mongolia

Arguably the most over-used phrase in travel, “off-the-beaten path” usually refers to a “local” enclave promising “authentic” cuisine to those who think they’re “in the know”. In reality, these “hidden gems” are often overrun with travellers who have read exactly the same guidebook. Fear not, we’re lifting the lid on the few remaining destinations that have retained their original identity and provide an unspoilt and well-preserved insight into little-explored cultures, histories and landscapes. Dispelling the cliché, here are five the last remaining off-the-beaten path destinations.

1. Mongolia

Landlocked between China and Russia, Mongolia is a patchwork of terrain where vast open spaces and cloudless skies melt into one. With one of the lowest population densities in the world, its emptiness is undoubtedly its biggest draw. Nomadic children learn to ride before they can walk, so saddle up for a horseback tour across the rolling green steppe, home to the last of the world’s nomadic communities. Take advantage of the free-spirited culture and pitch up anywhere. For those seeking 21st-century comforts, the Monge Tengri combines traditional felt-walled gers with intricate lattice-wardrobes and Mongolian wool throws. Once the homeland of the world’s most formidable warrior, Genghis Khan, his legacy is prevalent throughout the country and plays a central role to Mongolia’s rich history. The museum at his birthplace of Dadal (located in the northeast) is one of the more prolific options however his dynasty is carried across everything from statues to milk cartons.

2. Bhutan

Perched high in the Himalayas is the last remaining Buddhist kingdom. A country where wellbeing is viewed as a higher priority than economic growth, tourists are required to spend a minimum amount per day in order to prevent destructive low-cost tourism. What travellers once saw as a hassle is now being seen as an advantage; the whitewashed monasteries are exquisitely preserved, trekking groups are small and lush valleys remain unspoilt. At the heart of its alluring culture is peacefulness and serenity; traits perfectly mirrored at each of the five Amankora lodges. Set among glacier landscapes and dense forests, experience Bhutan’s culture and heritage through a multi-destination Amankora journey. Fiercely independent, certain sacred mountains are forbidden for hikes due to the fear they will disturb the spirits that reside there and Western cuisine is virtually non-existent, instead food rich in spices and coated in flaming hot chilli graces the majority of menus. Bhutan probably isn’t suited for spontaneous souls, but those who do venture into this independent land are immediately met with an aurora of magic and a country little touched by modernity.

3. Christmas Island

Finding unspoilt blonde-sand beaches and twinkling crystalline waters is often a crusade better suited to Roberson Crusoe, but this minute Australian island boasts tourist numbers that rarely reach five figures – unless you count the 50 million red crabs that also call it home. Swim in the warm, translucent waters of the grotto (a sandy-bottomed cave that flows into the ocean) or dive deeper and share the waters with turtles, whale sharks, spinner dolphins and manta rays – all island residents. Accommodation on this eco-paradise isle isn’t the most luxurious, but the rooms at Captain’s Last Resort all have balconies ideally positioned for catching the Indian Ocean sunsets. Besides, in between discovering deserted coves, acting out shipwrecked fantasies at Dolly’s Beach (voted the seventh best in Australia) and hiking Hugh Dale’s waterfall, you won’t be spending much time indoors.

4. Brunei

Shun the well-travelled South Asia route saturated with backpackers sporting questionable harem pants and choose to visit frequently overlooked Brunei. The tiny nation on the island packs quite a punch with its protected, bio-diverse rainforest, kaleidoscopic coral reefs and opulent mosques. Ruled by the same family for over six centuries and currently one of the richest people in the world, everything the Sultan of Brunei touches turns to gold. Be sure to visit the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, where a lavish collection of Italian marble floors, Arabian carpets and handcrafted crystal chandeliers await – not forgetting the three-million-piece gold leaf mosaics that covers the main dome. Flashy interiors aside, the 42 stilted villages of Kampong Ayer earned it the nickname “Venice of the East”. While this moniker may be somewhat ambitious, the primary-coloured timber houses are a charming testimony to Brunei’s past. Take a water taxi along the riverbank to gawp at the 1788-roomed Sultan’s palace, then venture further upstream to the Temburong district. Here you’ll find Belalong National Park – a haven for mangroves, monkeys and kingfishers.

5. St Helena

It wasn’t long ago that access to St Helena was restricted to a mail ship that passed by the lonely shores once every three weeks; it took a five days and cost a hefty package. But the island’s first commercial flight recently launched, opening up this previously isolated land mass 1200 miles off the coast of Africa in the mid-Atlantic – commonly referred to as the last place of exile for Napoleon, the islet offers an age-old history tied to a fiery Frenchmen. Climb Jacob’s Ladder, a collection of 699 steep steps in the capital Jamestown to gaze across the pocket-sized Georgian mansions nestled in the dramatic ravine. In order to catch a glimpse of the exotic marine life, charter a boat for a tour around the island where you’re likely to be joined by pods of dolphins. Leave the 21st century far behind and forget about social media location updates, venture out on one of 20 walking trails (all varying in difficulty) and send a postcard instead. At the end of each walk there’s a quaint postbox, ink stamp and visitors book to sign.

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