Planning a trip? A guide to the world’s most bizarre travel destinations

Tuva, which is in the heartland of Central Asia, was once as independent nation. (File photo: Reuters)
Updated 22 March 2017
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Planning a trip? A guide to the world’s most bizarre travel destinations

DUBAI: Calling all avid explorers, if you feel like you’ve been there and done that, this is the travel list for you.
There is a litany of locations across the world that are not recognized as nation states but claim autonomy or are culturally unique and many are easily accessible.
So, if North Korea isn’t daring enough or Bhutan sounds boring, give these destinations a try on your next trip abroad.
Tuva
Tuva, which is in the heartland of Central Asia, was once an independent nation but tilted toward the Soviet sphere of influence in the 1930s and 40s.
Eventually, Tuva sought admittance into the Soviet Union and is today part of Russia but the area retains unique cultural practices and is a popular holiday jaunt for the likes of President Vladimir Putin.

Wildlife spotting is popular and the region is home to lynx, ibex and wolverine.

Christiania
This plot of land is a social experiment started by hippies in central Copenhagen in 1971.
They declared the 0.34-kilometer-square former military barracks the Freetown of Christiania and within a year the Danish government granted them use of the land on the condition that they paid their utility bills.
Members of the highly democratic community were known to dabble in hard drugs and now face a dilemma – they must either pay the government for the land by 2018 or face eviction.
Somaliland
The 3.1 million people of Somaliland, located in the Horn of Africa, have sought independence from Somalia since 1991.
The self-declared borders reflect those of the former British Protectorate of Somaliland and the capital is called Hargeisa.
The area can be accessed via direct flights from Nairobi.
There are beaches aplenty and 5,000-year-old cave paintings just 50 kilometers from the capital.

Seborga
Close to the Italian border with Monaco, Seborga was headed by Giorgio Carbone, the former head of a flower-growers’ cooperative who titled himself His Tremendousness during his tenure as prince.

Carbone discovered that the town was not mentioned in the documents that outlined the formation of Italy and became prince after a 1995 referendum, until his death in 2009.

Mayotte
Mayotte in the Comoros Islands rebuffed decolonization and opted to stay under French control in 1975.

The island is administered by France as though it were a territory in Europe and it is a regular stop on the French presidential campaign trail.

Visitors can hike up Mont Choungui or scuba dive in crystal-clear waters.


Catch the coastal chic of Biarritz

Biarritz is one of the best surfing locations in Europe. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 June 2019
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Catch the coastal chic of Biarritz

  • The French seaside town mixes old-world glamour with a very modern surfing scene
  • This patch of Basque Country — less than 20 miles north of the Spanish border — has a windswept, relaxed charm all its own

DUBLIN: It’s hard to put a finger on what makes Biarritz so special. Maybe it’s the faded charm, maybe it’s the sprinkling of stardust that the numerous guests (the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra) brought to the city, or maybe it’s the low-slung surfer’s vibe, but this patch of Basque Country — less than 20 miles north of the Spanish border — has a windswept, relaxed charm all its own. It’s something of a hidden gem, with surfers, Parisian hipsters, retired French tourists and a smattering of in-the-know Europeans descending here every year.

Its most recent heyday was during the 1950s, when luminaries including Sinatra and Coco Chanel visited. From the 1960s onwards, Biarritz’s star fell, with Hollywood and the European elite favoring France’s Riviera as a holiday destination. Yet recent years have seen the town emerge back into the spotlight — although these days you are more likely to see surfers rather than film stars, as the town has embraced its position on France’s rugged southern Atlantic coast.

There are countless surf schools, and Biarritz is the birthplace of the sport in Europe. The (reportedly) first surfer here, appropriately enough, had Hollywood connections. Peter Viertel, a screenwriter, was in town as the movie he had co-written, “The Sun Also Rises,” was being filmed there in 1957. The long, wide sandy beaches provide the perfect place to learn, with the crashing Atlantic surf offering ample big waves to ride.

The town is small enough to explore in an afternoon, with countless cafés and restaurants dotting the narrow streets. There’s plenty of shopping too, with local boutiques such as Jox & An (which sells rope-soled espadrilles) next to the likes of Gucci and Duchatel, which features labels including Nina Ricci and Belenciaga. Indeed much of the town’s charm is seeing moneyed old French couples in their designer clothes rubbing shoulders with dreadlocked surfers in board shorts.

It might officially be in France, but Biarritz is Basque country, something very much apparent at Caroe, which mixes Basque and Nordic cuisine. This minimally designed pintxos bar specializes in local seafood and serves up everything from monkfish foie gras, smoked eel and trout gravlax. If you prefer a venue overlooking the water, head to Alaia, an ultra-stylish beachfront joint on Socoa Beach, 30-minutes south of Biarritz. You can enjoy lamb, mashed-potato pancakes, and hake and cabbage in front of the bobbing fishing boats. If you prefer to eat on the go, or grab something for a picnic on the beach, head to Les Halles market, which is filled with stalls dishing out sumptuous fare: from local goat’s cheeses and anchovies in olive oil and vinegar to limoncello jelly and hazelnut bread.

The most salubrious lodging in town is the Hotel du Palais, the brainchild of Eugenie de Montijo, the wife of Napoleon III, who chose a patch of hillside overlooking the Bay of Biscay for the Imperial residence. The hotel became the center for France’s elite, who holidayed at the sumptuous building and held balls, picnics and fireworks displays, while welcoming world leaders and royalty from around the world. These days the hotel retains all its old-world glamour, and its breakfasts are worth the room price alone.

There’s not a whole lot to do in Biarritz, but that’s sort of the point. It’s a place to while away the hours in a café, or to take long walks on one of the numerous beaches. It’s a place to relax in, not to do too much. If you do want to exert yourself, then there are a number of surfing schools where you can learn to ride the waves. Most offer similar courses (and prices), with La Vague Basque being the best reviewed. All ages and nationalities come here to learn to surf, so don’t be shy about getting that wetsuit on.

After a reviving dinner, head to the promenade and grab yourself an ice cream. One of the great French pastimes is people-watching, and the cafés along the promenade offer the perfect place to watch the world go by. Part French, part Basque, and with a wonderful mix of elegance, cool and Fifties chic, Biarritz might just be the best beach town in France.