I’ve been to around 80 different countries, but still have so many more journeys to come. Recently, I talked to Alison Stephenson from news.com.au about my ultimate ‘top 10’ must-see travel destinations.
1. BHUTAN, SOUTH ASIA
“It’s a magical mystical kingdom, where the king believes Gross Domestic Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product. It is a country I promise will change you for the better just because of that ethos. It’s a Buddhist kingdom nestled between India and China, deep within the Himalayas and Prince William and Kate visited there earlier this year and shone a light on it.”
“The people all still wear traditional clothing and have the deepest respect for their king as he does for the people in his country. They are picky about who comes in, backpackers not catered to, but there are string of magnificent resorts high up in the hills, with Buddhist monks delivering tea in the morning.
“You can climb the mountains with people singing prayers to the Gods and spin the prayer wheels. It’s like nothing else like it on the planet, in a sense for me that is the purpose of travelling to push out of your comfort zone and learn about different cultures and be better for it by doing so. I begged Getaway to let me do the story and I’m so glad they did.”
“Those who love art, culture and history should definitely venture to Russia. I just flew in from Russia and it was the exact opposite of what you see on CNN, for me it dispelled all the negative things the media says about it.”
“Every day was sunny, the food was beautiful, and the people love their country.
“The art world is dynamic, the fashion, the shopping, the music and the ballet is all off the scale. Every day was quite surreal, I could not have stayed one day more, because it was like sensory overload.”
3. AITUTAKI LAGOON, COOK ISLANDS
“Aitutaki is the most beautiful lagoon I’ve ever been to and when I was there I thought, ‘if anyone is every crazy enough to ask me to marry them, this is where I’ll have my honeymoon’. And I did.
“When I first discovered it, they only did day trips there, but I encouraged them to make it more than a day tripper because people need to stay here and soak up this amazing South Pacific jewel. And now, there’s the fabulous Aitutaki Lagoon Resort and Spa.
“It’s a bit of a challenge to get to the lagoon, but it’s well worth the effort. If you’re looking out for a South Pacific paradise, you won’t get closer to it than here.”
“This is somewhere that I cannot wait to take my children. To go on a safari once in your lifetime should be on everybody’s bucket list and if you’re trying to decide where to go, go to Botswana.”
“They’ve completely outlawed all forms of hunting and are being rewarded with booming tourism numbers. There’s something really healthy about putting the tablet down and heading into nature and having no idea what will greet you around the corner, it could be a giant lizard in a tree, it could be a lion, you never know. That sums up serendipity to me.”
5. HAMILTON ISLAND, QUEENSLAND
“It’s my children’s favourite holiday destination and I’ve been going there for 20 years so I’ve seen how the island has evolved and blossomed into something that every Aussie should be very proud of.”
“It’s one of the jewels in Australia’s crown and all credit to mother nature, but also to the fact that the Oatley family have put their heart and soul into honouring all that this island region has to give.
“For me there is nothing more spectacular than the view flying right onto Hamilton Island. That flight is just a gift and something every Australian should experience. Make sure you also take a trip over to our world famous Whitehaven beach as well.”
6. NORMANDY, FRANCE
“I’m a sucker for a great city location and while I love Paris, as an offshoot I like to head up into Normandy. Whether you’re a cheese lover, or love your Chanel or you want to go and find out the exact place where Monet learnt to paint ‘en plein air’ out in the natural light, it’s just heaven.”
“I think everyone needs to start their trip in Paris and do a river cruise that makes its way along the Seine up into Normandy and finish off with a visit to Monet’s garden. It was a real surprise to me, I wouldn’t have normally ventured into Normandy, but loved the experience, and I totally recommend it.”
7. YOU YANGS REGIONAL PARK, VICTORIA
“When you fly into the regional airport of Avalon in Victoria, you make a choice, you can go one of three ways — down the freeway 40 minutes into the bright lights of Melbourne, left along Great Ocean Road to the great apostles, or my choice, is to go 15 minutes up the road past a sanctuary called Serendip where you can look over the fence at a mass of emus, kangaroos and wombats.”
“It’s so gorgeous. A lot of Aussies have never seen an emu in the wild and that’s a shame. Serendip is connected to a regional park called the You Yangs which is home to some of the nation’s best mountain bike riding, wildlife spotting, Aboriginal history, hiking, and all of this is 20 minutes from the regional airport.
8. TUSCANY, ITALY
“Part of the reason why I still absolutely cannot get enough of my job is because I am a total shopaholic and I have to admit one of the best kept secret shopping destinations of the world is in the hills of Tuscany.”
“When I filmed in there I had to take in a secret camera because the designers don’t want you to know about it, so I hope I don’t get in trouble! People go on about the wine and the beautiful produce of Tuscany, but if you go up into the hills you’ll find factory outlet stores like no other.
“All your dream designer labels are there in one location, whether you’re after a Gucci bag that makes you weak at the knees or the perfect pair of G-star jeans, trust me it’s all there.”
“When it comes to an easy access holiday, I have to say Fiji still impresses. You can absolutely make a long weekend out of it. It’s only a three or four hour flight from the east coast of Australia.”
“Fijians have long held a reputation for being family friendly, but they also excel at beautiful adults-only resorts with impeccable service. While it’s tempting to flock to the pool or beach, I also recommend you take a boat trip and head to an island to swim with the sharks (they’re tame sharks) or do an incredible caving tour and have kava in a local village. Oh and definitely do the mud baths, they’re a must. I guarantee your glow will make you look you’re lit from within.
10. ASPEN, COLORADO, UNITED STATES
“As a dream location, I have got to say Aspen is pretty darn fantastic all year round. It’s actually more popular in summer than it is for winter skiing. Whether you’re in to hiking or heli-skiing, or if none of that tickles your fancy and you just want extraordinary shopping and great restaurants, this is a pretty fantastic checklist of keeping everybody happy while completely blowing your mind.”
“It’s not for the faint hearted, but I’ve met a lot of people who are pretty darn happy during and after a trip to Aspen. It’s to be celebrated for the fact they’ve mastered tourism during their off season.”
Join me on my new radio show on the Macquarie Radio Network Saturdays from 2pm-4pm from September 10.