So what does Jerba have that London doesn't? Why would visitors pack their bags for Rio de Janeiro when Kotor, Montenegro beckons?
With the aid of various travel websites, guidebooks and meandering bloggers, we set about to determine just that. Here, in ascending order, are the Top 10 destinations, and what you might find at each:
10. KOTOR, MONTENEGRO
Designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1979, this walled city on the Adriatic is almost as old as the mountainous fiord (the southernmost in the world) it inhabits. After more than two millennia of being the object of a game of hot potato between the Illyrians, Serbs, Hungarians, Romans, Bosnians, Venetians, Austrians, Russians and French, Kotor boasts stunning architecture from numerous periods and styles, including many churches and cathedrals built between the 12th and 16th centuries.Yet even Kotor's own portion of the website visit-montenegro.com admits that "When we are talking about tourism, in that area, Kotor is not the greatest town," noting the absence of sandy beaches in favour of stony ones. Still, it continues, "If the nature itself and Kotor charm you that much that there is no reason for you to spend your vacation in some other town on the Montenegrin coast, then we are convinced that you will manage with the swimming and sunbathing in Kotor."
9. Yangshuo, China
According to bloggers Carrie and Jesse, there's a restaurant in Yangshuo called Small Restaurant in Village, where, upon ordering the chicken and duck, they were told it would take half an hour, as the birds had to first be caught and killed. Talk about fresh! As a bonus, although not required, these visitors got to watch the slaughter. A long time tourist destination for Chinese, Yangshuo first drew the attentions of foreign backpackers in the 1980s, when the Lonely Planet introduced them to the area. Since then, they've been piling on the attractions. Visitors can rent bicycles for about $1.30 per day, and wander rice paddies, explore caves, view the region from a hot-air balloon, taste dog meat, hike up Moon Hill, take in an opera in the natural amphitheatre of Shutong Hill, or float down the Li and Yulong rivers on a bamboo raft.
8. LA PLAGNE, FRANCE
Made up of 10 villages (six of them designed solely for the purpose), La Plagne is a huge ski resort in the Savoie French Alps. Its vertical drop of 2,000 metres is twice that of Aspen's, and there are 420 kilometres of trails and 144 ski lifts, making it the largest ski area of any resort in the world. The highest lift -- on Bellecete Glacier is 3,250 metres, while the longest run is 10 kilometres. According to wordtravels.com, apartment dwelling is the way to go here: "There are few hotels and its convenience makes up for its lack of charm."
7. KO PHANGAN, THAILAND
It is perhaps unfair to draw any sort of stereotype based on photographic images found on the Internet, but were one to do so, he would assume that most visitors to Thailand's Ko Phangan are white, in their 20s, nocturnal and, if male, shirtless.This may have something to do with what appears to be the island's main preoccupation: its Full Moon beach parties. Here, literally thousands of revellers gather on such beaches as Haad Rin and the aptly named Bottle Beach for an all-night party that involves lots of tribal house, trance, techno, reggae and pop music and even more buckets of vodka and Thai whisky.Despite all this cacophony, the website kophangan.com bills the island as also having "tranquil places for visitors to enjoy. You can relax under shade of coconut trees by white sand beaches and absorb the spirit of nature."
6. ASILAH, MOROCCO
"Asilah clings like a stubborn white barnacle to the cliffs of Morocco," wrote New York-based photographer and writer Dannielle B. Hayes in 1994. "It is a town of sounds and of colors: of poetry, of staccato fingers beating on clay drums, of blinding sunwashed whiteness, of women's tongues talking and singing."
A fortified town on the Atlantic, only a half-hour drive from Tangier, Asilah's history traces back to 1500 BC, when it was a trade centre for the Phoenicians and, later, the Portugese. In parts of the last two centuries, it was also a home to pirates. Moussem of Asilah, that has made it such a draw for visitors. Founded in 1978 by former Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and ambassador to the U.S., Mohamed Benaissa, the summer-long festival invites musicians, dancers, theatre troupes and visual artists from around the world for performances and workshops, with visual artists painting the walls of Asilah's old part of town, or medina, with colourful murals.
5. SABAUDIA, ITALY
"If you come to Sabaudia," writes blogger Circeo, "you absolutely have to go to the sea ... here there are the famous sand dunes and a wonderful sea!!!"Sabaudia, located on the Mediterranean side of Italy, in the province of Latina, Lazio (essentially the middle of the shin bone, if we're to use Italy's oft-cited "boot" shape as a guide), was built in 1933 and '34 under Mussolini, with 6,000 labourers toiling night and day to finish the job -- which included extensive draining of marshland -- in just 253 days. As such, much of the architecture is noted for its functionality and fascist symbolism, including the use of the lictor's ax decorating fountains, walls and reliefs. "The lictor's ax," notes Sabaudia Online, "came to be to the Italian fascists what the swastica and the eagle were to the German Nazis."
4. KOVALAM, INDIA
Located near the southernmost tip of India, Kovalam is known as the "Paradise of the South." Its name literally means "a grove of coconut trees."
Thirty years ago, according to kovalam.com, it was a favourite spot for the hippie crowd, who were attracted to the beach for its year-round swimming, fresh fish and fruit and coconut beer. Today, development of hotels, yoga centres, spas, water sports facilities and the like have turned Kovalam from an simple and idyllic beach resort into a multi-million-dollar tourism industry, and one, according to wikitravel.org, favoured by the 40- to 60-year-old set. "Highly commercialised and very crowded through most of the year," the website kovalam.com concedes, "Kovalam manages, against all odds, to retain much of the charm which made it a popular beach in the first place."
If one can muster the energy to leave the beaches, there appears to be much to do and see in and around Kovalam, including Padmanabhapuram, Kaudiar and Koyikkal palaces, various museums and, from Jan. 9 to 12, the Great Elephant March, where 100 decorated elephants parade for tourists.
3. PHANGNGA, THAILAND
Fans of the James Bond film franchise may recall this area, as much of 1974's The Man With the Golden Gun was shot here. Located in the bay of the same name -- and in the province of the same name -- Phangnga, often also spelled Pahng Nga, lies on the shore of the Andaman Sea, on the western side of Thailand's Malay Peninsula. It suffered greatly by the tsunami accompanying the Dec. 26, 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake; thousands in the province died, including the grandson of Thailand's king.Here, visitors will find Phang Nga Bay National Park, described by thailandmaps.net as "a geological wonder filled with islets, sunken caverns and startling rock formations rising sheer out of the sea."Few of the islands of Phang Nga Bay apparently offer accommodations, and visitors usually stay in nearby Phuket. One blogger, Popple, did spend a night in the "floating" Muslim village, "which was very peaceful and the food was great, although the fish was presented with head, tail and everything!!" Everything?
2. MAKANDI BAY, EGYPT
Curious travellers and travel agents are going to have a dickens of a time with this one. A Google search of Makandi Bay turns up dozens and dozens of websites, all of which proclaim that Makandi Bay, Egypt came in second on this list and nothing else.
If you accidentally type Makadi Bay, however, you'll find Egypt's resort oasis on the shore of the Red Sea, just 35 kilometres south of the tourist city of Hurghada. Here, too, you'll find an area that Thomas Cook Destinations describes as a "small beach resort" where "all the facilities ... are hotel-based." And, indeed, that appears to be true, as reviews of resort hotels in Makadi Bay -- the Grand Makadi Bay Hotel, the Grand Makadi Palace Hotel, the Iberotel Makadi Oasis Hotel, Sol y Mar Makadi Marine Hotel, the Meridien Makadi Bay Hotel, the Makadi Family Star Hotel, the Domina Makadi Bay Hotel & Resort, Al Nabila Grand Makadi Hotel, Jaz Makadi Star Hotel, Sol y Mar Club Makadi Hotel and Sol y Mar Makadi Sun Hotel -- are more plentiful (and, incidentally, positive) than any references to activities available outside the resorts.
1. JERBA, TUNISIA
Another movie location, one that Star Wars fans might remember: In the original 1977 film, the North African island of Jerba (also Djerba, Jarbah and Girba) was used for the exterior scenes of Mos Eisley, the spaceport town on the planet Tatooine, which Obi-Wan Kenobi described as a "wretched hive of scum and villainy." Jerba is also considered by some to be the legendary island of the Lotus-Eaters where, in Homer's epic poem The Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew were stranded on their voyage through the Mediterranean.
Today, according to tunisia.com, Jerba is a "tourist magnet" where the local fishermen cast their nets mostly for octopuses and high-quality sponges, and where swimmers should beware of the many large jellyfish. It does not, the website concedes, offer the greatest food, especially if you plan on eating outside your "tourist complex." "And not even the best place if you plan to stay there," it adds, "many hotel restaurants serve rather uninspiring meals."
Sisitors are apparently drawn by the island's mosques and synagogues, sunsets, sandy beaches and whitewashed houses. According to tripadvisor.com, the five most recommended places to visit in Jerba are: El Ghriba Synagogue, a pilgrimage site where the oldest Jewish community in Tunisia dates back to 586 BC; the Guellala Museum, which offers a large collection of pottery, as well as an observation tower from which travellers can watch the sun set; the Djerba Golf Club, a 27-hole facility designed by British course architect Martin Hawtree; Borj El Kebir, which Trip Advisor none-too-helpfully describes simply as a "historic site," but which further research discovers to be an extremely large fortress dating back to 1595 ("What you see inside may be disappointing," notes lexicorient.com, "being almost completely unadorned and with a simple layout."); and Djerba Explore, a wildlife park that houses both 400 Nile River crocodiles and a museum of Muslim art.