British Airways High Life


Keep it real: the most authentic places on earth

November 2008

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Soaking up culture in Vienna, scrambling over cliffs in Ireland, riding with cowboys in Brazil - our expert panel reveals the 50 most authentic places on earth
The staircase at Phnom Banan temple, near Battambang
A Buddhist monk near Battambang, in Cambodia
Jean-Leo Dugast/Panos Pictures

this article

Mausoleum of Shah-e-Cheragh, Shiraz, Iran
The mausoleum of Shah-e-Cheragh, Shiraz, Iran
Bruno Morandi/Hemis/photolibrary


This fabulous country is a still-neglected treasure whose years of isolation have inculcated a profound and marvellous eccentricity. (AM)

Battambang, Cambodia

This is on the wrong side of the great Tonle Sap Lake from Siem Reap and Angkor Wat so nobody goes there, but some of the ruins around this quietly provincial riverside town would blow your mind. (TW)

Berkeley, California, USA

Right across the Bay from San Francisco (you can clearly see it except when the fog rolls in), this is a place that firmly believes in doing things its own way. After all, it is ‘the only city in America with its own foreign policy’ and they do say UC Berkeley has parking spaces reserved for Nobel Prize winners. (TW)

Bisbee, Arizona, USA

An artsy, ex-mining border town nestled in the Mule Mountains in Cochise County. Voted the second quirkiest town in America. (MJ)

Carlisle Bay, Antigua

From the ice-white sand to the constantly courting frigate birds, this is an oasis of picture-perfect Caribbean tranquillity, carved naturally from the rainforests of this beautiful tropical island. (PM)

Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland

An unspoilt, taken-for-granted coast where to surf is to bask in sumptuous silence, facing towards Scotland’s scattering of western-flung islands. (TA)

Collioure, Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Postcard-perfect, the local wine is delicious, the restaurants are inviting and a morning swim across the little bay makes a good start to the day. It’s easy to see why Matisse and the other Fauves loved the place. (TW)

Columbia River, Washington State, USA

This is the spot where the mountains of Oregon meet the Columbia River mouth and where Lewis and Clark emerged from their transcontinental trek in 1805. (TA)

Damascus, Syria

Wandering the souks of the oldest trading city in the world you become just another traveller, wherever you’re from. If you talk to anyone you can be sure of a genuinely warm welcome; if you don’t, you will be left alone. (CC)

Deal, Kent, England

An attractive seaside town with a long and important history that it wears publicly but lightly, Deal is very much its own place and welcomes visitors, many of whom return regularly. (HG)

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

A region so confident, it naturally epitomises Ireland’s charms so perfectly that it feels no obligation to oversell them. (AM)

Dungeness, Kent, England

Dungeness beach is dominated by a nuclear power station, but despite this unprepossessing piece of technology, it’s actually a beautiful rugged stretch of shingle coast, dotted with vividly painted clapboard houses. For decades, artists and writers, most famously the late Derek Jarman, have been drawn by the sublime empty skies and bracing winds. (AdB)

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eco-tourism, cities

The judges

Alain de Botton philosopher and author of The Art of Travel

Andrew Eames travel writer and author of Something Different for the Weekend

Andrew Mueller travel writer and author of I Wouldn’t Start From Here

Caroline Sylger-Jones author of Body & Soul Escapes: Britain and Ireland

Chris Caldicott travel photographer and author of World Food Café

Clive Aslet editor-at-large Country Life

Harold Goodwin professor of Responsible Tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University

Henry Madden co-founder of bespoke travel company Dehouche

Jonathan Knight founder of the Cool Camping guidebooks

Justin Francis co-founder of

Kerry Smith editor of High Life

Maggie O’Sullivan travel editor The Sunday Telegraph

Mark Jones travel writer and regular High Life contributor

Paul Irvine co-founder of bespoke travel company Dehouche

Piers Morgan writer and broadcaster

Stephen Bayley writer and design expert

Tom Adair travel writer

Tony Wheeler founder of Lonely Planet and author of The Lonely Planet Story

Will Self novelist and columnist

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