’s favorite place that she’s ever gotten to explore is the ancient Maya site of Yaxchilan, in the jungle of Chiapas in southern Mexico. Fromm says the beauty of the Yaxchilan “lies in the combination of the ruins of some of the most elaborate ancient Maya structures and the surrounding jungle full of life.” Its jungles, lush farm fields, tall mountains, and rainforests are home to some of the most extraordinary biodiversity in the world. Chiapas is also known for its many cultural groups that delight in keeping their traditions alive.
“Even getting there was an adventure that included driving on narrow roads filled with topes (Mexico’s notorious speed-bumps) through the Lacandon Jungle and a boat ride on the Usumacinta River that separates Mexico from Guatemala,” Fromm relates. Arriving early, she and her family caught the day’s first boat to the ruins. “The only gringos around, we shared the half-hour boat ride with a local Maya lady and her small son,” she remembers.
As the site’s first visitors of the day, Fromm and her family were the only humans around as they walked past the lakeshore and into the jungle to the archaeological site. “Families of howler and spider monkeys, gorgeous birds in the trees, bats, and giant spiders were our only companions,” Fromm tells us. “Having it all for ourselves without other humans around made us feel like a family of explorers.”
11. Kenya, Africa
Kenya is one of the best places freelance writer Jo-Anne Bowen has ever been. She went on a safari with a quest to photograph the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo.) Of the four parks she visited, she saw the most animals at Masai Mara Game Reserve. Bowen says that the giraffes were some of her favorites. “This photo shows the beauty of nature and animals,” remarks Bowen. She looks forward to going on her next safari, perhaps in South Africa!
“Best place I’ve ever been?” asks Kelly Hayes-Raitt. “Madagascar!” she exclaims. In the summer of 2019, the international housesitter was doing her thing on the French island of Réunion when she found herself with a couple of weeks to kill before her next gig in London. She was already in the Indian Ocean. What better time to fulfill her lifelong dream of visiting Madagascar?
“As an isolated island off the East Coast of Africa, 90 percent of its wildlife is found nowhere else on earth,” Hayes-Raitt explains. “Although it’s the cherub-faced lemurs that beckon most tourists to this far-flung destination, my highlight was spending the night in a village with no running water or electricity,” she says. “Communicating with the local women provided a welcome challenge: What common references could I find with women who had never seen a movie or read a book and knew almost nothing about the United States? With my guide translating, I asked about their children and their dreams for their daughters. I asked about their impressions of America. They wanted to know how I intend to care for myself as I age, since I have no husband or children. They sincerely invited me to live with them in their village, where I’d be cared for in my senior years,” Hayes-Raitt recalls, who refers to it as a “lovely community.”
13. Machu Picchu, Peru
The most magnificent place that Texan travel writer and photographer Janie H. Pace has ever visited is Machu Picchu. She and her husband got to go to Peru on a photo expedition with Great Escape Publishing in May of 2018.
Getting to Machu Picchu, one of the ancient wonders of the world, was quite the journey. Pace and her husband flew 7.5 hours to Lima and 1.5 hours to Cusco before taking a van to Ollantaytambo. The pair then rode a moto-taxi to the train station and hopped on a train to the village of Aguas Calientes.
After dinner at the Full House of Ceviche de Trucha and Alpaca a las Brazas, the two went back to their hotel where they were lulled to sleep by the muffled roar of the Urubamba River.
The next morning, Pace and her husband took the 5:00 a.m. bus up a dozen twists and turns to the entrance gate of the World Heritage Site. Climbing the stone steps took 45 minutes, but was worth it for the panoramic views of the iconic ruins. “I must have stood there an hour, taking pictures, meditating, and letting the overwhelming experience of being there take my breath away,” she says. “What a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list trip. I was there at Machu Picchu!”
14. Ushuaia, Argentina
You’ll have to go to the ends of the earth to find freelance travel writer and photographer Chris Moore’s favorite place. Known as “Fin Del Mundo,” or “End of The World,” Ushuaia, Argentina long held the superlative as the southernmost city in the world. Chile has since edged it out of that title, now that its Puerto Williams has been upgraded to “city” status.
Located on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, the resort town of Ushuaia sits on the very bottom tip of South America, making it a popular departure port for many an Antarctic cruise, like the one Davies took. It’s also just a hop, skip, and a jump from the splendor of Patagonia, which Moore describes as a “resilient maritime town that endures cool weather most of the year.”
“Nestled between the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia is the feisty, colorful flower that clings onto a harsh escarpment and whose beauty can be glimpsed between swirling snowflakes,” Moore says of the windswept town. “It may be a long way to go for the most perfect pairing of steak and Malbec,” he admits, “but it’s cool to say you have been to the ‘End of The World’…and didn’t fall off.”