My Top Ten Countries
People often ask me what my favourite country is of the ones I’ve visited. To be frank, I am always puzzled by it. It’s almost like asking someone what his favourite food is. I know, there are many people who really, really like just one type of food or cuisine, but me, I equally enjoy good sushi, nice curry, hearty Austrian sausage and Din Tai Fun dumplings. Pretty different, right?
Well, trying to coming up with an answer to this question is nevertheless a good mental exercise. What is my favourite country? While I can’t exactly answer that, I am happy to come up with the top ten list of my favourite countries, in no particular order, at least at this given moment of time. Here we go!
From my recent post, this should not be a surprise. Fantastic food, beautiful cities, friendly people, ease of communication and transportation, and not too expensive by European standards. You want more? Howabout world-class cultural heritage, underrated wineries, and did I mention the azulejos? This little country on the periphery of Europe packs well above its weight.
I have only visited Japan once, and it was a number of years ago, but I am still mesmerized by it. One of the most enigmatic countries in the world happens to also be one of the most significant worldwide, economically and culturally. What I like the most about Japan is attention to detail, perfectionism, if you will, everywhere you look. The complex mix of ancient traditions mixed with westernization makes for curious and unusual experiences every day of your stay in Japan. The country boasts some of the most beautiful man-made structures in the world in Kyoto, Nara or Nikko, and don’t forget about its fascinating nature, from the Siberia-like snowy landscapes of Hokkaido to the tropical paradise of Okinawa. Tokyo alone is the place a city lover could spend weeks in and still want to keep exploring. With the yen relatively cheap versus US dollar, it is not even as expensive as it used to be. Highly recommended!
A country the size of India will always have its pros and cons. It’s not to everyone’s liking, that’s for sure. To enjoy yourself in India, you must have a truly open mind, curiosity and certain immunity to shock. A first trip to India may feel like a punch in the face with regards to your senses, and for me, that was a good thing. As a photographer, I don’t think there is a more fascinating country in the world. And the best part of it, different regions of India might as well be different countries. While I am a big fan of European culture, some of the monuments you see in India, such as Ajanta and Ellora caves, for example, would blow away almost everything you had previously seen in Europe or elsewhere. India is a concentrated mix of colours, smells, noises and sights like no other country in the world. It also helps that I happen to love Indian food, although drinking in India is a whole other proposition. I will dedicate a separate post to India in the upcoming weeks.
Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage sights than any other country in the world. For a mid-sized European country it’s a remarkable, albeit not a surprising feat. Ancient Rome, after all, was the greatest European empire reaching and spreading its influence far beyond the borders of Italy itself. Due to mild Mediterranean climate and humongous coastline, it is also one of the most pleasant countries to visit anywhere in the world. You want cultural enrichment? Check. World-class beaches? Check. Scrumptious cuisine? Check. If you want a truly complete vacation for any length of time, you can’t go wrong with Italy.
I happen to be a big fan of Canada. Somehow, it’s always in the shadow of the US, yet I find it to be a more humane, gentler version of its neighbor to the south. The main reason to visit Canada, of course, is the great outdoors. As the second-largest country in the world, it has no shortage of the most dramatic landscapes in the world. I like the influence of French culture in the country, and the presence of Quebec is almost like having a country within a country, something I appreciate very much. The Maritimes have an almost English, or sometimes Scottish feel. And the Canadian West is a paradise for those who fancy untouristy wilderness and rugged travel. There’s plenty to do for city lovers too, and it’s no surprise Canadian cities regularly fare in the world top 10 most livable city lists.
In some ways, I like Argentina for similar reasons I like Canada – beautiful nature, wide-open spaces and bustling cities. Well, one city at least – Buenos Aires, which is a must-visit destination for anyone who enjoys class, culture, fashion and good food. The big difference with Canada is the cost of travelling in Argentina, which is significantly less. My favourite Argentine destination is Patagonia, and more specifically, Los Glaciares national park, which boasts huge glaciers that you can not only see up close but also walk on. Food-wise, Argentina is a meat eater’s paradise. But if you are a vegetarian or simply tired of having steaks every day, there’s plenty of other delicious food, especially Italian, as Argentina had a huge influx of Italian immigration. And did I mention the excellent wines?
As Vietnam is rapidly developing, it has become my new favourite destination in South East Asia. When I was creating this list, it was a big dilemma whether to include Vietnam or Thailand in it. What tipped the scale in Vietnam’s favour was the larger degree of Europeanization of the country that results in some of the best coffee in Asia, for starters. Also, I love Vietnamese food. While Vietnam is certainly experiencing a tourism boom at the moment, if you step away from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, you will find kind, hardworking, proud people that will still bend over backwards to help you. The nature in Vietnam is not too shabby, too: from Ha Long bay and Sa Pa in the north to Phong Nha Ke Bang caves in the middle to the beaches of Mui Ne in the south.
I have always been a huge Anglophile; therefore I had to include the UK in this list. I had the privilege of exploring the British Isles thoroughly and can attest that the somewhat understated nature of the archipelago is among the most beautiful anywhere. Yes, it lacks the dramatism of Norway or panache of France, or the culinary delights of Italy and Spain; but the cozy, lived-in feeling of remote villages in Scotland, Wales or Lake District just makes you want to pop into every pub and have a pint of Old Speckled Hen or a dram of scotch every chance you get. Which is a lot. Oh, and not to forget London – still, in my opinion, the most world-class of all world-class cities in the World. Even if the French disagree.
What Thailand is to Asia, Peru is to South America – a relatively easy popular destination jam-packed of things to see and to do. Everybody knows Machu Picchu, and yes, it’s a magnificent (albeit extremely touristy) site, but there so much more in Peru that is worth a trip there – from Cuzco and the surrounding Inca country to the mountains in the north to the wonderful city of Arequipa in the south. The locals are friendly, the Spanish spoken in Peru is one of the easiest to understand even with a rudimentary knowledge of the language, and the food is the best in South America bar none – all in my opinion, of course!
Have you even wanted to visit the Middle East but shied away for reasons of safety, unrest, strictness of religion and such? Then Morocco is your best bet. The country is not really Middle East but Northern Africa, but culturally, it is very similar and in some ways, more beautiful than other Arabic or Muslim countries in the region. Morocco boasts several of the most photogenic cities in the world, such as Fes, Meknes, Chefchaouen and Essaouira. Tajine, the Moroccan food stable is simple yet delicious, and with cumin, my favourite spice, being served with almost everything, I could go there on an eating tour. Morocco offers a great way to experience the Sahara desert, too, without days of expensive and risky jeep expeditions, and there is even a thriving surfing scene at its beaches on the Atlantic.
So there you have it. In one of the next posts, I will talk about the top ten countries on my list that I have yet to visit. What is your personal top ten countries list? Would love to hear about it in the comments!
1 thought on “My Top Ten Countries”
This is great Eugene, thanks for sharing. Look forward to hearing about the other countries you recommend.