Leading travel publication Conde Nast Traveller has just confirmed what everyone in the Arab world already knew: AlUla in Saudi Arabia is a must-visit.
Author Aaron Millar, an award-winning travel writer, photographer, presenter and journalist, elects seven new wonders each year for the publication, ones that are "the most awe-inspiring places on the planet", according to his introduction.
"They are the Acropolis of our day, the Stonehenge of now," he writes. "Which also means they can be seen firsthand. And so they should. Because the real magic of wonder is not in the thing itself, but in the fact that the more you look for wonder in the world, the more the wonder of the world becomes a part of you."
This year, AlUla is in good company, with jaw-dropping travel spots in Turkey, Argentina, France and Britain.
Here's what's on the list.
AlUla, Saudi Arabia
In this region, the ancient city in Saudi Arabia's north-western desert needs no introduction.
It's home to the Unesco World Heritage site of Hegra, the AlUla Old Town and the modern masterpiece of Maraya, where Michelin-lauded chef Jason Atherton has opened a venue. It's also where international artists flock every year for the Winter at Tantora festival, as well as many other cultural and social events that make it a bucket-list destination for all types of travellers everywhere.
"AlUla is a place of extraordinary history and cultural heritage," writes Millar. "But until recently, almost no one had heard of it, let alone visited. That’s changing. At the end of 2022, the site officially opened its doors to visitors and, in doing so, unveiled a more than 200,000-year-old piece of Arabian history."
This island and mainland commune in Normandy is one of the most visited areas of France.
It lies about one kilometre off the country's north-western coast and is home to what Millar describes as an "astonishing" Gothic-style Benedictine abbey, which became known in the medieval world as the "wonder of the western world".
"It’s easy to see why. Teetering on top of a rocky outcrop, half a mile out to sea in the middle of the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, it looks like something dreamt up in a fairy tale."
At low tide, you can walk barefoot to the abbey over the sandflats, writes Millar. "At high tide, it appears to float on the sea like an ocean mirage."
"And though the abbey is itself an architectural marvel, it is the combination of sea and stone that sets it apart. Perhaps, nowhere else in Europe is the aesthetic brilliance of architecture complimented so alluringly by the natural world."
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
While all anyone has been talking about recently is Argentina's sporting prowess, thanks to Lionel Messi and his team's Fifa World Cup win in Qatar, the country also has a lot to offer serious travellers.
Perito Moreon is a stunning glacier, considered by many as the most beautiful Earth has to offer. It's in Los Glaciares National Park, in the south of Patagonia, covering almost 260 square kilometres and at almost 61 metres in height.
"It is a powerful place," says Millar. "Hike to a viewpoint or take a boat to the edge of the glacial wall, and you can hear the thunder of cracking ice as enormous icebergs are calved into the deep blue waters of Lake Argentino. Sparkling in the sun like crystals, they drift across the bay in dazzling forms and glowing colour, dwarfed by the vast tongue of ice from which they’re borne."
Tiger's Nest Monastery, Bhutan
Paro Taktsang, more commonly known as Tiger's Nest Monastery, is a special place in an already wondrous country, which last year launched the long-awaited Trans Bhutan Trail, a 400km trekking route that crosses through the nation.
The monastery is set on the edge of a cliff 915 metres above the Paro Valley and is a complex of four Buddhist temples and buildings. White walls, red roofs and golden domes make it stand out against the dramatic natural backdrop.
Millar says it "is almost too precarious to be real. But perhaps that’s the point. The monastery was built on the site of a cave where it is believed that Guru Rinpoche, one of the founders of Buddhism in the region, meditated in the 8th century. It’s not easy to get there, requiring a steep two-hour hike, but if you make it, some of the enlightenment he sought might just rub off on you too."
Huge rock towers, called fairy chimneys, rise from the ground in Cappadocia.
It "is one of the most surreal landscapes on Earth", says Millar. "But it’s what’s inside them that makes Cappadocia truly special."
The towers are, in fact, homes, which people started carving in 1200 BC. They are "like works of art, with detailed facades, doors, windows, and staircases hewn from the mountain within. Entire towns have been hollowed out under the ground like inverted skyscrapers."
One popular way to see them is by taking a hot-air balloon ride over the valley or by staying in a boutique cave hotel.
"In a country seeped in mystery and myth, Cappadocia may just be the most alluring place of all," write Millar.
The Lake District, Britain
While most people travel to England for London or Cornwall or other southern delights, one of the country's greatest treasures is found way up north.
Millar chooses this spot for his list as Britain's Coast to Coast trail, which spans 306km across Northern England from St Bees on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood's Bay on the North Sea, taking in the Lake District in between, turns 50 this year.
Lake Windermere, the spectacular waterfall known as Stock Ghyll Force, Scafell Pike, the highest peak in England, all live in the Lake District.
"The poet Wordsworth, while sitting on the banks of Grassmere Lake, called it 'the loveliest spot that man hath ever found'," writes Millar. "His poetry, and the legacy of Wainwright, ring through these valleys. Come, walk its greatest trail, and you might just hear some of that poetry echoing among the fells still to this day."
The Sardine Run, South Africa
From May to July, every year, tens of millions of sardines migrate along South Africa's Wild Coast, with shoals up to 15km long.
"But the sardines are only half the story," writes Millar. "Following in their wake are scores of Great White Sharks, Orcas and numerous other predators who herd them into tightly packed bait balls to make them easier to catch. It is a feeding frenzy on an epic scale."
Visitors can dive or snorkel with them, and the shoals are even visible from planes overhead.
"They call it the ‘Blue Serengeti’ and it is one of the most exhilarating underwater adventures on the planet. Jump in if you dare."