For this series, we’re showcasing six under-the-radar destinations that deserve your attention. In the first part of “On Paths Less Traveled,” we covered the underrated appeal of Bermuda, Idaho and East Africa. In this segment, we reveal what draws visitors to Scotland, Switzerland and the Seychelles.
Scotland possesses an undeniable magic that lingers with you long after you’ve returned home, where your fond memories of the scenic splendor, welcoming people, the myths and legends of the land, the music of its street pipers and that famous Scottish creativity will forever call you back to this enchanting destination. If you find yourself wrapped up in such reveries, or if you’ve yet to experience your first Scottish adventure, now is the ideal time to book your visit.
In a country famed for its mountains, glens and lochs, the Scottish have an innate connection to the landscape. Getting out to the islands is a great way to get in touch with the landscape, and for us, the Isle of Lismore is a best-kept secret. The remote nine-mile island is located in Loch Linnhe and accessed by a small passenger ferry from Port Appin. Sites around Lismore, which is Gaelic for “the great garden,” include several lochs and castle ruins, as well as the Lismore Lighthouse, built by the grandfather of author Robert Louis Stevenson. With only 180 inhabitants, the island is very peaceful and can be explored by foot or bike without worrying about large volumes of traffic.
And yet, you don’t have to dash to Scotland’s remote regions to enjoy its natural areas. For a local in Edinburgh, escaping to climb Arthur’s Seat is pure joy. Although not as big as our Munros in the Highlands, it’s the perfect “backyard” for any city dweller who needs to feel more fresh air in their lungs. Jog the three-mile loop around its base or simply take a picnic to a quiet, sunny spot. It’s a real haven literally at the base of the Royal Mile.
Further outdoor adventures can be had walking the beach-laden Fife Coastal Path—perhaps stopping in Anstruther for scampi and chips—or heading to Glencoe in the Highlands. The Highlands really capture the essence of everything that is Scottish, from the imposing mountains and roaring waterfalls to mirror-like lochs and heather-covered glens. It’s as impressive and awe-inspiring on a dark and misty winter’s day as it is on a glorious summer evening.
Compared to the size of its population, Scotland has had an outsized influence on the world, specifically in areas such as science, engineering, medicine, exploration, the arts (particularly writing) and beyond. While you can find evidence of Scottish innovation—the adhesive postage stamp, pneumatic tire and ATM, to name a few—anywhere in the world, experiencing this ingenuity in its natural setting only adds to the appreciation of the brilliant Scottish people.
Scotland is perhaps most famously known for the invention of golf, created in the 15th century and now one of Scotland’s most popular exports. Visitors will be exposed to golf wherever they go in this beautiful country, but nowhere more than St Andrews. Known as “the home of golf,” St Andrews is a charming medieval town where you can play a round on one of seven public courses at St Andrews Links. One of these, the Old Course, is a par-72 course that has hosted The Open Championship more than any other course and is the oldest golf course in the world. Lucky for players everywhere, it remains a public course, open to anyone who wants to swing a club on hallowed grounds.
And of course, Scotland has contributed much to the world of literature, including the works of Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, Alexander McCall Smith and Irvine Welsh. It’s not just the writers who call Scotland home either; the country is also the birthplace of one of modern literature’s most famous characters, Harry Potter.
Should you find yourself in Scotland in January, it’s considered a must to attend a traditional Burns supper, a celebration of the life and works of poet Robert Burns. At the event, you’ll tuck into a plate of haggis, a quintessential Scottish dish made with sheep offal that’s traditionally eaten after a reading of Burns’ poem “Address to a Haggis.” Haggis is a Scottish must-try and can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Our preferred way is with the traditional “neeps and tatties” (turnips and potatoes), mashed and with a creamy whisky sauce.
Those spending the holidays in Scotland would do well to join the thousands of revelers that gather for Hogmanay, or Scottish New Year’s Eve. The Scots know how to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next. The street party in Edinburgh is world famous. Dating back to the Vikings, the celebration includes pipes, drums, flaming torches and fireworks, plus, of course, a few renditions of the famous New Year’s Eve song “Auld Lang Syne.” Sung around the world on the 31st of December, it was written by Scottish bard Robert “Rabbie” Burns, who is still alive and well in the hearts of many around the globe. We also recommend finding a cèilidh (a gathering for traditional dance and storytelling, pronounced “kay-lee”) on Hogmanay.
Scotland is busiest during the summer, when the days are longer and warmer. To avoid the crowds, visit in spring, when everything comes into bloom, or early autumn, when the colors start to change.
Take one trip to Switzerland, and you’ll understand why this nation, situated in the heart of Europe, is consistently ranked as one of the world’s happiest places. With four national languages—German, French, Italian and Romansh—the small country packs a heavy cultural punch. Dominating the landscape, the ubiquitous Alps offer year-round experiences, from hiking and biking to skiing and other winter sports.
But Switzerland is not just about the Alps: The country’s Italian-speaking region, Ticino, feels almost Mediterranean at times. Visitors can stroll through charming Swiss-Italian villages on Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano, walk among palm trees and enjoy beautiful gardens. If that’s not enough to make you happy, then try the chocolate—it’s believed that milk chocolate was invented by Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter in Vevey in 1875, and, per capita, the Swiss are the largest consumers of chocolate in the world.
While the Swiss have embraced the diversity of their distinct linguistic and cultural regions, they also value that common connection they have in the Alps. The Alps are an essential part of Switzerland, at the same time they divide the country and unite it. Today, Alpine traditions from yodeling to alphorn to folk music endure alongside more decidedly modern activities, meaning there is something for everyone to enjoy in these towering peaks.
In the autumn, many Alpine villages celebrate Almabtrieb. Almabtrieb involves bringing cows down from the mountains and back to the villages. During the event, more than 350,000 cows, typically adorned with colorful flowers and ribbons, descend from a summer spent in the Alpine pastures, while villages along the routes hold festivals with music, dance, food and drink.
In some ways, cheese perfectly illustrates the way that Switzerland retains its rich Alpine traditions while adding modern twists. The perfection of cheese-making is not just an art by itself; it also has a huge cultural aspect to it that varies from region to region. With that level of respect for the product, it’s no surprise that Switzerland is home to more than 450 varieties of cheese.
No visit to the Alps is complete without a journey on the Swiss railway. It combines modern innovation—such as the new Gotthard Base Tunnel, the longest railway tunnel in the world — with 150 years of tradition, including many major attractions that are 100 or more years old. Try the Jungfrau railway, a narrow-gauge rack railway that runs to Europe’s highest rail station, or the Gornergrat train, established in 1898 and which runs from Zermatt to Gornergrat, where views of the Matterhorn await. And for cyclists with an interest in dramatic and unique rides, we suggest the trendy activity known as fatbiking. Fat bikes have extra-wide tires that allow you to ride in snow or other terrain that is usually not made for regular mountain bikes. It’s great fun.
Switzerland’s shimmering lakes and Alpine peaks have attracted visitors for centuries, but the country is remarkably urban, boasting cosmopolitan cities that can rival any others in Europe. The beautiful cities are an important reason to visit Switzerland. Try a stroll through the old part of Zurich, a coffee in the old town of Bern—close to Bear Park, one of my favorite places in Switzerland — or the crowded yet still nice city of Lucerne, with its wooden bridge.
From late November through December, Christmas markets pop up across the cities, with decorated stalls set against the distinctively Swiss background and offering Swiss-made products, food and mulled wine. In Zurich’s Werdmühleplatz, the singing Christmas tree, made up of row upon row of choirs from the region singing Christmas carols, provides a festive and uniquely Swiss experience.
Visitors to Switzerland are spoilt for choice year-round. Summer months provide ideal weather for hiking and swimming in Swiss lakes and rivers, and skiing is a major draw in the winter. However, by November many mountain railways and restaurants are closed.
Located in the Indian Ocean 1,000 miles off the coast of Kenya, the Seychelles archipelago consists of 115 granite and coral islands. Steeped in history, rich in biodiversity and bursting with vibrant colors, the Seychelles has to be the most romantic island chain in the world. The once largely uninhabited islands were first settled by the French in the 18th century, who later ceded them to Britain under the Treaty of Paris in 1814, and they gained independence in 1976. Today, its multicultural heritage is reflected in the island nation’s vibrant towns.
The Seychelles contains some of the most pristine and spectacular tropical islands on earth. With white and coral sand beaches that have long mesmerized travelers, choosing which islands to visit can seem like an impossible task. Praslin has everything from the Vallée de Mai, a World Heritage site where the famous coco de mer (sea coconut) is found, to the Vallée de Mai, once believed to be the original site of the Garden of Eden.
For a laid-back experience with a natural atmosphere and beautiful beaches, try La Digue. The dynamic and picturesque beaches and eroded boulders define La Digue, as does the age-old tradition of traveling by ox cart or bicycle. Traditional methods of boat building and refining of coconut products (particularly copra, or dried coconut kernels) are still practiced here.
More adventurous travelers should visit Aldabra, one of the world’s largest raised coral atolls and another World Heritage site. The atoll consists of four large coral islands which enclose a shallow lagoon, plus about 40 smaller islands. Because of its remoteness, Aldabra remains largely untouched by humans. Aldabra has to be one of the real bucket-list destinations in the world. The diversity, the uniqueness and the incredible array of both flora and fauna on the atoll—where the world’s largest population of giant tortoises are found, numbering an estimated 150,000 individuals—are complemented by the vibrant marine life in its lagoon.
Nature conservation is a priority in the Seychelles, with the archipelago serving as home to a rich array of flora and fauna. Many of the islands are heavily invested in conservation, and as a result, ecotourism has flourished. Beyond exploring the pristine coral reefs, bird-watching is particularly popular on the islands, and the bird populations are a definite draw for both scientists and visiting travelers.
North Island has an ambitious endeavor called the Noah’s Ark Project, which aims to rehabilitate the island and save the island group’s precious wildlife. As a result of the program, bird species such as the Seychelles blue pigeon and breeding populations of wedge-tailed shearwaters and white-tailed tropicbirds have returned in significant numbers. Visitors are encouraged to participate in the conservation efforts.
On Fregate Island, a 740-acre private island, guests may take a nature walk with a conservationist and learn about the Seychelles magpie-robin, which has been saved from extinction and is regarded as the island’s most precious bird species. In 1965, there were only 14 specimens left on Fregate Island and none anywhere else in the world. Today, there are more than 200 individuals, and they continue to breed.
The Seychellois people are descended from a variety of races, cultures and religions from European, Asian and African origins, and this is reflected in the art, music and food of the region. For example, the Creole dance and music tradition found in the area has its roots in Malagasy (the people and language of Madagascar), African and European music and dance.
That vibrancy is evident in Seychellois cuisine, as well. Europeans introduced cinnamon, tamarind, vanilla, cashew nuts and many other spices and vegetables to the islands, where they grew well. These ingredients are part of the seasoning of rice and curries that are typical to the Seychelles. While European dishes use the bark of the cinnamon tree, the local cuisine utilizes the leaves.
The kitchens of the older homes in the Seychelles are often outside the houses themselves; a design meant to prevent the strong cooking smells from overwhelming the living spaces. And to find further evidence of the influence of European culture, you only have to look up to the steep roofs featured on some of these old houses, an architectural design influenced by the Seychelles’ British and French colonial heritage. The roofs and wide terraces are practical features designed for the climate—namely the rain and island breezes—that comes with life in the ever-interesting tropics.
An ideal time for a visit is October through November as the monsoon seasons are changing, the ocean is calm again, and visibility for diving is fine. The seabird colonies have left the islands, and the first female Hawksbill turtles come to shore. The weather is humid but neither too hot nor too wet.
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