The Top 10: Stunning Scenes

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The Independent Travel

1 . Cinque Terre, Italy

Italy's Cinque Terre, or Five Lands, join together to form one of the most exquisite landscapes in southern Europe. Today, the five villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are attractions in their own right, in a setting of quite striking beauty. Seascapes, vineyards, sheer cliffs and wonderful food are all squeezed into this bite-sized chunk of the Italian Riviera. Running for five miles along the coast of Liguria, and book-ended by promontories to the north and south, the Cinque Terre is connected by pathways through olive groves - take a day to walk its length, stopping for lunch on the way - while a milk train runs through the villages. Among the many eye-catching features are the remarkable cultivated terraces on the sheer cliffs, locally known as fasce, which are somehow held together by a lattice-like system of muretti, or low, dry walls.

Contact: The new Great Rail Journeys (01904 521936 greatrail.co.uk) offers a 10-day Italian Riviera escorted tour that visits the five villages of the Cinque Terre on the milk train. Prices start from £1,495 per person, including train travel from the UK.

2 . Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Ninety miles from the chaotic capital, Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan is ringed by three volcanoes, each more than 9,000ft high. Early morning is particularly beautiful, and at this time waters are often at their most still. Sunsets can also be dramatic with the volcanoes silhouetted against a blood-red sky. Mists, shadows and sunlight constantly flit and linger on the surface. At the base of the volcanoes you will find Mayan villages where people continue to wear traditional dress. The lake is a vast collapsed volcanic cone and is up to 900ft deep. Accommodation fits in with the lake's atmosphere, and there are good choices of hotel in some of the villages, including a boutique hotel, the Casa Palopo in Santa Catarina. Follow Aldous Huxley's recommendation - he thought it the most beautiful lake in the world.

Contact: Journey Latin America (020-8747 8315; journeylatinamerica.co.uk) offers a "Week in the Highlands" package from £373 per person for six nights, excluding international flights, and which involves a two-night stay at Lake Atitlan.

3 . The Roof of the World, Tibet

The Tibetan Plateau deservedly has the moniker of "Roof of te World". It is often described as a lunar landscape, but there is much more to it than mere barren rock. The relentless plateau is mapped out against a backdrop of the Himalaya, and the high altitude - the land typically averages a height of 14,800 feet - lends the air and light a piercing quality. The bone-jarring roads and physical demands of the thin air remind you that there is no gain without pain, but the discomfort is worthwhile. Lhasa will always be the main goal for many travellers here, but the wilds to the south and west of the capital offer extraordinary scenery, along with a sense of impossible remoteness. Amid this vast emptiness lie fascinating towns, such as Gyantse and Shigatse, characterised by smoky monasteries. Even Paul Theroux, at his grumpiest in Riding the Iron Rooster, was able to praise this prince of plateaus.

Contact: Audley Travel (01993 838200; audleytravel.com) offers a 12-day Tibet Uncovered package from £2,600 per person, inclusive of international flights.

4 . Cappadocia, Turkey

An almost supernatural element attaches itself to the landscape of Cappadocia, which has long drawn and mesmerised travellers with its extraordinary troglodyte dwellings, rock-hewn houses and churches. A World Heritage Site since 1985, the natural and man-made architecture of this eroded plateau has left a series of volcanic "fairy chimneys" with conical shaped bodies. Since the 4th century, they have been excavated and tunnelled to produce several storeys of dwellings, churches and storage chambers. Far from being dark and dingy, the volcanic tuff stone means that the interiors were rather pleasant places to live. Many of the churches - Goreme, at the heart of the region, was an important Christian centre in the early Middle Ages - hold high quality frescoes. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the sanctuaries cut into the rock provide "irreplaceable evidence of Byzantine art". The area is also excellent for walking.

Contact: Exclusive Escapes (020-8605 3500; exclusiveescapes.co.uk) offers rooms overlooking Goreme National Park from £815 per person for three nights, including return flights.

5 . Australia's Bungle Bungles

In a country where remoteness really has to be unimaginably distant to really merit the description, the Bungle Bungle mountains are about as far flung as can be imagined. Located in the far north-east of Western Australia, the bungles, which are banded rock domes, push up against Northern Territory. This isolation manages to keep visitor numbers down and the Bungle Bungles must be like Ayers Rock before mass tourism really kicked in. The reason people make the effort to get here - travel is only possible by 4x4s or by air - is to see a spectacular collection of chasms, gorges and beehive rock formations. Walking through the narrow Echidna Chasm, barely a couple of feet wide at times, is a remarkable experience - the cracks are thought to have been caused by fracture lines resulting from a meteor strike.

Contact: Quest Travel (0871 423 012316; questtravel.com) offers a 16-night tour of Western Australia, including a visit to the Bungle Bungles, from £2,949 per person, including return international flights.

6 . The Burren, Ireland

The Burren in County Clare gets its name from the Gaelic word for "stony place", which, if a little unimaginative, is a spot-on description for this remarkable landscape, which comprises an area of 50 square miles of limestone rock, mountains, valleys and streams. The Burren is strikingly different to any other habitat you might encounter in the British Isles. Though limestone underpins much of Ireland, the soil in the Burren was clawed away by retreating glaciers during the last ice age. It is an ancient place, marked with megalithic tombs that are older than the Pyramids. The little soil there is supports few trees, and instead the limestone crevices are ideal homes for a wide range of Mediterranean flowers that have no right to be found so far west and north.

Contact: The Burren Centre (00 353 65 708 8030; theburrencentre.ie).

7 . Banaue terraces, the Philippines

Rice terraces are not uncommon in Asia, but those at Banaue in the Philippines are comfortably the most spectacular. The 2,000-year-old Banaue rice terraces represent an astonishing feat of engineering deep in the Philippines Cordillera in Ifugao. Tiered embankments of rice rise for almost a mile up the mountainside and are supported by walls and terraces. The rice is fed by a channel of rainwater that drops through each successive tier - there are perhaps 40 in all. The terraces are hewn out of a breathtaking setting, with forests, villages and sacred groves all interlinked. The terraces are described by Unesco as "a delicate, evolving cultural landscape" and are the only known monuments in the Philippines that show no evidence of being influenced by colonial powers - the knowledge of how the terraces should be managed and how they operate has been passed down orally from one generation to the next.

Contact: Trailfinders (0845 0585858; trailfinders.com) offers flights to Manila with Kuwait Airways from £496 including taxes. Banaue is a seven-hour bus journey from Manila. Regular overnight services to Banaue are operated by Autobus Transport Systems and normally depart form the Cubao bus terminal.

8 . Sossusvlei dunes, Namibia

A day's drive north of the Namibian capital of Windhoek brings you to the immense and extraordinary spectacle of the Sossusvlei dunes, which heave up from ground-level clay pans towards the skyline in a vast succession of gently arcing mounds. Located in the Namib Naukluft Park, the dunes are thought to be around 30 million years old, which would make them the oldest on the planet; touching 1,000ft, they are also among the highest. If you are lucky, your visit will coincide with strong winds, at which time whirlwinds of sand coil upwards and fly over the crest of the dunes in the fashion of wood smoke emerging from a chimney. Try to coincide a visit with sunrise or sunset, when the dunes turn a glorious collage of reds, apricots, oranges and yellows. Unexpectedly, wildlife survives here too in the Namib Desert, and you may see gemsbok and oryx.

More adrenalin-fuelled activities include sandboarding down the more accessible of the dunes.

Contact: Peregrine Adventures (0844 736 0170; peregrineadventures.co.uk) runs a 14-day family tour through the Namib dunes and Zambia, with prices starting from £1,952 per person, including return flights.

All prices are based on two sharing

The best volcanic vistas

Get in a lava on the boat

French Polynesia would always be well represented in a list of the world's most attractive islands, but among the most beautiful are surely the Marquesas Islands, a three-hour flight to the north-east of Tahiti. The best way to explore this archipelago of volcanic remnants is on the Aranui III (00 33 143 31 25 34; aranui.com), a working cargo ship that visits the islands every week. Transpacific Holidays (01293 567722; transpacificholidays.com) offers tailor-made holidays from £2,699 per person.

The best island views

Stay in a fisherman's hut

Most travellers arrive at the Lofoten Islands archipelago, off the north-west coast of Norway, by boat. As they near the islands, a seemingly impenetrable barrier of rock, known as the Lofoten Wall, appears to stretch almost across the horizon. This illusion is caused by the mountains which rise almost vertically from the water in a fashion rarely seen. Inntravel (01653 617970; inntravel.co.uk) offers seven nights in a rorbu - a traditional fisherman's hut - with three days' car hire and self-catering from £944 per person.

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