The best holidays in the world

For the adventurous traveller a package fortnight is not an option. Hilary Bradt, the founder 30 years ago of the pioneering Bradt Travel Guides, chooses 10 amazing alternatives

I am often asked, "What's your favourite country?" and am at a loss to answer. So many ingredients have to be mixed together to make the ideal travel experience: weather, local people, one's travel companion and serendipity. The perfect mix of all these is not going to happen in one country. So this top 10 is a totally subjective review of my past 30 years of travel, focusing on one remote place in each country that has lodged in my memory. It is a top 10 not the top 10.

I am often asked, "What's your favourite country?" and am at a loss to answer. So many ingredients have to be mixed together to make the ideal travel experience: weather, local people, one's travel companion and serendipity. The perfect mix of all these is not going to happen in one country. So this top 10 is a totally subjective review of my past 30 years of travel, focusing on one remote place in each country that has lodged in my memory. It is a top 10 not the top 10.

1 Mani Peninsula, Greece

The southern Peloponnese has three peninsulas, like roots, reaching towards Crete. The central prong, Mani, has the most appeal. Away from the beaches and tourist developments, this is an arid, mountainous place. Only olive trees flourish in the sparse soil. No road or obvious track crosses the peninsula from west to east, so my companion and I set out to do it on foot. It was tough: we ended up sliding down a boulder-strewn hillside through dense, spiny vegetation. But it had one moment of supreme serendipity. On the desolate heights, in sight of the two coastlines, was a ruined Byzantine church which had been used by the semi-wild cattle for shelter. Where the altar would have been was a carved marble pillar. Half-buried in the dung was a fallen marble lintel. By torchlight we could see the intricate carvings of griffins and flowers. No hidden treasure could have been more exciting.

How to get there

Simply Travel (020-8541 2280; www.simply-travel.com) offers a week in Mani from £630 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from London Gatwick, self-catering accommodation and car hire.

2 Aldabra Island, Seychelles

If you want remote, this is it. Only a supply boat every two months, the occasional expedition cruise ship and a few private yachts make it to Aldabra. A few years ago, I was lecturer on The Caledonian Star, which included Aldabra on its itinerary. Lucky me. It's only possible to reach the atoll at high tide, when the rubber zodiacs hurtle through the narrow gap in the coral reef, carried by the strong currents, to reach the calm and safety of the vast central lagoon. The sky is speckled with seabirds, and every tree and shrub carries its splashes of red. These are the balloon-like pouches of frigate birds and the feet of red-footed boobies. On land there are the lumbering giant tortoises for which Aldabra is famous, huge robber crabs that climb the coconut palms, and the white-throated rail, the only flightless bird remaining on the Indian Ocean islands.

How to get there

Noble Caledonia (020-7752 0000; www.noble-caledonia.co.uk) offers a 13-night cruise departing 15 October, stopping off at Aldabra Island for a day. The trip costs from £2,795 per person, including return flights from London Heathrow, transfers, full-board accommodation and excursions. The itinerary also includes Mahe, Praslin, La Digue, Poivre, the Comoros Islands, Madagascar and the Farquhar Islands.

3 The alternative Inca Trail

Everyone knows about the Inca Trail; few know the alternative routes. I did the Salkantay one in 1979, "discovering" it for the third edition of the Bradt guide. We set out with only a sketch map to look for a different route to Machu Picchu. I remember the delight of walking up a long valley, brushing past flowering bushes buzzing with hummingbirds, with Mt Salkantay shining white at the end. Next morning, we climbed up to the pass, skirting the glacier on the flanks of this 6,271m mountain. I remember the relief of seeing a path down the valley on the other side, and the exaltation of recognising the Inca Trail when we met it a few miles later.

How to get there

Journey Latin America (020-8747 8315; www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk) offers a 13-night package with seven days' hiking along the Salkantay trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu. Prices start at £899 per person, including accommodation, transfers and the services of a guide. Flights to Peru cost extra and can be arranged through Journey Latin America.

4 The Llanos, Venezuela

I keep pet guinea-pigs. I've eaten guinea-pig. In Venezuela, I met the ultimate guinea-pig, the capybara. And not just one capybara but herds of them: brainless, sheep-sized rodents with semi-webbed feet that hang around in the wetlands of South America. There are also roseate spoonbills and scarlet ibis bringing a pink flush to the trees, there are cayman whose eyes shine in the light of a torch at night, river dolphins, giant otters and hoatzin, turkey-sized birds that have claws on their wings like their dinosaur ancestors. Equally enjoyable are the extrovert, hospitable llaneros who make their living raising cattle here and who love music, laughter and conversation.

How to get there

Last Frontiers (01296 653 000; www.lastfrontiers.com) offers a 15-day Wildlife and Mountains itinerary in Venezuela, which costs from £1,440 per person, including accommodation, some meals, internal transfers and tours. Flights to Venezuela can be arranged through Last Frontiers.

5 Torres del Paine, Chile

Are these the most beautiful mountains in the world? I think so, although I haven't been there since 1974 when, after a year spent travelling slowly down the Andes, you'd think I'd be accustomed to glorious scenery. We are accustomed to mountains that are variations of a white pyramid or dome. The Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine) raise their fingers at the sky behind the even stranger Cuernos del Paine. These "horns" look like oddly shaped pink cakes iced with chocolate. A combination of crumbly sedimentary rock and granite gives them this unique appearance. As in the best national parks, the mountains are just the backdrop. There are glacial lakes, flower-covered slopes and herds of guanacos, wild cousins to the llama.

How to get there

South American Experience (020-7976 5511; www.southamericanexperience.co.uk) offers three- or four-night tours in the Torres del Paine National Park, from £682 per person for three nights and £897 for four nights, based on full-board accommodation, transfers from Punta Arenas airport and excursions in the park. Flights to Chile can be arranged through South American Experience.

6 New Island, Falkland Islands

At first sight you could be in Cornwall. Grassy headlands end in dramatic cliffs; gentle waves lap the white sands; the air is clear, the sun shines out of a blue sky and darkens the sea to a photogenic turquoise. Even the burrows look familiar. The occupant is not a rabbit but a penguin, and it is standing outside the burrow hee-hawing its head off. No wonder the Falkland Islanders call it a jackass. The Falklands are occupied by a couple of thousand people, hundreds of thousands of sheep and millions of seabirds, including five species of penguin. They are utterly wonderful and visited by only a few tourists a year. I was there in the austral summer of 1981, just three months before the war that changed Stanley and East Falkland for ever. But New Island, off the western tip of West Falkland, is the same as it always was: a haven for wildlife.

How to get there

Wildlife Worldwide (020-8667 9158; www.wildlifeworldwide.com) offers a 15-day itinerary in the Falklands that explores much of the islands' wildlife, costing from £3,895 per person, including return flights from RAF Brize Norton, transfers, accommodation, some meals and excursions.

7 Persepolis, Iran

Iran was a revelation. It's not just the chance to visit a site that was built 500 years before Christ and to admire the bas-reliefs undisturbed by beggars or so-called guides - it was the fact that, as a woman dressed in the required hijab, I could stroll through crowded streets without drawing a single glance. Not that Persepolis was crowded. We were the only tourists in the most important ancient site in Iran. It was created by Darius the Great, who was not a modest king. Megalomania produces great art: there is a lion with lovely chubby cheeks and a curly mane bringing down a rather surprised-looking bull, there are beasts with the beak of an eagle and the neck of a horse, there are elegant pillars.... In short, it's an absolute treat.

How to get there

Magic Carpet Travel (01344 622 832; www.magic-carpet-travel.com) offers escorted and tailor-made tours in Iran. Its eight-day tour Iran - The Essence takes in mosques, palaces and bazaars, as well as Persepolis. A four-day extension to Yazd, the walled citadel of Bam and Kerman can be added. The cost is £1,295 per person, including return flights from London Heathrow, transfers, full-board accommodation and the services of a guide. The four-day extension costs £445.

8 Madagascar Masoala Peninsula

I know Madagascar better than any other country, so I have a wealth of places to choose from. But Masoala, a stubby peninsula jutting from the north-eastern part of the island, is extra-special. It can only be reached by boat, and this inaccessibility has largely saved it from the logger's chainsaw. Here the rainforest is cut, not by axes, but by streams that tumble off the steep hillsides to form freshwater pools at the edge of the beach. The sand is truly golden, providing a setting for outcrops of weirdly eroded rocks. Orchids cling to the dark, rain-slicked cliffs and red-ruffed lemurs yell from the branches of tall trees with buttress roots. At every step there is something new: a stick insect, a tiny chameleon disguised as a dead leaf, a paradise flycatcher trailing its long tail feathers. If the sun shines - and it does occasionally - this is as close to perfection as you can get.

How to get there

Rainbow Tours (020-7226 1004; www.rainbowtours.co.uk) offers the 17-day Madagascar Explorer tour for around £2,925 per person, including return flights from London Heathrow, transport, b&b accommodation, some meals and the services of a guide.

9 The Burren, West Ireland

In 1984, I bought a white Connemara pony and set out to see western Ireland. By the time I'd reached the Burren, in County Clare, Mollie and I knew each other pretty well. The Burren is an extraordinary landscape: grey where one expects green, the rounded hills scraped bare in the ice-age and now resembling a giant's rock garden with a profusion of orchids and other rare flowers benefiting from the heat-retaining quality of the rock. I ate my sandwiches under a cloudless sky, surrounded by the song of larks and Mollie's steady munching. There was not a soul in sight.

How to get there

Aer Lingus (0845-084 4444, www.aerlingus.com) flies to Shannon from Birmingham, London Heathrow and Manchester from £70 return. Irish Farmhouse Holidays (00 353 61 400 700; www.irishfarmholidays.com) offers self-catering accommodation in County Clare.

10 Cornwall, England

When it's spring and the sun shines, there is no better place in the world than Great Britain. At the tip of the peninsula, not far from Land's End, we found the ingredients for a perfect day. The Minack Theatre, carved out of the cliff-face, was the first stop before we took the South West Coastal Path. This hugs the edge of the cliff through drifts of thrift and primroses with views of white-sanded coves. We reached the little church of St Levan. The interior had that evocative smell of old churches. Spotlit by the sun was a carved pew depicting a bizarre figure in a curly jester's hat: a Mock Bishop. That's England: a touch of culture, beautiful scenery and a bit of eccentric history.

How to get there

First Great Western Trains (0845-700 0125, www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk) runs frequent services daily from London Paddington to Penzance, which take between five and six hours. Virgin Trains (0845 -722 2333, www.virgin trains.co.uk) operates a service to Penzance from many parts of the country. From Penzance bus station there are regular services to Land's End peninsula. Cornish Traditional Cottages (01208 821666; www.cornishtraditionalcottages.com) offers self-catering properties in the Land's End area.

Additional research by Sophie Lam

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