“When I go out into the countryside and see the sunand the green and everything flowering, I say to myself Yes indeed, all thatbelongs to me!”, said Henri Rousseau, celebrating the communion of man andnature. There’s no doubt it is in the rural context where we feel the strongestunity with the world, but looking at the places below, one can’t help butsuspect they rather belong to elves, pixies, goblins and other fairly folks.
Saksun, Faroe Islands
The grass is always greener on the other sideof the fence, and strictly speaking, on the neighbor’s roof (in the Faroeseversion of the proverb). There’s no other place like the Faroe Islands, handsdown, unless we compare it to other stops on the hobbit map.
The 18-islandarchipelago lost between Iceland and Norway is a green-and-graystage for nature to unfold its amazing spectacle, and human presence seems amere incidental addition. Misty air hugs the micro towns and lilliputian villages,where life seems to be tuned to the psychedelic murmur of the sea, the hystericscreeching of seabirds and the rhythmical whispers of crystal streams tricklingdown the rocks. Elf sightings almost guaranteed!
The fishing village of Reine is hidden above the Arctic Circle, on theisland of Moskenesøya in the Lofoten archipelago. The Lofoten islands havefrequently been dubbed the “soul of northern Norway” and Reine is by far thebest testimony to this reputation. With its colorful wooden houses scattered aroundthe bay, set against a dramatic mountain backdrop and flooded with silkenArctic light, Reine has always been an inspiration for artists. If you’re akeen photographer, pray for a clear, sunny day – a one-of-a-kind chance tocapture a symmetrical reflection of the village and the massive peak behind it.
The village ofPing’an is nestled amidst the ethereal scenery of the Longsheng Rice Terraces, which stretch in waves all over the rollinghills of North Guangxi. Although tourism to a large extend affects the everydayroutines of the Zhuangminority, life in the village remains simple and traditional. If possible, stayovernight (you’ll see every single house in Ping’an is aguesthouse) and setoff on a hike very early in the morning – the terraces look at their mostmagnificent in the rising sun.
Once you arrive at a tiny train station, it’s only a short ferry rideacross the lake before you steep into the alpine dreamland of impressive peaks,trembling reflections, pastel-color houses and balconies adorned with garlandsof flowers. Hallstatt spreads precariously on a narrow slate of land between toweringmountains and the south-western shore of the Hallstätter See, which is a majorpart of its irresistible charm. Once a center of salt mining, today the villageis one of Austria’s most alluring tourist attractions. Unfortunately, it tendsto get crowded in season.
Bibury is oftenreferred to as the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds, a realm of gentlyrolling hills and hundreds of honey-color limestone settlements. Henry Ford eventhought of it as an icon of England. A soothing rural setting of Bibury, withnarrow, winding alleys and wild greenery all around, makes it a splendid choicefor a weekend outing. Much as all nooks and crannies of the village arecute, visitors’ attention usually focuses on Arlington Row, a group of ancientcottages dating back to the 16th Century and built of local stone.
Technically speaking, Göreme is a regular town, but its location among the famed “fairy chimney” rock formations – the hoodoos – makes it lookmore like a Star Wars village somewhere in the outer space. In fact, the historical churches and homes carvedstraight into the rock make for ideal film locations and draw numerous moviecrews to Göreme (Nicholas Cage shot several action scenes of Ghost Rider 2 here). The surreal splendor ofCappadocia is probably best captured on a hot-air balloon ride – another thing thatcontributes to the area’s world renown.
Shirakawa-gō in the Gifu Prefecture of Japan is a tiny traditional village showcasing an architectural style known as gasshō-zukuri, which is translated as “prayer-handsconstruction”. The steeply slanting thatched roofs resemble two handsjoined in prayer and are able to withstand fierce snowfalls typical of theregion. When winter presents its full repertoire, Shirakawa-gō turns into a white,fluffy wonderland, cut off from the rest of the world. A truly magical sight.
Cua Van, Vietnam
Among a thousand limestone islets that sequin the Ha Long Bay, insheltered coves, there float several fishing villages, detached from the worldand surrendered to Mother Nature’s caprices.The largest of them, Cua Van, boasts over 150 floating houses, a population ofabout 700 people and, mind you, aprimary school and a floating clinic! Seems unreal, but once you see the 6-year-oldresidents rowing their little bamboo boats to class and their mothers hangingout the washing, you will understand this incredible world on water is asauthentic as can be.
A National Park and Unesco World Heritage Site,allegedly the cleanest area of Italy and a mesmerizing jewel in the Liguriancrown – the Cinque terre (5 lands) is a collection of five fishing villagesprecariously nested on the rugged cliffs of the Italian Riviera. Monterosso,Vernazza, Manarola, Corniglia, and Riomaggiore brim with olive groves,vineyards, hiking trails and tranquil coves. And while it is a matter of tastewhich you consider the most adorable of all, looking from a distance, Manarolaseems most magical and unreal… like a stack of colorful matchboxes occupied by Jiminy Cricket’s folk.
Crovie maynot seem the most beautiful place on earth as you walk past its rathercommonplace homesteads, but the view from the cliffs above is simplymind-boggling. The village sprawls on such a remarkably narrow ledge and so dangerously close to the sea that you will have a hard time believingit is really inhabited … at least not by people. In fact, the violent stormof 1953 broughtCrovie’s fishing industry to an end and forced most residents to turn theirhouses into holiday lets.