Three trade routes of the Great Silk Road went straight through Kyrgyzstan, from east to west. The valleys of the Tien Shan and Pamir-Alay mountains provided the caravans with shelter, and the people of Kyrgyzstan offered travellers hospitality as they plied the 7,000-kilometre-long route. Today, modern-day adventurers can trek these mountains, enjoy the hospitality of the local people, and experience a taste of the nomadic culture of this region. And summer is the best time to go. Kyrgyzstan has recently developed and marked 2,500 kilometres of trails to gain access to remote and stunning vistas, as well as a series of new food and cultural experiences. The renewed pride in Kyrgyz culture benefits visitors who can experience it by sleeping in a yurt, watching traditional hunters—who hunt with golden eagles and Taigan dogs—and making shyrdaks, traditional felt carpets. Cooking classes and food tours introduce travellers to local delicacies like lepyoshka bread and samsa meat pies, made in southern Kyrgyzstan’s iconic tandoor ovens, and plov, a flavourful rice-and-meat dish.
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Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan for a thousand years. Its historic legacy lives on in well-preserved temples, gardens, and palaces that add notes of timeless serenity and beauty to an otherwise bustling city. Sometimes called the “Paris of the East,” Kyoto is famous for its rich culture and ancient heart: about 1,600 Buddhist temples, numerous Zen Gardens, and many time-honoured traditions. Walk back in time along the cherry tree-lined Philosopher’s Walk, sit and contemplate the esoteric harmony of a carefully tended garden of stone and sand, and be dazzled by the magnificent “Golden Pavilion,” Kinkaku-ji Temple. A stay at a traditional Japanese inn, called a ryokan, and partaking in a Japanese tea ceremony will ensure total cultural immersion into the classical idea of Japan, dating from the Edo period.
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Not everyone has a hankering to climb an active volcano. But for those who do, a visit to Mount Bromo will feel like a journey to Mount Doom. You will be faced with a sea of sand, a moon-like crater, a caldera of fire. This is a trip for those with a sense of adventure and a pinch of imprudence. The day starts early, about 3 a.m. After a jeep ride and a steep climb, you are treated to what is reputedly the best sunrise in Indonesia. Streaks of bold colour fill the sky and the volanco appears out of the mist, creating a primeval spectacle. From there you drive to the sea of sand, and after a dusty hike, you reach the brim of the fuming crater, where you very carefully peek into the cauldron of fire. Bromo is actually named after Brahma. One of few Brahma temples in the world is at the base, and definitely worth a stop.
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Back in the day when Sri Lanka was called Ceylon, Scottish and English tea planters retreated to the country’s highlands in summer. Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka’s pre-eminent hill station, to this day retains the aura of an English country village, surrounded by a scenic landscape of tea plant-ations and rough-hewn hills. Tudor-style homes, carefully tended gardens, and activities such as golfing and trout fishing, recall a bygone era—and all this amidst the most temperate climate in the country. At an elevation of 6,128 feet, the average daily high in summer is about 19°C. Visitors can tour tea plantations, visit the spectacular Lover’s Leap waterfall, go birdwatching in Victoria Park, boating on Lake Gregory or simply relax with a cuppa.
Beirut’s trendy Gemmayzeh neighbourhood sports eye-catching street art, some featuring local pop-culture icons such as singer Feyrouz. Photo by Ali Abbas Ahmadi.
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Imphal’s Loktak Lake, not too far from Manipur, looks stunning at sunrise. Photo by: Peter Adams/Getty Images
Manipur has been called the Land of Jewels, partly because mani means jewel, and partly because of the jewel-tone colours of the landscape—a byproduct of inordinate amounts of rain. This tiny landlocked northeastern state is bordered to the east by Myanmar, and boasts a lot of history for such a small place. You can get a glimpse of the region’s erstwhile kingdom of Kangleipak in the state capital, Imphal. Here, Kangla Fort, the ancient seat of power, has been restored to its former glory. Summer is rainy season in Manipur, which can make it difficult to get around, but it’s also the time when the state flower, the Shirui lily, blossoms. A rare pink-and-white flower found only in the Shirui Hill range, it covers the hills in a carpet of blossoms. In May, the state celebrates the Shirui Lily Festival in Ukhrul district with traditional music, cultural shows, and indigenous games.
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The first thing you do when you wake up in Pelling, a small, mist-shrouded town in Sikkim, is check for the mountain. Khangchendzonga, the third highest mountain in the world, is a mighty massif with five peaks and an enormous, white-walled silhouette. The size and legend of this Himalayan giant dominates the eastern half of Sikkim, and is only 43 kilometres away from Pelling, set in a sleepy valley of fertile farmlands, Buddhist monasteries, vivid green rice paddies, and masses of red rhododendrons. But in spite of its gargantuan proportions and proximity, Khangchendzonga is not always seen. Thick layers of cloud and mist often block the view. No wonder it is considered mystical. The presiding deity of Sikkim, harbouring five gods (one for each peak), provides both spiritual and physical protection. Now, if only you could just see it…
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There’s rejoicing way, way up at Hemis High Altitude National Park. The remote park’s most famous resident was recently taken off the endangered species list. The snow leopard, as elusive as she is beautiful, is still considered a vulnerable species, though, and remains still as hard to spot as ever. In summer, the big cat’s coat changes to provide added camouflage, but it’s still the best time to visit this high-altitude park in Jammu. Hemis is South Asia’s largest national park, extending over 600 square kilometres, and is named after a monastery near Leh, Hemis Gompa. The extreme weather, high altitude, and remote location make it difficult to access, and amenities are limited. But Hemis is home to many rare species, including the bharal, ibex, and Ladakh urial—plus, a world of adventure and stunning natural beauty. It may not be for everyone, but for wildlife lovers, birders, and trekkers, Hemis is a paradise.
The Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand is an iconic destination, beloved of nature lovers and trekkers. But it’s not the only flower-carpeted, beautiful valley in India. In summer, the sumptuous Dzukou Valley, on the border of Nagaland and Manipur, explodes in a riot of blossoms, including the Dzukou lily, found only here. The first two weeks of July are peak flower season, but the valley is gorgeous all summer. Rolling hills in shades of blue and green, cool and misty mornings, and sun-dappled afternoons… a natural paradise that’s a regional favourite, but (as yet) undiscovered by outsiders. The trek in will take a few hours, and there’s a rest house in the valley with basic amenities. If you have gear, you can camp anywhere in the valley. Rock climbers will love it.
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“It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape,” Ruskin Bond knew the magic of the mountains when he wrote these lines. And picture-postcard Sangla Valley, with the Baspa River flowing through it and snowy peaks overlooking it, is the perfect place to experience the beguiling serenity and cooler summer temperatures of the Himalayas. Here the forests are filled with deodhar, pine, and birch; the orchards with apples, cherries, and pine nuts; and the glacial streams with trout. Villages, such as Batseri, are right out of a story book, and spotlessly clean. The Sangla Valley is renowned in the Kinnaur region for its natural beauty, and intricately carved wooden houses and temples, with influences of both Hinduism and Buddhism. This is a place to get lost in.
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The clouds that have kept Northeast India in the shadows are parting, revealing one of the most enigmatic parts of the country. Cascading waterfalls, matrilineal tribes, sacred forests, and world wonders like the famous root bridges are just part of the attraction. Shillong—which means ‘abode of clouds’—is a former British hill station, dotted with the remnants of colonial architecture, verdant gardens, and a stunning lookout from Shillong Peak, the highest point in Meghalaya. Stop at the Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures, a musem packed with tribal artefacts, and don’t miss the Police Bazar, the bustling market area. Within driving distance, find Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village; Nohkalikai Falls, India’s highest waterfall; Cherrapunji, one of the wettest places on earth; and the living bridges of Nongriat Village, made by the Khasi people from the hanging roots of rubber trees.
If you really want to get away from it all, this is the place. The Barot Valley is densely forested, and almost off-the-map. To enter it is to experience a kind of timelessness. Drenched in serenity and fresh air, the valley offers travellers an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the simpler things in life: A stay in a guesthouse with home-cooked meals, meandering walk in the woods, trout fishing in the rushing Uhl river. At an altitude of 5,905 feet, Barot is pleasantly cool in summer, ideal trekking weather. The village of Barot lies on the banks of the Uhl and makes a great base for exploring the valley. From here you can trek to villages, like the charming Luhardi, various picnic spots, and lookout points with incredible views.
The idyllic Dhanachuli hamlet, still relatively lesser-known, must be visited for its scenic views, montane forests and apple orchards—often a favourite playground for kids. Photo by: Sahil Vohra
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Daily boat rides are the best way to view giant icebergs up close in Twillingate Islands, Canada. Photo by: Rolf Hicker/Getty Images
You won’t understand the local dialect. “Ow’s she cuttin’, me cocky?” means, “How are you, my friend?” At the height of summer you will still need a wool sweater. And it’s a long drive from everywhere. But stand on the craggy coastline in early summer and wait. The Atlantic Ocean’s waves crash below, and seagulls above you circle and sound their distinctive, evocative cry. When a massive iceberg floats by, you will understand why you made the journey to Twillingate Islands. The ‘Iceberg Capital of the World,’ Twillingate is a tiny outpost on Newfoundland’s northeast coast. Known affectionately as ‘The Rock,’ Newfoundland is Canada’s easternmost province, a rugged land mass jutting into the North Atlantic. The people are friendly, the seafood divine, the coastline spectacular, and the weather lousy. It all makes for a very picturesque and unique destination. Especially during iceberg season.
The road ahead of you winds along the coast as far as the eye can see, up and down richly forested hills that cascade to the deep blue ocean below. This is the Cabot Trail, one of the world’s most scenic drives. It’s a circular route that wends its way around the top of Cape Breton Island, which itself is at the top of Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s maritime provinces. Cape Breton Island is a bastion of Celtic culture and gentle pastoral landscapes, encompassed by the north Atlantic Ocean. It comes alive in summer, when the sunburnt lobster fishermen haul in as many wooden crates of the tasty crustaceans as they are allowed, and ceilidhs—social gatherings that feature Gaelic folk music and dancing—spring up all over the island. Accommodation options include quaint inns, cottage resorts, and stunning campsites that overlook the ocean at Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
New Hampshire may play second fiddle to popular New England summer vacation spots such as Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Bar Harbor, Maine. But the state’s Seacoast Region has classic New England charm aplenty—even with only a 29-kilometre coastline. You can find all the cobblestones, boardwalks, dockside cafés, fresh seafood, and covered bridges your heart desires. New Hampshire’s White Mountains—a range with 48 peaks that exceed 3,900 feet—is an ideal destination for outdoor adventures in summer, full of hiking trails, lakes, and parks. Here, the Appalachian Trail offers hikers a seriously tough 250-kilometre stretch. And for those who want to take it a bit easier, there are also many scenic drives. The view from Mount Washington, the highest summit in Northeast U.S.A., is a must-see: the Presidential Range presents a stunning vista as the peaks line up behind Bretton Woods’ long green meadow.
There is something for all ages aboard the Disney Dream, including pools, and nurseries for children as young as six months. Photo Courtesy: Disney Cruise Line
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Once a site for protests, Plaza de Armas in the colonial city of Arequipa in south Peru is now a pedestrian street. It is built from white volcanic stone called sillar, with fetching colonnades on three sides and a grand cathedral on the fourth. Photo by: Manuel ROMARIS/Getty Images
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The 17th-century Santa Maria Church, standing on a quaint island in Slovenia’s Lake Bled, looks straight out of a postcard. Photo by: Guy Edwardes/Getty Images
In Slovenia, all roads lead to Lake Bled. Like walking straight into a fairytale, the region captivates visitors. The view of the emerald lake—framed by distant snow-covered mountains, guarded by a cliff-top castle and graced by the presence of a gothic church on a small island in the centre—is magical. When you hike up to Bled Castle, the view can only be described as astonishing. And when you learn about some of the legends of Lake Bled, the enchantment is palpable. In summer, the lake waters are warm due to thermal springs, and during the Bled Days Festival in late July, floating lights on the lake and fireworks complete a scene of almost surreal beauty. Of course, all of Slovenia is worth exploring for scenic landscapes, an unending choice of outdoor activities, and picturesque towns. This undiscovered country is a rising star, and you will soon see it on many lists of must-visit countries.
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Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, is the birthplace of myth and legend. From the mysterious Loch Ness monster to beyond-the-veil Outlander, it’s easy to see why. Wind-swept rolling hills covered in a stubble of mauve heather, an unfathomably deep lake, and the ruins of ancient castles provide the backdrop for the charming town of Inverness. Summer brings respite from Scotland’s famously cold and damp weather, making it a good time to cruise Loch Ness looking for Nessie, the ‘monster’ who’s said to live in the depths. On a leisurely drive around the long, narrow lake you will come across some of the quaintest villages this side of Brigadoon, complete with low-ceilinged rooms proffering traditional fare, like smoked salmon and lamb chops, and more types of single malt whisky than you can shake a caber at. Or you could simply walk the cobblestone streets of Inverness and soak up the charm.
After dinner, when the sun is supposed to set, the light simply dims and turns a honey colour, bathing everything in golden luminescence. You can continue to enjoy fun outdoor activities like golfing or swimming well into the evening. And in some places way up north, all night long. Norway, like all countries with regions that lie north of the Arctic Circle, experiences a phenomenon called Midnight Sun. Due to the tilt of the earth’s axis, the sun never sets at the north pole during the summer months. In fact, it never sets on Svalbard, the northernmost point of Norway, from mid-April until late August. But though you can experience the Midnight Sun all over Norway, there are at least three highly recommended places on the scenic National Tourist Routes where the confluence of architecture, art, and the landscape amplifies this natural wonder: Eggum, Lofoten, and Tungeneset on Senja.
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Sand like gold—molten and warm. Sea the colour of a mermaid’s eyes. Mineral-streaked craggy cliffs gouged with hidden caves. Welcome to Europe’s most beautiful beach, Praia Dona Ana, in the Algarve region of Portugal. Praia Dona Ana Beach is just one of about 150 beaches that line the stunning southern coast of Portugal. It’s a busy destination in summer, drawing people from all over Europe to the beautiful beaches, stunning scenery and the mesmerising waters of the Mediterranean Sea. To beat the crowds, explore inner Algarve, and discover lengthy hiking trails, historic castles, charming villages, and a lively culinary scene that makes great use of nature’s abundance on this sunshine-soaked coast: huge oranges, plump olives, fresh seafood, and locally produced wines, to name just a few.
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The northwest coast of the Emerald Isle is a wild, beautiful place. Cliffs rise in jagged formation from a roiling sea, massive clouds scud across the sky, mysterious ruins of an ancient past dot the landscape, and when the sun breaks out, the grass glistens with jewel-like clarity. A 2,500-kilometre-route along the west coast of Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way takes in unending vistas and a mind-boggling array of things to do and see. Explore the traditional Aran Islands (where the sweaters come from), visit age-old ring forts, pay respects at the grave of poet W.B. Yeats in Sligo, listen to lively music in Dingle, eat oysters fresh from the sea in Galway, surf all up and down the coast, and discover the Gaelic soul of the Northern Headlands. These shores have not only inspired poets, but filmmakers, too. Several Star Wars movies were filmed at locations like Skellig Islands, Inishowen peninsula and the cliffs of Sliabh Liag.
Chateau de Chantilly is renowned for its Great Stables, where performers put on costumed shows for visitors. Photo by: PEC Photo/Getty Images
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Dhows dotting Zanzibar’s waters are built in the Nungwi area. Photo by: Danm/Getty Images
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The 32-foot-high Cape Reinga lighthouse, perched on a headland in Northland, affords sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Photo by: Jorge Duarte Estevao/Getty Images
If you can’t imagine being on a white sand beach without another human in sight. If you’ve never seen a tree 50 metres high, five metres around, and 2,500 years old. If you haven’t tobogganed down a sand dune: You need to visit Northland. The northernmost tip of New Zealand, Northland is a subtropical region of pristine beaches, turquoise waters filled with sea life, ancient kauri forests sheltering some of the world’s oldest trees, and a rich repository of Maori history and culture. One of the ancient kauri trees even has a name, Tāne Mahuta, the lord of the forests. The biggest in Waipoua Forest, this giant tree brings people to tears. Northland is where the locals escape to in summer. But New Zealand’s summer is December to February, and their winter is from June to August. Which translates to cool days with an average high of 16 °C and no holiday crowds to despoil this magnificent natural wonderland.
is a professional travel writer and digital storyteller. She is the publisher of Breathedreamgo, a travel site inspired by her extensive travels in India (and elsewhere). Though Canadian by birth, Mariellen considers India to be her "soul culture” and spends as much time in country as she possibly can.
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