Cades Cove, Tennessee, USA.

It may seem peculiar to single out a place visited by two million people every year, but, for citizens of almost every nation state other than those living in the USA, Cades Cove in Tennessee is an unusual destination. It is an unusual destination because Tennessee is not the first state that most non-US citizens would choose to visit (although I think Tennessee is fascinating). Moreover, when non-US citizens do visit Tennessee, they are drawn instead to, say, Memphis, Nashville and/or those parts of the remarkable Smoky Mountains in the area of Clingman’s Dome (they might even be drawn to Dollywood, if they are fans of a famous diminutive female country and western star!).

Cades Cove is a large, relatively flat, upland area surrounded by hills and mountains. White Americans first settled on the land in the 1820s. Today, Cades Cove forms part of the Smoky Mountains National Park. Once, hundreds of small-scale farms took advantage of the fertile soil. Villages, hamlets, homesteads, barns and mills lay among the fields and the pasture. Eventually people abandoned the land, but some of their distinctive wooden buildings survive, churches included. To this day, cattle are allowed to graze to ensure the land does not revert to forest, but one of the most enjoyable things to do is to follow trails into the surrounding forest where encounters with wildlife (deer, otters, bears, etc.) are frequent.

Cades Cove is most easily accessed from Townsend, a small settlement about 15 miles to the north. Because some of the distinctive Cades Cove architecture exists between Townsend and Cades Cove itself, one or two photos early in the sequence give a feel for what you can enjoy even before entering this delightful bowl of verdant upland countryside.

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Wroclaw, Poznan and Lodz, Poland.

A few years ago we spent a wonderful month travelling around Poland. We visited most major population centres and some much smaller ones, in almost every case utilizing Poland’s excellent rail network. It soon became apparent that destinations such as Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk, Tarnow, Lublin and Czestochowa benefit from a significant number of visitors, but cities such as Wroclaw, Poznan and Lodz are somewhat off-the-beaten-track (despite having lots to see and do). Here are a few photos to entice you to engage with the gritty delights of these fascinating cities. The first few photos (and the very last one) are of Wroclaw, the next few are of Poznan (the Poznan photos include the steam locomotive), and the last few are of Lodz (note the wonderful mosaic decorating the ceiling of a tomb in the Jewish cemetery, and the tomb in the city’s main Christian cemetery that resembles an Orthodox church).

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Ardahan and Cildir, Turkey.

I must be careful that Turkey does not monopolise the blog, but Ardahan is a remote province worth visiting for interesting scenery and unusual monuments.

The town of Ardahan, in common with many towns in Turkey’s north-east, used to be popular with prostitutes and their pimps, most of whom came from the former Soviet Union, but the region’s sex industry has taken a series of knocks recently, which makes life easier for just about everyone (except the pimps, of course). Moreover, because people in the town of Ardahan realize that the region has the potential to attract tourists, decent hotels are beginning to open. Get along before the region is better known!

Because public transport is more patchy than it used to be a few years ago, you will have to hire a car or a taxi if you wish to quickly visit some of the destinations below, but in 2010 I got to a few in only a day by hitching and walking. Local people are very kind when it comes to offering lifts.

The town of Ardahan is famous for its castle, its honey, its yellow kasar cheese, a few unappreciated Armenian monuments, and the wide, marshy valley of the River Kura (which is best viewed under a sky filled with cloud bearing rain). East of Ardahan, near the small town of Cildir, is the remarkable castle of Seytan Kalesi (drive to the village of Yildirimtepe and walk along a beautiful valley for about 2 kms to reach the castle). Beyond the town of Cildir is Cildir Golu, an austere, high altitude lake with interesting monuments at Golbelen (a church that is now a mosque) and Dogruyol (do not miss the opportunity to walk around the island joined to the mainland by a causeway. You visit the island largely for the views and the birdlife, but look out for the remains of a church and a castle). For something just as interesting, drive north from Cildir to Aktas Golu (the last photo in the sequence), a lake half in Turkey and half in Georgia. Here you really are far from the madding crowd, but the scenery along the high altitude road is excellent.

Oh yes: the first photo in the sequence is of a village inhabited only in summer. The village lies along the road between Savsat and Ardahan. It stands at about 2,500 metres above sea level.

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Garrovillas de Alconetar, Extremadura, Spain.

Garrovillas de Alconetar is a pretty Extremaduran town with one of the most delightful plaza mayors anywhere in Spain. Moreover, Garrovillas de Alconetar has a remarkably beautiful hospederia (hotel) overlooking the plaza (the hospederia features in the background of a photo or two). The main part of the hospederia is an old family home conceived on a palatial scale. The hospederia’s best features are the dining room with its high ceiling and bare stone walls, the stone staircase ascending within a square tower, and the wide first floor balcony providing outstanding views across the plaza.

Inevitably, the large Plaza Mayor, overlooked by the white plaster walls of two-storey buildings with arcades at ground floor level, is Garrovillas de Alconetar’s main attraction, but all the streets leading to the plaza have much to offer. Because the plaza is still used, as in years past, to hold bullfights, buildings at the points where the plaza can be entered have on their walls the cavities and brackets where barricades can be installed to stop the bulls escaping.

The town has attractive side streets, churches, hermitages, a convent and a pretty cemetery. Short walks into the surrounding countryside can be undertaken along old dirt and gravel roads between dry stone walls.

On the west side of town, immediately beyond a small, stone-built hermitage with sections of whitewashed plaster walls, an enormous ruined convent stands in splendid isolation. Tall stone walls enclose a large patch of land which, in the past, was used by the nuns to grow  fruit and vegetables. Because part of one boundary wall has collapsed, you can easily access the convent. One of the most attractive parts of the ruin is where the cloister used to be. Columns at ground and first floor level confirm that the convent was extremely important in its heyday, obviously from the spiritual point of view, but also, it would seem, from an economic perspective. Now, of course, the ruins, daubed with lots of graffiti, tell a very different tale. The Roman Catholic Church is not the force it once was in Spain.

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Shelby, Kalispell and Butte, Montana, USA.

The sublime visibility encountered in Montana is largely due to the state being part of Big Sky Country, although its very low population density and the absence of large cities help explain the enviable clarity. There are days in summer when the visibility is so remarkable that taking photos is irresistible. Needless to say, the best times to take photos are early morning and late afternoon. The photos below derive from Shelby, Kalispell and Butte.

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Remote Villages, Gumushane, Turkey.

Gumushane is a town about 100 kms south of Trabzon. Today, Gumushane is overwhelmingly modern and therefore of little interest other than as a base from which to visit remarkable places in the surrounding mountains. However, the remarkable places are so special that you may need to use Gumushane as a base for up to a week. Very little public transport exists other than along the main road to Trabzon and Bayburt, but, if without a car of your own (a 4WD is best because many of the most interesting places in the region lie along unsealed roads), local people will offer lifts. The region’s appeal lies in delightful upland scenery, excellent vernacular architecture, outrageously pretty villages in spectacular settings, ruined Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches, and very friendly people. About 15 kms from Gumushane is a spectacular cave (Karaca Magarasi), but, because it is so famous, it does not qualify, in the strictest sense, as an unusual destination. However, anyone heading for the remoter places in the photos should visit this natural wonder. It is excellent.

The first photo is of Gumushane itself: no one can fault its situation. The other photos are of places within 40 or 50 kms of Gumushane and include Eski (Old) Gumushane, Olucak, Krom, Saricicek and Gumustug. I have visited the area twice but barely scratched the surface. There is much more to see. Moreover, in Gumushane, helpful staff at the bus station’s tourist information office will provide excellent maps and advice about getting to the remote destinations.

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Las Hurdes, Extremadura, Spain.

Las Hurdes is in northern Extremadura, not far from the border with Castilla y Leon. Because of its mountainous terrain and lack of fertile soils, Las Hurdes has always been a remote and disadvantaged region of Spain, so much so that, in 1933, Luis Bunuel, the great film-maker, made a documentary entitled “Land without Bread” which describes the plight of the local population. Las Hurdes remains a disadvantaged region from where most young people leave as soon as they can. This said, roads between the scattered settlements are now much improved, so much so that, with a car (public transport is almost non-existent), you can visit almost everywhere in the region in about three days. It is well worth the effort, as I hope the photos of the scenery and the remarkable vernacular architecture make clear. Caminomoriscos (what a wonderful name!) makes an excellent but inexpensive base from where to explore the whole area.

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