Thursday, March 4, 2010

Shhhh - My 3 best kept travel secrets

Thank you Catherine (, Sabina (Solo Female Traveler), Nick (Delicious Chaos) for tagging me in the Tripbase Best Kept Travel secrets. I have been a bit lazy and forgot about it until I was tagged again so.. no escape this time!

From time to time, while traveling, we discover new things, places, food, stuff that don’t appear on most guidebooks. So it becomes a little secret, a place still untouched, or a food still kept authentic.. I have discovered a few little secrets along my travels since the past 2 years, sometimes I want to keep them for myself, so it doesn’t spread too much. But Life’s all about sharing right? So here are 3 of my little best kept travel secrets worth discovering!

1- Jabal Shams & the Wadi Nakhr - Oman:

Rising 3048m above sea level, “Jabal Shams” (Mount of the Sun), part of the “Jabal al Akhdar” (The Green mountain) range of mountains is truly one of the jewels of The Sultanate of Oman.

IMG_3822Located only 2 hours drive away from Muscat, this impressive 600km stretch of mountains is home to some of the most exciting activities like canyoning in the Snake Gorge (Yes it is called Snake gorge because there are snakes), trekking in the wadis or climbing up to the highest peak only to be greeted by the most beautiful canyon in the Gulf Region: Wadi Nakhr (also known as the Grand Canyon of the Middle-East).

IMG_3762Tourism is almost non-existent here, and it is a good opportunity to meet and chat with the locals in the tiny villages vertiginously hanging on the cliffs.


2- The Geghard Monastery – Armenia

Most people would never think of going to Armenia for tourism. Most people wouldn’t even be able to place it on a map! (And many never even heard of that country).

But if you enjoy authentic old culture, diverse beautiful landscapes, friendly people away from tourists and visiting old worship places (Armenia has some of the most oldest churches in the world, as it is the first country that became Christian in 301 AD)… Armenia is the place to be!

One of the monasteries that I particularly enjoyed is the “Geghard” Monastery. Geghard in Armenian means “Spear”, and it is said that the spear used to wound the Christ on the cross was brought and kept there among other relics.

800px-Geghard_monasteryThe complex was founded in the 4th Century and is partially carved in a mountain, surrounded by cliffs all around. Many prayer chambers have been carved on the cliffs and used by monks as a retreat.

It is interesting to notice the contrast between the finely detailed facades of the outside chapel and the rough cave-like interiors carved inside the rock. If you truly want to experience a magical moment, wait for a choir of young teenagers to sing inside the chapel: The acoustic is impressive and the echo inside is unbelievable (and lasts veeeery long!).

There are also many beautiful “khatchkars” all around (crosses carved on a rock in traditional armenian style).


3- Village festival in Triacastela and preparation of Queimada –Spain:

After trekking the whole day between snakes, and reconnecting with your spirituality inside a monastery, what’s better to do than.. party in a tiny village in Spain!

Triacastela is a village along the path of the “Camino de Santiago”, a pilgrimage route. On the 11th of October, a big village festival is celebrated among the locals and any guest (mainly pilgrims) is allowed to participate!

What’s the plan?

-Stuffing your face with free food like chorizos, salchichon, paella and flowing wine… as much as you want!

-Dancing like crazy to Spanish songs next to a Transformer-like truck that turns into a huge stage with laser and light shows.

-Assisting the ritual of preparing an alcoholic beverage that dates from the time of the druids: The Queimada (and getting drunk).


All photos are taken by me except the Geghard photo in the snow which is from wikipedia.