The Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Colosseum in Rome are marvels. You could stand before them for hours in reverent silence just taking them in. That is, until aggressive tourists elbow their way into your space to take that obligatory selfie. If crowds aren't your speed, then the road less traveled still promises adventure for an authentic experience, but without all the hubbub.
These spellbinding photographs are thumbnails to the grandeur that you can experience only in person. Here's an introduction to exotic locations you thought you can only visit in your dreams.
1. The Netherlands: Ft. Bourtange
Here's a little bit of history. Ft. Bourtange, or the "Star Fort," was originally a fortification against direct artillery fire during the Dutch fight for independence from Spain, known as the "Eighty Years War"(1568–1648). The Peace of Münster treaty ended the war, and the fort was abandoned for a brief time. It was reclaimed as a village in 1851, but deteriorated over time. The local government restored it to its original state 100 years later and converted it into a historical museum. It's an arresting view from above, and at ground level, it's beauty will stop you in your tracks.
2. Japan: Hokkaido
The Northern island of Hokkaido is an impressive display of modern society harmoniously coexisting with natural grace. Hokkaido is also home to an indigenous population called the Ainu, thought to be part Jomon (an earliest known civilization in the Japanese peninsula) and part Caucasian (from Russia). Not only is Hokkaido the brewing birthplace of Sapporo beer, it also produces most of Japan's dairy products . Try cream cheese in your curry, butter in your ramen, or for the more adventurous palate: asparagus or squid-ink ice cream!
3. Italy: Alberobello
Step out of the pages of a fairy tale into this hidden Italian realm. Many of the conical-roofed homes in Alberobello date back to the 7th century. The charming village is also known for its beautiful trees that appear to hug the homes. Take a stroll through the whimsical town and find your own happily ever after!
4. China: Hainan Island
Even though its promotional "hook" seems geographically confused – "China's Hawaii" – this tropical destination offers so much more in a compact area. Hainan Island is filled with gorgeous beaches, a volcano park, monkeys and a Shaolin Buddhist temple in a breathtaking setting. It's a Chinese paradise!
5. France: Ivoire Village
This quaint village has endured over 700 years of natural disasters and harsh battles. But in the end, beauty conquers all. With its cobblestone streets and labyrinthine roads, there are discoveries around every corner, from the charming local baker to architectural details you won't find anywhere else.
6. Portugal: Mansanto
No, this isn't Bedrock. Once the center of the Beira Baixa Province, the homes in this small village in the Portuguese countryside have been carved out of the boulders scattered around the gorgeous landscape. Its integrity has been left untouched for hundreds of years. You won't see homes squeezed between the rocks like these anywhere else.
7. Slovenia: Kobarid
Surrounded by a breathtaking mountainscape in the Soča Valley, this history-rich town is known for archeological sites dating back to the Iron Age. It's also home to a museum commemorating its role in the Battle of Caporetto in 1917, documented by Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell To Arms. The few tourists definitely add to its allure, and you will appreciate the soundtrack of nature.
8. Iceland: Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
The melting glaciers after the Ice Age sculpted this breathtaking canyon that is almost 2 kilometers long and up to 100 meters deep. You won't find McDonald's for miles, but may spot a ring-bearing gollum or two lurking about.
9. England: Devonshire
This pastoral county in southwest England has two coastlines: the English Channel to the south and the Irish Sea and Bristol Channel to the north. The turquoise waters lapping against the quaint fishing village offer great surfing and sailing opportunities. And the picturesque sunsets can't be beat!
10. Spain: Albarracín
One of the most beautiful villages in Spain is perched 3,878 feet above sea level. This medieval gem is two hours from Valencia, Spain, and was proposed as a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It represents a huge artists' community which hosts piano recitals, string quartet concerts and art exhibitions. Seminars in illustration, painting and photography are offered as well, which comes as no surprise, given the inspiring setting.
11. Peru/Bolivia: Lake Titicaca
At 12,500 ft, Lake Titicaca is one of the largest lakes in South America, located on the border of Peru and Bolivia. Scientists believe that the lake was an ancient sea millions of years ago, and various sea creatures are rumored to be navigating the waters today. Even more fascinating are the Uru Indians, an indigenous tribe believed to be one of the oldest in the Andes. They sustain a living floating along on islands made of reeds. You'll have special opportunities to learn about their way of life through organized tours and demonstrations on the construction of their floating homes. There's one thing you'll take away from interacting with the tribe: That you can survive without your smartphone! A visit to Lake Titicaca will be sure to be an unparalleled experience.
12. Morocco: Chefchaouen
This otherworldly "blue city" perches beneath the raw peaks of the Rif mountains. It was founded in 1471 by Moulay Ali Ben Moussa Ben Rached El Alami (a descendant of Ibn Machich and Idris I, and through them, the Islamic prophet Muhammad), and served as a Moorish fortress for exiles from Spain. Breathtaking views of valleys and gorges surround you, and you can take literally sleep under the stars in the absence of metropolitan lights. Most notable is the calming hue of the village that beckons you to descend down its winding, narrow paths. This is the closest you'll ever get to walking on water.
13. Spain: Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country
San Juan Gaztelugatxe means "castle rock" in Basque and is located just off the shore along Bay of Biscay. Mind your step as you traverse the man-made bridge, which transitions into a treacherous path zigzagging up 241 steps. The destination is a tiny church dedicated to John the Baptist at the island's summit. Ring the church's bell three times for good luck. Good luck for a safe descent from its dizzying height! You'll be counting your blessings instead of the steps on your long way down.
14. Iran: Kandovan
Modern-day cave dwellers inhabit these curious bee-hive homes formed by the ashes and debris from Mt. Sahand's eruption within the last 11,000 years. Located in the province of East Azerbaijan, this Star Wars-evocative village is said to be 700 years old. Ancient tribes first occupied the caves and have been updated as they've been passed down from inhabitant to inhabitant. These homes are said to be the most energy-efficient homes on earth, since the stone walls provide sustained temperatures throughout the cold and warm seasons. Yes, this otherworldly destination is on our own planet!
15. Ireland: The Dark Hedges
This hauntingly exquisite alley of beech trees is one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland. The trees were planted by the Stuart royal family in the 18th century and were intended to impress guests on their way to their Georgian manse, Gracehill House. The trees were so mysterious, they have been featured on Game of Thrones to represent the King's Road. So captivating are these trees, you might find yourself easily under its spell. That's so gnarly, like the branches!
Why dream of visiting fantastic movie realms, when we can find them in our own backyard? Take a leap and think beyond the conventional vacation. It's just a matter of time before tourists catch on to these charming destinations and descend en masse, ruining them for everyone. So where will you head to first?
H/T - brightside, fodors,