Top 10 sights

  • 12 June 2013
  • Prue Scott

Top 10 sights

Published in Stuff July 2013

My top 10 bypass most of the usual “tops” with the exception of New York.

Observatories atop Mauna Kea

I stood on top of the world amid the snow and ice that is so common in Hawaii. In four hours you go from 30C to snow and ice at more than 4000 metres – higher than Mt Cook/Aoraki.  At the top, 13 astronomical observatories wait and listen for the call from space, and a bunch of people in heavy duty anoraks play in the snow and ice, waiting for the sun to set in a flaming orange ball.

New York at night

Book a trip up the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Centre and be dazzled by the lights. Frank Sinatra wanted to “wake up in a city that never sleeps,” and the view from either building is one of the greatest cityscapes you will ever see, from the lights of the Jersey shore and the East and Hudson rivers, to Central Park and neon-decorated high-rises.

Medina, Fes, Morocco

There are said to be 10,000 streets in this Arab-Muslim medina which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Inside, you will find modest houses and palaces, mosques and fountains. Flatten yourself against shops as donkeys led by small boys slip down lanes no wider than your shoulders. Should not be attempted without a guide. Take a tour up the hill opposite to get a birds-eye view.

Palace at Versailles, France

The palace is fabulous, but the grounds of Versailles surpass any tapestry, silk or masterpiece. Outside, lush, green gardens planted with 200,000 trees and about as many flowers range over 800 hectares. Avenues of manicured plane trees and flower-filled gardens line walks to fountains playing to music, the grand canal, woods, and Marie Antoinette’s farm.

Todra Gorge, Morocco

We sat by the hotel pool, watching vast cliffs of orange rock turn to fire with the setting sun. Carved out by rivers, the Todra narrows to just a few metres wide, beneath cliffs rising 160 metres. Here we found an intersection of old and new: Berber herding their small black goats to the river for water and high-tech climbers inching their way up the cliffs, one hand-hold at a time.

Ait Ben-Haddou, Morocco

Looking across from the new town, it isn’t hard to imagine Lawrence appearing on his camel. This fortified city, or ksar is an astonishing collection of buildings and homes built entirely from materials at hand and covered in thick mud. Dating from the 17th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is now home to tourists and film-makers rather than residents. It has appeared in films including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and Babel, and some episodes of Game of Thrones.

Volubilis, Morocco

Without a guide I wouldn’t have noticed the entrance, it’s that low-key. On a vast rolling plain, this partly-excavated Roman colonial town dates from 3 BC. Surprisingly, most of it is still completely open so you can walk and touch and marvel at basilica, and triumphal arch still visible today, and the pristine mosaics. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Volubilis is connected to some of history’s most famous names and places – Carthage, Augustus, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra’s daughter, Claudius, and the Berber people.

Aqueduct at Segovia, Spain

Stand at the base of one of the 166 arches and marvel at the technology that enabled this two-storeyed bridge to bring water from the Fuente Fria River at the foot of the distant hills. More than 28 metres at its highest point, it is thought to date from 1 AD and is built of granite blocks without mortar. It is there to be photographed, touched and viewed from the climb into the town of Segovia.

Promenade Plantée, Paris, France

Why walk on the ground when you can walk in the air? Starting near Opéra Bastille, the old Vincennes railways is now a 4km winding walkway to the Périphérique beltway. At Bastille, the viaduct list you 10 metres into the air above the Viaduc des Arts – a collection of high-end arts and decor shops. The walk takes you through suburbs at first-floor level, ground-level park ways, tunnels, gardens and local neighbourhoods.

High Line, New York, USA

New York deserves to be seen from every angle. The High Line takes you up about three storeys as it runs 1.6km up Manhattan’s West Side, starting in the Meatpacking District and ending near the Rail Yards where the final of three stages has now been secured. Using the railway’s linear theme, a fabulous breathing space has been created in this busy city including a wildflower field, grasslands, a woodland, water features, a market, sculpture, walkways through buildings, a flyover, and an urban theatre above the road.

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