You have to give Mother Nature credit: she sure knows how to create an otherworldly destination. Think the salt flats of Bolivia, the Tsingy ‘forests’ of limestone in Madagascar, and the colourful geothermal springs of Yellowstone National Park in the American state of Wyoming. But humans are also no slouches at creating surreal surroundings, from Africa to Europe and Australia. Take a moment to step out of the normal and into the sublime with a few of our favourites.
Image © NataliaMilko
Known as the ‘City of Bridges’, Constantine isn’t one for those afraid of heights. Perched precariously on a plateau more than 2,000 feet above a ravine, Algeria’s third-largest city is only accessible via several bridges strung high above the valley floor below. Founded around 2,000 years ago, Constantine’s buildings – which hark from Roman, Phoenician, Ottoman and French rules – cling to cliff edges, appearing to be just moments from plunging into the river raging below.
Entering the notoriously blue-rinsed city of Chefchaouen in the Moroccan Rif Mountains is like stepping into a Smurf’s dream. Said to symbolise the sky and heaven as a constant reminder to live a holy life, this picturesque city is all winding laneways, hamams and mosques in varying shades of blue. Not only does the city offer myriad opportunities for Instagram photos (always important), but it has an incredible culinary tradition – must-tries are tagine, brochette (meat on a stick, grilled) and mint tea.
One of the oldest known human settlements in the world, Matera’s varied history – and the fact that it was essentially abandoned from the 1950s until the 1970s – makes it one of the most fascinating places to visit in a country crammed with must-see destinations. With dwellings built into caves on the sides of cliffs, and ancient cobblestoned streets lined with buildings that are hundreds of years old, it’s been a gathering place for artists since it was heavily repopulated in the 1980s. It’s truly a step back in time – hotels are set within caves, and the town doesn’t even have a supermarket! Once decried as the ‘Shame of Italy’ for its excruciating poverty, it’s seen such a transformation that it’s now UNESCO world heritage-listed, and has been named a European Capital of Culture for 2019.
Image © Sue Stokes
For most, the Texan desert evokes a certain image: gun-toting ranchers, steak upon steak, and perhaps a cactus or two. Yet Marfa, set deep within the Chihuahuan Desert, is an oasis of cool among the baking sands. A pilgrimage for artists and creatives, it’s chock-full of modernist buildings, art galleries, quirky stores and food trucks – all with a desert backdrop. The most surreal aspect? Drive 60 kilometres out of the city and you’ll find Prada Marfa, a fake shopfront-come-art-installation for the designer brand, complete with shoes and handbags from its A/W 2005 collection.
Only 12 people have ever walked on the Moon. The next best thing? A holiday to Cappadocia. This central Turkish region resembles a lunar landscape, with its famous ‘fairy chimneys’ jutting into the sky, and cave dwellings built into mountains and stone. Sleep in one of the area’s renowned cave hotels and experience even more surreal settings at one of several underground cities in the area, where locals hid as marauding armies swarmed through the place. The best way to see Cappadocia? From above – hot air balloon rides here are a must!
Coober Pedy, Australia
Image © JuliaST
Speaking of underground cities, there is a still-functioning one in the Australian outback. It wasn’t built to escape pillaging soldiers, rather, it was created for residents of the ‘opal capital of the world’ to escape the scorching heat of the South Australian desert. The tradition of building these underground dwellings started when opal was first discovered here in the 1800s – but most offer all the mod-cons, including kitchens, bathrooms and TVs. There are underground restaurants and stores, and if you’re after a little slice of history, there’s even a (above-ground) drive-in cinema. Make like a local and stay in one of these underground dwellings for a true Australian desert experience.