Mostar is a hidden gem in Bosnia. Mostar is a hidden gem in Bosnia.
Life Travel Travel writers share their secret favourite spots Updated:

Travel writers share their secret favourite spots

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Travel writers and experts roam the globe for a living. Sometimes they find places they’d probably rather keep to themselves. Here, four writers reveal the under-the-radar gems they’d go back to in an instant.

Mostar, Bosnia

Why go?

Bazaars filled with hand-beaten jewellery, copper coffee pots and kilims, cobblestone streets polished by centuries of foot traffic and minarets peeking over the rooftops of timber-framed Ottoman houses – Mostar’s old town, Stari Grad, feels like it’s been lifted from an oriental fairy-tale.

Museums and photographic exhibitions show the town’s fascinating ancient and more recent history; you can swim beneath a cascading waterfall or visit a monastery that’s home to whirling dervishes.

Take a table at one of the riverside terrace bars with a glass of Bosnian red to watch the daredevils of the Mostar Bridge Divers Club – recognisable by the tattoos of the bridge over their hearts. For a handful of euros, they climb the railings of the 16th century Ottoman bridge (reconstructed after being destroyed in the 1990s war) and dive into the icy green Neretva River.

At dusk the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer and restaurants fire up their charcoal grills, the breeze bearing smoky wafts of charring river trout or the local “cevapi” sausage.

Need to know

Visit outside the European summer; May or September are perfect. It’s an easy drive from Dubrovnik or Split on the Croatian coast (remember your passport) or a scenic train journey from Sarajevo.

The fine print

There are plenty of accommodation options under $100 a night. Currency is KM (Convertible Marks) but most places accept euros.

– Natascha Mirosch

Skyros, Greece

Why go?

A lack of charter flights from Europe and summer-only connections to its closest neighbour means Skyros has retained strong traditional culture – your accommodation might have carved wooden bed platforms and you might even see old men wearing the traditional Skyrian baggy pants.

Sure, there are beaches (both coarse sand and rocky, pine-fringed coves), as well as family-run seafood tavernas and villages of cubist white houses tumbling down towards the water.

But Skyros is famous for hosting the most raucous and authentic folk festival in Greece. The southern-most island of the Sporades archipelago, it’s also home to The Skyros Centre, a retreat for aspiring writers, artists, yogis and others looking for a creative holiday.

hidden gems Skyros
Skyros’s relative isolation has become an asset. Photo: Getty

Need to know

There are no ferries from Athens to Skyros. Travel is from Kymi in Evia. Departures are daily in summer with a restricted service in winter. Skyros also has a small airport with flights to and from Athens (40 minutes). Carnival is held every weekend in the month before Greek Lent.

The fine print

There’s plenty of reasonably priced accommodation, from small hotels to rooms in the main town, Chora, or at one of the beaches. The Skyros Centre offers two-week holidays, including all meals, accommodation and course, from £795 ($A1449).

– Natascha Mirosch

Patagonia Camp, Chile

Why go?

Reached along a highway called the Ruta del Fin del Mundo (“route to the end of the world”), remote Patagonia Camp has luxury yurts perched on a bluff overlooking Lake Toro, with the snow-dusted peaks of Macizo del Paine as a breathtaking backdrop.

They have king-sized beds, heating, ensuite bathrooms and a clear dome that allows you to stargaze at one the most unpolluted skies on Earth.

Each afternoon there are talks on the following day’s excursions, such as hikes in the otherworldly Torres del Paine National Park, home to south Andean deer and the magnificent condor; or visits to glacial lakes where the boat dodges icebergs as large as houses and motors within arms stretch of towering blue ice-cliffs. Bring your woollies, a sense of adventure and a good camera.

Need to know

Trails in the Torres del Paine close during winter. Summer (November-March) is peak season, spring and autumn quieter and cheaper. Fly to Punta Arenas in Chile’s far south and drive four hours north, or, during summer, LATAM flies to Puerto Natales, 45 minutes away. For all-inclusive package guests, there are free transfers.

The fine print

Accommodation is $US440-$540 ($A583-$715) per person for two nights on a bed and breakfast basis. All-inclusive packages start at $US1000 per person for two nights.

– Natascha Mirosch

Thursday Island, Australia

Why go?

Far from the typical tourist haunts of Queensland, Thursday Island is one of 274 sun-kissed islands in the Torres Strait, the channel dividing Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea.

Thursday Island looks Australian but feels Melanesian, with turquoise waters, bright white beaches and a history cut straight out of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

For knockout ocean views, visit Green Hill Fort, a gun battery built in 1892 amid fears of a Russian invasion. Visit a 200-year-old cemetery with Muslim and Chinese sections, and an obelisk remembering 700 Japanese divers who died scouring the seabed for pearl shells in the early 1900s.

At the annual Coming of the Light festival on July 1, learn how indigenous islanders, once fierce cannibals, were converted to Christianity by evangelists.

Need to know

It’s always hot on Thursday Island but with distinct seasons: wet from November and dry from the end of April. The dry season is more popular, but don’t let the higher chance of rain deter you as it rarely rains all day and it’s cooler at night during the wet.
The fine print

Qantas flies from Cairns to Horn Island in the Torres Strait for $195. Add $20 for bus-ferry combo transfers to Thursday Island.

The Grand Hotel has rooms from $150 and surf’n’turf specials for $10. Peddells offers half-day history tours of Thursday Island for $32 a person.

– Ian Neubauer

Manhattan Beach, US

Why go?

Legend has it that the Beach Boys first tried surfing at the Los Angeles suburb of Manhattan Beach (as in, “all over Manhattan”, from Surfin’ USA), just south of LAX. It’s still a surf town.

The broad, sandy beach stretches all the way to Malibu, dotted by Instagram-perfect lifeguard boxes, with a landmark pier that is a beloved vantage point for watching the sun set into the Pacific.

Until recently, a lack of tourist infrastructure has meant MB’s pleasures have largely belonged to protective locals, who include everyone from sports stars and movie biz workers to families who love its pretty beach cottages.

MB rarely rates a mention in guide books, but it’s a relaxed, pedestrian-friendly base for an LA visit. Order a skyscraper-high sandwich at 24-hour institution The Kettle. Catch a wave, soak up the Cali lifestyle at laidback bars, dine at great restaurants, shop at hip boutiques, hire a beach-cruiser bike or rollerblades to glide along the shorefront promenade.

hidden gems Manhattan Beach
Manhattan Beach’s pier is a legendary landmark. Photo: Janne Apelgren

Need to know

You’ll need a car to get to LA attractions as you’re about 30 kilometres from downtown LA, but only 10 minutes from LAX. The Shade is MB’s nicest hotel, but Airbnb has plenty more options. Sea breezes make MB a pleasant base during LA’s scorching summers.

The fine print

Airfares to Los Angeles start from about $1200 return. The route is served by at least five airlines. Taxis and Uber will pick-up from LAX, or rent a car and drive. It’s an easy trip from LAX, but check your accommodation has parking.

– Janne Apelgren

Koh Yao Noi, Thailand

Why go?

You’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time at this sleepy island populated by fisherfolk and farmers, where the beaches are devoid of hawkers or tourists, and the interior is a tangle of jungle and mountains.

Part of the Ao Phang Nga National Park, Koh Yao Noi has spectacular views of the park’s famous and dramatic limestone cliffs and karsts.

From a handful of resorts (some Robinson Crusoe, one more barefoot billionaire), you can charter a long-tail boat to drop you on an uninhabited islet’s beach, or rent a bike to ride the blissfully traffic-free roads. The island offers diving and snorkelling, sea kayaking and rock climbing, too. Beaches are small and calm, you’ll often have one to yourself.

Don’t expect nightlife or souvenir shopping – stores service local needs, and when we visited five years ago, tourists were a curiosity, observed shyly by the local, largely Muslim, population.

hidden gems Koh Noi
Lap up luxury on Koh Yao Noi. Photo: Getty

Need to know

Main access is from Phuket, 30 kilometres away. There are speedboat services from Phuket, Ao Nang, Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Krabi, Phang-Nga.

Once on the island, you can reach resorts by transfer or tuk tuk. There are few ATMs on the island. Lonely Planet’s guide to Thailand’s Islands & Beaches has recommended accommodation listed and rated.

The fine print

Phuket is about an hour from Yao Noi by boat. Jetstar has non-stop flights from Australia to Phuket. Other airlines serving the island include Scoot, Singapore and Malaysian. Expect to pay from $450 return. Accommodation costs from $50-$2500 a night. Six Senses‘ resort is glorious and has specials from time to time.

– Janne Apelgren

Franschhoek wine region, South Africa

Why go?

It’s the little things, like seeing zebras grazing next to the vines, the backdrop of incredible rocky mountains, and the beautiful Dutch colonial architecture, that make this lesser-known pocket of South Africa’s wine country so stunning.

Lots of people are familiar with Stellenbosch, nearby, but neighbouring Franschhoek feels massively under-the-radar. The experience is amplified in so many ways – you’re surrounded by history, the wineries are beautiful and many offer local cuisine, either in restaurants or with a cheeseboard or charcuterie.

At Chamonix, where we’d stay next time, the tastings were in an old blacksmith’s quarters. You’re surrounded by incredible hills with dramatic outcrops of rock. Some wineries host local markets on Saturdays where artisans sell their work, which feels good in a country where tourism really sustains many communities.

We also found an incredible classic car museum where we wandered with only two other visitors.

hidden gems Chamonix
LIvestock, scenery and fabulous wine at Chamonix. Photo: Facebook

Need to know

Franschhoek is just over an hour from Cape Town. Hire a car and self-drive, it’s easy. Heed warnings about where not to stop due to higher crime levels, and give yourself time to explore so you can sample wines without over-indulging.

The fine print

Expect to pay from $1450 for a return airfare to Cape Town from Australia. Next time we’d stay at Chamonix Wine Farm, which has a restaurant, accommodation and game drives a well as vines, and makes a terrific sparkling wine. Rates start from about 1500 rand ($A159) per double room. Franschhoek Motor Museum can be visited by appointment.

– Chris Zeiher

Natascha Mirosch is a food and travel writer who has edited the Brisbane Times’ Good Food Guide and The Courier Mail’s Taste section. Ian Neubauer is a travel photojournalist who has written for Time, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and GQ, as well as The New DailyJanne Apelgren is contributing travel editor for The New Daily and a former travel and food editor of The Age and The Sydney Morning HeraldChris Zeiher is director of sales and marketing and brand spokesman for Lonely Planet Asia Pacific.